Youngblood Blog

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Bloghopping and Plot Bunnies

MONTHLY IWSG
Plot Bunnies

ABNA ...like nursing your Plot Bunnies and then putting them out for Adoption...

I’ve spent the last ten days in the hutch with my favourite bunnies: the ones that usually come out when my mind is in full right-brain (Muse-driven) fantasy, mid-novel-draft, to help me plot. At those times the Muse seems sensitive to a modicum of left-brain tweaking by these slightly-controlling little guys. Contrarily, these latest fellas came and crawled all over my keyboard and tried to get me to change things in the novel* I wrote for NaNoWriMo last November: that’s the novel even NaNoWriMo veterans suggest is worth submitting only two months down the road to its first literary contest.

We’ve all heard the sound advice: to let a newly-completed novel rest for at least a month before tackling the arduous (less-writerly, more-editorial, left-brain) process of tidying it up.

Plot Bunnies to the Rescue
I had kept nose to grindstone all November — assisted mightly by the little guys, above and below — released my little fantasy baby* into the Word-Cosmos on November 30th (50k in 30 days), and wiped my brow. I hadn’t looked at the MS once over Christmas.

ABNA pops up its timely head at the end of January. I succumbed to its persuasive positive hype last year. I thought maybe I should try a second time. So, throwing caution aside, I went for it again this year.

Thing is, I should never have ventured near the bunny hutch, because what I was supposed to be doing in the last two weeks of January was ‘polishing’ my novel for submission — edit/re-write, i.e. left-brain mode. I had no idea they could switch sides so easily!

Right-brained Plot Bunnies can sometimes appear suddenly during the editing process


But, seriously, nursing one’s progeny (literally your 30-day Wonderbaby) thru NaNo and getting your beloved WIP ready (edits, rewrites, reading by a friend) for submission and then being brave enough to release it into ABNA’s clutches, is emotionally equivalent to raising all your bunnies in one basket and then putting them up for adoption. I kid you not. I am sure they sensed that their babies (the ones I’d allowed them to help nurture all through November) were suddenly being thrown to the lions. That’s why they popped up last week.

Nevertheless, brushing them off lightly with a ‘you’ll get your chance for another WIP again soon’, I succeeded in submitting within the (still open) window and want to share a few thoughts today, on Alex’s bloghop. Somehow, the little guys made me say that. All because I’m submitting to ABNA.

ABNA is not for the faint-hearted. It stretches the writer’s creative schedule to the limits while also tempting her/him with long-term incentive. Amazon must know the vulnerability of the writer –always to have a dream ahead in order to reach her/his goal– how else do we survive the rebuffs of the query circuit? And the prizes are indeed one-of-a-kind.

Small print below: thanks to my intrepid friend and ABNA cohort (she’s done so much better than me in past ABNAs), Hart Johnson.

She says –and she knows– “If you’ve written a sure best seller, don’t enter. i.e. James Patterson should not apply.** The contest would tie up your work for six months, during which time you can’t apply to other publishers.”

Her other caveat:

One-trick ponies with intentions to sell this and only this work NOW. The contest puts you on hold with this work.

“If this is your ONLY work and you want to market it to publishers, you will not be able to do that for six months. That seems a very long time if you only have one book. You can, during this time, seek an agent. You can also write other books, shop other books, polish other books– you can polish THIS book– the only time that isn’t helpful is if they loved the earlier version so much they won’t take your changes.”
Hart Johnson

During the period your work is active in the contest, you give up:

The right to negotiate IF YOU WIN. The contract is the contract is the contract. (Hart already HAS a Penguin contract, and she doesn’t believe they gain anything by not giving a FAIR contract to a winner).

Also, if you win, you take that with you through your whole career.

What sponsors Amazon and Penguin and PublishersWeekly are on the lookout for are new writers. If that’s you, and if you are still in two minds about submitting your latest novel — 50,000 words minimum — I would encourage you to give it a try. What do you have to lose?

The contest started January 23rd, 2012, with a submitting ‘window’ open until February 5th; or until 5,000 entries have been received.

Briefly, the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest timeline is:

From now till Friday midnight, February 5th
open for entry and submissions
February 5th – 23rd
qualifying period in which Amazon editors evaluate the submission Pitch,
February 24th – March 20th
Second round- Amazon editors and Amazon Vine Reviewers evaluate Excerpts from the submission,
March 21st – April 24th
Quarter-Final period Excerpts are posted online for public feedback (through ratings and reviews) and PublishersWeekly reviews the full MS,
April 25th – May 22nd
Semi-Final period where Penguin editors review the full Manuscript to select the Finalists, announced May 22nd. There is a (Final) final period when Amazon customers may vote to determine the Winners.

Seems worth a try, doesn’t it? Besides, there are all of Alex’s fearless bloghoppers here to cheer you along.

Once again, I am grateful to Alex for his supportive leadership in perpetuating this First Wednesday IWSG bloghop. Among its network of versatile scribes, we get to pick up and throw in a few pointers along the way. Following Alex’s lead, in this fiercely competitive world called Publishing, (deeply immersed or on the writerly periphery), it is wonderful to feel there is a support network out there to share our joys and sorrows; and to know they are the first ones to give praise, chivy us along, or render a timely piece of advice. I’ve met some new friends in this bloghop.

It’s catching.

'Coco Bay: The Awakening', 2nd in Green Turtle Cay trilogy, deepsea, deepspace, deeptime

Even the naughty bunnies hope they triggered some good.

In BunnySpeak, they want to wish all ABNA entrants, veteran or newbie, the best of luck both with ongoing works (WIPs), and especially if they enter the ABNA enclosure (BunnySpeak). They also offer to dig a BIG HOLE in the compound’s predator-proof fence, if you need to escape at dawn… … oh those bad bunnies.

*Marian’s Bunny-inspired Baby is ‘Coco Bay: The Awakening’, a deep-sea, deep-space deep-time fantasy and the second in her Green Turtle Cay trilogy. It is set in the azure waters off Abaco in the Bahamas, on the southern edge of the Bermuda Triangle.

**Alex J Cavanaugh will also not be entering because, hold your breath, 🙂 his second novel CassaFire is being released by Dancing Lemur Press on February 28th. We wish him great good fortune.

©February 2012 Marian Youngblood
thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh’s Bloghop Wednesday and the
INSECURE WRITERS’ SUPPORT GROUP

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February 1, 2012 Posted by | authors, blogging, culture, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Going it Alone: the Self-Publish Author

First printrun in 1450 using wooden blocks and metal lettering: Gutenberg's Bible

When I decided to go the self-publish route for my historical ghost novel, ‘Phantom’s Child’, I really thought I was venturing alone into an uncharted wilderness. A few months down the line, I now realize I was mistaken. Where writers and authors in the past had to navigate the choppy waters of the publishing world on their own, often (if they were compulsive enough) without the support of family and friends, now the world of publishing has had to open its doors to contemplate other ways, wider avenues of communicating with its public. The internet has moved the goalposts.

With this more immediate form of communication come angels-in-disguise: I mean writerly sites in general (AmWriting, SheWrites, Facebook, MySpace, OmTimes, Google-plus) and the brilliance of sci-fi master Alex J. Cavanaugh in particular.

Alex Cavanaugh’s monthly sharing platform
Alex is the proud author of space adventure CassaStar, published by Dancing Lemur Press, with its sequel, CassaFire being launched early next year. But his heart goes out to those of us who haven’t yet made it in the Big (publishing) World, or who have struggled long and hard to jump through its hoops.

So he has initiated a ‘bloghop’ combined with an Insecure Writers’ Support Group, just so the rest of us can benefit from shared information, dos and don’ts of fellow authors who have been there, done that, and most altruistic, a network of help and moral support for those (recurring) moments when we feel like throwing in the towel.

His Insecure Writers Group page gives a full list of 121 authors already participating. I am just thrilled that I find myself no longer alone — that others have trodden this road before me and we are all together treading it right now.

So, Alex wants us to reveal — on the first Wednesday of the month — what troubles us most in these tricky times where publish-or-die is the option chosen by only the most crazy among us.

I admit to such crazies.

Releasing one’s inner fears
Having written for years (and continuing to follow that route dictated by my taskmistress, the Muse), I no longer have a choice in the matter. My fear is that, if my success as an author depends on my being agent, marketing director and girl-in-the-street selling my books, I shall fail miserably. There, I’ve said it. I know writers (according to Myers-Briggs) are perennially better bloggers than self-promoters, but I believe I must be the worst. I just can’t get the words together to say: ‘look at me; look what I’ve done’.

So is there hope?

With Alex’s new support group, I believe there may be, and I welcome his wonderful new arena.

While I am several years down the road taken by all serious authors: trawling the world of submissions, query letters and pitches to agents, editors, and publishers; entering publishing contests; I have only a little to show for the hard slog. One fantasy novel of mine has currently been accepted for publication by a Michigan publisher; I wrote a small history years ago which has had some success, but my current projects (my WIPs) are all still out to tender. From that perspective, and given that my educational background was historical mixed with linguistics, I braved the self-publish world.

Only to discover that my worst nightmare — my lack of marketing skills — would return to haunt me.

Paying it Forward
Alex wants us to share our deepest doubts. Because I had already worked on this blog to share my experience in the self-publishing arena — something which many contemplate but perhaps need a little extra shove to make them try — I’ve chosen to tack on my blog below, because it seems to fit the bill his group describes:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Alex J Cavanaugh

Please check out his page for a complete list of all the other authors participating. If you fancy, you can join in, too. It is an awesome throng.

Self-publishing: the Go-it-Alone route
Much has been said already about traditional publishing by bloggers more prolific and more regular than I. But there would seem to be a nouvelle vague in do-it-yourself. Dry-walling and combustion-engine-tinkering are so passé. The future is staring us in the face. They say anyone can do it.

It’s called Self-Publishing.

But it takes stamina. It takes drive–like nothing you’ve ever summoned before. And it takes time and patience.

This is one author’s small attempt to defuse and demystify the ‘rules’ of the game and to shed a little light on a brand new wave which is sweeping the Nation. Nay, I say it louder: It is sweeping the English-speaking world.

And while some say the e-book will eventually replace the old faithful hardbound or paperback novel, I believe the Jury is still out on that one.

There is something compelling about holding a favorite book, lovingly turning crisp pages to check out a piece of dialogue you may have missed, or — dread the thought — sneaking a peek at the end, that will always have more ‘reality’ than digging in your beach-bag for the Nook where you uploaded Amanda Hocking’s latest effort.

However, there is room for both. That’s the beauty of the new technology.

Merely ten-twenty years ago the publishing world on five continents went through the motions — much like newspapers and magazines before them — of typesetting, formatting, reformatting, checking ink supply and — usually with a sigh of relief — cheering when the first printrun came out all right. I used to work in that ancient industry. It had hardly changed since Johannes Gutenberg felt that first thrill of seeing his Bible come off the press in 1450.

I must still have a little Gutenberg in me, because I delight in choosing a new book from the shelf, smelling the quality of pages and ink (it’s still there), comparing page layout and print styles. It’s an artform. Academic monographs differ from fiction. Non-fiction has a different approach from poetry anthologies — but it’s the stuff of dreams: the miracle of writing and the printed word.

You don’t have to take my word for it. We have a classic rôle model to look to.

Leonardo's Notebooks --Codex Leicester, named for its patron-- one of the world's most sought-after books

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) kept notebooks of his inventions, his scientific theories and his sketches and in 1717 one of these — a 72-page Notebook — was acquired by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester. When the Leicester estate was wound up in 1980, the Notebook moved on to a collector. That collector sold da Vinci’s Notebook to Bill Gates for a fabulous sum in 1994. He renamed it the Codex Leicester, after its original rescuer. It is refreshing to know that the founder of that electronic marvel, MSWord –like it or loathe it– takes delight in a unique manuscript dating from the 15th Century.

And, bottom line, as all writers know, there is something magical about seeing oneself in print.

Print-on-demand books
So, first the bones.

Old way: galley proofs checked before the print run

The Old Way
You were chosen by a Publisher in the Real World who screened you (with or without the help of an Agent) who has asked you to send in your completed MS to them. Your (approved) MS is run by the in-house Editor, the art department prepares artwork for your cover and the whole thing is sent to be printed at a Printing House of the Publisher’s choice and a print-run agreed upon by you both in a Contract is given the go-ahead. You may or may not receive galley proofs. (In the old days, galleys were always sent out before the final agreed version was run). The Publisher then markets your work at their expense to libraries, bookstores and chains, devising and orchestrating all publicity for your book. You are given a (negotiated) share of the sales of your book. You may or may not be offered a number of ‘author’s copies’ or ARCs (advanced review copies). You get to see your book on the shelves in mainstream bookstores. This will probably include a listing on Amazon.

The New Way
You do all of the above –yourself.

Let’s say you have completed your novel of 50,000-70,000 words, edited out all the passive voice, extra adverbs, made sure all the sentences end in a period, and generally done great re-writes, versions 1 and 2. You’ve had an editor friend read it and you’ve got a great cover design you want to use and you’ve gotten tired of the agent-reject circuit anyway, and still think you’ve got it in you to go it alone — because you love your main character and the storyline just ‘fell into place’.

That sounds about the right mood to approach one’s first self-publish (ad)venture.

Front cover, back cover all uploadable along with internal text: 'Phantom's Child' via CreateSpace POD

I decided first to try the CreateSpace route. The POD arm (‘print-on-demand’) of Amazon.com. To be honest, I was new to POD and had not yet heard of Smashwords.

I have subsequently done my homework on the Smashwords method. There are several positive points to both systems, depending on what you want for your final product; what computer you prefer and comp.language you are happy working in; also, how fluent you are in internetspeak.

It goes without saying, that afterwards you have to be a pretty good salesman of your own work.

Basically — while there are other systems out there, like Lulu — what appealed to me was that I thought I could get my head around the system.

Like Alex’s initiative, it was an experience in joining a community.

Plus Points
They offered help at every juncture along the way. You keep ahead of the learning curve and you’re mostly all right. The mechanism includes an author page where you upload your document in their specific (pdf) format. Your chosen cover design is uploaded separately. They approve these and you’re ‘live’ within three days.

Minus Points
CreateSpace is tailormade to fit into the Amazon.com system (but NOT into the Amazon.co.uk system except if you choose to publish in e-book format), so best to figure in shipping costs beforehand — if you live abroad — because your final books will only be shipped from the USA. International shipping, while offered in three forms (regular, superfast, and economy — superslow) adds quite a bit to shelf price.

You write your novel in a text document– .rtf or .pdf for CreateSpace; MSWord .doc for Smashwords.

Both systems have marketing support — nominally a List of recommended publications which they distribute to bookstores, libraries and wholesalers as part of their commitment to you. They do no active promotion on your behalf. That’s for you to do.

CreateSpace issue you with an ISBN in return for a share of any profit you make from sales of the book. The ISBN belongs to them. But this should not be a problem if you do not plan to sell your book commercially!! Beware of any company that asks for a set-up fee (some companies can charge hundreds of dollars), as you are unlikely ever to recover this money through book sales.

Lulu is upfront about what they do but they will charge $99, if you want your own ISBN.

If you can’t design your own cover, cover design assistance and marketing are offered for a fee. If you want to offer your book additionally in Kindle format, CreateSpace will charge you $69 to do this for you, but if you do it yourself on the Amazon interface, it is free. However the payment/banking/remuneration systems are held separately, so you have to enter your bank details individually for both systems. Mind boggles. It helps enormously if you already have an American bank account.

A friend used Lulu for a small project and found their interface simple, the cover designer easy to use (though not suitable for a large review on the back-cover). They were prompt and their delivery was affordable. Because Lulu has affiliates abroad you do not pay or have to wait for international shipping. However, she found paper quality not as high as CreateSpace or Smashwords.

Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh for this helping hand along the way

If you don’t chose their inhouse help, both Lulu and CreateSpace encourage you to format the book yourself. This can be done in a text file and then converted to a .pdf file. These are also suitable for converting to an eBook. Smashwords e-book format is converted for you by them, but you must submit to them in MSWord. If you are an Apple-lover, like me, this may not be as easy as it sounds.

A few words of encouragement: the process is relatively easy if you set your mind to it — not daunting or over-techhie, or I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it. For those who want to see their work in finished, tangible form, it can be a revelation.

We probably all agree that the ultimate dream for a writer is to be snapped up by that great Publisher-in-the-Sky who will get us on the New York Times Bestseller list.

But, hey, we all have to start somewhere.

A big thank you to Alex for making the road-less-traveled a little easier.
©2011 Marian Youngblood

September 7, 2011 Posted by | authors, culture, fiction, Muse, novel, popular, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

The Future is Crystal –reworking a WIP

Celestial motif at Honey Street, crop circle formation of June 26, 2011, photo Gordon Burns

When the Crop Circle season really gets going, as it did last week in mid-June this year, their mesmerizing patterns seem to reach out and grab hold of human imagination. And, if you’re a croppie they don’t let go until you’re thoroughly immersed in the ethos of their messages and their beautiful craftsmanship in the corn.

I am hooked every year: I go through the unbeliever stage in early April, when it’s a question of ‘will they–won’t they appear?’ and then when midsummer comes [this year, 2011, the main season was unimaginably late and huge doubt attended any crop appearance], I’m a convert all over again.

In winter the mind wanders to what seasonal miracles appeared and what might have been.

I wrote a whole crop circle-cum-crystal novel for a writing contest in the month of January 2010 and have yet to polish and rework, re-edit and improve it for final submission. So, it is still a work-in-progress, my current WIP. But, because we’re in mid-crop circle season right now, I am daring to share just a taste of its flavor: hope you enjoy. This is one of the middle chapters for
THE FUTURE IS CRYSTAL.

THE FUTURE IS CRYSTAL by Marian Youngblood Chapter TWENTY–ONE
Just as Mark said it would, the trail led towards the main section: the astrolabe, he called it. On the ground you couldn’t tell, but Megan had overheard Colin and Mark discussing over Mark’s laptop, the intricate way the crop circle had been laid out, complete with its new tail formation that had happened in a flash of light last night. The whole thing was beyond amazing. This time the light orbs, the crop circle creators or whatever you wanted to call them, had done something truly out of this world. And, even more miraculous, Mark had managed to capture them on film with his special Kirlian camera.
Even more miraculous, Megan had managed to get some real cool footage on her own camera. It was just a regular state-of-the-art video, but when Colin persuaded Mark to upload the results, she was thrilled to see she had actually got light orbs on screen. How cool was that.

Astrolabe crop circle from solstice, June 21st, 2009, 'phase one' at Alton Barnes

Now they followed Colin along the curved line through the ‘orbit’ he’d chanced upon first off: looked like Jupiter at the central axis, he said, but each orbit had smaller shadows leading to the largest planetary body. If they followed the Jupiter orbit all the way round they’d reach the astrolabe. From the main stem, they could see it all laid out, straight down the field into the distance — at least four football pitches — down the central axis of the tail.
 He led them carefully along the single file path, moving from the smallest circle to one slightly larger, then larger then larger as they progressed along the orbital arm.
Megan followed close behind with the others trailing a little. She paced slowly past neatly-folded wheat stalks lying exactly parallel one with the other as if a medieval monk had come and gently laid each bundle of stems in neat rows like a rush mat leading to a temple. Colin heard Megan’s breathing –- gentle and rhythmical -– measure for measure placing her footsteps where he put his. Neither of them wanted to disturb the pattern, lying so lovingly in a prearranged layout, willing them on through a series of ever larger ‘moons’ to where the orbits connected to the central solar system axis. From there, Colin was determined, from what he’d seen on Mark’s screen, that the pattern opened out and they would find a space to set down all their equipment and really get a feel for the place.

Alton Barnes Astrolabe crop circle 2009 'second phase', June 22nd

There was definitely a sensation in the air and it wasn’t only his sensing like a dowser: he could feel it: a tangible electrical charge.

‘These stems are bent at the node ever so gently, but the stem isn’t bruised or broken in any way. It’s amazing.’ Megan was right behind him.

‘I know; I was noticing that. It’s so carefully contrived.’
Colin couldn’t help himself. He was quick to launch into the scientific explanation, given any excuse. He continued to pace slowly forward, but spoke quietly over his shoulder to her.
‘You know, It’s been scientifically documented that soil samples taken from inside crop circles show changes in crystalline structure and mineral composition. Expert analysis concludes that heat of 1500ºC would be needed to create such a change.’ Megan gasped, but kept her feet on the path in front of her.

‘So the orbs we saw last night were capable of that kind of heat?’

‘Seems so.’

‘Unbelievable.’ They both continued pacing, aware that the other two were gradually catching up with them.
Mark gave a hoot, like a bird. He too must have noticed the bent nodes on the unbruised plants.

‘There’s a big one up ahead,’ Colin called out, knowing Megan was so close behind him she probably couldn’t see, but to give the others a brief guide. Even though these new generation wheat crops were agriculturally developed to grow roughly no higher than knee height, it was still pretty difficult to get any kind of vista; Colin could see a widening area, with a lot of tufted decorative clumps surrounding it like cherries on a Christmas cake. It had to be the joining of phases one and two and the start of phase three.
He decided to continue his little lecture, since Megan was probably new to the whole thing and might be interested. He’d always been quick to spot a new convert.

‘Did you know crop circles also show evidence of ultrasound? you know, the kind of frequencies that are known to hover at ancient sites like Avebury, stone circles and such like?’

‘No, I didn’t.’ She sounded interested. So he went on.

‘And like all ancient sacred sites, crop circles appear at the intersecting points of the Earth’s magnetic pathways of energy; the nodes. Therefore the size and shape of a crop circle is typically determined by the area and position of these node points at the time of their appearance.’

‘Sorry, you lost me there. I don’t quite get that. Say again.’

‘Well, this electric and magnetic energy, it’s quite common here round Avebury. The whole of Wiltshire, in fact; the Salisbury plain…’

‘Yes, I know about Stonehenge.’ She was still following devotedly, both his argument and his footsteps. He liked that.

‘Thing is, it usually happens in chalk; not so common elsewhere. There are areas where they have similar electromagnetism, parts of Oxfordshire have deep underground waterways, aquifers — and Northumbria. Northeast Scotland is pretty heavily imbued with it. But there the aquifers are in granite. It’s something they think may even have protected the ancient sites -– here especially -– from being broken up; something about it that can interact with human brainwave patterns, and because the human body is itself electromagnetic, crop circles are known to affect people’s biorhythms. Consequently, it’s not unusual for people to experience heightened states of awareness and spontaneous healings in crop circles –- a situation also common to sacred sites and holy places. That effect alone could have protected them from desecration.’

‘That’s interesting.’


Milk Hill, Alton Barnes crop circle phase three (end June, 2009), the 'tail' of the astrolabe, photo Lucy Pringle

‘So, you’ve noticed?’

‘Yes. For instance, back there, in that first little circle, I didn’t want to leave.’

‘I have to say you’re not alone in this. It’s been talked about a lot in recent years. The crowd that gathers at crop circles is usually very placid, peaceful. No rowdy demonstrations like a street crowd after a football match.’ He thought that was a pretty good analogy.

‘I wouldn’t expect that anyway. Must attract a different group, these formations.’

‘Yes.’
‘
So what were you saying about ultrasound? I thought lights were making the circles. Are you saying both sound and light?’

‘There’s no evidence to suggest…’ he stopped and looked back at her. ‘…until what your camera picked up last night. Now we’ll have to start all over.’ He laughed.

‘Well, what about the scientific evidence? You said…’

‘Yes. scientifically speaking, the plants are subjected to a short and intense burst of heat which softens the stems to bend 90º at the plant node just above the ground. They seem to re-harden into their new position without damage. They keep on growing. Research and lab tests suggest that ultrasound is capable of producing that kind of effect.’

‘But short bursts of intense LIGHT could do it, too, right?’

‘Well, with what you just provided the scientific establishment –- I mean, your great video footage -– might send them all back to the drawing board.’ He looked over his shoulder and gave her a congratulatory smile.

‘Wow. I like that. But it doesn’t explain how some of the crop lies in one direction and right next to it there it is lying at right angles; sometimes you get four different directions going in one space.’

‘True. I don’t know how they DO it. I just know that the process has been isolated to make it possible.’

‘Ah. So you don’t really know either. We’re all still guessing when it comes to the magical quality and the designs they come up with, right?’

‘Right.’ Colin thought he’d need a whole lot more time back at the drawing board to convince this new audience. He changed the subject. ‘Clearing coming up.’

‘OK.’ Megan glanced back. The other two had caught up and were right behind her. ‘Could you see anything as you came along? I’ve been a little in the shadow of the expert, here. Dogging his footsteps.’ She burst out laughing and Jane joined in.

‘Yes. He CAN get to be a little pedantic.’ Colin did not react. He’d apparently heard it all before. He stepped into the new space, stopped and laid his bags down gently on the matted ground.
The others joined him and paused to survey their new surroundings.

The vista was breathtaking. It did have a magical feel and it spread out in a swirling pattern that looked phenomenal. Like all the smaller circles, growing in size as they progressed round the curve, as well as the padded path by which they entered, the whole quadrant they stood in was matted at a level less than an inch above the ground and folded criss–cross over and back like a woven blanket. Only where the pattern reached the circle’s central point, did the direction and flow of the lay change, going the opposite way.
They were standing in an ellipse, rather than a pure circle; more the shape of a facial oval. There were four quadrants each with a separate directional lay. This gave the pattern a three – dimensional effect, foreshortening the optical distance, so the far edge of the ellipse seemed closer that it actually was. From their perspective, the complete formation must have stretched as much as thirty feet across and forty feet from side to side. They’d come in on a lateral arm of what appeared to be a graphical rendition of the sun, round which the planets with their little moons –- the spaces they’d walked through were Jupiter’s moons –- clung on one arm.
‘See how those two sides are like an ellipse stretched into points of a compass. Two points: left and straight across, forming a geometric outline. That leads to the sextant instrument, I’m sure of it. It’s acting like a compass needle for the astrolabe itself.’ The other three were silent, in awe of the formation. They let Colin speak. A third arm, to their right didn’t actually project, but led the eye all the way down the field, stretching to where they had parked the car. It had to be fully 800 feet long. 
Mark immediately dug out the laptop from his bag and dropped everything else on the ground.

‘I want to see how it compares: now that we have a kind of aerial shot, thanks to Megan and her camera last night, we can see exactly how it connects from here. The ground falls away from us to where the car is parked. Can you see?’ He pointed to nobody in particular. He was joined immediately by the two girls.
Colin started setting up his dowsing rods next to where he’d dropped his baggage on the forgiving wheat. He turned to Jane, who was starting to gesture if she should help.

‘No, you go ahead. It’s a great video. You should really see what it’s like, so you get an idea of our position here -– makes sense. Super idea, Mark.’ He left them in full chatter, and got back to hooking up his equipment.
Mark was already revving up. He had a rapt audience. He started pointing and gesticulating, fully absorbed.


Immaculate central 'lay' of the June 18th 2011 formation at Cow Drove Hill, Kings Somborne, Hampshire

‘See. We’re in the oval here, sort of the ‘face’ of the Sun and from here the full extent of all three phases are visible: not as brilliantly as Megan’s shots, but…’ He keyed up the passage in the footage where the final tail was completely formed, connecting the other two phases, but before it started standing on its tail like a 3D mirage. ‘Now, watch this.’ He went back a couple of minutes to where the orbs were actually forming the tail with its elusive coded symbols.
‘See how they do it? You’ve got the pattern with its teardrop-shaped center – that’s us here… then there’s the configuration of four connected circles on one side and five more circles of increasing diameters on arcs tethered back to the teardrop center. This is the one we came in on. That’s the bit these light guys’ buddies made last week. Phase one the astrolabe; phase two the planets in orbital arcs. The orbits, the little moons we walked through -– they’re just that bit more complex than the first. They happened overnight, too. Then five days later Megan and I get to see a third addition. And see…’ He traced with his finger on the screen the path the orbs had made. ‘See how they just etch and move, etch another line and move. It appears in seconds.’

‘Awesome.’ Both girls spoke together.
‘Kinda like Maya symbols or something from the early Mid–East –- scripts: you know, cuneiform.’

‘Wow. You’re right, Megan. Hear that, Colin? Megan says like Sumerian cuneiform or Egyptian hieratic. It is, you know.’

‘Problem is deciphering.’ Colin didn’t raise his head. He was preoccupied with his rods.

‘Has to be over eight hundred feet in length from the tip of that compass point back there to the other end of the tail, don’t you think, Colin?’

‘Yeah, one thousand feet, easily.’ He was still fixing rods together.
Megan had perceived something else. She was also pointing first to the laptop screen and then out into space over the field.

‘Each of the tail lines of code or whatever they are come up and attach to the ends of each orbit arc. Do you see that, Jane? sort of like a balance like the way you hold your crystal when you’re dowsing.’
Jane peered over her shoulder with a knowing look and then out at the field.

‘You’re right. The damn thing is telling us dowsing code. Did you get that, Colin?’ she called.

But this time Colin was up and away, totally engrossed in his own world, following his rods where they led him, outward from the middle of the ellipse toward a point where the solar system took off into the imaginary world of dreams: the tale of tails, the stuff of fantasy.

‘I think you’re right there, Megan. Better get my crystals into action.’ And Jane dug her quartz out of her pocket and held it up in front of her face.
The pale transparent beauty hung completely motionless for a moment, dangling in sympathy with the still air and glinting in the sunshine at the end of its slender thread. Then, as they watched, imperceptibly at first and then with more momentum, it began a clockwise spin.

Mark went back to studying the laptop images, but Megan couldn’t. She was completely mesmerized by the gleaming orb.
@2010-2011 Marian Youngblood ‘The Future is Crystal’

Three 2011 crop circles cluster round Honey Street: Barge Inn at upper left with orb #1CC left; centre #2 Knave of Swords, July 4th; upper right #3 cuneiform script, also July 4th, photo Olivier Morel

Interestingly, in 2011, when the season started to get busy — from summer solstice on — a series of ‘orb/orbit’ crop circle images have appeared — at Kings Somborne, Hampshire and near the Barge Inn at Honey Street, Wiltshire. The Barge Inn is famous for its ‘croppie’ clientele and, without fail, the fields in its vicinity get adorned every year at this time. Last year it was the 08/08 Honey Street fractal; this year there have already been three formations: two on July 4th and the spinning space object (photo, top, June 26th, 2011).

There has been much speculation and discussion about incoming intruders from space. Least of these was the June 27th Antarctic special, a non-starter, asteroid 2011-MD, so-called asteroid-doc, which passed earth at 1700UT with 7000 miles to spare. Others include varying reports on the threat posed by comet 2010-X1 Elenin, expected to cross Earth orbit in September. All seem to feature in the rash of orbiting bodies pictured in the 2011 crop circles.

This year’s season, having started late, may still surprise us. If you like, you can take this excerpt of my novel, The Future is Crystal, as a little taster of croppie things to come.
©2011Marian Youngblood

July 4th Honey Street Crop formation #3 points North (rt): 'Milk Hill' script, cuneiform or alien code?


postscriptum: when I posted the above ‘flash fiction’ excerpt from one of my chapters, I wasn’t expecting corroboration… but the Honey Street #3 crop circle which appeared a.m. July 4th is indeed a version of cuneiform [like 1991 Milk Hill coded script] mentioned in my text. Woo-hoo! MY

June 27, 2011 Posted by | authors, crop circles, crystalline, energy, fiction, novel, publishing, sacred sites, stone circles, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Displacement Activity during NaNo month

FEATURED WRITERS CORNER

November is NaNo writing month

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by
– Douglas Adams

My last two blogs have featured talented — and busy — authors: the GuestBlog is such a boon when you’re feeling not quite writerly yourself.

Er, well, it’s not that I haven’t been writerly, I have. Just otherwise focused.

NaNo started on November 1st and won’t stop until November 30th and we’re not quite half way through the introductions yet. NaNo is when you abandon all hope of having a life, get up each day knowing you have an obligation to fulfill, fall into bed far too late into the wee hours because you know you won’t get a good night’s sleep otherwise, and generally find it difficult to communicate with your family — unless they’re on Facebook for a couple of minutes. Did I say eat? Whatever’s within reach. So long as it’s quick.

By now all leaf color is a leaf carpet

But November is also the month of Scorpio. That black and white personality, do or die, and if you die, don’t expect anyone to come and pick up the pieces — kind of month. Winter approaches. You can feel it in every breath. Watery autumnal sunlight, and where I live up here on the 57th parallel (cf Juneau, AK), light is gone from the day by 4p.m. Leaves are no longer pretending to cling to tree branches because most of the colorful ones are now carpeting the driveway. That kind of month. A time when one should be out there making the nest ready for hibernation through the next three months of dire weather and even direr temperatures.

And yet that’s the month a small group of writer-stroke-genius displacement activists chose to nurture the NaNo Bug.

Those of our critics who aren’t writers themselves say writing is ‘displacement activity’ from Life with a capital L. As a child, were we encouraged to write or were we encouraged to get an education which would slot us into a ‘good job’?

No displacement activity

Nevertheless I am writing. It’s what a writer is supposed to do.

NaNo was founded in 1999 by a looseknit group (I like the picture that conjures up, kind of like a quilting bee) of writerly types in San Francisco, CA. They chose to set aside the month of November — all 30 days of it — to create the bones of a novel. The ‘bones’ amounts to 50,000 words. Or writing a minimum of 1667 words every day. In order to nourish, challenge and encourage each other, certain perks, ‘gifts’, achievement stickers and carrots are used.

While the pain and self-immolation this exercise invokes might seem to be some people’s idea of lunacy, the Nano idea grew.

Gradually a body of supporters, themselves plunging into writerly waters for the marathon type-in, brought Nano fame. And purpose to November for writers. The month made the real world go away. Instead of the world of lethal freeze outside, your world turns inwards, into the novel or what the novel will become. You hand yourself over to an overlighting presence. You become just the fingers on the keyboard. The body on the bed.

NaNo’s acronym grew from the idea that November is now National Novel Writing Month and a website encourages the cotidien and foolhardy habit, suggesting you upload* a daily wordcount, so as to see your own (growing) stats and feel you are accomplishing something. There are free stickers and website widgets to egg you on, should you feel in need of a boost. And at the end of it, when you’ve passed the 50,000 word mark (some achieve 70,000-100,000. Hey, let’s not knock it), they proclaim you a Winner and you get a purple ‘winner’s’ accolade; plus the offer of a proof hardcopy of your book in print from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

But what happens to this human being who has committed her/himself to such a daily chore (sometimes a pleasure, sometimes a chore)? Does the Muse** visit every day and hold her/his hand through the ordeal?

Even if you don’t feel the Muse holding your hand every day, there are a couple of NaNo folks who do. They’ve taken on the volunteer job of keeping you at it. Been there, done that. They too, most of them, are sitting at their laptops in Peoria Illinois and Ashland Oregon and Walnut Creek California and (Rome, Madrid, London and Skye) pitching in again this November to finish writing their very own ‘new’ idea, plot, adventure, MS, WIP, exercise in writer’s-block-removal.

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him
– Ray Bradbury

At the end of the 30 days, if you drag yourself kicking and screaming to the keyboard every day, and create a piece of work, long or short — ignoring edits, spelling errors, lack of thought-flow; just get it out there — there’s one thing you’ll have achieved. A 50,000-word story. It may feel awful, scratchy, patchy, unformed or uninformed, and half the characters may have glaring holes in their back-stories, but it’s the bones of your next novel, your very own WIP — the Work in Progress that will make you feel a teensy bit achieving.

It may take another year before it becomes fit to print, but that’s not the point. During the process, and especially in the middle doldrums — Week Two Blues — it’s the vision of a completed task that draws you on when you tell yourself the last thing you want to do today is sit down and write a chapter about some silly characters that won’t talk to each other.

That’s part of the clever NaNo trick. They must have learned it from Jack Kerouac. He pasted sheets of copier paper top-and-tail together and fed the roll into a typewriter carriage, stocked up with coffee and ‘uppers’ and wrote ‘On the Road‘ in three weeks.

I’m not suggesting the ‘uppers’. Besides, NaNo ‘writing buddies’ are quite good at keeping you going if you flag. Or Facebook. Remember what they say: if your Subconscious has been alerted and informed by your Will that it has to regurgitate something every day in November, believe me, the Subconscious does.

And it sends in the Muse.

You may not like Her. You may not even be able to identify with Her, but at the end of 30 days, you will have Her staring you in the face, handing you a story. And when you really have something finished — I didn’t say polished: that comes after — you really feel you have to do something with it! Because it’s your WIP and it’s all yours.

They say writers are the least likely people to market their own wares. Isaac Asimov said:

Rejection slips, query and form letters, and synopses, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil, but there is no way around them.

2010 NaNo in progress

Which brings me back to Displacement Activity. What NaNo does for writers is just such a way around the roadblock that Asimov thought inevitable. It physically takes over space and time and allows the writerly urge to come through. Displacement activity is put aside to make way for words. That means life functions, regardless/oblivious of eating, drinking, sleeping, making love, shopping, paying bills or stoking fires — or any other life chore, for that matter — take a back seat, offering space for the writer and Muse to get to know one another all over again. And ideally during the process, all distractions, such as rejection slips, plotlines, query letter seminars, agent/ editor suggestions or even how the story’s going to end (along with cell phones) fall into the file drawer below the supply of tea/coffee, twinkies/cookies, cheese bits, and granola.

The rest of the world can criticize you for making writing your Displacement Activity from Life. But by the time you’re past Week Two, the halfway hurdle, and you find you’ve got a story going, your characters are coming alive, even if you’re not quite on the home stretch, you (hopefully) don’t believe your activity is displacement at all. You’ve found a new friend.

So why am I here writing this blog? Must be Nano Displacement Activity. Sorry, dear readers and fellow writers, I got to get back. My NaNo Muse is calling.

* An exciting widget until year 2010 was the wordcount widget. You copy & paste your daily output as input to the NaNo page and it counted the result for you and pasted the glorious total as part of your personal and site-wide stats. In 2010 this feature will only become available to site visitors after November 25th when the widget will be available to participants to ‘verify’ their (completed) output/MS/novel.
**Some days She does; some days She doesn’t.

Ed. As evidence of Marian’s supreme NaNo Displacement Activity, she wrote the following little Drabble for entry in the December Drabble contest over at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash.

NOLA HOLA

She’d worked hard – her beads sparkled in December sunshine. Farmers market always busy on weekends, the tomato and squash guy in the next stall said, selling his pumpkins for pennies. Mark ’em down low was his recipe for getting home early.

Freezing, only her second time, she gotta stay to cover costs. Don’t come back without a Franklin, or I break your arm, he’d said.

That weirdo, watching from a doorway since lunchtime, came over, handed her a 1000 dollar bill.
‘Cleveland cover it?’ he asked, picking up the jewel case.
Passport outta Dodge, she thought.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

©2010 Marian Youngblood
photo ‘Colourful beads’ by Natasha Ramarathnam
A Drabble is a story — a bullet, an idea, a character outline, a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long: no more, no less.
December Drabble Theme at Burrowers, Books and Balderdash

November 13, 2010 Posted by | astrology, authors, culture, novel, seasonal, winter, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

NaNo makes one bold: my WIP

The setting was superb. Nothing would spoil the wedding breakfast.

NaNo: November being writing month, all stops are out, all bets are off. I’m writing again. I can say that with a feeling of relief, a feeling of awe that the Muse is still sitting somewhere in my corner and that some days She is actually enjoying coming and whispering in my ear.

One of the rules of NaNo is that one writes and DOES NOT EDIT until the required minimum wordcount of 50,000 words (or end of novel, if that adds up to more) is reached. But for your sake, dear Reader, I have edited a little. Corrected spelling and typos. Otherwise it is open to revision and redoing in December

This, therefore, for good or for ill, is an excerpt from my work-in-progress: or NaNo WIP.
I hope you enjoy. It’s a miracle to witness the continuing flow, I can tell you.

All had been made ready for the guests. The bride waited at the head of the stairs

‘Be Still in the Candlelight’

Horses and carriages stood at the gates, a long line of opulence and conspicuous wealth, each waiting its turn to process down the shady lime avenue which heralded the last mile of approach to the house.

Not a family in Aberdeenshire had been ignored. Invitations sent in January by messenger, hand delivered to Clubs and castles throughout the shire ensured that the assembled gathering would be the greatest affair in the social calendar for a generation. John Ramsay Irvine was going to make sure his daughter’s marriage was witnessed by them all. Grooms and stablehands were lined up at the curved façade to help ladies down awkward steps as consorts and cousins and brothers assisted with the finery, petticoats and layers of taffeta and veils billowing in the slight breeze.

The day was glorious: mid June brilliance with a scent of abundance in the air.

A phalanx of footmen ushered ladies into the house to powder noses, while gentlemen were escorted to the gigantic marquée set on the lawn, hands charged with a glass of champagne immediately they stepped under the awning. Butlers and footmen manfully shouldered silver trays groaning under the weight of crystal brimming with bubbles. Chatter was loud but festive. The ladies would join them in a moment. For now the tent was dominated by menfolk catching up with colleagues, discussing the week’s affairs, arrangements for the shooting season in late summer, and whose house-party already had its quota of family and summertime guests.

When the first of the ladies emerged from downstairs boudoirs and stepped into the light of the terrace, a hush descended on the crowd. Every one of them, matron, maid, young miss was adorned in finery, as if they individually were to be the bride: tiaras appeared glinting in the sun: getting a summer airing from safes and velvet boxes they’d nestled in since Christmas or for parties at Hogmanay. Pearls and rubies shone and sapphire necklaces extracted from bank vaults for this special occasion reflected blue light from the lake.

Brother Hugh stood alone, apart from the jostling crowd, waiting for a signal from his mother’s window that Catherine would soon be ready to take his arm; for him to proceed with her to the little chapel across the lawn to the glade of trees down by the lake. But carriages were still appearing, stopping at the great entrance to unload more adorned maidens with doting brothers or fiancés, and trundling slowly off to the Home Farm where grooms and drivers would wait to be summoned again after it was all over. A long procession still stretched down the lime avenue as far as Hugh could see. There was no rush yet to summon Catherine and her maids.

In the upstairs chamber with its four-poster usually reserved for her mother, Catherine stood radiant. She was to wear Great-grandfather’s South Seas pearls and the ruby necklace brought with him from Russia when he was a successful merchant plying Baltic waters to Danzig. It was now family tradition that these, the first glittering evidence of John Ramsay’s fortune, should be worn by every bride since 1758, the year that the adventurer purchased the Straloch estate from the famous cartographer, Robert Gordon of Straloch. It had been Ramsay’s fortune which built the grand mansion in its grounds.

Today Catherine felt like a swan gazing in her mother’s long dress-mirror at the sparkling jewels round her white neck. There was something about these new continental gowns, the low ’empire’ line made fashionable by the ladies of Napoleon’s court . The British may have defeated the dictator, but his ladies’ fashion sense lingered on. The high bosom and low neckline made her feel dizzy in the shafts of sunlight glancing through the gauze curtains. It danced and shifted, casting a pool of light at her feet. She allowed herself to peer over her sudden perky breasts at the pompom slippers of maroon silk which peeped out below the vanilla silk hem of her gown. Mother was right. This new line may be a little too daring for such a backwater as Aberdeenshire, but it was just the most beautiful creation she had ever seen and she was standing in it, allowing its long pointed sleeves to hug her delicate wrists, the tight waistband to nip her small frame even more closely than she ever would have dared at a normal party.

‘Everything is allowed for a wedding, my dear. Even daring narrow waists and low necklines.’ If her mother’s voice had a hint of disapproval, it was covered by laughter. Tones tinkled in pride at the sight of her daughter’s surprise.

“We may be of merchant stock, but Grandfather knew a jewel or two. And I must say they do add a je ne sais quoi to your already fabulous beauty.’ Her mother laughed again. ‘I may not be the one to say, but it does run in the family.’

She reached out her own silk-gloved hand to caress the folds at the rear of her daughter’s gown, smoothing an imaginary crease.

Bridesmaids in the ante room behind the pillar giggled and, seeing Catherine’s mother smile and beckon, fell into the room in a huddle of lace and satin and pink pumps.

‘Careful, girls. We don’t want any accidents.’

All four glanced at each other and then at their hostess and giggled again.

‘I wish it were all over. No, of course I don’t but Hugh said he’d start the procession at least by two. It must be close to three.’ Catherine’s small face crinkled in a fleeting frown, scanning her mother’s profile. One of the house maids popped her head round the door.

‘Carriages still coming, m’lady,’ she said, bobbing a hasty curtsey. ‘Master Hugh says another glass of champagne should settle the gentlemen. He wants to know if you would like some up here.’

‘Most certainly not. Thank you, Rose. Tell the Master we shall wait for his signal.’ The maid’s head disappeared again.

‘I can see the end of the carriages.’ A tiny gloved hand holding its regulation posy of roses dropped the long curtain at the window and one of the Burnett girls burst into a fit of giggles. Another grabbed the curtain and then she too dropped it with a guilty look. She turned to the other bridesmaids and whispered
‘It’ll be the bridegroom in the very last carriage.’

‘I heard that.’

Catherine was nervous as a kitten. The last thing she wanted to know was news that that her darling, handsome husband-to-be was the last to arrive. She swept the thought aside. Henry was like her brother Hugh: so strong and brave. Such a pity Father was no longer well enough to sit up, far less be wheeled to the ceremony. But until she became Henry’s, Hugh would be her rock. He would more than make up for her father’s infirmity.

Hugh had turned out like his grandfather: he’d continued the work begun by Great-grandfather in the 244 acre estate after he built the palladian mansion, just as father and grandfather had done. Nowadays there was talk in Society of how rash a move it had been, in the time of King George III, to pull down a 13th century building and put up a Georgian palace. But Great-grandfather was an innovator. He knew all the tricks and turns used by wealthy European royalty in his day and his palace was built to the scale and proportions of the great Italian architect, Palladio, whose style thereafter became the fashion.

Straloch had been revolutionary for its time. Now in the early 19th century, It was considered ‘all the rage.’ For a wedding ceremony and breakfast attended by all the County’s best families, its size and style were totally inkeeping. It had precisely the required number of public rooms, a grand ballroom, drawing room, morning room and a dining salon that none could rival. It had outlived its ‘foreignness’ and become a style which other families copied. Burnetts and Forbeses and Irvines all had since pulled down ancient towers and put up a palladian edifice in its place: at Colpy and Keig and Pittodrie, palaces were erected where cramped medieval towers had been. The Ramsay fashion had become the norm. And in Aberdeenshire, a county renowned for its conservatism, that was saying something.

Hugh was more like father in the way he cared for and tended the trees of the avenue, the stately park specimens getting most of his love and attention. And he had recently started a programme of planting the new fashion in trees: beech.

If you listened to Hugh on the endless variety of beeches one could plant… he could bore anyone to tears. It was enough to make her yawn just to think of it. Some day, of course all this would be Hugh’s. Catherine was just fortunate to be able to have such a beautiful backdrop for her Big Day. And as for father’s being an invalid and not really able to know what was going on, was something one just had to be philosophical about. He seemed more himself when she’d spoken to him this morning, wanting to share with him the excitement to come, the huge numbers who would attend. He looked at her through watery eyes, propped himself up on one elbow from the cushions on his daybed and whispered:

‘Be still in the candlelight, Darling.’

She had not the faintest idea what he meant, but she nodded her head and kissed him on the forehead.

Suddenly Annie Farquharson jumped up and down at the window, her pink slippers doing ballet turns.

‘It’s Hugh. He’s signalling to be ready. He’s pulling out his fob watch and pointing. I think he means it’s time.’

‘All right, all right, girls. No need to lose our heads. Now, we all remember the order. When Hugh comes to the door, you four go first. Ahead of him. Follow Catherine’s cousin Jamie to the head of the stairs and wait. Do you hear me? Wait until I get there.’

There came a chorus of ‘yes’.

‘He’s coming. He’s coming,’ Annie bobbed up and down more frantic than ever.

‘All right, Annie. Now into your special order, please girls. We do this as we practiced it. All right?’

Catherine felt remarkably calm. If Hugh was ready, it meant her dear beautiful wonderful sweet loving kind fiancé Henry was already down in the woodland glade by the lake; at this very moment entering the little chapel and waiting for her. The thought made her faint with pleasure. Annie’s sister June had the presence-of-mind to prop her up. She tut-tutted her support.

There was a knock at the door and Hugh was ushered in by a dressing maid. He whispered something in Mother’s ear and looked over at his sister:

‘Ready my sweet princess? I’ve never seen you more glorious than today. Really. And I’m not being brotherly. I really mean it. You could not look more perfect. I think you are right about these new styles. It’s going to be the wedding of the century.

That’s pretty bold, she thought. This is only 1822. Surely newer fashions will one day make all this seem out of date and from a different world. Again, she brushed the unruly thought aside like a wisp of stray hair in her eye, took a step towards him and grasped his outstretched hand.

‘Thank you my darling Hugh. I would not be able to do this without you.’
He smiled and led her to the door.

Each waited her turn to descend the Great Staircase

As instructed, the bridesmaids already stood in a clump on the landing next to Jamie, flouncing their skirts, waiting for the signal to descend the great staircase. Mother caught up with them, and took her place ahead on the top step.

On cue, the piper at the front door thrummed up his bagpipes and began a low drone. Catherine could see outside sunlit faces turn from the awning towards the front door.

It was beginning.

She held Hugh’s arm in a tight grasp.

‘You’ll be wonderful,’ he whispered.

She smiled up at him, wishing she could say something in return, but her eyes filled with tears and she swallowed instead.

Six pages rushed past carrying golden candelabra from the drawing room to stand in two rows down the great staircase. As one of them came abreast of her and Hugh, he tripped and looked at her wildly as if to apologize for his clumsy nervousness. His companion bent over to help him fix one of the candles which was beginning to work itself loose from its holder, its flame still alight, but shaking. As one page righted himself, the other’s grasp on his own candlestick slipped.

Catherine and Hugh could only stand and watch. In slow motion, the triple glow of golden light wrapped in cherubs and foiled bacchanalian wreaths, began a downward curve towards the staircase. Hugh grabbed his sister tightly, starting to swing her torso out of the way of the falling light. For a moment all Catherine saw was light: a small flame, so tiny it could do no harm, its glow wanting so much to add to the perfection of her day. Its fall was broken by the solid mahogany ball-and-claw knob of the bannister at the head of the stairs. Instead of cascading flame-first down the stairwell into the abyss below stairs, the dislodged candle bounced back and – oh so excruciatingly slowly – turned its menacing beam on Catherine.

Bridesmaids leapt to left and right, each trying to avoid what must happen: the staircase was in disarray. Other candles started to shake and falter.

‘Hold your lights, there’. It was Hugh’s voice, so close to her ear, but it sounded a million miles away.

Her eyes were glued to the falling candle. Why was it taking so long? It should have landed by now. By now she should be able to jump sideways and out of harm’s way. But Hugh’s arm held her tight. She was immobilized. All she could do was watch, frozen in time as the dislodged candle made a soft thump – such a simple sound – and hit the top of the staircase. Candle wax spilled in all directions, some of it sparking with a flame. One tiny spark of wax fell on the hem of her gown and she stared – her eyes wide now, her mouth open in a silent scream of terror – as flames engulfed her vanilla silk underskirts.

One of the butlers held a tray. He stood crouching back by the open door of the room they had left a moment ago. Hugh let go her arm, made a couple of strides across the landing and grabbed two champagne glasses, throwing the contents at her. He missed and the liquid splashed her arm.

‘Bring me a carafe,’ he ordered, his voice sounding more like a general in Napoleon’s army than her own gentle brother.

He grabbed another two glasses and threw. This time they hit their mark, but in the few seconds’ delay, the fire had caught hold. It was burning her silk stockings. She felt heat sear her legs. It seemed to penetrate right through to the bone. Her tears couldn’t help her. Her brother’s champagne rescue was doing a little but not enough. The candle, so small and innocent a flame, was doing its worst.

Fire raged up the front of her skirt, smoke engulfing her face, her neck, the pearl and ruby necklace. A page stumbled towards Hugh carrying a bedroom ewer, its enormous weight of water slowing him down. Hugh grabbed the jug and poured its contents down her uncomplaining front. His left hand held her steady, in case she fell from the sudden mass of water. Nobody spoke. The other pages stood motionless, still in position lining the staircase. Of four bridesmaids, two were crying and two were holding gloved hands in anguish over their open mouths. Mother had stopped rigid in her tracks halfway down the staircase. She and the pages created a flimsy barrier between Catherine and the jostling crowd of onlookers beginning to push into the main entrance hall.

All could see now: she was the centre of attention: this tragic apparition, her faultless coiffure still crowning a face ravaged by tears, sleeves and gloved hands soaking wet but intact.

Rubies glittered as if they knew red was not only a colour but a flame.

And below the waist – nothing – it was all gone. She was naked except for two charred shivering legs, a vestige of maroon slippers looking like something from the Black Death. She collapsed to the floor just as Annie rushed to cover her nakedness with her vanilla stole. The last thing she heard was her mother’s voice:

‘Give her some air. Let her breathe.’

But it was father’s words which she heard in her mind:

‘Be still in the candlelight, Darling. Be still.’

November 19, 2009 Posted by | authors, crystalline, culture, Muse, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

November is Writing Month

National November Writing Month

NaNoWriMo: National November Writing Month is a worldwide phenomenon

It’s NaNoWriMo. Loads of people are doing it. It just takes a little time, discipline (yes, I know) and a desire to create a novel – of medium length, 50,000 words – in 30 days. During National November Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000 word) novel by midnight local time on November 30, 2009.

It’s not the first time writers have pulled all the stops out and thrown their lot in with the Muse, but I believe the organization behind the idea is creating an ‘umbrella of achievement’ which is hard to resist.

Besides, won’t it be nice to read your own hard-typed flow when the 30 days are up and you can slip into ‘edit’ mode?

That’s what NaNo suggests: don’t stop to edit as you go along. Take the keyboard into the bath or into bed if you have to, but just keep punching the keys until something like one-and-a-half-thousand words are on the page. Then you can stop for that day. And add some more tomorrow.

Some people knew about this ahead of time, but even if you were one of the 21 people in San Francisco who took part in the first NaNoWriMo ten years ago in November 1999, it is no help really, because everyone starts afresh at the beginning of the month – no WIPs (works-in-progress) allowed.

This is how NaNo puts it:
‘On November 1, begin writing your novel. Your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. You write on your own computer, using whatever software you prefer.

‘This is not as scary as it sounds.

‘Starting November 1, you can update your word count in that box at the top of the site, and post excerpts of your work for others to read. Watch your word-count accumulate and story take shape. Feel a little giddy.

‘ Write with other NaNoWriMo participants in your area. Write by yourself. Write. Write. Write.

‘If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We’ll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.

‘ Win or lose, you rock for even trying.’

Well, it’s a little more than that:

November has 30 days: so 1650 words x 30 = 49,500 words, with a little bonus of an extra 500 if you are in your stride.

While some of us are already a week into the project, there is no reason on earth why you can’t sign up right now and join us. One of the best reasons is, even if right now you don’t think you’ve got a novel in you, you have. And with half the agents and editors and publishers on the East and West Coasts watching the site, there is a little more of a carrot dangling before our glazed authors’ eyes than the usual solitary typewriter-bashing which goes on at all hours of the day and night anyway.

We’re technically currently at day number 7 (Europe just moved into day 8, but we’re talking local time here). Worldwide writing is split into regions: like United States : Illinois : Chicago or Europe : Scotland : Elsewhere or Europe : Elswhere (mind boggles). You can choose which region you wish to be affiliated with and you can pick two or more regions if you like: so you can be Europe : Elsewhere as well as Europe : Finland, for example.

By the end of the first week of writing worldwide, some of the wordcounts are already looking quite impressive:

United States :: Washington :: Seattle is in the lead with a total of nearly seven million words written (6,952,796 to be exact).
Canada :: Newfoundland is in at 221st place with a wordcount of 473,031; Europe :: Northern Ireland has 438,876 and counting.

At first I thought I didn’t have another novel in me – I’ve been struggling a little lately just to get the right combination of synopsis, query letter and presentation on my completed novel ‘Shasta’ in front of the ‘right’ agent, editor, publisher. But by midnight on November 1st, I decided: what the hell. There is something about the concept of allowing words to flow despite oneself, without the inner editor getting too much of a controlling finger out to wave in one’s face, that makes the NaNoWriMo appealing.

We have a great author and go-with-the-flow guru to emulate.

Jack Kerouac decided in the late ‘fifties to write what turned out to be his masterpiece ‘On the Road’. He had an idea that if he psyched himself up to writing all at one go, he’d be able to put on paper (days of steam-driven typewriters, remember) all the lovely sidetrack thoughts that go along with a main thought: the flow that his work shows so magnificently.

Kerouac and the Muse: he wrote 'On the Road' in three weeks.

He had a manual typewriter – not even electric. Computers were things they had in SciFi novels. Or in the basement in Langley, Virginia. He sat down in his pad outside Big Sur, CA and for three days scotch-taped together pages and pages of 8 x 11 paper (that’s old style, non-decimal, for those that may not understand) until he had a roll of paper on the floor that approximated a very large footrest or paper cushion.

In those days ‘uppers’ were available over the counter in drug stores. He laid in a supply of those, plus several pre-ground bags of coffee, a percolator, milk and sugar and some pretty basic food – I heard it was mostly bread and butter with maybe some salami or jam or jelly to spice it up a little. And he started.

In three weeks he’d written ‘On the Road’ and we all know how that worked out.

So now you see why it might be worth your while dipping your toe into this NaNoWriMo thing? The world is poised, fingers on typewriter and computer keys from Vladivostok to Tierra del Fuego, with some pretty amazing places you’ve never heard of in between. And they’re all bending their heads daily over a little keyboard, from which miracles might appear.

If Jack could do it, there is absolutely no reason on earth for the rest of us not to try.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment