Things you’re supposed to do

For once, my natural procrastination and laziness dovetailed with something you’re actually supposed to do: to put down a draft when it’s done and let it drain out of your brain for a while before you edit. A couple of days ago I realized I had a batch of songs stuck in my head that I often listened to while working on the draft, and I decided to take that as a sign from my subconscious that it was time to start again. Was it? Probably not. But why not.

Besides, I’d developed a habit of practicing ukulele and then writing, and when I finished the latter I stopped doing the former. Which isn’t great. Kind of lost the calluses, mostly. But I can still play, so that’s nice.

I’m embarrassed about taking up an instrument when I did, i.e. late April 2020. It seems like a facile, grind-culture / productivity-hack thing to do, and that is absolutely not why I did it. But I can’t prove that, and it still looks bad from the outside. Which is unfortunate. It was interesting to learn a stringed instrument, and I really enjoy it. If, someday, I can actually play and sing “(Nothing But) Flowers” at the same time, I’ll feel like it was an endeavor worth not being embarrassed about. Not there yet. Someday.

Meanwhile, I spent most of my leisure hours on a new version of an old-school time-suck, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town on the Switch. Harvest Moon / Story of Seasons is an old favorite, and I’ve enjoyed this installment so far. It’s cute. The script is well translated. There’s enough to do, and no plot railroading the player along. Not perfect, of course; it’s Inventory Management: The Game, and the whole maker-machine thing is goofy. (Did I not just get tired of that mechanic in the first two-thirds of My Time at Portia? I believe I did.) And whyyyyy can I not clip through my farm animals COME ON. But it still has that advancement loop that sucks my brain in and wraps it up like a Thundershirt, much like all the other games of its ilk that I’ve played for coming up on 20 years. It works on me. It just does.

(Someday I might write myself a big long rant about farming sim games and the kind of pastoral fantasy they often end up espousing — “city bad country good”, etc. — and how it feels like my work can slip into that mode even though I don’t intend for it to, and my many issues with that kind of polarized thinking and why I Love Cities Actually… but not today.)

And now it’s time to scale back the games and get on with editing the draft of book 3, now that book 3 is no longer playing in a loop in the back of my head. The beta readers have it, and Godspeed to them; it’s at least shorter than the second one. We’ll see what they say, and in the meantime I’ll work on line edits, my favorite (zero sarcasm).

We’re still here. I’m glad of that. Back to it.

There’s a reason the tag is still “Book 3”

Progress!

Step 1a: fix formatting messiness like smart/flat quotes, tabs, headings, blahblah (trying out a Google Drive plug-in for some of this)

Step 1b: decide on a cover, buy it, hope the title designer still has any of those fonts from lo these many years ago; get that ball rolling -> Not yet, because I can’t commit to a title. However, I ought to at least shop for covers. There are dozens of very lovely “gauzy nature + writing implements” cover blanks out there, and I enjoy looking at them.

Step 2a: crack into my running list of Words I Use Too Often / though I think “smile” is still used too often. You’re supposed to torture your characters, oh no

Step 2b: describe more things, geez! / Tried!

Step 3a: reread everything, streamline sentences, look out for dropped plot threads and fix them

Step 3b: repeat (Note: Do not take 2 years for this step) -> About to do this, via exporting to my e-reader

Step 4a: turn over to beta readers -> DONE! <3

Step 4b: pivot to extras for Books 1 and 2 -> this is daunting! It should be fun, but it’s also daunting. Giving myself free rein to write bits outside the main narrative has resulted in a) spinning off into an entirely separate universe in a different genre b) an excessively dark Nessinian historical short about an assassin and c) a goofy flash-forward based on a fanfic prompt that turned out to be kind of useful in an indirect way.

(It’ll get done, I just need to think about it)

But hey. The draft is done. I don’t know what to do with my life from approximately 8-10 p.m. every day. All of *waves above* this, I suppose. Time to get to it.

Phase 2: Things exist, say something about them

We have passed the easy part of the edit where I search and destroy/replace some of my over-used words (but, moment, forehead) and have entered the part of the edit where I go through and try to describe more things, because my natural tendency is toward scenes that apparently take place in blank white voids, starring beings of pure energy. You want to fix that before you reach the final.

This part of the edit is slow going, but it’s important.

Pictured: one good boy, not helping. A nearly daily occurrence. I don’t make the rules.

An unimpressed tabby cat blocks 60% of a monitor that is covered in Meeples and paint-and-take minis, showing a blurry view of Google Docs

Back to it.

Now the work begins.

* One chapter and an epilogue. So now the draft is done.

Step 1a: fix formatting messiness like smart/flat quotes, tabs, headings, blahblah (trying out a Google Drive plug-in for some of this)

Step 1b: decide on a cover, buy it, hope the title designer still has any of those fonts from lo these many years ago; get that ball rolling

Step 2a: crack into my running list of Words I Use Too Often

Step 2b: describe more things, geez!

Step 3a: reread everything, streamline sentences, look out for dropped plot threads and fix them

Step 3b: repeat (Note: Do not take 2 years for this step)

Step 4a: turn over to beta readers

Step 4b: pivot to extras for Books 1 and 2

Step 5a: get betas’ feedback, reread, decide what to implement

Step 5b: same as 3a, plus insight from betas

Step 6a: write synopsis of first two books, plus the blurb / cover copy for this one

I actually love editing, in all seriousness. Editing >> writing >> outlining >>>>>>>>> blurbing. I’m pretty jazzed that we’re finally at this stage. Onward and upward.

Link: Noncombatant characters in fantasy

Should I try to post more often? Maybe. I’m one chapter from the end of this draft, so is this mostly procrastination? Absolutely.

I’m here to link to this article that I found interesting and relevant to my goals in telling stories: You Don’t Have to Kick Ass to Be Kickass: Shoujo fantasy and the value of the noncombatant hero

Focusing on anime and manga, obviously, but I am still a bit of an anime nerd and have been influenced by its tropes. Growing up playing JRPGs, I liked the idea of defensive magic and noncombatant characters, but the “angelic and sacrificing caretaker” trope didn’t speak to me (sorry, Rosa and Aerith [RIP]). (Team Rydia 4ever) Those sorts of influences filtered through to the kinds of characters I wrote about later. And clearly, I’m not claiming to be unique when my female lead is a healer, one of the tropiest fantasy tropes going – but as I develop as a person who tells stories, I hope to keep finding less hackneyed directions to take the story. Like, as this essay talks about, not constructing a binary of male/female fighter/healer hero/damsel, or casting either side of those binaries as inherently better than the other.

Actually, if we get right on down to it, the fact that my stories are probably never going to focus on combat as a means of problem-solving might be what makes them not feel like fantasy in the first place, which makes me a bit sad because I like fantasy, I swear I do. I just… do not care about slaying things. And there are plenty of fantasy novels that are about court intrigue or magic college or what have you, which is the kind I like most. Still, I can’t shake that image of the dragon-slayer or the lone hero who sticks a sword in the demon king as What It Means to Be Fantasy. (Am I just overly influenced by games again, hello, Link? Maybe.)

On a less self-promotional note, speaking of noncombatant heroes: I’d also like to shout out Ascendance of a Bookworm, a recent light novel and anime fantasy series in which the protagonist spends the entire first season a) trying not to die of a magical wasting disease and b) figuring out how to manufacture books by hand from first principles. I love a fantasy series that mostly ignores things like “magic systems” to geek out about trade guilds and class struggles and stuff (see also Spice and Wolf). I left off somewhere in the second season. Oughtta continue that.

Speaking of continuing… back to the draft!

New year! Check-in time.

A chain of circumstances led to the realization that I haven’t checked my “author” email in several months, maybe even a year or more. Oh hell, that’s bad. I’m very sorry to anyone who tried to contact me. I don’t expect anyone to contact me, so I don’t look, and sometimes people do. Oops.

So hey, why don’t we take stock at this artificial dividing line between 2020 and 2021? (The new year is on April 1 in my books, let me be salty)

Last time I did this I scored it with a Canadian song that I love, so how about…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXwGX5Es9vM

(“Whiteout Conditions”, the New Pornographers)

(Last time it was this one; I still love it, and I learned how to play it on ukulele this year, which tickles me to no end)

(I’m from the US, not Canada; y’all just have some musicians that I like. Plus socialized medicine)

Continue reading New year! Check-in time.

Those three copies

It takes a lot of money to ship things. I should know this, as I have been a lazily silent “partner” in an Etsy store for lo these 15 years. However, I did not realize just how much it can take to ship one paperback. Media mail is a thing, but I don’t fully understand it and honestly, in this day and age, my country’s mail system has enough to worry about.

I currently have 3 copies of the old cover version of The Healers’ Road, and in theory I’d like to give them away, but honestly? Shipping them is more hassle than it’s worth, even domestically. I respect not wanting to support Amazon, I really do. I also get not being into e-books.

But I just have to retract the offer, I think.

The moral of the story is ????.
– It’s weird being the writing equivalent of an inept garage band, or two dudes who decided to do a podcast about movies all of a sudden.

– There are non-Amazon avenues to print on demand that I ought to check out, sometime in this very long winter.

– I ordered too many author copies back in the day because I was really excited about seeing my story in print, and I thought we might move a couple at our craft sales table.* There’s something to hold onto in that. That enthusiasm was pure at the time. And that’s okay.

For so long, that box of extra copies (and bookmarks that we printed, and display bracket thingies) felt like a huge moral failure. But I won’t let it be that anymore. It’s just a relic. I was excited to put out a few copies at our table, even though I only sold maybe two of them. Even though we got out of the Artist Alley business not too long after that. I have some good memories of that time. That’s not a moral failing.

Meanwhile, right now, yeah, Amazon is the only place to get it in print. I’ll work on that. I was discouraged by my botched attempt to release it on Kobo and Nook, and never tried other avenues – but I know they exist. Hey, maybe I’ll even fix those someday?? One can dream.

* I just have to share that I originally wrote “craft table”, and then realized that that’s a film industry term for a catering setup. Not that.

Time for a new tag

…I have a dark sense of humor, so… no offense meant.

Still writing. Still here, along with my loved ones; we’ve been very lucky and as careful as we can be. Mostly lucky, and fortunate enough to be able to work from home at our day jobs and isolate fairly well.

Yet Another Draft of Book 3 seems to be creeping ever closer to completion, so I’m trying not to lose hope. Do I remember anything about formatting ebooks? No sirree. Those are skills I learned just long enough to do the task, much like how I learned calculus in college. Short-term memory only. That’s okay. Maybe it’ll come back to me. If not, relearning it is my next “fun” “new” “project”.

Also turned off comments, so hey bots, find somewhere else to spam. I’m too lazy to keep on top of your flood of nonsense. Humans, on the off chance you want to contact me for something that is not trying to sell me snake oil: I can be found at u/ofthecageandaquarium on the gayer, less reactionary areas of Reddit or technically, by the email listed on the About page, though to be honest, I don’t check that either.

This is what separates the hobbyists from the pros, I think. I’m so bad at social media. If I could think of something interesting to post on Twitter that isn’t burning trash, maybe I’d do that, but uh, not so much! I do use it to read other people’s stuff, so if you want to contact me for something that isn’t a trash fire, I’m technically at @sadsackgetdown.

(two unrelated handles, both They Might Be Giants references. Yes.)

Either way, if you’re trying to sell me something, you are trying to get blood out of a stone, friend. If I had money, I’d be hiring an editor for these beasts or supporting my many causes.

Anyway, still writing, hope all is well, stay inside if you can, wear a mask until further notice, don’t be an asshole, goodnight and good luck.

Here’s what happened this time.

I write slowly. I think the years between books 1 and 2 bear this out. I’m a hobbyist, really, and a hobbyist without a lot of motivation most of the time. So that’s a factor.

In February 2020, I finished a first(ish) rough draft of book 3. To recap, in book 2 (uh, spoilers, if anyone cares) our protagonists settle down in a small city and work in a charity hospital, one as a magical healer and one as a doctor’s apprentice. Due to the events of book 2, the political landscape in the story is beginning to shift, with the nearby national border becoming more open for travel and trade.

In this early draft of book 3, written largely in 2018-2019, an unusually wet spring causes flooding, particularly in an older area of the city with old infrastructure. And you’re seeing where I’m going with this: not cholera, too grisly, but not far off. A lightly fictionalized version of typhoid fever. It starts to sweep through the city, people start blaming newcomers because people tend to suck, and the protagonists (particularly Agna, the healer) get involved in figuring out where it comes from, since the story-world has not figured out what microorganisms are yet. Basically an echo of real-world shifts in scientific theories in the 1800s, only with magic.

I had just started to edit the draft when I realized it could never see the light of day. Either it would look like a crass cash-grab, or a mawkish attempt to Say Something about the current day – although it was almost entirely written before the COVID-19 pandemic. The plot just could not fly now. End of story.

I am still turning the ship around, working from home at the day job, time no longer has any meaning, the draft now has a different plot, and it’s still in progress. I don’t think I’ve logged into my “writing” email in months, not that it really matters, honestly, but if anyone for some???? reason has tried to get hold of me, apologies. I write every day, and I still love it, but any interactions with the “””professional””” side of this whole thing demoralize the hell out of me. At heart, I still wish I were a fanfic writer in 1999, posting things for free because it was fun.

Meanwhile, even talking about the pandemic feels like a relic of a different time. My country is in a long-overdue upheaval as people demand the rights they should have had for generations. I have no platform, really — I don’t even post on Twitter, though I read it, who knows why — and it seems strange to try to prove my ally bona fides when my voice is the tiniest whisper. If I had any proceeds from my books, I’d donate them. I donate privately, and have already chipped in more than I think I’ve made on the books this year to bail funds and mutual aid societies. But more to the point, I’m listening and educating myself and trying to be a better person. It’s the smallest possible start and an extremely low bar.

Someday, I hope to update with a finished copy of book 3. Until then, know that I’m a human who’s trying to do better, trying to try, trying to see my own faults and fix them. I recommend that path. It’s a good one.

Things that exist

OK, Books 1 and 2 are now available in print at Amazon; see links on the Books page, via the sidebar/menu.

I really ought to order preview copies and make sure something isn’t drastically wrong with the formatting, but uh, let’s… live on the edge, shall we?

Meanwhile, I have contacted Kobo about my issues with getting the covers to display. Book 1 is still not working, but Book 2 is fine! Well… that’s a start? I do look forward to having them available in more places; I just seem to be technically challenged. Which is kind of embarrassing.

This has been, The Thrilling Adventures of the Exciting Lives of People Who Don’t Actually Know How to Make Books Beyond Putting Words in Order, Volume 1: It’s Really Quite Complicated, And I See Why Most People Hire an Army of Contractors to Do It For Them.