Thursday, January 31, 2008

Two teacups

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

There are two teacups in my brain—dainty, gold-edged porcelain painted blue-green. I keep them there for us, my muse and I, despite that I say I have no muse. They are delicate, their underside as white as his skin, and from these cups we sip when we need to have discussions that I would never publicly admit occur.

Often he, who I claim does not exist, complains that it is tea and not coffee, and perhaps we could have some sweets, too, or those tiny cucumber sandwiches without the crusts.

That would be pretentious, I say.

True, says he, but in this place for just you and I, we can admit we’re often pretentious.

Yes, and indulgent.

He drops another sugar cube into the tiny cup, and suggests our meeting place could use some new art on the walls, or at least a bookshelf—something to change it up. Keep things fresh.

This leads to a discussion of where to find what might be missing. Good. It keeps us from having to address I don’t know what I’m doing, and he doesn’t know what comes next.

We don’t discuss my denial of his existence. That would be rude.

Instead, he selects another sucrose sacrifice and calmly inquires if I’ve read any good books lately.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Difficulty doesn't apply

So it passes without fanfare or drama, a simple sending of an email, the subject: [Manuscript Title.] An attached file representing a process and path that I have been diligently walking for three years. Oh wow, I just realized it was two years ago I finished my first manuscript, what I thought was ready for publication. (It so wasn't—only Rachel Vater thought it might be, and she didn't end up requesting it.)

Yes, writing is work, but when you love your job, nothing is difficult. You will put in the time, you will make the sacrifices, and you will sweat and bleed, because it's what you want to do. Ease does not come at the removal of effort from the equation. Ease comes from living in the moment of each breath you take.

You gotta make the effort—and keep making it. Yes, writing is natural as breathing, but take any yoga or core training class, and you'll find you spent most of your life breathing incorrectly. At first it feels odd, letting someone tell you how to fill your lungs, but it makes a difference.

There's only so far we can take our writing on our own. That's why there are classes, groups, critique partners, agents, and editors. It's so we can keep learning. Keep bettering our writing.

Keep breathing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Loki of Cyberspace

Over the weekend, the internet was a buzz with news of ANON?MOUS and their declaration of war on Scientology. There's been discussions about what this means for the internet and its power, whether or not anything will come of it, and whether or not it's even morally correct for one group to challenge another over personal beliefs.

Those are all valid topics, but ultimately not what the event has lead me to understand. I was discussing the general mystique of "the hacker" with my friend, and it was mentioned that Anonymous doesn't have a great deal of respect from some parties. You know who else wasn't thought highly of when they were around?

Loki.

Raven.

Coyote.

Anansai.

Our cultures are filled with myths of the trickster figure, and we see them now as viable and necessary representations of change in various mythologies. All of these stories, however, are old stories.

Now, the suggestion of the hacker as our contemporary trickster archetype isn't a new one, but it isn't one that I've seen this event generate much discussion about. As my friend brought up, we don't have a Robin Hood, and even if we did, would we recognize him as anything other than a thief?

I am neither endorsing nor condemning the actions of Anonymous, because I don't have the information or authority to make a decision about their activities. All I'm saying is that I feel they have a valid role in the narratives of our contemporary society—online and off.

Remember, great ill did initially come from the actions of many historical tricksters, but who would argue that they weren't responsible for great good, too?

Monday, January 28, 2008

I cannot shake the feeling that I ought to have something to write about, blog-wise, but my bleary vision and over-taxed brain can't quite fire the right synapse to generate the words. The majority of the past two days have been revising behind a locked door. As that task is completed, the far more arduous one of writing a synopsis leers at me from across the room.

Can I condense the entirely of the novel into a page? Possibly, but can I do it in a way that is clear and enjoyable to read? That's the real challenge.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Trees in the Desert

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise.

It's a place of history. Culture and traditions sunk deep into time. The people seem rough and weather worn, but they are a sturdy society.

Cut open their cities and you'll find more rings than you can number. They stretch across the desert country, each settlement an oasis in the dunes providing shade from sun and shelter from sandstorms.

Their rich, green clothing flutters in the winds, the ones that come from the west and tease with the salted whispers of a distant ocean.

Their language runs thick from one end of the sand to the other. It flows up through history, their words largely unchanged since brush went to papyrus sheaf.

Stretching with new growth and the thrill of seeking a different sky, a child travels across the border. A rare desert flower struggles to bloom in the snow-covered mountains.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

To Outline or Not to Outline....

It would incorrect to say I don't understand outlining. I do. In a very abstract why-someone-else-would-want-to-do-it way. It sounded like a good thing, an intelligent method, but it appealed to me only as a morbid curiosity. Like why you might want to eat natto—just to say you've done it, and yes, it is disgusting and probably a joke the Japanese play on foreigners.

Outlining, to my inexperienced writerly self, seemed like a joke authors played on those of us who haven't been published yet. Like that rumor someone keeps spreading that editors are evil harpies who exist only to destroy our fragile dreams of publication or the brilliance of our unedited masterpieces. Why pre-write the book, I thought, when you could just write the book?

Work-for-hire runs on outlines. It functions on the concept that you're capable of writing a book, but because it isn't your book—you've been hired to write someone else's—the editor needs to know what you're doing. Preferably before you spend all that time and creative energy writing a book they didn't want. It's a strange beast, this work-for-hire, likely grown in a lab on a diet of radiation and Godzilla movies. Which isn't to say it's not an enjoyable task—a love of words isn't discriminatory about what the words ultimately form. It is, however, a completely different mindset to what most writers consider writing to be.

In this different mindset, an outline makes absolute sense. Yes, of course, you need some map to the strange places in my head. An inkling of the series of synapses that fire in my brain and link, chapter by chapter, character to arc and theme to plot.

But why should I do that for me? I don't need to know what happens in chapter 12 before I've finished chapter one. It'll happen. It always happens.

I realized something while doing the work-for-hire outline: it's a mini first draft.

It's going to change and be revised as much as any first draft. They're never written in stone—more like vomited wordage. The outline's just a guideline, a sketch. So you don't spend three days when you get to chapter 12 wondering where you go after that. It works best with deadlines, because even if it isn't being approved, it helps you finish something in a timely manner.

So I get it, plotter-types. I understand why you do it. It's not a failure to trust yourself or the writing, it's proving you can tell the whole story before the draft is complete. (For some, before it's even started.) So I'll give it a shot. I'll try it, because I don't know that it won't work for me. However, what would really help is if someone could tell me how to stick to the outline.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The hotel lobby

Created from a prompt for a writing exercise

The hotel lobby smells of desperation and secondhand nicotine. In the nooks, there are large vases. Plastic—you can tell by the false sound they make when tapped, and the cheap shine they have even in this dim light.

I watch the lobby from the bar, pulling on a bottle of something malty and imported. I wish it was scotch, old as the girl waiting tables. Liquid amber on the rocks.

This is one of those carnivorous places—full of hungry predators that move too fast for any lens to capture. The old Vegas glory has faded since Frank, Sammy, and Dean were pals, a pack that ruled these urban pridelands.

We’re still drawn to the old bulbs and tacky glamour. Bound with chains of national nostalgia.

In comes another victim, his eyes glazed doughnuts. His jaw slack, as he drinks in the girl’s overt tawdriness, so carefully maintained by the hotel’s uniform.

I want to run a fingertip along his lust. Stroke it. Encourage the sin. Drink it, since I can’t have scotch.

Her lips are rubies. His move as they form irrelevant words. Another conversation lost in the turning slots.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Encouragement

Yesterday I received an email from Diane Walton of ON SPEC informing me that she was submitting The Rainy Season for consideration to the 2007 Journeys Prize. This is one of Canada's most prestigious literary awards for new and emerging literary talent. All the short-listed entrants appear in the annual Journey Stories anthology, and the award has been won by authors like Yann Martel (Life of Pi.) The winner does receive a cash prize, as well as a smaller cash prize is award to the magazine who ran the short story. A nod to the role they play in discovering and encouraging new talent.

While bewildered—perhaps even gobsmacked, I'm deeply grateful that she believed my little story deserved to be presented to the judges. Do I want to win? Oh, yes, absolutely. Do I think I will win? I would gladly accept if I did, but to be considered worthy by someone is a victory in itself.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Step one of acknowledging you're leaving is to prepare packing. It happened in Japan, this idea of gathering all those CDs and books you weren't going to keep or take with you—but you must have taken some of them, because you still have some of them, don't you?

So you sorted them. Decided which obsessions were too great to leave behind. Took the ones you could let go to the second hand place. They bought some of them, couldn't take others, and in the end, you smiled. Said daijoubu desu like you fully understood, and accepted the bills and coins they gave you.

Here, in Los Angeles, you trade in obsessions again. Inquire if that box set can be sold together because it has the box, and hope that it will make someone else happy when they find it at Ameoba Records. Accept the bills—all the same color—and trade them at Borders for books. Old obsessions transformed into currency that pays for new ones.

As you left that store in Japan, thinking of all the people and places and things you'd miss, you made a list. Milk coffee in heated bottles by the convenience store register, the lemon honey drinks in the winter meant to stave off the cold, and the peace of an empty train at night. Dinner with Alice and Dave. Travelling to Gunma to see Yukiko, Wasim, and Craig. Going to substitute teach and realizing you don't know where you are. The Christmas cactus that shared your room. The bakery in the train station. The pizza place nearby where you tasted cabonara pizza complete with a soft-boiled egg on top. The coffee shop that was hidden up the stairs, with the view of the train station. The shrine you passed by when you taught at the closest school.

As you leave Borders, coffee and books in hand, you think "I will miss wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops in January most of all."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

ON SPEC giveaway winners

Using the highly refined art of slips of paper with your names on them drawn from a hat, we have two winners. (Who needs random number generators, right? We like the personal touch!)

Dreaming in Red is happy to award an ON SPEC Fall 2007 issue to: RENEE SWEET.

Good Karma Reviews is happy to award an ON SPEC Fall 2007 issue to: RHONA WESTBROOK.

Ladies, you have until Sunday, Jan 13 at midnight PST to claim your prize. Email me at swordDOTofDOTkannonATgmailDOTcom.

Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who entered! If you would like a copy of ON SPEC, you can visit their webpage and order this issue. (It's vol 19, no 3, #70.) If you really wanted it signed... well, we'll work something out. I'll be a World Fantasy in Calgary this year, after all. ;)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I have been neglecting this blog, for which I apologize. January has always been a weird month for me, as the new year unfolds bright and shiny. Shimmering with possibilities, like a snow-covered field the sun has turned to frozen diamonds. I often find myself misplacing my sunglasses.

Winter is a time for resting, watching your breath steam out into the clear air, and wondering how if the sun shines so brightly, it can still be so damn cold. January puts me in a reflective mood.

*

A gentle reminder that you have until Midnight Friday, January 11, to enter for the ON SPEC giveaway. Please scroll down to the contest entry.

Monday, January 07, 2008

ON SPEC giveaway

No, you don't win the fox. You do, however, win a copy of the Fall 2007 issue of ON SPEC magazine, which includes lovely poetry, wonderful stories from Leah Bobet and Marie Brennan, as well as my first published piece. I'll personalize it, but you'll be responsible for collecting signatures from any of the other authors if you'd like them. Included with the magazine will be a surprise Japanese snack—a tasty one.

You enter by leaving a comment to the contest entry post—if you don't have a blogger account, then I need your name on the anon. comment. Winner will be selected by a random number generator.

There are TWO chances to win. Here and my LJ account.

Rules:
1. Yes, you can enter at both locations.
2. No, you cannot win both copies.
3. No, you cannot win if you already have a personalized copy from me.

Contest closes on Friday, January 11th at 12:00 AM PST. Winner will be announced on Saturday, January 12th, 2007.

Good luck!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

With the completion of the second draft of my adult manuscript—and knowing that a redraft will be required before Agent M can see it—I've been thinking about the deadlines we give ourselves, and the various reasons we do or don't meet those dates. A lot of it has nothing to do with the writing, but the perception of the writing or the actions that follow completing something.

Someone mentioned recently the notion of being "good enough" to write the idea. Like an idea gets to claim it will be better than anything else we think of in the future, so it ought to have precedence over those possibilities.

That got me thinking about goals, and how we're all supposed to make lists of them around this time of year. If 2007 was about achieving those "items" that give birth to a career, then 2008 is about doing the work that raises the resulting baby.

Consisting of writing. A lot of it.

1. Redraft the adult MS in response to CP comments and my reading notes.
2. Complete contract work while having as much fun with it as I can.
3. Complete the YA project that was started in November and had to be set aside for later.
4. Complete the longer short story that was started last summer, polish it, and submit it.
5. Write more than one of the short story ideas I've been stockpiling.
6. Write the MS for the second adult book.

Time to go outline that YA book.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 slipped with a languid grace into 2008, no fanfare or fireworks to mark her passing. It was as if she had dozed in the sun and woken to find the rest of the world declared itself to have changed, but no visible signs of metamorphosis existed.

A puzzling thing to be sure.

*

Reviewing 2007, it was one of endings and beginnings, even more so than most years. A year of ever-shifting transitions: dawn and dusk long as day and night, day and night those brief resting periods between the transformations. The days were blinding, the nights were cold, and the times between a tossing sea. Leaving me to find my sea-legs on an ocean of shuddering asphalt.

I learned that goals shift and change. We can find things by going at them from the side—not the way we intended, but the way that we needed. Also, that our happiness is in our hands, and what makes us happy is not necessarily what others think will make us happy. It is difficult for those who dwell outside our heads to taste and feel our happiness, and that is why we have to express what we want.

I found the rejection letter I received on my query to Agent M in November 2006, and showed it to those who live with me. Less than a year after this letter, I said, I was signed with her.

Could I have imagined last year, so burnt out and ready to quit, that this year would see me poised to complete the second draft of a new manuscript, while mediating at the voices chanting sequel! or demanding my attention for other projects?

I have no resolutions. Instead, I open my arms and say delight me, world.

Do your best. I'll do mine.