Divine By Mistake

This week I’m reading P.C. Cast’s Divine By Mistake (spoilers). I read this book for the first time in college, over the summer while working as a camp counselor. It wasn’t something I would’ve picked out for myself at the time, but one of the other counselors had a copy and I had nothing else to read, so I asked to borrow it.

Reading this book the first time made me blush. It’s officially a fantasy, but carries some definite romance themes. The actual sex scenes are muted, but the lead-ups are graphic and intense. I remember thinking that I didn’t want anyone to know I was reading that kind of trash. My opinion on this has changed. I’m significantly wider read these days, and some of my favorite authors (looking at you, Kelley Armstrong) frequently write sex scenes so much more detailed than Divine By Mistake has. I’m desensitized, so they really don’t bother me anymore.

What struck me this time around was the complete unbelievability of the main character, Shannon Parker. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here’s a basic overview: Shannon Parker is a run-of-the-mill English teacher from Oklahoma. One day she finds herself sucked through a portal into a fantasy world. The people there mirror people from her own world, and she herself is a mirror image of High Priestess and Goddess Incarnate, Rhiannon. Rhiannon, having discovered the mirrored world, traded places with Shannon to escape her own responsibilities.

Shannon awakes to find herself in this new world and everyone believes she is the real Rhiannon. This is where I find her reactions hard to believe. She has a few hours of “holy crap, this is all really weird”, then just kind of decides to go with it. For the next several days as the story unfolds she has fleeting thoughts of “I wonder what’s happening back in my own world” and “Rhiannon is probably destroying my life” but she seems perfectly content to just throw away everything she’s ever known without any notice. There’s no grieving for the relationships she left behind (she just replaces them with the mirrored people in the new world), there’s no crying over the life she lost, and there’s no freaking out over the strange new things she’s thrown into. On her first day, she’s told she’s been exchanged and then marries a centaur. Seriously? I think I would barricade myself in my room, convince myself I’d gone crazy and was locked away in an institution somewhere, or maybe just faint when the troop of centaurs walked into the room. Something more than “well this is my life now, it’s a little weird but I guess I’ll get used to it”.

What also strikes me as strange (and is definitely related), is she never tries to go home. There’s one or two places where she mentions that it’s impossible, but she never even tries to research how the switch happened in the first place. Her maid, Alanna, tells her about the experimentation and ritual Rhiannon performed, but she never seeks to understand it further. She never tries to determine if it can be replicated. She never even expresses a desire to go home. All of which is very unbelievable to me. In time, yes, maybe she could adjust to her new circumstances and come to accept that she can’t go home, but not immediately and not without fighting against it first.

That being said, I did enjoy the book. I’m looking forward to reading the next two, Divine By Choice and Divine By Blood. Once you get past the believability issue, it’s a beautiful story and a lot of fun to read. Shannon’s secret is shared among her close friends, she falls deeply in love with her centaur husband, and she saves her people from both disease and a deadly invasion. Rhiannon’s actions were steeped in selfishness and arrogance, but Shannon is able to turn the situation into something good and wholesome and find her true purpose in life.

Heirloom Poetry

“Through this toilsome world, alas!

Once and only once I pass;

If a kindness I may show,

If a good deed I may do

To a suffering fellow man,

Let me do it while I can.

No delay, for it is plain

I shall not pass this way again.”

“I Shall Not Pass This Way Again”-Author Unknown

After nearly two weeks at my parents’ house, I’m finally home. I know my posting has been erratic, but it should stabilize now. Before I left, my mom wanted to go through the bookcase with me and send me away with their classics. I’m talking Huckleberry FinnGulliver’s TravelsArabian Nights, etc. It’s pretty cool. Although now I have a box of books that don’t fit on my already too-small bookshelves. She also gave me a book of poetry.

This isn’t just any book of poetry. It’s a family keepsake, handed-down book of poetry. It’s called The Best Loved Poems of the American People, and was compiled by an editor of the The New York Times Book Review. My mom got it from her grandmother, Daisy, and now she’s handing it down to me. There’s a handwritten inscription inside the cover: This book was presented to Mrs. Daisy Wilkins by her sister Mrs. Mina McAnally on May 24th, 1952 while in Mary Sherman Hospital.

1952! It smells musty, and there’s a little water damage on the cover, but I think it’s beautiful. My family doesn’t have much in the way of heirlooms, but I couldn’t have asked for a better one than a book.

 

Writing Amidst Distractions

I used to require absolute silence to write. No music, no TV, no people, absolutely nothing. And then, if my concentration was broken, the day was lost. I could never get back into my story. Once that distraction came, my productivity was shot.

I still prefer to write in silence. There’s something about shutting out the entire world and getting completely wrapped up in my project that just helps my story to flow. But I don’t require it anymore. More importantly, I don’t find it much anymore.

At the moment, I’m sitting at my parents’ dining room table while my nieces and nephew (ages 7, 4, & 2) run around and play with my dog and scream at each other and wait for Grandma to make them grilled cheese sandwiches. Granted, I was balancing my checkbook and now I’m writing a post, I’m not involved in my novel, but the concept still applies. While the kids are here, I don’t get perfect silence. But I’m learning to keep them in the periphery. I can’t shut them out completely, because I need to intervene if someone cries or gets knocked over by the dog or whatever else comes up that needs my attention. But I can think over the noise.

I don’t get perfect silence at home, either. I prefer to write in the morning, when I can, but it doesn’t always happen that way. The problem with that is, my husband is home in the mornings. He works second shift, so he’s always available to interrupt and invade the living room and ask me questions and bang stuff around in the kitchen. He also plays a lot of video games in one of our bedrooms, and the music typically drifts down the hallway and into my brain. Sometimes, when we haven’t seen each other much, I’ve even taken my laptop into the bedroom and sat on the floor while he played. That’s a bit harder to do, because I have a tendency to watch him play instead of focusing on my own work, but at least a little gets done.

The whole point being, if I were to wait for complete silence to write then I would rarely get things done. At least, I wouldn’t get them done when I wanted to get them done. My house is pretty quiet late at night, but I don’t think well that late and would much rather get my work done earlier in the day. Keeping my focus is a mindset, one I’ve struggled to cultivate so that I can work through the noise, buckle down, and get the work done.

Talk to me in the comments. How do you fare working in distracting environments? How do you keep your focus?

Switching To Scrivener

Apologies for the extended time between posts. As I mentioned previously, I’m visiting family for two weeks, and my laptop hasn’t gotten a lot of love.

Today I want to talk about writing software. When I first set out to write a novel, I went with the tried and true Microsoft Word. There’s nothing wrong with Word, and it has its uses, but I struggled significantly with it. I had some formatting issues, but mostly my struggle was mental. My story was a huge document, I had to scroll through it to find my chapter headings, and it was difficult to remember what was taking place when. I remember sitting down with my (old, slow, college) laptop and staring at my Word document and being completely intimidated.

When I began Origins, I found it much easier to write by hand. The entirety of that story is contained in a series of notebooks, with random sheets folded in from when I didn’t have the current notebook handy (like at work, shh!). I really enjoy writing by hand, but my hand doesn’t write nearly as fast as my brain moves. It was a slow process, impeded by the need for transcription. Every couple of chapters I would break, and take several hours to transfer the new work into the Word document. It was handy, because I made small corrections and edits as I went, but very time-consuming and frustrating.

When I began my new fantasy project, I started out writing it by hand, but I quickly grew tired of it and knew it would take me a long time to do this story the same way I did the other. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer, so I discussed it with my husband and we agreed that I needed to buy a new work laptop. The one I have now I bought in January, and I absolutely love it. At the same time, I began researching my options for writing software. I didn’t know if I could get over my difficulty writing directly to a computer screen, but Word wasn’t working and I had to try something new.

I don’t remember what all programs I looked at, but Scrivener stuck in my mind and refused to budge. It was incredibly affordable; the license only cost me $40. For that price, it was worth it to find out if it was what I’d been searching for.

There’s a learning curve to Scrivener. I know very little outside of the basic day-to-day things I use it for, but whenever I need to learn something I just google it and usually find step-by-step instructions or sometimes a video. My first few days I spent transcribing the few chapters I’d completed and adding in my note pages. I’m not a fan of outlining, but I did have many notebook pages listing out the rules for my fantasy world and what plotlines my characters were going to follow. It was a lot of content, but I think that information is safer now than it was written out on pages that I’d flipped through so many times they were falling out of the notebook.

Things I love about Scrivener: Each chapter is its own separate document. There’s a box on the left side called the binder where all of the chapters are listed out, so it’s easy to switch back and forth between them. You can even split the screen and view two chapters (or an outline and a chapter) at the same time. There are digital index cards, where you can write a  brief description of what happens in each chapter. There’s a screen where all of these cards are pictured and you can easily track your plot. Both cards and listed chapters can be drug at will and re-ordered.

Scrivener contains templates for indexing character sheets, locations and scenes, research, and plotlines. I don’t use most of them, but it’s cool that they’re there, and I do have regular documents inserted into the files so I can keep track of those things.

The most important thing: I can write into Scrivener. The individualized documents don’t feel so scary and imposing. I’m not setting out to write a 100,000+ word book; I’m sitting down and writing a 5,000 word chapter. It’s a much more manageable goal. Seeing the chapters always in view tells me exactly where I am, and my notes on the index card tell me what that chapter needs to accomplish. If I need to re-read something to refresh my memory on  a scene, it’s easy for me to find without scrolling through endless pages of flashing words. The bottom of the page also tracks my word count, so I know if I need to hurry up and conclude my thoughts or if I have room to stretch the scene out.

It’s possible that the ease of writing into Scrivener is simply a marker of my growth as a writer. Maybe if I switched back to Word I wouldn’t face the same issues I did the first time around. But I have no desire to test that theory. I like Scrivener, and it’s working for me, so why would I want to jeopardize that?

What writing software do you use, and why do you love it? Let me know in the comments!