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, December 31, 2008

smarter than a monkey

I'm in the middle of w-f-h, but am waiting for details about some of the specs before I can proceed farther, so I hope to get some of my own writing time in right now.

Am feeling a little frustrated at present, because I feel that I could get a firmer grip on this WIP if I had a title, or even a central image or idea. I was discussing it (WIP's lack of title) with some writer friends, and realized that I talk a good talk about what I want this ms to be--what I want it to say--and that I can talk with great passion and the project sounds great and meaningful and exciting. But the fact is, none of that is on the paper right now. I talk big, but it's just not there. And a writer can talk about all the myriad levels and themes and meanings behind his/her book--but if it's not on the paper, all that talk is just bullsh*t.

One of my (many) minor annoyances is writers who ask you for critique, but then afterwards explain to you why your critique is wrong. They explain what you were supposed to get out of the ms that you didn't. But the effin' fact is, if it's not on the paper, you don't get to explain it. You don't get to send a leaflet paperclipped to your slush pile ms explaining what you really meant, so that the poor assistant who reads slush can keep it in mind. You don't get to call every reader who buys your book off the shelf and tell them what they're supposed to extrapolate or infer.

So I am frustrated because all the passion I feel for this project isn't there. It isn't coming through. No point is being made. I hope that this will change on its own as I get the whole thing more into shape. But it worries me that I don't have a title or a main image to hold in my head, or at least some small concrete idea that I could wrap my fingers around and hang onto, to keep me on course as I work through it.

I feel like I am full of hot air. Sigh. The only good thing is, I am writing. I am working on it, when the world is filled with people who talk, talk, talk about writing but never actually do it. And I must remind myself of one of my mantras: You are smarter than a monkey.

Because conventional wisdom says that a monkey with a typewriter, who types into infinity, will eventually produce all great works of literary art. Said monkey would also produce what I want to write right now. I don't have infinity to work on this, but I am also smarter (we hope) than a monkey. I write with thought and try to direct my revisions, instead of just hitting random keys. Therefore, if I keep working consistently on this ms, it's almost certain that I will eventually get it right in my lifetime. Because I am smarter than a monkey.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No writing yesterday. Brief respite from w-f-h today while they sort out specs on their end. I worked on part of Menelaus, and of course after taking a couple of days off I had to get my mind back into gear. While doing so I noticed that I've got a lot of work ahead of me because the first section has got waaaay too much stuff in it. This Menelaus section has specific, clear points to make, and in comparison I can feel how that first section slides into self-indulgent, bordering-on-trivial blah and fogs out. I am going to have to put on the heavy gloves and do some serious, merciless pruning. I'm going to have to stop thinking about all the things I want to get in there, or have been getting in there, and just look at what needs to be there. What has a purpose, what moves the story forward. I suspect that if I can clear everything I've already written out of my mind and truly look at what is there, I will end up cutting things I've always assumed were integral to the story. I suspect there are other ways to make the same points more cleanly and quickly and without adding extraneous baggage that must be explained and dealt with.

It's going to be a challenge. I never did figure out how to get the hemes on the road quicker in NR. They should have been out the door much sooner. I got that moved up as much as I could in the story, but there was just no way to put any more of the earlier info later, as far as I could see. I tried moving it around, and it just didn't work--it didn't make sense. So the beginning is a little slow for people who open the book expecting vampire-y action and death and attacks in the night. Those people probably quickly give up trying to read the book. I challenge them to figure out how to get everybody on the road quicker without messing up the world-building, the establishment of character, and the necessary backstory.*

But this WIP...I think this WIP will be snappier than it is now if I can manage to drop the selfish writer bit and figure out what is best for the ms. Not what I want to do with it, or what I like dwelling on, but how the story needs to be told, in order for me to do right by it.

*But if they do figure it out, I don't want to know about it. I'm not one of those writers who appreciates a post-mortem of my published book. I'm one of those writers who thinks that if you go up to writers telling them what you think is wrong about a book that is a done deal and completely out of their hands, you should probably be hurled off the nearest cliff. I don't tell you that your baby is ugly and you should have mated with a different genetic partner, and give you examples of the traits you should have been more aware of during your mating process.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I have been working hard on my w-f-h project, and so today I actually did have some time to work on my own stuff a little. But I didn't. I sat on my @ss and watched TV. I'm very disgusted with myself.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Today has turned out to be a lovely writing day, just chugging happily through the Menelaus section and getting some nice solid first-draft work done. I like him; he's such an awful, well-meaning, selfish, clueless putz. I probably wouldn't like him a bit, except I know he's always come in second at everything in his entire life while his brother was the big cheese. And now he's finally won, he's won the biggest prize of all and is the envy of all men--but he's going to lose it because he's so cluelessly selfish. Ha ha! Poor putz.

However, all this is a wee oasis of my own self-indulgence that must come to an end, because tomorrow I have to hit the ground running with this w-f-h project, and with the tutoring at night, I don't know if I'll be able to get much of my own writing time in. I'll try, but it'll be tough. Still, with school out for another week or so, maybe I can squeeze in a bit here or there. We'll see.
No writing on the 24th. Yesterday I had some time in the evening, but spent it all on trying to plan out a w-f-h project. I did think about my WIP yesterday when I took Tyson for a walk, and had the idea of cutting one of the characters and replacing her with a new one. This came about because I was thinking about some of the legends that are different from what I've chosen to use. One of them involves this new character coming in--and I was thinking that I don't have any room for a new character. But then I thought, Hey, this other character doesn't do anything till later in the story anyway. The new character can take over her personality and story-job and then I won't feel so overwhelmed with so many people up front. Essentially it'd be the same person, just cast in a slightly different role.

But I dunno. It has its pros and cons. I don't have a strong certainty about it either way right now, although I'm leaning toward trying it because it might ease the way for my big trouble spot, which is that traumatic event that changes the tenor of the story.

Right now, though, I think I'll pull up my Menelaus parts and see if I can find the notes I wrote about them, which are pretty well intermingled with notes about w-f-h somewhere in the red spiral notebook, I'm pretty sure. Must check. I think I put all my tutoring notes in the yellow spiral, and maybe some notes about this WIP, but not the Menelaus notes.

Sigh. I need an office with a lot of desks and shelves. And office supplies--lots of cool pens and sticky notes and notebooks. Although that will not prevent me from reusing the kids' leftover spiral notebooks from school, because I can't stand throwing away barely-used notebooks with lots of nice clean paper to write on.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Once again it's getting late and I have done no writing. I do want to get some work in, though, and since all my creative bones have been numbed by the kind of day that is totally not conducive to creative thought, I believe I will take a look at the Menelaus section. I pulled it over from the graphic novel version of the ms and started switching it over to this new format, and have already rewritten a few bits in some depth as prose. However, the GN scenes have different emphasis from what is needed to carry a prose novel, so I can't go through and just do a straight translation.

For example, I split up the idea of Helen not doing her spinning anymore because her husband says she doesn't have to. First there was a scene where he tells her that and she's happy because she hates spinning. Then I had other scenes with other stuff going on, other story threads being picked up that dealt with other issues--and many pages later Helen decides to take up spinning again because she's bored. That's when she learns: it's not that she doesn't have to spin anymore, it's that she's forbidden to. The choice has been taken from her. Blah blah blah...anyway, the issue now is, would that work better in prose if it was all together; would it build better and make a stronger point if it happened in one chunk rather than being split up? I'm thinking yes. I don't know why I think that, I just do. And since there are many of these threads/ideas that were split up and interwoven with each other for the GN, I would like to look over the whole Menelaus section and take notes and see what major points I am making so that I can consider pulling each one back together into a chunk all its own.

I guess I'm thinking that if I put these "chunks" in the right order, each one will smother Helen a little more and she will become more and more tightly bound and closed in, section by section. Right now it's all very loosey-goosey, and I'm not sure that's the best way to make the story work in this form.

I don't know why it seemed to work better the other way when told visually. It just seemed too obvious, too quick to have chunks with their own little tiny arcs, like I was shooting a nail gun into the reader's face and the nails were ideas: bam-bam-bam-bam! For some reason, it felt to me that the ideas couldn't be absorbed if they were presented in very short separate vignettes (because they would be very short if presented that way). It felt to me as if they needed to unfold more gently. Hmm. Maybe sometime when my creative bones are not numb, I might be able to figure out why. There could be some important principle of storytelling in here that I need to understand.

Or it could be that I just didn't know what the f*ck I was doing and it was all wrong! Ha ha! Anyhoo, off to Menelaus.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I was going to try to write at least a wee token amount tonight, but it's already after 10 p.m. and I think my time would be better spent making a to-do list for tomorrow because I've got so much sh*t to do it's not even funny. I've got to hit the ground organized and running from the second I get up, or the whole series of tasks is going to go down like dominoes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another busy day, but late tonight I skipped around and worked on a couple of small bits, starting to hone them down so I can work in earnest on them later.

One of the pieces was from the part where Helen's brothers leave to join the quest for the Golden Fleece, and it nearly rips my heart out to try and write it. I don't know why this particular leave-taking affects me more than some of the others, but it might be because one of the bits from Homer that I already was aware of was this scene where Helen is on the battlements of Troy with King Priam. The armies of Greece (where Helen is from) are below them, and Priam, rather than resenting her for being the cause of all this, kindly asks her to tell him who some of the men are--a very kindly gesture indeed, considering that they all intend to kill him and destroy his city.

So Helen tells him, and she describes some of the better-known warriors a little--but then she adds that she doesn't see her two brothers, and wonders why they haven't come.

In the next line Homer tells us that the reason is her brothers are dead; they're underneath the beloved earth back in Helen's homeland. Once they leave (in my scene), she will never see them again, and when they die she won't know about it, but will keep thinking of them for long years afterward, wondering about them, worrying whether she's lost their love and approval. It's so terribly sad.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

No writing today. Yesterday I did go through and cut about ten pages worth of useless leftovers late in the ms, because I didn't need to be especially alert for that.

Tonight I was reading a little of the Iliad, and the thing I don't like about it is the gods. It feels like every time somebody is making some crucial choice there's a break and the gods interfere. If I did that--cut away every time a character had to make a decision, and took it at least partially out of their hands--it would not only be frustrating to the reader, it would be bad writing because I'd be putting a protective layer over my characters. I think maybe (in the Iliad) if I look at what the characters think and do, and sort of blip the gods out in my mind, I might be able to see the real story unfolding without benefit of that protective layer.

I really don't care about the gods. There's nothing at stake for them. They can't be killed. They don't have anything important to lose or to gain. I do care about the humans, who can and do die in gorily poetic scenes (yeesh, the gore!). The gods seem to be just weak imitations of the humans, and they get in the way of the story (especially the emotional story), and they annoy me. The gods seem wimpy, while the humans are passionate and real.

I have spent time tonight trying (yet again) to get a version of the Tantalus/Pelops family storyline clear in my head. I say "a version" because I know the winding-path-of-a-storyline I want. It makes utter sense to me, even if it's not any of the most famous versions and half of the connections seem to be mostly mine and nobody else's. And I always get confused because there are so many people and multiple generations of cooking up one's young male relatives and serving them at a feast.

But the upshot is this (I wrote it down this time, so if I don't lose the paper I might have a chance of keeping it straight). Atreus and Thyestes were brothers. Violent, quarreling brothers. Some legends say one of them was peaceably given the throne of Mycenae, but other stories say they fought tooth and nail over the throne, and it make more sense to me that they kept shoving each other off because there was this running tally of seduction of sister-in-laws, more cannibalism (Atreus fed some of Thyestes' sons to him), and incest/rape.

This is important because Atreus' sons were Agamemnon and Menelaus. Agamemnon ended up being the big shot King of Mycenae--the most famous one, the one who led the Trojan War. Where legends fade out and get foggy, there is this mostly forgotten one about Agamemnon killing his cousin (one of Thyestes' surviving uncooked sons) and the cousin's infant son (Agamemnon dashed his brains out) and marrying the cousin's wife. The cousin's wife--this is only interesting if you already know what happens later--was Clytemnestra.

Hmm, must explain what happens later: Agamemnon sacrifices his and Clytemnestra's daughter to the gods so he can get a good sailing wind for Troy. So--according to this not-so-well known version--that would have been the second time he killed one of her children. IMO, you have to pretty much applaud her for killing him (which also happens later). He damn well deserved it, and too bad it didn't happen sooner.

But another thing that sort of clicks into place is that Clytemnestra's lover who helped/egged her on in the killing was one of Thyestes' other uncooked sons, Aegisthus.

The main point being that it looks to me like Clytemnestra got caught up in a violent family feud over a throne. Of course, that's only if you clear away a gazillion unrelated legends that say other things, like Clytemnestra's first husband (the uncooked cousin) was king of a place in modern-day Turkey. Why the son of Thyestes would be a king in Turkey, why Clytemnestra would be with him, and why Agamemnon would be over there killing him, I have no clue. It makes much more sense to me that Agamemon was continuing the family tradition of trying to wipe out the other branch and get and keep that Mycenean throne. And it makes sense that Clytemnestra would be sympathetic (and eventually become lovers with) the brother of her first husband, both enemies of Agamemnon (who killed two of her children and married her against her will).

In my decidedly unscholarly opinion, anyway.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No writing today--too much going on and I'm dead tired. However, I'm so cranky that I might try to at least futz around with one paragraph, just to make myself feel that I accomplished something. I've got more things to do, then we'll see what time it is. Tomorrow is pretty busy, too--but I've got to work on my ms and not let my personal writing slide completely off the chart. Even though it has no practical value at this moment and is actually probably a millstone financially, I really do feel it's extremely important that I hang onto it. The more outside stuff piles on, the more I need to hang onto it, because it's the only thing that keeps me from becoming a soul-dead machine whose only purpose is meeting the needs of other people day after day after day.

And on that gloomy note, I'm going to drag a box of g-d Xmas decorations downstairs and unpack it. But I'm going to watch The Soup while I'm doing so, because I like The Soup, dammit! Ho ho ho!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Was thinking, briefly about working through this WIP vs. working through the swordfighting one. What I seem (maybe) to do is latch onto a realization or emotion or connection or confrontation, and develop a scene around that. I wonder if there's some way to overhaul the sf WIP by trashing it and coming at it from this angle. Can you do that, if the character's actions and choices are already mapped out and must follow a prescribed course? Will it flow naturally, or will it fail because it's necessarily forced? I keep hitting a huge barrier every time I get even one little bit of a scene wrong because it made logical sense but wasn't perfect emotionally. As soon as I go back and feel out the correct emotional sense, everything flows from there.

I don't know what would happen with an entire ms that makes logical sense; I don't know if it's possible for me to integrate my seat-of-the-pants method (which has its strong points, believe it or not) with a more structured method. It seems that if I could break the chapters down into smaller parts somehow, approach the towering structure of plot that is already there by wee little emotional increments, I might be able to feel out a way to make it work for me. But I don't know. I might hit one big barrier from day one because the whole story came out of my head and I didn't feel my way into it.
Today, same as yesterday. It's like taking puzzle pieces and turning them this way and that, trying them at different angles to see if they'll fit. Sometimes I get a little group of pieces put together off to the side but can't do anything with them till I get the rest far enough along to see where they might go.

Tomorrow's going to be very busy. I'd like to get some writing done in the evening, but may be too tired by the time it rolls around.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Today I got a lot of work in, sorting bits out, trying to figure out what order they belong in and what they're really about, and trimming, tightening and focusing them as I went along. It would be nice if some of the work I did today could stand, because it if does I'll be almost to page 60. If not, I'll have to backtrack and fix. However, at some point this is all bound to hit the right note, and when it does I'll suddenly make a huge leap forward in the ms because bam! a whole huge chunk of story will be right.

Anyway, that's what I like to think will happen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's hard to write when there's all kinds of outside stuff going on. I don't mean chores and errands, but things that suck out and use all my focus and mental/emotional energy. Like right now, I have one very specific window of opportunity to write today, and this is it. But it looks like I'm going to have to almost physically remove my head from my shoulders to break its connections with all the other non-WIP stuff that's going on. Tutoring. More publisher layoffs. W-f-h. I'm trying to pull up my WIP and get to work, but I look at what I did yesterday and it reads like Greek or Chinese. I'm totally at sea, when yesterday I was in a good groove. I have to somehow shake all this other stuff--which is actually more important than piddling around on a ms that has zero practical use for anyone and takes up time that should be spent being a responsible breadwinner--and work anyway.

So. Deep breath. Must. Get. Head. In. Gear. NOW.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Last night I printed out the first 50 or so pages. Read most of them over first thing this morning, hoping to get a feel for where that new piece needed to go. Instead I got a better feel for what I need to do with what's already there, so I ended up reworking earlier stuff instead. I consider this a good day's work, and would like to keep at it, but I've got to quit and deal with non-writing tasks. I hope I can dig back in tomorrow where I left off. Eventually I should work my way back to that new piece and with a great deal of luck (!) I'll understand more about where to put it and what to do with it.

The reason I'm not disappointed with rehashing today instead of working with the new bit is that this particular rehashing is also about building tension and raising the stakes. Not in a huge way, but at the moment it feels like a nice tweak, perhaps enough to keep the reader turning pages without messing up the flow of the story.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I've hit a slight snag, but a good one. I started trying to expand and flesh out some in-between parts that aren't on paper currently, but that are needed for transition. The gaps they need to fill are big enough that what I fill them with will probably end up being important for itself. These gap-fillers will be about characters and events that come up again much later in the ms, so I need to set them up anyway.

So I started looking at one particular bare-bones piece of dialogue I have--or rather, I had two bare-bones pieces of dialogue and pulled them together and started trying to figure out how to play them and what slant to give them and what the story needs to cover and emphasize right now.

But then I went off on a tangent and took this image/piece of info from my head that I had been planning to use much later, and I stuck it in here. I like it here. It ups the tension and starts darkening the story, but we don't know why yet, or what it means.

My snag is that I don't know exactly where to put it, for pacing. I'm looking at the first 50 or so pages, and it needs to be in the exact right place. It could be carved down to a paragraph or two of narration and stuck in somewhere around page 30-35 as a nice thought-provoking hint. Or it could be part of a larger conversation around page 45-50. I had the thought that page 45-50 is too darn late to use something that could be so strong to draw the reader on. But then I look at how fast this reads, with the pages so short--the reader would be to page 50 within 15 minutes probably, or maybe less. I don't know. I realized I don't have a feel for how the pacing is right now. I don't know if it's sagging anyplace in that first 50 pages or not. And I don't know where this piece needs to go. So I can't really work on it, because I don't know if it's in its own scene with dialogue, or if it's a passing point in an earlier scene.

So here I sit. And I think I'm going to set this aside for now and go to the Y.

I wonder if I should try to print out and read it later tonight, or just not work on it anymore at all today. I really don't know what to do. Perhaps it will come to me at the Y.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Did a little bit on my WIP today, but not as much as I should have--so am about to work some more and (we hope) achieve enough to be able to watch Robot Chicken with a clear conscience.

Yesterday I went back and worked through that "kitchen" scene more carefully. I went in with the idea that I'd figure out what one very small moment meant--but I never did figure it out. I tried, but I still have just the description of the room and the two people, basically, only with more details and a more concrete "picture" for the reader to see.

But...somehow that was enough to make me see that I needed to have a chapter/section break much earlier than I did. This part of the ms was a long series of scenes flowing into each other, with some narration/explanation/transitional stuff, and that kitchen scene, then some things that happened afterward that led into still more scenes and narration. After I got that one small "picture" clearer, I suddenly could wrap my mind around a chunk of the ms. I realized I had to lop this one section off and finish it. All that "afterward" is something new that will need to be addressed on its own.

I don't think it's coincidence that somewhere around the end of this long series of scenes is where my writing momentum petered out and I started becoming unsure where I was heading.

It makes me think about my other WIP, the swordfighting one. That's completely different, because it's a normal prose ms, not an experiment with shards of prose and white space. But I have the same confused feeling with it that I get with this ms when I lose my momentum. So if breaking into smaller, more manageable pieces helps here, maybe I can use a similar process to help with the swordfighting ms somehow. But that is for another day.

So anyway, earlier today I tied up that lopped-off section and tried to make it one basic idea. What I'm shooting for right now with this ms is that every page has one basic mini-idea (centered mid-page, with equal white space at top and bottom), and every section is a bigger idea that the individual pages add up to. Like, this section is now 16 pages, around 2600 words. The title of it (for today) is No Harm Done. One page might be a couple of paragraphs whose main point is that Helen's life is dull because her brothers are gone, and they are the only thing in her world that ever changes from one day to the next. Another page might tell about this slave boy and what his duties are. Another describes a dark, narrow staircase that Helen is going down. Etc. etc--but the overriding idea of the entire section is that she leaves her prescribed part of her world and edges out just a bit to take a peek at what lies beyond.

That's the form I'm working with right now. Why not just a regular prose novel? I don't know. All I know is, it doesn't want to be a regular prose novel. It never has. It never has come out that way, not from the very beginning. And I learned the hard way with Damage that it's a freakin' waste of time when the ms is pushing you strongly one way and you try to fight it. With Damage, I thought using second person was the stupidest thing ever. I thought, nobody can read this, and nobody will want to, and it will never sell. And I thought you're supposed to have a good literary reason to choose a pov tense. So I tried forcing the ms into first person, and when I kept losing momentum with it I tried alternating first person pov's among the characters--at one point I had three pov's--and I vaguely remember I tried third person, too. All a waste of time. Just go with it, that's what I learned from that. Otherwise you make yourself miserable and you doom yourself to failure and you're just going to end up doing the exact thing you're fighting so hard against.

The problem comes in when the ms isn't telling you strongly what it wants, or when you feel great because you're writing along in whatever way it insists on being written...and then it just stops coming. I don't have any solutions for those. But I'm trying hard to increase the number of tools in my repertoire, so maybe as I gain experience I can find solutions quicker and not spend 15+ years with a ms hanging cluelessly around.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I have been working, but had to stop and take care of daily stuff, and now am trying to dig back in.

This is what's going on the past few writing days: I'm retreading, going over the pages and trying to hone them. The format means that everything has to be clear and sharp, so there can't be any unnecessary comment. No extra words or phrases. No excess thinking or explanation from the MC's pov--and the best thing is if I can write a tight, evocative sentence that automatically leads the reader to have that thought or explanation for themselves. Everything has to have a purpose and direct the reader toward something.

Now, I know these are all goals I must necessarily fall short of. It's not possibly for anyone--or not me, anyway--to write that perfectly. But it's the general idea I'm shooting for.

So what I seem to be finding--and it's striking me more with this ms than with regular prose, which is more forgiving of a bit of excess here and there--is that if I break down what I have and look at it in smaller and smaller sections, it tends to make the proper shape of the story more clear to me.

I do this with regular prose, anyway. I think most writers do to some degree. You take a scene and go over and over it thinking from the MC's pov and everybody else's pov and the reader's pov--everything from where all the characters' hands are at any given moment to where the light's coming from to sensory details to what minor Character X secretly feels about what minor Character Y just said.*

But with this ms, every time I do that, more opportunities open up. And unfortunately, more choices have to be made. Like right now I'm in the middle of this part where the MC follows her mother's pet slave out of the women's quarters and to the kitchen area. I have a description of what she sees when she walks into that kitchen (or rather, kitchen-y room, because they didn't really have kitchens like we do). I have been focusing on the fire; I spent a good amount of time before this enjoying myself by describing the fire and working it in later in the ms and such. The smoke, the flames, the wood being fed to them, etc. etc.

So today I get to this part and I've got these two slaves in the kitchen-area, and I realize I said what they're doing, but not what they look like. Okay, I can figure that out. So I start figuring it out, what's important about it, what I need to pick out to write down.

But now I'm thinking, Whoa. This is a huge deal. Two slaves that my MC has never seen before. She's never been to this part of the palace before. I have this moment of awkward silence where the slaves are shocked and don't know what to do, and the MC is staring back at them.

And that's it. I've just blipped over and moved on to the fire. But here is this excellent opportunity--it's almost called for--to stop and figure out what this encounter does in terms of the entire story. The story is about the MC's finding out how closed in and powerless she is. This scene is before she even has an inkling how tightly bound her choices are--and here is a moment hanging with these two slaves, who of course have no choices at all. I need to use it, if only in a very small way. I'm just not sure how.

That is why I'm blogging instead of actually poking around in the ms at this moment.

I cannot sit and think logically about what needs to happen, or what the MC might logically realize or wonder. I have to go back and in my head try to feel out, from the beginning of this section--and maybe farther back--what she would really be feeling or thinking at this moment of silence as she looks at them. It's not leaping into my head. I don't know if that means I lost my way before this and something is wrong, or if I've just got off track a little because this ms is a mass of spaghetti and I've already forgotten the earlier part of this particular strand. It could be that I just need to go find the beginning of the strand and follow it and it will lead to the proper way to fill out this silent moment. Except that the beginning of the strand might be hard to find, in this mess. And if I find it and start working on it, I might forget that I'm supposed to be following it all the way through to this scene with the fire. Sigh.

Oh well. Back to work.

*Except I hate it when sensory details are thrown in that don't have a purpose except to be sensory details. Like if your understudy actress MC is standing in the wings awaiting her big chance to go on and finally get in the spotlight, and there's a line like "I smelled the scent of hand sanitizer from one of the stage hands." It's like, why the f*ck is that in there? This may come from my having the attention span of a gnat--maybe it's literary description and I just can't handle it (I know I have a problem sitting through literary descriptions). But maybe it's just bad writing. I don't know.

And sometimes I have a hand sanitizer moment and other people just don't get it. I'm like, "It's a recurring theme of cleanliness that underlies the MC's entire journey! Are you blind???"
Didn't get a lick of writing done yesterday. I was going to, but took too long to work myself around to it. Most days I can't just sit down and pull up the file and start writing. I have to check e-mail, surf a little bit, get my Diet Pepsi settled, etc. But yesterday I also made excuse to call a fellow writer--which is good, because writers need to talk to each other, but it also can be a way of procrastinating. And yesterday when I got off the phone all this other stuff started coming in, w-f-h and tutoring and publisher communications and family things. So I didn't even think about anything to do with my own writing yesterday.

At least I don't do spider solitaire anymore. That was a really great way to procrastinate, but it's awful for writers to even get into. Spider solitaire is the time-sucker from hell. And non-writers don't get it; they don't get why you start doing these little things instead of just pulling up the dang file and setting to work.

Actually, I don't get it either. I don't know anybody personally who just sits down and starts writing. I think most of my friends have given up spider solitaire; there's so much web to surf you don't even need ss anymore if you want to procrastinate. You could sit in front of the computer and read writing and book-related blogs all day, if you wanted. You could self-google, and google your friends and people you don't like, and you could check Amazon rankings for every book you ever heard of--all with your WIP file open but where you don't have to look at it. Why can't we just sit down and start writing? Or rather, why don't we? I'm sure we could all do it if we tried really, really hard.

And I'm sure there are a few writers who actually do sit down and work straight off the bat. In fact, I know there must be because when a WF and I were discussing spider solitaire a few years back, this other writer said (in what I thought was smug) disbelief, "You must have a lot of time on your hands!" Well, no, I didn't--I was using part of my writing time on spider solitaire.

Anyway. I have stuff to do this morning, but then I figure I'll pick up where I left off, which I think was retreading somewhere around pages 25-50. You would think it's bad to go back over pages that have already been drafted into a working condition, but something doesn't feel right about going on. And as I go back over these pages, I'm finding that I don't quite have a handle on the emotions of the scenes, and I wonder if getting a stronger feel for them will help me feel right about going on. Don't know, but we'll see how today goes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Okay, I am trying to settle in and figure out what to work on. I really want to work, not fritter away my writing time skimming around the ms and changing a word here or there.

I don't know why sometimes I'm feeling it and sometimes I'm not. I was thinking that in this particular ms maybe when I'm feeling it that's because I'm letting the characters drive the story. Like, instead of saying to myself, "Such and such needs to happen now; how can I transition to it? What would the character be feeling at this last point that might lead me to the new point?" I say, "Now that this event has happened, the character is feeling a certain way; what does this naturally lead to?"

But it's not that simple or straightforward. Either approach can work. I wish I could figure out some kind of rule or pattern to apply.

The thing is, at the end of any given section (or event, or chapter, or scene, or whatever) you can twist it into any one of a hundred hooks. Whatever you want the reader to wonder about, that's what you can end on--and then you go back and smooth out the part before and recast it to match. Sometimes I've moved and changed things so many times it's not apparent to me that the reader might prefer to be left hanging about one issue rather than another. And sometimes I'm really straining to get that ending idea in, but I don't know it till I've reread it cold and in context. And sometimes I screwed up an ending idea way back in the ms and it's thrown off everything that comes after.

I think some of this is me. I have more ideas (by that I mean insights) than my brain can hold; I have them in little flashes, but I don't have the brain power to work an idea all the way through in one whack, or to deal with multiple ideas logically or in order. So I have to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and eventually (I hope) they will all come out and take their place on the page. It's like my head can only deal with tiny bits of info or it goes blank. So I run for a while on one flash, then I'm out of gas and sit there befuddled till I can spark a new flash, or the writing gods bless me with one.

But I also think some of that is just the nature of writing a novel. A novel almost has to feel like an overwhelming mass of spaghetti at some point, or there's just not enough to it; it's slight.

Anyway. I am going to work. Now. Dang it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Today has been a little busy, and what writing I did get done was not terribly satisfying. This could be because I'm hitting a difficult patch and must work through it, or it could be because I've started tutoring at night (junior high math and English), and that's taking up some mental energy as I get used to it. I'm hoping I can settle into a routine and my writing brain will have its own compartment of mental energy.

However, I'm pleased in general because a writer friend suggested the Robert Fagles translation of the Iliad, and I got a copy today.

See, here's this part I was looking up for something, where Agamemnon is whining about how it's not his fault he stole Achilles' girl, the gods made him do it, wah wah.

Now, this is Chapman, Keats' pal, at the part where Agamemnon is gearing up for his whine:

"Princes of Greece, your states shall suffer no indignity,
If (being far off) ye stand and hear, nor fits it such as stand
At greater distance, to disturb the counsel now in hand
By uproar, in their too much care of hearing. Some, of force,
Must lose some words: for hard it is in such a great concourse
(Though hearer's ears be ne'er so sharp) to touch at all things spoke.
And in assemblies of such trust, how can a man provoke
Fit pow'r to hear, or leave to speak? Best auditors may there
Lose fittest words, and the most vocal orator fit ear."

But here's Fagles:

"My friends, fighting Danaans, aides of Ares...
when a man stands up to speak, it's well to listen.
Not to interrupt him, the only courteous thing.
Even the finest speaker finds intrusions hard.
Yet how can a person hear or say a word?--
this howling din could drown the clearest voice."

I know I'm still going to have to push to read it because I have the attention span of a gnat, but by g*d, I'll understand what I'm reading!

I was thinking about Keats and his incorrect explorer, and had the thought that maybe he knew it was the wrong one but didn't care because the wrong one's name sounded right for the poem. I could understand that. In fact, I'd think it a bold artistic move, to insist on having the exact right word (sound and rhythmwise, if not factually). After all, his job was to be a poet, not teach a history lesson.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Another good writing day. I have no idea whether this particular order of events is going to work--I'm sure it will at least have to be modified--but I'm decently to page 50 or. I hope to keep the whole thing to 200 pages, although who knows whether that's realistic or not. Hmm, I've got around 6500 words in fifty pages, so that makes around, what, 30K words for the whole thing? Huh. Anyway, that gives a picture of what the ms looks like.

The densest part of it will be the author's note, because I'm absolutely planning to have one of those. I may even have a bibliography, just so anybody thinks twice before trying to nitpick me by bringing up a 300-ish Sparta, or something they read once in Homer. Although you know they will anyway.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

After the negative morning, I have been surprised to find that this has been a good writing day. I think I got a good 10-15 pages in a working order--or at least to where I can wrap my mind around them for further work.

I think part of this may be due to the writer friend wh0 reported back on the bit I sent. When I sent the first 20 pages, I included the first 4-6 pages (or however many it is) that are framework and out of voice, even though I haven't been working on that part at all. WF said that part isn't working, but that the main part of the story--the part I have been working on--is.

I didn't realize that I had been fretting a little, in the back of my mind, about the framework and structure. I knew I was coming up on a piece that has been in the framework/structure viewpoint, and although I've been moving it around, it's been getting in the way while I try to think out this section. It does not fit. In the back of my mind, I had been thinking--but not wanting to admit--that really, most of the framework/structure viewpoint stuff could probably be folded into the main story and not made to stick out in in style or design. Most of it--except that very first 4-6 pages.

So when WF said the first part isn't working, I somehow gave myself permission to let it go for now, and let the rest of the story work itself out as smoothly as possible. Just forget about that and focus on what's in front of me. You wouldn't think I needed somebody else to say something that would allow me to do that, but apparently I did. I was like, "Oh. Well, I guess I'll just pretend that part's not there and continue on as I have been."
Today I started off feeling like an impostor, like I set myself up and present myself as a writer when I'm not, really--and someday I will be forced to take a cold hard look at myself and realize that I don't have what it takes, and that in fact this is all just a waste of time and a sad self-delusion.

However, this all has nothing to do with actually writing. It doesn't matter how I feel, only whether I try to do my work. It's like if you wake to the sound of your kid puking all over himself in the middle of the night, it doesn't matter how you feel about it. You still have to drag yourself out of bed and go take care of it.

Maybe that's the kind of thing that makes you a parent--and making yourself do the work regardless of feeling is part of what makes you a writer. Except I know there's much more to it than that, because you could write every day for a hundred years and still have nothing but cr*p to show for it.

Unrelated note--a writer friend pointed out a NYT column by Timothy Egan that had this in it:

"Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal."

And so, to work.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Am trying to settle into writing. I want to write, but I have been stricken by a heavy certainty that everything I'm doing right now is smarmy. It's supposed to be evocative. There is a fine line between smarmy and evocative, and today I must labor on through the leaden knowledge that I am writing smarmily.

Sometimes YA writers claim to be influenced by their all-time favorite authors, who always seem to be on the intellectually classy end of the scale: Shakespeare, Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc. I can't figure out if they're lying or not. But I'm telling you, I have this huge smarmy streak that's been fed over the years by Victoria Holt, Margaret Mitchell, Celeste DeBlasis, Loula Grace Erdman, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels. While other people were apparently savoring Whitman and Eliot, I was tearing through V.C. Andrews. I was talking about this with some writer friends the other day; when I was a teen I did like to be able to tell people I'd read some smart book, so I'd give it a go and if it held me I'd finish it. If not, it remained unread. I think I read For Whom the Bells Tolls but it's mostly gone from my head now. Never made it completely through any Faulkner. I ate up the first part of Sound and Fury but when it switched povs, I was like WTF? and lost interest. I wanted to stay in Benjy's pov. No Steinbeck. I remember I read Gatsby and finished it, but I have no idea why because it was no fun. I don't recall much else about it, but I distinctly remember it being no fun.

I know I read a bunch of classics for school, and a few on my own--but I can't remember anything about a lot of them. I know I read all of Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man for fun--but haven't a clue what happened in it, if anything. But--and I'm not googling on this, so I might be wrong--I'm pretty sure the love interest in Victoria Holt's Legend of the Seventh Virgin was named Kim (of all things) and that he ended up with the sweet best friend Mellyora rather than the feisty lowborn heroine. I remember because he was a love interest, dammit, and he was supposed to end up with the MC! (note to self: get that book somewhere and reread it).

I did read YA as a teen, but in a skulking sort of way, sneaking into the section when nobody was looking, and hiding the books at the bottom of my pile because they were so uncool. YA covers are great now--not embarrassing to be seen with. Nowadays a good YA cover can stand up with the adult covers and nobody will know it's got "ages 12-up" on the back.

So what happens is now I write stuff that sounds good and feels good, and I go back and suddenly see that it's in that gray area between evocative and smarmy, and maybe heading toward smarmy because I have this lifelong love of the sweepingly romantic and over-the-top.

That reminds me, I've got to read the Iliad. Have to--for research. I've got a copy that I bought because it's the George Chapman translation, and I thought, "That's the one Keats wrote about in that poem, 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.'"* I thought it would preserve some of the feel of the original better because it's in verse form and it's an older style of language, and sometimes the images in that kind of translation are much stronger. But my g*d, it's freakin' unreadable. I've got to get something more modern. I can't even bring myself to start this. It's been sitting around my house unread for probably over a year, so I think I can say it's toast.

I liked Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. I had never been able to read Beowulf till I got that. Too bad he didn't do the Iliad, too.

*Which I don't remember anything about, either, except that it's the poem where Keats named the wrong explorer discovering the wrong thing, and the idea is that Chapman's Homer was as inspiring to Keats as discovering an ocean for the first time. Well, Keats can have his stupid Chapman. I apparently need somebody more mass-market, thank you very much.

And the fact that somebody's an immortal literary genius although they didn't even bother to look up the right explorer says something, too--although I'm not sure what.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Working on the next section, trying to get it honed down and put in a working order.

Sent first 20 or so pages to a writer friend for a reality check as to whether this is starting to be halfway readable, or if I'm like Russell Crowe out in that shed in A Beautiful Mind, with all that weird cr*p on the walls that made sense to him but was totally insanity to everybody in the real world.

Where Russell Crowe gets to hide in his shed as long as he can manage, writers must emerge and show their weird cr*p to somebody at some point. I figure the longer I hide in the shed, the weirder the cr*p could get and the more I could start to believe it's real. We don't want that.

Was thinking about how all this stuff I'm working with now is the exact same stuff I was working with in a vaguely similar form a few years ago, and in a totally different form last year. Now it's taking on yet another form, but it's still the same material. It's the same story, same characters, same stuff happening. The presentation just keeps changing. Writing is deciding how to present something. If I present it in one way it's literary. If I present it another way it's clunky. Or excruciatingly drawn out. Or light and funny. Or snarky. Or touching. Or shallow. And at any second, my presentation can make the material explode in a giant flaming mass of suckiness. Every second is about making choices: which parts of this do I choose to put down, how much emphasis do I put on them, how much space do I spend on them, what spin do I put on them?

Then I look at my other WIP, the swordfighting one, and it's like, what am I thinking--that it's just a matter of sitting down and learning to tell a story? If it is, I missed both the memo and the meeting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Am very pleased with the morning's work. The first section looks good to me; it makes sense and feels fairly sharp and clear. That's around 19 pages that are good to go (first draft-wise), if you don't count the first four or so pages, which I don't because they're prologue and may change depending on the structure. But the rest is in voice and in pov and I feel like I've got a handle on it. So it can be done. That doesn't mean I have a clue how to do the same for the next section, but it's enough to give me hope and a good outlook.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I cut a character out today. I hated to lose some of the bits she was in, but in the big picture she wasn't doing much--and I've already got so many characters to juggle anyway. We'll see if the story progresses okay without her. I suspect it will. I'm sorry about those lost bits, though, and am thinking about handing them to somebody else, albeit with trimming and other changes. Probably I'm just slowly talking myself into cutting even those last vestiges altogether. Somehow it's easier to swallow losing stuff I like if it vanishes little by little rather than all at one whack.

Was thinking about how people sometimes gripe about dead or missing parents in YA. Yeah, you try working in a couple of extra characters who not only don't do anything for the story, but actively undermine it because their function (by definition of "parent") is to ease the way for the MC and help solve his/her problems. I'm telling you, my MCs are lucky to ever have any parents at all.

I saw today that Kazuya Minekura has a series out called Wild Adapter, which I may try to get hold of. Apparently it's way upper teen, to the point where it's shrinkwrapped so the kiddies can't get hold of it. Today I was looking at son #2's D. Gray-man, and was really struck by the way it's almost all fighting by books 7 & 8. It's like, introduce a character and everybody fights. Then they fight some more. Then they get wounded, heal, get new powers, fight again. This is really the same for most of the manga I read, but what makes me like manga is character development. I like the backstories and flashbacks and gradual revelations about what drove somebody to be the way they are. Some of the manga just don't have that--and some have to it to start with, but as the series goes on and on all the depth is lost and the whole thing is just a series of fights.

Am still thinking about how to do these cut-to-flashback things in a novel. There doesn't have to be a rhyme or reason to it in manga because the visuals give the clues and set up the change for the reader, but in prose it's bound to be very confusing. The ones I have in my WIP probably aren't working because they're too far apart, so the reader won't understand why the voice and style are suddenly different. It seems like there might have to be some kind of regular pattern to them. Or, I suppose, the design for those pages could just be different. Still, if they only happens once in a blue moon throughout the book, it's going to be confusing.

This also led me to thinking about my other WIP, the swordfighting one on the back burner. I thought, if I was doing it right, it would be more effortless, right? Maybe I just haven't found the way the story needs to be told. I thought about alternating viewpoints again--with much dread, because that's a hugely time-consuming dead end if it's not the right thing to do. And if I think about individual scenes, I just don't see there being enough for each character to chew on for a whole chapter at a time. I don't know. It's a project I still have to grow into, I guess.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

No writing today. Busy with jobhunting stuff. I hope to get back to work tomorrow. I can't remember exactly what I was working on last, but I think I was trying to organize a section so that it made sense, as well as keeping a decent pace and building to something rather than fading off into self-indulgent blah-blah-blah that I like to read and write but that has nothing to do with the actual story at hand.

The problem is that I have allll this info. Somehow I've got to get it into an order that holds the reader--or at least, some readers...hell, if it could hold any readers, that would do right now--but also gives the reader everything they need to know for later.

What does the reader need to know? Well, characters have to be introduced, but naturally rather than clumsily shoehorned in. And the mindset of the world is very important. It's not the same as ours, so I have to make sure the reader "gets" it and doesn't apply modern moral judgment or wonder why the characters don't use modern solutions to solve their problems.

If I didn't have those two things, it might be a heck of a lot easier to write this. Just two little things...hmm. You'd think it wouldn't be that hard to get them in. You'd think.

Maybe one thing to do is to think about what the story would look like if I didn't have those two things hanging over my head. Maybe if I try to think what shape the story would have without them, it could help guide me to the shape it needs to be with them. Then I'll have some parameters to work with, which could help in knowing what to mercilessly cut.

This all sounds good, but I'm sure I'll have forgotten about it tomorrow. Oh well. I will put a sticky note on my computer telling myself to come back and reread this entry if I can't think what I want to work on.

That's a slippery slope, though--rereading entries. I could avoid writing for days, probably, if I started rereading entries. I surely ought not to do that, if possible. So, no sticky note. Maybe I'll actually remember it, now that I've been talking to myself about it for a few paragraphs.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I think writers who have families and/or jobs have to be able to shift gears pretty quickly if they want to write regularly. But sometimes if there's one shift too many I can't adjust quickly and I get this weird Twilight Zone feeling. Like, the past few days I've been working on a couple of w-f-h sample reading passages for first graders, so my head is totally in that place, but as of this morning I'm trying to turn it off and turn on the upper YA WIP part of my brain. In the middle of all this, family and jobhunting stuff keep popping in. Besides that, I've been maintaining a very low-level inner freakout over a rash of internet blather that's gotten into my head, where other writers are pontificating about the state of YA and the purpose of YA like it's not opinion but fact--FACT, I say!--and carved in stone, and which is threatening to make me feel like a Lose. Er.

And then in the middle of all this my paperbacks of Repossessed got delivered to my front porch today, and I had forgotten they get to have a silver medal printed on them.

I think my life is way ahead of the silver medals. The silver medals don't know that my fifteen minutes was over a little while ago and that this season's fifteen-minuters are about to take the stage. I've got a mortgage payment and Christmas coming up, a WIP that is a big f*cking mess--no, wait, two WIPs that are a big f*cking mess--and I have been a wreck for two days because it's very important that I nail 200 words of first-grade nonfiction, and I'm not sure how to do that.

Maybe I should have spent more time basking in the glow of silver medaldom. Maybe I should have milked my moment in the sun and done my share of pontificating and tried to store up some writerly ego for later. Oh well--too late now.

Anyhoo, I did dig into the WIP today--between all the other sh*t that keeps heading my way--and I am about to dig in again, and so far I'm feeling pretty darn good about it. For no discernible reason I started trying to flesh out some of the girls, and I like where it's taking me. It's not taking me farther, but it is taking me deeper. And now I see some places where I was skimming along, and I see that I need to go back and put myself in scene in a concrete way instead of coasting on generalities.

But enough of this. Back to the WIP.

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