inasmuch as it concerns From the Notebook:
Sometimes I get all gutsy-like and post excerpts of the day's work here, rough drafts of stories or even rough drafts in search of a story. Enjoy. And be nice. Emo kitteh iz senstive.
on research, and deadlines
Today I spent an hour and a half of the working day reading through the HowStuffWorks article "How Special Relativity Works". There are 23 pages in that article. It starts with a run-down of the basic building blocks of the space-time continuum, and it winds up taking you through several iterations of the "twin paradox." By the time I was done, I had expended woefully unnecessary brainpower cycles on just keeping myself clear on which twin remained on Earth and which traveled away from Earth for 12 subjective hours at 60% the speed of light (and why they chose to name the stationary twin "Hunter" I will never know), but I was sorta kinda confident with my understanding of the whole concept in general, and also I needed to take a walk.
The upshot of all this research--for a 750-word flash fiction draft I'm thinking will expand to maybe 1500 words, if that--was the opening line,
We now know that the speed of thought is also a constant, acting as a constant across all reference points.
At least I have until February 14 to submit.
Meanwhile, I still haven't submitted anything this week to anywhere at all. Conscious of this, I started yet another story today, because if ever there's a project I have a chance at starting and finishing on the same day, it's a new short-short written to the latest prompt in The First Line's submission guidelines.
(What did Carlos find under a pile of Grandma's shoes? A homing device, of course. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)
It did not get finished today. Which is technically OK, since this one's got a deadline of February 1, but I'd really like to say I submitted something this week. And I'd like to get back to "Other Theories of Relativity." And also "It's For You."
I hear there are authors who work on only one thing until that thing is done. Only then do they start a new thing. One new thing. Which they work on until it is done. I do not understand how this is possible. Sometimes I kinda wish I did.
Quick! To the Roller Rink!
- 38,744 words (if poetry, lines) long
Today's topic: Why Niki Is So Effing Sore Today. (Don't worry -- this story is totally safe for work. All activities were legal and rated G.) It'll probably be a long post, or at least long-ish, so let's go ahead and talk NaNoWriMo briefly.
I'm behind again, but only tolerably so. Returning to my original 2k per day routine will get me to 50K on time. The real question is, what to fill those 2k per day with? I've gotten stuck on Bitsy and Camerie; the old man from the store shows up and drives them to the land of the dead, but what happens there and why it's so important that Bitsy go I'm not sure.
But the thought occured to me that I hadn't yet written a chapter in which someone tries to return an object to the shop. So I started in on that a few days ago. A 20-something computer hacker name of Lucille is waiting around for the shop to appear so she can do just that. She's got illegal access to all sorts of closed circuit monitoring cameras and a fancy battery of programs to automatically spot anomalies in the footage. And she finally gets what she's waiting for. The shop quietly appears during the predawn hours in what had been a blank gray brick wall:
"What do you want to bet," Lucille said to the open air, "that the pawn shop owner will swear this store was here when he moved in?" Or at least that it had been open for years upon years. Lucille knew how these things happened. She'd grown up on the stories of similar miracles. And this was the miracle she'd been waiting for.
She was alone in the room. She got no answer, and she expected none. But her phone did gently vibrate in her right hip pocket. She ignored it, watching the storefront shape itself into existence. She watched the door open. An elderly... person; Lucille could not hazard a guess towards the person's sex... stepped outside with a broom and a watering can. She, or he, calmly watered the flower box. Inside, anonymous green shoots were pushing their way toward the sky. She set the watering can down on the corner of the flower box then set about sweeping the stoop and the sidewalk. There was a stoop now; Lucille cursed herself for not noticing this small transformation. Yes, the person with the broom had to step down, sweeping first the top cement step then the next and then the next. Then they swept the sidewalk with brusque, practiced strokes that said I don't much care where the dust goes so long as it settles somewhere else.
Only once the woman, or man, had gone back inside, only once Lucille were satisfied that no further changes were forthcoming, did Lucille take her phone out and look at the message that had arrived. Anomaly: Camera 62, 04:16 AM. "No shit, Sherlock," Lucille said. Then she flipped the phone open and made a call.
"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, it's happened. Well, that's for me to know, isn't it? OK, fine, yes, just messing with you. Four-fifteen Davinger Street, right next door to the pawn shop. Yes, I know. Yes. That's the point, isn't it? It wasn't going to be like another frikkin' J. C. Penny's, was it? Right. Put on your wakey face and meet me there."
Lucille snapped the phone closed and held it to her cheek for a moment, thinking hard. Then she slipped it into her right hip pocket. From her left, she drew a small blue ring box. (Her pockets were huge. She liked cargo pants for their capacity.) She flipped open the box and gazed at the ring. It was inlaid all round with a pattern reminiscent of wind currents or perhaps ghosts passing down an empty byway.
"This is for you, Elizabeth," she murmured.
Then she put on her coat and left that place, locking it up behind her as she went.
I wrote that Tuesday. By today, Lucille had become part of a small cabal of people who have all lost family to the shop's questionable merchandise, and the plan is possibly to return the objects all at once together with a little bit of exploding lagniappe tacked on. Maybe. In any case, "Elizabeth" is Bitsy. Whether Camerie is still in the ring, I don't know.
Yesterday's writing introduced Ben Willingham, Martha's father. (Martha was the gal in the first chapter, the one who bought the vampire dress.) Yesterday's writing happened at the Baker Street Pub on 28th Street. And I got a bit of a wild hair. I decide I would rollerskate there. All 1.4 miles of the way.
Like I said on Twitter, this was probably my first time in rollerskates since well before the kids online started deriving terms like "lollerskates" and "lolrus" from the original acronym for laugh out loud. (I suspect "LOL" was already a thing when I last circumnavigated a rollerskating rink, but that the LOLcats phenomenon hadn't yet taken off. The original Happy Cat had not yet begun requesting Cheezburger.) I've ice-skated since, what with Boulder being possessed of a fine seasonal ice rink, but it's been a long while since I had wheels on my feet.
What brought on this sudden nostalgic wild hair? Well, a few weeks ago I got introduced to roller derby.
As you know (Bob), I've been following Havi's blog The Fluent Self. Havi Brooks is one of the most compassionate writers I've ever read on those subjects that bring out the self-loathing in me: procrastination, avoidance, the inability to "just let it go," and so forth. She is on a mission to eradicate, or at least reduce, that toxic societal tendency to find ways to blame people for their own suffering. I took her telecourse "The Art of Embarking" and it was pretty damn magical.
And then I read that she would be in Boulder. Very soon! For the Divide and Conquer Roller Derby Championships. Because she sponsors a roller derby team. So she was going to take the opportunity to teach a Shiva Nata workshop in Boulder.
I cannot explain Shiva Nata better than Havi herself, so go read the "sponsors a roller derby team" link and let her have her say.
It fell off my radar, and by the time I remembered it, it was all sold out. But I emailed myself onto the waiting list, and within hours a spot opened up. So on Thursday the 10th I walked down 30th Street to the Alchemy of Movement dance studio and spent two hours laughing, flailing, laughing some more, and feeling my brain go ping.
Really, that workshop deserves its own post, and this post ain't it. This post is about me getting inspired to dig my skates out of the closet. So. Actually meeting Havi for the first time and then spending two hours deconstructing patterns for their individual parts and putting the parts back together in interesting ways -- that all had an effect. Mainly the effect was to make my brain go "Why not?" at the least provocation. (It also had my brain completely overthinking the lyrics to the sea shanty Havi taught us in the last hour of the workshop. "Who are my 'rolling kings' and what are they 'heaving away' at?" Because that's what Shiva Nata followed by a 15-minute walk does. "Hot buttered epiphanies!" Indeed.)
So when Havi suggested we come out the next day and root for the Rose City Rollers, indeed, my brain went, "Why not?"
Which is how I ended up on a bus to the 1st Bank Center (formerly the Broomfield Event Center) for 2:00 PM on Friday, November 11th.
I watched the first three of the four bouts scheduled that day. It was awesome. I'd never seen roller derby before. I know this much about it: it involved women on skates, it involved physical contact, and, if Jim Croce was to be trusted, it involved an asthetic skewed less toward lingerie and more towards "built like a 'frigerator with a head." Apparently I was wrong in thinking lingerie would be entirely uninvolved; many participants wear fishnet stockings. But other than the occasional mention of a product for keeping your hiney shiny (what is this I don't even), the play-by-play announcers made no mention of body parts except when describing whose elbow slammed into whose side and who got a forearm penalty and who had just demonstrated phenomennal agility on their feet.
By the time the Rose City Rollers came out to play, Havi had invited me via Twitter to come find her, so I got to root for her team right alongside her and pester her with my newbie questions. "So, how exactly does one score points?" "What does the stripe on that one gal's helmet mean?" "What's up with the lines on the ground?" She was exceedingly patient. She was also totally rocking the purple wig and rainbow boa constrictor plushie.
Watching roller derby also had the effect of sending me on a trip down memory lane. Anyone remember the roller rink Phil's Big 8 in Metairie? Right under the clover-leaf ramp from Causeway onto Jefferson Highway? I went to so very many birthday parties there. I participated in all the floor games and won my share of free Cokes off the two-lap races. For the longest time, I thought the J. Geils Band song was called "Free Skate" because the DJ so often played it upon reopening the floor. During the free skates, I would zip through the crowd, zig left, zag right, and imagine myself in some competitive event in which I'd have to take down my opponents by clashing my wheels with theirs.
And there were these skates in my closet that I hadn't worn for at least a decade. Well... why not?
(I mentioned to Havi, "Watching this makes me think, 'Dude, I could do that!'" She said, "You totally should!" Then she introduced me to Juno, who was sitting next to her on her other side, and Juno introduced me to the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls Derby Days. As soon as NaNoWriMo is over, I am so there. My roller derby name will be "Fleur de Beast." Mwahaha.)
So this is why yesterday I got the bright idea to put on my skates. For, as I say, the first time in more than a decade. And to attempt to skate the 1.4 miles from my house to the Baker Street Pub. I was unreasonably optimistic.
I had this vision of me whizzing down 30th in the bike lane, texting to Twitter as I went: "Hee. I'm on my lollerskates. :)" NOT HARDLY. Being a decade out of practice doesn't just mean my endurance was no longer up to speed. My balance was also out of whack. It didn't help that I'd probably never skated with a backpack on before. There was no question of doing anything with my cell phone while skating. I windmilled and jerked and whoopsied my way down 30th, falling down at least three times and acquiring a gorgeous pre-adolescent-style skinned knee on the way, before putting my shoes back on at maybe the half mile point. It was a disappointing experience. I walked the rest of the way to the write-in in a bit of a funk.
But I couldn't help but notice that the newer sidewalk that starts around the big Barnes & Noble at 30th and Pearl and continues on past Walnut was so very wide and smooth...
On my way back home, I sat down on a parking spot bump in front of Karlequin's Game Knight and I put my skates back on. And I kept them on all the way home from there. I didn't fall down again, either.
It's starting to come back to me.
But that's why Niki's really, really sore today. Ow.
Days Thirteen Through Seventeen: Nine Does Not Equal Nine
- 28,437 words (if poetry, lines) long
Been continuing along on the novel at an average sort of pace. Haven't done any more multi-thousand-word heroics since Saturday's 5K, but I've kept my stats graph right on the diagonal line. See for yourself!
(Note: It would appear that the current incarnation of the NaNoWriMo website uses one's novel title as a building block of one's stats URL. Thus: NaNoWriMo.org/[2-letter Language Code]/participants/[Username]/novels/[Novel Title]/stats. So when I finally come up with a better title, that URL might change. Unlike here at actually writing blog, where each work in progress gets its own unchanging 8-letter code, and changes to titles simply cause confusion on earlier blog posts where I refer in the text to the crappy working title but the blue word-count block shows the sparkly new right title, which may yet change again in some future time and cause more confusion. AND SO FORTH.)
I'm still working on Chapter 4, otherwise known as Bitsy and Her Sister's Ghost. Also, I've begun reading the archives of Mimi Smartypants. This is a blog full of the snark. It makes me chortle. But it also makes me feel kind of stupid. See, Mimi often talks about her daughter Nora, and Nora at eight sounds a lot more sophisticated than the voice I've given Bitsy to talk about her ninth birthday party in.
(Erm. So. You click on that link, and then you scroll past Mimi's gynecological musings -- hee! socks -- and finally you get to the Nora bit at #9 and following.)
It's not that I don't remember what it was like to be eight. I just forget which memories went with which number of years old. Ask me about third grade and I will reel off all sorts of memories. I will tell you what games we played at recess, who was in my home room, who I had a crush on, what books I read in the library, what field trips we took, what I did in the afternoons, and what kind of fights I had with my parents. I'll tell you about the cold fusion exhibit we got all fruitlessly exited about. I'll tell you about schmoozing my way into a Haley's Comet camping trip and it being too overcast to see the actual comet. (That might have been fourth grade rather than third. Same home room though.) I'll probably also tell you, because I have no freakin' filters, all sorts of other things I remember doing that were so stupid and embarrassing that when I think of them today I start humming reflexively as a sort of mental LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU. But ask me about being eight years old, and before I tell you all that stuff, I'll have to go, "Wait. When was that? Let's see... eight minus five is... Oh! I was in 3rd grade. That was the year that..." Only then can the nostalgic brain dump from 1984 commence.
And you will undoubtedly smile in a pained sort of way and look for a good excuse to exit the conversation before I really got going.
All this is just to say, I know I've written Bitsy too young. But I don't realize it on autopilot. I wanted the point of view of a small, scared, unsophisticated child, and I picked an arbitrary single digit. Which turned out to be the wrong digit. Only now I've gotten attached both to Bitsy's voice and to all sorts of things that depend on nine being the right digit after all. Crap.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do to resolve this conflict, but I know when I'm going do it: Not in November. First draft, peeps. First draft.
"But even though that monster let her through, she ran into more monsters and every single one of them wanted something. The lady gave away her pretty robes and her sparkly dancing shoes and her beauty and her hair and her voice and everything. Now she was nobody. That's what it takes to go into the land of the dead. You have to stop being your alive self."
Bitsy felt cold and all numb with scared. She knew now that Camerie was taking her to the land of the dead. Camerie had to go. She'd been a ghost for more than nine years, and ghosts have to go away sooner or later. Being in Bitsy's body didn't matter -- it just meant Camerie would walk there instead of blow away. Bitsy didn't want Camerie to go there. Bitsy really didn't want to go there herself. Bitsy didn't want to stop being Bitsy.
"Finally the lady who used to be a queen ended up in front of the throne of the queen of the dead. That was her sister. But the alive queen had given away her crown and her clothes and her face and her self and everything. So the dead queen didn't recognize her. She just said, 'Someone living has come to visit me. And I'm hungry!' Dead people are always hungry. 'So hang this person on a hook and we'll eat her up!' So that's what the court of the dead did. They tapped the living queen on her head, and she wasn't alive anymore. Then they hung her up on a hook in a cold meat locker. Then they got ready to carve her up and eat her."
Bitsy couldn't keep quiet anymore. Is that what's going to happen to me when we get to the land of the dead?
"Don't be stupid. We're not going to the land of the dead."
Then where are we going?
Camerie got mad again. "Don't ask that! Stop asking questions! Shut up!" She started running again.
Day Eight: Having Skipped Days Six and Seven
- 11,842 words (if poetry, lines) long
I spent most of the weekend fighting with a mild but obnoxious intestinal bug, with the result that I've eaten very little in the past four days and, owing perhaps to the dearth of energy that results from eating about half a meal per day, written even less. On the 6th and 7th of November, in fact, I wrote precisely nothing. Argh, damn, and blast. But today I wrote more than 2,000 words. If I keep that up daily, I'll be caught up by the 15th.
THIS JUST IN: Make that just over 3,000 words. Because I just got challenged to a word sprint, and one can't exactly take that lying down.
As I've enthused to everyone within earshot, the Boulder Public Library has given us Wrimos a dedicated space three times a week through the month of November. So I've been there quite a bit since NaNoWriMo started. This not only makes 2K-word days more likely, but also results in my returning home with library books more often. I mean, they keep putting interesting books in various face-out displays! This month I've taken home John Connolly's The Gates, Gregory Maguire's Out of Oz, Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw, and, today, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's retold fairy tale anthology Black Swan, White Raven.
(Ah, John Connolly. One of these days I must rant about John Connolly. Such a clever, satisfying narrative voice, but once in a while such strange and harmful social ideas that can't quite be passed off as "This book takes place in the 1940s." Mostly I'm troubled by that bit in The Book of Lost Things where the omniscient narrator tells us about the consequences of learning about sex at too young an age, and what this implies Connolly believes about A) cultures where there's less barriers to kids witnessing their parents' intmacy, and B) abuse survivors.)
Anyway, the novel crawls onward. You may laugh at the word "crawl" after the today's word count, but I assure you that's what it feels like. Still, I did progress, thanks to a couple of random shots of inspiration in my daily life.
Filed under "wildly omnivorous," there was that guy at the Baker Street Pub on Sunday. My usual brunch group was gathering at a booth with a good view of the Saints/Buccaneers game, when we noticed one member of the staff circumambulating with an odd, slow, deliberate step and a strangely spooky look on his face. I supposed he was waiting for tables to bus, but in the meantime he was... pacing? Practicing for the next zombie crawl? Doing walking meditation while getting into character as Evil Overlord's Minion #2?
In my novel, he is waiting for a signal from... well, I'm not sure yet. Maybe the mothership. Maybe his cybernetic body's manufacturer. Maybe Dracula. In any case, it's all one with the interdimensional bats.
And filed under "yet another magical item," there's this tweet:
Quote of the day: "Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosey, doesn't try it on." –Billy Connolly
Clearly the next chapter-story's magical item purchased from the magical shop will be a tea cozy. But of course I needed to set up my character such that he would be left alone with it.
"Hey, thanks for having me over, Linda," the man said. He was pacing up and down the ample kitchen, around and around the large food prep island that was itself bigger than most people's dining room tables. He was obviously ill-at-ease, searching for something to say.
The woman he was addressing smiled a comfortable smile. She was in her own home, after all. She was the one calling the shots. "My pleasure, dear. You're new in the neighborhood and in need of introductions. It would be an act of sheer, unmitigated rudeness to leave you out in the cold."
It was July, and Linda's central air conditioning unit was going full blast. If anything, she'd invited him into the cold, not extracted him from it. But the man, whose name was Hank, refrained from correcting her metaphor. He shifted an electric can opener from its stance towards the back of the counter and brought it forward, opened and re-closed a floating cabinet, moved magnets around on the fridge. He was aware that this was rude behavior for a guest only newly invited into a stranger's home (and face it, everyone was a stranger these days, Linda and her neighbors only more so than most), but he couldn't stop himself. He'd always been burdened by nervous tics and fidgets.
He was spared having to think of something else to say when the front door opened without even a knock. "Yodel!" called out a distinctly non-yodeling voice. "Anyone home?"
"Francis!" Linda dropped the knife amongst the finely sliced celery on the cutting board and sprinted for the door. Her path took her counter-clockwise around the gloriously large refrigerator (with its double doors and ice maker) and out of sight. Hank could hear her pleased squeals reverberate off the low foyer ceiling. "I was hoping you'd make it! How was Spain? Didn't you just get in this morning?"
"Oh, tut. I can wander from my bed to here as easily as to my own kitchen, and this way I don't have to cook. Spain was wonderful. Full of sun and beaches and Spaniards. But it's good to be home."
Hank's inappropriate explorations found him the cabinet with the large tumblers at last, and he took one down and tried out the ice maker. Then he opened the fridge, found a pitcher of something that looked like iced tea. Linda had told him to make himself at home, after all. Maybe he'd pour glasses for everyone; wasn't that how one made friends? By making oneself useful? He was out of practice.
It took about 1,500 words to introduce the tea cosy, and another 750 or so to get Hank to the point of putting it on his head.
Day Five: This Is Why I Did 4 days of 2K/Day
- 8,823 words (if poetry, lines) long
Bleeaaarrrgh. I'm tired, I was sick, I only got some 900 words done today, here, have an excerpt.
Immediately she had a dilemma. The amazingly tiny mini-laptop didn't appear to be large enough along any axis to admit a CD. Perhaps it needed an external drive? Maggie was on the verge of calling the clerk for help when her fingers tripped a release switch and the computer extracted what was unmistakeably a disk drive. It was pretty skeletal, for sure, but it was a CD-ROM drive for all that. She snapped the disk onto the flat spindle, then, doubtfully, pressed the button that had released it in the first place.
The CD-ROM drive retracted into the computer's body with a jerky motion. Maggie watched, expecting the drive shelf to stop at any moment. Once half the disk was inside, that was surely enough for the drive to read the disk, right? But the disk shelf kept on going until it had retracted completely. The outside of the computer was smooth and the disk had entirely disappeared, without even the faintest sound of disk destruction, into a space that was patently too small for it.
Maggie stuck around to install and run as many of the OEM disks that she thought she'd have use for, and all the programs ran flawlessly. But it was the impossible insertion of that first disk that decided her. She had to have this machine.
Day Four: Wildy Omnivorous
- 7,919 words (if poetry, lines) long
So today it happened: I simply could not push forward with the plot line from the previous three days. After the end of yesterday's scene, I had absolutely no idea what would happen next. And any new conversations with the shop keeper would seem repetitive. So I skipped over to something else, like I've been threatening too.
There's a thread in the Boulder Regional Forum where we're talking about the dilemma, for some of us inevitable, that arises when we lose confidence in our stories and want to just start fresh with a brand new novel plot. Different people's responses range from "Don't be afraid to start over, but don't erase your word count back to zero" and "Push through, no matter how much you've come to hate the plot, if only so you can have the satisfaction of deleting the entire thing on December 1." As for me, I've given myself a plot structure that allows me to start over at any time and simply call it a new chapter. Totally stuck on the vampire dress plot? Start a new chapter about a new magic item.
What magic item? Dunno. Let's pull up my dream journal and find out.
5/2/2011: I get a call back from PC Express about my Compaq Aero telling me to just buy a new computer. "Well, I did; I just want to keep this old computer running." The man on the phone, who is now standing before me on a balcony patio, doesn't really understand this, and in fact actively disapproves. I exasperate him.
Oh, well, then. That's easy. The next chapter should be about a laptop.
The year was 2002 and Maggie was in the market for a new computer. One purchase later she'd still be in the market, but it's not like you can see a lemon sitting on your horizon like a sour sunrise. Hindsight, as they say, is twenty-twenty. Foresight is more like twenty-eighty-five.
This being November, it is not the time to berate myself for coming up with yet another protagonist name that starts with "M". Nor is it time to interrogate whether 2002 is really the year I want to set Maggie's chapter in. This is the time to just plain output. If the stupid creeps in, so what? The stupid spill on aisle four can wait until after November to be cleaned up.
But I did more than just start a new chapter. I gave myself permission to be wildly omnivorous.
Last night -- or rather, more to the point, this morning, at the unholy hour of 3:30 AM, I woke up. The cats weren't being loud or unduly active, John wasn't snoring or thrashing, no cars on the street had unleashed the full fury of their alarm systems. No. I woke up because my back was killing me. Have you ever been in so much pain that you wanted to scream, but you were afraid that if you did scream, you wouldn't be able to stop? Well, this wasn't quite that bad. I've been that bad, and this wasn't it. But I could see that place from the place 3:30 found me at. The rest of the "night" was a blur of trying to sleep, failing to find a compatible position, visiting the bathroom for a glass of water and a pee, climbing back into bed, and whimpering a lot.
And somewhere during those long uncomfortable pre-dawn hours, I was close enough to sleep to have a half-dream involving a bat fluttering around between the bathroom and the closet. But I wasn't asleep, not really. I was awake enough to think, "This hallucination has got to be worth at least 500 words."
So at tonight's write-in, I started not with the computer shop scene but rather with the description of the dreamed bat sighting. Did it have anything to do with the novel so far? Not that I could see. But it was writing, which is a good in and of itself. And it may yet tie in to the main plot. Better to write it down than to let it fade just because I can't justify putting it in the novel. So I just created a new chapter file, called it "Stuff Without a Home," created a new scene file, called it "The Bat," and I wrote about the bat.
It was more than 500 words, as it turns out, and it involved the suspicion of an interdimensional portal where the bat got in and was trying to get out again, the way a sparrow flies in a window and then has trouble finding its way out again. Also, another new scene file in which I described my all-over bleargh feeling (the sore back turned out to be part of me coming down with that sort of cold that manifests as fever symptoms minus the actual fever, as it was later joined by skin sensitivity and hot flashes) connected the malady with the character's early warning supernatural defense system. Yeah, this could definitely be part of the novel. Or some other novel.
And only then did I start Chapter 2: The Bit About The Computer.
But this store was even more untidy, even less antiseptic than that. Take the clutter of a pack-rat computer nerd, then add several boxes more of equipment from perhaps 1995 and earlier, and replace the blue nubbly carpet with autumn-leaf shag, and give the walls some off-white streakage that looked rather like the roof had sprung leaks the owners would prefer to just ignore, and you'd get something like this. Also there was a closet door with a menacing look to it, as though opening it might lead to a darkened labyrinth of 1960s card-reading behemoths that were willing and able to chew up and spit out today's spoiled computer users.
It was pretty dark in the store, too. The owner appeared to rely entirely on daylight through the storefront windows, allowing him or her to save money on not installing overheads. The ceiling was made of dingy plaster squares, some of which had unevenly cut edges and seemed capable of falling through the steel laticework at inopportune times of their own choosing.
Maggie soldiered on, determined to give her dollar to the local economy. Besides, some of those boxes looked fascinating. In no time at all she found herself forgetting why she'd come in. The new laptop she needed for her college computer science classes and word processing needs fell off the back of her mind while rare and no longer produced hardware called to her in the siren voices that live at the intersection of antique and electronic. Eventually a shop clerk interrupted her. She was working her way slowly through to the bottom of a cardboard box of 1990s home-use modems, and she was in the process of extracting a 300-baud monstrosity for closer inspection, when the voice at her ear said, "Looking for something in particular?"
The voice was harsh, scrapy, the exact opposite sort of voice as those that could be "velvet" or "crooning," and it startled her into abrubptly yanking at the modem. A corner of it tore the final blow into the aging cardboard, which had probably once been left in the path of the aforementioned roof leaks. The box's side sagged and blew out, spilling outdated hardware across the counter. Only by shifting quickly to her right and blocking the avalanch with her chest did Maggie prevent the modems from taking a long drop to the shag carpeting.
Day Three: Friends Don't Let Friends Wear Vampire Dresses
- 6,060 words (if poetry, lines) long
So I'm auditioning an Idea. In my head. An Idea about how this novel is going to be structured. I think each chapter will be a different story, maybe a fairy tale retelling or maybe not, in which a purchase from the magic shop sparks adventure and disaster and heroism and tragedy. And each will also feature a conversation between the shop keeper and someone who's tracked her down (or him, or otherwise; gender is as fluid as species, and needs to be, for a shop keeper who can open shop doors on any world) and wants to know about her (or his, etc.) role in all this.
And I'm thinking that, like Dream of the Endless through the long narrative of The Sandman, the shop keeper's idea of her (we'll say "her" for convenience's sake) responsibilities toward her customers and her agency in their stories will subtly change over her millenia. But she doesn't realize it. As far as she's concerned, everything she tells each chapter's interrogator is true and has been true throughout her career.
Thing is, if I want this novel to ultimately be about her, it can't be because some THING happened to suddenly thrust her front and center into a story. She's been doing this magic shop thing for uncounted years. She's practically a deity. What aspect of the vampire dress story could possibly be special enough to spur her into sudden action? It makes more sense for me that her urge to assert her own will over story events is an urge that grows on her gradually over many, many hundreds of thousands of years.
In trying out that structural Idea, I'm free to keep noodling along the story of the vampire dress. Because I need to see that chapter through, right? And in this chapter, the shop keeper sends two people after Martha to try to stave off disaster. One is Cathy, one of the three young women Martha was simultaneously envious of and shamed by in the shop before she tried on the dress. Cathy gets the spotlight for today's excerpt. She's wearing an item of clothing that the shop keeper gave her. It's also enchanted, but I'm not sure in what way. It allows her to see through the glamour that the vampire dress casts, that's for certain, but I'm still figuring out the rest.
The second person the shop keeper sends is her interrogator -- yesterday's "you" character. That whole bit about her words not being a free gift? Well. Her words also were part of her merchandise, also a magical item. Again, I'm not sure how that all fits in, but I like the idea that anything you take with you out that shop's door has the power to direct Story.
"And that gorgeous collar you're wearing?" Rachel stabbed an enthusiastic finger at Cathy's throat, oblivious to the way her friend pulled back sharply from the weapon-like digit, tipped as it was with a long, sharp, red-hued nail. Rachel had always been fastidious about her nails. "It matches perfectly, all old-fashioned and stuff. Did your cousin really wear that, too?"
"It's so elegant," put in Jacqueline.
Cathy blushed and admitted that it had been a gift, and that she was indeed lucky that it matched the dress, but then black lace is black lace when you get right down to it. She fidgeted with the single black teardrop hanging from the choker's center.
"Oh, look--" Jacqueline interrupted Cathy's stammerings and pointed toward the entrance. "It's Mr. Willingham. Oh, that's so sad -- you heard about him right?"
"Is that him?" Cathy recalled the newspaper item covering the protests in Northside. "He's the one who's daughter went missing?"
"Yeah, that's him. Martha Willingham. She was just two years behind our class at Withervine. Classmates saw her leaving campus and heard her say to a friend she was going to Old Town. No one saw her since." Jacqueline continued with the unnecessary details, recounting the news story they'd all read in a melodramatic voice, clearly relishing the tragedy. Cathy thought her enjoyment in poor taste.
Rachel sniffed. "What's he doing here, then? He's so distraught over his daughter he's got to organize half of the Withervine neighborhood to protest, what's he doing at a party?"
"Maybe he hopes she'll turn up here," said Cathy. She wasn't sure what to think of the whole thing, really, but Rachel was always so judgmental. Cathy couldn't help jumping to the defense of anyone Rachel started ranting about. It was an unthinking reflex, and it sometimes got her into trouble, especially when Rachel actually had the right of it. But it was hard to let Rachel's condemnations go unanswered. "Or maybe he's coming to realize she's gone for good, like the police have, and he's trying to cheer himself up. If I'd lost a daughter, and some bigwig was offering me a chance to drink myself into oblivion on their dime, I'd take it."
"You wouldn't." Jacqueline laughed. "Have you ever been drunk?"
Cathy admitted she hadn't. "But I've also never lost a child under mysterious circumstances, either."
Day Two: Noodling Around Behind the Check-out Counter
- 3,798 words (if poetry, lines) long
Did I mention I have no idea where this year's novel draft is going? Also I'm having acute attacks of "Why am I writing yet another new first draft? Why am I not seriously editing an existing draft? Why am I not trying to get a book published yet?"
- Because it's November.
- Because it's November.
- Because ... I've wasted a lot of non-Novembers up to now.
The question of wasting no more non-Novembers will have to wait until December. For now... it's November. And I have this story to create out of pure nothingness.
So I'm trying to take the advice I am preparing to give to the whole Boulder region come Week 2: When in doubt as to which option to choose, choose them both. Write the scene both ways. Write continuations to both scenes. All the words count toward your 50K, and they also (by some mysterious alchemical process) count toward your figuring things out. Because, as I discovered last year, you don't know what you're going to write until you've written it and read it.
So since I didn't know whether to continue with the vampire dress storyline or cut out to the shop keeper telling her story, I did both. And I suppose tomorrow it'll be continuing the vampire dress plot or starting a new magic-item-leads-to-adventure/disaster plot. Depends on what's in my head at that time.
Here's the shop keeper on choices, responsibility, and free will, and at some tiresome length too:
Believe me when I tell you there is nothing I could have done. And don't you tut-tut at me like that -- I'm far too old to put up with such clucking from my own parents, let alone random people who walk into my shop. And, trust me, you've got nothing on my father. At least, I think so. It's been so long; my memories of home and hearth are foggy. I think I had a father. Once. In any case, if I did have, you weren't in his league.
But no, listen. I am under certain constraints. Anyone who can pay my price may buy what they will; I am not allowed to interfere. I cannot interfere. The thing about stories is, characters have to have agency, right? What's the use of a story in which no one has a choice and no one stands a chance? Even you, even you have a choice. You paid my price, and so you get my words. Did you think those were for sale? No. Everything has a price tag, everything is stamped with its particular UPC. Trust me, you can pay it. And you want to. Look, don't worry about it -- it will become clear to you later. You will have no regrets. Well, I wouldn't, were I you.
But that's the paradox, isn't it? In order to allow His creations free will, God, Who can do anything, cannot choose what we would have Him choose. If it makes you feel better, perhaps it is better said that He must not. And I am no God. I am less powerful. The choices I cannot make -- to refuse the sale, to hide the dress, to chase poor Martha out of the shop or simply lock the door after she disappeared into the dressing room -- I really can't make them. I owe my livelihood and my existence to -- a contract, say. Call it a contract. I, the undersigned, waive my ability to interfere in my customers' choices; in return, I get many hundreds of thousands of years of life in an infinite multitude of multiverses and an inventory that takes care of itself. And absolutely no responsibility for those things I cannot control: no moral responsibility for my customers' selections, no liability for the disasters they may incur, no obligation to accept returned merchandise.
The most I can do, as you have seen, is offer my wares without asking for money, and throw in word or two of advice. Not for free -- nothing, as I have been at pains to tell you, is for free. We bartered, did Cathy and I. I gave a thing if she accepted the duty to use it. I asked for her willingness and gave a thing in return. Oh, it was nothing said in words, but the exchange happened nonetheless.
The shop takes care of my needs and it exacts my obedience to the clauses of our contract. If that bothers you so much, go out yourself and do something about it. Martha's still out there. That poor boy may not be her last conquest. Go make yourself useful and stop scolding me.
Or go across the street and buy me a coffee. Even that will be useful. Pay you back when you return. What else am I going to do with money?
Oh, make your choice already. You have choices, isn't that enough for you? Why must you flaunt what you have that I do not by dithering? Choose, and go.
Don't look to me to make this easy.
Day One: The Vampire Dress Dream, Scene One
- 2,358 words (if poetry, lines) long
Later on this afternoon (meaning Tuesday, November 1), I'll blog about WFC. (I mean it. Really!) (The reading went very well, by the way -- but more details on this and other weekend activities later.) Right now it's time to admit that I'm doing NaNoWriMo again and post an excerpt from today's writing to the blog.
Why, yes it's only 1:30 AM Mountain Daylight Time. The inaugural midnight write-in is a Boulder tradition! And I'm pretty pleased with myself for logging over 2000 words by 1:15 even with having got up around 12:40 to refill the electric kettle (from a water fountain, using a paper cup as intermediary transport; it takes about 3 full pours to fill the kettle). And it doesn't seem to matter that it's a Monday night; I think we've got as many people in the St. Julien lobby as we did last year when Halloween fell on a weekend.
I have very little idea where this novel is going. At some point I decided that since my dreams handed me about 95% of a complete short story the other day, I should start with that story. When I got done with it, I figured, I'd either know what happens next or I'd search my dream journals for another juicy one.
As it turns out, I'm pretty much done storyfying the content of the dream, which goes something like this...
I'm in an elegant dress and accessory shop, and I'm staring hopelessly at a slinky black dress, knowing I could never wear something like that, I'm too short and my butt's too big and my boobs are too small... and this gaggle of girls near me who each would be perfect in a sexy dress like that just make me feel really small. Then I say what the hell, I try it on. It fits me perfectly. And I am supremely confident, I know I'm beautiful and sexy, and also, as it turns out when a teenage boy walks into the shop, I'm now a vampire. I totally seduce him, and then I drink blood from the vein inside his elbow, and he's absolutely OK with th"is. The shopkeeper gives me such a disapproving stare when I go to buy the dress, though. Oh, and then there's this lacy choker collar I'm thinking of buying too.
...and I'm thinking the main character of the novel isn't the woman with low self-esteem and a non-Hollywood-compatible figure, no, it's the shopkeeper. And the shop is one of those little magic shops that just appear and disappear without warning, remaining around just long enough to sell you some object that turns your life inside-out without your consent. I imagine the shopkeeper saying, "I'm not the one in the stories. I just start the stories." But she can't have a novel about her without that becoming less and less true as the pages wear on.
Today's scene was mostly through the eyes of my dream point-of-view character. At least, until the dress vamps her. Then it goes sort of omniscent. Look, it's a rough draft, that's the point of NaNoWriMo, deal with it. The following excerpt? Not prettied up at all. Just a few paragraphs from the raw output.
The dress said, Try me on.
Of course it didn't. Dresses can't speak. So it had to have been Martha's own mind throwing out the words in technicolor and surround sound in the theater of her mind. Try it on. Nevertheless, she answered aloud: "No."
Motion from the main store. The clerk's voice -- Martha hadn't heard the clerk's voice yet, but it had to be her, the shop door hadn't jangled again -- "Is anything wrong in there, sweetie?"
"No," Martha said again, louder, relieved to have a reason to shout the word. She let the sound's natural ambiguity cover both the clerk's question and the dress's command, which was just how cowardly Martha was externalizing her own temptation so she didn't have to own it, of course. "No," she told herself and the dress, and watched her hand stroke the midnight silk.
There, and that's my Day One NaNoBlogging duty done. More after I clear out of the hotel, give people rides home, go to sleep, and wake up very late in the morning or later still.
"Saturday was the longest day I ever lived..."
- 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 6,750 words (if poetry, lines) long
It started out in Nebraska, for one thing. I was riding the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, and it crossed the state line sometime around 5:00 AM or so. I'm not sure if I was awake for that. I know I woke up several times through the night to see the moon, just past full, shining in on me. Then the sun was rising and my seatmate said, "It was 6:15 a moment ago; now it's 5:30." "Oh," I said, rubbing my eyes, "we must have crossed into Colorado."
I put on my shoes, went downstairs to replace my morning breath with minty toothpaste breath, and went back one car in search of means to replace that with coffee breath. The lounge car had just opened for service and the line stretched up the stairs and halfway through the sightseer deck, so I put off coffee 'til later. Open up laptop and write story now.
I was on tap for story critique for my twice-monthly Wednesday group. It would have met tomorrow, but since not enough RSVPs were received it got canceled. But I didn't know that would happen, so I was slightly panicking. I wanted to email that story the moment I got home. I didn't have much time.
That's the thing with new stories. I can work them over in my head as much as I'd like, but they don't really come out until they come out. Of course, the sooner I start writing the first scene, the sooner I'll know how the second scene goes, and so forth, but I swear I wrote and rewrote the first scene several times and had no clue. Really, the story wasn't actually there to be written the way it ought to be written until I realized that the beginning catalyst and the climax mechanism, if related, would make each other less contrived and the story more efficient. And that didn't happen until sometime Thursday.
Would it have happened sooner if I'd spent more time thinking about it sooner? I don't know. The person I was Thursday is not identical to the person I was Wednesday, or the week before. Maybe the person I was the week before couldn't have figured out what the person I was Friday afternoon on the train needed to know to start churning out scene after scene at last.
Because that's mainly what I did Friday on the train. I also knitted a good deal of sock, read the first chapter of Orphans of Chaos (a free Tor.com download for the site's registered beta users from a couple years ago), and wrote up an article for Demand Studios using web pages I'd Scrapbooked earlier for research. But mainly I wrote the story's first real draft.
Writing a story draft when I only have some 24 hours to do it in is panic-inducing. Every scene I get done, I can't help but think how many more scenes I have to go; and every scene I've written seems to require that the story be at least one scene longer than I'd originally planned. I kept checking my word count and despairing at the realization that it was already 2500 words, already 4000 words.
This, unfortunately, makes for a first draft whose pace gets more and more rushed as the story goes on. But I'm not allowed to fix it just yet. I already mailed it out for critique. It really bugs me when someone responds to comments on his or her story with "Oh, don't worry about that, I've fixed that since, it's totally different now." Might as well just add "Those hours you spent in good faith critiquing my story? Totally wasted. Sorry 'bout that!" I don't know if that bugs other people as much as it bugs me, but I'm not going to do that to anyone else. So I'm not allowed to reread or edit this story until after June 8, which is when my critique was rescheduled for.
So the train arrived and I got home thanks to my terribly sick husband, who peeled himself out of bed long enough to drive down to the Table Mesa Park 'n Ride where the regional bus dropped me off. He went back to bed with my profuse thanks. And I hit the desk to finish writing this dang story.
And I emailed it off.
And promptly regretted it.
It's really pathetic how all it takes to make me insecure about my writing is for me to put it in front of other peoples' eyes. I just have to remind myself that this is how I felt after emailing an early draft of "First Breath," too -- and you know how well that went. (Really well. The anthology it's in will be on bookstore shelves come September 13. I have the PDF of the proof copy right here on my personal hard drive. With a table of contents with my name in them. And Ellen Datlow reports that the galleys are going to Book Expo with her for autograph events scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. I didn't know galleys went to autographing events. People will see them! People in public! Can I stop hyperventilating now?) Which is not to say this new story is going to be all that and a bag of chips, of course, but it does help remind me that my insecurity isn't an accurate reflection of reality.
So. Story draft done and emailed out. After which, I and five friends drove down to NoNo's Cafe and ate rather a lot of crawfish. Then there were cats to feed, ice cream to purchase, and several episodes of Doctor Who to watch. Also the new My Little Pony cartoons, which, in the capable hands of Lauren Faust (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Powerpuff Girls), are rather more fun than Hasbro's first go-round.
Conveniently, the world did not go all to pieces at 6:00 PM, so there was nothing stopping us watching cartoons until we were falling-down sleepy.
And that's what I did Sunday.
But oh hey wait not done yet! So. I have this really good friend from high school, right, he actually reads my blog and stuff, he says to me over lunch in Metairie last week, "So when do we get to see more chapters?" And he's right -- I should be posting excerpts more often. So here's the first few paragraphs of my brand new short story draft, which is provisionally titled "The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship Meets Saturdays at Seven," and is very likely still full of The Suck but hey, it's down in writing now. Ya gotta start somewhere.
Janice Claire joined the cult because, having nothing else to do with her Saturday night, she had no good way to tell Madeline no.
Not that she hadn't tried. "But I don't really believe in prayer," she'd said. "I mean, I hope like anything for the best, but -- I'm not very religious," she finished uncomfortably.
"Oh, that's OK. A lot of people in the group don't pray." Not that Madeline had said please come join our cult. What she'd actually suggested was that Janice Claire accompany her to her prayer group. "It's OK to just hope. Just knowing you're there -- you've given me so much support already, I don't know what I'd do without you."
Not for the first time Janice Claire regretted having opened her mouth. "So much support" had in fact consisted of her mumbling something sympathetic early last week when Madeline had checked her daughter into room 301, bed B. It seemed to be the thing to do. The twelve-year-old had been in and out of consciousness since then, mostly out. No diagnosis had yet surfaced. Janice Claire hadn't been the only one in the records department to express sympathies, but Madeline responded with such an urgently grateful look that she knew it was Uncle Morris's barbecue ribs all over again. Really, she'd known better. Talking to people only got her in trouble. That was precisely why Janice Claire preferred to spend her Saturday evenings in bed with a book.
Ta-da! And that excerpt includes the correction of a major typo that made it out to everyone in the group on Saturday. Dammit. Well. HEY GROUP! Just sort of mentally insert Madeline's name in the sentence that doesn't parse. Where it goes "but responded with," like that. (Sheesh.) Also, it occurs to me that I meant to rename the uncle at some point because naming antagonists after actual real family members sort of sends the wrong message. (I'm sorry! It was automatic! I was in Don't Think Just Write mode! I was visualizing the usual Weilbaecher Family Thanksgiving Dinner, and the name of the annual host of the festivities just dropped in there along with the floor plan of his kitchen! I didn't mean nothing by it! I also didn't mean anything by it!)
And I'm going to stop thinking about this now, OK?