Saturday, May 31, 2008
Following the short story theme, here are a few places to find cool stories online (not an exhaustive list, by any means):
Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show and Jim Baen's Universe are also cool, but you need a subscription to get the full stories. (Although IMS has a few stories to peek at for free.)
Friday, May 30, 2008
I haven't gotten in quite as much writing time today as usual, but I've still done 200 words plus some revising. I also (finally) got around to picking through the formatting on my bibliograpy web site's posting of my short story Disappearing. The italics had vanished on me a while back and I've kept putting off the necessary fixing-up. I re-read the story itself as I was working on it--I hadn't done so with that particular story in a while. It was published over five years ago, and there are things I'd have done differently with it now, but it holds up reasonably well, I think.
That story also had a song that figured very prominently in its flowering. I'd started fiddling with the basic premise of the story shortly before we moved from Illinois to South Carolina. I knew what emotional statement I was looking to make--a choice between selfishness and selflessness that turns out to be not quite what it first appears to be, framed in the eternal but everyday search to find happiness in a world that sometimes seems dead set against allowing such a frivolous thing. I even had the main characters in mind (more or less). The personalities of Ven and Bertam were based on those of a couple of my favorite gaming companions. The usual pattern of our EQ adventures usually involved Tim (Ven's inspiration) hollering with glee and enthusiasm as he led us headfirst into trouble, with me giggling helplessly, and Eugene (Bertam's inspiration) following stalwartly behind, shaking his head and preparing to pick up whatever pieces of us remained once the damage was done. (No priest class has ever worked harder or endured more. Tim was a warrior and I was a bard--so we could get into trouble FASTER.) I even had a vague idea of setting--a dreary reality and a place of magical escape. (I'm sure there was some gaming-related influence at work there, too.)
What I was still missing was the SOMETHING that tied everything together, the element of magic that explained how Elspeth moved between worlds. So one afternoon, as the movers were loading the truck under the supervision of my husband, and baby Michael was napping at my mother-in-law's house, I took cranky todder Joey out for a ride in hopes that he'd fall asleep in his car seat and feel better when he woke up. It was a gloomy day, kind of raining off and on, and I played a Pat Benatar CD very softly for some background noise. (Yes, I kinda like Pat Benatar. Just a little.) Enter "Run Between the Raindrops," and I found not only the little piece of magic I was looking for, but an angle involving mothers and children that had not previously existed. (My computer is being all wonky with music and videos today, but in theory you should be able to get a preview listen to the song here.)
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The title of today's blog is a line from a song whose inspiration has formed the glue which took my random set of ideas and dream fragments and turned them into what is growing up to be Crowmaker. The song is "One Blue Sky," by Sugarland. (YouTube alert! Don't click at work!) Yes, it's country. Yes, I actually listen to country. Yes, you can laugh if you like. Then go listen to the song anyhow. I like to think it's pretty good whatever label you want to slap on it. (Music is like that sometimes. So are books and movies and people. Go figure. And if you still don't like it, that's OK, too. Different drummers and all that.)
And because I am in a "God, I am so enamored of this story I can't stand to not share with anyone" kind of mood today, here's a snippet from the rough draft:
I hope you'll all forgive my giddiness and not mistake it for boasting or pride. It's a strange thing, but I think everyone here will understand what I mean when I say that most of the time what I write feels less like something I can brag about and more like something I am grateful for because it happened to show up on my doorstep and allowed me to be the one to write it.
The raft drew close enough for Ein to spot a gun belt around the stranger's waist. Ein took a step back, figuring she should go and holler for Udale or Big Fraze or maybe even the preacher boy, Had. That's when the figure on the raft looked up, and Ein could see by the soft lines of her face that the stranger was female. The woman's black eyes fixed right on Ein, but that wasn't what froze Ein in her tracks.
Dark lines criss-crossed the stranger's face and neck, shaded by the floppy felt hat she wore but still the deepest, most living blue Ein had ever set eyes on. Ein stared, trying to decide if the lines moved, and after a startled second she recognized them for what they were.
Ein craned her neck, forgetting all about the stranger as she searched the cloud-ridden sky for the sleek, dark shape so familiar to Ein from her father's journals.
More musical influences tomorrow (maybe). Also tomorrow, the return of the fishing guys. Can you all say, "Mmm, fish fry and potato salad. MMMMM."
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
"Where do your story ideas come from?" is a theme often discussed amongst writers (and sometimes just when we're talking to ourselves). Quite honestly, I don't really know any more than anyone else does, but I've gotten to know myself well enough to recognize the points of inspiration that lead me down a path to a particular story. It's interesting to me to take a finished story and look back at the sparks that marked its beginning and see how far the long and winding road has taken it from start to finish. I've been thinking about documenting some of my thought processes on previous stories in this blog, in part because I am an overanalyzing freak but also because I often find that making myself look at how I worked through previous stories helps me struggle through my current work. It reminds me that every story I've ever finished was also once just a few scribbles on paper, just like the ones that are as-yet unfinished.
Flash fiction is pretty easy to track. Being shorter--although by no means less craft-intensive--means the distance covered from start to finish is shorter, and the tighter boundaries leave less room for an excess of ideas. Motionless Wings came in part from one very vivid visual image. My husband and I were driving the four hour stretch of interstate between our home in Indiana and central Illinois, where our assorted family members live. It was a windy day in early spring, and we passed a small pond. A trick of the wind plus our movement plus the flight direction of the birds flying over the pond made it appear that a handful of small birds were simply frozen, completely motionless, in the air over the pond. Not a terribly unusual sight, but at the time I'd been keeping a small notebook to jot down writerly ideas in hopes that someday I would learn how to write stories. Said notebook was open on my lap, so I jotted a quick note: "roadside pond, motionless birds" or something to that effect.
It was five years later before I used that note, as I searched for a visual to sum up my struggles with and sometimes victories over depression for one of a series of flash fictions I was writing to hone my writing skills. I wrestled with that tiny piece of semi-fiction for a long time, even after I had the visual of the motionless wings in place, trying to find just the right nuances to capture the dreadful, trapped feeling of depression while also instilling that quiet spark of hope and determination that carries you through if you can find it and cling to it. It wasn't the first story I'd finished, but it was my first sale. It paid $5 plus self esteem. I also took it as a sign that even though it was more than a little unsettling to put something of myself into a story, it is that kind of honesty that makes even fiction ring true. Most of my other stories are far less auto-biographical, but there are pieces of me layered in each of them somewhere.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Sunday afternoon and evening revolved mostly around phone calls back and forth to the fishing cabin in Wisconsin. Cell reception in that area is not happy (I'm not entirely sure the cabins even HAVE land lines), so there was much "what?" "huh?" "what?" "I can't hear you let me go stand on my head in the corner and see if reception is better." Seems Michael came down with a stomach bug. Husband is not highly practiced in dealing with sick children, so I struggled on my end to determine Michael's real status vs. the level of near hysteria in husband's voice. After being told that Michael had passed out (I'm still unsure if he really did, or for how long), I told husband to just take him to the emergency room. It really was just a stomach bug, but the trip was still worth it since it meant knowing for sure what was going on. Poor Joey had to ride along in case Michael vomited or passed out en route , but he apparently lived up to the sudden need to step into some grown up responsibility quite admirably. I made very sure to tell him I was proud of him. He, of course, was sick the next day. Hopefully they'll still get in at least one day of fun before it's time to come home.
Today is the first official, non-weekend, non-holiday day of my summer vacation. I feel vaguely guilty about not having the flu.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Yesterday's new word count finished out at around 1,250. No new word count so far today. Last night as I was brushing my teeth, "Crowmaker" wandered into the bathroom and tugged at my sleeve and said, "Hey, I think I wanna grow up to be a novel. Just think about it, OK?" So today has mostly consisted of housework and pacing around the house in between scribbling down sporadic outbursts of ideas on how to grant that wish. I'm cautiously optimistic, but also trying to wind down and shift gears into a pace that will take me a longer distance. This will not be a sprint; a novel is a whole different kind of race than a short story.
My original "get back on track" plan had been to write at least one short story for each WotF deadline and use any down time due to drawer time or early completion to write additional shorts, maybe some flash fic. This can still work, I think. The new plan is to do the one short story for the deadline and shift back to "Crowmaker" instead of additional short fic in the interim periods. This should give me the instant gratification of finishing a story (and thus the reminder that I am capable of doing so) while still giving the longer work time to grow without undue pressure.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
My guys are all at their fishing cabin in Wisconsin, leaving me with nothing for company but the dog and oodles of free time in which to write. The manic sprite visited me this morning, but I recognized her arrival and stared her down. The creative energy is all well and good, building like an almost physical pressure. But I'm in charge here, not her. I use the energy; it doesn't use me. Taking a joy ride is all well and good while it lasts, but unharnessed it accomplishes nothing except bringing on a big, fat crash and burn. But I think we've reached an understanding.
So, I started this blog primarily because... Well, because it sounded more entertaining than the other things I was working on at the time. But beyond that, it is turning out to be a good way to track my moods and productivity--a snapshot of my day to day that I can look back on when I need some objectivity, maybe.
But I also recall a conversation not too long ago in which a friend and I noted how it's often true that creativity begets creativity. Specifically, I had noted a trend on various RP forums--if the storytelling has run dry, all it takes is ONE person to post a story. And more often than not, someone else will soon post a story. And maybe someone else after that will, too, and there is story frenzy, even if it doesn't last forever or get anyone published. I get story ideas from music, very often. I know of songwriters who've been inspired by books or movies to write a particular song. Creativity is like a web, apparently, and the little tremors of other people doing creative things can set off our own creative urges.
It's contagious. If you catch the creative sniffles from me, that would be so great. I'll even send you some tissues and hot soup. And thanks to those out there who shared their germs with me.
Friday, May 23, 2008
It's amusing how, when I have no current project, my muse will often just clam up and refuse to speak to me at all. When I'm working on something, the ideas fly around and smack me upside the head. This is a common happening, apparently. I dutifully write down the new idea and then ask the muse to shush for a little bit while we work on *this* story for a while now, please.
Over 1,000 new words yesterday, plus some research and a really sketchy map with place names to keep me from going nuts trying to remember what I called something. So far today, more map names, more research-type reading, and 700 new words.
I was browsing blogs a couple of days ago and came across a fun little activity. When I tried to retrace my steps today and find it again, of course I couldn't. (If someone recognizes this and does recall where it came from, poke me.) In short, the author gave three links to click on. The first turned up a random Wikipedia article--the title of it became the name of your band. The second turned up a page of random famous quotations. Take the last four words of the final quote on the page, and that's your album's title. Third link was a page of random Flickr photos--third pic on the top row was the album cover. This was far more entertaining that it really should be, and of course my writerly mind went "Ooooh. Drop the band name part and make it a book title and cover, and we could use this to brainstorm story ideas. OOOOOH!"
It is also handy for making up blog titles that may be completely irrelevant, but still sound cool.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
1. This story would like to be called "Crowmaker" from now on, Lori. Get with it, change the file name, and start calling it by its proper name. Yeesh, writers.
2. I still really like this world. And the people who live in it. They came out of their houses to greet me when I strolled back into town, just like I'd never left. I am enjoying their story. I think about it when I go to bed at night and look forward to waking up and working on it the next day. Will this euphoria last forever? Undoubtedly not--it's always work, no matter what, and since I've gotten all the "inspired, just slap it on the paper" scenes out of the way, it's bound to be rough going even more so. But I want this story. I want it enough to not care if anyone else ever wants it.
Those were the revelations about the story itself. I read a couple of things recently that probably played into my thoughts, or at least helped me clarify them. Falconesse's blog entry of the other day included a link to a post which defined ye olde "butt in chair" method of writing--not the first time I'd heard the phrase, but the most recent. The gist of it is, thou shalt park yourself in front of your computer every day and WRITE and nothing else for two hours, the same two hours, every day, or else. I agree with this sentiment, in that at some point that's what you have to do--you have to just DO it.
But then there's this from the Writer Beware Blogs.
"In a way, though, I found myself envying the writers at the Oklahoma OWFI Conference. I envied their joy in the simple act of creating. I envied how much fun they all seemed to be having. The Oklahoma writers weren't nearly as FOCUSED, weren't nearly as driven as the SFWA members.There's a fine line between wanting to write and feeling you have to write. I lost myself for a while in that obsession over publication, in large part because I felt that I had to become commercially successful in order to justify the time I spent writing, which was in turn wrapped up in larger and unrelated personal issues. I finally hit the point where I just didn't even care if I wrote or not. Now that I've begun working out those larger personal issues, I feel less pressure to BE a writer, and NOW, or it's a waste of time. And I'm remembering what I loved about it to begin with.
"Not that either group was "right," or "wrong" in their approach. Just different. But I came away from Oklahoma with a resolution to take more joy in just creating. I think it's possible to lose sight of the joy of creation when writers become too obsessed with publication."
So, while I agree with the "butt in chair" sentiment, I don't feel that it has to be as inflexible as "the two same hours every day" rule in order to work. The key is in knowing yourself and your life and being able to schedule your time accordingly--and then loving it enough to make yourself stick to YOUR schedule. The ability to forgive yourself when you inevitably fall off the schedule for a day or week or year is handy, too. Instead of wasting time berating yourself for your failure or just giving up because obviously you're completely lacking in willpower, just give yourself a hug, tell yourself it's OK, and climb back into the chair. In the long run, it'll leave you more time for writing.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
It's not my best work or favorite story, but in any case, it is a story and it is more done than it was less than two weeks ago, and more done than anything I've started in the last year or two. I'm calling it an accomplishment and setting it aside for a few days before I change my mind.
Bobby was seven, three years younger than Jake. They shared the same fair, freckled complexion and rumpled blonde hair, but Bobby's face was rounder.
Jake couldn't see Bobby clearly in the darkened room--he was just a gray smear of face and hair--but he knew there were other things different about Bobby now, too. When Bobby talked, something new rumbled in his voice, like a dog growling low behind the door of Bobby's harmless whining.
I plan to use my week or so of cooling-off time from this story to revisit "Sacrifice" and explore its latent possibilities. I'm both excited and terrified. Wish me luck!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The retirees in the community behind our house also do not mow, but once a week an entire fleet of hired mowers, trimmers, and sprayers descend upon their yards and the common area that lies between our back yard and the first row of duplexes. Today is sunny, 60-some degrees, and the drone of mowers and scent of cut grass is drifting through the screen door. The dog, attached to my hip as usual while I sit in my super-big chair and use my laptop, caved to the whole nap thing almost immediately and is now a cozy bundle of fur sprawled the length of my thigh. The whole setup makes me want to nose dive into my laptop as I struggle to string words together into coherent sentences.
I wound up finishing draft two of "Wings" yesterday afternoon and evening, so this morning, in between grocery shopping and letting the window guy in to replace the glass in a couple of windows, I took a printout of the story and a bundle of colored pencils and marked up all the sensory descriptions. (I can't for the life of me remember where I got that trick. One of Jack Bickham's how-to books, maybe? God knows I've read enough how-to-write books and articles in my lifetime that I can't keep them all straight.) I made lots of legible-only-to-me monkey scribblings in the margins and the blank space left over at the very end of the printout to brainstorm as many additional sensory descriptions as I could. I'm about halfway through taking my notes and applying them to the ms itself, which is about a half a step ahead of where I thought I'd be today. I am pleased with my progress.
If I can resist the nap urge a little longer, maybe I can even finish up before going to fetch the boys from school.
Monday, May 19, 2008
"I'm still at that stage where I'm not looking directly at the story yet. I'm kinda glancing around the corner at it just long enough to work on it. Pretty soon I'll have to haul it out into the light of day and stare it down... You're in pretty sad shape when you have to outwit your own imagination."
"Wings" is still in the adding-to-it round of drafts. First draft was the slamming out of the scenes as they occurred to me, in this case in mostly-chronological order. (It doesn't always happen that way.) Second draft, I sat down with my usual story structure method and sorted out what I already had and what I needed to add to make it a solid, whole plot with character motivations and everything. (Often I have to do this before/during the first draft, because monotonous and anti-creative as it may sound, it tends to clear out the cobwebs and fog and let me see things--exciting things--about a story that I hadn't seen until then.)
This morning I took my list and made it almost half through the ms with little tweaks and additions. I should be able to finish up the second draft tomorrow and start in on the third draft, which will consist of more adding-in, this time focused on making sure descriptions are involving and mood-setting. THEN it will be time for the light of day and staring-down business. Maybe after a couple of days in the drawer to let it cool down and restore my objectivity.
No, this is not the exact same process I go through for every story. But the bits and pieces of it are similar enough that I no longer feel like I'm driving blind every time I get behind the story-writing wheel. My imagination still refuses to show me the map sometimes, often won't tell me where we're going, and frequently hollers, "Oh, you were supposed to turn there!" just for fun. But we don't crash and burn anywhere near as often as we used to.
This is a good thing.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
The boys had their next-to-last week of school for this school year. The homework load has yet to let up much, but when I compare the way they handle it now as compared to the beginning of the school year, I'm pretty pleased. Michael especially has come a long way this year--it no longer takes him two hours to do his 45 minutes worth of homework.
I spent most of last weekend hemming and hawing about what direction to go with my writing--stick to my original goal of grinding out a story to enter in the WotF contest each quarter or sidetrack to follow where "Sacrifice" was taking me? "Sacrifice" has obstinately grown far beyond its original boundaries and will never be short enough to qualify for the contest, and in my heart I want to see where it will go with no artificial limits placed on it--so sticking to my original goal means coming up with a different story for the contest, with only a month and a half until the deadline. I'd spent the week before last trying to build a new story, but it just wasn't reaching out and grabbing me. Oh, woe is me, what to do, what to do?
So, last Sunday morning, while the kids were downstairs and the hubby was at work, I popped in a random CD, which turned out to be Pat Benatar's "Go," while I emptied the dishwasher and fiddled with other domestic duties. I caught myself staring out the back window at the swing set while "I Won't" ("I'd rather die than love you...") blared at me from the window sill.
Bam. Story idea. I fought it at first, because it seemed kind of trite and unoriginal, but I dutifully opened a new file and jotted down the scene snippets that had come to me. It felt good--it had that little hum of potential emotional power--but intellectually I still had my doubts. By Monday morning, I had some new insights on how to deal with my doubts. By Friday, I had over 2,500 words of a rough draft that seems reasonably good and notes on what I should do in a second draft to shore up the weak points.
In short, it was a pretty good week. Here's hoping next week follows suit.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
In a show of rebellion against my easily-spooked muse, I forced myself to leave the registration screen open while I wracked my brain for ideas. Since I figured this would be largely about my writing (since it is a large part of my life), I wound up on my bibliography page as I looked for ideas. It won't take a genius to figure out that I ended up taking my blog's name from the title of my one and only semi-published novel, The World Between Earth and Sky.
I've always been fascinated by Native American culture and stories. Before/while writing The World Between, I read a lot on those topics in the name of research. Many of the Native American tribes subscribed to the belief in different worlds--a world beneath the earth, where the first people first lived before climbing into this one; a world above the sky; a world beneath the waters. This world, the one we live in now, they called "the world between earth and sky."
But even this world is broken down into different layers of life. Don't we live in different worlds just in the course of a single day? I am in a world of nothing but sun and sky and quiet when the dog and I take a walk or sit outside to read. (I read; the dog tries to oust the book from my lap.) I live in sensibility and practicality as I urge the boys through the daily routines of school and homework and bedtime. I delve into the whirling realm of my own imagination as I write, and visit the worlds created by others when I read their stories. I lived the world of my childhood, of my young adulthood, of my motherhood, of all the other -hoods crammed in there.
Our lives are bounded between our earthy births and our passing into the sky-like unknown. We can't know where we came from or where we go, but we have our worlds between.
In other words, "Worlds Between" is a poetic way to say "this blog is about my life." Genius, huh?
Friday, May 16, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
On a brighter and less self-admonishing note, I really do have high hopes for all those not-yet-finished stories, and I'm proud of the mostly-steady work pace I've been keeping. I only started the most recent one Monday, after all, and I finished that first draft this morning. It has a lot of promise, a lot of good stuff already in existence, and I am (mostly) confident that I have it in me to do it justice. The one I started that got too long and disqualified itself from the contest, I have even higher hopes for. (Just not for that contest.)
From Falconesse: "So much of my writing begins with me agonizing over names. I’ve managed to get over the need to choose a title before I can start - several of my works-in-progress are saved as something that lets me recognize what is within the file - “Running,” “Karris,” “Vamp Story,” (which, by the way, isn’t about vampires at all, since within three pages it had changed into something else entirely. But if I changed the title, I’d have no idea what was in there.) That used to cripple me, though, this feeling that I had to have a great title before I could do anything else."
As with so many other things where she and I are concerned: ~~~ (Those are shared brainwaves, for those not yet in the know. I'd take credit, but some long-ago gaming friend taught it to me. God, I wish I could remember who. Someone I miss, I'm sure.) For those playing along at home, I'm calling the two afore-mentioned stories "Wings" and "Sacrifice." I'm not sure how well either of those titles will apply once the stories are actually done.
Summer will be an iffy time for writing, since I have yet to see what kind of balance the boys and I will be able to strike between us time vs. time for individuals doing their own things. The bottom line is, I have missed our home schooling terribly and am looking forward to our self-assigned summer projects. I'm alternately boggled and thrilled at what interesting people my babies have turned out to be. Yes, I'm sure I'm biased, but I also genuinely enjoy talking history and music with Joey or books and science experiments with Michael. (Science is, generally speaking, way over my head--but it's fun to try things anyhow!) If only I could bribe someone else to take them to the pool--have I ever mentioned my fear/hate relationship with swimming?
So, summer may be less than productive on the writing front--but it'll be pay dirt in kid time, and I'm willing to bet I learn a thing or three along with the boys.