Friday, January 30, 2015

Timers are magic

I’m getting around to blogging quite late in the day today. I’m blaming Branden for that. Because it’s more relaxing than blaming myself, because certainly it’s not more his fault than mine. I just like his company too damn much.

Yesterday, I accidentally read things about Gamer Gate. I have been aware of this... shall we say travesty... since its inception, but I didn’t really know the affect it was having on real people. Then I happened upon this post by Zoë Quinn, and it made me realize that things are really not okay. I don’t feel well-informed enough to really comment on the GG situation specifically, but I want to make it loudly known that I support babes—in gaming, on the internet, and in the world at large. Yes, there are women who could be more civil and less sensitive to guys who neither intend nor actually do any harm. But a minority of rude women does not excuse the vile vitriol that has been spewing forth from the misogynistic underbelly that has spawned from anonymity on the internet.

I think it would be a really good idea for there to be some kind of real-life consequences—or, hell, I’d settle for actual online consequences—for bad behaviours online. You can’t call someone the n-word (nor most other names) in public without some amount of backlash, whether that be getting punched or getting shamed by their friends; the fact that this is not really possible online is a damned shame. The ability to verbally, mentally, and emotionally abuse someone in the context of an online game is undoing decades of work done by marginalized groups to teach children how to be good citizens and good neighbors, and it should not be tolerated by we who know better.

But how do we who know better collect any amount of influence, let alone wield it? It seems like an insurmountable problem. But I would propose immediately quitting any game in which someone calls someone else something that is racially, sexually, sexuality-ly, gender-ly, or identity-ly charged and taking all like-minded players with you. You train animals by refusing to reward their bad behavior with attention or play, and humans can be trained the same way.

But I don’t know anyone who is willing to do that, unfortunately. Even my most civic-minded friends call it the cost of doing business, which is complete BS in my humble opinion.

But I’m not an online gamer, and no one cares what I think. So I should get back to what I do know: how to fumble about scribbling words onto a page.

Today’s word count: 9,185. Translation: I wrote a hair more than 2,000 words on Wednesday, and a hair more than 2,000 words yesterday. When I publish this, I’m getting to work on today’s 2,000 words, and then I take the weekend off.

I am most looking forward to taking the weekend off.

I’ve taken the same approach to my last 4,000 words that I did for NaNoWriMo: set a timer and write as many words as possible. Race myself, essentially. It means I don’t spend a lot of time overthinking my content... which means things happen that I don’t expect. Let’s just say I’m really looking forward to my writers’ group reading the scene in which Cassidy meets BeBé.

Thoughts on online citizenship? Feminism? Writing your writing with no handlebars? Comment below!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


This isn’t news to most people following this blog, as most people following this blog are either my own doppelgänger (Branden), follow the same nerdy sites as me, or are well-versed in their own right, but this. This bit of punctuation! I didn’t know that there was a way to type it. There’s apparently also a punctuation mark that is a backwards question mark and a forward-facing question mark that share the same dot, which is called a “love mark” and is meant to end a sentence that expresses love, like “Happy anniversary.” I wish there was a way to type that, but so far I haven’t found it. (There are also many other cool punctuation marks that mostly don’t have a way to type them. See here.)

Second super-fun thing: Neil Gaiman will be signing books at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins on February 6, starting at 4pm! I think I’d like to try to get there, but I don’t know if I actually will, knowing me. If I did go, I’d bring Neverwhere for him to sign. And maybe book #1 of Sandman. Is that how book-signings work?

Having just reviewed my blog post from Monday, I can say, wow, I was loopy. That’s okay, I’ve written things while loopy that I wonder why I can’t write like that while fully intact. On Monday, after my blog, I did manage to write a little more. Not a lot; only about 200 words, but better than nothing.

I’ve been reading my tumblr and checking my deviantArt feeds till now and I think—I think—that I’m going to be able to open up my writing and write! That will be excellent. I have to say, I’m looking forward to having a finished project. And that anticipation should carry me through the rewrite.

I’m starting to identify more with Cassidy, and that is extremely helpful. I still stress about my ability to pepper clues and red herrings throughout the book, but I can’t fail until I try. What’s more is that the clues, while important, are actually much more understated than it seems they might be if you’re not really analyzing a work. I mean, a lot of the time, “clues” are just things that happen that your investigator doesn’t have the proper context for, that make sense after the mystery is solved. Only very occasionally are clues going to be the fingernail trimmings found in the ashtray, or the discarded zorro mask. More often it’s the fact that the baby’s blanket disappeared, or the friend you haven’t seen in a decade happens to drop by.

I’m trying to work Cassidy’s history into the “present-tense” narrative of the story, and I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job, but hey, that’s what writers’ group is for, right? I’m liking how the theme of the book—identity—is working its way into the peripheral parts of the story without my having meant to squish it in. That’s pretty cool. Mostly, I’m appreciating the things that happen when my brain percolates the story, and I really look forward to writing those things down. So now I just have to conquer the sleepies and the what-if’s and the what-then’s and start writing things down. I managed the first draft in thirty days. Twenty-eight, maybe. If I set myself a word goal, maybe I could manage the second draft in, say, sixty days.

That’s it. I’m setting myself a weekday word goal of 2,000 words per day. I don’t have a top limit, so that’ll be until the book is written, however long that is. On my blog posts I’ll be posting my word count, so all of you readers, you many readers, you legion of readers can keep me honest.

To infinity. And beyond! (Today’s word count: 5,129. Special character? ᐉ [typography is fun])

Monday, January 26, 2015

Finally! Progress!

Although I seem to have contracted Captain Tripps, which is true every time I get sick, I somehow managed to write yesterday. I wrote slowly and laboriously, writing only about 1500 words in something like six hours (with breaks, of course). I’m not sure any of it is worth anything; I haven’t reread it in the cold light of day. But I’m supremely glad that I wrote.

Days dawn and set and every one, I am excited to work on my story, but things stand in the way. Stupid things. Bite-sized things. I’ve talked to my therapist about this, and she and I agree that there is little for it but to just do it. Change scenery, change attitude, change implement, but really, just friggin do it. I’ve been giving myself a sanctioned break because I’ve been so sick, and I’m okay with that, for reals, and because it’s “mandated” I’ve had the luxury to feel antsy about not working on it—as though, if I weren’t sick, I’d be dutifully cranking out twelve hundred words an hour with one hand while luxuriously painting my toenails with the other. Self deception is best deception.

Every time I write I realize anew that writing isn’t so unapproachable. That’s a very good thing. I remind myself that I have no real deadlines and I should feel no real pressure, and my writing group will keep me writing (which is how I’ll avoid abandoning projects as I’ve done so many times in my life). As long as I do as much as I can, when I can, I’ll be okay.

So I finished my outline (as I said in an earlier entry) and I did a card or two for my corkboard, but once again the festering pustule that was my Inner Critic was getting so big that it was crowding out everything else, censoring my cards and rendering them neutered with regards to their power. So I had to write narrative instead, and I found once more that writing narrative serves to drain off the Critic-cyst, to relieve the pressure, and to put everything back in its proper place. Plus it means I’ll have something to share at writers’ group, hooray! I have recently realized that sharing WIPs is not as useful as sharing completed works, but I still get good, useful feedback on my prose. I just wish I could write more...

I’m going to wrap it up because I can feel myself meandering. I am still fully sick, have patience with me. I’ll be back Wednesday to say some more stuff about writing, I hope.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

One tall step down... the rest of the book to go

Moments ago, I finished the outline/synopsis/What God Knows for my story. There are some middle parts missing, but considering how I tend to “follow” outlines, that may not be too bad of a thing. I also wrote several more cards for my corkboard. I did more writing today than I thought that I could, and tomorrow I can start writing narrative again. Weirdly, I think I need to get further in my narrative before I can flesh out the corkboard much more, but I can probably add a card or two before putting it on hold.

I admit I’m nervous about writing narrative. The voice of my narrator (now also my main character) is really different from last time, and somehow I’m not sure I’m fully behind it. I think it’s better, but it’s not what I had envisioned it at the onset.

Part of what kept my momentum up during NaNoWriMo was the fact that I was fully engaged in the tone of my story. It was my voice, and I didn’t care overmuch what anyone else thought. Now I’m hoping to make a work that will stand up on its own among other works within the genre, and it sounds really egotistical in my own head to say that.

But if it doesn’t stand up, what’s the point? I mean, you don’t literally “level up” in writing. You get better with practice, to be sure, but your first book needn’t be crap. Look at John Kennedy Toole—he wrote two books ever, and the one he wrote first was published second, and both after his death. A Confederacy of Dunces, the first-published one, won a Pulitzer Prize.

So, just because you aren’t published doesn’t mean you aren’t a good, skilled writer. It does mean that your attempts may require a little more editing/revising than some other authors’. But you can revise and edit it until it, the work itself, is a venerated old guy with a grizzled beard and a grizzled voice, and it speaks with authority when it tells the story that was etched into it over months and weeks and years of hard, hard work.

Anyway. I’m sick and I think I’m rambling and I started this entry over four hours ago and keep getting sidetracked from finishing it. I’m proud of the work I did today, meager as it was, and I hope to do as well or better tomorrow—but we’ll see, because tomorrow has this whole other set of responsibilities, and I imagine I’ll still be sick.

I’m proud of my work. I just wish I could work up the willpower and momentum to work every day. Once I get to narrative stuff, I think I’ll set myself a daily word goal, like in NaNo. We’ll see.

At any rate, now I sleep. See you Friday.

Monday, January 19, 2015

There are always excuses

I meant to blog on Friday, but it ended up not happening.

Friday, at least, I had a good excuse.

Due to an unfortunate series of events, I ended up taking two doses of my medicine on accident. My Gilenya (MS medicine) and my Adderall. Because of the double dose of Gilenya, I first attempted to induce vomiting (which I failed. I could never be bulimic) and then spent about fifteen minutes on hold with the hospital trying to find out what I should do. The safety information on the drug said I should go immediately to the ER and that I would have to spend the night there with continuous EKG/heart rate monitoring. I was not excited about that prospect, so I really wanted to make sure that it was actually necessary—thus the long wait on hold.

(As a note, the more relevant reason I chose not to go immediately to the ER was the very valid fear that they wouldn’t know what to do with me. My medication is not particularly common, and I would be surprised if the doctors on call knew what it was, what it treated, and what to do in the case of overdose. So... yeah.)

Anyway, after waiting on hold for a total of twenty minutes, I finally got someone who could ask someone to call me back.

Shortly, the nurse called me back, scolded me for taking two doses in one day ( O_o ) and said I’d be fine.


Once that emergency passed, I was able to focus on the issue at hand: I had twice the usual amount of Adderall in my system. I felt like I could have cleaned my whole house, twice.

Luckily, I had a friend on hand to keep me busy, so I did no such thing. Luckily.

So, between panicking and being distracted, I wasn’t able to blog on Friday. That combined with the fact that I didn’t have much to say, I didn’t feel too bad about letting it slide.

The following day, I was exhausted (perhaps predictably), but I did my best to add to my summary. I made significant progress, and I’m happy with that. But I haven’t written a word since then. Which brings me to my post title: there are always excuses.

Frequently, they’re very good excuses. Frequently, they’re reasons and you should do whatever the thing is that you need to do. For example, I needed to get my prescription filled today, and pick up food for tonight’s dinner, and then subsequently cook that food.

But even more frequently, they’re not good excuses. The reasons are “poor time management,” “lack of prioritization,” and the like. (Even today, there was plenty of those.) It’s very frustrating to me when I sincerely want to write; I’m even inspired to write, and I just can’t seem to do it. I don’t know how it manifests for other people, but I open up my file and immediately get incredibly sleepy.

The bitch of it is, I can’t seem to actually sleep at those times. I’m just a zombie. But, it’s not a good excuse. It’s my body writing me a note to give to my writing, excusing me because I “have asthma”. But I don’t have asthma. If I just pushed through it, the sleepiness would subside and give up, crawl back in the cave it came from.

And because I know that, my body or mind have found other ways of cutting my legs out from under me.

Now, this concerns me a lot. On days that I go to the gym, I find it very difficult to write (or do anything creative) afterwards. I don’t know why, but I hate it. I want exercise to be an invigorating, energizing activity, not something that shuts me down for the whole rest of the day. Because if it is something that shuts me down, that means I should probably do it after writing... but then I know I’d never get up the motivation to go at all. And it’s very important for disease management and maintaining this hot body that I get to the gym on a regular basis. Also, going to the gym gets me physically out of the house, which is definitely not guaranteed in a day, otherwise. I don’t know if employed people can actually sympathize, but sitting for sixteen hours a day is... really not good.

Anyway, this is sort of a venty post. I’m going to spend some time working on my summary tonight and hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to post about on Wednesday. Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Not much progress

Blogging three times a week keeps me accountable to myself. Every day I sit down to blog I have to look at the progress I’ve made, that I’m here to report. Since Jan 1, I’ve made vanishingly little progress, and I feel guilty about that.

Monday, I started writing my synopsis. I don’t know what the guidelines for a professional synopsis are, but mine is a bulleted, chronological list of “what God knows” about my story. The third-person-omniscient survey of the barebones events, (mostly) lacking adjectives and adverbs, to keep things straight. This is going to be helpful, but it does resemble outlines I’ve made in the past, and my writing tends to have a bare fingerhold on the outline by the time I’m done with the story.

Still, for now, it will help.

As usual, I avoidance-behaviored until I didn’t have enough time left to finish my synopsis before having to run off to the next engagement, so I didn’t. Still, starting it was good, and the stuff I got down definitely helped me line up some limes. If I can just turn Blogging, and synopsis-writing, and other things that start to tickle my creative armpit turn into actual productive writing, I’ll be set.

So, how do I slay the dragon of inaction? Every time I talk to my therapist about feeling creatively blocked, this is what she always asks me. I always feel like shouting, “I don’t know! If I did, I wouldn’t be here complaining about it!” But it’s not like she can tell me how to fix it. I have to figure it out for myself. So, like I have so many times before, I will now enumerate the things I can do to help slay the dragon.

  • Do what needs doing first, first. (Shower, breakfast.)
  • Do the next things, next. (Check feeds.)
  • After those things are done, if there are more things that need done, do them. (Lunch.)
  • Then write.
Do Not:
  • Turn on Netflix “just while I’m eating lunch.”
  • Play phone games.
  • Play computer games.

If I can follow this list of things, I should be able to make steady progress on my story. It helps immensely to keep in mind that this isn’t impossible; it’s not even really hard. It’s just a matter of habit and keeping things “the right size.” Everyone is rooting for me, and there are several people who may actually be mad at me if I don’t finish this book. So... I’m gonna birth this goddamned story if it tears me apart! And then I’ll spend the next 50 years or so lecturing it about how long I was in labor. (Baddum ching.)

I’m gonna do it with the wide-open eyes of a person who hasn’t yet learned that being creative is hard work. A person who thinks “improving” instead of “failing.” A person who doesn’t question why, she does it because it must be done, and because she must do it, and it’s as simple as that.

So I’m gonna wrap up this post and get to it now. I wish I could share it with you!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Back on the horse

Today, like most days, I’m finding it hard to get going with my writing.

I got up at 5:30 this morning, dragged Branden out of bed, and hit the gym. We got home and cleaned up by 8 or so, then hit Starbucks before he had to go to work. I considered bringing my laptop with me to sit and work on writing after he left, but I thought the better of it since I still need to finish my corkboard. I figured, with such an early and productive start, surely writing will just fall into place! …Right?

I wish motivation worked that way. I went home for breakfast and checked my feeds while I nommed down some cereal. Feeds, of course, take much longer than cereal (damn you, Tumblr!) and I fell down the Facebook hole for a while too, so now… at 12:25… I’m writing my blog post.

And I still haven’t worked on my story.

When I got back to Denver on Saturday, Branden picked me up from the airport and we went straight to a writing date with our friend and writing-group companion, Bridget. I was nervous about doing this because I was still feeling very overwhelmed with the idea of starting actually writing. I keep thinking up apt similes to describe my feelings regarding my story right now. Here’s my current favorite:

Right now, my story is like a bunch of limes I’m trying to hold. If I try to organize them or move them around, I’m likely to drop them all. Branden (pictured to the right expertly holding all the limes) explained to me that if I don’t put all the limes down, preferably onto a piece of paper, some of them were likely to sneak away. (Sneaky, sneaky limes!) This is true, and I know it, but superstition tends to win. Fear tends to win.

So on Saturday, pinned in the Denver Cat Co with nothing to do but write, I tried putting some limes down.

I ended up putting down 3,250 limes.

And none of them broke or snuck away.

I have many more limes that need to be placed, and some of them are a lot bigger than any of the limes I put down on Saturday; in fact, bigger than all of those limes put together.

Starting the process, and seeing that the whole thing didn’t go up in smoke, helped me unclog my creative pipes to the point where I’m looking forward to making my note cards again. I had sorta lost track of their purpose and I felt really lost when I’d look at them, like, “what were those for again?” I was considering writing irrelevant things down, then I’d check myself and say, “…what? Why is that a thing that needs to go on my board? Where would it even go?” and then I’d stare at the note cards some more, feeling somewhat hopeless. But now I feel like I’ve got it figured out: what they were for, and how they can help. And I’ve got some (many, lots) cards to fill out before I write much more than I already have.

I’ve said it before, but I’m saying it again anyway: this revision of the story is going to be a lot more like a new first draft than a second draft. Five of the characters are still here, with the same names and approximately the same roles, but not a single word from my first go-around will survive, and some of these characters who survived are going to be drastically different. I’d like them to be complex, fully actualized characters, and to do that it’s important that I have who they are written down. It’ll help to have why they are who they are written down, too. And why they have the relationship to the MC that they do.

But, some of that isn’t cork-board material. It won’t be a thing I’ll want to (or be able to) look over at and, in a glance, get an answer to a question. That is what I envision my corkboard being for. If it gets too cluttered, it defeats its own purpose.

I think I’d also like to write a summary, a “what God knows” sort of chronological list of events just so I can keep it all straight. It seems like it’d be hard, but considering that I’m following one main character, the chronology can’t criss-cross too much. That’s the thing that always seems daunting about a summary: “if I mention this thing, then I have to ‘go back in time’ and mention this thing, which happened because of this thing…” and if you have multiple main characters, multiple things can be happening concurrently. Of course, in that instance, chronology is probably even more important, to make sure something that causes something else doesn’t happen after that thing… anyway, I’m getting long-winded.

My trip to Durango went very well. Spending time with my dad was so great. It seems like it’s been years since we had quality just-me-and-him time, and it reminded me why my dad is the best dad ever. It was quick and low-key, just how I like trips home. It’s a little bit weird to know that the vast, vast majority of my friends no longer live in Durango. In fact, I can only think of one who’s still there.

I remembered why being so social was easy when I lived there: anywhere you wanted to be, including each others’ houses, was ten minutes or less from wherever you are, with no interstate between you and them. When I go there, it’s a lot like being a high schooler again—no responsibilities and nothing to do but hang out with friends… so it’s no fun without friends. Wah.

Oh well. Such is life.

Any revision techniques that you favor? Let me know in comments!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A change of perspective

An update to Wednesday’s post: My dad is just fine. It turns out that he had “fluid overload,” and fluid in his abdomen was putting pressure on his lungs. They gave him a diuretic and now he feels much better.

In light of that, the plan to go to Durango was back on.

He and I passed the five-and-a-half hours in comfortable silence and happy conversation. We have always gotten along. At the terminus, I took a luxuriant bath and slept like a dead person, then woke up and had lunch with him and a couple of his friends who had been a big part of my childhood, who I remember very fondly. They apparently remember me fondly, too. This makes me happy.

After that, I sought out my favorite teacher of all time, Tom Byrne. He taught my sophomore and senior English classes, and he was one of the first teachers who made class fun.

Well, I don’t really remember high school that well, but however it happened, he is both mine and Branden’s favorite teacher, and we are both among his favorite students.

Tom hasn’t been doing so well for the last few years. He’s a young man, but he has brain cancer, and after several years of doing pretty okay, it’s starting to get the better of him. He’s in hospice now, which means that, for those of you who are like me and didn’t know exactly what that meant, he’s given up on treating the disease and his treatment is now focused on treating the symptoms, trying to make sure his remaining time is as comfortable and rewarding as possible.

He used to love to travel. In fact, he just got back from Hawaii last month. Sadly, at the end of that trip, his state took a sharp decline and it seems likely, now, that his travel days are over.

I still call him Mr. Byrne to myself and Branden and my parents and really, anyone not him. He wants me to call him Tom, so I do, but when I say “Mr Byrne,” in my own head, that’s an honorific. It’s like calling someone “sensei.” I honor him.

He was very happy to see me. We sat and talked about travel and books and people and cats. Then we went on a long walk and talked more about people and books and Durango and school. Then when we got back, we sat and talked some more about my wedding to Branden, at which he was a guest. He said it was the best wedding he’d ever been at, and that he had been kind of blown away by the fact that we’d wanted to include him in our wedding photos. (For my part, he was certainly a high point of the whole occasion.) At this point, he seemed very tired and despite not really wanting to end our visit, I think we both ran out of things to say.

Then his cat scratched me.

The message was clear.

When I left, we hugged for a long moment and I kept in my tears—barely. I knew I was losing it and he probably did too, but I hate people who visit or call sick people and cry, like, “your illness hurts me! Quick, make me feel better!” I wasn’t going to do that to him. I got to the car and sobbed for a minute or so before starting it up and going home.

After that, I was really emotional and getting weepy at any old thing. My dad took me out to dinner, which was really nice, but I almost wasn’t fit to be in public. I kept a lid on it, knowing that my dad was doing his best to keep my mind off “things,” and he did a pretty good job. But it kept sneaking up on me a little. At any rate, I’m happy to be home, in my bedroom, behind a closed door for a couple of hours.

The main character in my book is named in honor of Mr Byrne. I told him so. He said he wanted to read it. I said of course.

On that note, I think I have found the way I want to begin the revised draft of my book. I think I’m going to try to write a little tonight. Thanks to everyone for your well wishes for my dad. Until Monday!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Unexpected trip

My dad is in town(ish), having a procedure done on his heart. It is non-invasive and, I thought, posed no serious risks.

Right before he and my mom made the trip up here, they found out that my maternal grandma, who has pretty severe Alzheimer’s, was in the hospital in New York (where she lives) with a touch of pneumonia. My grandma has no family near her who could take care of her, and my mom decided to leave Denver Thursday morning and fly out to see her. So they took two cars.

On the drive up, my mom spoke with her mom on the phone and learned that my grandma didn’t know where she was or what she was being treated for, and that the nurses in the hospital wouldn’t help her to the bathroom—they just brought her a bedpan, which they then left her painfully laying on top of for hours.

Of course, this totally freaked my mom out.

She got her flight switched to Tuesday morning and is now in New York. No real updates on my grandma’s status, which I assume means my mom has everything under control. But it left things in a weird limbo with my dad.

I was supposed to go down to Colorado Springs last night and stay the night in the hospital guest house, which is where he went after being discharged from the hospital. We (Branden and I) were going to get dinner with my dad, then Branden was driving our car back home and leaving me there to drive Dad to Durango today in his car, then I’d fly home. Last night, he sounded great and healthy and, while not 100%, probably about 45% of his usual awesome self. The plan was a go.

I picked Branden up from work at six and we started driving down to the Springs. Google Maps reported three accidents between us and the Springs on I-25, and the usually-seventy-five-minute drive was going to be an hour and forty-one minutes. That put dinner at almost eight, which is really late for my hummingbird-like husband.

We’d been driving for about thirty minutes (and still hadn’t gotten out of Denver) when I realized that I had left my pills at home.

I will clarify: my pills include my MS medication and my Adderall, both of which are daily pills and neither of which I can afford to do without.

So... the only option was to turn around and go home. And with the traffic the way it was, that meant staying home and coming back the next day.

At that time, I was under the mistaken impression that I was driving Dad home on Thursday, and that our plan for that night could be easily transplanted to the next night. Of course, that wasn’t the case and I’d need to be in Colorado Springs between ten and eleven a.m. the next day to drive to Durango.


But not impossible.

I asked for (and received) a favor from my good friend Fletch, who agreed to drive me down the next morning. I’d go into work with Branden, he’d drop me off at a light rail station and I’d take the light rail to Fletch’s, then off we’d go. Easy cheesy.

But this morning, I got a call from my dad at seven a.m. He said he didn’t want me to come down. There had been freezing fog overnight: the visibility was terrible and the roads were worse.

But more importantly: he was going back into the hospital. He’d had a bad night and felt short of breath.

So I’m home now, blogging and trying to work up the motivation to work more on my book and trying to put out of my mind that I haven’t heard from him since then, and I haven’t heard from my mom, and I’m worried and scared. I tried to look at it as a relief. I can’t.

But worrying doesn’t do any good either. So I’m going to keep trying.

Wish me luck.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Enthusiasm wanes as capability increases

I received my corkboard and my index cards! I also started reading another mystery novel within the set of books that I would call my inspiration for my story. This one, Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem is entirely different from Dennis Lehane in terms of... well, everything. Gun, With Occasional Music is a satirical science fiction detective novel that adheres faithfully to the more cliché tropes of the noir genre. While it is telling a story, it seems to me that the focus is more on the tone and the world that it builds than the story itself. I say this in part because I’ve read the book at least twice now, and I still can’t remember what the story was at all. But I can remember that I loved it, and that the world that it built was engrossing and entertaining, and the tone was engaging and usually hilarious.

In Gun, the protagonist is a disillusioned, mostly broken PI in a world where no one but private inquisitors and the police are even legally allowed to ask questions, not even the most basic ones like “what’s your name?” (I assume this gave Lethem fits trying to write.) I think this adheres more to the literary ‘definition’ of the noir trope in that we see the PI go from a state of jaded apathy about the client who walks through his door—knowing there’s little he can do to help and sending him on his way—to a grudging, ungenerous refusal to accept that anyone is beyond hope in a just world; refusing to let go of the idea that maybe, just maybe, the world is still just.

My favorite definition of a noir protagonist, and the one I’m calling the ‘literary definition,’ is this:

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

—Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

I’m trying to keep that definition in mind while writing my main character, Cassidy. I think much of my difficulty comes from the fact that I want her to be so much braver than I am.

My first draft came out very tame. While I believe that the mystery was interesting, no character was pushed to the point of desperation, and no real danger was ever encountered—because I have a hard time imagining a person actually taking the actions of a desperate man and sincerely intending to do bodily harm to another person.

When I read it in my mystery novels, it’s shocking because it’s not an action genre with bullets flying and punches punctuating every paragraph; it’s gritty and ugly and real and when someone gets shot, they don’t get back up and keep running. So while I don’t think I’d have a hard time writing the more exaggerated, unrealistic combat scenes that you might see in a Marvel movie or an episode of Buffy, I hesitate to broach the kind of violence that belongs in a noir book, because it needs to be grave, not glorified. It needs to be tense and terrifying, not inconvenient or irritating. In a noir book, the violence should be the thing that ends the book, because it ends either the good guy or the bad guy. It’s not an obstacle.

And then, when the protagonist does struggle to his or her feet, it seems all the more triumphant.


Now that I have my tools in hand, I am predictably hesitant to begin the process of rewriting. After all, I messed it up so bad the first time... of course, without my first try, this story wouldn’t exist at all. I need to start thinking of the words of my first draft as being the shell around the nut of the story. Crack it off and throw it away, and you’ve still got more than you had before. Sure it’s incorporeal, and the second draft may not be much better than the first... but it’s a lot more likely to be closer to the truth of the story than the first was.

So, I am now picking up my index cards and my sharpies and I’m writing things on them. For example:

Cassidy Byrne

Lonely. Brave. Realistic. Observant. Intuitive. Driven. Disadvantaged. Aloof. Curious. Honest. Snarky. Educated. Blunt. Careful. Self-assured. Self-alienated.

Puts ‘morally right’ in front of ‘legal’ in the alphabet, but operates within the confines of the law as often as possible. Desperately wants to know who she was before she ‘woke up,’ but not to the detriment of her clients. When presented with leads on her own case, has a hesitancy to follow them that she doesn’t understand.

Anyone out there struggling with their own re-writes, or first drafts, or inspirations?

Friday, January 2, 2015

What's the opposite of procrastination?

On Monday the 29th of December, I ordered a large corkboard and a pack of multicolored index cards. It’d been about a month since NaNoWriMo and I was itching to start revising my story. Of course, I didn’t really know where to start and I was super nervous. I’ve never revised anything before—in fact, I’ve rarely finished anything before. The sum total of my experience with revision is advice on NaNo boards and the show Stark Raving Mad, which had a gag in its first episode about multicolored index cards and a corkboard just to show how anal the editor was... so I figured that was probably a good place to start.

So I hemmed and hawed and discussed it with Branden (my inspiration and my support) and I wondered what I was going to write on my index cards, and once stuff was written on them, how I would stick them to the board. It was quite literally like owning paper and pencils and a ruler, but no textbooks. I was understandably confused and more than a little scared.

As part of my preparation I decided to reread some of my favorite books within my genre. As I progress (present tense!) through Darkness, Take My Hand, I can plainly see some places where I went very, very wrong. It is humbling but enlightening, and the things I believe I’ve learned through reading the book are extremely exciting to think about implementing. Of course, trying to do so will probably end up looking like a kid trying to fence based on watching a video of fencing... but I will give it my best effort, and practice will eventually make perfect. One hopes.

My goods were supposed to arrive on December 31st, fresh and waiting for me to begin work the next day—but they didn’t arrive. I was full of woe! How would I start revising if my revision materials weren’t here yet? I didn’t want to start anything on the computer, because it would lock me into a certain way of thinking and that way surely lies madness. As usual, I was allowing my black-and-white evaluations of things to block the creative process. Of course, it wasn’t even New Year’s Day yet, so my anxiety was premature.

New Year’s Day came and I discovered I was in no shape to begin revision anyway. I hadn’t had anything to drink the night before but I did stay up till after 3am, and woke up much too early. I was a zombie with a head full of sand, and was actually mostly relieved that my materials hadn’t arrived. Branden and I mercifully spent much of the day watching Supernatural with our friends, allowing someone else’s creativity wash over and inspire us.

Last night, as I settled into bed, I continued reading my book. I read late into the night, hoping that reading before bed would help me sleep better (as I’ve been getting extremely poor sleep of late), but woe, it was not to be. When I finally forced myself to put down the book, my brain was afire with tightly furled buds of ideas, and I couldn’t help myself but try to force them to bloom.

And bloom they did.

Sometime after 3am, I finally fell asleep, but every time Branden or I shifted in bed, or a cat stepped near me, or a fly sneezed somewhere in the house, I woke up again and my buzzing brain picked back up where it had left off, seemingly moments before.

In this fashion, I slept until about 7:15.

So I am here before you now with less than four hours of sleep, eagerly awaiting my corkboard and index cards, and I literally can’t wait to start. When I’m finished with my second draft, it will bear only a passing resemblance to my first, and I think that’s both amazing and wonderful, and slightly embarrassing.

Anyway, here is a line I thought up last night. In hopes to get you hooked:

A dog, fitted with electrodes behind his ears and a talk collar around his neck, shouted “hi” at me halfheartedly as I walked by.

“Hi,” I replied automatically, and immediately felt embarrassed and impotently resentful, as if I’d accidentally waved back at a pickle-costumed human advertisement.

Feels a bit tortured. Any suggestions for making it more streamlined?