I’ve been bed-bound for over a week since a minor knee operation to repair a meniscus issue. I’m not going to whine about it! In fact, I’ve discovered that I’m the perfect candidate for this type of life.
On the bed beside me are:
- my Mac Air;
- my Levenger notebook (calendar etc.);
- a Circa notebook fat with my To Do lists;
- another notebook (a Semikolon Mucho Spiral Notebook for the stationery curious), where I’m thinking through The Next Novel;
- a three-ring binder for scene sheets (@ Story Genius), which I’m really using as a support for my mouse pad and mouse);
- my Kindle;
- an iPad;
- and a stack of magazines (The New Yorker, Real Simple, and Bookmarks).
Beside the bed is my walker (required for just a little longer!), a water bottle, clock, and iPhone. Moisturizer, lipstick, post-its, pencil, pen, pills. Snacks, tissue. Basic clutter.
Everything I need, in short, right where I can reach it. The only problem with this rat’s-nest life is that I can’t climb stairs (yet), can’t get up to my office.
But for now, I’m making great use of this time.
With every publication, a writer needs to update his/her website with information about the new book, a new media kit, author events, and a new author portrait throughout.
I didn’t have time to get an author portrait taken this year (I tried a selfie, with poor results), so I’ve used one James Brylowski took of me five years ago.
“Problem is, books are written slowly, and aging happens all of a sudden.” — from a wonderful article: The Agony and the Ecstasy of taking Author Photos.)
Having neglected my website for years, I discovered a number of problems. Fortunately, I was able to find a great website person through Fiverr.com who is helping me. We have quite a bit to do yet.
(Frankly, I don’t know how authors who publish a book a year manage.)
An important part of getting my website more reader-worthy was setting up my Media page. Following the directions of Tim Grahl (see below), I learned to code my Media page so that high-definition images would be automatically downloaded with just a click. I’m fairly stoked that I was able to do this.
Also, on Fiverr.com, I found someone to turn the book cover of The Game of Hope into a 3D image (see above). For $5!
Easy Outreach with Tim Grahl
When it comes to marketing, I’m a fan of Tim Grahl, He’s experienced, down-to-earth and realistic. I’ve taken a few of his online courses, and they’ve always been worthwhile. Right now I’m following a new one he’s testing out, “Easy Outreach.” Basically, it’s about how to get interviewed on podcasts, but the detailed system he outlines would apply to any outreach: to blogs, vlogs, or podcasts, etc.
An important part of the process is to identify suitable podcasts and to study them before making a pitch. (I’ve discovered a number of wonderful podcasts in the process.) I’m kind of excited about putting this into practice. I ordered a USB Yeti mike, and already have one podcast interview scheduled for the fall.
I’m ready! Who knows where this might lead?
Finally learning Scrivener
I’ve promised myself that I would write The Next Novel on Scrivener. I’ve taken stabs at learning it before, but I’ve always ended up confused and frustrated. It’s a complex programme! I was on the verge of giving up when I came upon a Udemy Scrivener 3 course for Mac. It had excellent reviews so I went for it. It’s been fantastic. I have questions almost every day, and the teacher responds to every one. I take it bit by bit, and immediately apply what I’ve learned, so hopefully it will stick. I’m finally understanding why so many writers love it.
Additionally, I’ve been developing my next novel following the guidelines in Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Puzzling over how to get Cron’s scene card templates into my Scrivener project, I Googled “Story Genius Scrivener” and found a wonderful article by Gwen Hernandez on WriterUnboxed: Using Scrivener with Story Genius. Bingo! She even included a downloadable Scrivener template with scene card templates (and much more).
Watching movies, reading and listening to books and reading magazines …
And then, of course, there have been wonderful movies to watch: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Call Me by Your Name; and, last night, Lady Bird. All were simply great. Of the three, I found Call Me by Your Name the most enchanting, swooningly European.
And then, of course, books, books, books! In addition to books on writing, I’m reading The Burning Girl by Claire Messud and listening, on Audible, to an amazing performance of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
A hard life, eh?
I’ve been flailing, I confess: in Excel plot worksheets, in piles of plot index cards, in Word files summarizing my plot (or trying to), in books on plot, in on-line courses and YouTube videos on plot!
I saw all this as a sign of a project in trouble. I simply couldn’t figure it out! It occurred to me that I was “finished” — but not in a good way.
So last night I was reassured reading A Technique for Producing Ideas
The first [step in producing ideas] is … to gather raw material.
So: all my frenetic searching was not a waste of time? So: my impulse to know everything possible about my subject is not procrastination?
… it you have any sizable job of specific material gathering to do it is useful to learn the card-index method of doing it.
You take one fact [on an index card], turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. … You bring two facts together and see how they fit … like a jig-saw puzzle.
I especially his description of the “searching” stage of the creative process:
… it is almost like listening for the meaning instead of looking for it.
And, he adds:
When creative people are in this stage of the process they get their reputation for absentmindedness.
So very true.
First, little tentative or partial ideas will come to you. Put these down on paper. Never mind how crazy or incomplete they seem: get them down. These are foreshadowings of the real idea that is to come, and expressing these in words forwards the process. Here again the little 3 × 5 cards are useful.
The second thing that will happen is that, by and by, you will get very tired of trying to fit your puzzle together.
Tell me about it!
Let me beg of you not to get tired too soon. The mind, too, has a second wind. … Keep trying to get one or more partial thoughts onto your little cards.
after a while you will reach the hopeless stage.
Can he read my mind?
Everything is a jumble in your mind, with no clear insight anywhere.
When you reach this point, … then the second stage … is completed, and you are ready for the third one.
So: Stage One is information gathering (check), and Stage Two is hopelessness (check). What could possibly be next?
In this third stage … you drop the whole subject and put the problem out of your mind as completely as you can. … Listen to music, go to the theater or movies, read poetry or a detective story.
Binge watch Making a Murderer? Going to the beach? All this is not procrastination, avoidance? So all this is Stage Three?
Indeed it is. So what’s Stage Four?
In the first stage you have gathered your food. In the second you have masticated it well. Now the digestive process is on. Let it alone. … if you have really done your part in these three stages of the process you will almost surely experience the fourth.
Which will be?
Out of nowhere the Idea will appear.
Perhaps not surprisingly, reading this slender little tomb, I began to get a rush of ideas … which I quickly scribbled onto index cards.
This is the way ideas come: after you have stopped straining for them and have passed through a period of rest and relaxation from the search.
There is, of course, a final step—Stage Five—and that’s taking “your little newborn idea out into the world of reality.” (I.e.: trying to work it into the complex fabric of the manuscript.)
Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious. When you do, a surprising thing will happen. You will find that a good idea has, as it were, self-expanding qualities. … Thus possibilities in it which you have overlooked will come to light.
And so, feeling inspired, ideas popping, I look forward to our two weeks at the beach as Stage Four.
Happy New Year!
Tracking down facts can be a time-crunching task … but a very enjoyable one when the goal is in sight.
I began with a simple question: Where was Hortense’s father executed and buried? I think these were things she might have wanted to know.
Portrait of Josephine and her two children, Hortense and Eugène, visiting their father in prison.
In the process, I found many wrong answers … which reinforces the common knowledge that the Net can’t be trusted. However, I knew enough to know when the answer was wrong, and kept looking.
In the process I ended up making a correction to a Wikipedia page … which rather thrilled me. Alexandre was defined, simply, as the lover of Princess Amalie of Salm-Kyrburg, a friend of Josephine’s who secretly acquired the land after the Revolution because her brother is buried there. Not only was it curious that Josephine and their children were not mentioned, but I very much doubt that Alexandre was Amalie’s lover. Other women, certainly, but not Amalie.
Place du Trône-Renversé—now Place de la Nation—where Hortense’s father was guillotined.
Alexandre was guillotined not in the Place de la Révolution (Place de la Concorde now) or Place de Grève (in front of the l’Hôtel-de-Ville), as if often claimed, but in Place du Trône-Renversé (now Place de la Nation), on the western edge of Paris. Apparently the other execution sites had become so bloody they had to find a new spot.
Mass executions at the height of the Terror
In a matter of about 6 weeks (from June 13 to July 27, 1794) 1306 men and women were guillotined, as many as 55 people a day. I imagine that it was hard work keeping the blade sufficiently sharp.
How to dispose of all the bodies?
It was also hard work disposing of the bodies. What is now the Picpus Cemetery was then land seized from a convent during the Revolution, conveniently close to Place du Trône-Renversé. A pit was dug at the end of the garden, and when that filled up, a second was dug. The bodies of all 1306 of the men and women executed in Place du Trône-Renversé were thrown into the common pits including 108 nobles, 136 monastics, and 579 commoners … .
The mass graves are simply marked.
One of two wall listing the names and ages of the dead.
Le Cimetière de Picpus today.
Of those executed, 197 were women, including 16 Carmelite nuns, who went to the scaffold singing hymns.
In all the research I’ve done in Paris over the decades, I’ve yet to go to either the Place du Trône-Renversé (Place de la Nation) or the Picpus Cemetery. I believe I’m due.
I’m at a research-intensive stage of Draft 2.0 of The Game of Hope. (YA1) I’m working to fill in all the pot-holes before sending it off—that is, all the xxx’s in the manuscript, the xxx’s I throw in while rushing through Draft 1. “I was offered a plate of xxx, xxx and xxx.” That type of thing.
Now I’m trying to figure all those xxx’s out.
If I don’t have the facts in my notes or books, I can usually find what I need to know on-line. I googgled “18th century cooking,” for example, and came up with a delightful “cheese wig”: a small bun coated with a cheese sauce that looked like a wig resting on a wig stand. (Then I googled images for “cheese wig”—gross! I don’t recommend it.)
If Google fails, I go to Amazon.com, and look for searchable books.
If that fails, I’ll go to Books Google.
I everything fails, and the answer is in a book I must have, I’ll order it.
I had an educational experience this morning. The book I want is out-of-print, but offered used on Amazon.com. However, I discovered that to ship a 1$ book to me in Mexico could cost $25 to $75 dollars. (With delivery in April.)
I cut over to Abebook.com, and bought the same book from a used bookstore in the UK for only $1.04 with delivery to Mexico for $7.75—and it may well arrive in a week.
Lesson learned: watch those shipping charges! And always check out Abebook.com.
(Another lesson learned: in looking for illustrations for this blog post, I discovered not to google images of “xxx”!)
Today is my last day in “the bunker”—my lovely basement office in our Ontario home. I have another lovely office awaiting in Mexico, but this one (shown above) is my favourite, and I always feel a little sad leaving.
It’s said that “home is where your books are,” and that makes this place home: we’ve books everywhere here.
As soon as I finish this post, I will close the door on this office until next spring. I’ve tidied it well this year.
On the 1st of November, a little jet-lagged and travel weary, I will unpack my lovely office in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
As soon as I have my printer up and running, I will print out THE GAME OF HOPE (working title of The Next Novel). I’ve been thinking about it a lot and am ready to plunge into the next draft.
Other things going on:
I’ve enrolled in Witches, Plagues, and War, a free on-line course in Historical Fiction, offered through amazing Coursera.org. There are over 15,000 enrolled worldwide. Mind-boggling.
But the main thing is the quality: the course is fantastic. I’m learning and loving it.
Check out all the other Coursera offerings: are they not amazing? I want to drop out and go to school! I want to work toward that long-ago impossible dream of getting a PhD in Comparative Lit!
Maybe when I’m 80 …
When I was asked by Penguin US if I would be interested in reading Salley Vickers’ new novel, The Cleaner of Chartres, of course I said yes. I’d read Miss Garnet’s Angel by her, and enjoyed it very much.
The Cleaner of Chartres is more unusual, more challenging in structure, but has something of the same charmingly old-fashioned feel to it. (I kept thinking Balzac.) I both loved this novel and struggled with it, and in the end I adored it.
The novel unfolds in the present (in Chartres, France), and in various other French cities in the past (Evreux, Rouen, Le Mans), revealing by stages the life of one woman, Agnes, the cleaner of the title.
Agnes is an able if mysterious young woman with a talent for sorting and cleaning, a vocation that pulls her into the messy lives of a number of people—and, in the process, complicates her own.
There are mysteries throughout: I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what these are, but suffice it to say that in coming to Chartres, Agnes is trying to escape a troubling past.
This is a gentle novel, peopled with charming eccentrics. Vickers is a polished writer with a charming sense of humour: I love the texture of her prose. My one reservation (and the cause of the struggle mentioned above) is that since there are a number of different characters in each city, I had to keep notes on who was where. A cast of characters would have helped, and a map would have been a pleasant addition as well.
I was especially delighted with the Afterword, where Vickers explains what happened to some of her fictional characters. As if—and yes, I do believe it so—they all went on living. A lovely touch.
“Realism with a subtle fairytale quality,” said the Publishers Weekly reviewer, and that captures it perfectly. Vickers is a wonderful novelist.
Life update: I’m preparing for Canadian Thanksgiving—a big event here!—and for heading to our winter home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, not long after. (See my last blog post on what that entails.)
The last draft of the Hortense Young Adult is tucked away until early November. In the meantime, in the early creative hours, I’m giving some thought to the premise, tag and log lines, using the guidelines from a worthwhile 3-session on-line course on “Rapid Story Development,” using, among other things, Enneagrams, a method for analyzing character.
Enneagrams are complex, but intriguing: I do love learning systems. Simply framing a premise with the help of the class guidelines has helped me see how the story needs to be changed.
Another thing I’m studying right now is the Lenormand method of foretelling the future—a type of Tarot which is surprisingly popular.
Madame Lenormand was a contemporary of Josephine Bonaparte; in fact, she lived close to Josephine’s delightfully eccentric aunt Fanny. Lenormand was famous for her accurate predictions; she exploited and enhanced her fame by becoming a prodigious writer and publisher on matters occult, as well of a faux memoir of Josephine (a “memoir” that has always intrigued me).
Madame Lenormand is unlikely to be a character in my Hortense novels, but her card-fortunetelling method might well be. In any case, I’m enjoying exploring the cards.
At some point, “playing” the cards was called The Game of Hope, my current working title—and one I rather like.
The calligraphy image at the top is from the wonderful Bibliodyssey blog.