What I’m Thankful For (And What You’re Thankful For)

We’re in that holiday spiral now, squiders. Halloween’s gone and done, Thanksgiving is mere days away (oh no, it is! I’m not ready!), and then from there it’s downhill to Christmas and New Year’s and 2016 and that horrible feeling that yet another year is gone and you didn’t quite get done what you wanted to get done.

And during this time of year, when you realize the end is looming and you have unfinished plans, there’s not much you can do about them. The month-ish between Thanksgiving and Christmas is full of other obligations–cards and presents and wrapping and guests and family–so it seems like you might as well give up and wait til next year.

(Maybe this isn’t an issue if you don’t celebrate Christmas. Let me know!)

Deep breaths, squiders.

I think it’s important, when the holidays are upon us, to take a step back and look at what we’ve done for the year. Maybe our to-do list is still twenty items deep, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t take some important steps.

For example, I didn’t get my nonfiction series done. I’m still not done with this novel draft that’s due to my editor at the beginning of December. And I still don’t have a usable query letter for my YA paranormal novel. Those were my big goals for the year. Do I fail?

No, not really. Because looking at it another way, here’s what I did do:

  • I outlined an entire nonfiction series, wrote a nonfiction book, and came up with related workbooks to go with the series.
  • I edited and polished a 89,000 word YA paranormal novel
  • I’ve taken a ton of marketing classes
  • I got my Patreon up and running
  • I finally got an email list!
  • I wrote 9-10 sections of my serial story
  • Have written most of a co-written novel
  • Worked some on other novels so I don’t forget ideas
  • Completed a fair amount of freelance editing and coaching
  • Blogged here consistency throughout the year
  • Wrote and edited three short stories
  • Took a flash fiction course and wrote five flash stories

So, from that standpoint, things are actually looking pretty good. And I’d bet you, if you sat down and looked at how far you’ve come, you’re not doing too shabbily either.

What are your accomplishments for the year, squiders?

I’d like to promise a landsquid drawing/story for Thursday, but I’ve got people staying here the next few days and I’ve got to host Thanksgiving, so it’s not actually looking too likely. You’ll get them Tuesday if Thursday doesn’t happen.

Those Plodding Books (Or How I Just Finished a Book I Started Last October)

Have you ever read a book, Squiders, that seemed to take you forever? It’s not so godawful that you want to throw it away and never touch it again, but neither is it riveting enough to pull you through it in a timely manner. And so you just read a little bit at a time whenever you have nothing better to do, and meanwhile you pick up (and get through) other books, just so you’re not stuck with your plodder.

I’m sure we all have these. The last one before this that I read was The Aeneid. I had a grand scheme that I would read all three books (The Iliad, The Aeneid, and The Odyssey), but The Aeneid took me six months and killed all my motivation for ancient Greek literature, so to this day I have still never touched The Odyssey.

(And yes, I realize that The Aeneid is Roman, not Greek.)

On Tuesday afternoon, I finally finished The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. I’d seen mentions of it in other books for years, and had long heard it mentioned as a classic example of the Gothic novel. So I decided to give it a try, especially since I got it for free on my Kindle. According to my Goodreads update, I was on page 180 on October 22 of last year. I’m not actually sure when I started it.

So, it took me at least 13 months to get through. Maybe more, because I remember the beginning being mind-numbingly slow, and I was lucky to manage 20 pages a day.

Why did it take me so long? Well, the beginning is…slow paced would be putting it kindly. There’s a lot of meandering about the countryside, waxing poetical on the landscapes. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why old books dwell so long on description, but I eventually figured out that they had no other way of showing their readers what a place was like. People didn’t travel like we do today, and they didn’t have easy access to pictures. If they wanted to know what the Pyrenees looked like, they had to read the beginning of this book and picture it in their heads. I can just use Google images to get the same result.

Anyway, at least the first third of the book is wandering about describing things. The first 250 pages can be summed up as “young girl’s mother dies, goes on trip with father, falls in love, father dies, and she gets shipped off to Italy with her aunt and her aunt’s creepy new husband.” Udolpho, which is a castle, by the by, doesn’t show up until page 320 or so.

There are also large swaths of poetry throughout which, personal preference, are not my cup of tea, and I will admit to skimming most of them.

The good news is that the end picks up quite a bit. I read the last 200 pages in a week. But, oy, to get there…

Is it worth it to slog through the plodders? Not sure. What do you think, Squiders? Which books have given you issues?

(I also should probably stop with the Gothic novels. They never seem to quite do it for me, yet I keep trying.)

(I say this after just starting Rebecca, and being in the middle of The Haunting of Hill House, though I am not sure the second counts as Gothic.)

The Importance of Perspective

Story time, Squiders. When my husband and I got married, we had an outdoor ceremony. We wanted to include a unity ceremony, but the “normal” one (you’ve probably seen it somewhere–the bride and groom each have a candle and use them to light a bigger central candle) seemed like a bad idea in unsure weather conditions.

(Actually, my cousin had an outdoor wedding a few months before ours, so I know it’s not the best idea.)

I did some research on alternatives, and we ended up doing a wine unity ceremony, which involved our mothers pouring two different wines into a Scottish drinking vessel called a quaich, which we each drank out of.

We didn’t mean any symbolism beyond your basic unity ceremony symbolism (two people united as one) but we got a lot of comments afterwards about it.

My extremely Catholic family saw it as relating to communion. Our friends from California saw it as a commentary on our love of wine. Some friends assumed that it was a Scottish tradition, since we included a lot of Scottish elements to our ceremony.

Everybody who saw that ceremony brought their own interpretation based on what they knew of us and what their own experiences related that to.

What’s my point? People interpret the world differently, based off their backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and thoughts. So, when writing, it’s important to take that into account. A character who grew up an orphan will have a different perspective than a trust fund brat, and someone with children will react differently than someone without.

It’s important to make sure that diverse characters react diversely, and that the different characters are also different from you, especially if your background is different than theirs.

And fiction can become that much richer when you allow varying perspectives to shine through.

Do you have examples, Squiders, of either good examples of diverse perspectives, or of bad ones where everyone reads the same? Any tips on how to write perspectives different from your own?

Is It Really All Fear?

For storycraft on Tuesday night, we discussed the bane of so many writers: Writer’s Block.

Before the meeting, I trolled about on the Internet for a bit to help formulate points for discussion. And I came across this post, which states that all writer’s block has one cause: fear.

I brought this idea up to the group, and the unanimous response was disagreement. (And, actually, if read on to the rest of the post, I feel like even the original author somewhat contradicts his original statement.)

The thing is that there are different types of writer’s block. Sure, maybe some do stem from fear. Certainly when one is afraid of how something will be received, that can have a negative effect on the creation process. And previous failure or fear of failure can add to that. My group dubbed this particular type of writer’s block the Inner Critic block.

But all writer’s block?

I would argue that most writer’s block stems more from a planning standpoint than fear. You know, when you can’t figure out a logical way to get from point A to point B. When your characters can’t complete planned plot because they’ve changed through their arc and the actions no longer fit. When you’ve thrown so much at your characters that you can’t see how to get them out of the mess. Stuff like that.

What do you think, squiders? Is fear the cause of all creative block? I would say no, but let me know if you disagree.

We also discussed what types of writer’s block is most common for each of us. For me, at least recently, it’s been that I’ve had so many projects that need to worked on that I haven’t been managed to make much headway on any of them. We also talked about fixes–and mine is that I need to prioritize and focus on finishing one thing before moving on to another. What’s your most common block? What do you find helps?

The Rule of Three

Threes are important throughout human society, mythology, and literature. There’s something very ancient and instinctual about using threes, and you’ll find them everywhere. Storytelling is no different in this. One of the most common story structures is the three act structure, after all–a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even in school we’re taught that an essay needs three points to support it.

This can be used a ton of different ways–in the language itself, with repeating words or phrases; in plotting, with a certain event happening three different times, or an event building in three steps; and, perhaps my favorite, in characters.

An example of each:

“Veni, vidi, vici.” (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Very common in fairy tales, such as in Rumpelstiltskin, both when the miller’s daughter weaves for three nights (and Rumpelstiltskin visits each night), and the three nights of name guessing.

Again, common in nursery rhymes and fairy tales (The Three Little Pigs, Billy Goats Gruff, etc.), but can be found in a lot of popular culture, including a lot of my favorite stuff. In Harry Potter, you’ve got Harry, Hermione, and Ron. In Star Wars, you’ve got Luke, Leia, and Han. In Star Trek, you have Kirk, Spock, and Bones.

Since characters and character relationships have always been my favorite parts (both reading and writing) of stories, I tend to be most interested in this aspect of the Rule of Three. A story just seems stronger with three characters, doesn’t it? And sidekicks tend to come in three, too. Luna, Ginny, and Neville. Chewbacca, C3PO, and R2-D2. I think this somewhat stems from the idea of the triple deity–a single entity in three parts, with each part representing a certain aspect of the whole.

Anyway, it’s a neat thing to think about. Any examples you can think of that really work for you, Squiders?

Creating a Shared World

Shared worlds are an old and familiar subject to many people, I think. But for those who are unfamiliar with the concept, a shared world is a common world which many people write in. The Thieves World anthologies from the ’70s and ’80s are perhaps the most classic example of this, where dozens of fantasy authors used the same city and the same characters to tell stories. But another example of this would be universes like Star Trek or Star Wars, where authors tell stories in a familiar world.

You guys know I’m working on a co-written novel to be released next year. That in itself has proven interesting. But the hope is that this novel will also be the first in a shared world universe, with other authors coming in and expanding the world and the story as time goes on.

So, while our focus has been on providing an interesting and compelling story, there’s also been an emphasis on making everything broad enough. On leaving enough open avenues for someone else to take. On making sure there’s conflicts and characters and settings available. On making sure the world is rich enough and comprehensive enough that someone else will be able to see it–and not just see it, but create within in.

This has mostly been an issue with our ending. We love the world, we love the story–but we haven’t been able to pin down an ending, and we’ve reached the point where we need to know exactly where we’re going. There’s too many options, and we’ve got to pick one that wraps up this stage of our characters’ arcs while also leaving enough open for future stories.

So many interesting things could happen.

But which one provides the most interesting things?

Hopefully we’ll figure it out, and soon.

Have any favorite shared worlds, Squiders? Worked on some yourself? Have experiences to share?

Also, Burning Bright by the lovely KD Sarge is now out! You should pick up a copy.

Library Book Sale Finds: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Most of what we grabbed at the library book sales this summer were scifi and fantasy, but I love a good mystery and so I ended up with a fair amount of those as well. And I love Agatha Christie, but somehow seem to keep reading the same books over and over (accidentally).

This is the first of the Miss Marple novels, none of which I’ve managed to read before, though I have read the short story collections a few times. Or so I assume, because that’s what the front of the book said. Also, randomly, I went and saw Curtains at a local theater last Thursday night, and they referenced Murder at the Vicarage during it, which was a bit of an odd coincidence.

Title: Murder at the Vicarage
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year:

Pros: Very classic murder story with interesting twist
Cons: Feels a little old-school and dated at points, which is perhaps to be expected

Wikipedia tells me that it was not particularly well received upon publication, but I liked it.

Anyway! The book is from the vicar’s point of view, which I find is generally the case with the Miss Marple stories. I mean, not necessarily from the vicar’s, but not from Miss Marple’s. Which I guess is somewhat common–none of the Sherlock Holmes stories are from Holmes’ point of view. Obviously the idea is that it’s more interesting to be the outside observer. Anyway.

Universally despised Colonel Protheroe is murdered in the vicar’s study. Hence the title! And, of course, since everybody hates him literally anybody could have done it, though the vicar knows a secret about some of his parishioners which gives them a strong motive. And the book is perhaps more interesting from the vicar’s point of view, because he is at the center of the whole thing, and his insider knowledge as vicar gives him insights into people that others wouldn’t necessarily have. And so he spends more time wondering whether various people are capable of the crime, and it reads very authentically, as well as serving to throw the reader off.

The solution is a twist on a rather common mystery trope, which was a nice touch.

Miss Marple is probably one of the most recognizable mystery protagonists, so it was interesting to read the first book with her in it. As I said, I’ve previously read the short stories, and I used to watch the TV show (or was it merely part of PBS’ Mystery! series?) with my grandmother (a mystery enthusiast) back in the day, so it’s interesting to see the “beginning.” (Some of the short stories predate the novel.)

If you like mysteries, Christie, and/or Miss Marple, I’d give it a read. Why not? It is interesting to note that the character is not in its final stage as of yet, and that Miss Marple is different in later stories.


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