goodbye 2021

I spent this year in my house. In my yard and in my woods, getting to know the birds and finding leaks in the roof and measuring the year in blooming flowers and changing leaves and snowfalls.

It was a sleepy kitten year, spent in a singular space with a particularly sleepy kitten (well, sleepy when she was not chasing mice) but despite the sleepiness things still happened. We celebrated our seventh anniversary and Vesper’s third birthday and a decade of The Night Circus and two years of sailing The Starless Sea.

I wrote small things this year.

When 2021 began I thought it was going to be a year for continued big messy drafting of the new book but instead it was a writing year spent on several other projects entirely, all of them unexpected and precise. The scale shifted to zoomed-in and detail-oriented when I had expected wide-ranging impressionist swooshes. It was a year for precise sentences and carefully chosen words. I think it made me tired. I am tentatively hoping for more zoomed-out writing time in 2022.

Most of those 2021-composed small things are secrets for the moment. One may remain a secret but has already found its reader and the others will be revealed in time.

I will be attempting to spend as much of 2022 away from the internet as possible. Social media in particular made me extra tired this year even with frequent hiatuses so 2022 is going to be one great big hiatus.

I will not be vanishing entirely, it’s difficult to vanish entirely. I will be posting occasionally on Instagram (standard assortment of kittens and birds and books and snow) and newsworthy things will be posted here and on twitter as well.

Most of 2022 will be spent sorting through all of these bits and pieces and dark hallways and cherry blossoms so I can slowly coerce them into something resembling a book when I’m not playing Pony Souls, I mean Elden Ring.

Happy-Making Things 2021

Befriending the chickadees. Westman Atelier liquid lip balm in Garçonne. Season 3 of What We Do in the Shadows. Ecclesia stars and peonies. Lesser Evil Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Popcorn. New Jellycat Gryphon friend (his name is Gus). The Somnia Tarot. Philips Hue light bulbs. Ethan M. Aldridge’s Night Circus illustrations. BPAL’s The Grey Columns (a perfectly balanced blend of grey and white amber, touched by a hint of smoke). Treana 2018 Red Wine. Jon Carling’s Traveling Witch. Painting the guest room Benjamin Moore Gentleman’s Grey (which is blue). Season 2 of The Witcher. Books Illustrated’s upcoming version of The Night Circus illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert. Darla Jackson bunnies. The Folio Society edition of Howl’s Moving Castle that Adam gave me for Yule.

And of course, Todd Doughty’s Little Pieces of Hope: Happy-Making Things in a Difficult World, which last year was happy-making lists on Instagram and this year is a whole book of wonderments with illustrations by Josie Portillo and it is one of my favorite books I read this year.

I had possibly my most low-volume reading year ever. I almost called it “worst” but it wasn’t that, it’s just that I only managed to read a tiny fraction of the books I wanted to read for a number of reasons. There are too many books and not enough time in good years, and this year my brain was not attentioning particularly well for reading. There are so many (so many!) books I am very much looking forward to still waiting in the to-read pile including The Letters of Shirley Jackson and Kelly Braffet’s upcoming sequel to The Unwilling, The Broken Tower (out January 25th!)

These are my favorite books that I did manage to read this year, though half of them don’t actually come out until next year.

The aforementioned Little Pieces of Hope: Happy-Making Things in a Difficult World by Todd Doughty
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig, a big, brilliant horrorscape that’s drowningly immersive in that signature Wendig way.
Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara, which is like having the perfect seat at the bar for a drink or five accompanied by buckets of utterly fascinating history.
The Paradox Hotel (February 22, 2022) by Rob Hart, a delicious locked room mystery in a hotel for time travelers that has everything the conceit implies and more, including dinosaurs.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (July 12, 2022) by Gabrielle Zevin, a sprawling modern epic of life and love and the creative process in general and video games in particular.

And my very favorite thing I read this year, which is of-the-moment in the best of ways and quite possibly a masterpiece, is Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel & it will be published on April 5, 2022.

I finished far more video games than books this year, which says something about attention and immersion and interactivity. Picking favorites was difficult. Top Five:

Demon’s Souls – I was not previously a Souls game person. When we got a PS5 (thanks be to the gaming gods) we picked up the Bluepoint Demon’s Souls remake and I thought I’d try it and I got utterly obsessed. The mood and the architecture and the atmosphere and the spaces, it’s all so much of what I love in an immersive environment.

Death’s Door – Adorable crow reaper! Puzzles! Secrets! Gorgeous score and beautiful animation! Zelda-esque in the best of ways.

Control – I have heard so many people rave about Control for so long and it took me ages to pick it up and I’m so glad I finally did. The Ashtray Maze is easily one of my all-time favorite gaming moments.

Deathloop – I did not think Deathloop was going to be my jam but it totally was? Stylish, quirky, puzzle-game-dressed-up-as-a-shooter with a fantastic soundtrack.

Slime Rancher – I’ve always wanted a game that brought back the feeling of walking around the world of Myst and weirdly, Slime Rancher was the game that brought it, with its ancient ruins and precious slimes.

Honorable mentions (I should have done a top ten) to Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Bowser’s Fury, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Astro’s Playroom & in particular Radiohead’s Kid A Mnesia exhibit (is it a game? Is it a virtual museum? I don’t know, but it’s a wonder.)

This year sounded like distant train whistles and the crackling of virtual fireplaces and the Persona 5 Royal soundtrack and that perfect version of Everybody Wants to Rule the World from BioShock Infinite and so much Radiohead nostalgia.

But this soundtrack in general and this track in particular is what I put on more often than not, over and over again, to keep things moving even when everything felt stagnant, and somehow it always worked.

Happy New Year, darlings. Keep moving.

birthday

Today I am 39. My grandmother used to say she was 39, every year, and when I was young and my dad turned 40 I was very confused as to how he could be older than his mother. Math is hard. Age is just a number.

I believe this means the website/blog is 9 years old. I should bake it a cake next year when it reaches a decade.

Rainy birthday. For a moment it there was hail but now the sun is trying to peek out again.

 

Hopefully going to have a very interesting year ahead of me.

*

There is a signed 1st edition US hardcover of The Night Circus in this auction to benefit Planned Parenthood organized by the wonderful Kelly Braffet & Owen King. It is also–because it is the 101st year of operation of Planned Parenthood–annotated on page 101 with circusy footnotes & nonsense, so it is utterly unique. The high bidder gets to find out where, precisely, my glittery red pen ran out of ink. Bidding is open through July 15th.

*

We are getting used to house things. We had a frozen pipe in the winter and bats in the walls and it seems like a crash course in home ownership but we also have hummingbirds and sunsets and a brief June burst of peonies.

There are several still unpacked cardboard boxes, mostly in the basement. We finally have chairs for the library. My office is still a work in progress but it’s getting there.

We are cooking a lot. We got a grill. Our dish of the summer so far is this Ina Garten quinoa tabbouleh but I replace the tomatoes with diced strawberries dressed in balsamic vinegar. It’s better that way. Sorry, Ina.

*

I don’t have proper internet right now. I am typing this while running a wireless hotspot off my phone. Supposedly there are plans to get this area of wilderness wired properly in the foreseeable future but for now I am mostly only able to do internet things on my phone or my iPad and I am a terrible touchscreen typist so I have been and will continue to be fairly scarce around the internet in general. It’s hard to keep up with things when everything takes ages to load if it even loads at all. Twitter hiatus continues.

We don’t have cable, either, so no new tv for me. I have been catching up on Adventure Time and binge-watching British Baking when I have tv time.

Favorite things I’ve read so far this year (and I’ve barely been reading) are book one of My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz & The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld which is out in September.

I have been listening to ODESZA and Oh Wonder and Halsey.

Game-wise I am a little bit obsessed with Horizon: Zero Dawn. Not quite finished with it yet, and I keep randomly stopping because the light or the environment is just so pretty. It does so many things I like in a game and does them really well and thoughtfully and with a strong story line. Super excited that they already announced DLC & I hope they franchise the heck out of it, I would play sequels upon sequels in this world.

Favorite game I’ve played and finished is What Remains of Edith Finch. In certain ways its the best game I’ve read/story I’ve played. It has distinct mini story-sections that are all inventively different and there’s a moment in one of them that when I realized what it was doing with the controls I was probably the most giddily delighted I have ever been when playing a game.

And of course, mostly I have been writing.

*

I am very close to a new draft. I am not quite where I wanted to be by birthday-time but not too far off, either. It is book-shaped again but the end is missing and there are a couple of holes in the middle.

It is a different book-creature than it was at the beginning of the year. It is stretching its wings and finding its feet and only occasionally hissing at me. Not quite tame but it doesn’t really want to be, not entirely. It’s also very proud of me for not using a cake analogy to describe its current state.

Going to spend the rest of my summer mostly in my head. I don’t get sunburned there and there’s less hail.

twitter-sourced blog post the second

This is the second installment of the twitter-sourced blog post. This one is book/writing focused in two parts. (Part one is here.)

 

About The Night Circus

I would love to know more behind the inspiration for the Night Circus and a possible sequel?

Possibly bad news first: no sequel. It was never written to be a series, I don’t want to try to make it something that it’s not, so there will be no book two or anything like that. Possibly good news second: I would like to write more stuff about the circus in the future, likely in short pieces of backstory or sidestory or futurestory. No idea when I’d get to that, though.

Inspiration-wise the entire thing started as a tangent in another novel that I was working on for NaNoWriMo. I got bored & sent the characters to the circus. That’s where it started, with the instant manifestation of a circus in my imagination, which at that point had lots of tents and a bonfire in the center though I wasn’t sure what the bonfire was for yet. Poppet & Widget were in that first wandering through the circus, along with their kittens. I decided to write more about the circus though I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, so I wrote lots of little vignettes about tents, about the creators of the circus, about its performers and fans. Eventually I had enough vignettes to fill a novel and then it was a long road of revising before it reached its finished form.

There are a lot of specific influences and flavors in play, inspirations ranging from Shakespeare and Dickens to Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl. The circus itself is my ideal entertainment venue, elegant and immersive, something to explore in a self-directed way. The black-and-white came from wanting to have a clear-cut visual aesthetic and wanting to give it a formality, a circus in evening wear.

 

A tent you wanted to include but ran out of space in the book for

There was a knife-throwing tent at one point. It wasn’t so much that there wasn’t space for it, but more that it seemed like excessive amounts of knife-throwing.

There was a tent that was removed fairly late into revisions, it’s referred to in passing as being reminiscent of Indonesian puppet theatre. It used to be online somewhere as an excerpt but my search skills are failing me. It’s a paper-screen maze with shifting walls and the puppets, among other things, act out Tsukiko’s backstory.

 

As someone who loves present-tense, I would love to know why you chose to write The Night Circus in present-tense.

The present tense decision was made fairly easily, because I knew from the beginning that I wanted to include sections of the circus itself told in second person. Since the second person sections would have to be in present tense, I thought it would be too jarring to go back and forth between past and present, so I kept everything in present. I also think it worked better for the alternating timelines, keeping everything immediate. I prefer present tense and it’s usually my default writing-wise unless something really reads better in past.

 

is night circus going to be made into a movie?

Possibly. The answer will remain “possibly” pretty much until it’s in theatres, if it ever is. The film rights were optioned not long after the book sold by Summit Entertainment, David Heyman who produced the Harry Potter films is signed on to produce, I believe they’re currently looking for a director. They don’t always tell me things. I’m sure there are meetings and phone calls and such going on that I’m not privy to. I’m involved more than most authors which is still really not all that involved at all, and it’s in the early stages at this point, so it’ll be awhile but when I have updates I’m allowed to share I will share them.

 

Scent and memory.

(This wasn’t specifically circus-related but it fit so well with Widget’s Bedtime Stories tent that I thought I’d include it here.)

I have a lousy memory but a rather good sense of smell. And since the sense of smell has the strongest memory-triggering power a scent will often remind me of something I can’t remember. It’s rather disorienting. The scent of those nut-roasting street vendor carts always does that, especially in winter. I get that nostalgia kick to the olfactory receptors and I have no idea what it’s for. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than immediately being pulled back into the memory proper.

That idea of scent triggering memories and memory-as-story was the genesis of the Bedtime Stories tent. That and a mild obsession with BPAL.

 

About the new book

Literally any hint whatsoever about your next book. Even if it’s one word.

Film noir-flavored Alice in Wonderland. That’s five words. Six if we count the hyphenated one as two. (More words below.)

 

blog about what you’re working on writing-wise.

At this very moment writing-wise I’m trying to write a bunch of flax-golden tales so I can schedule them ahead of time for most of the summer and focus on the new novel. I usually write them weekly so it’s interesting to do several at the same time.

Mostly I’m working on the new novel that is still not book-shaped. Currently this consists of more research than writing, and when there is writing it is scrawled in blue-green ink with a fountain pen. I have more blue-green pages than I did a few weeks ago, though, so that’s something.

 

what is the focus of your next book?

If I knew what the focus was I’d probably be further along than I am. It is a loose riff on an Alice in Wonderland motif so I do have a central protagonist this time but it’s still a bit of an ensemble piece and I’m still putting together the ensemble. It’s a mystery (several mysteries, actually) but I haven’t piled all the clues and red herrings together yet.

If a book is like a jigsaw puzzle I’m still sawing out pieces though I have a few of the already-shaped pieces connected. I’m figuring out more of the flavors and influences for this one, the biggest ones are Alice, of course, and classic detective novels and cocktails as alchemy and Egyptian mythology. I’m worldbuilding and characterbuilding and trying to find the story within all that, and then I can figure out the best way to tell it.

 

when we can expect your next book! 🙂

Not for a good long while, I’m afraid. It’s not finished yet, so I have to do that first. After I’m finished it’ll likely be a year to a year and a half before it’s actually in stores because it’ll need to be edited and prettied up and made all shiny.

I’d rather take my time and write something good than rush just to have another book on shelves. I’ve been working on this one for awhile but I’ve been busy and haven’t been able to sink my brain into it the way I need to until recently.

 

That’s it for the Twitter-sourcing this go-round, thank you to everyone who suggested or asked things and my apologies to the ones I didn’t get to. I will likely do this again sometime.

this is not a FAQ, part the first

Okay, this is how we’re going to do this. This is not a real Frequently Asked Questions. Maybe it will be eventually, but for now it will be a work in progress.

This shall be Part I: On Writing. (There will be a Part II: Not On Writing soon.)

I will eventually put together a real non-blog page for this, but for now it can start here and do feel free to ask additional questions in comments and maybe they can be incorporated.

And, here we go:

Part I: On Writing

To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. But I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.

-Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation

About Writing in General

 

How long have you been writing?

I wrote little random things when I was in junior high and high school but never really thought of myself as a writer. I studied playwriting in college but never finished any plays. Wrote a few pretty good scenes, though. After college I thought about writing for good long while before I started actually putting pen to paper in my mid-twenties.

I do not have an MFA or any other formal writing training. I love adverbs. I still do naughty things with commas.

 

How did you write a bestseller/how does one write a bestseller/etc?

For any question that boils down to “how did you write a successful novel?” the answer in my case is pretty simple: I wasn’t trying to. I didn’t sit down and aim for the bestseller lists, I didn’t even know much about publishing or the book industry when I started writing, I just had a lot of stuff in my head to get down on paper. I told a story without much thought toward publication, I only wanted to tell it as best I could.

Truthfully, had I been trying to do something I thought would be successful I might not have written the book I wrote. I had a sprawling draft of The Night Circus when I started educating myself about the industry and found things that said “don’t write in present tense” and “never use second person ever” and I thought: oops. But I had written so much already that I figured it couldn’t hurt to just see what happened, and figured at most it would be publishable even if it wasn’t done “properly” and I think it goes to show that rules are more like guidelines.

 

How did you get an agent?

I sent query letters and sample pages and followed guidelines. I listened to feedback and I revised a lot. The long version of the “how I got a literary agent” saga is chronicled here.

I learned a lot about the querying/publishing process by spending time on the Absolute Write Forums. They’re big and busy but there’s a lot of really useful information and wonderful, smart people over there.

 

Will you read my manuscript/refer me to your agent/publisher, etc?

No. I’m sorry. Firstly, I don’t have time. Secondly, I am proof positive that cold querying works and you don’t need connections to get published.

 

Are you working on another novel? When will it be available?

I am working on something new. When I have time, which is proving more difficult to find than I’d like but I am indeed working on it. It is not circusy. It is something completely different, still fantastical but heavily rooted in reality. Probably best described at this point as a film noir-flavored Alice in Wonderland. It is still in messy, non-novel-shape and I don’t know how long it will take to get it novel-shaped.

To give you a very basic time frame: the circus took around five years from when I started working on it to when it was finished and then another year between “finished” and “published.” I don’t think this one will take quite that long to write but it will very likely take the rest of this year at least, and then it will be at least another year after that before it would be published. Also, I want to take the time and get it right, so it might be a bit longer than that.

 

What advice do you have for writers?

I recycle the best advice I ever heard from an author from Neil Gaiman: Keep Writing and Finish Things. The finishing part is sometimes kind of tricksy, but it’s really important.

And of course, my other best advice for writers: Read. I am also fond of books about writing, particularly Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

On a nuts and bolts level, I recommend a software program called Scrivener. I’ve seen people complain about “writing” software but it’s really more like organizational software. A novel is long and having a program that can organize it and let me look at it in bits and pieces and move things around is something I find invaluable.

 

About The Night Circus

 

Was The Night Circus written during National Novel Writing Month?

A very sprawling, very rough draft of The Night Circus was first written in a few different Novembers of NaNoWriMo. Almost the entire book was rewritten and revised before it got from there to the finished version. To give you an idea of how much: Celia isn’t in that first sprawling draft. It is a lot of stuff about the circus but not a lot of plot, but it gave me something to work from.

 

Will there be a sequel to The Night Circus?

No. Maybe someday I’ll write a circus-set something but it would more likely be a collection of short pieces as there are so many stories floating around the edges. I don’t think it needs a “this is what happened next” sort of sequel. I like that it is one book with a beginning and an end. Not every book needs to be a series.

 

Will the circus be published in French/Chinese/Russian etc?

There are quite a few foreign editions both already published and forthcoming. I don’t have a full list or publication dates but chances are the answer is yes, and if it’s not available now it will be at some point.

 

Is there going to be a movie?

Maybe. This will continue to be the answer for a good long time because anything can happen in the strange and mysterious world of film production. The film rights have been optioned by Summit Entertainment, which means they have the option to make The Night Circus into a film. They are indeed working on it but I do not personally know all that much about what’s going on with it at any given point. When there are official updates, I’m sure the internet will know.

PSA: I have very little to do with the movie. Strange but true. I wrote the book, other people will adapt it into a screenplay and handle casting and designing and do all the movie-making things. I cannot tell you how to audition or anything like that, not that it’s even reached that stage yet. Summit is in charge. I’m just along for the ride.

 

Okay, I think that’s it for Writing/Circus questions but do please let me know if you think I missed anything. Part II will cover all sorts of miscellany, including “Where did you get those shoes?”

 

Addendum to Part I, Feb 23rd:

What is your writing process like?

Messy. I’m a very visual person so a lot of writing for me is translating spaces and people and scenes in my mind into words, sometimes it’s easier than others. I often have to write a lot to find the description that works best, sometimes I hit on a single word that fits the image and I build from there.

I don’t write in order. The Night Circus was written vignette by vignette and many of them were re-ordered in the revision process. I have an entire section in my Scrivener document for the new novel called “pieces without places” that includes everything from word-sketches of architecture to snippets of dialogue.

I like both books and art with lots of layers, and the best way to accomplish both for myself has been putting down a lot of paint and then refining and bringing out detail. Though with writing I don’t end up with paint in my hair. Usually. 

 

What did you do before you were a writer?

I sat in fluorescent-lit cubicles and made photocopies. Really. I had a string of office jobs and none of them were particularly inspiring. I had a degree in Theatre and didn’t really want to do theatre anymore so I spent most of my 20s filing things and arguing with fax machines and wondering who took my stapler while trying to figure out what to do with my life. I quit a couple of years ago to focus on writing and painting to see if either would take off and now here we are.

 

Are there particular books that influenced The Night Circus?

The circus had a lot of influences, some of the stronger particular ones were Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and The Prestige by Christopher Priest (as well as the film version of the same).

The vignette format of the book was inspired by Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, one of my favorite books of all time.

In a general flavor sense there’s a heavy dose of Shakespeare and Dickens with a sprinkling of Roald Dahl around the edges and an Edward Gorey aperitif.

 

May I listen to songs that inspired/remind you of The Night Circus?

Why yes, yes you may. I made a playlist for the circus, it is both on Spotify and 8tracks for countries that are not Spotify-friendly. You can also read explanations of all these songs over here via largehearted boy’s Book Notes.

 

Do you have discussion questions about The Night Circus for book clubs, etc?

My fabulous publisher does! There’s a great list here. I’m not even sure how I’d answer some of them.