Here’s how to finish that book… Storming the Beaches

October 12th, 2016Posted by Nancy



Or more precisely, Here’s How to Finish that Fucking Book, You Monster, courtesy of Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.

To the surprise of no one who has been paying attention, I find it very hard to finish books.  Hell, I find it hard to start books. And as for the stuff in the middle, well, I’m not terribly good at that either. So when this post showed up in my Facebook feed, I found it amusing and useful.

Some key things I’m trying to remember as I do my usual “drowning not waving” floundering about at the beginning of a book.

  • The only thing that matters is FORWARD MOTHERFUCKING MOMENTUM.
  • Kill your fear of failure
  • Skip the boring parts.
  • Divest yourself of ideas of quality. Quality matters in the end. Quantity matters in the beginning. Produce. Create. Write. Iterate. As I am fond of saying, that first draft isn’t just a zero draft, it isn’t just a vomit draft — it’s the beachstorming draft. It’s just you trying to land enough boats and enough soldiers on the sand that you can carve out a space to call your own. You’re just trying to advance the thing — one bloody, gory inch at a time. Quality? Fuck quality. Just get up the beach. You will rewrite history later.


This last one is hard to me, because I need to know a lot about a book to feel comfortable writing it, especially with fantasy.  In order to know the world, I need to know the characters, because the characters are shaped by the world they inhabit, but I don’t know the characters because I don’t know the world …. and I go around and around in circles, terrified of putting a stake in the ground for fear it’ll be the wrong stake and warp everything.

I also need to know what a book is about.  Not what the plot is, not who the characters are, but what it’s about.  This doesn’t mean it has a message but there has to be something I want to explore; how you recreate your existence when you’re a vampire, what does fidelity mean if you live forever, what is beauty,  what is the intersection of power and responsibility and what price does it demand of the person who has the power – and everyone around them?

I’m not at that stage in the new book yet. I’m still splashing around and putting off diving into the cold water. I try to remind myself that I’ve made considerably more progress than I had at this point in the long slog that was Cold Hillside. Of course, that’s not saying much.

Going forward, I’m going to try to throw some beachstorming into the mix, even if it alternates with dithering in the boats looking for my paddle.  Can’t hurt.

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Wonderbook that Brain!

September 28th, 2016Posted by Nancy

I’m still working through the exercises from Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering the CraftI’m currently rewriting a snippet from the novel in limited third person, detached narrator, observer narrator, and involved author (omniscient) styles.  Needless to say, I’m quite adequate at limited third person – which is my primary mode of writing – and I struggle mightily with involved author.  To my surprise, I suspect that a good deal of the work I’ve done on the new book (the original short story and the “250 words a day” project) is actually written in a style quite close to that but that may be because the story started as my Tanith Lee tribute and she used that remote involved author voice to great effect.  Of course, I’ve also been writing one character’s section in the present tense and another character’s in second person (just because one does that, once in a while) so know hows how this will evolve.

In the continuing absence of plot – and while I continue to do things like read biographies of Cardinal Richelieu and watch the ULCA lecture series on Science, Religion and Magic on Youtube – I’ve found a new book of work with once I finish Steering the Craft.

Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook is full of strange illustrations, penguins, maps of the structure of Iain Banks’ The Use of Weapons, interviews with writers like Lauren Beukes and George R. R. Martin, writing exercises, and pages of advice on narrative, characters, point of view and more. It looks fascinating (though I admit that it makes writing look like VERY hard work.  It is, but I’m not sure I want to be reminded of that at this stage).  There’s even a website with more exercises and information.

I’m looking forward to diving into it.

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Work that brain!

September 9th, 2016Posted by Nancy

To keep my writing muscles working while I’m suspended in “I’ve written everything that I know happens and now must actually develop a world and a plot” mode, I’m doing writing exercises. I’ve just started on the ones featured in Ursula K. LeGuin’s wonderful book Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.  (What, you don’t have the book? Go buy it right away.)  I’ve done it twice before, once in the mid 2000s and once in 2009.  I used the exercises to work on Cold Hillside wherever possible and some of the sections of Teresine working on her mosaics and remembering the past come directly from what I wrote then.   Of course, I also wrote a section about a woman getting bitten by a dog in Ramsden Park, which was far less useful in the long run, though good practice.

The process reaffirmed that I just cannot seem to master Authorial narration/omniscience for more than a paragraph or two but that I’m quite fond of eliminating punctuation (don’t worry, the next novel will not be an homage to Jose Saramago).  I did quite like pretending to be Jane Austen, though.

What do I hope to get from this exercise? Exercise, for one thing.  A decent sentence or two that might find its way into the new novel.  Some unexpected ways into the characters and plot.  And at least being able to claim that I did not fritter away ALL my time over the next month or two. To keep myself honest, I’ve recruited another writer or two to join in the process so we can share our experiments and maintain the pretense of discipline.

Here, for your amusement, is the Jane Austen sentence I wrote for the first go-round. The actual instruction was to write up to 350 words as one sentence.

            “Though she willed herself not to consider Maru’s chiding words, she found them echoing in her mind whenever she let her attention wander – which it did with appalling regularity despite her concerted attempts to otherwise engage it – and soon there emerged a succession of alternatives at which she worried without reaching resolution; that she ask him to leave and accept no responsibility for whatever grief he might endure over the loss of a regard she had never – or so she insisted to herself – invited; that she bed him and have done with it, trusting that wanting was more potent than having so that the inevitable disillusionment would soon set in and, with only the expected unpleasantness in such situations, bring the whole business to an end; or that she simply do what Maru accused her of, and run as far and as fast as she could.”

 I’m still quite fond of this.  Now I just need someplace to use it.

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Collaging my way to inspiration

August 8th, 2016Posted by Nancy


In keeping with the visual inspiration theme, here is a collage I created at the recent “Hello Dali” surrealism collage night at Spadina Museum.  I used some scrapbook paper, Egon Schiele postcards from a set I bought while working on A Terrible Beauty, images provided at the event, and phrases from the incredibly cool card I received from my sister. (Sadly, I’ve yet to find a way to use the option for “new war elephant” – but I will. If you acquire a new war elephant, please let me know and I’ll send you a handmade congratulatory card.)

The images represent the main characters from the work-in-progress: Erzabet, Leontine and Vedette.

The night included a tour of the house, which I had also toured as part of my Terrible Beauty work (researching that book was really hard, I must say), plus some delicious lemonade and raspberry fool.  If you’re in Toronto, you should definitely visit this museum, which is both grand and comfortably homey.

Thanks to Spadina Museum for putting on such an interesting event and to my friend Gillian for going with me.

On another note, I am excessively proud of myself because I’ve managed to upgrade my WordPress for the first time ever on my own. Small things make me happy…

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Images to inspire

July 14th, 2016Posted by Nancy

Day 12.31

I find visual inspirations very helpful when working on a book (see my earlier posts about the “mood boards” for the novels).  I’m just starting on what might be the new novel, but I already have a couple of touchstones.

This girl with the wary eyes is part of the painting The Coronation of the Virgin by Filippo Lippi.  This was one of the highlights of the Uffizi gallery for me and, as I often do, I singled out a small part of the overall work to photograph.  I didn’t know at the the time that this would become my image for a new character.

What can I tell you about her?  Her name is Leontine, she is the daughter of a noble house in something that is currently modelled after Provence, and she is very good at math.  She likes bees.  She will become the King’s Magician, Protector of the Realm – at least for a while.

There are two other key characters in this both so far, but I have not yet found their paintings.

And if you ever have the chance to see the original in the Uffizi, take it. It’s a thing of beauty, with touches of humanity and humour.

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Upcoming Event – July 23/24

July 11th, 2016Posted by Nancy


I’ll be in Kingston at the Limestone Genre Expo the weekend of July 23, 2016.  This is the second year of this event and there’s a great line-up of writers and some fascinating panels.  It’s a small, friendly convention in a beautiful town.

I’ll be taking part in three panels (Where is Fantasy taking the modern reader? The Feminist Journey in Fantasy, and Magic Systems) and reading from Cold Hillside (and maybe something else).

Hope to see you there.

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And everything changes…

June 20th, 2016Posted by Nancy

Cottage and Sanibel 2014 109

I’ve been working full-time since I was twenty-two (that’s 35 years, for anyone who’s counting).  I started doing data entry at a sleazy mail order company whose principals eventually were arrested in the U.S. for mail fraud, moved to the magazine business in the circulation department, worked in magazine consulting,  and then ended up in finance and business management, despite the fact that I have a degree in English Literature and no patience for balance sheets.

I spent the last 26 years at one company, as it went through three owners.  And on last Tuesday, I was “restructured” out.

Regardless of any other feelings I have on the matter (and they range from “wait, didn’t you appreciate me?” to “not my circus, not my monkeys anymore!”), I will in theory have much more time for writing, blog posts, book promotion and many other things, at least for a little while.  I may have no more ideas – but I will have time.

I will try to use it productively and not spend the rest of the my life on the internet.

(Image above is from Thomas Edison’s winter estate in Florida.  I don’t think I’ll be quite that productive, though).


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Ad Astra 2016 Update

April 28th, 2016Posted by Nancy

I’ll be doing a panel at 10:00 on the ongoing imaginative power of Camelot and then I’ll be around until mid-afternoon.  Say “hi” if you see me looking lost…

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Ad Astra 2016

April 18th, 2016Posted by Nancy

I’ll be at Ad Astra at the end of the month, but only on the Sunday (May 1st).  I’ll post my schedule when it’s available.


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Wouldst thou live deliciously? Let me research that.

April 18th, 2016Posted by Nancy


The key question from The Witch, the movie most of my friends were seeing in February and March. I go along with the unanimous praise. Even the parts I didn’t think quite worked (I understood what they were getting at but the execution didn’t quite hit the mark) were thought-provoking. One of my coworkers and I came up with at least four defensible interpretations of the film, which always makes me happy.

I found it especially intriguing as I had just finished reading The Witches by Stacey Schiff and was looking at using witch trials and grim Scottish Presbyterianism in the story I’m researching right now.

I’m quite fond of research. It makes a lovely substitute for actually writing so it can be particularly dangerous for people like me. Still, because world-building isn’t my strong suit, I need to do a lot of reading and looking to create a society and ground myself in it.

Things currently on the list for the current work in progress :

– a stack of books about witchcraft, trials and Dr. Dee that I borrowed from a friend

The King’s Mistresses, a book about the strong-willed nieces of Cardinal Mazarin

– rewatching Dangerous Liaisons and Ridicule

– Richard Feynman’s book What do you care what other people think?

I warmed up for today’s writing by looking at pictures of Provencal gardens, which at least is a pleasant way to start the day.

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