Another day in the life of a non-glamorous literary grunt.
I’m adding a new category to the blogroll to capture these. It’s my hope to dispel any weird ideas people have about what a glamorous writer’s life looks like. My god, would I have chosen the writer life if I’d known about these before? Well, likely, yes. I’m not sure I really had a complete choice in the matter as the life seems to choose you, really. Still, it would have been nice to know ahead of time what these days might look like.
I’ll try to back link as many as I can, and use this category going forward to house #literarygrunt #amwriting #inhalelifeexhalestory
Then there are some days when you have to tackle the scene you’ve been dreading. You’ve put it off as long as you can. You know it’s going to wreck you to break a character that has become too real, too human. You know they’ll feel it, because you know what it feels like.
You know you can break them because you built their weakness into the arc. You know it will hurt because you’ve experienced that pain before. Pain you would never wish on anyone, not even someone you hate…certainly not on someone you love, even if they are fictitious.
Then you spend the evening afterward sitting in the bathtub sobbing. The water just wont stay hot enough to scald and numb. When the water goes cold you’ll sit on the floor of the hot shower and wonder why the fuck you ever wanted to be a writer, and why is your tea so salty? Oh, way to go, you cried in your tea.
Aftercare is important after these scenes. It’s psychologically taxing to put yourself in the headspace of both creating the break/inflicting the trauma, and writing the character who is simultaneously FEELING the break/trauma.
On days like today, I’m grateful to be single. It’s better that I can just do what I need to do and spare anyone the emotional waves. Scalding hot bath, lots of tissues, warm teas, lots of blankets, and a heating pad nest in bed to recover. (Good Scotch when I’m not on stupid diet).
Although I’m glad to not have to put anyone else through it, there are the animals to consider who camped at the bathroom door while I wept in the bubble bath. Dakota and Buttercup held space for me at a distance, and for that I was grateful.
The characters can’t evolve without the challenge. The arc cannot progress without the conflict. The more you try to avoid the hard stuff, the waterier your story will become. I don’t want a watery story…so some characters are going to have to bleed from the soul and then some.
Which unfortunately means, I bleed too.
Just another day schlepping words into books.
Five weeks ago I decided to begin shopping The Pillars of Dawn series to agents and publishers. I’m mostly targeting foreign agencies and publishing houses, for reasons I’ll get into later. This means I intend to sell the series. I know. This will come as a big shock to those in my circle who’ve heard me swear off traditional publishing. (“Never again!” I exclaimed! Well….never say never, apparently.) I expect there will be a few conversations with my writing groups and such—but the process is underway, and I’m actively courting publishing houses around the world. So far, I’ve only gotten a couple of nibbles. (Poland, and UK) This has taken up a significant chunk of time as much of the research to find appropriate publishing houses can only be done when I’m in cell or internet range. (and with several of those houses I have to cut and paste chunks of website into google translate to find the right query method, then craft a foreign language query, check with translator friends, then query properly. Luckily, the Russian translation of Murder of Crows was completed several years ago and can be sent to Russian publishers (Thank you, Wianna).
I’m putting this out here now, so it’s not an even bigger shock when it happens. I’m happy to discuss the reasons and process to my indie colleagues and friends over a drink at any time. The support I’ve received as an indie has been staggering, and impressive, and I am deeply and profoundly grateful to my community for the constant encouragement and network to rely upon. I sincerely hope this decision does not signal any sense of abandonment to my community—on the contrary, I feel like I will be able to do more, and support my indie and publishing groups better when I’m not stretched so thin between projects.
This leads me to the WHY.
Why sell out after all these years?
I’m trying not to think of it as selling out, honestly. I’m framing it as selling up. Quite simply, the reason is that Plague of Gargoyles is nearly ready for a first draft printout, and Tangle of Mermaids is mapped, and partially written. This will conclude Act One of the series. Act TWO—is an undertaking that will require focus and concentration which I don’t believe I can sustain while working part time at a restaurant, launching a cannabis farm for the state of Oregon, and maintaining a cottage stead. SOMETHING has to give. I know it will be coming, and I don’t want the thing that has to give, to be my writing.
I can no longer sustain the publishing costs energetically of putting the series together to get it out there. I need help. I need to hand the reins off for the publishing/marketing part of the equation so that I can focus on the writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I have LOVED the creative freedom of being able to self-publish. I’m sometimes a little annoyed at myself for having sat on the fence for so long before pulling the self-publishing trigger. Still, it’s time to re-organize and re-focus.
I will continue to write until the series gets picked up. But I am writing as I can between the peaks and valleys of all the other goings on. Tourist season at the restaurant means full time work through the summer. Cottage stead projects for the summer fill in all the gaps. Cannabis farming is squeezed in there, it needs to be put up higher on the priority list as well. And at the very bottom, I am able to get pick-up and filler chapters written on rare occasions these days.
Selling up the series to foreign publishing houses will allow me re-organize my plate. AND the long-term goal is to option the series for television, so, that is in the matrix of things to one day come and I want time and energy to focus on that adaptation process. (Don’t get excited yet, still only a couple of nibbles on that fishing line as well. The only production company that shows real interest wants two more books on the market before they get into serious discussions.)
Anywhoo, all this is to say I’m priming for the shift, and I intend to make some changes coming up and this is just a heads up. A buckle your seatbelt, as it were.
Why foreign agencies and publishers:
Oye. This is a difficult thing to write. I hope the blowback isn’t too rough. There is anger here, but I hope you can filter as needed. This is raw and unedited, it’s the only way to get it out right now. It’s messy. Please forgive.
I have had tremendous and very encouraging feedback from American AND foreign readers. But I have had very negative feedback from American agencies, and publishing houses. Predominantly, that feedback has included requests to alter, change or omit the female led casting of my series.
I would very dearly love to say this is not a gender-based battle. I would love to say the 146 rejections I’ve received were about writing style, pacing, etc. etc. I’m sure many of those rejections WERE about writing style, lack of craft and such—but got lumped into a generic rejection. The truth is, all but one of those personalized rejections that I received included a gender related complaint or request.
Anyway, the only publishing and representation offers I got were hinged on my compliance with re-writing the series about the Greek muses from a male point of view, OR taking a gender neutral pen name, OR giving more substantial speaking roles to the male characters. (for the record, my cast is evenly split 50/50 by gender)
Because I refused these changes, I lost the options for publishing or representation with several American institutions. This is what led me down the self-publishing road seven years ago.
Since then, I’ve published three books in the series and not one. NOT ONE comment from readers anywhere has taken issue with the gender disbursement of the cast. It is a series about the muses, who are traditionally female, after all.
This has led me to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that with the American state of affairs and often decades backward way of thinking about female power, women’s rights, equality and rape culture—this market is not a literary fit for my work.
A whole series about Nine powerful women changing the world? Are we ready for it in the Unites States? We’re ready. Yes. We need it. Yes.
Are there any other series, television, books, movies that have a female led ensemble cast? There are a couple. A few. Several books and series and shows with ONE strong female lead—but no ensembles of super-heroine casts.
It’s as if there’s an unspoken fear that if super-strong, goddess powered, super-human women banding together to rock a story line will somehow threaten the hierarchy of the Universe. That if we recognize we hold majority in population numbers, and we stop fighting amongst ourselves for imagined patriarchal privileges, we’ll realize we are unstoppable and we will revolt. It will be a bloodbath. Anarchy!
Wait. All that might actually be true….
The last super-heroine-power shows I remember that are almost entirely female led ensemble were Charmed, Xena, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Niches to be sure. But valuable and full of voice. (and Xena wasn’t really a super hero, but full of awesome.) (Jessica Jones comes pretty damn close to fitting my hopes and dreams but is still not quite there yet.)
The point is, I have faith in the public and in the readers…I no longer have faith in the market conditioned American gatekeeper system. The more I reach out and get feedback related to gender, the more it seems to point to an expectation of continuing to support the status quo OR to encourage the “get back in your box, woman” ideal of commercial fiction.
While I know this is somewhat of an exaggeration, AND an amalgamation of my experiences. I feel like I’m being encouraged to write fluff for women, OR to write something less powerful for the genre to make it palatable for what gatekeepers think the American audiences want.
I am also American audience. I want a cast of female superheroes, not sidekicks to men. Not bit roles in the conclusion of the Avengers 15-year-long series with a five-minute tribute to all the females who supported for over a decade and didn’t have a full LEAD role. I am unapologetic about it. I am insistent upon it. (Yes, I know Captain Marvel had a lead, with a release less than a year from the conclusion of a whole decade long series. Here’s your vanity prize, ladies! BAM. Series and arc are over. Squeezed it in just at the end. I’m sure American women, who hold more than 51% of the census majority population, were sufficiently mollified by the brief acknowledgement and phoned-in representational reference.)
It’s about fucking TIME for women to own the story, for them to wield power both in fiction and on screen. Wield power as a collective of women, showing what it means to have sisterhood, community, and compassion. It’s about time for a collective of strong women to front the conversation of what feminine leadership looks like, and that means in all its sometimes messy glory.
I’ve been a student of Joseph Campbell for decades. When I first heard of his work, I was fifteen or so. For twenty years I obsessed over the standard three act structure, and the hero’s journey of storytelling. His body of work is genius, and I admire and deeply respect it.
However, in recent years I’ve become aware that even Joseph Campbell’s collection of works never really addresses the heroine’s journey. HER journey.
While this seems at first to be a statement of “what about me”, a squawking into the cacophony of unfair representation, it has basis in this one GIANT fact of gender that is missing almost entirely from the hero’s journey amalgamation of works throughout history: Childbirth.
Let that sink into the void of what you know about the Joseph Campbell doctrine. MUCH of what the hero’s journey is non-gender binary. It is the HUMAN experience. He uses many male/female legends and myths in gender fluid ways.
BUT he only hints at the differences that make up a huge variable in the human experiences that cross that boundary in gender specific ways. Yes, it’s part of the human experience.
But childbirth is strictly a female experience (for now). That’s just the biggest, most obvious difference. And if you can recognize that one, there are dozens of other variants that begin to come to mind. Conversations for another day, though. I’m sure this will blow up on the forums. The discussion will be live here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294108170754107/
And so what we’ve known of the standardized hero’s pathways are subtly and invariably influenced and imprinted in masculinized ways. Thusly, many of our recognizable strong female characters are macho-ized. Some in small ways, and other’s in more significant expressions. But few of those strong female heroines are powerful in their owned femininity, powerful in matriarchy, and female tribal unity.
I feel like 80% of the hero's journey according to Campbell is the shared human experience, and the remaining 20% is rich with multitudes that need to be explored.
And so…because I am tired of the sloppy attempts of the American mainstream to appease the masses, hold the status quo to comfort male ego and entitlement, and find excuses as to why a female led enterprise will be unprofitable—I am looking at foreign markets for a home for my work.
The irony is not lost on me.
Embarrassingly, I just don’t think American publishers and agents have got it anymore. They are chasing trend, trying too hard to stay in a comfort zone, or direct the emotional needs of a population that has the majority, by the way, to just accept that the female lot is to be the support system to the male driven superhero fantasy based on a paradigm that doesn’t actually see/hear/recognize the female journey.
Frankly, I’m bored of it. BORED.
Will foreign publishers and agent think differently? I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’m querying to find out. I will have the answers to that question soon.
At the very least, maybe I’ll finally get some useful data back about pacing, or story structure issues. That would be a welcome and refreshing change of rejection pace. I would very much like a publisher or agent who plainly states, “You’re not being rejected for reasons of X, you’re just a shitty writer.”
I might send them flowers and a thank you note. Could I be better at my craft? Absolutely, without question or hesitation. Could I be a better writer/storyteller? Yup. And I’m looking forward to working with the team that will help me hone my craft into a much stronger, more accurate spear.
I will conclude with this acknowledgement:
I am very grateful to my readers; my American readers, and readers in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Russia, France, Canada, Ecuador, Britain, Kenya (though I have no idea how you found my books!), Israel, Germany, and Poland. How you stumbled across The Pillars of Dawn, and then made an effort to reach out was nothing less than miraculous to me. I am grateful to the men and women of every age demographic I didn’t even know I could reach, who have dropped me notes, comments, reviews, questions, requests, and ideas. Thank you for the messages containing corrections needed, and offering ideas on publishing opportunities to try. Thank you to patrons who picked up my publishing tabs, and offered financial support while I was struggling to meet deadlines.
I am targeting publishers in the countries of readers who have reached out to me. I feel like it’s only fair that if publishing contracts get made, those readers will get first dibs on translations and releases in their own country and in those languages.
Am I worried that this post and my opinions and points of view will damage my publishing prospects? Not in the least. It will only keep those opportunities that are not a match for my platform from reaching out. And that saves me tons of work in the long run. They say not to rock the boat when you’re sitting in it…but this is a boat that needs to be rocked. I’ve got my life vest on, so, I’m ready.
The right connections will get it, and then we’ll be off and running together.
I AM SO GRATEFUL TO YOU ALL. It’s been an amazing seven years of beautiful interactions.
Shopping The Pillars of Dawn does not in any way discount or dismiss my level of gratitude to you all. If anything, giving the series the opportunity to reach a wider audience, and allow me to get busy on Act Two, is a testament to my commitment to the series, and to my readers as a whole—and you made that possible. Thank you.
I will certainly keep you all posted on the forums, and through the usual channels. If you’re on the threads—I will post play by plays for you, and be open to conversations and feedback. Please feel free to ask questions, and or open a dialog about this projected publishing change. I am not going anywhere. I am listening. This is not abandonment—this is simply the next act in my publishing arc.
Thank you again, everyone. I truly hope you continue to enjoy this marvelous ride with me.
It certainly is never dull.
Viva La Story, Folks.
P.S. Because I exhausted myself so much on this post, I haven’t gone back for the edit and pc version of it yet. I’ll update when I have the fuel. In the meantime, I’m sure this will still some thoughts and feelings with people, so I am opening a Facebook forum for questions, answers and discussions here at The Pillars of Dawn: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294108170754107/
If you want to talk about what I’ve said, in a closed, respectful group, please send a request and I’ll moderate as I’m able. I'm looking forward to input and perspectives on this post. Thank you in advance.
Scold of Jays has officially been handed off to layout and design! The amazing Roslyn McFarland of Angelfish Publishing is taking on the task of interior design and digital formatting.
Book II of The Pillars of Dawn is officially off my desk. I can’t even begin to express how good that feels. It’s been a long six years on this one, and it would have been even longer without Patron support. I feel like I need to collapse near the river and sleep in the hammock for a week.
It will go through layout, a final galley edit, then to print. It’s still slated for available download and print on demand, April 9th, 2019.
It’s a long-standing artist reality that nothing is ever perfect, it’s only good enough to be released from twitchy fingers. I could agonize over the flaws for another six years, but the truth is, Plague of Gargoyles is pushing for mental space and I need the room in my brain. Holding an eleven-book series in my brainpan means storage space in the noggin is a priority. Like it or not, Scold of Jays needs out, so Plague of Gargoyles, and Tangle of Mermaids can breathe.
This post is a lot about coming to terms with being indie. I knew when I made the choice to go solo seven years ago that I wasn’t taking the route of having professional development funds or guidance, or even a large publisher’s umbrella to hide under. I knew it might be a long slog. Three novels into an eleven-part arc, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.
Several of my patrons on Patreon, are either indie, or thinking about going indie. So, I’m writing this post for them, on the last step prior to Scold of Jay’s launch. This is what my indie story looks like, to people who are about to take the dive.
Artists spend a good chunk of their early careers waiting. Waiting? Waiting for what?
Waiting for permission. Waiting for validation. Waiting to be discovered. Waiting for the money to balance out the cost. Waiting…mostly, as in the publishing world, they spend a lot of time waiting to be greenlighted by the gatekeepers, the people they believe are the best judges of their talent or efforts. Publishers, editors, agents, etc. The Gatekeepers make the call that most artists, writers, are desperate to be validated by, and released upon the world with their “I’m a legitimate writer” card.
That card will cost you 95% of your gross. Just sayin’.
The waiting game, or the “permission game” as I like to call it, strikes everyone at some point. No one is totally immune to the need to have their efforts “matter”. Deciding to take the indie path means re-configuring what matters most TO YOU, to YOUR AUDIENCE, and your SUPPORT TEAM.
Once you re-configure that data—you realize, there’s nothing left over for the gatekeepers.
Hell’s pretty tinkling bells, how I’d have loved to land a contract that would have made all this so much easier. Alas, it just wasn’t going to happen.
So I made a choice, the kind of choice you have to keep making every day. Get up. Yep, still indie. Start again the next day. Get up. Yep, still indie. And you just…keep…writing.
As an indie, YOU are the permission. You are the validation. You are the gatekeeper of your own stories. Period. It will cost you, a lot. But it’s worth the freedom of knowing you’re not waiting on anyone else, especially a bevy of highly paid professionals taking 95% of your cut for their third house on a nice sunny beach, who’ve never written a book in their life, but will be happy to tell you how you’re doing it all wrong. You’re not waiting on those guys.
You’re an indie, or thinking about it, so let the next artist wait on that kind of validation. You just keep writing. Write. Write. Write. Write until your fingers bleed, and your heart breaks, and then keep writing, because you’re about to get to the good stuff. Just write.
I estimate I lost a good decade of quality writing time while I sat on the curb with my first books, waiting to be “rescued” by someone else’s recognition or validation. Then I bored, tired, and hungry. There would be no rescue, time to do it myself.
The choice to go indie was not made lightly. I’d been with a publisher for one book, and it was a terrible experience. I wasn’t giving in so easily the second time around.
I knew it would be years of professionals questioning my choices, or dismissing my lack of polish. I knew it would be a lot of players in the industry just being polite, but having already decided to write me off. That happens to everyone. Even the big, famous writers. I’m not special, and I was prepared for a double dose of, who the fuck do you think you are treatment from industry people.
The publishing offers I got were ridiculous. They boiled down to: re-write the story of the muses from a male perspective, OR, take out all the Avian’s and replace them with vampires, OR, take on a masculine pen name. These were essentially rejections, in my book. So I added them to the pile of rejections and kept going. (Honestly, my most frequent rejection from agents was my refusal to change my name—my real name—Athena. My feeling was, if you have to change MY NAME to sell these books, then there’s something wrong with your marketing strategy, or the world as a whole. My name is short. It’s a mononame. It doesn’t take up much room on the cover. If your excuse is that a female name will prevent men from reading—there’s a problem with men, not with my name. End of discussion.)
But the tide of rejections slowed me down. They made me think, and re-think, and clench up. One hundred and forty-three rejections on my series later…I was too afraid to let Scold of Jays leave my hands—because what if they were right? What if all those important people who know storytelling and writing better than me are right?
What if I should have quit a long time ago?
Impostor syndrome is perfectly named. Once impostor syndrome gets hold of you, it’s nearly impossible to shake off. Who do I think I am publishing a series that one hundred and forty-three professionals decided was too shitty to support? I’m an idiot. I should be listening to them, right?
A couple of months ago, after a lot of clenching, stressing and the spinning in circles, I got in the car and went for a long drive under the full moon, hit fifth gear and belted some tunes. The Oregon Coast is a marvel by moonlight, and I made my way up and down highway 101 with my trusty Pink Floyd, The Wall.
I’m here to tell you if you’re indie, or thinking about it—the self-doubt and self-questioning has yet to totally go away. Three books total under my own label, and I’m still hesitating right at the final release stage. I had to go on a drive with Pink Floyd to remember this about myself and my mission:
Since when do other people’s opinions or permissions ever really stop me? For reals. All of my very favorite mistakes, accidents, journeys, relationships, scenic routes, learning curves, destinations, moments of bliss, and best adventures happened when I ignored the voice of authority—and made my own call, went my own way.
That’s how I felt before I published Murder of Crows, and again when Sinnet of Dragons was ready to be released. Why has Scold of Jays been such a struggle?
I think it’s because of the point of no return for my personal investment. I could have still walked away from the series after those two books, but once Scold of Jays is live…there’s no going back. The arc hits a pulling stride, and the characters are swept in at tsunami force, and I love the story enough to go with them. I don’t think I’d be able to walk away after this book is released because, I NEED TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS!
People are shocked when they hear I don’t know how the series ends. You’re not supposed to write a series unless you’ve already written the ending!! I did. I wrote an ending. But because I wanted it to be a surprise for me too, I wrote two more endings.
Yes. I wrote a total of three endings to this series. Because I’m selfish, and I wanted to be surprised, too. I’m writing it in a way that any one of three endings can fit, and I don’t know which one it will be. It could literally come down to picking one of three endings out of a hat.
See the problem? If Scold of Jays goes live---then I have to keep writing because I’ll be so invested that I will just have to know what happens next. Damnit.
It’s a point of no return because I’m realizing, I’m accepting an indie for life challenge. Potentially years to keep writing this series on my own, struggling, fighting, pressing forward. It’s a long-term commitment—me—with the commitment phobia.
So, I’ve literally done everything I wasn’t supposed to with this series. I’ve ignored the advice of professionals in the industry. I’ve been unable to afford top-quality editing and professional development, so I went ahead without it. I didn’t re-write the story from a male point of view. I didn’t replace my flying characters with vampires. I didn’t take on a neutral name, or masculine pen name. I didn’t finalize my ending before my series arc started. I didn’t hire a professional marketing firm, because I couldn’t afford it. And so on and so forth, etc. (the list goes on)
So therein lies the indie dilemma: give up because you feel like you can’t reach the bar set by the industry? Which means you will never be recognized by the industry, or validated by the industry, or supported by the industry and its peers.
OR keep going and find out how the story ends?
TRUST THE STORY.
So be it. I love these characters and these books. My readers love these characters and books enough that they’ve become my patrons in order for me to keep going—so, I CHOOSE THE STORY.
When it comes to the industry bar, I may not be a pole vaulter—but I can limbo like nobody’s business, and I bet there are a few good folk out there who’d like to limbo with me. Choosing the indie path means, not waiting for permission. It means setting your own bar.
You don’t have to be good enough for them—be good enough for yourself, and your readers, and the rest will eventually stop being relevant.
JUSTICE TO THE STORY.
Queuing limbo music… Scold of Jays is set for shelves, April 9th, 2019.
I hope it’s one hell of a dance off.
As I’m going through the final polish of Scold of Jays, I realized I’ve made a mistake with my research guide; I dropped topic I’d marked for validation. #Rookiemistake.
I keep a running list of research topics to tackle when I’m in internet range, or have access to the book store or library. When you live remotely, information access becomes a scheduled time slot—whereas when I lived within satellite and or wifi range, I might think of a topic or question as I’m writing and immediately go look it up on the internet.
Having instant access to the internet for every question that pops up is both a blessing and a curse. (Remember that time I tried to look up arsenic poisoning symptoms while I was writing a chapter, then FOUR WEEKS LATER, I emerged from my room and said, “I found the best recipe for salt dough from the American Revolution!”.) One click on a link about Napoleon’s death symptoms had led to another click on bread wars, to French debt to the American cause, to well… a month of lost time as I couldn’t stop reading the WHOLE internet from beginning to end.
Not to mention, when you have immediate access to the internet, it’s easy to say, “I’ll just take a quick break and check my emails,” which turns into an hour, followed by another hour on Facebook, followed by a Twitter binge, followed by… well, you get it. Five lost hours that I could have been busting out a chapter.
Living off the main pipeline means, focus. When I’m writing, I’m writing. There are no interruptions or distractions. It’s priceless. It’s blissful.
To support this process, I keep notebooks of questions as they arise, and tag my manuscript with notions of details to research when I’m in range. In order to keep the writing tap at full pressure, I just come back to those details by writing around them, or inserting (x) to hold the marker until I can verify data.
Scold of Jays had three legal pads of notes for checking data, and cross-checking world-building notes. Somewhere in the move from Portland to the coast…I lost a notebook. It’s probably in a box in a closet of my old apartment, that I missed. It could also very well be lost at one of the dozens of coffee shops where I sat to work, or on the table at the sushi bar on Division. Either way, someone will stumble across a legal pad with questions such as: “Cattle mutilations in Scotland?” “Fastest way to dismember cadaver?” “Historical weather chart for Dublin, December 2011?” “How long does it take blood to congeal at room temperature?” “Emily Dickinson poem about death?” All of these questions and the research will make sense after someone reads Scold of Jays. At least, I hope it will make sense.
Unfortunately, I’m certain some poor soul who finds my research list at a coffee shop will think they were sitting where a serial killer drank some raspberry mint tea and plotted a murder.
When I unpacked my writing boxes and rebuilt my permanent storyboard, I realized one of my research notebooks was missing. I tried to make a new one with the questions I could remember that I still needed to validate…but some topics must have slipped in the crack.
As I’ve been going through this final polish, I hit a chapter that I wrote, revised ten times, then pushed through, and after seeing the same set of words no less than a dozen times…it triggered a memory of what was in the original notebook that I hadn’t actually verified. “Historical weather chart for Dublin, December 2011?”
Sonofabitch. Four chapters have the wrong weather details for historical accuracy. AFTER the proofer has already been through. #headdesk
So…here I am…a week out from delivery to layout…trying to re-configure the atmospheric details in four chapters, and NOT MAKE ANY TYPOS during these corrections. Cramming edit session in before my shift at the restaurant.
Some days I ask myself, “Why couldn’t you have just wanted to be an accountant, Athena? Why?”
Last year I told myself I’d learn how to make a decent bread. I’ve made okay bread in the past. Usually by accident. Most of my bread-making efforts are colossal failures in flavor and texture. This happens from either over-working the doughs, or under-working…I never can quite seem to get it right.
Ultimately, last year got buried by rushed projects, and prepping for two manuscripts and by the time I got back to bread, the year was gone. Then I realized, those two manuscripts I’d been working on were not unlike the bread process. I hadn’t made a French loaf, or a sourdough round, but I’d basically gone through all the steps but with words and printer paper.
Write a novel or bake a classic loaf of bread as follows:
Recipe = theme
Yeast = characters (1 Tbsp. Yeast)
Flour = plot (5 Cups Flour)
Salt = conflict (pun intended) (2 1/2 Tsp. Salt)
Water = world ( 2 Cups Water)
A classic French loaf contains only four ingredients; flour, water, yeast, and salt. We’ll be writing a French Loaf Novel with just the basic classic ingredients.
I’m of the school of learning that all good stories are character based. However, we’re only using one small packet of yeast for nearly five cups of flour. That’s a lot of plot and a little character…have faith, it will make sense in a minute.
With 2 ½ teaspoons of salt you’d think a character will need a bit more conflict than that, but conflict/salt is really for flavor, and to retard the yeast/character from growing too fast. Character growth does define the story and character arc…have faith, it will taste great in the end. This will also ensure an even pacing in your story.
Plot and recipe in hand, we go to the work surface.
You can use a mixer/computer or do it all by hand/pen paper. Whichever your preferred method gather your main ingredients first.
Soak your character in the world until it comes alive. Then feed it plot and conflict. Some will say the conflict defines the plot—and I don’t disagree. It’s semantics, but I go with the feeling that conflict defines the perimeter of the plot. Tension and conflict are an absolute necessity-but it needs to have boundaries for the reader to be able to relate to challenges.
For example: conflict that escalates, and quadruples and overwhelms the growth capability of the character is no longer tension, it’s a cancerous blob overrunning your plot. Tension and conflict need to be proportionate to the circumstances and resilience of your character(s). This generates flavor, and gives the story body.
Your character/yeast is a living entity. It’s now alive in the world, digesting the plot. As the yeast breaks down your flour, it’s extracting proteins, sugars, and fuel. It off-gasses (farts out) air and lift the flour particles, and stretches the glutens in the mix.
You’re now kneading the dough, either by hand/pen or mixer/computer. Working the small scenes, the micro moments that create the larger picture. Your hands are dirty, sticky. You’re getting tired and possibly sore, and you might need a break. The more you work the dough, the more the glutens in the flour activate with the water and it binds all the ingredients together.
Punch it. Knead it. Push it. Pull it. Bang your face on it. Bleed all over the keyboard. Weep into your flour pile. Get smudges in your hair and on your clothes. Go through impostor syndrome, and hate ALL THE THINGS YOU’VE EVER BAKED. Then shove it away. Storm outside. Drink half a bottle of wine. Drunk text your ex. Sleep for two days. Wake up and eat twinkies for breakfast…then realize what you did wrong and rush back to the work surface, make a few rapid tweaks, and voila.
The rising/proofing process for bread is very much the same for writing a book. You must step away from it to let the magic happen. Do something else. Walk the dog. Take a shower. Go for a drive. Have dinner with friends. Rise time= flavor.
In real world bread time this means let it rise at 76 degrees for 90-120 minutes.
Whew. Take a break. Cover your dough in a bowl or under a dishcloth. Close your laptop. Walk away from the story for a moment. This separation of the effort allows the mind to percolate. The character is still actively digesting plot. It’s still growing in your mind, at the back of your thoughts, whether you’re consciously focused on it or not.
After you’ve tweaked it, from the first prove. You’ll shape the loaves and let it prove once more, covered. In novel writing time, the last proving process is where you might.
Sit down to make some final edits. Have a glass of whiskey. Read three chapters and realize you changed a character’s name halfway through a paragraph. Oh crap! Rush through “find all” function correcting character discrepancies-during which you also notice an over usage of the word “that”. Suddenly sober, irritated, “find all” function for a record number of overused words. Pour second whiskey, then third, no longer sober. Over used words and phrases stack up in final edit rounds until shame tastes like whiskey and self-loathing and disgust in craft failure tips scales to full blown COLD FEET. Must burn manuscript before anyone knows of such fraudulent failure and literary abuses. Fourth whiskey leads to picking up phone- luckily pass out before any calls or questionable texts can be sent.
Second rise time in bread world about 90 minutes.
Wake up from drunken impostor syndrome-driven blackout, realize the oven is preheated and ready to go. Hungover. Tired. Drained. Sore. Hungry. FUCK IT. Put that shit in the oven and get it over with. Email draft to editor. Greasy breakfast, followed by resignation letter sent to editor. Editor politely writes back that you’re not an employee and you cannot resign from her. She sends a bill anyway. Hangover fest greasy breakfast comes back up. Bathroom floor pep talk begins. Get up, girl. Take a shower. Get your shit together. It’s just a draft. If it doesn’t work…try again later. For now, wait to see what the editor says. Be strong.
This is bake. It’s setting all the ingredients to a firm presentable, tasty state. Writing world bake time can be six weeks. Bread world bake time is 20 to 25 minutes in a 425-degree humid oven.
When the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool. Let the aroma of your hard work and that fresh yeasty goodness fill your home. Enjoy warm, hot bread and cool butter and let the troubles of your day drift away.
In writing world time, this is when the edits come back. You’ll open the email from your editor and see the pages bleed red. At first, you’ll judge it. Maybe you’ll be too overwhelmed to read more than a few comments or pages. LET IT COOL.
Bread cuts more evenly when it’s not hot. Edits make more sense when they’re cool.
Come back when it’s still warm, but not hot. Edits begin to make sense. Logic fills in gaps. Synapses make connections. You realize: this is fixable. Can work with this. Few more tweaks to the recipe. Try again. Polish. Add some butter. Not so bad, actually. Could have been worse. Few more bites. This is good. It’s all good. Carbohydrates. Yum. Stack of edits to make better story. Excellent. Carbohydrate high allows for cheerful mood. Ex texts back. What the hell? Things were going so great with new edits and fresh bread. What drunk idiot invited him back around? Certainly could not have been you.
To hell with that guy. You’ve got bread, wine, and a draft to polish for the recipe book. Enjoy.
P.S. French Bread Recipe to Patreon Patrons for January 2019 reward tier.