Guest Blog Post | Sarah Lemon’s Inspiration for Done Dirt Cheap

Sarah Lemon has momentarily put down her motorcycle to talk to us about the journey that brought her to write her debut novel: Done Dirt Cheap.

Take it away Sarah!

Done Dirt Cheap Inspiration

Writing at times feels like a superpower, unwieldy in my hands, not something I’m fully in control of, but a power that lets me raise my fingers and pull fragments of my world together into something new and beautiful. I can point to shards of glinting glass in the whole and talk about how that piece came to be. Done Dirt Cheap came from many places in my life and history. But for today, I want to tell you how it almost never happened.

There’s an unspoken rule in Art: Don’t talk about how much you suck, your fear, or how tenuous it feels. Unless it’s in a self-deprecating show of humility as someone is handing you the Pulitzer.

It’s part of success—the sheen of it, like a rainbow slick of oil on water.

But I’m not always great with rules and clear water is better than oil.

Done Dirt Cheap only happened because of a lesson I had learned a long time ago, on the back of a monster dirt-bike, on which I couldn’t touch the ground even when I pointed my toes.

I was fourteen, living in a part of the world that was only valuable for its minerals. My landscape had been stripped, clawed at, dug under and left behind as garbage. Our groundwater was tainted. Our basements full of radiation. Our streams clogged with weird foams and slick spools of dark muck. We had dug too deep and a darkness hung over everything.

In the strip mines, I found a place I could breathe. In those raped and forgotten places I could string together forty or more miles of new life. The landscape would rise and fight with me, and together we wouldn’t be forgotten girl and forgotten land, but two things who were still alive and able to grasp at our fate. It brutalised me to make me. I was in every way, an average, bookish, fourteen-year-old girl with a fear so strong it came out as teeth. But out in the mines, I was free of that skin. I could fly. I could see a line and fight my way to the end. I could fall, pitch over the handlebars, run my bike up a tree, flip end over end and still stand, pick up the bike, and begin again. Just writing this, fifteen years later, I can still feel the pump in my arms from wrestling the dirt-bike on the thin threads of trails that wound around deep, sentient holes of green water, cone mountains of slag and silt, and grated air shafts leading into the abyss.

“Treskow” was a route we took often—named after the tiny old mining town it began in. We rode through the woods, along an old railroad bed with no tracks, before dropping down a slippery rock covered mountain into an uninhabited valley. I would drag my back brake the whole way down, my teeth chattering from the rocks. But the real challenge was at the end of the mud-holed valley. We always stopped and craned our necks at the steep switchback of the mountain ahead. It made me sick to look at it, every time. By that point, there was no way to get home and no way to give up. I wanted to be there, but hadn’t known how terrifying it was going to be. Every time.

When I started Done Dirt Cheap, that’s where I was – at the bottom of a giant switchback, too far from home and looking up at the power lines humming between transformers while everyone else sped ahead of me.

In those tenuous moments where you are balancing on the edge of failure, the natural desire is to hold back. You think “Oh I’ll go slow and easy and pick my way up.” But in slippy slag and miles of steep switchbacks, you simply will run out of power. Each switchback has to be hit hard and powered through, or you’ll never make it to the top. There is no easing through the terrain.  Manoeuvre swiftly or you’ll pitch over the edge. So, with this book, I was miles deep into publishing terrain. I had failed a lot. I had dragged my back brake down the mountain and even though, yes, I was out there, I was at the back of the crowd, wishing I was at home. Uncertain I could actually do this.

Looking ahead, I wanted nothing more than to go slow and safe. Something sure. But I had been here before. I knew what held me back was fear.  This was the moment in riding where you have to pin back that throttle and ride with your jaw tight and your stomach in your throat.

So, I did.

Lord, I did.

And just like in riding, I prayed and held on and hoped for the best. With Done Dirt Cheap, I somehow popped over the top of that switchback with the valley below me and the sky above. I’m further than I ever expected to be.

Further, but with miles to go. I know the trail still—how it winds over the ridge before dropping down again and then taking me through another technical mountain crossing. I’m leaning over the gas tank, holding the throttle back. The wind is whipping my hair and I taste elation, panic, and dust in my mouth. All I can do is hope the trail keeps up with me, and I keep up with the trail.

Ride or die. Write or die.

P.S. Please buy my book.

Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Lemon is on sale 7th March 2017. Order your copy here.

Done Dirt Cheap
Image by Kate Ormand

Confessions of a Pathological Procrastinator (Or, How I Wrote Beyond Clueless)


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Confessions of a Pathological Procrastinator (Or, How I Wrote Beyond Clueless)

I am not a “natural” writer.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a bad writer (others will surely do that for me), I’m just not the kind of person who looks forward to spending several hours on a Saturday typing up a storm on a laptop. Words don’t just pour from me like some

See? I stopped typing just then, got up and went to the kitchen and poured some tea because a genius metaphor wasn’t forthcoming. (Although I did manage to find a genius way to avoid it altogether. Awwww, yeah… *fist pump*)

Anyway, I’m always amazed by writer friends who churn out thousands of words of text, only to pare them back into a beautifully crafted story. Snip, snip. Chop, chop. Pages and pages of text just zapped away, like it’s no big deal.

Me? I am lucky if I eek out a few sentences during an hour of fretting that the choices I’m making are going to haunt me later on in the book, that every other word I put down doesn’t quite gel with the rest, that it isn’t quite right. (Part of the problem is that I tend to over-love my words once they’re down, so committing is a Big Deal, but that’s another story.) If I’m really lucky, I enter a fugue state – is that what they’re called these days? – and I don’t really notice how much time has gone by … for another few sentences.

So many questions needle me: how am I ever going to end this scene? Am I writing about people’s eyes too much – looking, glancing, glaring, staring, widening? Do I need to actually give this passing character a name, and if so, is that burdening the reader with too much information to keep track of? Are readers bored by this point – I mean, why don’t these characters ever do anything together? Are there any crackers left in the kitchen?

Feeling rather proud of myself for the above two paragraphs, I just checked my email. My husband, Jan, left for a few hours so I could get this writing done, and he’s not here to police my procrastination and guilt me into being productive. La, la, la, so what’s happened on Facebook in the last twenty minutes?

Sigh. The key word in that last sentence is guilt. Because, ultimately, it’s the most effective way to get me to do anything.

Now, I’m about to tell you something shameful about myself: Beyond Clueless took me almost a decade to write.

I know! It should be Shakespeare, right?

The original draft of the first chapter was written when I was working in the editorial department of Abrams back in… must have been 2002? (Oh, crap: that’s thirteen years ago! Geez Louise! I really am the worst.) I had never written anything longer than a short story before, and I was really getting into YA, and I figured, heck, why not? Let’s give this long-form writing thing a whirl. I dashed off the first chapter – I was so young and naïve then, not nearly as inhibited – and passed it to colleagues for an opinion.

“Not bad! Keep going with this, it has promise!”

Encouraged, I went home and wrote … another half-chapter. Two months later. And then another two years later, I wrote maybe three more chapters? during a period of underemployment in Sweden.

Wait, wait, wait, you’re saying. Why the big gaps?

Dear reader, I am flawed. As you may have noticed, I have a tendency to

Those crackers were delicious. Seriously, have you noticed that Tuc brand crackers taste slightly more rich and buttery in England than in Sweden? No?

OK, OK, back to guilt. I have discovered, after many years and much pointless self-flagellation, that the only way I can corral my pesky procrastination proclivities is through peer pressure. I need to feel the judgmental gaze of others, or I simply will. Not. Do. Anything.

Happily, there is a well-established solution for this: writing groups!

Beyond Clueless is dedicated to Bert, my good friend in Sweden who was with me for almost that entire decade-ish period – reading drafts, offering encouragement, gently dishing out critiques. He’s a writer, too, and we would meet to go over our writing together every two weeks. Then every month. Then every six weeks, until we realized that it was probably more effective to meet every two weeks to just write. No homework to put off. Bingo.

Then Bert and I met others in Stockholm who were dipping their toes into fiction writing – Joy, Tiffany, the Emilys, Angela, Gary, Kim – and we went back to critiquing together. It worked this time because more people meant more pressure to deliver, especially when it was your turn: everyone was making the effort to meet and discuss your writing alone. So you had to make it happen! The guilt was all-powerful.

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, just before moving to England two years ago I finally pushed through to a full draft, ready for submission. And then when my most-amazing-ever editor Howard got involved, as well as Maggie and Orlando and others at Abrams, the epic levels of guilt applied would power me through the remaining drafts it took to get to today’s book.

Phew!

So, to sum it all up, guilt is not something to

        OMG, these sleepy-sloth pics are uh. Mazing. Ha! Have you seen these?

Linas Alsenas’ Beyond Clueless is out TOMORROW! 

Five Questions Monday

Jeff Vandermeer, author of The Steampunk User’s Manual, Wonderbook and The Steampunk Bible, answered our grueling Five Questions Monday quiz!

1.      How do you like your eggs in the morning?

Four in number. Scrambled. Yes, I am basically a komodo dragon.

2.      What’s your favourite joke?

What’s brown and sticky?

3.      What film character are you most like?

Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein…or maybe not.

4.      What is the first book you ever read?

The one I remember is a picture book of William Blake’s Tyger Burning Bright read to me by my parents.

5.       Would you rather be the villain or the hero?  

I would rather be the person tapping his toe impatiently waiting for those two jerks to finish showing off.

Thank you Jeff for taking our little quiz, we didn’t know komodo dragons were fans of scrambled eggs, I guess you learn something new everyday!

Top Five Tips for surviving National Novel Writing Month

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National Novel Writing Month was born on the 1st July 1999 when Chris Baty and 21 friends each set out to write a novel, in ONE month. It sounds daft and frankly terrifying! But bear with me, it’s been going since we partied like it was 1999, in 1999, so there has to be something to it.

The first month is laid out in the introduction of Chris’s guide to participating in National Novel Writing Month; No Plot? No Problem! so I wont divulge to much here, but in Chris’s own words…

“The short version is that our novels, despite our questionable motives and pitiful experience, came out okay. Not great. But not horrible, either. And, more surprising than that, the writing process had been really, really fun.

And after the noveling ended on August 1, my sense of what was possible for myself, and those around me, was forever changed. If my friends and I could write passable novels in a month, I knew, anyone could do it.

Which is how the whole thing really got rolling.”

The years went by with, as you would expect, successes and failures but also “overly complicated T-shirt schemes” and Tony Danza…all leading us to the present day and the 16th year of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

You can read more about the history of Novel Writing Month on the website…http://nanowrimo.org/history

On this 16th Year chroniclebooks have brought out a revised, updated and expanded edition of No Plot? No Problem! complete with new tips, tricks and advice from 15 years of experience. We have pulled out our Top Five here to get you started.

Notebooks at the ready…

1. Find the time…

It is the reason those of us who dream of writing a novel don’t…

“I don’t have the time”

Chris lay’s out how to find the time with a beautifully simple system (there are even treats involved!) Finding Your Forgo-able with the Time Finder

Here is how it works: Before bed every night sit down and write down everything you did that day, i.e;

7.30-8.00 Got ready for work

8.00 – 8.45 Commute

8.45 – 9.00 Brought coffee

9.05 – 10.00 Breakfast & e-mails at my desk

etc…

Once you have completed your daily log reward yourself with a treat, go to sleep and repeat for one week. Once you have your week schedule underline every REQUIRED activity in red; basic hygiene requirements, what you need to do to keep your job, eating. Next mark the HIGHLY DESIRED in a different colour. If push came to shove you could do without these for a month, but would cause major stress or hardship, like getting your daily caffeine fix and attending birthday parties. Finally mark all the FORGO-ABLE activities that you can give up for a month. Like Facebook stalking, online shopping, TV watching and even recreational reading. Add-up how many hours you spend on average doing these FORGO-ABLE activities (be honest!) These are the hours you will over the next 30 days dedicate to your novel…

Now that you have the time and still have a job, a life, friends…

2. Turning Close Friends into Obligations…

A friendly pat on the back wont keep you writing…but fear is your new best friend.

Without a certain amount of terror pushing you towards your goal you will lost momentum and quit. But your friends and family can terrify you in  ways you never imagined…

i. Bragging; the more you brag about you novel the more expectation from friends and family.

ii. Put a bet on it; this could be money for forfeits . Think Ross in Friends encouraging Joey to write his play…

3. Don’t write withing view of a bed…

The lure of a nap is simply too great!

4. The Power of Headphones.

Headphones with or without music create a social buffer around you. They also dampen the outside world.

5. Keeping Beth from Bertha.

As you christen each of your characters write their names down on an easily accessed piece of paper or computer file. You will be amazed how easily the names “drift” and Mick becomes Mike…

So there are, your five tips to get you started! Chris has plenty more advice, sure to get your ready for your 30 day challenge, in his book and online on the National Novel Writing Month website.

Ready? Set, NOVEL!

Feel like joining in? There is still time to sign-up!

http://nanowrimo.org/

No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty £9.99 – Paperback – OUT NOW.