The warm glow of completion (onwards and upwards)

Finishing a first draft means:

  • Being able to help more around the house. (“Hey, I could cook one or two nights this week.”)
  • Catching up on media. (“Hey, we should watch the latest season of Game of Thrones.”)
  • Reading over lunch instead of writing.
  • Socialising again. (“Brunch, or are you still writing all the time?”)
  • Epic Neverwinter sessions. (Except I still haven’t managed to score a party who can defeat Valindra, or had a queue pop for Castle Never.)
  • Playing enough to get somewhere in Sunless Sea! (Killed by the largest crab you ever saw. Again.)
  • Getting to tick off huge to-do items in HabitRPG and get metric fucktons of experience (w00t!)
  • Starting to write the next thing…

And the next thing is NaNoWriMo. (Doing it too? Here I am!)

I’m looking forward to this. One of the biggest kicks I got out of Camp NaNo – which started me off on the four-month productivity bender that finished the draft for me – is: permission to not be perfect. Which is a big thing, and such an enabler (I’ll talk more about this soon) but it does mean that I get to the end of a draft and know that so much of it now needs major rewriting. I’m super happy with the shape of the ending, now I just have to realign the rest of the book to meet that ending. Which is all great, but the fly in the ointment is how long it took me to get the first half. It’s aggravating to have spent so long on material that’s going to need major revision.

It seems to me that the best way around this is to stop taking so long with the first draft. If I can’t really know what shape the story should be until I know how it ends in detail (which seems to be how I roll; it’s been the case for both novels I’ve worked on) then either I need to write ending-first (which has worked for short material, but I don’t think I could do for longer pieces: the ending would lack the necessary complexity) OR I write the first draft even rougher and quicker.

I’m trying the latter for NaNo. I’m not aiming for the first 50k of a novel in relatively coherent prose. I am aiming for a 50k epic-rough quasi-summary draft of the entire novel. I’m anticipating chapters that are a patchy collage of prose and summary and notes to self. I’m anticipating covering a chapter a day in this method. And most of all, I’m anticipating needing to do a fuckton of work once I come back to write it properly – but since I know there’s a fuckton of work needing to be done on the first-draft that took me two years to write, that’s no big deal.

P.S. To add another spanner to my bouquet, I received some really thoughtful feedback on Boralos from a marvellous agent – confirming for me how much I’d love to work with her in the future. As always, new input makes my brain spin on old projects (it’s true: the further you get from a project in time, the more leverage you have to tear it apart and put it back together) but obviously any serious consideration of what to rework next will have to wait until after November.

Number one: the larch

I've been reading fantasy fiction since I read Victor Kelleher and The Hobbit when I was about 10. I read everything else as well (no, literally, everything – my project for grade 7 was to read every book on the grade-7-only shelves) but I knew I liked that zany stuff. I fell irrevocably into all-fantasy-all-the-time when I discovered the genre as a thing at age 12, courtesy of David Eddings and a helpful librarian. (I remember standing there, staring at the cover of Pawn of Prophecy, with my mind exploding to the tune of “there's a whole body of books like this?” Of course, shortly thereafter the other shoe dropped when I reached the end of Eddings' currently-written works, and discovered that reading fantasy means waiting for the next book.)

But I grew up a sneeze away from the Tropic of Capricorn, basically subtropical, certainly cyclone territory. We had wet seasons when I was a kid, long sticky summers when it would start raining every day punctually between two and four in the afternoon, so three afternoons out of five I would walk home from school in the warm pelting rain with my shoes slung around my neck by their knotted laces. And then I got home, I would dry off and curl up on the couch with a humidity-edged book wherein folks wearing woollen cloaks trudged through frosty forests of oak trees.

This never seemed at all dislocating to me. I can only assume that, in my head, the books were books and the climatic conditions were like dragons – things that happened in the books. It wasn't until I moved south, to a town that actually had visible seasons beyond the wet and dry, that I realised I had no flipping idea what an oak tree looked like, despite practically every book I read using the species name as a shorthand for “and now you know exactly what this forest they're riding through looks like”.

Poinciana? Sure! (I fell out of enough of them as a child, I should be able to spot 'em… also frangipani and their unhelpful hollow branches.) I can recognise a jacaranda even when it isn't in full flower. When someone talks about a fig tree, I expect a banyan.

I started writing Boralos because I came back to my childhood home for Christmas, and watched the fruitbats swarming out of the mangroves at dusk, and thought, “…why am I constantly trying to write European fantasy when this is what flows in my veins?”

Which is absolutely not to say I grew up with hippos up the creek and people having pet pygmy crocodiles. We don't indulge in fantasy to stick with everything that we know, after all. ;)

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Art and life and death – a collation of points

When I began writing Boralos in 2003, my father had just completed his first course of treatment (radiation therapy, from memory) for his cancer. The treatment was successful, he went into remission, he was vibrant and healthy; we all got on with life.

All characters are, in some way, a reflection of the author; I always saw that reflection in my heroine Dacia's strong relationship with her father, one where he taught her a number of important things, some outwardly and some as by-products of living his life. It was only as I wrote, and dug deeper into the story – her story, and her development through the rest of the story – that I appreciated the significance of her father's death on shaping who she was and what she was doing with her life. That death plays no actual part in the story, but the shadow of Dacia's father lies across her for the duration of the story, a key if understated element of her unpacking of her self-identification.

My father died yesterday. He taught me how to tell tales. How to lie, how to tell jokes, how to speak to an audience, how to chat at a dinner party. He taught me rhetoric and pacing and rhythm without every mentioning those words. My mother made me a reader, but he made me a writer because he was the one who showed me how to start putting words together with the intent of achieving entertainment and communication of more than just their face value meaning.

He will never see me in print. I know he was proud of me, for reasons that are arguably better – for being a good person and being happy – but he will never be proud of me for that. And I sort of wish I'd told him all of this, that really it's him who set me on this path, but I don't think I'd even figured it all out myself until right now.

I love you, Dad. I will miss you.

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Checking in – nearly five months later

The hacking 50k words out of Boralos is still underway, having been interrupted by various pesky excrescences of real life. I'm about six chapters from the end (of sixty chapters), and looking like being about 130k words by the time I'm finished. That's slightly less than I was asked to cut out (50 rather than 60k) but I'm pretty happy with it as a first pass, and suspect that I can carve more from the first third still.

What's more, I'm pleased with the changes its wrought to the story itself. I'd always been worried that there was a little too much sitting around and talking going on (but then again, I'm constantly worried that I'm a derivative, pedestrian, paint-by-numbers storyteller who's committing all the sins I hate most about genre fiction and delivering nothing big, nothing new, nothing amazing and I should give up right now and set fire to my work… so basically I squint suspiciously at everything my subconscious kicks up about my writing and often ask other people for their opinions). On the other hand, I'd always sort of been aiming for “political fantasy of manners (in the tropics)” for this book, so I have resisted most strenuously the urge to have people dashing about doing uncivilised violence instead. But in the course of editing, I've been able to trim, combine, elide, circumvent and trick out quite a bit of the sitting-around-talking stuff.

Once I'm done, I may need to find one or two readers who haven't seen the thing before to see if it still makes sense, or if I've cut out something vital to the plot without realising. That could be tricky, since I think I imposed upon just about everyone I know to read it the first time. We'll see.

(While I've been doing this I have, of course, had another story idea. I've always been a bit hysterical-laughter about that whole “how do you get your ideas?” question. I want to respond with, “How do you stop??“)

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Meanwhile, back on the hippo ranch… (aka doing November backwards)

Last week, I got a response from an agent I queried last year. This, in and of itself, was sort of spiffy, since I was batting at about 60% cricket-chirping silence in response to Boralos queries. As a (big) bonus, it was a “I really like your writing voice, but…” response. I've been getting quite a few of those. But I can't sell single-volume fantasy in Australia. But my list is full. But there's no action in the first chapter (being the last one that stymied me in conflicted inaction on the book). This one was “But it's too long at 180,000 words. Could you cut out 55-65k words?”

I considered that Actually, no, first I said, “HOLY SHIT!” (in the office; no one noticed) and then spent two minutes trading exclamation marks on the phone with my husband. During which I calmed down enough to say, “Well, I don't know. Can I?”

It's a writing challenge. Anyone who knows me in any sort of writing capacity knows how much I like those.

And so I am back on the horse hippo!

Yay, energy on a project! )

Related on a technical front: using Scrivener to edit )

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