Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Beginnings and Older Works

Somehow, my schedule has fallen apart.  January of 2015, I was the picture of organization, the reason I was able to produce a 140,000 word book in eight months.  This year, I'm losing it.  After an initial strong start with Darling, I've had a lot of road blocks, in my personal life and in my writing one.  Besides the soul searching of wondering if I should really be a writer, if this is really the right thing to be writing, and what on earth I'm going to do with a story that is far better than the writer writing it, I'm three months into my year without much book to show for it.

Queen of Time is riddled with problems, so many that I sometimes want to just scrap it and start over.  Wanting to finish Darling before embroiling myself in editing, I keep on pushing it to the back burner.  Today, on an impulse, I grabbed a chapter that has a lot of transitional, important material, and a notebook and started over with the chapter.  Different things happening, different questions being asked, different character development.  If it works out, I will continue.

It's amazing how much of my story hinges on King Uther's reaction to Gwen coming to Camelot.  For any who don't know, Gwen, through a series of events, ends up time traveling from the twenty-first century into Camelot.  This being the case, one of the first things I had to plot out was the reaction people would have.  First, I set up a history with the Crossers (she is not the first one) and the people of Camelot.  I made her what they viewed as the fulfillment of a prophesy, a YA cliche that is tired and old at the moment.  I'm hoping I can remedy that particular story line at some point.  Secondly, I had to picture how the people in Camelot who have been waiting for this fulfillment would view Gwen, a short bespectacled teen who doesn't seem to have a stitch of confidence and a whole lot of fear.  This reaction has morphed three different ways as I've disliked each one after fleshing it out over a few chapters.  My latest take (as of today), is the likelihood that if King Uther doesn't feel she is the one they are waiting for, he would likely not want his people to know who she was because of the Crosser's history of bad blood with the people of Camelot.  This means he would keep Gwen at the castle under outwardly false pretenses.  Gwen, being the girl who refuses to lie, would obviously have difficulty with this.  And thus, a different story than I had this morning is a born.  A lie she has to maintain, a life she is trying to get back to out of her strong sense of not wanting to change the past, and a possible link to someone she doesn't want to be linked with (spoilers!!!).

As I said though, King Uther's decision makes all the difference in the book.  If he forced her to try and go back through the Doorway, she would die.  If he gave her over to the people out of anger, she would die.  If he put her in prison, she would die.  If he sold her off as a slave to another kingdom, she would probably, well, die.

After the king, how Gwen reacts to what happens becomes just as important.  With some of the characteristics shown at the beginning of the book, she could be the kind of person who would just hide in her room and never come out.  Then, she wouldn't meet the people she meets, form the relationships she does, go through the life changing events that she does, and ultimately, bring about the things that bring the book to the climax.

The story is going to need work.  A lot of it.  And it might not pan out at all.  The good news is, I was able to put my story in a whole new perspective today which is not an easy thing.  I was able to write a questioning, logically deducting Gwen like I haven't written before, a shier girl than I'm used to but one who actually felt likable.

Hopefully, this means I can get back to my long overdue edits for Queen of Time.  I think it has the potential to be an awesome story.  I'm just going to have to become the writer to fulfill that potential.

Being the goal oriented person that I am, I came up with some goals of what I want for Queen of Time more than anything else, mostly things I haven't been able to accomplish to my satisfaction in other stories.

  • Gwen to be a very different heroine than I normally write but still likable and relate-able. 
  • The world building to feel rich and visible.  Being able to take readers to my picture of Camelot would be awesome!
  • Having a cast of different and believeable guys
  • Having good chemistry between my female and male main character
  • A complicated enough storyline to keep the reader guessing but not confused.

Seeing my goals here makes it sound like my book should be so easy.  Unfortunately, I am not good at writing anything on this list.  There's no good way for me to ease into it with a book of this caliber.  I'm just going to write, and rewrite until I'm done!

-Anna Leigh

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Avoiding Discouragment

It would be fun and story book like to say when I decided at eleven I wanted to be a writer, I never looked back.  That I charged forward, existing on a dream and honing my skills and crafts every day.

It would also be a lie.

The real story is a bit more boring but probably a lot more realistic.  For most of my life, writing has been a hobby, a dream for something far greater than I thought I'd ever achieve.  Maybe, maybe, someday when I'm old, I'll have a book published.

Somehow, my hobby started to move in a different direction when I was seventeen.  It started to be much more a part of my everyday life.  I started to care about being disciplined and about doing it right.  At eighteen, I found the online writing community and started to think "Maybe this is what I should be doing."

I've hit a few bumps in the road.  Busy schedules, writer's block, my story being so big of a mess, I just wanted to delete the whole thing and sell my computer.  Even so, it's never been too discouraging to me.  I would always put my book on hold until I felt ready to get back to it again.

In the last year and a half, I've had a strict writing regimen.  Writing gets done six days a week, sometimes seven if I feel awake enough Saturday night to work on it.  A thousand words a day is my normal minimum and I hold myself to it, whether I'm sick or busy or tired.  I posted on my blog about doing NaNoWriMo and I charged straight into it, finding that the fight to get to 50,000 words was nothing like it'd been the first time I did it when I barely wrote 500 words a day or had finished a book in eight months.  After NaNo, I stepped it down a bit, thinking a break would be good for me.

A week passed.  The holidays passed.  Another week passed.  I didn't want to sit down with my computer.  I didn't want to read a book because it would make me feel guilty about writing.  Even looking at the document for my book made me feel nervous.

I didn't want to write.

I haven't felt that feeling in a long time and it scared me.  A lot.  Writing has been a part of me my entire adult life and a decent portion of my pre-adult too.  I started thinking about my age, the fact I'm about to turn twenty-one and now would be a good time for a career change, a good time to learn something new.

I felt horrible and stressed for days.  Then, I was doing my bible study lesson for the week and I read something really important.  I read about how discouragement comes from Satan.  It reminded me that Satan is an accuser as well as the adversary who's main goal is to destroy my happiness, my peace, and my commitment to God.  It also reminded me to go to God in prayer for His protection.  Satan is strong but we know that he is defeated already.

I'd been letting my peace and joy be destroyed by self-doubt that didn't even make sense.  Yeah, I'm not the best writer ever and yeah, my books need a lot of work, but I can do it.  I prayed about it and for the last few weeks I've been able to write again.  I'm not back to 1,000 words a day yet but I'm doing 800 and I'm getting warmed up again.

I've crossed the 70,000 word threshold at this point with my book and I'm about to start a key chain of events leading to the middle conflict, which will set off a chain of events leading to the end.  So close and yet, so much more to go!

I sent the prologue to my critique group this week.  I kind of threw it onto paper when I was writing because I couldn't get the beginning right and I wanted to write an action opening.  I threw my main character into the middle of a situation and then spent the next several days trying to write the first few chapters to get her there in the first place.  Guess we'll see how it turns out!

- Anna Leigh

P.S. Happy New Year, by the way.  I was skimming through my posts and realized I haven't written since November.  Like I said above, it's been a rough few months but that's behind me now!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Pirates Don't Just Say "Arrr"

So, I lied.  I have 45,500 words, not 50,000, but I'm well on my way to finish by Monday.

Research and world building for Peter Pan and his Neverland would be incomplete if it weren't for pirates.  Somehow, this isn't something I'd really plotted out, even up to the point I was a few days away from starting.  It wasn't until last week that it really occurred to me I was going to have to write other pirates besides Hook.  And they were going to have to be nasty.  And I would have to do some research about pirates and ships.  Because I know nothing about either.

True story.  We were watching Once Upon A Time and it was at the part where Hook decides he's going to be pirate and change the name of the ship to the Jolly Roger.   I was like "Where did he come up with that name?" to which my younger sister said, "that's the name of the pirate flag."

You learn something new everyday.  Most of the new things I learn come from my younger sister and I'm supposed to be the writer!

I started my research this week with a simple bing search for pirate history.  I do like google a lot more but bing gives me reward points and I can redeem them to feed my Starbucks iced chai tea habits.  As my brother says, bing is so much more inferior, they have to pay you to use it.  It's actually not that bad, but I digress.

The first things that come up with a simple googling, or in this case binging (hello, that's why they're not as big as google.  It just sounds dumb to say you're going to go 'bing' something), were references to pirate movies and a bunch of websites with pirate slang.  I read a bit of it which left me giggling more than informed.

When I picture pirates, I think of smelly, unwashed, missing teeth guys who can't speak the English language properly.  My pirates are a bit like that though I eased up on the smelly portion since I hate reading stories about dirty people, especially when they'll well written.

The word "pirate" has its origins in "per" which meant "to risk" and "pieren" which meant "to attack".  It became the Latin word "Pirata" (Sea Attacker).  The earliest mention of pirates seems to come from 14th century BC.  Basically, these dirty, smelly, moralless people have been around as long as there've been ships in the sea.

In the Middle Ages, Viking's became well known for their acts of piracy.

My pirates don't carry a lot of these origins since they are modernish people trapped in Neverland and resorting to whatever means they think are necessary but even so, I wanted to give them a feel of a swashbuckling pirate, as well as the slightly inept, sometimes funny feel of the pirates from the original Peter Pan stories.  Even so, they need to be dangerous and scary, something I've attempted to incorporate.  This comes into play a bit when Wendy ends up on a pirate ship full of guys who haven't seen a girl in a long time.

So, the pirates are blood thirsty, slightly inept, and just a bit funny but I wanted to inject a bit more personality into them than that.  There are more specific characters the reader will really come to know (Captain Hook, Smee, and a few select others), and while I wanted to carry over this fairytale/stereotypical pirate feel, I also don't want them to be the same tired cliches that've been read before.  They need to have hearts, purpose, and a desire that's more than looting villages and getting women.  

I think pirates bring out my bloody side.  Just today, I wrote this whole chunk where they get attacked by these flesh eating things and one pirate gets totally eaten.  That's a bit weird but the weirder part is...I actually, sorta, kinda, had a bit of fun writing it.  It was super easy, too.

Write again soon!

-Anna Leigh

Friday, November 20, 2015

In the Midst of Madness

For all writers out there, November isn't just a month of family, good food, and awesome deals (if one is willing to wait in line all night.  Or three or four nights).  It's a month to put those words that have been floating, collecting, and jamming the inside of your head on paper.

Throwback picture from last NaNoWriMo.
Yes, my house is that cold!
Finishing out the third week of NaNo, I have somehow more confidence than when I started and less.  More because words are flowing out a lot easier than I expected and even when I've expected to get stuck, I haven't, and less because I am working on this book.

This book is my baby.  The story that started it all.  My first book.  I'm no longer eleven years old and now I don't just write to change the end of other people's stories.  I write to tell my own.

Peter Pan is a story ripe for the retelling, the reason why it's stayed timeless since Peter's first appearance in 1904.  Even small elements of the story have been used in multiple ways to add flavor to other stories and you would be hard put to find a person, at least in the US, who didn't at least know who was being referenced when the boy who won't grow up gets mentioned.

I've discovered something strange in the nine chapters I've written.  Peter Pan is an unexpectedly dark story, make slightly darker by my own unique (I hope) twist.

There have been multiple steps in plotting this particular novel, even more than my plotting for QoT.  There are a lot of different complications in writing a story about time travel and a legend that would've taken place in a mostly real backdrop (QoT), than a mythical, magical island where kids who don't grow up are in charge and hapless pirates create entertainment, not danger.

I knew I didn't want to incorporate magical elements so that went into the trash bin of plotting ideas right away.  While I have worked with super human powers and time travel, I've always kept it on the science fiction-y end by giving somewhat-ish reasonable explanations as to why everything is the way it is.  Even the Doorway that sends Gwen back to Camelot is explained away as a scientific fact.  Neverland has some very odd vegetation, some parts of the island where gravity is funky (flying, anyone?), and several other things that would never be found on Earth.  Knowing these things, one of my first plotting moves was to figure out why the environment would be the way it was.

From day one of writing QoT, I worried about writing Gwen.  She has not and continues not to come easily to me as I struggled to understand her character and move it in the way I want.  I talked a bit about it with my critique group leader this week and figured out some hidden things about her in conversation that I'd never really realized, things that will fuel her actions and in turn, move along the plot line.  With all the elements I've worried about getting right with Darling, Wendy has never been one of them.  She is by far the easiest character I've ever written.  The girl has sass, is impulsive, and consequently ends up in multiple bad situations because of her hotheadedness.  Even to the moment where gets captured by pirates (spoilers~~~), she won't back down.  It's been really easy to write her.  The challenge this time around will be making her character likable.

Gwen is likable but there are times when even I want to say "Get a backbone, girl.  Stand up to them!".  As QoT progresses, she becomes a lot more sure of herself and a lot less likely to let people push her around.  Wendy starts at the opposite end of the spectrum and has to soften a bit.  She has a lot of trust issues which I haven't totally justified with her past.

Because I'm not spending as much time figuring out Wendy, I've been putting a bit more time into Pan and Hook.  I wrote a post a while back about how all the characters in QoT essentially boil down to how they treat rules.  In this book, the characters all boil down to how they view other people and how unselfish they'll be.  Hook and Pan were on a very similar path but then they made a different decision.  Peter decided to sacrifice his life to protect others and Hook sacrificed others lives to protect himself.  I'm very interested in the characters and how that dynamic will pan out (pun intended!).  I literally only wrote Hook's first sentence today and I'm already excited.  I've never tackled a pirate before (figuratively or literally :) and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

The next time I write, it should be with a solid 50,000 words into my manuscript and NaNo completed!!!

-Anna Leigh

Friday, November 6, 2015

To Write A Novel

Up to this point, I haven't said a lot about my sequel to Queen of Time.  It is not because I am not excited about it but because I haven't wanted to spoil too much of Queen of Time.  Unfortunately for me, I just can't keep excitement under wraps.  I will do my best to keep my spoilers to the minimum!

As some may have guessed from the title, my second book, Darling, is a Peter Pan retelling.  To my knowledge, possibly apart from the disgustingly creative folks writing Once Upon A Time, no one has ever mixed an Arthurian legend with the story of Peter Pan.  Of course, I haven't made it past halfway through season four of OUAT so maybe I have outdated information.


Peter Pan is one of the core books that got me started writing. Robin Hood was truly the first but Peter Pan was close on its heels.  My issues always had to do with the fact that the story centers around the reality of growing up and in the end, Peter still doesn't grow up.

I knew in the plotting stage that writing Wendy was going to be a lot easier than writing Gwen but it wasn't until this last week of frantic writing (NaNoWriMo, anyone?) that I realized how much easier she is.  Gwen is a by the rules type and Wendy can't stand the confinedness (is that a word?) of rules. Gwen was poor, Wendy is a bit posh.  Gwen ran away from problems, Wendy punches them in the nose.  Of course, these traits get poor Wendy into more trouble than Gwen ever was.

In the original story, Wendy doesn't like the idea of growing up but after being in Neverland, she begins to realize how much she really does want to do things like a grownup.  This is shown a bit poignantly in the 2004 live action version of Peter Pan where Wendy finds herself attracted to Peter, an action that is decidedly grownup.  I'm not going quite the same route but I do want to focus a bit more on Wendy's unwillingness to grow up.  In Darling, Peter, on the other hand, would love nothing more than to grow up but he can't.  Spoilers.... :)

Last week, I was a bit stressed as to my antagonist(s) stance in my novel and how I was going to puzzle piece all the characters together.  I laid down for a nap and boom, I got half a dozen ideas that tied up a bunch of my loose ends.  Let's just say, it's made writing this week a LOT easier.  Hook is a complication that I haven't totally worked out but from what I've written out about him, he's going to be a big part of Wendy's journey to understanding who she is and what she needs to become.  For any love triangle lovers out there, I am not doing what I have read multiple times now which is to create a love triangle between Pan, Hook, and Wendy.  Seriously, can't we be a bit more original??  To the rest of readers who are super sick of love triangles; you're welcome!

This book will continue some of the time travel elements featured in Queen of Time and will tie in some of Gwen's story.

I'm so excited and nervous about building Neverland.  It's going to be a crazy place with a bunch of strange elements to its nature.  I have some of my old notes and drawings from when I originally started writing a Peter Pan retelling eight years ago and I really want to rework some of them and put them into Darling.  It would be  a nod to my younger writing self who would've never envisioned myself where I am today.

Off to get more writing done.  It's so sad that when I take a break from writing, I inevitably blog or go write on some other platform.  What can I say, even if I'm not that good, I am a writer!

- Anna Leigh

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Romance of Editing and Book Two

A few years ago, I felt a bit meek about telling people what I liked to do since I felt sure that writing wasn't really a job for "grownups" and was the equivalent of telling people you're going to play in a garage band or your dreams of success hinge on the judges and voters of American Idol.

I'm not embarrassed about telling people anymore.  Mostly because I've come to respect being a writer a lot more than I used to.

Writing can be a casual escape for people, the kind of thing they do randomly when they have a blank notebook sitting in front of them or a great idea strikes.  For me, it's a little more serious than that.  When I see a blank notebook, I have to resist writing something in it.  I get four or five ideas for a book when I'm taking my walk or going for a jog in the morning.

Having a good idea and writing it down doesn't make you a writer but it is a start.  The rest is hard work, total dedication, and watching and learning every time your baby gets ripped apart.
Yes, that adorable little pink flower is my purse and the makeup bag
is what I use to organize my markers since I don't have a pencil bag :)

The last few weeks, it's been me doing the ripping.

The picture above is from one of the three days I spent at Starbucks.  Each day I dedicated a little over two hours to reading my book, intermittently between drinking my hot chocolate (with a shot of raspberry.  It would be so boring if you just got hot chocolate at Starbucks) and watching the passersby.  I live about two miles from an outdoor mall and discovered its a great place to work on my book.  None of the distractions from home and relatively empty when kids are in school.  The above picture is one of my more heavily edited pages but I do have a few with just a plain "x" marked across the page because the whole thing needs to go.  I had a lot of fun doing the marking, telling myself every time "I'm going to fix this so it'll be so much better" and trying not to think about the actual fixing process.  In the last few chapters, I came up with a great plot twist that I've written myself some notes about so when I get to editing it, I'll remember to incorporate it.

Things haven't been moving so quickly on my second book.  I've been busy with life and tying up the loose ends of my first and my second book has barely made it past 8,000 words.  With QoT, I did a lot of work plotting it out before I got more than two chapters into writing it but I haven't even started a plot with Darling, my second book.  I have several key points floating around in my head but I haven't yet found the thread that will tie them all together.  Even though the sequel is hinted at in QoT, it has a totally different cast of characters and a different world of problems.  Mostly, it's based off a different legend.  I have a lot more leeway with the legend/fairytale I'm using in Darling, mostly because it doesn't have any roots in reality.  Arthurian legends do and it's occasionally difficult to differentiate fact and fiction when researching for it.

I'll have more updates next time I blog.  I'm bursting to write about some stuff with Darling but if I do, it will spoil some of the surprises from QoT.  First world problems here!

-Anna Leigh

Friday, September 11, 2015

End of the Road, Bottom of a Hill

Sitting at 139,456 words, my first draft is finished!

It's amazing, exhausting, and exhilarating.

And I've barely scratched the surface.

When I started this book on January 18, 2015, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I also didn't know I was going to write to date the longest book I've ever written.  I've spent a few days this last week printing it out and now my entire manuscript is filling a ringed binder.  I read through the first twelve chapters today and did some marking up in spots that need fixing.

The good news is, I'm really excited about the story and how things shook out.  The bad news? I'm going to have a lot of chipping away to do before this thing shines.

There are obvious things, like the fact Gwen has a constantly changing guard when it is only supposed to be one because I couldn't figure out which knight I wanted to have by her side (I think I've figured it out but you never know when that might change), or a character that was more of a main and is now a side character, or a character I am writing out all together.  I had two bad guys and when I was flipping through the pages today (291 gloriously printed ones :), I realized it would be much more logical if my two bad guys were merged into one.  Then there were some awesome moments I read today where she went from not knowing the guy's name to magically knowing it.

I'm proud of Gwen, even though every move she's made and every thought she's experienced have come from me.  She really grew up by the end of the book and doesn't need the people around her to live a happy life.  Arthur hasn't quite reached his awesomeness peak potential but that's more because I was focused on Gwen in my first draft.  I'll be discovering Arthur a bit more in my second though he's in like every one of my favorite scenes.  I haven't had detachment syndrome from her or Arthur yet but I think it's because I know I'm not truly finished yet.  I've jumped the first hurdle, now I have a few more to go.

I've read a ton of people talk about editing and how much they hate it.  I have only really gone through it twice, once with Only Human and then my novella, but this will be way different.  I've learned a lot since I worked on Only Human last year (seems like a lot longer than that) and this manuscript is twenty-five thousand words longer.  All that to say, I'm really excited about the editing.  Yes, it's monotonous and hard and you have to cut scenes that you love and go over and over paragraphs that aren't working out (and weasel words.  I have a love/hate relationship with those babies) but everything comes together.  All through writing a first draft, every time something doesn't work out, I just keep telling myself "I'll fix this in editing." Then, when I get to editing, my biggest fear isn't the time spent but how it will end up.  Will the hours and hours be worth it? Will I love this book as much as I want to?

I'm not sure if people ever feel their work is perfect and I don't expect to.  Actually, it would be awesome if I could tell people "I wrote a book" and not cringe when they ask if they can read it. *cough* Only Human *cough*.

I'm glad to be making progress and really excited for Monday when I'll be starting the next book.  New characters, new setting, new challenge.

So. Ready.

-Anna Leigh