Cartographer

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She sits across the table from me, making a few swift scratching movements with a simple Sharpie pen. But somehow those tiny strokes become rivers—mountains—cities. A delicate curve becomes a cliff-lined shore. A three-dimensional city rises from the paper, its three tiers swirling upward.

“So, I’m thinking I should do the city like this,” she says, pointing with the tip of the pen.

“Yes.” I nod. “But smaller. And farther away. Like…”

I start pointing at the page, she sets the pen to the paper and jots a few notes, and we’re off to a different city, another river, another road. Continue reading “Cartographer”

Life Lessons on Horseback

I often say that my whole life is just an extended research trip for my next book. And that’s true. Every experience, every new place—it’s all gotta be remembered and distilled in my memory for whenever I need it. Whenever I have to summon up that feeling and turn it into words on a page.

This is why I carry a tiny notebook around with me all the time. I fill it with everything. What things tasted like. What the air smelled like. How it felt in my blood, my bones. Lines of dialogue that pop into my head. Quickly scrawled maps that are illegible to anyone but me.

Because real fiction comes from real life. That’s why good stories are so powerful. They echo enough of “real” life—the way the world is—while still teasing us with what it could be. To write deep stuff, you have to live deeply. Then you have to think deeply. Your voice as an individual is unique, yes. But you have to make your thoughts fit into words that your readers will be able to feel.

Sometimes, though, I realize I need to research something after I’ve already written it. Continue reading “Life Lessons on Horseback”