I’m in the middle of drafting.
When I say middle, I mean I’m swimming through an ocean of words that are simultaneously crashing over my head and pulling at my shirtsleeves and staring me in the face while chewing too loud.
Since everyone is so different, I thought I’d take a beat and give you a wee window into what my life looks like when I’m deep in the word trenches.
Empty Plates, Mugs, Bowls, Wrappers
I work in a desolate wasteland of once-upon-a-food.
When I’m drafting, I often forget to eat, and when I don’t forget, my food will sit by me for hours until a cat tries to eat it and I have to finish eating it before she can. My coffee will be gulped halfway down and left to grow cold. Rediscovering it two hours later when I’m in the middle of a scene is like finding buried treasure.
When I do forget, I’ll get said coffee, go through the aforementioned half-gulping, and several hours later will look at the clock and realize I last ingested nutrition-like substances six or seven hours before.
You don’t want to see my room when I’m drafting.
My room tends to be a reflection of the inside of my head, and when I’m making big with the words, my brain is full of mountains and valleys and cyclones and tsunamis. So’s my room. Clothes come off and land in a pile. I pirouette around them to get anywhere. The cats navigate a minefield, slinking between hillocks of bras and pants with tails low to the ground and whiskers forward.
If you ask me about this book, you will not get an elevator pitch. Unless that elevator is stuck and we are both in it, and however many hours we are there will be literally an elevator pitch, because you will probably want to pry open the elevator doors and pitch me into the shaft.
I write my loglines and query letters and often synopses before I ever start scribbling, but once I start drafting, all bets are off. My brain will be as cluttered as my bedroom, and you’re likely to get a dissertation on weather patterns or fantastical world climate change or axial tilt and elliptical orbits or characterization over the entire series or magic systems or something about food.
Probably that last because I’ve forgotten to eat again.
I have been known to do nothing all day but write and drink coffee. This does not make me a special snowflake.
The Flagellation Carousel
This is probably the biggest emotional hurdle I face while drafting. Earlier I told my friend Cait Greer that I’m always terrified my books are boring if someone’s not actively busy dying. When I wrote my magical realism last year, no one was in much danger of dying. I spent most of the book fretting that it was the most snore-worthy book ever, because the stakes all fell below the whole getting gutted with fishhooks thing.
Most of this goes around and around in my head from “THIS IS THE MOST ORIGINAL THING I’VE EVER WRITTEN” to “OMG IF THIS IS THE MOST ORIGINAL THING I HAVE EVER WRITTEN THEN I AM THE BIGGEST HACKY MCDERIVATIVE FACE IN ALL THE LAND” to “THIS SCENE IS AWESOME AND WOOOOORDS” to “LITERALLY THIS SCENE IS ABOUT A ROCK WHO CARES” and back.
Welcome to the inside of my head.
…..it’s not often a quiet place.
I spend most of my time in sponge-phase, which sort of begs explanation, so…
The Drafting Life Cycle of an Emmie Brain
Stage 1: Sponge — I’m reading, listening, observing, Facebooking, Twittering, prancing, eating, going through life like a slightly bemused boss. If I’m writing, it’s scribbles of notes. Or blogs, probably GIF heavy ones.
Stage 2: Marination — Everything I soaked up gets put into a plastic brain-bag and all the air is sucked out of it until it is a compact pouch of randomness. The flavors meld, they become new things, they transcend themselves (hopefully), and they hopefully end up cohesive instead of smelling like old feet.
Stage 3: Dripping — The brain-bag is full. FULL, I tell you. The seal is leaking. Stuff starts dribbling out all over everywhere. It gets on napkins and post-its and iPhone notepads and the backs of receipts and possibly my own skin, written in my own blood.* It leaks onto index cards in Scrivener, into worldbuilding docs and outlines. I start hearing voices who don’t want to believe I’m their god. I usually have to bust out the squirt bottle.
Stage 4: SQUEEEEEZE — This is when something grabs hold of me and wrings me out. Anyone who’s followed me for a while has probably seen that I have some heavy word count days. 10K is not so huge for me. 15K is definitely a semi-regular occurrence. 20K+? Not unheard of. That’s how I do. Because after I’m soaking stuff up, marinating, and leaking, something comes along and it ALL comes out. At once. In a gush of words on paper or screen. I’ll write while I’m on the train, while I’m on lunch break, while I’m watching the Bachelor.** I’ll write in my bed, surrounded by cats and piles of clothes and empty mugs and bowls and late into the night when I have to wake up early in the morning.
And then, somewhere in this fourth stage, a book happens.
So there you have it, folks. This is my process and how I do the thing called writing. What’s yours?
*Just kidding…..OR AM I
** Not apologizing for this. Chris Harrison needs to go out to coffee with me and just make snarky comments about his own show for an hour.
Why, hello there.
Today I split myself in twain.
Not literally, though. Today I’m thrilled to announce that I have spawned an alter ego, Eva Jamieson. Under Eva’s loving care, I will be entering the author-publisher world to bring readers sex positive, often kinky contemporary erotica. My reasons are legion, but all that matters is the smexy stuff, right?
You can check out Eva’s shiny new website here, follower her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, and indulge in some NSFW deliciousness on her Tumblr.
SPOILERS. SPOILERY SPOILERS!
“Angry” is not a word I’d usually use to describe my emotions after an episode of a sitcom.
But after Monday’s final episode of How I Met Your Mother, I am, two days later, still using it.
The best way I can describe it is this: for nine years, they gathered these beautiful tiles, slowly and sometimes painstakingly constructing a mosaic. It wasn’t always perfect. Sometimes it was sad. Sometimes things got painful. Sometimes they got frustrating. Sometimes they were joyful and hilarious and wonderfully wicked. Sometimes we’d see pieces of the larger image appear, fleeting and tantalizing.
And then, when all the tiles were placed and the keystone was all that remained to bring it all together, they jammed it into its spot, and before you had time to thrill at the beauty of its completion, chucked it off the top floor of Goliath National Bank where it then smashed into a million jagged pieces.
Which they then doused in gasoline and set upon it with a flamethrower.
It was that bad. So bad that I think this is the first ever finale to retroactively ruin an entire series for me.
Bravo, HIMYM — you fucking broke it.
Before I detail everything that went wrong, here’s the good. I can count on one hand what I liked.
Thumb: Cristin Milioti. Just in general. She was everything. She just was.
Index finger: Neil Patrick Harris’s acting at the exact moment Barney saw his daughter.
Middle finger: Alyson Hannigan’s crying. She’s still perfect, as per usual.
Ring finger: Tracy getting a name. At the very, very, insulting least, they did her that service.
Pinky: The exact moment Tracy and Ted meet.
That’s really it. Notice this is all the actors being awesome at their art. Had they been given something better to work with, this finale could have been something truly spectacular.
But it wasn’t.
Which brings me to the first item on the shit list.
1. So. Much. Wasted. Potential.
Any time they came to a point with any real possibility of emotional impact, they looked at it and went, “Nah.”
I heard that the finale was 12 minutes too long, so they had to cut a bunch of stuff. Well. The whole season could have been trimmed by half, and they would have had plenty of time to end it well. And better.
Even with the choices they made, they failed. If they absolutely had to make the choices they did, they could have done it well. Made it believable. Sold it. Want to give Barney an accidental child? Show that he’d matured before he ever laid eyes on her. Show that changing him the moment he hears about it. Show that even if he tried to go back to his old lifestyle that it doesn’t fit now. Show us the nine years of his development actually meant something. And don’t call his baby mama “Number 31.”
Want to have Ted and Robin as the endgame? Show us the pair together after Tracy’s death. Show Robin helping Ted cope, even just by her presence. Show us the reality of messy grief. Laughter at odd moments and tears when you think you have none left. Show us that Ted actually gave some inkling of a shit for this wonderful woman Tracy McConnell who was a mother to his children.
Show us that her death affected his family, because holy shit, it should have. Show us Robin changing. As it is, Ted and Robin diverged years ago, and their paths were so far apart that a stupid blue French horn couldn’t come close to bridging that gap.
Some people have been arguing that the finale was realistic and that people wanted a fairy tale. That’s not the problem. And honestly, there’s nothing that realistic about two people who have grown apart as much as Ted and Robin, who live completely different lives, suddenly deciding that differences don’t matter and wheeeeee, relationship time! Yeah, people do die. Yeah, sometimes people go back to old flames. Sure. But there’s a way to do that artfully, with affection and emotion and humor, and there’s the way they did it…which was anything but.
Do something — anything, for the love of pineapples – with Lily and Marshall.
Even with keeping the big choices they’d apparently carved into diamond in season two, they missed just about every opportunity to give us a believable finale and a fitting farewell to characters we loved.
And knowing they could have, at any time in the past few years, adjusted course and chose not to — that may be the biggest sin committed by this finale: the inability to let go of something that no longer worked. Like Ted, standing on the beach with that balloon. Forever.
2. They effectively trolled their audience.
Oh, Cristin Milioti as Tracy. She was so wonderful. Witty and smart, funny and wise. Pretty much perfect, dammit.
They took this lovely character, Tracy McConnell, and turned her into barely more than an incubator for Ted’s kids and, as a commenter mentioned on one of the myriad reviews I’ve read of this finale, reduced Tracy to the level of one of Marshall’s masturbatory fantasies wherein he’d have to kill off Lily before thinking of anyone else.
What they did to Tracy was a crime. She was given no goodbye, no ceremony, no pathos. Nothing. She was stripped down to nothing but a cruel plot device. It’s actually heartbreaking to me. Cristin Milioti did such a spectacular job. Her character should have been given the respect of being treated like the complex human being they’d made us love instead of the bait in a nine year long bait and switch.
Used and discarded. It actually makes me feel a little sick.
3. Who the hell is this Robin?
The Robin Scherbatsky I’ve known for almost a decade doesn’t want kids. She has a successful life and dreams and motivations of her very own. How is it remotely likely for her to pine away for Ted for what basically amounts to almost 25 years? How are we supposed to believe that Ted’s kids will not be any kind of obstacle, even as teens? How are we supposed to buy that after 15+ years of travel and her dream job taking her around the world — including the six after Tracy’s death — that Robin would just be…waiting? That she never found anyone in all that time, in all her adventures, to revel in her just as she was? If we’re talking realism, she probably would have found someone in another country and had a successful relationship in which both parties had their independence. Couples like that exist.
So instead, they erased her personality and the last several years of telling us how wrong Ted and Robin are for each other, killed off a woman who is right for Ted, and ruined the marriage they literally spent 22 episodes this season leading up to. Yeah, there was a way to do this. This finale was not it.
There isn’t enough NOPE in the world.
22 200 episodes undone in 20 minutes.
I can think of about ten different things they could have done that would have made the finale less utterly maddening.
They could have:
- Showed the meeting between Ted and Tracy at the midseason finale
- Allowed us to see Tracy as her relationship with Ted grew
- Allowed us to mourn for her
- Shown us how she and Ted fell in love
- Shown her friendship with Lily
- Shown us how Tracy helped Lily deal with Robin’s leaving the group (if indeed they had to do that)
- Shown us Barney and Robin happy for at least, I don’t know, ten minutes
- Allowed us to mourn for and move on from Barney and Robin for more than, I don’t know, 30 minutes before HAHA BLUE HORN IS BACK
- Showed Barney as the interesting, changed man he’d become instead of just hitting a season one reset button. You try fitting back into your shoes from a decade ago. I’ll get YouTube ready.
- SHOWED US WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE GODSDAMNED PINEAPPLE
But they didn’t.
Instead they put Marshall in a car for half the season and drew out Barney and Robin’s wedding for 22 episodes, only to destroy it 20 minutes later.
Instead they took that awesome, legendary mosaic to the top floor of GNB, spit on it, and smashed it into ten thousand pieces.
And because of that, all I can do is point at the rubble and say, “You broke it.”
You broke it.
Nine seasons of loyalty.
Your audience’s trust.
The last season of carefully built love for Tracy.
You broke it.
Good luck with that spinoff.
I was tagged in this blog hop by the fabulous Megan La Follett, and I thought it could be a fun way to spend Tuesday. I don’t often write about writing over here anymore, so I thought this could be a fun departure. Or a throwback to how this blog began? Sure. Take your pick!
Either way, no, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. Consider it a missed opportunity. I could have told you I only write my stories longhand with a quill dipped in aged cat urine.
A Facebook cover image that inspired the mountain range in the epic fantasy.
1) What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished up copy edits on THE MASKED SONGBIRD, so this month for Camp NaNoWriMo I’ll be working on drafting the sequel. My goal is to get a first draft completely finished so I can get it to my betas mid-May and be ready well ahead of deadline. Where THE MASKED SONGBIRD deals with protagonist Gwen Maule’s choices both for herself and for her country, the sequel will deal with consequences, good and ill. I’m really excited to be back in Gwen’s head and to revisit familiar characters as well as introduce some new ones.
Apart from that, I’m also in the early stages of an epic fantasy that has been an absolute joy to work on so far. I’ve wanted to get back into writing epic fantasy since I put down my first ever novel attempt in high school, and when an idea hit me this winter, I ran with it.
2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?
I wanted to write a superhero novel that was about someone with superpowers discovering the heroism that comes from humanity. More Dark Knight Bruce Wayne than golden age Clark Kent, even though her powers are formidable. In all my work, I like to explore grey areas and the lines people cross in their own morality, as well as the choices they make that come to define them.
Also, as Donald Maass pointed out at a conference, there aren’t a ton of UF protagonists with mundane office jobs, and my lead characters tend to have just that. Gwen’s an accountant and another works in PR. A lot tend to be bounty hunters or PIs, and I wanted to explore something else. This isn’t to say I don’t love stories where the protagonist is a bounty hunter or a PI (I’m a sucker for Kim Harrison and Laurell K. Hamilton), but I like the idea of people still dealing with the daily grind even if they have nightly escapades.
3) Why do you write what you write?
When I was growing up, I was frustrated by the fact that I didn’t get to see girls or women doing awesome things that much. Princess Peach was always twiddling her thumbs in another castle, fellow preschoolers wouldn’t let me be a Ninja Turtle because I was a giiiiirl, and the narrative I heard outside my home was that girls were weak and pink and boring. (Pink doesn’t have to be boring, but I never really liked it that much. Though I did pretend to, because I wanted to fit in. True story.) Even with the advent of She-Ra and the Power Rangers and finally Buffy, I wasn’t seeing as much of it as I wanted to. So I decided the best way to see stories of girls and women saving the world was to write them myself.
4) How does your process work?
I used to be a die-hard pantser. Or so I thought. But two books in, I was struggling with editing and rewriting things that were almost broken, and I finally decided to sit down and learn structure. That formed the rudiments of plotting for me, learning where the major plot points needed to be to support a novel-length work and learning by doing that I could write remarkably quickly when I had those lynchpins in place. I’ve never looked back.
Now, I get an idea, scribble it down, then plunk it down at a table and ask it questions. I flesh out who’s story it is and who is working against them and why. I spend a lot of time with my antagonising forces because they are the only reason stories happen. The protagonist may be the hero, but the antagonist is the reason why. I figure out where the story starts and why. I figure out what the turning points are. What information is revealed and how. What the stakes are and why. Somewhere in this process I’ll sit down and write the first paragraph or chapter. My first lines tend to pop into my head unbidden, and I run with them when they happen, but I won’t go much farther until I have a clear goal.
I’m not a full outliner most of the time, but I have found myself compiling a beat sheet of sorts that helps me get from A to Z. I tend to write bare bones and then come back through and flesh things out, so instead of the Stephen King method of overwriting and trimming by 10-15%, I tend to write sparse and fill in later, then decide if anything is unnecessary.
Now I get to pester other bloggers about their processes…haven’t done that in a while. Hmmm.
Obviously, I’ll have to ask Kristin McFarland, because she’s my bosom friend and critique partner. How’s about I also peg N.E. White, Angie Richmond, and Brian O’Conor?
As is usually the case for me with posts like this, several things sort of converged this week. A maelstrom of thinky-thoughts, cauterized by a few news articles.
Last week the Women Destroy Science Fiction! anthology was funded on Kickstarter with over 1000% its funding. This week the Daily Dot ran a story about how some established science fiction and fantasy authors and an editor or two got super misogynistic in a forum thread…forgetting it was public. And finally, a museum in Pittsburgh is running an exhibit about women in comics.
Well, what do you know? These things are more than peripherally connected.
Most tellingly, perhaps, is this quote by cartoonist Hilda Terry, referenced in the link above about the comic exhibit. The context is that she was responding to being rejected from the National Cartoonists Society (the bylaws of which prohibited women from joining). She suggested they change their name to “National Men’s Cartoonists Society,” and here’s the relevant quote:
“Gentlemen: While we are, individually, in complete sympathy with your wish to convene unhampered by the presence of women, and while we would, individually, like to continue, as far as we are concerned, the indulgence of your masculine whim, we find that the cost of your stag privilege is stagnation for us, professionally.”
The rather disappointing thing about her quote is this: it could have been written yesterday. It wasn’t; it was written in 1949.
All of these things are connected by something rather simple: even when women are a minority or participating equally, we are perceived as dominating. There have been multiple studies (here’s one from Cambridge) that show that when there are an equal number of women present, both men and women feel like women are the majority. Studies that debunk the idea that women talk more. Studies that show that men are more likely to find female managers domineering and that even when women are in a distinct numerical minority, they may be perceived as dominating the conversation or group.
These findings are glaringly evident in the case of the SFWA forum kerfuffle. The men involved seem to think that just women being around poisons their fun. And when you factor in last year’s SFWA bulletin fiascos, it’s clear that those who think this way are fine with women if and only if women are paper dolls onto which they can paint chain mail bikinis and discuss their relative hotness.
Sure, in some ways we’ve come a long way from 1949. In others, I’m not sure we’ve progressed at all. The eerie sense of synchronicity I felt when I read Hilda Terry’s words and the forum posts by Sean Fodera was unnerving.
Shifting gears slightly, today they announced the all-female Expendables film. I’ve a fuzzy soft spot for the Expendables movies. They’re full of boom and badassery, and when I heard an all-female installment was in production, I was super excited. Until I saw the logline. Apparently the only story line they could think of was to make this team pose as high-class call girls to infiltrate a dictator’s home.
This sparked a long Twitter discussion this afternoon, and this is where this post’s title comes in.
As someone who creates fantasy worlds professionally (still excited to say that), I’ve given a lot of thought lately to how I build those worlds. What aspects of this one that go into it. Primarily, how I portray women and people of color — if at all. It’s no secret that fiction is dominated by white men. I’ve a running joke in our home with film trailers I see. White men in space! White men in the west! White men solving crimes! White men under the sea! White men on a boat! There’s nothing wrong with white men — but there are so many other people on this earth who just aren’t represented in our fiction.
The same principles above pertain to issues of race and ability and class and sexual orientation as well — when a minority is even given parity in fiction or in life, they are perceived as dominating. This diverse world that we live in is reduced to one or two demographics, and those of us who don’t fit into those demographics are expected to conform, to accept, and to relate to the protagonists who aren’t us.
When the tables are turned, that same expectation vanishes. “I just don’t relate to female protagonists.” “Well, there’s this one film with a Black lead, so you can’t say they’re not represented.” Those who are in a position of power have the privilege to ignore media that doesn’t fit their comfort zones; those who do not occupy that position of power do not have that option most of the time.
Which is why I wanted to write this post. I know there are a lot of like-minded writers out there. Writers who find that the diversity in our world is its biggest strength. Writers who want to see sexism and racism go the way of the dodo. (But can we bring back dodos? They’re cool.)
So here’s my challenge.
When you are a writer, you are god. You spin whole universes out of ink and ones and zeroes and paper and graphite and toil. You build empires and crush them. You annex nations and raise up dictators and stomp on monarchies. You make magic.
But all too often, we think and create within the confines of the world within which we live. Stories need the truth of humanity; they don’t need our most systemic failings.
Fantasy worlds don’t need institutionalized sexism or racism to have conflict. In fact, reliance on the things that have plagued our society (even though they still do) is, frankly, lazy. You are god. CREATE. SOMETHING. NEW.
Not everyone needs to be white. Tell stories where you explore new kinds of conflict, where women go through the world without the constant threat of rape or assault hanging over their heads like a smarmy cloud of nasty. Sexism and racism and all the other -isms don’t exist in your fantasy worlds unless you put them there.
For some reason, I think people assume that removing those basic, obvious, go-to -isms will somehow make all conflict vanish into a boring utopia.
Not so. Read Hunger Games lately? I can’t think of a single moment in the books where Katniss faced opposition on the basis of her gender. Where sexual violence was a threat to her. Where anyone underestimated her because she was a her. Collins almost entirely removed sexism from the books — and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a soul who’d tell you those books lack conflict. Race was also almost a non-issue (until you come to the film adaptations and whitewashing and all that jazz).
My point is not that we shouldn’t incorporate aspects of our reality into our fiction; it’s that from a creative standpoint, some of the sad frameworks of our world are bad enough in the real world — and have been done to death in fiction already. You as a creator are the reason everything in your story exists. The responsibility for representing people — whether it’s women or people of color or people with disabilities or Joffrey Baratheon — that’s on you. What you write comes from you. It may be conscious. It may be subconscious. But ultimately what you put on paper is your responsibility.
This is something that’s not just directed outward; I fully direct it inward as well. I need these lessons. I need to kick down the walls of this box just as much as anyone. My challenge for all of us is to do so cognizant of the impact fiction has on the world. Some people would rather fiction reflect a status quo clung to with bent-back fingernails and gnashing of teeth. Personally, I think fiction can be the catalyst for a more diverse and tolerant world.
Because to wrap this all up, those guys flailing and wailing in the SFWA forums and calling women dogs and interlopers — well. Their fears aren’t entirely unfounded. Inviting women to the table does change the conversation at the table. Inviting people of color to the table changes the conversation. Inviting people who are not you to the table changes the conversation. That’s the beauty of it.
So, writers — gods all* — let us change the world with our words.
To quote Chuck Wendig, “Art harder, motherfucker.”
*Some are majestic gods who fart rainbows and leave trails of glitter. Some are gods who go around in tight white briefs scratching their arses. I may or may not be the latter.