My grandfather is dying. His mother is turning 100 next month. Only in the last couple of years, her memory started to go and was put in a nursing home. I was thinking about all of this last night, and how when someone lives to be 100 and their mind slips away, it's not the same kind of mourning.
I was talking to my dad about how I've been watching that Prohibition documentary on PBS, and while I watch, I feel like I can see my great-grandmother in the old footage. She would have been a teenager during the 20s. It occurred to me that because of her, the 1920s feels like as far back in time as I can really get a hold of. The 30s, 40s, and 50s, too, I wasn't alive of course, but I can imagine what they must have been like because I can close my eyes and see myself as a little kid at a family clambake, with all the old people around, I can hear their Ohio accents, and the sound of my grandfather playing the organ. I can see the decor in their houses, the bowl of soft mints, the offered bowl of cheap pretzels. I can imagine the joking around. And the alcohol. It might have been the 1980s, it might have been Florida instead of Ohio, but I think those dim memories probably had the same atmosphere as what I see in old pictures.
I remember it, but it's gone now. Gatherings aren't the same. They don't happen as often, and when they do, the mood isn't the same. The old people of my childhood have gone, and now my grandparents, who were not really that old when I was born, are now the old people. I was never that close to my dad's parents or my great-grandmother, really, not enough to have a ton of personal memories of them, but I do feel really sad for the whole atmosphere of their lives passing on.
When you're a kid you take it for granted, you have no sense of history. You don't ask questions, so you only get family stories if someone volunteers them. I think I'll always wish I knew more about my relatives, as they go. But a part of me still knows a time and place I never lived through, because it swirled around me when I was just a little girl.
There are some authors who always have hilariously awkward stories about their lives. I love stories like that! But I rarely have them because I rarely go anywhere.
Well, last weekend I went with my sister to an indie craft fair where she was selling her art. This craft fair had one food vendor (besides people selling the ubiquitous hipster food of the moment, cupcakes) and it was a hot dog cart. Being trapped at a table for about 8 hours as we were, we got hungry and needed food from said hot dog cart. There was always a huge line, but eventually we got so hungry I was willing to brave it.
I got down the stairs and forged through crowds of people to the cart only to be told it was closed for their lunch break and would reopen in 20 minutes. About 40 minutes later (we could see it out of a window behind us) it actually opened. People lined up. They'd been waiting for hot dogs. I watched the line, focusing on a man in a red shirt near the back for visual reference. 20 minutes later, THAT MAN HAD NOT MOVED.
What were these hot dogs, I wondered? Were they grinding the meat themselves? But we were SO HUNGRY. I got in line. I was about the 10th person and after a bit I calculated that it was taking them 5 minutes for each individual hot dog.
I still don't understand. Did they have one teeny tiny cooking apparatus that could only make one hot dog at once?
I waited 40+ minutes to near the front of the line. I was almost there when they said they were out of buns and were going to shut down.
"Can I just get a hot dog without the bun?" I cried, in anguish. If you've ever known me when I'm hungry, you'll know I'm good at crying things in anguish. The man in front of me, slated to have the last bun, refused his hot dog, said I could have it, and walked off. ! Who says chivalry is dead? But I had no bun for my sister, who was perhaps even hungrier than me. I had to bring her a (veggie) dog rolling around in some mustard and ketchup.
The hot dog itself was perplexing. The bun itself had been cooked, inside and out. Although one of the main points of a bun really should be to protect one's fingers from hot dog grease, no such luck here. The bun was greasy and toasty. It was a cheap, sickly sweet store brand hot dog bun with an equally bad hot dog inside.
Guys, I'd forgotten how bad hot dogs can taste. At home I always buy Maverick Ranch lean, low-sodium, flavor packed natural humanely raised beef hot dogs and heap them with Bubbie's fresh sauerkraut (or now, the yummy sweet-hot pickles I bought from a booth at the craft fair). My sister's smelled like it was probably a TofuPup. I can't believe I paid $5 for that.
If I could go back in time, I might've lived on the cupcakes after all.
In other news, Between the Sea and Sky is on NetGalley right now, so if that's your thing, you can find it there!
For one thing, I've seen 2 sales for it on Amazon's BookScan feature. That means somewhere in the Philadelphia area, this book is (or was) ON THE SHELF. Where will it be next? Could you find a copy early? *waits with bated breath* Releasing a book is nerve-racking!!
Thing 2: Now you can preorder the Kindle edition, if that's your thing. I'm sure the Nook edition, etc., will follow shortly. Amazon is usually first to have ebooks posted.
Also, finished copies showed up at my doorstep! And I've got a Goodreads giveaway going on. It ends on the 20th so, if I am reasonably proactive about getting to the post office (no promises) you MIGHT get it by release date.
Also, Magic Under Stone news! I finished the copyedits for Magic Under Stone. And you know what comes after copyedits? It goes to the printer for ARCs!!! It usually takes a little while, still, because everything in publishing takes a little while, but I should have an ARC or two for giveaways fairly soon. Ish.
I'm nervous. My first sequel. As a kid, reading sequels, I was usually disappointed by SOMETHING that happened, because I'd built up an expectation. So it's a little scary to write a sequel knowing that I'll disappoint a lot of people with expectations. Of course, that goes with anything, but I think sequels are worse. Still, I really like this sequel, and it's my longest book to date by a large chunk. I'm very excited for all of you to read it.
And, Dark Metropolis!
Okay, no news about Dark Metropolis, it still doesn't come out for almost two years, but I'm excited, so I just wanted to EXCLAIM the TITLE.
Man, I suck at coming up with topics to blog about, so today I decided, you know what? Why not just draw inspiration from my old blog? I blogged at Livejournal for 10 years, and some of those posts are worth resurrecting. In one of my first posts, I asked myself what characters I wish I'd created. Here was my list, back in 2002:
Nightcrawler from the X-Men. Jack Skellington from the Nightmare Before Christmas. Setzer Gabbiani from Final Fantasy VI. Jonathan the Zombie Master from the Xanth books. Saitou Hajime from the anime Rurouni Kenshin. Tyldak from the Elfquest comics. Wolf from the 10th Kingdom. Chaucer from A Knight's Tale. Auntie Mame from the classic film of the same name starring Rosalind Russell.
I still like all these characters, but, my list would look somewhat different nowadays! I think I'd still take Jonathan the Zombie Master and Wolf. I could see fitting them into a story somewhere. (Of course, Freddy in Dark Metropolis is totally my own Jonathan if I'm being honest.) Usually when I love a character, I end up co-opting the parts of them I like and changing them into something that's mine instead.
Some characters I'd add to the list nowadays:
--Pretty much everyone from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but especially Prince Zuko. Who doesn't love Prince Zuko? And Uncle Iroh because, well, the best characters often come in groups that play off each other, and I can't imagine Zuko without Iroh. But seriously I love that entire cast so much. --Damon from Vampire Diaries. No need to explain! He steals the show! --Yasu from NANA. He's a lawyer, also in a rock band, and he's the fallback "protective guy" for everybody, which I love. And he's bald and everyone teases him about it. But he's also really hot. I would never have been able to create him, though, because I can't draw a hot bald guy like Ai Yazawa can. I also love George from her Paradise Kiss manga, but he reminded me of a character I already had at the time, so it's not quite the same. --Emily of New Moon. It's not like anyone but L. M. Montgomery COULD have written Emily, but now that I'm writing middle grade, I'd kill to have created this character. --Harold from Harold and Maude. I'm not sure I could pull off the "falling in love with an old lady" part, but I love Harold... Well, I love Maude, too, just...well, the ending of this movie was so depressing. --Char Aznable from Gundam. Sexy, complicated...one of the most well-known anime characters of all time for a reason... --Quinton and Sally from the Thieves and Kings comics. The whole cast of this comic is great, but I particularly love how complicated Quinton and Sally are.
I'm sure I could think of a lot more if I wanted to spend all day at this...
Have you ever encountered a character in someone else's story and wished they were yours? (I know plenty of people do, hence, fan fic! Which I did write, myself, as a teenager.) Tell me who!
No story exists in a vacuum. There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun. But some stories draw a bit more heavily on predecessors than others. Meanwhile, many authors bite their nails while reading new deal announcements because they think, "OH NO THAT IS WHAT I'M WRITING!" Cassandra Clare sold the Infernal Devices books not longer before Magic Under Glass sold and I thought, "Oh noes! Clockwork Prince? My book has a clockwork prince in it!!!" It doesn't take much for us to freak out.
What about when the borrowing is conscious? What's the difference between a retelling, a reworking, an homage, or...PLAGIARISM!?
Ultimately? The author will intend one thing, the reader will get another. I've seen reviews about Magic Under Glass that felt it was just a flat-out rip-off of Jane Eyre, other reviews that appreciated the nod but noted that the book goes in a completely different direction. But I'm going to attempt some definitions.
A retelling sticks to the basic structure of the original story at heart. Retellings are usually of fairy tales, myths, or classics. If it is no longer under copyright, it's up for grabs. If character and setting is your strength as a writer and plot is not, then retellings might be a great option for you. The story is already there! The trouble, of course, is putting a new twist on it, like changing a character's gender, telling the story from an unusual POV (like the villain's perspective...perhaps we see they aren't as villainous as we thought), or picking a quirky setting.
A reworking, in my mind, is when you take a pre-existing story and start twisting it enough that it no longer resembles the original enough to be a straight-out retelling, but the reader can still recognize the source material in there somewhere.
An homage, or "nod" to a previous work, might be even farther from the original source. I also think it is different from a reworking in that you can nod to several things at once. It might not be terribly obvious except to readers who are big fans of the source material.
Still, the line between reworking and homage can be blurry indeed. I tend to feel that if your story BEGAN with the original material, it is a reworking. To me, Dark Metropolis is a reworking of the 1927 film Metropolis because it began with the premise of "What if the underground workers in Metropolis were dead?" Then I wondered what it would be like if I switched the genders of the characters in Metropolis. THEN things started getting off-track and less recognizable, but, it still began with Metropolis. Magic Under Glass, OTOH, came from the desire simply to write a book along the lines of classic novels about girls in reduced circumstances who fall in love in a house full of secrets, inspired by not just Jane Eyre, but A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Rebecca. So, to me, it is an homage.
Finally, we come to just plain ripping off someone else's work. This usually happens between two relatively modern works--if you write something about Lizzie Bennett, it's not longer a rip-off, it's acceptable fan fic, right? You can plagiarize anything--a character, a story, a phrase, even a style, although you can't be sued for borrowing a style!
The thing about ripping off stories is, it doesn't happen as much as readers seem to think it does. Strange coincidences happen between two books all the time. Apparently Tera Lynn Childs' mermaid books have a character named Dosinia and so does Between the Sea and Sky. It's the name of a mollusk, but I'm braced for someone to think I ripped it from Forgive My Fins. I promise you...I had nooo idea. Between the Sea and Sky was finished before Forgive My Fins came out, even though it's released much later. People seemed to come out of the woodwork to sue J. K. Rowling because they'd written a book about wizards, or had creatures named "Muggles" in their story, or whatever.
It goes without saying, obviously, published writers shouldn't plagiarize. Some writers avoid reading stories resembling their own while writing to avoid subconscious plagiarism. I, meanwhile, try to read everything that sounds like something I'm working on so that if I do find a similar element, I can change it. But no one can entirely defy the might of the collective unconscious!
If you're a beginning/intermediate writer not yet gunning for publication, however? I say, rip off characters, plot and style freely. Artists copy other artists, why shouldn't you? I was a shameless borrower in my youth, so my "original" stories often read like a fan-fic mashup with characters from a dozen different books or movies, perhaps thinly disguised by a name change. Stylewise, at different point in my life I tried to write like The Mists of Avalon, The Babysitter's Club, Francesca Lia Block, Marvel Comics, Piers Anthony, and L. M. Montgomery. Feel free to write fan fic, too, if that's your speed. My only advice for the young writer as far as borrowing goes is just to draw from incredibly disparate elements. That's how you'll end up with your own style. Look at all the writers who wrote as much like Tolkien as they could manage in the high fantasy genre for decades. Let's try and move away from that! If people praise my work for being original and creative now, trust me, it's because when I was about 13 I thought it would be a great idea to combine elements of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Seinfeld and Arthurian lore into one story...I still like to look for the quirky in my story choices, although I've gotten a bit wiser about it!
If you know me, you know I love reading non-fiction. Even though I'm a fiction writer, so perhaps it doesn't behoove me to tell everyone to read more non-fiction, I think it is very brain expanding. I recently read a charming little book that reminded me of Magic Under Glass a bit, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming. She also made a documentary of it, which is Canadian and unavailable in any convenient way, although I'd love to see it.
Long Tack Sam was a handsome Chinese acrobat and magician, born in 1885, who married an Austrian girl and had two lovely daughters. He performed on Vaudeville, traveled the world, and as time went on his daughters performed with him. He made loads of money and was quite a star attraction back in the day. He also had a son who barely saw his parents in his early life because they left him in Austria. When movies came along, he refused to appear in them, and so did his daughters, because of the racist portrayals of Asians in movies. The memoir itself is told in a sort of comic-book-esque style, with cartoons, collages, it's a quick and engaging read.
Of course I couldn't help but draw some parallels to Nimira and her "Trouser Girl" act. And I wished the author (who is Long Tack Sam's great-granddaughter) had been able to dig up more! I'd love to know more about the romance between Sam and his wife, which must have been quite shocking back in the day, especially since it was a quick courtship, although her family reportedly loved him. I'd love to know more about their adventures and trials around the globe across decades, countries, wars.
Anyway, it was a fascinating book, I recommend it.
Now, some miscellaneous news, most of which I've posted around Twitter and Facebook, but I do like having everything on the blog at some point.
First, my fans are awesome! Reader Holly made me Erris and Nimira dolls! (She also made a doll of my character Alfred but you don't really know him yet.) I'm posting a photo she sent me of them but she mailed them to me so I have them now. They are really awesome in person with lots of little details. I also got my very first piece of paper fan mail, which was kind of a thrill. I'm kind of glad most fan mail comes through the internet nowadays since it's much easier to write back, but it's still kind of awesome to get a real letter once in awhile!
Also, the Kirkus review for Between the Sea and Sky popped up not long ago and they were kind: "She [Dolamore] displays plenty of imagination, especially in her setting, with its 19th-century-style clothing and quaint towns. The portraits of her two leads will convince readers, and several of her minor characters, such as ex-mermaid Belawyn and Alander's father, stand out as quirky and individual. A simple but effective fantasy."
Kirkus is kind of famous for being harsh, but they liked Magic Under Glass too, so...I guess they're just lulling me into a sense of security...
Lastly, I found out Australian audiobook publisher Bolinda is doing an audiobook of Between the Sea and Sky. I've never had an audiobook before so this is kind of thrilling!
So I've arranged for a book signing of Between the Sea and Sky for those of you who want signed and sketched-in copies of the book at the Books-A-Million in Casselberry on November 12th from 2-4. (Or was it 3-5? I think it's 2-4.) (Casselberry is on the north side of Orlando.) They will also have some Magic Under Glass paperbacks.
IMPORTANT: The events manager there is cautious about ordering too many books. It's a very nice store, but I don't think they have a lot of events there. Orlando isn't exactly the book release party capital of the nation anyway. So if you KNOW or THINK you might be coming and purchasing books, please let me know how many copies of Between the Sea and Sky or Magic Under Glass you would like so I can give her an estimate.
(Let us all pause a moment to mourn the death of Borders, as my local Borders was VERY supportive and that was the store I was always went to and the people I always talked to. So I'm feeling a bit lost this time around... The Orlando Barnes & Noble, I must say, was ALSO very lovely, but they proved to be kind of out-of-the-way for me and most people I know.)
Also, as many of you know, if all goes well I am planning to move to Maryland by the end of the year, so if any teacher/librarian folk out there in Florida are interested in booking me for an author event, you only have a few months before I will be quite a bit less cheap and available since I will no longer live here. Just an FYI in the chance that anyone was thinking about it and assuming I'd be around awhile.
It posted in Publisher's Marketplace today so I guess I can finally talk about it!:
Jaclyn Dolamore's DARK METROPOLIS, about a city in which corruption and vice are rampant and disappearances warrant a shrug from the authorities: when a girl vanishes, her best friend must search the city's underground, only to find that here, people who die don't necessarily stay dead, to Catherine Onder at Disney-Hyperion, at auction, in a six-figure deal, in a two-book deal, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (World English).
This book has a bit of a fascinating story. I started it back in 2007, if I recall correctly. Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis happens to be one of my favorites, and I was pondering a story based on it where the workers are all revived from the dead. I wrote the first chapter and I thought the voice came out sounding both more sophisticated and tense than anything I'd written up to that point.
And frankly, I didn't feel ready to write it. I didn't know what it was really about yet, but I knew I couldn't do it justice.
Last October, my cat died. I nursed her through cancer until she had to be put down, and the last months of her life were traumatizing for me, but she remained the cat of my heart, a cat who always spent her nights melted against my stomach like a baby in an invisible womb, with her paw tucked inside my hand. I didn't write much in November once I turned in Magic Under Stone, and in December I had a talk with my agent and decided to work on a middle grade.
But that Metropolis-story kept poking at me all of a sudden. I realized it was kind of a book about death. And until Tacy died, I hadn't been close enough to it to write that book. Even though I was "supposed" to be writing a middle grade I started writing this instead.
About a week after THAT, my agent told me that her client Lisa Madigan had advanced pancreatic cancer. I knew she would die. That isn't something people really make it out of. Lisa wasn't a super-close friend, but she was close enough that we had exchanged quite a few emails, that I had a ceramic mermaid that was a gift from her hanging by my desk. A lot of people loved her, because she was generous and funny and just a wonderful part of the writing community.
She died while I was writing this book, and in a funny way I think she helped me write it (although, obviously, I'm sure that was not her intention...), and a part of me sort of wanted to write an awesome book that my agent would love and sell well to cheer her up because we all loved Lisa, not that a book is any replacement for a PERSON, but...anyway. I finished this book really fast. It was a cathartic thing to write. It was the first thing that really made me cry.
Although it is not really a sad book, I don't think. And it has a romance--two romances, in fact, one with a girl and a magical silver-haired boy and one with a girl with strange magic of her own and another girl. It has my usual love of describing food and fashion! It was tremendously fun to research, even though it is not quite the real Weimar Berlin, because the real Weimar Berlin sort of had nothing to do with the plot of Metropolis. Still, you wouldn't know that from all my particular Googling of what hat styles were in fashion in 1927, and 1920s political theater, and other things. I listed to a lot of the Threepenny Opera.
It is tentatively scheduled to be a summer 2013 release, and I am SO very excited to be working with Hyperion and Catherine Onder, as I have heard wonderful things about both! I hope you will enjoy it!
Sometimes fans/bloggers/other writers will see me mention a Miyazaki movie or something and say, "Oh, you're an anime fan?"
Well, yes, I say. Haven't kept up with it much in recent years. But yes.
And in fact, I was thinking this week about how much Japanese storytelling has shaped my life. I became an anime fan in 1996, when I was 14, the same age as Sailor Moon, who happened to be on American TV that year. But really, it started before that, didn't it? It started with the Super Nintendo game Final Fantasy II. I knew it was Japanese but I didn't really think about it much at the time. After all, RPGs back then all played off of western fantasy conventions.
But even then I was starting to pick up bits of Japanese myth (kappas), visual storytelling culture (why does a bubble come out of a character's nose when an enemy casts a sleep spell on them??) and storytelling tropes in general (men with androgynous good looks? yes please). I was obsessed with Final Fantasy almost beyond any other obsession of my life. The amount of fan fic, fan art, and board games I concocted based on it...
When I first watched anime itself I thought it looked awfully weird, but then I quickly became so hooked I would watch anything I could get my hands on, even if it was episode 9-10 of something I'd never seen episodes 1-8, even if it was boring, even if it was unsubtitled. Anime was still a hot, rare commodity at that point, not as much so as it was for 80s anime fans, but still. I joined the Japanese Animation Club of Orlando, which showed an evening of anime once a month, one movie and several episodes of various ongoing series. Then you could check out a couple of videos from the library as well. This is where I first saw all the Ghibli movies, even ones most people still haven't seen like Only Yesterday and I Can Hear the Sea.
Oh, and the guy who gave me my application to join the club? I thought he was nice, although I didn't see him again for awhile because he had moved to West Palm Beach. Now Dade and I have been together for 12 years. Who knows where I'd have found a partner if not for anime...
My first job also happened to be in anime, although only for a few days. My sister and I worked a dealer's room booth for one of the vendors. I mostly handled the anime CD section because I could read enough Japanese to find CDs fairly quickly. We were paid in merchandise and worked about 10 hours with no lunch break. At one point someone the boss would send someone on a McDonalds run just before his employees started fainting. Good times. After the day was over, though, he would buy us all dinner at Kobe.
There comes a time in every anime fans life when they feel compelled to cosplay. This time also came for me too. First I concocted a half-assed Vampire Princess Miyu out of my karate gi, then I joined an actual cosplay group (with a mom in the group who sewed everything for us, SCORE) and it was Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi in her Suzaku no Miko costume, and then Black Rose Duelist Wakaba from Revolutionary Girl Utena before I finally just started wearing a dark blue school uniform to conventions.
Which, by this time, we were actually running ourselves. Dade and his friend Fred had organized Anime Festival Orlando, floating the first one on Fred's credit card, a wing and a prayer. People showed up and the convention still happens to this day, although we no longer have anything to do with it. I handled the merchandise table, where I could also make a few bucks selling sketches of people drawn like anime characters. At one point I drew 20 people in one hour.
The thing about being an anime fan that I find so fascinating in hindsight is that it isn't uncommon to just plain get drawn into Asian culture in general. For one thing, Japanese culture begins to feel like a part of your life in a way no other culture does except whatever you grew up with. I studied the language, I learned to use chopsticks, I started seeing not just a man in the moon but also a rabbit pounding mochi, I ATE mochi, I bought Japanese fashion magazines and made my own strange fashion combinations, I learned about Momotarou, kitsune and tanuki, and who Nobunaga Oda was... The list is endless.
Japanese entertainment also tends to draw a fair bit from Chinese history and myth, so that can also lead to a fascination with and knowledge of at least some aspects of Chinese culture, so you start to also know about trickster monkeys, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's oath in the peach garden, a variety of adorable little hats and shoes, and the sad, beautiful sound of an erhu. And my quest for anime stuff led me into Orlando's Vietnamese district, a part of town that we NEVER went to when I was a kid, but as teenagers we begged our mom to take us there all the time, which led to us getting acquainted with bowls of pho in Vietnamese restaurants with little shrines by the door, and spending time in Vietnamese markets, sometimes striking up conversations where we learned to use clever kitchen tools or how to decorate for the Lunar New Year.
I don't know if anime is like this for everyone. But it occurs to me that I ended up growing up with this other culture, one that I had no genetic claim to at all, one that changed everything about me--the foods in my pantry, the way I dress, the way I tell a story. I don't really have any deeply profound comments about this, but it strikes me as a good thing, a step toward a world that is more inclusive of different cultures and traditions, more open to new stories. I think that after I got into anime I became more open to everything...different foods, different music, different stories. I am grateful that I have both the western and eastern to draw from, a long history with each.
I've been thinking of this lately in particular, because after several years of running conventions and dealing with fans in a particularly...annoying way, at times, we were all burned out and stopped attending conventions, stopped dressing up, stopped, for the most part, even WATCHING anime. I never stopped reading manga, as I love that form of storytelling far too much, but I saw very few anime in my mid to late 20s. I actually felt kind of turned off from it. So many ornery cosplayers out there. So much bad anime. So many ornery cosplayers dressing up as characters from bad anime. I was tired of seeing white kids yelling "Chotto matte!" at their friends instead of "Wait up!" (come ONNNN), kids wearing Tri-Gun jackets at the local mall... I guess it's what everyone goes through when their niche interest goes mainstream, but it also felt kind of like I was just growing out of it, I guess.
But this year we started watching the original Gundam series, a classic older than I am, and I have to admit, I fell in love with it all over again. I always though Gundam was about giant robots in space, but it's really about war--capturing so well how war can seem utterly futile, destructive and horrible, yet inevitable, important and sometimes even necessary all at once. It's good stuff. Although it is also about giant robots in space. And I think that's one of the best things about anime--it can be so unabashedly commercial and yet so deeply profound, all at once.
And now? I really want some Vietnamese food. Damn.
Today I was pondering my next YA. I'm working on a middle grade now, so I'm just knocking around ideas for this in advance. I want it to be a companion for the last YA I wrote, which was the darkest, creepiest thing I have written to date. The hardest thing I've written, too. I realized that in a lot of scenes, I was shying back. I don't want to spoil you on that book, so let me tell you about a scene that was hard to write in Magic Under Glass.
(Stop reading now if you haven't READ Magic Under Glass and don't want to be spoiled!)
It was the scene where Nimira sees clockwork man Erris with his face appearing perfectly human but his skin removed, so all his clockwork innards are visible, and the villain is twisting his key, hurting him, and forcing him to speak in front of people who see him as somewhat of a monster.
I've had quite a few people say, "I loved Magic Under Glass! Especially that scene where..."
It's always that scene.
And I feel a certain relief and say, "I love that scene too." Because I DO. But it was hard to write. Not because I felt bad for Erris. Nope. Because I LOVE TORTURING HIM SO MUCH.
But I never really thought about that consciously. I just realized I shy back from a certain kind of scene. And today I had a revelation as to what that sort of scene is. I think it's a marriage of something positive--like love or bravery--with something disturbing.
In the Hunger Games, for example, I think part of the reason these books are such page turners is because Katsa's strength and bravery is paired with the brutal deaths of so many people all around her. It is so unflinching. But one of the very best examples of it, I think, is the Queen of Attolia. (So, more spoilers if you haven't read that.) In the beginning of the book, the Queen of Attolia cuts off the hand of the protagonist, Eugenides. This is unflinchingly described, too, and Gen has to deal with all the aftermath--pain, humiliation, having to learn to do things over again, never being able to do certain things... This is compelling enough but what really makes it memorable is that he then FALLS IN LOVE with the Queen of Attolia.
And as a reader, this is precisely what I want to happen. This exquisite combination of pain and love is a rush to read. As a reader, I adore it, even though for some reason I feel perhaps, a little ashamed. Why am I so delighted by such circumstances? In real life I wouldn't find it exciting at ALL if me or one of my friends had their hand cut off and then fell in love with the person who had done it! But as a reader, it also doesn't matter if I find strange, uncomfortable situations delicious. It isn't like the whole world is reading with me, measuring my heart rate. Nor do I think, "Goodness, this Megan Whalen Turner is certainly twisted!" It's not like the Queen of Attolia is some kind of crazy erotica novel or full of gratuitous violence.
As a writer, however, it feels different. It feels uncomfortable to be sharing with the world something that is deliciously painful. It feels like...well, I shouldn't enjoy it TOO much. If I do, I am probably going too far! ANYBODY could read this and go, "Goodness, this Jaclyn Dolamore is certainly twisted!"
With my last book, I kept pushing myself to go farther. To make things more horrible. To describe unpleasant sights and conflicted, shiver-inducing emotions in more depth. I sensed my discomfort but I pushed past it because I kept thinking, "The book will be more memorable for it." But it was...surprisingly hard, actually. I didn't really realize why until I was thinking about it just now. I also didn't quite realize until just now why that made the book more compelling. It was more of a subconscious thing.
I guess that Jaclyn Dolamore is a bit twisted. And people seem to like my writing better for it.
I was thinking today maybe this feeling in writing is kind of like the flavor "umami". The savory flavor that we didn't quite have a name for and didn't quite realize we needed...