Reading The Daevabad Trilogy, AKA Learning to Appreciate World-Building

The book (and series) that shone a light for me on world-building: how to do it well, why it matters, and what it really is at its core.

How did I not appreciate world-building before, you might be asking? I am, after all, a writer. Even if I don’t write fantasy or sci-fi, I should still have had a strong grasp of world-building: not just how to do it, but you know…what it is. And why it matters!

And yet. Here we are. All this time, when my fellow writers waxed poetic about their favorite authors, and how great they were at building worlds, my smiles and nods of understanding were a mere farce. Flashing onto my face out of fear of being discovered, called out: she doesn’t understand world-building!

Okay, I might be acting a little dramatic right now, because I can’t see anyone actually reacting that way (writers are so nice!), but the fact remains: I didn’t get it. Worse, I didn’t think I had to get it, because I write contemporary. The world is built! We live in it! I don’t need to construct anything.

I am proud, but not too proud to admit how horrifyingly wrong I was. And it was The Daevabad Trilogy, by author S.A. Chakraborty, which showed me the true error of my thinking.

Chakraborty is an author I’ve been excited about and followed since even before the first book in the trilogy, her debut, published. I was so excited, in fact, that The City of Brass is the first time I ever reached out to a publisher to request an ARC (advance review copy) of a book. It was terrifying, but I did it! I also interviewed Chakraborty, for Ravishly’s People We Love column.

Photo from    Barnes & Noble    page

Photo from Barnes & Noble page

So yeah. You could say I am (and have been) a fan. That picture up top, in fact, comes from a vlog I recorded (part of my short-lived and hopefully gracefully dead series about fab books) where I pretty much just gushed about The City of Brass for 5 minutes.

This post is for me to gush about her second book, The Kingdom of Copper.

It took me so long to read this book, partly because I’ve been in a reading drought, but partly because it’s long and rich and the tension doesn’t so much hit you in the gut from the first page as climb, over the course of 600+ pages, to mind-spinning peaks.

No, really. I read the book on Kindle, and the last 20% or so I think my heart galloped along, without stopping, at like 180 beats per minute. I kept having to pause and take deep breaths, but I couldn’t pause for long because I was desperate to get back into the story, into the world, and see how things turned out.

That slow build is when it finally clicked with me: this is how you build a world. No, let me rephrase: this is how you build a world well. It’s not just about sitting down and coming up with the details, though those are done so well: the various djinn tribes, the mythical creatures, the different types of magic that live in Chakarborty’s world. All of those well-done and fit together perfectly and you can tell, by reading both books, that she put the kind of thought and care into imagining them as a fine carpenter would into crafting the most intricate of chairs. For example.

The thing that clicked with me was how much the slow build tied into, added to, my ability to appreciate the world that was built, and the overall story as well.

By the time things started moving, by the time things started really hitting the fan, there were so many pieces ready to go that the book could jump forward, slamming on the accelerator, and it didn’t feel like going 0 to 100. More like 40 to 100. Still a big jump, but it made sense.

And as I was mentally racing through the streets of Daevabad like Nahri and her companions, or battling enemies in combat like…literally everyone else…it struck me that none of what was happening in that moment, in that final 20%, would have made sense if it hadn’t been earned through the slow build.

So many different pieces had to click into place for the third act of the book to work, and the only way for them to click was for Chakraborty to spend the initial bulk of the novel building those pieces, from the most detailed almost-throwaway-line to the long-running mysteries we finally saw answered.

Oh, and it’s not just Book 2 pieces that came together! Answers from the first book made their way into the climax scenes. It’s…honestly thrilling to read, and mildly intimidating to think of as a writer.

When I first started reading, at around the 16% mark, I made a note in Goodreads mentioning political allegiances, and how mine stood with two particular characters. By the end, well…things are different. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m still confused! It’s so wonderful!

The politics of this series are so integral to the overall success of the story. And they are well. done.

They’re stressful. They’re complicated, by family ties and friendship and liars and centuries of history. Just like our own world, huh, whaddya know! You start out the book thinking you hate one character and love another, and by the end you’re…well, I won’t tell you, because you should READ IT YOURSELF and then tell me who your allegiances lie with.

This was the first book where I really stopped to take in the care that had gone into building the world. Maybe it’s because I follow the author on Twitter and know how much she loves researching the history she’s weaving through her story, reading her threads about history in which she spins even more stories, or maybe it’s because of the interview I did with her where I asked about this, but whatever the reason, this book hit me in the gut.

And then I started thinking about world-building in my own writing. No, I don’t have to craft magic systems or form governments or design cities, but I do have to build tension, set scenes, and even in high school friendships and modern families, politics have a part — and I don’t mean Republican vs Democrat politics (well, not just those ones), but the politics of who ate lunch with whom and which child got the bigger serving of macaroni and cheese and who got promoted at their summer job.

All of these things speak into the world of each novel, give it the richness and indelibility that I’m striving for. The permanence.

The Daevabad Trilogy is a series that sticks with you. After I close the book on the last page of the third book, or 10 years from now, maybe in the final days of my life even, I’ll still hold this story in my heart, still remember how I rode the “R” train to work and my heart pounded so hard I thought it would leap out of my chest and the subway roared into the station when I was at 95% and I had to stop reading to walk to work and all I could think about was WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN I’M SO STRESSED THIS IS AMAZING!

Is it too much to say it has the same permanence for me that Harry Potter has had for millions of readers? I THINK NOT IT’S REALLY GOOD OKAY.

Do you have any books or series like that, stories that live in your heart forever? Share them in the comments! And don’t forget to check out The Daevabad Trilogy and maybe buy it and support an amazing, exciting author.

I'm Getting Back into Essays (And How You Can Help!)

It feels like an eternity has passed since the last time I published an essay anywhere other than this blog.

In reality, it’s only been since last September. Maybe August? Either way, somewhere under a year.

But I went from publishing multiple posts a month to absolutely nothing, for months on end, suddenly and abruptly and to be honest because of work stress and mental illness ravages and just an entire host of issues. So I guess maybe it seems like it’s been longer just because I’m not used to it.

I haven’t published anything in what feels like a million years because work got busy and I stopped feeling creative and suddenly even contributing to Operation Awesome (the group blog I’ve since had to leave) or updating this blog was too much. I was still writing of course, occasionally, but publishing? Felt like even more of a pipe dream than it did that long-ago day when my first piece went live at Seventeen.com

So what am I doing today, just sitting here moaning and groaning about how long it’s been?

Nah, not today. Moaning and groaning is totally up my alley, but today I have a plan. Today I’m coming to say that I’m setting things in motion once more.

I reached out to editors at a few publications I wrote for regularly and we talked about getting me back on track, back to contributing, and I’m ridiculously excited to say that I’ll have a piece published at LitReactor on July 23rd! I’m not going to tell you what it’s about (yet) but I’ll share the link all over my social media so you know…feel free to check that out. Or like my Facebook page.

I’m trying to get back into regularly writing personal essays, editing them so they’re the most excellent they can be, and submitting them to publications. Both publications that have never heard the faintest whisper of my name before and ones where I have existing relationships with editors and therefore (perchance) a greater hope of being published.

I’m also trying to make this blog better. Trying to commit to writing love posts about the books I adore, and writing honest takes about my mental health, and occasionally sprinkling in random personal blogs.

So here’s where you guys can help. There are actually a few things you can do if you want to support me and my career as a writer. Stay tuned for a list! Below!

  1. Tell me what you want to read on this blog. You can contact me, or drop comments on any posts, or go through the aforementioned social media links, but if you have a book you want to hear my thoughts on, or a specific mental health issue you’d love to know about, or if you saw a picture on my Instagram and want to know the backstory…let me know! I’d love to write what you want to see.

  2. If you feel so inclined, follow or like my various social media pages (linked below) so you can get updates on my published pieces. There’s a chance I’ll bring my newsletter back and send out biweekly-to-monthly updates with links to my favorite blog posts or articles. Feel free to sign up!

  3. If you see my posts and want to read them, go for it, and then a like, a share, a comment on social or the website hosting the work does wonders, not just for my confidence, but for added visibility to each post and, in the case of published articles, showing editors that people like my content.

  4. Finally, and this is a big one that I know is asking a lot, you can support me financially through Patreon or, for gifts without the commitment, Ko-fi. Patreon is a site where fans (called patrons) can sign on to regularly support my work by pledging a set amount per essay traditionally published, whether it’s already paid or not. Feel free to head to my profile to learn more, if you’re so inclined. On Ko-fi, you can give a one-time gift of a “coffee” ($3) if you, say, like a blog post or essay or just feel like you want to do so. No commitment!

In the end, if you do nothing but silently read my posts and appreciate them…I may never know you’re doing that, but the truth is, that’s why I write. For anyone who wants to read my words and takes hope, happiness, encouragement, learning from them. Whether you tell me, share my work, or pay me for it, I appreciate that you’re here.

Have the most excellent of Thursdays!

On Writing and Procrastinating

There's this weird phenomenon I experience whenever I'm writing; or rather, whenever I'm thinking about writing: I want to do it. I ache to write. My fingers twitch on the keyboard...and yet I don't do it.

I can't bring myself to sit down, open up that document, and start typing. My brain is alive with ideas and plotlines, with snappy dialogue and fun descriptions, but that's all that happens...it just stays there.

And it's not just writing fiction; oh no, I do this with all genres. With poems, blog posts, personal essays...I think about writing so, so much, but I don't actually write that often. I just, like...marinate in my thoughts.

Honestly, if I were as productive in reality as I am mentally, I would be...so freaking prolific already. And probably actually be able to survive, financially, as a freelancer.

I think it's a common problem with writers, especially perfectionistic ones, this habit of thinking more about writing than actually writing. They say it's because us perfectionists are afraid that the end product won't be as good as what we've visualized. 

And I am a total perfectionist; I have this insane need to be excellent at everything, the best, top of the line...

But I don't think that's my problem. It's more this thing of inertia, where until I'm working on something I just can't get up the gumption to do it.

So, say, I sit down with a cup of coffee and my laptop, along with my annotated previous draft and the big book of notes I have, I'll have this fire and drive to start drafting, and that'll propel me through a good 1,500-2,000 words in one session.

It's just getting there that's so very hard.

And if I take a break for a day or so, it's even harder to get back in the swing of things.

In this way, writing is so much like exercising. Now, I don't know too much about that on account of, hahahahaha I don't work out, but still — I'm familiar with the general concept. Basically, what I hear is that the more you work out, the easier it is. 

It's the same with writing, at least for me; the longer a break I take, the harder it is to get back into it. For example, last week I was out of town working childcare for a conference — 8.5 hour days wrangling children and by the end of it all I could do was lie in bed, staring at the ceiling. 

I've been back since Friday, and today is the first day I was able to get some writing done. On the bright side: I'm pretty sure it'll be a smidge easier tomorrow!

Now, I do want to be clear: I'm not saying that the only way to write is to do it every day; honestly, everyone has their own process and technique, and for some people it's easier to spend, like, eight hours one day writing and then have a week off; for me, I can handle something like, oh, 45 minutes to an hour and a half in one day, but not a full day's work on one project. It's a weird focus thing. 

I could reasonably spend a whole day writing if it were different projects, but that's about all I've got.

And that's okay! Writing is so personal and such an individualized process that no two writers' days are going to look exactly the same. Which is, frankly, one of the beauties of this craft.

There's so many more, but...it's late, I'm tired, and this post has gone on long enough.

BUT in news: be sure to check out https://operationawesome6.blogspot.com, because I'm going to be blogging there every Monday starting next week! Woooot!!

I Will Fail My Goodreads Reading Challenge, But Survive the Year

At the beginning of this year, I set an ambitious Goodreads reading goal: I was going to consume 65 books in 2017. Somehow, despite the fact that I epically failed to read even 50 in 2016, I was convinced I would make it work. Around the time I was getting ready to leave New York, I edited that goal, downsizing to 50.

Well...as of today, I'm...at least seven books behind that revised goal. And there's a very low chance that I'll meet even that.

Screen Shot 2017-12-20 at 10.25.41 AM.png

For an assiduously competitive person, this might seem like a travesty of the highest degree. In fact, for a while, it was. On top of all my other failures this year, I can't even manage to read enough? Good grief. What kind of writer, book blogger, fan am I that I can only read 43 books in a year? The worst!

Or so I thought. Until I realized, you know what? So I've only read 43 books this year. So stinking what? I've had success this year, too!

That success has looked nothing like I would have hoped in January. Back then, my goals included being promoted at the pizzeria, querying and getting an agent (and mayhaps even a book deal) for Saving Grace, probably finding a boyfriend, going back to grad school and being a part of the #resistance. I anticipated a smooth year, as much as it could be given the political topsy-turviness of everything, in my own personal life.

Instead?

I quit the pizzeria, have put Saving Grace on the back burner, found exactly zero boyfriends, left New York City and, with it, my dreams of grad school, and after participating in the Women's March in January, mostly fell silent about political issues.

There's a very good reason that sums up why pretty much all of those things happened: my mental health took a deep dive to the bottom of the proverbial ocean. 

In early April, I contemplated killing myself at work (and then again at home, and then again on the subway), which directly led to quitting a few weeks later.

At the same time, I was rejected from two writing contests and decided to temporarily shelve Saving Grace; it wasn't working, and I couldn't figure out why.

In late June, after a few months of a peaceful mental state, my depression flared up again, and I was hospitalized in early July, after spending a fraught 4th of July on top of a building — not the safest of places for someone in my mental state!

In September, things got so bad that I quit my job, moved away from New York City, and then in October came to Italy to rest for a few months.

In the meantime? In the meantime I broke into two new publications which I love, Ravishly and LitReactor, which have been great homes for my writing on various topics. I finished drafting and editing a new novel, Allie Mae Doesn't Get the Guy in This One. It's the book of my heart. I developed relationships with various publicists and have been receiving ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of highly anticipated books, interviewing authors I'm obsessed with, and seeing those interviews published. I began a vlog which then turned into a YouTube channel where I have a mental health series and one about books. I began Bookstagramming (see my #selfieswithbooks below) and became Twitter "friends" with some of the aforementioned authors I'm obsessed with.

And also, I went on two dates. No big whoop, right, except they were the first two dates of my life and therefore are majorly monumental. I made amazing friends at both my jobs, with men and women whom I will forever treasure in my heart. I had hard conversations with people who loved me and still feel like they love me and I love them. I got to see my best friend in another play. I met some amazing kids all over the world and now they're rooted in my heart. I fell in and out of love countless times.

In short? This year, I accomplished a Whole Heck of a Lot. It might not seem like it, if you look at the things I set out to accomplish, but I'm choosing not to look at it that way and instead think about the ways in which I crushed 2017

But I also need to think about the ways 2017 crushed me, and how I survived it.

  1. I was hospitalized. I keep coming back to that as a big deal, because it is. I don't take going to the hospital lightly. The two previous times I only went because health professionals recommended it. This time, it was because I was convulsing on the floor at church, unable to keep the unending stream of negative thoughts from consuming me. Things were Bad. 
  2. Things got so bad I had to leave New York. This is also not something to be underestimated. I was never going to leave New York. It just wasn't in the cards. It's a real sign of how negative my mental health was that I actually did leave. But it's worth noting that I left on my own two feet, not in a body bag. I got out while I still could. I chose to leave. That empowers me.
  3. I quit the pizzeria. Yeah, like, what, why is this making the list? Guys, I loved the pizzeria with a passion. I loved my coworkers, my customers, the work itself. I still cry when I think about the fact that I quit. But that's how bad my mental health was, that I couldn't handle the fast pace and high stress of it. 
  4. I stopped participating in the #resistance. By this I mean, I didn't call my Senators or Representatives during the entire health care debate. I desperately wanted to, because I have both a mental illness and a pre-existing condition and I believed the health bill would have been destructive to me, but my fingers felt like lead and I couldn't move them to take the phone. Phone anxiety is very real, and very Me. I hate myself for not engaging as I should have. But I have sent emails about net neutrality, the tax bill, and more...and I'm planning to do more in 2018.

That's just a few examples of how this year was a hard year. There are ways in which it gutted me, destroyed me, trampled me, consumed me...and yet.

And yet I'm still here. 

So in the end, did 2017 vanquish me, or did I vanquish 2017?

Yes. Absolutely. 100%. 

I know my posts have been hard lately, especially my latest, on the Mental Health tab, and it's true, I am going through a hard time. Still. My mind is dark, and I'm not sure how to move forward. I think, though, that looking back at how I've already survived? Is a good plan.

How did 2017 hurt you, and how are you defeating it? Leave a note in the comments!