Image 01

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

blank pages

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

notebooksFor as long as I can remember, blank books have made me anxious.

I love them, though it’s maybe a bit strange to love something that makes you anxious, but I do. I love crisp paper and fancy bindings and the clever little elastics to keep them closed. I particularly love the ones that have pockets in the back though I rarely put anything in the pockets.

I used to get blank books and journals and fill a few pages and stop, having ruined them with lousy handwriting and messy thoughts. And then I’d feel bad about letting them languish and didn’t like having long gaps of time between pages so the rest of the pages would stay blank.

I can’t even count how many once-blank books I’ve owned. I can count the ones I’ve filled cover-to-cover on one hand.

You would think, after all the time and all the words and all the writing, they wouldn’t make me nervous anymore. But they do.

I don’t have the same anxiety about blank pages when I type. Maybe it’s the mutability of a file, the possibilities of a blinking cursor are a more flexible sort, easily taken away again with a few additional keystrokes. I spelt additional wrong on the first try, easily fixed here.

And I type faster than I write longhand.

But I like writing longhand, even though it makes me feel slow and awkward and uncertain. I loved this piece that the lovely Daniel Kraus did on Booklist about writing longhand.

I suspect I just need to do it more, but there’s that horrid feeling of ruining something pristine mixed with too much possibility.

I have a couple of notebooks going for the novel-in-progress and pages upon pages on my computer, but I just pulled out a new blank book to work in and it’s making me nervous. Compounding the nerves that are already there from being back to the writing phase that’s just me and the world in my head and the pages to fill.

I’ll figure it out. I’ll spell things wrong and spill ink and hopefully this will be one of those books that gets filled cover-to-cover, and I’ll be able to make something of what’s inside.


not a proper post

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

In lieu of proper post this week since I’m working, a glimpse at what that looks like at the moment:


nanowrimo 2013 in review

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

November went and flew by like a flying autumnal whoosh of a thing and I am sitting here looking at December somewhat skeptically. But I did have a just-barely successful NaNoWriMo, and I am impressed with myself considering how long it’s been since I’ve participated and how many days I had to skip entirely.

I stayed more on-pace than any other NaNo I’ve done before, mostly because I just didn’t have time to get my standard head start. I had lofty goals of maybe doing more than 50k but I ended up right on target. This is a screencap of my day-to-day handy chart from the NaNo site:

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 2.07.16 PM


I had planned at the outset to be all NaNo Rebel and work on two different projects but I didn’t really do it the way I intended. I spent the first half of the month working on a new thing and then thought about going back to the other novel-in-progress but decided to work on the new thing more instead.

I write out of order, which is good for me but not necessarily the tidiest way to approach a draft of something. So in the middle of all the bits and pieces I started some other pieces and I somehow ended up with about 15k worth of stuff that does not belong in this particular new thing. I think I accidentally wrote background mythology for an entirely different thing, but I don’t know what that different thing is yet. I like those bits, though, so I will keep them safe and fed and watered until I figure out what they want to be.

The rest of it is… not a novel. It’s not even a draft of a novel, it’s 35k of stuff that I might be able to polish into the beginning of something that could maybe someday be developed into a novel of some sort. It all needs a great deal of work. I haven’t re-read any of it yet but I’d guess that maybe half of it is useable. There are individual scenes and moments that I like a lot. I’m going to put it away and go back to the other novel and then when I have more time I’ll pull it back out and see what works and what doesn’t and figure out what I can play with further. 2013-Winner-Vertical-Banner

It was fun, overall, though I am out of practice and it was harder to get out of that self-critical headspace than it used to be, but at the same time I think I trust my instincts more. My favorite part was still there, too: the finding of things I wasn’t expecting, in that whirlwind of imagination exploration.

So, hurrah for NaNoWriMo, hurrah for those of you who participated and won, hurrah for those who participated at all no matter the result because you have more words than you might have otherwise, and hurrah for all the non-November words to come.


november is national novel writing month

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

I probably don’t have to tell you all that November is National Novel Writing Month.

And you probably already know that The Night Circus started life as a tangent in a NaNoWriMo novel and was then further developed through subsequent NaNo-ing. (It very likely played a part in the circus itself being autumnal, since I was always writing in November. Also, autumn is my favorite.)

But unless you follow me on Twitter you may not know that this year I’m participating again, for the first time since 2009.


I am cheating. Oh wait, no, I am a “NaNo Rebel” which is a nicer word for cheater. One is supposed to start fresh and write a new novel and I’m not doing that. I’m working on not one but two projects, my already started novel-in-progress and a secret new something. My goal is to get 50k of shiny new words written between the two of them before the end of the month.

This is the most I’ve been writing in bulk in awhile, for a number of reasons, and it’s weird to get back into it. I am already failing at one of my old standard NaNo practices of getting a head start. I would always try to bulk up my word count on day one or two so I’d have that extra buffer of comfy words but I’ve been staying more or less right on pace through this first week, I only managed to pull a teeny bit ahead of daily average today.

I’m mostly working on the new thing, to get my brain into non-editor, no self-criticizing, just-keep-writing NaNo mode and so far it seems to be working. I’ve come up with several bits that are not completely terrible in amongst the stuff that is completely terrible but led to the not so bad stuff. (And one particular thing which is so delightful that I am far too pleased with myself and pretty much assures that I will try to turn this into something salvageable someday if only for that one fantastic thing that should really live out in the world and not just in the demented part of my brain that it sprang from.)

Here’s the part of the post where I show off my little wordcount widget:

And here is where I link to NaNo-related things.

This is the official NaNoWriMo site.

This is my official NaNoWriMo Pep Talk. It includes my best advice and tips and a tangent about a taxidermied marmot.

This is a post I did with other links and informative NaNo-related things last year.

This is a quote from that post, regarding people inevitably saying and posting disparaging things about NaNoWriMo that I think deserves to be restated:

I cannot fathom disparaging anything that encourages storytelling.

Get into the nuances of the issues or problems with it all you want, and I will be first to say don’t dare start contacting literary agents on December 1st, but disparaging the entire endeavor makes me growly. Grr.

And this is an Instagram photo of me and NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty.


flax-golden tales have been pre-written and prescheduled for the month (the one from the first of the month is, of course, for all the NaNo-ers), in-between blog posts will likely be photo heavy or NaNo progress updates.

This is, by the way, the tenth anniversary of my very first NaNoWriMo. I failed that year. Didn’t fail the next year. I feel pretty good about this one so far, but it’s only the 7th. We shall see.

twitter-sourced blog post the second

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

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.

working. slowly.

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

I had this idea to pile up all my pseudo-research, flavor profile, inspiration-for-the-new-novel things for this post and then I realized it was too much and I didn’t have enough space to pile everything.

So I settled for highlights, along with my most deco lamp.

workingAnd of course the photo turned out all dark and mysterious.

Not going to go through the whole list but the placing of Fitzgerald on top of Bioshock is oddly appropriate, and in a perfect world there would be more poetry, more graphic novels and a copy of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, too, but I’m avoiding rereading that one on purpose.

I’m still reading and note-taking and pulling bits of inspiration out of dark corners and trying to figure out how to structure everything properly. But it’s difficult to find the best structure while I’m still pulling together building blocks.

It doesn’t even have a title yet.

I renamed a character today, something I rarely do, but I think I needed to and hopefully it’ll help untangle her personality.

It’s not a novel yet. It’s big and overwhelming and not story-shaped. It’s annoying.

I’ve been working on this story for a comparatively long time but I’ve been so busy with other things in between that I feel like I’m behind, when really I’m only just getting properly started.

And I’m realizing I have a bigger world on my hands (or in my head, rather) than I’d thought.

Apparently I am not very good at keeping things simple.

But I’d rather explore things properly and figure everything out and get it right even if it means reading more books and taking more notes and using more of that ever-problematic time. I feel like I have said all this before but I keep thinking about it every time anyone asks when the next book will be out.

Not soon. Sorry. Please have a cookie or a drink (or both) while you’re waiting.

I am going to keep digging through detective novels and mythology, taking notes and writing bits and pieces even when it feels like I’m wandering around my head in the dark with an unreliable flashlight.

It’s going to take awhile.

writing analogy in cocktail party form

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

I was thinking about doing a proper post about cocktails today but it was going to involve photos of my home bar that I didn’t have time to take to best show off the pretty bottles, and I still needed something to post about.

I’m in writing mode, finally, so I have writing on the brain. Over cocktails yesterday I was discussing writing and since I am prone to making analogies I made one that involved a cocktail party and I was told it is a good one so I am going to share it with the internets.

Let’s start with the party and then we’ll get around to how it ties into writing.

You are throwing a cocktail party. You’ve invited a fair amount of people and you vacuumed and came up with a lighting concept and brought out the nice glassware and there are lots of nibbly things, possibly on sticks.

One of your guests hasn’t met any of the other people there. Hasn’t even been to your home before. Is attending solo.

You want to make sure that this guest has a good time and feels comfortable, but of course, you need to be in host mode, too.

You take their coat when they arrive. You give them a drink. You introduce them to the other guests. You show them where the nibbly things on sticks are.

You get them oriented and check in occasionally, but you don’t hover. If you notice they need a refill, you can subtly swoop in.

You trust they can take care of themselves and have a good time while your attention is elsewhere.

Your guest will pick things up from listening to the music and conversations and wandering through the rooms.

The analogy part is kind of obvious, isn’t it?

The guest is the reader. Your party (and your home) are the story.

You make them comfortable but you don’t hold their hand. Trust them to go with things but maybe warn them about your dragoncat (or just assume that the smoldering paw prints on the carpet will speak for themselves). You don’t even have to tell them what’s in their drink, but they should probably know where the bar is.

It’ll vary from party to party, but the basics of playing a good host are usually similar.

You don’t need to explain every little thing but you need to give the reader something to hold onto, make them comfortable but not overly so.

Keep them on their toes, but make sure they know what kind of surface it is they’re tiptoeing on. Especially if you’re going to pull it out from under them.

So there’s your writing as cocktail party analogy. Use it or ignore it as you see fit. I tend to avoid writing advice beyond the “keep writing” & “rules are more like guidelines” stuff but I think orienting the reader is a sometimes tricksy thing and this seemed to me to be a good way to think about it, though I am overly fond of analogies. And cocktails.

(Next cocktail post will be about actual cocktails, I promise.)


on writing and publishing and paths

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

I would hope it’s not necessary but I would like to say that all statements herein are one writer’s opinion/journey/thoughts/observations (that is, mine) and I think publishing is far too vast and complicated, especially lately, to say that a single author experience speaks for an industry or a movement or anything but its own self. One thing I’ve realized from meeting lots of writers in the past few years is that every single person’s journey is different and personal. It’s not a particularly straightforward job trajectory, after all.

So the wise and lovely Chuck Wendig has been posting a lot of wise things about self-publishing lately and I’ve been following along and having Thoughts from my admittedly unusual perspective on such things and the Thought that I’d most like to get out there in response is this:

Had I self-published The Night Circus it would have been a lousy book with no plot and likely would have disappeared into the ether. I will stand by that statement, though in all honesty I probably wouldn’t have self-pubbed it and instead let it languish on my harddrive while I wrote another book.

The entire saga of manuscript-to-agented is detailed back here but the short version is I got my manuscript to the point where I didn’t know what else it needed and it seemed like the right point to start sending it out. I did. It got requests because I had a query letter that made it sound like it had a plot when it really didn’t. It also got a lot of rejections.

And then my messy, plotless manuscript reached people who politely informed me that it was messy and plotless and needed a lot of work. But they also said they would be interested if I worked on it more and basically completely rewrote it.

I could have decided they were wrong and not listened and turned around and self-published the manuscript I had because at that point I was in a bit of denial about the whole messy plotless thing.

I’m really, really glad I listened.

(I will fully admit I dragged my feet. I did two rounds of revising and the first was a “stick bells and whistles and glitter on it” attempt to not actually re-work the entire damn thing and the second was a proper re-working of the entire damn thing.)

To be clear: no one ever told me what to write. Ever. All choices were made by me, all words were written by me, all fiction-fueling tea & chocolate was consumed by me personally. But agents and later editor and my very dear critique partner all gave me lots of feedback about what wasn’t working, what was working, and what I could do better along the way. No one ever tried to alter my artistic vision, they just helped me make it clearer.

An example: The initial draft that I queried with has no competition. One suggestion was to make the circus more of a background setting and that combined with the already black and white color scheme and the fact that I didn’t want it to be just setting led to thinking of it as a chessboard, and that’s when I started playing with the competition angle.

(Then I realized I had characters that would never consent to being truly antagonistic because they’d have too much respect for each other’s work and that’s when the Romeo & Juliet flavor came in.)

Publishing professionals who get too often grr-ed at and called gatekeepers wanted to help me tell the best story I could, because all of those people at the gate and behind the gate are people who love books, people who love stories. I’ve yet to meet a person in the publishing industry who doesn’t love books. They are booklovers. Most of them are booksluts. I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

It’s a hard thing to write a story, because you can’t read it. I can never have the experience of reading The Night Circus because I wrote it, I know all the surprises and the motivations and the backstories and I can’t watch it unfold properly. But I had to figure out how to fold it up so it could be unfolded by a reader in a coherent, entertaining, satisfying way.

I, me, myself, personally, could not have gotten this particular story to that point by taking a drastically different path to publication.

The tricksy thing about a path is that you can’t untake it, so I can only speak for my own path, my own footsteps, my own book. That’s all anyone can speak for, and one path’s success does not negate another. I can point at my path and say “this path was successful!” and so can a lot of other people who took wildly different routes. There’s an enlightenment analogy here, or possibly a Wizard of Oz reference. Something about shoes, maybe.

Different paths work. Old ones, new ones, combinations of the two. Tunnels probably work, too. I don’t think there’s a best way or a better way, I think it’s about each individual writer finding the right path for them to get the best stories possible into the hands and heads of their readers.

on absorbing story inspiration in non-prose form

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

So Bioshock Infinite came out yesterday and I am being really good today by not playing until I get everything else on today’s to-do list checked off. I just got to “blog post” so here we go. It has a theme and some points, I promise.

I will preface this by (re)stating that I’m not much of a gamer. I am picky about games that I like and I am not widely versed in all the video game wonderment that is out there, but I have dipped my toes in and splashed around in my not-terribly-skilled way. (I remain annoyed that you can’t marry the Khajiit characters in Skyrim, do I at least get some sort of geek credit for that?)

To make everything ever somehow relate to Punchdrunk: I first became acquainted with Bioshock when I heard Sleep No More referred to as “live action Bioshock” which is a fairly apt description for something that’s almost impossible to describe. I’ve been waiting for Bioshock Infinite since 2011 when the first trailer came out, even though aesthetically the first two games are much more up my art deco alley, because floating city = swoon.

This brings me to my (first) point: I love this entire series largely because I am overly fond of architecture. The level of detail is amazing and I seriously spent about two hours playing Infinite yesterday and I’m barely past the intro because I keep stopping to look at things. (I really wish you could play in spectator mode and not have to worry about, you know, shooting things or getting shot at, which I understand is the basis of the game but it can be distracting when I’m trying to look at windows and statues and figuring out how the building docking systems work.)

It is immersive visual world building on an epic, gorgeous scale and still being somewhat in the architectural world building phase of writing a novel it is giddy-making for my storyteller brain.

Which brings me to my main point, because this post needs to have one before I am allowed to scurry off and play more, about how much I learn about storytelling in non-prose formats.

I suppose it goes without saying that I read a lot of books which are inspiring for my own writing (see this post for a recent example and also another Bioshock reference) but I also watch a lot of movies and look at a lot of art and listen to music and lately, play games.

There is some really innovative storytelling technique going on in games and I find it almost as fascinating as the architecture. How information is relayed and how plots are advanced and learning how a world works through interacting with it.

(I kind of want to do a documentary film about immersive entertainment. Need to figure out how to conjure more of that time stuff first.)

I’m a very visual person so it helps to be able to see things so I can expand my own mental treasure trove of images to include more things to build with. I suppose it is the visual equivalent of expanding your vocabulary, creating a visual media dictionary.

And a step beyond the visuals, games and movies and graphic novels and, oh, I don’t know, let’s say, puppet theatre all touch on telling stories without words which is a useful thing to study and figure out how to do, even if you end up telling your own story with nothing but various combinations of letters and punctuation.

That’s not to say that static visuals can’t be just as nuanced and layered. Take this Shaun Tan print I just had framed:

rabbits print

I know the context behind it because it’s an illustration from The Rabbits by John Marsden, but even as a separate single piece it’s full of detail and wonderment. And rabbits.

I’m losing my points here and instead of trying to pick them up I’m just going to throw them up in the air and let them fall in a visual waterfall of sketches and plush songbirds and inflatable presidents. I was going to include something more about graphic novels but maybe I’ll make that its own post some other day. I also still owe a post about cocktails (next week!) and also when my storyteller brain is in full absorption mode it gets a little weird and spongy in my train of thought.

Also, this is why it is sometimes difficult for me to describe my writing process because there’s so much stuff going on in here.

happy nanowrimo!

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Happy November! November is National Novel Writing Month!

I am not going to write a long involved post about NaNoWriMo. I will instead say a few short things and give you links to long involved things that I have written about NaNoWriMo before.

Here are the short things:

  • The Night Circus did indeed begin life as a NaNoWriMo project. In fact, the *idea* for the circus turned up unexpectedly in a NaNo project the year before.
  • I have not participated properly myself since ’09, though I’d love to do it again sometime. I did a single day of solidarity last year and wrote 5k or so. I am considering taking a handful of days in November and seeing what I can manage.
  • I do not and will not ever understand the general anti-NaNo sentiment that crawls around the internet, hissing, this time of year. I understand not liking that people query NaNovels on Dec 1 (there’s a lot about that in one of the linked posts below) but the general dislike for it baffles me. It encourages people (like me) who might not have actually sat down to write otherwise to sit down and write.
  • To reiterate: I cannot fathom disparaging anything that encourages storytelling. Yeah, I bolded that, even.
  • To all of you 2012 NaNo-ers, I salute you. I wave flags of encouragement and wish you happy writing and delicious snacks that don’t make your fingers sticky for ease of typing and I hope you surprise yourself over the next 30 days.

And here are links to things:

Happiest of Happy Autumnal Novembers to everyone, because I am all about the happy-wishing lately.