Books I've Written

17 May 2002

Happy Syttendemai! I don't know what I'm going to do for it, but it seems like cloudberries at the very least are called for. And something with potatoes. Maybe. Something Norwegian, but I don't know what. Dill potatoes, perhaps. That sounds good, but...hmm. We'll see.

Thanks to Wendy the pen geek, I have determined that my Waterman is a Phileas.

I finished off After Silence. Memo to Jonathan Carroll: when you need to introduce a seven year time jump and a radical personality change into the book 200 pages in, for no reason except to give the moral message you wanted to give at the end, that's a sign that you need to rethink your ending. Lord, Lord. What a disappointing book. I started Jane Yolen's Sister Emily's Lightship, which has some good stories in it so far ("Granny Rumple" is one of my all-time favorites) and some mediocre ones but nothing really truly bad.

And I've been working on the Not The Moose Book. I'm at the stage where I need to work on the outline again, and I think this will be the last major outline reworking. I hope. You would think that this many words into the book, I would be done with the outline. You would be, oh, so wrong. But that's okay. I do this. It's fine.

Yesterday, I got a UPS package. The bottom of it said "Arthur copies." It was for me! I'm the arthur! Er, author. Well, so they didn't get everything right. But I did get the first set of the nonfiction children's books I wrote on contract last year. The Chinese Americans, glossy and professional and mine. I'm still waiting for The Jewish Americans, and I'll be interested in seeing how the illustrations for that one go. Because in this one, the illustrations are basically "Look! Here's some Chinese people!" A few of them match up with the text somewhat well, but But they weren't under my control, and I still have books that I wrote, published and in my hands. Woohoo! Very cool feeling.

Oh, I was going to talk about the books I've already done. I'm still up in the air on the synopsis question, although some of you have expressed doubts and some interest. Let me know. Anyway. For those who are just catching up, I've written three novels to date, two YA fantasies in the same series and one grown-up SF novel. (I attempt to avoid "adult" in this context, because I don't want you looking for my "adult books" in an "adult bookstore.")

I wrote Fortress of Thorns, my first book, while I was in grad school. That would be starting in October of '99 and finishing in March of '00, I believe, although perhaps it was April. I'm too lazy to get my journal and check. Anyway. I wrote Fortress longhand in my journal. I had written a short story for Timprov the previous spring (of '99) about two girls named Charlotte and Miri and how they stumbled upon The Grey Place. It was based on a freewrite I'd done in Joyce Sutphen's Intro Creative Writing class in the spring of '97. (Again, I'm too lazy to get my journal and find out what day, but I could.) Joyce had asked us to bring in postcards, so I brought in a postcard my daddy had sent me, an Escher drawing of the circle stairs. I like Escher. Joyce asked us to freewrite about the place shown, and holy crap, out came this dismal dystopian vision. The Grey Place. Joyce called time, and I kept writing a little bit, and then I stared down at my notebook: what the hell is this? Then I scrawled "Next: Coyote in the Grey Place" in the margin, and let it be.

I did a sketch of Coyote later on, because he wasn't just the Indian trickster legend. He was related to it somehow, but he was human, Chinese-American, had immigrated from Hong Kong when he was 12. He was a product of the late '90s. He wasn't, I came to realize, the Coyote. But he was certainly a Coyote.

I still have to write his short story, by the way, but those of you who have read Fortress of Thorns and The Grey Road know that he's a major supporting character. He will continue to show up in The Tides Between the Worlds and Dreams of a Young Master.

So one Saturday in October of '99, Timprov and I were sitting at the Renaissance Coffee Cafe in Concord (I think that's a terrible name, but it wasn't a half bad cafe), and I was talking about the story I'd written for him, wondering if I should do another short story related thereto. Telling him about Charlotte and Miri. I was not intending to write a novel. I had won the Asimov Award in the spring of '99, and Gay Haldeman, after sitting through my reading, told me that I was Ready and just needed to send out stories. She sat me down in the lobby of the hotel there in Florida and told me a bunch of things that Joe did when he was starting out that I should avoid, and a bunch of things he still sometimes does that I should do or not do. And she was right, too, and I managed to thank her rather than just standing there with my mouth agape. So I had decided, yes, okay, here I went with this short story stuff, it was time. I sent out two of them. That summer was rather eventful, but in the fall, I was settling down to grad school and short story writing. Timprov and I had a collab we were working on, but other than that, I knew in my heart that I was not ready for a novel.


So then Timprov and I were sitting in this cafe, and I started talking, and then I started talking and writing stuff down at the same time. And then I started getting up in the middle of the night to write more stuff down, and then came Nate, who is the third main character of Fortress. And then I was writing a book. I wrote it out longhand, as I said, and Mark and I sat down and talked about it and decided that if I was going to do everything I had in mind to do, if I was going to write this book, I was going to be serious about it. And what that meant for me was that I was going to tell him at the end of every day what I had accomplished on this book. He would not judge what I had told him, but he would listen, and if he had questions, he could ask them. So if some days I said "I didn't get anything written, but I figured out how to work the bit with Nate and the Baker," that would be okay. But mostly I wrote. Every single day. Sometimes just a little bit, sometimes a lot, but I did it every day and told him about it every day and talked about it with Timprov every day. And then one Wednesday in the spring I finished it.

All right, but then, I thought, then it was time to write some short stories. I quit grad school, and I did that. They included some of my recent sales -- "Irena's Roses" and "Instead of Glass Slippers" were from that period. I edited Fortress and sent it out, and my first readers liked it, and I kept working on short stories. Around the time Jen came out for a visit (the day she came, actually), Timprov and I talked and talked and I ended up with the general notes and mental outline for the other three books in the series with Fortress. Those books upgraded a minor character from Fortress, Sam, to major character status. Followed a natural arc through the worlds involved. Managed to work in some fun bits that I had wanted to do -- this is what's great about novels, is that you have room for the stuff that's just fun.

I had been writing scenes on the second book off and on, even before I got the whole series planned, but I was also working on a novel idea that was essentially the sequel to my short story "Anna's Implants." (This is still on the back burner, but still a project I believe in.) All of a sudden in late September or early October, I woke up one morning and realized that I had 40,000 words of the sequel, which is less than what I have now on the Not The Moose Book, but this was a YA and not a big fat spy/computer/Finland fantasy, so 40,000 words meant more.

(It does amuse me, though, that evidently I can get to 40,000 words and never realize I was anywhere close. This has happened twice now.)

So I said to Mark, "I think I'm writing the sequel to Fortress next," and he said, "I don't think that's a good idea." He didn't want to introduce too many dependencies into my body of work, that I would have twelve or thirteen books that I couldn't sell until I'd sold the first one. And I understood that concern, and I still do understand it, but then I pointed out that I had 40,000 words, and he said, "Oh, well, that's different, then."

So I kind of wrote The Grey Road accidentally. I was in the groove from Fortress, and I know these characters. And I love these characters. Even the ones who make the wrong choices. Oh, wait, that's all of them. Anyway, these were easy books for me. Finished The Grey Road in November after a month or so of more solid work.

Then the holidays were approaching, and I was just going to work on short stories. I printed out a bunch of stuff to work on while we were visiting family members. I had this fragment of a thing that I had written while I was in Quentin Miller's Writing Fiction class my senior year of Gustavus, and I had no idea where it was going. None. Quentin had encouraged us to turn in fragments of stories to get help with them, so I had turned this in, and he'd said, "Think of where you want this to go, and then I think you'll know what you want to do next."

Oh, thank you very much, Mr. English PhD Writing Professional Man, I thought. Your help has been invaluable, thank you, thank you. But he was right: there was no way he could give me guidance on that story from what I had, because there was a whole novel in it, and I had given him six pages. It wasn't as though he could say, "Okay, well, it looks like the ending is going either here or here, and the former is pretty cliched, so I'd stick with the latter." So I was sitting in Milwaukee on the Gritters' couch, looking at the printout I'd brought and the wacky attempt at a nonlinear outline I'd done (and that went right out the window, believe me: do not outline by putting little drawings that represent actual or symbolic places in the novel and numbering arrows between them. Bad idea.), and I would like to say it all fell together. It did not. It all stretched in front of me. It was like driving into Omaha from the suburbs: you can see some of the tallest buildings, sort of, but some of them hide each other, and the most interesting places, say the ones that sell espresso chocolate chip cookies, are still hidden from view.

Stupid metaphor. Now I'm really hungry for an espresso chocolate chip cookie from Delice's.

Cookies aside, though, I knew where I was going, and I had a good idea of how to get there. And that became Reprogramming. The writing of which overlapped with the beginning of this journal.

I wish I thought that I could say, aha, I've written three books already, now I know how it goes. But it's gone differently every time. There are some things that have eased in now that I've done this before. I don't feel the need to give Mark nightly updates now, not specific ones. We both know that I'm no dilettante, so I don't need to report in as a psychological trick. I just work. One of the common threads, though, is talking things out. I do that a lot. Thing is, I don't always know what I'm saying. As I was telling C.J. on the phone last night, if I'm telling you something about my latest book, chances are I'm taking mental notes, going, hmm, really, is that how it goes? I didn't know that. I'm usually poised enough to act like I knew it all along, if I don't know you very well. But it's often news to me, often more interesting news than it is to you.

The instant gratification of short stories is more appealing now than it ever was, and I have to say that having three unsold novels around the house has its effect on writing the fourth. I'm still working on it pretty solidly, but sometimes it just gets to be a bit much, knowing that Fortress is out to an agent and Reprogramming is out to a publisher and The Grey Road is just sitting around waiting. The ones that are out are better -- Mark is right, introducing too many dependencies into what I can try to sell is a bad idea, not just financially or in terms of playing the odds, but psychologically. Having two novels done and out there doesn't double the angst for each one, but it doesn't halve it, either. And sometimes it's hard to start fresh every day -- but that is what I need to do, because what I'm doing with the Not The Moose Book has absolutely nothing to do with whether the agent has even read my synopsis yet. In some ways I really envy people who are writing their first books, because they can still dream that they will be the ones who get snapped up by the first publishers they send their books to. They can still look at their manuscripts and not see months and months of waiting. But I'm glad I've written these three books. I'm proud of them. And I'm glad to be writing this fourth one, too. It just gets to be a lot sometimes.

So, is that all you ever wanted to know and more about the books I've already written? Or is there more you'd like to know? Besides the synopsis question, of course. Talk to me. Really. I mean it.

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