It’s strange, chatting to the people in various spheres of my life. The verdict on 2013 seemed mostly unanimous: it was a year that knocked a lot of people flat. Sure, there were good moments, but the consensus generally seems to be cautious optimism to embrace the New Year.
I don’t usually do resolutions…but there are a few things to which I’m looking forward, and which I’d like to accomplish this year.
The Book Formerly Known as Strix
This. Book. Oh my God. This book. My frustrations with Strix are infamous. For whatever reason, this book kept kicking my knees in all through 2013. Fortunately, Gabrielle is a wonderful, patient editor who helped me morph it into a new book (albeit one with the same premise).
So far as I’m concerned, Strix is dead. Not every book lives, which is a terrible, hard thing to learn. But! But but but! I’m incredibly excited by this new book. Since there is no longer a strix in it (the adage “murder your darlings” became my personal mantra, chanted as I huddled in the corner of my darkened room), I can’t call it that anymore.
When it comes out depends on how fast I write. Possibly spring 2014? Whether I podcast it depends on too many factors to guess right now.
Victorian Dark Fantasies
I had so much fun writing the VDF. I think it’s a solid book and this year, my goal is to shop it around. We’ll see what happens. And since I realized halfway through that it’s not necessarily a standalone novel, a sequel may be in the cards.
After all, I’d love to send my dynamic duo south. There are more politics and history to explore there, and for one character, that lovely northern accent may start becoming a slight problem….
Back to School
When I graduated last June, I declared that I was taking a break from academia.
Then Stonecoast emailed.
And so in ten short days, I’ll be boarding a plane to Portland, ME, for my first Stonecoast residency. Doing my MFA there definitely falls into the “If You Told Me This Two Years Ago, I Would Have Laughed At You” file. I’m astonished and nervous and ridiculously excited and slightly sick to my stomach all at once.
My goals: learn stuff, write better, keep on top of everything.
God, I miss podcasting. I’m making more time for it in 2014. Mostly, things are in the “Seekrit Projikt,” “vague planning and idea-bouncing” stage, but expect more Canadian accents in your headphones this year.
Friends and Family and Such
At the end of my last grief counselling session, the therapist said, “Well! It sounds like you have some really good people around you.”
“Yes,” I answered, without missing a beat. “I do.”
2013 found me leaning on my friends far more than I’d usually be comfortable with. But they were there. You know who are you are, and I thank you with all my heart.
But being a functional human being and paying some of that kindness back/forward is a major life goal for me this year. For the first time since my dad died, I feel on an even keel. I feel capable of being a good friend and actually contributing to my various relationships again.
My metaphor for 2013 is thus. Imagine coming home and seeing a wrecking ball and gaping muddy pit where your house used to be. You’re shocked and devastated, and can’t conceive how this could happen. As you sort through the ruins, you realize that some things are too broken to save. Others are way stronger than you ever imagined.
Eventually, you clear out most of the wreckage. Then you find someone strengthened your existing foundations and installed some new ones, too. While the loss is heartbreaking, you can build something entirely new and utterly wonderful on top of it.
May 2014 be a year of building. All of my best, to all of you.
Theme. Now there’s a word that conjures up memories from high school. All those English classes, probing texts, trying to answer the question, “But what are the themes of this work? What is the author saying?”
At the time, I think I mostly muttered something about “we murder to dissect” and deconstructed stories with both great efficiency and resentment.
Ah, the arrogance of youth. Although I think my main issue was actually some teachers’ insistence on imposing their interpretation and only their interpretation on the stories. When I’m writing, I do consider theme just as much as pacing, characterization, setting, mood, etc. Stories are always about something. That doesn’t mean that everything is a symbol or metaphor for something. Even the actual, literal narration points to the theme, because the way the story unfolds tells us something about the author’s assumptions.
If the protagonist is brave and loyal and wins out in the end, that tells us something different than if they get the same result by being dishonest and cowardly.
The theme(s) of a book is/are a lot like a thesis in an essay. It’s an argument, a proposition. When I wrote essays in the days of yore, I constantly checked to make sure whatever I’d said hadn’t invalidated my thesis. Same thing with fiction: you’re always testing the narrative against the theme and seeing if it holds. If your theme is “Honesty is the most important” and then your hero saves the day by lying, you may want to take a second look at your story.
Often, I find theme helps with plot. I just finished the Victorian Dark Fantasy. However, unusually for me, I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to end.
So I looked at my themes and asked, “What is the point of this book? What is my protagonist’s arc? How has she changed? What would illustrate those changes/what this story is really about?”
Theme is world building. The cool thing about writing is that you are creating your own universe with its own rules. Some of those rules might relate to things like magic, but some of them are more abstract. Take Hapax – hope beats fear. Taking that as something True, it does influence the plot and world itself. It’s like an experiment: in a world where this is A Thing, what happens? Is that wonderful, horrifying, or does it have an effect at all?
But setting out to Write A Message doesn’t end in themes. It ends in morals. Just as plot and character develop naturally out of each other, so too does theme. Sometimes, you have to do what I did in high school: look at the story, its plot and characters, and try to find a theme that fits it all, the same way scientists develop hypotheses to explain the things they see.
And on that note, onwards to edits! 😀