Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez

Intimidating. Martinez mixes bits of Cthulhu Mythos with Norse mythology while maintaining a comedic slant throughout. How does he do it?

Three writing techniques that I think helped him pull it off:

  • Use the mundane to ground bizarre events. That could be the relationship between two characters, or the rhythms of work, or the ubiquity of bureaucracy.
  • When describing weird things happening, a deadpan tone with a bit of sarcasm can both help the reader sympathize with the characters and help them see the humor in the situation.
  • Voice goes a long way in defining a character. If each character has a very distinct voice, then the reader doesn’t need as many vocal tags, they don’t need as much description of the character, they can build it in their mind from the dialog.

Clueless

This week I’ve started outlining a children’s book my wife and I came up with last month.

Which means I’m back to not knowing what I’m doing, as I’ve never written a children’s book before.

So I’m looking up average word counts, learning about vocabulary levels for the age group we’re targeting, and trying to wrap my head around thinking in terms of pages instead of chapters.

But hey, at least kid’s books are short, right?

Here we go again.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Fantastic. It’s Robinson Crusoe in space, executed so well that what should have been boring and cliche is instead full of tension and humor. I sped through this book, consuming the whole thing in two days.

Looking forward to watching the movie. Oddly enough, since I know Matt Damon plays the title role, I heard his voice for all of Mark’s journal entries. Felt like a good fit.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • You can mix regular narrative with journal entries, but it’s best to introduce it gradually, and only once the main storytelling mode has been established.
  • Relative dates will do just fine. Most of the time, they don’t really matter.
  • Humor (in the characters or the narration) makes a bleak or depressing situation much more palatable.

Looking Back

I’ve been thinking about how I wrote this last novel, and what I might need to change about my writing process.

It felt a lot harder to write this one than the last one, and took longer, too. Maybe there are sone things I need to beware of, danger signs I should watch out for, when starting my third?

I think my first mistake was not writing a short story set in the world of the novel. I did this — accidentally — for my first book. Didn’t know it was an actual technique until I saw an interview with N K Jemisin (an amazing writer whose most recent book is up for a Hugo!) ¬†where she mentioned that she always — deliberately — writes a short story in a new world before starting a novel set there. Her reasons lined up exactly with my experience: writing the story gave her a sense of the world and the kinds of characters and conflicts that might happen there. Even if she doesn’t use the characters from the short story in the novel, all the world-building she’s done helps.

My second problem was trying my hand at science fiction. My degree is in physics, so my Inner Editor gets all fired up when I’m writing something set in “the real world,” rejecting ideas left and right because “it doesn’t work that way.” It’s something I’m working on, because it blocks my writing flow, constricting my choices and making me doubt that I can write anything that maintains consistency.

Third mistake: writing through trauma. I mentioned this at the time, but trying to write through the events of the latter half of last year was almost impossible. I was distracted, I was angry and frustrated and scared, I was in no way ready to push through a novel like this. I’m glad I did, in the end, but without my wife and my friends to lean on, I don’t think I would have.

So, lessons learned:

  • Write a short story version first.
  • Don’t worry about matching current scientific understanding in the first draft. Save consistency for the edits.
  • Don’t force myself to write through a traumatic event. No extra pressure needed.

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes

More a series of biographies than a proper narrative history. Still well-written and interesting, though.

Holmes’ use of language and choice of examples illustrates the Romantic belief that science and poetry were not opposed, but complementary disciplines, both seeking to understand and explain the world around them.

Three things I learned:

  • Caroline Herschel, William Herschel’s sister, was a great astronomer in her own right, discovering numerous comets and nebulae, as well as compiling the most comprehensive star catalogues of the 19th century.
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in 1816, can be considered the first science fiction novel, as it took curent theories of biology and chemistry and extrapolated them into the future, then constructed a narrative around the consequences.
  • William Herschel was originally an organist in Bath; astronomy was a hobby he indulged in on the side. It just so happened that his homemade telescopes were more powerful than anything any one else had constructed before (!)

Next!

Taken the last few days off from writing. That’ll likely extend into the weekend, when my wife and I go out to celebrate completing the draft.

But I’m feeling a little listless, like I don’t know what to do with myself. So I’m already thinking of what to work on next, what project to use to keep the writing part of my brain busy.

There’s a children’s book idea I’ve had recently that I’d like to take a swing at. Should be very different from writing a novel, and something I can hopefully complete a draft of fairly quickly.

I’ve also got a draft of my first novel (working title: The Hungry Cold. don’t judge me) that needs editing. Gotten lots of feedback from first readers about it, including several spots that need fixing.

Those two projects should keep me pretty busy for a few months (at least). I’m thinking of starting the children’s book next week, as way to clear my head before starting in on some edits. I’ll be traveling, though, so probably won’t be able to do much more than outline.

Finally

New novel’s done!

Topped out at 111,733 words yesterday morning.

I feel proud, relieved, and confused all at the same time. Proud for getting it done, relieved that I can move on to the next project, confused that I might actually be done with the first draft. There’s a part of my brain that’s circling the last few chapters, going “are you sure we’re finished?”

But I am, thank goodness.

Next it’ll be on to editing the draft of my previous novel, whipping that into a shape I can send out to agents.

But that’s later. For now, the order of the day (of the week?) is to relax, recharge, and regroup.