Monday, June 30, 2008

Like herding puppies

I was discussing the whole idea generation/writing process with Grizz this morning. I commented that from the documentation I was doing, I could really see how I kept going back over and over things, looking for bits of story idea that I'd missed, and that it was not a very linear process. Grizz's comment:

"It's like... puppies! Puppies following you. Every so often you stop, turn around, and make sure none have straggled behind, and see how many new ones have joined the pack. And then regroup. Or... something."

He thought it was silly, but I find it a very apt analogy. Making up stories is like herding puppies!

Lots of house projects to work on this week. Michael has a new window in his room which needs the interior stained and new curtains hung. It also has a big arched window over the regular windows, from which they had to remove the fancy fan blind when they did the window replacing. I'm not sure it'll fit the new window, and I'm fairly clueless how it goes back in anyhow. Wish me luck on figuring that out--after the staining is done, of course. I finally convinced the husband that we really need to hire painters for the exterior, since a lot of it will require big ladders and possibly even scaffolding. I am not inclined to a) let my 12 year old attempt it or b) do it myself. Joey has stated, however, that he will paint the shed. (Oh, the lure of Heroscape figures.)

So, after I finish up this entry and brush my teeth, it's off to buy staining and painting supplies. And then check on the puppy herd when I return. (Provided they don't stampede me while I'm out and away from my computer, as they sometimes do. Puppies from heaven!)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Real imagination

At this point, the story is really close, close enough to see bits and pieces like images through a gauzy curtain. I love this stage, because it's so very much like real magic. Time for more stewing, and waiting for the story to form a little more before I try peeking through the curtain just yet.

It's when we say something like the above that we find out who really understands us. It's the paragraph I left off with last night in the Google document where I'm attempting to journalize my writing process on the story I've assigned myself for the third quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. The link is over there on the right, just above the writing progress meters, if you're interested in following along or just skimming a little here and there. I somehow doubt it'll be too amusing to anyone but me, but who knows--fellow writers (granted, those much more established than I am) have allowed me to peek into their world, and it's provided helpful suggestions, inspiration, and reassurance to me. (I'm not alone in this quirky writer's world--unique, maybe, as we all are, but most certainly not alone.)

In my ongoing quest for greater spiritual understanding of myself and the world around me, I've come to the conclusion that something doesn't have to be tangible in order to be real. And really, is that such a startling conclusion? We can't see or touch things like wind or electricity, although they leave physical evidence of their existence. But then, what are stories but evidence of the existence of the thing we call imagination? I envision a great pool or stream of whatever energy it is that flows into us and allows us to create imaginary worlds and people and happenings, with each of us tapped into it in some way or another. If we reach into that flow often enough, we grow more practiced in seeing what it has to show us, hearing what it has to tell us. It communicates to us through our individual life experiences and viewpoints, because that is the language we can understand. We learn how to shape that energy into a story or a painting or a song (or maybe even a religion or a lifestyle or a career choice) in whatever shape we're capable of that seems truest to what that energy intends to communicate. We can never communicate it perfectly, because by necessity it's limited to our words and ability, and we are not perfect. We draw on a vast pool of imaginative energy, shape it into something that did not exist physically before, and by sharing that physical form with others, allow that energy to be passed along to them.

And if that isn't damn close to being truly magical, then I don't know what is.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Avie saves the day

Thank goodness for our ferocious guard dog. She managed to capture a TURTLE! Outside the fence! This requires a vast amount of courage! And cunning! And most of all--a fence!
(And you can be sure that if there had been no fence, she'd have been in far greater proximity to my ankles, and not so much to the turtle.)

The writing on Crowmaker has not been zinging and inspired this week, but it has been solid and is moving along without signs of stalling out. I'll call it a good week. The Big Plan (for those who haven't heard it yet) is to write a short story each quarter and enter it in the Writers of the Future contest. I will do this until a) I win or b) I sell enough non-winning stories to pro markets and disqualify myself. This gives me a clear deadline to work toward and lots of room to win even if I don't win the contest. Crowmaker was not part of The Big Plan, but that's OK; since April 1 I've managed to finish my one short and still crank out a third of a novel. Everything seems to be working out, so I'll stick with it.

Monday is June 30, the end of Quarter 2, 2008. "Wings" has been mailed out and met that deadline. Tuesday is July 1, which heralds the beginning of Quarter 3, 2008, and the need for me to start another short story. I'll devote the next week or two to generating ideas and writing a first draft of a new story before I move back to Crowmaker and let the short stew a week or so before tackling it again. This seems to be a good working rhythm for me; cross your fingers and help me hope it stays that way.

I have no idea what I'm going to do for the Q3 story yet. I have a couple of shorts I wrote a few years ago that I could rework--they have promise but I could never quite coax out the latent magic in them. I have the bare bones of a story I started plotting before "Wings" shoved in and took over. I may use one of those, or I may just toy around with creating one from scratch. What I may also do is document the process of this story in excruciating detail here, on the theory that sometimes it's interesting to see how another writer works. Or maybe just because I am, at heart, what my buddy Jeff has called "an attention whore." (Probably the most honest reason.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Refrigerator quotes

As I was standing over the stove and idly stirring the veggies and pondering how my most recent blog entry seemed like it was missing something, I stared blankly at my refrigerator. Now, as some of you may know, my fridge is plastered with kid pictures, kid writings, kid honor certificates, and an assortment of snipped out comic strips and quotes that mean something to me. As often happens, my pondering landed me on a couple of those quotes, which had up until that moment not seemed related in any way at all.

"Any idiot can face a crisis--it's this day-to-day living that wears you out."
~Anton Chekhov

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
~Mother Teresa

It's the small things that wear you down. But it's also the small things that can save you. Here's to small things and perspective. And refrigerator quotes.

Why do I do this?

For the last year or so, I've been muddling through what I can only guess is a midlife crisis of some variety--although I tend toward the introspective and soul-searching anyhow, so a fair portion of my life has consisted of mid-something crises of some variety or another. Lately, I've come to believe that these phases of looking within are less crisis and more just part of the normal cycle of things--life is a journey, and all that. The day I stop questioning what I'm doing and why, it's all over, I suppose.

I linked an article by Holly Lisle the other day that comes really close to my own take on what drives me to write and on life in general. For a while, I lost sight of why I wanted to be a writer, and it became more about proving something than about the writing itself. And nothing I wrote was ever big enough in financial terms to be deemed a success as success is defined by a large number of people. I ended up cutting myself off from the joy of a lot of small triumphs and celebratory moments because none of them were ever BIG enough to justify, once and for all, that I deserved to be a writer, that what I was doing was important enough to continuing to do it. And I quit writing altogether for a year or two, because I let myself believe in the conclusion that unless I could make a living from it, it wasn't worth doing at all. I can hear several of you out there hollering, "Bullshit!" Yours are the voices I should've been listening to all along, but you know... It's a funny thing, isn't it, how the negative voices always sound like reason and logic, and the ones who believe in you are so easily drowned out?

I was raised Catholic, I married a Catholic, and my children are being raised as Catholics (with a good dose of Mom's personal opinions about spirituality and religion tossed into the mix). If not for my children attending a Catholic school, I would likely not be practicing any religion. I've delved into a range of spiritual studies, from Native American beliefs to Wiccan studies to Qabbalism. Probably the pivotal point of my personal spiritual beliefs is an article I read several years ago, in which the author states his belief in the mystery of life--that we can know nothing except that we don't know everything, and therefore the best we can do is the best we can do. I also hold a steadfast belief that, while we can and should learn from other people, each person's best teacher in the realm of spirituality is him or herself. There's a lot to be learned from simply sitting still and listening.

One of the things I hear when I listen is that call to writing. I have examined that call from all sides. I should write because it has the capacity to touch people. I should write because something I write may be the ripple in a larger pond that helps someone, somewhere become who they are supposed to be. I should write because it sets the example for my children that you're allowed to follow your dreams, even if it's hard. I should write because I can, and it would be wasteful not to. But really, if I strip away all the shoulds, it all boils down to the one crystal-clear reason I write, the one that never dissolves even if I lose sight of it for a while.

Someone, something--whatever mystery we come from and return to--insists that it's what I'm made to do--not the only thing, but one of the big ones. I write because it's what I'm called to do. Where that ends up taking me, I don't know. It's the doing that's important.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More shinies

My evil plot seems to be on the verge of success, so here are more pretties to tempt some of my favorite writers into writing more:

I tinkered with it for a few minutes. It's a little on the clunky side, in my opinion, but it's got the advantage of simplicity on its side, and it's free.

Liquid Story Binder XE
The opposite of simple, but man does it look cool. I spent more than a few minutes tinkering with it, and I'm still not sure I'd know where to start if I intended to use it for real. It's free to try, and not horribly expensive to buy.

Power Writer
I've been using this for Crowmaker, and I wrote "Wings" in its entirety on it. (Although once I had a mostly-complete ms, I exported it to RTF and did all my final formatting and editing in Word.) It had a little bit of a learning curve, but you can demo it and there are built-in tutorials to get you started. So far I'm liking it really well--it follows a format similar to what I'd do with a dozen or so individual Word documents if left to my own devices, but it's all in one place. Down sides: The undo function works spottily, if at all, it seems a bit buggy now and then with copy and paste, and there's no simple way to export the text from the non-word processor windows into a simple word processor-accessible file. Not a big deal, unless you decide mid-document to stop using Power Writer. There also seem to be some issues with having to uninstall from one machine before you can install to a different one, which could cause problems for those using more than one machine. And it is also a bit on the pricier side. (The equivalent of two average-priced new release video games, to put it into perspective.) A word of warning if you decide to try the demo: DO NOT write a ton of new story into the demo version. Copy and paste is disabled, and you can't access the Power Writer file with a plain old word processor later if you don't buy Power Writer. (No, I didn't write an entire story into the demo. But I started to, and if I hadn't decided to buy it in the end, I'd have had to do some re-typing to get myself squared away before the demo ran out.)

Not writing software, but a nifty submissions tracker from the same guy who put together yWriter. Like yWriter, it's simple and it's free. I downloaded it and have been giving it a try. So far, I'm liking it. I'll keep you posted if my opinion changes once I've actually had something to, you know, track for a while.


NOTE: I have since stopped using PowerWriter and am now using WriteWay. I mention my initial reaction to WriteWay in this entry. So far, my good opinion is still holding up.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Moodling and a new toy

Good news for writers! Of course, we know this instinctively already. And there is most definitely a line where we cross over into self-defeating idyllism. But it's nice to remember that it's OK to give ourselves permission for some moodling now and then.

Some fun things to play with here. (It's where I got the cool progress meter you see over in the sidebar.) The story idea and conflict generators might be fun to play with in a week or so, when I start working on a short story for next quarter's Writers of the Future contest.

In the meantime, although I'm feeling somewhat fuzzy-headed and out of it today, Crowmaker is still marching along without too much trouble, laundry is caught up from the weekend, and I've accomplished the other odds and ends of errands I assigned myself for the day. Go me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Greek dancing

We drove to Chicago yesterday to see one of my cousins get married. He's a good deal younger than I am, so we've never been particularly close, but it was a lovely wedding and reception, and all the usual family was there. And as usual, the family gathering has left me in something of an introspective funk. There's nothing like a good dose of rarely-seen family to spin you around and make you look back at where you've come from.

I had a good childhood, and I like my family. But I'm something of a loner, so often through the years I've felt like an outsider, as if I'm watching the "real" family core but not actually a part of it. And then one of them will startle me with how genuinely happy they are to see me, or by asking me a question that indicates they're as up-to-date on and interested in what's going on in my life as I am of theirs. (Mothers are excellent passers-on of such information.) And I snap out of my neat little self-contained life to recognize that no matter the years and the distance, my life and those of these aunts and uncles and cousins (including the great's and the once-removed's) are intricately and irrevocably linked. We're a part of each others' histories. This is a very cool thing.

My cousin's bride belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is similar enough to our family's Catholic heritage that we weren't entirely lost during the ceremony. At the reception, of course, there was the mandatory Greek dancing. (I heard someone in my family dub it the "Greek conga line.")

At one point I looked out and saw my mother and her two sisters in the line. I suddenly saw them, and I was struck by what beautiful women these three are. No, they're no longer as young as they once were. They are a teacher, a nurse, and a secretary, the three professions that were respectable for young ladies in the time they grew up in, although each of them put motherhood above all else. They've buried both their parents. They've dealt with serious illnesses, their own and others.' They've raised their children and set them free (a thing which, at this point in the lives of my own children, terrifies me). Two of them have grandchildren, and the third had just married off her first son. But there they were, laughing while they danced a dance they didn't know the steps to, unafraid to be just who and where they were. I didn't join them; I guess I'm not that brave yet. They give me courage, though. They've been doing that for years, and so steadily and without fanfare that I'd never noticed.

In honor of them, I will remember to continue dancing even though I don't know the steps. And I'll smile while I'm doing so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I swear it wasn't me

Finished up the word count for this week in less than an hour this morning. (I had a head start from wringing a good chunk of writing time out of Sunday.) Better yet, I didn't finish up at a dead end--I have a couple of scenes already floating around in my head for next week, although the muse is still puzzling over a couple of connections and trying to figure out what this one character isn't telling us. The man has a secret, but he's not talking just yet. The muse will get through to him sooner or later. As long as she's working him over, and not me.

In the interest of finding more to talk about today than just "6,000 words, yay," I poked around in my bibliography for a few minutes. This story, as it often does, poked back. I hate it. I'm proud of it, in the sense that it's a reasonably well-written piece of flash fic, and in the sense that I got a lot of "OMG" feedback when I posted it to the critique group I was in at the time, as well as a similar response from the editor at ShadowKeep. (Now defunct, I believe.) But as a mother and a soft-hearted soul who wants some kind of a happy ending, I hated how it insisted on turning out.

I remember how the story came about--several years ago, our neighbors got a puppy. They kept it outside. It whined and whimpered and barked and howled NONSTOP, all hours of the day and night. Now, I love animals. I am, as mentioned above, a soft-hearted soul. I did not blame the dog for its behavior--usually when an animal is behaving badly, there's an owner to hold accountable. But I was driven to seriously contemplate ways in which I might manage to murder this puppy. Murder. Puppy. Me. When I realized the depths to which I'd fallen, I felt vaguely disgusted with myself. But of course, the muse was right there going, "You could use this. Remember it."

Fast forward a few years, and I'd joined a horror writing critique group. (There's a topic for another day--my views on critique groups.) So I was doing the flash fic thing, and doing the horror thing, and the murdering puppies theme emerges. I flipped it around so that the dog was the annoyed person and the people were the offending noisemakers, and then the muse took it away from me.

I tried to write an ending in which the dog just licks the boy's face and the boy hugs him. I tried to write an ending in which the dog growls at the boy but then just walks away. I tried, I tried, I tried SO HARD to save that child.

The muse wouldn't let me. No ending I wrote felt right except the one I finally caved in to. I hated it then, I still hate it now, and mostly I hate that it was the only ending that really worked. And I hate the muse for making me write it, even when she pats me on the back and assures me I did the right thing.

The muse is a pretty tough bitch, sometimes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Organizer-Woman takes on The Muse

I am an extraordinarily organized person. I have to be--be it ADHD or some other "disability" or simply who I am, if I am not organized then I tend to simply jitter around the house aimlessly and accomplish nothing. Give me a list of goals and a calendar, and I transform into Organizer-Woman, complete with cape and panic-reflecting wristbands. No matter how tiny the detail, if it requires doing at some time other than right this very second, it goes into my Day Runner. And if it is in my Day Runner, then it GETS DONE, PERIOD. My family knows this about me. They roll their eyes when I command them to WRITE IT ON THE GROCERY LIST when they try to get by with a quick, "Hey, buy me some cheese next time you shop, hon?" But if they really want that cheese, you better believe it gets on the list. (Joey, being the clever young man he is, attempted to trick me once by writing "Rock Band" on the bottom of my shopping list. He discovered, to his chagrin, that the rule is "It must be on the list or it will not be bought," but that there is no corollary which states "If it is on the list, it will be bought." Poor guy.)

I've applied that uber-organization to learning new things that I want to learn, including the mechanics of fiction writing. I've spent what probably equates to months worth of hours poring through how-to articles and books, dissecting suggested techniques and assembling them into a process that works for me. When I took a couple of days last week to assess Crowmaker and determine exactly what about it wasn't working for me, I suspected that it may have been that my Organizer-Woman alter ego was strong-arming the story a little too much.

When I write, I generally start by simply writing down anything that I already know about a story--details of a character, a scene that's vivid in my head, maybe even just a general idea of theme. Then I work through a series of questions and exercises to help me flesh out what I don't know and start filling in blanks, which includes a template of 6-10 primary plot points to help stake out the territory I'll be covering. Because my natural tendency is to focus on characters and relationships, I sometimes struggle to find the action focus necessary to make things jump instead of letting the characters just sit around and talk or think. I know this about myself, so I try to head myself off by focusing first on the action-oriented plot when I frame a story. What I found last week was that Crowmaker was driven so hard by a deadline-oriented plot (OMG, we have to keep moving!) that the landscape of possibilities had grown narrow and confining instead of just creating suspense.

In desperation, because I love this story and I don't want to lose it, I sat down at the kitchen table with none of Organizer-Woman's notes. Zero. None. But that's OK, I assured her. She was going to get to flex her organizing muscles, still. I took out a stack of blank index cards and a pen, and I made three piles of cards. Stack one had cards with an action-oriented event on them, either related to the big plot or... Gasp! Not related to the story at all! At least not as far as I'd known up until that point. I just picked them out of thin air, or from a dream I happened to recall at that moment, or from a tidbit of a recent news story that had piqued my interest. Then I made a stack with a character name (or two) on them, representing the people and the relationships I suspected would turn out to be interesting if I gave them some room to talk. The third stack was focused on the story's viewpoint character, either her relationship with other people or her internal growth or things she had to face about herself.

Then I shuffled each stack and matched them up randomly with each other, one from each stack, and paper-clipped them together. My current assignment to myself is to write at least one chapter from each bundle of three cards, incorporating the three mostly-unrelated cards as best I can. The main plot is still there; the main characters and relationships I wanted to explore are still there. But there's a fresh angle to it now, too, and the challenge to make things that started out unrelated link somehow to the pieces of the bigger picture. Organizer-Woman is skeptically satisfied with patting the paper-clipped stack of cards now and then and assuring herself it's all written down and it'll be OK; the Muse is happily dancing around in the confines of the current chapter (since I haven't peeked at any other than the one I'm currently working on), with lots to do but no temptation to go crazy and rampage through the rest of the story.

It's a new approach for me, but it might work. It's fun, if nothing else, and it hasn't hurt my word count--almost 4,500 so far this week, and my goal is 6,000 or so a week.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mine to make

I've settled into the routine of writing for (a goal of) two hours each morning, even setting my alarm during the summer to make sure I don't oversleep and lose the time. It worked well during the school year, since I dropped kids off and was home to start at 8; during the summer I let the kids play video games in the morning, and they often sleep in a little, so those two hours remain (mostly) quiet and conducive to creative productivity. I listen to music sometimes, and since "One Blue Sky" has become the unofficial theme song for Crowmaker, Sugarland's "Enjoy the Ride" has been the CD of choice lately. (I love Jennifer Nettles' in-your-face, yeah-I'm-a-hick-what're-you-gonna-do-about-it twang. This is a woman who knows who she is and doesn't care too much if you approve or not. We can all learn from that.) So the first song I hear starting out my morning has been "Settlin.'" (Youtube alert!) Nothing like a little I-can-do-it anthem to start the day. ("It's my life so it's mine to make...")

I found the new slant I needed for Crowmaker. Only time will tell if it's the right new angle, but it'll work for now. Wrote 1,500 words yesterday, even though it wasn't a scheduled writing day. The hubby went out of town for a business meeting, and the kids were awesome about entertaining themselves. Blocked in another 1,000 words this morning before taking a break to run the boys to Walmart; I'll try to get at least another 200 before the end of the day. End of the day tomorrow should see me breaking 30,000. A lot of that is probably going to be cut and replaced with new material before all is said and done, but I have earned some feel-good padding of the word count, so it's not going anywhere just yet.

Joey's been busting his ass to earn money, first to buy an Xbox 360 and Halo 3, now to buy his half of Rock Band. (Michael the penny-pinching money miser is pitching in the other half.) Windows are very clean at my house, fridges and stovetops are sparkling, and window frames that have needed painting for a couple of years now have been scraped down and prepped for further work once Mom gets off her butt and buys the paint. (He's a Heroscape addict, too. I could milk this for a really long time.) As of Friday, he'd paid off the Xbox loan. By last night, he had his half for Rock Band. This child is MOTIVATED.

So off we went to Walmart this morning to buy the Next Big Thing. I fully, truly intended to just haul the box downstairs for them and then leave them to it while I finished up another hour of writing. Honest. But they couldn't figure out how to get the drums together, so I HAD to go back down there. And then when they asked me to stick around and play guitar, well... What mother could say no to that? It's a pretty nifty game; I intend to pry the drumsticks out of Joey's fingers sometime and try that part, too. At one point, Michael decided he wanted to run through the guitar tutorial for some practice (he was on bass), so Joey and I were just kinda hanging out watching over his shoulder. And Joey starts in with a "tap-tap-TAP, tap-tap-TAP" on the drums. And I looked over at him, and he looked back at me, and at the exact same second we both burst out with "We will, we will, ROCK YOU."

My kids are so cool.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Even dog posts need titles

"Wings" has been tweaked, polished, printed in final contest-ready format, and tucked neatly into a 9"x12" with its companion SASE. Monday morning it will travel to the post office and then out into the great unknown. I'd had the task on my schedule for Monday-Tuesday, but I was able to accomplish the marvel of actual writing productivity over the weekend because the kids were seriously burned out after the sleepover. Joey took a two-hour nap and has nodded off on the couch again as we speak. This left only the husbandly distraction, and he ran a couple of errands and tinkered around in the garage for just long enough to get a final proofread done. After that, it was just a matter of formatting and printing everything. That part can be done while answering random questions every few minutes, thankfully, since that's how it happened. I celebrated with a fudgesicle (sugar-free), which made the dog very happy since she gets to lick the last layer of chocolate off the stick.

"The dog" does have a name, which is Avie. It's pronounced with a long "a" and a long "e" and was inherited from her former owner--we got her from a shelter when she was two. Sometimes, however, under circumstances you can likely imagine, her name becomes "Dogbutt." ("Get your dog butt OFF the table, please!) She doesn't seem to mind.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What she said

From this article by Holly Lisle:

People write for different reasons---they have different goals in mind. And I can't say that the writer who has made 'make a million dollars per book' his primary goal has anything to be ashamed of, or that the one who wants to touch the lives of each of his readers and leave them with something more when they finish the book than they had when they started should be nominated for sainthood. Personally, I wouldn't mind doing both, and I'm neither saint nor villain. I do know that the thing that keeps me happy as I write is not the hope of a big payoff but the hope that somehow I will someday manage to reach inside the hearts of my readers, as Ted Sturgeon reached inside of my heart, and twist. And that those readers will say, as I said, 'Oh. I understand more now. I'm more complete now. And I want to give back.'

It's a struggle for me to explain why this matters so much to me. I can't tell you with conviction that there is life after death; I can't swear that anything we do here will face an accounting later, and frankly I doubt any such accounting. I don't proclaim that searching for the meaning in my life will improve my karma, clear up my skin, or improve my sex life, either. But I do think that as humans, we owe the best of who we are---more ... the best of who we can be---to ourselves, to our fellow human beings, and to the future. Not because if we slack off an angry deity is going to blast us with thunderbolts or roast us in eternal torment. Not because its better to play the odds and be good just in case. I read a prayer once, and I believe it was attributed to Thomas Aquinas, and I'm probably misquoting it terribly, but the gist of it was, 'If I worship you because I hope to gain heaven, withhold heaven from me; and if I worship you because I fear hell, then throw me into hell; but if I worship you because I love you, don't deny me your presence, or turn your face from me.' I always thought that prayer showed guts, and what I'm saying here is, in a way, the same thing.

This isn't about worship, or about prayer. But it is about doing what we do with our lives not because we expect to get something good in reward, or because we're afraid we might get something awful as punishment, but because our love and our compassion and our selves are all we have to offer to each other or to the future that are worth a damn. Our best is the only gift we have to give that is worthy of us, or of those who will receive. Life is short. Love is rare, and hard to find. Your soul---my soul---poured freely into our work, no matter what work we do, ennobles the work. Ennobles us. Leaves a trace of something good behind, something that wasn't there before. Something that can, perhaps, continue after we're dust.

Ted Sturgeon was already dead when I read Godbody. I wept when I finished the book, not because he was dead, but because he had once been alive, and while he was alive his love had driven him to leave a legacy that made my life better. He had within him some magnificent species of passion that allowed him to paint his soul across the pages of a book, and leave it there where it could reach out to me, and where it could show me at a point in my life where I had given up on people, on love,and on idealism, that I had quit too soon---but that I could stand up again. That I could go on.

Perhaps I'll never reach the place in my writing where I can touch the soul of a stranger from across the abyss of death. Maybe I don't have in me what it takes to change the world, or to change a life. But I want to live my life knowing that I gave
everything I had---and if my reach forever exceeds my grasp, I will not die knowing I could have been more. To me, that is the challenge of writing.

More, it is the challenge of life.

And now, off to buy frozen pizzas and stock up on chips and pop, because Joey is having friends here for a sleepover Halo 3 party. Running out in the rain to go shopping isn't really on my list of fun things to do, but there's another famous quote from Mother Teresa I try to live by that goes hand in hand with the above philosophy: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Being that my current career as a mother is chock full of small things that I don't really have to do, but do anyhow, that's reassuring. It makes me feel less insignificant.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Every day begin the task anew

I managed to crank out a little over a thousand words this morning, but the entire time I was writing I had the feeling the scene wasn't quite right. I've been having this niggling feeling about Crowmaker for a few days now--I still feel that the core of the story contains a good spark of magic, but I don't think I have the shape of the plot just right yet. The temptation to just give up reared its ugly head a couple of times, but I'm not ready to do that. The story is THERE. I just have to keep fiddling around outside its walls until I can see the true shape of it.

In the meantime, God bless Elizabeth Bear:

I was talking with another friend last night about the single worst stage of trying to break into print. It's the "there's nothing wrong with this story but I'm not going to buy it" stage. (Actual words (or a paraphrase thereof) from an actual rejection letter written by ellen_datlow to me, circa 2004.) It's the stage where you're competent, but you haven't yet found your voice. The snap isn't quite there, the pop, the narrative drive. It's the garage-band stage.

I read something somewhere that opined that the difference between garage bands and bands that break out is not musical competence, but having found their own sound. I've listened to this happen to a couple of friends' bands, and it's true, I think.

It also applies to writers. You get stuck at that stage because you are trying to find the things that will lift you our of competence and into the next stage. And I can tell you what those things are.

One is confidence (hard, in a business where one faces constant rejection.) Confidence in the story you're telling. Confidence in your ability to tell it. That confidence is what gives a narrative drive, allows you to stop hemming and hawing and say what you mean rather than talking around it.

Another is voice. Sounding like yourself, the rhythm and swing of your rhetoric, the unique chord progressions that make this identifiably your song and not something anybody could have written.

And the interesting thing there is that that personalization--which is what's going to make people love your work--is the same thing that's going to make some people hate it. Strong opinions are what you're after. And some of those strong opinions are going to be negative.
She's the little voice that, even though she doesn't know me, continues to whisper, "You could get there, too. You know what I mean; it's just a matter of keeping at it. So keep at it." I do feel that I'm still working on the competence part, particularly where novel length work is concerned. I suppose that never really stops, although I can look back now and see that I've come a long way from where I started.

That's OK. I can get there. I just have to keep at it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A million lives

From Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life:

"I'd like to be everybody in the world," I said. "I'd like to live a
million times."

At its heart, I think that's what draws me to things like writing and roleplaying and reading--maybe that's what it is that calls all of us. Life is like a pick-your-path book, but you only get to play through it once. There's no going back and re-choosing and seeing how it ends if you go left instead of right back there at the fork. But when we tap into our imaginations and read about other lives, real or fictional, or create characters of our own, either alike or different from us, we get to explore those unchosen paths. And more, because we get to explore roads that were never offered to us--or inflicted upon us--in our lifetime.

I did no writing whatsoever over the weekend or yesterday, but I'm feeling much less fuzzy and have managed to get almost 1,000 words so far today. Back to Crowmaker this week, then shift focus back to "Wings" and get it finalized and mailed out next week.

Summer lesson #1: The kids are no longer eating school hot lunch every day. Buy twice as much of everything as you did during the school year. At least.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

And the back yard looks like the Rio Grande

I did not go to the library as originally planned this weekend. Mother Nature had other ideas. Yes, we're all safe. We are fortunate to live on a hill and in an area of Franklin where the nearest body of water is a small creek on the far side of a road and a field, and no dam breakages affect us. Even so, the aforementioned creek joined forces with a chain of lowlying and saturated fields and created a river on the far side of the road behind our house. Toward noon, it broke across the road in front of the subdivision's entrance. The main road through town, U.S. 31, was flooded and closed in several places, too, so we just stayed put. I did take the dog and go out to survey the neighborhood on foot after it finally stopped raining. Yeah, seeing the road turned into a river was pretty freaky, but what really creeped me out was the constant sound of several helicopters and assorted police and rescue vehicle sirens going off. For our subdivision, the flooding was mostly a minor inconvenience at worst and in many cases just a novelty. Hearing the sounds of the real crisis in the near distance made me feel remotely guilty and very grateful.

Although, of course, through it all my writer-senses were kicking in. "Watch how the flooding progresses along the stream and the fields back there. See how it finds the path of least resistance? How strong a current do you think that is? How long is it taking the water to rise? How long to recede again? Remember how this looks, what it feels like." Did I mention that the current setting of Crowmaker is a flood-stranded river town?

The water has gone down a good deal now, but the more severely affected locations still have to worry about rain that fell north of us and how that is flowing downstream to us. There's also rain in the forecast for Monday evening. We got off easy, with just a couple of minor roof and basement leaks brought on by the storm itself; I'm keeping the folks who've been less fortunate in my prayers.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Summer reading

There's a girl in Joey's sixth-grade (now seventh-grade) class who is only seldom seen without a book clutched in one hand. Her friends have to say everything to her at least twice before she looks up, blinking, from her current read and says "Huh?" About the only trouble she ever gets into in class is when she's got a not-a-textbook hidden on her lap and is reading instead of paying attention.

I can relate--that was me. Growing up, one of my very favorite places in the whole world (maybe THE favorite) was the library. To this day, I find the air conditioned hush and the scent of old and new pages inspires a deep sense of comfort that you only find in familiar places--even if the library is one I've never set foot in before. And yet beneath that comfort is the anticipatory tingle of maybe discovering your next favorite story each time you lift a book from the shelf.

I stopped being such an avid reader for a number of years. I could blame raising kids or home schooling or even writing, but the biggest consumer of the time and interest I'd previously devoted to books was an assortment of MMORPG's. I don't necessarily view the time I've spent/spend gaming as lost time--there are friendships I've cultivated and things I've learned about myself and writing and creativity in general that I wouldn't have if not for those games and the communities that grow up around them. But I've recently renewed my interest in reading, and discovered two things:

1. I really missed it.


And in the meantime, a conversation with friends about books last night culminated in a Robert R. McCammon lovefest. And then this. My McCammon-senses were tingling after the conversation, but the blog entry put the nails in the coffin. I will be at the library over the weekend, stocking up on books I haven't re-read in way too many years. They will all have Mr. McCammon's picture on the jacket.

On a side note, when I was younger I often heard it said that the oldest child was normally the heavy reader and the younger one(s) were often not interested in reading at all. My own siblings and I certainly followed that pattern, as does my husband's family. I am delighted to prove us all wrong and break the pattern--Joey is definitely a reader, but Michael is, too. Yes, I enforce a summer daily reading time, but of the two of them, I find Michael complains less and reads more during those times. In the two weeks since they've been out for summer, Joey has worked his way through most of The Once and Future King, while I was reading part two of To Green Angel Tower. Michael?

Victory (Cooper), The Alchemyst (Michael Scott), The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Cleary), and a retelling of The Odyssey (McCaughrean). Two weeks, four books, over 800 pages. He's ten.

I'm not complaining.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fuzzy day, a few links

I am having what I've come to call a fuzzy day--over the years I've learned to recognize that, much as with my emotional moods, my mental moods follow a cycle. In the past I've tried to analyze them and determine if they follow a predictable pattern--a certain number of days, phases of the moon, the weather. I finally gave up and settled for learning to recognize the moods themselves and determine the best way to deal with them. On the days when my intellectual faculties are high and sharp, I focus on keeping things on an even keel and directing that energy to accomplish as much as I can without overdoing it (and thus risking a burnout and crash). When the energy inevitably fizzles, I am left with a day or week or so of fuzzy days. I am not lacking in creativity on these days--that would be too simple. Sometimes the right brain actually increases output, spamming me mercilessly with ZOMG awesome ideas. But there is a force field between the two halves of my brain which prevents me from taking the ideas and breaking them down into anything useful. Sometimes just finding the right words for even the simplest things seems nigh impossible, let alone stringing together entire sentences or formulating complicated things like plot structures. Or grocery lists. Or even blog entries. (I am not actually writing this, in case you wondered. Robot-me is.)

Anyhow, my plan for fuzzy days has long been to just lie low on the creative front, jot down whatever ideas I can manage to grasp, and muddle through what really must be done as best I can. The fuzzy passes, eventually, at which point I'm able to kick back into high gear and do productive things with the mish-mash of stuff that fell out of my brain in the interim. I do not fight the current; I swim along the shoreline and keep my head above water until the current shifts and I can make it back to the beach, whereupon I build a fire and dry off and set about figuring out where I washed up and what direction I need to head from there in order to get back on my planned course.

I did manage to force myself through morning writing time, focusing mainly on writing some of the actual journal entries Ein's father made about Important Stuff so that I can better judge how she'd react to them. In the course of doing so, I uncovered two, possibly three, new characters. They brought a couple of boxes with them which were labeled "MISSING PLOT PIECES AND LINKS" and inquired if I'd been looking for those. I tried to be nonchalant and had them stack the boxes over in the corner until I'm prepared to check out the contents. So far, the muse has not attempted to hide them from me.

Random links to cool stuff I've been meaning to tell you about:

Shadow Unit is kinda X-Files, kinda Law & Order, kinda cool. I was up too late last night finishing the first episode.

Emily Short writes interactive fiction. I tried out Floatpoint and Galatea, after seeing them mentioned in a Strange Horizons article. Galatea I was kind of "eh" about, but Floatpoint had more meat to it and I found it pretty interesting--it was puzzly but not overly so, and it was as much about moral choices as about figuring stuff out. I recommend saving it toward the end so that you can play through different final choices and see the differences in the ending. You can play Galatea online; Floatpoint will require you to download both an interpreter to play it on and the game file itself. (Note: The link on Short's page to an intepreter is broken; I downloaded it here.) When you run the executable for the interpreter, it will ask you what game file you want to use.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bear says...

As part of my daily routine, I browse several blogs and sites and so forth. (As we all do.) In my recent browsing, I discovered Coyote Wild, which I'd heard of but had yet to actually lay eyes on at that time. So I opened the most recent issue and saw a story called "Abjure the Realm" by Elizabeth Bear. This author's name was also familiar to me, although I was pretty sure I hadn't actually read anything of hers. Yet. So I read the story. And it was cool. And so very well-written. And I was intimidated and yet also intrigued, because I had it in my mind that at the time I'd first heard her name, she was yet a fledgling writer. So as I often do, I followed the link to her web site, out of both readerly and writerly curiosity. (And I will be adding her to my to-read list, stuffed to the gills as it already is.)

I was more intimidated. This woman is prolific. And from everything I've read thus far by and about her, very intelligent. But I found her blog and I've been following it, and I've discovered something. She IS very intelligent. And talented. And published. But I read things she says in her blog and smile or laugh because I know just what she means. She struggles. She works. She is alternately frustrated by and delighted with her writing.

She's, you know, a person. Who writes. And I find something very comforting about reading her day to day stuff and realizing that in many ways, she's not so very different from me.

Maybe someday someone will read my blog and feel the same way. That would be so very cool.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

There was talk of a table

(Blog entry title lifted from a Grizz blog entry. Hey, if he's not going to use it, I will.)

So, we have a dining room. And we have kids. So except for the random visit from family which includes too many people to squeeze around our kitchen table/island, the dining room is used for pretty much anything BUT dining. Luckily, it's fair-sized, as dining rooms go, and it has a BIG closet with lots of shelves. (Which I love. You have no idea how much I love closets, especially big ones where there normally are none.) So you have your basic table and chairs and china hutch. You also have two smaller china cabinets, inherited from hubby's Lladro-collecting mother, filled to busting with said collection. You also have a globe on a stand and a pair of bookshelves tucked into the corner near the closet. And a teeny bit of leftover floor space to move between all these things.

Much as the dining room is rarely used for dining, so is the table rarely used in the intended manner. When we home schooled, it was Joey's desk on one end and Michael's Tinkertoy/Legos/Knex play area on the other. This year, with the boys in traditional school, it became the repository for all returned homework papers and projects, none of which could be discarded until we were absolutely SURE we wouldn't need them anymore. The table got so full that things overflowed to the bookshelves, which were already crammed with paper and pencil cups and assorted school supplies, books, and science kits. So our first summer project this year was to determine if an actual table still existed in the dining room. Michael was easy--if it was homework, it went into the recycle pile, period. He kept a handful of things we found in the stack, mostly paper airplanes he and his buddies made and a couple of art projects. Joey is more like me--we develop sentimental attachments to random pieces of paper like nobody's business. It took him a while and he saved a great deal more (which I promised to put into storage for him), but he finally managed to wade through all his papers. I undertook the task of sorting through leftover notebooks and supplies to see what might be salvageable for next year and got the shelves (mostly) organized again. In the end, our task was a resounding success. Yes, there IS a table!

At least until Michael's erector set project gets shifted from the kitchen island to the dining room at supper time. And Joey's Heroscape landscape wanders up to the dining room so that the model airplane can take over the folding table in the basement.

In other news, we have four boxes and counting of outgrown kids' books to donate to their school and/or the local library and/or Goodwill. Lest you think this means our shelves are now empty, fear not--the basket in the living room and the random piles here and there simply have a real bookshelf home now. Or will, as soon as I get around to going through the piles and basket. Then maybe I can start on the closets full of board games...

Too. Much. STUFF.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The week in review

Lost 1/2 a pound, gained 3,000 or so new words on Crowmaker, and did a ton of work on backstory and setting and structure for Crowmaker. I also finished my re-read of Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow & Thorn "trilogy." As I anticipated going into it for the second time, it was a less breathless and driven read than the first time around (some ten or so years ago), but I also picked up a lot of subtleties that I'd missed during my first break-neck reading. The final climax of the series remains one of my all-time favorites, maybe even moreso since I was more tuned into the more finely-painted vibes this time around.

I picked up "Wings" this morning, after having taken a week and a half away from it. It's going through a tweak phase now, but by and large it seems to hang together pretty well as is--I don't foresee any major overhauls for it. I don't feel any great emotional attachment to the story, as I have to some others, but as stories go, it seems to be working. I'll aim to finish tweaks by the end of the day tomorrow, give it another day or two of quiet time, then one more once-over before I print out the final draft and ship it off to the contest. (After noting that the contest rules specifically mention accepting dark fantasy, I concluded that "Wings" should at least have a shot at WotF before I shop it around elsewhere.)

Hmm. I was fascinated by these when they first came out, although by the time I got my own computer, they'd already started to fall out of favor--although one of my first real honest-to-God computer games was King's Quest V. And I remember having to upgrade my RAM to play Quest for Glory IV.