Word Log – June 26th, 2014

So its been six months since I stopped writing progress reports. I haven’t stopped writing overall, but real life got in the way in the form of work and a host of other things, some good and some bad, that I won’t post on the internet. But, the short answer is: I’m still writing.

I started the year with approximately 31,000 on the novel project, which has moved up to 41,000 words and is steadily marching along at an average pace of 350 words a day. That manuscript, The House of Stories, is already looking at a 2nd draft revision later this year.

How’s it been so far? Well…novel writing is a foreign concept to me; its like designing houses (no, sandcastles) for your whole life, and then trying to craft an entire neighborhood, a city, a world, with the same tools. No two are ever the same, and I expect that a huge amount of what I’m writing now will be reconfigured and rebuilt in draft, but I digress.

I’ve had a lot of fun breaking my process over the course of writing; for example, I had to throw away a lot of the outline for the middle of the book and trust that the characters knew what they were doing. And for the most part, they provided cues and prompts, little Chekov’s guns to be placed on mantlepieces and fired at inappropriate intervals throughout the story. It will need work, but I’m pleased that by abandoning the outline, I came up with something cooler than I would’ve thought of when I started writing.

Other than that, my secondary project is “The Afterlife of Objects,” a short story. I’m obsessed with the strange voice and narrative of this story. It’s providing an excellent counterpoint to the voice I’m using to tell the novel, but its so weird that I’ll probably need a dozen or so drafts before I convince myself that beta readers would like it.

I’ll post more on the blog as I bring these projects to completion, as well as what projects I’ll be working on next.

***

In other news of my life, I attended 4th Street Fantasy convention, which was one of the best writing/community events I’ve been to. It was also my first convention, and from what I understand, it’s  unique in terms of both its size and programming. Single panel tracks and relatively small size meant that I was able to meet new writers, catch up with old friends, and attend all of the panels.

I even participated on a panel, Advice from New Writers, which was exhilarating and  a little nerve wracking as well. But I was lucky to participate alongside engaged co-panelists and the whole experience was fun.

There was a moment on Sunday morning, around 3 or 4 am, when quite a few of us were deeply engaged in discussion about writing, I looked around and saw other writers: passionate about craft and geeking out with each other about story, and I knew I was with the Tribe, and I was happy that I made it out. There are too few opportunities in real life for such deep diving, and sometimes you have to refill the creative well in order to keep your energy and enthusiasm available for when the writing gets hard.

I’ll definitely be coming back next year for more conversation and more stories.

***

This month I read two books that everyone should check out:

1. Three Parts Dead by: Max Gladstone. Before reading this book, I never realized it fulfilled a very specific type of fantasy story I was looking for. That is, it is a secondary world urban necromantic steampunk fantasy which uses techniques and  tropes from other genres/visual storytelling to structure and tell its story. I’m not going to give the story away, because half the fun is in discovering the utterly cool world that Max has built, but everyone should go read it.

2. Range of Ghosts by: Elizabeth Bear. This is a historical fantasy (part of the Eternal Sky trilogy) set in a Mongol/near eastern flavored secondary world.   Part of the reason I entirely stopped reading secondary world/core fantasy for a few years was because I couldn’t see any new stories being told about the vast range of human cultures that acknowledged these peoples and their cultures had their stories to tell.

Books like this one, as well as Max’s books above have drawn me back, and I’m foraging further for writers who are actively making an effort to tell these stories. (Thinking about Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon next). To get back to Range of Ghosts, Bear has thought through how someone in this culture and this world would perceive the world, and consequently, has built the story around characters from different cultures in this world.

The story follows Temur, heir to the Khaganate, who escapes from a battle, at which most of his family is killed by Temur’s uncle in a bloody succession bid. Meanwhile, the head of an obscure religious cult is setting events into motion that will lead to civil war, of which the battle for the Khaganate is just the start. We also follow Once-Princess Samarkar who sacrifices her ability to procreate in order to become a wizard of the citadel. She joins with Temur in order to stop the events set into motion by the cult. Along the way they meet Hrahima, a seven foot tall sentient tiger (!) who has an agenda of her own, and a monk who has taken a vow of silence. I appreciated that Bear didn’t make this story about the “chosen one.” Each one of the characters has their own personal story arc that isn’t bent to the narrative of one central character. More importantly, she successfully develops multiple cultures, each with its own unique worldview and outlook.

This book doesn’t take any shortcuts to meaningful development, and the contrast between the characters deepens the richness of the story and the world itself. I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, but I highly recommend it if, like me, you were looking for something different that most fantasy didn’t have to offer.

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