book reviews, ITSW, writing

Research

In gearing up for my next project, I’ve been brainstorming what I’m going to research, how I’m going to research it, and in what format I want to share that research here. Because it’s going to be all magical girls, all the time, it’ll be a lot of fun – I’m planning to binge watch most of the classic anime series and I’ve been scouring the online world for anything with hints of magical girlness in the book world. From what I’ve seen – so far at least – there isn’t much.

Granted, this could mean that there simply is no market, but I’m willing to bet my time (and possibly sanity) that that is not, in fact, the case.

But as I mused over these things, I realized I’d never shared any of my preliminary research for my current, actually done, novel here. Partially because I was so involved with the process at the time, but also partially because I didn’t think anyone would actually be interested.

Then I thought – I was interested. Surely there might be other people, too.

So I’m going to do a short little series delving into the background of my current novel, The Impossible Contract, the research, and what all came together to make it more than just a tromp through some sandy places.

When the idea for this story first popped into my head, I knew it was going to be set in a desert much like our modern day Sahara. Although I currently live in a bona fide desert, it doesn’t quite have the range of extremes that the Sahara does. That’s when I knew I’d need to read some first hand accounts of what it’s like not only surviving, but thriving, in that kind of environment.

Little did I know the size of the rabbit hole I was about to fall into.

The Sahara and its people and disparate cultures are absolutely fascinating subjects. It is the endless dunes that come to mind when you merely think the word, and it is rocks and wind and mountains and oases, wells and flies and camels and deep underground aquifers, gods and demons and unnamable madness.

But it’s also, you know, everyday people living their lives.

I read more than a dozen books on the Sahara alone, but to start you off, I’d recommend these in particular:


Men of Salt by Michael Benanav
This is a first-hand account of travel with a salt caravan from a western perspective. It’s absolutely fascinating and a great way to introduce yourself to the region, if you don’t previously have any knowledge or experience. Since it’s an outsider’s perspective – and a tourist’s at that – it doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of cultural details and makes some assumptions, but it’s a quick, fun read and I found with follow-up research that most of it was spot on.


Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King

Also an absolutely fascinating account of shipwrecked Americans adrift in the Sahara. This novel is based on a true story in the early 19th century and was especially interesting to read right after Men of Salt, because so little has changed. While the story suffers from both an overabundance of minutiae and the problematic outsider viewpoint, it shows a lot more of the everyday culture and just what it takes to survive in the Sahara.


Sahara: A Natural History by Marq de Villiers & Sheila Hirtle

This book. This book. If you want an overview of the Sahara – its history, its cultures, its geography – then you should read this. This book made me absolutely fall in love with the Sahara. It made me wish I’d majored in something other than Classics. It’s certainly not perfect, but I think it accomplished what it set out to do, which is to really make you understand just how complex the Sahara is. And how recent! The great, empty expanse of sand as we know it is only a few thousand years old – the ancient Egyptians certainly experienced it much differently than we do now.

Altogether, it was more than enough to make me wonder why there aren’t more stories set in deserts. And then I might have gone on a reading binge of what novels I could find that met that criteria. But that comes later.

ITSW, querying

Stasis

I.E.: the brief reprieve that comes between large projects.

It’s an interesting time when you’ve just finished one big project, but you can’t quite start the next one. Part of this is because I’ve come to learn that when I need to query, I can’t be focused on another story. I’ve tried that before and I always end up working on that new and shiny story instead of putting my energy into querying.

Querying takes a surprising amount of time. You’d think you could just write up your generic query letter, maybe a full on synopsis, and send that out to any agent you find interesting – and that’s what I did when I first started querying, way back in the day. But I’ve learned that that method is: a) a waste of your time, and b) a waste of their time. As someone who has seen the sheer volume of queries that arrive in an agent’s mailbox on a daily basis, the last thing I want to do is waste their time with fantasy when all they rep is sci-fi.

You have to research the agents, look at their clients, their web presence, and everything else to see if they’re a good fit. Sometimes this is easy, especially when they’re explicit about what they want on their bios. Sometimes, it’s not so easy, and you can lose an hour (or two [or three]) simply trying to figure out if an agent is a good fit. Then there’s crafting the query itself – yes, you can use a catch-all query letter and hope for the best, or you can tailor them to the specific agent. And again – having seen what fills up an agent’s mailbox, sometimes just taking that extra time to not only follow the submission requirements, but also make it obvious you’ve actually looked at that agent and know who they are, can make a reeeaally big difference.

That’s all to say: querying takes a lot of time. It takes focus and research and effort. The same exact things a new novel would demand. With a fulltime job, I simply cannot do both simultaneously. I’m not complaining – I can pay my bills! – but it does leave me in a liminal state, teetering between projects.

I want to move forward, start research on the next one, but I also want to give this one the time and energy it deserves. I feel like I’m just on the edge, so very ready to take the next step. Nobody likes querying, nobody likes waiting, but it’s still necessary.

In the meantime, during all those moments where I would usually squeeze in some writing, I’d better get back to reading. I am woefully behind.

ITSW, WIP, writing

WIP Check-in: DONE DONE DONE

Is the final draft done yet?: YES

Current page count: 209/209

Shots of whiskey: 1

Current problems with the manuscript: there’s probably something left to fix in the beginning or middle or what have you but it’s small and inconsequential and what I’m trying to say is THIS IS DONE

 

AAAH *FLAILING INTENSIFIES*

It’s done! It’s been almost exactly nine months of working and writing and rewriting and editing and it’s done! Three drafts. Countless words and hours and minutes and days. Final wordcount: 128,121 which is perfect, I envisioned this originally as somewhere between 125-130k and 128 is perfect. I can add some and I can cut some and it will still be the right length.

WHAT NOW?

Well, even though I am calling this my Final Draft, technically this is Final Draft 1 or First Beta Version. What this means is that the story is pretty much set in stone and I have gone through and fixed continuity and typos and grammar and tightened and lengthened and done everything I can to make this the Best Draft Possible before someone else sees it. There are still errors – oh boy how there are still errors – but at this point my nose has been so close to this work for so long that I am mostly blind to them.

That’s where my betas come in. I have a few good friends who I’ll have read this (hot) mess and get back to me on what works, what doesn’t, what makes sense, what doesn’t, etc. Ideally, small tweaks will happen after that and I’ll have the Query Version, which is the draft of the novel that will get sent out to agents. All sorts of things can happen at that point and since I’ve never gotten beyond the initial querying process, I’m not going to speculate on them now.

Over the course of the next two months, my betas will read and get back to me and I will edit and write so. many. query. letters. Seriously, query letters are usually less than 300 words and yet they can take a full month to write.

After two months – or after I’ve queried to exhaustion – I will pick up a new project and run with it. I already have an idea of what I’m going to work on next, but I shan’t allow myself excitement yet. I need that excitement to drive me through the next step of this process, because querying is the hardest thing for me.

BUT ALL THAT IS FOR TOMORROW

TONIGHT – WE DINE IN HELL

– wait, absolutely wrong reference.

TONIGHT – WE CHILL THE FUCK OUT

<3!!!