Almost there

One more day to go in National Novel Writing Month, and we’re pushing hard. I just wrapped up a doozy of a chapter, with consequences that will hit my heroine hard, and have less than a thousand words to go to reach the month’s goal of 50,000. It’s been a challenging month, because I want to do my trilogy proud and wrap it up with a bang, not to mention tie up all the loose ends, mete out proper justice to a few bad guys, and leave my future readers well satisfied with the journey. So, no pressure at all. Next week I’ll have more time to chat, but for now I’m going to take a break from a very intense writing day and chill for a bit, probably with a Hallmark holiday movie or something else light on the brain. See you next Tuesday 🙂

Book 3 is under way

Two years ago I began my tentative adventure in fulfilling a long-held dream: to write a novel. I’ve always loved reading — taught myself to read when I was four — and began writing stories somewhere around the age of eight or nine. Many years later, I’m getting the first book of my trilogy ready for publication, editing the second book for my beta readers, and have put ‘pen to paper’ for Book 3. It’s a little startling to realize how far my adventure has taken me already, and a little weird to think about typing The End to the entire saga in a few months

How does one get to this point? In my case (because all writers are different and I can’t speak for everyone):

  • By having a story to tell, that must pour out until it’s finished.
  • By getting that first rough, crazy draft done.
  • By having beta readers who’ve loved your work and keep pressing for the next installment.

There’s still plenty of work to do. The front cover art for Book 1 is set, having been vetted by the members of the small-business group I belong to; I’ve been working on the blurb for the back cover, and need to get some publishing details finalized (e.g. the ISBN number). I’ve had several requests to include maps of the small town where much of the action in the novels takes place as well as the private college where my protagonist works; I’m researching software to help me create versions that are more polished than the sketches I produced in PowerPoint. And finally, as a self-published author, all the advance promo rests in my lap, but I’m looking forward to working on it and posting the first pieces here on this site!

The entire process repeats for Book 2 — feedback from beta readers, a couple more edits to bring the novel to its best state. The cover art will be a variation on the version chosen for Book 1, so that won’t be too difficult, and I’ll build on the promo that’s already been put out there since Book 1. Hopefully I’ll already have a solid fan base.

Book 3 will undergo the same transformation, from rough draft to final product. And then what? Two years ago, when I wrote the first words of Book 1 (whose title has evolved constantly until a few months ago), I wasn’t even sure I could produce an entire novel, or that anyone would like it. There was no thought of what I’d do once I finished the entire trilogy.

I assume all successful writers (as in, have finished and published a book) go through this, the ‘what’s next?’ state of mind. I’ve given it some thought, and for some reason have decided to write a horror novel — even though I’m not a huge reader of the genre. Having watched stylish horror movies and turned off a few gore-fests, I do know what I like and don’t like, and the idea of penning my own chiller feels like a thrilling challenge to take on. Can I scare the pants off my readers in a way that burrows into your minds for a long time afterward? We’ll find out 🙂 It will be set in the same ‘world’ as my Chaos Roads trilogy, but with a different protagonist who brings her own peculiar baggage to the story; still fleshing out the details and how her journey will play out.

For now, however, I’ll keep you posted on Book 1, Through the Monster-glass, as it heads toward the day when it becomes available to the public on Amazon Kindle! Check back for many more details in the next few weeks; the cover art will be coming soon.

Symbology of numbers

Butterflies in the genus Diaethria all appear to have a number tattooed on their wings – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Today I was moving the little magnet on my decorative Halloween wall calendar, and noticed that it’s now only 40 days until Oct 31, aka Halloween — woohoo! (Hopefully that’s not too triggering for you, like the people who want to drive you crazy by counting down the number of shopping days left until Christmas.)

We have many methods of marking the passage of time, and certain dates hold special significance. Some dates float, as in Thanksgiving ; others are fixed, whether as a birthdate, a chosen commemorative day, or a date that may live on in notoriety. On September 10, 2002, who would have ever thought that the very next day would become infamous from then on? (Other than the perpetrators of the attacks.)

Throughout history, certain numbers have taken on more mystical qualities.

The number 13 has become so associated with bad luck that hotels won’t even list a 13th floor, and hostesses have refused to have thirteen people at a dinner party. Fear of the number even has a name: triskaidekaphobia.

Theories abound as to why people link 13 to bad things – in Norse mythology, Loki the trickster god showed up uninvited to a banquet as the 13th guest and tricked a blind god into shooting an arrow at another god, killing him; Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, was supposedly the 13th man to sit at the Last Supper; King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest (and killing) of all the Knights Templar on Friday 13, 1307; and so on. In some minds, the superstition was probably reinforced in mid-20th century America by the nearly-disastrous Apollo 13 moon mission.

But there are cultures who believe that 13 is a lucky number, and in Asia, a different number is considered extremely bad: 4. It’s a homonym for the word ‘death’ in some Asian languages. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, Bad-Luck Numbers that Scare Off Customers, most companies in that part of the world avoid using the number entirely (such as in a company phone number), and potential business partners would be wise to do the same.

The number 40, which gave me the idea for this post, was used over and over again in the Bible. The rain of the Great Flood fell for that many days and nights, Noah waited for 40 days after the rains stopped to send a bird out to look for land, Moses stayed on Mount Sinai for that length of time, the wandering Hebrews took 40 years to reach the Promised Land, the season of Lent lasts for 40 days.

Even today, 40 can be found throughout many cultures. The practice of isolation to prevent the spread of disease has traditionally been 40 days, and in fact that’s where the name ‘quarantine’ comes from. Maybe we need a special word for the 10 days of isolation following a Covid diagnosis 😉. A full week of work in North America is traditionally 40 hours, and 40 ounces is a standard size of bottle for liquors. And who decided that the term ‘catching forty winks’ represents having a short sleep?

Of course, once our brains decide that a certain number must have significance, we tend to see it everywhere.

The number 23 has attracted a dedicated following. There’s a Facebook group of people who believe that 23 follows them through life, called the 23rdians, as well as a group on Twitter. While that number, like all numbers, has mathematical properties, people looking for what’s been called the 23 Enigma will recite ‘statistics’ such as adding up the four digits of the year performer Kurt Cobain was born, and was died (1967, and 1994), which with each year comes out to 23, and the fact that criminals Bonnie and Clyde died on May 23, 1934 (I’d have been more impressed if they’d died in 1923). I’m sure that if you could widely research birth and death records, you’d find a lot of people who entered or left the world on that date, just as you’d find plenty on the 24th of the month, or the 4th, or the 31st.

What is one to make of animals that appear to have numbers printed on them? Does it mean something? Hubby and I spotted one ourselves, a Diaethria butterfly, in the Amazon jungle. It’s a pretty white butterfly with a splash of red on the wings, and what looks like the number 88, 89, or 98 outlined in black. It’s even called the ‘89’98 butterfly’. If I were a superstitious sort, I’d probably think it was a lucky sighting, since in Chinese culture the number 88 is considered a symbol of good fortune. But enough things went wrong after that trip that I’d have to say it didn’t bring us any luck.

Humans have a built-in predilection to look for patterns — Survival 101. Patterns are one of the ways we learn, either to repeat actions that are beneficial, or avoid those that aren’t (although for some reason it took me over 40 years – there’s that number again – to learn to stop sticking my head in a hot oven as soon as I opened the door to check a roast or a cake). Patterns are legitimate, but sometimes people let pattern-spotting get out of hand, and will begin finding coincidences that validate their pet theory. That’s how conspiracy theories get started.

For writers, pattern-spotting and superstition are rich mines for motivating their characters, or even entire civilizations. Entire movie franchises have been built around it.

Tomorrow will mark 40 days to the start of this year’s annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What that means for you, if you’ve always wanted to write a novel, is that you have essentially the length of the Biblical Flood to build your ark.

A couple of years ago, the NaNoWriMo organization surveyed winners as to what contributed to their success, and one common theme was advance preparation. You could start with not much of an idea and just dip your toes in the water, but I don’t think you’ll find the experience very satisfying.

If you’re serious about starting a novel this year, get your ducks in a row: basic plot outline, a good sense of your protagonist, her/his/their goal, obstacles to achieving that goal, where and when the story will take place. And my suggestion: where the story will start, and where it will end (then you just need to fill in the steps to take your protagonist from beginning to finale). You won’t need to finish your novel by November 30th, but if you reach the 50,000 word goal, you’ll be well on your way.

To help you, NaNoWriMo is offering a five-week course, NaNo Prep 101. It’s self-paced, so you can work on the contents whenever you’re able. From their website, this is the course outline:

  1. Develop a Story Idea (September 19-25)
  2. Create Complex Characters (September 26-October 2)
  3. Construct a Detailed Plot or Outline (October 3-9)
  4. Build a Strong World (October 10-16)
  5. Organize Your Life for Writing! (October 17-23)
  6. Find and Manage Your Time (October 24-30)

Each week’s module includes numerous resources as well. You can find all the details and start the course here.

I’ve had so many people, when they find out I’ve written a novel (and am working on books 2 & 3 in the series), tell me that they’ve always dreamed of doing the same. If you have the same dream, this could be your year!

A Truly Historic Event

Buckingham Palace in London from a bridge in St. James’s Park

The years since the turnover to our current millennium have been filled with globally historic events. There have been other world-shaking events in the past, but with instantaneous news transmission, we now get to watch them play out as they transpire.

It’s a sign of the charisma of the British monarchy that millions of people around the world are affected by the death of its longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The late queen was such an iconic symbol of an iconic institution that her passing is momentous, whether you’re a fan of the monarchy or not.

If you’ve ever been to London, you’ll understand how deeply the presence of a living monarchy runs through British culture.

Main gates at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace dominates the central part of the city. Its ornate, imposing gates look just as they should for what was once the most powerful institution in the world. In the early 20th century, the British Empire, including all of its far-flung territories, dominions and outposts, covered almost one-quarter of the globe, all overseen by that small island off the coast of Europe and Scandinavia.

By contrast, my hubby and I were in Vienna a number of years ago and visited the Hofburg Palace, a magnificent building that’s now only a museum piece. You can visit remnants of Austria’s monarchy all over the country, from hunting lodges in the mountains to cafes where all the court gossip that was worth hearing could be had for the price of a cup of rich kaffee and a luscious pastry. But it’s all slowly becoming an annotated archive, whereas in England the monarchy lives, goes about its daily duties and celebrates milestones with flair.

The modern London Eye overlooks centuries of history on the Thames River

London itself is one of the great crossroads cities of the world, with a historical reputation to match. But even though modern touches can be seen throughout, London inevitably brings to mind grand architecture, atmospheric pubs, beautiful parks, and so many other things that are steeped in tradition.

For writers, the progression of events surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral are a study in the pomp and formality of a form of government that’s 1200 years old and still thriving. If you doubt that, look at all the attention the royal family still receives.

On top of that, the ripple effects of a change in monarch are widespread. So much speculation about the new King and how he’ll handle the many challenges still embroiling the royal family, how soon official portraits will be changed, how many foreign dignitaries will travel to London for the funeral, how many British-ruled territories will decide to become independent, and all the many other people and places impacted by the royal family in some way.

I can’t believe how many articles I’ve seen in Canadian news about our currency that has the late Queen’s image on it. Personally, I can’t see the Bank of Canada reprinting all of the millions of pieces of currency in circulation just to change the images. I’d expect to see new bills and coins slowly start to appear with King Charles III on them, and the old ones to disappear as they start to wear out. Likely there will be some commemorative pieces that are issued for avid collectors.

How long will the British monarchy survive? Only time itself will sort that out, but for now, the passing of the torch from the Queen to the new King is something worth watching. We’ll never see a transition of this magnitude again in our lifetime.

You can follow more of the historic event on the royal website, and if you’re curious as to how Canada is handling all of this, visit the “Commemoration for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II” section of the Government of Canada’s website.

The Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

Book 2 is finished!

Entrance to the Currents sound-and-light show, Niagara Parks Power Station. Photo by E. Jurus

I typed “The End” after fifty-five chapters and about 192,000 words of the second book in my ‘Chaos Roads’ trilogy. The future is clouded for my heroine and all the people in her life, like the fog screen at the Niagara Parks Power Station in Niagara Falls, Ontario, that precedes their Currents sound-and-light show (which my hubby and I enjoyed a few days ago).

What a journey this second novel has been! The protagonist barely survived the events of the first book, and has to deal with the profound changes in her life as a result, heading towards an inevitable transformation she’s not sure she wants.

The first completed draft is four chapters longer than Book 1, which surprised me, but the story must be told in the way that it wants to unfold. I don’t have complete control over it — let’s just say that it developed a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. That’s a large part of the fun of writing for me, that I get to look forward to the adventure as much as my readers do.

All thoroughly backed up onto an external drive, Book 2 will now rest easy for a few weeks, simmering like a stew, while I complete the final edit of Book 1 and get it ready for publication. The official title will be “Through the Monster-glass”; I’ll post a preview and other information as I get it finalized.

I belong to an business-women’s entrepreneurial group, and at this month’s meeting we were all asked to share what we love the most about our chosen vocation. My answer was both easy and complex:

  • I love the process of writing, of capturing a scene in words that will make it come alive for my readers
  • I love the surprises along the way, as I’ve already mentioned
  • I love making my brain work: doing the plotting, the research, the wordsmithing
  • The sense of accomplishment is profound, to do something you’ve dreamt your whole life of doing. Even if it doesn’t sell (but of course I hope it does, and my beta readers all loved it), I’ve still achieved something remarkable.
  • I love that my journey is inspiring others to follow their dream

It took a great leap of faith on my part to embark on this journey. Throughout high school I received great marks on my creative writing, but there’s still a huge divide between those short stories and putting an entire book together. I wanted to write something that would live on in my readers’ imaginations long after they finish the final chapters, and I had no idea if I could actually do that.

You start off with the rudiments of an idea, and maybe the main plot points, but there’s still an awful lot that has to come out of your head after that. My genre, fantasy/sci-fi, typically runs between 100,000 to 150,000 words, maybe longer, which is frighteningly intimidating. My second blog post on this site, “Do you have a book inside you?“, shares more details of how I got started. Finishing the first book a year ago at the end of July was one of the shining milestones of my life.

Book 2 has highs, lows, profound questions, and lots of action. The third book will challenge my heroine in ways she never expected, answer many questions and open up many more. I hope it will be a thrilling, satisfying wrap-up of the amazing journey she’s been on — but that’s to be determined when I start writing it during the 2022 session of National Novel Writing Month this November. I look forward to taking all the notes on my very-detailed, multi-page spreadsheet and transforming them into the final part of the story, and I know I’ll be sad when I type the third and final “The End” next summer.

In the meantime, there’s the final, extra-scrutinizing edit of Book 1 to finish, then formatting it for publishing, working out a cover design, uploading it to Kindle, and holding the Launch Party (all details to follow on this site, and the Facebook page I’ll be creating). Lots to do, and a busy few months ahead.

You can find me on the NaNoWriMo site as AdvGal. If you sign up for the event, look me up — I’d be delighted to keep in touch and provide encouragement!

Beautiful writing — a short story contest & the winner

I’m a little under-the-weather this week — a cold that’s keeping me busy trying to cough up a lung (COVID test negative, thank goodness) — so I thought I’d introduce you to a short story contest that might interest you. It’s run by Reedsy, a writer’s resource I follow regularly, and anyone can enter. There’s a different theme and writing prompts each week; the winner receives $250 through PayPal, and their story posted on the Reedsy site. For all writers, the more you write, the better you get, so this contest would be a great way to build your skills. If you’re interested, you can find more information on the contest page. Be sure to read the submissions rules.

I also encourage you to check out the winning entry for Contest #154, Moonlight and Madness, submitted by Suma Jayachandar. The writing prompt was “Write a story — romantic or not — about two characters who can’t find the right timing.” Suma’s entry is a beautifully-written look into a couple forced to separate during the 1947 partitioning of British India into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. The partitioning was by all accounts a massively traumatic event for all the citizens involved; you can read more about it on Wikipedia for background to the emotions of the two people involved in the short story, who knew they’d never see each other again.

Good writers read other writers’ work, and this short story is a great example, so I’ll leave you with this recommendation for my weekly blog. I hope you enjoy!

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus

Nourish your inner writer: Camp NaNoWriMo this July

Is it time for you to contemplate writing your own book? Consider signing up for the Camp NaNoWriMo starting on July 1st. It features three tracks that I think might interest you:

World-building — Dive deep into the world of your story.’

This track offers a number of cool resources to help you construct the world of your novel, whatever type of genre it’s in: a webcast about building your world with games, three videos and three podcasts about different aspects of world-building, and several blog posts. This is your chance to be omnipotent, to be the creator of your own universe as you want it to look and function! In the graphic above, you can see a snippet of the map I created for the small, eerie town where a good deal of the action takes place in my urban fantasy trilogy. My beta readers have all asked for a map of the town to go into the book, which is a great sign that they got very engaged in my heroine’s world.

NaNoFinMo — Finally finish that novel.’

Maybe you’ve gotten a start on your novel, but need a push to get to the final chapter. There’s advice and a number of exercises to help you work through whatever’s holding you back, goal-setting strategies, blog posts and even pep talks from a variety of published authors. On July 31, 2021 I was able to finally type the words “The End” for my first-ever completed novel. It was something I’d dreamed of for many, many years, and it felt fantastic! For all those years, I wasn’t sure I’d ever write the whole book; it had been just a collection of snippets of action and dialogue, photos I’d collected of what different locales would look like, and myriad jottings of plot notes. So, if you’re part-way through, go and finish – your soul will thank you.

Camp Memoir — Write true stories from your life.’

This is one I may sign up for in the future. Quite a few people have asked me to write a memoir of the travels my hubby and I have done. Our journeys are always an adventure, coloured by all kinds of strangeness, from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to wild & crazy weather to interesting local encounters. People have actually asked us where and when we’re going next so that they can head in the opposite direction. But writing a good memoir isn’t just about recounting your life – there’s an art to it. Check out this blog post on Reedsy, What is a Memoir? True Life Stories, Minus the Boring Parts – if you have a good story to tell, it will give you a great idea of what’s involved in turning it into a memoir that fascinates readers. Then choose this camp track for all the great resources on tap, from blog posts to pep talks to Ted Talks and more.

Each track has a nifty banner you can post on your social media as well. Whatever you choose, best of luck and have a lot of fun!

Go to camp – for writers

camping in the African bush

If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, this may be your time to give it a shot. The National Novel Writing Month organization (NaNoWriMo for short) doesn’t just take place each November — it also holds two less formal events, Camps, in April and July. In just two days’ time, you could embark on your own writing adventure.

What’s the difference, you may wonder? While the big November event requires you to start a new book and write 50,000 words of it, for the camps you can choose your own goal. You can start a new book, revise/edit an existing book, or finish a book you’ve been working on for a while. You’ll keep track of your progress however you want, by word count if you like, or perhaps by committing to writing so many hours per day, or producing a certain number of pages.

To help you achieve your goal, there are plenty of online resources, camp counselors to help struggling writers, support groups with different themes, and regional events you can attend (in November they were still all virtual, but some in-person events may start opening up). You’ll find much more information on the NaNoWriMo site.

I’ve never participated in one of the camps, so I can’t speak from personal experience. Last year I signed up for the April camp to get some words down towards a travel memoir, but just a few days later my hubby and I found out about a terminal illness in his family, and that became the focus of our lives for the ensuing two months. However, it’s my understanding that, once you’ve signed up for the camp and announced your project for the month, you can sign up for a ‘cabin’. i.e. a group of cabin-mates you hang out with and get support from. You can choose to be assigned randomly, direct your cabin choice by listing some preferences, or create a private cabin that you’ll share with whomever you invite.

There are also discussion forums on different topics, a ‘campfire’ circle general discussion group, sponsor offers, and other interesting things that can be fun BUT can also be gigantic time-wasters. Distraction is one of the greatest enemies that I’ve seen participants fall victim to in the writing groups I’ve been in so far.

Just fyi: I have no vested interest in NaNoWriMo, but I’ve found it a very valuable way to focus on a writing project, and I highly recommend it as a great opportunity to crank out that book you’ve always dreamed of.

To novice writers, I can give you one essential piece of advice: you’ll only achieve your goal if you’re serious about tackling it in the first place. You’ll have to push yourself and remain steadfast in your quest. It takes determination and fortitude to write an entire book, even without editing it as you go along. But, whether or not you complete your entire book within the 30 days, by achieving your camp goal you’ll have created a solid foundation that you can keep building on.

After becoming one of the winners of the 2020 NaNoWriMo, it took me until the end of July 2021 to complete the first draft of my first novel. Finally, on July 31st, I was able to type the words “The End”. Hot damn, I’d written an entire novel! It was a dream I’d been nourishing for well over a decade, and achieving it was exhilarating, empowering, satisfying -– so many layers of emotion. My hubby and I opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

If you stick it out, the reward for all your hard work is a powerful sense of validation. You’ll be able to say “I’ve written a book.” Not many people can do the same. Of the writers’ group I joined last November, no one else has posted that they finished theirs; I hope that they do some day so that they can experience the same joy.

If you decide to try out one of the Camps, I wish you all the best, and I hope you’ll let me know how you’re doing from time to time.