six months

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.

 

captureThe wordcount ended up being just shy of 300,000 words, though this will expand at least a bit–if not a lot–over that when I edit/rewrite. Well, here’s the total wordcount and pagecount.

This has been quite an ordeal for me, as people who come to this site well know. But now the hardest part is over. What comes next is adding in scenes I didn’t know I needed, rewriting scenes that may not have turned out the way they should have, and just general editing.

Luckily, the first 120,000 words are more or less in final draft form. Or at least finalish form. So are most of the chapters that take place in the present. So the bulk of the work will be in the rest, which is probably like 150,000 words. Still a lot, mind, but a lot less than 300,000 words.

At this point, it’s probably time to write some kind of a synopsis or whatever.

The novel takes place in the same world and on the same continent as Twilight of the Wolves, though it takes place several centuries before that, so there’s no overlap. The bulk of the novel takes place in a single village deep in the forest that covers most of the continent and it deals with life there. It’s about culture, life, and relationships, really. What it means to be a member of this village and how this village changes when one of its people becomes a god.

Luna is a child. Her mother and fathers are outcasts in their clan and the first section of the novel is, in many ways, a family drama. What it means to be an outcast, what it means to watch your society not accept you because of the decision your parents made before you were born. More than that, it’s about what it means to be a family. What kind of love exists between men and women, between parent and child. How we try to protect our children from our mistakes and how our children are far more perceptive than we believe they are.

Then a dragon comes to the village and Luna’s mother kills it. This is really the pivot of the novel, and everything spirals out from there. In killing the dragon, she becomes a god to her own people and the rest of the novel deals with this event.

It’s sociological fantasy, in the vein of Ursula K Le Guin or Samuel R Delany’s Neveryona series. The novel deals with mythology, philosophy, art, culture, love, sexuality, social conventions and structures, mysticism, pacifism, violence, apotheosis, deicide, suicide, motherhood, childhood, love, death, and what it means to be a person, what it means to be alive.

There are characters who are gods who have lived for thousands of years and characters who become gods while still too young to understand what that means. There are tragedies, moments of humor, violence, and the grotesque.

Basically, there’s a bit of everything. All my various obsessions–including cooking–find a place in the novel. But I think, at the heart, it’s about a few things.

The impetus for much of this was the disorienting sensation of being confronted by power so much greater than what you can conceive. And then being forced to accept that power and live under its shadow.

But the novel really finds a heart in the relationships between people. People children and parents, between lovers, between friends, and how power can turn these people into opposition.

I’ve written some of my favorite scenes in this novel. Also some of my darkest and maybe some of my funniest. It’s an emotional journey, and it lasts Luna’s whole life.

We begin when she’s just a child, but we end with her thousands of miles away, much older and after much loss.

 

captureIt’s a novel in five main parts. There is a throughline that takes place in the present (Prelude, Interludes, Postlude), where Luna tells a person the story of her life. The story of her life happens over the course of four distinct sections (Dragonslayer, Savior, Goddess, Forest) that are broken up by scenes in the present. It looks like the picture on the left.

Despite the majority of the novel happening in the past, quite a bit of narrative movement happens in the present. It’s something I was uncertain about at first, this framing of the narrative, and I planned on abandoning it if it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.

Like, I didn’t want it to just be a story in the present and a story in the past. I wanted an interaction between the past and present that would make the narrative twist and bend into surprising directions, both for me and the reader.

I think I succeeded. I’m very happy with how it came out, anyway.

But, yes, I’m immensely proud of it and it’s taken me half the year to get it all written down. I’ve talked about the process a few times in recent months, so I won’t go through it again. But it hasn’t been easy! This is the longest I’ve ever worked on…anything. Not just a novel, but any single project.

And though it’s not ready for the eyes of the world, it will be soon. Hopefully sooner than later. But definitely by the end of November.

With that in mind, now’s the time to let me know if you want to be a beta reader! I’ll be reaching out to certain people, but I’m really looking for various eyes on this. I’ve never written anything even close to this long so I have all sorts of fears and concerns about pacing and structure.

But, yeah, reach out and let me know if you’d want to take a look at this monster.

I’ll be celebrating for tonight and probably the rest of the weekend, then probably taking next week off. But come November, I’ll be wearing my editor hat and trying to make this novel shine the way it should.

you don’t need to write every day

Because that’s hard. It’s too hard, I think.

I wish I could write every day. I know people like that, who can sit down and just consistently get words down on the page. Day in and day out, week after week, month after month.

I can barely sustain that for longer than a week at a time. I’m constantly taking breaks. Constantly letting those breaks drag on into months or years, which is why I have more abandoned novels than I do finished ones. I’ve probably written 300,000 words total stretched over thirteen or fifteen different novels that are in extremely different states of completion. Some never get more than 1,000 words before my attention or time gets pulled away for the day. And then I don’t find the time to get back there until months and months later, by which time I know I’m probably never doing anything with those words.

Those are the good kind of abandoned novels.

But I have one that’s over 130,000 words. A few others that are around 30,000 words. Novels where I’ve put in 50%-90% of the work and something happened that caused me to just never get back into it.

All of those abandoned novels still kind of eat at me, though. I convince myself a few times a year that I’m going to go back and finish this one or that one.

It never happens.

My lack of discipline is why I write fast. It works for me. If I can knock out a novel in a week or maybe even just over a weekend, I know it’ll work out. Some of my best work’s been written over extremely short time periods. Because if I take a day off, I’ll probably never get back to it.

Of course, this current novel has been plagued by breaks. I’ve tried to be very workmanlike about it. Sit down and pound out a couple thousand words a day. Maybe just 2,000 because that’s not so much. It’s very doable. If you write 2,000 words a day for a month, you end up with a 60,000 word novel by the end of the month!

It’s easy! You should be able to write a novel every month!

There’s a reason most of us aren’t that productive. And a lot of it just goes into the individuality of the creative process.

Even those writers I know who write every day, most of them are lucky to finish a novel every year, which, in the grand scheme of things, is more or less the same rate I go at it. The difference is that I usually only put about a week of solid work in that year to writing the novel. The rest of the year is spent doing whatever it is I’m doing when I’m not writing.

But I think about how fast I can write a novel a lot. Because it should not be difficult for me to write, like, six short novels a year. If I spent a week every other month writing a novel, this would be how it happens. And it’s not lack of ideas! For every novel I’ve written or abandoned, I have a dozen more novels I hope to some day write.

The problem is a bit of laziness, a bit of procrastination, but also just the way I’m wired, I think.

A novel is draining. Whether it takes you six months or six days. It takes a lot out of you. It’s full of ecstasy and agony. It consumes bits of your life and exhausts you. But when you finish or when you finally get that scene written just right–it’s glory. You’re full of beauty and perfection.

I’ve tried to write every day. Often.

It never works for me. I’ve had to be the most persistent with this current novel. I mean, I’ve been working on it since January (kind of), which is a staggering amount of time to me. Even if we just put the start date at May, which is when I really started putting words down, that’s still five months of writing.

Some people will roll their eyes at that and say something flippant like, Five months is nothing! I’ve been working on my novel for five years!

Those people are dicks.

Thing is, five months is an eternity for me. If I averaged out the lengths it’s taken me to finish every novel that I have finished, I’d probably come out around six days. So me going into my sixth month of writing the same novel is a huge jump.

Imagine you’ve written several novels. Let’s say more than five. Each novel has taken you about six months, give or take a few months. Now imagine you start a novel today and don’t finish it until 2021.

It would feel like a big deal, probably.

And so even though I haven’t written every day of these five or six or twelve months (depending on how you count), there have been stretches where I have. Like, month long stretches. But then I look at last month. I wrote 120,000 words and probably took off at least two days of every week.

That’s just how things work for me.

I don’t know. I don’t have a real point here. I’m just thinking about something J David Osborne and I talked about recently. About productivity.

My novel is, at this moment, at 270,000 words. Most of my novels are between 40,000 and 50,000 words. This novel, by itself, represents the work of five novels. By the time it’s finished, it’ll be more like six or seven novels. But instead it’s only one.

I remember when I challenged myself to write 52 stories in a year (this was 2013). I ended up writing probably 70 stories that year, but it still felt like a really unproductive year. Partly because I didn’t know what to do with them. My short stories are not great (in my opinion) and so I had a bunch of little nothings finished, but no whole of something.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense to you, but it felt like I had a year’s worth of fragments with no complete project. Forget that I wrote a novel, three poetry collections, and two graphic novels that year as well.

The novel was too weird. Too…everything. The poetry collections are–well, I simply don’t know what to do with them. No one really wants a poetry collection written by me. Or at least I assume as much. And then the graphic novels will never see the light of day because of reasons that are strange to explain. But they just won’t.

So even though I had a lot of content, it felt like a year where I had done nothing.

Oddly, this year is the year I feel best about the work I’ve done. When I finish this big giant stupid novel, I’m going to be ecstatic! I’m already so excited to share it with people that I have to keep fighting the urge to send it to friends. But when I have a complete draft that I’m happy with, I’m going to be reaching out for readers.

The first draft should be finished this month. I have a hard time believing it won’t be. But then I need to add a few scenes to Part Two, a lot of scenes to Part Three, and who knows what Part Four will need.

I passed 1,000 pages today. I think the novel will end up being fewer than 1,200, but not by much, and possibly more than that. At this point it’s kind of silly for me to guess, because I’ve been consistently wrong on every prediction going back to before I even started writing it.

I thought I was going to write a trilogy! The first book (this one) would be around 80,000 words. The second book would be around 30,000 words. And the third would be around 80,000 words.

I still plan on writing those other two books, but it’s just ridiculous that this book is already bigger than what I thought the entire trilogy would be.

I think the second book will still be around 30,000 words, but the third book is probably more like 140,000 words. Unless, you know, they both balloon on me.

Anyrate, just some nightly rambling.

your brain still works when you’re sick

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.

 

 

an unusual month

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!

on taking breaks and why robin hobb is my new favorite writer

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.

captureIn 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:

1

2

3

And the Liveship Trilogy:

1

2

3

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

chasing and running

The night alive with moonbright butterflies swarming over the massacre. But for the screaming, the night was calm.

That’s the start to the novella I wrote this weekend. I spent a few hours hammering it into shape, and I feel really good. Really happy.

The image at the top is also very fitting for the novella.

The story may be terrible, but I tried a lot of new things here, so it was exciting. I planned on finishing it this Wednesday, but I ended up writing nearly 10,000 words yesterday because it was just flowing, so now it’s all finished and edited just two days after starting it.

But that’s how it always is with my writing, yeah?

It’s been a weird year for me, in terms of writing. I burst out of the year with a lot of productivity, but haven’t done much since finishing Dusk Country Blues way back at the end of January.

I think I made a big mistake in taking a break from the novel I was writing to dive into Dusk Country Blues, though it seemed right at the time. But, as is typical, me taking a short break becomes a long, long break.

Anyrate, I’m going to jump back into that novel tomorrow (or tonight), and hopefully finish it this month.

But, yeah, this novella. It’s called Runner (for now), which is kind of a poor title and is most likely going to change. But I did a lot of stuff differently than usual. It’s a chase narrative, for one thing, so there’s a kind of constant tension and my protagonist is having a pretty rough time, to say the least.

I also included interior, even though this is third person. This isn’t weird to most people, because everyone does third person with the interior of characters. But I haven’t written like this in maybe ten years. I have a strong rule against interiority in third person. But, for whatever reason, I wanted to try it here.

It made some things insanely easy, which is why I think I always considered it a cheat. But it was a useful experiment, and hopefully a successful one.

I’ve come to realise, too, that the length I think I work best at is from about 7,000 words to 50,000 words, which is the most awkward length of stories when it comes to publishing. Too long for short stories, too short for novels, and novellas are hard to find homes for. There’s always Tor, sure, but what’re the chances of me getting into Tor?

So it goes.

But, yeah, feeling good. Feeling productive.

If you want to take a look, give me a shout. I’m proud of it but also would like to get some extra eyes on it.

I wrote a lot of it to this song.

version control by dexter palmer

It’s been a long time since I wrote a book review on here, and this won’t really be that either. It’ll be more similar to what I wrote about Patrick Rothfuss a few months ago.

Which is to say, it’ll be more about my experience as a person and a reader, and less like a formal book review, which I guess I don’t even really do on goodreads, where I’ve begun reviewing just about everything I read, even if only dropping in a few sentences.

version control

 

I discovered Dexter Palmer accidentally. His novel, The Dream of Perpetual Motion was one of the first novels I bought and subsequently read on my kindle.

See, I bought my kindle way back in 2010, after I graduated college. I bought it because I was about to move to South Korea and knew I wouldn’t have easy access to physical books, so I took the dive into the ebook world and I still spend a lot of my reading there.

Anyway, I came across The Dream of Perpetual Motion somehow. I don’t even remember how, but what I remember is loving that title and its cover. Maybe more than anything else, those two things caused me to hit the buy button and wait for it to download.

Of course, that’s not when I read it.

What kind of maniac reads books the moment they buy them!

No, it wasn’t until I was on the first of what would be three plane trips that took me to Seoul, where I’d then take the bus to Gwangju. But I started reading this and I fell in love.

When I was growing up, I loved science fiction and fantasy. I fell in love with worlds and words but somewhere in my teenage years I became convinced that they were not proper Literature.

A foolish and ugly notion–I know. But so I spent a solid ten years not reading any science fiction and fantasy. It’s only in the last five years that I’ve really come back to it, and only last year where my reading was primarily speculative instead of literary. This is one of the novels [along with China Mieville] that brought me back.

I honestly don’t remember the novel very well anymore–such is time! But my thoughts on the novel, written months after I read it, are a bit instructive.

The thing is, I remember enjoying it and I remember feeling those things I wrote about in that review, but I didn’t really love it. It’s complicated, I guess, but I thought it was a fun, inventive, and clever novel, but it didn’t crawl deep inside me.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

The truth has become that it’s one of the novels I think about pretty often, even still, five years later. It’s grown in my estimation since then and I really want to give it another read, but I almost never reread books–who can say why–but after reading Version Control, I may just go back to it.

To be honest, I wasn’t super excited about this new book. I mean, I was, but what usually happens to me is that I get a book when it comes out and then don’t read it for months. This is probably one of the most persistent of my reading habits, unfortunately. So it’s very unusual for me to read books as they come out. Usually I’m a year or five behind, even if I preordered something.

For example, Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84which I preordered way back in 2010. I still haven’t read even a word of it!

No real reason, either, especially considering how strange it is that I’ve read his newer novel already.

The other thing was that I go into novels knowing almost nothing about them. I don’t read excerpts or reviews or anything like that, except by way of gauging whether or not people seem to think it’s good or bad. I’m not really interested in what a book is about until I read it.

Sure, I often have a good idea. For example, when I picked up Game of Thrones I had a lot of assumptions about the book already–most of them proven incorrect–purely because of its genre.

But I knew this novel was a time travel novel, and though I grew up loving science fiction, time travel has never been something that really interests me. Even in Chrono Trigger, a game I love, the time travel wasn’t a selling point for me.

And still, I don’t much care for time travel in fiction or film, though Primer is devastatingly brilliant and La Jetee is so gorgeous I can barely breathe and Doctor Who is whimsically funny and terrible and worth watching. But, for the most part, I’m happy to skip over anything time travel related.

But the copy was available at the library so I picked it up.

And I started reading.

I’ve had a weird year of reading thus far. Most of what I’ve come across has been disappointing, to a certain degree. I haven’t really come across something yet that felt essential to my life or that changed the way I felt about the world. Or, I should amend that–though I won’t–because The Traitor Baru Cormorant might be one of the best novels I’ve recently read, barring this one, of course.

But most of what I’ve read this year has been somewhere between disappointing and just okay.

A lot of it has felt very thin, I guess. Very–I don’t know–shoddy? Books with high praise but little I found worth loving. Some of them have been extremely interesting or subversive or whathaveyou, but none of them have been what I really needed. Especially since last year was such a great year for me as a reader. It seemed like nearly everything I read was my favorite book!

So maybe I’m being unfair to the books I’ve read this year, especially since some of them have been quite good, but the point I’m coming to is that none of them were this.

None of them were Version Control. The book I needed but didn’t know. The book that would breathe into me in ways I haven’t felt in over a decade.

I was thinking about this, in the hour it’s been since I read those final words, tears on my cheeks, and now. How the closest I’ve ever felt to the way I felt after finishing this was when I discovered Steve Erickson, a writer who changed my life.

But more than him, even–giant that he is to me–I’m brought way farther back, to when I was sixteen and reading Crime and Punishment over and over. I read it the first time in three days when we had two months to read it. Immediately after finishing it, just crying my eyes out, I went back to page one and read it again.

I wept into that book. Nearly every page is underlined [which wasn’t useful, as a student, but maybe demonstrates how much this book meant to me] because every sentence, every word was precious to me. I was tattooing it on my heart. I was dying over those pages. Losing my mind.

That book broke me. It broke me to pieces. I was no longer the same person I was before I came across Dostoevsky’s words. He fundamentally transformed who I was and the way I saw the world. I’ve written thousands of words about him and read everything he’s written twice, and I’ve avoided him since I was eighteen.

I’m afraid of him.

Truly.

Afraid to read him again, not so much because I fear he’ll be reduced by revisiting his work, but because I can’t bear to lose myself.

His books taught me to love myself, maybe for the first time.

They broke me apart and gradually rebuilt me. And I like who they made me.

If I read them again, and I fall again to pieces, who will I be once I close the book for the last time?

It scares me, even now, just sitting here.

Version Control wasn’t as dramatic as all that for me, no. But it hit me in ways that are very much familiar.Ways that I haven’t been hit in a long time.

Steve Erickson hit me in mostly emotional, existential, and aesthetic ways. I tore through his books twice and wept in a number of them, and he showed me how to live, how to write, how to love.

But Dostoevsky gave birth to me.

And reading Version Control–it’s similar to that.

It hit me in every way possible.

Intellectually, this is one of the most interesting novels I think I’ve read since Dostoevsky. Where Dostoevsky is all philosophy and existence, Palmer is more scientific. The intellectual capacity of this book is more cerebral than emotional–for me, Dostoevsky will always be understood emotionally as well as philosophically, and I think those are extremely linked in his work. I came across ideas in Version Control that were invigorating but also ones that were familiar.

Familiar in ways I’ve rarely shared.

The way he writes about social media, information, science, relationships–and he hits these on several registers–are all things that feel so much like reflections of how I’ve felt for years, living through this age of screens and avatars.

But more than that, he’s delving into the nature of reality, into the nature of the self and the other, into personal and cultural history.

This book was also genuinely funny at times. I laughed out loud through various scenes. So much so that my wife thought I was distracted by something else unrelated to the book! She asked me, from the other room, if I was on imgur because of how much I was laughing!

The characters are so fresh and alive. They feel lived in and real and familiar.

I feel like I could pick Philip or Rebecca or Carson or Kate or even Cheever and Sean out of a crowd if I had to. They feel so real to me, so obviously true.

And this goes down into the worldbuilding.

The novel takes place in the 2020s, and it’s all so well thought out, so reasoned, but no time is really spent creating it. There are all hints as background and implication. Palmer doesn’t need to write a chapter about how the world has changed. He shows you through the simple ways that characters react and interact with each other and the world around them.

It feels so solid.

This is, perhaps, what many of the books I’ve been reading have been missing–a solidness.

Palmer also lays out a world that is very much what I fear and expect the world to become.

You could label it a dystopia, but even in its harrowing implications, the book never deals with it in that way, because its characters don’t view it that way. Characters who are, for all intents and purposes, my generation. People who were in college during the financial collapse and spit out into a world of drones, social media, debt, and no jobs available.

He captures our loneliness, our ineffable sorrow for the things we can’t even name or describe. This wrongness we feel–or maybe just I feel–with the world. Like something happened somewhere, sometime to make the world slightly askew.

He delves into morality in interesting ways. The way we deal with the moral implications of the potential dystopia we consistently agree to and give into and let define us. The morality of relationship and our choices.

It really is an existential novel, with choice standing at its center, which is maybe why I keep thinking of Dostoevsky now that I’ve finished the book.

It’s not as heavy as him, because Palmer is still having fun. You can feel it.

He captures our awkwardness, our drunken shenanigans, our inability to do what’s right even when we know what it is, even when we truly want to.

He captures the distances between people and the times those distances evaporate until we’re almost one.

What I’m trying to say is that he does a little bit of everything and he does it brilliantly.

But what surprised me were my tears.

In this novel, I found pieces of myself laid bare.

I don’t often look for myself in art. I do often find myself there.

It’s an odd sensation, when you read something that sounds like your own brain, when you experience something that feels like your own life, that reverberates through your bones, that beats with the blood pumped by your own heart.

That’s what I discovered here. Even the cadence of my thoughts. Even the murmur or my own heart.

It was more of a recognition, at first. Seeing myself so clearly in a text that isn’t really about me.

It may be about my generation, but it’s not about me.

But then there I was, standing at its center, naked and alone and afraid but smiling, eventually laughing.

And ultimately crying.

It took me by surprise.

The emotions run deep in this novel. It’s easy to get lost in how interesting everything is, how clever the novel is, how real these characters are, how solid and true it all feels. Because of how well all these elements work, you don’t realise that you’ve already signed over your heart to these people, to Palmer.

He holds it and he knows how to squeeze it at just the right moments.

Even still, I didn’t think I’d cry. And I cried twice. In the space of about three paragraphs. On the last two pages of the book.

What’s maybe most amazing about this book is that it does a wide variety of things that would seem digressive or separate in most novels.

His exploration of race, for example, is breathtaking, and is also so tied into his explorations of science, society, relationships, capitalism, government, and emotional resonance that nothing feels out of place.

Every element works together, synergistically.

Dexter Palmer’s PhD is on the work of postmodernists like Pynchon, Gass, and Gaddis, but what he manages to do is never digress the way they do. They digress endlessly and you come to realise, maybe, that those digressions are part of the whole. But Palmer’s explorations into various facets of life never feel digressive. They feel like wholeness.

I’m endlessly impressed and in love with this novel.

I can’t imagine finding another book this year that’ll match it, but I am hopeful. But, yeah, this is already holding my vote for best book of 2016, early as we are into this year.

I hope you give it a chance and I hope you love it.

Dexter Palmer really does something gorgeous here. Something unforgettable.