inasmuch as it concerns Mapping Territories:
Writing from the road. Writing about roads. Writing in the middle of the road. Squish. Just like grape.
Or I'll Put You in My Novel
- 26,601 wds. long
So I just did something rather unpleasant to my female lead. I'm sorry. It isn't even plot-related, not really. It's not that sort of rock. It's just... the world being the world. And me being exasperated with it.
Sabrina is Timothy's ex-girlfriend. She's an aspiring sculptor who is currently paying the bills by waiting tables at a diner. She met Timothy while in an art class at a vocational college in Taos; it's probably got a real-life counterpart, but I haven't done the research on that. Research is for December. But what little I've seen of Taos in person has given me the impression of a very artsy town. So, art. Yay! Also, Sabrina is of Mexican heritage, that being a rather important demographic in the U.S. southwest. In fact, it's rather an important demographic in the U.S. full stop, as a certain presidential candidate learned to his chagrin earlier this month.
(One of the problems with the first draft: Despite much of it being set in New Mexico, every single character was pasty white. This made me about as frowny-faced as realizing I had only one named female character. The second draft has Sabrina in the protagonist tier and her co-workers, Sonora and Rosa and Jazz, in the secondary character tier. It's a start. Rosa runs the diner where they all work.)
With me so far? OK good. Now, back in October, I had reason to drop my husband off at the airport. Having done this, I took myself off to the TravelCenters of America along I-270 and treated myself to brunch. Then I took home a hell of a lot of Popeye's fried chicken for eating over the rest of the week.
This may sound familiar. But what I didn't mention in that blog post was the conversation I overheard while taking revision notes and eating oatmeal.
It's a truck stop. Truckers go in and get fed. And while they sit at the counter and have second helpings of everything they order (at the Country Pride restaurant, every single menu item is all-you-can-eat; the waitress comes to take your plate and says, "You want seconds on that, hon?" whether you're a 250lb dude who just finished his steak and eggs or a 150lb writer gal who just had oatmeal), they talk about things that are relevant to the interest of truckers. Like, this one Denver-area loading dock guy who doesn't know the first thing about securing a load. Like, the recently approved increase on tolls on New York highways and its expected impact on long-haul freight. Everyone talks shop. Like you do.
But the bit that stood out for me was this one guy. I can't tell you what he looked like; guys who talk this way, you don't look at them, you don't want them seeing you listening in, because then they might talk to you. I can tell you kinda what he said, though, because I nearly snorted milk out my nose listening to him.
He was a genuine conspiracy theorist, I'll tell you what. He shared with his counter-mates his recent discovery, via this secret memo that "they" just released, this secret memo between President Obama and the president of Mexico (who will be hereafter referred to as Felipe Calderón because that is his name, a fact of which our conspiracy theorist appeared oddly ignorant for being so well informed on secret memos and the like) which revealed that Obama and Calderón we conspiring to flood the U.S. labor market with immigrants who would then "revert," that was the word he used, "revert" at a later time...
"What the hell are you talking about?" his conversation partners kept saying. "What memo? What do you mean?" In response, he would simply reiterate, which is to say repeat word for word everything he'd already said. He could not seem for the life of him to tell anyone where he read this, for instance, or who "they" were who uncovered this memo. Nor could he explain what he meant by "revert."
I am still befuddled to understand exactly what he thought was going to happen. Obama was going to relax immigration law specifically to allow cheap Mexican labor to flood the unskilled labor market, until at some point Calderón would give the signal and call all the workers to "revert" back to Mexico, leaving the U.S. economy to crumble in their wake? Or did I mishear him, and the word he repeated was actually "revolt," alluding to a future civil war in which good upstanding white workers will be forced at gunpoint to drop English for Spanish and replace their steak and eggs with huevos rancheros y bistec asado? I honestly do not know. This guy would not explain. He would only repeat.
Finally one of the other truckers turned to someone else and loudly revived the discussion about New York toll increases, and I heard no more from the conspiracy theorist for the rest of my stay.
What all this has to do with NaNoWriMo is this: Sabrina is on the road, half-unwillingly, with the Big Bad. She's helping him in some way to track down Timothy, mainly because the Big Bad has convinced her that Timothy needs their help. And so they have both stopped at a 24-hour diner modeled after that Country Pride Restaurant at the TravelCenters of America, only the one in Limon which I have not been to as opposed to the one in Commerce City that I have. And while she was there, I confess I made poor Sabrina, who absolutely did not deserve it, overhear this conversation.
Not that anyone deserves to get slapped in the face by random casual racism, mind. Or casual sexism, for that matter, which I have also run into at the TA. (Do not get me started on the guys ahead of me in line at the Popeye's who were relentlessly demanding that the woman behind the counter "smile, baby, come on! Smile for us!")
Forgive me. Sabrina totally did not deserve it. But it happens. Adding that conversaton to the scene not only helped ground the book in the real world (which has people in it and also racist people), but on top of that it did help to relieve my feelings about having been Racist Conspiracy Nutbar's captive audience. Though I'm sure if it had been Sabrina there rather than pasty white me, her feelings would have been a lot more intense and, frankly, more relevant than mine. And so, in the scene, they were.
The encounter added 600 words and three extra bit-part charecters to the scene, so I guess that's a win? Maybe I can have the Big Bad go back in there and eat them all.
One More Duck
- 6,000 wds. long
Today I finally secured resort accommodations for Sirens 2012 . I purchased early registration while attending World Fantasy last year, then said to myself, "I have oodles of time before I need to do anything else!" That statement ceased to be true some time ago. The Skamania Lodge (in the majestic Columbia River Gorge, in Stevenson, Washington) showed no availability via their online reservations. I called the 1-800 number in hopes of receiving better news. A charming and pleasantly chatty reservations operator found me the very last room available and slotted me in.
Meantime, we also talked about French last names ("LeBoeuf" may have to be spelled a lot for people outside New Orleans, but it could be far, far worse), urban fantasy (she recommended Laura K. Hamilton; I recommended Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour), and various inspirations for writing fiction. As phone calls to hotel reservations go, it really was an unusually pleasant example of its type.
Now I just need to get my train tickets to Portland. I'm pretty sure I'm going by train. It's a straight connection from the California Zephyr to the Coastal Starlight. I've never been on the Coastal Starlight before. It's got wifi! The entire journey takes two overnights, not materially worse than Denver to New Orleans, though the Denver-to-Sacramento leg is 31 hours compared to Denver to Chicago's 18. But, you know, meh. More time with me and my laptop and/or knitting and/or sock-darning or jeans-patching. And less time trusting my belongings or my person to commercial airlines and airline!TSA, which trusting I'm slightly allergic to. (Amtrak!TSA exists, as far as I can tell, exclusively on video loops on infinite play in the Chicago terminals. I'm OK with that.) I can only rejoice in my spouse-given freedom from the 9-to-5 world that allows me to extend a weekend excursion by 48 hours on either side. Thank you, John! Now, to get this "writing" thing up to the "possibly making a living off it" speed...
Speaking of which, got my doubly-signed copy of the contract for the publication of "Lambing Season" back in the mail this week. Hooray!
Assembling Fiction and Other Stories (Also, Loons)
First off: A new review of Blood and Other Cravings has hit the internet this week. Reviewer Deirdre Murphy at Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys made me grin like a loon three paragraphs into the review. (Do loons, in fact, grin? They're birds. They have beaks. How do you grin with a beak?) LIKE A LOON, I SAID! DOWN WITH LOGIC! UP WITH GRINNING!
(There are many loons at this website. They are damn well grinning.)
Secondly: New story. Not the phone story. The other new story, the one I intend to submit to The First Line tomorrow. The due date is tomorrow, so I have to submit it tomorrow.
Is it done yet? Is even a single draft of it done yet? Well... no. Not unless you count the freewriting babble draft I did, using the appropriate first line as a prompt, at the laundromat back in mid-June.
But I have been assembling it. In my head.
So one of those beginning writer rules -- that is, the rules you're told to follow when you begin to write, which you continue to follow until you discover what your own personal rules are -- is "Thinking About Writing Isn't Writing." But staring at the word processor screen, moving a block of text from one place in the partial draft to another, editing the segue sentence yet again, then staring at the screen some more... that isn't writing either.
So I took a walk. Walks always help.
Walking the three miles home from downtown Boulder, I reexamined the pieces of scenes -- scenelets, if you will -- that make up this story. The story follows a structure that's sort of like this:
- Right now
- Teaser flashback
- Continue from right now
- More from the flashback
- Either back to present time, or else the rest of the flashback, I'm not sure
- Lather, rinse, repeat
- Finish up story in present time
You can probably figure out where I keep getting bogged down. And when I get bogged down in the structure, I start to wallow in details that don't really belong in the story. So the pacing gets bogged down too.
So during my walk I imagined writing each scenelet onto index cards. Not all of the text; just the first couple sentences and the last, in order to give myself an idea of where the segues are. This story is going to be all about the segues. Like, "This bit ends with the first mention of the umbrella. So the next bit begins with a flashback to the outerspace salesmen giving him the umbrella."
Yes, I said outerspace salesmen. Also, the umbrella is pink with silver letters that can only be read from very high up, and the silver letters say "KICK ME." The snow isn't really snow. It's outerspace gluey tar stuff that causes the end of the world as we know it. WHAT IS MY BRAIN.
(I suspect The First Line does not get a heck of a lot of science fantasy apocalyptic humor. But they do welcome all genres. Who knows? Maybe everyone is writing stories about space glue snow apocalypses.)
So now I'm home, and my feet hurt. In addition to new skating blisters from Sunday, I have sandal blisters. Blisters on top of blisters. Ow. (Next time I think "Oh, I'll only be walking a few blocks. I'll be busing home. Sandals are fine," it will trigger an autohypnotic safety mechanism that will not allow me out the house until I've wised up and put my running shoes on.) But I also have a story written on index cards in my head. The structure now makes sense. And in mulling over the structure on my walk home, I discovered that the protagonist is an entirely different character than I'd thought. The things I now know about him are the key to getting both structure and pacing deboggified. Hooray for deboggification!
And tomorrow morning early, I shall wake up and transfer the story from mental index cards to WP51 file to paper. And there shall be a proofreading and a "final" revision. And lo, it shall be good.
Or at least it shall be submitted.
Then I'll be free to revise the phone story.
World Fantasy Interlude: That Whole Flying Thing
OK, so. World Fantasy. A day late, and, as it turns out, a good deal short, because there is no way I'm typing up the entire contents of my head to do with WFC in a single blog post. Let's just pretend I was blogging the con as I went, and my blog posts simply showed up just under a week late. Or something like that.
The first part of any trip is getting there. I got there on a plane.
This was my first time flying commercially since, quite possibly, the North Devon countryside vacation. Certainly it was my first time through the TSA/DHS ritual since the implementation of the notorious "naked or groped" measures. I wasn't particularly worried about either of those options in particular -- which is not to say that concerns about these unnecessary violations of privacy and bodily integrity, not to mention the potential PTSD trigger for sexual assault survivors, aren't absolutely valid; I'm just lucky enough to generally arouse little-to-none TSA suspicion (i.e. I'm small, white, and cisgendered female) and to not be an assault survivor myself; o hai there privilege! this R me, checkin U. No, rather, I was nervous and unhappy about the whole process: take off your shoes, take your laptop out of your bag, do whatever the people in uniform demand, don't protest as possessions are confiscated, don't protest if they tell you they're going to touch your privates, don't demand to know how any of this is serving to make air travel safer, why do you hate America?
I resent the whole circus. I take trains when I can partially in protest of security theater. Unfortunately, between my Dad's visit before the trip and NaNoWriMo afterwards, I couldn't take an extra four days for travel this time around. So I screwed up my resentment and bought round trip airfare via Southwest.
And I did in fact encounter a little hiccup going through the full-body scanner on the way through Denver International. Thankfully, there was no trauma nor any confiscation. When I came out of the round scanning chamber, the image on the screen -- just a childlike outline of a generic female body, since TSA is phasing out the naked pics -- superimposed a square outline over my head area. The security officer, a woman -- they seem to match officer and passenger genders when touching the body is deemed necessary -- asked me to bow my head so she could investigate my hair. Lo! It was my wooden hair pin, by which my hair stays up and out of the way so I don't sit on it or get it caught it doors. She allowed it through, though I suspect that if I'd taken the pin out of my hair so she could see the sharp ends, or simply if another agent who'd been having a bad day was on shift instead, I might have lost it after all.
I resolved to put my hair pin in checked luggage on my return trip and just deal with sitting-on-hair and hair-in-doors problems as they arose. And I resent having to do so. I resent being subject to this behavioral conditioning. I resent that it's working.
By the by, apparently the TSA claims that the new full-body scanners have increased their success. But they quantify their success by how many "illegal or prohibited items" they can find now that they couldn't before. Sure, this includes illegal drugs, but it also includes bamboo knitting needles (and wooden hair pins) depending on how the agent on duty interprets the prohibition on "sharp objects." I think claiming a higher success rate based on detecting "prohibited items" is a lot like claiming higher success for the local police force by counting convictions: you can artificially raise the rate just by prohibiting more items or criminalizing more actions. (Note, meanwhile, that to date no explosives have been detected.)
Anyways. Thence to gate C39 for the Southwest Airline flight to San Diego. I chose Southwest because, like their advertisements say, "Bags fly free!" Because another thing I resent deeply about post-9/11 airport security theater is the paired impact of A) more things you can't take aboard the aircraft, and B) charging $50+ per checked bag. I cynically suspect that some of the major airlines are helping TSA come up with their list of "prohibited items," specifically suggesting dangerous uses for items many passengers won't travel without, to increase the number of bags getting checked at $50 a pop.
I also chose Southwest for their sense of humor. I find their ads utterly charming. And when I arrived at C39, I saw other evidences of fun. For starters, they had decorated the gate desk for Halloween in a Wild West Saloon motif. On the return trip, I'd see even the ticketing desk dressed up for the holiday, but that being San Diego, they went with a pirate theme.
At their gate were some awesome amenities for the electronic generation. Lots of A/C outlets, both at a tall bar-stool-outfitted countertop and between the new comfy-looking armchairs. USB outlets, too, presumably for charging phones. I looked up and down the terminal and did not see similar furniture at other airlines' gates. As I would learn later, Southwest even makes wi-fi available aboard some flights. Just fire up your computer, connect, and pay $5 where prompted at the network gateway. If my flight had been longer, I might have tried it out.
Another features unique to Southwest gates: a series of numerical posts to facilitate passengers lining up in order. Boarding passes come printed with a section letter and position number, which is essentially your place in the first-come-first-served line. I assume the sooner you check in, the forward-er in line you get, and thus the more choice you have in where to sit. They do open seating, see; whatever seat is still open when you get to it, window aisle or middle, is fair game. And here's where Southwest do make a little extra money: for $10 extra, you can do "early-bird check-in", whereas for free you get checked in automatically up to 36 hours before the flight, rather than checking in online up to 24 hours ahead of time like non-fee-paying schmoes do. Or, Gods forfend, an hour ahead of time at the airport, which is what I did. (It wasn't so bad.)
Later, a friend asked me if the flight attendants "sang a little song" for us on landing. Apparently that's what they did last time she flew. On my flight, we just got a little casual humor inserted into the passenger briefing. Also life-size images of Southwest staff members waving us goodbye all up and down the ramp to the plane. These were cheerful, if slightly creepy.
The one thing I regret about my transportation choices, though, was flying home on October 30th rather than on Halloween itself. Southwest apparently gives you complimentary treats (with an alcoholic component for those over 21) on certain holidays, Halloween being one of them. But I really didn't want to have to skip out on another Monday morning at Abbondanza, seeing as how I'd missed so many since August already, so I did not get to sample these treats.
All in all, the flying-between-Denver-and-San-Diego portion of my World Fantasy experience was remarkably pleasant. I would definitely fly Southwest again. Next time I can't take the train, that is.
(One day I will fly myself everywhere. But for that I would have to first A) own an aircraft, because overnight rental hours add up in an expensive way, and B) start practicing again. I haven't been in the cockpit for more than two years, and I'm feeling it.)
Three Eleven, Twenty Eleven
The earth shifted upon its axis that day.
I did not know. I could not tell.
The news was slow to reach my ears that day.
You could say, "four inches," measure it in the way
That is custom in my country, or "ten centimetres" if not.
The earth shifted upon its axis that day.
Measurements are meaningless and soon forgot.
What can the mere motion of tectonic plates accomplish
That the loosing of so many souls cannot?
The Meditation Wheel
- 994 wds. long
Today's the day. Today's the day I get a full draft of the new story complete. Today's also the day I come up with a good title for it--"The Monster at the End of the Book" is cute, the way it nods comfortably at Grover in the Sesame Street Golden Books story of the same name, but it's not at all right for this story.
Yesterday was the day I think I figured it out. Also the day I remembered how my spinning wheel makes a great platform for Meditation For Inspiration. Remember that? I hadn't.
But I remembered I had to finish spinning my portion of the group project fleece if I wanted to have a project to show off to the group tonight. Last year, the spinners who meet monthly at Shuttles Spindles Skeins decided to do a group project. So a representative went to the Estes Park Wool Market and bought three fleeces, and at the next monthly spin-in we all paid her back for our pounds, or half pounds, of the fleece. The idea was for each of us to bring finished projects to the January spin-in and Rock Day potluck. As most people weren't finished, we get another chance at tonight's spin-in.
So yesterday I hauled the spinning wheel over beside my desk and spun the last of the singles. And, because I had the poem tacked up over my desk, I meditated on a different stanza for every rolag I spun. (Rolag: a roll of hand-carded fiber. A possible unit work in spinning.)
Read next stanza. Begin to spin. Repeat the stanza out loud. Think about its possible connections to the story, letting "blackbird" equal "demon." Think about more connections, letting "blackbird" equal "Muse." Think about the theme of the stanza and mentally sketch out a scene demonstrating it in the story.
Then, for no better reason than opportunity, recite the whole poem up to that stanza. I mean, why not memorize poetry?
I had exactly enough wool left to get through stanza 12. (I'd already memorized Stanza 13 because it so very perfectly described the weather we'd been having lately. "It was evening all afternoon. / It was snowing, / And it was going to snow.") And I had exactly enough time left in the day that the newly spun singles could sit awhile before plying in the evening and washing the wool.
And now I know what I'm doing. Excellent. Presenting the Schacht Matchless as a Literary Composting Accelerator!
And now I've got to do it.
Hopefully I can blog again tonight or tomorrow morning, happily announcing a new first draft and a newly cast-off and sewn-up hooded scarf. Completing projects: good for the ego! I recommend it!
Day 30: A Winner Is Me!
- 53,268 wds. long
And not just in the conventional 50K sense. But I have finally gotten to a point of completion with this draft.
Wellll... OK. I haven't yet written the denoument. But I'm forgiving myself that for now, mainly because I'm still unsure of its shape. Its rough shape is clear, but not the details. I need to think on it a bit more.
That aside, I've written each of the three major layers of conflict in which the book culminates. There's the Earth conflict, involving what the Earth antagonists were after and how they are finally stopped; I'm not entirely satisfied with it. I didn't really give it the development it needs. But it's there enough for now, hinted at and then resolving in a very large house fire. Then there's the Uberreality conflict, in which Chender's scheming comes to light and must be stopped, and is stopped. Even that rings a little shallow, but this too I'm going to throw at the rewrite. If a first draft is an act of discovery, a first revision is about implementing all the things I discovered on my way to the end of the first draft.
Then, finally, there's the... spiritual conflict, I guess. To use the classic literary terms I learned in high school, if the first two layers of conflict are Man versus Man, the final is Man versus Self. Well, Woman versus self, really; Jet may in fact be genderless, but I've been writing her as a woman this whole book long.
(Huh. How appropos. Tangent! I'd only today been reading about the distressing tendency in Hollywood to take genderless characters, for instance most of the cast of Monsters Inc., and give them male names and voice casting; the "default person" is male. I took a genderless character and gave it a female presentation instead. I was mainly rejecting male-as-default-action-adventure-character, and het-as-default-romance; I ended up subverting male-as-default-person while I was at it. Tangent ends!)
Anyway, I'm really not sure of the outcome of Jet's Woman versus Self conflict. Except roughly. I can see it as I used to see things when I was near-sighted and I wasn't wearing my glasses: the shape is discernible but the details are blurry.
And that's pretty much all I'm going to say. I want to publish this thing in the near future; someday, this will be a book you can purchase (or download) and read. I wouldn't like to spoil the ending.
At least, no more than excerpts to this point already have.
With a harsh, involuntary laugh, I salute Chender with my left fist, a motion that pretends to punch a hole in the ceiling. Then I sit up, toss the five stones into my mouth like so many aspirin tablets, and I simply swallow them. As I suspected, no sudden transfiguration happens, no mystical effect. They drop heavily into my stomach and sit there, undigestible. I hope they receive a damage from their new location. Whatever power Chender expected the gems held, he was wrong.And that's it for now. The draft goes into the metaphorical bottom desk drawer for a month, during which time, as they say, the crap is allowed to mellow out of it. During that time, hopefully, my brain will do the lovely composting things it does when I'm trying not to think about a work in progress. Then, in January, I hope to do some of the major restructuring required before pickier points can be wrangled.
Then I lay back down, eyes still open, and allow my human body to be human once more. Human sensation returns, animal need. The lungs breathe because they must, and thick black smoke rushes in. The skin sweats and reddens and finally chars as human skin does when engulfed in flame. It's like nothing I've ever felt before. Strange, that in all my assignments I've never exited the dream by fire. It's worth doing. Everything is worth doing, once. Living, loving, dying-- some things are worth doing more than once.
The pain is briefer than I had feared. It sharpens and contracts into a singularity of pure agony wherein nothing exists but itself. I am engulfed and snuffed by its utter self-absorbed existence. Then, abruptly, it drops to nothing. Maybe my nerve endings have all been destroyed, and I am incapable of feeling more pain. Or maybe I'm simply succumbing to smoke inhalation and leaving the body behind. For whatever reason, the pain vanishes and leaves a blank behind it, inner darkness foglike swallowing the smoke. There I find a point of clarity that I mistake for waking. I allow myself to rush toward it, a being without a body going home at last.
But something interrupts me on my way there. The darkness flashes to lapis blue and the motion of my being halts in the center of that sky. The stones relinquish their power, or their message. A familiar presence wraps me round and shares with me an intimate space of awareness.
So familiar-- so much like the being I wove my being with while my human disguise sat grieving on a motel floor. But something about her is different, strange. Unearthly. What a strange word to think; am I not un-Earthly myself? Unexpected in a way that creeps over me in shades of awe and growing wonder. I venture a thought forth: Lia?
Meantime, through December, I mean to hit the queue of stories awaiting revision. And I hope to keep up this daily pace of fiction and blogging. At the very least, I'd like to maintain a five-day work week, just as I've intended all year. The beautiful thing about NaNoWriMo is, it normalizes dailiness. Let's see how long I can continue at a comparable pace through December and into 2011.
Lastly, I should mention that these musings are coming to you live from the lobby of Boulder's St. Julien Hotel. I'm here with seven other local Wrimos, a couple of them already sporting happy purple WINNER! bars on their profiles when they arrived. The rest of us sort of cascaded at a rate of one per half hour or so. It's really neat, attending the Final Push Write-in and hearing "Fifty thousand and one! Yes!" and "OK, word count verified! I'm a winner!" followed by eruptions of applause. It's also really neat to cross that finish line in such circumstances oneself. And yes, I did cross 50k yesterday-- but I didn't get my word count verified, didn't get my word count bar to turn purple, didn't get to watch the congratulatory video from NaNoWriMo Headquarters or download my web badges and certificate, until I was here with fellow Wrimos working hard into the evening. It's a good place to be.
Day 26: I Knew It, But I Didn't KNOW I Knew It
I've been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2002. How many times have I written a new novel draft? You do the math. Then add a conservative one or two for the trunk novels that I peck at from time to time on no particular schedule. This "don't bother getting it right; just get it down" thing, I have done it a lot.
So you'd think that by now I'd have learned all there was to know about "don't bother getting it right" and "just get it down." You'd think.
Apparently you'd be wrong.
This past week has involved a lot of uncertainty. Lia and Jet light out on the run after escaping Montrose Manor--then what happens? Then, apparently, we spend a lot of time changing motel rooms and arguing... until we finally stumble upon the next possible plot point. Both Jet and Lia spend time with no-good guys they've gotten involved with for dubious reasons, and this goes on for several nights... until something finally kicks loose and I know how the "everybody dies" scene comes together. After that, Jet spends a lot of time in Uberreality (only it's not "time," because time and space aren't real) keeping herself to herself and avoiding all contact with her colleagues and employers... until I finally realize exactly what Chender is up to and what their Employer's reaction to this is and how Jet's next assignment will lead to her own personal There Is No Spoon moment and...
And here's the thing. Sometimes you just have to send your characters out into the formless primordial stuff of story, not to live the plot they ought, but rather as your avatars in the fiction mines, trying to find the next piece of plot. Sometimes you just have to spend 5,000 words writing three nights of arguing and fighting in a motel room, knowing that not a single word of it will make it to the final draft but writing it anyway, because there is no other way to find out what happens next.
And I knew this. But I didn't really know it, not until today. This past week I've been coming back to the book with great reluctance, unwilling to write another non-plot-moving 2,000 words of "And then Lia went for another walk in the desert, and looked at the pretty cacti and the red sandstone rock formations, and nearly got bit by a snake, and 'Michael' met up with her again and they exchanged some witty banter and unresolved sexual tension, and then Lia went back to the motel room and had an argument with Jet, and then Jet went out and had another date with Mr. Totally Wrong Who Might Be Useful, and..." This sort of reluctance is new to me this year, because this year I am determined to finish not just 50,000 words but also the book by November 30. I don't reach "The End" in a timely manner if I'm constantly writing time-waster scenes on my way to the next brainstorm. But I've gotta.
Today it paid off. I opened a brand new blank scene, and, unwilling to start flailing around at Jet Grieving In Uberreality And Being Very Antisocial For, Lacking A Better Phrase, Several Days... I started jotting down the lines that Jet's Employer would say when Jet finally consented to listen. And then I started filling in Jet's thoughts between them. And before them. And suddenly I was writing an actual scene with pacing and movement and revelation and reaction.
And now I know what happens next.
See? It works! But I really need to spend the entire three hours of tomorrow's write-in writing down What Happens Next, because it feels like my characters sure spent a lot of November fishing in the primordial ooze.
But they didn't waste that time. It really was time well-spent. And now, I hope, I really understand that. In my 9th year of NaNoWriMo, it's really about time.
If this were Earth, I would say that days passed. But time is only fiction, and what passes is only me. The eternal now contracts around me to a point shaped like Lia's bedroom. I wrap myself in my human shape, so that I can bury my head beneath the crimson-gold-paisley quilt and breathe her scent where in lingers in the ivory sheets. A copper hair lies upon one of the pillows; I don't touch it, but lay beside it so that its breadth magnifies in my blurred vision. Each moment that passes is the same moment, and each breath I take is the same breath. And yet with each breath the scent fades, and my ability to furnish it from memory fades as well.
As I curl around the pillow, clutching it to my tightly, the voice of my Employer echoes about the room, bouncing off the fictitious walls that are my awareness and my being. Jetta. Speak to me, Jetta.
I hug the imaginary pillow tighter and say nothing.
Jetta. Please come back. You are needed.
Day 20: Same Old Same Old, Only Elsewhere and Special-Like
- 38,328 wds. long
I'm in Estes Park tonight, at the Bighorn Mountain Lodge, at the celebrated 24-Hour Write-In. I shall probably spend my sleeping hours curled up under the car blanket on one of these plastic tables, or maybe on that brick fireplace hearth that looks so well insulated. I've been here since noon and I will be here until noon tomorrow.
You'd think this would mean a huge increase in the novel's word count. Strangely enough, this is not the case. I've written just under 2000 words--not bad for a day's work, but nothing special. I've submitted an article to Demand Studios and I've done my Puzzle Pirates Weekend Blockade Schedule blog post (hooray for getting a large chunk of database entry and retrieval structure done!). And I've answered emails. And, I'll admit, I've also done a decent amount of playing.
It's a lot like a regular day at home, really, only in an exotic location surrounded by writers. Which is fine. A 24-hour write-in isn't just about the word count. It's about the camaraderie. It's about that huge box of Cup Noodle that one of the attendees brought from Costco. It's about walking down to Lake Estes when I need a break, or splurging a little on elk and red wine at a chop house about three hotels down. It's about moving the daily round into a new location, and not having to worry about the daily grind of the usual location.
The novel's poking along. I'm honestly surprised at yWriter telling me "Added today: 1976" because I feel like I only added a sentence or three here and there between the lines. I certainly didn't advance the plot. Mostly I just took yesterday's writing and tried to flesh it out so that it would feel more like a natural part of the book rather than like something I tossed at the wall without any sort of character-arc or plot-pacing in mind. I'm starting to get an idea of the shape of this portion of the book, which is a relief.
Nevertheless, I'm getting increasingly uneasy with Jet's whole "the dream provides" thing. It's starting to sound, at least to me, a lot like "the author will provide." Author fiat is not the best reason for stuff to happen. Granted, a lot of things happen because of a certain amount of in-book author fiat, that's the point of the plot, that's the big reveal that we're building up towards, but how well is that excuse going to hold up in the end?
Never mind. It's too soon for that kind of meta. Here's your daily excerpt. Enjoy.
The dream keeps us in motel money and an endless procession of instant just-add-water meals. I am not conscious of money changing hands, except sometimes when I find myself handing over the check-in desk an uncounted wad of paper marked by one or the other of the U.S. Mints. The night manager gives me a key. We never see him, or her, again. It is all according to the logic of dreams, which pushes me into the next scene without all that tedious mucking about with adminstrative details. But I wonder why it can't simply push me past these other tedious details, the ones where I have to play detective and figure things out. I wonder why a dream needs an actor at all. Can't the Commanders of Adjustments make their own adjustments? Why do they need to Command them at all?
Lia stays in the motel room, reading books that I bring her or watching the TV. She acts like one hunted. It would be understandable enough if we were still in Silberne, but I feel it's somewhat overblown in Painted Sands. The Swifts do have a few tentacles here, but they're stiff from disuse, atrophied. Nevertheless, Lia won't go out the door until check-out. I feel like all seven dwarves in a single person, with a distrustful Snow White back at the cottage. "While I'm gone, don't you even let housekeeping in," I say, making a joke of it. "Especially don't admit anyone claiming to sell combs or apples." That makes her laugh. She runs both her hands through her short hair, back and forth, making it stand up in a disordered array of copper spikes that wouldn't hold a toothpick, let alone a comb. "Never liked apples anyway," she says.
I don't hear her laugh very much these days. I hope these days don't last.
The Mobile Office, Downtown Boulder Edition
- 631 wds. long
From the Amtrak to the BX, from the station straight to work. John and I just got back this morning on a train from Chicago, having spent a fantastically action-packed Memorial Day weekend there. A night spent in sleeping accommodations meant we were well-rested and ready to get back to our respective jobs pretty much the moment we pulled in.
For both of us, since May 17, our respective jobs are primarily in downtown Boulder. Which is to say: John took a position with a small programming start-up in a location he can bus, bike, or even walk to (in good weather and with 45 minutes to spare), and I happily rearranged my own writing routine such that I accompany him there most days. He goes to the office, and I go to some place quiet and endowed with electrical outlets and wi-fi. Maybe I do my Morning Pages on a bench by the creek, maybe pull out the laptop and do some freewriting, until the Boulder Public Library opens at 10:00. (Once I gave into temptation and spent the pre-library hour at Tee & Cakes. Hard on the wallet. Easy on the yummm.) Maybe I spend the hours until lunch working on Demand Studios articles in the upstairs quiet zone. Maybe I meet John for lunch, if he has time. Maybe we try a downtown establishment with an interesting lunch special. Maybe we make lunch. (I bought bento boxes! I want to fill them up with Stuff!) Maybe I go to Atlas Purveyors for the afternoon stretch, working on short stories and blogging gigs if there's time.
That's a lot of maybe. The definitely is, I go to work. And I work.
It helps to leave the house to go to work; I don't end up running errands or cleaning the house or chasing the cats instead of writing. It helps even more to leave in the company of someone who's heading to work himself. Self-discipline is largely a matter of mindset, and the morning go-to-work routine changes a mindset. Also, this is my first time since 2004 working roughly in the same location as my husband; I'd forgotten how much I'd missed commuting together, going to lunch together, simply being nearby rather than at opposite ends of a highway.
Today, we got off the BX, walked to his office, stowed our luggage, and then went our separate ways: he to renew his Diet Coke supply, me to order a pot of pu erh at Atlas. I had a lot to do, so it was best to spend the day all in one place. Atlas are very hospitable to all-day work sessions, even bums like me who buy one pot of tea and re-steep it all day long.
(Atlas recently got a hilariously absurd negative review on Yelp.com. The owner blew it up, printed it out, and enshrined it on the wall-to-wall chalkboard for all to enjoy.)
It felt weird how normal everything felt today, being back in Boulder, getting back to work. I mean, last night I went to sleep somewhere in Nebraska. Yesterday morning I woke up in Chicago. I guess traveling has to bring you back home sometime, but the transition was so seamless that I barely noticed it, making Boulder feel a strange place to be.
Then I thought, "You know what's really weird? That 'normal' means calling this cafe my office for the day, watching people walk by, writing stories half the day and paid article gigs the other half. And calling somewhere else my office tomorrow."
Then things got really circular. I stopped thinking and went back to writing.
Today's fiction task: write down the zombie story I've been entertaining in my head all weekend long. If you followed the links above, you'll have found one to Tee & Cakes's short story contest (here's their original announcement). The three words that were the story prompt put me in mind of nothing so much as Popcap.com's "Plants vs. Zombies" game (though I admit playing it during any downtime with John this weekend helped). So it's a bit of a pastiche on that, and a bit of a spoof on popular expectations about the inevitable zombie apocalypse. It also incorporates something I learned about chickens a couple weeks ago at Abbondanza.
The result is now in Tee & Cakes's inbox. If it doesn't make the cut, I think I just might send it to Weird Tales.
And that's the news.