The Drowning Boy
59193 words long, 128.50 hours of revision
you're gonna carry that weight for a long time
As expected, I haven't been able to write much this week. Any time not spent sleeping or at derby practice, has been spent moving items from our old address to our new. There have been many carloads, and each carload required multiple trips up and down the stairs that I'm so pleased to leave behind. I can almost do those stairs blindfolded by now: Eight steps down, three paces to U-turn on the landing, another eight steps down and another landing worth three paces, one last bunch of eight and three paces forward to finally descend the three steps of the front stoop.
Most of those carloads have been packed solo, either because John did it while I was at derby, or I did it while John was working. A solo carload takes longer, and it takes a higher toll on the person making it happen. I was done today an hour before we had to leave for practice and scrimmage, but it was an hour spent half asleep because I simply had nothing left for anything more productive.
Today was mostly me, and my goal was to completely empty the office closet. Six clear-bin stackable plastic drawers plus a Rubbermaid bin and a couple bags full of crafting supplies, three stackable plastic file cabinets, two big boxes of miscellaneous removable data media (CDs, DVDs, 3.5" floppies), another box full of "all manner of useful cables" according to my Sharpie memo to myself, a great variety of stationery...
...and a surprisingly large amount of my own writing. Early NaNoWriMo novel drafts printed out for revision. Copies of my short stories with critiques scribbled between the lines and in the margins. Spiral notebooks with drafts, writing exercises, and notes toward rewrites. The three chapters of The Drowning Boy that went with me to Viable Paradise in 2006 and came back looking like they had bled from innumerable cuts. (Not that they all bled red. But oh, how they bled.)
There were in that great mass of paper several copies of other people's stories that they chose to share with me or to send by mail as part of a critique exchange. But for the most part, the author whose works were contained in that box was me.
It was almost too heavy for me to lift. But I managed. I got it down the stairs and into the car without breaking either it or me. I felt strangely reassured by both of these things. The weight of that box was a reminder of how prolific I really have been. And yet I am capable of lifting the weight of my own words. There's something symbolic in that.
Still, when I pulled up to our new front door, I was happy to accept John's offer to take one end of that box and help me lift the load. Just because I could do it alone didn't mean I'd always have to.
There's something symbolic about that, too.
Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-SNOW.
Hurrah! In addition to being a newly minted Viable Paradise graduate, I have also survived the journey home. All the trains were hyper-fast this time around, so I ended up puttering around stations a lot (when I wasn't hiking around downtown Chicago). And I got home just in time to catch the winter's first snow on the valley floor.
Me, during the ride home: "Wow, look at all those low-lying gray clouds over the mountains. Think it might snow today?"
Me, some 4 hours later: "Definitely."
I have mixed feelings about coming home to snow. I was pretty much done with appreciating the mystic beauty of snow since March '00. Since then my attitude ranges between tedium ("Oh, Gods, more snow") and guilt ("Don't bad-mouth it, we need the moisture"). But at least I wasn't somewhere warm like Maui or New Orleans this time, for the climate contrast to really rub in that vacation is over. New England was pretty blustery; the instructors, particulary Jim Macdonald and Teresa, were commenting on this being the coldest VP yet.
So I have a lot of work to do this week. I have the final (for now) StyleCareer.com eGuide to complete and turn in; I have comments on The Drowning Boy to compile and compost; and I have a revision of "Putting Down Roots" that really has to happen, like, now. MacAllister has threatened me with dire abuses should I fail to send a copy to Ellen Datlow by November. And Mac knows her stuff. Do not cross that lady.
But right now I am enjoying being back in my own house, napping in my own bed, and having a long, guilt-free soak in the bathtub. Work can happen later on tonight. Thththbbbp.
Not Dead. Quite The Contrary.
I am in fact on Martha's Vineyard, in the middle of the Viable Paradise, and things are splendid. The latest freelance deadline has been met, albeit less satisfactorily than I would like. I have taken a flight lesson out of the Katama Airporrt in a red Citabria--taildraggers are fun! I have biked all over most of the east end of the island. I've seen glowing jellyfish. And the first three chapters of Drowning Boy have been critqued by four different instructors and five different students, and I am simultaneously encouraged to stick with the story and disappointed in my draft so far.
Summary of average verdict: Beginning moves too slowly, main character's too passive, mermaid worldbuilding is just fine but author needs to trust it more and not be so cagey about it, and don't wreck it by overdoing the whole Descent of Inanna thing--oh, and medical emergency airplane diversions don't in and of themselves cause media frenzy, but medical emergencies mistaken for terrorist scares might.
Today, Tuesday, I had my second one-on-one critique. With Teresa Nielsen Hayden. (Pause for fangirl *gasp* and *wheeze*) I told her how I feel embarrased by the synopsis of my novel--"makes me realize I've written something I can't show my mother, at least not until it's published." She just smiled, flipped over page 1 of the synopsis, and wrote on the back, "CERTIFICATE: That's OK, it's Art." And she signed it. "You are officially given permission," she said.
That piece of paper is totally going up on the file cabinet next to my writing desk.
Also, she wants me to try, just as an excercise, using the Evil Overlord button to liven up my synopsis. I told her I'll turn it in tomorrow. ("You fool!" said my roommate. "Aren't I," said I.)
What else? Oh. Right. OK, so, in addition to being in the middle of the best writing workshop I have ever attended in my life, and being in awe at conversing daily with people who publish short stories in F&SF and people who edit for Tor and people who inspire reverence everywhere they turn up online--in addition to all that, I say, as though all that needed adding too--I have a new blog.
That's right! One I get paid to do! And one which it won't turn out the editor wants me to pretend to be a porn star at! Bonus!
Right. That's all I've got for now. I should sleep. I consumed far more alcohol than is my norm this evening, between James D. Macdonald's Maker's Mark and extra special rum and Bill Boyke's stash of Glenmorangie and super-fine potato vodka and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's so-called "scurvy cure" which also involves vodka... Two ibuprofin and a tall glass of water better be enough, that's all I'm saying.
Happy Dance and Apathy, All At Once
Hullo. I'm in the middle of some persistent blahs at the moment, blahs with combine travel recovery apathy with holiday apathy. The result: I've spent the last couple of days mostly in bed, reading books picked up at Denver's Tattered Cover and Fairhaven's Village Books. I regret to say that the latter bookstore hasn't made as wise a choice in adhesive labelling as the former. A Tattered Cover book's pricing labels peel off clean and easy (as do those on a book bought at the Boulder Bookstore), whereas my Village Books purchases had labels I really had to work hard at removing. They did eventually come off, however, so they're worlds ahead still of some bookstores I could mention but don't.
However, in the midst of the past two days apathy, we are in life and joyous surprises. First, a new short story began really taking form on the plane from Denver to Seattle. It's not tangible enough yet to get it a place in the database, but it's close. It's one of those odd plots that started with a misperception: in this case, a hallucination. Except I don't really get hallucinations. Maybe it was an after-image. Or maybe it was what my friends and I have taken to calling "a Charles de Lint moment," just one of those random encounters one has with the weird and out-of-the-ordinary and possibly supernatural. Anyway. Whatever that blue glow at the top of Norwood Drive really was, in the story it's an angel. Or the ghost of an angel. And it shows up for about two seconds every evening at the intersection of Norwood and Broadway at a quarter to eleven.
So that was good. Then for the surprise waiting for me in my inbox when I finally checked email late Monday afternoon: I've been accepted to Viable Paradise X! [Edited to better reflect the resulting level of enthusiasm.] I suppose those first three chapters of Drowning Boy have benefitted even more greatly from the latest revision than I'd realized. Hooray!
Both of these good things necessitate work, so it's a good thing that I am pronouncing tomorrow A Day Free Of Apathy and getting right on it.
Into the mail. Tomorrow. Sparkly.
So those three chapters got another round of polishing, and the synopsis got whittled down to 900 words. And every one of those words was wanted, let me tell you.
Let me tell you something else. FedEx Kinkos charges $0.49 per page on their black-and-white printer. Fifty cents! For one sheet! One crappy cover letter: Fifty cents! One crappy 900 word synopsis: Two bucks! I'm damn glad I printed out the 9,100 word three-chapter writing sample on a friend's laser printer instead. That one was almost twenty bucks long. Next time, I'm-a goin' price-shopping. There's another copy center 'cross the street from the Kinkos; they might offer more reasonable prices.
Or I might just get my printer nozzle cleaned out and print from home like I used to.
Never, never, never-never never feed your Canon i450 generic-compatible ink. Hold out for genuine Canon ink. Or you'll get drop-shadows and blurs in your printouts and boy will you be sorry.
So, yeah. Application to VP going into the mail mañana.
In case I haven't said...
...oh wait. I have.
I'll say it again anyway: Synopsis writing suuuuuucks.
On the good side, I did get through the three pages of narrative summary without ever quite giving in to the little voice in my head that is quick to tell me what an awful, awful book this is, how pervected and gratuitous and wrong. I wrote through the paragraphs describing each of the scenes that woke that voice up, nodded peacefully at said voice until it went away, and pretended not to care every time that voice came back.
Thus I reached the end. It's 1,682 words long, just under three pages single-spaced, and it will need a thorough revision later on this evening. With any luck I will put the darn thing in the mail tomorrow morning on my way to work.
Three Sparkling Chapters, Ready To Go!
Or as ready as they can look on the day the task is done. I should read them over again later, though, after I write up the synopsis. In any case, I got to the end of Chapter Three.
By the time he got back to Seattle (in the passenger seat of a green Saturn coupe whose driver held contradictory opinions about hitchhiking), a crimson sea was once more washing over the world. But this time it was the healthy, rose-touched red of sunset. It had nothing to do with lack of air. Brian was breathing just fine. Air moved into him comfortably and out again with each breath, just like air should. He was exhausted, true, but there was nothing wrong with him really, nothing at all.Yay! Bittersweet sunsets and resignation and foreshadowing and whatnot, go me! Now all I have to do is write up a synopsis and something like a letter of intent. Here's what happens in the book, and here's why I want to attend the workshop.
He was alive and well. He wasn't on his way to Colorado.
And he never would be again.
I'm not entirely sure what happens in the book. I haven't entirely decided. I suppose I'd better just make the best guess I can and trust that it'll be good enough to get me in the door.
The exceedingly friendly lounge car steward on the train from Chicago to New Orleans asked me something relevant here. "Do you think you need it?" He meant the workshop. He meant, can writing be taught? Are workshops worth it? And yes, enough of the craft of writing is teachable that there's no question workshops can be worth it. But it remains a good question: Why do I want to go? What do I hope to learn? When I think about Big Name Authors (or even medium-name authors) reading my sorry attempts at telling this story and pointing out all the ways in which I've gotten it wrong, I cringe, I really do. But I still want to go. Why?
I really hope I have a better reason than the fan-girl one. "Ohmygawd like I totally want to meet Big Name Authors and have them read my Stuff *swoon* it'll be so rad!"
Maybe I'm hoping that the very knowledge that I've spent a lot of money to go, and put a lot of face on the line, will push me into high performance mode. I always have worked well under pressure. I hate it, but it works. Maybe that's why I procrastinate. Maybe I'm doomed to procrastinate all my life.
Victoria Nelson has some very kind things to say about procrastination. She says that we should stop punishing ourselves with the word and start looking at it as a statement of fact: I have put off my task until tomorrow. Why have I done this? What is preventing my unconscious creator mind from working with my conscious ego? What can my ego do to improve relations with my unconscious? Only I don't know how to answer that question. Creation happens in a state of grace, she says. You can't make it happen by force of will; you can only relax and allow the miracle to happen. And let yourself write as an act of play instead of a chore. Have fun.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of all this advice, but kind words and having fun seem like a good place to start. Better than hating myself for taking all day to get started, anyway.
In other news, I've been messing around a bit with the blog code. I'm quite pleased with having converted the blog entries table from being indexed by timestamp to being indexed by an auto_increment ID number instead, and revising all the display and entry management code to reflect that, all in under twelve hours. Unfortunately, you can't see that. What you can see is I've put the Random Writing-Related Quote back onto the page. Yay! Bask in its radiance! It is a thing of beauty!
(Yes, I know. I need to get out more. Hush.)
Fear of... something.
- 59,003 wds. long
- 125.50 hrs. revised
Finally cracked open the novel again and made a couple more inches' progress. I'm at the bit where Brian first realizes that his little breathing problem has something to do with heading east, and I feel a little like him, moving forward at a snail's pace and fighting myself the whole way. Now, he's going to have to turn back because there ain't nothing you can do about being a fish out of water except head back to the sea. But me, I've gotta keep crawling.
I have a whole four pages to go until I reach the end of Chapter Three. And the closer I get, the slower I go. It's like I'm afraid of finishing, because then I'd have to actually submit writing to someone who'll read it and maybe like it and invite me to attend a workshop where they'll help me make it better. Horrors!
What the hell is this? Y'all other writers out there, you know what I'm talking about. And if you're all like, "Not me, thank you very much, I can't not write, I deny the existence of writers' block, I don't know what your problem is at all," then, good for you. I'm not talking to you. Shut up. The rest of y'all, y'all know, right? What is this, fear of success? Fear of completion? Fear of leaving the safety of one's nice, comfortable rut?
It's probably time to reread Victoria Nelson' On Writer's Block. I seem to recall her having something to say about these things: the block that comes from unconsiously savoring the limitless possibilities of incompletion; the block that comes from reluctance to commit; the block that comes from fear of finishing the work. And, wise writer that she is, she also has a few things to say about the tendency to mentally excoriate oneself for not having written today, and thus make it even harder to write the next day. I'm really good at that mental excoriation stuff.
It's almost 4 Aye Emm. Time for a nap or something.
I don't even remember.
- 58,909 wds. long
- 124.25 hrs. revised
Thought maybe I'd get back to the beast after spending an hour with it at sunrise and then going off to the dentist. Didn't. Now I can't seem to remember what the heck was going on. It's been a day, and I'm tired, and there is less gum tissue and more soreness in my mouth now than there was at 7:15 AM.
Oh yeah. More flashbacks. Conversations to navigate. Beers to drink and half-remembered dreams to squirm at the remembering of. Less being more being a bloody pain in the rear.
Whatever. I have absolutely nothing of interest to say today. Some days, there's really nothing more to report than "I put in my hour."
(Oh, and someone else apparently both reads this blog and Ambrose Bierce. Hoorah!)
The Slaughter of the Darlings
- 58,816 wds. long
- 123.25 hrs. revised
And what I want to know is, if I refer to several months of a character's memory, whose veracity the character has begun to question, as "nothing more than an occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," will the average reader know what the hell I'm talking about?
I'm guessing not.
But I've killed enough darlings tonight and I'd rather like to keep this one, if only for the sake of economy. I mean, I could say, "a dream in which significant amounts of time seem to pass during the instant you start to lose consciousness in the middle of a traumatic event, like drowning, or being hanged by the neck during the Civil War, or having your bed's headboard fall on your neck." Or I could use a tidy little seven-word phrase and imply on top of that that my protagonist is very well read.
Economy, see? Cleverness! Yes!
(And I will keep telling myself that, thank you.)