“Atmospheric entry is the movement of an object into and through the gases of a planet‘s atmosphere from outer space. There are two main types of atmospheric entry: uncontrolled entry, such as in the entry of astronomical objects, space debris or bolides; and controlled entry, such as the entry (or reentry) of technology capable of being navigated or following a predetermined course.” – from Wikipedia
I’ve been back from Alabama for four days now, and I guess you could say it’s a controlled re-entry. The trip from Montgomery by car takes twelve hours and change, and at this stage in my life I refuse to drive for 12+ hours, particularly after a week of performances and closing festivities. So I took the most expedient route home (avoiding I-95 because I hate it so), drove for eight hours and then stopped for the night at a motel on I-81. That night on the road gave me a chance to detach from Alabama and fix my thoughts on home.
I really enjoyed my time at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Aside from a some minor quibbles with the artist housing (a TV set so dated that I couldn’t attach my beloved Wii game and a ceiling that leaked during the frequent ferocious Alabama thunderstorms – really, I’ve lived in far worse), I was comfortable and happy. I missed my husband and I missed my house and my garden, but that’s the price you pay for working away from home.
It was interesting revisiting the role of Ursula, too. Aside from the tentacles and the basic hoopskirt format, the costume was very different. At Olney, Pei Lee’s costume design resulted in a sleek, scary Ursula, and the makeup design (executed by fellow cast member and airbrush whiz Gracie Jones) lent an harsh and somewhat alien aspect to the character. Due to the configuration of the stage, I only had two practical tentacles (you can read more about them here) and only two eels (Nurney Mason as Flotsam and Robert Mintz as Jetsam) to help manipulate them. At ASF, Brenda van der Wiel’s design provided SIX working tentacles, more cleavage, and a towering wig that was three parts Marie Antoinette and one part Paula Deen. My makeup design, by David Rowland, featured lots of glamour and glitter. Ursula’s look wasn’t all that was different: in addition to my Flotsam and Jetsam (Jeremy Pasha and Brandon LaShawn Curry), I had a six-member eel ensemble which swirled and twirled and essentially did my evil bidding in both my big numbers:
I found, once I got into the ASF costume, that Ursula began to change. She wasn’t nearly as sinister as her Olney counterpart; she giggled and flirted and preened like a true Southern belle. I had the same navigational difficulties that I had at Olney – too big to fit through doors and too bulky to sit in a chair – only this costume was even bigger and heavier, weighing in at a whopping 36.5 pounds. Once again, when not onstage I had to sit off by myself, out of everyone’s way (in this instance, on a stool in the scene shop behind the stage right wing, where all the set pieces were kept – I got to be good buds with the crew).
When not performing, I spent my time in my apartment writing (still banging away at Book #3 in my fantasy series while my agent tries to find a publisher for Book #1), or reading (I think I roared through nearly twenty books in two months), or I’d go out for a stroll in the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park (where ASF is located). The park was quite lovely, with ponds and trees and walking trails and even the occasional bird. The Southern heat took some getting used to; by the time I left we were averaging 95+ degree days with high humidity, which made the outdoors feel like a swamp and the air-conditioned indoors feel like a freezer.
On my days off I explored the area, mostly looking for good birdwatching, but the summer heat really put a crimp in that activity, not just for me, encumbered with my binoculars and camera and birding bag, but for the birds, who I’m convinced had left town for the mountains. I really didn’t see much that I hadn’t already seen, even on an overnight trip to Dauphin Island off the Alabama coast. (I’d love to go back there during the spring migration, though – I bet it’s amazing.)
Because my mom’s home isn’t more than a five-hour drive from ASF, my mom got to see the show. This was especially exciting because she hasn’t seen me perform since 2009. Her friend Sandra drove the both of them down, and they really seemed to enjoy the show. I even managed to get Mom up onstage with me post-performance for a photo op. I got a similar shot with John when he came to visit, and after that it seemed like the doors were flung open and EVERYONE wanted a post-show picture with Ursula! I didn’t mind (I got to take pictures with some absolutely adorable kid-relatives of various company members), and David Rowland (who was also responsible for my wig) and my dresser Ruth Fink were always very patient and gracious about waiting for me, not only for these photo ops but also when I did a post-show discussion (which was at least once a week).
Graciousness was a large part of my Alabama experience. Everyone was so courteous and helpful – from our company manager, Crystal McCall, to the stage management team under the leadership of Hannah Jean Farris, to the crew members (especially stage op Tony Gordon, who got me into my flying harness, as well as into the air, for every single performance). Everyone in admin, front of house, box office – even the security guys – were just as enthusiastic and supportive as they could possibly be. And I never for a minute felt like their many kindnesses were anything but genuine.
And I can’t say enough good things about the cast of ASF’s Mermaid: hard-working, cheerful, consistent and just plain fun to be around – especially Jeremy and Brandon, the nicest eels a Sea Witch could ask for.
So as I head back into my more cosmopolitan (and perhaps slightly more jaded) existence here in the DC Metro area, I’m hoping to keep a little bit of that Alabama sweetness with me – by passing it on. Mean ol’ Ursula’s doesn’t just have a spangling of glitter, she’s got herself a sugar coating, too. Y’all better watch out.
When I set out for Hatteras Island the weather was overcast and a bit drizzly, which meant no sun in my eyes as I drove due east. I was grateful for that. I imagine the route I took, which is only two lanes for a good part of the drive, can be hellish with beachgoing traffic on a summer Friday afternoon, but on an early autumn Monday morning it was quiet and calming. I cranked the windows down and listened to some quiet music and craved some breakfast, but I’d already told myself I’d stop for a good lunch once I crossed the Croatan and Roanoke Sounds into the Outer Banks. Three hours later, right at lunchtime, I arrived. I knew I wanted to go to Sam and Omie’s to dine, and only had a vague idea of its location, but like a homing pigeon I went right to it. I was just ahead of the lunch rush and had my shrimp burger and onion rings in no time flat (a continuation of the ruinous eating choices I made in Raleigh). Then I got back in the car, pointed it south on NC 12 and crossed the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge onto Hatteras Island.
The northernmost part of Hatteras Island is occupied by the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and once you get past it and the towns of Rodanthe and Salvo, the view gives way to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. There’s not much to see but dunes, ponds and the occasional sound or sea view. There was a fair amount of repair work being done on NC 12, partly as a result of Hurricane Arthur’s drive-by back in July, and I had to keep my eyes open to the many, often rapidly-changing speed limits as I headed toward Buxton and the Cape Hatteras Motel, my ultimate destination. After another hour’s drive (and a stop at a grocery store in Avon to pick up a few supplies), I arrived, checked in and got my key to my second-floor oceanfront room from Dave, the friendly manager.
If you look at the photos of the property from the website link above, you’ll see a big dune and a boardwalk to the beach from the oceanfront rooms. Both dune and boardwalk are gone – casualties, I’m told, of Hurricane Isabel more than ten years ago. Beach erosion here has been quite bad, as you can see from this photo of a property right next to the hotel (note the big sandbags at the foot of the property). I’m sure the guys fishing off the deck thought it was great, but the waves breaking around the property’s foundations would have spooked me a bit, particularly at high tide. At said high tide, the porch outside my room was literally a stone’s throw from the water, and you wouldn’t need to throw that stone very hard.
That said, the view from my room was delicious, and once I opened the windows, so was the sea breeze and the sound of the waves crashing. I hauled my stuff from the car up to my room (a bit of a workout, since the motel is a typical Outer Banks mom-and-pop place and has no elevators) and put everything away. The Cape Hatteras Motel isn’t luxe by any stretch – one of my two dresser drawers was stuck shut and an armchair was so seat-sprung you couldn’t sit in it – but it was the end of the season and I was willing to put up with it for the location. There was a long counter with coffee-maker and toaster where I could prep food, as well as a small refrigerator and a microwave, so I made a pact with myself that I would eat two meals “in” each day to try to get my eating habits back on track.
HAH. I was in the land of fried and broiled seafood, not to mention HUSH PUPPIES, which are like crack to me. I stayed in the first night, creating a nutritionally-responsible dinner from my personal stores and enjoying the experience of writing right by the window with the waves roaring just outside (it was a particularly windy night). I was also a good girl the next day and made breakfast and lunch in my room, since I mostly hung around on the motel’s beach, although I did make a short jaunt to Hatteras Lighthouse in its new location. I’m well-acquainted with the structure, having visited it many times in the past and climbed it with John and Margaret on my last visit (when it was still perilously close to the surf line due to beach erosion), but it was nice to see the old girl in a safe place. I drove out to the lighthouse’s previous location and did a little birdwatching (a Double-Crested Cormorant and a Great Egret, neither of which were new to me but were nice to observe all the same) then headed back to the hotel, showered, changed clothes and went to The Captain’s Table for dinner. I don’t remember what I had – a glass of wine and a broiled seafood dinner of some kind which was good – but I made a pig of myself on the hush puppies and then waddled back to my hotel room and wrote for a while, with another glass of wine and some totally unnecessary munchies to keep me company. I went to bed early as I hadn’t slept well the night before (never do, in a new place) and because I was getting up early to go to Ocracoke Island in the morning.
Since Ocracoke is only accessible by air or boat, I did what most folks do and took the ferry. Since I love ferries and was still feeling nutritionally reckless, I stopped at the Orange Blossom Bakery and Cafe and bought one of their famous Apple Uglies, a ginormous apple fritter which cost, I think, all of $3.50. I put it aside while I drove to the ferry station at the very end of Hatteras Island, although the urge to pick at it during the trip was almost more than I could stand. I pulled into the line for the ferry and with about twenty minutes to kill, chowed down on the Ugly. IT WAS DELICIOUS. Kind of insanely delicious, and every bit the size of my whole hand, fingers and all. I ate two-thirds of it and forced myself to wrap up the rest of it up. I washed it down with a Diet Pepsi (OF COURSE) and fortunately had some water to wash the sticky goodness from my greedy digits. About then the folks running the ferry starting directing us aboard, and I was lucky enough to get a front-row position. As instructed, I put the emergency brake on, shut off the ignition and watched as they chocked my wheels.
It was a gorgeous morning for a ferry ride, but I was glad I’d brought my jacket as it was windy on the water. It was a bit too rough to birdwatch – my binoculars kept jiggling from the chop – but I saw the usual Brown Pelicans and Herring Gulls and more cormorants and lots of other seabirds, and just contented myself leaning on the rail and looking. Other ferry passengers came up to enjoy the view and several of them got splashed when the occasional wave broke over the ferry’s nose. The trip took about 55 splendid minutes – if one could travel in a straight line it would take a fraction of that time, but because of the shoals the ferries have to describe a route that’s like an inverted U – and then we were landing at Ocracoke. There’s not much besides the ferry station at that end of Ocracoke Island; you have to drive another dozen miles to get to Ocracoke Village, passing through more of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Ocracoke Village is quaint and rather charming, particularly in the off-season when many of the tourist-y places have closed for the season. Many people park their cars and rent golf carts to get around, but as the village isn’t that big and I have two perfectly functional legs, I didn’t see the point. I parked near the southern ferry docks (where you can take a ferry to Cedar Island or Swan’s Landing), paid a quick visit to the Ocracoke Preservation Museum (where I learned, to my surprise, that figs are HUGE in Ocracoke – another thing to love about it) and then set out walking to the Ocracoke Lighthouse.
It’s a squatty little structure, nothing like its towering cousin on Hatteras, and you can’t climb it, but it still looked pretty in the morning light. Did I mention it was a beautiful day? As it got warmer, I stripped off my jacket to enjoy the sun, but nearly put it back on as I made a side trip through Springer’s Point Preserve, which is a maritime forest and reputedly once a hangout of the pirate Teach (better known as “Blackbeard”). I was beset by mosquitoes a short way down the trail and was grateful I’d brought bug spray, although I wished I’d had the foresight to apply it before starting my walk. The trail empties out onto a soundside beach, and I sat on one of the thoughtfully-provided benches and took in the view before heading back.
I walked back through the village, finally ending up at Books to Be Red and Deepwater Pottery, where I indulged myself in two books about local history, two bars of scented soap, a pretty cuff bracelet and a nice conversation about Snowy Owls with the lady running the shop. Apparently two of the birds visited Ocracoke during the winter and were quite the media sensation. The lady was kind enough to invite me behind the counter to look at the shop’s Facebook page on her computer, where some wonderful photos of the owls were posted.
By the time I finished at the bookstore, it was just after the lunch hour and I thought I’d better find myself something to eat. Many restaurants were closed for the season, but I stumbled upon Dajio, which was open, lucky me. I had one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches of my life there: manchego and Vermont cheddar on country white bread with bacon and green chile chutney. It was so good I could have eaten it twice.
Lunch devoured, I went back to my car and headed back to the northern ferry dock. Along the way I stopped at the Ocracoke Wild Pony pasture viewing site and was treated to a view of a half-dozen or so of the horses, one of which came to a nearby pond for a drink while three Killdeer squawked in the grass close by, as if upset about the pony’s incursion on their turf. Back at the dock, I forced myself to toss away the remains of the Apple Ugly (stale or no, I would have continued noshing on it Because It Was There) and then enjoyed another ride back over the waves to Hatteras. I had dinner in the room, along with more wine, and then enjoyed a solid night’s sleep after so much fresh sea air and sunshine.
The next day I mostly loafed on the beach, reading, taking photos, strolling around and watching the surf roll in and out. I didn’t see any dolphins, which was a wee bit disappointing, and most of the shore bird life was comprised of Sanderlings, Sand Pipers and Willets – all familiar to me. In my rambles I stumbled across the remains of someone’s sand castle, which made a nice photo.
After a shower and change of clothes, I went to dinner at Diamond Shoals Restaurant, which was so close I could have walked to it (but I drove, lazy me). I had a delicious broiled grouper filet with a side of very good green beans and MORE hush puppies, and I was such a pig that I asked for seconds of those. I went back to the motel and packed up most of my gear so I wouldn’t disturb anyone when I left in the morning – the motel, which had been largely empty through most of my stay, was starting to fill up with weekend fisherfolk. I got the car partially loaded and then read for a while before turning off the light and enjoying my last ocean lullaby before I dropped off.
I woke up before my alarm went off and was able to catch a final shot of the beach at sunrise (I’ll share it with you to conclude this post). I dropped off my key at the motel’s still-closed office and drove north back over the Bonner Bridge. I stopped at the Charles Kuralt trail at the Pea Island National Refuge and did a little birdwatching, where I saw a White Ibis, Louisiana Heron, White Egret (all familiar to me) and a Lesser Yellowlegs (which was not, and got added to my birding Life List). I also got chewed up by mosquitoes and had a near encounter with a confident young racoon when I got off the main trail. I stopped for a few minutes at the Bodie Island Lighthouse on Nags Head and then continued on home, refreshed and rejuvenated, my little ten-day solo jaunt a rousing success.
It’s one of those things we actors folks both dream about and dread: unrelieved, overlapping gigs. Show after show, gig after gig, all tumbling together on the calendar like a bunch of happy puppies, difficult to manage, nearly impossible to organize, hard not to love. I’ve been going nonstop since October a year past, industrial upon workshop upon one-nighter upon show uponshowuponshow. Don’t think for a minute I’m not grateful; I am. Back to back gigs in my line of work are something to be celebrated. It’s like having a “real” job for a change: knowing exactly what you’ll be doing a week from today, the ability to plan ahead, and most important, the constant paychecks.
But after nearly a year of it, I was desperate for a break. I only get one day off a week, and that’s Monday, and it’s usually filled with mundane things like laundry, grocery shopping, housework and making dinner for my long-suffering husband. I had a month-long break in June, but I spent it with my mother in Tennessee, getting her house in order after she’d been in rehab following a fall and a fractured hip. It was a break from show biz, yes, but it was not a Break in the normal sense of the word and in fact, was a lot more stressful than I realized. I looked at my calendar and saw that I would have three weeks off between SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at Signature Theatre and THE LITTLE MERMAID at Olney Theatre. And I said to myself, “by gum, Self, you are going to take a REAL BREAK.”
Unfortunately John had a project due at work, so we couldn’t take a break together, but with his blessing I decided to strike off on my own. The first thing I wanted was to have some uninterrupted writing time. Through research and the recommendation of playwright Bob Bartlett, I settled on a three-day stay at The Porches in Norwood, Virginia. As soon as SUNDAY closed, I packed my bags and my travel computer and set off for Central Virginia.
Trudy Hale, owner and hostess of The Porches, sent along a sheet of directions and advised that I use them instead of my in-vehicle GPS. There’s a reason for this: Norwood, Virginia is out in the boondocks, and when I was about fifteen miles out from my destination my GPS simply stopped working. Fortunately Trudy’s directions are quite clear, and I pulled into the gravel driveway of The Porches around 4:30 PM on Tuesday.
Trudy met me at the door, along with Jenny, one of the other writers in residence. There were two other writers at The Porches when I arrived, and all three of them left the following day. I chatted at length with Jenny, exchanged only a few words with Anne, and never even saw Henry. Privacy is tantamount at The Porches; there are rules about keeping quiet during the day so you don’t disturb other writers as they woo their Muse.
I unpacked the car, stowing my foodstuff in the Writers’ Refectory (a large first-floor kitchen and dining room) and dragging my other things up to my assigned quarters: The Jade Room, on the top floor of house. Initially I was a little dismayed at being waaaaay up there (in addition, the Jade Room is the only room equipped with a single bed instead of a double), but after I’d gotten moved in I had to admit it was an awfully nice place. It was a light, airy room with a skylight, plenty of windows, a view of the treetops and loads and loads of quiet. It also had a generous workspace for my computer and attendant Writing Junk, a power strip for All The Things That Must Be Plugged In, a ceiling fan and good lamps for writing at night
Not that I did much writing that first night. I was too busy getting oriented and arranged, and discovering that there was absolutely no cell reception anywhere on the property (“AT&T and Verizon don’t get along up here,” was Trudy’s explanation). I had to email John to let him know I’d arrived, and we kept communicating via email, and you know what? it wasn’t so bad. I wrote him a little letter in the morning and sometimes one at night, and it was actually sort of sweet.
My sleep that night was only so-so, as I expected. I never sleep well the first night away from home, and the final week of SUNDAY’s run I’d had some kind of bad reaction to a bug bite that made me break out in hives – some of which might have been stress-oriented. I’d been to the doctor and gotten a steroid shot to bring the hives under control, but I still had some major itching going on. All the same, I got up the following morning ready to write. Trudy was already gone – driving Henry to the airport in DC (!) and Jenny and Anne departed not long after, so I had the house to myself. After breakfast, I got to work. I took a break for lunch and kept on going until about 2 PM, when I realized my eyes were crossing and I needed a break. I stuck my phone in my pocket (although I couldn’t make any calls, I could take photos) and struck off to see what the neighborhood looked like.
Maizie, Trudy’s dog, was waiting just outside the gate and happily accompanied me on my walk. There was no one else around; not a soul. The only other person I saw on my 45-minute walk was a school bus driver, who waved to me as she passed the first time and waved again on her return trip (I wondered what poor kid lived way up here in the boonies). I crossed a little stream (I found out later it was not a stream at all, but the Tye River, a tributary of the James River which is not far away from The Porches), looked at a cow with her calf out in a field, saw a lot of old ruined houses and barns (very picturesque; made me wish I was a painter), and generally just enjoyed the fresh air. It was overcast and smelled like rain, and by the time I returned to The Porches (Maizie having long ago abandoned me for a neighbor’s yard) it was beginning to drizzle. I met Trudy out in the garden with a trowel and trug; she had only just gotten back from her trip to DC. I thought it was awfully nice of her to drive Henry all that way, but she shrugged and said she’d known him for thirty years. We stood in front of the house chatting for nearly an hour; she told me that she owns the little church just across Norwood Road from The Porches, and has hopes of turning it into an art studio/gallery at some point. She also told me a way to get down to the River Tye, and the best walks in the neighborhood. It started to rain in earnest then, and Trudy went into her side of the house, and I went upstairs to the Jade Room and got back to work. It rained the rest of the day and into the night, but the drumming of it on the tin roof was oddly comforting.
I wrote nearly 2000 words my first full day at The Porches, which probably doesn’t sound like much but it’s a lot more than I’ve been averaging of late. I generally peck out 500 or so words a day, but my excuse is that I edit and polish as I go – a system some writers scoff at, preferring to burp up words without stopping, but I’ve written two previous books this way and it’s what works for me. In addition to writing, I also read and did some yoga and never once turned on a TV (there’s one downstairs for them as wants it). Day Two was much the same, except even quieter – I had the whole house to myself. I followed much the same pattern: wrote all morning, took a break for lunch, wrote until midafternoon, went for a walk (this time sans Maizie, who couldn’t be bothered). I didn’t get as much written the second day: only about 1000 words, and I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but this is a first draft, after all, and I’ll fix it in rewrites.
So after my two full days and two partial days at The Porches, I can give it my heartiest recommendation. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable and it’s been lovingly laid out for working writers. The Refectory has plenty of refrigerator and storage space; the Writers’ Lounge looked comfy but I never used it – too busy writing. I brought my own books to The Porches but it was like bringing sand to the beach – every room in the house, with the exception of the bathrooms, had books in it. I had a peek into the other rooms and each of them is a veritable Writer’s Haven, with good light, a comfortable work space, great views and cozy armchairs and sofas for lounging in. The price is reasonable, the location gorgeous, and Trudy was funny, kind and welcoming.
I’m off on the next leg of my three-legged trip tomorrow: heading to Raleigh to visit my sister Margaret, by way of Appomattox Court House and environs. I’m looking forward to a weekend featuring a beer fest and a hockey game. It’s the antithesis of The Porches’ serene atmosphere, but after so much solitude, I’m about ready to be join the human race again.
So Beaches is closed and I had a week of overlap between that and the start of rehearsals for The Threepenny Opera, both at Signature Theatre. Being as 3P is emotionally and theatrically kind of the anti-Beaches, it’s been an interesting adjustment as well as making for some long-ass days.
I’ve been doing a lot of auditioning and have got myself booked through the end of the year now (announcements to come), have a couple of rapidly-approaching one-night gigs (announcements to come) and if that wasn’t enough, decided rather foolishly that I needed to participate in Camp NaNo and gave myself just an easy 20k word goal for the month of April. I’ve written a grand total of 600 words in the first week, accomplished in two 300-word spurts. Pathetic. What was I thinking?
Someone on one of my writers’ forums asked the question in what order do you do these things: writing, editing, research? Here’s my answer:
Tweak/write write writey write write.
Tweak/write write writey…wait.
Realize I need to know more to finish the scene.
Research research research.
Write the scene. Only use a fraction of the research.
Write writey write write.
Backspace backspace o crap just highlight it all and delete.
Realize I shouldn’t have deleted what I deleted.
Tweak/write write writey write write…
Repeat as needed.
Meanwhile all around me spring has sprung and the daffodils are budding and the garden needs to be tilled and I at least remembered to take the cover off the fig tree so the poor thing can bud, unless the one-two punch of deer munching on it in the fall and all the wintery precip of the past few months hasn’t killed it. Same with the freakin’ cherry trees. Both the rosemary and the eucalyptus look like they’re winter-killed, too. At least the ornamental cherry we planted last year is showing signs of life.
Off to rehearsal now. More later.
::doggy paddles into the sunset::
It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged anything of substance, and for that I apologize and offer the usual excuse that I’ve Been Busy. I’ve already mentioned the industrial work that took me right up to a flurry of workshops, cabarets and one-night events, not to mention the start of rehearsals for Gypsy at Signature Theatre; what I haven’t mentioned is that on November 1st, I started writing a new book.
See, there’s this thing called NaNoWriMo which happens every November. Essentially, you pledge that you’ll write 50,000 words of a brand-new novel during the 30 days of November. They don’t have to be polished words – in fact, you could be writing utter crap – but the idea is to just get yourself to put words on paper on deadline.
Now, you would think for someone with a journalism background that putting words on paper on deadline would be dead easy, but it ain’t so. I am a persnickety author with a very strong Internal Editor so my M.O. when writing is to write a few sentences, edit them, polish them, and then move on. It works for me (after all, I’ve already got two completed novels under my belt) but sometimes you’d like the Editor to back off a bit so you can just let the words flow. I thought trying NaNo this year would help me achieve that goal, and I’d made tentative plans to write a light romantic comedy for the competition.
Problem was, I was so busy in the weeks leading up to November 1st that I wasn’t able to do the necessary planning for the rom/com novel. Hadn’t anything but the roughest idea of a plot, hadn’t decided who the main character would be – in other words, all I had was a title (it’s a great title, though, which I will share once I write the darn thing). So I was a little panicked by mid-October.
I was already about 30,000 words into the third book in my fantasy series and was running into a series of hiccups with it, mostly centered around motive and personality for my lead protagonist and antagonist. Just as an exercise, I’d written some material about both characters’ childhoods and upbringing, and I was growing more and more interested in exploring that further. Why not write that book for NaNo? I asked myself, and myself, feeling exceedingly harried and irritable at the time, responded “YES YES DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.”
So on November 1st, in the midst of an extraordinarily busy week, I started writing a new novel. It was helpful that I had a good clear idea of where I wanted to go with the story, but it was hard making myself just spew the words rather than stop and polish. And I did need to spew. In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write at least 1,666 words per day. That’s a lot of words, particularly when you don’t have a lot of focused time. So I squeezed in the writing whenever I could, sometimes getting up a few hours early, sometimes writing while I ate, sometimes grabbing a spare 20 minutes between rehearsals, just to get the words down. There were days when I couldn’t write at all and had to make it up the next day; there were days when what I wrote was so heinous that the Internal Editor leaped in before I could stop her; there was a particularly awful morning when I discovered that I had somehow neglected to save my work properly the day before and had lost some 1300 words that I then had to recreate in addition to that day’s quota.
In spite of all this drama, what I was writing wasn’t half bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Maybe all these years of writing means that the ratio of Junk Spew to Decent Spew has tipped in favor of useable material. Once I got past the first couple of weeks, it started to come easier. Part of that may have been that when Gypsy rehearsals began, I wasn’t called all that often so I had more time. Part of it may also have been that I’d disciplined myself to grab those precious free minutes to write, rather than cruise the Internet or sit in front of the TV (or sleep). I actually ended up crossing the 50,000 mark a few days shy of the deadline and was able to call myself a NaNoWriMo Winner. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to log in my word count on the NaNo website that day and see this screen pop up on my computer.
Of course, that didn’t mean the book was finished, not by a long shot. I continued writing through December, difficult as that was what with the holidays and all, but since I had a great deal of downtime in Gypsy, I was able to write in the dressing room and log in several hours a week that way (witness the photo at the beginning of this blog). I continued the pattern in January, with a helpful push from like-minded writers at Absolute Write. I made myself a new, easier goal – to write 500 words a day – and a few days ago I was able to write THE END on my NaNo novel. I did a quick editing pass on it and put it aside, intending to give it a week to percolate, but impatience got the better of me and I rewrote the beginning, made another editing pass, formatted it into chapters and fired off an email to my faithful beta readers to see if they’d be willing to give this new book a go. It’s shorter than my other tomes – a mere 71,000 words – but I’m pleased with it.
The question yet to be answered is if this book is going to be right for the series. In other words, will I need to position it as the first book in the series and try to get it published that way, or should I view it as an interesting exercise and put it aside? Only time will tell. In any case, as Grand Experiments go, I’m calling my NaNo experience a success, and I’m already making plans to participate in the 2014 event. I still have that rom/com to write, you know.
This is just a quick post to share some haiku that I’ve written. I’ve mentioned in the past that I use a website called oneword.com for one-minute writing prompts, but this same site has a little haiku challenge that I do occasionally, too, just for grins. Here are a few of the challenge words and my resulting poems:
Fussy in fuschia
She pouts into the mirror
Posing and preening
The ocean curls its
Fingers into a huge fist
And punches the land.
And though you remain
I still smell your fear.
Aging hipster with
Gangsta clothes and attitude
Only makes me smile
This argument is
Like a mobius strip
An endless circle
“We are one,” you say;
“Kindred spirits, you and me.”
Then you lick your lips.
Count on your fingers
The times you didn’t listen
No wonder she left
Whiskered, weighty yet winsome
How’s your self-esteem?
Four syllables, which makes it
Tough to write haiku
The kiss was sweet but
Sometimes it’s not nice to share
When you’re infectious
Listen to your gut
They say. When I cock my ear
I hear rumbling
“Catch me if you can,”
The boy jeered, and so I did.
He was delicious.
The sequel is called Fiskur. I’ve been working on it for a solid year. I’m generally really happy with it, except that I think it’s too long. I’m not worried about that; I edit pretty well and can probably lose several thousand words just by tightening up my prose.
Why, then, am I sad as I write this last chapter? It could be because the chapter itself is sad. It could be that the last couple of chapters have been tough to write, simply because I have a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of new plot lines to lay out for Book Three. It could be that it’s been kind of a weird week and I’m just tired.
But I know it’s not any of those things. I know it’s because I’m having an attack of Major Self Doubt. I finished Kinglet last year and it isn’t published yet. I haven’t even found an agent for it – only a nibble or two. Who am I kidding? Have I wasted hours and days and weeks and months of my life writing a sequel to a book that no publisher will ever want? Have I been foolish in closing my ears to the people who tell me I should trunk this project and spend my time writing something more marketable? Am I a hack? A fool? And worse than that, a stubborn fool?
I know I am not unique in having these thoughts. Heck, you can go to any writers’ forum (I frequent this one) and find plenty of fellow writers in similar mental anguish to share your woes and keep you company. But as comforting as sympathetic company and shared misery might be, ultimately you have to return to your manuscript. Ultimately you’ve got to put your fingers back on the keyboard and your brain back into the world you’ve created and tell that story you want to tell – that you’ve been driven to tell all through the hours and days and weeks and months and hell, yes, the years.
And to do that, you’ve got to beat back the Major Self Doubt. You have to summon up your courage and your spirit and your muse and Get. Back. To. Work. But sometimes that’s real hard.
So I’m sharing a little tune here that comes from my other world – the world of theatre. This is a song called “Die, Vampire, Die!” and it’s from a musical called [title of show], written by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell. It’s brilliant. It should be the Fight Song for anyone in the business of creation. (In my opinon, the real meat of the song really begins at 1:40.) So I hope you enjoy it (warning: may not be suitable for playing at work or around small impressionable children).
Me, I’m headed back to finish that final chapter.