I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize this, but I seem to be a very physical writer. When outlining, I've always spread the book in question out over a large surface area. Book Three of The Wolf Chronicles has now taken over an expanded dining room table, my walls, and the living room rug. It makes me surprisingly happy to see my book taking up this much space, to see it freed from the confines of paper and computer.
But I've discovered that I also have to move when I write. I have to pace while talking to myself. I have to feel space around me so that the story can expand and grow. I never really paid attention to this until yesterday. I had every intention of buckling down to write some chapters but couldn't stop moving. The energy of the story wasn't satisfied to be typed out or written. So I spent the day loping around my living room, then sitting on the file cabinet next to my second floor window watching people go by, then playing tug o' war with the dog, then going into the kitchen to consider doing dishes. In between all of this, I scribbled notes on big pieces of paper and began making the connections between the themes and plot and character developments of the book.
And this part of writing felt like play, not work. It felt like a rebirth of the story and an infusion of energy.
Sometimes I try so hard to be "dutiful" and "disciplined" that I forget to play with the book. I forget that ideas need to be set free. They need to have work time, but they need recess, too. Otherwise, they're like restless third-graders, trapped in their seats because class is in session but rebelliously ignoring the teacher. If they get to run around and play, they are much more likely to do good work later.
I wish I could say that the whole book came together in one day of motion, but it's still a work of chaos. But I love this chaos. It's one of my favorite parts of writing. I forget sometimes that I am not in control of everything when I'm writing. That the story has a life of its own and that the disorder of ideas is a vital part of finding an organic, truth-telling story. As the always-wise Elizabeth Stark reminded me the other day, it's important to trust the storyteller. And if the storyteller wants to do jumping jacks while doing laps around the apartment, you have to let her.
Yesterday I was cranky. I was cranky because no matter what I tried, my brain did not want to do any work. It wasn't just that it didn't want to write; most writers run into that fairly frequently. My brain didn't want to do any work. I had woken up with the beginnings of a migraine and lost a couple of hours to wrangling it, so I needed to make up for lost time.
I duct-taped my wrists to the keyboard and ignored the voice in my head that told me it wanted to nap and watch movies. I had work to do, and I am a Disciplined Writer. I just barely managed to remove duplicate email addresses from my mailing list and return some emails. Then my brain rebelled. It flatly refused to scan social media marketing opportunities, research my op-ed, or map out the plot points of the first two books on big pieces of paper so that I could use them to see the arc of the third book. Every time I tried, overwhelming sleepiness, a reborn migraine, or the need to eat large quantities of sugar overcame me.
But I am a Disciplined Writer and so I told my brain it was time to get to work. Secrets of the Wolves comes out in two weeks and I have a third book to write. I've learned that a writer must be disciplined, that a writer must stick to her schedule and work even when she doesn't feel like it if she's to complete her books. And this is true. Most of the time.
Fortunately, my brain was smarter than I was. It pulled a fast one on me. A friend had just returned my copy of Mockingjay, and I decided to take a short break to flip through the book to see what the brilliant Suzanne Collins did to structure her third book. The next thing I knew it was two hours later and I'd re-read the entire book. Then I was hit by a sneak nap attack. Then I found myself pacing my apartment, thinking random thoughts that had nothing to do with the work I was supposed to be doing. Then it was 4:15 pm and time to leave for an appointment.
I was furious with myself. I had wasted an entire day when I have no time to waste. I tried again to work at night. More random thoughts, an episode of 30 Rock, and no work. I went to bed discouraged and disappointed in myself.
And woke up with a key plot point--possibly the key plot point--of Journey of the Wolves, fully formed in my head. More or less. I opened my email to a New York Times wolf alert (you can have NYT send you articles about chosen topics). The article was about how the removal of top predators can change an ecosystem. I haven't read the article yet, only the headline, and I already know about the relationship of top predators to ecosystem well-being. But the headline triggered something and the scene presented itself to me.
The thing is, I'm pretty sure that that's what my brain was trying to work on yesterday. The scene solves a problem I've been trying to solve since I was halfway through writing Secrets, and it is going to be pivotal not just to the plot of the book, but to Kaala's character development. My brain just wanted me to let it alone so that it could do its creative work, but had to basically knock me out to make me do so.
So this is what I've learned (for about the fortieth time, because this has happened many, many times before): sometimes you need to not work. Sometimes you need to let your subconscious--or the creative force of the universe, or wherever it is the ideas actually come from--take over. I work so hard at my writing, work so hard at being disciplined and improving my craft, that sometimes I forget that you have to play to write. That you have to wander and let your brain gambol and leap. I hope that next time I remember in time to enjoy the process.
Ever wonder how a writer researches a novel? The wonderful YAReviewNet asked me to write an article about it. It would be an understatement to stay I was NOT a born researcher. Here is the opening of the article. You can follow the link at the end of the passage below, or go straight to the article here! How I Went From Hating Research to Loving It I was minding my own business the day the wolves barged into my apartment, demanding that I write about them. I was thinking about dogs, and how amazing it is that we have such a close relationship with them. I had recently read "The Botany of Desire," in which Michael Pollan discusses plant evolution and its effect on human evolution. That's when a little voice in my head said, "I want to write about how the wolf evolved into the dog from the wolf's point of view."
I wrote about ten pages, and realized that I knew almost nothing about wolves and even less about ancient times. I began to resist the story. I hated research. It was boring and I was no good at it. I'd find something else to write.
Resistance was futile; the wolves wanted their story told. I found myself in the Natural Sciences section of a bookstore holding a book called "The Wolf Almanac" by Robert Busch. A few minutes later "People of the Earth: An Introduction to Prehistory" by Brian Fagan leapt into my hands. Read the rest here!
Now that I have completed and submitted the draft of "Secrets of the Wolves," it's time to crawl out of the writing cave. It is also time for some resolutions. None of these is made up. Except the measuring cups. It was really a travel mug.
1. A Trader Joe's tote bag does not, even in the city of Berkeley, qualify as a briefcase.
2. It is acceptable when very busy to run out of soy milk, bread, soap or paper towels. It is never, however, acceptable to run out of garlic.
3. The hair on my upper lip does not make me look sexier, even when braided.
4. A fleece jacket, even if black, is not formalwear.
5. If one has particularly short legs, it is acceptable to cut off the bottom of a pair of sweatpants with scissors. It is not, however, acceptable to then use the cut off part of the hem as a headband.
6. When company arrives, measuring cups will not be used in lieu of wine glasses.
7. Heretofore, I will have only two categories of clothing: "clean" and "dirty." Not "clean," "dirty," and "other."
8. The fact that I have worn through everything else in my closet does not give me carte blanche to wear clothing I wore in the 80's. I didn't look good in shoulder pads the first time around.
9. That white thing in my kitchen that has burners and a door is called an oven.
10. Grapefruit and Post-Its do not a good combination make.
11. Never play poker with your big sister. She knows when you're bluffing and will tell everyone else at the table. (Ok, that has nothing to do with writing. It's just good advice).
12. Going forward, I will clean the kitchen before I find myself unable to unearth any source of caffeine.
13. A Law and Order marathon is not a social life.
14. The dry cleaner did not shrink my pants. #writersbutt
15. I will eat Trader Joe's peanut butter pretzels for no more than one meal per day. Ok, two.
In order to save wolves, do we have to kill some of them? Some thoughts below. I'm still grappling with this, so I welcome thoughts and ideas.
It is accepted in wildlife management circles that in order to 'manage' wolves, some wolves must be killed. This has always troubled me. My head tells me that if so many of the smart scientists I respect--and who know a lot more about wildlife management than I do--believe that controlling populations by killing wolves is necessary for the survival of the species, I should bow to their expertise. But my heart balks at the killing of wolves in order to save wolves.
I had the opportunity to hear some wonderful lectures on wolf re-introduction and management at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota last year. Jim Hammill, a former wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, was particular eloquent, and his talk formed much of my thinking. (Since I can't remember everything he said, I hope that I am not misstating his views. I do want to give him credit for inspiration and apologize for any misrepresentation of his beliefs.)
Based on the terrific IWC talks, and a good deal of reading and thinking, this is where I've landed. For now.
In a better world, there would be sufficient wildlands for wolves to have the room they need to live, hunt and reproduce naturally, and we could let nature control wolf populations as it did for a long time before we meddled. The reality is that we do not live in that world (although I hope we can get there, see below). And the reality is also that wolves are highly politicized and the battle for their survival is as much about public relations as it is about biology.
Just as there are those of us dedicated to preserving wolves, there are people out there dedicated to obliterating them. Completely and forever. There are also people who, understandably, are undecided about the role of wolves and about whether or not they should be protected. Those who wish to eradicate wolves do everything they can to convince those who are uncertain that wolves are dangerous and that they threaten our "right" to use as much land as we want however we want to use it, and that wolves are vermin to be exterminated. When the public gets the impression that there are "too many" wolves, and that those wolves are a threat, people are more receptive to full-scale slaughter.
We need to take the time to educate people about the truth of wolf biology and behavior, and we need to provide more room for wolves to thrive. It is my hope that someday we will be able to give back more of the land to wolves and other wildlife, and to the trees and other plants we really do need to survive. I think doing so is important not just to the survival of wolves, but to our own well-being and that it is one of the most important things we can work toward.
But that's going to take time, and it would be much too easy for those who want to get rid of wolves to kill off enough of them to ensure that we cannot have a healthy population in the future. So as much as I hate it, I accept that in order to manage the people who hold the fate of wolves in their hands, wolf management, for the time being, does have to mean 'controlling' populations. So that when we do have the land and the knowledge to truly let wolves thrive, the wolves will still be there to enjoy it.
That being said, the wolf 'management' plans in the Rocky Mountain region are a disgrace. Please go to Defenders of Wildlife or NRDC to learn how you can stop the unnecessary slaughter of wolves by getting the Rocky Mountain wolves re-listed as an endangered species and by calling for more stringent regulations against wolf kills.
I've been deep in my writing cave and thus a little slow to pick up on all of the news, so it's only recently that I read that Michael Vick is planning to star in a reality show. I've been thinking a lot about Michael Vick.
I am, obviously, a dog lover. More than that, I think that our relationship with dogs is part of a sacred trust. When we take an animal into our homes, when we breed it to trust us and depend on us, we have a moral obligation to care for it as best we can. I think that the way we treat our dogs says a lot about who we are as people. And I think that people who throw dogs into a ring and make them fight to the death for "entertainment" should be stripped naked, dipped in chum, and tossed into a shark tank. May the strongest animal prevail.
Vick has served his time and admitted his fault. That means he gets to go back to his job, even if that job pays him an obscene amount of money. I get that. He is also working with the Humane Society to combat dogfighting. So, is he for real? Or is it all PR? Should he be given a platform of any kind--other than the one above the shark tank?
To me, this comes down to two questions: the question of forgiveness and the question of influence.
There are many things that I forgive, but I find it difficult to forgive anyone who brutalizes the innocent for his own pleasure or profit. I find it difficult to forgive those who are strong and who abuse the vulnerable. There is no way that Vick could have been ignorant of the suffering he was inflicting. I believe in forgiveness. But I have to say, I'm not there yet.
Michael Vick can reach a lot of people that animal welfare proponents cannot. I would hazard that most people who read The Bark, or my novel about wolves, or who are on the ASPCA mailing list aren't the ones who are thinking of participating in dogfighting. Vick can reach young people and can tell them that dogfighting is not cool. He can, if he is truly committed, do a lot of good.
So I am willing to wait to see what kind of influence Vick has and how he uses it. He cannot undo the damage he has done. But, in the event that he means what he says, he could, perhaps, make some amends.
As for forgiveness? Maybe if he throws a few million dollars of his reality show and football earnings to animal welfare organizations. I'm sure they'd be happy to have it.
I originally planned to have ravens in one scene of Promise of the Wolves, and one scene only. I just wanted to show readers the cool relationship between wolves and ravens and then get on with the rest of the book. But once Tlitoo got his beak into the story he wouldn't leave. He became one of Kaala's best friends, the provider of comic relief, and one of the most important characters in the book. He will have an even bigger role in Secrets of the Wolves.
Here's the scoop on wolves and ravens:
The raven is sometimes known as "the wolf-bird." Ravens, like many other animals, scavenge at wolf kills, but there's more to it than that. Both wolves and ravens have the ability to form social attachments and they seem to have evolved over many years to form these attachments with each other, to both species' benefit. There are a couple of theories as to why wolves and ravens end up at the same carcasses. One is that because ravens can fly, they are better at finding carcasses than wolves are. But they can't get to the food once they get there, because they can't open up the carcass. So they'll make a lot of noise, and then wolves will come and use their sharp teeth and strong jaws to make the food accessible not just to themselves, but also to the ravens. Ravens have also been observed circling a sick elk or moose and calling out, possibly alerting wolves to an easy kill. The other theory is that ravens respond to the howls of wolves preparing to hunt (and, for that matter, to human hunters shooting guns). They find out where the wolves are going and following. Both theories may be correct.
Wolves and ravens also play. A raven will sneak up behind a wolf and yank its tail and the wolf will play back. Ravens sometimes respond to wolf howls with calls of their own, resulting in a concert of howls and calls.
Sources: Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich, The American Crow and the Common Raven, Lawrence Kilham
The paperback of Promise of the Wolves releases today! I realize that I'm biased because it's mine and I love it, but I think it's one of the best-lookin' books ever in the world. See the pretty cover?
I've been getting a lot of questions on the progress of Book Two, aka "Secrets of the Wolves." After a very challenging time in my personal life, I'm now making great progress on it and having lots of fun. There's a chapter from it in the paperback of Promise. Here's the first paragraph of the chapter:
I caught the delicate scent of distant prey and stopped, digging my paws into the earth. Lifting my muzzle to the wind, I inhaled, allowing the distinctive ice-and-hoof aroma to sink into the back of my throat. Snow deer, in our territory and on the move. All at once, the blood rushed to the sensitive spot just behind my ears. My mouth began to water with the promise of the hunt, and every muscle in my body hungered for the chase. Next to me, Ázzuen stood as still as I was, only his ears twitching. Then his dark grey head began to sway a little, pulled between the lure of prey and our task. "We can't go after them," I said. "We have to keep moving."
And I've just decided that both the wolves and ravens like to gamble. They place bets on all sorts of things. The ravens are better at it than are the wolves. Not sure what I'm going to do with this, but it amuses me greatly.