A Month of Writers, Day Eighteen: Elizabeth Bear

I’ve been holding off on airing Elizabeth Bear’s contribution to the Month of Writers feature for the simple and practical fact that her latest book, Dust, officially comes out on December 26, and I wanted all y’all to be able to find it in your bookstores. However, on a recent trip to my local bookstore, I found that it had indeed shown up on the shelves, so: Goody! Now you get some eBear. Also, I get some eBear too, since I snatched one of the copies of Dust for my own. EBear for everyone! I haven’t read it yet, on account I have some of my own writing to finish (harrumph), but one of the nice things about Elizabeth Bear is that I don’t worry whether or not the writing is going to be good, I just wonder how it’s going to be good this time. Because eBear’s good at being good in lots of different ways. It would make me madly jealous if I thought about it.

(Booklist, however, has read it and more than likes it: it gave Dust a starred review and calls it “Extraordinary … exactly the kind of brilliantly detailed, tightly plotted, roller-coaster book she has led her readers to expect.” See, this is what I was saying.)

On her LiveJournal, eBear writes about writing quite a bit, which is why I often recommend her LJ to aspiring writers. For her contribution to A Month of Writers, eBear cracks the toughest literary walnut around: How to write a novel. Pay attention, now; what you learn here could save your life.

ELIZABETH BEAR: The Creative Process, or: How to write a novel.

Find something you would like to create with. This can be with plasticine, papier mache, words, pipe cleaners and sequins, colored pencils, construction paper, popsicle sticks, or other media.

Sit down and fidget with your materials. Build a little hut out of words and popsicle sticks. Call it “Abraham Lincoln’s Log Cabin, No Trademark Infringement Intended.”

Put it on your desk and be proud. Feel refreshed. Show it to your friends.

Six months later, notice it collecting dust. Think, huh, that could be better.

Take it apart. Put it together. Fix the roofline. Use some plasticine for stickum this time. Give it a styrofoam chimney.

Put it back on your desk.

Six months later, add some pipe clearer smoke to the chimney, with the cool wooly pipe cleaners. Call it “Abraham Lincoln’s Log Cabin V. 2.0, No Trademark Infringement Intended.”

Take the pipe cleaner smoke off again. Call it “Abraham Lincoln’s Boyfriend’s Log Cabin, No Trademark Infringement Intended.”

Make bricks for the chimney out of sequins. Pin them on with straight pins.

Color the popsicle sticks in with magic marker. Decide you don’t like it. Start over with fresh popsicle sticks. Call it “Not Your Daddy’s Lincoln Log Cabin, No Trademark Infringement Intended.”

Decide you don’t like that either.

Make little pipe cleaner people and animals and put them around. Act out their soap-opera daily dramas. (Oh, Momma, Billy’s in with the sheep again!) Call it: “When Laura Ingalls Wilder Went Down On The Farm, No Suggestion Of Libelous Intent Intended.”

Try tempera paint this time.

Hmm. Better.

Dab white glue on the chimney sequins with a q-tip because they are too shiny and don’t look like real bricks.

Color in the tempera-painted popsicle sticks with charcoal and chalk, to add shading and texture. Experiment with watercolor.

Collect spruce needles and pine cones. Start gluing the spruce needles around the base of the house as foundation plantings. Call it “My Farm In A Time Of Hard Drought, or: This Is Not The Tempest.” Snicker about it when people ask.

Notice a beetle infestation. Spray. Leave it outside until the smell comes off.

Start shingling the roof with pine cone scales.

Realize they clash with the sequins.

Unpin the sequins. Replace them with glued-on dried navy, kidney, black, and pinto beans. Hey, it’s a fieldstone fireplace. what?

Make a ragged door out of piece of bark. Realize you do not know how to hang it. Lean it up against the side of the house.

Steal the brass knob off the top of the pepper mill for a doorknob. Whistle when your husband asks you if you’ve seen the little bit that goes on top of the pepper thing. Turn the house around to face the wall for a week or two.

Finish shingling the back of the roof. Get some sphagnum moss and tiny silk roses, and go around under the eaves with it.

In the back.

Where nobody will ever see it.

Defend this by saying it was how your grandmother said one should finish a quilt, even the bits on the inside. Well, she didn’t say sphagnum moss, exactly.

Take off all the pine cone scales are try again with a different species.

Hmm. Maybe maple helicopters?

Figure out that you can hinge the door with bent sewing pins and scraps of leather shoelace. It hangs crooked. Put a hook-and-eye latch on the other side to straighten it out. Call it, “My Side Of The Mountain With A Builder’s Permit.”

Spend about a day and a half fiddling with your Real! Working! Door!, making the little pipecleaner people go in and out.

Borrow your brother’s skillsaw. Cut windows. Realize the tempera and charcoal detailing looks faker than fake.

Glaze the windows with hand-split flakes of mica. Put tiny christmas lights around the edges of the windows so they glow from within. Forget to make a hole for the plug.

Borrow the skillsaw again.

Go on vacation with your family. Spend the entire time sitting on the beach fiddling with sand and shells, thinking about patterns.

Come back and add a driftwood tree, and a sea-glass walkway border. Try to figure out how to glue down sand so it doesn’t look terrible.

Ask for a skillsaw for the holidays.

Realize that if you use a THIRD species of pine cone for the roof, you can make siding out of maple helicopter shakes. Spend about five weeks painstakingly applying these by hand.

Realize the result looks like ass, but you finally got the roof right this time.

Take all the maple helicopters off again and use them to make furniture instead, with rose-hip chair cushions.

Realize that you could have just used spray adhesive. Suffer a crisis of faith. Berate yourself as a stupid failure.

Play with the little people and the furniture until you calm down. Get some cat-tail stems. Split them painstakingly in half and cut them to size. Glue them over the popsicle sticks. Now, *that* looks like a cabin. And nobody will ever notice that bit in the back where the overlap is a little rough.

Tuck some sphagnum moss into it, just to be sure.

And a tiny silk rose.

Realize it’s done.

Look at it for a day or two, just to be sure.

Set up all the pipe cleaner people, give them tiny little acorn cap hats and flowerstem walking sticks. Give one a pair of dragonfly wings and another one a feather. Realize that no, the feather goes on this one, instead. Call it “Midnight In The Garden Of The Fairy Hut.”

The best pipe cleaner animal is always the pony. You don’t know why; you just have a knack for ponies.

Love all the little pipe cleaner people and animals so much it’s very hard to do what you have to do next.

Realize that the pine cone scales, in the cold of winter, have wept tiny golden droplets of sap all over the roof, where they catch the light and smell of summer. Realize you never could have got that effect on purpose in a thousand patient years.


Make a tiny, tiny lashed ladder from birch twigs and bark. Run it up under the eaves to the attic window. Secure it with a drop of Krazy Glue.

Hey, it dries clear. Nobody will ever know.


Finally, on a bright cool day in early June, take the whole thing outside, set it on the patio, douse it in lighter fluid and set it on fire. But make it look like an electrical fire, not arson.

Take pictures before and after, and all the while it burns.

Go through and pick out the best ones. Be surprised by the color of the flames. Call it, “Ladder in the woods.”

Hang the pictures in a gallery. Try to look uninterested as you listen to people exclaim, “I really think she should have used sequins for the chimney!” and “Hey, there’s a bit in the back here where the cat-tail stems are messed up” and “You know, the pony is much better than all the other animals,” and “Oh! Look! A tiny silk rose!!!”

Love that last person with all your heart. Love them so much you have to leave the room for a moment to compose yourself. Think, I knew I put that rose there for someone. I just didn’t know at the time that it was you.

Looking at the pictures, realize you have figured out how to do a better job on the chimney after all.

And the next one is going to have a barn. And a second story.

And maybe a pub next door, God willing.

Leave the pictures on the wall of the gallery. Walk away, thinking, “That doesn’t look a thing like the house, really, but I still kind of like it.” Endure a moment of intense melancholy while you think about the pony.

When you go home, rake the cool ashes for the bits of sea glass and the knob to the pepper mill, and save them–cracked and discolored–in an opaque jar on the corner of your desk.

When your husband wanders in and asks what smells like burning, sniff thoughtfully and pretend you don’t notice a thing.

(original entry, plus comments, is here)

14 Comments on “A Month of Writers, Day Eighteen: Elizabeth Bear”

  1. Okay, I have a really really important question.

    When/Where/How do I get more about New Amsterdam and Abagail Irene?

    Thank you.

    PS. In case it wasn’t clear, I love New Amsterdam. Can I have more please? I’ve been good this year! I promise!

  2. Random Michelle–

    Well, I just signed a contract to do another book (a long novella) about Sebastien and Abby Irene for Subterranean, so, um. Sometime in 2008 or early 2009? It’ll be another hardback, and there will be a limited edition with attached chapbook as well.

    I’ll be writing it in January, so stay tuned to my blog for updates!

  3. That completely made me cry. Maybe because I’m ovulating. But also ’cause it is so absolutely beautiful and true.

    It also made me go buy Dust. Thanks, Elizabeth. And thanks, John.

  4. *does some counting*

    So if I’ve been at it for three years now, maybe next year will be my lucky year to finish something! *happy dance*

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