Running away to join the circus
At least for NaNoWriMo this November
In Story Cauldron, I write about storytelling, share my fiction, and occasionally post updates about my own writing journey. Today I’ll be sharing what I’m working on this November.
It’s NaNoWriMo time!
Every November since 2013 I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and almost every year, I’ve drafted a new novel (I worked on existing projects a couple times, but that’s never as much fun). There’s something magical about entering a new world and meeting new characters for the very first time.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been deep in the world of my Favor Faeries series, writing the first book over the 3-day Novel weekend in 2020, the second over NaNo 2020, and the first half of book three last year. I’m actually a bit ashamed to say I’m a mere handful of chapters from finishing book 2, The Boy Who Can Taste Color, which I am serializing here for paid members. To be honest, I ran into some difficulty wrapping it up, and just before the end of October figured out the right ending.
But it’s been a very narrow focus for the past couple of years, and while I wouldn’t say I’m burned out, I definitely felt like I needed a break.
So just for November, I’m setting those projects aside—as well as my Substacks (with this one exception)—so I can work on a new project for a little while.
The new shiny thing
Since high school, I’ve been a big fan of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, she wrote a number of books, likely influenced by the novel Rebecca, featuring strong female protagonists, mysteries, and romance. In each book, the protagonist always travels to a new locale—be it the south of France or the Scottish coast—and these places flavor each story in unique ways. While there, she stumbles across a murder or other criminal activity. and has to figure out how to keep herself safe and who to trust among a small cast of characters—inevitably including a tall, dark, and handsome man lurking in the shadows.
For this year’s NaNo project, I’ve decided to try my hand at a story following Stewart’s basic principles, but also inverting many of the tropes. Rather than set my story in an exotic, picturesque locale, I’m setting it at a (very fictional) circus camp outside a little town along the Mississippi River in northern Missouri after a snowstorm.
And I am setting myself three challenges.
First, the story will have a much larger cast of characters than I’ve ever tried before—at the moment, there are 13 (it will be interesting to see if I keep them all by the end!). I’ve always struggled to clearly carve out individual characters, especially in early drafts, so this story will allow me to play with building larger-than-life personalities that stand out from one another and can’t be swapped around.
Second, I’m stepping out of my comfort zone big time, as far as genre is concerned. This book is romantic suspense/mystery—genres I haven’t tackled before. And significantly, there’s no magic here. In some ways, this makes things easier because I don’t have to invent rules for magic or do the level of worldbuilding I usually do, but having to maintain a sense of mystery throughout an entire story is going to be tough.
The final challenge is that I am trying to stick with the first-person point of view. Every novel I’ve written has been in the third-person (referring to the protagonist as he/she), so writing a story through the eyes of the protagonist is something new for me. (And so far I’ve written 12K words without abandoning first person, so maybe I can stick it out!)
Introducing In Cirque We Trust
In this new novel (working title; In Cirque We Trust), my protagonist, Josie Weaver has had a very traumatic personal experience that caused her to sink into a deep depression. Her sister sends her to a circus camp as a vacation, hoping the ridiculousness of it all will find her way back to herself.
Josie is a reluctant participant, but she goes along with it. During introductions she tells everyone she has trust issues. She then has to stick it out when a snowstorm prevents anyone from leaving, and an intentional power outage causes everyone to start questioning each other. As things continue to escalate, Josie and the others have to figure out who is behind all the acts of sabotage—and why. Most of all, Josie has to figure out who she can trust. Can she allow herself to fall for the handsome son of the circus owners, or is he the one trying to bring harm to the others?
I’m still working through a lot of the plot issues and the personalities of all of the characters. So far, I have about 12,000 words (of 50K) written, and I’ve just reached the moment where the characters discover the power outage wasn’t an accident. Right now, I think I know who’s guilty and why—but who knows? Honestly, that could change at any time. That’s the magic of NaNoWriMo.
I don’t know if this will turn out to be a full novel—or if I will ever finish the draft. But I’m hoping to learn something about genre and give my character-building skills a good workout.
What about my other books?
My plan is to write In Cirque We Trust in November, and then go back to my Favor Faeries books (as well as finish Hidden Moon, the long-overdue sequel to By Moonrise) in December and January. What I have discovered is that I’ve stalled out on longer projects because of a lack of skill and confidence with endings. And slowly but surely, I’m getting better at recognizing what needs to happen and pulling things together. So if you’ve been waiting for me to finish, I promise that’s on deck for this winter.
So let’s see how I do in November, and if I will be able to sharpen my skills enough to race through the final bits of my other works in progress. Fingers crossed!
Thanks as always for reading. Leave a comment if you’d like me to share an excerpt from this new project in a future post (I just wrote a scene I’m pretty proud of for a first draft).
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