Well, I Did It

I did it. Despite doing some serious cat-vacuuming (no, we don’t really have a cat – it’s just a way of saying I did some heavy-duty procrastinating), I managed to get my 50,000 words done this month for NaNoWriMo, ahead of schedule. My progress chart does not look like a nice, tidy set of steps, with an equal amount added each day, the way it’s supposed to. It look more like a series of cliffs, looming over broad plains. This is because I tend to write in large chunks when I get rolling, and then stew for a day or two, trying to tease out the next bit in my head.

The story is one I’ve had simmering at the back of my mind for a long time (read several years). It needed to come out to play, and making it my NaNoWriMo project just made me fight through the parts that were not clear to me before. The story and I can both breathe better now that it’s out in the open. And the Skink, my main character, who has hung around with me for the last few years, doing battle with my inner critic, is delighted to have his story told. Now I just have to go back, tie up a few loose ends, and clean up/expand on things/cut out the garbage that ends up being included in any rough draft. It’s the writing equivalent of sanding, using wood filler in the cracks, sanding again, and then putting a shiny finish on your project. You just hope you don’t have to do any major reconstruction on it.

It took me a while to remember that I wasn’t writing a short story, and to adjust my writing style accordingly. But once I got going, it was fun – and I love my characters and my storyline. I’ll be excited to work on revising it during the next month(s). Writing a longer work allows you to really get to know your characters, and to make sure you drop them into plenty of hot water which they will need to fight their way out of. It’s interesting to torture your main characters. (Although they may not agree. But even they wouldn’t like a boring story, now would they?)

The novel I wrote needs a lot of work to make it what I want it to be, but that’s okay. I have more than just a framework now; I have a story with a beginning, middle and end and lots of details to flesh it out. Revising is what December (and if necessary, January, March, April, May and so forth) are for. That’s where I’m heading next, along with some short story projects that I put on hold for the month.

Did any of you try out NaNoWriMo this year? If not, there’s always next year. It’s a great way to prove to yourself that you can do it, and to show you what regular writing can do for both you and your writing.

Now, I’m off to write some more…

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The Horrible Events of This Night

Here’s a Halloween story I wrote a few years ago – only a few days late!

”I take my pen in hand to record for all Posterity the Horrible Events of this Night, the thirty-first Day of the tenth Month, the Day they call All Hallow’s Eve…” Henry stopped, put his tired head in his hands, and rocked gently from side to side. He took a look at the few words he had scribed and almost balled up the paper to use as fire starter, but stopped himself at the last minute. Quill pens he could make for himself, as he had feathers a-plenty gathered from when the fox had gotten at the fowl, but paper and ink were dear and should not be wasted in a frivolous fit of pique just because he felt his poor words were not adequate for the situation.

He sighed, dipped his pen afresh and continued. “Last month, when the ravening Beast burst from the Forest and rent the flesh of my own dear Constance, I was terrified first for her life and then when she rallied and began to improve, that she might have contracted the Rabies, that dread Disease that drives men mad with Thirst though they cannot drink. I had no Clew that she would contract something far worse. Indeed, either instant Death, Death of a gangrenous Fever, or even the Rabies would have been preferable to this. This insufferable possession by a demonic Beast – the Loup-Garou. Yes, when the Moon rose this night, she turned and ran at me, and then burst through the door of our humble abode, tearing her clothing from her Body as she tried to tear away her own skin, writhing in terrible Pain as skin and bone shifted and teeth and hair grew. I watched, frozen in horror, as she finished her Change and turned to me, a fearsome light glowing maniacally in her Eyes. I knew her not, and slammed the door to our cabin in terror as she – or it – lunged at me. I could hear the thuds the Beast’s body made as it tried to reach me, to rend my body as hers very nearly had been rent on that Day one short Month ago.”

Henry stopped again, gazing into the distance as he remembered the events of the day. His hand was shaking slightly as he took up his pen and continued his narrative. He paused, breathed deeply and then began again with a steadier hand.

“It was not long before I could hear the Beast crashing through the underbrush near the cabin, moving farther and farther from my Home. I turned to the cradle by the fire where our infant Patience lay sleeping, still wrapped in her swaddling bands, innocent of her Mother’s terrible Transformation. For the first time, I truly regretted my decision to uproot my small Family and bring them to this New World where there would be no Family to fall back on when Help was needed. The Hunger has been bad since the Crops failed, and I was worried, too, when our goat and pig were taken by wild Animals, and when our nearest Neighbors all died last week of some foul Flux I was starting to doubt my Wisdom. Starvation or Disease seemed unavoidable. But I reasoned, at least we still had one another, and could take our few Possessions and leave, possibly finding a new place to settle before we expired from Hunger. But now, with Constance taken by the Beast of the Night and small Patience with no Mother to nurture or nurse her, I realize that I am lost. Even if I am not taken by the Beast tonight, there will be more Nights and yet more when the Beast will lurk about our small cabin – whenever the Moon shines full and bright in the Sky.”

The ink became slightly smudged as Henry’s head dropped down, as he dozed off briefly. He started awake again when the baby stirred and fussed. Carefully, he changed her and patted her and fed her a bit of the last of the family’s gruel that warmed by the fire. “Ah, child, I know that this is no substitute for thine own mother, but it is the best that I, thy father, can do.”

Eventually the baby settled down and fell back asleep again, and Henry took up his pen again. “The Dawn will break soon, and I must take the Babe and try to make it to a place of safety for the both of us. If things go well, I will find a wet-nurse for the Child and then – then, I will return to do battle with the Beast that has consumed the gentle, loving Constance of my Memories.”

A loud thump sounded at the door and Henry jumped, his pen leaving a streak across the paper. Cautiously, he made his way to the door and looked through the peep-hole he had drilled there.

Dawn had broken, and it was light out now, the morning sun shining on the snow. The blood-stained snow. He flinched back and then looked once more. As he put his eye to the hole, another eye met his. He started back in terror, and then realized that the eye was the same color as that of his beloved Constance.

He carefully looked again, and there was Constance standing there in the snow, the rags of her dress pulled about her, her hair wild and tangled and her face smudged with dirt and God alone knew what else. But the light of reason was in her eyes, and she looked tired and harmless.

As if she knew her mother was nearby, little Patience began to howl with hunger. Constance looked at his eye peering out at her and said plaintively, “Henry, it’s cold out here.”

Steeling himself, Henry opened the door. Constance stepped through, grabbing the leg of a deer as she did and dragging it in with her. “I did a little hunting last night, Henry. I brought home some meat – we’ll not starve now. Wouldst thou like to go and butcher this while I clean up and tend to the baby?”

Old building in black and white(c) 2007 Jane W. Wofinbarger

Ghosties for Halloween

tombstones in Prince Geoge Winyah graveyard

These tombstones from the 1700’s are in the graveyard of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown, S.C., where I grew up.

People who know me know that I am a huge fan of ghost-hunting shows. I make no secret of it; in fact, I was openly put out that I had to miss the season premiere of Ghost Hunters a little over a year ago when city workers accidently dug up our power lines. I had been looking forward to that for weeks! I was, frankly, more annoyed about that aspect of losing power than any of the others, at the time. (Well, except the food in the freezer. No one wants to have to replace food.)

I myself have had very few experiences that could be thought of as paranormal, and most of those could probably be debunked quite easily. However, people I have known and trusted not to stretch the truth have had personal experiences, reinforcing my idea that there is a lot more out there than that which we can see and touch.

What ghosts are and how we can experience them is something I do not presume to know. Science tells us that time may not be linear – are ghosts the result of time slippages? Science, string theory in particular, also tells us that there are multiple dimensions – are ghosts echoes from those? The religion that I follow tells us that we have souls – are ghosts souls that have not yet found their way to whatever comes next? Whatever their source, I find the idea of ghosts interesting.

I suppose my interest in ghosts partially a product of where I grew up – the South, where if ghosts were rocks, you’d trip over one every time you turned around. The town I grew up in, Georgetown, South Carolina, was established in the early 1700s, and has many historic buildings, more than a few of them supposedly haunted. (Again, my personal experiences were minimal, and might be explained by faulty wiring and that sort of thing, but it was always fun to thing I might have annoyed one of the ghosts by sitting in the chair he was currently occupying.)

The clock tower of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown, S.C.

Looking up at the clock tower of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church. Both church and the surrounding graveyard date back to the 1700’s. History and ghosts are part of my cultural upbringing.

My childhood included the stories of the Grey Man of Pawleys Island, who supposedly warns people of hurricanes, and Alice of the Hermitage, who still searches for the ring her fiancée gave her, among others. Every child in the region knew those stories, and many had walked around the grave of Alice 13 times backwards in hopes of seeing her ghost; ghosts were very much part of our cultural heritage. Then, when I was in high school, I  took part in a project of collecting local ghost stories by interviewing the people whose homes were haunted. The flame of interest was fanned, and I have been interested in ghosts and ghost stories ever since. The advent of ghost-hunting shows on TV has kept me happily occupied for the last few years.

For Halloween this year, I treated myself to a paranormal presentation on campus. I abandoned Pat to the mercies the neighborhood ghosts and goblins, and went on a parking-spot hunt near the Wyoming Union building – no easy task, since there was trick-or-treating for the Laramie kids on campus. But I finally found a space at the far end of the parking lot, and dodged small costumed people all the way up to the Union.

The group presenting was Haunted Explorers, out of Denver. They had a guest speaker/investigator whose name had caught my attention right away when I saw the presentation announced on the University of Wyoming news website – Karl Pfeiffer. I knew who Karl was; I had been quite pleased when he was on the ghost-hunting TV show Ghost Hunters Academy a few years ago – someone from Ft. Collins, Colorado! Someone from my part of the world! Cool!

Karl Pfeiffer

Karl Pfeiffer, paranormal investigator and author

I watched Karl first on that show and later on Ghost Hunters International, so I was delighted to have a chance to see and hear him in person. (I’m afraid I was a bit of a fan girl; oh, well!) These days, he is guiding ghost tours at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. (This is the hotel that was used as the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining, and it has a reputation for being quite haunted.) Karl also has a new novel out, Hallowtide, which I promptly bought and got signed – I will be reading it over the next week or so.

The presentation was interesting, including some photos and EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomenon, for those of you who are uninitiated) from several sites the group had investigated in Colorado. Karl spoke next, and he is a very articulate and interesting speaker, bringing a lot of both practical ghost-hunting experience and theory to the discussion. It was over too soon for my liking, but the investigators had ghost-hunting to do.

After the presentation was over, Haunted Explorers, along with a group of students, was going to be investigating one of the buildings on campus. (I hope they had fun and found things – I know people who have worked in that building and had experiences there!) This was a student activity, so I took my employee-self home at that point. I’m not sure I could have stayed awake to hunt ghosts on a week night, anyway!

I had a wonderful evening, attending a presentation on a subject that fascinates me, and getting a chance to see someone in person that I have enjoyed seeing on ghost-hunting shows. This was my idea of a fun way to spend Halloween!

Text and photos (c) 2012, Jane W. Wolfinbarger