I’ve aimed to structure Stars Fall Out as a slow-burning story where everything explodes at the end. I’m still on the first draft, so it’s hard to say whether or not I’ve succeeded on the slow burn. But I’ve definitely reached the exploding part: in the past week alone I’ve written an arrest, an interrogation, a confrontation between two points of a love triangle, and finally, a jail break.
I caught him by the wrist a little over halfway up to the planetarium. High enough up the tower that we had cleared the buildings around us, and we stood before windows bursting with sky and lazy sunlight.
“We’re alone now,” I said. “Can you tell me what this is? Why did you break me out?”
“Break you out? That was an elegant feat of clerical sleight-of-hand.”
“Noted. Why did you do it?”
“Because you had a smart idea some weeks ago, but no way to execute it properly.” He must have noted absolute incomprehension in my expression because he continued on, “The magic test, Tyatavar. Why did you retake it?”
I hit 200,000 words on Stars Fall Out. A fair chunk of this is worldbuilding, brainstorming, deleted scenes, and bits that popped into my head for the next two books. Still, figuring 250 words per page, I’m somewhere between 600 and 800 pages. As my partner eloquently put it:
“Your book is fucking long. You keep fucking writing.”
When I publish this thing, that shall be my blurb. Here’s another quick excerpt, from my main character’s third experience being interrogated by an imperial oneiromancer:
“I’m sure you’ve heard rumor of my three fearsome beasts. They’re in the adjoining room. Waiting. Hungry.”
“Isn’t one of them on a mush diet?”
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that fearsomeness and a mush diet are mutually exclusive. I could tell you things about Emperor Lirghala that would freeze your heart, and you can count his teeth at a glance.”
Is it appropriate to congratulate the bride if you know she doesn’t want to be there? For my current draft, I needed to come up with something for a character to say in this situation. To jog my brain, I ended up googling both “things to say to a bride” and “things not to say to a bride.”
You are supposed to tell the bride how beautiful she looks because “all brides want to hear that” and because of all the work that went into starvation diets. However, this is not supposed be phrased as “You did such a beautiful job starving yourself!”
You’re not supposed to tell the bride that you hate weddings, but that you’re enjoying hers. Even though, as far as I’m concerned, this is the highest compliment one can pay a wedding. Because weddings can be the worst.
Our wedding was a Halloween wedding, but we had a strong subtheme of “excising wedding traditions that we hate, particularly gendered ones.” I would’ve been perfectly happy if someone told me that my wedding was the exception to their wedding hatred.
You’re not supposed to compare the wedding to another wedding, such as by saying, “Julia and Mark used the same typeface on their place cards!” because the bride worked ever so hard to make the wedding unique (especially while operating on such a low number of calories).
This is the case even though there’s a whole industry of wedding shit that most brides are getting their unique centerpieces from.
There are a finite number of cupcake flavors and only so many ways to turn a mason jar into a centerpiece.
It’s been five weeks since I posted an excerpt from Stars Fall Out. A single-scene wedding I’d planned instead turned out to take up six scenes, making me feel as though I’ve been stalled in one spot. But in fact, I finished 13 scenes since I posted that last excerpt.
For this wedding snippet, I ended up doing the aforementioned perplexing wedding research to figure out what one might say to a bride at her wedding without congratulating her.
The research didn’t help; I figured out my own answer.
In seconds, people were all around us with compliments on our attire, on the ceremony, and on our perfection as a couple. I turned from one to the next, reflexively taking hands and accepting compliments, Tirsan by my side, and then gone, pulled away by some of his many cousins.
A hand fell onto my shoulder, no different than any other, aside that it came with a single word whispered in my ear, pronounced perfectly in a more imperial voice than the one I knew.
He came around to face me, his hand drifting off my shoulder. “The ceremony was fascinating,” Pinuar said in what I knew as his regular, Tavhathan voice. “And educational.”
Then he disappeared into the crowd.
And if you happen to be someone who’s been living under an assumed name for eight months and coming to see the bride in her father’s bakery, you might finally tell her your real name. And that you realize you were invited by a verbal accident, but you came anyway so that she has a single person to relax and be unhappy with.
And then you can go get yourself smacked in the face because a guy thinks you got him kicked out of his magic lab.
Sometimes I look at posts on my town’s Facebook group, and I don’t think that the events of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” are so far-fetched. There’s an incredible amount of aggression and tribalism; people are willing to figuratively stone each other for benign opinions about local restaurants. Once, my partner witnessed an argument turn into a demand to “Come fight me at the Santa Parade.”
Thinking about this was what inspired me to reread this story just now for the first time since eighth grade. Knowing where it’s going doesn’t diminish the impact, but rather makes it ever more horrifying and tense. It kills me that the woman who dies is late to the lottery because she didn’t want to leave dishes in the sink.
But what makes The Lottery such a memorable, chilling story isn’t any aggression displayed by the characters. It’s the matter-of-factness with which they band together and commit murder, then go home and go about their days. An enormous portion of the story is dedicated simply to the clerical and organizational problems of conducting the whole affair.
“…the whole lottery took only about two hours, so it could begin at ten o’clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner.”
Shirley Jackson, The Lottery
No one is saying, “This is cruel.”
No one is saying, “This is insane.”
No is is saying, “Summon up a teaspoon of empathy for another human being, and don’t act like this.”
That goes for the characters in The Lottery, and for a lot of people on a lot of towns’ Facebook groups.
When I looked up “The Lottery,” I also came across a Mental Floss article of facts about this story. My favorite part was Jackson’s parents’ reaction to the story:
“Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker … [I]t does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don’t you write something to cheer people up?”“Dad and I did not care at all for your story in The New Yorker … [I]t does seem, dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what all you young people think about these days. Why don’t you write something to cheer people up?”
Apparently, if you have a secret marriage and an emotional affair, relationship math dictates that you will end up with a love triangle. This came about organically with Stars Fall Out after I developed a couple of the characters more, so I think it deserves its place in the story.
But I’ve been wrestling with resolving it in a non-melodramatic way that deepens the already-existing conflict and doesn’t hijack the rest of the story, kill my ending, or kill my characters, who already have future book storylines.
I’m less confident in this excerpt than in most of the other excerpts I’ve posted. Apparently, it’s tough to write a balanced, reasonable jealous rage.
But he didn’t stop. He hauled himself through streets the color of winter’s muddy death at the hands of a vicious spring, and he came to The House by the Sea Inn.
It loomed up at the top of the hill, a fortification against everything he needed to know and didn’t want to know. His heart thudded in his chest from the exertion of the hills, and only grew heavier, faster like the chugging of machinery.
No one had told him this was where the floppy-haired glass merchant was staying, but he’d pieced it together. The last job of the Rill Ryonin bakery had been a king’s ransom of rolls. They had been sent here, and Tyatavar had been the one to make that delivery.
And after that, hours after that, they’d leaned together against the wall of the locksmith’s shop, their faces lit by firelight that could never touch them.
He had been there with her there in the thick of things, where a son-in-law should be.