“If it’s not fun for the whole psyche then what’s the point?”

Musing this evening on the perils of self-censorship. People I know have started to read Ryswyck and are telling me where they are in the story. They make brief comments or ask me questions: “I’ll be interested to see how you develop the concept of undefendedness,” said one, and, “Am I right that this takes place in a sort of hypothetical Britain-like country?” another buttonholed me at church to ask. “I’m two-thirds of the way through,” said a friend last night, and proceeded to tell me what was happening with each of the characters as if they were people we both knew.

This is an ongoing source of quiet amazement for me. When I first thought up the story that would become this novel, I was convinced I couldn’t write it — and more than that, I was convinced I shouldn’t. A snippet from the first blog post about it:

Spring has definitely sprung around here. There is a profusion of daffodils everywhere, we’ve cut pink-blooming boughs from the peach tree for the chapel, and the mint patch has begun to sprout. And, I’ve been making myself up stories again. I won’t write the one I’ve been dreaming out, because it is just too idtastic: it follows two characters through a co-ed military school that has a reputation for turning out brilliant officers but has the air of a mystery cult, and for good reason. There’s lots of courtesy and kindness, and also a great deal of sex and violence. This poses a problem, not for me, but for the Sir William — now Lord — Rees-Mogg in my head who prefers that we keep up our standards.

Still and all, I reflect that most of the stories I’ve made up over the years come from my id originally. I think I’m supposed to be ashamed of this, but I really just can’t manage it: it seems more to me like the id-origins of my stories are the grubby roots and the stories rise from them aboveground as plants.

But one does prefer the aboveground plant to be what’s noticed, I must say.

(March 15, 2012)

Fortunately for the book, I only needed the slightest encouragement to write it anyway, which my friends were only too happy to provide. It’s one thing to know Joanna Russ’s list of ways women’s writing is suppressed: it’s quite another to realize that you’re doing most of the suppressing for them. And still another to stop doing it.

That’s the miracle of art, though: a divine stubbornness that doesn’t feel miraculous in the least. A cussedness, a grubby stamping on the shovel’s shoulder, digging up that flowerbed. From a dreamed-out story outline in the rough, to a finished project one is proud of: that is worth all the slogging in the middle.

I suppose the reverse benefit of such difficulty is that when you’ve finished the project, you can enjoy the result and stick it to The Man in one move.

Fun for the whole psyche, indeed.

Gusto

Spring has sprung! I’m spending mornings with the balcony door open and feeling the itch to plot this year’s garden — along with a number of other allergy-related itches due to the neighborhood trees, but everybody’s got to live. And I’ve got to the point in preparing the ebook document where the light at the end of the tunnel looks less like an oncoming train.

So while I’m slogging through the last tedious bits of work, I give you two pieces of music pour s’amuser. One is a fascinating piece by a traditional Japanese drum ensemble, which I could watch over and over. One of the first things I noticed was that these young people played the entire piece while sustaining a lunge. Could I sustain a lunge for ten minutes straight? I doubt it.

The other is a piece I have long delighted in, ever since I heard it when it was being used as the postlude for ordinations at the cathedral. This is pretty great, but you really haven’t heard this piece till you’ve heard it in person in a resonant space. If I wanted to heckle Michael Stern at the Kansas City Symphony, I wouldn’t call for “Free Bird,” I’d call for somebody to get up in the organ loft and play the Widor Toccata. Every time I’m at the Kauffman I keep hoping the program will put that organ to use, but it rarely happens, alas.

Gusto is the thing. Sometimes I think it’s the whole point of music: if you have gusto and don’t know what to do with it, I say fire up one of these babies.

Now to await the first thunderstorm of the spring, when I will blast the “Dona nobis pacem” from the Bach Mass.

Cover reveal!

Mark your calendars for Memorial Day: Ryswyck will be released in ebook and print on May 27, 2019!

Cover art by Elizabeth Leggett at archwayportico.com

I’m excited! And great thanks are due to Beth Leggett, who was gracious enough to take my commission and did a hero’s work producing the cover art.

Preorder information for Ryswyck is pending, so watch this space.

Sunday: Project Management

It snowed again this past week and honestly, I’m over it. Though I did make use of my fresh stock of Eagle Brand for snow ice cream, because if there’s enough snow, why wouldn’t you?

It’s been a week for project management, both at work and on the book production front. I have commissioned a design for the cover art for Ryswyck, made a beta appointment for “Household Lights,” wrangled with Microsoft Word in a preliminary attempt to make the manuscript of Ryswyck POD-compliant, put off with a shudder the attempt to make it e-book compliant, composed the front matter for the book, and today, made a stab at the back matter.

Trying to compose an author bio made me recall the line in Murder Must Advertise about how the best marketing copy was always written with the tongue firmly in the cheek, “a genuine conviction of the commodity’s worth producing — for some reason — poverty and flatness of style.” In any event there is simply no use attempting to be really earnest in writing one’s own bio blurb, so I wasn’t.

But even so I’m not sure I won’t scrap it and start over come tomorrow; a flippant joke about that time I stole V.S. Naipaul’s hat is all very well, but do I really want to give a notorious male chauvinist real estate in my bio? Maybe I’ll do the one about deciphering Rebecca West’s handwriting instead.

And despite the fact that I have a vast deal more compassion and self-worth regarding all the follies of my past than I ever did before, it’s a bit deflating to try and describe one’s career in slightly flippant but impressive terms. I could say I’m an ordinary working jane who wrote a book, but that’s not very impressive. And I could mention that I have two degrees in English Literature, but there’s no way to bring that out with the right note of flippancy. Anxiety of authorship, indeed.

Fortunately, at the end of a book that one has presumably just read, one does not need a CV of the author, just a sketch of the person who has just provided them with a (hopefully) meaningful immersive experience.

Anyway, I put the damn thing away and will read it again tomorrow, and the Acknowledgments as well, which I fear are too fucking fulsome, but never mind.

I did, by the way, discover that my original file of Ryswyck, composed in web style with line spaces for paragraph breaks, was almost exactly the same number of pages that the POD manuscript is, formatted in print style and a forgiving Garamond font. Which is to say, it’s about 525 pages. I’d come to fear it would be a massive tome just this side of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, since every time I mention the word count to people who know publishing, I get back a look like I just announced I had a terminal illness. But I don’t, and it’s not, and in fact this is shaping up to be a fabulous product.

I just have to find a way to say that with the tongue firmly in the cheek.

It is done!

It is done. “Household Lights” is finished and off to beta, at a hair over 50k words. Feels like it took forever, but I suppose start to finish it only took a couple of months. I’m rather pleased with it; or I would be if I wasn’t just ready to plotz right now.

I’ve taken advantage of the weather closures that have prevented the fencing club from meeting; if I don’t get to fence, at least I can use the time to write, eh? But I’m looking forward to fencing again, not to mention leaving my house.

That’s…pretty much it just at present. I’ll blog more when my brain isn’t a piece of cheese.

By the numbers: end of January outlook

  • 38,000 — words written on “Household Lights”
  • 4 — sequences left to write on my list
  • enough to stuff a cushion — number of tissues applied to my massive sinus infection
  • 5 — approximate number of Very Important pieces of mail I need to unearth for adult things like getting my car tags done
  • 0 — number of fucks I am able to spare for that right now
  • -2 — the anticipated low for tonight’s weather conditions
  • 7 — number of swords I own, in case any Upper Plains person laughs at this
  • 2 — Lindor truffles on my desk…oops

And so on, and so forth, &c. &c. In other words, I aten’t dead. Barely.

Edited to add: I recounted my swords. I have one (1) rapier; one (1) practice foil; one (1) sport saber; and five (not 4) épées. So I have 8 swords, not 7.

In the word mines: the open sea, with some charts, and the firmament

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.

Joules burn

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.