A quick update on where the latest novel draft stands: I sent Firesage off to Mark Gottlieb this week, after LibreOffice decided to completely quit on my machine I had to emergency myself to the library to get the manuscript into Docx format. But it’s gone now, and if it’s anything like The Queen’s Night, I won’t hear about it again for months. In the meantime I would like to try writing a few more short stories, maybe trying some different approaches to coming up with stories, and I’d really like to get back into reading as if my life doesn’t depend on it.
I have been in “head-down mode” for about five years, starting with hard-core work on my dissertation, and didn’t really look up when I quit that whole thing. As I scavenge books and try to browse for comps at the bookstore, I realize that I used to just read as a widely knowledgeable person, someone who really likes learning for learning’s sake. I’m not saying I’m not this way now–I compulsively use Wikipedia, just as before–but I read kind of like it’s required.
It seems I’ve forgotten that one of the things that makes fiction so fun, and actually hugely helps, is that I read so much non-fiction and applied what I learned just for fun into writing good stories. For example, I’m a proponent of the idea that if you have to do too much research on a topic, you should probably write about something else that you already know about. If you know about nothing, then that wouldn’t work, but I have always been a widely-read person, so I have plenty of research already done. And! the novels I’ve written were actually the result of my non-fiction reading at the time I started them.
When I wrote The Queen’s Night, I had spent several years studying amateur astronomy in my spare time, and Firesage grew out of a thought experiment riffing on Joseph Campbell’s comparative mythology. Both books got most of their imagery and worldbuilding ideas not from Robert Jordan or Tolkien, but from my studies of Jungian psychoanalysis and medieval history, which has been a hobby of mine since about 2004. I didn’t start reading any of these topics because I wanted to write a novel about it, I was just interested. One of the reasons I knew that science wasn’t for me was that it demanded I spend all my time thinking about that. Like many other writers, I want to be widely read on many topics, not narrowly devoted to one area of knowledge. And it’s not true that you can’t be an expert on many things. Not that it matters; you don’t have to be an expert to be interested in something.
I gave myself the project of reading classic literature two years ago, and have read a lot, but I have forsaken reading nonfiction. Yesterday as I browsed at Books-A-Million I realized I couldn’t just let myself browse about astrology and divination (they even had spellbooks there, no $hit), I could get into it because I felt like I had to accomplish some specific goal by being there. I’m going to make a point of reading non-fiction, either by getting fiction out of the way, or by browsing my own damn shelves, and forgetting that I have a specific goal. I don’t.
If you haven’t checked out or bought Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson, I highly recommend it. After yet another round of “Oh my god I have too many books and no shelves” I have tried to avoid randomly browsing fiction, but I finally picked up a copy of Phasma just to see what it was like. Wow: the first scene is, of all things, someone knitting in a spacecraft. Sound boring? Not the way Dawson writes it. She uses a third-person present tense voice that crackles with intensity. Every sentence holds the reader down, makes him listen, and leads fluidly to the next. If I skipped over any sentences, it wasn’t out of boredom, but because I could feel in my gut something was about to happen. I left without buying the book, but kicking myself for that, still getting chills over those first few pages.
I wouldn’t normally mention this, but I have to say I think Star Wars is a bit overdone: I liked it better when it was just three movies and a few hard-to-find books. I wasn’t really interested in a book about Phasma or any side character. But I do mention it for what it says about Dawson’s writing: I do care more about style in many cases than I care about content. A bad ending well-written often doesn’t bother me. In this case, I would spend a few days reading Phasma just to enjoy Dawson’s incredible prose, because I know it would only take me a few days to read when I sacrifice feeding my kids to read it. Dawson’s writing and the advice on her blog, as well as her success, is an inspiration, and her honesty and intensity comes through loud and clear in the pages of this new book.