I've been spending my day today mocking up covers for my trunk novels. Could there be any more pointless use of one's time, I ask you.
There they are, all six of 'em.
The first one is my singular attempt at a "cozy mystery." After all, I attended the first two incarnations of the Omaha Mystery & Suspense conventions in the early 90's; I felt sure some of that writing mojo rubbed off on me. Or so I thought. I'd read so many in that genre up to that point that I felt confident I could pull it off. In fact, I'd planned on writing three of them, and call the series "The Albuquerque Books of the Dead," a sort of play on the fact that a lot of used books come from estate sales. I took bits of my life, fictionalized them, used the book store as my jumping off point, and just went with it, and so "OK to Burn!" became a thing. The plot centered around the discovery of an antique book, a medieval girdle book to be precise, which is what's shown on the cover. And the photograph I used is in the public domain, thanks to Wikimedia Commons.
Once I hit the goal and got my first NaNo win, I gave it a quick polish and asked an editor friend if, since he was not professionally editing just then, he might have time to cast his eye over my manuscript. He agreed, and gave me fantastic feedback, constructive criticism, and solid advice, much of which I took. I've kept the red inked copy all this time, too. It just makes me smile when I look it over, which I do, every few years.
The next year, 2006, I wanted to do NaNo again, and even started the second book for this series, which I titled "Red or Green?" and the plot would deal with a lost cookbook from a legendary Southwestern restaurant. I was only about a week into the project when I realized I'd never be able to finish it. There was just too much going on with the bookstore then, and Asa's health had taken a serious turn for the worse.
And so I stopped participating in NaNoWriMo. Until 2017. By then I was a widow, had closed the bookstore, retired, upped sticks and sailed on out to the Midwest, where there were no serious demands on my time, or responsibilities beyond the ones to myself - so I thought, what the hell. Let's do that novel writin' thing again.
I can't remember exactly what the initial spark for "The Baker" was. I remember reading an article online about the Akashic records, and I recalled something about them from my misspent youth, during which time I'd read everything by and about Edgar Cayce, and I wondered. What if there was a world where some people were born with the ability to tap into those records, but most people were not? What would that world look like? So I got a handful of books to read and study in the months leading up to November.
Armed with all these wordy bits, plus reading a bunch of stuff online about medieval baking, I dabbled in a bit of light world building. And the story took off on me. I had no idea where it was going until I got there, and it was big fun to see it come together - like watching a time-lapse film of a crystal growing.
I even drew maps.
Here's a thing: once you start building a world, you invest a lot into it. And once you do that, well, one book just won't do, now, will it. So the following year, 2018, I picked up the story where I had left it, and titled it, "The Baker Rises." * Like the previous one, this story centered around a handful of characters and how they screw each other up in their quest to set their world to rights. Even though I hit the 50K word goal, I still have about 5 pages to write to get that first draft completed.
In 2019, I remember exactly what the inspiration was. At first, I was going to write a third book in The Baker's world, but then I came across this:
"A party of elves are going on a quest. Their aim is to steal a gigantic ruby from a unicorn."
(from the Magic Realism Bot on Twitter)
Next thing I knew, I was down a rabbit hole, researching everything I could on elvish lore, Old Norse customs, mythology, and rituals, and all things fae. I think I came up for air twice. I had too many sources to list here, but suffice to say, I did my due diligence on this one, for sure. And there was more world building happening, too. Couldn't be helped. A few months before NaNo, I signed up for Neil Gaiman's Masterclass on Storytelling. One of the exercises had to do with taking a fairy tale/myth/legend and twisting it. I wrote a long short story/novella based on Beauty & the Beast, and titled it, "Tale As Old As." I discovered a character that wanted me to put them in everything from that point on. This member of the Seelie/Unseelie court is an agent of change, and is so much fun to write about that they got their way.
They have a substantial role in "The Stolen Heart," which is about a group of elves who go on a quest to a cave along the West Coast to steal a giant heart-shaped ruby, part of Oberon's horde, which is guarded by a fae security group. They're duty bound to do this, since the head of their House answered a young woman's plea during an álfablót. The ruby is integral to the young woman's destiny. Where the ruby came from, why she needs it, and where it ends up, form the plot of the tale that spans multiple generations. And I work in my re-imagining of the Wild Hunt while I'm at it. And there's dogs in it, too.
I should mention, this was my first foray into faery tale porn, which I discovered will practically write itself. Again, I hit the word count, but there are still several scenes that need to be written to call this first draft complete.
2020: the initial Year of COVID-19. During the early days of lockdown, I decided I needed actual fresh air. I went for a 20-minute walk, three times a week (weather permitting), with my grandsons, who were also locked down and required fresh air even more than I did. During our walks, we'd talk about their classes and about the games they were playing. My older grandson had just discovered the world of D&D, and wanted me to create a character, in the hopes of my joining one of his online quests. With his help, and the website, D&D Beyond, I filled in a character sheet. One of the boxes was for writing the character's backstory.
As if a 2"x4" text box could contain THAT. Next thing I knew, I had my idea for the 2020 project, and "Vendla/Begin" was born. I made it a "shared world" story, and naturally a few of the characters from the previous project popped in. Like I said, when you invest a lot of time and brain in building a world, you kind of want to get some mileage out of it. The manuscript needs a lot of reformatting to be readable, and I can't print it out until next week (no ink), but it's a small matter. At first, I thought I'd left it without an ending, and I just did a fast re-read of how the next one starts, and realized I had actually come to a decent ending. But it could still use some touching up.
Now we come to this year. 2021. "Vendla/Blue." I knew I wanted to continue Vendla's story, but I wanted to do something new as well. In September, I was retaking the Masterclass, and had come to the same place I was at when I wrote that not-so-short story/novella. As I said, the writing prompt was to take a look at a familiar tale and twist it up. I'd been playing an online non-game called, "The Path" which is based on the Red Riding Hood story, so that was fresh in my mind. What if, I said to myself. What if her name was Blue? Blue Mantel? What if she wasn't a human girl, but a faery changeling that managed to grow up? And what if she didn't know that's what she was? I'd spent the summer writing about my search for my paternal grandmother and did a lot of reading about the mining towns that skirt Yosemite, so I used a hefty dollop of that for background, and managed to not only make the 50K word goal, but also finished that first draft a couple of days later.
The reason I wanted to write about writing? I decided to finish and print up all these first drafts before I throw them back in the trunk. I've got 2⅞ done so far, and I'm going to get that ⅛ done before the new year. This is by no means a resolution. It's more of a determination. I'll be half-way done with the enterprise before going in to 2022, which is really kinda cool. To me, anyhow.
Trunk novels might seem like a waste of time, but I think of them as learning opportunities. And fun. There are a couple of great essays on Medium that explain it better than I can.
- The Trunk Novel: What It Is and Why New Writers Need Them
For most people who write, the whole point of the exercise is to get published and make money. But that's not why I do it. I don't expect to ever be published. I write because it fills me with joy, to tell a story from start to finish and have it make some kind of sense, maybe even have a point - or at the very least, a distinctive point of view - this, by me, is a good time.
So that was my day as we get ready to kick the door shut on 2021, spent knocking around the old NaNoWriMo projects, re-reading stuff, remembering even more, getting lost in those memories, then snapping out of it.
I love this stuff. This writing stuff. I really, really do.
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* Recently, this one was renamed "The Baker: Rising," for no damned good reason at all.