Ah Wonderbook! It seems that I am not even going to be able to wait until I’ve finished you before I talk about you.


My writing has been in transition for quite a while, and thanks to Taos Toolbox, Walter Jon Williams, Lou Anders, and Jerry Schechter, I have begun to be a plan ahead writer. What seems to be my pattern is that I write and plan, and then things sort of readjust themselves in my head into a new plan, sort of a hybrid approach. But I’ve been spending a lot of time in plot and structure, and I’ve appreciated the gifts of knowing where I want a story to end up.

What I’ve been missing lately is a sense of play. I picked up Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, Matt Cheney, and Jeremy Zerfoss, in October, and put it into my stack of to-reads, and kept putting it off. It is a gorgeous book full of the kinds of drawings that attract me to graphic novels like Courtney Crumrin or Hopeless, Maine. As I read, I found academic critiques of style coupled with fresh diagrams and suggestions. At the same time, the book emphasizes a mystical approach to fiction. That is to say, Wonderbook is not without its pragmatic, useful structural ideas. It does say that writing is hard work.

I’m so very tired of writing being hard work. I’m so very tired of talking to writers about how much work we do. So many writers seem to have lost track of the joy that brought them to writing in all of our discussions about why we don’t publish or have agents. Not all of us, no. But I am so glad that Wonderbook also says incredible things like, and I paraphrase, “Write for yourself first,” which is the most liberating thing a writer can do. And “Play. Let your subconscious stay open.” Wonderbook crew, just…thanks for that.


I have been working slowly but steadily on the novel that is now called A Lasting Storm for about a year. I am slogging my way through the middle, which sounds sort of tin to my writer ear right now. Yet, I have been showing up for at least an hour every day, and I’ve usually followed the slog with some Wonderbook, which I’m finding hard to put down. The engagement of me and my subconscious going to work every day did something last night, and when I got to sleep finally at 3:30 am, I had figured out how to tighten the plot and move things around. I realized I need to write Lucy character bits, and then I needed to go through, put notes in the draft, where I will change structure and when events occur, and I need to send Lucy to the Abyss almost immediately after the first act of the book (using My Story Can Beat Up Your Story terminology!). And I realized that I need to go back through and be much more precise with my language, to give it that Klarion feel that I love, and my readers in the past have loved.


It would be great if I could lay all this squarely at the feet of Wonderbook, but that would be a bit of a discredit to myself for showing up and working, and wading my way through the morass of the long dark teatime of the book. But what has helped, and what I credit Wonderbook with is reminding me of the origin of my writing, that I have stories to tell, fun to have, and adventures to experience, and reminding me yet again that this angst, this slow, agonizing finding the story is quite normal.

Oh yes. And to not worry about the publishing thing. But you know me. This year I will be zen writer! The nicest writer you reject! Still, the point is that my art is mine. I’m gonna write this in omniscient third with a bit of a zoom, 3 characters, plot moving forward, full of drama. Hey we all say that. But I think I’ve found my way back into the story, with Wonderbook‘s encouragement.

Like Schechter’s book which will always be open while I’m writing for frame, Wonderbook will become a book I go back to when I feel dry or discouraged about story. Its many articles and helpful words, opinions and playfulness may well help remind me what I want my writing to be.

So, a special shout out to Jeff Vandermeer, Matt Cheney, and Jeremy Zerfoss. Good job, lads. What about a sequel?

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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