Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Ruby & Purple

Last week was challenging and then all right, with great variability, and the best of my attention was spent on productivity. I read and pitched and wrote and read some more. I started a fight on the internet, and it was helpful for plenty of people but quite deleterious for me. Multiple reviews went live after a couple of dry weeks. I had a piece published that took a lot of research and time to assemble, and it kind of vanished without a ripple, which bums me out. A silly Twitter thread I did on Mansfield Park got more attention. Also, I finished up the fourth in Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic series, a tetralogy of books that has been one of the purest pleasures of my year. The first draft of my review was 1,300 words, and I could have gone on and on and on after that.

I had a lot to think about and process after the last couple of weeks, and that might be why this week has been snoozy and unproductive. I have a pile of ideas to write about, and no motivation whatsoever to write them. Some of this feels like perfectionism, some of it overwhelm. Luckily, there's always reading to do when I can't seem to write.

Last night my brain gave me yet another idea I don't necessarily have the time for: an essay that breaks down the 1977 film Ruby, which is truly awful, but which I love, and which is a failure that I suspect has an interesting and/or sad story behind it. My guess is that Ruby once had a good screenplay; excavating its layers shows that, most probably, someone came in to "enhance" it with zeitgeist elements and screwed it up. There's cliche, genuinely compelling drama, cheesy Exorcist imitation, unique combinations of genre elements, and deeply stupid horror scenes. It's a very both/and movie, the kind of bad art that fascinates me bottomlessly.

This is bad art idea #3, after essays on Plan 9 and Death Bed, so it's starting to seem more likely that I have a book about bad art in me - less a hope than a likelihood. I wish I could pursue it now, instead of pursuing all the other crap I want to/have to write first, but it's probably better to let it marinate anyway. In the meantime, if you're interested, Ruby is on YouTube, and a less grainy version is available with a Rifftrax track attached, the existence of which I think I'll use in the essay.

Of note, I'm writing this on my tiny purple laptop, which I bought after dragging my too-heavy-for-airport-walking laptop to Iceland, and which in terms of processing power and etc is worth about what I paid for it ($200), but which has the major advantage of being purple. I know I'm not the only person who is suckered by aesthetics when making purchases. Purple and dip-dye are the two most reliable ways to make me buy something.

In a little less than a month, a short story I wrote will go on sale as a standalone ebook at the Wild Rose Press. It's priced at only $0.99, so if you'd like to support me, I hope you'll pick it up. I'll have more news about that, promotional links and whatnot, soon.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Less Yes

This week I pulled waaaaay back on what I expected to accomplish. I focused on physical health and nourishment, and I read books: one dumb book, one okay book, and one extraordinary book. Maybe this balances out the sheer production of last week, the two essays I wrote, and maybe it balances out the week's astrology and the emotional upheaval I felt. And pulling back worked - I feel grounded and comfortable now, where I felt messy and ridiculous on Monday. But it's time to go back to producing: promises to keep, miles to go. Three reviews this week. An essay I pitched and now have to draft. Interview questions, a press release.

One thing I produced this week was a fairly good try at a book proposal. It's the second one I've written, and it required different resources than the first. This one is for a book that I have a better idea about, but the earlier one had lots more facts and figures I could leverage. I assembled this one based on a conversation at AWP, and I have no idea what'll happen with it. Maybe nothing.

The pile of books I have to read and review is not actually so bad right now. Sheer volume-wise, that is; the timing of them sucks, as it's five books on one release day, four books on another, nothing for a month, etc. I've started saying no a little bit, but more often I've just stopped saying yes. That's a weird distinction, but it's real: people offering things specifically to me happens a lot less often than people tossing opportunity in the air and seeing who grabs it. In the last month I've hung back instead of grabbing. I don't know exactly what's up this month, while I wait for the results of a few lines I threw out and plan for the events I'm organizing my summer and fall around. It seems smarter to wait a bit before saying yes more than I have.

I have been watching an awful lot of movies lately. Few of them have been extraordinary. A lot of them have been nice (Dumplin) or useful additions to a body of knowledge (Dressed to Kill, Inferno) or fun (Ant-Man and the Wasp). But nothing has really surprised me, or deviated from the middle 50%.

I also heaved a big sigh and dove into Werner Herzog's oeuvre. He's a mind I'm very interested in, from what I have heard and read about/by him, but until now I haven't put my money where my mouth is. So now I'm doing that, actually watching his films. Something about his timing and camerawork is stark and alien, like Cronenberg, but even more sterile. I like it.

Switching back to movies has been pleasant. It's an odd truth about me: I'm on much more solid ground thinking and working with movies than with literature. This doesn't make sense, because I'm a writer and a book critic, professionally. But no matter how many books I read, I still feel more comfortable in film. There's an innate ease to the way my brain processes the film, how wholly I feel I've absorbed it, while I feel like there's always more to process in a book, and usually I've only touched my subjective experience of it.

This week has been very light on social media for me. I don't know if it will last, but every time I opened the apps, I felt strangely hollow. Like how you feel half an hour after eating too many Cheetos. It's not real food, and your body knows it. I hope this sensation isn't temporary, as I've been wanting for years for social media to loosen its grip on me.

Next week I'll be reading the fourth and final book in Laurie J. Marks's Elemental Logic series, and I'm so sorry to be finishing the series. It's some of the best saga-type fantasy I've ever read, and one of the best novelistic projects. The books are so rich and thick and fully developed that I feel like I've lived a whole life, reading them, or even more than one.

Image result for elemental logic
My friend Kathleen drew new covers for the tetralogy, which is how I heard of it in the first place.

No big conclusions for now. Still it moves.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Interacting with the Material World

You might have seen it on social media, but KERNPUNKT revealed the cover art for my book. It looks like this:

Art by Mariana MagaƱa

It's so much prettier even than I imagined. I love it.

Managing the book release in early stages has reminded me a lot of wedding planning. A great deal can be done a long time in advance, but a lot of what must happen has to wait for the right moment to be planned. Calendaring and lists are essential. I was born to do that kind of work.

There's a bunch of other stuff going on, too. A long story I wrote, "After Gardens," known on this blog as "the hot springs story," is going up for sale at the Wild Rose Press as a standalone ebook in mid-June. This press has been supportive and helpful all throughout the process of turning "After Gardens" into a commercial ebook, and I'm very happy it found a home there. However, the way this ebook requires promotion is completely different than the way Ceremonials does. Different audience, different kind of press, different goals, different approach. It's like switching alphabets. For this reason, I've been dragging my feet on promoting "After Gardens," but I need to get going on it.

Less striking, but just right for the content 

It's being sold as women's fiction, which is about right. (For the record, it's hard to find markets for short stories that qualify as women's fiction. Both readers & publishers prefer that genre in book length.) I hope it does well for the press, of course, but I feel weirdly indifferent to this project. Submitting to TWRP was my last shot with this story before I trunked it permanently, so I'd nearly severed my investment in it when it was accepted. Of course I'm very happy they accepted it and are selling it, and I'll do my best to promote it, but it feels like someone else's work, and that makes it more of a chore and less of a pleasure to promote.

A few weeks ago I put together a schedule for writing the remaining hybrid film essays I have to write for the collection I'm assembling. I gave myself ample time to write them in order to be finished by the end of 2019. At the time, April still had some days left in it, so I set a goal to finish something else nagging at me that isn't part of this project, a partially written essay about abandoned places, before May began. I succeeded (and the process of writing it was fraught, so hooray, go me, I did something hard), sort of. I thought I had a three-strand braided essay, but what I actually had was one lyric two-strand essay and a separate, much more straightforward single essay. When I was finished with both, I knew the lyric one was missing something, but I submitted it to an urgent opportunity before figuring out the missing bit. (This is a rookie mistake and I'm ashamed of making it. Oh, well; I'll fix it and send it out elsewhere, when it's actually ready.) Mostly I'm pleased that I met the goal of finishing those two pieces, which have been dormant for over a year, waiting for me to put butt in chair and finish them.

There are three main threads in my creative work right now: a) books, b) hybrid film essays, and c) everything else. What I wrote at the end of April falls under c), but now that it's done, I have to return to b). The one I scheduled myself to write in May is a little obnoxious, as it relates to Jeanne Dielman, a static three-hour film mostly about a woman doing domestic chores, but I knew I needed to get it out of the way before I went wild writing about Mildred Pierce.

Earlier this spring, I bought a handmade creativity candle. I wanted, on the first day of May, to burn it and do a tarot reading to restart/redirect my creativity. I've written easily 100,000 words of book reviews in the past 18 months. That's great, but considering that volume of work, I think I need a genuine ritual to direct energy into the collection I want to finish, which requires more intuition and less brain than reviews.

I didn't succeed in that goal. May has come in strange. I feel like I need more time to think, and then I get bored and anxious inside my own head. I'm sleeping thickly, with upsetting, disruptive dreams. My emotions are labile, slippery. [private circumstance], in a way I haven't been since my early 20s, and I have no idea what that's about. Literally all of this could be stress, the unbearable stress of freelancing, built up over time, refusing to come to an actual head but bubbling ceaselessly under a thin and all-too-permeable layer of self-control.

I'm writing this here instead of somewhere private because it's all of a piece, the emotions and the creativity and the stress and the book(s) coming out and what I'm accomplishing and failing to accomplish. For me there's no separation between succeeding at writing that lyric essay - which I think is one of the more meaningful things I've written, if not really one of the best - and failing to do the laundry today. At the end of a given day, the measure of it is how much I have interacted with the material world instead of shutting it out. That's the only mark of success or failure I have to go on right now.

I worry that this sounds too bleak. I'm sorry. I feel weird right now. There's a big deadline coming up in about two weeks, so I could use that as an excuse, but of course there'll be more coming after that and after that; if it's an excuse, it's a permanent one. Seeing Avengers: Endgame yesterday overclocked my emotional state in a way I can't explain at all, since I don't have a lot invested in the MCU, and I'm still recovering from that, which is embarrassing to admit but absolutely true. Ceremonials being a real thing that's coming, all five of my desired blurbers agreeing to review the MS, people jumping in to offer their influence to help me and the book, is exhilarating, but also a brand-new experience that I don't seem to be integrating easily. I landed a fascinating opportunity this summer, but it'll drain my financial resources instead of adding to them, which is a very unkind cut at the moment. Etc. All the great stuff is as overwhelming and stressful as the less-great stuff, and often they seem to be entwined.

At least I cleaned the apartment over the weekend. Looking at the clutter was getting to me, and now it's a lot better.