Anything For a Laugh
1699 words long
the author in conversation
Today was kind of a blah day. Slow moving, no new breakthroughs, hung up on non-writing tasks. Today was kind of not.
The only thing to report is this:
I'm working on the story I want to submit to The First Line on February 1 (that's Saturday, by the way). That's the one with the prompt, "Carlos discovered _____ [fill in the blank] under a pile of shoes in the back of his grandmother's closet."
As I mentioned, I filled in the blank with "homing device." The main idea is that this device has been passed down through the family from mother to daughter for generations, with the understanding that someday, something or someone not of this planet will arrive. Carlos finds it and brings it to his mother, Lucita, who somehow never got given it or told about it. Lucita is only just finding out this, her family's secret, by reading her mother's journal. They are going through her mother's house and things because her mother has just died.
I'm trying to avoid the sort of last-minute stressy race to beat the deadline I put myself through with "Anything For a Laugh." So I'm getting a little worried about not being finished yet.
Like I said, today didn't really move. I had hoped to complete a draft before I left at 5:45 PM for roller derby practice. That did not happen.
But here's what did happen: I discovered, or rediscovered, that my tendency to think out loud can be used for good and not just embarrassment of me and irritation of others. If I leave the radio off and drive in silence from home to the Bomb Shelter, and I just start talking to myself about my story, I discover things about the story. It's like my 25-minute freewriting exercise: a few minutes in and everything takes a sharp left turn off the rut I've been stuck in.
So apparently Nena Santiago isn't, in fact, dead, but missing. Her mother went missing when she reached advanced age, too. And her mother before that. The homing device isn't calling one single arrival during some future generation, but is arranging the rapture, so to speak, of each successive woman in the dynasty. But Nena never did pass the homing device on to Lucita because she didn't believe in it, and besides she resented the whole "Now you have to get married and have a daughter" thing, which got her saddled with a real jerk of a husband whom she may or may not have in fact murdered. And by the way did you know that old pile of shoes has rock climbing shoes and tap dance shoes and moon boots next to the dress flats and sandals? And oh my goodness Nena's journal is full of things.
And also there's the title, which just came to me like a punchline when I hit the word "rapture." Only if I'm going to give it that title, I had better find a way to connect this story with that chapter in Roman history it's alluding to. And also, there'd better be a nod to how all the women in this dynasty share a last name despite living in the here-and-now of the U.S. where it's more common for married women to take their husband's name.
And did I mention that I'm shooting for flash fiction?
The important thing is, the story's moving now! Hooray for 25-minute commutes.
Things That Got Done Last Week
So today was kinda worthless on the writing front. This was mostly because Sunday was roller derby from early morning 'til night, and Monday was a pretty awesomely productive but exhausting volunteering-at-the-farm morning, so Tuesday was "I get to sleep in and be worthless guilt-free for once" day.
(You'd think that leaving the farm at lunch and napping in the afternoon would count towards the sleep-in-and-be-worthless-guilt-free requirement. Except the nap in the afternoon is never long enough nor uninterrupted. And it's never guilt-free. I can't entirely forget that the guys who work on the farm as their actual jobs not only start two hours earlier than I do in the mornings, they also don't get the afternoons off. So I'm a lazy wimp who if I really wanted to be helpful would stay until sundown just like everyone else... I never said the voices in my head were helpful or rational, but they're there and they're loud.)
I think that weekends, rather than always occurring on Saturday and Sunday, should be invoked as needed. I'm declaring Tuesday to have been my honorary Saturday.
Meanwhile, last week I Got Stuff Done.
I did indeed submit the one about the space glue snow apocalypse (now with Brand! New! Title!) to The First Line on deadline day. It required a stupid amount of wrestling with Microsoft Word over formatting styles it insisted on applying to my imported WordPerfect 5.1 DOS document. How did it know to apply "Normal (Web)" to all my paragraphs? I do not know. I mean, yes, I composed the story in HTML code and copied the web output into Word, I'll admit to that, but then I saved as WP51, opened it in WP51, and resaved it in WP51. WP51 format doesn't save Word or RTF formatting styles. To my knowledge, WordPerfect doesn't even know about formatting styles until you get into the WYSIWYG versions for Windows and Mac. Version 5.1 is a DOS program. Plus, look -- if you hit F11 to "Reveal Codes," you can see there's absolutely nothing but the usual hard line break plus tab at every new paragraph. Look! This file is clean! So when I then freshly boot up Word to open this WP51 document, how can Word still detect the former presence of HMTL paragraph tags? How? HOW?! THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK!!!
Yeah, I'm a little bitter about this. Also about the way I couldn't change the style of the biography paragraph at the end without changing the style of the entire manuscript. WTF, Word?
Thereafter followed a lot of cursing and brute-forcing and frustration, but eventually everything looked acceptable and I sent the dang thing off. Immediately enough to possibly be an auto-reply, I got an email confirming receipt of my submission. So I guess that was a success.
I also finally got my butt in gear and submitted "First Breath" to a reprint anthology on almost the last day of their reading period. Go me. And frankly I'll be shocked if they accept it. I'm not anywhere near certain that it's a good fit for the anthology, or, if it is a good fit, whether it's good enough.
But I keep reminding myself of two things. First, this is a story that was already published at professional rates. Clearly it's "good enough" for some value of the term. Secondly, even if I'm not certain it's a good fit, I'm not certain that it isn't, which puts the dilemma squarely in the category of Don't Reject Yourself; There Are Editors To Do That For You.
So I sent it.
Next on my plate is "It's For You," a.k.a. the one about the phone that isn't there. My plan is to get that revised over the next few days and submitted over the weekend. Because the next few days are not about sleeping in and being worthless. They are about Getting Stuff Done. DO NOT SCOFF AT MY OPTIMISM BECAUSE IT IS INVINCIBLE.
Stop poking it with pointy sticks! Do not test the invincibility!
NO, REALLY. INVINCIBLE.
Blasting Through an Early Morning Draft
- 1,854 wds. long
Up and writing earlier than I intended. Birds start to tweet around 4:45 or so, and then it's no use trying to sleep. I tried anyway, shuffling and rewriting the mental index cards for the new story, until the sentences assembled themselves into WRITE ME DOWN fashion and I got up and went to the computer.
Thinking I was just jotting down notes, I actually blasted through an entire draft composed as minimal HTML in EditPlus. That's another weird thing about the way I work; sometimes I get unstuck when I change writing medium. The phone story shook loose when I went from yWriter to WordPerfect 5.1. "First Breath" came tumbling out when I unearthed my typewriter. This morning, the new story got a real first draft when I took the text editor I use for making grocery lists, writing blog posts, and editing PHP/MySQL, and I pretended I wasn't actually writing a draft.
It worked, I think, for two reasons. For one, I can see more of the text at a time composing single-spaced in a text editor than I can double-spaced in the little blue WP51 window. For another, the stripped-down text-editor environment made it easy to write simply. No long flashbacks about the protagonist's railroad-flattened nickel or philosophical maunderings about mingling guilt with fascination with a sense of power. Just simple sentences describing a select few key details adding up to the story I was trying to tell. And no more bogging-down.
As far as I know, I'm OK so long as I submit this thing while it's still August 1 wherever the editors of The First Line reside, or maybe as long as my email is time-stapmed August 1. So I think what I'm going to do this afternoon is take this draft for revisions to the place I've set the story: the Madison Street Diner, on Madison Street just south of Colfax. OK, well, the real Madison Street isn't an all-night diner, it's only open from 4 PM until 10 tonight, but why not, right? Then I'll come up with a real title (I hope), submit the story, and drive back to Boulder in time to meet friends for take-out food and a game of Dread.
Until then, though, I'm going to try to get some sleep. At least for a few hours.
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.