After six months, I’ve finally finished the first draft of Songs of my Mother! For some reason, the following song is the first thing that popped into my head upon completion. The wordcount ended up… More
Sick. In my lungs. Makes breathing a bit of a struggle. Congestion is what I mean. Have a humidifier going and green tea coming.
The last time I posted, I talked about productivity, which is kind of appropriate, because I then went on to writing 20,000 more words before the month ended. I got 120,000 words in September, which is probably a record somewhere.
Anyway, because of that I ended up taking the first week of October off. Figure I deserve a break. Then this weekend, I was able to get another 8,ooo words into the novel, which serves as the last interlude chapter. Tomorrow, I plan on starting section four, which is the last section. Hoping real hard that it only runs about 40,000 words so I can finally be finished with this thing.
I’m currently over 260,000 words on the novel, which is, you know, a lot.
But everything just keeps getting longer. Section three was meant to be 50,000 words, but ended up at 70,000 words.
And then, in this week taken off, I’ve found scenes that need to be added to the novel, which might push section two over 100,000 words and section three up closer to 80,000 or 90,000. So the novel keeps expanding and expanding. A novel I never thought would be even near 300,000 words is now going to traipse right past that number.
But, yeah, big fat novel getting bigger and fatter.
Something else I did while I was not writing my novel is come up with a pretty solid definition of the next novel I’m going to write. It’s a world where two ancient species fight a war that ends when a human wizard obliterates all life on that continent. Then we jump forward about 500 years to an anarchist industrialized world without magic where people are super into occult techniques, though everyone knows they’re not real. A man who believes that the world now has a god is ridiculed and thought of as a quack. He wants to go to that other continent, where the ancient species were made extinct. The novel follows several people as they go to that other continent to find the wizard who annihilated whole species.
So that’s the gist of it, but I also developed a Tarot deck and a new set of Zodiac symbols.
It’s going to be fun to write.
But! I thought this would be a nice short novel to follow up this big giant one. I can already tell it’s going to be much bigger than I initially thought. Hopefully not more than 100,000 words, because that’s a stupid size novel.
But, yeah, just some dumb writerly stuff today. Don’t worry about it.
A lot has happened. Part of me wants to write about the travesty that was the first presidential debate. The solitary confinement of Chelsea Manning comes to mind too. Or maybe something real topical: the blatant and casual racism of Bill Maher.
But smarter people will talk about that. Have talked about it. Will keep talking about it.
So I’ll do something selfish and talk about myself!
It’s been a good month in certain ways and a terrible one in other ways. Discovered how much fixing our plumbing is going to cost. Meeting with my contractor soon. Had to have my deck painted, which also wasn’t nothing. So the bummers are mostly just financial, which is a big deal, but we’re fortunate enough to be able to come through and pay for it all. Oh, and our sweet little Viggo needs to be neutered.
It diverts us from our financial goals, but that’s just how it goes, I guess.
Anyrate, the novel has been going well, so there’s that. Also, I’m seeing Sigur Ros tomorrow, so that’s pretty awesome too.
Last night I reached and passed 100,000 words for the month, which is kind of a lot! It’s nearly half this novel. While I hoped to be finished with this novel by my birthday, there’s way too far to go for the two days remaining. But hopefully I’ll be finished next month. But, as is typical for this novel, everything gets longer. I’m already nearly at the point that I was certain the novel would top out at. I had a hard time thinking I’d reach 250,000 words, but here I am, just 15,000 away from that with a lot of story still to go.
My only goal this week now is to finish this section of the novel, which leaves me one more section–the last one–and one chapter between them, with one that follows section four.
So there might be upwards of 70,000 words to write, which means the novel is going to be even gianter than I ever could have expected.
I’ll also be crossing page 900 this week. Maybe even today, depending on how much I’m able to write today. Probably it’ll be tomorrow. Either way, I seem to be writing a brick of a novel, which is just the hugest bummer, but also kind of exciting.
Then comes the editing. Editing may take a while and the novel will either shrink or grow. Knowing how my editing usually goes, it will probably expand a bit, or significantly.
But, yeah, my only real goal is to have this completely finished this year. Sending it to beta readers as soon as possible and then rewriting/editing once more in order to send it out to agents and publishers next fall.
I’ve had a few offers for beta readers, but I’m always looking for more! If you have any interest in reading this giant novel about gods and demons and dragonslayers and kingkillers and the like, let me know!
After taking two months off, I’ve managed to write almost exactly 70,000 words so far in September. That’s a pretty solid amount! It’s not a record for speed, but this has always been more about endurance, which, previously, I’ve never had. The last time I wrote something even near this long was way back in January of 2013. In that month, I wrote about 130,000 words. Then I took a month off, and that month persists to this day and may stretch on for the rest of my life.
But this novel, I’m determined to finish it, if only to prove to myself that I can work consistently at a project, gradually chip away at it until it’s finished.
In the past, anytime I took a break of longer than three days, it usually meant I was never going to finish that book. I have about a dozen of novels in various states of completion because of this. Way back in January, I thought that would be the state of this novel as well. And for nearly half the year, it was. Then I pushed into it, wrote about 120,000 words over two months. Then took a month off which became two, and now I’m here, my wordcount now tipping past 200,000, with so many more words to left to write.
It’s interesting to have written about 70,000 words so far this month. It’s roughly the length I thought the whole novel would be. As it stands now, it’s about one third of the novel. I’ve been able to push and fight and chip away at the novel, form it into what I want it to be.
I mention this because I’m taking the day off. It’s not the first day off I’ve taken this week. I’ve missed maybe three or four days. Usually because I was driving for 6-10 hours during those days.
I want to finish this before my birthday still, but there’s just no way. I have about twelve days(?) and just too many words to write. I’d have to average between 8,000 and 12,000 words a day, which isn’t impossible either. I’ve done it before! But it just won’t happen. I have a wife, a job, and a life I need to live, so I can no longer hole myself up with my computer for 20 hours a day. Now I’m usually lucky to have five uninterrupted hours to write spread throughout the day.
In some ways, that’s been useful. Quick, big creative bursts. Taking a break is useful to any creative process [assuming you come back to it], whether it’s a month or an hour, and so I’ve been able to hit 4,000 to 7,000 words pretty regularly, even with a truncated amount of time to work on the novel.
But that’s not the real reason I’m taking today off. And I may still come back and throw some words down later. The day off is because I only slept about three or four hours last night. I spent most of the night sneezing due to the most annoying kind of cold. I could have slept in, probably, but cats wait for no man and he slept like a baby while I suffered.
Anyrate, because I couldn’t sleep, I went back into the Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb and finally finished the third book in the trilogy.
Not that it took me long to read, but it feels like a long time, considering how quickly I read the first two books. Those first two books, incidentally, are why my break from the novel kept extending. I couldn’t put them down! And I finally willed myself back into my novel, but I still read from the third book in the trilogy almost every day. So instead of reading 1,000 pages in a few days, it took me a few weeks.
The kind of self control I’m not known for!
But, man, Robin Hobb. I think she’s my favorite fantasy writer.
You can find my thoughts on her Farseer Trilogy:
And the Liveship Trilogy:
These books are inexplicably amazing. The Farseer Trilogy is maybe my favorite reading experience of last year. FitzChivalry is my heart. He’s all my hopeless romanticism, my teenage foolishness and recklessness. That trilogy is all from a single perspective, in what amounts to a more or less european medieval society. It’s full of so much power and heart and beauty. Failure stands at the core of those novels. How we fail and in failing find success, even if it’s never the success we hoped to one day achieve. It’s the bittersweetness of understanding the harm you did when you believed you were doing your best. It’s accepting all that we’ve done. All the chaos and pain and torment. Rather than push that away and move past it, it forces us to embrace all the terror that we are.
I love it so much.
Because I loved it so much, I didn’t want to read The Liveship Trilogy, which follows it. It’s in the same world, but quite a far distance from the events of the Farseer Trilogy. Further, there’s a follow up trilogy that goes back to FitzChivalry. That’s what I wanted to read! But I was afraid I’d miss something important in the overall story of the world, so instead of choosing, I sat in indecision for almost exactly a year.
I finally picked up the Liveship Trilogy and literally could not put it down. It’s stupid for me to have waited so long. The setting is a bit different, showing a much more complex world with much more depth than you might have assumed from just reading the Farseer Trilogy. The focus is much wider. Rather than centering on one hapless hero who narrates his life, it bounces through a cast of about ten main characters. Most of them members of the same family.
I love it. I love it so much I can’t believe it. I almost want to skip the next FitzChivalry trilogy and move onto the follow up of the lives of these other characters in their corner of the world.
I won’t, of course, but that’s how good this trilogy is. Everything is so real. There are big ideas here. Bigger ideas than the Farseer Trilogy deals with. But there’s the same depth of emotion. Maybe even deeper. You come to know these characters–all of them–as intimately as you know FitzChivalry.
What I find most interesting about it is how hope suffuses so much of it. Failure is still key here, but this is a much more optimistic work, I think. However, there is some serious darkness here. Some moments that will haunt you and gnaw at your bones. It’s not as brutal a story as FitzChivarly, but it’s not exactly an easy life we come to know through these characters.
Also of interest is the shape the world begins to take. The Liveship Trilogy begins in a land that once had gender equality, but is currently as patriarchal as just about anywhere in our own reality. As the story moves forward, women must navigate this in a variety of ways. The world’s peril is not solved by the men who created it. Rather, the women of the novel take the world in their hands and work to make it better. By refusing to allow men to control their lives, they do more than find personal freedom. They save a nation (or four).
There’s so much I could say about Robin Hobb as a writer. She’s so confident. Handling action and adventure or political intrigue or family drama all with such skill that it feels effortless. Her plots are intricate and beautiful and dark and twisted but so full of love. Love love love.
And I love her writing. It’s astounding to me that she’s not known in the way that some of the other big name fantasy writers are. Surely it’s because she’s a woman, yeah. But she stands head and shoulders above so many of her peers. Her unflinching and grim reality with characters so real I can see them in my head the way I can recall the faces and voices of old friends. And her world is as rich and deep as anything any of her contemporaries have done.
Robin Hobb is a marvel and I cannot wait to keep reading her. Part of me wants to parcel it out, take on a new trilogy every summer, but I may end up jumping ahead into the next one before the end of the year.
Anyrate, she’s someone you should read if you have any interest in fantasy fiction.
This Op-Ed in the LA Times got me thinking a lot about something. I encourage you to read that first before reading on.
I think the author there covers the main reasons. Chief among them: Edward Snowden is a heterosexual man.
I fully support what both Snowden and Manning did, so it’s not really an issue of one being better than the other or more worthy of praise or pardon. I think they both should be pardoned. They both need to be pardoned.
The fact that Chelsea Manning is a transgender woman is definitely at the heart of this. While she was locked away for a few years pre-trial (something that is literally unconstitutional), the government worked very hard to smear her. They described her as having serious mental disorders.
As it turns out, her mental disorder can best be described as being transgender.
This matters a great deal for a few reasons.
First, the government outed her as transgender.
Second, they used this as a framework to explain that her motives were petty defiance stemming from her mental instability.
Third, and perhaps worst of all, this became the public narrative surrounding Chelsea Manning.
Fourth, Chelsea was not allowed to speak on any of this. She was often held in solitary confinement (torture) or was denied access to journalists.
She had to watch from prison (where she was being held without charge for well over the allotted 120 days, which is unconstitutional) as pundits picked apart her life. From her sexuality to her alleged motives.
It was, for these reasons, that she faced the trial as Bradley Manning. She and her lawyers decided they did not want the government to use her gender identity against her.
The fact that it’s even possible to smear someone based on their gender is astounding. The public’s discomfort with transgenders is well known. We’ve seen actual laws come into place regarding where they are allowed to use the public restroom.
So maybe it isn’t surprising that the US government used this as a tactic to attack her character. Maybe it’s unsurprising that it worked. But that doesn’t make it any less disgusting.
But let’s talk about the mechanics of a Hollywood biopic. Because, really, that’s what’s shining a light on Edward Snowden at the moment. But even before that, there was the documentary CitizenFour, which is an amazing film that I highly recommend.
Why was Chelsea Manning treated differently?
There are a few obvious reasons. For one thing, she made no grand escape. Chelsea Manning leaked information to Wikileaks, who then worked with several news organizations to release the information. It should be noted that Manning first reached out to news organizations. She wanted to disclose the information right to journalists.
She was ignored.
So she went to Wikileaks.
This isn’t exactly riveting screentime. Sure, they could make it that way, but Manning didn’t hack through government databases. She took readily available information and secretly sent it to Wikileaks, who then, in conjunction with places like the New York Times, released it to the public.
Once she was imprisoned, Chelsea Manning faced extensive cruel and unusual punishment for years before her trial. That’s not even an exaggeration.
Solitary confinement for months at a time. Sometimes she was stripped naked and left naked in her cell.
Human Rights organizations, world leaders, activists, and academics have written letters, pleaded, and demanded that she receive better treatment, but this was largely ignored.
Compare that to Snowden’s story.
Snowden learned an important lesson from previous US whistleblowers. From Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou, he learned that he couldn’t just go to his superiors to let them know that what the NSA was doing was unconstitutional and illegal. From Chelsea Manning he learned that he had to be out of reach before he disclosed the information or he would sit in prison for years. Potentially the rest of his life.
So he made his escape.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but I understand it has the feel of a spy thriller. And it kind of sounds that way!
Maverick government employee steals secrets, escapes abroad, then releases secrets to journalists, and finally puts his own name on those documents, in order to take control of the narrative before the US government could smear him, the way it smeared Manning.
I think it’s true that we wouldn’t have Snowden without Manning. That Manning’s actions seem daring and thrilling makes it all the more appealing to a mass audience. Add to that a love interest, in Snowden’s long time girlfriend, and the fact that Snowden has had the freedom to speak extensively about what he did, why he did it, how he did it, and has been able to be a regular commentator about privacy, national security, and human rights for years since his disclosure.
To put it simply, Snowden became a household name. Even people who don’t follow politics are aware of him. Some think he’s a traitor while others a hero, and still others are wholly indifferent to him as a person. But there was a built in audience for him. An audience that he is allowed to cultivate by virtue of not being in prison.
Add to that the documentary, which is thrilling and amazing and informative, and you have an easy road to make him a movie with a certain level of mass appeal, or at least mass interest.
But when I say Chelsea Manning, most people need to wikipedia her name to even know who I’m talking about. Even people who have followed Snowden’s disclosures may be unaware of who Chelsea Manning is and what she did.
Being imprisoned took the narrative out of her hands and into the hands of her captors. More than that, the collaboration of the pundit class with our military’s agenda makes this kind of story easy to ignore and hide from the general public.
So Chelsea Manning was ignored and continues to largely be ignored.
How do you film the last six years of her life?
One prison cell after another. Solitary confinement. Her trial, which was a military tribunal so no reporters were allowed to even take notes, seriously hampering any kind of transparency. In fact, many have described it as a kangaroo court. To many, including Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, it appeared that Assange was being tried in absentia along with Manning.
Without evidence–or rather, refusing to allow evidence to the contrary–they described Manning’s disclosures as aiding the enemy and seriously endangering the lives of US soldiers and intelligence officers.
None of which was proved because none of that was true. In fact, just the opposite. She made it safer for everyone by exposing US war crimes.
After her trial, she came out as transgender, was imprisoned in an all male prison. She had to petition and fight to receive gender transition medication, which they outright refused at first. For the last three years, Manning has been refused to be moved to a female prison. Refused to grow her hair out. Refused, at times, access to her medication and to be able to undergo gender affirming surgery. This led to her attempting to commit suicide, which she’s facing even more charges for.
This isn’t exactly a sexy narrative to play out on screens across america. A nation still actively at war in the Middle East. Now in even more countries than when Manning disclosed our war crimes. A public that believes we should continue these wars. A government that plans on expanding them still further.
To me, these are the reasons there has been no huge movement to grant Chelsea Manning a pardon.
- She’s a transgender female.
- Lack of visibility
- Her disclosures are even more damning to the US
My hope is that Snowden receives his pardon. But my greatest hope would be that Chelsea Manning also receives a pardon. Her plight is far greater than Snowden’s and she faces far more barriers to freedom.
If President Obama pardoned both, it would do a lot to lessen the great damage he has done to freedom of the press.
It’s easy to write the weird and astonishing elements of a novel. That’s just a question of imagination and getting your fingers to behave on the keyboard.
The difficult part is writing all the elements that ground your world, character, and narrative. This place must feel real. These characters need to not only feel real but also draw an emotional connection from us. The narrative is sort of the framework that all of these work inside. It should fall from your character’s motivations and desires.
These grounding elements are the most important part, but they’re also the least sexy, both as a writer and reader. But without these elements, the astonishing and awe inspiring moments fall flat or miss the reader entirely.
I think that’s been a major aspect of what’s made this novel so challenging. The length, obviously, is a factor, considering I’ve never written anything even close to this size. It’s possible my pacing is all off due to such things. But when you invent a culture and people from the ground up, there’s so much to consider, so much to develop. That’s where the length of the novel comes from, incidentally.
There are passages in this novel that deal with cooking, with musical styles, with styles of combat, with differences in languages and dialects, with creation myths, with morality stories that a culture tells itself about itself, with sexuality, with family norms, with social norms, with philosophy, with art–I go deep and extensively into so many things. It’s possible I’ll be taking big chunks of this out in a future rewrite, but I think these elements are fundamentally important when it comes to understanding this character and this narrative.
It’s also what allows me to write moments that pull the reader to new levels, into different layers of understanding. I can throw in moments that are spectacle, that are meant to inspire awe or fear or rage or sorrow because, hopefully, this world feels so real.
I hope when you read it, if you read it, that you’ll know my main character like you know a close friend. I want you to be there throughout her life, and I want you to care.
That’s the most important aspect of a novel: making you care. And it’s why all these grounding elements matter so much. That’s what makes it difficult.
It’s why I can write 10k words of insane and awesome moments of spectacle in a day, but it may take me several days to write the same amount of words that function to ground the world and propel the characters forward.
Anyrate, just a thought as I’m having a slow day of writing.
It’s morning, about to head out to meet some clients and drive the long way back home. I’ll be home in about twelve hours and the only good thing about all these long drives I have to do now is that I’m able to race through audiobooks.
In the last two days, I’ve done a lot of driving, but also a lot of writing. About 15,000 words, and I’m real happy with how they turned out. But especially those first 10,000 words, which I wrote at a furious pace over the course of four or five hours.
It could work as its own short story but I think it’s best in the context of the novel, where it lands after about 170,000 words of narrative.
But the sequence is about the capture and crucifixion of a god, and using this dying god to summon a greater god in order to try to kill that god.
In essence, it’s about a character waging a war against the gods of their world.
These ideas are not dissimilar from the kind of thing I often write. Or, I’ve never written anything like this, but it is a natural direction for my writing about these topics to take. The gods of my fiction are ambivalent and careless, if not reckless, with regard to human life. They’re more like forces of nature than they are the humanlike creatures of mythology.
Because the gods hold so much power and so little regard for humanity, it was an inevitability that some human or humans would rage against them and try to subvert the hierarchy of the world.
This idea isn’t revolutionary or even new. And it’s really just a long scene in this novel (the longest scene, actually) which is likely going to be nearly thirty times larger than this scene.
That’s what I want to talk about. How influences help shape our own work.
Princess Mononoke, which I’ve talked about numerous times, is still an influence here. Lady Iboshi’s war against the gods of the forest for pragmatic and possibly even noble reasons is certainly touching the resulting scene I wrote.
Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen is also something I was reaching after, and which pushed me to take this narrative step. It’s quite a bit different than Erikson’s gigantic epic series and I wasn’t trying to replicate what he does. I was mostly going for a tonal similarity. I wanted that balance he strikes. The balance of badass intensity that would make Wagner jealous with real humorous elements. So even while I have a scene where a character is trying to kill a god, it’s also a scene full of humor.
And I mentioned Wagner so it’s worth noting his part in all this. His opera has moved me in terrifying ways. He was a reprehensible person, but he made some glorious music. The kind that stirs something otherworldly in you.
Then there’s even Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which has been a deep influence on me. How could you read about Feonor leading his people out of paradise to kill a god and not have that just transform the way you see the world?
Neon Genesis Evangelion is present here as well, though mostly in terms of imagery.
That image and others from Death & Rebirth which I couldn’t find pictures of have mirrors in this scene. It’s a terrifying scene with far reaching consequences.
Beyond all this, there are other ideas feeding in here. The idea that the gods can be fought, can be defied, can be killed. They can even be born and we can become them. The hubris of humanity, that reckless insanity that leads us to drop atomic bombs and fly to the moon–all of this is the same impulse, I think. To do what cannot be done. Morally, dropping the atomic bomb and going to the moon are extremely different, but the impulse, I think. has the same or similar impetus. But what I’m trying to say here is that these ideas are in all of us, the will and need to defy that which confines us. Whether it be the stratosphere or the Death of millions.
Art, even art of the fantastic, is always a reflection of self. Or, if not self, a reflection of what we believe humanity is. Along with that, we bring all the art we love and the art that has shaped us.
Akira Kurosawa’s in here. Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time is in here. Kim Ki Duk’s 3-Iron, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure and Pulse are in here. Tarkovsky, Mallick, and so much more is filtered into this tiny section of this much larger novel.
To produce art, you steal and manipulate and distort the art that has shaped you.
And then you look into yourself and how you view the world.
It may not surprise you that I don’t have a flattering view of humanity, but that certainly comes out here. But so does my hope for humanity. That one day we’ll be better.
Anyrate, just some ideas I wanted to wrap my head around this morning, and I guess it’s for you as well.
“I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing,” Manning said in a statement released by Chase Strangio, her ACLU attorney. “I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted — for them to let me be me.”
This ends her hunger strike that she began on September 9th. It turns out my previous post about their refusal to give her medical treatment came just as change was happening.
So that’s great news.
Even if you think Chelsea Manning is a traitor–an absurd position to take–you should be celebrating this.