Archive | fairy tale

NaNo Update

Today is day 8 of NaNoWriMo, and so far, so good, I’ve been able to write 17,245 words. That’s an average of over 2,000 words a day! I am making an effort to write first thing in the morning, when I’m at my best and when I am less likely to be interrupted. Usually that means I am sitting here at my computer between 6-8am.

I’ve been writing and only writing, not reading over what I previously wrote, and I think this method is working well for me. If I start reading back at what I wrote before, my inner critic becomes engaged, and all of a sudden it is not about being creative but about excellence and perfection or, worse, embarrassment and shame. I find that I really work much better if the critic is off to the side, minding his own business. Every once in a while he rears up his head and comments on my progress, and I politely ask him to back off. I don’t need him right now. I want to allow the words, unhindered, to flow.

I hope that when I am done with the first draft (as I feel fairly confident I am going to do) I can engage the services of my inner critic not as a critic but as a “feedbacker.” I think there’s a lot he can help me with, as long as he remembers that his job is to support and build and not to crush and shame. My cousin told me a good quote in Russian for this (and I’m using her translation): The first pancake always comes out in a ball. Similarly, I expect that this first draft is not going to be the end of the process. There’s going to be a second, and a third, and maybe a number twenty-third draft as well. There’s going to be revision. But the only way I can move from a ball to a beautiful pancake ready-to-be-served is with encouragement and love. It’s impossible to cook a nicely-shaped, yummy pancake — or a magical novel — with censure and hurt.

Other than discovering that NaNoWriMo does in fact motivate me to write, I’ve also noticed something else. I have more self discipline than I used to. I think all this meditation and qigong and Reiki practice is really paying off. I am better able to concentrate and to sit down for something that I know deep down inside to be very important to me. I am also, somehow, better able to let go. I put down the words, and whether or not the critic mumbles something from his place of semi-exile, I let my written words flow. There will be a time to review them later.

Having written one novel before, even if I did decide, after who-knows-what-number version, to leave it, I feel both awed and overwhelmed by the thought of what comes after the first draft. I know the task that is ahead of me, and I know what it feels like to have put so much effort into something meaningful to me only to discover that it is just not going to bear fruit anytime soon. I try to let these thoughts go too. Right now there are only two things I am doing, and they are allowing the story to tell itself and myself to feel the fun of it without thinking too much ahead.

Tomorrow I am going to a meditation daylong at Spirit Rock about releasing the inner critic. Very apropos, I think. I hope it will help with the writing as well. I have dreamed about writing a novel for so long, I’ve written and hoped, cried, shut down, avoided writing for months and months, and then found myself trying again and again. A part of me wants so, so much for it to happen finally, but I’ve decided to let go of expectations and hopes, and even of dreams. I have decided to let whatever happen, happen, and to stop interfering.

Many years ago when I was a student at Stanford, one of my professors said to me that in order to write a doctorate you need to have a fire burning in you. For me, the fire has always been in writing a novel. Sometimes it was on low heat. Sometimes on high. But it was always there, burning away, sending desire after desire into the sky. So we will see, won’t we, what will come of this new endeavor, this new concept for my novel. I will keep you updated as I continue following the NaNo path. For now, all is well. I hope all’s well also in your life.


Setting an Intention for NaNoWriMo

There is a novel in my head, with characters and a plot, that is yearning to come out. It’s been there for years. So many years, in fact, that they can be numbered in tens rather than ones. Princess Anna Mara first came to me as I was sitting outside Ostrovsky High School waiting for my friends to get out of class. It was October, I believe, and my sister and I were visiting Israel while our parents decided where our family was heading next. Not that there was much question about it. They were not going to stay in South Africa, where we had lived for the past 9 months, nor where they coming back to Israel, no matter how much my sister and I hoped they would.

Partly out of that hope, and partly because I truly loved to learn, I got permission from the high school to attend classes with my friends. I took that permission and my request very loosely, only going to classes that interested me, namely math and physics. The rest of the time, I sat in the courtyard and wrote funny stories to amuse my friends while they had to sit in their dreary classrooms. Annamara, as I named her then, was the protagonist of a short fairy tale about a princess living in New York who is kidnapped by a wizard in a flying car. She screams so loudly in the car that he loses consciousness, whereupon she jumps out of the car and into a chimney (no one said I had to be historically consistent). Down the chimney she goes and into a room with (surprise, surprise) a chimney sweep. The wizard climbs through the window, fights the chimney sweep, loses, and, now consistent with fairy tale rules, the princess marries the chimney sweep.

Somehow, Anna Mara stayed with me through the years, popping out again when I was in the army as the subject of a presentation (which was so successful it ended up being filmed and used as an example), and again, ten years later, when I took a class writing for children. There, when I began writing her in earnest, I discovered Anna Mara was not some silly screaming princess but a fully-fledged character with a novel behind her who wished for independence and truth and disliked being a damsel in distress. Anna Mara wished to be a revolutionary, a heroine.

Seven years later, a full novel lay on my desk, printed and ready to be sent to publishers and agents, and that was when the rejections began to flow in. Something was wrong with my novel, and I could not quite figure out what. Something was wrong enough that perhaps, just perhaps, I couldn’t fix it. Version 4, version 5, version 6 later, I had to admit that perhaps it was time to let Anna Mara go. Perhaps it was not meant to be, this novel. Perhaps it was time to move on.

No matter how much I tried, however, Anna Mara stuck to me. She, her new beau Anders, the Wizard Calypso Maximilian the Great, the wonderfully compassionate aquatic monster Fangarm, and the dragon Gozlianus, evil and yet wise at the same time. They simply wouldn’t leave. A new frame was required, I realized, something different to breathe new life into them. I began to rethink my old story. What is it these characters want? Where do they want to come to life? What is it they want to tell? And slowly but surely a new story began to take form, similar and yet different, full of exciting possibilities.

This new story is what I plan to work on during the month of November through NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The goal: 1,666 words a day for 30 days, reaching a whopping total of 50,000 words, or, you could say, the length of a first draft novel. I am hoping that working within a structure and a deadline (especially one that has an end in sight) would encourage me to write. I’ve made myself a profile with the username sigaljoy, and I uploaded a summary and excerpt and applied to be part of their cover lottery. I even have one buddy, my wonderful cousin Iris, who is also an aspiring author, and who is going for it too at NaNoWriMo this year.

I wanted, however, to set an intention for the month, especially with the new direction my thoughts have been going lately with regards to simply being instead of taking on goals and purpose and such. This may sound strange when I’ve elected to take on a 1,666 word a day goal.… But, since this novel inside me simply burns to be written, here are my intentions for this month:

I am letting go of ego
I am letting go of fortune and fame
I am letting go of my needs with regards to this novel
I am letting go of any expectations
I am letting go of any hopes
I am letting go of control
I am letting go of direction
And I am letting go of all external or internal goals

I am writing because writing seems to flow in my blood
I am writing for the passion of writing
I am writing because I always wanted to write and still do
I am writing for the life of this novel whose heart is beating inside me, yearning to be born
I am writing for love of words and for the pictures and scenes those words create
I am writing for me, and for the characters, and for the sake of the story
I am writing for the love of these characters who are chattering away in my mind all day
I am writing because I want to read my own book and get to know my own characters
I am writing because I want to know what happens to these characters, kinda in the end, though it will never be the end
I am writing because I want them to be free to tell their own stories and live their own life
I am writing because, quite frankly, I must write

I am letting it happen, the way it will happen, even if I don’t quite know what “it” is, but I am allowing for the possibility that this novel, just the way I always imagined it, will flow out of me, one words at a time, coming into shape and structure and plot and conflicts in the way that I dreamed it would. I am realizing that all “I” need is to get out of the way, and so, this is my intention: to get myself out of the way and let the writing happen.

Wish me luck. 🙂


A Whole New World

Remember Disney’s Aladdin, when Aladdin, dressed as Prince Ali, takes Princess Jasmine on a carpet ride? They fly over Egypt, Greece and China, with wild horses, pelicans, and soft, huggable clouds. For Princess Jasmine, who lived all her life inside her father’s palace, and for Aladdin the orphan boy, any place on the face of this earth is a whole new world.

There’s a sense of wonder in this particular Disney song that appeals to me. The magic carpet ride gives Aladdin and Jasmine an opportunity to view the world, sitting in comfort much like a reader does when reading a book, while the view (or is it the story?) unfolds before them. Books, like magic carpets, are a vehicle for adventure. And lately, at least, it seems to me that most fantasy novels are taking us farther and farther away from what we know, into foreign, author-created lands.

There are so many fantasy novels published in the United States these days, whether for adults or younger readers, and so many of these fantasy novels take place in an entirely new world which the author has written into existence. This new world often comes complete with a map, new customs, people in colors and natural abilities different from our own, and exotic wildlife. It’s not that fantasy worlds have not been imagined before — Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. LeGuin (to name my favorites) have all written a whole new world for their fantasies — and yet the sheer number of fantasies published these days amazes me and makes me wonder. Are authors reinventing the world, writing new countries and oceans into existence because the world has become so small? A global village, Hillary Clinton said. Perhaps our adventurous spirits as writers and readers long for new lands to explore?

Takes place in Greece-like Attolia, Sounis and Eddis

No more than a few years ago, Earth itself was a mystery. Many places were yet to be discovered: the heart of Africa, the tallest summits, Antarctica, the Amazon. Books reflected the Earth’s still pulsing potential for exploration. Fairy tales and early fantasy were located in the ambiguous “Once upon a time in a faraway land,” while myths, and stories of adventure took place in magical, as-yet-unreached places like the golden city El Dorado, the lost island of Atlantis, or the seat of the Greek gods on Olympus. The reader could aspire to see these places one day. After all, they were located here on Earth.

The dystopian fantasy world of Range

Today such faraway places as the Forbidden City of China or the Taj Mahal are familiar to most of us. With a click of the mouse I can see Antarctica and the summit of Everest without setting foot outside. If I chose, I could go there in person, and it will be my photos others will see with a click of their mouse. The world really is small, and I, for one, am grateful to writers of fantasy. You are stretching this planet’s mysterious magical appeal and my sense of wonder with your writing.

The Beauty of Making Mistakes

A few years ago, before I realized I was writing for children, I signed up for two writing classes at once. One class was at the art center near my house and was called “Writing and Illustrating a Picture Book,” and the other at Stanford, “Writing for Children.” I always loved writing, and I had children — I felt it would be a perfect match.

I learned two new facts about myself in those classes. The first, that I love to make art and maybe could do something about it. The second, that I am writing for children, but not necessarily a picture book. Turned out that my fairy tale about the princess kidnapped in New York City by a wizard in a flying car who saves herself and marries a chimney sweep is really a novel. I lost the chimney sweep and the saves herself by screaming the wizard into oblivion, and now, a few years and lots of sweating (and some writing) later, I have a novel.

But my novel is far from perfect. Before sending it to agents, I always reread it, and I always find lots to fix. It is never finished, never enough, never perfect. But the book holds the (probably false) promise of potential perfection. If I tinker with it enough, if I identify every little mistake, surely I could make it flawless? But in paintings? There are mistakes which drive me crazy and can never be repaired. Like the too wide left wing of the dragon from the fairytale battle painting which I painted in high school, or the bicycle in the riding down the hill painting whose frame is a W instead of a triangle and really looks weird.

But, I wonder, does art need to be perfect? Brooke Scudder, a magnificent artist (whose art always seems to me to border on perfection) and the teacher of the “Picture Book” class mentioned above, thought otherwise. “Sigal,” she said to me, “the mistakes you make in your painting will often turn out to be the most unique and beautiful parts of it.” Wait, what? That makes it sound like mistakes are a good thing! That can’t be right. Right? And yet I believe her. I believe it is the mistakes in a story or a painting (or in life) that charm me, allow me to fall in love with the humanity of the creator and the creation.

This morning I read a quote by Alfred Sisley: “Every picture shows a spot with which the artist has fallen in love.” And I instantly knew what he meant. The spot that Alfred Sisley is talking about is the mistake, the place where the pen slipped, where inaccuracies occurred, where a drop fell as the brush withdrew and another red flower had to be drawn. And this spot, where the imperfections, the fallibility of the artist shine through, is what allows me to feel empathy, to recognize myself and fall in love. To feel the art through and through.

Laugh Out Loud

On the airplane yesterday, I started reading The Frog Prince by Elle Lothlorien. The book caught my fancy because of its name (I love fairy tales!) and the subtitle, “A Romantic Comedy.” My favorite two genres combined! I didn’t really know anything about the content, but it seemed like a light, fast read that would amuse me on the flight.

From its first line, the novel did not disappoint, as Leigh, the narrator, begins the story by announcing: “Everyone agrees that my Great Aunt Tina looks fabulous dead.” Leigh tells the story in a humorous, often unexpected, bubbly voice. She is socially inept, either gushing about her sex research and spewing bizarre facts about human mating habits, or judging each word before she utters it to make sure its “creep factor” is not too high. Her friend Kat tells her, “If I had to think so hard about everything I did, I’d throw myself off the roof.”

For about four hours, I sat on the plane and laughed out loud. I didn’t care if the girl sitting next to me on the first flight and the man sitting next to me on the second thought I was crazy. I just enjoyed the book so much. I laughed and laughed.

The best part about how fun the book is: I left my disbelief (remember my suspending your disbelief post?) on the first page and never looked back. I didn’t mind when Roman, Leigh’s boyfriend, turned out to be the heir apparent to the Austrian throne (only if the monarchy was restored, of course). My faith did not waver when Leigh discovered that Roman had access to private planes and was friends with Prince Faisal of  Saudi Arabia and Princess Isabella of Denmark. A quick google check (for this blog’s purpose) revealed that history does in fact include these two personages. However, Princess Isabella is five and Prince Faisal died in 1975.

I also didn’t bat an eyelash when Leigh and Roman discover that the Austrian parliament had voted to restore the monarchy. Swept away with the humor and wackiness of the novel, any crazy semi-realistic idea that Elle Lothlorien wished to throw my way would have only added to the fun, even a historical event of such monumentality as reinstating a king to his throne. I love to laugh, and I guess I’m willing to do pretty much anything to laugh more.

I always tell my family that for my shiva (the Jewish traditional seven days of mourning), I’d like them to sit telling jokes about me. What a better way to make the move to the next world than on waves of laughter? But even my morbid sense of humor stands in awe before the way Leigh’s family says goodbye to the dead: “my family likes to take pictures of dead people.” Leigh explains as she poses with the dead Great Aunt Tina, “Not just take pictures of them, but have people pose with them like a bride and groom on their wedding day.”

Wow. That sounds like, um, fun….

Making an Uneasy Peace with Dystopia

I am not a fan of dystopian novels. This February, at the Golden Gate SCBWI conference, everybody was talking about The Hunger Games. As a curious human being, I rushed to buy the first book in the trilogy and read it. It took me two weeks to be able to sleep without nightmares.

It seems like every other novel recommended to me lately is a dystopia. On my list right now, I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and am starting Obsession by Elana Johnson. Divergent is the story of a girl living in a society where people are categorized into distinct character traits. Yet she is divergent, able to fit in more than one category, which makes her resistant to mind control and thus dangerous.

I could identify with some of the concepts raised in the novel. I like the idea that classifying us misses some important aspect of who we are. I love how we are all made up of different facets, of good and bad, of kindness, bravery, inquisitiveness, love. But I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around why people would want to read about horrible, terrible, awful, violent stuff….

Dystopia is defined in the online dictionary as “a society characterized by human misery.” Wikipedia has an entry for dystopia, explaining that it is a “utopia with at least one fatal flaw.” Apparently, we humans have been interested in dystopia for over 150 years. There are dystopian novels and movies, comics and even computer games.

If a Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, then our imperfect world surely is one as well. But what about the world of my novel, where every being is grouped as either good or evil, and where distinct rules exist as to a person’s level of importance? That sounds pretty dystopian to me…. Of course, considering my distaste for anything violent, those rules also make sure everyone stays safe even in the midst of a fiery dragon battle. Cooking anyone in boiling water is strictly not allowed!

So, a dystopian fairy tale? Ha! I’m unlikely to present Anna Mara as such in my next query letter. However, perhaps because a grain of dystopianism is in all of us, I can come to an uneasy peace with it. But I still think I’d be dead body number one if I ever had to participate in the hunger games.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109