Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Making Time

One of the final requirements for a writing major at my school is a class called "Senior Project." Each section is organized slightly differently by the professor who runs it, but what it boils down to is a semester long project of the student's own choosing where they work one-on-one with a professor, rather than in a workshop class setting. It's meant to let us figure out how to handle being a self motivated writer, rather than a writer spurred on by homework assignments and writing prompts.

I am loving every second of this.

There's one piece of writing advice that makes me feel incredibly guilty whenever I see it, and that's "write every day." I cringe when I see it. I actually do. And here's the thing: I do write nearly every day (and the days I'm not writing, I'm reading). I just don't write for MYSELF every day. I'm an overachiever times ten when it comes to grades, and so schoolwork has always come first. But I'm a writing major - I'm always writing something, whether that something is a journal entry or review for class, a literary analysis, an essay, a research paper, or a short story. There's always something.

And yet, even knowing that, even being well aware that I was writing, was learning how to master this craft by doing it and doing it, I still feel guilty about not writing for myself every day. Senior Project is giving me permission to do that. Because it is for a class - a very important class for my major - I structured my whole schedule around having time to write. I am determined to finish this draft this semester, and I'm well on my way to accomplishing that. Because I know myself, and I've MADE the time to write while appeasing my obsessively-good-student side.

I think that's part of the "write every day, make the time to do it" advice that gets left out a lot. You have to really know yourself and how you work in order to carve out that time. If you will actually be miserable if you get up one minute earlier than you have to, don't make your writing time in the morning. Make the time, but do it in a way you can actually keep to that time without torturing yourself.

The point of Senior Project is for us to motivate ourselves, rather than having a professor motivate us. I'm already a very self-motivated writer; I've written novels before this one, I know how I write, I know how this all works. I'm just so glad to finally get the chance, in an academic setting, to really dig into a project for an entire semester, and not feel that I have to prioritize homework over what I want to write.  Because what I want to write IS homework.

And hopefully my project advisor won't be too upset when I come up with an entire novel's worth of material...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Research vs. Experience

Recently, John and Hank Green were on tour in the UK for the first anniversary of The Fault in Our Stars, and John made this video in which he basically broke my heart by going on my favorite walk along the Thames - the one that goes past Parliament and the London Eye and the Globe and eventually winds its way to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London - as well as mentioning getting a drink at Eat to be rebellious and calling Caffe Nero "Caffe Nerd" because the font does kinda make it look like that, and all sorts of other London-y things that made me viscerally miss that place I once called home. (Not like I don't do that enough as it is, thanks John.)

But he was also, kind of, in an uncertain way, making an argument that virtual narratives are now so real and compelling as to stand up to physical narratives. He was looking at an object in the British Museum that was actually on loan to a museum in Toronto, but the space had been filled by such a convincing 3-D photo that it took him a minute to notice it wasn't real. So, he says, does that matter? Is it important to be looking at the real thing?

I'm a history minor; I do a rather ridiculous amount of research like it's my job. So there's something to be said for that - I do not have a time machine. I cannot find out, in a personal, physical way, everything about daily life in World War II or the French Revolution or Victorian London. I just can't. I have to turn to official documents and personal narratives and paintings and photos and maps; I can piece together my own truth based on the snippets I've been given.

And I obviously did enough research to create a landscape for my characters before I went to Europe. I'd written A TERROR OF DARKNESS completely when I finally went to Paris, and I think the only thing I wanted to change after having gone was noting how damp the catacombs actually are - it looks pretty dry and dusty down there in all the pictures I'd seen.

But even though the research I'd done was enough, I wouldn't have traded that semester abroad for the world. There are some things you simply cannot learn from books - sometimes you have to buy a drink at Eat and get stuck in the snow at Piccadilly Circus and eat pub food and discover places not listed on the maps. Sometimes you have to touch the stones of Notre Dame and breathe the dank air of the catacombs and dance through the gilded halls of the Palais Garnier.

I don't think John is arguing that everyone should always stay inside 100% of the time and be glued to their computer screens. That would be silly. And I think the question he's raised is interesting: is it sufficient to look at a picture of a thing? How much is there to be said for looking at the thing itself? How important, for example, was it for me to see the actual Mona Lisa when we went to the Louvre, versus looking at a picture of the Mona Lisa in my textbooks and online?  

Maybe the virtual experience is so detailed now as to be enough. But the real experience just adds something more. It allows you to create something more than what's merely "enough."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Teaser Tuesday: Harsh Words

Hello, all! Some of you may remember some snippets I posted about a year ago from a manuscript entitled "The Long Road Home," which was set during the potato famine. My senior project this semester is revising and continuing that original project, and thus far it's going really well!

Here's a scene that wasn't included in the original version of the first few chapters. Maire, the protagonist, has just had a rather unorthodox proposition, and her younger sister questions her about it. Enjoy!



Maire jerked round, pulling her hand free of the strange man’s grip, to find her sister standing in the road gaping at her. 

“How long have you been standing there?” she asked.

“Where did that man go?” Brigid countered, pointing.

Maire turned round again, expecting to find the man looking at her with his sly smile and his dark, dangerous eyes laughing at her a bit, challenging her to figure out what to do next, but where he had stood, there was nothing. He was simply gone, with no sign of him on the road in either direction or in the fields beyond. He had vanished, a puff of smoke on the breeze, leaving nothing but his strange mix of promises and threats.

“Who was he, Maire?” Brigid asked. “How did he vanish so quickly?” 

“What man?” Maire said, in a voice she knew was shaking far too much to be convincing, but she was too busy scanning the roads for any sign of him. How was it possible that he was simply gone, in the space of only an instant? People could not disappear so quickly. People could not become invisible. 

Had she somehow imagined the whole conversation? Had she finally gone mad, after everything, after starving, after Michael, after Cunningham’s threats, had she finally lost her mind and invented a man and a job? 

But she knew she hadn’t imagined it. That man had been real, just as the sick, sinking feeling in her throat was real, just as the inexplicable pull she felt towards his promise was real. 

Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong, but Maire was reeling too much to put the pieces together. 

“What did he want from you?”

Maire blinked, remembering that her sister was standing there gawking at her, and she shook her head to clear it. Brigid still held her fishing pole in one hand, but now, at the end of the line there were two little fish, hardly thicker than Brigid’s skeletal wrist but nearly as long as her forearm. And there were scratches on her cheek. 

“What happened to you?” she asked, stepping forward to examine the marks. “Did you fight someone for those? Mum will skin me alive if she thinks I’ve started you fighting, did you think of that?”

“I didn’t fight for them, I caught them, and then I ran away before anyone could get them from me,” Brigid snapped. “Who was that-”

“But someone still took a swipe at you, didn’t he?” 

“Shut it!” Brigid shouted, stamping her foot. Maire started; it was not like her sister to shout at her. “Maire, who was that man?”

Maire almost let the words “I don’t know,” slip past her lips, but she stopped herself. For one thing, he’d said she should tell anyone, hadn’t he? It was to be a secret. She’d agreed on that. But she could not admit her uncertainty to Brigid, any more than she could tell her the truth of that encounter. And yet she knew nothing about him. She did not know where he came from or where he would take her or why. 

She was to accept work from this man and she hadn’t even thought to ask his name.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Blind Speed Dating Writing Contest!!

So, this week's post comes to you a day early, because I am a part of Cupid's Literary Connection Blind Speed Dating contest!!! I am already in the agent round, so this post is for HONORABLE MENTION ONLY, but I thought I'd also enter the kissing scene competition portion of the contest because, you know, kissing scenes are fun.

So here is the kissing scene from my manuscript A TERROR OF DARKNESS. Avar, a werewolf, has just helped chase off some Parisian guards who want to arrest Rose and, well, chop her head off (this is the Reign of Terror, after all). Enjoy!


“You saved my life,” she breathed. He grinned at her.

“You seem so surprised.”               
Rose could not stop herself smiling; her breaths became short, giddy laughs. He was there, standing in front of her with that silly smirk on his face, there, solid, real, when she thought she would never see him again.

“You came back.”

“I came back,” he repeated with a nod. “I-”

He broke off, dropping his eyes for a moment, and when he looked up again he stepped in towards her, raising a hand to brush her tousled hair away from her face. 

“I finally found someone I could never run from,” he said. 

Words Rose could not say caught in her throat, tangled in surprise and wonder and something she could not define.  His hand, still resting gently against her cheek, tilted her face towards his, and he kissed her. 

At first, his lips were feather light and hesitant on hers, and for a moment Rose was convinced that she had never woken from those fevered and unattainable dreams. But no, it was real, beautiful in its impossibility, and her hands found his shoulders, pulling him closer to her. The cold, tight feeling that had lodged her chest after he had gone melted in an instant, chased away by his hand at her waist, his fingers in her hair. Rose gave herself up entirely to that moment, that kiss, letting everything else slide away, except the thought that for once in her life someone needed her as much as she needed him. 

Avar pulled away, letting Rose catch her breath, but she felt even more giddy with every fresh gasp of air. He looked guilty, but she could not stop smiling, hardly able to believe the strange and wonderful thing that had just happened. 

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I should not have presumed – we are – different, we cannot-”

Rose shook her head, silencing him. 

“None of that matters,” she said, her face an inch from his. “Remember? We are not so very different, you and I.”

And she reached up and kissed him again, his arms wrapping securely around her. None of that mattered; their differences were imaginary, and no one could tell her otherwise, not anymore, not ever, and especially not in that quiet little alleyway, a deserted street at the heart of Paris. Just then, for those silent, stolen moments, they were all that mattered, the only two players in a perfect and precarious world of lovely dreams.