Not only do I have two poems coming out in Crow Calls Vol. 4, a short, melodramatic little story can be found in the June 2022 Melancholia issue of the gothic lit zine The Crow’s Quill.
I made a casual resolution that I’d like to write a Dracula musical, just for my own enjoyment, because I like my collection of them. This lyric has been clattering around in my head for a while.
is this a dream?
or am I awake?
does the lord come
for my soul to take?
the twilight grows damp
my vision goes dim
the sunset downs dark
all I see is him
i try to awaken
but the whispers insist
the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes in the mist
cool on my skin
hot to the touch
have i ever known love
to desire this much?
lights in the shadow
salt on my tongue
sin in my heart
i try to remember
why i should resist
the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes
the scarlet eyes in the mist
I concluded 2021 with one of the worst work weeks in a bad year and started 2022 with period cramps—like, right after midnight. It’s a good thing I’m not superstitious, otherwise I’d consider it a bad omen. I think most of us agree that 2021 was the last in a trilogy of terrible years that I hope doesn’t have more in its series, but it’s hard to hold out hope these days. I just try to take it a week at a time. Looking too far ahead leads directly to despair, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
However, in spite of the tint of my pessimism glasses, I do have to admit that even a year that tipped toward the bad side of the scale doesn’t necessary have nothing on the good side.
My niece was born at the end of 2020, so we spent 2021 watching her grow. I’m neither maternal nor particularly nurturing, so there aren’t going to be children from my line, but I love that little girl, and getting to see her in person and in pictures and video was the main highlight of my year.
On the writing side, the highlight was publishing the third book in the Thorns series, BLUEBIRDS, although that series is still under most people’s radar. I keep at it in case it crops up later and because I don’t like unfinished things, plus I like this universe. I did my first editing pass of PUPPETEER (T4), cutting the bloated 219K words down to 183K. I’m on the second editing pass now and shooting for under 170K words, if possible, before sending it out to editors and beta readers.
The rest of the writing side was a bit shaky. I tried to write the DRACULA reimagining scheduled in the spring, but I made it about 75K words before I realized it was Not Working. Instead of finishing it and hoping to clean it up later, I wrote myself so deep into Not Working that I had to just stop. When I try again this year, I’m going into it with an outline and an adjusted style for the video epistolary, so we’ll see whether that works.
With the failure of the reimagining attempt, I was a bit at odds with my writing, so I decided to take on a novella—something shorter that wouldn’t hurt as badly if I had to stop. I finished writing creature feature short novel THE VERY HUNGRY at the end of May. I’d originally conceived of it as a short story, so I decided to see if I could recreate that feeling in my head. I came to the conclusion after several starts and stops that some things that play as a movie in one’s head doesn’t always translate to the page, because movies can show rather than tell in such a unique way not available to written narrative. However, after the fourth try, I managed to write a short version, although it’s too long for most anthology calls. I’ll see what I can do with it in the future.
Trying to write the short story version of THE VERY HUNGRY, however, triggered something that I hadn’t planned on for my year. After years of assuming that I wasn’t a short-form writer, I actually ended up writing for a number of short story anthology calls. I do have more stop-restarts than I do for novels, which is frustrating, but at least you don’t lose as much time when you stop-restart after 6K than 75K words. Not counting a few pieces of flash fiction, I wrote 15 stories of 1-15K words. Some of them were too long for the calls and had to be put to the side for now. Of the ones I submitted, some received personalized rejections (which is a good thing), and one of them was accepted! “Resin,” my queer horror-tragedy short story, will be published Feb 2022 in Ghost Orchid Press’ BEYOND THE VEIL.
In addition to short stories this year, I tried my hand at poetry. I’ve always tagged my song lyrics as ‘not a poet,’ because I always felt pretentious as hell writing poetry before, although I’d done a few pieces over the years. I didn’t feel I deserved to call it poetry, much less call myself a poet. But the gothic/horror prompts from Quill & Crow Publishing House inspired me, so about mid-July, I took the plunge. Ever since, I’ve been posting flash poetry daily on my Twitter feed, and I found my voice in it so that I don’t feel pretentious anymore (most of the time). It’s a lot of fun, just trying to create a feeling or image and play and paint with words on a micro scale, and two were published in Quill & Crow’s Volume 3 of CROW CALLS.
Writing both short stories and poetry was a bit like learning a new language, and for a few months after starting each, my brain lit up from all the new imaginative muscles flexing. They’ve since settled, but it was still quite a creative high.
For NaNoWriMo, I planned to take a break from editing PUPPETEER to write a few long short stories or novelettes. I had a list of about three or four I intended to finish during the month. Little did I know that the first one, HOSTILE TERRITORY, would turn into another short novel. So that happened. It needs some work and will probably be a novella by the time it’s trimmed down, and I still have some things I’m not sure about with it. But at least I don’t need to scrap it like the DRACULA reimagining. Just another story to store in the trunk until I can tackle it again.
On a personal level, I didn’t lose any more weight. In fact, I gained a little during the holidays. However, I did get off of my insulin-resistance and cholesterol medications, and the holidays are almost over, so hopefully I’ll be able to get back down to a more manageable level. I’ve come to accept that I am fat and will always be fat at every size, and nothing short of devastating illness or cosmetic surgery is going to change that, so I have to focus on my health rather than my size to avoid disappointment.
I don’t really have personal goals for the year. Like I said, if I try to look much farther than a week, it’s not the greatest feeling. I’ll stick with writing goals, although even that hasn’t been without its frustrations.
In 2022, I’ll finish editing PUPPETEER (T4) and send it out. I hope to self-publish it by the end of the year, although I feel on shakier ground with it than the other four I’ve written. When that’s done, I’ll probably edit short novel THE VERY HUNGRY to prep for submission, although I don’t know where yet. Then I’d like to tackle WILDWORLD (T5), although there are still elements I’m unsure about, so I might need to do some basic outlining to figure it out. After that, I think I’ll block out some months for short story anthology calls and some of the shorts/novelettes on my list. Then I hope to revisit the DRACULA reimagining with a tight outline and see if that helps. For NaNoWriMo 2022, I’d like to start the sequel to UNDEAD ANONYMOUS, which was NaNo 2020’s project, but although I know how it starts, I still don’t know where it’s going, so we’ll see. There’s always something else to work on. My project list doesn’t really get shorter.
Here’s hoping 2022 has more grains of rice on the good side of the scale.
What a year.
What a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.
Sure, my dayjob discovered we all could, in fact, work from home because a vast majority of my job is digital anyway, and our industry is a 24/7 industry, so I wasn’t furloughed. Both of these are good things. I had a steady stream of income when other people still don’t know when they’re going to have one of those again. Also, I know I’m not the only one who has benefited from a tiny extra bit of sleep and no commute.
But something we thought would only affect us for a few months ballooned into something that might not end at all because of incompetence, ignorance, and belligerence as well as deliberate misinformation. I have a job, but it’s hard to believe that our landscape will ever look different or that my world will expand beyond my backyard.
That’s another way in which I recognize that I am fortunate. I was already living with my parents, so I’m not completely alone, and it’s a house in which all three of us have our own spaces. We have a large backyard, so our small world is still spacious. I also recognize that my extreme introversion works in my favor as well, although even introverts require some social interaction. My friend and I meet in our backyard to safely watch horror movies on our television out there. Yet another luxury.
I’ve had moments of claustrophobia, usually followed by agoraphobia that I’m not sure will subside when we’re told to go back to work in an office, so like most people, I’m uncertain what the future is going to look like. Hopefully that oft-mocked interview question ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ goes the way of the dodo. Things haven’t gone so badly for me personally, but God, the amount of pain going on outside of my world… I feel, I mourn, I cry, I fear. Even if my surface is calm, the kids are not all right.
As with most creatives, I’ve had some issues with productivity, although I’ve pushed myself through the anxiety-, depression-, and fear-induced slumps, because I’ve had years to learn this kind of discipline, to write without motivation, going all the way back to 2012. I had a few unmentioned writing projects, and in addition, I strove to achieve the goals set out during last year’s recap.
It was my hope to publish DEEP DOWN, DRIFT, and BLUEBIRDS (T3). I managed to accomplish two out of three. BLUEBIRDS (T3) publication has been pushed out to next month, because I haven’t even gotten to the professional and beta edits. It’s disappointing, but I had a few things interrupt my big writing block from September to now, so that pushed me into this month. I’m still prolific, just not as fast as my internal book clock wants me to be. I’m not even kidding about that. After about a month of my writing pace, I’m ready to be done, which doesn’t really work for the longer novels. DEEP DOWN and DRIFT were so satisfying because I completed both in roughly three weeks each, but that was 2019, so alas.
Too bad I didn’t have a short book on the docket in 2020. From mid-September to mid-January (which I’m counting as part of 2020, because it makes things less complicated for my goals), I wrote CROOKED HOUSE (T5), finished it halfway through NaNoWriMo, started UNDEAD ANONYMOUS, and finished that last Sunday.
CROOKED HOUSE (T5) (fairy tale remix): 158,634 words
UNDEAD ANONYMOUS (horror standalone): 151,749 words
Total: 310,383 words
For the Thorns series, CROOKED HOUSE is actually short, to contrast with PUPPETEER in 2019, which was obscenely long at over 220K words. But hey, I’m a big believer in stories being as long as they need to be, and refuse to break up a novel into two parts for length rather than story reasons unless someone else requires it, and in self-publishing, I make my own rules. As long as it’s over 120K words after edits, it should be fine on a shelf.
UNDEAD ANONYMOUS’s length is a bit unfortunate, because I’d hoped that I could use it to try to break into traditional publishing. Even after extensive edits, I think it’ll be too long for a debut novel, especially in horror. However, I’ll still give it a try once I do my edits, and if it doesn’t go anywhere, I’ll just move on to the next appropriate trunk novel.
I didn’t meet my song-writing goal of an average of a song per month, but that’s all right. The few I wrote hit all the relevant points and expressed my feelings about this year of not a lot happening where I am but a hell of a lot happening elsewhere. I also didn’t meet my horror movie review goal. Like 2019, my schedule was just too tight.
I lost a significant amount of weight again, although it was harder this time, so I don’t know how much more I’ll be able to lose without making some significant sacrifices on everyday food, which is the hard part for me because it’s also the least sustainable change. But unlike last year, it finally made a dent in my wardrobe, which was FUCKING AMAZING, although my body isn’t the same as it was the last time I was this weight. In addition, all my blood test numbers were also FUCKING AMAZING, which means my doctor recommended that we try halving some of my medication, which was the primary goal, so GOAL MET.
Yes, I’m yelling, but I’ve devoted a giant chunk of my time when I’m not writing to aerobic exercising for my heart health, so seeing some objective success in my results warrants excitement on my part. I’m hoping that the halving of my prescriptions proves to be justified in my next set of blood tests and that maybe I can get rid of some of them altogether. I’m hoping to lose another chunk of weight as well, but like I said, that might be more difficult this year, and the percentage of weight loss I’ve had is already higher than average for sustainable loss, so believe it or not, that doesn’t bode well. The science of body weight is a far more complicated thing than we’d like to believe, which is why I try to be careful with weight goals. Sometimes, no matter what you want, you have to be realistic. Which bleeds into my next point.
I pushed all the way through 2020, burning myself out multiple times along the way, with the promise that I would be easier on myself in 2021. Which is where we are now.
I haven’t set up a 2021 writing schedule. Other than fulfilling last year’s goal of putting out BLUEBIRDS, I’m not planning on self-publishing anything unless I find myself craving a good round of edits instead of another writing project and the edits go better than planned and I can get something in to my editors. I haven’t blocked out my writing and editing like I did for the last two years. I’m not holding myself accountable for anything.
2021 is going to be the year when I let myself rest. That doesn’t mean I won’t work, but I’m going to allow myself more substantial breaks between work. I work because I like to do it, because I need the mental stimulation of creativity. Starting on a project and not letting up until I’m finished is just part of the process, but if I need to take a month off afterward, that’s what I’m going to do. If I want to take a few weeks off to reacquaint myself with the piano or teach myself calligraphy or return to sketching or jewelry-making, then I’ll do it. I don’t like being bored, and I love creating. But sometimes a girl also just needs to binge-watch something that’s more than a limited series during the three days she can’t exercise because she’s sloughing, and I’m super behind on my watch list.
Among the more concrete plans I do have for 2021, there’s a DRACULA retelling, because I’ve wanted to do one since I first read the illustrated and highly abridged version in fourth grade. I devoured versions of the story ever since, and inspiration finally hit for a concept I think will be tremendous fun. I also have a rewrite of YA near-future dystopia WAR HOUSE, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo back in…gosh, years ago, but that needs some serious alterations to work. I also have a list of assorted short stories and novellas (primarily horror) to choose from that I hope will be less stressful on me than my usual long-form writing. Even if they end up novel-length, they should still stay relatively short. That might give me some additional fodder for breaking into traditional publishing–or more fodder for my self-publishing backlist. I’m aiming to be a hybrid author, because after this year, I’m quite comfortable with self-publishing, but it’s expensive as hell, and my accountant keeps giving me side-eye.
For all five of you following the Thorns series, PUPPETEER (T4) and CROOKED HOUSE (T5) are written, but I’ll probably only give them one intensive edit each this year instead of my preparatory double edit, and I won’t publish PUPPETEER until next year. I also intend to take a break from writing the Thorns series by postponing OTHERWORLD (T6) until next year as well so I can get some more standalones under my belt. To be honest, I have pieces of that story in my head but no real plot. That isn’t unusual. I’m hoping to have a eureka moment at some point.
I’ll admit, I didn’t have much hope for this year, and everything that’s happened since has done nothing to change that hopelessness. I fear everything is going to blow up. I fear my brain is a fragile thing that’s going to shatter at any moment, and that I’ve teetered on the edge a few times and almost want myself to break to give myself permission to just fucking SLEEP for a month.
Writing is one of the few things I can control and one of the few things I’m actually good at, so I cling to what I can. I make the worlds in which I can escape. That’s no mean feat.
Also, I mentioned that I’m always behind on things. I finally jumped on a few social media trains–which are already square, but I’m enjoying them anyway. You can find me now on Instagram, and third time’s the charm on Twitter, where I finally feel I’m connecting with a community.
Hopefully available by the end of the month, Drift is a standalone novel inspired by fairy tales and folklore, with a splash of American gothic.
After her mother’s funeral, Dani nearly drowns at the lake where she’s lived her entire life. She learned to swim before she could walk, but the water tingles and prickles over her skin, drawing her under.
She’s saved by a stranger trespassing on her father’s boat who claims that the rains follow him, who sees when her father treats her the way a father shouldn’t.
Her mother left behind more than just memories and an empty lake house. And if Dani can’t find it, she’ll never break free from the shackles that her mother couldn’t escape.
“I have so much to tell you, my love. I can only hope that you heard me.”
File under “Sometimes I get mad.” I wrote this last year as an indictment against systemic racism, from incarceration to economic opportunity, set in a reimagined world of non-human animals. Because what can I say, I watch a lot of Disney.
Scavengers caught in cages
Different stages of difficult phases
Fangs filed, claws clipped
To the bone, wings snipped.
Ribs press against skin
As spectators stare in
At beasts who never stood a chance
And never stand a chance again.
Fresh apples in dead mouths
Fresh blood, draining down
Decaying flesh, begging hand unfurled.
When did vultures get to rule the world?
Gold glints in their eyes
Black velvet circling the skies
Safe from the kill, prey the predator’s own.
When did vultures get to rule the world?
Beasts of work, beasts of burden
Unburdened by strain of security
Best to stay low to the ground
Better to maintain the purity.
Hungry eyes, the grass is greener
Where it isn’t needed.
What’s a hare to do
With something to care for, my dear?
Just another bit of roadkill.
No one’s crying, my dear.
Each poor dying soul strung like a pearl.
When did vultures get to rule the world?
And dignity lapses
There’s always dissatisfaction
For them to feast upon
A battered, bloody violent reaction
For them to feast upon
As though it doesn’t matter
Which beast they feast upon.
And the predators know
To leave a generous share.
Let the thoroughfare war
Over whether it’s fair.
There’s always more dead to go around.
Always something to blame farther down on the ground.
When did vultures get to rule the world?
When did vultures get to rule the world?
I’ve said before that I conceived of DEEP DOWN in a bad place, and it’s a bad place that I’ve returned to a lot over the last four years, but during this current plague, I’m returning far more often. All I want to do is hide in my closet with the lights off and never come out. It’s a place of despair, but it’s somewhere I can’t get sick, a place where nothing can hurt me except myself–and I’m all too used to that.
Social distancing/quarantine appeals to an alarming tendency inside of me toward agoraphobia. On a daily basis, I once made myself leave the house, get in my death trap (aka, the car), to be around people, which is good even for this extreme introvert. I was a productive member of society, because I had to be. I am compelled to be useful, because I don’t have a lot else that I can do for this world.
But now I’m afraid of people more than usual (I suffer from a fairly mild paranoia that has only slipped from neurotic to psychotic once, and I’d rather never relive that experience), because everyone’s a potential carrier, and I’m not sure under what circumstances I would feel safe entering my death trap just to walk into a few more on a regular basis. I’m concerned about whether I’ll ever trust the end of this nightmare. I was lucky enough to keep my dayjob, because I can telecommute and it’s a 24/7 business even during a pandemic. Would that accommodation continue indefinitely? Or would I just accept my fate as a red shirt, like I always do, accept the risk because I’m cosmic cannon fodder and know it?
I’m scared, because I have things I still want to do, things I want to finish, and I don’t trust that I will make it out of this. Because I wouldn’t be that lucky.
So this is a perfect time to be preparing DEEP DOWN, my utterly bleak apocalypse novel, for publication. I submerge myself in that place on purpose every day to make it better. In a way, it’s wallowing. In a way, it’s therapeutic. Because I’m in that place all day and all night now, I can recognize the feelings that the story invokes, appreciate that I achieved such a reflective translation into fiction, because it doesn’t feel enough like fiction to me while I’m in it.
I’ve been listening to THE RING and SILENT HILL soundtracks on repeat all during the editing/proofreading process.
I’m insanely pleased with DEEP DOWN on so many levels. I’m proud that I managed to write a short novel when I didn’t think I was capable of it, worried that I was, in fact, too wordy. I’m proud that I tried a new style of writing. It’s completely mine, of course, not a mimicry–I still recognize my narrative voice, no question. But I’m a fan of form following function, and DEEP DOWN was a different kind of novel than I’d written before, different feel, so the form of it needed to change. As terrible and unrelenting as the subject matter is, I’m proud that I faced it without compromise. I’m a coward at heart. Writing is as close as I get to brave, even if it’s not an uplifting outcome.
It’s not a contagion horror story, but it’s an apocalypse, and perhaps this isn’t the right moment, if anyone’s listening or watching or interested. But DEEP DOWN is coming soon, hopefully within the next week. You don’t have to enter that world now. You can save it for when the lion’s out of the room again. I still have trouble making that distinction.
A man and his dog enter a cave to die.
Enter with them, but I make no bones about what kind of story this is. Know where you’re going, and enter freely. It’s good–or at least I think it is–but it is what it is. I can only think of one person in my vast circle of family, friends, and acquaintances (I exaggerate) who wants or would want to read it. Do as you will.
On a personal level, not much happened to me in 2019. I gained a lot more responsibility at my job with changes at the company. And the biggest life event was the death of our sixteen-year-old cat, Sasha, whom I loved very much and continue to miss. Her death wasn’t unexpected, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
We are now a catless household, and our lives are poorer for it, but we have an unpredictable dog, so I’m not sure whether cats are in the foreseeable future. You’d think that would be enough for me to move into an apartment, but I’m prohibitively resistant to change.
Sharing what you’ve accomplished during the year is less fun when you haven’t met a lot of the goals that you set for yourself. It’s okay that I didn’t, because writing takes up most of my time, and what isn’t taken up by that, I added regular cardio workouts, which take good chunks out of most of my week. Any hope I had to do much more creatively than writing died with my attempts to improve my blood test numbers. And I did. Some with the help of medication, but my triglycerides went way down on the last blood test, which was all me. So go me on that. So I need to adjust my expectations, as long as I continue to prioritize writing and my health. Good priorities to have, generally.
I did lose a significant amount of weight from the addition of exercise, but despite that, it didn’t make a significant change in my wardrobe, which kind of sucks, so it’s a good thing I’m doing it for my heart health and not my reflection – although it would be nice if my reflection could improve. I’m hoping that if I can’t improve my reflection in the coming year, at least I can lessen or eliminate one of my prescription medications.
I was supposed to reboot my jewelry-making, but that’s simply not going to happen until 2021 at the earliest, because this year’s writing schedule is really tight. And unfortunately, horror movie reviewing didn’t go very far at all, because last year’s writing schedule was so tight. I’m going to try again to do a dozen reviews in 2020. I’ve written several in my head. Just haven’t had a good moment to sit down and get them out.
I wrote ten original song lyrics, which is two short of my goal, but I also wrote three for one of my novels, so that balances it out and then some.
“House of Windows”
“How to Love”
“The Smiling Man”
“What Are You Wearing to the End of the World?”
“The Long Walk”
“Storm the Castle”
As far as my writing goes, I’m behind on my schedule by about a half a month to a month, and I didn’t get to rewrite WAR HOUSE, but I did finish three novels of quite varying lengths.
DEEP DOWN (pure horror): 60,480 words in about a month
DRIFT (modern gothic folk tale): 88,918 words in a little over a month
PUPPETEER (fairy tale remix, Thorns Series 4): a staggering 222,215 words in a little more than two and a half months (I started mid-September, but there was a two-week break in October when I had to proofread and prepare ROSE RED). I wrote 102,119 words in November for NaNoWriMo. It’s my longest first draft ever, and I’m going to have to cut at least 50K of it over the course of the next five rounds of edits, but I finished it before Christmas, so at least I got it done.
All of that for a total of 371,613 words this year. Technically, about 10K of DEEP DOWN was written in 2018, but I didn’t count it last year, and those handwritten words were transcribed this year, so let’s just go with it.
In addition, I went through all the motions to publish the second book in the Thorns series, ROSE RED. I’m not sure whether anyone but a handful of people I know actually read my books, which brings up the question of whether the sheer time and expense of publishing is worth it. But since I can’t stop writing, I might as well continue the vanity publishing and support the indie publishing industry while I’m at it, especially since I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to justify it.
Definitely going to be supporting the industry this coming year, since I hope to self-publish DEEP DOWN, DRIFT, and BLUEBIRDS (Thorns 3), which is…ambitious with the intensive process I’ve given myself. I finished the last personal edit for DEEP DOWN last night, so, pending my beta reader’s suggestions, it’s ready to send to my editors. I was also really pleased with the first draft of DRIFT, so I don’t anticipate tremendous changes during the double-edit.
Unfortunately, my last read of BLUEBIRDS felt…off. I think it’s a pacing and conviction issue. So I’ll need to give it another intensive edit before attempting the last double-edit and sending it to my editors. I’m also really not sure about PUPPETEER. It’s one of those things where it’s either quite good or quite terrible, and I just can’t tell. I’d send it to my alpha reader (she reads my stuff before I edit to make sure I edit in the right direction), but I don’t want to hand her such a bloated manuscript.
In addition to all the edits needed to publish – and the time required to accomplish them, especially for BLUEBIRDS – I’ve scheduled the re-write of WAR HOUSE, a few short stories, and two additional novels, including CROOKED HOUSE (Thorns 5). I’m guessing that if I don’t have the time, the short stories and WAR HOUSE might be pushed into 2021. My priorities are the publications, CROOKED HOUSE (T5), and the zombie novel I have planned for next NaNoWriMo. 2020 is going to be plenty busy, but it’s worth noting that 2021 isn’t going to be nearly as full, so I can afford to push WAR HOUSE off another year if I have to.
So that’s it – 2019 in the rearview, 2020 through the windshield. Here’s hoping that this year can be just as personally productive, even if I don’t accomplish much else.
I’m always afraid when I start something new. There is comfort in working on old projects, whether editing, proofreading, or even continuing an old story through a new book. In editing and proofreading, the work is already there. I just have to move it around, spruce it up, make it pretty. When continuing an established work, like the Thorns series, my characters, my backstories, my world-building, my tone and style, they’ve already been established. I have more springboards to work from, even when I’m creating new canon. That’s also what’s nice about fanfiction (and the Thorns series could be considered fanfiction, of a kind, given it’s a fairy tale mash-up).
But when I start from scratch on a completely new, standalone story, I always start afraid. I was afraid when I started horror story DEEP DOWN earlier this year (technically continued it from what I’d put down a year before, but still kind of terrified). And I’m afraid now that I’m starting American gothic fairy tale DRIFT.
Everything I write sounds like it comes from me – at least, to me it does – but the styles still shift from one kind of story to the next, because to a certain degree, form follows function. Think of it as the filter of the story. You can have the same director of photography and notice the trends, but the filter changes the impressions and moods. And it’s so important to how the story is felt and received.
New characters. People who have populated my head like ghosts quietly solidify and come to life, and they never end up quite the way I imagined them. New settings. New themes. New endings. New problems.
I’m afraid to start because I’m afraid it’s all going to come out wrong. I’m not going to get the tone right. The style won’t work with me. The ending will be weak. I’m not going to be able to get from point A to point B.
This fear is not irrational. I’ve failed before.
I succeed more often than not these days, and a lot of the problems can be fixed in editing. But NOCTURNE needed several complete rewrites, not just edits, although I salvaged much from the original drafts. The beginning of THORNS was reworked multiple times because it never felt quite right. I’m going to have to rewrite WAR HOUSE (I was actually going to do that this summer, but DRIFT felt more solid to me). I have a trilogy that I tried ten years ago that never got off the ground, and though I love the concept, I’m still not sure how to salvage it.
I really could get this wrong. And if I do, it might feel like writing the first draft was a waste of my time, since I would either have to let it go or try again later. I already feel like my writing time is strained as it is without having to write things more than once.
But God, it might go right. Or right enough. And even if it goes wrong and I have to rewrite, that’s still a solution. Not my favorite solution, but it’s something.
That’s why, no matter how scared I am to begin, I just do it. I just write the words, day after terrifying day, until I’m finished.
Until I determine it’s ready to prepare for publication, I remind myself that everything I write is just for me. No one has to see it. No one can judge it. I don’t even edit until everything’s finished, because I can’t assess details until I understand the larger picture. It’s all about getting the words down. Fear is an empty page, and as Jodi Picoult says, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
I can either work with what I have – which I think I’m actually quite good at doing – or I don’t work with anything at all. The story remains in my head instead of getting exorcised, and no one can judge it, but also, no one can read it. And that doesn’t serve anyone.
So yeah, I’m afraid of writing. I’m also afraid of what happens when I don’t. So I sit down in front of my fear, and I start writing anyway.
I started a pure horror story near the end of February (I classify NOCTURNE as horror, but it has a serious supernatural fantasy vibe in addition to the horror elements). I wrote the first ten thousand words last year, back when I had downtime at work to longhand (what is downtime?). I started out last month with transcription, then tackled new words. That’s difficult for me to do, come back to an old project, but this one hasn’t been hard to sink into. I guess it’s stayed on my mind all this time.
Any problems I’ve had have been because dayjob has been going through a months-long transition, and that’s required a near manic level of energy from me, but also more time than I like giving. I’m a perfectionist and pathologically terrified of disapproval, so I do what I do and don’t have enough time or energy to write as much as I’d like. Still doing it, though. Because when I don’t, my mental health plummets to dangerous places.
How strange that such a dark, bleak, sad story that I developed during the surfacing fatalism after the last election would become a haven of sorts. So it’s moving more slowly than I’d like, but it’s moving.
I’ve hit roughly twenty-eight thousand words on the manuscript so far. And based on my outline and rough word goal of sixty thousand words, I’m about halfway through. Now, usually I give myself a word goal, then end up twenty thousand words or more above it. I’m notoriously terrible at figuring out how long things take or, in the case of novels, how long they’re going to be, even when I adjust for knowing how terrible I am at it.
But for DEEP DOWN (working title), I’m looking at fifty to sixty thousand words of a novel. As planned. Before edits. I’m actually writing a short novel, possibly a *gasp* novella.
You have to understand, in addition to being terrible at gauging how long things take, I really tend toward longer novels. I think I average around 120,000 words. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I’m really good at cutting my starting word count, paring a novel to its necessary words. That 120K novel was probably 140-150K to start out with. THORNS started out at a whopping 195K and ended up 155K.
A fifty-thousand-word novel is unthinkable to me. I’m literally looking at that word count and wondering whether something’s wrong with me. Or the story.
But I think it’s because it’s a single story line, no subplots, and a spare cast. I’m usually working with a more complex plot and multiple characters whose arcs need tending. DEEP DOWN has a very simple premise. A lot of good horror is minimalistic, and that’s what I wanted to try here.
I guess it’s working.
It’s still weird.