Novel in a Year…or Two, or Three

The first 100 pages (or so) of THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS was written in Story Studio’s Novel in a Year- Young Adult/Middle Cohort which met from January, 2018-November, 2018. Obviously, I didn’t finish the whole book in a year but I got an incredible start, endless encouragement, and a community I will be forever grateful to be a part of. A community that I am still a part of, three years later. Clear space on your bookshelves. The people in the picture are going to have books coming out in the next few years. The man who made it all happen is the guy in the glasses in the back,. James Klise, our teacher.

I started the class with three pages written of this HUGE idea, having no clue if I was capable of pulling off something so big and so far outside of my experience and expertise. This class made me believe in my story and my ability to tell it. More about that in another post.

Out of twelve members of the class, nine of us still meet monthly to share pages, setbacks, and triumphs. Zoom has helped the members who have moved away stay in touch.

I wanted to get a novel out this class and ended up falling short in the page count but the community I gained is far beyond anything I thought possible.

Danielle Steel, I am Not

I read an article a couple years ago that said Danielle Steele sometimes writes for 22 hours a day, not even taking a bathroom break or stopping for snacks. I don’t remember if anything was said about a bedpan under the desk. This method would never work for me. I love snacks too much and often use them as a reward for completing the smallest of goals. When I taught high school English, my coworkers would say how they spent eight hours at a Starbucks and graded all these essays. Again, not me. I would set a goal to grade two or three in a sitting and then find some snack to reward myself for my hard work.

I wrote Man Up in increments of 400-700 words. Seven hundred words was a pretty good day. Eventually, those hundreds of words over the course of months and months added up to a whole book. The War on All Fronts was written in a similar fashion, but maybe it was about 500-800 words at a time. Apparently my stamina was growing. A couple times I broke the 1k mark.

A member of my writing community introduced me to the Pomodoro Method in which you focus on a specific task for about 20-30 minutes. Several times during the revision of The War on All Fronts I used this method. I found that I could sometimes write 600 words in 25 minutes. If that was the case why wasn’t this book finished a long time ago? I have no idea. But it was the same result as the first book. Those hundreds of words. Those half hour blocks. They eventually added up to a whole book.

Use the bathroom. Eat the pretzels. Scoop the ice cream. And write more words!

Sam and Anthony’s Favorite Songs

Sam and Anthony might love each other but not always one another’s taste in music. If they have some coins burning a hole in their pockets, what songs would they choose to play on the jukebox? Many authors have a playlist that served as background music while writing a book, these are the ones that were on repeat in my head while writing The War on All Fronts.

Sam’s Favorites:

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stoness

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles

“Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane

“Hello, I Love You” by The Doors

“Break on Through (to the Other Side)” by The Doors

Anthony’s Favorites:

“God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys

“Sloop John B” by The Beach Boys

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by the Beatles

“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by the Animals

Solidarity Week 2021

GLSEN (Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network) celebrates Solidarity Week every November. The name was recently changed from Ally Week to Solidarity Week. I know, at times, it seems people get more hung up on words than the cause but the change is a good one. To me, solidarity is implies an action. It is something you do, something you show.

It doesn’t have to be big to be effective.

When several other teachers and myself started the first GSA at the high school where I worked, one of the first things we did was register our group with GLSEN and print out safe space cards with our group’s logo on it. Teachers and administrators could tape the cards to their doors to show students that their room or office is a safe space for them. A space where they would be supported. As many teachers requested cards (YAY), it felt superficial to at first, like it wasn’t enough to just have the card on the door. But, then I thought about the kid walking down the hallway who didn’t see those rainbow cards on any door the year before or even the day before and then saw a hall filled with them. I know when I was a high school student, seeing those cards on the doors would have meant a great deal to some of my classmates.

Solidarity.

Historical Fiction aka Before Social Media

“And I said, ‘Who the f**k uses, a pay phone?”
The Arkells “Leather Jacket”

In response to the question posed in my favorite Arkells song: ALL THE PEOPLE WHO LIVED BEFORE THE TIME OF CELL PHONES!

One thing freeing about writing historical fiction is there is no concern about how to incorporate social media and cell phones into a book. I’ve read contemporary novels where I feel cell phone usage overtakes the novel and while it might be true that teens are glued to their phones, it’s just not that interesting to read sometimes, especially if it is a pages long texting conversations. (Do teens even text anymore? I heard it’s all messenger or FaceTime.) There also several books I’ve read that alluded to social media by using versions the author made up and it rings false to me. That said, there are books written several years ago that did choose to use the names of real social media sites and those sites are either not very popular anymore or not used by teens very much. It’s hard to keep up and even harder to figure out how to use social media effectively in a book (at least for me). In historical fiction, no such problems exist! In my next book, The War on All Fronts, a college freshman has to wait to use the community pay phone in his dorm. Imagine the conflict if he can’t find a dime or someone is using the phone! In order to communicate with his secret boyfriend overseas, he has to write letters. Yes, writing historical fiction has its challenges. There is so much you have to get right! Alas, social media and all the problems that come with it is not something you have to worry about.

YouTube: Beyond Cat Videos

I would love to ask a historical fiction writer what researching was like before the internet. For my latest book, The War on All Fronts, I made many a trip to the library, conducted interviews, and became good friends with the people at the University of Wisconsin Madison Archives. But Google was my go to when it came to figuring out what day of the week Christmas was on in 1967 or finding out when the Slurpee was invented. YouTube became my best pal when it came to primary sources.

When reading about personal accounts about enduring boot camp in the 1960’s didn’t give me the details I needed, YouTube came to my rescue with a video made during that time that was over a half hour of drills and life on base. When I found out the Walter Cronkite gave a report about the Tet Offensive in January, 1968 that changed many a perspective about the war, YouTube had footage of the broadcast. It also had clips from a PBS special in which Vietnam veterans discussed PTSD, protesters in Grant Park at the 1968 Democratic National Convention recounted their experience, and of course, songs of the sixties.

It’s still a great place to go for music videos, movie clips, and cat videos but YouTube can be a goldmine of information for the historical fiction writer too. Those poor people who conducted research so long ago had no videos of people tripping to distract them, though. I bet they got a ton of work done.