Yes, I’m angsty. Yes, I’ll get over it.

The Short Version

tl;dr? I suck at world building but can’t seem to imagine on a smaller scale and it’s really depressing.

And I don’t usually abbreviate things here, but I’m going to in an attempt to save you from a typing hemorrhage of epic proportions. So click at your own risk to see the inner workings of my brain…

The Long Version

Oi! Subconscious! Pick an idea and stick with it!

Uh, I had actually divulged my ideas for my new writing project to some of you and I have to say that, in the wave of a revelation about Henry, Ephraim, and Jack (who were previously on a timeout for being uncooperative [and poor Finny and her lighthouse never even crossed my mind]), Ned, Vera, and what’s-his-name (it’s probably not a good sign that I STILL haven’t come up with a name for my second lead) have now been sent to the corner to think about what they’re supposed to be doing.

So now instead of WWII, I’m focusing on Napoleonic!Britain/States? Or maybe Gold Rush!California/Australia…

Oh, my goodness…

…have I really not posted anything since the Thanksgiving post? I think I’ve been in a blogging funk since the pictures didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, so here’s a quick update:

  1. The previous post was to be the first in a series of three – that one was Eat… to be followed by …Drink… because in addition to all that Thanksgiving food, I also got two liqueurs started (Parents, they better still be there when I come home for Xmas!), a cranberry liqueur and an eggnog one. The cranberry one looked nice the last time I saw it – the eggnog one, I have my reservations about. I think I may have overdone the orange extract and it smelled pretty strong (yes, even for me!). But I’ll be sure to let you know how the finished products turned out.
  2. The third post was to be …and Be Merry! showing you pictures of my family’s Thanksgiving craft project – pop-up turkeys made simple by the genius that is Robert Sabuda. I always end up feeling a bit inadequate when I do arts and crafts projects with my parents – my dad always ends up making something very realistic and gorgeous (frankly, my mom and I had a hard time telling between his turkey and the one we were meant to eat) and my mom ends up making something that’s perfect and pretty. Mine? Looks like it was made by a 6 year old. Who’s bad at doing arts and crafts. Want to see? (It’s drying flat here, but it did pop up once the glue was dry.)
  3. Let’s see…what else… Oh, my mom and I repainted the walls in my living room – they were a very pretty but very dark sort of eggplant kind of color, but the room is just too small for it – combined with the abnormally low ceilings in here and it really was like living in a cave. But now the walls are white and I’m going to wallpaper up to a chair rail with this (I think it’s a bit more of a teal color in person):
  4. My parents gave me an Xmas tree of my very own! It’s fake, but it’s a good fake and I love it – it looks very festive in here now. So far (knock on wood), the cats don’t seem to be very interested (even in the ornaments) – I’m hoping that, because it doesn’t smell like squirrels and the outdoors, they will leave it alone …
  5. I got nowhere near completing NaNoWriMo – I blame Thanksgiving, but either way…Anne FAIL! But 5,000 words is better than nothing, so I don’t feel entirely like a loser. 😉
  6. I’m busy, busy, busy planning our Xmas dinner (here’s what I did last year). I can’t decide if I want to do another crazy gingerbread project – I wasn’t super-pleased with last year’s (good old Frank Lloyd Wright still gets my blog visit count way up in December, though) and I have an idea that involves a four-layer cake, so I may call that my General madness activity for the season. We’ll see…
  7. Tonight is the last new Glee episode until April. APRIL?! But at least Better Off Ted is back and Chuck‘s return is imminent. Scrubs is on, too, but I’m not sure how I feel about that… Did they really need another season? I thought the end of last season served as a good way of wrapping up the series, but I guess the network had other ideas. I’m sure I’ll keep watching, though!

As you can see…

…I’m DREADFULLY behind on my NaNoWriMo. I managed a fairly big push today, mostly by being very bad and skipping ahead to write a scene that won’t happen for quite some time but that I had pretty set in my head. That ate up about 2,000 words, but still. (I ought to have hit approximately 16,000 words today and I think I’ve only just barely hit 5,000.)

Part of the reason I’m behind is that I am the world’s best procrastinator and managed to make no less than two soups, Brian’s Potato Cheese Soup (of which I have no photo, but you know what soup looks like) and Sweet Potato, Corn, and Jalapeno Bisque, both of which were very tasty. The potato cheese soup was pretty traditional. The sweet potato, corn, and jalapeno bisque is less so, but still very, very good – it’s a little sweeter than I was imagining, but the molasses adds a nice smokey flavor to it and the jalapeno and cayenne bring out a warmth that cuts through the sweetness.

Accompanying that, I also made cornbread and honey butter to go with it. Mostly because I had extra buttermilk left over from the butternut squash casserole I made a while ago and from the lemon cake I made after that to try and use up the rest of my buttermilk. I had to do a bit of searching for a cornbread recipe – I prefer sweeter cornbread – and stumbled across this one along the way. It’s perfect – moist and sweet (without being cake-sweet or anything). Yum!

Then I made the aforementioned lemon cake from Ina’s recipe (how can you go wrong, right?). It was very easy – though my hand got very tired from zesting and juicing all those lemons! – and very tasty. I decided to put this in the freezer since I also have the cornbread to get through, so I’ll try and remember to let you know how well it survives that experience.

And then I made Linguine with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Pine Nuts. I had never done the whole char-the-vegetable-and-the-skin-comes-right-off thing and this was the first time I’d used my broiler here, but it all went off without a hitch and ended up being super-tasty. I think I might add some goat cheese next time, but it was still very good even without it.

And, quite by accident, I also discovered a very tasty cocktail called an Applejack Rabbit. I happened to have calvados around from making El Grito and lemons from making the lemon cake and maple syrup because I love waffles and always have it around, so I whipped one up (because I don’t really know what to do with the calvados) and it’s super-super tasty and, just as the original recipe says, perfect for fall!

So all of that (and this post) are the reason my NaNoWriMo total is so low. That and the fact that it is much harder than I was expecting! But I’m plowing ahead still – I may not actually hit 50,000, but anything’s better than nothing, I suppose. Wish me better luck this week! Janis, I hope you’re making better progress than I have been… 🙂

NaNoWriMo: Day 1

Holy cats, this is harder than I thought it would be! I’ve been staring at the computer all day (1, 667 words a day does not leave me time to write it out and then type it in) and have only done 1,452 words so far. I’m not giving up yet – I still have an hour before it’s time for me to go to bed…

I’m not planning on posting the whole thing here, but I thought I’d at least give you my first paragraph:

Ned had no idea where he was. It was dark and cold and there were loud noises that sounded like explosions and he had no idea where he was. Actually, that wasn’t true. Ned knew exactly where he was. He was huddled in a doorway in the high street just outside the tube station and the longer he sat there, the clearer it became that, although he knew where he was, what he didn’t know was when he was.

I’m hoping I can get the widget in my sidebar here to work eventually, but, failing that, I’ll at least keep you posted as to my progress. Wish me luck!

How are you doing, Janis? 🙂

Oh, for crying out loud!

I just realised that November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and, at the pace this year has gone, it will be here in no time. I have always wanted to do it, but have never actually done it or even tried.

Anyone up for a go with me? (Janis, I’m looking at you!)

It might just be the key to getting over my enormous (i.e., 3-year-long) case of writer’s block…

Nonfiction

Blitz: The Story of 29 December 1940 by Margaret Gaskin

The next in my Blitz research readings, this book took me nearly forever to finish. And I can tell you why, too. The entire book reads like front matter – I kept sighing in frustration and thinking ‘Man, this Introduction is LONG’ only to realise that I was on page 100-and-something, deep in chapter 14. The first half of the book is background information, leading up to December 29 – the raid which resulted in the second Great Fire of London and the famous, famous picture of St. Paul’s rising, somehow unscathed, from a dense cloud of smoke as the City burned around it. Led astray by yet another subtitle (Margaret, either get there quicker or change your subtitle)!

When we finally get to the main action of the night in question, the pace really picks up. Until it immediately drags to a glacial pace again. I see what she was trying to do – throughout the introduction, she introduces certain characters (some are firemen, some are journalists, some are American, most are Londoners, some are women, some are men, all of them are real) that she is then going to follow through the events pretty much as they happen. Unfortunately, I found this hard to follow. It may have been my fault – not realising where she was going, I didn’t know that I needed to remember all these different names (the only one I could recognise each time was Nev Coates). It also made it sort of difficult to get a sense of the night all in one go because it was chopped up as she jumepd back and forth around the City, checking in on the different people. I think it would have been easier to follow – though perhaps less pretty – if she’d just taken us through the night person by person.

(I have to say, though, that the sections of the book are fairly cleverly named – I didn’t get it until I got to the section of the night itself which is called “Fugue” – that’s when I realised what she was meaning to do with the different characters, weaving their experiences together to create one tapestry of the night [I’ve always wanted to use that tapestry metaphor and it just fits here – I don’t care that it’s cliche!].)

She had lots of interesting information and she definitely captured the feeling of being there, right in the midst of the towering flames and the bombs falling, but I feel like I should have been glued to the page, holding my breath to find out what havoc was going to be wreaked on London. Instead, it just felt like a burden to pick this book up each night. So I see what she was trying to do and I’ll give her points for it (and for using the St. Paul’s photo on her cover), but it’s not what I was hoping for.

My rating: B-

Happy New Year!

Since I’m on my own for New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d make myself a fancier dinner than usual – no grilled cheese sandwich or frozen pasta on this night! So I made Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts and Oven-Roasted Vegetables from my new Barefoot Contessa cookbook (I adore her, but I usually can’t quite justify them because they’re pretty pricey and there’s just enough meat that it doesn’t seem worth the cost since I won’t be able to use about a quarter of it – but I’d bought it as an Xmas present for a friend of mine and when it turned out she’d already gotten it as a present, I decided to just keep it for myself). So good! And easy – but slightly more time-consuming than I was expecting…

I couldn’t find fennel at the market, so I used brussels sprouts instead and left out the asparagus altogether because I just wasn’t in the mood. But oh, so, tasty!

I’m off to have a bit of champagne and try and do some writing when the new year comes, since they say that what you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing for the next year and I definitely want to get back to my writing in 2009. Speaking of which, I think I’m the last one to go, right? Hope it’s off to a good start for the rest of you – I’ll be there in a couple of hours!

ETA: No, Janis, you’re the last one to go, right? I got confused about my time zones there for a bit! Anyway, here’s to a happy new year, everybody!

Nonfiction

Few Eggs and No Oranges: A Diary Showing How Unimportant People in London and Birmingham Lived Through the War Years, 1940-1945 by Vere Hodgson

It’s quite a subtitle, but then, it’s quite a book. There are lots of books out there about the Blitz, but this one kept coming up as the one to read for a view of civilian life in London (and Birmingham) at the time. And I can see why – although there are still great, huge gaps in my knowledge of the Blitz and this book didn’t necessary help to fill them, I think I got a really good day-to-day view of what it was like. I mean, not that reading a book means I know what it was like or what it would be like, but I think I have a better idea now.

It was simply amazing to read about Vere’s experiences. I knew the Blitz was bad, but I had no idea – it went on fairly steadily from 1940 to 1945 and within those five years there were month-long periods during which every night there would be raids that would go on for hours. The entire country was basically going on little to no sleep for five years. And you never knew when or where they’d turn up – there are many times when Vere signs off her diary saying ‘We’ll see if I’m here tomorrow or if they’ve gotten me.’ Plus it sounded like they were expecting to actually be invaded at any moment. I had no idea how close Britain came – and yet somehow they managed to keep their spirits up. Vere and her friends would go to the cinema or to a new play (she went to see The Passing of the Third Floor Back!) or have winter fundraising events or she’d take the train to visit her family in Birmingham. This makes for oddly surreal diary entries – things like how there was an air raid the night before and then she went to see the Citizen Kane or something.

So I still have much more about the Blitz to read, but Vere’s writing is engaging and practical and provides a new perspective (and tone).

My rating: A

Also, this book is rather hard to find, but I managed to track down a first edition on one of the used book websites and look at the book plate one of the previous owners left in it:

It’s like we were meant for each other!

I’m no J. Ralph…

…but, faced with the most frustrating writer’s block I think I’ve ever had (seriously, I haven’t written a single word since I finished Mary Clockwork, I think), I decided to try and distract myself in an attempt to let my subconscious work things out. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but I thought I’d share the results of my distraction here.

I tried to sing everything myself again, but, alas, the wandering bass line defeated me and I ended up just using the track I composed with from GarageBand. Also, though that’s me ‘singing’ the percussion lines, I totally stole sampled it from a Madonna song (‘I Deserve It’ from Music).

Please to be remembering that I am neither a) a lyricist nor b) a soloist and that I am c) extraordinarily self-conscious about my singing, so be kind if you comment.

ETA 5/10/09: Oops – not working anymore! I’ll have to see what I can do about that…

I think I’m fairly pleased with it, considering I haven’t done any composing since I was at university, but I do wish it had broken my writer’s block…

I am procrastinating.

What am I procrastinating? you might say. I am procrastinating writing. Because instead of actually writing, I’m writing blog entries about how I’m not writing but how I’m thinking about writing and showing you my notebook (from afar because I’m still working through very basic stuff – a recurring theme on those Post-Its is ‘WHAT IS GOING ON?!’ Which is not really a good thing for the writer to be thinking. Really. Somewhat ironically, the other theme is ‘No talking to the reader!’ Maybe I need to convince them to relax that rule just until I’ve figured out what’s going on…).

Yes, I use both sides – it’s not like Post-Its grow on…oh. Wait. No, I guess they do. Never mind – it’s just a writerly eccentricity, then.

More Post-It notes, along with things scribbled in the margins at 3am which no longer make sense. I’m sure if only I could decipher some of them, this book would practically write itself, but until then…

So here’s the basic, basic outline of a summary of a vague idea that’s been tramping about in my head and on those Post-Its lately (with no specifics, mostly because I don’t know them, but also because if I ever do get it out of my head, onto paper, and you lot want to read it, I don’t want you to already know what’s going to happen – where would the fun in that be?):

  • A can do X
  • B can do Y
  • C can do Z
  • A knows B and C and what they can do
  • B knows what C can do (but do they know each other? At first they did, but now I don’t think they do)
  • C knows A and what A can do
  • Some combination of A, B, and C know what’s going on
  • I know what A, B, and C can do, but I do not know what’s going on
  • There may or may not also be other letters involved

So…yeah. There you go. An insight into my psyche, no doubt, but hopefully it’s a little interesting.

Janis, you need a blog. Seriously, because you’re one of my writer friends and I’ll bet you have lots of interesting things to say about how you write. At first I was going to say that I bet it’s entirely different since you write non-fiction, but now I think it probably isn’t. I mean, you still have to come up with connections and relationships between your subject and their family and friends and then you have to decide how you’re going to tell their story or even which story of theirs to tell!

So.

Janis or Cayt or any of you out there who might write but I don’t know about it (or know you, for that matter), how do you write? What’s your process? Literally, how do you write? Post-It notes, charts, outlines, typewriter, computer, by hand, or some other way I haven’t thought of?

Writerly…things.

So. I’ve recently started a new book. Writing, that is, not reading. And it’s hard! I don’t remember Mary being this difficult, but she did sort of just take over the story and do whatever the hell she wanted to do.

And that probably gives you a hint that it’s not another Mary/Arthur story. I’m not saying it’s out of the question, but it would definitely give me more trouble than Mary Clockwork did and again, it’s all down to Mary.

The problem is that I think she’s honestly a psychopath.

I managed to sort of tone it down a bit in the first one. I mean, sure, she does commit a few crimes here and there, but it’s always against people who can afford it and she never really hurts anyone. It’s more about outsmarting a certain someone than actively committing the crime.

But it’s not like she learned anything from it.

And even if she did, what she learned is that she’s smart enough to get away with that sort of thing! The problem with continuing to write her is that I think she would eventually hurt someone. I don’t think she would plan to do it, but if somebody got in her way or threatened her somehow, I don’t see her hesitating to take care of it however she had to.

And that’s a line that Arthur would just never cross.

So if there were more Mary/Arthur stories, I think it would soon become clear that Mary really was a Villain and she would, at some point, most likely turn on Arthur. Probably after he pointed out that she’d taken things too far, but it would still happen.

But. I started to talk about my new story. Not in any detail, really, because, as you’ll see, I’m still trying to work lots of things out and I’m fairly superstitious about these kinds of things anyway. I thought I was done with the Pondering stage, but since I’ve put pen to paper (yes, literally), I think there’s much more I need to know before I can get started. And that’s due to two things…

  1. First person is REALLY DIFFICULT! I honestly don’t know if I can sustain it over a book (or three). I don’t think anything I’ve ever written has been in first person. Well, okay, a few pieces I wrote in a creative writing course at uni were, but, frankly, they suck. So I’ve never successfully managed a first person narrative before. It’s because I don’t do well with the chatty narrator who’s all buddy-buddy with the reader, so I have to keep it fairly impersonal which is hard to do when you’re stuck inside one character’s head. Which brings me to my next problem…
  2. At least two, if not all three, of the characters who will, at some point, be telling this story, are not reliable narrators. Which is EXTRA hard to pull off in first person because that means that your characters are censoring their own thoughts and that means they’re basically aware of the reader in some sense by doing so.

Plus I can’t quite work out who knows what and who’s manipulating who. I was hoping it would just become apparent as I went and, admittedly a few things did, but not enough for me to really get into the flow of things. Also, things are going to get fairly confusing at some point and I have yet to think of a way to keep the plot going but allow the readers to keep things straight.

But enough writerly rambling, I just wanted to get my thoughts out of my head to hopefully make room for new ones. Is anyone intrigued?

I know I am. 😉