Friday, November 17, 2017

7 quick NaNo takes


So, given that I'm always behind on blogging, you wouldn't think I would have time to turn around and write a novel.  But apparently I was not as busy as I thought I was, because not only was I able to crank out an average of 3,000 words a day, I actually have finished the 50,000 word goal already.  I may have skipped vacuuming a couple of times to make it happen, but nobody starved or ran out of clean clothes.

Now I'm having that uncomfortable feeling you have when you turn in an exam first and everyone else takes another half hour at it.  I mean, was there stuff on the back I missed?  I feel like if I wrote it this fast, it can't possibly be any good.

I wrapped up the story in another couple thousand words, so it's technically done, but I suspect it's utter garbage.  And I really wanted it to be good.  It's tough because it's YA, and so the reading level and word count are a bit below stuff I've written before, which makes me feel like it's infantile and stupid.  And it's first person.  First person is hard to pull off.  I worry it really, really sucks and will be completely unsalvageable, so when I finally decide to do a good job on it, I'll have to rewrite the whole dang thing.  But *deep breath* at least I'll have the plot and characters, I guess?

Then again, it might not suck.  I just don't know.  I wrote it too recently to be able to even think about it at the moment.


It's a YA dystopia about a back-to-the-land cult which winds up being the only ones to survive the apocalypse.  I made the cult more-or-less Catholic, but with a trad/sedevacantist vibe.  (Sorry Enbrethiliel.)  I wanted to mine the smells and bells of my own experience, while at the same time not having them be actually Catholic, because that would offend the Catholics.  ;)  That, and I couldn't see real Catholics being quite this extreme.  The mainstream Catholic Church has many flaws, but fanatical extremism is not one of them.  So trads it was.

I suspect non-Catholics will hate it because it's so Catholic they can't even get the references, atheists will hate it because nobody actually attacks religion in the whole book, and Catholics will hate it because there are gay characters.  Everyone, in fact, will hate it unless they are me.

I really like the parts where people defend the cult, because I used real arguments people use to defend cults, but I'm afraid people will find those bits a stretch.  People wouldn't really say that stuff!  Alas, they do.

Also the part where my heroine climbs up the outside of a gothic cathedral.  You know you've always wanted to do that.


This book is supposed to be the one I actually publish.  But the thought of actually doing it makes me psych myself out worse than ever.  What makes me think, of all the people in the world who want to write books and get them published, that I'd succeed where so many fail?  I've always been a bit confident because, after all, most people don't bother to write the ideas they have, or they start but don't finish.  But the NaNoWriMo website is jam packed with people merrily writing novels and finishing them.  I thought I was a prodigy finishing so fast, only to find out there are people who finish in a SINGLE DAY.  What?!  There are hundreds and thousands of people writing and finishing books all the time.  Whole forums of people specifically writing YA dystopias with cults in them.  I feel .... a bit overwhelmed.

My dream is to publish with a traditional publisher, in print.  Apparently self-publishing is a bigger thing than it used to be, and you can actually make money at it, but somehow I still feel like it wouldn't count.  I feel like I need a professional to look at my book and declare it good before I could trust that it was.  After all, I mostly do not read amateur writing myself.  So much of it is horrible that unless it comes recommended by someone I trust, why should I waste my time?  I'd as soon watch movies high school kids made with a camcorder in their basement. And if I judge other people's writing that harshly, I imagine other people would do the same to mine.

Anyway, I feel terrified by the whole submitting-to-publishers process.  I don't know anyone who's done it and can hold my hand.  And it is uncomfortably rife with stuff like self-promotion and executive function which I suck at.  In my dream world, you just send them the manuscript, but nooooo, there are all those steps which seem designed to weed out loner geniuses who are really only good at writing.  Possibly because they have this fantasy that the same person might both write a blockbuster novel AND be able to promote themselves and save the publisher the job.

But.  This is me, promising you, my mostly imaginary readership, that I'm going to edit it and actually submit it somewhere, in a reasonable amount of time.  Unlike the epic fantasy I've written, it stands on its own.  And because YA dystopias are having a "moment" right now, I'd better do it soon if I want to have much of a chance.  There is no reason to delay and every reason to be serious about it.


Meanwhile we continue to be prey to every sickness that comes along.  For the most part it's no big deal.  We have had a bunch of colds.  We have a full cupboard stocked with baby ibuprofen and children's mucinex and everything else that can possibly help, and Michael and Miriam get over things in just a few days.  The baby takes a bit longer, but she doesn't seem to mind being sick that much.

But Marko . . . it seems every time he gets a cold it turns into something more serious.  He had a double ear infection all last week.  We had him medicated up to his eyebrows because it was the only way to get the pain down to "not constantly sobbing" levels, and even so all he could do, the entire week, was lie on the couch and stare glassily into the middle distance.  He couldn't hear unless you shouted in his face.  He spent four days pretty much sleeping, and then once we got him on antibiotics, he spent three more days just watching YouTube videos of Legend of Zelda walkthroughs and begging us to carry him anywhere he needed to go because his legs "weren't working."  It was kind of scary, even though he had been seen by a doctor and the doctor didn't think he was dying or anything.

He's better by now, more or less.  He's still coughing.  He pulled a muscle in his back with all the coughing, which gives him a great deal of distress and anxiety.  You see, when he starts to cough, it hurts, and that makes him panic, so he starts crying and hyperventilating, and so it hurts worse . . . repeat forever.  He woke up many times the other night and it was all we could do to calm him down.  We know, from his past history, that his level of freakout about pain has very little bearing on how much it actually hurts.  He used to not mention he was hurt at all, and then when we managed to convince him that pain was an important message from your body that you need to tell your parents, he started taking it too seriously and going completely bananas about it.

Anyway, I tried several strategies that are supposed to stop panic attacks (like "find five things that are blue, name three things you can hear" which SUPPOSEDLY calms down freaking-out children in seconds) and these didn't work AT ALL, but then I started asking him questions about obscure Legend of Zelda details and it totally worked.  So now if he starts to freak out and cough and cry, I start talking Zelda and it instantly calms him.  Yet another reminder that an autistic child's special interests are a good thing which can be very powerful in helping them manage the world.

sick and clutching the Master Sword


So the ear infection is, for the most part, behind us.  But I am still pretty dang worried about him.  Why does he get sick so much, so badly?  He's missed something like 15 days of school already.  He eats reasonably well (given that he hates all vegetables--but we make him eat at least some) and takes a multivitamin.  He doesn't sleep as much as the other kids, but he doesn't generally seem tired.

We did find out, when we took him to the doctor last, that he's underweight.  His BMI is 13.5, well below what's healthy even for a kid with John's long and lean genes.  I can't figure out if it's just that he's been sick so much, and he doesn't eat when he's sick, or if it's something else.  I've been tracking his food intake and it seems normal when he's not sick.  He did go a week recently when he mysteriously wouldn't eat his lunch, but he's back to eating it now.  We've added dessert for every dinner (for everyone, because we can hardly give ice cream to just one kid) and I've been making snacks and lunches a bit higher-calorie, and we'll just have to see if that makes up the difference.  If not . . . well, between that and the frequent illnesses, I'm worried it might be something serious.


Meanwhile, he is doing great in school for the most part.  He made the A&B honor roll in the first quarter, and he's always coming home knowing new things.  Sometimes he brings home a paper with everything wrong on it, and it turns out he misunderstood the directions or wasn't paying attention, but more often than not he gets good grades and the teacher reports his behavior is good.  He seems to be doing especially well in math, though that may partly just be that it doesn't require much writing.  Writing is still a big struggle for him, but it is definitely getting better.  He doesn't write in all caps anymore.  And he reads fluently now.  This is a problem sometimes, as he loves to hang over my shoulder while I'm writing or reading and start asking questions about what is on my screen.  I've never been so thankful to be writing YA!

Michael is doing amazing.  His behavior in school, the teacher tells me, is excellent and she wishes she could have a classroom full of just Michaels.  And he's learning everything they can teach him, plus some he seems to be picking up on his own.  He's sounding out words and very enthusiastic about showing off his skills with print he sees anywhere.

It can be hard to praise each child's accomplishments without making the other one feel bad.  Both are doing really well given their abilities.  Which means Michael is, technically, doing better, but Marko is overcoming more challenges, so we just have to try to praise them out of earshot of the other.  I remember growing up hearing my brother praised for his intelligence and me for my sweetness, and I thought it meant I wasn't smart.  I want both my kids to explore all their strengths and not define themselves as not being whatever the other one is!

Miriam is being very stubborn and demanding lately.  I mean, she is three and that's standard.  It doesn't bug me like it did with previous kids, and I can't say if that's because she's not as difficult at three as they were, or if I just know three-year-olds now, so I know you don't argue with them, you just wait awhile and try again later.  Or, in some cases, you just give up and let them show up at school drop-off in a bathing suit and boots and hair that hasn't been brushed since their last haircut.

Jackie is walking a lot.  She's my earliest walker now at nine months, one week.  It's super impressive and I like to show her off to everyone.  She also waves, claps, signs "more" and "all done," and responds to her name.  Naps are still a tossup; she has been known to go through the whole day on the strength of a 20-minute nap.  She doesn't eat a whole lot besides crackers.


Not sure I have a seventh thing to say, so I'll just share some Halloween pictures.

We had Link, a dinosaur, a mouse, and a cat.  Marko refused to be in a picture with the other kids because there aren't any dinosaurs, mice, or cats in the Legend of Zelda.  I have to admit that this is true.  But they also don't demand candy from the neighbors, either, so I think the authenticity was a wee bit selective there.

How have y'all been, my five or so faithful readers?


Belfry Bat said...

I can't think of a story that I've ever hated because it had a gay character in it. Heck, Brideshead Revisted, anyone? I can think of stories whose gay-chacters' subplots fell flat because there wasn't a real reason/indication, beyond author say-so, that the gay character was a man who delected in men (or even: some man) as-such. Or the opposite.

Just tell the truth about your characters.

Sheila said...

What sign should there be? I'm not much of a believer in gay-dar. Some gay people are very different from the average straight person. Others are not.

Catholics are okay with Brideshead Revisited because there's a whole lot of "THIS IS BAD DON'T DO IT" signalling in there. My book doesn't have that. It isn't possible to write a book without a moral message, because choosing not to include one is itself a statement about the author's morality.

Enbrethiliel said...


1) I haven't written any long fiction in a while, but my own approach has been that the first draft will always be the most awful version. So I think it's a bit early to worry about your story's possible awfulness!

2) If there's a character based on me, you have permission to use my name!!! And then also name me in the acknowledgments, pretty please, when it gets published so I can brag that I contributed a tiny crumb to the next big YA phenomenon!

3) You're probably right that you need to strike while the iron of YA Dystopia is hot, if you want your best chance at a book deal. But always remember that your manuscript could be the best writing of the year and still be rejected just because it's not what the editors are looking for at the moment.

There was one viscerally powerful story that I rejected for that Catholic literary magazine a mutual friend of ours was once editor-in-chief of, simply because it wasn't what we were looking for. Yet it actually haunts me today more than any other story from the slush pile. I don't wish I could go back and change my decision. But I do wish I had asked our mutual friend to read it herself, so if I had been wrong, she could have overruled me, and if I had been right, she could have made me feel better.

4 and 5) Poor Marko. I once had a coughing fit so bad that my torso muscles ached for days afterward. I'm glad to hear he's better. If I may suggest something . . . How does he handle garlic? My family's health motto could be "A raw clove of garlic a day keeps the doctor away."

6) Did you ever watch The Incredibles? Michael reminds me a little of Syndrome in that picture.

7) Did the mouse choose her costume to match the cat's or did the mouse inspire the cat?

PS -- I hate to be That Reader. But I think I may have a comment in moderation.

Anonymous said...

Faithful reader here. You are an excellent writer. I always hoped you'd write a screenplay or novel about your experience at boarding school. I suggest you shop your novel around to some literary agents. Also, treat yourself to a copy of "Writer's Market 2018: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published."

Belfry Bat said...

I'm not sure who you think does the Moralizing about Antony in B.R. (except perhaps Lady Marchmain? ... I don't think she even mentions him to Charles) but there's heaps of humanizing him, not to mention of skewering the stupid Oxonians who think dropping him in that fountain would be Appropriately Funny; but, more than that: Antony is The One Person who speaks honestly to Charles about his painting (if about nothing else).

But, now, "Sign"? You seem to be asking me how one should signal that this or that character is gay; I'm just saying that "gay" is as "gay" yearns. One has to establish that a character called gay really is consistently infatuated with reflections of his form rather than with the complementary; which is why I phrased it, above, "a man delecting in other men". I don't know what makes Antony Blanche a successful example of that, but he is. On the other side, I don't really know how to explain why in StTk:Disc, Stamets+Culber (so far) fail to convince, but, well, I'm not convinced. It's almost as if the writers initially wrote Stamets as a woman, but when casting/production decided Burnham and Tilly would be women, Engineering got to be too female?...

Of course, there's also deciding how (if at all) your character signals to others that he is gay. And that's entirely up to you. Or them, if you're that kind of writer.

Sheila said...

E, Miriam was set on being a mouse, and I just used her costume from last year for Jackie. But I did think having a tiny cat and a giant mouse was pretty cute!

Michael definitely looks like Syndrome in this picture -- I don't think you're the first person to say so!

Never worry about telling me to fetch things out of moderation. I forget to check.

Anon, thanks. I wonder if a potential publisher would want to hear, in my query letter, that it's based on my own experience? I'm not sure if "I drank the kool-aid" is a plus or a minus!

BB, if all you mean is "if they're gay, they have to actually like guys (or girls)," well, yes. Showing and not telling.

The moralizing is from Charles, for instance, when he calls their relationship "a kind of naughtiness high on the list of grave sins." And, of course, he breaks it off with Anthony. And I just think a writer who didn't disapprove of homosexuality wouldn't have had Anthony be as broken a person as he is. Not all real-life gay people are alcoholics, for instance!

Anonymous said...

Anon here (the social worker in Pennsylvania who reads your blog faithfully): YES. Publishers are interested in first-person accounts of living in and escaping cults and bizarre communities. Leah Remini's series on A&E about people leaving Scientology is very popular. Definitely tell them you drank the kool aid. You can offer the story as a cautionary tale.

Belfry Bat said...

... I think we're getting our Antonys and Sebastians mixed up...

The thing is that Charles, when he uses that phrase about the list of sins... he's remembering thinking that thought ironically, when he didn't believe anything and was perpetually flumoxed that Sebastian and Julia actually did believe all our Catholic ideas, even when they would act completely otherwise. (I'm not convinced Sebastian was gay; he was running away from his vocation all the time, until he couldn't even manage that properly, in Tunisia or wherever it was...)

For the rest, Yes, it's a show/tell thing, but: the point is to convince the reader of what the characters are, before showing how one of them 'likes' or lusts after the other.

Melissa D said...

Just wanted to let you know that I read your blog frequently, if not regularly, and hope you don't stop!

Sheila said...

Ah, so I am. I had actually forgotten that other guy!

Straight men who run from their vocations don't do it by sleeping with other dudes. Sebastian was gay as heck. Whereas Charles was only gay north-northwest.

How exactly does one show a person is gay without reference to the people they're attracted to? *flummoxed*

Andrea said...

My husband writes (mostly Sci-if) and just recently went through the process of getting a novel to the submission to editors stage so I thought I’d chime in! The usual process is to obtain a literary agent and then have the agent represent you to publishers. There was a contest that helped him get an agent called Pitch Wars.

He was able to get a short story published in podcast form before he had an agent, but I think agents are really helpful for novels. And it is definitely a long process, so don’t get discouraged! He tries sneaks in writing everyday after work for about 45 min and depending on the day he will write anywhere from 200 words to 1500 words. And the process to get it published is also quite long. He got an agent I believe around a year ago, had to make some edits to his novel, and it’s been on sub since.

Funnily, my husband just wrote a short story that is supposed to be about people who are like trads who have conspiracy like thinking and extreme views (we are trads ourselves and the extremism that one finds in these parishes can drive us nuts). :)

Belfry Bat said...

Who said "without reference"? It's really quite simple... Also, I obviously haven't read what you've written, and I rather expect my criticism of Discovery has no bearing on your novel at all.

Returning to my digression: there is no mention of any man actually sleeping with any other man, or wanting to, in all of Brideshead. There's cousin Jack's slur against Catholics. There's Charles' very vague "list of mortal sins" remark. Antony puts on a big show of being a Liberace before Liberace was and, most impoartantly, luxuriating in Charles being "an artist", and probably we can believe him; or maybe we can't (the Granada TV adaptation (w/ Jeremy Irons) credibly suggests that Antony grows out of his flamboyance... but that of course is not Canonical). About Charles and Sebastian, we know they enjoyed drunkenness, and there was that time they tried to pick up that pair of easy girls (also while drunk); and otherwise everyone (Bridey, Cordelia, Lady Marchmain) thought that Charles was a suitable friend for Sebastian, until he undermined the Samgrass Ploy.

Sheila said...

Andrea, that's so cool that your husband is getting published!

Bat, your first paragraph is opaque, so I can't reply to it. I keep trying to pin down what in the world you're talking about, and every time I think I've got it, you wriggle away.

Critics generally assume that Waugh was talking about homosexual in an oblique, plausibly-deniable way. The same is true of the other Catholic book I know of that talks about homosexuality -- Waking Rose, by Regina Doman. I don't believe the word "gay" is ever used, and arguably the character she keeps hinting at isn't gay at all.

And this kind of proves my point -- Catholics don't want to read stuff with gay characters, and if they do, they prefer nothing so explicit as the word "gay." Then, of course, the gay characters have to be tormented and repent in the end. There doesn't need to be any straight-up lecturing, but you can't have the book end with a character happy and in a gay relationship.

Andrea said...

Hey Sheila! He’s not published quite yet :) Just in the process. His agent has sent his novel to various publishers and we are just in a waiting game to see if it gets accepted anywhere.

I just wanted to encourage you that you shouldn’t worry if the process takes a while. :)

Sheila said...

Still, they say getting an agent is the toughest part!

Sheila said...

Enbrethiliel, there wasn't any character based on you, but I've been editing lately and I added one. It isn't really you, it's a middle-aged nun who cleans house for the eeeeevil bishop, but I gave her your name so you could have that to brag about! :D

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm training my bragging muscles in the bragging gym as I comment!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...