Tuesday, October 31, 2006

NaNo and inspiration

National Novel Writing Month is having its usual magic: I woke up this morning and realized that Pere and Hade are actually kind of antagonistic toward one another, on account of that stupid myth, which never happened, and which they've been teased about for roughly 2000 years now.

That makes their dynamic a little more fun, and it sets up a good reversal later on. Yay me. Although I wish I'd realized this when I started writing. This revelation had nothing to do with sitting down and doing the work, either, although it hit me a couple days ago that Hade's character, once I started including him in scenes, wasn't working at all. So this is helpful.

How are you all doing? Off to a roaring start? There's nothing harder than starting. Unless, of course, it's finishing. And then middles are a total pain in the ass, aren't they?

Writing. It's not like being licked by kittens.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Underwear and the writing process

Why is it impossible to get a comfortable pair of underwear these days? They're either thongs or they're freaking boy shorts, which, thank you, do not work on those of us with hips.

Boy shorts. I mean, fuck off.

Not to mention that they truncate you at the top of the thigh, right where most of us need a little strategic help. What's wrong with a little high-rise action that also covers your ass?

Take these. I can't even look at them without becoming outraged. Ruffles? Ruffles. On underwear. I AM NOT SIX. Even if I were, I doubt I'd need the padding.


(blows out air)

OK, fine, I admit it: they are hot in a very wrong way. I trust you to rap your own knuckles with a ruler. That's what I'll be doing right after I buy a pair and try them out on C.

Anyway. In case you're wondering why I am fulminating about clothing my nether regions instead of, oh, say, working on Pere, it's all part of my process. If I can get to 20,000 words before NaNoWriMo starts, I am treating myself to some slinky new underthings. Only I've done the thong thing, yes, thank you Cosa Bella, you can go now, and I'm tired of the boy shorts thing, because see above.

(blows out air)

So anyway. If you're getting ready for NaNoWriMo, I'd like to suggest a couple exercises.

First, it might be helpful to consider theme and premise. Are you writing about a specific theme? Love, war, ambition? If so, it might be helpful to take 15 minutes and decide what you might want to say with your story.

And remember, this will probably change as you write it. That's OK! It's to be expected! ALL FIRST DRAFTS SUCK. NaNo just gets you through the first draft, and that's good!

OK, so now, name your theme. It's probably one word; at the most, two. What's your story about? Love? Ambition? Justice? Revenge? Whatever. Put it down on paper.

Now, your premise. What do you want to say about your theme? What do you believe about it? That's your premise, and your book - when it's done, months from now, when you've written your first draft and taken a good cold look at it and revised and revised--well, your book should support your premise.

But knowing what your premise is now will help you stay on track while you're writing your book.

Your premise could come down to a truism or saying, and forgive me while I trot a few out:

  • Love sometimes means letting go.
  • Ambition is as dangerous as complacency.
  • If you seek peace, first work for justice.
  • Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Now take 15 minutes and brainstorm about three major dramatic actions that happen in your stor: the mother sacrificing to save her child, the hero deciding to go on the journey even though it would be easier to stay put, the reversal when the girl warrior realizes it the only way to win the real war is to put down her sword.

Now. Do these three actions prove your premise? If not, do you tweak the premise itself or the actions? (I'd tweak the premise, but I'm lazy.)

The point of this exercise is to get you thinking about what you want to say, and to make sure the broad strokes of your story support it. It can be helpful, but if you find it's draining the energy from your story -- or for you -- give it up as a bad deal and go eat a cookie or drink a beer or something.

Or do the second exercise, which is way less structured and way more fun. Get a pen and a sticky pad and write down the elements of stories you loved as a child -- fairy tales, cartoons, movies, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, whatever.

Some of the things on my list:

  • Forest
  • Clearing
  • Witch
  • Storm
  • Cave
  • Midnight
  • The orphan
  • The crone
  • Spells
  • Gardens
  • Wishes
  • etc

Stones, bones, feathers, and blood. The pomegranate tree, which is on my mind lately; the wish that goes unspoken. The hand with the mark on its palm, the wounded child, the burning heart. The white bird that leads you out of - or into - the dark place. The one that leads you where you need to go.

The point here is to keep writing until you hit something crunchy, like I feel I did in that last paragraph. Imagine that: it took all those paragraphs of me bitching about underwear to hit on the core group of things I want to put in my book.

Now, were I one to actually revise entries before posting them, I'd delete all that other crap so as not to inflict it on you... but unfortunately, you're stuck with me just as I am, today.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Interesting Michael Hauge interview

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wearing our bear suits

Go read this. Schmutzie is right on the money where sexual politics are concerned.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Searching for the authentic

When I think of home, I think of walking home from school on a nasty December day in 1979. We'd decorated the house for Christmas the weekend before, and my mother was home that day.

It was about 40 degrees and I'm sure I wasn't dressed for the weather. As I walked through the rain, I saw the little bay window on the front of our house glowing down the street, Christmas lights on even though it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. I walked in the house and it smelled like the pot roast she'd just browned and stuck in the oven. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, working a crossword or reading a book, or just being Mom.

There are times when I think I'll never be able to recreate that, give myself that feeling again, like no matter what the world is like, at home, I will be thoroughly warmed and loved and OK. No matter how terrific my life is - and it's pretty terrific - there's always someone I'm failing.

I am lonesome for that day, sometimes. I feel bereft, the past a beloved country from which I've been expelled.

But then there are times when I come close, when I give that kind of feeling to myself and to C, and it's just as good -- or almost.

Just as good would be Mom sitting here at the kitchen table with me and C, our funky old-house lights doing their foggy golden best to give us enough light to work by while a roast slow-cooks in the oven, with garlic and the last of the fresh herbs from our garden making a garland of good smells around our house, my stepdad out buying a forgotten loaf of bread and some beer. With all the dogs of our lives sitting around at our feet, waiting for table scraps.

But almost as good comes close enough today. We've got everything but the parents (and the dogs of years past): I am making a roast, and the entire house smells like beef and garlic and fresh herbs from the garden. The kitchen timer is ticking away companionably, accompanying Billie Holliday on the radio in the kitchen, and Bill and I are sitting in the dining room, under the dim glow of that funky light fixture, working on our stuff, occasionally scatting. And let me tell you, I am in heaven.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Wno's with me?

It's that time again: the time when I exhort you to dust off that old ambition of yours to write a novel - not to mention ditching your inhibitions when it comes to things like cappuccino-chip muffins - and write yerself a novel in 30 days.

Basically, you commit to writing about 6 pages a day, without editing, revising, or letting the voice of your seventh-grade English teacher get in the way.

You start from scratch on Nov. 1 (although you're encouraged to write outlines, plot notes, and character notes before then) and write like the wind until you hit Nov. 30 or 50,000 words (~200 pages), regardless of how crappy you think your novel is.

I've done it. It works. Free yourselves from the tyranny of your internal editor! Sign up to do the nutty! Become a whack job like me! You'll never go back.

The deets are here. This year I'm cheating a little, and we'll just have to see how it works. I'm using November to finish the Pere book, GOd help me, but I'm still committing to writing 50,000 words in November. So I'll be right there with you; I'll just have about 15,000 words already written going into it.

Lest you think this makes it easier, remember that these are characters I care about... so having aliens abduct them in Chapter 14 will be really hard to do.

I mean, when I get desperate I'll still do that, but still.

In other news, in an early birthday celebration for yours truly. my fabulous husband C presented me with a truly tiny laptop - a Sony Vaio. Makes me drool just looking at it. Or at C.

No, you can't have him. He's mine, I tell you, all mine!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Productivity takes a holiday.

An old man shuffles into the bakery where I decided to write this morning. He's dressed for colder weather than it will be today, the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head, a grimy white beard sticking out of it.

He spends 10 uncomfortable minutes talking about Osama Bin Laden and fake liberals and how to kill people by making them pick up their phone. He mentioned the Windermere on Wall Street.

Now I am too wary to write. It hadn't been going all that well, anyway. I try to get into a groove, but it's impossible with him talking about killing people.

Finally another customer comes in, and the barista, a pleasant blond girl of about 20, stops talking to him to attend to the customer, so he goes to get his free cup of coffee, talking about how some girl had died on Thanksgiving.

"They did it, those women, they didn't like what she was doing and they burned her alive," he says. It sounds like the sort of tale you spin when you are actually talking about yourself. I wonder what it would be like to feel persecuted.

Then he realizes no one is listening to him. "And no one even cares," he says, starting to cry.

I try to look busy, because crazy people are drawn to me. Just like everyone else, they look at me and they think, "Mother of two, lives in the suburbs, kids are her life. She'll take care of me."

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

But as expected, he notices me, sitting in the back corner tapping away at my computer. "No one even cares!" He says again, but now he's angry, and now he's looking at me.

Just leave, old man, I think. No one wants that much crazy this early in the morning.

"They won't even stop eating their breakfast and listen."

Oh, I'm listening, I'm just trying to look like I'm working. Meanwhile, I am writing down every word he says.

He goes on in this vein for some time. It takes him a long time to walk out the door. When he does, after much invective, he's still talking to me, and I am still typing assiduously, hoping like hell that he will just move on.

He moves on, all right, walking slowly down the sidewalk toward my end of the cafe. He stops right in front of me, talking, waving his hands, watching me through the glass.

This is not helping me write my book.

I wait for him to push his face up against the glass or hit it, make some noise so that I will be forced to listen to him. But he doesn't. After a few minutes, he sits down outside and drinks his coffee, facing the same way as I am.

We're about two feet apart. It's almost like we're breakfasting together, except that he is on one side of the glass and I am on the other.

But eventually, just as I am loosening up enough to forget him and his scrutiny and get some work done, he comes back inside.

"Can I possibly get a roll with some butter and jam?" He asks, and now I see that he has a cane, and that what I thought was a coat is actually a fleece vest with a hole in the back of it.

His mood has improved.

He tells the barista, "Don't feel bad." He compliments the roll. "Look at the smile on that guy's face," he says, talking about the baker. "That is a happy man."

Now he is moving into the back room, the storeroom, still talking. I hope, hope, hope that he does not come to sit at my table. This morning, my faith in my writing is shaky enough without him interrupting me.

"See, that's what people don't understand," he says, shuffling toward a table by the door. "I'm never sad. I'm always happy."

Yeah. Happy was not the vibe I got when he was outside glowering at me.

"Always trying to kill my joy," he says, angry again. "Just can't let 'em get away with it. Someone's gotta do something. I wish someone would. It'd be so easy to solve these problems. I mean, it'd be a lot of work, it's hard, but it's easy to solve 'em."

Now his back is to me. Apparently he's gotten over me not paying him any mind. This is good, since I have just wasted ten minutes writing this. Now I need to get back to my novel.

My novel. It makes me want to clutch my head with both hands. Isn't this what I want to do with my life? Isn't this my calling? Why, then, is it so hard sometimes? Each night, I think I know where I'm going with it now, I think I know exactly what needs to happen in the next scene, and I can't wait for my writing time in the morning.

Then morning comes and I realize my brilliant idea doesn't work.

This book is coming harder than the others. I have too many other voices in my head now. They impede the freedom of ignorance. I miss ignorance. Ignorance was like a warm bath, and now I am out in the cold, spouting crazy things at the Girls in the Basement. "You're going to BURN ME TO DEATH," I tell them now. After all, someone's got to introduce some drama here.

"You know who's in town tonight? The Who," he tells the barista. "The Who. You know how Paul McCartney isn't the same as he was? But the Who! They're the real thing. What's that they sing - - Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss." He ruminates on that for a minute. "And you know who's in town tomorrow night? Bob Dylan. Dylan.

"See, Bob Dylan was the guy who told me. Who told me about the war, about bastards, about killing people. Bob Dylan is a great man. Bob Dylan made it. If I hadn't listened to Bob Dylan, I don't know what my life would have been. Different, that's for sure. What was I - oh, I was going to be a stockbroker."

He tells us he made a lot of money in the market when he was 14. Says he knows how to pick stocks.

"That guy looks like he doesn't believe me," he said, pointing to the baker, who is young and sort of starchy in a kind way, like the barista.

I have a sudden hope that the baker and the barista are a couple. They will make doughy little babies with bright red cheeks and floury blonde hair, little cherubs. I will put them in my books.

The baker turns to go, prompting an exclamation from the old man.

"I'm just back here making lemon tarts, dude," the baker says. "I'm not calling you a liar because I'm walking away from you while you're talking to me. I just have to make some lemon tarts."

Just like that, my image of this kid with the barista is gone. Dude? This is a French bakery. I was hoping he was shy, French, intelligent. Damn it. Still, he is kind, and he and the barista do get on well when faced with the crazy.

And he knows his body language. He gets points for that.

"All right," the old man laughs. I start to wonder if he's armed.

I try to go back to writing, but my concentration is shot. My protagonists don't have tangible goals, and apparently that is a requirement. Here I thought I was flying along, and then someone up and trips me.

The last time I tried to solve this problem, I ended up with the chick lit version of War and Peace. This is not a path I want to tread again. And yet when I try to think of a tangible goal, it feels like making puppets move around on a stage. Nothing makes that little chill go down my spine.

"Good," the old man says. Can he read my fucking mind? What sort of god would allow a sprite like this to happen to me this morning?

He tells the baker he was at the McDonald's by the Space Needle last Saturday night, late, and when he told some guy that God loved him, everyone shook his hand. "Everyone," he said.

"Well, of course they did," the baker says.

"But it ain't a lemon tart, dude," he says. "You know, if you make the best lemon tart in the world, you should advertize it."

"Well, I haven't been all over the world, so I don't know yet. I wouldn't feel comfortable advertising," the baker says.

Well, you can extrapolate, can't you?"

Now I want a lemon tart.

Customers come in, a young scrubby-looking couple, and a guy about my age. It startles me that my peers are starting to look like they're sneaking up on middle age, although of course they are. I am not, but they sure are.

They are in and out quickly, because the man has found a broom and is now sweeping the spotless floor. Just as I am starting to feel kind of fond of him, he burps. Loud.

"Most good things are simple," he says. I shut my notebook, shake my head. It's not worth it. I'm not getting anything done. I should just go. Instead, I take a sip of coffee, a bite of croissant.

Then I get pissed off at myself for being a poetic fucking yuppie, and get my stuff and get out.

At lunch, I tell myself, at lunch I will firm up Chapter 3. I will write Pere's parts first, and then come along behind with Demeter's parts. It will all be fine. I will try to keep it simple. And I will avoid this bakery like the plague from now on.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Speaking in code

Funny how "Thank you for your feedback" is actually code for "I don't give a shit about your feedback."

Funny, too, how "I am sure you do not intend this, but your actions come across as disrespectful" is actually code for "You are a complete son of a bitch and I hope you die a miserable death."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I'm sorry for the inconvenience.

But unfortunately, this week I'm not taking any shit. No, not from anyone. Sorry.

There might be a small window next week, maybe two hours on Tuesday afternoon. But this week? No.

In a (cough) unrelated note, did you know that it's safer to break up a fight between boys than it is between girls?

Why? Boys will back down. They want someone to break it up. But when girls decide to fight, watch out. They're not backing down. They'll fight to the death.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


My favorite month started today, in perfect October fashion: sunny but with big gray clouds floating around, threatening rain and encouraging the making of applesauce and homemade bread and things with cinnamon on.

My friend Diane is making cinnamon rolls today. If I felt even a smidge better about the roly-polyness that is me, I would join her in that most worthy of endeavors, but as it stands, I am appalled by the stomachness of my stomach and the thighness of my thighs, and so I'm giving it a pass.

Instead I am using two hours of my October Sunday time to edit a doc for WORK. If I wore a big orange button, it would read, Ask me about my bitterness!

But that's OK. Know why? Because it is October, and there is home-made applesauce in my refrigerator, and tonight I am making chili: a mass of red-brown goodness in my red-brown Dutch oven. My kitchen will smell like carmelized onion and deerskin slippers and autumnal joy.