Thursday, November 10, 2016

Duct Tape Escape and Other Writing Research Shenanigans

Book research can be crazy fun. Of course what you are researching plays a big role in that, as does if you are actually getting anywhere. I have a linguistics friend who totally gets her geek-on translating old parish records that are in Danish or Norwegian. I’ve tried this, not the translation part, simply trying to decipher the name, but my grasp of early Scandinavian penmanship sucks. The initial delight at finding those particular records quickly dimmed as my lack of ability to decode the historic scratches made that jack pot of information morph into teasing frustration. This woman rocks it, and loves it! She did decipher those records and I found out I have a Finnish great-grandma who immigrated to northern Norway.

So yes, my research super power is not making out historic handwritten records. I can watch equine events for hours on end, though. I’m talking double digits in the same day kind of time. I love that kind of research, studying and understanding whatever my topic is, picking up those nuances of details and tucking away in my visceral memory until I can sit down to write next. I can’t always swing it in person, mind you. For instance, horse events in southern Alberta are considerably more accessible to me that CSIS agents (i.e. Gabe from Kiss Me in the Rain’s previous career). And don’t get me started on how many hours I blow through when doing genealogy research. I get sucked in and promise myself just another few minutes. Usually four hours, and several rabbit holes later, I finally look up and notice how much time has passed.

Spy Tips
Last week another writer friend and I decided to do a bit of field testing on some CIA spy tips I found in the book Spy Secrets that can Save Your Life, by Jason Hanson. I came across the book when I was cruising the reference section at a local bookstore. It caught my eye for a few reasons. First of all throw spy secrets in the title of anything and it is going to sound pretty darn interesting. I often include agent and/or law enforcement types in my fiction and am always keeping an eye out for research material. Score. I’ve also started paying more attention to titles by current and/or former law enforcement types as I am collaborating with a homicide detective on a non-fiction universal life-lessons book. So yeah, this book jumped out at me like crazy.

Spy Secrets that can Save Your Life shares techniques and strategies to keep you alive while in dangerous situations that Hanson has learned on the job. Spy Secrets has been a fascinating read so far, if a bit dooms-day. But I figure that’s the point he was going for in his book, staying alive if shit hits the fan. For any of the fellow anthro-nerds out there who find the study of people and culture interesting, you might want to check it out for that, even if learning evasive driving is not on your bucket list.

Field Testing
As I mentioned before, I just started it, but there is a ton of information that a novelist could use in there. For instance, I was telling another author friend, Makenzi Fisk about it and shared I wanted to try the get-out-of-being-duct-taped part. She is a retired police officer and I figured she would dig it, or at least understand my awe at some of the maneuverers. Of course she said, “I have duct tape. Want to try it now?”
This is why authors schedule writing sessions with other authors. Because when cool stuff like this comes up, we have someone to try it with. The impromptu duct-tape session was a hoot. And successful, the first try anyway. It was pretty awesome ripping those binds. But for the second time Makenzi asked me to not keep my elbows together when she taped them, just to see the difference. I couldn’t get the angle to rip, I couldn’t get out! I did manage to squirm my hands out of them, but it demonstrated just how important it can be to follow those directions. Check out the video Makenzie made of our get-out-of-duct-tape escapades.

I hope you are never duct-taped for realsies, that this video simply gives you a few moments of entertainment or maybe some information to include within the pages of your next book.

Happy Researching!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

National Novel Writing Month: one, two, three, weeeeeee!

On your marks, get set . . . NaNoWriMo!

NaNo-huh? At least that’s the response I’ve gotten when mentioning the write-a-50k-novel-in-the-30-days-of-November event to those who haven’t heard about the big writing party. It is also known as National Novel Writing Month, but NaNoWriMo is way more fun to say.

This year I figured, why not? If I fail, well, that many words wouldn’t have been written anyway. But if I succeed, well dang, then I have that many more words and likely hammered out my writing process all that much more, not to mention the great practice in  time management. That this blog, and that I actually just signed up, on the second day I hope signals the adaptiveness of my adventure instead of the tardiness.

When you sign up on there are all sorts of cool things to explore, which I haven’t yet because I’ve been signed up for about a second. Anyway, lots to check out including tons of new friends to meet who are on the same journey. Kind of a strength in numbers thing; we’re all on our own writing journey, but with legions of other writers around the world on their journey, too . . . all at the same time. Fun!!

Day Two 2016 NaNoWriMo
So how have I prepped for such a journey? Apparently not actually signing up until day two, but I digress. I’ll admit I had grandiose ideas of what I would do. It was mid-October when I decided to jump in. Two whole weeks to prepare! That’s like eons early in Sarah-time. About a week or so before I had even picked up a copy of Ready, Set, Novel! by Chris Baty, Lindsey Grant, and Tavia Stewart-Streit of National Novel Writing Month. I wanted to work on writing more efficiently. Now that writing is my day job, it’s important to me to figure out efficiency, obviously without losing art and form. I don’t normally go for the workbook style of book and was surprised it so captured my attention. But this one had that intuitive buzz that happens when there is a direction that is a really good idea to take and it is only later that you saw that it was foreshadowing, and in a really cool way. Besides, it is when we put ourselves out of our comfort zone, stretch those boundaries, that we so often see awesome growth.

So in going through that book, and hearing the voices of countless writing friends and presenters I’ve heard over the years, who dig plotting (as opposed to other writing process approaches), I thought okay, I can try this again. Last time was an epic failure. I didn’t throw my laptop out a window or anything, but that approach drove me bonkers. At least how I did it, did. I’m normally a pantser writer. At least in the first half of the book, writing for me is getting in front of the computer and seeing where the characters are going to lead me next. It is crazy fun, but I’ll be honest, not a very efficient way, at least for me anyway. Maybe others have had better luck. In the early stages of writing a book, I simply let the characters play. As they play, I get to know them more, figure them out, their motivations, their backstory, what direction they are headed in, and what conflict would really put them through their paces, that sort of thing. The story comes as I’m writing. It’s always an adventure when I sit back and let the characters take me along with them. When I tried plotting a few years ago, my characters kept veering off course from what I had plotted, but in really cool ways! It was like trying to herd cats until I finally abandoned the plotter approach and let my characters run wild, and it worked. Just like it had before. Again, just not super time-efficient. But who knows, maybe this time it will click. If nothing else, it is pretty cool to challenge yourself as a writer, see where you grow, what you can do.

So in prepping I decided to at least think about plot points I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t figure out the whole story, but I spent more time than normal pondering all those goodies of the characters I usually write to get to, and also options of where the storyline can go. I’ll let you know how that goes.

I have been using the writing program Scrivener for the non-fiction book I’m collaborating on (it's AMAZING), and have just recently started to embrace it for my fiction work, too. That’s another cool thing about this month of targeted writing, seeing if I harness Scrivener and all it’s functions and gizmos to help facilitate my fiction writing process, too!

Other ways to prep included finishing processing the garden harvest. I know that might sound weird for a writing binge prep, but I know I won’t have time while I’m supposed to be getting my word counts in, and the clock was ticking on the produce, anyway. I had finished most, but there was a bit more to go and I hate to see anything go to waste. I only have a teeny tiny bit left to do. Whew! And that sense of accomplishment has actually given me that feeling of Wonder Woman, definitely an asset going into this writing month that can be a bit intimidating!

I also took on a few house projects I’ve been meaning to tackle . . . because they needed to get done before NaNoWriMo?? No, because I tend to make something that is already hard, harder. Doh! My new hall closet is now partially complete. Which means it’s empty except for almost-done hand-made shelves. All the contents previously in said closet are now littering my studio, bedroom, and the bathroom. Brilliant Sarah, brilliant. Because clutter is so conducive to the creative process. I had been thinking to eliminate clutter by re-doing the closet, but until it’s actually finished, that would be a definite backfire. Whoops.

What have I learned so far? Really, just chill. My writing journey has meandered something fierce. But the one constant is that to be a writer, you must write. It's an incredible journey and the more I learn the more I realize I have years and years of learning and growing ahead of me. Nice! There are many paths to a completed novel, NaNoWriMo is one (thanks!!). The event has helped many, many writers accomplish their goals. Maybe it will help you, too. Maybe it is just the beginning, or another stepping stone, in this awesome path we call writing.

Have fun and happy writing!

To see how my writing has changed and evolved, check out Claiming Love (2009) and Kiss Me in the Rain (2016). Crazy different, but still Sarah. I’m also currently collaborating with a homicide detective on non-fiction book about the universal life-lessons he’s learned while on the job in law enforcement. Seven years ago if you would have told me that’s what I would be working on today along with my fiction, I would have said cool! But I totally didn’t see that one coming.

Writing can be such an incredible journey, hope you are having a blast!