50,000 words under the sea

I passed the 50,000-word mark on this months’ NaNoWriMo novel a few days ago. Due to circumstance and other projects, I haven’t written anything more since that happened. I did learn a few important things this NaNo, however.

Choosing to write historical fiction was both a really good and a really terrible idea. For me, writing something historical is always fraught with terror and frustration. I want to get all of the little details correct. (When I come across things I know to be factually inaccurate in historical novels I’ve read, the mistakes tend to pull me out of the story, for one thing. Also, I’m a tiny bit obsessive.) It means I get bogged down in the research, and writing the story itself is nearly impossible. But giving myself a deadline meant I pounded out that story. I’ll have to go back and edit a lot and fact check and obsess some more, but the skeleton of the novel is in place, which is probably more than I would have been able to say if I had written this novel on my own time. But writing was frustrating in a lot of ways because I found myself getting hung up on the details—”Would a man in 1927 really say that?” “Yes, but what is she wearing?”—and the story didn’t always progress how I intended it. (Which is maybe a weird thing for a writer to say; I have control, after all. Except maybe I don’t because I wanted the novel to be darker, more detailed. I’ll have to go back to fix that.)

Still, it’s hard not to feel good about having a first draft well underway. (I’d guess I still have about 25K words to write to finish the whole draft.)

all that jazz

As of this evening, I’ve written the first 15,000 words of this year’s NaNoWriMo. I made what might be an ill-advised decision to write historical fiction—it’s an m/m romance featuring a vaudeville actor and a mobster in 1927. It’s tough because I’m researching simultaneously. That is, I did a bunch of research in October, but I’m also currently reading two books and have a gazillion tabs open in my browser with info about slang and fashion. But now that I’ve gotten into the meat of the novel, it’s really fun to write, so I have high hopes.

I’ve found a lot of really great photos. The above is a photo of Times Square in 1920. Most of my novel takes place in or around Times Square, which at this time was bustling both with Broadway theaters—more shows opened in 1927 than any year before or since—and nightclubs and speakeasies. And this, of course, is Rudolph Valentino, the epitome of male beauty in the ’20s. Good-looking men were referred to as “sheiks” after Valentino’s best-known character. In my head, my mobster character, looks a bit like Valentino. I’m not really new to the Jazz Age or writing historical fiction (though all of my attempts at the latter are unfinished or otherwise languishing on my hard drive) and I’ve been wanting to write a novel set in that era for a long time. One of the things NaNoWriMo is really great for is forcing oneself to write that thing you’ve always wanted to write.

Anyone else participating in NaNoWriMo? Any strange discoveries or triumphs?

back from vacation; never say never

I came back from Florida with a burn/tan, and was feeling relaxed enough that it’s been tricky getting back into the groove of my life this week. It’s funny; in some ways, I just fall back into routine because it’s… routine. But it took some self-cajoling to get back to writing after basically taking a week off.

Although, I did some thinking about Noah. I set that novel in Tampa primarily because it was a city in Florida with which I was familiar. I have a friend who lives there, I’ve visited a few times, I knew there was a decent-sized gay community in St. Pete. Last week, I spent time in South Florida and the Keys in an honest-to-God resort just like the one Noah spent most of In Hot Pursuit in with friends (two other women and a gay man). It was sort of interesting to examine that experience in the wake of my recently-published novel, picking apart things I got right in my novel and things I might have done a little differently (mostly, if I had it to do over, I might have included more details about the setting). My vacation involved spending a lot of time on the beach (and getting roasted by the sun while I read romance novels, natch) with the occasional foray into various nearby cities. We even stopped in a gay bar in Key West that reminded me a little of Shanley’s from my novel.

One thing I really love to see in a novel I’m reading is a setting well rendered. I’m in awe of writers who make that setting another character, or who draw it so well that it feels like you’re there. That’s one thing I’m working on, to make my setting more fully realized.

I’m trying some new things now. I think I’m constantly developing as a writer, meaning both that I’m trying to become a better writer in terms of craft and also that I’m willing to take on different genres and topics as I go. When I first started writing seriously, I wrote a lot of thinly-veiled autobiographical stories, but I find that, as I develop as a writer, exploring completely different characters and experiences and worlds is increasingly appealing. I’ve gone from not having any particular desire to wade into the paranormal/fantasy arena to the last couple of months starting to write speculative fiction for the first time ever. And it’s a great amount of fun! Who knew?

I think the lesson is just to be open to everything. I have in the last year or so read and written things I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere near five years ago, but as I develop as a writer, I want to try new things, explore new worlds, do what I can to develop as a writer.

And I have all new respect for spec fic writers who do it well. I mean, on the one hand, you get to make shit up, but on the other hand, you have to make shit up! In some ways, it’s easier to set novels in the real world (especially if you, like me, set the majority of your stories in the city where you live) and you could make the argument that writing fantasy means you don’t have to research, but you DO have to build your world. And that’s a real stretch of one’s creative power.

Anyway, these are just some things I’ve been thinking about. I’m traveling a lot the rest of this month, so I’m a little nervous about squeezing in time to write, but I’m really enjoying the WIPs I have going right now, and that’s kind of half the battle right there.

excerpt: baseball

Babe Ruth!You guys want a taste of my baseball WIP? I wrote this scene this evening.

The dream always started the same way. Matt stepped out of the dugout. He picked up his bat and walked to the on deck circle, where he took a few practice swings. Then it was his turn at bat. He paused to acknowledge the crowd, which gave an uproarious cheer. He walked up to the plate and swung the bat again. Finally, just like Babe fucking Ruth, he pointed. Where he pointed varied, but it was usually towards the left field bleachers.

Anytime he had the dream, he was confident that his bat would connect and he’d drive that ball out of the stadium. Everything from the wind to the velocity of the pitch was under his control. He choked the bat, he lifted it, he saw the pitch, and he swung.

What happened next was a crapshoot. Sometimes he got the home run he expected. He’d run triumphantly around the bases. Best case, the bases were loaded before he got up to bat and he became the hero of the game. That version of the game usually ended when he was hoisted up on the shoulders of his teammates. Sometimes the bat whooshed right over the ball and he woke up just after he heard the slap of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove. Sometimes the bat connected but the ball soared into an outfielder’s glove. Sometimes the ball hit him in the head.

He had the dream the night after Ignacio Rodriguez’s first game. Instead of Cruz or Roger, the person who slapped his back before he got up to stand on deck was the Rodriguez kid. Although, Matt knew even in his dream that Rodriguez was clearly not a kid, he was a man, and a sinfully attractive man at that. His touch was affectionate, supposed to be encouraging, maybe even a promise for something to happen later. It felt a little like a kiss before being sent off to war, only Rodriguez was right there in the trenches with him. More than that, Rodriguez was probably the better player, now that Matt’s knees ached, now that his batting average had plummeted. But in the dream, he was aware of these things, but they didn’t matter, because then he was at bat, then he saw the pitch, then he was swinging.

Slap! Strike 1.

“No,” Matt said. “That’s not how that was supposed to go.”

He choked the bat and held it up. He could see everything as if it were in slow motion. He saw the pitcher spit, his right leg draw up, his glove rise, saw the way his fingers fit around the ball before he threw it, saw that ball flying right for him. He had this one. He could control it. He moved the bat forward slowly, knowing it would connect. Then whoosh! Slap! Strike 2.

Matt cursed. He glanced towards the dugout, where Rodriguez waited expectantly. He could not disappoint this man. He would not. He went through the routine. Practice swing, point to the left field bleachers, Babe fucking Ruth. He had this.

And again, there was the windup. The pitch. The ball hurtling through towards him. The bat slicing through the air. And slap! Strike 3.

Matt fell forward onto his knees. He cried out in anguish. The crowd booed.

He woke up with a start.

details, details

This weekend was really unbearably hot and humid in New York. This is going to make me sound a little like a pretentious snob, but I decided to beat the heat by spending a chunk of Saturday at the Met. The Met is by far my favorite museum in the city, maybe because its collections are so vast. You could spend a week there and still not see everything. I’ve been probably a dozen times in the last five years, and I bet there are galleries I have yet to step foot in.

One of the funny things about living in New York is that it’s easy to take cultural institutions for granted. It’s always there, so you can go see it later. Although, I sometimes fill in stretches of idle time with tourism. I get bored and go wandering. I’m pretty well-read on New York City history, so it’s fun to put a visual to something I’ve read about.

I was thinking about this today because my knowledge of some New Yorkish things is maybe unusual, even for a New Yorker. My current WIP is about two historians, and I wrote what I thought was a pretty clever line about how how bad an idea it would have been for a Victorian gentleman to have put a Civil War monument in Upper Manhattan. (“Exhibit A being Grant’s Tomb,” one of the characters says.) And then I realized—I bet plenty of people have no idea where Grant’s tomb is located, New Yorkers included. The point of the line, of course, is that it’s not a popular tourist attraction, although I’ve been a few times. (I should get some extra history nerd points for having been at its re-dedication in 1997.) It’s up in Riverside Park, near-ish 120th Street, a pretty easy walk from the Columbia University campus. Grant’s wife, Julia Dent Grant, chose the location primarily so that she could visit the tomb frequently. Apparently Central Park was a possibility, but she settled on Riverside Park, overlooking the Hudson. A pretty spot, to be sure, but out of the way enough that it doesn’t attract many visitors. Or, at least, historical sites like that don’t have the same cachet as some other places in the city. I expect this is something two historians living in New York would know—both where Grant’s tomb is and the fact that hardly anybody ever goes there; for the record, there are some neat little exhibits on Grant’s life and Civil War history generally inside the mausoleum, which Wikipedia says is the largest mausoleum in North America—but I added a sentence explaining the joke.

It’s one of those things. Where do you find the fine line between sounding authentic and being so obscure as to lose your reader’s interest.

Speaking of my weird knowledge base, I helped Z.A. Maxfield with some of her New York facts for her new release Stirring Up Trouble. It’s a really fun book, I heartily recommend it.

sports and things

By some amazing coincidence, Jessewave had a post up yesterday about the lack of m/m novels about sports. I may have mentioned, I have been similarly bemoaning this lack. It seems like a natural combination, men and sports. Well, and also, I like sports.

My brother and I half-heartedly collected baseball cards as kids. Or, more likely, my brother collected them and, as with a lot of his toys, I sort of borrowed and looked at them. (Our toys were largely gender segregated, and I have no idea why. I mean, I liked Barbies, but I also liked action figures and Legos and baseball cards, you know?) As a kid, I was a Mets fan, if only because basically everyone who was a kid in the greater New York metropolitan area in the 80s was a Mets fan. (Also, it’s kind of a rule of living in New York: regardless of whether you follow a sport, you are required to declare a team loyalty. Mets or Yankees? Jets or Giants? And so on.) Then, when I was 12 or 13, my parents took me to my first real major league baseball game: Orioles at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees lost, but it didn’t matter: I was hooked.

It’s hard to articulate what I love about baseball exactly. I love all of it. I love the history, the legends. I love the statistics and math. I love how superstitious the players are, how insane the fans are. I love the players (and, okay, I like some players look in their uniforms). I like just sitting in the stadium, soaking it up, sipping a beer.

I missed out on baseball last summer, so I didn’t actually make it to the new Yankee Stadium (which opened last year) until last night. My friend J accompanied me to a game—he’s a foul, loathsome, evil Red Sox fan, but he’s also one of my favorite people to argue the sport with, so he’s good company. He reminded me that the last time he’d been on Yankee territory was ten years ago, when we went to a Yankees-Sox game that got rained out. Anyway, the new stadium is gorgeous. All the photos in this post are ones I took last night.

I’ve started to write a baseball romance. It’s very early stages yet, I’ve got a loose outline and the first scene written, but that’s kind of it. I feel like this is my mission now, though. I mean, baseball! Romance! What more could you want?

COMPLETELY UNRELATED: Did you guys see this great essay by a gay 15 year old who is trying to get more GLBT books in libraries? If you haven’t, you should read it, it’s really good.

And speaking of books, there are about a million I want to read right now. And things I want to write. I should get cracking!

a few random thoughts

white blossoms -- it is spring!Spring is for sure my favorite season. I like to take walks and I like flowers and I think the first couple of weekends of spring, when everyone is anxious to spend time outside, are like waking up from a long hibernation. This was an especially snowy, unpleasant winter, so it’s kind of nice to see lots of sunny days in the forecast. I took a long walk through the neighborhood this afternoon, admiring all the flowers blooming. I always forget how many cherry trees there are in Brooklyn until they start blooming in April.

I’m finishing up a novella that takes place during the winter, and it’s very hard to write about blizzards when it’s so sunny and warm out!

My Kindle might be developing an inferiority complex now that the iPad is out. I have some reservations about the iPad—I wish it ran OS X, I’m worried reading novels on a backlit screen will give me headaches, I’ve heard the iBooks store (or whatever they’re calling it) is still kind of clunky, though I imagine that will be improved—and have other more essential gadgets to buy first—my ancient iPod is about to kick it—but, golly, it’s pretty.

Speaking of the Kindle, I made a vow a couple of weeks ago that I would not buy any more books for it until I made a serious dent in the backlog of books on it. I did read a number of books that have been sitting on it for months, but ultimately, I’m weak, and I just bought two new books and am eying a third. It’s a disease, my need to buy books!

On the other hand, I’m finding that one of my favorite Sunday-afternoon leisure activities is to sit by the windows in my room and read as the sun sets.

I’m trying to turn my attention to a different work-in-progress right now, which is tough. I’m having trouble writing the end of the first chapter, but know pretty well how the later chapters shake out, so I can’t decide if it’s worth it to skip this and come back to it later, to write what I know will come easier, or to force myself to work out the problems with the first chapter before moving forward. Dilemma!

Well. I hope you all have a lovely spring week. I’ve still got a little bit of sunlight left tonight. I should make the most of it.

sunshine and the city

Due to construction at my office, I’ve been blessed with a rare Friday off. I took the subway into Manhattan, I’m currently in a cafe near Astor Place, having taken a rather lengthy walk through the West Village, mostly enjoying the astonishingly beautiful weather (it should be 70°F and sunny all the time!) but also looking for inspiration.

One of the things that I love/hate about New York City is that it’s always changing. I walked by a restaurant this afternoon that must have closed recently, because I’m sure I ate there a couple of months ago. The restaurant has been there a while, since I remember eating there with my mother after we took a tour of NYU back when I was applying to college. It was strange to see the awning gone, the for-sale sign in the window.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I would take the bus from my hometown in the Jersey suburbs into Port Authority—which I still kind of think of as the eighth level of hell, though it’s been cleaned up considerably—and we almost always took the subway down to the West Village. We were mostly lower-middle-class kids, so we never had a lot of money. One of our favorite occupations was thrift-store shopping, and it used to be that you could wander around the Village and pop in and out of stores that would sell you clothes by the pound.

The first time I walked down Christopher Street was kind of an accident. It was a couple of years after I moved to New York City. I was lost. It’s not hard to get lost in the Village; it’s literally off the grid, not even the numbered streets running parallel. I was trying to get to a bar on West 4th Street (which, much to my great disappointment, closed a couple of years ago) and I’d made a stop first at some store, and then I just started walking in the direction I was pretty sure was west. And then I realized I was on Christopher Street which, at the time, was all glitter and rainbow flags.

Today, it felt a little sterile. Maybe it was just the sun. Maybe everyone’s in Washington Square Park. The Stonewall Inn is, naturally, still bedecked with more rainbow flags than any building you’ve ever seen, but the rest of the stretch I walked today looked surprisingly nondescript. Across the street, all of the benches in Christopher Park were occupied, people sharing space with the statues, painted white, which I thought looked kind of ghostly (maybe the intention?). The statues commemorate the Stonewall Riots. I also walked by a scary number of empty storefronts today. A sign of our current economic climate? A sign of a bygone era? I walked east a little ways and stopped in a cafe for a snack, ran into a schmoopy gay couple, alternately kissing and trying to decide which kind of cupcake to order. It’s hard not to think about the course of events here, not to remember that those weird white statues are meant to represent the event that made it possible for these two men to kiss in front of a bakery display case just because.

I’m currently trying to revise a novella and having kind of a hard time of it, because sunshine distracts me. I also like reveling in the weird ephemera of New York, in the memory of a city that no longer exists, in ponderings of what the city might become.

I wonder sometimes if it’s a cliche to write fiction set in New York City, but write what you know, right? I love New York and love reading and writing about it.

(Funny, though, that my first published novel does not take place in New York! But Noah is a New Yorker.)

My mind’s still reeling a little, too, after a writers group workshop in which a murder-mystery WIP of mine (which takes place almost entirely in Brooklyn, for what it’s worth) got pretty well eviscerated. I’m taking it as an opportunity to think that the group saved me from sending out a novel that didn’t work. I miss sometimes, and it’s good to be reminded of that. So I’ll go back and revise. But after I spend a little more time in the sunshine.

method and madness

One of the things I’m coming to realize about myself as a writer is that I tend to jump in feet first and then realize once I’m treading water that I should have had a better plan. So, usually I’ll start off with an idea, then I’ll write a couple of chapters, then I’ll go back and write an outline.

I’m working on a murder mystery right now. I started writing it with only one idea in my head: wouldn’t it be funny if a bestselling crime-fiction writer got tangled up in an actual crime? I had a vague notion of who the bad guys and suspects would be, but I didn’t really sit down and fathom out the crimes themselves until yesterday. Which is a problem, because all the best mystery writing has clues dropped from page one. I find that the mysteries I enjoy the most are the ones with the endings that surprise you, but that have dropped clues all along that you find when you go back and reread. As a writer, it’s tough to insert those clues if you don’t have all the evidence gathered.

So I drew a map. I find that drawing can help me visualize something, especially something as convoluted as a mystery plot. (I also draw maps when I set novels in fictional towns, and I’ve been known to draw family trees when I’m writing about big families, and other things in a similar vein.) So I took a fuzzy picture of the map I drew yesterday. You get fuzzy, because it contains spoilers; the book’s not even done, but should I someday finish it and publish it, I’d hate to ruin it far in advance. 😀

So there’s a little taste of what I’m working on. A complicated mystery with a little bit of a twist in the ending. So now I have to go back and edit to put in more clues. And also fact check my police procedure. And also make sure the pacing on the romance subplot(s) works. So much to do!

state of the kate

I called out sick from work today. I feel okay saying this on the internets because I am actually sick. The funny thing about sick days when you are actually sick is that, right after you get off the phone with your boss, you think, “Awesome, I’ve got this whole day off in front of me.” But then you realize you are actually sick and can’t do anything. I, for example, fell asleep in the middle of reading a book and lost the whole afternoon. I was thinking I’d get in some cold-medicine-fueled writing, but no. (Don’t pity me too much, though; I’m feeling a lot better now. And there are worse things than spending a day curled up in bed with a down quilt, a cat, and a Kindle.)

I’ve been reading a lot the last couple of days. I haven’t been reading much lately, mostly because of lack of time, but it turns out my shopping vice of late is ebooks, because I’ve bought, like, 15 of them in the last few weeks.

Here’s what I’ve read since I’ve been sick: After eying it for a couple of weeks, I finally broke down and read The Dark Tide. I knew the book would be good, and it was. I just couldn’t face the end of the Adrien English series. I guess I got a little sentimental. I mean, the series is fantastic, but also, Fatal Shadows has the distinction of being the first ebook I ever bought (and I think also the first m/m romance I ever read, although I’d read plenty of things with gay characters before). And it was a good intro to Loose Id, which, hey, is publishing my book in two weeks.

I also read LA Heat, a pretty solid procedural crime novel featuring a closeted cop who falls for the suspect in his murder investigation. It’s heavy on the police minutiae, but we’ve already talked about that, so you know it’s cool with me. And I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned page turner.

I’ve got a murder-mystery work-in-progress that I plan (hope) to finish this month, and all this cop stuff is making me want to get back to it. I’ve been working on this one for the last few months; I know whodunnit but can’t figure out how the characters figure it out, so I’ve been dragging my feet on the ending. It’s lighter in tone than In Hot Pursuit, though it has a higher body count. And I like these characters a lot, which makes it a joy to work on for the most part, except for the ending. (You appreciate mystery writers more when you try to write a mystery.) The one drawback is that one of the characters is a mystery writer, and after I was 20,000 words into the first draft, I had a conversation with a few members of my writers group who were all, “I hate characters who are writers.” Whoops! I’ll tell you, this character is not too prone to discussing his Craft. He’s more a pop writer, more opportunistic and arrogant than flighty and artistic. Plus, I thought it was funny to have a character who writes gritty crime novels with lots of gruesome details who then loses his shit when confronted with the real thing. It’s possible I have a warped sense of humor.

It occurred to me that my book comes out two days after Valentine’s Day, and it’s a romance, so there should be some celebrating? Stay tuned.