The stack

I got rid of my books a few years ago in a total home decluttering. This was at the thin end of the massive wedge that smartphones were becoming, and I was no longer reading much. Too distracted. 

And besides, I live in a very small house. Why cover the walls with bookcases? Anything I might want to read, I could get as ebooks or audiobooks, which magically took up no space at all.

Having grown up with an antiquarian book-dealer and a librarian, I’d had my fill of “the smell of books” and the “tactile experience of holding a book in my hands.” Bah. Out they went: the novels I wasn’t going to re-read, the deep college-era classics that I certainly wasn’t going to open again, the how-to books for crafts I was done with, the cookbooks (I mean, the internet is full of recipes, right?).

And I held the line for years. Every book that survived that massive decluttering could fit on a couple of shallow shelves behind my bedroom door.

Until Story Grid. Dammit, Story Grid, I did not see you coming.

Being a Story Grid editor requires wide reading in fiction genres I’ve never touched before. Besides, there’s my new novel to be researched. And my current novel to be marketed.

Suddenly I’m ordering two-dollar “Acceptable” used copies of old tomes about the art of narrative (they have that smell). I’m stopping at every Little Free Library in the neighborhood to see what treasures I can snatch. I’ve even opened an Interlibrary Loan account at my local branch library–and I use it. Every week.

I’m gonna need a new bookshelf.

A tall stack of books on a stool in my living room
The To Be Read pile

It’s still there

My book cover for Restraint began here:

And ended here:

Ninety percent of the saga–junk shop scavenging, spray painting, sewing, pinning, upholstering, dyeing, borrowing, eBaying and freaking out–has been has been cropped or photoshopped out of the final cover.

And yet everyone agrees that it’s all still there, under the surface. Even if you can’t see the candelabra or the riding boots or the knee buttons on the breeches, they’re there. They’re there in the way the model posed and the way the artist turned the photo into a painting. Somehow, they’re all there in the feeling.

I found the same thing in writing the novel itself. Not only is the book half the size of its first draft, but I wrote hundreds of thousands of words that were never in any version. Those character backgrounds and interviews, throwaway scenes and backstories are all there in the subtext of the final version.

It wasn’t until I reduced a 20-page prologue to four words in Chapter 12 that I understood. I needed  to write that prologue just as I needed to sew three–not two, not four–perfectly matched buttons on to the knees of those buckskin-yellow breeches. The prologue was important, and it was okay to crop it out of the picture.

Because it’s still there. Underneath.

I’ll be published soon in nonfiction

Exciting news: I’ve been contracted to write a Story Grid Masterworks Edition in–of all things!–the Western genre.

One of Shawn Coyne’s most powerful Story Grid tools is his study guide to the Love Story genre, in the form of an annotated Pride and PrejudiceIt was instrumental to me in completing Restraint.

ebook edition of Shawn Coyne's Story Grid Edition of Pride and Prejudice on a tablet

As a Certified Story Grid  Editor, part of my new job is to help fill out the library of masterworks in other genres. I agreed to write an analysis of the classic 1968 Western novel True Grit, by Charles Portis.

I chose the Western genre not because I’m a huge fan (I’m not), but because I have a unique bona fide in the genre: I’m a main character in a Western novel myself!

My friend Greg Hatcher has written Silver Riders, a “weird Western” (yes, it’s a category), a supernatural tale set in the Old West, with a classic Western theme of vengeance. It’s coming soon from Airship 27.

(I am not a lady doctor, but I play one in this novel.)

Pen and ink illustration of a 19th century woman doctor, by Chris Kohler
One of Chris Kohler’s amazing ink illustrations for Silver Riders

The Western genre has produced zillions of movies and novels in its own right (so it’s a lot of fun to study), but it’s also a mashup of other genres–crime, adventure, morality, status and society. A novelist can learn a lot about good storytelling from the Western.

It’s an American form, too, highly specific to a particular landscape and a particular moment in history. And to my surprise, it’s still very much alive and kicking.

The Story Grid Masterworks Study Guide to True Grit, by Anne Hawley, edited by Shawn Coyne, will come out in the first half of 2018.

Now I’d better get to work.

The turning point

The turning point in my Story Grid story was right where it needed to be: at the Midpoint Shift, in the morning of Day 3 in Nashville. That’s when Shawn Coyne revealed his plan for disrupting the decrepit New York publishing model, and I realized that I was part of something way bigger than just credentials for a new freelance career.

In the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist is called to adventure, and in many stories (especially those with a strong internal genre) she refuses the call at first. She has to overcome internal obstacles before setting out.

But not me, man. Bolstered by the enthusiasm of 18 other newly-minted Story Grid Editors, I set off on this strange new road immediately.  I’ll be reporting on the journey as I go.

My notes from the morning of Day 3 in Nashville as the implications of what Shawn was presenting began to sink in.