Friday, December 28, 2012

Three Days Coming, Three Days Staying, Three Days Going

Home now from the East now. I am still in the throes of a rotten cold that's been punching me out for a full week (longer than I'm accustomed to), but now that I've ejected a metric ton of mucus from various orifices I hope to be on the mend. I got a tiny bit of writing done on the plane on the way there but was too busy or too ill to do more in the ensuing days. I think the chapter I finished is about twice as long as it ought to be, but it'll come out in the wash.

I didn't take 2666 with me simply for weight reasons, although I'm finally finished with the fourth section of it and am 200 pages from the end. Instead I read Heaven's Bones, a Wizards of the Coast Ravenloft series book by Samantha Henderson (who is my hero for the time being), as well as Sweetheart, the second thriller in a series by Chelsea Cain. You might remember how much I enjoyed the first one. I very much liked this one too, although it seemed less tightly controlled. Quite satisfying/shocking climax, though. Heaven's Bones was extremely interesting and frightening, full of terrifying imagery. There seemed to be a huge cast of characters, although that's not a negative; I had no problem keeping them straight and was eager to know what would happen next in each storyline (though they were all connected, of course). I doubt I'll read any more Ravenloft books, but this one was great.

I also got in some pages on John Dies at the End, but I think I'm about ready to give up the ghost on that one. It keeps kind of exploding out into new weirdnesses too frequently for me to keep up. I can't figure out how all the supernatural events fit together coherently and at this point (about halfway, I think) I no longer care. I enormously enjoyed the beginning so I'm disappointed in myself for not wanting to continue, but hey, life is short and they've made the book into a movie.

That's all for today. I'm hoping to feel well enough to do my New Year's resolution post uncrappily, but we'll see.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Point Where You Stop Talking About It

Earlier in the week I edited the opera story and sent it to a reader. Matt liked it. I liked it too, although I had the same feeling in rereading it that I had when I finished drafting it. Not my favorite story of mine, but solid and worthwhile. I guess it's not necessary to spray my guts on the page with every single story in order to do good work. (Contrary to popular wisdom.)

I'm chugging along on KUFC. I think it's going okay. I'm continuing the practices that have worked so far: 1) not writing every day, 2) taking notes about the next couple of chapters when I'm finished with the current one, 3) writing longhand for the first draft instead of typing.

I don't have that much to say about the process of writing this one. Part of the reason is simply that I'm playing it close to the vest. Matt doesn't even know that much about the story, when usually, idea-wise, he could easily claim credit as my co-writer. This means that when I get stuck I have to get out of it on my own, which is hard, kind of exhilarating, and leads me (ironically) to greater certainty about the ideas I'm integrating. Perhaps it's blind arrogance, not certainty, but I guess we'll see when I'm finished.

Another part of the reason I think I don't have much to say was voiced eloquently by your hero and mine, Caitlin Moran, in an interview with The Hairpin:
You know when you've met the right person because there's nothing really to say. I've noticed that time and time again, every time one of my girlfriends goes "I've met this guy," and it just goes on forever in the G+ circles I'm in, and there will be pages and pages filled with like five or six of us debating what he said and what he did, and you're going "Well he did this, and he did that, what does it mean?" And then suddenly that person will disappear, and they've met someone else and they'll just resurface five weeks later and you go "What's going on?" and they're like "I just found a man." And they just stop talking about it. That is generally the key, the point where you stop talking about it, because there is nothing to say when you're happy. So yes, that's basically one of the big rules that I've found out in life. If you're talking about him, it's probably not your future husband.
It's not that I think KUFC is The Book of Destiny, but I do think that better relationships and better writing result when you can get your insecurities to shut the fuck up and let you conduct your business. If I have lots and lots to say and parse and think and dig into and moooooooan about, then I'm not sure the writing's really going that well. I optimistically interpreted this behavior as caring about my art, as talk-therapy to make it better, but it walks and quacks like insecurity and obsession, not meticulousness.

So. Word by word, it's going on the page. Don't know what else to tell you without giving it away.

Over the last couple of weeks Matt and I have been having a sort of ongoing conversation about Jim Butcher's wisdom on storycraft and other assorted writing skills. Matt's part of the conversation is actually a lot more interesting than mine, but he brought it to my attention that Butcher is not a fan of literary writing and has taken the trouble to point out why it sucks compared to genre fiction.

It depresses me that a writer I like as much as Butcher has a closed-minded view on literary writing, which he set forth in brief in the comments on his website. Those posts are years old so I don't know if he's come around to literary fiction since then, but sheesh, that is so not the way forward for genre writers, to get bitchy about the differences between the forms. Since reading as a hobby has been trending downward basically since the end of the Victorian era, I equate this genre/literary argument to passengers arguing about seating arrangements on the Titanic lifeboats. We're all after the same thing, let's just get along, mmkay?

If you want to see a really lengthy example of the literary argument against Jim Butcher, a screed which, when you clear away all the fancy words and the ability to construct a debate-team-style argument out of popsicle sticks and Superglue, is the work of a troll with a dictionary, go here. If you want to see a reasonably good set of arguments against Butcher's opinion, go here, but the comments get a little bit snippy.

Christmas, she's a-comin'. I woke up with a sore throat, so it's possible my already-potent holiday cheer will be intensified by a virus. Whee. I'm not sure whether I'll be posting much over the next seven days; I'll be out of town, and I'll have my laptop but it's really a whirlwind tour that's been planned. So, in case I don't see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Here's My Gripe

This is absolutely, 100% how I feel whenever I'm outside of my home during the Xmas season. (Although I would have drawn two candy canes stuck into my ears, too - the music makes me even stabbier.) Leave me alone, you murderously cheerful pushers retailers. Leave me the hell alone and let me just live

Jon Stewart said it in a longer, somewhat less bloody way: 

Monday, December 17, 2012

See, Because She's Sneaky

For no reason: 


Robert Redford and Paul Newman in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, 1969.

“Who are those guys?”

Not a movie I have much affection for (I know, I'm crazy, but I saw The Sting first and liked it better), but ooh, those boys. Matt compared this picture to a double-barreled shotgun. I added "of sexy."

After last week's longhand stuff was typed, KUFC stood at 29,860. I told this to Matt on Friday and he said "Oh, come on! Write an exceptionally long SENTENCE!" But I didn't do any drafting this weekend; other things happened instead. 

One of those was plotting for this week's writing. Years ago I read about a potential reboot of Superman (this was before Brandon Routh) and the ideas the screenwriters were tossing around. One of the producers insisted that he wanted a big battle to take place at the Fortress of Solitude. A screenwriter argued that you couldn't do that; it's the Fortress of Solitude, which indicates by its very name that there's no one there. Can't really argue with that. Apparently the producer just wanted to use a cool set for a big battle. 

I found myself in a similar predicament. In my book there's a prison that's located in a Zeppelin floating above the city, and I very much wanted my main character (the nominal KUFC) to be in a big action scene there. I mean, what production designer could resist an awesome Parkour fight around and across a Zeppelin prison? The problem was that plotwise, I couldn't come up with a way for this to work. Logic noted that the fight would be purposeless, and would have plot-hole repercussions that I just couldn't write around. So, I told Matt, I guess she'll just sign in and interview the prisoner like a normal person, and I'll write a big fight scene next chapter at a less interesting location. 

Wait, sign in? he said. Your cool ninja assassin chick is going to sign in? Well, yeah, I said. She needs to interview a prisoner. She's a ninja assassin, he said. Have her break in to the prison! It shows just how much of a badass she is that she's breaking into a prison, and not just any prison but a Zeppelin prison. 

Oh. Right. 

This is what comes of being a head-to-toe lawful good person in real life and writing a character who's chaotic good/neutral. You forget from time to time that she doesn't feel the need to follow the rules. 

I'm over page 500 in 2666, and I can't recommend it so highly anymore. The longest section of the novel, where I am right now, is about a series of more than 200 murders of women that take place over the course of a few years, and the book details the finding of each and every corpse: what had been done to the woman and in what state she was found, and then whether the crime was solved or not (mostly not). Nearly all the women have been raped and all of their bodies are abandoned, found in parking lots and ravines and garbage dumps. Reading about this over and over and over and OVER is not at all a pleasant experience. There are other characters in this section, of course, and some of them have interesting stories, but centrally it's 300 pages about these women and their terrible deaths. It reminds me of a book on the Green River Killer that I read. Murder fatigue. Yet this book's different sections and characters hook together so subtly that I can't just skip it, in case I miss something that is important to the final section and/or to untangling the book on the whole. Which I very much want to do. 

This week I'll be editing the opera story. I've let it sit for two weeks, so I look forward to rediscovering what I put in it. Like a fruitcake you set aside for a year. Jeez, did I really use those radioactive green things? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Thing That Wants to Live

I spent Tuesday in a state of paralysis. I had no idea how to begin chapter seven, whether with one scenario (dialogue over lunch) or another (inner reflection/backstory) or still another (just skip to the action happening the following night). I wasn't willing to try one of these and have it not work, so I didn't do anything, just watched the cursor blink. This was idiotic.

So on Wednesday I used the ol' notebook trick and wrote an entire chapter, which consisted of all three of the above scenarios, longhand. That way, work got done and I won't have to do the extra labor of typing what I wrote if I don't like it.

Longhand is really working out for me lately. That's no promise that it's going to continue working out, and it's certainly taking its toll on Ol' Righty, but I'm kind of astonished at how hugely it's helping me for now.

I also submitted a story to a writing competition in the name of a writer I have much affection for. This is actually the third time in recent months I've sent this story out in the hopes of it winning me something. I worry that this is somehow cheating, to try and win multiple things with the same story.


I feel like I'm in a continuous learning process with the internet - how to behave when within it, how much is too much or not enough, how to use it to my advantage, and frequent refresher lessons on how it can make me wish I was dead. At this time in its development I'll defend to my last breath that it's a greater good than it is an evil, but who knows what the next twenty years will bring?

I've sort of lost my taste for blogging for the time being, so that's all for today. The video below has far more beauty and insight than I ever will, anyhow. Join me next week, when I guarantee there will be at least one gripe about the holidays.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jackie Wilson, Where Art Thou?

The holiday thing is happening. The thing where I just endure my day-to-day from sometime in December until early January. The stress in the air from all the humans in a ten-mile radius is painfully palpable, for me at least. I had to shop at the mall yesterday morning and I'm still recovering from all the negative energy. It was like that scene in Ghostbusters II where Ray and Winston start yelling at each other for no reason.

Pink slime = "holiday spirit" 
Partly for that reason, that I'm still grumpy and headachy (and I STILL didn't find the right goddamned dress), I haven't got much to share with you today. Maybe next week I'll have a glut of Topics to write about.

The opera on Saturday was Un Ballo in Maschera, by Verdi, and I think it may have been the best opera I've yet seen. Many of the reviews of the production said the opposite things about it that I thought - they said the staging was unoriginal and forced, when I thought it was innovative and revealing; they said the tenor lead was known for being a poor actor when I thought his acting was one of the best parts of the show; they said Kathleen Kim was physically awkward and mediocre when I thought she was perfect and adorable. I suppose I will never be an opera critic, but I think that means I'll enjoy it a lot more, so it's okay. The encore is on January 9th, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to go again. I suggest you all go too. It's an opera that shows how weird and interesting and stunningly emotional opera can be. If you can sit through it and you cry and boggle the way I did, you'll love opera for life.

I'm pushing through KUFC word by word. Yesterday I wrote a somewhat fragmented chapter and finished it off with a sex scene, which was fun. I love writing sex scenes. Also, I did some revisions on the urn story last night that I hope will improve it. I wish I had a better sense of how subtle is too subtle, but it's the thing I have learned I am most terrible at judging in my own writing.

That's shaping up to be a long list, actually, things I am terrible at judging in my own writing. Ah well.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Let Not the Swamp Consume You

I managed another 1,000 words on KUFC (for those of you just joining us, it stands for Kickass Urban Fantasy Chick) yesterday, in between work. I also wrote several pages of notes. I set down all the different plots in the book and explained their shape from beginning to end; although they all overlap each other and I consider them all part of the same thing, it helped to have them all drawn out. I'm now up over 20,000 words in the main text, which means I am officially past the beginning and into the middle.
The Great Swampy Middle (or GSM) knows no fear, no mercy, no regret. It doesn't come after you. It darned well knows that you're going to come to it. It knows that you're going to be charging along, sending up the spinning plates, ripping out the strong character introductions, planting cool bits into your story for the future, and generally feeling high on life. And just then, as you get all that fun opening-story stuff done, it pounces. And suddenly, you're staring at a blank word processor screen trying to figure out how to get your story through the next paragraph.

And it laughs at you. It laughs and dances on the ashes of your enthusiasm. It knows full well that you are going to be its bitch from now until you somehow finish the book or else give up in despair and slit your wrists with the edge of one of those index cards you're using to try to figure out the rest of the plot. It rejoices and dances around a primal bonfire, howling its glee at the uncaring stars.
Yes, Jim Butcher, thank you for the extremely accurate depiction of what lies ahead.

Back in 2006, Butcher offered terrific advice on his LiveJournal about how to avoid the GSM. I read it yesterday (thanks to Matt) and decided to take it to heart. I got the sense that the mini-arc was something he used in Storm Front, and I remember feeling like the structure of that book was a little wonky. (Also, after you read it: I always thought that the LoTR plot actually divided, with no set of character goals more important than the other. Hence, Frodo/Sam Ring Quest is equal in weight to Aragorn & Co. proceeding eventually to the Battle of the Hornburg. Although the retrieval of Merry and Pippin is supposedly a mini-arc, none of the rest of their quest would have happened if they hadn't gone that way and had to end up in Rohan, so I have a hard time seeing it as a mini-arc.) So I decided not to go with that. Instead I'm planning a Big Middle, which will be an emotional peak for my MC and possibly a hell of a scrap as well. Later on we'll have the big dramatic choice of the climax.

The GSM is what happened to me to a very great extent on the Greenland book and to a lesser extent on the time book.* In both of those, I knew what I wanted to happen in the end, but only very vaguely, and I didn't exactly know how to fill up the 50,000 words or so of the middle in order to get to the end and write through what would happen. Stephen King had reassured me that writing with an outline wasn't necessary for all writers, so I thought my instincts would lead me through to the end. SADLY, NO! I still think that outlining to the last detail isn't necessarily a hot idea for everybody, but having more than a vague idea of what will happen is, I suspect, better.

So that's what I'm doing. I know what's ahead, more than vaguely, even if I'm not sure how each chapter will be worked up. I hope this is a sufficient happy medium and not just me lazily coming to the realization that outlines are necessary for me.

Last night I saw Pulp Fiction in the theater, thanks to Fathom Events, and it was pretty cool. There were trailers shown before the movie "hand-picked by Tarantino from his private collection" - one for a 70's movie with John Cassevetes, Britt Ekland, and a very worked-up Peter Falk called Machine Gun McCain; one for Scarface; and one for a Hong Kong movie with a much younger Chow-Yun Fat (Chow-Young Fat?) called The Killer that I kind of want to see. Trailers were also shown for all of Tarantino's other movies, and my favorite of his (and one of my favorites of all movies) is Kill Bill, the first part of which I failed to see in the theater. So that was cool.

Pulp Fiction itself was a fun thing. That movie is new to me every time I see it, despite knowing chunks of it really well, and Matt and I talked afterward about how nothing else has really been made that resembles it, even 18 years later. (Except Tarantino's own movies.) Unfortunately we were sitting on the same aisle as a group of guys who enjoyed reciting lines along with (and sometimes prior to) the characters. Oh well. It was still worth going. There were a couple of younger folks sitting upwards of us who'd cosplayed as Vincent and Mia for the occasion. I could say an awful lot more about Tarantino here, but again, not the point of this blog.

Opera again tomorrow. December's punishing opera schedule will lead to a lighter January and ever more culture in my brain, so I'm soldiering on. Sallying forth. Pushing forward. Happy Friday.

*The time book = the [non-]horror book. I am tired of writing that punctuation over and over, so henceforth it is the time book.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"What's on your mind?"

Yesterday I wrote about 3,200 words on KUFC. Although I whinge and wheedle, I'm now sure it's the right thing to do to go on and write this book. After reading through what I'd done most recently (months ago, before this whole literary adventure), I felt a rekindling of interest in the idea and the main character, to my great relief. It's good stuff, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a terrific book. I'm especially interested in the project because I came up with a terrible, wonderful choice for my MC at the final turning point of the book, tens of thousands of words away. The kind of choice where neither option is particularly good, i.e. a realistic choice. Great tension in that.

I feel like until now I'd been writing half-asleep, without really considering how things fit together in the world of a novel. I'm still not at the point where I can outline things very specifically more than about two chapters in advance - which may indeed be evidence that I'll have to rewrite this one, too - but I'm determined to let character propel the story, rather than just my ideas of what must come next.

I'm now about 300 pages into 2666, and I still have my opinion of BOY. Jeez oh Pete. This is a weird book and I have no idea how all this shit goes together and I can't wait to read the next hundred pages.

I'm also enjoying some new-to-me music lately. Although I'm only now listening to more than a song or two of hers, Regina Spektor feels like an artist I've been listening to for years, like a friend I've known since we were teenagers. She hardly feels new, just natural.

I found this fantastic band, the Leftover Cuties, who I think would resist "hipster" or "retro" and insist that what they're up to is 100% normal:

And I'm completely obsessed with this song (please ignore the source...):

Even better with headphones. And there's also Callas. Lots of Callas.

Finally, I'm trying to dislodge the hold Facebook has on me. I read a bunch of addiction narratives in a row, rather by chance, a couple of weeks ago. In thinking about what they had in common, and the general pattern to which addiction adheres, I discovered that the way I feel and behave about Facebook is, erm, pretty unhealthy. Of course Facebook isn't nearly as destructive as, for instance, heroin - that's a stupid idea - but it's still remade the pattern of my days in a way that is bringing me less peace. So the concentration and attention I give it is declining.

I thought I'd write a lot more about this, but it seems so lame, and I can't find the right words without skipping into other topics. And it doesn't matter much. I'm slowly backing away from Facebook, which is both challenging and pathetic, and the details aren't too interesting to anyone except myself.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fond But Not in Love

Spent a little under four hours on the opera story on Sunday. Reread it again this morning, and while I think I might have dumped an awful lot of stuff in the first two pages (not info dump so much as Our Story So Far dump), I think it'll come to be a working piece. It added up to just over 6,000 words, which is a comfortable length, and although these feel like famous last words, I don't think that'll change dramatically. The thing that's funny about this story is I think it's generally a good story, but it's not one I'm passionate and thrilled about. It's a new experience not to have just written my favorite story; so far they've all been my favorite as I'm writing them. I'm proud of it, but I'm not in luuuuurve with it.

It's also very much a sci-fi story. Now that I've done the two back to back, I can confirm that it's a distinctly different experience writing SF than it is writing lit fic. If pressed I would say that with SF I feel more relaxed on a word-by-word basis, just putting down the words that make the scene occur rather than worrying inordinately about whether they're the most beautiful words evar. And when writing I feel more concerned that the audience is exasperated and impatient and wants me to get on with it, so I try to make shit happen more compellingly.

I've also noticed that the wide majority of the lit stories I've written concern female characters, and most of the SF tips toward male characters, which is not deliberate but just the way it comes out. Weird.

So, now to give it two weeks to rest and soak up its juices before revision. And since that's settled and no more new stories are clamoring very hard to get out, I need to plan what to do next. The more I think about it, the more I think that the KUFC book needs to get written. I have this block of time before the spring when it seems wise to work on a nonliterary project, and all signs are pointing to KUFC as a book that I can and should write before then, so I can revise it and send it out before summer.

But I'm balking. The old perfectionist instinct doesn't want me to start working because I am deathly afraid I'll just have to rewrite it when I'm finished, as I have to rewrite the Greenland book and the time book. Not a very mature reason to balk at doing anything - because finishing it will be toooo haaaard - but there we are. I don't want to give up the creative roll I'm on, though, so I think I'll just have to stop whining and do it.

Over the weekend I read another 150 pages of 2666, and BOY, it is something. Every Latin American novel I read is like nothing I've ever read before: García Márquez, Shadow of the Wind, this one. It's weird. Very foreboding and moody while not really explaining what the threat is so far. Totally absorbing even while it's totally baffling.

I also read another 50 pages of Olive Kitteridge. Meh. It's become one of those decisions that's too trivial for me to even concentrate on, whether I should finish this book or not, because it's not very long and it seems like it'll have been worth reading but I don't really care about the people or events in it so I could just as easily stop. Anybody read it and want to tell me if the best stories are after page 100?

That's all for today. Hope you're enjoying these last couple of weeks before the Mayan apocalypse Christmas.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Triumph of the Also-Ran

Last night I finished the draft of the opera story I started on Wednesday. I had a moment whilst drafting of wanting to end the story immediately after the climax, because I was so pleased with it that the denouement just seemed like it would be no fun at all to put together. But I kept writing anyway, and I'm glad, because the denouement was potentially even better. Tomorrow I'm going to type it up and start rewriting it. This one will take HEAVY rewriting. Certain sentences in the first half I knew, even while I was writing them, that they were terrible; a few have "[ugh!]" written above or after them. But I think it's a good skeleton.

Speaking of opera, this month there are three live opera performances to enjoy in theaters. I went to the first this morning, La Clemenza di Tito, the last opera Mozart wrote before he died in 1791. This makes the third Mozart opera I've seen, and although the other two are MUCH more famous (Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni), and the general opinion on Tito is that it's an "also-ran" (a term of which I don't actually know the definition, but I think it's derogatory), I liked this one the best. The characters were surprisingly complex instead of being sketched, the arias were shorter so I felt less as if I was listening to this
(that's a repeat sign), and the cast was, with one exception, breathtakingly wonderful.

Also, it was Mozart. I will never, ever miss an opportunity to swim in Mozart.

In other news, I finished Slaughterhouse-Five, and I'm...not sure about it. I don't know if I don't get it, or if I do, and the confusion is the point. Also, I felt growing dread and sorrow as we got closer and closer to Dresden, and then the actual experience of the horrors of Dresden felt kind of minimal. I'm not denying that there was despair seeded all in and throughout the book, but I expected (not wanted, expected) a more horrific climax. There's a reason he did it the way he did it, and I haven't grasped it yet. Unless he simply tried to imitate the experience of life, in its weird inconclusive experientialness.

I read the first two stories of Olive Kitteridge, and...uh...this won the Pulitzer Prize? I'm going to read until at least page 100, but if by then I have no further insight about what's so awesome there, I'm giving up.

I also started 2666. It is very long. It's by Roberto Bolaño, a South American author who died unexpectedly not unlike Stieg Larsson, only on the other side of the world. (RB was born 1953, died 2003; SL was born 1954, died 2004. Weird, eh? But RB had a lot of success as a fiction writer before he died.) I haven't gotten lost in a lovely long novel like this one in seemingly ages, and I think it's time. After 50 pages, I still feel like we're cruising pre-Plot Point One, because I seriously have no idea where the writer's going with this. It's a delicious feeling, because it's fascinating what happens on every damn page, but there's no arc of any kind developing. It's just a story. Or really a series of stories which occasionally envelop other stories.

Sort of speaking of that, I finished Lost in the Funhouse. I found it mostly frustrating, with some pointillist delights. I want to read it again in ten years when I've read more experimental lit. Maybe by then I'll have more recently read ancient Greek lit too and will have some idea of what he's talking about in the second half of the book.

Definition of ALSO-RAN (Merriam-Webster online)
1 : a horse or dog that finishes out of the money in a race
2 : a contestant that does not win
3 : one that is of little importance especially competitively

Well, I suppose. If you even accept that Mozart had winning and losing works. Which I'm not sure I do.