I’m almost at the end of the first week of this whole book-writing thing, and it has not gone according to plan.
First, I am working on a book. It’s just not the book I planned to write. For some reason, things fell flat on The ThornGarden immediately. The book is still waiting to be written, but now isn’t the time to write it, since I found myself pulling my hair out trying to locate the two books I actually need to proceed.
So, I’m working on the follow up to Shadows May Fall. Progress has been slow, filled with mini “Ah-ha!” moments. An intro I didn’t know was needed until I was utterly stumped come Chapter Two. A sub-plot that gets darker every time I revisit it. Having to break the no-research rule to stop and look something up several times because I can’t proceed without some minor detail. It takes place in a fictional town, which one would think would be easier to manage since I can just make things up, but ultimately turned into a project that involved stitching several real-life towns together, none of which have half the historical sources as Halifax did for Shadows May Fall. Then there’s the main character, whose arrogance I have to constantly keep in check.
It’s moving, and for the first time in about a year, but it’s not moving at the breakneck speed required for this challenge. I’d say the ETA looks closer to 60 days than 30. While I’d love to have the high of having finished a book in 30 days and being done with it, I’d rather have one that is readable, and the 50K/30 days method isn’t exactly the right method for getting me a readable book.
Now that I’ve gotten a temporary reprieve from the all-consuming novel and have had some time to frig around on Playstation (Day 90 and I haven’t gotten Wilson killed in Don’t Starve!) it’s time to write a book.
I’ve been toying around with writing tools and exercises in the last few months. I did some short prompts and turned another prompt into a short story. I organized my files on my laptop. I bought a desk chair so I no longer have to sit in an accent chair that sits about 2 inches lower than it should be.
Getting into a groove, on the other hand, has proven more difficult. I can bang out shorter pieces if I block off some time. I no longer have the rage of living in an apartment I hate with neighbours who won’t turn their music down/shouting at one another to fuel the sort of manic writing sprints I had in the past and resulted in 10 books in a 4 year period (not all of them great books, mind you.) I also don’t have deadlines, so there’s that.
For my next trick, it has to be at least 50K words. After two years with Shadows May Fall at the forefront, I’m not yet ready to tackle it’s continuation just yet. That can wait, along with mini-stories, because I’m sick to death of those people at the moment.
So, 50K — sounds familiar? The end goal is what Nanowrimo is about. I’ve never taken part in this in November, but I’m getting ready to do just that in April. I read Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! on the weekend — a lot of it resonated with how I had written in the past, particularly during the hectic period when I was writing three books at once. I decided to give the 50K in 30 days thing a whirl, and when I told someone else and they asked if they could join in, I was screwed.
Now I have to do this. Because I told someone. Damn it.
I have an empty Rubbermaid bin ready to be filled with snacks. I have playlists saved for when the headphones come on. I have a list of meals to make and freeze so I don’t have to live on Swanson dinners for 30 days. I have a general plot. I’d already written the intro (aka the easy part) months ago, so it’s just about getting things past that point. And I have a writing buddy who will swear at me if I don’t make my word count.
I even have a title, The Thorn Garden, displayed in the sidebar along with an intimidating word meter.
March is research month. It’s another historical so it does need some foundation before I start, but Baty’s method only allows you one month to prepare. It’s also wrapping-up-loose-ends month, in which I have one more mini project I’ve been picking at that I want to get wrapped up. Then, it’s go time.
It’s been a while since I posted, mainly because I’ve been busting my guts working on the anticipated release of Shadows May Fall. It’ll be two years this month since I first started writing it, so needless to say I’m ready to be done with it once and for all. I learned how to successfully put a print book together, a first for me, and just yesterday I was sitting down with my red pen in hand making what I expected to be the final corrections.
Then, I got a voice message on my phone. It was from a publisher I had submitted to back in April. I sent them a query just as I was straddling the fence about self-publishing and they were the only traditional publisher I directly submitted to (I did the agent thing for about a minute in early days) and when the summer came along I proceeded with getting things together to get this book ready for publication, including posting it on Wattpad and learning how to make a dead tree book. I even switched up the pen name — originally I had a brand new one, but when I decided to go indie I made the decision to use one I had previously published romances under.
Needless to say, after ten months, I was pretty surprised to get the call. I thought about it for the afternoon and decided I would send them the full manuscript.
A bit of irony here: my decision to go with this publisher or go indie was prompted by a session I attended on traditional publishing vs self publishing in which the editor I submitted to was one of the panelists for trad publishing (the other was one of their own authors who also self-published.)
So, just over a month before my planned publication date, I’m hitting the brakes. Barring the publisher giving an auto-no after I told them it was currently on Wattpad (though having an established readership might actually help from a business perspective,) the publication date is suspended indefinitely.
What this means:
a) They’ll offer a contract, and publication will be at least a year from the date of signing.
b) They won’t offer a contract, and the publication date will most likely be next winter (depending on how long it takes them to read and whether I have to nudge.)
I could have said it wasn’t available and proceeded to go indy, but they’re a great publisher (my Christmas stocking was filled with three of their books this year), they have a YA imprint, and they publish the sort of thing I write. I had planned to submit something else to them down the road, but I assumed that Shadows May Fall and its subsequent books were all no-go.
Normally this is something I would keep under my hat, but I’ve had some readers ask specifically about a print edition and I had promised 2017, so I figured it would only be fair to be upfront.
I’ll be sitting at the computer all weekend trying to put together the manuscript. It’s been AGES since I had to whip something up for submission. Then I have to scour everywhere for mentions of a publication date.
After that, I wait, and I get to work on something new — because that, my friends, is the whirlwind that is publishing.
This is the first year in a while I was able to sit back and do some reading. Previously I had been so busy writing and making deadlines, not to mention living in an apartment where peace and quiet simply was not possible, but this year I actually managed to get 15 books read. Well, 14 so far. I’m on number 15 right now.
That’s not really a big number when you consider in past years I read through about a hundred a year, but it’s a huge start, and I think some of these books deserve a good shout-out.
The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan – I actually enjoyed the sequel much more (and am eagerly awaiting the Christmas book), but this is the book that kicked off my return to reading back in February. City girl’s relationship and business tanks, and she heads off to Cornwall to get her bearings together. She doesn’t plan on staying, but after her hobby of baking bread turns into a career she decides to put down roots. There’s a a hunky fisherman, a hunky bee-keeper, a curmudgeonly bakery owner, and a baby puffin in this one. A BABY PUFFIN.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – This one has been out for a while but I’d been avoiding it, and it was on my Kindle longer than it should have. It’s about a scientist with Asperger’s syndrome looking for a wife in a very scientific way. You’d think he was being thrown into a cutesy scenario where Rosie is the wild, unpredictable love interest that brings him out of his comfort zone, but Rosie is pretty average as love interests go. Definitely one of my favourites, and I’m keen to get started on the sequel.
Mattie’s Story by Margaret A. Westlie – Another one that sat on my TBR for too long. This authors is local to me, from Prince Edward Island, and her book was right up my alley. At fifteen, Mattie’s father dies and she’s married off by her mother to a schoolteacher, David. It’s a coming of age story set in the 1800s and you follow Mattie from her tomboyish adolescence into marriage and then motherhood.
Hyde by Daniel Levine – Finally a Jekyll and Hyde adaptation that didn’t make me want to rip my hair out while reading. Told entirely from the perspective of Edward Hyde, we learn that he’s not the villain that the original book made him out to be, and we learn why he exists to begin with. There’s a twist, and even if you see it coming you’ll still be on the edge of your seat by the end.
The Secret Path by Jeff Lemire – This graphic novel is heartbreaking and based on a true story. A part of The Secret Path project that includes an album from Gord Downie, a concert series, and a television special, The Secret Path gives a name to the sixties scoop in which native children in Canada were placed in residential schools to assimilate them into white Canadian culture.
My TBR for 2017 has over 75 books on it (!!!) – the accumulation of about 2 years worth of book buying, so my goal is to read every single one of them at 2 a week, and with one exception I’m pretty much cut off from buying any more books until I get every single one of them read.
I can be a little manic about the health of my car. If it so much as sneezes, I’m thrown into a panic. Whereas I’d have to be near death’s door to actually drag myself to the doctor, I fuss over my little Kia and will drop everything to make sure it’s in near-perfect health. My car takes me to work, to play, to holiday, but most importantly it takes me off the main arteries to unassuming little places I find myself obsessed with finding.
This year, the theme was trains stations. It stemmed from the sequel to Shadows May Fall, Pretty Boy, opening in a train station in the early 1920s. All totaled, I visited five former train stations in rural communities, and at the end of the day they make up the fictional Port Croft train station where Charlie Gaston first spies the girl of his dreams.
The Antigonish station is currently the Antigonish Heritage Museum, which is more beautiful inside than it is out. The Tatamagouche station is currently an inn, and I stayed in one of the cabooses for the night and ate in the dining car — highly recommended for both — and it was here I was really able to get a feel for what it might have been like waiting for the last train on a rainy summer evening. The Pugwash station, now a library, had a busier feel to it, like it was the heart of the town, and was the only station I visited where the tracks hadn’t been turned into a trail — these tracks went right to the salt mine on the opposite side of the Pugwash Basin.
The Elmira station in Prince Edward Island was the only museum dedicated to the rail service, which was a little comforting to know that I’m not the only dork who drives an hour to the middle of nowhere to look at a train station. Their display was so massive I found myself taking pictures of it all so I could read it all at a later date, and it was really easy to just stand there and picture it as a working station. The “ladies waiting room” gave me a bit of a chuckle — I kept thinking of the station master in Anne of Green Gables asking Anne if she’s rather wait there, setting her off on a tangent about
I found my last station purely by accident — driving to PEI, I passed the visitor information centre in Cape Tormentine, where the ferry had been located before the Confederation Bridge was built, and I just thought to myself that the place looked like it might have been a train station at one point. I googled it once I was settled into my motel, and on my way back I stopped for a good look.
Though quiet now, Cape Tormentine struck me as the sort of place that had been busy most of the day back when the ferry and the station had been there. I’d like to have a look at this place when it’s open, but the day was gorgeous and just walking around by myself was still a pretty good experience. The trail went right to where the old ferry had been, which had a pretty serene view of the Confederation Bridge (ferry-goers have to cross over in Caribou, Nova Scotia these days.)
Overall, it was an interesting trip, but it wasn’t just about seeing with my own eyes the places that make up the next book. With Shadows May Fall, it was hit and miss on that front — I couldn’t see places that just weren’t there anymore, and it’s hard to tell if Halifax has retained any of the atmosphere it had in the early part of the 19th Century (though, aside from the reluctance to change with the times vs the desperation to stay relevant, I have a feeling that at least the attitude is the same) so I relied heavily on old photos and descriptions from those alive during that time. For Pretty Boy, the location isn’t real but is an amalgamation of smaller towns. I can pick and choose what I want and what I need, but at the same time you have to be aware of the social history that structures like old train stations bring with them – jobs, migration, local resources, prejudices, politics, and so on, even if I never mention these things in the books.
A bit of info on me: I enrolled in university as a high school drop out back in 2001. This was prompted by a work study I did in tourism, during which I had to give a presentation to the whole school on something tourist-like. I picked the Halifax Explosion because a) it was a subject I knew a lot about, and b) I was actually taking the work-study course in a building that had been affected by the blast — actually, Charlie’s school in Shadows May Fall. I had ten minutes to talk. I took thirty. People I didn’t even know came up to me afterward to chat about what I had told them and tell me that they had family members who had died to had been here or there during the disaster. After which, the coordinator of the course pulled me into her office and asked me if I had ever thought of going to university and going into public history.
Long story short, I went to university and got my degree. Sadly, not in history. I couldn’t find an adviser who was willing to champion my interests and the nearest public history course was halfway across the country, so I graduated with a degree in English and went to work.
I’m still a history geek, which is how I sat down to write Shadows May Fall and can happily research its sequels. This is the time period I was interested in studying — early 20th century when the new technology was phones and cars and fancy appliances. I grew up listening to stories my grandmother (who very heavily influenced the character of Dorothy) and grandfather told me, so the period is quite vivid in my head and will creep into the third and fourth books planned for the series.
Being a history geek who has delved into writing history, I can squirm with delight when I see something like this:
Oct 11 1916: 85th Battalion (NS Highlanders) departs Camp Aldershot, NS for Halifax & boards SS Olympic for trans-Atlantic voyage. pic.twitter.com/6tjQBFCJPd
Ian’s Battalion from Shadows May Fall. Literally 100 years ago today in the timeline of the book, my main character was left alone to shoulder the burden of keeping her family together. It gives me a bit of a shiver, because stepping away from the fictional world it makes me stop and think about all the real women who had their worlds uprooted when their fathers, husbands and sons boarded that ship and went away, and all the young men who had no idea whether they’d ever set foot on Canadian soil again.