December 21, 2022

Everything Old Is Novel Again

I spent all of this year working on a novel. For my life in general, this is unremarkable, but that wasn't how I spent 2020 or 2021, and the return to full-time noveling has been a welcome development. I'm pleased with what I accomplished this year, and I'm especially glad to have found my way back into a comfortable writing groove.

The first ten months of 2022 were all research and planning, in slow preparation for expanding last fall's hastily conceived and written NaNoWriMo draft. I didn't allocate all those months as effectively as I might have, but I did work consistently, and certain aspects of the story and its world gradually became clearer.

In mid-October, with the start of NaNoWriMo coming around again and providing the pressure of an external deadline, I turned the year's ideas into an index card outline. That gave me enough of a structure that I was able to begin a new draft on November 1, and I've been writing every day since then.

In November, I passed my personal 25,000 word goal and ended the month with 30k words. I was afraid I might lose momentum once the mass writing challenge was over, but I've been setting myself weekly word count goals that provide sufficient motivation. Today I hit the 50k word milestone. That gets me to approximately the midpoint of the outline, which is where I want to be, because the goal is not merely to accumulate words but to make progress through the chapters so I end up with a story-shaped draft of a manageable size.

I wrote at least a bit every single day of November, and of December so far, and that's been helpful in sustaining my progress. I'm ready for a break now, but I'll try to not completely lose contact with the story while I take some time to relax and recharge. In January, I want to pick up where I left off and keep writing until I reach the end. Then there will inevitably be more planning, and more drafts, in the now-familiar cycle of my life.

As the seasons turn once again back toward brighter days, I wish you all a happy novel year!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Silvia Moreno-Garcia, writing for the New York Times, examines how the term "magic realism" is overused and why it matters: "Magic realism once referred to the literary style of a loosely connected group of Latin American authors who penned works some 60 years ago, but in the English-speaking world, the term has become synonymous with Latin American writing in general. Picture every work by a British writer being called 'Austenesque' today, and you get an idea of this phenomenon."

December 2, 2022

November Reading Recap

I found time to read in November even while writing over 25,000 words:

MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite: When Korede's sister calls to say she's killed the man she was dating, Korede hopes this is the last time she'll have to clean up Ayoola's mess. Korede is good at cleaning, though, and she performs the tasks of mopping up the blood and disposing of the body as meticulously as she does everything else, including her work as a nurse. Ayoola is unrepentant as usual about the murder, insisting it was an accident that happened while she was defending herself from her boyfriend's sudden violence. Korede is skeptical and worries about who her sister will kill next, and the only person she can talk to is the patient at the hospital who's in a terminal coma. The nightmare of the whole situation grows worse when the beautiful Ayoola attracts the attention of the charming doctor Korede has been falling in love with.

This is a fast-paced read that kept me entertained. The characters and situations are larger than life rather than realistic, which makes the novel comic and fun instead of horrific. I enjoyed that tone, but I wouldn't have minded a longer story that went more in depth in some areas, especially the previous murders, to give a fuller picture of how Korede and Ayoola's relationship got to this point.

THE SPARE MAN by Mary Robinette Kowal: The famously wealthy inventor Tesla Crane is enjoying a rare taste of anonymity and peace while she and her new spouse Shal travel incognito on an interplanetary space cruise. But only a few days into their honeymoon, a fellow passenger is murdered -- and Shal is arrested as the only suspect. Nothing he or Tesla say can convince the ship's authorities that he wasn't involved, and they start to suspect they are being framed. While Shal is ordered to remain in their cabin until they reach Mars, Tesla roams the ship in search of the real murderer. As she questions passengers and crew, her adorable service dog, Gimlet, provides irresistible cuteness that makes everyone more amenable to interrogation.

A murder mystery on an interplanetary space cruise is a fun idea, and Kowal delivers a reliable sequence of developing complications and solid science about the journey and the ship (plus cocktail recipes at the start of each chapter). But I think the book would have benefited from another round of editing. Kowal has certain writing habits, such as focusing on characters' physical sensations of pain, that I find get repetitive after a while. I was also underwhelmed by the ending and unsure how all the pieces connected, so I would have appreciated that classic scene where the detective explains everything that happened.

MEET US BY THE ROARING SEA by Akil Kumarasamy: The protagonist is living in her recently deceased mother's house, which is crammed with objects of historical significance. She (or more accurately "You", since the narration is in second person) hasn't been coping well with the grief from her mother's death, so her cousin has moved in. The narrator works training AI models, and the cousin is developing a technology to extract memories. By night, the main character translates a Tamil manuscript about a group of female medical students practicing radical compassion on the edge of a camp where refugees arrive after escaping a civil war. Chapters of the manuscript appear between chapters about the protagonist, who reconnects with an old friend, an artist whose parents recently died as a result of the decision of an artificial intelligence.

All these elements set up at the beginning of the novel are fascinating, and I was excited by the story's potential and intrigued by the strangeness of the narrative. But by the end, I was frustrated that many of the most interesting threads weren't developed much and that despite all the different pieces, the story is fairly slow. This is a genre-bending, shape-shifting tale of grief and translation and artificial intelligence, and some readers are really connecting with that, but for me, this was the wrong combination of too much happening and not enough happening.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Electric Literature, John Perilli recounts the eerie experience of watching his science fiction story become real: "I remembered, though, my initial feeling of submission dread: that my story was not forward-looking enough. If the premise of my supposedly futuristic story had come to pass in a matter of six weeks, was I truly stretching my imagination as far or as deep as possible?"