Archive for December, 2010

Neil Gaiman on Writing Novels + The Name of My Book (For Now) + THE FIRST DRAFT IS DONE!

Writing a novel is marathon running. Writing a novel is that sort of weird process where it seems for a long time you’re not making any progress at all. It’s like trying to build a wall or dig a ditch across miles and miles, and you just do it, one word at a time. You’re going to have the good writing days, and you’re doing to have the bad writing days, and it’s going to take a year or two years, or more, to get to the end.

— Neil Gaiman, genius author of Fragile Things, American Gods, Coraline and many, many more

When I read these words by Neil Gaiman, I had that delicious shiver of recognition, because this is exactly what it feels like for me to write a freakin’ novel! He’s a much better writer than me, and if it’s like this for him, then it’s going to be 100x like this for me. I kept this in mind as I pegged away at my novel for many, many months this year, and thought of it again when


Yes, at 11:40pm Central time on 12/30/2010, just in the nick of time for 2010, I got to type “THE END” at long last. And then I typed “THE END, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!” but then erased it because, knowing me, I’d forget to take it out the “MOTHERFUCKERS!!!!!” part for some reason in the future. But yes, “THE END”!

(Some final stats for this draft: 102,570 words, 315 pages, Times New Roman, 12pt. font.)

I spent the last three days in a writing “vortex,” as Jo March used to call it. I didn’t really eat anything but soup and crackers and candy, I wore the same sweatshirt and sweatpants the entire time till even my parents said something about it, and I was crochety, grumpy and spacy beyond belief. I did take one walk and I did go to my nephew’s birthday party, although I had to renege on a promise to take him to see “Tron: Legacy” because I was exhausted. Oh, and I did build a snowman today in between Part II and Part III:

That was a nice break.

But mostly I just wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote till I was done. And tomorrow, to celebrate, I’m going to get one of those gloriously brutal neck-and-shoulder massages from the Chinese bodywork people at the mall.

Oh, and the title! Either my titles come right at the beginning, or right at the end. This one came at the end. It is called, as of now, THE WOODS. No, not after the Sleater-Kinney record, but after the most prominent setting in the book, the place where “all the magic happens,” as they say. Where girls run through the darkness, kisses taste like dirt and snow, and mutilated animals are found hanging in trees, dripping dark blood on the ground.

I love my new winter jacket

It took me forever to find a perfectly plain, simple winter jacket. It’s half biker-style, half utilitarian, and very warm.

With my favorite scarf this winter. Also, this pair of jeans is on its last legs, so I’m commemorating them with a picture. Tears.

All my favorite winter things.

Letters I Wish I Had Gotten From My Future Self When I Was 5/10/15, Etc.

Sometimes I wonder how creepy and cool it would be to get letters from my future self.

Imagine it: you’re on your way to air out your mailbox (or face the depressing stack of bills and junk mail sitting in the void, since no one really writes letters anymore.) You open it, and there is a mysteriously addressed letter from a place called “The Future.” By a future version of you. I’m sure deep in my memory there exists a science-fiction film based on this scenario, but on a sincere level I would’ve welcomed a bit of guidance from my future self, especially over bumpy parts of my past. (Or maybe I would’ve freaked out and given myself a nervous breakdown — you never know.) Anyway, just as a weird little exercise, I imagined what my present self would’ve sent back to past mes at different ages. Other than werewolf skaters and first love, this is what’s on my mind lately — trying to get the pieces of my past to connect with what’s out there in the future, making the span of time feel continuous and meaningful.

Dear 5-Year-Old Me,

Congratulations on your first library card! You’re going to check out these books all the time: D’Aulaire’s Mythology, some novel about a Midwestern prairie settler girl and her favorite corn doll (told from the point-of-the-view of the doll, GOD I wish I could remember the name of this book, it had a purple library binding cover) and random issues of Mademoiselle, even though you have no clue what they are talking about. Pay attention to this mix, because it’s going to be the key to your imagination when you start writing. You’ll get a toy typewriter for Christmas and you’ll read the Peanuts and think typing “It was a dark and stormy night” again and again is what people mean they talk about “writing.” You don’t really have to begin each and every single story with a dark and stormy night. (Although curiously, every movie you make in film school will take place at night.) You may want to try just beginning your story in the middle and then figuring out what the best beginning would be, since this is what you’ll end up doing when you reach my age. Oh, and when Lisa B. makes fun of your laugh, don’t listen to her. She’s a hater. What’s a “hater”? It’s a word everyone will use in 2009. You can start now.

You’re also going to have a dream that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, one where you come to school with a box of donuts and no one wants them for some reason and you’ll wake up crying because you can’t give away your donuts. You’re going to spend a lot of time unlocking the message of this dream, which is basically deep down you worry that what you have to offer isn’t valuable to someone. The key is that what’s valuable is not just what’s in the box, but in the act of giving, so give even when you think no one out there is that interested.

Oh, and chasing your newest sister around the kitchen while screaming like a maniac at the top of your lungs and waving around a plastic sandbox shovel because she pissed you off? Don’t do that, either. She’s going to bug you about it for years.

xo k.

Dear 10-Year-Old Me,

This is going to be the weirdest age for you, because deep down you will not understand why half of your friends like boys, who are still mostly stupid and gross except for two main exceptions, who sit in two rows over from you, next to one another. Everyone will be preoccupied with boobs, which you don’t have yet. You’ll have very tumultuous friendships with neighborhood girls, which you’ll be bewildered by. Let’s begin with these, since you’ll spend a perplexing amount of time thinking about these. First, the neighbor girl who called you ugly: she’s a crazy Jesus-freak fundamentalist, and anyone who keeps wearing the same damn tube socks over and over again is kind of a freak. (Seeing those tube socks on girls in ads for a stupid company called American Apparel in the future will make you think of her and shudder.) Second, the other neighbor girl who you’ll get into a huge fight with and never speak to again: she’s actually a nice girl and you’ll miss her long after both of you have moved on, so don’t burn your bridges. One day you’ll realize how weird it is that every girl at this age fixated on one another’s looks, and maybe you’ll wonder if this appearance-obsession is something that women inflict upon themselves and give straight men permission to buy into.

Here’s the thing you should know: people are changing so fast, trying things out, and many pals are situational. You were strangely independent and self-sufficient up till now, so the best thing you can do now is to make a little island in yourself and put everything you love and value on it and let it ride out the hurricane of pubescence. Pack your psychological suitcase carefully, set it out on a boat and meet it in five years when you land on the Island of It’s Going to be Okay at age 15.

The great thing is that you’ll start writing stories because Mr. D. encouraged you. You’ll start writing about spaceships and the future and exotic countries and witches and outlandish, imaginative, fantastical things. You’ll start reading books by Robin McKinley about heroic, dragon-slaying girls. You’ll read Choose Your Own Adventure, which will change your life, and Sweet Valley High, which will not. Remember this, because you’ll go through a phase where you feel like all the deep people write about relationships and post-modernity and semi-traumatic sex. And that’s what works for them. But when you start really digging into massive writing projects that demand sustained effort, discipline and a level of commitment that exceeds most modern-day romantic liaisons — well, you need to remember what it is about writing and stories that made you love them in the first place. And how your writing will, in some way, honor that.

Also: don’t throw out your Madonna memorabilia. Or let your mom throw it away.

Ages 10-14 are going to suck hard. Sorry.

Oh, and when B. in fifth grade tells you that “horny” means someone who reads a lot of Playboy, he has it only halfway right.

xo k.


Mixtape: “I Fell In Love With A Werewolf in 1988″

I joined 8tracks.com! Yet another way for me to waste time on the Internet! In commemoration of reaching 75,000 words in my novel, I made a mix related to my story — basically the songs that I listen to when I need some musical inspiration to put me in the timeframe of the story. Which is, as you can guess, 1988 or thereabouts. I tried to pick songs that my characters would’ve loved, or songs that would’ve been floating in the air.

The interesting thing is, I was sorely tempted to put in random stuff like The Birthday Party or Void or more obscure bands — but I tried to remember that these were girls in the Midwest in the 80s, living in a small city, and their only real, consistent source of knowledge about music would’ve been “120 Minutes” or Sassy or maybe Rolling Stone on a good month, or maybe a cool older sibling of a friend. They probably could’ve gotten music only at Musicland at the mall, or when they’d roadtrip into the nearest large city. It’s amazing to me now how knowledge of music is so available over the Internet (through services like 8tracks, of course). But perhaps the downside of so much availability is that sometimes music feels like consumerism and not so much about discovery. I don’t know. But I’m sure music would’ve functioned for my characters as a lifeline to another, much larger, more expansive world outside their own — and it’s that longing for the large and unknown, I think, that propels these characters to do what they do.

This is the full tracklisting:

The Replacements, “Dose of Thunder”
Nothing makes me think of music culture in the late 80s than the Replacements. I remember subscribing to the Columbia Record Club and trying to get as many Replacements tapes as possible through that whole “get 12 tapes for 1 cent” promotion. My dad thought it was a scam and made me send it all back.

R.E.M., “Pretty Persuasion”
I feel like this is the R.E.M. song a 16-year-old girl would’ve loved in the late 80s.

Pixies, “Cactus”
Surfer Rosa would’ve come out in 1988, I believe. I know that my werewolf heartthrob would’ve been a big fan — something about the twisted intensity would’ve appealed to him. I like to think that he probably introduced this tape to my main character. The strange sexual connotations in this song somehow find their way into the story.

Al B. Sure!, “Nite and Day”
One type of music that reminds me of the late 80s outside of anything I would’ve discovered via “120 Minutes” is new jack swing-type R&B. I think the main character of my novel would’ve secretly dug this jam. In my mind it plays at the one school event they go to in the book. The other alternative to this: “Don’t Disturb This Groove” by The System.

Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Peek-A-Boo”
The semi-sad thing about NOT placing my book in the 90s is that I don’t really get to write in some way about how riot grrrl got to affect my female characters. I think Lily and Viv (my leading lady and her best friend) would’ve totally been down with riot grrrl, and they probably would’ve got into it — but only in college. But they would’ve looked up to the amazing Siouxsie Sioux for sure.

The Cure, “All I Want”
Lily and Viv’s mutual favorite band is the Cure. There was a pair of best friends in my 8th grade class that both adored the Cure; that’s what I based that characteristic on.

Guns N’ Roses, “It’s So Easy”
EVERY STRAIGHT BOY I KNEW LOVED THIS RECORD WHEN IT CAME OUT IN 1987. I would think the skater boys in the novel would be no exception.

Bad Brains, “At the Movies”
Just one of the greatest American hardcore bands of all time. Or so would my teenage werewolf skater would say.

Jesus & Mary Chain, “April Skies”
“The aching love on the edge of a knife / And the world comes tumbling down.” Darklands is one of the most underrated JAMC records there is — I find it to be one of their most romantic, and I think for that reason it would mean a lot to my main character. She’s kind of a reluctant romantic — she hates feeling vulnerable and fights it, so she hides it but it often comes out strong. This song manages to be both gooey-eyed yet tough, which would be acceptable to her.

Public Enemy, “Rebel Without a Pause”
The skaters I knew when I was young were the first white boys I knew who listened to rap and hip-hop. Skaters really did have the best taste in music back in the day.

Husker Du, “Something That I Learned Today”
Black Flag, “Depression”

When you are talking skaters in the late 80s, you really need to put classic American hardcore in there somewhere. It doesn’t find its way into the store, but my werewolf sweetheart’s favorite record label is SST, which would’ve been in its heyday in the late 80s. And Black Flag would’ve been one of his favorite bands.

Danzig, “Am I Demon”
I based a bit of Kieran’s dark, brooding appearance on this dude I knew in early high school, with dark hair and dark eyes and a magnificently heavy brow. He wore trench coats, combat boots and Danzig, the Misfits and Samhain t-shirts exclusively.

Jane’s Addiction, “Pigs in Zen (Live)”
Arty and carnal, Jane’s Addiction were sort of beloved by girls and boys equally, which I found really interesting in retrospect. I think this would be a shared musical love between Lily and Kieran; I can hear this playing in the background while they hang out in her room, doing homework, stealing kisses during the really loud parts while the crazy fundamentalist mother is in the other room.

Bangles, “Hazy Shade of Winter”
I really associate this song with a certain kind of summer in the 80s, wandering around the neighborhood aimless with a soda, looking for something to do, ending up at someone’s house watching MTV when they actually played videos. This would be one of them. Hot, aimless, itching for excitement.

Sonic Youth, “Shadow of a Doubt”
I listened to this song a million times as I wrote the first big kiss scene between my two main characters. It takes place in a dark, spooky forest. Something about the eerie hush in the song worked.

My Bloody Valentine, “Lose My Breath”
I deliberately moved my novel up a year to take advantage of this record coming out, if only for the possibilities within my imagination. There’s something about the ethereal nature of shoegazer that seemed key for the story, if only for the atmosphere it brings.

The The, “Infected”
Matt Johnson’s The The was one of the great political bands in the late 80s — I wouldn’t be surprised if, through psychoanalysis, I discovered they were obliquely responsible for my sense of politics as I got older. I tried not to make politics of the late 80s into a main aspect of the novel, but AIDS hysteria, rising Christian fundamentalism and Reaganism definitely worked their way into the story, however obliquely.

Corrosion of Conformity, “Loss for Words”
This was one of the first hardcore bands I ever heard. Of course, I read about them in eighth grade in Sassy. Unlike Lily, I didn’t have the advantage of a skater beau to introduce me to punk and hardcore bands. Now, it may be slightly lame to some snobs to discover a band through a girl’s magazine, but it’s kind of amazing that Sassy even wrote about them in the first place.

Ratt, “Round and Round”
It’s just not the late 80s without at least one hair metal reference!

N.W.A., “Fuck Tha Police”
Hardcore is definitely one of Kieran’s favorite genres of music, but I think there’s something about the great confrontational nature of some 80s hip-hop that he would’ve loved. As someone who has to remain so emotionally controlled by necessity, I think he would seek out aggressive music that would express emotions that he couldn’t.

New Order, “True Faith”
Just because.

Depeche Mode, “Here Is The House”
In 1988, Depeche Mode were one of my favorite bands. Hell, it’s nearly 2011 and they’re still one of my favorite groups. I find this song highly underrated in the DM canon, but I think it’s just a very lovely sentiment.

Peter Murphy, “Cuts You Up”
The Bauhaus frontman released his solo record in 1990, so this is a bit of a cheat. But I couldn’t resist, I like its elegant romanticism. You need a bit of it when you’re working on a genre story.

The Smiths, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”
A classic of tragic romance, with what I recognize now to be a peculiarly adolescent fatalism at its core. It’s not a dark werewolf romance without some peculiarly adolescent fatalism, you know?

Steve Winwood, “Higher Love”
This mix ends on a slightly ironic note, but truth is that in 1988, I really, really loved this song.

I also made a mix that’s much more contemporary and really pretty, esp. for the winter.

This one features Lykke Li, Victoire, Museum of Bellas Artes, the Notwist, Low, the Wedding Present, the Sundays and many more.