Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Oh yeah, I made a twitter. Like, a few months ago. Should have said something sooner. I am not a prompt person.

If you want to find me and the very few posts I make on here, I'm or @wanderingquille.

I also changed my Pinterest link to from maxwellwrites. It was the only place I used that name. It just didn't make much sense to have something different, so now everything of mine can be found under Wandering Quille in one way or another, aside from email.

Monday, December 2, 2013

End of NaNo 2013

It's over. I lived. I emerged victorious. Exhausted, incomplete, and just barely over the finish line, but I made it.

Am I happy with the end result? Not really. I lost track of how to get from Point A to Point B at the end. I have scenes I like and scenes that I don't know what they're doing in there. There's a LOT of talking and not much action, which really bothers me. Ultimately, I feel like... I need to read something else. I haven't picked up a book in a few months (maybe since September?) and I think my brain has forgotten how to book. Seriously, it's nothing but "Characters go to Point A, talk, say "let's go" and go to point B, talk more," etc, etc. The action scenes that are there, I really like. I like them a lot. But they're so far between each other with lots of nonsense chatter in the middle.

So this one's going to sit and simmer a while. It needs something different to finish it. There's a missing ingredient and I don't know what it is. I'm going to move on to some other things and see what happens.

And now I'm suddenly wondering if I've got my 2nd male MC's sex wrong. Was Daniel supposed to be Danielle? It'd be breaking a MAJOR gender role in the setting. Daniel's a deputy, a rough and tumble tough guy, the man of the house while his father is gone.

...I think I have some things to think about.

Monday, November 25, 2013

NaNo Day 25

21 Days Later... oh wait, I was gonna blog about this, wasn't I?

It's been a trip. The second weekend, barely a week in, I fell behind. I skipped a day in favor of going to a comic convention and seeing Thor: The Dark World with friends. I figured I wouldn't have trouble catching up. And then the wall came up. Oh, what a wall. I tried going around it. There was another one just waiting for me from the other angle. So I fell, I sobbed, I moaned, I said "I can't do it anymore, I'm done. This is terrible and I don't want to do it anymore."

You know, the normal Week 2/3 NaNo. But I really was ready to throw in the towel and give up. All my characters were doing was going somewhere and talking, going somewhere else, talking. There wasn't any action, and eventually, I didn't know where they were going anymore. That's where I got stuck. Even if I got unstuck, I was going to get to 30k at most. I was ready to give it all up. And then the pep talk came in. Lev Grossman, never heard of him. Still, couldn't hurt to read it, right?

Thank you, Mr. Grossman. You said all the right things at all the right times. You said exactly what I needed to hear. You told me I wasn't alone, this was normal, and I could get through it. I'd read it a thousand times before, but in that moment of darkness, as the curtain was falling on my novel, you said, "Wait, not yet."

I got up. I looked at the wall from another angle. I went back to the outlining I had been doing before NaNo and started to fill it out. I made a tiny hole in the wall. I went home and wrote. I broke through the first wall and filled in the gap I'd left (the first time I've ever skipped a scene). I went back to the other wall and just kept on going. Last night, I finally caught up on my deficit with a pretty 40,010 word count for the evening. The major subarc just finished, so I have 10k to get the rest of the main arc, which now involves more than I originally intended. My 30k prediction may end up getting me to 50k after all.

So thank you, Mr. Grossman. Thank you for the hand, for the leg up, for the right words at the right time. I'm gonna make it after all.

As long as hosting Thanksgiving for the first time doesn't kill me first.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNo Day 4

Three days in and all is fairly well. Right now I'm managing a scene a day, but I've only got two more scenes planned out before we hit uncharted territory. I'm so bad at planning the middle...

I'm happy with the characters so far. The main three have their own personalities that are coming out on the page well. The third one I introduced even made his appearance before I realized it was him. Considering he's a spontaneous troublemaker, it fit that he's even playing games with me. End result is what I think is my best action sequence yet. It's probably still terrible, but I'm happy with it. I just hope I can stretch the middle long enough to fill the month. I'm already starting to worry. I mean, if I don't make 50k with this story, that's fine. I have plenty of other things to start. I'm just a habitual underwriter, and I'd like to get out of this gray area between novellas and novels. I just don't know how to add more.

Day 3 wordcount: 5,078/50,000.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's Hee-eeerrre

What is it about the time between the 30th and the 31st of October that makes us go from "We are READY. We are PUMPED. We can DO THIS," to cowering under a pile of blankets hoping that maybe NaNoWriMo will pass by without noticing us? All up until now, I've been psyched, confident, and prepared. And then today, with the sudden realization that once again, this yearly testament to novel writing begins TOMORROW, I panic. I'm not ready. I'm freaked out. I'm anxious. Why in the world did I volunteer to do Thanksgiving at our house this year? I'm supposed to write WHILE getting the place in good working order for the family we don't have enough room for? And having guests other weeks and movies and games coming out and JUST SO MUCH STUFF.


I am the llama.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year

I'm always giddy ball of excitement when October starts. Why?

It's not Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas.

It's not because the leaves are changing and the weather gets colder.

It's time for NaNoWriMo!

The site has reset, the boards are clear, and the Your 2013 Novel space is waiting to be filled with thousands of characters and places and plots. There are new friends to meet and old friends to see. It's NaNo time, and it's the best time of the year!

I had a tough choice ahead of me for what to write. So many good ideas in the log, waiting to be brought to life. But a few weeks ago, a new one nibbled, then bit, then moved in and said "No, Atlantis. No, Pirates. No, Murder Mystery. This is MY year."

Friends, readers, meet Tricker's Gambit, the Old West fantasy.


Hustling got real easy for James Proctor the day he found his magic staff. People with more money than brains were much more willing to throw their fortunes at someone who could get rid of ghosts than a shyster with a pack of cards. No one needed to know he's the one who made the "ghosts" with his power over illusions, and no one seemed to notice that the ghosts showed up around the same time he did. It was the perfect scam.

And then the trickster spirit showed up, pretending to be a ghost right in the middle of his "exorcism". And then Proctor used the staff in a way he wasn't supposed to. Now the trickster is stuck in the body of young housekeeper Helen, Helen's stuck as a ghost, and Proctor's just stuck. By all laws of the magic realm, he should lose his staff and memory of everything fantastic. However, the governing Council isn't without mercy...for Helen (Proctor and Varmint the trickster did this to themselves, after all). Proctor is given a stay of execution until he fixes his mistake and gets her back into her own body. With a deputy and his posse hunting them down for kidnapping Helen, a vampire lord tracking Proctor over a gambling debt, and the Council watching their every step, the three have very little time to find the lost artifact that will fix their problem, and they're not the only ones looking for it.

So that's my new baby. I love the characters, I love the plot and setting, and I'm looking forward to working on it. This month is for plotting, and next month, the fun begins.

I hope I don't pull my hair out.

Monday, July 15, 2013


The romance writers get-together I wrote about last month? I don't think I ever mentioned, but it was the local chapter of the Romance Writers of America, or RWA. And I went again this weekend. The topic of discussion was Perfecting your Pitch and Public Speaking, in preparation for the annual RWA national conference happening this week. I also decided I'm going to join officially.

I don't write romance. I don't plan on writing romance. But the RWA is one of the few major organizations that allows membership to people who aren't published. The SFWA has a long list of things you need to have done just to join. Maybe someday I'll qualify for them, but I need help now, not after I'm being paid to write. RWA, and my local chapter especially, welcomes unpublished non-romance writers, and they give information that's good for anyone getting their feet on the ground. Not every meeting is going to be useful for me, but I don't have to go to those. I can pick and choose which meetings to go to and what information I need. The fact that I can go is what's important to me right now.

On top of good information for pitching my novel, I got an email address for a girl who's part of a sci-fi/fantasy critique group in my city. I'm going to get in touch with her and try to get involved with that. All in all, I've found a supportive, friendly, accepting group of fellow writers in real life with connections and information and experience that I need right now. It'd be foolish for me NOT to join.

Oh, and after all the talk of social networking as a writer from the last meeting, I went ahead and made myself an email account to start building a network for my penname. So far, I just have a Pinterest account, but at the least, a twitter account will follow. If you want to follow me on there, you can find me at

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Joys of Worldbuilding

A few months ago, I got a story idea that felt could end up being a good-sized series. I was hoping it could end up being 5 books or so, but the plot I had was... rather weak. It was a post-apocalyptic world with a focus on protecting, guarding, and discovering lost tech. I liked the base concept, the characters, and the magic system/lost tech, but the villain and the overarching plot were mediocre and the worldbuilding I had ahead of me was very limited because I had limited the area the main characters had to explore.

On Sunday, I went to see a movie with my friend/coworker, and we saw a preview for the Mortal Instruments movie. I'd heard of the series, but never knew anything about the premise. Seeing the preview got me thinking about the popularity of the concept of "average person gets drawn into a secret world alongside our own." In novels, you have Harry Potter, Narnia, this Mortal Instruments series, Percy Jackson, even old classics like Alice in Wonderland. Outside of novels, there's Doctor Who, Supernatural, and many other TV shows that have similar ideas. And I can understand the popularity. TV, books, movies, they're our escapes from reality. Something like Lord of the Rings, it's a temporary detachment from the norm, but there is no Middle Earth, no connection between Middle Earth and our earth. Science fiction may happen, but not likely in our lifetime. These other stories, though, they let us believe, even for a moment, that we might glimpse someone casting a spell out of the corner of our eye. That we might open a closet and find ourselves in a wintry wonderland. That a strange man might drop out of the sky in a blue box and drag us off for an adventure across space and time. The escape from reality can last so much longer than the book, the movie, the show, the game.

That was the idea I wanted for my novel, that it wanted for itself, but I'd never managed to put it into words. I'd tried to make it happen, but with a post-apocalyptic setting, it didn't work, and it didn't like it. I didn't like it. So the story got pushed aside to come back to later. And after I got to thinking about that style of fantasy novel, after I could put my finger on what this story wanted, when I was lying in bed just on the edge of sleep, one word came to my mind.


I have always loved lost things and their discoveries (or lack thereof). From dinosaurs to the lost colony of Roanoke, the Titanic to Amelia Earhart, I love the mystery behind them. The concept and possibility behind them fascinate me. And I have always, always loved Atlantis. It comes from having a dad who was a Namor the Submariner fan. My first introduction to superhero comics was Marvel's prince of Atlantis. I knew I would eventually set a story in the lost city. And now I had it. There wasn't any doubt in my mind that this is where that post-apocalyptic story needed to be.

So for the past day and a half, I've been replotting, moving things around, and most importantly, worldbuilding. I finally get to do what I've always wanted and make Atlantis come to life in my own way. The magic system/lost tech fits so much better here than it did before. The characters are really coming to life now. And the city. Oh, the city. There's so much going on and I've barely brushed the surface of it so far. There are genetically modified mermen, and canals and falls and rivers for them. There are universal translators and advanced robotics and code-based "magic" gauntlets. There are krakens and sirens and kappas and aquariums with any underwater creature you can imagine, museums with lost treasures from sunken ships and a library with any book you can imagine in every language. And the city moves. It has the freedom of the entire ocean. I have the freedom of the most unexplored area on earth.

Can you tell I'm excited about this?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Camp Take 2?

It's July, and that means it's camp NaNo time again, and once again, I don't know if I'm going to do it or not. I really should. On the other hand, I've also gotten myself in a long-term word war with some folks at the water cooler. The goal: To finish something by August. My first goal is to finally finish editing Pirates 1 (I only said I wanted to finish two months ago...), and then finish draft 1 of Pirates 2. So that's the goal right now. I think I've got a good group to help me get there, too.

Anyone up for being a beta reader when Pirates 1 is done?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Writing Forums

I love when October comes. The crisp fall air and changing leaves heralds the annual cleaning and reopening of the NaNoWriMo forums, and eager writers young and old gather together to spend the following month writing their novels. Most other forums I visit fall by the wayside for me during that time while I'm finding old familiar faces among the crowds and making new friends, plotting and helping others work out their details, playing games and recruiting artists for character sketches or cover art. It's almost like an online festival that lasts for two glorious months. In December, things slow down. There's still straglers, and at first, it's almost like it's not over yet, but slowly, gradually, people begin to vanish and the forums slow to a crawl. The party's over, time to go home.

That's...well, bad for me. I enjoy forums. I like being active and making friends and plotting and planning and playing games. It's great inspiration for me to keep going. I thrive on having connections with other people to push me onward. Thus far, the only times I've managed to finish stories have been, well, NaNo. I write my novel, edit a little, and then fall off the wagon and not write seriously again until the next NaNo. I should be writing every day, even a little, but I'm not. I have a small support group, but I don't have the people to compare myself to. I don't have the wordcount bar of NaNo that pushes me forward, to reach my goal, to keep up with the people rushing ahead, to prove I can do it.

So I joined another forum, the Absolute Write Water Cooler. God of Ephemera linked me to it, and I signed up almost immediately. I've been idly chatting and just feeling my way around for now. Not rushing to be able to get critiques or make friends. I'm the complete new guy here, not like on the NaNo forums. It's intimidating, and I don't want to mess up or get a bad reputation for myself so early in the game by saying the wrong thing or posting where I'm not supposed to. So for now, I'm just taking it slow and getting the feel for the people and the place. Hopefully this'll be part of the push I need to start and keep a schedule. We'll have to see.

Next Camp NaNo next month. Not sure if I'm in or not yet. I do have a half-finished sequel calling my name. Any of you guys up for it?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Reading List

Just a short update this week. I'm still editing, still plotting, and doing a LOT of reading. I just finished On Writing by Stephen King (a wonderful mix of autobiography and writing advice) and started A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King, the author I met at the comic book convention. It's a first-person-present super-hero novel, something I've never seen before. Superhero novel, I mean. I've had a bunch of ideas myself for superhero stories, and was wondering whether they'd work in novel form or not. I'm trying to make a good study of this one for that exact reason, to get an idea of how to best handle my own ideas.

On top of A Once Crowded Sky, I've also got Neil Gaiman's new novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane on its way to me right now, and Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long War is also due out which means, if my father-in-law continues his tradition of sending us the newest Pratchett book at release, it may potentially be on my doorstep in a few days as well. So much to read, so little time!

At the end of On Writing, Stephen King has listed a very long list of books he read while working on some of his own, with an additional three pages of even more books he'd read since making the first list. I've been tracking the books I read in the sidebar here, but only the most recent three. To help me keep better track of my reading, I've gone ahead and added a page called Reading List. I'm going to start tracking the all books I read there. If you want an opinion on any of them or have questions, feel free to comment on the page and I'll get right back with you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writing as a Business

Sorry this is coming so late. It's taken me a few days to figure out what I want to say and end up with something I was happy with. I didn't think this was going to be this difficult.

I had a busy weekend when it came to making writing connections. I went to the romance writers get-together I mentioned a few weeks ago on Saturday, and Sunday met an author at a comic book convention. Both were wholy enjoyable experiences, and I got some good information from both, as well as a few networking connections.

One thing I got from both that I had never really thought about before was that, once the book is done, writing is a business. Just like with a regular job, it's about networking and who you know and who they know. It's trading business cards and having a public image, even if you don't have anything to show for it yet. When my friend told the author at the convention that I was an "aspiring writer", the author asked if I had a card. I had nothing to give him to help him remember who I am, even though he told me to feel free to contact him if I had any questions when I'm getting started with the querying process. I just have to HOPE he remembers "the girl from the convention who talked to you about writing superhero novels". The romance writers meeting was specifically focused on social networking and using Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest as writers. I got a business card from a woman who's "rebranding" with a new penname, and heard another talk about how she built up her twitter following before having anything out and how that affected her sales when her first novella came out. There was so much discussion about "brands" and "public image" and "networking" and other buzzwords you associate with businesses, and I never once thought about them as a writer.

But it's not wrong, really. If you want to be published traditionally, you want to know someone who knows someone. Yes, you can send things blindly, and yes, you can still get an agent or a publisher that way, but it's going to be a LOT harder. It's probably easier if you've got a network that can give you a boost over all the other people trying to get to that agent, that editor, that publisher. If you can say, "Oh, I'm ____ from Twitter, we talked about x and y a while back." If you can namedrop someone who told you to contact them. If you're self-published, you can make your book free for a while to get it out there, get people to know your name at the cost of sales. Or you can have a Pinterest and Twitter set up and let your followers know when your first book is coming out with a Facebook fan page waiting for them to join. Your friends and followers can retweet and repin or share on facebook. Do you want to roll the ball all the way there yourself, or do you want to give it a nudge and watch it go as social networking does its thing?

It really got me thinking. I'm not an "advertiser". On every blog I've had, I've kept my identity secret, not that it matters since almost every follower knows who I am anyway. Aside from one private forum, I don't advertise them anywhere that's attached to my real name because I want anonymity. When I'm finally done editing and the query letters are going out, though, there's nothing for anyone to find. Nothing to tell them who I am. No webpage or blog, no facebook account, no twitter, no pinterest, nothing under my chosen penname that an agent or publisher could use to see "okay, this girl's got people who might be interested in something with her name on it." I have no public internet presense, and I've been rolling changing that around in my head since Saturday. Setting up a pinterest account for my penname, making a twitter and learning how to use it... I'm still not 100% set on anything. All I'd ever thought was "write book, edit book, query until acceptance," but that's the old fashioned way, isn't it? In this social, online society, we've already seen changes in getting regular jobs. Why should I have thought that getting professionally published would be different? And yet, I managed to get my job the old fashioned way.

I don't know. I'm just in this place where I'm trying to figure out what steps to take now, and it feels like there are a lot more options to choose from. They all get me where I want to be, ideally, but what path do I take to get there?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


I just finished reading Volume 1 of the Complete Stories of Isaac Asimov on Saturday. 600 pages of Asimov's shorts stories, and it's not even all of them. There's a second volume somewhere I need to pick up. Mind-blowing how much there is, but not surprising considering he was one of the most prolific authors ever. I've read a few of his novels before: Caves of Steel and Nemesis. I greatly enjoyed the first, while the latter had some high points and low points. I would have said I enjoyed his work, but he wasn't one of my top authors. I admired him, certainly. He's one of the only authors to have published books in every dewey decimal, if not the only one. Science fiction and, really, modern technology are the way they are today because of him. I deeply admired him, yes, but I wouldn't have said he was one of my favorites.

What a change one book can make. While the two I read before were enjoyable, they didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the complete brilliance of Asimov, and I suddenly understand WHY he's so highly spoken of. I thought I had an active muse, that I had a lot of ideas. I realize now I have nothing on him. Asimov asked "what if..." at every little thing, and he made it work. He took the simplest of ideas and made a story around it. I keep trying to come up with other words to describe it, but I just keep sticking on "brilliant" because that's what it is. Pure brilliance.

So now I'm at that place. You know, when you find a new favorite author and all you want to do is find everything they've written and read it. I at least need to get through some more of his robot stories: I, Robot and the like. And knowing how much Asmiov's written, I know I've got a long path ahead of me. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Happiness Is... A Used Bookstore

My husband and I spent Memorial Day weekend doing a lot of traveling. I try to get down to visit my family in Florida at least once a year, and we squeezed in what we could over a four-day weekend: grandparents, parents, meeting one friend's new baby, going to a shower for one due soon, and, of course, shopping. Halfway between my grandparents' house and my father's condo is a small town called Micanopy, and nestled under the mossy trees that shade the single block-long street that makes up the shopping district is a dusty little bookstore that's been there as long as I can remember. O. Brisky Books (read more here) has been my favorite store out of all the antiques and curiosities shops in the sleepy little town, even more than the ice cream shop across the street from it. When there's time for us to take a break on the road, I always try to stop in and browse the shelves for something interesting, and the store always provides. Obscure topics perfect for gifts, old, well-loved tomes waiting for a new bookcase to belong on, or just something that catches my attention on the shelf, I always find something to leave with. The books are vaguely organized by type in the cramped shelves (are you interested in Nautical books, or something on Photography? If you're looking for book on Russia or Poland, you just have to look at the well-labeled walls of the two-room store), and there's barely any room for anything new to fit between them. And every time, the same old man is behind the counter chatting with other customers, or putting books on the shelves, or answering question on the antique phone in an antique phonebooth that he uses for the store's primary form of contact. He doesn't even take credit cards: cash or check only, and he writes every purchase down on a notepad instead of a computerized system. Walking into this store is an instant trip into a long-forgotten past. It's every scent and sight and sound a used bookstore should be, and it's intoxicating. 

Not far from my dad's condo is a used bookstore that's the complete opposite of O. Brisky Books, Best Used Books. It's bright and modern, stuffed to the gills with books sorted in alphabetical order by author as well as DVDs, CDs, VHSs, board games and puzzles, anything really, but mostly books. Enormous sections of familiar genres, almost all modern and gently loved cover the store. The average age of the books there is probably younger than me, or around my age at the very least, as are the employees. And you know, I love it just as much as O. Brisky. They're two completely different stores, there may not even be a matching book between them, but they are equally delightful, with employees we can stay and chat with for hours, talking about nothing but books.

Up here where I live, I don't know of any local used book stores anymore. We had one in our local mall, but the last time we went, it had closed down along with half the other stores in there. It's a shame. Barnes and Nobles and Books-a-Millions are nice, but there's not much surprise there, nothing like a used bookstore. Entering a used bookstore is a mystery in and of itself. You don't know what you'll find, what you'll take home, if you'll find a new favorite author or a hidden autograph or an inspirational message to a friend or loved one between the pages. There's a beauty and inherent happiness in a used bookstore no matter the look or feel of the place. As long as it's filled with books that have been loved and enjoyed, that each have their own special history, it's all right in my book.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Moving forward towards a goal is terrifying. I'm coming to understand this more and more with each step of the writing process. I'm not even 20 posts into this blog and I keep talking about being scared. Scared to reread what I've written, scared to pick apart my draft, scared to read commentary. There are even more I haven't talked about yet. Scared of mailing the first query letter, scared of the first rejection, scared of nothing BUT rejections, scared of not being good enough to make my dream a reality...

I was scared of contacting a local author whose book of writing advice I had just finished.

I was scared I came off as a creep, or a weirdo, that I'd crossed the line when she didn't answer.

And now I'm scared of a meeting for other local writers that she's invited me to.


But I'm going to do it. It's a group for romance writers, and I'm a fantasy/sci-fi/adventure writer, but she said that's okay, so I'm still going. I'm honestly scared out of my wits about it. I'm an introvert. I still can't believe I've put myself out there like this. I probably won't completely believe it actually happened until it's done. It's exciting and scary, all the same. For the first time ever, I'll be spending time with other writers in a public setting. I won't have the comforting veil of the internet between me and them, just a table. Maybe less, I don't know how these are set up.  All these thoughts are running through my head in a jumble and it all comes back to "I'm scared".

I guess it's the uncertainty that's so frightening about moving forward. So many potentialities and no way of knowing what the end result will be. I know I can't let that stop me though. I can't achieve my ambitions without trying, and maybe failing occasionally, or making mistakes along the way. I keep telling myself that as long as I'm scared, it's means I'm moving forward, or diagonally, maybe sideways. What matters is I'm moving. I'm taking a chance. I don't know if it'll pay off or not. I won't know until June 8th. What I do know is that on June 10th, I'll have a very interesting post for you.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Editing is HARD!

Back in high school, whenever teachers would insist we turn in a first draft and a final copy, I never did it right. I always thought the first thing to hit the paper was my best work. I'd write it, fake a few typos, grammar errors, rearrange things a bit, you know the deal. My first draft was the final copy, and the second draft was the dumbed down "first draft". And you know, in all honesty? It usually worked. I may have gotten called out on it once, but I usually didn't face any problems with this method.

And now I'm looking down at my first draft, my baby, my precious, and for the first time ever, I'm having to take the red pen to it. I'm having to admit to myself, "Okay, this dialogue is actually weak", "This bit of information doesn't belong here", "I know the background, but the reader doesn't, and that ruins this scene." I could never have imagined it would be this hard, and I'm not even going it alone. God of Ephemera did an amazing job as my first editor, leaving me pages upon pages of notes. I actually went through a few months ago and did a lot of minor fixes she recommended. Those typos, grammar errors, rearranging things. I just scrolled past the big things, reading them and saving them for later. Well, later is now, and I feel so much like a fish out of water.

I think it's helping that I haven't looked at it for a while. The first time I read GoE's notes, I was...kinda defensive, and very vain. This scene was perfect, why didn't it work for her? This didn't REALLY need to be changed. It's fine as it is. But it wasn't, and I'm seeing that now. I'm REALLY reading what she wrote, going back and forth between the comments and the scene to see what she saw. As the writer, it's so incredibly hard to step back and try to see your novel from the perspective as the reader. You know all the secret little details they don't that make things make sense to you. You know the motivations, the history, the future. You read your novel through completely different eyes, and no matter how hard you try, you can never see it the way the reader will. I can't help but wonder if, because of that, I will ever be able to edit without an outside perspective first. Will I ever reach a day where I can write a book, look at it and know what's wrong without someone else pointing it out? Or will I spend the rest of my life sending each draft to someone else to pick apart? I know I'm probably being too hard on myself because this is new. This is new, and scary, and difficult. I'm dissecting my precious, taking it apart, and trying to put it back together in a way that leaves it better than it was before without changing anything necessary.

I said I was going to be done by the 16th. "I already did the little things," I told myself when I set that goal. "It's just going to be a matter of figuring out where GoE was right and what's honestly just fine as it is. I can do that in a week." ("But Maxwell," you say, "Why didn't you start at the beginning of the month instead of Saturday night?" Well, friends, because I am a lazy butt. And I got gripped by that old "scared to open it" feeling again. But mostly because I'm lazy.) I was completely certain that a week would be more than enough time to finish the editing process.

Aha. Haha. Hahaha.

I've spent the last three days doing at least two to three hours of editing a day, and I'm on about page 10. Page 10 of 102. And now it's even higher because I wrote a 1000+ word scene yesterday that was necessary to explain the main character's history, and I had to do it in a way that seemed natural. I had to bring in a character I wasn't planning on introducing until halfway through the book, and now she's on page 4. I know the fact is that there's a lot more editing to be done at the beginning and the end. The beginning has the "writer knows" syndrome, and the end has the climax and the set-up for the next book. They were the parts I knew best going into them, so they suffer from my knowing too much. I don't think the middle has quite as much to fix, but we'll have to see. I'm not reading ahead. I'm taking it as it goes. I may not be done by the 16th, but I'm not going to let that stop me. I want this finished. I want to be able to feel the gut-wrenching terror of sending a query letter to my first agent, editor, or publisher. I want to be able to start getting the rejection letters, because it means I'm almost there. I just need to get to the second draft first.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reading for Research: The Graveyard Book

I updated and synced my Kindle on Sunday night. It'd been a while since I synced everything, and I'd picked up a few free books I wanted to read. While I was making sure everything had downloaded, I noticed one I didn't remember getting: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. It had been a Christmas gift, and I'd completely forgot about it. I put aside the writing books for the night and dove right in.

Over my Camp writing (which I won, by the way. Ambled over the 15,000 mark with about 3 hours left), I was trying to apply what I picked up from my previous reading with "said" versus other words. I found myself frequently going to adverbs to express HOW they spoke. People said things quickly, quietly, exasperated, absentmindedly. Maybe a bit too much. I tried to just stick with "said" or actions, and I spent a lot of time questioning how it sounded while I was writing it. Was I doing too much? Was what I was doing incorrect? Did I need to do it every line when only two people were talking, or if three people were talking but the conversation pattern was 1 2 1 3? Was I doing too much?

I love Neil Gaiman. More than any other author I've ever admired, he tells me that I'm on the right track. He tells me that the things I'm feeling or thinking or doing regarding my writing aren't wrong. It's in his interviews, his pep talks, his social networking, and his books. And while I read The Graveyard Book, as I tried to pay attention to the same things I was worried about in my own writing, I felt more and more comforted because the more I read, the more I saw my own style in the pages. I saw events of all the things I questioned in my own writing, and more that I hadn't. I'm feeling much more confident in my writing now, and I think I'm finally ready to reopen my first novel and finally start that editing I said will be done in...

9 days.

Oh dear. This'll be an adventure.

Monday, April 29, 2013


So, here we are. Two days remain at Camp. Less than 48 hours, and I've only got 1500 words left to go. One-tenth of my original goal. Yeah, I only set it to 15,000 words. I thought 500 a day would be all I could handle, and I've managed to make it despite a few "off" days and starting late. I'm too close to lose now, but I'm questioning myself. Could I have done better? Could I have done more? Am I not doing my story justice because I made my limit not even a full third of a normal NaNo?

I'm trying to convince myself that it's all okay, because ultimately, I've DONE it, but it's not an easy thing. We doubt ourselves, writers. Any artist, really. Our masterpiece will never be good enough. Our magnum opus will never be perfect, and that kills us. In bits and pieces, it tears us apart. Each word we hate, each scene that we run up against, every second of writers block makes us doubt, resent, lose faith, wonder if we should keep going at all. And from what I understand, that never goes away. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said as much in a NaNoWriMo pep talk several years ago. You can be published several times over, a success, and you will still doubt yourself, your stories, your characters. We're looking at a lifetime of torturing ourselves, questioning our worth and tearing ourselves apart as we struggle to make our stories come to life from nothing.

And yet, there's still nothing I want more.

Does this make me a masochist?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Doldrums

It's nearing the end of camp now. Three weeks in, one to go. At this point in the game, it's easy to want to give up. You want to go "Eh, good enough" and throw in the towel. Declare moral victory. You got writing done, right? That's better than nothing, right?

You know what's better than writing?

A finished story. And here I am, barely begun and ready to say "okay, that's enough for this NaNo." I just hit 9000 words. I'm not even the equivalent of six days into a normal NaNo wordcount. There's a bit of perspective. 9000 seems like so much until you compare it to 50,000.

Damn, I don't even feel like writing this. I've been working on it since last night. Anyone have any advice for getting through the writing doldrums?

"Doldrums" always makes me think of The Phantom Tollbooth. Maybe I'll reread that and see if it helps. It's one of my favorite books from my childhood. Talk about a book that made learning fun.

I'm just rambling at this point. Having a hard time keeping a single thought together. I think I'll cut this one short before I say anything that I regret.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Dream For The Future

I didn't go to work yesterday. Why? I just felt like taking a day off. I needed a day for me, or I was going to go crazy. So I stayed home and I didn't get out of my pyjamas all day. And since I think I wrote a grand total of 50 words over the weekend, I decided to devote a few hours to writing and trying to catch up on Camp.

It was lovely. Two, three hours of peace and quiet. No distractions, just me and my book, bonding. And then I made brownies, just because I felt like it. I even broiled some marshmallows on top of them, something I've never even tried before. And when it was all done, I couldn't help but think, "This is what I want." I want to stay home and write full time. I want to just spend hours a day dedicated to my characters, my worlds, my plots, without it cutting into time for my husband, my family and friends, errands, cooking, or doing things for fun. I don't want days like yesterday to be a rare weekday pleasure. I want it to be my life, my future. It's really what I've always wanted, but I fell into the belief that I couldn't have it, because I was supposed to get a job and go there every day until I've saved up enough money to retire somewhere in my 60s. "That's just what people do." Well, I can't do that. I think I would go insane. I don't want the 9 to 5. I don't want the rest of my life defined by a Dolly Parton song.

But there's that little voice in my head that wonders, "If you do that, what about college?" What about it? Well, I went; my parents spent a lot for me to go. Being a stay-at-home writer, would all of it have been for naught? A waste of money? What value would my computer information systems degree have? And how far away is this dream? Should I dive into it when my husband makes enough to support us himself and get things written faster, or do I keep my day job and hope and pray I can have the energy, the willingness, and the drive to finally finish a book and try to find a publisher or an agent around my 9 to 5?

On a featureless plane, a static surface, I can see this dream, far ahead of me. But I can't tell how far. It could be a year or two away, or it may be there, taunting me until the day I retire. I guess it depends on me, doesn't it? On how much I really try to get there. And right now, I'm letting the degree, the job, the doubts stop me. I'm letting them make hills and ripples that get in the way of being able to see my goal. I have to decide when this stops and when I'm going to get serious about making my dream happen.

There's really only one answer. My muse and I are in agreement. It stops now. I'm vowing, here and now, by May 16th, one month from today, I will finish the second draft of my novel and pass it on to my second reviewer.

If life's going to make ripples, then I'm bringing a steamroller. Bring it on.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reading for Research: The Hobbit

Did you know March 25th was Tolkien Reading Day?

It's an annual event that was launched back in 2003 by the Tolkien Society. I only found out about it a few weeks ago and set my mind to picking up The Hobbit for the first time since before the first Lord of the Rings movie came out. Back then, I loved The Hobbit, but I couldn't get through Fellowship of the Ring until after the movie (the other two followed in short order). I always remembered that love, but, well, I'm not a rereader. I'd like to be a rereader, but I'm just no good at it. Given a choice between an old book I loved and a new book, I'll always pick the new one. When I was doing a 50-book reading challenge, I intended to reread the Potters AND all the Terry Pratchett books. I ended up rereading only one, Pratchett's Reaper Man. I just love the mystery of an unread book! But it being Tolkien Reading Day, The Hobbit being out on DVD, and more movies to come, I decided it was high time for a reread of the old classic.

Frankly, I am amazed that my preteen self managed to get through it without trouble, but struggled with Fellowship. For such a small book, it packs in so much information. A whole year in three hundred pages, and yet a legendary battle lasts only two or three. Deaths of dear old friends at the end get brushed over, yet you still feel them just as much as if it were drawn out. There truly has never been and will never be another J. R. R. Tolkien. And honestly, for that exact reason, I found myself not really looking for anything to learn from it. You can spend a lifetime studying Tolkien's writing style, but to what end? You'll know how he wrote, but few would dare to try and write like him. It would be better, I think, to study Middle Earth. There are few fantasy worlds as rich, vibrant, detailed, and well-loved as Tolkien's world. Study the maps, the languages, the races and cultures, the food and the song. Learn how to build a world from Tolkien, not how to write. 

Just wish I'd realized that BEFORE I finished the book. Guess I'll have to read the others. What a terrible thing. :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Camp Day "1": Getting started again

Hello, my name is Maggie, and I am terrified of rereading what I've written.

(This is where you all say, "Hi, Maggie.")

I knew when I registered for Camp that I was going to be a few extra days behind. My weekends are claimed by guests until the end of the month. This weekend was the biggest one that involved the most cleaning and "proper hosting" (Not just my mother staying over, but my mother-in-law as well for dinner!) I knew from the get-go that unless I wanted to pull late nights, writing was not going to happen this weekend. "I'll start on Monday."

But that was all lies, wasn't it? I had the time to write after the guests went to bed, and I have no trouble with late nights. I was up until 3 writing my 2000 words last NaNo when we had guests. I had plenty of time. I could have done it. So why is my wordcount still 0?

Those 6000 words terrify me. I know I have to reopen that document, reread what I had and start adding to where I left off. It shouldn't be hard. The book's not judging me. It's only a first draft. It's full of hopes to be hoped, dreams to be dreamt, and adventures to be had. It's so small, but I am so scared to open it and make myself read what I wrote a year ago that I convinced myself I wouldn't have the time. I liked what I had then. I've reread the other NaNos I won with (We'll talk about editing later...). What is it about this little barely-begun story that scares me so much more than the others? Is it because it's a reminder of my failure? Am I afraid that it's not as good or I'm not as good as I thought? I really don't know. I just know it intimidates me. Thinking about it makes my stomach churn.

No excuses tonight. No more waiting. I have to do this.

But why is it so hard?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Well, that answers that

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to camp I go, I suppose. I am a victim of peer pressure (Natalie! :P) Can't leave a friend alone in a cabin, now can I?

After a bit of back and forth with myself, I think I'm going to pick up where I left off, metaphorically speaking. Last Camp, I only got 6000 words of my novel, a sequel to my completed one. I felt like I wrote myself into a wall when I broke/sprained my MC's foot. It's a fast-paced pirate-themed action/adventure novel probably taking place over two weeks at most. How much action can there be if the main character can't walk? I felt stuck.

With a little less than a year of that hanging over my head, ultimately I've come to the conclusion: How much action can there be with a wounded MC? Let's find out. It's not going to be easy. In fact, it's probably going to be really hard. Maybe things will heal poorly and she'll be stuck with a limp for the rest of her life. I don't know yet. She's going to struggle a lot more than she would have if she could walk normally, but this happened for a reason. It's development for her. How much will she fight if she's already wounded? These are questions I'll get to answer now. I'm back facing that wall again, but this time, I'm going to get over it, around it, or through it, one way or another. Let's take it from the top.

Monday, April 1, 2013

To Camp, or Not To Camp?

I contemplated doing an April Fools post today, but decided I like you guys better than to pretend I had read 50 Shades of Grey and decided it was the pinnacle of writing and nothing I could ever write would match it so I was quitting. Plus, I don't think I could have gotten through that without hurting myself, either from laughing or from "oh god I can't believe these words are coming out of my hands." So have a real post instead.

Considering Camp NaNo started today, it's probably not the best time to start contemplating whether I want to do it or not. Honestly, I've been back and forth on it for weeks now, and still have yet to arrive at a conclusion. None of my ideas are really biting hard and begging to be written right now. One plot is slowly growing and developing, but not quite at the rate where it's ready to be started. I know myself, I know how I write. If I start now to try and hit a deadline, when the story hasn't given up a lot of its secrets, it's not going to be finished. But I also know if I don't give myself a deadline, it's not going to happen at all. So what shall I do? Take the bunny, no matter how unwilling and try to make it cooperate, or skip this camp and let it work things out at its own pace? I really don't know. April's a busy month for me with my birthday at the end of it and family and friends trying to work in visits. But then, it's no less busy than November with Thanksgiving, and that doesn't get in the way of NaNo.

What to do, what to do...

Monday, March 25, 2013

On Second Thought

One problem I find myself often running into while writing is the question "Is this too common?" "Is this too predictable?" "Is this too cliche?" As a writer, you want to surprise your audience. From the big twists to the little motivations and backstory, you want to keep the reader interested and you want to keep them guessing. The problem is, I was often finding myself answering "yes" if I wondered if a motivation or plot point was cliche. Now, cliche isn't necessarily a bad thing. At this point in time, everything's been done before and often done to death. The important thing is to make it your own. You can find countless infographs comparing stories like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. They're each their own unique story and you'd not think of them as being similar, but there many VERY general aspects that are the same between the two, and sometimes more.

See what I mean? Reduce the details and every story is cliche. I try not to worry about the general cliche. My stories will be compared to many other things over time, and maybe someday, other people's stories will be compared to mine. What concerns me is the cliche in the details. The "wants to rule the world" villain "because he's just evil/crazy". The king's advisor who might as well be wearing a Jafar costume. The "they'll be together by the end of the book" sidekick who excels at what the hero's bad at. Thecore of the problem is that these cliches are so embed in our subconscious that when we come to story development, they're the first thing you think of! So how can you fix that?

Second thought. I can't remember if I got this from a book, a post on the NaNoWriMo forums, or if I just came up with it (I don't think I'm that clever. I suspect I read it somewhere), but last October, I gave someone this advice. "Take your first thought. Toss it. Think of a new way to accomplish what you wanted to. Toss that too. Keep the third, or the fourth, or the fifth. The further you go, the less predictable and cliche it should be." When I came up to a crossroad in my plotting, I decided to try my own advice.

MC was a senior in high school. Did she have a job?
First thought: Yes, she worked retail. Realistic, but boring. It didn't give me any development for her, either.
Second thought: No, she was focused on her studies. Also boring. A little more development, but not much.
Third thought: I had to think this one over a bit. It was harder with the "throw-away" answers out of the way. What could a teenager do that wasn't retail/food service or not working? ...An internship. She wanted to be a journalist and got a job doing basic work for the local newspaper.
Well, that's more interesting, and it gave me a much better idea of who she was, what she wanted out of her future (and would subsequently lose in the story). It gave me a lot more characterization than just saying she worked at a grocery store would have.

I ended up using the technique my writing buddy and I have started to refer to as "Second Thought" through most of the book, and onward. It doesn't always work, and sometimes I just really, really want to use the first idea, or nothing else fits quite as well, no matter how cliche it is. In those cases, I tend to just let it go. Sometimes, a little cliche and expected works, and sometimes it's okay, no matter how hard it may feel to convince myself of that. But when the puzzle piece fits but just doesn't feel right, the second thought may just be the way to go.

Do you have any tricks you use to avoid cliches in your writing?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Solitary Company

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
 - "Africa" by Toto

I've always loved that song, especially that line. "Solitary company". It's great, isn't it? Part of it is because, ever since I learned what the word meant, I've loved oxymorons. They're one of my favorite kinds of word play, and they so rarely some up in pop culture. This line in particular has always struck me. They long for company while being alone. During a conversation with my writing buddy, I realized that this oxymoron very clearly describes a writer.

The conversation we had was about silence. There are people in everyone's life who like to talk a lot and people who don't talk at all. I am not a talker. I could go a whole day without saying a word to anyone, and I could be fine with that. I'm undeniably an introvert. I'm okay with alone. I'm okay with silent. Because, as a writer, silence is... never really quiet. Silence is just a chance for us to listen to the other sounds that only we can hear: the turning of gears as we puzzle out a plothole, the rambling of a muse figuring out the new animal she found, the chatter of characters acting out a scene or telling us something about themselves, the construction site noises of a world being built. When the world around us is quiet, that's where we writers thrive.

What better way to define "solitary company" than the mind of a writer in a moment of silence? The world around us can stop existing, but we are not alone. We are never alone, because in any moment, we can be in the company of hundreds. There are so many other people we're trying to listen to, talking to us and ultimately trying to get us to make them live. And yet, just as easily as we can slip into this state of solitary company, we can leave them for the real world and no one ever knows we were there. Like ninjas. Writing ninjas.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Here Kitty, Kitty

The mind of a writer
I have come to the realization that I am a crazy cat lady.

I'm still slowly working my way through Bradbury's essays, although I'm almost done. I've got one more essay and then what appears to be a collection of poetry. It's one hell of a read and one I recommend for every aspiring writer. He talks about his experiences writing everything from short stories to screenplays, and at the very least, you end up with the knowledge that the way you feel about your work isn't wrong. Or maybe it's just me, but in any event...

The last one I read was an interview regarding his rewriting of one of his short stories that became a full story, then several adaptations for film and stage. While the talk of changing the story and some serious editing was interesting and informative, the bit that stuck out the most to me from this essay was his comments on how he writes. He said if a story was being troublesome, if an idea wouldn't give him more information, he WOULD NOT work on it. He'd turn his back and go do something else. Ideas, he said, are like cats. If you chase after them, they will ignore you or run from you, but if you let them be, they'll come to you and let you create them.

Could any analogy be more appropriate? Ideas are generally refered to as plotbunnies in some circles, but that's not really accurate, is it? We want our ideas to be like dogs. We want them to be happy to see us, to bring us all their favorite toys, drop them at our feet and then roll over for belly rubs before settling down to never leave our side, leaping up at the slightest sign of us giving them attention. We are their master and they our devoted worshipper. But they're not. Oh no, they are not. We are the peasants in their kingdom, the slave to their whims. We work on THEIR time. They will come and go as they please and you never know when or if they'll come back. If you catch them at the right moment, you may see them playing with a toy and pretending you don't exist (and god forbid you catch them, you won't see them for hours after that.) And if you happen to WANT to give them attention, you may get lucky and the idea will ALLOW you to bask in its glory and maybe you can pet its tummy or it'll sit on your lap. Or it'll bite you and bolt off before dashing in and out of the room at random intervals teasing you with the briefest of glimpses.

And yet, AND YET. You still keep bringing in the others you find because you can't turn down an idea looking for a warm head to settle into.

My fellow writers, we are all crazy cat ladies, and there is nothing we can do about it. We need these cats. At least they don't wreck up the place like the real ones...not until someone invents a way to see inside our heads. Scary thought.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reading for Research: Harry Potter

I finished the Harry Potter series last night for my first full read-through ever. I've been meaning to for years, but I just never got around to it. Finally, a few weeks ago, I got the whole series for my Kindle and I've spent the last week and a half doing nothing but devouring them. By the end of it, I've found myself back in full-fledge Potter Mania, a Potterhead reborn.

Aside from experiencing the story in one fell-swoop finally, I was also reading them for the first time as a writer. Yes, I had been writing while reading them before (1-5 were all out before I finished high school), but I read them from the perspective of a fan, devouring the story for all it was worth. Now I read them, enjoying the story while trying to get as much out of it as I possibly could. After all, reading is just as important to improving as a writer as actually writing. You see what works and what doesn't; what succeeds and what falls flat; what your teachers told you to do that gets ignored, and what they told you NOT to do that also gets ignored.

I've been trying to pay attention while reading to the use of the word "said". It's one of the bigger debates in creative writing I've found: is it okay to use "said", or should you stick to the countless other words you can use, or use movement and action to designate the talker instead of anything?
1. "Oh, stop it," she said, rolling her eyes.
2. "Oh, stop it," she groaned as she rolled her eyes.
3. "Oh, stop it." She rolled her eyes.

I tried to spend my time reading Harry Potter trying to pay attention to how JK Rowling did it, as well as her repitition when conversations were held between two people. (I.E., did she continue to write X said, Y said after the speakers were established, or did she leave it to the reader to follow the speech). What I noticed when I dragged myself out of the books long enough to pay attention to the details was that Rowling frequently uses #1, while occasionally using #2 when needed. I was surprised at some of the instances she used "said", moments that were heated or clearly yelling, but then I realized that she expressed the situation well enough to not NEED to use "yelled" or "shouted" or anything like that. Likewise, some of the cases where she used something other than "said" seemed unnecessary and broke up the flow. I didn't make out any instances #3, but that's not to say they weren't there. I just didn't notice them.

It's hard to draw yourself out a book when the movie's already playing in your head. Not as simple as pressing pause. People tend to say that your eyes skim over "said", leaving you in the book while stranger words will bring them out. It's true, really. I was more likely to stop and remember "Oh wait, that wasn't a 'said'" after a "mumbled" or "whispered" than I ever did with a single 'said'. I also noted that she didn't have many long conversations without description of motion or scenery in them to break them up.

Along with the "said" study, I was also trying to pay attention to the action scenes. It's one of my own weaknesses, and I've always been told to be more succinct in action. Short, "this happens" sentences to match the fast pace of the events. I'm not sure, having finished the series, if Harry Potter was the best choice to look into this. Magic is...detailed. Especially, the magic of Harry Potter. It NEEDS details and longer, more descriptive sentences, but it manages to put them in without breaking the pace. While I now have a better idea of how to handle magical combat, it doesn't help me for the stories I'm currently working on.

After I finish the other book I'm working on right now (Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury) I'm planning on rereading The Hunger Games, at least the first one if not the whole series. A few short stories I'm working on are 1st person present, and the combat is more along the lines of what I need to know. As long as I can remember to pay attention and come out of the book at the important parts, it should be useful.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Thanks to A Creative Writing Teacher

When I was in high school, I took not one but two creative writing classes. My junior year (or was it sophomore?) I sat through your standard class. Daily writing prompts on the whiteboard to be answered in a notebook that was collected every day, then a lesson on different kinds of writing and poetry, ending with a homework assignment to write something along those lines. Aside from having fun with the prompts, it was dull. I was with people who were just taking the class for an easy grade (one girl didn't even know what a muse was. Period. Like, not even the mythological muse. She peer-reviewed my final project which I'd named "Voice of the Muse", and literally said "I don't know who this Muse character is, but Maggie references them a lot in her titles. She didn't put them in any of her stories.")

My senior year, I was one of a handful of students who was offered the chance to go off-campus for half the day and take courses at the local community college, classes that would transfer to a four-year university when we graduated. I jumped at the opportunity and signed up for the college's offered creative writing course among my other classes.

The professor who walked in that day was the complete opposite of my high school teacher in every way. Dr. Wright was an older gentleman, dignified, professional, straight-laced, eloquent, clean, and I wondered what I, a weird, fantasy-loving teenager who wrote short stories about a girl with a magic pencil whose nemesis was the weatherman, had gotten myself into.

I still hold to this day that it was one of the greatest classes I ever took in my entire schooling career. That first day, Dr. Wright told us we had one assignment. We were to bring in something. We had to bring 15 poems, a short story of X pages, or a script of Y pages. We were encouraged to bring something every class, and bring a copy for everyone else. And that was it. He didn't tell us HOW to write or WHAT to write. He just told us to write, and every class, we sat down and critiqued what had been brought in that day. Sometimes he would talk about things he had read himself, and occasionally would bring in giant piles of books to give away because he was just out of space to keep them. If he asked a question that we didn't know the answer to, he didn't tell us. We could look it up ourselves if we wanted to know. And he never went gentle on critiques.

I had been bringing in poems like everyone else for a few weeks before I decided I wanted to bring in a fantasy story I had been writing. All I had was the layout of the setting and the history of the world. It was looking to be very, very long. To make it work for the assignment, I put it in the context of a story being told by a grandmother who was entertaining her two youngest grandchildren while their father and teenage sister listened. There were interruptions and distractions, and Grandma didn't get too far into the story before dinner started to burn. The story was less fantasy and more the family's interaction with each other, with touches of this story I was working on in it. I had no idea how Dr. Wright would take it. Like I said, he was honest and held nothing back on his critiques.

He had no criticism for it. He liked my visuals and descriptions. When someone in the class said she didn't understand how anyone could pretend to ignore someone as I had written the younger children doing, he sided with me and explained it to her. I was in shock. He had never done this with anything anyone else or even I had brought in before. A class or two later, he came in and handed me a book. His mentor had written it, he said, and he wanted to pass it on to me because, from my story, he thought I would like it. It was a thin fantasy story about lost islands and shapeshifters. When he gave it to me, he told me his mentor had submitted it to 60 publishers before one took it. He told me not to give up, no matter how many rejections I would get. Without ever saying it directly, he told me I had promise, that I could do it, that I could be a writer and see my book on the shelves as long as I didn't give up.

I still have the copy of that short story he gave back to me with his comments on it. It's stored away in a box of memories and pictures and precious things. Dr. Wright may never see this post, may not remember my name if he saw in on a shelf, may never know how much that gesture meant to me. He could never imagine that it would be one of the things to pull me out of the pit I was sliding into six years later, to keep me from losing faith in myself and my writing when I was at my lowest point. But I will always be grateful to him for it, and I hope, someday, he'll be seated at home, reading a book by some new no-name author. He'll scan through the acknowledgements at the end of the book and see a small line: To Dr. Wright, thanks for the faith. I hope he'll smile and know that it's to him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dwelling on Dreams

I've been rereading the Harry Potter series for the first time in a decade. It's strange to take a walk down memory lane with these books again with the views and perspectives as an adult and a writer. I'm seeing WHY so many people fell in love with them, and I'm falling in love with them all over again myself. It's reminded me why I admire and idolize J K Rowling so much. The depth of detail she created in her world, a world that's right outside our own, that we could possibly find if we stepped into a little hole-in-the-wall pub and went out the back door, or got lost of a back road and found a strange little house with a family of nine redheads, it's unbelievable that it came from one woman's head. I think I read somewhere that the Harry Potter series consists of a thousand named characters? Maybe an exaggeration or me misremembering. Many only get mentioned in passing, never to be seen again, but those little details make the books come alive. It's so developed, so rich, you can for a moment believe it's actually real.

What I wanted to get to, though, is the question of something Dumbledore says.

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."

It does not do to dwell on dreams. I can understand what JK meant, but at the same time, I can question it. Our dreams can take us over, but they can also drive us onward, no matter how impossible it may be. We can use our dreams to push us towards a better reality. Where do we go without those dreams? What pushes us forward? What is the separation from dreams and ambition? Where is that line drawn?

I'm a dreamer. I always have been and always will be. Awake or asleep, my dreams drive me. By day, they push me onward, keep me writing, knowing that if I don't, I'll never be an author signing her book for eager fans. It's a dream I have held tight to ever since I was a child, and I hold to saying that in my darkest hour, it saved me. By night, they take me to distant lands with unfamiliar faces, telling me their stories that I may record them, hold them, save them for the day when their story begins on the next page. At this moment, I have fifteen different plots, some detailed, some plain, all from dreams. Even I find it strange that they're coherent enough to make a story out of, but I'm not going to look a gift muse in the mouth.

Dumbledore may be a wise old wizard with years of wisdom behind his words, but I think, in this case, I'll respect his opinion and continue to dwell on my dreams until the day I can make them a reality.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Wandering Quille

I swear, this time I'll explain the blog name. I swear it! No more getting sidetracked down memory lane!

Hey that reminds me of a time-


I couldn't tell you where we were going when it hit me. I remember being in the car for a long trip, it was nighttime. My muse returned from her first plotbunny hunt since I was aware of her return, and she brought with her a little old woman who ran a magic shop. Not a normal magic shop, but one of those you read about that "just opened down the road". They're full of weird trinkets and geegaws and gadgets, and the hero always leaves with something. They can try and return it, but the shop will be gone, with no sign it was ever there. This story my muse found, the hero was the shopkeeper, because we never see the story from their point of view. It wondered what happened if something went missing that wasn't supposed to, if the wrong person took the wrong item. How damaging would the fallout be, and how far would the little old woman who ran the place go to right the wrongs?

And thus was born Miranda Quail and the Wandering Quille. For a shop that specialized in making stories, I thought The Wandering Quille was a good name. And when I needed a name for a blog to focus on my writing, what better name was there? The Wandering Quille is the first story at a now long list of plots waiting to be written. It's where it all began again. Not to mention that my quill does indeed wander. I've been trying to make this post for the past three blog posts! The mind wanders and rambles, and the quill goes with it. We have no idea where we'll end up, but it'll certainly be interesting. After all, books are about the journey, aren't they? People always ask "Why didn't the eagles just fly the ring into Mordor?" Because then there's no journey, and if there's no journey, there's no story (well, there are also the countless in-story reasons for why the eagles didn't do more, but this article isn't about my love of Lord of the Rings trivia).

So that's the story of the Wandering Quille. It's a magic shop, it's a rambling blog, and one of these days I'll get around to writing more of both.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Finding a Lost Muse

Muses are strange creatures. They have no physical form. For most people, they don't exist outside of their head. For some people, they take the form of characters from shows or books that they admire and strive to be like. For others, it's the form of real people or creatures with whom interaction makes ideas take shape. These muses are just in our head, but you will never, ever hear me say that they aren't real. If you ignore them, they will leave you to find someone who will give them the attention they need. I said in my last post that I stopped writing for six years. At the beginning of that time, when I left for college and put away the "childish things", I also put away all of the sources my muses at the time came from. I stopped watching the shows and reading the books that inspired me. I lost touch with my muses completely, and they left me when I wasn't looking. I thought I could just come back and they'd still be there, waiting, but when I finally did, my mind was... silent. Abandoned. Empty, with only a few scattered and crumpled papers left in the corners.

I said that I told my little begging story "All that remains is the memories of who I was then. Unless that can be my muse, I'm finished." That's really not far from the truth. I sat and wondered if it was possible for me, or rather, the persona I had created for myself as a writer, to be my own muse. It was the only thing I still had that was entirely mine, the only thing that I could possibly make a muse out of. It seemed crazy. I should just give up. I was talking nonsense. The side of me that was a writer six years before was gone, and the thought of muses, of needing an imaginary friend to help you create, was just the idea of a seventeen year old with her head in the clouds. Adults didn't think that way. I went on with my life. But something was awake with that thought, and it wasn't going to give up without a fight.

A few days later, I had my first idea for a new novel since I had stopped writing. It was a dream, one that told a strangly coherent story, one that I remembered completely when I woke up. I hadn't remembered my dreams in years. It took over my mind. I spent the next few days jotting down notes, learning about these characters and this strange place I had seen in my dream. There was no doubt in my mind that the "silly thoughts" I had put to myself and brushed aside set something in motion. It was the only explanation. So what if it's not the "adult" way to think, if I'm pulling the childish things back out and holding them close? I put away the childish things and almost lost everything.

Maybe it's silly to think of it as if there's an imaginary friend finding little lost stories and bringing them back to me to make a home for them, but I no longer care, because I now know I'm not wrong, and I'm not alone. Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Good Omens) once told a fan who said they wanted to be an author when they grew up, "Growing up is highly overrated. Just be an author." A chapter in Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing is titled "How To Keep and Feed a Muse". There's something incredibly uplifting about realizing the people you idolize, the people that you want to one day join the ranks of, feel the same way you do. It tells you that you're on the right path. Is it the only path to get there? Never, but it's the one I want to be on.

So, do I still think I'm silly and childish for keeping a muse? Without a doubt. The difference is, I'm okay with it now. The change since that day has been undeniable. I need my muse just as much as she needs me. I give her a head to live in, and she fills it with people and places and things and ideas. She exists because I need her to. And you can guarantee, I'm not going to lose her again.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Brief History of Maggie Maxwell

You would think, wouldn't you, that as a writer making a writing blog, I'd know what to say for my first post. Writers block on page one. This bodes well, doesn't it?

So, I guess I'll start with a bit about me. While we're here, you all can call me Maggie, or Maxwell, or M, or "that crazy chick". I'll answer to pretty much anything. I'm not picky. I'm mid-20s, and my entire life, I have wanted nothing more than to be a writer. When I was in kindergarten, I was the first kid in my class to learn to read, and I promptly fell in love with books. When I was in 2nd grade, I came upon the revelation that I could make up stories of my own and write them down. From that moment on, my head was filled with stories, with people who didn't exist, objects that defied the laws of physics, and places most fantastic. The rest of my childhood and all of my teenage years, I read, and I wrote. I made friends who wrote and built myself a community.

You know that old bible verse, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things"? I fell for that. I believed the people telling me "I know you love to write, but study something that will get you a job." I listened to everyone who told me "Writing won't pay the bills. Get a day job." I faded away from my writing friends. I went into a computing field when I left for college. I told myself I'd keep writing like I had in high school, during class, so I could have time for a social life outside of school. But class didn't allow time to write like high school had, and the social life took over my time afterwards that wasn't devoted to homework. When I walked across the stage and took my diploma, I was a college graduate, top of my major, a bright future in computing ahead of me. What I was not anymore was a writer.

Two years passed, and it had been six since I put pen to paper. All of the things I had written were archived on my computer, or packed in boxes. I had put the childish things away. I was... broken. At 24, I had already fallen into the cycle of "work, eat, watch TV, sleep, repeat until retirement". And yet, tucked away in one little corner of the internet, a story written long ago sent whispers to my ear, whispers of long-abandoned "glories" and the smallest modecum of success as readers somehow continued to find it, review it, thank me for writing it.  In the recesses of my mind, a single surviving story stirred and begged me to come back to it, to finish it.

"But I can't," I said. "My muses have left me. All that remains is the memories of who I was then. Unless that can be my muse, I'm finished."

And somewhere in my mind, those memories hit me with a sledgehammer, called me a dumbass, and told me to sit down and write.

So I did. It was...pathetic. I got two pages written, and they were terrible. I put it aside again and went back to the routine. The muse was back, though, and she was not going to let me push her aside again. A few months later, I signed up for my first NaNoWriMo and did that little begging survivor justice.

It's been two years and three NaNos since then, and they've been good to me. I made new writing buddies, one of whom has become my biggest supporter and one of my best friends. My second NaNo, I wrote "the end" for the first time ever. I have written well over 200 full pages of stories, and it feels amazing. That which was broken is mended. The stories still beg to be told, but it's not just one anymore. My head is filled with people that don't exist, objects that defy the laws of physics, and places most fantastic. And I have never been happier.

Well, I was GOING to talk about the blog, but I suppose I've given you all enough of a novel for the first post. I'll save that stuff for post two.

Oh yeah, and if you need a tip on getting through writers block, just write. The above is what happens when you do.