Cliffhangers are my jam

IT’S DONE!

IT’S DONE. 💀 #marywrites #saintsnovel

I can’t quite believe it.  I posted this picture last night, and that is actually the beginning of the very last chapter of Saints, which also happens to end in one of the worst cliffhangers I’ve ever seen.  I’ve been evil cackling since I thought of it.  I love it so much, and it’s pretty terrible.  If you’ve read Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, it’s a little like that, only worse.

What a whirlwind this has been.  Not only last night, either, but the whole thing!  I’m wrapping up the first draft at about 135k words in just under two months.  I first posted about Saints on 10/10, so I’m shy of that two month mark by about three days.  There are 38 chapters in total separated into three parts, and too many POVs to count.  Things got a little wild in the last part, and I threw in a brand new POV that we’ll be seeing more of in book two.  Because there will definitely be a book two.  Even if that ending hadn’t contained the worst cliffhanger ever, there would still be a book two.  Maybe a book three?  Who the heck knows.  I know maybe about 15% of what’s happening in book two, and I don’t plan on working on it anytime soon.  I tend to do this a lot, write a novel and then run away from it for a half year or longer, but this time, at least, I’m running toward something.  I’m going back to the Pen boys.  I’m going to spend the rest of this week quickly editing parts two and three of Saints, hand off both parts to Jen to read, and then realign my focus.  I miss my boys a lot, and I know part of that is because people are actively reading and commenting on it, but man.  The Saints are all so grown up and in control of their emotions and not very dramatic.  My Pen boys are just absurdly not in control of everything, and I want that chaos again.

But first, last night.  It was a lot of fun.  Originally, I had on Dua Lipa’s album because, for no discernible reason, she became the music to listen to while writing this novel.  However, Landon’s last chapter is pretty freaking intense, so I ended up listening to Brothers in Arms from the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack, and yup.  A+ music.  I just put it on repeat for an hour, and went to town on those last 2000 words.  And speaking of music, I thought it might be fun to finally share what I’ve been listening to while writing this:

Some of these make sense, I think.  Some of them are just strange.  But there are some songs for very specific things.  I listened to Berlin and Shortline by RY X during a lot of the soft scenes between Landon and Ezra.  Anything that was happening in the early morning or late at night, anything that was less words, more longing stares.  Havana by Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug is another song that I don’t understand how it got on here, but it just became Vivian’s theme song.  How Long by Charlie Puth is also a definite Miles song.  I listen to it whenever I’m cooking, and imagine him dancing around their little kitchen.  Landon usually requires a lot of creepy songs cos he’s a creepy little murderer, so I listened to If I Had a Heart by Fever Ray for him a lot.  The stripped version of You and I by PVRIS, An Unkindness of Ravens by Sanders Bohlke, and Silence by Marshmello featuring Khalid were all Henry/Cole songs.  I Know by Aly & AJ (holy crap, I’m excited they’re making music again) is a Madison/Riley song.  Brothers in Arms from the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack and Run Boy Run by Woodkid were used in all the fight scenes, as well as anything intense while they were running through the desert.  And finally, the theme song for the novel is No Running From Me by Toulouse.

I’m not a saint,
Nor am I one for smooth edges.

When I’m around,
Calamity comes out to play.

How did you hear the news
That I get to choose
How it plays out?
No matter how you scream and shout.

There ain’t no running from me.

I mean, come on.

I’m also rewarding myself for finishing the first draft of this novel by rewatching Mad Max: Fury Road cos wow, did not see that one coming.  It was probably the sneakiest of all the inspirations.  I posted early on about how this novel was a mix of Peaky Blinders meets Six of Crows meets The Thief Lord meets The Angelus Trilogy.  What I didn’t really think about was that very long bit in the middle where they’re running through the desert, and HA.  Yes.  I found myself just watching scenes at random from Mad Max, or listening to the soundtrack while writing, and it wasn’t until they were starting to leave the desert that I realized the whole entire aesthetic for Mad Max is basically Saints in a nutshell.  So, I’m watching that tomorrow because tonight I’m going to yoga.  I haven’t been to class in a while, and I blame that entirely on this novel because every night I wanted to go, I was writing a chapter instead.  But now it’s done, and I don’t have any money to reward myself with books, so instead I’m practicing yoga and watching a movie, haha.

There are some books that I really do want to buy right now, though, and I’m going to tell you what they are because I have a small feeling that I know what novel is coming after the second draft of Pen boys.  If I don’t end up writing Mason next, I think it will be Shri, the desert witch.  Linking  her Pinterest board there because I haven’t posted about her at all on this blog, but I’ve had a few dreams about her in the last few weeks, and I think it may be happening soon.  The books I want to buy are all about Arab culture because I really want to try to do this story right.  It takes place in a few Middle Eastern countries, but mostly Saudi Arabia and India.  Yes, there’s magic, and yes, Shri is actually a witch.  No, there will not be many boys in it, and no, there will not be romance, but it’s a wild, weird story that I can’t wait to dig into.  I need to do a lot of work on the plot, but the characters and most of the world is there, so I feel confident that it’s coming soon.  That could change with the wind, of course, so we’ll see if it actually happens.

For now, I’m really pleased with where Saints is.  It feels like a really solid first draft.  Now it’s time to make Pen boys into a solid second draft, and then, we’ll see what the horizon brings.

"Wilson you don't even know where your going!"  "Careful, Dev, you're starting to sound like you care!" Ali's laugh drifted up before James's chuckle, but it was still James's "she should hear how he talks on our runs, she'd be able to tease him for weeks," that made her smile grow into a grin.

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Part 2 is done! & #nanowhy wrap-up

I realize it’s only been one day since my last post, and only two since my last time talking about Saints, but a lot happened today!

First: part two is done!  Two days ago, I hit a really incredible milestone of 100k words, and I was super stoked about it.  For some reason, reaching that number, for me, has become something of a goal, but also something that makes me feel like I actually have a novel written.  That being said, not all of mine have met that number.  The first draft of Mason didn’t, though I’m overly confident that the second one will.  I definitely think Mason should have been longer the first time around, so hopefully, next time will reach and surpass the 100k mark.  Alex is also not a 100k novel, but that’s because of his genre.  He’ll be a YA romance, or even just YA, and I’d really like to keep his book around 80-90k.  To be fair, the first draft of Alex is actually 99k.  I just checked, and realized it had nearly hit the 100k mark, haha.  And while it’s there right now, I’d like to cut it down and shorten some bits.  (She says, while having six chapters that need to be added.)

I thought now might be a fun time to talk about word counts a little, too.  I’ve talked a little about this before when I was explaining why quantity is sometimes as important as quality, but now I wanted to talk a little about word counts for first drafts.  For as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve always pursued a very specific word count.  For Ronan, I knew that high fantasy could probably hit 150k and be safe, probably even more.  Every draft I wrote was written in a way that waaaaay stretched events out, and that tried to pack as much (or sometimes as little) as possible in a single story.  With Mason, I had it in my head that I didn’t want to pass 100k because it was going to be YA urban fantasy, and I thought it was going to be my first novel published (ha!).  So, I really scaled back on things.  I didn’t spend as much time in the world as I should have, and I didn’t allow my readers to get to know my characters well enough.

When it came time to write Alex, I also had this word count brain on, as well.  It felt different because I actively knew Alex’s entire story.  Both Ronan and Mason are constantly evolving, and while the core reason for writing their stories remains the same, the general, and often times specific, details change a lot.  Alex’s story has remained mostly the same since the beginning.  There was actually this funny moment during this draft while I was writing, and I thought I was so clever with this scene.  It was going to hurt in an awful way, and it was going to really make my characters take a hard look at themselves.  I was doing that sort of evil cackle, tapping the fingers together in a spinning chair thing.  This was right around the time that I was also rereading the original draft (oi, it’s bad) to make sure I wasn’t missing any big details that I wanted to keep.  Well, lo and behold, twelve years is a long time, and I’d forgotten that I’d already written this exact scene for these exact purposes.  Thus, going in and saying I wanted to stay under 100k for Alex was easy because I kind of already knew the scope of his story.

This brings us to the Pen boys.  As I’ve said before, Mason was my first real attempt at a novel that wasn’t Ronan in twelve years.  After Mason kind of fell off my radar, I started working on Alex, but still, that was an old hat.  I wanted something new.  I wanted to challenge myself.  The Pen boys were born, and a funny thing happened.  When I sat down to write, it was with that mindset, that I should probably aim for about 100-120k, but not much higher than that.  Okay, I said, that’s fair.  That’s a YA urban fantasy.

Oh, what a fool I am.

The Pen boys was going to be 180k no matter what I did.  It was my first brand new idea.  I’d had Ronan and Alex both for twelve years, and Mason for almost a year.  Pen boys was birthed at the end of April, and I started writing four days later in May.  And it just–took off.  Like a literal jet plane.  I was blindsided by it.  Here were these five brand new souls that I couldn’t wait to play with.

Now, if you’re currently reading the first draft of Pen boys (hi Patrick and Chelsea!), I want to take this moment to apologize because good grief, that’s a–that’s something.  It’s, uh–I guess what you’d call it is what unleashing my imagination looks like.  All thoughts of how long the novel should be went out the window.  I just dove in headfirst and didn’t look back.  I couldn’t.  The words got away from me.  I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.  Many things don’t make sense.  Some subplots took wild turns or disappeared altogether.  The real plot took, like, 20 or something chapters to even briefly make an appearance  The Pen boys, in a way, is kind of like fanfiction.  Which makes no sense because it’s not based on anything, but I wrote it like I was writing fanfiction.  I couldn’t stop.  I just held on for dear life and let it all happen.

180k words later, I’m aware a lot of it needs to be cut and reshaped, and I’m very, very excited to dig into the edits I’ve been gifted and really make this story something beautiful.

But, for the first time, I stopped thinking about my word count and instead thought about just my words.  I didn’t worry if any of the scenes were unnecessary, or if I should maybe pare down on the existential crisis internal monologue, or if plots didn’t quite fit together yet.  I just wrote.  I upended my entire soul into that novel, and when I finally took a step back, it was the size of two.  Going into the second draft, I’ll put my word count hat on and try to make it into a 120k word novel at best.

With Saints, the same kind of thing is happening, but it feels so much more different.  I think I needed to write Pen boys first so I could just get twelve years of pent-up ideas out at breakneck speed, and after that was done, I could finally write the novel I was meant to.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Pen boys with all my heart, and I’m absolutely going to finish writing their series.  But Saints–Saints is important.  Saints is one of those stories that I think people need to hear.  Beyond the LGBTQ+, POC, and disabled characters, beyond the stories of abuse and much needed feminism and the topic of religion, Saints covers a lot of important ground.  Yes, I’m tooting my own horn.  I’m not saying Saints will change the world or anything, but I am saying it’s a story that needs to be told, one that needs to be read.

And so, going into Saints, I’ve felt a lot more grounded.  I can very clearly see the path these characters are on.  Sure, sometimes they throw me for a loop, but not nearly as much as the Pen boys did.  Not only is this a story that needs to be read, I think it was a novel that I needed to write.  Their story has been waiting inside that crazy brain of mine for who knows how long, and it feels damn good to finally have it out and about.  And it’s almost done!

I finished part two today.  When I posted about 100k words, I knew I only had two chapters left to write of part two, but it felt kind of surreal wrapping up Landon’s last chapter of part two today.  Part three is going to be a breeze.  I do need to outline it again to account for some small changes, but the path is, again, very clear.  It’s probably going to be much shorter than the first two parts by about half the word count, so I’m looking at coming in around 150k at the end of this draft.  Which is funny, really, because I didn’t set myself a goal this time.  I didn’t say I had to reach a certain word count, or that I couldn’t go over one.  After the fiasco that is all 180k of the Pen boys, I realized something vital.

First drafts shouldn’t have word counts.  Second drafts, sure, but let that first draft do whatever the hell it wants.  Let it just run wild.  Your words deserve it.

As always, this got longer than planned.  No one’s surprised.  I really like where part two’s ended.  And just in case anyone reads this once I’m famous and traveling the world, don’t worry, Miles is okay.

On the topic of word counts, it’s the end of November!  As prefaced in my original nano why post, I did not participate in NaNoWriMo for the millionth year in a row.  I’m not sure I ever will participate in it, but I did keep track this year for those of you that might be curious.  Drumroll, please.  We have our final word count: 68k.  I intended to post the chart, but I don’t have it saved on my personal laptop, so I don’t have access to it right now, and I’m not interested in recreating it.  I started the month of November with 42,027 words exactly for Saints, and I’m wrapping up on the very last day with 110,693, which puts me at a very precise (and hilarious) 68,666.  Today’s word count was 7,226, which I’m rather proud of considering I was starting to lose steam probably around 5000, but I knew the shape of Landon’s chapter, and just wanted it done.

And now begins the journey of part three!  Our cast of characters has grown exponentially, and there’s going to be a heck ton of drama in part three followed by potentially one of the worst cliffhangers in history, and I can’t wait to start it.  I already know whose POV the first chapter will be in, and I’m very excited to begin.  For now, though, I’m going to put away the books I “accidentally” bought on Black Friday from B&N, take a shower, pamper myself with a face mask, and maybe even go to bed before 11PM.  What!

I hope Friday tomorrow finds you well and rested, and maybe full of words.

PSS (Post Script Spoilers): This week’s research has included this bone-chilling video of a hyena laughing (which was followed up by losing 40 minutes to watching The Lion Whisperer), looking at city gardens, thinking about Magnus Bane, checking out the catacombs of Paris, and staring at a jeep.  Also, desert vibes.  Do with this information what you will.  Hell, this makes Saints sound so much cooler than it probably is.  And here’s a picture of a skull not because I’m trying to be creepy, but because Landon is creepy as hell.

November Reads

Happy best month of the year!  I’m partial to November because it’s when Alex was born, and it’s the perfect temperature of cold (although this November has been particularly chilly), and it just feels like a really good month.  It’s post Halloween, but pre-Christmas, and everything is just twinkly lights and peppermint and scarves and wonder and joy.

This wrap-up for November books is coming at you a day early because I’m currently reading The Fireman by Joe Hill, and there is no universe where I successfully read over 500 pages by the end of tomorrow.  I’m happy to be finally reading it though since I started it in May, and then abandoned it for several months of YA novels.  So, without further ado, here is a very small list of books compared to last month.

The Scorpio Races

What: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
When: 11/1-11/8
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: A few things, first.  This is a reread, and though I thought I’d read this more than once already, it appears the last time I read it was when it came out in 2012.  I’ll also be rereading another of Maggie’s books next month (Shiver), because tis the season.  And third, I actually recently saw Maggie at a signing in Wellesley on her All the Crooked Saints tour.  During her talk before the signing, she answered three questions–when she started writing the novel, why she wrote it, and what it was about.  It was this last question that interested me the most because, honestly, every time someone asks me what All the Crooked Saints is about, I give them a different answer.  She prefaced this question by saying that she understood how difficult it was to describe her books when put on the spot, and even when not.  She said that she knew that trying to describe one of her books accurately meant you were probably lying a little, and even if you got close to the truth, you just sounded like an insane person.  Up until The Scorpio Races, however, it had generally not been all that weird describing one of her books.  But alas, then it came to describing a book about horses that come out of the ocean, but really it’s not about that, it’s about the race that the citizens of Thisby ride these ocean horses in.  No, the horses don’t eat people, though they will kill you if you don’t handle them correctly.  But it’s also kind of about Puck and her island pony, and how she wants to prove a point that she’s as capable as any of the other male riders on the island.  So, really, it’s kind of about feminism.  But also family.  But also this really crazy myth where you have to spill blood on a rock because the island requires a sacrifice to survive?

Listen, just read it.  You won’t be disappointed.  The Scorpio Races is one of my favorite Maggie books.  Even though I knew, going in, that everything was going to end up okay, I still found myself holding my breath, crying like a loon, and gasping at all the appropriate parts.  I also found myself falling in love with Finn all over again.  He’s such a lovely side character.  Lovely is such a good word for this book.  It’s just lovely.  It’s full of magic and love and sacrifice and strength and Corr.  I never knew my favorite character in a book could be a horse, but here we are.

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What: Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
When: 11/9-11/14
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: My review for the first book in the Monsters of Verity duology can be found here!  I actually purchased this book while I was only halfway through This Savage Song because I just had to know how it all ended up.  Our Dark Duet follows Kate Harker and August Flynn as they embark on this new, dangerous world they’re living in as a sinner and a monster.  We get to see a little more of Schwab’s fantastically dark world, and are introduced to a new monster.  There are even monster POVs in this one!  I honestly can’t remember if there were in the other one, but I don’t think so, and I really enjoyed seeing through Sloan’s eyes.  August just about broke my heart even more, which I didn’t think was possible, but here we are.  AND OH, THE ROMANCE.  I was not upset that there wasn’t romance in the first one, and I was doing just fine without it in this one, but then it came along and made me weep.  It was beautiful.

The only thing that bummed me out about this book was the lack of closure given to Kate’s friends.  I understand it would’ve been difficult to achieve that, but I felt really gypped out on their ending, and that was unfortunate.

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What: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
When: 11/15-11/22
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: I realize that most of my reviews are five-star ones, but my dad has always said that I can’t be trusted to judge things appropriately.  This is probably true, but if any novel deserves five stars this month, it’s this one.  Let me tell you a story about my journey with this book.  I originally bought it in August during a book haul with Erin.  I’d been hearing some buzz about it, and kept seeing the title floating around.  Strange the Dreamer.  I mean, what a title.  Already, I wanted to read it, just for the title.  And then, when I picked it up in the bookstore, I was so dazzled by the cover that I read the summary without really reading it, and just bought it for the cover and title.  These things happen, okay, give me a break.  But then, fast forward through the next few months, and I kept going to pick it up, but the summary just wasn’t doing it for me.  Again, I wanted to read it because of the title, but the summary was so weak.  It just felt like a million things were happening, and there wasn’t a real focus, and I wasn’t hooked by it.  But, I bought or was gifted a number of books this year, and I wanted to finish them before year’s end, so I buckled down and finally read it.

Oh my god.  THIS BOOK.  I didn’t even realize I was as in love with it as I am until about page 80, when I was holding my breath and cheering Lazlo on, hoping and wishing and praying that he would be able to go to Weep.  I had just fallen down a Wonderland-sized hole of love for Lazlo and this beautiful world he was in love with.  And then, AND THEN, when they got to Weep, wowza.  I was already biased to love it because Lazlo had painted this beautiful, wonderful picture of it, but the real thing was just so much better than I could have possibly imagined.  The characters were so real and flawed and well-rounded, and it certainly didn’t hurt things that Lazlo was a book-lover.  Everything was so great about this book.  The plot, the characters, the setting, the writing, the romance, the mythology–all of it.  Every fantasy fan needs to read this.

I just realized I gave no indication what it was about, either, so that doesn’t help.  Strange the Dreamer is about Lazlo Strange, a dreamer set on one day finding the Unseen City of Weep, a place that has been long forgotten, but that he has studied for years and years.  When, suddenly, an ambassador from Weep shows up in Lazlo’s city, he does everything he can to return with them.  He manages it, too, and it’s here that we’re introduced to the reason why Weep has fallen away from the world.  There is a citadel hovering above the city, casting it in shadow, where four goddesses and one god, saved children from a massacre, are hiding.  Oh yeah.  It’s awesome.  Sadly, there is not a release date for the sequel yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar, I’m pre-ordering it as soon as there is.

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What: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
When: 11/23-11/26
Rating: ★★★
Review: I want to like this book so bad, and truthfully, I do, but not enough.  I really, really enjoy the plot, the characters are very interesting, and the mythology is phenomenal.  So why only three stars?  Man, that writing.  It’s–not great.  It leaves a lot to be desired.  Much of the time, it’s just a chapter full of dialogue, which is fine, but I have no idea where these characters are, what they look like, how they’re reacting to things, and what might happen next via context clues.  There’s this other thing, too, that I know I do as a writer and I’ve seen in countless novels, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but there would just be chapters and chapters of not a heck a lot of things happening, and then HI THE BATTLE IS HERE AND IT’S ONE CHAPTER LONG AND NOW WE’RE DONE.  Just like that.  Like, six full chapters at Jasper’s loft apartment, and then one for the final battle of the book.  This had so much potential!  I really think this book needed to be, like, 200 solid pages longer.  I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it to read the sequel, but I’m leaning toward no.

This book, for those of you who are interested, is about the mythical firebird.  The firebird is said to be the end of wars.  Whichever side controls the firebird can use it to stop the war, in whatever manner they see fit.  The story follows Echo, a human, living among Avicen, who are like immortal humans but with feathers?, and Caius, a Drakharin, which are also like immortal humans but with dragon scales.  Badass, I know.  I’m definitely team Drakharin.  Both sides have been at war for centuries, though I’m not quite sure why, and while Caius, the Dragon Prince, wants to end the war with the firebird via peace, and most of the Avicen also want that, Caius’ twin sister, Tanith, wants blood and fire and doom, much like the general of the Avicen, Altair.  Of course, Echo and Caius end up on the same side, trying to find the firebird to unite their races, and while much of what happens with them is very predictable, I still loved it.  The side characters in this are excellent, and we’ve even got a little Magnus Bane of our own in Jasper (the blurb on the back of the book said catnip for Cassandra Clare fans, which just makes this book seem way cooler than it actually is).  All in all, it’s got great elements, but the writing has left me not wanting to read the next one.

And that’s November!  I told myself I was going to read the last 12 books of the ones I was either gifted or bought this year, but then I bought myself more books on Black Friday (listen, B&N was doing 20% off total orders, and I needed to Christmas shop, so I added some in for myself), so I’m doing my best.  Ha!  I’ve gotten a lot better at reading books instead of just putting them on my shelves, so 12 out of 62 feels pretty damn good.

Happy almost December!

100K!!!!!!!

I have so many other blogs that I want to write, but right now, I’M CELEBRATING!

SAINTS HIT 100K LAST NIGHT!

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That is an accurate representation of me right now.  Well, this is more accurate to what happened last night:

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I’m all about the happy dances.

No, this does not mean I’ve finished writing Saints, it just means I’ve hit a pretty big milestone, and I’m extraordinarily happy about it.  This whole novel has felt kind of surreal.  It feels very much like a novel, but also not.  Pen boys is a complete mess plot-wise, and it needs so much work, and I’m not saying that Saints doesn’t, but it feels more solid than Pen boys.  It feels like Alex does.  Things make sense, and I can very clearly see the end of it, and it all just feels right.  Pen boys also felt right, but more in a yes this is definitely what I should be writing right now way while Saints feels like yes this is what I was meant to write.  It just feels good.  It feels honest.  It feels like all of the things I was trying to accomplish in Ronan and could never quite figure out.

But what does 100k mean in the grand scheme?  It means I am almost done.  I’m anticipating part three to be about 30-40k, maybe even 50k.  I only have two chapters left to write of part two, and then part three is a whirlwind of things happening and people getting shot, whoops.  There are a heck ton of loose ends right now, many of which I will not be tying up in a neat little bow at the end of the book.  The last scene is one hell of a cliffhanger, and I’ve got at least one, maybe two, more books in this series.  That’s not counting spin-offs, either, because I’ve already got at least one planned.  This world is big, and about to get a lot bigger, and I’m so happy.

100k means I’ve got a novel, a real, hefty thing that would hurt if I hit you with it, and that looks like something productive.  100k means I’m pretty damn close to the end.  100k means that I can do it.  And oh man, oh man, oh man, I can’t wait for you to see what’s hiding in these 100k words.

I’ve been staring at a blank document for over a week

Sometimes I blog because I’m not writing.  I know this seems like a far-fetched idea since I literally just posted about writing 40k in 17 days last week, but you wanna know what was also happening last week?  Not a whole lot of those words.  There’s this really great saying in yoga, that life is like a vinyasa.  It ebbs and flows.  There are ups and downs, and sometimes life is going to kick you in the ass.  Sometimes, life is going to be really awesome to you.

Sometimes, you’re going to write 40k in 17 days, and then, sometimes, you’re not going to write a single word for over a week.  After that post, I hit a kind of lull.  I knew what needed to come next, but there were a few small pieces missing.  The Saints are off on a job, and they’ve got to traverse this super dangerous landscape called the Dying Lands.  I know what’s going to happen in the Dying Lands to a certain degree, and I know what’s going to happen in part three in almost every single chapter.  What I didn’t know was what happens after they leave Obera, but before they get to the Dying Lands.  Filler, you might call it, and though it often sounds boring, it’s as often necessary.  I wrote this really interesting chapter in a priest’s POV about the history of the Saints, and used this perspective to see the Saints escaping Obera from a third party since I just couldn’t work out how to show it through one of theirs.  It was excellent, and I really enjoyed the chapter.  And then, I spent a week on Tumblr, I read Strange the Dreamer rather slowly, I reread some of my old fanfiction, and I just–didn’t do a whole lot?  I watched the entirety of Alias Grace (10/10 WOULD RECOMMEND) on Sunday.  I caught up on all my TV shows (and am now behind again, it’s a vicious cycle).  I was just kind of shuffling along.  I had legit no idea what I was supposed to write.

And then, probably about mid-week, I had a light bulb.  Ah ha!  My next chapter should be in Henry’s POV.  It’s been a while since we last saw him, and there’s going to be a crap ton that needs to happen with him.  Right.  Here we go.

Chapter 25
Henry

And yeah, that was about all I wrote for that chapter for two or three days.  At this point, I was really starting to get frustrated.  I kept scrolling through the Saints Pinterest board trying to get inspired.  I listened to songs that reminded me of Henry and Cole.  I kept the document open just in case.   I reread bits of Henry’s last chapter to try to get me in the headspace of where they were, and what they should be doing.  While driving, I would think of what the first line would be, scrap it within five minutes, and start over again.  When I’d get home, I would set up for success: pillows, tea, Henry music, Pinterest board open, annnnnnnnd nothing.  I’d end up on YouTube watching Buzzfeed or scrolling through Tumblr.

And wow, let me be the first person to tell you that this ^^^ is all hugely toxic to your writing.  If it’s not coming to you, or if the scene is not working, stop trying to make it work.  It’s the same thing in yoga.  If you can’t do a handstand, don’t beat yourself up and continue to try to do it.  Instead, use building blocks.  Do strengthening exercises to help your core and your shoulders get used to the idea of standing on your hands.  Work on poses that will open and release and give you more stability in the long run.  Work on the whole body instead of just one thing.

So, the weekend comes along, and I’m still fairly aggravated by my lack of writing.  I spent Saturday with my parents, and it’s finally not October, so decided to go into Salem.  I took Strange the Dreamer to Life Alive, got the Alchemist bowl, and had easily one of the best hours of my life.  I just love that cafe so much.  I need to move back to the North Shore just so I can be closer to it and spend all of my money there forever shhhh.  After Life Alive, my journey is pretty much the same every time.  Walk past Harrison’s and decide not to go in, promise the Tibetan shop that I’ll stop in on the way back and try not to buy anything (and fail), and make my second stop at Coven’s Cottage.  I’m linking both their website and their Facebook here because WOW.  Coven’s Cottage is my jam, and you can definitely see influences of it in Mason’s book.  I absolutely adore it in there, and I will spend no less than $50 every single time I go in.

It was closed.  I’m still so sad.  I should have looked it up beforehand just to be sure since this was the weekend before Thanksgiving, but they took the entire week off until Friday (today).  Don’t worry, I’m going back tomorrow.  Sad as I was, this left me stalling on Essex St in front of Village Silversmith, and I thought, well, I do need to do some Christmas shopping.  (Yes, I gift crystals for Christmas, shut up.)  Probably a half hour later, and I had a bag of new goodies (two for myself), and decided it was high time to make my way down to Jolie Tea.  Also linking their website and Facebook.

Now, anyone who’s known me for at least a year knows where this path leads.  Tea and words and magic, hm.  What might that look like?

FnJRa3PKQJqIdduItLKiwg.jpgHi yes, it looks like Mason.  Madhouse’s interior is inspired by both Life Alive and Jolie Tea.  Most of his story was developed in those two shops.  Coven’s Cottage makes appearances in the Hyacinth, and in Mason’s tea-brewing room.  Salem is ingrained deeply in his story.

Sadly, Jolie Tea was booked solid.  They do high tea on Saturdays, and all of their three tables were taken up, so I got my black lavender lemon tea to go, and good grief if that wasn’t one of the most delicious teas I’ve ever had in my life.  It was just so good.  At this point, I’m on my way back to the car, wondering where my meter might be, and I’m standing at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to go, when my brain does a little twist and asks, “What if the story isn’t about all four elements being reborn?  What if the earth element has been a solid, living thing for many, many years?  It would make more sense, right, for at least one element to be steady, instead of all four changing?”

Oh, hell.

I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that I wasn’t writing Saints because my brain was in an entirely different world.  Which, weird, right, that I didn’t know?  Remember when I talked about the Sheldon Cooper Writer’s Block thing?  I didn’t even realize that I needed to work on Mason, but the words that I “needed” to write for Saints weren’t coming because that part of my brain had done a complete 180 and stuck itself on fixing The Mason Problem.  What is The Mason Problem?

It’s this thing where I really, really want to write Mason, but I don’t know what the plot of his novel is, so I can’t write it, obviously.  That’s Part A of the problem.  Part B is that the insecure part of me that still thinks I will never be able to write his novel properly is still at large.  I’m working on it every single day, and eventually, we’re going to come to terms with each other.  Coming back to the present, though, I spent the drive home drinking this amazing tea and kind of halfway thinking about Mason without any real commitment.  On Sunday, I watched Alias Grace, and then it was back to work for two days before a–drumroll, please–six day weekend.  Holla!  I’m on day three of six right now, and I’m so stoked.  I took the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, and the Monday after because why not.  The other thing that happened beside Netflix and chill on Sunday was Worth It UK’s Afternoon Tea video.  Yo, linked it right there because they did the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in England, and it was incredible.  I want to go so bad.  Sunday night, I picked out my outfit to see Maggie Stiefvater the following day, Jen tried straightening my hair to see if it was long enough yet (HOLY CRACKERS IT’S NOT), and went to bed still feeling a little frustrated with not being able to write.  And then, well.  I woke up to something crazy.

I went to work, drank my tea, took out my notebook, and scribbled out a quick page of plot notes for Mason.  No one warns you these things are going to happen, FYI.  No one tells you that you’re going to dream up an entire book in your sleep (looking at you, Saints).  No one tells you that one of your characters is going to inhabit your every waking moment (Alex, you little shit).  No one tells you that your brain is going to be completely taken over by the sudden urge to plot out an entire novel that you’ve been struggling with for almost a year.  What the hell, Mason, why.  Why now, felt like the more appropriate question.  I was in a groove.  I was writing Saints.  I was–wait, no I wasn’t.  I hadn’t written Saints, at this point, for over a week.  Okay, then.  So I snapped a picture of the outline, sent it to Patrick and Jen without any real explanation other than “so this just happened”, and went about my day.

That night (Monday), I went to see Maggie (more on this later), got home super late after some bleh Mexican, rushed around Tuesday doing last minute things for work, taught class, got home early since no one came to beginner’s, and promptly put myself in front of my laptop to write the words for Saints.  Fail.

Like, stop doing this, Mary.  Stop setting yourself up for failure.  If it’s not working, it’s not working, and leave it the hell alone.  Stop picking at the scab and sticking salt in the wound.  All of you.  Knock it off.  Leave your novel the hell alone if it doesn’t want to be written.  Like, jiminy cricket, go outside and howl at the goddamn moon if you have to, but stop trying to write.

No, I’m not writing Mason again.  It’s there.  The plot is starting to form, and I have some ideas that I think will really work to create what I couldn’t before.  It’s percolating, as they say.  To be fair, I’m also actively not writing it.  I was trying to decide which book to read next, and I really, really want to finally pick up Tithe by Holly Black, but like, faeries, guys.  There’s a lot of faeries in that.  Like, that’s the plot.  It’s faeries.  I can’t read it.  I’m going to write Mason if I read it, I promise you.  So, I picked up The Girl at Midnight instead because there’s a blurb on the back that says it’s catnip for Cassandra Clare fans (I swear, I’m going to reread The Mortal Instruments series next year before the new season of Shadowhunters comes out), and I figured something modern-set would help keep me in the Saints mind.  It’s working, but we’ll get to that.

No, I’m not writing Mason again, but I might be soon?  We’ll see.  Saints has probably 10-20k left of part two, and then part three is gonna be real quick.  I’m expecting to hit 150k for this book.  It’s at 90k AS OF TODAY, OH MY GOSH, I’M SO EXCITED.  But I can feel Mason stirring.  I know I say that a lot, that he’s right there, just waiting, but it’s the truth.  I think about him a lot.  I miss him a lot.  The other day, I finally told Patrick the whole dirty story of what happened between Jack and me, and how I felt about Mason after all of it.  Even months later, I’m still trying to convince myself that I can write a novel, and that, more importantly, I can write Mason’s.  Whenever I do eventually sit back down to write it, it’s going to be a lot of hard work to overcome that dark, brooding part of me that’s saying, in one of my best friend’s voices, that I’m a horrible writer and that this novel is the worst thing ever written.  It is going to be a hell of a time to get through it again, but I want to.  Doesn’t that say something beautiful about words, that they can be so powerful that even after something truly awful, they’re still right there growing?  Man, I just love words.

I’m trying to wrap this up, I promise.  Two nights ago, on Wednesday, instead of opening up chapter 25 in Henry’s POV to stare at angrily, instead of playing the same song over and over, instead of wandering around aimlessly through YouTube and Tumblr and Netflix, I just put on music that I wanted to listen to, put on the iTunes screensaver, and read the last 200 pages of Strange the Dreamer.  I went to bed content for the first time in over a week.  I ate more food than should be legal yesterday, and I successfully helped cook Thanksgiving for the first time.  We didn’t die, and it was delicious!  When I got home, I lit some candles, made some tea, picked out a new book to read, and started writing.  I can’t even tell you what the in between looked like, where I got my laptop and opened up Henry’s chapter, but suddenly, the words were just happening.  I’d finally, after several long days of frustration, stopped trying to write and instead just let Mason happen and Lazlo Strange happen and the world turn around me.  By the time Jen got home last night, I had written 4500 words, had the rest of part three worked out, and can now see the end in sight.

Today, I’ve only written a little over 3000 words, but this puts me just under 2000 words away from 50k for the month of November, which I plan to accomplish tonight, and this novel is starting to sprint toward its end.  I know the timeframe that I’m working with before part three, I know how part three unfolds, and I know what the last scene is (the last line, too, actually).  Does this mean I know what’s coming next?  Nah.  I do know that I’d like to work on the second draft for Pen boys, or that I’d like to write the second draft for Mason.  I know that I’d like to maybe even write something different altogether since I’ve been thinking about Shri a little, though that’s highly unlikely.  I imagine whatever comes next, it’ll be with one of these teams–Saints, the Pen boys, or Madhouse.  And you know what, I’m gonna try to be done stressing about what comes next, and just let it happen.  No more blank documents open while I do something unproductive.  If I’m not writing, and I have free time, I’m going to read.  I’ve got this.  And so do you.  So stop panicking about an empty chapter, and go do something else.

Saints word count update & a Jupiter-sized thank you to my critique partners

Wow, for the first time in a while, I actually waited more than two days to ramble about words here.  I’ve got two things that I want to talk about today–where I’m at with the Saints word count/nano why, and something that’s been on my mind lately.

I’ll get the quick bit out of the way and talk about Saints first.

SAINTS
Chapter Words before NaNoWriMo Total Words post NaNoWriMo Total
PART ONE
1 1,445 1,445 1,445 1,445
2 3,015 4,460 3,982 5,427
3 3,111 7,571 3,371 8,798
4 1,772 9,343 1,813 10,611
5 3,403 12,746 3,487 14,098
6 3,743 16,489 3,781 17,879
7 3,502 20,351 3,501 21,380
8 2,855 23,206 2,936 24,316
9 2,077 25,283 2,079 26,395
10 2,981 28,264 3,040 29,435
11 3,444 31,708 3,447 32,882
12 2,156 33,864 2,528 35,410
13 2,604 36,468 3,297 38,707
14 4,179 40,647 4,300 43,007
15 1,380 42,027 1,380 44,387
PART TWO
16 4,693 49,080
17 4,246 53,326
18 2,709 56,035
19 4,547 60,582
20 3,940 64,522
21 4,684 69,206
22 4,421 73,627
23 4,602 78,229
24 3,815 82,044

So, uh.  Hi.  I’ve written 40k this month.  Last time I posted, I had just finished edits for chapter 5 of part one.  Well, in the last nine days, I finished editing part one, adding a little over 2000 words to the first part, and then I wrote 37,657 words for part two.  I’M SORRY, OKAY.  I’m apologizing here because other writers tend to yell at me.  My CPs call me crazy.  A memory on my Facebook recently contained a theory from college that I was actually a vampire and wrote all night instead of sleeping.  I mean, kind of?

I’m going to let you in on the secret.  Not because I don’t want people to yell at me anymore for my word counts (go ahead, it’s fine, I know it’s ridiculous), but because the reality of why those word counts happen is something no one ever believes.  I’m not a vampire, sadly.  I also get around eight hours of sleep a night.  And I know that sounds frustrating because how did I still manage 40k words in seventeen days with those truths?  I’m really not trying to toot my own horn here because while I’m working on a new chapter, you’re probably getting drinks with a friend.  Or hanging out with your significant other.  Exploring the world.  Going to different countries, and living your life to the fullest.

I don’t go out very often.  Maybe once a month, I get lunch or dinner with my roommate.  I spend Saturdays at my parents’ house, and I teach yoga for two hours on Tuesdays.  But the rest of my free time?  It’s spent at my apartment, either in front of my laptop or a book.  Now, before you think that I’m living a sad existence, I promise you, I’m not.  I really, really enjoy my life.  I love spending time with my cats, words, and tea.  A Friday night spent catching up on my favorite TV shows is heaven.  My mom is always encouraging me to make new friends because most of mine live out-of-state, but I love the friends that I have.  I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  I hike (though this year was horrible), I practice yoga in a studio and in my dining room, I’ve been to four concerts in the last four months, I get Mexican and sushi with Jen, I go up north to Maine to spend a weekend with Erin at least twice a year, I spend full days in Salem, and I love my life.  But this is the difference.  Most people go out and have fun, and that’s amazing.  I applaud you.  I just don’t find enjoyment in that most times.

This is why, though, that I can write 40k in two weeks.  I also have a really amazing job that allows me some extra time after my work is done to write a bit here and there.  Every writer’s external life is different.  There have been a few people lately who express shock and awe at my posts about writing, or that say that they admire my commitment.  You know what I admire?  Those of you who have seen the world, that have gone to Greece and Iceland, who have found ways to live in your favorite cities in Maine, who are living like a nomad and just seeing everything.  I admire you.  I wish I had the means and the wanderlust to do what you do.  (Really, it’s the means, I’ve got plenty of wanderlust.)

So, yeah.  I wrote 40k in 17 days, and I had a blast doing it.  But that’s because my life is different.  My world is both smaller and larger.  Smaller because I don’t experience as much, larger because my soul is scattered across hundreds of stories.

That was longer than I meant it to be, which is always the case, really.  On a similar vein, kind of, Saints is going so well!  Edits for the first part were awesome, and I’m really pleased with how everything came out.  Part two is going really strong, and I’m about to enter a very exciting section.  I always feel like authors start the end of their story about 100 pages before the actual end, and it’s always been so frustrating to me, but it looks like I’m doing that now.  Frustrating because it’s usually 9PM, and I’ve started the 100-page ending on accident, and then I end up staying up until almost 11PM finishing the book.  I love those 100-page endings because it’s just chaos and excitement and AH EMOTIONS for a big chunk of the book, which is everything I love writing about.

Image result for evil queen laughing gifWith Saints, though, I’m seeing that that is definitely going to be the case.  They’re about to embark on a job of sorts that will take them out of the city, and when they get back, just all hell breaks loose.  It’s a wild freaking ride as soon as they get back to Obera, and it ends with a massive cliffhanger.

Yo, that is for real my most used gif, and has been used a lot while writing this novel.  Just evil cackling Mary all over the place.

I feel like this relates to inej, her conflicts w who she's become

And now onto my second thing!  I was going to keep rambling about Saints, but it would start to involve the thing that’s been on my mind lately, so here we are.

Firstly, a very warm and overwhelmingly grateful thank you to my critique partners–Erin, Patrick, Jen, and Chelsea.  You are the most amazing people in the world, and I don’t know what I would do without you.  You put up with the most obnoxious behavior from me, answer the most random questions that oftentimes don’t come with context, and are always there when I need help.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

It’s been really enlightening taking on three new readers, and I’m finding that my writing is a lot stronger, and that I’m a lot more conscious as a writer because I know, now, that there are going to be at least one or two people at any given time reading something.

For years, Erin has been one of only two people reading my writing.  She’s read everything–fanfiction, poetry, and novels.  She’s sat through me pacing through her college dorm room, putting up sticky notes everywhere, and frequently flopping on the nearest surface in exasperation.  Sometimes, I send her texts that just say, “What’s a gross color to paint a house?” or “KISSING VIBES STOP ME” or “This is all your fault.”  I usually blame things on her.  She’s a bad influence in the best way.  Erin’s there when I need to figure out how soon is too soon for my kissing vibes to actually realize themselves.  She’s there when I just want to repeatedly sigh about boys and their stupidness.  She’s there for beginnings.

The most important thing about having critique partners is having a wide variety of them.  Not only do all of my partners read different types of books, they write different kinds.  They also all provide me with different kinds of critiques.  This blog is not for the purpose of telling you what kind of partners you should have, but just taking a look at the kinds that I have and why they’re helpful.

I met Erin in college.  Now, I don’t know this story firsthand, but apparently, I was writing Ronan, long-hand, during a photography (?) class.  Erin was sitting next to me, I believe, and I didn’t know her at the time, but she’s since told me that she was so damn curious because a) fire engine red hair and b) I was writing what looked like a novel.  It wasn’t until months later that my roommate introduced me to her, and just like that, we became sisters.  I’m talking we were in each other’s dorm rooms as often as possible, we talk every single day, we shared the deepest, darkest, and silliest parts of our lives with each other, and I very seriously call her my muse.  She is.  There’s no doubt in my brain that most, if not all, of my words are directly caused my her.  Some kind of cosmic magic happens when we’re together, and suddenly, I’m writing a new novel.

At the very beginning, when I’m just writing, writing, writing, Erin helps me keep on track.  Steers me away from diving into relationships too soon, reminds me that the dragon is green, damn it, and not blue, and is generally the first one that sees anything.  She encourages me to keep going, to explore more, to just write.  This partner is definitely someone I think everyone should have, someone that doesn’t look at your grammar or word choices, but instead says, “Write more.”  My favorite phrase of Erin’s is write me things.  Find yourself a critique partner that tells you to write, write, write, that tells you not to look back, not to edit the chapter right after you write it, but instead keep going, keep writing, finish the first draft and then go back.

Some months ago this year, I posted something about one of my novels.  Pen boys, maybe, or Alex?  I’m not sure which.  Patrick reached out to me about it, and I’m the worst so I honestly can’t remember what was said.  It made me smile, though, and I responded.  We used to write together waaaaay back in the day.  We met in middle school, and were great friends in high school.  Like I think most high school friendships do, once we went our separate ways in college, we just stopped talking.  Fast forward to this year, and I thought, wait.  Wait.  The universe is telling me something.

In March, I was viciously and unexpectedly cut out of a friend’s life.  Jack was the other of those only two that used to read everything I wrote.  I’ve spoken before about how I felt like I was floundering, like I didn’t know how to write anymore.

Enter Patrick.  Life took an unexpected turn, and the universe said, “Here you go.”  It honestly wasn’t that long after everything with Jack that I said to Patrick, “Hey, would you be interested in reading one of my novels?”  And just like that, I had a new old friend.  Now, I’m definitely not saying that I traded one for the other because wow, I am so better off now.  And not only did I find a new critique partner, I have a friend that I talk to every day, and an avid reader.

This is the other definite thing you need in a critique partner–a reader!  If you’re a writer, you definitely need to be a reader, but having a partner who also reads a lot is excellent.  Pat’s introduced me to so many incredible books in the last few months (thank you for VE Schwab, holy magic), and has, for the first time ever, flooded my Goodreads recommendations.  It’s been just an absolute dream come true.

What kind of critique do I get from Pat, you ask?  Everything.  Legit everything, it’s just out of this world.  His grammar edits are on point.  Things I hadn’t even realized I was doing.  Oh my gosh, the pronouns in Pen boys are an actual mess.  They’re all boys, but I just don’t like using their names that often, apparently.  It’s so confusing!  I didn’t even remember what a dangling modifier was before his edits?  There are comments on character development, hey look plot holes, sentence structure (including the one I always get: holy shit that was so long why), the I’m going to convince you to use fragmented sentences, aesthetic!  Oh, the aesthetic help is something I never thought I needed, but it’s been amazing.  Figuring out where/how to place paragraphs, where to break them, if and when I should utilize white space, maybe perhaps putting a POV at the top of the chapter, just all the things.

And, to top it all off, Patrick gets a lot of the same random texts that Erin does.  (I sent the KISSING VIBES STOP ME to both of them.)  Yesterday, I sent him a multiple choice question.  We argue about name choices, he keeps me honest from stealing bits of plot, and just all the things.  It’s amazing.

And then there’s Jen.  She calls herself my “basic reader”.  I met Jen at an 80s themed birthday party in our sophomore year of high school.  I’ve shared the picture from that night enough times on Facebook that I’m definitely not putting it here.  We used to pass notes in between classes.  When we went away to college, we didn’t talk a ton, but we met up almost every summer, kept in touch.  After college, when we were both in Massachusetts again, we started to really get back to each other.  She was there in the first week after I got Lily and Grace.  We nearly died seeing Panic! at the Disco together.  We used to drive all the way to Medford just to go to this amazing all you can eat buffet sushi place, and then we moved there.  Not kidding, we live within five minutes of the restaurant.  We’ve been living together since February, and I’m not lying when I say that at least once a week, I’ve come home and just yelled, “I NEED HELP.”  I used to do this to my roommate in college all the time, and good grief, it’s just such a relief to have someone that I can do this with again.

Jen has witnessed all sorts of book freak-outs.  She was there during the entirety of Pen boys, she knows exactly what I mean when I say I’m having Alex vibes, and she is currently the only person reading Saints.  Now, this is exciting for two reasons.  One, the last book that Jen read was the second version of Ronan.  RONAN.  THE SECOND VERSION.  That was in high school.  Oh goodness, it’s so bad.  This is 100% not Jen’s fault, either.  I’ve withheld so many novels from her because they’re “not ready”.  Well, guess what, Mary, neither is Saints, but whatever.  Patrick and Chelsea are both reading Pen boys right now while Erin’s helping me flail about every single book, so when I kept talking about Saints and Jen asked if she could read it, well.  How could I say no?  It’s closer to being ready than a lot of my first drafts are.  I’ve felt very aware and strong in my writing for this book.  I feel like I have a really good handle on these characters and their story.  I feel like the words I’m writing are the right ones, unlike with Pen boys where, even while writing, I knew I was going to have to cut a lot.  So, I said yes.  Have at it.

Last night, while we were doing our weekly old ladies sitting in bed reading together, I couldn’t concentrate at all on the book I was reading because she was laughing about Saints right next to me.  And it’s pretty cool.  Her assessment of herself as the “basic reader” is accurate, and it’s a really helpful perspective.  She points out things that my writer friends just gloss over and says, “Uh, what?”  She circles scenes, and says, “I want to understand this more.”  She gives me realistic reader reactions to romantic and action parts.  She doesn’t look at the grammar or the sentence structure or the the nitty gritties of the plot.  She looks at my characters and how they interact with each other.  She looks at the story as a whole and how it all ties together.

This is another kind of partner that I think is a good idea to have.  Just someone who will read your book and give you honest reactions to it.  There are plenty of partners out there who will help you with your grammar and ask you the important questions, but it’s going to help a lot to have someone reading your book who’s actually your target audience.  Sure, a lot of readers out there are also writers, or gobble up books like it’s going out of style, but a majority of them are going to be people who read a book or two a month, who get sucked into one series a year, who pick up a book and don’t want to know what the symbolism behind something is.  They just want to read a book.

A quick note here.  Not all of your critique partners have to be your best friend.  I know I’m kind of making it out to seem like your partners should be there for every single moment, and while it’s nice to have those, it’s also just a whole new level of wonderful to have someone who’s there specifically for the story, someone who isn’t mixed up in all the behind the scenes and is just focusing on the words and the characters and the novel itself.

My most recent critique partner, Chelsea, is an old friend from college.  We were in a lot of writing and English classes together, and for our freshman (?) year, she lived around the corner from me.  We’ve read various short stories and maybe even poems from each other, and I’ve been kind of stalkerishly following the progress of her new book on social media this year.  She posted recently about how she had just finished the first draft of her book, and a little light bulb went off in my head.  Patrick was in the middle of Pen boys, and Erin was helping me work out the second draft of Alex, and Saints wasn’t a thing yet.  I wanted another look at Pen boys, though, someone who could look at the characters and the plot specifically, and not all the other stuff.  I wanted someone who could tell me if it made sense.  With Pen boys, I’ve got massive blinders on.  I have no idea if it’s good or not.  I think it’s good, but I’m so wildly and uncontrollably in love with it that I was having a hard time figuring out what needed to stay and what needed to go.  So, I reached out.  I told her that I’d seen her post, and was wondering if she wanted to exchange novels.

Chelsea’s comments are a freaking godsend.  I’ve been trying to remember for this entire blog what those critique circles are called in college classes where everyone talks about your piece but you’re not allowed to respond, and I can’t for the life of me, but you know  how most everyone gives a long comment at the end?  Not verbally, but usually a few paragraphs written on the piece about the overall thoughts.  I miss those so much.  They were such a great way to look at someone’s reaction collectively, and a space to ask the questions that really changed the way you wrote something when you went back to work on it again.

Oh my gosh, Chelsea’s end comments.  Almost every single chapter, I’ve just felt a whole new understanding about the story of my Pen boys wash over me.  The questions she asks have opened up things that didn’t make sense before, and made me take a hard look at some of the scenes.  The actual story is going to be so much better the second time around, not just because of the reworked sentences and unnecessary words cut, but because I’ll have a better grasp on the characters, what and why they’re doing something, how they move as a unit and individually, and the story they need to tell.

I know everyone feels this way, but I have the best critique partners.  They all give me such varied edits in such different ways, and my novels are going to be beautiful because of each and every one of them.  They’ve each made me look at my novels in a different way, and as I’m embarking on Saints, I feel solid.  I’m ready.  I can do this because I have an incredible community of writers and readers backing me.

This is twofold.  One, holy magic, thank you.  Thank you to the moon and back.  Thank you more than all the stars.  Two, if you’re a writer, you need a reader.  You need multiple readers.  Find two to three critique partners, and write that damn novel.

nano why

Yes, that title does refer to NaNoWriMo.  No, I am not participating.  Kind of.  (Warning: this also somehow turned into a blog about anxiety.)

Last night was The Used!  It was as surreal as I thought it was going to be, and maybe even a little more.  It was very weird in a wonderful way.  They played a lot of old music, and while I was ready for that, as soon as All I’ve Got started playing, I felt like I was in a time machine.  Small, angry teenager Mary was losing her mind.  It was definitely bizarre to see Bert onstage, too, though not in the way I thought it would be.  I talked about, on Monday, how he’s kind of what Alex looks like in my head.  And while he is, and while I thought seeing him onstage was going to be like seeing Alex onstage, last night was more about Alex being right next to me in the crowd, also losing his mind.  He would have had so much fun last night.  Suffice to say, I had a heck of a lot of fun last night.  My neck and shoulders hurt today from headbanging and pretending I’m younger than I am, but it was well worth it.  They didn’t play my favorite song (Buried Myself Alive), but they did play Taste of Ink (there’s a small video up on my Instagram if you’re curious!), so that was pretty cool.

No one is surprised when I say that I was feeling major Alex vibes on the way home.  I fell asleep thinking of him, and drove to work this morning in his brain.  With that in mind, I started to think about NaNoWriMo this morning.  If you’re not savvy with that ridiculous acronym, it’s National Novel Writing Month.  I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, and I don’t intend to start now.  I respect everyone that wants to participate in it, so before you put on your defense gear and jump down my throat, let me explain.

<<< This is why NaNoWriMo sounds like a terrible idea for me, personally.  When I was just a wee thing, I was terrified of the world.  I couldn’t order my own food in restaurants.  I would not approach new people, and wouldn’t talk when new people were introduced to me.  In the third grade, it got so bad that I spent months sleeping on a cot in my parent’s bedroom.  I need the last thing I say to my family (and cats) is I love you just in case they die before I see them next.  To this day, I have such terrible memories associated with vomiting that if I start to feel nauseous, I actually start to panic.  Sometimes, it’s just little things.  Every Sunday, I hard boil eggs for the coming week for lunches.  Every Sunday, I look up the same recipe on AllRecipes, follow it to the letter with timers set on my phone, and then, on Monday, when I’m cracking the egg against the side of the table at work to peel it, it gets a little hard to breathe for a second while I stress over whether or not it’s going to actually be hard boiled inside, or maybe I screwed it all up, and I’m about to crack a regular egg and spill it everywhere.  Sometimes, it’s a lot bigger than that.  I’m going to meet Maggie Stiefvater in a couple weeks on her tour for All the Crooked Saints.  This will be my fourth time meeting her, but only the second time I will actually manage to say something to her.  The first two times, I stared at her in utter disbelief and then ran away.  I do this with most “celebrities”.  I’ve met Breathe Carolina three or four times, and barely managed to squeak out a hi before running for the hills the last time.  I felt like I was going to actually die when I met Will Francis.  Once, I turned around and walked in the other direction when I saw Pierre Bouvier coming toward me.  When I met Rachel Brathen a few years ago, I blacked out our entire conversation.  I remember walking up to her, and then walking away.  I have no recollection of the actual event.  My dad videotaped it, so I know what I said to her, but that’s the only evidence that it actually happened.  This isn’t just meeting famous people nerves, either.  It’s actual panic.  I can’t breathe.  My throat closes up.  My hands shake.  My heart is planning a grand escape.  Sometimes, I get a little dizzy.  It’s not fun.  And I get mad at myself every time because I have these amazing opportunities sometimes, and I can’t do it.  During The Academy Is…’s anniversary tour for Almost Here, we accidentally got let in with the VIPs even though we had normal tickets.  I was so confused why we were being let in early, and then I noticed that everyone was wearing wristbands and oh holy no way there was William Beckett.  I pleaded with one of the security guards until he let us go back outside into the line because I could not meet them.  It just wasn’t even a remote possibility.  However, someday I want to meet Brendon Urie and be a coherent human being, so I’m working on it.

Last year (was it last year?  two years ago?), I went to see Maggie on her tour for The Raven King, and I practiced what I was going to say to her the entire way up and while I was waiting in line.  I’ve been wearing the same mala beads on my left wrist for years, and I use these to count breaths during signing lines, when I’m getting blood drawn, while on the phone with customer service, anywhere that makes me anxious.  I counted them right up until I was standing in front of her, and I remembered everything.  That was the first time I ever successfully engaged with a “famous person” and survived.  I’ve already started rehearsing what I’m going to say to her in a few weeks, and I’m confident that it will turn out well.

Wow, I don’t know how this happened.  I did not intend to word vomit about my anxiety, but it relates to why I don’t do NaNoWriMo, so I guess it was inevitable.  Everyone who knows what this month is and knows that I’m a writer gives me a hard time for not participating in it.  Well, folks, this is why.  Imagine all of the above is an everyday thing, and then imagine trying to tell yourself you’re going to write 50k words in one month.  Yeah, no.  That’s a terrible idea.  If I did, I’d immediately start making up charts with how many words I had to write a day, staying up late just to achieve that word goal, panicking on days when I couldn’t manage it, abandoning even the mere idea of reading, feeling like an utter failure when the words I forced myself to write weren’t great, and then scrapping all of it at the end of the month if I even managed to make it throughout all of November with 50,000 words.  The funny part is, I can manage 50k words in a month no problem.  But tell me that I have to, and it’s never going to happen, and suddenly my favorite month of the year has turned into a war zone.

This is not to say that other writers shouldn’t participate in NaNoWriMo.  I actually think it’s a really neat idea.  It’s a fun sort of challenge to see what kind of quantity you can produce under pressure even if the quality isn’t top shelf.  And, hey!  You’ve got most of a novel, or half, by the end of the month, which is pretty stellar.

So, with all this said and done, no, I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo.  Kind of.  I’m not going to tell myself I have to write 50k words in one month, but if you’re curious about what my writing count looks like through the month, I am going to be posting an update with each blog.  Which means not only do you get a look inside how much I write in a week, but also a little more of my process.  How’s that, you ask?  Well, see above–I keep word count charts that I update at the end of every day if I’ve written that day.  For the month of November, my goal is to edit the first 15 chapters of Saints, possibly start part two, and also, maybe, probably, work on Alex the Destroyer.  (No one’s surprised, including me.)  I’m going to paste the charts below.  They’re broken up into Chapter/Words before NaNoWriMo/Total/Words post NaNoWriMo/Total.  For Saints, there’s already some stuff in the post section because I started edits a few days ago.  For Alex, there’s nothing, and there are also some chapters that are blank on the before side.  This is because I’m already on Alex’s second draft, and I know there are some chapters I need to add in, but I haven’t written them yet.

SAINTS
Chapter Words before NaNoWriMo Total Words post NaNoWriMo Total
PART ONE
1 1,445 1,445 1,445 1,445
2 3,015 4,460 3,982 5,427
3 3,111 7,571 3,371 8,798
4 1,772 9,343 1,813 10,611
5 3,403 12,746 3,487 14,098
6 3,743 16,489
7 3,502 20,351
8 2,855 23,206
9 2,077 25,283
10 2,981 28,264
11 3,444 31,708
12 2,156 33,864
13 2,604 36,468
14 4,179 40,647
15 1,380 42,027
ALEX THE DESTROYER
Chapter Words before NaNoWriMo Total Words post NaNoWriMo Total
1 1,546 1,546
2 3,055 4,601
3 3,149 7,750
4 1,710 9,460
5 1,202 10,662
6 3,950 14,612
7 4,003 18,615
8 2,204 20,819
9
10 1,735 22,554
11 2,864 25,418
12 1,065 26,483
13 3,743 30,226
14
15
16 2,682 32,908
17 2,675 35,583
18 3,771 39,354
19 3,680 43,034
20 1,689 44,723
21 5,794 50,517
22 2,793 53,310
23 3,168 56,478
24 2,605 59,083
25 2,332 61,415
26
27
28 1,612 63,027
29 1,803 64,830
30 1,898 66,728
31 1,343 68,071
32 844 68,915
33
34 695 69,610
35 3,770 73,380
36 127 73,507
37 1,351 74,858
38 1,706 76,564
39 3,595 80,159
40 113 80,272
41 2,865 83,137
42 1,668 84,805
43 1,009 85,814
44 5,671 91,485
45 131 91,616
46 1,580 93,196
47 1,774 94,970
48 453 95,423
49 2,933 98,356
50 1,029 99,385

As you can see, I’ve only written about 1300 words in the last eight days, all edits for Saints.  With my regular charts, I also keep a running count of page per chapter and total pages.  I do this for every novel, too.  I’m not saying it’s something you definitely need to do, but great segue way here to something I totally did not plan on talking about.

I have had countless people tell me it’s about quality, not quantity when it comes to writing.  You’re right, but you’re also wrong.  Because yes, you’re never going to get published if you’ve got a poorly written book.  You’re also never going to get published if you hand a 300k word manuscript to a YA agent.  (Good lord, who even has time to write 300k words.)  Really, 200k is too much.  100k is pushing it, but you might get a read.  Think I’m just making these numbers up?  Writer’s Digest published this article in 2012, and if that’s too old for you to believe, here’s another one from 2015, another from 2016, and finally, one from June of this year.  The numbers are pretty much the same through the years with some small fluctuations here and there.  So yeah, quality matters.  But if you want to find an agent who will publish you, so does quantity.

I’m not saying make charts, and keep a running count of how many words each chapter is.  I am saying keep an eye on your overall word count.  I do individual chapters because I like my chapters to have an average length, so if I’m coming out at 2500-3000 words per chapter, I’m going to try to keep it that way throughout.  That’s not going to happen every time, obviously, but I enjoy reading novels with a familiar pace, so I try to write those, as well.  But make sure you know where you’re at.  Make sure you know where you should be in the end.  Right now, Pen boys is 180k words.  As an urban fantasy young adult novel, I’d like to get that down to at least 100k words.  I know cutting 80k sounds like a crap ton, and it is, but it’s totally doable while keeping most of the story intact and just getting rid of extraneous words (and a good chunk of that flailing in the beginning).  Alex came out at 99k words.  As a fiction young adult, I’m going to try to get that down to 80k or so.  Both of these novels were written freely, just me putting words on paper and seeing where the world took us, but as I sit down with a second and third draft, it’s about fine-tuning it, reshaping it into something I can believably see existing on shelves.

Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience. -Ralph Waldo EmersonSo, here’s to you, November.  I’m going to write when I can, read a lot, snuggle with my cats, meet Maggie and try to remember to tell her just how much her words mean to me, overeat on Thanksgiving, practice yoga, and hopefully come out with most of a novel on the other side.  I’m not going to stress out about writing 50k words in a month.  I am going to continue tracking how many words I write, and I’ll post updates occasionally to check on my progress, but it’s just going to be a chill month.

And for those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, my hat’s off to you!  Good luck, godspeed, and stay hydrated.  Hoard snacks, take breaks to go outside, and spend at least five minutes a day dancing.  You’ve got this.  Also: don’t forget to read.  And if you’re only going to read one book in the entire month, read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  It takes place in November, and it’s about death-defying stunts, as well.

Tomorrow is going to be surreal as heck.

Today is Monday, November 6th.  I am currently working my way through the entirety of The Used’s discography because tomorrow, on the 7th, I’m going to see them live for the first time ever.  I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that that’s really happening.  If they don’t play Buried Myself Alive, I might cry.

I wish this was my room oml ♥ ~AbiThe Used was instrumental in my high school survival.  I’m honestly not sure how I haven’t seen them before?  They were my jam, man.  Back when the unholy trinity was barely a thing (P!ATD, FOB, MCR), I was almost constantly listening to My Chemical Romance, The Used, and Story of the Year.  My parents once dropped me off on a street corner in New Hampshire in the middle of the winter to wait in line to see MCR.  I think I was sixteen at the time?  It was my first concert without them, and I was meeting friends there.  It was, hands down, one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.  It was during the Black Parade era, and the show began with Gerard rolling out on a stretcher in hospital garb to sing the opening song.  All of them were in the black uniforms, and it was just–wow.  I’m never going to forget that night.

I never got to see Story of the Year, and I’m pretty upset about that, but tomorrow, finally, I’m going to see The Used.

Now, I have a kind of tumultuous relationship with The Used.  I was in love with them for their first two albums, and then, right around when Lies for the Liars was coming out, there was this huge controversy between their singer, Bert, and their drummer, Branden, about the kind of lifestyle the band was leading.  I had a very soft spot for Branden in my heart, and when he was kicked out of the band, I threw an absolute fit and stopped listening to The Used.  This is not an uncommon thing for me.  When Ronnie Radke left Escape the Fate, I threw a party and then refused to even entertain the idea of any new music he might put out.  After Benedict Cumberbatch’s awful comment about people with autism, I refused to support anything he did.  (I’m still furious they cast him as Doctor Strange.)  There are others, too, that I’ve turned my back on, but it’s a long list, so I’m not going to get into it.  However, a few years ago, Bert apologized to Branden, and they seemed, at least on the outside, to have settled things.  I started to cautiously listen to their music again, but it wasn’t really until Imaginary Enemy in 2014 that I was tumbling head over heels in love again.  When they released their tour this year and their new album, I was all over that.

You may be wondering why all of this is relevant to a writing blog.  So, when I first start writing a novel, even before the writing part happens, I like to hop on Pinterest and start generating ideas.  This happens every time, and always at the very beginning.  I usually continue to pin while I’m writing, but I’ll get a good board going before I start.  It helps when sometimes I just need to get in the right head space, looking at all of the different aesthetically specific things I’ve pinned, or even when I’m stuck and need to help myself get out of a hole.  This is one of my favorite ways to accomplish what I always refer to as the Sheldon Cooper Writer’s Block.  If you watch Big Bang Theory, you may be familiar with the episode I’m going to reference.  If not, no worries, I’ll explain it.

There’s this episode where Sheldon, a literal genius, is trying to solve a problem.  I can’t remember what problem it is, just that he’s stuck in a bad way, and he can’t see a way out.  He decides that he needs to do something monotonous to let his mind just work, so he starts working as a busboy at the Cheesecake Factory, where one of the other characters works.  While he’s bussing, the part of his brain working on the problem comes to the answer, and he has a true moment of epiphany.

This.  This is a real thing every writer needs to apply to their process.  If you’re in a rut, do something else.  It doesn’t even have to be related.  Go outside, and hike a mountain.  Watch an episode of TV, or twelve.  Read a book.  Call up a friend, and get lunch.  And if you want it to be related, head on over to Pinterest and start pinning the heck out of everything.  Let your brain hang out in the world without actually working in the world.  But stop trying to force yourself to write.  Run away.  Go do something else, and the problem will work itself out.

I don’t often subscribe to those “how to write a novel” articles, but this works.  I promise.

This all connects, I swear.

After I’ve got a good board going, one of the things I like to do is find real life people to represent my characters in my head.  Sometimes, you’re never going to find the perfect person.  I’ve had at least four different actors for Ronan, and I don’t think I’m ever actually going to find what he looks like because he’s so specific in my head.  Sometimes, you’re going to find a pretty good compromise, and you can adjust the rest while writing.  Sometimes, you’re going to find the one.

Alex

That’s Alex.  Unequivocally.  That’s him.  Yup.  Who is that, you ask?  Bert McCracken, lead singer of The Used.  I’m not even sure how I stumbled across him.  I might have just been in the punk rock tag, and he might have just been in there, but I remember scrolling through pins, stopping real quick, and just blinking stupidly at this picture.  I remember thinking, wait, that’s Bert?  No way.  Yes way.  And it just stuck.  He became Alex for me.

A lot of the other characters in his novel are also perfect matches–Taylor Momsen for Michele (mom), Andy Beirsack for Billy (boyfriend), and Machine Gun Kelly for Max (dad)–but Bert stole the show for me.  Every time I write or even think about Alex, this is who I see.  There are, of course, small things that make him less Bert, more Alex, as with all real life people I find for characters, but still, it was pretty wild.

And now i'm being talked into listening to some country?So now, I’m going to see The Used in concert tomorrow.  Not only is little, teenage Mary very excited, but it also feels like it might be very surreal.  It’s going to be like seeing my Alex onstage.  Alex is already so real to me that this is just going to be taking it to a level I never even imagined.  And I know all of this sounds really insane, and it probably is, but as someone who wrote about a punk teenager trying to survive with music as a crutch, this is just otherworldly, going to see the person who looks like him in my head.  Right now, if Alex was real, he’d be onstage somewhere, singing his heart out, covered in sweat and tattoos and ripped up clothes, and some angry teenager in the crowd wouldn’t be feeling so alone.  And maybe I’ve gotten past the part where I’m an angry teenager, but music still makes me feel less alone.  And tomorrow?  Tomorrow, I’m going to be closer to my Alex than I’ve ever been before, and I’m very, very excited.

So again, I say, here’s to you, every angry teenager out there.  Rock on, you rad little beasties.  Alex would be proud of you.

all of these novels somehow exist in my head at the same time, HELP ME

PART ONE IS DONE

Cheese and crackers, guys.  42k in 19 days.  If you’re not sure what that means (I have a lot of people that just go uh what whenever I quote word counts at them), that’s 73 single spaced pages.  I’ve never done novels in parts before, but this one felt like it should be?  The Shades of Magic trilogy and Crows duology both had parts, and I really liked how that felt.  Plus, this one has three very distinct moments in it, things that feel like the endings of something and the beginnings of something else.  Here, have some stats:

The first part is 15 chapters long.  Each chapter is generally about 3k words, give or take a few here and there.  There are 7 POVs in total, which I know seems like a lot, but 5 out of the 7 are our Saints, and one of them is a priest that only has two chapters at the beginning and the end, and I’m going to stop right there before I spoil something.  It was only supposed to be 6, too, but then I accidentally discovered who my favorite character was, and I wanted to write for him, OOPS.

Now, I promised that I would explain a little more in depth about what this novel is if I finished part one today.  (Series, I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to be a series.  Probably a trilogy.  Maybe more.  No one knows at this point.)  Well, hi.  It’s been 16 minutes since I finished part one, and I’m listening to celebratory dance music.

So, you know the Saints.  We’ve got Landon, our fearless (maybe literally) leader.  Vivian, katana-wielding badass.  Ezra, quiet and deadly (accidental favorite character).  Miles, obnoxious about his guns and also apparently a foodie?  Madison, explosions expert.  Which, honestly, doesn’t tell you anything about them.

openingcrop-30Landon is a tall, dark stranger.  He wears a literal bone mask when he’s out doing terrible things, has a history of headaches and migraines, likes to smudge kohl across his face when he’s out doing said terrible things to hide his freckles because there is an actual constellation of them on his face, rides a motorcycle that in this universe is called a hellcat and is a total nerd about how much he loves it, is very fond of his fellow Saints and kind of acts like a dad to them sometimes, has a mega crush on Ezra that he is going to hide in a very, very large hole that he’s dug, occasionally initiates midnight baking wars with Miles, has a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good father that you’ll all appropriately hate, and HAS MAGIC OH MY GOSH.

Hi, there’s magic in this book.

There’s magic in all of my books except Alex.

Landon’s magic is pretty cool, though.  He can create life, but only with plants.  So, when he kills the priest, all the way at the end of that scene I shared on National Day of Writing, a small green bud grows in the pool of blood.  HA.  Life in death.  I’m sorry.  Anyway, he’s gifted with plant life.  He can manipulate the earth, loves the Arboretum, does landscaping sometimes for the upper class, and (this is my favorite part) can heal himself via water.  Whaaaaaat.  Think about it, it makes sense.  Plants need water to grow.  Landon uses water to heal.  This is made even more interesting by the fact that Ezra also has magic, and his gift is with fire.  Literal light and dark, these two are, and it’s going to break hearts, and I CAN’T WAIT.

So, Ezra.  He is your typical broken boy trope.  He’s got the worst of the unforgivable pasts of the Saints (see: Sam Roth in Shiver; his parents were a pretty big inspiration, ouch), has the uncanny ability to basically exist without making noise and totally uses this to be a punk and scare the crap out of people, though he also dutifully makes noise when approaching Vivian because he knows how much she hates it, once said he had to see an alley about a cat and showed up a few chapters later with a black cat named Shadow, is a terrible sleeper, so he can often be found under the bunk beds (YUP) he and Miles share (DOUBLE YUP) or in the back of the closet (which has knives hanging off the door), will eat literally anything you put in front of him, but somehow still remains thin as a twig, but is also stupid strong because hello, he doesn’t carry weapons, just a lighter for his fire.  The thing with magic is that you can’t create out of nothing, right, so Ezra carries the lighter around so that he has constant access to fire.  Ezra’s a bit of a goon, but he’s so sweet and sad that he’ll make you laugh and cry in the same scene.

Then we’ve got Miles, who is runner up for my second favorite character.  Miles turned into a foodie with absolutely no influence from me, and is now a cooking champion, also works as a mechanic and pretty much taught Landon everything he knows about hellcats, has a very soft and tender spot for Ezra and just wants to hide him from the world, thinks clothes should be optional, goes with the flow almost always because hey, if he’s going to get to shoot someone, it’s going to be a good day, so he’s not about all that drama, doesn’t believe in the cathedral’s religion and definitely thinks he’ll catch on fire if he tries to go in there, and is asexual.

Madison and Miles spend a lot of time together in my head.  They don’t on paper yet, which is concerning, so I’ll have to remedy that soon.  Madison is Landon’s younger sister, is as different from him as possible in that she’s bright, lively, and all around a joy to be around, is an actual certified genius, so she attends a prestigious university in the Highlands with people way older than her, thinks Landon needs to smile more and scowl less, though she followed him to the Saints because she believes he’s going to change the world, is feared almost as much as Landon purely for her fierceness, still attends services at the cathedral, and is hopefully going to get a girlfriend in book two.

Last, but certainly not least, is Vivian.  She has the second worst past of the Saints, sleeps with her katana, works at a jail in the Midlands where she’s a total boss, is exceptionally good at getting information out of people (translation: torture) even though she despises it, thinks that the Saints are doing Ioth’s (God) work, and thus they’re in the right when they kill people, which is completely backward logic, and it’s not going to be fun when she finally acknowledges that sometimes they kill just because they can, has the absolute worst crush on Landon in the world, and is going to be pretty crushed when Landon stops digging his feelings for Ezra into a hole, kind of wants to save everyone she comes across, and will ultimately be the one that convinces the Saints to take Cole back.

Cole?  Who’s that?  Well, I also accidentally added two characters to the roster.  Beyond the Saints, the other characters we’ll see are Henry and Isaiah Ash.  Sam (Isaiah’s son) is mentioned, but we honestly don’t see him a lot, and he won’t have POV in this book.  (I almost said ever, but that might be untrue.)  There are unnamed priests, deacons, and bishops that show up (and one cardinal), and a few minor characters that the Saints smuggle out of the city, but Henry and Isaiah are the other two big characters.  And then, whoops, there was Bellows and Cole.

Bellows is someone that really won’t be a character until the next book.  He’s in two scenes, I think?  He’s a prisoner at the jail Vivian works at, and his first scene is when he escapes just so that he can tell her he wants to speak with Landon.  His second scene will be at the end of the book when he actually gets around to having that conversation with Landon.  Spoiler: they’re going to break him out of jail, and he’ll become a Saint.  He’s crazy.  It’s awesome.

Henry and Cole go hand-in-hand.  When Henry was young, the same father that is awful to Landon, came at him with an iron knife and blinded him.  Their father (I’m not telling you his name, so don’t ask) is vehemently against magic, and iron, like with faeries, is bad for people with magic.  I mean, the whole knife part would have done, but, you know, salt in wounds and all that.  Henry was four.  This is one of the primary reasons why we hate their father.  Which means, obviously, that Henry’s got magic.  Bingo.  Now, Henry’s not a healer, but he can read and manipulate energy.  He can tell when someone’s in pain, and where that pain is in their body.  He has private tutors, and just excels with his biology and anatomy tutor.  He can’t heal broken bones, but he does know exactly what to do with them, and this is both because of his studies and because of his gift.  Because sometimes, even though the prescribed method is path a, Henry’s magic lets him know that the more efficient way will be path b.  Spoiler: eventually, he’s also going to leave his father and join the Saints.

Cole comes into this in a funny way.  Originally a Saint, Cole did something truly awful (no spoilers because I haven’t figured it out yet) and Landon threw him out as a consequence.  Whatever it was, it was bad.  However, Landon’s a resourceful little sneak, and he knew that he couldn’t just throw Cole to the wolves.  Instead, he sussed him out a few months later, and told him he had a job for him.  Landon sent Cole to look after Henry, to be his caregiver, both to actually help him and to protect him from their father.  Fast forward five years, and wow, Cole’s so in love, it’s stupid obvious to everyone but Henry, of course.

 And then there’s Isaiah Ash.  The Ash family is basically the Black family.  They’re the oldest, most dangerous, and worst possible people in the world.  They hate those with magic, and they’re hellbent on getting rid of everyone that does.  Isaiah, always one to outdo his awful reputation, kidnaps those with magic to experiment on them to see if he can separate the magic from them.  He can’t, and all of them end up dead.  The sticky part of this is that the cathedral backs him.  Quietly, of course, but they do nonetheless.  Their reasoning is that they believe the magic is a holy gift from Ioth, but shouldn’t be in the hands of lesser people.  Translation: those that don’t work for the cathedral, that aren’t “holy”.  So, they help Isaiah in his wicked plot because they believe they’re trying to separate Ioth’s gift from Kull’s (the devil) unworthy vessels.

Starting to see a plot in all this?  I hope so.  If I had to break it down into one sentence, it would be this: A group of smugglers who call themselves the Saints are at war with the church and the rich, who believe magic is a sin.

The Saints smuggle people with magic out of the city before the cathedral or Isaiah can get their hands on them.  And when they can’t in time, that’s when the killing and the blowing things up happen.

And that’s about as much as I’m willing to give up.  Lies.  Here’s a sneak peak of the chapter in the picture I posted on Instagram yesterday:

An Alley Cat's Point of View

The world was falling into darkness.  Shadow storms were old, unforgivable things.  In twenty years, Landon had only gone outside during one once.  Shadow storms were often the setting for bedtime stories that parents told their children meant to warn them of the dangers of their home.  The Dying Lands, a large, barren stretch of desert visible only from the very edge of the Lowlands, was what happened to cities when they did not obey Ioth’s wrath during the shadow storms, when they tried to stand against His will.

As the hellcat thundered its way through the emptying streets, Landon prayed.  He prayed as he hadn’t done in years, actual words taking shape.  They fell from his mouth in whispers, scattered across the street, and twisted away in the howling wind.  He didn’t think his prayers would save him now.  Even as a young boy, in love with his god, he’d known what shadow storms were.

This was not Ioth’s wrath.  This was Küll, revealing how complacent they’d become and reminding them how meager their lives were.  Ioth was not with them now, would not protect them from the shadows falling all around them.  Even so, Landon prayed.

Prayed for a safe journey, prayed for Vivian, prayed for his friends, and even the house, prayed that they would make it out of this alive.

It occurred to him, his prayers overflowing and flooding the streets, that this, this unnamed thing he was afraid they would not survive, was not the shadow storm, but something larger, something colder.  Someone, truthfully.

October Reads

Somehow, I’ve read 11 books in the month of October?  Frankly, I’m not sure how that’s possible, but here we are.  At the moment, I’m only three books away from completing my challenge of 75 for the year, which is very exciting.  The 11 books I read this month are all very, very different from one another, and I’m really not even sure how I got through some of them.  Not to mention I seem to be back to writing, so it’s been one hell of a busy month.

Enjoy!

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

What: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
When: 10/2-10/3
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: I think, terribly, that I’ve never read this before.  I haven’t the faintest why, but when I sat down with this at the beginning of the month, I recognized nothing.  I read this to try to reboot my interest in writing Mason, which clearly didn’t work, but I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless.  I don’t think I quite realized how hilarious Carroll can be.  I was, honest to goodness, laughing out loud during the books.  I read Alice on the 2nd and Looking Glass on the 3rd, and it was the kind of reading that I spent all day on and then went home and kept reading.

Though this is technically a children’s story, it’s the same kind of children’s story as The Hobbit.  Which is to say it’s really not a children’s story at all.  I think that’s probably the way it is for most non-contemporary children’s stories, but I know I certainly wouldn’t have understood half of this as a child.  This was really just such an enjoyable read.  The writing was excellent, the jokes were phenomenal, and the story is a classic.  I was thoroughly pleased with this.

What: A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk: How to Work with the Elemental World by Edain McCoy
When: 10/2-10/7
Rating: ★★★
Review: You want to know what I was not pleased with?  This book.  I’ve read my fair share of how-to’s and guides and what have you concerning faeries.  When I was first beginning Mason, I put a crap ton of work into the lore.  Granted, it still needs a lot of work and should probably just be redone entirely, but the research done for the faery lore for Mason’s novel is more than I’ve ever done for something I was writing.  This didn’t help one iota.  It read more as a spiritual guide for Pagans, and for anyone that isn’t a Pagan who believes in faeries, then you’re doing it wrong.  I hate that.  No one’s faith is right.  As long as you believe in something, then you’re doing it right.  This whole idea that if you don’t believe in faeries, then you’re just going to get kidnapped and killed by them?  Boring and untrue.

To be fair, I did give this three stars, so there had to have been something that interested me in this book.  And there were.  I really enjoyed the glossary in the back.  It took up a good portion of the book, and outlined more types of faeries than I’ve ever seen.  There were little nuggets of gold throughout, too.  Things faeries didn’t like, some of which I’d never heard before, or ways to invite faeries in.  Some of it was informational.  Most of it was religious propaganda, but alas.  I’m not upset I read it.

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)

What: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
When: 10/6-10/8
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: THIS BOOK.  If I were to do this book justice and really write a review for it, it would be ten pages long.  That’s not even long enough.  I loved this book so much.  I don’t have words.  I’ve had this on my shelf for a while, and everyone’s been recommending it to me, so I finally just sat down and did it.  And wow.  Six of Crows is a huge influence for Saints, and it was like reading it opened up a well of new magic inside of me.  After I finished it, I immediately had eight million story ideas.  Bardugo is a genius.  A true literary genius.

This story follows a band of criminals, thieves, and thugs.  Our six main characters are Kaz Brekker (master lock pick and scheming face extraordinaire), Inej Ghafa (an acrobat nicknamed the Wraith who walks on rooftops and named her knives after her Saints), Wylan Van Eck (WHO UNEXPECTEDLY STOLE MY HEART, blowing things up expert and moral compass), Jesper Fahey (with actual pearl-handled revolvers that he strokes lovingly and a gambling problem because of his secret magic whoops), Nina Zenik (a Grisha Heartrender who can legit stop your heart with her will and waffle lover), and Matthias Helvar (giant of a man who loves wolves and his country and his god, and just wants to be happy, okay).  This review is going to be a mile long, not sorry but here’s the most perfect picture ever to describe it that I found on Pinterest:

Never heard of this book? Is it new?

Yo, this book is amazing.  It’s full of guns and gory violence and blowing shit up and dramatic longing glances and ANGST OH THE ANGST THERE’S SO MUCH MY POOR WIBBLY HEART CANNOT HANDLE IT and POCs and rib-cracking hilarious dialogue and poor blushing Wylan (literally how did he become my favorite character, HOW) and Kaz’s aesthetic crow cane that he custom-made to break people’s bones and Kerch holy mother of all things that are good KERCH what an amazing world and the fact that the magic is not the focal point but wow the magic is beautiful and just jaw-droppingly good backstories and literally all the things.

I promise I’m almost done.  But first, the writing.  It’s so elegant, and so well crafted.  There’s everything you could possibly want in this writing and this world, and I just want to stay here forever.  And secondly (lastly), the fact that no one is perfect.  Too often, we get these well developed worlds and characters, but they’re all tall and thin and have nothing going against them.  Sure, in rare, beautiful moments, we get mental instabilities or emotional issues or glasses (I can’t think of any other physical handicap right now), but this–this has so much more.  Kaz has a cane because of a break in his leg that never healed correctly.  Wylan can’t read, though he tried damn hard to learn.  Nina works in a pleasure house, but is shaped like a normal human being.  Not only that, but Jesper and Inej were both people of color, and are main characters.  They represent real, actual people in the world, and I really appreciated that.  It made me open my eyes a little and look at my own writing, look at how I was falling into the perfect white person trap.  Thank you, Bardugo, for writing something that represents the world.

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What: The Wood by Chelsea Bobulski
When: 10/9-10/11
Rating: ★★★★
Review: This was a lot of things wrapped into one.  Reading the summary, it sounds kind of like The Village.  After Winter’s father disappears in the forest he’s meant to protect, she takes over his role as protector.  The forest is starting to show signs of disease, though, and there’s a strange boy who keeps showing up that doesn’t belong there.  Sounds pretty standard, right?  Wrong.  There’s faeries.  There’s actually a whole order of ancient faeries who protect the wood because there are portals into different time periods, and sometimes people accidentally come through them.  Yeah, I was not expecting that.

Regardless, this was a really interesting story.  There were a lot of great twists and turns, the romantic subplot was predictable but still adorable, and Winter, the main character, was very interesting.  I gave this four stars for a few reasons.  One, the lore kind of comes out of nowhere, so the first time you’re introduced to the idea of faeries, you’re a little like wait, what?  Two, the other characters around Winter and Henry were a little stagnant.  I appreciated the best friend trope and the worried mom and the doting uncle, but that was all they really were.  Still, a great book, an interesting plot, and pretty decent writing.

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What: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
When: 10/12-10/14
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: If you know me in real life, you know I’ve been actually dying slowly waiting for this book to come out.  No one’s surprised that I gave this five stars, either, but let me explain before you get all, “Oh, it’s just because Maggie’s her favorite author.”  She is, and there’s a reason for it.

This book is like nothing you are ever going to read.  There are those that have similar vibes–I immediately thought of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton while reading this, which I’m linking because if you read nothing but this book in your life, you’ll be okay, and Gabriel García Márquez–but nothing will ever be quite like this novel.  This book is not about its plot.  It’s not even really about its characters.  The reason it has five stars, and the reason I will reread it again after I’m done digesting it, is because of the language.  Maggie is a master when it comes to language.  It’s haunting.  It forces you to devour slowly.  It sits in your bones for years later, and when you finally pick it back up again to reread, it feels like a different story entirely.  I wanted to read this in one sitting, and I couldn’t.  I needed to soak it in.  I needed to draw out the experience.  If I had tried to read it in one sitting, I’m afraid I might have burst into flames.  Or wept uncontrollably.  I’m still not sure I’ve fully comprehended it.  I feel like I need to come back to this in a few months, and sit with it for a few days all over again.  Read at your own risk, for you may just find yourself looking for a miracle.

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What: Satellite by Nick Lake
When: 10/12-10/17
Rating: ★★★
Review: So, I was in B&N even though I shouldn’t have been, but I had some time to kill before lunch, so I figured, well, I’m in Burlington, it’s my favorite B&N, and I wanted to buy another book that is two reviews down, so why not, right?  I can rationalize buying books in a million different ways, I promise.  This was out of place on one of those display tables, but as I was walking by, hello, space cover, so I stopped, picked it up, read the summary–uh yup, I’m buying this.  It’s about these three kids–Leo, Libra, and Orion–who were born (are you ready for this?) ON THE ISS.  Okay, it’s not the ISS, it’s called Moon 2, but it’s basically the ISS.  Not only that, they’re going home to Earth.  Have you seen The Space Between Us, that film where Asa Butterfield’s character is born on Mars, tries to come to Earth, and ends up nearly dying?  Yeah, same plot.

It’s a good plot, don’t get me wrong.  The science behind it is very interesting.  The story itself was really good.  I loved the characters, the tech lingo, and the first moments on Earth.  All of them were astounding.  I was nervous about how Lake was going to write Leo’s first moments on Earth, but every single one was everything I hoped it would be.  I believed in the writing, in what Leo was seeing, in how he felt.  It all felt so real.  The controversies in this were excellent, too.  This unnamed Company has taken over NASA and basically the entire space endeavor.  That was very interesting to dig into, as well as the whole thing surrounding the kids.  I’m not spoiling it, oh well.  The end definitely had me tearing up a little, too.  It was just so well done.

You may be wondering, then, why I gave this three stars.  Well.  Even just thinking about this book makes me cringe a little.  There was no capitalization, ampersands literally everywhere, barely any dialogue tags, see you later was c u l8r, and let’s just pretend commas aren’t a thing.  This book was a language nightmare.  Hey, if English isn’t your first language, just skip right over this because it’s going to feel like you’re reading Chaucer.  And there was literally, literally no reason for it.  There is no part of me that believes that our future generation isn’t going to be able to type a freaking sentence like a normal human being.  Nope, sorry.  Deducting a star.  And the second star?  I really tried to suspend my disbelief, I did, but the astronauts aren’t realistic.  They panic at the slightest thing, and none of them would ever survive in space.

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What: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
When: 10/17-10/20
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: Dear VE Schwab, just take all my money, BYE.  I read the Shades of Magic trilogy earlier this year, and just fell head over heels in love with it.  Schwab was one of the extras on my auto-buy authors blog a couple weeks ago, and this is, sadly, the last of the books I own by her.  WAIT.  Nope, that’s not true.  I completely forgot that I bought Our Dark Duet, which I will hopefully be reading next month.  I’m going to very slowly buy and read everything she’s ever written.  Why slowly?  So that I can always have something to read.  Goodness, this book.  I didn’t put it in the inspirations for Saints because it’s just a very small thing, but I am drawing inspiration from here that I’m excited about working into the second Saints novel.  This story follows two protagonists, Kate Harker and August Flynn.  You know, a thing Schwab definitely has going for her is memorable names.  Every time, I’m astounded by how wonderful, but how simple, her names are.  Kate is a human.  August is not.  This is the story of Kate trying to live as a human in a world of monsters, August trying to live as a monster in a world of humans, and how both of their lives collide.  I made that sound a lot more romantic than it was.  FYI: there’s no romance in here.  Well, maybe if you squint.

This was well written, and yanked my heart right out of my chest.  The world in this universe was really well crafted.  The lore behind the different types of monsters was interesting and fresh, the layout of Verity was really cool, and the history of all of it left me wanting more.  Kate took some time to warm up to, though I was definitely empathizing with her right away.  August, predictably, I fell in love with from, like, the first sentence.  He’s a sad, broken boy, of course I liked him.  But even beyond that, his struggle with his own humanity while literally not being a human would have drawn me in anyway.  Schwab did an excellent job at their development, too.  Watching Kate accept August took a lot of time–most of the book, really–and that was refreshing to see.  And if all that doesn’t convince you, I immediately bought the sequel.

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What: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
When: 10/22-10/25
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: I promise, this review is going to be several paragraphs shorter than the one for Six of Crows.  I kept putting off reading this because I’m a maniac, and I wanted to be “ready” for it.  After I read SOC, I didn’t want to dive right into this for two reasons.  One, I wanted to wait a few days, read something else, clear my head, heal my heart.  Two, Maggie’s book came out on the 10th, and I finished SOC on the 8th, so I didn’t want to be in the middle of Crooked Kingdom and have to stop to read Maggie’s.  As it turns out, Maggie’s book didn’t get to my house until the end of that week, so I could have read it, but oh well.  And then, I got sick for half a week, which wouldn’t have normally stopped me, but ^^^ maniac.  I wanted to be fully aware and in top shape to read this.  I’m also asking what’s wrong with me, don’t worry.

Much of the same emotions happened in Crooked Kindgom that did in Six of Crows.  I was a mess the entire time–laughed out loud, cried like a baby, stomped my feet, yelled at the stars, the whole nine yards.  It was everything and more than I hoped it would be, that I kind of built it up to be.  I loved every single second of this book, and I can’t wait to reread both of them again.

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What: The Essential Dalai Lama: His Important Teachings by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama
When: 5/25-10/26
Rating: ★
Review: This hurts.  I have given exactly 11 books a one star review in my lifetime on Goodreads, and only 2 other ones this year.  But this was really bad.  If you haven’t been studying Buddhism for, like, a freak ton of time, or even have a basic understanding of it, you’re going to be lost.  The technical terms used in here just clogged the book up so much that sometimes, I would read an entire chapter and wonder what in the world I had just learned.  Nothing?  It felt like nothing.  And even then, there wasn’t a whole lot of learning happening.  I felt like a lot of this was just opinion and very old teachings translated into kind of modern English.  I don’t know.  I really don’t have anything good to say about this book, so I’m just going to not.

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What: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
When: 10/26-10/30
Rating: ★★★★★
Review: I read I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson earlier this year, and I bought this purely because she wrote it and with little idea of what it was about.  Her writing style is so unique, it just transports you to another, more beautiful universe.  This story follows Lennie after the death of her older sister, Bailey, and how she’s trying to figure out how to be a person without her sister.  It’s not nearly as sad as it sounds, though there were some moments that left me a little teary-eyed.  The language that Nelson uses makes it a little hard to feel sad, though.  It’s so poetic, and so bright.  It’s, as Joe says about Lennie, turned all the way on full blast.  It’s wide awake.  Her writing is just something else, and I don’t really know how to explain it.  You just have to read it to find out.  It’s very realistic, I think, too, in the way we talk and express ourselves now.  She’s just an incredible writer, and I’m very sad she only has these two books out.

Not only was the writing in this superb, though, the characters and the story were excellent.  As with I’ll Give You the Sun, Nelson creates characters that feel fully developed, right down to the best friend that only gets a few pages here and there.  Everyone has their own story with their own quirks, and everyone feels like an individual.  The story, too, had twists that I was definitely not expecting, and though the ending was predictable, it was also beautiful.  This is going on my reread list.

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What: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
When: 10/30-10/31
Rating: ★★★★
Review: Happy Halloween!  This was my read for today’s wonderful holiday.  I’ve been wanting to get into Neil Gaiman for a while, and this felt like a good place to start.  It was much creepier than the movie, and I was sad that Wybie wasn’t in the book, but it was so much fun to read.  The artwork was terrifying, the story was interesting, and the characters were very enjoyable.  This is one of my favorite stories this time of year, and I’m glad I’ve finally read it.

And that’s that!  I can’t believe I managed to read 11 books this month.  I’m almost certain the month of November won’t be like that since I’m finally going to sit down with Joe Hill’s The Fireman, but we’ll see.  Happy Samhain!