By nature, I pick everything apart. And while that proves true for almost every media stream out there, for some reason when it comes to superhero movies it isn’t a problem. I had a blast going on about some of my most anticipated.
By nature, I pick everything apart. And while that proves true for almost every media stream out there, for some reason when it comes to superhero movies it isn’t a problem. I had a blast going on about some of my most anticipated.
It was in the 70s today here in North Carolina. After a few weeks of absolutely amazing weather–chilly and in the 50s during the day, scooping down into the 20s at night–we’re in a bit of a mini heatwave. The flannel sheets seem rather preemptive.
But I guess that makes sense. This week has been a study of contrasts, and not just seasonal ones. My husband was laid off on Monday last, his entire department vanishing into “we’ll give you some contractor hours” and that’s that. I’m trying to stave off the panic and dread (and fury; I assure you there is plenty of fury, considering everything we’ve been going through the with boy and, oh, having a six month old baby in the mix) by keeping busy around the house, which isn’t too hard considering there’s two kids around here most days. Also, we’ve started brewing beer again. We’ll have a chocolate maple porter ready next week when I get back from New York, and a hopnog (which I’m affectionately calling the “Non-Working Man’s Hopnog” in a nod to one of my favorite Fullsteam brews, Working Man’s Lunch; the brews aren’t remotely similar, but the name couldn’t be passed up). I don’t know what to make of the jobless (again) situation. I’ve been trying to avoid it by making beer and bread and crocheting and writing and crafting. As I tend to do.
The highlight of last week came in the form of the always lovely Cherie Priest who was in town, a last stop in a harrowingly eventful tour in support of her very awesome book, The Inexplicables. When she indicated she was up for shenanigans in the afternoon, I contemplated for a second and asked her if she’d fancy visiting a graveyard. I had a feeling I wouldn’t have to twist her arm, mistress of Southern Gothic that she is. We visited the Old Town Cemetery in Hillsborough, NC, which is one of the most hauntingly beautiful places I know. We saw the gravestones of a variety of prestigious residents, including William Hooper, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hillsborough has plenty of Colonial roots, and having lived there once I was truck with how much I missed it. I wanna go back. Sigh.
Extra bonus, Joss Raddick showed up in the form of a lawn ornament (see picture).
And now we’re turning the corner into winter. I’m going to be flying out next week to NYC to do a media tour for the Geek Mom book, and I’m excited and a little nervous. I’m going to be on television! I’ve been trying not to fuss over wardrobe, but I’ve been fussing anyway. I found a perfect dress, but now I have to locate the right size. Tomorrow, I get my hair cut a bit (not a huge amount, but it needs some serious taming, as it’s now down to the middle of my back and, especially in the static electric season, absolutely unruly).
Writing has continued on Watcher of the Skies, and it’s going well enough that I figured it was time to send out Rock Revival to my beta readers: Michael, Dorothy, and Karen. In a bout of insomnia, I read the entire draft last night and today in .epub format–which is beyond awesome. I didn’t realize Scrivener had those capabilities until just yesterday, and it makes the beta reading experience so much easier. Michael is my toughest to please beta reader. I know, he’s my husband. He’s supposed to adore everything that I do, right? Except he’s not like that (THANKFULLY). He’ll tell me if he isn’t enjoying something. Last night he stayed up “way later” than he should have, reading the first quarter of the book. This gives me significant hope, considering that I’m nearing the point of no perspective. Suffice it to say, hearing him say that was immensely and overwhelmingly welcome. Like I said, it’s been a tough week.
And that’s really it. The month of November may be over, but the holidays are approaching and, before we know it, we’ll turn the page to 2013. Our hopnog will be ready for consumption on New Year, and I can’t wait to try it. We had a sip tonight and it was divine.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that get you through. Words and the magic of fermentation. That doesn’t sound very romantic or magical, but I assure you, it is. It helps to move on and worry less, even when there’s so much uncertainty in the air. If winter teaches us anything, it’s that in the coldest, darkest places, beauty and wonder still abounds.
So, my last post really did make it sound like I wasn’t doing NaNoWriMo, mostly likely. And apparently that’s the thing that got me going. Or something. I’m not going to try and explain it in too much details, but it goes something like this. I screwed up my back. I had to take medicine. I found out my kid does, in fact, have Asperger’s. My brain was mushy, I was in need of escape in the form of writing therapy that wasn’t going to require much editing (see: medicine), and my best friend Karen started talking to me about Joss Raddick. Readers of Pilgrim of the Sky know Mr. Raddick well, a godling of the water variety from Second World who eventually (and rather reluctantly) joins up with Maddie to help her get to Alvin in First World and prevent All The Bad Stuff. This isn’t the first time that Karen has birthed a book into my mind by just saying a few words. The entirety of The Aldersgate is due to her saying to me once, “I’m surprised you’ve never written anything with cowboys” or something to that effect, and I wrote back and said they’d have to be cowboyknights and, all that stuff happened.
Anyway. The words have been spilling out, most appropriately considering Joss’s nature. The book is entitled Watcher of the Skies, and while it bears the same title as a Genesis song, it’s taken from Keats’s poem “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer”. Last night, though I didn’t think I was going to get much done because of feeling kinda crappy, I almost got another 3K in and brought the book to 30K which is, quite frankly, a really good chunk. And this draft is surprisingly solid. Or maybe not surprisingly. I’ve been contemplating Joss’s story for quite some time, and it was just a matter of getting the details right. The book is set up in a frame narrative. The beginning features Maddie and he talking, and he invites her to hear his whole story on a rather appropriate godling level. It involves a hand full of water and mushy ice cubes and one of my favorite phrases to date: “a drunkard’s communion.”
No, this is not the book I was going to write. But it’s the book that needs to be written right now. It’s perfect timing, which I think is the way that working writers can succeed at endeavors like NaNoWriMo. I really hate the pressure people put themselves under. As a novelist, it’s not like November is the only month I can write books in, and if I don’t it somehow means less. But life and projects have conspired to make this a most amenable month of writing–and it isn’t as if I’m writing that much more than my usual 1K a day. The stars have aligned and I am enjoying myself immensely.
One of the most exciting parts is that I’m getting to explore Second World. If there’s one thing the reviewers let me know it’s that they’d wished I’d dabbled more in alternate history. Well, I’m doing just that. The book takes place starting in the late 18th century and moves to the early 20th–and let’s just say the historical/religious/economic landscape isn’t the same as you’d expert. I’m not going to be too spoilery, but there’s lots of poets, cameos by Percy and Mary Shelley and Keats and Byron and Wordsworth and Coleridge, and even mention of crazy old Blake (okay, some are significantly more than cameos, but y’know). Plus I get to explore various twains in their previous incarnations–Randall, Matilda, and Alvin are all present, sort of. Other versions of them. And I finally get to have fun with Athena. She’s a cross-dressing theatre owner of African descent. You know, as you do. I’ll have a lot more to share eventually, but for now, I’m just giddy about this book.
My pithy advice to those of you writing this hectic month is to be kind to yourself. Learning to write is like any good habit. And while it’s lovely that so much energy is poured into the month of November, it’s not the only time to write. It’s okay to step back and say it’s not a good time, professional or fledgeling or proto-fledgeling. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you a person who has a life and deadlines and responsibilities and maybe, just isn’t ready yet. If you want to be a writer, whatever that means, you’ve simply got to write. You’ve got to strike when the iron’s hot, and when it’s not. My issue with NaNo is that it doesn’t produce a book. It produces part of a draft. In 2008, when I “won” (whatever that means) it was very helpful, because that book did become Pilgrim of the Sky. But it’s been four years since I made an effort, and time it was primarily because of a need to escape and an excuse to keep away from Rock Revival. The timing was right for me. It may be right for you. But it may not be. And that, friends, is really, really okay.
Anyway, I have a few hours alone for the first time in almost a month, so I’m going to put it good use. For all your NaNoers out there, good luck to you!
Joss meets Andrew La Roche, Randall’s predecessor, in a tavern, while his friend William Wordsworth encounters Samuel Taylor Coleridge for the first time.
“You still haven’t told me your name,” La Roche said, taking up a cup of tea and stirring it gently. He managed to do so without a single clink against the China, so precise he was.
“It’s Joss,” I said. “Joss Raddick. I’m from Cumbria.”
“I daresay you are, it’s written all over your vowels,” La Roche remarked with a knowing smirk. “But I knew of you the moment you were born. The others argued with me, but I have a sense for these things. As you do.”
I nodded. “I felt you. Until you snuck up on me.”
“Slipped beneath your senses,” he said. “I was out of the rain, out of the river, out of the water. I dry rather quickly when I want to.”
Having no idea what he was talking about, I added, “You’re… warm. That’s the only way I can describe what I sense. Warm. Bright. Dry.”
“Hmm, yes, indeed,” he said. “And I have a particular aptitude for the healing arts. And poetry.” He said this last word with particular relish. “As you do, so I have heard. You’re a kept man, Mr. Raddick.”
I didn’t quite know what he meant by that statement. “Kept, sir?”
La Roche sipped his tea. “Hmmm… yes. You’ve been tamed, so to speak, by that curious little lake poet, Mr. Wordsworth. I’m sure he’s been a most impressive teacher, as poets are so often, but he’s using you for your light. For your inspiration. Surely you’ve figured that out by now, yes?”
I snorted. Of course I had figured it out. But it didn’t make the situation any less difficult. “He has been kind to me. He’s taught me things, about how to fit in, about how to experience… how to be a human man.”
“And what makes you think you are not a human man?” La Roche asked. “I’m genuinely curious, not attempting to pass judgment on you, Mr. Raddick.”
“Not sure what to say to that,” I said. “It’s just something I know. Humans come from women, born in a big egg that breaks open and spills water on the earth. A stream of blood and birth. That’s not how I came about.”
“Well, we have that in common,” La Roche said. “I was awakened. In a young village lad, some centuries ago. In Southern Gaul. It was quite strange. I awoke, and walked away from the family that had raised the boy. He was no longer. I entered him like water into a gourd, and have since made this body as I’ve willed it. I don’t always have to look like this, but I prefer it.”
It’s been a busy weekend here in our household, with my husband away at the Escapist Expo most of the time, and me wrangling the babies. I did have a panel there yesterday on geek parenting, and it went rather well–a great audience and, as usual, more questions than we had time to answer. The Expo is really impressive for a first-year con (reminds me of ConTemporal that way) and I’m super excited that it’s right around the corner! This area of the world is quickly becoming home to some fun geek conventions, and I highly approve.
Anyway, once the kids have been in bed I’ve used the time for writing because, well, let’s face it: it’s escapism, I’ve been incredibly stressed, and I need to get back in the groove. Not to sound selfish or anything, but sometimes one’s own endeavors have to take precedence (especially, I may add, when one’s state of pregnancy last year pretty much eradicated any fiction creation to speak of). Especially considering this week which was full of OMGHUGELIFECHANGINGDECISIONS.
Rock Revival is once again shoving its way to the forefront–so instead of fighting the tide I decided (partially since it’s moving so fast anyway) that I’d move The Wind Through the Wheat aside for a few days until I get through the next few scenes in the full novel. I’ve been listening to a ton of music lately (primarily Mumford & Sons and Starsailor) and it’s just been impossible to put Rock Revival aside. Driving around with the music going and the novel starts writing itself in my head, and since I’m a terrible outliner I know if I don’t write it down immediately I’ll lose it. Which is the short way of saying that between the hours of 10pm and 1am, I’ve been typing furiously away at the keyboard.
A few cool things. Since relocating the band to the UK, I’ve been able to explore a few of the places I visited while I was there and learn new fun tidbits. The last scene I wrote took place at The Thekla, a rock club that’s on a boat in Bristol Harbor. I mean, I just happened to be Googling rock clubs in Bristol (since I know the music scene there is generally considered quite cool) and like the sound of the name and, behold! What an amazing setting. Not to mention that I made Tom’s house in Kent an oast house which has been converted into a home and studio. Until two days ago I had no idea what an oast house was, let alone that it would prove so perfect. I found it, literally, by “walking” around Lamberhurst, Kent, in Google Maps (my dad lived there briefly as a kid and my family visited in 2000, staying at the Chequers Inn and walking to Scotney Castle on foot–one of the most amazing days in my life) and noticing an old house with odd architecture called something or other “oast”.
Anyway, the fun of writing a place you know (and, I should add, desperately want to visit again) definitely helps lift through the mid-to-late book slog. The drama of the book is mostly over, and all that remain in the band’s original lineup are Kate, Tom, and James. Yes, this book is about a band breaking up. But it’s about more than that, too. I’m sort of hitting the blaze before the fall as the meteorite crashes through the atmosphere. It’s going to be great for a while, the band will go on tour, the album will sell, but then… well, things will change.
Today we’re heading back to the convention–I almost sold out of Pilgrim of the Sky books at the Bull Spec table, so that was exiting. I also had a great time chatting with local author JL Hilton about everything industry, bookish, and girly (in a good way).
Anyway, here’s a sizeable chunk of the Lamberhurst stuff in draft mode, followed by the word count.
We drove along the windy, hedge-high roads and through Lamberhurst itself—charming brick houses stacked along the side of the road with their squat little chimneys—before taking a sharp turn down a dirt road. It was horrifically bumpy, and just the thing for my motion sickness to start kicking in. We drove about half a mile before I noticed the house in the distance. It was about as typical as you could imagine, white washed and sprinkled with ivy and chimneys and roses. Except there were three conical parts to it that I couldn’t quite make sense of, painted white and black at the top. Not quite a castle, not quite a farm. Something else?
There was a Bentley in the driveway, which had to be James’s, and some kids playing games with sticks in the adjacent field. I noticed some outbuildings, too, with other, smaller, practical British cars, and wondered if there was an actual staff. Not that the house looked big enough to accommodate it, but I sort of figured it might be the way Tom had structured things.
And someone did meet me at the car. He was in his seventies, or so, with a cap and t-shirt and dirty jeans, sprigs of curly white hair over his sizable ears.
“And you’re Kate,” he said, laughing. He peered around me and into the car. “And here I was expecting someone else along with you. The other lad.”
“Kurt,” I said, for some reason looking into the car after him, as if somehow Kurt would still be there. I cleared my throat, trying to stifle the emotions rising up. The house, the air, the birdsongs, it was all a little much. In the distance, the sun was starting its descent, and the tall grasses behind the house were dancing in the breeze. Seriously, you can’t make this shit up.
I realized I hadn’t answered the man’s question. “I mean, Kurt went back to London. He’s… got another gig.”
The man nodded. “Oh! And my manners. But I’m Mr. Chesley. Tom’s dad, as it were.”
Of course it was Tom’s dad.
“Glad to finally meet you,” I said, being as polite as possible. Tom really hadn’t spoken to me much about his parents in the years we’d known each other, but I certainly had never expected this veritable hobbit of a man. It was then that I noticed that Mr. Chesley’s old t-shirt was, in fact, a Revivals tour shirt from 2004. Our first tour together. It was so faded that it was almost impossible to tell, but you could still see the second half of our name and the triangle logo.
“Well, let me show you ‘round. The boys are locked up good and well, and I’m sure you’ll be wanting to join them soon enough.”
I followed him into the house, which had to be hundreds of years old by the look of it, and it smelled like cider and sawdust. The renovations were extensive; I mean you could just tell by a glance that things were new, it’s just that they kept with the old style. I wasn’t sure how much of a hand Tom had in it, since this was a place in his family and all, but the outcome was pretty spectacular. White walls, dark wood, a smattering of antiques, posters, statues. It wasn’t the cluttered coziness of James, that’s for sure. Almost like a museum, or a house out of some architectural digest (which, I think was actually in an issue a few months later).
“What kind of house is this?” I asked Mr. Chesley as he took me down a narrow hallway.
He looked over his shoulder and said something that sounded like “oats” and, not wanting to sound stupid, I just nodded and laughed as if I knew exactly what he was talking about.
“This is yours,” he said, opening a heavy latched door and gesturing inside.
Apparently, my room was in one of the cones. So, basically, I had a ceiling that went up like forty or fifty feet. The walls were white painted brick and crisscrossed with thick wooden beams. In the middle of the room was a bed with blue linens, simple and elegant. There was an upright piano, a guitar, and a bookcase fit to bursting with books. Plus, a writing desk and some chests of drawers. The floor was sealed concrete, a sort of brownish gray, and carpeted toward the middle of the room with a rustic yellow knotted rug. I’ve never been a decorator or cared much one way or another how a room looks, but it was impressive, nonetheless.
I went over to the bed and smoothed my hands across the bedspread. There was a note, scrawled in Tom’s childish script: “Make sweet music, Cakes!”
“Been in the family for a long time, but none of us has ever had the time or the money to do much about it. When Tom told me he was thinking of turning it into a live-in studio, and that he’d be coming back home for a bit, well…” he trailed off, clearing his throat.
“It’s amazing,” I said.
If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you may notice that I occasionally redecorate. Well, I did it again. The last template was okay, but I wanted something cleaner that had a similar look without the clutter. I’m happy where it is, now! It’s not finished completely, as I’m working on a nice custom header graphic and whatnot. But the layout works, the fonts make me happy (which is a big deal) and… I even changed the blog’s tagline. It’d been a long time coming, and I wanted something that represented the multitude of things I write and post about. So, voila!
Writing has been slower, due in no small part to raising a baby and a very challenging six year old (you can read a little about what we’ve been going through here). I’m still not entirely back into the groove, but thankfully I had a few hours to myself yesterday in which I actually cleaned up my office space to allow for sitting. Even though I share the office with the baby now, it’s still as close to a place of my own that I’m going to get (she says typing as quietly as possible while the baby naps).
I’ve been writing in Rock Revival rather dutifully, and I’m proud of where I’ve gotten — while I wanted to be done (*insert maniacal laughter track*) by now, I realize that’s not possible. And that’s… deep breath… okay. I’ve got a novella to write which, potentially, could actually generate revenue and it’s a nice trip back into the world of the speculative. Also a nice trip back into the world of The Aldersgate which, hasn’t been traditionally published, was really the book/project that got me a foothold into all this to begin with. The novella is a prequel, taking place fifteen years before, give or take, before. There are a few familiar faces, but the majority of the novella follows Robin Creekwise, the diminutive inventor otherwise known as the Professor, and how exactly she got herself excommunicated from Queensland to Vell, a backwoods town in the middle of the Territories. It also tells the story of Queen Maelys and Kaythra Bav, and how their love and subsequent hatred tore things apart both politically and theologically. Tentatively it’s called The Wind Through the Wheat.
Anyway… Rock Revival currently stands at 37,000 — just under the halfway point. The band has boarded a plane for Kent, and they’ll be finishing up the album there. It feels like a natural place to pause while I work on this other project, and I’ll pick it back up in November.
Other things? It’s almost autumn, and I could not be happier about that. Yesterday I made pumpkin flax bread which, for my sister and I, is as close to summoning up the spirits of the season as can be. Filling the house with the scents of cinnamon and ginger and nutmeg? Yeah, it makes me want to dance around in a field of crisp leaves or something.
The Wind Through the Wheat:
I was sitting in the bleacher seats in one of the music classrooms at UMass, and sort of staring top-down at the Music 101 professor. She walked around the podium and said, “Now, some of you have been asking why we’re not covering the sections of women composers, the ones listed in the book. Well, the truth is that they’re just not very good.” My breath caught in my throat. She continued with a smile, “And it’s just more important that we cover the influential composers.”
This was roughly twelve years ago, my freshman year. At the time, I was still hellbent on becoming a singer-songwriter. Hearing the professor–a woman!–say what she did made me feel sick to my stomach. I felt embarrassed. For her, for the class. She might as well have just said: “What women have accomplished in music isn’t worth our time. They’ve made no impact on the world, so we ignore them.” (For the record, there are over 800 listed on Wikipedia alone.) Was that going to happen to me? Was my music just… not important enough to be anything other than a footnote?
To say that women are missing from what most people know as Classical music is an understatement. While there are some standouts, including Felix Mendelssohn’s own sister Fanny, by and large Western Classical music as taught (like most of the Humanities) is dominated by men. And why are men “better”? The major contributing factor: education. Not to mention support. And the non-existence of birth control for women. And their horrifically short lifespans. But that’s sort of not the point. The point is that regardless of the calibur of their work when compared to their male counterparts, women’s accomplishments matter — in fact, they matter so much precisely because they were done against the odds.
A few years later, when I was in graduate school, I had somewhat of an opposite issue. Most people assumed I was a feminist leaning literary critic because, I guess, I am a woman. Also, I talk a great deal. But I didn’t identify as a feminist critic. As a medievalist, I was fond of the school of New Historicism, which seeks to try its best and read literature in the context of its era, and includes a great deal of historical research. I always replied to the question of feminist criticism in the negative. But in spite of my initial reply, by the end of my degree I found myself writing my thesis on a very feminist subject, the role of Guinevere in William Morris’s poem “The Defence of Guenevere” as well as looking at her in Marie de France’s lai, “Lanval.” Ultimately, I was drawn to one of the most scandalous and often discussed women in English literary history, throwing around terms like “agency” and “proto-feminism” a great deal. So much for that!
Now, I’m an author. And while my first novel featured a male protagonist, nothing since then has. I write women because I am one, because I feel like our stories still need to be told. Because we need feminism now. As a recent interview with Caitlin Moran, hilarious and brilliant author of How To Be A Woman points out, women of my generation and older are often afraid of being labeled feminists. It’s a bad word. It means you’re a bitch. Or a lesbian. Or a hippy. Or you hate men. Or you aren’t feminine. Or whatever. Right?
Moran puts it succinctly:
What part of liberation for women is not for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man that you marry? The campaign for equal pay? Vogue by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that stuff just get on your nerves?
It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in so short a time. Marriage was never about love or about choice: It was about wealth. Dowries. Status. Political alliances. Until the early 20th century, it was practically unheard of that a woman would have a say in her own marriage, let alone have a career. Pioneers like Mary Shelley (and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft), Ada Lovelace, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen, had to work against incredible odds to do what they loved. That they produced anything of meaning is nothing short of astonishing.
Doing research for Rock Revival I’ve been delving into the history of rock music as best I can. Sure, there are bands with women in them. In the indie scene it’s more common these days, but mainstream popular bands tend to fall into two categories: entirely composed of women and often done so with marketing in mind (The Go-Gos, The Runaways, The Bangles, etc.); or fronted by a woman (The Pretenders, Blondie, Hole, Evanescence). The Revivals, my fictional band, are comprised of men and women (initially two women and three men, a la Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, or Belle & Sebastian) which is the hardest category to find. No matter how you slice it, rock music is still very much a boys’ game, and apparently boys and girls playing together isn’t a terribly marketable concept.
Quoth Moran, rather apropos to the subject of women rocking and marketing:
“In the early ’90s, it was grunge, everybody was fully clothed. Alanis Morissette was one of the biggest artists in the world, never wore make up, wearing Doc Marten boots, and then the Spice Girls turn up, and suddenly it all looks a bit burlesque, suddenly they’re the biggest band in the world. … And as you go all the way through the ’90s, the clothes just fall off the women until you get to the year 2000, and Britney Spears is just wearing a snake.”
It got me thinking about equal footing in the music industry and why there are so few visible female rock musicians. And I think it has a lot to do with lack of empowerment. Take my experience. In spite of the fact I was born 20 years after the 60s, I was something of an anomaly as a female musician. It’s not exactly the norm to hear girls chat about electric guitars or dream about Fender Princeton Chorus amps while leafing through Musician’s Friend.
I remember “talking the talk” a few times around male musicians and sound guys (particularly older ones), and they often expressed a sort of surprise and amusement. Was I posing? Was I serious? Was I any good? “Yeah, how long have you been playing?” “What kind of guitar do you play?” Just like in geek circles, when you’re a female musician you’re often held up to more scrutiny, as if you’re some sort of impostor. And in many cases I think that scrutiny leads to self-consciousness and safe decisions, like starting your own band rather than joining one, or selecting to work with other women. Or becoming a folk singer instead of a rock star. (There are, thankfully, exceptions.)
And how about instrumental choice? I wonder, why did I never branch out from rhythm guitar to something else? Why didn’t I try lead? I think the sad answer to that is I didn’t think I had it in me, as a woman, as a musician. Because, by and large, girls don’t play lead guitar. I’m not flashy, I’m not a “performer” in that sense. Who was I to get up there and shred? (And it hasn’t gone away! My fictional band is real to my experience. Kate and Sara, like me, were encouraged with music but never pushed to be lead guitarists, or gutsy lead singers. Why don’t either of them play lead? I guess I feel like the odds of that happening, even now, are slim to none, in a band that finds a big audience.)
I have a daughter. She’s barely three months old — but even before she was born I was worrying about what challenges she’s going to face. Now I find myself thinking about this stuff a whole lot more than I did when my son was born. Because no matter how hard I try, she’ll have a different experience than he will. Pieces like Mur Lafferty’s “Dear Daughter” really get to the heart of what I’ve been contemplating. If women today are so afraid to use the F-word, so worried about what other people might think when it comes to their own empowerment and pride, what does that mean for my daughter’s generation? If we, as mothers and fathers and friends can’t give them the courage to get out there and shred, if our communities can’t get behind them, then all the work that women like my grandmother (who was a first-wave feminist) — and other women in rock, and those who rock — have done won’t mean a thing. It’s a scary prospect.
I don’t want to make this terribly political, but I can’t go without saying that there are people here, in my country and around the world, who don’t believe women really can do these things. That it’s just not in us. Some of their motivations are religious, others experiential, some plain misogynistic. But these are big decision-makers and policy-pushers, CEOs and ad executives, people controlling the stream of what we hear and see. There are people who still see women as baby-makers and child-rearers, and creatures who really should just stay home (because that’s the best for everyone) and surely aren’t capable of raising children by themselves, let alone doing face-melting solos in front of thousands of people.
You know what? We are bigger than they are. If we decide to work at home to be with our kids, that’s our choice. If we decide to put our kids in daycare and go to work and kick ass and take names that way, that’s also our choice. That is what feminism is about. Not about being a bitch, or a liberal, or a “femi-Nazi”. It’s breaking free from the outdated societal constraints we’ve struggled under for so long. It’s about having a choice.
I want my daughter to feel the power of music. If she decides to, I want her to plug in her Les Paul, hear the sizzle of the cord coming to life, and feel every note course through her. I want her to feel the hot lights on her face, to smell the funk of backstage, to see the faces of a crowd when they make that connection. If she wants to strut, I want her to strut. If she wants to scream a primal scream and dazzle the audience with her talent, I want her to revel in every moment. I want her to be a proud, to do what I never did. And I want the world to rise up and celebrate every moment with her. Maybe that’s a lot to ask. But I think it can happen.
The pulse of rock ‘n’ roll beats in all of us, and it’s about power and strength and love and heartbreak and sex and experiences and empowerment. It’s not just a boys’ game. If anything we should be giving girls Telecasters when they’re ten and encouraging them to rock, to tell their stories, and to change the world.
We are not the labels we’ve been given. We are not wallflowers. We deserve to be heard. We are women who rock.
Well, I’ve reached the middle eight. Almost. At least, I’m cruising just about to the 30K mark, a little more than a third of the way through Rock Revival. Musically speaking that might be where I put a bridge. Or a pre-chorus. Or something interesting. Certainly we’ve established the verse and chorus, and now we’re shaking things up.
And hoo-boy are we. It’s been so long since I’ve been this deep in a novel (I did the math; it’s been over two years, between day jobbery, health issues, and pregnancy…) that I’ve absolutely forgotten how characters can throw you for a loop. I had this planned, damnit. WTF?!
Maybe part of me really thought the magic was only apparent in speculative-flavored books, because this last scene (written about 12 hours ago, during the wee hours of the morning) really threw me a punch in the gut. You’d think a first-person narrative wouldn’t be so unpredictable, but you’d be wrong. Kate just took me down an alley I didn’t anticipate going down, and it’s horrible and wonderful and perfect for where the book is going.
So as far as fiction writing is going for me? Happy days are here again. Glad to report, this lady’s got her groove back. Quite literally. I even started putting those lyrics from yesterday to music! I’m basically squeezing every moment of time possible for myself between diaper changes, errands, cooking dinner, and loads and loads of laundry. Yes, that’s me. Covered in spit up and wearing pajamas for most of the day. Glamour!
Anyway, after talking a bit last night with Paul Jessup, a writer who’s been a friend since I started going on the Internet and referring to myself as an author, I decided I wanted to offer a few words of wisdom about becoming a successful writer.
So I wrote a little manifesto. I’m indebted to a few for this, because not all this is new (in particular Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife and Stephen King’s On Writing). These are just the things that I’ve learned that are helpful especially for newer writers.
1.) There is only one secret to writing. And that is writing the best book you can possibly write.
2.) Writing well for you is not the same as writing well for others. Learn to figure out what it is that you write, and why it’s important to write it. Know your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll never be perfect, but awareness is the key to growth.
3.) No how-to book can teach you how to write. The only way to write is to read. And then write. Then read more. And more. And write more. Ad nauseum. You have to be in love with words and stories and characters and process. You have to be prepared to be alone, to sit up late at night and stay in love.
4.) Don’t follow agents and publishers on Twitter/Facebook/whatever until you’re ready AND until your book is ready. In some cases, I’d say to steer clear in general unless you know them personally. While their insight is helpful, I’ve seen it be more of a hindrance than a help for most writers who are too tempted to submit (unprepared) manuscripts in the face of all that social media influence. Not to mention, it’s a distraction you don’t need when writing. (After spending the better part of the last two years unconnected to the writing Twitter feeds, I’ve got to say there’s a lot less noise in my head; I keep it limited to my friends now, and very few industry folk. You can’t let the floodgates in, you’ll drown.)
5.) If you think you’re book is ready, it’s probably not. Edit it again. Share it with more friends. Leave it in a desk for a year. Let it cure. Like good bacon.
6.) Don’t even think about writing a query if your book isn’t ready. (Also, don’t even think about pitching/pestering/following/paying attention to agents/authors/publishers, either.)
7.) Make friends who are writers. Make them diverse, across genres, backgrounds, experiences, genders. Learn from them. Be kind to them. They will lift you up, connect you, support you when you need them most. Those relationships will help build your (and their) career.
8.) Don’t measure your success by your friends’ successes. Your career isn’t theirs. Keep going. While you’re at it: Focus on your own goals, and makes sure they’re realistic.
9.) Throw out your definition of success and think of a better one. It’s never what you think it is.
10.) Grow a thick skin.
11.) Grow a thicker skin. Everyone gets bad reviews. People will inevitably, somewhere along the way, hate your book. They might even hate you. If you’re not ready to face that, you’ll crumble. You’re allowed a meltdown now and again (I can speak to experience on this one) but you need to learn to bounce back, and remember that you’re a writer and you are putting yourself and your work out there because it needs to be shared.
12.) Be kind. Many writers don’t have 10 & 11, and never do. Also many writers are not kind or nice in any way. And they might be successful. Still, don’t burn bridges with reviews/commentary/criticism unless you’re prepared.
13.) Go to conventions as an attendee, then as a guest. Repeat.
14.) Enthusiasm is required. However, understand that there is such a thing as too much PR/self-promotion/spam. People will stop listening if you flood the channels.
15.) There is no easy way out. There is only one secret to writing. And that is writing the best book you can possibly write.
A few notes. Personally, I’ve struggled with 10 & 11. I’m really bad at getting back up on the horse following rejections. Even nicer ones. Part of my problem is that I’m a very non-competitive person, and it’s honestly easier to be inactive than to get rejections. Once this current book is at Draft Zero, I’m going to be evaluating the current trunk full of novels I’ve given up on.
And listen, social media is great. I’ve made some of the best connections through it. But it’s become a mire. Half the people who follow me are self-publishing zealots spamming their feeds with their books (on sale for .99!). I mean, props to them. They’re making this a business. But their approach is not my approach. Yes, miracles do happen. Unexpected books break free and find huge popularity. But popularity isn’t success. Not for me. My biggest moment of success? Getting an awesome Library Journal review for Pilgrim of the Sky. Quite literally, I’ve never felt so downright euphoric in my writing career, ever. I was sitting in the car at a supermarket in Boone, NC, about to leave cell service territory, when I got the email from Kate at Candlemark, and I had to read it over twenty times and I couldn’t stop giggling. That made all the work feel so worthwhile.
And sure, most agents and publishers are well meaning. I don’t know. I don’t know their motives personally. But a lot of them come across as if they’re on power trips or use social media as their personal griping boards. Sure, it’s nice to know what agents are looking for. But you shouldn’t write for them. They are not your audience. They’re the gatekeepers, in some instances (though less and less so as the face of publishing is changing so quickly). And just because you get an agent doesn’t mean you’re happier. Some of the saddest people I know are authors with representation who are still going nowhere.
The thing is, the industry can and will change at the drop of a hat. The only constant is you, the writer, the content creator. Which is why the secret/no-secret is in your hands.
So go write, already! The world’s waiting for your best.
I’ve been very behind in providing reviews for Pilgrim of the Sky — mostly due to being insanely busy and preparing to bring the new little creature into the world (9 weeks to go, for those who are counting). However, I am grateful and thrilled that so many people have connected with the book, and offer here a few choice bits for you to read:
The novel is grand in scope, rich in description and full of wonderful discovery. It will take you from the present modern world to a world born of an alternate history which parallels our own to a wholly ancient and powerful realm. It has plenty of originality while echoing the elements of other authors such as Neil Gaiman and Phillip Pullman — comparisons I make with great compliment. It’s a fun adventure and one I hope you embark on yourself.
From Steampunk Canada:
All of the main characters in Natania Barron’s story have substance and their interactions are well crafted and complex. The mysteries and mythology in her tale are nicely designed and she reveals them a little at a time, always leaving a little unsaid. It made me want to sit far longer than I intended to read on and find out more.
By the story’s climax I was, I fully admit it, bawling my eyes out. I won’t say whether through sorrow or mirth, but it was, to state it simply, amazing.
All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and would be a good introduction to steampunk for someone who wants to ease in (only one of the eight worlds is steampunk, after all, even if it is the one where the most time is spent). If you enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s Heaven and Hell, wanted to follow Alice Through the Looking Glass, or thought Gaiman’s Anansi Boys could do with a few more corsets and a touch of lace, do yourself a favor and read Pilgrim of the Sky.
From Game Vortex:
Pilgrim of the Sky is a peculiar book, but an interesting one. There’s a lot of story to absorb and the characters skip about through different worlds, so it can be difficult to keep it all straight in your head. While the story did have a definite end, only Worlds One, Two, Six and Eight were truly explored and I have a feeling there may be a sequel in the works in the mind of the author to explore the other worlds.
Additionally you can hear me and my silliness on a variety of podcasts including:
In which I think aloud for a few paragraphs… pardon the navel gazing.
The burden of words. It’s quite something, I tell you. And at the moment I’m finding it to be on the verge of utterly overwhelming. I have all these stories, all these books and novels and ideas, and instead of a calm, steady stream (the way I’ve written for the better part of the last five years) it’s a frozen lake. A frozen lake filled with strange faces and whispers under the icy surface, all jumbled together, staring at me, challenging me.
And I’ve got analysis paralysis. I have too much to work on, so much so that I just don’t know what to write. Those ideas, all frozen there beneath the surface, they taunt me. Snippets of one story, the challenge of another, the feeling that I don’t want to abandon this one or that one. I can’t call it writer’s block, because it certainly isn’t that I have nothing to write. It’s the entire opposite. I have a glut of words and possibilities and I just don’t know what the heck to do. The noise of it all is intense.
Glassmere was supposed to be my focus. Working full time instead of freelance has changed my writing habits, but not that much; I’ve always been an evening writer, though those evenings are shorter than they used to be. Time isn’t my problem. Brain noise and the challenge of this book is. Glassmere is very personal, and for that reason it’s very hard to write, and I keep wondering if I’m just not up for the challenge of it, if it’s not yet time for me to write it. I want the story to be told, but so far it’s been something like 15,000 words of writing and rewriting, and I’m tired of trying to wrestle it into submission. It’s honestly exhausting.
Then there’s Indigo & Ink. I have to rewrite the whole thing. The. Whole. Thing. There’s just no way around it, and I have to admit my pride has been shaken in this instance. While I was writing it I really thought it was The Best Thing Ever. But now, after other eyes have seen it and I’ve had a chance to go through it, all I see is where it’s lacking, wanting.
Its cousin, The Ward of the Rose is the sequel to The Aldersgate. But this is problematic twofold. I want to revise The Aldersgate, and I can’t finish Ward until it’s revised and fixed. I wouldn’t even be considering revising The Aldersgate if it hadn’t been for a bunch of folks stumbling upon my podcast and demanding the sequel (nicely). I should have written the second book a long time ago, but well, you’ve already heard that saga.
Which is all not to mention other books prickling at the back of my mind. Heroic fantasy, Arthurian re-tellings. Finished books, in those two cases, but also in need of revision like whoa. And that’s not even to talk about Herald of the Morn, the sequel to Pilgrim of the Sky which is, basically, candy and easy to write and, in general, makes me feel guilty because I have so many unfinished things I should be working on. Or, also, The Gnome and the Necromancer which is decent for YA, and is also a candy book.
I know I’m not perfect. I’m acutely aware of my shortcomings as a writer, as I think we all must be in order to improve. But for some reason in the last few months I’ve felt as if the wind has gone out of my sails in terms of my own confidence. I’m thinking way too much about what I’m writing (whether it’s a period piece and I’m freaking out about language, fashion, and culture, or it’s a secondary world and I’m freaking out about pacing and style and magic). I wrote about confidence before, but I thought I had a handle on it. Yet the word count for the year tells me otherwise. The magic of previous years just isn’t there right now, and I know 90% of it is totally me.
So these are my questions I’ve been asking. Because at this point, I’ve got to dig deeper than prose. I’ve got to go ice fishing in this freezing lake and see what bites, what takes hold, and ultimately what ends up a meal, not a long day of sitting and waiting.
What makes most sense to work on from a “career” standpoint? Well, clearly Herald of the Morn is a book that’s a followup to something that’s actually being published. So, that sounds pretty smart. However, it’s a sequel and that assumes a certain amount of audience participation across the board, and that’s all risky. Gnome is definitely the most marketable (UF, YA), but is it me? No clear answer there.
What do I want to write the most? I keep telling myself that Glassmere is that answer, but I think the water’s too murky in this case. I’m exceptionally self-conscious as I write this. Wharton-influenced manor house “through the lookinglass” fantasy? Yes, absolutely I want to read this book. This is the sort of book I would love to read. But will anyone else give a crap? So even though the answer is clear on that count, I’m not sure it’s the best decision.
What do other people want me to write? Success wise I’ve reached more people with The Aldersgate than anything. And I keep getting reminders that people want to read it and its followup.
What makes me happy? Writing makes me happy. Falling in love makes me happy. Falling in love with the world and the characters and the story. Being so wrapped up in the story that the whole world vibrates with it, that every whisper and strain of music takes you there. I had that with Indigo & Ink, due in no small part to the fact that I’m a little in love with Ash Malcom and I do think with some restructuring he can really hold up the majority of the book.
Seriously, I’m almost at the point where I just want to chart all this crap out and CHOOSE SOMETHING. Because my approach for the last few weeks of writing 500-1000 words in any one of these projects and bouncing around is really not going to be good for the long haul.
Wondering if any of you out there have had similar experiences. Little time, lots of words. What helped you get through? What got your mojo back? A few considerations include: getting some readers for one of these projects and promising to keep up with revised/new work (read: accountability), tossing everything out and starting a new project, submitting a few things so at least I don’t think about them for a while, or possibly taking a break and just working on short stories for a while.
I love the word maelstrom. I also love the word mayhem. They are related and have a certain alliterative delight, don’t they? Sure, this is just an update post and nowhere near as exciting as the last post. But yay! Updates.
At any rate. I am currently in the middle of a few fun things. I may have mentioned this on Twitter, or other places, but I’m now a fiction editor over at Bull Spec, the publication which in many ways is responsible for a great deal of the success I’ve seen in the last few years. I truly don’t know what folks do without robust writing communities like we have here in the Triangle of North Carolina. And Bull Spec has been at the center of that. I’m particularly thrilled to be working on selecting fiction, but, since I can’t ever just do one thing, I’m also helping out with web strategy and other fun things.
BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY: We’re having a Kickstarter fundraiser to keep our publication going. Did I mention we’re SFWA qualified? And if you’d like more fiction, and you’d like to see us continue to pay our writers, please consider pledging!
I submitted my last pass of Pilgrim of the Sky a few weeks ago and now I’m in the process of finagling a decent audio recording of the book. I’ve set up a little hole in my closet where I surround myself in foam and read into a microphone. Fascinating stuff, truly. But it’s great to be back recording again; I’ve really missed it. Of course I decided to do a book with a thousand complications (how exactly do you do a voice within someone’s head?) but I never was one to take the road more traveled. The rest of the book proceeds apace, and I even saw a glimpse of the layout of the book which, in all honesty, made me a little giddy.
I’m still trying to settle in to a book as far as writing goes, and I have a few clamoring for my attention. And by a “few” I mean four. Some days I want to lock them all up in a room and shut the door, but somehow I don’t think that would help matters, because I’d just end up with another idea. And the last thing I need right now is another idea!
For my birthday in June I bought a Kindle. I love it. End Stop. I’ve read more books in the last few months than I have in the last two years, and it’s actually becoming a habit for me. Having finished a good chunk of Edith Wharton’s oeuvre, I then finished A Dance With Dragon and am now simulreading: The Magician King on the Kindle and Glimpses by Lewis Shiner on audiobook (both suggestions from Mr. Montgomery-Blinn who astounds me with his ability to read so many amazing books.
I’ve got a short story near ready to ship. I wrote it a year ago. People laugh when I tell them it takes me longer to write short stories than novels, but it’s true. My lovely local writers group really seemed to like the story, mostly, and after I attend to some edits I’ll be putting it through the submission factory. Full disclosure: I did submit the story, once. And it was politely rejected. And I have sat on it since! Boo.
And that’s mostly it. In a few weeks we’re headed to Dragon*Con, which is always an experience. Looking forward to hanging out with friends old and new, causing trouble, and flouncing around in steampunk garb.