alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Deal with the Devil

Today is Thursday, October 25th. Next Thursday is November 1st. In one week I have to start writing a novel.

I say “have to” but it’s not because failure to comply will result it dire physical consequences. There have been no threats of kidnapping, arson, or death by weasels. The real reason I “have to” do this is because I made a deal with myself. I said I would do NaNoWriMo this year and experiment with cranking out a first draft of a novel and having it all done before I had a chance to doubt or second-guess myself.

Oops. Too late.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by Udo Keppler [1912]

I think making a deal with myself might be worse than making one with the devil.

It’s not like I haven’t written a novel before. I have. Two. The first one, a mystery novel set in Philadelphia, I didn’t finish. I’m not a logical thinker, and it was just too hard to be writing my first-ever novel and trying to make all the ends tie up. The second one I finished, but didn’t revise. Make that “haven’t revised.” I love my characters, and large chunks of the story, and hope that one day I come into the skills or the fortitude to dig them out of the mess I made. (Yes, I’m aware that I used the passive voice there, like I think awesome skillz are going to just descend without me having to do any work to acquire them. A girl can hope.)

I pantsed my way through the first two. This time I have A Plan. More than that, I have an Outline that I wrote this spring during a class on Narrative Structure with Bruce Holland Rogers, which I took through the Odyssey Workshop*. I have a setting that doesn’t require any research. I have a premise so fantastical research won’t do any good. All I have to do is look into my past and twist the facts to suit my own ends. No detours down Procrastination Avenue there.

I wrapped up my last open writing project last Friday, packed up its lunch in a kerchief, and released it onto the submission circuit. I told myself that having this week off from self-assigned writing would be good preparation. A breather. A chance to clear my head, steel my will, and maybe make some notes, do some character contemplation in a light-hearted, non-hysterical, low-pressure atmosphere. Instead, I’m paralytic.

I’ve waffled over whether I really am going to try to do it in 30 days, or if I’m going to give myself a slightly more realistic schedule for the first draft, like 90 days. That I really need to revise and submit one more short story before I give my attention to such a massive time-suck. Whether I should be writing this novel or another one. How I’m possibly going to find time to write 50,000 words when the coming month will contain a weekend vacation, Thanksgiving, a writing conference, and the beginning of a new (big) freelance project, all eating into my writing time. I’ve been starting to fantasize about what a nice, uncomplicated, *spacious* month January is. It has a roomy 31 days. Holiday nonsense will be over. I can’t see my freelance schedule from 3 months away, so it must clear, right?

But I guess that’s the point of NaNo. There’s NEVER a good time. So you just pick a time, and you start writing. And next Thursday is as good a time as any.

In the meantime, I’m going to read these prep- and pep-talks from Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier and, today, I’m going to work on what Bruce Holland Rogers calls ‘Big Picture Motivation’.**

And then I’m going to write a damn novel.

What about you?

Sharon Brogan, via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

*It was a really good class. They have more classes coming up soon.
**This isn’t motivation for the characters, but for the writer. It comes from the chapter ‘When the Novel Has To Be Done Yesterday’ from Bruce’s book about writing life, “Word Work.”


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How Do You Motivate Yourself?

I love office supplies: pens, paper, stationery, markers, stickers, index cards, post-its, notebooks, notepads, glue sticks, you name it. I have no idea what to do with half of this stuff, but put me in front of the office aisle in Target or, so help me, The Container Store and I am ready to sort, stack, bin, and pin everything in sight.

I like to think I don’t have a lot of consumer weaknesses. I don’t go in for tech toys, I get my books at the library, I’m old and I work at home so fashion isn’t much of an issue anymore. I used to have a thing for crockery and cooking tools, but they’re expensive and they take up so much space that I’m usually able to keep it under control. But office supplies–they’re little, and (relatively) cheap, and come in bright colors. The heart pounds, the knees weaken, the vision blurs, and the next thing I know my basket is full of sticky flags and paperclips in the shape of motor scooters, and I don’t even know what I *thought* I was going to do with the roll of neon pink masking tape dotted with wiener dogs.

My excuse? A few years back, Tony Ardizzone gave a talk about the writing life at the IU Writers Conference (a great conference, BTW w/ fantastic instructors). He advised aspiring and practicing writers to give themselves small rewards that are writing-related. He suggested things like a fancy notebook or a coffee cup that you really like. I think my colored folders and gel pens qualify. I may not actually use them while writing, but they’ll be on my desk, where I write, and they are associated with the space.

What about you? Do you reward yourself for practicing Butt in Chair? For number of words written? For stories submitted*? NaNoWriMo is coming up fast, and this year I am taking the plunge, so motivation is front and center in my mind. Part of me is pretty confident that I can write a novel. Certainly a zero draft. Another part of me thinks the first part is an overconfident fool. I think I’m going to need all the help I can get to meet my target word counts. And that just might mean periodic rewards in the shape of a chicken-shaped tape dispenser and skyscraper erasers:

Skyscraper erasers from seejanework.com

*As of tomorrow, I’m going to have 6 stories out on submission. This is a record for me, and I’m feeling really good about it.


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Bonus Post: Native Plant Spotlight

I fell in love with the Virginia Creeper on a backyard fence today. Beautiful, friendly, comforting, familiar Parthenocissus quinquefolia. Native plant that grows up trees without strangling them, feeds the birds, and looks a helluva lot like poison ivy (and grows in the same places) but is safe for the itch-prone. [Update: Or so I thought, Wikipedia, however, says VC can also cause a rash. Rats.]

Virginia Creeper Leaves & Berries

I love the second one in inverse, too. Looks like science & chemistry molecules.

Inverse image of Virginia Creeper


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Anglophile Edition: Chatsworth & Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

View of Chatsworth from the River Derwent

View of Chatsworth from the River Derwent
by Tom Herbert, via Flickr

Last spring, on the same trip where I slogged through the rain in the Lake District, I also had a posher interlude. I visited the Chatsworth Estate in the Peak District. (Notice how many Districts they have in England?). This is not normally my cup of tea. (Sigh, puns already.) I *prefer* hiking 15 miles a day through the mud to museums, galleries, plaque-reading & etc. But several years ago, I came across pictures of the estate online and was smitten. Add the fact that Chatsworth was likely the inspiration for Pemberley, that the current Duchess is an actual Mitford sister, and you can actually stay in the Hunting Tower on the estate, and…well. When I found out that it was an easy distance from my in-laws in Yorkshire, I knew we had to go.

Georgiana as Cynthia from The Faerie Queen, by Maria Hadfield Cosway

One of the most well-known residents of Chatsworth was Georgiana, wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. By the standards of any era, Georgiana was a larger-than-life figure. Like any properly fascinating personality, she was a heady mix of admirable and out-of-control:

Society beauty & fashion trend-setter. She set the fashion for extravagantly high wigs sprouting ostrich feathers. Whatever she wore was reported in the newspapers and copied slavishly.

Compulsive gambler. From the beginning of her marriage, Georgiana could not resist the card table. She repeatedly ran up debts, begged money from friends to pay them off, lied about them to her husband, and ran up more. The outstanding debt upon her death totalled nearly 20,000 pounds. Wikipedia estimates this amount as today’s equivalent of £3,720,000.

Best friend of her husband’s mistress. The Duke, the Duchess, and her friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster  (‘Bess’), lived and traveled as a threesome for 25 years. In 1785, both Georgiana and Bess were pregnant by the Duke at the same time. When Georgiana was in the doghouse with the Duke for her gambling debts or other indiscretions, she appealed to Bess to keep peace in the household.

Political hostess and fundraiser. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the Whig party, arranging for rivals to meet, for strategies to arise, and money to flow. She was also the first woman to campaign for a political candidate, in an election in 1784, for which she was castigated and caricatured in the press for her unwomanly-ness.

Unfaithful wife. The Duke was not the only one to find comfort outside their marriage. In 1792, Georgiana gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Eliza Courtney, fathered by future Prime Minister, Charles Grey. The Duchess was forced to give her up to be raised by Grey’s aunt and uncle, though she visited her daughter in secret.

Diarist & writer. She found time to write a novel, ‘The Sylph,’ in 1780. As a close confidante of the Prince of Wales, her diaries were invaluable to modern historians in reconstructing the happenings in the palace during the Regency Crisis & the serial illnesses of King George the III, presented to modern audiences in the fantastic, “The Madness of King George.” What-what?

Rockhound, mineralogist, & amateur chemist. I can’t really get behind her personally with the chemistry, but I think it’s a pretty impressive hobby for an 18th century noblewoman, and I do like a good rock. So did Georgiana. She “endowed Chatsworth with a collection of stones and minerals of museum quality,”* many of which are displayed in the halls of Chatsworth House, near the Faerie Queen portrait.

I leave you with more views of the estate

On the Chatsworth Grounds
by Kevin Smith, via Flickr

Another view of Chatsworth Gardens
by Kevin Smith, via Flickr

Chatsworth Lion
by Hunter333, via Flickr

*Amanda Foreman, The Duchess, p.269


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Where the rain is more romantic

I’m a day late, and out of words. It’s been a busy week trying to get a story re-revised and into my critique group on time, and a lot of new freelance work, and oh chemistry and just everything. It’s raining, too. So let’s say we all just look at these pretty pictures from the Lake District* and pretend we’re somewhere else.

*Okay, I cheated. The 2nd photo, of the trees, isn’t from the Lake District, but from the Cleveland Way on the NE coast, somewhere between Whitby and Ravenscar.

All photos by me, Alisa Alering, or by David Ripley. (c) 2012