Well, I seem to have got off my blogging regimen just a little bit, after a brief spate. But I’m not all that sorry, because I have been writing. The odometer on “Household Lights” just clicked over 30,000 words, and I feel pretty good about them.
And naturally, there was a good reason why I was stymied several days earlier. Several of the elements I had envisioned for the story, when brought together, had a chemical reaction I hadn’t prepared for, and the anticipation of the decisions I would have to make had slowed my roll. But, after some chat with a couple of betas, and an exciting new idea, I started to write my way into the new reality.
I remarked to Erica afterwards that I didn’t often write to find out what happens, but that I was definitely doing so in this case, and she said, “Oh god, I write to find out what happens all the time.” It’s interesting to me how different people’s processes can be: I dream and mentally storyboard nearly everything before ever putting down a word — and usually the first thing I write isn’t the first thing, it’s a thread of conversation I found to pull in service of some character interaction or plot turn. I amass a clutch of jotted passages, some of which are barely-scaffolded strings of dialogue and some of which are fully-blocked scenes, and then at some point I take the plunge and start writing the opening. Usually, when I get to the already-written material, it fits in well as-is. Sometimes it needs tweaking. Rarely do I have to throw away any pre-written scenes, but it has been known to happen.
For “Household Lights” I have three pre-written passages to work into the remaining sequences, and (by current count) seven sequences left to write. That will probably work out to about 20k more words, now that I’ve charted my new territory somewhat.
What’s interesting about the developments of this story is the knock-on effects it will have on what I’m still calling Book 2. (That makes “Household Lights,” like, what, 1.5 or something? I haven’t decided. I think Ann Leckie — or at least, Goodreads — did something similar with her short, um, ancillary material to her Ancillary Justice trilogy, and there’s a good story you should definitely read. And you can tell just how effectively she interrogated the domination system from the inside by how livid it made worshippers of domination. I could only aspire to that kind of effectiveness; but I digress.) Some themes I had planned to address in Book 2 demanded to be treated in this story, which on the one hand may alter some of my pre-written scenes for it, but on the other, may clear a lot of ground ahead of time and save me some wordage down the line. So as Bob Ross says, we don’t make mistakes in our world; we just have happy accidents.
So, it’s back to work with me. Tea, sunrise, a dusting of snow outside, and an open document in here. Heigh-ho.
It’s one of those “writing is haaarrrrd” days. So I’ll blog a little.
The Interstitial Novella, which is approaching 20k words and probably has about 20k more to go, has reached the plow point — the point where the run-up momentum has spent itself and you now have to work out the work: the mass and the gravity and the height of all the scenes remaining to get on paper or in pixels. But it’s now substantial enough that I’m going to start calling it by its working title, “Household Lights.”
Everybody does craft differently, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Hell, I do craft differently with every project I do. But there are some basic features to my process that I’ve become familiar with.
“Household Lights” started life as the opening sequence to the second book in the series. I saw it as an interlude of recovery and refreshment for my characters before I threw more shit at them; because although I fully deserve my Evil Author badge, I also like my characters and want them to be happy. Mostly.
But then I started outlining the stages and acts of Book Two, sketching scenes and jotting down convos, and one of these things was definitely not like the others. Not only that, but the number of scenes I had conceived for the interlude promised to make it quite long. I’m unrepentant about introducing my ‘verse in a long-ass book, but for the second book? — there’s long, and then there’s long and also not tight.
So: short story, novella, whatever. I had some scenes sketched on the page, and some sketched in my head, so I got started. But then of course some of the elements that were already there started taking shape as external plot points. Apparently this isn’t just going to be a story about the inward lives of my characters, a meditation on the transition from one sphere of action to the next. Nope. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who in your great mercy allows shit to happen.
So, I’ve made a list of all the scenes I know remain to be written. Some of these already have dialogue jotted down for them; some have been furniture in my head so long that if they were actual furniture, they would be lumpy from being jumped on by my brainchildren for so long. But, when one looks at a list of scenes and sees how much longer it is than the scenes one has written so far, and one tries to bestir oneself to pick at the next one on the list: that is the plow point, when one says, “Writing is haaaarrrd.”
But, a day like this is way better than days when I just don’t even know how to want to write or what to tackle or how to even think about what I want to see written or wordsauce wordsauce wordsauce. No, days like this are pretty good.
Now excuse me while I stare at the snow and try to squeeze out another word or ten.
Apparently Sunday blogging didn’t happen yesterday. Instead, I had some needed downtime, in which the most strenuous thing I did was to draft a map of the island country featured in Ryswyck, to show to an artist I would commission to draw it properly for the book. I would show it here, but a) there’s a reason why I’m hiring someone else to draw the map and b) I digitized and edited it at its full size to retain the details, and this post wouldn’t support an image that size.
Meanwhile, the items on my production schedule for the book are slowly coming together, though we’re still in the stage where things happen discretely instead of in linked chains of tasks. I expect it to pick up as spring comes on. Currently on my writer’s easel is a novella-sized treatment of the aftermath of the book, which if it edits well will serve as a sampler of the ‘verse and an intro to the second book in the series, which has been storyboarded and a few scenes sketched in. I’m doing my best to take advantage of the post-winter-solstice surge that is part of my creative rhythm.
It’s only in recent years that I have noticed that pattern enough to take advantage of it; for a long time I was too relieved that the torturous contraction of autumn was over to realize that it had an effect on my writing too. Not just the amounts of production, but the qualities of it change: less maudlin, more driven.
Which brings me to today’s subject. For Christmas, I gave my closest friends a copy of Rebecca Traister’s new book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. It’s a short, trenchant treatment of the current situation we find ourselves in, and the attempts our society makes to obscure the power of anger in women by belittling or demonizing it. Just days ago I woke from a vivid dream about a fascist corporate takeover in which propaganda was spread printed on women’s shopping bags — seemingly friendly advice crowded in little text boxes and meme-sized photos: “Remember, if you start to feel angry, just remember that you’re a bad person, and the feelings will subside.” This morning I woke from a dream in which I went to a guru’s office in part to report that someone had rifled my briefcase bag and taken valuables from it, only to receive a bulletin later that I was banned from the building because being angry over the theft had made me dangerous and disruptive.
I used to have the luxury of thinking dreams like this were due to the idiosyncrasies of my brain and my life experiences. That’s a luxury that’s long gone for everyone.
The funny thing is, if you can get over the bone-deep suspicion that your anger is a sign of depravity, you can get a lot done. When I conceived Ryswyck six years ago, its dangers were all hypothetical, its moral imperative the stuff of parable. I worked on it slowly, stymied at times by mental and emotional obstacles. Then suddenly, there was nothing hypothetical at all about a post-post-apocalyptic tale in which the principle of courtesy becomes the last hope of people mired in a dehumanizing war. I was galvanized into action and wrote the last two-thirds of the story in a fever of fury. Then followed, of course, the long process of beta reading and editing and market research. Pressing to find the place of velocity.
We think that anger is no more than a feeling, an outrage inflicted upon us by the people or the situation that is making us angry. It’s that, to be sure. But finding something to do — not about it, but with it, in it — transforms it, transubstantiates it into something life-giving, even joyful. It becomes something we want to offer to the highest.
What we choose for our highest is the next perilous point.
So, for the New Year I wish you the anger to offer and the best place for offering it, and in those in-between times, a means of cheer and relief. I’ll be on the fencing strip, myself. Cheers!
Once, watching a friend create a delicious meal in her kitchen, I observed a distinction that I had often had in mind about creative endeavors: that there is a difference between a person’s art and their craft. Craft, as I feign it, is a thing you can learn, become enthusiastic about, even take to a satisfying level of mastery. But art is more than that. It’s the ability to take that endeavor’s internal rules and see how to bend them, even break or replace them, to make something unscripted, something previously unimagined — by one’s self at least.
For my friend in the kitchen, cooking was her art: she could follow a recipe, but she could also reverse-engineer one. She could take what she had mastered about cooking food and do something new with it; she could create, with joy and (sometimes only medieval words will do) maistrie in her own domain.
Cooking is not my art. I have managed to develop some craft, but the kitchen is not what I would call my natural domain.
All the same, it’s stimulating and salutary to take up crafts from time to time, new and old. I immersed myself in two crafts this weekend, and it was a great deal of fun. I joined my friends and their baroque jam band for a Beatles-themed Christmas concert; and while I was at it, I borrowed a friend’s camera and practiced composing shots of my friends playing while the chorus (me) was resting.
Neither music nor photography is my art. I’ve been a player of flute and piccolo, an ensemble singer, a self-appointed rhythm section in church (friends don’t let friends clap on 1 and 3!), but despite all those years of practice and effort and enjoyment, I don’t have the ability to intuit a musical situation and jump into it the way my musician friends do. My musician friends don’t go off-piste: the piste is wherever they say it is. And it sounds wonderful.
I’m not a photographer either. But recently I’ve been so sick of my crappy phone camera that my friend (possibly to stem the tide of recreational complaining) lent me his camera to practice taking shots with. I got a few good ones and probably a large number of unremarkable ones; photography as a craft, for me, is pretty satisfying.
Writing is what I consider to be my art. I work at craft, refine it, revamp it, but in the domain of words, the piste is wherever I say it is. Of course, unlike with music and photography and the visual arts, everybody speaks a language — and everybody has an internal world that they believe contributes to the sum total of positive meaning in the universe. Which it does. So to jump into the situation and start articulating what it means, besides being a creative enterprise, is a very brash act.
I’m not a particularly humble person, but there’s a point where ego simply gets left behind and what remains is a realm of divine stubbornness. I think every person who has discovered that divine stubbornness has found their art: regardless of whether they achieve recognition or confirmation of their quality. The rest, as the poet says, is not our business.
So, I appear to have a new author website: a genuwyne, public-facing, on-purpose address on these here Internets. Because I also appear to have gone into business for myself, as a purveyor of words that I wrote.
Writers, as a rule, aren’t inherently attracted to public-facing, on-purpose entrepreneurship, especially when it comes to words they’ve written. But there does come a point at which one has to spit on one’s hands and tackle the learning curve: and so here I am, climbing gear and all.
Because even if writers aren’t natural entrepreneurs, most of us are seized with the conviction that we have meaning to offer the world through our words: and I am no exception.
For the past six years I have struggled mightily to bring forth a project that, like all worthwhile projects, nearly defeated me more than once. I’ll be saying more about that project, and its sequels, in future posts, and as the release date draws near. For now, I will only say that the world in which I conceived this story of courtesy in desperate times, and the world in which we live now, are so widely different that the story has been thrown into sharp and urgent relevance, as if laid over with a differently-vivid color frame.
It’s a frame and a story that I am eager to share.
This blog will be my regular outlet for topics related to writing, reading, craft, narrative, and fun, with a dash of recreational complaining added for flavor. Check out the manifesto on the top menu for a taste.
Meanwhile, here’s a link to a site I am happy to toss money to every year: the best ambient noise generator site on the planet. I’ve returned to this site again and again for inspiration, and since the hardworking proprietor has recently gifted us with the ability to combine stems for unique sounds, I made a generator to evoke the sentinel comm tower at Ryswyck, the titular school of my forthcoming novel.