Monday, December 17, 2012

The Author of the Self-Writing Story

So I did a thing the other day that I never have before--something that made me feel silly and yet amazingly clever at the same time.

Going through my files (in order to ensure I had the most recent copies both on my hard drive and jump drive), I found a document I didn't recognize by name. Sure, I have a couple dozen so sometimes I have to open up a story and read the first line to remember which one it is--but in this case, I opened it up and discovered a story I'd written four or five months ago and then ABSOLUTELY FORGOTTEN ABOUT.

This was only possible because it was flash--that is, roughly three double-spaced pages long. What I think happened is that I sat down, typed it all out in a burst of inspiration, then saved it and went to work on something bigger. And, seeing as this one was so short and finished so quickly, it never made the move from my short term memory to long term.

I liked the story, reading it over the other day. So much so that I fixed up a thing or two (really, how many fixes can there be in so few pages?) then sent it out.

And then I went into my Master Story Document, which is where I (supposedly) keep track of all my stories, and added this one like I should've four/five months ago.

I don't want to ever lose a story like this again, but in a way it was a nice discovery--almost made me feel like the story wrote itself!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Repeatedly Ever After

I have no real idea what to write about today (ha--there's the trick with telling myself I'll blog once a week every Sunday or Monday ... I have to have something to say!), but, I watched Snow White and the Huntsman yesterday. Most of it, really. Okay, some, and then I let it keep running while I zoned out. Not like I didn't already know the ending, sheesh.

Not that it was a bad movie--I wouldn't assert that--just an utterly unnecessary one.

But I write fantasy so I should like fantasy movies, right? Well, two things to say about that--first of all, yes, I like fantasy movies, IF they don't devolve into tropes and cheesiness. Which a lot of them do seeing as they're movies, made for the mainstream and not necessarily people like me who have read a zillion such stories already. When I watched the movie last night and they entered the Enchanted Forest all I could think of was how it felt like a ripoff of a different movie I'd loved from years ago (quick aside: as a kid we used to go to a theme park called the Enchanted Forest. Even then I wasn't too enchanted by it).

Secondly, there is a difference between fantasy and fairy tale, which my humble opinion asserts goes as deep as the way it's written. I used to read lots of fairy tales as a kid and there's a set format, expected themes like princesses and wicked stepmothers and love triumphing over, heck, anything. Sure there are expectations in fantasy, too, but fairy tales are a genre that existed, say, five hundred or more years ago; the expectations are a bit outdated for today. Maybe this is a roundabout way of saying we know what's going to happen in the end once we know it's a fairy tale. You know Snow White lives happily ever (yawn) after. Because she always has. Just like you know the evil queen won't.

Essentially, I guess, it boils down to the fact that once you know a story is a fairy tale, you know it'll end happily. ever. after. The dramatic steam goes out of the story. But I guess that's true of any story that's been retold a half million times over five hundred years with hardly any changes. And maybe also there's a part of me that associates fairy tales with kid stuff (not all of them are, if you read the originals) and therefore automatically feels patronized to watch/read one, whether it's a remake of the same old story, or some author's 'amusing' new take on a tale. Which I'm not crazy about, but that's another blog.

Also, since the first time I watched Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty as a kid, I had no capacity whatsoever to identify with the characters.  No emotional investment. I didn't much care if the princess got kissed or saved or adored or whatever because ... I don't know. I guess because if all you can do is passively sit by and wait to be rescued, all you are is a writer's convenience. And I had better ideas for what those princesses could be doing ....

Needless to say, the princess didn't take my advice this time around, either.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Don't Forget the Rotting Pumpkin

Wow! So I've been formulating a new story in my mind and, after sitting down and thinking about it, I have realized a whole lot of stuff has to happen in the first scene--not just of this story but of any tale; this is just the first time I'm really thinking about it.

Let's put it this way: the shorter the story you're writing, the more concentrated all the ideas and working parts have to be.

The story I'm mulling right now will be at a max of 5000 or so words, so a lot of things have to go on in a small space. Let me give you an idea of the cogs that have to mesh just to make the first scene functional:

Main Character(s): In this scene I have to get across that the main character is a woman, her age, her personality, (her name!), her goals or the things that drive her and anything that makes her unique and interesting. Whether she's a huntress or housewife (or both) ought to be mentioned, keeping in mind that this better be relevant later on.

I also have to introduce any possible secondary characters, or mention them so they don't suddenly pop up later on. That said, in 5000 words I can't have a lot of secondary characters--too many working parts!

Place/World: As this story will have an ancient Mayan setting this has to be made clear in the descriptions of the plants, wildlife, terrain. Even things like the way the characters think about the world around them belongs in this category. A couple howler monkeys thrown in to give ambiance will never go wrong in telling readers this isn't just some random jungle, but a Mexican/Guatemalan one.

If this story took place in, say, the 1800s, technology or language should indicate this from scene one; as no one can really tell me how ancient Mayans talked, and their technology doesn't change much with time, no real issue here.

Tone: If this was going to be a funny story there would have to be an indication; writing the material humorously or dropping a couple witticisms. As it's meant to be horror/dark fantasy, I'll have to establish this in the first scene with descriptions, observations, etc.

Theme: This will probably be quite subtle and logically the theme will connect back to other parts of the story; it should be relevant to the main character, her goals and struggles, the tone, and the conflict. If the tone throughout the story is grim and unhappy, the theme probably shouldn't be something optimistic about how the world is a big ball of sunshine. Sunny ideas about the world should be set up ahead of time if this is the theme I'd like to convey, or I can prepare to confuse readers on a subliminal level.

I often find the theme to be something I haven't articulated but that appears while writing; by the end of draft one I can see what it is or where it's going, so an edit helps to clarify theme.

Conflict: The source of friction for this tale should show up in scene one, even obliquely. Is this going to be a huge world-spanning conflict full of massive earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and twenty-five separate-but-interrelated tales of unrequited love? I'm not bold enough to tackle this in 5000 words and probably no one should be--there's no room in those few words for so much to happen without taking away from the significance of, well, everything.

Whether complex or straightforward (as in, a mystery that has to be unraveled or a direct good-vs-evil fistfight), the conflict had better be present in scene one. When I say obliquely I mean a subtle suggestion of where we're going; if a monster is lurking in the jungle, maybe someone goes missing in scene one? If a tale of demon-summoning, maybe the spell-book is discovered in scene one, along with evidence of a conflict between the main character and her unkind husband?

Internal conflict: If the main character is battling monsters on the outside, what about inside? Any story where strange or fantastic things happen requires some internal struggle because who's going to coolly accept that an evil demon is lurking in their jungle and then just walk out and kill it? If it was that easy I could hardly say there was a conflict--I guess in a way it's fair to say that external and internal conflict are two sides of the same coin; they should be used together to create a better story, a bigger challenge for the main character, and a better payoff at the end.

So, if her unkind husband were to go missing in scene one, the internal conflict could be based on the main character's mixed feelings for her husband, along with the fear that whatever got him might come for her, too.

Important details: If she has an ancestral demon-killing knife tucked away somewhere, it shouldn't be mentioned only when she pulls it out on the last page to slay the monster. This could at the least be mentioned in passing and probably not a lot more than that; spend too long describing the knife and the readers have figured out what she's going to do with it at the end.

If there's anything else that will be really important later on I should mention it now; like the demon-summoning book, or the main character's fear of getting lost in the jungle, or if she will battle the demon atop a mountain maybe she looks at it in the distance, etc.

Sensory details: If the demon smells like rotted pumpkin it's worth mentioning on a few levels; because engaging the senses also engages readers, and because it can be used later.

Voice: The main character's voice should come through in my word choice (or the character's word choice); this will help give an idea of who she is, how she views the world, and should help prove the relevance of the character I'm writing to the theme and conflict she is tackling.

"Wow!" you say, "That's a lot to shove into one scene. And whatever happened to writing being a creative endeavor? Where's the creativity in following lists?"

Ah yes, that's indeed the trick--so many things to juggle into one scene that I have to be creative about how to get it all in there. The observant reader will have already noticed, too, that many of these points overlap; sensory details can be a part of voice, which ultimately is a part of your main character, while observation of something like the smell of pumpkin also relates back to place/time. Creativity comes in (in a big way!) while trying to put all these pieces together as a smooth and operative whole--I don't want anything to seem clunky or out of place so ultimately it's the way I put these things together that will make the story convincing. Because the point is that even though I've got a list of things in front of me, it certainly shouldn't read that way when it becomes prose.

Now to figure out my first sentence ...

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Rotating Door of Valuable Lessons

I have learned a valuable lesson. I think. But if I think so, then doesn't that mean I did? Well, I think so.

Approximately a month ago I sent a submission for an anthology call--a call that ends the 30th of this month. Meaning I sent it in a month before the deadline. How many people do that? From this side of November, I feel like I shouldn't have. I mean, a month is a long time to have a story floating in stasis. And couldn't I have edited it one more time before I sent it out?

Well, sure I could have. I doubt anything would've changed except a few commas or so but still ... the fact of having no more power to change or fix anything, that's what bothers me. Lots of IF ONLYs and WHAT IFs going on here. I mean, what if I have a genius insight on the 28th? I can't do anything about it now, that's what!

I thought sending it out earlier would get it off my mind but it hasn't quite worked out that way. I just have to wait a month longer between sending and getting my response back!

And so, yes, I have learned my lesson. Better to hold a story in my hand and flap it around uselessly than to send it to someone else where it can sit in a pile uselessly. If only for my mental well-being.  

This lesson, I believe, is one that shall serve me well in the future and which I shall apply to the contests and magazine openings of December--happily shall I go Christmas shopping, and confidently shall I spend my time wrapping gifts and putting sprinkles on cookies. Nary a fret shall I entertain until the last moment it is possible to entertain them.

Meaning that, yes, while everyone else counts down the seconds to New Year, I shall be busily sending submissions to all the places which will be closing in that same number of seconds.

Which assuredly will be followed by another very valuable lesson learned at the beginning of 2013...

Monday, November 12, 2012

So I am sick today, meaning that my voice has gone all squeaky. Meaning that my cat has been giving me dirty looks about why I'm talking funny at her. Which is not easy to explain to someone who's already suspicious that I'm cheating her out of a dozen or more catfood kibbles per meal.

I could take this opportunity to talk about voice or dialog or something but all the thoughts in my brain are separating like oil from water so I think I will just roll over and go back to sleep.

If the cat will stop glaring at me.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Not OK!

There's a book I remember reading as a kid, full of dragons and princesses and wizards--all the usual fantasy kid stuff. Except that's got nothing to do with why I remember it, and honestly there's just one thing that still sticks in my head after all these years. While one of the characters is riding a magic carpet it suddenly takes a plunge, which could have been described in any of a dozen ways. The author chose, "it was like the bottom falling out of a cardboard box," which was descriptive enough even if it kind of bothered me for some unspoken reason ...

And thus did I discover anachronism.

This was an easy one to spot and an easy one to remedy; another good example would be the story of a well-known author who mistakenly thought a foot was equal to a meter and used them interchangeably in a novel. (Though you'd think an editor would notice?)

But even as a kid I knew the OK rule. That is, you don't ever use the word OK (Ok, so okay is a word--OK is an abbreviation. You got me) until after, say, the year 1850. Because it didn't exist before that. Knights and princesses didn't say OK. Nor did pirates, assassins, merchants, mercenaries. Or anybody who existed before the word was invented.

Let's just be reasonable for a moment: you shouldn't be writing dialog that didn't exist for your characters when, supposedly, they do.  You wouldn't use slang like "rad!" or "groovy!" or "sweet!" or "pwn!" for a character existing outside of these words' respective time periods. And though OK has lasted a fairly long time, it's slang, too.

For me it was always easy to find a substitute that sounded a bit more suited to the time period--or at least less slangy. Things like "sure" or "very well" or "all right" all mean the same thing as OK, while having existed historically.

(And don't get on me about translating your story from another language and therefore thinking it's OK to use OK as a 'translation' for some made-up word. Because it doesn't make sense to translate a period word for one that's not. And anyway, a lot of languages around the world these days use OK just as we do in English. There really is no straight translation for it!)

(And on the topic of all right--it's not alright. Alright's not all right, just like OK's not okay. And generally I prefer to use the word, okay, instead of the abbreviation. But OK just shows up better when writing for emphasis. Like I'm doing now.)

All authors want to write comprehensible, easy-to-read dialog, but if you are writing in a time period that's not your own--yes, even one of your own devising--you need to stay true to it.

Which means that taking even one word out of context is not OK.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


It's the day before Halloween and I'm going to a party today. I'm planning to dress up as something in my closet.

As a kid I didn't have all that many exciting Halloweens. For a few years I was a cow (moo...), there was one time I was a pirate (before pirates were cool!), and once I attempted to be a vampire but, little did I know that a girl with deathly white face paint, a black-on-the-outside-and-red-on-the-inside cape, and fangs, was actually Cinderella! Yep, that's what I got mistaken for. Well, that was also before vampires were cool ...

Halloweens out here where I live are always cold and rainy, thus making the whole dressing up thing kind of unpleasant, which makes me wonder what they're like where the holiday was actually invented. Who thought it was a good idea to send kids out on dark rainy nights to beg candy from strangers? And all those dark, shadowy costumes?

Incidentally, what I'm reading is rather Halloween-themed, too: H P Lovecraft's "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath." I picked it up just for the title. Turns out you can't judge a book by it's cover but the title might be a good hint of what you're getting yourself into; long winded title=long winded book. Especially when it's H P Lovecraft.

I've only got a third of the way through and am having serious trouble. With his prose, with his way of obscuring the few important actions going on by squashing them into looong sentences that explain way too much at once. With his lack of any dialog until, like, page 98 (of 99!). I understand that he was inspired by certain other writers, but I don't understand what tradition thinks it's a good idea to have no dialog whatsoever. No, it's written that characters talk to each other, and what they say (or glibber), but it's not made into dialog. Which would be so much easier for me or, I expect, most readers (modern or of his time, too) to handle. Surely there was a reason--saving paper, maybe? a pathological fear of quotes-marks?--but I just can't fathom it.

Getting back to the action in the book, I can't really tell you what's happening. Every time an action takes place in the midst of the narration, which feels mostly like explaining of things, I have to go back and read again to figure out what it was. And just as the dialog-less-ness bugs me, the fact of vast sweeping actions taking place in single paragraphs has me grinding my teeth. A whole city is overrun by sentient cats in a paragraph. The main character seems to travel by ship halfway around the world in a page or two and scales the world's largest, most impossible mountain in an equal amount of time. Maybe I'm exaggerating (only because I can't recall his fuzzy details very clearly), but not by much.

Not that I dislike H P Lovecraft in general; anyone who can dash off a phrase like "an Acheron of multiform diabolism" without blinking really has an eye for the weird. But weird shouldn't mean impossible and, though he's popularly known even today, I wonder how many people have actually read him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's About Time ...

I don't like time travel stories. Nope. Not for me.

Why? Well, a lot of reasons that could just as easily be someone else's reasons for not liking a different type of story. I don't buy into the whole premise, as it's so far outside of the realm of possible science. The whole butterfly effect thing  (you breathe in the past and the world is entirely restructured) has been done so many times, with so few variations in theme and result, etc, that I don't understand why writers still want to write something that's already been beaten to death.

The next common theme of time travel fiction, of going back/forward in time to meet/see yourself/significant other/ancestor/descendant does nothing for me. It's not going to happen, ever, in this world or another (I mean, can you imagine the disaster the world would be if you could tamper with its chronology in any such way???) so why even pretend?

If you are one of those people who likes time travel, then you're probably saying, at this point, something like "Well, isn't that the point of fiction? It's SCIENCE FICTION! And 99% of other SF and Fantasy won't ever happen, anywhere, ever, either!"

And you'd be right. That is very true. A lot of other tropes of the genre have been beaten past the point of death, too.

Maybe my real problem is that every time travel story I read sounds like the last one I read. Especially when you get into the mire of Back to the Future-style past-self/future-self stuff, I start to cry blood. It's been done! Let it die! Then again, maybe I've seen Back to the Future waaay to many times. That could be it too.

Although, I do like the third movie (as much as I can for time travel); I understand the appeal of putting a present-time character into a historical situation--then you can use that character as a stand-in for an audience that doesn't quite understand the time period otherwise; it helps us identify. You can explain things. But it's also pretty damn cutesy. I don't really do cutesy.

I don't get why people think going into the past could possibly in any way shape or form improve anything ever. 'I will go 150 years into the past to stop the plague of Rocky Mountain Weasel Fever that wiped out half of the world's population!' says the Heroic Time Traveler. Never once thinking this might turn out badly. Overpopulation much? It doesn't take a genius to see potentialities like this in every 'I WILL FIX THE PAST' scenario that's ever existed. Oh, and then you get the ones where the time traveler fixes the past, only to make it so they themselves were never born! Arrrg, spare me.

So maybe that's the crux of my problem. To time travel you (theoretically) have to be smart enough to build or operate a time machine, but also must be stupid enough to never wonder what could possibly go wrong. Because to time travel fully aware that you might screw up the chronology of the world to the point that you never existed in the first place either makes for a deep, subliminal message about time travel stories, or just proves the flaw of the theme.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Another Round!

So here's where I am:

Writing seems so easy and fun when you don't think about trying to get published--and sure, if you can be satisfied with the fact that no one else will ever see all the work you put into a story, don't sweat over it. If you don't care then don't worry about getting published. But if you want to be published, that's a chore in itself. Writing is just step one.

I sent out a half dozen or so stories a while back and have got responses from most of them (and in the meantime have been too busy to send much more out) (responses: no thanks, no thanks, and, you're getting closer...). So, with only a couple left floating around, it's time to prepare and send out another round. There are a few anthologies I want to try, and certain markets I feel more comfortable submitting to because I've been reading them for a while.

That's another thing; when it comes to submitting for an anthology you can only make your best guess as to what the editor wants, whereas if you want to submit to magazines you have to read them for a while first and, to have a good base to work with, you have to read a bunch of magazines. This makes for a LOT of reading.

Furthermore, you are not the only one writing clever stories and submitting them. The responses I've got from a couple different places give this indication: they get scores of submissions in a day, hundreds in a month, and only publish a few per issue. Your chances are less than 1%, even if you've got something great.

Which is why I've been trying to get myself out there everywhere possible; for me this means keeping on top of submission deadlines and the stories I have, coordinating what might go where, who wants what, accepted lengths, etc. I have a list of what I'm planning to send out soon (just once I'm satisfied they're good enough, which better be before the deadlines...), as well as a list of those magazines with designated reading periods, and what I might send to them once they've opened up. I'm working as my very own secretary right now.

And, finally, the issue of editing. I want to give these stories one more go-over before I send them out, but as I just did this with most of them, say, a week ago, I'll want to wait yet another week before I read again. Then they can go.

And hopefully someone will like at least one of these poor homeless critters and adopt it ...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Worlds Apart

I am still in Steampunk mode, with all the requisite niceties of language and thoughtful turns of phrase and polite conversation. It's fun, but I can already tell it's not my native tongue, so to speak. Sometimes you have to step out of what you typically do and try something different, and that's what I'm doing right now. But the minute I get done with this I think I'm heading back to the Wild West. Don't tell no one.

Funny how the two actually exist in the exact same time period, with the same technologies (real or imagined), but are--as they say--worlds apart. The West isn't known for its polite conversation and niceness. I suppose there's a part of me that enjoys, after being a grammar cop about everything I read, to write stories where the voice is avowedly NOT grammatical, no way nohow. Some part of me rubs its hands with vindictive glee to write dialog like: "He must of run off but it ain't bothering me none."

I'm actually not deeply versed in the realities of the Wild West (any more than I am of, say, the medieval world) but this, too, don't bother me none. I'll read what I have to and hopefully not make tons of mistakes. Honestly, there's not too much more I can hope for.

At the same time I am considering what would happen if you got a cowboy and a Victorian gentleman in the same room. And what they'd talk about...

What I'm reading: Lots of cowboy movies going on here, or there will be in the near future. Otherwise, I just finished a good collection of short stories by Ursula K LeGuin called Changing Planes. I really enjoy anthropology, especially of the peculiar--luckily, when you make it up, it can be as peculiar as you want! I'm also reading a book of life-stories from old timers in Oregon (which is where I live). It says 'Old Timers' on the cover, so I'm not being offensive or anything. And it's also pretty entertaining to read ninety-year-olds explain how they had to walk to first grade with a rifle just in case cougars came after 'em. Yup. Just in case.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Steam(punk) Bath

When I was in third or fourth grade my teacher , knowing I had Mad Reading Skillz, made me read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne) for an illustrated book report project.

Maybe I shouldn't have pretended to read The Army of the Potomac cover to cover earlier that year ... (I read the first few chapters and concocted a book report based on that. And no, I wouldn't even finish it today if it was in front of me).

In any case, this project was ridiculous because it was a 500+ page book and I was supposed to finish it in three weeks. "Read every other chapter," she said. Like this was any more reasonable. "Just let me read that one over there with the color pictures on all the pages," I thought but didn't say because I knew this wouldn't fly.

So I did it--reading every third chapter, and maybe only grasping a third of the material I did read. I wouldn't recommend 20,000 Leagues for third graders any more than I'd recommend Army of the Potomac. And despite whatever my teacher thought it would accomplish, I still don't like to read such dense books. Still, I have fond, if rather fuzzy, memories of the book; it was a slog but I liked it. It introduced me to the Victorian world and, though I didn't know it then, the concept of steampunk; two things I appreciate quite a lot, even if I don't often write in these modes myself.

I probably need to read a lot more steampunk even though I'm currently writing such a tale myself--I almost feel unqualified to write of an era I didn't live in even though, heck, that's true of 90% of my fiction. I also didn't live in ancient Mexico or the Wild West or any of the places I've invented in my own mind (well, maybe that last is up to debate?) but a little research and confidence can go a long way. I've read a lot of stuff by Jay Lake, who's a master of steampunk, and lots of other quality fiction from places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Shimmer Magazine, and others. And honestly you can only read so many of the half zillion books in the world today before another half zillion are published. After a point you just have to step out with what you know, what you've gathered and what you want to write about, and then just write it!

So that's where I am. I have an obtuse and unfounded fascination with the Victorian Empire, with daguerreotypes, with pseudosciences, and with the multiform, often quite confused Spiritualism that existed then. Ectoplasm, anyone? All these things have gone into the blender of my mind, been pureed on high, and then an additional twist folded in--anthropotheres. That's not a real word per se but, ah, sometimes it's good to know a bit of Latin. I have not read The Island of Doctor Moreau (H. G. Wells) but I suppose it would be something the same? Then again, the blender which is my mind also has lots of frayed memories of Victorian-era anthropomorphic animals; Peter Rabbit, etc. So this is just another of those connections that has always existed for me: anthropomorphic animals could quite naturally exist in Victorian society. And Victorian society, being rather structured and rigid, would treat different 'species' in different ways...

So I took that and played with it. And now I'm 20 pages into a rather quaint little vignette into steampunk-anthropotherian life in Victorian England.

I've never really read Dickens either so I don't know much about Victorian England ... oh, well. Just write it!

*Another thing you may find interesting, if you find this interesting, would be this web page:, which I found while browsing portraits of Victorian gentlemen. Some of them are quite good, and though I was deflated a bit at first to realize someone else has already had the same idea as me, maybe in truth it means other people view the Victorian era the same way I do? And that's not so bad.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Girl Like Me

On some subconscious level it seems inherently natural, I think, to presume that authors who are male write male characters, and female authors write female characters. Or at the very least, that they should be most comfortable doing so--should be able to just slip right into the skin of a same-sexed character like a good pair of jeans.

I used to believe it; as a teen I'd read a book (say, Lirael or Sabriel by Garth Nix) and get perturbed by the fact that a guy was writing from the point of view of a girl. How does that make sense, I'd think? Isn't that ... weird? But at the same time I was writing male point of view characters along with female ones and it wasn't weird for me to do. Just other people.

(J K Rowling originally went by initials, rather than her name, because the Harry Potter books were theoretically aimed at boys. And boys don't read girl authors.)

Over time, and maybe this is weird, I've become more and more comfortable writing male characters and less comfortable with female ones. As a kid I liked a good, convincing heroine. Somewhere that disconnected and I got convinced girls didn't make good heroes. Maybe it was Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass series, because, sorry, but I read the first one and enjoyed the adventure, but positively hated the heroine. I could not identify, when writing, as a girl.

Or maybe it was the fact that I was home schooled for a handful of years with two brothers as my main source of interaction--and with bad memories of the girls in grade school who could be angels one minute and demons the next. I never liked girl things, like hair or clothes or dolls, even when surrounded by girls. Make me play house and I'll kill you because, fool, I actually had household chores to do. They were not worth pretending about.

Pretending was for fantastical things; unicorns and fighting dragons and adventures. Not  folding clothes and cooking tomato soup.

So, by logical extension, if girls either made tomato soup or became really annoying heroines, I'd have to be a guy. No need to psychoanalyze me too much because none of these thoughts were ever articulated even to myself. I just felt out of touch with being a girl.

Whenever I start thinking about a story, even today, I almost instinctively formulate the main character as a guy--exceptions come largely when the character has to be a girl for the story to progress. I'm a little more in touch with being a girl now than I was, say, ten years ago, but still ... old habits. I'm comfortable in the mode of heroes. And yet whenever I sit down to write a story where the main character's female rather than male, it's strange to realize how it is different. There's a mental shift that has to happen for me to get inside a girl's mind. It's kind of uncomfortable, and weird, and when I'm writing it can be somewhat painful, even. But when I go back and read, these stories are all right. Not bad--nothing wrong with them. But once I finish writing a heroine and move on to a hero, things flow so much more smoothly.

I do hope, at some time in the future, to get over this barrier, whether it's actual or mental, and to be able to shift from hero to heroine without pause. I am a girl, right? So I should be able to write a girl like me.

Sure. Only problem is, that turns out being a guy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Late-riser's plague

I like the idea of waking up early--really early, like 6, and going out for a jog in the brisk morning air, and then coming home awake and alive and invigorated and getting to work and dashing off five or six pages of wonderfully amazing writing as I blithely drink my morning coffee.

Except that I've never been an early riser, and I work nights so this great idea doesn't seem as great when I'm finally getting to bed around 1:30 ... And there's no way I can jog down my street that lacks sidewalks, especially when it's cloudy and miserable outside. And at 6 it's pretty dark 'round these parts, too, most of the year. So what do I do instead? Flop out of bed around ten and slouch stiffly to the computer ... and wait for inspiration to strike. I know what I want to get done today but haven't even got around to opening my word processor and it's almost lunchtime. Well, maybe another cup of coffee and the gears will start moving.

If I'd woke up at six, though, I'd be done by now. Maybe this thought is distracting any belated progress I could possibly make at this point.

I have a list of a half dozen things I wanted to get done this month, with only two marked off and we're 2/3 of the way through September. And I go back to school on this coming Monday. Maybe it's time to start getting serious?

Maybe another cup of coffee.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Internets are good for you!

In the past week, and perhaps for the first time, I have proven to myself the usefulness of the Internet. How? Well, by using it. And not just to look at funny cat pictures and to listen to music and to read randomly.

Instead, I have learned ...

-How to fix the keys on my laptop damaged as casualties in a fly-hunt gone awry.

-How to clean my cloth high heels at home. And make them un-stinky.

-How to make banana bread (or, about 35 different variations on how it can be made).

-How to cut and color my hair at home.

And thus you have my projects for the upcoming week in a neat, tidy list. Feeling pretty empowered here. :)

I've never had short hair in my life and yet, for some time, have wanted to hack off all that I have and go for a pixie cut. A thought which terrifies not just a lot of people I know, but also, to some extent, me. What if it turns out wrong, I thought? What if I don't like it, it's a disaster, and then I have to wait six months, etc, for it to grow out again? Six months is exponentially longer than it sounds with a bad haircut. So, yes, I've had it cut drastically, but only to a bob. Taking it in stages, you see.

I don't suppose anyone would come up to me and say, "God, that's regrettable," about my current cut and yet, I've had a lot more compliments than I think it deserves. Even when I went for fast food today, the girl ringing me up behind the counter recognized me then complimented my cut. Wow! I thought. She recognizes me and I don't come in but once every few months. She's got a SCARY awesome memory!

I think I was honestly impressed over flattered, but, then again, flattered that I was worth recognizing in the first place. I suppose having aspirations to become an author, I often think of myself as rather anonymous to the rest of the world. Then again, I work a customer service job--hundreds of people see me a day. Scary to someone who likes the thought of anonymity...

So yes, it has been cut. Next, to color it obnoxiously blond. Then to see how many people tell me THAT's regrettable. ;)

What I'm reading: at the moment, a book that's meant to self-improve me. Or something. Finished reading a Hawkmoon novel by Michael Moorcock that moved so fast I'm still a little dizzy--I just gotta say it, I prefer Elric since he's not quite as noble-minded and nothing's wrong with that. Also finished reading some beautiful but plotless comic books--ah, but we come to picture books just for the pictures, right? Actually, I like pictures in my real novels, and I like real plots in my comics, too.

So, on to see how my projects turn out. And to see if I can dissuade my hubby from taking me to see Snow White and the Huntsman for one more week ... ! See y'all!

In my defense...
--actually, that's just about how it happened ...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Thing about Germs is ...

I've been sick for the past, oh, week. It's what happens when you're in contact with people on a daily basis and they're breathing the same air you are. A Russian Roulette of germs or something; really, it's just bound to happen.

I didn't really mind being sick; I had a runny nose and sore throat and not much energy, and that was about it. No big deal. The problem for me was the fact that my brain was also not functioning all that well so that, even though I had ideas I wanted to get down on paper (er, computer screen) they were not coming out. And anything I did write sounded pretty lame. Either because it was lame, or just because I was so sick my brain couldn't distinguish a good word or sentence from a peanut. I'd be just fine with having a cold if only it wouldn't melt my brain into a useless fondue of blahs.

So I spent three or four days pretending I didn't really want to do any writing and thought maybe I'd do some editing to get some more stuff sent off. No luck. Editing with a melted brain is as effective as writing algebra problems with a pencil in your mouth while hanging upside down. Flat-out arduous.

Perhaps you can see I'm a little bitter with those germs.

So I surrendered that idea and just read some books and watched some movies and listened to some music. And laid flat on the couch so my cat could use me as a cushion and I could use her as a hot-water bottle. It worked out in everyone's favor.

**In times of ailment this fuzzy little beast can be used--quite happily--as a piece of thermoregulatory equipment**

I'm better now. Pretty much. I think. Sheesh, I hope. My cat is wondering what happened to our beautiful arrangement of her getting to sleep on my face.

At least not everything I'm working on at the moment seems totally lame.

Then again, that could be the germs talking ...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Names as First Names as Last Names

What have I been up to? After completing my novella roughly a week ago I've done some small stuff; worked on a couple pieces of flash fiction, which makes a nice change of pace from a big long project of 20,000 words.

I've also been preparing and sending out a bunch of short stories; I think I have a half dozen floating around in various slush piles across the fiction-reading world. And every different market has a different format they want to see it in ... if I get any news on those it will be in weeks or months. I suppose I could write another novella in the meantime to keep myself busy?

Besides this I am reading the same book of dark fantasy I was a week ago. Which is just fine except for a problem I had with one of the stories that perhaps no one else in the world would even notice. You could say it's a pet peeve, but I simply don't understand stories in which the main character, being a normal everyday fellow (because it's never a woman) is referred to throughout by his last name. As in, the character's name is John Doe but the narration goes, 'Doe got up, Doe went to the door, Doe realized no one had even knocked.' 

If the character worked in a place where he was always referred to by his last name--in the military, for example--maybe this would make sense. But I think not. Does anyone in the world think of themselves by their last name? And isn't the narration of the story supposed to let us in on the main character's point of view? There's just something very distancing about a main character whose last name is used as a first name.

And notice I say above that this is reserved for male characters. Of course! Because if I wrote 'James got up, James cartwheeled to the door, James forgot it was locked before cartwheeling straight into it,' you wouldn't be able to think of this narration as referring to a woman, although that's my last name. I don't cartwheel into doors, but if I did it would be Marissa, not James, and I tend to believe this would be true for pretty much everyone in the world, male or female.

Now, someone out there may be thinking along these lines: the last-name-as-first-name thing is meant to distance the reader from the main character, to create a barrier or rift between them, or to signal that the main character is the kind of person who would be referred to by last name by others. Maybe. But there are other ways to do these, I think, that don't sound so uncomfortable to my ear.

Any other opinions or comments on this topic? Because James would like to know if she's the only one in the world who's even noticed this as an issue. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


Yay! A little more than two weeks into the epic novella writing quest, I've done it! Came back from a ridiculous 9-hour shift at work, had dinner, and wrote (typed, technically) the final scene. Everyone lives happily ever after--at least everyone I choose.

It probably helped that I sat at the library for four hours the day before to flesh out the ending, during which I accomplished six pages because, let's be honest, no one at the library is going to bother you, talk to you, read over your shoulder (especially when you have that surly, intent look on your face) whereas, living with three other people and a whiny cat spells constant distraction whether they intend it or not. More so when they're trying to vacuum the floor underneath you as you attempt to remember what was supposed to happen next.

So, I'm feeling as happy as a particularly cheery clam. Step 1 down; now to let the story brew for about a week, then give it an edit or two because there are things I know need to be cleaned up (I have a list; that's the thing about speed-writing) and then I can send it off to the place it's meant to go.

I want to start something new today and there are various ideas bubbling through my mind; we'll see what comes of them before I have to go to work.

What I'm reading: I just finished Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale, which was good. Not what I'd expected after reading his short fiction and being a big fan of Bubba Ho-Tep, both the story and film. But I have another collection of his short fiction on hand so I'm happy about that. Also reading an anthology of dark fantasy--strangely, I had a much darker vision of what the term 'dark fantasy' included. Maybe I'm thinking Lovecraftian? Or maybe I'm overly demanding?

I also just recently rediscovered my copy of Abbey Road and have been listening nonstop to that. Yep, this here is one happy clam.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

So, six days into the great novella-writing quest, I'm feeling good about the progress.

Like a caffeinated chimp at a typewriter I've managed to bang out over 11,000 words so far--with a minimum of 17,500 expected. True, I have not quite made the 2000-words-per-day goal, but quality over quantity, right? And yes, that thing called a job that I have, it does interfere now and again.

As I noted in the last post, I don't really work with an outline. I have some scribbled notes, mainly because I'm writing at speed and won't have as much opportunity to go back and edit as I'd generally like. And also, I usually write short stories; with a smaller arc it's easier to keep track of everything in my head.

The remainder of the story has been roughed out in my mind; I know where I'm going, how I'm getting there, and pretty much when I'm going to arrive. And for me, a little vagary isn't a bad thing. So what if I don't know the exact details of the finale yet?  I've got a good idea of how many more words I'll require to tell the story--from experience, I can estimate that based on the number of scenes, and how long they'll be, and what's going on ... and then I can add maybe 2000 words on top of that guess. From experience.

Still, I'm pretty happy with the progress, and if I can keep up this rate of production, I'll be done this time next week (!). Amazing to think a chimp--properly caffeinated--can thrash a novella into existence in two weeks!

Since the last post, I thought maybe I'd like to add a 'reading list' to the end of my posts, to give an idea of not just what I'm up to, but also what I'm digesting at the moment. So, without further ado...

What I'm reading: Yes, I have given up on the book with the flaming horses and epicness, though I'm a little sad about that. Instead, it's been short stories by Louis L'Amour (they're all the exact same length), short stories in my first copy of Shimmer magazine (which is delightful and now I know why they named it Shimmer), and other random short fiction on web magazines. Oh, and copious amounts of research on Wikipedia relating to the topic of my novella. And an archaeology magazine, because I've got to stay on top of the latest developments in the neanderthal-as-artist debate.

Friday, August 3, 2012

I have decided to complicate my life.

Not too much, and not forever, but this week I discovered a call for novellas of a certain theme, which will be closing at the end of next month. Having a good idea on the theme bouncing around in my head for a while, but not a single word started, I have decided to try and belt it out--a minimum of 17,500 words in five weeks? That's not really a lot, mathematically speaking; heck, if I can write 2000 words a day--which I know I can do--I can be done in ten days. Wow! Doable! Now, as long as working a real job doesn't get in the way, and minor details like the fact that I don't use an outline but just whatever's been straightened out in my mind, we'll be set.

I've heard authors say that writing fast, at a steady clip, is the best way to do it, and I agree. It keeps your enthusiasm up and you're able to focus on getting it done, rather than quibbling over stupidness like 'what was Ralph's eye color on page 4 again?--let me go look it up.' Just recently I went on vacation with a story 4/5 of the way done, came back a week later and griped to myself all the way through the last few pages because, well, the story had worked itself out of my system, I guess. Would that one have turned out any better if I'd got it all done before vacation? Honestly, I don't think so. It would have been about the same but, to me, reading back through it, I remember the enthusiasm that came with one page as opposed to another. Let's hope I'm the only one who can...

On an unrelated note, I think I have given up on the book with the heroically flaming horses on the cover. Not because I don't like it, since I've always been a fan of the author, and not because it's over 700 pages though I generally only have the patience for around 250-300 at the most. No, it's because it's 700 pages with teeny margins and pt 8 font and my eyes can't bear the attempts at reading it. Nor do I feel any great sense of accomplishment when I've been reading for a long time and have only finished ten pages of ant-tracks. I'd rather have the book around, say, 1000 pages that I was capable of reading without eyestrain. That's all.

1200 words down on my novella--got to get back to work!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Seeing as it's a Sunday, and a bright sunny one to boot (where I am at least), it seems only fitting to write a lazy, sunny post, as well.

Though I haven't yet determined if peaches have any sort of nutritional value beyond natural sugar, I love them. Maybe just because they're pretty and colorful, but a nice bright peach can cheer me up any day even if I'm just looking at it. These ones are from San Francisco's Chinatown, when I visited a few weeks ago, and the picture currently inhabits my computer as a background. Great for getting me in a bright and sunny mood for writing, but then again, sort of making me hungry, too, which rather distracts from getting anything done.

I might have to go out and buy myself some one of these days...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is it just me, or do all readers gravitate towards a certain genre over any others? A sort of magnetic core drawing the lodestone of the mind, if you will.

I've been a reader ever since I was small and for all that time my main interest has been fantasy--Tamora Pierce and Garth Nix and at some point I read Tolkien too (a rite of passage for fantasy readers, is it not?). I'd fall for anything with a dragon or elf or majestic hero on the front. Which probably means I've read the exact same story, with very slight changes in plot and character and the texture of the dragon's scales, perhaps a zillion times. And still I'm all right with that.

Science fiction, on the other hand, was never all that exciting for me. It should be exciting, what with the laser pistols and crazy space life and warp drives, but somehow, no. It wasn't for lack of trying, but I just couldn't get through A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, though Star Wars was fine by me.

Other genres, like horror and mystery, have never really even crossed my mind.

And why is that? Maybe I was born that way. Surely I'm not the only one who could merrily drown in one genre but not much care if another threw me a life preserver.

Oh well. Back to my book with the two majestically-armored heroes riding black and flaming horses through a bleak yet fantastical desert.