November Is a Bridge

 

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The first autumn I spent in Paris stays close to the periphery of my vision and my memory, as do important moments in our lives.

On Saturdays and Sundays, when I had no classes, I took long walks along unknown streets that took me from one arrondissement to another. Often the discovery of the city left me dazzled and speechless.

During these solitary autumnal walks, the bridges (thirty-seven in Paris) that straddle the river Seine and link the left and right banks took literally my breath away. I liked nothing more than crossing the Pont Neuf, the Pont Saint Louis or my very favorite the Pont Alexandre III.

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Soon autumn deepened and winter drew closer. By November I wore a raincoat against the drizzle and later downpours, a scarf tightened around my neck, while gusts of wind rose from the river. Under these more hostile elements November appeared like a bridge, too.

Lacking the beauty of early fall and upcoming winter, November felt, however, essential to transition between these two seasons.

 

Many years and bridges later…

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With my born-American children in preschool and elementary school in Massachusetts and California, I was regularly invited to introduce a little bit of French culture to their classmates. Kids everywhere in the world love to sing foreign songs, so I decided to start with a few French songs. For some reason all American children knew Frère Jacques.

So I taught them Sur le Pont d’Avignon and then Sur le Pont de Nantes. The first one is much easier than the latter. Retrospectively I wish I had made them learn Apollinaire’s poem Sous le Pont Mirabeau. Ah well.

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Much time has passed since my feet echoed along those Paris bridges, the sound as familiar as the beating of my blood. Yet November remains in my mind linked to them and to the passage from fall to winter.

 

This year to celebrate the month of November I am part of three writing events, somewhat bridges between writers:

  • Starting on November 12 and running for ten days, I participate to a multi-author promotion event.
  • Late November I will invite on my blog a mix of authors who wrote stories set in foreign lands.
  • Since the publication of Chronicles From Château Moines in October 2014 I started too many manuscripts. I had to face the fact that I was delaying their completion, instead writing shorter stories, because I was fearful to go through. I am now tackling the task to finish them. One at a time. And I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo, the yearly writing event, to finish my YA novel first. One day at a time.

 

I’ll be back soon. Meanwhile I wish you all a beautiful month of November. Behind its shorter days and dullness hides the chance to end autumn on a triumphant note.

 

P.S. Also Happy Birthday to anyone born in November, my own birthday month.

No NaNoWrimo

November 1st was gone before I knew it. Yet in the back of my head, if I’m totally honest, I was kind of pretending I didn’t remember that November 1st marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo.

A mix of uneasiness as if I had missed something important and relief knowing this ‘lapse’ was my business bothered me.

In the fall, when good resolutions look as crisp as a new back-to-school outfit I had no doubt I would write the draft of a new novel in November.

I have done it twice and the drafts gave birth to one published novel (Trapped in Paris) and to another one almost completely revised.

So what happened?

The pressure and the cheerleading kind of support built around the event didn’t talk to me. Maybe, I wondered, it is like with anything new. The novelty wears off and interest wanes. In the past less people participated. Maybe, I thought, I liked it better when the event was small and carried some kind of secret bond between the participants.

This year more branches grew out of the original NaNoWriMo. Writers of nonfiction have their own event. Picture book writers make up their own version.

But as much as I am in favor of challenges – I set them for myself in different aspects of my life including mountain hikes and even baking – the more I write the less I think that writing can be done in a designated time frame.

As much as I need occasional writing competitions, which push me to write around a theme and deadline, I felt panicky at the idea of writing a draft in a month.

What’s up with you?

The pressure had been a real motor and revved my productivity to the max. Yes to 2 000 words a day. Yes to 50 000 in thirty days.

In the past I had also enjoyed the fact that other people were participating.

And I didn’t like it as much this year.

What’s wrong with you?

You like people in general and writers in particular.

What I think I perceived this year – everything in life is after all a question of perception – is the artificial aspect of the event.

Writing remains a solitary task. And all the peep talk cannot change the fact that every writer faces the same fear and excitement and anxiety and thrill each time she or he sits down to write.

It can feel reassuring to know that other men and women are writing 50 000 words from November 1st to the 30th, but in the end you are ultimately alone to do it.

Aren’t you a little blasé and cynic?

Perhaps. And I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who is doing NaNoWriMo. As I said I have been a participant and enjoyed being part of the event. If you are considering the option – November 3rd isn’t too late – go ahead, enjoy the ride and be proud of your accomplishment.

Maybe I will enter again but for this year I opted against.

And yes, I am relieved from the pressure, from my friends’ questioning my progress and from simply not having to write 50 000 words.

And yes, there is uneasiness lingering inside me as I had missed something important.

My husband who never understood NaNoWriMo said, “Told you it was weird.”

I didn’t tell him about NaBloPoMo.

photo(6)Blogging in two languages should fulfill the mandatory One Post a Day.

A Scene at a Time

We all heard that often the simplest things are the best.

Is it worth it to apply to writing?

Last night, as parents snapped pictures of their daughters and sons, clad in their long or short shimmery dresses, nice suits or tuxedos, ready for Winter Formal, I had the distinct impression to watch a scene from a movie or reading a scene from a book.

The very beginning of a story was unfolding before my eyes.

After the picture, there would be a dinner, after the dinner, a car ride to the dance venue, etc, etc, until eleven o’clock when boys and girls would – hopefully – return home.

Although we live our lives in a linear pattern, following a chronological order, in reality lots of emotions linked to our personal history build a background much more important than the orderly succession of events.

And suddenly there was a click in my mind!

See, I am stuck in the middle of the YA novel I started during NaNoWriMo. I have created likeable characters: a group of boys and girls, seniors in high school. Their ethnic background is as diverse as their personalities. The setting is inspired by my daily surroundings: a city of half million people, an hour away from the wilderness.

The problem: I’m trudging my way through the story.

But as I watched the picture-taken episode last night, I had an idea.

I was the witness of a single scene from the Winter Formal. Unless my son tells me about it, I will probably never know more of the story of the night. But I didn’t really need him to fill me with the details. One scene had triggered my curiosity.

So unlike the path I have followed until now for everything I wrote, I figured that I didn’t need to write in a chronological order. I would eventually need to do it at some point. But for now, I should forget about the neat succession of events in the fictional lives of my fictional characters.

In the same way one scene from the much longer story of the kids going to Winter Formal caught my imagination, I should write the scenes that would, one by one, fill the outline I’ve already mapped.

My assignment for today was to write the short scene where seven-year-old Adele looses her first tooth, in Yosemite, in the middle of the winter, with only her seventeen-year-old brother and his friends for company. She worries because she didn’t bring her pillow when they fled home to escape chaos following a natural disaster. A few lines from the scene:

“How will the Tooth Fairy know about me?” Adele asked. Anxiety filled her voice. “Will she bring me a coin? Mom said she always brings a dollar the first time.”

“A dollar?” Matt exclaimed.

Hugo glared at him and cleared his throat.”Of course,” he said.

Blood pearled on Adele’s lip and Charlotte searched her pocket for a tissue. “Tooth Fairies are smart,” she said, gently blotting the blood.

“I thought there was only one,” Adele said. “Right, Hugo?”

Hugo nodded yes.  Alejandro dug the heel of his boot in the snow. Come on, Alejandro, Hugo thought, tell me you got a buck.

I don’t know yet where the scene of the tooth will exactly fit, but I know I needed it to show how Hugo, Matt, Charlotte and Alejandro would react to the innocence of a much younger child while more important matters worry them.

I don’t know yet either if I will write the whole novel in this fashion, but I’m glad I tried something radically different from what I have ever done so far.

If only there was a Winter Formal every night!

Happy Holiday Season!

When I moved to the US, one of the first things that surprised me the most was how the Americans turned the holiday season into such a show. Fascinating, exciting, and a little overwhelming to observe.

Now that I am an almost full-blooded American, I’m used to see lights and trees up right after Thanksgiving. Last year, I even decorated during Thanksgiving weekend as well.

This year, however, I’m way behind according to American standards.  I got excuses.

First, the weather here in California has been abnormally warm for the longest time. We got this three-day storm, which brought rain, but temperatures are still hovering in the upper 60s. Doesn’t put me in the right mood to go pick a Christmas tree.

Then, there was NaNoWriMo. Honestly, this program sucks lots of energy. I must confess that I didn’t write 50 000 words – it was my personal goal. I went as far as 32 000, and I console myself with the idea that the first 10 000 words aren’t bad.

My draft isn’t where I was hoping it would be, but I have built a set of characters I like.

I read once an interview from the great Dick Jackson. “True voice,” he said. “Comes from somewhere inside the writer or inside the character.”

We all agree, of course. It makes sense and it seems easy to do, right?

Through the month of November, I worked hard at giving each and every of my characters a voice, because I found out that, more than the writer’s voice, the characters the writers created gave a voice to the books I admire most.

Take John Green, for example.  In my opinion, he excels at giving each and every of his characters a definite, unforgettable personality so they can stand on their own.

It takes persistence to execute this kind of thing.

So this is how I spent November.

Now that December has started, I already know it will be a less productive month. School ends in two weeks and three of my four children will be home all day long. Great when you want to write true to life dialogues. Not so good for the mom I am, since I find it hard to stay away from the fun.

Happy Holiday Season!

From a NaNoWriMo Writer

Happy Election Day!

Want a break from the grueling campaign and the probably long decision night?

If you are a writer taking advantage of NaNoWriMo to get a 40 000/50 000 words manuscript by November 30, the task can be daunting.

Besides NaNoWriMo website, full of tips and kind words of encouragement, here is an additional link from Writers Digest. The editors always do a great job at providing valuable information for writers. The daily tips for the NaNoWriMo marathon are just the right kick to keep going.

My husband says NaNoWriMo is sadistic and that I am masochist. Who decided that a writer has to write 2000 words a day anyway? I agree on all three points. But sometimes a deadline is all we need to get a draft. And it always starts with a first draft.

Happy Writing!

Un Mois de Novembre Américain

Novembre était mon mois favori quand je vivais en France. Le Beaujolais Nouveau et le prix Goncourt au moment de mon anniversaire, que demander de plus?

Maintenant j’ai Thanksgiving en prime – la plus grande fête américaine et, dans mon opinion, la plus belle.

Et puis il y a Nanowrimo. Le National Novel Writing Month pour les gens qui aiment écrire est une course folle qui commence le 1er novembre et s’arrête le 30. L’objectif ? Ecrire un roman de 50 000 mots soit 2000 par jour.

Un excellent exercice pour les paresseux qui repoussent toujours à demain un nouveau chapitre ou pour les ambitieux qui veulent un nouveau projet de travail.

Je n’envisageais pas de participer cette année. J’ai déjà donné deux fois. Mais l’appel de la page blanche a gagné et me voilà embarquée dans la galère.

Ce soir j’ai rempli mon contrat : 2000 mots nouveaux sur mon MacBook Air. Avec un peu de chance et surtout pas mal de temps coincée sur une chaise, je devrais avoir un nouveau manuscrit à la fin mois.

Mon but personnel : l’avoir terminé la veille de Thanksgiving (le 22) pour manger ma dinde et siroter mon Beaujolais nouveau avec le sens du devoir accompli.

Pour les curieux et les courageux: Nanowrimo

Nanowrimo

November.

Thanksgiving in the US.

The Beaujolais Nouveau in France.

And Nanowrimo.

A friend of mine dragged me into it three years ago. I not only participated but also finished a draft of a middle grade story in the course of a month.

Two years later, I did it again and wrote Trapped in Paris, which is now on sale.

This year, I thought I would keep a low profile and focus on promoting Trapped in Paris.

But the thrill of having a whole new story down by the end of the month won.

So here I am, once more, writing 2000 words a day.

There is something exciting to know that in 29 days I will have a draft to work on.

If you are tempted, check it out and go for it!

www.nanowrimo.org

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