Monday, September 29, 2008

Genius or folly

Today, a couple of changes to the Writing Progress Meters (over there on the right sidebar).

"Pale Roses" has been archived, since it is finished. (Finishing things feels good!)

I've added a new meter for "The Blue Wall," which is a children's story intended for eventual submission to Cricket Magazine (at least for starters). I'd mentioned I was going to shift from WotF Contest short stories to children's, and this kicks off that effort. On my agenda for this week on the short story front was simply to get the story concept cooking. My Muse handed over the title (which has a story smidge/history of sorts attached to it, but that'll come out in the story itself), along with the scent of magnolias, the sound of the ocean, and ghosts. I've fleshed it out a little beyond that, but I haven't started writing it yet, so I'm leaving it right there for now.

Crowmaker has a new meter, too. After much thought about the story itself and my career objectives, as well as the hunch I've had for a few years now that my voice and writing style might lend themselves better to a different genre than category fantasy (much as I love reading it), I made some decisions about Crowmaker and, as you can see, did a fair amount of hacking. (Fear not, the original, much-longer version is safely backed up for the next time I change my mind.) I've wondered from the start if this story might be well-suited to the Middle Grade/Young Adult market. The viewpoint character/protagonist is a teenaged girl. She didn't start out being the protagonist, just a person to tell the story for the real protagonist, the Crowmaker. But then she uh... made herself the protagonist. And thus the story has become as much, if not more, about her personal growth and the things she does as it has about the Crowmaker. And the story itself seems like so much MORE when I cut it back to its original story arc than it had become when I had three times as much word count cluttering it up.

The danger in such moments of indecision and decision, of course, is that my Muse is just fussing with stuff instead of putting forth the effort to come up with new material. It's really hard to know, sometimes, when your reason and your gut instinct are telling you things you should listen to, or when you're just trying to chase your tail instead of putting in the real work you should be. I honestly, at this moment, believe this is the right choice for this story. If tomorrow I change my mind, I have my old notes and ms backed up. The only thing I have to lose is a little time while I feel my way through what I'm doing.

And thus justifying my hack and slash of a perfectly good ms, I move forward!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Muse comes through again

Finally, a painting for my mother. I'll leave it up for a few days in case any fixes or tweaks feel like reaching out and grabbing me when I walk past it, but it is done and I am pleased with it overall.

A quickie snapshot taken under completely unprofessional conditions:

And just in the nick of time, too, because the Muse has begun making noises about spending more time on Crowmaker again.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good news?

The good news is, I'm perfectly normal!

For a writer.

Um... Yeah.

Actually, reading things like that does make me feel better--it reassures me that I'm not alone and that, if I'm going through the same things as the pros, I may be closer to joining them than I realize.

It's been a pretty productive week so far. Mailed out "Wings" and "Pale Roses" to their respective places on Monday, spent most of yesterday painting my bathroom, have a painting halfway to done for my mother (and I like it!), and have done some serious soul-searching and deconstruction/reconstruction on Crowmaker. And on my long term career goals (although "get stuff published" is still the general direction).

I logged into World of Warcraft last night for the first time in over a week and was met with a chorus of happy-to-see-you greetings and then dragged off to complete a quest and try to get a loot drop because "you just have to have one of these." Pixelated loot, yes--not a big deal. But the warm and fuzzies of good friends is priceless. I didn't win the drop, but I've already been told we WILL be going again until I get it. But you know, if my Tauren shaman does wind up with a beer-keg-bearing kodo mount, it'll be the recollection of how she got it that makes me smile every time I use it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Right around the year 2000, I decided I was going to stop daydreaming about being a writer and actually do something about it. A discussion about the community of online gaming people I'd become a part of and the absolute necessity of the encouragement I received from them is for another time--suffice it to say, no one will ever convince me that online friendships are anything less than as real as it gets.

I had a 5 year old, a 2 year old, a husband with a job that required a ton of traveling, and a relocation from Illinois to South Carolina to contend with. I was pretty much solo parenting in a place where I knew absolutely no one. Looking back, I'd say I did a fair job of mucking through learning the ropes and growing, albeit gradually, as a writer. (Not to mention the whole "learning how to be a mother" business. Lord.) I was getting better. The publications that were accepting my stories were working more and more toward the pro level I yearn for. The sale to Cricket Magazine IS a pro sale.

And then I lost it. I still can't put my finger on exactly why--another relocation, another adjustment to a new place with no support system, but probably, mostly, a bout with depression that sneaked up and took me down without me really noticing that it had done so. At any rate, I simply lost the desire to keep trying. I sold "Frost King's Bride" to Cricket in 2004, but I'd pretty much stopped writing by the time it was published in 2005. Working through the requested edits for The World Between Earth and Sky was torture--I just wanted it off my hands, and I didn't care who published it or, quite honestly, if it was published at all. I couldn't remember why I'd ever wanted to write, and I couldn't remember a single good thing about the writing I had done.

So, as I was researching markets for "But He Had Wings," I noticed that my teeth sort of itched when I added The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to my list of possibilities. The name of Gordon Van Gelder immediately popped into my mind, and my teeth itched even more. I couldn't quite remember exactly why, although I vaguely remember at some point deciding that submitting anything there was likely a monumental waste of my time. (F&SF is, for those not into the whole spec fic short story scene, at the top of spec fic short story publishers heap.) In search of a specific cause for the itchy teeth syndrome, I dug through my back files. I couldn't really find anything horrible, aside from a nice collection of Mr. Van Gelder's very polite "alas, it doesn't quite do it for me" rejection notes. Judging by the contents of F&SF, I do think that perhaps most of my stories will never "quite do it" for that market--not a complaint against the magazine or Mr. Van Gelder, just that sometimes, well, a writer and a reader (or a market) don't quite fit.

I also re-discovered some other interesting tidbits I'd forgotten:

The Leading Edge apparently does/did critiques as a matter of course for rejected stories, or at least I was fortunate enough to get them when they rejected "Disappearing" in 2002. Since the magazine is published by a rotating group of student editors at BYU and the critiques came on a form which three of them had filled out, I'm guessing it is/was part of their usual process. The three I got ranged from "It was good in some places, but I didn't get it" to "OMG, this is the best story EVER!" Another sign that sometimes it's not about your ability or the technical soundness of a story, but about whether or not the story makes that little magical connection with a particular reader. (Which is not to say I believe that story--or any of mine--are perfect. None of them ever are.) They did, however, later accept and publish "The Second" (in 2003). (A story that still whispers at me to come and revisit it, sometimes. I have a file of notes on how it could become a novel, if it really wanted to. Maybe.)

"Disappearing" also got a request to revise and resubmit from Strange Horizons in 2001. They ended up rejecting it anyhow, but the revision suggestions they gave me made it a stronger story. The same editor (Chris Heinemann, who is no longer with them, it looks like) also offered personalized feedback on another story they rejected. I am not the only person who's received the human touch treatment from these people, even if I had forgotten how awesome they are until my walk through my back files. Hats off to the folks at Strange Horizons.

I entered "Disappearing" in the Writers of the Future contest in 2002. I have no recollection whatsoever of having done this.

My publication in Cricket Magazine in 2005 made me eligible for an associate membership at SFWA and a full membership at SCBWI. Neither of which I have followed up on. I got a story published in a pro market--at CRICKET, for God's sake--and I have done NOTHING to build on that.

Where the hell has my head been for the last few years?!

Actually, to be fair to myself, I didn't just stop. I have a middle grade novel that I landed an agent for, but that she eventually sent back to me because she couldn't place it. I have a handful of half-developed children's nonfiction book ideas, and notes and a first chapter for a second middle grade novel that I never finished (but that Joey sometimes still asks me about, God love him). But I couldn't quite get them to GO--I was stretching for something above what I'd been doing, and I couldn't quite make that leap.

Then. I can blame it on a depressive episode or I can call it burn out or I can just shrug and say "I dunno." But whatever happened, it happened. All I can do is remember what I've learned and appreciate the people who've believed in me along the way and keep learning and trying.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dithering at top speed

I may or may not have mentioned that I am of the opinion that I have at least a passing acquaintance with manic-depressive tendencies. Or rather, I acknowledge that my moods and energy have a marked pattern of moving from high to low and back again on a pretty regular and mostly predictable basis. It's not debilitating, and I therefore don't treat it as a disease so much as personality tendencies that I've learned (with varying degrees of success) to manage. (Disclaimer: I'm talking about my personal experience with this. Obviously, there are others who are on much less civilized terms with this disorder--to the point where it is a disorder and not just tendencies. A matter of degree and all that. I do not make light of their situation; I speak only for myself, and sometimes I speak with humor because that is also part of my coping mechanism.)

Having just dragged myself through a decidedly low stage, I'm not surprised to find my engines revving again this week. Dozens of things I want to/should accomplish started buzzing in my brain and would happily chase each other into exhaustion if I allowed them, with the end result being that I start dozens of things and finish nothing-IF I allowed that to happen. Being all too familiar with the high-pitched white noise sound of my manic phase kicking into gear, I immediately instigated one of my usual tactics and sat down to make lists of projects and steps required to complete them and estimated time required (severely padded, because I know I'm prone to overestimating my abilities at times like this). And then I sat down with a calendar, reminded myself that there are only 24 hours in a day and that a certain portion of them are already allotted to sleep and taking care of kids and minutia like that, and scheduled a portion of those projects into the next couple of months. It's the equivalent of giving a toddler a basket full of building blocks to distract him from pulling other stuff out at random and making a big mess.

The other advantage is that I have things on my calendar to work toward, which provides a focus for my manic days. ("It's on my calendar! I need to finish it before I allow myself to run off and do anything else!") AND, it's a motivation when those days wane back to depressive days of much less energy. ("It's on my calendar. Crossing it off my list will make me feel better. I guess I can manage to do that one thing.")

My other tendency on manic days (OK, on any days) is to constantly feel like I've accomplished nothing, even when I objectively know I have. The daily rough tally I keep in an attempt to stay objective indicates that I've put in 10-12 hours a day for the last several days on either writing or household-related work (with probably 2/3 of those hours landing on the household side). I have:
  • Done the weekly cleaning of the bathrooms (2.5 of them). Hate bathrooms. Hate, hate, hate.
  • Plunged two different toilets on three separate occasions. Hate stopped-up toilets. Hate, hate, hate.
  • Painted the new patch of drywall in our bathroom, scoured our shower, and moved all our shower stuff from the boys' bathroom back to ours.
  • Started a new painting for my mother.
  • Done the usual dishes, cooking, laundry, running kids around, grocery shopping, homework helping, etc.
  • Measured the living room/kitchen/dining room area of our house (which includes 2 hallways and a half bath) which are sorely in need of a real paint job and calculated how much paint I'll need to buy for that job. (They still have the flat cheap primer, which holds onto every single speck of dirt and scuff marks aimed at it.)
  • Dealt with my annual physical and the bi-annual bloodwork that goes with my thyroid condition. (Hate bloodwork. Hate, hate, hate.)
  • Done a big block of revisions to "Pale Roses," which is now only in need of typing in proofreading level stuff and a final prep for submission.
  • Researched magazine markets for "But He Had Wings," which is now ready to come down off its Honorable Mention pedestal and get back to work finding a real home. (Or maybe re-researched, since I'm familiar with most of these markets and only need to touch base with them again when I'm making the "where do I send it first?" decision.)
  • Re-researched children's/young adult magazine markets and added them to my writing schedule in lieu of more WotF stories. (I've been itching to write some speculative fiction for kids, so I thought this would be an acceptable switcheroo for a few months. It's also the field where I've made my only pro sale so far, so, you know... Maybe following up on that success, even belatedly, is not a bad idea?)
  • Made great strides in finding a fresh angle on Crowmaker and even wrote a new (small, but new) scene for it yesterday. (I have not updated my progress meter for it. I've done some shuffling around from one software to another and from an old file with stuff I know I won't use (probably) to a new file with just the stuff I'm sure I will use (probably), so I'm not sure how accurate it is at this point, or what my real word count is.

Today, I will type in the mostly-final revisions for "Pale Roses." Tonight, the boys and I will clean up the basement play room. Tomorrow I will do a final proof of "Pale Roses" and prep it to send out. Tomorrow after school, we will entertain a dozen or so fifth grade boys with video games and pizza.

Come on, manic self. Surely even you have to feel we're doing pretty well this week?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Just like I really know what I'm doing

Sat down with my marked-up ms for "Pale Roses" today and typed in revisions and wrote all the new material I needed to write--including a new ending, which was not nearly as overwhelming as I'd feared it might be. I am cautiously optimistic about the story, at this point. It feels much more whole and finished than it had, previously. I'll let it sit a few days before I print out a fresh ms and take a red pen to it for line level editing. I doubt at this point that it'll make the Sept. 30 deadline for this quarter's WotF contest, but I'm fine with it not getting in until the next quarter if that's what it takes.

I also started a(nother) painting for my mother. She requested "Oh, just something" for her new dining room wall when I was visiting over the summer, which tickles me even though I'm 42 years old. I suppose you're never too old to feel special when your mom wants to hang up your picture on the refrigerator. Err... dining room wall. I'd started one for her a month or so ago, but it is refusing to evolve from its ugly stage. So I have snubbed it and am turning to another idea.

So, you all remember our lovely little lightning-struck tree and its friend the tipped-over lamp post? Hubby got the lamp post all fixed up a couple of weeks ago and got all the dead branches out to the curb and our front yard was (mostly) hunky-dory again. High winds came through this weekend and knocked another (evidently weakened and/or dead) branch out of the tree. Onto the lamp post. Scraped the side of the van, but no damage to it. Mr. Lamp Post, however, is once more down for the count. Poor guy.

To-do list for this week:
  • More Crowmaker research reading. Maybe even some new word count, since I feel close to figuring out where I'm going. Again.
  • Paint for the newly-patched drywall above our shower. So we can once again take showers in it, instead of hauling stuff upstairs to the boys' bathroom.
  • See if I can get this new painting past the ugly stage for my mother.
  • The usual homework/housework/kidwork routine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Making lemonade

Progress so far this week:

  • Finished making notes on what "Pale Roses" still needs and marked up the ms to indicate to myself where I wanted to add/tweak things, and what I wanted to do in those places.
  • Spent some time hashing over the main plot line for Crowmaker and considering which subplots work with that main plot and which don't.
  • Made a trip to the library for books of a background research nature for Crowmaker.
  • Started reading the above books.
I have not felt in a writing kind of mood, but I can darn well still do planning and research.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Picture day?

In lieu of actual content, I bring you some findings from the digital camera download this morning. (Which came about after I took snapshots of my "Pale Roses" notes so I could take the lazy route on updating the Google Doc on the writing process. Which I have done, so if you're following along, there is new content.)

Storm passing to the east, sun shining over the house behind me to the west = pretty rainbow. Oddly, we get a lot of these. Sometimes doubles.

Because no selection of photos is complete without Avie. Just ask her. Toes provided courtesy the Michael-Monster. He is wearing one sock because there is a bandage on that big toe, and if there is no sock, he will pick the bandage until it "accidentally" falls off.

The writer at work. Sort of. OK. The writer slacking off by taking pictures of her work space and pretending it proves she was working. You can see brave Avie in the background, trying to decide if the deck is safe to enter. I mean... Checking to make sure nothing evil is lurking in threat of her beloved mistress.

Apparently, the hubby figured out my camera and took pictures of the lightning-struck tree in my absence. Please note the lamp post in the middle of the tree. This is approximately where my van would have been parked, had I been home. Instead, the van was in another state being struck by a cranky lady who would later chew me out for daring to file an insurance claim for the damage she caused. I think I'd rather have dealt with the tree. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have thrown a hissy fit at me.

More tree footage, after the hubby has cleared away some of the branches in order to get a better shot of the poor lamp post.

OK. I really am going to go do some work now. Real work. Involving plotting and/or plot problem solving and/or actual writing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

In between days

Friday's field trip was good and just the right length. Joey's class has 7 boys and 3 girls, and the teacher assigned a mix of boys and girls to each vehicle. I wound up with 3 boys and 2 girls. I'm thinking all boys might have created less chaos--the boys requested a classic rock radio station (they're all into Rock Band and finding some of the older stuff pretty cool) and then proceeded to sing their own versions of their favorite songs over the top of whatever was on the radio anyhow. The girls had an ipod loaded up with Hannah Montanta-esque music and they also sang their own versions of those songs, so it was dueling music most of the way. There was also much clowning and slapping and squealing. In short, it was good-natured but a little on the loud and chaotic side, two things I can only abide in small doses. By the time we returned to the school parking lot, I was ready for it to be over--but they all behaved admirably at the museum and at Burger King, and I only had to ask them to settle down for real a couple of times, and they all so obviously get along together pretty well, so really, who can complain?

Yesterday was one of those days in which I had all kinds of restless energy that wanted to be put to use doing something creative, but a lack of the focus required to rein in said energy--a very frustrating situation. Possibly the lack of focus was brought on by two 7th grade boys who didn't go to sleep until 3-ish and then set the alarm to get up at 7 so they could cram in a little more Heroscape and World of Warcraft before we had to return one of the boys to his mother in time to attend a family reunion. So I was completely and utterly useless yesterday.

Well, OK. Not completely useless. I did take advantage of the availability of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere online in its entirety and read um, the entire thing between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. And actually, that possibly contributed to my restlessness, because I am unable to just read a book for fun anymore--I have to pick it apart and turn the pieces this way and that while I read. (It's for this reason that I count even casual reading as working time.) And I spent the entire read of Neverwhere vacillating between "I can write prose every bit as good as this" and "I am not smart enough to pick up on all these littles subtleties and nuances, let alone write them, and I never will be." At which point I try to remind myself that no, I never can write like Neil Gaiman or Robert R. McCammon or Tad Williams, or anyone else I admire. But I can write like me, and no one else can do that, and so it's that voice I need to keep cultivating--mine.

But last night I got more sleep, and the weather today is super mild if a little overcast, and I can have my windows open for fresh air since the hubby is not home to complain about his allergies, and I feel better. My goal for today is to get my massive list of household-related stuff worked through so that come tomorrow morning, with kids at school and my regular writing time stretched out in front of me, I will be lacking in distractions and able to really sink my teeth into... something. I think I'll be working on "Pale Roses," because I think it's right there and ready to be born into the next level of "I'm a real story now, with complexity and meaning and everything." Tomorrow will tell, I suppose.

For now, having crossed off all cleaning-related tasks (ick), I am on to dealing with assorted insurance issues and budgeting stuff. And helping kids with homework, as needed.

I love crossing stuff off lists. I really, really do.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Puttering and working, and how sometimes they feel just alike

It is a humid and overcast kind of day here, today, with the promise of maybe a good thunder shower to really steam things up at some point. (I'm predicting approximately 2:52pm, which is right about when they rev up the car pool line at school.) I spent a fair portion of the morning running Joey to the orthodontist and home for ibuprofen and back to school and then going to the ATM and the post office. While also unlocking all the windows and removing screens so the painters can finish up the outside of the house (hopefully before that thunder shower hits). And also finishing up the invitations for the party Michael is having for his friends at school to come play video games and have pizza in mid-September. All eleven of them. Fifth graders. For pizza. And caffeinated beverages. And video games. For four hours. Did I mention they're fifth graders? But he was feeling too shy to have them over this summer, so if he's blossomed enough to feel comfortable not only having them over but also talking to the three new boys to get their addresses, then I can deal with four hours of them. Absolutely.

I've spent a little over an hour fussing with a new bibliography page, because I didn't like the old one, because I don't like fiddling with HTML every time I want to make a teeny change, and because I thought it'd be cool to have my personal blog match my bibliography. Technically, this should fall under the category of writing-related work, but that little productivity demon in the back of my brain keeps hollering that it doesn't count. I told him to hush and count it as part of yesterday's mini-celebration.

I appeased Mr. Productivity Demon by spending almost two hours brainstorming and making notes about what "Pale Roses" still needs to become a whole, breathing story. I even trotted out the ms and started scribbling in new lines/scenes/tweaks where they need to go. I'm struggling in that no man's land between knowing in abstract what the story needs and looking for the actual words strung together into sentences to make it happen. I think this is the part they call "writing."

Part of what I (think I've) figured out about "Pale Roses" is that maybe that IS its title, after all. Every time the logical part of my brain has considered what it could be instead, my muse has made little noises of disgust and objection. Every time I stop and wonder if maybe the title does work, she whispers seductively and sends chills up my spine, but she wouldn't tell me WHY I was getting chills. And the problem with those "it just feels right" moments for a writer is, you have to find a way to put it into words. You can't pass along gut feelings to other people just by willing it onto the page. So I sat down with some blank paper and did some cluster diagramming in an effort to sort it out. And it worked. I haven't put any of the notes I've come up with into the Google Doc, but I suppose I should. On the one hand, the process journal helped a lot along the way, but on the other, I'm afraid of losing what I've found if I grasp at it too tightly. So I may wait a day or two before I update the Google Doc.

Tomorrow, Joey's 7th grade class is taking a field trip to the Indianapolis Museum of Art to see the Egyptian display. (Caution, there's a movie that opens from that last link.) I get to go with them! This will also involve an unnatural number of nearly-adolescent boys, this time crammed into my van for a 30-45 minute drive there and back. And at a fast food place on the way home for lunch. And the teacher and I are the only adults going, so... Yeah. But they're good kids for the most part, and I get to look at art. Cool. (When Joey said what he needed the permission slip signed for, I raised my hands and shouted, "Does she need drivers?!" It barely phased him this time.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Will the real Q3 story please step forward?

Writers of the Future blog entry from today.

About the 16th line down in the list. See, I knew I was filling you all in on the whole "which quarter is whom?" business for a reason. (Yeah, right.)


Here you go. The Second (but not the last) set of Honorable Mentions for the 3rd Quarter.

Congratulations to you all.


Lori E. Erickson from Indiana

That would be for the real Q3 story, "But He Had Wings." (As opposed to the unreal and unfinished one mentioned in the sidebar process document.) It's not a win, but I hadn't started, let alone finished, let alone tried to place a story in over two years. So you know what?

Screw off, internal perfectionist. Yay, me.

Repeat after me

"If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems."

If I repeat it often enough, I'll eventually start to feel reassured. Right?

Mood this week is still in the range of "eh" to "blah," with a slight upturn toward "OK." I've made some progress on Crowmaker, in the sense that I'm starting to see what it needs in order to start growing again, and to grow as it needs to. It looks a lot like staring up the side of a really steep mountain right now, but I often find those mountains are easier to scale than I think they'll be once I dig in and start up them. For this week, however, I'm continuing to immerse myself in topics related to the setting and soaking up the ambience. Although I have scribbled down some notes that may come in useful when I go back to trying to write the story.

I also figured out (I think) my two main hangups on "Pale Roses" (the Q3 story that really isn't, for those of you following along at home, which may or may not wind up with that actual title).

I don't like the main character. I can almost summon up some sympathy for Sharon in a couple of places, but then the urge goes away. I understand why I made her as she is--her inability to change and accept and believe is at the core of the story. Or rather, it's the trait the story's plot was built on. But she needs to be more sympathetic.

I tried to summarize the story in a single sentence and came up with: "Order-loving farm wife fights to reclaim her star-maddened husband from God." Which is a pretty decent sentence, except Sharon doesn't actually fight for anything. She gripes and bitches and moans and snipes, but she doesn't really DO anything. And that would be reason #2 why this story doesn't quite work just yet. Figuring this out, of course, is half the battle. So maybe I'll be able to work out the kinks on this story sooner rather than later, after all.

(Wherein the writer, having hit bottom for a few days, begins her slow climb out of the cellar and back into the workshop.)