TagThe Lost

A farewell to Phoenix

phoenix-200

Remember this cover? I love it. I actually love it so much that even though my original idea was something grittier–an old gull feather, gap-toothed and roughened, turning to flame–and even though the font suggested something other than a story about three kids living oh-so-briefly on the street together, I gave an enthusiastic yes as soon as I saw it. I have it framed and hanging over my desk, courtesy of my brother.

Phoenix was an experiment of a story. It was also an experiment in publishing for me. The number of markets for novelettes is…small. I tried Giganotosaurus and got a nice rejection with a try again note. (I did, because that was the year of two novelettes. Luckily The King’s Huntsman found a home there a few months later.) I sat around for a while, wondering what to do with it. Well, to be honest, it was less thinking and more putting it in the file of things that I don’t what to do with, because that’s how it goes sometimes.

I considered self-publishing it. (That’s where my cover idea came in.) I read up on it. I talked it over with Dear Spouse. I thought about it more. In my heart, I knew the answer. I was chicken. At that moment, it was easier to think about burying the story than it was to think about putting it into the world on my own.

Then Musa came along. It was new, it was e-book only, it was open to all sorts of stories, at all sorts of lengths. Their contract was available to read online, and it was easy to understand, and they provided covers and formatting and editing and split story profits 50/50. Given my status as chicken, and my dearth of options, I decided to submit it there.

I never thought of it as a young adult story, but it ended up in the hands of the YA editor at that time, and she provided me with a very persuasive argument for why it was. She agreed to a few amendments to the contract, I signed it, and Phoenix was birthed as an e-book. A very short one.

It’s a gamble working with brand new publishers. Don’t ever assume it isn’t. I submitted Phoenix because it was a novelette, the equivalent of a few days work for me. I signed the contract because I asked them to remove the clause that gave them right of first refusal on any related stories. See, Phoenix is kin to Wren and The Lost. Secret kin, kind of like the royal child raised far from the castle to avoid the violent intrigue within. I was happy to gamble with a novelette, but not with one of my novels.

The contract was for three years, and would have ended this May. Things have sped up. Musa closes on February 28. It happens, to many many presses of all kinds. When I signed my contract, I did so knowing that the odds were against them.

The odds were against Phoenix too. My sales goals were low. I was pleased to exceed them. I had a very small, very manageable experience of marketing an e-book. I learned a little about how to do that while working with my personality, which is not of the “BUY NOW, BUY BUY BUY” variety. I had an e-book with a beautiful design, and it taught me gratitude to the people who think about how a story is presented, who make an art of it.

It’s been good. And now it’s just about over. Phoenix is still available through all the various online vendors through the 28th. It’s on sale at Musa, 80% off, which I think brings it down to $0.40? After Saturday, the rights return to me. The cover returns to pixels. The story settles back into my files, resting among its Aware brethren. I don’t think it will stay there forever, but it will for now. I hope to someday have an Aware story collection, and Phoenix would certainly be part of it.

But for now, a pause. A passing.

Remember: The thing about stories is that they’ve got to have hope.

February 2, 2015

It’s snowing here. More than a little. The view onto the deck suggests the snow is attempting to swallow the house, a sort of slow and steady boa constrictor approach. The question is whether it will succeed before spring weather arrives. I’m giving it fifty-fifty odds at the moment.

I’ve been on a writing tear, which means things like blogs move way down in life hierarchy. This is the time when my family has to ask me the same question repeatedly before it will sift down into my brain, when I have to remind myself of the date or the time of day, and feel startled to discover it is February, not high summer, like it is in The Lost. It’s when I check phone messages and have that little touch of disappointment that none of them have called, and I must remind myself that they don’t call because they exist only in my head.

In other words, pure magic.

So, I’m not here much. I’m on Twitter a bit because it provides the mental equivalent of getting up and walking around the room for a few minutes. I’m making one of two salads (roasted beet/arugula or kale/quinoa) and eating them while thinking of other places, other times. I’m working on yet another hat, this one for my daughter, dark brown to help her blend into the trees outdoors, and listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell read aloud by my husband while the kids and I knit. I’m walking up and down the road, thinking, thinking, thinking.

And the writing? Still a tremendous mess at this point. New pieces to write, old pieces to choose, tenses to rearrange. It’s not just the history of that world I’m rearranging, it’s my own as well. We all live in houses inside our heads, and much of mine has been gutted and rebuilt since I last worked on this story. For now, there are moments when it feels impossibly difficult, and others when it feels effortless. The only absolute is the need to keep going.

In Crossroads, I made a deliberate decision to avoid romance with a capital R. There were a handful of reasons for this, not the least of which was that Blue’s quest was about family, about art, about friendship, about the kinds of love that don’t turn up in Valentine’s cards. By comparison, The Lost is drenched in desire. It’s also part of a bigger arc, and every piece I place now requires thought about how it reverberates through the story as a whole. There are moments when I miss Blue’s open plains, her determination to continue forward, alone, until she’s reached her journey’s end.

That’s the thing, I suppose, about houses in our heads. New wings can be built, strangers become friends, the view from every window can be different. Open one door, I’m looking out from a freight train onto spring in Idaho. Open another, it’s summer in an old farmhouse, and everything is about to break, but for this moment it is quiet and home.

The snow is slowing a bit. My brain is not. Off to write again.

Of hair and skeletons

As I continue on my Great Revisioning Adventure, I’m finding myself moving slowly. When last I left you, I was coming to terms with how growing as a writer meant looking at The Lost in new ways. It was good, and a little exciting, and I was enjoying myself.

Lately I’ve been thinking about hair. My daughter’s been struggling with the woes that befall long thick hair in winter, namely, giant snarls where her coat and hat meet her neck. Working them out takes time, and patience, on her part and mine. It makes me think of Ash and Dust, of Jaz braiding her adopted daughter’s hair and giving her a story with each braid. I’m largely mute while working on the snarls, because I’m not someone who tends to have an ongoing patter of conversation.

All of which is not the reason I haven’t been writing. Her snarls are bad, but not that bad. No, it’s more that working on her hair and working on The Lost feel much the same at this point. What I am finding, in the novel and in most of my writing, is a certain level of frustration with what I want to do and what my abilities are.

When I started writing again (yes, that old story), I was giddy. Whenever I finished something, I more or less ran around and shouted “LOOK, IT CAME OUT OF MY HEAD!!!” Three exclamation points and all. I loved it, and I thought very little about how I wrote, just did it and was shocked as hell that anyone else actually wanted to read it.

I wish I still lived in that place. I don’t, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When I’m working on entirely new stories, it’s less of an issue. (Sort of–there is that one story that wants to be two stories woven into one, with two different worlds and two different tenses, and two different POVs, and…ARGH. I want to be so much better than I am.) Once you learn how to make a roux, you generally incorporate that understanding into your sauce-making, rather than relearning it each time you cook.

But returning to work on The Lost, that’s something else entirely. Back when I wrote it, when I wrote all my earlier stories, I did everything by intuition. That’s part of what made it so much fun. I just wrote things as they came to me, and hoped that they fit together in the end.

Stories have skeletons, though. They have layers of bone and viscera and skin. Hopefully those things aren’t obvious when you’re reading, just as you don’t stare at your cat and think about intestines. (Well, maybe you do, but I’m guessing most people don’t. That’s right, right? Is this another place I need more education?). If you’re me, and if you’re working on something you love, something you wrote years ago, and you’re revising it in a major way, those hidden pieces are suddenly very important. They are, in fact, essential to understand if the refinished product is going to hold together.

Which brings me back to my daughter’s hair. Long slow work, because I love my daughter and her head is sensitive, so I work out the snarls strand by strand, while humming, or listening, or dreaming. Sometimes the slowness is almost more than I can bear, but I do my best to stay the pace. The Lost has snarls too. I want it to be easy, I want everything to be smooth, but…sensitive story, lots of love…this work needs to be slow and careful. Once it’s all untangled, once I know where everything goes, then I can continue on.

A sea of scenes

Blustery!

That is the word for the day. The light coming in the window flashes here and there as the pines wave in the wind. I went for a walk earlier and skittered along on the ice, watching chickadees chatter in the trees.

Inside, the Great Rewrite Adventure has hit an expected snag. Namely, the difficulty of explaining things, again, while maintaining the requisite level of freshness. I need to knock back the “my toys, figure it out yourself” urge that comes up when I look for new ways of describing the Aware.

That’s not the sole issue, though. When I wrote The Lost, I structured it the way that made sense to me: sequentially. There are three acts, and the first takes place over a period of time six to eight years prior to the last two. I love the first act (have I mentioned that I love the whole novel), but the continuity is challenging.

Trying to coax readers through that change in time taught me more about writing for others than practically any other experience I’ve had. It was the first point at which I really thought about all the pieces and how I needed to lay them out. It was the transition between writing totally for my own entertainment and writing for the entertainment of others. Blue Riley exists only because of what I learned writing The Lost.

But the truth is that the time change remains a hard leap. It’s more than just the time. By sticking to a linear shape that begins with teens, I set up the expectation of young adult fiction. It could go that way. I could force everything into a different time span. In fact, I’ve already done it. Wren is the first act, written from a different POV and with a YA focus.

In thinking about which pieces are most important to save, though, because much of the work of this rewrite is triage, I’ve realized I’m more drawn to the later acts. To focus on the first act, no matter how I love it, is to change so much of everything that follows. To be clear, what follows are two more books, so the change is not insignificant. (A note on the trilogy: most people will tell you never to write a trilogy without selling the first book. This is logical, if you write the first book with the goal of publication. If you do not, and if part of your goal in writing all three books is to learn about writing novels, then plowing ahead works really well.)

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as lopping off the beginning. The new version has become a nonlinear story, told from the POV of a character whose damaged mind wavers between present and memory. For now, I’m sifting through that first third, searching for the pivotal scenes and thinking about where they need to be woven into the rest. It’s complicated work, something like a jigsaw puzzle lacking an image to refer to. Which details stay, which details go, how much needs to be retained to maintain the essence of the original story? If I move this, how much do the characters shift, and in a direction I want?

Okay, time to go warm my hands and get to work. Stay cozy.

Saturday afternoon, November 22, 2014

First, a gripe.

This is how writing a blog post works in my house:

1. Turn on the computer.
2. Wait five to ten minutes for it to rouse from its unearthly slumber.
3. Connect to internet. (Note: this used to be fun to listen to, up until the speakers died. Now it’s simply a lot of waiting.)
4. Load blog.
5. Load page to make new post.
6. Reload page after it loads as a blank page.
7. Reload page, after it times out while loading.
8. Reload page, after it loads as a mostly blank page.
9. Page loaded after only fifteen minutes of trying!
10. Take deep breath and remind self that there are still many hours left to Saturday afternoon.

Massachusetts, right? I mean, it’s not like we’re not known for our industry, our technology, our education. If I say I’m from Massachusetts, first thing anyone thinks is “poor thing, bet she’s still years and years away from having high speed internet access.” At this point, it’s pretty clear that we’ll be getting rid of dial-up right around the time that other folks are jacking directly into their computers through their artfully designed arm ports.

Anyway, while it is still cold enough to make me cry, there’s blue sky outside. I’ve made a giant box of papers to be sorted into half a giant box and a bag of paper recycling, which deserves a cheer or two. I convinced the cat not to eat a large feather, I convinced the dog to go back to sleep, and I’ll be making cauliflower cheese soup for dinner later. It’s really not a bad day.

And writing? I think I mentioned that I was resculpting The Lost, did I not? I am, and it’s kind of a terrifying, glorious project. It’s not just the how and why aspects of it. It’s examining who I was as a writer in 2008, when I finished the first copy, and who I am now. Crazy stuff, trust me.

People don’t tend to admit that writing is partly about falling totally and inappropriately in love with something that works for no one but yourself. It just is, like loving pumpkin cheesecake so much that some part of you would happily hide it away and pretend you didn’t have it, just so you didn’t have to share. The trick is understanding at what point it becomes unhealthy, as a person, as a writer. Yes, it hurts to peel things apart and rewrite them sometimes, but if your goal is to communicate with at least some of the world, it can be a necessary thing.

It makes my heart ache a bit, though, when I hear writers talk about how their first works were terrible. The Lost was written in multiple tenses, in first person and third, had maybe the worst death scene ever written, and it was perfect for what it was–me learning to tell a story. The second version was better, and the third, and the sequel had some awesome and some not-awesome, and I love them all, and am happy to say that they were exactly what they needed to be, even though they were not what they needed to be to be published.

This is the thing I always tell the kids I work with (and anyone else that will listen): What you are doing when you sit down to draft a story is weaving a bolt of cloth. Not a suit, not a dress, not a tent. Just the cloth. Once you have that cloth, then you can figure out what to do with it. In the meantime, love what you’re doing.

Two final notes. One, my last story for the year, There’s Always A Nuclear Bomb At The End, will be in Daily Science Fiction this Friday. More about it then.

And two, if you haven’t already read Ursula Le Guin’s speech from the National Book Awards, please do. Better yet, watch it. I would, but, you know, dial-up.

Who am I?

I’ve been rereading The Lost recently. I’m working on a completely different project, one that requires a bit of planning, so I’m only writing a chapter or so a day. In my spare time, I’m playing with The Lost and figuring out how to rearrange it. I have a massive revision in mind, one involving structure, not story.

It’s fun to read it again after so much time away. It’s impossible not to compare it with Wren. They cover some of the same territory, but from such different angles, and with very different POV characters.

Wren lives in a world of near constant mental stimulation. Isis doesn’t, not in the same way. Isis feels her way through the world, literally. She’s very tactile. She’s also frightened of people, of touch, which leaves her at odds with her nature. It’s a fun friction to work with in a story. One of my favorite scenes involves just the brushing of pinkies across a table.

That friction…I couldn’t have explained it when I was writing it. I approach things a little more clinically now than I did then, but I still tend to feel my way through a story. Afterward, that’s when I identify those necessary threads and figure out how to pull them taut. Until then I try to sit in the character’s skin the same way I sit in my own. Efficient? No. Messy? Yes. Surprising? Almost always.

Almost there

I should be finished with my latest pass through Wren later today. Everything is finally in the right place, more or less. It was a great shaggy mass of a story to work, kind of like oatmeal bread dough, wet and sticky and hard to shape. The good news is that it now looks and reads more or less the way it should.

My difficulty in working on Wren had everything to do with my process, and what happens when I don’t follow it. I wrote The Lost in the space of a couple months. I wrote its unnamed successor in a similar time frame. Working like that means the story is constantly in my head, and I sort through plot details on a daily basis, making changes as I go.

I wrote Wren off and on over eighteen months. Too many breaks, too much time in which to lose plot and character threads. It’s been an adventure sorting it all out.

Were my process different, were I someone who started with a detailed outline, for example, it likely would have been a different experience. But minds work in their own ways. Mine does better working out details as I write, rather than plotting it out in advance. Same process, whether with novels, short stories, or, long ago, college papers. The act of writing allows my mind to make connections that would be a struggle otherwise.

Anyway, one or two more revision passes and Wren will be done!

What then? I wrote a short story this weekend. I have a handful more waiting for my time. I have the short story that will not die waiting for me to take it out and despair over it again. And with Wren complete, it will be time to revise The Lost (the stories overlap), something I’m eager to do.

Smooch smooch

A confession. I like writing first kisses.

I’d make a horrible erotica writer. I’d make a horrible romance writer (in the commercial publishing sense of the word). I’m not very interested in the follow-through, just in those few moments of discovery. So much can be contained in a kiss. There are times when I think the entire story of The Lost can be boiled down to three very different kisses.

Phoenix also has just three–two magical, one, well, that one’s magic is of a different sort. At least it is for Tucker, experiencing his first kiss: The space between us vanished, his hand traveling along my cheek, my neck, before he pulled me into a kiss. A regular kiss, but I believed it could turn my hair white, leave moonlight on my lips. I think I made a little squeak of some sort, his shirt rough as I gripped it.

Wren makes me suffer a bit. Wren has the kiss that doesn’t happen. Thwarted energy is a good thing for a novel, but it can be hell on the writer. At least it is when you know you’re setting up something that plays out over four books. All those turns, all those possibilities lost with each simple action taken.

In another book, the unwritten one, the kiss happens, and another path is taken, and the series becomes a single book whose ending comes with a white picket fence and a garden with roses in front. It would make for a wonderful life, but perhaps a boring story.

No kiss.

Sea Glass update

“Sea Glass” is here!

Again, thank you to the hardworking folks at Abyss and Apex. They put together a beautiful publication.

“Sea Glass” was the first short story I wrote after my dry years. It comes from a story mentioned in The Lost about a girl, a beach, and an experience that broke two brothers apart and set the stage for everything that happens in Wren and the Aware novels.

But first there are just Elgin and Jacob and Beth.

Story facts?

It was originally called “Beach Glass.” Then, in a fit of writer insecurity, I read up on beach glass and sea glass and decided the name should be changed.

I’ve hiked down to a cave full of anemones a handful of times. It’s beautiful, and only accessible at absolute low tide.

I feel like I should have more interesting things to say about this story, but at the moment it just feels good to see it published.

Assertiveness

A quote, from Jhumpa Lahiri:

“And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, “Listen to me.””

It’s a curiosity to me how I stopped writing for so many years, and started again writing something very different from I once had. I think both stopping and starting stemmed completely from willfulness, from my need to find it.

The quote comes from her wonderful personal essay in the New Yorker about becoming a writer, “Trading Stories.” You can read the whole thing here. I thoroughly recommend it. (And yes, it is from last June’s issue, but when you read your New Yorkers as hand-me-downs, your reading schedule is a little slower than most.)

© 2017 Cosmic Driftwood

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑