When You Accidentally Start Writing the Wrong Novel

So I hit my self-imposed goal of 30,000 words by January 25th. Yes, I realize now in looking over my 2021 Goals post that I’d said 20,000, but proceeded to then forget the actual number and went with what I vaguely remembered—30k.

The other…interesting hiccup is that this…isn’t the novel I started with. See, I was about 15k into a different novel, then this thing came along and blindsided me. Words were coming slow for the 15k one, so I decided, on a lark, I’d try my hand at fanfiction just to shake things up.

The attempt last less than a day. I categorically failed at writing fanfiction.

What I did succeed at, though, was starting a completely different book, a book that I humored for the first 1,000 words. Then the second. Then the third. And by the time I hit 10k in less than a week, I had to admit to myself that, er, this was the new book, not the other.

Essentially, I’ve written 30,000 words in three weeks. That’s probably the most productive I’ve been in sheer word count since undergrad. Huh.

In retrospect, I tried to pull the other one out of the proofing drawer too soon, and while it looked risen at first, the more I tried to knead it, the more I realized it hadn’t built up the gluten. This thing is more like the baking equivalent of three ingredient no-knead bread.*

It’s also an absolute blast to write. I’m currently sitting at 32K and honestly, my output has only slowed because grad school started this week and I’m still acclimating to that.

This is not the novel I intended to write, but it is the novel that’s getting written. Which is…interesting, to say the least. In many respects, this is the first novel I’ve worked on without a formal outline planned. Yes, I know where it’s going, but because it’s rather more linear that my previous ones and, so far, has just the one viewpoint character, it seems to require less pre-writing, less balancing of story threads, so I can fall back more on plain-old play. “Oooh, if I introduce this complication, what’ll happen? Oooh, if it instead jinks to the left here instead of the right, where does that lead?”

It’s also rather refreshing to tackle a project that’s rather finite and, hm, constrained. It’ll probably be a duology, but only because it’d be impractical, size-wise, as one book, but it is one story. There are no standalone components. And, as it’s just the one viewpoint character doing the one thing, I have to juggle fewer future timelines and reveals because, er, it’s rather simple in its structure.

Which brings me to the grand reveal: it’s Chosen One fantasy.

I swore I’d never write Chosen One fantasy. It’s boring, it’s familiar ground, it’s been written to death. And yet…exploring it, directly engaging with it, balancing homage with subversion, has been a fascinating sandbox in which to play.

Also, I really enjoy the idea of a chosen one who’s fast approaching middle age and is, essentially, a level 1 hero but a level 50 quartermaster; all his skills are with numbers, ledger books, and logistics, not with waving swords around and challenging gods. And I’m having far, far too much fun with a character who is ethnically from a certain land, but culturally from another, and struggling to adapt in the land supposedly his homeland when his heart belongs to a completely different place, one that, frankly, is more often the aggressor…

I realize this is incredibly vague. I tend to do that. So! In light of vagueness, I instead present—drumroll, please—concept art!

Because why not riding dinosaurs? No color version yet, but their feather crests are almost macaw-bright, with the rest of their scaly selves more alligator/crocodile in coloration and texture. And with this one, fantastical change, suddenly, I have so much freedom with designing the local flora and fauna. So far, it’s limited to the dinos and a sort of cross between a ring-tailed lemur and a skunk, but I expect this to continue, because why not? Because if I’m going to explore such familiar territory as the Chosen One, I might as well go completely ham with everything else. At the very least, it’ll push my creature-design skills to their limits.

As a challenge, I aim to finish this draft within the year. Step up my production schedule, ’cause three years for a novel is rather long, just in the scheme of making this a career. So! 120K by January 2022.

That’s the goal, at least. We’ll see how this goes.


* Have I been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show? …maybe.

2020 Year in Review/2021 Writerly Resolutions

Although, if I’m to be honest, “resolutions” seems so chiseled in stone and imposing than just “goals” so perhaps we’ll just go with “goals.”

Anyway.

Last year I made a resolutions plan for 2020, some of which I’ve accomplished, some of which I have not. Like the goal of 60 submissions. I don’t think I even made 40 (*cough* 28, according to the Grinder) in 2020 but, erm, there was the whole plague and quarantine that happened, and I lost easily six months of potential writing productivity to just a general sense of hopelessness and defeat. But, hey! Three acceptances! Same as last year, so fewer submissions but same rate of acceptance. Go figure.

I did, however, hit every one of those goals for Dead God’s Bones. I finished the editing pass, then did another, found betas, got feedback, did more editing, found more betas, did more editing, and got my submission packet together. Then decided, er, might be better to wait till 2021 for this. Querying in 2020 didn’t seem either wise nor feasible, so I mostly researched agents, put together my list of who to send it to, and just generally did prep work. I did write at least five short stories (five exactly) and I also started the next book (more on that later—possibly more on that in a separate blog entry). I also did a bit of painting, so there’s that?

I didn’t end up querying In Blood another 20 times; I think I did five or six more then retired it. I thought I’d be absolutely heartbroken but a year of distance between querying it and three years of distance from writing it, and I can see its flaws more clearly. It’s not a bad book, and there are elements of it that I still love, but I’m all right with it just being for me. The component parts don’t fit together as seamlessly as DGB or the new book, and I’d like to think I’ve leveled up as a writer.

So I suppose that’s 2020. The most surprising things this past year mostly happened around my day job. I was promoted, realized I’ve reached the ceiling for advancement/pay without a degree in the field, so applied, was accepted, and am now going back for yet more college.

Moving on to that handy bulleted list I used last year.

2021 Resolutions Goals:

  • Hit 40 submissions again. I need to get back into the habit.
  • Start querying Dead God’s Bones with intent. I have my list, I have my packet, all that remains is to do the legwork. So far, my agent list is about 15 agents strong at this point, but for DGB, I’m going for more targeted querying than I did with In Blood. We’ll see how that works out.
  • Continue working on the new book (more on this in its own dedicated blog post). I’d like to get 20k words in by the time I start school, and while I’d love to have the draft done by this time next year, not sure how feasible that is with grad school looming. I’d be happy with halfway by January of 2022. Anything else is extra credit.
  • Go to school. Again. This time, though, instead of a degree in writing, I’ll be working on a degree in libraries. In my day job under another name, I’m the Assistant Head of Circulation. My goal, however, is to specialize and become either an Outreach Librarian and/or a Reference Librarian.
  • Write 5 new short stories.

Onward to 2021!

Many, Many Months of Books: July-November

Well, it’s been a while. A long while. So long, in fact, that instead of the regular list of books, I’m instead doing a sort of book-collage, particularly since many of the books are technically rereads. Some I’ve featured on here before, some were books I read as a teenager and I decided to come back and read them again as an adult (which has been a rather interesting experience).

So without further ado, the collage:

That’s a lot of books. In short, most of these are rereads, and most of those are comfort-rereads. Covid has hit my TBR pile hard; though I have a teetering stack of books to read, all I’ve wanted to do instead is retread old, familiar ground. And that’s…perfectly fine.

I did want to highlight A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher and The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison as being utter delights that I desperately needed at the time of reading them. Personally, I feel Goodreads is being quite unfair to The Angel of the Crows by saying that it wasn’t “new” enough–I argue that I didn’t WANT new, I didn’t want things turned on their heads. I wanted a sweet retelling of classic Sherlock Holmes with a twist, and that is EXACTLY what I got. It promised what I wanted and followed through entirely and I appreciated the gift of it. I highly recommend it especially if you find yourself entirely overwhelmed by the constant threat of Covid and just want something sweet and familiar and comfortable, and love a good Sherlock Holmes retelling.

Lastly, it was interesting to reread Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah trilogy, which I remember having read somewhere around 14-15 and being disappointed by the third book. 14-15-year-old me didn’t get it. 27-almost-28-year-old me did. In many ways, it hasn’t aged well (20 years is…20 years). In other ways, it was fascinating to read certain details (like not breathing on food and the one culture’s preoccupation with cleanliness and avoiding corruption) in this time of Covid and infection. Just…huh. But teenage me really didn’t understand the concept of merging identities and personalities, of multiple people contained within one, multiple worlds, and the central theme of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Teenage me took it entirely at face-value and was thoroughly confuzzled by the third book (and bored to tears by the second). Adult me appreciates it, and adult writer me found myself endlessly occupied with analyzing the craft side. In many ways, it’s a rough precursor to Berg’s later work, and in that roughness, it’s easier to see the building blocks, the individual components, because the edges aren’t so seamless. And, hoo, the emotional rollercoaster of the third book. Just…damn.

Anyway. Next time around, this won’t be an overwhelming collage-block. Next time, A Month of Books shall return to its usual format.

DGB Updates and Art

After a many month break, I’ve returned to Dead God’s Bones refreshed and ready to get it into shape for querying, because I will NOT have a repeat of In Blood, where I sat on a completed manuscript for three years waiting for…god knows. For the time to be right? For that sudden bolt of inspiration that turns it from a so-so novel into a great one? For my courage to stop cowering in a corner?

Either way, we shall not have a repeat. DGB is going to be submitted, and in a timely manner, before I change too much as a writer and as a person and grow to loathe the thing I’ve made.

So I took a chance.

I posted a call for betas on Reddit.

I’ve been frequenting the Reddit beta readers forums to find beta projects I’d like to work on, but this is the first that I’ve ever put out a call. It’s…a little intimidating. Most of the time, my betas are drawn from a group of other writers I personally know, some through my grad program, some through undergrad, and some through my in-person critique group. I don’t have much need to foray into the wilds of forum boards to find betas.

But, this time around, I wanted someone who doesn’t know me, who hasn’t read an excerpt of this novel somewhere, who will be, more or less, objective. I also find myself in need of someone who loves pointing out mistakes, seeing that I apparently created continuity errors during my last editing pass and I’m not all that great at catching them myself. Thus, beta reader. Thus, Reddit.

Egads.

The plan is to start querying either at by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. I think I’m just going to have to embrace this book at 180k, since trimming just seems to lend itself to further expansion elsewhere, and by the end of an editing pass, it’s nearly the same length. So I guess 180k is where it needs to be for now, and I want to get started on the next step, since this is as good as I’m going to get it at this point in my writing skill level. Which brings me to queries.

So far, I have two versions, the long one and the short one. For funsies, I’ve posted the longer one here, since I used the shorter one for my Reddit call.

Three years ago, Investigator-Prefect Kossa en Bekhir failed to capture a serial murderer targeting magical practitioners in the city of Balara. It nearly ended his career. Now, the killer is back, and has graduated from preying on low-ranking government officials to the upper echelons of society, their throats slit and bodies drained of blood.

Complicating matters, he’s partnered with his boss’ daughter—a newly-minted investigator-brevet with no experience, a hair-trigger of a sword-arm, and questionable loyalties. As the investigation into the murders becomes increasingly convoluted, Kossa draws connections between the murderer’s method and his own secret past. For Kossa en Bekhir doesn’t exist. His name is a lie, his voice is a magical fabrication, and his skin bears the scars of the hundred-and-twenty stroke legacy of a dead man found guilty of treason. Every step forward brings him closer to a place he never wanted to revisit: the home that betrayed him and ripped the magic from his veins. 

He won’t survive the encounter a second time.

DEAD GOD’S BONES is a 180,000-word adult high fantasy set in a sub-tropical island city rife with drugs and dragons. It’s THE ANKH-MORPORK NIGHT WATCH meets THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA and A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE.

Another beta pass, maybe two, and I plan to descend once more into the query trenches and send this out. I’ve already started preliminary research on agents and putting together my list. Once again, feeling rather out of my depth, but there we are.

Oh, I did say there would be art, didn’t I?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t freehand doodled with an actual pencil on actual paper in almost a year. I discovered I’m out of practice, but not in the way you might think. I was able, for the most part, to accurately translate what was in my head to my hand to the page. Rather, my muscles have apparently atrophied and I don’t have the fine motor control. Which was…frustrating. Need to build that back up. Also, forgive the off proportions, I wasn’t working from reference.

So these three are the main viewpoint characters of Dead God’s Bones, Kossa at the top, Maiv to the middle-right, and Luko bottom-left. As you might note, yes, in my head, they’re totally elves. On the written page, it’s less apparent, though they are varying shades of blue, ranging from a pale noon horizon blue to an almost blue-purple, and their sclera is black rather than white.

You can’t see it, but the impetus for beginning this was a desire to draw Kossa’s marriage ear-cuff…which can’t really be seen because I drew his head too small. I’ll probably draw another at some point or a closeup of his ear and just the ear. A lot of my doodles are born of a need to visually work out some worldbuilding detail, and it spirals out from there.

Also, don’t believe Luko. He does get paid, just not right now due to plot reasons.

Comfort Reads

pile-of-books-on-the-table-4058026

Frankly, things are on fire, the world as I know it is in a seemingly-constant state of upheaval,* and things are just…difficult. Even though I have three new books on my TBR pile that I’ve been looking forward to for months and months (one even for a year) I just can’t seem to motivate myself to crack ’em open. My creative-well is, also, running dry and I haven’t written much since… *low whistle* May. Egads. May. Wow. That’s, um, unusual to say the least.

I have, however, played 236 hours of ESO. I’ve been informed by a friend that’s nearly ten 24 hour periods, no breaks, and, when put like that, it oddly feels small? 236 sounds massive. 10 days is less than a fortnight. *shrug*

I have also been rereading a lot, primarily T. Kingfisher and Lois McMaster Bujold and Carol Berg. There’s comfort in rereading. Partly, it’s the knowledge that it can’t, really, surprise me. Nothing unexpected will occur, and there’s safety in that. A sort of grounding. Partly, it’s to be around the familiar, to enjoy the things I’ve enjoyed before. Often, I have snapshots of memory as I reread; I remember where I was when I first read this part, what the texture of that moment felt like, what I was experiencing. The Curse of Chalion always feels like mid- to late-summer, sitting on the back porch with a languid breeze, watching the morning glories devour the neighbor’s fence and sawed-off trees, listening to the screeching cry of cicadas. I have tasks to do, but those can wait till tomorrow. Swordheart is a quiet day at work, where my snickering goes unremarked since there’s no one around to comment on it. Song of the Beast is sitting in the front hall of a high school, the smell of waxed linoleum and the sound of perpetual conversation blending together into a constant humming buzz. And so on.

For me, books and memories are often intrinsically tied, and reading a familiar passage of prose can spark smells and tastes and sounds and textures completely unrelated to the story that’s unfolding and, sometimes, concurrently. I experience what the words evoke but simultaneously experience what I subconsciously observed the first time I experienced what those words evoked.

It brings a sort of pause, a moment where not everything is awful and maybe, maybe, there’s hope.

Which is a long way of saying there will be no Month of Books for July since it feels a bit weird to talk about things I already talked about, some quite recently. Instead, I’ll keep rereading, and those new books will be waiting for me when I’m ready to experience the unfamiliar and the uncertain again.


* I’m sure it’s peaceful(ish) somewhere in the world.