Sunday, December 5, 2010


Thank God It's December.

And so begins what has, as long as NaNo has existed, the so-called 'editing month'. Where in you spend the better part of 30 days wondering what the hell it is you wrote and how it could be so very bad. And you try to make it better.

In all honesty, this year is actually much less stressful than last year. Last year I wrote 53,000 words in 20 days and still had another 15,000 to write in December to actually finish the story. This year, I finished on 51,000 words in 30 days and not a word more am I going to write! I was more proud of the fact that I'd budgeting the right number of words, in the right sections, in the correct number of chapters than I was at hitting the 50k mark. I will celebrate by getting a free printed copy of my book.

Which means, editing. One day I will come across the paperback in a dusty corner of my bookshelf that had been covered with shinny new books by actually authors, and I will open the cover and start to read. And if I find one stupid spelling mistake, I'll probably throw the whole thing out in annoyance. Which means, editing month. I also have two other people's stories to read as well and it's already December 5th! It will be Christmas before I know it!

There is the small matter of that painting sitting downstairs collecting dust on an empty canvas. A fact that annoys me every time I go downstairs to wrap a present. It is both condeming and inspiring. And must be done by the 25th!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Out of My Hands

Oh, the nightmares that are funding applications. Having to do two of them at once for very different things is not a good idea either!

The PhD funding application is in, however. There are two others, but thankfully their deadlines are not until 2011 and that just sounds so far away. I have calculated my odds of getting it as 50/50. This is really a glass is half full/empty sort of situation and I have never been great with those. I usually fall to the later side of things.

After more than a year and a half of researching for this thing, though, I will be something akin to heartbroken beyond repair if I can't secure at least some funding. I am willing to put myself in dept to do this PhD, but there is a limit to how much dept I can reasonably carry, knowing how much money I will not be making ever after I graduate. I need some help and now I really really really want that help!

I hope this doesn't turn out like St. Andrews did.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One Third of the Way

Or What I'm Supposed to Be At.

In reality, I'm nearly 5000 words behind right now. Of course, I had two days without a computer AT ALL and therefore lost 4000 words right there. Yesterday was also much more exhausting than expected and I lost another 1000. Of course, this time last year I was into day 2 of 8 without a computer. In theory, I'm ahead. And I managed it before, I will do so again. Today's project is to catch up to where I should be (which is 33.33% done).

The novel started the way I expected, but then dropped in the interest department for a few thousand words. To restart the thing I invented a hunting trip that I hope will be important later (much later). This annoys me, as last year I had nothing planned out and yet each invention made sense. This one was just to glorify the word count. I'll need to make the trip integral to the end of the story (or probably the middle) to justify it and that screws with my plan a bit.

On the positive aspect, my characters are more or less listening to me. As a whim I invented a character without meaning to, and though only important to the first third of the story, I sort of love him to pieces. He emulates my favourite characters from a lot of books and is so blantantly important it's almost ridiculous.

The naming thing is getting easier. At least where people names are concerned. I still have this problem with place names always sounding like I stole them from another book. Last year was easier because all of the names were English and all of the places actually existed. But Nano is supposed to be a challenge, right?

Wake me when it's December.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It is November.

That is all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tempus Fugit

In the most literal sense of the Latin.

Five weeks ago I had time which I now do not have. It is October 25th and NaNo starts in less than a week, my proposal is due in two, Christmas is just around the corner, and that funding bid is getting down the the wire. Funny, how life just loves to sit back and laugh at you when you make statements like 'there's plenty of time left'.

On the topic of the proposal, everything is written/filled out/compiled except for one reference letter which belongs to a prof I have not heard from in two weeks despite repeated emails. I knew that one was too good to be true and I swear if I miss out on this because of him I may commit murder, because that will be the second time he's screwed me over. On the other hand, if he does not get back to me before the deadline, I may be down to Leicester as my only option anyways (due to money) and the cosmic irony is more than I can handle. I was starting to get attached to Newcastle.

On the topic of NaNo. I sat down yesterday and figured out a plan. It's not a good plan, but it wasn't last year either, so I have faith. I must simply force myself to write everyday and then the novel will appear. I am certain of this. Of course, there is also the oil painting. I'm trying not to think about that one.

As for the funding bid? Well, the positive part is that it's not mine to worry about. Although if we miss the deadline for that then I definitely don't get paid.

And Christmas is just around the corner, as the Xmas trees in the store keep scream ing at me. It's going to be a long two months, in all the wrong ways.

I also need to find a job, eventually, because as of New Years I will be unemployed. At least until May.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

To PhD or Not To PhD

Yeah, that pun isn't getting any better than the first time I heard it. My apologies for the use.

Well, in the last month I have made progress. By progress I mean that I might have a workable PhD topic - though the workability percentage is still being discussed - that I am mostly interested in. I will count this as my first win. Small, baby steps.

I am all moved back to the city. There was a bit of a busy weekend in there with three trips between the city and the cottage, but it all got sorted out. I am as yet amazed at how quickly I fell back into the old routine. I promised myself I wouldn't, but when there is nothing else to do... It's comfortable and easy and I still hate it as much as I did in May.

But enough rambling about that. This blog was ostensibly for NaNo purposes, so let's get back to that! I am firmly planning on still doing NaNo this year, as I still have the workings of a YA fantasy novel lying around my harddrive. There is still the matter of a few background details and, of course, the climax to figure out, but I have more than a month left and I feel that if I get back into it things should pick up again. I still *think* it's a good idea, so we'll go with that. It can't be any worse than the flying by the seat of my trousers that I did last year! I am bound and determined to do it in a month, start to finish, and none of this faffing about on the conclusion until February. 50,000 words. 30 days. Starting in the afternoon on the 1st, because I will be in Toronto that morning. I think it's doable. Of course, there is also the oil painting, work, museum stuff, a funding bid (really?) and a proposal. But there are 5 weeks left before the midnight hour. I am going to make good use of them. Turning over a new leaf, as it were.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School, Take Two

It's passed the middle of August, at which time I am used to undergoing an emotional turmoil wherein I can't decide whether going back to school is a yay or a nay.

This year I don't have this conflicting emotion, because I'm not going back. I noticed it less last year (my first September where I was not in school), because the Returned to Canada rollercoaster kept me busy enough. So, this year feels a bit strange. Mostly, I feel like I'm floundering in the big ocean of Real Life, barely hanging on to the life preserver that is a part time job, and still trying to find the nearest bit of land that may be proper work. So far, nothing has appeared in sight in the last 11 months. I'm not hopeful.

I could, of course, have returned to school next month. I could have found something to do another degree in or a diploma. But when it comes right down to it, what's the point? I'd just be unemployed in another field and I'd be less interested in pursuing it till it kills me. All of which politely suggests to my brain that I'd better do something about this in the next 12 months, because going through this again isn't exactly agreeable.

I am, of course, currently taking another project management course; a subject of which I have about as much interest as, say, the biology of amphibians. But it means that, two days a week, I have something to focus on beyond going stir crazy. It is also temporary, and will be over long before NaNo rears it's head again. A fact for which I am grateful. I am hoping that November will at least be a distraction from everything else, and perhaps the achievement of writing 50,000 words again will at least carry me over into Christmas. Provided I finish this novel this year, rather than dragging it into February of another year. As my non-recent updates might suggest, the novel idea is going about as well as the job hunt.

I think it's partly that I'm a bit bored again. I get this way after a few months of doing the same thing. I bore easily, I know. I am still happier than I was after three months of retail, don't get me wrong! And much happier than I'd be if I was, say, unemployed. There still feels as if I am in a holding pattern waiting for my life to begin. At 27 I'm starting to wonder... I've met 21 year olds who have it more together.

It's been a bit of a comfort to be around the family this summer. So far, I am the only university student among the grandchildren that didn't change their major after First Year. I stuck with it, for 6 years. Nor did I give up on my original dream when I started university. I feel that I can count that as an accomplishment, since this is the family that is Awesome At Everything and Never Fails at Anything. I like to think they can take pride in the fact that at least I haven't given up. It make take years, but I'm not walking away from this, at least permanently. In the interim, probably yes, because one has to make a living somehow and job applications do not constitute paying rent.

[Not that I do. Though I'd like to.]

Right now, though, the contemplation of a PhD is more a stop gap. Please don't get me wrong, I want a PhD. I just imagined it would be something for another time in my life (hopefully another decade older). Now it seems as if it's becoming my only option because it is my only option. I don't know how feeling forced is going to help matters. And the positive of being the first grandchild (maybe the only one) to have Dr. in front of my name is probably not enough to carry me through even Year One. But it's enough to make me try. I am banking on the fact that I don't quit on things to carry me through.

We'll see. Step One: Stop faffing about and email Leicester.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Life, The Universe and Everything

It never ceases to surprise me how even the best of intentions are forgotten when life becomes hectic. In the last two months I have found and started a new (though temporary) job, undergone three different certifications, taken a university online course, moved to a different city 200km away and done what feels like a million other things. Neadless to say, a blog has been left by the wayside in all the mess.

But enough about me. I am going to diverge for a post, and I hope you'll forgive me for it. But this land I see from outside my office window is too great a thing not to write about. And indeed, I have been writing! (An aside: very little of it has to do with this place, but it's still counts!)

Muskoka is a land time once forgot. For nearly a century very little seemed to change up here. At least at a glance. Oh, many things did change, in actuality, but change came so slowly that no one ever really noticed. There were practical changes like paved roads, electricity, electrical stoves, power boats, etc. But they were just things added up for a hundred years. They didn't change this place.

In the last decade change has come like a sledgehammer beating against your head everywhere you look in every second of your day. Now there is a TV and DVD and satellite where once only a black and white screen with an antenna stood. Now the wireless carries down to the dock for lazy afternoons, instead of a book. Now the cell phone is as easy as the landline. Now when the power goes off the generator kicks in and nothing really changes. Life has become easier, I suppose, but not in a good way.

I remember this land before the people came. I say that like it is some grand declaration a century in the making. It's not. I was born in 1983, but I remember this land before the city arrived. When I was a little girl the cottage was almost no different from what it had been when my mother was little (a 35 year generation difference). In fact, very little had changed since my grandmother had been a child. It was still a place to come in the summer to escape the noise and heat of Toronto, to relax and unwined, to see the family and make new friends. It was the cottage. I remember it, before the people came.

By people I mean the yuppies from the city who, instead of 'coming' just packed up Toronto in the SUV and brought it north with them. With their loud boats and fast cars and drinking parties. They never got that the point of this place was to be different. They wanted everything. And now they have it. Toronto in Muskoka. With the high end grocery stores and the NYC shops and the race to see who can build a bigger boathouse. This place was once the summer retreat for the blessed.

You know what it is now? Disneyland for the rich.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Washington D.C., Museum Capital of North America

I hope you will forgive me this diversion. I do call myself 'MuseumWriter' for a reason, as it isn't just all about fantasy novels that will never be published.

I have recently (but which I mean a few hours) returned from a long awaited (meaning - roughly - ten years) trip to the national capital (by which I mean the United States capital, as opposed to Ottawa). It was Spring in Washington with the trees budding and the cherry blossoms blooming and half the bloody population of the world there to enjoy both. Not including moi.

I was there for one very good reason. A much better reason than anyone else's could ever be. I was there because, a long long time ago when I was still innocent enough to believe that dreaming something could come true was enough to make it so, I dreamed of visiting the Smithsonian. Apparently I'm still a little kid at heart. Now, at the time, I was too young to realise that 'Smithsonian' actually meant 'eighteen different museums' (Note: it's now nineteen), but it wouldn't of mattered if I had. To me, there are only two types of museums that interest me: Military objects and ancient history. Occasionally I will deign to grace an art gallery with my presence, but this is usually only because said art gallery contains a Rembrant or a Picasso, and I feel duty bound to stop on the way.

If there are no WWII aircraft or Roman pottery, it isn't worth the trip. [I will, also, occasionally deign to visit a country house or estate which are - by and large - filled with 18th Century furniture in various states of repair and gardens not nearly as well tended as they once were - but only for the interest of architecture and a quiet afternoon.

The Smithsonian, of course, encompassed as a whole, has all of the above. But in deference to the fact that I was only 4 days in Washington and that it is suggested it would take the average person 4 hours to see each of the nineteen Smithsonians, I was charged with the difficult task to pick three. The following is a 'brief' account of a pilgrimage to the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center National Air and Space Museum (where they keep the real planes.

National Air and Space Museum, The Mall

I've been disappointed in museums before, but they were always small ones. The Air and Space Museum at the Mall is not small, but it was extremely overcrowded. For and 'air and space' museum I thought there would be more planes and less endless text panels, mosts of which could not be read because there were too many people in the way. I think I spent an hour there before I gave up and fled outside just for a breath of fresh air. The planes they did have on display were uninteresting. The Wright exhibit was well done, I thought, but the space section was certainly underdone and much more focused on space and less on space travel, which I would have expected. Also, all of the IMAX shows were sold out by the time we got there, which was a disappointment because I am sure they were all worth seeing. This is the first museum we went too, and it was a very slow start. I believe museums should have a flows to them, but this one was exhibits in seperate rooms in seperate corners and even the ones beside each other didn't always follow a common theme or progression. The layout was awkward too with the balcony level having most of the exhibits and overlooking the few planes hanging up, but because it was narrow it was very hard to get around the crowds from one end of the building to the other. Mostly I lost interest in fighting the waves of people. Also, pictures were allowed, even with flash, but the way each exhibit was set up it was very difficult to take pictures that didn't come out with glare from the flash or much too dark without it. Many of the spaces were quite dimly lit, though I don't see the reason why (no artefacts to damage) and I found it especially hard to read the text in the Wright exhibit (and there was A LOT of text). We had lunch here, but there was only McDonald's and not an actually cafe, and I don't like McDonald's (also, what kind of message does that send to America?). I had a salad, which wasn't bad, but the sitting area was extremely loud and crowded (echoed in the open area) and we had a long wait just to order and get the food. All in all, one of the worst museums I've been too, and definitely the worst national one.

National Museum of Natural History, The Mall

We did this museum our second day, and although there were no less people around it didn't seem to be as crowded. We had only a short wait to get in through security. There was very little in the museum that I didn't want to see, except the insect and reptile area (not my cup of tea). They also had an exhibit displaying the Hope Diamond, so naturally I had to see that! We did each floor in order starting at ground level. The exhibits followed a clear path and didn't require you to backtrack to see things you missed like the Air and Space Museum, so you didn't need to go against the traffic. Each exhibit also led into the next one quite well, and there was a clear progression of time covering Earth's history. The animal models were all quite interesting and they have a huge collection of skeletons. There were also labs scattered here and there that you could look in and watch workers cleaning bones, or analysing samples, which I enjoyed. There was virtually no interactivity, which I normally love, but didn't miss in this museum. The text panels were short but informative, and easy to read (the lighting was much better here). Upstairs was busier, but there was still a specific flow of traffic to follow. We only had to wait 2 minutes in line to see the Hope Diamond which was very well lit and good for pictures. [on a side note: amazing] We had lunch in this museum as we did at Air and Space, but the cafe here was a proper museum cafe offering a wide variety of options (all mostly healthy besides the pizza) and though it was busy we found a table quite quickly. It was a very good lunch (the best we had all week), though the cost was certainly high, but the museum is free entry so I suppose it balances out. Though I've not visited the others, this is probably one of the best museums on The Mall.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia

We drove out to this museum on Friday. If we hadn't visited the one at The Mall, I don't know it we would have made the trip (it's an hour from Washington in traffic, which there always is), but I wanted to see the good Air and Space Museum, so we went. The building is impressive in and of itself. We got there early, but I don't think it ever gets very crowded because it's such a drive from the city. The museum is free, but parking is $15 and there's lots of it. We started by going up the observation tower, which is seven stories up. It's similar to a control tower, but bigger and had a full 360* view of the surrounding landscape and the Dulles Airport which is next door. You can watch planes take off and land. There was a brief exhibit on the control tower (which you can see from the observation level) with information about radios and signals. Not great, but still interesting. We spend an hour walking around the museum after that. It's easily laid out with a ground floor where all the planes are parked, and a circular walkway above to see the planes that hanging from the ceiling. There's no plane you can't see well from at least one angle. The space is not crowded, as they clearly have room to add more planes, but there were (I think) nearly a hundred on display. There was also a section with airplane engines along one side of the building. The place is divided into 'air' and 'space'. The space section has a full sized recreation of the shuttle with plenty of smaller vehicles and satellites on display around it. Because the space is so open you can walk at will and easily see everything. We took a break to see the acclaimed IMAX movie 'To Fly'. Tickets were less than a regular movie ($8 ea), and the film was 30 minutes. I thought it was quite good, despite being made in 1976. After that we walked around for another hour to see the rest of the planes (the newer section). There are aircraft from early nineteen hundreds just before WWI all the way up to more recent planes like Concord as well as an area on balloon travel. It was well into the afternoon by this point and (again) the cafe was a McDonald's so we decided to go looking for a restaurant. There are some around because of the airport within a short driving distance. The museum was definitely worth the trip, even if the best air and space museum is still in Pensacola, FL.

I will have to go back to Washington at some point and see some of the other museums, like the American History Museum and the Art Gallery. There just isn't enough time to do them all in one trip, but they are all worth seeing.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What's in a Name?

A friend lent me a series of books a few weeks ago. I got sidetracked with other things and other books (namely HP) and only started reading the first book last night. Ironically, it's not that disimilar from the plot of my NaNo 2010 novel.

The really interesting part - and useful I hope - is the names in the book. I've been thinking a lot about what to call the four countries, and getting more and more stumped while trying to come up with original and pleasant sounding names. There's nothing I hate more than to dig into a really good book and not be able to pronounce the place name (or character name) or to have it be a very awkward word. Country names should flow off the tongue. Yes, many of the country names in the real world don't, but I am certain they sound wonderful in their native language. But since this story will be written in English, they need to sound good in English...without ending in things like 'shire' or 'ton'.

In the book I'm reading there are two countries (so far). The main story takes place in Ixia. This is a short word, and has no meaning in the context of the book, but it flows well. It's obvious to pronounce and the 'a' ending gives it a nice sound. It flows off the tongue easily. The second country name is Sitia, which is a country only ever mentioned in passing. It is a country that is continuously represented as a place of peace and freedom where people flee to escape the horror and punishment in Ixia. Now, 'Sitia' reminds me of Sicily, a place I see as an escape; lovely and warm and a good place to live. Whether this connotations was intentional by the author, doesn't matter. The point is 'Sitia' evokes a nice image, the country is supposed to be. 'Ixia' could go both ways. In the book, it was once a Kingdom with a bad monarchy, which was then liberated by a military leader who now acts as governor. It is routinely mentioned that he has made things better. 'Ixia' could evoke good images, but with the 'x' in there, it also sounds a bit more militaristic.

The character names are also well thought. The main character is Yelena. This is a nice sounding name, but the foreign aspect of it lends more layers to the character. And she does have layers. As the book starts she is in prison for murder awaiting her execution. But a quirk of fate she is saved and employed by the military governor, but her sins are not forgiven, marely delayed. We know, therefore, she is a murderer, though no undefuteable proof is given. Other characters also have this dual aspect to them, and their names are suitably foreign but easy to pronounce. Valek, for instance, another main character, is the commander's assistant and is referenced as having played a large part in the military coup, but is kind enough for a man in his position. The minor characters are also well named. Dilana, the seamstress is sweet and generous, as her name evokes. The maid, Margg is a b***h. The cook, Rand seems sweet, but many don't trust him. A name like 'Rand' could go either way. He could be a brigand or just a sweet boy.

I'm going to continue reading the book (and the others in the series), because so far I think the names are really helping. They are giving me ideas of how to create place and character names that work well with English, but also sound foreign. It's a good mix.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

T-8 Months and Counting

It's difficult to think about November when it's only March. I have so many other things to think about that are going to happen much sooner, that wasting time on something nearly eight months away is more than my brain can tolerate. But since eight months isn't that long, and November will be here before I know it, it's time to get started.

I'm starting with a new world. NaNo 2009 was set in this world, or near enough, but I want to start from scratch in 2010. The hardest thing, I find, about creating a new world is naming things. Original names aren't easy to come up with, but you need multiple names and place names and they need to sound like they go together - if not in a whole language - than at least in a partial idea of one. I'm horrible at naming things. I always end up creating something that is part a character in a favourite book and part a very butchered version of English. This year, I want to do better.

Here's what I have to start with. Comments are appreciated.

I want a conflict between nations, because the plot I need envisions two countries with very different ideologies that spur two of the main characters into doing what they do. Alright, so to start off with I need two countries. They need to be different. I think I'll make one a kingdom, ingrained in tradition and outdated views of the ruling class and one a republic, with freedom and democracy at the core. But that's not very interesting. Let's through in another couple of countries. Another republic, very similar to country #2 and maybe a fourth country that is part democracy, part monarchy. I'll work out those details of how that works later.

Now, there's the issue of geography. Ilove maps. I have no doubt I will draw a map for NaNo 2010, because it's just easier to write a story when you have the geographical layout of the journey your characters are taking already there in front of you. It ensures you aren't going to screw up. I think Country #1 and Country #2 should have a pretty definite border. Maybe a mountain range with very few passes. Hense the reason Country #1 (hereafter called The Kingdom) is so seperate and backwards. Alright, so let's make country #2 inland. The Kingdom is on the coast. And country #3 is also coastal, just south of the Kingdom. Country four can be mostly mountains to the north east, maybe. Quite cut off as well, but still with a definitive trading route with Country #2, since they have lots of farming land. See, we've got a world already. I'll name them later and it will be less confusing.

I already have my main character. She's fifteen, headstrong, very independent, and very sheltered from the realities of the world. Her father works for Country #2's government. He's a scientist. They live well. She knows a lot about science, but has no interest in it. She has an older brother who left home when he was fifteen, and has been gone for years. The brother and father had a falling out, after the mother died! Unexpectantly. Father was devistated, turned away from the kids, brother couldn't stand it anymore, so left. Still writes his sister the occasional letter. She longs to go off and find him and have all the adventures she dreams he has. So, her father is rarely around, she's pretty much been left to fend for herself. Learned a lot of things on her own, but never been in a position to use them practically. She doesn't have many 'friends'. Doesn't go to school. Her mother, like all rich, home schooled her, but since she died, the girl has been getting most of her education from books and the occasional lessons her father has time for. She doesn't really have an understanding of the world at large though.

Alright, we have a background. See, that's the easy part. We want the girl to be a heroin, though maybe unintentioned. She loves her father (as daughters do) despite the fact he's never around. She feels like she needs to do something important to impress him and make up for her disinterest in science. She doesn't understand politics or country relations. Out of the streets she hears something. Maybe misinterprets it? She thinks her father is in danger. How? Don't know, I'll work on that. She would want to help; to save her father. But she's a fifteen year old girl without friends. Solution: find her brother. She has a letter from a few months before that says he was in The Kingdom. She decides to travel there and find him and get him to return with her to Country #2 and help their father out of trouble. Her brother is now (19? 20?) and well connected - she thinks.

See, now we have a harrowing journey in unfamiliar countryside, of a young girl on her own to find her lost brother. That's drama, that is.

Let's make it Autumn, just to add to the mix. The mountain passes are starting to close in as winter approaches. She doesn't have a clue. So, she sets out in the Autumn (this is another world, so months will not be important so much as season - 4 season, 3 months long each). She knows what direction to head in, but that's about it. Has some money she took from her father's study. She has a few adventures on her own, enough that she realises her trip was a stupid idea and that she's in way over her head. Just as she's thinking about turning back, and bemoaning that she's failed her father, she happens upon a young boy. Maybe he's ten or eleven, but he's been on his own a while and managed to figure out how to survive. He thinks she's funny because she doesn't know anything. He annoys her. But he's young, and even though he can look after himself better than she can, she just can't bring herself to leave him on his own. He's travelling himself, trying to find a good place to stay. He's intregued when she says she's going to cross the mountains into The Kingdom. He doesn't know anything about it, but it's new and it sounds like a good place. She doesn't want to turn back now and make it look like she's retreating to his face. She soldiers on, and the boy follows. They have more adventures, manage to cross a pass just as a storm is setting in; barely make it to the other side. More adventures as they make for the capital city where the girl thinks her brother is.

See, it's just flowing off the keyboard! The plot, of course, is always the easy part. Anyone can write a plot. It's writing the dialogue and fleshing out the description where most people (myself included) lose it.

Let's make that the first half of the story. The second half is her and the boy's adventures in the capital city, until she finds her brother, who knows more than she thought and explains it to her. A whole underground movement to overthrow the monarchy. Her brother's in the middle of it. Country #2 knows all about it and their father's been in on it from the beginning. Brother wants her to go home, as The Kingdom might soon be a war zone, but she's come this far, wants to help. Falls in with the local kids gang of thieves, who prove very useful as the rebellion errupts. Thinks her brother is dead at one point. Weeks pass, finally monarchy is overthrown and the rebels leader put up as governor. Things calm down. Finds her brother again. He wants to stay and help out, but he wants her to go back home. Puts her on a ship to the port nearest her home city. She's surprised when her father meets her at the docks to take her home. Explains a lot to her, but is very proud of her bravery (admonishes her stupidity). Apologises for being so distant. Promises they will be a family again, her brother will come back. They go home; her father takes a bigger interest in her life, desides she should go to school, have friends. The end of the story is when the brother returns and the girl starts her schooling, deciding she wants to get into politics (?).

Done and done.

I wonder how many times I'll change it in the coming months? Working title will be The Kingdom.

Friday, March 5, 2010


I watched an interesting segment on the morning news. For one, it was Good Morning America, which I normally avoid for obvious reasons, but happened to catch this while channel flipping.

The segment was about the made up language of Avatar. I find this incredibly interesting for many reasons. It's not the first movie universe to create it's own language or the first literary one either. Today, it's quite popular for fans to 'learn a new fantasy language'. I've done it myself with Tolkien's languages before (I have a basic ability to understand both Quenya and Sindarin, which is know for fanfiction writing). What I find interesting is how quickly this Avatar language developed. It's only been around, as a language with grammar and vocab, for about three months, and the news station managed to find half a dozen people who could sit down and have a conversation.

Cleary, made up languages are popular. But why? Is it the ability to say to the geek sitting next to you 'Well I speek such-and-such, don't you?'. Is it really just bragging rights, or is it something more? I think it is.

The greatest books of the past 1000 years have been those that have created a complete universe. By this I mean books written by the likes of Tolkien and Lewis and even Rowling; not your run of the mill fantasy series. People love these books for a lot of reasons. Some of the simple ones are because it's a good story and they're well written. Some of the more complex reasons are because these books are entire worlds so unlike our own. People read fantasy to get lost in it; to have a break from the real world. The more complete that fantasy world is, the more they can get into it. I've done it myself on more than one occasion. It's the only reason I re-read LOTR every single year.

But what makes a fantasy world complete? Is it the fact that it's set on it's own planet? Is it a whole range of people that fulfill all the appropriate roles and leave no gaps? Is it a world where you can write your own gap-fillers? Is it a universe with it's own politics, religion, language, social customes? I think it's closest to that last sentence. The best fantasy worlds are the ones that are entirely complete. We fall into them because everything is there for us for the believing and we only have to enjoy.

Which brings me back to language. It's part of our world. It's part of what makes us who we are. It's just as important to most people as their political views and their religion. So, to have a fantasy language makes a fantasy world complete. It allows the reader to immerse themselves completely in that world and then bring that world back into our own, for a little while. You see this at fan conventions where people go around dressed in character, speaking in language. I've done it myself. (Yes, I have). Language allows for that extra little step, which explains why it's so popular.

And it's becoming more and more common. Tolkien was not the first to create languages; though he's definitely the most well known, having more than four languages that contain vocab lists and grammar in his books (though some are more developed than others). But is it becoming easier? How do you create a language from scratch? I tried one; I gave up. It's so hard to be original these days. So my congratulations to the people who spent the time and effort to create Na'vi, specially as it already contains 1000 words after only 3 months.

Friday, February 26, 2010

To She or Not to She

How do you create an original character? I find many authors create characters that they can relate too, because they better understand them. It's easier to write about something you understand. I find I, usually, write female leads with strong personalities who's lives aren't going well for one reason or another. I do this because I can get that point of view.

But that's just a start. There's backstory required to give reasons for things, and the character has to fit the plot. They have to react reasonably and believably to situations. This takes a lot of careful consideration.

For instance, the last novel I wrote my female character was in her teens (at the start of the story, she grew through her twenties by the end); she was a bit shy and introverted; she liked her own company and didn't mind not having friends - good, because for most of the story people shun her thinking she's weird - but should could also have a strong personality. She wasn't afraid to stand up for her beliefs - important since she found herself often in situations unusual for a young single woman - but she would never go so far as to change the status quo. Basically, she fit the plot of the story well, while still have a definitive backstory before the plot began. She reacted to things as you would expect someone in that situation to react. She also thought and spoke very much like I do. It made her easy to write. I could look at things through her eyes.

I find I don't create characters the same way twice. Sometimes I have an entire plot of a story before I have the lead. Other times, I have a lead and no story for them. Usually it's somewhere in between. You need the character to fit the situation and vice versa. Even more than that, you need a character that can act with other characters. Whether it's against or with, doesn't really matter, but they have to be able to interact. The character I mentioned above, for instance, likes being on her own, but does interact with others. Some of them she doesn't get along with so she goes to others for help and understanding, which progresses the plot.

It's so much harder than that. I'm going to talk a great deal about the character I'm creating for this years NaNo. I'm going to do that because, beyond a name and a few general background characteristics, I have no concept of her. So, you can watch her unfold as we go and hopefully by November she'll be a fully rounded character within the larger plot.

I hope.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wonderful World of Editing

This is not a post about NaNo 2010. Rather, it's all about the lingering joys of 2009.

I should, at this venture, point out that in the month of November last year I wrote the required 50,000 words, plus 3000. Between November 30th and December 31st, I wrote a grand total of 2000 words. In January I did slightly better, but I did not complete the story until the first week of February 2010. It bugged me all through December, because I had so many hours of work and it was the Christmas season. I just came home exhausted at the end of the day and couldn't face writing the hardest part of the novel. Interestingly, it bugged me for different reasons than I would have thought. Mainly, not being able to write in December made me irritable because I wanted to finish the story and was unable to. Unfortunately, by January, the drive that had pushed me all through November was waning, and I attribute that to why it took another five weeks after Christmas to punch out the last 12,000 words.

I really have to be fair with myself, though; 12,000 words is an achievement all on it's own. That is roughly the word count of my last dissertation, which was written last summer. Which means, ignoring everything else I wrote, that between the novel and the thesis alone, I spewed out 67,000 words (ironically, the total word count of the novel as of now). I feel that that's a pretty large accomplishment. And they are 67k good words. At least, I am assured the 12k of the dissertation is, by my mark alone. But I felt, over 2009, that writing was becoming easier for me. It wasn't such a challenge when I hit the rough patches to keep going. And more than that, especially during November, I found I could force myself to write even when I woke up with no interest in writing. For many years I have only written on days I felt inclined, whether creatively or for school, but I know it's a personal achievement that I can do it at anytime now. And that it's honestly worthwhile writing.

But this post was intended to be more about editing than writing, wasn't it? To have the need to edit is something new to me, as I mentioned in the previous blog. I am usually quite happy with what I turn out the first time. The exceptions to this have been the two dissertations over the last 24 months. The first one, which clocked in at just shy of 20k was a bitch, to be honest. It was my first massive work in such a short period of time and I just sat down and wrote. Usually, I pick away at it, and therefore edit - to an extent - as I go. No so with that one. Because of that, there was a painful three weeks of intense editing with an actual editor. It was a learning curve, to be sure. I pride myself on being both a good speller and marginally better than the average person at grammar. It was a wake up call to be told, almost point blank, that I'm horrible at the grammar part. However, it was a good learning experience and paid off well this past year on the second dissertation. I felt that it was easier to write and easier to edit on my own. It also required a great deal less editing to start with, which I hope is the greatest sign of improvement.

I also believe it's held me in good stead for NaNo '09. I won't talk much about that novel in this blog, because I want to concentrate on the next one, but I have just finished editing last year's still untitled work. Most of the changes were for continuity's sake. I shouldn't be greatly surprised by this because in a 65k+ work, it's inevitable that you forget a name here or an order of events there. Or you realise you've written the same scene twice, just at different moments. I now know that I need to keep better track of what I've written for 2010. Maybe a diary or a list of points? I'm not sure, but I have time to think on it and decide what will work best for me. I don't want to create too much extra work during November beyond the novel itself, but I do need some way to ensure plot continuity.

What I found the most difficult was tense. I've written a variety of stories using different tenses, and I've dabbled in time travel before, but this was even harder. The story took place in nearly a dozen different times, and jumped around in no particular order through them. However, two sub-plots did take place on a lateral time line, throughout the main story. I had to ensure that these remained in the same tense, but that they routinely linked up with the tenses that were jumping around. A right nightmare! No more time travel, that's my lesson learned. Still, I think I've done an admirable job of editing on my own. Now, I can slowly funnel it off to other people who will be in charge of telling me how bad it is, how confused they are, and how I should just give up now.

I won't listen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Writer's Introduction

It seems to me that there is no advisable way to begin a blog. I mean, everyone uses a blog for different purposes, so deciding on one set format defeats the purpose. As such, I am at something of a loss of how to begin, so please bear with me.

I am one of the older members of Generation Y. I remember - though it's hard to believe - a time before the internet existed in every home and the average eight-year-old carried an iPhone. I remember those days with longing you have to understand, because life was a great deal less...public than it is now. So why create a public blog? Despite the fact that I remember DOS based programs and that some of my earliest technological memories were fiddling with ancient Mac computers in the days before Microsoft owned the world, I love technology. I adore the simple fact that I can interact -in real time - with my friends half way around the world. I'm obsessed with online MBs and social media sites. I am, there can be no doubt, a TwitterHolic. I have embraced the modern digital age with all the energy of today's eight-year-old iPhoners.

For example, I have had a blog in the form of a LiveJournal for the better part of eight years. I was heavily involved in message boards at the tender age of twelve before the parental terror of child pornos and kidnappers lurking in the background ever became an issue. I tweet from my phone. I update my Facebook profile more than once a day. And, having attempted on more than one occasion to do without the internet for a few days, have ultimately concluded I'd rather die. Like the rest of Generation Y, the lack of internet is, in a sense, a loss of part of our indentity and we never feel completely whole until we have it back again.

So, this morning I woke up with the hairbrained scheme of creating a proper blog for some purpose or other. At first, that purpose altogether escaped me. I have an LJ, which is used for such childish purposes as ranting about work, school and those friends who are not on LJ. I have an FB profile to tell all of my friends who could care less that I am still unemployed. And I have a Twitter account in order to regale my very small corner of the Twitterverse with museum related posts and - currently - an endless stream of declarations of tears over the 2010 Olympic Games. I should, at this juncture, point out that the tears are those of happiness over being a proud Canadian.

But, after a few hours of careful (not) consideration, I have decided to use this blog for one main purpose; which is to write about writing. As a currently unemployed-in-my field graduate, housesitting for my parents, and spending my evenings bemoaning the fact that I left my entire social life in England four months ago, I have reached a point in my life where I have time to write. I've been writing since I was twelve. I have dabbled (and plunged) into multiple fictional universes almost entirely not of my own creation and have emerged on the other side fifteenish years later with the ability to type 75 words a minute and write an entire essay on virtually no research. These are the two most useful skills for a person who survived seven years of university education and a rough estimate of fourty 2K+ essays and two 13K+ dissertations.

The following sentence is my only explanation for why, in October 2009, faced with no essays for the first time in memory, that I attempted and completed NaNo. That is, for the uninitiated, National Writing Month. It is an international challange to creative writers to write a 50,000+ novel within the thirty days of November. Last year, nearly 150,000 people participated. To win, all you have to do is reach 50K by the end of November 30th. At a total, on the last day, of 53,000 words I can count the adventure a success. The fact that the completed novel is now 67,000 words and still counting (editing) seems only an added mark of congratulations. But, having succeeded once I am determinted to do so again.

This year, I am beginning from scratch. NaNo 2009 was written with a complete novel idea that had been running around in my brain fully formed for the better part of two years and all I had to do was allow my fast typing fingers to dictate from my brain to the laptop in the span of four weeks. This year, I find myself devoid of any idea of any level of interest. The ultimate purpose of this blog is to work through the bad ideas for short stories to arrive - by October 2010 - at a good idea for a novel. It is also a way for me to document how I write, having never paid much attention at all to this topic before. I am one of those people who just writes - as this blog will have so far told you - and, if in the mood, deals with the editing later. More often then not, most things never get edited. I believe that a person does everything best the first time and further repetition will not make it better. Do it right the first time, yes?

Therefore, my project for this year, in the eight and a half months until NaNo 2010, is to document the creation of an idea; the planning of chapters and plot; and finally, to document how I write at the end of it.

Interspersed with these artistic ramblings will probably be the occasion career furthering project and - hopefully - a document of my own endevours to make my local museum a place worth visiting, just to keep things interesting.

I hope you join me for the ride.