01 May, 2018

The Hummingbird Chronicles

Or: What happened in the Eason household last week/end.

Karma, the Anna's hummingbird
We begin on the previous Sunday with Murdercat catching and eating a hummingbird, midflight. OK, fine. Let me be more precise: he caught it midflight. He ate it after everyone was on the ground again, and after he'd played with the sad little feathery corpse for a good half an hour. It's gross, y'all, but it's also him being a cat, and he's so damned happy and proud of himself it's hard to be mad or grossed out for too long.

For those keeping score: hummingbirds caught: 4. Hummingbirds killed: 3. Hummingbirds eaten: 2.

I moved the feeding station again, back to its formerly Very High Point on the wall, behind a hedge of angry agave (agave are always angry) and a tomato cage (with a tomato plant in it, not just a random tomato cage). I had moved it off the wall because management, may they choke on their own stupidity, had directed me to "get all the plants off the wall" in contravention of their own policies because there were Muckity Mucks coming to visit the complex and since our apartment backs on to the pool area, Muckities would be able to see...us in compliance with the rules about plants on the walls? I don't know. (This is the same site manager who tried to tell me they did not need to reassemble the bedroom closet after the HVAC work because workmen were returning the next day, and that we could store all our clothes in the main office overnight. I lost my shit, folks. Utterly. Anyway. Not an individual one looks to for consistent or logical policy decisions.)


20 March, 2018

Pub Day! (or: Things About Finishing A Trilogy)

ALLY is here! This one was tough, for a lot of reasons.

Things that I learned, finishing a trilogy...

First and most obvious, the publisher dropped the series before the book got into the wild.  Thanks to the best agent (and agency) in the history of ever, we took this book the independent pub-route, and here it is. You can get it from Amazon in paper or e-book. I recommend, well, both! I am the author! But the paper version has this gorgeous cover that benefits from being held in one's hands. Just sayin'.

Second, and less obvious: this book was tough to write. I have heard tell that it's the second book in a series that's the worst, and as I am writing one of those now, okay, yeah. I get it. But for On the Bones of Gods, that honor went to ALLY. I wrote it like I had until that point written everything: total pantser, no idea what's coming, whee! (I swear, Lisa, if you are reading this: I can plan plots. Plot plots? --That. I can. I do it with RPGs all the time.) That led to a lot of omgwtf moments in the prose, digressions, me trying to figure out what the hell to do, what payoff would possibly suffice for what had come before, how I could knot off all the threads (while trying to remember what those threads were) and resolve character arcs. I knew what the climax would look like. It was all the rest of it.

See, here's the ass-pain about world-building. You find cracks and unfinished bits all over the place, even in book three, even when you think you've figured it all out. I worked out backstory that ended up getting cut out. I wrote plot twists that turned into plot-tangles of the Gordian knot variety, and had to be similarly solved. And because I know where every seam is, every knot, every mistake... I see those first, every time. I hear from people whose opinion I trust that ALLY is good, really good. Which--well, good. I'm pretty proud of it.

Third (it's a post about trilogies. It needs three learning points): I've changed my writing habits a lot since On the Bones of Gods.

I wrote all three books in the evenings, and with ALLY, I wrote while drinking (not like Hemingway, but enough to get past the inner voice who was screaming that I was doing it all wrong, all of it, what was wrong with me). This made for steady progress through the first draft and an awful lot of revising before it was even fit to send to my first reader, much less to my agent. I stopped writing at night after ALLY partly because Nous finished his damn dissertation and suddenly I had a husband again, and also because I have finally achieved that imperial stout level of Oh fuck it, just write without needing the imperial stout. I've finally internalized what I tell my students all the time: just fucking write it. Revise later. It can be awful. Write the awful to get to the good.

I've also shifted to morning writing. I think this is because On the Bones of Gods was "hobby" writing, which is to say--I wasn't sure it'd ever become anything. I wrote with no agent, no prospect of sales. It was... I don't want to say fun, because writing rarely is for me, but it was definitely that thing I was doing for me, so I had to fit in after the teaching and grading and cooking and cleaning and all that because I am just that way. Sometimes there's not much brain or energy left at the end of the day, so... the beer helped. I also had a soundtrack for On the Bones of Gods, one for each book; the music also helped punch past the anxiety of figuring out wtf I was doing.

Now--after getting an agent and two book contracts*, knowing that this writing thing can be a thing--producing wordcount is a job, and one that competes with the teaching and grading for my daylight attention. That means with coffee, cold sober, all my attention, no soundtrack.*** 

 I wrote Rory mostly over a summer. TCFF (not a sequel to RORY, but in the same world, a sort of proof-of-concept for space fantasy) I wrote during a school year, in fits and ferocious starts, in the mornings when I had neither class nor grading. I rearranged my syllabi to guarantee me 2-4 mornings a week for writing, not teaching or teaching related stuff. Now, with RORY 2, I am repeating that process: scheduled time to write, which goddammit, I adhere to. (I have tried to fix that sentence. It's ugly. I think we're stuck with it.)

I'm still anxious about wtf I am doing, of course. But I've shifted how I deal with that. I work through plot-knots the same way I work through game-planning: by hand, in a journal, with an actual pen. (Neil Gaiman likes fountain pens. I like these super fine-point felt-tips. Ballpoints are for teaching.) I give myself permission to sit and think, instead of fretting that I might not make wordcount and writing crap to make that magic number. I think my writing craft has leveled up, but I think my process has too.

So anyway. ALLY is loose in the world. My first trilogy is finished. I'm both elated and a little sad. I'm gonna miss those people.

Now I'm going to make some more coffee and get back to work. RORY is coming.

*Yes! I have three books forthcoming from DAW**, staring in 2019 with How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse.
** DAW!!
***There is a future project that I'm already planning which will get a soundtrack again, but because most of it will be in languages I don't speak (at least fluently), it'll be fine and not distracting. I just can't write the Rory stories to Scandinavian progressive folk metal.

13 February, 2018

but why not dragons?

So over on Facebook I see a post by a former grad-student-turned-HS-teacher, asking how to help a student of hers "transition" from epic fantasy to "more serious" literature, and I am back to being 19 again, in the TA offices, listening to the MFA grad students going on about genre in tones of great scorn, and feeling defensive and defiant. Be proud of me, readers: I did not storm in there and punk-post about judging books by their cover (the student reads books with "dragons on the cover," which is obviously proof of the contents' quality), or get high-handed about how fantasy can be, and often is, serious literature with challenging writing, jesus H, have you read N. K. Jemisin or Le Guin or goddamned Beowulf, the fuck is wrong with you?

Instead, I spent a morning on this post instead of the WIP, but hey, blog posts are still writing, and the WIP needs to percolate a little more, and goddammit.

Once, long ago, I was an undergraduate student who wanted to be a writer. I was persuaded to pursue the literature degree, rather than the creative writing degree, for reasons of practicality, which, had I interrogated them closely, were really based on fears that you can't make a living as a writer rather than any certainty that an English degree would prove more employable. (I should have gone for the astronomy degree, or the chemistry degree, or anything else in STEM. I was dissuaded by Calculus 2, for which I had an abysmal teacher, and a desire to spend my weekends playing D&D instead of in a laboratory.)

I spent much of that undergraduate literature degree reading things I did not like and trying to find ways to read and research things I did like for credit, like the forty-source annotated bibliography on J.R.R. Tolkien scholarship instead of Hawthorne or Dickens or [insert canon author here]. That, in turn, led me to his inspirations and influences, and I discovered Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and All The Medieval Romances(tm) and mythology, which mean going over to Classics for some of my electives (and reading the Welsh and Irish stuff on my own), but whatever. I had imagined that literature was full of dry realism, women seeking husbands and red badges of courage and scarlet As, and instead I found all this magic stuff that looked like D&D. After years of resisting the parental dictates to "read more widely" (which meant: read Dickens and Bronte and put down the Tolkien or Cherryh or the Le Guin) I saw that I could read legit literature and still get my fantasy vibe on.

But I couldn't write it, not in that MFA program, so I kept going with lit in grad school, and after a series of science-grant administrative jobs I ended up adjunct professoring in composition at a big public university. The staff is composed of people like me, lecturers with graduate degrees, and English graduate students in both the PhD and MFA programs. My office shares a hallway with several professors, some in Creative Writing, some in Literature. As one might imagine, I come into contact with a lot of academics. A lot of us like Tolkien. A lot of us are gamers. But for most of us, it's still unserious. Leisure stuff. "Real" literature is something else, something mysterious, that could be universal themes or beautiful prose and universal themes or so much cultural cache we can't get rid of it? (And okay, but why is a goddamned hairy-handed vampire more legit than a dragon, as a book's subject? Dracula, not Twilight.)

Well. In my cynical mood, I'd say what they mean by serious is Not Fun (for me, this applies also to Dracula).

The Facebook poster seems to think that her student's dubious literary analysis skills will be bolstered by Not Reading Fantasy. I think--just based on the kid I was, reading shit I did not like one bit in high school lit classes--that if the student has something to say about the work, her literary analysis will suddenly improve; but if she's bored or disengaged, well. Shitty writing. I learned to fake it, but I had good teachers who let me play with form. My essays were half the time fantastic arguments made in character's voices, weird and recursive and, because I gave a damn about what I was writing, good analysis.

Which is not to say broadening of literary horizons is not a good and necessary thing for cultural literacy and just knowing shit and hey, sometimes we find something we like--I would not have read Virginia Woolf on my own, or any of the modernists, without that graduate seminar--and sometimes we encounter concepts we wouldn't, if we stayed in our comfort zones (Like modernism. Like post-modernism. OH MY GOD, JAMES JOYCE, WHY?) But if we're talking about learning to read critically, then... why not something with dragons on the damn cover? Just because dragons aren't "real"? (Well you know what? Neither is Mrs. Dalloway, or Kurtz or the Artful Dodger. Characters and settings aren't real. They just exist on a scale of scientific-materialist plausibility.)

Here's a thought: if you want someone to be a better writer, let them write about something they care about. Dragons. Or vampires. Or women seeking husbands. Or whatever.  Then make them think critically about why they like it, why the prose is working (or not), what the author's saying. Some writing is just crap, okay! But the way to have someone realize that is not to tell them it's shit and hand them a different book. Teach them to like the thinking, and they'll start looking for writing that makes them think. With or without dragons.