A confession

Sometimes I wander into bookstores for no apparent reason. And when I do this, I know before I walk in that I won’t leave without a book. I know I won’t leave without a book, and often I don’t leave without many books, and it doesn’t matter how impractical it is for me to buy it (especially if I’m buying my fourth copy of a book I know I will probably have to leave in a fourth country), I just know I need that book and I need it for my very own and I need it right that very instant.

Sometimes, when I wander into bookstores to buy a book that I probably don’t technically need, I stop at exactly the same section. It doesn’t matter what bookstore it is or if I’ve ever been to that particular store before. I go to the fiction section and I stop right at the end of the Gs and just before H begins. I stop and I find the exact spot where my books will be, and I see the names that would be on either side of mine.

Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I technically don’t need and look at the books that would be surrounding my book, I pick them up and read the backs and sometimes I’m disappointed. They’re often normal, much like all other books in the store. They deal with normal people having normal problems. My stories, and you’ll know this if you’ve read them, are not normal. I have tried to write normal ones, and they’re fine – really, they are. But normal stories don’t excite me. I am constrained by reality enough in day-to-day life, why have to obey the same rules in fiction?

Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I technically don’t need and I am disheartened by how normal the books are that surround where my book would be, I go and I touch the covers of books I love. I find the books that stick with me, that give me hope that strange books and literary books can be the same books, and I left myself remember them. I remember the moments that they touched me, I check out the differences between hardcover and paperback and US vs Commonwealth editions and I remember all the things they’ve given me, these books. I cling to them.

Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I don’t need and am recovering from my disappointment in the normalcy of books by visiting books I think of as old friends, I remember the authors. I remember the way they talk about their stories and the silly conversations I’ve had while vaguely tipsy in a bar (often about them, but sometimes with them) and I smile. I smile because I know this is my world. I smile because I know these are my people – that we have friends and hobbies and passions in common.

Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I don’t need and have spent time visiting old books and remembering authors I love because the disappointment about how normal life can be is just too crushing, I stop and remember how lucky I am. Lucky that this is my life, lucky that I have a safe haven that I can escape to, lucky that I already feel that this is my world. That there is no barrier to entry because I can already see a crack of light where the door is open and all I have to do is figure out how to open it the rest of the way.

And to be reminded of that, I think, is worth the price of a book.

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Writing is a strange beast

The first time I tried to write a novel, it was NaNoWriMo and I had a vague idea about writing something. Mostly I just wanted to see if I could write that much and possibly string together a narrative. I had a (terrible) idea and I got to writing.

(It didn’t go well, if you’re wondering.)

I have it somewhere, I mine it for parts when I need to, but for the most part? It sits there, doing nothing. But I learned from it – I learned the dedication I’d need, I learned to let myself just write and let it be shit sometimes (all the time), I learned how to enjoy watching the word count stack up. It was a vital exercise, but that’s all it was. An exercise.

Now I’m writing the book I want to write. Now I’m writing the story I’m passionate about, the story I’ve lived with for just over two years. (I’m not kidding about that, by the way. I got this story idea in July of 2013 when a friend put out a call for kind of creepy stories for a magazine she was starting.) I know this story backwards and forwards. I know where it starts, I know where it ends.

If anybody has ever written a book before, they’re laughing at me. I know they are.

You know how I know they’re laughing? Because novels do not do what you expect. Characters do not do what you expect. They have minds of their own and you just have to sit back and let them do what they need to do. You might have a plot point in mind, and it might be the right thing, but they have a totally new way of getting there.

I tried explaining it to my friend Jen a week or two ago. Jen is kind of the perfect person for me to try to explain things to when I want to get really concrete images because we think really differently. She’s also basically the biggest cheerleader I have when I’m working on a project, so even though I don’t really talk about big projects while I’m working on them (people don’t seem to accept “I don’t know yet” as an answer, nor do they love “Well, it’s kind of about arranged marriages, corrupt societies, what happens if you separate justice from mercy – or if you even can – feeling out of step with your surroundings, anger management, the Japanese space program, and the line between love and obsession”) and I was trying to explain this phenomenon to her.

“It’s like you’ve been given directions and somebody told you where you were going, but you got distracted and didn’t totally hear them. So you’re following the directions and you see where you thought you were going and say, ‘Oh! I’m going to New York! I thought I was going to Newark.’ Same basic direction, totally different destination.”

That’s what this is like. I think I understand things, I think I understand the characters and then I have these all-caps revelations (no, seriously, my notes in Scrivener are often in all caps because I just can’t get over the shit I’m figuring out about this society) and suddenly I’m as surprised as anybody else about what’s going to happen. I mean, sure, I know it a little sooner, but dang. Daaaaaaang.

But, as my friend Stuart tells me, first thoughts are wrong thoughts. Projects should change and grow as they develop, and that’s reassuring. I’d hate to think I had everything figured out – if I did, there’d be no reason to write things down.