Let's Get Copying

Yesterday I bought a buddha's hand, a citron fruit with numerous long yellow fingers, and today I am finishing candying it. I chopped up the yellow fruit, boiled it in water, then cooked it in sugar syrup, and it dried overnight before I gave it a coat of course sugar this morning. 

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The candied buddha's hand goes well with roasted tea. The citrusy flavor has been muted, there's a satisfying hint of bitterness. Crunch of sugar. Not such a bad thing, really. 

The drafting of Serango continues at a healthy pace. I'm writing entirely on paper now, and I have been for weeks, so there's a sizable chunk of text that needs to be edited-copied into my computer. It's a tedious process. But my best writing always comes out of that process, I guess. It forces me to make a better, quasi-second draft and cut-cut-cut. Inevitably I overwrite, and it helps to be able to read over my writing, determine what does not need to stay, and to let it go. 

These days, I don't overwrite on a large scale. That is to say, I do not think that I write whole chapters that don't need to exist. Instead there are two many sentences, bits of action within scenes (showing) that really need to be summarized (telling). On the one hand, I think the show-don't-tell is not such a bad thing, but recognizing the tells is a skill too, that seems to have come later to me. "Show, don't tell." Only the Sith deal in absolutes. 

Anyway, the writing is going well. Yama is in the middle of playing disguise dress-up with an incognito prince, so things have lightened a little, and once I finish this scene, I should be able to leap over a bunch of completed scenes and I will be much closer to the end. Maybe I can finish in a month. That would be wonderful! The writing is not in order, and it's on paper, so the copying will take some time. I expect I can plan Kabuki-ish while I'm copying and doing some light revising. 

October fifteenth would be a great day to finish the book. 

Let's Autumn with the Bones

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It's sweltering hot in Los Angeles. Every year, about this time, the temperature rises to the triple digits and it just sits there for a week or two. Black outs. A yearly heatwave from two years ago broke me, and I ordered an AC unit for my apartment. So, when September rolls around like a bad cousin, I am grateful for the purchase and the miracles of Amazon Prime. 

Last week I visited the Museum of Natural History where they were holding a fun exhibition on mammals. Bones were hung from the ceiling. Ancient antlers, horns, and skulls gleamed behind glass cases. It was a fun trip, not only because I got to see the skeletons of animals long gone, but also because I'm writing a book about, literally, the skeletons of animals long gone. 

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I'm sitting directly in front my AC unit as I type this. This morning was cooler, so I walked over to the neighborhood coffee shop to work on a scene from Serango where two royals from different countries challenge each other: dueling words, flying threats. And they're literally arguing about bones, although one of them does not know that yet. What a strange book. 

I have also stopped, 100% writing it on the computer. It's scrawled out, with margin notes and word options, and all my parenthetical shorthand. All things considered—the beginning of a new school year, a crazy workload, this damned heat—the writing is going well. In fact, it almost feels like it's going too well. I think it's the return to paper after almost, basically, two books banged out on a MacBook Air with some handwritten (and then typed) plotting... I think it's possible to burn out on a keyboard. I also think it's possible that I did. 

So, here I am, back to the morning typing, writing Serango approximately 90 minutes at a time before I grab my bag and run off to teach Chinese history. Also, I'm teaching now, which you might find amusing. On Wednesdays, I am a student in a seminar on Classical Japan, and all the scheming, plotting, mythology... It's making me miss P+FD. I want to return to that world, even if I was just revising. But, the way Serango is going, I'm afraid that I won't finish the draft and copying by November, and that will give me little precious time to write Kabuki-ish before I start editing and querying next year... The dilemmas continue. 

Also, writing feels really lonely right now.  

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A few weeks ago, I got to visit Ojai, California, which is about two hours outside of Los Angeles. They have wineries, which produce minerally wine, and beautifully scrabby, dry California fields. Mountains. Birds of prey circle the yellow grasses, and I rode a bike around the outskirts of the town, my head a little dizzy with wine. There was a bookstore formed entirely outside from the remains of a sprawling house. Every wall was packed with books, organized by topic. No roof. A fat, slightly spoilt cat slept on book piles near the register. 

As the year goes on, I will do my best to remember the birds of prey who didn't give up, who kept circling their fields despite the heat. And, I will try to remember that dozing bookstore cat. 

 

 

Let's be real II

Happy August to everyone! This continues to be my terrible attempt at an online journal documenting my writing and my odd relationship with it. I've had an interesting morning. 

At first, I thought this post would be upbeat positivity, but as I opened my computer and logged in, I realized that this was really a continuation of my last post from July 15 "Let's be real." To recap, I was miserable writing Serango and I had lost almost all momentum. I have been writing it since January, and I was ready to call it quits. This would have been the first project I had quit mid-first draft in almost a decade. 

That was July 15th. I was feeling marginally better about Serango, but still frustrated. The other day, my friend left my apartment and I declared that I was going to my coffee shop to write. But as she walked out the door, I was filled with such dread that I actually put my bag down.

I knew that I ought to power through and just sit my ass down and stop complaining. I knew that was the advice I'd give someone else, albeit in a nicer fashion. 

But, the idea in that moment repulsed me. I think my mindset stems from this I'm-not-querying-I'm-writing-what-I-want phase, and I've always believed that if you find a project boring or tedious, the reader probably will find it to be that too. Make it interesting, I would tell someone. Blow something up. Make someone kiss someone else. 

So, I paced my apartment, walked off the dread, and then I reluctantly resolved to just go and work on outlining and brainstorming Kabuki-ish. Which has the dubious honor of being the Next Thing. I went to the coffee shop. I worked. I made good progress on Kabuki-ish. I did that the next day. I worked all on paper, which felt great because I've been staring at screen all day for work. 

Then, with a bounce in my step, I packed up my things this morning, and like usual, I went to the coffee shop. It was later than usual, and the barista was different. We've shared a couple words, and I think I told him I was writing a novel sometime in the past. 

Anyway, as I ordered, he asked me how the novel was going. 

The guilt, it was real, and like any horribly guilty person, I lied. Well, I sort of lied. 

"Actually, it's hard right now. It's like work. Well, it's always like work, but it's become work that I don't enjoy doing." 

He didn't really have a response, and I don't blame him, because even if someone I knew dumped that heaping pile in my lap, it would take me some time to respond. I shrugged, which sort of allowed him not to respond. 

But the lie was that I was even still working on Serango, which was the novel he was asking about. Not specifically of course, because I do not think enough of my projects to summarize them for baristas, who are essentially held hostage to the counter, and even saying "I'm writing a novel," makes me feel horribly pretentious. It's much easier to claim to be working on something vague, which can allow people to assume you're doing spreadsheets or some serious work. Not writing probably bad fiction. 

Anyway, that barista is the first person in a while to ask that basic question. How's the novel going? And the guilt, not only from giving up on Serango, but then lying about it to basically a stranger just made me... 

I went to my table. I sat down. I hadn't brought my computer because I had resolved to work Kabuki-ish out on paper, and I thought to myself, I should write Serango right now. 

I opened my notebook, and fidgeted. I stared out the window, I stared at other people, and I went to retrieve my latte. I tried to remember where I had even left off, so many weeks ago, and vaguely knew. 

Then I forced myself to figure out what happened next. I had a detailed outline on my computer, but the sheer complexity of the end of the novel—and the outline—and all my still unsolved questions and problems had probably crushed my enthusiasm. Screw what I have, I thought. If I can't keep the story straight in my head without notes, neither can the readers. 

That's a bit of, I believe, incredibly useful advice for fantasy writers. That isn't to say that you shouldn't carefully plan, but I really do think you should have the broad strokes for each plotline in your brain. 

And basically, I outlined simply what had to happen next. I jotted down dialogue. It was maybe a page and half of brainstorming and re-working, but I fixed so much and the next pages felt doable. The end felt more in sight. And given that the novel is almost at 70,000 words, the end must be in sight. 

I came home and re-read my opening, made pretzels, and here I am, not giving up on this book. I don't think anyone will really like Serango, but I owe the book a completion. I really do. 

 

 

Let's Bookfest 2017 (ft. writing insecurity)

I cannot believe that it's been almost a month since that silliness on Twitter. 

Where am I? Writing these posts feels like scribbling on a bit of paper and firing it into space. Where am I? Well, I'm still idly paddling around in the space ship. I've been asked by a few people if #Pitmad went anywhere, and the answer is a resounding no. Take that and fire it into space. I have gotten a few lovely rejections and I am patiently waiting for the last one to free up the anxiety section of my brain. 

Fortunately, I am very busy, so I can't re-fresh my email and wonder which iteration of industry subjectivity or voice I will receive in my inbox. Papers are due, and then I am going off to Japan! It's going to be wonderful. 

In the meantime, I am plugging away at the novel that I am convinced absolutely no one will want to read. How is Serango going? Well, this morning I reached the 63,000 word mark, which means I am butt-up against the third and final act of the book. I think this is the closest I've ever come to actually matching my acts and outline planning in a long time. So, that's positive. The negative is that this book is so hard to write. I like the characters, but I'm not convinced they'll be likable for anyone else. Also, there are so many characters! And this book isn't structured in a friendly, easy way like Six of Crows where the story evenly switches several main characters. I'll spend a couple chapters with one person, then move to another because it makes sense for the plot. Will a reader tolerate that? I don't know. Do I care? Also, don't know. I feel like I should care more. 

In addition, I am a little terrified that nothing happens in this book. Maybe this is an irrational fear. It feels like there's a lot of feeling, talking, and describing. I kind of dig that, but I feel like more stuff should be blowing up or something. I don't know. 

I keep having these days where I love what I've done. Where the characters are funny, or something dramatic has happened. Then, there are other mornings when I sit down to write and it's such a slog. Thank God I am not intending to query on this. What a nightmare it would be.  

Anyway, in the spirit of positivity—I hear you are supposed to only be positive on blogs—I will say that it is nice having some sexual tension between characters. And there are some truly absurd descriptions in this book, but... there it is. 

In this scene, which I wrote this morning, some guards have come to take a young woman named Nemesca away from the revolvists. She has joined the army because she wants to be a revolvist, and she wanted to escape her marriage to the prince. The General, Airfield, is trying to determine whether or not they should fight to keep her in the army. 

Anyway, the last couple weeks have seen some book festivals around Los Angeles, so I thought that I would share some snapshots. Last weekend, the University of Southern California hosted the LA Times Festival of Books, and this past Saturday, there was Yallwest. 

The unexpected highlight of the Festival of Books was the "I'm too sexy for this book" panel, which featured romance novelists. I've enjoyed a pile of Julia Quinn novels, so I decided to sneak into this sold-out panel. They talked about their work schedules, raising and supporting families, and stigmas of the profession. They had a real no nonsense approach to writing, which was frankly refreshing. "Writer's block is a disease of the privileged," or some such gem was said. Afterwards I bought a copy of Because of Miss Bridgerton and had it signed. 

Yallwest, the YA book festival in Santa Monica, was only one day this year. And because it was on the same day as Independent Bookstore Day, I had to do double duty. I woke up, wrote, went to my local bookstore to snag a copy of Rainbow Rowell's Kindred Spirits, and then went straight across the city to Santa Monica. I arrived in time for a panel on writing series (cue laughter) and then a panel on mythology in YA. At a panel on animation featuring artists from Disney, Pixar, and the Simpsons, I ran into an old friend. We re-connected over banana pudding (because there's a truck for that at Yallwest) and then I found Samantha Chaffin. It was like finding a creature in its natural habitat. Anyway, we talked, and maybe she will write another pirate book? Maybe I'm at peace with never having an agent? I'm looking forward to the pirate book!