Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Nano Book--Not All That Little

It's November--always auspicious, since it's my birth month--so I signed myself up for my first official NaNoWriMo, which all of you writers know is not a teeny-tiny poem; it's short for National Novel Writing Month, in which, technically, you're supposed to write a 50,000 word novel start to finish before month's end.

Here's the trouble: my novel is already 40,000 words fat, and that's probably only half-way to The End, but I need a push to finish, so if I write 50,000 new words this month and finish the second half of the novel I've been eking out for a year and a half, and then end up with a 90,000-word Beast, am I cheating?

Do I care?

Just need to finish this book.

And then spend the next two months after NaNo hacking and slashing (oh, the pain) down to a more appropriate word-count. Not quite a nano-sized task, but I'm geared up and ready! (Yes, that was an exclamation point. That's how geared up these fingers be). I've informed my family they won't be seeing me until December. I'll be in my cave with my laptop, and neither brain nor body are coming out for a month.

Maybe I'll shower. Maybe not.

Anybody else joining the insanity? See you in a month!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

More on researching your novel: chaos unwound

I'm always interested in how individual writers write. The whole process fascinates me, especially since it's so different for everyone. 
Here's more on researching for your (fiction or fantasy) novel, this time from Shannon Hale, who, by the way, is doing a great little series of blog posts where she goes through her award-winning Princess Academy chapter by chapter, analyzing and answering questions. 

Someone asked if Shannon did all her research for the book as she wrote the first draft, or if she wrote first and then researched to fill in the gaps. 
Shannon: "I do minimal research before beginning, write the first draft or two, and then do more intensive research, so that I already know what I'm looking for. I like the story to lead the research, not the other way around. I know other writers research in different ways."

Another chaos-writer. I'm feeling a bond. Only, the way she describes it, the whole process sounds rather orderly. Just a different kind of order. Maybe not chaos at all. Maybe an unwritten story has a life of its own that only needs to be discovered.

Order leading chaos, which unwinds itself into something not very chaotic at all.

Are life and chaos the same?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Unintentional Fire Break

Sorry for the blog silence again. I really meant to be good, but then fire season started up in Utah and my lungs responded by getting pneumonia.

Not my favorite part of summer

Feeling somewhat better now, so I'll be getting back to the blog soon.

One good thing? Too tired to exercise or weed or clean or do laundry or play chauffeur, and lots of writing time on the couch with the laptop, so I'm finally loving my novel again. And I've read 1500 pages.

That's two good things.

Yes, storyfires. With way too much smoke.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Researching your novel: chaos eating the sun

Lately I'm interested in how people research for their novels.

Rick Riordan: organized
Rick Riordan's style, for example, seems all efficiency and organization. Before he sits down to write, say, a book based on Egyptian mythology, Rick claims to 1) toss off his research in about two weeks; then, when he knows everything he needs to know about his subject, he 2) jots down an outline, and 3) churns out a story.

Which then, of course, is brilliant, funny, and makes your kid (who never wanted to read before) love both reading and Egyptian mythology.

I'm in the middle of writing a fantasy novel, so you might think research would be kind of minimal. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha!

This is my style:

1) Write the first page with a setting loosely based on reality. Realize you have no plot because your setting sucks because you don't know enough, and also you don't really want to know about that place. Love the first page, though!

2) Pick a new setting on which to loosely base your story.

3) Scour the internet. Get distracted because there's so much interesting stuff! Even though it's only sort-of-but-not-quite on-topic! Print out a binder-full of pages. Go to the library. Realize you won't be returning your books by three-week deadline. Buy a bunch of books. Read like a fiend.

4) Go on a run. Epiphany! Writing explosion. Realize you need to research applicable names. Go online and print out fifty-pages-worth so you can pick as you go.

Leo, the snake,
representing Chaos,
representing Elena's style
of novel research
5) Write some more. Realize you're writing a steam-punk-style alternate-history without the steam or the machines or actually any technology to speak of, and with a lot of fantastical and magical elements and you need to know much, much more.

6) Go back online. Print out more pages. Buy more books. Some not exactly on topic. Read like a fiend. Realize the off-topic books are more on-topic than the on-topic ones. Realize you have to totally change up everything you've written.

7) Go on a bike ride. Have a plot epiphany and another writing explosion, petering out as you realize you need to read some more, scour the internet and then get back to writing.

8) Write, write write. Realize with a sigh that you really need to see your setting, even though the time period is several hundred years out, because you need to smell the air and feel the texture of it and see the birds and experience the bugs and the spread of the land and the look of the trees, and just stand on top of that historical site and meditate.

9) Plan a trip. Try to figure out how to fund it.

10) Write some more.

I call it the 10-Step-Plus plan for researching your novel, because step 10 is only the beginning.

Or we could call it the chaos-and-multiple-Big-Bangs-style research pattern. The why-again-do-you-think-I-have-ADHD? pattern. The pretty-much-opposite-Rick-Riordan-in-every-way pattern.

Maybe it's a sign that Rick is right, and Apophis, otherwise known as Chaos, is about to eat the Sun-God, Ra, and the world is about to end.

Serpent eating Sun
(Drawing of Serpent Mound in Ohio, actually, not Egypt)

How about you? What's your research style? Do you favor chaos, like me, or order, like Rick?

Who would you rather be?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Not just a hobby, dude

It's April, so I was doing my taxes. Not my favorite thing on earth.

Actually, I was gathering papers and checking my files and looking up figures and calling up my dentist so I could figure out how much I spent on family dental bills last year ($3,000, believe it or not. Yes, we do floss our teeth), and then giving all the results to my tax accountant, because numbers and my brain, they don't mix, and my taxes happen to be complicated. So, technically, the accountant was doing my taxes, not me.

I was just paying for it.

Not my favorite thing, either. I needed more deductions.

So I asked the tax guy if I could deduct writing expenses. Writing conference fees, travel expenses, the research trip I really need to take for my next book...because I had heard...

Him (sympathetic smile): No, unfortunately, since your writing doesn't bring in any actual income, the government considers it a "working hobby." You know, something you just do for fun.

I think he was trying to be nice.

Me: Fun? Fun? You know what Flannery O'Connor says about that? Check out the quote on the top of my blog! Have you looked at my dental bills?

"Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.
I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality
and it's very shocking to the system."--Flannery O'Connor

Me: What time does your office close? 5:00 pm? What time does my laptop close? 2:00 am? Wanna compare hours?

Me: A Hobby? Wanna punch in the face?

Ok, not really. I didn't really say any of that. It wasn't his fault, after all. I went home and punched my pillow in the face. Might have fantasized it was a tax guy.

Somebody deserved to be punched.

Then I took a deep breath and sat down to write.

Forget the money. Because I had work to do, and I didn't have time to mope. Because unless you want to produce drivel, writing is work. Hard, hard, satisfying, compulsive, creative work.

bed as work station

Even if I do sometimes work in my pajamas.

In bed.

No make-up.

Medusa hair.

And at the dentist (not in pajamas). During violin lessons. Barefoot in the grass. And late at night after everyone is asleep. Even if, yes, it's sometimes fun.

It's not for fun. It's because I think it matters. And I can't help it.

It's still a job.

And still worth it.

Even without a tax deduction.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Some of you have noticed Storyfires has gone dormant around here this winter.

Thought I'd resurrect for Spring.

My tulips and forget-me-not are in bloom. Aspen and maple leaves have appeared. Bleeding heart. Cherry blossoms.

I keep thinking I should xeriscape my yard since I live in a desert.


So I went to the nursery and came home with thyme and irish moss and delphinium.
My psyche thinks I live in England, where things are green because it rains.

I am alive.

I am writing.

Just so you know.

Free books will be coming again. More stuff about writing. More about the writer's life. Finding balance. More about barefoot running.

Maybe a poem or two. Just to torment you.

See you around the fire!

Playing High and Dry with Sourdough

Lately I've been playing with dough. It's become a sort of a compulsion. Maybe because I'm tired of driving all the way to som...