Just wanted to drop a line to my long-waiting readers over here. It’s been a long while since I’ve updated, but I’ve been busy! My debut novel just released, and while it’s not 100% steampunk, it’s got steampunk elements. I wrote it in 2008, and mentioned it quite a few times during the process, some might remember — it’s called Pilgrim of the Sky and the gorgeous artwork is done by none other than the immensely talented (and lovely, if I may say so myself) Brigid Ashwood.

You can purchase the novel at the Candlemark & Gleam Website, at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble.

From Library Journal:
Maddie Angler’s lover, the brilliant and eccentric graduate student Alvin Roth, has disappeared and is presumed dead. Instead of moving on with her life, Maddie travels to Boston with Alvin’s socially challenged younger brother, Randy, to deliver a box of research papers to Alvin’s adviser, Dr. Keats. This simple action propels her into a parallel universe where she discovers through encounters with a more gregarious Randy that Alvin is not only alive but that he has discovered the secret of multidimensional travel and grown dangerously powerful.

VERDICT
Steampunk meets goddess worship in this unusual and highly original story of loves that cross the borders of time and space. Exploring the concept of multiple universes and the social, artistic, scientific, and religious differences among them, Barron’s debut is an sf adventure that mixes high action with exquisitely detailed depictions of everyday existence in these alternate worlds.

From The Steampunk Chronicle: (full review)
“Natania Barron’s first book, “Pilgrim of the Sky” from Candlemark & Gleam publishing is magical romp between worlds mundane, affluent, spectacular, primitive, and then back again.  This is a work of romantic Steampunk fiction where faces and bodies can be switched almost as quickly as fortunes and loyalties.  Behind those faces and – as she learns – behind Maddie’s own face, lie enormous power that brings the various worlds into great peril if she cannot solve the mystery of her beloved Alvin’s machinations and decide which allies she will draw close and which enemies she must draw closer.”

From Stories of My Life: (full review)
“Maddie is one of the best heroines I’ve read about. Or perhaps I should say she’s one of the best written: Natania Barron manages to take us to the deep pits of anodine life and near-depression at the beginning, when she thinks her old boyfriend is dead. She manages to confuse us with her feelings regarding the “special” brother of said boyfriend, with whom she’s forged a bond that, at times, feels uncomfortably close to love.

“Then, she blends it perfectly into the misgivings of a whole new reality, a place where she doesn’t know who to trust and where faces, familiar and alien alike, haunt her from a past that only at times belongs to her. In this world, Maddie makes mistakes and amends, and her change towards heroine begins.”

From So Many Books, So Little Time: (full review)
“Pilgrim of the Sky is a trip through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole for a new audience of readers. It is a ethereal mirage of splintered gods, improbable magic, and the threads of humanity that weave us all together. Above all it is a story about love, in each of its aspects and all of its possibilities.”

You can also check out the Goodreads page for the book, where apparently the trend is to ask for a sequel. 🙂

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medievalscribe1You know, words matter. Sure, it’s good to see you’ve written quantity. But, honestly, I think many people working on NaNo take the whole word count thing a little too seriously, and I think it freaks some people out. 50K is a valiant goal, but it’s not quite long enough for most genres to be considered a whole novel, and it’s especially hard to do in November. I mean, November? Really? That pretty much eliminates anyone working in retail, or anyone with a family. I know this week will be extremely challenging through Thanksgiving…

At any rate, I’ve been approaching my word count with caution. Because, let’s face it: I’m not exactly a novel newbie. Sure, I’m not published. But I’ve written books before, in spite of school, and having babies, and working. I get that part. So I don’t want to just write for the sake of writing. It’s got to mean something to me; it’s got be good.

So, this morning I opened up Scrivener and took a look at the word glut from last night. I never went over it; I just fell asleep, completely mentally spent. I wasn’t expecting much, because the green-tea fueled write-a-thon from last evening really is an anomaly. I’ve never written that much that fast before.

Funny thing is, it’s actually some of the best writing in the novel to date, shocked as I am to admit that. Don’t know what sort of sweet spot I hit, or what kind of stars aligned but for someone, like me, who is insanely (and I mean, without reason or sanity) critical of her writing, I found very little to complain about. The scenes were vivid, the descriptions clear, the dialogue particularly strong (even when I interspersed the dialogue in Maddie’s head with the actual, talking conversations… writing dialogue when two women share one body… is a challenge).

Anyway, in the next few days I have to eke out 10K. It won’t finish the book, but it’ll finish NaNo. I’m a bit torn as to what to do when NaNo is over, because I know Pilgrim of the Sky is much more marketable than AGC is in its current state. So I might write a bit more while it’s fresh on my mind, finish the draft, and then set it aside to work on AGC until I can go back and edit again. I don’t want to lose the moment, in other words.

As I’ve read some recent postings of people on NaNo boards saying everything from “How can I even write 20K” to “I’m writing 200K because 50K is not a challenge” consider one of my favorite quotes from Mr. Shakespeare: “When words are scarce they are rarely spent in vain.” Don’t just write for writing’s sake if you can help it. Tell your story, and tell it as best as you can. Make the words count; don’t just count words.

But, consider this, too. Discipline is important. The ACT of writing is just as essential as the word count; that’s what I think NaNoWriMo is so good at demonstrating. It helps aspiring writers get a window into a life where writing is what you do; it’s what you do every moment when life allows. When you don’t have a typewriter or a pencil, you do it in your head. You dream it, you sing it. You are the story. But great stories don’t materialize, or at least rarely do they, in unpracticed people.

In the excellent words of Mr. Ray Bradbury (I figured someone said it better than me, and I was right.)

It simply follows that quantity produces quality. Only if you do a lot will you ever be any good. If you do very little, you‘ll never have quality of idea or quality of output. The excitement and creativity comes from a whole lot of doing; hoping you‘ll suddenly be struck by lightning. If you only write a few things, you‘re doomed. The history of literature is the history of prolific people. I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That’s three or four hundred thousand words a year. Most of that will be bilge, but the rest … It will save your life!

Yeah, so I’ve been working to a major deficit the last week for NaNoWriMo. Life has been… complex. I knew, when I sat down this evening, that I was going to have to do something. Either I was going to keep going, or I was going to quit. Because, let’s face it, that’s the only options you get.

And apparently I am not a quitter. Somehow, in the last few hours, I’ve squeezed 7K out of my brain. Weird stuff happened, not sure I’ll keep it all but… huh. Well, there you go. Not so behind any more. I can totally write 10K by the end of the week.

So, yeah. I feel like hurling a little, and my wrists just might fall off. But there you go. I guess I can still surprise my own self sometimes.

Woo. *snore*

Apologies for the scarcity as of late. NaNoWriMo really is taking every effort from me, trying to maintain the word count. I’m just barely on target, hovering somewhere around 32K at the moment. Hoping to make up for lost time this weekend, where my husband won’t be away!

Anyway, a little snippet in the mean time, from Pilgrim of the Sky.

They had now arrived by the Roth’s black carriage; the single golden wheel at the front had been recently cleaned by one of Mrs. Hildebrandt’s servants, and it stood gleaming in the chilly winter light. It was striking in its simplicity, that simple circle, and she stared at it a moment in wonder before letting Randall help her into the carriage. She nestled into her seat, pulling her stole around her shoulders.

“I’ll be happy to take you by home,” said Randall, swooping up beside her, and closing the door in one swift movement. He did move well, she thought. So unlike Randy, so deliberate—almost as if he’d had instruction as a dancer. “But would you permit me just one detour? It’s something I think you’d find fascinating—I know your love of cathedrals, and well, we have our own. It’s called the Church of the Weeping Lady, and it takes up nearly two entire blocks downtown. You can see some of the domes and spirals from here.”

“Oh?” said Maddie. She felt Matilda there, suddenly, like someone peeking over her shoulder, except from within her. A very strange feeling. But she just shuddered and clenched her teeth, waiting. No, Matilda wasn’t saying anything at the moment. Maddie had the sudden impression that she was just listening, waiting.

“It’s the gem of our city,” he continued. “Designed by William Morris himself, if you’ll believe it.”

“William Morris? As in–he’s got some art there, or–”

“No, he was the chief architect. Every detail is his; every inspired detail.”

“And here I had him pegged as one of those Pre-Raphaelite socialist sorts with thoughts bent on saving the world one hand-pressed tile at a time,” Maddie said, thinking herself quite clever for the near mini-lecture she’d delivered in the space of a sentence. “Didn’t think he’d have undertaken a whole church.”

Randall nodded, “Indeed, that’s Morris in your world. In this world, he was one of the most devoted Marian priests—and his talent, well, I say it flourished here even greater than it did in your time. There is a certain indelible well of inspiration for some, when it comes to the Great Mother.”

“Great Mother,” said Maddie. “You sound like a neo-pagan.”

He shrugged. “Not much of a difference, in some things, I suppose.”

As I mentioned before, my NaNoWriMo project is more alternate history steampunk than fantasy steampunk, though there are certainly elements of the latter there as well. As such, the process has been quite different as far as writing and research is concerned. Thankfully Wikipedia exists, because I don’t know what I’d be able to manage otherwise.

The trouble I run into, though, is with the exposition. I know the reader knows, or can easily find out, what a general history of the Western World is comprised of. I know that Boston itself is a well of history, as well. But what to find, what to change? What’s too much, what’s not enough? And, most importantly, how do I show that to the reader?

Because the story is told through the point of view of a person from our world, Maddie, I can get away with a certain amount of observation. She’s an art historian, which I thought was a different way to go about decoding history; she can literally see what’s happened in the way the art of the alternate world has evolved. Art history was the subject I would have gone into had I not stuck with English, mostly for the reason that I believe art tells as many stories as the written word–just with a brush instead of a pen (or a chisel, or whatnot, right?). And as far as steampunk is concerned, the artistic element is just tremendous.

Other issues include advanced 19th century technology. Technically the year is the same in both worlds, except that the world Maddie finds herself in hasn’t progressed further than the late Victorian, in some ways, as far as fashion, design, and general technology. But the technology is perfected in a way the Victorian period never saw. And unfortunately, the technology aspect is always where I go a little wonky. I want to describe things, but my mind is not that of an engineers (hey, I just learned how to change my oil). I can see the object, but I can’t describe it. I know about Stirling engines, steam-powered airplanes, and the like. It’s just putting it into practice that’s difficult.

So, suffice it to say, since the point of NaNoWriMo is not to sit and research for thousands of hours and then write a few words, I’m leaving intentional gaps in the narrative, concentrating very strongly on dialogue rather than description. In some ways, I expect that’ll leave me more work to do later (whenever I have a chance to get back to it, that is! November is tough enough to devote time away from AGC!).

My top 5 favorite things about my alternate Boston:

  • The Church of the Weeping Mary – a gargantuan cathedral dedicated to the Mother of God (the vast majority of the population are, in fact, Marians) that spans two city blocks, has six domes, and might look a little like something out of “Kubla Kahn”. It was designed by William Morris.
  • The Reveres. The silversmithing family is still doing what Paul started in the 18th century, and their beautiful work can be found all over the city.
  • Beacon Hill District – Although Beacon Hill was excavated in our world, it was not in this world. It is now home to the bourgeois class, who live in expansive homes with rather lovely views.
  • The air mansions. Nothing says you have too much money like your own floating castle. Flammable? Yes. But some things are worth the risk. Right. Right?
  • Dragons? What?

Day one of NaNoWriMo has come to a close, and I’m tentatively upbeat. I clocked in at over 4K yesterday, just clacking away and willing myself not to go back, not to edit, just to write, just to tell the story. It’s been admittedly challenging, moving from novel editing mode back to novel writing mode, and trying to stop being so self-critical.

The biggest challenge at the moment? I’m all about plot and not about character. I’m already having a hard time getting “into” Maddie, which is ironic as I’m moving from a multi-POV to a single-POV. You’d think it’d be easier getting back. But character development is slower in these situations, and rather than tell everything, I’m trying to show. And show more slowly.

It’s an odd place to be in, truth be told, as the characters are usually what drive my writing. Although the 4K is far and beyond what I expected for the first day, it’s still with tentative enthusiasm that I temper my success. Word count is never my problem, it’s motivation. It’s keeping going. It’s sustaining. I think people concentrate so much on word count with NaNo that sometimes they forget the other, and to me the most important, lesson. It’s about keeping it going. It’s about learning to apply the frenzied writing of November later on in the year, next month, two years down the road, whatever. I know from painful experience that you can have 50K if you want it, but sometimes it’s not the right 50K. Sometimes only 20K is good, or none of it is good, or all of it is good. Sometimes 50K is just the beginning…