Monthly Archives: April 2013

Presenting: Gods and Monsters

Gods and Monsters is a lot of things. It’s a story about a young woman, not exactly a coming of age story but coming into her own. It’s a story about parents who learn that their daughter is something new and powerful, and work to reconcile that image of her with their little girl. It’s a story about how politics chews you up and spits out the bones, and you don’t even notice until someone comes along who can play the game just as well and still hold onto some kind of faith in the goodness of people. It’s a story about redemption, about a journey, about love and the relationships that make you stronger, and the ones that eat away at you. It’s also got some children of some gods, and a few monsters, too.

This story has its origins in so many different places, I don’t know where to begin. Most of the protagonists in their current forms began several years ago, on a whim and with a fair amount of wild collaborative brainstorming, more than we ever wrote out. The idea of a story involving a supernatural version of modern politics wafted back and forth while I was growing up in DC, and has shown up in several projects since. The antagonists are the most recent addition, well, most of them at least. I could say I wrote this in a vaguely linear and traditional fashion, not beginning to end but all in one chunk as a draft, and then revised, and now am publishing. I’d also be lying through my teeth. I know where it begins and where it goes and even how it ends, but this is very much a journey, and you’re all getting dragged along with me.

This weekly serial to be published through my e-mail mailing list starting May 2. You can sign up here, at the form to the right, or off the main page. Back issues will be available to subscribers, for those who miss an issue or who come in later in the story. If you like it (or any of the other stories on my site) enough to leave something in the tip jar, the PayPal button’s off to the right as well.

 

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“Your garden looks lovely today.”

Serena looked through her glass at the distorted view of her neatly manicured lawn. Carl was being ironic, she decided, with the possessive pronoun. So much time and effort from other people, and only money and a choice of color scheme from her, had gone into making it a picture-perfect backyard setting. It would all be gone in the winter. Surely it embodied some sort of commentary on the transitory nature of life that she didn’t have the energy to make. “Thank you. Many well-paid skilled laborers worked hard to make it so,” she smiled up at him.

He smiled back, but it was sun behind the clouds and not the reassurance she had looked for. Serena sighed.

“So, not just stopping by for a visit because you were in the neighborhood, then.”

“No,” Carl pulled up a chair with a scrape of metal legs on brick patio and sat. “It’s about Lucy.”

She set her glass down carefully. “What about Lucy?”

Once upon a time and long ago, this patio had been regularly occupied by a bevy of teenage girls, her daughter and friends. They’d kept the patio in a constant state of chaos, annoying her stepfather with the noise and holding court in their awkward, experimental way. Lucy had learned from her mother how to handle a crowd, how to read expectations and needs and sort through to see which needed matching, with the result that she usually led her group of friends. Serena didn’t know whether to be proud or wish something less familiar for her daughter, with a new set of dangers she could imagine less vividly, if at all. And then Lucy went off to college, after which she’d pleaded to go up north and join her father at his investigations and security firm. She hadn’t had to plead very hard. Carl was happy to have her. Serena was happy for her daughter to be doing something she enjoyed.

That didn’t mean there weren’t risks. She’d been dreading a conversation like this for a few years. When he didn’t launch into it she leaned forward, trying to get him to look at her. “Carl. What about Lucy?”

“You know that … that what we are. It comes out…” Carl made a face, swore in a few different languages that resembled nothing she spoke, she only recognized it because they were some of his favorite curses. “What do you remember about the first time you realized you were special?”

Serena fell back in her chair, hurt and tired. “Are you asking me that? You. Now? After that lead-in? You know what we were like back then.”

“I’m serious, Serena. Please?”

A cloud slid over the sun, though she didn’t think either of them had gone far enough to bend the weather to their mood. Still, it made for an appropriately timed shiver. “I was… seventeen? Eighteen? I was seeing that boy. We were over at his place going over our college admission packets. His father took an interest in where I was going…” She didn’t like to talk about those days. Not that there was much shocking or new and unique, or even shameful on her better days, about what she’d done. But she had been far too young and scared, and it was with a great deal of luck that it came out all right in the end.

Carl didn’t push, but he did take her hands in his. “And he made you an offer…”

Serena nodded, breathing slow and even. “He made me an offer. It was… more money than I could ever have earned otherwise. And it was a college education, and he wasn’t a bad person. Just a bit lonely, I think. And part of me saw the wisdom in it. And the opportunity.” She sat up, tugging her hands out of the way. “Why are you asking me this? Is there someone…”

“No!” Carl shook his head. “No, it’s not like that. But, you were seventeen, eighteen, right? And I was twenty something…”

“You were at University,” she remembered. His first year, too. It had to be worrying him, now, she knew, he never talked about that time, ever. At least not to her anymore. She couldn’t imagine he hadn’t gone through it at least once with Will by now.

“And Lucy … there’s nothing. Unless she’s talked to you about it…”

There was that cloud again, unease crawling down her throat to sit curled up like a worm in her stomach. “She hasn’t said anything to me, and I don’t know why she wouldn’t. It’s not as though she didn’t know what Stephen and I are, what you are. We raised her to know about scions. About us and what we go through.”

Behind her ex-lover’s eyes, Oghma surfaced long enough to smile at her. “And she’s better for it.” Then Carl shook his head and the old god was gone. “But she hasn’t said anything. And I haven’t noticed anything, neither Will nor Anubis has noticed anything, and no one at the firm has reported anything strange. A child of two scions…”

“Must be a scion of one or the other, I know, I know,” Serena pressed her fingertips to her temples. “Do you or he, do you know what that means?” Because she didn’t. She hadn’t noticed the passage of time with Lucy gone and the house quieter. She hadn’t realized how old her baby girl was getting, because she was still her baby girl. Carl and she, and to a lesser extent Stephen, had long ago resigned themselves to her growing up to inherit either Oghma’s presence or Ishtar’s, had grown accustomed to waiting to see, but this was a new form of hell. At least the transition from childhood to scion had an ending.

Carl shook his head. “I don’t know. I could be wrong? It could just be a very quiet manifestation…”

“In your household? Given her options?” Serena laughed, rueful. “Be serious.”

“I was hoping,” he chuckled with her.

The conversation skidded to a dead halt. Because she didn’t want to ask any further questions, and Carl didn’t seem to have anything else to say until she did. Or until she came out and said she was okay with it. She wasn’t okay with it. They’d barely survived their own introduction to the world as it was for them, and Lucy was the first person any of them knew who’d been taught, from the day she was old enough to understand it, about the presence of the divinity within and what it meant.

Carl came over after a bit and knelt on the ground by her chair, tugging her into his arms. They’d been lovers once, but they’d been friends a short time before that and a long time after, and it was still comforting to have a friend there who knew this world and the creatures in it. Old gods, or things that might as well be and had been called such. Titans, giants, animal figures. Things she had heard in books of mythology as a girl, and then discovered one living in her head, driving her to do things she never would have thought of doing on her own.

It turned out well, at least. She’d hoped, telling Lucy, that her daughter wouldn’t have to know that same terror of uncertainty.

“Have you told her?” she asked, turning her head into his shoulder.

He sighed. “I haven’t told her. Not yet. If she hasn’t figured it out on her own yet, I didn’t want to bring it up with her before I’d talked to you.”

“Probably good,” Serena sighed. “Let her have as long as she can with even our idea of normal before …”

Before life intervened. Before their world turned upside down again, before something else horrible happened. Before another of Will’s pantheon showed up, all of whom seemed to know from birth what they were. The last time it had been his brother Seth, and Lucy had been caught in the middle. Had he known something, she wondered now? Or was it simply that Lucy was her daughter, Ishtar’s daughter, and that was enough to make her a target. And now it seemed as though her baby girl was being singled out again. She curled tighter into Carl’s arms, knowing he understood. They both had wanted their daughter to have a normal life, an easier life.

The world had been so much simpler, a long time ago. It had been a lot simpler, even, that morning.


Writing Is Not A Zero Sum Game

So, the last Bad Brain Day I had snuck up on me, though in retrospect maybe I should have known better. Yesterday, the day after the Boston Bombings, I woke up feeling… better. Not one hundred percent, not ready to leap out of bed and attack the garden with my trowel and magic bucket, or ready to write all the things or what have you, but better. No more bombings had happened, the various law enforcement agencies had things well in hand, people were recovering. The world hadn’t ended. It was a new day. Then, a couple hours into my day job, I started to sink. Lack of recognition on Twitter meant everyone was just humoring me and I wasn’t part of my newfound Twitter family really. Lack of people on my mailing list meant no one cared about my macaroni art novels. (This is a Thing, if I’m having a moment where my novels are silly and foolish and childish and no one will want to read them except my mother, they’re macaroni art. For those not grown up with such things, it seems to be a common primary school exercise to glue macaroni onto cardboard, paint it colors, and call it art.) I couldn’t get anywhere on any project I was working on.

So I went over to my journal feed and looked around on the network and see what everyone else in my corner of the world was up to. And for the first few entries it was okay. People going on about their lives, some having bad days, some having better days, some having days where all you could do was stand back and go “… huh?” and maybe laugh nervously. Until I came across one post from a certain author describing the half-dozen or so projects she had going on at the moment. And even though this wouldn’t be a problem on a healthy day, on that particular day I looked at that post and was overwhelmed with the feelings of: “Oh god. She’s sold all that, she’s publishing all that? I’ll never be that badass. I can’t even write that much in a year.” (Which, let me tell you, given how much I can write in a year that’s already a sign that my brain is going sideways.) “I might as well give up now, I suck and should go die in a hole.

Really? Fucking really? This is what we’re going to do today, brain? Okay, fuck you, we’re going into emergency mode, and all you little weasels trying to become big bad wargs back there can sit your ego and esteem-chewing butts down and shut the hell up. Fuck you, I’m awesome.

(This is another mantra I employ to cut down the brain-weasels who would cut me down instead. Fuck You, I’m Awesome.)

The root cause of this is the assumption that writing ability, talent, skill, whatever you want to call it that published writers have that I, you, we don’t, is a zero sum game. It isn’t. This is an all too common trap that we fall into thinking about, it’s one I’ve been tripping over for years if not decades. Because this author is successful, because this author is doing half a dozen projects at once or this author has a movie trilogy deal, that means that you don’t get one. There’s less for you. You’ll never get one, they’ve taken one out of the limited pool for your lifetime and you might as well give up now. Logistically, there are only so many production companies to make so many movies per year, actors and directors can’t be in two places at once, composers can only make so much music, etc. Skill, though? Talent? Fuck that. There is no magical talent fairy who sprinkles dust from a limited vat all over you and your works, and if someone else has things people like that means less dust for you. That’s not how it works. That’s not even how talent works, talent will get you started on the path, maybe even pick the path that’s less stony and full of brambles for you, but then you have to get your ass moving down that path. You have to do the work, put in the time to practice the skills. Just because someone’s further down that path than you are, or at a stage or three ahead, doesn’t mean the rest of that path is closed to you, doesn’t mean you can’t get to Carnegie Hall. You’ll just have to book a later date. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Writing is not a zero sum game. A zero sum game being a mathematical construct whereby the scores of all participants, if tallied together, balance out with all wins and losses equaling zero; if you have a lot of wins, someone else must have a lot of losses to reach zero. And that’s fine. For mathematics. As any physicist will tell you (if it moves, it’s biology, if it stinks, it’s chemistry, if it doesn’t work, it’s physics) mathematics doesn’t always work in the rest of the world. It damn well isn’t a good model for predicting the path of your writing career. Another person’s success does not diminish your potential. And it certainly shouldn’t deter you from spending your time and your energy how you choose. If it makes you happy to write, write. If you feel you want to share it with the world, submit. Or self-publish. In today’s world it’s become easier than ever before to put your work out there for people to read.

I know why this happens, this delusion that other people’s successes mean I can’t have any of my own. It’s a pre-emptive excuse for why I don’t succeed, if I don’t succeed. It’s an excuse not to try in case I fail. It’s that little voice of depression in the back of my head saying I’m not enough, not pretty enough or good enough or talented enough or, well, whatever. It’s one more way for my brain to fuck with me when I’m too exhausted to employ standard defense mechanisms.

At least by now, I recognize it. If it won’t be shot down by subconscious routines, I’ll kill it with conscious repetition and thought, or outright ignoring it if I have to. I have work to do, and I can’t be putting up with this shabby crap from my own thoughts. And yes, ignoring it or shutting it down depletes my energy some, and maybe I won’t be able to do all the things I meant to do and would have done if it were a more normal day. But writing and publishing, or sewing and costuming, or photography or cooking or a whole lot of other fields, is still not a zero sum game. And when I build my fire higher, it won’t diminish the heat given off by theirs.

Write Strong

So, right now I’m doing Camp Nanowrimo (hint hint beg plead sponsor me link to the right) as well as working towards the publication of my first book ever, the urban fantasy anthology Black Ice. Plus working on a couple other projects to be revealed in more detail later, one of them a serial urban fantasy story. Plus doing Unspooling Fiction blogwork which, for the uninitiated, means analyzing episodes of Person of Interest, Grimm, and Haven when it airs/when we have time to hit the backlog. The upshot of all of this, well, the first upshot of all of this is that I am Humperdink levels of busy (just add ‘my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it to the above list of crap I’m doing) and my mind is constantly on a slow boil. The second upshot is that I’m writing and editing at the same time. This is very bad, GIR. The main reason why this is bad is because, okay, backing up a bit.

I have two brains for fiction writing. The first is my Writer Brain. My Writer Brain is a bit manic and a lot flighty, but I think it and I have managed to achieve an accord. I make words happen on the page, and it gives me the events and people described by these words. My Writer Brain constantly looks for projects, tweaks stories, comes up with new directions, and I’m pretty sure it processes stuff via my subroutines (remember subroutines?) when I’m not looking so that when I sit down to either write or plan something out, it just comes out. This accord took many, many years of practice and training. If it looks smooth that’s partly an illusion and mostly all that practice. My second brain, on the other hand, is much more disagreeable. That’s my Editor Brain, the one who goes through and fusses over punctuation, grammar, word choice, that’s not the best verb to use, you don’t need that adverb there, and how can the narrator see her nodding when they’re on the phone several miles apart? Editor Brain is kind of a bitch. But that’s okay, because Editor Brain has to be ruthless to cut those words Writer Brain ran around in circles for many hours to achieve.

There’s a lot of things I could write about Editor Brain and Writer Brain. Today’s reading from the book of Chandler involves writing strong. And this is because one of the biggest problems I have switching back and forth between Writer Brain and Editor Brain. Especially right now when I’m speed-writing to get all the events, character developments, and descriptions out at high speed and worrying about fine-tuning later, I don’t write strong. There are only so many things Writer Brain can keep track of, and the finer points of word choice are usually the first to get kicked to the curb.

This gives Editor Brain fits. Which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if she were asleep back in my mental Workshop till she’s needed, but right now she’s awake and stomping up and down back there ranting about how I don’t need to qualify any of those actions and can I please stop being hesitant? Don’t be timid! Write strong! Write fierce! Say what’s happening, and be bold about it! It’s not that easy, especially on a first draft. The characters are timid. I’m hesitant to commit to a descriptor. Is this the right way to say what I mean? Do I really want to go there? So my prose gets filled up with words like “mostly” and “nearly” and “actually” and “suddenly,” god, I hate suddenly. Don’t state the suddenness, Kitty, describe how startled the characters are! Show the suddenness in how the environment and the people in it react! Don’t temper your words with “mostly” and “almost,” be bold! Commit to something! The problem with that is, finding the right word to commit to takes longer than writing it out with hesitations and all, and then you get stuck on finding the right word and increase your danger of getting sick of this draft. I do, anyway. The more I hesitate and fidget over any one part, the more danger there is of me packing it all in and going “fuck this, pixel pets forever.” I need to keep moving. Especially when I get to the boggy middle, which is a whole other blog post.

So, writing strong from the get go isn’t going to happen. Not for a first draft that’s 75,000 words long, anyway, which is how long the White Lightning story is intended to be. Chances are that practice has enabled me to write a lot stronger than I did two years ago, five years ago, damn well stronger than I did ten years ago, but it’s still not going to happen. Editor Brain is just going to have to shut her fat face when I’m working on that, and wait her turn till I pull out Black Ice: Blood in the Gutters (the anchor and final story in the Black Ice anthology. Yes, I’m on edits for the last story! Woo-hoo!) Writing for Murderboarding is different, requires a different and more conversational flow, so Editor Brain is much less picky about that. Writing in the serial means chunks of only up to 5k at once, which I can chunk out in about two days, which means Writer and Editor Brains can work together on that. None of those are so hard. Working on White Lightning, though? Oh my god Editor Brain, would you shut the fuck up already?

Editor Brain will not shut the fuck up. Normally when I nano in November, Editor Brain is long since put away, replaced by Writer Brain for planning through late September and early October so I can just trample through Nano without having to stop to think what minor characters are called or where that town was again. Early September is reserved for Dragon*Con, which takes up so much time and energy that if I manage to keep up daily writing habits with short drabbles and blog posts I’m lucky. So by the time my next Nano session comes around, I likely won’t have this problem with Editor Brain. Right now, though, every time I sit down for a writing spree on my first draft of White Lightning there’s that little voice again. Write stronger. Be bolder.

Other writers I’ve talked to have run into the same thing on their revisions. We get through a few good paragraphs, hit one that we weren’t so sure of to begin with, and it shows. Half or more of the words we strike out are words that took some force away from what we were writing, describing, or talking about. We’re timid in our first drafts because no matter how much we outline, we’re still not sure this is the right thing to be doing, the right fit for character to world, world to plot, plot to size of work. But then, that’s why we revise. So that, having determined what it is we’re writing and having it written out before us, we can go through and wipe out that timidity for a clear, strong work to grab onto some reader and drag them into our worlds and show them all the works of our imagination. First drafts, it’s okay to be crap, as I’ve recently said. That’s why they’re rough drafts. Write as weak as you need to in order to keep writing, put one word in front of the other, and come out the other side. Then turn your editor or Editor Brain loose on that finished fucker to drill sergeant it into a proper piece of writing. Remember, you won’t have anything to edit until you finish it. Then you can edit to your heart’s content.

Bad Brain Days

I had a couple bad brain days the week before last that set me back several days on writing. This happens roughly once a month and yes, it’s for the reason you’d expect. (For those of you who haven’t figured out: hormones. Female hormones. The monthlies, here around these parts known as Shark Week.) I can pretty much predict these occurrences, so at least I can work them into a schedule. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. The ones whose causes are more obscure, the ones who don’t stick to a cycle, for a lot of reasons a lot of people aren’t so lucky.

ETA 4/15/2013: I’m rewriting the introduction to this but leaving the above one stand. But in light of what’s just happened yesterday in Boston, I think we’re all going to have a lot of Bad Brain Days coming up. Whether you live in Boston, or have friends and loved ones who do, whether this brings you back to a traumatic event, or if you’re simply affected by the tragedy for reasons you can’t or don’t feel comfortable explaining. When a horrible thing like this happens, it causes Bad Brain Days. That’s okay. It’s a thing that happens. And that’s okay.

Let’s back up a second. When I say Bad Brain Days I mean the kind of days when I really need Natasha Romanova to punch someone in the face for me, usually one of those someone’s in my head who say either I suck or I don’t matter. Sometimes they get creative and pull out a fear I hadn’t thought of before, but those are the two big ones. Less commonly, Bad Brain Days happen because some unnamed jackass went out there and for whatever reason, did an incredibly horrible thing. Or maybe a horrible thing happened, no one to blame for it, it was just an accident or a force of nature. These things affect us, give us Bad Brain Days and the only advantage they have over the ones that come without warning is that at least you can point to a cause and say, “that. that’s what’s causing this pain.” Bad Brain Days are days where you can’t make yourself do anything because it’s hopeless and futile and why bother. Days when you need to curl up and cry somewhere, and half the time (most of the time?) you can’t. Because there’s work, or there’s a deadline, or there’s kids to pick up from school, or there’s an interview you need to go to, or a plane to catch, or this, or that, or something else involving slapping on a public face and pretending to be the competent human being you’re sure you aren’t. They happen to all of us, as far as I can tell. It might be for a very good and identifiable reason, or it might be that you have no idea where these thoughts are coming from, but one of these days you will run into the wall where your brain reacts to every little stimulus as if it’s telling you to go curl up in a corner because you’re a waste of space. Because everything is horrible and everything hurts, and you should be stronger than this, you have to cope, you have shit to do, and crying or screaming or otherwise being in pain makes you a waste of space.

First off, fuck that. In the eyeball. With a pool cue. There are no wastes of space here, I refuse to believe that, and any brainweasels attempting to tell you so are filthy stinking liars who lie.

There are a lot of sites out there on dealing with depression, whether hormonal or PMDD related, of the kind accompanied by mania, clinical and chronic, seasonal depression, situational depression, disaster-related depression, all kinds. This isn’t so much that; this is an essay or screed on how I work with my periodic and predictable Bad Brain Days when my body and my mind is turning against me, as well as, now, how I cope with this kind of mass tragedy. Some of it you might find useful! Some of it you might roll your eyes and oh Kitty no.

The first thing I do, or at least when I’m on the outside of it the first thing I hope I do, is recognize this as a Bad Brain Day and give myself permission to fuck up. To not meet deadlines. All deadlines become statements of intent, I intend to get these things done by the end of the day but whether or not I am able to is an open question, to be determined depending on how bad this one is and how many things to do in the day there are. There’s a few things that need to be done absolutely and without fail, things like feeding myself and showering and scooping the cat litter so they don’t crap all over the floor, but outside of that, everything is up for change. If I don’t get that scene edited or that chunk of television show blogged about, fine, it’ll get put off till the next day and we’ll evaluate tomorrow how I feel. The key part of mental illness here is ‘illness,’ and you don’t try to drag your dumb ass in to work when you have a flu and are spiking a 101 degree fever. Some illnesses are chronic, persistent, and always there, others have flare-ups. That doesn’t make it any less of a bitch to work with in your life, and it doesn’t mean you should try to get the same amount of work done as you do when you’re perfectly healthy. In the case of a disaster or tragedy like the one that took place in Boston, you may not be physically injured but it is a psychic wound, a mental and emotional injury. Again, you should allow yourself to be injured, treat yourself with the kind of care you would if you had a broken leg or a hard hit to the head. Maybe with more care, I know how some of you take care of yourselves.

The second thing I do on a Bad Brain Day is tell someone. Usually it’s the boyfriend, who isn’t always home and awake enough to notice when I’m behaving poorly (the joys of opposite shifts) (or, yesterday, awake when the news is hitting and then I have to tell it to him, fun) but sometimes he is, and I also tell my sister courtesans. The girls know what to do, we’ve spent four years bashing together routines and contingencies for just such a thing. Sometimes I tell another friend or two, if it comes up or we were supposed to do a thing together. If it’s an outside event, if I’m lucky, I don’t have to tell them and I can just say “Boston” or “Newtown” and they know, because they’ve seen the news too. By now we’ve dealt with this often enough that we have terms like DEFCON levels, brain-weasels and brain-wargs, three-pop problems, hamster wheel, inner college student. We use the Spoon theory, we use the oxygen mask metaphor, we remind each other by talking with in-jokes and common context that we understand each other, and we’re there to help. It’s simple and relatively easy, but effective. And by telling someone, I activate that support network and, especially in the case of non-external events that can be pointed to, both validate and get validation that this Bad Brain Day is real, this is a problem that needs to be address and the problem isn’t me or my failures.

After that it gets to be a sequence of if-thens. If I have work, then I get myself showered, dressed, and make sure I have food at a minimum before I go to work. Languages get kicked to the wayside before exercise; I can work on my Memrise vocabulary gardens while I’m at work and give myself some language practice and the reassurance of a small success there. Exercise is more difficult, and exercise is good for me when I’m having a bad brain day. Even if it’s just a succession of push-ups for the physical reaction. If I don’t have work, then I can curl up with a language book, or a real book, or even nap until I feel like I have more energy to do something else. If it’s an external catastrophe, I inform myself as much as I can stand and when I hit the saturation point, I isolate myself by going and doing housework or yardwork with only music on for a while. If I have a short writing project I can do, I do that. If I have a small easy task to do, I do that and get it both out of the way and finished for, again, the small high of success. If I have some good chocolate truffles left, if I have time, I curl up on the couch and eat a couple truffles, drink some milk, watch some distracting TV. Recharge. Allow myself to be sick.

One thing I don’t do is go on the internet. Not into the social media venues, anyway. If it’s a catastrophe, I collect data and get the hell off; if it’s a more internal Bad Brain Day I don’t go on at all. Interpreting other people’s actions and words is difficult enough without being hampered by the lack of visual or tonal cues, and on Bad Brain days everything that can be interpreted as someone hating or being indifferent to me will be. Rumors fly as fast as people can think them up, and everything updates in real time on the internet so it’s hard to separate conjecture, rumor, and misleading fact from truth. A lot of times, the information stream on the internet will do more harm than good. So if I go on the internet it’s to look something up for a writing project, to get into a document stored in the cloud, or to play a silly pixel pet game. Self-preservation at its best. If I remember to I may let more casual friends know I’m going radio silent for a bit, but otherwise I stay off of twitter and off of what social media I’m on.

Finally, this is a thing I don’t do during the Bad Brain Day itself, but something I do all the time: take Bad Brain Days into account. And it doesn’t just go for Bad Brain Days. I’ve been writing long enough that I have at least a rough idea of how much I can do over how long, but whenever I schedule myself, I always try to leave in a little extra padding. For those unexpected bad news phone calls, or the random evening when my friends decide we’re all going to go see Evil Dead at the dollar theatre, or the head cold I thought was allergies until the last minute, or, well, Bad Brain Days. I’m one of the lucky ones who can predict roughly when and for how long my typical Bad Day will hit, and can allow that I won’t get much if anything done on those days. And it’s a rule of scheduling and logistics in general, take everything you need an amount of whether it’s time or money or materials, and add at least ten percent for contingencies. If you’re lucky, you won’t run into a Bad Brain Day, won’t need it, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when the job’s over. And if you do, well, a little advance planning means you haven’t made a Bad Brain Day worse.

And if you haven’t, then you haven’t. Sometimes there’s no helping, stopping, or predicting a Bad Brain Day, and all you can do is keep crawling forward. And that’s okay, too.

A Draft In The Rough

I’m doing Camp Nanowrimo this year and as always, it’s a struggle. The first two days are easy and the rest of the time it’s a slog. And it’s for the same reason that it likely becomes a slog for a lot of other people: It’s bad. It’s not what I intended. In this case it really isn’t, my story ran off the rails and off the outline within three scenes, which is sooner than it usually does when I know it this well! The characters just ran off and did something else. Which makes sense in the context of the characters I’ve built and what they would do, and maybe my initial guess of what they would do in the outline was wrong, but it’s still aggravating. I’m almost 15,000 words into a novel, 20% done, and it’s all wrong.

Well, and that’s fine. It’s okay to be wrong, it’s a rough draft.

I spent a long time not editing or looking back over my stories both because I was arrogant enough to think of most of them that they were good enough as they were (and they were decent) and because I had no intention of either finishing or posting them (and I haven’t) and also because I was afraid. I don’t like editing. I don’t like receiving edits back and learning that someone outside my own head thinks that passage I struggled and fussed over isn’t as good as I think it is. Worse, I don’t like getting edits back and learning that someone thinks that passage I struggled and fussed over is exactly as bad as I think it is, because a lot of times I do think my writing is pretty bad. Trite or cliche, I can structure a sentence properly and even find an unusual descriptor or two, but that’s about it for the skills I am consistently confident in. (Also, I sell myself poorly. You may be noticing.) Anyway, as a result, I hate edits. I hate editing, I hate revising, and I hate writing second drafts. It’s possible I hate writing first drafts even more, but I suspect I hate it differently instead.

You know what I hate even more than first drafts, edits, or second drafts? Not writing. I hate who I am when I don’t write, and so I write. And I like writing to a challenge, when I wrote more fan fiction than original fiction I would take the most improbable challenges just to see if I could come up with a plausible story that fit together that I could write out for it. Nowadays the challenges are writing to the requirements of a magazine submission call, or challenging myself to submit a novel to a board of editors of major publishing companies, or self-publishing an anthology. They’re interesting challenges, I’ll give it that. And they’re fun, and I enjoy them, and I work them stage by stage and try not to think too many stages ahead because Carnegie Hall is a really scary place. (This is an old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice practice practice.) One of those stages, however, is the rough draft, no matter how much I hate it. And I’ve danced on that stage often enough that I’ve pretty well gotten resigned to its existence.

And I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve come to learn that just because my rough drafts are rough doesn’t mean they’re not worth writing or worth doing, and it doesn’t mean that they’re bad, or I or anyone is bad for seeing things and making corrections. I’ve come to accept that I’m going to make mistakes and write bad passages and make more mistakes and have continuity errors and misjudge characters and make even more mistakes. Rough drafts are supposed to be rough. That’s why they’re rough drafts. First drafts. First implying in a series of several, and there will be second drafts, if you can manage it. And even third drafts. I have a novel that’s about to hit its third draft in another few months, its third complete draft because I realized some crucial things at the last minute and now it needs complete rewriting. This happens.

Your first and roughest draft need not be your only one. It’s a rough draft, it’s a place to start. The very beginning of a work of writing is in your head, but then you have to get it out of your head and onto paper or computer file. And you have to get it all out, beginning to end, before you can polish it up. It won’t be exactly as you see it in your head. It definitely won’t be as good, I can almost guarantee that. In twenty plus odd years of writing, I have maybe managed one draft that was 95% good with a few minor edits and one substantial one towards the end that required about thirty minutes of writing a patch job. And that piece is now sitting in the queue waiting to be published in the Black Ice anthology. And that’s after twenty plus odd years of writing experience. One piece that came close to being perfect the first time around. I think that was luck more than anything. Rough drafts by their very nature are rough, they are unpolished and they contain mistakes and edges that need smoothed. They need to be fixed. But you can’t have something that needs to be fixed if nothing is there in the first place.

I keep telling myself this. Most of the time it works, some of the time I need to power on by sheer stubbornness. I tell myself, you can’t edit something and make it better if there’s nothing there to edit in the first place. Some days, the inspiration and energy of the piece, my enthusiasm for it is enough to keep me going. And some days I have to remind myself that writing is just putting one word after the other, that I have all those words in my head and I just have to keep putting them down one after the other. And eventually, perhaps, I’ll get to Carnegie Hall.

Meet and Greet Your Characters

I was working on Black Ice’s sequel, White Lightning the other night, for Camp Nanowrimo. I’ve actually gotten a lot of mileage out of Nanowrimo; some day I’ll work up a few entries on that subject. This year Camp Nano offers self-imposed word limits rather than the traditional 50,000 minimum, so I picked a word count that I thought would give me a completed White Lightning, 75,000. I’m already far behind, due to a few Bad Brain Days on which I wrote nothing at all. Oops. Crap.

(Bad Brain Days happen. That’s a whole other post, too.)

The other night, though, I was working on making up for it, and once I got past this one hurdle it went pretty smoothly, I got about 2500 words cranked out in an hour, hour and a half. The first hurdle took a good hour and change, though, because this was prep-work I hadn’t yet done, and I should have. Editrix pointed it out as I was struggling with it, at which point I reached into my backbrain and, you know what? I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you work at all like I do, and that’s something you’ll either have learned or have to learn about writing advice: whatever works for you, works for you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because this system is endorsed by this bestselling author or that one is wildly popular, that means they’re good and you should use them. If you find yourself struggling every time you pick up a tool, put it down and for the love of Stephen King, leave it there. Whatever works for you is what works. And this is how I work, and if you work like I do, you do a lot of prep work before you set pen to paper, fingers to keyboard. Some of it is textual. Some of it is psychological. For example, anything longer than about 500 words needs an outline, for me. Even if it’s just a couple slashes and a couple lines worth of “this scene is this, that scene is that, that scene is that other thing.” That way I know where I’ve started and I know where I’m going. Another thing I do, that I only write down if it involves specific details I don’t want to trust to my memory (and that always varies), is meet my characters.

I could describe to you what my protagonists for Black Ice do in a typical day, what they might have had for dinner last night, how they talk, how they walk, and where they go to curl up and hide without consulting my notes. I could probably, if put to it, improvise a short sketch playing them as an actor plays a part, with the only limitation being that I have shit for improv skills and no experience. I know my characters, I know how they breathe, if they breathe, how they think. I know them intimately, reflexively; if I have to spend any length of time putting a character’s voice to paper, I know them. I have to, to get their voice right.

So when I was sitting there struggling with a chapter from a certain character’s point of view, up pops my Editrix in a chat window and says “Okay, stop, take some time, I don’t think you know who she is.”

… of course not, Kitty, you moron. That’s why you’re struggling. Editrix knows me well.

I like character-driven fiction, stories with brilliant and vivid characters whose decisions and reactions drive the plot more than external forces not covered in the story. I mean, I read a good pulp or cozy mystery now and again, and sometimes I’m in the mood for scenery or description porn (Tolkien, I’m looking at you) but most of the time for me, it’s the characters. Therefore I tend to write character driven-fiction, too. It’s not so much that you should write what you know and like to read as that these are the stories I find interesting and therefore engaging and productive to tell. Usually that’s either the first or second thing that comes to mind, the character. I’ve had characters flop themselves down in chairs in my mental workspace and tell me they like it here, they’re going to stay a while. Other times I get an idea or a scene, something that seems at the time like a brilliant story piece, and then I start asking the questions like, who would do this? What would this person be like?

Sometimes getting to know the characters comes before the outline, sometimes after. If it happens after, inevitably the difference between outline and first draft will be greater than the other way around. That’s just the way it works for me; if I have the solid pattern of my characters in my head when I’m outlining, I have a much better idea of what they’ll do and where they’ll go than if I don’t, and I’m just plugging in events where I think they fit.

The other night it was somewhere in between. I knew a bit of this character’s history, I knew her function within the group dynamics of the story, but I didn’t know her. Not well enough to know what she did the second she got home, or what music she listened to in whatever car she drove on her way to work. So I stretched out on my couch and in my head I sat her down, sat myself across from her, and started asking her questions. This isn’t the clear visual picture it sounds like, because a lot of times when I don’t know the character well enough to write her voice, I also don’t have a clear idea of what she looks like. Or he, or sie, or they, or it. But I had half of an idea of Alex, and that was good enough to start talking. I asked her a few questions, those answers gave me new questions to ask, and over the course of an hour or so. I learned quite a bit about her. I also got a much better sense of how she interacts with the world outside of herself. This is why I like the character interview method, if you have a vivid not-quite-but-close-enough-for-a-descriptor auditory memory. I might not know the pitch and typical volume of her voice, but I now know the words she uses, how often she stops or interjects with flavoring words, and so on. It helps. After that, bam, 2500 words without much difficulty, several hundred of which were hers.

Characters are tricky fuckers. Entire websites and blogs have been devoted to helping people develop characters, flesh them out for fiction. I’ve got a questionnaire that I sometimes use to get me started when the details just aren’t coming, it’s a good nigh on 70 questions long. Everyone has their own method to get the voices of their characters translated from in the head to on the page, but this one is mine. But you can borrow it if you need to. I won’t tell anyone.

Inspiration Is A Dirty, Dirty Word

I’ve been talking about inspiration, perspiration (desperation, procrastination) and other wittily rhyming things a lot lately. If I’d had advance warning that I’d be blathering on in such related topics, I might have made it a series. But I didn’t; each post was inspired by the one that came before it, and I had and have no idea how long this would go on. So, as the wise man was fond of saying, it goes.

Inspiration is bullshit. Inspiration is a filthy, filthy lie. We start out with an idea, that idea moves us to plan a work, and if we’re lucky inspiration carries us through the first quarter or so of that work. Then the idea becomes stale. Our fingers never move as fast as our minds can. We think on the idea so long it becomes boring, we plan it out until all the newness that energized us is squeezed out of it to the last drop. And then, a lot of times, we find something newer, shinier. Better, we sometimes think. Or it just falls by the wayside as we move on with all the other things going on in our lives.

And this is why writers groan whenever someone says “I have a brilliant idea, you can have it and write it and we’ll split the credit.”

And this is why I groan whenever someone says “I would write that thing but it just doesn’t inspire me anymore.”

Bullshit. A thousand plus words of bullshit that I wrote just last week on Assglue. Inspiration is a tricky little shit who will show up just when you’re looking for a distraction and leave when you sit down to work. Anything longer than you can write in fifteen minutes or so is a product not of inspiration, but of dedication and persistence. Finished works are what happen when you sit your ass down in that chair and make them happen, regardless of your ability to concentrate or your enthusiasm for the project or how much you’re feeling it right now. The inspiration is great for that initial idea that comes to you in the middle of the night as you’re falling asleep, or in the shower when you can’t get to a pen and paper, and I fully endorse grabbing those moments and getting them down somewhere where you can go back to them later. But never, ever let yourself believe for an instant that inspiration is something you always need to work.

Let’s take a different scenario. You’re lucky enough to have a job where you’re writing day after day, or someone’s requested you to write something, or you’ve signed up for a contest and now you have to come up with something. Where’s your inspiration? Oh, that little bastard left the building hours ago. Undependable fucker. You have to make your own inspiration sometimes, find it wherever you can get it, look for it in some damn unlikely places. I was involved in a writing project at one point where I was given an assignment and expected to turn it around as soon as possible, ideally within an hour or two. The assignment given involved ballet dancers, both actual/historical and in a general whoever-you-can-make-up sense. Now, to an extent this is cheating, I was given the assignment because I was familiar with ballet, but I still had nothing but a couple names and a theme to write on. So I got my dumb ass up and I put on some music and I did some ballet around the room, and that gave me a point from which to start. Inspiration can be found, or it can be made. And then sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there is no flash of inspiration, and you have to make the writing happen one word in front of the other, pushing that boulder up that hill by sheer effort and no little push from a muse. This, too, is why inspiration is bullshit.

I expect people still like to talk about writing as though it was some mystical thing that happened in garrets, fortified by whiskey and accompanied by great amounts of pathos and solitude. Or sometimes great amounts of beer, sugar, and music, depending on which writers you follow. I haven’t thought of it that way in a while; to me, as you’ve seen from the blog posts here, writing is something accompanied by sitting my ass down and putting my fingers to a keyboard, and a lot of swearing. Inevitably, writing is also accompanied by me going off on a tangent somewhere and “shit, that’s a great idea, I need to write about that” and then either myself, my editrix, or another friend laughing and “no, finish your work.” Because inspiration is cheap, flighty, and a shithead. It refuses to give advance warning, conform to a schedule, and do things like tell you that this is going to become a three part series or something. It refuses to come when called, and you need to either drag it by one bony ankle kicking and screaming into the light, or forge ahead without it. Never trust to inspiration. That’s bullshit.

Just write something instead, one word in front of the other. Then polish it till it shines. That’s the only work you need to do. Everything else is toppings.

 

A**glue, Coming Soon To A Store Near You

So, a few days ago I waxed eloquent and profane on self-sabotage and all the ways in which we fuck ourselves over, and discovered myself tangenting off into a rant about assglue. This is not actually my word. I nicked it from somewhere so long ago that I’ve forgotten where, but it’s a good word, and I’m going to use it so there.

(I also have no idea why I censored it in the header, but just in case your boss is looking over the shoulder, there you go. Though I suspect asterisks would get the attention of disapproving folken more quickly than swearing you know what? Forget I said anything.)

Assglue! It is pretty much what it says on the tube, a tube of glue for that often slippery connection between your ass and your writing seat. Because it’s hard to just sit down and write or edit, isn’t it? You need the right music for the work, you need the right lighting, you need to be fed and watered and have a shower because that scummy feeling just doesn’t work for concentration, right? You need a ready supply of snacks. You need your comfy slippers. You need that awesomely warm and cozy black wool wrap your aunt gave you. You need some inspirational pictures. You need a glass of whiskey. And then you’re ready to write, but it’s ten at night and you’ve been trying to be better about your bedtime so you only have two hours, where did the time go?

Well, it went to finding your wrap and slippers and making those snacks and fixing that drink and showering and reading and sifting through hours and hours of music, that’s where it went. That doesn’t look like writing.

Assglue. Butt to chair. Proper application requires that you take care of any lingering things that might catch your attention for the next hour or two. Turn off the stove, feed and water and potty the pets. Do you have an imminent visitor, a spouse or partner or a cable repair guy or is it election season? Because if so I recommend posting a sign while you’re writing that says “Campaigners will be shot with watermelons.” or something. Do you have an active door-to-door come-to-our-church population? I recommend posting a sign saying “Please do not disturb; if you have literature, please leave it in the mailbox and I will examine it when working hours are over.” or something to that effect. You could do the same with the electioneers, I guess, one sign to fit everyone. Turn the kettle off, turn the taps off, turn the television off, make sure nothing is going to disturb you for the next couple of hours. Get a big, tall glass of water (I’m serious about this one) or fill a bottle or something and keep it with you, because hydration is the one thing not to fuck around with. Then sit your ass in that chair and write.

It’s hard to do that! It honestly is. Sometimes for logistical reasons, it’s hard to organize your life into having a block of time where you can sit down and write. Sometimes because of all those self-sabotaging reasons I talked about in the last post. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. I tell you something, though; assglue is something that gets easier to apply the more you do it. As with anything else, if you get into the habit of sitting your dumb ass down and writing, it will get easier to shut out the distractions and write.

The distractions inside your head are harder to shut out. Sometimes it’s easier if you keep in mind that writing is just one word in front of the other. Think about what happens next. Then in the sentence after that. Then what happens as a result. Sometimes you need to set a goal, or maybe it’s easier if you phrase it as a statement of intent. I intend to get a blog post and a new scene in Black Ice written today. Sometimes you need to use a program that will sit over your shoulder and scream at you if you stop writing, or bribe you if you keep writing. Such as two you’ve probably (but maybe not) heard of, Write or Die or Written? Kitten! These are all crutches; the only thing that’s necessary is a method by which to write, and your butt sat down so your fingers can write it.

If you’re anything like me, you have a few projects in the pipe at any given point. And, again, if you’re anything like me, you’re stuck on at least one of them. (And if you’re not stuck on any of them tell me what your secret is so I can throttle it out of you.) And that’s fine. The constant state of writers is to be caught in the frustration of having ideas that refuse to come out cleanly onto the page. But until and unless you glue your butt to whatever seat you’ve picked out and put those words onto that page in an order as close to what you have in your head as you can get it, it won’t get written. This isn’t automagical, we don’t (yet) have devices where we can plug our brains into computers and have the text dump onto the page, and even if we did I highly doubt they would be of much use anyway. Have you seen the inside of your own head? I’ve had a look at mine, it’s messy. That’s why I have constructs to clean it up. See right there, what I just did? That’s digressing. But it’s there because I sat my dumb ass down and wrote words into a blogging program. And now we have an entry.

Don’t worry about getting it right the first time. Don’t worry about the conditions being perfect. Don’t worry that you’re not feeling it, that you’re not inspired, that you won’t be able to get it all out in a couple of hours. Don’t worry about all of that. You have one job to do right now: sit your ass down and write. Here’s your tube of assglue. Go write.