Daughter of Madness: logistics edition

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted directly here. For those keeping track, we’re a little over halfway through the blog tour. I’ll be officially back here with your weekly Friday post in July. July 27th to be exact. But since I had some thoughts to share, I thought I’d check in to do a quick rundown of the publishing process for Daughter of Madness.

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Continue reading “Daughter of Madness: logistics edition”

Maximizing your writing time

I received a comment a few weeks back about how to best maximize your writing time. If you only have a half hour to an hour a day to work on things, this can be a real challenge for making any headway on your manuscript. Here are some things that work for me. As always with writing advice, your miles may vary.

  1. Leaving myself notes. For our first trick, let’s look at the easiest one. I often find myself with only a short chunk of time for writing, and a lot that I want to get on the page. One of the easiest ways to make sure I know exactly where to pick up is to leave myself a note, especially if I am working in a notebook. You’ll often see odd bits of marginalia in my notebooks. They could be thoughts that I’m working out about later in the book, but just as often they are notes about what a scene is supposed to be or do according to where I am where inspiration strikes. Then I can go back and fill that in at my leisure.
  2. Using smaller chunks of time for editing. Another tactic that I find useful is to use the smaller chunks of time that I have for writing-related activities for editing. This may seem a little counterintuitive if your focus is to get words on the page, but there are a couple of advantages here. If you reserve the larger chunks of writing time for the harder work of coming up with new words, then you make more progress on your manuscript or other project more quickly. And editing (at least line editing) something that is pretty far along is really a more rote exercise. It’s a lot easier to do if you are not actually in the flow of reading – in other words, shorter blocks of editing time for line edits and proofing actually help you find errors, in my experience.
  3. Stopping in the middle of things. One of the most common pieces of writing advice out there is to stop in the middle of things. In other words, don’t finish a writing session at the end of a chapter. Finish it while you still have momentum. That momentum will carry you through the beginning of your next writing session more quickly. You’ll spend less time trying to figure out what happens next in the story and more time writing – helpful if you only have a short chunk of time to begin with.
  4. Outlining larger projects. One of the things that I most often tell beginning writers is that it’s important to outline. I don’t do full outlines like a lot of folks – that is to say, my outlines actually look like outlines, usually, with very general information and scenes sort of grouped together, at least until I get further along in a project. But for long projects, and even for short stories, it’s important to have an idea of where the story is going before you sit down at the keyboard. This piece of advice is a lot like number 1 on this list, but involves a little more time and planning in advance.
  5. Putting myself in the headspace with music. There are a lot of pieces that go into writing that aren’t actually writing. One of those is daydreaming. I find that there are a lot of times during the day when I can safely daydream about a bit of world-building or a character motivation without having to stop another task I am working on. One of the things that helps me with that is to listen to a playlist inspired by whatever I am working on. This is also a great way to get yourself in the right headspace as you go into a writing session, since it helps bring up the same thoughts and emotions you were having when you were brainstorming before.
  6. Keeping things in the cloud. One of my best tips for the person who has a tight schedule is to keep all of your writing in a cloud server. This is something I’ve only recently started doing, and I’m so glad that I have. It serves two functions – first, I don’t have to worry about my computer crashing and me losing everything I’ve ever worked on, because it’s backed up in the cloud. Second, I can literally work on something anywhere, even if I get slammed with an idea when I have no pen or paper. I even got a portable keyboard for when I’m on lunch. I still love writing in notebooks, but it definitely saves time not to have to type everything up and gives me more flexibility with note taking, etc.
  7. Eating while writing/editing. One of the big things that I do is use my lunch to write or edit. I’ve been a bit bad about this the past few weeks, but typically I use my eating time for writing. This is the one block of time that I know I will get – everyone has to eat – so if I make sure to make time for reading, writing, or editing during this stretch then it helps balance all of the rest of my needs for time later in the day. It’s not ideal, but if you’re pressed it’s better than nothing. And food helps me think.

That’s all the advice I have for you today! I hope it helps in your quest!


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The best thing I learned at MystiCon

I go to conventions to spread the word about my existence, sure, but I also go to conventions to learn. (And to meet awesome people, but that is a side benefit to the utility, even if it is a very important one.) This year, I had a number of great experiences – being on an all woman panel was one, I enjoyed that immensely – but the most meaningful learning I did was as moderator on the very last panel of my time there, Epic Scale Fiction.

As might be imagined, I focused most of my questions on the “scale” piece of this topic – that is, how to expand a story. And the most obvious method of expanding a story that’s already out there is to write a new story (or a continuation of a story) in the same world. I’ll admit my bias – writing a sequel has been a totally different affair for me than writing an original story, with a whole new set of skills that I needed to acquire. Check on any of my posts which contain progress updates on Daughter of Madness and you will see what I’m talking about. But I didn’t have the language to articulate what, exactly, I’d done wrong with my second book in the Creation Saga the first time around, and what, exactly, I was doing right with the rewrites.

(As an aside, I have gotten deep into edits and heard back from beta readers and guys, I am very confident that you are going to love Daughter of Madness. I’m also very hopeful to have an official release date soon.)

I now have that language, thanks to the panelists. A sequel still involves changing the status quo. You sequel starts in that shift, just as your original novel did. It’s not just a continuation of the prior story. Something must change for each of your characters. So:

  • Change the status quo
  • Your sequel is not a continuation of the old story, it’s something new
  • Each book should be a story unto itself

When I started writing Daughter of Madness, I was trying to continue the story that I was telling in Mother of Creation. This is where I went wrong, and this is why two thirds of the book got chopped and rewritten. I had a solid thread on Liana’s story, with drastic changes to her new normal in the offing, but I just expected the other characters to keep doing what they had been doing and honestly? I was bored. I was bored writing it, and it showed, and it didn’t make any sense at all. Everything was bad.

Then I listened to Kameron Hurley talking about the need to throw out part of her book on her Twitter. I realized I could do that. And I started over. I started telling a new kind of story for each of my characters. One where the setting was more or less the same, often, but the stakes had changed, either internally or externally. I muddled towards the answer that the panelists so concisely gave me.

Everyone approaches sequels differently. The level of backstory required, the way that you orient the reader to the characters, changes from person to person. I very much want people to read the first book before they read the second. They are installments in the same broad arc. But they still should be able to stand on their own enough that if I as a reader came back to this series after a long time, I would be able to orient myself and still be engaged. And the only way that can happen is if the story in the second book is just as gripping and engaging, in its own way, as the story in the first. It can’t be a repetition of what has gone before, though some of the same themes and conflicts may be present.

In a way, I’m glad I had to learn things the hard way. Even if I had heard someone say those very words before, I don’t know that I would have recognized it in application to my own work. Even if I had, I don’t know that the book I would have written would have been as truthful as this one, because if I had finished Daughter of Madness sooner I would have lacked the experiences I needed to make it sing. But I am glad I know the lesson now, and I wanted to pass it on to you, in case you ever find yourself in the same boat.


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Writing Excuses: retrofitting structure

Writing Excuses is one of the only podcasts I listen to. I like to explain it to my friends thusly: “THEY JUST KEPT TALKING AND I WANTED THEM TO GET TO THE POINT.” My friends usually roll their eyes.

Most podcasts are about an hour long and make me want to tear out my hair. One, two, or occasionally three people will ramble on about some subject or another for the whole duration. It makes me want to eat hearts. I become Baba Yaga in the wood. I whirl about and grab the reins of my chicken hut and ride into the sunset.

Honestly, I hate podcasts. If I want to be talked at by people, I’ll go to work at my dayjob. Otherwise I’m just as happy to read a book. I guarantee I can read faster than you talk.

That said, I love Writing Excuses. What’s interesting about this podcast is that it is a) exclusively focused on writing and writing techniques, b) really short, which makes me happy, and c) is in a conversational format that allows for insight. All of the participants (regularly, the podcast includes Dan Wells, Mary Robinette-Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Johnson) come from diverse parts of the writing world. They have experience teaching the craft, but very different opinions about some parts of it. It’s not two people in an echo chamber, nor is it a boring interview. It’s a group of people having healthy conversation (albeit probably somewhat rehearsed) about what techniques they use to make their writing good.

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Gushing is now over, I swear.

Recently, I was listening to an episode from Season 12 entitled “Retrofitting Structure into a First Draft.” I always have a hard time with determining where a first draft begins and a zero draft or second draft ends. The finals are easy to clarify, mostly, but for the purposes of this podcast I think it’s healthy to disregard the “First Draft” moniker. Instead, the conversation is about retrofitting structure of your draft when you know something is broken.

Case in point: a few years ago now (wow, how time flies) I finished what I affectionately call The Zombie Book at a time when many were saying that the zombie genre was dead. Putting aside whether or not a genre can die, this book was my favorite thing. I loved it deeply. Nothing I have written since has filled me with quite as much joy, actually, at least of the maniacal kind. The main character is a rather unstable middle-aged woman who could easily be a supervillain but somehow finds herself helping out with a ragtag band of people saving the world from an apocalypse that’s sort of their fault. It was lots of fun to write, and I still hold out hopes that it will find a home in a publishing house somewhere. I hear zombies and their ilk are making a comeback. A resurrection, even.

Bad humor aside, I loved this book. I hated the ending. It felt like a good ending in that it set up some things for a sequel. It brought some of the various plots I had been playing with to a solid close and opened up some new ones. Sequel material, in other words. Perfect. But it didn’t jive. It didn’t quite feel right.

Listening to this episode of Writing Excuses helped me to figure out exactly why that was. I didn’t quite keep my promises to my readers. There was a tonal shift.

In any case, I’m very excited to perform the activity in this podcast and fix that problem. Hopefully listening to this episode will give you some insight as well.

Setting as context

Setting is a difficult thing for many writers. It has certainly been my Achilles heel in some of my work, though I like to think I grow with each story. I’ve been thinking about it recently, and I think that one of the best ways of thinking about setting in your novel or short story is as context. Allow me to explain.

It’s really interesting how the context of something changes depending on where and when that something has happened. A kiss, for example, can mean a lot of things depending on who is giving it to whom and where. A kiss under the mistletoe evokes holiday cheer and romance; a kiss by a lake, summer love or lasting commitment; and a kiss in the dark lust or fear.

My S.O. told me a story once about finding an unspent bullet in a bus station. He had just been told how dangerous the city he was traveling to was, and advised to be careful. The bullet made him laugh, because he is one of those rare fools halfway to Buddha-hood already. He kept it as a reminder of the absurdity of life, and it sits now on one of our altars.

The context of a bullet in a city bus station is very different from the context of a bullet in an open desert. I also have a story about finding bullets. When I was a child, my father and I would go walking through a small patch of desert in the still developing boundaries of Phoenix. In early morning, the desert is a place of fragile loveliness. Though I was only three or four, I can clearly remember watching the hot air balloons rise over what felt a vast, flat expanse, the world made of soft, washed out blue and rocky greys and reds. The hot air balloons became bright bursts of color in this near monochrome. The world was nearly silent but for us.

On one of those mornings, my father found a pack of bullets left abandoned by a hunter. They were bird shot, and I remember him explaining what that was. It is a very different kind of bullet than the smooth, metal tipped casing that my S.O. found in his bus station. The casing is usually bright red, made of some plastic polymer designed to more or less disintegrate on firing, spreading small balls of metal outward in a speckled pattern that becomes less dense the farther away the target is. I don’t recall that I had ever seen a bullet before. My father threw them into a small pond, a watering hole for desert creature the hunter had likely been waiting by.

Setting, then, makes a thing more or less frightening. The incongruity of finding a bullet on the sidewalk or in a store raises questions, worries, fears. But a bullet left by a watering hole in the desert seems natural and unthreatening. As a writer, it is important to constantly be aware not only of the context characterization can provide, but also of setting.

Characterization comes more easily than setting to me personally. I understand the implications to someone’s reaction towards a spider if they have been bitten by one before, for example. No one likes pain, so that dislike can easily transfer to spiders. Character becomes context when a person’s memories and experiences shape their reactions to an event or object.

Setting, however, can be more complicated. It shapes and informs character in the form of cultural biases and previous learned experiences.

A great example of setting’s impact on character is an interaction I had with a friend on a hike a few years ago. She is from Burma, which has a tropical, jungle climate. There are over 20 breeds of venomous snakes in Burma. In Virginia there are only three. Of such little differences is setting made. When we saw a snake on our hike, I was delighted. I knew instantly from its color that it was not dangerous and for me it was a novelty. For her, it was a potentially deadly threat, until I provided her the context of our mutual setting. Even then she was uncomfortable with the prospect of running into a snake in the wild – a character trait that was shaped in part by the setting of her youth.

Through the lens of setting as context, and by understanding how that context is related to characterization and plot, we can begin to improve our world-building. And world-building is a writer’s bread and butter, especially in speculative fiction. So the next time you’re writing away and something happens to your character, ask yourself if she would have taken it differently in a different time and place. I think it will be pretty revealing.

Creating as a woman

The other day, a friend and I were discussing the movie The Fifth Element. My S.O. loves that movie. It is ironically one of the only science fiction movies that he enjoys. I chalk this up to nostalgia – not that I don’t enjoy the movie, the opposite, but it’s not really his kind of science fiction. His speed is more Interstellar or something else vastly cerebral.

Anyway, so my friend and I were discussing this and she mentioned that The Fifth Element would have been vastly better with some gender-flipping. The trope of the woman as sacred object, the naive woman who needed a man to save her and help her navigate the world, was tiring for her. Make Bruce Willis be Leeloo, and have Milla Jovovich be the tough cab driver with a mysterious past. I suggested going one further – keep Jovovich as the mystical Leeloo, and cast some hard-bitten older woman in Bruce Willis’ role. Her name could be Kora, or Ervin. You already have several speaking male side characters, including the very prominent role of the antagonist. Why not?

In a separate conversation on one of the social media sites I subscribe to, I found this post which talked about the role of female heroes in writing. I want to talk about how it made me feel in light of the above and in light of my identity as a writer. I swear it connects to the above.

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Writing as a woman is hard, because you’re covered in sticky cobwebs of male gaze and you don’t even know it. The post above mentions male writers, but male writers, as male directors, are only part of the problem. They are a huge part of the problem, sure. But the other part of the problem is that we as female creators often perpetuate their tropes.

Unfortunately, even once you awaken to the tropes in question, it can be hard to shake them, mostly because there aren’t any mainstream models of the kind of story you do want to tell. You end up making it up as you go along. I was lucky. I found authors like Martha Wells and Laurie J. Marks early. I knew I loved what they were writing, but I didn’t really understand why. It took me years, four of them spent at an all women’s undergraduate college, to really recognize what it was that was so fulfilling about these stories for me. It was because those stories were written for me. They weren’t written for the male gaze, but for mine. The characters in them, both male and female, were not indefinably crippled by the assumptions that so often come up in our stories: the woman must be saved, the woman must be beautiful, the woman must be perfect, the woman must have volition, but not too much. She must not overshadow the male protagonist. She must be good.

Nowadays I have added a plethora of authors to my list who are writing the kinds of stories I want to write, and to read. Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Kameron Hurley, N.K. Jemisin – they are all doing amazing things, testing the boundaries of their genres, and generally rocking out. They are telling the kinds of stories that I want to tell

But it is still hard, despite that, to shake the tropes that have so often reoccurred in mainstream fiction and genre fiction. I still read through a story or a paragraph and realize, oh, I have done the thing that I did not want to do. I have reduced my character to her attractiveness, to her goodness, and not let any of the dark survive to give her flavor. Writing as a woman is a balancing act between being true to your heart and being pulled in by the assumptions you never realized that you were taught to make. You can guarantee that if you are true to your heart, someone will accuse you of being an SJW, of distracting from the story, of advancing an agenda. And if you get pulled the other way, if you give up – well, you have even more left to lose. It is hard.

But the best things in life are rarely easy. So chin up, buttercup. Write your heart.

(P.S. if someone wants to write that Fifth Element AU I will totally read it. Totally.)

Impostor syndrome

Recently I listened to an episode of Writing Excuses entitled Impostor Syndrome, with Alyssa Wong. I love Writing Excuses, and I listened to this particular episode at a time in my life when I was feeling that impostor syndrome very strongly. We all have days like that, when we come face to face with our inadequacies and can’t see anything else, when we make those flaws larger than life. I was incredibly grateful to this podcast, and I encourage you to listen to it. But there was definitely something missing for me.

Writing Excuses is made up of a bunch of excellent and famous writers. There’s Brandon Sanderson, perhaps best known for finishing The Wheel of Time series. Mary Robinette Kowal is a phenomenal writer who has won multiple awards and been published in many collections. I strongly recommend her short stories especially, but she is also an excellent novelist. I may have mentioned Ghost Talkers a few posts back. That was her. Howard Tayler has been on the Hugo ballot, and Dan Wells has a multi-book series in the John Cleaver books. They are all well beyond where I am as a writer. This podcast was in fact about that. They were discussing having “made it” but never quite feeling that you have any legitimacy.

I have not made it. This is not an example of impostor syndrome, actually. This is a bare fact. I am making it. I am in the process of climbing. That is something I can be comfortable with. There are no awards that recognize me, there are no even mediocre book deals. There has been no moment of relief on this mountain, and so there can be no sense that I do not deserve that relief. That is what the podcast was referring to: the sense that you do not deserve the relief of recognition of your effort. That you do not deserve the praise, the acclaim. This requires having praise and acclaim.

However, the feeling comes from the same place. The feeling of being an impostor flares up when I think that I will never make it. That my work will never find its audience and that this hard grind, this endless, impossible climb, will never have a moment of relief. It is the same feeling, but different.

My S.O. told me recently that it was utterly irrational to feel bad about not being successful in a field which requires so much input from other people. You cannot control readers. You cannot control agents or editors or advertisers or the people they advertise to. Each little thing you throw out is lost in a sea of media. We are inundated every day with such a massive amount of information. When you become a creator of content, you add to that sea. The additions never cease, and each year they pile on one another. All of which is to say that your voice will be lost. It takes years and years for an author to break through to the top of that pile, and many of them sink down again. You should not be embarrassed or think yourself less than for not welling immediately to the top. That is just silly.

That is what I wanted to hear from the podcast, and happily I had him to tell me that instead. Sounds grim? It is. But for me, it is a comforting bit of grim.

One of the important points that was made in the podcast was the importance of knowing why you continue to create. If you create for acclaim, you will fail. That is something that I have been wrestling with and something that I have had stated to me multiple times recently. If your focus is on selling books, you are doomed to failure. You will never sell enough books to assuage that hunger. But if your focus is on telling a story, and telling a good one – telling a story for a story’s sake – that will never leave you.

So, in light of that, I leave you with this inspiring video. I can only find the link on Facebook, so you’ll have to click through. Enjoy.

Prioritization, the beast immortal

So I have a problem called spin-too-many-plates syndrome. Meaning I like to constantly be juggling a lot of stuff. “Like” may not be the best word, actually. Perhaps it would be better to say that I pathologically over-stuff my plate. Or that I get bored easily. Or that I am overly ambitious. Or am violently deficient at correctly estimating my resources.

Anyway.

This past weekend, I told you that the audiobook for Mother of Creation would be out. We busted butts to try to make that deadline, me and my producer both. Sleep was lost, stress was had. I cried for an hour or two when I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Part of me missing the deadline was that I was trying to do too many things at once, trying to work my day job, find a place to live, plan a wedding, write a book, and simultaneously review and publish an audiobook. It just wasn’t going to happen.

That said, we did get the book out, finally. You can get the audiobook of Mother of Creation on Audible, Amazon, or through iTunes/iBooks. If you start a free trial membership of Audible, you will get my book for free. I’m so excited to be able to offer you this opportunity and I hope that you will take advantage of it.

Focusing on one project and not deviating and meeting deadlines can be really hard for me. I’m very good on figuring out what needs to be done, but not so good on figuring out which thing should be done first. My single human form is obviously not an army, except maybe an army of bacteria. Bacteria does not write. All of this is probably the result of the fact that, like many authors, I am a creator. I am an idea person that likes to constantly be dreaming up new fluffy bubbles of magical rainbow transcendence to dazzle the world with. That makes it really hard to a) stick with one fluffy bubble to the end and b) realize which of the maintenance things need to take priority in order to preserve those fluffy bubbles so they don’t just pop and die.

I’m not apologizing for that weird metaphor. In case you were wondering about that.

Right now my list of weird half-finished projects looks like this:

  • Two projects that need edits. One needs being sent out to a beta reader group of some kind. One needs to be finalized and polished with already-received beta reader feedback.
  • A novella that needs major rewrites. This may be at the bottom of my list honestly. Another novella that also needs rewrites, final edits, and distribution.
  • Several sequels that need writing.
  • Several query letters that need sending out for various completed or psuedo-completed short story projects.
  • A short story I’ve never finished that might turn into a novella but I would like to see done regardless.
  • Several other short story ideas in the works.

That’s a lot of stuff that is floating around in my brain. Knowing which thing to work on next isn’t just about what I most want to work on next, but also about what I think I’m likely to be able to pitch successfully.

The other downside to all of this is that even when I decide on what I think will be successful and start to work on it, it’s often just as likely that I will hare off and do something else at some point that is not planned, or forget I made the plan in the first place and rehash the same tired conversation in my head a month later. I try to keep good notes, but don’t always go back through the notes that I do keep. This is general disorganization, but also a sort of pathological self-sabotage. It’s easy to point to things that you failed to do as the reason that you are failing, instead of accepting that sometimes the reason you are failing is just bad luck or lack of a complete picture.

I don’t have any tips for how to fix this, because it is something I am struggling with all the time. My only advice is to just continue forward in spite of yourself when these things happen and accept that it is a bit of who you are. Not the entirety of who you are. You are not in your entirety a being of procrastination, or you would never get anything done. Nor are you entirely disorganized, or entirely unable to follow through with projects. These are not fair descriptors any more than it would be fair to say that you always keep your work organized and complete everything you set your mind to. People are complex, life is complex, any creative work is complex.

It’s really easy to oversimplify the challenges we encounter, to see them as daunting, impossible beasts which can never be conquered. It is really easy to lose hope and never try. It can be very hard to both believe in yourself and strive to do better. After all, the first of those is a positive thing, right? Believing in yourself requires optimism and faith. Striving to do better requires some of that, but it also requires a certain self-criticism, an awareness of one’s faults. It’s very hard to hold your faults in your head and still love yourself. There are days where you might not be able to accomplish that.

On those days, I advise you to eat some ice cream, take a bath, drink some tea. And then get right back in your chair and write, write, write. Turn off the little voice that’s talking about what you can do better, and do what you can. Put another word on the page. You’re the only one who can write your story. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be yours.

Parallel worlds

I try not to talk about my day job too much. Granted you could probably figure it out if you dug, but generally I try to keep the writing half of my life somewhat separate from my other pursuits. But I’m going to talk about it a little today, because I have some thoughts I want to share about the worlds that are often right next to us.

One of my weaknesses as a writer is my world-building. I get caught up in the characters and the action and forget to think about the world it is set in, or at least forget to tell you about it. This is likely a symptom of my own way of moving through the world. I live in my head a lot, and places can be somewhat fuzzy for me. One of my tasks in my day job is to make maps, and I like to joke that it’s regrettable because my spatial awareness is not the kind that fits neatly into a grid of latitude and longitude. Luckily in this day and age we have computer systems that plot that for you. Making a map can be an eye opening experience. Things I thought of as linear are suddenly curved. Things which I didn’t realize were connected are of a piece. It changes the way I think about my city and my valley, almost on a daily basis.

One of the other things I do is ride the bus.

Okay, you’re wondering about that. I’ll give you a brief overview. My job, sometimes, includes riding a bus to count how many people are on it. The time and route are generated randomly. The counts are used to help argue for better bus services. It’s good work, and it has taught me a lot.

When I first moved to this city, I wouldn’t go near the bus station. Most relatively privileged people don’t here. The station is located downtown, and often there are a lot of “rough” looking people hanging around it. Rough is in this case code for poor POC. I’ve grown a lot since then. But I still had only ridden the commuter bus – a high end coach that takes one to a neighboring city – before I started this new job. I rode it when I was in graduate school and didn’t have a lot of options. That seems to be when most people ride buses. They do, after all, cost one extra time. Time is an even more precious commodity than money for many.

Anyway, this job changed that. I have now been all over the city by bus. I am riding the bus as a relative outsider – it’s my job to observe – and let me tell you. It is very different from what I had observed as a passerby.

Before my first bus ride, I had this idea about how buses worked. The bus stop is, as mentioned, downtown. It takes up the whole first floor of a building owned by the bus company. There is a small lobby. I remembered the lobby as being sort of dark and dingy and crowded. I remembered the actual station as a broad, concrete space. Both of these are…sort of right. The lobby is small, but the walls are white. There are metal benches throughout. It’s not in the best repair, but you can tell they try to keep it clean. There are usually a handful of people inside, and right before the buses go out – they leave every hour – there can be a lot of people waiting, especially in the winter.  But most of the time it is relatively quiet. Those “rough” folks hanging out on the street always say good morning to me, or good afternoon as the case may be. The bus station itself is poorly located, and floods after a hard rain sometimes, stalling the bus service. The buses pull up into their relative lanes, all of which are marked with brightly colored signs indicating the route number and general destination. People from all over the city and all walks of life rub elbows here. It is colorful and vibrant and alive – not a dreary industrial space, as I had thought, but a space made living by the people who use it.

Is it always a comfortable space? No. I am still, after all, an outsider. Someday I might take the plunge and use the bus system as a rider, but for now I’m still the paid observer, dipping into this world and leaving. Being around other people is messy, too. A bus station is a type of urban commons, and there is no method to deny others entry. Being faced so abjectly with my privilege every time I go can be disheartening.

But back to writing, since that’s why you’re here.

Setting is a thing made of details. Each character might perceive their setting differently. I certainly perceive my time on the bus differently now than I would have two or three years ago, and even differently than I did just a month ago. As we know a place better, it changes. As a writer, to make a setting live, I need to bring that into my writing. There are whole parallel worlds within my kingdom or town that another character might never perceive. I should, however, know what those are. My perception of the setting should not be myopic, as my characters’ might be, but should encompass it in its complexity. Communicating that complexity to readers is a challenge, but if done well the world breathes and fidgets and generally feels real.

It’s something I’m still working on, but I think I understand it better every day.

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