Camp NaNoWriMo by Christine Duncan

Thank God April is over and I no longer have to make excuses to myself about not joining Camp NaNoWriMo. My Facebook feed will no longer be filled with the posts of the wordcounts of fellow writers giving me guilt. I am obviously not one of those folks who is inspired by group challenges–something you would think I would have figured out from my running performances in races long, long ago. I am not as bad as my finish times would make you suppose.
I apparently like the solitary nature of not just running but writing as evidenced by dislike of sharing progress in either in public. I am already preparing my excuses for July (for my own head–to remind myself, in case I am mistakenly tempted to try again.) It is okay NOT to NaNoWriMo. I will repeat as often as necessary.

Which Genre Am I?

How do genre authors settle into which genre they’re going to write? Well, I don’t think they choose straight away.

One of my favourite authors, Stephen King, is known as a horror writer. Yet he’s written a very good fantasy series. Even his horror books run the gamut from shock horror to chilling ghost stories. His short stories are in all kinds of genres.

I have read now about other authors writing all sorts of genres until they settle down to one, but I didn’t realise this when I began. I thought you just knew what kind of writer you were, but I couldn’t seem to find my voice.

I tried all kinds of genres. My first book was about a bunny rabbit, when I was seven, but it can’t have taken, because I’ve never ventured into anthropomorphic animals again.

In my teens I tried gothic romance. I was obsessed with Victoria Holt and Georgette Heyer at the time, so I had a go. It didn’t turn out great, I have to say, though I was very happy with one scene. And there was one particular character that stayed in my mind…

I tried science fiction, but couldn’t get any further than a short story. I then had a go at fantasy. This was after I discovered Lord of the Rings, but before Game of Thrones. I was off work with a torn ligament and every day I’d go to a park and write. I still have the book. It wasn’t a great book. The plot was rather dull, and a lot of the characters borrowed heavily from Lord of the Rings. And yet, and yet….it taught me I could write a whole book. It taught me how to write something that long, and what I’d need. And I had a few characters, just three, that didn’t come out of Lord of the Rings. They were all mine, and I liked them. I kept them in my head.

I had a go at a ghost story. I actually really liked that ghost story. I may go back to it one day.

All the time I wrote the occasional crime short story, but I never thought about writing a full length crime book. I loved crime, I read it voraciously, but I didn’t think I could write it. I didn’t think I could manage the kind of complex plot a crime novel required.

When I started thinking about The House At Baker Street, it was just a short story, a character study of Mrs Hudson. Then one day, an idea for a plot jumped into my head. I had the idea for the central case, and it was a good one. I loved it. I wanted to write it, and I wanted it to be mine. I didn’t want anyone else writing that plot.

And once I thought up my first crime plot, they kept coming. Complex, thrilling plots, full of clues and red herrings and subtleties. All those years reading crime fiction finally came to fruition. I let my mind wander, and it came back with story after story after story. This was my genre, I realised. I had tried them all, but in the end, I’m a crime writer.

But all that time spent trying other genres wasn’t wasted. Because those scenes and characters I liked in my other books have found their way into the books I write now. Only, instead of fighting dragons they fight crime.

The Fourth Estate by Christine Duncan

When I was a kid, I looked up to journalists, believing in them as the fourth estate, fighting corruption, bringing out the truth in this world. Journalism, I thought, was the highest form of writing, staying independent, digging for the truth. I wanted to be like that.
Later I saw the profession of writing as so much less than that. Writers write for companies, and thus have to answer to their bosses. There was product to be sold, advertising for those products seemed to be the reason for many an article, news and opinion pieces seemed to cross lines. Yet I still believed that the truth was being told in many ways.
After this election season, I wonder if we as a society get any of the truth. I see stories run as fact which are thinly disguised opinion. (“The GOP wants to get rid of Trump.” or “Bernie Sanders should drop out now–No path to Election.) Someone wrote that stuff, someone who purports to be a journalist. Media has made political contributions, has a stake in the game, when it should be that independent fourth estate.
Is there freedom of speech in the U.S. of A? Unquestionably. Do we get to hear the unbiased truth? I don’t think it happens that often anymore. And that is wrong.

Literary Pilgrimage

I shall be going to Bath soon, and no doubt while I’m there, I shall visit all the places associated with Jane Austen. I love literary pilgrimages.

But why do it? Why are people fascinated by the places and homes and items associated with writers and artists? Surely their words are what’s important.

When I went to Haworth, I went to the Bronte Parsonage, and stood there, looking at the room where Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written. I saw the Bronte’s writing desks, and the table they walked round and round whilst talking over their stories. To my surprise, I found myself weeping. I had expected to be interested. I hadn’t expected to be moved.

I’ve seen the room Dickens wrote in, I’ve stood outside Virginia Woolf’s house. Why would I do that?

It makes them more human, I think, and it gives their words an added layer. These aren’t just words I’ve read on a page anymore. I’ve seen where their author stood and thought and framed those words. I’ve seen where those words that mean so much to me were first created. I’ve seen what the author saw, when she looked up and out the window and imagined her world.

I think that visiting these places, and seeing these objects give a new added depth to the books. You can’t really know what Wuthering Heights is like until you’ve stood on the moors and felt the wind blow around you. When you see the Pump Rooms in Bath, you can see how Anne Elliot felt trapped by the gentility of this narrow world (and try the waters, when you go there. You really should). What an author sees and feels and does in their everyday life feeds into their writing, and these literary pilgrimages open up a whole new window onto their imaginary worlds.

Websites? by Christine Duncan

I have always had a website off my own away from this blog. In the beginning, I would actively update the website, whenever the season changed or just whenever I found a theme I liked better. Then,as time passed, I only updated when I had a new book. Each book would have its own page, there was a bio page, and sometimes a seasonal page or a contest page. Now, I don’t even want to tell you how long it’s been since I last updated the website.
If you are personally selling your books, I think maintaining your own site is important. But I don’t do that. Some publishers used to require that you maintain a website. It made sense in my preblogging days. Now I’m wondering. How important is a website apart from a blog?

Writing with a Chronic Illness

I have been a writer for years. I’ve had ulcerative colitis for four years. The UC has had a major effect on my writing.

When it started, I became sicker and sicker fairly quickly and didn’t get better. I ended up in hospital a lot, took all kinds of medications with nasty side effects, and last year, I a fairly major two part operation, had my colon removed and replaced first with an ileostomy (where part of the bowel is outside the skin, so I have to stick a bag over it to collect poo) and then that was removed and replaced with a J Pouch (internal ). I’m still sick, I always will be, I’m still symptomatic, but I’m a lot healthier than I have been since all this started.

So how did this effect my writing? Well, bad effects first.
– tiredness. Chronic illness make you tired. Exhausted in fact, so even the effort of picking up a pen is too much.
– pain. When it’s this bad, pain is all you can think about.
– time. So much time spent on appointments, on being ill, on trying not to be ill, on laying around in hospital.

But there were good effects too.
– time, again. I was off sick from my day job, but this meant on days where I was not too bad, I could write. True, I was still exhausted and sick, but I could manage twenty minutes at a time, every couple of hours.
– thinking time. When I was just lying there, too tired to move, when the pain wasn’t too bad, I could just lay there and think. I wasn’t distracted by anything else. I could just focus on the story.
– material. The sickness and the hospital visits gave me tons of material. In fact, part of the second Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson book is set in a hospital, and the seeds of the idea started as I lay in a hospital bed watching the other patients (though none of them ended up as characters!)
– determination. My body was beating me. I was damned if I was going to let my mind lose. I’d been a dilettante writer before, playing at it, whilst pursuing other interests. It couldn’t be like that any more. I just wasn’t physically capable of doing a day job, writing, acting and dancing. I looked at my life, and realised that I had to concentrate only on what was really important. So what did I really want? I wanted to be a writer, more than anything else. So it was time to focus on that. It was time to write a book, and get it published.

My chronic illness made life almost impossible for a time, and will also always make my life difficult, in varying degrees. But I think perhaps, without it, I would never have become a published writer.

How Long Do You Leave Submissions Out There? by Christine Duncan

I have a manuscript out to a publisher and I am thinking about inquiring about it. The thing is, I don’t want to jinx it. So how long do you leave something with someone before you ask?
I used to not worry about such things. I would just ask when I felt ready to ask. But a previous publisher cured me of that by getting very upset with my question. I’m sure there is a rule of thumb for this. How long do wait before you inquire about your manuscript?