Some already know this, and for others, it will be news: as a rule, I don’t talk about my novel beyond saying that there is one in the works.
There are a few reasons why I don’t talk about my novel.
I’m slightly superstitious, as in if I talk about it, I’ll somehow jinx myself and never finish it, being obstructed by an insurmountable brick wall of writer’s block. So, I don’t talk about my novel.
I’m paranoid that someone will steal my idea(s)—whether it be the overarching plot, a cool twist I’m proud of, or a character’s name—I’m protective of it all. From my perspective, it’d be like sharing your favorite baby name only to have it used by someone else first or having someone give their baby the same name as your baby, making the name less impactful—I have witnessed these real-life scenarios, which have left me scarred. Therefore, I don’t talk about my novel.
I’m worried that people won’t play nice with my story. Similar to when a parent watches their child get on the school bus for the first time, and they’re praying the other kids are nice to their sweet, innocent child who hasn’t learned how harsh the world can be. Consequently, I don’t talk about my novel.
Don’t misunderstand; I’ve sat through critiques of my writing—some of which were very cringey because I was a 21-year-old college student trying her best to write fiction when she had no clue what she was doing. I’ve had coworkers, classmates, friends, and my brother assess and slash articles, columns, speeches, chapter drafts, and a separate completed novel (which currently resides in a binder under my bed). And even if the criticisms stung, they were usually accurate.
However, going off the theme of last month’s blog, I’m going to take a step of faith—not a leap—and share some behind-the-scenes deets about my WIP, The Calling.
Once upon a dream…
The initial idea for this tale came to me in a dream.
My alarm clock used to be set to NPR (because I’m classy like that), and it went off one morning without completely waking me up. Instead, the music of Maurice Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé infiltrated my dream, Inception-style.
In the dream, I was being chased through a forest and came to a very steep descent that I started sliding down on my back. Pokey grass and sticks and roots were jabbing me, my clothes were ripping, and creepy creature hands began popping out of the earth as I slid by. The hands grabbed for me, but I kept slipping out of their reaching fingers. The sliding, coupled with Ravel’s work, continued until I woke up in time to hear the on-air personality mention the names of both composer and ballet.
According to my journal, this dream occurred on May 13, 2009. My faulty memory had me believing this moment of epiphany had happened while I was still attending high school, but alas, I was actually in community college. Regardless, I’ve been working on this dream-inspired story for over a decade. The dream was so visceral that I couldn’t ignore the excitement or emotion I felt when I recounted it, daydreamed about it, or toyed with the idea of attempting a fairytale-esque story.
In the 13 years since that May-day dream, I’ve started and restarted the story numerous times; beginning with a macro moment addressing a comprehensive history and background, switching to an in-medias-res scene, to currently settling on a prologue of sorts between a young girl and her nanny, which might change.
I completed my first draft in June 2021, cranked out the second draft by mid-January of this year, and now, when I’m not juggling freelance deadlines, I enter the realm of otherworldly fiction and jot down phrases, scenes, and ideas, which come at me from all sources and sides.
Inspiration & Observation
Inspiration can come from anywhere or anything and at any time. Usually, my most striking, page-turning ideas occur while I’m driving or in the shower—neither situation is particularly well-suited to taking notes.
And sometimes, you stumble upon interesting and unusual words and phrases that resonate. I have several notes on my phone dedicated to my novel and add to them regularly. Curry favor, wending, hoarfrost, knife-belt, and mortal wound are examples of terms collected.
A professor from my days at Grand Valley State University, Chris Haven, taught us to be observant and find inspiration in all places. This was an assignment. We had to keep a record of things we noticed that could serve as inspiration, or, to put it non-poetically, that we could “steal,” but not in a plagiarizing way. With the chapter or short story we turned in, it was required to attach a bibliography that explained what observations we made and what we included in our piece. Haven, as I refer to him, wanted us to observe the world, our experiences, our memories, what we saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt, and especially what we read to use as research and stimuli for our work. This is a practice I still incorporate into my daily life.
Examples of walking the walk and not just talking the talk
Ever since childhood, I’ve been entranced by the name Casimir. I first heard the name while living in Lansing because several familial marriages—including my parents’—were sanctified at St. Casimir Catholic Parish, which unfortunately had to shut its doors in 2020.
For over two decades, this name has floated around in my head, and I’m finally making use of it, but I needed to tweak it. If you dared to follow the pronunciation link above (I don’t know why the video is so long), you’d have heard what I can only assume is the traditional way to say the name. But I decided to change the spelling to Cazmir (Caz-mer).
And something that I LOVE about this name is that it has opposing meanings, with some sources claiming it means “proclaimer of peace,” while others say “destroyer of peace”—honestly, how cool is that for a character? I mean, Alexandra (my given name) means “protector/defender of mankind,” and some days, I kind of wish it meant “destroyer of mankind.”
Want to know how I selected another character name? Of course, you do. A little over a year ago, while stuck in Petoskey traffic, I watched a semi pass, which was part of the Herregan Distributors, Inc. fleet. In case you didn’t know, Herregan Distributors is one of the largest flooring distributors in the United States. Still, as I sat there, I assuaged my rage by deciding that “Herregan” would be a nefarious character in my work.
Now, at this juncture, I believe it’s appropriate to make a heartfelt and serious promise to you—if you steal either of those names, I will go method-actor-Daniel-Day-Lewis on you. I will find you, no matter what occurs, and demand a redaction of the aforementioned names. Naming is a business I take seriously.
On a less threatening note, earlier this year, I was walking with my dog to check the mail, and I became entranced by the sound of dry pine needles getting crunched beneath the soles of my ankle boots. So, now I’m trying to convey that crisp, dry sound with words. And that is challenging—translating sounds you hear into words.
Reactions & Feedback
Speaking of things you hear, only a couple of friends have read my entire second draft, with another friend having read half and yet another friend merely having read the first chapter. Nevertheless, all provided me with helpful feedback and some smile-inducing reactions.
One friend sent me a voice message after reading a particular chapter about a character named Emyn and an ordeal he faced. I recommend keeping your volume low if you choose to push play.
Another reader didn’t enjoy being left with a cliffhanger, and he reacted thusly, having to take his aggression out on something:
Then a friend who lives an ocean away sent a concerned text about an owl I named Amos:
And I will say, sharing your work with friends can be nerve-wracking, but nowhere close to how it feels sending your work to a bunch of strangers.
Somehow, back in January, I got brave and submitted my second draft to another previous professor of mine—Caitlin Horrocks—for her WRT 308 Editing and Publishing course. I shared my virtually unseen work with college students who are a minimum of ten years younger than me. It felt similar to when you try to get your youthful, cool cousins to think you’re still cool, even though you’re a 32-year-old self-proclaimed hermit. But, regardless of how old and out-of-touch I felt, my synopsis of the 70,000+ word manuscript enticed not one but two student groups in the class, thus providing me with twice the amount of feedback. No lie, I felt pretty cool at that moment.
The End, for now…
So, as of May 30, after poring over the student feedback, I began my third draft. No one has read this draft yet because, in all fairness, there’s not much to read. I had a very ambitious goal of completing this current draft before the onset of fall, but based on how life has gone for the first half of the summer, my amended deadline is December 31, 2022. But, as I said, I don’t talk about my novel, so I’m done talking about my novel.
Coming up next:
My Happy Places in NoMI