Holding the dream in your hand.

There hasn’t been any Extreme Marketing for a few weeks, because I’ve been up to my eyeballs in wrapping up another writing project.

Back in November 2010, when I decided to take the plunge and try National Novel Writing Month for the first time, it "The Upsilon Knot" book coverseemed more than a little crazy to try and write 50 thousand words in a single month. I knew I’d only be able to write that much if I found a whole new way of working. Instinct told me this would be easier if the story were completely different from any of my other work. I especially wanted to have some fun! After all, except for the hours spent in my office, I would be writing almost every waking minute of every day. If it wasn’t fun, I’d never make it through the month.

I started noodling around, mind-mapping random thoughts. My first scathingly brilliant idea was to think about Steampunk. I’ve always loved building worlds and, having spent a lot of time (before, during and after college) in “our” 19th century, an alternative one seemed like something I could whole-heartedly embrace. My next inspiration was my heroine. A few years before this, I’d had a flash of “Claude” in a castle corridor. I’d immediately known quite a bit about her (including her name, by the way). Claude came together perfectly with the world I was developing. That was enough to get started.

At the end of November 2010, I had about a third of the story and a whole lot of notes. And then I had to set it aside. Over the next 18 months, I lost the agent who’d signed up The Breast of Everything, started a new job, and embarked on a self-publishing adventure. When I could find a few hours, I’d look back at The Upsilon Knot and review what I’d blurted out during that initial month. At that remove, I was able to make notes about missing links in the plot, glitches in the timeline, etc.  Along the way, I stuffed my Scrivener project file with draft pages, character sheets, mind maps, action maps, timelines, flow charts and a sometimes strange collection of research. Last summer, I was finally able to return to writing and push forward.

I’ve been living in—or at least with—this world for almost three years. I don’t know that the execution ended up Steampunk so much as Historical Fantasy. No matter. The world and its people have been clear as day to my mind’s eye. This is the week everything changes, because now I know that, very soon, you are going to be able to see this too. The printed proofs arrived and, for the first time, I hold The Upsilon Knot in my hand.

At 500 pages, I expect that the ebook edition will be more popular with readers. For me-the-writer, however, there is nothing to compare with the solid reality of that bound volume. Holding it (okay, hefting it; it really is a chunky little book!), I feel a sense of completion wash over me. My mouth smiles before my thoughts catch up to it. I walk in a fleeting state of grace. And while this feeling lasts, there is nothing so great as being a writer.






Unrequired Reading

My oldest niece went off to college this week. Inevitably, it’s made me think back to my own Freshman year.

It was my first time leaving home. For a kid from Queens, the ivy-covered campus, the Platonic ideal of an Eastern college, was as discombobulating as a trip to Oz. The entire student body, less than half the size of my NYC public high school, was made up of strangers who’d experienced very different lives from mine. Everyone of them, I assumed, would be smarter than I was.

My room, even after I’d unpacked and filled it with my things, felt empty of life. It was a small square but, even with my little rug in front of the iron bed and my posters on the wall, it seemed to echo. There was a pole-operated glass transom above my door, something I’d never seen before. Then there was the small metal safe-box that was bolted to the door beside the wardrobe; it didn’t seem particularly safe to me for anything except, assuming it was at least sufficiently insect-proof, my stash of spray cheese and Milano cookies. The communal bathroom—a row of stalls, a row of sinks, a row of showers—was down the linoleumed hall. Meals were peculiar dishes like Swiss Steak, eaten at refectory tables in the dark paneled dining hall. Classes, when they began, were small (12 or 15 students, rather than the 34-36 that had been standard for me K-12). Unlike the homely teachers I was used to, the ones who seemed like someone else’s mother or uncle, the professors were grand or cool or a combination of the two. And the work load was staggering. Read how much before the next class? Write how many pages??

That first semester, everything about the place was strange to me, with one exception: the college bookstore. From the first time that I understood how letters fitted together into words, reading was always my most beloved entertainment and my most dependable therapy. Considering my shallow purse, you might have expected the library to become my logical haven; but the gorgeous Gothic library, with its stacks and carrels, intimidated me. It glowed with a purposeful scholarship that felt far beyond my grasp. I spent many dogged hours there, but it was never home the way that the bookstore was. Once the first few weeks of term had passed, and the stacks of required volumes migrated from its tables to our dorm rooms, the bookstore was comforting in its familiarity. The shop was run by a pair of women who truly loved to read and who stocked it accordingly. Unlike those in the library, these books wore bright covers and friendly titles. As well as classics, and the contemporary books that people were talking about, there were plenty of lesser known volumes.

I found the shelves of children’s lit on one of my earliest visits to the bookstore. I assumed they were there for faculty children; but I came to learn that I was hardly original in reacting to sudden adulthood by reaching back to childhood. I splurged guiltily that day and scuttled back to my dorm, where I snuggled into the corner of  my bed and returned to Narnia. On later visits, I dipped heavily into the mystery and science fiction shelves. I also discovered reissues of novels that had been popular in previous generations (I freely admit it: I have chosen a hell of a lot of books by their covers).

It wasn’t that I needed something to read. I had piles of required reading to plough through. What I needed was to read books the way I always had, for the pure enjoyment of it. I craved fiction, especially fiction that I wouldn’t be required to pull apart. There was freedom in knowing that the only person who cared that I was reading my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey books was my friend Jo back home, who was also reading them.

Some of the most significant reading that I did during my four years of college were the books I read when I was supposed to be studying. Whenever I needed a break from studies, when I had a broken heart, when I felt I was losing hold of who I was, I ran to the bookstore. It wasn’t long before the women who ran the shop started recommending books to me, and even holding new arrivals behind the counter with my name on them. When I graduated, we hugged and cried.

It’s difficult to remember exactly what I read when (it wasn’t until my Senior year that I thought I might want to look back on this someday and began keeping a record of what I read), but here are a few I can pin to that year. The links are to Amazon, but any bookstore or library should have all of these:

  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle). Note that I’m linking you to the Kindle edition, because it costs less than a fancy coffee beverage. If you still haven’t read these stories, I’m hoping this cheap option will push you to finally do so.
  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (L. Frank Baum). I first saw the classic film version of The Wizard of Oz on television when I was 5 or 6. Soon after that, I read the book for the first of many times. But until I got to college, I was woefully ignorant of all the other Oz books. I bought and read a bunch of them then. This one, with it’s direct connection to the first, was one of my favourites.
  • The various volumes of “People” stories, by Zenna Henderson. This link will take you to a volume titled Ingathering, which is a compilation of all the stories Henderson wrote about refugees from a lost planet who find themselves on our earth. They appear human, but their longing for Home and their psychic abilities make them perpetual outsiders, ever seeking for their own. You can imagine how an eccentric college Freshman might over-identify!
  • Gaudy Night (Dorothy L. Sayers). This is my very favourite of all the Wimsey books. If anything, I loved it more after spending a summer in Oxford, and even more after attending a recent college reunion of my own. If you’re not going to read all of the Wimsey books, you’ll better understand  the emotional landscape of Gaudy Night if you precede it by reading Strong Poison and Have His Carcase.