What I am massively excited about is all of the amazing women who have been voted into congress, and all of the amazing women who voted across the country and made this election possible. What was that about women having ways of shutting things down? Yeah, they shut MISOGYNY down.
In other news, houseguest extravaganza has finally come to a close...I seriously love all the people I've gotten to see in the last three weeks but NEVER AGAIN will I have guests on three consecutive weekends. Even if two of them are long weekends. It just messes with my productivity in ways I can't afford, especially going into November. November is always hell month, because it's when I have to actually start getting to work on seminar papers while still managing to keep up with reading. This year won't be so bad seminar paper-wise -- I already know what I'm writing on for both my seminars, now I just need to sit down and write it -- but that takes time and time is not a thing I've had the past few weeks.
Also on the topic of November, NaNoWriMo...yeah, about that. This is the hardest time I've ever had coming up with a concept for a story, and even now that I have (a bunch of people get trapped inside an uptown NYC apartment during Sandy) it's slow going. I haven't been able to write because of houseguest, and then because of reading catch-up in wake of houseguest, but I'm not going to give up, even if I'm not terribly inspired by what I'm writing. Any motivation would be very, very welcome. I'm going to need it in the next few weeks...
I think I have a summer writing project now...
I was thinking about NaNo so when I somehow got onto the subject of writing fiction with a girl in the MA before my next class, I ended up mentioning a couple of my novels-in-progress. I gave her the flippant/irreverent/shorthand description of The Printer's Tale and she sounded interested, but one of the other girls in my cohort, who was sitting in front of us, turned around and made a disparaging comment that implied I was following up on the popularity of Twilight, of all things, simply because my less-than-one-sentence synopsis mentioned werewolves.
And the thing is, yes, my flippant, irreverent, shorthand description of the novels I write will always leave something out. And if you're not already into the few things that show up in the shorthand, that kind of description isn't going to interest you. But if you are? Then I can convince you in less than a sentence...or at least get a laugh out of you. In fact hopefully that's exactly what these will do!
Lunar Reflections (2005): teenage angst on the moon
Kes Running (2006): unpremeditated gap year in space
The Printer's Daughter (2007): Beauty and the Beast meets Jane Eyre with werewolves
Gil and Leah (2008): feminist fantasy cross-dressing farce
The Inconvenient Dreamer (2009): woman travels to alternate universes in her dreams
Beneath Strange Stars (2010): gender-swapped Pride and Prejudice in space
Chasing Ghosts (2011): Possession meets Neverwhere with cross-dressing
The moral of the story: I need to find more fantasy/sci-fi writers (or at least writers who are sympathetic to these genres even if not writers of them) with whom to talk about my novels.
Basic story: Francis Connors is a couple of years older than Dorothea "Dorian" Bell. They've known each other since "Dorian" came to London at the age of sixteen and got a job working for a printer/bookseller in Paternoster Square (did I mention this was happening in the 1770s and 80s?). Francis has lived all his life in London and basically works across the street from "Dorian" as a bookseller. The two of them are pretty chummy and all is well until, a couple of years into their friendship, Dorothea realizes that forswearing men entirely is harder than it sounds...and she may just be in love with her best friend, who may also happen not to know that she is really a girl! Although she wants to be "more than just friends" with Francis, Dorothea is absolutely in love with her job as a printer and bookseller and a writer, and she would never do anything to let slip the secret of her crossdressing, which is the only thing that got her the job and the respect in the first place.
But of course this means that, eventually, perhaps even years after Dorothea realizes that she likes Francis, he is going to find out that she's a girl at a very inopportune moment! I just haven't figured out what that moment is quite yet. I'm leaning toward something Francis entering "Dorian's" rooms unannounced and getting an eyefull of Dorothea en deshabille, but this just seems crass. And Dorothea is very good at keeping her secret, so I don't think Francis would even suspect that his best mate isn't a dude, and even if he did, he'd have to do a lot of backtracking to discover that "Dorian Bell" is a fiction.
So, suggestions! Come at me!
That's also sort of what NaNoWriMo feels like to me now, in my seventh straight year as a participant. It's interesting because the majority of the other wrimos I've met so far are doing this for the very first time, and I can hardly remember my first novel. I know that it was more autobiographical than you would expect, considering that it was set on a lunar colony in the future, and that's about it. I don't remember how I felt about the quality of my writing. I barely remember what it was like to see that I had won. My NaNo memories don't get very clear until Year 3, when I wrote the novel that remains the love of my life to this day, and when for the first time I was in close proximity with other people doing the same crazy thing. This year, the writing is going surprisingly well, and although I don't know if anyone other than me would want to read this novel as it is currently being written, I'm finding myself enjoying the writing process far more than I normally do. Hopefully this isn't just the week one high talking.
Speaking of novels, I still have one to write, and I'm gonna get on that so that I can then focus on my schoolwork so I can start writing this report before I go watch Downton Abbey and eat homemade scones with a friend later tonight. (I told you there would be scones.)
I'm incredibly impressed with the actual quality of the prose I wrote last night between midnight and 2am to begin my novel. It's probably problematic, because now I'll want the whole thing to be this well-written. But I also wonder if this just means I'm becoming a better writer--or at least that this is a story that, somehow, I know how to write. I'm less thank 2,000 words in but I feel like the style of the writing itself has helped me get inside my protagonist's head, get to know her in a nuanced sort of way that I've rarely known other protagonists. Maybe, I think, it's because she's sort of grown-up, already living an independent life, unlike so many of my FMCs whose stories are about growing up and becoming independent--but maybe there's just something about her that works, for me, with me. Either way, I'm not going to complain. I don't remember the last time I felt this happy with the quality of anything written in November.
(Of course, the scene I've written couldn't possibly be more quotidian--a woman walking down the street on her way to a meeting with her dissertation adivsor--but I don't care. Something about it is so perfectly hers.)
I could go on with the rhapsodizing, but sadly, writing a novel isn't all that I'm doing this month, so it's back to homework...so that I can attend my first New York write-in later tonight!
The novel alternates between a present and a past timeline, as a modern PhD candidate and an armchair historian-cum-medium (as in “talks to ghosts” medium—yes, it’s that kind of story) work together to discover new information about a (totally made-up) late-eighteenth-century writer and radical intellectual figure, Dorian Bell. He lived in London from ~1780-1790, starting as a publisher’s apprentice but eventually writing essays, poems, and a novel or two, while circulating at the edges of the group that contained Mary Wollstonecraft, William Blake, Thomas Paine, etc. And as it turns out, “he” was also not actually a man, but a woman by the name of Dorothea who ran away from home in north Yorkshire and ended up spending the next ten years of her life cross-dressing in London. But this fact remains unknown to 21st century scholars…until Ellie’s dissertation advisor tells her she has no choice but to consult a medium (Ben) before submitting her finished dissertation and completing her PhD requirements. Together, Ellie and Ben slowly unearth clues to Dorian/Dorothea’s past, culminating with the discovery that she was in fact a woman.
The problem is, since Ellie and Ben will be finding out about Dorian/Dorothea’s life out of order, I need to know the entire progression of her story before I start writing if I’m going to appropriately pace the clues! I have a basic outline of what happens to her, but I haven’t made a lot of decisions yet as to background motivation or reasoning.
( Now here's where you come in: some questions for my dear readers )
It's a long post so I won't make it any longer, except to mention that this is cross-posted on the NaNo forums in case you wanted to reply there instead, and to say thanks in advance for ANYTHING you have to suggest!
I am also really, REALLY excited about the story I want to write. Even though I know basically nothing about how it's going to play out...! In my head, it is sort of like A. S. Byatt's Possession but with 18th-century writers, meets Neverwhere but with ghosts, meets Leviathan but substitute "being a part of London's radical literary culture" for "flying."
The story is set primarily in London, but oscillates between present-day and the mid- to late-18th century (that's 1770s-90s to those of you who don't think in centuries). In the modern day storyline, the main character is a female scholar working on her PhD dissertation about a second-tier 18th-century writer who's more notable for the breadth of his literary endeavors than for his impact or success in any of them. He was a poet, an essayist, a novelist, a reviewer, and a small-scale publisher -- and while his own work isn't respected particularly highly, he was certainly part of radical London literary-political circles in the 1780s and 90s (he knew William Blake, Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, etc.).
The twist is that in this scholar's modern London, technologies have been developed that allow researchers to actually see (albeit briefly and indistinctly) into the past. These technologies only work in places like London, that have a "deep history" of human habitation, though no one's quite sure why this is. Theorists suspect that history -- the pressure of so many humans in one space -- somehow deforms spacetime in a way that makes it more susceptible to further deformation, so that impressions are tied to a specific place and stratified by the time when they were deposited. But this is not important to our scholarly main character. In fact, it's something of a nuisance -- because the English department is beginning to catch on to the potential "real world relevance" that this kind of "ghost research" could lend the academy, and our main character is forced to go looking for any information she might be able to find out about the literary figure she's chosen to study, when really she's not a fan of new historicism and would like to be left to her close-readings, thank you very much.
Thus, she runs into a secondary main character -- a man around her age (mid-twenties) who's lived in London all his life, which (for reasons that theorists still aren't clear about) makes him particularly susceptible to the impressions left by the past in the present. More importantly, our lady scholar can actually afford his rates on her miserable grant money (because people who can use the technology to sense out these "ghosts" have quickly turned the whole thing into a business). He's something of an armchair historian, and she resents his sense that he "gets" history just as much as she resents the fact that she's having to pay him for his services. But she stops hating him entirely as the two of them work together to unravel the history of this 18th-century figure, who as it turns out, has more secrets than either of them had bargained for...last but not least being that "he" was actually a woman, living as a man so that she could live by her pen without bringing disgrace upon her family, who she ran away from when she was sixteen. (This last bit will be very slowly teased out over the course of the novel; the reader won't discover that "he" is a "she" until at least two thirds of the way through.)
Now, it would sound like I totally know what I'm talking about, but really I made most of that up in the last ten minutes. And while I have the big-picture outlines of the story, there are lots of smaller details that I need to figure out...not the least of which being names for all of these people...and you know maybe a title or something. (I just had a thought that it would be cool if the title of MC's dissertation were also the title of this book, but what she would call the dissertation, I have no idea.) So, comments and suggestions more than welcome! I kind of want it to have some variation on/synonym for "ghost" in the title but at present this is all I know.
I'm sitting in an airport Starbucks, looking like a hipster with my coffee and my iPad and my plaid flannel shirt, and pondering the fact that in a couple of hours I'll be getting on a plane and I'll wake up in New York City.
The summer went by fast, except for the parts that went by slow. I did a lot with my time -- almost as much as I hoped, perhaps more than I expected. I wrote and rewrote more of my novel-in-progress, The Printer's Daughter. I discovered exactly how exhausting it is to work something like full time on a novel project, especially in the revision stage, and a lot of the work I did was reworking and making note of the things I need to add or change, but in the end I know this is all valuable information, and I am dedicated to the process...I just know that it may take a while, and I accept that. It surprises me that my not-entirely-conscious realization that pursuing a career as a professor is more important to me than pursuing a career as a writer has actually made me more keen on (eventually) getting this novel written.
In addition to working on original fiction, I somehow got a weird fanfiction boost and wrote more fic over the past summer than I think I have in the past few years. I also made a semi-conscious decision not to be ashamed about fandom. I'm not even one of the crazier elements of it, and it seems silly to be ashamed of something that makes me happy. I've never been deeply enough involved in fandom for it to frustrate or anger me; I've never been caught up in fandom wank. It probably helps that my main fandom generally believes that being angry with people speeds up the heat death of the universe! (Young Wizards fandom, I love you, never change.)
I didn't read all the books on my list -- I didn't even read a significant portion of them -- but I did read a lot, and a lot of what I read was good. I especially loved stuff by Holly Black and Scott Westerfeld, suggesting that a) Twilight notwithstanding, YA is far from dead and b) I should probably read it more often...at least, the bits of it that Rebecca recommends!
Surprisingly (for me at least), I really got into yoga. My younger sister had taken a few classes and encouraged me to go with her, and I while it certainly isn't a replacement for other more intense forms of exercise, I really appreciate the way it focuses on linking your mind and your movements, so that you're more thoughtful about your workout. Even doing relatively intense yoga leaves me feeling refreshed and relaxed when I'm done, and i think some of the things I learned on the mat have an important place in the rest of my life. Yoga is about letting go of whatever isn't serving you, about honoring your body and its limitations. It's about coming from where you are, instead of where you wish you were or where you think you ought to be. When I get to New York, finding a place to do yoga is high on my list of things to do -- right after I get my New York Public Library card!
I set out with the intention of feeling an academic detox this summer, and it worked. I've done a lot of being lazy and I'm ready for what's next.
I oscillate between being overcome with the amount of work I know I have to do in the next weeks -- move into apartment, buy supplies, sign lease, etc. -- and being delighted by the idea of finally taking that next step in my career/life plan. For a girl who still believes that the world is so big and she is so small, I'm surprisingly ready to have a place to call "home" for the next six years. I don't know if anywhere other than New York would make me feel this way. I only hope that I'm right about the city that so many people dream about...especially since, until about March, it wasn't a place that I specifically dreamed about. But I feel, right now, like these hopes will be met and exceeded. I feel like I'm going somewhere new, but also somewhere that will one day be home.
So, while I'd rather be traveling by TARDIS, I suppose I'll make do with a plane, as long as it gets me there.
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPad.
I'm realizing (again? still?) how difficult it is to write, and to re-write. I'm working my way slowly through The Printer's Tale (formerly The Printer's Daughter, NaNo 2007), and although I have a complete knowledge of what "happens" in the story -- the A to Z of the plot -- this does not make writing easy! I have a finished first draft of this novel to guide me, and I still feel like I'm floundering.
Sometimes, I appreciate the distance between what I intend to write and what I actually produce -- sometimes, the best interchanges between characters are those I did not plan. But other times I'm just frustrated because I feel like the outline is missing something, but I'm not sure what. Or I feel like I'm doing a write-by-numbers sort of thing, so even though I know that I NEED a particular scene in a particular place, I don't want to have to write it.
Part of the problem likely also lies in the fact that re-writing contains a lot less of the "fun stuff" -- the let's-just-write-this-down-and-see-how-
Of course, there is only one solution -- keep writing! -- but sometimes this is not comforting, and so I take a small break and complain.
And then there are days like today, where writing somehow demands that I get dressed up for it. I'm not even leaving the house, but I've got mostly new clothes on, I've done up my hair (more or less), I know which shoes go with the outfit should I decide to wear them. Partly this is because I cannot think in pajamas. Partly it is because creating some kind of routine spectacle around the writing process somehow makes me more likely to knuckle down and write. This is probably very silly, and I should try to wean myself off of it -- and yet, for what it is, it works remarkably well.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go put on some lace-up brown leather boots and start writing.
Me (thinking of NaNo): I thrive on unreasonable goals. Challenge accepted!
And thus, I'll be spending most of my free time between now and Friday at 3pm working on my 20-page senior-thesis-precursor essay about Pride and Prejudice instead of writing my novel, but that's okay, because 50k is not that much, I'm fully capable of pulling off a 12k day (and have done so for two days in a row once, and could possibly repeat the feat if necessary), and my paper idea is just about as awesome as my novel idea, so no hard feelings.
Also, this means the only time I'll be online between now and then is for work-related stuff, and communications of absolute necessity. (Yes, this counts as one of those.)
I might die this month. I might stop using all forms of internet communication. I might not respond to comments/facebook posts/emails/tweets/etc. I might write some of the most reprehensible English papers of my career, and fail at getting into grad school because application-writing takes time I don't have. But no matter how low I get, I know one thing: by this time a month from now, I'll have another novel draft in my pocket. With aliens!
Also, I'm taking three upper division Berkeley English classes at once -- which is apparently lots harder than taking four second-and-third-year Queen Mary English classes at once. And that's not even mentioning the fact that I'm also taking French here, which is just a constant time drain (though by the end of this all I know it'll be worth it).
I think the hardest part is that some people (not pointing fingers!) don't understand what I mean when I say I don't have free time. They expect me to be there to hang out with them, and honestly, I can't always. In addition to 14 hours of class time per week, I spend 8 hours tutoring or attending tutor-related meetings and 6 hours interning at the Office of Letters and Light (which, if you add in transportation time, probably is actually more like 7-8 hours). And this isn't even including my homework or my sleep! Or, god forbid, time for me to do reading independent of my schoolwork!
I always knew that this semester was going to be hard. I just didn't think that the hard part would be explaining to friends and family why I don't have the time to be with them. But although this semester is hard, it's also utterly necessary to my eventual goals -- and that isn't going to change. So I guess ultimately I just have to get better at saying, "Actually, sorry, I really am up to my ears in work between now and December 31, can we reschedule for next year?"
I suppose the last thing to mention is that, despite how hectic this all sounds, I really do enjoy what I'm doing! My classes are amazing and challenging and nonsensical (that's what happens when you study too much literary theory) and brilliant and I love every minute of (some of) them. Likewise, I'm really excited about the work I do as a tutor and as an OLL intern, and I'm looking forward to once again being an East Bay Municipal Liaison. And I'm also looking forward to reinstating/renovating what was once the Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Workshop class and is now a club that will still workshop sci-fi and fantasy stories but can be far more flexible than a class since I don't have to determine a syllabus in advance.
How mean am I being if I tell people that I'm only really going to have time for them if I see them through school/work/interning already? (Probably pretty mean. But I'm an English major. I won't say it in those words...at least, not until mid-November when I'm starting to get really fed up.)
In the meantime, tea will solve all my problems. That is all.
It's a different kind of love from the one I feel for London. Queen Mary is another "home" now, and this city feels contentedly mine in a way that only Berkeley really rivals. I still remember the first time I ever went to London, with my hopes all up, and I got this giddy feeling the instant I stepped off the plane, like being there had turned on some kind of switch and lit up something new.
Paris wasn't like that -- I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport at about ten in the morning Paris time, after having been awake since four in the morning London time in order to get to the airport, etc. I don't know when it hit me that I was actually there. But once it did? The beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I've always loved French history. It's part of the reason why I like romanticism so much -- it's a literary and artistic movement inspired in large part by the actions of the revolutionaries in France in 1789. I spent the summer reading and re-reading A Tale of Two Cities and thus getting to know Dickens's Paris like the back of my hand. When I was walking the streets, everything came back to me, and even if I didn't have a map in my head, I could tell you who the streets were named after. I love London for its history, as well, but the history in Paris has a different flavor to it, something I can't quite pin down.
In four days, I saw so much that I had wanted to see -- everything, in fact, that was on my list, and more besides. And yet I still know that there is plenty that will pull me back. It's hard to say that I like it better than other places I've been, because all European cities are different, and admirable for different reasons. But still, I think it wouldn't be entirely incorrect to state that, after London, Paris is the second most amazing city I've seen in Europe, and that I know I'll be returning.
Her mother, Lydia, is a famous food critic (she probably has a show on Food Network); her father, Joe, is a math textbook editor. I have a feeling they're divorced by the time my novel begins...and for rather obvious reasons. [Side note: it almost turned out that Joe was a movie critic, which would have made a fantastic story as well -- two parents who are both critics would be hell to live but great to write about. It also almost turned out that Joe's name was Batman, but that did not come to pass. Sorry Luke.]
Of her siblings (the rest of whom don't have names or personalities or even genders yet), Justine is closest to her sister Evelyn (goes by Evie), who is a Civil War reenactor. Justine's best friend who is not related to her is Patrick, an artsy type who makes money as a glassblower.
The man of Justine's dreams is named Jonathan. He is a junior high teacher. They meet beside a large boulder. I do not know where this boulder is. Neither does Justine. Questing ensues.
Speaking of aforementioned love quadrangle: I also have no idea who Justine 'ends up with' -- or indeed, if she ends up with anyone at all. I think that's a refreshing change from the past two years of novels (although I still love reading/writing Noelle and Roman). Of course there's the guy of her dreams, but what if that's all he turns out to be? What is she's really been in love all along with the friend who got her through high school, the boy who went to prom with her when no one else asked, the only one to whom she ever told her secret? Or what if a sensible man of business, an acquaintance from work (perhaps via her disgustingly wealthy employer) promises to give her the comfort of a normal life and she wants to cling to that?
November's going to start soon, and I'm going to get the chance to figure it out.
But I don’t know where she lives or what her name is or what she looks like, etc. etc. Spurred on by the brilliant idea of a friend, I have decided to figure these out via that favorite game of pre-teen schoolgirls: MASH. For those of you unfamiliar, essentially in MASH you list out five possibilities for a number of different categories (ex. future husband’s name, number of children, location of honeymoon, etc.) and then follow a pattern to determine your future more or less at random. I’ve decided to do this with character features, jobs, etc.! I can come up with some of the possibilities on my own, but one of the best parts of MASH is that, frequently, friends who you play the game with are asked to provide possibilities for categories — and if they’re anything like my elementary school friends, they’ll suggest that you should end up with 14 children, married to that boy in the back row who smells funny, driving a cardboard box with wheels.
So what this all boils down to is, I’d love to have some offered suggestions in the following categories!
Locations (can be cities, countries, geographical spaces, etc.)
These will then be distributed between my MC and her parents, siblings, friends, and love interest(s) in the order that they are offered up. On October 28 (earlier if I get enough input), I will go through the list and discover the details of my main character and the world she lives in. And then, I’ll write!
(Seriously, this is the most excited I've been about my novel in ages. I'm excited!)
My MC is in her mid- to late twenties (haven't actually decided upon an age yet), has graduated from a mid-range four-year college and achieved some kind of entry level job which is either A) not terribly interesting but could make her a decent amount of money in the next few years or B) something that she cares about but which has relegated her to a near-poverty she can only defend by attempting to ignore it.
She lives in either A) northern California or B) southern California, but no matter where she is, she grew up next to a beach. Her mother's family is from California, her father's family is from New York. Her parents separated and then divorced when she was between the ages of ten and eighteen. If she has any siblings she's got an older brother who was close friends with her as a young child, then turned into a deadbeat once he hit high school, and is just now starting to get his life back on track.
She has either A) never had any real long-term relationships, preferring to erect a barrier between herself and the rest of the world or B) had two or three moderately serious relationships, all of which broke off right before (or after) the point of moving in together.
The only person in the world she can really trust is either A) her childhood best friend, the girl who lived next door and who she would play fairytale games with or B) a guy she's been close with since junior high, around the same time as her parents' separation, who she respects because he's so down-to-earth and never causes any drama.
She could work as a...
A) junior high teacher
C) member of a non-profit or humanitarian organization
D) swim instructor (or some other job at a local YMCA-like organization)
Really she's just like any normal person except that she may or may not actually physically travel to the different places that she dreams about -- whether in this reality or not -- and she's pretty convinced that this is evidence that she's crazy but it's something she's learned to live with.
The one thing that I don't know about her (and it's kind of a big thing) is what she wants. Initially this was going to be a cheesy romance story about the woman who meets the man of her dreams, but really now I think that the guy she meets is just the catalyst for her quest to discover the truth about this "insanity" that has made her distrust herself for so long. She's written herself off as a nobody, or as someone necessarily confined to the fringes of society, because she's pretty sure that she's crazy -- and what's more, she enjoys some of the insanity -- wouldn't you like to have lucid dreams every night that you remember clear as crystal in the morning? (Except you wouldn't always, but we'll get to that later.) BUT ANYWAY. All my heroines seem to want the same generic thing -- to find themselves -- but it would be nice if I could figure out a specific thing she's trying to do. Maybe at the same time that she's pursuing this dream guy, she could be attracted to a guy in "real life" (not saying whether or not the dream people are a part of said "real life") and be trying to navigate the difficulties of her "mental illness" while trying to get to know him.
I need to stop thinking out loud about this and go to sleep, but overall I'd say this has been quite productive. Now I feel slightly less directionless regarding November! (We'll leave for later the nagging worry that this story is too serious for NaNoWriMo, or really just for me as a writer.)