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 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.