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Brush Clearing and Beta Reading

It's May! The apple trees are budding. The lilacs are opening. The morels are sneaking up on us. The woodpiles in my backyard are being reclaimed by a seething ecosystem of weeds, insects, birds, and furry critters. I kind of love it (hooray nature!), except I live in a residential neighborhood where many children play, and my state is having a tick problem this year. And the woodchucks are tearing up the land with their burrows, creating building foundation issues and dangerous holes in the lawns. I urgently need to clean up the aftermath of the power company's tree removals underneath the power lines at the back of my property last summer, but I cannot do it myself. I'll need help to cut, move, and re-stack all of that wood.

Photo by Perfecto Capucine from Pexels

At the same time, I have also requested help on getting some perspective on my first (lightly revised) draft of Matka Danu Miklagarth. Although this draft is surely full of creepy crawlies, splinters, extraneous adverbs, strained metaphors, typos, poison ivy, rodent nests, heavily overwrought descriptions, and painful cliches, a half dozen readers have volunteered to enter the fictional wilderness I've created and at least give me some direction on what to chuck, what to keep, and where and how to stack it.

I've heard the advice that an author should choose beta readers who are part of the target audience. Mine is obviously women--I mean, I've written a medieval novel with no rape and a number of castrated individuals--but two of the people who offered to read are men. I didn't expect that, but I guess I should have. It is a pirate story after all. That sounds deceptively un-girly, but soon they will discover that I don't actually know anything about boats or weapons, and my story is mostly about feelings. Perhaps someone can give me some pointers on how to make the boat and weapon details less stupid. I hadn't thought about that before, but of course that would be valuable. This thought process made me realize that--duh--I should also force my husband to read it, even though he is neither a woman nor a habitual reader of fiction, because he has a decent amount of experience with and knowledge of survival camping. The characters in my book are basically survival camping for about three-quarters of the narrative, so of course that would be useful. Character arcs and plot lines aren't the only things I could use different eyes on. Historical novels are packed so full of opportunities to make mistakes that I keep telling myself that if it turns out I've written a hopelessly impossible tale for my setting, I can always call it "alternate history" or stick a few unicorns in it.

I'm kidding. But really, this is an anxious time in the writing process.

I'm trying not to think too hard about all the problems I already know exist in the manuscript but which I don't quite know how to fix yet. I have faith that others will have some ideas. Beta readers have always been enormously helpful for me in that way.

And now, while I wait, I hope for enough sunny days and strong hands to help me get my yard cleaned up!


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Chapters 2 and 3 are tidied up and cut down. So is my large backyard.

Meanwhile, one of my husband's friends died, not very unexpectedly, but not at a very old age either--the same day that Toni Morrison died. Converging ripples of loss.

Life goes on in the yard, and I have to work at every opportunity to keep it from taking over.

Death keeps happening, and I'm trying to use sadness and grief and fear of mortality to fertilize my creativity and push me to get it done. Flying Lotus used this kind of fuel to create his transcendent jazz fusion album YOU'RE DEAD. It sure isn't a recipe for guaranteed success, but then, nothing is.

So next I need to walk the perimeter of the whole property, trimming shrubs and trees here and there--not too much, not enough to spoil the wild and rustic nature of this place--and before August ends, I'll be ready for late-summer bonfires and one last beta read.