Tag Archives: art

Gardners, Architects, and... Excavators?

Gardeners, Architects, and… Excavators?

Last night, Kari-Lise attended a conversation with Erin Morgenstern focused around the launch of her new novel, The Starless Sea. I didn’t go—had too much on my plate—but after chatting with her about it, I wish I had made the time. (Isn’t that always the case?)

Based on Kari-Lise’s recounting, during the conversation, Morgenstern hit on something that I strongly feel more writers need to hear. We’ve heard of the term “Gardeners,” authors who plant their stories as seeds and follow those seeds as they grow, and we’ve heard of the term “Architect,” writers who extensively plan their work and follow a tight outline. Both get mentioned all the time. However, Morgenstern doesn’t see herself as either and chooses instead to call herself an “Excavator.”

What that means is, like an archaeologist, she exhumes the story from a mass of writing. She allows herself to fully explore a narrative and then whittle it down in edits. She finds the story by writing and writing and writing. For example, she mentioned that for her bestselling debut, The Night Circus, she wrote pages and pages describing specific locations in the setting, then forced herself in edits to pare things down to a single page. In her most recent book, The Starless Sea, Morgenstern talked about a character who barely gets mentioned in the final manuscript, but one she had written an entire journal for—it let her know the character to their fullest measure. But, in the end, it didn’t serve the story, so she cut it.

She’s mentioned this before but recently explained her approach in an interview with Rachel Barenbaum for Dead Darlings. (I’d encourage you to read the full article.)


“Sometimes it feels more like excavating than building because it’s all there, I just need to figure out how to translate the space into words. I had this sprawling underground library-esque space in my head and it took me a long time to figure out how to wind a narrative through it. I end up writing a lot more than I’ll ever use just to flesh out the world.”


This really resonated with me—what a refreshing approach to creation! So often, we’re reminded to be efficient. We are told throwing away work is a waste of time. Industry-wide we see everyone declare that your next book is what’s more important. It’s the Facebook mantra of “most fast and break things” but applied to storytelling. The Excavator ignores that dogma and serves only the story. It works against the tenets of hustle culture and allows one to fully realize a place, a person, or an event, and it gives permission to take time and to cut what is unnecessary. We say write for yourself, and this is taking that maxim to its furthest reaches. Working as an Excavator—while slower—allows an author to explore a story to its limits, and in the end (based on the quality of Morgenstern’s work), I can see how it makes for a better book.

Maybe we need more than two schools of approach? Perhaps it’s time to add the Excavators into the conversation as another equally valid strategy in writing.


FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: John Atherton, 1975


My Ongoing Blog Series You Can Read Today

My Ongoing Blog Series You Can Read Today

There’s plenty of writers on the internet who user their blogging platform to dish out advice on writing or focus on the craft. While that is all well and good, I’ve intentionally chosen to do something a little different with my blog. For several years, among the book updates, pleas for reviews, and general news—I’ve been writing several reoccurring series about all manner of things. Fake swearing, my books, plants, riverboats, history, the list is large and full of interesting things.

In this post, I’ve collected all my ongoing series and have provided links so you can peruse the various categories—I even offer starting suggestions. So, if you’re looking for something a bit different than your standard author-blog content, consider starting with one of these…

Wild Territories

Frequency: When they’re ready
Category: Bell Forging Cycle lore
Current Number of posts:
Three
Start with: Faiths and Creeds of Lovat

It’s always fun to explore the backstory of a series. I love extending some of the lore and legend that surrounds my novels. I’m also a fan of PBS and Marty Stouffer’s Wild America. That all came together for Wild Territories, a series about the extended lore of my books. Currently, there’s only a handful of posts, but with Gleam Upon the Waves coming soon, I’ll have many more on the way.


Garden of Horrors

Frequency: Monthly/Bi-monthly
Category: The natural world is gross
Current Number of posts: Nine
Start with: The Clathrus Archeri

Nature is a wild and weird place, in this series, I take a look at the more unusual bits of the earth’s flora. Generally, it’s pretty gross, sometimes it’s disturbing, but it’s always fascinating to see what sort of bizarre adaptations exist. Sometimes that feeling of disgust can come from the most unexpected places.


Raunch Reviews

Frequency: Monthly
Category: Language
Current Number of posts: Sixteen
Start with: Mork & Mindy/Starsiege: Tribes

The English language is a stupid language. It evolves, steals, shifts and absorbs, and it never looks the same across centuries. Slang is often the driver of this drift. Raunch Reviews is a series about slang, particularly, profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not.


Riverboats! Revolution! Magic!

Frequency: Occasional
Category: History
Current Number of posts: Ten
Start with: A Riverboat’s Menu

Researching history for my big ol’ project Coal Belly has given me insight into bits and bobs of history and the details surrounding riverboats—stuff I never learned in school. In these posts, I share my findings, focusing in on the people or technology that made these vessels so unique and sharing a plethora of photos from dusty old archives.


#NoBadMaps

Frequency: Monthly (for 2019, at least)
Category: Cartography/History
Current Number of posts: Nineteen
Start with: #NoBadMaps

This started as a project to help fantasy indie authors develop their own maps for their books and has grown into something much more. Now, eleven brush sets and several tutorials later #NoBadMaps has become something greater, and it’s exciting to see people using these in their work.


Visual Inspiration

Visual Inspiration

Frequency: Occasional
Category: Art
Current Number of posts: Eleven
Start with: Yuri Shwedoff

I’ve been a graphic designer for nearly two decades now; I’m drawn to visual mediums. Often, I come across an artist’s work, be it paintings, concept art, or digital drawings that enliven me creatively. In this series, I share the work of artists who’s work I have found inspiring, perhaps they’ll inspire you as well.


Watching History

Frequency: Occasional
Category: History
Current Number of posts: One
Start with: Watching History 1

When I was a kid, my favorite TV channel was the History Channel. But in recent year, the History Channel has eschewed history in favor of scripted and reality programming. It’s a bummer. Thankfully, the internet has stepped in. There are all sorts of amazing creatives who run YouTube channels with a focus on making history come alive. In here, I share my favorites.


Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Frequency: Yearly
Category: Cosmic Horror Gifts
Current Number of posts: Five
Start with: The 2019 Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

For the last six years, I’ve been assembling a highly-curated list of cosmic horror goodies that are perfect for yourself or the cosmic horror fan in your life. Books, Games, Music, Apparel, Housewares and a whole lot more! Loads of goodies worth checking out around the holidays or… at any time of the year, really.


I’m really proud of the work I’ve been doing. It’s been nice to work on blog posts in between writing sessions. Keeps me on my toes, lets me explore different concepts, and I think it makes my books better. Hopefully, you’ll find something entertaining or eye-opening among this list.

Have a question, comment, or want to drop me a line? Leave a comment below, or visit the Contact K. M. Alexander page for a list of handy ways you can reach out.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Virginia Woolf

The Wreckage of Men

“It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”

Virginia Woolf


Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been quite busy deep in the manuscript mines these past weeks. That said, I have seen progress (yay!), and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter. I’ll have more to share soon.

Brian Eno

Triggers for Experiences

“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. (Roy Ascott’s phrase.) That solves a lot of problems: we don’t have to argue whether photographs are art, or whether performances are art, or whether Carl Andre’s bricks or Andrew Serranos’s piss or Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ are art, because we say, ‘Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen.’ … [W]hat makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you—so the value of the work lies in the degree to which it can help you have the kind of experience that you call art.”

Brian Eno

David Bowie

David Bowie on Stardust

My friend Emily shared this Blank on Blank and, after watching it, I knew I’d need to post it here. Some wonderful and amazing thoughts from David Bowie. I especially like his reasoning around art and audience and the artist’s relationship to their work. Watch it below.

“You should turn around at the end of the day and say I really like that piece of work or that piece of work sucked. Not, was that popular or wasn’t it popular?”

Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Thanks for being one of the good ones.