National Novel Writing Month Retrospective: A Good Month’s Work

Winner-2014-Web-BannerOn Sunday I achieved my goal. I slayed the NaNoWriMo beast: I wrote 50,000 words of my next Sleight of Hand novel in 30 days.

So what next? I took a day off. I baked a cake. I shopped for towels. I watched three episodes of The Gilmore Girls (my current guilty pleasure). And then I sat down to think about the crazy, hazy (caffeine-fogged) days of November.

I noticed some things about my writing during NaNo that are different from the way I normally write. For instance:

1. Writing was THE most important thing in my life this month (except–in most cases–for my family). Everything else, including daily exercise and even food, was a luxury.

2. With a daily word count in mind, I could make myself sit at the computer until it was done. I let Facebook and Twitter go. I totally neglected this blog. I haven’t done nearly enough to promote my newest book, Island Magic.

3. I only took one day (Thanksgiving) off writing the entire month of November, and even on that day I wrote a couple hundred words.

4. I wrote straight through the storyline. Well, almost. Normally, I am wont to skip around and write whatever scene most appeals to me at the time. This usually results in a lot of discarded writing. For my NaNo this year, I wrote straight through, beginning to end. I skipped a couple of scenes in the middle, but I made a note about what they would be.

5. I didn’t stop, even when I knew I’d screwed something up in the beginning. I didn’t go back and fix it either, which is what I normally would have done. Instead, I went back and made a note about what needed to be done to fix it and kept writing from where I was as if it had been that way all along.

So what’s next NOW? Well, that particular novel is going to sit on the shelf for a while. At least until January. I’ve got a couple of other ideas percolating that I will eventually begin on, though I may take another day or two off. I know there are a LOT of things to fix in my story. I know, for instance, that I accidentally named one of my minor characters after a country music star. Oops. That will have to change. I also know there are scenes to add and references to fix and I think I left at least one blank instead of trying to come up with a place name. It was just easier.

I also know that this book, Movie Magic, will eventually join my Sleight of Hand series. It will be book 4 and it will be done by October 31 of next year. That’s pretty good for one month’s work.

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The Pinch: Michelle Garren Flye

Today I was interviewed by fellow author A.J. Brown. Check it out here: The Pinch: Michelle Garren Flye.

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NaNo Halfway Point: What It Means to Me

twentyfivek_earnedNational Novel Writing Month means different things to different people. Some people start it to prove to themselves that they can write a novel. Others brag a lot about how many words they’ve already written. I think still others (hopefully not many) consider it a farce and might even type “the” 50,000 times just to say they finished NaNoWriMo. There’s nobody to say you can’t do that. If you want to spend several hours typing “the”, the powers of NaNo aren’t going to stop you from wasting your time.

Today marks the halfway point in my own NaNoWriMo Quest, so I figured I’d take a minute to examine what it is to me. After all, I’ve written nine novels and a novella. Writing 50,000 words is no longer the nearly insurmountable objective it once was. Writing 25,000 words in 15 days hasn’t seemed horribly hard, and I’m fairly certain that, even taking into consideration travel time later this month, I should be able to fit the other 25,000 words into my schedule too. So why do NaNo when I can write a book without it?

National Novel Writing Month is a sort of boot camp for me. Over the course of a year or two of writing, it’s easy to get discouraged when the words aren’t rolling off my fingertips. It’s easy to forget the number one requirement to be a writer: YOU. MUST. WRITE. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Without fail. Without pandering to self-doubt. Without wondering where the words will come from. Because if you force yourself to sit at the computer, the words WILL come. They may not always be the right words, but once they’re on the screen, you can move on until the right words do show up.

So what will I end up with at the end of a month? A book? No. A manuscript. I don’t even think it will be a complete manuscript. Fifty thousand words isn’t really long enough. I’ll probably keep writing for another ten or fifteen thousand words before I declare it done. And then will it be a book? No. It’s still just an unedited manuscript and while it will contain a lot of words, I’ll know they’re not all the right ones. But at least they will be written ones.

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National Novel Writing Month eats my words

And therefore I have none to spend here. However, just a quick update, I’m writing a novel tentatively entitled “Pirate Magic” and it’s up to 18,500 words. So I’m right on target. I’ll try to post a new word count every day. It’s been great practice getting me back into the groove of writing a certain amount every single day, no matter what. Participant-2014-Web-Banner

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Welcome Nakul Shenoy! And happy birthday, ISLAND MAGIC

Aha! Welcome to party central! It’s the birthday of my new book, Island Magic, and I figured…what better way to celebrate than to have a real live email interview posted on my blog? Nakul Shenoy and I have been twitter buddies since I first started getting seriously interested in magic. He was the first magician to take me seriously, and he’s even read a couple of my books! Now it’s my turn. He has a book about magic coming out, and I thought it’d be a good chance to return the favor. Please help me make him welcome. Also, I’ve decided to give out a $10 Amazon gift card to one random commenter on my blog today, so leave Nakul a question, then beat tracks over to Amazon to buy your copy of Island Magic, if you haven’t already!

~The Interview~

#001_NakulShenoy_ProfileFirst of all, let me be honest, I dont want to know the secrets of my favorite magic tricks. I prefer to believe. Should I read your book?

Indeed, Michelle! I agree. Belief in magic is what keeps many of us going; it inspires us to create effects and presentations that represent ‘real magic’. Anyway, my book is not as much about the tricks, as much as it is about learning to present and perform magic. In many ways the real secrets to creating a magical experience.

This book will serve as a good guide to anybody interested in putting together an effective performance in magic, while also helping them in various ways to improve their confidence, public speaking, and social skills.

You should read my book simply because it is a wonderful thing to be able to amaze and entertain others using magic, and it helps us bring smiles to people’s faces.

Whats the biggest misconception about learning to perform magic?

Good question! The way I see it – and this is based on the numerous interactions I have had over the years – there are two major misconceptions about learning magic.

One, people think magic is performed using hypnosis. That in many ways could be attributed to the mysterious passes and gestures that the magicians perform as part of their act. As romantic as it may sound, hypnotism has really not much to do with the stage magic that we encounter most of the time.

The second misconception is that tricks make magic. Much as this is true, the technical aspects of the trick itself – also called method – has a limited role to play in the performance of magic. A magical performance is embellished with the story, presentation, and premise of the effect; it is this that makes a trick into a miracle. Yet, many of us – including professional magicians – cannot get over the search for the perfect method. Somehow, we can’t get over the belief that learning the secrets of tricks is what makes the best magic.

Whats your best advice for aspiring magicians?

The first, second, and third rule of magic is Practice, Practice, Practice. You really have to internalise the workings and handling of a magic trick, before you can even take it to a rehearsal stage – let alone perform before a live audience.

That aside, the focus of the magician has to be on making magic, magical. As weird as that may sound, in many ways we forget what made us get into magic – that feeling of something being real and amazing – and get too caught up in performing magic tricks, because we can. As far as the aspiring magician remembers to give all the attention to the performance, the presentation that creates the feeling of magic in the audience’s minds, they will create magic, and not just perform a puzzle for the audience to solve.

How do you go about teaching someone to perform magic?

Magic is both an art and a craft. It involves skills that have to be learnt first, then mastered, before they can be crafted together into a charming performance. Much like a musician has to learn and master musical notes and a dancer has to learn and master dance steps, the aspiring magician too has to first concentrate on the basics. Once that step has been crossed comes the performance part, where the focus has to shift on learning and mastering the basics of acting. The words of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin – the father of modern magic – comes to mind here: the magician is but an actor playing the role of a magician.

Why did you decide to write the Smart Course in Magic?

I took to magic as a 5-year-old kid, fascinated by Mandrake the Magician. I wanted to be Mandrake. In many ways, I still do. I took to seeing any magic show that came my way, as many times as I could. I took to reading anything and everything remotely connected to magic. Somewhere down the line, I found books that dealt with tricks, and later also some that dealt with the performance of magic.

It is just fortuitous that I am where I am today in the world of magic, as I had a lot of things falling into place at the right time – to get the proper guidance, mentorship, and of course friendship. This is linked to a lot of circumstances coming together in the right way – a feat no less magical.

The idea for the Smart Course in Magic came though as I wanted to create a workshop in a book. Not one that taught numerous magic tricks – there are too many already in the market – but one that focused on presenting magic in the way it should be. So in this book, the tricks are incidental; they are taught only in the context of learning a larger concept of magical performance. I do believe I have delivered what I intended with this book.

 

How did you choose mind reading as your specialty in magic?

This came more recently. I was performing stage magic – the conjuring and illusion variety – for about 10 years. Yet somewhere I found that I was going away from my idea of Mandrake The Magician. He did not seem to have a 10-member troupe or a truck load of equipment. That was when I discovered psychological magic or magic of the mind. Dabbling in that allowed me to create an onstage persona of The Mind Reader. And so most of what I do today is limited to the ‘powers’ that I have attributed to that persona.

Have you ever performed other types of magic? Illusion? Sleight of hand?

Yes! I have walked the path, so to say. I began with close up and conjuring magic – mostly the sleight of hand variety. Then I moved to the stage magic – as I found that more fitting to my context, and performed shows with illusions and conjuring effects. As I said earlier, the move to mind reading was my need – to push myself to other realms of magical performance; to entertain audiences in the best way available to me.

Mind reading is very different from other types of magic, but I imagine they use some of the same psychology. How do you see this?

Yes, they are all various genres of magic. And in many ways, the basic rules remain the same. The methods are varied and different, but what makes any type of magic – magic, is the performance of the same. Yet, there is a great difference in the way you are perceived by the audience, basically because of the premise you are performing in and of course the story of the presentation itself. I like it because there is nothing much to hide behind, and it is magical performance at its purest. It is just the audience and you the performer – with minimal focus on props.

Do humans as a whole want to be fooled?

I do have a theory on that, but in this context I would say that we do wish to be entertained. And in the best possible way. Dariel Fitzkee once wrote, “the audience is there to be entertained – entertained by magic” while reminding that magic was only one of the various other modes of entertainment available. This is a truism I hold dear, and remind myself all the time.

If the focus of our performance is to entertain and entertain with magic, then it never matters what the audience is there originally for and with what intent. So again, whether we wish to be fooled or not, I sincerely believe we wish to be entertained.

What is the biggest challenge magicians face today?

Like everything else in life, the digital age is changing things faster than we realise. Television brought along opportunities to take magic to homes, and now the internet has provided the opportunity to take it to everybody in the connected world. Yet, the real joy of magic is in the performance of it – in front of a live audience. And similarly, it is best enjoyed in first person, live. Somehow, in today’s tech world we are losing the charm of the live theatre performances, and this to me is the biggest challenge for the craft and its practitioners.

Okay, you knew I was going to ask. Can you read my mind over the internet?

Haha! Yes, I indeed did. I think it is best that I share that thought offline!

Ha! Get on out of here, magic man. Thanks for stopping by!

If you want to know more about Nakul, check out his bio below:

NAKUL SHENOY is The Mind Reader – an expert magician and hypnotist based in Bangalore, India. A leading corporate speaker and entertainer with unique insights on communication and people behaviour, he travels the world addressing elite audiences drawn from top corporates.

Nakul took to magic at the age of five via his fascination for the comic book ‘Mandrake The Magician’. He performed his first public show at the age of 15, and since then has continued in his self-professed journey to be “a real-life Mandrake”.

Over the last two decades, Nakul has grown to be a sought-after entertainer for Fortune 500 companies and other coveted events, and has performed at venues in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, UK and the USA.

A compulsive reader of books “on every topic under the Sun and beyond,” he haunts Twitter as @nakulshenoy. Nakul’s first book on performance titled ‘Smart Course in Magic’ will be published by HarperCollins India in December 2014.

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Life as a Self Published Writer and the Road Not Taken

Tomorrow morning, Island Magic goes on sale. My tenth book (nine novels and a novella). It seems like a good point in my career to sit down and look at the road I didn’t take for a minute.

I see the roads of Self Publishing and Traditional Publishing like this. Self Publishing is a rural route. Part of it isn’t paved, and part of it is freshly hacked out of the forest undergrowth. It’s windy and long and sometimes difficult to get through, and there are a lot of little side paths you might find yourself on if you’re not careful. Traditional Publishing, however, is a highway. Well-paved, but sometimes jammed up. Littered with rejection letters from editors, publishers and agents. It’s only once in a great while that a writer can make their way through the pack and over the bridge and into the big, golden city named Published. And once you do, you have to go back to the beginning and start all over.

I reached the fork in my road a while back. Traditional publishing had paid off only mildly for me (two ebooks with Lyrical Press and one with Carina Press). I tried self publishing with my book, Weeds and FlowersMH900058885, because I had literally no idea how to sell it. It isn’t literary or genre fiction. It’s fairly intense for young adults, but the main characters are teenagers. I tried to rewrite it as a young adult romance, but that didn’t work. So I self published it, telling myself it wouldn’t hurt anything.

And it didn’t hurt anything. But it opened up a whole new world to me. Suddenly I realized, as a writer, I don’t have to sit in a traffic jam on the Traditional Publishing Highway. I don’t have to spend my precious writing hours anguishing over cover letters and synopses. If I took this exit onto Self Publishing Route, I could spend them writing what I want to write. Books.

I can still see Highway Traditional Publishing. It crosses Route Self Publishing from time to time. I check out the market, consider submitting, wish for a moment that life could be easier, that my books would sell themselves. And then I continue writing. Because that’s what I want to do, and if I have to pull out my machete and hack my own way through the wilderness, so be it.

Island Magic goes on sale tomorrow. Don’t forget to buy your copy of my seventh self-published book.

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Island Magic: Let it go…unless it’s a misplaced comma.

commaThis is the story of how a misplaced comma very nearly brought down all my plans to publish Island Magic on time. Okay, maybe not really, but it did cause a very frustrating morning for me.

I spotted the comma in one of my “extra” rounds of editing. I call them “extra editing” but I don’t really have a name for them. It’s what I do when I’ve finished all the other rounds and want to spend a few minutes re-reading and admiring what I’ve done. “Patting myself on the back” doesn’t sound as good as extra editing.

And what I definitely do not expect is to find a mistake. A glaring error. An imperfection in the form of a tiny, itsy bitsy punctuation mark…a misplaced comma.

THE misplaced comma.

I knew immediately where this comma came from. It was stuck in the middle of a sentence between the subject and verb. How on earth did I do that? In no realm of alternate punctuation would I ever think a comma belonged in that spot. But in this particular instance, it was a sentence I’d rewritten on my last pass through the document. I rewrote the sentence because it struck me on that last pass as being too long and complicated. I deleted a clause, but somehow I neglected to delete one of the commas that went with it.

But what to do about this comma? I could leave it. Everything else in my document was perfect. At least as far as I’d seen. But I knew that comma would haunt me. I couldn’t let it go.

So I opened up the document and fixed it. Then I downloaded the fixed file to Createspace and KDP.

That’s when I noticed a mysterious tab had appeared on the left side of most of my document. Where it came from I didn’t know, but it definitely threw off my page count. Which threw off my cover. The tab had to go. Unfortunately, not only was it a mysterious tab, it was also a stubborn one. No matter what I did, it remained.

And then, as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared. Taking with it all of my formatting. Line spacing, first paragraph indent and all chapter headings and scene break indicators (you know: ****).

During the course of the morning as I fixed the missing and messed up formatting, I cursed myself for ever touching that comma. Really. It was like a zit on your nose that you squeeze and make a big red mark instead. About fifty percent of my readers would never have even noticed that comma zit and forty-five percent of the others wouldn’t have cared. I can only think of a couple who’d ever have mentioned it to me.

I’m not really certain what my take away from all this was. I’m not the type to ignore little zits, even if messing with them causes bigger problems. But the end result, I hope, of striving for excellence is at least a step closer to it.

What about you? Do you let the little mistakes go or are you willing to cause bigger problems to fix them?

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