Between two internships, Stonecoast, and my own writing, it’s been a busy week. And it’s only going to get busier, because DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is out on Tuesday!
I haven’t been this excited (or this obsessive) since the release of HAPAX.
About halfway through my stay in Virginia, Pip and Tee tossed me an ARC and said, “Yeah, you should probably read that.” Now, I’d been eyeing the giant flipping box of ARCs in the basement since the day I arrived, but I was too nervous to ask for one. But once it was in my eager little hands, I settled myself on the couch with a contented sigh.
“Whoa,” Tee said at one point, peering over. “You’re tearing through that.”
A while later, he cleared his throat. “So—let’s get back to InDesign. We can set up the templates for WEATHER CHILD.”
Or something like that. Eliza was enjoying her first real taste of American “hospitality,” which happened to involve a fight scene, and it was very exciting. I wasn’t really listening.
Tee sighed. “Here, what page are you on? Ok. When you finish that chapter, we’ll go down.”
“Don’t make me take that book away, young lady!”
So I finished the chapter and closed the book with a dramatic, exaggerated sigh. Of course, I was happy to do more layout work—I’d never actually be obstinate with my hosts and mentors. But still…those first five chapters had woken a weird, persistent itch. I’d left Eliza contemplating a new revelation, and she and Wellington needed to actually communicate with each other because the tension between them was driving me slowly but surely mad, and I was very aware of mines planted in earlier chapters that were waiting to go off later in the plot (metaphorical mines—it’s always a good idea to specify when dealing with Eliza D. Braun).
I needed to read more.
After dinner, instead of writing, I settled on the couch again. It was lovely and quiet, with Pip and Tee tapping at their own laptops and Sophia del Morte watching and plotting.
“Hey Katie, where are you now?”
The next day found me back in the same spot. Pip was writing on the couch opposite me. Suddenly, I stopped reading with a gasp. I put the book down and gaped at Pip.
“You guys had Edison [PLOT POINT REDACTED]?!”
She flashed a guilty smile.
There was another book that I was meant to be reading for Stonecoast. This is where I’m responsible, set DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT aside, and do my schoolwork, right?
Heck no! This is where I email my mentor saying, “Hello! I know you wanted me to write an imitative annotation this month…but can I write one on this book instead??”
Fortunately, she said yes. Which means that DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT was used in an academic paper before it was even officially released.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of hypersteam, explosions, historical personages, and crafty (figurative) Easter eggs. Here’s the thing, though: DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is a lot of fun. No question about that. But there’s a real emotional heart to the story as well. During the big, climactic scene…well, my eyes got misty.
That’s right. I’m not ashamed of my tears. Although I did try to be subtle about them—after all, the authors were right there. And I’m also not ashamed to admit that I just looked up that scene for reference and instantly felt like I’d been stabbed again.
And for me, that’s the real strength of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences in general and DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT in particular. You care. You care about these characters and their world so damn much. I was nineteen when PHOENIX RISING came out, so while I haven’t grown up alongside Eliza and Wellington quite the same way I did with Harry Potter, I think that we have developed together—settling into our respective skins.
As the novel ended, I could almost hear the ominous chords, the rumble of oncoming thunder.
When the fourth book comes out, I’m not waiting. I’m diving into that box of ARCs the minute I see it.
Criticism is part and parcel of the writing life. It’s funny, though—I always assumed that my general anxiety around evaluations would be my biggest stumbling block as a writer. As I’ve gone along, though, I’m discovering that I’m…ok with criticism.
More than that, actually. Even though I still get nervous as anything, I also crave it. Editorial criticism, anyway. Reviews are a different topic; let’s save them for another day.
I had two larger critiques come in recently: one for the first half of my Interactive Text-Based Online Game (hereinafter codenamed “The Game”) and one for my first Stonecoast packet. By the time this post goes live, I will have already Skyped with my mentor about her comments on said packet.
In both cases, they seemed to approach the topic of criticism quite carefully. Naturally, that set Anxiety screaming, “The other shoe is going to drop! The other shoe is going to drop! Wait for it wait for it wait for it!”
And then it was fine.
By “fine,” I don’t mean, “Everything was sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and fluffy bunnies.” There are things to fix: mostly coding for The Game, mostly the main character in the Victorian Dark Fantasy. So, not necessarily minor things, but still—
That’s it? I’m not missing an extra page of critique? Because really, those are good things to know. Frankly, if an editor ever said that a piece was perfect and there was nothing to change, I’d get very nervous.
There’s always something to change.
Also, it’s never about you.
That’s the piece that I seemed to have learned, almost by accident. It’s that ability to step back and look objectively at a piece and say, “Yes. I see where this doesn’t work. Ok.” No different than someone saying, “Hey, one leg of that chair is a bit longer than the others.” Are you going to sit there on a wobbly chair denying it, or are you going to wobble for a minute, testing it, and then pull out the saw?
Of course, there are times when you whip out the measuring tape and realize, no, you’re right. Sometimes that happens. You just have to be sure.
(For instance, there was a query about fireplaces that sent me on a quest that was really fun – but also took way too long considering that all I did with my diagrams and photos was show them to my roommate.)
Caveat here: I’ve been lucky as a writer, in that all my editors and workshop members have mastered that balance of being respectful and kind and also not pulling punches. Personal attacks in critiques are not ok. I’ve never had that happen, but they kind of defeat the critique’s main purpose: making the work better.
Remember, it’s not about you. That goes both ways.
Like so many things, anticipation is usually worse than the actual event. I wish I could return to my 14-year-old self and say, “Hey, look! It’s going to be fine—honestly, it doesn’t hurt and you actually feel good after!”
Maybe the knee-jerk fear reaction never really goes away, but learning to love the whip makes it a lot easier to manage. As one of my Irish drinking songs says:
What would you do if the kettle boiled over?
What would I do, but to fill it again?
What would you do if the cows ate the clover?
What would I do, only set it again?
I can’t wait to get these pieces polished! 😉
When I was a small child, I never went anywhere without a book. In the car (even though it made me ill). At the doctor’s. At grandma’s. In the backyard. Under the covers. Though it makes me sad to admit it, I read for pleasure far more back then.
Part of it comes from the way I was reading. I remember all of these fantastic worlds being so real. I’ve noticed that when kids get into a book, they get really into it. There’s a sense of wonder when kids read: a willingness to engage with the story, almost as if they can slip sideways in just the right way, they’ll fall into the book’s universe.
I read the first Harry Potter at eight and bemoaned the fact that I would need to wait three years for my Hogwarts letter (my parents were torn between amusement and slight concern). By the time I started on Redwall, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere—and yet, somehow, I still have a solid grasp of the Abbey’s layout. Even now, when I squish a bug, part of me wonders if I’ve killed an Andalite or Animorph in morph.
Unless we’re very careful, we lose that wonder somewhere along the way. You experience Kit and Nita’s wizardry differently when there’s rent to be paid and deadlines to be met. Oh sure, you STILL really enjoy it, and read the book in a night, and love and cry for and adore the characters, but it’s not the same as when you’re a kid. The colours are just slightly faded, the edges slightly dulled.
It’s sad. For a writer, it’s terrifying.
I’ve been working to rekindle that sense of wonder. Given my line of work and field of study, I’m always reading to learn. But since finishing my undergrad, I can create my own syllabus. There’s still a lot of fantasy and SF (I’ve finally gotten around to reading Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of Valdemar and I’m having a rollicking good time), but I’m trying to branch out-of-genre as well.
Slight digression: I got asked recently if I put myself into my writing. It took me a moment to answer. I don’t do self-inserts (“And then, the plucky young street urchin…named Caytee…went and did awesome stuff”) but I’ve noticed that my writing is always stronger when my actual, genuine emotions are in there: love, joy, grief, whatever.
Maybe that’s the way that books become real, whether we’re reading or writing them: we come to them with real emotions, real feelings. We’re not afraid to feel the emotions books create in us and we’re not afraid to transfer our own feelings onto the page.
Knowing how to spot symbolism, theme, allegory…these are all important things. Understanding the craft, appreciating a deft bit of characterization, or questioning an author’s plot choice…also important.
But entering the story on its own terms, opening yourself up to it…that’s not just important, it’s necessary.
What books enthralled you as a child? What books make your spine tingle and your eyes gleam now? What are the books that you close with a pang?