So, writing genre fiction.
As I said a few weeks back, Fanfiction gave me a start on writing genre fiction, so I’d like to talk to you a little about it today and how it’s been such a horrendous pain in my ass.
Writing is a process. It’s an art. It’s a relief. It’s an outlet. It’s a money-maker (for some).
But it’s a process. You sit down, you write.
Everyone has their own process. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. Others have certain rituals.
As a hybrid writer/poet, I have two processes. The poetry one, which I’ve described in previous entries, basically involves writing out the poem on ink and paper, then waiting a week before typing it up and determining whether to keep the poem or scrap it and use its parts in another poem or even in a short story.
For my short stories, my process is even simpler. I take an idea and pelt it with what ifs until I have something solid. Then I ask myself, where is the conflict? If I can’t answer, full stop, abort, abort, abort.
I also have writing totems, like I prefer to write with one of my bracelets or one of my dog-tags on me for no reason other than I like it. I love to write to music or just sound in general. I also love writing at Inversion Coffee House, where I wrote a good 85% of my thesis and consumed more coffee than any man should. If you’re curious, yes, I thanked them in the foreword. Yes, they also have great coffee. No, I’m not sponsored by them BUT OH MAN IF I WAS IT’D BE SO COOL.
I don’t really follow a regiment of writing because I find it difficult to write without ideas. That is why there are notebooks and pens everywhere in my apartment, car, bathroom. When I get an idea, I just write until I can’t anymore, then reload, then start again.
Why do I bring all this up?
Because the process completely fails when I start to write my fantasy epic. Everything could be set up just right. I could be at Inversion. I could be in the zone, my blood-caffeine-content level beyond the legal limit, jamming out to Sabaton or Nightwish…and nothing. I can write maybe one sentence, and that’s it.
And then I delete it.
Like, my heart is not in it anymore.
I don’t know why.
I mean, I’ve never been a big fantasy reader. Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, William King’s Gotrek and Felix series, Richard A. Knaak’s Day of the Dragon, Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series are what come to mind when I think of fantasy I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, too, just for the sheer inventiveness of his magic system. I’ve never read a lot of the classic fantasy authors mainly because I read R.A. Salvatore and hated the book I read (The Ancient) or found myself slogging through Tolkien’s The Two Towers. The other main reason is I’m not going to start going through the entirety of the Dragonlance, Wheel of Time, or Shannara series because I don’t have that kind of time.
So why start writing fantasy?
Well, more than anything, because of playing Tibia, and because of Harry Potter. I wanted to write a book that would make me feel like JK Rowling did. Like, I felt a very literal sense of regret at not getting my Hogwarts acceptance letter. That’s the kind of writer I wanted to be like.
So what kind of story? Well, I wanted to combine that sense of magic with action and black humor. I had a complex cast of characters, a great plotline, a great map of the world, too. And for my birthday recently, my girlfriend sketched out and painted the actual map on canvas and it is beautiful. I knew where I wanted to go with the story, I knew the kind of magic system I wanted to include and altogether I had enough material for a prequel novel, a novella, and three novels in a series.
But nothing came out of it in the two or three attempts I tried.
The first time I stopped was because I wanted to restart the world from scratch. The second time, around the summer of 2009 aka my senior summer. I did a little bit better, but nothing came out of it either. It’s not like it was entirely bad. A little hammy, yeah, but nowhere on the level of bad fanfiction I used to write about [redacted]. But it was also my last summer playing Tibia. The rest of the year, I wanted to be as much of a senior as I could be. I’d visit and party in Houston, Dallas, and College Station and in the last semester, I had to focus on my LSAT.
So I’d add just a few lines here and there, adding pages and pages and whatever didn’t fit in the first few chapters I had already written out, I would put in a .txt file called random strands and yes, that’s where this blog got its name. Also, a lot of the characters were people I had played Tibia with in one shape or form.
Then I graduated.
I took the first few months of 2010 to do some freelance work and lived in Spain for a month. Then I came back, and just 48 hours after landing from Madrid I got an entire host of law school rejections. Third time’s the charm, so I devoted the rest of that year to studying hard and doing nothing but that. Along the way I also got involved with my first real boyfriend-girlfriend relationship and began feeling more and more as an adult, I was studying, I was working, I was saying goodbye to my college life. I was adulting! No time for fantasy. And then I got accepted into law school and OH MAN.
Now for serious, I was going to have to put my childish things away. I left the Valley and I don’t think I wrote much of anything outside of legal briefs and outlines for the entirety of that year.
I think 2011 showed me the lowest and highest points of my existence and I don’t regret any of it.
When 2012 rolled around, I figured…okay, it’s time to get into an MFA program, and now I counted with another presence in my life that was helping me stay focused from her home in Illinois.
I will always be thankful that my MFA professors never directly discouraged me from wanting to write genre, even though I had proven up to that point that I was a near-complete and abject failure at writing it.
But I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t all that happy about having to write literary fiction. Every time the subject would come up in discussions with my girlfriend, I’d be like hahaha pfffft literary fiction more like BORING fiction amirite LAUGHTER OL. I was there, I told myself, just to get the basics and then employ those to become a better genre writer. I would never be the kind of guy to write that stuffy literary fiction.
(Aside: if I may offer some brief defense to my genre-entitlement, I missed out on AP English in high school because I didn’t turn in a paper and had to endure an entire year of ‘normal’ English where we were force-fed Pride and Prejudice so I wasn't a big fan of proper literary fiction)
But then the strangest thing happened.
I started…being good at literary fiction. I started being good at writing poetry. Let's try NaNoWriMo in 2013...and nothing came of that. Hm. It's nothing, let's continue on writing normal grown up fiction. I was learning a lot about literary theory, narrative structures, about why things were written the way they are. My professors were excellent. So was my girlfriend who somehow put up with my incredibly obnoxious attitude when I talked about literary fiction and showed me her own papers that she would write for her English class. I learned about the grotesque in literature, which I found fascinating. I learned about Borges, Cortazar, and Swedenborg and how they would blur the lines of the real and surreal. Everything I learned during the course of my three years in the program made sense and it also played to my own strengths as a writer. My fiction got better.
My fiction improved, so I reasoned that it was time to try NaNoWriMo again. I updated the overarcing outline I had. My girlfriend painted a map for me. I downloaded Scrvener. Which, by the way, is an amazing tool if you can get over the steep learning curve. I went to a NaNo Kickoff Party at an iHop off 290. I WAS DOING THIS.
Guess what happened? After three days of 1,000+ words apiece:
Knowing that I would spend the next year writing and editing my thesis, I figured that that was it. I wasn't going to be writing fantasy anytime soon. So when 2015 rolled around, I did NaNoWriMo again, but this time, I stuck to it. My project was another collection of short stories and I breached the 50,000 word mark with a day to spare. I missed writing fantasy, sure, especially when I'd go to a write-in and run into people half my age so excited to write their YA fantasy epics, but...you know, *shrug*
With the success of my thesis and my lit fiction side project for NaNo, I think I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be a fantasy author ever. Which, you know, I could live with.
And now it’s 2016. It’s been approximately twelve years since I first started writing and researching for my fantasy epic. It’s been two years since I last even took a look at what I wrote…and I want to start again. I started playing the Witcher III and there’s a lot of politics, humor, and action. The same kind of action that I once wanted to write about so fervently. I think back to November of last year and hanging with the West Houston NaNo group I mentioned earlier. I think back of me reading Harry Potter for the very first time, wishing so fervently that I’d get an owl (or maybe a chachalaca?) telling me I was accepted into Hogwarts and would likely be going to Ravenclaw (it’s true, I took a Pottermore test).
So I’m going to start again. I might change the name of the project because, shit, if I can say anything about the last twelve years is that that name has been bad luck. I might change the entire storyline and mythos. But I have to do it. I owe it to myself.
Part of the reason why I’ve shared this much is because I feel like it’s good to share.
As I’ve noted before, I can write in a lot of styles. I don’t have a set one yet because there’s no such genre for “magic dirty realism” and that’s okay. I’ll just write what I want to write. Maybe it’s going to be terrible, but I won’t know that for sure until it is all written.
Let’s see how this goes.
(Blog title lyrics: Otep - Ghostflowers)