Tags: clarion west write-a-thon


Clarion West Write-a-thon Week 3

I made my goal again this week! I'm very pleased because I had a lot of distractions -- first grading two classes worth of final essays, starting two new classes that I've never taught before, and having Paul come home from California for long weekend. But even with all these distractions, I never forgot that I have people sponsoring me and I have an obligation to meet my goals for them, for Clarion West and for myself, because after all this is really about pushing me as a writer.

Most of you know that I my writing career is mostly comprised of writing one hour drama for television. (You can find details at my website dlynnsmith.com) A number of years ago I wrote a spec television pilot called, "Beyond the Veil." When I was thinking about my next novel, it occurred to me that the story of Beyond the Veil would make a great novel. I loved the premise and the main characters. I already had six episodes worked out, so it would be easy to turn this book into a series if I was so lucky as to sell it.

Beyond the Veil is about a young woman, Cassandra (Cassy) Zeh who used to be an investigative reporter, but was discredited for doctoring one of her photos. Around the same time, her adopted mother is found murdered and her father is accused, and convicted of the crime. He is incarcerated in a mental health facility for the criminally insane.

Cassy has a dark history that includes visions, voices and attempted suicide. When she decides to return to her childhood home where all this took place, her cousin Alex Kelly is concerned and decides to stay in the guest room for a while, just to make sure she doesn't have another breakdown. Lord knows enough has come down to cause one.

This is the background at the beginning of the novel. Since Cassy is adopted, you can figure that her mysterious origins will come up and become an important part of who she is to become. But I guess the most important thing you need to know right now is that when Cassy is offered a job at "Beyond the Veil" magazine, she returns to her roots and digs out her old, film camera. When she looks through the view finder, she sees through any glamour or magic that hides supernatural creatures from us humans. Is she really seeing these things, or is she losing it again?

My basic underlying premise is if the gods were once again walking in the world of men, who would they be. Cassy and Alex begin and adventure to find out. This adventure leads Cassy to solve some of the mysteries about who she is and where she came from.

So that's what I'm working on. I'm having a great time. As I said in a previous post, I'm using the pilot I wrote as an outline. I'm not allowing myself to go back and revise at all. This has been the most freeing writing experience I've ever had. I'm having a blast just playing with the stories and the characters, letting them lead me where they will.

Many writers don't like to use outlines. I've talked to people like Charles de Lint and Jane Lindskold and they like to just sit down and work, letting the story essentially write itself. I've had some writers tell me they use a reverse outline, meaning that they outline their novel as they go.

On my three previous novels I've tried various takes on the not outlining thing and I just don't think it works for me. It makes me slow, it makes me not want to sit down and write that day.

All my teleplays and screenplays have been outlined before I wrote them. Heck, for Murder, She Wrote, my writing partner Danna and I had to write a 30 page outline for a 50 page script. All we had to do to the final script was insert dialog!

I'm finding that using a pilot as an outline isn't ideal. The structuring in a script and a novel is completely different. I've had to fully develop my characters whereas in television you leave a lot up to the actors and the director. You don't have any commercial breaks to help you change the momentum of your story.

Still, I'm so enjoying this experience. I know where I'm going. I know what I'm doing. I know my characters and my story. The parts that are missing from the script are filling in naturally as I write my chapters. I've only had one day where writing was like pulling teeth -- one day in 3 weeks, not bad. Especially when I'm turning out four chapters a week.

To hand the structuring problem I'm simply ignoring it for now. I'm not numbering my chapters at this point; I simply name them after what is happening in the chapter. Like "Cassy and Alex Explore the Attic" or "Cassy meets Tiffany Shield". This way I can play with my index cards on my board, just like I do with a script, and trying chapters out in different places. I'll also see what I'm missing, because believe me, there are some things missing. The script reads just fine, but a script does not have the kind of detail and continuity that a novel needs.

So besides having a great time turning out these chapters, I'm learning a tremendous amount about my own writing process. Yes, I need to work from an outline. I don't find outlines constraining because I know that they can change as you write, just like this script is changing as I turn it into a novel. I'm also finding out that writing without going back and revising is a wonderful, freeing experience. And I'm discovering that I am actually a fast writer. I don't know why I questioned this since Danna and I had to turn in a script on "Touched By An Angel" in four days!

Today I've put the novel aside and am finishing a short story I need to turn in to my critique group. I promised myself that if I started another novel, I wouldn't stop writing short stories. So Sundays are my short story writing days.

So I met my goal and am feeling inspired and accomplished! If you'd like to support my efforts, please make a pledge to the Clarion West Write-a-thon. You can do so at http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/DLynnSmith. Now here is my promised excerpt from last week's writing.

From "Beyond the Veil"

"My baby things," I said, putting down the camera. "Mom saved them."

I felt the wound in my heart gape open. I took out a soft, pink blanket. Underneath was a smaller box. Alex took it out and opened it.

"Whoa," he said.


He turned the box around to show me a stunning, emerald necklace. It had a silver chain about halfway down that attached on each side to the tail of a snake. The snakes undulated down to the front of the necklace where their heads intertwined so they would nestle in the hollow of a woman's neck. Embraced by the snakes mouths was a glittering emerald.

The moment I touched the necklace a shiver ran through my body. It was as if my cells recognized it's touch. I lifted it from the box and held it up to get a better look.

"There's a note," said Alex. He picked up a piece of beige parchment and unfolded it. "To Whom It May Concern. This is my daughter, Cassandra. I love her with all my heart. But her mother is a danger to her and I must give her up to save her."

Alex looked at me but I couldn't meet his eyes. I was stunned. I'd always been told my parents had died when I was born.

Alex went back to reading. "This necklace is her legacy. One I hope she may never face. Tell her she was her father's greatest joy and that losing her will be his greatest sorrow."

Alex turned the note over. "That's all there is."

I couldn't speak. My mind seemed to have shut down. I stared at the necklace trying to make sense of a world that had been turned all around a couple of times now.

Alex put the note back in the box. I handed him the necklace. Then I picked up my camera, got up and walked downstairs. I didn't how many more surprises I could take.

Week 1 - Clarion West Write-a-thon

Before I talk about my progress this week, I want to talk about friendship. At both Clarion West and Stonecoast, the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine, I made some great friends. Some I've kept in touch with, some not so much. But that doesn't mean they didn't impact my life or that I've forgotten them.

I just found out that one such friend from Stonecoast, AJ, sponsored me for the Write-a-thon. This was a great surprise and it really touched my heart. Thanks, AJ.

Okay, I didn't meet my 4 chapter goal this week. I did, however, write. I wrote a detailed first Act of a new screenplay I'm working on. Horror, of course. I also rewrote the first part of a horror short story, though rewrite is used rather loosely here since I'm completely changing up the entire story.

I wrote one chapter of my novel. I could have done more, but I went to Las Vegas for a long weekend. My dad was there from Florida for a Kiwanis convention and it was my only chance to see him this year. So Paul and I met up in Vegas. I spend time with my dad, had a massage and worked a little, but mostly played. Paul won 3 place in a poker tournament at the Venetian! It paid for our trip.

I was working on the novel on the way home today, so I've already started on my goal for this week. I plan to get those 4 chapters written this week!

I'll talk more about what the novel is about next week. For now, here's a sample from the newest chapter:

Aunt Ethel drew herself up in what was supposed to be an intimidating pose. “Step aside.”

“Gladly,” I said, putting out my hand. “As soon as you return my property.”

“These books have been in my family for generations.” She waved an large, leather bound volume at me. “My name is inscribed within these pages.”

“So is mine,” I said.

The color drained from Ethel’s face. “She wouldn’t have dared.”

“Look for yourself if you don’t believe me.”

Ethel stared at me a moment. Then she sat down all the books but the family Bible she’d been waving around. She opened it up. I knew what she was seeing. I vividly remember the day my mom called me into the library and showed me that Bible. I was ten years old.

“This Bible has belonged to my family for a very long time, Cassy,” my mother told me. “Everything a girl child is born into the family, her name is inscribed in this book.”
There were two pages of names there already. Some on the first page were so faded you could barely read them.

“The Bible is usually passed down to the eldest, but my mother didn’t want my sister Ethel to have it. She felt I was better suited to protect the family line.” She opened a drawer on the desk and pulled out a fountain pen. “So now it’s my turn to write down a name.”
I looked at my mom, frightened, confused and somewhat in awe. “But I’m not your real daughter. You didn’t born me.”

Mom took my chin in her hand and made me meet her eyes. “You ARE my real daughter. Even more so than if I had given birth to you because I chose you and you chose me. Family isn’t about whose blood runs in your veins, Cassy. It’s about what’s inside here,” she tapped me lightly on my chest, “...and here.” She tapped my head. You are more family to me than my sister ever was.

Then she took the pen and inscribed my name in the Bible. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I belonged somewhere.

When she was finished, she blew on the page to dry the ink. “Now when I am gone,” she said, “It will be your job to protect the family line. Someday, you will inscribe your daughter’s name under yours.”

Aunt Ethel slapped the book shut. “Evelyn went too far.”

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Clarion West Write-a-thon

Clarion West is an intensive six-week workshop for writers preparing for ¬pr¬ofession¬al careers in science fiction and fantasy, held annually in Seattle, Washington. I attended CW in 2004 with 16 other talented writers. Many of us have gone on to publish short stories and poetry. Two people from our class, Brian Conn and Anil Menon have published novels. If you would like to see a now out of date list of my classes accomplishments, go to http://www.brianconn.net/cw2004/cw2004.html and scroll down. I know you'll be impressed.

Today is the official beginning of the Clarion West Write-a-thon. - just like a walk-a-thon, but with words. I have pledged to write 4 chapters of my new novel a week -- a rather daunting goal. Your tax-deductible donation goes to fund future writers of speculative fiction.

You can see my write-a-thon page here - http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/DLynnSmith. If you don't feel like pledging money for my efforts, you might consider one of the many other fine writers listed here:http://clarionwest.org/events/writeathon/2010.

I'll be posting weekly updates (maybe more, who knows) on my progress here on my blog. I'll also be posting excerpts from my work each week. But you must be kind -- remember that I'm trying to turn out 4 chapters a week!

So I'm off to work on Chapter 2 -- Chapter 1 is already in the can, to quote from my television days. I hope you'll follow my progress and find it in your wallet to donate to this great cause.