- There's a wide-ranging discussion over in Justine's comments section, leaping off from a recent NPR piece about the writing quality in Twilight and whether that should matter since it's for teens (paraphrasing). Tansy weighs in with a long post of her own, well worth your time, about the importance of reading bad books.
- Sarah Prineas considers fairy tale retellings and what makes them work (or not); comments excellent here too. See also: Deva Fagan's post.
- Speaking of fairy tales, there's a fascinating piece in the NYT on Bluebeard in light of a new film version. My own favorite version of Bluebeard is probably Greg Frost's brilliant, woefully underappreciated Fitcher's Brides.
- Sarah Weinman looks at authors developing new–and successful–strategies around e-books and other publishing models at Daily Finance.
- Oh, and the Washington Post really did the best version of the Obama at Prairie Lights story.
- Jim Hines surveyed first-time authors about their experiences breaking in; here are the results.
- Richard on I Spy, following Robert Culp's death. (I must admit to missing the boat on this one; but there's always DVD.)
- Salon's definitive 10 time travel movies. Good list overall, but THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE? And when director Brad Anderson's Happy Accidents, one of my own favorite movies OF ALL TIME and one of the best modern examples of the screwball sensibility around, is tragically omitted? For SHAME.
- Monica watched Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars (with a title like that…) so we never have to.
- Make sure you check out Alan Gratz's blog this week for fantastic posts full of excellent pics from his trip to Japan.
- Finally, a list of 50 outrageously successful people who initially failed.
As a reader, there are few better moments than the first time you discover the work of a writer you immediately love and know you'll follow for years to come. Reading the first story in the short story collection Black Juice, "Singing My Sister Down," was that moment for me with Margo Lanagan (and I know for a bunch of others). I've yet to be disappointed, and don't expect to. Margo tells brave, wise, outrageously beautiful stories filled with terrible, wonderful things. Her novel Tender Morsels (Amazon | Indiebound) is one of those books I know I will return to over the years, finding something new every time. All by way of saying I'm happy to host the final stop on Margo's blog tour for its paperback edition. Now, as usual, I asked for process porn–I know you all love it so–but instead what Margo has written is an essay about having various editions of one's books and, also, about process. (It's a difficult topic to escape*.) So, welcome, Margo!
NOTE: First three U.S. commenters will be sent a copy from the publisher!
Gwenda, I know you usually ask people to talk about their writing process, especially for the book in question, but honestly, I’ve written and talked so much process-porn about Tender Morsels, there is really nothing new to say – and I want you to have new stuff!
So, let’s talk about the weirdness that is new editions. It was pretty weird for me to have two editions of Tender Morsels come out (US hardback and Australian adult) in October 2008, and then two more hardback editions published in the UK (by David Fickling as YA and as adult by Jonathan Cape) in July last year. I don’t publish a whole bunch, and I’m used to maybe a new cover every couple of years, so to have four different covers for the same book felt a bit excessive (in a wonderful way, of course!). And to watch the different reactions to the book when it was marketed as YA and as adult was interesting, especially the very strong reaction both for and against it as a YA book in the UK.
Now, with the fuss over challenging-YA-book-wins-World-Fantasy-Award well and truly died down, it’s time for the Knopf paperback edition to come out, and for the novel to be published in Australia as YA (by Allen & Unwin) – both of these with gorgeous new covers, of course. And soon the UK paperbacks will be out, too. So the thing proliferates, wrapping itself in cover after cover like a vaudeville actor undergoing costume changes.
This is mild stuff; this is very small beer. I don’t know how really-properly-famous-bestsellery-authors keep track of all their different editions – they must have assistants to remind them exactly which and with whom and for whom and when etc. Especially prolific authors, who would by this time have published something else and be just about finished the book after that, plus have backlist reissues happening all the time – how do they even remember what it was like to put that story, two books ago, together? I mean, I can remember the writing of Tender Morsels, pretty much month by month, throughout 2007, but that was because it was my first novel for 10 years, and a struggle. For a novel that flows easily, that just falls out of you (as this next one of mine – due end March – seems to be doing, yay!), what’s to grip onto?
Because the process itself is kind of mysterious; if the writing is going well, it kind of feels as if the story is happening because you’ve stepped to one side and are letting it happen, rather than that you’re bodily pushing it along. There are not many points where you step in and make conscious decisions. I don’t, anyway. I kind of play around at the start (with both stories and novels – oh look, here I am talking process! how’d that happen?), then when I feel confident enough of the mood, general direction and some of the characters, I do step in and make a kind of a plan, keeping it fairly squishy so it’s not predictable enough to take all the surprises out of the writing. And then, for a short story I fix my eye on the end point and let the rest happen; for a novel I kind of wallow, and try to keep the process playful and not-a-chore and not close off too many possibilities. I’m not a highly technical, front-brain kind of writer, I’m more grunty and instinctive; all the clever, connecting-type stuff happens at a subconscious level and surprises me as much as it does my readers, how it all seems to work together at the end!
So, looking back and talking about process (especially from such a distance) feels to me somehow wrong-headed, because although, yes, there’s a lot of head involved, the main direction of the process is not happening anywhere that can be seen. Happily fumbling around in the dark for the next bit of dialogue is not really a spectator sport, and neither is screwing up your face because you got a scene wrong, and going for a brisk walk and watching the alternative path through that scene unroll before you. Nobody who doesn’t already do that habitually is going to understand what you mean when you try to describe it; and anyone who does is quite happily doing their own fumbling and striding about, and probably doesn’t need your reassurance.
Yes, so, new editions? Pretty, but a little puzzling for the author who once was inside that story, engineering its many possible resolutions, and is now firmly outside the single version that survived, and up to her ears in something else, a setting with a whole different climate and shape, a group of entirely characters with a new set of tortures to undergo.
New editions of Tender Morsels? I love them all, and I still stand by the story inside all those covers – I think it’s knobbly and meaty and interesting, and I still love all the magic bits. I hope the new paperback and YA editions find their way even farther out into the world, and that more and more people get to chew on them.
Visit Margo's previous stops:
(*I think every writer feels a bit suspect talking about process–we're storytellers, after all–which is one of the things that makes it so fascinating for other writers to read. And, really, it all circles back around in one way or another, since without the making, there's nothing.)
Er, I signed up to blog about women and science for Ada Lovelace Day and then … put the reminder on the wrong day on my calendar. Woe, it was yesterday. I have failed Ada utterly. AND I'm even too busy to compensate with a suitable entry today.
But, when all else fails, links. These two are shiny: Women in Science: 16 Significant Contributors, brought to your monitor by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (with a name like that, how can its world domination not be imminent?), and Yesterday and Today: The Top Women Scientists. Those pointed out, I only wish I could point you to speedy resources about today's awesome women in science. I know they are many, and hope that one day there are even more.
So yesterday I was home having a sick day and I got an email from my editor at PW to make a call to someone about some sort of award and, lo, when I called it turned out that it was the Executive Director of RWA letting me know that they are giving me this year's Veritas Media Award for the "Romancing the Recession" feature. Past recipients include Ron Charles and Mary Bly. There was major squealing.
Needless to say, I'm hugely honored.
(And Jennifer Crusie will also be at the awards ceremony, which will make it very hard not to fangirl.)
Unrelatedly: Saturday I'll be running a guest post from the DIVINE Margo Lanagan on her writing process as part of the blog tour for the paperback release of her devastatingly brilliant novel Tender Morsels.
Another unrelatedly: Just finished Karen Healey's debut YA novel, Guardian of the Dead, and am telling you TO PICK IT UP NOW DO NOT PASS GO.
- I do have plans for Actual Posts on things like trilogy structure, romances (I've been on a Jennifer Crusie binge) and etcetera miscellanea–next week! But for now, a few hangovers and a wish for a sunny, happy weekend wherever you may be.
- Alan DeNiro is hitting parts south on a tour which will help fundraise for Mercy Corps' Haitian relief efforts. He'll be at the Virginia Festival of the Book, then Richmond, Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Asheville. If you're in one of these locales, go out and support both an excellent charity and his wonderful first novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less.
- Sara Zarr mulls the current state of blogging. (One of those Actual Posts I have in mind is related to this topic.)
- Janni weighs in on the Jewish fantasy tradition discussion.
- You put mummies in a headline, you got me. The NYT story on this 4,000-year-old cemetery excavation is fascinating.
- I really want Melissa Milgrom's Still Life book about the history of taxidermy, including its current resurgence, which sounds amazing. I'm also very much loving Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook.
- Newsflash: Nicholas Sparks = a self-aggrandizing blowhard. You know what you should be when people call your books romances? FLATTERED. (Psst, Nickie, many people are just calling them things like, y'know, BAD.)
- Dana interviews "everyone's favorite Italian postpunk band" Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!, who performed at SXSW. You'll also want to read Kassia's SXSWi wrap-up, where she has typically smart things to say.
- Finally: Day jobs of famous writers.
- I spent the weekend shopping and cleaning out the closet. Remarkably, both of these activities were fun.
- The Guardian book blog asks whether writers really need a room of their own: "Real writers need frustration. They need embarrassment. They need cold, uncomfortable rooms, miles from a mobile signal. There should be an infestation of at least one parasite, a backlog of warnings from the Student Loans Company and just enough coffee for what Don DeLillo calls "an occasional revelation"." Student loans, check, but honestly I can write just about anywhere, especially with earphones. I am very good at blocking out Le World Around Me.
- The ever stylish and genius Peter Straub has an essay at the Millions, "What About Genre, What About Horror?": "Maybe you should lock yourself up in your heart long enough to work out your actual relationship to matters like shame, loss, envy, panic, brutality, greed, insecurity, loneliness, failure, whatever you find particularly unpleasant. Because that, dimwit, is where you live, especially if you really hate the whole idea of familiarity with such crappy, low-rent feeling states."
- Betsy's getting down to the wire, hitting 21-25 on her Herculean list of the top 100 children's novels.
- Like Paul Collins, I'd love to go walking in the Brunels' tunnel under the Thames.
- The fabulous L.K. Madigan talks about the horror of GoodReads for authors and collects the thoughts of some other writers.
- Some interesting posts from Peter Miller from SXSWi at Jacket Copy, including: "Publishers are 'only innovative when they're desperate'": "Waiting my turn to talk to the critic, I overheard other gems: “Publishers are square-dancing on a sinking ship.” Jason Scott is generous with those kinds of assessments and they didn't let up even after I told him of my role in the industry. "Book people," he said, "are slow, only innovative when they are desperate."
- Tansy continues her ruminations on series and standalone fantasy with a great post on "stealth worldbuilding."
- At Strange Horizons, Karen Healey writes compellingly about how Margaret Mahy wrote fantasy set in her home country (or didn't, at first). (Mahy is one of my FAVORITE FAVORITE all-time FAVORITE authors, and oh how I want to see Elizabeth Knox's documentary about her!) I feel a similar disconnect to the one Karen talks about, only with the southern U.S. and Kentucky. My current work in progress is the first one I've really set in the south, at least letting that setting be important. But, then, growing up rural, I always felt myself as much a citizen of the land of books–which is to say everywhere–as the place I happened to live.
- Cindy Pon on diversity in fantasy at the Enchanted Inkpot, collecting the thoughts of others as well.
- Laura Miller convincingly throws water on David Shields' Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.
- Stacy Whitman stops by the Enchanted Inkpot to discuss the exciting news that Lee & Low has purchased Tu Books. (Congratulations, Stacy!)
- Cynthia talks to M.T. Anderson about writing across different formats. She is also, of course, taking over the world, what with the fabulous Eternal hitting the NYT bestseller list in its first paperback week. You can find her over at Hunger Mountain talking about that and other things.
- "Books in the age of the iPad" by Craig Mod. See also: Gizmodo on Penguin's plans.
- Sara Ryan on what instructing robots and writing comics have in common.
- I can't remember where I first saw this, but: people do amazing recreations of photos from then, now.
- Maggie Stiefvater on why YA rocks.
- The making of Gail Carriger's Blameless book cover. Fascinating.
- And that reminds me: If you're in the Boston area, don't miss Kelly Link, Cassandra Clare and Holly Black reading and signing to benefit the Franciscan Hospital for Children. Get. There.
- Katherine Langrish on dogs in books. (Her new puppy is adorable.)
- Speaking of adorable, have you been following the story about Taronga's miracle elephant calf? He seems to be making it after all.
I'm delighted to welcome Varian Johnson today as part of the blog tour for his WONDERFUL new novel, Saving Maddie, and share an essay on his writing process. For those of you who don't know, Varian is sometimes known as the hardest working man in show business, er, or at least one of the hardest working writers I've ever met. (See his recent post over at Justine's for reference.) His last novel My Life as a Rhombus garnered a whole heap of acclaim and I suspect this new one will surpass even that. Saving Maddie is a complicated, exquisitely-executed story about what happens when the girl you had a crush on when you were a kid comes back to town talking about not being into organized religion anymore and scandalizing all the adults around–and you're the preacher's son (oh, and she's also a preacher's kid). Here's Varian on the tough magic employed to create it.
(AND: The first three commenters on this post will win a free ARC!)
The writing process for Saving Maddie
First off, I’d like to thank Gwenda for hosting me today. Gwenda Bond is one of the smartest people I know (her VCFA thesis on the omniscient POV should be required reading for all authors), both her husband and mother are adorable, and she is a master Mafia player. (*Ed.)
Gwenda asked me to write a bit about my writing process, which would be easy to do, if I had a set process. The only constant in my process is that it takes me a really long time to write a novel (though I’m hoping to be a little quicker on my current work-in-progress). So for this post, I figured I’d focus on the process of writing Saving Maddie, which was just released yesterday.
There was only one thing I knew when I started working on this book—that it would be from a male’s POV. I had just spent the past three years working on My Life as a Rhombus, published by Flux in 2008. The novel, written from a seventeen-year-old girl’s point of view, touched on topics such as sex, pregnancy and abortion, and was emotionally exhausting. In order to keep somewhat sane, I swore I’d never write another girl first-person POV novel, and set off to write my version of a “boy book.”
Process-wise, I usually approach a manuscript thematically: I think about the big questions I am interested in exploring; I think about what I want to discover about the world and myself. Specifically, I found myself thinking a lot about the idea of “saving” someone, both from a religious and an emotional well-being point of view. Really, what does it mean to save someone? Who are we to determine who is or isn’t in need of being saved? And how to do you save someone that has no interest in being “rescued?”
Have been slammed/crazed/etcetera, even more so than usual lately, but the horizon approacheth. I wanted to put up a quick note to let you know that I'll be hosting the one and only Varian Johnson on his blog tour this Wednesday, where you can get that write porn we all love so much on the process behind his marvelous new novel Saving Maddie. And you will even be able to win ARCs of it!
(Also, there will be a massive, tab-clearing hangovers post tomorrow.)
- Matt Cheney interviews crime-fighting editing duo John Kessel and Jim Kelly about The Secret History of Science Fiction for Rain Taxi.
- Sandra McDonald's new story "Tupac Shakur and the End of the World" gets a recommendation from BoingBoing.
- The Lambda Literary Foundation has launched a truly impressive new Web site jampacked with features. You can read all about it here. (Hat tip to two people I believe were instrumental in this project, Colleen Lindsay and Nicola Griffith, for the news.)
- The fabulous Leda Schubert, who suffered gracefully as my advisor the semester I wrote my thesis at Vermont, gets interviewed over at the Tollbooth.
- I love it when Sarah blogs about real-life crime.
- Media Source buys SLJ and Library Journal; here's keeping fingers crossed for a PW buyer soon.
- Speaking of SLJ, the Battle of the (Kids) Books is getting ready to begin and they've got a pretty new site.