Sunday, August 31, 2008

Crankiness is boring

Hopefully, this month's dose of grouch will pass soon. It happened to coincide with my discovery that Crowmaker wasn't really working, so it's been mixed with a heaping helping of frustration and a dollop of despondency, and I'm really tired of snarling and pouting and wringing my hands now, thanks.

In my reading, I've already realized that it's not the Wild West era that needs to be studied for use in Crowmaker. It's the earlier days when westward expansion first began, somewhere in the vicinity of the Cumberland Gap and Daniel Boone and the Wilderness Road, when the west was still only beginning to be explored in full and the flood of settlers had yet to pour in. I've run across a couple of cool and inspirational facts already. More in depth reading on that time period will follow, I believe.

I have also reached a more difficult conclusion about Crowmaker and about the last novel I finished but put in a drawer because I was still not fully satisfied with it, and maybe about my writing in general--maybe about my life in general. Somewhere along the line I've started pulling punches. In life, I hate conflict. Despise it. Will go out of my way to avoid it. I will stand up for myself, if needed, but I've built my lifestyle in such a way that it's not often needed. And when an idea pops up for a story that requires facing something dark and ugly and difficult--you know, the kind of things that make stories really juicy?--I've been sidestepping around them, telling myself but no, they aren't important to the real story. Except maybe they are, and my subconscious is just taking the usual, practiced steps to avoiding conflict.

And since story IS conflict, this is a problem. Which is not to say my stories don't have conflict. But they're predictable conflict. Controlled. Stuff I planned on. And these other conflicts are... I don't know. Bigger? Deeper? More meaningful?

Hmm. Even I'm not sure at this point what I'm trying to say. But there's something important buried under this "x," I'm pretty sure.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Progress, no matter how slow

I was checking the WotF blog yesterday (which is not operational today, for some reason, so the link doesn't actually work right now). After a couple of "huh-wha?" moments, I realized that I've been counting quarters using the calendar year, whereas the WotF contest starts their contest year on October 1. So what I've been calling my Q3 story here is technically a Q4 story.

Except it's not, because I read through it a couple of days ago and was not suitably impressed with its current state. Furthermore, I'm not sure what exactly it needs to make me more happy with it. And since I really don't need any more abstract walls to bang my head against right now, I tucked it right back into the drawer from whence it came. Maybe it can become the Q1 story sometime in the last quarter of this year.

In the meantime, I have begun the research phase of more extreme worldbuilding for Crowmaker. I scribbled down every question/topic I could think of that I want to know more about, and have begun reading up on them, starting with the general and very broad topic of the wild west portion of U.S. history. My usual approach is to start with the basics and work up to more in-depth treatment of the subject, at which point the children's section of the library and kid-oriented web sites come in real handy. I'm starting with Joey's 5th grade U.S. history textbook which I kept instead of selling for just such a reason--so I can refresh my aging memory on things I learned way too many years ago. In the interest of giving the wild west years a solid context, I started at the beginning of the book and am working my way forward. I also came across a cool book about the exploration of N. America and took a break from the textbook to read it. It doesn't feel a lot like work, since I kinda enjoy the reading at this point. But I'm counting it anyhow.

Side note: Given a choice of all kinds of shows on TV, both of my boys will almost always settle on the History Channel--World War II planes, the lives of presidents, Hitler's supposed connection to the occult... I'm willing to bet they know more about a lot of things at 12 and 10 than I do even now. And I'm not making them watch it! They choose it! Unless Mythbusters is on, of course. I mean, obviously, exploding pig carcasses trump all else.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Talking to myself

A few bleary-eyed but surprisingly clear thoughts for me to take a closer look at later, after I've climbed into hubby's cigar-stinky truck (van is in the shop for a couple of days) and fetch some groceries. (Spicy Cheezits and yogurt smoothies are gone. Crisis!)

I've been dodging what I've really been thinking about Crowmaker in the interest of maintaining an optimistic outlook. If I'm realistic, I recognize a couple of things: Yes, I have a lot of word count. A lot of it is good, usable word count, and it's a great start. But it is nowhere near to an ending and possibly not even too close to even the half a novel I've been assuming it was. And it is, once again, threatening to stall out on me. And while I love the story in my head, what's on virtual paper does not even begin to approach a reasonable facsimile of that story.

Having recognized those potentially depressing facts, however, I am able to set about doing something about them. Which in turn allows me to recognize a couple more things: I've been worldbuilding by the seat of my pants in order to allow myself to move forward on story. Stopping and taking a more rigorous approach to worldbuilding may give me the solid footing I'm flailing around for. Worldbuilding and the research inherent in such take time. (I like to go looking for flavor for my fantasy worlds in reality, and Crowmaker has a decidedly Wild West slant going for it.) Worldbuilding and research do not result in much of anything that resembles actual word count. I tend to lean very heavily on word count as a measurement of productivity, even more so when I'm putting my word count out where other people can see it. I need to bite the bullet, remember I'm not out to prove anything to anyone, and track my time instead of my word count while I step back from the ms and do the background stuff.

I may also need to backtrack through existing ms and retro-build the flimsy excuse for setting I have there, which may bring to life some of the scenes that are only breathing on a ventilator right now. I will, however, make this assessment at a later time.

I'd decided to put the Q3 story on the back burner until post-Crowmaker first draft. In the interest of giving myself a break I might actually need and allowing myself to feel I've accomplished something on at least one front, I may change my mind (again) and give it the old revision process so it can go forth bravely into the WotF contest this quarter after all. Maybe.

No news on the Q2 WotF contest as yet. I've had enough other stories filling my time to not be overly concerned with watching that for results. This is a good thing. I can possibly be a little obsessive sometimes.

Onward to do battle with the great stinky truck and the shopping cart. Yay.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Birthing pains

No new word count on Crowmaker yesterday or today. That's OK, I think, because I've been putting in a lot of time thinking and analyzing and re-thinking and re-analyzing. And I've been throwing what I have against some planning techniques I've been reading about and getting interesting results. So I've removed the daily word count goals from my calendar entirely, after having a new-old revelation today.

I don't just want this story done. I want it done right. When you read it, I want you to see the panoramic view that I see when I close my eyes and envision it. I want it to get inside your head the way it's in mine. I want you to feel this story the way I feel it.

The problem with gorgeous panoramic views, of course, is that they're comprised of zillions of little details, each of which works together to create the breathtaking whole. I can see those details--almost. They're writhing around in my head, pushing and shoving and trying to break down boundaries I may have inadvertently put around them so they can be born.

Some days, writing just hurts. But it's not a bad pain. Mostly.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oh hey, it's Friday already

The week went by awfully fast. Kids are making the adjustment to school like little heroes, although they both voluntarily went to bed early one night. Actually, they went to bed earlier than the time I'd allowed them every night, because the choice was reading time from 10:15 until 11 or just go to bed. They both like to read, so I'm going on the assumption that they were honestly tired. At least they know how to admit it. They've both been getting up without too much hassle every morning, too. Joey even got up for his alarm instead of waiting for me to call him this morning. Homework has been of the lightweight, first week variety thus far. I anticipate that changing next week. (Although Joey and I do need to sit down and brainstorm some general science fair ideas over the weekend, since 7th grade is The Science Fair Year. And I suck at science, so a head start can't hurt.)

This week for me has mostly been about adjusting to the new daily routine and testing just how many hours of writing a day I can handle before I start just dragging through it. My goal had been 20 hours a week, but I may need to adjust that. Just by looking at the fact that I have 6.5 hours "free" every school day, you'd think 20 hours devoted to writing would be a snap. But I spend two hours a week on groceries and other assorted errands, and while I could do that in the evening, it's just so nice and traffic-free and line-free right after I drop the boys off at school. And then the husband comes home for lunch most days, so that's another half hour a day of distraction. And I have to eat. And walk the dog. And take a shower. Add to that the fact that I can only spend about an hour solid on writing before I need a mind break of some kind (which is where the walk and the shower and the eating come in), and the 6.5 hours drops pretty drastically. So this has been observation week--how do things naturally shake out, and how can I tweak them to make them work, and at what point do I acknowledge that I really can't shove any more time in there unless I want to risk burning myself out? So yeah. Four hours a day is do-able, but I like to take Monday and Friday as sort of mini-weekend days for myself, since the real weekend is usually even more heavy on doing stuff for other people than weekdays. (And weekends are really hard to count on for writing time--sometimes, but not dependably always.) I may wind up aiming more for a minimum of 15 hours a week--I know I'll do more if the story really grabs me, but I won't be pushing myself into burnout.

New toys: I've been trying out WriteWay Pro. It has a lot of the features I liked about Power Writer--primarily the outline format on the sidebar where I can name scenes and break them up into chapters and acts and hop around between them very easily. I can do my initial "outlining" (a generous term for my vague hodgepodge approach), I can go in and write whatever scene idea I have when I have it, and I can jump around at will without getting lost and confused in a regular word processing document or a vast array of individual files. It also has some features Power Writer did not, such as the ability to print out just the outline or even the notes I make in the separate notecards. Since I already have most of my notes in a Word document, I haven't made use of the notecards much yet, but I love love LOVE the ability to print out the outline separately and scribble all over it.

I also gave SuperNotecard a shot. It's a really nifty program, but if/when I'm at the using notecards stage, it seems I get more from the process by using real paper notecards and a pen and having stacks to shuffle and lay out and move around and play with. Evidently, I need the touchy-feely to generate the ideas. And when I move into the organization stage, I tend to work more in lists/outlines. Even with simple RP posts, I start with a short list of keywords on what I want in the story and just go from that as I write. And I can do that directly in WriteWay, so as neat as SuperNotecard is, I think I don't really need that one.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yes, the boys started back to school today. Yes, I had my traditional little sniffle in the empty van on the way home. But they had a good day, and I had a good day, so all is well.

Those following along at home will already have noticed that I haven't entered any new word count in my progress meter over there since uh... Wednesday last week? This is OK, really. The story's been hauling along like gangbusters, especially for my two primary characters. Then I hit a point just before the plot twist at the fulcrum of the story where the secondary characters need to become more active in things, and when I prodded them into taking the stage, they were all wooden and just mouthing the words and not really, you know, alive. You may recall I had this issue while writing the Q3 story, and I also ran into it in "Wings." Short stories, it's pretty easy to go back and discover/rediscover the characters you lost track of. Partially-completed novel of over 60,000 words, not such a fast process. So I'm in the process of tracking back through the draft and finding where these people got abandoned and rescuing them. This will involve new word count eventually, but I still have the dogs out locating them.

And I still really like this story. I'm looking forward to getting to know those lost characters better, and I'm looking forward to finding out exactly what happens in the upcoming twist and beyond. I may have finally stumbled onto the writing process that works for me--so far, so good. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

In other news, beautiful, almost fall-like day here today, so I got in my first peaceful morning walk of the school year. I hit a new low point with the weight last week, after a long month or so of trying to drag myself off a plateau. I hadn't been walking, with the sore leg and all, so hopefully being able to get out and around more will help that, too.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Still tickled

You ever know two people who are so perfect together that they emit an aura of warm and fuzzy that just makes you smile every time you see them together or hear them talk about each other? I do. And they got engaged yesterday.

Congrats to Grizz and Shey!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Peace of Mind

It's been another one of those days which seems to be going by in a vaccuum, in some in-between realm that exists just outside of hectic reality. To start with, there were no doctor appointments, no errands, no need to set foot outside the house at all today. (I did still shower and get dressed, however. Go me.) But we've had a day of real familial harmony, too. (I know. I know! As soon as I say it...)

I like my kids. I don't just mean I love my kids, because obviously I do. And I'm undoubtedly a little biased, of course. But I really like my kids, and I'm pleased to near bliss to be able to say that. I remember when Joey was a newborn and I'd decided to not go back to work, I made a conscious decision that I would attempt to focus on the present, to really be there and enjoy each moment, so that I would never have anything missed to regret. And I don't, really. I've found something to love about every age they've gone through. (No, I'm no saint. I've found things about each age that drive me up the wall and/or frustrate the hell out of me, too.) But because I could love the age they were, I've spent (I speculate) less time wishing they'd stay little and less time wishing they'd hurry and outgrow this stage already. Which is not to say I never wish to go back and have never wished for them to outgrow something. Just, I hope, that I haven't wasted too much precious time on it. (There are days this week when I've wanted to grab Joey and hug him and beg him to go back to being a little boy for a while longer, pretty please?)

Somehow, somewhere along the way, I must have stumbled onto doing something the right way, because I'm really proud of these boys. And I've discovered that all the parenting advice I've ever found useful really boils down to one simple thing: communication. When my kids talk to me, I listen. OK, sometimes, I catch myself nodding off. Or sometimes I have to ask them to wait, because they'd be interrupting someone or something else. But as much as I can, I try to look them in the eye and really listen and ask intelligent, conversational questions about what they're saying. I try to know them, what their interests are and what they worry about and how they think. I share my thoughts and my interests, and we talk about things--music, song lyrics, historic events and people, whatever happens to strike us at the moment. It helps that we share a lot of the same interests, I'm sure. (Although I have to stretch a little to sit through the latest metal song I'm being asked to listen to, sometimes.) And when I have a problem with one of them, I pull out the ultimate parenting weapon.

I talk to them about it. Kindly, honestly, and with respect. Nine times out of ten?

They get it. They may not like it. They may not implement my suggestions for improvement perfectly or consistently. But more often than not, they're capable of understanding, and they attempt to understand, and they listen. Maybe it's because I listened?

I didn't fully understand that this is what I've been doing right until this morning and, once again, it was the boys themselves who taught me. Joey, as older brothers will do, has grown somewhat derisive of Michael's less mature behavior. (They're 2 1/2 years apart.) So when I happened to find myself alone in the kitchen with Joey while Michael showered, I said, "You know, Michael really looks up to you. When you make fun of him or say negative things to or about him, it hurts his feelings." Eyeroll and curled lip from Joey. "You're a role model to him. Maybe he doesn't say that to you, but your opinion matters to him. For instance, when we got back from having his toe operated on yesterday, he really wanted to tell you all about it. Later, he told me you didn't want to listen, and I could tell he was disappointed." Grudging shrug from Joey. "You know, if you give him some positive attention, then when you want to talk to him about changing something that bugs you, he might listen better. When you're a role model, you have a responsibility to treat people well and help them find the good things about themselves. Then maybe they can follow you and become role models themselves someday."

Five minutes later, Michael came out of the bathroom. His toe needs to be soaked twice a day. (Ingrown toenail removed. Bloody but evidently not painful, aside from the shots before the surgery.) So back we went into the bathroom to soak his toe.

Joey came in with us. He peered into the tub to look at Michael's toe and listened patiently while Michael showed him the holes from the shots and told him it was itchy. Then the three of us stood around in the bathroom for fifteen minutes and talked about a variety of inconsequential things. I went out to check the clock, and I heard Michael say something in a whisper to Joey. And I heard Joey say, "Michael! You know you shouldn't tell jokes like that. We'll be back to school soon." (Michael is in the "any swear word is inherently amusing" phase.) Under typical circumstances, Michael would have gotten mad at being told what to do. Instead?

"Oh, yeah. All right."

And that was it. I caught Joey alone later and gave him a thumbs up and told him I was proud of him and pointed out how well that had worked out. I also cautioned him it wouldn't always work, but don't give up. He gave me a co-conspiratorial grin and then tried to shrug it off as no big deal.

Then he started up a song on Rhapsody for me and asked, "Have you heard this song from Boston? I really like this one."

He's gonna make a pretty fine man someday, I think. And obviously, he shares his mother's good taste in music.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A productive, non-productive day

I only have 750 words so far today. Which is not the end of the world, and I think I'll have some time later this afternoon/evening to get at least 1,250 if not a full 2,500. I had grocery shopping this morning, so I was late getting to it, and then Joey expressed a wish for French toast, so we made that. I'm in a mildly weepy mood this last week of summer break; every summer brings us closer to that one last summer together. I have no idea why I've started thinking that way lately, because we're still years away from it. Seeing grown up nieces and nephews lately, maybe, and realizing that my boys will be the next to enter that realm. So making French toast with them was a nice moment far more than it was a chore; precious time with my boys.

Later, just as I was sitting down to try and write again, the dog came in to inform me that it was exactly 29 minutes until lunch, and the boys followed her in. I wound up with a pile of boys and dog on the floor at my feet while I read them the latest Cat & Monkey adventure from Elizabeth Bear's blog. They wanted more, so we perused her labels and wound up finding this. (Grizz. Don't take a drink until you're done reading.) It was all the more amusing because our own dog was also STARVING, and if we had sweet potatoes, I could easily envision a similar incident in our own kitchen.

So yeah. Not a lot of actual writing done today, although some good headway on figuring out what the next scene looks like. But lots of other, less tangible but still important moments.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

We're taking away the whip, slavedriver

It's been a nice, quiet weekend so far. Hubby is helping his sister move, so he and Joey left last night and won't be back until Sunday. This leaves me with just the Michael-Monster. His toe was infected, so we're just hanging out and swilling antibiotics together. We watched the very first Star Trek movie together last night, put together my new office chair (to go with the desk that has not yet arrived), and ate frozen pizza for supper. The leg is hardly hurting at all--a vast improvement from what it was before it was drained. So today we took ourselves to the library and got the next two (last two) books of Diane Duane's Young Wizards series--he read the rest of them all this summer, along with a handful of other books. Joey finished off Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, so we also picked up the next two Shannara books for him.

Last week was an awesome writing week, and I plowed through a lot of new word count. I almost got myself caught up in the "I can do that much every day and I'll be done in no time!" trap, but then I hit the next section of my almost-an-outline and stalled. At which point I started to reprimand myself and panic and then I remembered: This time, the project is about the writing itself, not about a deadline, not even a self-imposed one. The numbers I write on my calender are guidelines, not do-or-die--and even if they were, I'm roughly 6,000 words ahead of my guideline number. So I took a deep breath and backed off myself, and we're all much happier now.

I have to remind myself that I set up this novel's "outline" as I did for just this reason--to not fill in too much good stuff before I actually wrote it, so that I'd want to keep writing to find out what happens, while also giving myself enough guidance that I always have something to work toward. (The short version is, I wrote a notecard for each scene that I knew about for the main story, one for each character, one for each relationship, and one for a double handful of other elements that appealed to me for--at the time--reasons unknown. Then I tossed them together in a random fashion into 24 piles and wrote them down.) Some sections, I know a lot about. Some are already pretty much fully written--or were, I'm past that point now, pretty much. Other sections I get to and go, "Huh. I wonder how this fits in with everything else?" And then I set about playing fun games with the Muse to figure it out. And it's that appeal, that promise of the fun stuff of playing with ideas and finding out new things and new directions, that seems to be the key to keeping the story fresh for me. In short, that play time for each section, before I actually start to write it, is just as important as slamming a set number of words per day onto the page. I planned for those days when I set my total word count goals. I need to allow myself to use them.

In short: We're doing a really awesome job here so far, Slavedriver Me. Back off and let us keep doing it. One of the reasons we want to do this for a living is because it's fun, remember? So let's have fun!

Friday, August 8, 2008


Doctor's appointment today, in which she performed what is notated on the billing as "I&D." This stands for (I believe) "incise and drain." I'll let you all figure out for yourselves how much fun that was. Let me just state that the phrases "little pinch" and "bee sting" are LIES. And also, the numbing stuff only works on the surface, not on the down deep part which is having the ever-loving life squeezed out of it. ("Drain" implies a natural process involving gravity and allowing fluids to move at their normal pace. I'm thinking the "D" part of this procedure might need some renaming.) I also got another shot in the "hip." But my doctor is such a sweet lady--she uttered an alarmed "I'm sorry!" so many times that I started to feel bad for her. The really bad new is, the infection is apparently pretty deep and has branched out into at least three separate directions, so I have to go see a general surgeon and get her opinion on how to best eradicate the infection itself. (This will happen on Monday.) And THEN, once the infection is gone, I get to have the cyst that caused all this fuss removed!


On a brighter note, the leg feels better than it has in a couple of weeks. For the moment. In the meantime, Michael's ingrown toenail was showing signs of developing another infection (!!!) so I have to take him in this afternoon. Always with the weekend looming does this stuff happen. I'm not entirely sure it's really infected, but if I wait a full two days to find out, it'll have that chance to explode into full uber-infected-ness. So here's hoping that numbing stuff that's currently keeping my leg happy will stretch out for a few more hours, just long enough to get through his doctor's appointment and get our collection of prescriptions filled.

One of them is for Darvocet. Since I'm solo parenting this weekend, I'm hoping I won't need it, but it's sure nice to know it'l be there.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back on track, mostly

The bad news is, the cyst infection is still... bad. Ugly, even. It seems to have improved in some ways, as it doesn't cover the same amount of area it previously had, but it's still very red and very swollen and very sore. It's also developed something resembling blisters or, at the risk of grossing out more than just my immediate family, big zits on the surface of a festering red bump. I'm keeping it loosely covered with gauze now, to avoid bumping it and to relieve the people around me from having to look at it. The doctor was out today, but she or her nurse are supposed to call me back tomorrow. I'm thinking at this point that two more days of Keflex ain't gonna do it.

The good news is, the Muse is in a beautiful, generous mood so far this week. She dances, she sings, she smiles, and when I sit down at the computer and ask politely, "Story please?" she shouts "YES!" and tells me everything I want to know and then some--as long as I'm willing to sit still and listen and not butt in while she's talking. (Which is only fair, I think.) So yes, I've crossed the midpoint of the roughly estimated 100,000 words worth of novel. My makeshift plot outline indicates I have yet to cross the estimated midpoint of the story, however, so the rough may run slightly longer. Of course, I still have a section of snippets and old scenes tacked onto the end of the draft which I've been cutting and moving as I find homes for them, but which will not all find a home in the final ms, I'm sure. So, you know, a rough is just a rough. But more is way better than not enough, especially in the first draft. I'd much rather have to sand and polish than have to create entirely new stuff to shore up a too-thin novel.

I should maybe see about sending my Muse some flowers. Or chocolate. Maybe both?