I got all the way to the end of the draft! I’m “finished” – meaning “finished with one specific challenge and ready to move on to the next one!”

I realized I was done this morning while I was trying to write one last scene. It was going poorly, and all of a sudden it hit me why: the scene wasn’t necessary. Being finished before I realized I was finished is something that has happened at least once before. I wish I remembered which draft of Seraphina that was. One of the really major rewrites, to be sure. It’s hard to know when (or how) to stop sometimes, to be able to let it go and step away.

It’s like ending a symphony. Here’s the last movement of Beethoven’s 5th. Move it along to about the 7:30 mark, and listen to those resolving chords resolve, and resolve again, and get beaten to death with a hammer.

I’m not saying Beethoven wasn’t brilliant. A big symphony needs a big ending, and I like this one, but you can see how it could easily have gone on for another minute or two – or five – in the same vein. Ending a book is like that too. Here’s the chord! Oh, here it is even better! And one more, to make sure you’ve got it! And… I just can’t let this one go!

I’m letting it go here. Let this stew for a bit while I work on a short side project, and then go back and fix it enough that it won’t give my editor an aneurysm when he tries to read it. There’s still a long way to go, honestly, but I like acknowledging the milestones as they go flying by.


I had lunch with a friend at a Chinese restaurant yesterday. We ate massive quantities of eggplant and pork and talked about the weird minutiae of our lives. She’s also a writer, so we talked about work. I am 25-30 pages away from being done with the first draft of the sequel, and I was complaining about how ugly the draft is and how much revision I’m going to have to do.

“Well it’s just like you told me once,” she said. “You have to get all your messy obsessions and passions out in the first draft. Then you have to go back and make it into a book that other people can read.”

“When did I say that?” I said.

“Back when you were talking to me about my draft. Remember? How you have to pull out all the raw, feral parts and refine them, and layer them back in? How you’ll worry that the book is losing its heart when it loses the naked histrionics, and yet once it’s done you’ll look and everything you love is still there, not lost, but better?”

“That’s all true,” I said, “and you make me sound like an intelligent person. So how come I’m not that smart right now? Why do I forget this stuff?”

“I think that’s just how it works when you’re all up inside it. You can’t see yourself. Other people always look clearer to us. But I know exactly how you work: you’ll get all frustrated and hate everything and be convinced it’s the worst book ever, but three days later your shower will talk to you, you’ll fix it, and then you’ll be like, ‘That? That was nothing. The solution was right there the whole time.'”

I laughed, and we finished lunch. When the fortune cookies came, she opened hers first. It said:

Half of being smart is recognizing the ways in which we’re dumb.

“Dude!” I said. “I think you got MY fortune.” But then I opened up my own and it hit me so hard that my voice got stuck and I couldn’t read it out loud. I had to pass it across the table so she could read it to herself:

It’s not the end yet. Let’s stay with it.

“Yeah,” she said slowly. “I’m pretty sure that fortune is yours.”

I’m not superstitious, but the cookies were spooking me. I stuck my fortune in my wallet, in hopes that it will jump out at me when I least expect it and scare me all over again.

ALSAP #1.5: Trista Pena

I was all set to analyse you another love song today, in honour of Valentine’s Day, but I don’t feel like listening to that song today. In fact, I’m not listening to any of my Big Four. I’m writing to “Trista Pena” by the Gipsy Kings:

It’s technically a love song – a lost love song. The lyrics aren’t much, honestly; the title translates to “Sad Pain”. That pretty much sums it up, but you can tell as much just by listening. I still have reasonably good Spanish when I concentrate, but the Gipsy Kings aren’t about the lyrics for me (well, except for the occasional really interesting nonsense[?] words they include, like “Ami Wa Wa”. Those tickle me unduly). Not so much about the rhythm or song structure either: they play a lot of rumba, and they’re awesome at it, but there’s not a lot of variability.

No, Gipsy Kings are all about energy and mood, to me. If you’re in the market for an intense and specific emotion – be it joy, fierceness, nostalgia, or weepy weepy sorrow – these are your lads.

And yeah, I’m writing to a plaintive one today. Hm. Is that a spoiler?

Happy Chocolate Day to you and yours!

All around the internets

Anybody like book review blogs? Well, today’s your lucky day! Several of the reviewers I most admire from GoodReads have joined forces in two new group blogs, and I’d like to encourage you to check them out.

The Readventurer blog was originally a solo effort by Flannery, but she has recently been joined by Tatiana and Catie. These are three of the best-read, most judicious reviewers of my acquaintance, and I think this blog is really going to be something special with that many excellent brains behind it.

In the other corner, we’ve got the new, improved Cuddlebuggery Book Blog, where Kat and Stephanie have joined forces to fight evil and bring back the awesome. I anticipate a lively, irreverent take on YA literature over here. I know I’ll be checking both blogs often to see what’s new and happening.

On a slightly different subject: my author friend Elizabeth May just wrote an informative post on self-editing. If any of you are going through that process now (or will be in the near future, or might be in the distant maybe), it looks like she’s broken it down into helpful stages.

What I find interesting (‘cuz I’m weird like this) is where she says she used to hate the editing part of writing. My friend Phoebe North has expressed a similar distaste, and although both of them say that was in the past (which I don’t doubt), it does make me wonder: do writers tend to prefer either composing or revising? I suppose it makes sense that one would come more naturally than the other. I’ll tell you, though, I’m a reviser. I am so close to finishing the first draft of the sequel, and I can’t wait because it means I get to go back and make everything RIGHT.

(And no, I can’t just write it right the first time. I don’t really know why that is, although it might be fun to dig into sometime.)

How about you, if you write: would you rather have the endless open page ahead of you to fill, or are you more interested in the myriad obsessive minutiae of revision?

As they round the last curve…

…into the home stretch, it’s Rachel coming up the outside, Slothful Sluggard stuck at the rail, he’s going nowhere, now Rachel’s still thundering up the outside into the straightaway, past Angsty Frets, past Infinite Indecision — whoa, he’s pulled up; is he hurt? — Thissuckssomuch still ahead by a neck entering the final furlong, but Rachel’s passing him too, she can see the finish post, folks, she’s like a cow to the milking barn, but Always Say Never is still ahead by a two lengths, a length, half a length, she can see the finish, it’s right there, quarter length behind, neck and neck, can she do it?

The end of this draft is in sight, friends. Still a ways to go, and don’t count out Thissuckssomuch yet. That horse is always breathing down my neck.

Farewell to the gerbil boys

Our two geriatric gerbils, Clang and Klink, were euthanized this morning by a kind and sympathetic vet.

I am surprised by how sad I am. I hadn’t considered them particularly interesting, these gerbils, and yet as I talked to the vet I found myself able to tell her amusing anecdotes, as if they’d been little people with personalities and quirks: how they used to box and Clang would always win; how Klink seemed convinced that he could dig through glass, if only he kept at it long enough; how yesterday, when it was clear they were both sick, they had huddled together and seemed to comfort one another. They were brothers.

Hug the people you love today. The gerbs lived well; they grew old. Bodies break down. This is all of us, on fast-forward and in miniature.

I (don’t) smell

Fascinating article on synaesthesia in The Economist this week: Smells like Beethoven.

It turns out that people who would not normally consider themselves synaesthetic will still relate musical sounds to flavours – and with an interesting consistency between individuals.

Sweet and sour smells were rated as higher-pitched, smoky and woody ones as lower-pitched. Blackberry and raspberry were very piano. Vanilla had elements of both piano and woodwind. Musk was strongly brass.

Also of note: the same toffee tasted different depending what background music was being played while the subjects ate it. The right music could add bitterness to it.

Ah, brains! Aren’t they wondrous, with all their crossed wires and obsessive (mis)interpretation of data! I don’t find the article surprising at all, but it’s nice to see scientists actually attempting to explore and document the phenomenon.

About seven years ago, I lost my sense of smell in a tragic olfactory accident (not really: I had a rhinovirus so terrible [according to doctors] that it left scar tissue in my nose). My sense of smell has recovered enough that I can now distinguish a fair number of odours, but it’s still far from great.

Back in the early days, however, when it was truly terrible, I used to experience smells oddly. I would use eyesight as an analogy: many of us have glasses, so we know there are gradations of sight. Legally blind people often have some sight, enough to make out large shapes, or distinguish light from darkness. That makes intuitive sense. Gradations of olfactory ability are less intuitive, but they exist. When I first began detecting smells again, for a long time my nose was only sensitive enough to tell that there was a smell present. I couldn’t discern what it was.

The next step was a sense of pitch – or alternately, of brightness. I could determine whether a smell was low (dark) or high (bright), but again, not what it was exactly. That was a very weird bit of information to have, but not as useless as you might suppose. Low-pitched smells often required my attention — diapers, mould, dinner burning.

I can smell all kinds of things now, even some I wish I couldn’t (dog poop), but I’m still not 100%. The thing I smell most clearly: oregano (which I’d say is bassoon-like, ha ha). Oranges, I fear, may be lost to me forever. They have a low, bitter, vomitous dissonance lurking beneath the high, sweet orangy smell; the sweet smell is the stronger of the two, so most people never notice the other one, but it’s the sweet smell that is still muted in my nose. Instead of tasty orange, I mostly smell vomit (trombone?)

Hehe. “Vomit trombone”. I suspect my amusement at THAT juxtaposition says more about my brain than anything else here.