Friday, September 29, 2006

Instinct and Intent

Today I finished the first draft of the first chapter of Drums of the North Star. It wasn't easy as I throttled that inner critic and just wrote, but two things helped me. Both were tidbits said to me by my friend Donna.

1) Trust your instinct. This is a tough one for me these days. It seems the more I read about how to write, the less sure of myself and what I'm trying to say I become. When I took a class from T. Davis Bunn last spring, one thing he mentioned was how a writer needs to have all the confidence in the world when writing a first draft and no confidence at all when editing the subsequent drafts. Today I was able to plow through by telling myself to ignore the uncertainty holding me back and trust my instincts to tell a story. Amazing results. Things I know I've worked out in my subconscious were allowed to flow to the surface and onto the screen. Some things had me sitting back and saying, "Yeah, that's what I meant, but where did it come from?"

2) There is a difference between wanting to write and wanting to have written. You might have to stop and think about that one a bit. I sure did. Do I want to write, to be a writer? Or do I just want to have written? Do I want to relish the creative process or do I want to rest on laurels? Am I willing to do the hard work for the joy it brings me, or do I wish it was all done so I could brag about it? Hmmm...I want to write. I want to enjoy that process, the 'a-ha' moments when pieces fit together with unexpected symmetry, the shaping of fictional events and the portraying of characters that are meaningful and enjoyable in a novel. For me, I don't want it to be enough to say I wrote some stories. I want it to be necessary to continue to write.

So, Donna, thanks for those bits of advice. I took them to heart. I'm not saying you won't have to remind me again from time to time, but the lesson was implemented today.

The ms stands at just over 4K words now. One chapter. 13 pages. A sound start.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Inner Critic

I've discovered that while all writing is difficult, for me the hardest part is the first few chapters of a first draft. I whine and pout and compost and dream, but actually sitting down and cranking out the work is hard. Why is this? I surmise a few reasons.

a) This is my fifth novel. I know all the work that must come between now and the words "The End". Starting means finishing.

b) My inner critic, the one I just let loose on novel number four, must be captured, contained, and confined to the calaboose during the first draft phase of the new novel. My inner critic resists this procedure.

c) The first few chapters of a novel is the period when I know my characters the least, when I have the least invested in them, therefore care about them the least. Though I like all my characters at the beginning of a novel, it isn't until we've spent a significant amount of time together, until I've dragged them to the highs and lows of the story, that I feel I really know them and don't want to quit working until I get them out of the trouble I've dreamed up for them.

That being said, I have managed a few thousand words on the novel, and I need to set some writing goals in the near future to keep myself on track. I have a nebulous goal of First Draft by Christmas, but am wondering if that is too imprecise. I'm liable to goof around and not do much until Thanksgiving is suddenly upon me. A daily or weekly goal will be much better, as long as I keep it realistic.

How about you? Do you have an inner critic that keeps you back at the start of a new book?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Book Review - The Redemption by M.L. Tyndall

Okay, this book was long awaited by my little old self. Almost two years ago now (can't remember the exact date) Marylu Tyndall put out an email on the ACFW loop asking how people acquired agents. The responses were along the lines of 'Go to a conference and meet one.' and 'Get referred by a published author.' This is disheartening stuff for someone who can't afford a conference and who is new enough to the writing world not to have scads of published author friends clamoring to refer them.

I emailed Marylu privately to tell her how I acquired my own agent. I found him through Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide. No conference, no referral. Just a blessing from God.

She emailed back how encouraging this was for her, and she also signed with a great agent. She told me the premise of her book, and the idea intrigued me then. It still does.

The Redemption is the story of Charlisse Bristol, abused, shipwrecked, feisty, courageous and needy, who is rescued by Captain Edmund Merrick, secretly titled English gentleman who pirates Spanish ships in the name of the Queen of England. While Merrick is an expert at stealing Spanish gold, he's even more adept at stealing hearts. He certainly stole mine.

One of the things I loved about this book is that Merrick, after leading the life of a carousing pirate who surrendered his life to Christ, still struggles with some old sins. He has to approach temptations from a position of knowledge rather than innocent fascination, particularly those of drink, killing and promiscuous women. He battles himself with the Lord's help.

Charlisse faces feelings of abandonment at every turn. Because so many men in her life have let her down, trust in Christ and trust in Merrick do not come easy. One of the most powerful scenes in the book is when she cries out for God's help and He miraculously provides her with a safe haven. I for one am glad Marylu was able to keep this part of the story intact. It is quite the fad/fashion now to exclude God's miraculous help for his children from Christian fiction, that somehow, we can write fiction in God's name and yet leave Him out of all of it, save a few hasty prayers by our protagonists. Charlisse's miracle in The Redemption felt both astounding and right in the circumstances. Marylu wrote it well.

Would I recommend this book? Yes! For fans of historical fiction, pirates, romances, and just flat out good writing...Run out and get this book!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Start

Today I got to start working on Drums of the North Star. I've decided on who my heroine is, and I like her. She's young, naive, a bit vain, and doesn't realize she's carrying some prejudice around with her. I'm looking forward to helping her grow and develop and discover that there are good and bad people of all races.

I also ordered a new Bible today. I can't wait for it to get here. It is a parallel translation of the Message and the New American Standard Bible. I love the NASB, and I've been intrigued by The Message. I know there are folks who all but shudder when they think of The Message, but I consider it to be like a commentary when paired with a translation. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Vicki has gotten a rather hefty dose of rejection this week. Her book made it THROUGH the publishing committee only to get vetoed by the president of the company. Ugh. So close, and yet... Guess that means that God has somewhere else for that book to land. Even though she got encouraging comments from the publishing board and the editor who went to bat for her, rejection still stinks. Been there, smelled that.

Donna has almost completed the editor's revisions on the YA mystery she's been offered a contract on. Congratulations, Donna. You've worked hard.

No news from any publishers re my own work, but I figure no news is no news. At least no one has said "No, thank you" in the last little while.

Still praying for Stephanie, whose requested YA novel is still in the inner workings of a publishing house.

I think we'll all get there if we only keep trying.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday Remembrances

Today is a day of remembrances. Many blogs, news programs, specials, and memorial services will be devoted to remembering all we lost five years ago today.

I wanted to share a verse that I feel is appropriate for the times we live in as a result of 9/11.

From the New American Standard:

Psalm 94:19 When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Thy consolations delight my soul.

What a comfort! As a novelist, my imagination is often a free ranging animal. This is great when you're making up stories, but not when you're worrying about life. I take great comfort in knowing that God is in control of everything at all times. I know He is not shocked, surprised or stymied by anything man does on this earth. And He is able to calm my heart and my mind when my anxious thoughts multiply within me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Minnesota River Valley Trail

I have to give kudos, props, and a big thank you to my husband here. We traveled several hundred miles up the MN River Valley to research and explore the setting of my new novel. He took pictures, drove us to see the sites and sights. Oh, and I have a working title for the book too. Drums of the North Star.

On Saturday we drove west to the German town of New Ulm. We stopped at the Brown County Historical Society museum, housed in a beautiful building of Bavarian background. (How's that for alliteration?) We learned about buffalo heads, hoopskirts, butter and beer.

Then we went northwest out of New Ulm to the Harkin Store. This was the second visit to this museum for my daughter and me, but a first for my husband and son. The Harkin Store is a vintage 1870's general store and post office run by the MN Historical Society. I love this little store. A significant portion of the inventory is authentic 1870's goods from the store itself. The rest are reproductions of items that would have been carried in the store.

A bit of a sad note. Last year when we visited the Harkin Store, we were given a terrific tour by a young man named Scott. He was a history teacher in New Ulm and a Civil war enthusiast and re-enactor. He made us feel as if, when we asked a question, it was the first time he'd heard it. He took out a price list and showed us what things would have cost in the store in 1870, told stories of the original owner and the now extinct town, and introduced me to the history of the Dakota War of 1862 (the setting of the new novel.) His enthusiasm for the history of the Minnesota River Valley was contagious and sparked the idea for a novel. I was looking forward to meeting him again. When I asked after him, I was told he passed away last October at the age of 33. His legacy is the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Society.

We drove on to Redwood Falls, MN. On Sunday we visited the Lower Sioux Agency Interpretive Center where we toured the Galbraith warehouse and walked the Agency Trail. Peter and James took the Redwood Ferry trail (about a mile of straight up and down trails). We saw a terrific museum there as well.

Later on Sunday we went to the Redwood County Historical Society Museum. What we found there was more than 30 rooms crammed with stuff. With the exception of a small room devoted to Sears, who lived in Redwood Falls (though he was born in Stewartville, MN just south of here). I wish the items in the museum had been better cataloged and perhaps had more local interest stories attached to them. Instead it was a former poor farm turned nursing home piled with artifacts dated 1800's or 1900's.

Monday was a terrific day as well. Our first stop was the Birch Coulee Battlefield, scene of one of the most desperate battles of the Dakota War. We walked the trails of the battlefield, standing on the rise Big Eagle and his braves sheltered behind and looking down onto the open plain where the U.S. burial detail was pinned down for more than 30 hours. Seeing the landscape firsthand will hopefully aid me in adding rich detail to the novel.

We also went to Historic Fort Ridgely which was attacked twice during the war but stood firm. The commissary building is still standing and houses a very fine museum. The tour guide, Randy, was very informative as to the ordnance used at the fort, both small and large caliber. The kids dressed in soldier's uniforms and practiced loading a cannon. We walked the grounds, seeing the foundations of the buildings. the only building besides the commissary still standing is one of the ammunition cabins. Again it was so helpful to see the landscape and get a sense of distance and direction.

What a fun vacation. Now it's back to the grindstone and the schedule. We begin week five of school today, as well as resume piano lessons. New scenes or new layers to previously thought out scenes for Drums of the North Star are racing through my head, popping up at unexpected moments. I can't wait to begin the actual writing of this book.