I mean, not with a stick or anything.

I’m working on outlining a new story.

Well, I say ‘working on’ but the last couple of days have been exercises in cat-vacuuming. I’ve gotten a lot of the basics of character, worldbuilding, and theme down. I even had a sense of the ending, and the overall developing action. What I didn’t have was a plot to string all this together.

I mean, plot is hard for me. In this case it was even harder because I almost could have made a story out of meandering character development and world exploration, a sort of magic realism– and part of me wanted to. But the story is a direct sequel to a definite contemporary/urban fantasy, and I’ve read far too many complaints about sequels being incredibly different books from the original to want to tread that route by switching whole _subgenres_.

Plus, I know what a solid plot adds to a story: it adds action, it adds pacing, and it usually brings a whole bunch of secondary character definition and scene ideas. Without knowing my plot in advance, my characters would spend a lot of time in the kitchen drinking coffee.

Anyhow, backstory explained: [Copied from Google Plus.]

Well, at least I got almost six hours of sleep before getting smacked in the face with a (relevant) idea about how to solve my plot hangup and a third of a novel unfolded before my eyes.

(Well, I say ‘getting smacked in the face’ but it wasn’t the ‘wake up out of a sound sleep with the Muse standing over me with a shovel’ variety. I’d woken up naturally, was having trouble drifting off again, and started the Hour of the Wolf, in which I chew helplessly on the problems afflicting me. I hate the Hour of the Wolf. But in this case, almost as soon as I turned my attention to the issue, I asked myself the Right Question about it. And lost all ability to go back to sleep.)

And, as is starting to feel suspiciously ordinary, it is the kind of idea that seems like it might get me into… trouble.

Plus, it breaks about half the guidelines I set out for narrowing in on a plot.

So now here I am, listening to the sun rise, thinking about all the work I have to (get to?) do now. I’m pretty sure I’ll do about a fifth of it before realizing ‘oh no, this idea won’t work!’. That’s just the way these things go. And it _will_ work. With some, er, work.

 

Oh so busy revising and writing and driving

Well, the Handy Small Child has started preschool, and I’ve started working through the Matchbox Girls edit notes in earnest. The lazy days of summer, when all I had to do was write a Nightlights scene a day and do chores, have drifted away like autumn leaves.

Of course, it’s the hottest weather we’ve had all summer right now. I mean, my tomatoes  don’t care, they’re still stubbornly staying green, because they’re conspiring against me. But still, hot weather.

Anyhow, this weekly post is supposed to be about Matchbox Girls. It’s my novel! It’s coming out in February! I’m going through it closely for the first time in at least six months. It hasn’t faded as much as I thought it might, but I did spend three years weeping tears of blood over it. Maybe it takes more than six months for those to fade.

Yes, okay, hyperbole. I don’t think I even cried salt tears over it. I did, however, reach the 3/4th point in the original draft, then decide it was All Crap and wrote it all over again from scratch. And it took a long time. Three+ years from start to finish, as I said (and for comparison, I’ve written 111,000 words since starting Nightlights in April).

A few scenes from the initial draft made it into the second draft mostly unmodified, but there were huge, huge changes, too. Characters cut, characters added, sub-plots expanded, sub-plots removed. Sometimes I run into brainstorming from before I even started the initial draft and it’s barely recognizable.

One thing I’ve noticed I do in the process of refining a story idea is that I strip information from the protagonist. In early iterations of an idea, the protagonist is often well-informed, with clear instructions and knowledgeable mentors. This makes maintaining tension harder, which affects pacing. So I throw out most of the information and make acquiring it part of the plot. What I do is probably a bit of a cheat, and I’m sure many excellent authors are able to provide a well-paced story without throwing characters in over their heads.

But it seems to be an effective cheat.

Okay, going through editorial comments and changes probably adds a lot of tension to the reading process for me. But while every scene is still laser-engraved in my memory, I still picked up this sense of growing anxiety and dread from the story, an awful sense of ‘Oh God, what’s going to happen next?’ Ridiculous, because I know. I wrote it. Ridiculous and weird. A couple of beta readers mentioned that they’d read most of the story in one sitting, which I dismissed at the time as ‘they were trying to get through it fast’. (Sorry, beta readers! Please forgive me!) Now, I’m wondering if I maybe did something right.

Posts like this are hard for me. The idea that saying something good about myself or my work will backfire on me is deeply, deeply ingrained. But I also need to do lots of self-promotion to succeed in this new publishing world. Or at least– I need to do some self-promotion. I still firmly believe that quality should rise to the top, but I’ve grudgingly come to admit that it can’t happen if it’s hidden in a closet. It’s easier for introverted me to work on quality improvement over selling myself, but I’ve got to work on both.

So, Matchbox Girls. Every sixty pages or so, it changes gears, always going faster. I think people will like it. And you’ll probably be hearing more from me about it.

Parenthood and Urban Fantasy

I just found out that the artist who agreed to paint a cover for Matchbox Girls has a little girl of his own. Coincidentally, Matchbox Girls is about some little girls. I do wonder if the two are related

Everybody knows people change when they have children. Before I had a kid, I thought that some of the changes were just in lifestyle– it’s harder to jet out for dinner and a movie with an infant, after all. And the rumors of some of the other changes frightened me. Hormones, supposedly, would change my entire personality and completely reshuffle my priorities.

This didn’t happen. At least, not the way I envisioned it. I still valued all the same things I’d valued before. I still disliked a lot of the same things I’d disliked before. Change crept in mostly in places where I was previously neutral. Things that would previously be nothing but background noise can now upset me or reduce me to sentimental tears. Some things got nudged down the priority list, or moved fractionally lower on the dislike list, but I didn’t suddenly love poopy diapers, children screaming in public, or messy houses. It’s just that new stuff got added to both lists, and the ripples were felt all over the place.

So yeah, parenthood changes you.

For the most part urban fantasy provides a landscape where the reader can identify with being young, powerful, attractive and unattached. ‘Sexy’ is a word often used to describe a new UF novel.  It’s a pretty safe landscape. Who doesn’t want to follow along with the adventures of a supernatural badass as she interacts with tons of other supernatural sexy badasses?

Parenthood doesn’t show up much in these books. Kids don’t either, especially those who are too small to be useful and too big to be worn in a papoose on your back. Kids are many things but they don’t lend themselves to books described as ‘sexy’. As any new parent can tell you, kids are nature’s favorite mood killer.

Matchbox Girls is about a young woman who unexpectedly acquires a pair of little girls. She subsequently does her best to protect and guide them, in the face of some very tough opposition. It’s still an urban fantasy, so there’s lots of magic, supernatural entities and asskicking. There’s attractive guys. There’s good friends. And there’s even a few bits that I consider sexy.

But it’s also, fundamentally, a novel about parenthood. I don’t think it could be otherwise, written as it was during the first three years of my own child’s life. It’s my hope that, while nothing will replace the charm of traditional urban fantasy, Matchbox Girls will tickle the same place in other people that it came from in me.

I just put The Incredibles in for my little guy to watch, and laughed. In a way, that’s exactly what Matchbox Girls is:  The Incredibles of urban fantasy. And I really do hope people enjoy it when it comes out in February.

 

Next time: Matchbox Girls didn’t consciously start out as a novel about parenthood. It started out as a novel about sisters.