Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Sailing Venus: Under the microscope

It's hard to believe December was the last time I posted about Sailing Venus. Really? It was that long ago? Sheesh. That's discouraging. To be honest, progress has been very slow. Much, much slower than I'd hoped. Part of this is due to other distractions. You've seen my office build-along posts? That sucks up a huge amount of free time. When I'm working on the office until midnight, that doesn't leave much free time to write, even were I not exhausted. But that's not the only reason.

Come in closer, I've got a confession to make. Ready? I'd forgotten how to write fiction. Sounds crazy, right? It's true. I don't mean forgotten forgotten. The theory's still there. But after six-plus years of working with quotes and double-checking facts and citing sources for Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, I have to say the rust on the old fiction-writing muscles had built up pretty heavily. When you're out of practice, you're out of practice, and the last honest-to-gosh fiction I completed was the super-short "Mother of Spirits" for the VanderMeer's Thackary T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, which barely counts. And yes, it's mental as well. It's intimidating to look at that blank screen with only your own fevered imagination to draw on--no interviews or old newspaper articles or other sources from which to construct the narrative. It's an intimidating prospect, and the fear of failure (yes indeed) runs strong.

But there are encouraging signs. I've rewritten the chapters completed earlier--some sections heavily, some remain untouched--and I believe my grasp on the characters and narrative has crystallized these past few weeks. Also, I've joined a writing group. To MFA students and a two-fisted pulp/noir adventure writer invited me to join their monthly group, right out of the blue. I have to say I was flattered. None of them are terribly familiar with science fiction as a genre, let alone YA fiction. But initial results have been encouraging. A critique of my first chapter revealed a handful of rough spots--and by that I mean cases of word choice that inadvertently caused confusion and disrupted the narrative. Beyond that, it seems that my efforts have paid off the way I'd hoped. The humor is seen as funny. The dialogue written is seen as clever. Descriptions are seen as immersive. This pleases me. Also, some of my "Checkov's guns" have already been picked up on, although their expected payoffs are not as expected. That pleases me, too. That the biggest complaints the readers had about the narrative itself--wanting more context, more background explanation, insight into the protagonist's thought process--are addressed, in part, in the ensuing chapters has me progressively more optimistic.

The trouble with the narrative structure I've chosen is that I can't jump directly into the plot, at least not so that the reader recognizes it. In hindsight, yes, I hope it will be obvious why there's a slow burn to start things off. The trick is to make those chapters engrossing enough to convince readers to stick with me. The next two chapters coming up are going to be the most challenging for me, because they're almost entirely driven by personal interactions which prompt some fateful decisions. From that point on, nothing is easy for Erica. Anyone thinking there's not enough conflict in the opening chapters will be begging me to go easy on Erica by chapter 12. The writing group gets chapters 2 and 3 next. We'll see if I can keep the momentum going.

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