Monthly Archives: June 2012

Exodus: My First Novel

So there’s something I’ve been keeping kind of quiet from you guys on this blog, and for that I’m sorry. Some of you may not know this, but I am a person of many and varying interests: reading, politics, knitting, sewing, business, accounting, sports, current events, traveling, painting, food (in particular, GMOs), movies, nerdiness, language, and learning in general, to name the ones I can think of in 30 seconds. This gets stressful for me, because I have this feeling that I always need to be doing something. Because if I’m not spending my now considerable amounts of free time working on some or all of these things and trying to get better at them, then I am wasting my life. Some may feel this is a silly thing to get stressed about, but I think it is very important to work at bettering myself, and I aspire to be a renaissance woman. There are some days I get home from work and I just surf the web all night because I can’t decide which interest deserves my time and attention and so I end up doing none of them. This is part of the reason why I only write blog posts every few weeks – I write one, and then move on to other interests, and then after a while get the urge to write about something else again. Which brings me to the topic of the evening: writing.

Many of you are probably aware (though some of you perhaps are not) that I am currently working on my first novel. From the time I was around six and my dreams of becoming an astronaut were dashed with the viewing of the movie Apollo 13 and the nightmares that followed, I wanted to be a novelist. I wrote my first novel in 3rd grade, a masterpiece about a boy growing up in the jungle entitled Leon’s Life. Sadly, it never made it to the New York Times bestseller list. My second novel attempt came in 4th grade with a final assignment we were given. I slaved away on it for weeks and weeks; instead of going out to recess I would sit at the school’s one computer and type away as fast as my little fingers could manage, trying to get it all down before the school year ended. My teacher, Ms. Cangro, had to massage my hands because they got all cramped up and painful. My favorite time of the day was when we would work on our projects, and I finished up the semester with an impressive ten-page manuscript. On the last day, we each got a chance to present our projects, and I could barely sit still in my chair, anxiously watching the clock and hoping there would be enough time for me to share. Finally, my name was called and I sat at the front of the class, my heart thumping in my chest as I began to read. About halfway down the first page, the bell rang and there was a mad dash for the door, leaving me sitting at the front of the room with my pages clutched in my sweaty hands, feeling crushed. On the bus on the way home, I asked some classmates what they thought of what they heard. The told me it was ‘alright’, but sounded a lot like Harry Potter (which, granted, it probably did since that was – and still is – my favorite book). That same year I also had a poem of mine published on the school’s website, so despite the setback with my novel, I felt my writing career was off to a moderately good start.

Unfortunately, we all must go through that dratted time of adolescence, and my stories of magic and wonder and adventure turned to angsty poems about how nobody liked me. In 7th grade, my english teacher, Ms. Luppino, saw my love of writing and got my head back on straight, encouraging me to go to a poetry writing workshop at the local college and pushing me to push myself. Thank goodness for good teachers. From then, I wrote sporadically, mostly for school projects, though my dream of being a writer was still very much alive. I started five or six short stories that I hoped would turn into novels, but I never knew where they were going, and I never stuck with them long enough to find out. Eventually, it came time for me to choose a college, and I looked exclusively at places that had a creative writing major available. I still wasn’t entirely sure of myself – I thought maybe I wanted to be a museum curator, or maybe I wanted to own a yarn shop, or maybe I wanted to be a costumer and make beautiful gowns like those I saw in the Lord of the Rings. Or maybe I wanted to be a novelist. Then, one day, my good friend Camilla went to visit a school called Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. They didn’t offer her major, being a very small, private school, so she didn’t end up going, but she came home and told me about it. “Hannah, this place would be perfect for you, you absolutely have to check it out.” I grudgingly gave in, and looked the place up online. It was beautiful, and I mean beautiful. The dorms were remodeled Victorian mansions, the campus had lovely old brick buildings with odd stairways running up the sides, and the view of Lake Champlain was breathtaking. The only trouble was, they didn’t have a creative writing major (I have just now found out that they recently created a creative writing specialization within the creative media major. Eff). What they had was professional writing, and the more I looked at the courses, the more I didn’t think it was for me. Technical writing? That sounded awful. Journalism? Not at all interested. And the more I thought about it, the more frightened I became. What if I lost my creative voice under a mountain of technical know-how? What if I came to hate writing from doing it every single day? Did I really want to live and breathe this if it was going to be topics assigned to me by random teachers, instead of me deciding for myself what to be writing? Wouldn’t it be better to write what I want to write on the side, rather than have my passion taken from me, shaped and molded and potentially stamped out? So I studied business, thinking that at least it would be useful in a lot of areas, and might potentially get me to my other goal of someday owning that yarn shop.

Now, having just graduated, my original dream of being a novelist has been obsessing me. I still think I made the right choice in studying business, but at the moment it would definitely be nice to have a bit more technical writing skills. Plot. Character development. Narrative flow. You see, I began working on my first novel about five months ago, planning and outlining to be ready in time for this year’s National Novel Writing Month in November, a marathon of writing where 100,000 people across the globe attempt to write 50,000 words (150 pages) in one month. Very few succeed, and I have never tried. I figured if I had everything planned out for my story beforehand, then I could just sit down and write it when November comes. Easy, right? With every day closer to November 1st, the day before my 23rd birthday, I grow more and more afraid. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not doing it ‘the right way’. I’m writing as a hobby and not with the passion, blood, sweat and tears that pretty much every successful writer talks about. One of my favorite authors, John Green, talks about how he wouldn’t go out with his friends at night to the movies or bowling, because he wanted so badly to be a successful novelist that he would stay home and write. Shit. I go out with my friends all the time. Should I stop hanging out with my friends? Should I even be writing this blog post right now? Why am I not spending every minute of free minute working on this novel? Panic is beginning to set in.

The novel itself is not going so well either. For a while there I was on a roll, things were going great, and I knew that this story would be a great success. Brandon and I brainstorm together a lot, and together we have come up with some ideas that I think are really cool. However, now it’s just…meandering. It’s at a point where I don’t have enough time before November to keep adding these little fun details here and there. I need to answer the big questions, develop the characters, solidify the plot. J.K. Rowling has notebooks and notebooks filled with backstory and details about every little thing to do with her world. Only a fraction of it made it into the books, but she had that back knowledge in her mind to draw from at a moment’s notice, and to help her shape things in a direction that made sense. So far, I have twelve pages of one notebook written, and every measly page feels incredibly inadequate. I don’t work at it every day. I don’t know where I’m going with it. I just know that I want it.

On the NaNoWriMo website, they suggest that you tell as many people as possible that you are writing a novel, so that you will work hard to avoid the embarrassment that will come if everyone you see asks you how your novel is coming along, and you have to say you gave up. I have been doing this for a few months now, and so far it has mainly increased the fear of failure. It has made me feel like an impostor, telling everyone I’m writing a novel when all I have are twelve stupid little pages of notes and ideas and questions still left to answer. I already feel embarrassed. I want this so badly, but part of me (a very loud part at the moment) is asking me what the heck I think I’m doing. I didn’t put in the time of going to school for english lit or creative writing. I haven’t been slaving away for years on end, trying to get one stinking story published in a literary magazine, receiving rejection after rejection. I didn’t get a crappy job at a publishing house, hoping I would have time for my own writing on the side while getting my foot in the door. I was too scared to do all that. I was a coward. And now I think I can just waltz in and write a novel? So many of my little side projects have ended in abject failure: weaving, learning French, playing the piano, the list goes on. I grew up thinking I was amazing or special because I have wonderful, loving parents who told me I was, and I thank them for making me feel confident in myself. But as life has gone on my own ordinariness has become more and more apparent. Right now I feel like any other person, and there is no reason on earth why anyone should or would sit up and listen to me, or read what I have to say. This blog has 9 followers. I have a friend who got 10,000 followers after just a few months on her blog, and she didn’t even promote it. I’m not trying to have a pity party here, or feel sorry for myself at all, I’m just trying to be realistic. What am I even doing?

But then…I remember the story I’m trying to tell. The idea that’s in my head. The world I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye that it’s like watching a movie. And I remember why I’m doing this, why I’m attempting it. I’m doing this for me, because I really love it, because I enjoy it, and it doesn’t really even matter if it’s good or not, if it’s published or not. What matters is that I get it out, that I tell the story I want to tell. Maybe other people will read it, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll love it, maybe they won’t. But what’s important is the process, the exercise, the starting and then working and then finishing. I’m not exactly sure what will come from all of this, or if I will even succeed, but I guess I’ll just start and we’ll see where it goes. 🙂

Here is the (basic and ever-evolving) plot to my forthcoming debut novel:

Democracy on the mainland has failed. Having had enough, an elite group
of philosophers have teamed up with a powerful corporate backer to build a
floating utopian city: Exodus. The two groups have an agreement – neither
asks questions about the others’ work. The arrangement suits both groups, 
but there is a third party involved also. A group of desperately poor people
from the mainland have volunteered to work on the island and keep it
running, hoping it will afford them a better life. Now, 20 years later,
two children born to this life are more curious than their parents. Ava and
Martin want to know where their floating city is going and why – and
what the powerful corporation running it is up to. Clever and resourceful,
they will stop at nothing to get the answers they seek –
even if it costs them their lives.

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Filed under Exodus, History, Life Story, novel, The Novel, Writing

The Tale of the Lost Shawl

I have been graduated for exactly four weeks now, and so far, it’s…alright. I had a lovely two-week vacation from work, which caused me to decide that my new goal in life is to become rich enough to not have to work anymore (Brandon: wow babe, that’s a really original life goal. I don’t think anyone else has thought of that before). I have now been back at work for two weeks, and it has been hectic, to say the least. We have driven down to Massachusetts with my friend Andy so that he and I could perform at the annual Crane Concert to benefit a scholarship for seniors at my high school (have I ever told you guys I’m 1/2 of a folk-singing duo?) We have moved apartments and somehow condensed everything from our previous place into one bedroom at the new place. We once again have roommates (which, as awesome as they are, is a big adjustment). We have had to find a temporary home for Skipper and Boots because they cannot stay at the new apartment (we’re only here temporarily and will hopefully get them back from Brandon’s mom soon). Brandon was flown out to Frankfurt, Germany by a company that we are anxiously waiting to hear back from in regards to a sweet job for him. And I have been trained on approximately 50,000 new things at work in 1 1/2 days and now am supposed to be responsible for all of them starting Monday. No pressure.

Despite all of this, there are a lot of things I have not done: I have not written out my thank you cards from graduation, or my graduation announcements (sorry everyone – I promise I appreciate everything you’ve done); I have not called to shut off the electricity at the old apartment – actually, correction: I have not successfully called to shut off the electricity. I have called roughly 10 times, and each time I get a busy signal. What business still has a busy signal in the 21st century?; I have not finished unpacking from the move; and I have not written any new blog posts about any of these wonderful things: until now.

Side note: Brandon, being the wonderful human being that he is, has just brought me a glass of wine. This could get interesting.

The story begins almost exactly two years ago, when Brandon and I had been dating for a mere three months and decided to move in together. He was 21 and I was 20, and we felt like this was a good idea for three reasons:
1. we were crazy about each other and being in each others’ space 24/7 sounded, frankly, heavenly.
2. Our new apartment was big enough that we each had our own room and our own bathroom.
3. After four months we would be starting our year apart due to him studying in Montreal for the fall and me in Dublin for the spring, so if we ended up hating each other we only had to live with it for the summer.

Luckily for us it seems to have worked out so far.

My dad came up to help us with the move and he, Brandon and I set about the task of packing up my books, yarn, and spinning wheel and moving me from my dorm on campus to the school apartments one town over. At the time of the move, I had been working on this shawl:

You can find the blog of the knitter who completed this one here.

It’s The Cap Shawl from my #1 favorite knitting book of all time: Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby. This book was my introduction to lace, which is now my absolute favorite thing to knit. At the time I first laid eyes on it I was unsure of spending $30 for a knitting book. I was working at Northampton Wools, and I now shudder to think what my life would be like if the other ladies working there hadn’t convinced me it was a worthwhile purchase. I had been working on the shawl for about four months, and was a decent way through it. The shawl is circular, starting in the middle and working slowly outwards with each row becoming longer and longer, so even though it looked like I was most of the way done, I still had many hours of knitting ahead of me. The pattern was complex, hardly even a pattern by the strictest definition of the word; this was a piece to work on without a tv show or conversation in the background – just you and the wool and your thoughts.

My hand-drawn pattern notes

At the time of the move I was keeping the shawl in a regular plastic grocery bag, as part of my ultra-sophisticated knitting project organization system. In direct violation of my ultra-sophisticated knitting project organization system, I left the bag very near to a pile of trash piled up in the room.

After we were all settled in to our new apartment, I began hunting around for my shawl, wanting to continue working on it. Huh. It wasn’t with my other knitting stuff. Hmmm….it wasn’t with the kitchen stuff. Nor was it with my clothes, books, or any of Brandon’s stuff. Uh-oh…..I thought back to the last time I remembered having it: when I placed it down on the floor, semi-close to the pile of trash. I thought about Brandon and my dad, each of them having gone out on several trash runs to the dumpster throughout the move. I thought, and thought, and then very quickly worked hard not to throw up. Oh god….it had been thrown out. My beautiful shawl, months in the making, each of the 66,000 stitches lovingly handcrafted by my nimble fingers, gone, forever. Face ashen, I stumbled into Brandon’s new room and tried to keep my voice steady as I told him the news. Then, I broke down and sobbed.

Brandon and my dad both felt terrible about what had happened, and, not knowing which one of them was responsible, I couldn’t bring myself to be angry with either of them. That hangdog, guilty look gets me every time. Slowly, I moved on from the loss. I took the Jane Sowerby book down off the shelf and flipped through the pages, imagining which shawl I might start next. I fingered lace-weight alpaca in my new LYS, Kaleidoscope Yarns, and began to see new projects coming together in my mind. I have made two more shawls since then, and am working on a third.

This picture of an adorable ferret sleeping in bed like a
human is here to break up the tension of this terribly sad story.

Flash forward two years, to last weekend. Brandon, Andy and I had a lovely 3 1/2 hour car ride down to Massachusetts and arrived just in time for sound check at the Crane Concert. We opened the show with four songs, one of which I wrote last year, and had a lovely evening listening to all the acts that followed, including my mom’s band which featured a song with my dad on the trumpet. We had a blast, and went home sleepy around midnight. The next morning Brandon and I had brunch with my parents and then began packing up for our trip back to Vermont – we had to move out of our apartment that weekend and needed to get back. I looked over my home yarn stash, thinking I could use a new mix of yarns to throw into the stash I keep in Burlington. I grabbed some baby alpaca I bought years ago for a super secret project that may or may not be featured in a later post, some baby alpaca lace in case I want to start any new shawls this summer (sensing an alpaca theme? Good, you should be), and then my eyes fell on something right in the front of one of the cubbies. It was a little white plastic bag that I hadn’t noticed before. Curiously, I picked it up, untied the handles, and looked inside. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was my beautiful, half-finished shawl! I ran out to Brandon and my dad and shouted the news in both of their faces. Their expressions quickly changed from confused to elated as they realized that they were not horrible people after all, but good and wonderful people once more.

I have no idea how this miracle occurred, but I am too excited to care about the particulars. Now that we’re moved in I have begun working on it once more, putting all other projects on hold. Unfortunately, circular lace-in-progress looks kind of like some sort of weird hole-filled bag, but I promise I will post a better picture when it’s completed!

Have you ever lost a precious project? I’d love to hear your lost and/or found stories!


Filed under Brandon, Crane Concert, Jane Sowerby, knitting, lace, Lost shawl, Northampton Wools, shawl, The Cap Shawl, Victorian Lace Today, Wine