monarch

Five Reasons Not to Do NaNoWriMo — If You’re on the Fence

National Novel Writing Month is a highly anticipated event every November. Hundreds of thousands of people join in, and let me tell you, it seems to take the world by storm! I did NaNoWriMo way, way, way back in 2008. I wrote Monarch, and it was later published by Rhemalda Publishing in 2011. I just recently republished it on my own. NaNo was a good experience for me while I was doing it, but not so great afterward — which explains why I’ve never done it again. About 85% of my writer acquaintances and friends are participating in NaNo this year, making me question yet again why I’m not doing it. But, if you know me at all, you know I usually shy away from doing what everyone else is doing, so that’s one reason right there. Some better reasoning might be needed, though, eh? That’s why I’ve made a list for all those even questioning if they want to do NaNo or not.

1. If you don’t work well under pressure.

If you normally don’t work well under pressure, chances are that NaNo is not for you. I only work well under pressure when I’m getting paid at the end of the project (and no, possible publication doesn’t count), so that’s why Monarch didn’t work out so well when I wrote it in one month and then had to rewrite it completely from scratch later because it totally sucked. Basically, what NaNo gave me was a ridiculously in-depth outline. If you do work well under pressure and NaNo doesn’t stress you out, heck, you have nothing to lose. Do it!

2. If important family members aren’t going to understand or support you — resulting in resentment on both ends.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion fights and resentment breaking out because of NaNo, especially if a writer does it every single year and things like Thanksgiving, family gatherings, etc. are either completely ignored or shoddily attended or planned by you. If you’re putting your writing above things that should be taking priority, that’s probably a good reason to do NaNo some other month where there’s no big holiday, or simply refrain altogether and write at a pace that doesn’t force you to make decisions between word count and visiting family you haven’t seen for a long time. If your family and friends support you all the way, go for it!

3. If you’re a seasoned writer already.

Back in 2008 I had a huge problem with word count, so NaNo was good for me in that way because Monarch was only my third novel and I needed to learn how to write 50,000 words in a month. These days, though, if I’m seriously drafting, 50,000 words in a month is something I do over and over and over. It’s not a huge hurdle for me anymore, so NaNo seems like a totally pointless thing for me to do. I could do it, sure, but knowing I have to get 50k in a month — making it feel like a competition of sorts — will completely and utterly kill my creativity and ultimately my productivity. I just don’t find that fun like many authors do. If you’re a new writer, NaNo can do wonders, so you might want to try it.

4. If you haven’t done the pre-work.

Yeah, I’m guilty of this one. I jumped into NaNo with NO planning on Monarch at all. No research. No mulling over or marinating the story for a few months. Nothing. I just jumped in and went for it. That’s why I ended up with one of the worst first drafts I’ve ever written. I don’t think this is the best way to write — at least for me and anyone who values good, solid research and planning before beginning a draft. If you have done all your pre-work, or you like the pure discovery method, maybe NaNo would be a great idea.

5. If you don’t need a kick in the pants to start and finish a novel.

Let’s face it. We all need a kick in the pants sometimes. But I feel like a lot of seasoned writers don’t actually need NaNo as a motivation to write. If you do need a kick in the pants, maybe NaNo is exactly what you need to finally get that novel written.

The bottom line is that some writers do NaNo just for fun, and sometimes to relax from other more stressful projects. Some writers do it because they haven’t been able to finish a novel yet. Some writers do it because writing 50k in a month is a breeze and they actually set a higher goal of 100k or something. Take your time in figuring out if NaNo will work with your style and personality. If you love it, awesome! If not, you can join me in my lonely little boat while I watch and cheer from afar. Woot!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

As I Ignore the World … and Try Not to Die

I have kind of fallen off the face of the planet lately, and it’s because I’ve been re-publishing books (i.e., pulling my hair out as I figure out formatting, fix glitches, redesign covers, worry and stew about everything I put out there on my own sitting dead in the water now, and generally going crazy). This … this is all why I never wanted to publish things on my own before. I have done it twice before in the past, and swore off it for good. As history has proven, I rarely actually swear off anything for good. I either revisit it for good measure, or just forget I swore off it all together. So, as circumstances have put it, here I am, standing back on good old square one. I do have back list now. That’s a good thing, if anything ever takes off, I suppose.

If you can’t tell already, I’m a little jaded at the moment, a little frustrated, and quite, quite busy getting everything up on its feet. Again. Some authors who were with my publisher only have one book to worry about republishing. I have four, plus a short story collection to redo so it can match the formatting and feel of everything else, and my short story, Catch, which I stupidly decided to publish right when all this other stuff was happening. Not. Smart. At. All. I’ve piled an elephant on my plate (well, a big portion of it was just thrown there by outside forces), and I’ve been in tears more than once. That’s all I’ll say, I guess. So that’s why I haven’t read people’s books I’m supposed to read, haven’t gone shopping for food to feed my family, had literally fifteen loads of laundry to do until a few days ago when I finally tackled it, and waited until the last second to plan my daughter’s birthday party. It’s also why I will continue to not comment on blogs (although I’m skimming them to keep up with everyone), not post much of anything on Facebook outside of my monarch butterfly’s progress as it prepares to hatch from its chrysalis soon, and not do much of anything on Twitter (that’s nothing new).

So … this hasn’t killed me yet, but if it does, I’ll put up a post about it. Er … someone else will, I hope. Wish me luck. I need it.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, Self-Publishing, Updates, News, and Events

Monarch Butterfly Population Down 28 Percent in 2012

michelle-d-argyle-monarch-coverI have a purely unselfish reason for wanting my novel, Monarch, to hit bestseller status and go monumentally huge. If that happened, it would not only raise more awareness for the monarch butterflies, but I’d donate the royalties to help preserve the monarch butterflies. Why would I do this? It’s because the monarch population is dwindling, not only due to illegal deforestation in Mexico where the monarchs in the Eastern United States spend their winter, but due to dwindling milkweed supply. Leave it to farmers (who keep increasing their herbicide-tolerant corn and soybean crops) to inadvertently choke out the milkweed plant – the only plant  on which monarch caterpillars feed. As an organic food lover, I have issues with those kinds of crops, anyway. Gah.

I recently read this article on the Huffington Post about the monarch population dwindling this year. My heart hurts when I read such things, and I only hope it’s just a dip and not part of a huge, steady decline. But, sadly, I’m afraid things are only going to get worse for the monarchs, not better. Did you know that here in the United States, we didn’t even know until 1975 that the monarchs migrated down to Mexico? That sure hasn’t given us a huge amount of time to marvel how far they fly every year just to survive. All the way from Canada to Mexico. It’s incredible.

My novel might be fiction, and it might be teeming with action and spies and drama, but at its heart is the monarch butterfly and what a beautiful insect it is. I’ve always had a soft spot for butterflies, especially monarchs. I, for one, do not ever want to see them die off. We would lose something magnificent.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Monarch

A Book That Came Out of Left Field … Maybe

I pick up my butterfly book, Monarch. You know, the one with butterfly and dead feet on the cover? That one. And I flip it open and I wonder what possessed me to write such a thing. Then I remember I grew up in the ’90’s when authors like John Grisham and Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton were hitting their stride. They were huge. Everybody read them. I read them. I was fifteen in the middle of that decade, for crying out loud, and reading legal thrillers and stories about cloning DNA. I loved this stuff. I. Ate. It. Up. I also read Joan Lowry Nixon and Lois Duncan. I loved anything that got my heart rate up.

So now there’s this series of books out there about a dragon tattoo, or something. And a girl. Or something. Right? Stieg Larsson. You’d think I’d be all over that because I love serious adult thrillers, intrigue, and danger. Well, I used to. Apparently, after so many years, my taste for this sort of thing has taken a back seat to other tastes, and I haven’t even put Larsson’s books on my Goodreads shelf. I’m reading all over the place. Young adult, adult, literary, fantasy. No thrillers. I have a few on my list, but I keep pushing them back. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll compare them to Monarch and feel disappointed in myself? I’m not sure. Because Monarch is not a true thriller. I simply can’t compare it to other thrillers. It was a book that came out of all those years in the ’90’s, all that reading I did, all that passion I had bottled up for those elements, combined with the literary elements I learned in college.

I have no idea if I’ll ever write another thriller. I feel, in a way, that Monarch satisfied my craving to write somewhere in that genre, and now I’ve moved on. The next book I have planned is historical and magical, a lot like my Bonded stories. I wonder if that’s where I’ll keep writing, but then I look at The Breakaway, a young adult contemporary suspense, and I’m confused all over again, because I really do love contemporary. Gah, I guess I just need to keep writing and see where it all goes. Signing off. Confused and laughing at myself!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Monarch

There Are No Right Answers

michelle-d-argyle-monarch-coverI am still kicking myself for not bringing a camera to get a picture of the book group I visited this past week. I forgot to do this last time I visited a book group, as well. This particular one chose Monarch as their book for January, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled when they asked me to join them as their guest author. What made it even more special is that this group is based in my hometown and it has been a dream of mine to do things like this in the place I grew up. So thank you to Cari’s book group for such a wonderful evening.

One of the members was wearing a pretty butterfly necklace, which made me smile. We talked for nearly two hours about the book and answering questions from the reader guide. The best thing of all was sitting in a room with ten other people holding my book in their laps. It was a little surreal!

One thing I realized during the book discussion is something I’ve always know, but keep forgetting. The group passed around a jar of papers, each one with a question from the reader guide I mentioned above. The hostess for the evening joked that I would be able to tell them if their answers were correct. I laughed and said, “There are no right answers for these questions.”

And that is undeniably true.

Spending the evening with a roomful of readers has opened my eyes. I hang out with a lot of writers, so it was fascinating to see the different reactions to the book and the different answers given for each question. Everything discussed was untainted by a writing perspective, so some of the answers surprised me and brought even more depth to the story I had written – things I had never even considered before. I might even join this book group because I think I can learn a lot from spending time with everyday readers. What happens inside someone’s head when they read a story is an amazing thing. A story I create will always mean different things to every single reader, and I think that’s one of the most exciting things about being an author – knowing your story becomes bigger, different, and more unique with each different reader.

Visiting book groups is something I would love to keep doing throughout my career since it’s possible to do visits over Skype, as well as in person. My novels seem to lend themselves well to book groups. It’s exciting to find a little space where they fit!

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Monarch, Working With Other Writers

Monarch Signing at The King’s English

So I’m a little wound up from last night – my first-ever signing and reading at a bookstore. First I want to say thank you to everyone who gave me advice yesterday for publicly reading. You want to know what’s funny? I completely forgot that I used to do readings all the time in college. I’d go to the Open Mics and read poetry at least once a month. I won awards for some of my short stories and read them aloud at the presentation nights. This isn’t new to me. I only remembered this as I was sitting at the panel table with the other authors. I thought, “Oh, this isn’t so new after all. It’s just been, like, ten years…”

Anyway, the reading went fantastic! Here I am giving a little information about myself to the audience, and then reading half of the first chapter of Monarch.

Michelle D. Argyle Event Pics #6

See those monarch wings? Yeah, those are wings that my awesome friend Natalie Whipple wore to show her undying support of my work. After all, Monarch is what brought us together in the first place! Long story. But this book is special to our friendship. Thank you, Natalie!
Michelle D. Argyle Event Pics #1

My friend Stephanie McGee also came, as well as Michael Offutt.

Michelle D. Argyle Monarch Signing at King's English 001

Michelle D. Argyle Monarch Signing at King's English 004

One of the other authors was Melissa Menatti, who writes this drop-dead gorgeous poetry and presents it in the most unique, tangible way. Her book is incredible. I bought a copy and this is what it looks like:

Yes, way awesome! Loose pages you can read in any order you like. This girl understands poetry and as I listened to her read I was reminded of my college days and what I miss about writing poetry every day. Sigh. One of the other authors was Jessica McQuinn, who is published by the small press, Omnific Publishing. Yay for small press! Jessica writes romance, and it was a lot of fun to hear her read from her novel, Indivisible. The last author was Dorothy J. Varney, this lovely woman who has written about three of her husband’s ancestors during the gold rush in California. Her writing is solid and gorgeous. You can see her books here.
Michelle D. Argyle Monarch Signing at King's English 003 Melissa Michelle D. Argyle Monarch Signing at King's English 002, Meliss
All in all, a successful night! A great way to get my feet wet!
Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, Monarch

Lifting The Lace

The best way she could describe it was with a piece of lace.

Let’s be honest. I mean, really honest. How many times have you heard Write What You Know?

I’m sick of that phrase. I hate that phrase. Every time I hear it I want to smash something. What does it mean, anyway? A friend of mine has started to break down that wall for me in a post she put up the other day. These words struck me, especially:

It’s about letting your experiences form the basis of what you write, of writing from your own pain, your own suffering, extrapolating from things you’ve actually felt and translating them into similar situations, even if the characters are inhuman or the setting isn’t Earth.

Writing what we know means being honest with ourselves, and allowing that honesty to spill into our writing. Notice I say spill. Not leak. Not drip.

And right now I feel like a dry well.

Hidden

When I flew out to Washington D.C., I spent some quality time with a friend I met online. For the first time since meeting each other, we were able to sit down in person and talk face to face. I shared a lot of writing experiences with Lois. I showed her some of my past work, as well. Since she had read my latest work, Monarch, we discussed some issues I was having with it.

The best way she could help me was to describe my book like a beautiful painting. She could see its potential, but it was covered. Hiding. With a piece of lace.

The lace is beautiful, but what is underneath is even more beautiful. She could see bits and pieces of my true voice shining through the holes. “Just lift it up,” she told me. “If you’re brave enough. Write what you know you can write. What you want to write, not what others want you to write. Let them see the painting.”

Easier said than done.

Still Hidden

Another good friend of mine (the one who wrote about honesty up above) sent me an email this morning. She’s reading through Monarch and said things “clicked” for her last night. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing her words:

My basic issue with it – well, you know how everyone keeps saying you need to cut stuff? I think this is actually the symptom of a deeper problem, not the problem itself.

The plot is GREAT; it’s twisty, it’s pacey, it’s fabulous. The characterisation is mostly fabulous, and I think the bits that aren’t quite 100% are that way not because of the characters but because of the prob I’m getting to. Setting/description is great, very well evoked. Themes and symbols come through nicely too.

See one thing missing from this list?

She goes on to explain that it’s the voice that’s missing. My voice. A voice she has seen in my other writing.

You know what?

I hate the word VOICE, too. It’s almost as bad as the Write What You Know phrase. But if I think of it in terms of lace and art, it doesn’t seem so bad. To me, voice is the honesty I’m keeping away from my writing. It’s the experiences of my life welled up inside that aren’t getting through. It’s writing what I know, not what I want others to think I know.

Feedback

I am getting so much feedback from my beta readers on Monarch. I’m in awe and constant admiration of those of you who are taking the time to give me your valuable thoughts and opinions! It is helping immensely.

As far as lifting the lace from my work, I’m not sure how to go about it or if I really want to at this point in the game. I have a feeling that the fabric full of holes might be heavier than I think.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

The Fiction Scale and Book Languages

I’d like to post the Book Languages, as deciphered by a good friend of mine, Liana. She’s a genius. Just as there are many different languages that people speak, there are different book languages, too. Which one do you speak, I’m wondering? Or are you a mix?

Book Languages

The Literalist- A literalist is someone who can’t appreciate fiction. Fantasy writing irks them because they want something grounded and factual. Magic is something they neither support nor understand. Their libraries are filled with biographies, text books, and treatises on economics and political structure. When a Literalist writes they speak in facts and figures. Everything they say has been thought out and fully researched.

The Technical Reader- A TR is someone who enjoys fiction, but only if the logic makes sense. They are irked by historical anachronisms, impossible fighting moves, unexplained science, and illogical characters. They prefer hard core sci-fi with slow travel and visual time delays (speed of light you know), well-researched historical fiction, and realistic thrillers. When they write it’s usually done slowly and carefully, research is done, technical terms used, and if the character’s act like idiots you know the TR Author has either gone senile or is up to no good.

The Fanciful Reader- A FR is almost the exact opposite of a Technical Reader or Literalist. They are irked by technical details and dry recitation of facts. They want magic, romantic characters, epic sagas, and undying love. When an FR writes they will pen their greatest fantasies. Characters will be beautiful, thoughtful, and intelligent, the land will be one of milk and honey, and everything will end Happily Ever After. Expect to see fairy tales on their shelf, or a copy of Twilight.

The Romantic- Like the Fanciful Reader the Romantic isn’t interested in technical details.W hat they want is searing passion and good descriptive passages. These are the people who read Romeo and Juliet and watch the Titanic and cry every time. They won’t accept dumbed-down characters, and aren’t interested in epic battles or sagas. When a Romantic writes they focus on dialogue and interpersonal relationships. They want to speak to the soul and senses. And they have no problem with ending the book tragically.

The Symbolist- Closely related to the Fanciful Reader and the Romantic the Symbolist is searching for deeper meaning in their books. They are irked by irrelevant facts and books that are “light and fluffy.” A Symbolist wants to walk away from a book and feel like they’ve been edified. Their library shelves are filled with classical works and possiblly a diploma in Liberal Arts. They want to reread a book and find new meaning. When a symbolist writes they add layers of clues, Bonus Rounds, and meaning. Most of their work will be set in the Real World. Very rarely a Symbolist will break out into Genre Fiction and try something like fantasy or sci-fi (think CS Lewis or JRR Tolkein).

The Wildcard – The wild card is a mood reader. They have an eclectic selection of books in their library and can be fickle fans. A book they are passionate about this week they may be ambivalent about next week. As authors Wildcards tend to favor short stories and poetry. Longer novels are sometimes difficult for them to finish because they have to be in the right mood to write.

On another note, I’d like to introduce The Fiction Scale, as created by my father-in-law. He’s a genius, too. He and Liana need to talk. He describes The Fiction Scale as:

For my own convenience, I rate fiction on a scale that refers to the balance of characterization and plot. When I say “world events” I do not mean “our world events” but “book world events.”

I categorize the books I read on a decimal scale. For example, I would rate the Harry Potter books at about a 5.8. Pride and Prejudice is a solid 1. My own life is a 2.6, so I mostly enjoy reading books in the 5 to 7 range

The Fiction Scale

1. The characters have relationships with each other.

2. The characters have relationships with each other while world events happen vaguely in the background.

3. The characters have relationships with each other while doing things in the background.

4. The characters have relationships with each other while doing interesting things.

5. The characters have relationships with each other AND do interesting things related to world events.

6. The characters do interesting things that shape world events and have relationships with each other in the background.

7. World events compel characters to do exciting things. Relationships are a luxury.

8. World events ARE the real characters. People are just props in the background. Relationships are accidental.

The Breakaway rates as a 4.0

Monarch rates as a 5.0

I like 1 – 5.5 type literature

I’m a Symbolist Reader with a touch of Romantic

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological state in which the victims of a kidnapping, or persons detained against their free will – prisoners – develop a relationship with their captor(s). This solidarity can sometimes become a real complicity, with prisoners actually helping the captors to achieve their goals or to escape police.

The expression originates from a bank robbery that took place here on August 23rd 1973, when four bank clerks where held hostage in the vault for five and a half days. (information taken from a cache online)

Why am I posting this? Well, I have writer’s block, and cannot move forward on Monarch. Argh. So I’m distracting myself with something about The Breakaway. I also have thought a lot about my main character, Naomi, lately. She is truly a victim in my story, but most of it is her own doing. However, she is a kidnapping victim, and some of my readers have displayed frustration, even anger, at Naomi’s reaction to her captors.

Naomi accepts her imprisonment. She even learns to love her captors at one point. Why? And why on earth did I want to write such a story?

Perhaps it is because Stockholm syndrome has always held great fascination for me. During my research for Breakaway, I ran across this article. It clearly explains the mystery behind loving an abuser, and backs up the reality behind Naomi’s behavior in my story.

So, if you’re one of the readers who experienced great frustration over Naomi’s submissiveness, perhaps you might want to read the article.

A dear friend of mine, who has only begun the novel this evening, wrote in his comment: There is a spirit exhibited [in Naomi] that is not submissive but shows courage and the sense enough to reflect on her situation before reacting.

Although it takes Naomi a specific amount of time to react on her reflections, she is certainly not ignorant of the fact that she is submissive to a fault. Even subconsciously, she uses it to her advantage.

So my question is this:

How do you use your weaknesses as strengths? If you were in a Stockholm syndrome-type situation (either being held hostage or in an abusive relationship), how would you handle it?

Me? I think I’d react a lot like Naomi. Pulling in on myself is a natural instinct. Submissiveness is tempting. I want to believe I’d fight back, but knowing that it would end in pain or death, I would continue to ride out the situation until I found a better way than violence to escape.

P.S. This question does not just apply to women! Men are capable of Stockholm syndrome as well. There were several at the bank robbery mentioned above.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Books, The Breakaway