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Forward at Last!

My computer is all set up and my writing rescued from the old, corrupt hard-drive. Which means I now have access to my novel. Which means no more excuses for not editing it.

I’m terrified of it not being good enough. I know it isn’t good enough right now. It’s not long enough, the writing is a complete mess in terms of grammar and consistency, and there is so much more telling than showing it’s sort of pathetic. I don’t know if I can fix it. If the bones aren’t good, what’s the point right? In the 2008 Writers’ Market for Novels and Short Stories there is an article about how to know when something is no good and when to move on to the next project. It’s where I first got the idea for the ten novels in ten years. And I know in my head that it isn’t done. There is a decent story here, there are characters I kind of like sometimes.

The problem is that this novel is my Frankenstein. Not the book, the monster. It’s the first. My original baby that I threw together from bits and pieces I could find laying around. A bit of a bad spy novel I read once, a couple characters from an old Shadowrun game, a villain right out of one my dreams, a mall fight scene because I thought it would be cool. It’s a patchwork novel, a strange creature built from cut corners and stolen inspirations. And to make it acceptable, to make it truly mine, I can’t just put a pretty dress on it and send it to the ball. That is why this rewrite is going to be so much work. I have to tear into the structure and rework the very marrow of the stuff. There will be carnage.

Time to get it out of the way, however. I have to do this. So for my two hours a day I’m going to be reworking a chapter at a time of Dangerous. (God do I wish I had a real title for this, sigh). It might take me longer than two hours per chapter, it might not. I don’t really care. One chapter per day. This will only take at most 20 days, and that’s if I add chapters. I can’t remember where it stood exactly, but I think it’s only about 17 chapters long at this point.

Things I want to do to this novel besides burn all copies:

1) Fill out character backstories and motivations. It’s third person omniscient, so this should be fairly easy.

2) Add about 100 pages to the novel. I don’t think this will be difficult either.

3) More world description. Make the setting matter more and feel more oppressive and dystopian. Include more news casts and more camera/police presence. (I should watch more Fox news to get more ideas, heh).
4) More peril. Things in the novel are entirely too much on the side of my protagonists. They should work harder. It’ll be more interesting.

5) Rework pretty much all the writing. It’s super sloppy right now due to me trying to cram words in for the word count. Contractions are a good thing.

Those are the main things. If I manage to fix all those things, I think the end product will be something more like a workable draft. Then I can finally inflict it on my friends and mother. They keep asking about it, silly fools. Well, by the end of March they will have learned the error of their ways. Oh yes.

On Research

One reason I was attracted to writing fiction at a young age was actually a mistaken thought I had about the process. The first time I wrote a fiction story I asked the teacher if she meant that I could just “make stuff up”. She said yes. I took this to the extreme, as do many starting writers. I wrote stories about flying horses on planets with continents that spanned a mile or two. I invented random plants and ecosystems that made no sense and were heavy on macrobiology and very light in the real of plausibility. Consistency was right out as well. Magic is magic, right? It can be used to explain anything. In my early stories if someone could do magic, they were essentially a god. My characters might get captured or hurt, but like cheesy action movie heroes they sprang back instantly, the same as ever. I didn’t build worlds or characters back then so much as weave impossible tapestries without regard towards consistency or comprehensibility.

And at one point early on I swung the other way. It took a couple years but suddenly I was obsessed with reality in my stories. My daydreams and fantasies suffered from the same problems. I’d begin with childish fancies of flying horses and start thinking about how that would leave horse poop falling out of the sky and all kinds of implications of that. I’d wonder what the weather was like, wonder where the bathrooms were in these castles, even wonder why characters weren’t in school or why everyone was literate and spoke the same language. A myriad of issues arose. I was stuck, there were too many facets to realistic writing, or so I thought.

I’m not sure I’ve solved the problem. There is a large no man’s land that writers must inhabit between reality and fantastical impossibility. Fortunately, we have a large toolbox available. Plausibility is foremost. This isn’t the same thing as “good enough” but it’s something like that. My favorite tool though is research. Even when creating a character or a world from scratch, it isn’t really from scratch. I pull bits and parts and ideas from everywhere. This character rock-climbs, so I should look into that because there might be terminology or habits or physical characteristics that are important. This world has a lot of swamps, so I need to read about swamps. Or visit some swamps to get a truly hands on research perspective. These are just examples, but they illustrate my point which is that the closer you can relate something to what is recognizable and already plausible, the easier it is for the reader to continue with the story.  It’s the theory of heating up the water slowly, so that by the time the readers are boiling alive they don’t mind the fireballs and flying ponies. The best writing makes you cozy and comfortable with its premises in stages, it takes you inside itself, wherever or whatever that might entail.

So I research. Which is fun, actually. I get to learn about things I might never have learned on my own and I get to read, something that is easy and enjoyable. Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve researched or am reading for each novel project:

Dangerous: Pretty much internet research for this one due to my time constraints. I read about cold fusion, titanium production, rice production, closed environments, high oxygen environments, guns, Roman government, viruses, biological warfare, and probably other topics I’ve since forgotton.

Chwedl: On the internet I’ve researched Welsh given names and literary traditions. Since I have a degree in Medieval Studies and studied a lot of Welsh lit, I don’t have to do much reading there. I am currently reading a book called “Medieval Wales” by David Walker, mostly for the place names, maps, and social structures. I plan to research clothing in dark ages Europe a bit more as well, probably using the internet and perhaps my college library. I’m putting a heavy fantasy slant on the novel, so I’m going to pick and choose what I like or don’t from the historical basis.

Predators (or Werewolves in Space as I jokingly call it): So far just reading a book about astrobiology called “Life Everywhere” by David Darling. It’s totally fascinating. I intend to read Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s works, of which I have two sitting on my living room floor waiting for perusal. I don’t have his book “Expedition” at the moment, which I really want. Hopefully it will materialize soon. I intend to read about a host of things, most of which I probably haven’t even realized I need to know. Sci/fi is like that for me: it’s a journey of discovery and I never know where my novel or short story will take me until I’m writing it.

So basically, those are my thoughts on research. For now.

Stalling

The prelim work on my novel is done.  All that remains now is to get writing.  Beginnings are easy and hard.  The first paragraph is always hard.  After that, it comes on its own generally.  I haven’t written that first paragraph.

On the other hand, I finally finished a story I’d been working on for four years.  I’d gotten stuck at the halfway point, dreading a scene the story needed but that I wasn’t sure how to handle.  After a friend lit a proverbial fire under me with a supportive but kicking my ass type of lecture this last weekend, I decided to just buckle down and finish it.  It went pretty well, actually. Now I’ve got the fun task of editing it.

Speaking of editing, hopefully my new computer will be up and running soon so I can salvage my novel from the old one and get cracking on that.  I’d like to have a comprehensive edit done by March.  I’m not sure 28 days is reasonable but I need some sort of deadline or I’ll just keep putting it off forever.

And finally, I called the graduate program I applied to and they have everything they need.  Which means now it really is the waiting game.  Thankfully I have tons of projects to distract me.  I hate wait.

Decisions and Revisions

I’ve decided against busting my ass to apply to Clarion this year. My computer is hosed, which means most of my writing is currently unavailable on the hard drive at the moment. I’d be terrified of losing it all if I had less confidence in my friends to pull a magic computer trick and get my data back. Hopefully this weekend we can do some techno rituals and retrieve my novel (and my music collection, please?). One of these days I’ll learn not to name my computer after volatile entities. Last computer that died on me was called Venus. This one is called Gir. Oh well. (I guess it ran out of cupcakes).

For this week my projects are: Write review of Cooking Mama on the DS for gamer-girl.org. Finish outline for novel project 1 (come up with better name for novel project 1?). Start novel project number 1, my goal is at least 5 hand written pages per day. (At which rate it will only take about 12 weeks to finish the rough draft. Which seems short until you know that it took me 19 days to do the rough draft of my first novel. Which is on the harddrive of deadness.)

I also really need to get cracking on the whole novel rewrite thing. Editing my own work is probably my least favorite thing to do in the world. But, only way the thing has a shot of being published is if I fix it up all pretty like. I had someone recently find out about the whole “editors at major publishing company liked it and want a rewrite” thing and they really got on my case. It’s easy for someone whose work it ain’t to say “if that was my novel, I’d be doing nothing else but that rewrite for a chance like that”. And technically, they are right. I’d have thought the same thing before it WAS my novel.

Which brings me to admitting some hard things to myself about that novel. I don’t really like it. I’m not that much of a fan of the characters, I don’t see how the plot requires the setting in any way, and the setting feels weak and flat to me. I’m more excited about writing the sequel than I am about editing the first one. I know some of the major problems and thanks to a livejournal post by Jim Butcher that I stumbled across, I think I know how to fix some of the issues with the characters. I’m not a cerebral writer. I don’t do things on purpose, with the exception of stupid nerd references that probably no one will ever get. (B13 is the building my protagonists live in, for example). I don’t sit and think about “what’s the motivation for this scene?” or “what does my character like to eat?”. I just sort of go by feel. Which works most of the time and fails spectacularly on occasion when I don’t have a solid picture of what I’m doing. This novel was my first. Like most firsts, I had no idea what I was doing. I was foremost winning a bet. I never intended for the draft to be seen by anyone except maybe a friend or two. I was going to let it die a tiny, inconsequential “good to know” sort of death. But then an author friend submitted it to his editor and they liked it, said it had promise but needed to be longer and to be rewritten/cleaned up. And I told a tiny sort of lie. I said, “oh, well, I’m working on the next draft now, a total rewrite.” Which I wasn’t. But guess what? I am now. Sigh.

Because of this connection, this first novel has a better than random chance of seeing publication. The problem is, I don’t really think this novel is representative of what I want to write. It was written as a joke, a dare. I’ve already won my 20 dollars. But on the other hand, I can’t really let this pass me by just because I hate my baby. I gave birth to this thing, I guess it is up to me to whip it into something I won’t be ashamed to see my name on.

So for the first rewrite, I think I’m going to go through every scene with the main chars in it and see how I can make their lives suck more. The book is almost afraid of the setting, so it’s time to make the setting into something to truly fear instead of just a green screen random backdrop. Aspiring writers would kill for this opportunity, right? But it’s up to me to turn this novel into something worth dying for. Go me. Or something.

Application is Done

So grad school application goes in tomorrow.  Then I get to wait. And wait.  I have no idea when they’ll tell me if I’m in or not.  It could be months.  Sigh.

And in other fun time news, my computer fizzled.  I should know better than to ever shut down that ancient machine, because everytime I do it gives up the ghost and refuses to boot.  I’m never giving it a rest again.  It gets to run until the power goes out or the bloody thing implodes.  Also, I’m giving in and putting together a machine that hasn’t seen the rise and fall of sentient reptiles.   The only mildly scary part of this whole process is the fact that years of writing are stored on that damn computer.  I know, I know. One should save often.  And I keep meaning to get an external drive and back things up.  But we’re talking about a girl who buys new panties instead of doing laundry and has been pretending her car will work again if she just ignores the fact that its dead for a month or two.   Doing things the reasonable way isn’t very imaginative, now is it?

On the plus side, I do have copies of the things I need to work on for my other applications.  So there is grace in the small stuff (and in gmail which saves us all)

Nothing to see here, move along

I am Jack’s wilted inspiration.

Hopefully once the whole grad application process is over I’ll find the ability to sleep and maybe with that sleep will come a sweeping revival of the cognitive process.  It could happen.

I have a story to finish for the Clarion Writer’s West Workshop admission and less than a month now to finish that up and polish it.  And by polish it I mean force it down the proverbial throats of a few friends via email and nagging until I get feedback.

Hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have a more useful or insightful update.  Oh, and hi to my one reader, whoever you are.

Random Find of the Day

When I’m stuck at work, or home, or need to crawl outside my head, I use the internet.  Or a newspaper. Or a book.  But lately, the internet.

Nothing helps off-set a nice hearty bout of depression like people being oh so human.  Take, for example, this ad in the Barter section of my local craigslist:

“Slightly modified xbox comes with one controller. I’m looking for a rifle, hand gun, shotty, and am also open to offers. Let me know what you have. If you have a picture of your offer please include.”  (it had a pic of an xbox, highly modded, next to it).

I can imagine the stories that could come with that.  Maybe the guy has a really annoying wife.  Maybe I’m assuming it is a guy, and really it is a woman who desperately wants to trade in the xbox for a gun to protect herself from raving zombies.  Or, some teenager has decided to live up to the media stereotypes and graduate from videogames to the real thing and can’t get a gun.  Two things lead me to suspect the poster is male.  The first is the request.  Who would think to trade an xbox for a gun but a guy? I have a lot of male friends, this is exactly the kind of thing they might joke about.  Of course, it is the kind of thing I might joke about as well. So much for stereotyping.

The second thing is the word “shotty”.  I don’t think any woman on the planet (or at least my side of it) would use that word.  It reminds me of an ex boyfriend who called my clitoris a ‘clitty’.  This was not a turn on. It was, however, a very male sort of thing to do in my pigeonholing mindset.

The tone of the ad is very brusque and business-like.  I lean away from the teenager theory and more towards the man fed up with someone version.  It has been modified, which means some education or at least ability to use the internet to learn things.  Only one controller means single and likely not a social gamer.  So I put it as a male, most likely caucasian, age 20-40, single and lives alone, who is intelligent or at least technologically capable.  We have here the recipe for a serial killer.

Perhaps he’ll save and trade the games for a good shovel.

The other barters are mainly what one might expect.  Also, a crazy number of people trying to trade things like housework, yard work, childcare etc… for tattoos.  And one lone tattoo guy trying to get his truck painted.   Someone should hook that guy up.

Moist

Starting things without a clear purpose is something I am both terrible and adept at doing.  The space between I ‘will’ do something and I ‘am’ doing something is a vast ugly chasm in my world.  If I tell you I ‘will’ do something or that I want to do something, it might get done.  It means the decision is not made.  Between decision and action for me there is no space.  For me a decision isn’t the leap off the cliff, but the moment after. 

People who blog, far as I can tell, generally operate under the usually poor assumption that they have something to say that somebody else will give a damn about.   I don’t believe that I do.  I don’t believe that I don’t.  What I do know is that my view of the world, my experiences, my thoughts, are unique to me.  I’m different, just like everyone else as the old joke goes.  I surprise people, on occasion.  I’m told frequently that I have a “fresh perspective” or an “active mind” when they are being nice.  I’m told I have an “overactive imagination” and am “illogical and irrational” when they are not feeling so kind.  

When I was little I thought I was just different, that I must smell funny or talk weird or something, because I had a terrible time understanding my peers and getting along with them.  As I grew, I realized I was experiencing a very different reality than most people.  I have a mind that explores possibilities and associations to the point of obsessive imagining and occasionally near catatonic visual states.  I exist in a world that is rich with visuals I hardly understand on a cognitive, rational level.  I swim through this world, picking a path utilizing both habits and observation that allows me to function in the world that others around me dwell in.  I’m not in a different world, merely one that is the same and more.  For years I feared I was crazy.  I read about psychology and disorders and was unable to diagnose myself.  I finally ended up going to the professionals and they were unable to do any better.  I’ve got a lot of imagination, was basically the sum of the findings.  So I’ve come to what I feel is the only rational and human conclusion about my brain’s workings that I possibly can live with at this time.

It’s not me.  It’s you.  Yeah, you, i.e. the people who are not me.  It isn’t that my imagination is overly stimulated or that I live in some sort of freaky continual dreamstate.  No, it’s you.  You’re all underdeveloped, under-imaginative, under-stimulated.  You live in a world where your food doesn’t try to escape or change colors suddenly, where the tiny hole in the ceiling isn’t the eye of a roof-beast recording your every move.  (Stupid roof-beasts.)

That is the point of this blog.  It isn’t a conversation.  I’m not aiming for brilliance, merely communication.  Reading this won’t be a beam of light from my mind into your eye, painful and somehow effective.  No one ever opened their eyes wider to see better in the bright light anyway.  I’m imaginative.  You’re not.  Simple premise.  Welcome.

There aren’t any roof-beasts, by the way.  I’m sure if I went and got a chair I could prove it to myself.  I’d reach up and touch the white plaster, run my fingers around the dark spot above me.  Maybe if I pull on the edges until I can get my hand inside I’ll be able to keep going.  Maybe it isn’t an eye at all, but a portal.  I could pull it open until it was a gaping rift from my world to somewhere other.  A place dark and cool, smelling faintly of wet grass and salt.  I could easily find out where the passage leads.  All it will take is a chair, and a little imagination.