Getting Stuck, Reimagining, and Moving Forward

The African violet budding on my kitchen windowsill; these flowers, like my novel are growing but still hidden in their potential state.
A couple weekends ago, I attended a half-day novel workshop with Kij Johnson in San Antonio, and it was wonderful! Kij is a wellspring of writing knowledge. The format of the workshop was inspiring. After going over some general principles, each attendee presented a summary of our novel-in-progress, then described the problem or difficulty we were facing. Kij offered specific, actionableadvice to each of us, then opened the conversation up so that we could all brainstorm solutions for each other.
Just hearing the breadth of problems that a dozen writers are wrestling with was weirdly inspiring. Maybe it was the simple affirmation that most of us (certainly everyone in that room) struggle with this complicated, wonderful, maddening thing called a novel.
Writing a novel is an endurance event. They are so much larger in scope than a short story and truly different in kind. Short stories can rely on, and often benefit from, leaving much unsaid, and encouraging the reader to discover the meaning on her own. Alternatively, you can aim directly at the target and that can work too. Novels, being longer, can be more meandering, more inclusive, more complex. After spending so much time writing short stories, I’m finding that a challenge.
I’m about a quarter of the way into my novel, Izzy Crow, which means I have now arrived at the very beginning of the dreaded middle. Many elements of the events that I so cavalierly put in the opening are now coming due. Because a novel is so much bigger, I feel like I’m learning to juggle or spin a dozen plates, and I can’t quite keep everything in the air yet.
After running my troubles through the patented Kij Johnson wringer, I can see that I will have to trash my beloved first scene (kill your darlings), but that decision allows me to re-envision the whole story in a way that suggests more layers. So, I’ll be throwing some words out and repurposing many more, but I believe I’ll have a deeper novel when I’m finished.

Kij Johnson teaches a two-week version of this workshop at the Gunn Center for Study of Science Fiction. If you’ve been working on a novel and are not sure how to proceed, I would highly recommend it. She’s taking applications right now!


In other business:

You can read my thoughts on the excellent Vestal Review at The Review Review.



Flash Fiction Online included my Diorama story included in their Annual Anthology along with over 30 other amazing flash fiction stories.


My story “Cattle Futures” is forthcoming in February at the lovely 99 Pine Street Literary Journal. I’m delighted that this story found such a lovely home. I will post a direct link as soon as it becomes available.


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