on writing a novel

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.

nodding at your influences

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.

Lilith_(Rebuild).png

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.

chelsea manning approved for gender transition surgery

It’s just been announced that the US government is allowing Chelsea Manning to undergo her gender transition surgery!

“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.

 

chelsea manning on hunger strike

Chelsea Manning has gone on hunger strike as protest against the dehumanising treatment she has received from the US government.

Those who have kept up with journey from whistleblower to indefinitely detained prisoner to actual prisoner are not surprised by this. Since being detained, she has faced inhuman conditions on numerous occasions, including excessive solitary confinement, where she was often left naked as well.

Our government recently pushed her to attempting suicide, which may result in solitary confinement and extending her sentence.

Why is she facing such terrible treatment?

For the crime of transitioning. She was born Bradley Manning and lived as a male until she was tried and found guilty of being a whistleblower by the US government. Since then she has attempted to transition, which was first blocked and refused by the US.

I won’t recap everything here. If you’ve been coming to this blog, you’ve probably seen me talking about her. I’ve been following her since 2011, when I discovered who she was and what was being done to her by the US government.

She awakened me politically. She made me take an active and critical look at my country and what we do around the world.

It should maybe be noted that I’ve donated hundreds of dollars to her defense fund. It’s not enough, but it’s all I can do.

She’s a hero. Her actions saved countless lives, while endangering no one, despite how she’s been smeared. She is a hero and she is facing extremely punitive treatment for showing that the US government was engaging in war crimes in the middle east.

I am not alone in my support of her. Countless organisations have pressured and criticised the US in their treatment of her and handling of her case.

She released this statement, which outlines why she is going on hunger strike, and what she hopes to achieve.

Quote from the statement:

I need help. I needed help earlier this year. I was driven to suicide by the lack of care for my gender dysphoria that I have been desperate for. I didn’t get any. I still haven’t gotten any.

She continues:

Today, I have decided that I am no longer going to be bullied by this prison—or by anyone within the U.S. government. I have asked for nothing but the dignity and respect—that I once actually believed would be provided for—afforded to any living human being.

I do not believe that this should be dependent on any arbitrary factors—whether you are cisgender or transgender; service member or civilian, citizen or non-citizen. In response to virtually every request, I have been granted limited, if any, dignity and respect—just more pain and anguish.

I am no longer asking. Now, I am demanding. As of 12:01 am Central Daylight Time on September 9, 2016, and until I am given minimum standards of dignity, respect, and humanity, I shall—refuse to voluntarily cut or shorten my hair in any way; consume any food or drink voluntarily, except for water and currently prescribed medications; and comply with all rules, regulations, laws, and orders that are not related to the two things I have mentioned.

This is a peaceful act. I intend to keep it as peaceful and non-violent, on my end, as possible. Any physical harm that should come to me at the hands of military or civilian staff will be unnecessary and vindictive. I will not physically resist or in any way harm another person. I have also submitted a “do not resuscitate” letter that is effective immediately. This shall include any attempts to forcibly cut or shorten my hair or to forcibly feed me by any medical or pseudo-medical means.

And this from the ACLU:

I learned late last night that Chelsea has begun a hunger strike today in protest of the ongoing denial of her medically necessary health care and the relentless scrutiny and abuses she has experienced in the years since her arrest. I am deeply saddened and very concerned for Chelsea’s well-being. The government has long been aware of her medical needs and continues to ignore them. When we filed our initial case against the Department of Defense in September of 2014 over Chelsea’s treatment related to her gender dysphoria, we made very clear that the lack of treatment put her at very serious risk of harm. They have known this for years. We are still in litigation over her treatment and are optimistic that justice will ultimately prevail but the government need not wait to be ordered to do the right thing and we hope they act promptly to treat Chelsea consistent with their constitutional obligations.
Whether you think she deserves to be in prison or not is not the issue. It happens to be much simpler.
If you believe Chelsea Manning should be allowed to peacefully transition and express her true self, please consider donating to the Chelsea Manning Defense Fund.
She needs our help. Not just monetarily, but emotionally. So if money seems out of the question, consider writing her.

still novelling

capture

Finally, I’ve finished Part II of the novel. As it stands now, the word count is about 173,000. Part II alone is 92,000 words.

To put this a bit in context, Twilight of the Wolves is the longest novel I’ve completed and it topped out at about 95,000 words. This novel just keeps getting bigger, but I think the worst is over, in some ways.

As I said earlier, I took July and August off of writing, which wasn’t a mistake, but it dragged on due to laziness and procrastination. I hoped to be finished with the entire novel by my birthday, which is now just 19 days away. It’s unlikely I’ll get there now, since I likely have upwards of 100,ooo words left to go. Still, I wrote about 40,000 words since last Thursday, which isn’t terrible, considering I also drove about 1,000 miles last week and had to do my dayjob.

I do think the most difficult part of this is over, though this novel, due to its sheer size and weight, has been extremely challenging to write. It’s like sprinting for days only to find yourself miles and miles from the finish line. But Part II was always meant to be the largest, which is why I ended up splitting it. So now I have Part III and IV still to go.

I have a general idea of what will happen in both of those sections, and I think they’ll both be somewhere around the 50,000 word range. Don’t hold me to that, of course, since every conceivable thing has expanded and expanded. Like, Part II is longer than I thought the whole novel would be, if that’s any indication.

Still, I’m very happy with how it’s coming out. It feels extremely satisfying to be working on it again and to be able to make such a large dent in it so quickly. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going.

So I have two sections left, each around 50,000 words. And then I have three more smaller sections that might total up to 15,000 or 20,000. If that’s the case, this novel will end up being just short of 300,000 words. An unthinkable size!

Already the book is nearly 650 pages so I’ll very likely hit the 1,000 page mark. There have been 109 chapters so far as well.

But, yeah, just updating, because I want to do that more, but mostly this is me patting myself on the back.

The struggle is that I want to share this with people already! But it’s likely not a good idea. Better to finish it completely and then beg a few of you to read this massive thing.

Oh, and if it’s not obvious, the current title is Songs of My Mother.

I’m going to take the night off and play some Fallout: New Vegas. Or keep reading Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb, which is extraordinary.

Next time I want to talk about Chelsea Manning because we need to talk about her. We should always be talking about her.

where to find me online

Mostly making this post because it’s come to my attention that people have been trying to contact me through facebook.

I deleted my facebook account a while ago. I don’t remember when but I don’t think it’s been that long. Maybe six weeks?

Anyrate, I deleted it, but I think Chelsea inadvertently undeleted it when she was using my computer and trying to check her facebook. My email and password autofill and she likely just hit enter and that reinstated my account. So you can see me logged in there, which is whatever, but I’ve not been on the site since I deleted it.

But, yeah, if you’re looking for me online, your best bet is twitter. If you want to see various pictures of my cat sleeping in odd positions, check out my instagram. If you want to read book reviews, head to goodreads. Those can all be found with relative ease, I think.

As to why I quit facebook: no single specific reason. It was just bumming me out. I’ll probably be back on eventually. Maybe after the election or something. I can’t handle all the politics, mostly because I think just about everyone I know on facebook is really incorrect about most conceivable things, but especially because I think you’re all imperialistic maniacs.

Take that sentence with a wink, maybe. Or be offended. It wasn’t a particularly nice or fair thing to write, but you’ll get over it. Especially if you’re even bothering to come to my site!

I haven’t been doing anything particularly interesting with my time off facebook. Mostly I’ve been procrastinating on my novel, though I finally jumped into it again this week and have added about 25k words. Probably somewhere around 100k words more to write. At 160k, it’s already the longest thing I’ve ever written by a considerable margin.

My goal was to finish this by my birthday, but I don’t know if I’ll hit that mark. My birthday’s fast approaching and there’s a long way to go. But, who knows!

Anyrate, I keep meaning to update here. I’ll try to be more frequent. Once I finish the novel I’ll be looking for beta readers. I’d like to have at least a dozen, but you never get what you want.

But, yeah, don’t look for me on facebook right now. Though, who knows, I may be back by the end of the week.

There’s no sense to these things.

Take care.

when novels blow up on you

Been a while since I posted, which wasn’t intended, since I hoped to blog a lot more this year. I’ve probably written more words on the blog than I have in a long, long time, but most of those are political or abstract questions of morality, which no one really cares about.

I might not even care about it.

Anyrate, I’ve been burying my head in a novel. It’s the novel I began back in January but I took a quick break to write a novella, which I talked about here. Unfortunately, as often happens to me, when I take a break, it often accidentally goes on and on.

So I had about 14k words written when I took a break to write that novella and I didn’t come back to this novel until May, which is just too too long. But I was able to start sprinting and get a big chunk of it finished.

Thing is, way back in January, and even at the beginning of May, I believed this novel would top out at about 80k words. And even that seemed unlikely. What I’d whisper to myself in my head was that the novel would probably end up being 70k word, which, for a fantasy novel, is kind of short. Especially since places like DAW have a soft minimum of 80k words.

So my goal was to finish the novel in May, which was no problem. I wrote about 80k words in two weeks back in 2011 when I wrote Twilight of the Wolves, which ended up being 95k words in its final form. So reaching 80k was not going to be a problem, and it wasn’t!

The problem is that I reached the 72k word mark and only finished the first of three sections.

Let me explain the novel a bit more.

This novel actually takes place in the same world as Twilight of the Wolves. It’s in a separate part of the continent and deals almost exclusively with one culture, and, really, just one village, though it will fan out a bit. It also takes place about 500 years before Twilight of the Wolves.

The novel originated in two short stories that I wrote for a workshop where my instructor was Valerie Valdes, who is an immensely talented teacher. Also, her novel is absolutely fantastic and can’t wait to see it get published somewhere. Anyrate, the length issue I’m having right now is because of her!

So I wrote these two short stories. All together, they were about 14k words. One of those stories was pretty much a failure, as it was largely a 7.5k word summary of a novel, which is what I’m writing now. The other short story was about 6k words and I wanted it to basically be a first chapter.

Unfortunately, because of Valerie’s suggestion, it also became a very detailed outline. So I started with a 14k word outline, more or less, to work from.

Which is awesome. It’s why I could leave this novel for so long and come back without any trouble. Even with this outline, I still thought it would only top out at 80k, which is basically taking those 14k and blowing it up by a factor of six.

What happened, though, is that the first 6k word of that outline blew up by a factor of eleven, which is ridiculous.

So the other 7.5k was the outline for part two of my novel. I’m currently 30k into that second part and I’m really only just beginning, so part two is likely going to be as much as 150k, which is, by itself, longer than anything I’ve written in my life.

At the novel’s current length (108k words), it’s longer than any project I’ve ever finished. I have an abandoned novel that’s almost 150k words, which may someday get finished and probably reach close to 300k, but I have no idea if that’ll ever be finished. Possibly not.

Anyrate, it’s becoming very possible that my current novel is going to be up near 300k.

I’ll break down the structure:

Prelude – 6k words

Part One – 66k words

Interlude – 5k words

Part Two – 100k to 150k(?) words

Interlude – 5k(?) words

Part Three – 30-60k(?) words

Postlude – 3k to 6k(?) words

If I end up on the low end of everything planned, I’ll be around 215k. But it’s possible part two will be right around or even over 150k words, and part three may be well over 60k words, especially with the way everything’s expanding, which would put the total at about 295k words.

Anyrate, a bit more about the structure.

The novel takes place in the present, and reaches back to tell the story of a life. It’s a story within a story, which will hopefully have a nice juxtaposition and play off one another. That being said, if those parts of the novel that take place in the present don’t create a really interesting tension with the real heart of the novel, then I’ll probably cut it all.

Because it’s really not enough for it to just work. When you’re doing a structure like this, it has to be more than just an element that works.

It needs to be transformative. It needs to remake the novel into something grander, more beautiful, more everything. It has to take that novel and just make it synergistically better.

If it’s not doing that, then it doesn’t need to be there.

But, yeah, that’s where I’m at right now. Just over 100k words in, just tipping past 400 pages, and not even at the halfway mark.

Which means I’m writing in a very different way for this novel. If you come here often or have checked out any of my posts about the process of my novels, you know I typically write a novel in about a week. That’s 5k to 10k a day until the novel ends.

But I couldn’t do that. Not for a novel this big. So I’m taking a relatively more relaxed approach to the novel. I pumped out a lot of words in June. Hit about 60k words over the course of two weeks, which feels so slow to me.

It’s weird, honestly. And today I was looking at the amount of words I’ve written so far in June comes to about 36k words. That may seem like a lot, but I’m used to that taking about four to seven days.

But I’m happy with the process. My new goal is to finish the novel before I turn 29 in September.  Then I’m hoping to either sell it to a publisher or get an agent before I’m 30.

Because of the size and complexity of this, I’m hoping to get at least a handful of beta readers. My friend Kyle Muntz has already read part one and had only good things to say, which was a huge confidence boost.

But, yeah, if you’re someone interested in an epic fantasy novel written by me that’s largely concerned with family, culture, and so on, let me know. Because I really am hoping to get eyes on this so I can make it as good as it can possibly be.

In other news, after I finished part one of the novel, I took another brief break to write a heroic fantasy novella that I’m very proud of. If you’d like to give me feedback on that, I’d be interested in seeing what you have to say as well.

So, yeah–that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I’ll be continuing to write this novel for a few months.