Writing Update: Vodnik and Tarnhelm

Maltese FalconEnough people have asked me here and there about what exactly I’m working on these days that I thought an update was called for on the blog. So. What am I working on?

Well, I’m not working on Vodnik right now. My editor has the manuscript and will be getting further edits back to me soon. Until then, I’m doing my best to forget everything about the book that I can. Not because I’m sick of it, but because I want to approach it with as fresh eyes as possible. Going over the same material time and time again makes it hard to be able to tell when something is working and when it isn’t. It starts to feel like a memorized speech, as opposed to something you’re saying with feeling and meaning. Does that make sense? So I’m trying to get what little distance I can get from it.

I’ve finished my author Q & A, I wrote a Slovak pronunciation guide, a note from the author about events in the book, a “Further Reading” piece, an acknowledgements page and dedication–all the little bits that need to go here and there in the book. I also had the chance to discuss some of my ideas of what the cover could look like (that was exciting–and something not all authors get to give input on. A lot of times you’re completely at the mercy of your publisher’s art department. Not that I have any control over the cover, but at least I was asked what I’d like. That felt nice.)

Anyway, once that was all done, it was time to turn back to Tarnhelm. For those of you who don’t know what that project is, allow me to inform you. (I’m not sure if I’ve tried to ever describe it succinctly before, so this should be an interesting experience.) Let me start with the most basic level: it’s YA Noir. What do I mean by that? I mean it’s a stylized YA hardboiled detective novel, along the lines of The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. Except instead of a hardboiled detective, you’ve got a hardboiled ace reporter–who’s about 16 years old. Think Veronica Mars from TV, or Brick from film. That’s the sort of feel I’m going for.

But if you’ve read any of my books, you know that I sometimes have a penchant for weirding things up some. So what makes this one different from other YA Noirs (because there’s so many)?

  • This one has fantasy elements woven into it. Not heavy fantasy–more along the lines of Indiana Jones fantasy. Yes, there’s this object that can melt faces, but for the most part, the movie’s about action and adventure, not magical objects that melt faces.
  • This one has one heck of a screwed up main character. Vee Hertz has mental issues. He’s trying to work through some serious inner turmoil, and the way he’s been handling it is by patterning his life after Film Noir movies. It’s told from his point of view, and everything that happens to him is seen through a Film Noir lens. He’s the sort of kid right now who flips a coin as a tip to a McDonald’s employee. The kind of guy who tries to bribe librarians with folded up twenties. Make sense?
  • And to make matters more complicated, Vee starts to think that he’s caught in the middle of the plot of the Maltese Falcon. Everyone after a certain object they’re willing to kill for, and he’s the one trying to stay alive and make a profit in the middle of it all. He starts to base some of his decisions and actions on what Sam Spade does in the book/movie. Tarnhelm isn’t really an adaptation of Maltese Falcon. It’s more like a serious parody of the book. It transplants some plot elements from the hardboiled world of Dashiell Hammett to the high school world of today’s teenager. I don’t like the word “parody,” because these days that almost always is interpreted as a Weird Al spoof. This isn’t a spoof.
See why it’s easier just to call it YA Noir with light fantasy elements?
In any case, I’m 41,000 words into that project now, and it’s going swimmingly. I’ve got it plotted out completely now, and the writing’s chugging along with no problems. I’ve been workshopping it in writing group, and it’s had some of the best responses I’ve ever gotten for a first draft. It feels great to be working on something new.
Once I’m done with it and with the Vodnik rewrite, I plan to turn my attention back to one of my earlier books for another earnest revision. I’m leaning toward Weaver of Dreams, but we’ll see how I’m feeling. And there you have it–the current state of writing for yours truly.

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