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Category: NotQuiteNaNoWriMoIng

Taken On Grace

Over the weekend I finished writing the first draft of Heirs of Grace, my twenty-something-th novel. (It’s probably the 21st novel I’ve written that’s going to actually be published. Or maybe the 20th, as my forthcoming The Deep Woods is right around 40,000 words, and could be considered a novella or a novel depending on which definition you use. I tend to think of it as a short novel. Which makes Heirs of Grace the 25th novel I’ve actually finished, since I have four trunk books that are complete but not really publishable. A perusal of my bibliography won’t allow you to come up with the same numbers I have here, since I’ve done a couple of pseudonymous work-for-hire books that aren’t listed there. Well. You see the confusion.)

I like this book a lot. It’s a contemporary fantasy standalone with some romantic elements — arguably what I do best, and certainly what I like doing most. I think it has some of my best writing, and jokes, and character stuff, and weird magic. I put everything I’ve got into this one. I hope when the time comes to read it in a few months, you’ll find it worthwhile.

Do people care about metrics? I find it interesting, to understand my own working habits, which are irregular and not really a model anyone should follow. I’m not sure why anyone should care about how anyone else works, though. It just seems to invite pointless comparisons. Most readers likely don’t care how you wrote a book — they just care about how the book turned out in the end.

But Heirs of Grace was a weird book for me, in many ways. I sold it as a serial to 47North, to be published in five novelette-sized chunks over successive weeks, then collected in a complete edition. So it’s a novel, but there are little mini-arcs to each individual section, too. Structuring it that way was fascinating, and gave a solid shape to what had been a somewhat messy book in my mind.

The deadlines were interesting, too. The first chapter was due at the end of September, and after that, I pretty much had a deadline every two weeks, so I was writing 15-20,000 words every couple of weeks — and revising them, so they were fairly polished when I turned them in. I blew one deadline because I got sick and needed a week-long extension, but managed to get the installment after that one done on time, so as a whole I hit my markers. I ended up writing 90,000 words or so over a span of about 50 days — not that I worked on it every day. I’ve always been a binge writer by preference. I like to take many hours at a stretch and produce many words, when time allows.

I stuck pretty close to my outline until this past week, when I realized my planned ending was stupid, morally reprehensible, and — worst of all — boring. I tried to think of a better ending, one that was earned and powerful. I talked out the implications of changing things with a friend at a cafe on Saturday, and I think I came up with something that works.

Those rolling deadlines and the tight time-frame — and the fact that this book is quite important to me, one of the most personal novels I’ve written since Briarpatch — gave my life a peculiar rhythm these past couple of months, and made me identify quite intensely with my characters. I find myself really missing them this morning. I’ll get to spend a few more weeks with them as I work with my editor on final revisions, but soon it will be time to move on to the next book.

I’m feeling happy and accomplished and bittersweet and melancholy today. So, you know. Like a human.

Strategic Withdrawal

Those of you following along at home may have noticed that my attempt to get a lot of novel writing done this month fizzled mightily. In the end, while I had some fun scenes and good lines, the novel just wasn’t working for me — the characters were lifeless on the page, and the plot began to feel ever-more-contrived. Forcing my way forward seemed like a bad idea — there’s something to be said for persistence, but I had the feeling I’d be wasting a whole month instead of just wasting a couple of weeks if I kept going.

It’s always possible I’ll look at the pages I wrote again in a few months and discover they’re not so bad (it’s also possible that after re-examination I’ll consign them to a folder labeled “fragments” and never look upon them again), but either way, I’m putting it aside for now. It’s not any sort of “writer’s block” (whatever that is, exactly) — I wrote (and co-wrote) stories quite happily during this time. The book just wasn’t ripe. The characters were wrong, and if the characters are wrong, it just doesn’t work for me.

When you’re deriving no pleasure from the book you’re supposed to be writing for pleasure, it might be a good idea to stop writing.

I am still itching to start a new project, though; fortunately I have a couple of novels I need to write next year, so I may just start on one of those a little early.

It’s too bad. I’ve wanted to write this book for years, and I still like the central idea, but I need to think more about the characters being wildly inconvenienced by that idea before I push forward again.

Limping Along

I continue to write — but I continue not to write my novel. Instead I’ve been working on a couple of holiday stories I’m doing with my wife Heather, since those deadlines are looming, and dealing with some writing-related administrivia. Plus preparation for Thanksgiving (we’re hosting, I’m cooking a lot), and dealing with the day job (brutally short deadline this month because of the holidays). Not a lot of brain left over after all that for Heirs of Grace, but I do hope to get back to it soon, ideally on Black Friday.

Stolen by Xmas

On Monday I didn’t write. (We had the boy with us at work all day, since his school was closed, and though he was very good, it was still way more exhausting than usual, and I could not drag myself to my laptop in the evening.)

And while I did write on Tuesday, I didn’t work on the novel, so the word count hasn’t increased. My wife and I have a holiday story due for a certain podcast magazine, and we’d been trying various approaches to our central idea (which my wife created, and which is insanely clever), coming up with amusing scenes but never quite nailing it. Then, yesterday, while I was taking yet another stab at writing an opening, I found the perfect way in, and the story opened up and revealed itself to me in its entirety — in such a way that we can even use some of the material we’d written previously, which is nice. So: productive, but not novel-productive. That’s okay. I’ll take it.

In other literary news, I caught up on reading the most recent collections of Locke and Key by Hill & Rodriguez last night, since the final arc of the series launches today. It’s such a great series. And I’m enjoying Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, which finally appeared in my “hold” pile at the library. (He’s popular enough among reviewers at work that there wasn’t a spare copy for me to read pre-publication, and we’re trying to be frugal in preparation for the holidays so I didn’t run out and buy it when it came out. Waiting to read things is BRUTAL.)


A very busy weekend, but a lamentably small amount of it involved writing. I got a bit of work done Saturday morning before taking over parenting for the day, then took the boy to see Wreck-It Ralph (amusing, but not amazing) and out for hot cocoa. Night falls so soon that we walked home in the dark, which he found exciting.

Sunday I pretty much did the Dad thing all day, since my lovely wife was off learning how to shoot guns (something any writer who deals with such weapons in their fiction probably oughta do at least once). I took the kid into San Francisco, to wander at the beach and to visit the Palace of Fine Arts and (the main attraction) the Exploratorium. I hadn’t been there in a decade, and it’s still awesome. River and I killed many hours there before returning home.

Heather took the boy shopping after that, and in theory I could have written while they were out, but in practice I just took a nap. (It was a physically exhausting day, and I’ve got a mild cold so I get worn out pretty quickly.)

My schedule doesn’t ease up a lot after this. Deadline at work is sufficiently short this month that I’m not going to get my day off to write at home this week — I need to be in the office all five days. And the week after that has Thanksgiving, which is good for eating but lousy for writing. I have sadly let go of any real hope of getting 50,000+ words done on this new novel this month. I’ll keep documenting my progress, but barring surges of inspiration/unexpected free time, it’s likely to be less-than-stunning.

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 1,346. Total: 12,593.

Notable Line(s): The fat Vegas-era Elvis in a rhinestone jumpsuit with the head of a hog, or the Spider-Man with the head of a fly, were maybe too on-the-nose, but what were you supposed to make of the hulking pro wrestler with a slit-eyed goat’s head, or the Marilyn Monroe standing on a vent with her skirts flying up beneath the long neck and delicate head of a swan, or the astronaut with his helmet tucked under his arm, revealing the gaping face of a trout?

Birthday Boy

I didn’t write last night — it was my kid’s birthday! My wife and I picked him up from school and met his aunt and cousin for dinner at Jupiter. (Some kids choose Chuck E. Cheese for birthday pizza. My kid chose the brewpub with the wood-fired pizzas. I win.) The grown-ups drank beer, the kids drank lemonade, various excursions were taken to look at the fire fountain downstairs, we all ate pizza, and there was much merriment. (Bordering on mania for our son, as it was rapidly approaching his bedtime and he was way overstimulated and very excited about it being his BIRTHDAY.)

After dinner we came home and he opened a few presents — a board game, a puzzle, and a how-to-draw book, all prevailing passions of his. He also got new shoes and the big surprise: a red ukulele! (He’s wanted a guitar, but we figured a ukulele was a good place to start, and a better size for five-year-old hands.)

So no writing, but a big birthday (as my agent wrote on the card she sent with his birthday gift, he’s “a whole hand” now, and he’s been saying “I’m a whole hand!” ever since), and I call that a successful night.

I should probably write today though. I’m home with the kid (no school for him today, or Monday), which makes writing difficult, but maybe he’ll give me a little time.

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 0 Total: 10,472.

Notable Line(s):  N/A

No Villainous

Yesterday was decent for writing — did a chunk on my lunch break at work, and another brief session at home while the kid was taking a bath. After that I collapsed on the couch and watched TV with my wife and went to bed early. (The boy got me up around 6 a.m. yesterday, so I was exhausted all day. This morning he slept until nearly 7:30, so perhaps he’s finally adjusting to the time change.) I’m not where I should be by NaNo standards, but I’m only about 1,500 words shy, so I can probably make up for it this weekend.

I’m struggling a bit with the book just now — I feel like the characters are getting bogged down in what was meant to be a fairly minor plot point, but is proving to be difficult to close or pause plausibly. I may need to retool a little and add some other scenes to shift the emphasis. I think I can slow down the action a little, get my characters out of the house where much of the book takes place, and introduce some other suspense/complications/mysteries.

I’m also questioning a decision made early on. I really enjoy writing chapters from villainous points-of-view, but for this book I decided on a fairly close third-person viewpoint on my protagonist, partly because there’s a mystery element regarding who, exactly, my nasty villain is. But I worry the single point-of-view is too narrow now. I go back and forth about how to deal with it (or if it’s even something I actually need to deal with).

Ah, well. This is why we do revisions.

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 1,138. Total: 10,472.

Notable Line(s):  “There’s no medicine like a sword, no better cure than a blade.”

Up the Ladder

Not a terribly productive writing day yesterday: the combination of returning to then day job and an evening of being distracted by the election joined forces against me. But I got a couple of pages written, and I know what happens next, so at least things are moving forward.

Otherwise: I’m excited about being all done thinking about elections for a while.

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 453. Total: 9,334.

Notable Line(s):  Worrying about serial killers and dragging ladders onto a roof tends to be a little distracting.

Imaginary Lava

Monday was the last day of my beautiful five-day weekend. I wrote in the morning, getting down six or eight pages and bringing in some gunfire and mayhem. I took a walk downtown and thought about what I need to write next — mysterious letters, incontrovertible evidence of magic — and did a little shopping for the kid’s 5th birthday. (He had a party on Sunday, but the actual birthday and present-opening is on Thursday.) Then I went to Jupiter and had beer with my friends Chris and Maggie (well, technically they had pomegranate cider) and talked about modern horror fiction and writing in general and What’s Wrong With Science Fiction (nothing more beer can’t solve). They went with me to pick up the kid from school, and we chatted at my house for a while longer as my son bullied us into playing assorted games he’d just invented, many involving leftover party balloons and the threat of imaginary lava. A very pleasant end to my mini-vacation!

Today, I’m back at the day job. Ah, well. Happy election day. (I voted ages ago by mail, as I recognize my own inherent laziness when it comes to actually going places and doing things.)

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 1,897. Total: 8,881.

Notable Line(s):  [All my favorite lines are spoilers.]

No Sleep Till


Didn’t do any writing Sunday. The entire day was spent preparing for, experiencing, and recovering from my son’s 5th birthday party. (Fun, sure. But definitely exhausting.) I had no brain for fiction.

I’ll try to make up for it some today. I’ve got about five hours until it’s time to start drinking beer.

Unfortunately, my kid’s sleep patterns are all wacky because of the time change, so he woke me up at 3:30 a.m., than again at 5:30 a.m., then every 15 or 20 minutes thereafter until I finally gave up and got out of bed. All I want to do is go back to sleep. I’m trying to stay up and drink coffee and write, but I may fail.

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 0. Total: 6984.

Notable Line(s):  N/A