Week 2 of NaNoWriMo

After my fabulously victorious first week of National Novel Writing Month, during which I went from 10,000 words to 18,000 words, week 2 has been a struggle. There’s nothing unusual about week 2 being tough, especially since Real Life Happened and caused a hiccup in my new rhythm. But that’s okay, because – after only ONE WEEK, one little tiny week! – I’ve seen a big change in my mindset about writing. As in, I feel weird on they days I don’t write anything. As in, I think about my story in the shower, in the car, while I’m eating lunch, before I fall asleep, as soon as I wake up. As in, I’m getting my writer groove back. And that’s my prime directive this month, so hooray!!

Here’s the day-by-day low-down for week 2:

Day 7: After I posted about how I was starting to lose steam last week, I took a break from the manuscript. During my break, I realized what I wanted to do next, and wrote another 475 words.

Day 8: I took the day off intentionally to try and gain some perspective. Hung out with my brilliant partner-in-crime, cover artist, and may-as-well-be-husband (Zakary Kendall) and had fun discussing weird metaphysical and philosophical aspects of the manuscript. Very inspiring!

Erica Flynn cover by Zakary Kendall

Cover art for The Life and Death (but mostly the death) of Erica Flynn. Oil on canvas, Zakary Kendall

Day 9: Real Life Happened. Only wrote about 200 words, but that’s something!

Day 10: 1,500 words, and had fun doing it.

Days 11 & 12: Real Life Ctd. No writing happened.

Day 13: Now officially behind on NaNo word count for the month. However, it was a productive day. I cleaned up my desk area (gasp!), hauled out multicolorful things (i.e., crayons, sharpies, etc.) and paper and arranged them neatly in the middle of the living room floor, and wrote out questions I want/need to explore in my manuscript – about the protagonists, antagonist, plot, world, conflicts, and turning points – as well as some helpful exercises from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction, which is an awesome book and every writer should own it and Donald Maass isn’t paying me to say that, I promise. Now I have a bunch of questions and prompts in multicolored sharpie taped up above my desk, and a crap-ton of art supplies and paper ranging from index cards to welcome-mat-sized conveniently located in the middle of the living room floor. Because shiny colors make me happy, and help me write, okay?!?!!!

hellonekoDay 14: 3,000 words. Whenever I felt stuck, I doodled for a while, answered one of my note card questions, or researched something and jotted down notes about it. At around 2,000 words, I took a couple hours’ break – dinner, 1960s Dark Shadows episodes, and chinchilla playtime. And then came back and wrote another 1,000…which brings me almost back up to the overall official word count goal for NaNo – and more importantly, moved my book forward!

 

Day 15: Geared up and ready to rock! …As soon as I finish this coffee.

Things I’ve remembered this week: 1. It’s not that hard to find enough time to write 250-500 words in a day. 2. Taking a break is sometimes more productive than working. 3. One type of creativity usually boosts another, which makes a nice little positive feedback loop. 4. You do not have to write everything in order. If you’re trying to get the story to move on to the next point, but you’re not sure how to do it, and you’re not that interested in the part you’re trying to write, chances are the reader won’t be either. You’re not experiencing writer’s block – you’re experiencing writer’s instinct! Run with it! Run with it to the next bit you think is going to be so cool you can’t wait to get there. 5. First drafts are for fun. Rewrites are for making everything tie together coherently.

Advertisements

I Refuse the Winter Blues

Sooooo, it’s November. And that means (1) October, my favorite month, is over, (2) Halloween, my favorite holiday (aside from my birthday) is over, and (3) those of us who live in very silly places such as Louisville, Kentucky, have, through some clumsy arrangement, probably owing to an ill-natured fairy, been subjected to the sadness of Daylight Savings Time, which means now it gets dark at, like, 6pm, and will be dark by about 4:30 by Winter Solstice. BUT! I refuse to submit to being miserable just because it’s going to be dark and cold and rainy and…well…miserable for the next 4-5 months.

So here is my list of things I love about winter, in case I forget the bright side of the dark season:

  1. Appreciating the fact that you have heat, light, and hot food to get you through the winter. It’s nice not to freeze your ass off with nothing but candlelight to read by!
  2. No chiggers, no ticks, no mosquitoes, and barely any spiders. In my line of work, this is especially joyous.
  3. I don’t have to worry about heat exhaustion in the field. Again, as an archaeology tech, this is a big bonus.
  4. Hot chocolate, hot cider, hot chai, hot tea, hot APPLE JACK (heat apple cider, add desired amount of whiskey). AND SEASONAL DARK BEERS ON TAP…someone pass me a bourbon barrel stout, please? Or an Old Rasputin?
  5. All the excuse I need to hunker down and read/write/build up my guitar chops/draw. Why do you think Russian literature and folk art are so amazing?
    IMG_1982IMG_1964IMG_1974IMG_1958
    Hand-carved bone picture frame, hand-carved wooden toy set, hand-carved wooden sculpture, hand-painted bracelet, all in the Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  6. I can take my chinchilla out to the park in her runabout ball, and she won’t overheat while she’s playing!
  7. Snuggling, space heaters, blankets, wool socks, sweaters, and the opportunity to wear an array of jackets. Plus, nobody gives a damn if your layers match or look good on you by February.
  8. Christmas cookies, pot roasts, and other comfort foods.
  9. Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you & your family and friends celebrate) and New Year’s and camaraderie.
  10. Striking winter landscapes, especially with snow on them.
    snow14ice
  11. Looking forward to spring again and planning your next garden.
  12. Watching the light come back after the solstice.
  13. Learning to appreciate sticky-hot weather you know is gonna come in the summer.

Knight at the Crossroads

The new header image on my site, in case you’re wondering, is part of a photo (of an oil painting) I took in the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg in 2013. The painting is Knight at the Crossroads by Victor Vasnetsov, completed in 1878. Here is the full painting, pulled from Wikimedia:

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads

Crossroads are a big thing in many folk tales, including Russian folk tales, but in Russia, crossroads are frequently used as a metaphor for the pull between East and West, Asia and Europe, tradition and modernization. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Vasnetsov’s imagery would’ve been even more striking than it is for me to look at, today, as a non-Russian – and it is striking, even out of its context.

Back When I Could Draw….

Once upon a time, around 1999-2003 or so, I used to be able to draw. I’m out of the habit now, although I still occasionally do an art project. But I’m scanning in some of my old drawings so I’ll have digital copies of them, which is a bit of a trip down memory lane. The two drawings included in this post were done toward the beginning (the tree frog) and end (the hawk) of my first semester of art class at Corydon High School, back in 1999. I have many good memories of learning to shade without scribbling in that class, most of them with a soundtrack of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, with many good conversations with my friends and with our awesome art teacher.

Something I learned in that class about drawing, I’ve also learned to apply to my writing: if you try to put a drawing together by drawing and shading each part perfectly, you’ll end up with a distorted (if well-shaded) image, essentially impossible to fix (short of erasing the whole thing and starting over). The same applies to writing a book – at least, in my experience. If you painstakingly perfect every scene as you go, you might end up with beautiful sentences or passages, but the pacing is terrible and the plot is too thin in places and too overdone in others. And you can’t just pull it apart and stick it back together so easily, because moving those lovely sentences into a different context usually takes all the power out of them. Having learned this the hard way, I compare my writing strategy these days to the process of drawing:

002 First, you sketch the outline. The outline is rough, vague, and leaves out the details and the shapes the shading is going to fill in. Then you write your rough draft, which is like the first pass at shading a drawing – get your contrast set up where you need it by filling in your darkest darks and marking off where your lightest lights will be, making sure all your proportions (pacing) are right. The second draft is blending – smooth it out, shade in your grey areas, and get rid of the pencil marks left over from your sketch. And in your third draft, you perfect your details, clean up, and bring out anything that needs sharper focus or more definition.

So that is how my art teacher from 16 years ago taught me both how to draw and how to write novels. Further proof, as if we needed it, that one kind of creativity informs another.

(Sort of) Guest Post

For years now, my mom (Marian Allen) and I have been obsessing over Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and specifically over the cat Behemoth (our favorite character in the novel).  My mom is also obsessed with Hello Kitty.  So yesterday, I spontaneously decided to draw Hello Behemoth for Mom.  Today, she posted the picture on her blog for Caturday, and I’m counting that as a guest post because it means I don’t have to write a real post.  Ha!  (By the way, dear Readers, something about all this does relate to the sequel….)

¡España!

IMG_2716There is so much to say about my trip to Spain, I don’t know where to begin.  Do I post about the food, the friendships, the excursions, the many things I learned, the process of trying to remember a language I haven’t spoken in about 12 years, the seminars, or the excavation?  Well, the excavation and the seminars, I know I can save for a guest post for Pintia!  But that still leaves a lot of ground to cover.  So here’s a list, to start with:

Favorite foods: Spanish tortilla, chorizo, manchego cheese

Favorite drinks: Peach nectar (not alcoholic), every single local Spanish wine, Portuguese cinnamon whatever-that-was (definitely alcoholic)*, Portuguese port wine*  (*note to self: must visit Portugal on a non-working vacation!)

Favorite city experience: University of Valladolid – anatomical museum with amazing human and animal skeletal comparative collections, and also an incredible rare and antique books library

Most unforgettable experience: 18,000-year-old cave paintings…in person…and feeling the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I saw 60-odd overlapping human hands from SO LONG AGO painted on a cave wall less than 2 feet away from me

IMG_2914Fell in love with: Northern Spanish countryside.  Absolutely stunning landscape with plains, hills, mountains, rivers, canyons, and breathtaking views; gorgeous skies; beautiful and ABUNDANT wildflowers and wild herbs….  Couldn’t get enough of it!

Best bonding experiences: 5 students making dinner together for our 3 program directors, sharing music and movie clips during mealtimes, and the evening we all went to our site director’s house for after-feast drinks and sat around playing the drums on encyclopedias while singing Spanish verses we didn’t understand

Funniest (yet most annoying) experience: The night of the World Cup opening, we were awakened at 1:30 am by Gangnam Style being blasted so loud it felt like a dance club was in the dorm room with us.  Haha!

I was honestly pretty nervous, before I left, about spending 24/7 for 3 weeks with a group of people I didn’t know.  If I’d had any idea how fun, hard-working, silly, amazing, and genuinely kind my fellow students and our caretakers program directors would turn out to be, I wouldn’t have been nervous at all!  I know it was only 3 weeks, but I felt like part of a damn cool family by the end of the program.  Thank you to all y’all who were/are a part of that experience with me!

IMG_3387

Guest Post at SRAS’ Art in Russia Website

My final article for SRAS’ Summer 2013 program is posted!  You can read it here:

Program Review: Art and Museums in Russia

I’m very excited about everything I learned while I was there, and excited to carry these experiences and this inspiration forward – in my academics, my creative life, and my personal life.  It’s been an amazing summer, and I’ve still got a month to do more awesome stuff with myself before I stuff my brain full of more awesomeness this school year!  Woot!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation….

IMG_1164

View from the roof of St. Isaac’s Cathedral

I spent the last 3 weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Now, if you’re thinking that 3 weeks is not very long for a study abroad semester, you are (a) correct and (b) not aware of how much can be packed into 3 weeks with sufficient effort and enthusiasm.  Ha!  I’m happy to say that, for just about every page of my beautiful DK Guide to St. Petersburg, I can point to at least one listing and say, “I’ve been there!”

IMG_2041

One of my favorite paintings in the Russian Museum

I’ve written a series of articles for SRAS (the School of Russian and Asian Studies, the organization which ran my program) – a pre-departure research article (previously posted on this blog) about Russian artist Aristarkh Lentulov, and the following 2 articles about some of the museum studies experience gained during my trip:

1. Archaeological Collections and Curation at the Hermitage

2. Painting Restoration Methods of the Hermitage

IMG_1348

A stormy day over the Hermitage Museum

My final article, a trip summary, has not yet posted to the SRAS blog.  In the meantime, let me say that I absolutely loved St. Petersburg.  It’s a beautiful city, and going in the summertime (when the sun only goes down for a few hours per night, at most) was fantastic!  The amount of art, architecture, and history you can encounter within one block in St. Petersburg is overwhelming.  My travel journal is around 45 pages (single-spaced!) and right now, I honestly can’t think how to sum up that much experience in one little blog post, so I will leave it at my articles and a few photos for now, and post parts of my travel journal from time to time in the next few weeks.IMG_0887

On the Oreninbaum Estate