scarlettina: (Madness)
My dreams last night were full of writers--and the predictable messages when you're, well, me.

First I dreamed I was at Kit Kerr's place ([personal profile] aberwyn) and she was cleaning out her bookshelves, getting rid of extras and books she'd never read. While she was doing that, she was talking about her latest book, and how she was going to self-publish, and would I edit it--because I was the only one who could. There was something in there about buying a book I didn't really need. But I committed to doing the editing, knowing that it meant I wouldn't be doing my own writing if I did so.

Then I dreamed that I'd written a play for a school performance--a terrible play, just really bad, and I knew it. In the dream, five major science fiction writers were attending (I remember specifically Joe Haldeman, Greg Bear, and Bob Silverberg--the two others were vaguely familiar faces, but my dream self did not put names to them; one of them may have been Harlan). I made a point to tell them it was bad, to not have high expectations. I was a member of the cast, by the way. Right before the play began, I retreated to the restroom a) to use it and b) to refresh my memory on my lines. A couple of the writers called after me, making fun of me for writing a play. (I know all of these writers but I know Greg well enough to know that this is emphatically not something he would do. Ever.) Of all people, Haldeman followed me into the bathroom to ask me why I kept telling them the play was bad, and why I was giving myself a hard time for writing a play instead of fiction. I made him go away because I had business to do (i.e., relieve myself). When I was done, I went out to watch the warm-up number before the play began--a bunch of the boys in the cast doing a performance of "Gee Officer Krupke!" from West Side Story. Then it was curtain time. I took my place . . . and realized I didn't know my lines. I wasn't off book--and the curtain was about to go up.

See, these dreams? Are all about getting in my own way, feeling inadequate and unprepared. I've been giving myself a hard time about not writing fiction but working on the board game design instead--as if taking a different creative approach is a bad thing. I actually had a conversation with a friend who's a well-known name in the RPG design sphere in which I told him I felt intimidated by talking about the board game in front of him because of who he is (and talking about it in general because some of my friends are Grand Old Men (tm) in the RPG business). And tonight I have therapy but I haven't done my homework for this week.

It's a good thing I'm a cognitive dreamer with an analytical mind, otherwise I'd be kind of a mess. I mean, I am kind of a mess; I have spent my adult life surrounded by the most extraordinary creators, whether they're writers or designers and I still have self-image issues, even though I know that they wouldn't be spending time with me if I didn't myself have something to offer as a creator and generally interesting person. Some part of me always figured that at some point, one gets over this sort of thing, that as a grown-up I would conquer this sort of madness. Having not done so by this point, I'm guessing one never does after all. One just sort of learns how to deal with it. I'm learning. May I say, however, that it's a pain in the ass? It's a pain in the ass.
scarlettina: (Angel)
I have been a writer my entire life. My first publication came in third grade, when the class published a newsletter. My audience was 30 kids and, possibly, their parents. I don't remember the specifics of the article, but I do remember one moment of editing, when my teacher changed the sentence, "Each student made up Indian names for themselves" to "Each student gave themselves Indian names." Factually speaking, her edit was incorrect, because we were never given guidelines or resources for finding actual native American names. We made them up, based on what we'd read in some book or seen in some movie. I remember it irked me. Yes, in third grade, I was capable of being irked. About being edited. Oh, the irony.

Beneath the cut: some history )

The last couple of years, there's been almost no writing at all. What little I've tried has been almost painful. Rejection, somehow, has gotten harder to take rather than easier. And I just . . . just stopped. Except for occasional forays on Live Journal, there's been nothing. A lot of the lack of creativity has had to do with depression. As I’ve written about here before, for a while I was surrounded by people with cancer, which took me back to my core trauma (my mother’s death) and pretty much paralyzed all of my art—whether it was writing or making jewelry or photography or singing.

I began thinking recently that I really need to write again. Fiction feels hard right now; it feels sensitive and sore, too hot and painful to touch, like it’s a big part of the wounds of the summer and fall. So, I’m taking a page from Inigo Montoya (who took a page from Vizzini): When the job goes wrong, you go back to the beginning. I’ve pulled out my copy of A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver and started to read and take notes. I’ve also started to write each morning, a couple of pages of whatever comes. I’ve had a couple of ideas for poems. I’ve been looking over older work, wondering why I didn’t submit some of the pieces I’m seeing now with fresher eyes. I guess we’ll see what happens from here.

Foggy Friday

Fri, Oct. 23rd, 2015 08:14 am
scarlettina: (All my own stunts)
Bless me, LJ, for I have sinned--it's been 14 days since my last post, two weeks. How the heck did that happen?

Well, I'll tell you.

Work
October has been the busiest, most stressful month of my work year. At work, a bunch of federal regulations came down that we were unprepared for, so I'm spending a lot of time updating the company website to be sure we're in compliance. And every day I get asked, over and over again, will we be ready? Will you be done? And every time someone asks me, it adds stress that is not helpful. So I go to work, deal with the massive stress, come home and, basically, shut down. I binge-watch TV or I make some jewelry or play with the cats. Writing has been really challenging. I've been saying that I can't wait for November 1, which is the deadline I'm working toward, but it's become clear that the work is going to continue in this high-pressure fashion for a while yet.

My computer
My laptop, a Mac Book Pro, is at capacity. It's so full that I can't even open the finder without getting a message to shut down some applications because there's so little room for application operation that it freaks out at even the most basic functions. What am I writing on now? Sshhhh--my work computer. I need a new machine. This costs money. But here's the thing...

Costs
I am anticipatorially house poor. What that means is that I've got a bathroom renovation looming on the horizon that I have to pay for, and I hadn't planned on an extra 2.5K in computer costs. Plus there's some lingering overflow from my burn earlier this year. (Don't get me started. Trust me. I don't want to talk about it.) I have a bunch of travel I want to do next year and things are just getting very tight. So I'm trying to watch my pennies but, you know, life. So that's stress there.

Headspace
Besides the work stress, there's been some personal stress. And there's been depression, honest, real, clinical depression that's been going on longer than I care to admit, for which I am getting help. And it's made a difference. But it's a slow crawl back to functionality, much less cheerful, healthy, ambitious functionality. One step at a time. That's my mantra these days.

Writing
I've had one story--my Mary-Lincoln-and-the-automaton story--out on submission. Four rejections now, but mostly encouraging rejections. I may go back and do some revision before I send it out again. We'll see. I love that story, and I don't want to kill it with revision as I have other pieces I've loved. And I'm doing some exploratory writing on a thing about a cat herder and a dragon hunter. No idea where that's going, if it's going anywhere at all.

So that's the brief rundown. I still want to write about the maybe-crime to which I was a witness and my reactions to it. But I've got to get through this work time, and I've got to get through the needless business trip next week. And I've got to give myself enough breathing room to enjoy tonight's outing, which does promise to be fun.

So that's where I'm at right now. Not a great place but not a bad place. "One day at a time" is my motto these days. One day at a time.

PS--Also? I need new slippers. I had wonderful shearling slippers that kept my feet toasty warm and I wore them until they fell apart. I need to go get another pair. It's getting cooler here--so cool that the heat has come on without my turning up the thermostat--so it's time.

State of me

Thu, Jul. 2nd, 2015 07:37 am
scarlettina: (Creating yourself)
Weather
First of all, it's hot. I know, I know, it's summer, it's supposed to be hot. But in Seattle, summers are typically warm and mild. The last week or so, the weather has been scorching: sunny, uncharacteristically without rain and, yesterday, humid--at least by Seattle standards. The level of the strangeness of this weather cannot be overestimated. Let's put it this way: when I want it to get overcast and rainy? You know something is wrong.

The day job
Work has been strange and stressful. Our team was reorganized a couple of months back--or perhaps it's more correct to say that our team was nuked from orbit, because it was the only way to be sure that the new chief marketing officer had the team she wanted, and refocused the company on sales. The result of this reorg is that a team that worked like a well-oiled machine, a team that everyone was pleased with, has been split into four, maybe five other groups. There is no more web team. We're all pieces of other groups now. No one communicates with anyone the way they used to, mandates and goals for the website aren't being shared effectively and many of us are feeling like we've been set adrift, occasionally pushed in what may be the right direction, but no one knows for sure. Either the workload has increased, or we're feeling the loss of protection as a group that we had while our old director was still with the company. (She was laid off as a result of the reorg. She was a friend and mentor to me and I miss her keenly.) It has been stressful and has resulted in all of us feeling like we're casting about in the darkness for the right handhold so that we don't fall down an unseen hole.

I threw a fit earlier this week because, as the result of one (smart but poorly considered and incompletely conceived) mandate, our design team forgot a key piece of the design for a new feature on the website. I talked to every manager who would listen to me. As the message was communicated up the chain, the reaction was, "What? Wait. We missed . . . what? That's important? Well, crap. OK, you're right. Let's fix that . . . when we have time." It was a slow realization, like management was waking up from a drugged stupor, and I'm still not convinced that it's going to be properly addressed. Why did I make a fuss? Because I was asked to write copy for this incomplete design and couldn't finish my work because the workflow obviously had holes in it. I actually lost sleep over it. I had trouble speaking about it because I was so upset about it. This is so not me, and it's a result of the new environment at work. It's like people just aren't paying attention to anything except what management turns its fickle, ADD-addled eye upon next rather than focusing on steady progress to key goals. There are squirrels in the process everywhere.* It's making work a less-than-pleasant place to be.

Writing and editing
Well, the Kobold Guide to Combat wasn't nominated for an ENnie Award. I'm disappointed but not surprised. I know that an award nomination is not an indication that a project has been a failure. It's a good book; it's just not at the very top of its category--in a year that was very strong indeed. It was an ambitious project and, of all the books in the series, it was the hardest to pull together. Some writers whom I thought could deliver just didn't. Others didn't deliver what was asked of them. From this I learn that I need to better scope out the writers I choose for projects. I learn that some writers are great storytellers but not non-fiction writers. And I learn that when I make an assignment, I have to be crystal clear about the requirements and the goals of the essay and the project. In some cases, I probably wasn't.

I also learned that I need to make better choices about how and when I take on a project. This was the right project at, I suspect, the wrong time. It's why I'm taking a hiatus from the Kobold series. I love working with the Kobold team and [livejournal.com profile] the_monkey_king. I loved those projects. But they meant that I wasn't writing. And the time of the year that the work came meant that I spent a beautiful summer indoors editing, which made me restless and dissatisfied.

On the writing front, I've been working on my Mary Todd Lincoln story all spring in fits and starts due to time constraints and it's making me unhappy. I should be done with the story by now. I want it out in the world. But it's not finished and, as a result, I'm falling a little out of love with it. I've never been a fast writer. I'm hoping that this torturous process won't kill this story for me the way it has others that I've adored. ::sigh::

Other stuff
There's other stuff I want to write about--my weight, the challenging emotional environment I'm dealing with right now, my utter inability to declutter the house, my lack of travel and the empty prospect for same--but it all seems kind of overwhelming. I think what it all boils down to is that I may need to do what I promised myself I'd never do again: get back into therapy. The level of "I don't want to" is pretty high in that direction, and yet a lot of what I've been thinking and feeling has suggested that I really need to do it soon. It doesn't anger or frustrate me. It just makes me sad.

The holiday weekend is upon us, and I'm looking forward to some dedicated Me Time--which I haven't had in weeks. I may be inviting some people into this time, but I'm going to be careful about who. I need to foster the relationships that nourish me and, for once, listen to my inner self about not letting those that don't drain my energy completely. I need it for me.



* In case anyone, years from now, reads this journal entry and doesn't understand the squirrel reference: SQUIRREL!
scarlettina: (Writing)
Years ago, a friend of mine gave me a chapbook of short-short stories he published. One of them was, ostensibly, a Jewish story. But for some reason, the character kept referring to "shavath." I couldn't figure out what the character was talking about. I asked the friend and he said the character was talking about the Sabbath. I said to him, "Oh, you meant 'shabbat.'". No, he responded rather defensively, he meant "shavath!" That's what a rabbi told him--shavath! I'd never seen or heard or referred to the Sabbath in any way except as "shabbat" or "shabbos," and that's what I told the friend. "Well," he said, "you're wrong." Whoa! thought I, and dropped the subject. Clearly, having grown up Jewish, I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about. Not having been ordained, I couldn't possibly challenge a rabbi about something this basic. Or maybe he had misinterpreted a reference that the rabbi had provided to him.

Another friend just posted on Facebook, asking for a particular phrase in Italian Hebrew. I asked if she meant Ladino, since that's what many Western European Jews speak. No, she said; a little later, she edited the post and rephrased her question. She wanted a character to say a particular phrase in Italian Hebrew for authenticity. I did some quick Google searches, found some references for her and pinged a friend who is more observant and more fluent than I am in Hebrew. The Facebook friend seemed to be genuinely grateful.

What I didn't say to this friend is that I wondered that she hadn't done her own research first. The Googling I did was educational to me and I learned things I didn't know--like there is an Italian analog to Yiddish and Ladino called La'az. It was very cool to learn about. But I found some information within three clicks. On the other hand, she didn't ask for the language--she knew enough to make a distinction between Ladino and La'az, even if she didn't initially appear to know the name.

But here's the bigger issue that's been bugging me. This writer wanted a phrase in Italian Hebrew "for authenticity." And all I could think was that language is a product of culture. You've heard the old saw that Eskimos have more than 20 words for snow? I don't know if it's true or not, but conceptually the idea is sound. And the corresponding concept exists for every other language on the planet. Language and culture have a symbiotic relationship; each grows from the other organically. So if the writer was looking for a phrase "for authenticity," then I hoped that she was researching other things about this character's background as well--for authenticity of behavior, of environment, of personal history.

I didn't say the last bit because it occurred to me that when she thanked me for the references, she might have been grateful, sure, but she might also have been being patient. As I said, she knew enough to make a distinction. My own recent experience with research for fiction has shown me that what's new to me may be well-known information to others who have studied the subject before. I didn't want to get presumptuously pedantic. I didn't know where this writer had been with her subject, so I left the conversation there and went on my way. (It's taken a while, but I'm learning when to step away from Discussions on the Internet. And I don't have to correct everyone who's wrong on the Internet either; sometimes, it's even me. [shock!])

But I couldn't help feeling a little possessive and a little defensive, myself. This was my culture--or a similar one--she was writing about. (Was she? I didn't know context or anything else.) What about the rest of the details?

I will admit that this is one of the reasons I'm always a little nervous about writing characters from other cultures and backgrounds. What if I get the research wrong? What if I make a perfectly innocent misstep (like the friend who got defensive)? I've done it before, in other contexts. We don't know what we don't know. Asking questions, using Google, using the library all help. At the same time, a lot of policing goes on these days; I could get pilloried for an honest mistake, one that even may have come out of trying to do effective research. I didn't want to be a police officer on the subject for this writer, which is another reason I stepped away. I knew the limits of my knowledge and tried to provide a more knowledgeable resource.

It's hard, though. Complex. I want to help her make sure she gets it right. At the same time, all those other questions I had? A natural reaction, but not necessarily a helpful one. Knowing when to walk away, when to say so much and not more, is challenging. Getting the research right is hard, too.
scarlettina: (Blue)
State of me: There's been a lot going on emotionally lately, things I have a hard time talking about. It's left me feeling tied up, strapped down. There are a lot of things I can't say to anyone ever. I've thought about finding a therapist, but I've spent so much of my life sitting in therapist's offices that the thought just exhausts me. And so here I am, with my . . . stuff. The worst of it is that I'm self-medicating with food. While I haven't undone everything I achieved a few years ago with my weight loss, I've undone a lot of it, which is another source of personal unhappiness.

Work: One thing I'm not afraid to vent about is the day job, the thought of which also exhausts me. When I took this particular job, I had some very lofty goals in mind. Those lofty goals got lost in the minutiae of the day-to-day and in office politics. This team isn't actually very political, but there's one person who's a little bit of a nightmare to work with. Personally, we get along well and share common interests. Professionally, she's kind of a minefield. I've already had informational interviews with another manager in an effort to explore my options outside my team. I hate the thoughts of leaving my team because I like most of them very much, but it's clear that my role is a dead end, and it's clear that if I stay I'll be subject to Miss Minefield's behavior regularly. It's making me anxious and angry. I've spoken with my manager about it; I've spoken with my grand-boss about it. I'm also considering broadening my search.

(As a side note to [livejournal.com profile] allanh, I'm developing a finer appreciation for what you're experiencing at work. This morning, I'm all out of f*cks to give. Today's mantra is, "If they want this sh*tty copy on the site and are willing to escalate to get it, that's exactly what I'll post. And I'll make a point to let everyone know whose responsibility it is. 'Cuz it sure ain't mine.")

Work on an uber-scale: I'm 52 years old. For much--not all but much--of my life, my day job has been that most necessary of necessities rather than a true vocation. My true vocations have been relegated to avocations: writing, art, photography, singing. I lay this at the feet of the loud old voices in my head that have proven harder to shake off than I ever would have believed. Part of it is that I haven't done the necessary work to not just shake them off, but silence them well and truly. It's hard. But at some point, I just have to shut them all up and make some decisions about what my priorities are. Time is growing shorter by the day (a fact which has been hammered into my awareness the last few years and especially lately) and if I want to achieve any of the dreams I had, I've got to get on the stick. Do something different. I've done two things so far: 1) I've started perusing the classes at Coursera.org. My thinking is that if I'm going to make a significant change in direction I need to dip my toe into a couple of different areas before I submerge myself; Coursera is one way to do said toe-dipping. 2) I've picked up some colored pencils and have been coloring mandalas in a Dover Publications collection. I have found it to be meditative and calming. Also quite satisfying. By the time I finished coloring my second mandala, I found myself wanting to do something more original. We'll see where that takes me.

Writing: I am in a tough spot. This is another area where I just can't . . . talk about what's going on. I hate it (being in the tough spot, not writing). I want to write. It's a struggle every damn day.

Edited to add: Here are the mandalas mentioned above. I can't take credit for the designs, but I did the coloring.
IMG_1135 IMG_1134
scarlettina: (Writing)
I spent last Wednesday through Sunday at the Rainforest Writers Village on Lake Quinault on the Olympic Peninsula. It's a beautiful location and never fails to take my breath away when I arrive each year. It was, as it always is, a productive time, a social time, and a time for introspection.

Some folks, while at retreat, produce as much as 20,000 words over the course of 5 days. I am in awe of such productivity. Myself, I produced a little over 5,500. I have learned that on my good writing days, about 1,000 words is what I can expect to produce before my brain is done. That being the case, I did pretty well. It's 5,500 more words I have now than when I left, and the time and the work produced a lot of good thought about the project that I spent most of my time on. During those days, I also provided feedback to someone else on a story, I attended some really good seminar/discussions about craft (if learning is remembering what we already know, then I always learn at these things), and I got to thinking about and revisiting a story of mine that I adore that I've never quite managed to get right. I also, as it happens, took a terrific hike with Janka Hobbs; went on an Elk Quest with [livejournal.com profile] davidlevine, Janka, Susan Matthews, and a number of others (elk sometimes congregate on a nearby golf course in the morning; we missed them); and had, among the many fine meals of the week, dinner at the Rain Forest Lodge with David, Jeremy Bloom, Diana Pharoah Francis, and Amy Thomson.

Dinner among the trees and the writers:
Dinner with a fine group

Last night, I was on the phone with [livejournal.com profile] davidlevine about said short story. This particular piece is bound up in my personal issues in a way very few other stories I've written have been. We hashed out questions that I've never asked before, examined characters who have gotten short shrift in my meditation about it, and I considered starting the story in a different place than where it begins now. This morning, I find myself meditational about it, not quite ready to dive into a redraft, but feeling myself on the way.

I also met some great people and reconnected with a couple of folks whom I haven't seen in a while. I find myself wanting very much to maintain those connections and to nurture them. Time and opportunity will provide, I hope. I'm thinking about advocating for a get-together at Norwescon.

I am also transitioning back into the real world. Yesterday, I worked at home, sorted and posted photos from the retreat, did some smashed penny club administration. Today will be real-life full bore: working at the office and getting back to my freelance project--so much to do. The days aren't long enough to accommodate my to-do list or my aspirations. And as always, coming out of a retreat, I find it hard to make sacred space for my writing. I need to do that, though. One thing at a time.

My Flickr set includes all the pictures I took (not as many as I thought), but said set doesn't include any pictures of me. Here are a few from the party on Saturday night where there was whiskey, margaritas, a ukelele and lots of singing.

Singing along:
Rainforest Sing-along

Our epic rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody looked a little like this:
Bohemian Rhapsody, Rainforest style

I couldn't resist choral directing the last few words of the song, because I'm like that: "Any way the wind bloooows . . .":
Any way the wind blooows...

Photos by Andrew Williams
scarlettina: (Writing)
I realize that I don't post quite as often as I used to, so here are five things that are going on around here to catch you up a bit.

1) New light fixture: Since about a year after I moved into my condo (and this is a long time ago now), the light fixture in my great room has been broken--not smashed-broken, just non-functional broken. I finally decided a couple of weeks ago to do something about it. A neighbor of mine does electrical work, so I had him come in to look at the thing; it was definitely time for it to go. (I thought there might be a wiring problem in the wall, but it was the fixture itself.) Last weekend, I went light fixture shopping and purchased this really cool pendant light (except mine won't have the yellow stripe in the catalog shot) that I think will look great up there. I'll probably end up buying a couple more to replace the light in the kitchen and in the main downstairs room (though that second one will require more work than a mere replacement). Very excited for its arrival and installation.

2) New glasses frames: I recently had an eye exam and my prescription has changed--as my prescription is wont to do. It amazes me that my vision could get any worse than it has been, but there it is. New glasses frames--a serious departure from what I have now--are on order. I promise pictures where they arrive.

3) Rainforest Writers Village and writing: On Wednesday, I depart for my annual retreat to the rainforest. I'm looking forward to it for many reasons, but I also go with some trepidation. I've had increasing trouble writing fiction, wound up with feelings of inadequacy, despair about success (a self-fulfilling prophecy when one doesn't submit, I admit), poor discipline and so on. I'm looking forward to some concentrated time to not only write, but to evaluate what I want and what makes sense in terms of my energy and effort. So much of my self-image is wrapped up in writing and editing. I need to examine it all much more closely than I have lately. I don't know if it's a signal of my trepidation about it all, but I've been having trouble even cleaning the house in preparation for my absence.

4) Knitting: I continue my experiment in loom knitting by working on an infinity scarf, a how-to which I found in, of all places, a cooking blog. I know I've already made a scarf, but this one teaches me a new stitch on the loom as well as requiring me to learn how to do a different kind of cast off and how to flat seam a piece together--three new techniques in one project, so a second scarf project is justified. There will be pictures at some point.

5) Reading: I have been a restless reader lately. I abandoned the Jenny Lawson memoir "Let's Pretend This Never Happened"--I found the voice just repetitive and obnoxious after a while--and have moved on to the third Aubrey/Maturin novel, "H.M.S. Surprise," which I'm enjoying just as much as I did the first two. After a string of unfinished reading, this one I may complete. I've picked up so many new books lately that I'm actually a little cowed by deciding what comes next. Something surely will come next, however. Surely.

Outlining

Mon, Jul. 1st, 2013 09:55 pm
scarlettina: (Writing: More fun)
So I'm wondering how people feel about outlining. I started this book by pantsing it (in other words, writing by the seat of my pants), trying to just write it as it came, and what ensued were structural issues, idiot plotting, and uneven characterization. I'm outlining now in a very abbreviated way, a way that Mark Teppo calls the Hardy Boys method: Select a number of chapters (he recommends 26, at 3-5K or so words, a modest, achievable length, at least initially), and then to name each chapter as the chapters in a Hardy Boys book were named, following the three-act structure as you go:
Tom goes fishing with Spotty.
Tom discovers a monster in the lake.
Lake monster eats Spotty.
Tom battles the lake monster.
And so on....

There's more to the technique than that; I'm truncating it here for simplicity's sake, but you get my point. (Teppo's a smart guy; this description doesn't do the technique real justice.) I'm finding this act of simple outlining kind of fascinating because I find myself wanting to do more, add sub-bullets and more detail, but needing to stay succinct so I can see the structure as I go and stay focused on the mission immediately at hand. Structure, somehow, has become very important to me. I suspect that once I have the 30,000-foot view of the story and structure, getting into sublevels will make more sense. Some of this, I suspect, has to do with what [livejournal.com profile] jaylake calls span of control, how much I can keep in my head and manage at a time. I wonder if I'm overthinking it. (It wouldn't be the first time. Or maybe this is the first time I'm thinking about this particular thing in this particular way and it feels big.)

So...thoughts? Who's a pantser and why? Who's an outliner and why? Thoughts on outlining generally?
scarlettina: (Write hard die free)
In the wake of the weekend's festivities (the Locus Awards, to be specific--which included the company of many most excellent folks), I decided that because I was pretty peopled out, rather than going to meet the usual suspects for writing this morning, I'd stay home and write by myself, well, in the company of the usual pussycats. But here's what's happened so far:

--I've done laundry
--I've washed the dishes
--I've paid some bills
--I've researched how to properly thin carrot seedlings (because the balcony garden grows apace)
--I've prepared a bag of stuff to donate to Goodwill, which I'll be visiting later today

And every time I've gotten myself to sit down to write, I've popped up again like a jack-in-the-box to get something to eat.

Hmmmm.

That's self-medicating behavior. That's insecurity and unhappiness. Mostly, what it is, is not believing in myself. Not believing that the time will be well-spent. Not believing that, once the work is done, anyone will want to read what it is I've written. There's been lots of rejection the last couple of years. In my own head, my hyper-critical self keeps saying that this project is really a pretty midlist sort of idea, nothing that will really break out--what's the point of the exercise?

Years ago--we're talkin' years here--[livejournal.com profile] bravado111 said to me that I get in my own way better than anyone he's ever met. See above and witness the getting-in-the-way behavior. But it's outward. The getting-in-the-way behavior is really the stuff that happens in my head. That's the real toxicity. Even writing this post is avoidance behavior.

I don't know how I get out of my own way except to sit down and do the work.

I want to want this so bad that I can't get in my own way. I want to believe it will be worth it. It's always a fight for me.

On with the fight then.
scarlettina: (Creating yourself)
It was my first fairly uncommitted weekend in a while, and for once I felt like I was able to relax and rejuvenate a little bit. That's not to say that previous weekends weren't good--they were; they were just very busy, with little time for me to unwind.

This weekend started with seeing "Grey Gardens" in the company of EB, the musical based on the documentary about Edith Bouvier Beale and "Little Edie" Beale, the society shut-ins abandoned by their family in a crumbling mansion until Jackie Onassis, Little Edie's first cousin, more-or-less rescued them. I saw the HBO film based on their story several years ago and had a rather dramatic reaction to it. It's a story of peculiar and co-dependent relations in isolation and abandonment and, given my own sensitivities about those particular issues, it had a pretty strong impact on me. When I got my subscription to Seattle's ACT Theater for this year, I had misgivings about seeing "Grey Gardens" but then decided that there's no use in not confronting all the feelings that the story provokes in me; obviously there's food for thought there. And while the show is, by any measure, a difficult one for me (and in general, I think; it's not exactly uplifting), it's a good play, and the performances were top shelf. I enjoyed it as much as I could, even while having my moments of grim reflection alongside.

Saturday was a day of housecleaning and organizing. As I said over on Facebook, seeing a show about two shut-in ladies, their 52 cats, and all the garbage they live with gives a girl pause. My big accomplishments were cleaning the top of the fridge, vacuuming, and beginning to clean out the upstairs closet. That last job is by no means finished, but it's less intimidating than it was, and now I have stuff to take over to Goodwill.

Sunday began with me going into Capitol Hill to meet my usual suspects for a morning of writing. In the wake of finishing and delivering a short story project (upon which more another day), I spent the morning reacquainting myself with my novel and its issues. Writing commenced. There may be something here. And for the first time, it occurred to me that there may actually be a series here. We Shall See. And i spent the rest of the day grocery shopping, cleaning, and just mellowing a bit.

The only other things that went on this weekend were plans for the future. I'm going to Portland partly for business and partly for pleasure next weekend so plans got rolling for that. I'm trying to figure out my NY trip for this summer. I've RSVPed to the Seattle International Film Festival invitations to the Donors' Premier and the Members' Preview. (That first week of May will be busy!) I tried to get plans rolling to attend the SFWA readings in Kirkland on Tuesday evening. And I picked up my Locus Awards membership for June.

It's all little bits and pieces of things, but this is what results in Having A Life, something I very much believe in.
scarlettina: (Writing: More fun)
Wednesday morning, I packed up the rental car, picked up [livejournal.com profile] mcjulie, and headed out to the Olympic Peninsula for the Rainforest Writers Village Retreat for 4.5 days of being nothing but a writer. Rainforest is held on the shores of Lake Quinault, and it's a beautiful location for getting away from it all. Or from most of it--whatever it may be. In this case, "it" is daily life, the day job, the kitties (whom I adore but who want attention at just the moments I don't have it to spare).

I started the retreat by journaling longhand, mostly about issues I've been dealing with around my writing. I journaled on and off throughout the retreat, and still have more that I want to do. I spend quite a bit of time here on LJ being reflective, but when it comes to my writing, I'm finding I need to keep those thoughts private and off the web. I want it to be just me and my pen moving across the page.

I wasn't sure what fiction I was going to work on during these days. Just as I was leaving, I received an invitation to write a story as part of a shared world anthology, so I decided I'd spend my time working up a proposal for the idea, send it along and, if it was approved, work on the story. Well, it was approved, so that's what I worked on. I have no illusions that acceptance is guaranteed. But the structure of having an assignment to work on gave me a framework for moving forward, so I grabbed it and ran with it. The work went pretty well, though with the typical ups and downs (this is a great idea; this is awful; I'm not a writer; maybe I am a writer; oh God, what the hell have I done?; no one will want to read this; hey, this isn't bad; well, maybe someone will want to read this. . . . and so on). In the end, I have most of the story in first draft, but need to finish writing the last two scenes.

In the meanwhile, I attended a couple of the scheduled talks and I participated in a panel discussion. My panel asked the question, "How literary should your commercial fiction be?" and we had writers and editors from across the spectrum speaking on the subject. We worked toward defining the difference between commercial and literary fiction; one remark that really stuck with me is Nancy Kress's insight that that commercial fiction is about resolution and the literary fiction is about resonance. The best fiction achieves both and is, therefore, both an elusive goal and one that, as writers, we ought to aspire to, whether or not we succeed. It was a good discussion. I don't know if we solved anyone's conundrum on the subject, but it got us all thinking and that, for itself, was worth the exercise.

I attended John Pitts' (that's [livejournal.com profile] bravado111 for the LJ literate) talk about imposter syndrome (something I know a little something about). His insights were sharp and instructive; he talked about the concept of trading up your problems each time you achieve a new level in your writing, and about how the self doubt we experience as writers never really stops, just manifests itself differently along the way. Smart guy.

I also attended [livejournal.com profile] jimvanpelt's talk, "Once is Accident; Twice is Plot" about repetition helping to build plot and theme, reinforce metaphor and motif, and create resonance. It was an excellent talk, for me the best discussion experience of the retreat. As illustration, he passed out copies of Bob Shaw's remarkable short story "The Light of Other Days" as an illustration of these ideas; the story blew me away and is an excellent example of a classic technique. Learning is often being reminded of what we already know; Jim did a great job reminding all of us about this key mechanic for creating effective fiction and I was grateful for his time and effort. And, boy, is he a good teacher! His students are fortunate to have him.

And then, of course, there was just a lot of quality time with quality people. I spent the best of my time with [livejournal.com profile] davidlevine, and got to visit well with Brenda Cooper, Rob Sawyer, Ace Jordyn, Barb Galler-Smith, Allan Rouselle, Manny Frishberg, and Louise Marley among so many others. I also met some new people, among them Gary B. Phillips and Stephen Merlino in particular. But the retreat was filled with marvelous people, terrific and insightful writers, and I reveled in the great talk and the good company.

What else did I do? I got to visit the world's largest sitka spruce. I attended Louise's excellent yoga classes in the mornings. (I really ought to do a little more of that--yoga, I mean.) I took pictures, all of which you can see at the Flickr set. I picked up a couple of books (John Scalzi's Redshirts and [livejournal.com profile] jimvanpelt's new collection of short stories, Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille). I walked, though not as much as I would have liked; it was simply too wet (see above re: rainforest). And while I had good meals with everyone, we did get over to the Lake Quinault Lodge with a terrific group for one meal:
Rainforest Lunch w? Brenda Cooper, Rob Sawyer, Louise Marley, Sherry Peters, Allex Tillson, me, David. D. Levine

At the final closing party, my name was drawn for a door prize, and I received a gift certificate to the resort gift shop. I used it to pick up an attractive rain forest souvenir hoodie (the first I've really ever owned) and a pair of silly socks with cats all over them. Yay!

Overall, I had a marvelous time and am so glad I was able to go on the trip. On the way home, [livejournal.com profile] mcjulie and i stopped at Shipwreck Beads, the Pacific Northwest's mecca for beaders and crafters, always a wonderful and overwhelming experience, where I picked up a gorgeous strand of banded agate that I will be stringing into a work-appropriate choker. It was a nice cap to the days away.

Now, my challenge is to maintain the momentum I created these last four days. I believe I can do it. I'm going to work to prove myself right!
scarlettina: (Blood love and rhetoric)
I was cleaning out my hard drive this morning and discovered something I wrote in 2001 after going to the range with a friend who had just completed police training. He wanted to practice, and I wanted the experience so off we went together. The references to The X Files clearly date the piece, but not by much. This is what I wrote:

So it's Friday night at the shooting range. The place is relatively empty--apparently Friday is a slow night--and suddenly I'm being handed protective glasses and sound-dampening head phones. If I weren't so nervous, I'd feel like Dana Scully preparing to sharpen her skills.

My friend has brought the better part of his personal arsenal: two rifles, three pistols, three different kinds of ammunition. We carry these things into the range in black totes that--if you didn't know better--look like camera bags or the sort of thing in which you might carry a stick bass guitar. He rents a basic revolver to teach me gun safety before we start to shoot: how to hold a gun, to be aware of where the gun is pointed at all times, checking the safety latch, how to show someone else a gun (always unload first), how to aim, how to load a revolver or a magazine full of bullets. ("It's not called a clip," he says. "Clips are for hair or for hanging up the laundry. It's called a magazine." I say, "Where I come from, you load a magazine with short stories, not bullets." He sticks his tongue out at me.)

So it's time to try and shoot. We start with a classic revolver with teeny bullets. He hangs up a target and sends the target holder back on its track about ten feet. I take the gun, holding it just the way he showed me, and fire it empty a couple of times to get the feel of it. (I flash back to that scene in Starman where Karen Allen is watching movies of Jeff Bridges showing off how to shoot a gun. He points it and says, "And squeeze..." Bang! "And squeeze..." Bang!)

Then we load it, and I point, and squeeze . . . BANG!

The first thing is, I'm surprised at how loud the sound of a gun being shot really is, even through protective headgear. Were I not wearing head phones, my ears would be ringing. The second thing is, if you haven't braced yourself properly, the kick can almost be painful. The third thing is, squeezing a trigger is work. It's not an easy clicky-click like with a toy gun; it's a spring-loaded feeling (even a revolver) that gets harder and harder the closer you are to actually firing the thing off.

I shoot six, empty the chambers, and reload. My friend praises me--"Good grouping, you're a natural" (all my bullets have punctured the paper target within an inch or so of each other)--and we go again. This time, when I put the gun down, there are only four new holes in the paper. Apparently I shot three times through the same hole. It's like shooting a camera, I think. Hold your breath to steady yourself before you fire. I use up half the ammo in the box--about 50 bullets--before we move on to a semi-automatic.

My nerves are calming. My friend says it's sort of a Zen thing; the less you think about it, the better you become. I'm thinking, "Use the Force, Luke," and my aim is improving.

We retrieve the target and hang a new one. I'm looking at the bullet holes getting progressively larger as we try to find a combination of gun and bullet size that is comfortable for me. The holes look huge. Suddenly I realize that the only appropriate way to describe shooting at a person would be to say that the bullets rip through a body. That's what they would do: tear flesh. You're shooting at paper, I think, not people.

Soon, he's showing off his new Beretta, all sleek lines and Italian economy. He braces himself and rapid-fires into the fresh target. Talk about grouping.

He rents me a Sig-Sauer--the kind Mulder uses on The X-Files--and I'm discovering that semi-automatic pistols are easier to shoot because they do the work of moving the bullets and reducing recoil. They also eject empty cartridges in every direction. One ejects and bounces off the wall. One ejects and bounces off my chest. Several land on the counter in front of us before bouncing to the floor. They feel more ergonomic, more natural than revolvers.

Two and a half hours later, we leave. My right hand is tired. We're both dehydrated and hungry. He hands me the targets from our session. "Souvenirs," he says, and I accept them like a kid getting an A on a penmanship test. I want to try this again, see how much better I can get.

After dinner, I go home and unroll the targets, looking at them one at a time. I notice the bullets leave dirty black marks around the punctures in the paper that are the shade of pencil lead. Look at that grouping.

And the holes look really big. Those bullets, they just rip right through.

Maybe I'll wait a while before I try this again.
scarlettina: (Five)
1) Did I mention that I put three stories in the mail on submission last weekend? Well, I did.

2) Perhaps I'm last to the party but I just read that the current issue of 10Flash Quarterly is its last. I'm sad that we're losing such a terrific flash magazine (especially since I was there partly to read and partly to look for upcoming issue themes), but I'm happy for K.C. that she's moving on to other opportunities that excite her.

3) [livejournal.com profile] varina8 and I went to the theater last night and saw "The Pitmen Painters," a play about a group of miners in England in the early 1900s who start taking an art appreciation class and end up being a highly lauded group of artists. With its historical basis and setting, and its excellent performances (including, among them, one by my longtime associate Frank Andrew Lawler), it provided a fine evening's entertainment.

4) I've been Jewelry Girl this week, making a new bracelet for myself in celebration of acquiring and wearing the first above-the-knee skirt I've owned in decades. And I bought materials for a new choker necklace which I hope to make either this weekend or this coming Tuesday night at [livejournal.com profile] mimerki's place, depending upon my patience and the availability of time for such a project. It won't take long, but leisure time, these days, seems to be at a premium.

5) Research for this autumn's trip continues apace. I really do need to do a proper post about this oncoming expedition--but that's for another time. But...trip planning--yay!

BONUS ITEM: 6) Had a wonderful lunch with [livejournal.com profile] kijjohnson at the 5 Spot yesterday. Seattle is just a better place when she's here. She looked fabulous, and it was good to catch up and just bask in her presence. Word has it we'll have more of her a little later this spring--all to the good.
scarlettina: (Writing)
I've heard any number of writers talk about keeping a notebook as they write their novels, something in which they record minutiae of all sorts. Because this thing I've been working on for so long has been taking so long, I decided to start a notebook for it, separate from the actual novel itself. My idea was that it be not just a place to keep character details but a brainstorming tool to pour ideas into, random ideas of all kinds specifically about this project. Right now, as I go through the pages, I see character profiles, a mindmap of character relationships, a list of questions about random plot possibilities, a list of questions about the world and its magical mechanics, and so on.

Lately, my issue has been the muddle in the middle. I have a vague idea of where this novel is going to end up, but getting there has been stymying me and I've been stalled-stalled-stalled. Tonight, in an effort to figure out where and how things might go, I opened the notebook to a clean page and, across the top, I wrote: What could happen? And I wrote a list. So far, it's a full single side of a page, but I have even more ideas and plan to continue this work in just a few minutes.

This has been part of the problem: I have a lot of ideas. But what I'm discovering as I jot down these ideas is that they're crystalizing more for me than they have while I've stewed over them mentally. Somehow, writing the ideas down is making me process them, making them more dynamic and more tangible. Some ideas suddenly seem less plausible than others. Some make more sense and fit more with where I want to go. One or two might provide twists that hadn't occurred to me before.

Clearly I need to get back to this exercise.

My point in stopping to write this LJ entry, though, was to record this experience and to share it, because while for some folks it may be old hat, there might be something here that might be useful to someone else. This is new for me, carrying this notebook, this brainstorming tool with me everywhere I go. And this exercise of asking, without limits or judgments or second-guessing, what might happen, is liberating. I'm writing down everything that occurs to me, even the most absurd, out-of-character possibilities.

Those ideas, especially the absurd ones, are helping me think about my characters from other perspectives. What might they do? If they did such things, such unexpected or bizarre things, why would they do them? What would their motivations be? What things would push them to those outer limits? How far would they--or wouldn't they--go? It's a very powerful thing. It makes me think about what they're truly passionate about, what or who they'd risk their lives for. It gets to the core of character in a visceral way. It's exciting.

Anyway, try it. If you're having trouble getting to where you need to go in your novel, give it a shot. Spill it all out, pages and pages if you have to. That's what I'll be doing tonight--continuing the exercise. It's really, really cool.

This is what it's supposed to feel like, when you're writing. This is what's supposed to happen. It's supposed to be fun.
scarlettina: (Default)
In other news of the world, a couple of things happened over the last 8 days that bear noting.

First and most important is that I interviewed for and got a job. I'll be working as a content specialist for the Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs group (LCA), helping to manage their intranet site. It's a vendor position, but it appears they were looking for someone who would be willing to make a commitment longer than one year and were impressed with me. (I was described as having gravitas. If only they knew....) I'm actually quite excited about it; the work looks interesting, and the people I interviewed with were smart and aware. It's looking like I'll be officially starting either Thursday or Monday. That gives me a few days to get my life in order before I start with the Eastside commute again.

Second, for the last 8 months or so, I'd been planning to attend the Rainforest Writer's Village at Lake Quinault. I was really looking forward to it. The original plan was to arrive there this past Wednesday. When [livejournal.com profile] markbourne's funeral was scheduled for Thursday, I considered not attending at all. Realizing that Mark would have objected to such a choice and that my own disappointment at the idea of not attending was massive, I decided to stay for the funeral and arrive at the retreat late. [livejournal.com profile] davidlevine and I left for the peninsula on Thursday afternoon and stayed through Sunday afternoon. It was a good retreat. I got 3,000 new words written. (It's less than I would have preferred, but more than I would have done otherwise. Had the circumstances not been what they were, I suspect I would have been much more productive.) I made some key discoveries about the structure of the novel and have a better understanding of where I am and what needs to be accomplished. And I had some quality time to do some recuperation from last weekend's events. (I have no illusions about being recuperated, but this time away really helped.) The Rainforest Resort is rustic but the setting was quite beautiful: very lush, very picturesque. And it was good to spend even a little time with folks I don't often get to see. I hope to download my photographs today and to post them. I'll post a link when the Flickr set is live.
scarlettina: (Movie tix)
Books: Yesterday I finally finished reading The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir, a detailed, almost novelistic biography of Henry VIII's daughter. The depth and breadth of Weir's research is remarkable (as has been true of all of her work that I've read), and the narrative very engaging. I was impressed by the day-to-day minutiae, the political analysis, and the effective way that Weir conveyed the personalities of all the historical figures she discusses. Her portraits of Elizabeth, Leicester, and Essex are vivid and make these people and their concerns feel immediate and contemporary. It's a wonderful portrait and a really remarkable read.

Theater: Went to ACT last night to see The Flying Karamazov Brothers. I've seen them several times over the years and they never fail to entertain. I've seen them enough that some of their bits were familiar. There were the classics: The Challenge, The Terror Trick, the table bounce, and the peculiar dance. And there were things I'd never seen before, like their pulling someone from the audience and juggling flaming torches around them. Some (but not all) of their musical bits were new. There's always some moment in the show when I find myself laughing so hard that I cry; no disappointments last night on that score. I laughed--a lot. I had a wonderful time. At the same time, because I've seen them so much that I pretty much knew what I'd be seeing, I don't know if I'll be seeing them again. I know the bits already. I'd still recommend their shows to anyone who has a chance to see them--they're marvelous. But it may be my last FKB show.

----------------------------

Today, I need to prepare for this afternoon's interview, try to get some writing done, and then go out for dinner. It seems like a light to-do list, but there's a lot of stuff packed into those three tasks. I want to write here more about what's been going on with the writing. I am . . . feeling frustrated about it. But now's not the time. Must get rolling on the day's activities. More anon.
scarlettina: (Five)
1) Saw "The Artist" last night--perfectly delightful. It's part "A Star is Born" and part "Singing in the Rain," and there's nothing gimmicky about it. Dujardin, depending upon how he was being shot, reminded me of both Clark Gable and Gene Kelly. I hope we see more of him in the US. Nice performance. And Berenice Bejo was adorable. Just a terrific movie all around.

2) Had dinner last night at The Hi-Life and had forgotten how good the menu is there; the food was just wonderful and that drinks menu is to die for. Between the food and the movie, it was a terrific evening all around.

3) Going to the Aquarium today for their Hawai'ian day. Will be dressing in my aloha dress, sufficiently augmented for cold weather. My companion and I must be crazy; I think it'll be lots of fun.

4) Downloaded Scrivener late last week and have been organizing the novel using its features. I'm already seeing the benefits of using the tool, and I suspect it's going to give me exactly what I need to get back on track and get rolling again (because, frankly, it already has).

5) I've had some marvelous meals over the last few days in most excellent company, but the fact is that I've been more off the wagon than on in terms of my food program. I need to really get back into the swing of things in a serious way. There's been a little more indulgence than I've done in a while and I'm feeling it. As delightful as it's been, I need to fix this.
scarlettina: (Writing)
On social media, a friend has been pointing to many of the essays by one particular writing and publishing guru. He points to this guru's work exclusively and is apparently following said guru's advice pretty much to the letter. To each his own, surely. But my position on gurus is as follows:

There's a reason someone is called a guru: they have A Way. Usually it is, from their perspective, the One True Way. The guru in question is famous for having One True Way. The thing about a One True Way is that it does not allow for alternative positions and perspectives. This particular guru's way certainly doesn't.

But here's the thing: Everyone's experience, everyone's skill set is different. Poke at any One True Way and its flaws manifest pretty quickly. There's so much good, solid advice about writing and publishing on the web that to limit oneself to one particular guru seems to me to be cutting out some really fine education from your diet. It also runs the risk of your having picked the wrong guru for you. I don't know if there's a Wrong Guru, period, but it's certainly possible to pick a guru whose personal style, capabilities, and experience are so vastly different from your own that no matter what they preach, it won't work for you--and then what are you left with? Tears and disappointment, a sense of failure and defeat, and the feeling that there must be something so wrong with you that there's no point in continuing to pursue an art that you're truly passionate about.

So what I want to say is that if you're seeking guidance about writing and publishing, choose several sources, not just one. Research your sources and try to figure out if they have the experience and knowledge to back up their preaching. And then pick and choose the advice and insights that ring most true for you. It's unlikely that they'll all come from one place. Be smart, read broadly, and find those voices that make sense and provide well-grounded wisdom. But don't choose just One True Guru. You'll be glad later. I promise.
scarlettina: (Writing: Bad end)
As a reward for finishing work on one of my two freelance jobs tonight, I pulled out the story I thought I might read at WorldCon, did a read-through . . . and discovered that it's 15 minutes too long for my allotted time. Trouble is, its length is about my average length for short fiction, and while I've considered chopping off the first scene and inserting some of the key information later in the story, it still wouldn't make the story short enough to fit in the time slot.

So I'm wondering: do I cut it? Do I just pick something else? Do I read up until a certain point and just leave it as a cliffhanger? Any advice would be welcomed.

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