Friday, February 15, 2008

My love of what I can not have

(AKA, my Sarah Monette obsession)

Sarah Monette is my favorite author, hands down. She’s followed closely (but in no particular order) by Ellen Kushner, Jeff VanderMeer, and China Mieville. All of these authors inspire me deeply, and when I hit walls with my own writing, I know it’s time to close the laptop and go pick up Melusine or Perdido Street Station. A few hours later I’m fired and fresh and ready to go back to my own stories.

But the strangest part about these authors is that none of them write in anything close to my style. I write quick, fun fantasy – heavy on the swordplay, larger than life characters, and skippy plots, light on the sort of deep, velvety description and fathomless imagery found in the novels listed above. If Sarah Monette writes Victorian drapes heavy with brocade and the blood of forgotten murders, and China Mieville writes impossibly beautiful alien balloons floating over the ruins of a mad city, I write IKEA sofas – colorful, fun, not necessarily minimalist, but they get right to the point.

Yet when I read stories that are closer to my own voice, I enjoy them, but I’m not inspired in the same way. My mind is always teeming with "I could have done that" and "wow, they did this a lot better than I did." I can’t see the novel for the words, so to speak. But Monette, Kushner, VanderMeer, and Mieville are removed from the reality of my daily writing. They operate in a different world with different rules where I am a stranger, and my only duty is to be amazed.

So why can't I write the kind of stories that inspire me? Well, when I’m being cruel to myself, I think it’s because my weak brain can’t function in the dizzy heights of meaning these other, better writers thrive in. But when I’m being kind, like I am today, I hypothesize that the real reason I love Sarah Monette and the others so deeply is precisely because they write the stories I can not, freeing me to unclinch the deathgrip of my writer mind and just be a reader again.

When I’m stuck on a story, more often then not it’s because I’m letting my writer brain, with its silly worries about publication and pride and grammar and pacing, do all the talking. But my writer mind only knows the plot, the turns and road signs along the path. My reader mind is the one who knows where we’re actually going, and it demands rest stops and detours through places it’s never been. So, when my directions lead me down another dead end, little bit by little bit I’m learning to step back, take a detour, climb up to a high place and look around. After a sufficient amount of oohing and ahhing at the countryside, I’ll find my road again. Works every time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

throwing the baby out with the bathwater

Sorry for the long silence, no new information has surfaced, and a writing blog is kind of dull during the actual writing part of things.

If you really want to know what you missed, here's the abridged version:

1) Worked on Novel 3 for about five minutes.
2) Checked email for news of Novel 2’s queries.

Just highlight those two lines and hit ctrl+v, then open a new word document and hit ctrl+c until you get carpel tunnel. There you go! Minute by minute updates!

So, no new news. Work on the next novel goes slowly, mostly because this novel takes RESEARCH. I've never done a novel that needs research, so this is a new experience (yay for libraries and wikipedia!). But as I write, I keep running into walls, and this is where the title of this post comes in.

Writing Novel 1 was this crazy rollercoaster time where I was sure that all I had to do was tell a cool story and people would read it. After I finished my first edit, I read every how-to-get-an-agent blog/post/FAQ on the internet. Then, when I had my chapters ready and my query letter in top shape, I gleefully stuck everything in the mail with the absolute certainty that there was NO WAY IN HELL anyone could reject my wonderful, wonderful novel.

Apparently hell has many ways I was unaware of, because the rejections rolled in at a brisk clip. I had quite a few partial requests and one full, but that was mostly because I had a really killer query. Once people got the actual book, they were less enthusiastic. Looking back when the dust had settled, I could see the novel’s problems (it was way too long, too slow, and the beginning was terrible). I tried to fix them for a while, but by this point I'd been working on this novel in one form or another for a year and a half. I was bored with the story, and, anyway, I had tons of new ideas! After a few false starts (actually, right in the middle of one particularly long false start that had cleverly disguised itself as an amazing idea), I hit upon the core of the story that grew into Novel 2.

That's when I started this blog. Novel 2 was going to be completely different than Novel 1. It was going to be quick! Exciting! And, most of all, I was going to get it done fast. No pussy footing around. Only serious footing, like jackrabbit feet, would be allowed. I stuck to my guns and cranked out Novel 2 in just under 6 months, and it was not only eons ahead of Novel 1, it was the best thing I'd ever written. It was funny! Exciting! I’d let other people read it before sending it out.

This time, I KNEW, there was NO WAY IN HELL it could be rejected…

Damn hell and its endless invention of ways! But, despite the rejections, I've gotten farther with this story than I ever got with Novel 1, and I still don't know how it will end up. But the specter of rejection looms over me while I work on Novel 3, and it's leading to some perhaps unwise second guessing.

See, when I wrote my other books, it was all about the story. Sure I was thinking about how I'd sell it (I'm a goal driven person. I can't write just to write, I have to have an audience in mind), but that took back seat to the writing. Novel 3 is different. This time I can't get the publisher in my brain to shut up and sit down long enough for me to write two sentences together. After every paragraph I write, I find myself pausing. Is this idea good enough to sell? Why am I bothering? Has someone already done this? Did they do it better? Why did you write that? You're fucking it up, aren't you? REAL writers don't write like that. God, they'll never buy that. Then I look over at the publisher in my mind, and she flicks her cigarette and tells me to do it again, but try to suck less this time.

Sometimes I tell her to go soak her head, but other times, too many times, I toss out the paragraph and try again. Every time I give in, I get the creeping spider feeling that, when I let my hopes for publication make decisions about my writing, I'm losing the real story.

It's times like this when I feel like those months at the beginning when I didn't know what I was doing were the only months where I actually had it right.