The Ghost of NaNos Past

November, and among writers, NaNoWriMo has come to an end.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a challenge to write the entire first draft of your novel in the 30 days of November.

I didn’t participate this year, but NaNoWriMo has always held a very, very special place in my heart. It was in NaNoWriMo 2016 that I pushed myself to write the first draft of my debut novel, Honey Butter, which was published nine months later in August 2017.

13-year-old me holding my NaNoWriMo certificate for finishing the first draft of Honey Butter

Pictured is a 13-year-old me holding my official NaNo certificate. I was crying just before this, and anyone who has read the ending of Honey Butter will know why. That story was a tearjerker from the beginning.

I’ve come a long way since this photo was taken, and I have a long way to go still in my career and life in general, but I don’t ever want to forget my beginnings. I don’t ever want to forget that early morning on November 30th, whipping tears away as I typed the words THE END and thinking: “This is the best story I have ever written… I’m going to research publishing, tomorrow.”

If you would like to read Honey Butter yourself, you’re in luck! You can have the Ebook and audiobook free when you signup for my email Newsletter and paperback copies are available for purchase on all major online retailers.

It would make a great gift for that young writer or reader in your life, or anyone who would enjoy a sweet summer story about life’s everyday joys.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

The two Paintings of the Santa Maria delle Grazie

Milan, Italy

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The cobblestone Piazza in front of the famous church buzzed with small clusters of tourists and a singular postcard seller. The air was brisk, the jacket of my five-year-old sister flapping as she twirled; impatient, filled with boundless energy. The great bricked arches of the church soared above us. The church Santa Maria Delle Grazie; Holy Mary of Grace.

Our tickets carried us through quiet corridors inside, windows peering out into the gardens beyond until at last the automated doors deposited us into a long dark room with a vaulted ceiling. Lingerings of paint whispered over the walls, echos of further work, once great, now gone to the call of time.

The air was hushed as footsteps turn away to the right side of the room, drawn to the painting on the far wall like pins to a magnet. You need not read the plaque below it to know its name.

The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci, covered the entire wall from end to end. The illusion of its angles seeming to extend the room into an even longer hall, ending with a trio of windows looking out over a hillside. Soft shades warmed the faces of the almost life-size people, their expressions ranging from distraught and confused to angry and accusing. It was the moment when Jesus revealed to the disciples that one of them would betray him, reimaged by Leonardo, captured with lifelike grace in careful brushstrokes of fresco paint.

Such fame, such talent, such lovely art portrayed before the silently awed crowd below.

But turn away, turn away if you can, from the household name that finds itself in history books, textbooks, novels, and essays beyond what it’s painter had ever imagined.

Down the long, dim hall of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, far on the other end, you will find another work of art.

There is no crowd flashing cell-phone cameras clustered below this painting, resting a mere hundred feet away from its companion.

I see only one person paused before it as I approach. They study it for a moment, glance at the plaque, and then turn away, leaving me the solitary onlooker.

Crucifixion, painted by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano in fresco, the plaque reads.

While the last supper gives off an air of simplicity, Crucifixion is crowded with the figures of many people. Horses, soldiers, men, and women. They seem a confused sea about the base of the three crosses that rise above the scene. The cross in the middle of the scene holds Jesus, going through the event he foretold in the painting on the opposite wall. From his figure, one’s gaze is drawn downwards, to where Mary kneels at the base of the cross, her arms wrapped around it.

It’s strange that this painting is so much lesser known than the Last Supper; it is just as impressive. Outside of this, however, the Last Supper only tells half the story that this hall portrays. Two different moments from the fulfillment of God’s plan, two different paragraphs from the same chapter of history.

Indeed, although they were both painted by different artists, I wonder if they were not meant to be one piece of art. You can still see, after all, the relics of paint on the walls and ceiling of this hall, that likely connected the two paintings at one time.

Two paintings, in the same place, the same size, painted in the same medium, each focusing on the same man.

Yet one is world-famous, and the other many people likely never hear of until they are standing in the room with it. I wonder what Leonardo and Giovanni Donato would think of it.

The success of art, it seems, is not something that can always be apprehended or controlled.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

Write What You Know

Ah, that one simple sentence which is the bane of every fantasy writer’s existence.

“Write what you know.”

“But how then?” The fantasy writer argues, frowning and leaning forward in his chair, “am I to write about dragons? Fairy balls? Death-defying rescues?”

The answer is simpler than you may believe.

Fiction is Truth’s elder sister,” Rudyard Kipling once said. “Obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was until someone had told a story.”

Many a creme-colored page has explored the subject of truth within fiction, of fantasy within reality.

The question, when it comes to writing, is always the same: Should you write what you know? Or should you not?

Strangely, however, as far as my reading has taken me at least, no one has ever questioned what that phrase actually means.

Write what you know means that you should write about real things in the real world because it makes the story more real.

It is assumed to mean the story in its entirety.

But what if that’s not its definition at all?

Have you ever been afraid? Felt your heart pounding in your chest? Felt your hands go numb with fear as adrenaline thunders in your ears?

Have you ever been happy? Felt your smiles stretch over the corners of your lips? Felt your heart expand with warmth and your eyes dance with joy?

Have you ever been in love? Felt a rush of pride to your loved one praised? Felt a flood of relief after they experience a moment of danger?

Those emotions are real. More real than anything ever could be in this world.

You know what it’s like to gaze up at a night sky. You know what it’s like to wonder. You know what it’s like to pull socks onto your feet. You know what it’s like to try and catch the sound of a whisper. You know what it’s like to strike a match and light a candle. You know what baking cookies smell like. You know what it’s like to awake from the land of dreams.

Those details are real. They are all just little things, perhaps, but details are what this world is made of.

Tiny, real details, like grains of sand, make up the shore of your story. Those overwhelming waves of emotion make up its endless sea. Your imagination does the rest, encasing your story in a vast blue dome of the sky.

No. You’ve never fought a dragon. But you know what fear is, don’t you? And what a burn feels like.

No. You’ve never received an invitation to a fairy ball. But you know what happiness is, don’t you? And what it’s like to dance.

No. You’ve never lept over the edge of a cliff to save someone. But you know what love is, don’t you? And what fearful eyes look like.

Write what you know.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

Still A Masterpiece

The National Gallery
London, England, February 2018

The room was crowded with tourists and art enthusiasts. The melody of different languages touched my ears. A thousand different smells. A thousand different voices. People clustered about the painting, and between the crush of somber colored coats, here and there, a flicker of yellow met my eyes.

My father and I moved through the crowd, keeping close together. And as we reached the surface of the hubbub, I saw the masterpiece.

Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

I’m a connoisseur of literature, not art, but Van Gogh’s Sunflowers have always been a favorite of mine among masterpieces of that sort. Owing, in some way, although not only, to the fact that it is entirely my favorite color.

But there’s something beautiful and new in seeing any piece of art in person, no matter how many pictures you might see of it online or in books.

Paintings are flat pictures, yet it seemed to move out towards me in a way that it never could in a photograph. I could see each brushstroke of bright color where it rose from the canvas. And suddenly it was real. Not a name in a history book, or a still image on my screen, but a real thing that a real person had created.

A masterpiece.

Now in my mind, I see the people coming and going.

Watch as they raise their cameras and smartphones, join the crowd for a few moments, before moving on to the unfinished painting of Leonardo Davinci.

The bells of Saint Paul call out the hour, once, and then again, and again. Visitors come and go. The sun rises and then begins to fall.

Lights come on in the streets outside, the crowds dwindle, disperse, evaporate. Amber rays of the setting sun sweep patterns over the gallery’s staircases through their few small windows.

The doors are locked, the museum closes, night casts its cloak over the rooftops and tosses its glittering stars into the sky. The windows of houses and apartments become small squares of gold in the velvet dusk.

Inside the gallery, those bright yellow flowers are alone. Where once there was a babble of voices, now there are only the silver whispers of silence. Where once the bright overhead lights glowed, now there is gentle darkness. Where once there was a sea of onlookers, now there is nothing.

Those bright golden blossoms are alone.

Likely, few think of them.

And yet still they hang upon the wall, with all the pride and beauty as they did before. Their value does not dim simply because the lights do. Their loveliness does not decrease simply because the crowds do.

“A masterpiece is still a masterpiece when the lights are off and the room is empty.” – Charlotte Geier

At the Realm Makers Conference, which I attended last July, the leader of our continuing session asked a question which I will never forget.

“Would you rather,” he asked, “sell your book to millions of people who would forget about it as soon as they finished it? Or would you rather sell your book to only one person, but a person whose life would be changed forever by it?”

The room elapsed into half thoughtful, half stubborn silence.

“Which do you pick?” he asked. “The first option or the second option?”

There were scattered mummers of “second option” around the room.

“Right.” He nodded and smiled. “We all say that we’d pick the second option. But what if that one person…was you?”

Contrary to what society will tell you, attention does not equal value. Value is something that is determined personally within your own heart and mind. Something that only you can decide.

So now, here I sit, as ripe January sunshine pours over my keyboard, as the theme music from my younger sibling’s TV show drifts up from the basement, I write on.

Perhaps this book will be a roaring success, perhaps it will be a complete flop.

But to me, it will always be a masterpiece, long after the cover is closed.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence

Imagination and a keyboard: Interviewing J. C. Buchanan

Hello everyone! Today I have a very special post for you! I’ll be interviewing one of my fellow young author friends, J. C.!

I first met her, and another author friend, Riley, last July at the Realm Makers conference. We had an amazing time and became fast friends. Since then, we’ve kept up through FaceTime to talk, laugh, and encourage each other.

Just recently, J.C. has published her fourth book, Proof of Purple! You can check it out, along with all her other books, here.

Now, on to you J. C.!

1. What started you on your writing journey?

When I was 5, I told my mom I was going to publish a book and put it in the library. I didn’t realize that scribbled pieces of paper stapled together weren’t library quality 🙂 When I was 9, I decided I actually wanted to make that happen, and by the time I was 12, The Hidden Amethyst was released!

2. What was the first piece of creative writing you wrote?

The first “book” that I wrote was called The Boy Who Got Covered in Macaroni. It was for my brother, and it was about a boy who ate too fast and his food exploded.

3. How ’serious’ is your writing? Do you consider it a career or just a hobby?

I’ve always been serious about my writing. As I said, I decided to publish a book when I was 5, and that desire just never left! I know beyond a shadow of a doubt this is a gift God has given me, and I want to do the absolute most that I can with it.

4. Who would you recommend your most recent book, Proof of Purple to?

Probably 5th grade and up. I’m targeting it more for YA, but younger readers could totally read and get it—no mature content. 🙂

5. Describe Proof of Purple, in three words.

Friendship, perfection, betrayal.

6. How has your life and personal experiences entwined with the subjects of your books?

While writing my books, I definitely try to draw on my own emotional experiences to understand my characters better. In my first three books, there aren’t many connections to my actual life experiences (unless you count that in The Hidden Amethyst, I named every character after one of my friends;). However, Proof of Purple does correlate with my personal experiences to the extent that friendships are extremely important to me, and like my characters, I definitely feel it when tension arises.

7. What do you consider, the ‘key to success’ in writing?

Don’t be ashamed of your writing, and let others read it! I used to be so protective of my writing and didn’t want to show anyone, and it got me in trouble because I’d get months into a story without seeing that it wasn’t going to work in the long run. This book, with help from a few amazing friends, I’ve learned to open up and it has been so, so crucial. In my experience, when you’re confident in your writing, not embarrassed about it, and willing to let others offer insight, you can get so much farther than had you worked alone.

8. Were there any differences in your writing process between the four books you’ve written?

Slightly, but honestly, not much. I always do a super-rough first draft, and then basically just keep revising and writing new drafts until I’m happy. The only big thing I can think of is I didn’t outline The Hidden Amethyst, but I outlined You’ll Be Like Faye and never looked back.

9. Which of your books is the saddest? Most exciting? Funniest?

I’ve had many people tell me they cried at the end of YBLF, so that’s probably the saddest. The Hidden Amethyst wins the award for the funniest in my mind, but probably only because I was so young when I wrote it that today I have to choose whether to cringe or laugh, and it’s just easier to laugh at it. But realistically, it’s probably the most exciting. It’s one hundred percent action/adventure.

10. What’s in your ‘author’s toolkit’?

One of the most influential writing books for me has been Gail Carson Levine’s “Writing Magic.” I also employ Pinterest as my main “author tool”. Music is key—I have to listen to music to write. Beyond that…my imagination and a keyboard do the rest.

11. What’s the coolest author related experience that’s ever happened to you?

When The Hidden Amethyst came out, I took a risk and sent a copy to my favorite author at the time, Suzanne LaFleur, just for fun (who is still one of my favorite authors). A few months later, she personally mailed me a hardcover copy of her newest book with a note inside about how much she enjoyed reading my book. It was the best day of my life.

12. What can we expect to see from you next?

I’m currently working on another futuristic/adventure novel that I MEANT to finish over NaNo, but…didn’t happen. :\ My condensed outline was 38 bullet-points, so it’ll be a good long while before it’s here, but I’m still SO excited. 🙂

J. C. Buchanan is an 18-year-old homeschooler, Christ follower, avid reader, and writer. Her first book, The Hidden Amethyst, came out when she was 12, followed by You’ll Be Like Faye when she was 14. She also has released a short novella sequel to You’ll Be Like Faye, entitled Far Away FayeProof of Purple is her third full-length novel, but she plans on many more to come. Follow her online at jcbuchanan.com.

docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence