Friday, June 29, 2012


I don't know how it is for other writers, but every time I take a long hiatus from doing fiction, I always have this little needling worry that when I decide to write again, the machine will be broken, and somehow words won't come out when I put my fingers on the keys. It's a relief when the machine chunka-chunka-CATCHes back up again, coughcoughSPUTTER, and the words come.

Last night I wrote my prologue. Just shy of 2,000 words, and I wrote it good, in words I'm proud of.
The ache in me won’t subside. Couldn’t Racchi have been kind? To betray once, and then twice, and for it to have cost him nothing, encourages a cool voice to say that I’d been wrong about him all along. That there is no taming a thaiad, even a half-blood, and he was just a chimpanzee trussed up in evening clothes of my manufacture. He’d still screech and mess himself. Nothing but an animal.
But then, perhaps the same is true of me.
I decided semi-firmly to write this one in first person. I've stayed away from first person in the last few years, for the most part. Most of my juvenilia is in first person, and I tend to get lazy when I write in it. I make my character a lot more like me than like herself (or himself), and I do a lot of asides and emotional explaining, and the whole thing gets to be a lot more like a blog post than a work of fiction. So it'll be a disciplinary exercise to write this in first person and not do all of that.

One of the ways I got around this problem in the past was by writing shifting first-person for my sci-fi novella. I had a genuine purpose to the three characters I chose to rotate - they all had very different things to contribute to the story, and they shared a particular fate that took place at the end - but when I read over it the last time, I agreed with one of my beta readers that shifting between the characters, all "I"s, was a little confusing. I think I managed to give the characters distinct voices, but when they were working on the same thing, sometimes you didn't notice the name change in the chapter break.

In any case, I think I'm going with first person for this one. I might change my mind a few chapters in, if I can't distinguish Berra's voice from my own, or if it doesn't feel right. This decision was also drawn from the urban fantasy I read - two of the series books I read were in first person.

Speaking of reading, I am finally almost done with a steampunk anthology I started about a month ago. It's a 500-page anthology, in my defense, but honestly, after this experience, I don't know if anthology reading is for me. I find it emotionally exhausting to read all these different authors and all these different stories all mashed up against each other. The same is true in miniature in books of short stories by the same author. I get immersed in the world and the characters, and then the author yanks me out of it and we go on to the next thing. Like living a hundred lives in a single day.

Finally now I have read good steampunk, thanks to this anthology. I enjoyed some of these stories immensely, and some of them I found really blah. All of the writers seem to have enthusiasm for the trappings of steampunk, but not all of them make those trappings integral parts of the stories. Some of them are just telling a story with clockwork and airships duct-taped on top. (Dear God, please let that not be true of what I'm writing now. I don't want to overdo it, and I don't think pure steampunk is really me, but there will be clockwork and there will be Victorian fashion. Later there may be Zeppelins.) I wish I hadn't felt compelled to read every story in the book for the sake of Research, because I might have enjoyed some of the stories a lot more and felt free to skip others that weren't working for me. Oh, well. Nearly done now.

In other news, this week I saw Don Giovanni in a summer encore movie-theater presentation. (No need to read the next few paragraphs if you have no interest in opera.) I feel like an uncultured jerk, but I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would. There are a lot of parts to why:
  • The staging was not terribly interesting. Straight-up late-1700s costumes, a sort of multiple-balcony setup that they really took zero advantage of, and taking the words of the opera literally. (I started imagining a staging in the 1970s with Giovanni as an actual pimp, and the last scene with all the food referring to girls, instead. I kind of love this idea, and any opera-stagers reading this are free to steal it.)
  • Some of the cast actually seemed incompetent to the task of the opera. There were some not-quite-hit notes and some inability to keep up with the tempo of the syllables. I know how this sounds, because they know opera better than I'll ever know opera, but I don't think I was imagining it.
  • One of the sopranos (Donna Elvira) seemed to have a range wrong for the part; she was loud and soft at weird times.
  • All the above bullets despite the fact that this was the Metropolitan Opera of New York. WTF?
  • Mostly male voices. Male voices do a lot less for me than sopranos, in general. (Tenors fail to move me at all 90% of the time. Crazy, right?) This show was mostly baritones, and Giovanni himself had a lovely rich velvety voice, but I just didn't feel very much.
  • The last scene. Although it included the biggest laugh of the production thanks to Don Ottavio (played by a very homely fellow with few acting skills, unfortunately)'s sole good acting instinct, I found it totally tacked-on and lame. The supper scene was arresting, astonishing, I felt absolutely stripped when Giovanni got dragged down to Hell, and just when I thought I'd leave in a post-opera emotional fog, the whole cast tramped in and distracted me out of it. Learning that this scene was mostly omitted until the 20th century made an awful lot of sense.

Like I said, uncultured jerk, right? Flaubert said that Don Giovanni, Hamlet, and the sea are the three finest things wrought by God. I'll agree with him on the last two - I reffed Hamlet in my writing last night, because I wrapped it up in the last two things I wrote, and why break tradition and write something new? - but Giovanni just didn't captivate me. It could have been due to the not-quite-live performance; I know that the orchestra sounded a lot flatter than it should have in the movie theater, because I didn't have the same shock-to-goosebumps that I always have at the opening notes of the overture. But I think ultimately it's just not really the opera for me.

There are three more summer encores in July, and I haven't decided whether I'll go to them or not. They're showing Lucia, which I don't plan to attend because I had such an unforgettable experience with that opera and don't want to blot it out even partially. The other two are operas I'm not familiar with, Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Der Rosenkavalier. I mean, $13 for an opera is the best deal ever. So I'll probably go.

THERE, done. Now to work...and thence to writing, this evening. I'm actually excited to get to work again, instead of feeling dread and inadequacy like I have for so many weeks. Oh, but I have a question for you. Answer the poll, pretty please?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

That Lack of Ink

I have this thing about self-sabotage.

After I was settled in here, and my desk was set up, I set myself a daily goal of how much money I would make so I could get back on track. I decided to meet that goal seven days a week until I felt comfortable (or, preferably, overwhelmed) (ha) with the amount of money in my bank account. I also decided that if I couldn't meet the goal on any given day, I'd make up for it by working more on another day.

My failure was epic. Meeting my daily goal seemed impossible, and in fact I found myself working less capably than I had before the move (i.e. making less money per day), and dreading it and procrastinating against it more. My makeup goals became more and more laughable until, finally, I gave up.

It was a humbling experience. Trying to meet difficult daily goals didn't feel like a challenge; it felt like a wall someone had asked me to climb. All I could do was stare at it and be annoyed that someone had asked me to climb it. I felt lazy and undutiful and sucky.

So at the beginning of last week I set, instead, a goal that I knew I could reach, that seemed easy. All last week, I was easily able to meet and break and then double that goal. I worked effortlessly and cheerfully and, at one point, reached the "impossible" goal I'd set without even breaking a sweat. Mentally, the goal is still the small amount, because then if I'm having a hard or brainless day or if I have other things to do, I can always just work the minimum and walk away.

I also took the whole weekend off this past weekend, which I pretty much never did before the move. I still feel a bit guilty about it, but I'm looking at my tallies and I've worked every day since June 8th, so I don't think a whole weekend was a bad idea at this point. I was tuckered out. So I visited Fred Astaire's resting place and went to Matt's company picnic, and felt better, fresher for Monday.

I'm explaining all this because the same thing happens to me before I begin a writing project. It's the thing that's happening for my KUFC project. I'm getting that itchy feeling under the skin of my brain that means it's time to read over my notes and open a fresh new .doc and put my fingers to the keys. The song embedded above matches my character's state of mind in what's likely going to be a prologue, and I can't get that song out of my mental space. I know what I want to say in that prologue, and I want to write it.

But there's always a good reason not to. More to do for the apartment, more administrative junk involved in moving states (going to the DMV tomorrow morning, WOOOOOOOO), more paid work to catch up on, more correspondence to catch up on, more meals to cook or shopping to do. I went clothes shopping yesterday morning for two hours (frustrating the HELL out of myself in the process), even though I really can't afford it right now (although I genuinely do need clothes), because I knew if I worked as efficiently as I did last week, I'd be done by early afternoon with nothing to do and I'd have no reason not to write.

I'm so intimidated. I'm so worried I won't meet my goals for the project. I'm looking back at my last two books, and although I'm proud of my accomplishments with them, I fear that neither of them came out in a way that will appeal to a broad audience. Which means they're unsellable. I want to have learned from my mistakes and to write a terrific piece of work this time, one that only needs two or three drafts, not ten. I want to keep it light, action-y, kickass, and not get so into emotional and thoughtful shit like I did with the time book or so into character development (ultimately inadequate character development, to boot) like I did with the Greenland book.

Then I get to thinking about the kind of book I really want to write, and no, I want my books to be deep and thoughtful and stylistically particular. Even if it takes me ten more years to find an agent or a publisher or an audience. I admire transparent writers, but I'm not one of them, and I would flounder and sink if I tried to write that way.

Getting all knotted up in this stuff means that nothing is getting written. I thought I had moved somewhat beyond the ugly, inefficient, emotionally crippling perfectionism that defined my teens and the first half of my twenties, but here it is again, rearing up in a different way. Whether in paid work or the important work, if I set big giant goals, I can't even get started. Which was why, much as I wanted to participate in this (that gal is a very cool writer I found randomly), I knew I would just screw the pooch and maybe the book, too, if I tried.

It helps to forgive myself for my weaknesses. When, on Saturday morning, I said to myself "You can take the weekend off, Kat, it's okay", my brain sighed in relief. When every night I go to bed without writing that prologue, and I say sincerely "it's all right, you can try again tomorrow", it helps to keep self-hatred at bay.

But still nothing gets written. No words go on the page. And no amount of contentment is worth that lack of ink.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Miraculous Birds

Finally some writing-esque news. Cheryl Strayed is apparently doing The Book Tour That Never Ends for Wild, and she's coming (back?) to Los Angeles in late July. I am SO going. If I said I had a special connection to her, that would be wrong, but to say that she's never helped me gain perspective on my own life, or that I don't admire her writing, would be even more wrong. So I'm really looking forward to seeing her in person. July is a banner month, in fact - Singin' in the Rain is coming to theaters for one night only, and I've already bought tickets for that.

And now back to Mi Vida, the continuing telenovela of my move to L.A.

This move has meant that Matt and I, previously spread out over a two-bedroom townhome, now live in a one-bedroom apartment. While not tiny by city standards, it's about a third of the space to which we were accustomed. Our TV/game center, both our computer setups, our living room, and our dining room now occupy a single room, rather than three. It's been an awful lot of work to make it uncrowded and homey, and I still don't love the way the tech is cheek by jowl with the comfy chair and sofa. However, we have no road noise whatsoever in our apartment, where previously we lived on a mainish road and couldn't really have the windows open and still retain peace; we have a slightly vaulted ceiling in the main room due to being on the third floor; and we have a small but pleasant balcony with a large sliding glass door, and before we couldn't use our patio at all due to its smallness and juxtaposition to the road. Even aside from these perks, I am kind of loving the effects of downsizing so far. I truly am creating a space where everything belongs somewhere, and the Raptitude guy was right, it has an incredibly positive effect on one's mental health.

I chose to set up my computer next to the glass door, and one morning while "working" (intermittently staring at the computer and out the window), I saw a wee brown bird buzzing up and down by the big fluffy tree/bush across the way. (I have no idea what most of the flora is out here, so, um, big fluffy tree/bush.) It was a few seconds before I realized I was looking at a hummingbird, because it hovered in midair the way no other domestic birds do that I'm aware of. It wasn't bright green and pink the way textbook hummingbirds are, it was brown and mottled, but it definitely had faster-than-light wings and a long thin beak.

Squeal! The only times I ever remember seeing hummingbirds were for fractions of a moment before they sped away, and I had to say "was that a hummingbird? Is that what they look like? Or was it just a really fast sparrow?" So seeing one was pretty cool for me.

I went right out and bought a hummingbird feeder, an antiquey red glass bottle screwed into a tray with flower-shaped holes, along with some packets of food that you mix into water. (Yeah, I know it's essentially sugar in a packet, but it wasn't expensive and I don't want to fuck up a homemade recipe and hurt the birds.) I hung it on the balcony and watched obsessively for about half a day. Nothing happened. I hung it a little further out, worried, thought about buying flowers to attract them...and then I saw a little brown thing come up to the balcony, look intently at the red bottle, and beeline away. "Looklooklook!" I shrieked at Matt (who was peaceably playing Heroes of Might & Magic), far too late for him to see anything.

He asked me what I liked so much about hummingbirds, anyway. Nothing, I told him, I had just rarely seen them. Later I realized that was mostly the reason, but there's something else, too. Something that has to do with me not being able to grow any sort of plants to save my life, and having such pale skin that I burn like a forest fire even under SPF, and being seriously allergic to bugs, but desperately wanting to be out-of-doors as much as possible, anyway. Something appealing beyond words about the idea that I could hang up a feeder and tiny, miraculous birds really would show up and hang out on my balcony.

And they have. Yesterday I worked most of the day, looking to the left 847 times to see if there were any birds at the feeder, and I had customers on and off all day long. They drank my sugar water. A couple times they even sat on the edge of the feeder and folded their wings while they sipped. I haven't tried to get pictures of any of them, because they mostly drink from the flower-hole that's farthest from me and I can only see their edges around the bottle. But it's still so damn cool.

Feeder, hummingbird-free at the moment, unfortunately
I could connect this to how awesome Los Angeles is, how much I'm enjoying it here, but there are hummingbirds in many, many places in this country. What it really connects to is the joys of this particular apartment - finding happiness in things like this balcony, which is small and directly faces my neighbors' balcony across the way, which theoretically means they can watch me at my desk all day long, but which has brought me so many little mental rainbows with its morning sunshine and afternoon hummingbirds. The surprising amount of storage space here, presently full of disorganized life-stuff which I will eventually put to order. The teeny-tiny kitchen, which is kind of like adventuring in a houseboat. The seriously cool space-saving dining room table and chairs I bought at Ikea, despite the moving guy's well-intentioned comments amounting to the conclusion that our stuff is cheap and shitty. And my new address stamp, which has a swirly bird on it.

Life is good.

PS: I am falling far behind on correspondence, including thank-you notes and e-mails. Please forgive me if you're waiting for something from me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Irrevocably Attached

Still no writing news. Heck, I haven't even read anything other than the internet and work material in the last week. The place is starting to come together, with the help of cheap plastic crap from China organizational devices from Bed Bath & Beyond and Target. We're unearthing a lot and throwing away a lot, both of which feel great.

Having a small space to work with has been more of an inspiration than I thought it would be. Part of the reason is that I read this a few months ago, have been rereading it ever since, and have sworn to myself that this move marks a new start for the stuff-fest that has been my life for the past 30 years. I told my mom this morning that there were only two things I could think of offhand to which I'm irrevocably attached, things that I would really be upset if I lost - barring things like my laptop and my birth certificate and such life-necessitating things that are tough to replace. One of them went with me on the plane (small plastic Tom Servo), and the other one I unpacked yesterday (framed poster of map of Narnia).

I totally fail to understand why I'm so attached to lil' Tom Servo. I feel like an idiot about it. He's definitely my favorite commentator on MST3K, but that doesn't really explain it. He's just a little plastic desk gewgaw, and there's no reason in the world why he should stir such affection in my heart when I see him sitting there. But he does. I put him in my carry-on baggage for the trip to L.A. Part of the reason for this was that he was a special one-off figure for an MST box set, and although I haven't researched it, I don't know that I could replace him easily.* That still doesn't really answer why I just have to have him around in order to be [more] happy. I truly have no idea.

Took this at BWI before departure. Me & Tom, seeing the world. 
Anyway, there's also the Narnia poster. Which we couldn't find at first when unpacking our picture boxes yesterday. We found every single other thing we'd hung on the walls of our old house, including a lot of stuff that we don't plan to put up at all in the new place, but no Narnia.

I found it on eBay, this poster; it's a laminated version of Pauline Baynes' map of Narnia and surrounding countries, and was created probably in the 80's for a classroom. It has a terrible green and white border and information about Scholastic press on it, all of which was hidden behind a mat by the framers. I am glad of every single penny (of many) I spent on the framing job, because I love it and it's beautiful and it makes me happy just to look at it. It's growing harder to find these posters, though, and I was pretty worried about replacing it if it was lost. (Maps of Narnia other than Baynes', which are all generally easier to find, have various problems that make them unappealing to me.)

But we did find it, inside a box with another stupidly heavy framed item that was a lovely gift which we don't want at all. I'd mistaken the box as only holding the big heavy not-want thing, but the Narnia poster was wrapped up with it. And now it's here, sitting next to me, only slightly the worse for wear.

There's a crease down the middle that was created when
the poster was laminated; not much to do about that.
Open in a new tab to embiggen; the detail
on this poster is one of the best parts about it. 
I really have a hard relationship with stuff. I tend to be owned by it. This move is continuing to teach me lessons about that. I've had a hard time keeping to my work schedule in the last few days, because all I want to do is unpack and organize and turn this into home. And GET RID OF THINGS. That's actually more exciting to me than the idea of having all my stuff back, out of boxes, between my hands or within sight. I have a vision of a home where there's a place for everything and everything is in its place. Because this seems even harder to accomplish when the home is so much smaller than the space we used to occupy, I'm even more determined to do it.

*Although if I have a few hundred dollars to completely blow, I can buy a full-size working replica. Don't think I haven't considered it. One day, when I'm wildly rich and successful, I'll probably buy him; I'll put him in the back of my electric DeLorean

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dream My Troubles All Away

For to listen while you read: 

I have no writing news to share. For the last two weeks, I've been wrapped up completely with the move, and for the last two days, I've been wrapped up completely with trying to get back to work. A couple of weeks of unpaid vacation will get you in the mood to work but quick.

Do I like it in Los Angeles? Yes, I do. Yes, yes, yes. I could rhapsodize for thousands of words about it: the weather, the mood, the exotic-to-me architecture and flora, the way our apartment (which is not tiny by most standards, but which is miles smaller than our Maryland house) has inspired me to winnow out our possessions, the interesting people, the food (OH THE FOOD, cheap street food of numerous nationalities that is awesome and all within walking distance), etc etc etc. But if I end up hating it within a month, I'm going to look very silly, so instead I'll just tell you one detail and one amusing story and then I'll GBTW. 

On the (looooong) drive from LAX to the San Fernando Valley, where we now live, it seemed like every flower in Los Angeles was blooming at the same time. And there are these enormous purple trees everywhere, big tall actual trees that appear to have purple leaves. I still don't know what they are, but their flowers are my most favorite shade of purple, a lavender that's slightly bolder than a pastel, and the ground beneath these trees is generally just painted with the petals. It's hard for me to understand how seasons work in this climate, so I don't know if the blooms I'm seeing are May flowers or all-the-time flowers or what, but it felt like a welcome, that everywhere I looked I saw bright, fresh, beautiful color. 

I was leaving our apartment a couple of days ago and waiting to turn left, and on the sidewalk was a man walking a little pug dog. He was dressed normally, in a polo shirt and khaki shorts, and he was speaking and gesturing very emphatically, his fingers squinched together in that way that usually means a) someone has fucked up and you're having to get across to them just how stupid they are or b) the speaker is Italian. It was pretty early in the morning and I didn't see any devices in or near his ear, and it looked for all the world as if he was trying to communicate some essential point to his dog. If he was a homeless guy, he was the cleanest and best-dressed homeless guy I've ever seen. I giggled at him and turned left and went to Lowe's. 

Not that people here are naturally going to be more eccentric than they are on the East Coast, but I'm actually in a city now, and it's kind of nice to think that I'll have my share of eccentric on the street every day. Free entertainment. So far (a week in, okay) I love living in the valley; we're in a blue-collar-ish neighborhood, and that's 100% okay with me, because it means the prices are lower and the traffic is mild and the people are friendly but aloof. Matt's work is 5 miles from our apartment. Anything sophisticated we need is not at all far away. I'm trying not to be too enthused, because then the other shoe will drop and I'll hate it, but at the moment I'm happy fit to bust.