Beyond the Midnight Mountain draft 6
Simi draft 2
No lie. I spent several hours creating a chart of textures, and another of colors.
Because I'm a writer and I can write it off as a work expense. Okay, not really, but I can pass it off as required workplace maintenance in order to do my work projects efficiently. Okay, that's a stretch, too.
In my WIP (working title Simi), Simi has a thing for textures. She touches trees, cloths, yarns, anything she walks past. She also is a weaver, mixing together colors and helping her sister and other neighbors dye. Because she could have any number of different blue skeins, or red ones, or purple ones, she has names for them all. (Also, I can't just say blue or dark purple every few pages.) So the solution is to use sky or lavender or peach, right?
The first problem? A peach is not just one color. Look at a peach. It's got yellow, orange, and sometimes a dark reddish-pink. The inside is yellowish. Not really the color we think of as "peach." The second problem? The book's world is based on pre-columbian South America. Peaches came to the Americas with Europeans. Yes, I could always pretend that in my world there are peaches, and most readers won't even think about it, but I want to stick with things native to the region.
So each time I wanted to describe a color, I'd look it up. Try it. "Things that are blue." Lots of results, like sapphire, jeans, USPS drop box, bluebird... Okay, my fantasy world doesn't have USPS. Sapphire is a cliche comparison, and can actually be just about any color. Bluebird is decent. So we get more specific. "Blue animals." Now we have poison dart frogs. They come in various colors, not always blue, but it lives in the right area, and can't you at least picture the vividness?
How about "blue gemstones?" Some aren't helpful (fluorite comes in many colors) but you find aquamarine, azurite, iolite, lapis lazuli, and turquoise in my target region, all various blues, some edging toward green or purple. Search blue flowers, blue foods, blue insects, blue birds, shades of blue, plants that create blue dyes, images of blue things...and one by one you get names you can use for a specific blue. Think creatively. New bruises, snow in shadow, sunrise, summer. Some situations call for more literal color descriptions than others. But isn't "the blue of distant hills" much more interesting than "light blue?"
And, rather than going through the whole search again each time, I finally compiled my results into a list. I searched foods, plants, animals, minerals, anything from the region, and put what I could into my color chart.
It sounds obsessive, but itâs actually pretty fun. This must be what it's like to name paints.
Textures were easier. I found a list of 400 words for texture, arranged alphabetically. The hard part was just eliminating ones that weren't quite textures and sorting the rest into categories. Again, itâs pretty fun to figure out how to group such a wide array of descriptors.
Did I feel ashes this week to know how to describe them?
I sure did. I donât go camping often, and I definitely never ran my hands through a pile of ashes. But it turned out we have years-old ashes in the wood stove. Ashes look like tiny charcoals, but when you touch them they donât actually have substance. They just crumble into nothing. They hardly even feel like anything. Theyâre pretty cushiony, but the best word for the feeling of them is âelusive.â
What's the weirdest thing you've ever felt? For me, cow udders. Tell me in the comments.
This is part 1 in what will be a series of pictorial posts.
Beyond the Midnight Mountain takes place in the Empire of Nemes. The northern lowlands are called the White Land. It's savanna, and its central valley is where the freestanding Midnight Mountain is. The southern half of the empire is the highlands, also called the Woad Land. The Woad Land ranges from hilly to mountainous, with tropical forest and a lot of green.
Ashy, in the Woad Land, is Nemes' capital city. People of all tribes come to the capital to find work, mixing more here than in any other city. Squares hold markets, while indoor shops and outdoor kiosks line the streets.
Typical of a highland city, the poor areas have buildings made of wood or mud bricks. Nemes has two yearly rainy seasons, so the mud bricks sometimes have to be patched up. Houses may be in rows stacked on one another, sometimes with shops on the ground level with residences above. These houses tend to have flat roofs, where families can hang laundry, grow gardens, or cook meals.
More affluent areas have structures made of brown, grey, or white stone, with courtyards inside. Only the wealthiest use white stone. Roofs tilt and flare out. Yania lives in Crescent Palace, the tallest building in the empire at 6 stories.
Inside residences, there is little furniture. People sleep on reed mats or on wool-stuffed mattresses, according to what they can afford, and keep their belongings in baskets. Some officials may work at low tables, but scribes use writing boards on their laps. Everyone, wealthy or poor, eats on the floor or on cushions, lounging around a rug that holds the meal.
What is your favorite book world? Favorite part of that world? Tell me in the comments.
More publication progress
I just booked a developmental editor. (That's a stage of editing before the typo type of editing. They help you with large scale story issues--plot, character, consistency, etc. Not all writers use a developmental editor. Many are able to write, self-edit, and go straight to proofreading. But I don't trust myself to make a book good without one.)
I've booked her for July. I'm a step closer, and it's exciting, but also a little terrifying. I'm actually kind of afraid of publishing. Once I put a book out, it's fair game for all kinds of reader reviews (or perhaps even getting no readers at all). Once I have readers, I suspect I'll feel pressured to keep a steady publishing pace to keep them happy. Yet I'm a tortoise writer. I'll have a lot of time before my next release to obsess over this book's sales. If it doesn't do well, I suspect I'll feel very little motivation to keep going.
One step closer to a finished book
No, not a final, edited manuscript. But I hired a cover designer! I’ve booked Jenny from Seedlings Design Studio. I always loved her style, and I’ve looked up (and read) several books in her portfolio, just because of their covers.
She’s not available for me until the end of May, but I still feel like I’m getting a step closer to something. (And I can’t get a print wrap until my manuscript is final and formatted, so maybe it will be motivation for me to get finished with revisions so I can look for an editor, and a formatter, so Jenny can complete my print cover.)
A lot of my current writing life has me pretty frustrated, but I’m pretty excited about this.
And just so links to this will show an image, here's a graphic that non-graphic-designer me put together.
What’s a book cover you love? Ever bought a book just because of the cover? Tell me in the comments!
I recently read Outrun the Moon, by Stacey Lee. I'd previously read her debut novel, Under a Painted Sky, which I enjoyed, so I thought I'd give this one a go too.
Outrun the Moon is about Mercy Wong, a Chinese girl in 1906 San Francisco who wants an education. After eighth grade, education for Chinese girls is no longer offered, so she bribes her way into a high school for white girls. The deal is she gets to be a student tuition-free if she can get the headmaster approval to expand his chocolate shop to Chinatown. To cover the bribe, she poses as a nobleman's daughter from China. Unsurprisingly she meets opposition from almost everyone at the school, but she's determined to prove herself. "I will sell that chocolate, and show her that I have the staying power of a wine stain."
A few weeks into the term, the 1906 earthquake hits San Francisco. The school, and most of the city, is ruined, and a lot of people camp out in Golden Gate Park. Mercy and her fellow students learn to rely on each other and work together to not only survive, but do what they can to serve the other survivors around them.
I gave this book 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads.
The first few chapters are intriguing. You see Mercy in crammed Chinatown with her little brother, who has weak lungs after being forcibly vaccinated by the white government. You see her in the white areas being robbed and distrusted because she doesn't look like them. "You'll understand if I don't trust you." But you also see her internalizing the wisdom of a book for business women, and bribing her way into school, so she can give her brother a better life than the harsh conditions her father works in. And you see her never step down. "You'll understand if I don't trust you."
Once she gets to the school, the story is a little disjointed. She attends classes, some girls are nice to her, she has one main rival, she has one business meeting in her attempt to get the chocolate shop approved in Chinatown. The dust jacket made it sound like the earthquake's aftermath was the main plot, but it doesn't happen until the middle of the book. Knowing ahead of time about the earthquake, everything before it seemed like it was going nowhere. I doubted anyone would care about a chocolate shop after the earthquake, and the arguments with Mercy's main rival Elodie (the chocolatier/headmaster's daughter) seemed like little episodes rather than a line of plot dominoes. The first half of the book felt like setup, something that had to be there to put rivalries in place so the girls could overcome them later.
What did I like, then? Well, everything else. Mercy is a strong heroine, not aggressive or overbearing, but determined. She doesn't cower before higher society, and does what she can to better her life and her brother's.
Mercy has a great narrator voice, too. I've read a few books narrated in first person, present tense, and it seems that style has a higher risk of either A) the narration relying too heavily on the "I" inner world, and thus the action feeling airy like a dream, or B) the main character having no personality. This author falls into neither trap. The writing is evocative, and just plain interesting to read. "If someone had told me I would one day be defending Elodie's mole, I would've told them to go push a cow up a tree."
What I noticed about Mercy in this book (and Sammy in Under a Painted Sky) is that, concerning Chinese vs western, Stacey Lee knows her stuff. Mercy's home life, her whole being, is a good mix of eastern and Catholic. Mercy doesn't put much stock in her mother's fortunetelling, yet she describes people in terms of physiognomy. She doesn't put a lot of emphasis on her father's Catholic faith, but she's familiar with the confession box and prays to the Christian God a few times. She thinks of herself as Chinese, and she thinks of herself as an American. The author never throws in something Chinesey to be like, "Look! Now you can tell the character is Chinese." She never throws in something churchy to be like, "Now you can tell they're also western." Everything that's there is a part of who Mercy is.
Which brings me to this: How different are we, really? If I can read a book and identify with a made-up person who fears the number four, why can't people identify with other people in real life?
What great books have you read recently?