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Month: June 2012

And then I got told.

And then I got told.

Writing a Novel by John Braine
Writing a Novel by John Braine

I’ve had this book on my shelf for at least ten years. Probably more. The first book on writing I ever bought was Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies For Fun and Profit. This was the second. So maybe more like fifteen years.

I was pulling books off my Books About Writing shelf the other day: Writing the Breakout Novel. The Weekend Novelist. The Art of Fiction. And this: Writing a Novel. They just sat on my desk, in case I had a break and needed to occupy myself. Today I picked up this one.

I’ve tried to read it several times, but it was just SO DRY, so LECTURE-Y. Since I was 25 years old I’ve been trying to read this book. I’m now 40, damn near 41, and finally–FINALLY–I’m ready for it.

Exhibit A:

A vigorous realism is the only possible way for the novel. Only through a vigorous exactitude of presentation can the essential strangeness of life be conveyed. If you don’t see the surface clearly, then you’ll never see what’s beneath.

You’ll never be able to write a novel as long as you have the illusion that only a special kind of world is worth writing about, that the world you know is too dull and commonplace.

-John Braine, Writing a Novel

So that’s sorted, then. Santa Barbara it is.

Next up: Voice.

Familiar flowers and writing what I know

Familiar flowers and writing what I know

Bird of Paradise from Wikimedia Commons
Bird of Paradise, from Wikimedia Commons

Today’s Words: 1022
Found Objects total: 24725
Exercise: None
Other Stuff on my Mind: Writing what I know

I can’t stand bird of paradise plants. I had them in my backyard growing up, and they seem absolutely ordinary to me. I know other people who love them and think they’re very exotic, but they are just about the last things I would choose to put in my yard today*, and I certainly wouldn’t think to write about them. But I do know them well: I know their shape, their colors, the waxy texture of their broad, dark-green leaves; how they look in all weather and seasons, what it takes to cut them, and what makes their homes on or near them. So if I had to choose a plant to write about, I’d probably do well to pick bird of paradise.

One of the things I’ve really struggled with in this project is choosing a city to set it in. From the very beginning I was determined that it needed to be a middle-American city: Minneapolis, Denver, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago. This presents a problem, because I’ve only been to each of those cities either as a child or for a weekend, and can’t possibly know enough about them to write them convincingly.

This is one of the problems in living within the same 60-mile radius my entire life. I know where I’m setting Temperance when I finally write it: it’ll be in an alternate version of the town I live in now. But for whatever reason I wanted Found Objects set in a big city, one with weather and districts and places one could get easily lost in, and I don’t really have any experience with those.

But tonight as I was struggling to write my character’s experience of entering the city for the first time, I had to really ask myself WHY I couldn’t set it in a place I know. Why can’t it be set in an alternate Santa Barbara? Is it just that I’m not looking deep enough to find what I need there? In a way, setting a portal fantasy partly in a city that is SO VERY CONCERNED with the way it looks (I actually do mean the city here, not the people–if you’ve ever lived in a place that has an Architectural Board of Review you might know what I mean) is actually kind of perfect, because it’s the last place you’d expect to find something like the Lodge or the people in it. It might actually add a whole layer of conflict, and as writers, conflict is something we should always choose.

So I’m rethinking this. What’s the phrase? “Familiarity breeds contempt?” Maybe not contempt, in this case, but things that are familiar do seem very ordinary.

But discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary is one of the things I love best.

* There actually is one in the back yard at the new house. Will it survive after we move in? Stay tuned to find out!

In substantially better news…

In substantially better news…

…here’s one thing I’m no longer waiting for.

I am stoked beyond belief to announce that I am now represented by Joe Monti of the Barry Goldblatt Literary agency. BGL has been my dream agency since the moment I met Barry in a hallway in Wisconsin two years ago. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Joe well in that time and I’ve learned so much from him already. Everyone I’ve met who is represented by these guys are just awesome people. I feel so lucky to be in such stellar company.

It’s an indescribable feeling, really, knowing that people like them believe in me.

More tears, but the happy kind.

And if this helps to explain anything, I am now one of those “authors on a deadline.”



I really had no idea how tightly wound I am right now until last night. I completely fell apart over basically nothing–a television show, it doesn’t even matter which one. Possibly a legitimately moving show, but let’s just say my response was disproportionate at best. Fell. Apart.

The house is nearly done, but our loan hasn’t been approved yet. We get no response from our mortgage broker when we email asking about it. We haven’t done anything at all toward packing or planning a move because we don’t know whether it’s actually going to happen. The other stuff we need to take care of can’t be done until we close on the house, if indeed we’re going to. This process started in April, and we’re now half-way through June.

I feel like I’m just waiting for each day to end the moment it starts. We’re waiting for so many things to resolve right now, all things that are completely outside our control. And they’re big things, which when added to the constant state of waiting that we writers are in anyway, has apparently become Too Much.

I know something’s going to happen soon, but not knowing when is taking its toll emotionally and creatively.

A little light

A little light

I’m not done crying. I think maybe I’ve only just begun. But life does go on, doesn’t it, even when it feels like it shouldn’t. I just reread my post from last night and it feels like blasphemy that there should ever be another one.There was something about his being in the world, that it doesn’t seem right that the world continues on without him in it.

I had grand plans to read a Bradbury story every night, but as my husband so astutely observed, reading just one absolutely broke me. So I think that will have to wait for a while.

And life, she does go on.

Last week was hard, y’all. My daughter’s college plans fell through, and I scrambled like I have never scrambled before to find a new path to put us all on. We’ve found one, and tonight she was happy. If you’re a parent then you know: When your kids are happy–not spoiled, entitled, and satiated, but HAPPY and full of hope–that’s absolute gold.

Today I didn’t write. This means that I now have to write 3000 words every single day for the next 24 days if I’m going to finish this draft in the time frame I set out. I actually did not arbitrarily come up with this deadline–it’s based on external forces that I’d love to talk about, but there’s that whole The Ink Is Not Dry factor, so I’ll leave you to guess until it is. (Whatever you’re guessing, you’re probably right.)

It’s been a dark few weeks. I don’t put it out here, of course, because there are other people involved, and sadly there are persons keeping track who I want as far away from me and my family as possible. But tonight there’s a little light: My daughters are happy; I know what comes next in the novel; my sister has found her tribe at SBWC; one of my besties has had a whole world of opportunity open up in front of her; another finished a novel that I can’t wait to read; my husband has wonderful projects of which he should be proud coming out soon.

It really is always darkest before the dawn.

I think I see the sun.

I See You Never

I See You Never

I just read Ray Bradbury’s “I See You Never” five times in a row, and I guess it’s time to try to explain–if only to do so in sympathy with the rest of you–why this loss matters so much.

It’s a three-page story. Three. What, 750 words? And in it he breaks every possible rule. In three pages he changes point of view twice. There are absolutely no speculative elements in it at all–but every sentence is pure poetry. Every single line is worth ten from a mortal scribe. And yet it sums up the problems of the Here and Now; it shows–NOT TELLS–what this moment, these two minutes on a front porch, mean to everyone involved. For some it means nothing at all, and they eat their steak. But for Mr. Ramirez, it means everything. For Mrs. O’Brian, it means a great deal, though it’s not in her best interest to say so. For the reader with a heart, it deserves to be read, back to back, five times. At least.

I always feel awkward writing about what other people have said, but sometimes it’s so important I just have to.

Ray Bradbury opened the Santa Barbara Writers Conference every single year for more than three decades. Last year, 2011, was the first he’d had to cancel–his health was simply too poor. His talk went from an hour to half an hour, to fifteen minutes, to ten minutes after his strokes, but by god he showed up no matter what, and just condensed his talk into what he thought was most important. I got to meet him twice, through SBWC–once at a reception at a local winery, and once at his signing table, after the conference had done a Tribute evening in his honor.

The Santa Barbara Writers Conference has some pretty big people attached to it: It’s owned now by Monte Schultz, son of Charles, and has had such luminaries as Thomas Steinbeck, Christopher Moore, and Fanny Flagg as participants. When the conference held the Tribute to Ray Bradbury a few years ago they added David Brin to the roster. There are two things–apart from getting to speak to Ray himself–that I have not forgotten from that night.

One was David Brin’s talk, in which he stood up for SFF in a room full of lit writers, stuck a flag in Ray and his work and claimed him For Our Own. I cheered, and when I got to talk to Ray at his table I told him that I was with David on this one: He belonged with us, dinosaurs and all, and I was so goddamned grateful for it.

The other was an anecdote that Thomas Steinbeck told. STEINBECK. That’s clear, right? His father used to take them on vacation every summer, he said. And every evening the family would gather round and his father–John Fucking Steinbeck–would read to them. He read to them year-round, he said, but during the summer he always read Ray Bradbury stories. Summer, for the Steinbecks, meant Bradbury.

So he would be reading, and the family would listen attentively, caught up in the magic that Ray was so adept at weaving–and then his father would stop, and read a sentence aloud again. And, perhaps, again. And he would fall silent for a long moment, before he continued on.

At some point Thomas asked his father why he did that. Why did he stop, and read the same line over and over again?

“Jealousy,” said John Steinbeck. “Jealousy.”

I don’t feel jealousy when I read him. I am reading Everest, the unattainable summit, the unreachable peak. That’s what I feel when I read “I See You Never,” despite the utter lack of rocket ships and Martians and dinosaurs. He’s everything I have ever aspired to, and will never attain, and I’m so grateful to even know it.

This has been hard to write. It’s 2:37 a.m., and honestly, I feel very exposed. There’s another post for the future, I think, about fandom and what it means, and this one skates perilously close to its edge. But this was huge, and we’re all talking about it, because he meant so much to each of us.

I see you never, Mr. Bradbury. And it absolutely breaks my heart.

Accidental homage, and being part penguin

Accidental homage, and being part penguin

Today’s Words: 1050 so far, but still going
Found Objects total: 21050 and counting
Fuel: Egg sandwich, tortilla-crusted fish and rice, dinner as yet unknown
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee
Exercise: None
Other Stuff on my Mind: Brains, how do they work?

I have a notebook I started for Found Objects in 2005–I do most of my brainstorming in there. Today I filled pages 100 and 101 with notes on the second chapter. 101 pages of me talking to myself, a book about a book. What’s odd is that I haven’t actually reread anything I’ve written in there in a long time. I don’t think I will until I’ve got the first draft done, and then I’ll go back and discover all of the things I forgot to write.

Seven years is a long time to have a book kicking around in one’s brain. Some of the people and places in it are so familiar to me they’re almost real. So it came as a surprise the other day to find out that they kind of were real, or at least originated outside myself: specifically a character who began life in my head known only as “The Major,” and a place I had dreamed of once, which I called the Lodge.

When I was a teenager and into my 20s I loved Bloom County. I bought the collections and read them over and over. I was talking to someone about it on Twitter the other day and impulsively bought the lovely hard-cover annotated collection of the first two years. It had been probably 15 years since I read any of them. I hadn’t had time to read any of it until a couple of days ago, and when I finally did I had a huge OMG Moment. There they were: The Major, and the Lodge, in the form of the boarding house that all of Bloom County revolves around.

They’re not actually anything alike. My Major is much younger, quite liberal, and also from a different world, so there’s that. And my Lodge is not a house, but a repurposed urban business, and only accessible by a very specific subset of people. No one else would have ever connected them. But I clearly saw the seeds of my world in the world of Berk Breathed.

I think I’ve written here–probably many years ago–about hearing the story of Helen Keller’s accidental plagiarism and how it scared me to death when I first read it in sixth grade. The story stayed with me, and so did the fear that it would happen to me–that I would have something so deeply internalized that when it finally bubbled up out of my subconscious I wouldn’t even recognize it as not my own.

This accidental homage in Found Objects is obviously nowhere near the level of that, but still. We are made up of our past experiences, and those books that we reread obsessively are part of who we are and how we think.

Apparently I am part talking penguin. I’m pretty okay with that.

Tuphlem grdlphump, indeed.

Highs and lows

Highs and lows

Today’s Words: 0
Found Objects total: 20,020
Fuel: Eggs benedict
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee
Exercise: 2 miles on the treadmill (38 minutes)
Other Stuff on my Mind: Highs, lows, and starting over

SBWC student, 5th grader, & High School graduate

I am now the mother of a high school graduate and a fifth grader, and the sister of a Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference student. I am immensely proud of my daughters and my sister. Danni’s graduation and having Kate around were definitely the high points of the week. We packed a LOT of living into the past eight or nine days:

  • Danni had her awards banquet and as usual came out of it with a thousand Design Scout merit badges. She also set the record for the amount of time any student has spent in the studio.
  • Grace was in a parade. A long one. A REALLY long one. She toughed it out in flamenco shoes like a colorful, ruffled, dancing BOSS.
  • We all went to Paula‘s house for D&D and dragged Kate along (she didn’t seem to mind).
  • We went by the new house and discovered that it now has a kitchen floor!
  • Danni graduated on a bright, windy day, with the Air Force doing periodic fly-bys. Only one student disrobed. (It was not Danni.)
  • I had pho for the first time and now never want to eat anything else ever again.
  • I heard our sister Molly‘s new CD and was BLOWN AWAY. If you live in the Boulder area you MUST go see The Hits play.
  • Discovered that someone has escaped from Blake Charlton’s books and has been drinking Red Stripe.
  • We learned that Pineapple Wine is awesome, Coconut Wine less so.
  • Kate and I had dinner at the Enterprise Fish Company in Santa Barbara. If you have lived in Santa Barbara and have read So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish, you may know why this was important. (She decided not to have the salmon after all, but did have the universe’s most ubiquitous drink, the Gin and Tonic.)

The low points were mostly personal, and resulted in me sending frantic brain-storming emails to my besties asking for input, solace, advice, and just extra brains, which they all delivered. This once again proved to me that by some miracle I have managed to associate myself with the best kind of humans, and am deeply grateful for their friendship.

The low point we all shared, of course, was the loss of Ray Bradbury, which still feels personal, because what he meant to each of us is unique. I wanted to write something about it the day the news came out but I just couldn’t bring myself to. I still can’t, not in any meaningful way, except to say that I joined the rest of you in shedding tears for our collective loss and our individual ones.

So now it’s Saturday, and mostly quiet, and I’m trying to get back into my routine. I don’t know about you guys, but momentum is hard-won for me. I had some going there for a bit and was feeling good about things, and then Life, and I’m back at zero again. This is okay, and I’ll be able to build that momentum again this week, but it is a little frustrating. I wish I were someone who could not write for a week and then dive back in and hammer out 2000 words, but I’m not. I have to find my place again, get my head back in the world I created.

Off to do so.



Copies of OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE have arrived at the Adams-Yant household and they are freaking gorgeous. Cody Tilson is my cover design hero. My story “The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories” is reprinted within.

Josh Vogt at reviews ARMORED and calls “Transfer of Ownership” one of his favorites. The story was also recorded by editor/narrator Norm Sherman and is available as a podcast from the Drabblecast.

Kat Howard gave a really lovely plug for “This Rough Magic” over on Fantasy Matters. This is particularly swoony for me because Kat is an astonishingly good writer, and compliments from a writer of her caliber make me kind of light-headed and glowy. Go read her story “Choose Your Own Adventure,” if you haven’t yet, and you’ll see what I mean.

My sister Kate is visiting! This is awesome. She’s here for a week before the start of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, which I hope will be as life-altering and craft-honing for her as it was for me.

I can’t believe the season finale of Game of Thrones is tonight! It seems like it just started. What new show will I obsess on during the hiatus? Speaking of, if you have read the books and ONLY if you have read the books, be sure to check out Dave Barr-Kirtley’s column on, in which he compares the show to the books and identifies the ways in which they deviate.

I now have 20,000 words of Found Objects, which has me 22.22% done. Must work harder.