Welcome to the production diary for Fairy Tales. This is a near-daily-ish tracking of how the first draft went. As always, I love geeky shit like this, but if it’s not your thing, please don’t hesitate to skip it.
July 4 – Day 1
I love a blank page. I know it’s scary. But it’s also fucking awesome. The blank page, to me, is like that moment at the top of the roller coaster when your car stops clicking and you get ready to fall. Click click click click click all the way up and then: silence, for a second, right before the bottom drops out.
Thus: the empty page.
Even with an outline, or beats, or a blurb, or an entire novel written in my head, I never fucking know where that blank page will lead. God, I fucking love this moment. It’s usually followed by some rougher days where I’m slogging through to hit my word count (I’m not a strict adherent to word count goals, because I have a day job and a toddler, but if I can get myself to two thousand words a day in the beginning of the project, the entire thing seems to run smoother the rest of the way through), but this beginning bit? Love, love, love.
So, to celebrate, eat some words. First draft. Very first draft. Their voices aren’t perfect in my head yet, and the conflict is only seeds, but I think I can play with this dynamic for a bit.
I should also mention that I had no clue this book was going to start this way until, uh, about half an hour before I was going to sit down to write my outline thing. I needed sex sooner, and I needed something to beef up the conflict, and voila! This. It’s a bit of a tease, really, but it gets me where I needed to go on day one.
July 6 – Day 3
Day two was spent scribbling away in a hotel room on the iPad/bluetooth keyboard set-up while three people slept around me and the television, muted, played something called “Locked Up Abroad.” (I do not recommend.) Thus: no update.
Today was a tough one. The beauty of having been writing for so long is that a tough day is a day when I still get my words in, even when they’re not the most exciting words I’ve ever written, even when the muses haven’t been around to sprinkle me with magical scribble dust and bless all the keystrokes to add up to a bestseller. I landed seventeen hundred words today, and that’s solid. I’ll take it.
Now, later in the story, when the voices flow more smoothly, seventeen hundred words will be what I get in between setting a cup of ice cream in front of my kid and the halfway point of “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” where they “end” one episode and begin another, a transition my kid finds excruciating. (Genetics. I swear to god. I know it can’t be, but it is. My mother used to bundle my tiny ass out of movie theatres and any room where credits could be rolling on a screen, because I would lose my fucking shit. She’s still totally traumatized by Muppets Take Manhattan because of it. She just remembers running down the street with me screaming and worrying that the cops were going to arrest her for kidnapping. Since I no longer freak the fuck out at the ends of movies, I’m forced to determine that this is scientific proof of a “end of movies freak out” gene somewhere in human DNA. Just sayin’.)
But the early days are rough for every story I’ve written since I “got serious” and started, I dunno, writing things that had perceivable beginnings, middles, and yeah, every now and then they’d even have an end. Make that–nine years. There was a turning point story, indeed the product of magical muse dust, that I finished one day and thought Hang on. That shit all, like, makes sense. Like you could actually read this story and know what it’s about. I WROTE A STORY THAT’S ABOUT SOMETHING.
I started self-publishing this year. Yes. It took nine years from that moment (which was many, many, many millions of words into my writing life) to the much different moment of Someone else could read this story and like it so much they’d PAY for it. Which seems to be, y’know, working and shit.
It’s worth noting that while that first aha moment story was not Will Derrie’s, he was in it. And the germ that became The Scientific Method was a mere nearly-invisible thread throughout.
The early days are tough because there’s this period of transition between having a great idea, maybe some notes, maybe an outline, or a collection of Scrivener folders with descriptions–during which everything is still mostly question marks–and losing yourself to the story so much you no longer have to consult all that shit, because the doors and windows are wide fucking open, and you can just walk in.
All right, go back and pretend I owned all that shit instead of generalizing it to all writers everywhere. I love first drafts. I love revisions. I even mostly love the seven thousand editing passes I do because I don’t have the funds yet to hire an actual editor. (You want one pass–one pass–where you don’t find new things to fix. I haven’t managed it yet. Though I can get them to the point where there are no longer typos that I see. By the end it’s word choice and flow. Sometimes I swear I change back things I changed before, but shut up, don’t make me talk about it.)
Day three was good, even though I can’t fully suspend my disbelief yet and dive in. I think I’m starting this at the right moment, but I could be wrong. I think I have the right angle on the conflict, but I could be wrong. I think the characters are accessible but not stereotypical, but I could be wrong.
It might totally suck hairy sweaty rat balls, but I don’t know, because once I start writing I’m not allowed to re-read. Truth. A good argument in favor of keeping a scrap file with names and ages and descriptive bits. I’m just gonna find his eye color turns into Holy shit, are you kidding me, I just read fifteen thousand words?
There you have it. Tomorrow, the project continues.
July 8 – Day 4
When I think “world-building” I’m usually thinking about fantasy/sci fi stories. Right now I’m writing a totally contemporary story that takes place in a small town, and apart from all the people who live in the town, the town itself has a role here.
I don’t do this all that frequently, but I will say that since I started thinking about settings as having an active role in the story, I think my work has improved. Surely, the Scientific Method stories would not be the same without Hugh’s house serving as home base. And the ghost story I need to go back and revise hard has both a haunted penthouse and the streets of Manhattan doing more than just showing up as background.
Mind you, those were accidents in first drafts that I merely understood better as I revised. This is the first time I’ve thought, oh, okay, so this town is the real deal. It’s not just a collection of houses and businesses and roads, it’s a place with history and emotional connections and, in some cases, projected expectations it won’t be able to meet.
So. World-building, baby. Today was the first time I got to dig into the people of the town, and it was awesome. Also, I’m pretty sure the third floor of the old hospital building is actually haunted. Just sayin’. (Is there a thing with third floors? Does anyone know? When I was a kid locked up on the psych ward, it was on the third floor. The old psych ward in the town where I live–also on the third floor. I should research this…)
July 10 – Day 6
Today? Very frustrating. On a personal level, but when you single parent and work from home–as well as write novels and run a business publishing them–the personal and professional blend together.
For example: my phone. I have a HTC One X+. It’s quite possibly the dumbest fuckin’ phone name ever (well, not really, but this is a good lesson for all you people who want symbols and/or funky spellings in your titles: Google does not like parsing “+” vs “plus” and search results suffer).
This thing never, at any point, ran a software update. I spent all day trying to make it happen. I’ve tried a lot of things over the last few months since it began bugging me, but nothing worked. I finally had to do a factory reset (after backing everything up on SnapPea, which worked great), update the ROM manually while the phone was plugged into the computer, and then, finally, it was able to perform one final update all by itself.
Then, of course, it’s been a series of “oh, wait, I need to add all my accounts” and “I need that shortcut back” type nonsense. All of which is fine, but I’ve only got fifteen hundred words for today (a dreadful committee meeting, during which I realized that there’s not quite enough sizzle to the conflict I thought was going to dominate our leads, which means either I’ve got the wrong conflict or I need to add sizzle on revision–I’ll keep you posted).
And the kid? Took a nap at six o’clock. I’ve experimented with withholding that nap, but it’s generally pretty miserable. So I limit it. Except today I was reinstalling everything on earth (from the backup, not individually, thank Kali), and setting up a Facebook page, so I let her sleep way too long. Like till eight. At night. For a nap.
And that is why it’s now nearing two and I haven’t got my two thousand words down, and I haven’t checked my email in ages.
Fairy Tale is hanging in there at about twelve thousand words, which is fair, considering it’s day six and I shoot for two thousand words a day, but I’m gonna have to kick it up a notch or three if I want to finish this puppy in July. I have exactly three weeks, so even accounting for the larger chunks I usually write toward the end of a project, I want to start stacking in some words pretty soon here.
But it’s cool. This is all the building tension stuff, and we’re about to start playing with some actual interaction, so I’m down.
I don’t know. If Henry doesn’t come down as hard as I thought he would on the whole “outside investors ruin community” angle, then what objection does he really have to Math? Math’s easy; he’s a single father with a transgendered kid he’s having a hard time fully supporting. No boyfriends is an easy rule to make and until he meets Henry, an easy rule to follow. But is “dating’s for assholes” really a strong enough bone for Henry to run with for the entire book? Not so much.
Which brings us back to conflict. Well. I’ll let my brain sort it out overnight. Signing off.
Yesterday was a decent day for writing, but a defeated day personally. Today wasn’t a huge improvement on that front (the “being able to provide basic necessities like food and health insurance for your family” front), but the writing was smooth.
Today, I wrote Nova. Specifically, I wrote Nova from Henry’s point of view, and Henry is far more understanding of Math’s kid than Math is–Math says she’s confused, but to Henry, she seems pretty clear. She’s a boy. End of story. She’s not gonna practice with the girls because she’s not a girl.
So let’s talk about pronouns.
The default setting once someone’s beginning to transition is for one’s friends and families to switch their pronouns, and that’s including for stories about the past, when that person may have presented in somewhat of a contrast to how they present currently. (Though even for me, that’s a longer process. I can do present-day pronouns with ease and still take years to completely iron out the correct language when retelling things that happened when I used a different pronoun for someone.)
The person in this particular story is seven years old. And I’m not doubting the experience of a seven-year-old trans kid, at all, but I am definitely questioning how to write a story from two points of view, when one of those is sympathetic and far more likely to call her whatever she wants, but the other, her dad, is holding out stubbornly for things to be as he’d imagined they would be when the irrevokable words “it’s a girl” were uttered.
So I’m using female pronouns. Henry avoids calling her a “girl” or referring to her as a “daughter,” but he still uses female pronouns here, a quarter of the way through the book (okay, ish). And I think that flies. They’ve only just met, and he and Math still aren’t friends, let alone intimates. But it’s clear to him that Nova knows exactly what she’s about.
Math, though. Math’s gonna be a problem. Theoretically, by the end of the book Henry could be thinking of Nova as the boy she so desperately needs people to see her as, but her dad? Yeah, I don’t know. The part of me that wants a happy ending for her wants some shining moment where he calls her “my son” and all past wounds are healed. The part of me that hates pat, convenient endings to story lines scoffs. Sneers. Rolls eyes.
Thus: the challenge of a romance novel.
Make it true. Make it so true that it couldn’t have gone any other way, but make your story fucking work for that happy ending. Bleed your characters, but don’t abuse them. Don’t turn them into puppets reading their lines the way you want them to be.
The same is true of all fiction, but I don’t think the romance authors get enough love. It’s like fantasy and science fiction in how easy it is to do it badly–to make yourself a god and dictate every move–but the margin for error is intense. People seem under the impression that literary fiction is a difficult, challenging genre, but to me the area of “readable” is much wider. The cardinal sins are many, but you can slide here or there with a cliche, with an adverb, with a moment of traditional structure, lacking insight.
(Or, okay, whatever it is literary fiction’s doing. I don’t know, man, not my bag. And I’ve tried. Then again, it’s all pretty arbitrary; my high school English teacher considered Margaret Atwood very literary, and to me she’s too accessible to be literary. I like her too much. I was supposed to like Brokeback Mountain because of the gay, but I didn’t like either the tiny little story or the movie. At all. I felt no connection to those characters, and didn’t care about their lives.)
But romance? Nah, that shit has to be tight, or it’s fucking awful. Unfinishable.
I’m gonna go back to trying not to think about it, now. Crap.
July 13 – Day 9
I don’t get blocked. I’m relatively angst-free, as a writer. Every now and then something wigs me out (I agonizedover Breaking Down), but most of the time I sit in my bubble and click clack away.
Right now? I’m fucking distracted. I’m so rarely distracted it doesn’t even worry me, but right now, I’m all fucked in the head with the publishing end. Like, why is no one reading my stories on Nook? What’s the deal? I worked for you, Barnes and Noble! Send me love!
(In point of fact, B&N.com is a different store. I could probably still give you the whole spiel about it. I could definitely give the whole “sorry we don’t take Starbucks gift cards” cafe spiel, and still nail the tone that says I’m just a poor employee and I don’t make decisions like what level of licensing we’ll have in order to sell Starbucks products.)
It’s not that I don’t believe in writer’s block, except that some people use the term as if it’s a medical diagnosis and the treatment for it is whiskey and whining. Writer’s block just isn’t interesting to me. Some days you don’t want to go to work. You do it anyway (except when you don’t).
But this? I’m not blocked. I know where I’m going. This whole fucking book is laid out in my head right now. I keep thinking I could bail on it. I could write about how Lucy Martinez initiated a triad, or I could finish “The Honeymoon,” which I want live when The Boyfriends Tie the Knot comes out. (I should do that. Seriously.) But I actually like the book I’m writing. I’m just…distracted.
So here we are, day nine. I wrote fewer than four hundred words today. (That’s just…insane. Though I did clean my mom’s house, so that’s good. And time-consuming.) I’m gonna try to move around more tomorrow in the “baseball dance party” sense (what, you don’t play “baseball dance party”?), and see if that helps. Blood flow sometimes translates directly to word-flow. Or I’ll hit a few sets of knuckle push-ups throughout the day. No, really. I fucking love knuckle push-ups. I’d do the normal kind except my left wrist is weak and it throws off my form. But that’s okay, cause knuckle push-ups are badass.
Jeez, though. Four hundred words. I mean this is…well, for me it’s rookie shit, as in shit I did as a rookie writer, when I was a teenager, and never finished anything, just plugged away here or there as the wind blew and called it good. The word count doesn’t bother me so much as what it signifies. Distraction. Day nine. I have got to get this show on the road.
December 28 – Day 10
Whew. I haven’t written this since July.
So I started this book, when I’d just finished The Boyfriends Tie the Knot, and before I started The Honeymoon, which was supposed to be a seven thousand word porntastic short. (Then Will and the boyfriends showed up and had feelings and piercings and shit.) The book was called Fairy Tales (maybe), and I kind of loved it. Not quite enemies-to-lovers, but antagonistic-to-lovers is fun to write, too, and it has this absolutely awesome setting in a small town, partially-rural, driving distance to the city, where the local identity is shifting too fast to track.
Also, a transgendered seven year old named Nova, whom I just fucking adore. And a lab mix named Coco.
The physical places in this story came clearly to me, and that’s not generally true. One of the biggest flaws in the Home Series is the lack of setting, and I don’t say that like I’m self-flagellating over it. I, as a reader, don’t need a densely detailed setting. I don’t need weather. I don’t need character descriptions. Those things are mostly garnish to me, with few exceptions.
(“The night lay coiled in the street, cobra-cold and scaled with stars.” That’s from The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle, and it could be wrong, but there’s no fucking way I’m leaving my warm spot in the blankets to walk across the room to verify. That line is a good example of how a very small number of words can set the stage for the scene. I don’t use a small amount of words for fucking anything.)
So I’m not bemoaning my failure as a writer. I love those books. (Well. Okay. Going Home has a pacing issue that makes me crazy, but I love the other ones like a proud papa.) Could they have benefited from additional grounding in physical space? Oh, fuck yes. Yeah. That’s a definite yes right there. (You’ll note that of the four of them Home for the Holidays is probably the most setting-rich, and that’s because it took me a few months to catch up to my flaws in GH and Home Free.)
But New Halliday is clear in my brain, even right now, sitting here. I can picture it in daylight. I can picture it on a warm summer night when the high school team is finishing out the baseball season, or a chilly night in fall when the football game runs late and folks blow on their hands to keep warm as they walk back to the gravel lot where they parked.
Seriously. This is not a gift I have, generally, as a writer. I work for it. One of the ways I justified writing porn years back was because I figured it would force me to build more skills around describing objects in space. (Yes, I had to justify it. Because I enjoyed it too much for it to be good for me. Also, I figured I wouldn’t be able to make a living writing it… Ask me again this time next year how that’s going.)
Back in July, when I last worked on this book, I thought of it as a stand-alone novel. I wasn’t sure where else to go with it. The book in my head is a romance novel (I’d only written one at that point, in my entire life), and at the end of a romance novel you’re done. Ish. I put the sixteen thousand words aside for a bit, figuring I’d come back to it later. (Want to read me talking to me and us making decisions? This post is a wild look back in time.)
Well. It’s later. Hello, later!
Right now I could probably write New Halliday all year. But I’m gonna do something a little different and play with spacing stories out more in the same series. This is a hell of a lot easier to do with a series built around a town than it would have been with, say, a series built around Will and Hugh (and Truman). (Speaking of Hugh, I haven’t figured out how to cross him with this series yet, but I will. Red and Bad fans who also read Scientific Method stories have a neat little short to look forward to whenever I get around to writing it. Really, though. Hugh Reynolds should just step in everywhere. For fun.) At this point I’ve got three books and the beginnings of a fourth playing in my brain, all of them m/m romance novels for some reason. You should see at least two of them in 2015.
Day ten. Hello. Somewhat removed from day nine by, oh, say, almost six months. I’ve just finished rereading the 16k I’ve got so far, and I dig it. The beats still hold up, in the way my beats tend to hold up (I’ve always got a few good threads and a throughline, but I usually end up adding a few more/strengthening the ones I already knew about in unforeseen ways). Tomorrow, for the first time since July (not counting last Tuesday at Grocery Outlet), I’ll dive back in to the story world, where Math and Henry will definitely fall in love, somewhere between soccer practice and taking the kids out for fast food.
December 29 – Day 11
Man. A thousand words in, but boy, I procrastinated about that shit all damn day. It’s fine. Everything’s gonna be just fine.
I love all the writing days, even the tough ones. In some ways I love the tough ones the most, because they reinforce my vocation. I’m compelled to write stories, and on the days I have to drag myself to the keyboard for a sprint, I remember that. Anyone can write on the easy days; only the mad ones write on the hard days.
Today, I wrote Math’s dad for the first time. I like him. I gotta be careful he doesn’t sound too much like The Voice of Reason. The Voice of Reason is a real writerly crutch of mine, so I watch out for it. (It’s often Hugh or Teddy. Teddy’s The Voice of Reason all the damn time, but damn, he’s so good at it.)
That’s it. I’m gonna go play with the formatting for the complete serial of Little Red and the Big Bad now. If ever there was something I could write as seasons, it’s this. I love how it ends, but I want fucking MORE. We’ll see.
December 30 – Day…Twelve?
I wrote great beats for this story back in July. And thank god, or I probably wouldn’t be writing it right now. But still, my beats serve as a slightly incomplete recipe, always open to substitutions, often missing something like yeast, or eggs, something necessary, something I leave to discovery.
Man, though, can I just publicly thank my July self for the beats? Because damn. Go, past me. And for writing the first twenty percent or so of the book. A lot of groundwork is done; all I’ve got to do is get my hands in there and knead that business till it’s ready to rock and roll.
Oh, I know. The metaphors are killing you, right?
I’m beginning to get an inkling, here, on day eleven. This is about a third of the way through the writing process (ish), so it’s about as late as you really want to start ferreting out a thread that will eventually run through the whole book. (Though you can also get that thread after the first draft is done, but that’s a beast of a revision. Been there. Done that. Should have gotten a tattoo for every revision that basically demolished and rebuilt the entire story from the ground up.)
I think I’ll go back to it now. I’ve already got my words in, but hell, I’ve got more to say. And, exhale. This shit is a leap of fucking faith, people. You show up, you put some words on a page, and you hope like hell that when people read them they form a story. It’s never the story you thought you were telling (everyone reads different things into it, feels it from a different place), but damn, there is fucking magic in these woods, and it’s a hell of a high.
January 13: Day 12 (ish)
Okay, truth: I lost track of what day it is. But I went a few days without writing this story at all (which I almost never do during a first draft), so I’m a bit scattered.
This has been a surprisingly hard slog. I have no idea why. I read my beats and I really like this book. I’d like to read this book. I don’t really understand why that’s not translating directly to wanting to write it, since “I want to read this book” is my main motivation for writing most books.
I’m compelled to write. But all writing to various degrees keeps me out of the madhouse, so I stick to the projects I’d read myself if only the existed.
So what the hell?
Got a good two thousand words in today. Need to get a good two thousand every day to meet my deadline, but that’s my normal circs word count goal, so I’m not too worried. Henry’s got a bit of darkness to him that I haven’t completely sussed out yet, and that’s a great thread to play with.
(I’m thinking it’s a Will-Derrie-flavored darkness; seems somewhat risque to him, but probably isn’t that big a deal to anyone else.)
Also, having a couple of seven year olds is proving loads of fun. Oh, soccer practice. Things could get awkward. At least, I bloody hope so.
January 15: Day 13
This is why you gotta have deadlines. I have a throbbing headache, got bad sleep last night, and had hardly any time to write today. The kid went to sleep late, and writing wasn’t exactly the last thing I wanted to do, but it wasn’t the first, either. (That was fall into bed beside her.)
But I have to make 2100 words/day between now and 1/31 to meet my deadline, so I fired up the file and got to work. And you know what? It’s a good scene. A surprise scene, with Math and Sam talking over the computer. We play with Math’s projection of his own shit on Nova, and we learn a tiny bit more about the land development project (and the CPC’s role).
I’m still working out the pacing of the story. I’m also not convinced the conflict is where it needs to be, but we’ll see. For now, I’m just happy the words got down and we’re now halfway through.
(I should clarify: halfway through the target word count. The next scene should take us halfway through the story, but the target word count is what I feel like this particular story calls for, and after, what, like, sixteen novels, I can usually hit that pretty accurately, within five thousand words or so.)
Whew. That was good work. The Nova thread keeps me coming back to this story even when I’m exhausted. More even than Math and Henry, I want Nova to feel good at the end of the book.
Okay, I suck at production diaries. Sorry! I’ll do better for Red and Bad.
Today I got to write Math and Nova talking about seeing a therapist. The weird thing is that I didn’t really project this scene. Like, it’s an obvious scene, it needs to happen, but I didn’t have it in my beats. At all. No idea why.
(This is a funny thing that happens with writing beats. They give me a glorious path through the woods, but I’m not always great at projecting how things will weave together. I will literally write “Then X, something-something parallel with Y.” And it always works out, I can always by the time I’m there see how those elements work in concert–I never get there and go, “What the fuck was I thinking? Elephants and tubas can’t work together for the betterment of the story!”)
Short writing time today. Did huge amounts of work on other things (namely: running off new files for the SMU books), only got a thousand words in. This is the safest time to have a bad writing day. It just makes me more hungry to start again tomorrow.
Deadline in three days!
WHEW. Technically it’s February 1, but I haven’t slept, so it’s definitely yesterday.
Whoa, the ending. Okay, guys? I’m a little insecure about the ending. I mean, I think it might make a lot of people happy (did it make you happy?), but it’s not the kind of ending I usually write, so I feel…iffy. But good, because I love these guys, and I want them to be happy, and I definitely want Henry to have this moment, but still. Still. If someone was dead, I’d feel pretty secure, but everyone’s happy so it’s iffy. (If you’ve read the other two proposals I’ve published–in Roller Coasters and Home Free, neither are particularly traditional.)
Ack! Okay. Well. No one else is gonna read it for a few weeks, at least, so that’s all right.
Hope you’ve liked the production diary!