Monday, May 28, 2012

Goodbyes and Readings

So, the past week has been interesting.

Our flight to California leaves on Thursday morning, i.e. about 60 hours from now. All of our furniture and all of our stuff (including, unfortunately, my laptop charger) has been packed into boxes with miles and miles of gray paper and taped up and loaded onto a giant truck (tall enough to snap several low-hanging branches of the tree outside our house), and is tooling across our great and extremely wide nation at this very moment. Our cars have both been picked up, leaving us to drive my brother-in-law's car - and I have serious gratitude that the car is available to us, so we don't have to pay for a rental, but MAN. The thing has the turning radius of a yacht and smells weird enough to make me slightly carsick all the time.

Since Friday, all our big tasks have been wrapped up and finished. We're staying at Matt's parents' house, and they're away for the weekend. We've decided to treat the last few days as a vacation. We spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week packing and fraying our nerves, and I know exactly how much work awaits us when the boxes start getting opened, so a brief guilt-free vacation seems like a dandy idea. I've set aside my work for the time being, and we're hanging out on the breezy porch by the water and eating good food and spending gluttonous time with each other, around seeing friends whom we'll very much miss.

Last night we sat outside after dinner and took the air before bed. We were talking about our early memories when I looked at the dock and saw that, without us noticing, a blue heron had landed in the pool of light thrown by the lamp down there. It nicked its head back and forth, neck doubling and redoubling, the fingers of feathers on its breast ruffling in the light wind. As we watched, it stalked to one end of the dock, peered over the side, and did nothing for several long minutes. Then, in no hurry, it went to the other edge and gazed fixedly at the water lapping against the pilings for so long that we gave up and went inside before it caught anything. I thought about how fishermen would likely be inspired by this heron's patience, the way it looked and looked and looked at the water, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I wondered if it had babies to feed.

I taught my last yoga class yesterday afternoon, and it was a sad thing. My brain hasn't quite gotten that I'm finished with my yoga responsibilities; I don't have the stamped FINISHED feeling that I usually have about something like this. Perhaps I'm thinking that on Thursday, instead of taking a flight, I'll just have to head in to the Odenton studio again in the evening and spend an hour making jokes with my regulars. That was a much sadder class to say goodbye to than either of the Ridgely classes, but few of my regulars showed for the Ridgely ones. (They always desert slow-paced classes when spring hits.)

I also read Guilty Pleasures, the first Anita Blake book, and read/skimmed a book called Under Wraps in the last week. I didn't really enjoy either one of them. But they definitely helped me garner some insight on the urban fantasy genre, and I kept the receipt for both, so, score. I still have plenty of material for the next few days and for the plane flights: Ganymede, Plague Town, Just Cause, and the two most recent Sookie books. I read last year's Sookie book...last year, but I don't remember it well enough to jump right in to this year's, and yes, I caved and bought the hardback. Guilty. I kept the receipt for that, too, but by the time I'm finished with both books, we'll be a few thousand miles away from that particular B&N.

The point of that paragraph was to say that, having read these two books, I now feel confident about discarding all the rules for my KUFC book. I could keep doing research and reading books for another six months, but that'd just be dawdling when I know what I'm going to do. I can't wait to get started. I'm sure that feeling will evaporate a few chapters in, but for now, golly gee, oh boy.

Oh! And I also read a romance novel this week. I haven't read any romance since I was about 12, but I read the query for this one and it hooked my interest as surely as it hooked Kristin Nelson's, so I ordered it from Amazon and sped the hell through it. It was awesome! I'm definitely reading more from this author. It was great fun to read something for which I had zero expectations and be pleasantly surprised by how witty it was. Huzzah for totally anachronistic historical romance! And sexy sex!

Monday, May 21, 2012

KUFC (New, with Parkour Action!)

On Wednesday, I wrote this:
I guess I pictured that those ubiquitous kickass book-cover chicks would be parkouring all over a sooty Gotham with explosively powerful crossbows. In fact, yes, that's exactly what I pictured when I thought of "urban fantasy". 
After reading my post, Matt messaged me and said "You should just write this book." I joked back that I totally should. And then I thought about it for another day and the joke part sort of faded.

This is concept art from Diablo III (and has some of the problems of fantasy figures of women) (PUT HER DAMN HAIR BACK), but this is sort of what I picture. Only...steampunk. Oh yes: steampunk crossbow parkour chick. I'm giddy with the awesomeness, and 95% committed to writing this book.

I toyed with several central ideas, but over the course of the weekend I finally settled on one that I like, not involving demons or vampires or werewolves as the main enemy, and giving my chick a backstory that makes the skin crawl. I also went to Barnes & Noble and picked up a dozen books with kickass urban fantasy chicks (KUFCs) on the covers, reading the backs, putting them down again. I very much doubt that they were all the same on the inside, I give published writers more credit than that, but they all seemed the same from the back covers. I bought the first Anita Blake book, because I think you could make the case that that's where all this came from, and a book called Under Wraps about a demon hunter in San Francisco, and Plague Town, which really doesn't have much to do with all this but which Steve Saffel talked up a lot at the PPWC. A day later, when I settled on steampunk, I went back and bought Ganymede.

See, because I haven't actually read that much of this stuff. Particularly steampunk - I've read one steampunk short story to date, and it stank so much that I figured it was just an art that I'd enjoy visually from here on out. (It was that bad.) And although I've read all the Sookie books, I haven't read any KUFC books, or any real urban fantasy in the new wave - I've read Neverwhere and nearly all of the anthology I mentioned the other day and short stories in Weird Tales and the like, but no novels in the zeitgeist, and not much that resembles what I want to write.

Recent events, though, have made me debate internally whether this is a bad thing. Most of my grounding as a writer comes from non-commercial fiction. I haven't read many of the books that establish the rules of engagement for writing stories about fairies and elves and robots, so I tend to break them without realizing it. I have always believed (through significant insecurity, of course) that this makes for better work, because when you don't feel compelled to play by a certain set of rules, you wind up with more original ideas. Ask any entrepreneur. If you can't find what you want to use or own or read, do it yourself, and someone will probably like it the way it is.

I thought that this potential originality made up a little bit for the confusion faced by readers who are expecting some particular thing and instead get something else with different rules. But recently I've gone back and forth about that. I still don't want my work to be formulaic, but I do want it to get sold. And there's no way around the basic problem of not knowing my market.

My conclusion for right now is to sketch out the fundaments of my KUFC idea before reading all the books I bought the other day, and then read them to see how the details are done. This was the same thing I did with my Greenland book - I wrote a lot of it, and complained to Matt about how hard it is to build a world underground, and he told me to read Homeland, and I did, and it helped with the detail and with addressing the illogical aspects of living underground. I was really glad I didn't read it first, though, because it would have skewed and influenced stuff that it shouldn't've, and made the work less my own.

Anyway. Matt points out that the Marilyn book will take a lot longer than this KUFC one, so I should write this one first. I'm happy to take that advice. Anything that delays the Marilyn book. I also have a couple of short stories on the brain: one literary based on a nightmare I had, one slipstream that will help me clear some emotional chaff out of my life. Or so I hope. And we have to pack all of our stuff THIS WEEK and get ready to live in a completely empty house for another week. Yippee. At least that'll be a week to get a lot of reading done whilst sitting on the cold hard floor.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Yesterday morning, I did the Warrior Dash. And it was so awesome! The thing that is not awesome is how the muscles in my body felt (seemingly every last one of them) this morning.

The thing that concerned me about this course going into it was the obstacles. I've been training to run 3 miles since March, so while I still wasn't anywhere close to comfortable with running a few miles, I was pretty sure that the upper body strength required for the obstacles was going to be the real problem. And I didn't know a way to really train for those - climbing over cargo nets and up diagonal walls using a rope, hurdling and then limboing under logs, etc. What do you do to train for that? Parkour? I did some weight-lifting along with running, but I knew that short of P90X I was unlikely to become an upper-body beast.

Well, turns out the running part was a zillion times harder than I'd expected, because the hilliness of the course was ri-goddamn-diculous. I walked probably about half the way, which was a bit embarrassing, but I was definitely not alone. The groups of people running/walking around me were certainly self-selecting, because the fast ones had already gotten ahead of us, but as well as I could do was about as well as they could do, which was nice. (And race results indicate I was firmly in the middle of finishing times, which is totally okay with me.) The obstacles were mostly fun and awesome, but today my arms are telling me that I Did Stuff yesterday that I don't normally do. And I did walk around a single obstacle, a vertical wall, because there weren't enough knots in the rope for me to be able to climb up. I tried it, but couldn't do it. Again, very much okay with me. The only people climbing it while I was there were hoo-wa type dudes.

The thing that was so great about it was the little accomplishments - after I climbed up and over an obstacle I felt this rush of YES I JUST DID THAT. Most of the triumphs of my life have been long-haul ones, like graduating from college or finishing a novel or something, and ones that only take a few minutes and feel awesome to have done have been pretty unusual. And jeez, they feel good. I wish I'd known that before now.

Getting muddy as hell and not caring would have been a lot more fun if the mud hadn't been really grossly smelly. I don't know whether it was, uh, local mud? or if it was dirt that they brought with them and mudded up or something, but PEW. GRODY.

I had planned to write a step-by-step explanation of the course, because when Googling to try and learn more about it before I did it, there wasn't much help for me and I wanted to help those who came later. But honestly, that doesn't sound like much fun to write or to read, so I'm going to forego it. If you're reading this in the future and are really anxious about whether you can do the Maryland Warrior Dash and want to know more, please e-mail me, I'm happy to help. I will say my best possible tip would be that if you're training, train on hills. I had no earthly idea how hilly this course would be. I'm pretty sure I walked as much as I did just because the hills wore me out so badly, not necessarily because the obstacles were crazy hard.

There was a giant waterslide that was a hell of a lot more fun than I could have imagined. God, it was a blast. The climbing obstacles were built for people with longer legs and more upper body strength than me, i.e. men, which was sort of obnoxious to discover. If I'd been even a little shorter, there were some obstacles that I'm not sure I could have done at all. But the best part was that most of the people that I came in contact with weren't super-competitive, they were just there to do the thing, like I was. (Probably all the competitive guys were ahead of the rest of us.) There was some running and some walking and some encouragement, and absolutely no one was a jerk. I really, really enjoyed that.

I'm sorry I've missed blogging for a couple of days. Unsurprisingly, it's been a busy time, trying to get things in shape for the move. Matt came home on Friday, thank GOD, and we've had a lot to do. I will have writing things to say tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm so damned happy that I did this and wanted to share it with you. I can't wait to do another event like this, maybe a Zombie Race. Or another Dash!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Isn't It Just Contemporary Fantasy?

In my local library, the SF and fantasy are in a section far away from the regular fiction section, and in fact are in the same area as teen fiction. I am not in love with what this connotes but, you know, oh well. I was browsing along the shelves a few weeks ago and came upon The Urban Fantasy Anthology, edited by Beagle and Lansdale and with a few top-notch authors in it, and picked it up. I've heard an awful lot about urban fantasy in the last five years, and seen increasing numbers of these terrible covers at Barnes & Noble, but if you asked me to define it I could only guess lamely. (Related to that link and well worth reading: this. Also this, funnier still.) I thought it would help to read a whole anthology of the actual genre.

There are no fewer than four introductions in this book, and three of them mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When I saw that, I went [oh.] So that's what urban fantasy is. It would be nice if they'd just said that.

As I work my way through the stories, a lot of what I read reminds me of Charlaine Harris's Sookie books, which I read voraciously whenever they're released (every year on the dot - actually, it's May, isn't it? Yessss!) and which I love for their transparency and speed and sex scenes. I would never call them great literature, and some of them I wouldn't even call good writing. They are, however, extremely fun. But there's a sort of studied casualness to the fantasy aspects of both those books and these stories that I find hampering. I remember, when reading Neverwhere, how effortlessly Gaiman introduced London Below, and how he didn't linger or waste words on supernatural stuff when it wasn't necessary. This is hard to do while building a genuine world, really really hard, and some of the authors in this anthology don't seem to have mastered it.

The thing that bothers me, though, is how ho-hum the stuff that comprises "urban fantasy" seems to me. In the anthology, I've read a pretty good but more or less standard ghost story; a lovely Gaiman story, wistful and imaginative and really very unfantastic (and not at all encouraging to someone moving to Los Angeles in a few weeks); a story by Lansdale that I truly hated, a dudeish post-apocalyptic zombie/sex bloodbath without a single pleasant sentence; and a few others in the realm of fantasy that I enjoyed, but that I wouldn't call urban. I guess I pictured that those ubiquitous kickass book-cover chicks would be parkouring all over a sooty Gotham with explosively powerful crossbows. In fact, yes, that's exactly what I pictured when I thought of "urban fantasy". Is there a book like that, one that's actually decent? Because I'd read that.

In other news, I have another story idea. This one might keep me from having to write the old old idea that I fear fucking up, or from having to iron out the Marilyn book until I get my nerve up.

In the last week, I've completely gorged on Twilight Rifftrax, watching all four released movies with their accompanying riffs. It's really helped. While I'm not exactly embarrassed about the thoughtfulness with which I've (perhaps needlessly) approached the series in the past and the complete sucker that the romance bits made of me, I did want to have a more objective view of the whole thing. Rifftrax has helped with that a lot, although I still find myself being a sucker for certain aspects of the movies.

That suckerism, along with some gender reading I've done in the past couple of weeks, made me ache desperately to write...something. Some kind of thing that would explore idealism and yearning in relationships, that would get down to real words all the vaguenesses I feel when I read romance novels and watch Edward and Bella getting it on. An essay wouldn't do it, wouldn't give me the freedom I needed. So I was really grateful when I came up with this idea. It's sci-fucking-fi, AGAIN. Digging myself in deeper. I suppose I could mutate it to more present-moment fantasy, make it fae instead of techy, but that's not how I picture it right now.

Of course, writing will have to wait until I get some actual frickin' sleep. Or have my house packed and ready to move. Or find a renter. Or...daaaaaaah.

In this post I've copped to devouring Sookie Stackhouse books and getting roped in by Twilight. If you're just joining me for the first time, I promise I'm not always such an airhead. It's just, y'know, you have to read everything. High, low, creamy middle. Stick only to uppercrust stuff and you become Harold Bloom: soulless, snobby, relentlessly confused about why the world doesn't agree with you. I'LL GET YOU ONE DAY, BLOOM! BLOOOOOOOM!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Discerning the Truth

SO YEAH, California. Just like Jimmy in The Wizard. Califooooornia. If I'm lucky I'll get to play Super Mario 3 and see the big fake dinosaurs. [1]

But that's not what I want to talk about today, folks. I want to mudpuddle around in a Topic instead. I read this article this morning about David Sedaris, and the wee problem that some of his stories might not be strictly true. It's the latest in a long line of articles I've read about memoir authors not sticking perfectly to facts, a topic I never seem to get tired of reading about. This fascinating article/book review about fact-checking is probably the most memorable one for me, mostly because of the third-to-last paragraph turning the whole thing on its head. It's a subtopic for another day, but that article did 75% of the work of convincing me that I can't be a professional writer of nonfiction, not even essays. I don't "massage" very well.

I believe in truth. It's the bedrock of how I live. One of the most startling compliments I've ever gotten was Matt telling me that I have a relationship to the truth that's well out of the ordinary. Part of why I love fiction so much is my devotion to truth - I believe that fiction shows us truth that only the absolute best writers of nonfiction can convey. Life is hardly ever all one thing or another, and I think nonfiction tends to need to sweep people and their actions down into specific drawers, labeled clearly, where they can be stored and safe. Fiction has the power to show us our myriad facets by showing us many characters; one of the best realizations I ever made was seeing that the five main characters in Fraggle Rock, a big influence on my childhood, are five different aspects of pretty much any personality [2], all of which we need to call upon at different times in our lives.

I'm addicted to the articles on, because they tend to take the time to really explore all the sides of a person or an issue. Virtually never are real human people just evil or just good or just bigoted or just pitiable. [3] When you have several thousand words to kick around, it means you have the time to explore all the available contradictions, which is invaluable to people who read.

So when I find out that writers mix the truth with not-quite-the-truth and market their work as nonfiction, I'm never sure what to think. The James Frey thing made me a little mad, but mostly thoughtful, because although I think Frey himself is a pretty poor poster child for this sort of thing - his fiction factory disgusts me, and I don't enjoy his work - the inner issue remains compelling. If people read his book, felt something, were moved, does it matter that those feelings were brought on by falsehoods? Is it appropriate to feel cheated by an emotional experience that was true if the inspiration for the experience was not?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Orderly, Solvable

One of the great pastimes of my life is Freecell. I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I swear to you it's true. When I'm working on a knotty game that takes me more than a couple of tries to get through, I consider it serious work, a genuine problem that has to be solved, to which I have to devote time and effort. No different from an equation. It's a hobby, yes, but I don't find it incidental.

It was early, the talent I developed for Freecell. High school. I had a friend ask me once about a game that he'd tried repeatedly to solve and couldn't get to the end of, and I had it done within three tries as he watched. He was openmouthed. It's stupid, but I'm still really proud of that look on his face.

Right now I consider it a sort of in-between thing I like to do. When I need a break from work, whether writing or copy-edit work, I tend to play a game or two to remind my brain that I can, in fact, solve problems, so I can move on with the less mechanical ones that need solving.

Something I had to learn about Freecell is that you can't really succeed if you play it safely. There are times when, in order to move forward in the game, you have to jump, fill up all four empty slots with no certainty that you'll find a space for everything waiting underneath. If you are very methodical, if you take the time to sort through all the possible combinations, going one card to the next to find out what'll happen when and if you make the next moves, there's no real risk involved. However, I don't know about you, but I can't keep all those what-ifs in my head at once. (Not in this head, which can remember ridiculous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon trivia but can't always calculate 20% without painful concentration.) Sometimes I just have to leap.

It's occurred to me recently that this is a life lesson, too. There are times when I can't be certain that what I'm doing next is going to lead to ultimate happiness, but there are just too many possibilities, too many potential combinations of cards atop each other, for me to make reasonable predictions. You've gotta fill up the slots anyway, you know, take the risk, or it's not life.

One of the other things I've noticed, about Freecell certainly, is that problems seem to unknot themselves more easily if you walk away for a little while and come back later. Sometimes I'll take an hour between a stuck-place in Freecell and the next time I look at the game, and it's just completely different. Why didn't I see that this move and that one, too, are possible? Poof, everything's sorted out and finished.

Matt looked it up for me once, and I think there's a single unsolvable Freecell game programmed in with the other 37,000. If I were a sincere hobbyist, I would probably make a log of all the ones I'd solved and try to do them all in my lifetime. But I'm really not that obsessive. I just like Freecell; I like its orderliness, and I like the way it helps everything seem solvable, with enough time and enough thought and enough ctrl-Z. I still tend to be skittish about permanence, but there isn't much in Freecell and life that you can't reapproach, can't try to solve a different way. If all else fails, sleep on it. It'll probably look different in the morning.

Among other items I need to sleep on this week, Matt was hired by Neversoft. We're moving to California.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Suspiciously Fragile Camel

Today's blog day, and I've been racking my brain all day long for something to write about here. Nothing coherent is coming to mind, so I'll do bits and pieces instead.

I've consumed a lot of great media lately, but it's been, like, YouTube videos of artists I know I love, or movies that everybody else in the dang world has also seen and loved, or whatever. Nothing new to say there.

A lot of stupid homeowner crap is going on. I'm trying to get the house clean for guests I'm having on Sunday and I am so miserable at cleaning. I have a fancy new washing machine, and that's good, but it cost a lot and I suspect it contains potassium benzoate, and that's bad.

I ran just over 2.5 miles yesterday and it about killed me. Completely square one compared to the 3 miles I ran last week. The Warrior Dash, which has been the whole point of these stupid shin splints and sore arms and hassle and whatnot, is in a week and a half so it's hardly relevant for much longer, but lesson learned: do NOT wait a week between runnings unless I want to lose serious ground. 3 days, max.

I'm twiddling my thumbs over the sci-fi story until it's time to tear through it for the open-door revision, which will happen around Monday. Can't wait. I'm thinking about starting something else, but I'm so stressed and spun up about personal shit that I think writing on a new project would be adding a big bale of hay to the back of a grumpy-ass and suspiciously fragile camel.

I taught my last class this morning at a location where I've been teaching since January, and I am enormously relieved. It might have been a bad move strategically to stop teaching there, but MAN it feels good to be free of that place.

Facebook has become sort of a problem for me lately. I've been keeping it open all day long and watching it like a hawk for interesting or respondable stuff, and it's, uh...really not good for me to do this. In the last couple of days I've gotten involved in some interesting conversations on Facebook with film people, which has really redeemed the whole enterprise in my mind, but I know I need to stop. I need to put it down and back away. And not care what's happening on Facebook every damn minute of the day.

I developed this theory about why we're so obsessed with our devices. I think it's because these devices promise intimacy and human connection, and then they don't quite deliver the way we hope they will, and so we click them off disappointedly and then come back 15 seconds later hoping that this time there will be more to the interaction.

That's part of the draw Facebook has for me - that and all the downright interesting stuff that flows through my feed. Neat links and funny pictures and just clever minds at work. But I need to click it off and concentrate on my own stuff. Easily said, hard to do. Especially because Facebook has made it so that it's very difficult to be sure and certain that you haven't missed anything. Which is kind of a thing for me.

I've been reading this writer's chapter-by-chapter smackdown critique of 50 Shades of Grey, and I am SO glad she's relieving me of the burden of reading this book. Omigoodness. She's extremely funny, which doesn't hurt, but she's also clearheaded and smart, which is by far the best part. Here's chapter one and you can go from there, if you so choose. Right now she's running a contest to name the, in romance parlance, member of a main character, and the entries made me snort and nearly fall out of my chair.

That's all for now, sports fans. Although, if you are sports fans, I don't know why you're here; I don't like sports.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Guess There's Always Tylenol PM

This sleep thing isn't funny anymore.

I was a serious insomniac when I was a child. People don't usually buy this, but it's true. I remember having trouble sleeping when I was still in a bunk bed in Norfolk, Virginia, and I lived there from age 5 to age 10. I'd lie awake, looking at the ceiling, listening to Anne Murray (my parents' solution), worrying that burglars were going to break in and kill my father.

In middle school, I learned that I can't get to sleep or stay asleep if the light's wrong, or there are specific noises in the room. This is still true. And waking up in the morning? I had to change my alarm about every six months, and its location even more frequently. I'd either sleep through it, if the screeching hideous sound was too familiar, or I'd get up, turn it off, and go back to bed while still completely asleep.

In high school, I stayed up too late most of the time. (I've since read that teenagers' circadian rhythms are such that they're developmentally intended to stay up late and get up late.) I also learned about "missing the window" - where you're really tired and ready for bed all through the evening, but if you stay up too late, you get restless all over again and can't sleep, and the hours get more and more wee while you toss.

College was the golden time: I slept properly in college. During my junior year, there were periods where I retreated completely from my friends and normal college life, and I lived and died by Early to Bed, Early to Rise. I was sleeping 9 hours a night. My dark circles, which have been a part of my face since I was 10, started to fade. It was the best.

In the near-decade since then, I've felt like it's been a gradual decline, that my sleep patterns have gotten worse and worse and worse, until now, they're delicate and dysfunctional and impossible to predict. I've had long stretches where I wake up at 3:30 and can't sleep until 5:45, and then there were the weeks when I woke up every hour and a half exactly from 1:30 on, and then there was the super-early waking, which didn't last as long as the others.

Recently, no matter what time I go to bed, I wake up at 7:30 or 8:00, never later. After The Avengers on Saturday night, I didn't get to sleep until 2, and woke up the next morning at 7:30, right on the button. I always tend to go to bed later when Matt's not around, and I can't seem to stick to a routine of going to bed at a solid and decent hour in the last month. I work and dawdle and screw around on the internet and reread blog posts and watch the last half hour of the movie and read another 10 pages of the book. And then when I do get to bed, I don't get to sleep quickly. And when I do get to sleep, it's a brittle sleep, easily broken.

Last night I don't think I slept solidly for more than four hours, between 2:30 and 6:30. I was tossing from midnight on, and when I started waking up (it's a gradual process, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there) I felt heavy and restless and couldn't stay in bed.

During my 20s I solved this problem by taking melatonin every night, which kept me in a thick sleep rather than an insubstantial one and helped me sleep for eight straight hours every time. But after years of that, I started having bad loginess and stoned-ness during the mornings, lasting almost until lunchtime, and decided not to take it again. Valerian root helped me enormously during my wedding week (during which I think I slept about 20 hours, total, during all 6 nights), but it's not a silver bullet; sometimes I sleep just as badly on it.

It's so damn hard to concentrate with this going on. How well I sleep affects everything about how I live during the day. All I can do in the morning is feel like shit and curse myself for not going to bed earlier, for not being able to sleep later; all I can do in the evening is fret about what will happen when I inevitably fail to do the right thing and go to bed too late. Or what will happen if I do go to bed on time and my brain won't let me fall asleep.

Is it time to visit my doctor? I don't necessarily want to take nightly sleeping pills ad infinitem, but I'd really like just one fucking week where I get a good night's sleep every night, where I feel refreshed instead of miserable in the morning, where I don't sit up at night hating myself for not finding a way to fix the constant hung-over sensation. I mean, a lot of this is behavioral, but if I got a prescription I might be able to take the sleep thing more seriously and set no-nonsense deadlines for bedtime. Or I'll end up with a dependency that'll last another 10 years, by which time surely my sleep patterns will change yet again.

In other news, the draft of the sci-fi story's complete. I'm letting it rest in tinfoil and soak up its own juices for a week before I do the second revision and send it to those who have expressed interest. Matt liked it. I believe his exact words were "Robot be crazy."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Villains Are No Joke

Last night before bed, I read The Killing Joke, which I had unearthed in the course of cleaning yesterday. It was not very smart, I admit, to read this right before trying to sleep; it wouldn't leave my mind. 

Wikipedia discusses how the depraved treatment of Barbara Gordon in the comic is focused proof of a horribly misogynistic mindset, particularly in comic books but also in the wider world. That on its own is a post I wish I had the skill to write, because it ties in with my point of view on the problems of women in combat and the way I believe we will move forward in gender relations (hint: it's not through total equality). But the article also says that a lot of experts have called The Killing Joke the ultimate Joker story, and that's today's knot to untie. Or, more accurately, to fiddle around with until it's un-untieable. 

At the Thursday program at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I sat through a day of lecture with Donald Maass (who is pretty wonderful, if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, and not remotely what I expected). It didn't resemble any lecture I've ever attended; there was a lot of prompting by him and a lot of writing by us, and not a lot of actual lecture. One of the topics was what makes a compelling character, and we started with protagonists and moved on to antags. Great great heroes are characters like Frodo, brave and self-sacrificing but flawed and susceptible to weakness, or Scarlett, relentlessly flawed but utterly compelling. Heroes seem to behave under stress either how we know we would behave, or how we sincerely hope we would. Great great villains - well, I hoped the first one to come up would be Hannibal Lecter, because I wanted to hear from an expert what was so great about him. 

Hannibal fascinates me, for quite a few reasons, and I remember freewriting many years ago in an attempt to figure out what makes him so urgently interesting. I decided that his draw came from the fact that his only motive to do such appalling things was preference - that he liked to eat people, and that was sort of all. Presumably he got some pleasure out of killing, too, but the key was that he just enjoyed cannibalism, one of the most ingrained taboos of Western society. 

How did he get that way? This is the question that keeps the reader reading (along with "what is he going to do next?"), but there's no answer that could possibly satisfy us. Also, the fact that - and I'm no psychologist, but this is my theory - he's totally sane, not actually unhinged but just with a different set of ethics than 99% of the population, is quite frightening to the average reader/viewer. If he was unhinged, I don't think he'd be able to accomplish what he does, be as methodical as he is. 

A villain who didn't come up, but to whom I've given a lot of thought, both before and after this lecture, is the Joker. I think Nolan's vision of the Joker (the Joker via 9/11, as it were) is quite different than the comic version, and while I was reading The Killing Joke I was thinking of Hamill, not Ledger. But when I was done, my mind went back to Ledger, because the Dark Knight Joker evokes many more character questions for me than the comic Joker. A character who just wants to watch the world burn - so why does he make the specific choices he does? Is he sane, or not? What leads him to value his own life at all? Does he have an ego, or is he 100% id - the total opposite of egocentric, with no personality recognizable to the DSM? And the question Batman seems to be asking all throughout The Killing Joke: how do you defeat this creature without killing it? 

I was disappointed that The Killing Joke presented an origin story that I think we as readers were supposed to buy. Ledger's Joker, with several explanations, none of which explained anything worth knowing, was much closer to what I would have wanted from this character. Like Hannibal, no explanation of how he got this way could possibly satisfy; he is too far away from us. He just is a cannibal; he just is a terrorist. 

From here, I could move on to explain how I integrated these lessons into the villain in my own book, but it doesn't really interest me this morning. Instead, I'll leave you with an idea that I'd love to have contradicted by people who've read more graphic novels than me: Alan Moore genuinely hates humanity. I think he really believes that the human race is bad at the core. While redemption is a powerful idea for him, it doesn't seem to me that he really believes in it. Commissioner Gordon's plea for Batman to show the Joker that "our way works" made me laugh out loud in my bedroom last night. Give me a fucking break. The Joker won't ever see that, not ever, and Gordon is four goddamn years old if he actually believes his own words there. Alan Moore doesn't buy it either, if you ask me - the idealism of that panel was utterly out of step with the rest of the comic. It all seemed artificial, suddenly; all at once, it was obvious that I was reading a comic book. 

And finally, I'd like to note that every single panel of that comic was a spectacular work of art. Visually, it was completely arresting, more so than any graphic novel I've read. (Although I admit that's not saying much.) It reminded me of walking through a museum. Well done, all. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Write Me

One of the best pieces of feedback I've gotten for the [non-]horror novel so far is a reader saying that the main characters seemed to be eating an awful lot, constantly sitting down to meals. She said would probably be too upset to eat most of the time. Due to my blood sugar issues, I'm constantly thinking about my next meal, and I know I transferred that to the book in a way it doesn't really belong. The problem upon revision is what activity I can give my characters to gather them all together periodically so they can have conversations. There aren't any TVs where they are, and it's hard to imagine them just kind of sitting together in the same room with no purpose to the gathering.

I gave it some thought, and hey, you know, maybe they'd play cards. It feels like an antique activity to me, but what do you do when you're stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of other people? You do what your grandparents did. I had a brainwave that one of the characters could play clock solitaire, a game I played when I was a little girl (I was an only child), because, you know, the book is about time and it's clock solitaire. But I couldn't remember how to play clock solitaire, and I'd need to know that to put it in the book.

I looked it up on the internet, but the instructions on the internet were completely different from the way my mom taught me to play, and much more complicated. The notion wouldn't leave me be last night, before I went to sleep, that I had to remember how to play. It felt a little desperate that I couldn't recall. So I unearthed a deck of cards in my house and laid out the clock on my bed.

After a few rounds, I remembered how I used to play, but it took the physical act of laying out the cards to jog my brain. The cards I found have never been used, to my memory, and they were slippery, sliding toward me over the sheets. And I couldn't win a hand. I was tired, and ready to sleep, but I was just determined to win a round before I put the cards away and went to sleep. I played for nearly half an hour, the pre-sleep white-noise app on my phone creating a thunderstorm around me, and ultimately never did win. I want very much to go back to it this morning, to play until I manage to organize the cards in the proper way. And I can't cheat. I cheated at Solitaire when I was a lass, but I'm too damn old to do it now and look myself in the mirror.

Part of what wouldn't let me alone about this experience was the deck of cards itself. The only cards I knew we had in the house - unless I had given them to charity, which I thought I might have, and I was so relieved when I found them in the little drawer where they've likely been sleeping for about five years - was a deck of Marilyn Monroe playing cards given to me by an ex-boyfriend. He gave me a lot of little Marilyn things like this, because I got interested in her while we were together. The idea of the novel I want to write about her had started to stir and wake even then, all those years ago. Marilyn magnets and bargain Marilyn photography books and a Marilyn purse, he gave me. I still have most of it.

Last night, the pictures of her on these cards were...haunting is the wrong word. She doesn't haunt me; she's too alive, too dynamic to haunt. Mesmerizing isn't quite the right word either, too dark. Impelled me, these cards did, implored me: write my book, Kat. Write me. Set me forth, the way you've been telling yourself you will for six years.

I've got to finish the sci-fi story, about which I'm pretty confident, and I'm thinking of doing a couple of other, smaller projects in between, but the Marilyn book is the Next Big Thing. I'm just ultra-anxious about it, too anxious to begin. I made a start on it years ago, and my pages were rotten. Too fawning, too personal. I have a decent story and thematic construct in my head, which is more than I had then, but I'd like to have a better handle on it all before I get going. A lot of books about her (some claiming to have new information and insight) have come out in the last six or seven years, and I really should read some of them, not depend solely on Spoto. I'd also like to be sure that it's not going to implode once I get in there. But I guess you can never really know that, right?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oh, and Whatever You Do, Avoid Sex

I am concentrating so poorly on work that it's time to think about something else.

I've written 6,000 words on the sci-fi story. It's gone in a direction that I'm not sure I personally agree with; the central why-I'm-not-human thing that my android is focused on has turned out to be a different actual thing than I wanted it to be. I'm also worried that I've done fly-bys on too many big ideas for such a small space. And that I'm too much influenced by Penny Arcade's brilliant Automata series. I admit to writing in that world, a little bit - not trying to poach their idea, but sketching a story that sort of overlaps that world. And I definitely borrowed the word "automata" from them.

But I'm traveling on into it. If it turns out all wrong, at the end, I'll just Fictate its ass. Go back and rewrite. Re-right. I'm pretty sure I can finish draft one before the end of the week - tomorrow, in all likelihood.

The thing that's most prominent on my to-do list is getting back to people. Three separate people deserve reader feedback from me, and I've only done about half the reading I need to do for them. After that is the day job, which went well enough for me yesterday that I went to a matinee of The Cabin in the Woods, which I'll get to in a moment. Beyond that is cleaning. People are coming over to the house in about a week and a half, and the house is in no state for visitors, not in the least. I've been living like a bachelor. Possibly like a fraternity brother. It's made me far happier than I expected to just let go of all that worry, all that self-abuse, but it does mean that there's a lot more to do to make the house appropriate for others to enter. (I'm not gross, just messy as hell. Shoes left where I stepped out of them, clothes flung everywhere, books and mail not put away or sorted, etc.) The writing, though, is floating over all those priorities. As long as I'm ready to put words on the page, that's first. I'm just not always ready.

The Cabin in the Woods was such a pleasure. So expertly written, from skin to bones. No one has captured this generation's voice better than Whedon, and even though there's something a little precious about his style, he still writes the most natural dialogue in Hollywood. And he was the perfect guy to co-write this movie, because deliberately tropey characters need good dialogue in order not to bore the audience to tears.

For those of you who have read my time-manipulation book, the [non-]horror novel, I set out with sort of the same goal in mind as Cabin's creators obviously had. I put my monster under the stairs; I had six "sexy teens" come to a lodge in the middle of nowhere. I evoked some of the standard identities, a little - the clown, the ditz, the hippie chick. (No jock, that didn't interest me.) In my latest draft, I succeeded in making my main character say she'd be right back when she definitely wouldn't. I had hoped to hide a bunch of other horror cliches in the book, too. For fun - for my own amusement, and for that of the audience, whoever noticed the nods. Ultimately the writing took me to a deeper place emotionally than I expected, so I abandoned much of that, which is why it's a supernatural thriller rather than really being horror.

In any case, there's such a small cache of lovely smart horror films like this one (Scream leaps to mind; it never gets old for me), and while I still think slasher flicks that are written straight can be a lot of fun (jeez, look at Drag Me to Hell), watching it all get deliberately offered up to the maw of Audience God was even more fun. Not to be missed if you ever cackled at a topless, fake-blood-drenched chick with a fake knife sticking out of her back.

How's that for alliteration?