For the first time since I took the sight off my bow, I did not shoot any arrows over the top of the target. Yay! This means that if I were suddenly transported, equipped with only a rudimentary bow and some arrows, to an underpopulated, low-technology sylvan world, I would be slightly less likely to starve or be overcome by brigands than I had been.
A motley coat
As You Like It, Act II Sc. 7
O worthy fool!
...in his brain,
Which is as dry as the remainder biscuit
After a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd
With observation, the which he vents
In mangled forms. O that I were a fool!
I am ambitious for a motley coat.
My buddy Cat Sparks (yes, that's her real name, isn't it fabulous?) has taken out best SF short story and the Golden Aurealis (overall big writer kahuna) for short story at this year's Aurealis Awards. Cool!
I took a rather pathetic satisfaction in looking at Cat's photos of the event (the link thereto is on her blog post, referenced above) and seeing how many of the Shining Lights of Aus Spec Fic I know personally. (Oh, lame, lame. So lame, Laura.) Maybe someday I will stand among them for other reasons than pressing close to the hors d'oeuvres tray....
The good news is, we've had a remarkably busy five or six days, involving visits to and visits by many good friends and at least one fabulous feast cooked by moi (Cuban-style chicken with rice and plantains plantains plantains which I finally found in Newtown plantains plantains along with some frijoles pintos* and a not-quite-frozen-enough-but-very-nice-nevertheless homemade blueberry and macadamia sorbet).
The bad news (although nothing is really quite as bad when you've finally found plantains plantains plantains I love plantains) is that I haven't gotten anywhere near enough writing done recently, and it looks very unlikely that I'll be able to fully meet all three of my goals for Gauntlet II. I've got the one done (revising The Associates), but finishing Mud and Glass and writing a short play may very well elude me. Still, as one of my Clarion buddies pointed out during Gauntlet I, even if one doesn't fully succeed, at least one has more words than one did at the start.
*I would have very much preferred black beans (frijoles negros), but I had no idea how hard they are to find in Wollongong. I finally realized, at the cost of much time and petrol/gas, that the place I usually buy them is, in fact, the only place in Wollongong that sells them, and they close at lunchtime on Saturdays. I realized this crucially later than lunchtime on Saturday.
The New South Wales government (headed at the moment by Premier Morris Iemma) has a really rather insane policy of mailing to the parents of each school-age child a check (or cheque, depending on where you come from) for $50. To help with school expenses. I can't help thinking they'd get more bang for the buck if they took all those little $50s and pooled them to get some really cool resources for each school, or as Houston suggests used the money to cover the costs of books and/or field trips.
Predictably, this is also the time of year when we, like most other families in Australia, are school shopping. Margaret's new school mandates (as part of its uniform) sturdy, black shoes, which Margaret happened to need, and which were not cheap. (Nothing but the best for my kid.) When she found out this evening about the $50 check, she said, "Fifty dollars? Great. Now I can say that Morris Iemma bought me a shoe."
Apparently there is a huge (and growing) market in Japan for novels written on mobile/cell phones. Five five of last year's 10 bestsellers are cell-phone novels.
On the one hand, it's always cool to see technology used in interesting ways to produce writing. And it's always way cool when people who never wrote before start writing. I've been saying for years to anyone who'll listen, the rise of emails and chat and SMS and whatever else we type words into to communicate can only improve the overall benchmark of literacy in the world.
“It’s not that they had a desire to write and that the cellphone happened to be there,” said Chiaki Ishihara, an expert in Japanese literature at Waseda University who has studied cellphone novels. “Instead, in the course of exchanging e-mail, this tool called the cellphone instilled in them a desire to write.”
Indeed, many cellphone novelists had never written fiction before, and many of their readers had never read novels before, according to publishers.
But...apparently the novels are actually written in SMS-speak, and the stories are simplistic (it's not just that they're really novella-length, but actually kind of superficial stories). Is this an exciting example of a new creative mode that is inspiring people to risk being imaginative and artistically bold, or is it just self-absorbed teenage dilettantes pretending they're doing something cool and artistic? And, more fundamentally still, is it any of my business?
I headed up to Sydney today for a number of reasons (I try to combine trips, as it's a bit of a pain to go all the way there and back); one of them was to attend a session of a script-critiquing group. I was shocked at (a) how chaotic it was, with people leaping in from all over the room, (b) how widely the crits varied in their experience level (which is not a bad thing; everyone is on a path) and their cogency (which is a bad thing, because some of the crits were less well thought out than others, let me just say this about that), and (c) how resentful some people got during the process when they were disagreed with. Yowie! Clarion gets you out of all those habits right quick.
Whether or not it improves your writing, Clarion improves your coping skills, for what probably works out to be a bargain price compared to therapy! So, all you out there who are wavering as to whether to apply this year, here is just one more reason to download that form and polish that submission story.
"Making stuff up is hard," whined Laura. "You have to make it unusual and consistent at the same time, and there's no way to know if it's unusual enough because if I thought of it obviously it's no surprise to me so it probably won't be to you, it's like trying to tickle yourself, and there's no way I'm going to use all the loose ends and red herrings and Chekov's guns I've planted in the text, so everyone is going to complain that I left them there, but if I tidy them up people will cry, 'Too pat! Too pat!' and if they're not there at all people will cry 'Too simplistic! Too simplistic!' and and it's all so hard."
Normal programming will resume tomorrow.
I absolutely love going to the gym. I love being by myself (I hate and fear team sports). I love choosing what I do, going from machine to free weights to treadmill to rower to an unused room for karate practice to stretching. I love feeling strong and active. Most of all, I love feeling like I'm getting fit enough to do things that the characters in books do: run, jump, ford streams, climb mountains, push through the woods to rescue someone in distress. That's why, twenty years ago, I started training in karate: I got tired of only being able to read about adventures I wanted to be able to have them. Since then I have racked up a relatively lengthy list of Xena-Warrior-Princess skills, and I still haven't lost my love of making make-believe real.
Plus, I reckon that being fitter actually does improve my physical and mental stamina for writing. There are no doubt many studies out there that prove this; probably rather fewer exploring the benefits of pretending to be Xena, Warrior Princess. All I know is I feel better when I'm training.
"He needs to jam that yorker right in the blockhole," said the commentator. Right there on television. When kids were watching and everything.
I'm listening to a stream of a BBC interview with Russell T. Davies of Doctor Who fame. He said he loves writing on into the wee hours of the morning, up until 5 a.m. "Of course, when you then have a meeting at 8 o'clock, it's not so good." (Note: the bare few minutes of the interview appear two hours into the show. The BBC player has an unobtrusive fast-forward button you can use to get past the first two hours, a strategy I enthusiastically recommend.)
My very, very favorite time to write is in the single-digit hours. Family life limits my flexibility to adopt that as a lifestyle, but when I can write through the dark until dawn (literally and metaphorically), I will. I did my best Clarion writing at 4 a.m.
If it's good enough for Mr. Davies, it's good enough for me. And if I am like him in this, can I therefore hope to resemble him in skill and success? (I wonder when the Great Master, Steven Moffatt, prefers to write....)
Late edition -- this just in: Dalek-based security on the Toronto subway system.
Knowing that you're crap, that everything you write is crap, and that it always has been and always will be. But you have to keep writing anyway, you can't stop. For some reason, the only way you can go is to keep writing. Even though you're crap, and everything you write is crap.
Current side-effect: a complete emotional meltdown because I bought the wrong ink cartridge and I don't know if I can get my money back because I didn't notice it was the wrong one until I opened it and it wouldn't fit in the printer. We're talking sobs of despair and self-loathing. Not only am I crap and everything I write is crap, but would it have been such a challenge to take another nanosecond and make sure I had the right cartridge? Would it have killed me to do that?
I have gotten many, many, many fewer words written this month than I planned. Uh...oh. That means next month is going to have to be NaNo-esque in order for me to meet the remaining two of my three Gauntlet II challenges. I can only hope I buckle down and write enough during what's left of January to make February not quite so stressful. On the other hand, I did some additional work: sent a story out, revised the first 50 pages of Mud and Glass, and wrote a synopsis for same. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with a synopsis for a book that's only half written?) And that's in addition to finishing my first Gauntlet II goal (revising The Associates). I also decided what my 10-minute children's play will be about, more or less, which is some progress toward another Gauntlet II goal. I'm also doing okay on some of the fitness goals I've got (although, again, I have not yet been as consistently diligent as I want to be).
I love goal-setting. I accomplish so much more.
In other news, today I received another story rejection. But it was a personalized rejection, which I find heartening. They are paying me the respect of paying me some attention. If I were embarrassingly bad (as I perennially fear that I am), they wouldn't bother. Goes the theory.
I'm not a rabid fan of television. There are a very few shows I really, really like (Doctor Who is an example), and I enjoy watching history and geography documentaries. In terms of television drama or comedy, there hasn't ever been one that I felt I couldn't live without. But there are people who love television with all their heart and soul. Somewhat surprisingly, this group includes many of the people who write the shows (currently on strike, as you probably know). Me, I always kinda thought they wrote television shows because there weren't enough theatres to produce their plays or something. But no! They love television as a medium, as a cultural and historical repository, as a creative environment!
Read about it on Why We Write. Even if you yourself have little use for television, the pieces are well-written, sometimes hilariously so and it's always fascinating to listen to someone talk about their passion. (That was one of my favorite things perhaps the only thing I really liked about my brief stint as a reporter: encouraging people to talk about what they loved and why. Those are the best stories.) And a little insight into something previously completely obscure (the mind of a television writer) is always a good thing.
It's the one-year anniversary of my arrival at Clarion South, which was without any doubt one of the pivotal experiences of my life. A sampling from my blog from that time:
"Okay, yeah, I volunteered to have my first story critiqued on the first day. But did it have to be the very first story of the whole process?"
"Here at Clarion South, I'm far, far away from my family. I mentioned to my daughter that encouragement helps, so at random intervals she's been sending me a text message on my phone: 'Go mommy go! Go mommy go!'"
"We're all shuffling around with one foot on either side of the line of consciousness. It makes for interesting conversations."
"Last night a bunch of us flung caution into the gutter and danced upon it -- we went out for karaoke."
"Last night (or rather, this morning), I was in the zone. By 4:30 I'd written over 2,500 words on a story that I'm really enjoying. I have a suspicion it's my best work yet (although I guess we'll see what happens in the crit pit on Tuesday). What an amazing (and rare) feeling, when the words come out with clarity, precision, and abundance!"
As you can see, it was a wild ride. This blog entry is my shout-out to all my Clarion buddies students, tutors, and convenors (and other helpers). If any of you happen to be reading this, you should know that I keep you near, whenever I write. I lean on your goodwill and encouragement. I thank you for the support you've given me in many different ways. I hope I've been of some help to you as well. (Leave a comment, to let me know you've stopped by, if you would!)
In one of my first get-out-of-the-house days this year (aside from going to see Alvin and the Chipmunks with my family, all of whom are really too old for that sort of thing, so sue us), we went to see our horses, who have been quarantined due to the equine influenza virus since before Halloween. The background is that my horse, despite his having attitude and emotional toughness to burn, is somewhat frail physically. He's got a gammy foot, he loses weight quickly, and he's prone to a nasty thing called rain scald (and if you know what that is, you are already shaking your head in sympathy; if you don't, I will say only that it's visually gross and persistent and very unpleasant indeed for the horse, and leave it at that). The last time we were away for a while, I got back to find him limping badly; the time before that he was half-dead with parasites (and rain scald). It's taken several years of diligent and observant collaboration between the property owners and me to get him sound and parasite-free and beefy enough to be a happy horse. So I was a little worried about what we'd find today when we went up there.
Lo! A happy, sound horse who had had only a minor brush with equine flu! And his 'tude intact!
2008 is already a good year.
"One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it," said playwright Anton Chekov (this particular version apparently appeared in a letter he wrote in 1889, according to the paragon of sources, Wikipedia, which I'm not going to link to). What it means is that a good writer does not introduce extraneous plot elements. Everything in a story needs to have a reason for being there; every blade of grass, every tree, every puff of breeze. It can't be there just because the writer thought it sounded pretty, or because the writer couldn't think of anything else to say, or as an offhand remark inserted in the hopes that something would come of it.
Mud and Glass is in the process of getting checked (uh-oh, unintentional pun) for guns, non-firing or otherwise. I'm doing a list of them as I go through the first 50,000 words, seeing which ones I'll keep. There are a lot, because I was very much in the "go ahead and write it, because maybe my subconscious will use it later" mode during NaNo. There are benefits to this, but also drawbacks.
However, this process is giving me pause for broader thought. Are there Chekov's guns in real life? Are all the details and crises and randomness advancing some sort of plot thread that we can't see? And if so, is this comforting or disturbing?
After two days of wondering why nothing is happening on Mud and Glass, I've decided that it's time for that project to move to a greater level of maturity. It was my NaNo opus, which means I basically squatted over the keyboard for a month and 50,000 words came out. A good start, yes, but even fertilizer isn't fertilizer until it's been broken down and made useful. Until then it's just....
So instead of trying to produce the next 50,000 words through the same mindless biological functions I used for the first 50,000, I'm going to go back and break the book down, diagram the plot that formed intuitively (or, if you prefer, enterically as a gut feeling, at any rate), and consciously decide what's going to happen, what's going to stay, and what's going to go. It's a bit distasteful, poking through one's own, um, products. But nobody else is going to want to, either, if I leave the book the way it is. I want my stories to be fertilizer to inspire thoughts and feelings, to provoke insights and arguments. Poop isn't fertlizer. But you can make it into fertlizer.
The Right Some Good blog covers some wicked cool art. Go on over and have a look, and be intrigued! (I don't want to post a sample here, because I'm not sure of the copyright on the images. Trust me, though, and drop by.)
For the past week I've been spending six hours (or so) every day revising The Associates. I've been picking and pecking and clawing at it for years now, but I was still able to find language that needed tightening, motivations that needed clarifying, typos that needed cleaning, and inconsistencies that needed sanding and plastering. Or plastering and sanding. I always forget which order those should come in.
I do still need to revise the synopsis and the chapter breakdown, but that's not part of the goal the goal was to finish revising the manuscript. And, ta-dah, consummatum est.
The bad news is that my wordcount for Mud and Glass is accreting at a geological pace. But I'm hoping I can pick up speed now that I'm not spending six hours (or so) every day on The Associates.
The good news is that, now that I've spent such a concentrated time in its company, I reckon The Associates actually holds up rather well as an adventure novel with some poignant character development and some rollicking action. Oh, gosh! I sure do hope other people think so, too!
It's unpleasantly jarring to spend several hours working on one book (revisions to The Associates), hours looking through one set of eyes, feeling one set of feelings and then switch to working on another (Mud and Glass), another point-of-view character, another way entirely of being and thinking and feeling. It's like having someone grab my head and wrench it from one side to the other. Ow. I'm glad I'm not an actor, for whom this must be a many-times-daily experience.
However, the hours (and hours) spent over the past few days on The Associates bring me within coo-ee* of meeting my first Gauntlet II goal: finishing the revisions. And it's only a few days into the challenge!
*Note to non-Australians: "Coo-ee" is an "are you there?" "yes I am" call designed to carry long distances in the bush. It's uttered in a high falsetto, much like the American hog-call "soo-ee".
Peace, fun, accomplishment, and compassion during 2008 for all who visit this blog. May the insights of 2007 persist to guide you. May the joys of 2007 remain to comfort you. May the sorrows of 2007 build strength. May your love shelter someone, may your kindness encourage someone, may your imagination inspire someone.