Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So here we are, halfway through the 2011 Nanowrimo adventure! How are YOUR novels going, everyone? Mine has been sputtering in starts and stops for the last two weeks, some days being good enough to make up for all the days that have been reprehensibly horrible. But you know what? The words that I’ve produced over the last two weeks, slow and resistant though they may have been, have been ten million miles better than those of last year’s Nano product! And here’s exactly why.
All through my childhood and teenage years, I could always be found with a book in my hand. I carted bags of them home from libraries, kept a stash in my backpack, spent long hours curled up on the floor in front of the house heater with a book and a cup of tea. I’ve no doubt my parents still remember winters spent stepping over and around the reading nest I made for myself.
And as I read, I began to write. I wrote bits and pieces, drabbles and abortive sputtering starts, but I wrote. And, if I may say, for my age they weren’t so bad.
Then I went to college. (and bought a playstation, but let’s not mention that) Mostly, it was college. When I did have to write, it was long papers, or required stories about dull and boring real-life things. I had to study things like statistics (shudder) and biology (not so bad). I did read, but not like I used to. There just wasn’t time. And then I came to Japan, and finding English books is virtually impossible. Suddenly I had the time, but not the ability. I would raid the English section of bookstores in Tokyo, scrounging out anything available, even if I had to resort to bad fantasy and trashy romance novels. At least they were words on a page. I was starving in a desert where the only water was written in moonspeak and the natives weren’t big on drinking.
……. How’s that for word salad? Okay, I’ll quit with the metaphors.
Then I discovered the joy of the eBook. Despite my insistence (still) that it will never replace the ink and paper of a real book, the eBook did serve to open my world back up again. Someday I want a personal library. And I’m not talking about the folder on my computer that is filled with books, I’m talking about a wall-of-shelves-scent-of-books-with-crinkled-spines library. With a lounge chair. And a hot-water heater for tea. But for now, the folder will do.
And so I’ve been reading again. Here is an abbreviated list of the last eight desperately book-starved months of my life.

  • • Terry Goodkind
    • o Sword of Truth Series (11 books)
  • • Neil Gaiman
    • o Neverwhere
  • • David Eddings
    • o Belgariad (5 books)
    • o Malloreon (5 books)
  • • Jim Butcher
    • o Dresden Files (13 books)
    • o Codex Alera (6 books)
  • • R. Scott Bakker
    • o Prince of Nothing (3 books)
  • • Joe Abercrombie
    • o First Law (3 books)
  • • Frank Herbert
    • o Dune (6 books)
  • • Orson Scott Card
    • o Ender (8 books)
  • • George RR Martin
    • o Song of Ice and Fire (5 BIG books)
  • • Brent Weeks
    • o Night Angel Trilogy (duh)
  • • Brandon Sanderson (with whom I would have babies)
    • o Mistborn Trilogy (…)
    • o Way of Kings (one book… WANT MORE)
    • o Warbreaker
  • • Karen Marie Moning
    • o Fever (5 books)
  • • Scott Lynch
    • o Gentlemen Bastards (2 books)
  • • Steven King
    • o The Dark Tower (7 books)
  • • Frank Abagnale
    • o Catch me if you Can
  • • Scott Westerfeld
    • o Risen Empire (2 books)
    • o Peeps (2 books)
    • o Midnighters (3 books)
    • o Leviathan (3 books)
    • o Evolution’s Darling
    • o So Yesterday

….. Need I go on? A few of those were average, a couple were really crappy, and the majority were amazing. The point is, I read them. And in reading them, I did my research well. I took note of which plot ploys I loved, and which I hated. Which kinds of transitions seemed rough, and which smooth. I watched master writers move ahead from scene to scene, and paid attention to what they left out, where they thought the line between important and unimportant details was drawn. I also stuck with the ones that struggled, paying attention to the things I never want to do.

From George RR Martin I learned that missing chunks of time don’t matter, as long as you leave enough clues for your reader to fill in the gaps. I also learned that anyone can die.

From Brandon Sanderson I learned that there is truly no limit to imagination. It’s easy to fear that it’s all been done before. That there’s nothing new in magic, that every world will become some version of middle-earth. He showed me that nothing could be more wrong. And yes, this is an absolutely SHAMELESS plug for one of the greatest storycrafters I’ve read this year. The unique creativity in his works is almost blinding, leaving you wondering why the rest of us even bother. And that’s a good thing. It’s a challenge to come up with something even more preposterous.

From Jim Butcher I learned that there can be blazing wit in even the most desperate of circumstances. Yes, your characters CAN look death in the face and make jokes that make the villain hid his face. And we love it.

Even the books I didn’t like taught me something. Like Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books. I learned that if you make absolutely spineless, miserable, unlikeable characters, it doesn’t matter if they KNOW they’re spineless, miserable, and unlikeable if they don’t DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Or if they have a moment of goodness, and the reader catches their breath (Will he redeem himself? Will he become someone I can cheer on?) and then they slip BACK into the murk of spineless miserable and unlikable. Eventually, the ride isn’t worth the lack of change. So I learned not to do that.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, my dear readers, go forth and read… and write.

Go then. There are other worlds than these, say thankya.