Thursday, December 29, 2011

Anthropomorphism? You Bet!

So yesterday we went to see the remake of Courage of Lassie, aka Lassie Goes to War, the one with Lassie played by a horse and adapted from a Michael Morpugo book.

That sounds snide, but you can always get me (and my mom; and for that matter Damon) with stories like this. I don't think I'm giving spoilers when I warn you to bring your hanky. I was okay for most of the movie, but the bit where our horse protagonist finally panicks on the Western front got me bad. My mom couldn't watch that bit. I think anybody who has ever had an animal friend, or personal experience with barbed wire, will have trouble with it.

It is common to dismiss this sort of reaction as sentimental and anthropomorphic. And I am pretty darn given to anthropomorphism. How much? Well -

I am so anthropmorphic that I am uncomfortable carrying stuffed animals and dolls with their heads down. When I see and handle my old toys I still get a strong sense of their personalities, and I talk to them on those occasions - especially Soda (a pink dog), Thomasina (a pink cat), and Scratchbit (a formerly pink plush doll with a vinyl head). Scratchbit's personality is so real to me that I just laughed writing her name; not because the name is ridiculous, which I know it is, but in the way you laugh when you suddenly recall an old friend.

I am so anthropomorphic that I have conversations with my cats, and frequently translate their conversational contributions for others. That sounds noxious and cutesy, but the fact is - they demonstrate, through action, that I'm expressing a reasonable approximation of their points of view on a regular basis. My husband has caught the habit from me, and we sometimes find ourselves arguing against our own best interests as the puppets for Thai and Bruce.

I am so anthropomorphic that I feel vaguely that I owe it to Vidcund Curious to go back and play his life "right" after accidentally killing him in my earliest experimental Sims games. (Vidcund's entry on the SimsWiki makes him sound nasty; but even after playing him less than three sim days, I know better.) As I've discussed before, I have managed to invest a lot of character and emotion into a lot of little bundles of programming code in those games. It's not too much to say that I love some of them - in the same way that I love Scratchbit, which is not at all the way I love Damon or my Rev. Mom or even Bruce and Thai.

I am so anthropomorphic that I can, in a similar process, take a string of random numbers and a bare-bones context and find complex human characters in them for role-playing games; not just my characters, but NPCs. It's true that, since I do social RPGs and not computer ones, I get a lot of help with those, as all the players tend to play off each other to create the cast of each game. To that extent, all my friends are pretty anthropomorphic.

I am so anthropomorphic that I can find a complex character in an Agatha Christie novel (no, really! Read Crooked House, or Endless Night), a mediocre TV sitcom, a comic book, and a bunch of research on history, geography, archeology, anthropology - anything I read. I can see personality in a bare skull, or a lump of rock, under the right conditions.

Naturally, because I have such a strong tendency toward it, I regard anthropomorphism in a more positive light than do people who complain that we all have too much of it. On the whole, I think it's more a strength than a weakness, though it can be both. I'll probably return to this subject later - if I continued now I would write beyond a blog-reader's patience, and mire myself in incompletely articulated ideas. For now I think it's enough to state an opinion without offering the argument for it, as food for thought as we all head into a new year with new challenges, same as the old challenges.

I think the tendency to project human qualities onto inhuman things is a necessary part of our ability to imagine ourselves in the place of another, which is the prime manifestation of both our sense of self, and our capacity for compassion.

And I think that the capacity for seeing ourselves in others, human or inhuman, real or imaginary, animate or inanimate, is the first step toward understanding those things as they are.

And I think I am so anthropomorphic because I write, and that I write because I am so anthropomorphic.

And I wish you all a Merry New Year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Even My Dreams are on Vacation

I had a really great Garage Sale Idea dream last night.

Unfortunately, it was all mixed up with Hunger Games previews, where the Arena had a library in it and one of the competitors was a dog. Now all I can retrieve is the Hunger Games content.

On the up side, Damon is getting quite a lot of gaming work, geneology, and sleeping done, while my sims are having interesting times.

We see Warhorse with the Reverend Mom tomorrow. Maybe that will jolt me into a more serious mindset. Or maybe not. I'm cool either way.

To those of you who didn't or couldn't take the Christmas/New Year week off - my condolences.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Damon's Vacation

Damon has allowed himself to be persuaded to take the week between Christmas and New Year's off. I promised him ten straight days of doing whatever he wants. I promised he'd like it.

Which means, if he wants the computer, he gets it. If he wants to go out, we'll go out. If he wants me to watch with him while he catches up on Netflix, I'll be watching more TV than I normally would. If he wants to sleep all afternoon, I'll be doing something quiet so as not to disturb him.

So maybe I'll be a little lax about blogging. You'll be too busy keeping Christmas to want to read me, anyway, right?

Happy Christmas, Merry New Year, and may you have the most precious commodity of modern life - control of your own time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Loose End

Well, Len has begun her quest to land me an agent and I'm faced with the question - what now?

I have no idea what the next project will be. But I'm not worried about it. It's not as if I lack things to do. I need to go over all my current projects, maybe do some more revising, maybe retire a couple that have already been everywhere I could reasonably hope to sell them, maybe send follow-ups, decide where to send things next.

I have lots of old notes, dormant files, unfinished projects, and so on I can read through, looking for those that might be viable, marking some for future Garage Sales.

I need to do the Great Book Shuffle, making room for the books presently stacked on top of other books near where they ought to be, getting the books I used for researching Len (hmmm...are any of them borrowed?) back into their categories, probably taking a load to Half Price (but that is so hard to do with non-fiction!). Possibly reorganizing my categories again. Forteana-and-folklore-and-religion has definitely overflowed its boundaries, vague as they were.

Filing, filing, filing.

And, lots of housework, yardwork, gaming stuff, learning to make jeans so when I finally get back to practical archeology I'll have some that don't send a draft up my back and embarrass the person behind me, reading some of these books I need to organize.

None of that has any prospect of getting me paid, of course. But it all feeds into the story-generation device that is my brain. At some point, in the course of getting my act together - and well before my act is together, I can guarantee you that - the next book will rise from the primordial soup in all its shining unattainable perfection.

And that will be that.

Until then - crud, I don't want to do filing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: What's in Your History?

I don't think I've ever picked up a history book that some situation that screamed for novelistic treatment didn't leap out at me.

For instance, reading Daily Life in Immigrant America: 1820-1870 this week, I read that the secessionist governor of Missouri, Claiborne Jackson, tried to equip secessionist militias out of the Federal arsenal in St. Louis, gathering a bunch of them together in an encampment called Camp Jackson. The feds in turn called on local Unionist militias, primarily consisting of German immigrants. Four regiments of primarily German-born militia took charge of the arsenal, removed the secessionist commander, and after the firing on Ft. Sumter whisked the ordnance away to Illinois by night, surrounded Camp Jackson, and took the inhabitants all prisoner without a shot fired; however, marching these prisoners through St. Louis caused a bloody riot and sparked a mini-civil war within Missouri. Which after all was ripe for it.

Why most Civil War era fiction isn't set in Missouri has always puzzled me. Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas were dull in comparison.

I also feel that there's a lot more that could be done with the Civil War in Texas. Lee's refusal to acknowledge the authority of the secessionists. Neighbor-on-neighbor terrorism in the Hill Country and Red River Valley. The retrenchment of the frontier under Comanche opportunism. The woeful mismanagement of the only hope the Confederacy ever had to be economically viable, the cotton trade through Mexico.

It's all very well to read paragraphs in other people's books and feel the novel hiding inside them; quite another to coax the novel out. Any one of these situations is too huge for a book. Though huge historical novels have been known to do well in the bookstores; it's not the way to bet. War and Peace was written for an audience with far fewer competing entertainments, and James Michener's early books are much slimmer than his later ones. (Which I personally don't find particularly readable.) So you have to do massive amounts of research, figure out which manageable sliver of the past you're up to dealing with, and find the character you aim to build the plot around; or the plot you aim to build your character within, depending on how you work.

Far too many Americans think they live in a boring place with boring history, because of the selective emphasis given to specific points in the broad sweep of history. So we treat the Civil War as a series of bloody Southeastern military encounters, not as a hot economic mess that sprawled all over the nation, and forget the direct and real effect it had on the lives of people in the Midwest, in California, on the Texas frontier, in Mexico - and in England. We ignore everything that went on in the rest of the world during those four years, and most of what went on in our own country. What was Hawaii like in 1861? Who was doing what in Alaska? What was it like to be an Indian in Kansas then? What about the disastrous New Mexico campaign? California appeared in blue in all my school textbook maps of the Civil War, but the text never told me why California adhered to the Union, or what that mean to the people who lived there.

What happened in your town? Don't tell me "nothing."

I know better. There's a story there if you'll only look for it, instead of taking the simplified, predigested history of popular culture as your guide.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm Scared

I have a book written. I have a hook written. I have a synopsis written. I have all the contact and submission information necessary for an agent who ought to love the lesbian western.

I don't want to send it.

Why, exactly, sending a query - a routine business letter - paralyzes me with terror, I don't understand. I'm not afraid of rejection. I don't like it, but I'm used to it. I've had lots of practice and survived without serious discomfort every time.

It's a lot like my fear of small heights. I can go up in a plane just fine (except for the excruciating pain in my ears on descent), but ladders terrify me. I feel sick and as if I'm falling off backward. I used to think this was a phobia, until the day I went through the battery of tests at the ear doctor and heard the technician say brightly: "Well, you have 0% gravity detection in your left ear." It turns out, my fear of heights is a rational one, given the fact that my body can't reliably tell where it is in relation to the earth in the absence of a direct connection!

Because they feel so similar, I'm inclined to think that my fear of queries may be, like my fear of heights, based on some similar personal idiosyncrasy. I don't know what. It's not shyness, because - though I hate meeting new people generally - I'm not shy. I don't hesitate to approach people in strange cities when I'm lost, for example, though I don't do it randomly; and I frequently approach people downtown who I see doing the Lost Tourist Dance (stand in middle of sidewalk, map in hand, and turn slowly, glancing from map to territory and back with each turn) in order to help them find what they're looking for. It's not asociality, because it's just business and for the most part I'll never meet the person I'm querying in person. I'll get a rejection and that will be that. It's not - well, it's not a lot of things and I don't know what it is, besides uncomfortable.

It doesn't matter what causes it, though. If I want to sell my work I have to send queries, just as if I want to change the light bulb or wallpaper the roof I have to climb ladders. And I can bull through either fear. Done it many times, will many times again. It's one of the few things I have in common with the heroine of the lesbian western - if either of us has to do a thing, we always prove to be able to do it.

Which doesn't prevent me from procrastinating by writing blog posts about it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tough morning

The synopsis is down to one page.

It stinks.

That's to be expected. If I can get Len's voice into the synopsis and query, I should be good to start sending out the query - just in time for everybody to go on Christmas vacation. Life is rough.

And it makes no sense. Just ask Miss Thai. Damon fell back asleep this morning after I woke him up, and I didn't get him woken up again till it was too late to catch the bus. So I'm sitting at the computer doing my morning routine (e-mail, comics, blogs, etc.) with the cat in my lap while he gets ready to go. When he's ready, I tell Thai: "I have to take Daddy to work now."

"That's stupid," says Thai. "Daddy doesn't want to go to work, you don't want to take him, and I don't want to move. So sit still, and everybody'll be happy."

You can tell the world is messed up because of the frequency with which it is impossible to follow perfectly sensible advice like this from your cat.

(Of course my cat talks. I'm translating from the feline, that's all.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Hidden Letters

There are three ways to do the espitolary novel.

1) Straight. Sally Ann writes to Dorothy Jane and that's all we know about it.

2) Sideways. A descendant of the original Dorthy Jane, DJ, finds the letters and the correspondence illuminates a problem, parallels her own experience, or gives her to the clue to a mystery.

3) Tangled. Same as 2, only the Sally Ann-Dorothy Jane correspondence is interspersed with diary entries and letters from DJ's hand (keyboard, phone, whatever). This is justifiable only if the act of writing is part of DJ's illumination process and gives the reader a better grasp of what's going on. Done wrong, it's likely to drive the reader into conniptions.

Any of these forms will serve equally well for domestic, mystery, or fantasy stories; the fantasy could conceivably turn into a horror novel. Writers of supernatural short stories used to be fond of the documents-in-the-case approach, but you don't see it as much anymore.

The ideal way to write in an odd format like the epistolary novel is, that one has a story that can best be told that way. It is risky to sit down with the idea "I want to write an epistolary novel!" as then you have to go searching for a story that is best served by that format.

And they're rare. I have images in my head for the Sally Ann-Dorothy Jane story - a lake, woods full of blackbellied whistling ducks, rowboats with Gibson girls in them, a vacation cabin converted to year-round use, a bundle of letters hidden in a hole in a wall, DJ in exile and desperately searching for Something - and have had for fifteen years or so. They'll remain nothing but images, though, till I figure out what exactly happened to Sally Ann and Dorothy Jane, and what that has to do with DJ now.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pathetically Soliciting Feedback

So, how bad is this query?

Eleanor, in men's clothing, leaves her home on the Texas frontier in a die-and-show-them mood. Letters scattered across the hills lead her to the corpse of a cotton trader, miles off his natural route. She carries the body into town and finds that Lee has surrendered; the western theater has not; the Yankees haven't arrived; the Secesh are running for Mexico; no one is in charge.
In this limbo, it's easy for Eleanor to reinvent herself as Len, just another young man at loose ends; but - what then? She goes to work for the cotton trader's beautiful daughter, Miss Diana Bonvillain, who - despite her tragic circumstances - smiles at Len's jokes. When Len uncovers evidence that Bonvillain's murder may have been planned and executed by one, or both, of his partners, there's no court to present it to, no authority to investigate. One partner is Miss Diana's guardian; the other, her suitor. It's not Len's business; but Len has no business of her own.
And what kind of man would she be if she left Miss Diana to fend for herself in this nest of vipers?
A Lie Worth Living is a 70,600 word YA lesbian western.

Note to self: Buy new flashdrive. That should make the old one turn up.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Miss Organization, or Why I Don't Write Non-Fiction

I found my research notes. The place I'd put them was in fact perfectly logical, which is probably why I couldn't remember it. I went to refer to them so I could have citations to support an opinion of mine to a correspondent; and found that, though I formed the opinion while doing the research, the topic wasn't directly germane to the lesbian western. So, though I did make notes that support my opinion, they're scattered, incomplete, and not immune to charges of cherrypicking. One cold hard fact that appears in my timeline is probably referenced - somewhere in there - but I didn't footnote my timeline because I wasn't going to care about where I got that nugget of information while I was writing the story. And there's simply too much stuff to sift through to give my correspondent chapter and verse.

So I gave her a representative sampling and told her she'd probably concur with me if she read her own city's newspapers from the relevant period. Because it looks really obvious to me and I find laying out for somebody else what should be blinking obvious if they'd only look where I'm pointing incredibly tedious.

I love researching. I hate showing my work.

Meanwhile, I can't find my flashdrive, which means I'm having to start almost from scratch on the query. Say, I wonder if it fell down behind the cushion on the petting couch...Nope.

Sometimes when I lose this stuff, it's fairies playing practical jokes on me, but a lot of times, it's just me thinking of something else at the crucial moment. I keep swearing I'll do better, and then not improving.

And after all, looking for flashdrives and trying to locate citations that are gone with the wind is easier than rewriting a query from scratch.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Think I'm Done

Len is down to 70,600 words. I think she's ready to start hunting up agents.

I may try to get Damon to take another shot of reading it, to see if the pacing problem's really solved.

Six thousand words is more than I expected to cut. Good for me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: The Ultimate History Series

I've been feeling a bit uncommunicative this week and I still have to recreate a character sheet before this afternoon's game, so back I go to the "Notes and Experiments" file folder, where all the random stuff I scribbled down on wastepaper while bored at various soul-sucking day jobs wound up.

Man, the pressure of frustrated ambition used to build up back when I didn't have any control over my own time!

Consider this plan for a Texas history series.

I'd start with the Indians, maybe one book about an Indian living before European contact; then, one each for her descendants living in the various phases of Spanish/Mexican rule - shorthanded in the notes as "Mission/Military/Civil." In other words, Texas was administered by the Spanish first through the church, then through the military, and finally through the civil authority. The change of power from Spanish to Mexican was not a significant one from the point of view of the far northern territory of Texas - both Spain and Mexico relied on a centralized authority that never really controlled the fringes of the claimed territory or understood the needs of the people, native or colonial, who lived there.

From there, the stories would get closer together in time and include more overlapping characters as I proceeded to a book covering the Revolution and the Runaway Scrape, then the Republic, then some portion of the Antebellum period, then the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age/Cattle Age/Wild West (which are all the same historical period), World War I and the flu epidemic, Jazz Age, Depression, and World War II.

The notes end with a bunch of doodles and the following thoughts:

Books should be as ethnic as possible - tribes, Mexican, slave, German, various first generation immigrants. Emphasis on the more neglected crises - economic, climactic, medical. Old-fashioned domestic novels, or the traditional juvenile/historical romance? Room for both.

This cries out for pseudonymity. Susannah Long. Jane Dickens. Magnolia Strasse. Antonia Balcones. Kelly Randolph. Sandy Fernando.

At which point either the day ended, I got some work to do, or I realized I was getting silly. Though I really need to name some sims Magnolia Strasse, Sandy Fernando, and Kelly Randolph...

Anyway, had I been willing to devote my life to this and nothing else, I could have been the Rosemary Sutcliff of Texas. And I contend that every single one of these periods merits further fictional exploration; yes, even the Wild West, which is overdue to have its cliches shaken up with some different viewpoints, hard facts, and maverick interpretations of events.

Regular readers of the Garage Sale will have noted that the Impractically Thorough Historic Series is a recurring theme in my imagination. You'll see it again, I'm sure. There's just so much potential - especially in Texas history, but I bet any arbitrarily designated patch of ground would reward the researcher almost as much. Texas wears its history on its sleeve. Just because Iowa is shyer, doesn't mean it's less interesting.

For those of you without my mental network of references, the sources of the pseudonyms are:

Jane Long, the Mother of Texas.
Susanna Dickenson, Alamo survivor.
And of course Charles Dickens, who would have written awesome westerns had he been born a Texan.

Magnolia Avenue, where I live; Strasse of course is German for Street. (Adele Verein would be another good name, since the Adelsverein was the name of the organization that financed the most famous influx of German settlers.)
Balcones Heights, the name of the area where I live, and the Balcones Escarpment, the geological feature dividing Texas in two and on which San Antonio is built.

San Fernando Cathedral.

And Kelly and Randolph Air Force bases. Damon was working at Kelly when I met him, and we were stationed at Randolph when my little sister was born.

We all have these networks in our heads. Exploring them can be fruitful, or merely dizzying.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Miss Alcott

Today is the birthday of one of the most significant figures in American literature, and the goddess of my idolatry, Louisa May Alcott.

Though often scorned at her own valuation, as a producer of "moral pap for the young," it only takes a small amount of historical acumen to realize how radical she was at her time; and only a little more social self-awareness to realize that in many ways, American society is still more conservative than her. Witness the reluctance of many, even most, of her modern readers to admit that

Jo was right not to marry Laurie!!!!!!

Louisa May Alcott was a hustler, writing to market, explicitly and obsessively writing for money to counteract the legacy of her idealistic and improvident father. She enjoyed catering to morbid fantasy, and did - the stories she satirized Jo for writing to make money for the illustrated papers seem mild compared to the drug use and sexual power games in the pseudononymous stories Madeleine B. Stern first unearthed for us back in the 70s - but the work that survives is unrelentingly realistic in ways that made (and still make) the public uncomfortable, to the point that many of us whitewash these things out of our reading.

Marriage is not the climax and happy-ever-after of life; it is the opening of a whole new can of worms. Too much candy will make you sick and too much ease will make you useless. Sexual attraction will not overcome other incompatibilities in the long term. Peer pressure will lead you to do stupid and even wicked things. It is possible to hate your little sister murderously and love her at the same time. Life is unfair. You have to deal with the world you're in, not the world you want, and the person you are, not the person you dream of being. You won't get it if you don't work for it and you may not get it even then.

Happiness is hard work.

But it beats the alternative.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: The Cave Art Kids

For those of you who missed it, individual children making art can be tracked in Dordogne Cave, especially a particular 5-year-old girl.

This makes me very happy.

For one thing, it illustrates my main thesis, that creativity is a normal human activity, not something special set aside only for the elite.

For another, the individuals who can be identified and glimpsed at Dordogne - and other ancient sites - are natural solid reference points around which we - and by we I mean all of us storytellers, whether we're scientific archeological storytellers or artistic fiction-writing storytellers - can build a story. First we collect the traces of the individual; then we interpret them according to what we know in our selves about people and what we know from the evidence about their environment, and extrapolate a reasonable story about who this person was, why she was there, who was there with her, and what challenges she faced.

Obviously, a cave art picturebook is long overdue.

A novel would require more conflict than is implied by the harmonious and happy picture created by this research; but one can always start with that harmonious, happy picture and work either away from it - happy art-making in caves has to come to an end, the youthful artists have to grow up and face adult challenges - or toward it, with the families of the youthful artists overcoming various hardships to arrive at the happy art-making.

And for the scientist, the image of the happy art-making makes an excellent centerpiece for the reconstruction of Pleistocene culture, a cohesive, relateable context that enables the scientist to put all the disparate and fragmentary bits of evidence together in a meaningful way.

I don't see any way to go about any of these project that don't involve researching till blood comes out your ears; but I can tell you from experience, the reward is worth the work.

Okay, maybe not the monetary reward. 11,000 Years Lost hasn't made that much money. TheEarth's Children series has. This sort of thing is always a crapshoot and there's nothing to be done about that. But the emotional and intellectual rewards of doing the research and writing the story - those are hard to overstate.

Plus, research for any of these projects would involve visiting Pleistocene art sites. Which would be a good in itself.

We cannot have too many books about the Pleistocene. We just can't.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Intransitive Thanks

Since I am agnostic, I have been asked what, when I am thankful, I am thankful to.

It strikes me as unnecessary for "thank" at the Harvest Festival level to be a transitive verb. I know when I'm well off and I appreciate it. Money is tight, but we (and by we I mean Damon) are successfully juggling our financial needs. We're not in perfect health but we're both alive and much, much more well than we have been. Our back porch work is completed without major disasters. We have plenty to eat. It rained twice this week. Damon and I both made work progress this week, though neither of us made as much as we wanted to.

We can be happy if we let ourselves be.

Merry Thanksgiving, y'all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's all in my mind's eye

I didn't think it would, but revising for pacing is easier now that I've identified the problem, mostly because I've been able to redefine the problem as one of characterization. Len's hyperawareness of her surroundings is not a matter of her taking a lot of extra time to look around, but of her being immersed in each moment as it passes. So rephrasing and tightening the work - especially the traveling parts and the transitional chapter, which are the chief culprits - becomes a matter of creating greater immediacy and conveying Len's character better.

Characterization is easier for me than plot. I had almost no hope of pacing the plot better. Pacing the character better is well within my comfort zone.

On the one hand, it doesn't change anything, except my perception of the problem.

On the other hand, my perception of the problem is exactly what I needed to change.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Caroline in the Friendly House

Old notes, verbatim, but with idiosyncratic shorthand deleted.

Caroline moves into the friendly house. She is an architect and can look up the house's history fairly easily.

The ghost is an analogous age and position with Caroline - young, married, pregnant, newly moved into the house.

Ghost miscarried, died.

Ghost assists Caroline - how?

Maybe if I knew more about miscarriages. Possibly ghost had bad husband, doesn't trust Caroline's? Caroline caught between.

This is going to be another of your slow stories, isn't it?

I was trying to generate short stories when I wrote this. I think I probably could write it now, as a short novel - but it'd have to be an adult book unless I lost Caroline and got a totally different, YA heroine.

I had a specific house in mind when I wrote "the friendly house," by the way - a bungalow near Brackenridge Park that was mostly sunroom, which we looked at when househunting once long ago and loved, but couldn't take for various practical reasons. Last time I was by there, it had an ugly big chain link fence all the way around and two dobermans wearing paths in the yard. Which suggests an entirely different, much sadder, story.

Yes, houses are a big deal to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two Frustrations

I was going to turn my blog black for American Censorship Day, but the html Blogger gives me to work with is so mind-bogglingly in need of a good proofreader I chickened out of figuring out where to put the necessary code string. So that's one.

The second is, yesterday I figured out what the problem is with fixing the pacing in the lesbian Western.

It's already paced the way I like it!

The thing is, I wrote this book so I could go back in time, in company with Len, and have a good long visit in Central Texas in Spring 1865. I like all the looking around at the landscape and observation of her surroundings and savoring of food she does. Len is a person who enjoys everything there is to enjoy as much as she can while she can, and she and I are happy for it to be so.

So a lot of what I need to take out is stuff she and I, the people telling the story, care about; but can't expect the audience to.

Yeah, I'll get rid of it. Len and I are both realists and we'll be in the minority on this issue. But the more concentrated, action-oriented story I'm aiming for is one I personally will enjoy less than the one I've got. So that takes a lot of the fun out of revising.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rain Magic

We got rain! Plus thunder and lightning. And high winds. Normally I'd just hang out inside enjoying it, but I had some early-morning errands and had to be out in it. Since I learned to drive so late in life, we have a running gag about me getting experience points and leveling up in the skill, and it's been a long time since I could feel the x.p. accruing, but I sure did today.

We have of course been in drought conditions, so the morning DJ at the community college station played a bunch of rain songs as an act of sympathetic magic, and took credit for how the downpour increased during that set. Anybody who didn't take an umbrella when they heard the thunder this morning, or who washed a car last night, will similarly be taking credit.

On the one hand, we know it's not so - that even if human action affected the weather, which it does not, any given umbrella, or clean windshield, or playlist is unlikely to have been the crucial one that achieved a critical mass of rain magic; especially in opposition to all the people committing small magics to make the rain hold off till they got safely to work.

On the other hand - we believe it. All of us. Who, in a drought-prone area, has not deliberately left an umbrella behind in hope of making it rain; or hauled an umbrella to a parade, picnic, or fireworks display in order to fend it off, in a rainy area?

It is almost impossible for us, as human beings, to accept that anything is truly outside of our control.

Yet most things are.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: The Deer and the Dog

One of my bosses once told me about how a family member raised a fawn and it became running buddies with one of the dogs. They'd race each other on country roads.

They disappeared at about the same time.

Can you say "Disney movie?" But what constitutes a happy ending here - the deer and the dog living wild and independent lives together? The deer learning to be a deer and the dog coming home when his buddy's okay?

Disneyfication aside, this is not a story for someone without a profound knowledge of animals. The breed of dog and the species of deer (around here, that would be mule or whitetail) would be the first important questions to answer. A story told without the viewpoints of the dog and the deer would be limited in many ways, so being able to think like the animals, and translate those viewpoints into terms humans can understand, would be vital. When writing from an animal viewpoint, it is important to remember that animals are not stupid compared to humans - they merely deploy their brainpower in different areas. The processing power devoted to a dog's sense of smell is every bit as impressive as that devoted to literary criticism, and the rewards for the dog far more tangible and immediate. The author would have to decide early how much to anthropomorphize the animals (a certain amount is inevitable), and whether to give both viewpoints equal time, or to choose one animal as the protagonist.

Then you'd want to know about the family they were raised in - why did they raise an orphan deer? There's all kinds of reasons not to. City folk get sentimental about them, but anyone who lives in the country long will come to regard them as "hooved napalm." Deer have numerous symbolic roles in our society; deer-hunting is an important cultural activity in rural areas; attitudes toward hunting, and the assumptions hunters and non-hunters make about each other, can stand-in for some of the most bitter, vindictive divisions in early 21st-century American society. These issues are too big to ignore, but could easily overwhelm the story, even if the author is trying to be even-handed. If the protagonists are the animals, these matters must be de-emphasized; but if dog, deer, and some member of their human household (presumably a child) all get viewpoints, they will form a major part of the human's character arc.

You could do something interesting, showing the human grappling with abstract issues while the animals focus on practical matters. Animals are eminently practical. The capacity for abstraction is the hallmark of the human mind; which is a strength in some situations, a weakness in others.

A side effect of this practicality is the essential innocence of animals. I have always considered this to be the essential point of the Biblical story of the Fall. Animals never ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; nor was it ever forbidden to them. They have no moral sense. They have no shame. They don't need either. That's part of the abstract ideation that they don't mess with. I think that's why the death of an animal in a story is such a guaranteed tear-jerker for most readers (certainly for me!).

That's a little simplistic. Certain animals - notably dogs - occupy a midpoint on the moral spectrum. Dogs certainly know shame and guilt. And man is not the only primate capable of abstraction. All generalizations are false.

A story is all about specifics.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Another Draft Done

Len is down below 80,000 words now; but she's got an 84-word sentence in there somewhere, and I don't know whether the pacing problem's solved or not.

Still, it's good enough for one week.

I'm leaning toward A Lie Worth Living With as a title. It feels a tad long, but it's good enough to stick on the query, anyhow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Yesterday my internet went out. Despite spending absurd amounts of time dealing with getting it back, I got all but one of my list of things done.

Today I have internet and I've done - well - a lot less.

Coincidence? Or causation?

I think I'll blame the weather.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Contemporary Fairy Tale

The heroine's name is Jackie, of course; the youngest, the one no one takes seriously. Her family subsists on food stamps and is likely to be evicted.

Jackie shares her tortilla with a stray cat, though repeatedly told not to. El Gato is grateful and will help her find her fortune, but there's complications. Jackie's too young to buy a lottery ticket, and any treasure she digs up will belong to the property owner. Rewards come with strings attached. The grown-ups and older kids won't cooperate - they never do.

It's probable that Jackie and El Gato have different ideas about what constitutes an acceptable fortune.

Writing a book like this is following a well-trodden path; which means, if you want yours to stand out, you have to go head-to-head with some formidable competition. You'd better know your source material inside-out if you want to pull anything new out of it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Wait, I was supposed to post yesterday

Sometimes I'm just not into the outside world. I want to stick my head into my study, write my little books, play my little games, arrange my little house (okay, it's a pretty big house by American middle-class standards), take care of my husband and the cats.

It's a luxury and it's irresponsible and short-sighted and undisciplined and it makes people think I'm anti-social.

Don't take it personally.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Random Thoughts on Reality

Modern aliens are boring. Don't believe me? Read these stories and ask yourself if it wasn't more fun before the grays came along and started hogging all the action.

By the way, I don't believe aliens are extraterrestrials. I believe they're fairies. What fairies are, I don't know, nor do I feel any need to. When I write a story with fairies in it, they'll be whatever kind of fairies suit the story's needs.

Ditto witches; though I don't like the word "witch" because it is used so many ways it's well-nigh useless without endless qualifiers. If everybody's on the same page about what it means for the purposes of a story, though, I can deal.

That's another of the skills fiction teaches us to use; the ability to set aside what we know, or think we know, and our own categories for the duration of a story, so that we can understand and enjoy it. People who get all bent out of shape and condemn an entire story over the mere use of the term witch, or because the aliens in a story don't match their expectations of aliens, or because the supernatural underpinnings of the fantasy are based in somebody else's tradition, are failing at this skill.

We should all practice it as much as we can. We're all jerks when we get bent out of shape, after all.

However, I reserve the right to get bent out of shape about stories in which it's taken as fact that witches were burned in Salem, because that's just not true and shows that the storyteller hasn't done his homework. If you want me to extend my conditional belief to an outright falsehood like that, you'd better tell me a story worth the effort of setting the lie aside!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Make-up Magic

A kid/teen with a self-image problem - unfashionable figure, "ugly" (i.e. distinctive) features - has an acting ambition centered around "everybody's natural desire to be somebody else." Plagued by envy, thinks like a victim. Fascinated by make-up artistry, big fan of the Lon Chaneys, but doesn't understand the predeliction to make monsters. She wants to create perfection.

The make-up kit is an entirely neutral magic item, does exactly as asked, and can be cleaned off - possibly only with the cold cream that comes with, though. That depends on whether you prefer a scene where her identity starts to run in the rain, or one in which she wants to erase a failed ideal self and is almost out or can't find the jar. Try for beauty, try to be someone else, try out the opposite sex; eventually try out a monster identity as a means of expressing her increasing frustration.

The biggest problem for the author is wrapping up satisfactorily without being trite. Teens and kids are always being told to be themselves, and responding mentally (as I used to respond): "But what if yourself is somebody nobody likes?" There's no point saying such things out loud to grown-ups - all they do is tell you that's not true, like that should help, which it doesn't.

The biggest problem for me is, I don't use make-up. I never have. I don't know what most of it is for, or why you'd want to muck your skin up with it. It's made of dirt, you know! The closest I've come to stage make-up was smearing all visible skin with gray pancake to play a rock gnome in a LARP. I could research the matter, of course; but it's not intrinsically interesting to me.

By the way - the way I solved this problem? Went to college, discovered RPGs, became Queen of the Geeks. Not practical advice for a ninth-grader.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oktoberfest Blogfest: Bilocating Kitten

Since I signed up to join Bish Denham's Blogfest, involving posting a short ghostly experience, I reckon I better get on it.

This is a true story and the weirdest thing that ever happened to me.

Some years ago, we had orphan kittens. We were alerted to their existence by the agonized cries of the smallest, most-loudmouthed one, who was also the first to try to climb out of the box even though her eyes were glued shut by infection. We called her Intrepid. She was a dark gray tabby. She had two sisters, a dark gray tabby with white feet (Whitefoot), a black (Ford; she was an Explorer), and gray with a white chest (Pogo; he looked like a possum).

We kept them in the sunroom so our big cats wouldn't molest them and contract their fleas, fed them with an eyedropper, combed the fleas out of them, and washed their poor infected eyes regularly with saline solution. Before the recent reconfiguration of our back porch, the three rooms - laundry room, powder room, sunroom - were all connected to each other by doors, with entrance to the main part of the house from the kitchen to the laundry room and from the dining room to the sunroom. Once the kittens started moving around on their own, I would utilize the powder room as an airlock, entering through the laundry room, closing the door behind me, and then opening the door to the sunroom. But none of the doors closed very well.

One night I woke up and saw Intrepid, or possibly Whitefoot, on the foot of the bed. I sat up and she pounced into the mass of covers pushed down there - it being June and too hot to sleep with the covers up - so that I had to fish around for her. I couldn't find her. As I woke up more I realized that, even had one of the felines in the house gotten the door to the sunroom open, a kitten who could barely climb out of a box would have had to cross the dining room and kitchen, climb the steep back stairs (each riser taller than any of the kittens at full extension), cross the landing, climb the second flight of stairs, cross the hallway, and climb onto a waterbed frame with no help from a dangling bedspread. It wasn't possible. This was a hypnopompic hallucination - essentially, my body had started to wake up, but my brain had continued dreaming for a short time.

Not a big deal.

Next day (possibly my memory conflates events and it might have been several days later), the kittens were lively and I had to move back and forth between the powder room and the sun room several times in the course of tending to kittens, so to restrict the time they spent underfoot I put all of them on the bench seat in the sunroom while I went to the bathroom to get what I was after. By the time I turned around, I had kittens in my way. Intrepid in particular seemed anxious to get stepped on - while Ford and Pogo chased each other, she was directly where I needed to step. So I gently lifted her aside with my bare foot under her belly, laughing at the way her little black paws clawed the air on either side of my instep, and returned to the sunroom - where I found Intrepid, too small to jump down, standing on the edge of the bench seat meowing frantically.

None of the kittens, at this point, could climb onto the bench seat without assistance. Even Pogo, the biggest and strongest, had to use an intermediate box placed next to it to get himself up. Yet there she was. But I had felt her furry belly across my instep. And although it was easy to confuse Whitefoot - currently at the base of the bench seat - with Intrepid, I had specifically seen that the kitten I lifted had dark paws.

I have no explanation for this. I only tell you what happened.

Intrepid was the only one of the kittens who died. She never gained weight past 6.5 ounces, never got weaned. She died while I was on an out of town school visit, probably of hypothermia in the middle of June in Texas, because her body couldn't retain heat and the other kittens no longer stayed in the box insulating her.

I don't know if that is relevant.

Weird things happen, that's all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

News: Gault in Texas Parks & Wildlife

As seen online here; but get the magazine, too, if you want to encourage more news coverage of archeological topics. Editors notice which subjects cause upsurges in their sale numbers, and buy and solicit new articles accordingly.

It's been way too long since I've been out there. It's been way too long since I did a lot of things.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Dilly Montez and the Grace of God

I was only touched by the grace of God once in my life, and that was when Dilly Montez walked into sophomore English class.

That sentence is all by itself on a blank sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper in my "Notes and Experiments" folder.

I have no idea what it means, who's speaking, or even what gender Dilly Montez is.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Good Cry

My sims game gave me a good cry last night, when the first of what I think of as my "core sims" came to the natural end of her life and went off with the Grim Reaper, who came wearing a lei and accompanied by hula girls, gave her a drink with a little umbrella, and wafted her away. (This is the best possible sim death.)

One of the rewards of fiction - and sim games and RPGs are fiction, over which the player has less control than a writer and more control than a reader; it's why I play them and why I consider them a legitimate topic here - is that little catharsis; that luxury of weeping over imaginary woes, cleaning out your tear ducts and releasing grinding everyday tensions in a few minutes of good clean emotional intensity, without the bad side effects. I slept fine after weeping for Hilary Aerius and participating in the grief of her son Greg, her cat Eartha, her son-in-law, and her grandson. The world does not have a Hilary-shaped hole in it, I'm relaxed, I had a meeting with a student I'm mentoring and all went well, my life proceeds just fine.

The effects of some fictional emotions linger. I still mourn Beth March (but, happily, I can turn to the early parts of the book and see her again). It was Beth March's death, I believe, that started me on the road to being able to cope with the concept of mortality; a favor I hope I passed on to a few kids when I wrote The Ghost Sitter.

No book, no movie, no game, no factual knowledge can do the emotional work for you; but we gain so much pleasure from forms that give us the chance to exercise our emotional muscles and develop the skills we'll need when real life knocks us on our butts, return again and again to works that allow us to feel love, pain, loss, fear, and other big emotions vicariously, without the surrounding consequences of them, that I think these forms are our natural way of learning to cope. It's like playing games to build muscles and reflexes in our bodies.

Parents should monitor the emotional play their kids get as they would physical play; but they shouldn't be afraid of letting them experience intense unreal emotions any more than they should be afraid of letting them experience a fall off a bicycle. Most of the time the damage isn't significant, and they learn from the experience. When the fall results in an actual injury - a scraped knee, a night terror - it's the parent's job to apply the bandages and security, and teach the kid to deal and heal.

It is not the writer's job to make reading a 100% safe and comfortable occupation for all possible readers. It won't be effective if it is!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I woke up at about 4:30 this morning, apparently because a front was coming through, and couldn't get back to sleep until after I got Damon up at 6:30; at which point I felt pinned to the bed by the atmosphere.

I have a list of 14 things to do today, not one of which I feel like doing. I knew when I made the list I wouldn't do them all, but "none" isn't acceptable.

So this blog post is one of them.

The only real problem with not having a soul-sucking day job (apart from, y'know, the economic ones, which come with the territory) is that on days like this there's no exterior pressure to do the things we need to do. Self-discipline is the most important skill to cultivate for any self-employed person, from writer to plumber. You have to be your own slave-driver because nobody else cares enough to drive you, and the cat would just as soon seduce you into curling up with a book and a cup of tea and a cat all day long.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Recurrent Preoccupations

Two biologists/biogeneticists discover the secret of life by accident, creating a species of homunculi. Though kept in a "paradisial" aquarium/safe enclosed environment they escape to live as "Borrowers."

Talk about your huge ideas! The trouble with this one is that the part that attracts me most is the "living as Borrowers" trope, which though important would suffer from lack of attention to the other issues - like that little matter of discovering the secret of life! There's just something about the notion of people in an outsized environment...I've been playing with variations of the tiny people motif since at least 4th grade, but I think I exorcised the need writing Margo's House, which hardly anyone but my mother-in-law likes much.

The alien invasion of Earth parallels historical invasions on Earth. Expressed as an unfavorable review of an historical/anthropological work by an alien, who is accused of exaggerating the value of native cultures and underestimating the long-term benefits to humans of their subjugation.

Ah, satire. Howard Waldrop could write this story and not annoy people. I couldn't. The True Meaning of Smek Day did me the favor of accomplishing everything this concept would have tried to do, much better than I could have.

An archeologist on another planet achieves heaven - dying and joining the dead city she's been investigating on the level of time at which it still exists.

My core notion of time travel is, that all times exist simultaneously and the human brain experiences it linearly because that's all it can handle. And no, that doesn't mean predestination - there's no "pre," and there's no "post," and free will is part of the system. This treatment appears in my head as an atmospheric piece, portraying the archeologist progressively thinking her way into the heads and lives of the members of the alien culture she's uncovering, fighting her way through anthropocentric assumptions; until she dies on the job and breaks through. In other words, no action at all in the usual sense. Requires a lighter hand than I've got.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Onward. Upward. Both Ways. In the Rain.

Took Damon to a routine doctor visit this morning, picked up a hold at the library, dropped him at work, came home to a short story rejection.

As rejections go it's an encouraging one, as they'd like to see more of my work, but I don't have many viable short stories left hanging around unpublished and I've talked about the trouble I'm having committing a new one. The markets have shrunk so much - apart from the e-markets, which don't feel like real, concrete markets to me and in any case are the equivalent of the $0.025/per word little magazines of my youth - that once a story has circulated four or five times it feels like there's no place left for it to go.

And that is another part of the problem with committing to a new project. It's all very well to write for the fun of it, for yourself, and so on - but I can't pay the contractor in the fun of writing. What we write is only half-written until it's read; and with the internet providing so many free and nearly free ways to connect writers and audiences, the buyer's market in fiction is worse than it ever was, from the point of view of us midlisters with entrepreneurophobia.

Professionals have many things to offer which the amateur pool out there does not. If you pick up a book of mine, you know you're getting a complete story, for one thing. Although many, many talented amateurs are self-publishing through the internet, using blogging services and fora as venues, professionalism shows in lots of ways - from basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills to the ability to go over a scene until it's the way it's supposed to be. But a lot of people don't care much about those things, anyway, especially if they can get "good enough" free but have to pay for "excellent."

And many people who should be paid for their work are so desperate for the audience, they'll give themselves away. It's tempting, I know; especially if you're part of a community that offers encouragement and praise. But the inadequacy of encouragement and praise alone to keep a creative artist going can readily be seen by the number of unfinished projects lying around the web. A writer posts on-line to an admiring, but parsimonious, public; doles out chapters that are eagerly awaited, discussed, commented on, and read; reaches the long slog in the middle or writes her way into a corner and then has a baby/loses a family member/contracts an illness/gets a new job/graduates; and the wait between installments gets longer and longer, the audience falls away, and the story remains unfinished.

Sure, those things happen to professionals, too. But the incentive to persevere in the face of difficulties is much stronger in someone who is actively trying to be paid for her work.

And professionals have one luxury that self-published amateurs lack. We can ignore negative reviews. If you're paid in praise, a single ill-natured, ill-considered, ignorant, mean, or tactless person can wipe out all your profits. I don't know whether writers are more prone to remember condemnation and forget approval than the rest of the population; but we are awfully bad about it as a group.

So I'll resist the temptation to bang my head against the desk, start a sim blog, and channel all my storytelling talents into shilling for approving comments in that niche market(a couple of people have asked me to start simblogging, but I tell myself they're just being nice and I wouldn't be able to amass much of a following anyway), and get that story back into the mail. Tomorrow morning. I swear.

And come to think of it, I do have at least one other story I could send to that market that just rejected me...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eureka! Or Not.

I saw exactly what I needed to do to revise the lesbian western, where the problem was, what I needed to do to fix it. The whole process unrolled before me tidy as you please.

Then I woke up and lost it all.

I don't regret this - much. Since in the same dream sequence, shooting the rapids of the San Antonio River behind a bunch of anglers, using a backpack as a flotation device, seemed like the logical way to beat the bad guys to the door of the Alamo halfway up a mountain, I doubt the insights were as profound, complete, and easily implemented as they seemed at the time.

That's the trouble with relying on inspiration. It's great fun when it happens, but the opening up of my subconscious and the flowering forth of ideas, connections, and insights that I've been making without noticing them comes along with an endorphin rush that overwhelms my judgment. I don't hurry to write inspirations down anymore. The good ones hang around and the impossible, misleading, and just plain stupid ones melt away like dreams do.

Valid inspirations are the reward for doing the work day after day after day after day - the research, the daily committing of work to medium, the pointless-feeling effort to logically work out a problem that you know perfectly well, from experience, will be solved when two disparate ideas line up together while you're doing something completely different. Like the dishes.

This is why authors should do their own house and yardwork, in addition to writing daily. You've got to give inspiration a place to strike in.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: The Beaten-Down Path

Rain, rain, beautiful rain! It rained last night and it's raining now and it should rain for the next two days, which should make everyone happy, but people are going to grip about it. I never have taken the gloomy view of rain that most folks do - I'm a plainswoman, experienced in drought, and due to certain peculiarities of my system I am sensitive to atmospheric pressure, so rain starts out as a relief from drought and discomfort and has to go on for a long, long time to become oppressive to me. I wear short skirts and go barefoot when I have to go out in the rain, because skin dries faster than cloth. You can put your shoes on when you reach your destination and be dry and comfortable all day, instead of squelching around in wet feet with wet pants flapping around your ankles. Men, poor things, seldom have these options. Men generally get shafted in the sartorial department.

All this is every day common sense - to me. Yet the weight of culture is against me and I have yet to convert even one person to the barefoot-in-the-rain habit, though many people have seen the benefits in action. Received wisdom is an ogre that can only be ground away at slowly, over time, so gradually that people don't notice their habits changing and in many cases will deny that their habits have indeed changed. If you show them a truth that is too far out of their accepted way of thinking, they will not recognize it.

That's why what used to seem to me to be an obvious method of story generation does not often generate saleable stories. Inside of every cliche, I believed - and for what it's worth, I still believe - lurks some good story that has been overlooked due to the tendency of minds, like feet, to follow the best-worn trackway. If you turn a cliched idea on its head, explore it from a different angle and forge a new path through it, you should be able to provide the editor with the "fresh take" they're always asking for, while providing the public with the familiarity they have consistently displayed their willingness to spend money on.

I have a number of notions like this in the back file. Like this one (from internal evidence, this cannot date from later than 1985):
"There are Rules, Ms. Czimzik." Susie Czimzik answers an ad for a secretary for the Luz Finance Co. Although the company occupies the entire 13th floor of the Tower Life Building, she is the only clerk. Mr. Luz has agents, but they are not friendly. The company loans money on peculiar principles and has odd employment requirements; however, Susie finds Luz himself charming at first; besides, she needs the job. In course of time, she needs a loan, but has no collateral. Mr. Luz offers to do her a favor and let her have what she needs for nominal collateral - her soul. The loan is set up so that she cannot pay it back; realizing this, Susie comes gradually to realize who Luz is, and falls into despair - until an old lady - a derelict, slightly off- quotes the eleventh hour scripture to her and she realizes that the contract is invalid by nature.

Why exactly so few writers who profess the Christian religion notice the logical implications of that eleventh hour dogma for the old-fashioned "Deal with the Devil" plot, when it looks so obvious to this agnostic, is not a question subject to my answering. I think most of the time when we see this story, it is set up more as an exercise in Schadenfreude than anything else - the writer, and the audience, prefers punishment to redemption for the central figure, and the consolations of religion be damned. But it's not for me to say how anybody else's process works.

I never got any farther on this story than the above. My main interest in it, really, was to set a story in the Tower Life Building, which is one of the prettiest skyscrapers you will ever see (for my money, prettier than the Chrysler Building) and, of course, has no 13th floor.

I couldn't figure out how to do it without its appearing to be an attempt at evangelism. I'm not evangelical at all, and living where I do, I am all too aware of how violently people (including Christians!) who are used to the clumsy attempts of streetcorner preachers to evangelize them react to any hint of that. But even if I had solved that problem, and created Susie Czimzik as a more than usually attractive character, and played carefully with every tired trope I wanted to play with - the moment most editors realized it was a "Deal with the Devil" story would be the moment they stopped reading. The moment the rest realized that I'd broken the rules of the storyline would be the moment the rest of them rejected it. The path of the cliche is worn too deeply in our collective brains. The ones with the patience to wait around to see if you deviate from it are the ones who like this cliched path, and prefer not to deviate from it.

The problem is far from insurmountable. I've surmounted it a few times, myself. But it's tricky; and you have to read a lot of cliched stories to figure out how to subvert them acceptably.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Not Catching Fire

Okay, possibly it's obvious based on the last few topics, but I'm not catching fire. I'm not having trouble generating ideas - that's an ingrained habit of mind; when I can't do that, something's wrong with me. I'm having trouble committing to them. I'd like to go back to Len, but I know I'm not quite ready for another serious go at revision, so I try to fill the writing time with queries and synopses and market research and it drives me wiggy and I find myself cruising newsgroups or thinking about what's going on with an RPG character or a sim instead.

So I look through market guides and pick anthologies I can write a short story for, but all I do is doodle and come up with concepts that need an entire novel to work out. Like I've been fiddling with something for a YA anthology called Eternal Love from Cool Well Press, and I've gotten a really provocative idea about how if reincarnation were the way the world works, then life amnesia would have a function in the system. So it would be cool to explore how messed up that system gets if somebody remembers all her past lives and recognizes her soulmate on meeting him in this life - only maybe what was a romantic relationship in one life is emphatically not one in this life (husband and wife last time, parent and child or teacher and student this one); oh, yeah, set that up, flesh it out, and pay it off in under 5000 words, I dare you!

This happens periodically. And every time it does I feel like there's something wrong with me, it's going on too long, I've gotten completely flaky lost all my discipline am sponging off my husband because I can't sell anything and -

It's one thing to know that it's part of the process and that I'll come out of it the same way I've always come out of it. It's another thing to feel that as a truth. And still another to know when the moment has come when I need to shut myself in a confined space with nothing but a notebook and a pen; because nothing fuels creativity like unrelenting boredom, but the disadvantage of having control of your own time is, your day has no built-in periods of boredom as it does when in a day job.

Still not going back to the soul-sucking day job routine, though. For one thing, in this economy, I doubt I could!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let the Dice Fall Where They May

I've always tried to make games into stories. My chess game is erratic because I automatically think in terms of what the queen or knight would choose to do rather than what is strategically the best move. When I play Risk, I tend to roll well in North Africa, for example, which I attribute to that space harboring General Rommel, who is on my side. (Oddly, nobody ever thinks to deploy General Patton against me.)

Most board games, alas, are not amenable to this treatment. When I discovered role-playing games - by which I always mean real, free-form games played with other people, not computer games - I took to them at once, because the whole point of them is to play a character and create, as part of the social group of players and GM, a story in the genre of the game. My fondness for Sims is rooted in the same tendency. One reason I play Sims2 and doubt I will ever play Sims3 is that 3 has no storytelling tool.

The experience of story creation in game format, however, is very different from that of writing one. One of the most fun things about the game/story format is that the creator is not in control. No one likes a "railroad GM," one whose story is set down to run on rails and will work out roughly the same regardless of how the dice roll and what choices the players make. Sit down any bunch of gamers and start them telling their "war stories," and time after time you'll get hear about crucial dice rolls falling at an extreme - the natural 20 rolled by the least powerful party member that saved them all, the critical fumble by a key character that resulted in a Total Party Kill, the failed saving throw that changed everything.

Recently we had one of those failed saves in our group, which resulted in the party rogue succumbing to a magic-induced psychosis and plotting to assassinate the entire party. The player hated it, but as an honest player he played it out, laying a plan that should have worked and, if it had, would have required a complete rethink of the game and new characters all round, probably with the insane character as a major nuisance villain. Only a miraculous series of successful saving throws and the rogue's underestimation of the party cleric prevented this; and now we get to play out the change in the relationship between the now-cured and wildly remorseful rogue and the friends he turned on. Similarly, in recent Sims games the unexpected birth of twins, an alien abduction, and a lightning strike fire that killed a teen on the verge of college have thrown my expectations for the neighborhood into a cocked hat. I am left scrambling to adjust my responses to the new realities and relationships. This is all to the good.

Sometimes, I wish mainstream story forms relied more on dice. Last night I mistimed cooking dinner and had to be in the kitchen for large chunks of the second episode of Terra Nova, but I couldn't feel that as a hardship. Damon didn't have to fill me in on the parts I missed, because it was clear from what was going on when I came into the room what had happened in the interim since I left it. The design of the plot spread out before us like a map. A familiar map; not drawn well enough (though the dinosaurs are pretty good; but I prefer mammalian megafauna to dinos) to hold my attention on aesthetic grounds. It desperately needed a failed saving throw or a critical fumble or a natural twenty rolled by a character which the staging had earmarked as a mere secondary.

It's not that I have spoiled the show for myself by understanding the structure of the one-hour TV show and the genre conventions of science fiction. I understand the structure and genre conventions of the puzzle mystery, too, yet I can read and reread Agatha Christie's and Dorothy L. Sayers's work endlessly, caught up in the sheer pleasure of their execution.

We are all sophisticated critics these days. We may not be able to articulate them, but we know about The Hero's Journey, three-act structure, and of course the TV tropes. We apply them without thinking - and that's our problem, not when viewing, but when creating.

What we've got to do, when creating, is recreate the sensation of the critical fumble, the natural twenty, and the random lightning strike for the reader. This may or may not entail recreating it for yourself. Ideally we are in full control of our material and balance the element of unpredictability with the necessary structure and coherence that fiction (and for that matter narrative non-fiction) requires. But we don't live in an ideal world. Your first draft may be a major structural mess. You may not know until the final scene that a gun needs to be lying on the mantel in the first scene. You may be on the fifth draft before you realize that your narrator cannot be your protagonist. You may be find yourself casually writing a line like "Bean'd jump off a cliff if I asked him to" and only then realize that your heroine needs to ask her faithful steed to jump off a cliff in the climax.

It doesn't matter; not as long as everything's in place in the version the reader sees.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Enigmatic List

I was going through a folder containing all the notes I wrote down on stray bits of paper during soul-sucking day jobs. And I do mean all - the following is obviously dated to 1991, when I had a temp job as ticket cashier for the Splendors of Mexico Exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art, and I have earlier notes with internal evidence connecting them to jobs held earlier than that.

The list itself is enigmatic and probably the result of an exercise in plotting. Before anybody reads this, I wish to make it clear that I don't remember having anything against anybody on this temp job, or even having any contact with the senior curator. I have had jobs during which I plotted the fictional murder of a boss or co-worker as a tension reliever, but I have only pleasant memories of this one. It was a spectacular exhibit, and employees got to walk through it for free!

What - Corpse
Where - Trolley in little-used hall between Exit and Main Hall, behind breakroom
Who - Sr. Curator
How - Cyanide-laced chewing gum
Why - Major spectacular art theft/forgery - cover up or double-cross
When - Monday, Splendors of Mexico

Obviously, anchoring a mystery to a specific exhibit and venue like this would be unwise. What I probably intended to do (insofar as I intended anything; it probably was just an exercise) was plot the story using the geography and schedule of the real art museum, and then use all fictional characters and enough tweaking of the museum to avoid hurt feelings and render me immune to prosecution.

Which is not a bad procedure for writing a puzzle mystery.

I wonder if you could deliver a fatal dose of cyanide in chewing gum, and how you would go about it?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Four Virtues of Expert Procrastinaters

Virtue 1. Cats. Thai does not approve of typing. It's okay if she's lying down in front of the monitor and behind the keyboard (though the way I keep pushing her paw off the top row of buttons can be annoying), but when she's in my lap, one hand is supposed to be available for tummy rubbing at all times. Have you ever tried to type with one hand rubbing a tummy? It's exponentially harder. Bruce doesn't care if I'm typing or not - he just doesn't want me to be at the computer at all if there's a bidding of his I'm supposed to be figuring out. So he'll walk up and down on the keyboard, headbutt me, meow fretfully, and so on, until I get up and try out all the possible things he might be wanting me to do.

So if you need an excuse not to get your writing quota done, by all means, let the cat into the room and spoil her rotten. (The funny thing is - if you spoil fruits or vegetables, they get nasty. The more we spoil our cats, the sweeter they get.)

Virtue 2. Neatness and order. There is always something that needs organizing, straightening, dusting, recording, filing, or throwing away. If you start your writing time by taking care of all those things, odds are good you won't have to write at all.

Virtue 3. Communication. People who always answer the phone on the second ring, answer e-mail as soon as it comes in, tweet promptly, and meticulously maintain their websites, blogs, and social networking sites can be busy as bees all day and never get one thing done.

Virtue 4. Generosity. If everybody knows that you are There For Them, they will have all sorts of occasions to call on you. You can't write and deal with a crisis at the same time unless you already have a committed work ethic and sufficient discipline that writing poetry in hospital rooms is second nature to you.

These are all good things in themselves - especially the cats. But the thing they have in common is: that if they are allowed to overlap with your writing time, they will eat it all up. When Virginia Woolf said we needed money and a room of our own in order to write, this is what she meant. Time and space, dedicated to the writing (or whatever it is you do), which everyone understands is dedicated to the writing, during which nothing else gets done.

Nothing else does the trick.

Communicate. Be there for your loved ones. Maintain your tax records and keep your house sanitary. And by all means rub your cat's tummy.

But not during the fifteen minutes, or hour, or two-hour block of time that is set aside for your writing. That's for writing. Only. Not for talking about writing, not for thinking about writing, not for writing business. Butt in chair, hands on writing implements, just writing.

You've heard this before. You'll keep hearing it till you start doing it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Texas Archeology Month!

It's almost upon us - the state's very own Idea Garage Sale, when museums, archeologists, historical sites, and chambers of commerce open history up and shake it out for public amusement. I don't care how uncreative you think you are - the more you learn about Texas history, the more inspired you'll get.

Here's a smattering of upcoming events, with an emphasis of course on the things that interest me most.
Oct. 1 - Tour of Archeological Ruins of Rancho de las Cabras, Wilson County but within the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Oct. 8 - Archeological Information and Civil War Symposium, Gainesville - Topics at the symposium include "forts, funeral practices during the Civil War, fashions, cotton, and plantations." Also child-centric activities.
Oct. 12 - Face to Face with the Son of America, Huntsville - Forensic artist presents her facial reconstruction of a 10,000-year-old skull found in a cave on the Brazos River.
Oct. 14-16 Rock Art Foundation Annual Rendezvous, Val Verde County - A tent campout with tours of remote prehistoric art sites; only one of several events centered on the hard-to-see Pecos Valley art; plus nature walk, of course. Action! Adventure! Romance! (Well, you'll have to bring your own romance, but tell me you don't see an opening trailer in your head right now, based on knowing such an event exists.)
Oct. 17 - "How Texas Won the Civil War," Lecture by Dr. Donald. S. Frazier of McMurry University, Abilene; Houston - hosted by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, laying out the ways Texas benefited by the late unpleasantness.
Oct. 22 - Gault Site Tour, Bell County. Preregistration required, openings limited, but they also do it on the third Saturday of every month so if you miss October, don't despair.
Oct. 29 - Murder Mayhem and Misadventure Walking Tour at Oakwood Cemetery, Austin - to "highlight the lives and dramatic deaths of local early citizens."

Nov. 18-20 - 2011 Hot Rocks Cook-Off in College Station, "demonstrations and scientific experiments using Native American earth-oven cookery and stone boiling." (Are you smelling a cookbook? I sure am.)

Yeah, I think that's a pretty representative sample. Go look at the calendar - there's something that intrigues you. I need to start planning my month - October's not that far away and I know I can't do more than a fraction of what I'd like to, but that's no reason to miss what I can do.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: This Thing About Dwarves

(Note the technically incorrect plural. If it's good enough for Tolkien, it's good enough for me. The man wrote the Oxford English Dictionary, for crying out loud.)

I've always liked dwarves. My first favorite movie was Disney's Snow White. Elves and fairies lost a lot of appeal for me when they got human-sized in pop culture. I like how a dwarf is a dwarf whatever book you go to - short, hairy, set in their ways, pragmatic, slightly cranky, craftsmen. The word "dour" crops up when fantasy writers and gamers are describing dwarves, but in fact they are often comic characters - sometimes because the guy with no sense of humor is the funniest guy in the room, and sometimes because his sense of humor doesn't jibe with other people's, but does with mine. Gimli is the only non-hobbit member of the Fellowship of the Ring who cracks jokes, but he only makes them with a grumpy face and at times of tension release. "Here's a pretty hobbit skin to wrap an elfin princeling in!" "Where did you come by the weed, you villains?" He's also the one who initiated the grim kill-counting game with Legolas at Helm's Deep. I wonder how many stoic middle-aged enlisted men Tolkien knew in service? I'm certain they informed the writing on this character.

Anyway, I have a vision of dwarves and their lifestyle that dates back to at least my first reading of The Hobbit, but probably predates it, as I think I read Ruth Nichols's A Walk Out of the World before then. Certainly I'd been reading Tolkien derivatives before I made it to Tolkien, and I feel like I absorbed his dwarves into an existing vision rather than adopting his and grafting details onto it. Dwarves live in mountains, obviously; they have a highly structured society centering on notions of duty; craftsmanship is one of their highest virtues; they believe in emotional restraint; their doors are tapestries (the hivelike nature of the dwarf community probably contributes to the emotional restraint, now I think of it); they love deeply, quietly, and epicly; and the tradition is that only sorrow ever came of romantic relationships between dwarves and other intelligent species.

Yes, I cast dwarves as romantic leads.

I actually tried to make a story around this core concept several times in high school, but I kept getting sidetracked by the necessity of world-building. It wormed its way in as a subplot of the dormant story I discussed here awhile back, but I haven't tried to put it at the center of the story since high school. Not because I didn't want to; but because it gradually became clear that neither high fantasy nor romance is my natural genre, and to tell this story I'd need to do both.

Which is a bummer, because you can make decent money off both those subgenres, especially when you combine them, but life is rough.

The central problem of doing it is, first to create the high fantasy world in which the dwarves and the other races are acceptable and logical, but not boring and cliched. We have enough straight Tolkien-derivatives, thank you. Once you have that world, you need the conflict - which, being high fantasy, almost has to be a macro-conflict, war famine pestilence mystical threat you know the drill - that brings the disparate couple together.

I have one really convoluted plot that starts off in a desert community with the heroine being expelled, with her old adoptive mother, during a witch hunt; and as they cross the desert the adoptive mother gets more and more senile, and finally the dwarves rescue them and that's when we find out about the princess who was spirited away when the usurper killed the rest of her family and all the signs point to our heroine who gets help from the dwarves including the improbable and forbidden male romantic lead - but in fact she's the decoy and the real princess is still in her kingdom getting old enough to ascend the throne, and sacrificing the decoy may be necessary, and...yeah, I kind of bogged down in plot there.

And then there's the one where there's some sort of interspecies war on and the heroine is a prisoner, and she Knows Something, and the political situation is such that the hero (who is her captor) is under pressure to Do Terrible Things but he won't because he's got standards, dammit, and this war is eroding the dwarves' cultural standards and this couple who have to be enemies are the pivot point on which the future of both cultures turns. Which could be pretty epic if I could, y'know, work out the specifics of what the war's about, what information the heroine has, how to get them both facing 90 degrees away from the problems they understand themselves to have at the start of the story to be facing the same direction and agreed that they have a common, totally different problem. I believe I wrote some scenes that were reasonably brilliant for a 14-year-old, but that's a low gate to get over and I trust none of them survive. Without context, a scene is meaningless, anyway.

There used to be others - romances are the easiest stories to mull over during insomniac nights in adolescence, and I was a hell of an insomniac back then - but I have mercifully forgotten most of them. I still think somebody, somewhere, could do - something moving and atmospheric and heck, just different from the human-draconic-elvish centric high fantasy we all know so well.

But I'm afraid it's not likely to be me, so - fly free, vague epic idea! Find a good place to land!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Query Grind

You know the worst thing about agent hunting?

The way you lose faith in what, six months ago, was a book as good as any you've ever been paid for.

I am so sick of the first ten pages of The Astral Palace I could scream and it's impossible to imagine anyone else wanting to represent me based on them, either. I should start trolling with the lesbian western instead (only Damon's not reading it very fast and I begin to think I'm having pacing problems, which is a good sign - it means I should be able to go back and revise it properly instead of merely basking in Len's voice, soon).

I can't sell stuff if I don't keep it in the mail, but I can't find people to mail to when I'm hating the work, either.

This is the kind of thing that makes teen-agers eat entire gallons of ice cream and declare their lives over. Thank goodness I'm old enough to tell the difference between perception and objective reality. But I still can't match the project to a prospective taker like this.

Maybe I should give up and work on the emotion recycling story instead.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Obsession Questionnaire

Our culture is suspicious of enthusiasm. A kid who is crazy about dinosaurs or a game; a teen who is always on social media; an adult who spends all his free time perfecting his imaginary world - all are likely to be told that they're overdoing it, that they're obsessed, that they're wasting their time and should be doing something else.

And, okay, sometimes that's true. We've all heard the horror stories about the couple who let their real baby die while they looked after a virtual one, the gamers who died because they couldn't get off the game, the artists who starve or sponge off their relatives, the writers whose marriage breaks up because writing takes precedence over the marriage, the little old ladies who cannot stop crocheting doilies.

But think about Professor Tolkien, using his spare time to create, first imaginary languages, then vast complex worlds, mythologies, and cultures to provide the context of those languages. Could The Lord of the Rings have become a global phenomenon if he hadn't built it on this foundation of apparent wasted time?

No. No more than Michael Jordan could have been paid to play basketball if he hadn't played and played and played for years before he ever went pro. No more than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could have become the perfect dance duo without dancing till their feet bled.

Before you sell a book, you have to write one. Before you get hired to illustrate, you have to put together a portfolio. And before you do either of these things, you have to spend a lot of time doing things with no obvious relationship to reality. Things that look, to people who aren't doing them, like obsessive time wasting. And you have to do it knowing that there is a very good chance you will never be paid for anything related to what you're doing, even if you get very good at it indeed.

After all, the demand for doilies will always be less than the supply churned out by people who like to crochet.

So how do you tell when you're crossing the line?

Well, look around you.

Is your family healthy? Can you remember their names? Do you know who their friends are? Have you spoken to everyone who shares a residence with you in the last 24 hours? Did any of these conversations involve subjects other than your Project?

Is the cat happy?

When you hear a loud crash and smell smoke, do you get up and take steps to understand what happened?

When did you eat last? Was it real food, or junk? Who prepared it?

Can you see the floor of your house or is it so covered with dirt and junk that you have to follow little paths through it?

Did the work you are contracted to do - either as part of paid employment or as part of your obligation as a member of your household - get done? Was it done well, or did someone have to come after you and do it over?

How many projects, of any kind, did you in fact complete during the past year? How many did you start? How much of this ratio (which is bound to be depressing in and of itself) is due to your own choices?

Under what circumstances do you choose The Project over:
Your health?
Your loved ones' health?
Making money?
Spending time with your loved ones?

Does the way you conduct The Project allow you to do so in conjunction with the above priorities?

Answer those questions, and be honest with yourself.

If you actually have a problem, the answers will point you straight at it. But you probably don't. You've probably just internalized the idea that if you like it, and you're not getting paid for it, it must be bad for you.

Also, feeling guilty is the least fun and constructive way to procrastinate.

Get over it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Happy Media

In one way, I am a fortunate individual. I always knew, and so did everyone around me, that I was going to write stories. And by always I mean, always. I was a writer before I could write things other people could read. This was so plain and obvious that everyone around me conceded it as a given, too. This or that individual person may not have thought I'd be any good, or that I'd make any money, or that it was a worthwhile endeavor - but nobody ever disputed that I would do it.

Not all writers know their destiny so well, or manifest it so clearly, from the git-go like that. They flounder in search of their purpose, or they are actively discouraged from it by those around them, or they mistake their calling and do something else for half their lifetime until the day they wake up and start writing, or realize they've been writing all along and it's time to take that somewhere.

I didn't, however, always know that I would write for young people. For a long time I thought I'd be one of those novelists who's also an academic (that was before I experienced academia and how little I am suited to it), or I'd write science fiction and fantasy, or - something. I had a leg up on my period of experimentation because I knew my medium and my skill, but I still had to find my subject and my audience. My niche only became clear after I had - first of all - realized that I prefer books written for young people to books written for adults, for the most part (and once I realized that most genre fiction is "really" YA, in that the qualities I enjoy in it are the same as the ones I enjoy in YA literature); and - second - that I did in fact write well enough to produce them.

This is another way in which I am fortunate. These two discoveries were easy enough to make, since I already knew what form my artistic expression would take and I could focus my experimentation on finding my niche within that form. A lot of people have to experiment on their form, their subject, their audience, and their genre all at the same time. Even more people are raised with the idea that they aren't creative, or that there's some qualitative difference between messing about with creativity, and actually being an artist, a writer, a musician, a dancer, or whatever.

Some people even have to muddle along without access to their form and audience. The world has more essayists now than at any time in the past, if we concede that bloggers are essentially essayists, freed from the limitation of needing someone to pay them to write essays for a periodical. The first people with a talent for programming computer games were born before computer games were invented. The modern world contains far more talented actors, scripters, costumers, prop builders, and effects artists than the related drama industries could ever support; hence the existence of historical recreation societies, cosplayers, and gamers. I've known many people for whom their game of choice is their creative outlet - on tabletop, playing field, or computer, they flower.

This is why fandoms proliferate. People who for one reason or another cannot use their native talent professionally can find it avocationally, in the company of a sympathetic audience, in the context of a fandom. Some of them pass through their fandom and come out the other side as a professional, and good for them (Cassandra Clare being a prominent current example, but hardly the only one). But many, many people do professional-quality work in the context of a fandom and never get paid; either because they never think of going pro, because they try and fail, because they're afraid they'll fail, or because they decide that the effort of going pro would spoil the activity for them. Sometimes it's because their talent lies in a niche so narrow that professionalism is unlikely, or unlucrative, or unacceptable - many gamers reject the restrictions that would be placed upon them, were they to enter the corporate structure of the gaming industry.

I happened to think about this in the context of poking around simblogs in an idle moment. (Okay, idle afternoon. Look, the floor's going to get clean; I was just a little giddy and needed a break. Of several hours.) People document their games online, with pictures, dialog, and snarky asides; make their favorite sims available for others to play; create new clothes, objects, even modifications to game code, investing hours not even playing their game, but playing with it. Their only audience is other players, but that's all right. They like it that way.

There's a person writing an extended fanfic about how a particular iconic neighborhood, with which everyone who plays Sims2 is familiar, got itself into the starting situation for that neighborhood. She writes it in chapters, formatted as screenshots from her game accompanied by blocks of text; and setting up the screenshots is obviously not a matter of playing the game at all, but of performing elaborate maneuvers with custom clothing, objects, modifications, and something called poseboxes to take a number of different pictures of the characters and then discarding most of them. Not too different from the process by which Dare Wright wrote The Lonely Doll and its sequels, in fact, except that this person has nothing tangible to work with, just a game designed for an entirely different purpose.

I can, just about, see how Dare Wright got pleasure out of her process. I can't see how "Skelljay" does; but I don't have to, either. Apparently, this is her medium and she likes working in it. It seems to me she could have finished the story by now if she hadn't mucked about with all those pictures but maybe she couldn't have. And maybe - who knows? How would we tell? - she's building skills in this medium that will enable her to be more profitably creative in another one. But if she's not, and she's satisfied, that should be enough for anybody.

But it raises the question: If you think you're not creative, is it because you haven't experimented enough and found your medium? Is it because, though you've found a medium, it seems silly to you?

I know that voice. Filking isn't really songwriting. Blogging about your hamster isn't really writing. Your elaborate macaroni sculpture isn't really art. You should do something more worthwhile with your time.

Don't listen to that voice. If something makes you happy, it is not a waste of time.

And if it brings pleasure to others, even just a small handful of others, it is a positive boon to society.

(While I'm doing this, let's have a couple of links to my two favorite simblogs, in one of which we get the story of Barkertown, the other of Ste. Margo. Warning: This game is rated T for Teen for a reason! Don't worry, you'll get most of the jokes and follow the story just fine without knowing the game.)