“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.

Ryswyck pre-launch signup

In preparation for the Memorial Day festivities, your intrepid author is making a list and checking it twice planning for the softcover launch ahead of time. I’ve talked to any number of folks who’ve mentioned wanting to purchase a paperback copy of Ryswyck, including those who were all ready to roll up and put their names on the proverbial Girl Scout cookie order sheet.

So here it is. In fact this is better than ordering Girl Scout cookies, because you won’t be reaching into an empty sleeve and wondering where the hell all your Thin Mints went. With a book, you can read it more than once!

So, if you’re one of those people who wants a paperback, please use the form below to order 5 boxes of Caramel Dee-Lites — no, give the author 5 boxes of Caramel Dee-Lites — no, hang it, I mean let the author know your intentions so she can plan accordingly. (The author is certainly not going to promise that a gift of cookies will expedite a local distribution order. Nope, no indeed.)

All facetiousness aside, I promise not to make nefarious (or possibly even noticeable) use of your email, or expose it to spammers, or put you on my newsletter subscription list — I’d have to start producing a newsletter first. (Which I may do in the future, with a separate signup.)

And meanwhile, you can still preorder the e-book at the distributor of your choice. And you can visit the author at Goodreads, too!

Proof proof of life

Look what came today!

I’ve already changed the document since ordering this proof, but I’m not sorry because holding this book is amazing. I am so stoked, in case the pic doesn’t give that away.

Just a few more ducks to line up and then the paperback, too, will go up for preorder.

Stay tuned!

And it helped, too

So yesterday was the kind of day where, although things didn’t exactly go badly, there was just a general atmosphere of stress, exacerbated by all the little things crowding the margins of my mind that I haven’t gotten done. I have taxes to do, and a sermon to write, and certain work deadlines have been glaring at me from beneath their heaps in Outlook for weeks.

(Speaking of exacerbate, a friend of mine has a running joke where when someone uses a 25-cent word, she says, “And [simpler word], too.” Once in our hearing, V remarked that something-or-other would exacerbate a certain situation, and C said: “It might even make it worse.”)

So at close of business yesterday evening, I shut down the lid of my laptop. “Fuck it,” I said, “I’m going to Bo Lings.” I put on my hat, grabbed my file of “Household Lights,” and went.

Bo Lings is one half of my mental spa ritual. The other half is Barnes & Noble. The order in which I visit them depends on how hungry I am, and whether I plan to purchase reading material to go with my dumplings and egg drop soup. In this case, preliminary editing was the order of the day, so after dinner I walked the two blocks to B&N and mouched about, browsing.

To my delight, I found that B&N had stocked Erin Bow’s new book. Which is, deplorably, not always the case at my local B&N.

Lo these many years ago, I was a failed beta reader for one of Erin’s early projects. Can we talk briefly about beta reading failure? Writers (at least all the writers I know including myself) continually trawl the mental rolodex of their friends for possible readers for their manuscripts: people with certain areas of expertise, or with discriminating taste, or with an editor’s eye for detail, or all of the above. But sometimes it happens that someone agrees to read a manuscript and then…just doesn’t. Or just can’t. And then there’s a shame spiral and they can’t even look at the file, and turn aside from the topic as soon as may be and may take to avoiding the writer on the street.

I’ve been on both ends of such a weltering disaster, and producing Ryswyck has taught me a lot about this aspect of project management. Well, actually, one of my betas taught me a lot about it: she suggested I give a timeline along with available dates for discussion so that she would be able to work it concretely into her schedule. “Ooh, concept,” said ADHD me. By providing a proposed deadline and other parameters, I as the writer can practice expectations management, and the beta reader can find it easier to cancel if necessary without having to say I don’t want to read your book ever ever ever.

Anyway, Erin has obviously found better betas, because she has now produced a string of brilliant books. I read through Chapter Six last night, and look forward to getting back to it. (You know, somewhere among all the abovementioned work.) Some writers worthy of the Evil Author badge are ingenious at making you cry by the end of the book, but Erin is special: she made me shed tears AT THE BEGINNING WTF.

Talk about a mental spa service upgrade. Couldn’t have found a better way to ameliorate my anxiety.

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.