A great reluctance

The strangest thing is happening to me.

I’m close – oh so very close – to finishing the rough draft of my archaeological time travel novel, ABSENT.  I’d estimate I’ve got less than 10K left to write and I have the whole thing mapped out.  I know all the twists and turns of the climax, all the awful and wonderful things I’m planning to put the characters through, and the denouement is pretty much a done deal.  The ending could practically write itself.

Thing is, it may have to.  I am feeling a great and terrible reluctance to finish.

Can’t explain it, but every time I open the document to start working…I just don’t.  Work, that is.  I stare at the page.  I sigh.  I open the internet.  I invent chores and errands that simply cannot wait one more second (I mean, if we don’t get a “no leaflets” sign from the hardware store RIGHT NOW, the world will surely end).  Worse, I decide I should *actually* be editing what I’ve already written, obsessively, repeatedly.  Anything, really, other than finish the stupid thing.

For whatever reason, I just can’t seem to seal the deal.  I didn’t have this problem with BLOOD RED SUN, or really with any of the shorts I’ve written, so an inability to finish is a new problem for me.

What’s with this?  Has it happened to anyone else?  Any advice?

Help, please!

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (2011, Young Adult/Fantasy, 352 pages)

The cover of Ransom Riggs’ new book shows us a young girl with a serious expression and wise eyes.  The photo is arresting in its strangeness.  It is black and white and a bit grainy.  The girl is dressed in a 1920’s style drop-waist dress and Mary Janes, but they look a bit too big, as if she’s playing dress-up, and, though she appears to be standing stiffly as if for a portrait, she is actually floating at least a foot off the ground.

This photo is one of many interspersed throughout the book.  All show rather odd children posed in impossible ways.  Ransom Riggs found these photos and transformed the children in them into characters in his marvelous first novel.  The result is a book as peculiar as the children who populate it, a story about a magical world hidden out of space and time yet still tethered to our own.

The narrative follows Jacob, an alienated teen fascinated with the strange tales told by his Grandpa Portman about an island refuge for special children.  When he witnesses his grandfather’s murder by a creature straight out of a nightmare, Jacob is launched on a journey leading him to a mist-shrouded island off the coast of England where he seeks to discover whether his grandfather’s stories were true.

To reveal much more of the plot would be to give away spoilers aplenty.  Riggs’ story has many twists and turns, each of them well set-up and engineered to keep the pages turning.  The mood of the novel is dark and spooky, but charming as well, and the magical world Jacob discovers is – in the end – much like our own:  full of wonders and horrors in equal measure.

Children (teens, really), take center stage here, and like much YA, they are launched into fraught situations and must confront monsters (both real and those within themselves) from which adults cannot save them.  Since the novel really focuses on facing fears and making difficult decisions, it falls comfortably within the ‘coming of age’ genre.

The packaging that Riggs wraps this coming of age story in, however, is enthralling and unique.  My only disappointment was that the book ends on a rather inconclusive note.  Perhaps Riggs intends to write a sequel, or perhaps he has chosen to conclude his story realistically – the transformation from child to adult is neither neat nor tidy and not an experience easily book-ended.

Personally, though, I’m hoping this delightful book is followed by an equally delightful sequel.  In fact, [UPDATE]: Riggs’ posted this recently on his blog.  Looks like good news!

Have any of you read this book?  If so, what did you think?  Or, do you have others like it to recommend?  Please share!

The New Digs

As many of you know, the hubby and I have recently purchased our first home, a three bedroom apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Squee!  Terror!  The last week or so has been taken up with packing, moving, and unpacking, but we’re finally settled (more or less) in our awesome new place.

There have been all the usual adventures involved with buying new construction and being the first to move in…including working out adjustments with the hot (or not) water, and getting the washer/dryer to overcome its overly high-tech qualities and actually turn on.  Here’s a shot of the hubs trying to see behind the unit to figure out if the hoses were hooked up:

The laundry closet is hungry...stay clear of its maw or pay the price!

We’re still short a few pieces of furniture and haven’t hung any of our art yet, but here are a few pics to give you a general idea of Home Sweet Suri:

The lovely living room
Cook's central
Where the writing magic happens (or: I FINALLY HAVE MY OWN OFFICE!!)

Bonus points if you can spot Ramses, who is hiding in one of the three pictures….

So, now that we’re moved in, I have no more excuses and have to get back to work.  Naturally, I’ll be traveling again soon (a trip to Seattle in a week and a half), so I’m tasking myself with finishing the rough draft of ABSENT before I go.  Once I get back, it’ll be time to start gearing up for the fall semester, so it’s now or never!

What do you think of our new place?  What’s new in your life and what are your writing goals for the week?

Beware the gift horse

Here’s a real heartbreaker, which I first saw over on Stacia Kane’s blog.  A self-published author was cruelly and horribly duped into believing a prominent agent at a very prominent house wanted to represent her work.  This happened, quite literally, overnight.  Needless to say, the whole thing turned out to be a mean-spirited scam.

Apparently she’s not the first person this has happened to, so I post the link as heads up.  But really, the Greeks are our object lesson.  When those gift horse comes knocking, ask a few questions before you let him in.

Writer’s Workspace: 7/21

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a Writer’s Workspace – mostly because it’s been awhile since this writer has had much time to work.  Between excavating in Honduras for several weeks, traveling to Readercon, and preparing to move into our new apartment, writing time has been about as scarce as tropical seabirds on the ice planet Hoth.

Still, even though tomorrow is the day of the Big Move, I am determined to carve a little me time out this morning.  After all, there’s not much packing left to do.  We’ve gotten rid of 85% of our furniture, thrown out half our clothes, and donated half our books.  I even parted with a beloved Le Creuset pot on the reasonable grounds that, though it is beautiful, I never use it.  All we have left is a couple of chairs, a bed, a mountain of self-replicating cat hair that was living in the back corner of the closet — and, of course, my workspace.

What I’m working on: with limited time, I’m doing something easy — working on entering edits I made on my hard copy of ABSENT while in Honduras.  Creative?  No.  Necessary?  Yes.  As the example below illustrates, I am a Wordy McWordschmidt when I draft.

Snippet from the screen:

Nick shoved his gun back in its holster, stepped forward, and wrapped his arms around her.  Emily went limp, clutching him, her gloved hands gripping fistfuls of his jacket and .  She was panting, her breath coming fast and her breath was hot against his neck.

They were still standing like that when Reid came tearing tore up to the top of the ridge.

“I heard a roar,” he said.  “And screaming.”   His face was white wild with fear and concern.

On the iTunes: The Dog Days are Over by Florence and the Machine

"Pack these shoes and I'll cut you!"

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses is deeply unsettled by all the kerfuffle in the apartment of late.  Where, he wonders, is the furniture he so lovingly marked with this drool?  What has happened to all his good hiding places?  And, if we’re throwing out everything else, can his Friskies be next?

Out the window: I don’t know why I always think it’s going to lovely and summery in New York.  Three years here should have taught me better by now.  It’s near 100 degrees and humid enough for me to think I never came back from Honduras.  I’m sure our movers are going to Super Enthusiastic about lugging our boxes in this weather.  I know *I’m* sure looking forward to it!

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: first up, here’s an interesting post from N.K. Jemisin about the limits put on womanhood in the fantasy genre.  Another fun post worth a look is Amy Sundberg’s discussion of the reasons writers are like superheroes.  Finally, Writing Excuses recently did a podcast about writing query letters.

Well, I’d better seize my opportunity to do a bit of writing and editing before the packing gremlins whisk my computer away!

What are YOU up to today?

E-reader impressions: hey, who put this library in my pocket?

So, I’ve had my Nook Simple Touch Reader for about a month.  In that time, I’ve read ten books on it and now feel qualified to put my thoughts and impressions about owning an e-reader out into the world.

Overall, the Nook is a pretty big win in my book (no pun intended).  It’s small and easy to use.  It wasn’t too pricey.  The battery lasts forever (a month!).  It holds thousands of books without cluttering my apartment.

Is it exactly the same as reading a real book?  No.  Is it pretty damn close?  Yes.

My biggest fear was that reading from the Nook screen would not be like reading from a page in a print book.  This fear was unfounded.  The e-ink technology is truly amazing.  It looks just like printed ink.  Doesn’t matter what angle or distance you hold the Nook at, it’s still just like reading from a printed book and nothing like reading from a computer screen.  The device itself is also very lightweight, easy to hold in one hand, and has no keypad (there’s a pop-up touchscreen instead).

Downloading e-books takes less than a minute, so it’s great for impatient little me – no waiting to read what I want.  There are plenty of classics you can get for free (either from B & N or from online sources like Project Guttenburg) and transferring files from your computer to the Nook is pretty easy.  Prices on e-books bought directly from B & N are usually a buck or two cheaper than a print version would be and there is an ample selection.  This Nook has no 3G connectivity, which is only a problem if you don’t plan ahead (e.g. I only downloaded one new book for my trip to Boston…big mistake!  I couldn’t get on the wireless at the hotel and thus wasn’t able to download any new books for the journey home).

The Nook is really great for doing Beta reading projects, too.  You just transfer the .pdf over (caveat: I did have to fiddle with formatting those .pdfs to make reading them easier) and you can read through your crit partner’s novels.  It’s vastly preferable to reading on the computer screen or printing them out.  In addition, there are several nifty features, such as the ability to loan books to other Nook readers and to check e-books out from the library on your Nook.

It isn’t all wine and roses, though.  There are a few aspects of using the Nook that I don’t much like.

First, you really lose out on the cover.  The Nook Simple Touch is black and white and the cover art is hard to see and more like a thumbnail image than a real picture.  For me, that does detract from the reading experience.

Second, when reading a novel, I always enjoy that anticipated build towards the final page.  You’re clutching the book in your sweaty mitts, turning pages, and watching the fraction of the remaining pages grow smaller and smaller…until, voila!, you’ve turned the final page.  With the Nook, I never have any idea when the last page is coming.  Yes, yes.  There’s a little page counter at the bottom of the screen.  But, seriously, when you’re in the grip of a good story you don’t look down at the page counter.  Every single time I’ve read a book on the Nook I’ve gotten to the last page and been utterly shocked that there’s nothing more to read.  It feels like a bit of a let-down.

Also, I will admit that something about the instant gratification of being able to download and begin a novel within minutes diminishes a little bit of the anticipation and pleasure (though there’s two sides to this…and sometimes this feature is the best thing about the Nook, as in the case of sequels and series).  As soon as you finish one, you can download another and just keep going.  The specialness of each individual novel fades a bit and they tend to blur together more than if I was reading hard copies.

Finally, there is no meaningful shelf of trophies on which to display your beloved books.  I know.  This is one of the reasons I got a Nook in the first place, but still…I miss the tactile and visual pleasure of reading and shelving, of adding to a collection of books that reflect my tastes for all to see.

Despite these criticisms, I’m happy I’ve purchased the Nook.  It’s a clever, useful device.  I’ll probably still buy the print versions of books I know I want on my bookshelf, but using the Nook should help keep my avaricious book buying to a reasonable level while still letting me tear through five to ten books a month.  Not a shabby compromise, really.

Readercon talks cities

I’m pilfering internet access at the Boston Logan airport on my way home from Readercon and thought it might be a good time to share some thoughts on the more compelling of the panels I attended.

A number of the Readercon panels this year focused on the role of cities in SF/F.  Topics ranged from the way cities (be they real or imaginary) function as characters in their own right, living and changing beyond the confines of the narrative, to how we can create imaginary cities that feel real and authentic to readers.

This latter issue really struck me as interesting.  I doubt there’s one of us out there who hasn’t tried their hand at creating an imaginary city, just as I’d bet most of us felt the frustrating two-dimensionality of those places as we tried to breathe life into them.  It seems no matter how hard we work at it, there’s a strange, metallic flatness to them, a sense that something is off, a knowledge that they are fake.

One reason for this may relate to the fact that real cities exist for a reason, not just as a location for a story to take place.  Real cities sit on harbors that, two thousand years ago, sheltered the first traders in the region.  They are located at the confluence of rivers, one gushing down from the mineral rich mountains, the other gliding stately towards the sea.  They build up around religious sites, beginning as little more than a cluster of pilgrims’ tents, or are oases in the desert where nomads stop for water, news, and trade.

Very old cities have grown in unpredictable, organic ways.  Their streets wander into places of darkness and light, and many parts of them defy logic.  They are palimpsests of social and historical intersections and interactions, the character of their neighborhoods shading from one thing to another, malleable in the face of time, economy, and whim.

And cities are much more diverse, complex, and illogical than the imagination of one writer sitting alone at their desk could ever create – no matter how many voices live inside our heads.  What brings people to cities, what makes them stay, and the interactions that change and give shape to their lives is diverse and driven by as many different reasons as there are city dwellers.

The shape, feel, and history of our imaginary cities should reflect all this.

So, when you think about it, it’s no wonder we find it hard to bring imaginary cities to life.  As seems to be typical at convention panels, few suggestions for defeating these difficulties were offered at Readercon.  Just honing an awareness of the complex factors shaping real cities, though, can help us build more authentic imaginary ones.

When shaping words into the illusion of place, we can now start at both ends – at the idea of the city we have in our heads and at the place of its origins.  Why did this city come into being?  What has shaped its long history, put graffiti on its alley walls, caused its main square to house a gallows rather than a park, or created not just a jewelers row but also a street where, for two hundred years, vendors have hawked ferret’s teeth as a cure for gout?

Live from Readercon

I arrived in Boston yesterday and am halfway through the first full day of Readercon.  For now, just a few impressions until time and inspiration allow for a longer post:

1. Theodora Goss writes some of the most charming stories.  Today she read from her forthcoming novel, “The Thorn and the Blossom”, a project for Quirk Books that tells the same love story from two perspectives – it’s a sort of modern day fairy tale/Arthurian legend-come-to-life set in Cornwall.  Honestly can’t wait to get my hands on the full length version when it comes out in January 2012.  This was a half an hour well spent.

2. Mary Robinette Kowal always has something interesting to say about puppets.  This time it was to provide writing tips inspired by storytelling via puppetry (especially relating to the meaning of movement and focusing of attention).  Plus, she had a really cute puppet with her.

3. A point, subtle but important, about 1st person narratives from Caitlin Kiernan (whose fiction may be a bit too far out there for me, but who undeniably writes beautifully): 1st person isn’t just a chance to get in a character’s mind or tell the story from their perspective, but a chance to let that character become truly real and speak for themselves (rather than being spoken for by the author).


4. $7 is unreasonable for a tiny roast beef sandwich and $13 is unreasonable for poorly functioning in-room internet service.

and, furthermore,

5. I have had too much tea.

Okay.  More later!


I’m off to Readercon this afternoon and will be in lovely Burlington, MA through Sunday.  If you’re going to be there too, let me know!

Stay tuned for updates and thoughts on the Con.

That is all.

Back in action, and some news

After a journey that began around 8am in the cool mountains of Jesus de Otoro and ended around 1am in a humid NYC cab, I have returned from Honduras.  Though I was only able to participate for the first two weeks of the project due to our impending move into a newly purchased apartment (squee!), I had an amazing time and was heartily sorry to go.  I already miss everyone and am deeply bummed not to be out at the site excavating with them this morning (though, a soft, bug-free bed and being able to flush my toilet paper are nice compensations).

While I was away, I got some great news.  My latest piece of archaeological research has finally been published!  The article, published under my maiden name (Miranda Stockett), and titled Sites of Memory in the Making: Political Strategizing in the Construction and Deconstruction of Place in Late to Terminal Classic Southeastern Mesoamerica (how’s THAT for a mouthful), is now out from the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.  The link is to the journal’s abstract page.  If you are interested in reading the entire article, please contact me via email (contact info is listed under Miranda’s Bio).

In any case, today is a ‘getting my ducks back in a row’ day.  First on the agenda: a reliably hot shower with water I don’t have to be careful not to swallow!

Adios, Honduras — see you next summer!