The Rains of Southern California

It rained today.

I had the pleasure of participating in Nanowrimo this month, and I think that it really was a wonderful learning experience. Nanowrimo gave me the motivation to push through some difficult sections of H+MC. But it also messed with my pacing, as I was determined to write 1700 words a day, and my scenes are usually written in 1K sittings. During the second week of November, I concluded that I'd be better off doing 2K a day, but 2K required more of my days than I could give.

Honestly, I am worried about some of what I wrote.

As Lemony Snicket might say, if you're looking for an cheerful and uplifting blogpost, you'd be better off looking elsewhere. Truth be told, I keep this blog for myself, and this is a journal post.

This isn't so much about National Novel Writing Month as it is about the story I'm trying to tell.

Whenever I start a novel, I have my plan and my lampposts, scenes that I have to write in order to light my way. In every project I've ever written, the last lamppost burned brightest.

For The Princess and the Fox Demon, it was Asuka wading into the center of the lake with the sword, taking her own life to be with Chirikai forever. On a practical level, I knew it was a traditional feminist's worst nightmare. The girl kills herself to be with the boy. In the original conception, the book ended with Asuka's death and the belief of the nobles watching that she would become a goddess. They would have faith without evidence, but would the reader?

It just occurred to me that perhaps that scene deserves its own blog post. Anyway, it was a lamppost, and I had many months to traverse the darkness between the others. I plot, but there's so much faith in some parts of what I write. It could be arrogance. But it feels more like faith.

I am a rather old-fashioned reader and writer. I've been told that print and third person are dead, that I should be constant lying consuming YA fiction to know the market. I think out of all the young, fellow YA writers I know I probably read the least YA. I stood in an airport bookstore for almost forty minutes trying to find something to read. I knew the titles, the writers, but I didn't want to read any of it. I still finding myself returning to the books I read as a child and a teen, mostly written by dead British people, the books that made me what I am.

I think I've entered a phase of my life where I don't read a great deal of fiction. In fact, it's that environment that produced The Princess and the Fox Demon. I was consuming piles of nonfiction: history, mythology, and religion... But as I sat in my university cafe—it's now closed down—and daydreamed about what could be outside of the realm of what was or what was perceived to be. Last night, fighting off jetlag, I wandered over to my neighborhood bookstore—yes, a real one in the wild—and bought a giant book on Chinese tea and a big, beautiful, new translation of the I Ching by John Minford. I was so excited.

Anyway, I had trouble being inspired by other people's works of YA fiction in such a way that I'm driven to write my own. I can enjoy them, certainly. Kimberly Karalius recommended Sara Beth Durst's Vessel, which I had the pleasure of reading. I'm currently reading Momo by Michael Ende.

But I think the view I have about fiction, fantasy in particular, was best articulated by Tolkien when he said that fantasy was for escape. I write fantasy to escape. I do not look for reality in my fiction, but maybe a sort of distorted reality with a core of truth. If I wanted sharp realism, I'd read history. I don't need to read what others make up. Which is why I rarely read contemporary fiction. Fantasy is meant to inspire and allow escape from the world we live in.

None of these ideas are mine or new. In fact, many would consider them old and stale. The trend of the decade is the shades of gray hero-villain, truth and goodness are now relative, the golden age of the anti and the semi-hero... Historians will have fun with this fifty years hence, trying to answer the why we are doing this with our stories. I won't do that here.

I've gone off topic. I've forgotten what I was trying to say.

I'll go make myself a pot of tea and come back.

I think that The Hiwau and the Moon Consort is a difficult story to tell in the same way that the last scene of The Princess and the Fox Demon is a difficult one to set-up for the contemporary reader.

The set-up, that is how my fantasies function. I have the last scene, like faith, and I build towards it. Laying the sidewalk beneath the lampposts until I reach the end. But the entire story before The Scene is set-up, countless plants for that one payoff.

But H+MC moves between two worlds: the moon and the earth. The first story arc tells of the Comet Spirit's romance with the Moon God, the realm of the Lodge, the philosophy of the gods there... It's the sort of fantastic world-building where a writer gets to pull out all the stops. All the while, we waited for the kiss, we waited for the blow-out... and then, it ended.

For analytical purposes, the first arc of H+MC is no more complicated than most of P+FD. But when we reached earth, everything becomes different. The world shifts.

I think I lost everyone, and I don't know what to do.

I don't know if it was the pacing of Nanowrimo or the story I set out to write, but I'm almost 70% of the way through, and I've been setting up everything like mad, and I finished and exhaled, and looked around, and it seemed like it didn't matter. 

P+FD was much easier. It was about a girl, a boy, and their relationships with their parents shaping the love they would have for each other. 

H+MC is about a brother and sister, two twins, and the girl who threatens to burn all the bridges between them in her quest for freedom. It's about things falling down. And what holds strong. 

But the web of interpersonal relationships—and the cast of characters—is much bigger than P+FD. On the High Plain of Heaven and the Moon, we meet the Moon God, the Sun Goddess, the Comet Spirit, and a large cast of secondary characters. On earth, we meet the Comet Spirit once more as "Kaguya," plus the hiwau and Hakashi, High Shaman Tsukinori, and a very large cast of secondary characters. While I've never really considered P+FD epic fantasy, H+MC definitely fits the title. 

But I've never really written epic fantasy before, and I'm worried that the large cast and shifting locations have scared readers off. This panic reached a new height over the course of Nanowrimo when I wrote one H+MC's version of one of the pivotal moments in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where Kaguya gives three nearly impossible tasks to three princely suitors. As I devoted a chapter to their failure, doing my best to plant important details and keep the action moving, I panicked. 

Could I really afford new characters and a whole chapter? Was I too deep in the weeds? *type-type-type*

Was I too blind in my faith of the lampposts? 

But there's really no choice but to keep writing, is there? 

At the end of November, I think that it is good I did not win Nanowrimo. Taking the time to think, and imagine... I am slow at both those things. 1K is a good number for me. I am grateful for learning that. 

But whether or not H+MC is a failed sequel, I suppose I will not know until the end of November, when Kaguya, Hakashi, the hiwau, the Moon God, and Asuka and Chirikai have had their say. 

I'm a month into agent-hunting, and nothing positive has come from that either. I went in with low expectations, but at the back of my mind is the nagging 'If P+FD isn't good enough, am I wasting my time writing a sequel?' 

Which, I suppose, means this a long way of saying I'm doubting myself. C'est la vie.