Archive for the tag “boot hill”

Novel-writing update of win and gold

I’m fairly certain I’m one of the most inconsistent bloggers ever. The last time I posted was in June–right before I decided to abruptly sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo and write 30,000 words over the month of July (aka 1k a day). I never followed up after July had ended–so sorry about that!–but in case anyone was wondering, I totally achieved my goal. And believe it or not: what I’d churned out was actually good. Not perfect, mind you, but salvageable content. At long last, I discovered the voice of my main character Lindsey. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I just kept writing and I’ve been writing fairly regularly since last summer.

As of last week, I’m happy to report that my manuscript is at 50,000 words, and a little more than half of that is edited and mostly polished. It feels so good to finally feel like I’m making progress in this book. The more I write, however, the more I realize just how much more I have left to write. It’s both intimidating and exciting and I can’t wait to continue my adventures with my favorite gang of thieves.

I’ve also had the opportunity to submit completely new chapters of Boot Hill to a creative fiction capstone I’m taking this spring semester, and the feedback I’ve been given so far has been overwhelmingly positive and helpful. (I actually just submitted my final chapter to the class for workshop next week, so maybe I’ll talk about that once that’s over.) I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a supportive professor who is willing to let his students submit genre fiction, which has actually been both great for me but awful in terms of some of the other stuff I’ve had to read this semester. Yeesh. Anyway, his comments during our individual conferences lead me to believe that Boot Hill might just have publishing potential once it’s finished. Nothing beats hearing that from the mouth of a published, experienced author. Ahhhh, I can hardly contain my excitement.

And now that the semester is coming to a close, I will have even more time to continue writing my novel. I’m probably going to do Camp NaNoWriMo again in July because that actually seemed to work for me last year, and maybe–just maybe–I’ll have a complete first draft of Boot Hill by the time I graduate college.

Fingers crossed!

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One thousand words a day in July

In a desperate attempt to get on track with my writing this summer, I have decided to join Camp NaNoWrimo for July. There are two great things about Camp NaNoWriMo compared to regular NaNoWriMo: 1) It’s not smack dab in the middle of one of the craziest months of the year. You can join in April and/or July; fortunately, July is probably the best month out of the year for me to focus on writing because my schedule is the most open it’ll ever be while I’m in school. 2) Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own goal. No longer do I have to feel enslaved by 50,000 word/month, which I often achieved, only to be burned out, depressed, and without any salvageable content by the end.

I have set my goal for 30,000 words/1,000 words a month plus a one-day buffer in case something comes up. I’ve been loosely plotting where I want the story to go in 30,000 words and have a pretty basic trajectory. By the end of July, I will be thrilled to have almost 50,000 words total of Boot Hill‘s rough draft. It would be nice if I could get another 15-20,000 in the month of August, but I’m going to be taking one step at a time.

In other news, I’ve been running into some motivation issues, frustration at work, and my favorite occasional visitor known as depression. All of these circumstances are making it extremely difficult for me to focus, get out of the house, or be productive in any capacity. I’m also having a bit of a style crisis as I realize that the two perspective character voices (Lindsey and Fortun) are essentially just my own voice being projected, and that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate one from the other. This is kind of a big deal and can be lethal to a first person story. It makes me want to scrap everything I already have, rip my hair out, and/or rewrite the whole damn thing, but I know that’s not really an option at this point.

I don’t have a snippet this week, unfortunately, mostly for the reasons above.

Plus, next month my blog will be crawling with snippets galore and you’ll be sick of hearing about these characters by July 31 if you aren’t already.

I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously

Whenever interested folks ask about Boot Hill--which is literally almost every single time I mention that I’m writing a novel–I tend to play up the western/American Old West elements of the story because that is outwardly what the story looks like: a bunch of cowboys and gunslingers in a desert setting, stirring up trouble and escaping a whole mess of predicaments by the skin of their teeth. How exciting!

But what I often fail to inform people is that, at its very core, Boot Hill is a fantasy novel.

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How I often feel when trying to defend the fantasy genre.

For a while I was admittedly ashamed to tell people that I am writing a fantasy novel. Especially when said people were professors or otherwise associated with academia. After all, genre fiction is, by far and large, either looked down upon as a lesser form of writing or flat-out ignored in the academic world.

Fantasy seems to get the shortest end of the genre stick in my opinion, and I think a lot of it stems from this strange idea that writing fantasy is amateur hour because the author doesn’t have to abide by the rules of our universe. While some fantasy indeed might not have to abide by our rules, there still needs to be rules. As a fantasy author, you have to create those rules and then convince your reader that the rules are believable. If you are writing within the confines of our world, you have to find a way to suspend disbelief in such a way that readers can accept the changes you have made. If the world you are writing about is not of this universe, you are tasked with building the world and making sure it rings true with readers. Believe me when I tell you that world-building is one of the most difficult–but also one of the most fun–aspects of writing a fantasy novel.

I feel like another reason why fantasy isn’t taken seriously is because of the influx of young adult fantasy in recent years, most of which are centered around teenage angst, love triangles, and sexy supernaturals. This reason is precisely why I have expressed embarrassment in being associated with the fantasy genre: I don’t want people to assume that this is what I am writing. While there is nothing wrong with the story elements I’ve described, I fear that the vast majority of young adult fantasy relies too heavily on such tropes to succeed rather than focusing on a good story. As a result, the stories themselves suffer, the characters aren’t well-drawn, and you’re looking at underwhelming novel after underwhelming novel. This is not what I want to achieve with my writing.

But I know not all hope is lost for the genre. Not even close. After all, when I stumble upon a well-written fantasy novel, I am not only immersed–I am transported in a way other genres simply can’t measure up to. Essentially, that is my goal in writing Boot Hill. I know I have a long way to go before I get there, but if I aim high, I don’t see why I can’t get there in time.

I write fantasy and I demand to be taken seriously.

Here is a snippet of the first time the reader meets Bastian, perhaps the most fantastical/supernatural character in the novel. Let me know what your first impressions of him are! I apologize if there are any errors; this is my first draft of this particular scene. Enjoy!

As I round the corner, a tall, masculine form in the doorway brings me to an abrupt halt. My heart nearly leaps into my throat before I realize that it is none other than The Bastian himself who is standing in the open door, his Holy Coronet cradled under an arm.

He smiles when he sees me, brushing a strand of white hair away from his face and hooking it behind his ear with his spindly fingers.

“Fortun,” he says warmly, a trace of smoke trickling out from his open mouth. The smoke wafts upward into the light filtered through the clock face’s stained glass, taking the rough shape of a soaring bird. When I blink, the smoke vanishes. I rub my eyes and take a step back from the Bastian.

“My Liege,” I say with a shallow bow, placing a hand over my heart and leaning against the door frame, out of breath. “Are you all right?”

The Bastian tilts his head and his smile disappears. He presses a forefinger to the side of his lips and draws his pale eyebrows together in thought. “Yes,” he says, the modulation in his voice almost as if he is posing a question. He squints his red eyes at me and cranes his neck so that he can get a better look at me. I turn my head away before he can see the telltale sign of the vignoire apparent in my eyes. “Are you all right?” He points at my face. He must know by now.

“The doors are wide open,” I say, stepping aside and gesturing to the door I just walked through. “All thirteen of them. My Liege, you can’t leave the doors open like this. What if someone slipped past the guards and came for you?”

His eyebrows raise. “Then I suppose they could find me here,” he says. “But I suppose anyone who wants to see me could find a way, locked doors or no. Isn’t that right?”

“I will post a member of the noble guard at each door,” I say, “just to be safe.”

The Bastian nods slowly and looks away from me. “If that’s what you think is best, Fortun.”

“But right now, we need to prepare you for the festivities,” I say, pacing across the room to the armoire containing the Bastian’s formal regalia. I throw the wooden doors open and remove the white robes from a hanger, careful not to let the hem drag on the floor. The fabric is unbelievably heavy and ostentatious, embroidered with beads, lined with mink fur and gods know what else; It’s no wonder he tries to avoid wearing the garments when he can. He has always gotten a thrill out of that damned headpiece, however, perching it atop his head or running his fingers over the immaculate beading. I’ve never seen him hold it under his arm quite like this, though–like how mothers hold their children.

I offer the undergarments to him. “You’re not even close to ready, My Liege. And I thought we threw out those rags you’re wearing.”

The Bastian looks down and pinches the fabric of the threadbare tunic. “But I like these,” he says. “They were yours and now they’re mine. I will keep them, I think.”

Amid the sounds of the clock tower churning, I pinpoint a gentle twittering sound nearby. “What is that?” The sound stops. I hear it once more, a bit louder. The Bastian is trying to stifle a laugh but his eyes betray him, glowing a spirited bright red.

“I have a surprise for you,” he says. He looks inside the headpiece thoughtfully before holding it out to me. Inside, an adolescent bluebird flits its wings, its beak open and its chest heaving. It chirrups and preens itself.

“I found it on the floor this morning,” he says. More smoke pours from his nose. I’ve never seen him so pleased in all the years I’ve cared for him. “Do you like it?”

“It looks like it’s fledging,” I say, noticing its newly formed, long feathers. The bird blinks, its entirely black eyes gazing up at me, probably terrified. “It will probably fly away soon.”

“Yes,” says Bastian, tilting his hat back toward him so he can look down at the creature once more. “I would like that very much.”

A whole mess of character cheat sheets (with artwork!)

Want to know more about the characters I’m writing about this summer?

As an attempt to organize my story and the characters that run the show, I have started to compile little fact sheets about the major (and minor) players of Boot Hill. These sheets give a brief overview of each character, a picture (drawn by the wonderful Hunter Bonyun), the character’s purpose in the story, and his or her relationships with other characters. Just for fun, I’ve also included each character’s likes, dislikes, and fears. I hope you find them all as interesting as I do! These are a lot of fun to make, and they are helping me solidify individual character details as the cast of characters grows.

Characters added so far:

Lindsey Madoc
Riley Finch
Cornelius “Neil” Chapman
Ev Morris
Raleigh “Rally” Jambeaux
Fortun Rustreil-lis-Sygnes
Bastian

I will be updating the comprehensive character page throughout the summer, but I will be sure make note of any additional characters on my blog postings. Stay tuned!

Why I hurt my characters

It’s been a over a week since my last update, so I guess I’ll fill you in. Last week I decided to take a quick break from actual writing to create an outline for the first part of the book because I’m already running into some organizational problems. So far the outlining process has been extremely successful in helping figure out little plot holes I’ve been struggling with. So far, so good! I’m feeling less frustrated about the undertaking of writing a novel and more optimistic, so hopefully that feeling remains for the rest of the summer. I get excited when I open up my manuscript, which is the best sign I could ask for.

This afternoon, I was touching up and expanding upon a scene in the fourth chapter of Boot Hill in which my main character, Linds(ey), endures a lot of physical pain. Long story short, he ends up on the brink of heatstroke; falling down a cactus-ridden ravine; and getting shot in the arm. Now, I’ve always shared some laughs with my fellow writer friends over the idea of putting our characters through pain. We all do it, and I’ve always joked that it’s the sadistic part of me that likes to see my characters going through trials and tribulations. But the truth is that characters need to experience pain, adversity, and trials, oftentimes early on in a story.

I subscribe to “poor” treatment of characters because doing so helps establish character motives and resolve right off the bat. Do they crumble under pressures that are thrown their way or do they face them head-on? Do their goals change when the stakes are raised? When characters are pushed to their limits, readers are given a better idea as to who they are. Furthermore, the whole point of a novel is to explore conflict. Who wants to read about characters who aren’t struggling to meet their goals? Put your babies through hell, take away what they want most, and maybe, just maybe, something worthwhile will come out of it.

With that in mind, here is a little snippet of the pain Lindsey is going through. Maybe the sadistic part of you will enjoy it. ;)

I manage to keep my feet until my boot heel catches on a rock halfway from the bottom. I pitch forward and land on my already bruised thigh, unable to stop my ill-advised descent. Sand spatters into my eyes and mouth as I roll down the ravine. Cactus barbs rip into my skin, and despite pulling my head so tightly against my chest and gritting my teeth, I can’t help but cry out. I hit the drainage hard and fast. The wind is knocked from my lungs and I’m heaving, gasping for air. I curl up in pain, a breathless sob forcing its way from my mouth.

The hot sand pressing against my cheek reminds me of where I am. Snapping my mouth shut, I listen for sounds of pursuit over gunshots and chaos echoing above me across the canyon walls. I spit the dirt from my mouth and crawl onto my stomach, lifting my head to make sure I haven’t been followed; nothing but kicked-up dust settles in my wake. No one would be stupid enough to tail a two-bit outlaw with a death wish. Somewhat relieved but with panic still gripping me, I pull myself up but fall back down to the ground, my shaking arms and injured leg giving out beneath me. Long cactus spines pinprick my skin and press in deeper as I struggle to stand. I drag myself onto my elbows and knees, and then finally into a sitting position. My body tenses as I pluck out long thorns sticking into my elbow clear through my coat sleeve as fast as I can. Grazing my hand over my leg, I feel dozens more needling into my thighs and  calves, but I don’t have the time.

I force myself to stand, and begin to run.

What did I get myself into?

My summer novel-writing has commenced.

I have forgotten how taxing it is to write a novel–emotionally, mentally, and physically. Yesterday, I got together with Puer and Paper for a “write-in,” a good 2-3 hours of solid writing. I was totally wiped out and crawled into bed around 10 p.m. because my energies were so completely sapped. Hopefully this goes away and I’ll be able to write more efficiently throughout the summer. I guess I’m just miserably out of practice. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little discouraged, but I’m going to stay optimistic. I’m determined to get through this, and my characters are coming to life like never before. I currently have 14,000 words of Boot Hill written, and only about half of that had previously been written/polished. So far so good! I’m pretty happy with how it is coming out, too.

The only context I’ve ever had for writing a novel is National Novel Writing Month, and I’m not convinced my seven attempts (and five wins!) at writing 50,000 words in a month have prepared me for undertaking an entire novel in three months–the word count for this particular installation is looking at around 100,000 words. I know it sounds like the three-month 100,000 word novel would be a lot easier than 50,000 words in one month, but the honest truth is that there’s not much I took away from my NaNoWriMo writing attempts. As much as I loved the experience, most of the drafts I “won” with ended up in an archived folder on my computer, never to be opened again. Much of my writing felt so sub-par, irrelevant, and unusable for me that NaNoWriMo became more of a writing exercise than a fast way to churn out a story. I know it works for a lot of people; I just don’t think I’m one of them, unfortunately. I’m trying to make Boot Hill something I can be proud of, and I don’t think rushing myself is the key. So the alternative is this three-month summer option, and I’m doing my damnedest to make things work.

Here are a couple paragraphs I wrote yesterday that I quite liked:

My eyes flutter open to a brilliant orange and yellow sky. Finch sits beside me, chewing on a long piece of grass as he looks out into the distance. My heart jumps into my throat and I scramble away from him, wincing as the pain in my shoulder flares. I grasp at the wound, shallow breaths trickling from my chapped lips as Finch and I look at each other. After a few seconds, he stands and shakes his head. Both of his guns are secured in their holsters.

“Get up,” Finch says, striding toward me and grabbing my uninjured arm. “You’ve stirred up a whole heap of trouble, Linds.” I don’t move. He crouches down next to me. “Now, you’re coming with me once and for all. Y’understand? Or do I have to tie your hands so you won’t swat at me and my boys?”

Expanding the 20 sentence scene: Boot Hill

My first post to “The Sorry Songbird” was a 20 sentence scene exercise that I enjoyed because it incorporated everything I wanted to have in the scene, even if it was just the bare bones. But because my main character, Lindsey, tends to have a fairly articulate voice, I decided that I would try to expand what I’d written for the 20 sentence scene to match Lindsey’s tone while adding in some necessary storytelling components. Overall I’m very happy with what I’ve come up with, and thus far it doesn’t even span the entirety of the scene as outlined by the 20 sentence scene exercise. I might adopt the skeleton -> expansion method during the editing process more frequently if I come out with results like this. Doing so might even help me get over my crippling edit-as-I-go mentality that has held me back from finishing this novel for so many years.

I retrace my steps back to the correct dead-end in the labyrinthine slot canyon, somewhat relieved by the sight of Finch’s piles of hoarded trinkets, books, water skins, and clothing. The pummeling heat outside hardly touches the bottom of the ravine, and I shudder as I sit down and lean my head back against the cool stone wall across from Finch. He removes the wrangling hat tipped forward over his face and sets it down on the top of his head, looking over at me.

“Thought you’d run off for good this time,” he says.

“How’s your arm?” I ask, noticing a trace of blood seeping through the strips of threadbare fabric.

“Could be better. Could be a whole hell of a lot worse.” He tests the movement of his arm, sucking in a sharp inhale between gritted teeth.

“You’re lucky.”

“Wouldn’t call it lucky,” Finch snaps. “First time I’ve been shot in years.” He pauses. “Six years, in fact.”

“You’re an outlaw. I’d say one gunshot wound in six years is a sign of good luck.”

Finch scoffs. “Not if you’re a good one.” He rolls his good shoulder backwards and stretches his legs out so that they touch the only patch of sunlight peeking between the canyon’s narrow, jagged cliffs.

“What happened six years ago?” I ask.

“Long story,” he says. I sigh and look away from him, plucking the top book from a crooked stack of leather-bound books beside me. With my jacket sleeve I wipe the dust off the blank cover. As I thumb through the book I recognize the names of characters from old fables and legends from childhood. Only one of the pages is dog-eared: a three-page story called “The Sorry Songbird.” I’ve never heard of it. I think of who Finch might’ve killed for this book; something tells me he’s not much of a reader.

I set the book beside me, yank my boots and sweat-stained socks off, and fling them aside, dipping my toes beneath the cold, smooth sand. The tiny grains stick to my feet, but I don’t bother to try and scrape them off. I pick up another book from the pile, and as I open it, the spine cracks with age and neglect. The words inside were written in pencil, and are now faint, barely legible. The small, rigid handwriting triggers a semblance of familiarity.

When I look up from the page, Finch is staring at the book in my hand. “Should’ve left you back there,” Finch mutters to himself, shaking his head. “You’ve got bad luck written on your heels.”

What do you guys think? Improved? Not so improved? As a writer, how do you approach scenes? All in one go, as a skeleton that you then return to in the editing phase to expand upon, or something in between? Do you struggle with the “editing bug” while you’re writing a first draft?

20 sentence scene

As my very first post to “The Sorry Songbird,” I will be posting some brand new writing for Boot Hill. I used an exercise given to me from my intermediate fiction professor, and it is one of the few that I found useful. I posted this on my old blog, but here is the exercise one more time for everyone’s reference–and I encourage you to give it a whirl if you haven’t already.

Write a 20-sentence scene with two characters. Each sentence must incorporate the specifications below, respectively:

  1. A sentence with a wall or boundary in it
  2. A sentence with weather (temperature, wind, air) in it
  3. A sentence with a sound in it
  4. A sentence with a gesture in it
  5. A line of dialogue of six words or less
  6. A sentence with light in it
  7. A line of dialogue of ten words or more
  8. A sentence with a ceiling or floor in it
  9. A sentence with a texture (the feel of something) in it
  10. A sentence with an object smaller than a hand in it
  11. A sentence with an allusion to literature or art in it
  12. A sentence fragment
  13. A sentence with a piece of furniture in it
  14. A line of dialogue that is a question
  15. Another line of dialogue that is a question
  16. A sentence with a hand or fingers in it
  17. A sentence with a dash in it
  18. A sentence with an allusion to a current event in it
  19. A sentence with a metaphor in it
  20. A line of dialogue that is whispered

Here is mine. I didn’t follow the sentence structure completely, but I tried to stay as close as I could. It needs some revision and expansion, but it’s a great skeleton for the actual scene when it’s done. Enjoy!

I retrace my steps back to the dead-end in the labyrinthine slot canyon, relieved by the sight of Finch’s piles of trinkets, books, poorly-folded clothing, and water skins he has stored here over the years. The pummeling heat outside hardly touches the bottom of the ravine, and I shudder as I sit down and lean against the cool, gritty wall across from Finch, next to a crooked stack of leather-bound books. I pluck the top book from the stack and open it. The spine cracks with age and neglect, and the words inside are faint, barely legible. The writing style seems vaguely familiar.

“Should’ve left you back there,” Finch says, shaking his head. He rolls his good shoulder backwards and stretches his legs out so that they touch the only patch of sunlight peeking between the canyon’s narrow, jagged walls.

“And what’s keeping you from doing it?” I say, clenching my fists. “Right now. I never asked to ride your coat tails.” Part of me fears the possibility that he might follow my advice. “I didn’t ask for this.”

Finch doesn’t respond. I wait for some time but he has averted his eyes and won’t look up at me. I set the unread book in my hands beside me, yank my boots and sweat-stained socks off, and fling them aside, dipping my toes beneath the cold, smooth sand. The tiny grains adhere to my damp feet, and I don’t bother to try and shake them off. I pick up another book from the pile and open it. Written in bold, frantic script on the inside cover: “Quinn.” I stare at the inscription, stunned.

“Where did you find these?” I ask, grabbing at another one of the books to check the inside cover. There it is again. Quinn.

Finch quickly asks, “Do they mean anything to you?”

My thumb catches on a corner of a page near the end of the book, and I part the pages. There are words, but for some inexplicable reason I’m too afraid to read them–too afraid to see whatever connection it holds to Finch. The gunslinger stands with some difficulty, careful of his injured arm in my makeshift sling, and begins to walk toward me. He crouches down so that his face is only a cricket’s wing from mine.

He inclines his head near my ear and whispers, “What do you know about him?”

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