Monday, July 16, 2012

Shetland or Bust!

A couple people have recommended that I start a blog to capture the events of my upcoming trip to the Shetland Islands.

If you're wondering why I'm traveling to the Shetland Islands, the answer is simple and complex at the same time:

Simple Answer:  I'm attending a five day class with the Centre for Nordic Studies about Viking Culture as well as site-seeing around the island to do research for a middle grade novel I've been writing the past 3 1/2 years.

Complex Answer:  Nearly four years ago I came up with an idea for a middle grade novel.  The idea revolved around a present day coming of age story that takes place in the Shetland Islands and has to do with Vikings, more specifically berserkers.

I started drafting in December 2008 and waited until summer 2009 to continue.  It took me about one year to complete a first draft.  I had my parents, my critique group, and three former students read this draft and then had it critiqued by a local author.  After the feedback from all parties, I decided to make some critical changes that required completely rewriting the draft.  After being at approximately 47,000 words, I was starting once again with a blank page.  None of the first draft could be salvaged.

I was able to conquer 30,000 words on my own, but was struggling with the ending and how to embed more fantasy and suspense into the manuscript.  I knew there was something missing, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

During the fall of 2011 I was awarded the MN SCBWI Mentorship with Heather Bouwman.  Heather has helped me infuse more fantasy into the manuscript.  Her background in writing historical fiction and fantasy was a perfect fit for the vision of my manuscript.

This manuscript, which I now know to be called contemporary fantasy, blends historical elements about the Vikings, fantasy about berserkers and Norse mythology, and an authentic location of the Shetland Islands.

Two years later, I now have a new 44,000 word draft that is completely different from the first. I am happy about the changes I have made and each day it gets closer and closer to what I have pictured in my mind.  However I still am working on the ending even though I am very close.

The last several years I have been researching the Shetland Islands through books, local maps, Google Earth, Flickr, and YouTube.  I have been able to get an idea of what life is like on the islands, but am struggling to understand all of the facets.  The Shetland Islands was a stopping point for the Norse Vikings.  While the Shetland Islands are a property of Scotland, they have characteristics of Norway as well.  I've traveled to Scotland and Norway, but I cannot completely understand how the characteristics from both of these countries are intertwined together into one culture.

How else do you learn about a place but to go there?  After writing four grants and not getting one of them, I decided that I was going to make the journey regardless.  The time was right.  I had the help of a mentor author and was committed to finishing this story.

On another note:  With the passing of my dad in November 2011, I feel obligated to learn more about my roots.  My dad's background was Norwegian and German.  I feel that by attending the Centre for Nordic Studies and seeing archaeological sites where the Vikings settled, that I may be closer to my ancestry and to him.  Interestingly enough the protagonist in my middle grade novel sets off to the Shetland Islands and learns more about her family identity, and  I myself am doing the same.

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