Nanowrimo Again

It’s the most wonderful time of the year?

Nanowrimo came into my life for the first time when I was a freshman in college. I still remember the plot of that very first attempt, even though I didn’t even come close to finishing the story. It was about about a college freshman who felt very dissatisfied and through some plot-convenient bit of magic was offered the chance to wish herself into various futures by changing various choices she had made in her past.

I only made it about 5,000 words in, but I will never forget the part of that story where my main character (whose name now escapes me but I’d wager it started with an A) awoke to find herself as an obnoxious diva Broadway star who was deeply disliked and her husband and best friend (also based on people I knew) were having an affair. She was desperate to find out how she could have let her life get like this and immediately went looking for her journals to find a record of her choices up to this point, only to find, horror of horrors, she had ceased journaling many years ago.

Thinking about what I was going through emotionally doing that year, my story doesn’t surprise me. But that first nanowrimo didn’t change my life.

Or did it?

I changed a lot that first year of college and I faced a lot of my own emotional turmoils. There were plenty to come, but that second true attempt at writing a novel (My 1st had been based on Sailor Moon fanfiction and that’s another story for another day), solidified in me that I dreamed of one day writing a book or two or three or even four.

The most awful choice I could imagine myself making so many years ago was to stop writing.

It’s a choice I’ve almost slipped into a number of times over the years.

I am not an obnoxious diva hated by everyone forced to deal with me on a daily basis, but there are large gaps in my journals and lots of days (weeks, oh let’s face it, months) over the past few years when I got no writing done. I won’t delve into the reasons for that here for the time being, but I want to bring it up because this year I am once again attempting a true nanowrimo because…I need to.

I need to get myself into a habit again. A habit I once considered an utter sin to for me to give up.

At the end of this month I will emerge, hopefully with a novel about the 1981 longest professional baseball game, but definitely with the knowledge that I can return to myself, the one part of myself that no matter what else changes I always want to be able to lay claim to. Writing is not what I do. It is part of who I am.

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Why I Write

ink jar and quills (image by Charles Stanford)
(image by Charles Stanford)

I have been dealing with what I’ll call anxiety induced malaise of late.

As such, my creative work has stalled.

There is a school of thought out there that says anxiety, depression, and the like drive the creative person to make better art. I’m not going to say this is 100% wrong. When a person is sensitive and able to feel things deeply, that can be a gift. I have experienced that. However, it can also be paralyzing. Lately, I have been paralyzed.

I have especially struggled with my writing. I had a number of projects in the works, but suddenly that shifted. One novel I was working on (a sort of companion to Sideshow) seemed frivolous and unnecessary. Another novel seemed precious and overwrought. You get the picture. Each time I sat down to work, it all seemed to be without purpose. I wanted to do something important, but nothing seemed important enough, so I did nothing.

I’ve been here before. It’s far from the first time. I have always been a person deeply affected by the world around me and my effect on it (or lack thereof). I often struggle with being productive when I think that what I’m doing isn’t useful or helping anyone, and at times, it paralyzes me. Who am I? What do I have to give? When I run through my talents, I usually find myself coming up sort (blame the anxiety and some lingering threads of that teenage angst), but there is one thing that still remains: stories.

I write historical fiction not simply because I love history.  I do love history, but more importantly, I love the stories of history. So often in a history class we are taught to memorize names and dates, but we see these people as far away and nothing like us when in reality, we have so much in common with them and knowing their stories helps us to see that. Knowing their stories helps us to understand our own world as well.

When I wrote Sideshow, I initially struggled with trying to explain why I set the book in the in the time period that I did. The 1950s are a polarizing time to write about. They are so easy to romanticize, what with the poodle skirts and roller skating car hops and the birth of the American teenager, but under the surface of all that, there is a lot going on, most of which would bubble over quite fiercely in a short amount of time. I wanted to address these issues in a story of what is often portrayed as an “idyllic” time. I wanted to write a story that talked about some of the parts of that time that still ring true in our world today.

Additionally, I included the flashbacks because just as I do not exist solely in 2017, but also in 1992, 2001, 1988, 2010, etc as the years I lived through helped shape who I am today, the same is true for the people of the past.

Take for example the flashback to the incident with Abby’s mother. This is a history that Italian-Americans did not often talk about or acknowledge to their descendants. I myself had to learn about something similar happening to one of my own ancestors from archival documents and not from anyone in my family. This story as well as the others included in Sideshow were important to me because just as these events shaped Abby’s perception of her own identity, there were events happening in the world around me that I knew where shaping the identities of myself and everyone else for years to come.

So…the telling of stories…

It may not be much, but this is what I have give the world. So…I suppose I must find a way to continue.

Are some of my projects frivolous or precious? Yeah, probably.

Do I feel weird mentioning them on social media when so many more important things are happening? Definitely.

Do I think my words are even close to enough to change anything? No. Not really.

But deep down I know it is one of the few things I have that can help anyone (as self-centered as that may seem), so I have to keep trying.

Step Right Up and Meet McClure’s Amusements

Hunt Bros. Circus side show about 1955
Photo Credit: CharmaineZoe’s Marvelous Melange

As Della says, “an carnival doesn’t run with extra parts.”

McClure’s Amusements is no exception. In order for the show to travel from place to place and give the locals a unique and fun experience, it requires a large cast of characters. I knew this from day one of writing, so I began an Evernote file entitled “Carnival Cast” to make sure I had the right idea for the rest of the ensemble. We will probably hear more from these characters in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s a sneak peek at just a few of the interesting people who keep the operation running direct from my early draft notes:

Sofia & Michael McClure: In the mid-1930s, the McClures sank their last dime into buying out the bankrupt traveling carnival they worked for, now they are in charge of day-to-day operations. A former performer, Sofia is more of a public face. Michael is more concerned with the business side and is rarely seen outside of his trailer.

Boleslaw Wolski: Suprema’s uncle. Though his brother went into farming, Boleslaw and his wife, Ida, joined the carnival circuit eventually settling with the McClures. Boleslaw is both one of the lot managers and a human blockhead.

Alejo Lambrinos: The Fire-eater. Alejo grew up as part of a traveling show in Europe, honing his craft. Then his family immigrated when he was a teenager. Though his wife passed away many years ago, he is not lonely. He is accompanied in his travels by his daughter Constance, her beloved Ruth and their ward, Phebe.

Constance Lambrinos:  A year since our first meeting in “Fire-Eater’s Daughter,” Constance is very happy with her life with Ruth. She performs more regularly now.

Ruth Pasternak: A year has passed and Ruth is more confident than ever that she made the right decision. She still misses her mother, of course, but her life with Constance and the carnival is a very happy one. She will be helpful getting Abby acclimated.

Phebe Lambrinos: About 8, she was abandoned by her parents when the carnival was stopped in Morgantown and taken in by the Lambrinos family. Ruth and Constance consider her their daughter.

 

At the Vermont state fair, Rutland, "backstage" at the "girlie" show (LOC)
Photo Credit: Library of Congress (Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection)

 

Della Adamson: The mercurial daughter of a former trapeze artist, Della grew up in small town West Virginia and is now the star of the “Girl Show.” Desperate to achieve her mother’s lost glory at any price.

The Other Girl Show Girls: Celia Mendez (dancer, knife thrower), Trixie Rose (comedian), Vivian Hawthorne (poet, writes erotica)

Vincenzo “Vinnie” Corelli: A clown. Though Vinnie has suffered a great deal of loss in his storied life (immigrated from Italy as a young man, lost the love of his life to WWI, spent time as a tramp, etc), he is genuinely friendly and wants to see others (especially Suprema) happy.

Jimmy Manderly: Ride Jockey. Operates a dark ride, the Haunted Train. A charmer.

Gregor Dali: Strongman and snake charmer; is actually a family man deep down, but you wouldn’t know it to meet him.

A few other “Carnival Cast” characters were added over the course of writing the novel, but with this large of an ensemble, you can see why I needed to keep notes.

Barker at the grounds of the Vermont state fair, Rutland (LOC)
Photo Credit: Library of Congress (Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection)

Sideshow is available now for pre-order from Interlude Press. Be sure to reserve your copy today.

Not a stand alone piece in any way…

The next installment of Season of the Witch, “Daughter of Detroit” is out for edits right now. I’m pretty excited about it. I really enjoy Clarissa as a character. I feel like her out-of-time disconnect really speaks to me. Like many of the Season of the Witch characters, Clarissa has a hard time connecting with the world around her, but unlike many of those other characters, Clarissa desperately wants to. She wants to be part of the world and finds herself ill-equipped to do so. (A lot like someone else I know. *whistles innocently* but that’s another blog post for another day.)

What I’m pondering today before I dive into edits and try to make my self imposed deadline, is one observation my boyfriend made: “Well, it’s not a stand alone piece in any way.”

Which is completely true. It’s not a stand alone piece. It hasn’t been for awhile.

Season of the Witch has been slowly moving away from being stand alones since I decided to write a sequel to Jaclyn of the Lantern. Even Jaclyn, though, benefits greatly from the added knowledge acquired by reading on. Since Red, when the series diverged from the originally planned six novellas to a much more extended set of episodes, I have known quite well that the stories in the series are all part of a greater mythology, a larger artistic work that hopefully, one day, will be collected into a single tome (Hence the Patreon, which hints at this goal. I would love to make said collection an illustrated and unique work of art, but that’s way down the road). The fact that the pieces are not stand alone is not a failing, but it makes me wonder though if I need to rethink my release structure. I mean, it is a -huge- experiment after all. Sometimes, I think I’m flailing around in the dark with this self publishing thing.

As things currently stand, I put out an installment once every few months by publishing it on Smashwords. I do this so that I can get the largest amount of formats for the smallest investment. By using this method, it creates a separate “book” for each installment, which I don’t necessarily mind. I started doing this with Jaclyn because at that time the plan was six stand alone novellas, but I’ve kept it up because as of right now I’m not aware of a more effective method, and besides, in my mind, it adds something to the endeavor. I jokingly call Season of the Witch my “comic book project” for this reason. But is this really best? Or is it just confusing to people who come to the project expecting full length stories, only to find something a lot more episodic than what they were after? Is there a release structure that would be more indicative of what the series truly is?

I’ve been thinking a lot about comics and sequential art lately…

Or do I just think too much?

Powering through moments of Self-Doubt

TW: I wrote this to discuss a anxiety spiral I deal with.

 

I sometimes get these weird moods when it comes to my writing. I refer them as my “Fitzgerald Fits” because the first time I read a biography about everyone’s second favorite alcoholic expat author I really recognized a lot of his complaints and concerns (definitely not all of them, but…I’m tangenting now…) They’re something I’m sure every writer gets from time to time, though. Let me break it down for you.

  • Halfway through a project I start to worry about it, doubt it, wonder if it’s actually coming along the way I envision
  • I start looking at other things I’ve done and the poor response, low readership numbers, etc (assumed or actual, keep this in mind. Anxiety is a lying liar and tells me things sometimes that aren’t necessarily true.)
  • I decide, “Well, if I’m not popular, that’s okay. Lots of great writers weren’t popular in their life time, but they wrote works that stood and shaped our society.” (In keeping with our Fitzgerald theme, I often remind myself about how during most of his life Gatsby was his poorest seller.)
  • Then I look at my work again and decide that it’s not literary enough, serious enough, important enough, to stand this required test of time. I mean…A LOT of what I write has supernatural elements. Beyond Frankenstein  and Dracula how much of the cannon really does?
    • Well, Wuthering Heights kinda does…and Shakespeare…I suppose. Okay, I’m making myself feel a lot better, actually, wow…
    • But still, I start telling myself how I’m not like those great authors. My work doesn’t have those lasting, serious elements.
    • Well, at least my early work doesn’t. I’m only in my late 20s. I’ve got time to write my masterpiece!
  • Someone posts something online charting the relative age that authors wrote their first masterpiece. I ignore the actual ages and see how often it was their first or second book. Often it was. Anxiety makes me pretend that the nature of the publishing industry in different time periods has nothing to do with this.
  • Anxiety tells me I’m too old to write anything great or accomplish anything because I’m no longer an ingenue and the world keeps looking toward younger and younger people for genius. And, of course, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
    • I’m really close to 30!
  • The panic spiral continues for awhile until I decide to just power through the project I was halfway done with. I reread what I’ve written, decide to change some things here and there, but usually I do get excited about it again!
  • Process starts over at the first point at least two more times  on average before I finish the project, with other nuanced and project specific steps added it.

It’s a struggle that I think a lot of those in creative professions can relate to and I don’t have the answer*. I can spout empty platitudes about how you should “write the story you want to tell” and ignore any other considerations, but that’s not going to stop you or I for doubt our talents or whatever else we’re doubting. The only thing I can direct you to is the penultimate point, the one where I decide to power through. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people can’t reread their own work without trashing it. I am lucky to not be that way (I think it comes from being trained as an archivist…aka another story about lack of fulfilled ambitions, but we’re not going there today)…most of the time. There’s something that works for you too. I promise you’re a better artist than your brain thinks sometimes. I believe in you.

A Super Cool Birthday Present for Me!

I had been working on a post more generally about this being the 28th anniversary of my birth, but that will have to wait. I have some great news!

My novel, What Does Your Smile Say About You? has been chosen for publication on JukePop Serials!

Now, some of you may be wondering what that means, so I’ll give you a quick overview: JukePop is a fun, new publishing mechanism that curates and manages serials (stories released chapter by chapter — much in the way good ole Charlie Dickens once did it). On JukePop readers cast votes (helping the authors get rewards) and can communicate with the authors about the stories.

That’s why I choose JukePop as a mechanism for WDYSSAY? Smile has been described as “Game of Thrones in sweater sets”. It’s the story of four competing sororities at a small liberal arts college and what happens to them over one contentious pledging period. Sure, we are squarely set in the Chick Lit genre here and I am proud of that. I think there’s something to be said about a diverse cast of girls who I assure you will be doing more than just in-fighting against a rather inconsiderate house ghost. But the thing about WDYSSAY? is this: I want to hear from you, my readers, about the story, and your input will be what make it a success.

The first chapter is live, so head on over and check it out: What Does Your Smile Say About You?

My Epiphany Gift To You

The snow has piled up out there and the wind chill is around 40 below. I can’t think of a better time to curl up with the latest installment in the Season of the Witch series: Bethania’s Broomsticks!

BethaniaCover

In 2013, Alice Peralta is having some trouble with her son (namely remembering where he came from). While in 1277, Bethania Peralta attempts to escape the wrath of her father by joining forces with the infamous Witch of Winter. Along the way, the two women learn a great deal about themselves and what they have in common.

In keeping with the theme of Season of the Witch, this novelette explores the story of La Befana with a touch of Roman and Alpine mythology.

Check it out. I think you’re going to love it.