It’s been a while

It’s been two years since I posted here last. Which may make things seem rather quiet, but they’ve been anything but.

I’ve been hard at work on a project. Something I haven’t really spoken of here. A project I never expected would be of interest to me, but I fell madly in love with it every day I thought about it. It called to me. I hope I’ve done it justice.

More details to come, because I’ve learned a lot on this journey that I want to share, but for now the key points:

  • It’s historical fiction.
  • The first draft is complete.
  • It takes place in Japan.
  • The below image is relevant.

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Too Many Notes – Some Ramblings on Feedback

As a competitive classical pianist, one of my favorite movies is Amadeus. Yes, it’s not exactly historically accurate, but on the whole it’s a great film. Here’s one of the more memorable scenes:

Feedback. We all want it. We all strive to be better at whatever it is we do. Having worked in a creative industry for fifteen years now, and writing for more than that, I’ve learned quite a lot about how to process feedback over the eons that I’d like to share.

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They grow em’ bigger over here.

First up, I finished drafting another book this week. It’s called CREATUREFALL and it’s kind of like Pokémon except the Pokémon eat people. I sent it off to my agent just yesterday. I updated the header for the time being with the cool artwork my friend Stephane Imbert drew.

I talked about it briefly in my last post about diverse books. The main character’s a thirteen-year-old dwarf trying to live up to the legacy of his mother who was a famous warrior in the last creaturefall. Talk about your 30,000 foot summaries…

But this post is not about that book. I’ll post about CREATUREFALL another time. This post is about creatures, though, so it’s at least tangentially related.

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#WeNeedDiverseBooks

I wasn’t going to get into this. There are any number of reasons. I’m no fan of jumping on internet bandwagons. Especially because they quite often turn into internet hate trains, and that’s just not my thing. But I enjoyed sitting back and watching this hashtag on Twitter over the last couple of days.

Then, today, I got a mentioned in a Tweet by a good friend and I started feeling guilty:

He’s right. I should be in this discussion. But not because of RYOJI AND THE RIDDLE MASTERS. I’ll tell that book’s submission story someday–hopefully when it’s en route to a bookstore near you.

No, see, the reason I should be in this discussion is right here:

I have all the kids. All of them.

Yes, that’s quite the assortment of children. Five half-Japanese kids, ranging in age from 9 years old down to 8 months old. The oldest two are voracious readers of all genres. The dude in glasses is starting to get his reading on. The other two love to listen to one of their siblings or parents read to them. Who’d believe a writer would spawn five children that all loved books and storytelling? All right, so now it’s question time. Surprise, there’s a test with this blog post. Two questions.

Here’s the first:

Name a half-Asian hero in popular American literature. Go ahead, you’ve got time. I’m not looking at my watch. You can spend all night on Google if you want. Heck, for that matter, name a full Asian hero. There aren’t that many out there, especially not in children’s literature. While my kids are too young to form a truly complex opinion about the matter, they are definitely starting to notice that the kids in the books they read are usually white.

My kids would love some half-Japanese role models in the fiction they read. It’s more than just changing a character’s physical description in a tale–though that’s always a good start. There are experiences tied up in that racial identity as well that people who are part of the ‘norm’ will never understand. It’s often a very lonely feeling. I lived in Japan for a couple of years, and outside of the one French Canadian programmer I worked with, all my interactions were with Japanese people. Aside from one incident with my boss at the time, there was never any overt racism directed at me, but that wasn’t the problem–the problem was the loneliness. When you go for years not seeing anyone like yourself represented in the media around you, it creates a kind of emptiness inside that’s impossible for me to describe. I’ve heard other people in America who never see themselves speak of a similar loneliness.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the second question. Here goes:

Name a dwarf hero in popular American literature. I can think of exactly one: Tyrion Lannister. There’s also a YA novel starring a character with dwarfism: JEPP, WHO DEFIED THE STARS. In movies we’ve got WILLOW. And… not much else.

“I’m all for diversity, but why in the world are you bringing up dwarfism? Isn’t diversity all about race and gender identity and stuff?”

Go back up there to that picture of the eighty-seven children. See the one sitting on my wife’s lap with the glasses and the rather dapper cap? He’s Noah, and he’s a dwarf. I suppose I could start reading A Song of Ice and Fire to him but at 5 he’s probably a BIT too young to hear of Tyrion Lannister’s exploits. So what are my options?

For a long time I’ve wanted to write a story with a dwarf in it with a prominent role. It’s been hard finding the right one. Dwarfism is tricky because it affects an action-heavy story in ways substantially different (not greater, mind you, just different) than something like skin color or gender. There are specific physical limitations to consider, and I tend to write very actiony things. I couldn’t quite find the right place in RYOJI, though most of that had been written in some state or other in my head since 2006/7.

I’ve recently been working on a new project codenamed CREATUREFALL. Middle grade fantasy set in a world where every seventy years an assortment of crazy creatures straight out of an old 80s RPG rain down from the heavens and cause general havoc. I’ve felt like something’s been missing from my MC in that story. He’s got the typical “kid who always dreamed big goes on to prove to the world he can live up to it” thing going on, but so what? That happens in so many stories.

Then today, while chatting with a friend, it hit me. A way to weave dwarfism naturally into the story, along with all its limitations, with all the emotional struggles, and without it feeling like I’m just checking a diversity box or dwarfsploiting (is that even a word?!).

My main character, a thirteen year old boy named Mako, is going to be a dwarf.

I’ve had several heart-wrenching conversations with my son about things he quite literally will never be able to do, about the difficulties he faces doing everyday tasks that you and I take for granted. I’ve had conversations with teachers and students about how to treat him because the default reaction is “oh he’s so cute! look at the little child!” It’s something I’ve experienced as close to first-hand as one can without being a dwarf. And yet when I see that gleam of distant dreams in his eyes, when I see his wild and hilariously witty personality, I get to thinking that maybe I’m wrong, that maybe even those things that seem flat out impossible he just might find a way to do them.

The answer is not forcing stories to conform to a sort of census-like demographic checklist. Constraining art in such a legalistic way isn’t good for anybody. The answer is not to take iconic heroes and make them gay/biracial/handicapped. That generally just makes everyone who loves those heroes as they are uncomfortable–and there’s nothing wrong with loving our old heroes.

What we need are new heroes. New stories. Authentic stories, told by people who come from places and cultures and identities that are outside the realm of what we’ve got so much of already. Sesame Street did a better job forty years ago of representing American diversity than the entire spectrum of our popular literature does today.

Sesame Street

 

The answer is to be the change we want to see.

Challenge accepted.

The Long And Winding Road

The long and winding road.

I finished up a new novel yesterday. That makes the second one I’ve written this year.

“Wait, second one? What are you talking about? What happened to that thing with the creepy Japanese ghosts and the riddles and stuff?”

RYOJI went on submission last spring. While it was out, I started hammering away on RYOJI 2. I’d finally found my groove, gotten about halfway through it, when we got a pretty decent Revise And Resubmit request from a major publisher. WINNING, right?

So I halted all work on RYOJI 2. I read the letter from the editor over and over, sleeping on it, deconstructing it, coming to the realization that this guy really understood RYOJI, really got the essence of the book, the setting–and his ideas on what needed to be fixed rang true. I had no idea how I could do any of the things he suggested at first, until I realized that I couldn’t–at least, not with the words on the page. I’d have to rewrite it to make it really sing true and not look like some sort of Frankenstein’s monster. Daunting. Scary. But this editor understood RYOJI, and this was my shot to really see if I could write, if I could edit with the pros, and if I could finally land a deal.

I spent July and part of August tearing RYOJI apart. I rebuilt it–better, faster, stronger. I have tasted the joy of working with an editor, and I can confirm that it’s a horrifyingly enriching experience.

I rewrote all but a fraction of the novel from scratch. The feel is still there, as are the characters (but for many their fates are radically different!), but the story is a new one with the same heart. No, that’s not quite true–with more heart, I think. And with nearly 30k fewer words. What I pitched originally as an 80k word novel was now a 55k sleek storytelling machine.

And so back out on submission we went.

Now here’s a part of the submission process a lot of people may not be familiar with. If an editor wants to buy your book, that’s GREAT! You should celebrate that. Go out and find a wine cannon or a pool of chocolate–whatever floats your boat. You have accomplished something amazing.

BUT KNOW THIS: just because the editor wants to make an offer doesn’t mean the publisher will agree.

The long and winding road, indeed.

So now I’ve written another book. Still fantasy (I’ve put contemporary on hold for a while–someday!), more for an older teenage audience (staunchly YA–legendary creatures, gore, and polygonal webs of romance). I’ve sent it out to some Elite Beta Readers while I take a break to do some beta reads (and catch up on my TBR pile!) of my own. I’ll edit toward the end of the month/beginning of the year, and then it’s off to the hands of Most Illustrious Agent.

It’s kind of like this, but with more teenage love and angst.

It’s surprisingly common for agented authors to not sell the first book they go out on submissions with.

I guess if I had one point to make sure you walked away with here, it’s that everyone’s journey is different. It’s impossible to compare another author to yourself, to figure out how far along the road you are, because the road is a lie. There is no road. Just a field full of landmarks for us to visit in whatever order the winds of chaos blow us. All we can do is deal with the hand we’re given, one step at a time.

ONWARD!