Friday, October 13, 2017

On Writing Jane, Unlimited: Webs Versus Lines

Now that I'm home from my tour, the mad rush is behind me, which means that now and then, I have little pockets of time for blogging. When I can, I'd like to fill some of those pockets with blog posts about what it was like to write Jane, Unlimited. This is a weird little book and writing it presented some unique challenges.

Before my first installation, though, I'd like to share some really nice news. I'll share it in the form of a humongous THANK YOU to Kathy Dawson and my team at Penguin; my agent Faye Bender; and all of the many readers who came together to put Jane on the New York Times Best Seller List and the Indie Bestseller List (for the second week!). Thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone, for this gift. I think that if Jane found out about this, she would be astonished and overwhelmed. Hm. Although probably the realization that she's a character in a book would trump the realization that the book is a best seller. HA! I wonder what umbrella she would make to express her feelings :o).

Also, I was interviewed for the New York Times Book Review Podcast a few weeks ago. Follow the link if you'd like to hear me talk with NYTBR editor Pamela Paul about Jane. AND, the NYT review of Jane is out, online and in this weekend's print edition. It's a bright little gem that made me tear up.  Excerpt: "Cashore’s latest is a defiantly weird, genre-obliterating book — it all but rewires your brain as you read it.... Trust Cashore.... She’s a vivid, inclusive writer, and everything serves an empowering subtext: Don’t let anyone tell you who you’re supposed to be, and don’t let anyone tell you what a novel is supposed to be, either."

Now. There are so many topics I want to address about the writing of Jane. For example, the first few drafts were written in the second person, and the reader got to choose in what order to read the stories. I have a lot to say about what it was like to struggle with those drafts, and how things changed when I switched the point of view and took control over the order of the stories. Also, in the earliest drafts, the protagonist – "you" – was ungendered. I could write an article about how hard it is to avoid gender indicators in this society of ours! Also, I learned a lot about genre; about myself as a writer; about my relationship with my wonderful, patient editor; about taking risks and believing in one's project; about the technical challenge of writing the same scene over and over, differently; about clue-planting and hint-weaving; about moments of serendipity (like, the moment you realize that the structure of your umbrella-themed book is shaped like an umbrella!!!); etc. etc.

I think I'll start with something more general. The following is adapted from a talk I gave to librarians, booksellers, and other wonderful book people, during Book Expo in New York this past summer.


Jane, Unlimited is a book about a girl who arrives at a house where strange things are happening; there's more here than meets the eye. And then, at a certain point, Jane has to make a choice. What mystery should she solve? Should she follow the housekeeper, who keeps giving her significant looks? Or, should she seek out the strange little girl she keeps seeing in the distance? Should she tend to the dog, who’s whining like his heart is broken? Or join the friend who's invited her to this house? Or her friend's rakish brother?

From this point, the book breaks into five different stories as we watch Jane make five different choices. And each story is in a different genre. If Jane follows the housekeeper, she ends up in a mystery story. If she follows the brother, she ends up in a sci-fi story. And so on. There's a spy story, a horror story and a fantasy story as well, and, each story informs every other story, and, whichever story you're reading, you can see the other stories playing out in the background, AND, each story informs the truth about Jane's life; who she is; and who she could become.

Because of its structure, the writing of it presented some unique challenges. Let me try to explain.

So, I started writing. I was writing, and writing, and I had these five different stories that I wanted to tell, and each of the stories had a way of informing all the other stories… And immediately, I was overwhelmed, by all the details and all the links between the stories. It was really hard to hold the idea of the entire book in my head. That's one of the main stresses of writing a book – you have this complex concept in your head, and it takes a long time to write a book, so you have to keep holding that thing in your head, and it's just hard to remember everything. But it was especially so with this book, because there’s so much to keep track of. There are probably a hundred things, big and small, that happen in this house after the point where Jane makes her choice, that have to happen in every story. If the moon rises at 5 AM in one story, then it does so in every story. If there’s a man gardening in one story, he has to be doing so in every story, anytime Jane looks out the window or goes out to the yard. If there's a familiar photograph on the wall of a corridor that shocks Jane when she walks past it in one story, then I need to remember that if I send her down that corridor in any other story, she needs to be shocked then as well, even if the discovery of that photograph isn’t relevant to that story.

And of course I take notes and I write book plans and I have a big book map up on my wall with every book I write… But it’s still all needs to be in your head, accessible to you all the time. And that was HARD on my brain, harder with this book than with other books.

BUT, I wrote, and I kept writing. I forced myself to look over the entire book map frequently (which is SO TEDIOUS), to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything super important that would be difficult to fix later. And at this point, you also need to understand that the writing (like, at the sentence level) isn’t very good. It’s your first draft. You’re just sort of throwing things out there to see if they stick. You don’t know who your characters are yet really, you don’t know which descriptions matter and which don’t… You’re sort of building this house around you as you write… So it can be very disheartening, because you’re aiming for this lofty goal, but it feels so far away, and you feel so overwhelmed by things you’re constantly forgetting, and when you look at what you’ve done so far, it’s basically a big pile of crap.

What you do when you’re in that situation is: you KEEP WRITING.

So that’s what I did.

And then, at a certain point while I was writing… a funny thing happened. The weird, nontraditional structure all just suddenly clicked together. And it became strong. And by that I mean that the underlying structure became strong. The book was still a complete and total mess, but I had my basic plot structure, and it was actually quite stable. And the reason it was stable is that instead of being one long line of narrative the way a book usually is, and maybe you go back and forth along the line to fill in earlier or later parts, but ultimately, you’re filling out this long timeline – instead of that, THIS book was five simultaneously-occurring stories. So, five shorter lines stacked on top of each other. And there were connections running from various points in each story to the other stories, story connections wound between and through each other. Which means that the structure of this book was more like a web than a line. A web is a more stable structure than a single long string.

Of course, I also developed a new problem at that point: The plot structure was SO stable that it became difficult to change anything dramatically. Because, like I said before, there were certain things that had to play out a certain way in every story every time. And that meant that if I changed any of those things, every single little change then had ripple effects through every story. This is normal when you’re writing a book. Any change you make will have little ripple effects. But in this book, that danger was multiplied, because there were five different stories for every change to impact. And a change in one story might make another story fall apart completely and not work anymore. I started to feel like I couldn’t change much, like I was locked into the plot I had, with not much wiggle room.

And it was interesting that this problem arose to the extent that it did. Because in this book in particular, I was trying to create a feeling of opening. It’s a book about choice, right? About life’s openness and possibility. But it’s also a book about the things we miss and the mistakes we make and can’t undo... the things we lose every time we choose something else… Because you can’t do everything. You can’t know everything. And you always choose in some ignorance.

And still, the things we can know and can do are so extraordinary.

I think that in a funny, coincidental way, the process of writing this book mirrored the point of the book. With every new decision I made as the writer, doors opened, and doors closed. Until I made the decisions and saw the consequences, I didn’t really 100% know or understand what choice I was making. That’s what happens to Jane in this book, too, except that we get to see the consequences of five different choices for Jane. Though that's not unlike the writing of a book too – because after the writing come revisions, then more revisions.

I'll stop there for today, but add a note to myself that I'll have to blog more about the challenges of the revisions!

So, this is my first attempt to blog about what it was like to write this book… The first angle I'm choosing to tell the story from. I'll choose some other angle next time. I hope you'll find it interesting!

Godspeed to all writers.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Couple Nice Links and Things

It's really hard to know what to do or how to help in the world right now, with all the things. So I'm going to blog one link for helping and one link for fun.

First, if you have some money and you want to contribute to something somewhere, in a way that will actually get to the people who need it… Well, there are a lot of worthy charitable organizations, but I wanted to point out Portlight. It is a cross-disability disaster relief and recovery organization. At the moment, they are working hard to assist hurricane survivors with disabilities, older adults, their families, and their communities. I've heard them spoken of highly – in terms of their effectiveness and the responsible use of their money – in a number of trustworthy circles and from friends. (As I have blogged before, I like to do research into the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations before giving them a penny, or recommending them to others.)

Next, if you're a Buffy fan, I hope you know about the podcast Buffering the Vampire Slayer! These two wonderful women, Kristin Russo and Jenny Owen Youngs, are watching each episode and talking about it, one at a time. And, Jenny is a singer-songwriter – who records a song about each episode, which airs at the end of each episode. So fun! And such interesting conversations. They're at the beginning of S3 right now. And incidentally, these ladies are also doing their part to raise money to help with various worthwhile nonprofits, including, ATM, hurricane relief in Puerto Rico… Check out their Shop if you're interested.

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to everyone on my team and every one of my readers who helped to welcome Jane, Unlimited into the world :o). I will blog more about the tour – how things went, etc. – sometime soon, when/if the world is falling apart to a slightly lesser degree and it feels less gross and self-indulgent. Now that the book is out in the world, I also hope to write a series of blog posts about how I wrote it. In the meantime: Thank you :o). (PS -- I was tweeting while on tour, so head over there to catch up, if you're interested.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

How to Make Your Very Own Awesome Mask

Jane, Unlimited is out in the world now! And I leave for my book tour momentarily, so it's not really the time to be blogging about something completely unrelated, BUT -- in case you're a person who likes to plan ahead for Halloween, and a person who's handy with scissors and glue, AND a person who has lots of cereal boxes lying around....

I wanted to make sure you know about an Etsy shop called Wintercroft that sells downloadable templates for making the most beautiful masks all by yourself!

They have animal masks, polygon faces, imaginary creatures, etc. As long as you're careful to read and follow all the instructions (and enjoy this sort of thing), it's pretty straightforward. I just made this bear.

I made it out of cereal boxes, frozen pizza boxes, and used FedEx envelopes.

Here's what it looks like on the inside.

Kevin tries it on :o)

Good look at Wintercroft! And have fun! And I hope to see you on my book tour.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Writer + Reader = Magic. (Also, my tour is about to begin!)

One of the secret delights of being the author of three standalone fantasy novels that differ in their protagonist, their emotional tenor, and their pacing is that a lot of readers will tell me which one they prefer. And (astonishingly), readers' preferences seem to be pretty evenly divided among the three books. It makes me SO happy that each of my books is finding its right readers. But it also teaches me something about how writing relates to reading – something about how little control I have over my readers' experience of reading. Every time a book is read by someone new, it becomes a different and unique book. One of the awesome things about being an author is watching my books become things I never expected or intended! That's the power of a book. Books are more powerful than writers or readers. Maybe books are as powerful as writers and readers combined?

I bring this up because Jane, Unlimited is a book that contains five different stories in five different genres – or, we could say it contains five different stories in five different worlds. Mystery; spy; horror; sci-fi; fantasy. It's early days, so I haven't heard from a lot of readers yet. But early readers are telling me what they think – and as of a few days ago, each story has now been chosen as someone's preferred story of the five.

As an author anxious to know how her new book is being received, this is comforting, but it's also simply fascinating. It makes me think differently about the way we "judge" books; it reminds me how subjective it all is. It gives me permission to keep trying to write the best books I can, and write them my way. It releases me from the responsibility of imagining I'm somehow in control. It helps me let go. It reminds me again of the magic that happens when a reader touches a book.

Most of all, it makes me grateful. Thank you, dear readers, for opening my books and letting them have a try at your hearts and brains. I make no assumptions about how they'll be received. It's a gift regardless.

A reminder that my book tour for Jane, Unlimited starts Tuesday. Please note that folks in Rhinebeck, NY will have a special treat -- I'll be in conversation with my amazing editor, Kathy Dawson.  If you're near Cambridge, MA; Rhinebeck, NY; Nashville, TN; Fairfax, VA; Raleigh, NC; Asheville, NC; San Diego, CA; Oakland, CA; Haverford, PA; and Plainville, MA -- or if you want to see authors Tui Sutherland, Stephanie Perkins, Aditi Khorana, or Kiersten White :o) -- see my events page for more details.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Pictures from a Rainy Day at the DeCordova Sculpture Park

One of my sisters is currently camping by herself in the Mojave Desert for a month, as part of her doctoral dissertation. Another is evacuating to avoid Hurricane Irma. And I'm about to leave on a book tour...

So my parents and I grabbed a quiet moment and did something close to (my) home: we visited the deCordova Sculpture Park in the rain.

Inside Crazy Spheroid -- Two Entrances. That's my actual Dad, with reflections of me and my Mom.

Are You Here?

Two Big Black Hearts.

Humming. This sculpture looks too soft to be stone. It's mesmerizing, both close up and from a distance.

I find this one, called DeCordova Ball, extremely soothing. And then, when we were up on the roof...

My mother noticed something.

The unmistakable inspiration for DeCordova Ball!

It was lovely to enter other people's ideas for an afternoon. I hope you can find some silliness, imagination, and/or wonder in your day, dear reader :). Here's moonrise over the Mojave Desert to send you on your way:

Taken by request Tuesday night by my sister, Codename: Apocalyptica... because my parents, Kevin and I were sitting around wondering what her skies were like out there.

Monday, September 4, 2017

"Notes on an Imagined Plaque"

Please, please do listen to the episode called "Notes on an Imagined Plaque" on the podcast 99% Invisible. It's only 14 minutes long and you can get to it by clicking on the link. "Monuments don’t just appear in the wake of someone’s death — they are erected for reasons specific to a time and place. In 1905, one such memorial was put up in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, to commemorate Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had died in 1877."

Well worth the listen, and when you're done, pass it on.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What I've Been Up To Lately

I know I have a book coming out on September 19 (which you can pre-order at Powell'sAmazon, B&N, or your local independent bookstore, *cough*), and that's supposed to be the only thing I'm thinking about.

But the truth is that I'm mostly thinking about another book: the one I've written 330 pages of so far and am about to start rewriting (again) from the beginning (again) because I keep learning new, important plot things that change everything that went before.

Here it is divided up by chapters, with post-its to remind me of the major things that need to change.

This book is told from multiple perspectives… Including the perspectives of some underwater creatures.

So these are some of the pictures hanging in my office, to set the mood.

There are some important ships in the book too, so these are on my desk.

This is where I'm supposed to be right now, working on the damn thing, but it feels too hard at the moment, so I'm at the other desk, writing this blog post instead :o).

My book plan.

A note taped to my lamp, and a thing I keep trying to believe. SIGH.

Godspeed to all writers.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Another Giveaway, plus Love from the B&N Blog

Head's up that I'm doing another giveaway of Jane, Unlimited over on Twitter.

And, if you're undecided about whether you want to read Jane, consider the advice of the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, where Melissa Albert wrote a review that melted my heart. Melissa Albert's upcoming debut novel, The Hazel Wood, is fabulous, BTW. :o)

Monday, August 21, 2017

It's adorable to see everyone in town walking around with weird bashed-up cereal boxes.

Our nearly-total solar eclipse was awesome. At its height and through the safety glasses, it looked like a crescent moon that had chosen a really odd horizontal orientation. Thank you clouds for staying away, thank you Richard for lending your cereal-box pinhole projector, and thank you Watertown Public Library for creating a space for everyone and lending us eclipse-watching glasses. Also, thank you fortune, for making it possible for me to get out there today and see it. I know not everyone could. Here are some nice compilation photos in the Boston Globe.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pictures and Stories from the Counter-Protest in Boston

Yesterday, about 20,000 protesters marched through Roxbury and the South End, joining another approximately 20,000 protesters who were already gathered at the Boston Common. We were 40,000 strong, protesting a handful of people having a "free speech," a.k.a. hate speech, rally in our city.

Kevin and I, with some friends, were part of the marching contingent. Here are some of my favorite pictures.

"It's not about free speech. It's about bigots normalizing hate."

"These guys don't get why we can't get along."

"Stop pretending that your racism is patriotism."

"Prejudice is an emotional commitment to ignorance."

"Silence = compliance."

I loved all the people who came out of their businesses to cheer, yell their support, watch. Like these dentists!

And these people on roofs.

Me and Kevin.

"All live matter but… not every race is targeted for execution."

Jesus was a socialist, middle-eastern Jew."

"Bad hombre reporting for duty."

On the subway train on the way home, a man making loud racist remarks began to focus his vitriol on a woman near him who was holding a protest sign. People nearby were ignoring it, pretending it wasn't happening. Then a man crossed the car to the woman, asked her if she was okay, and stood with her keeping her company, putting himself between the racist and her. I was so proud, because that was Kevin.

"Jerks on the Common aren't the main Boston story. This is."

Dear readers, marchers, vulnerable people, and people pushing back against hate: this is your story, and you are the heroes. Keep up the good work.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Some Jane Stuff and My 41st Birthday!

I haven't been great about sharing nice news about Jane, Unlimited in the world, because life has been busy, and also because... well... I would generally rather talk about anything other than my own books! Ha! Also because I keep forgetting which things are public and which haven't been officially announced yet, so then I end up not saying anything at all. So. I'm disorganized. BUT, I know I'm allowed to say that Jane has been chosen by public librarians as a September 2017 LibraryRead, along with nine other beautiful books – check out that list. Also, I can report that so far Jane will be translated into Swedish, Russian, and Polish, and also Spanish and Portuguese for the Latin American market. I don't have any timing on that yet, but I will report things as I learn them!

In the meantime… It's birthday week! You know, when I was a kid, forty sounded so freaking old. But now that I'm in my forties, I feel so young – and so connected to myself at so many ages – and so better able to understand my own feelings and make decisions I can be proud of – and so better able to cope with scary things. I know what I want. I know how to take care of myself. Forty-one is my favorite age so far.

To my young readers: you will gain more control over your own story as you get older. There are wonderful things ahead. ♥ ♥ ♥

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Announcing My Tour for Jane, Unlimited -- mark your calendars!

All of my events will involve an "in conversation" with a local author or book person, a Q&A, and a signing – and possibly also a brief reading, though we haven't worked out the details yet. I'll be blogging again with more details as we sort it out! I hope I'll get to see a lot of you out there. Here's a bit more info, with more to come soon:

Tuesday, September 19th at 7 PM -- with Tui Sutherland!
Harvard Book Store
1256 Mass Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138

Wednesday, September 20th  at 6 PM
Oblong Books & Music
6422 Montgomery Street
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

Friday, September 22nd  at 6:30 PM
Parnassus Books
3900 Hillsboro Pike, Ste 14
Nashville, TN 37215

Saturday, September 23rd at 4 PM 
Barnes & Noble
12193 Fair Lakes Promenade Drive
Fairfax, VA 22033

Sunday, September 24th at 2 PM
Quail Ridge Books & Music 
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road
Raleigh, NC 27609 

Monday, September 25th at 6 PM  -- with Stephanie Perkins!
Malaprop’s Bookstore
55 Haywood St.
Asheville, NC 28801

Tuesday, September 26th at 6 PM
Mysterious Galaxy
5943 Balboa Ave #100
San Diego, CA 92111

Wednesday, September 27th at 7 PM
A Great Good Place for Books
6120 Lasalle Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611

Thursday, September 28th at 7 PM
Children's Book World
17 Haverford Station Road
Haverford, PA 19041

Friday, September 29th at 7 PM
An Unlikely Story
111 South St
Plainville, MA 02762

Monday, July 24, 2017

Also, a Jane, Unlimited Giveaway

For those of you not following me on twitter – head over there to enter a Jane, Unlimited ARC giveaway!

How I Got the Doctor Who News

Last week, I was by myself in Vermont, trying to make progress on the new book I'm writing. I had no cell or Internet access, except when I drove into town, which I didn't do very often. Here's a view of the meadow I could see as I wrote.

One day, I drove into town and called Kevin, just to check in. I had a long list of questions for him, and things to report to him. He waited patiently. Then, when I finally stopped for a breath, he said, "So, they announced that Peter Capaldi is leaving Doctor Who."

"Oh?" I said, wondering who they'd chosen to replace him this time. A young white man? An old white man? If they were really feeling like stretching themselves, maybe a Scottish white man? (For those of you who don't watch Doctor Who, it's a sci-fi show with a famously gendered power dynamic that has always bothered me. The doctor regenerates into a new body every few years, twelve Doctors so far, and he is always a white man; he's old, he's extraordinarily powerful, he's brilliant, he's a genius, he's a tortured hero – and he has a young, innocent, na├»ve, pretty companion who is almost always a woman. I love this show, but, ICK.)

"Did they say who's replacing him?" I asked.

Kevin said, "Yes. It's a woman."


Now, I'm not a person who yells very often. But I yelled "WHAT??!!" so loudly that I hurt my own ears. Then I yelled it again.

"I thought you might have some feelings about that," Kevin said, sounding so happy. Then he told me he'd been hoping that once I got into cell phone range, I wouldn't start checking all my emails and texts until I'd talked to him, because he wanted to be the one to tell me about it. No one has endured my furious rants about Doctor Who more patiently than Kevin, so I'm glad it was him :).

I've been having a lot of thoughts and feelings recently about movies and TV… Because I see some things changing. A lot of things aren't changing – but some things really are changing. I want to write a blog post about Wonder Woman when I have a minute; there's so much in that movie that upholds sexist stereotypes, and SO MUCH that challenges them. And I feel like I can say that about so many movies and TV shows recently. Orphan Black. The Force Awakens. Rogue One. 10 Cloverfield Lane. Arrival. Ex Machina. Jessica Jones. And don't forget that it was only a few years ago that Friday Night Lights showed us that a TV show about high school football players in Texas is actually a TV show about awesome women.

When I got back to the cabin, I drew a picture of the meadow.

Because for the first time, I feel like I'm allowed in. Here's the official BBC reveal of Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth Doctor. People In Charge, please keep listening to smart people ranting on the Internet. Please do not f*** this up for us. Just let her be the Doctor, okay? And keep on keeping on with racial diversity too. Speaking of which, readers, have you seen the new Wrinkle in Time trailer?


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Something Sweet

The news continues to be an unrelenting pile of shit, but here's something sweet: a police officer accepts her girlfriend's marriage proposal on the London Pride route.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Quiet Moment

In the past five weeks, I've been in Alaska, Western Mass, Vermont, New York, and Pittsburgh, all while continuing to orchestrate a house and office move here in Boston and gear up for a book release. Next week, I go to ALA in Chicago. Meanwhile, the news continues along in its horrible way. Somehow I've managed to protect my writing time, more or less... but I'm tired.

So yesterday, I took the day off from writing. I finalized some things in the old apartment; I mended some clothes; I listened to the podcast Buffering the Vampire Slayer (in which Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo rewatch, and talk about, every episode, and then at the end of each episode, Jenny releases her recording of a wonderful song about each episode! It's THE BEST). And then I went to Sofra and read Tamora's Pierce's upcoming Tempests and Slaughter while outside the windows, it poured.

Ayran yogurt soda. So pretty!

With warm buttered hummus. YUM.
I hope you are finding moments of peace.