Witches and Mermaids and Bears, Oh my!

I’m almost caught up with my musings about last year’s art — just this one more post about my brief foray into doing Witchtober and then it’s on to more current projects.

So. A lot happened in October. I started out with high intentions (as always!) of doing Witchtober, a grassroots art challenge in which a lot of people have generated their own lists and shared them on their social media. I found a list I liked, by an artist whose instagram handle is @rit.aria, and settled down to spend a month in a cozy, autumnal, Halloween-y mood.

Oddly, though I was doing it as an alternative to Inktober (which I have done for years), and had intended to do a variety of mediums, I found myself defaulting to the simplicity of ink, with the idea of maybe watercolouring it later. Must be something in the air at that time of year!

I was happily going along to my studio every day, drawing all kinds of witches in my sketchbook, when all kinds of exciting things started happening. The first was that I had my first interview with a surgeon to get me in line for knee replacements (yup, both of ’em, though not at once). I’m going to be bionic! Well, even more bionic, as I’ve got totally cool bionic eyes now, as long-time readers may recall from a previous post. As of this writing I still don’t have a date (things are very slowed down because of the pandemic), but I have hope now of someday being able to walk properly again, and that is a big thing. Anyway, I got so excited that I missed a couple of days of witches, though my journal says at that point I was still resolving to catch up.

A few days later, though, I was chatting with a friend on Facebook, and she mentioned that she had an upcoming writers’ retreat. Her description was idyllic; a dozen writers in a rustic log lodge outside of Port Alberni (Vancouver Island, a couple hours drive for me), nothing to do all week but write and enjoy nature (and cook your own food, which suited me fine). I wistfully said that I wished I could do that, and if they ever had any space at future ones, I’d love to go. She said, “oh, I’ve got an extra bed in my room, wanna come?” and I just about dropped my computer trying to type “YES!”. Plans to finish Witchtober got put on hold…

… and I started into a flurry of preparation. First on the list was to re-read my languishing manuscript of Mermaid Music — the novel, not the webcomic. I had put the webcomic on hold several years ago, as I realized the story was much bigger than I’d ever likely finish as a graphic novel (I was a hundred or so pages into it, and knew I was only maybe a quarter of the way into the plot), and even if I did, I needed to know where that story was going. So I set out to novelize what I had written so far.

In November 2018, I decided to do NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which a lot of my writer friends have done, and I’d often thought about trying it. I started rewriting the webcomic in prose, which got me kind of warmed up, and was way more fun than I anticipated. Then I started into unknown territory, and found out that writing it was absolutely thrilling! It not only took the entire month of November, but all of December and a good part of January before I got stuck and put it aside to think about where it was going next. I was at well over 100,000 words, and figured I was only about 2/3 of the way through the plot, 3/4 at most.

Coincidentally, the same person who invited me to the retreat had also given me huge encouragement for this project, so I deemed it fitting to resume the unfinished manuscript at the retreat in October. So I got down to work reading what I had already written, prepared to cringe a lot and edit mercilessly. And got a surprise. What I had already written, I still found pleasing, and there had been enough time elapsed that I had some distance, and, I hoped, objectivity. There was a little bit of tweaking, but I tend to polish as I go, so not very much. Of course, no one else has seen it yet, so I don’t know how it’s going to stand up to other eyes, but it seemed enough to be going on with.

The next week or so was spent in a flurry of preparation. I hadn’t been anywhere on an overnight in at least a couple of years so I was feeling a bit rusty. But anticipation of a trip is half the fun for me, so when I wasn’t reviewing the manuscript, I indulged in lists, shopping for food and even clothes (I never shop for clothes on purpose!), and zillions of emails with my friend. No chance now of finishing Witchtober, but I forgave myself — this was much more exciting!

Finally the day arrived. I said goodbye to my husband and the cats, and trundled up the Island Highway singing along at the top of my lungs to some of my favourite CDs. There’s a freedom to being on the road alone, even for a little trip like this, and I haven’t had enough of it lately. I had left myself plenty of time, and stopped where and when I wanted to, and enjoyed such scenery as I could while keeping my eyes on the road (it’s a very scenic drive, even just looking ahead), and stopped in to visit friends on the way. Finally I arrived, and it was everything I could have wished for!

The autumn colours were as brilliant as they ever get hereabouts, the weather was fine, the folks were welcoming (they even formed a bucket brigade to take my gear inside!), the lodge was gorgeous. Our room was comfy, with a great view of the woods in back. And people were already writing — I thought I had brought a lot of gear, but some brought their desktop computers (I write on a laptop), printers, and even multiple monitors! As a total newbie to formal writing habits, I was awestruck, and really having that new-kid-on-the-block feeling. But the group took me right in, and made me feel at home. And I got to show my vaccination passport for the first time ever (we had all just gotten them, and were eager to see if the scan thing worked).

It was so nice to be out of the city, with all its distractions. The first day I went out for some exploration of the grounds, and was totally charmed by the tiny fairy landscapes on the rocks, the colours of the autumn leaves (and yes, I took a zillion pictures, but I’m not going to post them all here!), and the roaring river that was just… past… that… huge… muddy…puddle. So much for hanging out by the riverside. Oh well, I was there to write! Back inside!

And write I did. I averaged about 1500-2000 words a day, one day a whopping 4000 (which admittedly brought the average up a bit)! It’s a wonder my fingers didn’t fall off, but I was in the groove, and mere physical states of being were irrelevant (and really, my fingers were fine). About half the people were working in the common areas, one part of which is pictured above, and others were more solitary and worked in their rooms. Every evening we had a meeting to talk about what we had done for the day, report our triumphs and tribulations, and get feedback for knotty problems. And no, those are not my bottles of wine. But there was a happy hour every day.

There was wildlife; deer were frequent visitors during the day, and bunnies, and there was a hopeful, fat, black bear who came sniffing around every time someone cooked a steak or bacon in the kitchen. I didn’t manage to get a picture of him, alas, except for a black blur as he got spooked by excited writers rushing to the windows to take pictures!

The day after the retreat started, there was a huge storm that lasted for days. We all made sure we had extra water stashed, checked our flashlights, and kept on writing, counting it as a bonus that kept us from being distracted by all that beautiful nature out there. The electricity did go out a couple of times, but was back on quickly. The puddle in the backyard turned into a lake, and the ducks came to swim in the relative calmness of its waters. The river by this time was chomping at the edge of its banks and truly raging! By the time the storm had cleared, most of the colourful leaves were on the ground rather than the trees.

I went home feeling like a real writer. Many thanks to the WIP (work-in-progress) writers group of Vancouver Island! I hadn’t finished my novel, but kept working on it when I got home, and I’ve been poking away at it ever since. There’s another retreat in April, and I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m hoping to finish up the last bit of the novel by then and have it ready for beta readers, and have some short stories set in the same world I’d like to work on at the retreat, possibly as scripts for short comics.

In the meantime, it’s good to be back at this blogging stuff. If you’ve managed to read this far, thank you, and I hope you’ve enjoyed my 3-post recap of the past year. Stay tuned for the report on my January self-imposed challenge, which was to make art every day and actually try to sell it through my social media — exploring some new territory for me!

Ok, one more photo.

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