Dangerous Metaphors

Colorful Kites by John Vetterli
Colorful Kites by John Vetterli

A book is not a baby.

People like to employ many different metaphors to describe books and writing. Some of them are helpful, and some of them are not. They all have certain implications, and add up to the story people tell themselves about the work and their lives.

I encountered the book=baby metaphor again recently. It likened the publication process to trying in vitro fertilization. There are many ways this metaphor doesn’t work for me, but one of the main ones is that if IVF fails, you don’t have a baby. If whatever path to publication you’re trying fails, you still have a book and nothing can take that away from you. Mistaking publication for the book is like mistaking graduation for the learning, the wedding for the marriage, the promotion announcement for the job. It has value, but it is the sign, not the signified.

A book is not a baby, as KJ Charles explains:

I don’t put my baby up for sale on Amazon; I don’t think a poorly baby can be made better by cutting 20% of its length; it is not good practice to put a misbehaving baby in a drawer and forget about it for six months.

The book=baby metaphor also supposes that the pregnancy is the hard part, not the child-rearing, that you are never done with a book, that how much other people like your baby is the real measure of success…. She goes on to look at the metaphor from the point of view of not getting freaked out about bad reviews, (which are for other readers, not the writer) but the metaphor is wrong on so many levels, I wish it would entirely go away. It is flawed to the point of being useless.

I’ve used metaphors like:

  • a book is a sculpture, except the rough draft phase is like making the the clay, and the subsequent draft phases are shaping it;
  • writing is like lifting weights: some days are better than others, progress is infinitesimal sometimes, but after a while you have a baby novel/400lb dead-lift (one day, I hope)–of course this metaphor falls apart quickly, since a novel is finished, and getting stronger never is. Maybe getting better as a writer is more like this.

Today I encountered one that I really liked from Chuck Wendig: submitting a novel is like flying a kite. And I think that metaphor can go further. Writing the novel is making the kite. Submitting it is putting it up into the wind. You may not have much wind. You may have designed a really bad kite. You may have a great kite, but it’s too fragile for the winds you have, or too heavy for the winds, or not able to recover from gusts. It might be a great kite but while you were good at making it, you’re not great at flying it. Many kites can fly, but not all of them, and it needs the right wind, the right launch, hands on the controls that can guide it well. Those winds are the mood of the market, the agents and editors who see it, the market they envision for it. The hands are the author’s and other people who get involved along the way. You can even fix a kite and maybe it will fly better next time, or maybe it’s a more of a bowling ball than a kite, and it is never going to get off the ground.

Of course, every metaphor is wrong in some way. The important thing for me is to tell myself stories and use metaphors that keep writing rewarding. Any metaphor that forgets that, and pushes me to interpret the time I’ve spent writing as something that can be wasted, or something that can fail, is not useful. Extrinsic rewards are great, but the real reward is writing things that I want to read and write. Extrinsic rewards don’t change anything about the novel I wrote, or my worth as a person. They both exist, and have a right to exist, independently of that.

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Edit all the things!

From Hyperbole and a Half: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html
From Hyperbole and a Half: Why I’ll Nver Be An Adult

I have a lot going on right now. On Friday I received copy edits from HarperCollins on The Half-Drowned King and spent all weekend checking them, accepting most, rejecting few, learning that I never use the word “farther”, and have instead, incorrectly, been using “further” for everything. Pro tip: farther is for physical distance, further is for metaphorical distance. At least I know the difference between “less” and “fewer”, and both the noun and verb uses of “affect” and “effect”. SO THERE.

Sidebar: I always see these blog posts for beginning writers entreating them to check their ego when they get feedback, and don’t immediately reject it and think “THIS PERSON JUST DOESN’T UNDERSTAND MY GENIUS”. If you are someone who feels that way, I am in awe of the strength of your ego. My first reaction to criticism, even on the comma level, is to want to dig a hole and hide in it until the SHAME that I have brought down upon myself and my FAMILY is forgotten. It gets very House of Atreus up in here, but with less cannibalism. Getting an MFA and polishing a novel until it is publishable have helped me get better at taking the extremely necessary and very helpful criticism that is part of being a writer, but nothing will ever get rid of that first uncomfortable feeling.

So I spent all weekend in silly little agonies over some infelicitous word choices in HDK, and some minor mistakes, like farther/further that I made over and over again. I returned that to my publisher, and got back into editing The Sea Queen. It’s great, though, that I am doing both of these at the same time, because the copy editing showed me more things I should be looking for in The Sea Queen, so hopefully it will be better right out of the gate.

I’m also engaged in some back and forth about my US cover–the problem right now seems to be too many good ideas, not too few, which is a nice problem to have. No matter what, I know the end result will be amazing.

And the Draken Harald Harfagre is in town. I watched it arrive in New York on Saturday, and today I am going to take a tour.

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News and Revisions

This has been an exciting few weeks in author land. I saw some first mockups for my US covers and gave feedback. I saw a a finished version of my German cover. I saw mockups for the inside pages of my US edition. I’m incredibly excited about the covers, which are both gorgeous. And most importantly, they have my name on them. Right there on the cover! It says Linnea Hartsuyker! Or actually LINNEA HARTSUYKER since both editions are using an all-caps font. SO MANY PEOPLE WILL BE MISPRONOUNCING MY NAME SOON!

I also got my first blurb from a reader, which was incredibly complimentary, and good to read, because this week I also tackled my current draft of The Sea Queen.

In late January 2016, I started writing The Sea Queen. On May 31, 2016, I was about 70% through writing a rough draft that followed my plot outline, but the thing with writing a rough draft, for me anyway, is that I’m always adding plot points. Oh, I should have a feud. That feud is based on this event. That I forgot to put in the first time around, but now I will leave a note that says ‘insert event that incites feud here’. And I can go on, working forward, making notes to myself for a while. But as I neared the end, I realized I had a pile of vaguely defined plot threads, some missing beginnings, some missing endings. I knew I needed almost all of my characters to come together at the ending, but I didn’t know where some of them were coming from, so I didn’t know how to get them there.

I spent all summer working on what I’m calling the first draft, which is a complete, somewhat coherent novel, 178,000 words, which I finished writing 2 weeks ago. I took 10 days off from it (longest 10 days of my life), and then over the last 4 days, I read it on my Kindle, making overall notes and notes on each chapter about what needs fixing. The short answer: EVERYTHING.

The longer answer is 4500 words of notes, dividing into chapter-related notes and notes overall.

  • Overall, the whole thing is very rushed, which is concerning because it is also quite long already. Almost every scene needs more set up, more time to live, and a better off ramp. Almost every scene needs more description. Almost every scene needs more explanation and more inner life for the characters. (Not the first sea battle though. I wrote an awesome sea battle.) Some scenes are hardly better than notes.
  • I indulged in any number of annoying writing tics, and must have thought they were cute at the time. They are not.
  • Every character’s arc needs to be amplified and clarified. Motivations and emotions are muddled right now. They need to be clear and sharp, except when ambivalence is the point.
  • A few characters need more to do.
  • I’ve neglected or flattened some points of conflict that I can make much more dramatic
  • A few plot threads don’t connect

The good news is that overall the plot is very solid. Many disparate threads come together for an ending that is both surprising and inevitable. I was pleased about that when I finished writing the first draft, and am still pleased about that now.

And I shouldn’t be so surprised that on a more micro level, this draft has so many problems. I chose not to massage scenes or sentences, since the purpose of this draft was to get the plot right. I wanted to be able to step back and look at the book as a whole before doing detailed work on sentences that might not survive into another draft.

I think for the next book, though, I will do the 70% thing again, but when I move from the rough draft to the first draft, I will pay more attention to scenes, paragraphs, and sentences, because this book was quite a chore to read, except for a few shining chapters.

Today I am going to start revisions which will mean going to go through each chapter again and actually making the changes I have in mind. I will edit each chapter a couple times on this pass, asking myself the following questions about each scene:

  • Who is in the scene? Make sure the reader knows this.
  • Where is the scene? Make sure the reader can see/hear/smell/taste/touch it.
  • What are the emotions in the scene? Make sure the reader can feel them.
  • How do the characters react in the scene? For the love of all that is holy, stop ending your scenes with a piece of dialog and no reaction from anyone. Maybe once or twice it’s okay, but for sure not every time.

I’ve also created a list of danger words that are signposts for when I’m about to mangle a sentence, and another list of words I use too frequently. I will be examining each chapter for these words and making sure that if I use them, I’m doing so with purpose and clarity.

It’s a lot to do, but I can’t wait to get started.

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Genre, Passion, and Infinite Variety

When I applied to MFA programs, I used the first few chapters of The Half-Drowned King as my portfolio material, which usually counts for 80-90% of the admissions decision. I wanted MFA faculty to know that I was a writer of historical fiction, with swords and kings, and prophetic dream right in chapter one. I was worried that MFA programs would be full of literary snobs, and I wanted the program that chose me to know what they were getting.

NYU’s program was pretty good on that front. The students represented a variety of genres in their writing, many writing realist literary fiction, but some wrote fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and surreal fiction. The professors too, many of them, welcomed different genres. Rick Moody’s class on Ancient Forms reminded me that genre as a classification is a recent phenomenon, and many early writers were writing epic fantasy novels in verse. The Odyssey is a fantasy novel; I will hear no arguments on that point.

Some didn’t though. I did work with a professor or two who clearly had no use for historical fiction, or fantasy, and some fellow students as well. And outside the program, I saw it even more, in blogs, review sites, agents.

This is a great time to be a genre writer with a literary bent, or a literary writer with a genre bent. Books like The Golem and the Jinni, The Book of Esther, and so many other are blurring the line between fantasy and literary fiction, between genre and literary fiction. Nerd culture, also, is ascendant, with the success of so many super-hero TV shows and movies.

But I want the walls to come down entirely. And more than that, I want people to stop looking down their noses on one genre or another. It’s all storytelling. Either it’s a good story, or it’s not, and that has nothing to do with whether there is magic in it.

I want people to realize that a preference for realist fiction over fantastical, or vice versa, does not make you a better, more sophisticated reader. It’s simply a preference. There is nothing more limiting than believing that your preferences and the gaps in your knowledge are some kind of virtue. You might not read much science fiction, and that’s fine, but that is a choice, not a moral victory. (And give a new genre a try. You might learn something.)

The same goes for things outside literature. You might not be interested in sports. That’s fine. Life is short and you should spend it on things that you are interested in. But that doesn’t make you better than people who do like sports. (Check out this great comic on the narrative purpose that sports serve, which is different from, and complimentary to, fiction.)

Here is a list of things I don’t care much about, and in some cases am outright hostile to:

  • Cruises
  • Meat loaf (this is where the hostility comes in)

Not caring about or liking those things does not make me a better person than those who do. And yet I see people who find disliking sports, fantasy novels, makeup, etc. to be important facets of their self-worth, a source of pride.

People’s passions and quirky interests are to be celebrated. I love meeting someone who is passionate about something I know nothing about–then I can learn from them. I remember an interesting evening with a gentleman who cared very deeply about stereos and sound. He explained his stereo and the speaker placement in the room, and showed me how sitting in different parts of the room changed the sound. That wasn’t the entire evening, but it was a very interesting digression–and he knew when he’d reached the limit of my interest. He didn’t make me into a stereo connoisseur, but he did show me the detailed, infinite little world contained within his passion. I love writers who can do that. Reading a book should be about exploring something new to me.

Dismissing entire genres, and sneering at other people’s passions, makes us smaller, less interesting people. Our time is short and the world is huge, and full of infinite variety. Every door you open has a vast landscape inside it. Even if they only carve out a small part of it for themselves, the writers I respect the most stand in awe of world’s variety, not on some false pedestal above it.

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Surviving Iceland – Part 2

(Continued from Part 1.)

Iceland has one of those landscapes that pictures can hardly do justice. I found the fjords of Norway to be the same way–nothing but being there can really show you how giant ice fields dominate your vision, how the treeless hills rise so high and steep they feel like they might fall down on you, how the lava fields stretch on, twisted and broken.

Kayaking around glaciers and icebergs. #visiticeland #glaciers #Iceland

A photo posted by Linnea Hartsuyker (@linneaharts) on

Iceland combines harshness with luxury–one of the ways that we stayed warm was visiting hot-springs. We didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon, which the Wanderer says is very crowded and over touristed. Instead we visited the Secret Lagoon, which is surrounded by little geysers.

A few days later, we visited the Myvatn Nature baths, and soaked for hours.

I wanted to visit Iceland to see what it was like, so I could describe it in a novel or two, but I’m worried I will have to fall back on cliches. It really is alien. It really does seem to exist on an inhuman scale. Humans have carved out small cities and towns that feel like any other country’s, but between them is a landscape that varies between lush, green fields, and black rock that even lichen has hardly domesticated.

Next post: more of Iceland’s history.

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I also went to Iceland – Part 1

I posted two updates about two days in the Faroe Islands, but haven’t updated about Iceland yet, despite that being the much longer part of the trip. Part of that is that I did enjoy the Faroe Islands more. Though they have a population of only 50,000, it felt much more lived in than much of Iceland. Iceland has a population of about 300,000, and in 2016 is projected to have 6 million tourists over the course of the year. In summer, so much of Iceland’s work is given over to tourism, and there are so many tourists, that it feels more like a national park than a country with its own heritage.

I am very glad we went, though. There is no substitute for actually being in a place to write about it. Just like I could never have imagined the steep beauty of Norway’s fjords before visiting it, I could never have imagined the bleakness, the alienness, and the way that Iceland’s landscape feels inhuman and intimidating before visiting. And it is beautiful, in a harsh, severe way.

I have heard it is sometimes warm there, but it never got above 55 degrees F when we were there, and it was below 40 at night. We rented a van with a mattress in the back and camped every night as we drove the ring road.


Iceland is known for its stunning waterfalls, and we saw three with very different characters. Gulfoss, in a field of wildflowers:


Dettifoss, cutting through Iceland’s nearly lifeless highlands. If there were a waterfall on Miranda, a moon of Uranus, this is what it would feel like:


And here is Goðafoss, which was so stunning in the sunlight all it needed was a unicorn leaping through the rainbow.

Stay tuned for more–glaciers, hotsprings, museums in Part 2.

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Ancestry is a Privilege

Harald Harfagr statue
Harald Harfagr statue

When I was in high school, my family started getting into ancestry, and traced our lineage back to Harald Harfagr, the first king of Norway, on my mother’s mother’s side. On my mother’s father’s side, I’m descended from a Sheriff of Nottingham (though likely not the Sheriff of Nottingham of Robin Hood fame, and anyway, Robin Hood is more of an accretion of Green Man myths than an actual historical person). On my father’s father’s side, I’m descended from Pieter de Carpentier, Governer-General of the Dutch East India company in the 16th century. The de Carpentier family is where Carpenter Bay in Australia gets its name.

All this makes me exactly 0% special. All those Northern European genes add up to one very tall pale lady. And the further back you go in history, the more descendants these ancestors have. Harald Harfagr had upwards of a dozen wives, and children by all of them. My mom, a plant geneticist, did a calculation to find out how many genes I would share with Harald Harfagr, and after almost 1200 years, the answer is not many. If you have any Northern European ancestry, chances are good you are descended from Harald Harfagr as well.

Still, that connection to Harald Harfagr was what got me interested in his story, which led writing to The Half-Drowned King and its sequels, for that is the story of the rise of Harald Harfagr as told mostly through the eyes of his right hand man Ragnvald of Maer, and Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild. (Don’t google if you don’t want book spoilers.)

I always feel odd when I tell people about my ancestral connections, though, because an obsession with blood lines seems next door to an obsession with race. Also, the victors in historical struggles are much more likely to be able to trace their lineage than the oppressed. My husband, of Jewish ancestry, only knows the family history back three generations. His name is common, and the Jews of Europe were marginalized and displaced so often that it was hard to hang onto that history. The church records of the Scandinavian countries form an unbroken chain back to the coming of Christianity. Those countries suffered fewer destructive wars than Continental Europe.

These connections are also important to me, though. I love knowing my family’s history back that far, through the indigent Swedes, Dutch, and Irish who came to the United States at the turn of the century, to the more privileged ancestors, and back into legend, for if the Heimskringla (The Saga of Kings) is to be believed, Harald traces his ancestry back to Odin himself. I love knowing when I visit Norway, Iceland, and Ireland, that I am walking paths, and kayaking fjords, that my ancestors traveled upon a thousand years ago. I feel a greater connection to those places, knowing that my ancestors, suited to the cold weather, braved those hard winters and stormy oceans.

I try to walk the line of valuing my history without setting it above other people’s history. It is my history, the good and the bad. The vikings were pagan raiders who sacked monasteries and killed and tortured monks. They took slaves and sold them (often to Christian countries–not much moral high ground in Early Medieval Europe). They were also farmers and traders and settlers, men and women who had ambitions and loves, loyalties and enmities, like any other people. They were not particularly more violent than others of their age, but neither were they less. I find ancestry to be a useful connection to history because it reminds me that they were just people, that in a different age, I might have been very different, but still a person. It reminds me that who I am now is dependent upon and shaped by all these generations that came before.

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Whose story is it?

On Friday, I had a bit of a wrestle with the fate of a minor character in The Sea Queen. My plot question was “should s/he live or should s/he die?” and I was trying to figure that out based on my answer to: “what does it mean to my main characters and plot if either happens?”

I could make it work either way, but neither choice felt right for the narrative, and usually when I’m working out plot issues, one choice will simply feel right for the story. The question that shook me loose was: “How can the fate of this character show respect for them as a person rather than a prop?” And then I knew what to do. When I’m writing, I can do anything I want to my characters, but they only come alive when I don’t ask, “What is done to them?” but “What does life ask of them, and how do they answer?”

A couple months ago, I read Man’s Search for Meaning by psychologist Victor Frankl. The most affecting part of the book is his years in Nazi concentration camps, and how that experience illustrated, in the starkest terms, some essential truths. These are:

  1. Doing something that has meaning is a person’s highest calling, not happiness
  2. Even when every freedom has been taken away, people can find meaning and purpose in how they meet their situation

He found that prisoners in the camps who felt that their lives and choices had meaning, who had someone to live for, a memory that sustained them, or a desire to help their fellow sufferers as much as they could, had a better chance of survival than those who did not have that purpose. Those without purpose were more likely to become their worst selves, to steal from one another, and eventually, to give up and die. To Victor Frankl the central question for everyone should be not, “What do I want from life?” but “What does life want from me?” Perhaps the answer to the first one always, for everyone, is “meaning”, and the answer to the second is what creates that meaning.

Story is meaning, and meaning is story. Humans tell themselves stories all the time, at every moment of every day, when we are not listening to others’ stories 1. Even when we sleep, our minds make up stories. One of the symptoms of PTSD is an inability to give meaning to an event, to create a narrative around it. Sufferers of PTSD cannot tell their story, and often relive it instead. And people are more likely to suffer PTSD if they are prevented from sharing their trauma and telling their story 2.

The stories we tell ourselves about our lives become our truths. Do you tell the story where everyone screwed you, and everything went wrong, and therefore you failed? Or do you tell the story where you had a lot of experiences that taught you things, and you had to make adjustments along the way, but every step you took led you to where you are now. For many lives, either story has a grain of truth, but which person do you want to be?

One of my writing teachers always asked “What does this event mean to this character?” because the importance of a plot is not the plot itself but what it means to the characters experiencing it. As Hamlet says, “for there is nothing either good or/bad, but thinking makes it so.” Thinking is storytelling is meaning-making, and every character makes their own meaning. It’s one of the hardest writing questions to get your mind around. It requires knowing a character very well.

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing fiction is choosing the right main character. I got into an argument with a friend early in my MFA program, where I was railing against writers who write about characters exactly like them, usually young writers from Brooklyn. And my friend was saying that every story is worth writing, and that I was being a snob to think otherwise.

I think we were both right. I do think there is a higher degree of difficulty writing about yourself or someone very like you, because we don’t see ourselves very clearly, and we may not see our own agency.  A character can have lots of bad things happen to them, but they still have a choice in how they react to that. Even being passive is a choice. And with a skilled author, who can tease out the reasons for the passivity, and the consequences of it, that can be an interesting story. But the author needs to understand that while the character may seem to have everything happen to them, and perhaps that’s even the story the character tells himself, the truth is that he has choices, agency, no matter what. Maybe terrible choices, maybe the only choice is in how he faces his situation–what meaning he takes from it–but he has a choice.

(This is not to excuse terrible things, or to say there is something wrong with ‘being a victim’. People do terrible things to one another, and the victims of that have every right to be angry. And they have a choice of what to do with that anger and every other feeling about it. In Victor Frankl’s practice, he found that helping his patients find meaning helped them heal from whatever they had been through.

This is also not to say that everything in life happens for a reason and Frankl is very careful to state that as well. His point, and mine, is that things happen–life asks things of you–and you get to decide how you’re going to answer.)

Readers want to read about characters who do things, who make things happen, who make choices. I’m not the type of author (at this point) who can make a passive character interesting, or the type of person who has enough sympathy for a passive character. My characters do a lot, do everything, do too much. All they do is make choices and try to make things happen, often to a fault–a lot like their creator.

So this is both a post about writing or life. Whose story is it? In life, it’s always your story. You can tell it as other people’s story, as the story of everyone who did you wrong, or as the story of how you overcame that. In fiction, it is your protagonist’s story. They always have choices. And it is also the story of every other person in the book–none of them should feel like props, and all of them should have their own stories, no matter how briefly they intersect with the protagonist. Because we are all protagonists, making choices, searching for meaning, answering what life asks of us.

1 The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall
2 Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character by Jonathan Shay

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Faroe Islands Day 2: Eating Fulmar

Continued from this post.

Faroe Islands

On our second day in the Faroe Islands, the Wanderer’s knee was hurting from the hike the day before, so we took a bus to Klaksvik and walked around. The Faroe Islands are so beautiful that just getting in a bus is a guarantee that you’ll see something lovely, like a million waterfalls cascading down fjord walls. Most of the Faroe Islands are connected by long underground tunnels, hewn out of the rock, and in one of those I saw something very grim: bicyclists.

You see, this tunnel was at least six miles long, with a 15% grade down to the lowest point, and then 15% back up, through the dark, with rough carved walls. Can you even imagine? At a slow pace, this would take probably 30 minutes to bike through, but it’s in darkness, half of it is a steep uphill. That would seem like the longest 30 minutes of your life. Your legs would be burning, and you would be biking through a dark tunnel that seemed infinite. It’s only at the very end that you can see a light. If I did it, I would fear that I had been transported to Hell, or at least Purgatory. If someone made me bike that tunnel, I probably wouldn’t speak to them for a week.

Above ground, in Klasvik, I searched for yarn yet again, but both Faroe Islands and Icelandic wool is extremely scratchy, and I’ve been spoiled by super-soft merino wool yarn made in other places. I didn’t want to buy wool and make something too itchy to wear. We ate lunch at a coffee shop that had huge open face sandwiches and delicious cakes.

We visited Christianskirkjan, a church built in 1963, but in the old style of Viking halls of upright staves. The baptismal font is a 4000-year-old stone-age offering vessel. An old 8-person rowing boat with overlapped strakes, also in the Viking style, is suspended from the ceiling. This is the old boat that the priest used to use to travel between the islands to conduct masses.

One of the funny things we noticed in the Faroe Islands is that the hill peaks always collect a cap of cloud, even on sunny days. In Klaksvik, we saw one of these forming: as cool wet air from the fjord hit one of the hills, it was forced upward and turned into a cloud–we could see clear air become cloud.

Scenes from Klaksvik. #faroes #nofilter #klaksvik

A photo posted by Linnea Hartsuyker (@linneaharts) on

We returned to Torshavn on an afternoon class and went to Crossfit Tvormegi in Torshavn, where the coach kindly gave all of his instructions in English for us and I push-pressed 15kg more than any other woman there. *bicep emoji*

The star of that day was dinner, a 9 course tasting menu at Koks, considered one of the best restaurants in Europe. The chef has set himself the challenge of making the meal almost entirely from local Faroese ingredients.

I can’t identify all of the dishes here, but the dishes I do remember were:

  • Some snacks, including: deep-fried lichen, deep-fried cereal grain porridge
  • Cod tartare with watercress on crostini–this may have been my favorite dish
  • An uni and cheese spread
  • Grilled langoustine with smoked pine
  • Shaved horse mussels
  • Halibut, cooked perfectly, and served with lovage pesto, which was a very herbal flavor, a little much on its own, but perfect with the fish
  • Aged lamb prosciutto
  • Diced fulmar and beets, which was by far my least favorite, but instructive to eat. Fulmar is a seabird, similar in appearance to a seagull, and the meat had a consistency like rubbery duck and tasted of seaweed and old fish. I would not willingly eat it again, but it would have been an important protein source to early medieval Faroese, and it’s good to know what their food would have tasted like.
  • Dessert No. 1: Sorrel Sorbet and Grass Granita–the grass granita tasted exactly like a meadow of the sweetest grass that has just been mowed
  • Dessert No. 2: Dulse and blueberry with dehydrated chocolate for a nice crunch
  • And finally they gave us some pizelles, chocolate, and candied Angelica as an anniversary treat

Next:Iceland! I won’t be recapping the Iceland side of the trip in quite as much detail, but will definitely hit the highlights. Coming soon!

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Another Day In the Life

Photo by Morgan Schmorgan

Last week my sister asked me what my days are like now that I’m a full time writer, a question that is a little panic-inducing. I just came back from a long trip, and before that, I only had one week of the full time writer life.

Right now, I’m working on turning the 70% rough draft of The Sea Queen into the 100% first draft. I use a pomodoro timer on my phone to manage my time. For a while I tried working for 25 minute blocks (pomodoros), with 5 minute breaks, and every 4 pomodoros, a 15 minute break. Now I’m trying 15 minute blocks with 3 minute breaks and I think it’s working better.

I’m working mostly at home right now, where I have a nice big monitor on a table in the living room so I can see two chapters side by side on the monitor and the outline on my laptop screen. I listen to various writing mixes I’ve made on Spotify. I keep on considering whether to try to work in the NYU library, where I have purchased an alumni pass, but I like my big monitor, and I like being able to make lunch at home.

I do something athletic most days, and I try to involve other people in that when possible, since being at home all the time, especially with my husband out of town, is rather lonely.

I’ve been cooking a lot, but I know that, before he comes home, I will get tired of cooking for one.

In the evenings, when I used to do my writing, now I read and knit and watch TV and movies, which hopefully feed the creativity I will pour back into my writing.

I had always planned to try to get an adjunct teaching position, but this draft of The Sea Queen feels so all-consuming that I am concerned about adding something else to my life. Which might be silly, since I used to write with a full time, 40 hour a week job.

I was also going to start taking Spanish Classes.

But now I have deadlines. I am trying to write two 500-page novels in two years, while, over the course of three years, doing everything it takes to publish and promote three books. That is a lot. The Sea Queen is due to my editor in July 2017, which seems like a long way off, but I want to do at least one more draft on my own, and then have my agent and some other readers look at it, and then make the changes they recommend, before doing a few passes with my editor, so the months will pass fairly quickly. And then as soon as I complete it, I need to start on the final book in the trilogy, The Golden Wolf. And soon, by the beginning of August this year, I will start doing copy edits on The Half-Drowned King.

I don’t miss going into an office and working, but I miss some of the rhythm of it, the leaving and coming back. The having a frustrating day and commiserating with my husband about it. The relief when the day is over, though that usually only lasted the two hours when I came home, had a drink, and fixed dinner, before I launched into writing again.

I don’t know what it will look like in a month, or six months, or a year. It feels too good to be true now, but also a little lonely, and I am worried that this novel I’ve been crafting alone, composed of words that no other person has read yet, will not be as good as the previous one, or will take too long to get the stage of the previous one, or a million other things that could go wrong. Writer worries.

So to answer to the question of what my day to day life looks like is: lots of writing, and some of what feels suspiciously like leisure activity. It’s not bad at all.

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