Scary ghost stories

On All Hallows Eve, a sea nymph, the Black Plague, a mad scientist, and a zombie congregated in a candlelit room. The sea nymph presided.

‘Who shall go first?’ asked the sea nymph. It was decided that she would go. Haloed by candlelight and ghosts, the nymph opened a tome and read, ‘The Wife’s Story’, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

All sat enraptured. Next, after refilling their glasses with white wine and their plates with cheese and spiced cookies, the Black Death read ‘Trial for Murder’ by Charles Dickens. The company shivered with glee at the inscrutable ending.

Time was swiftly passing. The zombie read ‘The October Game’ by Ray Bradbury. The company of the uncanny gasped and exclaimed at the end of the story. There was still one more story to be told, but no time left to tell it in. The company departed into the night, carrying ghosts and cups of sweets for their tricks and tales.

Happy Halloween!

October 2011

Since I’m not reading anything at the present that I could finish by tomorrow, I am posting October 2011’s book list a day early.

Books read:

  1. The King of Elfland’s Daughter. Lord Dunsay.
  2. Empire of Ivory. Naomi Novik.

I know. Two books? I had hoped to read at least three. What can I say? For various reasons The King of Elfland’s Daughter took me nearly three weeks to read, and although I read Empire of Ivory in a weekend, I have not had time to read. See my previous posts. I’ve been busy.

As I will be writing in my free time, not reading, I don’t have high hopes for November’s reading list of being any higher. Maybe I’ll read at least two books. Who knows?

NaNoWriMo Prep, 3

It should come as no surprise to those who know me, or have read this blog for some time, that my ‘Life’ Pre-November to-do list is longer than the one used for coming up with my novel. For me, the story is the easiest bit. Making sure I keep up with everything else in Life during November is the hard bit.

So the last week of October I do a number of things: 1) do laundry; 2) clean/organise the main rooms of the house (at least November will start with them clean…); 3) finish any crafty projects I have going (else they will languish until December); 4) generally take care of House/Grown-Up Life stuff; 5) make sure that I’m well stocked with food.

The latter two actually take up the most time. This November will be especially manic: in addition to writing a novel, I will be continuing my work as a full-time PhD student (with a conference paper and a chapter of her thesis to write); working four days/week at the museum instead of only two; as well as keeping up with choir rehearsals, dance classes, and Bible study. To make life a bit easier for my immediate future, I have been freezing an extra serving or two of the meals I have been making in October. I sat down and wrote out my schedule for November, highlighting that I will have time/energy to cook only two or three evenings a week, when I currently cook at least four nights a week (to provide enough leftovers and variety to provide for lunches as well). So to make sure that one certain nights when I get home late from rehearsal, or have worked a couple of full days at the museum and can’t be bothered to cook, I have a number of frozen meals to choose from.

One must also take into consideration Writer Fuel — snacks! I prefer cookies, Halloween candy, clementines, and my special NaNoWriMo Trail Mix. The trail mix includes peanut M&Ms, dried cranberries, almonds, pretzels, and, the special ingredient, roasted pumpkin seeds. (It would also include Goldfish, except has to be an American import.) This weekend I will be baking cookies for my Halloween party, and you can be sure that I’ll bake a few extra to keep for writing…

Fortunately the weather has been cooperative this week, so I have been able to do some work in the garden (pulling up the dead plants, sorting out the compost heap messiness, and so on) as well as do a number of loads of washing that are hanging outside.

As for my crafty projects, I finished crocheting Thomas’s baby blanket today (finally!). The Halloween ghosts didn’t take as much time as I thought, so I got those finished last night. The only thing I have left is to finish my Halloween costume. Though I might at least make a shopping list for the Christmas crafts I want to do, so that I can have that ready first thing on December 1st.

Basically, the goal of this week is to get as much done around the house as I can so that I don’t have to do it (as much) during November.

How are you preparing for Life During November?

NaNoWriMo Prep, 2

Do you have an outline for your novel?

Every one of the 170,000+ participants of NaNoWriMo has their own way of preparing for the crazy month of November. Regarding the actual novel, my checklist includes: 1) A story (which I discussed last week); 2) A title; 3) An outline.

Being that this year will be the fourth novel in a series, I’ve developed a sure-fire process for outlining this particular type of story. Firstly, I know that I will have 10 chapters. Why 10? Because then I have 10, 5,000-word length chapters. Also, because if one follows the daily word goal of writing 1,667 words/day, then that means each chapter takes three days to write. (I must admit that it was not I who came to this realisation on my own, but Kelly.) With this formula in mind, I make my outline.

One of the joys of NaNoWriMo is seat-of-your-pants writing, adventures in prose, and letting the writing run away with you. So it’s best not to have a too detailed outline, in my experience at least. The first thing I do to make an outline is to number a list from 1 to 10, for each of the chapters. Then I write in the main plot points for about where I think they need to take place in the overall novel: for instance, first chapter is always my ‘intro’ chapter, with the protagonist leaving home for one reason or another by the end of the chapter; the last chapter is the ‘resolution’ chapter, so I have to make sure that I’m able to wrap everything up by the second half of the tenth chapter. I usually have a number of small adventures with the large, overarching adventure for my protagonist beginning somewhere in the middle.

Right, so once the major plot points are mapped out, then I have to fill in the rest of the chapters. Here’s my trick to writing a chapter in three days: I plan to have three episodes for each chapter. That way when I sit down to write each day I will always have an idea of what I am going to write about that day — as well as resolving the previous episode and preparing for the next one. This works really well with my knights & quests/fairy tale stories, because that type of story-telling lends itself well to being episodic.

For example, the outline from The Faerie King looked a little like this:

1 – Intro; Andrew’s tale; Silas prepares to leave

2 – Black Knight; Green Knight; rescue a maiden (sort-of)

3 – Selkie; dragon (loses his horse); attacked by knights while sleeping (steals one of their horses)

4 – Giants (loses his horse; held captive); escape

…and so on. As you can see, it is still not a very detailed outline. Sometimes the episode takes up an entire day’s worth of writing, sometimes it spills over into one or more days (such as Silas’s encounter with the giants). The idea is just to get the creative juices flowing when I sit down to do my writing that day, thinking, ‘Right, I have to get Character from X to Z. How am I going to do that?’ I’ve found that this type of planning is detailed enough to ensure that I will have something to write about each day, while still being vague enough for crazy adventures.

What about you? Do you outline before NaNoWriMo? How are you preparing?

NB: I actually do quite a bit more than just novel-planning to prepare for NaNoWriMo. Check back tomorrow for my post on ‘Planning Life during the month of November’.

Soup for a cold day

Roasted red pepper and sweet potato soup:

This soup is adapted from a hint of honey, a food blog that I discovered quite recently and have enjoyed experimenting with her recipes. I love how flavourful, simple, and healthy her recipes are — but I find that her soups are somewhat insubstantial, which is why I have been experimenting with them. I pretty much followed this recipe directly, with the exception of adding a bowl of chickpeas and then more water for consistency. I use dried chickpeas which I let soak overnight, so I don’t have an exact measurement for those. The bonus to adding chickpeas is that it yields more soup! I am going to freeze a serving or two for those nights in November when I can’t waste time cooking because I need to be writing…

The plunge

The time has come: I have finally decided to send my short story “Masterpiece” out into the world of magazines. I had been waiting until I had another story or two in my portfolio to send out, but since that doesn’t seem to be going to happen any time soon… I might as well start sending “Masterpiece” out now. Considering that it will take a month (or two or three) for each magazine to get back to me (and no simultaneous submissions), I will still have plenty of time to work on my novel(s) and hopefully finish that other pesky short story.

Wish me luck! I expect lots of rejection letters.

Favourite things

Some time ago a friend of mine asked what my favourite place or thing in Town was. I never answered her, not because I couldn’t think of anything, but because I couldn’t think of anything in particular. So in an effort to answer that question, I am going to post a photograph of something around town that makes me smile, or is one of my favourite things. I will try to do this somewhat regularly.

Owl eyes:

An owl-shaped knocker on a door on Crail’s Lane, one of the many alleyways and ‘wynds’ in our town.

NaNoWriMo Prep, 1

NaNoWriMo is only twelve (12) days away. Have you signed up? Do you have a title? A character? Better yet, do you have a story? Don’t worry if you don’t. I have heard from a very high authority that, ‘No plot? No problem!’ works for November.

This is my 8th WriMo (my 5th NaNoWriMo), and this year I am writing the fourth installment in my Pooka series, my retellings of fairy tale and Greek myth. Writing a series has its ups and downs. I did most of the world building with the first novel, which means I more or less have a ready-made setting. Each subsequent book, however, takes place in a different kingdom with a new cast of characters — only the Pooka is consistent. Prince Silas from Book 1 is the father of Prince Linus (Book 2), the grandfather of Princess Agnes (Book 3), and the great-grandfather of Prince Lukas (Book 4). So despite having new characters for each book, I also have to stay true to their family history and adventures.

So how do I go about coming up with a story? Book 1, The Faerie King, was perhaps the easiest of all. I didn’t know I was going to be writing a series then. I knew I wanted to retell Sir Orfeo, one of my favourite medieval romances. It is a 14th-century Middle English retelling of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth, set in Celtic Britain instead of in Greece. Eurydice is kidnapped by the King of Fairy instead of Hades, and it has a different ending. I was rereading it for fun while working as a dramaturg for OBU’s production of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Way; the play sets the fairy tale in medieval Wales. The Greek myth, fairy tale, and medieval Celtic/British setting fused together so well that I decided to write it into a novel. And I did.

With each subsequent book, I have tried to follow the same pattern. I try to find a well-known fairy tale, usually French or German in origin. I’ve read a lot of fairy tales over the past couple of years! Meanwhile, I’m also reading Greek myths, brushing up on my Olympian gods and heroes, hoping that I will find a narrative that can easily be woven alongside a fairy tale. I also relentlessly talk through fairy tales and myths with my friends: it was Sarah’s suggestion that I look into the Cupid & Psyche myth. That myth ended up being the myth I used for The Harpy (Book 2), combined with ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The clue that linked them together in my mind? Both had enchanted palaces with invisible servants. The Harpy was also heavily influenced by the medieval romance Melusine, which I had been reading at the time.

The Golden Crab (Book 3) was more difficult, because I was writing about a princess instead of a prince. Most princesses in fairy tales tend to be quite passive, and that wasn’t what I wanted. The Golden Crab ended up having a blend of lots of fairy tale elements — Thumbelina, The Snow Queen, and The Black Bull of Norroway — but the overarching story was the Greek myth of Persephone.

By the end of each novel I know who my next protagonist is, because the narrator neatly ties up the strings in the last chapter. The Golden Crab ends with the announcement of the birth of two of Agnes’s nephews, so I knew that Book 4 would be about either Tobias or Lukas. The more I thought about it and the overarching narrative of the narrator (because the narrator has a story, too), I knew it was going to be about Prince Lukas of Marschon.

So I’ve spent the last few weeks reading fairy tales and Greek myths, trying to find a story I haven’t told before. Before I knew anything else, I knew that Lukas was called ‘The Knight of the Swan’. The fairy tale I’ve chosen is The Six Swans, the mythology elements will come from Perseus’s adventures, with some inspiration from the medieval romance of the same title, The Knight of the Swan.

Now, to weave them together? Thank goodness — I have 12 days to think of a plot!


My dear readers,

I need your help. You see, I can’t tell what it is you like to read about. So here is your chance to enlighten me. Some of the things I’ve involved in this term are ceilidh dancing, Renaissance and Compline choirs, a French reading class, and swimming. I still knit and crochet, and do a few other crafty things (such as a homemade memo board, and Christmas crafts will be happening soon). I’m a horrible food-photographer, but I could at least write about some recipes. And of course, I can always resume writing book reviews. So what would you like to see more of? Because I look at those things and think they might be too boring to read about, but if they’re not, let me know…

Yes, I know, the blog is supposed to be what I want to write about — but you readers matter, too. So leave a comment with an answer, an idea, or a question…