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There is a tumblr full of Diana Wynne Jones memorials and I started writing this as a submission, and then it turned into a post.

I discovered Diana Wynne Jones with Year of the Griffin. It's a sequel, so it seems an odd starting place, but it worked well for me. When you're a kid, adults assume that you aren't as smart as they are just because you're younger. They look down on you, they use smaller words when they're talking to you, they pat you on the head--physically or metaphorically. When you're a bookish kid who has a big vocabulary and a fierce imagination, this can result in...difficulties.

The main characters in Year of the Griffin are in college, by my younger self's standards basically grown-up, but nearly all the adults talk down to them anyway. This creates...problems. But their desire to learn and their friendships allow them to keep growing, circumvent the adults, and solve some (okay, most) of the problems the adults think are unsolvable.

Finally, I had found characters with whom I had complete sympathy.

Better yet, this Diana Wynne Jones person had written lots of books! In each one, the plot was complicated and difficult to predict, and in each one I added new words to my vocabulary--in a very natural way, by encountering unfamiliar words when reading and garnering what context I could to figure out what they meant. They were clever and funny and magical and wise, books I could reread over and over. Some of them were books that I could tell I didn't quite understand yet, but that was okay; I had the other ones, and maybe eventually I could read them again and they'd make sense. (I get Crown of Dalemark now, but I am pretty sure I still don't understand Fire and Hemlock.)

And--well--I don't know what else to say. I said some of it last year. At least part of A Returning Power is responding to her work, and I'm sure bits of other stories I've written owe quite a lot to her too. To a certain extent? I don't think I'll ever stop saying things about Diana Wynne Jones.
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I was going to post about Things I Learned About Publishing By Reading Slush. Instead you get this:

Tonight I strolled across campus in an evening chilly enough to feel cold. I'd left an information session on summer funding early--I had seen all the parts relevant to my application, and I couldn't stand to watch a powerpoint any more--and wandered through the library to print some things out. I stopped at the post box and opened its blue-painted flap.

Then I said, "Well, here goes." And I dropped a query letter into the mail.

Walking back to my dorm, I had a sudden peculiar feeling that I was standing on the precipice of something huge and wonderful and amazing. I think it was my life.
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I am a considerable way toward finishing this polish of A Returning Power. This morning, I have been contemplating query revisions.

And...well. It still all freaks me out. Kind of a lot. After ten years of "someday someone will pay me to write novels!" it's weird to find myself on the brink of taking that first step toward publication. (After "write the novel", that is.) I worry--what if no one wants to represent me? what if I can't tell who the Right Agent is? what if this kind of book just isn't selling right now? what if what if what if. There are so many things to worry about.

I know I'm decent at writing. I know this novel is the best that I can make it without waiting another year to get more distance (again), and that putting it away for a year is probably not a good choice. I also know that those things aren't enough.

I have always been the worst at not worrying about things when there is nothing I can do about them. All I can do, right now, is finish polishing the novel and finish polishing the query and sharpen up my synopsis and pick some agents, even if that means drawing names out of a hat, to send it out to. But I may need repeated kicks on the ankles to get that far.

well.

Jan. 24th, 2012 10:33 am
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Back on campus. Settled in, and almost surprised at how settled I've been feeling. Less stressed about almost everything than I was during January. Whew.

This may have something to do with the fact that I decided Not To Worry this weekend. On Friday I listened to the Swordspoint audiobook on the plane instead of freaking out about A Returning Power. I lazed about. I saw the Tennant and Tate Much Ado (aaa, their faces) and the Tennant Hamlet (...his face). I bought groceries in Northampton and made oatmeal-raisin cookies and ate most of them. Yesterday I had a to-do list but I only did half the things. Today I have done some more of the things! Someday soon I hope to return to full Alena functionality.

Meanwhile, it is the 24th. Going by my original goal--of "send query letters out by the end of January"--I have a week left for polishing A Returning Power and its query letter and its synopsis. And deciding which set of agents to query first. Today I realized that the first two scenes have to be combined. La.

But, well. Today's the first day of classes, but somehow I only have one class each day for the rest of the week. So I will have time to work on the novel, and then it can be out in the world and off of my mind. And then I will write something else.

(I may or may not be auditioning for a production of Midsummer Night's Dream this weekend. Um. Theater! I like it! It's not writing, but it involves lots of awesome people.)
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It snowed yesterday, properly, enough to cover most of the grass and dead leaves. Enough to creak under my boots when we walked down to a coffee shop and heard music: a band with two teachers from my high school in it. I drank a tall mug of peppermint tea. At the set break, they came over and chatted--what am I up to, all that sort of thing.

I hope the snow doesn't melt today. It makes this city feel like winter.

I like my dad's new house. It already feels homelike. I am glad to spend this week here (I fly back to Massachusetts on Friday). Most of the people I know have gone back to school already, or are leaving today; I've enjoyed having social times, but it'll also be nice to be utterly unscheduled. People should be getting back to me on A Returning Power soon, and then I can fix things in that, and keep making sallies toward a query letter. And I can keep working on plans for my hypothetical London jaunt--I've got a goal of drafting my research proposal before I go back.

In the meantime...
boooks! )
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Bad ways to start the New Year: finally falling prey to a sickness that'd been creeping up on me, I suspect, since the end of the semester; not being able to help my dad move furniture yesterday.

Good ways to start the New Year: having ended up at my mother's house with few books and slow internet, I wrote a draft of a short story, "The War of the Mages", in one day. (Well, one day and a couple of months of thinking about it.) It's in the same world as A Returning Power, so I wanted to get the story written before I started sending the novel out; and, as a bonus, the Dell Award contest deadline is today and I had no stories that weren't currently at markets. So: story written, story sent off to Dell Award contest, in the space of a day. When they announce the winners, I can go back, revise, and then send it to markets. Basically, I win!

Today I came back to my dad's house and re-shelved the contents of 11 (out of 14) boxes of books. My bookcases now loom properly over my bed, so it has started to look something like home.
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I refuse to believe that this is actually a draft; I am still somewhere in the middle of the swamp, slogging. I just ran out of words.

Still and all--44,100 words, or 224 pages in MS Word.

Which is shorter than the first novel I won NaNoWriMo with. Shorter than any novel to win NaNoWriMo, too (the first novel I won NaNo with was 75k). Nearly half the length of the zeroth draft of this, finished the summer after I graduated high school. And yet...and yet...

Darnit, now I have to follow through on the rest of that resolution and write a query letter. (Weirdly, that is the most real thing right now.) And sometime in the New Year, I will dig out all those manuscripts from VP and figure out how terrible my prose is.

And then maybe I will query agents on a novel.

Um. Okay. Wow. Hi.

I just finished revising a novel.
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One chapter to go. Possibly two, depending on how I swing it. Either way, like the nice post title says, I am still on track.

I took the king out of this scene, but I think he has to go back in. Alas. Well, kings are nice.

Social engagements today are zero: good, after the flurry of family-related events. (Every day since I returned on Friday, and in a way every day since last Tuesday. None of them bad, all of them draining in their own way. Introvert time is nice. I like introvert time.)

I've reread all of Protector of the Small over the past couple of days, and also reread The Essential Dykes To Watch Out For. My idea of comfort reads...may be different than other people's. Witness the time I thought that Mieville's The Scar would be a good thing to read when I was sick.

Oh, plus I washed my clothes and did other minor tasks important for life. That was a Good Thing. The Alena is rebooting from maintenance mode!

Maybe after the first of the year I will even start writing something new.

improving

Dec. 28th, 2011 08:47 am
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Feeling better about the world than I was yesterday: win.

In the interest of actually finishing this draft of ARP, I am going to Not Worry about Anne Conway until the new year. Part Four is less than ten thousand words. I can totally revise that in three days, right?

If I do--when I finish it--I think I will buy myself the Swordspoint audiobook as a reward.

Also maybe I should wash my clothing. (Pssh, household tasks. I don't need clean clothes, I have noveling to do!)
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I was super-productive today (even though I went to a solstice concert in the afternoon--initial research on a project, reading a whole book I have to write an essay on in the next week and a half, reading for class tomorrow, getting ahead (!) on reading my slush), so this evening I got to work more on A Returning Power.

Right now I'm in the beginning of chapter twelve (of 18, so approaching 2/3 done). It's pivotal in a bunch of ways; mostly what I'm noticing right now is how this section intersects with a short story I have in planning stages. I have to make sure everything will match up--I'll probably at least draft the short story before I send A Returning Power out, just to be certain.

In general, this draft of the novel feels like it's taking shape. I can nearly imagine it as a real printed book, which is a) probably a good thing given that I am planning to start querying on it early next year and b) reassuring.

Lots of bits of the previous draft make me wince and go "I'm glad that that didn't go to VP." But the thing about revising is, when you find one of those things, you get to fix it! I am starting to like revising. (I know, I know, now I've jinxed it.)

squish.

Nov. 28th, 2011 09:11 pm
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Today I made these cookies (substitute potato starch for the eggs and gluten-free flour plus a bit of xanthan gum for the flour, use brown sugar not white, what is this "chocolate chips and pecans" thing doing in my cookies?). Except with squash, not pumpkin.

Still not quite like the pumpkin/squash cookies my dad makes, but they're closer than the last ones I tried. They'll do.

Mmm, cookies.

Meanwhile, too many things. The sharp wish for a return to Thanksgiving break. Lots of meetings scheduled this week, too, which adds stuff to my already kind of packed schedule. (Up this week: history paper, physics test.)

Earlier this evening my theater-history textbook was telling me about Cardinal Richelieu's role in consolidating French theater, and all I could think of was Dumas. This is how you can tell I'm a geek, ladies and gentlemen and others! Still--interesting to get even that glimpse of him from outside the world of D'Artagnan. Between this and my Renaissance Italy class and my classics art history course, I feel like I'm starting to get a sense of western history. Which was something I really wanted to get in college, after mainly being taught American history three times over in high school.

Still noodling on the difficult scene in A Returning Power. I think I might have to restructure this whole bit, scene-wise, so it works with what I have to do now. Alack and all that.

What else? Vaguely disconnected, floaty. Not ready for finals. I want winter break, but I don't want the semester to be over. The end of it is racing toward us, though. Next semester will be good but very different and in the middle of it there's J-term, where I will be at home and hopefully doing stuff but I've started kind of wishing I could be here.

So, in essence, as are we all: full of contradictory impulses. And squash cookies. (Nom.)
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This weekend I was super-productive! I pushed through the rest of Part I of A Returning Power (the last two chapters didn't need many big changes, it was just the first ones that needed to be largely rewritten).

And then I went back and read "Lightening" aloud to myself and changed things and hit my head on it for a while, and then sent it out.

So. That's gone. Maybe now I'll actually write those other short stories lurking in the back of my head.

Also my father came to visit, which was nice, although I always feel vaguely guilty for not having exciting things! planned for when people come visit me here. "Um--art museum?" is my default. (To be fair, he visited on a Sunday afternoon/evening, when most of everything's closed anyway.)

It is a nice art museum, though. And it's always good to just go look at it without a class assignment pushing me there.

By the end of next weekend I hope to be through the second part of ARP with big-scale revisions, Thanksgiving break the third part, and then the end of it--uh, by the end of the semester? And then a prose-level pass, and then I'll make someone read it and tell me if it's terrible, and then maybe I'll actually query it out to agents. Instead of just thinking "Hey I should send a novel out someday".

Current motion was looking through the first scene of part two this morning. Or at least the beginning of it. Now I have class and work and a meeting with a professor until five, so probably not much more work today, but hey--that's how it goes sometimes. Mostly my goal was to start looking at it again, since yesterday was mostly "Lightening".
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After I turned in my physics midterm this afternoon, I went back and re-revised a couple of scenes. Then, moving forward, I got 600 words on a basically-from-scratch rewrite of the next. (It's much better now.)

In the evening I saw a play (Juliet and Her Romeo, cut from the Shakespeare), so no more words tonight. That will have to wait for tomorrow.
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Better metric: 18 chapters of this novel and 6 weeks until the end of 2011 means I should set my goal at three chapters revised per week.

So far I'm at 1 out of 3 for this week. (Only seventeen chapters to go!)
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Today I revised two thousand words of A Returning Power.

Just 38k to go...!

Seriously, though, if I'm going to revise this novel before the end of the year I need to get a move on. As in a thousand-word-per-day move on, ideally. Which will be a good trick, seeing as how the reason I could write today is that I had no physics class this morning. (We have a midterm this week.)

Some of it will need less revising than other parts, but at least a bit of it (at least a couple of chapters of it) will need a lot of revising.

I believe that I have a good draft/structure/whatever; I just have to go through and add more emotional arc for Shannon, and fix some of the worldbuilding stuff (part of which is, add in more nuance to the class-war situation), and make the prose tighter.

(Just.)

I'm of two minds about how to proceed on this novel: go through, revise it, and then send it out? Go through, revise, send it to some friends, tweak a little more, then send it out? But I know I can get involved in endless fiddling with the send-to-friends, tweak-bits thing. Maybe it would be better for me to just send something out to agents than to endlessly tweak? Gah. Who really knows?

Also also, a bunch of VP folk critiqued "Lightening" for me and now I want to fix that. But I can't because ARP comes first, darnit. (I have to be stern with myself on this one because otherwise I'll just get involved in short-story fixing forever.)
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24-hour play festival tonight! I haven't written anything for the stage in years, I've never been up as late (early?) as 3:30 a.m., so... it should be an awesome time. Met most of the other playwrights a week or two ago, and they all seem like excellent people with whom to stay up until four in the morning writing plays. I look forward to it.

Each playwright gets a currently-mysterious prop. I wonder what mine will be.

I've done a little work on A Returning Power--not much--I'd like to get more done, and type up the handwritten bits of stories I've got in a notebook, but the play festival may well take up all of my brain this weekend.

Good thing: my physics midterm got moved, so I can take it Wednesday next week instead of Monday. I wasn't really looking forward to taking that on not-very-much sleep.

Meanwhile... meanwhile. Planning classes for next semester: trying (again) to get into a novel-writing class; going to take two physics classes (classical mechanics and advanced quantum), one at Smith, which should be an adventure; and hoping I can get into another Smith class, Art and History of the Book, which (if I can take it) will make me exceedingly happy.

It's hard to believe that the semester's more than half over already.
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The Mob got convinced to do NaNoWriMo this year by her girlfriend. The fact that I am not the only one with a novel outline up on the wall in notecards makes me happy.

My goal of revising A Returning Power by the end of 2011 still stands. The problem is that I have never really revised a novel before, and ARP is the first one I've even rewritten (from loose-first-draft stage).

So I'm trying to take inspiration from the NaNoWriMo mood around me, to let that push me into working on the novel. We'll see how it goes--I may end up posting updates here, just to keep track. (Today I took my printed-out outline of the current draft and scribbled on it with arrows to show what Shannon's motivations were at which points.)

The problem with having lots of classes, etc., is that none of the revisions I want to make are linear, I-must-change-this-word-to-that. I have a section I need to rethink, but apart from that, everything seems nebulously "I need to add this general vague idea across the length of the novel". Which probably is better served by just sitting down with a computer and changing a bit here, a bit there, some more over here.

At any rate. If I go do physics homework now, maybe I'll emerge before I have to go to bed and I can start working on ARP? Fingers crossed.
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I have been to Viable Paradise, and I have returned.

excessive verbiage, also pictures )

And then I came back. )

And then I fell over.

In summation: this week I got to have my cake and eat my cake and I feel like I still have cake left over, possibly frozen and ready to be heated up and eaten. (Technically the pan cooling on the stove is apple crisp, but who's counting?)

Right now I'm hoping for time to work on revising "Lightening" soon; my goal is still to revise A Returning Power by the end of the year; and maybe I can write another short story or two. It's nice to have my writing-brain awake again. I will do my best to make sure that it doesn't fall back asleep on me.
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...I am going to Viable Paradise XV in October!

Awesome instructors! Awesome classmates! Place I have not been before, which will probably be awesome too! (Aaand they will be critiquing the first two chapters of A Returning Power. I swear, that thing has come so far from Draft Zero or whatever I am currently calling the first time I wrote it. It is neat to see projects progress like that.)

As far as I can tell, that'll be my fall break plus a few days after it, which, well, no one does anything those days anyway, right? And I can let my professors know ahead of time.

Very excited, but-and tired from my week (I thought for a moment this afternoon that a random guy on the street was wearing cleanroom booties, but no, those were just sneakers, get your head out of the materials science lab, Alena), so I will celebrate later. But! Yay!
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Life calmed down a bunch, but then I used my free time to write and enjoy not being stressed and lie in the sun and spend more time with Kate and stuff so I still haven't posted in a while.

But! A few notes:

- Obvious writing statement: novels take a long time to write. (I would add "no, longer than that" but since a number of you write novels too, you know this already.) A Returning Power has finally gotten kicked into "maybe I can revise this" territory, after finishing the previous draft over Thanksgiving break. I rewrote two scenes! There are another couple of scenes in which I know what I want to change! There's another sequence that I know vaguely what I want to be different, too.

- Perhaps less obvious writing statement: for a short story to work, or to surprise me, or keep me interested... there have to be at least two different things going on. Two ideas. Two things happening. A melody and a counterpoint? This has taken me longer to figure out from reading slush than it maybe should've--and I have used this in a couple of things I have written, which is the sad part, but it just crystallized in my brain this afternoon. So. Two things. At least. Otherwise, whether the story is a thousand words or three thousand, I am probably going to lose interest.

- I finally finished reading Steam-Powered, aka The Lesbian Steampunk Anthology, the other day. (I promptly had to lend it to The Mob (aka my roommate) and then Kate. Kate's roommate wants to read it after that. I love my life and my friends.) All the stories were at least good, and by the virtue of being lesbian steampunk short stories they were kind of awesome by default. But I will say the last two in the book were my favorites, Shweta's and Amal El-Mohtar's, and now I need to go back and reread that poem and look at the picture again, because I thought that was a neat collaboration for Con or Bust even before I had read either of the stories.

- Taking a critical social thought class on the history of science/the scientific revolution, and starting to write again (I always seem to start up with the spring; sunlight gives me enough energy to write on top of all my schoolwork, maybe), is maybe ruining me for doing physics. I had a moment the other day when the Aristotelian worldview completely made sense.

- The end of the semester approaches with alarming rapidity. I register for classes for next semester... tomorrow; soon I will know where I'll be living next year. I need to buy a plane ticket to San Francisco for the summer. I need to figure out what storage service I'm using for my stuff in MA this time. Eep.

- ...and now it's time for dinner; time rushes on. To FOOD!

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