Mona's always looking out for Mae. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone! Here's to a big 2016!
Man, December hit like a freight train this year. Here are the things that happened in the span of three days:
Needless to say, I have no shortage of things to keep me awake at night. But one thing has overridden everything else, buoying me through the season. Okay, two things. One is whisky shots. But the other is my brand-spanking-new workspace.
Our old house was 900 square-feet, two-bed, one-bath—a good size for a newly-married couple. But five years later, as a family of four, we were bursting at the seams. My desk, such as it was, was wedged beside the chest freezer in the utility room, but I couldn’t always work there. With no other alternative, it often served as a landing pad for laundry and cooking. But besides that, it was loud. There was no quiet place in the house—nowhere I could sit where I couldn’t hear everything else that was going on, whether it was Daniel Tiger teaching my kids about the potty or Kai Ryssdal serenading my husband with the marketplace reports. I often wound up writing in bed with my earbuds blasting Pandora’s Ambient radio station.
Now, I don’t mean to whine. Our house was small, but it was safe, and it was ours. We had a great little yard for our vegetables and flowers. My girls learned quickly how to share space and belongings. Power bills were absurdly low. I could vacuum four out of the five rooms from the same electrical outlet. But I can’t deny that trying to create a productive workspace was a nearly impossible task.
My most vivid memory of this crusade came during the first draft of Woodwalker. It was in the evening, and the girls were in bed. At that early stage, my youngest daughter was sleeping in a bassinet in our bedroom. My oldest was asleep in the adjoining room. My husband was working on some project in the utility room, listening as usual to NPR podcasts. That meant I was on the couch in the living room. But it was also vacuuming day. We have a second-hand Roomba we inherited, and it was busy trundling across the living room floor. As such, the coffee table and toddler chair were stacked on the couch beside me to give the Roomba a clear path. I was hunched over my laptop on half a cushion, doing my best to move my characters through a thrilling plot of danger and intrigue while the Roomba crabbed along the couch and Kai updated us on the S&P 500.
I’m pretty sure I ended up re-writing that particular scene.
You can imagine how thrilled I am, then, that in our new house, we’ve dedicated an entire room to being a home office. It comfortably holds both my desk and my husband’s (he's promised to listen to his podcasts on headphones). It gets lovely sunlight through two windows. It easily fits a large bookshelf, big enough to hold not just my books, but twelve years’ worth of sketchbooks as well. But best of all?
It has a door.
A door that closes.
I don’t even know what Daniel Tiger sang about today. I didn’t hear Kai Ryssdal do the numbers. I couldn’t hear a single word. I heard the click of my keyboard as I worked on edits, the tap of my stylus as I redrew my cover, and the little ding Photoshop makes when I try to use too many hotkeys at once.
It was bliss. I'm enjoying my editor's revisions immensely, and I'm really excited about the direction the book cover is heading. I'm looking forward to many long hours in this little room, where the only sounds are the cacophony of character dialogue in my head (and that Photoshop error ding--but at least I can mute that).
If you’re waiting until you’ve built the perfect workspace to start your novel, don’t. If you’re waiting until you have more time, don’t. You’ll never have a better place or time than right now. Carve out your space. Make the time. Let it happen.
Of all the many books that have stuck with me since childhood, none have influenced my actual writer’s voice as much as The Thief. Megan Whalen Turner’s book-turned-series has been the biggest player in my writing life, neck-and-neck with Lord of the Rings.
Like The Hobbit, I used to reread The Thief almost every year, right up until I went to college. I read the sequels as they came out, and I developed a love for them too, often after several re-reads. But The Thief has always been number one in my heart.
But over the last few years, I’ve felt myself undergo a transition in my preferred reading material. Plot holes and tropes I used to gloss over or miss entirely now stand out glaringly to me, and books I once adored now seem paltry in some cases and downright offensive in others. For this reason, I think, I was afraid to reread The Thief. I loved the protagonist Eugenides and his witty narration so much I worried about going back and finding out my adulation was just a product of naiveté and too much fangirling. Until this week, I hadn’t touched the book in the last eight years or so.
But, despite my avoidance, as I plotted and wrote Woodwalker, it became undeniably clear what a tremendous impact Megan Whalen Turner has had on my writing and on my concept of a captivating story and a clever protagonist. Turner’s unreliable first-person narrator was my first experience with such a character, and I relished going back and rereading her first book over and over again, picking up on all of Gen’s hints and slips. My copy of the book is riddled with little handwritten “ha!”s and “that’s what YOU think!”s anytime this twist is particularly clear.
Partway through my first draft of Woodwalker, I realized with trepidation that there were so many unintentional similarities, I was afraid someone would immediately slam me for copyright infringement. This was coming at the tail-end of grad school, where it was imperative to only write work that was entirely my own, and to maniacally cite any work that had even a whisper of another author. It scared me so much I actually stopped writing Woodwalker for a while, but I was too nervous to pick The Thief back up. I was afraid that if I read it again, it would confirm all my suspicions, and I’d have no choice but to throw my now-beloved manuscript out on the street.
Fortunately, this break in writing forced me to read more. I started a “YA Reconnaissance” bookshelf on Goodreads and began to work my way through many of that year’s top Young Adult fantasies. And you know what? I came to the delightful, liberating realization that nothing I write is original. Everything in Woodwalker has been done before, from the plot to the setting to the characters’ names and personalities. I can’t even describe how refreshing this was. I wasn’t going to get charged with plagiarism and kicked out of grad school for having the same story arc as another book. I have the same story arc as a thousand other books (likely more). Freed from this burden, I picked my manuscript back up and forged ahead, buoyed by my new discernment between imitation and inspiration.
Now, with Woodwalker on the verge of publication and its sequel in its final rounds of editing, I felt it was time to revisit Eugenides and face my fears that I’ve grown into a cranky and cynical literary snob. And I came away relieved. Not only do I still love this series, it's actually grown with me. Things I missed as a child mean more to me now as an adult, which has increased my admiration of the later books. And Gen still has a hold on my heart. I still laugh at his snark; I still admire his skills. I love his expert concealment of his true motivation and his willingness to sacrifice himself for his companions and his queen. I love Helen, my earliest heroine who is blatantly described as ugly. I love Pol’s perceptiveness and Sophos’ awkwardness. I love the Grecian setting and political intrigue. And I’m happy that, after shaking my cane at dozens of YA novels and shouting at them to get off my lawn, I haven’t totally transformed into a ruined old crone.
Thanks, Megan Whalen Turner, for this enduring piece of my childhood, and for laying such a solid foundation for my own writing.
It's official! Despite not having a cover (or a final round of edits, for that matter), Woodwalker is up for pre-order with HarperCollins! Pre-orders help publishers gauge interest and generate buzz in a book, so I would be thrilled if you chose to pre-order a digital copy (right now only $2.99!).
Official release date for the e-book is May 17, 2016! It's early yet, and this date might fluctuate (but I hope it doesn't--- that's my mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom, I'm not a total failure!). Hopefully soon we'll see a release date for the paperback version and a cover reveal!
Pre-order a digital copy at HarperCollins.com
Woohoo! I've overhauled my website (obviously). This one feels a lot more "me," and better yet, the blog is way more interactive. Aside from the visual elements, here are some of the changes you'll find:
Anyway, there are still a few minor things I'm working on, but that's the big stuff. Let me know what you think in a COMMENT because you can DO that now!
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator