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A Fitting Sequel

nanowrimo-posterI’m almost halfway home in National Novel Writing Month, and more than 2/3rds of the way through my goal of 50,000 words. It’s fascinating to me that I can stay on course like this for so many consecutive days, even though this month hasn’t been the easiest one for finding time. Often I find myself not even getting started on my word count until after 8 at night, when I’m already exhausted and fighting the desire to just skip it for the day. But I’ve stayed the course anyway.

It helps that I am really into my story line, that it’s the continuation of a book I spent so much time and effort on before, and that it’s this entire fantasy world I created just for these characters. Well, I guess the word fantasy is a bit of a misnomer because it all takes place in America, but the time periods are a bit skewed, and the America of the book is a completely different kind of America from the one I’m used to, by design.

I’m thinking now that it won’t be YA after all. My wife reminded me that having a 30-year old protagonist kind of takes it out of the realm of something teenagers will want to read. Which is okay for me, although the world of the books is definitely a teenager kind of world, with magic, and relationships, and the good vs. evil dynamic. I am really getting into the good vs. evil dynamic right now. I’m deep into the climactic scene, and it’s taking every ounce of my strength and verbal dexterity to pull it off.

When I started 14 days ago I knew I would eventually wind up here, nearly halfway through the month, at a considerably significant place in the manuscript, working hard every day to keep up the pace. It’s just funny to me how things work, that this tale, that this world I created a couple of years ago, is alive and well, and into its second novel. Someone asked me just today if I saw it as a two book series or if there will be more to write after this one. I didn’t even take a second to think about it. This is without a doubt at least a trilogy. I have some real ideas for where these characters go next.

But for now, I’m going to let them finish out this tale.

Day 14 down. Word count: 37,850.

Sam

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20171031_184458~01~01.jpgI’m sitting here at my desk with a cup of coffee to hand, thinking up fantastic stories that will hopefully come to fruition in the next 30 days. It’s dark outside and I feel like utter crap, but my brain won’t shut down for the night. That’s because November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I am once again taking on the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. This is my sixth year doing NaNo, but there was a time when I never thought I’d ever even attempt it.

For a long time I was simply a writer of short works: short stories and poems were my forte, and I didn’t stray too far from those. They were creature comforts for me, as reliable as Old Yeller and much cuddlier. People would sometimes ask me if I was ever going to try and write a novel, and I would laugh at them. “Why would I stretch outside my comfort zone?” For me it was an easy answer, because for me it was all about doing what was easy back then.

My wife, upon hearing that I was gearing up for yet another NaNoWriMo, good-heartedly joked, “So we won’t see you for the next month.” On some level that’s about the extent of it, honestly, because NaNo takes a singular commitment. It means setting word limits every single day and hitting those word limits, come sleet, snow, or hail… you know, or even the dreaded writer’s block. It’s particularly tricky when faced with all that life likes to throw in the way, but that’s also what makes it so satisfying. When I look up on November 30 and realize I’ve surpassed 50,000 words in one month I raise my hands high like a fighter who has gone 12 rounds with a behemoth.

So I’m ready to begin again, but this time will be different from the ones that have preceded it. For one, I won’t be writing something directly from scratch. With ever other NaNo I came into it with some ideas but nothing really set in stone. This time, though, I’m writing a sequel, which is a first for me. I’ve never written any kind of series, for probably the same reason I hadn’t written a full novel until seven years ago. Once I had the idea of writing a novel under my belt it became relatively easy to write with that in mind. But a series… well, it takes that much more commitment and an ability to take your characters and seamlessly slide them into another world, even if it’s the same world.

I guess it would have made more sense to just write 200,000 words in one shot, then separate all those words into two or three separate books, but I can’t imagine writing that way. For me every book has to have a beginning and an end, and splitting something in the middle seems just a tad bit wrong. Besides, now that I’m up for challenging myself, why not add on some more pressure? Maybe I should have waited until my 10th NaNo to attempt it, but I’m feeling like it’s time now.

Which reminds me, I’m tackling this as a YA series, something else I’ve never really done before (the first book hasn’t been released yet). It’s fascinating to me to write something so foreign to me, and yet I absolutely adored the first volume in the series. I knew while I was writing it that I wasn’t done with the characters, but I never thought far ahead enough to know exactly where I would take them next. Or where they would take me next.

I have a title, and that’s a start. I also have a chronology that I’m thinking will go in the beginning of every book in the series. It’s a start indeed. And first thing tomorrow I’m going to begin the beginning, as I attempt to string thread from where the first book ended off to where this one enters in. My thoughts have gone many places, from when I first decided to attempt to do this, to right now on the verge of actually digging in. Either I will get through it or I won’t.

But I think I will. Now I just need to begin.

Sam

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breatheSix months later, plus a couple of breaks, and the hectic nature of work, but I’m finally nearing the end of the yellow brick road on this new novel. The hardest part is finishing the first draft, especially when the world tends to intrude on the fictional more often than not.

It started with the challenge, to create 50,000 words in 30 days, way back in November, and I accomplished that with no problems. The words just flowed more often than not, my imagination soaring and the characters coming to fruition as characters tend to do. The month flew by, and I was over 60,000 words when it did, but once the rush was over I still had to finish the novel.

Because it’s not enough to just stop on November 30 and pronounce it all done, to let it collect dust on a flash drive, never to be seen from or heard from again. I’ve done that before, and I don’t think I could do it again. These characters want to live. They want to breathe. They want to be out in the world, living their lives. And I will oblige them, but I just want to make sure I’m faithful enough to them before unveiling them. It’s my job as an author.

So I’ve been working, in bits and pieces, over these past six months, trying to finish the story, to take them to a satisfactory conclusion that makes me feel something inside. It’s been a difficult process, not because the words won’t come (because they always do), but because I let the real world intrude way too often. Without a strict timeline it got easier every night to just let it slide, to say I will work on it the next night, and like dominoes the nights fall one by one, and no writing on the novel gets done.

But somehow here I am, and I’ve been writing, really writing, on the novel for the past five days. My word count has gone up drastically, but more importantly my characters are progressing. They’re stressing out, and falling in love, and getting hurt, and just simply living their lives again after an interminable pause. And I’m falling in love all over again myself, with this world, with these characters, and with this storyline.

This is the point I always get to in my novels, when I know I’m nearly done, and I’m dying to reach the end, but I know I’ll miss having them so close to me. It’s a wonderfully thrilling part, though, a culmination of so much time spent together, the words an extension of myself. They always will be. Now it’s time to finish up this draft, to begin the editing process, to let this story live on its own, to let these characters breathe on their own.

And write the next one.

Sam

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“Love is mild, except when it isn’t. Except when it’s a raging inferno with the sole intention of destroying every ounce of sanity you have left. But yes, it’s mild. And that other stuff too.” ~Anonymous

0612d8fcf89e1f08abc66fc7fc6b92f6I made the mistake of telling someone that my next book of poetry is going to be full of love poems. It seemed to me a stroke of genius, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to create a whole book of 50+ poems exclusively about love. In my mind it was going to be difficult because my brain creates poetry quite organically, so how was I going to shift my thought patterns and make the poetry cooperate? I needn’t have been worried, because she said:

“But most of your stuff is already love poetry.”

Which of course made me laugh, but she was deadly serious. And she would know because she’s listened to a lot of my poems at poetry night, she’s read the vast majority of the ones on my poetry blog, and she’s purchased both of my other collections of poetry. So I took stock of my poetry. I dug as deep as she probably didn’t have to in order to find out that she was absolutely right.

I write mostly love poetry. No, not the treacly sweet love poetry that would make a 1950s poet proud. Nor even the devoted, puppy dog love poetry that dominated the 1980s. No, I write the love poetry that is intense in its own analysis of itself, that drives all night to end up in the same place where it began. I write the love poetry that wishes it were something else, but it can’t help being about love.

So that makes it easy, I guess, compiling a book of my love poetry, even if it’s not the book I thought I was going to make when I started on this journey. Because this is my reality. It’s the love I’ve seen more often than any other in this world. It’s not the mild, “I want to hold your hand” kind of love, not the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse inspired love, but is instead the persistently desperate, sad love that strives for something more, the love that needs acceptance but usually breeds regret.

Which means my job is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Just write poetry and it will probably fit the mold.

Sam

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“So what’s your new book about?” my mom asked while we FaceTimed tonight.

“It’s a mystery,” I responded, that double edged sword cutting both ways at the same time, because as always it’s hard to break something down that isn’t quite done yet, that still has some plot left to ravel up.

“You know I love mysteries,” said my mom. “I’m still working my way through your last book. It’s Greg and Jason, right?”

“If you’re talking about characters, I honestly have no idea,” I replied, shaking my head. “Once they’re out there in the world they belong to everyone. They’re not my little secrets anymore, not only mine anymore.”

“I know what you mean,” she said, but I’m not sure she does. I’m not sure she can.

Being a writer is a solitary endeavor, but it’s not really solitary when I think about it. It’s about creating characters that live and breathe on the page, that I can connect with, that I can both love and despise. They become my friends, my confidants, my family, and my enemies. I live and die with their mixed emotions, always on the verge of  breaking down when they do.

And that’s something I can’t adequately put into words. It’s an ironic side effect of being a writer, of publishing something that is now out there in the world living and growing on its own. In its own way it is like giving birth, and I’m proud of every one of my children living out there in words. I love them all, but I’m not done just because they’re out of the nest.

Which is why I told my mom it is a mystery, because books write themselves, because while I know my characters I am not my characters. I let them live their lives, and these new characters in this new book are doing just that. They’re making their own mistakes, solving their own problems, and doing things I wasn’t sure they could do when I started this process. I know where they’ll end up by this book’s conclusion, but how the journey gets them there, and what state of mind they’ll be in is anyone’s guess. Even mine.

The hardest part of the process for me is having the patience as a writer to let my characters get there in their own way, and not trying to force the issue. It’s easy to say I’ll do it, that I’ll be patient, but once the writing begins to flow it’s difficult to be that guide on the side, yet so satisfying when it finally comes as it does.

And yes, it was Greg and Jason, but I had to look at the book flap to remember. Which is okay, because soon it will be Jennifer and David, and everyone who inhabits the world of this book. Then on to the next.

Sam

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NaNo Poster2.47Four years ago I decided I was going to just go for it. I decided I was going to try my hand at the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I had tiptoed around it for years, doing the complicated dance of feinting like I was going to do it, and then backing out at the absolute last second. I knew if I did that one more time that would be it; I would never do it in my entire life.

So I went for it. I started on November 1, 2012, with nothing in my mind but the ghost of an idea, a head full of imagination, and some half-formed characters begging to be set free on the page. It was the first time I would work with a deadline in mind, at least when it came to my own creative writing, and I didn’t know what to expect. But I quickly realized it would be a battle of word count goals.

30 days. It seems like such a huge amount of time until you get into it, and then it goes by like quicksilver, fast, then faster, then fastest. And getting behind in my word count goals was not an option, even if my word choice and narrative suffered for it, which I’ll admit happened sometimes that first November. There were some days when I was over 2,000 words in and nothing was on plot.

But I kept writing, which was the goal. I didn’t care about being perfect; that had to be thrown out the window pretty quickly when it hit me how much writing I would honestly have to do. And life got in the way too, the way it often does when I’m trying to get places. Some days it was work, and the rigors of an eight hour day working retail. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was put my creative brain in motion, but I did it anyway. Then there was spending time with my children, which I love, but it also took time and energy from the writing process.

But I maneuvered around those things, and I kept writing. Some nights that first November I was up until nearly midnight (I always observed the rules of word counts for each day ending at 11:59), but I always got my count in. In fact, some days I was able to bank bonus words to help me when I knew I would have a hard time the next time generating text. I’m not saying it was easy, because it wasn’t, but when all was said and done I had gotten to 50,000 words before the end of the month.

It is a labor of love, the setup and execution that it takes to get to that word count, not just at the end of the month, but every single day during it as well. And as I finished another 50,000 words this November I felt like reflecting on the month that started it all. I’m so glad that I persevered, that I finally took the challenge I had put off for so long. I know I’m so much better for it.

Sam

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Writing is not a sedentary enterprise because my brain is always working overtime to keep up with everything that’s going on in the story, like I’m spinning plates. The characters become my friends sooner rather than later, sometimes poking me in the arm by page 3, ready to drive their own storylines and hoping I will let them. Even the antagonists have a way of getting beneath my guard and forcing me to embrace them, which is why I have to remind myself often exactly who each character is, how they’re supposed to act towards others, and why I wrote them the way I did at the outset. It keeps me on my toes.

This November is no exception, with NaNoWriMo now halfway over. I’m always amazed at how my characters take on a life of their own. My protagonists are in the midst of telling their tales, and living their lives, but it’s in the telling and the living that I see them for who they really are. My antagonist is also well defined, but I can’t quite bring myself to hate him. That’s because my antagonist is a multi-faceted individual who has some positives to go along with the negatives. While “pity” is not on the table, at some points “mercy,” and “condolence” are.

As I hit the halfway point this year I can tell that things are different from the past four. Even though I “won” those years (meaning I hit my 50,000 word goal in 30 days), I haven’t felt like things have always flowed from start to finish. There’s generally a wall I hit at some point that I need to get around, that I need to figure out before I move on. I hope there’s some wood around here because I may need to knock on it, but this year I haven’t had that impediment, not yet anyway. Perhaps it won’t rear its head, but even if it does I always get around it at some point.

Now it’s time for the back stretch, and the process is intact. I’m excited for the rest of the tale, which I’ll tell you about next time. But I’m even more excited for the characters to keep speaking to me, to keep giving me their stories in bits and pieces until it’s all been told. Those are the best of times.

Word count: 30,604 words.

Sam

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