So Jonathan Wood and I are working on a new novel for NaNoWriMo. Follow this space for updates through the crazy month of November. And Spiders.
The image of the the writer toiling alone behind reams of research and bent over the keyboard, talking to herself, may be rather representative of the whole… but not in this case.
Jonathan Wood and I have been friends since early 2008, when the boom of Twitter brought us together across the digital expanse. In the ensuing years we’ve shared a common appreciation of action movies, weird fiction, Dragon Age, and roleplaying games.
Over the years we’ve done our share of publishing, and even shared a few TOCs.
I’ll be honest that our workday conversations have been some of the strangest, but most appreciated, during some really challenging times. When we finally met in person in 2012, it wasn’t weird. I mean, it was weird, because we basically had the same kinds of conversations we’d been having over chat for the previous four years. We talked at length about the…
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I’d wanted to do a book trailer for Pilgrim for quite some time, but when the book came out I was pregnant and a total mess. Personal life aside, it may be a few years after the fact but hey! It’s still my book. I’m still totally proud of it. And I have this live reading I’m doing, so it’s still good timing. I had a blast putting it together, and the fact that I was able to incorporate Brigid’s amazing artwork and my sister’s phenomenal music… even better.
And don’t forget, you can catch the whole playlist, too. That’s five chapters! Keep an eye out for the audio files, too!
For February and March, I’m live broadcasting the whole novel. For free! For fun! For dragons and vampiric pegasi (pegasuses?). You can check out the Google Hangouts on Air right here.
Writing a book, as the old adage goes, isn’t the hard part. I mean, yeah, it’s hard. It’s a butt-ton of work. For me, writing books isn’t the hard part. It’s something I do, more or less, whether or not I want to. But while the writing part isn’t exactly a mystery to me, there have been some real challenges over the past few years that have challenged everything I thought about writing.
First thing? In 2008/2009, I was learning to write novels. Like, write them and finish them. I wrote a lot between 08-10, until my hands gave out. Yup, literally my hands stopped allowing me to write, and RSI just about destroyed me. Sure, I learned how to do it, but the cost was stupidly high. At the time, I was working from home part-time and raising my son. While I wouldn’t say that writing was easy, I did have moments where I could dedicate hours if necessary to the process. Plus, creating fantastical worlds was just a great way to cope with the stress.
When my husband lost his job in 2010, I went back to work full time. My RSI was gone, but suddenly I had a very different existence. I spent most of the day in front of the computer, and the last thing I wanted to do was get home and write more. Those two years were the least productive.
Then, pregnancy. I’ve written about this before but, when blessed with the (kind of freaky) miracle of gestating human life, my creative brain just shuts off. While I incubated my daughter, I played a hell of a lot of Bejeweled, crocheted, and watched far more of The Vampire Diaries than was good for me. My husband got laid off from his job, but we continued.
But! After the pregnancy, my brain woke back up, and the husband got a new job. And Rock Revival came to be. In four months.
The elation wasn’t to last, because soon after I went back to work. Then my husband was laid off. Again. I started Watcher of the Skies, the followup to Pilgrim of the Sky and… well, it took a long time. The story was there, and in fits and starts I would get parts done, but overall the stress of life and a full time job (which I love) negated that part of me. And that’s not something I take lightly. I was really, really angry with myself. And kind of depressed.
Reading these last few paragraphs, you probably see something here. Ups and downs. Peaks and valleys. The only relative constant was writing. And I started to get really frustrated with my output. I couldn’t stay in the brain of the book for very long. The pressure of being the breadwinner, the challenges of raising a son with autism, the death of a close friend to the family–so much seemed to stop me from slipping into Second World and Joss’s story, even though I wanted to tell it with every bone in my body.
Then entered Pinterest. I had started a board for Watcher of the Skies some months back, but I hadn’t really done much with it. Just an atoll or two. But I saw new inspiration all over, especially in Arts and History sections. Those images, over six hundred of them, started to build, to percolate. On days that I was too tired, I wasn’t entirely leaving Joss’s world. Sure, writing didn’t happen directly (and even when it did, it was still slow due to research)–but, I wasn’t feeling disconnected from the book. When I was depressed or angry about my lack of connection, I’d just open up the app on my iPad and start pinning. The word therapeutic comes to mind, but in a very literal sense. Treating my brain like a muscle that had forgotten how to latch on to my imagination, I lumbered along.
And it worked.
All those images, all those alleyways of unexpected research? It literally saved the novel. I make no bones about being a shiny-grabby raven. And having that visual connection to my novel, even when the words weren’t flowing, meant that I had a kind of latent gain regardless of the situation. And I finished the book!
But that’s not all.
After I finished Watcher, I took some time off to think about my next project. Ideas are never really my problem. And in talking to my most awesome friend Jonathan Wood, who writes completely differently than I do, it occurred to me that while my life had changed significantly over the last five years, my writing process hadn’t. I’ve been a pretty ardent pantser. And in the context of my first few books, that approach totally made sense. But now, it doesn’t.
Jonathan, aside from just being a spectacular writer and friend, is also a top notch blogger. And his bit here on writing process really served as an ah-ha moment for me. While it’d doubtful that I’ll ever be quite as methodic as him, having a little more structure in my process will, no doubt, go a long way. No, you don’t have to adhere 100% to an outline. But doing work ahead of time, especially when you know your life is hectic and unpredictable, means that you spend less time in the Zone of Meh. Y’know, where nothing happens.
While Jonathan uses Tumblr, I prefer Pinterest. But other than that, in starting work on Bone Dust (Men In Black meets The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the Old West) I’ve decided to lean more on process. At the moment, I’m fleshing out characters, and making little profiles for them. It’s a bit like assembling the party in D&D, and so long as I don’t get too formulaic with it, it’s no big deal.
Even cooler? I used to pooh-pooh process folks because there was no chance to be surprised. But that’s not how it works. In fact, I was just as shocked and surprised while fleshing out Jennie Cain’s rough profile, below, as if she had burst into a scene unannounced. A chimera? What?
Mrs. Cain — Jennie Cain says she’s a former madam, but she isn’t. She just tells people that because it’s easier than the truth. The truth is that she’s a mixed blood African/Navajo and is her own twin. She’s a chimera. That means she shares her body and soul with someone else, whom she refers to as “the Mister”—and she is “the Missus”. Jennie is whip smart and clever, with a killer aim, and Araby depends on her implicitly when they get into trouble. She’s also a horse speaker, so when it comes to transport there’s never an issue if she’s around. The Mister appears in the evening, when Jennie sleeps, and regales the group with songs in Navajo, and has been known to guide them on a spirit journey when the need called for it. The Mister is also the conduit through which Nascha Chee communicates with her team.
Visual: Medium height, dresses in men’s clothing. Round face, black eyes, black and silver hair. Darker skin. Long braids, and some Navajo insignia.
So yeah. If you want a career as a writer, it’s not just about figuring it out. It’s about figuring it out all over again. And leaning on your friends. And using the right tools.
Just a quick note to say that chapters 1-3 of Pilgrim of the Sky are now up at my YouTube page. Expect the audio only files a little later this week.
I’m having a blast doing the reading, and it’s been a great opportunity to revisit the book. Stay tuned for the whole story!
Having just finished Watcher of the Skies, and considering that its predecessor (I won’t say prequel–because technically the second book is a prequel… and a follow up, but not a sequel…) is a little more than two years old, I thought I’d be a little daring. I was supposed to record an audiobook of Pilgrim of the Sky. But then I got pregnant. And recording an audiobook with a baby just doesn’t work. I felt awful, and have been thinking of ways to make it up ever since.
Then it occurred to me. Why not do it LIVE?
So. I am. I’ve recorded the first chapter as a bit of a teaser, and starting next Tuesday (2/4) @ 9pm EST I’ll be broadcasting one chapter every Tuesday and Thursday in February. The book starts in February, so it seems fitting, doesn’t it?
In fact, you can catch the first chapter RIGHT HERE.
Writers. We’re a funny bunch. I fully believe that in order to cope with the general stress and chaos of having many worlds and stories and people in our heads, we impose odd deadlines and limitations on ourselves. We don’t always share these with the masses, and some of them are downright personal. But it helps us make sense of all the fractal patterns spinning around us on a daily basis. Because otherwise I’m pretty sure we’d never get anything done.
I do this quite frequently. And after the nine months of writing drought that came during pregnancy, I wrote a little book called Rock Revival about a fictional rock band. I wrote it, edited it, sent it to beta readers, edited it some more, and then casually set it aside. I told myself that as soon as I finished Watcher of the Skies, I’d pick it back up and get a better look at it. Because at that point, I had zero ability to judge it.
I remember reading Stephen King’s On Writing about a decade ago, and how he talked about this practice. Letting a book go for a while, after it’s finished, and doing something else. I had no specific timeline on Watcher–it was a far slower book than anything I’ve written in a while. But as I finished it, the melodies of Rock Revival started thrumming in my head (not the least of which was because Karen and Michael think it’s the best thing I’ve written to date, and have poked and prodded a good amount on the subject).
So I took out the draft and started reading it. Oh, there were some edits to be made. But what I found as I went through was that I wasn’t editing, or re-plotting, or rearranging. Really, it was just some tidying up here and there. A scene here, a deleted sentence, the removal of a cuss word. And it hit me, in a strange way, that I may have leveled as a writer. It used to be that I was so frustrated with my old drafts that I’d rewrite everything. EVERYTHING. Instead of going through and picking out the bits and pieces, I ripped the entire foundation down and started anew.
Now, I have trunk novels. I think at this point I know them when I see them. And it’s a hard, sad process to realize that something you wrote is never going to be good enough. But it’s something else altogether to step back and take a deep breath and realize… you did a good thing. You wrote something moving. And… weirdly… it doesn’t feel like you wrote it at all. In the time that I let Rock Revival sit, I got a new job. My daughter learned to walk and run, and now she’s having little adorable conversations. The seasons went around once, and then some. I gained a sense of confidence I didn’t have before. And it’s not about sales or markets or any of that junk. It’s just about me. Hey, sometimes that’s what it’s gotta be.
Distance is hard to get. And while letting a book sit for a year seemed like some wild hallucination to me the first time I thought about it, now it does make sense.
I have promised to find Rock Revival a home. I began that process last night. Another promise. Another process. I’m not worried about where I’ll be standing in another year. Who knows, really? All I can think is that I hope I’ll feel as if I’ve grown as much as I have between the last two books. Because while that growth is painful, it’s also thrilling. Without that growth, it’s just stagnant. And if there’s anything that kills a writer fast, it’s stasis.
It’s been a while since I was able to make such an announcement–but lo! I have completed another novel. This time, it’s the follow-up (I won’t say sequel, because it’s part prequel/part standalone) to Pilgrim of the Sky. While it took much longer than anticipated, mostly due to the ungodly amount of research that was involved, I’m happy to report that I’m quite pleased with the product. It’s a more solid draft than I usually write (see: time to write) and plot-wise it’s a lot more dense. (Even Michael, who’s a surprisingly insightful and critical reader felt the same way.)
How am I going to pitch this to you? It’s sort of… Timelords meet Odysseus in an alternate history coming of age tale. There’s love. There’s magic. There’s Kraken(s). Our main godling players are Trita Oye (Athena), Verticordia (Aphrodite), La Roche (Apollo), and of course, our main character and narrator, Joss Raddick (Poseidon). Plus Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John Keats, William Blake, Dorothy Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Just to name a few.
The book starts in a lake and ends on the high seas, with travel in between from the Lake District to Rome and to the New World. It’s about war and good and evil, and the burden of living too long. And mostly its about the nature of love and madness and the fine line in between, and the responsibility given to those who possess power. If there is such a thing.
It’s also the longest thing I’ve written in a long time, surpassing my original goal of 100K. But, as you can see by that paragraph above, there’s a whole lot going on.
“There is no wrong, and there is no right, Calvin. It’s just a mess of mad monsters rutting in the dark.”
The first time I met Sam Montgomery-Blinn in person, it was 2009, and he got me very, very drunk on Fat Tire beer. Not my usual fare, but he was buying. I was nervous as hell after my first public reading, so not really arguing. I’m still not sure how I got invited to the reading that night (it included actual writers like Mur Lafferty and Jeff VanderMeer) being in such an nascent state in my writing career, but I’m pretty sure it had to do with Sam. They wanted someone else local, I suppose, so I packed up my favorite shoes and read from the novel I had been podcasting a draft off (inspired by Mur, of course).
Earlier that evening, as I was meandering through the aisles of Chapel Hill Comics, he popped up from between the colorful stacks, and extended his hand saying brightly, “I’m @montsamu! From Twitter.” I laughed, telling him he was the first person I ever met that I’d only known on Twitter and that he pretty much looked like his profile picture. As you do.
Anyway, he’d listened to all of The Aldersgate, and I recall a text exchange with him at once point and realizing he’d thought the book was out somewhere in paperback, or else being published. I hastened to inform him that it wasn’t, and he was rather surprised. I told him I was just hoping to get the book out there, get feedback, and edit. Then may send it out to agents.
Which I did. I won’t say it was unsuccessful, because after the book lived (and died) in slush piles at Ace/Roc (I mean, it’s been five years and I never heard one way or another, so I’m assuming it never made the cut, hah!) for a while I submitted it to agents and received plenty of supportive feedback (partials, full requests) but, at the end of the day, a steampunk/western/secondary world fantasy wasn’t very marketable.
I gave up and started writing other things, and the steampunk bubble burst a bit.
I never went on an agent hunt again, really. I wanted to focus on writing and family, and had that awful bout where I thought I might never be able to type again. I worked on a non-fiction book with a big publisher and, more notably (as far as growing as fiction writer), published my debut novel (which was written directly after The Aldersgate). I had another kid, too.
Yes, a great deal has happened. But in the years since, while I’ve written a dozen other books, I’ve let The Aldersgate languish.
Pride is a funny thing. I have two voices in my head, one telling me that it’s a trunk novel and I need to let it go because that’s best. The other is Sam, and not actually in my voice but in person and through email and text and IM and Facebook messenger. Every few months he pokes. He prods. He lets me know there are open calls at publishers. He encourages me, damn him, and it means that I can never fully let that book sit and die. Others, sure. I know well enough that I have a handful of trunk novels.
But releasing that podcast into the wild had an unexpected side-effect. It made the book matter to more than me. It made the book matter to Sam (and his wife). And that means that I’m more responsible for it. It opened more doors and made me more friends and, weirdly, helped establish me, even though it was never traditionally published. I’m generally anti-snowflake and anti-precious, but I think this book is special where others of mine aren’t.
That first voice? Maybe it’s got a point. But maybe, just maybe, it’s saying to let go because it’s easier. It’s easier to ignore Sam and his enthusiastic and continual encouragement (Seriously, people, he emailed me tonight. I’m not making this crap up.) because there will be less rejection. To say that he’s biased. But he heard the story even before he had any reason to be nice to me or make me feel good. He’s not like my dear friend Karen (we’ve been friends for a decade), or Dorothy (since college), or Michael (since before that). They are supporters, but I expect them to be. Within reason, of course.
This is all to say that, I’m realizing, writing and success and accomplishment don’t happen in a vacuum. As writers, we often fall back on the old, “Oh, writing’s such a lonely business. It’s all work and no play, and you give up so much.” But the older I get, the more writers and editors and enthusiasts I meet, the less I believe that to be true. Sure, actually writing books is lonely. But everything that comes after is tied up so much with the people you meet. The personalities and supporters and detractors around you. It’s really about becoming the social writer. At least it is for me. It’s not just about how I feel about something. I have to spend time actually listening.
By way of an update, I informed Sam that I did, indeed, submit The Aldersgate to a publisher recently. Which I’ve never done directly.
And I’m promising you now, dude, that if it comes back with a “no, thanks!” I’ll send it to at least two of those people on that long list you just sent me an hour ago*. Deal?
Running has become my escape of choice lately. I’ve mentioned before that, well, running has never been A Thing for me. I’m not exactly built to the ideal running form. Between my Eastern European, First Nation, and French-Canadian roots (the Swedish part is just entirely overwritten), tall and lithe I ain’t. I’m built closer to the earth: compact, strong, and bendy (I like to think I might be good at using a bow–haven’t tried that yet…). Until now, I’ve used that as an excuse not to run. In spite of recurring dreams where I’m running, I’d resisted. “I will never be a runner,” I said, on many occasions. “Never ever.”
Not exactly. Since June, I’ve been running at least twice a week–moreso in the last few weeks, and even while at DragonCon. First, I couldn’t manage more than about half a mile before giving up. I remember the day I ran ten minutes straight–it felt like I’d climbed Mt. Doom. My neighborhood is terribly hilly, but it turns out it’s great training. I can now comfortably run two miles, and have improved about three minutes on my first mile. I feel stronger. I can feel my body celebrating. When I get up in the morning, I can feel the residual sensations. I don’t get out of breath when I run. I don’t have panic attacks (I used to have them while running at school). It isn’t easy, but it’s insanely rewarding.
In between, I’m keeping up my yoga practice. It doesn’t just help keep me limber, it helps me clear my brain. Since I really don’t use this as a place to vent my every emotion, I won’t go in to what’s been bothering me as of late, but I will say that yoga and running give me that Zen sense of thoughtlessness. I’m permitting myself to escape, to tune out entirely. Music used to be that for me, but it’s pretty much impossible to find time to compose alone these days. The kids find every crevice and corner around here, and I still don’t have a room of my own. I miss the sounds. I miss getting lost in a chord progression; I miss that sense that I am the song, and the song is me, and the rhythm is everywhere.
I have outside, though. I have the rhythm of my feet. I have the road and the trees, the sunshine and the rustling grasses. I’m winning a race against myself only. And in those moments, I can start to assemble things a little better.
I’m hoping that this means I’ll have Watcher of the Skies done pretty soon. I will say that part of my delay simply has to do with the difficult ending. I knew it would be rough, but I’ve been coming up with every excuse in the world to do something else. Because it’s too close. Too raw. A little more time, a little more escape into myself, and hopefully it’ll come easier.
Time will tell, right? Ozymandias would agree.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I’ve spent the last weekend at Dragon Con in Atlanta, with beloved friends of all stripes–some of whom I get to see here in NC, others who I hardly ever get to see (or I only see virtually). It was fantastic, a welcome diversion from general life as mommy, etc., and while I missed my family I should point out that it was way more fun than I thought it would be.
My brain is so tired it’s practically wobbling, but I laughed so hard the last days and nights (staying up far, far too late) that my soul feels revived. Friends, wine, and words. It just doesn’t get much better than that.
Which is not to say that after a (blessedly) uneventful six hour drive back home (the drive down was almost 9 hours) I’m ready for another party. I could definitely have done without some of the crowds and whatnot–indeed the best part of the convention had a lot less to do with the spectacle and much more to do with the company.
I took a few pictures–far too few. This update from Laura Anne sums last night up best, though (see inset)
I also like to think Keats would have been a fantastic dinner companion last night. I’ve always loved his little giddy rant on claret, from his letter to George and Georgiana Keats in February of 1819:
… now I like Claret, whenever I can have Claret I must drink it–’tis the only palate affair that I am at all sensual in… If you could make some wine like Claret, to drink on summer evenings in an arbor! For really ’tis so fine–it fills ones’ mouth with a gushing freshness–then goes down cool and feverless–then you do not feel it quarreling with your liver–no, it is rather a Peacemaker, and lies as quiet as it did in the grape…
Now, to acclimate myself back into the real world.