• The book is my first attempt at real Tolkien-esque epic fantasy, and I spent a lot of time researching how story arcs in such fantasies are structured. It was quite an adventure for me! I also spent a whole evening with some hardcore dedicated D&D folks, reviewing the book and talking about the characters in terms of Class Types and the plot in terms of a Campaign. I wanted to make the fantasy world rich, but also fun and playful (perhaps playable?) in the way that the great D&D stories are.
• My mother called it her favourite of all the books I’ve written so far. That’s pretty high praise! Especially since she’s read everything I’ve written since the age of 11 (Except for some of the slashy fan fiction. No. Not that.)
• One of the episodes in the novel was inspired by a less-than-sober discussion with Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood; Ed also inspired one of the characters. Don’t worry, he’s read it and he’s okay with it.
• I’ve already written some companion novellas and shorts and one of my beta readers has already written fan fiction!
• The idea of the book came out of a discussion I had with a friend on HBO’s treatment of in-world sexism and misogyny in Game of Thrones, which we were mainlining at the time. I was annoyed that I wasn’t able to articulate my frustrations to my friend – a great guy, but one who has never not been the target demographic in his life. He didn’t understand what it meant to not be the person the story is for, and I went off to my office to write out my frustrations in a scene that eventually became one of the pivotal points of this book.
• This was the hardest novel to name I have ever written. I think the poor book went through about fifteen titles before Laurie and I settled on this one, and even then there were three variations of it that I cycled through before I was happy with it. I am still floundering with the titles for the next two books, and Leah Petersen and I spent a morning trying to figure out a series title. (The Physics of Falling is such a good title for a series – she named that so well! I was hoping for her inspiration to strike for me, too!)
• I don’t write to music, nor do I keep booktracks. I need to write in total silence – I can’t even write in coffee shops – and sometimes even darkness. I like my story to be the only thing I focus on. However, I do collect inspirational art imagery and create a screensaver slideshow of the art so that when I come back to my computer after a break, it is there to fill me with energy. This particular slide show featured a lot of Boris Vallejo, and the cover art for series like The Lord of the Rings, Xanth, Wheel of Time, Temeraire, Discworld and from epic sword-and-sorcery films, and the traditional clothing of Georgia.
• This is the first time I have ever written a character specifically for an actor to play. Usually I take inspiration for characters from people around me or fictional characters or celebrities and amalgamate them into an overall person – this person’s hand gestures, that person’s verbal tics, this one’s eyes, the way that one stands, the way that this one handles stressful situations, the way this one reacts to danger, etc. But I knew from the moment I began writing my narrator – Forsyth Turn – that I wanted him, one day, to be inhabited by actor Mark Gatiss. (Or, you know, Mark Gatiss in his League of Gentlemen years). That made creating Forsyth’s personality a lot more fun, because I already had his physicality down and knew now I could play. I have since assembled a photo gallery of a fantasy cast.
• I got really worried about my lead character’s family name a few months after the first draft was done, as my friend Julie Czerneda then announced her first Epic Fantasy novel’s title – A Turn Of Light! In the end I decided to keep it as is, as it’s an important surname and by the time this book comes out, Julie’s second book in the series – A Play Of Shadow – would be out. And it is! (Seriously, go read these people. They’re fantastic.)
• My agent came back from a conference in Seattle in November 2014 and told me all about this keynote address she’d made about author hybridity; she said she’d mentioned The Untold Tales in her speech, and that she had later been approached by a publishing company interested in reading the book. I got a bit of a shiver, a sort of good version of the “walking over your grave” willies, when I read that. Turns out, the feeling was right! Because that publisher was Reuts!
• I deliberately sprinkled references to a bunch of other fantasy and science fiction series in the novel – I had a lot of fun looking up things and trying to figure out how to wrangle them into the book as naturally as possible!
To celebrate the release of The Untold Tale, Short Fuse has a contest going on their blog. Check it out, and win a free short story from me!
Also, read the journey from writing to signing of The Untold Tale.
And, you can now add The Untold Tale to your “Want To Read” shelf at Goodreads!
The Untold Tale
Master Forsyth Turn isn’t a hero. He’s never wanted to be one, either; not since his older brother Kintyre found the Foesmiter and waltzed away from his family, his estate, and his responsibilities to become one – and dumped all of his responsibilities on Forsyth. Good thing Forsyth likes bookkeeping and accounts, and all the other minutia of managing a fertile Chipping.
And then, one day, the king’s spies bring an injured woman to Turn Hall for protection. A bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Lucy Piper claims to know things about Kintyre and Forsyth’s lives that she can’t possibly be privy to. She crashes into Forsyth’s quaintly sedentary life like an errant comet and before he knows it she has him convinced that he is the only man who can join her on her quest to find a magical gateway back to her far-away home. She drags Forsyth into the kind of adventure that only his brother could have imagined.
Even more baffling still is that Lucy Piper seems to be falling in love with him. Forsyth Turn has spent his whole life knowing he was only second best… so how is it that he seems to be her first choice?
But the Viceroy, Kintyre’s arch-nemesis, is after Lucy Piper and her magical gateway as well. More than that, the Viceroy is desperate to learn the last and only secret that Forsyth cannot seem to pry from Lucy Piper; a truth that threatens the stability of the whole Kingdom… perhaps even their whole world.
Lucy Piper might be able to convince Forsyth that he can be a hero, and that he might be worth loving, but is it really his fate to defeat the one villain that even the great Kintyre Turn has never managed to best?
First off, I want to confess that I sort of worried that I would never get to write another one of these sorts of announcements blog posts, and I have to say that it is an enormous relief to be able to do so. The Untold Tale is the fifth novel I ever wrote, the third since Triptych, and the first book that I wrote specifically for Laurie McLean, my agent at Fuse Literary, Inc. When I first came on board, I wanted to offer her something new, something no one else had touched.
I love The Untold Tale desperately – in the way that all authors love their novels and all parents love their children – but it was the first time I had really stretched my wings as an acafan writer. I’d made references to critical theory concepts in my other books, but this was really the first book where I said: “No, I want to write a story that makes a point.” I was worried, at first, that the themes would overwhelm the plot and the characters, but the great part was that these people were already so vibrant that the fear vanished almost as soon as I started writing. They wouldn’t let the message drown the story they were telling me.
You know the story that J.K. Rowling tells about how Harry Potter just wandered into her head one day, fully formed and ready to tell his story?
Well, that’s what Forsyth Turn did to me.
I have never, in my life, loved a character the way I love Forsyth simply because he was a whole and complete person from the moment he arrived. He tapped at the door and said, “Oh, hello. Yes, excuse me. Um, but, I have a rather important tale that I’d like to share with you. Nobody listens to me really, you see. I’m the overlooked one. But you seem kind. Shall I tell it to you? Also, may I pour you a wine while you listen? Excellent. Do get comfortable. Oh, shall I stoke the fire? Excellent. Well then. Let’s begin…”
Luckily, everyone who has read the book also seems to quite love Forsyth as well, and has enjoyed watching him stretch, and grow, and learn over the course of the book. Forsyth and I grew together – both of us uncertain and feeling shy, but as the novel progressed and his confidence began to rise, so did mine.
I will never forget how nervous I was in turning The Untold Tales to Laurie. She’d read Triptych, of course, and another book called The Skylark’s Song (which is still looking for a home), but this was the first book I’d written with Laurie as my agent.
The worst part of being a writer is waiting for someone to read something of yours. There’s just this…. this silence. And you have no idea what it means.
I was terrified that Laurie hated it. My beta readers loved it, but they were my friends. My mother loved it, but she’s my mother. What if my agent hated it and was trying to figure out how to say so? That if the silence was her trying to formulate a rejection.
And then, I got this:
Just finished the first chapter of [The Untold Tale]. It is simply great. Wonderful world building. Great action and dramatic tension. Love the characters. You write great first chapters. Now on to more!
And then, when she was finished, this:
I. Loved. That. Story!
This is the one we should go out with for many reasons. This one (it begs for a title…!) is fresh, unpredictable, well-written, funny, exciting, wonderful. I would like this one to be the one I pitch first if you agree. Wowza. I’m energized!!!
Oh, so glad I can now go to sleep and dream about these characters. I’m in love with the [Forsyth] myself!
She loved my book. Oh my god, my new agent loved my brand new book!!
After that, I did Laurie’s edits – about 5 notes, if I recall – and most of them very easy fixes, and then the book was in her hands and off out into the world.
I solicited author authors to read it and give advanced blurbs to help frame the novel for publishers (thank you, Ed Greenwood, Julie Czerneda, Leah Petersen, and Violette Malan!), and had a fantastic letter from Liana K. which she then turned into a fantastic video review which I will share after the book is out as it is quite spoilerific.
We got lots of rejections, but they were all fantastic rejections. They were complimentary, thoughtful, kind, and many of them carried praise for some aspect of the book. Every rejection heartened me rather than made me disappointed, because each and every rejection said: “Damn, this is a good book. Damn, J.M. Frey can write. And damnit, we just can’t take it.”
Because the book defied genre. The book is about books, and about writing, and is sort of like Game of Thrones meets Inception, with all the self awareness of Xena: Warrior Princess but the gravitas of Lord of the Rings. And you know what, that’s a darn hard book to market; I’m not going to lie.
Laurie and I kept our hopes up, and loved the book intensely. She shopped. I started making plans about what I’d do if we decided to stop shopping. I started researching cover artists that I would want to hire, talked to friends about interior design, wondered which self pub service to use – because I was not going to let Forsyth’s story remain Untold.
Then Laurie went to speak at an event in Seattle in November of 2014.
This is the email I got following that event:
I also wanted to tell you that I was talking about you in my keynote in Seattle last week…about you being a fabulous hybrid author who is really pushing boundaries with adult picture books, Kickstarter crowdfunding, small press, self-pub, etc. I was bemoaning the fact that NY was missing the boat on your fantasy as being too “meta” , and how I just love the story. Then I finished by stating, “But it only takes one editor, the right editor, to see what I see in JM’s writing, for a deal to happen.”
Guess what. I went to grab a cup of tea after the keynote and this woman pressed a card into my hand and said, “I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’m a publisher and I love meta fantasy. Can you send me the manuscript?” I just about spit out my tea!!!
[…] I met one of their editors and she was tugging on the publisher’s sleeve saying, “Please let me edit this. Please. Please.”
Well, I just about spit out my tea, too!
That was, of course, Reuts.
My friend Adrienne Kress was over for our normal writing day when this email arrived, and we spent the evening stalking their online footprint. We came to the conclusion that Reuts would be an absolutely perfect home for Forsyth, and then I got nervous. Because what if they didn’t want it?
I took December to clean up the book a bit more, and then it was off to Reuts.
January I spent writing a new novel to distract myself, and Laurie reached out to the other publisher’s still considering the book, and Reuts read. And loved it. Loved it. They made an offer.
I made little squeaking noises. I was sitting at the kitchen table at my parent’s place, having come home for a family event. The snow was so high that the windows in the basement were totally blocked, so I was upstairs were there was sunlight. Dad was downstairs watching hockey (I’m Canadian, eh,) and Mom was puttering and at the squeak she came over to see what was up.
I pointed at the screen, and wrapped my arms around Mom’s waist and buried my face in her tummy, and laughed so hard I started crying when she read it out loud. She called my father upstairs, told him the news, and then I sat back, grinning like a fool and wiping my eyes and said, “Do you have wine in the house? Open it! Let’s celebrate!”
That evening I called a few of my friends to let them know – mostly the people who had been the most helpful when I was working on the novel . I texted to my best friend, way later in the night, when I was too excited to sleep: “Everyone in the world will get to meet Forsyth. They’ll get to love him, the way I do. I get to share him, now.”
Laurie and I scheduled a phone call, discussed the contract the Reuts had sent along and then, almost playfully Laurie said: “And what will you say if they ask for more books? Do you have any ideas for a sequel?”
Well, I told her, I had some vague ideas, but I hadn’t really seriously discussed or considered it. Laurie told me to get serious.
Two days later I’d had a brainstorming session with Adrienne, (and my debut novel as Peggy Barnett had been released), and I had two pitches and three page synopsises for two more books. Though, I’m still looking for a really inspired series title.
Laurie read them, and while she and Reuts were discussing the contracts, Kisa (my editor! My editor!) sent me the most glowing, gorgeous, excited editing letter I’ve ever seen in my life. I want to print it out and frame it. It’s so sweet, and so effervescent. (And better than that, there’s like… only three changes and they are easy changes that I am happy to make. One even addresses the exact frustrations I’ve been havening with Sodding Chapter Eleven. It has been “Sodding Chapter Eleven” since I wrote Sodding Chapter Eleven, so I’m very happy to have notes about it.)
I have written a book about magic, and power, and wishes, and somehow that must have influenced the book itself, some of the glimmer and the glitter must have leaked out of the manuscript and into the pages themselves because before I could blink, I was suddenly being offered a three book deal.
Contracts were finalized, signed, scanned and sent, and now, here we are! Announcement day!
Laurie, and her colleague Gordon, have done an amazing job promoting the announcement, and I am stunned and overjoyed by Reuts’ response. By everyone’s! Thank you!
And better than all of that, I get to spend more time with Forsyth Turn. More fireside chats, more cups of wine, more wind-blown adventures and cheeky nods to the great classic fantasy books and writers that came before me.
I get more books. I get more time.
And more than all of that, I get to share it all with you.
I can’t wait.
To celebrate the release of The Untold Tale, Short Fuse has a contest going on their blog. Check it out, and win a free short story from me!
Also, read my Ten Teasing Facts about The Untold Tale.
And you can now add The Untold Tale to your “Want To Read” shelf at Goodreads!
LIPS LIKE ICE (Circlet Press, 2015)
It’s finally here! Huzzah! My first full length erotica SF novel has arrived. For the next few weeks, it is available exclusively in e-formats, with a paperback following up around Valentine’s Day.
From the Cover:
He calls himself the Prince. He is humanoid but not human—fascinating, sensual, at the cusp of maturity, and accustomed to getting what he wants. And Lydia has awoken in his world to find that she has been given to him—as a pet, a plaything, and, if he so desires, a lover.
But the Prince lives in a world where birth order dictates gender, and in declaring himself male he has thrown tradition back into the face of his father, the King, a very, very dangerous creature to cross.
As Lydia comes to realize that the Prince is as much a prisoner to his culture’s ways as she is, her resentment slowly unfurls into pity, understanding, curiosity, and a deep, unpredictable, consuming lust. She wants him too, on her own terms. But in a world fraught with hidden dangers, her terms are not open for discussion, not when their thirst for one another could doom them both. In a court where monarchs are obeyed and sexual hierarchies are strict, one wrong move could end the Prince for ever… and what would happen to Lydia then?
“They have given you over to my child,” are the ﬁrst words Lydia can parse out of the throbbing ache between her ears, the dull thud behind her eyes. “I believe it is to teach care for lesser creatures. To instill kindness.Tch.”
There is a huffing scoff of disbelief somewhere off to the left of her, and Lydia turns her head to follow the sound, but finds her eyes won’t open. All remains wrapped in nauseating darkness.
She tries to remember where she is, how she got here, but all that will come is her name, and the vague sense that this is not her home. The bed, even the smell of the air is wrong.
The woman (for she sounds like a woman; voice age-worn and woven with threadbare compassion) mops at Lydia’s brow with a tepid cloth. Perhaps once it had been cool, and that is what had woken her: the short, sharp shock of cold water on skin. But the fever that Lydia can feel crawling over her flesh has warmed the cloth. The water is uncomfortable. Her whole self feels uncomfortable, and itchy, and clammy.
“If it will work, I do not know. But I can hope. I do hope. My child is filled with such caprice. It burdens a mother’s heart. Ah, but why my husband thinks… well, many and mysterious are the ways of the King.” The woman scoffs again. “Tch.”
Lydia pries her dry lips apart and tries to un-stick her tongue from the tacky roof of her mouth in answer. She’s not successful. And even if she were, she has no idea what to say in response. Lydia closes her eyes again instead.
That is the first and last time she ever hears the Queen’s voice.
Happy Announcement Time!
While you’re patienly awaiting March and the release of the second volume, why not check out the first?
Toronto Comics Anthology Vol. 1
Toronto’s Got Tales.
Toronto is a city teeming with life, where all kinds of stories are born and live.
Compiled in a fresh new anthology, some of Toronto’s newest talent share their own stories about the city; some fantastic, some terrifying, and some as real as the streets themselves.
Whether you’re looking for a tale to touch your heart or to chill your blood, you’ll find something that will speak to you in one of the 11 stories within, from 8 new talented writers, and 11 exceptional artists.
Inside you’ll find…
By Miike Something and Todd Sullivan
Two childhood friends battle a haunted video game and their own insecurities, in the middle of the Toronto Blackout of 2003.
The Perfect Gold Heist of 1952
By Christopher Bird and Nick Hendriks
The story of a gold heist that remains a mystery to this day.
The Tale of the Eyeball Tree
By Oliver Ho and Brice Hall
Following a family tragedy on the waters of Lake Ontario in 1931, young Daphne Ironwood finds a mysterious object that seems to offer new life, forgiveness and redemption.
By Mark Foo and David Oxley
A writer with a love for architecture digs too deeply into a local story, to his horror.
WTF at the CNE
By Christopher Bird and Greg Jensen
The Canadian National Exhibition isn’t just fried foods and carnival rides…
The Ghost of Maple Leaf Gardens
By Steven Andrews and Xan Grey
A tragic death leaves a young woman’s ghost haunting Maple Leaf Gardens – and she won’t leave until the terrible truth is revealed!
The Cheese Poems Of James McIntyre
By Christoper Bird and Adam Prosser
James McIntyre was a poet with a very particular abiding interest.
By Nelson da Rocha and Stephany Lein
With the world at stake, three desperate time travellers return to the Golden Age of Heroes – only to discover these were ‘Different Times!!!’
The Bathing Suit Trials of 1936
By Christopher Bird and Kelvin Sue
The story of a man who dared to bare his chest and fight the law.
The Scottish Play
By BC Holmes
“The Scottish Play” is a story about identity, narratives and the scripts that are imposed upon us.
Doors Into Darkness
By Daniel Reynolds and Kelvin Sue
Dennis thinks he has his job as a TTC janitor all figured out until the unexplainable starts happening at Ossington station… and he meets a mysterious old man named Rui.
The Disappearance of Ambrose Smal
l By Christopher Bird and Leo Lee
Ambrose Small was one of the richest men in Toronto. Then he disappeared.
The Toronto Comics Anthology of 2014 is a non-profit anthology for new Toronto writers and artists. All stories remain jointly owned by their creators.
Finished Triptych not long ago and wanted to express my appreciation. Found it on a list of recommended queer-themed SF and got hooked immediately. Loved the characters and culture-building. Given your involvement with Doctor Who fandom, I’m guessing Basil’s Welshness is in part a nod to Who and Torchwood? Actually, the book feels like the Torchwood I wish we’d had more of — adult and thoughtfully so, with a warmth and humour that balance and sharpen the tragic parts. Good stuff. Really looking forward to more of your work!
Hi back! Thank you so much for your message!
I’d love to know what list you saw it on so I can archive it.
Basil’s Welshness came from a lot of places, actually, but yes, Torchwood was one of the influences. I loved Kai Owen in Torchwood (would love to see Kai Owen play Basil, actually), and I thought Rhys had such potential and was a character of great depth and compassion, by the end of the series. Much of Basil’s heart came from there.
It also came from actor David Hewlett, who played Rodney McKay inStargate, another geek everyman character that I sympathized with greatly, and who was more than just his prickly exterior.
Both characters had such heart.
(And yes, Gwen Pierson is named in tribute to Gwen Cooper in Torchood. I nicknamed the character Gwen in the manuscript as a placeholder. I had full intention of going back and doing a Find + Replace to change her name at the end, when I had a better sense of her character. But everything I tried, she didn’t like. We comprimised and we stuck with Gwen. Which was funny, because later, Gwen Gaddes became the book’s publisher!)
But Basil’s Welshness also came from the fact that I was in Wales for some of the time I was working on Triptych, and my love of the accent, the people, and the architecture. My friend’s beau at the time was Welsh, so there’s a bit of him in Basil, too.
Wales is a fascinating place, and the mythology, castles, and sense of community moreso. I thought, if anyone could understand what Kalp was going through, what it meant to be, as Sondheim put it, “expatriates in your own country”, then it would be a Welshman in England.
Part of the influence on Triptych was, too, as you say, Torchwood andDoctor Who. It was also Stargate, and Star Trek, and Farscape, andAndromeda, and The Visitors, and Alien Nation, and all these amazing socially apt science fiction properties that engage with aliens not as something to practice at the shooting range on, but as whole peoples with different cultures and different values. And while the stories in those shows have to wrap up in 48-minutes-with-commercials, a novel afforded me the opportunity to take the foundation of those sorts of stories and build on them.
“What would a proper, well thought out governmental response to alien refugees be?” I wondered. “And would it end all shooty, like it usually does?”
(I was disappointed to realize that yes, it probably would end all shooty. I wrote Triptych between 2005-2009, and looking at the world right now, looking at #BlackLivesMatter and the kidnapped schoolgirls, ISIS and Syria and Ferguson, and the missing aboriginal women from around the world, and all of the revolting things that human beings do to one another, I am sorry, and sad, and ashamed of my species when I am forced to point out that Triptych is, in 2014, sadly even more socially relevant than it was when I wrote it.)
So, thank you very much for your thoughtful message, and I’m so very glad you enjoyed the book.
Wrestling With Gods: Tesseracts Eighteen
I’m very pleased to announce that the T18 cover has been revealed!
What do you think??
My short “The Moral of the Story” is included in this fantastic collection of all-Canadian SF/F.
A mechanical Jesus for your shrine, the myths of cuttlefish, a vampire in residential schools, a Muslim woman who wants to get closer, surgically, to her god, the demons of outer space, the downside of Nirvana. The 24 science fiction and fantasy stories and poems included in Wrestling with Gods (Tesseracts Eighteen) take their faith and religion into the future, into the weird and comic and thought-provoking spaces where science fiction and fantasy has really always gone, struggling with higher powers, gods, the limits of technology, the limits of spiritual experience. . At times profound, these speculative offerings give readers a chance to see faith from the believer and the skeptic in worlds where what you believe is a matter of life, death, and afterlife. . Featuring works by: Derwin Mak, Robert J. Sawyer, Tony Pi, S. L. Nickerson, Janet K. Nicolson, John Park, Mary-Jean Harris, David Clink, Mary Pletsch, Jennifer Rahn, Alyxandra Harvey, Halli Lilburn, John Bell, David Jón Fuller, Carla Richards, Matthew Hughes, J. M. Frey, Steve Stanton, Erling Friis-Baastad, James Bambury, Savithri Machiraju, Jen Laface and Andrew Czarnietzki, David Fraser, Suzanne M. McNabb, and Megan Fennell.
Preview of my story, The Moral Of The Story
Her fingers brush the soft skin, the small smooth of bone under thin flesh behind my left ear, brushing back through wiry hair to where I’ve got it pulled back in preparation for hard work. Lake water, brackish here where it mingles with the St. Lawrence, slides down the side of my neck, summoning goose pimples in its wake. The slick, cool brush of membrane kisses the lobe of my ear and I feel my eyes slide closed, involuntary, as natural as the slight gasp that parts my lips, inflates my lungs, brushes the taste of water and breeze and sunlight across my tongue.
“You came,” the woman in the water says. Her voice is sibilant and filled with nearly inaudible clicks and hard-palate burrs, an accent never before heard in the lower plains of Quebec.
Never heard before the Melt caused all the water levels to rise. Never heard before the Great Dark came and killed all the technology. Never before the Daniel-Johnson dam stopped working, the regulating of the Manicouagan became too much and the river broke through its cement prison. Never before Baie-Comeau was overborne and drowned.
Possibly, perhaps – and maybe I flatter myself a little – never before in the whole of human history. But then, how could we have stories of things like her, if I’m the first to converse with one?
Arrogance is a sin. It’s one of the sins brought the Great Dark.
“I came,” I say, opening my eyes. Sunlight on water dazzles like diamonds. I squint. It’s a comfortable gesture. The lines beside my eyes folding into place is familiar, nearly soothing. “How could I stay away?”
“But did you come for me?” she teases, dipping her chin into the water in a gesture I’ve learned is meant to be coy, flirtatious. Dark hair slips and pools along the surface, shifting and curling like squid ink.
I sit back in the boat, take up my nets, and fling them over the side that she doesn’t occupy. She whistles and clicks, face in the water, summoning fish. This is our deal. She fills my nets, I fill her mind, and we neither of us attempts to harm the other. Actively.
I had more hungry mouths to feed than fear of rumours, and that is what initially drove me out onto the unnatural lake. The stories said that there was something in the water that feeds on manflesh. But I am no man, and we needed the fish.
For the first few weeks, it was subtle. An elongated shadow too far down to see clearly, too solid to be a school, but too large to be any breed of fish I had ever caught before. Sometimes, it was a splash on the surface of the otherwise calm lake. Once, my little rowboat lurched under my feet, against current, violent, wrong.
I was being hunted, I realized. Even as I harvested fish, something else sought to harvest me. The rumours were not just stories.
I stayed away for three days. On the fourth my youngest brother patted his stomach morosely and cried, unable to understand why he hungered so. Defeated by his tiny misery, I fetched my father’s harpoon from the hunting shed, and made the short walk back to the rocky shoreline.
My little boat was tied up where I had left it, undisturbed. But, no, see — there were four long scratches in the wood of the stern, naked against the dark stain of tar sealant, brackish water, and age. I bent down, breath caught in the hollow of my throat, and splayed my palm against the slashes. They were finger-width apart from each other, come from a humanish hand.
There was a Creature in the lake. And it was mad at me.
Mad because I dared to fish? Or mad because I did not come back?
I nearly turned away then, abandoned the boat, and the lake, and went to find another way to contribute to the supper table. I am old enough to go to the steam-driven factories, now, but then who would care for the littles?
I could spare a few hours each day to go onto the lake, but I cannot leave them for eight or more hours each day to work, and then shop. My parents would be furious. And I cannot hunt, I have no skill with a bow and arrow, we have no gun and ammunition is too expensive, and the Mayor Creature has not given us express permission. That is courting disaster.
No choice. I had to go back onto the lake.
I hesitated, but I could still hear the little ones’ frustrated wails ringing in my ears. So I gathered up and solidified my courage. Die of hunger, or die on the water.
Those were my only choices.
Yes. I was procrasti-cleaning.
Because I suddenly and inexplicably hated my novel.
Twenty thousand words and a good handful of chapters in, and I hated my novel. I thought it was trite. It was clichéd. It was boring. There was nothing compelling about it and I should just stop and save everyone in the world the pain of having to even know the book ever existed! I was a terrible writer! I sucked! I was a boring, trite, shallow human being and everything I made was boring, trite and shallow!
Right. So. You know those feels, right?
Sure you do. You might be battling them right this moment. I always battle them between 25-35k. I’ve had twelve years of NaNoWriMo and I still start procrasti-cleaning and despising my book between 25-35k. It’s a dark, horrible creature that sits on your shoulder and says “This is awful, you’re a hack, this is a waste of your time.”
1667 words per day is a slog, especially if you don’t type fast. Even more so if you fall behind and have to try to make it up. The greyness of routine, the lack of sleep, three weeks of being a shut in and missing your friends and family, those are all hard, and they compound the feelings of “I suck” ness.
But guess what? Monsters can be slain.
You don’t suck.
So first things first: flick that creature right off your shoulder. It’s a LIAR.
Nobody, but NOBODY sucks. Nobody is shallow. Nobody is worthless. And neither are any of the stories anybody wants to tell.
In the words of The Doctor:
Second things second: Sometimes the book’s perceived suckiness comes from being just plain weary. Give your creative well time to replenish itself. Read a comic, watch a TV show, go see a film. Go have a nice dinner with friends and family, reconnect with your social circle for a few hours. Take a night off from writing, if you need to. Go to bed early. Spend time with other human beings. Take a bubble bath. Drink a liter of water and eat something healthy. Take the dog for a really long ramble. Go to a museum. Go do something, anything that isn’t writing your book. Even for an hour. Then come back to your book energized.
Third things Third: And then have a good old think about your book. WHAT about it sucks? Is it that you don’t know where the plot is going? That you hate the MC? That you’ve suddenly realized that you’re telling it from the wrong POV? Is it that it just suddenly bores you? That you’ve realized that it’s a shallow ripoff of something else? Or is it something in your personal life that’s getting in the way? (I, for example, am currently dealing with the $#!%-storm that is my hate-blogger being finally unmasked.)
Once you’ve figured out where the problem is, don’t worry it like a popcorn kernel stuck behind your tooth. Work around it. And don’t stress. First off, finding problems with a story is normal. God, I am still not totally happy with my published books. That doesn’t invalidate everything you’ve already done.
Maybe what you did is just fine and you just needed a breather. Maybe you just needed a little vacation for an hour. Maybe you need to rejig the plot, or read your research notes. Or the conversations you had with friends and fellow writers about why you were excited to write this novel in the first place.
Maybe what you did is salvageable. Maybe you can Frankenstein it. Maybe you can just jump ahead and write the bits that you know you have worked out already. Maybe you could skip straight to the ending, write the climax to get you excited again and remind yourself why you loved this story.
Maybe you’ve realized you told the story from the wrong POV; that’s okay, start again from the right one. Maybe, just maybe, you need to walk away from this novel and just… begin fresh. That’s okay too. If it’s not working, it’s not working. Maybe, if you morgue it, you might get an idea that will help you resurrect it next year. Just own up to your word count, and keep going with a new idea.
NaNoWriMo is, yes, about writing a novel. But more than that, it is about learning who you are as a writer. NaNoWriMo is about how you like to write, and what you like to write.
And if you learn halfway through that you aren’t connecting with this book, then that’s fine. Write a different one. Write a better one. Or, take the breathing space you need to find out why you’re not connecting, and fix it.
But most importantly, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for having gotten as far as you have.
(And as for me, what was mobilizing my procrasti-cleaning? I found the plot too shallow and boring. So I had a friend over, made a roast, drank a bottle of wine, and explained. Together we found a way to weave some of my social passions into the narrative, and suddenly all these ideas were sparking off the page! The ending is the same, but it means something totally different now! My characters are essentially identical, but their deeper passions and motivations are more compelling, more driving. And the story is far more topical – I’ve been reading a lot of headlines and Tumblr blogs that have helped. I was telling the right story; but I was telling it the wrong way.)
Some of the best advice about the “I Hate My Work” phase of writing given was this:
*GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE A LITTLE BIT CRAP You can fix it later. No really, you can. If you need to, add some comments or notes into the MS, and just motor on through.
*NO ONE NEEDS TO SEE YOUR FIRST DRAFT Honestly. You can bury it forever in the back yard, or throw it into a bonfire, or put it in a drawer forever. Or you can put it away for a little white and come back to it in a few years with fresh eyes. Or you can put it away until the NaNo editing phase kicks in. The truth is, the only eyes that need see the draft is yours – you’re not obligated to share it until you think it’s been polished and is ready to share. WRITING MAKES STORIES, EDITING MAKES NOVELS This is so important. You can always go back in and add layers of meaning, or clarification scenes, or sub plots. You can always punch up dialogue or make sure the right senses are being evoked. This is all stuff that you can go back and consciously put in during the editing phase. Writing your first draft is like making the playdough. Once it’s made, then you can go back and use the medium to shape it into a novel.
*50k DOES NOT AN ACTUAL NOVEL MAKE Do you know how long the last novel I wrote for NaNo ended up being when I signed it over to the publisher? 78k. And the novel before that? 140k. The point of my telling you is this: your novel will live on after NaNo. You will still be working on it after December 1st. (If you’re like me, you could still be working on your novel from four NaNos to this very day.) So if right now it’s not right, it’s not perfect, it’s not what you want it to be, then that’s okay. It takes time to shape these sorts of things, and the time it takes is different for each person and each novel. You don’t have to get it totally right by 50k and you don’t have to get it totally complete by 50k either. Know that you have breathing room.
In summary/TL;DR –
You’re probably in the mid-NaNo doldrums. You’re probably battling the headspace that says everything you write sucks hard. I am too, so I get it.
The truth is, it doesn’t.
Take some time to reward yourself for how far you’ve come, and to rekindle the fire that pushed you to do NaNo on November 1st. Take some time to decipher if the feelings of suck are because the novel has genuine issues, and if it does, try to figure out how to solve them. If you can’t, write around them for now, and come back to them later.
Your novel doesn’t have to be perfect now. You have all the time in the world to write more, edit, and polish the book after NaNo is over.
Breathe. Sleep. Drink water. Eat healthy. Go for a walk. Be awesome. You’re already awesome. You’re a writer.
As NaNoWriMo 2014 approaches – my twelveth go at it – I am rushing to finish applying edits that I made in a red pen to a paper copy of my 2012 NaNo manuscript to the digital version and get it off to my proofreader. I am a little behind on getting ready for NaNo this year. Okay, a lot behind.
As in, I haven’t even really decided what I’m doing.
A few conversations with friends have thrown some ideas that I had for a novel into the fan, where it’s been chopped up and I’ll need to reassemble what’s come out the other side. A few other conversations has revealed some flaws with the ending of said 2012 NaNo MS, and has me considering the possibility of writing a sequel novella to go with the book.
And a look at my ever-increasing To Do list and Anthology Invitations has me thinking that maybe I should scrap the idea of a new novel all together and use the peer pressure of the NaNo wordcount to play catch-up.
Basically, I’m stressed.
What began for me as a fun way to push myself to write a long fanfic, and then to write original stories is now sort of in the way. The meetups are all scheduled horribly for me, I have become a terrible introvert when I’m writing and prefer silence and darkness to help me focus so the write-ins are counterproductive, and the thought of slogging through 50k of new stuff that my agent hasn’t seen or approved yet and might veto at the end of it is horrifying.
I am also contemplating… cheating. I’ll be AFK for three days at the start, and I keep thinking that if I just write that 4k NOW, then I’ll be on track once I get back. But that is totally against the spirit of the thing.
In short, I think I’ve outgrown NaNoWriMo.
But—! But—! I don’t want to! I love the community, I love the challenge, I love the rush of surpassing your word count for the day. I’ve already bought my notebook for this year, and gave my donation. I’ve already begun to post in the forums, and I’ve already put a novel up on my profile.
I love the literacy and arts therapy that the Office of Letters and Light promote, I love the Young Writer’s Program, and Camp NaNo. I love how important this has become for people, for their hearts, and their heads, and their lives. I love 30 Covers in 30 Days. I love that this matters to people. I love that, yes, there are published authors out there whose NaNo MSes are now purchasable at your local bookstore (including mine), but more than that, I love that there are millions of stories out there in the world, now, that there weren’t before.
But does it still work for me?
This is a question I assume many NaNoers ask themselves every year.
Not only are there questions of how well writing 1700 words daily works for an individual’s personal writing style, but whether November is a good time of year this time around, and if they even have a project ready to start fresh.
I want to be honest, here. I walked away from this blog post for about three hours. Yup, writing the above bolded section made me upset. Sad, that perhaps it was true that my time with NaNo was over. Angry, because aren’t I supposed to be a professional writer, dammit? Shouldn’t I find a way to MAKE it work? Upset because I feel so overwhelmed right now, so many ideas and not enough time to do them in. Resentful because I can’t seem to write that one project that will enable me to quit my dayjob and be a full time storyteller. Jealous of my fellow pro NaNoers who managed to NaNo up a New York Times Bestseller. Guilt because I talk so highly of the NaNo community and I don’t go out to near as much as I could, don’t participate on a level that I wish I could make myself do, that I haven’t had the stones to stand up and be a Mod or a ML, that I hide so often behind the excuse of “No, I have to write, I have things do to People. Important Things for Important People.”
It left me with a lot of roiling emotion.
I felt just crummy in general, because maybe it really was time to throw in the towel and declare my days of NaNoing over. I thought for a long time about what I love about NaNo, why I started, what it means to me and realized this:
I don’t want to go.
So maybe I’m a poor community person, and maybe sometimes I have to cheat a little to make sure that I get my wordcounts in, and maybe I don’t always start on a fresh project like you’re supposed to.
But you know what I always do?
It doesn’t matter what, and it doesn’t matter when, and it doesn’t matter what the project is.
In November, I write. And that? That I don’t want to give up. That I never want to give up.
So I’m a bit of a cheat, and a bit selfish with my time, and a bit of a sneak, but I am also a writer.
NaNoWriMo – for twelve years – has given me that.
And that is why I will come back. Every year. Always.
And if that’s what NaNoWriMo means to you, if that’s what makes your heart beat fast and your passion sizzle, then do it. Do it however you have to – be a bit selfish, be a bit of a cheat, be a bit of a sneak – but do it.
That’s all NaNo is asking of you. Allow you to ask it of yourself, too.