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! 😉
It looks like you’re playing Donkey Kong Country 2 for the umpteenth time while listening to opera on low, but you’re actually plotting a novel.
Lying flat on one’s back in the middle of the floor and engaging in long, rambling monologues about magic and theology is not crazy. Just working.
Engaging in long, rambling monologues about non-existent people’s personal problems while in the shower? You guessed it—also work!
When a character informs you that you’ve been spelling her name wrong, you thank her for the correction.
Reading books on the Revelations of Saint John the Divine and string theory for the same project.
The reason your beta reader has yet to respond is because they secretly hated your book. Actually, they probably secretly hate you as well, even though you’ve been friends for years. During periods of anxiety, this makes perfect sense. However, this IS crazy.
Coffee and tea are proof that God exists and wants us to be happy.
Characters have their own opinions on your iPod playlists. Your writing soundtracks, too.
Standing up in the middle of a crowded bar at a convention and declaring, “I need to be alone now.”
When an email from an agent/editor/publisher comes, and all you see is “DEAR AUTHORwordswordswordswordsNOT A FIT FOR US AT THIS TIMEwordswordswordswords.”
Alternatively, “DEAR AUTHORwordswordswordswords PLEASED TO ACCEPT YOUR SUBMISSIONwordswordswordswordswords.”
Meeting someone with the same accent as one of your characters, and listening hyper-intently to everything they say in an attempt to fix their speech patterns in your brain.
The irresistible lure of the conversation at the next table over.
The absolute squee that is fan art:
Having detailed plans to survive the zombie apocalypse. And escape from pirates. And to run away and flee across the country, evading the authorities and news media.
Arguing the semantics of politics/history/theology that you created.
The thrill of finding an image that IS your character/setting/whatever.
Blocked words = existential dread.
The simultaneous need for solitude and heartbreaking yearning for closeness.
“Sorry, mate, can’t make it tonight—I need to write.”
Converting between the Gregorian calendar and your characters’ calendar.
Getting notes: all of the terror and all of the excitement.
Workshopping: see above, except with more anxiety-induced nausea.
The mingled joy and jealousy when you read a book you wish you’d written.
Crying when terrible things happen to characters you like.
Being incredibly pleased when terrible things happen to characters you like.
Listening to the same song over and over, because it makes you feel something that’s the kernel of a story, if you could just put your finger on what that something is….
Spending an awful lot of time worrying about sound laws and vowel shifts.
As crushing as your first rejection was, you’re still proud of it.
Looking like you’re half-asleep on the bus, but really just talking to characters in your head.
Pens are just always there. Like oxygen. Except when they’re not, you panic. Also like oxygen.
Show, don’t tell, except when telling is really just the logical thing to do.
There’s no right way, only the way that’s right for you.
Googling questionable things in the name of research. Goat decapitations, anyone?
Using Google Street View to plot routes in cities you’ll never visit.
Counting people among your good friends when you’ve met them once in real life. Or not at all.
That instant, unmistakeable connection to other writers.
WHAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE TO (MOST) AUTHORS:
Most people have traditions around this time of year. I certainly do—I like routines anyway (slight OCD tendencies? Me? Never!), so the idea of tradition works quite well for me. Some are pretty standard: Advent calendar, Christmas Day at my grandmother’s, NORAD Santa Tracker, etc. Some are a little more personal.
For as long as I can remember, I have read Richard Scrimger’s Of Mice and Nutcrackers every holiday season. It’s a middle-grade book, and although it’s apparently a sequel, it stands alone (I haven’t read the first one). Essentially, it follows seventh-grader Jane Peeler as she directs her class’s production of The Nutcracker while dealing with strained friendships, her dad’s pneumonia, and her cursing, chain-smoking grandma.
It holds a special place in my heart.
Obviously, it’s a childhood favourite. I don’t remember when I first read it, but I remember thinking Jane was really old. So, I was probably around eight or nine.
I’m twenty-one now, and I still love it.
It’s a genuine story, with some remarkably clever writing. The cursing grandma? Scrimger neatly uses “sound-alikes” to show her “bad words.” Get the shell out of bed, ham stairs, and so forth. Let’s be honest, some kids probably know what he means, but that’s okay. They’re in on the joke.
But there was one that took me quite a few years to get. At one point, the grandma yells at an incompetent driver: “Hey, axle!”
Think about that for a minute.
Yes, he went there. And I respect him so much for it.
It also took a few years to figure out why Jane’s little brother avoids pork chops and ham throughout the book. Likewise, a few years to catch the sly in-text references to Scrimger’s other books. I love that. I love that the main thrust of the story is accessible to kids the first time, but that all these nuances emerge with successive readings. Sure, some of the characters are fairly one-dimensional (The Mean Teacher), but most of them are surprisingly complex. If I were to ever try my hand at kidlit, this is how I’d like to do it.
But of course, I also love it because it’s so strongly linked to the holidays for me. Over the years, it has become part of my preparations for Christmas. I savour it, reading a chapter a day, timing it so that I reach the part where the principal says, “…fourteen days until Christmas” on December 11th (yes, I’m a nerd).
I don’t know if or when I’ll ever have kids. If I do, Of Mice and Nutcrackers will certainly make an appearance.
But I’ll let them decode the grandma’s dialogue on their own.
How about you? Any beloved children’s books, or books that get better with subsequent readings?
“A Hapax is a word that occurs only once, ever…”
As most of you have probably figured out by now, that’s the driving conflict behind Hapax. The Word of creation sounded only once, and no one heard it, so now it’s gone forever.
I’d prefer that were not the case with Hapax-the-Novel.
And so, I’m announcing the “Hear the Hapax” contest.
What do you need to do?
Here’s the deal: we’re looking to get this Word out. Every review (Amazon, Goodreads…) you write, every promo you play, every blogpost you craft, every link to the Amazon or Chapters page you post, counts as one entry in the draw. Just send the link to whatever you’ve done to firstname.lastname@example.org, so I’m aware of it. As with all draws, the more entries you have, the better your odds.
What’s up for grabs?
One World-Ending Grand Prize
A Hapax poster, designed by Erin Scothorn (a lady of many talents who, among other things, gave Hapax its initial critique), and signed by the author and podcast-cast. If you’re a long-time listener, you may remember this image as the working cover, before the official one from Dragon Moon Press was ready. So far as I know, it currently exists nowhere else, and it will be the only one in the world (kind of like the Hapax… :P)
Plus, a CD with the entire podcast – pure story, no Hapax Chats or Story so Fars between chapters…and some exclusive bonus material. 😉
Two CDs of Apocalyptic Audio
Two more CDs containing Hapax-the-Podcast in its entirety, along with bonus material.
Three MCBs (Magical Candy Bags)
Tasty, tasty treats from the Great White North.
Timeline: there may be seven days between Candlemass and the Final Day, but since the Ecclesiat does everything in threes, I’ll give you three weeks. The contest opens at 12:01 am EST(’cause that’s how we roll) Saturday, November 24th, and closes at 11:59 am EST on December 15th. Winners will be announced on this blog on December 16th.
Our mission: help the world hear the Hapax, so that it doesn’t echo in the Void for eternity, unheard and unknown.
Leave reviews, send tweets, spread the word, and then let me know.
Questions, comments, links, feedback, and awful puns all go to email@example.com
All right, pals, we’ve got three weeks. Without you, the Hapax cannot be heard. Thank you, and good luck!
They say a book’s publication date is like a birthday. You look forward to it, and count down to it, and finally, finally it comes.
I just did the equivalent of sleeping through my birthday party.
In what I’m sure will become an amusing anecdote for the ages, I actually just realized that you can order Hapax on Amazon. I mean, yes, I had heard from Dragon Moon that it was “live on Amazon.” But I only looked at Amazon.ca – while that site has the cover art now, it still says “currently unavailable.” So, I assumed “live” meant “the cover is up.”
Tonight, while double-checking something for the Hapax-Chat portion of Chapter 8 of Hapax-the-Podcast, I looked at the American version: Amazon.com.
There’s an “Add-to-cart” option. Apparently, if you order in the next 41 hours, you can get it by Tuesday. Unless I’m highly, highly mistaken, I think my book is out.
I’m also having trouble typing. How odd.
But seriously, I feel like this is enough of an adrenaline jolt to keep me up tonight. Suddenly, there is a HECK of a lot to do – more promotional stuff that I’d been planning, but for which I’d been assuming, “Not now, not yet.”
So, I need your help.
Please, please help me spread the word. Tell your friends. Leave reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, iTunes (for the podcast), on your own blogs. Let people know about it. Do let me know. Reviews and comments are seriously an author’s best friend. Don’t be shy.
Here are the links:
Without you guys, how can the Hapax be heard?
I’m going to go sit down for a minute now….
I got in around midnight local time, couldn’t sleep, ended up unpacking at five, showered and dressed at six, and staggered into work to say hello to everyone just after lunch. I am glad I went. A combination of jet lag and excitement resulted in a very potent kind of adrenaline…and I did really, really miss everyone. As I stumbled around the village, a huge weight lifted off my chest, even as it was rather firmly suggested that I catch a ride to the subway, rather than navigating the bus half out of my mind with sleep deprivation.
My coworkers are awesome.
But now that I’m home, it’s time to shift gears a little bit. I’m glad I had a week to relax on the beach in Rarotonga, because things are about to start moving.
First up: Hapax-the-Podcast
It’s pretty much done. I finished editing chapters 2-19 while in New Zealand, which just leaves chapter 1 (there is a method to my madness, don’t worry). My beta listener caught a few technical glitches, but all easy to fix. Now looking at sorting the feed and host, but well on track for the first episode to drop sometime in mid-to-late September. Watch this space for more updates and details as the time nears.
Also on track, forthcoming from Dragon Moon Press this October. Here’s the first official review I’ve seen, from Publisher’s Weekly. Apparently, I’m also on Amazon now: you can sign up to be notified when Hapax becomes available.
Again, watch this space for more details and updates. I’m considering an Amazon rush (everyone buys the book the same day, to drive it up the charts), but there’s a bit of time yet.
I will be at Dragon Con, though because of flight and hotel availability, I won’t get there until the afternoon of the 31st. Looking forward to meeting lots of people there, so if you’re going, please come say hi. I’ll be the girl with purple glasses and the stunned look.
World Fantasy Con
WFC is in Toronto! Wh00t! I will definitely be there – and since it’s at the beginning of November, we’re hoping for a Hapax launch. Again, looking forward to meeting lots of people!
I know, I know, I’m leaving this awfully late, but I’m honestly not 100% decided on whether I’m going. As the first con I ever attended, SFContario is dear to my heart, and it’s easy for me to get to. The problem is funds. After travelling, Dragon Con, and WFC, I’m not sure it’s feasible. I’m also not sure that I could afford to book that weekend off work, when I know I’ll be taking time for WFC.
Otherwise, The Next One is in the deep freeze; I’m just giving myself a bit of space before attacking it with the rewrites. And another fantasy is stirring in the corner – something that feels slick, dark, and vaguely Victorian.
And that’s me, at the moment. I guess I also have to start school soon, as well….
Rested, recharged, and raring to go!
I know I typically post towards the end of the week, but I did have a few things I wanted to discuss.
I now have all four of my essays back. Three of the four went as expected, and I was happy. Perhaps I got complacent. Actually, I did get complacent, because the last one absolutely blindsided me.
I passed, but it’s a great deal lower than the marks I usually get, and I’m not pleased. For those who know me well, this is (for once) not a case of my having ridiculously high standards. Trust me, you would not be pleased either.
So: shock, and if I’m being honest, some anger. And as long as I am being completely honest, my first instinct was to snap, to rave, and vent.
But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m taking a second, sober look, and I think that, in this case, the principle of “Pick Your Battles” applies.
This was not the most amazing piece of academic writing I have ever produced. The others weren’t my best either, but they were still better. However… I’m on exchange. Yes, it is called Study Abroad for a reason, but realistically, I’m here just as much for the learning outside the classroom. I can learn history anywhere. There are some things about myself, and about life, that I can only learn in New Zealand. Presumably for this reason, every class I take here is judged at home on a pass/fail basis. As long as I pass, I get the credit, but the mark will never, ever show up on my University of Toronto transcript, and does not factor into my GPA.
So really, it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that in a nihilistic way, but rather in a “it is not particularly relevant to my ultimate goals” kind of way. When I’ve cooled off, I’ll see if there’s anything I can learn from the comments, but otherwise, getting upset over a paper that will not affect my GPA or my grad school prospects seems like a waste of energy.
Moreover, it reminds me that the time is coming when I’ll be looking at reviews, which is the other reason why I am choosing to let this go. When I get my first negative review, am I going to rant? No, of course not. I don’t want to be That Person. Again, this is training to Pick Your Battles.
The “good” thing about rejection, bad reviews, and bad essays is that you can usually learn something from them. But if not… then perhaps a bit of perspective helps. One bad review in a heap of good ones loses some of its bite. One bad essay in three years of university looks less like an indictment of my academic skills and more like a bump in the road. And when I think about all the things I’ve done and seen in New Zealand… I know that those experiences are far more valuable to me as a person than one more A would be.
As I mentioned earlier, I do set high standards for myself. I want to do well. I want to write well, and tell good stories, and perform good history. But when things don’t go as I’d hoped… well, then I simply ask for the ability to handle them with grace and dignity.