Month: November 2014 (page 1 of 2)

NaNo 2014: Week #4 Recap

Here it is. The last day of NaNoWriMo 2014. And….

I didn’t reach my word count goal. I didn’t even come close, really. My goal was 50,000 words. As of this moment, I’m at 35,006 words. Not too bad, but not where I wanted to be.

In past years of NaNoing, I used the Thanksgiving holiday to get a huge chunk of words written. This year, I wrote less this Thanksgiving weekend than I did in each of the previous three weekends. Having a husband and infant child means that holidays are spent watching the kids, conversing with family, and traveling. In years past, I didn’t have these responsibilities, so it was no big deal to sneak off after dinner and write for three hours. This year… not so much.

So alas! I really thought I could hit 50K this year. I still have plenty of time to reach 80,000 words by December 30, so I’m not panicking yet. But it would’ve been nice to only have 30,000 more words to go than 45,000 words.

I will say that this year’s NaNo was a success for me in terms of my discipline as a writer. I managed to write every day (except Thanksgiving, and that’s a national holiday, so I don’t feel too bad). Writing every day was my personal goal for NaNo 2014, and in that sense, I “won” NaNo.

I’ve also learned a few things about my habits and preferences as a writer:

1. I’m actually a morning writer. This surprised me because I’ve always been such a night owl in the past. But now I find that if I can get 1,000 words written in the morning, my day goes much better and I spend the rest of the day thinking about the story and getting ideas. I still end up writing a little in the afternoon or evening, but the morning is where my fingers really get flying.

2. I NEED to write every day to keep my imagination flowing. Even one day off breaks the momentum and messes with my flow. As Kerouac said, “Write while the heat is in you.” I’ve got to write every day to keep the fire stoked and burning hot.

3. I need to read on a regular basis. Reading also stokes my creative fires, and I need the stimuli of other people’s stories to keep my own story going. I haven’t done much reading for pleasure since becoming a teacher because so much of my time is devoted to reading for class or grading papers. I have made a concerted effort to read for pleasure this month and I think it’s really inspired me with my own writing.

4. I need to jump around in the story and not write linearly. I found myself getting stuck earlier this month when I came to a part of my story and didn’t know where to take it. This caused several wasted hours “thinking” instead of writing. Once I started jumping around and writing whichever part of the story I was most interested in at the moment, I found that my writing time was actually spent WRITING and not sitting around waiting for inspiration.

5. I need to do other types of writing beyond just working on the novel. Doing these blog posts (and also blogging elsewhere with some of my students who are doing NaNo) has helped give my mind a rest, particularly when I’ve had to plow through some rocky patches in the novel. Blog writing is easier, and it’s not really “creative” in the same sense as fiction writing is. But it’s still writing, and it’s a nice way to keep my fingers moving and words flowing. Sometimes I need that warm-up (or cool-down); it’s almost like stretching before and after a run.

As a final note on NaNo 2014, I’m always amazed with how NaNo helps me stay focused and gives me a purpose. No one needs a “contest” like NaNo to write a novel, but for some reason, these 30 days are so special. Somehow, the month of November has a magical quality; it lights a fire under us and keeps us honest. 50,000 words or not, I’m proud of what I’ve done this month.

The Need to Write Everyday

I didn’t write on Thursday due to the holiday (Thanksgiving). This would seem like a minor hiccup, but alas, as I try to get back into my novel today, I’m struggling. I can’t seem to remember any of the story thread; I can’t find my way back into the story world. It all seems so foreign — the characters, the settings, the conflicts, the language. How can one missed day throw me out of my story so completely?

I managed to write about 1,000 words tonight, but they were disjointed and came in fits and starts. Hopefully tomorrow goes more smoothly.

What’s so crazy is that I feel so much more alive today now that I’ve written. My brain is abuzz with ideas; my imagination seems more alert and spongy (waiting to soak up ideas, I guess). I felt sluggish yesterday, and not just because of all the food. I was sluggish because I hadn’t connected with my story or my characters. It’s like, I *need* them now.

Which is totally cool! I’m glad that my story is becoming part of my daily routine. If nothing else comes out of NaNo, the desire and the discipline to write everyday is a good result.

NaNo 2014: Week #3 Recap

I started off really strong at the beginning of Week #3. The weekends are so nice because I can sleep in a bit, but still wake up and get some writing done before Red Beard (my husband) and the Noodle (my baby) are awake. My weekend word counts were great.

The weekdays for Week #3 have been less nice; I’ve been busy at work and wasn’t able to meet my word count goals. I’ve discovered (to my surprise) that I am a “morning writer” and can get a lot of words done before lunch. However, I’m not a “super-early morning writer,” which means that I can’t write in the morning on days when I work. I am a teacher, so if I wanted to get up a couple hours earlier to write before work, I’d be getting up at 4 a.m. There is basically no way on earth for me to wake up at 4 a.m. and be functional enough to write words. It doesn’t matter how early I go to bed; that just ain’t happening.

So I need to find a strategy that will help me get more words written on the weekdays, but that will also allow me to get my daily duties done too (grading papers, responding to parent/teacher emails, taking care of Noodle, cooking dinner, doing laundry, etc.).

Maybe I”ll discover the secret during Week #4.

13 Treasures of Britain: Chapter 5 Rough Draft

This chapter is about 8,000 words into an 80,000 word story (that’s the plan, anyway). My basic idea is to mash-up things I like about the Arthurian world with other random things that I’m interested in as well as some completely original elements. This chapter is mostly the original elements. My approach is very much like C.S. Lewis’s in the Chronicles of Narnia: just throw in whatever random mythological/fairy tale stuff I like, plus some things that are my own invention. This chapter also tries to develop the mysterious threat that is stalking Merlin on his quest. I don’t know how well I’ve done with creating that suspense and feeling of urgency.

As with my Chapter 1 excerpt, this is a first draft with no revisions.

It was completely night by the time Merlin and Ambrose had reached the Marsh. It had been a long journey, over rocky hills and thick forests. In the past, Merlin would have used a spell to travel there, but now he couldn’t remember any. He had tried the black pearl mirror, but it wasn’t working either. The faerie realm often caused mischief with things, even things that were magical. So they had to make the long slog to the March on foot. Or, at least Merlin was on foot. And after almost twenty miles, his feet ached. He clutched his side in pain once or twice as well and couldn’t tell if it was from cramp or from the thorn he’d stuck there earlier.

The Marsh was in the northlands of Tirn Aill. It was the furthest north one could go before falling off into nothingness. Beyond the Marsh was the void. There were times — like this moment — where it felt as if the nothingness of the void had crept into the Marsh. It was cold and black, and there were no sounds beyond the slurping of Merlin’s steps. The Marsh was filled with algae and blackthorns and unnatural briar patches that had never flowered or bloomed. It was a dying place. Merlin picked his way through the mud and muck. Ambrose perched safely on Merlin’s oaken staff.

“I should make you walk,” said Merlin.

“I would like to know how you plan to make an owl walk, my dear Merlin,” Ambrose replied.

“There must be some spell for it.”

Ambrose hooted.

The moon was gone, hidden behind a wall of clouds. The only light came from Ambrose’s huge owl eyes.

“Where am I going, Ambrose?” Merlin asked.

“Well, there’s a soupy mud to your left, and an equally soupy mud to your right,” said Ambrose. “And right straight ahead is a hovel of mud and leaves.”

Merlin bumped into the hovel of mud and leaves.

“You could have warned me earlier,” the wizard growled, wiping the wet leaves from his face.

“Yes, well, I didn’t know you wanted to know,” said Ambrose.

Merlin almost walked around the hovel. But he smelled something familiar. Marmalade. And since the wondrous magic of smell is that it can trigger memories that are infinitely powerful, Merlin remembered and knew that this was no hovel. It was a home. The smell of marmalade told him so.

“We’re here,” Merlin said.

Ambrose hooted anxiously. “I do not feel this is very wise,” he said. “This mound of dirt and leaves cannot be home to anything friendly.”

“Oh, Rathleen is not friendly,” said Merlin.

It took twelve knocks, but Rathleen finally let them in. She was the briar witch, and her name was well chosen. She looked like she was made of leaves and brambles and thorn twigs sticking out all over. Her face was as sooty and worn as a burnt log left to cool after a fire. Her dark eyes were buried deep in her gray, ashy face. And everywhere was briar and twig. Her entire body seemed like one giant blackthorn bush that never flowered. Her hovel was nothing more than a dirt mound covered in twisting thorn bushes and dried leaves. There was a fire in one corner and a copper cauldron roasting in it. There were also crude shelves fashioned out of yew branches. The shelves were covered in jars of marmalade. Rathleen went back and forth in her soot-covered rocking chair.

She was not pleased to see Merlin and spent the first ten minutes of their visit cursing him out. When she had calmed, she slowed down her rocking and started knitting.

“I don’t have time for your shenanigans,” Rathleen croaked. “What’s with the bird?”

“I, madam,” began Ambrose, “am the servant of Merlin the Great, and I am a member of the order of magical owls and my great ancestor was the first of Merlin’s avian companions, and I, as his descendent have taken up the mantel of protecting and serving the single greatest living wizard in the history of—”

“Aye, I don’t really care,” Rathleen interrupted. “What do you want, Merlin?” She knitted. It was some kind of scarf or sock, but it was hard to tell. The wool was a motley pattern of greens and browns.

“I was hoping you would know, Rathleen,” said Merlin. “I was hoping you could tell me what I’m doing here.”

“Bugger off, then, if you’re going to wisecrack,” she replied.

“I assure you, madam,” said Ambrose, barely composing himself, “my master is not wisecracking. He is most sincere and we are in great need of your service.”

“Tell your bird to shut up, or I’ll throw this knitting needle into its eye,” replied the briar witch.

Ambrose hooted urgently.

“Rathleen,” Merlin began, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need your help. Your memories, actually. Mine are completely shot. It’s as if someone sanded them off like dry skin.”

“I don’t remember anything,” Rathleen replied. She knitted and knitted. It was hard to tell with her slovenly state and the way her eyes were deep-set and dark, but it seemed as if Rathleen refused to look Merlin in the face.

“Rathleen, why are you afraid?” Merlin asked.

“I ain’t afraid, just tired. Tired, that’s all,” said Rathleen. “ I don’t have your youth, Merlin of Camelot. I’m tired and I don’t remember anything.”

Merlin bent over Rathleen’s face and held up the Knife of Llawfrodedd to her eyes. He spoke sharply.

“You tied this round Llewyn’s neck, ages ago. It’s one of the thirteen treasures, which I know you know because you’re the one who first told me about them. When I first came to Tirn Aill, you taught me the ancient lore. I was a wild demon-child and you taught me simple faerie spells and told me stories of the thirteen treasures and I know you remember and I know that you will help me now because despite your grotesque appearance you are not on the side of darkness but are one of the light.”

Merlin straightened up and flashed a smile. “Now help me.”

Rathleen went back to her knitting.

“Confound it, woman!” Merlin shouted. “Why are you resisting?” Merlin raised his staff and spoke an enchantment. “Dywedwch wrthyf beth ydych yn ei wybod!”

Rathleen raised her knitting needle. “Téigh ar shiúl,” she spoke calmly and pointed her needle at Merlin’s staff.

His staff fell, and Merlin felt a force pushing on his body, like a gale wind blowing him back.

Ambrose alighted from the staff and screeched.

Rathleen cackled and rocked back and forth in her chair. “Still just a child, Myrddin Wyllt. Still just a child!” She flicked her needle towards him and Merlin fell backward. Rathleen laughed again, but in her mirth, she failed to notice the bird. Ambrose swooped and soon one knitting needle was in his beak and the other was knocked across the room.

“That damned bird!” she cried. “Why did you bring that pesky fowl here?” She fussed in her chair, but she didn’t bother to fight Ambrose for her needle or get up and grab the other one.

Merlin stood up. “What the hell is going on here? Why are we fighting?” He retrieved his staff.

Rathleen rocked back and forth, back and forth.

“Something is wrong, tell me,” said Merlin.

Rathleen just kept rocking. But Merlin could see her dark eyes, and he could see that she was worried.

“Rathleen…” Merlin pleaded.

“Alright, ye gods! I’ll tell you,” the witch said at last. She stopped rocking in her chair and leaned forward. Ambrose had perched himself (knitting needle in beak) on a briar twig that jutted out into the room. Being inside Rathleen’s hovel, in fact, was like being inside a giant briar bush insulated by dead leaves.

Rathleen reached into the folds of her brambly cloak and pulled out a smooth white stone with a hole in its center. “I knew you were coming,” she said. “I saw it through this stone over two hundred years ago.” She held up the stone and looked at Merlin through the hole. “But that’s not all I saw.”

Rathleen handed the stone to Merlin. He peered through it and saw a flash of dark green. Then he saw a forest burn. Then he saw the face of someone he did not recognize but nevertheless knew. He felt a freezing cold in his heart. Merlin dropped the stone.

“You are being followed, Merlin my lad,” said Rathleen. “And that is why I am frightened. I saw the face too, and I seemed to know it without knowing it. And I felt the cold that pierced your heart. The stone’s never done that before, I tell you!”

“Who is following me?” Merlin asked. His face had turned pale. “Rathleen, we have just come from Avalloch, and there I found out that the high king has been stolen and replaced with a figure made of glass. And Llewyn the guardian was wearing the Knife of Llawfrodedd, and he said you put it there many ages ago. Rathleen, our enemies are one step ahead of us, and now you say I am being followed. What does it mean?”

“I am indeed afraid, Merlin,” she answered. “You were right to ask me that question, for I am indeed afraid. I do not know who follows you and I do not know who has taken Arthur. But the coldness I felt when I looked through the seeing stone is not a magic I can overcome. It has been freezing me since first I looked.” She paused and there was silence.

“I will help you,” Merlin said at last. “I will warm your heart, but you must help me. You know I need to find the other thirteen treasures. Where must I take the knife? Who has the next treasure?”

“I have it,” Rathleen said. “I have the Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir. I’ll tell ye now since we’re putting our cards on the table. Together, with the knife, you must feed the knights who reside at the castle of Biera, queen of winter. But that’s all I know. You, in your infinite wisdom, didn’t tell me the rest of your clever plan.”

“Let me have the hamper and I’ll go,” Merlin said. “You will have nothing to fear once I’m gone. I will speak a healing spell and warm your heart and that’s the last you’ll see of me.”

Rathleen laughed; the sound of it shattered like cracking stone. “You think that once you leave I’ll be safe? Merlin, you’ve gone soft in the head! Whatever is following you will come here. It will come to me and torture me until I give you up. You’re not leaving with that hamper, I’m afraid. Not unless you leave something in return.” Rathleen snapped her ashen fingers and the knitting needle flew out of Ambrose’s beak and back into her hand. “There must always be a bargain struck. There is always a price.”

Merlin almost cast another spell, but he thought better of it. Fifteen hundred years with Nimue had definitely taken their toll; Rathleen could probably defeat him now if she wanted.

“What must I leave for you, briar witch? What is the price?” Merlin asked.

“Oh dearie, you know I love brambles and bracken and thorns,” Rathleen said. “And I love a good bit of blood even more.” Rathleen stood up from her rocking chair and stalked towards Merlin. He tried to move, to turn, but he could not. Somehow she had stopped him. The old witch shuffled closer, her knitting needle poised.

“I know what you’ve got hiding under your skin,” she said. “And I want it.”

“The thorn?” Merlin asked. “It’s my only protection against the madness of Faerie. Anything else, Rathleen.”

“I want the thorn,” said Rathleen as she crept closer. Ambrose flapped his wings to fly, to attack the briar witch, but his talons were stuck to the branch. He flapped wildly and screeched. “It’s no use,” Rathleen continued. “You need the hamper and I need your thorn. A faerie thorn from the Tor, drenched in human blood. You know the magic, Merlin. It will make the perfect charm and ward off danger from my home. Can’t risk whoever is stalking you to stalk their way to me.”

Merlin could not move. Rathleen reached her gray, withered hand under his shirt and felt his skin for the place where the thorn was stuck.

“Rathleen, please!” Merlin begged. He was panicked now. He had faced madness once before, long ago, in that forest in France, where the world ended and he saw the coming darkness. He did not want to go mad again. Anything but madness. “Rathleen!” he cried.

But the briar witch did not listen. She drove her fingers through his skin and pinched the thorn. She pulled the thorn out of his side, the flesh breaking, blood spilling.

“The Gwyddno’s Hamper is by the door on your way out,” said the witch as she shuffled to the cauldron in the smokey fire across the room. She had her protection now.

The binding spell was broken and Merlin and Ambrose could move again. Merlin wasted no time with trying to get the thorn from Rathleen. It was no use; he wasn’t the master wizard he once was.

He grabbed the hamper and never looked back. The last thing they heard was the guttural sound of Rathleen’s spell and the splash of the thorn as it fell into her cauldron.

13 Treasures of Britain: Chapter 1 Rough Draft

Below is the first chapter of my novel, The 13 Treasures of Britain. It’s the first draft, meaning it has not been revised. I am currently undecided about whether I like the dialogue opening or not. My biggest worry is that it’s confusing (since there are no “saids”), but I kinda like the suspense of not knowing exactly who is talking at first. It makes the Merlin bolted upright in his sleeping bower a little bit more dramatic and hopefully surprising. However, the dialogue opening doesn’t give the reader any sense of the setting, and I know that can be annoying. I’m still not sure whether to keep this opening or revise it.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“About 150 years.”

“That long?”

“Yes. It’s the 21st century.”

Merlin bolted upright in his sleeping bower. “The 21st century? Are you sure?” He was frantic. He threw off the silk blanket and jumped to his feet. “I have to go.” He rubbed his chin and noticed it was smooth. No beard? he thought. That’s interesting.

“That’s not happening, dear,” said Nimue, the beautiful nymph who had kept Merlin captive since the 5th century. “I won’t permit it.” She reached out a willowy white hand and stroked the small of his naked back.

“As if you have a choice,” Merlin said, who had already left her bedside and began searching the underwater lair for his legendary oaken staff. There was junk everywhere — magic fabrics, orbs and pendants, wooden chests, feathered hats, piles of tribal masks, cloaks, brass pots, a black cauldron or two, stone tablets, books, scrolls, parchments, maps, a red unicycle — but the staff was nowhere to be found. “How can a man find anything with all your useless junk lying around!” he grumbled.

“It’s your junk, actually,” Nimue replied. The dark-haired sorceress sat down on a stool near the fire pit and pouted. Her green eyes were practically electric when she was mad and the firelight only made them hotter. Merlin couldn’t help but notice. Somehow, being angry made the nymph even more attractive. “If you recall,” she continued, trying to ignore his glance, “you threw a tantrum when I first captured you, claiming you couldn’t stay imprisoned with me for eternity unless you had all your stuff too. So if it’s anyone’s fault for the ‘useless junk,’ I suggest you take a look in the mirror.”

“I’ll be looking in the mirror in a minute, my love,” said Merlin as he struggled to make his way through a sea of scrolls.

“I won’t let you leave,” Nimue said. “You are my prisoner for the rest of time.”

Merlin stopped his trudge through the junk and turned to face her. “Don’t you realize, Nimue, that your imprisonment of me was only possible because I allowed it? Do you really think your powers could have kept me against my will for so long? I am Merlin, the ancient one, the greatest of enchanters, the supreme wizard. I hardly think a simple wood nymph like yourself would have the magics necessary to keep me prisoner. I wanted to be kept by you so I allowed you to keep me. That’s the long and the short of it. I could’ve left at any time; I just didn’t choose to until now.”

“You lie!” Nimue raged. “You were always a blowhard, but now you expect me to believe that you — the Great Merlin — wanted to be imprisoned for sixteen hundred years? No contact with the outside world, no chance to affect the lives of your precious humans, no great journeys or quests or whatever it is you were always doing back in Arthur’s day? You can pretend it was your choice to stay, but I know the truth. You are my prisoner, and I will not give you up!”

“What can I say? You’re gorgeous. What man wouldn’t want to spend eternity in your bed?”

A clay pot went whizzing past Merlin’s head. He ducked just in time, and it shattered against the earthen wall. Merlin sighed. It was no use trying to convince her. He went back to diving through the scrolls, still desperately searching for his magic staff. At last, he emerged with the wizened wood in his hand.

“Hello, old friend,” he said to the oaken staff. Then he turned to Nimue. “Now where is your mirror?”

The nymph wouldn’t answer.

“Fine. If you want to be bitter about the whole thing,” Merlin said, “I’ll oblige.” He gripped his staff and pounded it three times on the floor. Nimue’s lair began to rattle, as if a minor earthquake were rolling through. The piles of pots and books and parchments began to shake as well, lifting off the floor, until a small round mirror flew out from beneath an iron cauldron. While holding all of his possessions in frozen suspension, Merlin used his magic to draw the mirror closer. Glass, of course, is the material used to travel between the worlds.

His second sight saw it before his waking eyes did. Nimue’s enchanted breath snaked from her lips and began to swirl around him. It was a binding spell, the same she had used to capture him in the legendary time of Arthur’s first reign.

“I told you, Nimue,” he said. “It’s no use.” Merlin used his staff to disperse the binding spell, and the enchanted breath floated into nothingness. Nimue shrieked, and in her rage, unsheathed a bone-hilted knife that had been left near their sleeping bower. She lunged at the wizard, but again he waved his staff and the knife turned into a spoon.

“Aargh!” she cried. “I refuse to believe it! You cannot leave!”

“I’ll send for my things later,” Merlin said calmly. “Take good care of it all.”

“I plan to burn every last trinket once you’re gone.”

“You can try.” Then Merlin turned to the small, round mirror with a frame made of black pearl. “I’ve gotten young,” he said, noticing in his reflection a young man he did not recognize. His jaw was smooth, not a hair in sight, while his skin, his eyes, and his complexion were all that of a man in the prime of life. Gone were the white beard and the weary eyes. “No wonder you wanted to keep me around for so long,” he said to Nimue, who ignored him. “I’m gorgeous.”

He spoke the words of travel. The mirror expanded to the size of Merlin himself — and without even a glance back at the companion with whom he had spent more than a millennium — the wizard stepped through the glass and disappeared. The mirror disappeared as well, leaving a small, crisp note in its place. The note floated down onto the ground of Nimue’s lair and the nymph reached to pick it up. The words were seared into the paper as if they had been branded there with a flame.

She read it: Please forward any of my mail to the Glass Palace. Love, Merlin XOXOXO. A cry of rage accompanied the tearing of the note; Nimue slumped to the ground with the littered pieces of the paper scattered around her.

She exhaled. “What’s so important about the 21st century anyway?”

NaNo 2014: Week #2 Recap

Didn’t reach my word count goals for this week. It’s been particularly difficult to get “in the flow” so my writing has been in stops and starts and I can only punch out a few hundred words a day. I hate to blame my adorable five-month old daughter, The Noodle, but she’s not a great napper, so I can only get 30 minutes of uninterrupted writing time when she naps (and she either naps twice or three times a day, maybe).

The trouble is that sometimes those 30 minutes have to be devoted to grading papers and lesson planning.

So my progress this week has not been great. However, I’ve managed to do some more outlining, so at least I have a better idea of how I want the second half of the novel to go.

One of my ideas: Merlin must rely on Morgana to help him fight the big bad because he’s lost his powers. I’ll see how it goes…

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