A Q&A With Myself

Because I’ve just done the thing I always wanted to do, so I figured I’d talk to myself about it. I’m all of a quiver of excitement because, as I keep saying, having a Real Live Book is the only proper solid goal I’ve ever had in my entire life. I want to remember this day as slightly more than formatting fails and fear, so…yeah. Let me be self-indulgent and overshare.

– Doesn’t self-publishing feel like cheating in some way?

It feels a bit like I might not have published the same book as the one that would’ve come out if I’d had an agent and editor rip their way through it. In that sense, this almost feels less like cheating, because I haven’t done anything to this book to make it easier either to sell or to read, apart from the things that I consider common courtesy, like panicking about spelling and trying to keep chapters short and organised.

– What inspired this book?

Living in a castle. Even when they do have windows, the air has a very special texture, and they’re so winding and interesting you sort of don’t need to go outside. As for the rest of it? I can only say it all came together so neatly even I was surprised and confused. I don’t know what it comes from. There are a couple of scenes that I’ve always wanted to write – some of the best writing advice is ‘don’t save your good ideas for a different book’ – and so I very much wrote things I’d always wanted to in here.

– Where did you write it?

The first 60k I wrote in bed, in my bedroom, which was more of a heap of everything I’d ever owned. It was most uncomfortable, but the book carried me right away from it all. The rest of it took a long time. In March 2012 I rented a tiny office and treated working on this, and a few other things, like a proper job, working from 6.30am-3pm every day. By the time I’d finished that, I had a solid first draft…which was 140k. Obviously far too long.

After that, I saw the HarperVoyager contest which was looking for YA dystopia, amongst other things, and thought, eh, I will have a crack at it. I edited like a mad thing, hacked 20k out of the story and sent it off. They weren’t interested, but hey, it got me through the first serious polish.

Then I thought I’d try proper agents. I polished further, rewrote a few things. No dice. Then I found a handful of agents’ blogs begging people not to send them novels that started with a dream, and I thought about changing the beginning and everything again…and then I read some stuff from people who’d been accepted by agents and were thrilled about their novel coming out in Summer 2014…and I thought, no, no, I love this right now and I want it to go off and play, not have to do another round of being sold, which, besides, doesn’t sound like something this can be. And that’s okay.

So I’ve spent the last two months polishing and polishing as best I can. I’ve nowhere near the funds to employ anyone to help me polish, so I hope it’s going to suffice. I’d say I’ve been through this manuscript at least forty times, although the very last time I still found a space where a space ought not to be, so…there comes a time when, for me, it is time to put the thing aside and do the next thing. This is that time.

– Who will like this book?

I’ve no idea. *I* like this book. I love the characters. I worry that’s because I know them better than the reader will, but I’ve had a tiny handful of others read it and they seemed fond enough. It’s dark in places, there are one or two unpleasant scenes, but it’s nothing I didn’t let my mother read, and she claims to love it, but she really is saying that out of terrible bias, because she doesn’t like all kinds of awesome books that are better written than mine. I don’t even really know what to compare this to, although I haven’t been allowed to read Gormenghast; for the whole duration of my work on this because I’m told it’s bothersomely similar in places. Which is fine, and entirely unintentional on my part, because I haven’t gone near it since I was about 17, but damn, when someone tells you you can’t read something, if it doesn’t become the only thing you want to read at all, and a lot, please thanks.

– What did you cut out?

Overall, I’ve cut at least 50k. Almost all of it was adverbs and internal monologue which was repeated elsewhere. It was an exhausting process. I fear, occasionally, I cut too much, that my characters will be a bit hindered by not having all their weird exposition, but then less is almost always more with writing, so, here’s hoping. Also infinite instances of the word ‘that’, and a shedload of ellipses.

– Do you feel like you’ve fulfilled a dream?

Honestly, yes. Way more than I’d thought I would. It’s very exciting. It’s very small and I know it’s something anyone can do, I know a lot of things, but there is a thing with my name on it and it is a complete story. That’s amazing for me. Hurrah for me 🙂

– You say you could keep changing things. What else would you change?

When I wrote the first draft, for reasons best known to myself I decided to write like it was 1749, in a magnificently stupid voice which was precious close to “hast thou thine shiny things” or something, with a lot of “I cannot this” and “I shall not that” and, whilst I’m a huge proponent of keeping shall and shan’t in the English language, too much “but he is” and “she is that” is exhausting when the eye skims “he’s”, “can’t”, “won’t” etc so easily. There’s rather more left than might be sensible. I could make it all snappier. But then again, this is supposed to be on the side of archaic, and I want the speech patterns to grate and be peculiar at times. I’m not saying I made it deliberately rubbish, but I am saying that it felt odd to delete the lot in one (or even three) go(es). I don’t think I’d change any of the plot, or indeed any of the scenes.

One thing that confuses me is that, personally, I really don’t like reading books with alternating chapters. I’ve NO idea how I ended up writing one. I’m sorry about that, I want to say, because, yeah, they don’t agree with me…but there it is, there’s literally no other way I could tell this story!
 

– Are there any deleted scenes?

The book I started writing was not, well, let’s say it wasn’t a book I’d share with my mother. I realised after the initial NaNoWriMo thing, though, that that wasn’t really the story I wanted to tell, that there was a lot more going on in the world and the background, and that the story was actually about legacy and responsibility and things like that. Plus I thought I might actually like other people to read it, without having to pretend I was someone else. So I kept all the scenes, but drastically changed their content. That’s weird to think of, actually, that I didn’t really add any scenes or take any away – some got longer and more convoluted, but everything was basically there.
 

 
– Is there anything that doesn’t make sense?

I’ve a terrible feeling that if you did a timeline it’s very difficult to make everyone’s days and nights add up. I can’t tell you how hard I tried to fix that, but there came a point where I figured that it would probably be a better book if I stopped trying to mash it into a super-organised, carefully-filed place.

– Do you really think it’s good?

This is the question, really. I like it. I’ve said that. Objectively, is it brilliantly written? I don’t think so, but I think I’ve read worse writing, and I’ve read infinitely better. I think I’ve some nice turns of phrase, and there are certainly places where I’m punching above my weight, and others where it could undoubtedly be better. But this is my first book. I want to get better. I’m doing this on my own, and if I’d had a proper editor then I’m sure this would read like a more professional book. That’s not meant to be an excuse, exactly, just that it would read more as books-on-shelves read. I am proud of it, I’m nervous about whether it comes across as something worth being proud of, but it’s definitely time to put it out there and move on.

– Where can I buy it?

Oh right, yeah. UK edition, US edition.

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Geek Girls Unite to Write: 7 Questions for Stewie & Emily of the IGGPPC

I spend time aplenty hanging out on Twitter for various reasons, and, whilst I’m there, I like to keep Amanda Palmer’s @ feed running in a column alongside things, simply because there’s usually a ton of good stuff going on in there. As I was checking something this evening, an @ to Amanda from @frogmellaink and @darlingstewie about the International Geek Girls PenPal Club caught my eye, and nothing makes me click a link faster than geekdom coupled with letter-writing. I had to examine.

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Obviously, I signed up like lightning (I suggest you do the same if you haven’t and are interested – places in Round 2 are almost gone! – and Round 2 is full up! Follow links at the bottom of the page to get in for Round 3 ) and then I thought, what kind of glorious beings set up this magnificent endeavour, and why? So I asked them. And then I asked them a couple more things. And this is what they said:

1. How did this project start?

Em and I met as most people do these days, via the Interwebz. I think we discovered each other through Twitter and the rest is history. I’m a geek girl blogger, so I’m always posting about science fiction or cartoons or comic book inspired fashion, and I think Em has similar sensibilities in that she likes geek fashion too (I’ve seen her wearing Rebel earrings from Star Wars!!!) Em is the purveyor of a fantastic geek chic Etsy, House of the Fickle Queen.

Re: The IGGPPC origins… Em made a blog post about it (it is long and rambling, that’s how I roll~Em):
On Creating Something Out Of Nothing and the Phenomenal Response to the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club.

And I made a similar but more basic post:
How A Tweet About Curly Wurlies Turned Into An Explosive Internet Phenomenon Overnight.

But the long and short of it is, we had been reminiscing about the days of getting surprises and thoughtful letters in the mail from Pen Pals, which is something we had both done in our younger days, and missed that fun mailbox bond. Also, as an Air Force brat, I’ve got a taste for travel (and love learning about other culutres,) but flights are expensive! Pen Pals are like mini vacations cross-country. And Em and I both hoard stationery (as many geek girls I know do) and wanted a purpose for our Sanrio and Lisa Frank stuff. And I wanted a Curly Wurly. Seriously. Those things are good.

(AES – Those things ARE good. All I can think of are Curly Wurlies right now, and the corner shop is closed. ARGH. Also, wow do I hoard stationery. I am super excited to have a reason to share some of that now 🙂 )

2. What’s the best letter you’ve ever received? Or, the best letter you’ve ever read?

My best friend & I exchange letters fairly regularly (as she lives at the other end of the country from me) but one that stands out isn’t so much the letter as the fact that she sent a cushion with a picture of a stag on it! (It’s hideous and beautiful all at once!) Unexpected presents are the best! ~Em

3. Any good stories to share from Round 1?

When we started, I do not think either of us really saw this blowing up like it did. Once Veronica Belmont tweeted about us and we were featured on GeekSugar.com, we knew it was something big. At one point I was refreshing the submissions for Round 1 and we’d gotten 10 in 1 minute. I pretty much peed myself then. We hit our 1,000 person cap in 3 days, 9 days prematurely, and that’s a pretty sweet thought.

The response from the geek girl community has been overwhelmingly positive. Lots of girls have posted or blogged about the project and everyone is very excited to connect! They practically smashed down the door of our Facebook, chanting “We want our pals!” It’s such a great positive thing to be a part of.

I would like to add that one girl put “animals who look like old men” as a geek love, which was a highlight for me because that is just a legendary thing to say. ~Em

4. Where do you start?

When your email conversation begins with your match, try to have a mini bio prepped. “Hi, I’m Suzy, I’m this old and I live in this state and country. How about you?” The basics are always the best place to start. Then you might try asking your new pal what they listed as their Geek Loves, because chances are we’ve paired you with someone who matched one of your Geek Loves…the conversation should absolutely take off from there.

It’s an intimidating thing, sometimes, writing to someone you don’t know (or even writing to someone you do!). Any tips for first time participants on getting the most out of the experience and not feeling a tidal wave of embarrassment the moment you drop your first letter in the postbox?

I’d say just be yourself and write the letter you’d love to receive. We have paired everyone so they have at least one love in common so you know you have at least one thing in common with your new pen pal ~Em

5. Gandalf IS my homeboy*. Let’s just take a moment to imagine he’s an international geek girl. What would you send him in an envelope? (cannot resist a stupid question, but I think a couple of dinosaur stickers would really set off that cloak)

I feel like I’d send him tea, flavored tobacco, and incense… I mean maybe I’m stereotyping him as like a wizard hippie, but I’m a thoughtful letter sender and I know he’d love all those things!

Dumbledore is my homeboy, I would make him sweets as I have mad confectionery skills ~Em

6. I happened upon your project via a glance at Amanda Palmer’s mentions column: she brings like-minded people and projects together like no-one else, sometimes without even trying! What made you @ her in particular?

We haven’t really tweeted at many ‘big’ name people. I have been a fan of AFP for more years than you can count on one hand, and as she is big on community, asking, art and creativity I thought, what the hell, if there is one person out there who’ll RT us it’s her! Pretty much all the rest is just word of mouth (or word of tweet, I guess would be a better approximation) ~Em

7. Which woman in history would you most like to write to, and what would you like to say to her?

Anyone from the American women’s suffrage or African American civil rights movement is bound to have a spectacular story… so if we’re going for history I’d have to say anyone of these women. I’d be desperate not to say too much so I could listen to their story. Honestly I have no clue what I’d say…I’d be all derpy and scared, but excited…like “Hi…HI HELLO HI UR COOL CAN WE BE FRENZ?”

For me it would be Mae West…she is my idol and she knew how to turn a phrase. I would ask her what it was like to be such a pioneering actress, playwright & screenwriter. She was risque, bold and years ahead of her time. I’d also ask her if I could have the spiderweb dress she wears in ‘I’m No Angel’ (opposite Cary Grant <3) as it is one of the most incredible outfits ever worn on screen! ~Em

And if you’d like to keep up with the International Geek Girls Pen Pal Club (WHY WOULDN’T YOU?!), find them at geekgirlpenpals.com and on Facebook.

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