Monday, July 23, 2012

Code Name Verity: Anger, Awe, & a Lack of Tears

Time for another book review. Unlike my review of Amanda Hocking's Trylle trilogy, this one shall be spoiler free. Let's start with a quick blurb about the book. Here's what is says about it on Amazon:

Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

Okay. So I bought Code Name Verity for a couple of reasons. One, I love stories set during WWII. This has always been a particularly interesting period in history for me, so I was already sold on the idea. And two, because people kept going on and on and on and frickin on (on Twitter) about how it made them cry and cry and cry. I love books and movies that get me so emotionally involved that I cry (tears of joy or sadness are both welcome), so I was sold. 

The title of this blog post may lead you to believe that I didn't like this book. For the love of all things good and shiny, please do not think that! It was wonderful. Absolutely out of this world, awe-inspiringly wonderful. From the very first page, I was so involved in this story that I couldn't put it down. Literally. It's been a while since I had the stamina to read a book in one sitting. But there I was at 4 o'clock on Saturday morning, turning to the last page with exhausted, tearless eyes. I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone who has even a passing interest in WWII. The writing was absolutely stellar. I felt so very connected to these characters. Like I was right there with them. It was beautiful. It was heartbreaking. I loved every god damn word.

I wanted so much to cry during this book. It makes me feel like I must not have a scrap of humanity in me that I didn't. Especially since I'm a big crybaby. Seriously, everything makes me cry. My husband sometimes thinks I'm a crazy person (it's just fiction...why am I getting so upset?). I cry when people die. I cry when people almost die. I cry when something in a movie or book might possibly be something resembling sad or bad or unfair. And it's not just sad/bad/unfair things. I cry when I'm really happy, too. I cry at the end of chick flicks when the guy and the girl finally get together. I cry when someone's lifelong dream comes true.

And it's not just books and movies. I cry in real life when things are emotionally charged. When something horrible happens in the world, even though it technically has absolutely nothing to do with me, I cry myself sick. Without fail. And when something wonderful happens, I turn into a blubbering idiot. Like my wedding, for example. I knew myself well enough to know that I might just be so happy during the ceremony that I wouldn't be able to keep it together. So my something blue was an embroidered handkerchief (my new initials and the date in a lovely, light blue) that I kept with me the whole time. And thank goodness I did. Here I am, before the ceremony, looking good and happy and in control of my crazy self:

See how I'm not crying? I was actually quite proud of myself. I've shown you this picture first so you won't think I looked horrible on my wedding day.  ;)  I managed to be perfectly normal until it came time to start walking down the aisle. Even then, I held it together. I held the tears in. I didn't want to spend my wedding ceremony crying. But I guess it was pretty obvious, because as soon as I got up to the front and my husband took my hand, he whispered, "Don't cry." And he continued to mouth those two words throughout the ceremony. So I must have been hanging by a pretty tenuous thread. And when our Justice of the Peace said, "By the power invested in me by the state of New Hampshire, I now..." that thread snapped. That's as far as I made it. And then I was sobbing:

Not the most attractive I've ever looked. Hence putting the pretty picture first! See how my beloved husband, the maid of honor, and the Justice of the Peace are all laughing at me? Yeah, everyone else was, too. You just can't see them.

My point in all of this? Everything makes me cry. And it pisses me off that Code Name Verity didn't. Because it deserved ALL THE TEARS. But I had been hearing for weeks about how I would sob myself silly. So when it came to "that part," I had nothing in me. I was expecting it. I knew I was supposed to cry, and I've never been very good at doing what I'm "supposed" to do. I think my subconscious is just too damn stubborn. So in a way, I feel cheated by all of the hype. It robbed me of my tears (hence the anger). But I don't regret reading the book, even despite that. Because it was just that amazing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Finally Moving On

Or starting over. Or something along those lines. But whatever it is, the ultimate moral of the story is you can't keep a good writer down. There are plenty of people through the course of human history who have started writing a book and never finished it. Or started writing several books and never finished any of them. I'm sure this could be for a number of reasons. Lack of focus, maybe. Or just a general lack of passion. Maybe writing was a passing fancy. Something they didn't actually care about, but figured they'd give a try just for the hell of it. And when the going got tough, they said screw it and moved on with their lives. 

Having already written four novels, I'm obviously not one of these people. That said, I do have projects that I started and haven't (yet) finished. The WIP I was working on during Camp NaNoWriMo has been added to this group of unfinished manuscripts, at least for now. Pretty sure I mentioned this in my last blog post, but I haven't written a word of Dr. Pepper Kisses and Vodka Smiles since June 10th. In fact, until today, I haven't written a word of anything since June 10th. But today on my lunch break, as I was standing by the microwave and waiting for my leftover spaghetti to be ready, it came to me. The perfect way to start a different WIP. One I've been plotting since March, but could never figure out how to write. 

I didn't write much. Just a page or so. But that one page means so much to me right now. I'm back in the game, people. And while I'm a little sad that I only made it about halfway through the first draft of Dr. Pepper Kisses, I know that it's time to move on/start over/whatever. That WIP just wasn't working for me. I need more time to let the idea percolate before I can finish it, because it was too rushed and underdeveloped and just...wrong. And it frustrated me so much that I just stopped writing altogether for weeks and weeks. (Horrible, I know.)

In the meantime, my new WIP is ready, and I'm ecstatic. Not only because it's one of the coolest ideas I've ever had (though that's a big part of it). But also because it's fantasy. I threw my hat in the contemporary YA ring with Dr. Pepper Kisses, but I kept feeling like something was missing. Pretty sure that something was magic. And while magic has absolutely no place in Dr. Pepper Kisses (and I still might finish it, despite that fact), writing the first page of my new WIP felt like coming home.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lessons Learned

Okay, so you've probably noticed that I haven't blogged in quite a while. Again. Let me assure you that it has nothing to do with laziness, nor have I just grown tired of blogging. I actually love blogging. When it comes down to it, I just haven't been able to think of anything to say. For those of you that follow me on Twitter, I haven't been tweeting as much, either. (And honestly, the tweets I have sent have had more to do with Doctor Who than writing. But I'm already on the 5th season, so it won't be long before my attention turns elsewhere.)

I think a Camp NaNoWriMo update is overdue. As I posted here, I was attempting to finish writing Dr. Pepper Kisses and Vodka Smiles in the month of June. Alas, I did not succeed. I started off really well. In the first ten days of June, I wrote 22,362 words. That, for me, is really good. Like, incredibly good. I was setting word count goals for each day, and very nearly always hitting them. For those ten days, things were going swimmingly.

But then I hit a wall. And I hit it hard. On Sunday, June 10th, I was absolutely miserable. I was exhausted, I was grumpy, I had a splitting headache. I was, in all ways, overwhelmed. And, frankly, I missed my husband. Even so, I forced myself to write, aiming for 5,000 words. I made it to about 4,600 before I just couldn't do it anymore. And I haven't written a word since. (Don't worry, though. I'll get back into the swing of things very soon. I'm still hoping to finish a first draft of the MS this summer.)

So what did I learn from my Camp NaNoWriMo experience?

1)  I don't have to try to make it perfect the first time. With all my other novels, I'd get bogged down in striving for perfection. I'd ponder over what word to use for twenty minutes, just to make sure it was exactly right. I was so, so careful. And so, so slow. The fastest I've ever written the first draft of a novel is just about a year and three months. The slowest is a little over two years. For this book, I wrote about half the first draft (total word count so far is 33,531) in under a month. That's under a month from the moment I came up with the idea to 33,531 words. And writing that way, just letting the words flow from my mind and knowing I could always go back and change them later, was liberating as hell.

2)  I can't be a full time writer and have a "real" full time job at the same time. In other words, I need to work on my pacing. As it was, I was going to work (with my commute, it's usually about 10 1/2 hours from the time I leave home to the time I get back again) and using up a large part of my energy (mental and physical) there. Then I'd go home, hang out with my husband just long enough to eat dinner, and then seclude myself in my office until bedtime. Then on the weekend, I wrote from the time I woke up until the time I hit my word count goal. Which was usually about 12-ish hours. I'm sure there are lots of writers out there who can do that, no problem. But I'm not one of them. Writing is harder work than anything else I've ever done (professionally or otherwise). The sheer amount of energy it takes to create these characters and these scenes is incredible. I was exhausted all the time. If the writing was my "real" job, and then I finished when my husband got home and spent my evenings relaxing with him, I'm sure I could write a draft in a month without any issues at all. But that's not how it's working right now. And ten days of running on fumes while I basically ignored my husband was more than I could take. But if I try to schedule it better, I think I could succeed at something like this. I just need to figure out what works for me, personally, and the way I can and cannot write.

3)  You writers who are able to have full time jobs and husbands and kids (kids! I can't even imagine!) who are still able to win any of the NaNoWriMo challenges are INCREDIBLE. I bow down to you and your seemingly endless stores of energy. I am forever impressed by your greatness.
Final Camp NaNoWriMo thoughts: do I regret trying to write the book in a month, and almost making myself go crazy? Not in the least. It was an awesome experience. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But as I said above, I would have to approach it differently. Since I'd never tried anything like this before, I didn't know how I would react to it. Now that I do, I think I can adjust my methods accordingly.

What about you? I know that several of you were participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. Some of those who weren't have participated in other NaNoWriMo and similar writing challenges in the past. Did you succeed? If so, any tricks you can impart for keeping one's sanity? And if not, what were your biggest challenges? Any ideas on how to overcome them in the future?