No More Room At the Inn: How I Became a Kindle Convert

my kindle paperwhite, purchased November 2012

my kindle paperwhite, purchased November 2012

My family and I moved from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Denver, Colorado in the summer of 2012. It was a hell of a move, and we had to ditch a ton of stuff, but the worst of it, by far, was the books. We had to get rid of so many books. I had just finished graduate school, and part of the ritual of graduate school is the accumulation of books. Around then I had also started writing fiction seriously, and part of the ritual of writing seriously is reading seriously, and for me that also required the accumulation of books. At the time we were set to move, we had a basement lined with bookshelves. We had to get rid of easily 80% of those books.

Jon and I were allowed two boxes of books apiece to take with us. My other partner, Sam, only had a single box of books to start with. Unlike me and Jon, she is a Library Person. You know them: voracious readers, inconstant, non-possessive sorts. Jon and I are Book Owners, which meant we had tough decisions to make. I came up with a list of criteria books had to pass to make it to the Rocky Mountains. Had I read it? Was I going to actually read it if I hadn’t (be honest)? If I had read it, would I reread it? Did it have sentimental value? If it was a holdover from grad school, would it be useful in my new job? If the book didn’t fall into any of those buckets, I gave it into the greedy, waiting hands of my ravenous grad school friends. I whittled my books down to two cardboard boxes, and the rest scattered to the wind. Getting rid of the books was actually harder on my partner, Jon, than it was on me. Jon fretted and wept, but eventually he got his down to the requisite two boxes, too, and off we went to Denver.

We landed in a smaller house in Colorado than we had in Michigan. Perfectly reasonably sized, but with less room to hide things away. When we moved into the new house, Sam instituted a new rule: the amount of books must stabilize. If a new book comes in, an old book must leave. We just didn’t have the room to start mounting up piles of random books again, she said. And she was right. We only had two book shelves to work with in our new house, and living with a toddler meant that functionally speaking they weren’t even complete bookshelves. The bottom shelves were off-limits–anything in them was getting plucked off by our kid and hidden around the house or covered in peanut butter. So, really, we only had one and a half book shelves to work with.

one of our two packed-to-the-brim bookshelves

one of our two packed-to-the-brim bookshelves

I had long been a physical book holdout up until then, but I cracked like an eggshell when Sam put her foot down. I saved up, and within months, I bought a Kindle. I had to feed my habit, man! It was a perfect compromise–an e-reader meant I could buy all the books I wanted without running into physical space constraints. I could have my cake and eat it, too!

I thought the switch from a physical book to an ebook would be a transition, but it wasn’t. I thought I would miss the feel of turning pages, but I didn’t. I found I liked the size and feel of the Kindle, and I liked that I could read it in bed without the light on. I liked that if I finished a book on the bus I could immediately start reading a new one. I liked that I could still highlight and annotate my books1. It surprised me how little switching back and forth between formats changed my reading habits and style.

We still have Sam’s rule in the house these days. She’s appended caveats to it, because I can’t help myself, and I sneak in books anyway. There are little piles of contraband books stacked in the corners of my bedroom because they don’t fit on our bookshelves. New physical books are only allowed in the house if:

  • another book leaves subsequently
  • if I am the only one interested in the book, the new book is unavailable in ebook format OR the book is likely to be read by Sam or Jon2
  • Buying the book supports diversity in literature (the book either features diverse characters, was written by a diverse author, or both)

Honestly, if Sam knew how many books are not coming into our house because I bought the ebook instead, she’d throw a party. Or she’d get mad because she thought I was spending way less money on books. It’s hard to tell. In any case, the kindle has been a major space saver.

~

1I have always been one to annotate/defile physical copies of books.

2Neither of them have jumped on the ebook train like I have. They’ll do it if they have to, but they don’t like to. I got away with buying Shadowshaper in hardcopy because Sam is interested in reading it AND it features diverse characters/was written by an author of color. So far I haven’t gotten rid of anything to make space for it. Don’t tell Sam.


Want posts like this delivered to your inbox? Sign up for my newsletter!

Book Review: THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD

yearoftheflood

WARNING: Review contains spoilers about the plot of Oryx and Crake, the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy.

Do you ever have the experience of reading a book and liking it and not actually remembering all that much about it? Where you’ve read it, perhaps, too quickly and when it’s done you’re left with the stark knowledge that you like it—maybe even loved it—but that knowledge is not tied to anything specific? I am pretty sure that’s what happened to me the first time I read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, which made rereading it a peculiar experience. Actually, this happens to me a lot which is one reason I tend to reread books so often.

Back to the book. The Year of the Flood is the second book in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy but I would not call it a sequel. The events in The Year of the Flood happen, for the most part, concurrently with the events of Oryx and Crake. Sometimes it’s the same events happening as in Oryx and Crake but from a very different perspective. The last third or so of The Year of the Flood dovetails with the end of Oryx and Crake in such a way that The Year of the Flood picks up the tail end of Jimmy’s narrative in Oryx and Crake and extends it a little further—but just a little further, and like the ending of Oryx and Crake, the book ends with an abrupt cliffhanger. Really I think the best description of The Year of the Flood is a companion piece to Oryx and Crake. I wonder about the effect of order since in terms of plot one does not really precede the other. I wonder what it would be like to read The Year of the Flood first and then read Oryx and Crake.

As much as it is a companion piece, The Year of the Flood is an inversion of Oryx and Crake; where Oryx and Crake was a story of the privileged, the masculine, of reductive science The Year of the Flood is a book about the feminine, the marginalized and victimized and of spiritualism. The Year of the Flood follows two viewpoint characters: Toby, a woman with a vicious and lengthy streak of bad luck matched only by her inherent talent to survive, and Ren, a girl whose naivete and frivolity masks an impressive adaptability. The connection between Toby and Ren is that, for a time, both were members of a religious cult named God’s Gardeners. God’s Gardeners is a pacifist and technophobic ecoreligious group preparing for the apocalypse—the Waterless Flood—which they are sure the increasingly morally bankrupt scientific ventures of the ruling corporations are sure to bring about. And we know from having read Oryx and Crake that God’s Gardners’ prediction is true: Crake unleashes a virulent and deadly virus that elminates the vast majority of the world’s population, completely and utterly destroying civilization as we know it. God’s Gardeners, in a move that strikes the readers as prescient given we already know what will happen but a move that seems bizarre to those in the books before it happens, build secret Ararats, caches of foodstuffs and necessaries to get them through the Waterless Flood in one piece. The preach, they build gardens and keep bees, they sequester themselves from the rest of the pleebland mobs and gangs. They harbor runaway scientists from the Corporation Compounds who have had pangs of conscience. God’s Gardeners become a sort of character in itself; each section of the book is preceded by a sermon spoken by Adam One, the leader of the Gardeners, and each of his sermons is immediately followed by a Gardener Hymn*.

Over the course of the book God’s Gardeners has many faces—harmless, heroic, broken, trapped. We see the functioning of the Gardeners at their prime both through the eyes of Toby, who ascends through the cult’s ranks and becomes a leader within it, though begrudgingly, and through the eyes of Ren, who is raised among the Gardeners during her adolescence. There are other things, too, that we get this multifaceted view of: Jimmy, the protagonist of Oryx and Crake flits in and out of Ren’s life**. We see the things Crake did when Jimmy wasn’t around. We see a whole other side of the world than the side Jimmy showed us, namely the poor and broken places, the dregs of this world. The places the Corporations have written off, and the people the Corporations have written off. And, likewise, we see Toby through her own eyes and through the eyes of Ren at multiple points in time. And Ren through her own eyes and through the eyes of Toby at multiple points in time. Oryx and Crake dealt a lot in fixedness—one narrator, one linear story, one set of values. The Year of the Flood deals in multiplicities, in complexities—multiple interacting narrators, a crowd of stories, a pantheon of value sets which change from person to person and within a single person over time. Oryx and Crake seems to focus on the absolutes of identity where The Year of the Flood explores the relational interdependencies that shape us all.

I find it hard to rate this book by itself, especially given that so much of my experience of it and thinking about it is tied to Oryx and Crake. I am now leaning towards rating them of a piece together, which after I read MaddAddam may be revised. But for now, I give it four stars for its depth, for its crystalline characterization and for the scope of its examination of how actions can be spiritual without faith behind them.

4/5 stars

*The book states these are from the Oral Gardener Hymnal, but considering that the point is made more than once that the members of God’s Gardeners are wary of writing and refuse to leave written records I can’t help but wonder who compiled the hymnal. Perhaps this is something Atwood will address in MaddAddam. More likely this is proof of my nerdy fanboy ovethinking it mind.

**At first this bothered me; it seemed too pat and too convenient for Jimmy to keep popping up over and over again. But then I remembered how sequestered the characters in these books are—the Corporations lock you in, track your movements. Geographic mobility is long gone. And in a world like that you may indeed run into your high school sweetheart over and over and over and over. That utter lack of escape from your past sure sounds like hell.

Writing EXTRACTION – entry 11

so many questions!!

so many questions!!

This is the eleventh in a series of posts about the redrafting process of THE LONG ROAD which will be composed and published as I rewrite the book. The other posts in this series are here.

I know I’m getting close to the end of a piece when I start brainstorming for the next one. Unlike in my personal life, in terms of writing I am a serial monogamist: slavishly devoted to one piece…for a while. I can see them through the end, but as the story wraps itself up I get a wandering eye*. And so it is with The Long Road rewrites (which I’ve tentatively titled Extraction.

I’ve been working steadily on the manuscript. Between a particularly hectic period at work and a particularly hectic period at home I haven’t had much of a chance to blog about the rewrites, but they’ve been going well—lots of bus writing, you know. The draft will definitely need a second pass to clean up characterization and clarify themes, but the draft looks really solid. I’d been shooting for a rewrite which streamlined the previous draft down from a sprawling 150K word novel to a tighter 70K word young adult novel. Parallel storylines were jettisoned, the cast of characters was pared down. I’m entering the last section of the book at the 63K word mark, so I’m right on schedule.

But is it a young adult book? That part I don’t know. YA seems to me a slippery construct, probably in no small part due to the fact that I was a precocious reader who read frankly inappropriate stuff quite early. I’ve read most of the YA books I have as a fully-fledged pushing-thirty adult. I guess what I mean to say is that I set out to rewrite this book as one I would have wanted to read as a young adult (which is what, when you’re 14? 15ish?). But there’s part of me that suspects that if I tried to shop this around as a YA novel it would be deemed too adult. There’s some drugs in it, and not all of them are portrayed in a DARE-ish JUST SAY NO kind of way. Addiction is explored somewhat. There’s sex in it, some of it fairly explicit (though there are plot reasons for that). All the sex is consensual, a lot of it is queer, and all of it is of the positive life-affirming variety, even when it’s not a 1:1 match with love. There’s surprisingly little violence in the book. This seems appropriate to me.

But then I think about The Hunger Games. Those books are all violence, no sex. Some chaste kisses, that’s it, though kids get gutted and torn apart by genetically mutated dogs. Somehow that’s more ok for young minds to read than two women having heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable sex together? I don’t know. It makes no sense to me. Which is not to knock The Hunger Games at all—I love those books. They are fantastic, and they explore a lot of ideas about PTSD and heroism and propaganda that I think are absolutely appropriate for young adults. But America, with its Puritanical streak, is so much more ok with kids reading vicious ciolence than positive portrayals of sexuality. It just so strange.

Ultimately I’m not sure it matters much one way or another. Hopefully this book will find its audience, and its audience will probably be some adults and some young adults. I think it will probably get out there through a small press, likely not one with a particular focus on YA lit, so this is probably all a moot point. But it’s food for thought.

*I’ll expand on this in another post soon. YOU GUYS I’M VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS ONE.

Book Review: ORYX AND CRAKE

atwood-oryx-and-crake

Since MaddAddam, the concluding book in the trilogy which begins with Oryx and Crake, just came out it seemed like an ideal time to reread the other two books in the trilogy. I am really excited to see what Margaret Atwood does with MaddAddam given that Oryx and Crake and its follow-up, The Year of the Flood are so different in focus. Or, that’s how I remember them; I’m just about to crack The Year of the Flood back open, so we’ll see if that opinion still stands when I’ve finished it.

Back to Oryx and Crake. The plot is relatively straightforward: we follow a man named Jimmy from childhood to adulthood whose childhood friend and later employer, Crake, is a mad scientist. And we follow Jimmy as he tries to navigate a post-apocalyptic world caused by Crake. The book opens some years after this mad scientist has done his thing. Jimmy is both alone and not alone—Crake created an enhanced group of human beings, genetically lab-grown to perfectly fit their surroundings where Crake did his best to splice out ‘undesirable’ elements of the human fabric. Jimmy tends to these people, whom he calls the Crakers, who are human but such a different kind of human that he is still utterly alone.

The narrative structure is split between chapters set in Jimmy’s present, where he tends to the Crakers, and his past, which explores the world which led up to the birth of the Crakers and the destruction of everyone else. But the story is very clearly rooted in Jimmy’s present; the chapters set in the past have a deliberate haziness to them, and Jimmy interjects commentary on his memories. Atwood makes it clear that rather than an objective narrative jump to the past what we are reading is present-day Jimmy remembering his own past. Like Winterson’s Weight, this book explores the nature of narrative and how we use interpretations of our past to construct our own futures.

The idea of art and narrative as hard-wired into human beings, as one of the intangible things that makes us human, is a theme in the book. Jimmy is a self-described ‘word person’ in a world where words no longer get you very far. Atwood’s future is a destroyed and severely overpopulated Earth where capitalism has run amok. Global warming has ruined the climate, leading to the destruction of many major cities. Class is clearly defined by occupation—the upper classes, uniformly technical and biological geniuses working in elite labs at elite corporations, live in sealed-off and secure corporate communities. There, these scientists are protected from the biological warfare and espionage from competing companies. The middle class live in Modules, and everyone else lives in the pleeblands. Jimmy, the product of two elite scientists, grows up in corporate compounds. The pleeblands are places of myth, of seductive legend, to him and as a reader we see very little of how the poor in Atwood’s world live*. So, there’s Jimmy, who lacks his parents’ capacity for numbers and science stuck in places that do not value his gift for empathy and wordplay. Coupled with his best friend Glenn (who becomes Crake), who is an obvious wunderkind, and Jimmy is left with an inferiority complex the size of Texas.

I read this book the year it came out, in 2003. I remember being somewhat fascinated by it but not liking it much, which was disappointing as I was and still am a major Atwood fan. I was in Boston, living on the couch of a friend and elbows-deep in a summer of socialist organizing. I’d scored a shitty summer job on campus which I abandoned on the spur of the moment to couch-surf and read a lot of Trotsky and argue with people about whether we, as socialists, should support and campaign for Ralph Nader. I was driving a lot of conversations about masculinity in activist spaces and how it was alienating female members of our organization. This was the summer I began to embrace my proletariat roots instead of trying to shed them; a moment, if you’ll indulge me, of internal class crisis. I picked up Oryx and Crake for some light reading, and frankly I picked it up at the wrong moment in my life. Jimmy, as a narrator, was not someone I could connect to at that moment in my life—his male, upper-class privileged voice and viewpoint was simply a bridge too far. The worldbuilding was fascinating as it dovetails so nicely with Marxist theories of late-stage capitalism and imperialism but I never developed an emotional connection with the book.

I read it now as someone ten years older. As someone who has, in some very real sense, sold out. I’m middle class now, a thing which I struggle with but is very obviously true. I’m reading it again after doing some heavy-duty renovation on my own psychological landscape which has left me a much more compassionate and less judgmental person. This time around, I connected much more with Jimmy, especially his imposter syndrome. My initial reading of the book as a self-righteous 19 year old was that it lacked depth, that is was a bit obvious. But I’m not sure that’s true. It’s certainly the case that Atwood as a writer creates stark worlds where Things Have Gone So Very Wrong, but it’s also true that within those worlds she’s a writer of immense subtlety. I mean to say that the worlds she creates are not subtle, but that the people within them still are. This book, I think, is less a warning about capitalism run rampant or the dangers of playing god with science. I think it’s more about the things that Crake tried and failed to breed out of his batch of ‘perfected’ humans: our capacity and need for story, for meaning. I think this is a book about what happens to a culture where we abandon art, where our creative meaning-making of the world around us is seen as less-than and unnecessary. When we do that, Atwood seems to say, we lose our souls. In a sense, then, our compulsion to create and to describe and to enrich is intimately tied with our embedded altruism. All of which is to say that I understand better now why Atwood chose hapless Jimmy, word-oriented and patient Jimmy as her narrator. He’s not a good man, but he’s an exceedingly human one.

4/5 stars

*Or, more accurately, we see very little of how the poor live in Oryx and Crake. We see a whole lot more of life in the pleeblands in The Year of the Flood.

Writing in seclusion

IMG1156

a rustic tea-fueled two-person writing retreat

I’m on vacation right now, which I very much needed. I am on vacation visiting a friend whose taste in books is very nearly completely compatible with mine, and who is as much of an introvert as me. Being with her is sublimely restful. She had been considering a trip to a remote cabin in the woods, and I sort of gently invited myself along, which (it turned out) she was sort of hoping I would do. So, I flew out to Chicago, and we rented a little red car, and I drove us to the Wisconsin woods next to the Mississippi River. The cabin was twenty miles away from any cell phone reception and had electricity adequate to power my laptop but no distracting internet connection. We returned to civilization yesterday and are now in a re-entry to society day where we’re pleasantly sitting in her apartment with her cat and watching Foyle’s War and eating oreos. Tomorrow I return to Denver and my family and my job, and I’ll return restored and replenished and feeling more like myself than I have in weeks.

We didn’t do much in the cabin. We sat around drinking coffee and tea with vegan marshmallows in our hot, caffeinated beverages and talked a lot about feelings and parenthood and Supreme Court decisions and The Iliad. At one point we ventured outside to meander up a dry creek bed, but we were both stoned and neither of us navigated the rocks there with any sort of competence, so our excursion was short-lived. Really nothing happened but the tea drinking and the talking and reading and watching fireflies and some writing, but that was perfect, and the Wisconsin woods was a prefect place to be doing that particular kind of nothing.

And the writing–travelling, for some reason, brings a focus to me and makes it extremely easy to write. I rarely find it difficult to write, but there’s something about the solitude of travelling alone and the distance from the every day grind that lets my mind drift into that little writing pocket with virtually no effort. I wrote 2,349 words on the plane on the way to Chicago. I wrote another 8,772 words in the cabin itself. It was effortless writing, and it was an ideal time for some effortless writing because I managed to establish the voices of my POV characters. My friend doesn’t read my writing. She’s generally interested and we talk about writing in the abstract, and we read the same books at the same time(ish) quite frequently, but I’ve never asked her to read anything of mine and she’s never asked to read anything of mine. I think it was better this way. There are times I very much want someone around invested in what I’m writing, pushing me to get it out, wanting to consume it as much as I want to create it. And there are times I want to create things in a private, hidden bubble. I think the lack of expectation involved in writing around a friend who is not a fan of mine helped the writing.

All of this is to say that the writing for A TALE OF REBELLION is clipping along.

More Processing on the Writing Process

I submitted RESISTANCE to the press last Sunday, and now I’m in the waiting-for-feedback limbo. I’m still very much in the process headspace, and I just finished re-reading all the Harry Potter books and having all the resulting Harry Potter feelings, so it was time to grab something new to read off the shelf. I grabbed this:

really this should be titled WATCH STEINBECK WRITE LIKE A BOSS

I didn’t really think too much about it, just shoved it in my backpack. And then I marveled at the fact that my backpack was at least 5 pounds lighter than it had been in two months since I was no longer hauling around a Harry Potter tome, but that’s neither here nor there. I grabbed it, and then I cracked it open on a bus and realized I was reading, largely in real time, a (much greater) author’s own process-y headspace while he wrote EAST OF EDEN. Apparently I am still very much in dialogue with myself about the writing process, and now I am in a one-sided dialogue with John Steinbeck, too. This volume is a collection of letters he wrote but did not send to his editor, Pascal Covici, while he wrote the first draft of EAST OF EDEN. The letter served as a warm-up exercise for him, something to get him in the groove of the day’s authorial work, and as such they flit from the gritty mundanities of smudged graphite to his ultimate sweeping purpose for his novel from paragraph to paragraph. The style is casual and unguarded, which makes sense given that he never expected anyone to read these letters, and it serves as a friendly work diary.

There are weird familiarities in terms of process as I read Steinbeck’s work diary. He talks of his book “having pups” and getting longer and longer, breeding side-stories and subplots. And, man, do I ever know that feeling. My books are all so interconnected that I sometimes feeling like I’m writing fanfiction about my own stuff. RESISTANCE, or rather its base story, “Proof”, came about because one of the leads was mentioned in “Blue Flowers” and the other lead down the line has certain interactions with some characters in THE LONG ROAD. This whole project began, essentially, as a way of filling in some backstory for other projects. Every minor character is a hero in her own story, and I have a very strong tendency to let every minor character take center stage at some point.

Steinbeck is also a much more deliberate writer than I am in terms of structure. This could be simply an individual difference, but it could also be that EAST OF EDEN was written late in Steinbeck’s career, written when he had done most of his learning and stumbling, while I’m still just crawling through. He had very particular ideas of what a chapter is or should be. He had very particular ideas about how chapters should relate to and balance each other. He came into the book very much knowing how he wanted it to be read–not necessarily what he wanted to say, but how he wanted the reader to feel, what the experience of reading it should be like. He spends much more time in his unsent letters discussing pace, discussing the need to keep himself relaxed in order to keep the text itself relaxed, than he does on plot or character development. Again, maybe this is a sign of my youth as a writer, but I haven’t yet started a project with an intent to readership experience like that. I don’t know that I can just yet.

Now, I really like RESISTANCE. I think it’s awesome. It’s no EAST of EDEN, though; that shit was a masterpiece. The biggest, strangest and most obvious revelation I’ve had reading his letters is that the work one writer is the work of all writers. Steinbeck wrote long hand with pencils–he was very, very particular about his pencils, actually and spends much time outlining his pencil preferences in these unsent letters to his editor–and I wrote RESISTANCE on a laptop. He wrote EAST OF EDEN at home at a very particular writing desk of his own design, which he fiddled with and perfected over the course of the novel, and I wrote RESISTANCE mostly on buses and airplanes. The methods are different, but his process and mine and probably everyone else’s is essentially the same: you just…write it. You just write a chunk (mostly) every day until the beast is done. Or, in Mr. Steinbeck’s own words right as he began:

I don’t suppose writing consists in anything more than doing it.

And so we do it. And sometimes we finish what we start, and sometimes we edit it, and sometimes it sees the light of day. And sometimes–so very rarely, but sometimes–someone writes and finishes and edits something that turns out to be something like EAST OF fucking EDEN.

Correcting RESISTANCE

ah, the glamorous life of a writer

ah, the glamorous life of a writer

I’ve gotten feedback from some wonderful and thoughtful beta readers. I printed out draft 1 of RESISTANCE and pored over the text myself. All that’s left before I send it to the press is to correct the draft!

I’m doing that over this weekend since working from a sheaf of loose papers and a laptop is not so bus compatible. I’m getting this iteration of the book as close to perfect as I can for the editors–though no matter how many times I go over something or someone else goes over it a fresh set of eyes unearths a new volley of crappy grammar and bad spelling. Pays to be humble, y’all.

I like this part of the process. The hard work of editing is done and all of this is just the icing on the cake. When there’s only 1-5 corrections per printed page you fly through the draft pretty quick, so there’s a happy illusion of productivity.

Writing RESISTANCE: A Post-Mortem of the First Draft

replace this image of someone furiously running with my fingers furiously typing and you get the picture (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

replace this image of someone furiously running with my fingers furiously typing and you get the picture
(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

RESISTANCE is still not done: it’s currently out to a host of wonderful and voracious beta readers, and then the first draft needs a final pass before I send it to Inkstained Succubus. Then, the editors will read it (and hopefully like it!), there will be a developmental edit, rewrites, line-editing, etc. So RESISTANCE is not done. But, the first draft is done! And getting out that first draft means I’ve jumped a pretty huge hurdle already.

Writing the first draft of RESISTANCE was a different process than writing anything else I’ve ever written. Not the content–after all, RESISTANCE is an expansion of my short story “Proof” and is set in fantasy universe I’ve written in many times before. What was different about RESISTANCE is that this was the first piece of fiction I’ve ever written on someone else’s timeline. And it is the first piece of fiction I’ve written with an explicit idea of getting it published. The combination was a doozy, let me tell you.

I confess I had a touch of panic. I had a few moments of imposter syndrome-induced neurosis. Nathan Bransford described J. K. Rowling as a clutch writer. While I was writing this draft of RESISTANCE I felt like anything but a clutch writer. I had a weird blindness: I would write and reread what I’d written and I could not tell if what I’d written was good. It seemed good? Maybe? BUT THIS IS FOR REAL IS THIS REALLY GOOD?? The self-doubt just crept up and lingered around the edges of my brain. Added to this that I rarely write a plot so meticulously planned, which gave me a feeling of being slightly out of my comfort zone, and I very much had no idea if what I was doing was going to fly.

I went with it anyway. I have, more or less, two secret superpowers: 1) I am a fearless public speaker and (more relevant) 2) I am really, really good at buckling down and barreling through a heinous amount of work. The meticulous planning was, in retrospect, a good move on my part–I had no moments of writer’s block. I sprinted to the finish line in a mad dash, because the faster I wrote the more time I’d have to polish this manuscript before sending it to the editors. And now it’s done, and I’ve read it and a couple of other folks have read it, and the early feedback is promising. I am still anxious, definitely I’m still anxious, but the draft is tangible now. At the very least I like it and that’s something. Whether the editors will agree is still an open question, but I like it and that feels pretty great.

I had thought in the planning and the sprinting that the actual writing process itself would be more…stale. I had thought that by planning everything out and writing so fast that I would effectively be choking out that exploratory part of the writing. Turns out I was wrong. Mapping out the plot served to make this a smoother, faster process, to be sure, but the book still evolved organically. Themes fell into place that worked with the plot but which I didn’t see coming. The story twisted and turned in ways that surprised me even though I followed my 14 page outline virtually to the letter. In retrospect, it’s a tiny bit silly that I thought writing RESISTANCE would be a perfunctory thing; the rewrites of ARIAH were no less meticulously planned out and no less surprising to me as I drafted them anyway. I’ve been mired in a lot of first drafts lately, and it could be that I’d forgotten how fresh and exhilarating a from-scratch second draft is.

I am marking this as a success, which means I’ve just edged a little bit further out of my comfort zone as an emerging writer. And really, when you’re a writer at any level, is there anything better than coming out of a project and feeling like you grew in the process?

ETA: Hey this is my 100th blog post! What a cool little coincidence.

PROOF Expansion ready for beta readers!

bigger and better than ever

bigger and better than ever

Holy shit, you guys, I finished expanding “Proof” into a novel! I have tentatively retitled it Resistance as adding 45k words does tend to change the scope and focus of the work a little bit. I’m planning on writing up my process and experience working on a deadline, but for now, I’ll just throw out a call for beta readers!

Resistance has many faces, and one of them is Shandolin’s. When she finds her friend brutally murdered, Shandolin knows that her life as an elf living in the City of Mages under the heel of the Qin is going to get a whole lot harder. Though the Qin have her in their sights and put an assassin on her trail, Shandolin decides to fight instead of run–but her only hope of survival is a takeover of the City government.

Shandolin draws everyone she loves into the fray with her: her assassin lover, Rivna, who would prefer a quiet life; her mentor, Moshel, whose history with the Qin leaves him paralyzed and frightened; and her best friend, Kel, who has too many mouths to feed to play a losing game of politics. Apart, they are weak, but together Shandolin and her friends, lovers and fellows may be just strong enough to save their skins and the skins of the other elves in the City.

Set in the unique and finely realized fantasy universe of Aerdh, RESISTANCE is a completed fantasy novel 52,000 words in length. RESISTANCE is about the big and small ways hunted people fight back, and what it may cost them if they win the fight.

Interested? Let me know!

PROOF Expansion Update

I did not mean to neglect this blog so long, but as you are about to see, I have been hella busy. the expansion of “Proof” into a novel is going really well! I am actually ahead of schedule already. Good job, me. Anyway, I thought I would write up a post that walks you through my process for this blitz writing project step by step, because if there’s one thing the aspiring author blogosphere needs it’s another writing process post!

Step 1: Make a plan of attack

Evernote is awesome because you can stick in to do check boxes, and there's nothing sweeter than checking off a box. I'M DONE, BRO you say to Evernote. And then Evernote buys you flowers.

Evernote is awesome because you can stick in to do check boxes, and there’s nothing sweeter than checking off a box. I’M DONE, BRO you say to Evernote. And then Evernote buys you flowers.

I have a hard deadline for this project–August 1st–so it made sense to me to map backward from the hard deadline to see what needed to be done by when. I know my writing process well enough now to know I would need time for worldbuilding/brainstorming, obviously writing time, and then a little cushion at the end for copyediting. Because, you guys, I am a shit typist, and I don’t catch the terrible typing as I’m writing. Since this is my first project I’m doing ~for realsies!~ like with a really good shot at seeing it published I am kind of nervous. Instead of getting stuck in the self-doubting seventh circle of hell, I’ve built in even more cushion time to get a couple of my very fastest beta readers to look through the manuscript before I send it off (though if they’re like WOW B THIS SUCKS MONKEY BALLS I’m not sure there is functionally enough time to really do anything about that; this is mostly a peace-of-mind thing).

I gave myself a week of worlbuilding/planning time at the start, then two weeks at the end for edits. The time in between is writing time, and I worked out how much I would need to write everyday all of those days in order to hit 60k words by the point at which I need to start editing.

Step 2: The outline to end all outlines
You see the highlighting? The highlighting means I'm taking this seriously.

You see the highlighting? The highlighting means I’m taking this seriously.

I mentioned before that I’m not much of a plotter, but for this project plotting makes sense logistically. I’m pretty sure that was exactly the right call to make, so I wrote up a very extensive outline of what is essentially the original short story but with many more complications and a handful of new characters thrown in for flavor.

The thing is, when I say I don’t plot or plan much for most of my work, I mean that pretty much wholesale. I don’t structure the plot ahead of time, and I certainly don’t pay much attention to the structure of the book itself (chapters, sections, etc). But I did this time. I figured give or take 6k words was about the right length for a chapter which in a 60k draft would mean give or take ten chapters, so I printed out the Massive Outline and broke up the action by chapter, and within chapters broke it into scenes.

Step 3: Structuring the draft in Scrivener

Oh, corkboard feature. What a fool I was to think I'd never use you.

Oh, corkboard feature. What a fool I was to think I’d never use you.

Each scene got its own notecard with the following: a chapter designation, a scene number, a quick and dirty summary of the action this scene pushes forward, and keywords describing the characters present, major plot points, and setting.

The fact that you can mouse over the card in the binder and it displays the summary is super useful while writing–essentially, it lets me write to the next scene so I can keep any foreshadowy bits in mind as I go along.

Step 4: Get your write on

This is the fun part.

This is the fun part.

I’ve set this hard goal of 2200 words per day every day until the book is done. Now, I work 40+ hours a week and parent a toddler and have, like, a life and shit, so 2200 was, I thought, a reach goal. But it’s working.

I write on the bus, basically exclusively on the bus. I have a 40 minute block in the morning where I’m getting out about 1200 words, and I have another 40 minute block on my way home in the afternoon where I usually match or surpass the amount written that morning. The fact that I know the story so well and have hammered out all the actual stuff that happens makes this a bit easier, but by a week in honestly I think the rhythm of writing in two focused blocks helps me get all those words out.

This is not to say there haven’t been surprises along the way. The chapter structure has shifted a little. Characters I definitely did not expect to show up came into the story. Characters I thought I knew quite well showed me a whole different side to them. Despite all that meticulous planning and the rigidity of my writing schedule, the actual writing part of this project still feels very organic, which I think is a good sign.

Step 5: Progress monitoring is key

And we're back to my dear old friend Excel which you may have noticed I use for basically everything.

And we’re back to my dear old friend Excel which you may have noticed I use for basically everything.

I keep a spreadsheet where I track daily writing, log whether it’s writing or planning or blogging or what, and where I track my queries. I also keep a list of books I’ve read in here. Look, I just like lists, ok? That’s not a crime.

Usually I just have this log because I like data, but for this project it’s vital to track and monitor how closely I’m following that week-by-week project plan I’ve got over in Evernote. Doing this showed me that this weekend HOLY SHIT I was actually far enough ahead of schedule that I could take a break from writing. Which was good because I had Proper Adult Things to do this weekend like cook Father’s Day brunch for my partner and organize the hellhole which was once my closet and play with my kid and install a new saddle on my bike. Also somehow I drank an entire jug of orange juice in a single day. That was super important, and frankly, I feel rather accomplished.

This spreadsheet is actually kind of awesome because I have it where it auto-sums the number of words written within the year to date and also it sums the total number of words in a month and takes the average written daily for the month. WHAT I LIKE DATA.

Step 6: Make sure your ducks are in a row

compiling sounds so productive, doesn't it? "Oh, what did you do today?" "I compiled an entire book!" "Wow, look at you go!"

Compiling sounds so productive, doesn’t it? “Oh, what did you do today?” “I compiled an entire book!” “Wow, look at you go!”

I am writing the book according to the specs I’ve set the Scrivener editor to for my own particular preference (12 pt Palatino Linotype, 1.5 spacing in case you’re interested), but lo! The press for whom I’m writing the book has preferences of their own. The mysteries of the human mind. Anyway, they send me a pre-edit checklist and formatting document, and I spent an hour or so tinkering around in Scrivener’s compile settings to work out how best to get Scrivener to export exactly the kind of document they want. I periodically compile a chapter here or there to make sure everything fits their requirements, and then I can just write the damn book without having to scramble at the end to make the formatting work.

So, that’s where I am and what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks! It’s clipping along at a great place, the nerves about this REALLY BEING A REAL THING are manageable, and I’ve been able to keep my head above water in the other domains of my life. Basically, I feel like this guy:

Well, I feel like this guy if he was, like, wearing clothes.

Well, I feel like this guy if he was, like, wearing clothes.
(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)