inasmuch as it concerns Spit and Polish:
Contortions performed upon that endless search for perfection.
- 55,010 wds. long
I'm only up to chapter 3 of the re-type? Really? Really?
That... ain't right. For serious values of "ain't" and "right." Maybe what I'm calling Chapter 2 is really, really long and ought to be divided into two or more chapters. Or maybe I'm just slow.
Well, if so, the "serial publication" aspect isn't going much faster. Got to appreciate these small blessings.
On the Pressures of Serial Publication
- 55,005 wds. long
I think I know a little how Charles Dickens felt. At least insofar as to do with publishing a novel serially.
Today I finally finished the retype of the chapter where Melissa finds the upstairs room of the castle. That's one more chapter safely written, one more ready to be delivered to its audience. Its audience of one.
Both my husband's birthday and our latest anniversary have passed us by, so I'm not finishing the novel retype in time for either of those. And I've given up on using my code from winning NaNoWriMo 2009 for a free proof copy from CreateSpace, because the deadline for that is at the end of this month, and I don't want to do a rush job. Besides, Amazon is pretty much dead to me these days.
So instead, on the evening of our anniversary, I read the prologue and first chapter aloud to an audience of one: the man I've been happily married to for twelve years. Because he's so amazingly supportive of me and my crazy idea to be a writer when I grow up. And because this is his book.
Now I just have to stay at least two or three chapters ahead in the type-in as we continue reading our way through this work-in-progress. This may be the deadline that finally gets me to move! If not, my "editor" is bound to be more forgiving of my lapse than I will be.
Too Euphoric? Just Add BLIZZARD
- 2,832 wds. long
No, that would not be the Dairy Queen ice cream treat. That would be the sort of all-day blizzard that dumps a foot of snow on Boulder and turns any day into a "why bother?" sort of day.
I was feeling fairly chipper, otherwise. More than chipper, in fact. Yesterday, I finally sat down with my much-marked-up copy of "First Breath" and completed work on a thorough revision. The result was 150 words longer, one character shorter, a bit more focused in, and hopefully less confusing at the end. The other result was me tripping along in a euphoric haze of "See? See? I'm a writer! I did writerly things, like writing!"
That evening I relaxed with a long-overdue reread of Margaret Mahy's The Tricksters. Its teenage protagonist is a secret writer, and the story she's writing becomes the vessel for a ghost to embody itself. And... huh. I only realized the overlap between that and "First Breath" just now. Ghost-like creatures needing an external vessel to embody themselves in, I mean. Neat. But last night, what kept catching my attention was the way Mahy's treatment of the magic inherent in the creative act of writing made me even more happy with having seriously written that morning.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that when you write a first draft, you're not stuck with it. You can go back and change it, make it better, make the story grow closer to being the reason you wrote it in the first place. I know this; you know this. Anyone who thinks half a moment knows this. But for me sometimes it takes actually engaging in a serious rewrite to know it, know in the bones and blood and gut and in the happy place. It's the difference between knowing you're capable of something, and then actually doing that something and reveling viscerally in your own capability. (This would be why writing is like rock climbing.)
So: Rawr! I rock! But there's nothing like a morning-after full of so much snow and wind that we can't even take out the trash to remind me not to get carried away in my euphoria. "Yes, very good. You rocked yesterday. But it's today now. Write the next thing."
But but but tell me what you REALLY think...
Thing about nervousness in the face of a story critique is, I don't ever get over it. All I do is get used to suffering it. So last week I told myself, "So what, you're nervous? So what else is new? Send the thing." Then I found out that while the nervousness never gets better, it damn well can get worse. There's "I wrote a story and other people are reading it" nervous, and then there's "I wrote a story that's sort of transgressive and psychosexual and may reflect badly on the state of my sanity" nervous.
An additional large part of my nervousness came from not really knowing what I'd written. I spent two hours last Saturday doing a type-in revision of the story, after which I simply spell-checked it and sent it out. After which my only clear memories of the story were all the things that were potentially bad. Predictably, this was followed by a bout of "Oh my Gods what have I done?" panic.
According to my critique group, I wrote a damn fine story that steers just shy enough of purple prose ("it's more lavender, really") to have some stunningly poetic moments and breaks a lot of conventional rules and gets away with almost all of them.
OK then. *pauses to blush and grin uncontrollably*
The "almost" is where the difficulty of revising it will come from, because I think what I'm trying to do there is worthwhile but needs to be done in a gentler way. In any case, the negative parts of the peer review were all the right kinds of negatives. My story has grown-up problems. Now I gotta be a grown-up and fix them, the sooner to send the story out into the wide world.
Today, however, I am being a lump. I work 5 days a week, and I am deciding this week to trade my Thursday for my Sunday. I drove John to the airport today, after sharing breakfast and several bouldering problems with him. Though it's hard to find anything to complain about in a day that started with rock climbing and green chile, I am now unexpectedly tired. And being all alone on Sunday means a good block of time to write then. So tonight I'm doing nothing much productive.
I've been rereading old blog entries since last night. And laughing at them. I don't know if I'm just a vain nut or what, but damn I've written some funny things in these pages.
And I'm contemplating the new crafting puzzle at Puzzle Pirates. Weaving. I'm still not entirely sure whether I like it. The physics of it are satisfying, but the animations are a little slow. In any case, I may be doing that for a while tonight. Also, my Sage Ocean pirate Nensieuisge ("Nancy Whiskey") bought an Emerald Class Sloop and really needs to take it a-pilly. So that's what I've got on for the night.
Then tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday, there will be work.
From Typewriter To WordPerfect
For two days running now I've rolled out of bed and up to the desk for two hours' solid fiction work. And I've learned at least two things about this process, thing which were true both this morning and yesterday and thus are likely to remain true going forward:
- It is the best way to start a day EVAR.
- By the time I'm done, I reek.
Yesterday was spent at the typewriter finishing the new story, or the new from-the-head draft of old story, depending on how you want to think about it. Today was spent typing the first revision into WordPerfect 5.1. It changed a lot from the one draft to the next. The first part changed tense and, I hope, became more nuanced; the second part incorporated the worldbuilding that went on in my head while I was busy procrastinating. (While it's true that thinking about writing is not writing, it's also true that none of the time thinking about writing is wasted so long as one does, eventually, write.)
Then I sent it off to my critique group. Hitting the SEND button on that email magically unleashed all the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that until now I'd been successfully repressing. "Oh, Gods, talk about purple prose." "Everyone's going to go 'WHAAAAT?' when they get to this part." "Self-indulgent much?" "The use of that word there is a point-of-view problem." "I can't believe I let anyone see this dreck." You know how it goes.
But since the draft is done and it has been emailed out, I get to indulge these feelings. They're negative, sure, but they wash through and over and away. Meanwhile, just relaxing and letting my guard down against those feelings, which I couldn't do before if I wanted to ever finish writing the story, is a relief. Why? Well. There's a character in a book I love who discovers that her magical talent is to suppress magic in her immediate environs; when she arrives in a place with no magic at all, it's like this huge weight lifts off her shoulders. She hadn't realized how draining this involuntary function was until it was able to just stop. It's kind of like that. Negative feelings suck, but constantly patrolling the mental walls against them is exhausting. Until Wednesday, when it's time to listen to what everyone thinks of the story, I get to rest those defense mechanisms.
Which is about all the insight I've got to share this morning. So. Bonus links!
Summary: Because it's hard work. I know my limits, sometimes.
Starting From Scratch
- 54,103 wds. long
Not as drastic as it sounds. The novel wouldn't let me in to edit it, so I've started a brand new Word Perfect document and have begun a re-type.
Unpacking that. Um. So, you know how I said I barely knew where exactly the holes were, let alone what shape they were? And how I was rereading and taking notes as to how to rework scenes such that the holes would kind of fill themselves? Sounds like a good plan, right?
Except I get kind of attached to the draft I'm looking at. For one thing, the current yWriter project is sort of like Baby's First Draft. I kind of want to print it out and wrap it in flannel and stow it in the cedar chest. Second of all, once I've written a draft, the draft is the story. It's incredibly hard to visualize it any other way. Oh, in my head it's been revised and it's all sparkly, but when I get down to actually editing the old draft, it does its best impression of The Platonic Ideal Of This Story and won't let me in.
I'm terribly susceptible to first impressions.
So I'm blending my re-type with my read-through, which you never never never do when your goal is a submittable draft. Good things my goal is merely a complete first draft I'm not embarrassed to let my husband read.
Also, this past week of no blogging doesn't indicate a week of no writing. It indicates a week of "Dang, look at all the spectacular crap I did today! Now I'm tired."
(Hee. That's what Maangchi said at the end of her How To Make Kimchi video. "Kimchi is done! I'm tired." It's so true.)
Epiphanies About Magic Realism
- 566 wds. long
Another revision on "Sidewalks" today. My office away from home was The Barking Dog Cafe in Lyons, because I started the day in Longmont and it seemed convenient to go west.
I should report that Highway 66 is all over construction. Ick.
Anyway... magic realism. Epiphanies. The one about the other. Let's see... It's not an easy genre to talk about. I'm not sure I can claim to write it, not being a Latin American author writing in the '60s. I'm not sure I can safely navigate the difference between "the magical" and "the fantastic". I'm not sure I can adequately rebut the accusation that it's just a fancy code phrase meaning "My fantasy writing is literary."
I'm going to keep using the phrase anyway. It seems the best way to label that which I aspire to write.
If you asked me a year ago to define the term, what it means to me, I'd have said, "Fantasy in which the fantastic element is presented as unremarkable, beside the point, or otherwise just a matter-of-fact part of daily life." Today I think that, as far as descriptions go, that works, but as a prescriptive it's not really enough. So here's what I'd say today--heck, here is what I am saying today.:
Magic realism is fantasy in which the fantastic element is not plot, but setting. When it really succeeds, the fantastic element serves to highlight the magical in the mundane. And the particular fantastic element should be of unique necessity to the story.
I'm not sure I've succeeded yet with "Sidewalks," but with each revision, the story has become more about the characters than the unexplained event; and the event has, I hope, stopped being just an SF/F stand-in for an earthquake or a 9/11. I'm starting to see parallels between the precise effects of that event and the dynamics of the main characters' relationship.
I mean, I think so, anyway. I could be wrong. And maybe I'm just overthinking things? Goodness knows the last thing a story needs is its author doing lit-crit analysis on it in public before it's even published. So... that's probably more than enough from me on this topic at this time. OKTHXBAI
Epiphanies About Flash Fiction
- 500 wds. long
As I mentioned a few entries ago, "Sidewalks" is in rewrites. Which is an awesome thing, because without someone else to push me, I might have left the story alone, never knowing how much better it could be.
And it is better. It started out as a story about a guy whining generically about love lost after having witnessed an extraordinary event. And, well, it still is about that, but the whining is very specific, the love was lost in a particular way, and the extraordinary event is necessary and not easily replaceable by some other extraordinary event.
There are a lot more details in the story. Not necessarily spelled out--that was how I ruined earlier drafts--but they're concrete in my head. They weren't, before. The rewrite request forced me to think about these things, to do a little worldbuilding, for all that the world is our own and the story's only 500 words long.
If you'd asked me last year to tell you how I knew whether a story should be in "short" or "flash" form, I'd have told you, "Short stories are told via a single scene, or a series of scenes. Flash-length stories are implicit in a single moment." I'd still say that today, I think, but putting it that way leaves something important out.
The difference between short stories and flash fiction is in the word-length required to tell them. But a story's word-length is not the same as its size. Short stories and flash fiction stories are exactly the same size as each other, and as novel-length stories, trilogy-length stories, novena-length stories: as big as the world. The characters must be equally real, their worlds equally huge. Word length is simply the frame through which the reader views the story.
Which means there is worldbuilding to be done and characters to be developed, no matter how short the story form is. Developing them fully is necessary before the author can choose which words, which images and thoughts and dialogue, belong inside the picture frame.
Anne Lamont, in Bird by Bird, talks about the one-inch picture frame that sits on her desk and reminds her not to try to tackle the entire task at once. "Just take it bird by bird," she recalls her father telling her overwhelmed brother on the occasion of an overdue homework assignment; similarly, she tells herself to just take her own writing inch by square inch. But that square inch of story remains part of an entire world big enough to live in, big enough to encompass untold thousands of stories.
I've been writing flash fiction for years, but only now do I understood that the flash fiction form is hard.
Live From Second Life: The Written Word Writers' Circle
- 5,737 wds. long
This is precisely what Second Life does best, in my opinion: brings together a virtual group to do the same sort of stuff you might do with a group in real life, only without the travel expenses, while using the tools of the virtual world viewing application to enhance the group experience. That doesn't mean I don't indulge in casino games or spend spare computing cycles with my avatar in camping chairs, mind you; I'm only human and I like free Linden Dollars as much as the next person. But it's the group activity potential that really gets me excited about virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular.
My avatar, Kavella Maa, is sitting in the audience at a place called "The waterstage and writers' circle". (For those unfamiliar, that link will take you to a portal web page which prompts you for permission to launch the Second Life world viewer and teleport you there.) There are cushions on the wooden dockside risers that you can click on to make your avatar sit properly (which usually works as advertised but sometimes leaves you facing off to the left so you have to get up and try again).
On stage is a microphone where open mic participants stand to read their works.
When an author mounts the stage, everyone in the audience receives a notecard (a text file object that you can create, save, keep in your inventory, and copy to others' inventories) with the text of their material on it. The authors read their material aloud; little green icons that mean "sound emanating from this point" appear above their heads, denoting that the voice you hear is indeed coming from the person controlling that avatar. If you use your camera controls to zoom in on the author reading, their voice gets louder, mimicking the effect of moving closer to hear better in a face-to-face group. (You can also set your preferences to modulate volume based on your avatar's position rather than your camera's.)
Meanwhile, the audience can comment as freely as they like on Local Chat, or even greet new arrivals with great verbosity, without fear of interrupting; Local Chat is text-only.
Each Wednesday at 2 PM Pacific Time, this Writers' Circle meets, organized by Jilly Kid of the Writers Guild - that's a group you can join - and MC'd by Hastings Bournemouth. Jilly sends out notices reminding the group about the event--and assigning a fun theme which authors may choose to incorporate into their offerings. This week, the theme is "Teddy Bear Picnic Day". Attendees can click on a sign beside the stage to have a free teddy bear T-shirt dropped into their inventory. (I'm wearing mine, of course.) Among the works written specifically for the theme are "Life's No Picnic," a poem by Aribella Lafleur, who wonders how teddy bears can even have picnics, having tummies full of fluff as they do; and "The Homophobic Hunter and the Un-caring Bear," a poem with sly humor and a wonderful rhyme scheme by... oh, dang it! the author didn't include his avatar name in the notecard! Dude, by-lines are important! We're also hearing non-themed excerpts from longer works by Huckleberry Hax and Arkady Poliatevska (whose profile appears strangely devoid of URL today, or else I'd make that a link too.
This is, of course, an incomplete list of authors who read today. I'm not taking minutes here.
There are flaws, of course. A bit of lag here and there, some authors having mic trouble, the odd audience member promoting themselves to co-presenters by commenting over the voice channel at inappropriate times. Y'know. Flaws happen. But, on the whole, the event and venue make me happy. It's a virtual world app doing what it should, and it's doing it about writing. I get to hear the voices of people whole states or even oceans away from me while I sit comfortably in the Seven Cups Tea House in Denver and work on a short story rewrite*. And I'm thinking about what I might share next week, if I get my butt in gear in time.
*Short story rewrite: Took another look at "Lambing Season" before resubmitting it and was unhappy with the blah-ness of the first few paragraphs. Am reframing the entire story via a top-end rewrite. Am hoping I have not killed the poor thing.
Into the Slush: June 2009
- 403 wds. long
This morning, whilst scribbling today's date in my Morning Pages notebook, I suddenly realized that June in fact only has 30 days in it and not, say, the 42 or so I must have assumed. Plenty of time to get a story ready for its first submission! Or, y'know, not.
But if it's under 500 words long, we're looking at possible, right? And if it's 400 words of a story that's been waiting two years to be submitted, when I originally meant it to go from creation to submission in the space of a week--well, it's about time, right?
Thus ends the editing paralysis surrounding "The Day the Sidewalks Melted".
I went back to the original draft, the one I sent around to friends on the day I first wrote it. Then I read my rewrite, the one John told me died on the page. And he was right. I thought it corrected for clunk? It was the clunk. Comparing the two drafts was like a concise lesson in how less is more: two or three sharp details can do a much better job of painting a picture than can twenty. And when the story is about an event that none of the characters (nor even, quite, the author--shh!) understand, but can only describe by its effects, then two or three sharp details about those effects is what the story needs.
Which isn't even getting into the concision required by the flash format (400 words; each one has to be right), or the different implications of different narrative frames (this is not a scholarly treatise! this is a break-up story).
So I sent it off and soon received Ideomancer's auto-response. I did not seek anyone's comments on the draft, because what I really don't need are another two years of paralysis. John will read it tonight. (I hope he likes it!)
And now I am no longer thinking, every single morning, "I really need to repair and submit 'Sidewalks'". Yay. On to the next thing!