I think it’s safe to say that I was pretty excited when I finished a draft of my book. So…now what?
Well, I’ve sent my ms out to a handful of friends to provide some feedback. At this point it seems like I need to know how it works as a novel – does it hang together? does it end in the right place? are the various threads sewn up in a satisfying way? I feel like the BIG questions of the novel need to get answered via some feedback, because ultimately those BIG things will be the most cumbersome and time-consuming to work on. Fleshing out scenes and moments and dialogue and exposition areas – that all seems like something I can manage in a single revision, once I’m feeling solid on the trajectory of the book.
So, great. But, that may take a little while to trickle back to me, so in the meantime…I’m working on a new story idea!
The path to writing the last novel was circuitous and maddening. It started out as an exercise in writing a pulpy fantasy story. Sword-fighting! Magic! Made-up words! That draft was awful, in so many ways, but mostly just because I didn’t know how to write. I’ve since learned how to write more better, which is great, so when I wanted to write a good version of that book, I had to take a look at what I wanted to keep – and pretty much the only thing I kept was a character that could change into various other people.
The whole story developed by working backward from that – trying to determine what kind of world would enable a shape-shifting individual to exist, what kind of challenges would they face just being who they were, etc.
But more than anything, I tried to understand what that feeling was that was driving me to write about that type of character, because (I imagined), if I understood that feeling, then I’d be able to infuse each page with some of that ineffable material. It seemed like that feeling came from wanting to explore themes of alienation, disillusionment, and the fluidity of identity. But that feeling was also something more abstract and loaded all at once – it was also a kind of color (indigo?), it sounded a certain way (formal, it turns out), and it had a doomed vibration. So, I tried my hardest to get that sensation onto the page wherever I could. And because of that, I think I did accomplish that goal – it is definitely a book about the fluidity of identity, disillusionment, alienation, and it is doomy as a motherfucker. It’s a bleak and unpleasant story, with only momentary victories throughout. Yay.
Something occurred to me somewhere in the middle of writing that book: epic fantasy is maybe not the best venue for these ideas. At that point I really started to wonder if the last vestige of the original draft was the fantasy setting, and that perhaps its third iteration would be a realist story, set in modern times, with only a singular magical/fantastical element – the shape-shifting – remaining.
But anyway, I finished the book. So…I’m not worrying about that for a while – at least not until I get some feedback from friends.
Really why I’m mentioning any of this is to frame the new story, because the one big goddamned lesson I learned from writing the last book is this – OHMYGODHAVEITFIGUREDOUTAHEADOFTIME. My new suspicion is that this last book may have mostly served to teach me all the things not to do in writing a book.
So, at this point I actually feel ready to write a book – because I know I need a fucking PLAN.
Here’s the plan – built mostly out of things that I don’t want to do again:
* Female protagonist, and here’s why: I’m a man. My friend, Rahul, (read anything of his you can find – it’s terrific stuff) gave me some excellent advice about gender writing that I will not replicate here on the off chance that he both reads my blog and for whatever reason doesn’t want that advice to be public (it’s not provocative in any way, but it’s not mine to share). So, while writing the last book, I found the stuff written from a male POV filtering through my own perceptions of the world. Whenever I was in a female POV, it just seemed really liberating, probably because it forced me to consider the world a little differently – and frankly I think there’s a benefit to me considering the world a little differently.
* Set in modern times. This is a big one for two reasons: 1.) It is really frustrating to choke off access to hundreds of years of language, not least of which is all that awesome language that I actually use and am deeply familiar with. And what of all that glorious profanity? Yes! A thousand times yes! Fuck yes, I might say (in the new story!). 2.) World-building. Look, the world around us got built, and it took a lot of people and a lot of stuff happening. There is even a rich tapestry of conflicting viewpoints – and I have a passing understanding of some of that stuff, especially that stuff that is geographically close to me, and involving people I’m aware of. So a hearty “thank you” to reality, because I intend to be making use of it. In related news – world-building in my second world epic fantasy story was a bit of a chore.
* Humor – Do you know what doesn’t contain a lot of humor? My second world, sort-of-period epic fantasy novel. Who knew an exploration of identity, alienation, and disillusionment would be such a dour, humorless story? Well, anyone, I guess. But no more of that! My mother and I both think I’m pretty funny. It sure would be fun to have some of that fun with something I’m writing.
* An external threat that is unambiguously “bad.” Yes, that’s right, no more careful shading of grays; in with the black and white moralizing! I am pretty tired of everyone being the bad guy. Yes, this new book will have a big bad, and it will be eeee-ville! EVIL! The protagonist can be complicated, and so can the people she associates with, but that baddy needs to get stopped – at all costs! Because it’s evil. In an uncomplicated way. Yesssssss.
* Fantasy/SF elements will be tied to real-world concepts of speculative science and mysticism. Done and done. Again, the real world has provided us with many batshit ideas on mysticism – why not trump one or several up to the level of genre-narrative interest?
So, that’s the new story: a female protagonist based out of the here and now (likely right here in the bay area!), comically cursing her way to a fantastical showdown against the forces of evil.
Now all I have to do is find a way to differentiate this story from the thousands of other stories that share these traits…Hmmm.