Friday, September 2, 2016

The Merlin Kitty

Friends, family, followers:

My friend Bridget has one of the very best kitties in the world. His name is Merlin.

I first met Merlin when my best friend was preparing to move in with Bridget and they were introducing their cats. Dash was a cantankerous, territorial, prima donna pain in the ass. He was hiding in his carrier and wouldn’t come out. I mostly expected there to be a cat fight, because pretty much every cat I’ve ever met is that way in the extreme. But Merlin just walked back and forth in front of the carrier, rubbing up against it affectionately, and peeking inside from time to time. Dash eventually ran out of growls, but Merlin never ran out of patience or love.

In all the years I’ve known him, Merlin has ben the paragon of catly excellence. He’s never a “butt” as so many cats tend to be. He doesn’t bite, claw, or scratch. In fact, he sorta seems like a cat that Catholics might want to give a sainthood to (don’t those things alone count as miracles?). He’s kind, caring, and attentive to his friend cat and his person.

But now, Merlin’s in trouble.

He has a diaphragmatic hernia. In layperson’s terms, it basically means that his liver is up near his heart (note: this is not where it belongs). Insurance will cover some of it, but Bridget is quickly approaching her cap on coverage, what with all the ER visits that it took to get this diagnosis.

Merlin will probably need an operation, and soon, if he hopes to live much longer. His quality of life has gone downhill recently, and he needs treatment ASAP.

Bridget is hoping to raise $5,000 for his veterinary care. Since she can only estimate the cost, she is offering a ballpark figure and promising this: if it ends up being more than they need, all extra funds will be donated to the Almost Home cat rescue in Denver, a cage-free no-kill shelter that provides a safe place with medical care for all cats, even the “unadoptable” and terminally ill. (They’re located right near me!)

If you enjoy my kitten blog, please consider donating to Bridget’s campaign. Every dollar helps. Bitty kitties turn into grown-up kitties, and my goal in fostering is to raise wave after wave of kitties who are as wonderful as Merlin. It’s easy to ignore the plights of big kitties because they’re “not as cute” as kittens (though I think Merlin is), but they’re the reason we foster parents go through all the trouble. The grown-ups are the ones who are our best friends and companions.

See? Told you he was cute.

So go now, and with kittens in your heart, give this week’s latte to Merlin. He could really use it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A spot of discomfort

In this draft and the draft before this, I wrote scenes that are sexual in nature. The one in this draft is a straight-up sex scene; the previous draft was more of a soft-core porn situation. In both instances, writing them (and subsequently reading them) has made me really uncomfortable.

That’s the point of these scenes, though. They’re not fluffy feel-good scenes of intimacy—they’re shows of power and control, of one person over another. “Intimate” sex scenes are easy to write and fun to read, but scenes where sex is a… shall we say “weapon” are occasionally exactly what the plot calls for.

I feel that the first difficulty with writing scenes like those is to make sure that your foreknowledge, as author, doesn’t come through into the narrative. Frequently, you want a scene like that to seem frivolous when you read it and then reveal itself to be sinister once more information is revealed; so you want to keep it light, fun, and sexy. The missteps should seem accidental and inconsequential. You don’t want to have an overwhelming sense of foreboding throughout—that sorta kills the mood. But when you know that what’s going on is actually really skeevy, you have to write it while wearing blinders. Stare straight ahead, right down the sexy barrel of that gun, and don’t glance to the sides—there be monsters.

But the second difficulty with those scenes is standing by them, having confidence in them once they’re written. Looking back at them, you are likely to feel like you shouldn’t have written them, for any number of reasons. Maybe you think you went too far. Maybe you think it’s out of place or inappropriate. Maybe you think you went into too much detail. But most of the time, that just boils down to you feel uncomfortable with it. You know why it’s upsetting and you can’t ignore that. But don’t let that stand in your way. Ask yourself, Does this scene move the plot forward? Does the entire scene move the plot forward, or are there places where you could pare down? Does it say important things about your characters that couldn’t be said as well in a different way?

I think making sure the entire scene is important, is important, (omg word salad,) because you don’t want a scene like that to be indulgent. If you want it to be gross/creepy in hindsight, then you don’t want your readers looking back at it with an uneasy sense that even though it’s icky, they feel like you (the author) want them to enjoy it anyway. Because yuck.

Word count: 21,573 (呅)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Knitting a story idea

When you have an idea, and it doesn’t make sense, do you give up on it? Should you?

I think it is conventional wisdom that, if the idea seems like it doesn’t make sense, you move on. You don’t want to spend a lot of effort on a thing that’s going to strike readers as false, right? And that’s okay. Sometimes ideas actually don’t work. But I believe that just because sussing out what the plot is takes time, effort, and a little mental gymnastics doesn’t mean it’s always not worth doing.

For example, my initial inspiration for Cassidy was literally, “Acid rain, and a girl with prosthetic legs and amnesia.” Figuring out who she was and why she had amnesia was like sitting on an egg, combined with kneading dough. The most important part actually came to me while I was on the elliptical machine at the gym. There have been times in the writing process when it seems like I’m trying too hard, and the end product is going to feel contrived because I keep having to make room for things, or force things in. And I do think it’s true that when something is forced in, it shows—but that’s what rough drafts are for! You put it in so that you don’t forget it and maybe in a subsequent draft you figure out exactly how it fits.

Say you have an idea, and it’s predicated on a conflict and a character’s reaction to that conflict, and you’re excited and happy and plotting things out in your head… and you realize after an hour or so that the whole foundation for the idea seems contrived, that no sane character would react the way your character reacted. What do? You could start over, try to figure out what the appropriate response would be. You could scrap it and move on. Or… you’re the writer, you’re the worldbuilder, who’s to say that reaction isn’t appropriate? What would have to change to make their reaction appropriate? Would it be internal to the character, or external? Like, maybe your character is mentally ill, or something like that.

Don’t force the ideas that don’t feel right, but remember—you’re the god here. If you want something to work, figure out how it would work, and write it that way.

Happy writing!

Word count: 17,869 (䗍)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writing! Again!

Hey guys, so this is exciting!

I wrote 2,222 words yesterday.

The last words were “the end,” not because I finished the draft but because otherwise I’d have only written 2,220 words and well, you can’t have that.

I don’t know if what I’m writing is any good. I have a very hard time having a feel for that while I’m writing it. I usually imagine my future readers making fart sounds and rolling their eyes when they’re reading my feeble attempts at misdirection. But… it is not mine to judge, only mine to write it down as it comes to me.

I’m going to have almost twice the words for this upcoming Writers’ Group meetup as I had for the last, hooray! And honestly, if I’m going the wrong direction this time, I’m just going to finish the draft and give up on the damn story because there’s just no pleasing you people. (And by “you people” I obviously mean myself and the craft of writing at large. No personal offense intended.)

I saw the Ghostbusters movie this last Friday, and it was awesome. At a couple of different parts I had to remind myself that it wasn’t the original and it wasn’t trying to be, and with that in mind, I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better movie.

Oh yeah, then there was MuckFest.

Guys, MuckFest was great this year. The venue was perfect: flat, grassy, wide open. The weather was perfect: warm by 9am but we got out before it got hot. The mud and water were perfect: refreshing but unarguably on the warm side. We brought our shower tent and shower bag and man… that was great. I was the #1 fundraiser (*takes a bow*), so I got to have a hot shower, and there could be nothing better. That’s definitely a keeper.

The Racing Snails were in the top 10 fundraising teams, and Elly Conley was in the top 10 fundraising individuals! Thanks all my donors! I (obviously) couldn’t have done it without you!

On Sunday, Branden and I went to the Adele concert with my parents. She is a great performer, very very fun. We were sore and shell-shocked from Saturday’s Muckening, but we muddled along and had a great time. Overall, my weekend was packed but kicked ass anyway. Viva los Ghostbusters, amigos, and I'll see you when I see you.

Word count: 15,633 (㴑)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Everything but writing

So, creativity.

I have it. Boy, do I. I have been creating and creating and creating. I’m reflooring rooms! Painting rooms! Building fences! I’m knitting a scarf (right) that requires twenty-three strands of yarn. I even built a little tool dealie-bob to help me keep all them strands organized and untangled. I’m growing plants. Growing kittens. Designing shirts for the MuckFest. I’m learning 3D modeling. And now I have a deep and burning desire to build bookshelves with lumber and screws.

You know what I can’t seem to do? (I think the title gave it away a little bit.)

That’s right: write. Yesterday, Becky and I had a writing date, for the first time in several weeks. Instead of writing, I wrote a Java program for formatting HTML. Because, you guessed it, I’m straight bonkers. I stayed up till 2am finishing that program, specifically to improve an HTML file that was already 98% there and that I’m not going to bother updating anyway. (The good news is that it can be reused in the future, so that’s nice.) Anyway, I finished it, and now I wish I could coax Becky into writing with me again, because I recognize that I totally wasted what may be the only time this week that I’ll have any motivation to write. (Our dates provide motivation of the external variety, which is essential at times.) And I would have loved to chat about things instead of having my entire brain absorbed in mind-bending code. But… I also love the way I feel when I’m that engaged. It feels like fatigue doesn’t matter, like my life doesn’t have to matter as long as I feel that way forever.

But that’s sorta edging into other topics, so I’m gonna call it here. Now I have to go do chores for the rest of the day so that our cleaning lady can… you know, clean stuff.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Out of gas

When I was in the grips of creative construction earlier this week, I felt like I could work forever on my project. I felt like I had discovered the secret to reclaiming my old energy. I felt like all of my previous problems boiled down to “chronically bored.”

Today, I know better.

We are 98% finished in the cat room. We only need to apply one touch-up layer of silicone in some parts of the room, and we’re done, finally. Then we can move all the stuff back in, and not a moment too soon, considering that we accepted five bottle babies yesterday. But it’s a good thing that the silicone still needs about twelve hours more to dry, because I just don’t have the up-and-at-’ems needed to finish this project alone.

I am not complaining, I’m not feeling bad about myself. I’m just realizing that nothing is magic. There is a good chance that my capabilities are greater than I’ve been allowing myself to explore, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still need to take it easy and keep an eye on my spoons throughout the day or week. It’s been a really nice visit back to the world of pseudo-normalcy this week, but the fact that it was only a vacation isn’t much of a surprise to me. Honestly, right now, it sorta feels like I improved my time on some kind of race: a success, not a failure. Which is a very nice change in my habitual thinking. I might actually be getting good at this.

So, today I am looking forward to knitting and watching NetFlix and feeding kittens every three hours. Everything else can wait.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

So close I can taste it

The cat room transition is almost complete. Yesterday I painted baseboards, then once they were thoroughly painted, I nailed ’em up. The only thing left is doing the final cut of the carpet and installing the transitions.

Oh, and everything else we can think of.

This morning, Branden suggested maybe sealing around the bottom of the baseboards with silicone. Normally, of course, that would be ludicrous, but since this is a room in which kittens are being potty-trained, and we installed vinyl flooring exactly because we wanted a non-absorptive surface: making it impossible for… undesirable substances… to get under the baseboards and subsequently under the floor“boards” is probably a good idea.

Oh, and Branden wants a new bookshelf. Oh, and I want to make a bookshelf cause I’m sorta over the $35 Target bookshelf lifestyle. So. You know. This project will be over never ever.

I want to have a bookshelf whose bottom shelf is actually a kitten habitat. A bed, a scratching surface, an agility playground… I would love that.

I really want to get the endless crap that is currently in our office, hallway, and bedroom back into the cat room where it belongs. On the other hand, why not do all these projects? Sounds fun to me. I haven’t had so much energy in a really, really long time. I’ve been super productive this whole week, and efficient, and organized. I almost feel like a real human being! I want to keep up the tidal wave of awesome, and why shouldn’t I? Maybe my real calling is craftsmanship.

We are coming up on the MuckFest so dang fast, now. Please consider donating to my team! Every dollar helps get us one step closer to a world free of MS. Plus, you’re helping me earn a warm shower on the day of the event. You don’t want me to freeze my fingers off, do you? I didn’t think so.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Home Improvement

It’s summertime, and I’ve got the bug.

Last winter, a picket fell off our fence. The wood was too rotten to hold nails anymore. Branden and I couldn’t adult our way through it at the time, so we just let the picket lie on the ground near the fence, whose gate was no longer secured and was now swaying in the breeze. Until, that is, our neighbor came over and screwed the picket back onto the fence, presumably because he was ashamed to be associated with such a pathetic structure so near his property.

After that, Branden and I realized that we couldn’t ignore it; we actually had a responsibility to our neighbors to keep the fence to at least the bare minimum of presentability.

But… it was also winter. So we resolved to deal with it once the weather improved.

Winter was extremely weird this year. We had winter-storm-warning-level snow storms all the way through May, then all of a sudden it was in the 80s (if not higher) every day. So, spring sorta rushed by, and then it was summer, and I said—Now! It must be now! before it gets more hot, before all the rest of the pickets fall off. We must take care of it!

Luckily, the pressure-treated posts and cross-bars of the fence are still in relatively good condition. (Not perfect, but they’ll last another five years, easy.) So we decided to do a 75%-assed job and only replace the pickets. My family all flash-mobbed my house over a weekend and got the pickets put up, lickety-split. Branden and I painted the whole arrangement with linseed oil over the remainder of that weekend and the following weekend, and I’m so proud of the result. It looks great.

But it may have created a monster.

After that, Branden and I agreed that it would be way smarter if our cat room had some kind of hard floor, instead of the carpet that was in there at the time. We were trying to keep it “clean” by putting down painting drop cloths when we had kittens, but here, “clean” is a comparative term. It was way, way too much trouble. So we agreed to lay down a floating vinyl floor… ourselves.

Well, we tackled that project this last weekend. I can’t believe how much we got done. We pried off the baseboards. We pulled up the carpet, carpet pad, tack strips, staples, the whole shebang. We bought paint and painted the room. We bought new baseboards. And finally, we laid down the floor. (Check out the kitten blog below for more pictures.)

We still have to put the light switch and outlet faceplates back on. We still have to put down transitions between the carpet and the vinyl. We still have to put up the baseboards. And, of course, we still have to move everything back into the room. But I am so happy with everything, so far. It looks so great, and I can’t wait for it to be done!

This may or may not be obvious to you, but I haven’t been writing much recently. I’m making myself be okay with that. I want to pursue other creative endeavors for the moment, and as long as I’m not being a human slug, I think that’s probably okay. Plus, once Becky’s all moved in, we will surely resume our weekly writing dates, which will get my writing back on track.

Thanks for hanging in there, friends and fans! Until Wednesday!

Friday, June 24, 2016


Recently, I decided that I am interested in being an editor. Possibly professionally, since it’s something I can do from home. I read a ton anyway, and I really do love giving critique and feedback, so I figured, why not give it a try? I posted on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook that I was interested in being a workshopper, thinking it’d probably be a cold day in hell when someone decided to take me up on it.

Much to my shock and delight, though, someone did contact me yesterday. I’m so super excited about this, guys. I can’t even.

I critiqued Becky’s novel, New Year’s Revolution, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. I let my friend Rachel, who is a professional editor, read the editor’s letter I sent to Becky. She told me that I had good instincts for what improvements could be made, but that my delivery needed work. I’m excited to work on those things.

For example, I always approach a perceived problem with how to fix it. As an editor, I need to quash that impulse. It’s up to the writer to fix it, if they even choose to. So, that requires me to think more deeply about the problem itself. In order to present the issue to the writer, I’m going to need to really put my finger on what the specific problem is, and why it’s a problem. Sometimes even what leaving it unchanged could mean. But not how to change it.

I also feel like I need to work on the snark. I always have an impulse to snark on things that bug me, like the overuse of a word, or too many rhetorical questions. That might be okay when it’s your friend’s writing and they can intuit your tone of voice, but when it’s someone who is (basically) a professional colleague, I need to put a lid on it. This is just another way of saying I need to be able to put my finger right on the problem that I’m perceiving, not to diminish or trivialize it (or for that matter, the author) by making fun of it.

Of course, my first critique is going to be unfiltered Elly. I just need to get comfortable with the idea of a rough draft of feedback itself. To go back through and make world-safe my very internal monologue before releasing it upon an unsuspecting vic… ahem, public.

Until Monday!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Last weekend was awesome. Branden's boss gave everyone Friday off, and at the end of Friday I was sure that it was Saturday—not because of losing track of days, but because it seemed like we'd spent two days doing… whatever. I don't actually remember, specifically, but I remember feeling awesome about it.

Saturday was equally awesome. We got shit done and had some fun and wooo! we were killing this weekend! It almost felt like a vacation. The only bad thing was that, sometime in the evening on Saturday, Branden started having some pain in his stomach; just a little discomfort, no big deal.

But in the morning on Sunday, the pain was still there. It had caused him discomfort throughout the night. We decided he should probably go to the doctor.

It being Sunday, our only real option was Urgent Care if we didn't want to go straight to the ER (and we didn't). Our desires were irrelevant! The urgent care people decided it was either a kidney stone or appendicitis, and either way they weren't equipped to treat it. They sent us to the emergency room.

There is an emergency room just down the street from us. I believe it's fairly new—they still have a banner on the building saying “24-Hour ER Now Open”. I had to go there on Wednesday night at 11pm, and it was completely empty, which is how I knew I'd taken an ambulance straight into… the Twilight Zone (I didn't take an ambulance. I just couldn't think of anything else that would be appropriately pithy). I chalked it up to luck and good timing, but I wasn't looking forward to this visit. I'm familiar with the zoo of human misery that is most emergency rooms; the uncomfortable chairs, the lack of electrical outlets, the lack of food, and the interminable, interminable waiting. But when we walked into the ER, it was empty, again. I wonder if Westminster just doesn't know it's there? So bizarre. But I'll take it!

Branden saw the same doctor I'd seen on Wednesday night (also Twilight Zone-y), had some scans done, donated more bodily fluids, and was quickly diagnosed—his appendix was enlarged by 14mm, which is considerable for such a shrimpy limp-balloon of an “organ.” But apparently the ER was not part of a larger, more general hospital, and we had to go to yet another campus for the procedure.

The nurses got the transfer all set up so that the hospital would be expecting us, and we went home and packed a bag. We knew what to expect; we were old-hat at this after my 2009 appendectomy. We got to the hospital at just about noon.

It was still Sunday (what?!) and there was only one surgical team on staff, and they were in camera when we arrived, so they got us all set up in Branden's room for the wait. I'd let Carlie know that we were at a hospital in her neck of the woods, so she, Dan and their brood Eleanor and Wes came and kept us company; Fletcher showed up shortly before they took Branden down for surgery at 3.

At 3 they started him on antibiotics, which the nurse had said they wanted to get started ½ hour before the procedure, so I anticipated that the surgery wouldn't start till 3:30. My parents finally arrived and the Branden Fan Club hung out in the surgery waiting room for… approximately three years.

All things considered, it went much better than it had any right to. There were no meltdowns, either on the part of myself or the children. The Amazing Indestructible Fletcher chased Eleanor around almost the entire time (and I mean chased. Running, running, running). My dad went on a long and fruitless mission to find the TV remote so he could watch golf. (He and my mom had already had a long, exhausting and somewhat frustrating Father's Day, and this was just helping make it more awesome. I'm sure after the fact it felt like the lamest nightmare ever.) Eventually they went to a grocery store for the universal cure for everything: love-food (in this case, smoothie supplies) and were still on that errand when Branden woke up from anesthesia and we all moved back up to the room.

Well, the surgery was successful and Branden did great. Everyone kept telling him how good he looked, even though to me he looked decidedly yellow. Carlie, Dan & co went home not too much later. My parents dropped off their booty and gave Branden some love, then they, too, went home, and it was the Three Musketeers (Branden, Fletcher and myself) until they finally discharged Branden at 9pm. (Which, hooray! I definitely thought that we were going to have to stay the night.) Then Fletch went home and Branden and I had to go to the only 24-hour pharmacy in the area to get Branden's pain pills (he had to be there for controlled substance scrip), then the grocery store because the birthday boy (did I mention that?) wanted ice cream. Then we were able to go home.

Tl;dr: Our awesome weekend got longer! B's been home since then, recovering diligently. He'll probably head back to work tomorrow, but these three extra days have been so great. And it felt like an adventure in grown-up-ness. Now I just get to look forward to the bill. (Yay insurance!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Write what you know?

So, the conventional wisdom has long been to “write what you know.” Recently I’ve seen a lot of seemingly embittered writers decrying this advice. “If we don’t get outside the realm of what we already know, how will we truly exercise our imaginations?” I, personally, think that the advice “write what you know” has evolved and changed since its inception.

It is perhaps even true that when those words were first spoken, the person giving the advice truly meant, “your experiences are valuable and interesting and I want to read about them.” In current times, though, I think the far more relevant interpretation of this advice is, “know what you write.” A generation ago, stereotypes and cultural appropriation and other forms of ignorant writing were acceptable. Now, if you’re going to have a Japanese-coded culture in your novel about dragons, you’d better know a lot more about Japanese culture than what you learned from Seven Samurai and anime.

In other words, there are things that aren’t yours to take and use. If you are going to incorporate these things into your writing, do so respectfully and knowledgeably.

If you don’t already know the thing you want to write about, learn about it. Don’t just assume you know all there is to know and go prancing off into the sunset, pen grasped in sweaty fingers and cheeks shining. We all have a responsibility in this fraught time to be sensitive and well-informed, and it’s no one’s responsibility to teach you things—you have to go out and self-educate.

I hope that it’s clear that I’m talking about writing that is meant to be read by people other than yourself. Write whatever you want if you’re keeping it on your own computer, of course.

Write on, word nerds!

Monday, June 13, 2016

And after doing all that research, too…

Guys, I have come to a hard realization. You may want to sit down.

My novel… isn’t a hardboiled detective novel.

You’ve been with me through my many drafts, versions, and imaginings of my novel. You’ve watched me do endless research. You’ve seen me through the frustration of outlining and writer’s block and plot holes. So it’s probably just as hard on you as it is on me to make this difficult change of heart.

It’s okay guys. I promise. Let me tell you why.

One of the premises of hardboiled fiction is: the story is about the case, not the detective. The detective takes it in, lets it get personal, makes judgement calls and moral calls and such, but the case is the thing. In my novel, the case ends up being very personal to Cassidy. The story is about her, because the case is about her, and the two cannot be split.

After I read all my research material into hardboiled fiction, I read a book series, The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s about a wizard detective in modern-day Chicago. I loved this series—it managed to capture everything I loved about the hardboiled genre and eschew everything I didn’t love, and it made me realize that I love the trappings of hardboiled mystery. The idioms, the sardonic tone, the mean streets and the almost-corrupted yet incorruptible protagonist. But it also was very much about the main character. He sees everything through the filter of his own biases, which is true for hardboiled fiction as well, except that in the Dresden Files, his biases are important to the story—to the case, to the way he ends up solving the mystery and resolving the conflicts.

I realized that that was what I wanted out of my book. I wrote a mystery about a character, then I selected a genre that divorces the main character from the mystery—smart going, Elly. But giving up the official genre of hardboiled doesn’t mean I can’t rub right up against it, try on its shoes and makeup and steal its change from its bedside table.

Stressing about genre is probably the least productive thing you can do when you’re trying to give birth to an idea, but knowing your genre can determine the direction you go when you’re writing, so… it’s a conundrum. I’m glad I got this figured out. At this point, pointing it out doesn’t really change much, but it feels good to do so.

Friday, June 10, 2016


There is much banter in the writing industry about the terms “pantser” and “plotter.” I believe they were coined by the NaNoWriMo community. To be a “pantser” is the write by the seat of your pants, to have no set route and to go where the story takes you. To be a “plotter” is to have a comprehensive outline, to know where you’re going and how you’re getting there before you even start writing.

I’ve tried it both ways. NaNo 2014 I was a pantser. I basically had a character idea and some settings ideas and I went from there. It was the seed to my novel, and I’m super glad I just did it. But to be totally frank, the result was… unsatisfying, to be diplomatic about it. For my second and third drafts, I was (/tried to be) a plotter. Even though I loathed writing outlines and the process was disheartening and soul-sucking compared to just writing narrative, I was sure that the reason my first draft had failed was because I didn’t know where I was going when I started.

Well, my second draft, while being much better than my first, was still far off the mark of what I want to eventually end up with. I don’t believe that it benefitted from an outline as much as I had learned a lot from the first try, but after I finished it, I didn’t have that perspective. From where I was standing, it looked like I had a second draft that was much better than my first and it had had an outline: ad hoc, ergo propter hoc. But I was several chapters into my third draft when I realized that I was going at my story from completely the wrong angle.

And I realized that writing the outline had contributed to cementing this wrong angle in my head.

Not to mention that starting over after writing a comprehensive outline was… well suffice to say that I was more ready to give up writing forever than to write another comprehensive outline. More than that, though, I wasn’t sure yet where the story was going to go. I kept trying to work on an outline and getting stuck on things that I couldn’t predict. And I was getting very frustrated with not writing narrative—the only fun part of writing. (Hashtag my own opinion kthxbai.) So I decided to start writing and see if it went anywhere.

The beginning I wrote was both strong and terrible: strong because I think I started in the correct place, narratively, and terrible because it was disjointed and semi-coherent. That was partially because I was in a semi-panic while writing it and as a result was having terrible aphasia. I kept not being able to find words, so instead using the much more formal words for things than my narrative voice justified. But I said fuckit and kept writing, because it felt like running away from a predator: didn’t matter if I tripped, I fucking got away.

As I write more, my voice comes more easily; the sequence of events happens more naturally; and as ideas come to me I feel very free to incorporate them if I want to—no restrictive outline to stick to like glue. As a result I really feel like this draft is where I’ve been wanting to get to all along. I still feel like it is almost certainly not the final draft. Much polish and sanding and restoration will be needed once I’ve finished writing it. But I may have finally found the thing that I won’t have to rewrite from the ground up.

Anyway. I recently read a term that I had previously not heard of: “plantser.” This is a hybrid planner-pantser. For me, that means I know the starting point, I know the themes, I have a cast of characters (some of which may not end up making appearances), I know the twist, and I know what Cassidy needs to do to “win”—but I don’t know the exact journey she takes to get there, and to be honest, I don’t know if she wins or not, yet.

So, put me in the plantser camp, because I need a little structure—a little, but not too much.

Word count: 10,916 (⪤)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Book Recommendation

Since I have many thoughts and only a small portion of them are fit for public consumption, I’m thinking that my Friday blogs should be book recommendations. I have read many books, after all. I might as well share the love—both with potential readers and with writers who make their livings this way.

But where to begin?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott’s book about writing and life is lighthearted, funny, and incredibly relatable. It addresses insecurities matter-of-factly, which made me feel less self-conscious about my own. The writing advice is very good (and honestly, applicable to most creative endeavors), but the life lessons are even better. I think the thing I liked the most was the fact that it covered a variety of serious topics without ever seeming serious. Pensive, wistful, and nostalgic at times, but never weighty or epic. Which makes the observations feel that much more universal.

Lightspeed Magazine: Women Destroy Science Fiction edited by Christie Yant

This collection of science fiction short stories by women is just… I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you like science fiction, of course. Despite its bulk, it’s very approachable. Few of the stories are longer than ten pages. I think what I loved about it was that the stories were legitimately great, largely about women, but never preachy or “trying to teach a lesson.” Great before-bed reading.

I’m also in the middle of a book called City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers. Looking it up just now I have learned that it is the fourth in a series; I wouldn’t have known. I will almost certainly be recommending that next Friday, once I have finished it.

I haven’t written since Wednesday, so no updates on that front. But that’s okay, faithful readers. I just need to let it gestate.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writers’ Group meetup and writing date

Whoops! I forgot to blog on Monday. That’s okay, I can make this one longer for it.

Writers’ Group meetup was this last weekend, and for the first time in a long time I actually had something to share. Branden went on a literary-critique tear; I’ve rarely seen him so enthused about giving feedback when he reviewed Rachel’s story and Becky’s book blurb. I submitted almost 9,000 words for review, and Branden has been reading them as I’ve been writing them, so he didn’t have as much feedback for me as he did for them (which is fine). But I got lots of good feedback from the girls. Few enough problems that I’m either doing really, really well or no one can bring themselves to tell me what they really think. Or maybe they’re withholding judgement.

Just for the record, I don’t actually think anyone thinks it sucks and is keeping it from me. That was a joke. Oddly enough, sharing holds no real terror for me. I know I’m not perfect and could always do a lot better, and am prepared to hear that feedback when it comes. It’s gratifying when I get less of that than I expect, and at the same time it makes me itchy for more. (Though, I think getting more quantity and more specific “I really liked this part!” would scratch that same itch.) But getting any feedback at all is a privilege and a blessing and thank you, thank you, thank you Sarah, Becky, Rachel, and Branden for your patient and dedicated reading and reacting.

But the fact that I’m going to need a whole new group of beta readers was raised during the meetup.

My friends can help me hammer out the problems. They can help me patch the holes and fix the typos. But they can’t be surprised by the story, because they already know the twist. So, I need several people who don’t already know it, who can read it and tell me if the twists and turns are any good, if it hangs together, if it delivers on its promises. I’m looking forward to having a fresh audience, when it comes time for that.

Yesterday was this week’s writing date with Becky, during which she put the finishing touches on her blurb (it’s looking really great now!) and I got some words down. Pretty exciting. Also, pretty nerve-wracking. I am wandering into uncharted territory now, and I have no outline for this version. That aspect has been really freeing, yet scary. Still, I’m enjoying seeing where my fingers take me.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Happy Hump Day!

Word count: 9,656 (▸)

Friday, May 20, 2016

MuckFest Rising

T-shirt front teaser
The last two days, I’ve spent the majority of my time working on the t-shirt art for this year’s Racing Snails. It’s looking really good so far, and I’m super excited.

I love working on the shirt art because it’s definitely the thing that gets me excited about the event. Organizing, coordinating, and even fundraising doesn’t seem so overwhelming, when the shirt art is on my mind. Because, let me tell you, the MuckFest has been stressful for the last couple of years.

In 2014, I went whole-hog, with periodic team emails regarding fundraising and all the other things. (Like, all the other things.) It had exactly zero impact on how much money was raised. It was actually very discouraging. And the 2015 MuckFest was nine months after the 2014 event, and I didn’t feel great about trying to raise funds again so soon. I felt even less good about trying to raise enthusiasm again, like possibly ever.

But, last year, my friends could feel that I was feeling defeated and swooped in to the rescue. They designed and made shirts, and—the crowning glory—made eyestalk-headbands for the team. As a surprise for me! When I arrived and saw what they’d done, I actually regretted not fund raising. They managed to give me a hot Snail injection.

It made me realize that, even if people didn’t feel motivated to raise funds, they were still invested in doing the event. It was important to them that it be fun, and silly, and exciting. And that kind of enthusiasm is almost as valuable as the money.

But this year, I feel that it’s important to mention that, really, the event is a fund raiser. If they don’t raise enough money, they’re going to stop putting on the event. After the second year I participated (which I think was the second year they held it?), it has been feeling a little more precarious every year. I wish our team could raise so much more money, just because it’s the most valuable way to show our appreciation for the National MS Society putting in all the effort of putting the event on, and our ability to participate.

So, this year, I’m really trying to brainstorm fundraising incentives. I think the thing that I’ve been missing in the past is that the things that incentivize are things that will be instantly gratifying. Which is probably why the MS Society’s incentives are “private tent,” “pick your own start time,” “priority showers.” So I’m trying to think along those lines.

Our team is up to ten members, and I truly hope we’re not done growing. Please sign up to run with us!! Your help and support are most welcome. And if that’s not your bag, please consider donating.

The event is on July 16, coming right up. I can’t wait.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Writer’s block morphs and changes

Yesterday, I had an excellent day of writing. Becky and I monopolized a couch in the coffee shop from eleven am to four-thirty pm. I didn’t write every single second of that time, but I did get into a groove and managed to pump out over 1,500 words. While I was writing away, I noticed something interesting.

I was chatting with Rachel in the background. I would write my story while waiting for her to respond to whatever I’d said last. I’d made writing the time-passing activity, instead of phone games, or Netflix. It was the most freeing attitude shift: instead of using chatting as a distraction from writing, they existed non-competitively and non-stressfully, side by side. And having five hours of friendly relations with my book has, for the time being at least, altered my overall feelings towards it. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with the enormity of it, or frustrated by its inscrutability, now I feel affection with it, like we’re friends who are going to get together to do something later.

In the past I’ve written blog posts that assert theories on how to overcome writer’s block. Those blogs were correct, for me, at that time. I didn’t anticipate—didn’t understand—that the rules could and would change. I don’t think that I've seen this expressed as conventional wisdom in the multitude of writing blogs I follow. Maybe it’s because it’s self-evident to most, but it was a surprise to me. It was like having the whole floor jerked out from under me when my old tricks didn’t work anymore.

Now that I understand that the Inhibitor is an adapting creature, moving to choke off the little shoots of inspiration that manage to wind their roots through the joints in its protective carapace, I feel slightly more prepared to keep it in perspective. But (and this is an advanced philosophical realization, don’t try this at home), I realize that even this feeling of being properly armed is going to leech out too. It’s a constant growing rumble. The only way to turn down the volume is to keep trying, trying, trying. And be kind to myself.

The Inhibitor is a master of disguise. It makes itself look like inspiration to do other creative projects (my personal favorite); exhaustion or sleepiness; and when all else fails, it just starts sounding alarm bells. They are sometimes articulate, "You will never get it right! You might as well not try! You will never get it right!" or "It’s no fucking fun! Why are you even doing this! Don’t you have something better to do!" Sometimes it’s inarticulate, but I can make the screaming shut up by walking away from the writing. If I get too close to it, it keeps getting louder. And sure, there are some days when the alarm never would shut up, no matter how hard I tried; but I suspect that, most of the time, if I just pushed through it, it would eventually fade away.

It is pretty frustrating and exhausting to have to keep switching up techniques for getting around the Inhibitor. It’s not like it publishes a handbook; and I suppose if it did it probably wouldn’t include ways to disable it. You just have to keep trying different things, again and again. And sometimes, you have to keep trying things that don’t work that well, if you can’t think of anything else. It’s really not surprising that it can have so much power over you.

Anyway, happy rambling is me. More work on snails art today, followed by more writing (I hope). Happy writing!

Word count: 8,747 (∫)

Monday, May 16, 2016

GenreCon 2016

I attended GenreCon this last Saturday with Becky, who was kind enough to clue me in to this event. It had special guests Kristin Nelson and Angie Hodapp of Nelson Literary Agency, who described the job of literary agents and then spent some time talking about what catches their eye, submission-wise, as agents. Then they did the favor of reading audience submissions aloud, saying what worked, what didn’t, and if they would have requested more pages based on the submission. They didn’t read mine, but in retrospect I’m fairly glad they didn’t, because reading over my first three pages I realized that they are kind of a mess. They’ve got some good ideas and imagery, but the frame of mind I was in while writing them (just fucking write, Elly, it doesn’t matter if it sucks) definitely showed a little bit. Mostly, it was an ordering issue. Everything needed to be shuffled around and reordered, to find its own place and occupy it. So even though the pages did not meet the “automatically likely to reject” criteria, they were still far from ready for analysis. But, that was a good thing to be able to see with my own eyes, and try to remedy.

Though, really, I need to keep moving forward. My first three pages can be a #SecondDraftProblem. (Yes, I’m officially calling this a first draft, for convenience’s sake.)

The keynote speech and slush-pile reading was followed by genre workshops, where writers meet with published authors of their chosen genre for specific guidance, tips, tricks, etc. Mine was mystery.

Because of the extensive research I’ve done with regards to my chosen genre, at first, it actually wasn’t super helpful. But when I corrected the author about the actual definition of “noir”, I got engaged in the presentation. In the end, we did an exercise wherein we got together in groups of five and constructed the plot of a mystery. It was way more fun than I expected it to be. All three groups had politically-motivated mysteries (without knowing or intending the similarity), which was fun. The exercise was:

  1. What is the crime?
  2. Who committed it?
  3. Who is the victim?
  4. Who is the investigator?
  5. What error did the villain make in the commission of his/her crime?
  6. How does the investigator solve the crime?

I’d never thought that building a mystery was so… simple. It’s a little disheartening, considering all the drama I’ve been going through trying to figure out the bones of my story.

Today, I’m working on my Racing Snails t-shirt design. I’m hoping to have time to write afterwards, but I don’t think that’s super likely. See you all Wednesday, faithful readers!

Word Count: 6,631 (᧧)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Progress is being made and GenreCon tomorrow!

On Wednesday, I had a writing date with Becky, and words came with me. That was pretty cool. A lot of the time on writing dates, or when I sit down to write during the day, I’ll spend a long time rereading. Or researching. Or … heh, blogging. Usually it’s writing-adjacent, but still quantifiably avoidance behavior, and almost always entirely fear-based. Not sure where I’m going from here. Not sure if I’m going to be able to pull it off. Not sure I’m doing it right, at all. Not sure if I’m going to offend, or be ignorant. But on Wednesday, after I got my computer plugged in, my chai and danish into my facehole, and my shoes off, the words just came.

It’s a good feeling, when it happens.

The unfortunate (maybe? Hopefully not) part is that I got to a transition point of the story just as we were wrapping up. That means two things: I got to a stopping place (which means that starting again isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be), and the story is about to go in a new direction. Which reboots the whole “am I doing it wrong” train of thought. Especially since it’s going to go places this story hasn’t yet gone, in any of the other 2.25 drafts. I used to write ghost / horror stories back in high school, but Cassidy has never treaded those corridors, and I’ve worn down such a groove with Cassidy that trying to bump her into that territory is proving… quite difficult. So, one tiny baby step at a time.

Tomorrow is GenreCon, a writer’s conference in Golden, Colorado. I’m really nervous. Not only have I never been to a writing conference, I’ve never been to any cons, ever. Unless the Renaissance Festival counts, cause from what I’ve heard about cons they seem kinda similar. But in my mind, at least, writing cons are different from, say, comic cons or anime cons or PAX. Maybe because it’s less fan-based? I don’t know. Anyway, if I bring the first three pages of my story, there’s a chance they’ll get read and critiqued. I think I’m going to do it, because what could it hurt? But I know it’s the equivalent of a first draft again, quality-wise, so I’m a bit embarrassed of it. I know that it’s almost certainly going to change, that this isn’t as polished and squeaky as it could be. But, as Cassidy would think, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

On Monday, I shall regale you with the epic stories of GenreCon and how I took the writing world by storm. Until then!

Word count: 6,494 (ᥞ)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

All the things!

I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders, and it makes me increasingly anxious.

Branden and I are hosting our weekly friend get-together this week, and I am maybe taking on too much. Maybe. Except a normal human could do it just fine before Thursday night, so obviously I will come very close to failing and have to spend Friday in bed doing nothing.

I have to make two giant loaves of bread, one less-giant loaf of bread, and roast some figs.

“What madness,” I hear you scream, and I agree.

That… will probably be fine. I’m hoping I can get my act together and tackle a couple of those tasks one at a time. The thing that’s actually stressing me out is: The Racing Snails.

MuckFest season is quickly coming. I haven’t assembled the whole team, done any fundraising, nor—and here’s the stressor—committed the shirt design to digital medium. That… really needs to get done, ASAP.

But it will probably take at least one whole day to do it. Which cuts into my writing time. I always think to myself, “Just do your writing first thing, and do the arting once you’ve hit your word goal,” and what a nice fantasy that is. But considering how I’ve yet to hit 2,500 words in a day (yesterday I managed 255), it just doesn’t seem realistic. I have to choose between them, and at some point, the Snails shirt has to be the one I choose.

It doesn’t help that by the time I’m done checking my internet (about 11am, today), I’m ready to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. Why am I always so tired, this is the worst. I could probably snap out of it if I got up and walked around a little, but the nature of being sleepy is that that’s the last thing I want to do.

Still, I suppose I shall do it. As nice as my naps were last week, I’m not willing to repeat them.

In the spirit of getting the body movin’, I’m gonna go do that now. We will talk again on Friday.

Word count: 4,768 (አ)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Scared of my feelings

As I’ve been making (slow, slow) progress through my book, I’ve realized something that isn’t very encouraging. I’m wondering if it’s normal for other writers, or if it’s indicative of my feelings for my book.

I get really excited when I’m thinking about the story, the twists and turns, and the way the pieces fit together. I enjoy thinking about it. But when it comes time to actually write it? It all drains away. It feels dry and uninteresting, and my overwhelming feeling is that the book is going to be “nothing special,” or possibly just a giant waste of time.

I don’t want to listen to that voice, for obvious reasons. I have ideas for other stories, and I haven’t yet tried to write them, so I can’t say whether or not I have more enthusiasm for writing something else. I really, really want to finish this book before moving on to another project, so I probably won’t be receptive to “just write something different for a little while” advice. Cassidy is my baby and there are so many things I want to say with this story. I just wish the stream of good feels didn’t dry up as soon as I start trying to put words on “paper.”

My apprehensions aside, I have been writing. I got Scrivener for Christmas and I’ve been trying out the “write scenes in separate files” technique that so many people talk about. Historically, I haven’t really thought in “scenes,” but more in progression of events. Trying it this way is definitely helping me understand where scenes are delineated in my writing, and that really helps me understand the flow of tension. Because if each scene needs to be a book-in-miniature, with rising- and falling-action and a climax, then I think it helps you get a feel for if the scene is doing what it is supposed to, and if it’s necessary to the story.

Tangent: just because it has the three ingredients, doesn’t mean each of these climaxes need to be dramatic and extreme. They just need to be identifiable.

Well, that’s all for now, folks.

Word count: 4,513 (ᆡ) (NaNo in May is... not. But at least it got me writing!!)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Writing: when it rains, it drizzles pathetically

In my continuing commitment to blogging more, I am blogging today! Observe. They’re gonna be short for a while, while I get back into the swing of posting.

Yesterday, though I seemed to be trying my hardest to avoid it, I actually managed to write over 1,700 words. It sorta feels like, even when I’m writing, I’m not making any progress. I am, though. Right now, it feels like the book is going to be incredibly short. I have no sense of pacing with this version. That’s okay. It truly is a new “first” draft. I’m in no hurry (obviously).

That being said, yesterday I was thinking about my book and was suddenly overcome with a realization. It’s an obvious thing, nothing I didn’t know intellectually, but it sorta came home to me emotionally: This book doesn’t exist. It’s not out there, leaking through me onto the page. It has no rights. I’m not violating it by not writing it. It will never exist if I don’t write it. It felt both liberating and terrifying. It’s a big responsibility… a bigger responsibility than caring for plants, but probably a smaller responsibility than caring for animals.

But yeah. Your book doesn’t exist if you don’t write it. No one’s going to write it after you decide you don’t want to; it’s just going to never exist. Is that okay with you? Or would you rather just write the damn thing and be done with it? I know which side I come down on.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Because I said I'd blog more

So far, NaNo in May has been 100% unsuccessful. Naps struck me both Monday and Tuesday. Today I'm antsy and feel like I can't make my brain sit still, so I've written 54 words. Of course, my total is 2,328 so at least I'm not at the very beginning, but I do have mighty catching up to do. Maybe over the weekend. And just because I haven't written doesn't mean I wasn't productive. I worked on art resources for the P&C game my friends and I are percolating, and did some chores, and handled some money matters… not wasted time for the most part, but I still feel kinda irresponsible. Plus there are a couple of things that are in my to-do list that I'm dreading and thus haven't done: phone calls, obviously.

Six months ago I scheduled a Neurology appointment for April 21st, which (unbeknownst to me at the time) was the same date as the Greeley Jazz festival that I go to every year. I had to cancel my appointment and have requested a new one via the website, twice. But I have heard nothing back, so I have to call them, ugh. Also my insurance decided to stop covering Adderall, which is straight crazy, so… another phone call. Both of these are relatively urgent, and I need to do them, so obviously I haven't.

On the upside, I'm covered in kittens (who have had nearly-immaculate litter box etiquette for a change!), which is probably the best thing ever. Today was a great day, I went for a long drive in the afternoon that unfortunately coincided with rush hour, but it was gorgeous and warm and beautiful. The weather went, in the course of 3 days, from white-out blizzard to have-to-open-the-windows warm, and I'm loving that. I want to make the most of the long days. Days are getting longer until the middle of June, and I want to make sure I squeeze out every last drop of sun! I should swim this year. Swimming is good.

Well, that's all I've got for now. Ciao word nerds!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

NaNo in May

Good News Everyone! I have decided that I’ve been Doing Cassidy Wrong. I am starting over from scratch! Again! Yay!

There were things I had always wanted to include in the story that didn’t fit. Everything seemed too cluttered and a lot of things just didn’t really stick the landing after their logical leaps.

The good news is that my new story is much more on track. (Yes, I’ve said this before.) We’ll see how it turns out, of course, but I’m, like, seriously optimistic. I’ve started writing narrative and it’s going in fits and starts, with much use of the backspace key, but so far I’m liking it.

But because I’ve been feeling blocked on Cassidy by every fault of my own, I decided that I was going to write it like NaNo again. After all, this is basically a new first draft, and it’s going to be ugly and sticky and in need of much revision. But I need to extrude it quickly so that I can stop beating myself up about it and hopefully finish it at some point. So, I’m going to try for 2,500 words per weekday in May.

Fuckered that up already, since instead of writing yesterday I took a nap and then read my entire blog over again. But oh well, I got good advice from my earlier self who knows where I am and what I’m going through. She was a smart lady.

I finished my Blender model. It was very fun and I didn’t limit myself at all. Ended up with 800k+ polys (target number in the end will be 1,500 at most), so the next goal will be to make a much simpler model. Then I’ll try rigging. But not in May, most likely.

I’m also going to try to blog 3 times per week again. Blogging is good and I like it. I also like what I’ve written, for I am a smarty.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for tonight! See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Poem: Depression

Hello to the monster that lives in your head,
He’s got nowhere to be until after you’re dead.
Hello to the monster that lives in your heart,
He volunteers to tear you apart.
He calls pride ‘integrity,’
He calls help ‘contempt,’
He helps you resist any grace that might tempt.
He says friends are great, but just not right now—
You have more loathing to do than time will allow.
When your friends speak, he helps your flawed hearing,
Shifting “needful” into “weak,” kudos into jeering.
You see a way through, but he steers you away,
Kindly explaining it will lead you astray.
He plugs your ears to any bid for surcease,
Determined your frailty should not bring you peace.
He says solutions are shortcuts and suffering is noble,
As his cement ’round your feet makes you immobile.
In this fashion he puts a knife to your vein,
And in your desperation to end your pain,
You forget every escape he made you disdain.

***Edit: 4/29/16*** This poem is not about me. I'm fine! Sorry if I alarmed anyone!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Survivors in post-apocalypse stories

Becky and I were talking about her story yesterday, specifically how many people should be in a group of apocalypse survivors. It made my brain start buzzing, and as I could find no excessively helpful resources online, I thought I’d write about it here.

First, the established quasi-rules of the apocalypse.

  1. The monsters aren’t the problem—other people are.
  2. The size of the group should be reduced by 50% before coming to rest.
  3. If around at least ¼ of the characters to whom the audience has become emotionally attached don’t die in the course of the story, it won’t feel particularly apocalyptic.

Rule number one really works across all apocalypse stories, even ones that aren’t monster apocalypses. You can just replace “monster” with whatever the main antagonistic force is. You (the survivor protagonists) wind up dealing with idiots, megalomaniacs, and people who actively want to destroy you. If it weren’t for the people you are trying so hard to save and protect, you’d be just fine. That’s a pretty little dependency loop error, because after the end of the world, the only thing that makes life worth living is the hope that there are still other people out there, to bring back the human race.

Rule two: You start out with a big old group of people, but you’ve got vulnerable people in that group. Old people, sick people, injured people, children, pregnant women, people who can’t handle the pressure… the list goes on. These people get culled down fairly quickly and with minimal heartbreak to the audience. You are still left with people who aren’t hard-core survivors, here, but neither are they liabilities. They have what they need to survive and fade more or less into the background.

Then you have the core group of survivors, but a few of them have fatal flaws—usually, they will risk themselves to save someone who isn’t worth saving (by the metrics of the apocalypse), and they both die in the process. Aw, that’s sad. We feel the punch more logically than emotionally, though. He or she was the only doctor! S/He was the only one who knew how to run the power plant! S/He was practically a ninja and could gather resources like a motherplucker! We shall miss them. These will come and go over the course of the story, depending on how long the story is.

After they’re all accounted for, you’ve got your core group. The people that you really care if they live or die. And sadly, for both author and audience, rule three: a whole bunch of them have to die. None of them are sacrosanct.

Having addressed these core tenets, there are things that help structure your survival group.

  1. Are they nomadic, or have they found a home base?
  2. What are the risks of the world?
  3. What are your group’s advantages?
  4. What is the end goal?

Nomadic survivors are going to have to be smaller groups, essentially by necessity. Not so small as to appear weak, but not so big that you end up with a power struggle or a difficulty caring for and protecting the more vulnerable of the group. Groups with a home base can grow larger, but that comes with its own problems: how will leadership work? How will they fortify their position? How will they provide for everyone?

Which brings me to issue two: what are the risks? For example, in a zombie apocalypse, sound draws zombies. The risks with them is they might just wander on into your camp and start bogarting your snack food. You’d probably want to build a fortified wall, to defend against both the zombies and the human monsters.

If you have a more intelligent antagonistic force, you may be being actively hunted. Building a wall might draw unwanted attention to yourself. Are you more at risk at night, or during the day, and why? Who’s searching, and how? And how diligently? What must be done to provide for the community, and what’s threatening that?

Issue three: how does your group counter the threats? What special knowledge does your group have that can protect them from the monsters? In The Walking Dead, they figure out that covering themselves with gore will make them invisible to the zombies, as long as they don’t otherwise draw attention to themselves. So, is the Adversary organized enough that they recognize 100% of their allies, or could a member your group plausibly infiltrate their institution?

Issue four: is the goal “to survive,” as in zombie apocalypse scenarios, or is there an enemy your group will ultimately have to vanquish in order to start restructuring human society? If a war is the end goal, you’re going to want to be training warriors, seeing if you can gain access to languishing military resources, etc. If the goal is survival, training farmers and having babies might be more the focus.

For a moment, I will focus on larger groups that have found a home base. How big should this group be? It seems obvious that the bigger the group, the bigger the government. Lawyers were invented the moment two people disagreed; bureaucracies were invented when the lawyer and the two conflicting parties couldn’t come to an arrangement. Depending on the size of the settlement and how important subterfuge is to the group, they may have strict population limits, branching off groups to colonize nearby areas when the population grows too large. This might also be a favorable strategy if you have two or more alpha personalities who can’t agree on how the settlement should be structured and governed. But any splinter groups may become your enemies if you don’t maintain positive relations with them, so that’s something to be considered. What commandments would your settlement have? What is the extent of the technology? How are you keeping the lights on and the water running, if in fact you are doing so? Who’s doctoring, who’s janitoring, who’s patching and repairing? How are you getting gasoline? So many things to think about.

It’s becoming obvious to me why there is no how-to guide on the internet regarding apocalypse survival groups.

Any thoughts, fellow preppers?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Backwards progress

This one’s gonna be short, faithful readers.

I have come to the realization that I need to get the gym back into my routine. There are things I can do to mitigate the paralysis that seems to come over me after the gym—but there’s no way to mitigate the stiffness, muscle loss, and declining energy levels except to start the body movin’.

In other news, I have been playing around with Blender. Although my current rendering of Jane Lane from Daria looks like a horrifying monkey-slash-nightmare demon, just doing it really strips away the terror related to trying something new. I’ve also finished all of the Christmas stockings for the spouses. Now I just need to do the chibis; but first I gotta decide on a design for them. Also I need to take a break from knitting for a while.

Gnar turned one whole year old yesterday. Little miracle kitty! So glad he picked me.

I’m actually making slow progress with my Cassidy outline again! The story keeps changing on me. How’s it ever going to hold still long enough for me to write it all down?!

Gonna hop on writing now. Else I’m wasting my time at Cafe 44 with my fellow writista Bridget. Buon viaggio!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Diversity in the hardboiled genre

So, in working on Cassidy, I’ve been struggling with diversity. I originally conceptualized a diverse cast, including people of different sexualities, differently abled people, and people of color. Predictably, I fell into some tropes, primarily because I didn’t know they existed (but that's no excuse!). So I revised. And revised. And am revising again.

I’m discovering an unsettling stumbling block.

In the hardboiled genre, most notably in the literature of the 30s–50s, pretty much everyone is despicable. There are very few characters who haven’t done something awful that they’re trying to conceal from Johnny Law (or Jane Society). The only “innocents” are idealized as such, put on pedestals, and not given the opportunity to have any real contribution to the story, presumably because doing so would get their white shoes all dirty. Ironically, people of color and homosexuals are present, but their despicableness is their color or their sexuality—they are not innocents, in the mind of the authors of the day.

More recent works have done better, though still not always great. Perhaps that’s because the genre is about the filthy underbelly, where innocence has no place. I'm okay with that, really. I’d rather see innocents not represented than represented as powerless icons, but eh, I’m not an authority. There’s room for argument on both sides. Anyway, this is all beside the point.

I don’t want to cast any group of people in a negative light with my writing, and I’m doing my best not to. But when your cast is dirty cops, prostitutes, murderers, and rapists, I feel like you have to dance a merry jig to make sure that you're not slapping labels on people. Because I'm not going to stuff my cast of characters with extras just to make it clear that “not all «insert demographic here» are «insert negative role here»s.” I know much of that can be done by populating what extras are there with members of the demographics that are being negatively portrayed elsewhere. No reason the barista can't be of Chinese descent, right?

But it’s been very strange, and a bit uncomfortable. I’ve been having an urge to make all my villains and victims white, because I don’t want to negatively represent demographics to which I don't belong. But in the hardboiled genre, there are few other roles, so… to represent or not to represent?

Let me know what you think. Until next time, word nerds!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Inhibitor

I believe I have a piece of hardware installed in my brain. It’s called the Inhibitor. It plugs in between my want-tos and my can-dos, and effectively shorts the circuit with overwhelming gibber signal, mostly consisting of “but that would require you to…” and yawns. I’m not unique in this way. It seems that every writer (or otherwise creative person) is asking for advice on how to bypass their inhibitor. I’ve gotten sick of whining about it. But sometimes, it feels like a very physical thing.

And then, of course, there are the have-tos. From time to time, the have-tos are chores or errands, but the largest number of have-tos are literal necessities. Going to the bathroom, eating food, sleeping, that sort of thing. When my Inhibitor starts to fail, the have-tos are the redundant fail-safe. And the have-tos are hard to argue with. They seem to eat up my days.

Right now I have a conundrum. I’m finished with my have-tos. It’s barely 9am. I’ve bathed, eaten breakfast, checked the whole internet, and essentially run out of reasonable distractions. There are so many creative endeavors I’ve been dying to do, and inspired to do, and motivated to do… when I’m unable to do them, of course. Now that I have no have-tos between me and my goals, the Inhibitor is working overtime. “But you have three unfinished Christmas stockings to do! Those count as creative!” … true, but I’ve watched so much Netflix in the last couple of months that I’m about to run out of shows. Like, all shows. It’s getting boring. “You’re really sleepy! You know you are. Go lie down.” I’m never not sleepy. If I let that affect my activities, I’d never do anything. “You know you’re not supposed to force it…” Force it, sure, but I should really at least give myself a chance to do these creative things I’m so excited about.

I’ve had writing dates with my writer friends the last few weeks. On each of these, I’ve had some excuse not to write. The first one, I spent the time moving Cassidy into Scrivener, so at least it was tangentially related. The next time, I was writing emails to people. It was actually important, don’t get me wrong, but I sometimes feel so defeated. I’d really like to write with my girls, because it seems like the only time I actually get into it.

Well, at any rate, it seems like maybe my Inhibitor has leashed my blog into its dark service. I’ma cut that bitch out, for today anyway.

TTFN dear readers!

Monday, February 8, 2016

It moves so slowly you can’t see the change

I find myself in an uncomfortably unfamiliar situation. It’s a good situation, to be sure, but it has its own dimension of stress.

As of now, I have too many creative outlets and projects.

Ever-looming, Cassidy glowers at me from the top of the fridge. We’ve agreed that she’s allowed to stay there until she wants to come down. I’ve made progress outlining my Supernatural fanfic. I’ve made a lot of progress on the first Christmas stocking. And...

There has been a zygote of an idea implanted in my brain.

Myself and a cadre of creative people have begun dipping our toes into the tidepools of creating a point-and-click adventure game. One writer, two artists, one (two?) coder(s), one producer-ish-thing. I play the part of artist and producer, huzzah! And in an effort to really sabotage myself as hard as I possibly can, I’m trying to learn 3D animation.

Good thing this game won’t be coming to real fruition for a few years, given that our 4-person team can only work on it in our free time (and everyone but me is employed). Because let me tell you, teaching yourself 3D animation is not easy or quick. The problem I’ve been running into is that the tutorial I was using was for an earlier version of Blender. When I installed the earlier version of Blender, I still wasn’t seeing the things I needed to be seeing to get the tutorial to work. Ugh.

I think I need to check out

In other news, we have gotten to a place where there are no more treatment options for my kitty Squish, who has been my constant and loyal companion and friend since 2001. He’s not exactly on death’s door or anything, but the word is in: he’s in the twilight of his life. He’s only on Cirenia now, to keep him from vomiting—essentially for his own comfort and our convenience. He’s scarily skin-and-bones. But the bright side is that I am shamelessly pampering him now, which is nice for both of us. He’s already eaten most of a pound of raw chicken since last Thursday.

I’m gonna be wrecked when he goes, but I’m doing my very best to keep from being sad while he’s still here.

And off I go to knit and watch The 100. Ciao!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Creative update

Hey nerds!

This one’s gonna be a shortie, since I don’t have a whole lot to say. But I wanted to share my excitement with the public! Everyone should know!

Thing one! I started knitting Christmas stockings for the new members of my family (spouses and nephews), and got ¾ of the way done with Branden’s. Then I realized I have to start over.

This is not the end of the world. I know that crafting can take many iterations to get things right, and I am just happy that yarn can be reused and reused and reused. Hooray. But I do need to figure out a way to make my stitches tighter, for the main problem with the stocking is that it’s too loose. Maybe I should pick up smaller needles?

Thing two! I have entered into a creative covenant with my favorite people to make a point-and-click adventure game. At this point it’s a twinkle in its parents’ eyes, but everyone involved has displayed symptoms of having the Brain Worm, so there’s a tiny, tiny chance this might actually happen. If so, I am the High Mucky-Muck Producer and a lowly minion of the art team.

So, please to be crossing your fingers for us! And I shall see you in the funny pages!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Not derailed so much as detoured

Good morning, dear reader.

Today I am exhausted. You know, like every day. I’m trying to be okay with it. After all, if it’s every day, it’s not unusual, right? Still, it’s hard to do anything that takes any brainpower at all. But all that takes is an attitude adjustment. Y’see, I don’t actually want to do nothing but play phone games. I’ve gotta look at the things I do as the things I want to do, instead of the things I should do.

In an effort to make creative endeavors feel more fun, I’m starting a new project. Cassidy isn’t at a standstill, and I am still working on it, but it’s… slothly. (It is too a word. I bet you even know what it means.) In the meantime, I’ve been watching Supernatural with friends, and Season 11 is frustrating me. Why does every threat have to be human-shaped?

Anyway, I wanted to explore what I thought this season’s Big Bad was going to be at the end of last season, when they set it up. I’m writing a whole season of Supernatural in episode format, modeled after Season 5 (which is objectively their best season) in terms of pacing and tension, etc. I’ve never done anything like this before, but I anticipate that it’ll be both easier and harder to approach. Like, easier because each episode is significantly shorter than a novel would be and self-encapsulates, but harder because the twenty-three episodes will have to carry the football of Season Arc into the end zone.

You know I’m tired when I start making football analogies.

I’ve never really written fanfic before, so, this will be interesting. My first stumbling block was that I was scared of getting the brothers’ voices wrong. But I decided, fuck it! I’m writing ’cause it’s fun. It can be as flawed as it is, and it’ll still be fun. Maybe one or two people will enjoy reading it, but if not, who cares. It’s fun. It’s my brainworm, no one else has to ride it.

Wish me luck, Reader.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A poem for my Grandma.

The world knows it is losing you.
It blankets the sky with gray like dawn;
Gray like grief underwater.
Smooth, empty, the clouds do not comment.
They simply give us
A blank slate for us to paint the pain of your passing.
Falling fragments of canvas,
Cold shards of static, offering anaesthetic
And dull chill.
I ask the sky,
How many times can we say goodbye?
Eternity answers, all, and none.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Feminist boys and Jessica Jones. (Possible spoilers. Not big ones.)

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that Jessica Jones is a uniquely feminine story. Sure, there are female stalkers, and female domestic abusers. I would never deny that. But if you are going to tell a story about stalking and rape and abuse, it would be weirdly callous and artificial if the victim was a male and the abuser female (unless, of course, the point of telling the story was to talk about female abusers). This story is one that far too many women know from personal experience.

Okay, spoilers over.

If one was to attempt to gender-swap the players in Jessica Jones, the story wouldn’t work nearly as well. It’s a story women can very much relate to—men, not so much. Yet, the show was recommended to me by a male friend, who had turned into an over-pressurized soda, so frothy was he with enthusiastic fandom. Branden and I proceeded to watch it, a little skeptical because of the samey-ness of Marvel IP, and were immediately drawn in before the credits even started.

They love everything I love about it. Though it is true that Jessica is a “victim” of Killgrave, she does not play a victim. She is a traumatized woman barely coping with life, but managing anyway. She relies on no one. She takes care of herself. This is made easier by the fact that she has super-strength, but honestly, that aspect is peripheral to the story. She is flawed, and so is every single other character in the show. Killgrave, too, is shown to be relatable—like so many stalkers are reported to be, he is charming, attractive, and even likeable. They both commented on the fact that, if Jessica were smiling, Killgrave’s behavior on its face isn’t very different from that of men in popular media, showing us all what “real love” looks like. This is even blatantly called out in the show.

In short, they liked it because—not even though—it’s a story about a woman, from the woman’s perspective, portraying every aspect of it exactly how a woman would experience it. No apologies or excuses or minimizing.

Boys are also getting sick of watching cishet white guys doing the same shit on a different day.

That was a nice thing to realize.

Okay. Back to your regularly scheduled internet.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year, same resolutions

Hello faithful readers,

I haven’t been posting much recently. This is primarily because I have nothing at all to say. Holidays are crazy for me as much as for anyone else, and I have made very little progress on my book. In the month of December, I participated in Advent of Code, a daily code puzzle for programmers of all levels. I got considerably better at Java, doing these puzzles. So, that made me happy. But I did use it as an excuse to not write.

There’s always one of those, isn’t there?

To be fair, I have also been exhausted nearly all the time. Right now, the screen is swimming in front of my eyes. I have to trust that I’m not typing gobbledygook because I tend to be a fairly good typist.

My idea for Cassidy keeps evolving, in good ways. I’m excited because it seems like it’s not evolving its main construction anymore, just minor details. It’s all good stuff.

Last week I had a dream I was writing. I was super proud of myself for writing, for once. I was very close to the surface, coming up, and I remember thinking, “oh, I’m not actually writing. I’m dreaming about writing. But at least I’m thinking about writing.” Then I actually woke up and realized the thing I was dreaming about writing… wasn’t my story. It was something about a cat. I was very disappointed. But it all evened out because I ended up forgetting everything that I’d been trying to retain, anyway.

So, that’s pretty much what I have to show for the last month: a dream about writing about a cat.

No, no, hold your applause.

I’m not optimistic about finishing Cassidy this month. But I’m going try, regardless. No more excuses! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try. (Timely Star Wars Quote™.)

I will report back at regular intervals. Stay tuned.