I tend to go for funnier bits when I post excerpts, but here’s a more emotional snippet from Stars Fall Out. I should probably post more like this, since digging in and writing more emotional scenes has been one of the hallmarks of my writing experience with this book.
I attempted to smooth out the note and prop it on my nightstand.
Tyatavar, it began. Not Dearest Tyatavar, or Dear Tyatavar, as some of our dramatic early correspondences had gone. But the extra greeting was entirely superfluous; he had written it into the letters themselves, in the care he had taken with every stem, loop, and curl in my name.
The note had been written by someone who loved me.
I had crumpled it, and thrown it at the wall in the bakery.
Between Vaffeldagen, taking care of a flu-stricken toddler, and subsequently becoming a flu-stricken adult, I forgot to brag about passing the 100,000 word mark on my current novel. Although this has been as frustratingly slow as walking behind someone at Walmart, and although I still have probably 25,000 words left to go, I want to mark this moment in my life. That I have been fixing problems in this manuscript for 100,000 words now, even after I might have killed it a couple times, is an accomplishment I’m immensely proud of.
There’s a common metaphor of writing a book being like having a baby–you gestate it for months and blah blah blah. But you don’t have to make time to be pregnant. You do have to make time to write a book. It’s not like you say, “Well, I have a couple hours to be pregnant on Thursday morning,” then shoot your fetus some nutrients via umbilical and go get an ultrasound. Pregnancy is only as active as you make it. But if you’re writing, you do have to set aside those Thursday mornings and whatever other spare morsels of time you can grab.
Also, once your book is “born,” it doesn’t then spend the first several months of its life requiring literally every spare minute of your time to hold it and breastfeed it and change it and sooth it down to sleep. Having a baby to take care of is the writing discipline equivalent of someone upending a table. In an episode of the Dear Sugars podcast (I don’t remember which one), Cheryl Strayed refers to writing with young children or toddlers as “writing on slow mode.” This is what I’ve been doing.
Like the secret stash of candy bars under my desk*, writing has become something I sneak in small bites. I no longer keep obsessive records of every minute I spend writing, because that itself takes too much time.
The novel will probably not be named Stars Fall Out or once I sit down and brainstorm a more fitting one, but it inherited the title from an earlier iteration of the story and from a Simple Minds song:
Even without a toddler, this novel has had a hell of a lot of obstacles.
In fact, I have grown this story from the corpses of two short stories and two unfinished novels. Or five unfinished novels, but they aren’t all corpses, depending what happens when they get smacked with the defibrillator of future rewrites.
Here is the strange and cannibalistic writing timeline of Stars Fall Out:
Short story one Barely more than a scene about a girl jealous of her younger sister and feeling trapped in relationship. Something about a unicorn. Something about stars falling out of the sky. No idea how to end it.
Short story two One girl, living in a small town in our world, sees another girl sink into some river water, seemingly on purpose, and be snatched under the river water. MYSTERY. Who is the girl? What role will the dance night stoners play? No idea how to end it.
Stars Will Fall Out, first attempt, in 2007 I smash the two short stories into a single novel that I assume will solve the ending problems I was having. Now, the girl being sucked down the river is one and the same as Jealous Girl who feels trapped in her relationship, only now she lives in a secondary world and works at a bakery and uses a magic vial as a means of escape to our world. There is a mad professor of magic. No unicorn.
Abandonment of Stars Will Fall Out in 2008 Smashing the stories together didn’t work. I decide I will not be continuing to write my novel because it’s a mess, the worldbuilding is godawful**, and Small Town Girl has no business being the main character. But, hey, at least I learned something.
Circus of Thieves, in which I take on worldbuilding In my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel, I develop a secondary world (Fyaan and Kirosz) living in the realm of steampunk and fantasy, depending what time and place I’m writing in. It’s kind of a Moll Flanders type story but with a fake circus and a horned bear and a mystery machine.
The Remnant, a second trip into Fyaan and Kirosz Five magicians with connected relationships take opposing sides in a war for a variety of reasons. One of them, a disgruntled ex-patriot, sides against her homeland. I write a bit of her backstory one day, and oh! She’s River Girl, also known as Jealous Girl, also known as Bakery Girl. I decide that I will go back and write her story in the Fyaan and Kirosz world without any of the stuff about Small Town Girl.
What I don’t realize at this point is that my first attempt at Stars, with the ill-fitting main character, was like dipping the story in egg dye. I took away every trace of that character, yet the story is a different color.
Bitter Machines, the reason I am writing Stars Fall Out now I don’t go back to write Bakery Girl’s story yet because it’s too much work. Instead, in 2012, I write the second book she will appear in. There are spies and powerless royals and imperial occupation and a weird cult, and holy shit, every time I look at the draft I can’t believe I wrote it myself. I love it.
Stars Fall Out, second attempt After a few years thinking that I need to write this story so I can get to Bitter Machines, I sit down and tackle Stars itself and figure out what would make it awesome for me to write. If I’m going to maintain the motivation it takes to write it, it can’t just something I’m getting out of the way.
I begin rewriting with new, better worldbuilding and Big Events and empires and some stuff about shadows, but maybe not stuff about stars. I remove the word “will” from the title, which seems like a big difference at the time.
I take a break to publish Pumpkin Goblins and Spirit Notes Fading in 2016. When I return to Stars, I keep plugging away, but am miserable writing. That’s a whole other story. I stop writing for four months that feel like an entire year.
Stars Fall Out, third attempt At some point, a question pops into my head: “Where do you go when you escape?”
In my rewrite with the bigger and better worldbuilding, I had forgotten what interested me about Bakery Girl in the first place: she has a stolen magic vial, an extremely powerful artifact, and she uses it only to escape her own life.
And so, on slow mode, I return to the story. This time, first and foremost, I’m asking myself where Tyatavar goes when she escapes. It’s been less than a year since my most recent start, and I’ve done most of the work in that time. But it’s been almost thirteen years since I wrote Short Story One. Nothing about this process resembles pregnancy.
*I guess it’s not much of a secret now that I’m posting it on the internet, but it was only a secret before because my partner repeatedly forgets about its existence.
**There was a character named Dwardley Gryphon, and he owned a tavern. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s lazy and default-ish, and more importantly, I didn’t love it. Also, the characters wear “timebands” instead of watches because, I dunno, that makes it different?
When you cut a deal to get out of goblin jail, sometimes you end up on a secret pumpkin-snatching mission for the manipulative goblin wizard who busted you out. And it can an awkward situation when you’re with a squad of professional pumpkin-snatching goblins, and you’re just sort of… a kid.
This is the third preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. The clip here is read not by me, but by my spouse (and number two fan*).
A part of this scene stemmed from writing anxiety. There was a self-flagellating voice in my head saying something like: “This story is really stupid. Why can’t you think of stories that aren’t stupid? Why would goblins snatch pumpkins from people’s doorsteps when they could just go to the store and buy a bunch of pumpkins?
Then a more helpful voice said: “Grocery stores don’t accept goblin money.”
And another helpful voice, one that sounded a bit more like a goblin, answered: “Also, we don’t have goblin money.”
I believe in brainstorming rather than waiting for inspiration to hit. When it does hit, it’s almost never out of nowhere. It happens because I’ve been thinking and asking questions, even if sometimes those questions are kind of whiny.
Here’s the transcript:
Korkor turned to Amber. “You’ll be doing my job. Keep the trick-or-treaters away while we take the pumpkins back in several trips.”
“How do I do that?”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe a bat-nexus grenade followed by a smoke shroud? Or a nice Spook’s Gambit followed by a Kirlik Maneuver?” He made an excited gesture of a swooping owl and handfuls of explosions. ”Do you have your own array of creeper-cell batteries and magic boosters, or do you need to borrow one?”
Amber said nothing in response.
“Here.” Korkor dumped a pile of pocket junk in Amber’s arms.
Torlik made an exasperated noise. “She doesn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and you know it’s not enough for a crowd.”
Amber wanted to help, though she really didn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and she hadn’t understood most of what Korkor had said. “I don’t get why you can’t just grow pumpkins yourselves. Or buy them.”
“Takes too long,” said the three goblins in overlapping bites of speech.
“Fine, buy them,” said Amber, suspecting that, somehow, this wouldn’t do either.
“Buy them?” With a dramatic arm thrown across his forehead, Torlik pretended to faint. “From a store?”
But Korkor’s eyes lit like jack-o-lanterns. “A store with aisles and aisles of pumpkins?”
“And a pot of stew?” Falkit added hopefully.
Amber shrugged “A grocery store.”
“Grocery stories don’t accept goblin money,” said Korkor
“Also, we don’t have goblin money,” added Torlik, turning out his pockets.
“Also, goblin money doesn’t exist.” Korkor turned to Torlik, and they nodded rapidly in unison.
There was a pause.
“Could you explain coupons?” asked Falkit.
I had been aiming to publish this on October 15, and I think it will be pushed back by just a few days. When it’s out, I’ll announce it on both this blog and my newsletter.
By the way, I just saw an in-progress version of the cover illustration as the color is being added. It’s going to look cool, and I’m excited to post it sometime next week!
*I may not have a lot of fans, but they are the most organized fans in the world: they numbered themselves.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about goblins, it’s that they eat most of the same food as chickens: fruit, bugs, and various forageables. At least, the goblins in Pumpkin Goblins do. Even though I have chickens, this is actually a weird coincidence. I did the earliest work on Pumpkin Goblins almost two years before the chickens came on the scene. Since Pumpkin Goblins is coming out later this month, it’s occupying a lot of my mental space. So much, in fact, that it has seeped into my snacks. Thus, here is the story of how I ended up making goblin candy.
Every time I needed a goblin to mention some kind of food, my first thought was: Worms? Or graveworms? Goblins eating bugs was an easy option, kind of a default idea, and I usually like to challenge those and do my own thing. Since the goblins snatch pumpkins rather than growing them, I figured they weren’t big on agriculture. Their village is in the middle of the woods, so it didn’t seem like a great place for any sort of farmland. They weren’t going to be raising pigs and cows, or eating bacon cheeseburgers. But I could imagine them growing little gardens, or picking fruit from the woods. The bugs still fit the image I had in mind, and every time I mentioned goblin food, it was mostly bugs and fruit:
“A conspiracy as vast as an ocean of soup, as intricate as a puzzle box or a lattice-weave pie crust. As dangerous as undercooked cricket brulee with the crunchy top.”
A goblin from the front row stepped forward and handed Hobkit a lumpy biscuit.
“Thank you, yes. Bat-darnit, I was hungry.”
The smell of burnt applesauce hit him as soon as he started down the ladder. Applesauce with mothwings and nutmeg, an Ebleween favorite. The familiar scent tugged at Torlik’s memory.
The idea of goblin candy came from a very quick bit of dialogue in Pumpkin Goblins:
Amber shared a bit of her Halloween candy with Falkit, who in all her years as a driver, had never tried it. Spitting it out, the goblin dramatically pretended to throw up. “It doesn’t have any apples,” she complained.
“It’s a chocolate caramel, not a caramel apple.”
“No apples, no worms. Nothing juicy-good like goblin candy.” She spat again. “Sticky.”
Even though this is a very minor bit of the story, I have a vivid image of what goblin candy is like: dark and fruity, gooey in texture, with a hint of spices.
Goblin candy: not known for its looks. In fact, it inspired someone to tell me a story about a prank in which chocolate was presented as bear poop.
My recipe for goblin candy is based on a recipe for No-Bake Pecan Chocolates from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve made the original recipe many times, and at this point, I kind of make it my own way. Since it’s a deliciously sticky mass of chocolate and nuts, I thought it would be a good starting point for goblin candy. Btw, I highly recommend Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, vegan or not. And I’m not; it’s just a collection of awesome, unique cookie recipes. Their gluten-free flour mixture alone is worth the cost of the book.
1 cup chocolate bits
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup almond meal
1 cup dried cherries and currants
1/2 cup chopped pecans
A pinch each of allspice and cloves
Melt the chocolate on the stove, over the lowest heat possible. Stir in the brown rice syrup, salt, and vanilla. Stir in everything else. Form into candy blobs, preferably on parchment or waxed paper. Dip hands and utensils into water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking. Refrigerate until firm.
Bugs are an optional ingredient. I do know people who eat bugs. If there’s a bug out there that complements fruit and chocolate, and you eat that bug, why not add it?
Aiming for a caramel vibe, Vegan Cookies calls for brown rice syrup. But the book is for vegans, and if you’re not, you could probably go straight for the caramel. Point is: sweet and very sticky.
Likewise, it doesn’t really matter if you use almond meal (which is my own addition, anyway). Point is: ground nuts of some variety. Cornmeal would probably be a terrible substitute (I don’t know why that even popped into my head.) I’m sure you could swap out the pecans too. In fact, I’m not sure how much goblins really like recipes, so if you want to ignore the whole thing and smash ingredients against the walls of a haunted house, that might work too.
When an elite squad of pumpkin-snatching goblins shows up at your house, they usually make off with your pumpkins before you realize it. That way, you can blame teenagers and don’t have to consider the fact that goblins exist.
This is the second preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book, Pumpkin Goblins. And the scene I read here is one of my absolute favorites. In it, Amber finds herself face-to-face with the three goblins who tried to steal her pumpkin. One of the first pieces of this story I wrote was the bit of dialogue in which the goblins think she’s named Ember (like fires), rather than Amber (like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago). There’s a story behind that.
Originally, Amber’s name was Ember. I think I had Elfquest on the brain, but it also seemed like a cool name, one that went with jack-o-lanterns and spooky forests.
The problem with cool names?
They set off Mary Sue alerts in my head. And since Amber is definitely not a Mary Sue, I thought it would be better to give her a “normal” name. Changing one letter was an incredibly time-efficient way to do this. But it works on another level too: my best friend growing up was named Amber. We usually played outdoors and sometimes went on adventures, so I think Amber is a fitting namesake*.
Here’s the transcript:
The goblin leader took one long step so that he was directly in front of her, close enough to grab the pumpkin and run. He locked eyes with Amber, and she felt aware, in a way that she never had before, of being human. Of having fat and muscle flesh out the gaps of her skeleton where the goblin had knees and elbows and all kinds of joints poking out of his wiry frame. Of having soft human skin with peach-fuzz hair where the goblin was the almost-smooth gray-brown of a birch tree. He flashed her a wicked little grin, his teeth neatly pointed. “What’s your name?”
“We like embers,” said the other two, bouncing their words off each other. “Because we like fires.”
“No, Amber, like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago.”
“Like dead bugs.”
“That’s a lovely name for a girl.”
The goblin leader turned around to the other two and announced to them, “I don’t think she’s going to help us. She obviously doesn’t care about Halloween.”
“I care. I care more than you! You’re trying to ruin my Halloween.”
“If we don’t get enough pumpkins, everyone’s Halloween will be ruined.”
The other two jumped in. “Ruined.”
“Ruined and wrecked.”
“Wrecked and wretched.”
Amber glared at the goblins.
“Look,” said the lead goblin. “This is all aboveboard and legitimate business, and we would be glad to show you identification, if we had anything like that.”
The tall goblin with the trench coat piped in, “We’re just like elves stealing toys, only for us it’s pumpkins.”
“Elves make toys, not steal them.”
“That’s what you think. Ever lose your favorite toy at the mall, and you swear you never let it out of your hand?”
“Well, yeah, but I think I just left it at the shoe store.”
“Oh, elves and shoes, elves and shoes,” muttered the lead goblin. “You said you’re having a bad Halloween?”
Amber glanced into the lit living room window, where her brother was playing video games with Sybil. “It’s the worst Halloween ever.”
The tall one leaned into her face ominously. “And it’s going to get worse still. Not just for you. For everyone. Summer-warm air. Half-hearted tricks. Reluctantly-given treats.”
Suddenly, the third goblin, the one with the sunglasses and fingerless gloves, the one who had spoken least, jumped up off the small garden rock she had been squatting on and waved the other two goblins into a huddle. They talked rapidly for a moment in language that was both higher and lovelier than Amber had expected, then turned again to face her.
“We have decided. You may come with us to the Goblin Oak and place the pumpkin there yourself,” announced the leader.
We’re a little over two weeks from the aimed-for release of Pumpkin Goblins. In between frantic editing and formatting, having a job, and enjoying fall, I’m planning to put out at least one more of these preview scenes, and also a recipe for goblin candy.
*Apparently, “namesake” can refer to both the person one is named after, and the one who received the name. No wonder that always confused me.