convent geometry

My story, Convent Geometry, is published in Ideomancer this month.

I’m very happy to have a story in Ideomancer – it’s a great magazine that has published many, many fantastic stories, including this one by my fellow writing group member, Ilan Lerman.

Perhaps it isn’t the done thing to say so, but I really love this story of mine.  Obviously it has its faults, but there is something compelling, to me, about the characters and setting. After writing it (which I did over the course of about a year) I did a lot of research about the characters and their world, and about sacred geometry, with the vague idea that there might be room for a novel here. But in retrospect, I think I just wanted to live in their world a little bit longer. (I don’t recommend doing the research for a story after you’ve written the story, by the way. I suspect there’s a better method. :))

There are three women in the story, each of whom speaks to me quite clearly. I love Nocturna, and feel that she loses so much. She is not such a nice person – she is controlling, rigid, jealous – but she is innocent, and very simple in her wants. And Lumiere just wants to be free: she has a genius for geometry, and she is forced to use her talent any way she can, even though it ends up being so destructive. Then there is Joan, who is so damaged, so unprepared to find beauty and wonder in the world. I don’t know why they are so important to me. Perhaps they represent three battling elements of myself. Maybe it’s just the power of three – in sacred geometry, three is the number that creates the universe.

I don’t know. Some stories just live. That’s a good feeling, to write a story like that.

how to write a terrible first draft

Yesterday I finished writing the first draft of my novel. It is a really terrible first draft. I’m not being modest. I’m not showing off, either. It sucks. The characters are weak and do things for no reason. They can’t even hold onto their names for the length of the story. The plot is unjustifiably baroque. There is much boring dialogue in which the characters say things like, ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ (I feel I ought to make them do a fish dance or die in pain as punishment for being so disgustingly dull.) Yes, it is that bad.

But you know what? I couldn’t care less. I have been trying to write this novel for years – this novel, any novel really. Since I was a child, I have been trying to write a novel, thinking that I should write a novel (how bizarre, really), and wondering if I ever could write a novel. And sometimes it feels like my whole life has been the process of failing to write, and learning to write, and failing again. In recent years, my novel-writing attempts have taken the form of a series of exciting false starts, which ended after 50 words, 1000 words, even 20,000 words and more, because I felt too lost to continue. I’ve tried detailed outlining (buzzkill) and total pantsering  (scary). I even tried telling myself that it would be ok to stop being a writer and become a normal person instead, because I thought I just couldn’t DO IT. And then I did it.

And by doing it,  I learned how to do it. Which is precisely the sort of annoying and unhelpful ‘writing tip’ I’d been getting from other writers all along.

Things that helped me:

– allowing myself to write a really shitty first draft. (Also see here.)  I found this so difficult because I like to think I am a good writer… a published author…  blah de blah… I forgot about how when I wrote my first short stories they were deeply, deeply shit. A first draft of a novel is not a novel. Writing is rewriting.

– trusting that the story would reveal itself if I just kept writing.  It did. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Trust the process.

– forcing myself to write a lot, every day. I mean a lot. Rarely less than 2000 words. My highest word count for one day was nearly 10,000. Getting the story onto the page fast was very motivating.

– never looking back. I didn’t allow myself to revise and edit as I went along – hence the terrible dialogue and name changes and so on. I felt that if I went back, I would get stuck trying to make things perfect (or just, you know, not terrible).

– letting people know what I was doing. I posted my word counts on twitter and facebook. I got encouragement (thanks!) and it made me accountable.

Now, I hope I’ll be able to re-write this shitty first draft into something better. Something that I wouldn’t be ashamed for others to read. Already I am filling  my notebook with ideas and thoughts for the second draft. I have a feeling this might be where the real writing of this novel will begin. In the meantime, here’s to me, getting closer to achieving an ambition I’ve nursed since I was a kid.

the illustrated dreams of the editor

Got my contributor’s copy of Dark Tales XV in the post this morning, thank you very much.

My story is blurbed on the back – go me! It’s called ‘The Illustrated Dreams of the Ancestors’ and it’s a ghost story set in a small town in Okinawa. I lived in this small town for a year and a bit, and when I read the story I remember what it felt like to be there. Kind of weird.

I subbed this story to Dark Tales way back in 2009, which makes this a long wait for publication by anyone’s standards. At the time, I was particularly proud of the story, thinking it to be emotional and strange. I still think it is those things but OH. MY. GOD. GIVE ME A RED PEN. There are so many quirks and run on sentences, so many unecessary adjectives and repetitions.  And there are a couple of awkward moments in the narrative, where I remember struggling to express my meaning – and which I can now see clearly how I would rewrite.

I’m not exactly embarrassed, because it’s still a strong story and I’m glad it’s finally in print. It’s encouraging to look at earlier stories and realise that my writing is improving. But how I wish I’d had the chance to edit this before it went to print.

Dark Tales is a decent magazine, but honestly, I can’t see how they can sustain any kind of readership unless they publish more often. It’s frustrating to have something published that you wrote three years ago, without getting the chance to revise and edit first.