R.I.P. Check-In


Some time this week, I should finish my 44th book, which puts me in a good position to meet my goal of reading 50 books this year. As Halloween draws to a close, I’m happy to say I also finished the R.I.P. Challenge. I read four books: [amazon_link id=”1594744769″ target=”_blank” ]Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children[/amazon_link] by Ransom Riggs (review), [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link] by Donna Tartt (review), [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb (review), [amazon_link id=”0441020674″ target=”_blank” ]Those Across the River[/amazon_link] by Christopher Buehlman (review), and [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link] by Erin Morgenstern (review).

At this point, I plan to focus on writing my NaNoWriMo book, which isn’t to say I won’t be reading (I certainly will), but it may impact my choices somewhat. I don’t plan to pick up anything difficult, heavy, or long this month. Meanwhile, I’ve been tearing through Stephen King’s [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft[/amazon_link], which has some great common sense advice. I am feeling sort of grateful for my experience as an English teacher. At least grammar and conventions aren’t a hurdle. I loved King’s advice to pick up a copy of Warriner’s Grammar. Best grammar text series ever.

I am really excited to start writing tomorrow.

photo credit: Ian Sane


Getting Ready to NaNo!

NaNoWriMoToday is the last weekend day before NaNoWriMo madness begins on Tuesday. Is it just me, or do the organizers seem really disorganized this year? Still no word count widgets or even API’s, and the buddy system just set up in the last few days. What’s up with it; does anyone know? They’re usually much more on the ball. I don’t mention it as a complaint so much as a concern. It’s unusual for the site not to be completely ready in every respect by now.

Since I’m setting my book mere blocks from my house, my husband (who is my greatest cheerleader, as he’s a writer himself), convinced me to take a research trip walk downtown, and he showed me some shops I didn’t even know existed. He discovered them on one of his daily runs. I took some notes. We found ourselves in one of those new age stores that sells crystals and tarot cards, and lo and behold if I didn’t run into a former student who works there with her mom! I was so shocked. Like students, teachers also sometimes feel discombobulated when they see students outside of the normal setting. Not so much if you’re expecting it might happen, like at the movies or the grocery store. But in a new age store, well, it threw me. Then we got coffee at this great sweet shop that I totally had no idea was so close to my house. And here I was crying over not living near Ye Olde Pepper Companie. Actually, I am still sad we don’t live near that wonderful candy store. But Aunt Kimmy’s is a great little candy store, too.

I mentioned to my husband that both of us will need to visit the Salt Factory, our local British-type pub, and unfortunately, I would need to try a Guinness for the sake of research. I drink beer, but I’m not a huge beer drinker. Months might go by before I drink anything alcoholic at all. We writers have it rough, the things we must do in the name of research. Anyway, it was a wonderful trip, and I collected some good information. We also found a great new little old-time store called Roswell Provisions. I hope it stays open. It’s too perfect. Here is a peek (from their Facebook page photos).

Roswell Provisions

Of course, nothing’s set out here, as it was taken before they opened. We walked home, where we saw another former student and her family, who drove past us in their car. It was a gorgeous day and a great walk. We should do it more often, but it’s hard with everything that is going on, three kids, work, etc. It’s so handy to live so near the setting I chose (for a change), so I can just duck out to do a little research.

I am finally picking up Stephen King’s memoir [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft[/amazon_link]. My husband has read it and said it was useful, practical writing advice. I didn’t have anything I desperately needed to read lined up after finishing [amazon_link id=”B000JGQRPC” target=”_blank” ]Bridget Jones’s Diary[/amazon_link], so I grabbed to it read as I begin NaNoWriMo.

Aside from that, my weekend has been spent catching up on RSS feeds in Google Reader and trying to figure out how ready I am for NaNoWriMo. Oh, and I’ll leave with this: Class is in Session with Professor Wharton.

Planning my NaNo Novel

Window Bird oo2.

I literally went from slightly worried about whether I should participate in NaNoWriMo this year because I didn’t have an idea to wildly excited about my idea in the space of time it took me to write my last blog post.

I really love participating in NaNoWriMo because the sense of camaraderie I feel as I am tackling the same sort of project, which is usually, admittedly, quite a solitary experience, that so many others are currently tackling, which gives me a sort of encouragement that writing on my own doesn’t. My husband says he’s going to participate this year, which is exciting.

I have spent most of today and yesterday creating character and scene notes in Scrivener. If you’re not familiar with the software and you are thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year, you should check it out. In case you are interested enough to buy, be aware that Scrivener does a NaNoWriMo deal. You can download an extended trial version of the software, and if you “win” NaNoWriMo (write 50,000 words), you will receive a coupon for 50% off the software. I unfortunately won’t be able to take advantage of this deal because I downloaded the trial too early. On November 1, however, I can buy the software for a 20% discount. I like it enough that I think I will, especially because I do a lot of serious writing, and Scrivener is great for planning writing. I did not have this software last year, and it would have been helpful.

What I like about the character and setting notes templates is the ability to organize my characters on a corkboard and use images. I hesitated over whether to share a screencap of my work in progress because I use the images of some fairly famous folks as inspiration, and I do not necessarily want readers to figure out who, so I have doctored the photo a bit, but this is what my character notes corkboard looks like (click to see a larger version):

Writer's Block Characters

When you click on one of the character cards, you see my notes about each character. I’ll pick Shakespeare so I don’t have to blur the images (click to enlarge):

Writer's Block Character Sheet

The character templates have premade sections to create notes on the character’s role in the story, occupation, physical description, personality, habits/mannerisms, background, internal conflicts, external conflicts, and general notes.

In addition, it has a name generator that I found very handy for coming up with character names, though I didn’t use it for all the characters I created.

I’m taking the dictum “write what you know” to heart and setting my NaNo novel in my own neighborhood. I can tell you’ve I’ve already gone on research treks twice, and it’s been beneficial to live in the midst of the places I’m using as settings. Here is a glance at my setting corkboard (click to enlarge):

Settings Corkboard

I have really enjoyed the planning part of this novel (perfectly permitted before November 1), and I feel already as though I know the characters. The templates are useful guides for creating characters, even if I do not use the material I write later in the novel. Hemingway once compared writing to an iceberg, and he said that the part we see above the water is just the smallest part of what the writer actually knows.

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. (Death in the Afternoon)

Here’s an image that demonstrates the Iceberg Principle:

Iceberg Principle
Image via Pinoy·Comics·TV·Movies

I do not claim to be mapping out my characters’ entire lives, but I am including details in my notes that I doubt will make it into my story. I also figured out, for whatever it’s worth, each of my characters’ Myers-Briggs types. That actually turned out to be a good exercise in getting to know the characters because making them adhere to a type formed a great deal of their personality and made them more real to me.

Some of the most fun I’ve had has been creating my dream home as a setting and giving it to my protagonist. I must admit I’ve absolutely fallen in love with her house, and I hope I can recreate it on paper.

I also began making an outline for events, but I didn’t do too much with the outline yet.

I very rarely gush about software, and I promise they aren’t paying me, but I am in love with Scrivener. I know that technically speaking I could plan the same way, but Scrivener pulls my plan together with my actual manuscript in a way that makes it easy for me to keep track of everything because it’s all in one place, and has a beautiful, intuitive interface.

photo credit: Nicole April


almost...I am stuck.

I really want to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but I don’t have a single workable idea.

I suppose one might come to me. I have two weeks.

All I can think of is something Austen-related, and if that isn’t done to death, I’m not sure what is. Then there is the idea of some kind of romp through all kinds of classic literature, which might be fun in a Jasper Fforde sort of way.

But I am not sure what I’d do about it.

I know NaNo is famous for saying “no plot, no problem,” but that’s just code for typing a bunch of gibberish and telling everyone you “won” NaNo when you have nothing workable to show for it.


“Some kind of romp through all kinds of classic literature.”

Crikey, I think I just got an idea.
photo credit: roweenaweb

Do You NaNo?

NaNoWriMo: the home front

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? My husband says that he is, and I think I will, too, though I admit that the fact that I don’t have an idea yet is a little scary. My sister posted a message to me on Facebook a while back asking me if I planned to participate this year, but at the time, I wasn’t sure. I told her I was tempted to cheat and try to finish the book I didn’t finish last year. That is cheating, right? I think the idea is to start a new book. The part of me that thinks that book was a really good idea and really wants to finish it is tempted to cheat, but the goody-goody in me is fraught with guilt by the prospect.

I like writing during NaNo because the idea that lots of others are also writing feels communal. I feel like I have all this support, even if I don’t interact with anyone. Anyway, I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do yet, but I updated my NaNo profile. If you are participating and want to be a writing buddy, my username is danahuff. If you have never written a book before, but you always wanted to, then why not give it a try during the month of November?

I tweeted a question to Scrivener, who makes an excellent writing app that is perfect for NaNoWriMo, and they plan to put Scrivener on sale and offer a special trial version around October 20, which they also did last year. Usually the trial version only works for 30 days, but this special trial version lasts longer. Also, unlike other trial versions of software, 30 days means 30 days of your use. If you don’t open it for 10 days, it doesn’t count.


photo credit: mpclemens


Quicksand, Chapter One

I have been editing my second novel Quicksand. Here is a mockup of the cover, which may or may not be the final cover. I am interested in feedback.

QuicksandThe image used on the cover is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license by anyjazz65 on Flickr.

The first chapter of the novel can be found after the break.

Continue reading “Quicksand, Chapter One”

Writing Updates


I have several writing updates to share. First, you can buy my novel A Question of Honor in the iBookstore, now. This is great news. I had hesitated trying to submit it because I had heard, apparently erroneously, that you had to have an ISBN in order to submit your book to the iBookstore. I don’t have an ISBN because you have to buy them in blocks of 10, and a block of 10 costs over $200, which I just couldn’t afford when I threw the book together (and still can’t, really).

Second, I have downloaded a trial of Scrivener, and I have absolutely fallen in love with the software. It was created with writers in mind. It’s not really a program for producing quick documents, like MS Word. I wouldn’t use it to make flyers or handouts or to write letters. But I won’t ever use another program to write novels ever again. It’s very easy to use, for one thing. And for another, it makes the arduous job of creating a final publishable document, whether it’s a paper book or e-book, extremely easy. It also creates both ePub and Kindle Mobi documents. The e-books have a working HTML table of contents and chapter markers, which I love. If you write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you are thinking of doing NaNoWriMo or writing a book, do yourself a favor and at least try this program first.

Scrivener enabled me to figure out how to format A Question of Honor properly for the Kindle. Amazon says that PDF files are OK for creating Kindle books, but it didn’t work as well for me. The formatting was haywire. I feel really bad if you bought my book on Kindle and got that crazy layout, which I just learned how to fix and can only now correct. Does anyone know if Amazon lets you download books you’ve already purchased again for no additional fee? Once Amazon finishes processing the new file, I’ll update here and on Twitter. Don’t buy it right now, or you’ll be getting the old PDF file (I think—if you can even buy it at all).

Finally, I have been editing a second novel, Quicksand. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo in 2009. I have put aside a third project (currently untitled) based on the Irish legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows. I will be sharing an excerpt of Quicksand tomorrow. It takes place in the Kentucky coal fields of Breathitt County, where my ancestors lived, during the 1930’s. It’s heroine, Imogen, is the daughter of an alcoholic coal miner with a penchant for Shakespeare (hence her name) and a the shrewish woman who is the descendant of one of the worst feuders in Breathitt County history. Imogen discovers the body of her stepfather Frank, and she sets out to discover what happened. It’s a little bit of a retelling of Hamlet. Anyway, look for an excerpt tomorrow.

photo credit: Markus Rödder

Fanny Knight

Dearest Cassandra

Fanny Knight
Fanny Knight by Cassandra Austen

My students will soon embark on a multigenre research project on a British author of their choosing, and I thought the best way to help them see what a good final product should look like would be to create one myself. Which author I would choose was not even up for debate: Jane Austen. Specifically, I decided to examine Jane Austen in modern pop culture, especially since the release of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in 1995.

The project involves conducting research, including a traditional research-based essay with MLA citations, but it also includes other genres that enable students to explore what they have learned about their topic—these can be anything from art to creative writing to video. Students will need to include four such artifacts One of my artifacts is a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra about a curious vision she had while visiting their brother Edward Austen-Knight in 1813. I liked the end result and decided to cross-post it here.

Godmersham Park: Tuesday (October 13)

Dearest Cassandra,

I have experienced a most curious and illuminating vision, and I know not to what to attribute my fancy that it might actually be true, or I should say shall be true at some time in the future. Only I feel this conviction that it must be true.

After we dined yesterday evening, I had a headache and so went to lie down. It soon grew dark, and I felt my head must burst. I took a small glass of wine, but it did not help, and so I lay down again. I must have fallen asleep, for I can account for the vision in no other way, but I chiefly remember feeling that with my head aching so I should never sleep.

On a sudden, I found myself walking down a road, but it was unlike any road I had seen: paved with some black concrete, and fairly congested with the oddest carriages I have ever seen. They had no horses and seemed to move forward of their own volition. People were dressed strangely and walking in quite a hurry down the street. Would you believe I saw several ladies in trousers? Not at all becoming and quite shocking. The buildings looked so very different and so very tall. You could not conceive the number of windows. Everywhere I looked I could see my reflection looking back at me. I entered a bookshop, and the proprietor stared at me unaccountably, for I cannot think what would be so odd or strange about my appearance after what I had seen on the street. Out of curiosity, I asked if he might have copies of Pride and Prejudice by the author of Sense and Sensibility available for purchase. He nodded assent, and directed me to a section labeled “Classics.”

I know not how to account for what I saw, for here were not the familiarly bound copies published by Egerton, but at least six different editions I have never seen before. My name appeared on all of them, and how I was discovered as the authoress, I cannot fathom. The publication information was most bewildering. One book named a publisher called Bantam and was dated 1983, of all preposterous things. However, the most marvelous edition included an image on its cover that looks like your very own work: the watercolor you painted of our Fanny. I should have fainted, but I recollected Sophia’s dying words to Laura: “Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint.” I opened the book, and I should mention these books had most curious paper covers that seemed to me not as sturdy as one should wish. The words I had written were on the page, just as I recollected. On the right side, the pages consisted of some explanations. As though anyone might need an explanation of what a curricle is! It was most curious to me, and I thought to ask the bookseller his opinion, but somehow I felt fearful of doing so. Next to Pride and Prejudice, I found copies of Sense and Sensibility, but most curiously, a copy of Mansfield Park. Dearest Cassandra, you of all people know I am yet writing this novel, and how it came to be in print, my words with some editorial alterations to be sure, I cannot fathom. And yet I saw also a novel called Emma and another called Persuasion. Also Northanger Abbey, which appears to be my story of Catherine Morland under a title I did not recognize, that Mr. Crosby cruelly had not printed and would not return. Miss Catherine on the shelf at long last! I confess it, Cassandra—I wept for sheer joy.

The bookseller appeared around the corner and asked if he might be assistance, and I hastily dried my eyes and thanked him. “Do you like Jane Austen, miss?” he asked me, and I could not think how I should reply to such a question, but assured him I did, very much, and he led me to a display in the window, and I cannot explain how I did not see it as I walked in the store. Several books with Darcy, and Bingley, and even one with wicked Mr. Willoughby’s name on the cover.

“But what are these books?” I asked the bookseller. He said they were Jane Austen “sequels.” I know not what he meant by that, and I felt somehow embarrassed to ask, as though I might reveal my ignorance. I picked up several and read, and some I found curious, while others I frankly hated. One was so unspeakably villainous that I could feel my face redden from embarrassment as I read it. I should not like to think I could have imagined such goings on, though I admit it was rather “fun” to read, as my Lydia might say. In fact, I have no doubt in my mind that Lydia would heartily enjoy such trash.

I know not how long I stood reading, but the bookseller informed me that I must go as he needed to “close up shop.”

“Pray, sir,” I ventured, “can you tell me how these books came to be?”

“Why don’t you know? Everyone loves Jane Austen. Slap a Jane Austen character in it, dress it in an Empire waist, and it will sell like hotcakes.”

I have no more understanding what he could have meant than you do, Cassandra, I am sure. “If I may, sir, why does everyone love Jane Austen?” I asked him. He said something about a gentlemen called Mr. Firth. I know not who this Mr. Firth is, but it would seem I owe him a great debt of gratitude and asked where I might find him. The bookseller nearly choked laughing at me.

I left the bookshop and was frightened to discover it was dark. I was alone and without a chaperon, and worse, I was lost. I must have wandered for nearly an hour when I came upon a box-shaped shop called “Blockbuster.” A large notice in the window advertised a new “Restored Edition” of Pride and Prejudice available in something called “DVD and Blue-ray.” I went inside and inquired after the Pride and Prejudice and pointed to the notice in the window.

“Throwing a Jane Austen costume party?” the proprietor asked.

Confused, I shook my head. He shrugged his shoulders and showed me where I could find Pride and Prejudice. Imagine my surprise to find Mr. Firth’s name on the cover. I could not open it, as it was wrapped in a strange clear substance. I asked the proprietor what to do, and he said I would need to “buy it.” I need not say I had no money.

“Lady, if you want to see what it’s like, look at that TV over there. We’ve got it playing.”

I turned to a large box with a screen of some sort. I watched until the end of story. The proprietor asked me if I was going to buy the “DVD,” and I confess I could not have spoken at that moment. My surprise and happiness were so great, dearest sister, that I felt my heart must surely burst.

“Lady, are you OK?” the proprietor asked.

I know not who OK might be, but assured him that I was no such person, thanked him, and began to leave the shop. Before he left he said I looked like I could use a cup of coffee and asked if I might join him, as he was closing up the shop.

I need not tell you, dearest Cassandra, that I was utterly shocked at his forward suggestion, but as I was lost and utterly bewildered as to what I should do next, I agreed. We walked to a shop called “Starbucks” which advertised a variety of coffees and teas. He asked me what I would like, and I simply could not chuse and asked that he might chuse for me. As I waited for the drink to be prepared, my eyes fell upon a newspaper with the most curious date: May 1, 2010. I began to feel faint, and I must have done so, for I awoke here in my bed in dear Edward’s house with Fanny leaning over me and shaking me awake.

She asked me if I were quite well, and I knew not how to respond. She said Edward worried about me when I did not come down to breakfast. I think must be ill, but I do not feel it. My head no longer aches, nor do I feel any pains whatsoever. I pulled my ms. of Mansfield Park out and set to writing, and do you know, Cassandra, I think, nay, I am quite sure it shall be a success.

Yours affectionately,

J. Austen

Reading Update: November 28, 2010

A Love Story

I have been doing a lot of writing for NaNoWriMo this month. Unfortunately, I fell so far behind when I went to the NCTE Conference that I have no hope of catching up. I think I have a good book idea, and I’m not giving up on it, but I also don’t feel so pressed now to work on it every day. I might take the day off today, unless I feel inspired to write. As a result of participating in NaNoWriMo, I haven’t had as much time to read, but I am going to try to make up for it during December.

I am currently reading Anne Fortier’s novel Juliet. So far, interesting. I know Romeo and Juliet very well, and Fortier has thrown in some cool Easter eggs (references to lines in the text) in dialogue. Fun stuff. One conclusion: I need to read more books set in Italy. No wonder Shakespeare was fascinated with the place.

Check out this gorgeous photo taken in Tuscany:

alba a settembre
photo credit: francesco sgroi

By the way, I have been reading a great blog by Robin Bates called Better Living Through Beowulf. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. It’s like listening to a mini-lecture on literature from your favorite English professor. Speaking of which, if you missed out on a great English professor, maybe you have some gaps in your reading? Why not try out my reading challenge?

photo credit: Andrew Stawarz

Booking Through Thursday: Thankful

giving thanks

I am a day late with Booking Through Thursday, mainly because I had to think. This week’s prompt asks

What authors and books are you most thankful for?

Good question, and not too hard for me to answer. I am most thankful for J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series, the Brontë sisters and Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Austen, Judy Blume, Diana Gabaldon, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens (especially for A Christmas Carol), F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R. Tolkien, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Mark Twain, Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Plague of Doves, The Thorn Birds, The Mists of Avalon, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Le Morte D’Arthur, Beowulf, Ahab’s Wife, The Poisonwood Bible, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Gone With the Wind. At the moment, I’m feeling extremely grateful for Irish and Welsh mythology, particularly the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows.

Speaking of which, I fell behind with NaNoWriMo because I went on a conference and had little time to write. Now I feel quite a bit hopeless and defeated regarding finishing on time, but I am going to keep trying. I do like my story.

photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³