Joyful Work

Those of you who enjoyed Magic Most Deadly will be happy to know that I am currently hard at work on revisions of the sequel (thus far, the working title of Magic in Disguise seems to be sticking). You might remember me posting here a few months back that I had finished the first draft? Now I’m filling it out, deepening it and padding it, putting events in their proper order, inserting clues (now that I know both the point of the crime and the criminal, two things I was clueless on when I started the first draft), creating a few red herrings, all that fun stuff.

I know some writers who dump everything into their first draft, and then spend subsequent drafts pruning, cutting away words and tightening it all up. That is not how I craft my stories. No, my first drafts are always the barest of bones (as a teen, I used to write my first drafts as scripts – just dialogue and a few terse “stage directions”), which then have to get filled out a little more in each draft. Right now my chapters stand at about 2500-3000 words each – I need to get them to 4000-4500 by the final draft. Whew!

It’s fun, though. And it’s fun to challenge myself by seeing if I can include enough background details in each scene to keep my beta readers from saying “more details! We need more details!” (I’ve never yet managed it, but it’s a goal). Today, for example, I spent some time figuring out the layout and general decor of Len’s London flat. While the readers of Magic in Disguise won’t necessarily need to know that the flat has two bedrooms, and the exact location of the cloakroom, or what the color scheme is of the dining room, having all that information at my fingertips will make it easier to sneak in subtle details to fill out the story and make it more vivid.

More vivid! That’s what I hope for with all my stories – that they live. I have a hard time re-reading Magic Most Deadly these days – my fingers itch to start editing, to fix all the flaws I see in it now, to make all these improvements. But one thing that does still satisfy me with it is how alive it is. Flawed though it might be (hey, it’s a debut novel), creaky though it may be in places, it does live, and that gives me great joy.

I hope that Magic in Disguise, when it is finished, not only is an improved book craft-wise from MMD, but is even more alive than its predecessor. A joyous, laughing, living book (as much as a murder mystery can ever be those things!), which brings as much delight to its readers as it did/does to its writer.

And now I’d best stop talking about writing it, and get back to actually writing the thing …

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Summer Doings

From the Shadows is on its last round of betas before being sent to my editor.

Rivers Wide is a complete first draft, and is simmering before I tackle the second.

I am 5 1/2 chapters in to Magic Most Deadly’s sequel, and the plot just clicked into place while I was preparing supper tonight, leading to a frantic scramble to jot down the outline and how everything connects together while simultaneously not letting the food burn. (The glamorous life of a writer!)

I also discovered Azalea’s Dolls the other day, and have been happily procrastinating whenever I hit a stone wall in my writing by creating dolls of my characters. The options are limited for creating outfits that look even remotely 1920s-ish, but …

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, practicing magic

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians' Ball

Maia Whitney, dressed up for the Magicians’ Ball

Maia's magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians' Ball

Maia’s magician friend Helen Radcliffe, also ready for the Magicians’ Ball

 

As you can see, I’m making do.

In other news, we recently spent two weeks visiting family, and one week recovering (i.e, sleeping), are doing our best to keep from melting in the heat, and are planning a fun getaway for next weekend, when Carl and I celebrate our 11th—11th!—anniversary. The kids will go to Grandma’s and pick raspberries and swim in her pool, and he and I shall go to a B&B in the White Mountains, and everybody will be happy, including Grandma. This will be Carl’s and my first time getting away without the kids since having kids. I think it’s time!

I’ve been doing Camp NaNoWriMo again this July, and while I really sputtered with getting started, I’m picking up steam now. I would love so much to get the first draft to MMD’s sequel completed this summer! But we’ll see. Of slightly more importance is making sure this summer is a time of rest for all of us, so that we can face the fall routine gladly when it comes.

Or if not gladly, at least without being so exhausted it makes us want to cry. (Which is what happened to me last year, and which I would really like to not repeat …)

How is your summer going, friends?

One Year In

I was tremendously excited a few weeks ago, thinking about the approaching anniversary of Magic Most Deadly’s publication. I’ll do a sale! I thought. I’ll do the giveaway I never managed to do for its publication, of those lovely vintage jewelry pieces I bought! I’ll do an excerpt of Magic in Disguise! I’ll post some of my memories of the writing process! I’ll share some of my favorite moments in the book! I’ll talk about what I’ve learned in one year of being a published author!

A little over a week ago, Joy got sick. It was nothing major, just a head cold. It spread to Grace, and then to me. Joy got better. Grace started to get better. I kept blowing my nose.

Grace got bronchitis. I kept blowing my nose.

Today, Gracie is tired but recovering from the bronchitis. Joy is all better from the cold. Carl, the stinker, never got sick. I, you guessed it, am still blowing my nose. With a massive sinus headache to boot (but I’m not complaining too much, because I went to the chiropractor yesterday for the first time in years, and this morning I woke up with no backache at all, which hasn’t happened for months).

Which means that it wasn’t until around 11:00 that I blearily remembered that today was the 30th, and one year ago this day I became the official published author of a novel.

Sorry, Magic Most Deadly. You deserve a better celebration, but I have to go blow my nose again.

mmd_small_res_final

Names and Naming

I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.

Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.

I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.

And it’s working.

Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.

He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).

What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?

Shaky Ground

I knew, before publishing Magic Most Deadly, that almost all authors go through a stage of ennui, discouragement, and even fear that they’ll never be able to write again after they publish their first book.

So when it all happened, I was prepared for it.

I just wasn’t prepared for it to last so long.

I am writing again—but it’s hard. Nothing flows. Nothing feels right. There’s no spark. I find myself putting off writing to read, or to wash dishes, or bake, or any of a hundred other numerous things that are good and important in and of themselves but should never come in the way of my writing time.

Part of it is disappointment. I knew MMD wasn’t going to set the world on fire. I knew the internet wasn’t going to explode over it, that people wouldn’t be lining up to buy copies, that nobody would be pounding on my door to beg an interview, that publishers wouldn’t be falling all over themselves to offer me a contract. And yet … the fact that it came out with a whimper instead of a bang, and fizzled almost at once was—and is—hard.

If I didn’t care about people reading what I write, I wouldn’t bother with publishing at all. I’d just write my own stories for my own amusement and leave it at that. But there is something deep inside me that needs to share my writing with other people. It is deeply important to me. Not for fame or for money (although, not gonna lie, I would sooo love to be able to support the family while Carl’s in seminary, rather than him having to work and do school), and I’m not even sure why, but there it is.

So when I offer the world this story, and the world doesn’t even notice it was offered, yes, it stings. And it makes it hard to remind myself that my voice counts, that my stories matter, even if they are just light-hearted and fun.

It makes it hard to persevere.

am persevering, because like Emily Starr, if you took everything else away from me I would still write. I can’t not write, but it has lost, I hope temporarily, much of its zest and joy for me.

Carl has reminded me that it is winter, and I went through the incredibly painful process of losing my grandfather in December, followed immediately by a whirlwind of holiday busyness, followed by sickness felling everyone but me in the family one by one in recent weeks (thank you, thank you God and vitamin supplements, for fixing my immune system so that thus far I’ve resisted the illnesses), and that it’s natural for me to feel discouraged this time of year, whatever is going on, due to lack of sunlight and fresh air and constantly being cold (although I’d actually rather be perpetually cold than hot, but that’s neither here nor there). So I’m trying not to take the discouragement too seriously. At the same time, I don’t want to dismiss it altogether.

Last night, once again frustrated that everything I write lately never gets beyond surface depth, and yet doesn’t have any of the humor I value so much either, I re-read something I’d written about two years ago. A crazy fan-fiction mash-up of all my favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories, with me in the thick of it (yes, a self-insert, but not technically a Mary-Sue since nobody fell in love with me, and I didn’t save the world and die tragically) (well okay, I did sort-of die tragically, but not for real, and Voyager’s doctor and Mara Jade brought me back to life, and it was mostly a plot device to let them be grumpy and snarky, not for me to be a Heroine), with not much plot but just a whole lot of fun.

I actually laughed out loud at parts, bits I had forgotten I had ever written, and other parts made me really impressed with their unexpected depth. It was simultaneously great and awful, because it told me that I can write humor and passion and Truth, but it also made me wonder if I can only do so when playing with other people’s characters, in a story never meant for anyone’s eyes but my own.

I don’t have a neat, pithy ending paragraph to end with here. I guess the title of this post says it all, really—I’m not sinking, but I’m not on solid ground, either. Everything is currently very shaky beneath my feet. The best I can do is keep cautiously inching my way forward, hoping to eventually get out of the mire and back onto the firm path, and can move forward once more.

Lowbrow

I remember reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (which I looooooved and read in one day even though it’s non-fiction and it usually takes me MONTHS to read non-fiction) and being amused and a little taken aback at how casually she referred to herself, her writing, and her reading as “lowbrow.”

“Max is highbrow,” she says casually, of her second husband. “And I am decidedly lowbrow.” And then she goes on to detail all of their differences in taste, in a comfortable, matter-of-fact manner.

I read beautiful prose, writing that is definitely “highbrow” even when it is, say, MG fiction, and I think “Ooh, I wish I could write like that.”

But I’ve tried, and it’s ridiculous. Seriously, I can’t even read it myself without snickering.

I’m lowbrow. My writing’s never going to be considered great literature. No one’s going to talk about Tolstoy and Bates in the same category. I write for pleasure, for enjoyment, for fun, for a chance to put a smile on someone’s face. I hope, usually, to also sneak some Deep Themes underneath it all, but let’s face it, nobody’s reading Magic Most Deadly in hopes of finding out the Meaning of Life. And they aren’t going to find it even if they look.

In one of the Anne books by LM Montgomery, Anne and Gilbert are discussing their future goals. Gilbert has decided he wants to be a doctor, to fight disease and help people live better lives. Anne, though she knows wanting to help people and teach them is more noble, just wants to add some beauty to other people’s lives, to give them one or two moments of joy that they might not have had otherwise.

You know what? That honestly seems pretty noble to me. If that’s lowbrow, I’ll take it.

I don’t have to write Great Literature to bring joy to others. I just have to write joyously. And that I can do.

Introducing …

It has exactly one sentence so far, but I couldn’t resist taking a screen shot to show you:

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 12.47.24 PM

Yes, in the midst of writing Wings of Song, I have started work on Magic Most Deadly’s sequel. Working title Magic in Disguise.

I have a broad plot outline and, as I said, exactly one sentence of story written.

I’ve also come up with a name for the series overall. Intelligent Magic, bringing together the Intelligence work that Len does and the magic that Maia is learning to master. Intelligent Magic was one of my discarded title ideas for Magic Most Deadly, so I’m pleased to be able to recycle it and use it now for the series.

Squee!