It has been a while, hasn’t it? Oh sure, there was that other site, and that took time. And yes, there was a novel draft, which was finished literally as I returned to the states; somewhere above the Pacific. That felt good, let me tell you. So much so, that I immediately cashed in on the whole first class thing1thanks tiny Oregon shoe company and asked the flight attendant for two whiskeys on the rocks. She brought me two of these fall-themed apple-infused Jack Daniel’s cocktails that actually were delicious. So I asked for two more, and when auntie looked at me strange, I smiled and told her, “Hey, I just finished my book and I’m moving back to the States.” Since we were still in the future, the looming nightmare of Trump was still visible and she took pity on me and brought me three and some ramen.
So passed draft three; with a toast as I hurdled towards the day before at 500km/h.
Writing a novel has been an amazing experience. Though my natural laziness tries to deny it, the most poignant lesson I learned throughout the process is to just shut the fuck up and start writing. I’ve written and said before that I’m the sort of person that needs to plan everything out. That doesn’t work so well for writing for me. I need to just start putting words on papetext box and that tends to fire up the whole creative centers. Some of the better ideas I’ve had for the young Jest Rovanna came while just furiously pounding away at the keyboard.
What I also learned is that I need a schedule of some sorts. Mornings in Singapore worked rather well. The ability to get up on a schedule and walk down to my favorite coffee shop/office, sit in Josh Bruce Memorial Bench Seat — where the wood had been worn to fit my rather large ass comfortably through endless hours of writing and drinking coffee — and work for four hours before lunch and/or meeting my crew of motley authors made for incredible production. I was averaging 3,000 words a day for a while. Glorious. Here in the States, that… hasn’t happened.
Oh sure. I just moved. I was living in corporate housing for 5 weeks and then had the holidays, moving back into the house, coming out at Thanksgiving, new floors in the house and then before I could even catch my breath — BAM, motherfucking Christmas nearly blind sided Bev & I as we scrambled to get gifts for everyone.
I know this is a shitty aside, which is why I’m not putting it under one of my adorable little mouse-over boxes; but having the excuse of living in Asia so as to not worry about exchanging gifts was rather nice. I’m a shit hole, I know.
So anyway, with the holidays past and the search for employment back in full swing, so too must continue the creation of words. I’ve had a chance at least to review the feedback received from B regarding the last draft and started in on some homework of hers. This last draft was all about character development and plot; the previous draft was a solid little story but the main character just sort of stumbled through the events she relates to the reader (and the reader’s surrogate, Constable Major John Wren) without ever describing what motivated her. I think I solved a lot of those issues. B’s feedback was focused around pacing and the relationship between the main protagonist and her romantic interest.
In the interim, I had a chance to blitz through The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which among other things, deals with the intersection of patriarchy, colonialism and oppression in a low-fantasy setting akin to a Roman empire that’s run by secret Nazis. I don’t know if I can do the book justice. It’s an incredibly well-written piece of fantasy fiction, very much catering the gritty political realism popularized by A Song of Ice and Fire, with quite a few well plotted twists and more than its fair share of gut-punches. I can’t quite recommend the book; it’s well crafted and offers little to criticize, but the pay off is not one that will leave you smiling. The book is prefaced with a promise: “This is the truth. You will know because it hurts.”
Seth Dickinson keeps his promises, apparently.
I bring up Baru Cormorant because of a post on Dickinson’s site. In the post, he describes the three narratives that Baru is fighting. (Non-hidden aside: spoilers abound in his post so read the book first.) The third of these three is that queer relationships are doomed, a devastating and pervasive trope in fiction. Queer characters often find messy ends, and while recent fiction has been kinder, there are still only a few pieces of fiction that come to mind where LGBTQ characters’ stories have happy conclusions. Without spoiling much, Dickinson makes an attempt at confronting this by giving Baru and her romantic interest a compelling and as empowering as possible scene before the end of the book, but I wasn’t sold. It’s what let me down about the book, really.
Looking back at Jest and her relationship with Aessen, I’ve been incredibly careful about this as well. I can’t see any sort of ending in this novel where they live happily ever after. Those sort of endings aren’t really what people want to read for one, and the two women have a lot of personal issues to work through that have nothing to do with each other before they can find peace in each other’s arms. B’s feedback touches on that in a lot of different ways and it’s something that I’ve been working on. Coming back to an earlier point, at some point, I’m just going to have to start typing and see how I can resolve this well to the reader. It’s tricky because this is nearly all in first person and Jest isn’t a reliable narrator. Jest’s sexuality is a point I’ve struggled with a lot. The temptation to not simply have her orientation align with mine has been difficult to resist. Her attraction to Protharious is a plot point itself as alters more than she could ever guess. Her relationship with Sen has fluctuated from draft to draft — originally it was a platonic, protective relationship. I didn’t like that Sen was so helpless, though, since in terms of magic and ability, she is far and away the most powerful of all the cast. It seemed a better fit to have Jest as bi.
Of course, that sadly necessitates me to spend some time considering how the lands around Peria consider same-sex relationships. This was something I ignored in the previous drafts. The only people privy to Jest’s admission of desire are John and his crew and while his men may have their own opinions, John Wren simply doesn’t care. But this too has made me consider developing his crew more, which then opens up the ugly truth that I haven’t spent enough time world building. This too is a focus of the forthcoming draft as well.
So, as I said before; it’s really just about sitting down and getting back to work.