Writing the Book

I promised that I would talk a little about writing The Thorn and the Blossom.

I remember when Stephen first asked me if I would like to work on the project. I was standing outside the Lexington library when my cell phone rang. I sat on one of the walls, talking to him about it. I think we talked for about half an hour. The idea was to write two stories, about 7500 words each, that would fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Both stories had to work as stories, but together they had to form a larger story, a more complete picture. There are two kinds of stories that can work like that: a mystery, and a love story. I chose to write a love story.

It took a while to iron out the logistics. Stephen and I had talked about the project in the fall, and I did not start writing until the winter. By that time I was also trying to revise the chapters of my dissertation. So my schedule went something like this: revise a chapter, write one story, revise another chapter, write the other story. I think each story took me about a month to write.

The first story was relatively easy, although I had to anticipate the second story while I was writing it. But when I got to the second story, well – it had to be fit around the first story. I had to make sure the pieces fit. So I put the first story in the stand by my computer, and I literally wrote the second story while reading the first story, matching them paragraph by paragraph. Of course, you will get different information in each story. Each is, after all, an individual account, from the point of view of a different person, who knows different things and even perceives the sames things differently. And you won’t get the entire story unless you read both versions.

Writing it was a feat of literary engineering.

But you know, even though the story was a technical challenge, I don’t think it reads like one. It reads like a story: easily, naturally. The characters sound like themselves. At least, they do to me. To me, they come alive, and I hope they will for readers as well. And I got something else into the story: my way of looking at the world. I have a sort of intuition, which I’ve had since I was a child, that the world is filled with pattern and order and beauty, although we often can’t see it. But that’s our fault, not the world’s fault. Our human ignorance hides it from us, our mechanical modern lives often obscure it. Most of us can no longer see the incredible beauty of the world. Which means we can’t understand rightly. Disease and death happen of course, but they’re part of it: they do not negate the underlying meaning.

If we look closely, as an artist or a scientist looks, we can begin to see it. For example, these are monarch butterflies:

Did you know that every fall, they fly 2000 miles south to Mexico, using the sun as a guide? But because the sun changes position throughout the day, they must have something, some sort of mechanism that adjusts for the movement of the sun. And it turns out they do, as scientists have discovered. They have a sort of internal clock – located in their antennae. Isn’t that magnificent? If you look closely enough at a butterfly, an ordinary butterfly fluttering from flower to flower in your garden on a summer day, you’ll see that it’s more wonderful than you could possibly have imagined.

That’s my philosophy, my way of looking at the world, and I think it got into the book. I think it gets into my best work. Indeed, I don’t think I write well unless there’s something of my philosophy in the story, the poem. It’s part of what makes for good writing.

It won’t interfere with the story, I promise.

After I had finished both stories, Stephen and I began the editing process. The second story was close to done, but the first story needed a few rounds of editing. I added, altered. I made motivations clearer. The character became both more sympathetic and more troubled. When I was finished, we had two stories of about 10,000 words each. One is slightly shorter than the other, but I think that discrepancy works, it fits thematically.

So that’s it, that’s how I wrote it. I’ve been showing it off today, and I will have a copy at the World Fantasy Convention, so if you want to see it, come find me. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think about it . . .

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4 Responses to Writing the Book

  1. It sounds so fabulous! Congrats!

  2. Mike Allen says:

    I admire your courage in tackling this.

  3. Sofia says:


    But I don’t suppose (she added slyly) you’re going to tell us WHICH story you wrote first?

  4. Emily Gilman says:

    So excited! Also, I thought you’d like to know, a few of us who eat lunch together at the school where I work are planning to do a lunchtime book group, and I’ve already asked to have my choice be for February so we can read The Thorn and the Blossom…. Showed them the book trailer and part of this entry today and they all sounded interested. πŸ™‚

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