Archive for June, 2009



16
Jun
09

Continuing Adventures

My background as a reader, and thus my direction as a writer, is heavily weighted toward fantasy, science fiction, and horror.Though I’m best known for writing an open-ended template series — where there are continuing characters but each book stands (mostly) alone — I didn’t have a lot of experience reading books like that.

When I read series, they were usually trilogies (or quartets or the occasional longer arc), which have a completely different shape; indeed, when writing my Marla Mason novels, I was probably guided more by the lessons of television shows than by anything I read in novels — the TV series being, in many cases, a perfect example of telling new stories about the same people again and again.

In books, the template series is most common in mysteries. There are countless heroes and heroines and duos and ensembles in the mystery, crime, and thriller shelves, each book expanding on their continuing adventures, something the current hot trends in urban fantasy borrowed from that side of the bookstore. I’d read some such mysteries — a little Peter Wimsey, at least — but decided to dive into a few other mystery series lately. Partly because I wanted a break from the all-SF-all-the-time nature of my reading, and partly because I want to see how these books tick.

I don’t know how well I’m analyzing them, but I’m certainly enjoying the experience. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels are marvelous, as a whole; some individual books are better than others, but the thug-with-a-heart-of-gold thing really works for me. I’m also a fan of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark’s Parker novels — the thief with a heart of stone, if he has any heart at all, which is an open question. (Though his occasional ambiguous hints of humanity are as impressive as they are rare.) And Westlake’s rather less brutal series, about the unlucky thief Dortmunder, are pleasurable in a different way, to see how the capers are set up, and how they fail to work out. Westlake is dead, so there will be no more books, something any reader should mourn. Robert Parker is getting on in years, but is still turning out prose with impressive regularity.

I’ve discovered what readers love about these books: opening a new one is like sitting down with an old friend. (Or, in the case of the Richard Stark books, like sitting down with a guy who’s incredibly creepy, but too fascinating to ignore.) If I come to no other fundamental discovery in these, uh, let’s call them “researches,” then I’ve still learned something of value. Create characters compelling enough that readers want to spend time with them, and the reader will grant you a lot of leeway in everything else.

-Tim

12
Jun
09

Editing is serious business!

I’m getting very, very close to typing those coveted final words on the most embattled, stubborn novel I’ve ever written. I am almost light-headed with joy at the thought of finally, FINALLY being done…

But, of course, I’m not done. The day after I type “The End,” it’ll be edit time. Worse, like all battle fields, this novel isn’t a pretty place. There are bits of abandoned plots, twists I totally forgot I was hinting at. All of this has to be fixed fast, and right. More right than fast, but still fast, because deadlines are closing in, and I’ve got another novel to get busy on. In short, it is time for SERIOUS BUSINESS editing.

Serious Business editing isn’t like my usual, in-novel editorial process, where I sit around and rewrite sections this way, maybe that way, until I’m happy.  We’re talking hardhat and waders, a bulldozer to bury the corpses of bad or abandoned ideas, and industrial superglue to stick the threads back together after I hack things to pieces. Since it’s on my mind a lot right now, I thought I’d lay out my novel boot-camp for you. Hopefully it’ll at least be entertaining in a schadenfreude kind of way:

First, I print out the whole book. On the cover page, I write my goals for this book. The short list of themes, elements, and plot twists I’m out to accomplish. Then, pens in hand and fresh notebook at my side, I start reading. I don’t do any rewriting here. I don’t mess with word choice or style. I’m looking for large scale problems – pacing, story, plot holes, dropped threads. Each of these is noted in the margin, and then in the notebook. I read it once as fast as possible, marking all the problems. This usually takes about 2 days. Once I’m done with read #1, my notebook is usually pretty full. My next task is to go through all these problems and try to solve them as elegantly and efficiently as possible. I also look at what areas are giving me fits and ask the tough questions, like do I need this section at all? Am I just writing to hear myself talk?

Once I’ve got a battle plan for solving my problems, I go back to the text and start making insert marks where the problem-solving changes will fit in. I cross out sections that get the ax, and make short, clear notes about what’s going to go there instead. I used to actually do these notes in the margins, but they tend to get very messy, and messy notes quickly become indecipherable notes. (After losing a good chunk of my notes on my first book, I switched to the notebook, which works better, but still isn’t perfect.)

So, short notes and another read through to try out the solutions in my mind. After this, I usually have a pretty good idea of what needs to change and how I’m going to change it, so it’s time to go back to the text, rename it as an edit file, and get to work actually making the changes.

This usually goes pretty fast when I know what my goals are, and soon I’ll have a new draft. By this point, I’m ready to hand it out to my most trusted readers (the people I can trust not to laugh at the awful word choices that proliferate on a first draft.) I used to slave away to make the manuscript read perfectly before this point, but that always turned out to be a waste of time. I’d work 2 days on one section only to have a reader point out I didn’t need it at all. Now I solve problems from the top down, largest first. Style and grammar are the very last things I worry about. After all, why fret over what may just get axed?

After I get my copies back from my readers, I look at the problems they marked and decide if they’re problems I need to fix. Sometimes I’m just not explaining things well enough, and the problem is more of a misunderstanding than a real plot issue. Other times, they catch me red handed in an act of pure idiocy. This is when first readers are truly worth their weight in rainbows. Once I’ve identified the problems, I decide how to fix them in the notebook, as before. Problem solving in the text only makes messy text and frustrating writing for me, notebooks are where it’s at!

Finally, now its time to edit in the traditional sense. As I’m going through and adding solutions to reader problems, I look at my text, fret with style, do checks for words I use too much, all that good stuff. This is the part of the edit that takes the most time because it’s the most nitpicky. When I finish this part, the manuscript is officially a final draft, ready for viewing by publishing people. This doesn’t mean it’s DONE. It just means I’ve got something that won’t embarrass me to tears when my agent/editor reads it. After all, my first readers already know I’m an idiot who can’t write, but my agent and editor are still fooled. I don’t want to blow my cover.

So, that’s pretty much how I edit a novel. It’s an evolving process, and I never edit any two novels the same way. Tell me, how do you edit your work? Do you have a process? I’m always eager to learn a new trick!

11
Jun
09

The Magic of Perspective

So my forthcoming trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its two sequels, is epic fantasy. Each book is first person, written from a single character’s perspective (different for each book).

I’ve read a lot of “on writing” books and forums and been involved in a lot of writing groups and workshops, and a consistent theme that I hear in these places — usually from less-experienced writers, but sometimes from the masters — is that first person is somehow problematic for a fantasy novel, particularly an epic fantasy. What people seem to think, variously, is that a) editors hate first person because it doesn’t sell as well, or b) readers hate it because they need more than one character to care about, or c) it’s too hard to unveil the plot through a single perspective, or d) it interferes with worldbuilding. Or any number of other complaints, all of which boil down to: First Person Is Hard.

I have to say, I don’t really get all this angst about first person. Sure, first person is challenging, but I think that’s because it’s unusual. It’s true that most genre novels (especially high fantasies) are written in third person.* Also, AFAICT most beginning writers start out writing third person in creative writing classes and such. Third person becomes the default mode of thinking — so of course we find first person disquieting, especially the first few times we encounter it; we don’t have as much experience with it. The solution to this problem, IMO, is not to declare first person problematic, but to get some first person practice. Go out and read some first-person epics. Write some short stories in that perspective. Then not only does it become clear that first person is no harder than third person — or second person for that matter — but the writer can then learn to appreciate the ways that first person can enhance a story.

Because let’s be honest here — first person isn’t hard, but it is different. You really can’t tell the same kind of story with it that you can with third person. And that’s fine. I think part of the problem many writers (and readers) have with first person is that they expect it to be the same as a third person story, except with a bit more “I” and “we” and “me”. When this doesn’t work, they get frustrated. And instead of doing the logical thing — changing the story to fit the perspective — they try to force the perspective to tell the story they want. Yeah, that default third person story that’s in their heads. This is the writerly equivalent of trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. It’s illogical to get mad at the peg or the hole; the real problem is the idiot trying to make them fit together.

OK, this is getting too abstract for my tastes, so let’s consider an example.

I’ve mentioned here before that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a rewrite of a book I wrote ten years ago. That book was called The Sky God’s Lover. SkyGod had the same setting as 100K, the same core plot, the same characters. IMO it was decently-written — not as good as 100K, but that’s not surprising; I was a much less-experienced writer at the time. There was a lot more flab. Still, I think SkyGod was good enough for publication — so good that when I decided to rewrite it, I didn’t really think it was “broken.” I just had the vague sense that the story needed to be told in a different way. So I opted for a total paradigm shift, and started messing with various elements just to see what would happen. I changed the protagonist from male to female, thinking that was pretty radical. But it was changing the PoV, I found, that triggered the most profound transformation in the story.

See, SkyGod was third person, with various scenes and chapters related from different characters’ perspectives. Much of the story’s tension came from following the protagonist, an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, as he moved from point A to point B to point C and collected plot coupons along the way. Typical monomythic epic fantasy, in other words. When I decided to redo it in first person, and solely from one character’s perspective, I couldn’t unveil information the way I’d done before. A first person story needs more emotional tension to work, or the narrative gets boring; I couldn’t have the supporting characters just give away the story. The protagonist was going to have to work harder for those coupons — bargaining for some, stealing others, and even then it needed to be clear that some of the supporting characters just weren’t going to give that information up for anything. The protagonist would then have to deduce whatever information those characters were withholding through other means.

There’s a word for this kind of plot strucuture: mystery. So in changing from third person to first person, I ended up changing the story from a “hero’s journey” to a sort of fantasy “locked-room mystery.” Yet this was nowhere near as drastic a change as it sounds. The story really is the same. It’s just told in a different way.

(Did it work? Well, 100K sold, while SkyGod didn’t. Beyond that, you guys will have to tell me whether 100K succeeds as first-person epic fantasy when you read it. Just seven months to go! ::sigh::)

So here’s the bottom line: first person, second person, third — it doesn’t matter which one you choose. What matters is whether the perspective fits the story. If not, and you end up in a square peg/round hole situation, try changing the peg. Or the hole.

* Most, but not all. Notable exceptions include Storm Constantine’s genderbending Wraeththu trilogy and Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy.

10
Jun
09

Powers

I’m just finishing up the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy (which I’m enjoying more than the first, for some reason), and while there’s certainly a lot about the books that draws me in, there’s one small, superficial thing that caught my attention. Several of the characters can, through the use of a particular kind of magic, enhance their senses, their strength, their endurance, or other qualities, thus resulting in some amazing and horrifying feats. In the middle of reading this, surrounded by intrigue and plot and The Fate of the World at Stake, I found myself thinking “wow. It would be really cool to be able to do that.”

Which is, really, a very shallow reaction, especially when the rest of the book is about much more serious topics. But I wonder sometimes if that’s why I read fantasy — to briefly, vicariously experience being someone with a special power.

Superhero comics (and superhero fiction in prose) play on some of this and draw on similar tropes. But in general, good stories don’t just stop there; they show the aftereffects of the powers, the responsibilities of those who have them. I can sometimes see the flaws in a story by whether the repercussions of the magic have been worked out and considered. (Of course, sometimes the story’s arranged itself so that I don’t care, but that’s another matter.) So a story can catch me by that wish-fulfillment potential, then draw me in further by showing the realistic effects of it.

Wish fulfillment is, therefore, one of the reasons I read fantasy. It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit it — I always feel I ought to be citing the transformative power of imagination or the way fantasy and science fiction make us look at what it means to be human — but I’d be a liar if I denied it wasn’t a part of my gut reaction.  (That and making stuff go boom.)

I’m not sure it goes the other direction, though, at least in terms of writing. Yes, some of my characters embody some elements of wish fulfillment — Evie puts up with less crap and gets away with more, for example — but there’s not so much of a craving for mighty powers. In fact, I don’t like having my characters being superpowered; it makes them boring and harder to crush under my authorial boot.

When I’m writing to escape — writing to briefly get away from the grind of day job and groceries and who’s taking care of the tablecloths (don’t ask), I’m usually not writing for this kind of being-someone-else escapism. I’m writing for an escapism of setting, of a different world where the stress of ConHugeCo’s production metrics pales in comparison to, say, the Dark Lord’s evil plan or the giant air serpent bearing down on the dirigible or the logistics of transporting a talking severed head across post-apocalyptic America.

Is there a distinction in writing to escape and reading to escape? Does the difference hang on personal preference, or on something more universal? And, just for the heck of it, what kind of fictional power have you always craved? (Bonus points for the apparently useless ones.)

08
Jun
09

Post-release Insanity

This is the post in which I reveal how cool I am. Because I had a novel come out a few weeks ago, my very first. Normally for a writer in my position, this is a time to be crazy and fretful and obsessed. If I’m to act true to form, I should be checking my Amazon rankings and monitoring bookstores that display stock on-hand, like Mysterious Galaxy and Powells. I should be twitch-googling for new reviews or even the most passing-est of mentions of my name or the title of my book. I should be keeping up a rapid-fire click rotation between Goodreads and Shelfari and Librarything to see who loves me, who hates me, who’s recommending me to their friends.

In other words, I should be doing all those things that my fellow writers who’ve gone down this path before told me not to do. Even threatened me with bodily harm and maiming, in some cases.

So, I’m not doing those things.

Except for I’m lying, because I totally am.

I’ve even seen my BookScan numbers for the first two weeks. They look pretty good. Encouraging. But my Amazon rankings have dipped since yesterday. I wonder if I should e-mail my publisher and ask them what went wrong.

Oh, by the way, the title of this blog entry is Post-release Insanity.

I’m going to go type that in the title field of the blog editor, his the little Publish button, and then go stick my head in a bucket of ice.

07
Jun
09

Stress and angst and nerves, oh my!

by Diana

Mark of the Demon officially hits the shelves in slightly over two weeks. Since it has a soft drop (i.e. bookstores can put it on the shelves as soon as they receive the shipment,) this means that it could possibly be found in the wild in slightly over one week. This is, obviously, a really big deal for me. I’ve been working toward this goal–to see one of MY books for sale in bookstores–for the majority of my life.

 Confession time: For the past few weeks I’ve been in a miserable, depressed mood. I’ll sink into a deep funk, and then I’ll feel guilty for being in a miserable, depressed mood, because this is my dream and I should be ecstatic and over the moon with joy. And that makes me feel even worse… Yeah, you get the idea.

 The bitter irony of it is that I saw this same mood shift in other writers, and told myself that I would NEVER be like that. I would never be so ungrateful to the forces of luck and skill and persistence that led me to this shining moment. Oh no, not me! I would treasure every moment! Squeeze every blood-red drop of joy from it that I could!  Writer-friends of mine who were already well down the path of publication warned me of the “post-partum depression.” Or rather, they tried to warn me. I smiled and nodded and made understanding noises, and then came away with the deep conviction that I was far better than that, and that I understood the nature of the business and I was prepared and I wouldn’t let it all get to me.

The universe has a way of smacking smug bitches like me with big heavy reality checks. Fortunately my writer-friends (and non-writer friends!) are awesome. If not for the many kind reminders that this is a fairly natural and normal phase, I probably would have continued to go through all of this thinking that I was the only writer to feel like this, and continuing to feel like a bad, horrible, ungrateful person for feeling anything but spurting rainbows of joy. 

 I think that the biggest problem is that this is The Dream. I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted people to read MY books. I became like a bride preparing for her wedding day–envisioning a magical experience replete with smiles and sunshine and “happiest day of my life” moments. But then it rains, and the limo breaks down, and you break a heel, and the best man shows up drunk, and the “happiest day” turns into a grit-your-teeth slog just to get through it and make it to the honeymoon.  Just like in publishing there are layoffs, and a piss-poor economy, and budget cutbacks, and lack of advertising, and the onus of self-promotion… 

 But of course, your wedding day shouldn’t be the happiest day of your life, right? Otherwise it would all be downhill from there. The release of that first book is just the very beginning of a “new life,” replete with challenges of its own. It’s the first step on a new road, and even though it’s a great and awesome road, it’s crowded and endless, and you can’t slow your pace without fear of getting knocked off into the ditch. (And yes, I AM going to go completely overboard with metaphors in this post!)

 So, I’ve taken some steps to drag my kicking and screaming ass back to sanity. (Or as close as is possible for me!):

 –I’ve reminded myself (and have been reminded) that I’m not the only one to go through this funk phase. Accepting that damn near every writer goes through this has allowed me to chisel off much of the guilt portion of my funk.

 –I’ve reduced the other projects in my life that aren’t vital and that are causing me stress. One such project was my launch party. That was part of my “Big Dream” vision, but it ended up being One More Thing for me to have to deal with (and pay for!). The telling thing was that the minute I decided to not bother with a launch party, I felt a hundred times better. (Besides, I can always throw a party later on down the road.)

 –I’ve also forced myself to become more organized with the self-promotion and non-fiction writing end of things. The majority of my self-promotion efforts have been online, and so far I’ve been pleased with the results. However, every interview or guest blog post takes time and mental effort, and before I knew it I had a list half a page long of things that needed to be written or answered, each with an attached due date. I’ve never been a freelancer or anything of that sort, so the only deadlines I had any experience with were the ones for my books.  I had to learn how to organize and prioritize, listing the projects in the order of importance and due date, and was finally able to chisel my way through a hefty portion of them. (The time I spent at the writers retreat in Kentucky helped with that too. With fewer distractions I was able to complete a good number of the projects, and even though I didn’t get through them all, I was at least able to get my focus back. I highly recommend the Getting Away From It All technique of dealing with stress.)

 –And, finally, I’m asking questions more–of my fellow writers, of my agent, and of my editor. Instead of fretting and wondering and worrying, I’ve gritted my teeth and asked what’s possible and what I should expect. I’ve had my illusions shattered a few times, but the end result is that feel more prepared. And sometimes a big issue that I thought just had to be endured can be worked around.

 I’m going to finish getting ready for my “wedding day” now. I plan on bringing an umbrella, and sensible shoes.

05
Jun
09

A post in 2 parts

Part 1: Having it All

So I’m going to get a little personal here, which is something I try not to do because hey, my life is actually kind of dull unless you’re living it. However, recently events have conspired to turn my life completely upside down. In short: I’m pregnant.

Now, this is a cause for much rejoicing. Hooray for the continuation of the species! My husband and I are very excited. But, (and of course there’s a but, what life event doesn’t have a but?) part of me is petrified. Somehow, in the next 2 years, I will need to somehow produce 2 books and 1 baby, all while keeping my day job. Needless to say, it feels a bit overwhelming. I am absolutely determined to keep my deadlines, however. I worked too god damn hard to get where I am and nothing, not a baby, not the apocalypse, will keep me from finishing these books.

But I’m also about 6 weeks into my first trimester, and no one told me how TIRED I’d get. I mean, seriously, it feels like I have the flu all the time. I know it will get better, I’m just worried it won’t get better fast enough, and I’ve got a book to finish, and edit, and cry about, and edit some more, and force others to read, all post haste.

I know many of you are parents. So fill me in, share your wisdom! This does get better, right?

Part 2: Having too Much

One good thing to come out of this whole pregnancy thing was I’ve been having crazy lucid dreams about my book. I don’t know what this says about my brain, but yesterday, while napping I literally dreamed a scene that perfectly fixes several problems I’d flagged at the beginning of my current book. It was like watching a movie, seriously awesome.

However, here’s the rub. I already have scenes that do a lot of what this new scene would do, and I can’t necessarily switch them out one for one. Any way I do it, it’ll add more words to the book, which is already running long. Plus, it’s an entire new scene to be written, edited, rewritten, in a part of the book that was pretty much done. ARGH. Why can’t I have crazy lucid dreams about the problems I haven’t fixed yet?!

So it boils down to a mater of priorities, do I take the risk, go back and fix what isn’t broken in the hopes of taking what is merely adequate to seriously awesome? Or do I save the scene for another book and focus on what does need work, rather than fussing with what actually works. I’ve flip flopped on this for a day and a half now, but this morning I finally decided to stop worrying about it and just take the plunge.

What made up my mind was thinking like a reader, and not a writer. As a writer, I want to finish things on time. I want to solve problems efficiently and then move on, not solve them four times over. But as a reader, I want awesome. I want the best experience possible. I want to be surprised, rewarded for my time. I don’t want efficiency, I don’t want “adequate.” I want amazing.

Since the whole reason I write is to create the stories I want to read, reader brain always wins in the end, and this is how it should be, even though writer brain is appalled at the idea of having to go back to a chapter that was already checked off. I just hope I can pull it off enough to make the detour worth it!

04
Jun
09

Forthcoming Fantasy Films

…usually suck. There’s really no beating around that bush. Yes, there are great exceptions, but for every “Dark Crystal” there is a “Willow”, and for every moment of Tim Curry in “Legend,” we have to endure three minutes of Tom Cruise. It’s really a zero-sum game.

So I’m both excited and anxious about some forthcoming fantasy films I’ve heard of lately:

  • Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”. A few years back I played a video game, American McGee’s “Alice”, which kind of blew my mind in hinting at the dark Freudian undercurrents of the Carroll novels (which I hadn’t read since I was a kid). It sounds to me like Burton’s going to go there too. Should be a deliciously surreal ride.
  • Clash of the Titans remake. … … … … I’m not really sure what to say about this. I just hope there’s no mechanical owl this time.
  • The next two Harry Potter films. They’re getting better as the kids become better actors and the subject matter grows more intense, so I’m pretty excited about them.
  • M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. I absolutely loved Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, the children’s cartoon series this movie is based on. Watched the finale with a bunch of other thirtysomethings, and we all cried. It’s one of the most original fantasies I’ve ever seen in print or film, set in a kind of pan-Asian secondary world where magic and martial arts are intertwined with superb characterization. Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s live action version looks significantly less enjoyable, since it casts white actors to play the heroic roles in the series and relegates Asian actors to villains or background characters. I’m so personally offended by this that I’m boycotting the film.
  • The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, by Terry Gilliam. It’s Terry Gilliam, dammit! ‘Nuff said.
  • Where the Wild Things Are. I have to see this, or my 5-year-old self will fission off from my current thirtysomething self, hunt me down, and beat me senseless. Then dance a wild rumpus on my prostrate, twitching body.
  • 9. I have been waiting for this film with trembling hands and pent breath ever since I saw the short film on which it was based. (You can find both the short and a trailer for the long version at the website of Shane Acker, the guy who created these masterpieces.) Fantasy dystopias, and blends between fantasy and science fiction, have always been an interest of mine, and really — this one’s just beautiful. The original short made me cry, so I can’t wait to see the long version.

So what fantasy films are you looking forward to — or dreading?

03
Jun
09

In which I steal an old post

I’m in the midst of both copyedits and event planning, and my blogging has suffered. As a result, I’m going to go back and rehash an old post of Diana’s, way back in February.  While Diana talks about the whole process after the sale, I’d like to concentrate on just one aspect: edits to the manuscript itself.  (This way, I can look like I had a whole new topic, while secretly cribbing off my fellow Magic District authors!  Woo!)

When I first sold Spiral Hunt, I had only a vague idea of how much more work would need to be done. I knew there would be changes; I didn’t think my editor would decide that every word was a work of genius and would never need to be even questioned, let alone changed, and that a team of designers and copyeditors would rush forward to handle the precious, precious prose while I lounged on a divan eating caramels and saying “good work, chaps” now and then.

Okay, so maybe I thought that a little. But never seriously. I don’t even have a divan, after all.

So here’s a quick run-down of the stages of edits Spiral Hunt went through (and that Wild Hunt is currently going through). Standard disclaimers apply: your mileage may vary, not every author has the same experience, I may have my terms wrong, not all plates increase in value, sea monkeys may not build castles but are nicely crunchy when prepared properly, etc. Continue reading ‘In which I steal an old post’

02
Jun
09

Campfire Stories

After a long dry spell, I feel like writing fiction again. I wish I didn’t know exactly how long it had been, but I keep a work diary, so I know I haven’t written a lick of fiction since May 3rd, and that was just a few hundred words that didn’t turn into anything. I took the whole damn month of May off to let my batteries recharge and my aquifers refill and other metaphors of replenishment, and now the time has come to invent imaginary people and put them in terrible, terrible peril.

(It’s not like I wasn’t writing. I write a couple thousand words of freelance stuff every week, not to mention heaps of writing for my day job. But fiction is a whole different animal. Different part of my brain, different part of my soul.)

Funny thing is, I seem to have emerged from my slumber with a hankering to write horror. Maybe it’s because my life is beset by uncertainty lately? I dunno, but I went camping this past weekend and spent a lot of time thinking about camping horror stories, from ghost stories told around fires when I was young to Kelly Link’s weirdly funny-but-chilling “Monster” to Friday the 13th movies, and I thought: I want to contribute something to that proud tradition. So I started mulling things over, thinking of cool stuff I could include — newts, banana slugs, pit toilets, sinister park rangers, the inside-a-coffin blackness of two a.m., the weirdos in the campsites nearby, etc. I started thinking of a character, the kind of character who might go camping alone, in the off season, and why, and what he might encounter.

My brain latched onto the idea like a starving bear mauling a honeycomb. Apparently my mind has been dying to chew over a nice fictional scenario and make the bits fit together. You’d think the imagination muscles would go flaccid after being left unexercised for weeks, but apparently my brain has better reserves than my abdominal muscles; I feel awake, invigorated, and profoundly interested in the mental puzzle in a way I haven’t been in a while.

I don’t know if the story will turn out well — I’m going to start writing it after I post this — but this feeling, the putting-things-together, the “Ooh, what if,” the “Wow, can I get away with that?” feeling, it’s one of the main reasons I write. When I’m putting together a story in my head, I feel like I finally remember what I’m doing here on this weird planet full of narrative-loving apex predator apes.