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.