Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Golden prose

Writing a book is hard. Ending it is harder. Everything I write, and mind you I'm in the last 2000 words, seems hackneyed and lame.

And I know, I know, I can fix it in rewrite, but it feels a little like I'm killing my book by not doing the end justice. I'm so ready to be done with this part, to be able to set it aside for a week or two and then see what I have.

I'm so ready to be done with getting up early to do this stuff and thinking about it all day and then working on it more at night, and feeling like I'm missing the gorilla in the room. Feeling like there's a whole other story floating on top of my characters' heads and I just can't see it. I hate that! I hate that feeling of blindness.

And as much as I love writing first drafts, because they're so freewheeling and fun and you can seed all kinds of stuff that you can pick up later, it also feels dangerous, like you're on a tightrope and if you look down you're screwed, and I feel like that's all I've done lately, is look down.

Whine whine whine. And I may not set it aside for a couple weeks; I may just dive in this weekend and start working out what scenes I need to include. There are whole sections of arc that are shown - at the end, no less - rather than told, and I need to work on those.

I also started off thinking Pere and Hade were in love, then changed it midway through to them being openly antagonistic toward one another, but secretly carrying a torch - so I don't know. I don't know which rings more true, or which lends itself to the story.

There's a reason reading books is so much easier than writing them.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Two good posts for writers

Tess Gerritsen on the difficult but necessary apprenticeship writers face:

An unusually brief J. A. Konrath post on motivation for writers - he says it best by using very few words (ah, but they're the right words):

Also I've ditched A SEASON OF ELSE or whatever the hell that title was. The problem is that this is no longer Pere's story; it's Demeter's.

Although that might point to a problem with the arc. I think the story actually is Pere's; so the title might be PERSEPHONE'S CHOICE. I thought that was so brill when I came up with it, and now I'm all, laaaaaame.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Faith and obstinacy

So several days ago, a very good writer I know said that you shouldn't write stories if you don't have stories you need to tell.

This made me feel like jumping off the roof.

I don't have zillions of stories that I am aching to tell, stories I need to tell or I'll burst. Other than, of course, the weird shit that happens on the bus or at class or in the shoe store that I need to write about here, because I can make them more funny or more tragic or whatever.

But then I thought about Johnny Cash. Have you seen that movie? Walk the Line? There's a scene in it, fairly early on, where Cash is singing some dippy religious song in an audition. It's coming across as superficial and dopey because it is superficial and dopey; you can tell Cash doesn't mean a word of it.

And the producer who's listening to it stops him cold and asks him what song he would sing if he knew it was the last song he'd ever sing. That was Cash's turning point - at least according to the movie. That was when he started singing what he meant to sing. It wasn't sappy religious crap, either. He started singing the stories that mattered to him.

I'm still waiting for that moment. I'm staying open to it, looking for it to come. And in the meantime, I'm writing. In other words, before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

But that talented writer? Just this morning, she amended what she said. She said that while, yes, there are stories that just poured out of her, stories she knew she had to tell, there have also been stories that snuck up on her when she thought she was writing about something else. Stories that took her entirely by surprise.

And you know how she got to them? You know how she figured out what she was supposed to be writing? By writing. By putting in the time, the hard work, the struggle. By keeping the faith, and when she maybe couldn't keep the faith, by being stubborn and just writing more.

So I'm good to go, now. My faith has been restored. I'm going to write this novel, and then the next one, and then the next. Who knows if I'll ever get one published? Plenty of people keep writing novels and never get published. But publication is not the point. The point is to keep writing. Chop wood, carry water. Amazing how often I need to remind myself of that.

By the way, here is what that writer friend of mine said:

"I think the fact that you can't quit pretty much says you have a story that needs to be told--yes, I'm looking at you, Brooke--because otherwise you wouldn't write stories, you'd write poetry, which is much easier to demonstrate beautiful writing in. I think people who love words and emotions alone tend to gravitate toward poetry. And people who love people (stop it, stop it RIGHT NOW!) people who love character and want to write about people gravitate toward fiction, and maybe they're not really great at plot (that would be me) but they want to write stories about people, and that's why they end up on this side of the line, rather than over there in the words and feelings and iambic pentameter country.

"I could be wrong, of course. It's happened. I think it was 1996 . . . "

Friday, November 24, 2006


Ever had one of those days where you could swear there was a smudge on your glasses but you couldn't get it off? And that was the only thing you had to blog about, since you spent the morning in your pajamas, furiously reading Patricia Cornwell's Predator and wishing you had the plot chops she does, and then shopping aimlessly for fake Christmas wreaths and then realizing - at the checkout stand, as you are paying - that you will really miss that great pine smell when you walk in your door, but you're committed now -- and then coming home and having no freaking clue what to do with your work in progress -- which you are pretty sure is dead on the table anyway, I mean who the hell are you kidding, you, writing a novel? So what if it's your fourth; they're all crap -- and meanwhile an agent in New York is waiting for it, waiting for you to finish it, since you somehow conned her into believing that you had some talent and some persistence and maybe even something special, something she could sell -- and you remind yourself that your last novel didn't suck that bad, it just got so long and kind of unwieldy but that was because you put it through like eleventy million drafts, and anyway that was a learner novel and you didn't know what your story was, but in this one you do, kind of anyway, and this one is a first draft and all first drafts suck, so you really do have a chance to improve it if you will just calm down and start typing --- and so, at long last, you talk yourself down from the ledge all writers find themselves standing on at least once a day, and you finally, FINALLY settle down to work, only you are completely unable to clear your glasses of this maddening smudge? This smudge that is killing your work in progress, your future career, and your faith in yourself all in one fell fucking swoop? And meanwhile you've signed up for this ridiculous post-once-a-day thing that SOME IRRITATING WOMAN suggested, WHILE CLEARLY DRUNK, might be fun? And you had nothing to say? Nothing at all? NOTHING?

Ever had a day like that?

Well. Welcome to Hell.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Breaking bread

It's just possible that I like fall so much because there's so much baking to do. I'm trying this bread from Deb's site, which she managed to make even with one arm in a sling.

If I can make it with my wordcount in a sling, anyone can. I'll let you know tomorrow at noon, when C and I are tearing into it making animal sounds of pleasure. Hopefully.

In other news, when stuck on a first draft, add a child! One with a bad attitude but a good heart, like the teenaged kid in Little Miss Sunshine. I've given the witch a bratty kid sister with zero powers, who hangs around Demeter. Demeter, unaccountably, lets her--for one, it's free work, and for another, she's the only one who talks back to Demeter and gets away with it.

I've modeled this on the strange relationship between my stepfather in his younger, hoarier days and my ex-sister-in-law, who was the only one in our family who gave as good as she got, and who therefore earned his respect.

Demeter's spent her life around people who learned to walk on eggshells around her. Instead, this kid - Sarah (hi Sara! I am borrowing your name and some of the attitude you had in, oh, 1984) - smarts off to her routinely, and Demeter loves her for it. She'll end up as something of a short, scrawny unintentional mentor, and she may end up in mortal peril before the end of the book, depending.

Or not. I might kill her off if it's too gimmicky, but that's where I'm at with Demeter's arc right now. Hell, I'm just happy I'm in Act 2.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Plans gone awry

You ever set something up for yourself -- a schedule for your morning, a class, the route you're going to take to work? Your sense of calm? -- just to have it go south on you in every possible way?

That is my morning. It is also the writing class I started taking in September (although I have met three terrific women in that class, Sella, Kristin, and AutumnGoddess).

Last night, in class, our instructor took a writer to task for calling a character both taciturn and surly, saying that a person couldn't be both things, because taciturn means laid-back.

My head about exploded.

"Taciturn means you're reserved, you don't talk very much," I said from the back of the class, where I sulk, regret the money I spent to take the class, and look for opportunities to pounce on the instructor, who bugs me. You should know, this is not the first time she's given us bum advice.

"Really? I don't think so," the instructor said.

I think my eyes actually shot out of my head at that point.

"It does not mean laid-back," I said. "It means you're not talkative. You can be both surly and taciturn."

Think back to what I'm like in EVERY CLASS, bitch, I thought. That's surly and taciturn.

She was still up there shaking her head and smiling, bemused. She was like that because her boss was in the room. Normally she's not much a one for students who contradict her.

She makes me want to throw things.

Later she told another writer that he was a little on the wordy side. This is like saying that Hitler didn't much care for Jews. She took this sentence as an example:

Thoughts of egress seemed to flee from him, pushed away to make room for these accursed walls.

Then she decided to edit it. She mulled, and she mulled, and it felt like bugs were crawling all over me. Finally she came up with this: "Escape seemed to be impossible to him."

"ESCAPE SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE," I said from the back of the room, feeling every word.

"Hmm?" she said pleasantly.

"You don't need to be, or to him," I said. "The more extraneous wording you can cut out, the stronger your writing will be."

She nodded pleasantly, while waves of dislike flowed from the writer in question toward me.

I left at the break.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fiction or nonfiction?

Yesterday I had two conversations with people who wanted to write about their lives and were deliberating over treating the material as fiction or nonfiction.

Then this morning, what showed up in my Inbox but a link to a writer who's struggled with the same thing? Complete with handy writing exercises! So go check out Abigail Thomas's site.

Here's a particularly good exercise from it:

"Here is an assignment I’ve given my students for years. Take any ten years of your life, reduce them to two pages, and every sentence has to be three words long. I’m strict about this—not four words, not two. Three words long. These can be sentence fragments, but you can’t do stuff like 'I went out/to the store.'

"It’s a terrific assignment, if I do say so myself. Among other things, it forces you to choose. It forces you to leave things out. Learning what to leave out is not the same thing as putting in only what’s important. Sometimes it’s what you’re not saying that gives a piece its shape. And it’s surprising what people include. Marriage, divorce, love, sex, all that can fall away and what you take up precious space with is sleeping on grass, or an ancient memory of blue Popsicle juice running down your sticky chin."

And here are several more, thanks to JPG, who sent them along to the writer's group I'm in:

  • Write two pages in which someone obsesses over something meaningless
  • Write two pages that contain three platters of cheese
  • Write two pages of boring dialogue (you'll be surprised how hard it is to be boring on purpose)Two pages that contain a kitchen table, a slammed door, a dead cat.
  • Two pages that take place in water
  • Two pages of apologies

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Exuberant procrastination

So yesterday, I sit down at the table and I tell myself, You, my dear, are going to catch up.

I turn on my computer and make sure my coffee is within reach and while the machine's booting up, I jot down a note or two about one of my main characters in the notebook I keep with me at all times. It has a flame-orange cover and inside, graph paper instead of lined, because I like filling in boxes when I am not writing down the notes, and anyway it frees me to scribble all over the lines instead of having to stay on the lines. Yay.

The machine is booted up and I think, I'll warm up by writing a blog entry. So I do that, and then surf around, just to keep up to date, you know. I find something online about a friend of a friend, so I email a third friend to say, WTF? She writes back to say No no, that's about the other friend, and that entails a whole other conversation.

Then I check my stats, and holy baby Jeebus, that Pink Elephant randomizer over at for NaBloPoMo is working for me. Hi-do, new readers! Welcome to the hoe-down of dumb. What can I say? You deserve better, but this is all I have to give.

Then I let Heidi know that I was not snarking out at her, not really, yesterday when (I blame Day-Quil!) I wrote her email entitled, "Seriously? 10,000 words on Day 2?" She really is an inspiration. My jealousy is my problem; she rules.

Although on Day 3 she was up to 24,000 words. I think we should organize a kidnapping because she's putting the rest of us to shame. I am looking at you, Syd, Miss 325 Words.

But instead, I tell Heidi I am turning off the Internet, and instead, I start writing this post, surf to her site so I can link to her, and end up reading it.

And that, my friends, is how you procrastinate during November. I did end up writing 3000 words, and I am still behind.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pancake heaven

This morning I met the delightful Kim for breakfast at a pancake joint near her place. I was late, congested and afflicted by cough syrup dementia when I finally showed up, but breakfast with Kim is always fun, and before you know it we were bemoaning our NaNo novels and talking about our childhoods.

Now I'm at a cafe gearing up to write. The other night -- and I totally blame NyQuil for this -- I had this idea that maybe writing Demeter as a controlling, manipulative Lady MacBeth wouldn't be quite as much fun as writing her as a loopily domineering stage mother who wants to make that nasty old rumor about Persephone and Hades true.

I'm torn. I'm 22,000 words in, and changing Demeter now would force changing the entire thrust of the story, but on the other hand, I could totally see Demeter as sort of a determined Betty White-type character.

In other news, I am the worst best friend in the world. Carrie thinks she's the worst because she hasn't sent me a birthday present, but I know I'm the worst because though her son is almost one year old, I HAVE YET TO MEET HIM. (He does live several states away, but still.)

So Carrie, girl, if you're reading this, know you're only #2. You'll need to work harder to top that.

Friday, November 03, 2006

It's a motif

So remember Schmutzie's excellent post from last week, with the video about women ("Women! Know Your Limits")? Well, Heidi's chimed in with a nod to Madonna's video "What It Feels Like For A Girl", mentioning al the Kali energy.

Kali's the Hindu goddess of war, and several weeks ago I wrote a little scenelet where Kali shows up just when Pere's having all this trouble with Hade. Aphrodite's there, and she's wafting around giving her usual killer advice - wear rose water and be sweet - and Kali's all "Want me to rough him up for you?"

I'd never seen the Madonna video before, and I have to give huge thanks to Heidi to introducing me to it. That is exactly what Kali looks like for me.

The video is comforting, in a way, to someone like me who's always angry just under the surface. I work in software, and to say it's male-dominated is like saying humans prefer to breathe air. And I've noticed myself becoming angrier and angrier, the more I work in this industry. It's coming up on 11 years now and lately I have been on a tear.

I watched that video just now and I feel so much better. Like someone gets it. Sexism has gone underground but it's still alive and well. People at work wonder why I can be confrontational. Sexism is the reason.

Well, OK. It's one reason. The other is an inability to suffer fools, and the third is just plain bad behavior. But it's the most prevalent reason.

Also: Speaking of software, a big shout-out to my new friend Sella, a kick-ass Seattle writer who's also in the software trenches. Sella's also doing NaNo. Rock on, girl.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

2022 words what I wrote yesterday, and they were like drops of blood coming off my forehead. God. I got up to 863 in the morning, to 1403 by midafternoon (lunchtime writing), and then put in another hour at night to get to 2022.

Normally I write faster than that. Ahem. A LOT faster. Adding insult to injury, my writing yesterday was not better, it just took longer.

I need a button: "Ask me about my bitterness!"

The problem was that I spent yesterday morning fixing the first two chapters, of course, so for every word I wrote, I swear I deleted three. But still, 2022 is 2202 more than I had on Tuesday. Today I'm aiming to make that 4022. Or so.

Of course, there's an entire scene that needs to be rewritten, but I think I'm saving that for December. As of today, I'm toeing the NaNo line: no revising, at least not on this level. Just write write write.

Also, is fall not the best season? It may have officially started a few weeks back, but it secretly started on my birthday a week ago (United Nations Day. You of course celebrated by giving one another the traditional United Nations Day gifts of Amnesty International stickers and flatbread, right?), but the season really gets a leg up with Halloween.

I love Halloween. All those kids dressing up, all that chocolate. Could there be a better holiday? And from here on out, it's just fun fun fun, straight on through to January: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. Each spring I say spring is my favorite time of year, and each autumn I renege. Fall is where it's at.

One last NaNo thing and then I'll let it go for the day: if you order the supercool kit, you get stickers for your laptop/notebook that read, "Ask me about my novel!"

They should include a removable, reusable one that reads "Don't".