The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I was correct; the first five chapters are almost nailed. I thought I could get them finished and sent by the end of the day, but there's still some places where the pacing stutters just for a split second, and I'm too tired to fix them right now. So, d*mn. I need to get this done so I can move on. Oh well, will bear down tomorrow and try to get it right.
On Deadliest Warrior, it's usually the case (not always, but usually) that the guy with the later technology wins, so of course you'd expect Vlad the Impaler to beat Sun Tzu. But it just seems wrong, somehow, to see the prototype for Dracula cut both hands off the general who wrote The Art of War, and impale him, twitching, on a stake. It just seems wrong.

OTOH, maybe there's something to think about here re. planning/theory vs. no-holds-barred brute force.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Worked on first five chapters instead of chapter six, and I think I've almost got them nailed. If I'm right, I should have 60 pages (double-spaced) ready to go by the end of the week, which will be plenty to fulfill the agreed-upon partial. And it ends on a nice hook, so tra la! Fingers crossed that this reads as smoothly tomorrow.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Working, working, working. I've got everything loosely sketched out through chapter 5, but I guess it's about time to read it over and see if it's very far off the mark. Not looking forward to that. I've looked at the first two chapters so much that I can't even get a fresh read on them by plying my usual tricks to squeeze just one more read out of a tired ms. But I need that fresh read in order check the flow and buildup on everything that follows.

Hmm, maybe I won't read it tomorrow, but will see what I can come up with for chapter 6, which is going to require a lot of new writing. All I've been doing for ages is shuffling pieces of dialog and interactions around and tying them together in different ways. It might be nice to write some larger new portions.

I do wonder if this story is taking too long to get started. Part of the problem is that I'm not sure what "get started" means for this ms. If I think about it in terms of three acts (which I don't seriously want to do; that kind of thinking has not been super helpful to my process in the past) I suppose I know where the end of act 1 comes, because the story will shift to another "problem." Hmm, I think I'm concerned that the change will be too sudden and the bottom will fall out of the story and all momentum will be lost. Well, at least now I know I'm concerned. I'll have to wait and see how it pans out, I guess. I'm a long way from that part, because very soon I'll have to set the whole thing aside. I'll be extremely lucky if I can get a decent first draft through chapter 6 before I have to quit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Didn't have much writing time yesterday, and what I did have was cr*ppily spent, retreading the same fairly meaningless scene over and over, trying to get it to mean something. In that line of scenes, the MC seemed to be growing increasingly well-disposed toward a stranger that he'd given shelter, and I thought about the larger picture and understood that the MC needed to be moving from not wanting anything to do with the stranger, to letting the stranger stay with him. The problem was that there was no believable reason on this earth that he'd rethink his decision not to let the stranger--who has nothing to offer--stay on. Finally gave up and admitted I should put it aside and get some of this other stuff done and not work on it anymore till I had some distance or some inspiration.

Then I woke up at 2 in the morning and as I stumbled out of bed to get a drink of water without stepping on the cat, I realized that the stranger asks to stay. D'oh.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I am trying to remind myself that this ms is actually progressing quickly and well, because I lost direction in chapter 4 today. I have all these nice pieces and scenes that I don't know what to with. I can't just randomly throw them together because they make sense; they have to add up to make a point and make the reader feel something. Only I don't know what. And I can't afford to spend time lost in a muddle of a ms because of all the other projects I'm slated to deal with, each with its own ticking clock. I need to maintain at least a modicum of focus here. Ugh. Frustrating.

What I'd like to do is take the ms up to where the gun goes off, and leave it there for now. But I don't know what belongs between the events of the MC's morning and the gun going off. I've got meals, conversations, gutting and skinning rabbits, informational memories, hair braiding, singing, and sex. How the f*ck am I supposed to know which ones go between the morning and the gun? The gun could possibly not go off for several days! Or it could go off that very afternoon. I don't really care when it goes off. It could go off right now, and that would be fine with me.

As Goku from Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload would say, "Crappity crappity crap."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

various levels of spoilers; if you don't like spoilers stay away

Earlier in the semester, a fellow writer was discussing a death that takes place in one of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books. I haven't read any of the three, and FW's discussion was in depth enough that I decided I'd better not, because the death looked terribly, terribly sad. It looked well designed enough to make a reader weep--and who has time for that? Not me.

So that interaction made me think of one of my favorite books of all time, Cynthia Voigt's Wings of a Falcon. I seldom have time to just sit down and read, so I keep books going in different places around the house and if I have a few minutes, I pick up whichever one is in the room and read that. After the Sally Lockhart discussion*, I pulled Wings of a Falcon off the shelf and brought it into the rotation, because it's been a long time since I read it.

What I'm finding myself doing is reading a bit the way I normally do, then flipping to the key death in the story--which is a shocking slap in the face of a heartbreaker--to read that, too, before I put the book down for the day. I've done this over and over and over. I have read that death at least once a day for a couple of weeks now. It's kind of sick, really--it's much worse than just reading the Sally Lockhart books through one time. I thought maybe I was trying to prepare myself for the forthcoming death so that when I finally got to it, it wouldn't hurt as much as it has in the past. Or maybe I've finally gone off the deep end, who knows.

But then yesterday when I moved things around in my dystopian ms, one chapter had a new ending, and suddenly I just hit that sucker out of the ballpark. I don't know if it'll stay that way or not, but that ending is suddenly a setup for the death of the character I'm planning to kill off. I don't want to kill the character off, because said character certainly doesn't deserve it. It's a terrible thing for me to do, it's almost beyond the pale. But as I wrote that chapter ending and boldly set up stakes for the probably future death, it occurred to me that maybe I've been reading and rereading the Wings of a Falcon death to work myself up to writing one of my own. I've never killed anybody off before, not like this. The reason for this death is because it'll break the MC entirely, crush him like a fly. To write that, it needs to break me entirely, and crush me like a fly. So now I'm thinking the obsessive rereading of the WoaF death is my subconscious mind trying to gear up to do what it needs to do. I guess we'll see; I could get to that part of my ms and find that the character doesn't need to die, after all.

*and after another discussion with a writer friend who was reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, and commenting on the way Cromwell's third person POV never uses Cromwell's name, only "he" and "him" and such, and how that could get confusing after a while. That reminded me of Wings of a Falcon, which starts off the same way, so I also picked it up to see when Voigt gives her MC a name, exactly. Answer: over 70 pages in, in Chapter 5.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Worked long hours on dystopian ms. I rearranged chapter 3 a little, and carved a general shape for chapter 4, as well as a rougher shape for chapter 5. I used scenes and pieces of scenes I've already written, plus wrote new bits and compiled them with each other and with old bits, laying everything out to approximate where the finished scenes might end up. I'm mostly thinking of the general flow and trying to get it to work.

Basically I laid out what amounts to twenty-something pages (single-spaced), the bones of the first part of the story (after the first 2 1/2 chapters), so got a lot done.

Also wrote the last line, but I don't know if it'll stay that way.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Worked nearly all day yesterday on dystopian ms. Got a lot done; so much, in fact, that by the end I was utterly confused and lost, and thinking nobody in their right mind would ever be interested in any of it--which is probably a good sign. I hope. Actually, I can't remember if it's a good sign or not. Eh, doesn't matter; I shall proceed onward anyway.

But not today, probably. I've got to get some kind of schedule going, because I contracted to write a w-f-h novel by Sept. 1st, plus I told agent I'd make an attempt to have 6 chapters of this ms in before I leave for V. residency. Plus "lecture," plus getting family and house and animals ready for me to be gone. Egad.

Anyway. I was trying to describe the former GN to a fellow writer, and pulled it up out of curiosity to see how it looks now that I've laid off it for four or so months. Answer: not too good. It's a mess. Needs a total overhaul. It really is boring and, well, fruity. Am mulling over (again) the problem of the MC with no goal. The solution, you'd think, would be to make sure that the reader has a goal for the MC. However, I'm having trouble figuring out how to do that, here.

I suppose the thing to do would be to make the reader feel bad for the MC, make the reader root for her to be happy. But in order to do that, don't I have to make the MC really miserable? That's what makes a story work, is conflict and inflicting misery on your MC. But it's not what I want to do, not at first. I can't do that, really. It would go against the entire raison d'etre for the ms, which is that misery and giving oneself away in relationships is insidious and begins in small, almost unrecognizable increments. So...there must be another way to do it. I'll have to keep mulling it over. I was thinking that since it's in third person, maybe there's a way to sort of stifle and smush the MC by telling her story underneath the activities of other people, in the beginning. Don't know how to do that without giving the false implication that it's their story rather than hers, though.

Anyway, no time to think about it right now. All I know is, I seem to have lost not one ounce of determination to get that ms working, even if I have to stretch my feeble liver-spotted hand out of the coffin they've placed me in and type the last (correct) words of it before I finally expire.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Worked on dystopian ms yesterday, and got a lot done. Added maybe 5 pages (single-spaced) to chapter three and finished it off, and am now messing around with the pieces of chapter four.

Dunno if chapter three works. I'm pretty sure I've got too many little side issues in there, that will have to be pulled and moved elsewhere because they'll be slightly distracting and interrupt the flow of thought. I tried to get most of them cut out, but more kept popping in as I worked.

Surprisingly, the transition between the two parts of chapter three ended up coming from a different secondary character than the one I thought. I'd fixed up the character I'd been trying to focus on, really thinking through the scene from her pov--and then as I was done and getting my MC out the door, I paused to ground the scene for a beat, just for pacing so it would read smoothly. When I paused I used one of the other secondary characters for the grounding, because I realized I didn't know exactly what she was doing at that specific moment. I knew generally; she was on the floor bending over this sick guy, tending to him. But I didn't know specifically, like what her hands were doing, what her posture was, what she was looking at and thinking and feeling about the sick guy, at that particular moment. That's the kind of thing you sort of need to know. Especially the thinking and feeling, because those are what tell you about the "doing" and "looking at" parts.

When I paused to pinpoint her just for that one beat, to understand exactly what she was doing and feeling, I realized that the MC got mad at her. Well, not mad, just kind of exasperated and frustrated and burdened. But he went off onto this whole tangent of thought that became the transition, and carried the MC very nicely into the next part, and helped me trim the entire next scene.

I hope that transition doesn't end up being too much. I touched on a big idea that I'd been saving for later, so that bit may have to be cut. I can't tell whether to hint at it over the beginning of the book and use it for a tease, or slowly let the reader in on it in a straightforward manner, or just hit them with it later in the story. As of yesterday, the reader is slowly being let in on it in a straightforward manner. I'm iffy about whether it'll work, though. May be TMI too soon, and lead to reader overload. OTOH, they're already being teased with a lot of stuff, and may be suffering from tease overload instead of TMI overload. It may be best just to leave it out for now. Oh well, I'll have to wait till I read the whole thing over.

Which won't be today. Don't know how much if any work I'll get done today. Will be in the car most of the day--must take a spiral. No, wait, I think I already have one shoved between the seats.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Am finally getting back to dystopian ms. Last week, or the week before (forget which) I was about to miss yet another turn-in date I'd given my agent for having the partial in, and I was so close to finishing chapter 3 (and thus, the partial) that I decided to just sit down and devote myself entirely to finishing it, perhaps in a morning session, and then (thought I, tra-la!) it would be done by afternoon and I could dive back into all the other things piling up on my desk--dive in happily, freed of the shadow of this one important yet unfinished project.

Bad move (of course). I ended up getting stuck, but I was so close to having it fall into place that I spent the entire day trying to force it to work, and ended up without a partial and with all my other work piled even higher.

What happened was that I had the end of chapter three narrowed down to two possible scenes--but by the time I smoothed out the first part of chapter three and started popping the scenes in and out to figure out which one worked and built naturally, I had lost sight of the transition between them. So I kept gliding over it, using it to weld the front of the chapter and its following scene together, rather than thinking the transition through in solemn depth. I kept pushing it, redoing it over and over, and it wasn't working. Finally I had to give up, defeated, knowing I'd been a fool to think I could get this completed in a predetermined time slot.

A day or so later I realized I should have stopped and dealt with that transition as its own little scene, given it some time and respect, and checked in with the characters to make sure I was following their train of thought and not using them as a means to my end. They were fine in the actual scenes around it, and I knew how the transition worked to move the plot from one scene to the next. I just kind of forgot that the characters--especially my secondary characters--aren't my b*tches, so to speak. If I try to treat them like they're my b*tches, I'll end up paying for it. And I did.

So today I started on it again, and by now I already know which second scene to use, and where the chapter ends and where the next one starts*. But I've got to get this little transitional bit going, and I'm a little leery of it, like if I put my hand out it's going to bite me. At least I know what I have to do this time: treat it with respect.

*Due to the proverbial back-of-the-mind processing that goes on while you're busy with other stuff.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

thoughts about MFAs in writing

Okay, this semester is winding up, and I have finally formed an opinion about MFAs in writing.

Reasons not to get an MFA in writing:

1. Money
2. It's time-consuming
3. It's hard work

Reasons to get an MFA in writing:

1. You can compress about 10 years worth of learning how to write into 2.
2. You don't have to feel alone while you're doing it.
3. You get forcible, out-of-your-comfort-zone exposure to a broad variety of writing styles, techniques, mindsets, and processes.
4. You can interact intensively in a vibrant community of working, thinking writers.
5. You can come away with a big box of writer's tools to help you get over being stuck.

I keep using the word "can," because these are things that are open to you if you come in with a hunger to learn and the drive to work at it. And it may depend on the program, I don't know--all I know is the one I've seen from the inside. Anyway, it looks to me like if you come in with some talent and a belief that this is similar to all those effortless A's you got back in high school or college, then you're screwed. In that case, it looks to me like you should just save your money and your time.

To me (speaking only for myself, not for any programs or for any other advisors) if you're thinking about getting a MFA:

1. You'd better bloody well be serious about writing.
2. You'd better be ready to work your butt off.
3. You'd better be willing to rip your guts out, lay them on a platter, and dissect them.

Is it worth the money? Nothing about writing is worth the money.*

But all that aside, I guess it depends on who you work with and what your goal is. I don't know about other programs, or even other advisors, but having come up through the trenches myself, I always have the publishing world at the back of my mind, and to me (again, speaking only for myself) that's the minimum standard for a MFA in writing. To my mind, by the time you're out of the program, you should be producing writing of a standard that, at the very least, is comparable to what's being currently being accepted for publication. Whether your idea is currently marketable isn't my lookout, but the quality of your actual writing is.

And of course, this is all colored by my own mindset, which is impatient, intense, non-academic, fairly non-nurturing, and extremely focused on what's on the page.

*I would say that the only reason to get into writing is if you can't live without writing. But it was recently pointed out to me that some writers are able to keep themselves going through all the stress and negative internal voices by feeling the opposite way--that they can live without writing, so it's not that important, and if it's stressful they're free to walk away for a while. For me, this is an alien concept and I'm still suspicious of it and haven't quite sorted out what I think about it yet.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Was thinking about a character--I've been figuring he was from a society based somewhat on Heian Japan (just because I like it)--and today I started thinking seriously about what that means, and realized that I need to cut a stupid plot idea that was bothering me anyway, because I don't need it if he's from a Heian-ish type place.

The reason I was thinking this was because I remembered an entry in Sei Shonagon's diary, where a destitute man whose home had burned down had somehow gotten onto palace grounds (Sei Shonagon was a lady-in-waiting who lived at the palace). He was looking for the emperor; he was going around begging someone to please help him find the emperor, whom he was sure would help him. What he didn't realize was that, to the aristocrats, non-aristocrats were also non-human. So when he was stumbling around the buildings in distress, trying to find someone who would tell him what to do and where to go, Sei Shonagon and her friends saw him and thought his misery was hilarious. SS wrote him a mocking poem and handed it to him, knowing he couldn't read; she just did it to be funny in front of her friends. And since he couldn't read, he thanked her, thinking it was a receipt that would rebuild his house. SS and her friends nearly keeled over laughing when they realized that.

And that kind of society sets up situations that mean I don't need the other idea that was bothering me anyway.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lots of driving today, and around the fourth or fifth time I was in the car, I figured out not only the full point of the dystopian ms, but the final third of the book as well.

Also now know:

1) I am not only going to kill off this character I've been thinking about killing off, I'm going to try to make it into a "Where the Red Fern Grows" moment. Goal: make guys cry.

2) The story is structured around a loaded gun with six bullets, which are used up one by one as the story progresses. I've been iffy about what happens to the last one, but now I know for sure.

3) The story takes place on a slightly smaller scale than it could have (think local rather than national), so the "national" bigger-picture story will be left hanging in a big way. C'est la vie.

4) All this leaves a very interesting character up for grabs, if I want to explore him later, which I probably do.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Worked on chapter 3 a bit, trying to get it done so I can send the piece in. I moved everything around again, and added in a part about dressing rabbits. The gross kind of "dressing," not the cute kind. Ugh. They have videos about it on YouTube, but I don't plan to watch one unless a) I sell this ms and b) I know the scene is definitely staying in for sure.

So I've got a first draft of the first three chapters now, but I don't know if I'm going to keep the scenes I've put in #3 or change them. Also, right now I don't know where to end chapter three, so it just kind of stops. Not sure what to do about that. It usually feels wrong (to me) to put too many scenes in a chapter, but maybe I need to bite the bullet and put a break and add another scene.

Or maybe I've got the wrong scenes in there already, and that's why it feels like it'll be too long.

At the moment I've got, let's see, one, two, three scenes. Hmm, no wonder it feels like another will make it too long ("long " in this case meaning too many ideas for the reader to take in; readers need regular breaks and a little space to regroup). Must think about this and get it figured out, next time I get a chance.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Very quickly stuck the killer thing in at the beginning of chapter three, but it didn't feel right. Not sure what needs to be there. I think I'll have to print out and read for flow up to that point, and hope it suddenly becomes clear exactly what needs to come next.

If all else fails, I guess I can just tell the story straight for now, and figure out how it'll really be later when I write the whole thing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Finished two w-f-h stories that took much, much longer than they should have (my fault), and am in the middle of packets, end-of-semester thingamabobs, w-f-h book project, and a partial on the dystopian ms to give to agent, who needs it ASAP.

I worked on the dystopian ms some yesterday, and have been figuring out what goes in the first three chapters. This problem is actually a little clearer than usual--figuring out the beginning of a story--because for once I know most of the book before I've gotten very far into it. I have a vague idea of the ending it's heading toward, I know the thematic and emotional arcs, and I know most of the stuff that's going to happen along the way. What I've got to do is play with the pieces that are up front and see how to get the story rolling and keep it tightly paced and on edge, but also give the reader what they need for depth and backstory.

I've got chapters one and two, basically--I think--and am well into chapter three. But I've got to figure out what chapter three is building toward. What is the idea I want to leave the reader on, at the end of chapter three? That's going to be the end of the partial, so it needs to be strong.

Chapter three is where other characters start coming in. I also have the option to drift into some backstory here; the action has stopped, for a moment, and we're in a quiet period. So...I guess I'll need to think about what the reader wants to know next, after just having read all the previous pages.

What is the reader going to be wondering about, here in chapter three? I've got the answers in my head. I suppose I ought to see which answers might fall into place most naturally here, and weigh that with what I think the reader will be most curious about at this point.

No. First I need to think exactly what everyone in the story is doing. It's morning, so they're going to be going about their daily doings, whatever those are at this particular time of year. That could easily get boring, though; there still has to be some kind of conflict or tension, or I'm going to get bored. And I want this story to move like a motherf*cker. I want this story to be Hunger Games meets The Giver, but for guys.

Maybe I could go ahead and bring in some of the other characters, and go ahead and get into a scene I have in mind that starts another thread. In chapter three? Will that work, starting another thread before I've even established the first ones? Hmm. I think it might.

I went to put that on a post-it so I don't forget, because I can't work on this right now, and found a note I wrote to myself last night about this very chapter. It says "These are the people I have killed..." and then it lists them. So I might do that, too, list the people the MC has killed and get in some backstory that way. Then go into the new thread and the new character. I was thinking about him last night, anyway.

I'd better write all this down on a post-it, but then I also better find a place to put the post-it where I'll actually stop to check it before I sit down to work on this ms again.

I really do need an office, with lots of desk space. And a maid; I need a maid.

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