Get Your Turtle On

It’s NaNoWriMo, or national novel writing month. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. There are many support groups on line with members offering encouragement and holding each other accountable. NaNoWriMo is a great way to immerse yourself in a project, boost your writing output and end the month with a sense of accomplishment.

However, it’s not for everybody. Even if you go into the month with a solid story outline and a detailed plan of how you’ll find the necessary time to get those words down, it can be stressful. Add in an unexpected life event or a manuscript that refuses to cooperate and the stress factor rises. For writers who are more turtle than hare in their approach, a poor NaNoWriMo experience can leave them feeling defeated.

When it comes to writing, I am definitely more turtle than hare. I wrote about that in a blog post five years ago, and it’s still true today.

Frankly, I’d much rather be the hare. Hares have more dash and flash than turtles.  They’re sleek and fast and productive. Plus, they’re cute. Turtles, not so much. They’re ground creepers. Members of the reptile family. Turtles have thick, leathery skin, an armored shell, and they are slow.  Painfully so.

I can’t remember the last time I received a compliment for going slow. Or gave one out. I like fast. I celebrate fast.  So does our culture. Unless it’s a soup that needs simmering or a garden that needs growing, we embrace fast.  It’s a mark of pride if our kids talk or walk at an early age. If our dogs finish first in agility. If we get our Christmas shopping done in October.  If we write three books a year instead of two. Or two books instead of one.

No wonder the thought of being a turtle held little appeal.  But then I found a book on totem animals and learned something about the symbolism behind turtles.

Turtle wisdom encourages us to slow down, to pace ourselves, and to take a break to look within. The wisdom of the turtle lends us determination, persistence, emotional strength and understanding. It teaches us to travel light, to let go of those things we have outgrown.

Turtle wisdom reassures us that we have all the time in the world, and that we’re always where we’re supposed to be. It encourages us to remember that there is no such thing as failure as long as we’re inching towards our goal.

After reading that, I didn’t mind identifying with the turtle. After all, the turtle is also the symbol for longevity. And I’m in this gig for the long haul.  So, my advice? Get your turtle on and forget about the hare. Next week, some tips for making slow and steady writing progress.

My October Reads

 

It’s nearly the end of October. Yesterday’s torrential rain sent gusts of leaves falling from the trees. Good thing the garden has been put to bed for the winter because it’s the kind of weather that doesn’t encourage outside lingering. Luckily, I have some great books to keep me company when the rain is falling. Here’s what I’m reading this week:

By the fire: Ebb & Flow by Heather Smith

Before bed: Deep Water by Lea Tassie

On the weekend: The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs

Books read to date in 2019: 50

 

The Heart of It

Just as a fictional character can make a book shine, it’s the people we care about who bring the heart and love and emotion to our lives.

This thought rolls around my head every October. I have two good friends who celebrate birthdays this month, one on the 4th and the other on the 16th.  My grandmother celebrated her birthday on the 16th as well, and three years ago a family member passed on the same day.

So, October always makes me think of the people I love, those still here and those who are gone. I’m reminded of their strengths and vulnerabilities, their smiles and their laughter, the quirky things they say and do, but mostly I’m reminded of how they make (or made) me feel. Those feelings linger long after the end of a visit or a life.

A good book is peopled with characters who linger in the minds of readers long after the final page too. Sounds easy, right?

It’s not. It’s hard work creating characters who are nuanced and real. It takes effort, skill and refining (translation: rewriting).

Many craft books have chapters or entire sections on developing good characters, but if you’re serious about writing, it’s worth having a few books devoted specifically to character development on your shelf. Here are some to consider:

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure by K. M. Weiland

Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress

For quicker reads, check out these blogs on character development:

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/13/25-things-a-great-character-needs/

https://www.nownovel.com/blog/novel-characters-15-tips/

https://www.creativebloq.com/character-design/tips-designing-believable-character-21619281

Books on Bullying

October is National Bullying Awareness Month. Given that the first month of school is behind us and routines have been established, for kids who are victims of school yard bullying that means the bullying pattern is probably underway by now too. Books can’t eliminate bullying – I know that – but a good story may provide enlightenment to bullies themselves, as well as bystanders caught up in peer pressure. Equally important, victims often benefit from stories, gleaning insights, coping strategies and much-needed comfort and support. Here are some books on bullying for young and not-so-young readers.

For the picture book crowd:

I Didn’t Stand Up by Lucy Falcone; illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon

Noni Says No by Heather Hartt-Sussman; illustrated by Genevieve Cote

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Dear Bully of Mine by Vicki Fraser; illustrated by Cody McGrath and Sean McGrath

 

For older readers:

Queen of the Toilet Bowl and Camp Disaster by Frieda Wishinsky

Sticks and Stones by Beth Goobie

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Bullies Rule by Monique Polak

Cabin Girl by Kristin Butcher

In Plain Sight by Laura Langston

Some Girls Are by Courtenay Summers

To This Day by Shane Koyczan

Dear Bully – Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories by Megan Kelley Hall

                Small – and Not so Small – Signs

Last week, I finished doing a substantive revision on No Right Thing. Revising, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Polishing and tweaking can take a story from good to great, and I think No Right Thing is one of the best YA novels I’ve written so far. A big shout out to Melanie Jeffs at Crwth Press for comments and suggestions that gave me the springboard I needed to dive in and make some changes.

One thing Melanie wanted me to look at was my story pacing. She felt the speed in which I showed signs of change on the part of my protagonist, Cate, wasn’t working as well as it could.  While Melanie wanted the external story to maintain its brisk, forward motion, she thought a slightly slower unspooling of Cate’s internal growth would serve the story better. So, I went back and started small, slowly stacking up Cate’s discomfort and signs of internal growth until she comes to the inevitable big, black moment when there is no turning back . . . when she is forever changed.

Starting small and not revealing everything at once is the pace you want in a novel because it creates tension. I thought I had that in place, but it sometimes takes a good editor to help an author take it to the next level.

In case I missed the message about the importance of slowly building tension, life reinforced the lesson last week in the form of a bear. Or, more specifically, the sign (this one not so small) of a bear.

Saturday morning, we took Team Sheltie for a walk along the trail behind our house. Within spitting distance of our back gate, we discovered a substantial pyramid of scat. It was bear scat, I told Mr. Petrol Head. No, he said, it was from a large dog. Not possible, I retorted. It was either an elephant or a bear and since there are no wild elephants on the island, I was betting on bear. But even as I spoke the words, I wasn’t entirely sure. I didn’t want to be sure.

Sunday morning while walking the same trail, a neighbor confirmed the left behinds were the gift of a bear, though he hadn’t seen it. They’re fairly common in this area, he reported.

I became uneasy. When we moved here a few months ago, we loved the close proximity to trails and creeks and ravines. I knew those areas were home to wildlife, but my citified mind conjured squirrels, racoons, birds, maybe a cute deer or two.

Monday morning, a second neighbor told us he’d been followed down the trail by a black bear the previous day. The only reason he knew about it was a couple walking towards him had seen it and pointed it out. He hadn’t glimpsed it himself.

My unease grew. I know the animals were here before us. I realize we share their habitat. I understand the importance of peaceful coexistence. But we live in a town. With paved roads. Streetlights. And houses. Lots and lots of houses.

Tuesday morning, yet another neighbor reported that she’d seen two black bears by the apple tree across the street. Last summer, she added, officers relocated six bears from this neighborhood.

Unease settled into my bones. Having a bear (or three) within spitting distance of my back door would take some (translation: a lot of) getting used to.

Just as I was mulling over the escalating tension and pacing of my own personal week, there was a new wrinkle in what we refer to around here as the weekly wildlife count. In fiction, we’d call it a twist in the action.

A cougar was spotted on the trail. Not out in the open because cougars, unlike bears, are stealthy creatures. A woman walking her dog in the moonlight caught sight of gleaming eyes staring at her out of the bushes. She beamed her flashlight in that general direction and, sure enough, it was a cougar. Crouched at the base of a tree. Waiting.

A cougar waiting in the bushes while she walked the trail. In. The. Moonlight. That woman, in a fictional world, would be the fearless heroine. She would not be me.

I have enough on my plate dealing with the pacing of my manuscripts. And the escalating bear sightings outside my back door.  

My August Reads

Here it is nearly the end of August; September is right around the corner. Soon school will be back in session, routines will be more in force and I’ll be back to blogging every week. For now, we’re still settling into our new home and getting used to the house and the neighborhood. As well as welcoming rabbits, squirrels, dear and raccoon to our yard, we have a family of quail that stops by fairly often. Mom (or maybe Dad) stands guard on a fence post while the rest of the family scurries along the ground. Fortunately, Team Sheltie has yet to see the quail parade. We might build a quail house next year. It’s on the list. Right now though, I’m busy revising No Right Thing, doing some freelance editing jobs and organizing my office. Oh, and finding a few minutes here and there to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the patio: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Before bed: Ageless Soul by Thomas Moore

In the kitchen:   We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by Jose Andres and Richard Wolffe

Books read to date in 2019: 37

New Beginnings

Two exciting things happened last week. We moved into our new home and I signed a YA book contract with Crwth Press. Talk about a fresh start filled with wonderful possibilities.

I’m thrilled to be working with publisher Melanie Jeffs who is already gaining recognition for her titles. Check out her website here: https://www.crwth.ca/

Melanie will be bringing out my YA in the spring of 2020, which means I’m already into the revision process.  The book in question, which I’ve referred to here before as One Good Deed, has been retitled No Right Thing. I always cringe when retitling is suggested. It’s wrong to get married to a title, I know that, and yet I often do. However, David Baldacci has just released a book titled One Good Deed and, as Melanie Jeffs explained, anytime someone looks up that title on line they’ll get the Baldacci information well before they get the Langston information.

That won’t do. Not at all.

Since this is a story about a teenager who always tries to do the right thing and yet finds herself in a situation where there is no right choice, no right thing, the title switch worked. I’m grateful to Melanie for pointing it out.

With the title nailed down, I can focus on revisions to the story, which is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Incidentally, the novel is set in my new community of Qualicum Beach. That gives me a good excuse to get out and about and explore my new town. Here’s to new beginnings and No Right Thing.  

My July Reads

In a few short days, we’ll be moving from a cottage by the sea to a house with a garden. Though we’ve enjoyed our rocky shoreline view of eagles and herons and sea lions, it’s been seven months of uncertainty, of feeling deeply unmoored.

Some people need roots and I am one of them.

I’m looking forward to finally getting settled, to planting another garden, and to unpacking the many boxes we’ve had in storage. Within walking distance of our new home is a beach (pictured here).  There’s a great, long stretch of sand where we can walk for miles in either direction. Sometime soon, when I need a break from unpacking, I’ll grab a book and wander down for a waterfront reading break. Meanwhile, here’s what I’m reading this month.

At the gym: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

On the weekend: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Before bed: The House Whisperer by Christian Kyriacou

Books read to date in 2019: 30

It May be Summer But . . .

. . . there’s still a lot of work going on behind the scenes. It may not feel that way when I walk down to the beach and view the crowds relaxing on the sand, but things are happening, albeit maybe not as quickly or as often as they usually do.

Take this blog, for instance. I’m only popping up here every few weeks these days, but I’m quietly working away on a number of fronts. And I’m not alone.

A case in point: my fall editing spots are starting to fill up. Authors nearing the final stages of their manuscripts are booking an edit before submitting to their publisher or getting ready to publish themselves. If you’re looking for some editorial input, I still have a few spots open in October. For details of my services, click back to my website for the editing link.

Speaking of editing, I’m jumping into a revision of One Good Deed, based on a request from an editor. I can’t say anything more at the moment but hopefully I’ll be able to provide more details soon.

And That’s A Wrap

The final few pages of a novel should bring a sense of completion and ideally some satisfaction or fulfillment too (which is why I love a well-written happily ever after). At the same time, a good ending should be logical, appropriate and have a sense of inevitability about it. It’s an art, hitting those perfect notes when writing a book. But it’s an art that allows for revising and tweaking until you’re satisfied with the story you’ve written.

Life isn’t like that. Endings come whether we’re ready for them or not. We can’t always control the outcome and they’re rarely as tidy as we’d like them to be. Endings have been on my mind a lot lately. Spring has ended and summer has started. This year, the end of spring brought a couple of things to competition in my life. And they were the best kind – happy endings.

The e fraud and stalled royalty issue I wrote about in a previous blog post   https://lauralangston.com/the-royalties-that-failed-to-arrive/  has been resolved. There was a big, black moment near the end (as all good endings have) where the bank refused to compensate us for the fraudulent interception, but ultimately that decision was reversed. The money was returned and my royalty payment arrived soon after.

My first ongoing mosaic project reached a natural conclusion recently too  (if you missed my process, go here: https://lauralangston.com/filling-the-well-mosaic-style/ ) I spent a few hours over a period of several weeks learning all about mosaic art and filling my creative well by trying something different. The final product may not be technically perfect or as artistically ‘tidy’ as I’d like it to be, but I’m happy with it.  In fact, I’m planning another mosaic project. And that’s another thing about endings. Done well, a good ending always brings with it the possibility of a new beginning, a fresh start.