April Newsletter: Stripping the Gears

So there I was, locked in the attic, stripping my gears.

I bounced in my chair, heart racing, breath baited, teeth clench, shoulders scrunched together, tingling fingers typing furiously away at nothing.

And I mean nothing! I was moving words around on a spreadsheet, for God’s sake. I copied those words, deleted the copies, made changes to spelling and undid them. I wasn’t thinking, wasn’t working, just churning, churning, churning those words until all sense had been ground into a slurry.

My plan that Wednesday morning  was to get up around 8 like I had most mornings of the quarantine, have my breakfast and coffee while I talked to Pavlina, then lock myself in the attic guest room from 9:30 to 11 for focused writing time.

What a luxury! From September to January, we’d had to make up at 6 every morning to get our girls to school and daycare. Then we’d rush from one meeting to another until it was time to pick the girls up and rush home with them. Now, I do miss restaurants and seeing my friends and working in my quiet office. I do not, though, miss spending two hours a day in transportation from one place to another. Now I spend that two hours sleeping. I have significantly more energy.

The problem, of course, is that energy has to go somewhere. In March, it went into completing the latest draft of Interchange (and existential angst). In April, though, I wanted to let Interchange rest and work on Wealthgiver instead. And I did. I  made a new outline. I did research on Thracian history and language. I ran the premise of the story past the people on Codex and my writing mentor and the people in my writing group. I made the outline symmetrical around its midpoint. I turned the newly-symmetrical outline into sentences rather than bullet points. I made a prioritized list of scenes to write…

You get the idea. So did I. I wasn’t wasting my time exactly, but I wasn’t writing. I was doing things that were easier than writing, things that took less energy.

So I told myself, “today you’re going to write that first scene.” I had a whole plan for the scene. I had my coffee. I had a song to put me in the mood. I sat in my chair and meditated for ten minutes. I opened my laptop and saw that I’d left my Thracian dictionary spreadsheet open. I thought, “I’d better clarify the etymological history of the name of the goddess Bendis, the name of the Bithynian people, and the word zibythídes, which Hesychius of Alexandria reports as meaning “the noble, most holy one.” Are those three words related?

The answer is “no, no, and maybe,” but I was so full of energy that I couldn’t stop myself from leaping on every tiny detail in my research material. Was the name of the Illyrian god Pindus related to one of those words? What about the Bulgarian folklore figure/fashion accessory Penda? Albanian bind (“to convince”) and pend (“a henchman”), Ancient Greek pentherá (“a mother in law”), Lithuanian žibéti (“to glow”)?

And now it was 10am. That’s all right. I still had an hour to write. 10:30, and now I didn’t have time to write anything, but I couldn’t leave this work half-done. 11am. They need me downstairs, but I only had a little farther to go. Noon, and I was an hour late to go downstairs and take care of the kids. Three entries in my dictionary had mushroomed into a tangled mess of dozens, and I couldn’t even see it because there were spots in front of my eyes. My fingers were so cramped I could barely force them to slide the cursor to the upper right corner of the screen and quit without saving.

Then I rushed downstairs, rushed my kids into their jackets, rushed to our garden, and ran back and forth there until my body started breathing again. I had achieved zero progress that morning, but at least my progress wasn’t negative.

Later that day, I found some unexpected time and wrote the first scene of my new draft of Wealthgiver. But that’s not the point. The point is that creativity isn’t just about cultivating greater and greater mental energy. You also have to give that energy something to do. Thinking about it, that’s not a bad problem to have.

So yes, I am working on Wealthgiver. In April I wrote about half of the new scenes, and I’m on track to write the other half by the end of May. It’s a good counter-point to Interchange, which will rest until…

I get it back from the editor. Haha! That manuscript is out of my hands now. I even got paid for it (thank you, Flametree Press and Donald Maass Literary Agency!) Now I’m letting Interchange rest and processing beta-reader feedback into notes for the next revision. Thank you, beta-readers! I’ll write more about this next month, but working with you is both toweringly scary and deeply satisfying. It’s like looking up at the mountain you’re about to climb, except in this case, you all made that mountain for me. Thank you 🙂

On the Protector front, Image Comics wisely postponed the publication of Protector 4 (to July), 5 (August), and the omnibus (probably September). Simon, Artyom, and I are slowly forming a sequel between us. Imagine three wizards muttering as a demon coagulates out of the mist. It’ll be a good one.

What the hell else am I doing? I did a little drawing. I’ve been talking to friends on Zoom, trying to maintain some human contacts. Hit me up for a conversation if you’re interested. I invested some of the money from Protector 1 in research books about Thracians* and some more in an Amazon Prime membership. I’ve been using it to watch more Bob’s Burgers and play “Ronja the Robber’s Daughter” and “Octonauts” for my kids before bed time.

If you’re hungry for more Thracian, here’s the wikipedia-style page for the language, which I’m calling Vassian. It’s not close to being finished, and in fact a bit out of date, but I’ll get back it soon, I promise.

No new music this month, but I have been making use of YouTube:

Have a mentioned Minute Physics? Love it! The things I now know about muons! The things I know, Marty!

Also, Biblaridion is doing some very good linguistics, conlanging, and speculative biology on his channel.

And read some good books:

The House of the Stag by Kage baker – good GOD Baker’s books are good. This biography of a demon lord shines blackly with humor, soul, and romance. I must find more like it!

Of Dawn and Darkness by Will Wight – eh. I love his Cradle Series, but there isn’t much there for me in the Elder Empire books. Firefly plus Lovecraft plus Brandon Sanderson, but never manages to rise above the sum of its parts.

The Dragon’s Banker by Warren Scott – eh. A fun premise (“a dragon’s banker”) with a good character and set and workmanlike plotting, but it didn’t dig deep enough.

Japanese Fairy World – Stories From The Wonder-Lore Of Japan by William Elliot Griffis – I read this one to my older daughter, who likes fairytails. The book’s from the 19th century, so the vocabulary is a bit tough, but there’s a love and respect for the source material that shines through. And the folk tales are a lot of fun. I recommend especially the one about the firefly.

Brightness Reef by David Brin – did not age well. I liked it back in high school when I read it the first time, but this time I was annoyed by every plot arc except the one about the alien kids. The discussion of environmentalism was murky and in general the book just didn’t have anything to teach me.

Huh. Looks like I didn’t actually enjoy much reading in April. Don’t worry, May has been a lot better. I’ll be back in three weeks with the list.

*A Companion to Ancient Thrace, Valeva, Nankov, Graninger eds. And Onomasticon Thracicum by Dan Dana in case you’re interested.

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