Rag Dolls and Glass Balls

My Muse threw a rag doll at me.

Figuratively of course, but my mind can be a funny place sometimes.

There’s been a lot going on over the last few weeks. I’ve really been stretched to my breaking point more often than I’m comfortable with.

I’ve been feeling like the emotional equivalent of a kicked puppy, cowering in a corner.

And it killed my creativity.

I like using the term “Muse” to describe the creative right side of my brain that I have all sorts of fun with. I think any writer out there knows that creative side can take on something of a life of it’s own when you really get in the thick of things. Usually my Muse and I get along pretty well.

But it turns out that high levels of stress chase her about as far away as she could possibly go. Not good when members of the Survivor cast ask me what’s I have planned for the next round…

In a desperate attempt to lure the Muse back, I pulled out my copy of Holly Lisle’s Create a World. I sat down to do the first little exercise, hoping to generate a few ideas for NaNoWriMo. Last time I did the exercise, I got inspiration for Crafting the Badger’s Head, so my track record here is good.

My Muse opened a door, threw Laura Ingalls’ rag doll at me, then stuck out it’s tongue, blew a raspberry, and slammed the door again.

Somehow, I’m supposed to turn the rag doll into a story?

Actually, I’ve got a couple ideas already.

I did a couple other exercises in the book and got some more interesting elements. A glass ball like a marble, yet, bigger. A canyon of many colors, and a swatch of dark black, thick fur.

Even stranger was an emotion that came with the glass ball. I had a very vivid memory of a visit with my grandmother a year or so ago. She sat on the floor with my girls and she was showing my oldest some marbles. She mentioned the names of some marbles and I got a very strange vision at the time of my grandmother as a school-aged girl, sitting around with her young friends and piles of glassy marbles between them.

Thinking of my grandma being a girl some 80 years ago was a weird sad/happy nostalgic emotion.

Not sure how it’ll fit in to this story that I’m going to do for NaNoWriMo, yet, but at least I have an idea.

Now, time to caffeinated the Muse, who crept back in sometime during the night, bringing an offering of dialogue for the next Redwall Survivor chapter.

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The Smell of Paper and Ink

Some of my earliest memories are of being surrounded by paper, ink, and loud noisy printing presses.

I guess you could say that my love of the written word was started very young.

My uncle and my dad owned a print shop for as long as I could remember. It was in a little building on Bozeman’s Main Street when I was no older than my twins, then it moved about a quarter of a block into a bigger building at some point. Still on Main. The front doors looked out onto one of the busiest intersections.

I spent countless evenings in that building, playing among the paper and ink while my mom did Tupperware parties and my dad worked late finishing up printing jobs. That was what my dad did. He ran the presses, the folder, the cutter, and any number of the big dangerous machinery that made up a printing shop in the 80s, 90s and beyond. He let me help push the button on the big giant camera that made the plates for his press. Under very close supervision, I was allowed to help push buttons on the cutter. I stood, mesmerized as the press ran clackity clack, the little suction cups grabbing paper and feeding it through roller after roller until the printed pages came out the other end.

I grew up with an unlimited supply of paper at my fingertips. I knew how to run the copy machines. Paper boxes were turned into all sorts of constructions during those long evenings. When I got older, many weekends were spent with my sisters and cousins, going around and around the big center table in the back, collating booklets for various businesses.

My dad helped me design personalized notepads for my friends for Christmas and printed them out every year. Anytime I needed a manuscript printed out, or copies of pictures, or anything, the ‘shop’ was the place to go.

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A couple weeks ago, my dad and uncle announced that they were retiring and had sold the business. In a blink, a cornerstone of my childhood drifted away to memory. I won’t be dropping in to say “Hi” to my dad with the girls in tow. I won’t be grabbing a handful of free scratch paper from the bin by the door. No more sneaking from Anne’s candy stash behind the counter.

And it hit me this afternoon – one of the things that I loved at the shop was the wall above my dad’s desk in the press room. His wall was covered with photos. It had started with just the school pictures from each year, grades labeled by one of my sisters, plus a few others. Over the years, it grew. Christmas pictures. Ballet pictures. New baby pictures. Old family photos that my dad made fresh copies of for someone else in the family. Every so often, a new picture was added. It spilled over from the wall over the desk to the wall on the left, too.

My daughter brought home the school picture envelope for me to fill out. And I suddenly realized that I won’t be giving one to my dad for his ‘wall at the shop’ this year. He’ll get one for home, but there was something dearly precious to me about that press room wall and I don’t think I realized it until today.

I’m happy for my dad and uncle. But I’m a little sad, too. I’ll miss the shop and the smell of the paper and ink and the memories that were there.

Put the Panic on a Slow Simmer…

So, I realized that NaNoWriMo is just a little more than a month away. Usually, I spend the month of October planning for my NaNo novel, except I’m still in Redwall Survivor and it would appear that the contest is going to spill into November.

So, um, my previous experiences with writing two different projects at the same time has not gone well… My brain has a hard time focusing on either project if I’m running more than one at a time.

So now I have to figure out if I’m going to do NaNoWriMo or not.

And what if I decided not to do NaNo, and then I end up voted out of the contest right before NaNo, and suddenly have the time but no plan!?

The horror!

To make matters worse, my Muse has been in Bermuda or something for the last month, and she and I haven’t been on very good speaking terms for most of the year anyway. Which means I have no ideas for NaNo. Don’t have many for my next post in Survivor, too, which is also making things interesting in that department.

October is going to be a very interesting month…

MO4 Update!

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Oh, by the way, I made it into Mossflower Odyssey IV! I’m not going to admit who I am here until the end, or unless I’m voted out, whichever comes first.

We just finished Round 2 last night. One of the 10 contestants has passed and we have today and tomorrow to vote on the next death.

I have no idea which of my friends I’m going to vote for, but if I don’t, I’ll risk a glare of disapproval from a matey from last contest who I “could have saved” if I’d voted.

So, yes, I will vote, but with much tears and anguish.

If you want to jump in and read the contest, hop over to the Redwall Survivor forums. Click on ‘The Story,’ read the Prologues first, then in Round 1 start at the bottom with “Letters From a Thief” by Adeen Pinebarrow and work your way up from there. Always go from bottom to top to have the story make sense. 😛

And if you read, let me know what you think of our collaborative story. I’ll be sure to pass on comments to the cast. We love commentary!

 

Creation of a Redwall Survivor Application

I’ve been meaning to put this together for a while, but, well, life, you know.

As of this moment, we’re in the final hours of voting for Mossflower Odyssey IV: The Beasts In The Crater. Over the last couple weeks, everyone has been reading and reviewing the top 30 applications sent in and voting on their favorite of each category. Ten categories, with 3 apps apiece (except that two categories only had two apps, so technically, it’s top 28….) all judged and weighed and debated on by the audience.

We’ll know the official cast for MO4 soon, then the story will really begin!

I wrote three apps for MO4, though much to my surprises, only one of my apps got in. Since I’ve been somewhat disappointed, I thought I’d share my favorite app and also share the process I used to create it. Every author has their own system and way of doing this.

This is simply mine.

Bear in mind that this app did not make the Top 30 cut, but I think I worked the hardest on it.

I started out by using How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t SUCK, a free course offered by Holly Lisle.  Since in her flash fiction course, she’s walking you through writing 500 word flash fiction, I figured that’d be just perfect for coming up with a 750 word application. I brainstormed for a while, going through the worksheets, but really struggled with the ideas.

Eventually, I had two of the concept sentences kind of merge in my mind. They were:

  1. A usurped horde leader is imprisoned and about to be executed.
  2. An exhausted refugee struggles to find shelter from an oncoming storm.

With those powers combined, I came up with: A usurped horde leader struggles to find shelter from an oncoming storm.

Next, I switched gears, because I wanted to find out more about this horde leader, specifically species, since this is set in the Redwall universe of animals, after all.

So out came the notebook and I started brainstorming.

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I wrote Horde Leader, drew a line, then wrote Species. From there, I drew lines to every vermin species that came to mind, and added more lines for reasons why or why not. The last line I drew, going down, was Bird Species. Something about that peaked my interested. Perhaps because the first Redwall book I ever read, Mattimeo, featured a bird horde leader. I went online and did a search for “birds in Great Britain”, then narrowed it down to “birds of prey”.

When I saw the first picture of a male Hen Harrier, I fell in love. I switched to a red pen (as seen above), and continued on brainstorming for a bit longer, toying with names and background. While I did this, I also pulled up pictures from the internet and put them into Scrivener.

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Scrivener itself was a bit of an experiment, since the program was new to me, but it proved very useful to organizing information on my characters. I was able to pull up a bunch of images and even download a PDF file on Hen Harriers from Wikipedia.

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With my background worked out, I was able to start writing my first draft for Sarek.

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My first draft finished with 1069 words. By the way, I love Scrivener’s on-screen word counter, which is nearly visible at the bottom center of the picture above.

Next I printed it out and used an abbreviated How to Revise Your Novel (also by Holly Lisle) setup to go through my draft and polish it up. I took pages of notes…

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And took a red pen to a printout of the draft. One of my two-year-old twins tried to help with a black one.

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Then typed it all back into Scrivener, with a few more tweaks here and there to fix rogue spellings and get the final word count below 750.

With my word count at 748, I then fixed the formatting and sent it off. With one app done, I then started the brainstorming process all over again and came up with two more apps to send off.

Unfortunately, Sarek didn’t make the cut for “A Beast Driven by Revenge,” but I’ll include the app below for anyone interested in reading the final product.

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Mossflower Odyssey IV

Nine beasts, enslaved in a distant coliseum. The terms are simple: fight until you die. Glory awaits the strong while the meek shall perish, their cries drowned by the roar of the crowd. It’s survival of the fittest and survival takes many forms. Let the games begin.

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Mossflower Odyssey IV is happening! After all the great experiences I had with MO 3, I’m pretty pumped to get into it again. If Redwall Survivor is a new concept to you, check out the official forum or look at my earlier posts on it. I was a part of Mossflower Odyssey III in 2015 and it was one of the best writing experiences I ever had. Not only did I grow as a writer, but I made a group of fantastic friends.

We’re all gearing up for this contest, writing applications and hoping to first make it into the 27 potential contestants, and then to make it in as one of the 9 beasts who will be in the crater.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Brian Jacques Redwall books, or if you want a chance at a fun writing experience, make sure you check out Mossflower Odyssey IV: The Beasts in the Crater. For now, I’m on the forums as Vera Silvertooth (my character from the previous MO).

If I make it into the contest, I’ll keep you posted here. If I don’t make it in, well, I’ll probably still talk about the contest from the sidelines.

 

 

One, Two, Cha-cha-cha!

I like to think of myself as an optimist. Always looking for the silver lining. The glass is half full.

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It’s hard to keep that mindset. Sometimes I take things too much to heart. Sometimes I get down on myself for areas where I’ve failed. I run a vicious cycle in my mind of how I’ve screwed up.

In 2015, I decided to take my writing seriously. I was done making excuses. I was done playing around. I was going to finally make progress. I was finally going to win. I even coined a little phrase for myself. “I Win 2015!” I had two big goals for that year. Two things I was focused on.

  1. Publishing a book of short stories
  2. Publishing Sentinels of Mysera

I started out strong. Ran through Holly Lisle’s Flash Fiction course and got a bunch of short stories done. Sent Sentinels of Mysera to a couple people who were willing to content edit. Waited and tried to keep myself busy with the shorts, telling myself I was making progress.

Then I ended up in Redwall Survivor as Vera Silvertooth and my regular writing got put on hold as I did that. Redwall Survivor ended up being one of the best things I could have done, because on a weekly or so basis, I was writing a 1000 – 2000 word story, revising it, getting it critiqued by the cast, doing final edits, then posting it for the audience, where it was further commented on and critiqued. After finding out I’d survived another round of voting, it was back work on the next post.

Not only did I gain valuable experience as a writer, but I built relationships with a core of other writers who have different strengths that I do and were able to point out flaws and weaknesses in my writing.

By the time the end of 2015 hit, I’d grown in great ways as a writer, but I had failed to meet my two major goals.

One step forward, one back.

2016 was the year of revising Battle of the Bargaws, which is Sentinels Book 2. Through Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course, I finally found myself learning the tricks and strategies that I needed to turn a wreck of a book into something good. While that was being done, I assembled notes on Tales of Mysera (my collection of short stories) and Sentinels of Mysera and had in my mind that edits and publication of those would happen in the later half of the year.

But I hit a wall, burned out a bit, and didn’t do much between finishing BotB revisions and NaNoWriMo.

My 2016 NaNo dragged into 2017 and now I find myself in the middle of April, two years behind my goal of “Publishing ToM and SoM.” In fact, both of those projects are now further back that I thought.

I spent two weeks going over SoM using HTRYN’s Lesson 1 and my dusty notes from my friends. At first I was frustrated with how long it took me, because I got through BotB in a week, not two. Reminded myself that SoM was almost twice the length of BotB, and kept going.

I’m less than encouraged by the results.

There are holes in SoM that I forgot to fill. There are errors. There are spots where I’m cringing at what I wrote. I’m almost embarrassed that I let anyone read it. The book that I thought was finished in 2015 is far, far from it.

One step forward. Two steps back.

My plan, at the beginning of 2017, was to have a revised, update version of SoM done by June 1, with a target publication date of January 2018.

I did not realize how broken the book was. And I didn’t anticipate that it may take me longer to revise, since it’s longer.

My June 1st revision date is not doable in the time I have to spend on the project each day. If I can manage the HTRYN lessons faster than last year, I’m still looking at finishing revisions by mid-September. But it’s highly probable that I may be working on this for the rest of the year.

Redwall Survivor is gearing up to kick off a new contest. I’m going to apply again, but if I make it in and if I last as long as I did in 2015, that’s going to slow down progress on SoM, because I have learned that I struggle with running two creative projects at once.

Plus I just signed up for Holly Lisle’s How To Write a Series course, and I’d like to work through that, too.

Of course, I don’t have the time or the energy to do everything. I have to juggle my family and those responsibilities in addition to writing. I’m still trying to figure out the balancing act to doing what needs done without burning out, because for me, that is a concern. When I push too hard for too long, then I burn out and everything stops. It’s not fair to me, my husband, or my kids when that happens.

Where does that put me and SoM? Well….

I’m going to keep plugging away, doing my darnedest to complete one lesson a week in HTRYN, but knowing that I’ll likely need to extend it to two weeks for most lessons. If I make it into Redwall Survivor, I’ll reevaluate my schedule and figure out a juggling act.

If I don’t get into Redwall Survivor this year, then I’ll know I can focus everything on SoM.

Tentative new deadline is to have SoM revisions done before NaNoWriMo 2017, so I have November free to write something new.