The First Book of the Rest of Your Life

So as it turns out, there’s one small problem with winning a Hugo.

(Other than the fact that it hasn’t actually arrived yet, which we are trying to track down. I am assured that Hugos do NOT go missing, and the very nice woman in charge has vowed that I shall have it, but I admit to a bit of trepidation.)

No, the small problem is that at some point in the next month, your treacherous brain sits up and says “Well. Now what?”

You may be doing something as innocuous as mulching the garden, or laying out the burlap over the area that you’re going to turn into a path, and you straighten up with your hands full of landscape pins and go “….um.”

This is not as simple a question as it could be, particularly when you are moving mulch around and wondering vaguely why the one story you thought you were writing, which was mostly Snow White, has now turned into a thing about truffle pigs.

It is lovely to have won a Hugo. It is like getting a note from the teacher to excuse you from having to worry about whether you have talent in Particular Art Form X.

But.

I am done with Digger. I am not, probably, done with comics in perpetuity (never say what spring you won’t drink from, as some clever Greek gentleman said!) but I am not working on them right now. When I think of The Next Project, I rarely think comics. And to a certain extent, getting a Hugo feels like the grace note there—job well done, that’s a wrap, what’s next?

And so then you spend the next few loads of mulch going “Well?”

The Dragonbreath books are awesome. Hamster Princess, I think, is going to be even more awesome yet. But they’re also a fairly narrowly marketed beast, and while other people read and enjoy them (I hope!) they’re basically fluffy kid’s books.

Now, this is not me disparaging my work. I think fluff is an extraordinarily important genre that gets no respect. If the Dragonbreath books didn’t manage to be both engaging and not-intimidating, they would fail their target audience. And I get e-mails every couple of weeks from parents going “My kid is not a reader, and this is the first book they’ve ever asked me to go get the sequels–THANK YOU.”

You get an e-mail like that, you put it with the turtles you’ve helped across the road and the bats you’ve unhooked from drop ceilings as “Stuff I Hope Counts In My Favor When I Die.”

So I’d like to keep doing the kid’s books, but that’s not the thing that I think of when I think “Well? What next?”

And what I realized, somewhere around the fifth load of mulch (which contains traces of dog vomit slime-mold, which are out in force this year) is that the book I really really want to write is the one that sits on the comfort shelf. The book that somebody picks up when they’re in bed with the flu, when their boyfriend dumped them, when they’re sick or sad or tired or beaten down.

I have dozens of those books. Lots of them are YA, or I found when I was a YA myself.  Jinian Footseer, which I read when I was fifteen and which works for me as well now as it did then. The Grand Sophy. The Crystal Gryphon. Bridge of Birds. Most of Pratchett, particularly stuff with the witches. Lots of McKinley. When I was eight or nine, I read The Hero And The Crown about eight hundred times. I checked it out from the library over and over. Most of her books end up on that shelf—Rose Daughter and Deerskin and Spindle’s End and The Blue Sword.  A couple of Star Trek novels. The Wounded Sky. My Enemy, My Ally. Uhura’s Song. Chain of Attack (which is comfort reading to no one else on earth, but it was the book I had with me in the hospital and read over and over again when my grandmother was dead in all the important ways and what was left was hooked up to machines, which ought to be a goddamn war crime.) Diane Duane’s Young Wizard books. Curse of Chalion. Sharon Shinn. Juliet Marillier. Hodgell’s God Stalk (though not the sequels so much, but the first one is still magic.)  Tombs of Atuan (but not Wizard of Earthsea, go figure.) Henry Miller’s Earthman columns, which I read when I had swine flu and vowed that if I had to die some day (which seems likely) I wanted it to be in the garden with dirt on my hands, as he had.

There are books that were comfort reading when I was young that I don’t dare go re-read because part of growing up without breaking is learning to judge your younger self kindly. There are many good and great and glorious books that I admire. I loved Perdido Street Station. Every other page I went “DAMN I wish I’d thought of that.”  Barbara Kingsolver’s dialog is better than mine will ever be. American Gods is a masterwork, no doubt about it. But those are not the sort of books that I want to write right now.

Unfortunately “makes me feel better” is not really a genre, unless you count that Chicken Soup crap. Even if you get rid of the outliers (we’ll ditch Chain of Attack and Earthman) the common factors wander around a bit.  But yeah. That’s the shelf I wanna be on.

Whatever the hell that shelf is.

 

  • reply Alex R. ,

    I want to read the whole story of Celadon Toadstool and Sings-to-Trees from start to *AHEM* finish. I go back and reread what you’ve written every once in awhile, but IMHO the story is fatally weakened by the inexplicable lack of a conclusion! So finish the durn thing! There’s a nice bit of territory somewhere between Mary Gentle’s Grunts and Tolkien that’s very poorly explored, and you could map it out and name all the mountains!

    Note that this comment is brought to you by a guy who’s read The Wounded Sky so many times he had to buy a new copy, so we have the same taste in comfort reading!

    • reply Hawk ,

      It’s called the “books I love” shelf. And it’s different for everybody, since a lot of what my husband would put on his “shelf” are books I won’t read twice.

      Let your pen guide you, I guess. I mean, it’s good to have a goal, but I would imagine that it doesn’t really help the creative process to try forcing it in any particular direction.

      By the way, that little project I wrote to you about? I’m finally at the point of making the binding for it. Yes, by hand. *grin* It’s been an AWESOME project!

      • reply Beth Matthews ,

        (Can I second the person who wants you to finish Elf vs. Orc? I STILL think about that book years later, and I want desperately to read the rest of it. Also, more House of Red Fireflies stuff.)

        I was surprised and pleased that many of your happy-making books are also some of mine. Grand Sophy. Curse of Chalion. American Gods. Do you read Jennifer Crusie? Because we seem to have similar taste in reading so I think you’d love her.

        • reply Tami ,

          I really like your art and I adore your writing.

          I liked Digger. Dragonbreath is cute.

          I gobble up every fragment of fiction writing you post here, from random snippets to half-formed Baba Yaga stories.

          In other words … I’m waiting for Bread Wizard and looking forward to the novels that you’ll write that I already know will be on my favorites shelf.

          Hell, I love your posts about mulching and beagles. *winks*

          • reply Taellosse ,

            Of the things you have already written that most closely resemble that, admittedly vague, category, I’d say your first, Black Dogs, actually comes closest. It isn’t, of course, but perhaps something written in the same world? Maybe Lyra’s later adventures?

            • reply woodenvelt ,

              I would like to point out that some day your fluffy kids’ books may be on “that shelf” for someone. For someone like my son who was not a reader and latched on to Dragonbreath and then with work and time became a reader, Dragonbreath may be his comfort book. It may be that thing that makes him laugh and feel better when he is in the dumps, the thing he reaches for every so often to reread just because of how it made him feel once upon a time.

              • reply kettlesmith ,

                I’ve got to admit, while I like Elf vs Orc, I don’t think that quite fits the comfort read genre for me. Something more like the barbarian gynecologist (depending on where it goes) or the Little House reimagining seems more suitable. Then again, I read the comic Something Positive for comfort.

                • reply C. S. P. Schofield ,

                  DIGGER sits on that shelf in my house. Along with HELLSPARK (by Kagan, who wrote Uhura’s Song) and most of the Liandan books by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee. Also MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS, PUCK OF POOK’S HILL and REWARDS AND FAIRIES, and YOU’RE STEPPING ON MY CLOAK AND DAGGER (Roger Hall; must be read to be believed).

                  • reply dishuiguanyin ,

                    Comfort re-reads are, of course, a personal choice – though Curse of Chalion does seem to be on that shelf for a lot of people (I’ve read it so many times that I’ve memorised it).

                    I’m just another voice chiming in to say that I think I’d read whatever your muse moves you to write next. All the extracts you’ve treated us to have the potential to draw me in (I really want to know what happened to Summer after Baba Yaga and the Purple Saint sent her off).

                    But the one that gives me a slightly twitchy potential-to-be-an-epic-comfort-re-read feeling is definitely Myra/Rail & barbarian gynaecologist. It’s just got so much in there: the epic back-story to discover, the treachery, the appealing characters in dire straits…

                    • reply EthydiumB2 ,

                      OMG somebody else knows of My Family and Other Animals!!! *swoons*. It’s on my shelf as well, along with the other 2 in the trilogy. Emily of New Moon, Cold Comfort Farm, The Android’s Dream, and practically any Pratchett are on there as well. I am looking forward to introducing your Dragonsbreath to my younger son as well – sounds like his kind of fun.

                      • reply sarah penguin ,

                        Any shelf that bears the Young Wizard books must be named “the shelf of awesome.” I’m on book sevenish of Digger right now in your archive, for the first time, and I am enjoying it as much as I ever had the works of Diane Duane. *waves*

                        • reply Katherine ,

                          I know that this post is over a year old and that probably this comment won’t be read, but that’s fine, because I want, NEED, to tell you that that is what your work is to me. I reread Digger when I feel like crap, when the world seems too scary I go to your online galleries and hide there for a few hours to a few days. I’m skimming through blog posts because it’s been a pretty week, and I just wanted to read a familiar “face” (for lack of a better word).
                          That probably sounds creepy and fan girly; I’m sorry about that. I needed to say it.

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