So this week we interrupt our usual parade of “Teaser Tuesday”, “Random Rejection”, and “Let’s Try To Figure Out If My Wife Is Actually Paying Attention To Battlestar Galactica Or Not”* posts to answer a few quick questions posed to me by Donna over at Donna and the Dogs. Like me, Donna is a writer, but the parallels do not stop there!
- Donna’s agent recently quit the business shortly after signing her on. My last agent also quit the business shortly after signing me on. (And don’t even get me started talking about The Eclipse Saga.)
- Donna shares her home with a rescue vizsla, Meadow, who was brought back to the land of domesticity after spending a few winters out in the wilds of New York. Initially fearful of, well, everything, Meadow has since made quite a bit of progress. Does this sound like any other vizslas we know? Over at Dennis’s Diary of Destruction, we were following the case of Meadow when she was first captured, in the days when the local press back east was calling her Brownie Baby. What my cousin says about Dennis could also be said about Meadow: “You should have named that dog ‘Lucky’!”
But I digress. This is a post about answering a few questions about writing, not about exploring the mysterious coincidences of the universe. So here are a few answers to questions about writing books, not about writing Dennis’s blog:
1.What am I working on?
Currently I’m on my third (or maybe my fourth, I’ve sort of lost track) pass of editing The War of the Ravels, which is the rewritten conclusion of my humongous fantasy novel Shards, which I split into two after realizing that if I published the entire 800+ page thing as one book, the print-on-demand edition would have to cost like $50 and nobody was going to pay that. (Not that the $2.99 Kindle edition of Shards has been flying off the shelves—umm, over the Internets, I mean—like its predecessor Dragon Stones did. For a while. In the UK. But still, it sells a few copies now and then.) Anyway, I originally wrote this behemoth of a fantasy novel about 20 years ago, so when I dusted it off for revision and publication after Dragon Stones suddenly got popular, it needed work. A lot of work. And not just polishing—this was a total rewrite. The overall plot is the same, but it’s now written in an entirely different and, I hope, better way. At the very least it doesn’t contain lines like this anymore:
“Nyaaargh!” the sorcerer screamed, one jewel poorer.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Umm. Hmm. Well, now that I’m back in the fantasy genre, I have (in Shards, at least) all the conventional tropes of the genre, like dwarves and elves, sorcery, monsters, alternate dimensions, the usual. My dwarves may be a little bit steampunkish, but it’s not a steampunk book. In Dragon Stones my dragon may have been a little bit of a doomsday-weapon allegory, but the book was hardly a pacifistic manifesto. I guess if I had to say something makes them different, it would be that even though I tend to start with the fantasy basics, I don’t (or at least I hope I don’t) run the plots in a predictable way to hit all the expected epic fantasy milestones on the way to the expected epic fantasy conclusion. See the much lengthier “Writing Process” answer, below, for a possible explanation of this.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Well, I’ve read the fantasy genre forever, and most of my early stories fall into that category. (Stories about my stuffed animals count as fantasy, right?) For most of the 1990s and the early 2000s I was writing notoriously-unmarketable horror (“Not everyone wants to read The Books of Blood” was one editorial comment I remember well — which is empirically true, of course, but obviously enough people did, since Clive Barker didn’t end up living out on the streets or working as a Paul McCartney impersonator), but I eventually moved away from that and back to my original home. As I once put it, I didn’t think I could be cruel enough to my characters anymore to keep writing horror. Who knows? Maybe I will find my mean streak again. I am, after all, planning to rewrite my dark fantasy/horror novel Television Man once The War of the Ravels is finally finished. But I doubt it.
4. How does your writing process work?
I know of writers who don’t follow a schedule, but just sit down and write when the mood strikes them. I also know of writers who spend weeks or months meticulously plotting out their stories in advance, with index cards for characters, synopses, flow charts, diagrams. (I actually have writing software, Scrivener, that makes it easy to do all that on the computer.) I absolutely don’t do either one of those things. I write in the morning before work, Monday through Friday, trying to get to 500 words for the day. (Scrivener, helpfully, will display how many words you’ve added to your manuscript in the current session. Of course that is reduced by the number of words you take away, which is arguably the most important thing you do once you finish the first draft.) I occasionally write on weekends, but generally my weekend creative activity involves pasting cutouts of our dogs into scenes from movies or television shows. As far as plotting in advance or creating a synopsis goes, I generally have a starting point and an ending point for my story, and everything in between just sort of happens as it goes along. Obviously this often requires numerous rewrites to bring early scenes into line with what happens in later scenes so that the entire thing ends up making sense, but my experience (and reader reviews) suggests that this leads to plots that are realistically chaotic and unpredictable, and unpredictability is one of the main things I am going for. (About the worst criticism I can level at a book or movie is that nothing that happened surprised me.) Just to try it, I did once do a large-scale synopsis where I planned a book out in advance from start to finish, and the completed product ended up bearing no relation to what I had planned out. Waste of time? Maybe. But it taught me that storyboarding was something that didn’t work for me, and I never did it again.
And there you have my answers to the four questions — thanks for tagging me, Donna! Tune in next week for more Teaser Tuesday, or possibly a rejection letter, or maybe even a writeup about how many sessions it took for my movie-putting-to-sleep wife to make it all the way through “The Hurt Locker” (hint: more than four, but fewer than six).
* She is paying attention to Battlestar Galactica. To paraphrase a recent conversation:
Minor character whose name I can’t remember, talking to President Roslin: “The prophecy says a dying leader will lead them to Kobol, but you aren’t dying.”
Me (pausing Netflix): “Yes she is.”
Wife (rolling eyes): “I know that.”