It’s been a while. In the two weeks since Balticon, I worked many, many days in a row. I also wrote. I also banged my head against the wall (literally) trying to figure out what was wrong with Strix (again, still).
All I could say was that it was something structural. I couldn’t get more specific than that. Luckily, one of my roommates likes picking stories apart, and agreed to read the 50k I’d already written. Then we spent a good 90 minutes discussing it.
It was structural…kind of. One storyline didn’t mesh with the others. It forced characters to act in ways they wouldn’t, and diverted attention from the main through-line. Lack of a clear objective/conflict had been raised earlier as a potential reason for my angst, and it looks like that was at least partially true.
It’s good to remember that sometimes a simple change (that storyline got scrapped) can make a hopeless mess seem like a coherent story again. But it also made me realize how helpful speaking Actor can be to the writing process.
Preparing for Strix-the-Podcast, I realized there was a whole language out there that I didn’t speak, and that I needed to learn. Actors think in verbs. Suddenly needing to ascribe verbs to my characters’ emotional states (I caress, I stroke, I soothe…I HIT HIM) forced me to have those emotions and motivations much more clearly in mind.
Before recording went on hiatus, my cast and I would go through dialogue as a play-by-play, tracking the way each character’s wants and feelings changed in response to the other’s. Honestly, it was probably more helpful for me than for them. Sometimes it’s easy to let characters say whatever they want. Approaching dialogue the way an actor would keeps their emotions, motivations, and characterization a lot clearer in my mind.
And when goals are blocked, we get conflict, which is kind of important to stories. Here’s a tip: actors make great beta readers. They are trained to look very closely at characters. They spot inconsistencies, and if they can’t tell what a character wants, they’ll say something.
Sure enough, the main issue with this subplot was an unclear (read: nonexistent) goal. They didn’t want anything. No conflict, no drama, no story.
Cutting this subplot only cost me about 6000 words, which I’ve since replaced. I have a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the book and renewed excitement. It’s getting to that point where the story is physically pulling on me. Half my mind is in that world, and even as I sit here on the bus, writing this post on my phone…
I want to be writing.
Sunday morning at Balticon, PJ Schnyder and I were eating waffles.
“I love cons,” she said. “But doesn’t this make you want to run home, and just…”
“Write all the words, ever?”
I do love cons. They are great for recharging batteries, recapturing your fire and inspiration. The more cons I attend, the harder I find it to distill the experience. I could talk about midnight pulled pork and ogling steampunk goods. I could talk about feeling the bass thump along my sternum while watching Ditched by Kate and the way I was literally trembling before moderating my first panel. I could talk about the old friends, new friends, and first-time-in-real-life friends (including but not limited to: Tim Dodge, Scott Sigler, PG+Chooch+Viv, Lauren “Scribe” Harris, Veronica Giguere , Myke Cole, Mur Lafferty, Heather Welliver, Chris Lester, Nobilis, Nutty Nuchtchas, PC Haring…) I could talk about the hugs and the laughter and the incredibly cool discussions…
Or I could talk about where I am, post-Balticon.
Strix is roughly halfway done. In a stunning occurrence of déjà vu, I’m hoping/planning to get it back to my editor before I leave for Virginia. This has been the most frustrating, challenging, stubborn thing I have ever written, but it will be worth it. I did attend a very interesting panel on “Female-Centric Faith Systems,” and a lot of things applied to Serafine and the world of Strix/Hapax. It’s encouraging to see that I’m on the right track, at least thematically.
I feel all warm and fuzzy inside because I got to see some old friends, meet some friends in person for the first time, and make lots of new friends. On the last day of the con, Christiana Ellis shared her metaphor of cons as “friend farms” (by this point, “creative projects” had become “squirrels” and “energy” was “spoons” – Doc Coleman, you are awesome). Basically, the first time you go to a con and don’t know anybody, you plant the seeds of friendship. Then you water it, and wait, and by the next con, it’s blossomed into a full-grown friendship, and you then plant more seeds. I like this image—and it definitely seemed to hold true.
Which brings me to my next, long-distance goal. I know what kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. I want to be the author that pulls in the newbie and helps them find their feet. I want to be the author who encourages, and helps, and makes them feel worth the time. As a young, newbie writer, I have been so lucky. So many authors have taken me under their wings, helped me out, and mentored me. Trust me, it’s made all the difference. And while there’s only so much I can do to pay it forward right now (n00b), I’m going to try now, as much as I can.
So that was my Balticon: a wonderful weekend, professionally, personally, and creatively.
Conventions always slip my mind. I book the hotel room, the plane tickets, and listen to the pre-con buzz, but it never dawns on me that I’m actually going until…oh, the night before. Then, it’s a mad scramble to pack and organize books, and it still feels unreal until the moment I pick up my badge.
That’s how Balticon feels right now.
I have my schedule. Apparently, my past self was very crafty and booked my flight and hotel a while ago. I even have plans to meet up with a few people.
It still doesn’t feel like I’m actually going.
Nor has it really sunk in that I’m going as a guest. I’ve termed this feeling “Cinderella Syndrome.” Every so often, I look at my Facebook wall and think, “Oh, wow. How has this become normal?” Answering that would be another post in itself…and may or may not crop up on a few panels next weekend.
Speaking of panels, here are the ones I have confirmed:
4:00 pm – Meeting Other Podcasters
5:00 pm – Professionalism and the Emergent Writer
2:00 pm – Writing Real Children
11:00 am – Autograph Session (and reunion with Tim Dodge! Woot!)
12:00 pm – Professionalism and the Young Writer
1:00 pm – Reading
8:00 pm –From Page to Pod
10:00 am – Introvert’s Guide to Social Media
So…basically, I don’t intend to sleep this weekend. At all. If you’re around the con, come say hi! I like people.
Writing may also be a bit iffy. I’m just over 1/3 of the way through the Massive Strix Rewrite. If I keep to this 2000 words/day pace, I should be finished in just under a month (hopefully I can cannibalize more words from the original draft near the end, but I’m not holding my breath).
We’ll see. The dayjob, while awesome, is also very physically tiring…but I’m incredibly anxious/eager/excited to get this thing out to Gabrielle and my cast.
Next week: The Balticon Round-Up!
WARNING: HERE THERE BE HAPAX SPOILERS
Writing prequels, I’m finding, brings unique challenges. Like sequels, they are to an extent dependent on the book(s) written previously. However, there’s a small-but-important difference.
For a sequel, Hapax would be a jumping-off point. For Strix, it’s an end point. Anything and everything I write in Strix has to plausibly lead to the events in Hapax. And since Hapax is published and out, I’m utterly bound by what I already wrote.
Mostly, that’s fine. The vague, overall eschatological arc was kind-of-sort-of in place when I wrote Hapax, and since I was relatively sure I would be writing a prequel during the proofing stage, I did get to go over sections referencing Strix’s time period with a fine-tooth comb. I was very aware that once it got to print, that part of the narrative would be set in stone.
It’s those darn throwaway lines and details that get me.
At one point, I was merrily filling in the gaps of Aelist liturgy, imagining how pre-flood Aelism differed from post-flood. I was mostly reusing material from Hapax. And then I stumbled across Serafine’s line:
“Where there was no time, before there was any place, the first Word of Ael sounded. And all the vastness of eternity shuddered.”
First line of the Tablet (the Aelist religious text). No big deal, right?
Except then she continues speaking: “I’ve never heard the Hapax described like that.”
A complete throwaway line. Honestly, I don’t remember why I chose to have her say that. But it has several important implications:
- If people were describing the Hapax that way before the flood, Serafine would have known about it.
- The fact that she did not tells us that people were NOT using that language to describe it at that time.
- Therefore, this version of the Tablet post-dates the flood.
- So, what changed in the interim, when, and why?
I ended up finding a reason that pleases me, and (hopefully) adds more to the story than, “The Tablet just always started that way.”
There are many other examples. There’s a brief reference to Islanders at one point; Gaelin assumes Serafine is one of them, mostly based on her name. I never developed the Islanders beyond surface allusions to their emphasis on kin groups and beer drinking—since they were a red herring, it wasn’t necessary.
Except now, in the rewrites, I need to explore the history more fully. Who are these people, that they would still be willing to name their children after the Beast? Who were they to Serafine? Suddenly, three facts become the basis for a whole culture.
It’s often the little details that provide the key to the greater story. Like the proverbial butterfly causing hurricanes halfway around the world, word choices can affect things far more than you would ever imagine.
It’s a lot of fun, making sure that the threads between prequel and sequel align. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of detail work that I love. But it goes to show: you can’t take anything for granted.
For a number of years, I Should Be Writing has been both one of my staple podcasts and an inspirational mantra. Personally, I’ve found it useful in re-directing my focus. Facebook’s hold is a lot easier to break when you can exclaim out loud, “Wait a second—I should be writing!”
It’s a principle we hear a lot. Writing every day keeps you writing, every day. A writer is someone who writes. Write or die. Don’t break the chain. The first rule is write. BIC: Bottom In Chair.
Again, all good ideas. If you’re spending your time on the Internet, TV, and random chores that really could wait a few hours, and getting a few hundred words every few days, your chances of finishing that story/novel/script are about nil.
However, this write-at-all-costs mindset overlooks the fact that sometimes, you really shouldn’t be writing.
I learned this the hard way. Looking back through the archives, I realize that I have been blogging about Strix/The Next One for far too long. This book has taken me too long. Partly, this is because I couldn’t find the way into the story. Partly, I realize in hindsight, I was writing when I shouldn’t have been.
Let’s rewind. Exactly one year ago, I was in New Zealand, starting Strix. I was experiencing culture shock. I was homesick. I was adapting to a new university. I was in a somewhat-difficult living situation. Then I was backpacking, never in one place for more than three days, writing in noisy hostels after being outside from sunrise to sunset.
The book I wrote was not very good.
When you look at how it was written, that’s perhaps not terribly surprising. Of course, I don’t want to pin all of Strix’s problems on the circumstances—realistically, I just didn’t do a very good job—but they certainly didn’t help.
While I was editing Strix, a lot of family stuff was happening. At one point, I was overwhelmed enough to stumble into a priest’s office.
A week after that, my dad died unexpectedly.
And yet, I still tried to edit the damn thing. I gave myself an extra month, ignored everyone telling me to take it slow, and churned out a first pass before fleeing to Virginia for a few days.
My first real, slow sinking feeling occurred when I realized I’d forgotten to include chapter twelve…and my first readers hadn’t noticed.
I sent Gabrielle an apology, and worked feverishly on a new first pass. A few weeks later, I got this DM: “I finished Strix. Can we chat?”
End result? I’m all but starting from scratch. And yes, Gabrielle was absolutely right (I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I am to work with her). It will be a much better book this way, and where before Strix felt like an obligation, now I’m actually excited to write it. And yes, she not only gave me permission to share this, she suggested it.
Hindsight is a powerful tool. Again, I take responsibility for Strix’s problems; I chose to keep writing in the face of advice to the contrary. However, it’s possible that if I had waited, I might not have found myself in the current situation.
Sometimes, it seems like we think we can push through anything, write through anything. After all, suffering feeds art, right? We can write through pain, turn it into grist for the mill, and ignore all stress and exhaustion in the name of our art.
There’s a guilt that builds up around not-writing. It can be blessing and curse: it keeps you writing, but sometimes it creates anxiety over “not being a writer” where there really isn’t cause for it. As regards to turning hardship into story…yes, this can be done. Writing is cheaper than therapy. However, there is a caveat. One of the best pieces of advice that I received (which I nodded at, agreed with, and then promptly didn’t act on) came from my ever-wise friend Blythe:
“You shouldn’t use things until you’ve dealt with them.”
Homesickness in Dunedin and grief in Toronto. Both colour Strix—neither did so in terribly effective ways. Mentally, psychologically, spiritually, I wasn’t ready. And that’s ok. If you are not ready, if you are not able, it is ok not to write. In fact, you probably shouldn’t be writing. It is easy to think in absolutes and hold writing above all else, but it can be damaging, and that hurts the quality of your work.
If you are in great physical or emotional pain, you may not write well.
If you are undergoing major life changes, you may not write well.
If your environment lacks stability, you may not write well.
If you have other major upheavals happening—work, family, whatever—that must be dealt with and require a great deal of energy, you may not write well.
Really, it’s ok. It’s natural, it’s human. But it’s worth recognizing. Know your limits, and know that waiting in the short term may save you lots of work in the long run. Sometimes, admitting, “I can’t” is braver than saying, “I’ll try.”
I’m still not functioning at 100%, but I know that I am functioning well enough, and that my current circumstances are peaceful and stable enough, to try Strix again. For reals, this time.
Best wishes to all of you on your own journeys—and remember to rest, if you need to.
One play that I’d really like to see in its entirety is Carol Shields’s Arrivals and Departures. Once upon a time, when I was a wee teenage drama student, we did excerpts from it in class. It’s a series of vignettes: slices of airport life.
I like airports, better than I like the actual flying part. While I can think of a million ways that flights can go wrong, airports appeal to my slightly neurotic side. Everything has signs, everything is scheduled, labelled, and ordered, and the rules are quite clear. Then there’s the notion of airports as liminal space, in-between space. That concept of the way-station, the passing-through point, appeals to me.
Plus, I write really well in airports.
Over the last year, I’ve been in a lot of airports. So many that when I tried to tally them up, it looked kind of obnoxious, and I wasn’t even sure if I remembered them all, and it just seemed better not to try.
You get good at airports, after a while. You learn their individual quirks, and how to adapt to new ones. You also learn to entertain yourself, which is what I’m doing right now as I sit at yet another gate. And so…
THINGS AIRPORTS TAUGHT ME
- Proximity to outlets is the most important factor in determining where to sit. Sometimes this is the floor. That is ok.
- It is also ok to wear dirty jeans and lug a giant backpack around, even if everyone else has a suit and briefcase.
- Jaffas are not the healthiest lunch, but you will survive. And if it is your birthday, you can eat all the Jaffas you like (yes, I spent most of my last birthday in an airport, but it was Auckland, so I can’t complain).
- I am generally pretty awkward, but I am getting good at whipping out my laptop, finding every last coin in my pocket, and shucking off my coat in no time.
- Sometimes, you know best. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
- “Ok, dear, come through.”
- “Wait, I haven’t taken off my belt!”
- “You don’t need to.”
- “But it always beeps!”
- “You can leave your belt on.”
- “No, trust me, it—”
- “Come through, dear.”
- Beep. Beep. Beep.
- Everyone has a story.
- Random things distinguish airports. I remember that Dulles has a Starbucks by the baggage claim. Wellington has the weird pay-as-you-go computer terminals (or was that Auckland?). The Island Airport has the awesome lounge of free things.
- Stressed-out, sleep-deprived people are not the brightest.
- The mantra of air travel: I guess we’ll find out.
- Departures is more fun than Arrivals, unless you’re arriving home after six months.
- Window or aisle? is a more revealing question that you’d think.
- Information travels best by osmosis.
- Free wi-fi is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
- Sometimes, looking young and helpless is not necessarily a bad thing.
- Air New Zealand rocks.
- Responding to “Purpose of visit?” with “A science fiction convention!!!” will, in fact, get you weird looks
Time to board!
I finish my undergraduate degree tomorrow.
After eighteen years of schooling (hey, I’m counting kindergarten), it all comes down to a two-hour exam covering the last term of a subject I realized too late I wasn’t entirely passionate about. I really hope I pass.
For a little while now, people have been asking me, “How does it feel to be almost done? Are you ready?” My answer has been an unequivocal, “Oh God, yes, get me out of here, I’m done.”
See, for the last year, my heart and mind have been elsewhere. I have a job. I have this writing thing. Never one to have a single posse, I have friends and associates from various spheres of my life, most of which do not involve school. I’m done. I came to the classes, and I learned stuff about history, and I learned to write essays the way people at Black Creek learn their trades.
But then, last night, as I looked at a map to figure out where this exam actually is, a twinge of wistfulness startled me. My four years at university were not necessarily the idealized vision of ivy, uni jackets, and tree-lined footpaths. But they were, on the whole, good. I have been accused of being the “most nostalgic person ever” (with good reason), but still – there’s a certain safety in the university years. There’s the safety of venerable buildings and terrible food, readings and registrars, midnight baking and those very deep, profound conversations that happen in the wee hours of the morning.
University is, I think, about potential. These four years have all been about potential. Even the ubiquitous question “And what will you do with that degree?” is based on possibility. What would you like to do? What do you dream of doing? What do you imagine beyond the walls of this quad? Possibility is intoxicating. And so, I see, somewhat, why schooling acquires such a golden haze in retrospect: students can peer over the cliff and glimpse the lands beyond, but no one’s asking them to climb down among the rocks just yet.
Except, now, it’s time. I’m still done. I’m still more-or-less burned out, academically. I’m still aching to reclaim those hours spent studying and attending class and put them towards things I want to do: writing my own work, podcasting, reading for my own pleasure and self-education.
Maybe I realize a little better now that for the next chapter to begin, this one must close. We’re students our whole lives, but it won’t ever be quite this way again. I have learned a lot here. Not just about medieval kings and queens and Victorian imperialism, but about myself. And that’s kind of the point of your teens and twenties, isn’t it? Figuring out how you want to scale that cliff, what kind of person you want to be, what kind of relationships you want with other people. This year especially – well, it’s been an education.
It’s been a good run. But now – it’s time to go.
PS. NEWS AND THINGS
I’ve been meaning to announce this for a loooong time, but, well, school and life exploding.
Nominations for the Parsec Awards in Podcasting are open. If you enjoyed Hapax-the-Podcast, please consider nominating it for an award – the form is here.
If you enjoyed Hapax-the-Novel, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or Chapters. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Every review helps, every link you post helps, every person you tell earns a high-five from me the next time I see you. Thank you – it really does mean the world to me!
Ad Astra caught me by surprise this year.
It’s not like I didn’t know it was coming. I’ve known I was going since the last Ad Astra, which I missed due to being in New Zealand. But in the haze of the final weeks of my final semester, and the insanity of the last few months, I didn’t connect the dots until I was scrambling to ready my case of books.
(Actually, Ad Astra is still going on today—I’m skipping out to deal with the schoolwork a bit more.)
It was a good con. Friday was exciting because my friend and colleague Leah Petersen was launching her latest book: Cascade Effect, the sequel to Fighting Gravity. I read and loved Fighting Gravity, so I snagged my copy of Cascade Effect, right after the incredible Ed Greenwood. And then there was a penthouse party, with good food, cool people, and a very excellent reading (yes, Leah, I could hear you!). My copy is currently on my bookshelf, next to its mate, awaiting the wonderful day when I conquer academia.
Saturday was also fun. I mostly sold books and wandered around, though I did attend a very helpful panel on agents moderated by Adrienne Kress. Naturally, I knew her name, but I’d never been able to match a face to it. Plus, you know, information and such.
Otherwise—I mostly just talked to people. There was a mingling of DMP authors Saturday night, which was fun, and also really interesting. Although I met Marie Bilodeau in November at World Fantasy Con, I’d never had the chance for an extended conversation with her—and I’m so glad I finally did. We talked for a long time about how myths and stories spread and evolve (“Stories control people. That’s why I became an author!”), and then the chat turned to our own upcoming projects. And then she said something that caught me by surprise:
“You sound so energized, with this new book. That’s so good to see!”
People have called me many things in the last few months. Energized is not one of them. Nor had I really felt much energy all weekend. But it’s true: this project has nothing whatsoever to do with the Hapax universe. Exploring this new world has been such a rush, and it will be such a departure for me, and I’m still in the dewy-eyed honeymoon stage of, “This story is gonna be so awesome and I’m totally forgetting how much work it will actually be to make it come out the way I want.”
But I digress. My point, I think, is that Marie’s comment just confirms that I’m probably on the right path, in terms of writing something about which I’m passionate. Incidentally, Marie’s upcoming projects sound awesome, but I shall leave the discussion of them to her.
I’d been able to talk earlier with Robert J. Sawyer and a few other authors I hadn’t met before, but the other extended conversation of that night was with Ed Greenwood. Ed is almost frighteningly smart; the man is a fount of knowledge. But we talked about the forgotten bits of Toronto: the secret passages in the old buildings, the tunnel network under Queen’s Park and various bits of downtown (not the PATH: way older and much cooler), the phantom subway stations, the lost rivers…
All of that fascinates me. It’s the notion of the in-between space, the space that isn’t really part of anything, but links to everything, the lost space, the ghost space, the space once thought forgotten….
I’m not sure when or how all that will play into a book, but I know that it will. It’s definitely in my mental file of “Things That Keep Me Awake At Night.”
So yes. A good con.
I saw something like this, somewhere. I don’t recall where, now, but I thought it’d be fun (or at least, interesting) to chronicle my progress as I beat this paper into submission. Due to a combination of an even bigger paper, Ad Astra, and exams, this paper basically needs to get written today. Preferably before 10:00 pm.
7:36 am – Crawl out of bed. I’ve been semi-conscious for about an hour, having spent most of the night tossing and turning and dreaming of far too many people demanding beer tastings.
9:17 am – Apparently checking library hours would’ve been a good thing. My usual haunt doesn’t open for another hour, so I’ve relocated. I’m ok with that. Thanks to my ability to bike one-handed, I have a travel mug of coffee at my left. There’s no outlet nearby, so we’re going on battery power. And the essay starts now.
10:41 am – We’ve relocated again, as my usual library is now open and my battery died. Now I have a proper carrel and outlet. Essay is approximately 1.5 pages long…I got distracted by reading the news, and also by a friend’s editing job that seemed much more interesting and pressing than St. John.
11:11 am – I wish I could be done this essay.
12:02 pm – Essay is four pages long and has two pretty pictures. In one of nature’s cruel jokes, I feel both low-blood-sugar-y and nauseous. I need to eat, but I can think of only a few things less appealing right now. Braving the dining hall to see if I can stomach anything.
12:20 pm – An English muffin and hot chocolate with a side of awkwardness. Awesome. So glad to know I’m putting my few remaining free meals to good use. In other news, I think my stomach hates me. Oh well. Back to St. John.
12:27 pm – Screw it. My body really hates me. Calling a short break to mindlessly surf the web and wait for it to stop this nonsense.
3:06 pm – Closing in on 8 pages done. This is the first time in my university career that I have included pictures in an essay, and I like it. However, I am thirsty.
3:38 pm – The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Going home to rest. Will resume soon.
5:40 pm – I slept. There was also dinner. Bracing myself for another attack.
8:07 pm – Ok, so I got distracted. BUT I AM WRITING THE CONCLUSION NOW. FEAR ME, ESSAY! (Side note: Saint John is the patron saint of theologians, writers, and people at risk of burns. I am sometimes all of these things, so he’s totally got my back on this. Right?)
8:19 pm – DONE THE CONCLUSION. But…I still need a bibliography.
8:43 pm – DONE DONE I AM DONE!!! At 3661 words, four pictures, and 52 footnotes, we are done! Haha! Now I only have one giant paper to go!
But first…baking pretzels!
I was just looking out the window, wondering if I could summon the energy to write something, anything, when I noticed:
There’s a tree outside with buds on it.
That, friends, warms the cockles of my heart.
Spring is coming, for which I am incredibly grateful. Partly because I missed spring last year: I left Canada in the middle of winter, arrived in NZ at the start of autumn, spent winter down there, arrived back in Canada at the end of summer, and have since gone through another fall and winter.
It reminds me of the Monty Python Holy Grail line: “And winter gave spring and summer a miss and went straight on into autumn.”
Ironically, considering the tendency towards pathetic fallacy in my writing, it really has been a long, hard winter. The last few weeks especially, things have been so heavy, cold, and grey.
With a few exceptions, of course…
But spring is coming. It’s almost like I still have seasonal jetlag, as though once the snow melts and the sun shines, once there’s that fresh scent on the breeze and you can practically feel things sprouting and taking root…then, it’ll be like a reset button that gets me on a more even keel. Not that I think warmer weather is the answer to everything, but it can only help.
The signs are there. I worked last week (which, coming in the middle of the Essay Apocalypse, was both highly necessary for my own sanity and also a terrible idea), and even though it snowed, when the wind shifted just right, you knew.
We’re well into Easter music at choir, and after four years, Easter hymns are triggering the same seasonal expectations in me that Christmas carols do in December. They feel like spring. They feel like things coming back to life, things rejuvenating (and yes, I do appreciate the symbolism there).
For the first time since a very lonely night somewhere in the South Island, I wrote a poem.
The days are growing longer and warmer. The ice is melting. There’s still a ways to go, but maybe, hopefully, soon, it will be patio weather.
First round’s on me.