Saturday, January 19, 2013

Solomon’s Throne by Jennings Wright

I have been a writer my whole life, but I have only been a published writer, one who considers it her job, since July. There are a lot of reasons for this, the main one being that it wasn’t the right season of my life yet. We’ve homeschooled for 13 years, but I’ve only got one high school senior at home now. We own a business, and my workload there has ebbed over the years. So starting in the fall of 2011 it was time. I finally have time for creativity.

But there are things that I wish I’d known during all those years. I did try to write from time to time, and even when things were aligned perfectly to allow me the time to do it, I couldn’t seem to come up with a novel-length, cohesive story. I figured I wasn’t creative, and determined that, when the time came, I’d be a nonfiction writer. It wasn’t that my confidence in my ability to write was low; rather, I thought that my natural practicality wasn’t going to lead me down fictional paths.

The interesting thing about wishing I knew some things I know now is that I tried to learn them. I’ve read dozens of books on writing over the years. I’ve done classes with Writers Village University online. I’ve started novels, started screenplays, made notes, even broke out the index cards. Nothing much creative happened. I did a mental and emotional shrug and wrote it off.

So when I decided to try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November of 2011, it was really… crazy. I knew I could write at least 50,000 words, the minimum to win. I’d written a 50,000 word nonfiction book in May of that year. What I didn’t know, and certainly had no reason to believe, was that I could come up with a plot or characters. I certainly never had before! But I decided that I’d do it, so that at least I could say I tried; if it was terrible, no one ever had to see it. At least I could check “write a novel” off of my bucket list.

The way NaNoWriMo was originally structured, you weren’t supposed to start planning your novel until a week before. I didn’t know that had changed (there are people who start December 1 planning the next year’s novel!). I waited. I thought about what I wanted to write in general terms like genre, and narrowed it down to a treasure hunt, but that was all I knew until a week before the November 1 start date. And then revelation struck. The clouds parted and sunshine rained down. I had it!

What happened was this: every book on writing I’d ever read taught that you come up with your plot first. If not the plot, then an interesting main character. This was what I’d done all those years, and what had never worked. But because I decided to do a treasure hunt, and knew I had to have an historical backstory to lay the groundwork for it, I started by getting my copy of World History for Dummies out and flipping through it. I didn’t read much of the actual text; mostly I read the interesting and random facts in the gray boxes and the captions under the pictures. I wasn’t looking for people – I was looking for places. And it all clicked.

No one had ever told me that you could plan novels around an interesting location, but every novel and screenplay I’ve written since then has started that way. And when I start there and research places, then add a plot, and finally add my main characters, I get really interesting stories. Who knew? Certainly not me!

The other thing that has been revolutionary for me was also a NaNoWriMo revelation, and that is that, because I’m a project person by nature, writing an entire first draft in a month is the perfect way for me to write it. Now, when I say project person, what I mean is that I don’t just clean out the pantry. I empty it, demolish it, rebuild shelves, get fancy Rubbermaid containers, label everything, and get it back together in a day. I don’t tidy my office, I paint, rearrange, strip the shelves, go to Staples for cool organizing things, and buy new curtains. I do not do well at daily tasks. (I do two things every day almost without fail: brush my teeth and journal. That’s it!)

So, while doing NaNo in November 2011, I realized that I could hold the whole plot in my head. I could pound out 3000-6000 words a day in just two or three hours. And it was pretty good! (I was totally shocked when I went back and read Solomon’s Throne, since I do absolutely zero editing while I’m writing and never, ever go back and read anything other than the last paragraph.)

I honestly believe that, if I had to write 1000 words a day and no more, I’d never finish the book. My mind wanders, other things come up, I lose my research and my train of thought… If someone said I had to take a year to write a book, I’d start on the first day of the last month. It’s just how my brain works.

Which sums up what I learned:  just because some, or even most, people structure their writing life a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the right way for me. In fact, the “right” way was absolutely the wrong way, and had I not discovered both of these things, I’d still just be journaling every morning and reading a lot of other people’s books, planning my next how-to.
About Solomon’s Throne by Jennings Wright

An impenetrable safe is breached and a secret artifact is stolen. Containing information that could change the course of the world, its desperate owner sends Gideon Quinn, his head of security, and Gideon’s wife Rei, an art preservationist, to find it at any cost. What they discover is a clue to the lost throne of King Solomon, the real object of the theft. They are thrust out on an adventure that leads them halfway around the world. Following letters left by a Jesuit in 1681, they must weave through ancient sites along the Portuguese Spice Route, keeping ahead of a secret militant order that is determined to beat them to Solomon’s Throne.

Filled with fast paced action and having broad appeal, Solomon’s Throne is an ingenious treasure hunt adventure that sweeps the reader around the globe in a race against time.

 EXCERPT: present day story line

The path meandered side to side, made inexplicable turns, and seemed to be leading nowhere. Gideon had just about given up, thinking it must really be a game trail, when two small boys appeared on the path, walking in the opposite direction, with the ubiquitous yellow water jugs on their heads. Smiling shyly, they giggled as the muRungus passed by.
Bolstered by their appearance, Rei picked up her pace, and in five minutes they were in a small, four hut village. Old women sat at the doorways, tending small fires topped with cooking pots. Naked toddlers with beads around their waists played with rocks and sticks. One very elderly man was napping on a woven reed mat. When the Quinns walked into the center of the encampment, all but the sleeping man looked up in surprise.
Rei smiled and waved. The women nodded at her, but didn’t rise.
“English?” Rei asked.
The nearest woman shook her head. “Kwete.”
“Is that Swahili?” Gideon asked?
“I don’t think so. The people here are Shona… But I don’t speak Swahili anyway.”
Rei pantomimed driving a car. “Car?” she asked hopefully, although she didn’t see one, and there were obviously no roads. The woman shook her head again, starting to get amused.
“Airport?” Rei stuck her arms out and swooped around like a child playing at flying. The woman burst out laughing, hiding her mouth behind her hand.
Several of the toddlers came over to join in the game, and a young girl grabbed Gideon’s hand and watched solemnly. Rei stopped in front of Gideon and shrugged.
“I’m out of ideas.”
“You’re pretty good at charades, though,” he said.
“Funny. So what do we do now?”
Gideon took off the two backpacks and set them on the ground. “We wait, I guess. There aren’t any young men or women here now. Someone is bound to come back, maybe for that food they’re cooking. There must be at least one villager who speaks English - it’s the official language of the country!”
Rummaging through the pack, he brought out two bottles of water. Immediately they were swarmed by the children calling, “Chokunwa!” One of the old women had gotten to her feet and was trying to shush them. Laughing, Gideon handed her one of the bottles and tried to repeat the word.
“Chokunwa!” he said, and the woman laughed behind her hand again, her eyes crinkling.

Gideon and Rei rested for an hour on a reed mat given to them by the laughing woman. It was quiet and pleasant in the shade, and they were exhausted from their escape, so they dozed and chatted and tried to determine what to do next. Gideon knew that both Captain McMillan and the taxi driver would be concerned, the captain rather more than the driver, who would probably just shake his head at the crazy Americans. They had eluded the Congratio a Achalichus monks for the time being, but they still had to find a way to their plane, which was almost certainly being watched. Gideon had checked his phone and Rei’s, but they no longer had a signal. There wasn’t much to do but wait.
Finally, two young men walked into the village from the opposite direction of the trail that had led the Quinns there. Both had hoes over their shoulders, and they were talking and laughing as they came into the common area between the huts. When they spotted the muRungus they stopped and looked at the old woman, still sitting in the doorway. They conversed for minute or two, and then approached. Gideon and Rei stood up and nodded their heads in greeting.
“English?” Rei asked. One of the men nodded.
“Small English, from school.”
“We need to go to Masvingo. To town. Yes?” The young man consulted his friend.
“Masvingo far by walk. One day.” He held up a finger to make sure they understood.
“Does anyone have a car nearby?” Here Rei once again pantomimed driving, and the men laughed. Then they consulted again.
“Wife she work at hotel. Hotel have car. We go.”
Gideon and Rei both shook their heads, and the men looked confused, not sure if they had misunderstood the question.
“To town, not to hotel. Another way?” Rei asked hopefully. The men chatted for several minutes this time, one gesturing back towards the hotel, and the other to the north. Finally they seemed to reach a decision.
“Hurudza…farmer there.” He pointed to the north. “He have truck, many truck. We go.” He smiled. This time the Quinns both nodded agreement.
The young man said, “Shumba,” and pointed to himself. “I am Shumba.” Gideon and Rei introduced themselves, and gathered up their few belongings.
Shumba called to the grandmother in the doorway and said something, accompanied by arm waving towards the north. The woman smiled, without showing teeth, and waved at the Quinns.
“Oneka!” she called out.
“We go!” Shumba said happily, enjoying this change of pace.

Author Bio

Born and raised in Rockledge, Florida, Jennings spent her early years reading anything she could get her hands on, when she wasn't spending time in and on the water. She won a prize in the 6th grade for her science fiction stories.

Jennings attended the University of the South and the University of Tampa, graduating with a B.A. in Political Science, and almost enough credits for B.A.s in both English and History. She spent time over the years doing various kinds of script doctoring, business writing, editing, and teaching writing, but mostly having and raising her family, homeschooling her children, owning and running a business with her husband, and starting a non-profit to Uganda.

Thanks to a crazy idea called NaNoWriMo Jennings got back into creative writing in 2011 and hasn't stopped since. She's written four novels and a screenplay in less than a year, with more ideas on the drawing board. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, also a writer, and two children, and travels extensively.

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