Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I did not learn to paint by watching Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.

My memory goes a long way back. I can remember my 4th birthday. I can remember the house I lived in when I was 4, in Trout Creek, Montana. I remember the kitchen table, at which I spilled my Kix cereal. This was the table where I was often found, stationed with a stack of paper and a bucket of crayons, or one of those shnazzy "paint with water" coloring books, where the pages changed color as you dripped a wet brush over them. I remember the brownish shag carpet, where I would sit with my brothers and watch Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember the crab apple tree outside and the acres of grass and forest and trees. I remember the mountains. 

I don't remember how I learned to love art. I don't remember if it was a sunset over the Rockies, or a duck in the pond across the road, or if I flipped through a National Geographic and became inspired. But I know I did not find my muse in cartoons or in my breakfast. I know that art--real art--was the catalyst for the art in me.

I did not learn to paint by watching Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles. I did not learn to write by reading the encyclopedia. Art begets art.

Every writer... every good writer... carries a densely packaged burden. The burden is layered--it is a desire to read, to fall into a book and be immersed in its pages and drown within the words. This is the first layer, the most foundational, the most fundamental, because we cannot create great written works if we do not fully experience the creation of what we love. The second layer is a love to write. This is the layer that you want to see in a writer. It is most visible and shows the most progress. 

It is with this thought that I confess, I haven't written in several months. Not just on this blog. I haven't written in Nondescript since at least November. It's not because I don't want to. I do. 

In my quiet moments, when I have already calmed myself with praying, when I am trying to fall asleep and I can't, I reach into the file cabinet in my brain and pull out Nondescript and I think. I watch faces float around my head, I envision conversations yet to come, I become enthralled with the strength Gwen has gained because I did not give up on making her a good character. I could have stopped, years ago, and I didn't, because she is worth more than being some passive heroine that no one cares about.

But I don't write. And it's because I know I haven't earned it.

The best writing comes from good reading. It doesn't have to be the greatest novel in history, in fact it could be a horrible book to at least remind you not to write horrible things. But! if you are writing fiction you should be reading fiction. (Unless you're doing research. But your fiction writing should be inspired by more than just research.)

When I haven't been reading a lot lately, I don't allow myself to write unless I am intensely inspired. In order to be connected with the whole thing--my authorship, potential readers, the characters, society, the whole world--I need small reminders that this is a real thing that real people will read and they will KNOW if I'm sounding technical or if my writing is more than just research or more than just "from the heart" crap on a page. It has to be both. It can't be one or the other.

With that said, I have been reading lately. And so I will be writing. 


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Origins: Amos Shapiro

A few weeks ago, I stopped writing. But a few weeks ago I also spent the WHOLE DAY writing (in random places at the university, and in-between tutoring people, whilst drinking a large thermos of my favorite kind of tea [Republic of Tea: Ginger Peach.]) I got to 64,000 words that day. 64,000! It's actually a few hundred over that, but I'm too lazy to figure it out and type it here.

I am just one chapter away from finishing Part 2 of the novel. Part 1 & 2 both include some "real leaf" events--i.e., conversations that really happened, personal experiences and situations that I've altered slightly for the purpose of making them more believable, more appropriate for fiction, for the novel, etc. Getting to Part 3 will require much more imagination for me. I won't have conversations that I can essentially copy/paste into the text. But I think if I really invest myself I can finish it within the next year.

Yeah, okay. We'll see about that.

In any case, while I haven't been writing, I did do a few Amos sketches. Here are some of the basics that you need to know for his character. You should know, he is based on a real person, and some his dialogue is indeed taken--in context!--from actual conversations. I mean verbatim, people. Word-for-word. I have written many characters in many short stories and other (secret) novels but Amos is by-far the most genuine, and the most deserving of such dubious speech.

Sketch 1. Rescued books.
I know, I know. His left hand looks weird. I got tired of trying to fix it.

Age: (at the beginning of the book) about 24
Hair: Dark Brown
Eyes: Brown
Original home/ethnicity: New Mexico
Favorite music: The Beatles, 
Favorite book: Crime & Punishment by Theodore Dostoevsky 
Likes: writing letters, the smell of a campfire, sunflowers
Dislikes: helplessness, dishonesty, being "tied down" by unnecessary things
Family: Mother, father, younger sister (all deceased)
Personality: INTJ
Character's importance to the story: Amos plays opposite of Gwen for the first 2/3 of the novel, during which he is the main "love interest." Amos shows up returns to initiate a relationship with Gwen, but after that he is often absent due to his obligations to the Ministry (he is also vaguely resentful of "settling down" in a place like Dexterhimmel.) His absence is detrimental to Gwen's stability and yet their tumultuous relationship drives many other plot points. You might love him, through Gwen, but he has other traits which will seriously cause some loathing and disgust. But you have to give him some credit because ultimately, he is the reason Gwen seeks out SubCity.
How he arrives in Dexterhimmel: After the loss of his family Amos wanders around the country until he sees campfire smoke from a distance. He follows the smoke to Dexterhimmel, and settles there until he meets Gwen. When Gwen gets involved with the Ministry Amos does too. He always has his own "home" in Dexterhimmel, although he is rarely in it.

Sketches 2 & 3 (done during those "in-between tutoring" periods I mentioned.)
On green paper. Don't judge me. I was just being resourceful.

That's all for now. I might try to finish part 2 this week, but we'll see. The pressure of part 3 immediately after is just a little intense and I might be subconsciously avoiding that. But please stay tuned, and tell your friends! :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Origins: Gwen Esmond

You'll have to forgive me for not posting sooner. At first, I was just delaying because I needed to prepare some sketches. Then I started working, you know, at work. Life unexpectedly sped up, which I guess isn't quite so unexpected because it's September, but I feel like you all know what I'm saying.

I've come up with a way of introducing characters to you without spoiling the story. You might remember those popular Myspace quizzes (and later Facebook quizzes) that are like, "Fave song ever: anything Taylor Swift. Last thing you ate: sour skittles omg!!" Well, this is going to be sort of like that except less odiously reeking of junior high. Once I introduce a few characters the format will make a little more sense, so just bear with me. I promise to have another character intro post before too long.

Let me introduce Gwen Esmond. She might have a middle name, but it's undecided at this point. Here's what you need to know.

Age: (at the beginning of the book) about 22
Hair: Blonde
Eyes: Blue
Original home/ethnicity: Pacific Northwest (USA)/Welsh & Russian
Favorite music: Johnny Cash, James Taylor
Favorite book: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Likes: coffee, daisies, Emily Dickinson, red leaves in the fall
Dislikes: lakes/deep water, being polite
Family: Mother, father, three brothers (all deceased)
Personality: INFJ
Character's importance to the story: Gwen is the protagonist, a young woman who struggles daily to survive and often finds difficulty in allowing herself to be happy, or be hopeful. We follow her through three separate settings, over the span of several years. While she is our protagonist she does some things that will definitely piss you off and make you wonder what makes her so great You will probably want her to suffer at some point. Don't worry, she does.
How she arrives in Dexterhimmel: Originally, a friend takes her there after both their families die. Eventually the friend leaves, so Gwen takes up a job at the Ministry for a few years, and when she returns to Dexterhimmel she is worse for the wear and has fewer connections within the fortress.

Here are a few other sketches I did. The one below was done with a red drawing pencil, the other three were drawn with charcoal pencils. I didn't scan these in because I feel like people will be less inclined to steal drawings from the internet if they're of poor graphic quality. Also, the one on the bottom is too big to scan. Anyhow. Enjoy.
Carrying Amos' lantern through the darkness.

A moment of frustration.

Saying goodbye. This scene occurs at the very end of the story.
That's all I have for now. Due to the busy-ness of life I haven't written much lately either, but I think in the next post I'll focus some more on Amos. Hope you stick around!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Origins: What is Nondescript?

I have to apologize. It's been almost a whole week and you still have no idea what this story is about. I mean, I'm really sorry I waited this long to tell you, because you're all just dying to know, I'm sure. (And if you're not, well, I'm just going to have to work to get your interest, right?)

There was little bit of a teaser in the last post, where I mentioned a young woman named Gwen, making her way through the woods after a long journey. That's how the story begins. But before I can just start telling the story willy-nilly, it might be nice for you to know where to put this story in your head.

So, how do we categorize a novel? When I was student teaching (gasp! first mention of something college related) I took over 100 middle schoolers to the library, and we had this long discussion about different genres. For them, they identify what genre a book is by cutesy little stickers. So if there's a tiny detective holding a magnifying glass, it's a mystery. If an American flag sticker waves proudly from the spine of Johnny Tremain, it's historical fiction.

I could tell you the genre of Nondescript. But if you read the whole thing, you would say it didn't fit. I don't think it fits either. So first I'm going to show you this picture, which I painstakingly made and even created my own color scheme. (I named it "Antique Maps" because sometimes I pretend to be a hipster.) The words here are not based off the entire novel but actually on the freestyle poem at the start of the very first chapter.

See, I'm one of those people who believe that beyond the syntax and the dialogue of a novel, you can have significant connections just with the feelings characters express or experience, if it's done right. I wept incessantly when I read The Book Thief for the very first time, like a hormonal woman, or an angsty teen... maybe both. I have read a great many books in my life and enjoyed a good majority of them, but they rarely made me cry. The Book Thief made me sob and struggle like someone was punching me in the throat. And even during the second, third, fourth times reading it I still teared up.  This is something I carry with me every time I read a book, hoping to feel as deeply to someone else as I did with little Liesel Meminger.

The words in the cloud, from the introductory poem, express the depth of feeling Gwen experiences throughout the novel. If you look close enough you can see "war" and "survival" in there. Technically, this is a science fiction novel. (That would be a little sticker with a flying saucer, for those of you wondering.) But science fiction isn't for everybody, and immediately turns some people off--it even distracts me, and I wrote the thing.

So, here is what you need to know about Nondescript.

Shortly after the turn of the century, there is a worldwide panic as everything man-made begins to decay and dissolve. Things like cars become obsolete, buildings crumble, and humanity's desire for material things leads to chaos and violence. The cause is eventually determined as a few power-hungry scientists, who devised a substance that destroyed everything and were destroyed during their own experiment, but by the time our story begins to unfold it has been five years since the horrific event. Only rubble remains and there is an 85% decrease in the world's population. There is an organization simply called the Ministry which searches for survivors and distributes rations to any surviving communities. When we meet Gwen Esmond, she has been working with the Ministry for several years and has just returned to the community that welcomed her after the end of the war: Dexterhimmel. Within the walls of Dexterhimmel Gwen attempts to survive, to maintain the life she now must live. She has one sincere companion, Amos. Their relationship is strained because while Amos claims to love Gwen, he believes working for the Ministry is more important than staying with her in Dexterhimmel. With Amos often absent, Gwen finds herself trapped in a dangerous situation that could end her life. The only resolution is to escape to the world outside the walls of Dexterhimmel and find the mythical SubCity, supposedly a secret underground community with enough resources to renew the world that was lost. 

This sounds like science fiction. Honestly, it sounds like post-apocalyptic science fiction. In many ways that correctly identifies my story but in many ways it doesn't. The way I see it, it's a "relational" story, it's about people. Some science-fiction-y stuff happened to them, but in the 60,000+ words I have so far, do you know how many times I actually mention the scientists? Once. One time. I talk about it as little as possible. They are only necessary so that readers will know why the world is the way it is.

So, let me put it a little more simply: This story is about a girl, a young woman, who struggles with something as simple as daily survival. Nobody is fighting. There are no soldiers. All she has to do is be courageous enough to live for another day, and convince herself that remaining alive is worth it.

In the following posts I'm going to begin introducing characters. This will include both a literary sketch, and an actual sketch. Yup. I'm gonna draw pictures, 'cause I can. So now that you have a handful of words to gamble on and a few promises from me, I hope you're a bit more invested. If you want to ask questions or give suggestions, PLEASE say whatever you want in the comments below. I would love to hear from you(and your friends! tell them!), and I hope you stick around.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

This is how it works

Welcome to September, the land of newness (changing colors) and oldness (everything dies) and all things Fall. My story, the novel, Nondescript, begins in September, with crunching leaves and crisp mornings. We open the story to the narration of a young woman named Gwen, traveling alone on a path in the woods. She finds herself in a familiar place after a long journey that no one knows she's taken.

And as much as I would love to begin telling you all about the world of Nondescript and why it's called that and why it's so important, I'm not going to give anyone that satisfaction just yet.

In my first post I explained what exactly this blog will be about, and you got to see a little bit of my writing style, and experience my vast knowledge of books. Vast. So vastly vast, you don't even know. Okay, maybe it's not that vast, but it was a part of me, and now I want to tell you a bit more about myself.

Here are some things you might want to know about me:
1. I am professionally inexperienced. That is, I write for pleasure, but not for money. (yet!) I would love to get paid to do what I love, but I'll do it without the pay because... well, this is what I love.
2. I am 25 years old, as of 5 days ago. You can read about it here. I will sincerely try not to have a quarter-life crisis while writing this blog.
3. The link above goes to my other (personal) blog, The Other Sock. It's sort of cool.
4. I might mention my husband now and then. I'm not making him up, I swear he's a real person. His name is Joey, and we've been married since June 2011.
We're awesome.
5. I graduated from TIU in May, with a degree in English & Secondary Education. I might discuss parts of college life, but it's unlikely I'll ever mention my Ed. classes. I probably won't talk about any of this until much later, when I explain how I wrote the novella for my creative writing course.
6. I like love  eatbreathesleep words and writing much more than so many things in the world, although they are closely paired with hot cups of coffee and the sound of the ocean. I am one of those people who doodle words because they are aesthetically pleasing; I own a Scrabble mug and a New York Times Crossword mug AND a mug with an ampersand on it. I might occasionally explain the difference between using words like "shouted" and "cursed." WORDS. They are important. Therefore, I will explain why the novel is called Nondescript.

Now, here are some things you might want to know about how this blog will function (eventually):
1. I really am going to explain every part of my novel-writing process. I will go in chronological order, from its birth to the present, telling you exactly how and why I decided to write things. I'm going to explain the development of characters, the main points of the plot, and any difficult or confusing concepts you might encounter.
2. I will attempt to describe the process of inspiration, and different elements that inspired the story, or key images/themes that are significant to the plot.
3. Any time I explain a character, there will be a link above ^ next to those other links--Home, A Description (which you should go read now!), The Other Sock, etc. 
4. Any time I explain a main plot point, a theme/image, an element that inspired the story, or a "landmark" of how I wrote Nondescript, there will be a link above. ^

That's all I have to say for now. If you want to, you can subscribe to the blog via e-mail and get updated when I write again in a week. Stay tuned, tell your friends! You can say you knew me when, haha.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Introduction & Invitation

First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. At least, how I try.
Call me Ishmael.
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road...
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.
Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
Mother died today.
Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.

These are unrelated thoughts, ideas, sentences, distinctively set apart from one another. They share nothing save for letters and a bit of punctuation. Yet they have one thing in common: they begin stories. Famous stories, old stories, stories so large and known that you might have identified exactly which line belonged to which book before you even finished reading.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville.
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce.
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner.
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens.
The Stranger, Albert Camus.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.

That's what a powerful story does.  The words sink into you and become part of you, part of your environment, part of the world. Phrases are repeated so often that you might know the first line of a novel without ever having picked up the book. You don't even have to enjoy reading something to remember it well. Personally, I never truly enjoyed Moby Dick, and I loathe The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But I remember them. (How does one forget an entire section of childish gibberish about a moocow?)

How about this one: I will try to tell you this story as though you've never heard it before. Not ringing any bells? Striking memories deep within your soul? Making you feel nostalgic about high school English class, or a college lit course? No?

I didn't think so--and that's because I wrote it.

Over five years ago I began a novel. It didn't always start with that line, but it does now, and there's a chance it will change again. Like most novels, I'm sure, it has a story surrounding its development. The first line can change just as the rest of it undoubtedly shifts and wavers between plot points. Other novelists got paid for their work, so it's likely they worked quickly at least some of the time. But I'm not paid, I write on my own terms, so... It has been slow going up until now. It was once semi-completed for an advanced creative writing class, although it would be categorized as a novella then. But someday, maybe sooner, maybe later, I want to publish this thing. Publishing, I hear, is a difficult journey and I think it might be beneficial to take as many people with me as possible.

So, here I am, writing this, inviting you to come with me.

I'm not going to write about my problems, unless it's writers' block. I'm not going to talk too much about my personal life--although, if I find out I have a horrible disease or I'm going to have a baby, I might tell you. Mostly I've created this space to share my story about my story. If it's appropriate and related, I'll talk about me. If it's appropriate and related, I might even talk about the President or sea turtles. I'm going to write about how it started, and all the fun horrible significant things that have happened along the way, and then I'm going to try to talk about how the writing is going right now--that might be the hardest part.

So please, join me on this adventure. I promise it will be memorable. But, I'm sure you've heard that before.