Celebrating bookworms everywhere! (a.k.a., why the book-lovers community is awesome)

There was a period in my life, right after grad school (where I’d earned my M.F.A. in children’s lit, fully intending to write novels), when I tried to convince myself that I could lead a fulfilling life without writing fiction.

I’d managed to find a day job that provided an outlet for my creative nature and my writing skills. Working at a magazine, I have plenty of time to write and edit, to brainstorm, to talk with photographers and designers and other editors and share creative ideas. I count myself as extremely fortunate in this respect. So I hadn’t actually stopped writing, per se.

But, in the overwhelming time period when I was trying to find my place in a new career, in a time when my life was changing and occasionally turning upside-down, I rationalized that writing fiction wasn’t actually necessary for my happiness.

Fellow writers, could you live without your craft? I found I couldn’t stay away for long. Books have too much of a draw for me.

For me, the drive to write is twofold.  It’s the thrill of creating stories, from the initial inspiration to the toil of writing to the meticulous revisions that follow.

It’s also the community. True readers are passionate about books, about characters and worlds and plots. Authors are the same, with so many of us dedicated to advancing the craft, sharing our journeys, our work, our stumbling points, our tricks of the trade, with the larger writer community. Newbies eagerly seek guidance. Pros graciously give it. This wonderful relationship with fellow writers and with fellow fans of literature is a huge draw for me.

Book-fever is contagious, and once caught, it’s a chronic condition. We feed off each other’s enthusiasm, and I couldn’t let go of that part of my life. It wasn’t enough to write magazine articles, or just to read novels at night. Every time I read, I knew I had to write. I loved storytelling too much to let go.

Ultimately, I couldn’t stop writing fiction. I made sacrifices in other areas of my life—working part-time instead of full-time, deciding not to pursue a Ph.D., putting my work as a poet aside to carve out time for my stories and characters.

The result? Totally. Freaking. Worth. It.

One day, my work will be out in the world in some fashion. (Call that faith in my own persistence.) 😉 I’m psyched for that day, not for any potential accolades or attention, but because the act of sharing stories is amazing to me. Weaving a tale from nothing and sharing it with others is the ultimate dream. It’s toiling over the soil all spring and summer, only to share the harvest with others (Eating alone is no fun.). The enthusiasm of the writer and reader community—the blogs, sites like Goodreads, the book clubs, the gatherings in libraries or bookstores, the energetic conversations about books—is contagious.

I love books; I love talking about them and creating them. Through my fellow bookworms, I’ve discovered so many authors whose work I admire and can’t put down. I eagerly await their next book releases. Today, I’m taking a moment to thank readers and writers everywhere for their shared passion about books—to creating and reading them, and to the conversations fueled by those stories. Thanks for the inspiration, everyone.

What do you love most about our book-lovers community? Have you met anyone recently who’s turned you on to a particular author or book? What have you learned that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

Hmm…Technical difficulties:

UPDATE (6:36 p.m.): It looks like I’ve worked out all of the kinks from the transfer of my LJ blog posts. If you are reading and notice any issues, please comment on this post and I’ll make any necessary corrections.

Update: So, I just imported my LJ blog posts, but it seems some data/formatting got lost (or added) in translation.

So please bear with me while I work through some of the little quirks I’m currently experiencing. I’ll have to see where everything went wrong. One post has the same comments repeated over and over, and others have some other issues…That just won’t do!

If you’re reading the blog between now (4:45 p.m. on Fri. 7/29) and later today, please excuse the mess. I’m still unpacking and getting settled in!


Welcome to my new WP blog:

Post No. 1: I’m opening my new WordPress blog with an introduction to myself and my work. Upcoming posts will discuss paranormal romance novels, publishing, and writing, and contain periodic updates on my work.

What I’m doing:

I’m currently an aspiring paranormal romance and fantasy author. I’m especially interested in the fae, magic, witches, and world mythologies, but there’s no telling what rabbit holes I’ll follow my characters down. My fiction runs the gamut from short stories to novellas to full-length novels.

Why I’m doing it:

My goal is to write stories that engage people, books you can’t put down because you love the characters too much to walk away from them. If you miss the characters when you close the book, I’ll know I’ve done justice to both the readers and the characters. I spend a lot of time revising and revising and revising and–well you get the drift–because I believe that a well-written novel comes with dedication to the story, the craft, and the characters. I have a sometimes unhealthy relationship with commas (i.e., I think about them way more than I should.)

I currently have a full-length novel, a novella, and a couple of shorter works in progress.

In the coming weeks, this blog will fill up with more information, more features, and more design elements, so please stop by periodically and see what new stuff I’ve added. And if you have a blog or can recommend one you like, please post a comment.

I love modern technology’s ability to connect us, and I’m absolutely excited when anyone takes a moment in their busy schedule to pause and read my work. I love meeting and talking with people who are as passionate about books as I am.

Other stuff:

I formerly blogged over at LJ (http://janellemadigan.livejournal.com). I will keep people updated if I will continue that journal in addition to this one, but my WP blog will be my primary one now. I hope to continue cross-posting because there are some really awesome people on LJ I want to keep in touch with. In any event, I’ll continue reading their blogs! (So never fear LJ peeps!)

So that’s my intro. What’s yours? Do you write? Do you read? What books do you love? What makes you tick?

Turning points: Devoted pantser learns to plot (maybe just a little)

So, who isn’t trying to survive this week’s massive East-Coast heat wave? At least in Virginia, we have air conditioning pretty much anywhere you go. My parents’ (in western PA) only form of AC is a good breeze. Most of the restaurants there don’t even have air conditioning units. Hoping everyone is managing to stay cool.

As I complete draft 2 of Blake and Zoe’s story (a whopping 102K at present, but I’m already cutting), I’ve started to plan out my writing schedule/goals for the next year or so, one of which is a novella that’s been spinning in my head for the last few months.

That novella is the catalyst for this post’s title. I had been jotting ideas down for months in one of my handy little notebooks. Yesterday, I rewarded myself by typing out the bits and pieces of scenes for that novella. What emerged really surprised me. I realized that what I’m witnessing with this new story is a break from my writing process in the past, courtesy of the learning process I’ve gone through while writing about Blake and Zoe.

I found that, thanks to plenty of brainstorming, I had actually created a fully outlined plot without having to write a full draft or two to get there. I’ve always been a dedicated pantser, believing that my plots needed to unfold as I wrote—which usually meant I wrote sometimes hundreds of pages that would never be used. Lots of meaningless chatter on the parts of my characters.

My pantser approach resembled that Sidney Harris cartoon of two men looking at a chalkboard. “I think you should be more explicit in step two,” one of them says. Step two reads, “A miracle occurs.” (The cartoon is copyrighted, but available for viewing here). I’ve learned that my process works better when I’m just a tad more explicit about what needs to happen between steps one and three.

Now, my experience writing Blake and Zoe’s story wasn’t just about one novel; during the process, I developed an entire world where many future stories will be set. I met plenty of new characters in that world who have stories waiting to be told. But I also learned that I can, in fact, start out writing with a much firmer idea than I had in the past. As a result, I hope my first drafts will be more cohesive and more polished.

That doesn’t mean I know every detail of what happens. Sometimes I’ll know that x will happen. I don’t particularly know what shape x will take. I’ll say, they go to y, or they meet z. I haven’t figured out everything about where y is or who z is. But I have an overarching view of what needs to happen. I can discover the particulars along the way.

So, am I a reformed pantser turned dedicated plotter? Like many writers, I’m probably somewhere in the middle. Like most of us, I’m not where I started out a few years ago, just stumbling into a fictional world without a clue of what’s going on. My brainstorming process has grown stronger, and my desire to outline, however roughly, has increased. I’ll blame it on my own learning process, plenty of writing books, playing careful attention to the plot and structure of books I enjoy, and reading about other authors’ writing processes.

Recap of my “write-cation”:

Okay, so write-cation is my awkward-looking little word for vacation. It’s sorta like a staycation, but with a twist.

See, the whole idea behind a staycation is that you take a vacation but stay at home. Now, personally, I find it challenging. I don’t exactly live in a big city, and living in a small town means that you run out of things to do fairly quickly, and there isn’t much within driving distance. Add to that my restless tendencies and, you know, staycation is not exactly in my nature.

But write-cation, that I can do. So I took a week off from the day job to focus on finishing my current WIP. The target word count was 95,000 words. Now, I’m at 96,000 words. (I wrote about 4,000 words/day Tuesday-Friday, 1,500 on Monday.) But, alas, Blake and Zoe’s story is not done. I figure the draft I’m working on (2.4) will be slightly over 100,000 words. So, a little longer than expected, but not bad for a second draft.

So I’m considering my write-cation a success. Hopefully Saturday and Sunday I can finish up the remaining scenes. I also have some scenes earlier in the story that I need to revise to reflect some world changes that I made as I was writing. And then a big chunk of the story is going to my awesome-o critique partners, Kathleen Foucart and Amelia Ross.

Next week, I’m back to my regular work schedule, but I’m excited to start the revision process. Yeah, I can’t help it. I like revising. It’s the editor in me.

I have a few smaller works in progress that have been on hold and a couple of ideas for novellas that are begging to be written. Well, not so much begging as demanding. My fall teaching schedule will make it tough to pump out any large chunks of writing, but I see a lot of revision work in my future.

Fairy Tales: Not just happily ever afters

I love fairy tales, so much so that I actually took a class in graduate school that focused solely on this subject. Something about them gets me really excited.

It’s not the happy endings. Because not every fairy tale has a happily ever after. Sure, in the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, Ariel gets the prince. But in Hans Christian Andersen’s version, she sacrifices herself and becomes sea foam drifting on the waves. Maybe we want every fairy tale to end happily, but they don’t always.

In retrospect, I think what draws me to fairy tales is their archetypical nature, their motifs, their psychological implications. These are seemingly simplistic stories told over and over, oral traditions that we’re still retelling, whether in bedtime stories, picture books, YA novels, movies, poems, even songs. They cross borders; some version of Cinderella appears in many cultures across the world. The “trappings” of the story change, but the archetypes are all intact.

Why do we need fairy tales? What draws us to these particular stories? I’m fascinated by the possibility that fairy tales have been, in a sense, cautionary tales. They tell us what to be or what not to be if we are to succeed. Gullibility, dishonesty, rudeness, ignoring the rules—these things result in punishment or worse in the world of the fairy tale. But honesty, cleverness, beauty, submissiveness, these traits most often ensure the victory of the protagonist. Cinderella might be submissive, but she gets the guy. Her sisters, more rude, less beautiful, are ultimately the losers of the tale. In the German version of the story, Aschenputtel, the stepsisters cut their toes off to fit into the shoe; at the end, they have their eyes pecked out by doves. In Snow White, the evil queen is punished, though her punishment depends on which version you read. (Anne Sexton gives an interesting interpretation in her poem “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” comparing the aging queen’s—and our own—desperate vanity to Snow White’s virginal beauty. “Beauty is a simple passion/but, oh my friends, in the end/you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes,” she wrote. Fairy tales aren’t always the whitewashed, sanitized versions that often spring to mind—maybe that’s why we keep exploring them.

They might be cautionary tales; they might be explorations of the human psyche. I’ll never be able to say they’re just stories. Because nothing is ever just a story. They’ve lasted a long time, long enough to evolve with us. Many of us are now appalled by Cinderella’s submissiveness. As feminists, we might even see her behavior as damaging. So the tales change, perhaps demanding more active, self-aware heroines; a happier, Hollywood-style ending; or simply a new lens through which to view the stories. Because they’re oral tales, they will always change along with society. One generation adds in new angles, and the next generation removes or adds as necessary. Whether written or spoken, we keep on telling fairy tales.

So what is your fave fairy tale? Why do you love that tale? One of my favorites is Bluebeard. If you haven’t read it, check it out here. It’s certainly a cautionary tale, reminding young women, especially, to trust their instincts. I guess it could be about obedience, too, but I think there’s something more going on. It’s also a horror story, a shiver tale. It’s creepy, eerie, goosebump-worthy, not so much a bedtime story as it is a fireside tale meant to scare the crap out of us. Each time I read it, I get something new, but I always get a chill.

I love a lot of different fairy tales for many reasons. Mostly, I just enjoy exploring them and wondering what it is that attracts us to them.

This post certainly isn’t a scholarly paper, though I really apologize if it sounds like one at times! This morning got me thinking about fairy tales and my ongoing interest in them. Must’ve been the fog and bird songs.

I’m looking forward to hearing what your favorite fairy tales are, and why. What do you think keeps drawing us back to these stories?