Writer’s Cramp is the blog and site for B. Jenne’ Hall, writer, genius, and pathological optimist. She’s written her first book, is working on her second, and she’s trying to get published. Which from all accounts seems to be as approximately attainable as the gift of flight, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Entries in book 2 (11)


Delivery is everything

More research for Book 2 as I push through another difficult section. Lots to learn, lots of tiny decisions to make that will make or break the conclusion I want, so that it’s like trying to navigate a maze blindfolded.

But in researching The Battle of Carrhae, I learned about the Parthian Shot, which I am delighted to now know.

The Parthian Shot was an archery maneuver performed on horseback by the Parthians (who lived in part of what is now Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), wherein the archer, at a full gallop, turned his body back to shoot behind him at the pursuing enemy (usually as part of a faked retreat, to lure the enemy into a flanking trap). You may remember that scene in The Two Towers, when the Rohirrim raid the Uruk-hai camp in the middle of the night (when Merry and Pippin make their escape into Fanghorn Forest)…there’s a scene where one of the Rohirrim raiders gallops by, turning and firing on an Uruk behind him as he gallops past. (One of the coolest scenes in the movie, IMO.)

It takes considerable skill to perform this maneuver, both as a horse rider and an archer, as you would expect. The horse must be guided strictly by the thighs, since both hands are otherwise occupied, and of course you must be able to sight and shoot from a very unnatural position while in motion, very quickly. When the Parthians perfected this maneuver, they did it without the benefit of saddles or stirrups, as neither had yet been invented.

The “Parthian Shot” also became a metaphor for delivery of an insult as the speaker departs:

    “With which Parthian shot he walked away, leaving the two rivals open-mouthed behind him.”
    —Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1886)

We know it now as the “parting shot”.


My brain is partying in Ft. Lauderdale, apparently

I took today off from work for a writing holiday, so I’ve had the entire day to do nothing but work on Book 2. But I’ve had the worst time getting going. The conditions are right — a dedicated and inspirational writing space, reference books at my fingertips, perfect writing weather in the form of endless rain and misty clouds hanging low (weather we’ve been blessed with for going on 8 weeks now AND I LOVE IT), renewed excitement for new material, quiet cats, quiet house, mood music, at least moderate willpower in resisting the siren songs of internet distractions and game apps on my phone, and no major work catastrophes gnawing at me. (Well, we’re out of milk so I’m not able to fill my very fabulous mug with endless cups of expensive hot chocolate, but I can hardly use that as justification for not writing.)

Yet here I sit, very little written and more than half the day gone already. Assuming, of course, that my day ends at its usual time. What’s more likely is that I will be struck with inspiration later tonight and will end up writing into the wee hours. Because my brain is demented and juvenile — why write during normal daytime hours and ensure plenty of sleep when we can stay up all night like a drunken college freshman reveling in the lack of parental oversight to her own detriment? Clearly we must be OH HAI I AM A GROWNUP NOW AND I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT AND NO ONE CAN BOSS ME EVEN IF IT’S FOR MY OWN GOOD PARTY TIME WOOOOOOO.

Urgh. Self-discipline is part of being a grownup too, Brain. It’s not all late-night benders and eating cold pizza for breakfast just because you can.

Okay, back to it. Wish me (and my inner college freshman) luck.


*True story: when I moved into my first apartment, I loved to lean my chair back on two legs simply because I, like every kid, was constantly admonished by my mother not to because I’d lose my balance and fall backward. I’d be all, “Oooh, look at me, I’m leaning back in my chair and there’s no one to tell me to stop!”

…and then I lost my balance and fell backward. And 150 miles away, I have no doubt my mother was laughing her ass off.


A peek at what's to come

My characters live inside me, playing out their story like a movie on a screen that never stops. I dream of them all, and what is to become of them and the tale they have to tell. I’m excited about where the next installment of their story is taking them — and me and you, by extension — and excited to be immersed in their world as deeply as ever. Which means I’m currently thinking of…

…girls wielding swords and outsmarting nasty beasties and evil men who underestimate them. One who is growing into her destiny as the savior of the world, another who is free spirit and assassin both, and perhaps a reader of the future, too.

…warrior princes who know great works of poetry by heart and need a bit of rescuing from time to time. One a brooding son of royalty with a price on his head and a determination to thwart Fate itself, another whose country has not existed for three thousand years and who knows full well that Fate always wins in the end.

…a healer and a scholar whose gentle hands must learn the ways of the sword as he seeks the cure for a wound that even his skill cannot heal. He is blind, but must learn to see if he is to recognize the cure when it comes to him.

…a mother whose plotting and scheming to change the course of a nation’s history changes her far more than her kingdom’s destiny. Without even realizing it, what used to be important to her ceases to matter, and when she finally notices the change she’s undergone, she starts to understand that love is trickier than she ever imagined.

…a young beggar thief who steals a bag of apples and gets more than he ever bargained for in the process. It’s a big day, a day of firsts: his first bath, his first hot meal in an upscale inn, his first pair of boots…the same day he helps topple a tyrant and install a new ruler. And that’s all before bedtime.

Excited yet?


Making space

If you’ve been following my adventures on my regular blog, you know that my husband and I are planning to turn our guest room into a creative room in a few weeks, and that I’ve been as giddy as an untrained puppy about it. There’s a lot wrapped up in this room for me beyond the excitement of getting to do another project — and one that’s almost completely decorating, with little of that boring “preparation” nonsense — that is complicated and too personal to go into here. But suffice to say, my wheels have been spinning for a month or so since I decided I wanted to do this project. Or perhaps more correctly, the poor little hamsters that run my wheels have been spinning their poor little hamster hearts out.

I’ve been on a creative high for weeks now but haven’t written much, nor even edited much since my big push before and immediately after my pitch critique. Previously, that would have sent me into a negative feedback loop of anxiety, frustration, desperation, and shame; when I’m “normal”, I cannot function if I go for more than a few days without writing, so to not be writing for lengths of time makes me a basketcase.

Unfortunately, this last couple of years have been a series of long stretches of not-writing, and that hasn’t been a good thing. I’ve mentioned it before so I won’t go into it again here, but suffice to say, it’s been a real struggle to deal with not writing as a regular state of affairs for myself. And to secretly fear that it was going away. A writer’s worst fear.

But no, I can feel it there, waiting. I can feel that story percolating inside me like it always has, evolving and coalescing. Plot points, character developments, scenes and narratives and setting possibilities, oh my!

So when this sudden urge to do the creative room struck, I decided to let myself take this little intermission from that familiar writing flow that I’d been feeling during the editing/pitch process. To trust that it would still be there, waiting for me. Trust my instincts, trust that taking the time out to concentrate on the creative room, to enjoy all the excitement I get from thinking about it and planning it and making my vision a reality.

I’m happy to report that letting myself take this detour was the right thing. I’m so excited to get it done I can hardly contain myself! And in the meantime, I’ve been focusing on my other creative pursuits, namely collaging and art journaling. All that energy of waiting to start the creative room needed an outlet, and although it’ll be so much easier and more fun to collage and art journal in my creative room, I’m not holding off doing either of them until then, something my Practical Self probably would have. After all, not having a dedicated space for such activities didn’t stop me from doing them before I decided to do this makeover, so why should it stop me now? That’s my Creative Self giving my Practical Self the finger.

Soon, the creative room will be ready for me to create all the live long day (and night, knowing me). I’ll have a lovely space to write in, with a different view than I have now and a door I can shut while I’m tussling with a particularly thorny plot issue. (Or, more likely, getting myself out of a plot corner.) That same space can be used for playing with paints and making messes with glitter and scribbling angry screeds in red crayon across a crudely painted background. There’ll be space for my husband to create, too, and for us to spend entire Saturdays being arty together while we listen to our usual NPR Saturday schedule. Space, too, for my dear friends to do the same, and for us to make crazy art and laugh and exclaim about each others’ talents and become closer than ever.

I’m excited for what’s ahead once this room is done, and for the possibilities it holds for me and my writing. I’m not one to believe that you need everything just so before you can start writing — I wrote my first book in all kinds of places, and in all kinds of circumstances, whether they were conducive to writing or not — but it feels luxurious to have a space for it. It feels like a tremendous privilege, and one that I earned.


Progress, word count, and a sign that I may have a brain tumor

An extended weekend coast getaway and I have made some middling progress on Book 2. Gray skies and sea and a cozy cabin will do that to a girl, especially a writerly sort of girl, which I am. God bless the Oregon coast and all its inspirational glory.

Word count for today: 3,274

The day isn’t over yet — I expect I’ll be adding more tonight, after I’ve had a bit of supper — and I got a late start. But as word counts go, it’s pretty sad, considering I regularly bust out 10,000 words or more at a go when I’m more on my game. Unfortunately, I haven’t been on my game in quite some time, a state I don’t quite know what to do with, frankly, and I’m grateful at this point for any word count at all. I may in fact have to start regular word count posts as a means to keep the momentum, at least until I get this train back on track.

And speaking of trains, and tracks jumped thereof…three separate times today, I wrote “thrown” when I meant “throne”, and was in fact thinking “throne”. A simple mistake, you might think, but you would be wrong.

I’ve never had a problem with homonyms, homophones, or homographs, other than the occasional mistake caused by a momentary brain lapse. I have no trouble differentiating the correct usage of there/they’re/their, its/it’s, red/read/read/reed, nor even words that are not technically homonyms/phones/graphs, such as accept/except or insure/ensure. And in fact I have never really had a problem with these vagaries of our delightful language, though I certainly understand the confusion they cause others.

Never, that is, until recently. In the last few years, I’ve noticed an alarming problem that has me a bit freaked out. Have I suddenly begun confusing there/they’re/their, the bane of most English users? Do I now struggle with whether it’s it’s or its? Am I now conflicted about whether the word I want is accept or except? No, no, and no. Again, except for the occasional brain lapse, these give me no trouble.

But recently, I have found myself typing words that are different than the ones in my head, homophones that I’ve never before struggled with and in many cases, didn’t even think about as being homphones until I found myself typing the wrong word all of a sudden. Like today’s repeated use of “thrown” when I meant “throne”. It wouldn’t have been a homophone pair I ever would’ve thought of if I were listing them, and yet my brain made the connection and took it upon itself to order my fingers to make the substition. Even as I was typing the word, I was thinking “throne”, yet I typed “thrown”. And even after I was aware of it, I kept doing it.

It happens in blog posts, emails, texting, book writing…I’m doing it frequently, discovering homophones that never before occurred to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t recognize before that the word I’d intended had a homophone equivalent, but simply that they were never connected together for me before unless I was specifically trying to think of homophones. We’re not talking about common, everyday mix-ups here. And it’s happened to me so often now that I’ve lost track of all the different pairs that’ve popped up, and I’m constantly discovering new ones (thrown/throne is my new one today).

Other homophone mix-ups I’ve made since this whole problem began:  roil/royal, bawled/bald, sordid/sorted, brood/brewed, wrapped/rapt, nose/knows (this one happens to me often now), righting/writing(!), chews/choose, sewn/sown, rigger/rigor, praise/preys, coulee/coolly, wheeled/wield. Those are just the ones I can remember at this moment, far from a complete list.

It’s got me so freaked out that the day that I substituted “eyed” for “I’d”, I googled demon possession and brain tumor pathology. Because seriously! How is this not a sign of something being majorly frakked in my noggin?? My brain is melting together, you guys! The orderliness of my previously awesome cerebral cortex is breaking down into chaos!

I have an alternative theory that my synethesia is spreading…that in addition to my spatial-sequence synesthesia*, where my brain has made connections between the flow of time and the three-dimensional world, my brain is now forming connections between words that have similarities. This would be a far cooler explanation than a brain tumor, and it’s the only reason I haven’t fled to the nearest neurologist’s office for every expensive brain scan available.

Or it could just be that I’m getting old and losing a bit of my mental faculties. But I think I’ll stick with the synesthesia theory.


*(For those new to the show, yes, I have spatial-sequence synesthesia, which that link up there explains very succintly:  “In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).” My synethesia is strongest in relation to time, but I experience it with all number forms (hence the number form link). And that is the cool fact about me for today.)


Random Friday

Well, writing-related random, anyway.

First: porn for the book lover slash interior decorator in all of us. Or is that only me? No, porn is for everyone!

Second: if I had an agent like this, I would send her cookies made by Sal every week. (Seriously. If I got an acceptance letter from Agent Kristen, it would be almost as good as getting a letter of acceptance from a publisher.)

Have a great holiday weekend, everyone!



The story of my life these days. Work, life, and a different (almost finished) project have taken my time since I finished the synopsis, and I’m both okay and not okay with that. What can I say, I’m a complicated creature.

The other, almost finished project, will feel like a weight off my shoulders when it’s done, so in that sense, I’m glad to be focusing on that at the moment. But my preference is always to be writing, and the fact that I haven’t done any work on either Book 1 revisions or Book 2 writing is stressful to me.

And then there’s work, of course. Ever present work. Thankfultohaveajob, thankfultohaveajob, thankfultohaveajob. My mantra these days, like anyone else who’s employed. My job may not be my preferred way to spend my time, but it does make other things possible that I rather like — food, shelter, the occassional trip to the coast.

Sigh. It’s a juggling act, like anything else.


Book 2 and the impact of real life

Boy, Book 2 is not coming easy. I know where it begins and ends and have a pretty good idea of at least some of the plot points I want to cover in between. I have a clearer idea of the themes and character arcs than I did at this point in Book 1 (or for at least half of Book 1, for that matter). I’ve known the opening scenes of this book for almost 2 years now. And I now know these characters better than I know some of my real life friends and family.

So what the hell, Book 2?

Aside from the aforementioned opening scenes — which I wrote more than a year ago — and a pretty steamy (though not explicit) and intensely passionate scene that was the result of a fantastic brainstorming idea while I was at the coast around New Years’…I have very little to show of Book 2 at the moment. It’s not for lack of ideas, either, or knowing where it needs to go. Or excitement, for that matter. I don’t know what this is that has me kind of piddly-dinking around.

Writer’s Block? No, I don’t think so. I’ve had writer’s block before, and this doesn’t feel the same. I can feel the story in there, percolating, and hamsters that run the little wheels inside my brain are scurrying around as much as ever. Oh, I still have that undercurrent of panic that I imagine many writers experience when you don’t yet know exactly where the story is going and every little plot point and character evolution hasn’t been nailed down. But in general, I have a good grip on this story and what I want it to look like when I finish it.

I’ve alluded on here before to the impact of some real life stuff on my creative life, and though that real life stuff has been getting the attention it needs in order to keep me from wanting to rub soup in people’s hair, it’s still been interfering with my creative life. Time is always an issue, of course —  it’s always an issue for anyone who has to fit their writing life in the small gaps between a full-time job and a regular life — but more with my inner creative life. There’s a lot processing through my brain, and the last year has required a lot more brain power than usual. I’ve had to switch on the auxiliary power, so to speak.

I’m realizing now that it’s been obvious why I couldn’t get back into my writing groove. There just isn’t a lot of energy left for my creative spirit to draw from, and hasn’t been for awhile. Considering that creativity really draws a lot of power all on its own (since I’m apparently going with the whole power station metaphor here), the necessity of diverting some mental energy to other stuff has meant a blackout — or maybe a brownout — on the Creativity Power Grid.

What’s frustrating, however, is that it was the ability to retreat into writing that oftentimes gave me relief in the past from the same kinds of Life Stuff that’s intruded so much now. In the past, I would’ve used some of the power generated by the Creativity Power Grid to get through some of the energy shortages on the Life Power Grid. Except in this case, power’s being diverted away from the Creativity Power Grid, so it’s a problem that compounds itself.

Aaaaaand now that the power station analogy has been thoroughly beaten into the ground….

The point is, I’m not really where I want to be with Book 2 but as with most things in life, I don’t think there’s any shortcut around the hurdle that stands between me and making progress on Book 2. I’m going to have to actually clear that hurdle, or dismantle it. It’s frustrating, but journey, destination, yada yada. And maybe this is what I have to go through to make Book 2 (and 3) the stories they need to be.


Back home

The coast was fabulous. We had great stormy weather for three days, though it cleared up enough late Thursday evening (very light sprinkles, light wind) that we could head out to the beach to greet the New Year. There was fog and the moon peeked through enough to light up the waves a bit, the waves themselves were still pretty sizeable, and it was chilly but not miserable. Magical, in other words. And I needed that. Don’t we all?

Got some really great writing done, I’m so pleased to say. Some of it was story work, but the really exciting work I did was six pages on some very important ceremonies that will be integral to the plot of book 2, and the overall arc of the trilogy. I may end up writing that section very soon, even though it doesn’t come until the middle of the story, because I’m so energized by what I came up with.

Oh, to be at the coast more! So inspiring, and I can’t say enough about the therapeutic aspect of our very special routine of holing up in our little cabin with lots of food and blankets and watching great movies and not having to do much of anything. I love our little vacations so much, and they put me in such a writerly mood.

Though I suppose it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, and that if I could do it all the time, then the magic and inspiration would be gone. Rather dubious that it’s possible where the Oregon Coast is concerned, but I’ll concede that it is possible.


Writer's block, sort of

Still waiting for that kindling to catch fire. It’s not really writer’s block, but almost completely due a horrible stretch of months in which I’ve had absolutely no motivation to write. That it so completely foreign to me that it’s just as bad as the things I’ve been trying to deal with and process.

Writing is my outlet, it’s my refuge. Whether I’m writing on a current project or am inspired to start a new one, or even just writing in my journal, I honestly cannot remember a time since college that I wasn’t actively writing (college being a time when I had no time to eat, let alone anything else). I won’t say that I write every single day, because of course life happens. But writing — and this story that I hope to publish in particular — has been a part of my life every. single. day. Whether it’s working out plot or character issues while I’m driving (an excellent time to do brainstorming) or doing research or revising already-written chapters, or actually, you know, writing, I devote at least two hours every day to one or all of those tasks (what I collectively call writing). It’s not something I even have to make myself do, I just…do it. I can’t imagine not doing it.

Well now I can, of course. And not having that in my life as regularly and dependably as the rise and fall of the sun has only amplified the unsettling disconnectedness of this period I’ve been working my way through. I know I can’t force it, that for whatever reason, I have to go through this right now, in the way that it’s happening. But wow, do I feel like unequipped without that outlet as a copiing mechanism.

It’ll come back, I know. I don’t even have anxiety that it won’t, despite that brief panic mentioned int eh previous post. I think that knowledge is probably the only thing sustaining me through this strange period, otherwise…well, I hate to contemplate the alternative.

But in the meantime, I feel like the clock is ticking. The clock is one of my own making, of course, but it’s there. I have things I want to be doing, things I’d planned to be doing by now. I should be further along by now, should be querying at the very least, and have a nice solid start on the second book. I should have my synopsis finished, and…

…but I can’t continue that list or I really will freak out. Something, something is telling me to trust this feeling and let the rest come when it comes, to ignore that impatient tapping of the foot and the paranoid worry that all eyes are on me wondering, “when are you going to get moving on this already?”.

In good time, in good time. Trust in that.