A long time ago (1994, I think) in an apartment just a few blocks away, I took it into my head to participate in the Three Day Novel contest. It was a great experience: over a long weekend, I wrote something like 65,000 words of dystopian, after-the-eco-apocalypse SF, and duly mailed it in to Arsenal Pulp Press. I didn’t win–nobody won that year–but I was a better writer at the end of the weekend, and I had a finished novel in hand and ready to revise.
The one flaw in my otherwise cunning plan was that I had chosen to write something based on one of my oft-started, utterly frustrating, would-not-gel-for-friggin-love-or-money novella starts. Over multiple failed attempts to make it come together, I’d come to heartily dislike the whole project. But, somehow, I decided the solution was to bust the thing out to novel length. Good plan, right?
As it turns out, no. At the end of three days, I had gone from having an unworkable thirty-page story to revise to having an unworkable 220 page book to fight with.
Oops. It’s trunked now, and good riddance.
In 2004 or thereabouts, I formed a pact to do National Novel Writing Month with a few of my beloveds. The goal this time around was to draft up a literary novel I’d proposed to the Canadian Grant Deities a few months earlier; I’d written that proposal while fully aware that I was hoping to have a contract for Blue Magic by then and I was a little scared of ending up on the hook for two books at once. I know, we should all have such problems, right? But I figured that if I had a draft of the grant novel in hand, I could revise one while drafting the other. (This worst-case-scenario, timingwise, never came about, as it happened.)
This time I picked a novel I was in love with, something I was excited about writing. Much better plan. The biggest concern I had with the whole scheme was that, for several years running, my writerbrain had stopped dead in its tracks each November. This was, actually, another reason for doing it. Losing a whole month out of one’s working year… it’s a lot. I could have usefully allocated the time to research, but I simply didn’t wanna.
For me, Nanowrimo worked out pretty well. I tried to write 2,000 words a day–that put me ahead of the game whenever I needed a day off. I took those days, and still finished a bit early. The month was exhausting, and the book pushed many other commitments to the wayside, but I got the book written as planned. That first draft of The Wintergirls was certainly messy, but my drafts are all messy; that didn’t scare me. The cameraderie and public accountability also worked for me. I posted word counts, was encouraged by blog readers as well as my nearest and dearest, encouraged other… Nanites? Nanners? Nannies? … in their turn, and came out of it with a draft that’s now very polished indeed. This is now my go-to strategy when I’m potentially double-booking myself: get one of the books well underway in November, and hope the rest falls together. I did it again in 2009, and am very pleased with the current state of the resulting book, which I’ve now revised about three times.
Unless other contracts start falling around here like hail, I’m planning to write The Rain Garden this coming November.
What about all of you? Yes? No? Why or why not? Your Nano tales would be very welcome.
I’ve been bouncing from project to project a bit lately. Like many other writers, I have a Sekrit Project on the go, but as of Thursday it has been sent off to someone for a Look. In the meantime, I’m here:
Dill opens the back door of the overlarge truck, throwing his backpack inside. In the process he knocks loose an obstruction, a cinderblock-sized cardboard lump encased in box tape, emblazoned with the logo of an overnight courier company.
“Careful,” Fanny snarls as it bounces out of reach.
“Sorry.” He has to all but bellyflop into the back to retrieve it from behind the driver’s seat. Something shifts within the box as he sets it back on the seat. The sensation has a distant, disturbing familiarity; he examines the box, but it is too dim to see the printed return label.
“Hurry, will you? You’re letting out all the warm air.”
“Nag, nag, nag.” Squaring away both box and luggage, he scrambles back to a standing position, nose wrinkling as white puffs of truck exhaust billow around his ankles. Warm diesel fumes exhale clammy, petrochemical warmth onto his jeans. He climbs into the front.
The truck cab smells of dog and scrambled egg. Fanny hands over breakfast. Her make-up is minimal this morning . . . a whitish foundation, pink lips. For some reason, Dill is reminded of The Mikado.
Three little girls from school . . . Dill yawns. “You must’ve got up at the crack of dawn to do this.”
“Didn’t sleep.” Fanny’s knuckles whiten on the wheel. “Got the package and . . . ”
“And didn’t tear it open? Not like you.” Inside the bag is a medium coffee, double double, the breakfast sandwich and a trio of donut holes with chocolate chips–clustered in the bottom like that, they look like fish eggs. “Does that mean you already know what’s inside?”
“It’s my sister.”
“Sister. Sarah, right?” There’s something he’s not getting here. He bites into the lukewarm biscuit, dredging gossip: sister and Fanny are fraternal twins, she made it through a Master’s degree in . . . music theory? And then had a mental breakdown.
She ended up a heroin addict and a boozer in Vancouver . . . but she’d cleaned up, hadn’t she? Now she’s shipped something across the country and suddenly Fanny needs a favor.
This is going to be bad, Dill thinks.
Fanny pulls out. The truck waffles on the snowpack, then finds traction into the groove made by the vehicles that preceded it. Beyond the window, the whole world is grey–the gradually lightening sky, the dirt-tinged drifts, the hulking structure of the Saint Lawrence market.
“So. It’s from Sarah?” Dill repeats.
Fanny shoots him a look of white-hot suffering and grinds the truck into a left turn. The box moves again and Dill reaches back to steady it. Something shifts inside, like sand.
“Sarah, yeah. I mean no, that box isn’t from her, it is her. Her–”
Oh. It’s ashes. “Jesus, Fanny, I’m sorry. What happened?”
Kelly and I made a little change to our pre-work walk this morning, taking 8th Avenue past the new community garden where some friends of ours have a plot. I’ve been able to see the installation happening as I’ve gone to and fro–between one thing and another, I pass the Broadway/Commercial intersection four to six times a day–but hadn’t gotten a good look. What’s there is attractive and thoughtfully laid out. The central area holds raised garden beds made of cedar, already pre-planted with veggies and herbs. Ground-level flower and berry gardens encircle these beds, and the backdrop is the Grandview Cut. The plants were donated by a local nursery, all the cedar chips are new and fragrant, and the whole thing radiates a newness and warmth that’s very pleasing. We are thinking we’ll do the walk past a lot in the next little while.
Afterward, I made my way to Cafe Calabria and had a bash at the current fiction project, that slice of a novel I mentioned before, for the grant application. I was searching for one more scene to add into it, looking for something that had a bit of literary grit and referred back to the stuff I’ve put in the proposal, which is about shifting landscapes of privilege and the labeling, within large families, of different individuals as insiders and outsiders. On Wednesday I was sitting in the cafe scraping after that scene, whatever it was. I didn’t really expect to find the right answer, because I hadn’t slept the night before. But the idea came, to my surprise, and I scribbled some notes on it without getting started–trying to write on no sleep is never a good idea for me. Yesterday I drafted the first half, and today I wrapped it up. I have a piece I’m happy with now, and I have until fall to polish it until it shines.
I am delighted to have reached this point. If I’m not swamped by other commitments (some of which I’m chasing very actively), I will write a draft of the whole book in November, just as I did WINTERGIRLS and DAUGHTERS OF ZEUS.
Here’s a snippet from earlier the draft:
Sarah Varney’s address was a residential hotel, one that, from the look of it, was home to a good chunk of the city’s addict population. Its windows were black with grime, its awning greasy and tattered, with loose aluminium ribs inhabited by motheaten, feebly peeping pigeons. The sidewalk leading to the reinforced revolving door was glazed in bird droppings; it was impossible not to track them in.
The door spun them out into a lobby that smelled of Lysol and urine. A diminutive Asian crone eyeballed them through a cage of greasy bulletproof glass.
This feels very much as if it’s at a finished-for-now point, and given that we’re headed to Seattle for the LOCUS Awards tomorrow, I will probably skip actual fiction-writing for the whole of the weekend. By Monday, I’ll need to have decided what to work on next. I have another proposal I’d be delighted to work on, but I’m waiting on some notes; I have a drafted squid story that could use some attention, and a horror novel, SEE HOW THEY RUN, that I want to revise at some point in the near. I have a pile of books I need to read for various research stuff, and one I want to review.
Non-fic stuff on the go includes three last lectures for Novel Writing II and assorted admin stuff, two guest blog posts to write, a review, some things I want to talk and post about in this space, critiques for a couple of my one on one students, fine-tuning of a website I’m developing for my choir, and more work on the alyxdellamonica.com page.
On a more recreational note, I need to review everything I learned in last year’s Italian class before my next one begins in about ten days time and one of my Jonathan Coulton albums has vanished from my iPod.
I have been thinking about getting the latter in the history section for weeks, not so much because it’s exactly what I want to read but because for weeks it was the most tempting item on that particular shelf. It looks terrific, and French history is something I especially enjoy, but I wasn’t necessarily prepared to pick it up. But today the Nelson book was out, and it’s just the thing for primary research on one of my projects, and I knew the bookstore ‘owed’ me a kickback for all the bookbuying of the past year, so… treasure!
I will of course let you know how they are.
Because they’ve just freshened up all the shelves for the summer session, the bookstore has new “Summer Reading” and “Local Author” displays, and Indigo Springs was prominently displayed in both. I say was, because apparently by the time I noticed this gratifying fact, the Local Author copies had been sold. They are very very good to me out there.
I converted alyxdellamonica.com to a WordPress site in June of 2010, with the goal of integrating the static site about my writing with the more dynamic content of my blog, which originated on Livejournal, and whose archives still live there. I have great plans for this site, and given my posting habits, I know that all of the areas you see in the menus on this site will soon be brimming over with new, up-to-date, recent, sexy content. I will continue to grab text fragments and post mini-reviews of books as I read them, talk film and TV, discuss the music I’m listening to as well as whatever I’m singing with my choir, and write about food, wine, cheese, and eco-consumerism.
I am also getting ready to launch an interview series, Journeys, which will discuss the career paths of various authors in the SF and fantasy fields.
I could dig up old posts on some of these topics and whip off a few new ones, if I wished, but I want this process to happen organically. I want to write good thoughtful posts, things you will enjoy, things that will make you hungry or thoughtful or maybe even mad once in awhile–things that will get you talking. In the meantime, this post is just a quick note to say I’m sorry there’s nothing more on point here just yet, and to beg your patience while I generate content that’s really worth reading.