Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Sins, According to Thai

My cats are very disappointed in me. And when you look at my job performance the last few days, it's hard to blame them.

I'm letting workmen crawl around under their house with power tools and noisy bangy objects.

I left them Thursday to go to the farmer's market, bringing back tuna steaks that I wouldn't share with them.

Thai resents that I watched a DVD with Damon last night (the movie adaptation of Beezus and Ramona is great even though Beezus is too old) instead of playing videogames on the computer where she could catlap me; while Bruce resents that at the end of the movie I got up to do other things even though he was catlapping me.

I moved Thai out of the chair in front of the sewing machine just so I could sew, and even went so far as to close the door to that room when Bruce wanted me to do something for him but wouldn't tell me what it was. (I suspect he wanted me to chase the workmen out from under the house.)

I shut them out all afternoon one day this week without checking whether they might want to come in.

I've allowed it to rain when they wanted to be outside.

I am presently typing a blog post around Thai instead of rubbing her tummy like I'm supposed to.

In many ways, I am a terrible person to them. I leave them alone some days; do things they have no interest in when they need attention; refuse to let them participate in fascinating activities like sewing; and take them off the table when there's food on it. Even if the food isn't one they're interested in.

Yet, they purr for me, doctor me when I'm sick, snag me as I walk by to say hi, and forgive me even for vet visits and workmen. If my cats are happy, I know I'm not a terrible person.

It's good to get outside your own perspective and see yourself from another point of view once in awhile. If they can forgive my sins of omission and commission, I reckon I can, too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Character Study

As human beings, we tend to evade truths which as writers, as readers, and even as gamers we would do well to understand.

I have way too much to say on this topic for one blog post, but let's take one finite piece of it: the degree of autonomy that characters have.

We all react to characters as independent entities and as projections of their creator's selves. It can be absurdly hard to separate one's reaction to an actor from one's reaction to the characters we've seen him portray, to a singer from the persona expressed in the lyrics to her recorded music (even when we know she didn't write them), to an author from her most famous series hero, to an elven wizard on a unicorn from the US Marine playing her across the table from you.

Okay, maybe "separate from" is not the right verb phrase in the last case. Maybe "overcome the cognitive dissonance between" is better.

Anyway, this is clearly unfair. In all these cases, the character has an artistic purpose. In some of them, more than one person is responsible for the character. The movie needs a villain and the casting director chose Vincent Price to play him. As an artist, Price had to leave his own emotions behind and adopt those that will generate the most satisfactory villainous performance - guided by the director. The persona behind a song, the hero of a story, the party wizard all have roles in the final production that must be balanced for the best effect.

The character may even have been chosen because of his dissimilarity to the creator. A 16-year-old girl is not typically challenged by portraying a virgin elven wizard; a combat veteran may well be. A performer may deliberately create a performance persona so readily recognizable, yet so different from the real self, that it forms a privacy shield. Take it off, and he can walk around unnoticed among his fan base. I don't want to write endlessly about people who share my particular background, tastes, fears, and experience. Part of the point of making a character is to explore what it feels like to be someone other than me.

At the same time - there is a kind of player whose characters continually do obnoxious things, and who responds to complaints with an airy: "Oh, I'm just playing my character." An author, tasked with repeatedly creating characters who are racist, sexist, foul-mouthed, or violent, who says: "I'm just portraying them honestly. These people are not me." A musician who wants people to relax about the drug imagery in his music, and has a rap sheet a mile long.

These people are kidding themselves. You're creating a character for a reason, out of bits of yourself. If they're all nasty, you are choosing to put your nastiness front and center. You're still responsible for what they do.

I happened to think of this because I've been on a computer gaming forum where people, discussing various gameplay issues, will say things like: "I don't see why I should care about sim children when their parents don't" or "Romance sims are so bad, always cheating on their spouses." My sim parents love their children. My Romance sims don't cheat on their spouses, because I don't give them spouses. Other gamers will marry off Romance sims for the pleasure of finding creative ways to satisfy them without extramarital nookie; or to create soap opera plots; or for some other creative reason that doesn't involve projecting responsibility for their own darker impulses onto a bundle of program code.

I was interested to see the similarity between the choices people made for their sims in an asocial game and the choices people make for their PCs in a social game. It's easy to see, from these conversations, which of the computer gamers I would welcome at my gaming table and which ones I would rather avoid. But how does this square with my sense, as an author and as a gamer, that characters are independent entities? My characters are constantly surprising me. If I, and the people around me, couldn't separate them from me, the time my wizard fell in love with another character (not my husband!)'s fighter, or the time my priestess and my husband's ranger got locked into a power struggle over the group's tactical and moral options, would have been deeply problematic. Actually, when I'm in deep drama queen mode, other players are sometimes afraid that I have lost the distinction, and I sometimes get a good load of emotional chemicals on and have to call a break while I sort them out.

And what about the factor played by the phenomena of identification and projection - the interaction of the reader/viewer with the character, that inevitably makes him into something different from what the player, author, actor, whatever intended? I remember reading several books - Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag was one; Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton was another - in high school English class, which engaged me in critical battles with other students and the teacher over characters regarded by everybody else in the class as unsympathetic or contemptible, but whom I saw as wronged and trapped in a maze of choices, all bad. I had my reasons for reading these characters in this way. Would the authors have been enlightened, encouraged, or horrified by my take on these characters? How much does it matter?

Everything exists on a spectrum. If you're looking for a simple conclusion to this thought, you're on the wrong blog. The important thing is not to solve these conundrums, but to be aware of them as we deal with characters, our own, and other people's.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: The Worst Thing

This is the time of year when I remember the Year from Hell. You will excuse me from talking about this; or about the other bad things that have happened around Christmas time to those I consider mine.

What's the worst thing that ever happened to you?
Who were you before that?
Who did it make you into?

That's your character arc. You will have several in your lifetime.

Write about that, in a way that is accessible, entertaining, and enlightening to anyone else, and you can write about anything.

This is not a job for sissies.

Merry New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

And by Left They Mean Right...

I've been wandering around doing miscellaneous things this morning, and finally decided to just go put in the zipper wrong until the penny dropped. It finally did, and I have now written on the pattern "And by 'left' they mean 'right.'"

I always had a problem with that. I remember a time when my chief problem in dressing myself was that I was continually putting things on backwards because it wouldn't click with me that the front had to face away from me when I donned the garment in order to get the correct result. When I have to make left-or-right decisions I still glance down looking for a long-faded freckle on my right hand to make sure I don't pull left. Though the freckle is gone, I know that the right hand is the hand on which I reflexively check the freckle.

No, I don't expect you to follow that. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but me.

The trouble is that 'left' and 'right' are subjective terms, and in order to get the correct one it is necessary to be oriented the way the person giving you instructions expects you to be. I hardly ever am. And clockwise and widdershins are not "left" and "right," because any circle that goes left at the top goes right at the bottom and vice versa. Although one of Charles Fort's most famous aphorisms is "One measures a circle, beginning anywhere," apparently I am the only person in the world who ever orients a circle starting with the bottom point.

However, I can learn my way around urban spaces like nobody's business; and for years I always knew, when I walked into a restaurant, where to find the restrooms. This no longer functions infallibly, but that may be my own fault for preferring nonstandard restaurants.

I console myself for my lack of spatial acuity by telling myself that it gives me lots of sensitivity to alien viewpoints. You know how when somebody says "you have something on your face right there?" and points to the corresponding point on his own face, you always reach for the wrong spot? That doesn't happen with me, because I comprehend that I am functioning as your mirror, and point at the mirror-image spot. If I explain something and can't make myself understood, I do not assume that I am speaking to a stupid person, but to one with a different set of intuitive assumptions and will try out a different set till between us we hit on the ones that will work, or abandon the attempt. Conversely, I am frustrated to the point of murderousness in conversation with someone who denies the validity of my, or anyone else's, world view. When I'm writing a character, I can freely give them opinions I don't share and tastes opposed to mine and not worry about sounding convincing.

I may or may not have gotten the "see another's point of view" skill if I could tell my left from yours without conscious effort; but believing that I wouldn't is at least comforting, so please don't disabuse me of the notion.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Year's Cleaning

This morning I went through a stack of filing that has been accumulating since April of 2009. This afternoon, I cleaned the pond, a chore last done more than a year ago - and not because I didn't know better, either.

Not all the filing was stuff I can take care of; but some of it was. I didn't find the specific thing I was hoping to find, either; but if my filing habits were better I wouldn't need to be looking for it. I did find my sales tax paperwork, which arrived a couple of weeks ago and promptly got buried, even though all I had to do was blacken in the square that indicated I had no sales all year. I only have the tax number so I can sell OOP titles to people who want them. It isn't, or shouldn't be, a big deal; but it becomes so if I overlook the paperwork.

The pond was nasty and there's no one to shift blame to on that one. I was the one who wanted a pond. We all knew Damon wasn't going to do any yardwork. So any unpleasantness was deserved, for what that's worth. Personally, I don't find deserving an unpleasant thing to be any comfort. I'd much rather know that any unpleasantness I'm enduring is unjust. But once I got started on it, it didn't take that long, and the muck I dredged out should be add some good nutrients to the compost heap, which will be nice if I get any gardening done in 2011.

I tried to compose a blog post about the rotting sludge of experience in our heads fertilizing ideas, to occupy my mind while I did this; but I doubt anybody wants to read that one.

Happy Solstice.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: The Holly and the Ivy

I think we all go through phases of being in love with certain songs and wanting to dig out a story that makes sense of them. When I was in high school, I became haunted by the carol "The Holly and the Ivy," and the fact that though the ivy is part of the title, the holly got all the lines; in fact, it seems to be deliberately dissed in the opening verse:

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

So what is the ivy - chopped liver? Why'd you even bring it up if you were just going to rant on about how cool the holly is?

So I started blocking out a story, in which Holly and Ivy were fraternal twins, born on Christmas Eve. Holly was the dominant twin - the bright, pretty, popular one. Ivy was the one who trailed along after her cleaning up her messes. So Holly is the one who experiments with the grimoire and turns herself into a deer; and Ivy is the one who has to figure out how to break the spell, without making things worse.

And there's a lot of worse to get. To begin with, magic is a tricky thing, and they live in West Texas, where they're surrounded by people who believe in magic and that it is all of the devil. Ivy has no friendly neighborhood Wiccan to turn to, but can find plenty of people who think that by even asking questions about magic she's inviting the devil into her soul. I never solved the question of where the grimoire came from, but I did have a vague idea of a trickster figure who appeared in various guises - including attractive young man (hey, I was 15 or 16, and I wasn't Twilight fan material but I was human) - and who could steer her in the right direction if she could learn the delicate art of handling him for maximum benefit.

Another thing about the West Texas setting - it's getting on for Christmas, and that's hunting season. Holly is running around the ranch looking like a deer. Normally hunters prefer bucks, of course, but Holly makes a particularly clueless deer. She's too human to interpret what her animal senses tell her and make good decisions for her situation, but too animal to use her human knowledge base properly. And she's being destructive. If a doe is breaking into your barn and eating up your feed, knocking down your fences, and trampling the garden, and it's hunting season, yes, you're going to shoot her and eat her. If the city guys on the deer lease don't kill her, her own father and brothers will.

This strikes me now as the most interesting portion of the story, allowing me to deal realistically, through fantasy, with both interfamily politics and hunting culture. Nobody in my family hunts, but I've lived among too many hunters to buy into either the pro- or anti-hunting extremist rhetoric that is all one generally sees in media. Back when I originally conceived the story, though, this was a side thought, a way of generating time pressure for solving the main problem of how to turn Holly back. The spell reversal would involved the rising of the sun, the running of the deer, the playing of the merry organ, and sweet singing in the choir, but I never quite worked out how.

Nor - and this is why I never got far with it - could I figure out the ending. All right, Ivy turns Holly back into herself. How does this change their relationship? How did being a deer change Holly; how did rescuing her sister change Ivy? How much does Holly remember? What about that young handsome trickster? I have to know the end of a story before I start it, or I'll never finish it.

It also partook of that "November" feeling I mentioned last month; that cold and vaguely mystical feeling I had in West Texas winter. I think I lost my capacity to experience that sensation fully when my temporal lobes finished growing in; at least, I can't seem to recapture it now. So the time, if there ever was one, when I could have written this story would seem to be past.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Zippers, agents, and other conundrums

I have now made, by my count, one rough draft and two complete pairs of slacks with fly-front zippers. I am now working on another rough draft to work out some more details of the fit; and by working I mean the pieces have been cut out for about a week and I got the four darts in yesterday. It took me a number of tries to do the darts, yesterday being a bad day for the gyroscope, so straight lines were hard and so was finding the right side of the nondescript cloth I'm using for the rough draft. I then tried to move on to the zipper, and couldn't do it.

The first three, successful, times I did this zipper I did it wrong first and, having done "wrong," was able to see how "right" would look, go back, and redo it. (Hint, always baste for the first try at a zipper.) This is time-consuming but it's not as if I'm on deadline here. Yesterday I put the thing together, pinned it, played a computer game, came back, stared at it some more, unpinned it, put it together again, and left off in despair. Every way seemed impossible and besides, the zipper is too long even though I cut it to the right size (I know it was the right size - I measured it). I'm hoping it's just the gyroscope screwing up my capacity to recognize spatial relations, which was never my strong suit anyway.

I've spent most of my life being treated as a smart person, because I read so much and because I don't let learning a new task daunt me. Within certain fields, I'm a quick study, and nine-tenths of learning a new thing is not getting intimidated by the onrush of new stimuli. A little methodical sorting, some focused concentration, and a well-placed question or two, and I'm good to go. I don't for a moment believe that I'm smarter than average, and the zipper thing proves it. I have to re-solve the problem every time and on some days I can't solve it at all, because it relies on a portion of my system that I never developed well and which is a little messed-up physically. I do not have the skill "insert a fly-front zipper." I have a skill set that enables me to insert a fly-front zipper, or work a complicated math problem, or whatever, given sufficient time and a way of checking the result.

In the same way, I do not have the skill "find a publisher." I'm not certain anyone does, though I know people I am willing to believe do if they cop to it. I have, without an agent, sold twelve books to major houses and a number of short pieces to a number of different venues; so I have a skill set that makes finding a publisher possible. As far as I can tell, finding an agent takes the same skill set.

What I lack is any way to check the result. I have this in common with practically everybody. The moaning and wailing goes forth from the internet daily: "But why did this agent/editor that should have wanted me reject me? What does this rejection mean?"

A rejection doesn't mean anything. The market for print media is shrinking and the supply for it gets bigger every year. Even twenty years ago when I started, when it was possible (I know; I did it) to send a complete manuscript to a major editor like Margaret K. McElderry and get it read, I knew - because I'd been studying for this role all my life - that works get rejected more often than they get accepted. There are a thousand reasons to reject a work and only one of them is "it stinks." Editors are overworked, overwhelmed, and underfunded. Most of them don't even have assistants anymore. Most of them didn't have first readers even when I started. Writing a helpful rejection is too big an addition to their workloads in most cases.

And now that agents are acting as first readers, everybody has to have an agent. But getting an agent is harder (at least, if you're me, the person with the solid mid-list background and crappy interpersonal skills) than getting a publisher. An editor only has to be able to convince a committee to believe your book will work as one element of a list in one year. An agent, to be effective, has to be in love with the book and your whole career as well as having a small enough client list to make room for one more who's going to take as much time and attention as you are.

This is a discouraging prospect for someone, like me, who hates meeting new people and distrusts salesmanship and who, at the time of assembling the query, isn't particularly in love with a project, myself. Generally speaking, by the time I've drafted a book, revised it into something resembling publishability, polished a hook, and crammed the whole into a one-page synopsis, I'm fed to the teeth with the thing. Having to write a query letter under those circumstances is like having to put in a zipper that will only work properly if I both set it up perfectly the first time and am feeling madly, passionately enthusiastic about wearing slacks at the time of sewing.

Under those circumstances, I'd never get a pair of slacks that fit. Ever. I wouldn't even try, because that's never going to happen. And I like wearing skirts. A lot of people never get well-fitted slacks and never mind it. I can, too.

But the stories I write are The Most Important Thing. Stuff other people consider vital to happy lives, I've given up in favor of writing stories and never felt as sacrifices. So I arm myself with the knowledge that how I feel isn't important, but getting an agent is; and I have the skill set; and I make the attempt anyway. Sure, I can fail. But the only way to fail permanently is to die or abandon the attempt.

I wouldn't do it if it weren't The Most Important Thing. I don't know why anybody would.

So that's my words of wisdom for this day without a gyroscope (when staying upright is a chore and I can't trust myself to write a query). Decide what The Most Important Thing is, and go for it. Everything else can fall by the wayside.

You can have more than one Most Important Thing, but they'd better be compatible.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Okay, Now What?

It's natural to feel a little at loose ends after a project ends or goes into a necessary dormant phase. Fortunately, I always have lots of things piled up to take care of, because I tend to neglect other things when I get into that last downhill slide. I've cleared the filing away, or at least the worst of it, and gone through accumulated stacks of mail. I need to get back to sewing, and the yard - well, yardwork we have always with us. And the search for a contractor is also my responsibility; as is the search for new places to send the books that are supposed to be circulating. I have of course gotten behind on getting things back into the mail; which is also a reasonable time to read things through again and see what needs tweaking.

I can revise old work. I can go through old files waiting for something to leap up and ask to be finished. I can write short stories. I can do intensive market research, step up the search for an agent, find conferences to go to. I can go to more local SCBWI meetings if I feel like it. I can experiment with genres I haven't sold in before and markets I haven't made any serious attempt to crack. I could DM again for awhile, or at least do the prep work for the next time we need a DM.

The one thing I absolutely, positively must not do is work on the lesbian western. I must do my best to keep my conscious mind from handling it. Thinking about Len and Di and Bean, or even about how and when to solicit my knowledgeable friends to read the bits that need their input, can't be allowed. When I return to the book at the end of the cool-off period, I need to come at it as something separate from myself, not as the constant companion of the past year or so. Not because I won't see its flaws, but because that's all I'll be able to see. If there's any strength in the structure, any beauty in the overarching lines of the plot, any unrecognized theme emerging from the dialog - I'd miss it right now.

Fortunately, boredom is not something I'm subject to when I'm healthy and have command of my own time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: The Plantation Mystery

I think it must have been the mid-80s when I thought of this plot, which research relevant to the lesbian western has brought back to mind. In order to have its full impact, this would have to be done much as I've done the western, with intense research and a ruthless pruning off of modern assumptions about who people were in the past.

The setting is a plantation in the Deep South during the height of the slave culture and economy; no later than the 50s. To do it right, a specific year and area should be selected and all the details should be structured around real conditions at the time - real public issues, real weather, real behavior, real crops, as gleaned from newspapers. Since my husband (who I hadn't married yet) is from Atlanta and we were still sorting out how the rest of our lives should go, I was considering this as a story I could write if we wound up moving back to his old stomping grounds, so call it north Georgia; but really anything from Virginia to northern Florida north-to-south and the Carolinas to Louisiana east-to-west would do. Not East Texas, which didn't start to develop the big plantation culture till it was too late to bring it to full flower.

The economic basis of the plantation is of course agriculture, the labor of which is performed by field hands. The social basis of the plantation is the Big House and its extended family - the Patriarch, the Matriarch, the maiden aunt, the heir, the daughters in need of marrying off, and the house slaves. Everyone knows that most of the house slaves are related one way or another to the white family, but no one talks about it. The Patriarch is respected, level-headed, a bit of an autocrat. The Matriarch is kindly, busy, self-sacrificing, and loved by all. The family is full of little family conflicts, the neighborhood is full of business and romantic complications, the slaves are everywhere - carrying secret love notes, cooking, cleaning, sympathizing, minding the children, seeing all.

At a time when the house harbors an intimate stranger, the Patriarch dies and most of the rest of the household gets sick. The stranger - perhaps a cousin from England, perhaps a governess, NOT a Yankee - realizes that the family has been poisoned. The obvious suspects are the slaves, and it's tempting to blurt out the news; but the country is in an unsettled state. Accusations of poisoning against slaves are likely to spark a slave revolt panic (this happened regularly in antebellum times; newspaper rhetoric seesaws from "our slaves are all happy, loving members of our families and we treat them well" to "our slaves are miserable rebellious miscreants who must be dealt with firmly or they'll kill us all in our beds" without any appearance of irony, sometimes within the same paragraph) and cause undesirable consequences, so the intimate stranger sets about her own investigation.

She discovers plenty of motive against the Patriarch in the slave quarters, dating back decades, but nothing that should trigger a vendetta now; and she has to get most of her information by indirect methods, for the slaves - having decent senses of self-preservation - are all expert liars. This search leads her into dark places in the family, and in her society, that she'd rather not see; and also reveals all the motives the rest of the family had to off the Patriarch. All the physical evidence is also more easily linked to white people than to slaves. In the end, she learns that the Matriarch is the culprit. Her kindly manner is a cultural overlay on a seething mass of repressed anger; her pose of delicate ease is the topmost chore on a life of endless toil babymaking, running a household in which she has no real power, meeting cultural demands, and pretending not to know things she's not supposed to know that happen right in front of her. She hasn't gone mad with the stress; that would be too simple. She's just found all of her choices to be impossible, and murder of her husband to be the least impossible of them.

Don't be fooled by the two Edgar nominations. I'm not really a mystery writer at heart, and probably couldn't have written this even if we'd moved to Atlanta. And it probably wouldn't sell well because the whole point of it would be to portray plantation culture honestly, with neither Southern nostalgia nor easy modern contempt. The accommodations good people made with an evil system and competent adults made with a system that insisted on treating them as incompetent children; the ways in which the powerless turned on each other; the ways in which power relationships poison personal ones without always destroying them - we live with this legacy and we find ourselves daily in parallel positions.

But nobody wants to admit it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Last Words

The candle's about out and the air's gone still. Nothing more to say, except I love you all, and I tried all my life to be a good man. We can't none of us ask more of each other than that.

And now I put the whole thing away for six months or so.

Chocolate time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Still inefficient, still writing crap, but Lancelot's running and the break through is coming. It won't be crap forever and nobody has to see it till I've transformed the rough draft crap into something closer to literary gold.

Sometimes it's hard to get the figures moving around the stage. You know what happens, but you can't see it. Sometimes you have to walk away from it and sometimes you have to bull through. This week, I've done both. I also had an insomnia-forced sick day.

Good old Len. It'll be odd not to have her voice in my head all day. I wonder if I'm putting up mental blocks against finishing because I'm afraid I'll miss her?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Today I am Inefficient

I am on the downhill slide with the lesbian western and sort of expected to write a chapter today and be done with the draft; however, I found myself doing anything else rather than starting, and when I put my hands on the keyboard I realized what the matter was. I still have a fair amount of exposition to get through, after the story has to all intents and purposes ended. I need to keep it short and interesting and dynamic, but these are not loose ends I can afford to leave flopping around. In its way, this is going to be as hard to choreograph as the chase scene was and it could take me all week.

Meanwhile, I had been counting on finishing the book to clear up some mental space to devote to things like contractors for the back porch (the one we had lined up went bankrupt and is no longer in business; we don't even have the plans), the piled-up filing and mail, sewing, selecting agents and editors to send books to, and February's Austin SCBWI conference. That'll either be $130 or $140 depending on which cut-off date given in the registration packet for early bird registration is correct, Dec 1 or Dec 15. So what I ought to do today is read over the material, decide if I'm doing it, and write the check or not. But when I try to do that my brain tangles back up in the story. Thinking about the story gets my brain tangled up in all sorts of things, including but not limited to the necessity of making an informed decision on the SCBWI registration. (Leveling up my Pathfinder characters! Sewing! Filing! Agents! Global warming! Pearl Harbor Day!)

This sets up enough tension that I want to say screw it and stick the Sims2 disk in. I've been playing a phenomenal amount of this game lately because there appeared to be some kind of backbrain synergy going on with what I was doing with the game and what I was doing with the book. At any rate, the two were mixed together in my dreams and some days when going about my non-writing business I would find myself easily and naturally thinking about the two storylines in alternate paragraphs, though they have no obvious relation to each other. The current impulse, however, is pure running away from the problem; so no Sims till I've accomplished some damn thing or other, and even then it has to be after 3:00 this afternoon, when I'll bottom out physically anyway.

At this point I'm not picky what I accomplish in the real world, but it's not an accomplishment unless the result is a clearing of the mental decks so I can think coherently about something. Anything! (One of the reasons Sims, or even solitaire, is more tempting an escape than diving headlong into a book is that the book requires concentration; computer games require a less-focused attention so the fact that I'm distracted isn't as annoying.)

So I don't know what I'm going to do today. I've made a list of discrete jobs, but this list may be summed up as "get head straight" and it's possible nothing I wrote down will do the trick.

At least laundry can get clean without reference to my state of mind.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: What If?

It's getting cold here, off and on, and as usual we're hearing noises in the walls and attics. It's a 100-year-old house afflicted with late 20th-century remuddling on the cheap, and we haven't been able to fix it up, so it has its fair share of noises anyway. We're hearing fewer rodents in the walls this year but the noises in the attic are louder and more complex. Since we've seen the raccoon humping down the hackberry tree from the attic in the evening we know why this is so.

But what if we don't?

What if it's an alien? What if - ooh, there's a stranded alien up there and he's taken up with the raccoon in partnership? What if the raccoon is teaching him to hunt pigeon eggs and raid the compost heap and birdfeeders for food, and the alien is teaching him to use tools and help repair his starship (conveniently small enough to fit in our attic)? What is their relationship to our cats and the skunks under the shed?

Why exactly is he avoiding getting assistance from us (because we totally would help him)? Is it because of some overarching policy of the government he represents? Been there, done that. Is it because he doesn't recognize us as the dominant species and thinks the cats are in charge? That would make sense; the cats would then be the ones who limited him to the attic and shielded us from contact because, hmmm, I don't have a good reason right now. I'd have to think of one. Maybe his first interaction with cats is a negative one and he's hiding from them, too, but there's something he can use in our attic. Good lord, what do we have up there? Ooh, he needs our antique wiring, the paper-insulated stuff with the glass whatevers. (Electricians who look in our attic always go mad over the museum we have up there.) Maybe the raccoon is feeding him misinformation about other species for his own purposes...

Or maybe it's not an alien. Maybe it's something much, much weirder. Or funnier. Or scarier, depending on the kind of story you'd want to write.

What do you think could be up there?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cliff Jumped!

I wrote it yesterday. I read through it for a basic first proof this morning (I don't always do that, but with this book I need to) and it's bad. It's really bad. But that doesn't matter right now. Only the writing is bad; the logic and sequence and the choreography and the character actions are all fine. Writing I can fix.

So after reading through that I went on to the next bit, which is Di telling her secret, and I wrote up a storm. Which isn't surprising, since I've been writing that scene in my head for a couple of years now. Len started fishing during the conversation, which should have slowed me down because I know nothing about fishing, but all that was "business" to keep the reader anchored in time and place and situation. Alas, the escape from the bushwhackers left them without provisions. They have two canteens, a bag of beef jerky, some guns, and Len's fishing tackle minus any pole, and those creeks in the hill country don't grow a lot of cane for fishing poles. I can sort all that out later.

Sometimes I seem inconsistent to myself. Many and many a time a story has come to a grinding halt over details far more trivial than the fishing, and I can't proceed until I've winkled out exactly how such-and-such a thing is done, or would look, or would be achieved. Other times, however, I blast through like this. That's not a function of the details themselves, but of the context in which they're used. When I grind to a halt fretting about details in, say, a chase scene that has to end in a jump off a cliff, odds are good that the detail is not the thing that's stopping me. The detail is the thing I give my conscious mind to play with while my backbrain is working out the important stuff.

My conscious and subconscious were on the same page with Di's secret, as they'd been thinking about it every time she acted or spoke throughout the book. She's revealing the key to all her actions, here. If I didn't know that stuff, I wouldn't have gotten this far.

This'll be drafted by the end of the year, for sure.