Novels of Epic Length

I keep meaning to post about my novel but the list of things to do around here never ends. Anyway, I’m not going to go through every single revelation I’ve had about this particular writing project and/or writing in general because that could easily end up being the length of a novel itself, but I do want to talk about some of the major things.

Partway through the residency I realized that I wasn’t telling just one story. I was trying to tell three stories in one novel. This realization was both a relief and a cause for worry. On the one hand I was relieved to know that I could pick one story to focus on instead of trying to cram a bazillion characters and situations into one. On the other hand I was a bit ashamed to think that maybe what I have is the beginnings of a trilogy. I mean, everyone who writes fantasy seems to write in trilogies and isn’t it pretentious to assume that what you’re writing is interesting enough to make into not one, but three books? So I’ve decided for the moment to just focus on the story at hand and worry about the rest of it later. I don’t even know if I can make it through this book with the amount of time I spend despairing about it.

I’ve developed a pattern of swinging back and forth between confidence and utter hopelessness which is worrying me. In my darker moments I lose my ability to rationalize and I stop being able to function as well as I usually do which results in a great deal of wasted time. Mostly I feel overwhelmed by my choices and all the things I need to think about or try to convey. It’s depressing to me that I’ve worked on this novel for so long only to realize now how off base I was with so much of it. Until the residency it never occurred to me to think of the histories of my characters, that they might have a life beyond the pages of my story that might affect their decisions. I didn’t even think that deeply about where they were and how that might influence events. I didn’t ask why my characters would do certain things or make sure that every action had a cause and effect, that each thing that happened stemmed from something else. I basically just created an endless stream of what I thought were funny or interesting incidents. I said to myself: these are all the things I want to have happen so I will just make them happen and not think any more about it.

Part of my problem is that I wrote this story originally as a short story so I wanted to base much of it off of that. I didn’t want to change things or develop things or think about anything at all, lol. I wanted to keep the same tone, the same characters, and scenes. I’m actually amazed looking at it now how much has changed, especially after considering some drastic changes to the beginning. I nearly gave up on it today and emailed my advisor to ask if I could work on something else. But I finally sat myself down and told myself to ignore what I had before and just rewrite it, letting go of the old words, phrases, jokes, whatever.

One thing my advisor wants me to focus on is delving deeper into the minds of the characters because my omniscient narrator is all over the place at the moment. I have to admit that this has been one of the problems adding to my despair. I just don’t know how to make the omniscient narrator work without telling instead of showing and every time I pick up a book I love as an example I’m struck by how much they break the rules which just confuses me further. Anyway, after angsting about it this morning I decided to write a section in close third to see what it felt like and it was very enlightening to slow down and let my protagonist think and react to things.

I always thought when people talked about killing their darlings that they meant certain lines or phrases. I realize now that sometimes huge chunks need to go, perhaps even chunks of the original idea itself. But then, I used to think revision meant line edits, lol. I’ve never done such drastic revisions in my life.

I’m trying to see it as play, as my advisor put it. Just playing around with ideas and techniques that I can always reject or jettison later, but it’s hard. I suppose if anything I’m learning humility. I’m actually embarrassed to admit all these things in such a public space because they are so basic to writing. I feel as though I should have known these things already and I wish I had started thinking more deeply about writing at an earlier age. On the other hand, at least I am learning and isn’t it better to realize these things now rather than later?

VCFA and Novels of Epic Length

I believe that I owe you all a livejournal post. Or ten. So much has been happening around here I’m not sure where to start, but I’ve been meaning to talk about my experience at Vermont College of Fine Arts so I guess I’ll start there.

My first residency was in July and I loved it. On the flight there I was reading Mistwood and the woman sitting next to me turned to me and said, "I’ve got that book, too." I said, "really?" And somewhere in the back of my mind thought: I wonder if she’s going to VCFA. Then I saw she was reading Bones of Faerie. But being the wee shy girl that I am, I didn’t ask her if she was also a student. When I got to the airport I took a shuttle and who should be in the shuttle with me? Franny Billingsley!!! The author of that wonderful book I was raving about with the seal maiden and the redheaded lad! I tried to tell her how much I loved her book, but I was nervous and am not sure I gave her a clear idea of just how much I enjoyed it. Ah well. We had an awesome conversation about writing and the program on the trip to Montpelier because it was her first residency as a faculty member. Then when we got to the dorms who should get out of a cab at the very same time? The woman from the plane. Apparently, she had been wondering about me, too. What a small world we all live in. It turns out she loves fantasy novels and is writing a very funny, clever one herself 🙂

I can’t go into detail about everything that happened for those twelve days because it felt like a lifetime crammed into about two weeks, but I can say it was amazing. I’ve never been surrounded by so many people who know and love the same books that I do, and who love to write and take the craft of writing seriously. I felt like I was part of a wonderful, caring community of writers from all over the country. There were people there just beginning their writing journey and others who have already published fifty books, but they wanted to learn more and that’s what makes VCFA stand out. There’s no competition, no popularity contest, no pushing people to write blockbusters and earn wads of cash. It’s about learning how to write well and when I was there I felt like I was part of something bigger and more important than myself.

I learned so much. I suspect it will take a long time to unpack and process everything I learned and that was only my first residency. There are, I think, about thirty one people in my class and we all went into the program feeling fairly confident, but when we had been there just a few days we realized, each of us, that there was so much we hadn’t thought about (in terms of writing) before. It was a fascinating change to watch, because I could see everyone around me opening up to new ideas and possibilities.

I think the highlight of the experience for me was fantasy day (Holly Black’s lecture on constructing a magic system in fantasy was amazing) and the auction. There were some ARCs of some very talked about books being auctioned off and there were real writers and agents there. I felt like a real writer myself. An equal. Maybe that’s odd, because I’m certainly not a real author. Yet. But, I guess, I realized that we’re all just people and I wanted to be a part of that community so much. It felt so right. Like coming home. I tried to win a copy of The Replacement, but alas… I did, however, peek at the first page and my god! I was blown away. I’m a little leery of hype since books like Twilight get so hyped up, but I suspect I am going to love that book.

BUT my favorite experience by far was seeing and hearing MT Anderson read from his latest Pals In Peril book set in darkest Delaware. OMG! I have not laughed that hard in a long time. The man is a genius. And he sang for us. Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn5hRfCA-mU&feature=related

In summation, I am so glad I applied to this school. I loved everyone I met and know I’m going to have some awesome lifelong friends. I feel like my life is moving forward. One of the graduating students asked me at one point if I was working or if I was a full time writer. I stammered a bit, saying that I was currently unemployed and she said something like, "Well, then you’re a full time writer." I wanted to hug her.

I’ll try to post soon with an update about the novel and the numerous revelations I have had about it both during and after the residency, but this is getting long, so boa noite!