Discover more from Amie Kaufman: Finding North
Finding North: August 2023
First draft pages and a hot pink bus 💕
Note: The recording above is a reading of this newsletter — there’s no different content, and it’s not produced, so you’ll hear the occasional stumble, or sounds of daily life in the background — especially this week! If you’re someone who needs or prefers to hear their news, then I hope it’s helpful. This week’s recording is longer than usual, because it includes me reading seven pages of prose — we’ll be back to ten minutes next month.
Hi there! I’m Amie Kaufman, NYT and internationally bestselling author of The Isles of the Gods, Illuminae, Aurora Rising, These Broken Stars, and many more books besides. This newsletter is the place to learn about my latest releases or events, and to follow along behind the scenes as I find my way through writing, and through life.
Hi, my friends.
A lot of you have joined us since since last month — welcome aboard! I’m home from tour and back in the Aussie winter, at least for now.
Right now I’m focused editing the sequel to The Isles of the Gods, so in this newsletter I’m sharing some old, hand-written notes from drafting Aurora Rising, and reflecting on what I’ve learned along the way.
There’s also a story about a hot pink double-decker bus, and the coziest book recs you can imagine. Let’s get started!
What I’ve Been Up To
In our last issue, I left you in Paris. From there it was a flurry of tour stops around England. I had so many long, meaningful conversations, and met readers who’d come from as far afield as Spain, Germany, Wales and Belgium. It was magical in so many ways, and I’m already scheming to return.
There are endless stories I could tell about the adventures we had in Scotland, Ireland, France and England, but I’m going to share just one. My daughter is four years old, and she’s deeply invested in Barbie, double-decker buses, and anything pink. In fact, her heart’s desire in London was to ride a double-decker bus. We don’t have them in Australia, so for her, this is like riding a dragon.
Well, my friends, we were walking down the street one day, when we saw… this.
I mean, this is the trifecta, right? We had no choice. And it was pulling into a bus stop. We had to act quickly.
“I’ll call you!” I yelled at my husband, and scooped up the kid, and ran to catch it. We made it just as the driver was closing the doors, flagging him down before he pulled out into traffic.
And then we got on board, went up the stairs, and rode a hot pink double-decker bus around London. My daughter kept whispering to herself as she snuggled into me and looked out the window: “I can’t believe it.”
So, let this be your sign. If an opportunity for fun comes your way this week, maybe forget where you’re meant to be and run after it. You can always call someone and figure out where you’re actually meant to be later on, but the bus might not drive by again.
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What I’m Writing
I have a BIG deadline right now, and not a lot of time to get this edit over the line -- so the first thing I'm doing is slowing right down.
When there are a zillion things to do, it's so tempting to go into a flurry of activity. To put in long hours, to declare that sleep is for the weak, to keep on pushing, never letting yourself feel like you've done enough.
Here's the thing: It's not sustainable, it's not good for you, it's zero fun, and it doesn't even work.
If I ran myself into the ground, I'd get something done, but it wouldn't be an edit I'm proud of. So instead I'm slowing down, I'm taking a thoughtful, deliberate approach to each day. I'm prioritising rest and mental breaks.
Ten years and twenty books into my career, this is the thing I've learned above all else: You have to find a way to enjoy the process. Because almost all of it is process.
One of the things I’ve been doing during my breaks is tidying up my office. I’ve been going through notebooks that date back a decade, and in them I’ve found chapter outlines for every book I’ve written — hundreds of pages of hand-scribbled notes.
I can see myself roughing out dialogue, making notes on where I need a visceral detail, reminding myself of a joke or a tension line or a bit of foreshadowing I have running through the book.
Flipping through those pages felt like meeting every version of myself from the last decade, all at once — in the best way possible. It was such a vivid reminder of the work that’s gone into every book. It’s so easy to remember the doubts, or the parts you edited out because they were terrible, or the wrong turns. But this was like encountering all the different layers of my craft as it built — I could see myself learning, and I was reminded of what I’ve gained, over more than twenty novels.
I thought I’d share one page in particular, and show you how the notes ended up translated into actual prose. A warning, though: This section contains HUGE SPOILERS for Aurora Rising and Aurora Burning. If you haven’t read the Aurora Cycle, you should — I’m so proud of it — and I encourage you to scroll down to the What I’m Loving heading, and read this at a later date. Everyone else, let’s get started.
Here’s half a page of notes. It’s for one of the chapters I was drafting, from Aurora’s point of view. The first thing you’ll notice is that Auri is still called Andi at this stage of the book — this was back when we thought the book might be set in the Andromeda system. Cat was also called Sarah at this point — before we realised that Scar and Sar as besties was not a great idea on our part.
I’m going to cut this half page into sections, and show you what each piece turned into. Keep scrolling…
Right, here’s the top. These six lines are going to turn into three whole pages of prose.
Here are the three pages — they’re in a gallery format to keep the newsletter length manageable, but you can zoom in, or if you’d like to read your own version, we’re starting in Chapter 33 of Aurora Rising.
Looking back at the notes: “Prepping for last stand” was shorthand — I knew I’d have to figure out what that looked like, logistically, but evidently was happy to do that as I wrote. Note the “irradiation comment” scrawl off to the right — there I’m reminding myself to bring home a joke that’s been running all book. Fin is famous for being the guy who irradiated the science labs. Finally, that pays off. The characters also discuss stealing the GIA ship — this was actually something we added in later on, to set up for their exit, once we realised we needed it.
Next up we’ve got another three lines — which ends up translating into two whole book pages. I knew what I meant when I scribbled these notes (yes, I still remember!) — that we’d get the shock of seeing what Cat’s eyes looked like now. And as I wrote, I realised I needed to include an escalation of anger, so I had the right ramp up to the epic stuff that was coming next. By “lean in” I didn’t mean she physically leans in. I meant she begins to embrace what she’s becoming. Here are the notes, and then what they turned into…
So we’ve got nine lines of notes so far, that have turned into five pages of book. Next up, we have Auri’s psychic awakening. You see this on our sixth page — and you also see the groundwork for a reveal that will come in book two. Auri is sensing psychic abilities in Scarlett and Tyler because they have a Syldrathi mother — something none of them know yet, that will be revealed in Aurora Burning. But Jay and I knew, and we were hinting early on!
And finally we have this relatively big chunk of handwriting — I knew exactly how I wanted this to feel early on, so I had more notes on it. It was definitely one of those moments I was writing toward — a set piece I was excited about.
And there you have it! A half page of scribbled notes, and seven pages of prose — I hope it’s interesting to see what Past Amie thought would be useful to note along the way, before sitting down to do the hard work of turning it into something readable. Making the notes you see here, and having the ideas required, is honestly as hard as what we think of as “the writing.”
What I’ve Loved Lately
I’ve been reading nonstop lately, and these two beautiful stories stopped me in my tracks. I don’t want to tell you too much about them — going in without expectations is a beautiful, immersive experience. I will say that I found these books gentle, optimistic, thought-provoking, tender-hearted and — to use the word of the moment — delightfully cozy. I wanted to climb inside them and live there.
If you’re an audio listener, then Emmett Grosland’s gorgeous narration elevates them even further — each is just a little over four hours, and listening to them felt like a rest. I can already tell I’ll do so again and again.
News and Events
This month’s newsletter features a giveaway for a copy of Memento, a novella that’s a part of the Illuminae Files. The winner has been emailed — usually I’d announce a name here, but you all have very mysterious email addresses!
I’ll be at the Byron Writers’ Festival from August 11 - 13 — a festival pass allows you entry into all events, and I’d love to see you as I discuss The Isles of the Gods for YA audiences and The World Between Blinks for middle grade readers.
And that’s it for this month — next month I’ll be writing to you from one of my favourite places in the world: Vietnam! I don’t expect I’ll have chased down any hot pink buses, but who knows what else I’ll have to report…