The last few months have maybe not been as hard on me as on some people. Over the summer I got some writing done, but in the last few weeks, I haven’t done much. That’s because* I’m waiting for National Novel Writing Month to start …. I’m trying a new genre, a modern-day noir detective story, and the other things I’m working on are non-fiction and fantasy, and I don’t want to mess with my style-head.
In the meantime, though, after months of thought, I have decided to “redo” my office. This involves painting, and not just the walls. I have long wanted a white office suite, and I started looking at desks/cabinets a couple-three years ago, and I can’t find anything I like as well as the desk I have now. So. I’ve already emptied and move the various file cabinets out, with three of them slated for sanding and painting. I can’t do the desk itself till after NaNo, which gives me an added incentive to finish my 50K-word draft ASAP.
One file cabinet’s been moved to another room, and its files put back in. The ones that are coming back into the office are just little two-drawer ones, so they’re in the back room, on the tarp that’s still spread out from a different painting project. The desk, because we don’t want to take it completely apart, is staying in here; we’ll just lay down another tarp and sand/paint it in the middle of the room.
The main reason to move the desk from the corner it’s in to “the other corner” is that I’m going to paint a giant chalkboard on the freed-up walls! I have a 4’ x 5’ piece of foam board covered with chalk-board sticky paper, and it’s wonderful, and I want more. The one I have lists the status of the books I’m working on, and now I need some blackboard space for notes and plot lines. I’m really pretty excited about it!
Once I finish NaNo, I’ve got at least three other books that need editing, another that needs finishing, and a make-5x8-cards-for-all-my-characters project to finish. I expect, though, that I will take a day or two to just swirl around in my office chair, or stand at the door, to love my new office, and maybe scribble something inspirational on the blackboard.
*The other part of “because” is that I have been flailing about in anxiety and depression about the current state of state and national affairs, but it’s just too depressing to go into that here. I will take what distractions I can get, and hope you’re finding some comforts too.
I'm easily distracted, but I don't think I'm wasting time.
Covid cannot be redacted, so I make masks for me and mine.
(I'm also making some for friends, and some to donate, too -
in these days of life and death, it's the least that I can do.)
But I'm writing, and I'm editing, and hope to catch all errors,
though they aren't due much credit in these days of many terrors.
Still, I'm aiming to revise the books I've written up to now,
to turn them into e-books, and I'm slowly learning how.
(I just did a slim volume of stories and pomes in digital and paper.
It's scary to click on "publish," and gave me a touch of vapor.)
But I'm easily distracted, from proper rhymes and grammar,
by what I see and hear about the current mellerdrammer.
A character, the other day, took a clear and present stand
and gave me a couple thousand words of the story she demand-
ed, and so I've filed it, for NaNo in November,
if other characters don't come around and fan up other embers.
I've still got paper proofs to read, and mark with my red pen.
Then I'll enter those corrections, and go around again.
We still plan on going camping, in another month or so,
to which I much look forward. I'll have paper proofs in tow!
I am easily distracted by the world that used to be,
and by what I imagine is the world that we could see.
It isn't wasting time, if or not it makes a book,
to let my imagine chime in on the way new normal should look.
I am undertaking to revise most of my paperbacks, as I work on the project of reformatting them as e-books. So far, KDP has refused to let me make new covers for two of my paperbacks!
About The Green Boy, it says that the cover creator cannot communicate with my computer. I have no idea why, because it can communicate with my computer about Mere Mortals' Magic (for which I am also changing the paperback cover). The agent said they would put the tech team to work on this problem, and will contact me again when they figure something out. Uh huh.
About The Flower Bride, it says that my back cover copy doesn't fit inside the box on their cover template, and that I should go back and fix it. Well, tell ya' what, Kindle. I have it set to auto-fit, so how 'bout you go back and fix it, eh? (The agent, after taking me through the litany of Things to Try, declared this situation "weird.")
My to-do list also includes making loglines and synopses for my novels, so that eventually, I can maybe put them up on InkTip, a site where producers look for screenplays, and sometimes for books to adapt as screenplays. Loglines are pretty easy, but the synopses are hard! I've done six out of the fifteen on my list. (One of which I forgot to write down, so I haven't done the logline yet, but it'll be easy.)
I expect some interruption there, because as I go through the books to do the synopses, I see things that need correcting, so off I go, editing some more, which of course, leads me back to KDP and then I can't redo the covers.
But, in the meantime - of course! - while I'm trudging through this huge to-do list - which includes a couple-three books that I haven't even gone through the first paperback proof of yet - more ideas are occurring to me, and at least I know that no, I won't remember, and yes, I do have to write them down.
One of these isn't really intrusive, because I've been sort of back-burner thinking about it for maybe 10 years, and it didn't take very long to jot down the bare bones that finally occurred to me. (I sure do wish that titles would occur to me at the same time, but no, they don't.) The other one, though ....
So, got a minute? Twelve-fifteen years ago, I had the idea for Mere Mortals' Magic. Originally, there were going to be five "mere mortals" and five Oldeveni - that's pronounced olda-ven-eye, by the way, and they're the ones from the Otherworld, and they were gonna work together to thwart the evil plot, right? Well, I soon realized that two of the five humans were kinda superfluous, and didn't really belong in the story. But to get them to go quietly, I had to promise them I'd put them in a story of their own one day. I did put them in a weird little story, but that was really just to keep 'em quiet for another little while. (I don't remember off-hand if I used the story anywhere; I remember writing it, but I can't find the book I might have put it in, so ....)
Well, this morning, I'm innocently taking a shower - I mean, I'm not even singing or anything! - and one of these characters, Rosemily Biggs, starts noodging me.
"Rosemily. What?" I say.
"I want you to write my story," she says. "Our story. Nick's and mine."
"I don't have one for you yet." I find it is best to be honest with my characters ....
"We have an idea."
"You've talked to Nick?" Nick Hunter is the other character. He's sorta like Steve Irwin, without the Aussie accent, and she's small, delicate-looking, easily taken for sweet and innocent.
"Yes," she says. "I've talked to Nick, and he wants you to write this too."
"Well, I don't have a story for you," I reiterate.
"We have one. Get out of the shower and sit down at the keyboard and I will tell you the story."
Now, I was all set to get back to my stand-off with Kindle Direct, but instead, I sit down, and Rosemily tells me this long, involved story - it ends up being 2200-plus words, and that's just jotting down her notes. To be fair, that's a pretty detailed run-down of the first book, and much shorter notes about the next two. Apparently they figured they should get one book for every five years they waited for me to write about them.
Both of these ideas, sets of ideas, whatever - both of them are riffing off Mere Mortals' Magic. The one I've been noodling around with for a while is one of the main character's daughters deciding to go back to Oldeven, where she has what sounds like it might be a fairly comic adventure, but part of it could get serious. This character, Molly, is just off a failed romance, so she's not sure what's gonna happen. (The failure was that the guy she loved, the guy who was literally minutes away from proposing to her at Pastiche, a restaurant here in town where a couple in another of my books got engaged, was interrupted by the Feds arresting him because he was already married. Twice. And not divorced at all.
So she's ready for a change of scenery, big-time, and decides to go back to Oldeven for a while. She doesn't want to tell her mother she's going, because her mother's still coping with PTSD from her adventures there, in Mere Mortals Magic', but her father says she has to tell her mother .... So that's how that one starts, and then - the thought occurred to me exactly this way, "Well, of course, it has to be a case of mistaken identity." And I do have some notion about how that might unfold, but I don't have it written out in anywhere near as much detail as Rosemily gave me for her and Nick's story. Then again, Rosemily hasn't just found out her true love is a bigamist, so ....
These are my current frustrations, and though the problems with KDP have inspired some very blue language, the truth is I am grateful to have these problems, because they are writing problems, and having writing problems means I am a writer, which I have always wanted to be. I hope you can see your current frustrations in a similar light. Remember, you got this!
I haven't written anything new, except for jotting down some ideas ... but not because I'm suffering from the depression and distraction that attends the Covid crisis for so many of us. I'm not writing new stuff because I'm working on editing older stuff, and saving what I hope are good ideas for November, when I'll aim for another 50,000 words in 30 days, participating in NaNoWriMo yet again.
(In the picture, I'm in my office, resisting, glaring at All That Is Wrong, and being a revolutionary because writing is revolutionary, but still looking forward to a drink on the patio when I've finished by work for the day. Does that beret make my bangs look untidy?)
I'm very blessed to live in a biggish house, with a spacious yard, in a neighborhood with wide enough streets that I can walk the dogs without worry about too-close contact. (I haven't walked 'em for a couple of days, though, because there are fires on the nearby Catalina Mountains, and the air's too smoky for my allergies, and I don't think it'd be good for the dogs, either. I mean, we love the smell of campfire smoke, but we like it much better when it's coming from a campfire, rather than a raging wildfire too encouraged by our summer winds.)
Of the many things that it occurs to me to say about These Times, these past and coming months, what I will say here is that ... I hope that whether you are an ally or need an ally in the great social movements that are currenting through our lives right now, you will write about it. Novelists, story-ists, diarists, poets, everybody who puts pen to paper or fingertips to keys, make time to do that. You may have no choice but to ride this out - but don't overlook the possibilities in writing it out. Your Sunset Boulevard losing-it feelings, your grief, your wrath, your sudden or inexplicable serenity, your certainty that we'll come out the other side to a new and all-ways healthier normal - jot it down, rhyme it up, lite it up and lit(erary) it up. Your movie reviews, book reviews, couch meditations, gratitude for your dogs and cats and goldfish, the hilarity and desperation of homeschooling and caregiving - all that, everything, write it down. If nothing else, it will be historic, and you will be history's ally too.
Writing, your own story or a character's, may well help ground you, too. One of a writer's jobs, some say, is to interpret the great themes of our lives, and whether that's how you'd put it or not, writing helps writers to do that for themselves as well as for their readers. In that sense, writing is a form a self-care. What we're feeling now, about any of the so many things happening, is going to change our perspectives. How that change manifests in our feelings and in our behavior, that's worth writing about. If you're not in crisis, write about your blessings, and let your peace break like dawn over the mountains of catastrophe and contention. Be like the dawn: nevertheless, it persists.
For writing conventions, I've got a workshop called Writing Witches, about how to create realistic Pagan characters. But in this blog, I'm talking about Writing Bitches, because that's what I'm trying to do right now.
Constance Evershaw is the main character in my novel-in-progress, The Evershaw Century. Mae Haley is one of the other characters. Mae and Cons are the titular bitches here, and at this point, the only surviving main characters. Here's the scene in which Meade Trevalian, Cons' late-in-life husband, dies. He's 99 years old, so I knew he'd have to die soon, but I didn't intend this to be his death scene.
One serene afternoon early in June of 1949, the delicate fragrance of some late blooming apple trees drifting down to mingle with the fresh scents of the riverbanks grasses and wildflowers, Cons looked up from her canvas to find Meade watching her with a faint smile on his face. They’d had help getting her easel and canvas, and chairs for both of them, down to this spot. Poppy’s great-great grand-nephew would be along shortly to start carrying things back up.
“When I die,” she said to him, “I should like to be buried here, near that bench, with only a small stone – polished marble, I think – to mark my grave.”
“And I beside you, when the time comes,” he answered her. She wasn’t being maudlin, or prophetic in any way. She was only appreciating the beauty and peace of the place. Happily, she’d been able to capture it in some of her paintings.
“Yes.” She paused. “But not for many more years,” she added. “I’d like to turn this Evershaw century into at least two, wouldn’t you?”
He nodded. “If you go back to, oh, let’s say your third great grand-aunt Mariah, it’s already been two-and-a-half Evershaw centuries.”
She smiled, and Meade thought she looked beatific when she did. “Yes, but I mean my Evershaw century. I don’t want it to end.”
“It hasn’t yet,” he said. “Maybe it never will.” He closed his eyes, enjoying the warm sun on his face and the image of his beloved’s smile in his mind’s eye, and left Cons’ century behind.
She felt him go, like a fading hug, but she finished another few brushstrokes before she turned. On the canvas, his eyes were open, and he was smiling. She had painted him from her undimming memory of their wedding day.
Now, according to my outline, Cons and Mae are gonna have one last adventure, a train trip from Boston to L.A. I did some research so I could write that trip accurately, and I was ready to draft it today ... but Cons and Mae were not. They are apparently still thinking about ... what they want to see? How they want to interact with other passengers? What they want to do when they get to California? It is not - and I will state this for the record - my intention for either of them to die on the train, or in California (or anywhere else they stop), but I am not sure that I can trust either of them not to decide to do just that. I have already had to chuck the first ending I drafted (which I liked pretty well), but I am hoping that Cons and Mae let me have some input into the story's ending.
When I first started writing (and I'm not sure I should even call it "writing," what I was putting on paper back then), I was happy for my characters to take my stories where they would, and they generally took my stories into blind alleys. Nowadays, I outline (using the term loosely) my plots, and generally only consider suggestions from my characters. It's fine if they correct me as to details - oh, strawberry, not vanilla? - but I expect to be in control of the plot myself, and frankly, not to deviate too far from my outline. If I myself have what I think is a better idea, that's one thing, and I've altered many a plot for that reason. But it's been a long time since I've been down with my characters reaching in and fiddling with the controls the way Cons and Mae are doing, per Meade's example.
I did mean for Cons to be a Strong Female Character - as are most of the other women in this story - but I didn't mean for her to be stronger-willed than me! Wish me luck!
It has been some time since I've blogged here, probably because it has been some time since I've been writing. But - it's November, and that's National Novel Writing Month, and it compels me. (This is my thirteenth year "nano-ing," as we say.) This year's title is The Evershaw Century, and I hope to get it out there in the next three-four months. The story sees Constance Evershaw leaving the country as a young woman, coming home to more than one inheritance, exploring her relatives' eccentricities, and watching history unfold from the American Civil War through Truman's presidency. Oh, and she defied a few social protocols and solved a murder, too.
Other writers will probably chuckle if they see this, but this year I did a chapter-by-chapter synopsis - nothing I'd show a publisher, at least not in its present form, but something to help me keep all the characters doing what they need to do, where and when they need to do it. It's also shown me some loose ends that need tying up, and some details I should write a little more about. I used to think that synopses were just a marketing tool, but now I see that they're a writing tool as well. Duuh!
I have been thinking about her story for a little more than a year, and I had notes - the NaNo rule (really more a suggestion) is that you can use notes, but you can't write anything narrative until 12:01 a.m. November first - but I didn't get to start until November fourth, 'cause this year the Tucson Celtic Festival was the first through the third. Never mind: I reached the 50,000 word goal by the eleventh, and I think that - eight days - is the fastest I've ever done it!
The word count is currently just over sixty thousand, but it's gonna go a little higher by the time I go over my chapter synopsis again and add in the parts of the story I forgot to include. The only thing that's gonna delay me now is installing the new keyboard I ordered. It should be here by Tuesday, and it'll be nice. It's the same as the one I'm using now, but none of the keys' letters will be worn off, and it will have a built-in, um, tilty-thingie under it so it'll be at the right angle. I've got a makeshift one of those right now, and it helps, but the new keyboard will be better. (You'd think that after all the years I've been writing books, I'd know the keyboard by heart, and I pretty much do, but with the I and E and O and U completely gone, and the A and L replaced with red nail polish that's also wearing off, I get confused if I look at the keyboard - which do mainly because that's where my eyes go when I'm peering into the idea-sphere.)
I did not write this book by myself. Maybe because I'd been thinking about it off and on for so many months, the characters, especially Cons, really stepped up. Writers talk about their characters hijacking their stories, taking them off the carefully plotted track and leading them somewhere else entirely, but that's not what Cons and Johnny and Mae, or any of the others, did. (Newlin Merchant surprised me a couple of times, but he's a psychopath, so that's to be expected.) My characters didn't disagree with me about what was happening. They just spoke right up and explained how everything went down. I really appreciate that!
This novel's different for me in another way, too: I relate to these characters as actual people, rather than people I've made up. Don't get me wrong - my other characters are "real" in the sense that they have distinct views and voices and all, but ... this feels almost biographical. It's certainly the closest I've gotten to historical fiction. I knew people who were alive during this story's time frame, and the characters in Evershaw seem a little like friends of theirs that I don't quite remember. That's been weird, and cool.
When books I'm writing challenge me, or make me relate to characters in new ways, I'm a happy writer. Hoping y'all are happy doing what you're doing, I bid you farewell for now, and, um, semi-promise to make my next entry before another five months have gone by.
So, Husband-man, aka Dear Husband (DH, which is the abbreviation we use on the RV FB pages), had his first cataract surgery last Thursday, and will have his second this coming Thursday. For the next forever weeks (not really - 7 weeks, really) there will be eye drops. Lots and lots of eye drops. He says that the change in colors is amazing. The restrictions are only a little bothersome. He can't drive for a while, and he can't bend over past his waist. This makes it difficult to set up our above-ground pool for our July 6th summer party. But given that he was essentially one-eyed, the surgeries are necessary, and in the long term, a Very Good Thing,
The reason I have not made a blog-post in a while is that we were gone for about a month. We went to Oregon for DH's 50th college reunion. It was an excellent trip, from which we learned a lot. (The Castle, our 5th-wheel, is just the right size; we should not do more than 3 one-night stops in a row, and between the one-night stops we should make three-night stops so we don't have to choose between shopping/laundry and sightseeing - that sort of thing.) The reunion went well, as did a dinner with my long-time college friends at another friend's house.
We are between the worlds right now: dealing with the next cataract surgery, getting ready for a party on July 6th, and another trip - to the Flagstaff Highland Games - in mid-July, with the trailer (the Castle) in the shop for some warranty work. I kind of feel like I ~used~ to be a writer, but soon, relatively speaking, I will be back at it. Yep.
Till then, hope you're having interesting days as we pass Midsummer and head toward cooler days to come - in a while. :-)
So, I started reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and even before I've finished the book, I'm heavily into the process. I've modified it some, but it's working for me. And in theory, tidying one's space also tidies one's mind. We can but hope!
The closet isn't done yet, but four or five 30 gallon bags of clothes that do not spark joy have gone to the thrift shop. I was skeptical about the advice to organizing hanging clothes with longer, heavier things on the left and shorter, lighter things on the right, but I tried it, and I like it. It's different than organizing by category and color, but I like it, and to my happy surprise, it isn't hard to find things! The dresser drawers are now lined, some with scented paper, and very tidy - and yes, I think I can keep them that way. I've been practicing and doing pretty well for a few months now, and with fewer things in the drawers, it should only get easier.
What has this to do with writing? Well, of course, there's the organizing thoughts that goes along with organizing stuff, and there's the way that moving clothes around seems to spark ideas. But that's peripheral; the real link to writing is when I moved this process to my office. I have, so far, filled the recycle bin twice, and half-filled the very large garbage can. Things I thought it would be emotionally painful to get rid of weren't; it was a relief. It will be even more of a relief when I am done!
I had a moment of panic when I couldn't find an important file, because it was in a new place (which turned out not to be as convenient as I thought it would be). This experience has made it very clear that Kondo's advice - not to worry about where things go until you decide what to keep - is very good advice. I have ordered a couple of things to better store what I am keeping; she likes shoe boxes, but I've used all mine up (mostly in the dresser drawers), and anyhow, I don't want shoe boxes on my desk.
I have been through a lot of files, but still need to go through several more, including my oldest one: Names, Notes, and Scrappy Bits. I love this file. It holds a whole lot of ideas, most of which will never be developed - but, and this is key in the "KonMari" process, it brings me joy to go through that file now and then. Doing that will be my reward for getting the rest of the office tidied. (Kondo uses the word "tidying" a little differently than I and most of my friends do. For her, it means a deep and thorough clean out, whereas in my world, it means tucking things out of sight when people come over. She asserts that if you interact with each object, and only keep what you love, you will be less inclined to get/keep things that don't spark joy. That's over-simplifying, of course, but it makes sense to me.)
Once I get this project finished - the other rooms can wait (and no, I'm not "supposed" to be doing it room by room, I'm supposed to be doing it by category of thing: clothes, books, papers, memoribilia, and lastly, photos, but I'm doing it the way it works for me, so ...) - I will be able to get back to writing with the useful files handy, and fewer distractions, physical and mental. I'm pretty sure that's a good thing. (Yes, I will come back with pix of the tidied office.)
No, no, not trying to get you to change anything. I want to talk about language in fantasy and sci-fi (and other other-worldly, other-timely) settings.
We take it for granted, we writers, that most people have the same feelings. Not about the same things, of course, and the way people - characters - express their feelings can vary. But everybody feels some way or other about what's going on around them. (Yes, even Spock.)
How they react is going to depend on who and where and when they are. Unpleasantly surprised or confronted, I myself might say, "Shit!" but Scarlett O'Hara, or Commander Deanna Troi, would not. And while Cmdr. Troi and I might both say "Okay" to something we approved, Miss Scarlett would not.
That most cultures through time have their formal and casual sides doesn't mean that those formalities and informalities are or should be expressed the same way everywhere/everywhen. Example: if I'm reading high fantasy, I do not want my Elvin princess saying "Okay" to anybody. Period. That's a modern colloquialism that does not convert. (So maybe yes, I might want to you change some things. If your Elvin princess talks like a Jersey girl, I want you to change that - but that doesn't mean you can't change it to her having been brought up cross-dimensionally in Jersey.)
In the sci-fi/space opera I am currently converting to Kindle's format, my characters live 500 years from now, in the United Galaxies; Humans are no longer the darlings of the spaceways, but English is still a well-known and widely-used language, and some ancient slang is still common. So sometimes, they do say "Okay." But the Oldeveni in another dimension they end up visiting, even though they live only slightly out-of-phase with 20th century Earthlings, don't - because they and their cultures are the source of our high fantasy.
I get that urban fantasy mixes the formalities of other worlds/cultures with the informalities of ours, but not all fantasies are urban, just as not all sci-fi is hard science. All I'm asking is that people be aware enough of their genres to keep the language and customs and habits in their stories consistent, internally consistent. If that requires a change, then yes, I am asking you to convert!
Oh, and one other thing: I promise that if I read something of yours and see an incongruity of this sort, I will contact you first, and not make it the focus of any review I write, so I'll ask the same of you in that regard, too.
Write on! (and read on!)