Hey folks! I’m happy to announce that Resistance will be published by Inkstained Succubus press! I am honored to be part of their community of authors and super excited to be working with them on my debut novel! We are currently in the editing process, and Resistance is projected to be released in February 2014.
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.
*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.
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.
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?”
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.”
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:
I don’t suppose writing consists in anything more than doing it.
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
This is the tenth 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 should have a bunch more character outlines in the can. And maybe this weekend – barring a terrible toddler flu resurgence – I will get a chance to draw some maps.
What actually happened:
Pretty much exactly what I set out to do! I made much progress on character bios:
I’m over halfway done, and the character bios continue to be useful. I am making an effort to keep my eyes on the prize, but I am getting carried away. A lot of these characters reappear, and have lives before and after this story, and I am writing those into the character bios, too, even if that information isn’t immediately useful.
BUT the big thing this week was maps! Maps everywhere! Or, more precisely, one map annotated a bunch of different ways!
So what I’ve done here is I drew and painted a watercolor map of southern Aerdh over the weekend, which I then scanned at work (because work has a readily available scanner and my scanner at home is unreliable to say the least) and popped into powerpoint. The map I painted was bare so that I had maximum flexibility to mess around with borders, character routes, etc, digitally. Which means that I have several different types of maps of the same region: the basic outlines of countries at one point, after the war, important war landmarks, etc.
As for the mechanics, they are as follows:
I used the scribble feature under shapes to mark out the boundaries. Once I had them set, I selected all of them at once and grouped them so they were easier to manage. And then I duplicated slides with the boundaries in place to do the different kinds of maps. Voila!
For completion’s sake, I stuck one of the basic maps in the Aerdh Bible for reference:
Note to self: Stick the timeline in here, too, while you’re at it, champ.
The other thing that happened this week is that I’ve begun to revisit The Prince of Norsa. I had a lovely beta reader express interest, but it was written in word and getting the manuscript in a neat and tidy format in Scrivener is a bit of a chore. So, while I whip it into readable shape (getting it into a clean .mobi file), I’ve been poking at the text.
Now, one might say this is a distraction, but that person would be wrong. You see The Prince of Norsa intersects with The Long Road in some very meaningful ways. Characters wander from one book to the other. Actions in The Prince of Norsa have a direct effect on the state of things in The Long Road, and vice versa. Given the fact that I finished the first draft of The Prince of Norsa back in October, which has given me some eight months away from it, and given that the books are so intimately linked, I would say it is, in fact, not a distraction at all to work on them in tandem.
So, next week. Well, timelines are done. Maps are done. I suppose I should just finish out these last character bios and use this space next week to sketch out some next steps.