Tuesday, December 23, 2008

this moment of clarity, this moment of honesty

I'm so glad Christmas is almost over. It sucks the brain from my skull like the yolk from those fancy Ukrainian painted eggs.

I cannot keep track of which words belong to which dates; I will now begin tracking my progress via total word counts. Also, this method prevents me from taking credit for all the crappy words which I later remove. It will, I am sure, lead to negative word counts during some periods (sigh).

Not-a-Werewolf: 14,000.
Godot: No progress; continues to suck.
Last Duellists: Met with beta readers for awesome dinner and feedback, but haven't yet actually fixed story.
Dickensian Fantasy: um, somewhere north of 250,000 all told. Figured out how to fix part one; scared to start.

Received for Christmas: silver acorn, print of family home, great quantity of drink, chipotle mustard, thing to make vichyssoise in.
Still want for Christmas: luggage, huge biceps, correct spelling of "vichyssoise".

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All we like sheep have gone astray

(Having once sung the Messiah with my university choir, I tend to get the entire damned thing stuck in my head at this time of year, except for the parts without a soprano part, which didn't get rehearsed at the same times.)

Major technical problems at Casa Clairification the last few weeks: I couldn't get online much at all. What began as a major annoyance turned out to be a source of exactly the right kind of boredom. Instead of puttering about reading the words of others, I buckled down and wrote some of my own. Anyone actually prolific will scoff at these counts, no doubt. All I can say in my defense is that it's also busy season at the Day Career and I keep being the one to turn the lights out at the office.

Not-a-Werewolf Book: 9990 words since Nov 17

Godot Story: 2789 words (actually, quite a few more words than that, but the rest of them sucked, and were duly excised)

"The Tongue of Bees", formerly "BEitD", formerly "LtLCBftCaW", is now in the mail. !!!! You'd think this would involve about thirty seconds: print story, stick story in envelope, lick envelope, affix stamp. In fact--and if anything was to make me give up writing, it would be this--I have to first re-read the manuscript guidelines eight or ten times, print out the story, discover a misplaced apostrophe or something, fix it and print it again (ad nauseam), write my address on the SASE with a hand shaking enough to render it illegible, smear the ink, write another, seal the damned thing, tear it open again to double check everything, etc, etc.

I don't believe I will make such a fuss about all of my stories, but this is the first story I've put in the mail in seven or eight years, and the first to a SFF market in my adult life. I would very much like to sell it. It's a good one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

This month, so far, has been productive but scattered. I spent most of the day Saturday doing a thing I can't quite call writing because, you know, words didn't actually appear on the page. I never did figure out, at least on that day, what I was doing wrong in that story.

I know that despite getting almost nothing done, at the end of it all my brain felt like used tissue, and I went to a party and said nothing of consequence and everyone else was more interesting.

As of today:

The Godot story: 548 words to date, mostly Saturday, mostly lousy.

The violence story: Who knows? You don't think I'm going to bother to count handwritten words, do you? I'll just bank them for whatever day I decide to transcribe them into a proper file.

The Not-a-Werewolf book: 2584 words in the new draft (draft 9?!), some pirated from draft 8, some shiny and new.

Actually, when I look at it laid out this way, I don't think I can call this a productive month after all.


I'm sad. Now I'm going to make you sad. Stop reading.

My little cat, seen here indulging in her favourite game of Stairway Ambush, has become very ill. She's in the hospital just now, where I cannot comfort her.

The other cats rejoice in her absence, for now they can sleep upon the bed without getting spat upon and boxed in the face.

I, on the other hand, wish with all my heart that she might come back to us in fighting form, but I don't think it's going to happen this time. I think I've learned what a dying thing looks like.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

In which I break my #1 beta reader

My mother (Hi, Mom!) didn't make it past the first section of "The Last Duellists of the Flanders Park School". She's had a rough year; she says she found the story's opening powerful and upsetting, and decided it would have to wait for another day.

In general I love upsetting people with my fiction. Of course, I prefer them to be people other than my Mom, but as a first response for the Pie Story it's a fine one. My other beta readers have invited me over for dinner, so either they have lots to say, or they've decided that anyone so poor a writer must be about to starve!

My November efforts, instead of focusing on the Talking Fish Story as I expected, have taken a sudden turn toward the Violence Story. I should know better: the damned thing's been kicking my ass for months, simultaneously demanding attention and rebuffing all attempts to make it part of a larger whole. I still have no idea what I'm doing with it, and the thing I wrote on the plane probably isn't any better than any of my other tries, but it appears my subconscious has chosen.

I wonder if it has anything to do with this morning's dream? Or the sullen light of a day spent under falling leaves and falling rain? If it doesn't... it soon will.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Things unsaid

I've been avoiding writing something. I've been avoiding saying it, too, even when it's topical. It is the kind of thing no one, no one, wants to talk about. Not a deep dark secret or anything: those always have willing listeners. This is just a small sad human thing that for some reason is occupying the forefront of my mind this weekend.

I'm not going to write it here, either. I'm going to carry it away with me, while I finish the laundry and get ready for my trip tomorrow and close up the house and brush my teeth.

This guy gets it

It's wonderful to read such insightful commentary about the book business. Aspiring writers who aren't already in the business should definitely read this post, and the comments and offshoots as well.

I am both a writer and a chain buyer. Why, being the one, would I want to be the other? Well, I was a writer first. It's natural for writers to seek employment in the book business, since writers (if they're any good) are also readers, and reading, of course, is one of the prerequisites for being a book buyer.

If I'd become a chain buyer first, though, I doubt I would want to become a writer at this point. I see the numbers. I see the number of titles a store can carry, versus the number published in a year. The odds are against any given writer at every level, numerically: finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting your book into the stores, getting your book to actually sell.

But I'm different, of course. I'm brilliant. My books are going to be bought, loved, discussed, read, reprinted, reviewed. I don't need to worry about the odds. Statistics are meaningless when you're this good.

I'm joking, of course; and also, I'm not. We all--we who write, submit and publish--we all must believe the odds don't matter. We must believe we are good enough to triumph. And if it doesn't happen this time, it will happen next time, or the time after that.

I cannot imagine a more optimistic position.

Whether it is a correct position--well, time will tell.

In which I use my free hour to write--what else?

I managed to finish the Pie Story yesterday with a suggestion of something that actually makes no sense and isn't possible in the context of the story. In my defense I was already late for a party and bsleek was running about bare-chested with a cucumber in his pants telling me to hurry up. (It was a costume party, just so you don't think my household is regularly full of half-naked cucumber-wearers.)

Today, I finished it again, in a more satisfying fashion, and sent it off to some beta readers who volunteered during the party and will probably regret it now that they're sober.

My story tally from VP onward:

September: "Learning the Tongue of Bees" (formerly "A Brief Education in the Decadents", formerly "Leaving the Laundry Circles, Bound for the Corn and Wine"), 4000 words

October: "The Last Duellists of the Flanders Park School", 4000 words

November's story will likely be the Talking Fish Story, since it still has that appetizing feeling in my brain, meaning there is something there I will enjoy doing. After that I'll have to go a little further afield to figure out what story to write next.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Addendum: On the Pie Story

1163 words on the Pie Story tonight. Maybe another 500 to go--probably less.

It's a sad story. Probably because, in addition to being about poverty, it is related to some other things from the wasteland of Bagot Street: Arnold's litter-mate, who died at three days old and was buried in the garden; the eclipse and the fountain downtown; the east-facing window, from which the view was nothing but bleak.

I surprise myself again with the depth of the despair I still carry with me from that time, even in the light of today.

In which I reflect

I'm back from Chicago with a suitcase of laundry, a new handbag, and for the first time, visual records of the place that has come to mean so much to me. If I'm counting correctly, this visit was my eighth time attending CIROBE, the Chicago International Remainder and Overstock Book Exhibition.

Over the years I've become quite attached to the city, most particularly the park across from the Hilton, where I sometimes run; the Art Institute, which houses Caillebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day; and the lakeshore in general, so superior to the same area of Toronto.

More than the city, though, it's the people. I am privileged to work with people so intelligent, friendly and well-read. Between this group and the people of VP, I've been in exalted company lately, and I have come away both humbled and encouraged.

You, my friends, colleagues and mentors: each of you is something I aspire to be, and I am honoured to have so many of you in my life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sun goes down, temperature drops

With the turning of the year I'm entering my most productive phase, in my day career, my writing and even in my random personal business. This time is the best time to do all of the things I normally avoid, like making medical appointments, getting my pants hemmed, and painting that bit of trim I never finished during the last reno (okay, I actually still haven't done that one, but it might happen).

A tally of what I get done in a typical day now would seem insurmountable during a day in the opposite phase of the year. Why? Well... it comes down to sleep. When the days get shorter, my circadian rhythm seems to be disrupted, and I adapt by sleeping less, for a while; or at least by feeling more awake during my waking hours.

On the weekend, 1028 words on the Pie Story, which still has no name--though it is about to have a sex scene. As interested as I am in writing the sex scene, I'm afraid Thanatos wins out over Eros tonight: I am even more interested in writing a scene for the Not-a-Werewolf book, a scene which came to me in a dream the other night and made me wake up all thrilled with the genius of my subconscious mind.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sisyphus finally gets a cup of tea

I don't mean to imply that the Day Career is generally Sisyphean. But at the moment it's requiring 12-hour days just to stay afloat, and the backlog hasn't really decremented, and the results aren't visible to anyone who can't see all the crossed-off items on my gargantuan to-do list.

At the end, or beginning, of those 12-hour workdays, I seem to be managing to post to the photo blog and this blog, managing to write the Pie Story, and managing to plant the seed file. I haven't yet managed to critique anyone else's stuff, catch up with any of my groups' posts, or most importantly, make any progress on either of my novels.

I've also managed to hurt my best friend's feelings inadvertently, neglect my husband, overcrowd my social calendar and skip almost all of my workouts.

I think it's time for some ruthless decisions about just how I spend the coin of my days.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Pie Story, Continued

575 words on the Pie Story, which, you will be relieved to hear, is not actually going to be titled in Esperanto.

Apparently I default to a particular setting for my short stories--this is the fourth or fifth piece I've set in the same locale. It does mean something to me, that place. I saw an eclipse there. It's discomforting to know that all my dark days are so unforgotten. I never think of them, but I write of them often.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Pie Story

I'm just pillaging the seed file this month. 851 words on the Pie Story, which will soon have a name of its very own.

In Esperanto, if I'm not mistaken.

What a feeling it is: to turn, all in a moment, away from pettiness and toward the whole open world and all its surprises.

Days grow shorter

So short, in fact, that despite feverish activity all week, I am further behind than ever. And the economy is NOT helping.

I will drop all of that at the foot of the stairs of the office, though, and go on lightened of that burden.

I will sit myself down at my good crooked harvest table with a glass of stout and a crisp apple, and I will do something new.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Resolution #9

...in my 37-item Viable Paradise followup list is to set myself a deadline for the completion of the Dickensian Fantasy, and also one for the Other Project (henceforth to be known as the Not-a-Werewolf Book).

Whatever that deadline turns out to be, I'm pretty sure I've already fallen behind. Ditto for my weekly word count target. This week's word count so far? Well, since I wrote myself a stern note to the effect that blogging, rough notes, and day-career stuff don't count, I'm sitting at a grand total of about 100. And since day-career has been a week neglected, I'm sitting on four imminent deadlines, one of which is in twelve hours and requires six hours worth of work, in addition to the eating, sleeping and showering that might also be required.

As much as I love my day-career, I do heartily wish it operated on a steady year-round schedule. This whole business of Christmas makes me want to bite the hand that feeds me.

With that off my chest, I propose to pour myself a nice glass of Tankhouse, start pounding away at that six-hour task, and if I can get it done in five, give myself the reward of an hour in my world.

Crack on regardless...

Monday, September 29, 2008


...in the electric sense, not the washtub sense. Although to someone with a greater level of technical knowledge they are probably the same sense.

Apparently this energy extends even to things that aren't writing. In the last 36 hours I've stripped the nasty old carpet runner from the hallway, gone to market, gone to work, typed up all my VP notes, got the photoblog up to date, caught up on email, gone for a run, and slept a whole four hours.

I keep having ideas for stories, and jotting them down, and then reminding myself all over again that ideas don't count. They're like salt in cooking: never at the heart of the dish. At the heart is the person, in the place, with the problem.

That's the thing I used to know and somehow forgot for a decade or so. I don't expect I'll forget it again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

And Then I Woke Up

Back here in the real world, so little time has passed that the plums in the refrigerator are still good. I am sitting with a cup of rooibos and making myself a very ambitious to-do list.

It commences with tearing apart the Dickensian Fantasy: the very thing I swore I had no need to do. It continues with a whole bunch of other things to write, and a number of commitments which I have no doubt will prove onerous at some point, but at the moment feel like the veriest hit of crack.

It doesn't end, of course, until I end.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bound for the corn and wine

For any of you from Envisage365 who are stopping by, here's a taste of what you'll receive on my return. (I don't have email here although I have web access.) This place is full of gorgeousness. Although today's image was actually quite utilitarian: my manuscript, taped to the wall.

I was privileged to read the first few pages of my story for the rest of the workshop attendees today. An important person liked it. Actually, I'm pretty sure more than one important person liked it, particularly when I consider that many people here are likely in a state of potential importance, whether it is to me personally, to the world at large, or something in between.

Elizabeth Bear tells us that stories are a loss leader. I wonder if they're also something like remainders: the revenue per unit is low, but then, so is the cost; and they can entice readers who might not want to commit to something bigger without first having a taste.

I'm going to sell this one: my first genre short story in two decades. I've been hoping all along that I would figure out how to get back into this part of my creative mind.

Another factor, besides this extraordinary gathering of my peers, is the physical beauty around me and the fact that I've taken the time to immerse myself in it, with some runs and walks and even a bit of yoga. As you can see above, it's a place of vivid colours and lively air. The sun has that ripe gold tint to it, as the year wanes. I defy anyone to come to a place like this and remain unstirred.

Murphy's Laws of Writing, In No Particular Order

  • It always takes twice as long as you think.
  • The wireless will go down just when you need to know the title of that poem.
  • If you have given only one bad review in your public life, that writer will find you, post flames on your blog, and do his or her level best to ensure that you never work in this town again.
  • The unexpected immersion of one's earphones in a glass of bourbon is a clear sign that it is time for bed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blogging live from Viable Paradise

...where skunks are having sex outside my window.

Yes. Skunks.

So far this week has been both hearteningly familiar and inspiringly strange. My face has developed a permanent flush from all the blood feeding my brain. I have not thought so many thoughts all at once since university; nor have I laughed so hard so many times in a day.

Our major writing assignment for the week has been a 5000-word dark fantasy story with an American Gothic theme. I have almost completed it and I've managed to grow it from a seed planted almost twenty years ago.

Big Note to Self: Keep those seed files. And add to them more often.

In addition to the length requirement and the theme, I was given a word that must be included in the title. Add to this my seed file idea; a conviction that all of this had something to do with Riley Child-rhymes with Hoosier Pictures, a book which I have not even seen since I was perhaps twelve years old; a few gestures toward Poe and Baudelaire, and the knowledge that the latter had a strange relationship with his mother. Behold: a story. My first genre story in twenty years.

May it find fertile ground. And may I find the momentum to write a few more, because this? Is fun.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In which I sit myself down for a Talk

I am reading a book given to me by my boss. It's entitled Getting Things Done. I have come to recognize that I am in need of such a book (and apparently, unfortunately, my boss has come to recognize the same thing).

I am behind in all of my to-do lists. At work: fifty unactioned emails, a presentation due at the end of the week that I haven't yet begun to write. In the house: the dinner dishes unwashed, the door of the study closed upon a mountain of clutter, and my mother is coming for dinner tomorrow. In my personal business: contact lenses about to expire and I haven't even ordered the new ones yet, and the banking was late last month, and I haven't done my expenses either. In my relationships: I owe someone a thank-you note, someone else a birthday call, someone else a reciprocal dinner invite. In my larger objectives: good God, I'm thirty-three years old and I haven't even got an agent, let alone sold a book.

This is rather new to me. I am beginning to get a sense of myself as a person who doesn't always get things done.

And yet I am generally considered efficient. Colleagues praise my responsiveness and my organization. I can always find my passport. I am rarely late. I bring the right files to meetings and I remember which books my mother wants to borrow when I go to visit.

Have I entered a phase in which my personal effectiveness has diminished? Have my coping strategies been defeated? Have my responsibilities finally become too numerous for me to handle? Would they be too numerous for someone else?

Since I don't know the answer, I hope this book can teach me something. And I hope I haven't procrastinated too terribly on something that will bite me in the ass this week. It has a bit of that feel.

Luckily, the one thing I always wish to do--even when I'm avoiding everything else--is write.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Appropriate responses to criticism

I love John Scalzi. I think I love him more as a blogger than as a novelist. (I like his novels but I'm not sure I love them. In fact, his Old Man's War is one of the books that spurred my earlier pondering about characters who are too lucky.) Why do I love Scalzi? Partly because I know he won't mind if I don't.

As a writer not yet significantly published, and also as a narcissist craving attention, I am quite looking forward to having reviews, and I hereby pledge to post them, no matter what they say. (Unless there are too many to post, in which case, I will proceed to party like a rock star.)


I know I'm not the only person to have found phonics a colossal waste of time. I think I was the only one in my third grade class to have worked ahead up to the end of the sixth grade syllabus, though, after which I was permitted to ignore the subject for several glorious years. Phonics bored and confused me--not the performance of the exercises, in which I excelled, but the whole subject itself. It seemed to me, at the time, to be about breaking up language into pieces small enough that they no longer had meaning. It wasn't like derivations, which led you back through history to stranger and older words; it was only about sounds, grunting inelegant sounds without meanings of their own.

I did not discover until well into adulthood that phonics was actually considered a mode of teaching reading. Why on earth would a person read by making sounds? Reading was much simpler than that, to me: the word wasn't a picture of a sound, it was a picture of a concept (and since I'd been doing it since before I started school, I had never thought about reading as a thing that needed to be taught). I think it was Stephen Pinker whose work revealed to me that most people think of language aurally, and therefore phonics and the spoken word form a necessary bridge between the concept and the written word.

I can accept that phonics is a useful tool when teaching aurally-centred students to read: to make the connection between the written word-picture and the spoken word it represents to them. What I have wondered ever since was whether students taught phonics ever went on to form the rest of the bridge: word to sound to concept.

Apparently some educators have been wondering the same thing, and have been trying to ensure the all-important concept doesn't get lost in the struggle to instill correct translation from word to sound. Margaret Wente expressed scorn for this idea in the Globe today. While I do obviously think part of reading instruction should be instilling the ability to spell and pronounce words, and that phonics can be a useful tool for this purpose, I was appalled at Wente's, and many of her commenters', insistence that deeper understanding is too much to expect from small children, and that its use in the classroom is some kind of liberal flummery.

Folks--are you seriously saying you'd rather see your kid spending hours sounding out "th--th--th, ff--ff--ff" instead of encouraging them to have a lively discussion about what the characters in the story are doing, and why? What do you do when you read--do you plow straight ahead as if you were taking medicine?

I don't. I linger over language; I re-read the climax, savouring the sting of the antagonist's downfall; I place myself in the characters' world and them in mine; I pause to look up a literary reference or a historical footnote; I repeat a passage to my husband while he eats his toast; and of all the words I've taken in, some of them I carry with me into the rest of my life, where they flavour and inform what else I do.

And because I have this skill, I want to come back for more. You want your kids to read? Make reading more than a collection of vowels and consonants. Make it a drug.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hops-day: 23 Fructidor

Reading a whole slew of science fiction this summer, including many titles I wouldn't have sought out for myself. A few are Community recommendations, and the rest are the informal syllabus for my upcoming writing workshop. I tend to read in patterns, usually by what feels like coincidence; for a month last year it was Tam Lin stories, and for the moment, it's military coming-of-age stories featuring guys with excellent brains and more than their fair share of good luck.

Would I notice these protagonists had been oversupplied with luck if I hadn't read all of these books in short order? Yes. It's a pet peeve, in fact. Things coming too easy, answers arriving in flashes of insight or coincidental conjunctions, tend to jar my suspension of disbelief. I can only be won back through a great deal of compensatory hardship for the protagonist.

On examination, though, I find I have no grounds for finding this ease unbelievable. I possess, after all, the type of brain that makes connections without showing its work. Many of my good ideas feel as if they've arrived in my brain straight from the gods. It shouldn't be a stretch for me to believe the same thing can happen to these protagonists: the only real difference is that the stakes are higher in genre fiction. (High stakes never seem to pose a suspension-of-disbelief problem for me when I'm reading about someone kicking the ass of a dozen goblins or zombies or ninjas.)

I could make a case for too-good timing: these guys always seem to have their inspirations in the nick of time, where some of mine come a fraction too late. But that's a pretty small quibble. In genre fiction, as in history, we tend to tell the stories of people who won, or at least survived. Generally when the stakes are high, winning or survival do require a bit more intelligence and/or luck than average.

Basically, as a person who in real life seems to be both fairly lucky and fairly smart, I don't have grounds for discounting characters with the same traits. However, I think I've figured out the pet peeve: despite having good luck and an OK brain, I still have to work hard. And it drives me batty when characters don't seem to have to do the same, when their luck or smarts are actually a substitute for hard work instead of a useful adjunct. Maybe it's writerly wish-fulfilment--as so many things are--but since it's a wish I don't share, I find it harder to forgive than the ones I do share (such as the wish for magical ass-kicking abilities).

So: In my own writing, my characters have a hard time of it. And now that I've had this little talk with myself, they'll have a harder time still.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

New Year

Being the child of a teacher, and a long-time student, I have never yet shaken a feeling that September marks the turning of the year. Not January, not my birthday, nor any of the old holy days.

To mark the turning, this year, I'm beginning this blog. My previous blog has now been deleted. It was a strange exercise: completely private in its way, because I never shared my username or URL with anyone, but the possibility of its becoming public ensured that I would do my best to make the entries coherent and relatively polished.

At least that was the theory.

The illusion of privacy was comforting, on the one hand, allowing me almost as much freedom as I have in my personal journals (those handwritten notebooks I've been keeping since I was thirteen or so: twenty of them now, at least, all stuffed in my filing cabinet). On the other hand, I found myself constrained by it: I could not use my blog ID to post anything more public without worrying that I would attract traffic to my blog and wreck its precious solitude.

So: apparently the world grows smaller every day, or I grow bigger within it, and I may as well get used to writing my opinions without the security of anonymity.

And it was getting a little bit boring, talking and talking, alone in a room with no one to answer back.