Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snow, and other flurries

This week's score thus far: one child home sick Monday, snow day Wednesday, two hour delay AND other child home sick Thursday. We should have our act together by tomorrow. Just in time for Friday!

Hubby decided it would be fun to use his snowblower on the back deck. He claimed it was for the sake of the poor dog, but it was really just because he has a toy he doesn't get to use often enough. I suggested it might actually be Not Such A Good Idea, because if the dog had all that nice cleared space to use, she might decide she wouldn't go all the way out into the yard. I was pooh-poohed. And then this morning I had to go scrape frozen poo off the back deck. No justice.

Week two of volunteer tutoring this week. It seems to be going reasonably well. There are a couple of kids I'm not sure are really getting the material we're covering, which makes me feel bad. I'd really have been more comfortable with actual one-to-one tutoring, but I'll try to do the best I can with the situation.

I started a new novel yesterday. It was not Crowmaker-related. After much thought and analysis, I reached the conclusion that what Crowmaker really needs is to be either a longer book or a trilogy. What I already have draft for is the very last part of the longer story. And I had more pre-planning done for the Loki story than I'd have had starting from scratch with the new Crowmaker material. So uh... That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. You know, as much as I stick to anything.

I will admit that some of my current dilemma with Crowmaker is fear. I'm afraid I'm not quite yet the writer I need to be to handle that story. Which is not quite the same as just saying "I stink" and giving up. It's more a temporary retreat. I'm still missing some as-yet-unknown tool in my toolbox which is necessary to the completion of that story. I think I have the tools to finish other stories while I'm learning and looking for that missing tool. Therefore, I will march on with those other stories while alternately searching for what's lacking and hoping like hell I'm lucky enough to find it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Today's assortment of thoughts

(Note: Entry edited a couple of hours later, when I realized I made a leap of transition and neglected to actually, you know, write it down.)

I'm still feeling more upbeat. Thank you to everyone who made me smile or offered me a hug or prodded encouragingly. I love you guys.

The science fair is over for this year. (Next year, both boys will be doing projects.) Joey brought home a third place ribbon for his class. I am tickled, and I think he is, too--although he is, as we all know, thirteen and too cool to do anything silly like jump up and down or crack a smile. Congrats to my eldest son on a job well done.

In today's Murderati entry guest blogger Tim Hallinan discusses what not to do when you get stuck on a story. (Even though I don't write mysteries or thrillers, the folks over there have a habit of offering sound writing advice and thought-provoking entries.)
The Second Thing Not to Do (for me, anyway) is to launch a new plot strand. Suddenly discovering a deeply moving, compelling parallel story that demands to be told is often an advanced form of the same kind of dithering that produces all those adjectives and all that dismally witty conversation. This is dangerous territory, though, because sometimes a new plot strand is exactly what you need.
This sounds semi-familiar. It's pretty much what my efforts to "fill out" my first draft of Crowmaker garnered me. To go with the new, possibly better direction, or to force myself to stick the straight and narrow path? Hmmmmmmmm...
The Third Thing Not to Do is to walk away. Give myself a break. Learn to whittle. Decide I need a few days off.
I don't necessarily agree with this. Sometimes I think the days off are what I need to restore the objectivity necessary to decide if the tangent is really a good idea or just a tangent. Although I do agree that you have to be careful that the couple of days don't turn into a month or a year. And that sometimes you really don't need the days off, you just need to suck it up and get back in there. One of my writer/first reader/sweet/funny/awesome friends put it much more succinctly for me yesterday, in a manner which involved a directive in all caps and ended with the phrase "GO GO GO!"

OK, yes. You're right, Bada. The Loki story can wait. (It objected strenuously: "But you just found that COOL BOOK on Norse legends, and the library might not have it again if you wait until later!!!" So I ordered a copy of the book for myself with my Christmas Amazon gift certificate, at which point Loki sighed and shrugged and said, "OK, kid. Fair enough," and went back to sleep for now.) I do think the time away from Crowmaker helped me see it more objectively, I do think I need to pursue the tangent which is not really a tangent, and I do think I still have an immense amount of work left on the story. But it's back at the top of my to do list.

I collected a rejection on "Wings" from Clarkesworld Magazine. The form rejection letter was worded in a polite and kind manner, and they got back to me very promptly. (Three days!) In keeping with the "GO GO GO" directive, I have regrouped and sent the story along to the next market on my list of potentials. Rejections are, after all, nothing personal, and they are good because they are an indication that I am working. Right?


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yes. That.

Some highlights from and thoughts on this article by Laura Ann Gilman over at SF Novelists. (And what's sad/funny is that I almost didn't read more than the first few lines, because I thought it might be more political commentary, and I have had more than my fill of political commentary this week, thanks much.)
And while historians collect facts and theories, part of being a writer – a storyteller – is the avid collection of the unusual, the unique, the emotionally charged moment.
Yes. And especially important, for me at least, is the emotion. I've read stories where I think "Oh, that's a cool idea/setting/spin/twist." But if the writer manages to touch on an emotion that connects me to the story, then that story will stay with me in a way that a story with only a cool factor may not. And as a writer, the only real way to create that possibility for a connection in a story is to be honest in writing it; a reader will feel real emotions in a story in a way they will not feel emotion that is faked or glossed over. Which is not to say you must have had the exact emotional experience described in a story, but if you can relate the story situation somehow to an honest emotional moment in your own life in order to capture that emotion, you stand a much better chance of making a fictional emotion ring with truth. And that's what the best stories are, to me--lies that still manage to tell the truth.
It’s a matter of putting yourself in the way of experiences, of listening when others speak, of welcoming the pain as well as the joy as being of equal value. A child’s birth: a parent’s death. A raging storm, or the stillness of a hot summer, the quiet of a rural snowfall and the different quiet of a snowfall in the middle of a huge city. The pangs of love and the embers of hatred.
That. (Bolding is my addition.)

Pain is important. In spite of being difficult. Because it is difficult. Joy and sorrow are so intricately linked as to become one emotion, sometimes. I watch my children sleeping, feeling love for them and a sadness that with each day I lose them a little more to the rest of the world, and thinking with pride what good people they're turning out to be even if I sometimes miss the little boys they were. And the sweet pressure that pushes out from my heart and closes my throat and brings pinpricks of wannabe tears to my eyes isn't joy or sorrow--it's both, and they co-exist completely. They each exist because of the other.

The belief that joy and sorrow are inextricable and a necessary part of life is one thing I try to bring to every story. I can't do that if I can't bring both emotions fully to my writing, and I can't bring both fully to my writing if I shy away from letting myself feel them fully in my own life. (As with any other extremes Gilman mentions.)

Sometimes I wonder: I wonder if I didn't write, if I didn't feel compelled to allow myself to feel every emotion, to examine it and look at it from all angles--would my depressive tendencies become less frequent or intense? Would giving up writing make it easier to deal with my mood swings? Or would I merely be hiding out from life, shirking the responsibilities handed me by whatever greater force drives me? Maybe the embracing of pain as well as joy is a thing not only for me as a writer, but for me as a person attempting to live fully and understand life. I walk a fine tightrope line between extremes of emotion, allowing myself to know each of them and fighting to not become mired down in or overwhelmed by any, in a search for answers that I don't even know the questions to. When I read, I look for the strands of understanding someone else might have to offer me. When I write, I try to reach out with what I think I understand, in hopes that someone out there might be able to connect with it and use it.

A toast, then. To tightropes?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

(Lewis Carroll)

Still with the winter blues. They lifted for a day or two, crashed down again with a vengeance, and seem to have given way again. I tend to believe that shifting my focus from writing to other activities has helped with the mood improvement. I was very wound up in an "oh woe is me, I stink and shall never ever be more than a hack" phase, brought on in part by reading too many blogs and articles on why most aspiring writers will remain aspiring for eternity. (With the other contributing factor being the self-feeding cycle of depression: "I don't care enough about anything right now to write about it. If I don't care enough to write, I'll never make it as a writer. That's so depressing. Why bother caring enough to write anything, if I'm never going to make it anyhow?")

Or maybe I can attribute it all to the lack of sunshine or the tilt of the earth or the change in weather pressure or... Yeah. Exactly. Who the hell knows?

At any rate, although I had to keep my head down for a couple of days, I did manage to finish a revision of "Wings" that, if nothing else, made it shorter and more polished. I also dropped it back into the submission battleground, made note of the followup date on my calendar, and crossed it off my list of stuff to do. I haven't decided what I'm doing next. And y'know, that right there could be the source of my angst, come to think of it, because the latest mood downpour happened right after I finished up "Wings" and tried to move on.

"Pale Roses" would be the logical next step. I even printed out a draft of it. But it's longer than most markets are looking for. I could probably polish it down a couple thousand words without losing much story. But the markets I'm aware of don't seem quite the right place for that story. And why bother revising and polishing (or even re-reading), if I have no market for it?

Which leaves me with my two novel-length projects, the Loki story and Crowmaker. And both of those have me feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I know that if I pick one and sit down and dig in to work on it, I can break it down and get back into it.

But damn, they both just feel so BIG AND SCARY right now.

I have all but decided not to decide anything this week, however. I started some volunteer tutoring at the boys' school this week. As we all know, I am a planning freak and a perfectionist, so I'm still sorting out what I'm doing and how to do it. I had my first session yesterday afternoon, so I have a better feel for the kids in my group and how I can (hopefully) approach teaching them in a way that will benefit all of them. I didn't realize going into the program that the tutoring sessions would include more than one child at a time; I'm confident of my ability to help a child learn things one on one. It's trying to get through to four of them at once that will be my challenge. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the tutoring session, though. I was really nervous at first, but once I had the kids all on board and working with me, it was fun. And I was less nervous. And I felt like I maybe got some of what we were reviewing to stick for a couple of the kids. Being me, of course, it's the ones who didn't seem to get it that will eat at me. I've already adjusted my initial plans for the next session in an effort to get to ALL of them.

I've toyed with the idea in the past of offering some kind of writing class. Maybe the tutoring will help me get my teaching legs under me. Then I just need to keep working at getting an impressive enough publishing record that people will be confident enough that I can teach them something that they'd be willing to pay for it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Games we play

A blog entry by a friend set me to thinking about goals and the games I play with myself to accomplish them. It's funny, isn't it, how you can know you're just fooling yourself, yet it can still work?

Being a natural organizer and list-maker, I find the planning to be the easy part. I take a deep breath, I shove down the sensation of being hopelessly overwhelmed by the immensity of the task, and I break The Big Task into several smaller and less frightening steps. And, being me, I put those steps into written list form. It's the doing I sometimes trip over. Having the list in written format is, in itself, a big motivator for me--especially if I have it out where I can see it, and it can nag me every time I glance at it. Loose ends bug me. Loose ends that are out in the open and glaring at me bug me even more.

Starting is the hard part. No matter how badly I want to do something, it is almost ALWAYS a chore to get myself going on it, especially if it's an ongoing project that I have to work on day after day after day--like, you know, writing. Especially if I don't really know what I'm doing next, but sometimes even when I do.

The trick I play to get myself started at all is simple but (usually) effective:

"I'll just work on it for ten minutes. If at the end of ten minutes I still don't feel like working, I'll stop."

You'd be surprised at how absorbed you can get in working on something in ten minutes. Very often, I'll glance to see if the ten minutes are up yet and find that it's been 30 minutes. Or an hour. There's something about giving the grumbling, resistant part of my personality permission to call a halt that subdues it enough to let the part of me interested in pursuing the story to take over.

And y'know, if by some chance I don't get absorbed within the ten minutes, then I keep my bargain with myself. I agree to come back later, at an appointed time, and try it for ten more minutes under the same terms, and I walk away. It's still ten minutes of work that I wouldn't have done otherwise, and when I try to cut a deal with myself the next time, myself trusts me to keep my part of the deal and is willing to give it another shot.

Myself has to trust somebody, after all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Properly trained, a man can be dog's best friend.

The mood is better. I have given myself a break from working on novel-length stories and intend to spend the next week or three targeting the short stories I've been avoiding since they came back from their latest submission attempts.

In the meantime, I have pictures.

The target:

The perpetrator:

The crime:


In which I foolishly assume putting Joey's pillow on the back of the couch will prevent the dog from sitting on it:

Thursday, January 8, 2009


The first week of January 2009 has been a rollercoaster, rising into periods of confidence and awesome productivity and then screaming down into the urge to just crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head because I suck and what difference does it make if I write, anyhow?

Part of the idea of the blog was that it would encourage me to track my progress and force me to think about the positives. So, let's see... Since my last post on Jan. 1, I have scheduled the Loki novel (the new idea) onto my work calendar. I gave myself two weeks for pre-planning and for researching the genre. I've mostly worked out all the pre-planning, except for a working outline, on which I have become stuck. I read two books, one in my target genre of YA paranormal/fantasy and the other just in YA (because the library didn't have the books I really wanted), and skimmed a third in the target genre that I plucked off the shelf even though I had a feeling I wouldn't like it much. (I was right.) So, productivity is not an issue--I've covered a good amount of ground this week, and it's not even Friday yet. I even had some flashes of insight on how to approach my rewrite of Crowmaker when I get back to it.

My issue is my mental/emotional state. This should not be a surprise to me, given it's my usual January state of mind. I guess this is where I dig in and keep doing the best I can while I wait for sunshine and warmth and the return of my optimism.

For those wondering: A Certain Slant of Light, by Laura Whitcomb, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares. I won't name the skimmed book, because I wouldn't recommend it anyhow, but I also refuse to risk hurting another writer's feelings with my opinions about their work. (And hey, it did get published, after all. More than I can say.)

Elizabeth Bear has tossed out the possibility of offering her services as a writing tutor. My initial response was to cheer internally, "Ooooh, Elizabeth Bear looking at my stuff!" This was quickly followed by a shudder of horror: "Oooh. Elizabeth Bear looking at my stuff." The woman is one of those incredibly intelligent and straightforward people who intimidate the hell out of me.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gravity and momentum

A brief review of 2008, wherein I look back to see how far I've come in order to inspire myself to continue plodding forward:

The boys finished their first year of "regular" school, after having been homeschooled for three years. They both rounded out the year on the high honor roll, and Joey was voted in for the WWJD (What would Jesus do?) award for his class. Joey won the school-wide geography bee, and Michael was a semi-finalist in the school-wide spelling bee. Both have adjusted well and completely to their new life structure and are well-liked by fellow students and teachers alike. No major discipline issues, socializing issues, or academic issues. I am proud and vindicated and relieved. I still kinda miss teaching them myself, but the time we had previously spent struggling with the basics of grammar and math and spelling, we now spend on lively discussions about music, books, philosophy, and even politics. Joey has gone from being uncertain how cool last year's Christmas gift of Guitar Hero really is to demolishing every Rock Band drum part on Expert mode and whaling like a pro on a real drum kit while searching the 'net avidly for information on how to read music and learn new songs via drum tabs. Michael has gone from wandering in the shadows of Joey's musical tastes to picking out HIS favorite songs for HIS mp3 player, and regularly sneaks peeks at Joey's pre-algebra text to learn cool new math things, which he then asks me to explain more thoroughly to him, because he loves math no matter what kind of faces Joey makes on the subject.

They are both fine and blossoming young men, and I am proud of them and pleased to know them. You know, in case you hadn't already gotten that impression from me.

I did a lot of looking hard at how I spend the hours of my days last year. I made good changes to my eating and exercise habits, which I stuck to more or less until the last month or two. I found a routine for my days and weeks that is structured enough to make me feel secure and flexible enough that I don't go completely crazy when unplanned things happen. (Like field trips and sick kids and doctor appointments.) I have done an awesome job of balancing the time I want and need to give to my family with the hours I want to spend on building a writing career and the hours I need to take care of me with exercise and meditation and just plain play time. Writing-wise, I finished three brand new short stories, all of which I have submitted to someplace or another, and one of which earned an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest. I fiddled with the rough drafts of a couple of additional children's stories which are still on hold. I finished a really rough and incomplete first draft of a novel, which still needs a good amount of work but about which I still have a really good feeling. My word count for the year (not including blog entries or word count which I have since cut from finished or first drafts) is roughly 74,000 words. Including the cut scenes, that's well over 100,000 words, and that was starting right around April 1. Not shabby, I think.

Plans and resolutions for 2009, because that's what the first day of the new year is for:

I have in my life a personal situation which has, in the past, caused me to feel a great deal of anger and resentment. That situation has changed/is changing, but I find I still have a kneejerk anger response even when that anger is quite likely no longer justified. My big resolution for the year is to make a conscious effort to look past the kneejerk anger in an attempt to untrain myself from that response. I'm blocking my own path, and I need to get the hell out of my way.

I was doing really well with eating intelligently and exercising regularly for most of the year. As with a large percentage of the rest of the population, I didn't do so hot over the holidays. I'll be trying to get that part of my routine back into shape now that the holidays are over. Even if I don't lose weight (and I had hit that plateau, which was a contributing factor to the falling-off-the-wagon), I'll do it because it makes me feel better.

In the same category of "because it makes me feel better," I'll be trying to remember to leave time for at least a little meditation every day.

I will also get my feet under me again and get going on the writing once more. Actually, I've already done a few hours of that while the guys were out of town Tues. and part of Wed., so I'm feeling pretty good about that. After much soul-searching, I've decided that a lot of my current difficulty with Crowmaker has to do with being too emotionally close to the story and unable to make important plot decisions because of it. Much as I'd love to charge ahead and finish it, it is just not going to happen right now. And if it did, I wouldn't do the story full justice. In the meantime, a story idea I've been itching to write for a long time bumped into a genre I've been researching, with the result that I may have finally found the right vehicle for that particular idea. So instead of a break for a short story this time, I'll be taking a break from Crowmaker in order to explore and plan and start the rough draft for this other novel. Part of me is afraid I'm just being undisciplined, but another part of me thinks of the many other writers I've seen offer the advice to have more than one project going at a time, so that you have something to work on when one project needs stewing time. As with so many things, I suppose I'll just take the plunge and find out if there's a riptide once I get in the water.

My tentative writing to-do list for 2009, then:
  • Start the new novel.
  • Finish Crowmaker.
  • Possibly finish an existing short story or two.
  • Possibly find potential markets for the two finished shorts I have sitting around and get them into the submission pond again.
The key word for 2009, I think, will be "balance." I will continue to hold a good balance between time for family and time for writing and time for just me. In my writing, I will continue to seek that elusive balance between doing the smart things I need to do to pursue a career, and doing what I want to do because I love it.