Worldbuilding and the Okapi’s Butt

So as I’ve been raving about on Twitter for a few days now, I’ve been working with the StoryNexus game engine to create a browser game. It’s set in the stuffed animal world of Pludwump and Quippet and Rough Seams, which is sort of Ice Age Europe rendered in plush. (I firmly maintain that this idea is so stupid that it’s almost high concept.)

(And a big shout out to my dear Kevin and my buddy Tango for playtesting!)

And now, a few thoughts…

First of all, I’ve had to do a lot of tearing out and re-treading because I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t feel this was wasted time, because it’s not like there’s any other way to learn, but if I were doing a second game, there’s some planning I’d do in advance. (All of which is technical and related specifically to the engine in question–if you’re also fiddling with it and want to talk about it, leave a comment, I’ll happily expand.)

Second, and more important for our purposes…goddamn, world-building.

Up until sometime early last week, I had a great deal of confidence in my world-building skills. There’s a trick to it, more or less, and that trick is that you can paint an exotic city on a curtain in about five lines and readers will fill in all the rest themselves.

The best example I can come up with here is from China Mieville’s book The Scar, where they encounter a race of sentient mosquito-people, and he includes a few throwaway lines about an empire in the distant past called the Malarial Queendom.

He doesn’t tell you how it worked. In fact, one of the characters actively wonders “How the hell did that work, anyway?” He doesn’t go into detail. I think the words Malarial Queendom are mentioned maybe three times. You don’t learn anything about them, except one line saying that once upon a time, they ruled this particular coast with an iron fist, and wow, that was bad.

And that’s it. A whole empire with a history built out of three lines. Does he know the entire history of the Queendom? Does he know the rank of every mosquito functionary?

Eh, it’s Mieville, so he might, but if it was me, I wouldn’t. I’d write the three lines, grin, go “Damn, that’s cool,” and go on. If I needed to come up with more detail—if I was on a panel at a con and somebody demanded I recount the entire history of the Malarial Queendom RIGHT NOW—I’d be confident that I could come up with something, but honestly, it’s not germane to the plot. The important thing is that the reader get a sense of vast, uncanny history and weird things happening just out of sight. You don’t want to drag the world in and put it on the dissecting table—that way lies Silmarillion-esque prologues—you just want them to catch a glimpse of it, like an okapi’s butt in the rainforest, and go “Whoa. There’s a really big animal over there, isn’t there?” while it glides away into the shadows.

It’s a form of writer’s sleight-of-hand. It’s making it look like of course you know all about this, and the reason you’re not going into it is because it’s not really relevant and you don’t want to bore people, not that the whole of the Malarial Queendom is (possibly) no more than three lines of text in a book two inches thick.

Probably there’s a skill involved—knowing what makes an alluring okapi-butt—but that all happens down at the not-really-conscious level for me, so I can’t talk much about it, except that I just assume if I find it interesting, the rest of you weirdos do too. And the truth, of course, is that for me (and I’d guess for many of us) there’s no okapi there at all, it’s basically a big striped butt on a stick that the writer is waving through the undergrowth. Possibly while making “Woooooooo!” noises because none of us actually know what an okapi sounds like.


If you wish to then write a game where people are wandering around in—to use a completely and totally random example—an Ice Age plush world, suddenly you need the whole okapi. Butt-on-a-stick won’t cut it. The reader is actively picking cards (StoryNexus is a card-based RPG sort of thing, kind of like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure crossed with Zork) and reading them and exploring the world and you have to keep them entertained and you want them to feel like there’s a whole lot of stuff there.

There’s a hunting function in this game I’m making. Your little Ice Age hunter goes out to hunt the mighty woolen mammoth and other creatures of the Patchwork Steppes. This is a grindable skill. And I don’t know about you, but I get very bored with grinding something if all I’m reading is “You go kill a thing. Woo! Stuffing steaks for everybody!” eighty million times. So I sat down to write a whole bunch of different things you could hunt with your trusty Pointy Stick, which would be different difficulties and give you different rewards, and interesting things that could happen while hunting in this area and so on and so forth. (The game designers recommend at least twelve cards or “storylets” per area so that people don’t get too bored with the repetitions on random draws.)

Oh. My. God.

Twenty cards, including various quest chains. Each card needs failures and successes, sometimes multiple ones depending on what skills you use and whether you get the rare lucky success or the rare unlucky failure. It took days. And insomuch as any person on earth was ever designed to write short little blurbs with punchlines for various little scenarios involving killing and eating stuffed animals, I am that person. (It’s like writing short descriptions under art, really…) But I had to build the entire goddamn okapi, from the hooves up, instead of just a quickly sketched illusion.

So now you can hunt burlap boars and terrycloth giant hamsters and corduroy aurochs. You can follow silken condors. You can harvest mushrooms off mammoth dung. You can choose not to hunt some of the animals and try to befriend them instead. You can do a whole bunch of stuff that you’d presumably be able to do if you were a little Ice Age hunting plush. And this is only one damn area.

I’m pleased. I’m hopeful that when, in a few months, I’m ready to have people play it, they will have fun and it will feel much more immersive than just saying “Yeah, they’re off hunting mammoth over there. Neat, huh? Now do this thing to move the plot along!” I hope it will feel like a world, and that people will be able to construct their own mental narratives, which is what makes a game a game instead of a book.

And I hope all this knowing that people will read the card descriptions once, possibly twice, then skip immediately to the clicking bits. *grin*

But goddamn, that was hard. I never have to build okapis. My mental studio has a whole closet full of striped butts-on-sticks. I won’t say it’s a different skill set, exactly, but it’s as if you come up with a great throwaway world-building line and then somebody says “You’re right! That was a great line! Now put your money where your mouth is and given me the entire backstory behind it, smart guy!”

…and now I have to do that whole thing again, only with Quippet and Pludwump and Pludwump’s bodyguard, the Burly Blue Ram. And a lot of other characters I’ve had to pull out of thin air so that the world has individuals in it, not just vague masses.

And it’s cool.

But lord, it’s much harder than expected.

Alternate History II: Son of Alternate History

Dude, you guys rock. I never fail to be amazed at how many creative and well-read people read this blog. Thank you so much!

We wound up with two very good scenarios, which basically hinged on how badly I wanted Constantinople sacked and how vital the Byzantines are. In the end, I wound up sort of smooshing them together and decided that the Byzantines were really rather crucial to keeping that end of things together.

(I also am going to have to use the word “Byzantine” despite the fact that it’s of later coinage. Rhoman vs. Roman would be too visually confusing, and Byzantine is such a gorgeous word. I do feel a twinge of guilt, though, akin to the one I feel drawing humans and dinosaurs together. (Forgive me, father, for I have sinned…))

A whole lot of people weighed in with very useful bits, and big specific thanks to learnteach, babbleon1, laughingbadger, siliconshaman, siriaeve and to prodigal for naming the Templar Plague.


The year is 1246.

Life went on pretty normally until the Third Crusade, which was a horrific awful disaster. They didn’t get within spitting distance of Acre, and instead all the port cities and a chunk of the Holy Roman Empire were hit with the Templar Plague, which is blamed on the filthy, filthy Templars. The Holy Roman Emperor died on the Crusade, the Crusaders pissed off the peasantry, dropped dead of plague, and the Holy Roman Empire (the Byzantines) nearly broke up. Hence the Third Crusade is the Cursed Crusade.

Saladin, aided by a very angry peasantry and the fact that Saracen doctors were credited with stopping the Templar Plague,  marched north practically to the gates of Constantinople and said “Hi, guys! I can see your house from here.”

The Fourth Crusade never actually happened as such. Venice, realizing that the Byzantines were actually standing between them and the Saracen, said “Y’know, we just don’t feel like funding that. Y’all have fun!” when the would-be Crusaders showed up, belatedly, in 1218.

What followed became known as the Byzantine War. The would-be Crusaders, aided by mercenaries and led by the increasingly unpopular Knights Templar, go after Constantinople. They get their asses handed to them, as the Byzantines have a substantial navy and their own crusaders, but the Byzantines, still smarting from the awfulness of the Cursed Crusade, are not happy with the West.

Our hero was one of those would-be Crusaders, a young idiot out to win a knighthood. He probably came to Venice in the retinue of one of the knights hoping to convince Venice to back the Fourth Crusade, but when it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen—hey, the Knights Templar are right there! We came here to fight Byzantines! Let’s go!

When the dust clears, he is eventually ransomed back to the West and returns to Venice, instilling in him a great appreciation of Saracen medicine, a loathing of the Byzantines, and some mild PTSD.

Meanwhile, in the larger world, the Lion Pope dies suddenly. (“He fell down the stairs. Onto fifty-three daggers. It’s a great tragedy. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord.”) A cardinal of St. Equus ascends and does not want to keep fighting these wars, because the world needs to rebuild and hey, has anybody noticed that there’s a guy named Khan clearing his throat in the direction of Northern Europe? Maybe this isn’t the time for yet another doomed Crusade. Maybe we should all just get along.

At the time of our story, Byzantium is becoming increasingly xenophobic and keeps screaming that Roman Catholics are devil-worshipping shapechangers. (They’re not getting a lot of traction though, because seriously, tell people the Pope is a were-horse and see how far you get.) Venice has taken over some of Constantinople’s former glory as the crossroads of the world. Saladin’s dead, the Saracen expansion has been cut nearly in half by the Turks, who are also pestering the Byzantines. At the end of the day, everybody’s just glaring over the walls and doesn’t want to start anything, except maybe the Templars, who are an embarrassment akin to people who speak in tongues at the church picnic.

While all this is important to backstory, the odds of most of it appearing in the story directly are slim–but that’s writing for you! The fact that I know is the important part.

However, the really relevant part back in England is that the Great Heathen Army of Danes that took over Northern England never went home. Everything north of Hadrian’s Wall is now Lochlann. It’s been a hundred and fifty years, so it’s nominally peaceful at the moment, and Lochlann is largely Christian, so there is commerce and travel back and forth, but there are pockets of paganism and every now and again somebody with too much time on their hands decides a Viking raid would be just awesome.

The Abbey is in a Made-Up English Town that’s near Durham. (The Cathedral of St. Cuthbert there is possibly run by were-otters!) The Abbey is also along the River Wear, and was built as a fortification against Danish raids sometime earlier.

What all this backstory means…

A) our hero, when woken abruptly, tends to go for a sword in case Byzantines are attacking.

B) There are Saracen scholars, merchants, and travelers roaming around Europe, largely unmolested. They are a rarity but nobody wants to kill them because the Saracens are helping hold the line against those awful Byzantine heretics (Did you hear what they said about our pope?!) and because Saracen medicine is held in awe, even if it’s probably witchcraft, but seriously, Cousin Bob nearly died, and this nice man went in there and made sure they kept him wrapped and warm and didn’t bleed him or anything.

C) Minor character and murder suspect in the actual book lost a cousin in the Byzantine Wars, who would otherwise have been the heir.

D) our hero might kinda be a knight, although he’s renounced all that and mostly just keeps bees. You know where you stand with bees.

E) You see a lot of Danes in town. They are considered somewhat barbaric weirdos, but they’re neighbors, so what’re you gonna do? The Danes, following the historical path of the Scots, are somewhat resentful of imposition of English law on border territories, but this hasn’t boiled over yet.

F) People get much more ticked about the Eastern Orthodox heretics than they do about Islam. Everybody’s still down on paganism, of course, although it’s probably going on in isolated pockets in Lochlann. The Inquisition is focused primarily on said heretics.

…whew. As I said, this probably isn’t going to get into the story as a big ol infodump, but it’s helpful to me for sorting out what goes where. Thank you all so much!

Also, does anybody know what language you’d be familiar with if you were our hero? What’s gonna be the lingua fraca of Venice and the Byzantines?

Can I Get An Amen?

Ran across this passage by Beverley Nichols and had to share for my writer friends, since this is pretty much how I feel all the time.

Money….not very much, but better than it’s ever been before. Probably it will all be taken away from me, or will be worth nothing, just when I have written my last word and feel the time has come to sit back and watch the flowers unfolding. However, that is a morbid thought. The only fact that matters is that there is money in the bank. It has accumulated there, mysteriously, because every day I lock myself up in a room and guide my pen over sheets of paper, and then sell those sheets of paper. That, you will agree, is an exceedingly peculiar way of earning one’s living. Making odd scrawls on a sheet of paper…rather ugly, hurried scrawls, blocked over, scratched out, very painfully erased and amended…and then exchanging those scrawls for beautiful, tangible things, like tulip bulbs, and shelled walnuts, and bottles of mysterious, dusty, and exquisitely fragrant Chablis! Very odd indeed.

But then, the minute any man except the farm labourer begins to ponder the sources of his income, he will feel inclined to hang his head in shame, unless he is a charlatan or a stockbroker.

— Beverley Nichols, Village in a Valley

Nanofimo Wrap

I drove home from the coffee shop singing, which is something I only do when no one else is in the car, because even my mother, who loves me and believes I am the most wonderful and talented daughter in the world, doesn’t think I can sing worth a damn.

I sang:

Thirty thousand words,

Thirty thousand words,

I am so awesome

I wrote thirty thousand words!

So yes, as y’all can probably guess, I did 30K this November.

And that’s pretty good. I generally get out two or three times a week and write a minimum thousand words, which works out to about 12K a month, unless I’m under Terrifying Screaming Deadline or hit the groove or something, which makes..oh, let’s say 150K words a year, because I take whole weeks off when traveling, and then some days I throw down four thousand words and go “Awww, yeah!” So 30K, even if it’s not the full 50 of a Nanowrimo challenge, is a pretty good sum for me in a single month, particularly a month that involved a road trip, Thanksgiving, and tearing up old carpeting.

Hey, I write short books for a living, what can I say?

I look back at my stated Nanofimo goals. It’s a mixed bag.

  • Didn’t touch the thing with the Goblins. Sigh.
  • Did add 8.6K to Armadillo Wizard, which I am going to call Very Close To Goal. (Okay, like 4K of that was BEFORE November, but anything over the 18K I started with makes me happy.)
  • Added around 10K worth of connective tissue to Slate. Carved out a big chunk too, though, putting me at 73.5K there. And these are good solid filling out the plot Point A-to-Point B words, not just me writing extra scenes and shoving them at the end in hopes I’ll figure out where they go eventually.  (Yes, I do this. Sometimes they go somewhere! Sometimes they never do, and then I gradually remove them as they become obviously useless.)
  • Got 5K on the next Hamster Princess book, (The Twelve Dancing Mouse Princesses) which is not actually due until 2015, but it’s still nice to have. (This book may run around 18K all told, so 5K is actually a Substantial Portion Of The Text.)
  • Added various odds and ends to various other projects—another few chunks on House with Bird Feet (awaiting agent notes before going too hog wild) plus almost 9K on something that which is looking promising as a middle-grade book sometime in the semi-distant future.

All in all, y’know,  it was pretty productive. I do wish I’d finished the Goblins, but I got pretty close to my goal on Armadillo Wizard, which is moving along nicely, and I put a hurtin’ on the Slate project, which is now much farther along, even if I didn’t finish it this month. I’m actually very pleased with the middle-grade thing—I foresee coming back to that one and going “awwwww yeah!” someday—and Hamster Princess 2 is just gravy.

I was joking earlier about pretending not to be disappointed with not making 50K, but when I lay it all out, I don’t actually have to pretend very hard. For the near future, I will probably keep alternating between Hamster and Armadillo* until I get edits on the two outstanding projects, but overall…not too shabby!

Hope you guys also had a productive Nanowhatevermo!


*Glancing at some of these working titles, I am thinking that maybe it is obvious that I am a trifle dotty about animals

Internet Fashionistas, I Need To Pick Your Brains!

I am bad at fashion and also at sewing, so I am turning to the internet brain trust on this one, for a story that is trundling along and has hit a point where I might need some information.

Let us say that you are a twelve-year-old girl and you are determined to be an impressively Wicked Witch.

You are also short, plump, have a round face and regrettably frizzy hair. You rather wish that you were six feet tall and interestingly pale and vaguely consumptive and had straight hair down to your waist and cheekbones you could slice cheese with, because life.

You are not sufficiently magical to achieve this with illusions, because plot.

However, what you DO have is a very skilled tailor with impeccable fashion sense and really good stompy boots. With purple shoe-laces.

There are no adults with authority to go “YOU ARE NOT GOING OUT OF THE HOUSE DRESSED LIKE THAT, YOUNG LADY!” but you are twelve and thus going to dress age appropriately for a middle-grade book, because Ursula likes not having to eat out of dumpsters.

There is no male lead, unless you count the Igor-like character. This is not, as they say, a kissing book.

What do you wear?

My many goth and costuming friends, please advise—photolinks welcomed particularly (and I’ll approve the comments, don’t worry if they vanish into the aether for hotlinking.) I am expecting that the heroine is going to have to settle for not looking like a consumptive Romantic poetess, but still, I want her to be happy that her Mom isn’t buying her clothes and that she finally gets to indulge her gothic little heart. However, I have neither the sartorial imagination nor the vocabulary to cover this, and so I turn to you. I just need one or two outfits I can actually wrap my head around, and I can more or less hand-wave the rest.

Imagine the target audience is small goth girls who’s mom doesn’t understand why they won’t wear that nice shirt with the Dalmatian puppies on it. (I’m nearly sure that’s a viable market share…)


Wordcount: 20500 (Oh, I am so not going to make 50K…)

Connective Tissue

I am prone to writing scenes at the end of works in progress and then filling in connective tissue later, if at all. So far it’s going well–got from point C to point D, and point A to point B, and now if I can just get B and C to line up, we’re good. Although so far the connective tissues is a lot of talking-about-what-we-are-going-to-do and not many swashes have been buckled, so I don’t know how that’s going to hold up. May have to have somebody fall into a pit. You can never go wrong with pits.

And I think I found about 700 words that are just plain maundering around and need to die, though I’ll keep ’em around at the end in case I find the hole they want to fit in.


Best lines so far:

“You’re wanted by a crime lord!” said Caliban.

“Not that it’s any of your business,” snapped Slate. “And that was years ago! He’s probably forgotten.”

“Oh no,” said Brenner. “Dearie, dearie me, no. You don’t forget being jilted at the altar because you just handed the priest a warrant for your arrest on the charges of horse-buggering.”

“I am curious,” said Learned Edmund, “as to how you actually managed it. There are seals on a warrant, as I understand it, and those are kept entirely by the judiciary.” He steepled his fingers. “Even assuming that the entire thing was prepared in advance, you would still need access to the seals—“

Slate’s grin broke through, and she beamed at Edmund. “Thank you. I have been waiting for five years for somebody to appreciate that.”



And I finished the illustrations for Dragonbreath 9. (pant, pant, pant.)

Wordcount: 5700

NaNoFiMo Attacks!

Well, gang, November has struck, and it’s writin’ time!

I present you with a quote from my dear friend Jeff, who happens to also run Sofawolf Press, and his encouragement on the subject ‘o Nanowrimo.

REAL writers do one thing (they do a lot of things, actually, but for the sake of this discussion just one) — they write. It doesn’t matter HOW they write or how OFTEN (other than, for most you have to write a lot to get good at it) or WHERE. They just do it.

The ones that force themselves to write a little bit each day? Yeah that is admirable. And most of them will tell you that 50% of the time they go back the next day and delete almost everything they wrote the day before because it was forced and their heart wasn’t in it. But they still DID it, and at the end of the process they have a bunch of words that may become a book someday with care and editing and rewriting. And so does the person who pounded it all out in a month. The latter may require a little more work to get into shape by the time it is done (or it may not, this is where the natural skill comes into play), but it is done. And nothing EVER gets the recognition it deserves, deathless or not, until it gets DONE first.

We get plenty of things submitted that “started out as my NNWM project” and lots of them are great. We get plenty of things that are NOT, granted — but that is true whether or not the material had its genesis in NNWM. It matters a whole lot more what you do with the stuff you write in that month AFTER that month — like NaNoFiMo or NaNoEditMo(s) — than what you did during that month.

So as a publisher we encourage everyone who can do it to do it. (I would do it, if I had any time for writing anymore, just to have done it.) When you are done you may have something that looks like a novel which you can then start editing until it IS a novel. Or, you may have a fumbling bunch of pages that may have 2-3 beginnings of novels in them, all disharmonious and lumped together, which you can then do a NaNoFiMo on next year. Or you may even end up with nothing, other than a lot of practice and a sense of accomplishment that you DID SOMETHING HARD. That’s no bad thing in its own right.

So there. Go forth and make wordcount!

Me, I am apparently spending this NaNoFiMo working on Armadillo Wizard (which I added 4K to last week) and Slate. I had hoped to finish the Thing With The Goblins, but Slate kinda sucked me in. May still get to it, but not sure.

If I can make the 50K wordcount—which is only 2500 words five days a week, and not that bad a goal—I’ll be happy.  Ideally that will be split with at least 10K on Armadillo Wizard and another hunk on Slate, with perhaps some other words thrown onto other projects (House With Bird Feet, say.)

Even if I fail to make the wordcount (which is certainly possible) but I still manage to finish one of the big lurking projects, I will be delirious with joy.

The big roadblocks are that I’m going to be on a roadtrip next week, Tuesday-through-Friday, and then upon getting home, I have to immediately tear up the downstairs carpet for the flooring guys to come in and lay laminate. So I expect to find myself at a word deficit pretty damn quickly, but eh, them’s the breaks. Nothing that can’t be made up by sitting in the coffee shop with a bag of espresso hooked to the vein.

Wordcount: 2700

Slate Revisited

In advance of NaNoFiMo I dug out that long ago novel from 2006’s Nanowrimo, about Slate the ninja accountant and the paladin with the dead demon in his head, and started re-reading it, editing as I went.


Reading something six years old is odd.

Most of it is…serviceable. Which is an ugly-sounding word, but I think undeservedly so. Writing has to be serviceable to do the job. There are long stretches where the writing gets you from Point A to Point B and I don’t know that I can come up with a better way to do it. And parts of it really work well.

So, serviceable with flashes of great. Maybe not as good as I’d write today, starting cold, but it hangs together.

And then there’s the dialog.

I have long maintained that dialog is a separate skill from writing the Point A to Point B bits, and I know perfectly well that I’m much better at one than the other. The dialog has points that have me actually laughing at the keyboard. I couldn’t do those better. In fact, I start to think “This would be a good line–” and two lines later, there it is.

It’s just odd, because the contrast between “serviceable” and “awesome” is so much starker. I have gotten better at writing Point A to Point B, but my dialog was as good then as it is now.

The editing at this point is mostly hacking apart over-long sentences and sending sad commas to their eternal reward. Occasionally I skip to the end and make a note in the file.

When I get to the end, though, I have to decide whether there’s enough going on with the plot to make it worthwhile to actually finish the bloody thing.

Plots are my weak point. I can write you a scene all day long, but my plots tend to consist of “Let’s go the long way around, and then perhaps there will be self-actualization/torture/spectacle/cake.” My only hope is that readers come along, scene by scene.

This is why I like fairy tales. Somebody already did that bit.

And there’s a lot to be said for “A fun ramble with good conversation,” but that won’t necessarily sell the book. And there are such potentially big things going on—dude has a decaying demon in his head! Ivory clockwork golems destroy the city! Fatalistic accountant ninja learns to love life again! Tattoos eat everybody!—that having the point of the book STILL be excuse-for-witty-banter-between-assassins becomes…I dunno, a bit bathetic?

I think I know the plot of this one. I suspect that once I get to the end of what I’ve got, I can write down the damn synopsis, go back and chop out a few chunks that do nothing much, and cram bits of plot into the resulting holes.

Just not sure if, on this one, the game is worth the candle.

State of the Word-Swamp

As I promised myself, a list of works in progress with associated word counts, so that I have something to refer to. This is mostly for my own reference at the moment, so I don’t forget some of the things that are there, and sure, I COULD do it in Evernote or something, but where’s the fun in that?

In Progress:

Armadillo Wizard, middle-grade – 19.4K (Probably has a home once finished.)

Bryony & The Beast, (YA? Adult?) – 53K (Finished, awaiting agent feedback.)

Boar & Apples, novella – 11K

Bread Wizard, middle-grade – 74K (awaiting second round of edits from editor)

The YA Night-Gaunt Paranormal Romance, God Help Us All – 18.8K

House With Bird Feet, middle-grade – 34K (awaiting agent feedback)

Goblins, novella — 35K

Regency Ninja – 35K (currently being shopped, getting second read somewhere)


Battlesheep, young reader comic — 3.5K (needs re-write of end bit, been passed around, may be dead but damnit, I love the character designs.)

Familiar Blues, middle-grade comic/chapter hybrid — 4.5K (Proposal stage, maybe after Hamster Princess)

Platypus Files, middle-grade comic/chapter hybrid – 3K (Proposal stage. Need to change to some other species, alas.)

Seventh Bride, aka The One With The Hedgehog — 15.5K — (Passed, possible conflict between YA theme and middle-grade writing. Shove in drawer and poke later.)

Dark House, aka Evil Little House On The Prairie- 15K (Poke much later, when copyright expires)

Moth-Riders, middle-grade – 18K

Not Dead Yet:

The One With The Barbarian Gynecologist – 37K (Stuck. Either turns into heavy political crap I can’t write, or ends rather badly.)

Angler & the Bluebird – 20K (Think I’m writing the wrong book. Might be serviceable with kicking.)

Slate, Ninja Accountant – 67K (Should get off ass and finish.)

Elf & Orc – Can’t find file, have to go digging. Stuck on ending.

Everything Else – A Zillion K

(Yes, yes, I know, people want to see the one with the barbarian gynecologist and Elf & Orc and so on, and they’re not DEAD, but they’re…stuck. Sometimes I get to a point and realize that I either don’t know what happens next, or I do know and don’t much like it. I won’t swear they won’t turn up later, just…at the moment, not in the queue.)

…man, I have too damn many projects. Still, helpful to have them all in one place for once.


Well, another November is cruising toward us, and that means it’s time for–you guessed it!–another episode of National Novel Writing Month, except that in my case it’s National Novel Finishing Month and actually what I aim to finish this year is a novella, so I guess that means it’s…look, let’s just go with it.

I don’t do any of the forums or insane word-tracking, I generally don’t start a new novel (that’s the LAST thing I need right now!) and I am anyway going out of town for a bit on the first week of November. But I love the energy and the dogged determination of NaNoWriMo, I love the acknowledgment that sitting down and writing is important stuff, and I’m all for it.

There are people every year who sneer and say “That’s not how REAL writers do it! They work on it every day all year and you people are just hobbyists who don’t count!”

To these people, I say “Eh, stick it in your ear.”

I, as it happens, am a real writer, according to the IRS, who is frankly the only authority that counts. You can call me a hack or not-a-novelist, as most of my income derives from books with a wordcount in the 15K range, and I will allow as how both or either of these things may be true. You can tell me that my prose lacks deathlessness or wit, and I will nod seriously and agree that it’s a problem. Nevertheless, I’m making my living writing and illustrating so I say it’s broccoli and I say to hell with it.

There are many writers who do indeed sit down and turn out their wordcount every single solitary day in workmanlike fashion, and I salute them.

Me, I go in jags. I had days this summer when that one novella was really cookin’ and I’d slam out nine thousand words on it. I have days when I do no writing at all. (I call those “weekends.”) In fact, I have whole weeks when nothing gets written. (Shock! Horror!) But three out of five days, in a normal week, sometimes more, sometimes less, I go to my nice little local cafe and pop open my laptop and type a minimum of a thousand words.

However—and this is the important bit in this rant—I do not type them all on the same project until it is done.

Generally I limit myself to one thing to work on a day, although sometimes I don’t even do that.

I am not saying that it’s not important to finish your projects. It is vitally important. If you never finish anything, it doesn’t get done and you have nothing to sell. But that said, you do not necessarily have to pick one and work it all the way through to the end, start to finish, unless that happens to be the only way that you ever get things done (You know better than I do whether or not you can be trusted to come back to a project or whether you are a chronic abandoner-for-shiny-new-idea.)

Now, I finish stuff. And I finish it by not writing sometimes and writing a whole lot at other times, and that works for me. It may not work for you, but if you believe that that the One True Way To Write is to sit down every single day and make a word count on one single project until it is done all the way through and nothing else is acceptable and you are a faker and a hobbyist for cramming it all into one month a year, I cordially invite you to pay the taxes on all those books that I did not write that way.

Now, I have at least a half-dozen unfinished things out there, loitering in the 15-to-30K range, and I can be pretty confident that better than half of them will someday be finished.* They will get finished because I slap five or ten thousand words on them a few times a year, and then one day there’s enough there that A) I convince my agent to convince someone to buy it (Bread Wizard) which means that I have to finish it in a timely and dogged fashion, or B) I am suddenly skidding down the cliff toward the climax and it’s time to finish off that sucker (Beauty & the Beast based Novella From This Summer, Hamster Princess Vol 1, etc.)

So my goal for NaNoWhateverTheHellMo this year is as follows:

– Finally Finish The Thing With The Goblins (currently at 35K)

– Put at least 10K on Armadillo Wizard (currently 18K. Huh. How is it only 18K? Weird.)

– Put 10K on one of the other projects

Possible interference: Bread Wizard edits are due fairly soon, and that could knock at least one the projects off the board. But Armadillo Wizard has a tentative home and I need to hammer it into shape. I expect it’ll turn out middling novella length. And the Goblin novella was last poked two years ago and is still a damn good story that deserves some love. (Still nearly impossible to sell, given weird format/audience/length, and my agent has definitely given it the ol’ college try, but at least it’ll be DONE.)

Hmm, I should really cook up a list of currently live projects and their word counts, just for my own reference. I tend to forget things are on my hard drive and how nearly done they are, and then I’m surprised…

Anyway! NaNoFiMo ahoy!


*Some are probably dead. Them’s the breaks. Some of them may seem to be dead for quite some time and will suddenly rise, zombie-like, from the grave. You never really know.