The feel of a book

I know it’s been a while since my last post – apologies. Tomorrow is the big day for me (following that post about my kidneys) – tomorrow I go in to see a kidney specialist. Nothing may come of this visit except more tests; or I could be facing a new diet, lifestyle, tests, who knows. I don’t. I find that a bit scary, to be honest. I sometimes like writing creature feature stories, even a little horror on occasion, but nothing is as frightening as an unknown visit with a specialist. Pretty sure Stephen King tried to capture that once or twice, most recently with Doctor Sleep.

Needless to say, being able to focus on my writing hasn’t been a thing the last few weeks. I’m too distracted by real world concerns to focus like I should. I feel guilty about it, but mostly because I know I have half worked pieces that need finishing, stories to share, and feedback to gather.

What have I been doing to fill the void and distract me? Reading.

“But you’re always doing that,” you might say, and you’d be half right. What makes this reading a bit different is that they have all been physical, paper in hand books. Late last year I went through a phase where I stopped myself from buying new digital books and focused on decluttering my digital to-read pile. While there are still books in that pile, largely guides to writing, the fiction half is just about done. Most of what remains are one-offs that I grabbed because (frankly) they were a dollar on special and I knew the day would come when I would need something to read.

But starting this month, I’ve been working on reading actual paper books. You might say it’s become somewhat of an obsession. I’ve read five books so far and started or sampled three others. I don’t remember having this super power in the past, but something about reading the paper edition is easier on my brain. My eyes have to strain more than with digital – no easy font adjustment here! – but I’m ripping through books at a rate that is surprising even to me.

As I read, I am reminded of something I’ve never really discussed with anyone before. I’m reminded that some books have a taste in my mind. I won’t claim its synesthesia, but there are certain flavors to books. A fun, quick to read space opera will have a completely different flavor in my mind than deep epic fantasy. In fact, it’s often this mental taste I’m after when I’m “in the mood” to read something. Sometimes I’m looking for the taste of a romp with ancient, forgotten alien civilisations. Sometimes I’m in the mood to follow an epic quest. Each one tastes different to me, resonates differently in my head. They have a different flavor in my mind.

And what, pray tell, brought this up? This week I acquired Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch quadrilogy (tetralogy? The verdict seems to be out on what a group of 4 books should be called.). I think I might have read book one before, but it’s been a long time, and I know I never read the sequels. What struck me as I started the first book is the thickness of the book mentally.

I am, admittedly, a horrible speed reader. They say the secret to reading faster is to look at the words, not subvocalize them. I’ve played with that approach, and it’s true, it’s quicker, but I have a deeper resonance with a book when I’ve recited it in my head. Given how fast I read books as it is, my inner voice must talk a mile a minute. Books like Shadowmarch aren’t high literature by any means (sorry, Tad!), but they have a brooding sense where I find myself reading each passage slowly and with attention. Tad likes to throw hints and subtle clues in the most innocuous places, so reading one of his books should be done with due diligence. To these kinds of books, my mind assigns a taste of deep and thick. I don’t know how else to describe them. Space operas, my other favorite examples, have a jumpy, springy feel in my head. Which makes using the word flavor to describe them wrong too, come to think of it, but it’s the best word I have for it.

Anyone else feel that way about books?

Finding my audience

Well, not literally. I don’t care what any writer tells you, published or not, we all write for the same audience – ourselves. Mostly to get the words out of our heads so they can stop feeding that annoying, screeching monkey of a conscience and give us some peace and quiet. We write to get the stories out, to clear space in our brains so other stories can come in and sit for a while. Some writers like to visit with their stories longer than others, but we’re all writing just to keep ourselves sane.

At some point, though, we have to look to who we’re going to share that writing with. It may start with friends and family, but at some point we have to figure out who, among the countless billions out there, stands the best chance of enjoying what we wrote.

For a long time, I thought my audience would be adults. Why not? By all accounts I’m an adult. My kids think I’m one, anyway, and the state of California treats me like one. I read adult books (not those adult books.)(prude.). Why wouldn’t what I write be for adults?

Then I wrote A Scent of Roses and all of that changed. I don’t want to say I was timid in the writing – I wasn’t – but despite being a full grown adult with all my adult credentials, I found the end product of my muse to be more appropriate to New Adult than full adult. (New Adult is a category of books,  post YA, pre-adult, that allows for more mature content without being 50 Shades of Peuce mature). In other words, PG-13 vs NC-17. There are certainly moments in Roses where you have to be an adult to read them, but by and large its just a fun thriller (with a strong Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Exorcist vibe).

Why do I bring this up? Right now I’m working on short stories largely – both writing new ones and polishing old ones, sending them out and working on the next one. But last night I had a short bout of sleeplessness. I took a shower. I made my lunch for today. I wrote 1000 words in a short story. Then I sat down and did some plotting for a novel that’s been kicking around in my head.

I’ve had this character – Niki Hunter – strolling through my head, kicking ass and doing magic for a few years now. I like her. She’s awesome, both fragile (in the sense that there are limits to her powers, and when she reaches them she’s burned out and likes to hide in a bottle to dull the chaos and pain of it all) and killer (Buffy-esque)(but from the good seasons). There’s a world and plots and turmoils and Writs of Blood and the whole nine yards. What there isn’t is a finished novel.

It’s not from a lack of trying. I’ve even had novels that started off as unrelated, only to end with her walking and taking over all of the action. The problem has been finding satisfactory finishes. But rather than continue to rehash old attempts, I wanted to start fresh.

And this is where target audience comes into the discussion. (I know you were thinking I’d forgotten about it.) I started wondering, what if rather than aiming for an adult audience with all of the implications that that carries (word counts, context, etc.), what if I just aimed for that New Adult audience from the start? It means cleaning things up a little (I’m no saint), but as soon as the key was turned in that lock I filled pages in my notebook with initial plot points and dialog snippets. I think because in some ways, this was the audience that best suit my writing to begin with. Maybe that makes me a dull person.

Of course, this is all talk, just me discussing what’s rambling around in my head. I intend to continue writing short stories while I plan out this novel (I won’t call it outlining – viva la pants!). But that’s where my brain is right now. The Edward Gorey picture at the top of the page? Not a coincidence. I’ve been thinking a lot about Gorey’s work, and the books its appeared in, lately.

And in other news, the rejection list continues to mount even as the number of stories released to the wild increases. When will it end? NEVER.


Stages of writing a novel, via Chuck Wendig

Scary confession time: I’ve never read a Chuck Wendig book. I want to, I do, if for no other reason than his blog on writing is always like a drunk coach cheering on the team before falling face first on the bench – a bit raw and candid, but full of inspirational points that leave you nodding even when you’re told you’re the team’s loveable screw up. If nothing else, I feel like buying a book or two would help show my support of his work. But then I worry that by buying into his work, I help fuel a real world In the Mouth of Madness, with Wendig as our very own Sutter Cane, and then I start writing crazy candid blog posts with that weird guy on the bike with the card in the spokes riding past me over and over and over…

Today, Wendig’s blog post is no different – a trip through the real stages of writing a novel. Personally, I’m somewhere between the 33% and 50% marker right now on my current WIP (really depends on where the word count ends up being – I’m aiming for about 75k, but maybe it’ll be shorter, maybe it’ll be longer). If you’re interested, hop over to read the Emotional Milestones of Writing a Novel. Or, TL;DR, the infographic is below.