Zoë Writes

An Australian author living in Norway

Category: Fiction (page 1 of 3)

NaNoWriMo. Again.

It’s November again, and for the second year running, I’m attempting NaNoWriMo. That’s the thing where you write a whole novel draft in thirty days. Okay, technically you only need to get to 50k words to “win”, but we call it a novel. Last year I wrote daily throughout November and December and completed the fourth book in my Eidolon series, but this time I’m attempting something completely new. And something I’m keeping completely under wraps until it’s finished, my agent has had a look, and we decide what to do with it. All I can tell you is that it’s contemporary (i.e. no dead people walking among us like those cheeky eidolons), and that I’m very excited about what it might become. For the first time, I’ve decided to write about something I’m personally passionate about—which is kind of terrifying.

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Sabine: Creating a Monster

My current work in progress is one I’ve been struggling with for almost two years. Given that the first two books took a collective thirteen months and the third only two months, this has been a source of constant frustration for me. However, I am nearing the end now, with almost 70,000 words down (and a rough target of 90,000 to finish this draft) I begin to see why it has been so tough.

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Done

The first draft of book four in The Eidolon Cycle is complete at just over one hundred and ten thousand words, written over the course of sixty-four days, and boy are my arms tired. No, wait, wrong punchline. But seriously, what a ride! Averaging 1,700 words a day over two months was nothing short of a marathon for me, and the result is the firstest first draft I’ve ever written. I usually edit quite a lot as I go along, resulting in my first draft being something close to a second-to-final draft, but this thing is a beast.

I’ve now begun the editing process, and while my fears that it would be an incoherent mess were somewhat unfounded, this is honestly the sloppiest writing I’ve ever done. Forgive the horrid analogy, but it’s like trying to make a meal out of a pile of vomit. Not that the book is as gross as vomit, but more that it poured out of me in a constant stream, without… okay, I’m going to change tack, because this is just icky.

Anyway, the book I once worried wouldn’t have enough content to fill a full-length novel has become the longest I’ve ever written, and although editing is usually a process of cutting, I’m finding things that need adding as often, or more often, than I can afford to take bits away. As usual, the scenery needed some painting, but it’s also a process of fleshing out ideas that came to me in the heat of the writing moment. There are plot holes all over this thing, some big enough to poke my face through and take a picture.

Luckily, this is the project I’m taking with me to the Djerassi retreat next month, and now that I’ve seen the list of attendees, I’m not only horribly intimidated, I’m also confident I will get some useful, meaningful feedback. I just have to hope they don’t laugh me off the ranch. I get to have the group read and critique the first 25 pages of the novel, then I have a private session with YA legend, Nova Ren Suma, during which we’ll discuss another fifty pages. The question is, which fifty? This book, unlike the others in the series, is divided into two sections, one where the main character, Hannah, is fifteen years old, the second when she’s eighteen. I’m tempted to look at the second part so we can talk about continuity and consistency, but I’m still undecided.

I will also have several hours each day to work on a writing project of my choosing, so I hope to dive back into book three, Bella Donna, which I put on hold in order to write Primrose for NaNoWriMo. Interestingly, the two books are quite tightly intertwined, so I think finishing Bella Donna will be much easier than it was before. At least I hope so. If I do manage to get it finished by the end of March, that will be the entire four-part series done within two years, which makes me very happy indeed.

NaNo taught me…

November is over, the Christmas decorations are going up, and the sun is going down earlier and earlier in the day here in Norway. But, for the first time since I moved here almost eight years ago, I wasn’t as focused on the light (and lack of it) this year, I was focused on a goal, a daily word count target, and on winning NaNoWriMo in my first attempt. If you’re following me on Twitter, or my author page on Facebook, you will have seen that I not only hit the goal of 50,000 words nine days early, but that by the end of the month I had written close to 71,000 words. I find those two facts astounding enough, but what has surprised me the most is what I learned from what I originally thought of as a gimmicky type of thing that no real writers take very seriously.

When I started seriously working on Amaranth back in 2011, I dedicated one day a week to writing, and I would write the entire day, then let the ideas sink in over the following week so I’d know exactly where to start when I sat down in front of the screen again. That was one of the things that made me the most nervous about NaNo: there was no time to let ideas settle! What if I dried up every time I sat down to write? Or what if I wrote crap just to meet the word count target, only to discover I was running my story off in a ditch? This is why I decided to write my fourth Eidolon novel for NaNo, rather than the book I’ve been planning to write when the series is over. I knew The Eidolon Cycle would be fine with or without this fourth book, and if it turned out to be terrible, it wouldn’t hurt the series to simply dump it. The other book is one I’ve been planning for years and didn’t want to risk not doing it properly.

However, as it turned out my fears were groundless. There was never a day when I sat down with nothing to write, and although I only needed to write around 1700 words a day to meet the 50k goal, most days I ended up with between two and three thousand words. I only missed one day, and that was a Sunday where I spent all day with my daughter, then all evening working on a book release. The zero on my calendar is still mocking me, despite the fact that I got down a mammoth 4300 words the following day to make up for it—but that’s just me; I can’t stand to have broken the chain. But what kept me in fresh material was the idea suggested by my motivational NaNo writer friend, Audrey, who quoted Hemingway as having said he never drained the well. In other words, I left myself an idea or two to pick up the thread of the following day. And the more I wrote, the more I could see these characters and their world, and the more I knew what they were going to do or say next. So that gave me:

Lesson number one: Creativity is a muscle. The more you use it, the more it gives you to work with.

BUT! Back when I was writing once a week, I would usually finish up the day with three to four thousand words, and I never stopped writing until I had completed the chapter I was working on. It felt nice and neat to complete a chapter each writing session, and it made the overall structure of the novel pretty clean, meaning there wasn’t a lot of major rearranging to do when editing time came. During NaNo, I couldn’t afford to spend the entire day writing, and if I was to follow lesson number one above, I couldn’t use up all my ideas or I’d risk writer’s block the next day. With that in mind, I had to do something which was (to me) pretty drastic: I had to forget about chapters and neat little literary packages, and just write scenes. And sometimes [GASP!] leave them unfinished. That was hard.

Lesson number two: A first draft is allowed to be messy, and should be about the story, not about neat chapter packages.

I have said before that one of my main issues when I write is that I forget to paint the scenery. I write what my characters are saying, thinking, feeling and doing, often forgetting to paint an adequate picture of where and when they’re doing all these things. During NaNo, I embraced this about myself, and really let myself go into full first draft mode. Get the story out, put the detail in later. This proved to be a strangely valuable lesson; not only could I allow myself to write the way I naturally write, but it means that when I come back during editing to describe the sights, sounds and smells my character is experiencing, I will know her so well that it will be much easier to do it in her voice.

Lesson number three: Set free your natural drafting instincts; everything else can be fixed during editing.

The fourth, final, and most important lesson I have taken away from my NaNo experience is the one that will change my writing life forever. I have always claimed that I need a large chunk of uninterrupted time in order to write. NaNo blew that theory to pieces: most days I started at 9am and had written two or three thousand words before 11am. Given that I made a life choice to become a freelancer so I would have more flexibility to write, it’s frustrating to know that I’ve only just learned what that really means. I can apparently write whole novels in a matter of weeks if I only give myself the space and time to do it. This was never more clear to me than on Day 14 when I hit 33,963 words. On that day, I just happened to check the word count of book three (which, as of that day, I had been working on for two weeks shy of one year) and its word count was ONE WORD LESS! So, in fourteen days, I had surpassed my own word count for the previous eleven and a half MONTHS by one word. This is the kind of moment that one might call an epiphany.

Lesson number four: It is possible to write every day. You just have to make it a priority.

Those are my lessons, and what I started as an exercise in “let’s see if I can do this” turned into “Oh my God! I could do this every day for as long as I want to!” And I want to. I have printed out a new calendar page for December and started marking in my word counts each day, putting another big red cross through each day I write, and I will do it until I run out of words, may that be many, many words from now.

NaNoWriMo progress

There’s nothing quite like a real-time widget or two to show the world my progress, pride and/or shame. So you can come back to this post any time and see how my NaNoWriMo effort is going. (NOTE: Comments, messages, cheers and flowers are all great ways of keeping my motivation levels up. Just sayin’.)

How I’m doing so far:

How the month is going, on a graph. Just because I like graphs >

And how I stack up against my writing buddies:

Deep breath before the plunge

It’s the last day of October, and tomorrow begins the flurry of writing that will be my first NaNoWriMo. I am about as unprepared as I could hope not to be, but I do have backup in the form of writer-friend, Audrey Camp. We have agreed to do our writing first thing in the morning each day, and text each other when we’ve hit the day’s target word count. Audrey is one of the more competitive people I know, so that should keep us both on track.

As for planning what I’m actually going to write . . . well, that’s a whole ‘nother story. This is probably the least planned of any of the books in my series, in that all I have so far is a basic premise and some ideas of stuff I want to get in there somewhere. This is the first time I’ve started without knowing where it’s supposed to end, and that’s scaring me, to be honest. I don’t mind not knowing the path the journey will take, but I need to know the destination. So maybe I should stop writing blog posts and get planning. I’ll see you guys in a month.

(Oh, and just to make November scarier, I am also doing a self-imposed No-Snack-November. Yes, I know, I’m a masochist.)

Popping the NaNo cherry

November is my least favourite month of the year, at least in Norway. It’s cold, dark, depressing, and oh so very far away from next summer. Some years I travel back to Australia, other years we try to go somewhere, anywhere, even if it’s just to London or somewhere else in Europe, to take a break from the oppressive dullness that is November in the north. This year, however, we have no possibility of escape, and must struggle through on wits alone. So what do I do? Why, I set myself a goal that will either boost me high on the shoulders of success and send me on toward Christmas with the sound of my own fanfare trumpeting in my ears, or it will smother me under the weight of my own over-ambition.

Yes, I’m finally doing it: this year I’ve taken up the NaNoWriMo challenge, and will attempt to write the first draft of the final Eidolon Cycle book in November. That’s an entire first draft in one single month. Considering the first two books took six or so months each, and the current one is almost halfway done after almost a year, that’s no small gauntlet to toss at my own feet. But I didn’t quit my day job to make life easier for myself, and I’m all for pushing my (writing) limits.

So, besides editing a novel, a novella, trying to write my own third book, submission reading, and a ton of ebook formatting, typesetting and proofreading work, the remains of October will be spent plotting, planning, writing character sketches, and plastering my office walls with sticky enough notes to make a serial killer envious, all in an attempt to prepare for the real work ahead.

The final book, Primrose, is completely different again from the first three, and will attempt to view the entire eidolon world through the eyes of an outsider, not privy to its secrets. Set in the 1980s this time, the research (and reminiscence) will be fun to say the least, but it’s a whole new level of difficult to write about a world that the main character doesn’t see, hear, or understand. But, as I said, pushing the writing limits is what keeps me inspired.

If you’re attempting NaNo yourself, and want to be buddies, find my profile page here: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/zoe-harris

Wish me luck! And if you don’t hear from me in November, it’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because I’m busy wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. If you don’t hear from me in December, send out a search party…

Darkness versus horror

Dark fiction is gaining momentum as a genre in its own right, but is often mistaken for, and confused with, horror. I, like an increasing number of readers and writers, am fascinated by dark fiction, whereas I almost never read horror or watch horror movies – but what is the difference, really?

The answer is as subjective as any attempt to define a literary genre, but I can at least explain where my personal line is drawn. To me, horror is more graphic, more about describing horrific scenes in great detail so the reader can smell the blood, hear the sound of a knife sliding into flesh, and feel the thrill of revulsion. I have a lot of trouble reading books with scenes such as these, and they cause me terrible nightmares – I don’t personally understand the appeal, if I’m honest. Dark fiction, however, looks more into the minds and intentions of its characters, and in this way can be more disturbing without necessarily being gory at all. It is more subtle, where the threat of what a character is, or might be, capable of is actually more frightening than the deeds themselves. This is often demonstrated by the mere suggestion, or even anticipation, of horrific acts, but it leaves far more to the imagination of the reader.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there is a growing fascination with dark fairy tales, which leads us right back to the works of the Grimms, Perrault and other classic collections. This darkness in fairy tales relates to my description of dark fiction in that these traditional tales there rarely offer any detailed description of horrific acts; in fact they are often dealt with in a singularly matter-of-fact way. Terrible, gruesome things happen in traditional fairy tales, and it is, in part, this element that has always fascinated me. Here are some examples:

  • In early versions of Cinderella (or Ashenputel), the ugly step-sisters were convinced by their mother to cut off parts of their feet to fit into the lost shoe, in order to marry the prince.
  • The queen in Snow White was punished by being forced to dance in hot iron shoes until she fell down and died.
  • Bluebeard is a serial killer who murders his wives and hangs their bodies in a secret room in his chateau.
  • The Big Bad Wolf has his stomach cut open and its contents replaced with heavy stones, which cause him to fall into a well and drown.
  • Rapunzel’s prince falls from her tower and is blinded by the thorns on which he lands.
  • In the Norse Askeladden story of his eating contest with a troll, Askeladden convinces the troll to slit his own belly open, which he does (and dies, of course).

These are just a small sample of the many horrific things that occur in traditional fairy tales, and yet they are not told in a particularly gruesome way, which in my mind has always made them all the more disturbing. Let’s face it, half of this stuff is carried out by the heroes and heroines to punish the wicked, so we are left feeling like these atrocities are just desserts. That’s pretty messed up, when you think about it.

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Gilded Destiny

Another fellow Inklings Literary Agency client, Nola Sarina, is releasing the first of three novellas in her dark fantasy VESPER series, and to celebrate is giving away a copy of the e-book, along with customised temporary tattoos and a bookmark signed by the author herself.

GILDED DESTINY – a Vesper Novella by Nola Sarina

A woman’s memory returns when she falls in love with the monster who took it from her.

Calli tattoos her skin to fill the holes in her memory, thanks to an accident that left her mind damaged and empty. But a nasty encounter with a fired employee leaves her in the arms of her unlikely savior: Nycholas, a predatory, serpentine Vesper on the run from his brutal master.

Nycholas’ clandestine world holds the secrets to mankind’s origin and survival . . . but he only wants one thing before his time is up: a few colorful nights with Calli, the fragile, tattooed, human woman he pursued and saved.

The more Calli learns about Nycholas, the more her own darkened memories return to her. Despite her haunted past, she loses herself to passion and desire with her immortal captor.

Now, Calli must overcome the demons of her past, or allow Nycholas to kiss her memories away and spare her the trauma of loving a doomed immortal. But each choice comes with dire consequences – some that endanger not only herself, but her family as well.

GILDED DESTINY is the first of three novellas in Nola Sarina’s dark fantasy VESPER series, represented by Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary Agency. Follow Nola on Twitter @NolaSarina and on Facebook or her blog for awesome announcements, giveaways, and upcoming info about the second Novella in the series!

Nola is a mother, wife, writer, and giggle-a-holic, living in Canada and raising a pack of kids. In her spare time she can be found geocaching, guzzling coffee, or tending to her garden. Her VESPER series is on submission by her agent to publishers, along with WILD HYACINTHE, a paranormal romance co-authored with Emily Faith.

Click here for Nola’s VESPERS giveaway.

Fairy Tale Blog Series

Fairy tales are hot right now. From TV shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, to recent movies like Snow White and the Huntsman and Red Riding Hood, classic fairy and folk tales are experiencing a reboot for modern audiences, and this time around we’re not looking at damsels in distress or sickly sweet Prince Charmings. We are returning to the old texts where ugly step-sisters cut off toes to fit into Cinderella’s slippers, and villains are forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until they die. Today’s audiences want to embrace the darkness recent generations have been shielded from in watered-down versions of classic fairy tales.

I have always been drawn to these tales which, although often gruesome, are fascinating in their simplicity. There are many challenges in adapting these stories to fit the character-driven narratives readers and viewers are looking for today; fairy tales gathered by the likes of the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault, were morality tales, with little to no character development beyond whether each character was good or evil. Yet, there is an unmistakable draw – something about these simple tales keeps us coming back to them again and again, and as a lifelong fairy tale buff I am both excited and nervous about the recent spark of interest in these stories.

In a new blog series, I am going to look at some of the new versions of fairy tales and compare them with the original texts, as well as bringing to light some lesser-known stories and examining what it is that makes a story a fairy tale in the first place. I hope you will join me as every Friday I take a step into the land of far, far away.

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