Monday, December 20, 2010

Is Your Work in Progress a Mystery? (And I don't mean a whodunnit)

Do people know what you write?

It's a simple question, but maybe the answers are sometimes more complex than expected. I've been thinking about this for a bit, mostly on account of a couple of conversations with my friend Matt Rush. And I'll buy him a Vikings jersey if he minds me putting this here.

So the latter of those two conversations was a few days ago, when he mentioned that he didn't know much about my work in progress, and hadn't really felt like it was his place to ask, because I might be keeping the information close to the vest intentionally.

And the earlier conversation was a month or two ago, when Matt found out that I wrote (in terms of my WIP novel) epic fantasy.

Does that surprise? AT first I was surprised that he was surprised. And then I started thinking... about my blog and blog friends, first and foremost. What's on my blog? A lot of stuff about writing in general, as well as some of flash fiction -- which, as it happens, is all literary or literary magical realism.

So maybe other people would be surprised that I spend the bulk of my time writing epic fantasy? It's interesting to think about, as it involves trying to look at yourself through the eyes of someone else, wondering how you present yourself to the world.

I'm an eclectic reader, and somewhat of an eclectic writer, too. I write literary and fantasy, and a magical realist hybrid of the two (sometimes with other genres, like crime and mystery, leaching into those forms). But I think my goal has always been to be a fantasy novelist. My first love. And it was a love that implanted some sort of deep obsession. Novelist! Yes! Sign me up!

I also dabble in literary novels, but my professional goal focuses on becoming that weird and strange breed of madman, the fantasy novelist. Unless someone wants to offer me a huge advance for a literary novel. Just sayin'.

So here we have the fact that I spend endless hours flicking away at laptop keys, writing about sword fights and magic. And also there's the fact that apparently I don't seem to talk about it much. Which is odd considering I (and my buddies) have a blog about writing (and yes, they, at least, know what I write :).

Now, I usually don't talk about projects when I'm working on a first draft. This is true. I'm not sure if it's superstition or merely an idea of energy conservation -- I don't want to expend narrative energy anywhere except on the page. And, perhaps, I don't want opinions yet, either. I don't want other views trying to shape or influence either me or the work in progress. I simply have a vision I wish to follow, and I want a silent world in which to track that tricky monster through the snow.

But my WIP is long past the first draft stage. Heck, if someone gets me talking about it I might not shut up. So it's not that I don't like to talk about my writing.

But perhaps I see it as an imposition? Do any of you feel this? Like, if you start jabbering about the WIP you'll suddenly become that old guy at the bar mumbling on to everyone and no one about his one big thing thirty years ago and wasn't it so great? I suppose I don't want to push my story on anyone, if they're not interested. Maybe I know I won't shut up once started, so I'm merely saving myself from future social awkwardness and embarassment. For example...

Ink: "Should I buy that sequinned shirt that's supposed to be for men?"


Am I the only one like this? Do the rest of you secretly yearn for sequins? Oops, I mean, do the rest of you talk about your works in progress? Do people know what you write? Do you have rules for discussing your writing?

And if people don't know what type of things you write... what would their guess be? And would they be surprised to learn the truth?


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I occasionally talk about my book or WiPs, but I don't go on and on about it - partly because I think the specificity of it would be boring, partly because bores talk about themselves all the time.

I guess I would be surprised if people didn't know what I wrote, because my blog is all about children's books - reading and writing and loving them.

I think we bloggers talk more generally about writing because that is the bridge that binds us together - whether you write epic fantasy or middle grade science fiction, the challenges of craft and character motivation abound. So we can safely talk about craft without being bores, and without genre-judgement.

But it shouldn't be a dark secret either. I delight in seeing snippets of prose from writer-friends that I know on Alchemy. It's a bit of them I don't normally get to see!

R.S. Bohn said...

Actually, I am surprised that your WIP is epic fantasy. Not that I don't like epic fantasy -- I adore it, in fact -- but because I assumed that it was literary.

This is fascinating on different levels. For instance, you probably heard about the whole Docx brouhaha over genre vs. lit (*yawn*, says I, that topic is older than dirt and just as interesting) last week, and here you are, easily slipping from on to the other and then sometimes melding them.

But then there's the whole issue of who people think you are, what your identity is online and why you are portraying yourself that way. Subconcious or not? Questions I've been asking myself this past year. Next year, I want to be more transparent and honest about what I write.

But the short answer, as far as WIPs -- I used to talk to multiple people about them privately, and mention them in passing on my blog. I feel that it was a mistake (for me -- not saying everyone should or should not do it). For my next one, starting here very shortly, I won't be talking about it to anyone.

The big reason, as I see it, is that too many cooks spoil the stew. I had so much input that I almost always lost sight of my original vision. This time, I want to keep it as "pure" as possible, as see what happens.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Well, I do secretly yearn for sequins.

But I don't talk about my WIP at all. I used to, but I don't anymore. It makes me too anxious to have people knowing where I am with it, what it's about. I don't know why. I think I'm a really private person, but also, I don't want to bore others either or make them feel put upon. Do I think they'd feel put upon? Realistically? Probably not. But it makes more sense to talk about writing in general, perhaps using our personal experience as example.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Susan

Yeah, I think I talk a lot about writing in general because that's the connecting point for so many of us. But I wonder if sometimes writing more specific stuff might work too? Because people will still probably make the connection to something different but similar in their own genre. Maybe?

I'm thinking about writing some fantasy posts, is why... especially after dystopia week went well. :)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ R.S.

See, it's really interesting that you were surprised about my WIP, just like Matt. Or not surprising, when I look at what the blog is actually composed of. Makes me kind of wonder at my own subconscious processes...

And I think that question of identity, of real versus online, is interesting. Particularly with this post in mind. Your online persona is more... manipulable? You can sort of plan it, I guess... and yet it's interesting to see how the youness always seeps through, sort of subverting the plan.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Carolina

Yeah, I have trouble sharing about my WIP when I'm drafting. Sort of greedy, I just want me and the story then. But when I'm in revision for a long time it's not so bad. I think I have enough distance then, and don't worry much about being unduly influenced.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think specificity is great, because vagueness isn't much help to anyone. So, if you're thinking Fantasy Week: Tropes, Foils, and Writing the Greatest Wizard of all Time I think that would be awesome - useful and interesting. But if you talked about your WiP all the time (which you wouldn't, I'm just using as an example), i.e. I'm struggling with the character of my wizard and why does he act so much like a warlock, then I think that is over-specific. It's all about connecting to readers (of blogs, in this case).

I haven't written fantasy (yet), but I would definitely be interested in a fantasy series.

Matthew Rush said...

Tawna Fenske had a somewhat similar post today, not so much about the weird phobias you have, or the sequins, but more about sharing details of your novels.

Personally I don't blog about my own novel much, but the query is there, on my blog, so people can always look at the basics, but I would never share excerpts publicly. I'm not sure why I'm paranoid about that but it feels unwise for some reason, also a little pretentious.

But when it comes to my friends, especially ones like you, or my crit group, I love to talk about and hear about their projects. In fact I really can't get enough of it.

As a matter of fact, I would love to exchange books with you. I mean, not right now, mine isn't ready, and I'm sure yours isn't quite either. But I promise to let you read my MS, if you promise me an ARC once you've sold it.

BTW ... is there a title?

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Susan

Ny next post: How I Named All 743 Characters in My Novel...

Okay, I promise not to get too specific!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Matt

I'd be happy to read!

And, man, would it be awesome to have ARCs to give away. I think there would be something about having the physical book for the first time, knowing it was real and not some sort extended delusion...


And the title for my WIP, as of now, is The Dreams of Crows.

Scott said...

Been reading your blog for several months-- I was surprised and delighted to find out that you were an epic fantasy guy. I had assumed (a little disappointedly) that you were a literary elitist and wouldn't consider such things. I enjoyed the blog so much anyway that I still follow, but now that I'm in the know, I'm more excited. I would LOVE to see some fantasy-related posts.
I think most authors are private people. I don't talk much about my WIP(s) and dreams and aspirations to anyone but my wife and maybe my brother. That's partly because I have a long way to go before my work is ready to be seen by anyone, and I desperately want to avoid being one of those never-been-published, not-that-good-of-writing, jaws-about-it-all-the-time-anyway wannabes. (Not accusing anyone particular; if you're connected with this blog I already respect you.)

Seriously, if the author of the stories I've read on this blog were to write an epic fantasy... sign me up for the hardcover edition!

Matthew Rush said...

Oh man, love that working title. I knew there was a reason I always ask you for title help on FF pieces.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Scott

Thanks! Such kinds words really do mean a lot. Inspirational!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Matt

I've always been a sucker for good titles... and my wife and I are always playing the title game: we excerpt sentence fragments from conversation that would make great titles.

Whenever we accidentally do it in public, people think we're weird.

Anne R. Allen said...

I thought you were a literary novelist, too. Not that fantasy can't be literary.

I used to find myself talking about my WIP to non writers: they'd share stories about work colleagues or their cats, and I'd chime in with something my characters did recently. Oooh the glazed eyeballs and blank stares I'd get!

Now I don't share with anybody except my critique group. People don't want to know. In fact most people don't want to know much. They want you to listen to them. So I take mental notes and plot revenge. ;-)

M.A.Leslie said...

Most people don't really know what I write. I haven't ever put thought into why though. Maybe I don't want to be that irksome person that only talks about what I'm doing.
I really haven't ever put any though into it.
To break from the norm though, I enjoy writing Paranormal Mystery/Thriller and Middle grade fantasy. Basically, like reading, I enjoy writing just about anything as long as I am passionate.

IanBontems said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
IanBontems said...

I don't talk about my writing outside of the internet, so only a couple of people that I know in real life know what I do in theory. They might all be online stalkers, but I very much doubt it).

It's weird now that I come to think about it, I'll happily chunter on to relative strangers but keep the matter quiet when it comes to people I do know.

And what is with word verification. 'sperm' Seriously?

Adele Richards said...

LOVE your title, and would love to hear much, much more about your WIP.

Like the others I assumed you were a literary bod in the Franzen mould so this fantasy epic revelation is very exciting. (I think you could still be Franzen too!).

So who inspired you? Tolkien?

I tend not to talk about my WIP so that I can have creative freedom without worrying about all the self-doubt that ensues when you talk excitedly about the premise of the WIP and are met with blank looks!

How far along is your WIP? Do you have a mental deadline for when you intend to query it?

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Anne

Ha! I shall always make certain to listen to you very carefully!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ M.A.

Paranormal mystery sounds cool! And interesting, as I wouldn't necessarily have pegged that for the Leslie team.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Ian

That's kind of interesting. I think I might be the opposite: I'll bore my family with the subject (if they can't forgive me...), while I wouldn't mention it to strangers, unless they really wanted to know.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

@ Adele


And I've read Franzen, but don't think I shall ever write dysfunctional family dramas! Not for me. I need more stuff happening -- a good murder, at the very least, or an inexplicable rain of falling fish.

And, yes, it all started with Mr. Tolkien -- my Mom forced me to read The Hobbit in grade three, hoping to get me interested in reading real novels. And her plan, it seems, worked rather well. (I even have a bunch of Fellowship of the Ring blogposts around here somewhere).

As for my WIP, I sent out one query for it, to Nathan Bransford. He asked for a partial, and then a full, and then said "Oh boy, this needs to be cut down. But show it to me again if you do a major revision."

(all quotations grossly paraphrased)

So I did the major revision and showed it to him again and he thought it was something we could work with, and so we went into long and endless revisions and were doing line edits when the Evil Empire that is CNET lured him away with some sort of mad techno-wizardry.

So, sort of in the market again! (Though I'm still working on those edits - and Nathan was awesome at that, by the way, so I'm pretty happy with the ol' WIP)