Thursday, December 20, 2007

It has snowed every morning since I returned home. Fat, white flakes like bleached fish food tumbling down. The air is thick with them, and the water in our fishbowl icy. It fogs the sky so we cannot see out, only grey spattered with white.

Passing through the glass, the cold radiates in. It claims the air within its reach by coating the floors with an invisible chill.

Outside my window, where the snow has yet to cover, grass and dirt are visible--the remnants of an autumn that left months ago.

It will be three more months until Spring.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Neither dead nor resting, but in that headspace where what I want most for Christmas is to lock myself in my room and not emerge until the manuscript is finished. This is normal for writers—when the words flow like the pipes burst and water is cascading onto the floor. All we can do is fill notebooks and screens as quickly as our fingers allow us. Vocalized sentences are short—disjointed—the incoherent half-thoughts of an emergency situation.

Much has happened this half-month, as the roller coaster that began in early September has yet to find the smooth straight slow-down before we disembark.

Saturday night, I set aside a partial outline and the blinding rush that comes when a project is less than six chapters from completion, and sat beside friends who had gathered with me to celebrate the holidays.

My mother asked me to write a (very) short piece to accompany a family photo in the Kamloops Daily News about what Christmas means to our family, and it had me thinking about what Christmas means to me—the scattered images that the word recalls.

Making mashed potatoes in a giant lobster pot the year we slept on Yukiko's floor, and our Christmas bird was chicken from a Brazilian restaurant. The year I learned why each note of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" or "I'll be home for Christmas" is so often tinged with melancholy. The year I learned why "White Christmas" is the same. Snow. Breath misting in the air, as my small voice joined my friends when we went caroling when no one went caroling anymore. My dog with his back against the tiles before the fireplace, panting but refusing to leave the warmth. A hockey rink floor and several of the arena seats filled with people gathered for the church celebrations. The first time I saw the Kamakura Daibutsu, and when we got lost trying to find Tokyo Tower. Christmas shopping in Omiya. Christmas shopping in Pasadena. Dinner at my grandparents.

Times is irrelevant. Things and places mingle and blur. People remain clear.

Christmas is just another day when it isn't spent with those you love.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Author's note for "The Rainy Season"

Why hello my foul-mouthed little story. I see stumbling off into the world brought you home. In a publication, no less.

(Please stop eating poor Aki-kitsu. She was not rescued from that stall in Fushimi to survive the bullet-train ride back to Tokyo and the trans-Pacific flight so she could be eaten by a speculative fiction magazine. Oh, wait. She might be reading said magazine. ...wow, that fox is small.)

I wanted to say something profound, or at least inspiring, but I feel too humbled by sharing a ToC with Leah Bobet and Marie Brennan.

So instead, I'll tell you the story of "The Rainy Season." In November 2005, my maternal great-grandmother died. She was the first death of someone very close to me, and three days after her death, I wrote the draft of this short story. A month later, in December 2005, my paternal grandmother died.

Those two deaths provided the emotion and some of the character traits for the story. There seemed, at the time, a definite connection between how helpless and angry we feel when someone we love dies with the feeling of how helpless and angry I felt sometimes while living in Japan. How you want to rage against the world for seeming to ignore how hurt you are, and how important unexpected kindness becomes.

The temple, if you're wondering, belongs to the Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion—She who Hears the Prayers of the world. I didn't put it in the story because there's no way the narrator could have known that.

As for the clunkiness, the profanity, and the lack of a setting... well, my little story, your author has been working hard at her craft. I'll do better next time.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Wrangling Authors

So you have an unruly character, do you? Now you're completely stuck because they just refused to do as you told them?

Please excuse my confusion, because I don't have those kinds of unruly characters anymore. Even when I occasionally want to claim I have "uncooperative characters," I'm aware it's not the character that's at fault. It's me for not having done my job to get to know that character. Or I'm failing to trust that my characters know what they're doing.

The first step to overcoming "unruly characters" is taking responsibility for your work. You write. If you'd like to explain the bliss of hitting a groove and the magical flow of words as your "muse" or "characters behaving themselves," I'll understand. However, regardless of where you believe your ideas and inspirations come from it's your hands on the keyboard.

How many doctors do you know who would dare to say they blotched a surgery because their scalpels didn't feel like cooperating? Have you ever had a mechanic fail to fix your car because her wrench went on vacation?

If you "can't" write, you need to explore why. Don't just stop and blame the character or say your muse refuses to cooperate. What isn't working? Have you forgotten something—like the purpose of the scene? Is there a plot point you've overlooked? Have your characters developed differently? Is your pacing off?

Or is the problem not with the text, but with you? Are you tired? Have you over-worked your creativity and need to go refill the well? Or are you scared to write?

The next step to overcoming "unruly characters" is understanding you must never force a character to do anything. If your character won't do something, that's your subconscious going "hey, this is totally WRONG."

This is why you have to take responsibility for your work—you have to understand that you wrote it, so you know when something isn't working. Believe it or not, you also know how to "fix" it. Ask yourself why you're insisting the character does something. Are you choosing plot over character?

If you're committed to a plot point, you'll need to find a believable way to make the "new" behavior still bring about that event. However, you might need to come to grips with the fact that there's a possibility you're going to have to change your mind. What you thought had to happen may not work at all when you get to writing it.

Outlines are not the ten commandments, handed to you from God Almighty who will see to it you suffer eternal pain and torment should you fail to adhere to every minute detail. (Especially if you aren't working with an editor yet.) They are much more like instructions to build Ikea furniture. You've got these pieces, vague diagrams, and an Allen wrench. You could follow your outline to the letter, and still end up with a three-legged desk.

How? Simple. You allowed your preconception of who the character was to get in the way of who the character became. Remember when you wrote that outline? How you knew what happened next? You're ignoring that voice. (If you have to call it your muse, fine.) Let go and trust the writing. Trust yourself. You have to believe that you are strong enough to chronicle the adventures through your brave new world. If you don't have confidence in your writing, no one else will, either.

Finally, there are no rules when you write that first draft. Forget the outline. That was a sketch to get the basic shapes clear in your brain. You're painting now, baby, and nobody cares if you use Prussian Blue instead of Ultramarine.

You're the only who knows you didn't plan on using that color from the get go.