December 21, 2012

It's Not the End of the World

The year is just about over, and I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to. I could put a lot of energy into berating myself for this -- and at times I do -- but I'm getting better and better at recognizing what a pointless exercise that is.

I worked pretty hard this year. I produced a lot of good words. Very belatedly, I emerged from my state of denial about this so-called revision I've been working on for almost two years. It turns out I've kept almost nothing from my previous draft and I've been more or less rewriting the manuscript over again, again, because that's what it needs. Now I'm somewhat within sight of the end, and it really is resembling the novel I want it to be.

At the end of last year, I wrote a post much like this one in which I came to grips with what I hadn't yet achieved and rejoiced over what I had. I stand by all that stuff again.

2012 still wasn't the year that everything started happening for my literary career. But you know what? It's not the end of the world.

Enjoy the rest of the year. Be kind to yourself. If you'd already accomplished everything, what would you do next year?

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Kristin Cashore shares the process of writing her most recent novel -- and then rewriting it from scratch: "It was an amazing mental freedom; it allowed for a freshness in my second draft, and a freedom from the swamp of my first draft. I was able to write a second draft while NOT stuck inside that first-draft swamp. I was able to tell the same story all over again, and this time tell it so much better." (Thanks, Lauren!)

December 20, 2012

Ready Player One

When READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline was published last year, I was intrigued by all the recommendations. The novel revolves around 1980s video games and pop culture, and it takes place mostly inside a virtual world.

I definitely fall into the target audience for this book. I grew up in the 80s playing ColecoVision and Nintendo. On at least one occasion, I held my birthday party at an arcade. Today I devote hours each week to completing quests in Skyrim.

So I'd been planning to read the book eventually, but the reason I got around to it now is that my mother raved about it. This surprised me. In all the afternoons my brother and I spent playing Super Mario Bros., I can't recall Mom ever picking up a controller. If my non-gaming mom liked this game-obsessed book, I had to check it out for myself. I mean, I wasn't going to let her out-geek me!

The story takes place in the 2040s. Things aren't looking so good in the real world, which is plagued with poverty, energy shortages, and war. Fortunately, technology has progressed to the point that everyone has constant access to an immersive virtual world called the OASIS. Compared to reality, the OASIS is a utopia.

When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a message that his vast fortune will be awarded to whoever can find the easter egg he's left hidden somewhere within the game. The book's protagonist is a teen boy determined to solve the puzzle, which involves learning everything he can about the creator's 80s childhood and the video games, movies, and music he loved. The obssesive quest for the egg turns into a thrilling and dangerous adventure both inside and out of the OASIS.

READY PLAYER ONE kept me up too late reading for several nights. It's an exciting adventure with great world-building and tons of nostalgia. The story does occasionally suffer from long stretches of exposition and unnecessary repetition, but overall it's a lot of fun. I enjoyed recognizing the 80s references, but there were many I wasn't familiar with, and it's not necessary to know much about video games to appreciate the book, as my mother can attest.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Rob D. Young offers 9 Tricks to Make Your Dialogue More Organic: "Regardless of what's being discussed, it's entirely normal for participants in a conversation to maintain multiple threads of dialogue. They can simultaneously be talking about the meaning of the life, what they had for lunch on Tuesday, and how stressed they are about homework--and none of this is seen as a contradiction."

December 14, 2012


Today I submitted my application to Lit Camp, the juried writing conference I posted about a while back.

I ended up spending quite a bit of time overhauling my first chapter and then going through it again to address the suggestions from my critique group. I finally got the chapter into a state I was happy with, and I ran it by some more people to make sure the changes worked. Thanks so much to everyone who read and gave feedback!

It will be another two months before I find out if I've been selected for the conference, so I'm going to try not to think about it for now. I really don't have the slightest idea what my chances are. It would be very cool to be accepted, but I'm not investing too much in hoping for it.

The good thing about the work I put into improving my first chapter, plus writing up a new description of my novel, is that it needed to be done eventually anyway. My submission package for the conference is similar to what I'll send to agents once I'm ready to start querying. It's nice to know that the opening of my novel has already been scrutinized and made strong. Now I have to make it to the end of the damn thing.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Edan Lepucki at The Millions analyzes literary fiction as a genre: "The reader of literary genre fiction should feel the structure in her body, particularly with short stories. It's a recognizable rhythm, it's a shimmering in one's veins as one moves from opening scene to well-placed background information to the next, more tense scene to that special, oh-so-revealing flashback about the time our protagonist ran over his rubber horse, or the time he knew he was in love with a real horse, or the time he -- oh you see what I mean."

December 10, 2012

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan is one of those stories that makes me want to live inside it. But in this case, I kind of already do. The book takes place within my experience of the Bay Area and is set "at the intersection of books and technology." It has a friendly, funny style and an awesome cast of characters. And it's joining my list of favorites.

Our protagonist is Clay, a designer recently laid off from a startup "founded by a pair of ex-Googlers who wrote software to design and bake the platonic bagel." (Incidentally, right before the novel's publication, Sloan discovered that someone's actually doing this.) Clay gets a job working the night shift at a quirky bookstore where eccentric customers rush in frantically after midnight asking for volumes from the store's mysterious collection. Clay isn't sure what's going on, and he doesn't know how to find out, because Mr. Penumbra has instructed him never to look inside these books, and they can't be located on Google.

The word "Google" appears in this novel at about the same rate as in my daily conversation, which is to say, frequently, and with as little self-consciousness. This gave me a wonderful dizzy feeling. It's like when I read MICROSERFS right after moving to Silicon Valley, and I got to a description of a particular freeway interchange, and then later that day I drove past that exact cloverleaf.

In many ways, MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE is MICROSERFS for 2012, with a literary twist. The characters represent the new generation of geeks. They live in San Francisco rather than Silicon Valley, though a job at Apple is still the holy grail. They think as comfortably about design as code. At one point Clay hacks together some 3-D graphics in Ruby, describes his creation, and says, "If this sounds impressive to you, you're over thirty." Guilty as charged.

Of course eventually Clay opens one of Mr. Penumbra's strange books, and this starts him off on a wild quest to discover the secrets of a peculiar literary society. Along the way he falls in love with a brilliant Googler and visits the Google campus, which is just a bit more Googley than in real life. (He has to use the visitor line at the cafeteria, because employees' food is personalized to improve their brain function.)

This is the most book-loving book I've read in a long time, which is impressive for a story that keeps bringing up Google and Ruby and the internet. If you love books, if you're exhilarated rather than dismayed by the implications of technology interacting with books, and especially if you're excited about a book that mentions both source code and shelf talkers, this is the book for you. Consider buying the hardcover. It glows in the dark.

You can find out more at Robin Sloan's web site, including interviews and the short story that evolved into the novel.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Chuck Wendig offers an entertaining step-by-step explanation of how he writes a novel: "For me a novel is essentially a lesson in drunk driving (DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE THIS IS A METAPHOR): it's me starting at the beginning and then revving the engine and speeding sloppily and swerving dramatically toward what I've conceived to be the ending."

December 7, 2012

Drive-By Post

November got away from me, and now December is already whizzing by. It's the time to start looking back at the past year and ahead to the next one. The view in both directions is making me panic a little.

In the past month, I made some more progress on my regular revision, and I've also been working through the feedback from my critique group on my first chapter. I gave a friend feedback on her own manuscript, plus read some books that I'll be writing about here soon. And there was that whole Thanksgiving thing, which was lovely.

All of this means I have nothing of real content to post today, but I wanted to let my loyal readers know that I'm still plugging away. Hope all your December endeavors are going well.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At the Guardian Books Blog, Lee Rourke argues in favor of novels without neat conclusions: "We have no real way of predicting our future. So why do our novels have to tie all this stuff together, into a neatly packaged bundle of ready-made answers?" (Thanks, Henri!)