For the past two months, I’ve participated in Christine Smith’s Know the Novel Link-Up, which focuses on giving an overview of the novel I’m currently working on. You can find the first two posts for this link-up here, and here.
This month, with NaNoWriMo being over, the focus is on the writing journey, and how the story has turned out. Now, I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year, and I wrote the first draft of Cabin Girl three years ago, but I’ve still enjoyed looking back and seeing how far the story’s come since then!
With that in mind, I’ll mostly be answering these questions about when I was first writing the rough draft, with some comparisons between my process then and now. I hope you enjoy this third glimpse into Cabin Girl!
Now on to the questions…
How did writing this novel go all around?
All around, writing Cabin Girl went pretty well. There were learning curves, certainly, and several chapters stalled me for a while. But thankfully, even when I ran into snags, they were never anything a bit of time, thought, and acting out those troublesome scenes couldn’t help. I discovered through this that I’m a verbal processor when it comes to my stories. When I’m stuck, it helps to voice the issues out loud, even if it’s just to myself. The simple act of explaining usually causes things to click.
So although there has been a lot of polishing and rewriting needed, the initial rough draft didn’t give me too much trouble. I mostly enjoyed it, and had fun getting to watch as the characters took over the story. For me, one of the best feelings is when the characters feel so real that they end up dictating many – if not all – of the story events. It may not be this way for everyone, but as a character-driven author myself, it makes me happy, haha.
Did it turn out like you expected or completely different? And how do you feel about the outcome?
Because the climax was the first scene to come to my mind for Cabin Girl, everything major stemmed backward from there and ended up about like I expected. There weren’t any revolutionary changes to the theme or plot structure, or anything major like that.
That said, while the major stuff stayed true, I let myself go off plan for a lot of the more minor moments, and really enjoyed it! I ended up with some surprising characters (and their fates . . .) and disasters that have thankfully gone over well with readers too. Overall, at this point, I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out. Not that it’s perfect, but it’s a lot better than it started!
What aspect of the story did you love writing about the most? (Characters, plot, setting, prose, etc.)
The characters, for sure. That’s usually the case for me, but this story in particular features a very diverse and, I think, memorable cast, so I really enjoyed watching them all come to life and tell their stories. There were plenty of times when I had an idea for where the chapter would go, but it just didn’t feel natural, so it was fun to follow the characters instead and see where they took me. I never regretted it! In fact, those are still my favorite chapters.
Also, the setting was pretty fun. I grew up playing ‘pirate’ with my siblings, and enjoying pirate stories, so getting to write about them – even if they’re not the classic, treasure-hunting pirates – was a really cool opportunity. It also stretched me to find ways to introduce conflict and tension when most the characters are in the same place for at least half the book.
How about your least favorite part?
Description, for sure. Writing description or smooth, clear prose has never come easily to me. I always feel like I overanalyze everything and gravitate toward extremes; either very poetic and flowy, or sparse and blunt. Finding a good balance and a compelling narrative voice for Éirinn has been a challenge, and actually the main reason it’s taken me so long to publish. It just hasn’t felt quite right. However, I did recently make a breakthrough with her narrative voice, so I’m super excited about that!
Also, editing is never my favorite. Rewrites are fine for me, but once I get to edits, I run out of steam very quickly. Admittedly, I have a pretty short attention span sometimes, so I think it’s partially the fact that I have to read my stories about a bazillion times that I’m not fond of. Even your own stories – ones you’re very attached to – can get mind-numbing after having them in your brain for months straight. Or maybe that’s just me.
What do you feel like needs the most work?
Again, the description and narrative voice. Also, this isn’t really an issue any more, but after the first draft was finished, plot holes were a huge issue. I’d forgotten to tie up some big loose ends, and I’d filled quite a few chapters with stereotypical ‘pirate-y’ events that actually just came across as cheesy. Turns out it’s a good idea to actually thoroughly research the historical setting you’re trying to set your story in. Lesson learned!
How do you feel about your characters now? Who’s your favorite? Least favorite? Anyone surprise you? Give us all the details!
Like I mentioned above, I love them. My favorite would be the enigmatic and thunderous Captain Gills. Though he’s pretty much the exact opposite of me in every personality type possible, he was super easy to right, and was the character that seemed to leap off the page the most. From the start, he pretty much determined what his moves were going to be, without me seeming to decide anything. And it’s just like him to shove even his author around.
My least favorite . . . is tricky, because I really do like this character as a character. Just not as a person. I’m not going to give a name right now, because spoilers, but his behavior was unacceptable. Two other characters definitely did surprise me – one by dying right away, and one by becoming a major part of the story, even though neither character were originally in my outlines at all. Again, I’d rather not give spoilers just yet.
What’s your next plan of action with this novel?
Back when I first finished the rough draft, in June of 2019, my next steps were to polish it just a bit before submitting it to a contest in August. It was a busy couple of months so I didn’t get much editing done, and needless to say, the plot-hole-riddled rough draft didn’t make it far at all in the contest. So I set it aside, discouraged, for a few months and came back to rewrite it in 2020 with pages full of research and outlines. It’s come a very long way!
Which leads us into my current plan of action with Cabin Girl, which is to publish it in ebook and paperback format in 2022! I’m in the final stretches, but there’s still those tricky last edits to do, as well as a bunch of the actual publishing details. If you’ve been following my journey with this book, you know that my original intention was to publish it this year. But thanks to an explosion of unexpected events and a full work schedule, here we are. Slow and steady wins the race, haha.
If you could have your greatest dream realized for this novel, what would it be?
If I’m dreaming big, my greatest dream would honestly be to see this novel adapted into a movie one day. That’s beyond unlikely to ever happen, but hey, I can imagine it, right? I think the mix of pirate-y action and character-driven suspense might carry over to the screen pretty well. Of course, there’s not much market for this kind of story in the movie-making world right now, but oh well. It’s cool to think about anyway.
Other than that, I would definitely like to publish Cabin Girl, and thankfully that’s in the plans! Even though The Toymaker’s Doll will technically be my first published story, it’s only going to be in ebook format for now, so I’m extremely excited to have a paperback of a book that I’ve written within the next few months. That will be a long-standing dream come true!
Share some of your favorite snippets!
Alright, well, my favorite snippets contain huge spoilers, so I’ll just settle for some hopefully intriguing ones that don’t give away too many details, haha.
From chapter 1:
Halfway down the hill, separated from the beach by a shallow slope, our weather-beaten cabin perches. Moss covers the log walls, and the flattened path of path of grass I follow leads to our door.
Ciara runs to meet me, her raven hair blowing behind her. “Éirinn!” Her voice breaks, shrill and trembling. “Éirinn, she’s gone.”
Oh please, not now. I rush toward Ciara, a chill prickling my skin. “Where?”
My sister shakes her head, choking back a sob.
“Ciara,” I say, fighting to keep my voice calm. “Where did she go?”
Ciara struggles to speak. “I thought she’d be fine—I was going to surprise you—” She holds up a shaking hand of yellow wildflowers. “The door was open—and she’s been calling Papa.”
My stomach lurches. “Ciara, go back inside.”
“It’ll be okay, I promise.” With a squeeze of her shoulders, I nudge her toward our cabin. “Wait inside—please.”
Ciara looks back at me, dragging her feet. Biting her lip, she hugs her arms to her chest and trudges down the path again.
I stumble down the hill, hurrying to the water—and the form standing in it. “Mama!”
From Chapter 8:
I look up at the pirates, craning my neck. “He’s secure! Pull him up!”
Turning to the pirates at his side, Scully gestures behind him, and the pirates disappear from view. Han lifts, his chest rising out of the water. I swim out of the way of his legs, and the rope continues to pull upward, raising Han higher with every jerk.
The sun’s rays drop lower, casting the water with a dark hue. I float, shivering and waiting for Han to reach above deck—in case the knot unties or the rope breaks, and he falls again. I bite my lip, and the metallic taste of blood sours my mouth. I wipe the sticky liquid off my face and into the water.
Han reaches the railing, and the pirates grip his arms and haul him back over it, onto the deck.
Wait. Didn’t the pirates say something about—
“Éirinn!” Peering down at me, Scully gestures to the ladder on the side of The Eye. “Use the—”
A pirate shouts, his words garbled by distance. He motions into the water, behind me, and I glance in the direction he points.
A shark fin rises out of the foam and glides toward me.
My lungs freeze.
“The ladder!” Scully’s voice is breathless. “Éirinn, use the ladder!”
Forcing my stiff limbs to move, I kick toward the ladder. My fingers brush the highest rung I can reach, and I grasp it and pull myself out of the water. My sopping clothes cling to me, weighing me down. I struggle to step up a rung and glance back.
The shark speeds toward me.
Ice surges through my veins. My feet slip, and I clutch the ladder tighter, my knuckles white.
A splash sounds behind me.
From Chapter 11:
The Captain sets his jaw. Whirling around, he strides back to the towering store of barrels and crates and reappears a moment later with a stack of tinderboxes. He turns one over, spilling its hot coals onto a pile of sails against the wall. He repeats the movement with the second, and the third.
I struggle to find words. “What are you doing?”
The Captain buries the coals in the rags. The edges of the cloth curl, darkening with the heat.
“He’s a disgrace.” The Captain’s voice lowers to a growl. He empties the last tinderbox onto the rags and crouches next to them. “I will not allow that swine to use my ship—my ship—as transport for someone else’s filthy fancies. I’d rather she be at the bottom of the ocean than in that slimy sea-snake’s hands.” He blows on the glowing fabric. A tiny flame licks out of the cloth, spreading across the surface.
The Captain stands, and steps back to observe the fire. “When it reaches the magazine, they’ll be sorry.”
My chest tightens. How is it possible to feel pride and terror at the same time?
Did you glean any new writing and/or life lessons from writing this novel?
Well, as I mentioned above, I learned some helpful ways to process parts of the story that I’m stuck on. It was also my first full novel written in first-person POV, so that was a great learning experience. Initially it was in first-person past tense, but now it’s in first-person present tense (which I honestly like better for this particular story). Cabin Girl had a lot of firsts for me, actually. First historical fiction, first pirate story, first ‘novel’ over 50,000 words, first time writing in first person, and first of my novels with an openly Christian character.
In addition, perhaps the most encouraging lesson was finding out that, yes, I can write a full-length novel on a deadline, and end up with something that’s not completely horrible. Before Cabin Girl, I’d only managed a couple of novels that took me years of writing and second-guessing, and at least twenty starts for other books. Consistency and the ability to stick with one project long enough to finish it have never come naturally to me, so finishing Cabin Girl in six months was a huge milestone for me. And that encouragement came in handy last year, as I wrote the prequel (about 65,000 words) in one month for NaNoWriMo!
Well, that wraps up this awesome linkup! Thanks, Christine, for hosting it, and thank YOU for joining me! I hope you enjoyed reading through my rambling insights on Cabin Girl as much as I enjoyed sharing them. Have any questions, or did anything stick out to you? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to know your thoughts!
Did you attempt NaNo this year, or have you been writing lately? I always enjoy hearing about other people’s projects, so feel free to gush about your special novel as much as you’d like in the comments!