Writer, Reader, Communicator

Southern Gothics, the South, and my own personal multiverse.

Barn and wildflowers I read a fantastic blog post by Delilah S. Dawsonย by way of Chuck Wendig this morning, and it just wouldn’t leave my mind. It was all about what constitutes a Southern Gothic story, a genre I deeply love, and one I’ve accidentally written in. More on that later! I saw a few more references to it during the day, then I got into a great discussion about it this afternoon.

Do check out the blog! 25 Ingredients for a Kickass Southern Gothic

I got to thinking about the South, and another writer mentioned there are several different souths. That’s completely true in my experience. I was born and always returned to the mountains in far southwestern Virginia, and I’ve lived here for the last eleven years. The culture here in Wise County is definitely Southern, but a specific type influenced by the Scots-Irish,ย  Welsh, and other settlers who came here partly to work in our coalfields. My Dad was from neighboring Russell County. That’s much more farm country, and the English and German settlers and farm lifestyle led to a different, but still Southern, culture. Our travels to Wales, England, and Germany showed us just how directly many traditions and customs came from those parts of the world. I also spent ten years in Atlanta, quite a different flavor of Southern. New Orleans has much more of a French and Acadian influence, and Spanish and other cultures are all over the South. All of them still share certain common elements that blend into our lovely, vibrant, endlessly fascinating Southeast!

Another topic that kept my writer mind occupied today as I worked on editing and page layout was the nature of a Southern Gothic. One big point about Hand Me Downs is it is NOT set in the American South. Well, they start out in Atlanta, though I’m not sure Hartsfield International Airport counts as anything but a sprawling version of hell. Most of the story takes place in Wales, and the second novel moves to Scotland for a bit. Many of the elements on the fabulous list are in my story, even though in true pantser style I had no clue about any of those things when I was writing it. I think my perspective on the world, the lens I see and experience life through, was shaped by my Southern heritage, upbringing, and many years of living here and in Georgia. It comes through whether on purpose or not. With the influence of where I’m from, it makes perfect sense that my subconscious writer mind set my own Gothic tale in Wales with Scottish characters.

Foggy RoadAll of this got my Inner Writer riled up to write an actual, true, traditional Southern Gothic, y’all. While I’ve been working away in InDesign, adjusting spacing, changing text, placing photos, my subconscious was doing her best work. That always seems to happen when I’m not really paying attention! That should tell me something, huh?

When she was finished cogitating, she delivered The Big Idea in her usual explosive manner. With no warning whatsoever, my hair was standing on end and I was light-headed, just about dizzy. A while back, I seriously considered re-locating Hand Me Downs from Wales to right here in the mountains. That was before I visited North Wales in 2012 and felt the story anchor itself all around me. But what on earth is stopping me from writing those traditional Southern Gothics, set here and in Georgia, in the same universe as HMD? As usual, everything was right there in the text, waiting for me to catch on. Scottish and Welsh characters, all of whom have migrated to the US? A lot like what happened where I’m sitting right now? Check. The main characters relocating to Atlanta, as it turns out because people already there wanted that to happen? Check. Secrets, surprises, magical realism, more people than you would imagine in on all of the strange things? Check. Yes indeed. The Big Idea.

Think about it. I’ll be writing fan fiction in my own universe!

Thank you kindly C. Hope Clark and John Owens for throwing the spices into this big old vat of moonshine I have brewing here inside my head. I can’t wait to see how the first batch turns out!

July Camp NaNoWriMo update!

2014 Camp NaNoWriMo Winner!

2014 Camp NaNoWriMo Winner!

Here we are on August 1, and I have to say my NaNo experience was even more amazing this time around. I started with what felt like an insurmountable goal of revising my first novel, and more importantly, cutting it by quite a bit. One of the guidelines I’ve heard is to reduce your first draft by 10%. Hand Me Downs was hardly at first draft stage, but even that goal just felt crazy high. Go from 203,000+ down to 180,000? Nonsense! Insanity! Mind-bogglingly impossible! Right???

Well, of course Camp magic kicked in, and right now HMD stands at just under 166,000! Yep, I cut a novella. It was not only doable, but it’s been a lot of fun. What a fantastic learning experience too, one that will help not only my revising in the future, but my first drafts as well.

The real treat though, and a huge surprise to me, was how much I wrote during all that cutting. I haven’t been much of a short fiction writer in the past. (yeah, that is obvious from that first novel. thanks for pointing that out. aren’t you clever.) ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m normally lucky if I write a short story every few years, and most of them grow up into longer stories. Well, last night I finished my fourth short story in July! That last one left me with most of the plot for another in what feels like a fun series of them. Two came from dreams, one from an idea Unka J had ages ago, and one from a rude incident at a concert. The tones of the stories vary more than you’d imagine! Two of them make me laugh out loud, and one was the first thing I’ve written that honestly horrified me. That’s some kind of milestone, right? And yes, I love all of them!

Best of all, today I’m getting ghostly ideas of where the third novel after Hand Me Downs will start. SO excited to see what happens there, and feeling eager to dig into the second novel and do some serious revision. I have not a clue where number three will end up, but this month has left me even more confident the voices inside my head will continue to show me the way.

Feeling inspired? How about joining me for NaNoWriMo’s main event in November! ๐Ÿ™‚ No idea what I’ll be writing, but I’m quite certain I’ll be taking part. How foolish would I be to miss so much fun and excitement?


mid-July Camp NaNoWriMo Update

I just realized it’s mid-July and I haven’t done a Camp NaNoWriMo update! That’s no good! ๐Ÿ™‚

Campfire Driving out the Good Stuff

Campfire Driving out the Good Stuff

My goal was to edit and revise my first novel and see if I could reduce the word count a bit. Well, I finished my first pass on the 11th. That was 203,568 words of Hand Me Downs. I did quite a bit of polishing along the way, and much to my surprise I cut 17,858 words! Unka J has read some of the sections he was worried about, and he had to admit he couldn’t tell the difference. I can. They read SO much more smoothly now. Of course that tells me I was ready to do that work, AND that I set my Camp goal too low. The important thing is I did force my way through that mental block, and I’m really excited about going forward to whatever the next steps are.

Another surprise has been the past couple of days while I’ve taken a break from revising. I’ve completed one very positive, uplifting short story and written most of another that is about as opposite as it could be. Two short stories in a year is usually a nice goal for me. I love them both, can’t wait to see where they end up!

As for the rest of Camp, I’m so tempted to see if I can’t do the same editing and polishing with my second novel while I’m on a roll. But what I really need to do to meet my bigger goal is go through HMD again and see what else I can improve or cut. So my plan is to finish the black as pitch short story today, then back at revisions tomorrow.

Yeah, if another short story comes to me that strongly, of course I’ll write it. Turns out I really enjoy these things, and you have to grab those as they come! How’s your July looking?


Good old days?

Electric cooktop ad 1936

Electric cooktop ad 1936

Now, I do remember my Granny cooking on a massive wood-fired stove, even in the summertime. She made some fantastic food, but that thing was indeed a beast. I still think this ad might be going just a tiny bit too far…

I then noticed this ad on the reverse side. Looks like this publication had no problem whatsoever with competitive ad sales! My Granny’s stove was one of those gorgeous old solid black models, nothing this fancy.

Modern wood cooktop ad

Modern wood cooktop ad

A nice, long movement…

Wow. Talk about setting your intention when you wake up! One of the first things to cross my mind this morning was how I’d really love to write 5000 words today. I’ve been writing consistently for the past week or so, but work and travel have kept me from having a nice, long stretch of time to really get into it. I hadn’t hit my goal of 2000 for a little while. I told Unka J yesterday that I’ve been writing in fits and starts, but what it feels like is sh#ts and farts. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I knew there was more there, but I’ve been feeling, shall we say, backed up.

After a nice, cool, rainy Saturday afternoon, I just finished 5089 words! That was in the form of several shorter scenes, not what I usually do but it fits this stage of the story. I can really feel the home stretch of this one, and I might even make it before the end of the month and the start of Camp NaNoWriMo. I think the characters are aware I’m going to turn my full attention to revising Hand Me Downs as my Camp project. They seem to want to tell me their story while they have such a good opportunity. I say bring it on!

And I also say it is AMAZING how much better I feel after so much… OK, I’ll say it, such a great movement. Yeah, I’m a little giddy and silly. Can’t wait to see what the next couple of days bring. After I get some sleep!


Agra work in progress…

Just a little light writing before I jump into my page layout and editing for the day…

Caela looked at the door, and the very air shifted around her. Etan saw it as clearly as ripples in water. Their daughter had come to some kind of decision, some kind of choice that was going to impact all of them far more than even the terrible memory sheโ€™d just seen. Etan had the strongest urge to pick her up and run. Pick her up just like the day she was born, when she wasnโ€™t any longer than his forearm. Just grab her and Alex and all of their children and get the hell away from here, away from this horrifying, empty world theyโ€™d been born into. The remains of humanity would have to learn how to survive without them, without his family.

โ€œTheyโ€™re not going to listen to some kid without their strongest Dreamer to back me up, are they? Or their strongest Witness to those dreams.โ€

Before either of her fathers could answer, Caela stood, squared her shoulders, and walked toward the meeting hall. All they could do was follow her.

โ€œSheโ€™s never going to stop walking away from us, is she?โ€ Alex asked, reaching for Etan’s hand.

โ€œI just hope she looks back now and then.โ€

The magic of camp

I was thinking about not writing for two days, and that got me thinking about Camp NaNoWriMo. Why did that work so well for me? No, it wasn’t magic, or the s’mores, the extra strong campfire coffee, or even the adult beverages I smuggled in. It was the routine. The habit. And it was making writing a priority every day. The same thing happened over the winter when I had Saturdays to myself for a while. I wrote every single Saturday, all day, and I made crazy amounts of progress.

Then yesterday I was working on page layout, not quite engaging my brain, so I listened to Stephen King’s fantastic book On Writing. There it was again: the habit. Get into the habit. Make sure the muse knows where to find you every day and BE there.

So I realized what I need to do is combine the habit and the priority. That doesn’t mean my usual habit of getting everything else in the world done before I write. That often ends up being 1 in the morning or not at all! What I need to do is set a writing goal, make it a priority, and do that FIRST. I happen to be built to be a fast writer, and I appreciate how fortunate I am. But I have to use it. I have a lot of new and exciting things coming up, but the last thing I need to do is lose touch with my writing. I need to regain that incredible NaNo focus. Today is day one of doing just that.

As soon as I get up and get my coffee, I’m going to write 2000 words. Then depending on the day, I can either keep going if it’s hot, or I can go do other work or revisions or chores or such. This way I can keep writing new things, which is what keeps me a lot happier and more sane.(just ask Unka J) And I’m going to post here or on Twitter or somewhere and keep myself accountable. There will be days I have to be somewhere at the ass-crack of dawn, but then as soon as I can, I need to hit those 2000 words. I’ll contemplate days off later. ๐Ÿ™‚

Wish me luck! No, scratch that. Don’t wish me luck. Wish me habit!


Quite the day today. First off, Happy Birthday to my Sweetie! He was a real trooper to go with me to take his Mom to the doctor. She did well and had a good checkup, but that is still a long day on your birthday. The killer homemade cheesecake will be waiting in the fridge in the morning.

And second, I got some very encouraging and constructive feedback on my first novel! I was anxious before I started reading, but once I did start, I never had one second of feeling bad about it. Maybe because I’ve been learning so much more since I sent it in, and I had more of an idea what needs to be done. But a big part of it is I KNOW I’m ready for feedback and input. No one, and I mean no one, does anything like this alone. You write your first draft alone, and of course you do a ton of revising alone, but so many people are involved all along the way, from patient spouses, partners, and family members to beta readers to various editors to cover artists and layout designers. Then the ultimate collaboration starts: between the writer and the reader. Working together is one of the best things about all of this, particularly in the indie publishing community. I can’t wait to dig in and see just how much we can improve this novel!

My only problem? I have 44,399 words written on my CampNaNoWriMo project, with a goal of 50,000. And time is quite short in April. I’ve been so excited and keyed up and eager to get started on the revisions to Hand Me Downs this afternoon that I’m having trouble focusing! Anyone who’s read much of what I write knows I can do that many words pretty quickly, but I do have to DO it.

So, I’m hereby promising to go upstairs right now and write at least 1000 words before I crash. I’m aiming for 46,000. Tomorrow is a writing/get ready for writing retreat day, so I know I’ll get there. And as always, in fiction and in life, I’m so excited to see what happens next. ๐Ÿ™‚


Getting the hang of this camping thing!

Camp NaNoWriMo is still going beautifully! Two people who I thought were going to be minor characters are now the main characters, and the scope and focus of the whole story has changed. I’m still nearly 15,000 words in and it’s going great!

I think that’s part of the reason a challenge like this works. I’m truly lucky to be a very fast writer, but setting out to write 50,000 words in one month can be daunting, especially when work has been busier than usual. What something like this forces me to do is put my editor-self firmly aside and just jump in. I’m not thinking about where this is heading or worrying about staying in one point of view. I’m not focused on genre or whether this is a novella, a novel, or a new series. I’m even managing not to get too caught up in research, a very big deal for me. The characters have known the answer to every question I’ve had so far, once I got out of the way and let them tell me. I’m getting better at trusting them to keep doing just that.

The only thing I can do is hang on and enjoy the ride. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I’m finding myself falling head over heels in love with these characters. It’s so much fun getting to know them. What a wonderful surprise after writing for years with the same folks! And even better, what a treat it will be to get back to my other universe after this fantastic vacation!

From 200,000 words to 600.

This has been a great couple of hours! I submitted my one page synopsis for PubSmart right before midnight. That might not sound like that big of a deal until you consider trying to condense 200,000+ words down to under 600. I gave it my best shot! At the very least, I’ll have a great chance to talk to an agent about the synopsis and the story with no pitch-induced stress.

I also started my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, my first official participation. I thought I was going to work on novel #3 in the same universe as Hand Me Downs, but the disaster novel has demanded my attention instead. I’m still a fairly new writer, but I know enough to listen to a demand that strong. I’m so excited to meet other NaNo campers and see where the story stands after 50,000 words.

And to top it all off, my Cardinals won today. Ahhh, baseball.

No April Fool here. Full steam ahead for spring!

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