Let's turkey

So, today I turn twenty-seven. 

It's strange to think that I've been writing for so long. As I write this, I'm lounging on a couch back home. It's chilly outside. Orange leaves cover the yard, and the cats have run into the basement from the cold. Last night for the first time since finishing Serango, I opened the file and started to read. It wasn't as bad as I feared. 

I feel like if I went back a decade to my seventeen year old self, she would have expected me to be published by now. But I'm not particularly bothered. One of the things about reaching your later twenties is that you stop talking about things not working out, I suppose. When you're in your teens and early twenties, there is something admirable about throwing yourself against a wall, falling down, and keeping hitting the wall without giving up. When you hit twenty-seven, you realize that the people around you aren't really there in the same way. They fall silent when you talk about hitting the wall, and any writer would tell you that the silence isn't really... it isn't particularly inspiring. It doesn't make me sad, but it does make failure very lonely. 

For the last years, I've been working on my own. I've been writing novels and sharing them with a few readers. It's quite a change from the days of Figment, and now that Figment is closing down and about to vanish, I find myself missing sharing my work online, which is just another way to avoid that writing silence. 

So, in that spirit, I'm going to be doing a daily flash fiction. I used a random word list generator to make a list of twenty words, and every day, I'm going to use the word as a springboard to write something different. It should be fun. I'm hoping it will stretch my imagination in new directions 

As for the seventeen year old self, there is a part of me that thinks if I don't make much more headway with this novelist business by the time I'm thirty, I might stop.  We'll see. I shouldn't be so gloomy, seeing as how I haven't even started my 2018 editing and querying. 

Kabuki-ish moves forward. I keep telling myself that I'm going to copy it from my notebook into my computer, but I haven't gotten around to it. Enkô is about to meet Okuni, so that should be fun to write. The beginning of the book is a little darker than I expected, but I think it's going well.

 

 

Let's Finish Serango

I wrote a long post about Figment last night, so I do not think I have another one in me today.

Yesterday morning, after many months of agonizing and sitting typing, I completed the first draft of Serango. This book brings me back to a world I created in high school with a few of the characters I worked with in a quasi-prequel. 

Over the last couple weeks, I had to write a series of big splashy fight scenes and then find the way home, so to speak. One interesting thing I did, that I think I will tuck away in my toolbox, is that I returned to the beginning and actually entirely reworked my first chapter. I was determined to incorporate more of the divine voice narration, as well as have a more exciting moment than Holoon the tour guide leading rich customers through a theater. Here is a screenshot of the beginning of work on that new chapter:

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After writing that opening, I bounced back to the end to write the last couple chapters. 

One of the little things I learned at the end of this project was that sometimes I write fight scene in my outline, but it does not have to be a fight. One of my favorite moments of changing my outline ever so slightly was instead of writing a duel between two characters, I took each step they took apart, and for each step, there was a memory. A reflection on their life and how they had had gotten there.

 

But the actual gunfire and fighting is over in two sentences. 

I also wrote one fight scene, and I loved it so much more for scrapping the elaborate fight plans and simply writing: "He fought." 

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There was no getting around the big dragon versus heroes moment at the end of the book, and it took a few days for me to figure out how to orchestrate it. I scribbled word lists in my notebook, planned and scrapped conversations, and solved all kinds of tiny, irritating logistical issues that were not working in the outline. The actual sentence-composition only took a few days. 

The last, long chapter of the book took just about one day. But the day before, I bounced along on the bus listening to music. And I pulled out my phone, and I began to write out what happens to Yama at the end of the book. 

Of course, I could not write all of it on my phone, but it was good to start. Sometimes transitions from writing on paper, to computer, or phone, or vice versa, can help if I'm stuck. 

Serango has been a funny project in that it's been stop and go all along. It's been a book of lessons, perhaps more so than other projects. Be brave with structure, narration, and the things we take as standard. But the biggest lesson was probably when I realized that I shouldn't stop. Don't stop.

 

Finish. Finish. 

Finish the book. Not matter what, finish the book. 

 

 

Let's Talk about Figment

I'm lying in bed after a long, hard day of work. As I gaze at this blog, I realize that I started working on this post back on October 7, right after Figment announced it was closing down. I titled this post, "Let's talk about Figment," added a screenshot, and that was about it. I don't think I knew what to say. 

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When I don't know what to say, I start at the beginning. My old screenwriting teachers always said start with the action, and maybe that's why my beginnings have never been good. A decade later, it still feels like my best beginning was written at fifteen when I started a book with "All was quiet until the white dragon vomited soot and flames across the hall." 

That book was written before I started sharing work online. It was also the beginning of my online work. I wrote Serango my freshman or sophomore year of high school, and I printed off the pages, punched them into a binder, and it was passed around a larger friend circle. Enough people enjoyed the fantasy that when my aunt offered me use of her Apple website account, I took her up on the offer. That Apple site, a program which Apple has long since abandoned and no longer exists, was the beginning of sharing work online. The platform functioned similarly to Squarespace, with formatting done offline.

I posted my novel in chapters, and because I did not know to fear... Because I was a braver person then, I printed off one of those advertisement sheets where you can tear off a phone number, like for dog-sitters or selling used furniture, except I put my website's address. I posted this sheet on the communal cork-board at my high school so that everyone who wanted to read my novel could do it. 

I don't think I did that out of any arrogance. I think it was simply a naive lack of fear. I think I thought my writing was good. Considering that enough people read the first Serango, it was not bad. Even with a decade of distance, I look at those early pages and see a lot to admire, if a had habit of chronic overwriting. (The second book in that series, however, was a hot disaster and I don't think I knew it). 

Anyway, I posted on that cork-board because I did not feel there was a place for me as things stood. I mean no offense to my high school. NCS, a small D.C. private school, had a literary society, but it seemed that everyone sat around sharing short, literary fiction. I didn't doubt that I couldn't write that stuff, but... I never wanted to write short fiction. What was the point? I read novels. I wanted to write novels. 

Better yet, I wanted novels with dragons and heists and mysteriously gendered chemists. I wanted to make up the world. I wanted armies battling over gold. God, why would I want to write about couples divorcing and fighting in kitchens? (I mean, to be fair, I guess The Princess and the Fox Demon is partly a divorce novel, but it has shapeshifters, and shamans, and a battle with a volcano. I think you get the point.) 

What I mean to say is that, I was never interested in short literary fiction, and that alone was what I could discuss in real life in school. The internet, however, was a different story. People online seemed to be crazy for mythological creatures, smooching, and horrible jokes. People online seemed to like genre fiction. At that time, I did not know what it was called, but I knew what I liked to write. 

I fumbled around with my own website for a time, but by the time I went off to college, it was a thing of the past. I have a copy of the school newspaper with an article where I was interviewed, and I believe there is a screenshot of the website. That's all I have. 

My freshman year, I wrote novels, but did not share them, and I believe it was my second year when I discovered Figment. 

The website had been around by the time I found it. I participated in a writing day contest at my university, and if you participated, you got a free dinner with a speaker. I submitted a piece of creative nonfiction. I got my dinner. The speaker was one of the founders of Figment, Dana Goodyear, and I remember her talking about founding a website to share writing after being inspired by cellphone novels in Japan. I knew about cellphone novels, and I liked the idea of sharing my work online. 

I was not very good. I banged out a few projects for Figment, like The Mori Hero, but my overwriting habit completely wrecked my hopes of a following. It took me a long time to learn that there was a way to write and catch people's attention, to sustain that attention, and that you could not take a million words when a few would do.  I cannot begin to express how important this was for me. 

I discovered short fiction, flash fiction, and attention to word count made me a better writer. I started winning contests. Just as I began to hit a stride and actually get followers, Figment absorbed another website. The historian in me, as biased as she is concerning Figment, sees this as a turning point. The influx of new users were not used to Figment's culture. They were writers more so than readers, and this made building a reading audience harder than it had been before. Users demanded reading exchanges, which is okay, except that it became exhausting and unrewarding. That said, I loved working on the science fiction serial, Void Inc, and the short story "The Madness of Crown Prince Sazaki," both of which I still find wonderful. I almost don't believe I wrote them. 

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It was sometime soon after the merger, 2013, that Patterson held a romance writing contest on Figment. And that was when I wrote the first opening to The Princess and the Fox Demon

Fox demons could change into anything or anyone, but as the lonely places of the world vanished, they became harder to find.

Princess Asuka knew of one fox demon. She peered out over the burnt out shrine grounds. Cherry petals fell from the trees like ghost tears.

He was beautiful like a willow, but with a body that had been carefully designed for violence. She froze for a minute, struck dumb by the way his back lazily curled against the pillar, organic, with his green robes pooling around his waist, stripped off in the summer heat. He sprawled out on the deck, bored, flicking his fingers so that little violet flames leapt off his fingernails. Princess Asuka shivered—this demon couldn’t be more different from the boy she loved.

Two hours ago, her betrothed had died. She hadn’t told anyone. The boy had written her poems about spring rain, sweets, and kisses. She had known love, hopeless and riotous, and warmth and his laughter.

And she knew the disgusting old man she would have to marry if she went back to the capital alone.

“Prin-cesss,” drawled the fox demon. “What a pleasure.”

She crossed the yard, trembling, knowing the closer she got, the harder it would be to run away, to forget her rebellious madness that had told her this would be a good plan. Humans only struck deals with fox demons when they needed them to transform into a replacement, only when humans were looking for mischief and lies.

Princess Asuka desperately needed a lie.

She stared at the ground as he examined his prize, and she knew his eyes were laughing because he had proposed to her once so passionately—he had been a young demon then—and now she had come back. The back of her neck burned as he circled her, his fingers trailing over his air, and the shame nearly sent her running for the trees.

“You humans care too much about bodies,” he whispered. “You’re looking for all the wrong things.”

She sighed as his lips ghosted over her neck.

“How do you want me?”
— "The Princess and the Fox Demon," flash fiction, 2013

I didn't win. I doubt I even came close. 

But I was surprised at the level of interest the little piece received, as well as the enthusiasm. So, I turned around and expanded on the story. It evolved into my most successful online novel. I got comments. I got fans. The fans from the other projects merged onto this one, and despite the strangeness of the story, it worked. 

A day when my longform, epic sci-fi poem was featured on the homepage, which was the highest Figment glory. 

A day when my longform, epic sci-fi poem was featured on the homepage, which was the highest Figment glory. 

Figment became a home, but I was also aware of a creeping shadow over the site. Contests slowed down. Everything from updates to forum moderation ended, and I think when the website was sold to a publisher, that was when Figment as we knew it truly ended. Curation and moderation, regular and engaging contests all seemed to fall by the wayside, and I don't doubt that the site continued to grow during this phase, but I spent less time on Figment. I tried a few contests, hoping that since a publisher had bought the site that I might attract some editorial attention by wining, but I now know that was a waste of time. I shifted away from Figment and found myself focussing on P+FD. I started to publish The Hiwau and the Moon Consort as a serial. At some point, I was thrilled to be placed on the homepage and interviewed by the website. (PDF of the interview here.) That was mind-blowingly exciting. 

Sometime after that but before I finished Hiwau, I think I discovered that this phase of my writing, like that little personal site in high school, was over. I discovered some incredible writers that I'm following even now. I even made some friends. 

But unlike some of my Figment friends, I actually took down my fiction years ago. It was years ago that I copied all my comments and projects, deleted everything. And it's strange to look at it again, what mishmash of things I saved. The screenshot at the top of the page is one taken on October 7, 2017, almost two years after I removed my writing. 

I am grateful for the home I found at Figment, one of those rare places online that, for a time, felt small enough to be an intimate community, but not insignificant. I learned how to write for others, read feedback, give feedback, and grow. My conciseness (sorry about this blogpost) and confidence arose from my time on Figment. A priceless writing circle of friends. I was never one of the Figment Greats, but I am honored to have written alongside them for a time.  

 Farewell, Figment. 

Other Figment Farewells: Samantha Chaffin.  Lydia Albano

 

 

I'll leave you with a genuine Figment fossil, perfectly preserved. I found it while sifting through my old, unlabeled screenshots. It's not my most popular. It's just an E.R. Warren flash fiction fossil, circa 201?, complete with gods and jazz, under 150 words. This is what Figment taught me to do. 

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ST1 Screenshot.png

 

 

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.