State of the Writer, sort of, September 2015

Posted in Books, ebooks, Miscellaneous.

I traveled to Brisbane, determined to finish Grave.

Toronto to Brisbane is a long flight (or long, at least, in North American terms, and very long if one absolutely hates being on a plane, which your author emphatically does).

On the first leg of the journey, I sat beside a young man who pretty much spent the entire flight to LA coughing. Or sleeping. Or coughing in his sleep. This did not fill me with confidence, but it’s not like I could get up and switch seats – these days, all flights appear to be full.

I arrived in Brisbane after – yes – the longer of the two flights. (I almost wept when I checked ‘how much longer will this flight last’ and found that the ten hours I was certain I had already spent in the small seat in the dark plane was actually only three and a half.)

And then, because: jet-lag, I could not sleep for more than two hours at a stretch. For two days.

So, inevitably, I got sick. No one travels half-way around the world to get sick. At least not on purpose.

I have written. I have – absolutely – the right beginning for War. War, however, was not the book I was desperately trying to finish. Because War is not close to being finished. Grave is. On the other hand, it’s a toss-up: will Grave be finished before I am?

Ahem. The good news is: I am getting sleep and I am getting better. I am not entirely out of the coughing lungs out stage (or trying; lungs persistently appear to remain in the region of the chest at approximately the correct location in spite of their best attempts). I have tea. I am sitting down to write. (Well, okay, I am sitting down and have chopped another 2400 words out of Grave because in the light of morning, they are not the right words, and yes, this is a tad discouraging.)

While sick, my brains are generally like treacle. But slower and thicker. Other people’s books have vastly more appeal. Vastly. But, since said brains are not in high gear (or really, any gear at all), I often go back to books I’ve already read. Going back to a book I’ve read and loved is an act of faith and comfort. The book and its many words are all still there, no matter where I am, and no matter what state of mind I’m in.

I have been rereading Terry Pratchett.

Since I didn’t plan to get sick, I didn’t have his books with me. This did not turn out to be a problem. I emptied my iTunes reservoir, and picked up three books: Men At Arms, Jingo, and Night Watch (which remains my favorite of Pratchett’s books). These were joined in short order by Fifth Elephant, Guards Guards, and Thud.

And then, when I was well enough to venture out without thinking of myself as a walking plague, I bought physical copies of another four Pratchett books. Sadly, the one I wanted by that time – Going Postal, was unavailable.

Terry Pratchett will never write another book.

No new Terry Pratchett book will ever cross my desk. Nor will it brighten the threshold of the bookstore. There will be no discussions at the dinner table of my extended household (with forks in it) about who gets to read the new Pratchett first.

Readers are odd people. I know this because I am one. The emotional attachment we form to books is visceral. It can last a lifetime. Authors are not their books. I know this because: Author. Terry Pratchett was a man I did not know. I met him a handful of times (in the bookstore, actually). I don’t know what he liked to eat. I don’t know what he liked to listen to. I don’t know what he liked to read. I know nothing at all about him —

Except that he wrote my books.

Life wears us down around the edges. The stress of life and its necessities cracks things. We learn to protect ourselves. We learn not to let so much of the world in, because sometimes it’s all too much, and we don’t have the resilience we need to survive it. When we’re six, we make best friends easily. When we’re fifty, we don’t. That’s age and experience for you.

But books are different. We can let books in. We can wrap them up in our hearts. We can approach them as if we’re still young and open. Even so, it’s not as simple. Because we’re not as simple.

Terry Pratchett wrote books that I could always, always read. They could always reach me–or I could always reach them–no matter what state of mind I was in. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I heard that he died. I cried when I heard that he had early-onset Alzheimer’s. The sense of loss was, for me, profound.

This is the first time since the news of his death that I’ve returned to his books. And: there they are. Waiting for me, as they always have been. Sam Vimes is my favorite Discworld character. His anger is so familiar to me, it’s like a second home. Death hasn’t diminished him. Loss hasn’t diminished him. He vibrates on the page, as he always did.

There won’t be new books.

But these books exist. They were read. They are read. They’re still here when I need them, and they’ll always be here. Do I want more? Yes, of course–that’s human nature. But death doesn’t diminish them. They were written, they reached me, and they’ll be read, again and again, until I can’t read.

26 Responses to State of the Writer, sort of, September 2015

  1. earle says:

    Of course your books have the same effect on us, the one’s who can’t wait for the next book to pop out and we read and re-read because we love them so. Terry Pratchett passed on the gift of story telling to you and to many others. I’m glad you got it. Get well

  2. kitiara green says:

    I agree Michelle I lost my childhood hero author in 2012 but I go back to her books the same way. Thing is though your Elantra books are the first books I’ve ever read that I have read over and over every few months at least a hundred times now and each time I’m filled with the same wonder and excitement almost frenzied joy. You are an amazing author and your inspiring to someone like me who wants very much to become a good author. Learning from yours and Ann s examples have already made me alot better and I know you’ll finish grave. Your just that good an author. I plan to read the series soon, I drink the Elantra books like air though so often heh. Hang in there and get well your going to be just fine your doing great

  3. Cyndi Parker says:

    I’m sorry about your Mr. Pritchett…though I never quite got into him, I enjoyed a couple of his books way back, haha the 80’s I believe! The places he would go!! I’m glad you love his storytelling, that’s a love not to be missed.
    You take good care of yourself Lady.

  4. Chris G. says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your recent trials, and especially that you’ve been ill. As I’ve recently been re-reading Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series then I feel a distinct urge to offer medical advice based on some of what I’ve encountered therein.

    So I’m shutting up for now. ;)

  5. Tchula says:

    *sniff, sniff* Darn it, Michelle, you made me cry! But since you express my feelings about those well-loved books better than I could, I forgive you for my temporary sniffles. ;-P

    I’m glad you are feeling better, and hope you are able to accomplish everything you’d like to while on your retreat. (Although can I be a teeny bit selfish and say I’m super-thrilled War at least is going well?) Best of luck wrestling Grave to the page!

  6. kat1e says:

    Despite having a large extended family I’m really not into the whole ‘coming together to mourn their passing’ thing when someone passes away. However, there have been two, and only two, occasions when my mother and I called each other and had at least an hour long chat to mourn a person’s passing – the memories they’d given us and the impact they left on our lives.

    The first person was Robin Williams, and the second was Terry Pratchett.

    Weird that we’d formed such a very close connection to people we’d never met, compared to our own flesh and blood.

    But yeah. He was a giant of our time.

    It’s a pity that his last few books were clearly affected by the disease, and truly a pity that he was taken from us too early. He wasn’t that old. I wish he’d had the opportunity to put a few more runs on the board. I mourn the loss of his wit and perceptions of the world in which we live.

    I have 3 shelves in my bookcases set aside for my Terry Pratchett collection and they usually sit empty.

    Because, despite those 3 shelves, the books’ normal location is piled up beside my bed.

  7. darkshadoes says:

    Given making friends when I was six was difficult I’m now thinking I should just give up on that entirely as if it only gets more challenging…

    Sorry to hear you’ve been sick though. Traveling is rough enough without falling prey to an illness. Here’s hoping you manage to kick the cough soon.

    Thank you very much for the update. I’m going to very selfishly say that I sincerely hope Grave is finished before you are.

    I’m glad you’re finding some time to enjoy some books yourself though as well.

  8. Tasia says:

    Beautifully stated, my bookshelves are filled with books that have touched my heart and intrigued my mind right when I needed them too. The characters became my best friends for a little while, while I got to share their lives they changed mine.

  9. sometimeskate says:

    I’ve always been closer to books than to people. I also re-read them because some books are like spending time with friends. Pamela Dean, who wrote one of my all-time favourite books, Tam Lin, autographed my hardcover with “from one obsessive re-reader to another”. So I do understand. I certainly re-read your books often enough for it to qualify.

    I’ll have to give Pratchett another try. Will you suggest a good place to start?

  10. Agustin says:

    Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear about your being ill and your heartache regarding Terry Pratchett. Losing an author we love due to death is truly heartbreaking. We’ll never have new books from them, nor hear news / update about their books, and it is sad, indeed. It’s like losing a friend or a limb, though what we know mostly about that author are mostly the books that we read. But the books that grow up with us are the books that are the closest to the definition of a long-life friend. I grow up with manga, and most of my collections are still there in my shelves, and are there whenever i need to escape or to entertain my mind, to help me shift focus from the noisy world into the rich realm of fiction and imagination. Re-reading those manga and novels helps lifting up my moods.

    I do sincerely wish you health and all the best for the season. And many good luck with Grave and War. You will most certainly finish it, One word at a time, one paragraph after some time, and voila, you’ll finish it before you know it. Ganbatte, Michelle! Don’t stress yourself out. Our mind works more creative when we are relax. <>

    Ganbatte!! v^^

    Agustine

  11. kat1e says:

    If I may, on Michelle’s behalf … : )

    Some of his non-discworld books:
    Dark Side of the Sun, The Carpet People.

    Strata was a sort of pre-discworld book which kind of created the discworld world.

    Which discworld novel to start on depends on which storyline you’d like to start first which is well represented by this graphic:
    http://io9.com/how-to-read-terry-pratchetts-discworld-series-in-one-h-1567312812

    Of the discworld novels personally I’d recommend starting with ‘Pyramids’ and ‘Small Gods’ first, but everyone has their own tastes. ‘Thief of time’ is a personal favorite of mine – its kind of like a rom com in fantasy book form – but it’s best to read the earlier Death books before getting to it so you have some background on Susan and the Monks. As Michelle mentions ‘Night Watch’ is also a favorite of mine, but again it’s best to read the earlier Watch novels in order to get the background of the characters sorted out and have some feeling for them. The whole Watch series was great anyway so it’s no chore. So perhaps start with ‘Guards! Guards!’?

  12. kat1e says:

    OMG – forgot to mention his collaboration with Neil Gaiman – ‘Omens’.

    A brilliant book, highly recommend it. It’s not a discworld novel.

  13. Tchula says:

    I second the advice to start with Guards! Guards! The Sam Vimes books are the most accessible to new readers, I feel.

  14. I couldn’t finish the first Pratchett I tried – Colour of Magic. I didn’t love the second, either (Equal Rites). I read both because Tanya Huff made me read them. She was a very big Pratchett fan, and I’m not famous for my sense of humour. Or perhaps famous, but not in the good way.

    However, when Reaper Man came out, Tanya shoved it into my hands and told me to read it or she’d break my legs (we were both working together in the bookstore at the time). So I dutifully took it home. Men at Arms had just appeared on my review books pile as well.

    I loved Reaper Man. I admit I skipped a lot of the so-called funny bits the first time – but I loved Death, and I loved the innate sense of cynical kindness that underlay the whole book. So I picked up Men at Arms. And I loved loved loved that book. I hadn’t read Guards Guards, and at the time, the book was out of print in North America – so I read the Guards books out of order.

    But I read every Pratchett novel from that point on as it was released, and then went back and filled the gaps. (I still can’t finish Colour of Magic, fwiw.)

    I’m not sure where a good place to start is, though. I know where I started, but I’m not sure that would work for anyone else. I do know that the first book is NOT the place to start. You might try Mort, as it’s the first one that really has a consistent, structural story to it, and it’s also the first Death book.

    Or possibly Going Postal, which introduces a new character, but is also later Pratchett (his books got better as he went along, until the Alzheimer’s began to chip away at him).

    Night Watch, which is one of my favorite books ever, can’t really be appreciated without reading most of the rest of the Guards books (again, I hadn’t read the very first one).

  15. Auraya says:

    I did read the books more or less in order, although I skipped the first two. Those I read later, but they’re definitely not the books to start with.
    Guards!Guards! is the one I most often tell people to start with. As mentioned, they also start the Watch sequence. (Pratchett has several books with recurring characters, occasionally they will show up in books where others are the main characters)

    For the Death sequence, I’d recommend starting with Reaper Man. It’s the second book about Death, but a lot better than Mort. It also gives a decent introduction to the wizards, without having to read the actual Wizard sequence.

    The wizard books are generally about the incompetent wizard Rinzwind getting into trouble and running away. I’d skip those until you’ve read some of the others and are already addicted. Rinzwind first book is The Coulour of Magic, but if you do want to read these, you’re better of starting with Sourcery.

    The Witches books start with Wyrd Sisters. I’m not sure how good a book this is to start with, because I first read it in translation and completely missed a lot of things. I got it when I read the book in English though, so you might like it. This is the book I’ve come to think of as Pratchett does Shakespeare.

    Small Gods and The Truth are more or less standalones, also good places to start.

    And yeah, I’ll admit to crying when I first heard about Pratchett’s death. Hell, I still can’t read some of the tributes without tearing up. And when I read The Shepherd’s Crown, it hit me all over again. That this was the last Discworld book I’d ever again read for the first time. And it’s the perfect one to end the series with. Whatever you do, read this one LAST.

  16. “Life wears us down around the edges. The stress of life and its neces­sities cracks things. We learn to protect ourselves. We learn not to let so much of the world in, because some­times it’s all too much, and we don’t have the resilience we need to survive it. When we’re six, we make best friends easily. When we’re fifty, we don’t. That’s age and expe­rience for you.

    But books are different. We can let books in. We can wrap them up in our hearts. We can approach them as if we’re still young and open. Even so, it’s not as simple. Because we’re not as simple. ”

    You write my books, often ^^ – not every one of your series I can handle in every mood, but they do speak to me, and particularly the Elantra books have become comfort rereads, because as dire as things are, Kaylin always tries her best, even if she fails, and often it is enough and sometimes it is more than enough ^^.

    Get well soon! My best to you and your husband.

  17. Alan says:

    You are our Pratchett. Stop and really internalize that. For every glowing thing you might think to say or write about him, we would say or write about you.

    I love your essalyien works best, and I still want to read the Sigurne short, but even your older work gets reread around my house.

  18. Debbie Solomon says:

    Just checked in on your site to see when the next Elantra book would be out and was touched by your tribute to Sir Terry. I’m also suffering from a cold, post airlineflight, so I can really sympathize. I just read The Shepherd’s Crown, and the death of Granny Weatherwax, hit me as hard as the news of Sir Terry’s passing. Like you, Sam Vimes and the Watch were among my favorite characters. My other favorite was Granny Weatherwax, although Equal Rites is not one of my favorites. Sam Vimes and Granny Weatherwax were uncompromising about doing the right thing, not the popular or safe thing. The world needs people like that to make us all strive to be better. Sir Terry taught us moral lessons, while making us laugh. And of course, DEATH, as a character was a recurring joy. One of the things that writers do, and I’m including you, is to show different sides of an issue and how characters respond in crisis. This helps the readers to clarify their own feelings and it also educates us. So, thank you for your books,

  19. anon says:

    Any news on the Sigurne extracts please?

    And yes, yes, yes Terry Pratchett is wonderful. Just going through a reread of all his books right now. Wonderful. I even like the Colour of Magic and the second book.

  20. Jo Owen says:

    There is an excerpt of Cast in Honor on Harlequin’s (Mira’s) website:-http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=59541

    It isn’t a full chapter and it ends rather abruptly, but it’s still an excerpt :)

  21. Meade says:

    If you search for cast in honor in google books the first six chapters are available to read as a preview, as well as portions of chapters 13 and 14.

  22. Jo Owen says:

    Unfortunately, as I’m in the UK, I am being told by google books.co.uk that there is no preview available. Tried google.com but the link to the book just kicks me back to the uk site. I’ll keep trying and hopefully the chapters may be posted before release date it’s only another month. Only..

  23. Ken Beckman says:

    I just moments ago finished Raising Steam, so decided to check in with my other favorite author to see if there is any news. I’m surprised and delighted that Michelle is a Pratchett fan, it’s great to share a connection and mourn together.
    I want to mention something for those like Michelle and myself that are fans of Sam Vimes. Raising Steam turns into a bit of a buddy story featuring Vimes and the watch alongside Moist, which was very welcome for me.

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