On Finishing THE INCOMING TIDE

TheIncomingTide_wordle

According to my meticulously kept daily writing records, I started planning out The Incoming Tide last October two days after finishing Extraction. The records show fairly steady work on it, interrupted now and again for a burst of short stories or focused edits on other projects further down the publishing pipeline. Still, I didn’t finish the first draft of The Incoming Tide until May 22nd. It clocked in at 70k words, which is on the slim side for a novel. It took me seven months to crank out 70k words. Maybe that’s not slow, but it certainly felt slow to me—Ariah is a hefty 128k words and I wrote it in a little under three months. Ariah is nearly twice as long and took half the time, so what gives?

The Incoming Tide was an altogether different beast. Ariah was a second draft. It was a substantively rewritten second draft, but still it was a second draft. I knew the characters. I knew the shape and color of the narrative. I knew, in short, what I was writing. So there’s that: first drafts feel different, and for me, they often take a little more time to get out. And, actually, referring once again to my copious records, The Incoming Tide is the only first draft of a novel I’ve written since I started trying to get my work out there. Everything else had been rewrites. Extraction, the volume preceding Tide in the Tale of Rebellion series, is on its fourth draft.

But it was more than that. Tide felt sometimes hard to write. I felt a weird pressure while living in that book. Drafting and redrafting and redrafting Extraction meant that I could never quite move past it. Tide was like a light at the end of that tunnel. Tide was the promised land. It’s strange, you know, getting finally to that blinding light. It takes awhile for your eyes to adjust. It took me some time to find the rhythm of Tide, to find the style and voice of it.

Of course as soon as I finished Tide I started planning the follow-up book, The King and His Makers. Of course I did. But I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from it to queue up blog posts, to work on edits for Ariah, to ponder life. A little bit of space, I think, will take the edge off and make the first draft of King a little less scary.

Writing Snippet: A TALE OF REBELLION

Idle hands while I wait for a response from the editors on RESISTANCE means I’m working again on the rewrites of THE LONG ROAD, which I’ve tentatively retitled A TALE OF REBELLION. Here’s a snippet of something I wrote yesterday:

Vath worked the compound’s washing with a young woman named Siddah. She was small and wiry, free with smiles, curious and uncomplicated. She was, like every other red elf but Vathorem, a compulsive talker, and she kept up a steady and largely one-sided conversation as they worked. “I’ve never been nowhere but the valley,” she said. “Bardonner born and raised. A body forgets there’s a world out there beyond the peaks. You all, you must be from all over.”

“From here and there,” Vath said.

Siddah grinned at him. She bestowed these pleased, delighted grins on him when he spoke. She had a giddy, contagious enthusiasm, and he found that since she weren’t asking anything of him, since she weren’t trying to suss him out, since she seemed simply pleased to have his company, that he didn’t mind her chatter. It was a lovely change of pace for him, to be stuck with someone happy and untroubled, someone who had, perhaps, never known panic. She kept on. “Where are you lot from? Rethnali, I didn’t know her or nothing. I’m young, right. I know she’s from here, but I didn’t know her myself. But the rest of you, you all must be from all over! From the flatlands. From the cities! And you all found each other in the forest and stuck together. Like a song, it is. Sort of…romantic. You think?”

“Far less romance than you’d guess,” Vath said. And then he remembered the way Fenner was forever trailing after Rethnali, and the way Sellior was forever pining over Fenner, and he laughed. “Well, there’s a bit of romance to it, I guess.”

Siddah dropped her washing in the tub of soapy water. She leaned across it, conspiratorial and curious. “Oooh, is it that tall one with the pale hair and that boy in mourning? Is that the romance?”

“Par and Selli? No. It’ll be some time before Par’s going down that road. Deep in mourning, that one. Lost his girl and he’s drowning in guilt.”

“That’s sad,” Siddah said. She plucked the sheet out of the tub and clucked her tongue.

“Mostly it’s sad stories, what we have, and not romantic ones,” Vath said.

“But you all, you’re heroes!” Siddah said. “Everyone round here says so.”

“If you really listen to heroes’ tales,” Vath said, “you’ll find they’re riddled through with a wicked sadness, each and every one.”

The girl frowned. She beat the sheets against a boulder. Vath could feel brewing in her a disquiet. She stopped and wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm. “If it’s all such wicked sadness,” she asked, “then what’s the point of fighting?”

Vath laughed.

Siddah looked over at him and smiled. “You laughing at me, soldier?”

“No, girl,” said Vath. “I’m laughing at me.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.

“There’s no answer to it. Or there’s a thousand answers to it, and not a one is satisfactory.” Vath sat on the rocky ground and cracked his knuckles. “The reasons we started fighting aren’t the reasons we’re still at it. Some of us ain’t got nothing but fight left in us. Some of us don’t know nothing but the fight.”

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!

Shifting Gears

we pause our regularly scheduled shit for an exciting new project now on an exciting new deadline

we pause our regularly scheduled shit for an exciting new project now on an exciting new deadline
(image courtesy of wikimedia commons; click through for source)

I had a Back to the Drawing Board post all half-written, but it’s going to have to wait. Not that I haven’t made progress on The Long Road rewrites, because I have*, but because it can be put on hold and something else has to get done by August 1st.

I submitted “Proof” to an open call for an anthology, and it caught the interest of the editors! Alas, it doesn’t look like the anthology is happening, but they have expressed interest in me expanding “Proof” into a short novel! They want the daft by August 1st, and I have full confidence I’ll make that deadline.

*Actually, I made quite a bit of progress The Long Road. I started drafting the rewrite! I am about 5k words in. Yep, the second I finished with all that prewriting and worldbarfing and timelining I have to put the project on hold.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 8

excel, and powerpoint, and scrivener, oh my!

excel, and powerpoint, and scrivener, oh my!

This is the eighth 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.

To recap, my goal from last week was:

By this time next week, I’ll shoot to have this character-level timeline worked out as well as I can through the end of the story (which is incidentally the end of the war COUGHspoilerCOUGH). This should provide me a much clearer sense of who is going to be important in the book and who will have to wander off into their own stories to be written later.

What actually happened:
I finished the character-level timeline! And it is a beauty, let me tell you. Check it out:

don't be shy; take a gander at this baby

don’t be shy; take a gander at this baby

I plotted out who is doing what where and with who all the way through to the end of the book. This was actually an extremely useful exercise since it made me think through some hard choices about how someone would end up where they are at the end of the book(s).

The color coding works really well to visually distinguish (a) which characters are together at a given point, and (b) the scope of a given plot arc. One thing this sort of thing does for me writing-wise is it helps me clarify my instincts. For instance, there’s a character named Kellidion who I’ve had this nagging instinct to put in this story. He popped up years ago as a character mentioned in passing in a totally different book, and then I wrote a set of shorts about him, and he’s popped up here and there. His story overlapped in a glancing way with this one, and on a hunch I gave him a row on the above timeline. And it’s going to pay off. It makes sense in about a million ways for him to be involved and now I’ve worked out why.

Ok, so by now you may have noticed I get carried away. All of my seemingly simple information structuring techniques turn into these peculiar baroque creations, and this is now exception. I went through it again when I finished it, and the act of going through sparked ideas, so I used Excel’s comment feature to note these down. And so really the timeline looks like this:

a veritable avalanche of plot!

a veritable avalanche of plot!

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!

Finishing the timeline means I have a better sense of character arcs, which means that I can do a whole lot of very fun work building out character trajectories and backstories.

seriously this is hella fun

seriously this is hella fun

This is getting done in the Aerdh Bible so that these character notes can be used in future projects and updated according to those projects as needed. Information centralization! It’s a thing I believe in!

I’ve also started this nifty thing:

look at all those lines and bubbles

look at all those lines and bubbles

This is the relationship web I mentioned in my last post in this series. I find it useful to have a visual representation for this which works to jar my memory of what I’ve built out at a glance. Turns out powerpoint is really good at this.

All in all, this has been a productive little week.

So. For next week, I’m planning to have character sheets written out for all the characters on the timeline and hopefully have then mapped out on the web.

Next steps are to redraw the world map and track paths on it as well as changes to the landscape as a result of the war.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 5

I...didn't say no. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, FRIENDS!

I…didn’t say no. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, FRIENDS!

To recap, my goal from last week was:

I should have all the major events of the war built out in the Aerdh Bible. I will probably have an utterly absurd file structure brewing in there. The next big step is to create a visual timeline of the war itself with the arcs of all involved groups represented, so hopefully I’ll be organized enough to start that.

What actually happened:
None of that! I got distracted. Waylaid by my own sprawling brain. I am most of the way through mapping out entries in the Aerdh Bible for the course of the war, but the thing is I keep veering off course. When I’m sketching out an event, sometimes the event is fascinating, or the characters in the event are fascinating, or both, and I feel a story brewing. A good story! With excellent themes! Which could be structured in a very interesting way! You can see the process happen below:

1) OH WAIT THIS IS COOL Syndrome

Slide2

a febrile mind at work

As you can see here, I interrupted my own writing to make a note about something I want to write. Initially, this was just a mark-it-put-it-aside-for-later thing, but then on the bus ride home this happened:

2) MAYBE I’LL JUST START IT Syndrome

2013-04-04 11.21.01

trusty notebook! we meet again!

I wrote the entire hour long commute. I cranked out 5 full pages. Maybe I just missed the pure hit of narrative fiction writing. I don’t know. All I know is when I sat down next time to work on the Aerdh Bible, dutifully stowing the notebook containing the spontaneous beginnings of a draft of a story I really shouldn’t be writing just now, this happened:

3) IT DOESN’T COUNT AS CHEATING IF I’M JUST THINKING ABOUT IT Syndrome

eyes on the prize, Sanders

eyes on the prize, Sanders

Yeah. So. I started a Scrivener project where I am currently outlining all the super cool story ideas bursting forth from the Aerdh Bible process which would not work in the actual book I am trying to rewrite. BUT I’M NOT WRITING THEM, OH NO, SO IT’S COOL TO TOOL AROUND IN HERE INSTEAD OF MAKING ACTUAL PROGRESS ON THE ACTUAL BOOK THESE STORIES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RELATED TO.

The thing about me is that I am a pretty disciplined writer. I have a hell of a work ethic, and I trust myself to churn out reams of text with little effort. But for this project, I need to become a slightly more focused writer. All these story ideas will still be here when I’m done with the rewrite. The burgeoning stories are extremely useful in terms of building up ambient richness for the book itself, but they are also new and shiny and different and intriguing and seductive. Hopefully this craving to write them will dissipate a little when I actually get to the writing stage of the book.

By next week, I should (FINALLY BECAUSE I WON’T BE DISTRACTED) have all the major events of the war built out in the Aerdh Bible. I will probably have an utterly absurd file structure brewing in there. The next big step is to create a visual timeline of the war itself with the arcs of all involved groups represented, so hopefully I’ll be organized enough to start that (BECAUSE I WILL BE MAKING PROGRESS ON THIS OVERARCHING GOAL FOR REALSIES).

Between Projects: The Publishing Hustle

Now that Assassins is finished and out to beta readers, I am between projects. And the thing is that in spite of the always glorious sense of accomplishment I get when I finish a piece, being between projects kind of totally sucks.

I think that for every writer there are parts of the process that are easy and parts that are hard. My process goes something like this:

  1. First spark: a sentence or an image or some such fleeting glimpse into what a narrative might be which seems to come from the ether
  2. First Draft: start writing about that spark
    1. plan out if need be. go with it if the story is crystallizing all by itself.
    2. take all the notes along the way
  3. YAY IT’S DONE AND THE BEST THING EVARR: send to beta readers to get some perspective.
  4. Let it sit around awhile until I can face up to the fact that it’s not actually perfect.
    1. hey look another spark! I’ll go write that for awhile (new process begins)
  5. Second Draft: rewrite this motherfucker!!
    1. go back through the first draft and make some plans
    2. burn everything to the ground and rewrite it (the story RISES like a PHOENIX from the ASHES!!)
    3. Proofread to the best of my ability (which is not all that great)
      1. convince a life partner to proofread it so I don’t look like such a dumbass
  6. Send back to beta readers & do one last round of edits
  7. Think about pulling together query materials
  8. Think about puling together query materials some more
  9. Poke around the internet looking for agents/presses/competitions the project might be a good fit for
    1. get intimidated
  10. Whine to various life partners about the publishing industry
  11. Edit the manuscript for possible self-publishing
  12. Daydream about covers
  13. Start a query letter, abandon it
  14. Repeat steps 7-13 for an inordinate amount of time
  15. Decide to focus on that cool other project I started between drafts 1 and 2

Ok. So you can see where my weak spot is: the whole getting things out there part. I’m not entirely sure why this is. Certainly, I write primarily for myself, but I won’t lie and say that it’s anything short of awesome when someone else reads my writing. Storytelling is communication, and communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I love sharing my work, but the publishing game leaves me cold. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. It gives me no creative high. So I have to force myself to do it.

I get antsy between projects. There is always a moment when I finish something and haven’t started a new project where I manage to convince myself I’m tapped out, that I have nothing else to write. It isn’t true, I know that rationally, but that nagging fear combined with how much I just love writing means I tend to rush into a new project before following through on the publishing part of a just-finished project. No one likes writing query letters, or synopses, or the inevitable rejections (or, even worse, utter disinterest)  from the vast majority of the agents you query. Whenever I sit down to pull together a query package I have a moment of revulsion, like I’m wasting my precious writing time for this?

But, really, I’d like my manuscripts to do something more than sit on my hard drive in perpetuity. I’d like to build a readership, publish, get a body of work out there in a more professional and overt way than passing my pieces to friends, who pass them to their friends. So lately when I finish something and get the edits back from beta readers, I’ve started forcing myself to query it. New rule: no writing something new until a query has been written and some agents ave been queried. So far so good. Here’s hoping I can follow my own self-imposed rules.

All project descriptions are up!

Descriptions are available for all completed projects, both those in submission and those that need beta readers!

ARIAH Update: Draft 2 is finished!

Exciting news! Last night I finished the rewrites on Ariah! I think this second draft came out very strong: much more focused than the first draft, much tighter. And when I say much tighter, I mean I shaved off 75,000 words from draft 1 to draft 2.

I am currently doing a quick and dirty read through to fix timeline issues, address notes I left earlier in the text of the fix-this-later variety, do basic copy editing, etc, but it will be available for any gracious soul who wants to be a beta reader soon!

To whet your appetite, here is a (rough) blurb for it:

Ariah is a man at the mercy of his magic: he is a shaper and a mimic. He feels what those around him feel, and he slips into other’s minds and voices so easily it is a struggle to remember who he is. His magical gifts are a constant struggle even as they are an indelible part of who he is.

 

When his teacher, Dirva, receives an unexpected visitor, Ariah’s magical training comes to a screeching halt. Ariah follows Dirva across borders to a city where there is no one to help him marshal his gifts, where the people around him draw from Ariah wants and needs he cannot acknowledge. In the City of Mages, Ariah meets Dirva’s brother, Sorcha, a man who will change Ariah’s life forever.

 

Ariah is a 128,000 word fantasy novel set in the richly realized Aerdhish universe. It is a story of a young man’s journey to reconcile his heart, his talents, and his beliefs with a world that is sometimes welcoming and sometimes hostile. It is a tale of love found in unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

If you are interested in reading this draft, or if you have any feedback at all which will help me improve my sorely lacking blurb writing skills, please leave a comment!