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It Takes Time

Frost has crept into the mornings. At the day job, there are a few hours during which I rely on a woodstove. If there’s no fire, there’s no heat in the building, and there’s really only so long that you can shiver and watch your breath rise dragon-like to the ceiling.

It’s a little chilly.

Last week, the woodstove required a fair bit of running around. First, I had to remember to bring newspaper to start the fire, because I knew we were almost out. Then there wasn’t any wood, so I had to go to another building, collect some, and carry it over. Once I’d gotten the wood inside, I had to go find the ash bucket and clear out the oven. Then, finally, I could set about building my fire.

Now, the thing with woodstoves and hearths is that each one is different. You need to know their quirks. This particular stove has a small fire box. That is, it can’t take very much wood, especially not at first.

So I’ve learned to burn just one log at a time, until there’s a good bed of hot coals. Once you’ve got that, the stove will burn just about anything—and quickly!—and the building starts to warm up. But you can’t rush it. If you stuff the box with logs, the fire smothers and you have to start all over.

It takes time to do it properly. Look at how many little tasks comprise starting the fire! It’s been a nice thing about working in a historic setting: this acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes things take longer. There are more steps involved.

It’s especially nice given how preoccupied we often are with convenience and instant gratification. We can pop dinner in the microwave. Summon a car on our phones. Send messages immediately—and see when the other party’s read them. We’re so used to the instant, I think we’ve forgotten how to slow down. We’ve forgotten how to take the smaller tasks in their own turn.

I’m guilty of wanting instant gratification too. Watching more established writers can feel like watching other people tend a roaring fire whilst you shiver in front of an empty stove.

But it takes time to do things properly. As we move through our careers, it’s like we’re all building fires. You can’t just toss matches at logs and expect a blaze. You have to move through the other steps first: writing apprentice pieces, trying new things, failing, getting rejections, getting the first publication, the first good review, the first convention, the first rejection that really hurts…

All the little tasks add up. They’re all part of the process. And so, just as I’m patient with my fire, I’m learning to be patient with myself, too.

That’s the plan, anyway!

-KT

What I’m Listening To This Week

Since it’s Halloween tomorrow, all my favourite autumn songs have featured prominently. Specifically, the Souling Song. It’s one of those songs with many versions. I learned slightly different lyrics, but this rendition is good fun too.

Ah, I do love the year’s turning….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Starts

I’m in the beginning throes of a new novel, which feels an awful lot like making your entrance in an unfamiliar choral piece. If you can get your starting pitch, things usually stay more-or-less on track. Landing sharp or flat? It’s difficult to stop the piece falling apart when you’re wrong-footed from the first note. 

I usually forget how much flailing about I do at the beginning of a story. And then because I never remember the angst, the flailing feels disastrous, and I freak myself out.

And so, I thought it would be instructive to remind myself exactly how common false starts are for me:

Hapax

First attempt:

It was a clear evening, one of the first of summer. A warm breeze wound through the City, caressing friends drinking outside taverns and lovers strolling through narrow streets. Plucking guitars floated over conversation and laughter, occasionally joined by soulful tenors. The golden stones that formed the City’s buildings still carried the heat of the noonday sun. Overtired children and the elderly clustered on them; the latter thanked the warmest spring in memory for driving away the chill winds that usually made one last appearance. And above, the stars, ever twinkling: familiar constellations smiling on the summer night. The Ox, the Hunter, the Vineyard, all the old friends that heralded the beginning of the new season.

(Then there’s an extended bit where two old men eat chicken and talk. Seriously.)

…because reasons.

Eventually:

The time, at last, had come.

A new star ignited over the City. Like a drop of blood glinting in the darkness, it blazed in the Serpent, brighter than any other star in the constellation. Under the starlight, the City crouched in the night, perched atop its plateau. Sheer cliffs fell away on every side; if not for lack of water, it could have been an island.

No breeze stirred the warm air. In narrow alleys, shadows stretched as quiet and endless as the gorges beyond the City.

Time passed. The stars danced on.

Heartstealer

First attempt:

Sara had not felt so ill since her first glimpse of her husband’s headstone. That had been nearly six weeks ago, and plenty of stomach-turning moments had filled the emptiness between. Yet juddering along a country road in a carriage with shot springs ranked high among them. Sara clenched her hands in her lap, gritting her teeth each time the horses pounded over a half-buried stone or fallen branch. To her amazement, the coach’s other two passengers slept. An older woman leaned against the side of the coach, while a towheaded boy nestled into her.

Eventually:

I had not felt so ill since the funeral. The stagecoach rattled over the road and my teeth rattled in my skull. I kept watching the road ahead, even though dust streaked the windows. We jolted again. A large rock or another half-buried stump. There hadn’t been macadamized roads since several towns back, and since we’d left the train station at Ossington, the road had only gotten rougher. Too slow—I just wanted to get this journey over with.

The Love it Bears Fair Maidens

First attempt:

Sophie clutches her knife tight, watching the unicorn across the pit.

(That is, apparently, as far as I got. It was bad.)

Eventually:

The hunt begins as it always does: with quarry, bait, and hunter.

Six Stories, Told at Night

First attempt:

This is the first story.

Once, there were two girls who lived in a little village far in the north of Québec. Let’s say the younger girl was seven, and the older one was ten. When you told me this story, you didn’t say what the girls looked like, but I always imagined that they looked like us.

The older girl had flashing dark eyes and knees covered in bruises. Her mouth quirked at the corners. The younger girl, her friend…well, she was paler. Frailer. Just a wisp, her grand-mère always said, just a bit of thistledown that would blow away in the wind.

Eventually:

This is the first story.

I’ve got this friend Joëlle, right? She moved in when I was seven. She was ten—a big kid. Only she wasn’t much bigger than me. Bruised knees and these huge, haunted eyes. Mom made sure she got an extra slice of pizza at our first sleepover, that’s how skinny she was when she arrived.

Her Hands like Ice

First attempt:

When my sister rose for the third time, we called the vampire-hunter.

He came in the stillness between afternoon and dusk: that suspended, grey time that happens only in winter. From the forest he came, shouldering a leather pack, and he went straight to the inn. There, by the smouldering hearth, he spread a cloth over the scarred taproom table and opened a glossy walnut box with hinged lid. In the firelight, the wood gleamed, and his onlookers—the entire village, it felt like—pressed closer.

Eventually:

The hands of the vampire-hunter move like spiders, and I hate them. They creep over our kitchen table, avoiding the plates of sausage and country bread my mother has laid out. They scuttle along the sides of a polished walnut case. Quick fingers, sly fingers—they lift belts and let brass buckles fall with a clink, clink, clink. They ease the lid up. Inside, his tools rest on velvet the colour of old blood. My mother chokes on a gasp; my father will not look.

*

You get the point. Sometimes, vestiges of an early attempt survive, but really, it takes me a while to figure out the tune.

Worth remembering, as I flail about with this novel…

ALSO:

My friend Lauren Harris recently revealed the cover of her upcoming YA urban fantasy UNLEASH.

Check out more details and pre-order here!

KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

Even after all these years, I have a soft spot for the French horn. Here, I love the dialogue between the horn (basses supporting) and the rest of the orchestra, especially the building tension around the 1:30 mark. Also, those devastating accidentals around 2:20.

And it’s Mozart. Of course it’s exquisitely well put-together.

Authorial Puberty: Ten Years of Writing

My decision to become a writer was made on a ski lift.

It was March Break, we were visiting friends in Calgary, and it was a long way up. Passing over the snow-covered runs and dark trees, with the sharp-edged Rockies looming to every side, a story idea struck me. Not just a story idea. A novel idea. It was for Phantom of the Opera fanfic, but still. Right there on that ski lift, I decided that a) I was going to write this story, and b) I was going to be a writer.

I was fourteen-turning-fifteen. It’s March Break next week, so that would’ve been…almost exactly ten years ago.

It begins...

It begins…

Like most writers, I’d written through childhood, of course. Hosting Lauren Harris at my mom’s house this week has given me the chance to reread an epic ferret fantasy I wrote when I was about ten. I never finished it, which is unfortunate, because good heavens—that cliff-hanger.

"Rather stunning news"? What could it BE?? Alas, I do not remember!

“Rather stunning news”? What could it BE?? Alas, I do not remember!

But it wasn’t a consistent thing. I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to be an astronaut. I really wanted to be a NASA Flight Director.

And now it’s been ten years since I said, “Nope. I’m going to be a writer.”

Reading old writing is like leafing through childhood photos. You look different—oh, that gap-toothed smile, and ouch, those pimples—but you can see the bone structure beneath. You can see the adult who will emerge.

Age 10. Not too much has changed.

Age 10. Not too much has changed.

And like childhood photos, old writing has a sense of innocence and play. I had so much fun writing my Phantom story. I remember going to the library and checking out stacks of books about opera and Italy and Paris. Curling up with my hardbound notebook, letting the story spin out under my pen. Everything was so shiny and bright: the early spring mornings of a writing life, when everything is possible and you don’t know about the obstacles yet. You can’t even imagine them, because you’re so wide-eyed and full of wonder.

SO EXCITED.

SO EXCITED.

I hope we keep some of that wonder as we mature into our writing selves. Of course, there’s a naiveté to that “young” writing that makes us cringe when we look back. Experience and maturity—seasoning—they allow for richer, fuller, deeper stories. As you continue writing and reading and thinking, you also start to sort out what sort of writer you are. Almost like you’re deciding what you want to be when you grow up, all over again. Your voice changes, cracks, and eventually breaks. You’ve all seen that here on this blog. Stonecoast was essentially my authorial puberty: when my cute little treble voice finally broke and I decided that when I’m a grown-up writer, I want to make art.

We harden and sharpen in some ways. We lose some of that innocence. Ten years ago, money never crossed my mind; not in a writing context, anyway. It’s an important consideration now. I don’t just think about what would be fun to write. I think about what would be a) fun and b) best for my long-term career. I think about the way I come across on social media, at conventions, over email. The fan-girl instinct is still there, but it’s been heavily trained and reined.

That’s all part of growing up, I think. We lose some of that innocence—I’m not entirely convinced that’s a bad thing. But I really hope we don’t lose the wonder. I really hope that when deadlines are mounting and the rejections are piling up, when the contract needs another round of negotiations and you really need to sell a story soon because it’s been too long and you could use the shot of cash—

10Yw5 (1)

When there’s all of that, all the things we don’t even think about when we started out, I really hope we keep the wonder. It’s that excitement when a character springs to life; the sense of astonishment and power as a world knits together; the sheer joy of telling a story. That’s why we got into writing—wherever we started, whenever we started.

That’s why I became a writer, anyway.

It’s been a good ten years.

Here’s to many more, and the wonder they bring.

-KT

 

What I’m Listening to This Week

OMG we pulled this piece out at rehearsal recently, and I’ve been listening to it nonstop ever since. I’ve loved Vivaldi’s Gloria since I joined my first choir. There’s so much I could go on about: the galloping brass and strings, the way it leaps and flashes, the breathless moments of pause (0:30 and 2:02—that is all). You need to do this piece light and quick: not like a brook falling over rocks, like a stream surging ahead.

Of course…because I love this piece, and because it’s so much fun, it does bring out one of my bad chorister habits.

“Keep still,” I’ve been told. “You’re trying to conduct—that’s my job!”

And I laughed aloud, because that’s exactly what it is. On certain pieces—usually ones I know and love—I totally bob and weave all over the choir stalls. I do need to stop it, but it’s hard, because OMG THE MUSIC IS RIGHT THERE.

 

 

New Perspectives: Editing for POV

Edits for the Victorian Dark Fantasy continue apace. After weeks of poking at it every so often, it’s like the pressure in my head has built up to that point where I no longer have any say in the matter. All good books are like that, I find. You hit the point where writing it stops being a choice—you have to.

Which is a good thing. A very good thing. There are some pretty deep edits here; nothing that actually changes the story that much, just reordering of scenes and characters that are a little tricky to effect. This isn’t editing with a chain-saw; it’s performing delicate surgery.

Easy…easy…

One of the major changes? Swapping one of the POV characters. The Victorian Dark Fantasy is written from three first-person point-of-views: our heroine, the villain, and our heroine’s husband. Only then I realized that the husband’s sister actually has more at stake and a more interesting/pronounced character arc…from a craft and structural perspective, it made more sense to have her narrate.

Here’s the thing, though: it’s not as easy as going through the husband’s scenes and switching pronouns. (She looked at me quizzically > I looked at him quizzically) We’re literally seeing the scene through a new pair of eyes, which means that every single detail gets interpreted differently.

 

New Voice

Voice changes substantially. It should, anyway. You, me, Bob down the street, we all have different takes on the world and a unique ways of expressing ourselves. Charlotte’s more tightly-wound than her brother. Throw in some high-stress situations, and she becomes downright prickly. Which tends to manifest in a harsher, more sardonic tone than we previously had in those sections.

It’s kind of like dialect and accent. There’s an external stimulus; how does your character take it in, make sense of it, and then express it back to the world?

 

Thoughts Hidden, Thoughts Revealed

Unlike in omniscient POV, where you can dip into multiple characters’ heads in a single scene, first-person and third-person limited narrators can only relate their own thoughts. This is hugely fun. Maybe I’m just a jerk, but I sometimes enjoy using POV limitations as almost a sleight-of-hand. Sort of a she-doesn’t-know-he-knows-she-knows thing.

Yeah, I’m a jerk.

 

I *look* innocent, but... :D

I *look* innocent, but… 😀

But the point is, I’ve had to edit out the husband’s thoughts and replace them with external action. Same thing with Charlotte.

It’s probably easier to show you. Here is the original, from Ned’s POV:

Charlotte cocked her head. “What are you thinking?”

I meant to tell her about the whisperings I’d heard, but instead I blurted, “I miss Sara.”

Charlotte gave me a sad smile, gazing down on me much the way she had in our nursery days. “I know. I miss Findley.”

Despite myself, I felt like a child once more. “I wish I could write her a letter, let her know when I’ll come home. Too much longer without any news and she’ll start fretting.”

“So will the Braes. They think I’m sick, remember?” Charlotte rose to check the fire. She tossed more wood on it, adjusted the crane so that the kettle hung over the hottest part. “Sometimes,” she continued, her back to me, “I can’t tell if it’s a good thing that Findley won’t worry.”

And the edit:

He fell silent, gazing across the cramped space towards the smouldering hearth. Subdued, unusual for him. I cocked my head. “What are you thinking?”

It took him a moment to answer, conflict playing over his face. Then, he blurted, “I miss Sara.”

My heart broke a little. “I know,” I said quietly. “Less than a week, and I already miss Findley.”

“I wish I could write her a letter, let her know when I’ll come home. Too much longer without any news and she’ll start fretting.”

“So will the Braes. They think I’m sick, remember?” Needing to do something with my hands, I rose to check the fire. I tossed more wood on it, adjusted the crane so that the kettle hung over the hottest part. “Sometimes,” I continued, murmuring more to the fire than to him, “I can’t tell if it’s a good thing that Findley won’t worry.”

Same scene, same dialogue, same actions, two POVs. In the second round, we see Charlotte’s thought process in asking after Ned. We see Ned conflicted over something, but because we’re not in his head, we don’t know what (which might be a problem later on…did I mention that I’m a jerk?). Likewise, in the first version, Charlotte goes to check the fire. When she’s narrator, we see the reason why.

Which leads me into…

 

Every Action Originates From an Intention or Trigger

I love this book.

I love this book.

I was pretty proud of this little epiphany. Seriously, learning that actors attach a verb to every bit of dialogue has helped my writing more than I ever thought possible. What does it mean, though?

Basically, with every action you take or word you utter, you’re trying to accomplish a goal. Think about it. We’re having a really intense discussion, you get up to open a window.

Why? Maybe you’re feeling so uncomfortable, you need physical space from me. Maybe this discomfort is also having a physiological effect. Your face feels flushed, so you’re trying to cool down, as well. Both of each relate to the goal/verb: self-soothe—I want to make myself feel better.

You’re at a party. Someone you like is also there. Maybe you stare down at your beverage—I want to avoid embarrassing myself. Or maybe you strike up a conversation with someone nearby, making sure everyone nearby can hear how charming you are—I want to impress him/her.

When the scene is not in a character’s POV, we only see the external action. When the scene is from their perspective, we see the internal trigger/thought process as well.

Rewriting these scenes has been almost like playing with audio. Some parts of Ned’s track get muted; Charlotte has no way of “hearing” them. Conversely, some of Charlotte’s levels get brought way up; if we’re in her head, they have to be prominent.

 

Reassigning Action/Dialogue

There is a strong temptation to not do this. After all, the scene has played out already; Charlotte and Ned have made their choices as to what they’re doing and saying.

Except I’m the author, I have the red pen, and sometimes for the sake of the story, you have to “re-dream the dream.”

Restart. Let the scene play out again. Let it go differently.

First scene: Ned’s checking out the mysterious curtain that divides the worlds, Charlotte’s keeping him safe. Which was cool when it was his POV. But tell me, which is more interesting—a mysterious curtain, or making sure your sibling’s still breathing?

Yeah. I thought so. In the edits, Charlotte got the interesting action (because POV character), which necessitated some dialogue switching. A little rephrasing to match each character’s voice, but really, no big deal.

 

And so…

This is actually really fun. I’ve loved getting to know this character better. And I’ve loved writing some new solo scenes for her. So much more interesting than swapping pronouns!

ALSO: Cool thing of the week!

Remember how I fell in love with The Star of the County Down? I found this image of the song’s heroine. If anyone ever turned this book into an animated Disney film, this would be Mairi.

 

-KT

 

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

My friend Emily Swartz tagged me in a blog hop meme and gave me some questions to answer about inspiration and my writing process. Here are my responses – and the bios/links for the next authors I’m tagging!

1) What am I working on?

Lots and lots of things. My main project at the moment is refining and plot-doctoring my Victorian Dark Fantasy novel (yeah, that’s a codename) with my mentor at the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA. I also have to read two books for that each month, on which I then write two papers. Also for Stonecoast: our July workshops are bearing down upon us, so I’m currently editing one short story about parallel universes and halfway through writing another about all the nifty lost bits of Toronto.

I’m also working on an “interactive, text-based, online game,” which is a fancy way of saying I’m writing a “choose-your-own-adventure-style” story, which will have buttons to click instead of pages to turn. Keeping all the branching storylines straight has been a fun challenge…and it’s kind of sci-fi, which is new for me.

I also write for two blogs. This one has posts up every Saturday, and we have Thirsty Thursdays over at The Black Creek Growler, which is the official blog of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

Then I drink coffee, because that’s just the writing which is strictly mine. There are also the internships. Ah, the internships…

I’m the official intern of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Mostly, I oversee Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’s calendars, booking interviews and keeping track of appearances and suchlike. Using my Victorian research skillz, I post to the Ministry’s Facebook page. I also edit stories for Tales from the Archives—a podcast anthology of Ministry short stories—and it was strongly hinted that I should start writing another story to follow up Under Oak Island.

UnderOakIsland_Cover_small

But remember, I said internships? One isn’t enough! I also intern for Mur Lafferty, scheduling interviews, keeping track of her calendar, and so forth.

I also became a freelance editor along the way. I’ve joined the One-Stop Writer Shop, which is a really cool resource for self-published authors: you can find everything from editing to layout, from audio book production to marketing!

Also, I owe my friend Marie Bilodeau a blog post soon.

And I return to the dayjob in two weeks.

Next question, please?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Although I consider myself a fantasy writer, I don’t really write the usual questing stories. While I often draw from history and myth, I tend to turn things inside-out and then run in the opposite direction with them.

Sometimes, that means combining a literary term (a hapax is a word that occurs only once in a body of work) with a theological concept (“…the Word was with God and the Word was God”) and seeing what happens (answer: this). Other times, it means using Irish mythology and history as the most tenuous of analogies to explain a backwater, pseudo-Victorian village to myself.

Despite the epic themes, my work is also very much focused on people. Yes, there is magic and gods and (sometimes) apocalypses: but there are also families, people endlessly seeking home, people trying very hard to do the right thing in terrible situations.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I see many possible answers to this question: some philosophical, some practical.

The practical ones are easy, so let’s start with those. Sometimes, I write the things I do because someone has said, “If you write this thing for me, I will give you monies!” Since my landlord and the grocery store regularly desire monies from me, I say, “Okay!” Don’t get me wrong—I still have fun, and always latch onto something in the project that sparks my passion. It’s just that this habit of saying, “Yeah, sure, I could do that!” has landed me some opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which is wonderful.

Otherwise, an exchange from The Red Shoes comes to mind:

 

The Red Shoes: quippy dialogue, music, and those awesome 1940s movie accents.

Why do you want to dance?

Why do you want to live?

Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must.

That’s my answer too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, my writing springs from some deep-rooted feeling –  my best pieces have always been love songs in one form or another. Other times, a character emerges from the aether and won’t leave me alone. They pester me, whispering constantly in my ear, teasing me with images and emotions until I finally get their story out.

4) How does my writing process work?

When an idea first starts whispering, I try not to scare it away. I let it develop in the back of my head, like one of those old Polaroid snapshots coming into focus. When I can see more relevant details, I start asking questions.

Who is that woman? How does this magic work? When did this one country invade another country? The answers spark more questions, and so this back-and-forth with myself continues, sometimes for a few days, sometime for months, writing long letters to myself or musing on the bus.

When it feels right (and it’s hard to explain exactly…mixing metaphors here, it’s like when bread has risen enough—you just know), I put together a very rough roadmap of the story. Often, I pull out the index cards, just because I find physically manipulating the story structure helpful.

NotecardPlotting

And then, when it feels right, I start writing.

How many words I get per day largely depends on deadlines and other projects. The game isn’t due until June and I’m really busy, so I get maybe 1000 words/day. I’ve twice written a novel in two months, getting 2000-3000 words/day. Once, I was on deadline. The other time, it was the Victorian Dark Fantasy, and I was having too much fun to stop.

Again, though, we can get philosophical with this. How does it work?

I sit down and then words happen. I do cultivate other interests—music, history, Doctor Who, beer, SNES games—to keep myself sane and the creative well full. I get outside when I can, I hang out with friends.

Something I’m realizing: work-life balance will probably never be my strong suit. But I’m starting to see another possibility: a more holistic approach, in which work and writing and fun all blend together. The lines between the different segments of my life blurred a lot over the last year—I kind of like it, this experience of a complete whole, rather than many disparate parts.

And on that profound note: I’m tagging you, P.C. Haring and Erik Buchanan!

*

A fan of Science Fiction from an early age P.C. Haring has always been one of those who looked up at the night sky and wondered “what if…” On 01/01/10, he began exploring those questions when he made his debut as a writer and podcast novelist with the release of the Cybrosis Podcast.  Since then, he has not looked back.  He has contributed short stories to Scott Sigler’s The Crypt: Book 1 — The Crew podcast, Philippa Ballantine’s Chronicles of the Order, audio anthology, and Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s Tales from the Archives anthology where his podcast of “The Seven” won the 2012 Parsec Award for “Best Short Story.”

When he’s not writing and podcasting, P.C. Haring puts his Accounting degree, his MBA, and his CPA credentials to good use as a corporate accountant in the Chicagoland area.

*

Erik Buchanan is a writer, ghostwriter, communications consultant, fight director and actor living in Toronto, Canada. He holds a BFA in Theatre, three black belts, and a variety of strange jobs that keep him busy. He is the author of the Magics Trilogy: Small Magics, Cold Magics and True Magics (Fall, 2014) published by Dragon Moon Press, as well as several short stories and over 300 articles on topics ranging from consumer electronics to where to get the flu shot. Currently, Erik is writing a young adult horror series set in Victorian London, an historical fiction piece set in Pre-Elizabethan England, and a web series about two thieves where Erik expects he will get thumped about a fair bit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things That Make Sense to Authors

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:

SerafineFanArt1

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.

This:

HSTimeChart

This:

NotecardPlotting

And this:

HapaxChartofAwesome

This, too:

TeeandMee

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:

The music worth 100,000 words

I’ve been editing the Victorian Dark Fantasy all afternoon, headphones in, as per usual. In keeping with the mood of the book, it’s been mostly Celtic music the past few weeks—both pseudo-Celtic-inspired-it-sounds-close-enough music and actual Gaelic-language folksongs.

I love them.

But it’s not just the bouncing fiddles and reels that have me wriggling with joy. See, lots of people know about using images as story prompts. You look at a picture and it triggers a story (or questions that lead to a story) on some visceral level.

Who’s that girl? What’s with her shadow? What does the bear know? (courtesy http://www.emptyspace.thepoolisfull.org)

Honestly, I mostly use music.

I’m not a musician, but music seems to bypass my squirrel-brain and punches me right at the level of emotion. Because I tend to hear everything at once if I’m not careful, it also helps quiet my brain down—the racing thoughts just get drowned out. And, like many writers, I use music to help get into the mood of a story/scene.

But for me, it also triggers stories. And that’s kind of awesome, because I’ll be searching for music to help with one story, and inadvertently stumble across another piece that sparks something else. It exposes me to a lot of cool stuff, both musically and story-wise.

Take the Victorian Dark Fantasy. Early thoughts had been clattering around for a while, but the story really only snapped into place when I found a lovely Scottish tune called “Mari’s  Wedding” (or “Marie’s Wedding,” or “Mairi’s Wedding” or “Mairi Bhan”). Actually, the song only caught my attention because I wondered if it had anything to do with the play “Mary’s Wedding.” It doesn’t seem to. And aside from the fact that someone named Mari/Marie/Mairi is getting married, it has nothing to do with the VDF, either.

Except it does. Because listening to that song, I caught a flash of character—and then I started asking questions. I also started looking for more music, something that could help me enter this emerging world.

Second2

Mairi’s kitchen. 😉

Among others, I found “Mo Ghile Mear,” which has been on repeat for weeks. And then, very recently, I found “Téir Abhaile Riú.”

That’s the one that’s been making me grin like an idiot for the past two days. Because in this song about a young girl wanting to hook up with some sailors in Galway, I hear another conflict in this world. I hear opportunities to make my characters confront some really difficult choices. I hear the beginnings of another story.

After a very rough year, I think I’m finding my passion again. That’s a very, very good thing.

Naturally, I’m getting ahead of myself, still riding the “I FINISHED THE BOOK!” high. I do need to return to Strix. Not to mention a few other projects in the pipe…

But oh man, when I hear that chorus, I just squirm with excitement:

Téir abhaile riú, téir abhaile riú
Téir abhaile riú Mhearai
Téir abhail gus fan sa bhaile
Mar tá do mhargadh déanta…

Yayyyyyy!

KT

Making Magic: Questions for World-Builders

When world-building, certain elements grab my interest and focus more than others. Generally speaking, I am not hugely interested in political science or economics. Those who read Hapax may have noticed a distinct lack of court intrigues (though I totally implied that the City is run by councillors—somewhere in chapter 19, I think! It wasn’t hugely important to the story). That’s not to say I have no clue how my characters are feeding themselves, I just tend to spend less time on it than I do on the theological/magical side of things.

And magic is what I wanted to explore today, because I’ve just had to create a new magic system for The Next One. After working so long and so thoroughly with the aither, it’s very strange to say, “Well, actually, now magic works this way.”

But it’s been good to revisit the process of crafting magic systems. Honestly, it seems like most of my process is just asking myself questions and running thought experiments. Here is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the sorts of questions I ask myself:

TO START:

  • Is there magic?
  • Where does the magic come from? Is it a natural process of this world that can be harnessed like fire or electricity? Is it inherent to the magic-user? Was it always there and a goddess woke people up to it in a desperate attempt to save the world?
  • To what extent is magic related to this world’s gods? Is it at all?
  • Can magic in this world be explained by natural laws, even if these laws aren’t “natural” as we understand them in this world? If so, what are these laws? (Did you, for instance, butcher a corrupted version of string theory?)
  • What does magic actually look/smell/feel/taste/sound like? If there was active magic around, who would notice, and how?
  • What can magic not do? (And there ought to be something magic can’t do. Otherwise, it ain’t magic: it’s a problematic plot element at best, and a deus ex machina at worst.)

MAGIC-USERS:

  • Does everyone have magic, or just some people?
  • If just some people, what percentage of the population, roughly?
    • If just some people, how do they learn about/learn to control their magic?
  • Closely related: do only humans get magic, or do other species? Does their use of magic differ?
  • Come to think of it, how does the use of magic vary among various magic-users?
  • How do people get magic? Do they always have it? Does it come naturally with other changes at puberty? Do you sacrifice a goat at the Harvest Moon to receive it?
  • How do magic-users view themselves?
  • Can you make a living with magic? Why or why not?
    • If so, how is that organized? Unions, freelancers, guilds, alchemists locked away in ivory towers turning iron into gold?
  • Have the magic-users formed their own unique subculture? Alternatively, is magic so ingrained in the culture that the two are impossible to separate?
  • Can a magic-user lose their magic, or will they have it forever?

USE OF MAGIC:

  • Walk me through the casting of a typical spell. How does it work?
  • What materials and/or equipment, if any, do you need to perform magic? Where does one obtain these items?
  • Is magic more point-and-shoot (i.e. Harry Potter), or does it require hours of special preparation?
  • What is the cost of magic? (HINT: Magic always has a cost. No such thing as a free lunch, especially not in stories.)
  • What sorts of spells is a magic-user most likely to perform?
  • How does an individual magic-user’s traits (age, gender, intrinsic skill, experience, occupation, place in the religious/magical/social hierarchy) affect the efficacy of their spell-casting?
  • Does magic work differently in different locations/at different times, or is it equally accessible at all times and in all places?
  • Do magic-users mostly work in groups, solo, or a mix? What determines this?
  • What could cause a spell to go wrong? What does “going wrong” look like?
  • What happens if a spell goes wrong?
  • Has the use of magic changed throughout history? If so, how? Why?
Apollo-era Mission Control. Not going to lie, this is not unlike how I picture the creation of an MCB. (Source: www.fineartamerica.com)

Apollo-era Mission Control. This tense focus, cooperation, and attention to detail is pretty much how I picture magic in Hapax.  Except without computers.  (Source: http://www.fineartamerica.com)

MAGIC IN SOCIETY:

  • Does magic require years of study to master, or can any idiot mumble some words out of a book and cause some result? Is it an inborn trait that cannot be taught, only refined?
  • Who’s doing the teaching?
  • What impact does magic have on the economy? (See? Even I get to economics eventually…)
  • What impact does magic have on the government? The military? Are there parallel organizations running alongside the non-magical, are they all heavily integrated with magic, or are magic-users too few/weak to make a difference?
  • To what extent has magic replaced science? If you have magic for enough years, will you wind up inventing a magical refrigerator? Transit? Or God help us…magic androids???
  • How does society at large view magic and magic-users? Positively? Negatively? Ambivalently? Better to call a magician than a plumber?
    • Have these attitudes changed in the past? Why or why not?
  • Are there “magic only” institutions? If so, what are they?
  • Is there art/literature/music either inspired or actually created by magic?
    • If so, do we then get into a debate about who’s the “real artist” – the guy painting with a paintbrush by hand, or the girl making colours appear in the air with her will?
  • Are there any industries/areas of life that magic does NOT touch? If so, what? Why?
  • Do magic-users abide by different laws? Either their own separate code, or a subset of society’s laws? Are they considered above the law, unfairly persecuted, or neither?
  • How do you discipline/penalize someone with magic?
  • Are some groups of magic-users seen as “better” than others? Why? By whom?

LOOPHOLES!!!!

  • Can the laws of magic be broken? If so, when, how, and with what consequence? (HINT: you generally don’t want to be breaking your own rules, unless you have a very, very, VERY good reason for doing so.)
  • Are your magic-users unaware of some laws/aspects of magic, and/or have they gotten some things wrong? If so, how and why?
  • Does the nature of magic ever change?
  • Are there any remaining apparent contradictions in your magic system? If so, what? Also, can you resolve them in such a way as to enrich the story?

Again, a good start, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. If you want exhaustive, check this one out. It may look a bit daunting, but a good rule of thumb? Build what you need, and imply the rest.

– KT