I’m in love with the word housecarl.  It’s a very old word, and I stole it from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.  I’ve been looking for a word to refer to men in a medieval noble household who aren’t in the family and aren’t knighted, but also aren’t necessarily servants.  Lois McMaster Bujold uses “armsman”.  Carey uses housecarl in her Viking-ish culture.  The other word I’ve come across is armiger, which applies to a military guy who works for a knight and is entitled to his own coat of arms, but isn’t knighted himself.  I have no idea why you would have a coat of arms without being a knight, so I was thinking of using it to mean anyone who carries weapons and isn’t knighted.

To me housecarl seems like the male version of “house maid”, except not implying “servile”.  I’m not sure I understand the nuances of relationships in a medieval household would be.  Does servile mean a slave, or also someone who works for money?  Or who works for room and board?  Would I be using it wrong to refer to male servants in the King’s Castle?  (Can I use it that way anyway, under the assumption that most people reading the book will either not already know the word, or will understand that this is my own world and I’m stealing words and repurposing* them?)

This came up because I’m looking for Germanic & Old English terms to use in LFG, as opposed to French, Latin, or Celtic.  Does it matter much, since I’m still writing the first draft?  Nope.  But looking for the right words to use helps me get into the feeling of the world.


* Firefox doesn’t think “repurposing” is a word.  Wikipedia doesn’t either, but several articles use it as a word.

NaNoWriMo 2011 trails off with a fizzle

I’m not conceding defeat, exactly, because that would imply that I’m a failure, and I don’t believe that.  But… I took on a task, and real life came along and bit me.

I set out to write 50,000 new words on THE LAST FAIRY GODMOTHER this month, and I haven’t broken 15,000†.  Being the second-to-last day of the month, I’m not going to try to pretend that I could manage all that before the end of tomorrow.

I’ve concluded several things from this experiment:

  • I can write a lot when I don’t care if it makes sense.
  • I actually prefer it to make sense, even though it’s “just” NaNoWriMo.
  • While I started out with characters and a plot, I missed out on the critical VILLAIN element.  I finally figured out the villain (and also what he does that personally affects my main characters!), but not until the third week, by which time I’d fallen seriously behind.
  • Scheduling something, even something wonderful and fun, that takes up a whole weekend plus two weekday evenings during NaNoWriMo is tantamount to NaNoSuicide.  Especially when I still have my day job, and therefore had no weekend to recover from the week and the fun weekend, and still wanted to be able to keep writing.  I lost over a week recovering from that.
  • Inertia is really helpful, so a disruption in the inertia drags me to a screeching halt, and then it takes me weeks to care enough to speed up again.
  • When trying to avoid writing, I knit beautiful things*.  :-D
  • When trying to avoid writing, I make great progress resolving story issues in other stories that are not my main focus.  (Yesterday I realized I could fix two flaws in my vampire story, and I came up with four scenes for a short story version of my first [winning] NaNo story from 2006 about the invention and QA testing of the transporter**.)

Other wins for the month:

  • I bought a ton of yarn on sale on Saturday.  Including enough to make my Staghorn Sweater.  As soon as I finish making my vest (see beautiful things, above), I’ll start on the sweater.  Woohoo!
  • I haven’t died.
  • I got to see or talk to most of my favorite people over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
  • There might even be some others, but I’ve already forgotten them.  :-/

So, I think my plan is to finish polishing my vampire story, and then decide whether I want to start back in on LFG or write the four scenes for my transporter story.  Or maybe even try to figure out what the later scenes of the transporter story might be…  Hmm.



† Which brings me to 35,000 total!

* And of course I haven’t remembered to take any pictures of it, so no, you cannot see it.  Sorry.

** I can’t remember if it had a title.  It was wonderful and funny.  I still have the novel somewhere, but it is not worth resurrecting in any way shape or form, with the possible exception of the first scene, which was full of fabulous.  I seem to have only documented it on the internet on Nov. 1 of that year, here:

What I want writing to be, and what writing is

I want writing to be about starting at the beginning and writing through until I find the end.  When it goes like that I think, “See, I was right, that’s what writing is like!”  When it doesn’t go like that I think, “Aaahh, I’m failling*!”

I’ve been writing my fairy story since the beginning of this year.  I’ve written somewhere between 15 and 20k words in this story.  (It is destined to be a novel, unless I suddenly discover that Lo, there isn’t really a plot where I expected there would be a plot**.)  And partway through the summer I realized I couldn’t keep writing the scene that I was trying to write, so I skipped ahead a little.  I mean a little, like I skipped over a boring bit that you wouldn’t have wanted to read anyway.  And then I was stuck.  So I backed up and tried again, this time trying not to skip ahead at all.  I have learned, in my years of writing stories, that when I’m stuck it’s usually because there’s something wrong with the story as I’ve written it so far, not because I’m inherently lazy, nor even because the story is inherently flawed.  And so if I can find the right question to ask, I can figure out what went wrong and fix it, and then the story will go merrily along on its way.  So I backed up a little, and rewrote.  And the newer version read better than the older version.  And then I got stuck, again.  I could’ve pushed on, but I know that pushing is a good way to get a bad story that’ll have to be rewritten.  So in July or August, I ripped back*** to a scene I’d written in May (oh, how that hurt), and noticed several plot holes.  Whew, that’s been the problem all along! thought I, and happily got back to writing.

In September I went on a (non-writing) vacation for two weeks, and when I came back I couldn’t remember why this story was supposed to be interesting, and ugh who wrote this rat’s nest, and why am I supposed to care about these characters?  What crystallized for me was that there were too many complications.  Yes, I need to have complications to keep the story going forward.  But if I can’t keep track of all of them, then my reader will have no hope.  So I simplified.  I pulled out an event that happened in the third scene and I made sure I knew, in each scene, what each person should primarily be reacting too.  If they’re not, then it’s a problem.  These things gave me a lot of clarity, and I am not rewriting.  I wrote down what I want to change, and I can see how those changes move forward into the “now” of my story so that I can pick up from “now” and keep writing.  I won’t waste time on rewriting that I could spend on writing new words.  The first draft will not be coherent from beginning to end, but coherence can wait until the second draft.

In order to make these decisions, to see what needs changing, I needed two things.  First was distance away from the story.  Second was the recognition that writing is a process of figuring out what the story is—and also what the story isn’t.  Just because I don’t always know what the story is doesn’t mean I’m failing.  Or falling.

It means I’m writing.


* Not merely a typo, but also “failing” and “falling” smooshed together into one word that should already exist.  I’m shocked I didn’t think of it sooner.

** It feels a lot like Columbus sailing and sailing and sailing, and then falling off the end of the Earth because, Lo, there really isn’t more Earth in that direction.  Luckily for all of us, there really was more Earth and he didn’t fall off.  But there are no guarantees for my story.  Mathy philosopher types like Euripedes^ have been positing for centuries that there is more story, but they could be wrong.

^ Was it Euripedes?  Who’s the guy from Egypt who calculated the circumference of the Earth to within 5% accuracy based on the fact that a pole in the ground had more shadow at noon than a similar pole 200 miles south?  That’s the guy I’m thinking of.  Except really I’m thinking of the metaphorical guy, who’s actually just one of the voices in my head, telling me that it has mathematically computed that there must be more story, and its circumference is about the size of a novel.  And other voices are pointing out that this mathy guy hasn’t really proven he’s not just pulling numbers out of his hat, so don’t trust him too much.  I’m trying to be neutral in this debate until I have evidence one way or another.

*** That’s a knitting metaphor, right there.  I’ve ripped back rows in knitting often enough, too.  I hate doing it more than once on a project—and again I think I must be failing—but sometimes it’s just part of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  But in knitting there is no second draft.  (And if your second sleeve looks better than the first?  Then your sweater will look funny.  :-/)

writing update

I just noticed I haven’t posted about my writing in a while, and you might think I’ve quit.

Never fear, I haven’t!  I’ve been working slowly, but steadily, on the same New! Shiny! project I mentioned in January, THE LAST FAIRY GODMOTHER.  And it’s rolling along.  No angst, no bashing head into the wall, no pulling teeth.  I know what’s going to happen later in the story*, and so I keep writing until I get there.  My characters keep surprising me–there was a funny bit with a tea kettle I didn’t see coming–and a few things that showed up as throw-away lines have turned into plot points.  The coolest thing is that I’m still interested in the story.  I know that in a little while, they’re going to reach a whole new place and it’s going to be fascinating (to me) to find out who is there and what miscommunications will turn up.  I know there is plenty of room for miscommunication, and I know things will go horribly wrong, but I don’t know the details yet–and I can’t wait to find out.  I’m hoping it’ll be funny and meaningful, all at the same time, and hopefully not too much like watching a train wreck**.

At my current writing pace, I  might finish this (draft of this) novel in about 3 years.  o_O  I’m hoping to pick up speed somewhere along the way–NaNoWriMo would be an excellent opportunity–but in the meantime, it’s going along.  And I keep having new things to add to this story.  Until that stops, it’s all good.

* Not that I’m going to tell you, of course…

** Incidentally, you can spend hours watching train wrecks on youtube.  I wish I were kidding.

New year, new project

Happy New Year!

Since last we met, several exciting things have happened.  Haven’t you missed me?

First, I wrote THE END of my Vampire Story.  Again.  This is THE END of the Second Draft!  Not the final draft, I have a major revision to go, but it will be a revision not a re-write.  I’m planning to start revision at the beginning of February.  I got burnt out figuring out how to get to “the end” so I could move on to the next story bouncing around in my head, so I’m giving myself a good bit of distance before picking it up with my Editor Goggles on.  But any later than February seems like procrastination.

Vampire Story, Second Draft
7500 / 7500 (100%)

Second!  I started my next story!  This one has been bouncing around in my head for a couple of years, just as a vague idea for a fairy tale that ends (or maybe starts) with the fairies getting the upper hand.  Why is it that Rumpelstiltskin never wins the first-born child?  This is the story where he does.  Well, not Rumpelstiltskin himself, but some other fairy creature.  That was all I had, a bare premise.  I wrote a short story called “Wing Stop” a while back, which ends wrong but I couldn’t ever figure out why*.  A couple of months ago, I suddenly developed a plot and characters.  I don’t know where they came from**, except that I was given this fabulous poem called “Bad Day” by Kay Ryan about an elfin tailor.  And suddenly I knew how the child was taken, and a bit later I figured out what came next, and then–BLAMMO!–I had a whole*** novel-lengthed† story arc.

This has never happened to me before.

I suppose it still hasn’t quite happened.  I mean, the story was brewing in the back of my head for yearsSomething must’ve been going on back there.

And eventually I discovered some characters and stuff, too.  So, I’ve started writing!  See?

The Last Fairy Godmother
2000 / 100000 (2%)

Ok, I think that was only two things, even though I said “several”. You could invent a few more for me if you wanted.

* Proof that I do and have finished things, despite the trash I talk about myself.  Just not “final draft”, “ready to be published” finished.  :-/

** Maybe from reluctance to find the end of my Vampire Story.  Funny how procrastination can have some fab fringe benefits.

*** Well, whole by my definition.  There are a whole lot of blurry details and not-so-details that I haven’t figured out.  And I do still have to write the whole thing.

† At least, I hope so.  What if it falls short?  Hrm.