It's old wisdom among writers that if your story's boring, there's not enough at stake. Think about Tai in the beginning of Beggar's Rebellion: the only meaning he has in life is helping out Fisher and the other kids, and they get taken away. It drives him to use magic he shouldn't and attack against overwhelming odds because they mean so much to him--they are his reason to live. If he didn't care much about the kids, we wouldn't either. Stakes make for an interesting story.
They also make for hard times when your life is the interesting/high stakes story.
When I started writing books the stakes were pretty low: I wanted to scratch an itch. I kept coming back to this question, in the middle of an intense graduate degree: what if I was working this hard doing something I truly loved? What if I was writing?
The question stuck with me, until I had to follow it off the cliff that was quitting grad school without a PhD. I knew I needed to either drop everything and write, or live with that unfulfilled itch.
That choice was easy, even if life wasn't always, but that was all that was at stake for awhile: making the time to live my dream.
Then the problem became money--my first stories weren't what you'd call page-turners or Hugo-winners. In fact, I don't think I made a single penny the first three years I wrote, and when I did start to, it was just a few dollars here and there. Not enough to live on even if you're sleeping on a bedroll in your friend's laundry room.
So the stakes got higher: I wasn't done writing, but I did need to eke out a living somehow, and writing wasn't doing it. Enter the fruit business, a strange and glorious enterprise that somehow paid the bills and left me time to write.
And for a while, the stakes were low again: I had time, I had money, I had a computer and a million stories in my head. Writing still wasn't making any money, but I was scratching that itch, and loving it.
Don't get me wrong, the stakes were high on other fronts: I met a girl I really liked just as I was starting to think I'd be a bachelor for life, and things moved quickly from love to living together to weddings and children. But the writing life was quiescent.
Until said children entered the picture. Well, only one so far, but we have another one on the way. Suddenly that strange and glorious solution to living my dream, the four intense months of fruit selling per year, started to feel less glorious. Or more interesting, to speak in writer's terms.
That is, it's gotten hard: long-distance with your lover sucks, but you get used to it. You understand it. Long-distance with your one-and-a-half-year-old? It's awful, because I know he doesn't understand it. Daddy's just gone, and who knows if he's coming back?
And I'm putting my son through this because of my itch. An itch that, when scratched right, could easily pay the bills and keep me home with him all year. Maybe in time that baby number two, a little girl we're told, doesn't have to go through it too.
Those are some stakes.
So life has felt... interesting the last few months, working away from home and not finding time to write and missing my family. The stakes have raised: I have another itch now, and I want to scratch both of them: being a successful writer and a good father.
Which is to say, I haven't gotten you the next book yet, but I'm committed to doing it. More than ever now, because like Tai sees he has to win the rebellion to truly save his kids, I get that I have to do better at this writing thing if I'm going to save my kids the confusion of an absent father.
What does that mean? That means I'm going to find a way to write all year, even during fruit season. And I'm going to get you three books a year, or more, while still making them the best they can be.
Because high-stakes lives make interesting stories, but I'll take happy over interesting any day. I can always write the interesting lives, and leave the hard times to my characters.
Sorry, Ella and Tai. This journey's just getting started.
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