Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something…True?

Remember in this post how I mentioned I’m neither plotter nor panster while writing, but a planter? Imagine my amusement last night as I flipped through the May/June issue of Writer’s Digest (which came in March) to find they had a fairly long article talking about plantsing. Great minds and all that…

Well, I’ve found myself busy planting again. Not in the garden, though that time is drawing near, but in a fresh document on my laptop. And frankly, I’m a bit surprised at myself. I don’t tend to start writing something new as spring supplants winter. I’ve done most of the drafting of my novel manuscripts during the dark and snowy mornings and evenings between November and March. Then I set things aside for a bit as I tend to the yard and the gardens — you know, real planting. And once that’s all under control and busy growing, I pick literary things back up in early summer to revise.

Yet this year I find myself ready and excited to draft a new project as March rolls into April. To be fair, I did start it at the very beginning of autumn last year (though because I was in Albuquerque at the time, it felt like summer). I had to put it down a while as I worked on edits for The Bone Garden for my agent and then worked on a big revision of I Hold the Wind, which I’m hoping to send my agent’s way in the next month or two. But now that my mind is off those projects, I find I’m itching to get back to this new story.

Except, it’s not exactly new. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking parts of an old concept and changing up the plot and characters into something new. I’m borrowing the old setting, a few characters, and part of the conflict, but combining them with new characters, new conflicts, and new, more personal themes. I finished the first chapter this morning as the birds sang and the sun rose. And though I had to stop and get to work, the next chapter is coalescing in my mind.

This is the thrilling, intoxicating part of the very long and arduous process of creating a novel — where the premise you’ve been nurturing in your head begins to take the form of written sentences and paragraphs and pages, like watching the slow, steady growth of the spring bulbs in the back yard. First they are just scattered points of green among last year’s rotting leaves. Then they are the length of your fingernail, then they reach to your first knuckle. Slowly, each day, they gain ground, press up toward the warming sun. And finally they flower. And that’s the point you know spring is here, this story is going somewhere marvelous, and you’re dying to take others along with you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

He Is Risen Indeed!

I know not all of my readers share my faith, so thanks for this indulgence as I share a bit of it with you. Keith and Kristyn Getty are two fantastic Irish musicians I’ve been privileged to see live several times. They truly capture the spirit of this most joyous of days.

 

You Need to Blink More

Alas, the first day of spring went unmarked in this space, though it was sunny and lovely (and cold). It was a busy Sunday morning during which I taught Sunday school (we’re discussing so-called “lost gospels” at the moment and why they are not inducted into the canon), forgot to bring cookies for Fellowship Time, read and prayed in the service as the lay leader, jumped into the choir number since I remembered it from years past, and then hosted a few church members at our house for lunch. During the afternoon and evening I decided to change tacks and do nothing.

And that’s what I did, or nearly so. I reclined on the couch in a shaft of sunlight, very much like a cat. I also read, unlike most cats I’ve known. In the back of my mind I knew I should be taking advantage of the free time to read a manuscript I’m critiquing for a friend, but I also knew that that wouldn’t be doing nothing. And I needed to do nothing for a bit.

A while back I visited the eye doctor with what I saw as a troubling symptom of some sort of problem — I didn’t know what. I feared glaucoma or perhaps crazy-early-onset cataracts. Whatever it was, something was most definitely wrong. I was experiencing a frequent sort of clouding, large chunks of my field of vision where it looked like I was looking through frosted glass. For someone who makes a living writing, who uses a computer 8+ hours a day, and whose greatest joys and hobbies all involve her sense of sight (painting, photography, reading, hiking, observing nature) this was understandably weighing on my mind.

With some anxiety, I went for the first time to an ophthalmologist, where I was put through the proverbial wringer for a couple hours. Test upon test upon test. And in the end, what was I told?

“You have dry eyes. You need to blink more.”

That’s it? Really? I don’t blink enough? I was relieved, of course, that it wasn’t something more serious. But there was a tiny half-buried part of me that kind of thought I had wasted two hours for nothing. Blinking? Wasn’t that something we just do without thinking? Who consciously blinks more?

Some of you may be thinking, Duh. Haven’t you read this, this, or this? Well, yeah, I’m sure I read something about that — on my pernicious computer screen, no less. But that’s about other people. Not me.

So now I have eye drops I’m supposed to use four times a day to make up for the fact that I don’t blink enough.

You know the saying, “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it?” It’s applied to many things, most notably to your kid’s childhood. These are the things old strangers in the mall lean in and say while you’re already quite engaged with “not missing it” and from which you frankly don’t appreciate the interruption. And there’s a sense nowadays that you can never blink anymore. If you don’t catch the latest blockbuster, read the latest novel from so-and-so, see the latest clip of so-and-so on YouTube, participate (or at least lurk at) the discussion people on Twitter are having about this issue and the discussion people on Facebook are having on that issue, binge on the newest season of Hot TV Show on Netflix…if you don’t keep up, if you blink, you’ll miss it.

But I tell you what, I missed everything yesterday afternoon, and I didn’t miss a thing. I blinked so much I may as well have kept my eyes closed (though that would make it difficult to read) and I didn’t miss anything worth catching.

“You need to blink more.”

It’s okay. The world keeps spinning, even in the dark.

What’s in a (Website) Name?

Friday night I finished a big revision of my WIP, I Hold the Wind, which I first drafted during National Novel Writing Month in 2014. Monday I began writing a new novel, which is at the moment called One Last Summer. It’s a complete reboot of an earlier manuscript, which lent its name to the blog you’re reading right now (A Beautiful Fiction). I initially decided that when I wrote a new story that happened in the exact same setting with a few of the same characters (though they would all be much changed) it ought to have a new title. The original story of that name had been sent out years ago to agents but ultimately didn’t work. (And they were right to reject it.) I didn’t want anyone to get confused or have their reading experience of the new story tainted by the old.

However, the more I think about it, the more I think that old title still fits. And I obviously liked the sound of it, or I wouldn’t have wanted to save it and use it for my website. And let’s be honest, agents read thousands of submissions each year, and by the time this new story might possibly be published, eight or ten years may have passed since they had seen it. And of the handful of agents who actually read the manuscript in its entirety, how many would read this new book (after all, I am no longer querying agents). And let’s not forget the most important thing: an author’s title is rarely the title that makes it to the final product and it’s the publisher’s prerogative to change it. A Beautiful Fiction may be deemed too literary, while One Last Summer has more obvious commercial appeal (beach read, anyone?).

I’m sure as the writing progresses, my thoughts on this will go back and forth a number of times. In the end, who knows if One Last Summer will even make sense? Maybe it won’t be the last summer at all. That’s half the fun of writing for someone who tends to have a loose idea of where a book is going but not a completely drawn-out plot — you don’t quite know where you’ll end up.

In the writing world, those are generally called pantsers, people who write by the seat of their pants. But I’m not sure I’m a true pantser. And I’m certainly not a plotter, at least not in the same way someone like my husband is (his outlines run into the tens of thousands of words — no, that’s not an exaggeration). I’m a hybrid. A planter, if you will. I have the seed and I know what it needs in order to grow, but I don’t have complete control over its growth. Then at some point I get out my pruners and start revising.

At any rate, all of this thought about titles made me start thinking about this website. Is it time to consider un-naming my blog and simply naming the whole website ErinBartels.com? That is the URL, after all. And it would be wise to have my name in the header so you see it right away (or so every branding expert says) whether or not I use A Beautiful Fiction on a book someday.

What do you think, reader? Did you even know this blog had a name other than mine?

Edit: So, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed right to change the website name from A Beautiful Fiction to simply my name. So, welcome to ErinBartels.com.  😉

 

This post is not about the Michigan primary.

Nothing quite stirs the Midwestern soul like spring. The prospect of temps in the 50s and 60s and we start taking down the storm windows and dragging all the cardboard boxes from the last six months of deliveries out to the recycling center. We suddenly want to take walks and organize closets and clean out the garage. The sound of water trickling into the storm drain makes us nearly as giddy as the sound of birds looking for mates. Yesterday afternoon as I drove to get my son from school I smiled (and may have audibly sighed with contentment) at a weather report announcing possible thunderstorms in the evening.

Reality check. Don’t get used to this. It’s just for a day or two, then it will get cold again.

But then you look at the extended forecast and see this:

Spring Forecast

Glorious spring! God is merciful! Even at night it’s not supposed to freeze! Within a day or two, even the disgusting mountains of dirty snow and busted shopping carts at the centers of parking lots could be gone!

If the meteorologists are correct (stop laughing) this could turn out to be a marvelous March indeed.

A Poem for the Spring Thaw

Lenten Rose

 

 

 

 

 

The world melts around me
as the sun caresses
the contours of my city.

A robin addresses
blue sky studded by
clouds hurrying past —

Don’t linger here! Fly! Fly! —
Do I spy a blade of grass?
Or is this mere flirtation?

A sly come hither glance?
Who cares? On this temptation
I’ll blithely take a chance.

 

Because it snowed 10 inches the other day, and I need this…

BlandfordinSpringSkinny
A Light Exists in Spring
by Emily Dickinson

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.