Okay, so you know I'm writing for George RR Martin's Wild Card series, right? A month or so ago, he responded to my three part Infamous Black Tongue story. Lots of edits, lots of things to change. My story has to jive with the work of like six other authors - and none of us have read the other author's work! Just George. Master of it all, he is. And good thing, too, because he's an awesome editor. Everything he asked for - either to fit with other stories, or just editorial in general - made sense to me. So I rewrote.
Thing is, as I approached revising the end of one of the climatic scenes, I realized I had to make a change that George hadn't mentioned. When IBT has beaten down a particular baddy, he punches him one last time. Seeing him go unconscious, he says, "Go the next room."
Go to the next room.
Made complete sense to me, but I doubt it would make sense to anybody else. Why'd I write that line? Well, let me take you back...
When I was a young, spritely, twenty something Outward Bound Instructor living and working in Baltimore I spent one summer doing a long course that was urban based. We worked in partnership with the Yale School of Forestry. Basically, I spent the summer doing urban forestry with at-risk kids from inner city Baltimore.
On one of those days, we worked at some sort of men's home/shelter. We were given a tour of a the facility by a charismatic, talkative resident of the place, a guy that had lived his own hard life to get to the relative stability the home offered him. He had a great cadence to his speech as he led us around, a combination of street-smart slang and no nonsense gruffness that he somehow delivered with spiritual equanimity.
When he was done talking about a room, he would always say the same thing. "Alright? Got it? Good. Go to the next room." It seemed a strange, loose, kinda funky mantra at the time. And over the years it's come to have spiritual significance for me. Like, he wasn't just saying move your body into the next room so we can carry on with this tour. It's become an invitation to a higher plane. "Go to the next room, where rewards - or karmic retribution - await you." I've never forgotten it, and every now and then that phrase pops into my head.
That, in some strange way, was what Infamous Black Tongue was laying down on the villain in question. But without context I understand that it would mean nothing to anybody but me. Oh, and you - now that you've read this far.
Still, though, it doesn't make that much sense in that moment, so I cut it. Perhaps one day I'll write a story in which I can build that line and let someone deliver it in context. Here's hoping, cause I need to get it out of my system...
I spend a lot of time in workshops. A lot of time with aspiring writers. A lot of time with published writers that continue to struggle and grasp for more. Etc. In situations were artists are pressed together intensely lots of good stuff happens, certainly, but not everyone handles their successes or disappointments with equal grace. I'm aware that I spend more time noticing the lack of grace - strenuous self-promotion, aggressive criticism of others, defensiveness, genre elitism, those folks that use every occasion of public speaking to reference their recent successes - than I acknowledge when someone gets it right. So this post is meant to highlight a positive example.
I recently workshopped a very good student story. It convinced me from the first lines. It covered all the basic storytelling bases and then did a variety of further things with understated ease. No bells and whistles. No need to explain or obscure. Just very good writing and a substantive, quirky tale as well. This story was good enough, in fact, that my edits were light and my response included a declaration that I rarely make: that if I was the right editor at the right magazine I'd buy it.
The workshop went well, although I'm never sure that other students quite know what to make of it when I say a story is publishable. It must be a strange thing, considering that over a semester I may see two stories each from twelve different writers, but then only pull out that stamp of approval once. What gives? I don't entirely know how to explain it, but some stories just announce within their fabric that they've arrived. Their genetic code lines up. They exist, blemishes and all, and they exist in a way that for me feels ready for prime time.
Now, the part of this that has to do with humility is that I only discovered later that this particular story had been accepted for publication just before the workshop. Not only that, but another story the same writer submitted to another workshop (also given the stamp of ultimate approval by that workshop leader) had also been accepted. Two new stories. Two hits. Two publications that occurred between the writing of the stories and the workshop meant to tear them apart in critique. That's terribly rare. But it's also rare for a new author faced with the uncertainties of a workshop to withhold information like that. I've seen people try to shape the focus of a workshop before it's begun. Or who inflate their credentials ahead of time (often with self-referential things said while they're critiquing someone else's work). Or who would hold that publication information as a shield to be brandished to deflect all criticism.
The student in this case did none of that. He entered and exited the workshop without a word intended to bias or control the discussion, despite the fact that he had more than the usual ammunition to do so if he wished. Quiet confidence. Without distraction. Competence demonstrated where it matters - on the page.
Over at SF Signal my mind has been melded with that of several other authors, including Michael Swanwick, Elizabeth Bear, Kate Elliott, Gregory Frost and others! Check it out here: God's by the Bushel.
Today, folks (and for next few weeks, actually) I'd love to have your positive energy. You see, The Other Lands concluded my existing book contracts with Doubleday. I've done all five novels with them so far, and I think things have gone quite well. Of course, each new deal brings a new set of surprises, and I've known for a few months that I was going to be pitching my next book in a free falling economy. Being prone to bouts of exuberant positivity (I'm joking about that) I decided to quit my day job before having that new contract in hand (I'm not joking about this part), and after my publisher went through a major restructuring. Go figure.
I've been working on a proposal for the concluding book in the Acacia trilogy for some time now. I chipped away at it slowly, layering in more and more details as they came to me. Fortunately, I can now say the fricking book makes sense to me! I know what happens. I see it. I like it. It exists - although only in a summarized version of about 24 pages. Oh, and at a bit more length in my head.
Recently, I sent that proposal to my agent. We went back and forth about it and about other aspects of what we'd look for in a new book deal. Yesterday we decided it was ready, and today he will have initiated the pitch and discussions with my editor. It'll be a few weeks, probably, before I know just what's gonna happen.
This is where your good vibes come in. Send them to me. Shoot them out to my editor. Make sure he knows at some cosmic level that you want this thing finished. Convince him that David and family should be allowed to eat and live indoors the next few years...
You know when you see a link on somebody's site to somebody else's site, and you like what you read and then want to point people in that direction, but then you know you can't take credit for discovering the second author's post yourself because you only found it because of the first site?
Thing is, she wrote it in response to Justine Larbalestier's post on the topic. I liked hers too. Makes some good, clarifying points for aspiring writers. So go take a look at one also: Agents and Rejection. (She's got stylish boots, too.)
And my work here is done. I won't try to add any of my own wisdom on the subject. (Which is me trying to be wise by omission...)
I have this friend Pat. You might have heard of him. He wrote a book. People loved it. Made him famous and wealthy. His readers then promptly began demanding another book. Pat, being the generous guy that he is, wants to produce said book. Actually, he wants to have produced it like a year ago. Alas, easier wished for than done... This is one of several cartoons Pat has up on his blog. Also, he has a long, detailed explanation of what's up. I think it's a brave, honest and insightful mediation on the creative process and the pitfalls of... well, massive success.
I just had one. I'm talking about writing now. Creative process. I'm still polishing up a few scenes of The Other Lands, adding a bit here and there. I just two minutes ago wrote a line in which one character defines the relationship he/she has to another character. It was an innocuous enough line, I thought. But the moment after I wrote it I realized it's a line that announces that character's eventual death!
Ah... I didn't mean it. It just happened. This bit of fate won't come into play until the third book, but still, the seed is planted in fertile ground. It can't help but grow. There's not a thing I can do about it...
A couple days ago I got review number 40 for Acacia on Amazon.com. That's sweet. Means a lot of people have read the book. Lots of them have liked it, too. Only... well, actually number 40 didn't like it. I may be wrong, but that's my interpretation of... "as flat as a piece of newsprint" and "David Anthony Durham's "Acacia" is an abysmal production" and "Oh, and by the way, Durham can't write women, either" and "worst of all is the flat predictability of the characters". Am I wrong, or does that sound a bit negative? (Number 39 wasn't a fan, either.)
So I say to myself... Ah well, what to do? You can't please everyone, right? All those emails of praise and encouragement count for much more, yeah? Don't forget that. Don't forget all the reviewers - professional and amateur - that loved it. Don't forget the foreign publishers that snapped it up and the film people that have big, expensive hopes for it. Remember the many insightful readers who have found meaning in the characters and actions that give it real depth. Good thing all that's out there. And since it is I can let negative opinions like number 40 (and 39) just slide off my Teflon skin, baby.
Or... Well... maybe not so much...
The crazy thing is that logic and reason and the vast numbers of encouraging readers and avowed fans don't hold up that well in the face of negativity. They are the bedrock of why and for whom I write, but negativity is a sly bastard, persistent. Odious. He lives somewhere in the nooks and crannies of my brain and - like a politician making the boldest of assertions - he doesn't feel any need to nod to other perspectives. All he needs is a little bit of encouragement and he'll say things like...
"Oh my god, you idiot. You complete idiot! You realize, don't you, that you're a horrible writer. That last person that wrote that review on Amazon proves it. You suck. Purple prose, dude. Anachronisms. Completely awkward and incoherent sentences. The kind of stupid plot tricks that will make any intelligent reader throw your book out their window... That's all you have to offer. How could you possibly think that readers would want to read 240k words in which absolutely nothing interesting happens? About characters that are totally flat and cardboard and completely predictable on each and every page? What were you thinking? You should really consider changing your name and never writing again. You better get tenure quick, dude, before your colleagues realize how crap you are. But mostly - stop inflicting your words on the world!"
Ah, yes, that's my friend. He's only dealing out tough love, you know? What can I say to refute that? Clearly number 40 (and 39) have unmasked me...
You know, the thing here is that I'm not entirely kidding. There's is a vastly uneven effect between positive and negative feedback. I can hear 100 great reactions and - while I'm pleased - such things tend to keep me on even keel. I mean, I work really hard to make my books good. So when a reader enjoys them I've not achieved more than I wanted; I've just hit the baseline I was expecting to get all along. But that 1 review that slams down on the other side of the scales has the power - temporarily, at least - to send those other 100 kind folks twirling through the air. It doesn't have to make sense. It also doesn't ever really go away, no matter how many books one puts behind them. Doubt, resistance, negativity; man, they're powerful.
So, I'll admit something to people that seem to enjoy writing really negative reviews. In case you wondered if your attacks have an effect on writers... I'll verify that they do. They do. Even if we think you're completely wrong or stupid or nuts. They still have an impact. You, writing from wherever you are in the world, have pushed an invisible finger through the ether and poked me in the chest. Perhaps that makes you feel good to know that. If so, enjoy it.
There is good news, though. For one, I can take a little poking. I'm a professional. I do know it comes with the territory. The other thing is more interesting, though. And that's that the haters actually play an important role in helping creators onward. That's what they probably don't understand. It's not what they say that matters. It's not that they're terribly insightful and have a lot to teach us about how to really write book. It's that they put out the negativity at all that matters. Creators - in whatever field - must face resistance. We must push through doubt. We must hear jeers and insults and must find a way to put them into their place. It's always been that way. It's part of why creative achievement isn't easy, and part of why it's so rare. Yes, many people don't get through the fears enough to get published, etc, but the ones that do are stronger because of it.
So... Glad I got my equilibrium back. I'm going to go work on the next book.
(Which means, number 40 and 39, that you lost. I know you'll try again soon, but today, right now, you've been trumped.)
Hi, folks. I've not been blogging a ton the last couple of weeks. Had a lot going on. Some of it was some family stuff that's taken a good deal of time and energy. I've also been preparing - mostly mentally, really - for beginning of the new academic year. I'll be teaching two classes, an undergrad Beginning Fiction Writing course and a Graduate Writing Workshop. Not a bad schedule, really, but it's a readjustment.
Oh, the third thing that's been taking up a lot of my time, of course, is The Other Lands. I was trying to get as much of it done before the school year began as I could. I didn't make it all the way to the end, but I'm pretty happy with where I ended up. Not done yet, but the end is in sight. I've got all the story before me. I know all the scenes that are yet to be written. I know exactly how each narrative thread ends. (Suspect cliffhangers. It is a middle volume, you know.)
It's one of the funny things about writing novels that the process often requires living with uncertainty for years. I've had that with this one, as I've had it with each of my longer books. For example, even up until a few days ago there were... um... "problems" ahead of me in this book. Spaces that were blank. Storylines that seemed to dead end. Plot moves that I knew I had to make but wasn't sure how I was going to make them. It's kinda crazy if you think about it too much. Like - "David, you've been working on this book for how long? How could you not know by now how you were going to handle what happens when $%^& finds out about *(&)%? That's crazy!"
But that's part of the process. Those plot elements and connections and character growth and the surprises can't all by mapped out ahead of time. Some of them have to be lived - by the author as well as by the characters.
What I'm saying, though, is a good thing. The end of The Other Lands is firmly in my sights. I have to work toward it while I'm also doing some other stuff, (You know - LIFE!) but I will be at the end soon. I will get this to my publisher and (barring something unforeseen - like my editor hating how I finished) I'm confident this book can make the pub date that we've had in mind for a while now, which essentially is a year from now. And, just so you know, I'll be at work on the third book immediately, no delay in getting the engine revving between two and three. This is mainly because the narrative really does flow right into the next book. I'd like to say I'm finished with The Other Lands one day and start work on &%^$# the next day. So that's my plan.
BTW, don't forget that Acacia: The War With the Mein hits in paperback form in two days! August 26th is the release date. It's mass market, you know, perfectly priced for these difficult economic times...
So I'm back from WisCon and should have a ton of stuff to say about it. I do have a few things, but I've also arrived back to a household half packed for a move. So there's been a good deal of stuff to handle today. I'll soon say a bit son about some of the folks I met and/or got to know better at WisCon, but for tonight let me just mention that I came home to a conundrum...
Not for the first time, I found a piece of paper (it's my current rental lease, actually) with the words RIVER MAIDS! scrawled across the bottom. I know... Yes, KNOW that I wrote those two words during a fit of inspiration. I know that said River Maids have some role, either in Acacia's story in or other epics to come. I know that I imagined them in some very specific manner, enough so that I wrote the words in BIGGISH letters. BUT... I can't for the life of me remember what the hell they are/were/could be.
A friend of mine asked me to let folks know that there are still some slots left at the Taos ToolBox workshop this summer. I haven't had personal experience with this program myself, but for aspiring fantasy writers out there it looks pretty sweet. It's a "two-week Master Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy, June 8-21, 2008, taught by Walter Jon Williams, Kelly Link and special lecturer Stephen R Donaldson." Nice.
I know Kelly Link personally. She's great, and her work is super smart and funny and engaging. Stephen R Donaldson I'd like to meet one day, as the first Thomas Covenant series holds a prominent place in my early reading life. And Walter Jon Williams has published so many books that he must be able to tell others how to do it too! (Okay, that's me being overly optimistic about the process, but you know what I mean. This is a good group of authors to study with.) Here's how they describe it...
Taos Toolbox will be a "graduate" workshop designed to bring your science fiction and fantasy writing to the next level. If you've sold a few stories and then stalled out, or if you've been to Clarion or Odyssey and want to re-connect with the workshop community, this is the workshop for you!
After my discussion about agents and the trials and tribulations of writing two unpublished novels, a few folks (Drew first) expressed interest in taking a look at my unpublished work. I figured what the hell. Take a look if you want. Aspiring writers may find some comfort in comparing their work with mine. Although, these are books that didn't get published, so perhaps comfort is not quite what these will provide...
Anyway, I've included portions of the first chapters of both books here. If you click on them they'll open as Pdf Files. Remember, now, that these were essentially my MFA novels, literary coming of age type stories that are neither fantasy or historical. That said, I'll otherwise let them speak for themselves...
Bomb Magazine. Terribly cool. I remember getting Bomb (not bombed, although I remember some of that, too) when I was an aspiring undergraduate writer. Loved it, wanted some of that urban hipness myself. It's been a while, but I spent a good deal of time aspiring to find a way into their pages. Never happened, though.
But I'm glad to say a friend of mine did make it in. Alex Espinoza, a colleague of mine here at Cal State Fresno, is featured in an interview with Daniel Alarcon, conducted by by Gabriela Jauregui. They're both accomplished and up and coming authors, and they both have a lot of interesting stuff to say about being writers, being American writers, Latino writers, etc. Check it out HERE!
I saw the The Golden Compass movie the other day. I read the complete Phillip Pullman trilogy some time ago. I quite liked them, and was excited to see it brought to film. You will have probably already seen it and/or read the mixed reviews, so I won't go in depth about it. I will say that it was visually stunning, and a must-see - in some variation, even if its as a home rental - for everyone that's interested in fantasy and fantasy films. I do wish the tempo of the movie hadn't been so rushed, one event tumbling after the other almost breathlessly. And I would have been fine with the filmmakers staying true to the intellectual complexity of the book. But so be it. I still found it entertaining, and I'll look forward to seeing it again - many times, likely - on dvd. And I won't stop hoping it earns enough to help keep Hollywood interested in fantasy adaptations. (Obvious self-interest here.)
One of the enjoyable visual aspects of the film, of course, are all those daemons running around. If you don't know, in Pullman's world daemons are spiritual companions that each person has. They are in animal form, of the opposite sex to the person, and they somehow embody some important representation of the person's inner nature. The cool thing is that everyone can see these creatures, and, indeed, you can even talk to yours. Would be kinda nice, don't you think? Never really being alone...
The thing is, I've always sort of felt I had a daemon of my own. (I was reminded of this after reading a post by my father in law, writing from the windswept wilds of Shetland.) I can't see my daemon. Can't speak to it. And I'm only really aware of it when I think of my creative process and how it works. I should say outright that it's my daemon that helps me write. Don't know where I'd be without her, actually. Many times over the years I've felt like someone outside myself whispered story ideas or plot revelations or gentle criticism into my ear. (I don't mean to sound weird. I'm not actually hearing voices. But I am... well, sorta hearing voices...) It's always mystified me, because so often my best ideas seem to arrive fully formed, with no reasonable precursor. Where do those ideas come from? Perhaps from my daemon... Perhaps it's my daemon that's really the writer, not me. That could explain why writing gifts strike such unlikely people, or explain why so often people that want desperately to write show so little aptitude for it. It's not their fault; it's their daemon that's not up to it.
Whatever kind of creature my daemon is she doesn't actually like to stay couped up in the office much. She likes to get out and walk. That's when she's happiest, and that's when she speaks the most freely to me. I'd say as well that she prefers some landscapes to others. She's not all that inspired by flat, semi-urban Fresno, I'm afraid. She shares a bit with me on my walks here, but nothing like she did when we rambled around Scottish glens or through the wooded hills of Western Massachusetts. She likes vistas. She likes wind in her face and changing seasons and cloud formations building in the sky... Yeah, that's what makes her happy.
And when she gets happy she rewards me. It's like once we're chugging along that ridgeline, watching the threat of rain in the distance, she says, "Alright, god it's good to be outside! I was going crazy pacing around in that office with that awful incense fouling the air. Now that I can think straight let me tell you this idea I had. You know how Corinn sends Dariel on the mission? Well, I was thinking, what if..."
Geez. I owe that girl so much, and she knows it. So I should treat her right, shouldn't I? And be very grateful that she's a storyteller... whatever she may be, whatever she would look like if I had the eyes to see her...
Interesting thing happened with the writing today. I had about a half day for writing (after teaching) and I fancied getting a thousand words down. Made myself a fat mug of strong tea and sat down at the computer. I put on some Bach (classic music has become a crutch) and tried to figure out which of the existing scenes I should pick up with. I had an inkling that I wanted to introduce something new, a new scene or character to stir in to the early pages of the book. It just felt like I didn't have enough at play at the beginning, enough of a complicated structure. I wanted to hear more instruments playing, I just didn't know which, how or why.
So what did I do? Something that had nothing to do with directly figuring that out. I decided to make a copy of the map of Acacia and tape it to my desk. I'd done this with the map I'd drawn while writing Acacia 1, and it felt like about time I did it with this one, too. Of course, an activity like this is potentially just resistance rearing its head - a way to distract myself from the work at hand. But it's hard to know. Sometimes these random things are about the process.
Anyway, before long I had the map there before me, and with my eyes floating over it a bit, I remembered a character from the first book. I latched on to the idea of him. This character I think is only mentioned by name once in The War With the Mein. Few, I reckon, will remember his name or think him of any consequence. I won't mention it here, of course. Wouldn't be prudent.
I heard him on conversation with another character. Hmm... I opened a new page and began to write it down, but then realized that wasn't from the first scene he was going to be in. He had to be introduced earlier, yeah... Right near the beginning, actually...
My eyes settled on the map again. Where might a scene with this character take place? A new town, I think, one I hadn't used before. My gaze drifted around for a bit until I found what seemed like an appropriately blank spot on the map. I spent a while trying to figure out a name for a place, and when I thought I had it I penciled it in. And there it was! A new town on the map, spelled out and just as reasonable sounding as any of the other names. Once I had it there I knew what sort of town it was and I knew what sort of scene this character would be introduced in...
I began describing how labor had stooped his back, how it was hard for him to stand straight, but that he was impressive when he did so. A little flowed out after that, and before I knew it I'd gone beyond my thousand word goal. I'd introduced a new character and watched with surprise as he rolled a host important issues on to the stage as he came. I hadn't thought about him at all up until today, but just like that he's claimed a role in this one, and if he's in it at all he's in it as a major character. He's just won the casting-call lottery.
Now, which thing came first? Did I introduce that character by name in the first book because at some subconscious level I knew I'd come back to him later? Or have I come back to him simply because he was a name that I could latch on to and find a role for in this one? Did the map demand to be taped to the desk because it knew it was going to help? Or was I just ready to find the answers somewhere, and the map was as good a place as any?
I don't know, and I won't know tomorrow when I wake up to fumble through the whole process yet again. So it goes...
You guys know about this? National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? I just got an email from an old friend that mentioned it, and I recalled hearing about it in years past. Simply put, it's a group effort/challenge to spend the month of November writing a 50,000 novel (which is arguably actually novella length). You can register with them, and then you have to begin on the first and end at 12 midnight on the last day of the month. If you manage to pull it off you get... Well, I'm not sure what you get. Kudos from the organizers, I guess. Perhaps a sense of accomplishment? A project to carry on with? Or just a mess of words?...
To their credit, the organizers don't have grandiose notions about what most participants will produce. They write on their website: Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.
I don't know. I sort of feel like I'm always on a writing month regime, and the word count participants have to keep up is similar to the word count I aspire to on average. BUT, true enough, I rarely feel like I accomplish what I want to by the end of any month. Fortunately, one month folds into the next and eventually they add up to something I can call a book! Perhaps there's a way to spin this in that direction, as one step toward what could become a longer journey.
Or maybe it's just some weird sort of fun. That could be enough. We need more literary "fun" in our world.
In any event, if you're prompted to try it let me know how you get on. I'd be curious...
Steve Yarbrough sent me the link to a New York Times article on the debate about publishing the late Raymond Carver's stories in their "original" versions. In particular, his former wife, Tess Gallagher, wants to publish the original version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - which Carver intended to call Beginners. I found it a fascinating article, filled with questions to ponder about what authorship is.
If you don't know Raymond Carver, suffice it to say that he's a major literary figure, especially in "literary" writing circles and among academics. He was famous for a "minimalist" style of short story writing. His stories were really pared down, slim. They managed to convey a lot without needing a lot of words to do so. Instead, the pauses and omissions and the clear simplicity of his language encouraged a reader to read more into them. He sort of spoke volumes without speaking volumes, if you know what I mean. He's been a major influence on writing students, and his work remains very useful to teach from.
So that's what his fame resides on. Apparently, though, he didn't much like minimalism and didn't love it that he was its poster child. His editor did some major work on the stories, cutting them down so much that Carver himself admitted that people who had read them before wouldn't recognize them as the same stories now. He even tried to stop the publication!
Yikes, so what that means is that the volume that most made him famous and that established him as a writer within a movement wasn't a book he wanted published and wasn't a movement he really embodied. How very strange...
Interesting thing happened to me yesterday... I was having another of those "I'm about to figure out some major plot point if only I do something random like take a walk down a tree-lined street" sort of moments. So, I got up and headed outside.
For the first time since I began writing The Other Lands (the sequel to Acacia: The War With the Mein), I remembered how with previous books I liked to take a little tape recorder with me. When I came on good ideas I'd just dictate a brief message to myself that I could reference later. This was a lot better than walking around juggling ideas like so many bubbles, afraid the whole time that any of them might pop and be lost before I could get them written down. So, I fished out my little micro cassette recorder and embarked.
It wasn't long before I started to have an idea or two. They seem to come pretty steady when I get chugging along. Just starting to move seemed to stir them up. Before starting to dictate, though, I pressed play, just to see where the tape was or something... And to my surprise (not really, but sort of) my own voice spoke to me out of that little black machine. It was a voice from several years ago. It was a voice that was going through this same process - with the first Acacia novel.
My plan was just to rewind and start anew, but I was immediately shocked by what I heard. My voice came in short bursts, perhaps no more than a sentence that expressed an idea or question before cutting off. Each time a new recording cut in the background noise changed: sometimes windy, sometimes traffic noises or music or kids in the background. Sometimes I was out of breath and other times it was strangely quiet and my voice quite clear.
What was I saying? Things like this... (If you've read Acacia you'll recognize some plot things here. If not I won't give anything away that hasn't been written in pretty much every review of the book.)
"What if the Acacian economy is fueled by some international trade?... Something kinda secret... Nothing to be proud of..."
How strange! "What if?" I'd almost forgotten that there was ever a time I didn't know about Acacia's international trade. I'm so used to the idea now it's like it was always written in stone. But here was proof that at one time I'd only gotten so far as asking "What if?"
A little later I said...
"Remember that this isn't a novel all about prophecy and fate and stuff like that. Everything doesn't work out that way."
"Not everyone lives to the end. Someone important has to die... Not sure who, but... someone does."
How about that? Here's my own voice proposing for the first time something that is now so fundamental to the entire world of Acacia and all that may ever happen in it. A few takes later...
"Ah, okay... That trade could be in children... children that the Acacians take from each province, with a quota from each, and then they send them across the ocean, never to be heard from again...."
"I think X is the one that's good with a sword..." (I didn't really say "X", but if you haven't read the book I didn't want to give that one away.)
"Oh, that thing the children are traded for... what if it's some sort of drug?"
I walked along in a bit of daze listening to this. Again and again I was hearing myself say for the first time aspects of the story and characters that I'd just thought in that past moment. So very strange that things that exist so concretely now, in tens of thousands of different copies read by (so far) tens of thousands different readers at one point began as "What if..." ideas when I was taking a walk somewhere. So very strange that this tape recorder captured the moment I first experienced those what ifs - moments prior to my having put those words on the page.
Understand me - this is not that I'm impressed with myself. It's not that at all. What I am impressed with, though, is the creative process. The way things, stories, meaning can apparently be created out of nothing. I'm awed that it works, because I certainly can't explain it. Thinking about it as I listened to an earlier version of myself, the whole thing felt quite magical. As I'm struggling to shape this next monster of a novel, that was a very fortunate thing to be reminded of.
Oh, by the way, I didn't record over any of that stuff. I just couldn't do it. I'll have to go get a new tape soon. This one goes in a drawer somewhere, perhaps to be discovered again a few years from now...
Okay, so this is a writing process post. Nothing enlightening, I'm sure, but I had one of those writing moments today and it occurred to me to mention it. In some ways it's kinda strange how these things work.
So I was working on Acacia 2. Came to a pause. Stood up and paced the room. I had lost interest in the scene I was working on and instead had a nagging feeling I should deal with the next scene. Problem with the next scene was that I didn't know what it was. I knew it needed to be a scene removed from the main action, something that would introduce a new, complicating element to the novel that would have enormous repercussions later...
Right! So I knew what I wanted, I just didn't know 1) who was the focus of the scene, 2) where it took place, or 3) what this major plot element was!
But... for some reason I felt like if I kept pacing, kept pacing, kept pacing I'd figure it out. Why did I feel this way? Couldn't tell you. I was blank, but it was like knowing that if I just listened carefully enough I'd eventually hear whatever the sound was that I knew was there but just couldn't quite...
And it happened. Out of nowhere. Kelis. It's a Kelis scene! Aliver's old companion from Talay, the young man he grew up with. A Kelis scene in Talay... But it's not that Kelis has been in Talay. He's been away doing lots of stuff, but he's come back. He's come back for a reason. Something pulled him back. Something he had to check out for himself. Didn't know the reason, of course, but with a little more pacing...
I figured it out. Oh my... that's why Kelis is there! It's huge. It throws a ton of tension into things. I can't tell you what it is, of course, but it'll be in the book. I also can't explain why I knew that today was the day to figure this element out, but there you go. The creative process...
So I had a wee breakthrough today. It's like this...
I'd had this prologue scene of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) that I've been tinkering around with for a while. I wasn't quite happy with it, but I couldn't shake a feeling that is was important. Still, I'd cut it out a couple of times, only to bring it back in later, still unsure.
I'd started to think I'd cut it out again, partially because it's a rather depressing scene. It's about two siblings, twins, who are captured in a back story moment. Remember when the League staged a raid on Luana, taking all the children they could as Quota and only telling Hanish - who was ruling at the time - about it after the fact? Well, this scene takes place on that day. So it's a bit grim to watch these two kids stripped from their parents and herded with a lots of other kids toward the shore and to the League vessels that'll take them away from the Known World forever... Is that the best way to start a novel I want tons of folks to read? I had one idea for what happens to one of the siblings and how he/she would interact with our heroes years later - when The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) actually kicks off. But it didn't seem like enough. Until this morning...
I can't tell you what occurred to me, but gears that had been turning for a while without finding purchase suddenly locked into place. I realized what happens to both siblings, and I saw how it fit in with another plot element that I'd slowly been developing. Just like that, my "maybe going to be cut scene" meshed with some of the most crucial elements of the end of the series. And so the prologue will remain, and now I understand what it was all about, what it was setting the groundwork for.
I mention this little episode because I often work this way. I write things that feel important, but don't always know how these things are going to fit together until much later. The cool thing about having faith in this process - believing that even though I don't know now I will next week, month, by Labor Day, etc - is that when it works I come up with more intricate and meaningful connections than I could ever manage with conscious thought. It's almost like I'm trusting that my subconscious has a plan, I just haven't managed to shine light on the entirety of it yet. That only happens by having faith in the process, sticking with it, and writing as best I can on a daily basis.
This certainly happened in the The War With the Mein. As with all my books, there were props, scenes, hints of things that I sometimes didn't come to understand the uses of until a year or so of trying.
Anyway, that's my thought on this little aspect of my writing life. Does it happen to you? If so, great. If not, well... consider not fighting it. I do think that writing long fiction is a very cumulative process. My advice: have faith in that. It's one of the things that can make writing a novel worth the long effort and uncertainty.
Okay. It happened. Today I opened a file, typed out a title page, formatted the headers and page numbers, and wrote about 200 words of my next novel. That's a pathetic page count; when things are going well I aim for 2000 words in a day. But that's not the point. What's important, I think, is that I've finally carved out a place for The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) to grow into. It's been over half a year since I finished the last book, so I've been feeling the pressure to get started, along with the fear of getting started, for some time now. But, there it is, the book is beginning to exist.
The actual words I wrote don't begin at the beginning and at the moment exist without other words around them to give them context. I've put a little excerpt below, which I'm happy for you to read so long as you know that it may not make it into the book. Actually, it's easier to share it in this context - as some words I put on the page to help me find - in the coming year or so - the words that will eventually really belong on the page. Here's part of what I wrote today.
That night she dreamt of the creature's eye. It hung in the air before her like a moon made huge and monstrous. She woke telling herself that it was not possible that she'd seen intelligence in that eye, that she'd not heard the creature's thoughts, that hed not expressed a hatred for her and her kind that - in its reasoned, simmering potency - went far beyond that of any simple beast.
Yes, this does happen to a particular person, but it occurred to me at the last minute that I shouldn't post her name since the first book isn't even out yet. Not everyone makes it through that first book alive, so naming a person here would be giving a little bit away.
Anyway, thanks for reading this, and know that I'm very happy to be at it again!