Thursday, September 30, 2010

String a Bunch of E's Together

I found this on the NaNoWriMo blog. I'm so excited!!!

Office of Letters & Light:
Well, it’s the night before we relaunch NaNoWriMo for another noveling season. We’ll likely go live with the site tomorrow in the late afternoon Pacific time. We still have a million things to do and it looks like we may end up burning the midnight oil to get it all done. But Lindsey is keeping us going with high fives and pep talks, and a home-stretch giddiness is definitely starting to pervade the Office of Letters and Light. I just walked outside to squint at the commuters heading home on Adeline Street, and I could have sworn I caught a whiff of literary abandon wafting by on the breeze.

It smelled like Cheetos.

Delicious, delicious Cheetos.

Read More

It Is to Weep

Can I afford thirty-dollar cake?
No.

Do I need thirty thousand calories?
No.

Did one of these bakeries just open in my neighborhood?
Yes.

Am I going crazy wanting one?
Yes!

It shall be mine...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cardboard Forts & Blankets over Chairs

You do not want me designing your house.

Any house I designed would no doubt blow over in the first gust of wind because it was made of cardboard and tape. My characters, however, have no choice. If I say, "Live under a rock," they'll live under a rock, by gum. And so I spent my morning developing a rock floor plan for one of the major houses in my story.

It's very important I do so, you see, because, um, otherwise... Okay, it's not important. But it was fun.

It just occurred to me this morning that I was viewing this house like a theatrical set. I knew exactly what was on three sides. The fourth, apparently, consisted of my gigantic eyeballs peering through the diorama's window*. Maybe someday there will be an actual audience of readers there. But I still want to construct that fourth wall.

Last year, I scoured Google Images and sites about Victorian homes to compile a turreted Queen Anne mansion suitable for my family of eccentrics. Between my research and a liberal dose of cut and paste in Photoshop, I wound up with something darn near perfect. Now I'm on the hunt for a two-story craftsman home. I found a great site that shows Sears home plans from the first half of the twentieth century. It's a lot of fun to look at. It also made me realize that the fourth wall wasn't my only problem.

I see this house slightly differently in each version of my novel.

It's not such a big problem because, as I said, this isn't important, just fun. And no one else will ever know that in my main WIP, the basement stairs are by the front wall and in my NaNo novel, they're closer to the kitchen, but it still bothers me.  I see these scenes so vividly. To rearrange the rooms seems wrong. An atrocity! (The horror...)

So there's another opportunity for procrastination later on because my control-freak brain will not let this rest. It was hard enough to admit that just because I imagined the basement studio in a certain position, it simply could not exist entirely outside the house's boundaries the way Pirates of the Caribbean resides under what used to be Disneyland's parking lot. This house is on a smallish lot in north Berkeley.

***

In other news, it's Wednesday. And why is that news? Because Wednesdays are nerve wracking. I keep getting calls from the school.

First, my youngest learned the hard way what happens to the first kid down the slide on a misty morning, so I had to bring the humiliated creature a change of clothing.

The next week, he decided to hold an impromptu demonstration of his stubbornness talent, and so I got the call to come and end the dramatic performance. When I arrived, the principal was standing guard while my youngest clung to the backpack hooks with all his might and wailed, "I just wanted to learn something, and I didn't learn anything!" The principal said my youngest wouldn't go with him, and he couldn't pick up kids and haul them off, so it was my turn. Youngest climbed into my arms sobbing while I wondered how many kids actually get sent home for the day from kindergarten. Ugh.

Last week, I think we had a break. I forget. But today, not only did my youngest fall off a tricycle before school even started, I once again saw the school's number on the caller ID around mid-morning. I believe I shouted, "No!"

So far, everything's been about my youngest, so it never occurred to me that it was about my eldest until the voice started saying that she was from the health office, and they'd had the eldest there. My brain immediately zapped back to last week when I saw an ambulance go screaming into the school lot, and how I freaked out for at least an hour until I was sure the school wouldn't call me. My eldest has a peanut allergy, and so every day is scary because of it. Anyway, flash to today and the nurse saying they'd had him in the health office. Terror. Why the past tense? Was he in an ambulance now?

Turns out he'd just bonked his head on a pole as he was walking with his teacher, so she'd sent him in for some ice. The nurse said he held it for a few moments then begged to go back to recess. Thus the past tense. I kind of wonder if she was confused by the way I laughed at the end of the call. I just liked the happy ending.

And now it's siesta time for everyone.

___

*Just realized not everyone made the same kind of dioramas in school as I did. We'd take a shoebox, poke an eyehole or window in one of the short ends, then fill the box with our 3D scene. We also had to cut a rectangle in the lid and cover it with some kind of translucent paper, like a skylight. I was obsessed with those things -- wound up making a bunch of them at home just for fun. I might even have one socked away somewhere.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm Just Sayin'...

Found this on our walk to school today, just a few doors down.


There are at least two stars in that top swirl of color. Eee! ;)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hearing Voices Again

Writers often talk about epiphanies that hit them so strongly, they feel like they're externally driven, like their characters have come to life and are bossing them around. I used to read that stuff, roll my eyes, and think, "Yeah, right. Self-indulgent, whimsical [expletive]."

And then it happened to me!

And it was awesome!!!!!!!!

So now I'm kind of a junkie for that self-indulgent, whimsical [expletive]. (And it's your turn to use those terms about me.)

I have a character in my novel who's big on bossing me around. This character is determined to have a miserable life. I try to write happy endings for [character], give [character] a good life. But no. [Character] won't have any of that. Of course, the terrible things [character] inspires are actually quite delicious to write about, so maybe I'm giving [character] a better life by giving [character] a miserable storyline.

[Character] started off as a secondary bit player,  and now [character's] one of the stars. I guess [character] knows what [character's] doing.

(Forgive the brackets. I'm trying to avoid spoilers for those who've read bits of my early drafts.)

Anyway, that happened today. I set out to write about something entirely different, then I saw [character's] picture in my story folder, a song came on iTunes, and whammo bammo slammo. A new tragic storyline.  Many weeps later, I'm dying to write these tragic scenes, but I'm nowhere near ready, and they'll involve some research. (Gee, thanks, [character].)

School week's starting up again. Let's see if I get anything written at all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Spiders and Spiders and Spiders, Oh My!

Tonight, I stumbled upon a website where people discussed black widows and how impossible they are to get rid of, how if you see one, there are probably a zillion more. I haven't seen any in the house, but I find them on the porch, in the garage, and under my planting boxes out back.

Shudder. Shudder again.

I'm now convinced I'm surrounded, that they're lurking in every corner, and, should I light my lamp in the wee hours, I'll find a small army of the monstrosities scurrying into the dark places, abandoning their march to come and get me.

I have a Stephen King brain. I should probably write horror. But I'd scare myself.

I've started half a dozen blog posts over the last few days and deleted each one. I'd get no more than a few lines in before deciding they were all lame. Like this one. And, also like this one, they all had a Stephen King horror element.

There was one about how every time I leave the house I see a dark red Jeep Wrangler driving by slowly or parked in an odd place. I even saw it cruising past in the grocery store lot the other day. Creepy. And the man in the driver's seat was looking at me. Creepier. (Or probably just sensible since I was waiting to turn into his lane.)

Photo courtesy Getty ImagesThat inspired another post about Stephen King's low men (or Can-Toi). They're ratlike creatures in human disguise. They hate humans but revere our popular culture, so they have names like Van Gogh Baez or James Cagney, and they drive outlandish classic cars. You'll know they're coming to get you when you start seeing chalk drawings of stars, unusual lost pet signs (sometimes bearing your name as the pet's name), and then those conspicuous vehicles. A red convertible Jeep Wrangler isn't that unusual, but it's eye catching, and there was that gigantic, tarp-style, professionally printed lost parakeet sign a while back... Not to mention the bright yellow 1950s Chevy that parks by my sons' school.  No chalk on the sidewalks, but there is that patch of curled-up dead earthworms that my kindergartner calls The Alphabet Worms.  It's just the same but different! Hmm.

See, that's when I decided I didn't want my blog to become a portrait of my descent into madness.  (Is it bad blog manners to insert a winking smilie? Just imagine one here.)

No writing today. I'm preoccupied with editing a twelve-page breakup scene into something a lot shorter and more manageable.

Hope you all are enjoying better autumn weather than we are. One hundred five in late September is just insulting.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Since the Dawn of the Beginning of History and Mankind...

Not much to say tonight. I've just been gazing at the harvest moon and pondering the phenomenon of the five-paragraph position paper. Seems my college years were full of those things. And, invariably, I began the first paragraph with some sweeping variation of, "Since the dawn of mankind," or, "For hundreds of years..."
In the centuries since the Russo-Martian War, elephants have been afflicted with asteroids thrown by wrathful gods. This has been of great sorrow to the species. Many have died. Many have learned to play catch. Yet none of this would have happened if trade embargoes had been lifted between the Italian Alps and Ithilien.

First, we must examine Hannibal and the rise of the city-state...


Second, Faramir's policies on conies and the Easterlings seriously bifurcated the paradigm...


Lastly, Nellie...


And so, in conclusion, neener.

I was big on passive voice and wordiness. I think I'm doing better on the former, if not the latter. But, man, I hated those nasty papers. I'm surprised I write at all after the horrors I suffered grinding those things out by the dozen.

No writing yet today. I hope to scrawl a few paragraphs in the short while remaining before sleep.



Tomorrow is the third anniversary of losing my father. The last words I remember him saying were as he backed his car out of my driveway after a day's visit. He rolled down the window, smiled, and said, "Look at the moon!" He died not long after reaching home. The whole Super Harvest Moon thing that's going on today through Friday has me thinking about that. It's appropriate. And tomorrow night, I'll look at the moon just for him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New URL

Because everybody enjoys a little variety, there are now two fabulous methods of accessing this blog.

First, the super retro bloggy way:




And now the simpler, ever-so-slightly-shorter way:

The latter will redirect you, should I ever get fidgety about blog hosts again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It Takes Coffee to Make Coffee

This morning, I found myself approaching the coffee grinder with a pot full of yesterday's coffee. What I intended to do there, I couldn't tell you.


Sometimes I can imagine I'm being piloted by tiny aliens or that remote in The Upside Down Show. But are they piloting me toward the coffee grinder? Or are they leaping in to save said device? Perhaps my grinder comes complete with a mind control defense chip. A force field against idiots.

Too bad I'm not a writer, or I might be able to come up with some kind of story there...

But, really, I think the answer lies in the title of this post. Those who need coffee the most are those who are least able to make it.

(P.S. Sliding in under the wire, our heroine scribbles a solid 700 words of storificatin' in the last hour before bed. Hoping that helps me sleep.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Tidiest Lint Collection EVER

Yesterday, I wrote myself right up to a good point where writing anything more should have exploded into pages if not chapters of goodness. I had copious notes. Inspiration galore. It was going to be, like, so totally fun! And then it was late, so I put it off for a full night's sleep.

Today? Umm...well...

Doesn't my room look great? At least two tons of dust and old books out the door! Awesome, right?

Right?

Well, what about how those tiles in the bathroom gleam after a good scrubbing? (Didn't mean to scrub. I was just shooting the cr@p out of some poor thirsty ants on a mission for my toilet water, and the only thing around to git 'em with was spray OxyClean.)

Back in college, my sock drawer was never so organized as it was when finals were approaching. Some things never change. But what am I trying to outrun here? Something I love and live for? Sigh.

(Some people don't just organize socks; they're so ambitious, they'll organize sock monkeys right into couture fashion.)

Today's tally on the writing front:
  • Organized my secondary novel into three 200-page sections. (Yes, it's that big.) I will edit them down so the three bits are acts, or I'll edit and build to create a trilogy. (This felt monumental as I did it. Sounds like rubbish now.)
  • Added three paragraphs to the end of a chapter for a better transition to the next.
  • Wrote one paragraph of notes on the finale.
  • Made a really nifty stack of writing textbooks on the shelf beneath my nightstand.

It's something.

On Saturday afternoons, the knowledge I still have one more day of weekend feels like riches, bounty, wealth! So much more time to get things done! But, when they arrive, Sundays are always so squishy and short.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

They Get It

Watching the intro to Ponyo the other day, my kindergartner told my first grader, "This is just the part to make you like it. Next comes the title." He gets the concept of a hook.

Likewise, my first grader looked at me a few weeks ago and said, "There's always a problem on these shows that they have to fix." Conflict. Goals. Yes.

Good boys.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm happily carving out a final-final ending for my NaNo novel.  Endings are hard, but there's no pressure on this one, and it's fun looking back through the story for all the threads so I can braid them together into a pretty little bow.

I wrote today! I'm having ideas! Bernard Hermann's haunting, ominous (hauminous?)  score for Vertigo is on endless loop, the setting sun is creating geometric patterns with light and shadow on the sepia-toned walls of my bedroom, and I have a bowl of gelato. It's been a rough week, but this moment is achingly good. I'll try to enjoy it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

That Sinking Feeling

Gotta love it when you're reading an agent's blog and, among the list of things they don't want to see again, they mention an element that's a big part of your story. (And, no, not vampires or werewolves!)

Sigh.

My mind went straight into defensive mode: But...but...but mine is special. That was over quickly in favor of Anne-Shirley-scale "depths of despair."

I do think mine is, if not special, used differently, used in a way to debunk assumptions over this particular trait. I'm going to continue as is, but I will keep a note around so, at revision time, I can re-evaluate with a clearer head.

In other news, it's Friday. That means Nathan Bransford is going to choose someone for Critique Friday. I submitted my first 250 words a few months ago, but I haven't won the weekly lottery yet. I'm always disappointed, but it's probably for the best because I imagine him looking at my stuff and saying that it makes no sense, it's just words words words, and most expressed in Yoda speech. He, of course, would be far more diplomatic.  That's just how I see my first page now. I've read it too many times.

I haven't been able to write for a few days now. I hope I can gather some energy and inspiration for the weekend.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The One About... Huh?

Is this punishment for my crimes?

When I was a kid, my mom said I always got "sick" the day after staying up too late. I've been awake far too late for the past few nights, and it's resulting in a strange form of... Oh, what's the word? What was I even saying?

You know that feeling after you've had a dream? In the dream, you've had the greatest idea. It's going to change the world. Then you wake up, and -- poof -- it's gone. All that's left is the lingering dismay of having lost something important. It's so close, you can almost reach it...but, no. That's how it's been today with my writing. And it's not just that a brilliant idea is gone by the time I get to my computer; I'll be in the middle of typing a sentence and forget how it ends. Completing it based on context? No. Nuh uh. GONE.

I'll get some sleep tonight and see if it improves my memory, but I'm not liking this sneak preview of how I'll be when I'm a little old lady. Will it help or impede my goal of becoming a bats#*t crazy old broad wearing mumus, turbans made of tablecloths, and feather boas as I feed my eight hundred cats their dinner of oatmeal-liverwurst cookies? Heavens to hefalumps! I might forget to add the liverwurst.

Monday, September 13, 2010

In Which I Wax Poetic on the Glory of Shrinkwrap

Twas seventeen years ago tonight that I first learned to use shrinkwrap and found a portal to another world.

It all began in a make-believe village as evening drew its indigo curtain over sunset, and fairy lights sparkled to life in the trees. Inside the bookshop, the aroma of coffee swirled and mingled with the scent of paperbacks and harbor salt. Miles Davis played softly over the murmur of patrons, and I learned to wield the heat gun that molded plastic to page.

More importantly, I had my first conversation with the man who taught me the fine art of tailoring cellophane -- the man who would one day become my husband. And that's probably why a night that should have been mundane has become a fairy tale in my memory, complete with something approaching a Danny Elfman score*.

It marked the transition between the evil enchantment of my abusive first marriage and a new life over the rainbow, beyond the wardrobe, and, as the falling dusk illustrated, beyond the proverbial sunset.

(After seventeen years, I think I can be pretty sure this wasn't all just a plastic-fume-inspired hallucination.)

---------

*And lots of corniness and melodrama.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Supermassive Blog Hole


Remember this morning when we thought we'd put off writing for a few minutes to transfer our blog entries to this new site?

Very simple, very easy, right?

No.

That's okay because the end result is so gratifyingly invisible.

(And, yes, that's a photo of an eclipse, not a black hole or a blog hole, but I'm too tired to care.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fonder All the Time!

I was awake until two AM, reading the end of my NaNoWriMo novel. Again. Couldn’t put it down.

I’m not saying it’s great art. It may have a plot only a mother could love. But there’s really something to be said for sitting down and writing a book from start to finish. You get a sense of when you need to reel in the suspense and when you need to give it some slack. Plus, since it wasn’t “real,” I did all kinds of ridiculous, horrible things to my characters without fear, including making a former good guy into an antagonist.

And it keeps me up until late at night when I read it, wanting just one more page, just one more.

Sometimes I think the NaNo novel should become my primary novel. But then I realize a lot of its charm lies in already knowing what “really” happened, in seeing how differently things could have turned out. There’s the thrill of already knowing a character and thinking we know how they’ll react in new situations. We already know a character when they’re first introduced to the story, so there’s that shock of recognition paired with curiosity over what will happen now that the protagonist is coming at them from a different angle, in a different situation.

Goals:
  1. Channel some of that headlong, uninhibited energy into my main WIP.
  2. Try to forget how much I like last year’s NaNo novel when I dive into the fray this November. Keep it just for fun and don’t try to make it real.
  3. No editing as I go along. I thought my story and prose were garbage as I wrote last year. (So maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder.)
  4. Stop blathering about NaNoWriMo (until it arrives — then you’re out of luck).
  5. Don’t stay up until the wee hours anymore unless I’m writing! New stuff! Not old!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Not fonder...not fonder at all

Absence-schmabsence.

It’s one of those days where I leave the house and return to find the story I loved wholeheartedly has transformed into embarrassing amateurish [expletive]. Not just today’s prose, I mean the entire novel — concept, characters, and all.

I don’t know how it does that, but I wish it would cut it out.

On Pocketwatches & Prose

Writing makes me sleepy. Very sleepy. Reading my recent efforts is even worse. A strange form of self-hypnosis.

Hopefully I won’t wake up clucking like a chicken.

Not that I have a lot of that sleepiness going on. Seems like most days I spend forever listening to era-appropriate music, looking at photos, gettin' all emotional and stuff, and revving myself up to write. Then, just as I’m getting ready to dive in there, it’s time to go get the kids. Or it’s so close that I can’t let go because I know there isn’t time for a full immersion. I need to get over that, for sure.

Today I did a little writing (as in three paragraphs, not enough), and now I’m desperate for a nap. But, oops, lookie there. Time to get the kids.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Naked on Finals Day with Your Teeth Falling out*

Last night, I dreamed I stood across a counter from my writing instructor. He looked like Dumbledore but acted like Snape, reading other students’ work aloud in derisive tones.

He told me, oh no, he hadn’t mocked mine. Mine was beautifully written. Wonderful. One should, however, not give up so easily. These things were not to be taken lightly. Then, darting his eyes around the room, he lowered his voice and shoved a contract in my face, urging me to sign it. Quickly.

The text was illegible. I was worried.

It was all just nonsense to me until I told my husband about it. He explained it to me without missing a beat.

It always embarrasses me when others can see the meaning behind my words better than I can. What will my novel say about me when it’s finished?

_____

*And you’re too weak to stand so you crawl on your belly, and you realize you not only haven’t studied, but you haven’t been to class in months.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Choppin' Broccoli

I cut myself loose today.

No more classes. No more critique groups. Not for a while.

When the chorus of remembered critiques drowns out my ability to compose, it’s time to take a break. Too many inner critics in the kitchen. A backseat full of cooks. Something. It’s time for Frodo to ditch the fellowship and kick some butt in Mordor alone. And…some other less-dorky metaphors.

I started writing as a way to escape stress. Now I stress about writing and have no way of escaping other than endless dull-eyed perusal of the internet, eating, or manic online bargain shopping. I’ve put my novel through eighteen months of public butt kicking. Enough. I’m going to write like a cloistered madwoman until my inner attention hog can’t stand it anymore and kicks down the door. (And then the fellowship can rescue me from Mount Doom.)

But first I’ll do something fabulous, if  ill-advised.

It’s been a day of cardigans, cold toes, and crisp air. A sneak preview of Autumn 2010. In a few days, we’ll be back to triple-digit temperatures and thinking a twelve-inch square of shade is the rarest form of heaven, but, for now, we have this taste of fall.

I’ve opened all the windows, and the wind is scuffing the blinds across the sills. The blankets are cold, top and bottom, and I’m hearing sounds I haven’t heard in ages — crows, aerobatics from the local bi-planes, and kids playing in the street — all echoing in my otherwise quiet neighborhood.

Do I think of holidays to come?

Do I think of apples, pumpkins, and first days of school?

No.

I start thrilling at the thought of November first and the commencement of NaNoWriMo!

I have no right to dive into such a thing if I’m trying to relieve pressure from my writing. But, oh… The joy! The adrenaline! The abandon! National Novel Writing Month 2009 was one of the best things I’ve done in years. I wrote 75k words in thirty days — most in the ten days between November 6-15. I got to satisfy my competitive streak by besting all of my writing buddies in word count (heh), and I’ve created happy associations with the sensations of late autumn.

I hope this year brings a bit of that happiness again.

Besides, the gigantor book I wrote for the contest has been a gold mine for my main novel (an alternate version of the same story). It clarified plot, conflict, and motivations for many of my previously nebulous characters. Honestly, my NaNo novel is the one that sucks me in when I begin reading. I need to learn to balance the pacing and suspense of that one with the atmosphere of the other.

Wish me good luck.

_____

*The way my mind works: Original entry title = “New Beginnings”. “New Beginnings” = a song title from an old SNL Dana Carvey skit where he was a musician fumbling to come up with new material for his record company. He wings it. His second song in the skit was “Choppin’ Broccoli”. “Choppin’ Broccoli” = new entry title.