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 30, 2009

Was thinking about the Dioscuri hunting down Theseus. This is one place I lose traction in my WIP; I'm not sure what spin to put on it. Yesterday I decided to dig into the subject and really get a grip on the multiple versions of what happened. I was trying to feel out what seemed most reasonable, and (just like when I try to feel out anything to do with Mycenaean thrones and inheritance) it got really confusing.*

Then today I was thinking through yesterday's stuff and realized that although I find it all very interesting, nobody else cares. It would be nearly impossible to get it set down in a story without being boring, and actually I could just boil it down to a sentence where we learn Theseus is dead and skip the rest--and then we're ready to move on. Without all the other stuff, the emphasis would shift to a story point: girls have to keep themselves shut away. This would provide a base for an idea (girls have to control themselves so men don't need to control themselves) that builds as the book moves along. I'm thinking I need to try (once again) to simplify because obviously I could wallow down all these byways for years and never come up with a storyline anybody gives a sh*t about.

*This is boring to everybody but me. I don't advise anybody to keep reading from this point.

Basically the main idea of the Helen/Theseus stories is that Theseus raped/kidnapped Helen, the twins' little sister. So they went after him. Sometimes in the various versions there are little pieces that make you go "Huh? Why's that in there?". Those are the pieces I like to look at, because they're sometimes the pieces that are older or that might be lost bits of history.

In myth the twins are generally considered mariners. (In slightly less exalted mentions they're raiders, kidnappers, rapists, and cattle thieves.) So anyway, I'm thinking if they tailed Theseus to Athens (after all, he was the king of Athens), they would have gone by sea because that was a lot easier.

However, they didn't go straight to Athens. They went to Aphidna, which is kind of north of Athens--it's nearer the far coast of the peninsula thingamajig that makes up Attica (which is where Athens is). Huh? Why would stories say they went around the back way, the long way?

It turns out that Theseus was from that area of Attica, and supposedly Aphidna (in some versions) is where he took Helen. Okay, that makes sense. That's why the twins sacked Aphidna then tailed Theseus to Athens where the Athenians opened the gates to them rather than be sacked themselves.

But then I see a version where the twins went to Athens not just through Aphidna but by way of Decelea, another place I never heard of. Turns out Decelea is a town near Aphidna. It doesn't appear to be on the way to Athens. It seems to have nothing to do with Athens or Aphidna or Helen. To me it still looks much easier to sail to the coast near Athens and go straight inland. To me it also makes sense that Theseus would take his kidnap victim to his home turf. But Decelea? Huh?

Turns out Decelea is the town at the mountain pass where trade goods (especially grain) from Eboeia had to pass before they could get to Athens.

Eboeia? Huh?

Turns out Eboeia is the looooong island north of Attica. If you look at it on a map, you can see that it totally blocks Attica from most of the Aegean Sea. Maybe Eboeia had a lot of grain of its own to sell, I don't know--but you can also see that anything at all coming from anywhere in the majority of the Aegean would have come either through or around Eboeia, then through Decelea, to get to Athens. Later in life, (this really happened) the Spartans took and held Decelea and this gave them a stranglehold on Athens. Supposedly the Spartans were always nice to Decelea because of Decelean help during the Theseus problems.

(My vague impressions that Athens was really not a very important place in pre-classical times have become a very strong feeling. Apparently Athens had to make do with whatever they could get overland via more important ports.)

So, stories say that the Dioscuri sacked Aphidna and were helped by Decelea and went to Athens where the Athenians invited them in and said, "We don't like Theseus either, so please don't sack us and we'll get a different king." The Dioscuri didn't sack Athens (some say the Athenians bought them off), and the exiled Theseus disappeared from the stories. Except for one story that he went to stay with the king of Skyros (an island off the coast of Eboeia!) and at some point the king of Skyros shoved him off a cliff.

So. Let's say that the point of all this blah-blah-blah is that Theseus is exiled and then killed by the king of Skyros (who after all had daughters, just as the Dioscuri had sisters). Let's say that the twins know he's dead, their vengeance is complete, and that the whole thing is over and done. Nothing left hanging.

Today I was thinking about all this and realized that nobody would care or need to know about the above, except for the last paragraph--the end result. And that led to the thoughts re. sticking to a simple point.

And this is a very good example of why I have trouble with transitions. I have to think through everything step by logical step, then try to figure out what's the important part storywise.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I did not realize that Road to Perdition was based on Lone Wolf and Cub. But of course it is. D'oh! on me. I guess I need to reread Road to Perdition now, and think about how it took the main story arc of a 28-book series and condensed that down to one novel.

I was thinking about Daigoro, the "cub" who's been raised as a stoical assassin and who has seen every kind of bloodshed, murder, violence, and sex that human beings can perform, even though he's just four years old at the end of the series. Not to mention his father constantly leaves him behind and sometimes leaves him to die. What a messed-up adult Daigoro would grow into.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Worked on writing-related stuff, then sat down to swordfighting WIP. I'm basically just spewing out backstory and going into detail whenever I feel like it, and it's all floating explanation and description with no scenes grounded enough to be truly set. It's almost freewriting. The funny thing is, I'll bet I could go on for a long time just getting all the backstory put down on paper, especially since I'm probably going to go ahead and write out the backstory for at least three characters, and maybe four characters and part of a fifth. Yow. We're talking a loooooong time.

I suppose I'll go ahead and admit to myself that the reason I don't mind doing this is that if I really end up trying to write a (short) series with a clear and finite arc (a la some manga series), I guess I'd better have a grip on the whole entire arc from every POV before I get started. Sad but true. I hope that bus doesn't come along and hit me anytime within the next decade, because I've got a lot to get done.

Spoke to a writer friend and will meet over breakfast to discuss the Vermont lecture and handout I'm preparing. I thought about printing out part of the former GN to show, but quickly nixed that idea because WF has already seen the first 30 or whatever pages a million times, and the rest is in humongous chunks. What I need help with is the very, very big picture, getting the humongous chunks mortared together. I decided to go ahead and print out what I have (the chunks, not the parts I'm messed up about), and maybe take it to breakfast, but mainly I printed it out to keep on hand for when I have time and am in the mood to attempt to see the very, very big picture myself.

Pages 1-68 are one humongous chunk. Then pages 95-176 are one humongous chunk. If you look at either of those, there's something to work with as far as critique. But the inbetween is a mess, and the afterwards is still in early stages and probably doesn't have enough grit for a reader to get much footing on what I'm trying to do with it.

I suspect that if I look back to a year or six months ago I'd see that I had the first 30-40 pages mostly together, and little more than that. So I may be making progress. But I'm not going to go look because who cares what I was doing a year or six months ago? I'd rather be trying to figure out what I need to do next. I guess it's nice to know I have made forward progress, but it would definitely feel better to actually be in the middle of forward progress than thinking about past forward progress.
No writing--or not much, anyway. When I've done any, it's been thingees for the swordfighting ms. My present approach seems to be writing down anything I feel like writing, no matter who it's about or when it takes place. If this continues, at some point I'll have about ten million words worth of cr*p to weed through and pull together. At the moment I don't really care, though. I'm just writing whatever feels fun or good. It's like a stress reliever.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No writing lately. I gave up and decided not to worry about it for a few days. Same with working out; I'm taking a few days off. The well needs to refill.

I started to get p.o.'d about this Dilbert strip:

but then I thought maybe it was being ironic. Is it? I honestly don't know whether it's meant to be taken at face value or not. Either way, just seeing it stated so baldly makes me wince. Probably because I've heard versions of it all my writing life.

I think maybe the second you dare to call yourself a writer out loud, somebody outside the biz (family, friend, stranger) is going to let you know that you're not really a writer in the eyes of the world until you're J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. If you're not like them, then you're just not that good.

Come to think of it, maybe this is why some writers get so rabid about tearing down SM. She has the recognition and acceptance they should have had--and they feel that they write better than she does.* And maybe because she's so famous that she doesn't seem human or accessible, it feels okay to rake her over the coals. I can't get into that state of mind, because I met SM as the Twilight thing was really taking off (around the second book, I think? Or maybe between the second and the third? I forget.), and I was impressed by how unimpressed she was with herself. I mean like utterly unimpressed. Even my judgmental over-analytical raking-over-the-coals nose detected no scent of self-congratulation. No underlying oneupmanship. And no complacency. Not even a whiff. And when I think back to how I was with my first few books, even without being an instant raging success, I have to say that Stephenie Meyer's a better man than I am. So to speak.

*To me the question is always: What is the purpose of this ms? What does it want to be? A Stephenie Meyer book has a place and a purpose, and it needs to be well-written in the context of that place and purpose. Another writer's book will have a different place and purpose, and the standard that makes it a "good book" will be different. The money/fame part of it all seems to be randomly bestowed...unless you buy into what the Dilbert strip is saying...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

note to self: questions to remember

What is the MC able to do by the end of the book that s/he wasn't able to do in the beginning?

Why is s/he able to do it?

What has s/he realized?
Can't get any traction in my writing. I've been working on the former GN, but it's like I'm turning a gear where the cogs are worn or broken and won't quite slip into place and make the thing move properly. I've got the middle set up more than I ever have before, but it's apparently not ready to click yet as far as creating its own momentum. Dammit.

What is the thing that's preventing it from slipping into place? Something's in the way, here. I need to try to figure out what it is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I thought I would have a good amount of writing time today...but I didn't. I ended up staying in the same few pages, reworking a word here, a line there--then getting interrupted. A thought here, a paragraph there--and getting interrupted again. Etc., etc. I was going to work some tonight, but decided to go to yoga in an attempt to stave off the looming Tension Headache from Hell.

Usually while all the other people in yoga class are clearing their minds as per instructions, I'm thinking about what I'm going to eat when class is over. Tonight, however, I thought about my WIP and the few pages I worked on, and saw kind of what I need to do, big picture-wise, to smooth out the flow so that those few pages connect with my sketchy middle. I saw that those few pages start teaching the MC that she has to control and deny herself so that the men in her life don't have to control or deny themselves. I don't show her figuring that out, though. I'm not sure exactly where she'd go, "Okay, I have to start shutting myself down now." I need to find that exact point, I guess.

Then later in the book this gets worse and worse, till she's so completely shut down she's not even human anymore. I know I show some of that happening so that the reader feels it. But I'm not consistent about it all the way through the book.

More interruptions, argh. I give up. I hope I can think about this some more tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yesterday was a very nice day writing-wise. Dunno why. I pulled up the former GN, glanced quickly through it up to the middle section, then just sat down and sketched out the solution to the part that's been tripping me up the most. No angst at all, and not much thought given to it, either--just la-di-dah effortlessly, like it wasn't any big deal. Then I moved on, still la-di-dah, and worked all day. I have no idea what this means. Does it mean the solution actually works? Or does it mean I need to gird my loins for more hassle because no solution could possibly work when it's so offhanded and thoughtless?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What writing I've done has been little pieces here and there, so little that I can't even remember which WIP I dipped into on any given day.

I've been trying to read a book I tried and failed to read a year or two ago, by an author whose other books I really like. Once again I'm failing to read this one--just can't get or stay interested. Was thinking today that there aren't any questions tugging me to turn the pages. Or maybe there are, but I don't care about them. I don't care about the characters very much, either. Not sure why. Maybe because there's nothing at stake for them--or if there is, it won't come up till later. But right now, nobody's got anything to lose. Nothing much is being asked of anyone. I just don't care.

I'd like to keep reading, because this author has always held my interest before, so I'm thinking there must be something coming up that's got more to it. But I reeeeeally have a hard time sticking with a book that doesn't grab me.* I don't see why I should torture myself when reading's supposed to be fun. Maybe this is why I have great sympathy for kids who don't like to read. If a book is doing its job--and if it's the right book for the right reader--it ought to do all the work for them.

*Even if it does grab me I sometimes have a hard time sticking to it, because I'll start skimming or flipping ahead to see what happens. I'm not big on delayed gratification.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Still working on former GN--looks like I may be figuring out how to make my way through the middle. I think I can figure my way into the middle, anyway, and getting into it and understanding how one piece of the story relates to another and how the parts segue into each other has been the main thing standing in my way.

If I do happen to be making progress, I know it's because I backed off and relaxed my hold on the ms. I was locked on so tight it couldn't breathe. But who knows what my perception will be tomorrow. Or Saturday, or whenever I get to work on it again.

What happened specifically was that my agent mentioned a story idea, and I was thinking about that, and what about it might be something I'd feel competent to explore. I was thinking, "Well, the MC would certainly be feeling emotion X, and I know emotion X very well," and as I was thinking about the details of how X felt and what kinds of images and words would express that, I realized I could use them right here in this middle part, the part I've been avoiding. So I worked on that yesterday, and then today I saw that the part leading up to it is all jagged and messed up and wrong and doesn't work (I already knew this, but it hit me again). I started researching once more to refresh my memory about what mythology says (there are always multiple versions of everything, so take your pick), and it hit me that I could go with one of the alternate versions that's also simpler. It's concrete (makes more sense historically), it puts the characters in a different light than the other did, and it removes some of the stuff I didn't know what to do with.

So anyway. Fingers crossed that I can keep at it--no confidence or expectations, just fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Days feel very scattered right now, and my thoughts do, too. Today was my last day of enforced writing time at the library for this semester, two hours worth. To me, two hours isn't enough time to get into a solid and productive writing groove. If I know I've only got two hours, I'd usually rather pick something to play around with than something that requires a sweeping train of thought. Today I'd planned to do some more playing with the swordfighting thingee. However, after I pulled it up, I just sat and stared at it, and then suddenly decided I felt like playing around with a sliver of the middle part of the former GN instead. I'm relieved to know the former GN is still alive and kicking, in the back of my head if nowhere else.

So today I worked on a few hundred words at most of the former GN, but it's new stuff, a part I haven't ventured into before, so hooray. No idea what I'll do with it, but it was a part that had to be done, only it was so emotionally heavy I'd been reluctant to turn my thoughts in that direction. I guess there can be a good side to having scattered days, because you can dig into slightly unpleasant pieces of writing, then when writing time's up, the unpleasant stuff goes away immediately because there are so many other real life tasks and issues that push it out of your brain.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No writing of my own this weekend. I shouldn't be doing any of my own today, either--too many other things to do--but I'm gonna.

Finished Swordspoint, and I don't want to go back through it and pick at it. It's such a rare gift nowadays for me to read fiction and get caught up in it not only for pages, but through the whole book.* So I'm not going to go pick at it now, but if I get stuck on my own writing in the swordfighting ms, I might go back and examine parts.

I did notice one scene near the beginning that didn't seem to have much to do. Maybe if I went back and looked now, I'd see what its purpose was, but I don't want to. At the time I just thought, I don't know what this does, but I like it. It was short, just a brief page or so, in the moment with one of the characters who wasn't doing anything of import.

I also noticed that the POV could be from any given character at any given time. I probably could understand more about how or why if I went back and picked at it, but again, I don't want to.

So I've been thinking about all this, and although probably the story is really tightly plotted (I think Kushman writes plays, too--not sure and don't want to check right now) what I've decided to take from the book is to enjoy immersing myself in my ms and characters and not worry about whose story it is or when anything takes place or whether something matters to the story. And when I get to feeling doubtful about that or run out of steam, I'll think of something else to do.**

*Some books I've read or reread in the past few years that have made me read like the reader I used to be rather than the writer I've become:

Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword
Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otari books, except for Harsh Cry of the Heron
The Harry Potter books
K.M. Peyton's The Right Hand Man
The Penderwicks
Megan Whalen Turner's books
Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel and Court Duel

I don't know what they all have in common. I'd say they all have intricate world-building, but then there's the Penderwicks. I can't say it's about some kind of perfection of craft because the Harry Potter books are a little rough, to my eyes. But I didn't care, I just blipped over any roughness in my eagerness to stay in the book.

Something to think about: there are several manga series that have caught me up like this. Must think why. Maybe it's because the pictures carry so much of the story that I don't have a chance to get hung up on the words?

**Hopefully get back to the former GN ms. I was determined not to set any goals with it, and then of course within a week or two after saying that, I told my agent I thought I'd have a working draft by Jan., and would agent be willing to take a look? "Sure," said agent. And sure enough I bogged down shortly after and came to a stuttering halt on the ms. Maybe some day I'll learn not to say stuff like that, but at after this many years I'm not counting on it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Yesterday I worked on writing-related stuff not my own. Today will probably be mostly if not all the same.

I started rereading Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint. The last time I read it, it was just for fun, but this time my own work is in the back of my mind as I read, and it's a little overwhelming and discouraging to see how somebody else can make a book work so nicely. I need to look at the POV, because now that I think about it, I don't know if it moves around within chapters or not. I just know that I somehow know what most people are thinking, unless I'm not supposed to know, but to wonder for a little longer.

Yeah, will have to do some hard thinking about this. It's very character-driven, and now that I consider, some of the things that pull you along are wondering about character's backstories and secrets, not what's behind the door or whether the MC will survive his fall from the helicopter. Not that there are any helicopters in this book.

I just like reading it for fun, though. I don't want to ruin it by thinking. Maybe I should go ahead and read through it once just for the pleasure, then come back and look at how all the character and backstory and plot and explanation are woven together.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Random stuff:

1. Yesterday I worked on the w-f-h proposal, and also watched a TV show about the same subject. It's not something I know a lot about, so I'm trying to get a feel for a real-life situation that would work. I'm also trying to use this proposal as an opportunity to think deeply about how I can pull plot and character together in ways that work for me--and I noticed yesterday that the real-life situation doesn't quite match the tone the publisher wants. Somehow I have to try to navigate between subtle psychological evolution and splashy eye-catching hooks.

2. While I was waiting for new tires (to replace the ones that I suddenly realized were on the verge of blowing out), I started reading a current book by an extremely popular author, the rare kind of author who is actually growing rich from writing books. I was reading along being pulled in and caring about the characters--and growing impressed by being made to feel that way--when suddenly the story went off on a weird preconceived plot-driven tangent that was titillating, provocative, and kind of insane, if you ask me. If I was fourteen, I bet I'd eat it up. But holy cr*p, it was waaaay off target writing-wise. I was thinking, okay, this is what I need to keep in mind as I work through the proposal. My target audience is a fourteen year old who wants to be shocked and titillated, the way the fourteen-year-old me wanted to read V.C. Andrews and The Exorcist. But I also have to write something I can stand to work on for months at a time. Therein lies my dilemma.

3. Today I worked some more on my thingee* for the swordfighting ms. I noticed that at the end of two days' worth of work, I had a complete scene and knew what the point of it was. It already has a clear arc (character-wise, of course) that could be part of a story line. If I was working my normal way, I'd do this again and again and then figure out how the scenes fit together to make a plot to go with the character arc. Unfortunately, this scene takes place about eight years before the events of the book, and this character isn't currently the main one.

4. What I need to think about: Is there a way to combine my natural way of working and a preconceived plot? Or, if I go with the flow and write whatever feels like it needs to be written without thinking about plot at all, will the ms eventually disclose the shape it wants to take? I guess the question is, how much do I have to push, and when and where, to get a workable end result?

5. I think it was the last post where I mentioned Murphy's Law. But Murphy's Law is something like "Anything that can go wrong, will." I think the one I meant was the Peter Principle. And it's a sign of my state of mind lately that a few weeks ago I was having small writing epiphanies in the wee hours around dawn, but now this is the kind of suck-@ss epiphany I get. "Wait! That's not Murphy's Law! You called it the wrong thing!" I suppose one should be grateful for any kind of epiphany, though.

*I call it a thingee when you write stuff on the side to work out a character. Usually it's just the character's thoughts or feelings about something, but it could be the character's own words, or a journal entry, or a scene unrelated to the story, or anything. In this case it started as me writing down why the character was a certain way, and it turned into a scene from his childhood.

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