The Year of the Novel

novel1, noun: a long written story usually about imaginary characters and events

novel2, adjective: new and different from what has been known before

I just celebrated my 26th birthday over the weekend and had a great time. My wife threw me the greatest surprise birthday party with some of my best friends here in St. Louis.

For most people, turning 26 means they’re on the downhill to 30. The idea that they haven’t achieved anything yet can be paralyzing and draining on their confidence and self esteem. I have no such fear though. I’ve already found my soulmate and started my family. I’ve completed my bachelor’s degree and finished my MFA. I’ve written my first novel, Sentinel’s Soul, and begun the process of publishing. I’m working on a sequel, with another novel idea just waiting for its turn. And I’ll be teaching my first class in the spring.

While celebrating with some friends, someone asked me what I wanted to dedicate my year to? The idea being that you would focus on whatever concept for the following year and see where God led you. And as a writer, the idea of the novel was tossed out.

1445496548706590349Mind = Blown.

This works on multiple levels for me at this stage of my life. First, the noun definition of the novel. In the coming year, I hope to complete my second novel (that’s right, you heard me, complete it) and start on my third novel. I also hope to find an agent for my first novel. But in addition to all of this, I’m hoping to spend some time reading some really great novels. (Any suggestions in the fantasy/scifi/urban fantasy realm?) I’ve been a student for almost 20 years of my life and it’s high time I started reading what I want to read rather than the assigned readings, although I’ll be doing my fair share of those since I’ll be the one assigning readings in class.

The second definition, novel as an adjective meaning ‘new and different from what has been known before‘, is equally profound. As I move into this next year of life, I’m looking forward to many new and exciting developments. As I said, I’m hoping to get an agent for Sentinel’s Soul. But I’m also hoping to enjoy teaching undergraduates this year and start building my credentials there. I’m nervous but also excited, as this will be the first chance I’ve gotten to really use the degree I worked so hard on attaining. In my personal life, I just want to keep raising my boys well and continue being a good husband. But I want to do so in a way that is exciting and fulfilling. And I’m always up for new friends and experiences.

So this is the Year of the Novel in all of its multi-faceted meaning. I’m excited to share it with you and look forward to my next birthday.

Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat

prince-lestatIt’s been a little while since I did a book review. I’ve read several novels over the past couple months. My second son was also born and work got crazy busy with the start of the semester. But things have finally started to calm down a little and I was able to finish Anne Rice’s newest Vampire Chronicles novel, Prince Lestat.

I grew up reading the Vampire Chronicles. In fact, I believe Anne Rice’s Louis and Lestat were the first vampire novels I had the joy of reading as a kid (read as 6th grade). While it might not have been the most appropriate reading material for a 6th Grader, I enjoyed these novels so very much. The intricacy of the stories, the emotional states of the characters, the brutality with which they drank from the evildoer. All great stuff that sucked me right in.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, Prince Lestat was a little different than the other Vampire Chronicles, at least for me. It was told in this rolling, POV hopping format that was unlike the other Chronicles I had read. Of the ones I had read, they always stuck to either Louis’ or Lestat’s (Or whoever’s biography the book focused on) POV, with slight shifts every once in a while. And I never read Queen of the Damned (which I need to do now, as a lot of the info plays into this book) so it may be written in this fashion. And while it was different, it wasn’t unsettling, just worth noting.

What did take a little getting used to was that when we were in Lestat’s POV, everything was written in first person. He was telling us the story. Everyone else’s POV was written in the third person. The first time this happened, I was a little confused. But once I got used to the form, it was fine. It also helped that Rice had headed each chapter with the name of whomever’s POV we were going to be in.

This book was a little slow getting into. We are bouncing around all over, with no idea who the Voice is or what he wants, and meeting several characters we’d never even heard of before. I almost set the novel down a couple times for this reason alone. But I trusted Anne enough to pull off a great story in the end. This trust only comes from many books of successful storytelling before, a fine example for the rest of us writers. Once you have dedicated readers, you can experiment a bit more and try new things. And boy, did it all come together in the end.

I’d say I devoured the last 150-200 pages. The pacing picked up. I was once again locked into the mysterious, brooding, thoughtful immortal mindset that encapsulates these vampires, some of whom have been alive for six thousand years. And when the ending rolled around, I was left satisfied.

The resolution was a little underwhelming. I would have liked something a bit more exciting. But it wasn’t disappointing. Definitely worth a read and I will be reading her next novel, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis. I’ll give it a shot.

All in all, I’d give Prince Lestat a 3/5 stars for taking me back to some of my favorite characters, but also for being a little slow to get into and having a somewhat underwhelming ending.

Writing Advice #1

I recently received an email from a Buzzfeed Article titled “33 Essential Tips for Aspiring Writers“. I found a lot of the advice to be quite good and it sparked an idea. Over the next many posts, I’d like to take a piece of advice from the Buzzfeed Article and expand on it with a bit of my own advice. Hope it helps some people out.

01. As Kandinsky says, “Everything starts with a dot.” Sometimes the hardest thing in writing a story is where to start. You don’t need to have a great idea, you just have to put pen to paper. Start with a bad idea, start with the wrong direction, start with a character you don’t like, something positive will come out of it.

-Marion Deuchars, illustrator and author of Let’s Make Some Great Art

I think this is a great piece of advice and very well placed as the first piece of advice on the page. Also, with today being Novmber 1st, it’s the beginning of NaNoWriMo and many writers are taking part in the challenge.

So many young writers that I talk to have great ideas for stories and novels but don’t know where to start. They ask me “Where would you start?”

And I find this question to be one I struggle with myself. The answer is quite clear here in this bit of advice. It doesn’t really matter where you start, as long as you do start. (Although I have a few good ideas that can get the creative juices flowing.) You can’t get any writing done until you sit your butt in your chair and start somewhere, anywhere.

A bit of life experience from my life:

When I started graduate school, I had a very vague idea of a story. But I had no idea where to start with it. So I started in the middle of a fight scene. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t able to explain everything I wanted to. The important part was that I had started. I made progress and once I started writing, there was no stopping me. Later, when I went back to do revisions, I realized where I started wasn’t really my start point but three chapters later. And that was okay, because without having started and made it all the way through the first draft was I able to see where I actually needed to start.

So, like I said, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do start. In the end, that’s the most important lesson.

But, young writers do ask “Where would you start?” And I do have a bit of advice on that.

  1. Start with something that gets your blood pumping. For me, it’s a bit of action, some fight scene or point of tension. For you, it might be a bit of romance. Or a coffee shop in Paris. Whatever it might be, if it gets you pumped about writing, then that’s where you should start and remember you can always change it later. That’s the joy of writing.
  2. Start with a character sheet/POV writing. Sometimes, when starting a new project, it can be helpful just to write for a little while in the head of your POV character. Once again, it gets those creative juices flowing, gets you in the mindset of your character, and when you are ready start writing material for the story, you’ll be off and going.
  3. Outline, outline, outline. I can’t stress this enough but put some thought into an outline. It doesn’t matter if you change it later. It’s totally fine. But if you feel like you’ve got the gist of the story on paper in an outline, you’ll be more inclined to start writing it.

Those are just a few bits of advice. Any thoughts from you, readers? I’d love to hear any suggestions on where you like to start writing at.