Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thoughts about women authors’ success in Young-Adult fiction and why it’s maybe not such a bad thing

Straight up: female authors and authors of color struggle to get published at all, and once they are published they struggle to be seen as “legitimate” in the industry. I am not trying to refute that. The publishing industry should be putting their money where their mouths are and hiring POC as agents, editors, and authors. Ditto women. We are all in agreement.

That being said, I have been thinking about the recent boom in attention given to Young Adult titles, and the incredible quality of said titles, in the wake of Harry Potter. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Hunger Games, Divergent and more, more, more. Young Adult is a popular genre with all audiences, not just teenagers. At the same time, it seems like the Literary Fiction genre is fading into the background somewhat. On the NYTimes best seller’s list, out of the top fifteen, twelve of them are genre fiction (mostly courtroom/crime novels and horror/thriller, and one romance) with two “literary fiction” books and one Nicholas Sparks book, which, as you know, has chiseled out a genre all its own (and is welcome to it).

On the Young Adults best sellers list, women authors are dominating the top ten in hardcover.

Today’s young adults are tomorrow’s adults. Women’s voices are being heard loud and clear among kids who are going to be adults soon, and among adults who read YA as a guilty pleasure or frivolity. (Dare I say, if you’re an adult reading YA with no such excuses, you already think women write kick-ass fiction.) These authors—men and women alike—are making a concerted effort have inclusive casts of characters; not just girls but also people of color being represented positively within the stories.

There are worse audiences to be popular with.

Monday, November 23, 2015


As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently completed a class on writing noir fiction through LitReactor. It was great to be writing and providing feedback on a schedule. Something about writing assignments exempts them from the anxiety and deer-in-headlights feelings that I have regarding any creative writing I do for myself. The class helped focus and define a few things that, up until that point, had been amorphous blobs floating in the ether for me. There was little that I explicitly didn’t know, but the class helped put a fine point on it. The biggest thing, for me, was the character building exercise.

How many of you have seen the exhaustive character sheets out there for “really getting to know your main character”? Forty-plus questions with things like “which shoe does he/she put on first,” “what’s his/her favorite flavor of ice cream,” and “would he/she go back in time and kill baby Hitler”? When I see those, when I’m first trying to build a brand new character, I immediately get entirely overwhelmed and give up, thinking, “the character will show me who she is as I go.” This does happen, to be sure, but it took me three drafts to get to the level of familiarity that her actions don’t seem foreign or unsupported. I could have gotten to that level by thinking about these questions first. The following list is stolen directly from my class (instructor Benjamin Whitmer, all credit [and praises and oreos] to him):

  • Big personality: And I mean big. Think Tony Soprano or Richard III. The stronger your character’s voice, the more people will put up with them being bad. This doesn’t mean the character needs to big and blustery, just unforgettable.
  • Distinctive appearance: This seems too easy to even mention, but it’s worth considering. Try to imagine Ahab without his stump or Richard III without his hunchback. Complicated characters often find themselves identified by that which has wounded them. These get fixed in the sharp, perfect details (Ahab actually has two: the bone leg and his scar) that fix the character in our mind. Often these are given us right from the introduction.
  • Action: Character is action. As writers, our inclination is to create characters like us, who stand in the corners and observe. And, of course, there have been many great novels written from the point of view of characters who do so. (Including my favorite, Moby Dick.) But we’re not talking about Ishmael, we’re talking about Ahab. Our characters can’t be trusted except by what they do, and what they do should tell us who they are.
  • Competency: They should be good at something. Particularly the thing that makes them a bad guy. If they’re bad because they’re violent, they should be very, very good at being violent. If they’re good at manipulating others – like Iago, for instance – they should be very, very good at that manipulation. And we shouldn’t be told what they’re good at: We should be shown them being good at it. Show them winning in a violent situation, successfully manipulating people to nefarious ends, making great crystal meth; whatever it is that they do well. What it is that they do well that makes them bad, should be shown in a way that shows it just as bad as it is. Don’t flinch from that, nor from the consequences of their actions. Show them doing harm.
  • Incompetency: They should be bad at something. Particularly the thing that makes them sympathetic. If it’s their big heart that makes them love puppies, then show us them being bad at loving puppies (think of Lennie in Of Mice and Men). As with their competency, this should be shown, never told. You don’t need to sell the reader. Just small gestures to indicate there is more to them then what it is that they do well that makes them a bad guy.
  • Desires: Your character needs to want something. Something bad enough to disrupt their normal life. Their desires have to be as big as their personality, and it has to be something that the reader can relate to. This does NOT ever need said. Often, at least for me, one of the pleasures of a bad character is figuring out what it is that they want: What drives them. And often times it is those characters that do not have easily communicable desires/motivations that I find most thrilling. In fact, they may not even be aware of their desires themselves. But you need to be.
  • Fears: This is the same as their desires: Their fears have to be as big as their character. They will not always be entirely aware of them, and they should be shown in their actions. If they were transparent to the characters, they would not be fears. And, likewise, their fears will most likely be intertwined with their desires in ways that the character is not entirely aware of. (Like the rest of us.)
  • Internal Conflict: This intertwining of their desires and fears will create a good portion of their internal conflict. Again, as Faulkner said in his Nobel acceptance speech, the only story worth telling is the human heart in conflict with itself. This intertwining of desire and fear is where that internal conflict comes from. They will be trying to run towards their desires and away from their fears, and in the best cases they will find that the two are inseparable.
  • External conflict: This seems too obvious to say, but it is something that too often goes unsaid. Action is character, so the character needs to do things. But at the same time, things need done to the character. We need to see them under pressure, so that we can see the cracks. Anybody can behave at their best when there’s no pressure, but it’s during the tough times that you see character exposed. Likewise, no matter how bad they are, the more we see the external pressures on them, the closer we will feel to them. So put the screws to them. Everybody, and I mean everybody, is more interesting with a gun to their head.
  • Code of Behavior: Notice that I did not say moral code, or even ethical code. I don’t really care about their morals, if they happen to have them. Asking for a moral code implies the need for the writer to make moral judgments about their characters, and I’m firm a believer that’s the last thing you want to do. So don’t worry about their ethics or morals: Worry about what they will and won’t do. They should have reasons for that, sure, but you don’t need to care to judge them. Just show them playing out.
  • Proximity: Write close. No matter how bad your character is, never forget that it’s their story. The reader won’t forget it either. First person or close third person with heavy usage of the free indirect style are good ways to get there. Just by staying with the character, by watching their immediate reactions, the reader won’t be able to help develop a certain sympathy, even if the character is not necessarily sympathetic.

This applies more to noir heroes, who are more accurately called anti-heroes, since noir is by definition told from the point of view of the person performing the illicit act. Think Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice. But, aside from the language that specifically applies to “bad guys,” the same advice easily applies to “good guys.” And if you can distill your character down to the qualities above that actually seem to want an answer, you suddenly have a solid foundation upon which to build your character. After that, you may find that it’s easy (and fun!) to answer questions about ice cream and baby Hitler.

Now, one thing I want to emphasize from the above “worksheet” (or whatever): desires and fears. It is extremely easy to herp-derp through that, but do yourself a favor and don’t say, “My character wants lollipops, and my character fears not having lollipops.” It’s overly simplistic and ridiculous, if you think about it. For instance, you, dear reader, want tickets to the next San Diego Comic Con. You really really really want them. But do you really fear not having them? After all, you already don’t have them. I think we all have sortof amorphous “I’m afraid of never getting what I want,” but we all have much more immediate, defined fears that rank higher in our attention than “what if my dreams never come true.” As my instructor said, think about how the desires and fears intertwine: what terrible outcome, in the course of pursuing his desire, will your character be unable to avoid causing? It should end up being a clear choice between the two. Get what you want and fulfill your darkest fear… or neither.

I will put up my character breakdown that I did for this class.

Alec Walker
  • Physical characteristic: Terrible scarring as a result of a factory explosion.
  • Competency: Leading—with an iron fist.
  • Incompetency: Connecting with his son.
  • Desires:
    • Internal goal: Form a loving relationship with his estranged son.
    • External goal: Work for the Good of the Company, bring son into the fold.
  • Fears: Learning that his life’s work has been an illusion of fulfillment.
  • Internal conflict: Company vs Son
  • External conflict: Self vs Son
  • Code of behavior:
    • Will: Use manipulative, fear-based tactics to achieve his ends.
    • Use blatant threats to achieve his ends.
    • Use actual aggressions, short of violence against humans, to achieve his ends.
    • Use his fearsome appearance to achieve his ends, if all else fails.
    • Won’t: Use violence against humans to achieve his ends.
    • Ask nicely/beg.
    • Go out in public.
    • Go anywhere where “normals” can see him, unless absolutely necessary.
    • Show appreciation for underlings, or anyone but his bosses.

As I’ve illustrated above, you can see that the breakdown is nice and short. As long as you know what it’s saying, you don’t have to spell out every little thing. And now, you can guess how your character is going to react to most conflicts.

Well, this was a really, really roundabout way of saying that, after learning these things (and that thing in particular), I’m starting over—again. Luckily, I think the narrative I’ve written so far can mostly stay intact, but I’m rewriting the outline. And I’m rewriting it in a way that makes more sense to me (and thus will end up being more useful for me). I am about 800 words into my new outline and I already like it more.

So, progress is being made. Now if only I could just slay that mothafuckin’ dragon of anxiety that keeps popping up every time I open my Cassidy document, I could really knock this sucker out.

Wish me luck, faithful readers!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Joy and sorrow

I don’t talk about it on this blog much, but I foster kittens. It’s a thing I do because I can’t work. I take on the very young ones—the ones whose mothers died or abandoned them before they were weaned. I’ve taken litters that are mere days old. More frequently, they’re between one and three weeks old when I get them. For the most part, it’s an incredibly rewarding endeavor. The kittens I foster—the ones that survive, anyway—are sweet, adorable, loving, snuggly kitties and a joy to their new parents. But even though I love the work, it isn’t without its cost.

My very first litter of kittens was two babies, five days old: Ash and Ember. Their eyes weren’t even open, and they needed feedings every two hours. I was a nervous wreck. I was sure I was messing things up, and they would immediately die. Contrary to my fears, they were growing up into healthy, happy kittens, until about the three-week point.

One morning, Ash looked severely under the weather. She had saliva around her mouth and her coat was lank. I immediately brought her to the vets at the Humane Society. It turned out that she had fluid in her lungs, and probably had since birth, but she was small enough that it wasn’t affecting her very much before that point. She had to be euthanized.

That was my first experience with kitten death.

I don’t even know how many litters of kittens I’ve had since then. I’ve lost count. I’ve had a few litters with no deaths at all, and one litter that all died. Another litter of five: four of them died and the last had a terrible infection that left his two left legs crippled for life. (We ended up adopting him, because we had bonded with him far too much during his tribulations to let him go.) And just Tuesday, one of my litter of three had to be put down for a congenital heart defect that had stunted her growth and reduced her to, basically, an ornament.

It doesn’t get easier.

I’m not a religious person; I am, in fact, a spiritual atheist. But when I think about a tiny being of love and mischief lasting for only a few weeks on this earth, the only thing that gives me any comfort is the hope that its soul can go back up to the kitten-cloud, and hopefully get a better set of hardware the next time around. Or, alternatively, that the ghosts of kittens past are all still hanging out at my house, playing together.

It’s monstrously unfair that a kitten would just end.

Anyway. It doesn’t get easier when kittens die. But the grief doesn’t last quite as long as it used to. If we’re looking at the bright side, dealing with kitten death actually makes other parts easier. Giving them back to the Humane Society for adoption is one of the most painful things I ever do, every damn time. But it’s really good knowing that they’re not dead, that someone is loving them even more than I did.

Grief is confusing and hard and terrible. It’s easy to be disgusted with myself for feeling so horrible about such a small thing. I’ve known people who have lost people or pets with whom they have a much more profound relationship than I had with a kitten I’ve had for a few weeks. But the fact that it could be worse doesn’t mean it’s not exactly as bad as it is, to me, at that moment. You have to make room for grief, because it’s squeezing in whether you do or not and if you refuse to stretch, it’ll make you explode. So I cry for my kittens, and I try not to hate myself for the fact that I’m not sure I remember all of them anymore, and that I’ve stopped grieving for most of them by now. It is what it is.

Anyway. Wanted to share, and to keep this blog going, though I’ve tapered off a lot in recent months.

* * *

As far as writing goes, I haven’t made a lot of progress on Cassidy. I have, however, been taking a class about writing noir fiction, and that’s been very fun. My goal is to make a lot of progress on Cassidy in the latter half of November and through December: I hope to finish my current draft in that time, but I don’t want to hurry it. But I’ll do my best to write every day and blog about it.

Until next time.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A short story, trying to capture hopelessness.

For the hundredth time, just like the first time, I feel the smooth ash banister on my palm as I mount the porch steps. It is light, and I am dark. One, two, three, then the porch. I can’t feel my feet on the wood, sanded so finely that it feels like silk to the touch, sealed but not varnished, expensive. God, so expensive.

A tiny dark circle suddenly appears, near my right foot. The porch roof is new, it’s not raining, what…? Oh. I reach up and carefully wipe away the tears that have leaked onto my cheeks without my knowledge or permission. Wouldn’t do to get it wet. Not after I paid so much for it.

I open the front door for the thousandth time, and it’s like the first time. With wonder, I cast my eyes over the spacious foyer. I feel momentarily elated: this is my home, I made it. I had taken the outdated fixtures and shag carpet and tiny rooms and I had fixed them with hardwood flooring, recessed lighting, and fewer obstructing walls. I’d had it done, and I’d handed over my credit card.

In a fog, I float up the curved staircase (mine) to the nursery. Robin’s-egg blue, fluffy clouds painted near the ceiling. This room is really mine. I’d painted this room myself, and with every stroke of the roller I’d covered the growing dread.

“Honey, I don’t think this is working,” he had said.

“We just need a change,” I had said. “We can work through it. I know—what if we bought a house?”

We bought the house. It was an investment. Yeah, the mortgage payment was high, but he had a good job and it was only going to get better; if we needed help, we could ask his parents. Mine… well, I don’t want to talk about mine.

“Jaleesa, can we talk?” he’d asked me.

“I’m pregnant,” I’d answered.

“What? H-how?”

“I…” stopped taking my birth control, we need more, we need glue to keep us together, “I don’t know. It’s only ninety-nine percent effective you know. With those odds…”

But his eyes, blue with light lashes, his eyes said he knew the odds. With our problems, we weren’t often intimate. We weren’t going to beat them.

I place my hand on my belly, for the millionth time, and every time is the first time. I am swollen with child. I’m due in eight weeks, but I don’t know how to get through the next eight days. Love like a river, for the baby who isn’t here yet but whose existence is felt in every bank statement and bowel movement, flows through me, but it’s laced throughout with fear—desperate, desperate fear.

“Jaleesa, I met someone else,” he had told me.

“I’m pregnant,” I had wailed.

“I know. You can have it all. I know how much you love this house.”

“Wait… can’t we… don’t we…” I’d grabbed at his arm, held it tightly with the strength of a desperate woman.

He looked down at me and I could see that his eyes had tears standing in them. Not heartless, then. “Hon—Jaleesa, I tried to talk to you. So many times. You never talked back.” And then he was gone, bag in hand, to the taxi. And I stood on my porch, and to the left and right I saw my white neighbors on their beautiful porches, staring at us—at me. I could hear their thoughts: things were going back to how they should be.

The mortgage payment is due. It’s been due for a couple of months now. He owes me no alimony, because the house is worth so much. And because our judge was white, just like he is white. It’s too late to sell this house (MY house): the bank will foreclose before anything could be finalized. I don’t want to sell, anyway. I don’t want to be chased out of my dream house, my dream neighborhood, my dream life. What will I do? How will I care for my child? He had the health insurance, and he gave me no forwarding address.

For the first time—yes, the first time—in the hostile air of the exposed front yard, I walk out and sit down on the porch steps. I can hear their thoughts again (what does she think this is the ghetto), but I don’t care. I will sit here until someone takes me away. Maybe that person will know where I can go.

Friday, October 9, 2015

I'm losing it.

I’ve written dribs and drabs. I’ve constructed sentences that I’m proud of. For the most part, I’ve made a thing that I’m happy with. The third try at Cassidy is the closest yet to what I started out envisioning. I’m not bored, or tired, or distracted.

What am I, then? Why is it that as I get nearer to being good I get farther from wanting to continue it?

I have a long reading list. Several books checked out from the library, and they’re ebooks, so when they expire they just... go away. I want to read them, but I’m currently reading a much longer, much heavier sci-fi book that is also commanding all of my love and interest.

After I finished Becky’s feedback letter, I had a strong feeling of liberation. Finally, I could work on my own writing! Something changed during the long break wherein I didn’t think much about Cassidy, so that when I came back to it, it wasn’t at all onorous. I had somehow managed to recapture the feeling of writing for myself, the way you do when you’re a kid and being creative is just a thing you do, no matter how anyone reacts. I wrote 2,542 words, in quick succession. Everything felt like an increase in freedom, rather than a decrease. But then, it sorta... petered out.

I’ve had a lot of things happen in my personal life: pets adjacent to me dying, foster kittens aging out, and my own personal pets having medical problems. I’ve had a lot on my plate, and a severe deficit of energy to devote to anything that isn’t self-care. The remembered feeling of goodness hasn’t been enough to bring back my desire to write. But what’s worse: I also haven’t really felt bad about that fact.

The downside to dry spells is that gnawing feeling of guilt of a job left unfinished. It brings me back, again and again, because my characters get antsy and don’t want to be ignored. But this time... I’ve felt nothing. I want that nasty guilt. I want to feel compelled to go back. And right now, I don’t.

So I’m fishing in my pool of readers. What can I do to get reinvigorated? How can I make Cassidy matter again? I want to want to. Gimme your magic writing sparkles.

Word count: 5,820 (ᚼ)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Flash (non-)fiction project via Terrible Minds

March 2010: I was out in the complex putting fliers on doors when I got a call from my neurologist telling me I had to go to the emergency room.

I had to be dreaming. You don’t get a call from someone to tell you that you have to go to the ER, right? You go to the ER because you’re bleeding, vomiting, or otherwise leaking bodily fluids. You generally know you need to go to the ER. You don’t get told by other people, on the phone, unsolicited, that you’re having a medical emergency.

I didn’t know what to say. Branden (and everyone else I knew, including me) was at work. I felt uncomfortable driving myself 30–40 minutes to the hospital, in part because I was shaken up by being told I had to go to the emergency room and also because I’d been having an MS exacerbation that was drastically affecting my balance, vision, and sensory perception.

I don’t remember a lot of what happened. I know I called Branden, and he figured out a ride for me; I know I got back to the office and told Jessica that I had to go to the hospital and could she please tell Shelly for me?

It was not the first time that I’d felt that the expression of my disease was judged inadequate by people who, for some reason, were absolutely sure I was trying to cheat them somehow. After all… who is told that they need to go to the emergency room? I seemed like I was doing just fine, which is what happens when you try to not look like you’re drunk at work; when you try not to complain about the tingling in your hands and feet; when you try to hide the way you sometimes make fists that go all the way up to your shoulder and you can’t release them.

My friend Fletcher drove me to the hospital. I remember hugging Christina before getting in the car to go, but I don’t remember the drive. I remember going to check in to the ER and they asked me what was wrong—there is little that is more awkward than having to say, “I don’t know, my neurologist told me to come.” I remember the quagmire of human misery that surrounded me. The rest is flashes.

I know that I sat there, with Branden and Fletcher, for hours before the neurologist on call came out to talk to me. To this day, I don’t remember what the problem was. Something about the results of my recent MRI. They wanted to check me in overnight, so I told Branden and Fletch to go home. A bare few minutes later, she told me that, in fact, they weren’t going to check me in and I could go. My phone was out of batteries. The neurologist loaned me her phone, and I luckily had Branden’s phone number memorized; if he hadn’t had his phone on him I’d have been SOL, because I’d never bothered to memorize Fletch’s California number. I managed to catch them before they were out of the parking lot. We went and had pizza. I’ve never experienced anything quite so unreal.

Source: Terrible Minds by Chuck Wendig

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Giving good feedback

Neil Gaiman has a quote: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” When I first read that, I didn’t understand it at all. Since embarking on crafting usable feedback for my good friend and partner-in-pen Becky, it’s make more and more sense to me.

It’s a rare thing to read a book that is exactly what you would have written, if you had written that book. You might have had the protagonist make different choices; you might have used more (or less) figurative language, you might have incorporated more teddy bears. Whatever the case, a lot of the joy and value of reading a book that is not your own comes from those things that you would have done differently. It gives you a different perspective on something you feel you know.

When you have the opportunity to critique a work in progress, and your goal is to give actionable feedback, I think the hardest thing is to not try to force your critique-ee to do what you would do. Although sometimes it feels true, it is not accurate to say that yours is the only right way to do a thing. When you say “I wouldn’t have used this word here,” think to yourself, “Is that because this word is being used incorrectly, or because of my personal aesthetic choices?” If the word is used correctly, then that’s a good sign that you’re projecting your personal narrative voice onto the project you are critiquing.

When you’re picking out perceived problems, and you suggest a solution for it, you run a high risk of becoming attached to your solution. If your critique-ee decides to keep it the way it is, or change it in a different way, you may be inclined to take it personally, or even be disappointed that the “story you want” isn’t getting written. (Tangent: this is why I don’t understand commissioned stories. How could it ever be exactly what the commissioner wants? /tangent.)

As a critiquer, I am absolutely addicted to giving suggestions. I have found that I can’t not give suggestions, most of the time. If I see a word or phrase that bugs me, I leave a comment like, “reword this. Maybe something more like this?: [ . . . ]” I do that because I’m worried that if I don’t leave a suggestion, the full meaning of my criticism won’t be clear. Will she think I mean it’s awkward, or that the words don’t mean what she thinks they mean, or that they convey a different message than she was going for? I could say “reword for clarity / definition / mood” but... my tendencies are to suggest solutions. And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that. The key, very important thing, is to not become attached to my suggestions. For that purpose, I try to give not-great suggestions that get my meaning across. Something to point an arrow in the right direction but not push the author through a portal that leads to the destination.

One way to keep yourself in check when giving feedback, if you’re finding yourself trying to rewrite the story in your own words, is to always leave your feedback in the form of a question. “Did you mean to make so-and-so sound like an asshole here?” “Is this the definition of this word as you understood it?” “Are you sure giraffes are adding something to this scene?” “Could you be using more teddy bears?” And so forth.

I think it’s very important to be criticized, as a writer. You don’t spot your own biases and erroneous beliefs if no one calls you on them. You never have a reason to think about things differently. It’s incredibly hard not to have your feelings hurt by critique, but even so, it’s possibly the best tool in your belt. You’re so, so lucky if you have people in your creative circle who can give good, meaningful feedback. As a person receiving criticism, it’s important to take what they say into account. But, to paraphrase the Gaiman, they don’t know exactly how to fix it. Only you can write your book. As givers of criticism, it’s important we remember that.

So, if something doesn’t work for you in the WIP you’re critiquing, sometimes a vague “this doesn’t work for me because…” is plenty. Sometimes a person wants to find their own way up the mountain; they just have to know the mountain is there.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"All Lives Matter": why you are not a special snowflake and that response is still inappropriate

Hey guys. Can we talk?

I am not a person of color. Unless “pinkish” is a color. I don’t think it is. Anyway. I recognize that I have no personal connection to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, being a white girl of inordinate privilege. However, I am an ally. I know that there are better researched, more eloquent, more personal, more experienced articles and blogs out there about this subject, but I thought I’d come from my unique point of view: the layman’s explanation of why “All Lives Matter” is not an okay response to “Black Lives Matter.”

Here’s the thing. When you hear “Black Lives Matter” and earnestly respond, “Yes, but all lives matter,” we (the public at large) know you mean it exactly the way you mean it: sincerely, fervently, and equally. However, what you don’t understand is, when someone is saying “black lives matter,” they are not talking to you. They’re not trying to convince you.

When you say, “All lives matter!” there is something in your head that says, “I understand that a politician saying this would be inappropriate. But I mean it.” But, contrary to what your mom says, you’re not a special snowflake. When anyone says that, they mean it sincerely. They’re not misrepresenting their personal feelings. But their feelings—your feelings—don’t matter. Your insistence that all lives matter makes it crystal clear that you haven’t had to experience a Black friend or acquaintance dying at the hands of a correctional or law enforcement officer.

The response “all lives matter” to “Black Lives Matter” is exactly analogous to the “Not all men…” / #YesAllWomen twitter phenomenon of last year. Yes All Women was not asserting that all men are rapists. As women, we are completely aware that not all men are rapists: we have boyfriends, brothers, fathers, sons, and friends who show us that every damn day. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are a large enough number of rapists in the world to make all women nervous about being alone, in public, at night.

And here’s a point of interest: I am not nervous. I have never experienced sexual harassment or assault on the scale that apparently a majority of women do on a daily basis. I don’t know, maybe where I live is exceptional, but I count myself lucky. Still, my experience doesn’t matter. My good fortune is the exception, not the rule. So, who is going on twitter and making sure that everyone knows that, ’well actually, not all women…’ going to help?

Uh… men. That’s who. And in the specific example of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, men don’t need help. Even men who aren’t part of the problem don’t need help. They are not in danger. They are not at risk. They are not losing anything as a result of this movement.

Let me put it a different way. You are part of a marginalized group. I am not asking you to imagine a hypothetical situation in which you are part of a marginalized group, I am stating the true fact that you are part of a marginalized group. You belong to a demographic that is either currently having its rights eroded or have in the past had its rights eroded, and the fact that they are protected now was the result of a no-kidding war. You are a woman. A non-straight person. A non-cisgendered person. A person of color. You are childless/childblest. You are a nursing mother. You are unemployed. You are homeless. You are overworked. You are underpaid. You have no health insurance. You are a veteran. You are Christian. You are Muslim. You are atheist. You are neuro-atypical. You are an ex-convict. You are disabled. You belong to a movement by right of who you are. Imagine, you are at a get-together of people like you. The police come in and start shooting. One of them says, “No one cares. You’re just a bunch of <insert demographic here.>” You say, “My life matters!” He snaps back, “All lives matter.” You go on Facebook and say, “The cops shot us! Our lives matter!” and your friends, family members, acquaintances, coworkers, and former college roommate’s boyfriend scream at you, “All lives matter!”

In short, if this is not your movement, don’t stand in the way just because it doesn’t apply to you. Saying “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter,” you’re standing up for the people who don’t want things to change. You’re saying, “We don’t need to address this. Carry on.”

When you assert that all lives matter, as a direct response to “Black Lives Matter,” you are saying, “I’m not racist. I believe you matter! I also believe that everyone else matters too.” But. Listen closely, allies. With the ears attached to your heart. If you believe that Black lives matter. Equally. As much as everyone else’s lives matter.

Please. Keep. Your. Mouth. Shut. And. Get. Out. Of. The. Way.

Because the people who have the power to take Black lives don’t agree with you. Because law enforcement officers, correctional officers, judges, legislators, politicians, and newspeople have systemically oppressed and ignored Black lives since Black people arrived on the shores of this continent. When the BlackLivesMatter movement is talking, it’s those guys that they’re talking to. So you shouting “All lives matter!” is, quite literally, interrupting a conversation you’re not a part of.

You are free to feel impatient and frustrated that this “has to be a thing.” You are free to believe that All Lives Matter is a relevant sentiment. But if it’s a belief you sincerely hold…

Keep it to yourself.

If you wish to initiate a conversation, or hell, an argument, with me about this, feel free to DM me on Twitter or Facebook.

Any long, ranty, hysterical, or hateful comments will be immediately deleted. I welcome reasoned, respectful disagreement.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Learning new things =)

In the past, I have had bouts of feeling... extremely static. Like I have itchy feet—I don’t know what I want to do, but I know I want to stop doing nothing! These bouts can be really frustrating because most of the time, I’m not doing nothing. I’m just doing more of the same. I can’t put my finger on what I want to do; most things sound really unappetizing. What do I want‽ I yell at myself.

Finally, after much mental wiggling, I figured it out.

When I feel like that, I’m longing to learn something new. Something creative, preferably. A new craft, a new skill, a new technique. My brain is tired and wants to stretch its atrophied muscles.

In the spirit of learning new things, I’ve been going through the Python Codecademy course to learn how to program. I’m 90% of the way through it, apparently, and it’s come... fairly easy to me, so far, but the farther I get the more respect and awe I have for people who got a degree in this nonsense. You have to tie your brain up in corkscrew-knots to think through the logic, and once you have something that works, your brain unwinds and you don’t understand what you just did. But hey, it works, don’t look at it too closely!

I have been wanting to learn to program for a long time now. I learned PHP well enough to automate math problems, which was what I wanted it to do. But since I’ve been unemployed and struggling with being functional, there is a project that is near and dear to my heart that none of my code-savvy friends have the time or bandwidth to do for me: An Android app.

In its conception, Next is a to-do list, but it’s much more than that to me. It would be a time- and energy-management tool. It would help me keep things the right “size.” It would help me reclaim my agency.

Okay, I’ll go through why it would be special. (See, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start, haha!)

  1. User makes a list of what they need to do.
    1. User makes a short-term to-do list.
    2. User makes a long-term to-do list.
  2. User arranges things in priority-order.
    1. User organizes things in terms of what is most important to them to get done.
    2. User organizes things in order of what has the closest deadline.
  3. If there are explicit deadlines for a task, user assigns those deadlines.
    1. This can be used for appointments, too.
  4. User customizes settings.
    1. What kind of encouragement does the user want to receive?
      1. Text messages, notifications, social media, calendar events.
      2. Message a friend/SO/family member to ask them to send encouragement.
    2. How frequently do they want to be “encouraged”?
    3. What escalation of encouragement do they want?
      1. User-written affirmations / encouraging messages.
      2. Developer-written affirmations / encouraging messages.
    4. What kind of recognition does the user want for completing a task?
      1. None, congratulatory message, social media integration.
    5. Choose the level of urgency for each item on to-do list.
      1. One task may require frequent, escalating encouragements, while another may require a more low-level reminder schedule.
    6. Specify down-time.
      1. After a specified time of day, notifications go away, encouragement messages stop, and the pressure is off.
  5. When settings are finished, list is “finalized.”
    1. The list becomes a little obfuscated; at this point the user is passively discouraged from altering it.
  6. The next thing on the list becomes a notification in the user’s notification bar.
    1. The notification cannot be swiped away; the user must consciously deactivate Next or complete their to-do list to vacate their notification bar.
    2. The notification can be interacted with via “snooze” or “mark as complete” buttons attached to the notification.
      1. “Snooze” will move the item in question below the subsequent item on the list.

Uh, so, that’s it in a nutshell. It’s enforced baby-stepping, but not as baby is it could be, which is a little unfortunate, but I suppose a user could get that kind of granularity by having user-written “encouragements” that read “Stand up,” then 30 seconds later, “Put on your shoes,” etc. It will hopefully stop a to-do list from looking overwhelming, because, well, you only have one thing to do!

But that kind of integration is the sort of thing I’m not going to be able to jump right into, not least because programming for mobile is kindof a bitch. Right now I’m a little bit beyond “Hello World” and about aeons before making a duck that won’t run into the side of the pool. (A digital duck, people. I’m not God, or a mother duck. Geez.)

And, if you were going to ask, yes, this is avoidance behavior. Shut up.

How about you, gentle readers? are you learning anything new? Let me know in the comments. Ciao for now!

Word count: 3,776 (ເ)

Monday, August 31, 2015

An interesting realization

I’ve been rereading Becky’s first novel for the purpose of critique (and enjoyment, of course). I’m a bit nervous about it, because I don’t pretend to be an authority on writing quality, literary virtues, or writing clichés one might want to avoid. Every time I find something I want to “pick on,” I second-guess my own intellectual authority on the subject. It’s not going to stop me from giving my complete critique, but it makes me want to poison the well in advance, before she’s even gotten to read it.

But I’ve been thinking about my “qualifications” as a reviewer, and I’m realizing that I may not be the most unqualified person on the face of the planet to give meaningful critique. That’s a nice feeling.

Until our writers’ group was formed, I’d never really had the opportunity to give critique to an unpublished work, and especially not one that was intended for eventual publication. Because my group are my friends, my first instinct is to be kind and pull any punches that I might feel like throwing. For you writers’ group members who may be reading this, I’m never ever dishonest; I just have a tendency to emphasize my positive feedback. Recently, I polled the group to find out what we are all hoping to get out of it, and discovered to my delight that some of us are actually looking for the most rigorous critiques we can get. So, for those who want them, the gloves are coming off.

But something to keep in mind while critiquing is what audience the author is aiming their work at. You don’t want to rip apart the lack of wooly sheep in a book that is hoping to appeal to fans of rhinoceroses, for example. I am, at this point, hoping to write a book that has “literary merit,” by which I mean, “has subtlety, symbolism, allegory, themes, and a moderate amount of currently-relevant politics.” That is not what everyone wants, and that is okay. I don’t want anyone to think that I think that kind of writing is better than any other kind. It’s just that, right now, I’m highly attuned to that kind of writing: looking for the themes, looking for the hidden messages, looking for the slight twisting that gives a story ambiguity. If I don’t see it, I throw up red flags, and I have to remind myself that not everyone writes that way. It’s a balancing act.

But something else I realized is: I actually feel qualified (well, as much as I ever do) to give critique on pretty much any genre of story. My sci-fi teeth aren’t as sharp as some other people’s, but I’m able to keep up, I think. I won’t spot tropes and traditions in that genre as quickly as many of my peers, but that’s not always a bad thing. I’ve definitely been made to rethink choices I’ve made in my own book because of observations made by people who aren’t well-versed in the hardboiled genre. </tangent> I read almost every genre of book, from popular literary classics to literary classics few of my generation would have been exposed to to Poe to Shakespeare to Silverstein to King and Koontz to Scalzi to Grafton to Patterson to Niffenegger to Vinge to… well, the list goes on and on and on… and on. I’ve read Interview With a Vampire, I’ve read Dracula, I’ve read 30 Days of Night. (Not the Twilight series, though.) I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think that about covers the spectrum of the vampire genre? And that’s just the example that is closest to the surface right now. I read almost anything with words on the page, and I’m… fairly discerning, at this point. I can enjoy bad books, but I know they’re bad.

So… maybe what makes someone an “authority” is extensive study of a topic, rather than someone pinning an “authority” badge on them. Maybe I do have the intellectual authority to give meaningful critique.

I’m still working on reading through it, Becky, but so far I’m enjoying it, and I hope that my (eventual) critique will be helpful to you. ❤

Word count: 3,278 (೎)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tips for overcoming writers' paralysis and cultivating enthusiasm for your writing

Long title is long!

I was at the gym yesterday and I was finishing up my stretches. After stretches, I do ab workout—situps, crunches, leg-lifts, or jackknifes, depending on the day. Yesterday was jackknifes. After that, weights, then a half-hour of cardio. And I was lying on my back, looking at the wasp nest in the highest tippy-top of the cathedral-vaulted ceiling and dreading every single step of it with my whole self.

I probably don’t need to tell you, but dread is one of those ingredients in a workout (or any other chore) that really dominates the flavor and ruins the dish.

So I thought to myself, “Self, stop it! Why do you dread this so hard? You know it exactly. You have done it so many times you could do it in your sleep. Dreading it only makes it take longer; and when that’s not true, it sure makes it seem to take longer!”

“But, Self,” I protested, “What should I do to dispel this awful funk? You make it sound easy. I assure you, it is not.”

“Fear not, Self,” I laughed, “There is a solution! Behold!” I flourished my cape. “When you started coming to the gym, you were infused with feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self-power. These feelings have waned as the gym routine has become mundane, but in truth, the fact that the gym routine has lasted long enough to become mundane is an indication of exactly how accomplished, proud, and powerful you should feel!

“In short, do not focus on the mundanity, the sloggishness. Focus on the things that made you start coming in the first place! The way it draws into focus the ways in which your body is succeeding at being strong, beautiful, bendy—what have you. After all, what are you anxious for? Have you elsewhere to be? I think not. Now is your time. Enjoy it.”

Well, it got me through the rest of the workout, and I realized that the same technique can be applied to most things we dread. Staring at the blank page, fingers poised over the keyboard, thinking, “I know I was gonna say something… what was it again?” we have started looking at our writing as an obligation, a chore. What if we spent a few minutes right before we start writing to remember exactly why we write? If we can recapture the feeling of the joy of creation, the freedom of crafting a world to our own specifications, the way it used to be an escape rather than a prison, then writing will be a breeze.

Yesterday, after my workout, I was victim to a sustained headache and stomach ache and did not return to the world of creation, but I’m going to try out this technique today and see if it works as well for writing as it did for finishing my gym routine. Happy writing, everyone!

Word count: 2,778 (૚)

Inksoldiers poetry challenge: Day 3

Even moonlight makes shadows.
Where else can the beasties hide?
Between the leaves,
Behind the fence pickets,
They wait, just for you.
As the moon gets brighter,
The Nightlings swarm;
They smell the romance and
They claim it for themselves.
The brighter the blue,
The higher the risk,
And what walks back into your bedroom
Will look like you,
But now you will drink moonlight
And crave the misbegotten lovers,
Forgetful of who you once were.
But where’s the fun without the risk?
Airy, light, so very bright,
Come share my starry night.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Inksoldiers poetry challenge: Day 1

Daylight fervor
Chores, errands, friends
You see purpose.
But when sunshine wanes
Your cup is empty.
Nothing remains
To testify to your day.
In the blackness of night
Your eyes develop their true sight.
You see the world you hide
From yourself when
You pretend that living
Just to continue living
Is enough.
Awake, exhausted, floating and lost,
Your spirit’s eye searches for the Art
You called “frivolous” when you left it behind.
The sun rises, watery and new,
And you push away the ache to sleep
And remind yourself how “happy” you are.

Challenge source

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I'm gonna talk about it now.

I promised myself when I started this blog that it was not going to become mopey mopey Emoville. So I’m writing this post in the spirit of grabbing my demon by its horns and showing it to the world. Maybe doing that will help me fight it. Or maybe it’ll just get me a little leeway with my gentle readers when I don’t blog every single M/W/F or write as many words as I should.

I’ve mentioned my fatigue and my MS before. I’ve tried to downplay it, or to only give it a glancing blow on my way to more upbeat things. But I think the result of that is to make myself look like I’m failing to achieve (or even approach) my goals for… no reason. And I don’t like giving it power over me, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t already have it.

Fatigue is a lot like depression. So much so that I don’t think I can safely say I don’t have a certain amount of depression. Fatigue is different from being tired. There are days when I feel like I have energy; I have no desire to nap, but I simply cannot bring myself to do anything productive, be it chores, errands, or writing. For chores, even the first, smallest baby step seems like a mountain, or a sheer rock face. For writing, I open my document and I read the last thing I wrote and I put my fingers on the keyboard, and then… nothing comes. I do what they tell you to do: I write nonsense or I write journal-style just to get the words flowing, but the heart isn’t beating. I can squeeze out a few drops but that doesn’t make it flow.

Fatigue is present in most people with MS even if they have no neurological symptoms or lesions, like me. For me, fatigue is crippling. I fail to fulfill social and familial obligations. I have to cancel activities that I was really looking forward to. Almost everything I do, I have to force myself to do. Except on days when that’s not true. Some days, I feel almost normal. I can do three or four whole things (or, alternatively, write a couple of thousand words) before crawling into a deep dark hole. If I’m not careful, I can spend all the energy that I have that day and overspend into the next day’s energy, leaving me twice as wrecked as I would otherwise be.

And those days are almost worse than the others, because they make me feel like I’m failing all the rest of the time.

I have a problem moderating myself, separate from MS. As long as I can remember, I’ve been inclined to follow rules that I set for myself as though they were set in stone. I think that’s because I went through a phase where having no rules resulted in me failing out of college. So, if I “break the rules,” I have no safety net. I eat a bag of Doritos, drink a 2-liter of Mountain Dew, and play Don’t Starve while Law & Order: SVU plays in the background. My therapist tells me that sometimes I can’t be productive, because, uh, I have MS. But “being kind to myself” looks, to me, a lot like breaking the rules. And the more I break the rules, the easier it is, and the harder it is to “be good.” So, being kind to myself may actually result in me losing all the good habits I’ve made over the past eight years. Can you blame me for getting mad at myself for backsliding? There are only so many things I’m proud of—I’m not going to forgive myself for losing all of them.

So, I have no energy. So I turn into a person-sized slug on the couch, incapable of doing anything else. So I get mad at myself for slugging. And that sucks more energy out of me, because (just like kids whose parents say “no” more than “yes” end up feeling like they can’t do things,) if I don’t have my own support, I’m not going to feel empowered to accomplish anything. So the next day I have even less energy. So I can’t write, or do anything else. So I get mad at myself. At a certain point, I can’t even sleep anymore, I’m too busy being pissed at myself. So, guess what? No energy. And on and on it goes.

It’s bad enough knowing that I could never support myself anymore. If Branden were to upgrade to a newer model, I’d be up a creek. It feels like I was robbed, since I was aimed at a master’s degree in architecture when I had to admit defeat to the fatigue and confusion and the lack of balance, sensation, and coordination—like the weeping angels touched me, my potential was stolen from me, and I am doomed to whatever scraps I can get now, from my tiny cage lined with wood chips. But I feel like my brain is my enemy. And when your brain is your enemy, what could an ally possibly offer?

I am trying to learn brainhax to trick myself into moderation. Make good habits of self-regulation. But when even that feels mountainous and unattainable… I feel like I’m in Inception, just falling deeper and deeper into limbo.

So… that’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks. Please stay with me. I can’t do this alone.

Friday, August 7, 2015

New and unanticipated difficulties, hooray!

I was so excited to start writing narrative. My outline was complete and finally everything made sense: all the clues pointed in all the right directions, and I’m no longer relying on Cassidy’s biases and lack of experience to create tension where there really isn’t any. I think—I really do—that this book is going to be good.

So why can’t I write it?

I think the biggest problem is that I haven’t found Cassidy’s voice yet. Exploring the feminist/sexist aspect of the story was a choice that I made from the get-go, but it’s really not fun to write the scenes, especially so early in the writing process. (Note to self: maybe I could put this scene on hold and come back to it once I’m on more secure footing?)

So, Cassidy is less inexperienced in this version. She needs to start with a good amount of confidence and authority so that when the shit hits the fan, her loss of objectivity and her feelings of being “at sea” are more powerful. There are clues gotten from interrogation, from intuition, from observation, and from hands-on investigation. (In my reading, it seems that all of these things are necessary to make the hardboiled detective who s/he is.) There is a world outside Cassidy’s investigation, and some of the people-of-interest have other shady shit going on that is unrelated to the case but will influence they way they deal with her. And, she gets to start building contacts in her new city.

But when I sit down to the keyboard, the words don’t seem to come.

Here’s the kind of stupid shit I do to avoid writing but still claim I’m “being productive”: I made an HTML version of the Google doc of my story so far. I mean, I set the page width, the font, font size, there’s a gray border around the “page,” there are page breaks and page numbers and everything. Why? I dunno. Cause. Now it’s in a format I could, theoretically, email my friends and it wouldn’t take as long to load as a Google doc. Also cause playing with CSS is fun. And it’s both easier and more technically challenging than writing. I am just so... tense about writing.

It’s super bizarre, too, because over the last few days (weeks?) I’ve really started understanding, intellectually, that I can’t “screw it up.” Text is so much kinder than any other creative medium if you make a mistake: you just hit backspace. Yes, you might end up deleting entire sentences, paragraphs, pages... or even entire drafts. But you can try, try again at virtually no cost. So why am I so freaked out?

There are no words.

But I’ve decided I’m not going to beat myself up. It really doesn’t do any good.

Word count: 1,989 (߅)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pets or Pests?

I haven’t been productive. I wrote on Friday, about 1,200 words, but since then I’ve been frozen, forlorn. On Monday, I played Don’t Starve all day. Yesterday, I didn’t even do that much.

Today, I feel like I could happily destroy every fragile thing. I don’t know where this is coming from; nothing is different from yesterday. But I’m trying to defuse the bomb of my mood, as well as possibly be productive today. So, I’m writing a blog entry. Since I have nothing to say about writing, I will tell you all about my Real Life Animals.

Monday, I picked up two bottle-baby kittens. They are three weeks old, which means they are pretty much past the “failure to thrive” threshold, but are still mega-tiny and needing of regular feedings. Monday night, I got up at one am. to feed them, but that was only because I had only gotten them at six-thirty and didn’t know when they’d been fed before I picked them up. I wanted to make sure they had plenty of food. Last night, they were fed at 10:30pm and then I fed them again this morning when I woke up.

So, we have two cats who are fourteen years old. They both have kidney compromise. Then, we have one four-month-old kitten with a cold; or possibly a deviated septum. He’s very snotty, snuffly, and whuffly, but doesn’t seem sick other than that. Finally, two bottle-baby foster kittens. “Bottle baby” means what it sounds like: they need to be bottle fed every three hours or so (except at night, as I mentioned above). So, mornings and evenings are a madness of feeding, medicating, and (at night) preparing for bed.

Squish, one of the fourteen-year-olds, needs a joint supplement morning and evening. Happily, this is a powder that gets sprinkled on his food and is apparently quite tasty, plus the others can safely eat it, in case Squish doesn’t quite finish it before wandering away. Tayler (other fourteen-year-old) and Squish each get a tiny pill for their kidneys. Gnar (four-month-old) gets a dose of lysine paste on his food, morning and evening. The babies (working titles Mist and Smoke) need to be stimulated to use the bathroom, then fed Kitten Milk Replacement (KMR) with a bottle, then stimulated again, then “given touches,” which is to give each ear, tail, and nose a quick rub, and rub the bottoms of all four feet, so that they are accustomed to such touching in later life. Then they go back into the carrier, which rests half-on-half-off a heating pad, and is covered with a blanket. They spend most of their days sleeping. Then, in the evening, Gnar gets his teeth “brushed” (actually, rubbed with a bit of gauze) because dental work is damned expensive. He’s getting used to it, every day he protests less.

Gnar, unlike Squish and Tayler, is very interested in the babies. At first, they would approach him and he would leap away, frog-like. But after a few hours, he got braver. He started wrestling with Mist.

I watched them like a hawk, and he was extremely gentle, even though it did look quite rough: his “bites” never closed, his claws were all sheathed, and he would let Mist go any time Mist wanted him to. Also, Mist would wander away, then come right back and start climbing on Gnar again. So, I decided that they were safe.

But after a few more hours, it became clear that Gnar was getting more and more worked up about the babies: he was less in-control when he was bouncing around them, tackling them, and wrestling with them. So now, I have to keep them separate while feeding the babies. Feeding my animals takes most of an hour, it seems. But that’s okay, because they’re great and I love them.

Today, I will write or know the reason why I didn’t. Love to everyone.

Word count: 1,270 (Ӷ)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Writing again!

I am writing again! And it is good! I have almost completely finished my outline—I’ve gotten to the point where most of what’s left to outline is stuff that is staying mostly the same from Cassidy1. That in and of itself is sortof a double-edged sword, since outlining that is boring. And boringly outlining things is unappealing. But I shall power through! Because on the other side of the outline lies... The Narrative.

I’ve been making incremental progress over the last couple of days. Real Life has been complicated, with vet visits happening three out of five days this week. I try to open the file and peck out a line or two despite the mental distress that my sweet little furballs inspire. Also, someone in my writers’ group is going through something extremely exciting that I’m really not allowed to talk about. But I am thinking about it quite a bit.

Right now I’m feeling full of warm fuzzy goodness to be part of a writing community. It’s a small one: pretty much just my writers’ group. I know I could join something bigger, join a forum or a fandom or something, but I’ve always preferred smaller, closer circles. I am just eternally grateful that my group is one that is so goddamned supportive and giving. What would I do if Rachel didn’t like me harassing her on a daily basis, moaning about how hard writing is and how I’m a special snowflake because I’m struggling with writer’s block? I would probably give up, to be totally honest. It’s good to know that writer’s block is ubiquitous, and that I’m not a special snowflake, but that so what, that doesn’t make it not terrible and real, so here have some hot chocolate and quit hitting myself. It keeps things in perspective to know that the most passionate prolific writer I know has days that she plays WoW all day and doesn’t write a single word. (Though, sorry, Rachel, the title of most passionate and prolific may be transferring to Becky before too long.)

I have a tendency to think that there’s a method to do things, a “right way,” like the five-paragraph essay. If I don’t do my outline with this particular formatting, I’m doing it wrong! That sort of fixation is the killer of creativity. Talking to people who all do things different ways gives me the courage to do things my own way and not worry if it’s “right,” because it’s my own and all it has to do is work for me.

I feel like I should try to blog about something other than writing. My daily struggles aren’t super interesting. But it’s all I can think about at this point, so it’s all you get. Until next time, faithful readers!

Monday, July 27, 2015

This book stole my brain last night.

Last night, I was having a little trouble falling asleep. I’d just picked up a new book, shortish; a scant 167 pages. I decided that rather than play phone games (against the rules after 11pm), I’d read a few more pages before trying again to fall asleep.

Though I watched 2am go by, I couldn’t bring myself to stop. There were no chapters, and the “hard breaks” were… not that hard. Finally, minutes after 4am, I finished the book.

Maybe ten pages before the end, I was thinking things like, “Okay, we’ve heard all this before; why are we going through this again; ugh, get out of your head already!” The “twist ending” that I had believed was the twist ending was visible almost from page one and it seemed to be getting more and more obvious as the book went on.


I’m not going to spoil the book at all. I’m just going to say. I was surprised. I managed to fall asleep, and when I woke up this morning, the book was still with me. Solidly. I woke up with Branden at 7:30 and wasn’t able to nap at all, despite considerable exhaustion. And though the fog of the narrative has let me go, I just have to say. This book is one of the tightest I have ever read. It is reminiscent of Hemingway’s six-word story in its capability to pack a ton of punch into a pint of words. It. Is. Creepy. And powerful. And… shiver.

This morning I thought maybe I could still make it to the gym, but wisely I gave up on that idea fairly quickly and decided to tackle the internet instead, which I haven’t caught up on since Thursday. (That’s a lot of missed internet, folks.) I felt that it was probably a lost cause to try to write.

First thing’s first: the foster kitten needs to go in tomorrow for her spay surgery. Call and set that up, no big deal. Then, I decided that ordering my medication was probably a good idea. Which required me to call my pharmacy as usual, then not as-usual to call the neurology department at the hospital. That’s three phone calls for the anxiety of at least six! Have I mentioned that I hate making phone calls?

Then, at lunch, I grudgingly looked at the coupon I had that is expiring tomorrow for a free veterinary exam for my newly adopted kitten. No, I didn’t forget to do this before. I remembered it. I just didn’t want to. So I called and made him an appointment, just under the wire.

Then I emailed my Writers’ Group, to clarify our mission.

Hey, I’m usually a quarter this productive on my best day. WTF?

I was looking forward to playing Don’t Starve since before opening Tumblr, but now I’m feeling like I’ve done all that, plus blogging (plus reading an entire book last night)… maybe I should try to finish my outline. I mean, excessive italics don’t really matter much in an outline.

Today my rambles come in “short” or “ridiculous.” I guess you guys get “short.”

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Back from Seattle

Well, it was whirlwind and I think I need a vacation to recover from my vacation, but it was also the greatest weekend trip ever. I had no idea that Seattle was so cool, and it made it glaringly clear to me that I should never attempt to write a story set in a place I’ve never been. There was so much about it that I’d never have known, but that anyone who had so much as visited would have picked on. So glad I went!

A research trip is vastly different from your average vacation. We squeezed in a few tourist things, but for the most part we parked downtown and walked around. We went to the public library. We drove two and a half hours (one-way) to visit a beach to make sure it would be an acceptable setting, then turned around and went back without even leaving the car. (Beautiful white-sand beach, by the way. Totally visit the Grayland State Park. Totally doesn’t work as the setting, though.)

Seattle’s history is fascinating. The construction and the conception, the architecture, everything. Our visit was absolutely jam-packed. The day we got in, we visited Pike’s Place Market (an experience unto itself) before we even checked into our B&B. To get there we took a shuttle, then the water taxi. It was 92° and humid as Satan’s armpit, and I was wearing long pants (of course)—I finally nearly had a panic attack because I felt like I couldn’t breathe and at that point we went back (via water taxi and shuttle, which we took in the wrong direction and had to walk back to the stop and wait another half hour sweating and frothing and generally wishing we were dead) to the B&B and tried to reform our melted forms into human shapes, using such tools as The Shower and Fans and Air Conditioned Rooms.

Sunday we had brunch at SkyCity in the Space Needle, which was breathtaking. The food was well above-average, but I’ve had better, but that’s not why you eat there—you eat there because the restaurant is walled with glass and rotates for a 360° view of the city and the Sound. We went to the Chihuly museum and there was a street fair and then we went to see the Fremont Troll, a public sculpture under a bridge in the suburbs.

Monday was the Library, the 5-hour drive and, ultimately, sushi. We stopped on the way back from the beach in a tiny town with no cell service called Westport for lunch; we ate at The Original House of Pizza, and it was really good. Hit that up while you’re in the area for Grayland beach.

The final adventure came on Tuesday, when we slid into the airplane five minutes before they stopped boarding and were breathing sighs of unmitigated relief and disbelief that we’d managed to check our bag and return the car in time—when apparently the plane broke off its tow bar and we had to disembark and find a new way to get home.

This was probably all our fault—a balance between the luck it took to get to the gate on time and the twisted whims of fate.

Phone calls, runnings back and forth in the airport, hungriness, exhaustion, and finally we got a flight on Delta at 7:35pm that was delayed to 8:40 and got to DIA barely before midnight. We caught the bus with ease and were in bed by 1:40am.

I took a bunch of notes, both digital and mental, and I’ve apparently discovered a place I’d be willing to live in the US that is outside of Colorado. If you ever visit Seattle, don’t miss the library. Or the tour of the underground.

Happy Thursday, all!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Omigosh omigosh omigosh plane ride tomorrow!

So, faithful readers, I have to admit my blunder. I realized on the 15th that I had completely failed to buy the plane tickets to Seattle. I had begun the purchase; I got all the way to the end, in fact. It escapes me that I didn't complete the purchase. I honestly don't know how that happened, because every screen of the purchase process was familiar to me. I guess I must not have clicked that final, fateful button. So, flying to Seattle got a whole lot more expensive. I am so pissed at myself.

On the upside, I did not fail to reserve a room, which I was doing concurrently to buying the plane tickets. So at least when we get there, we won't be wandering the streets begging for alms. (Actually guys, do you have any alms? Considering our tickets cost 134% of what we were anticipating, we could really use some alms. Anyone?)

We're going to do plenty of fluffy touristy things, but we'll also spend a greater-than-normal time just driving around, looking at architecture, layout, neighborhoods. I'll visit the University of Washington campus. Ride the monorail. I need to try to get a sense of living in Seattle in just 48 hours. I guess it's a good thing that Cassidy has only lived there for a week.

Well, Wednesday I was struggling with my outline and chatting with Rachel, who kindly gave me an in-depth critique of my second draft… which I had subsequently put off reading because I was finding the first few notes too emotional to deal with. I didn't think it was perfect; far from it. But the things that got picked on were unexpected, and I didn't have my armor up. So, I put off reading it until I was finished reading all my research reads—and then I conveniently forgot to read it once I was done.

So I was struggling with the outline! and realized that I hadn't finished receiving the critique from my second draft. So I sat down Wednesday and Thursday and reread my second-draft with in-line comments, then read her editor's letter. Having given myself time to know that what I was going to read wouldn't make me feel good and wouldn't be all the things I expected them to be, reading them was a lot less hard than I'd feared. I didn't agree with all of them, but those that I didn't agree with have been made somewhat irrelevant by the changes I already know I'm making to the narrative.

I finished reading all the critiques and started hammering away again at the outline. I made some progress, and I continue to be happy with the development. I'm starting to get invested in just the outline, where before it felt a lot like pulling teeth. And I'm realizing some more things that need to research. Like: If someone took an alias a long time ago, how does a PI trace that person back to their original identity? We all assume that without something like witness protection, we'd have a very hard time picking up a new identity, but honestly, how would you know if the guy in the next cubicle used to be named Harold Muller and wrote fliers for the IRA? Seriously, I'm asking.

On an unrelated note, have you guys heard anything about the London rents crisis? This is the only thing I've seen about it, but based on this it seems pretty messed up.

Until next week!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Posting on a Tuesday? What?!

Does everyone here know about Dracunculiasis, which people in places with no access to clean water can contract by drinking water that contains guinea worm larvae? The infected person becomes a host to a worm that, a year or so later, decides to leave by erupting through the skin of the leg. To keep the worm moving, the people treating the infected patient will allow the worm to bite a matchstick, then rotate the matchstick so that the worm is wrapped around it. They continue to wrap the worm around the matchstick incrementally as it slowly emerges, until finally, from hours up to a week later, the worm has left the body. Breaking the worm in the extraction process is not a good idea, since the remains of the worm can cause problems in the patient’s body.

That’s pretty much how writing my outline has been.

The upshot is, from objective reading of my outline so far, it seems much more in line with the traditional format of the detective novel. Less meandering, less navel-gazing, less weird uncertainties about motivations or progression of events. I really like how it’s shaping up in this draft. Of course, the actual writing writing hasn’t started yet; I’m very much itching to do so, but I know the importance of finishing the outline. I carefully wrote down most of the good ideas I was having during my research month+, and when I came back to visit my vault of genius I learned that I didn’t actually write down all that much: I had inflated it in my memory. My outline must be complete, because I know that I’ll accidentally get to the end of it, flying along, then go back to it to figure out where to go next and realize that I left myself hanging.

But yes! I did start writing my outline last Friday. I put on my music and turned off the faucet that likes to spew forth uncertainties, distractions, and the idea that I have a choices in the matter. I learned that writing an outline with kittens frolicking in your lap is actually possible. (Not easy. But possible.) Made easier by moving the work station upstairs, where kittens get easily bored.

The tragedy happened when I finished for the day: I brought my laptop back downstairs and plugged it in. Found out the next day that it hadn’t charged at all: finally, however-long-worth of kittens using my power cord as a toy had finally done it in. (At least, I hope and believe that’s the problem.) A new power cord is on its way to me as we speak, but in the meantime, Branden has kindly allowed me use of his Chromebook. And Google Docs, amiright? Why would you use anything else? Or at least, anything stored locally?

And so, today, I am back to the grind of the outline, as soon as this post is posted.

But that’s hardly exciting. The exciting thing I have to report is this: This coming weekend, Branden and I are visiting Seattle, mostly for fun but using my novel as an excuse! I really, really shouldn’t write a book set in a place I’ve never been. And even though we will only be there about two days, I’m hoping to squish a bunch into the visit. I’ve been aimed at the Chihuly museum, the troll under the bridge, and the library; is there anywhere else we should endeavor to visit?

I’m hoping to finish my outline in short order and get to the meaty meaty writing. Wish me luck, everyone!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Reading complete!

I finished The Big Sleep last night. It’s a wonderful book and I’m certainly going to be reading more Raymond Chandler from now on (in fact, I have just now checked out Farewell, My Lovely from the library). He is where all the awesome hardboiled tropes come from. He warms my guts.

I feel like I am armed and armored, where before I was naked and wielded only a stick. Yes, I survived the wilderness, but I wasn’t pretty at the end.

My metaphor isn’t holding up too well. That’s okay.

I am very excited to begin writing again. Given the changes I feel are necessary to make my book not just good but great, I’m going to have to start by outlining—again. Yes, I’m starting completely over once more. But this time, I’m keeping all the same characters and they’re playing the same roles, if in different ways. This means that I will almost certainly need at least one more draft between this one and the final draft, but hey, what else am I gonna be doing? Might as well write something worth reading.

As with the first day of anything, I start out excited and quickly become overwhelmed and terrified. (Not to mention that I’m tired as balls.) My brain is trying to tell me that it’s okay to play some Don’t Starve before getting started. My brain is wrong. The metaphor for my feels about writing is, if I were to have five energetic kittens fighting each other in my lap, playing with my hair, pulling on my earrings, that’s about how focused I feel. This may be at least partially because this is actually happening to me right now. I need to put myself into an environment where I control the stimuli. It doesn’t have to be quiet but the noise and tumult should be present by my will.

I wish I had more to say about writing right now. Being at the very beginning of a new draft makes for thought storm but word drought. So I will talk about other things.

My friend and Writers’ Group cohort Becky has been participating in Twitter pitch contests, and that is most excellent! She actually has a finished book to pitch. I’m a little jealous, not gonna lie. But it’s been making me think that I could really use a community. Blogs I follow, comment on, and/or contribute to. Twitter banter. Forum friends. Self-promotion would probably be a lot easier if I felt like less of an internet spectator and more of an internet participant.

I would love to have shorter stories to share, so that people might read my work and enjoy it, and maybe long for more. I have shared a few things on deviantArt, but have never gotten any feedback. Does anyone have suggestions about where to share short fiction with a community? I’m not a writer of fanfic, though I sort of wish I were; that comes with some built-in exposure.

Later today I’m going up to the city park to sign a petition to recall all members of the Jefferson County school board, because reasons. Though I do not and will not have a child in any school district, I still believe that education is basically the most important thing when it comes to bettering one’s life, becoming a creative person, and becoming a good neighbor. Having a school board dominated by people who prioritize money and “patriotism” over quality of education will simply perpetuate the problems that exist in society today.

Anyway. I’m gonna wrap this up, I feel I may be participating in avoidance behavior at this point. Wish me luck, and happy writing, all!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Still. Reading.

So, July has begun. My high hopes of having a third draft by now are flapping, shredded, in the wind. My hopes of having a third draft sometime this year are hiding behind things, hoping to not get stomped by hard-hearted reality as it thunders past.

I finished The Maltese Falcon (67,000 words, by the way). 179 pages (the other 10 were discussion questions) never took so long to read, ugh. The book is good, and tight, and I enjoyed it, but it would never have gotten published today. The book starts off with the physical description of the protagonist, followed immediately by the physical description of the secretary, followed immediately by the physical description of the femme fatale, followed immediately by the physical description of the protagonist’s business partner… there were step-by-step descriptions of how Sam Spade rolls a cigarette, how he sits up in bed, how he eats. I can’t imagine how long the book would have been if Hammett had been forced to cut those descriptions, like he would be if he were trying to get published now. The prose is utilitarian and without flourish. You can clearly hear the whisky-and-cigarrette-smoke-ruined voice reading the book; growling, begrudging, yet trying to hide the fact that he’s enjoying himself.

It was a relief to finish the book, and I immediately tried to check out The Big Sleep, but of course it was checked out of the library. Instead I checked out a copy of K Is For Killer, a book that was picked on by Hardboiled and High Heeled as dealing directly with women filling traditionally men’s roles, their independence, and the theme of the “wrong body” that pervades the female detective genre. I read it in about three days and found it highly enjoyable, and when I finished it, The Big Sleep was still checked out. What to do now?

I read for pleasure for a few days, but today I was just starting to get an itch in my britches to start writing again. Just in time, I got an email saying that The Big Sleep was back in stock—thank god! Who knows what may have happened if I had started writing, all willy-nilly. Perish the thought.

My third draft is going to be very different from the second; all in good ways. It’s not going to be quite the reinvention that happened between Cassidy0 and Cassidy1, and I’m very happy about that. It is in my nature to look at my experiences and average them, and make predictions based on them. Like, “The first time I ever wrote a second draft, I completely rewrote the whole book from the very ground up.” So, obviously, that’s what every subsequent draft will be… until I have a larger sample size to draw from. Now, I’m looking at keeping most or all of the same characters, tweaking their roles minimally, tweaking their personalities considerably, adding scenes aimed at developing characters and themes, and generally grab the steering wheel and aim the car back onto the more acceptable, less self-involved road (where the “self” is Cassidy). It’s fascinating to me how a book can be vehicles for themes and messages that aren’t visible to the naked eye; one must unwrap them, one thin layer at a time, like an onion, to arrive at the pungent nugget of truth underneath.

Maybe it’s just true that, when you’re writing, you see the jewel of the message you’re trying to convey. The words are the wrapping paper. Your finished product is never going to look like that jewel, but that’s okay, because if it did, it wouldn’t be interesting—it’d be a necklace with no neck; a mustache with no one to twirl it. The reader needs to arrive at the jewel on their own to grasp the full impact.

Anyway, I post this and I begin The Big Sleep, as one. Happy reading to us all!