Whatchmacallit

It’s funny how as I get more experience writing, I become more convinced that I’m not very good at it. Today, I’m convinced that I’m especially ungood at the whole, you know, stringing-words-together-to-communicate thing. And turning pictures into words, that’s hard too.  I have an unfortunate fondness for detailed, highly technical supernatural non-see-y things and my God, well, let’s just say it’s good that nobody ever hired me as a technical writer. And it’s like I think about emotions and stuff, my thought processes– all about emotions, you know? But the language for explaining it so other people understand… not so good there.

Oh, and how people move their bodies and stuff? You know, in fast tense scenes? Ugly, that’s all I can say. All that physical space.  My brain is not a Hong Kong action film! And the dialog– well, I’m okay at the I HATE YOU! NO I HATE U! stuff but the, uh, the ‘so this is what I know’ stuff is all… I can’t even explain. I’m sure it’s as dull as beans. Are beans dull?  I don’t even know. Apparently metaphors are useful or something? Character voice kills itself in despair at the dullness.

The whole thing is like swimming in the middle of a black sludge lake. It’s unpleasant and I know I stink but what else am I going to do?

Want story strung together entirely of melodramatic reveals, bitchy arguments, passionate character revelations and some booms. Bundle with OOC setting encylopedia. Yeah.

A world without readers is hell

You should know by now that all my posts come in pairs!

Ultimately, I write to be read. I write to communicate. I write to tell you something cool!

I’ve considered writing fanfiction before, just to tap into a ready-made reader base. I haven’t only because I’m pretty sure Kevin would divorce me.

I want readers! I want new work from me to prompt quiet little ‘Oh yay’s and maybe an ‘ooh’. I want my ideas to take up residence in your skull, if only for a little while. God knows other writers do it to me, even their unpublished poorly written ones, the bastards.

I can write into a void. I often write just to help myself think, to put things on the page and pin them down so they stop running around in my head. But I don’t organize what I’m writing unless I think somebody will read it. I don’t carefully package it up and parcel it out unless I want somebody to read it. I don’t write down stories for myself. Why bother? In my head, they’re whole and complete with a fraction of the work.

I really, really want people to enjoy my work. Enjoy it! Anticipate it! Hate some bits and love others! Nag me for the next part of the story! And I want it from somebody other than Kevin because, frankly, he married me and so I think his judgement is questionable at best. (But I love you, Kevin! And you’re the best first editor I can hope for!)

Here’s the blurb I wrote (at textbox-point) for Sparksister:

Marley does her best to avoid any excitement found outside of a good book, but when she ends up taking care of two preschool girls, that all changes. Very Special preschool girls? That’s putting it mildly. They’re maybe even a little bit… different. But it turns out their missing uncle is different, too. And his friend Corbin. And that girl with all the dogs. But what exactly does ‘different’ mean? Do vampires and werewolves fit in somewhere? How about fairies? Angels? Demons? Monsters?

Maybe…

And the maligned first paragraph is:

It should have started with a dream. But Marley Claviger didn’t pay attention to dreams and so it started, late, with Marley waking up gasping, right before the cell phone on her nightstand rang. She fumbled for the device, knocking a plastic bottle of pills and three books off the cluttered surface in the process.

Am I doomed to hell?

A poopy diaper and a snotface calls!

Grace, good humor, and dignity.

Robin’s been sick and crib-bound this week, and for the last few days, I’ve been… working. That feels strange to say, and I’m not sure it’s connected to Robin’s illness. I hope not!

By ‘working’, I mean: engaged in writing, including the writing of fiction and the writing of critiques for other aspiring novelists. I’ve been working a lot.

I redrafted the first chapter of my novel, and assigned it a shiny new name. No longer is it ‘Under Bridges’. Instead, it’s ‘Sparksister’, which is also not really a name I like but at least it’s more evocative for me.

I managed to write this first chapter out because my little intermittent writing group that I’ve been absent from for months has decided to start exchanging chapters every week. It used to be every month, which ends up being too long a timeframe for me to work to. A week is just close enough that I have to schedule to it, especially when I also have to write critiques of other people’s chapters.

Extrapolating from how much a couple people’s expectations motivated me, I went ahead and investigated an online writing workshop I’d been planning to join when I had something to get critiqued. And then Kevin pointed me at another one which is comparable and I decided to try them both out for a month and then pick one.

So, right now, I have the first chapter of my novel awaiting critiques in three different circles. I’ve received two already. They were not… encouraging. Both were in response to critiques I’d done, rather than out of any interest in the story itself. Neither liked it very much– one of them absolutely shredded it, rating it 1 of 5 and providing a matching critique.

Now, a logical person might observe that critique circles and workshops aren’t the place to go for cheerleading and handholding– for fond anticipation of the next chapter– that’s what your friends and family are for!

But examination suggests otherwise: people make friends in these places and they’re quite enthusiastic about their friends’ works. It could just be that I suck and their friends are a-mazing, though it’s more likely a matter of taste if it’s something objective. Anyhow, I think I can make friends, too. Haven’t given up on that yet, and my actual critiques on S– have been highly received, so that has potential. I’m trying to accept criticism intelligently.

But this is my blog (is there a recognized acronym for that yet? TIMB? Google doesn’t think so) and so I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent. Whine a little. Cry a little. Please bear with me.

Sometimes I really feel like there’s something wrong with my writing. Something badly wrong, especially with my fiction. It’s bewildering because not only can I not see it myself, my friends and family won’t tell me what it is! All I can really gather from various differing critiques over the years is that whatever it takes to really pull a reader in, I don’t have it. That zing.

And please, friends&family, don’t think I’m pushing away your encouragement over the years. It’s precious and important and useful. I just can’t help wondering what the difference between you and them is.

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Actually, quite unexpectedly, this bout of self-indulgence has suggested an answer. While wallowing in the shared complaints of the 2 critiques so far (compilation is really the only way to analyze critiques, I’ve found), yes, ok, the first line apparently doesn’t work, yes, ok, you all hate my word choices (even Kevin said something about word choices) and my newly acquired wordiness and…

hm…

you don’t trust that I know what I’m doing. Thus details are described as irrelevant, and mysterious events are rejected as implausible even when the protagonist notes they’re implausible.

What I’m trying to do is lay down a foundation to build on later, and to deal intelligently with observing the remnants of supernatural events. I can imagine how that might come across wrong if I’m just some words on a page– although I don’t have to imagine it because I can read it. I’m not, by the way, trying to reject criticism with claims of ‘you don’t undersstaaand it! iIt’s Not For You!’ Not understanding it is my fault, something I’ll have to work to remedy.

Unfortunately, I’m very afraid the remedy is ‘write a simpler story’. The previous draft included lots of early emphasis about how weird everything was, and that just didn’t work for me.

Of course, another remedy– not one that will work for impressing publishers– is to keep writing chapters and Show Them All. That’s actually what I’m going to do, since I have to finish this novel…

A writer’s lessons from board books

Robin has finally —finally— realized that if he brings us a book, we’ll read it to him. And when we’re done with that reading, he takes the book and gives it to us again. And again. And again. Until we run away or distract him. He balks when I try to get him to say or signal ‘book’. He’s giving us a book, we damn well know what he wants, why should he learn a new mechanism? If we try to suggest a different book or even hint we might not read him the book he’s demanded, he cries like an addict being denied his fix. On the other hand, when he brings us a book, or we ask him to find a book (often by title) he does this delighted little full-body shudder. He prefers to sit on the floor so he can look between the book and our faces, but sometimes he’ll consent to sit in our lap so we can whisper certain lines in his ear. 

His favorite books are, in order:

  1. Secret Seahorse
  2. Goodnight Moon
  3. Busy Doggies
  4. My Many Colored Days
  5. The abridged board book version of Hop On Pop, specifically the pages about walking.
  6. Whatever is to hand, as long as we’re not denying him what he’s asked for.

 

Secret Seahorse is his clear favorite. He has good taste! It’s a very sturdy book that has endured his love much better than Goodnight Moon (2 damaged copies floating around) and My Many Colored Days (second copy hasn’t fallen apart– yet). And it’s a beautiful book– Claire Beaton does unique, amazing work, constructing elaborate landscapes out of textiles. We’ve picked up several other books she’s illustrated, including another one written by Stella Blackstone– but none of them have quite the appeal or magic.

And, having read Secret Seahorse six or seven times a day for the last week, I finally feel confident discussing why the book works so well! It’s the writing. It’s a board book with a plot. Most of the board books I’ve seen are just lists of things– doggies in different situations, or rhyming words arranged amusingly, or an introduction and a conclusion tacked onto a sequence of, say, colors, moods, or animals (and let me say, I do very much love My Many Colored Days and another one, Rainbow Rob). Or even dinosaurs, to reference another Blackstone/Beaton teamup. Goodnight Moon is a dreamy, surreal, spot-on description of a small child drifting to sleep, with pictures and words that create a lulling rhythm; everytime I finish it I want to snuggle under covers. (“No! Read it again, mama!”) The rhythm almost feels like a plot but it’s not, really.

On the other hand, Secret Seahorse could be a template for all sorts of adult books. Told in the first person, our unnamed protagonist discovers an interesting situation. At first it seems awesome, but it soon gets beyond her. She’d like to catch up, so she first seeks out the advice of mysterious figures. She doesn’t understand their response (but a keen observer will notice that they give her exactly the answer she needed) and so goes on a journey. In her travels, she encounters amazing things, one, two, but neither are what she’s looking for. Finally her exploration is balked by a barrier she can’t pass– and in great literary fashion, the true barrier is her own fears, rather than any external obstacle. But she overcomes her fears with the help of her curiousity, and discovers on the other side of the barrier everything she’d hoped for, in a fashion she totally didn’t expect.

Great stuff. And it rhymes, too.

Yes, the fact that I can divide a board book into a 3-act structure amuses me to no end.

WTF? Why can’t I break even?

I’ve been reading about entropy and the laws of thermodynamics again. I can’t help myself! I have questions and ideas, and no physicist handy. I have to stop now, though, because my eyes are bleeding, even though I’m ignoring all the formulae and everything.

You know how when you read or say a word over and over again, it becomes divorced from its meaning and you can appreciate just how weird a sound/shape it is? My bleeding eyes have reached that point with The Laws and their extrapolated consequences.   The heat death of the universe is just… stupid. And entropy? It’s the plot hole of thermodynamics.

Every magical universe I invent is significantly less bizarre than this one.

Disclosure

One of my writing group people mentioned ‘cluttering’ as a speech disorder, while we were discussing dialogue. I went and looked it up. I read the Wikipedia page. It made me kind of uncomfortable, so I showed the page to Kevin, asked him what he thought, and didn’t think about it the rest of the day.

It made me uncomfortable because it was very familiar. Rapid, disorganized speech.  Forgetting specific words. Performs better at language tasks when stressed.  Repeating the same word over and over again, half-finished sentences, random clauses, missed words. Impatient, interruption-prone. Giving the appearance of being frustrated to listeners without actually being frustrated, so that the listeners try to change the subject to soothe the apparent frustration, causing real frustration. Messy, sprawling handwriting. Mostly unaware of how they sound to other people.

Kevin said, “That’s my girl!” He spent the day reading all about it. He thinks it’s fascinating and interesting. I was just embarassed.

He said, “I figured that you just had so much to say that it gets jumbled coming out. And that’s the conclusion other people have come to as well.”

I said, “Well, it must not be too bad, or I’ve learned to compensate or something, because I’m better at writing than most people with this disorder seem to be. Possibly that’s even why I’m more comfortable doing things in a written form– phone calls, games, etc.”

But today I was writing and I stumbled over a sentence. I stared at it and I realized I was ‘cluttering’ it– stating one thing, modifying it, and then modifying the modifier. I fixed it, but I realized that was one reason that so often I write so slowly, and why I get so frustrated with myself.

Later, I was thinking about what to write next, and I knew I had three mini-events I wanted to write and I wanted to write them all at the same time. And I couldn’t, and sequencing them, choosing one to start with would probably make the others not come out as I imagined. And I recognized that I’d been in that position before– uncertain what to write next because I had too much and it was poorly organized. And that my usual reaction to that kind of frustration was to find a distraction and stop writing.

And now I feel weird. On the one hand, recognizing this will probably help me accept the frustration and move on. Eventually. I mean, now I know why writing’s so hard these days (although have I come up with theories for why in the past? I’m sure I have…)

But right now I’m in a kind of self-pitying shock. QQ. Well, not shock. We’re not at the elevate feet severity. But definitely self-pity. I used to be proud of my writing. I used to think writing was easy. Now I’m whiny and sad that the easy writing days of yore aren’t ever going to come back, that this isn’t a funk I’m in that I just have to snap out of. I can’t wait it out or write it out. All I can do is try to recognize it and move through it and take every opprotunity the revision process offers. All I can do is work. And I’m lazy!

Although I still don’t know what to do about the ‘want to write 3 things next’ problem. I don’t know if I should try to work around the hard parts (write all 3, and decide later!), or force myself through them (pick one and move on with the story as it flows from there, bozo! Even if it frustrates you!).

And I’m suddenly terribly self-conscious about even writing blog posts.

Somebody on the web said it had gotten worse for them after they left college. Me too. Less semi-public speaking, I suspect. Bleah.

Still Not Done!

I’ve been vaguely inspired to poke at some worldbuilding, though. For a different setting entirely, of course.

I have problems doing extended generalized worldbuilding for Carouselchain. It’s so very big and it doesn’t map well, what with all the mobile skylands. It has my happy-making original elemental system, and I’ve done a lot of basic metaphysics for it but I just haven’t been able to sit down and detail out a large percentage of countries and peoples. This is kind of because it’s supposed to be able to contain, well, not everything, but an awful lot. I mean, I don’t want to set things there if I’m not comfortable with the setting having flying islands and potential access to a variety of sentient nonhumans. It’s an unbounded setting, where I haven’t even answered a lot of the basic questions I make myself answer in world-creation.

So, anyhow, I’ve been working on Calizene, home of the Alexandrine (Alexandrian?) Empire and setting of the unwritten Victoria novels. Well, when I say ‘working’, I mean that I’ve been going over old notes on it, and digging up old notes on another entirely different cosmological system that I decided to integrate into it. The setting is already the victim of one integration, because I came up with two separate magical elemental systems at two different times. (These aren’t crazy new elemental systems, just an arbitrary assignment of some of the old familiars. When I say elemental systems, I think I mean ‘fundamentals of magic’)

Integrating settings is hard but I think it will ultimately make for something richer. Something I’ve been infatuated by in recent years is obscuring the cosmology. My very oldest settings all featured a world that basically understood itself. The gods were the gods, the creation of the world and the role of humanity was all stuff that was written down and understood. After all, a lot of the stuff I read was like that. Then I started believing that all the fun came when people didn’t understand the universe. In Engines of Heaven, there are only two layers of obfuscation, and tearing away one of them is the point of the story. In Carouselchain, the happy-making elemental system is obfuscated and every culture has their own imperfect understanding of how and why magic works the way it does. However, because I tell everybody who shows the slightest interest how the setting’s magic works, it’s not a very interesting tool for storytelling. It was originally designed as a game setting.

TFN (Citadel of the Sky) has, oh, around two layers of obfuscation. Possibly a few more. As with Engines of Heaven there’s a Secret of the Universe that will never show up in any written form, but that I know and use to shape the answers to various important questions. In Engines of Heaven the other veil is important and global, whereas in TFN… well, I won’t say. 🙂 Let’s just say that TFN is a bit more complicated.

The thing is, obfuscation is hard for me. I come up with ideas I think are cool and I want to share them. The best I’ve been able to do is try to build theories around fragments of The Truth. So the more complicated The Truth is, the more theories I can come up with. I don’t think Calizene has a Secret of the Universe yet, or at least nothing I’ve come up with so far feels Secret. There are lots of lower-case secrets but they’re mostly of the ‘meant to be discussed someday’ variety. However, this may be because Calizene is most likely to have the sort of thaumaturgical physicists who dig that deep. Carouselchain is very magical but it’s fantasy-practical, Engines of Heaven is idealistic steam-punk, TFN is deconstructionist (reconstructionist?) epic. I think I’d describe Calizene as, well, for lack of a better phrase at the moment ‘old imperial gothic’.

Story not finished yet but Hah Hah

I finally feel comfortable explaining why.

I’m pregnant! Today we had an ultrasound that placed me 9 1/2 weeks pregnant, due September 11 (just as I expected), a little over 1 inch long and a heartbeat of 166 beats per minute.

Oh yes, lots of symptoms. Exhaustion. Morning sickness since, oh, four weeks? Nearly constant morning sickness. Luckily I’m very attuned to what I feel like eating and careful listening has allowed me to neither gain nor lose any weight. Cheese is the very best.

Also, sniffly sneezing coughing so you can’t sleep thingie. Basically, a constant cold. And I sleep in 4-5 hour stints, twice a day, with a 2 hour nap sometime in there, usually.

My story is about 3/5 done, in terms of major events? It shall definitely be done by next Friday, and maybe even by Wednesday. Oddly, I’d been beating myself up about not finishing it until just now, when I planned out the sentence: babies are on an unpredictable schedule and thus so am I!

It’s been really hard not sharing the utter misery of the past month and a half with the world. But a heartbeat has been confirmed, and so now I’m ready to share the ups and downs with every stranger who happens by.

The developing embryo has been named General Zod. It dwells, of course, in the Phantom Zone. Blame Michelle.

Writing observation

my current mode, inspired by anime and superpowered epic fantasy: wherein one undergoes character growth and is rewarded with power growth and plot progression in response
George R. R. Martin: undergo character growth, be punished by plot /regression/