alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 3

24-hour story writers arrive at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library

24-hour story writers arrive at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library

Wednesday, April 10
Library Day!

As a former librarian, I’m always interested to see what a public library looks like in somebody else’s neck of the woods. We’re supposed to be researching for our 24-hour story (that will begin this afternoon!). I have this idea that I want to pick a specific-yet-random date in history and pluck an event from that day to use as the catalyst for my story. I sit down at one of the computer terminals and call up historical newspaper databases. I make a few notes about “New Smoked Halibut” and “All Prisoners in the Cook County Jail Burned to Death,” but I can’t concentrate–the deadline clock is already ticking too loudly.

In their morning talk, Tim Powers and David Farland suggested that mythology can make a good framework for a story. I head to the stacks and walk along the 200s, snagging a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I grab anything else that catches my eye, hoping that contrast and serendipity will be my friends.

Too many ideas

Too many ideas

I want to jumble things up, but maybe I jumble them too much. I take notes on El Cid, the Spanish Inquisition, the prophylactic virtues of unicorn horn, traumatic insemination in bedbugs, and the first lines from short story collections of several vintages. I am hoping that if I can’t get started, I can use the ‘translation’ method I learned from Bruce Holland Rogers last year.

After lunch it’s time for the third and most-dreaded component of the 24-hour story: Interview a Stranger. I don’t doubt that there are any number of characters along Hollywood Boulevard with whom I could strike up a conversation. But the most important qualification for me is finding an interviewee that will let me end the conversation. And who won’t want to resume when I pass by the next day. I shuffle around, clutching my notebook to my chest, trying to appear bright and open. All of the sane people are–well, sane–and aren’t particularly interested in striking up a conversation with a stranger. I covertly observe a normal-looking young man working at a sunglasses kiosk. He doesn’t have a lot of business, and he looks bored, which means he might be willing to talk. I take the plunge.

Interviewing a stranger

Interviewing a stranger

He tells me how long he has been in the U.S., how beautiful Istanbul is, and that his brother is a policeman. We chat for 20 minutes or so, then his boss arrives, and I say how nice it was talking to him and melt away into the crowd. Success! I scurry down the block to Author Services to meet up with the rest of the class. Marina Lostetter also interviewed a young man from Istanbul working at a sunglasses kiosk. But it’s not the same guy. We are given a final pep talk and released at 4pm and instructed to return at 4pm the next day, with a completed story.

Now it’s time to write.

Catch up with what happened on Day 1 & Day 2. Or read on to Day 4.

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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.”