Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tired / Not-Tired (Distractions, Procrastinating, and Getting Back At It)

It’s been three days since my last confession stint at novel-building.
I spent nine hours on Sunday working away at The Novel, sorting out which plot element corresponds to which event and how/why it fits and then tayloring things so that the setting of the scene reflects the actions the mood there-of, and so-on.
It’s coming along nicely, but I’ve also been ignoring it since I went to bed on Sunday night. Part of this is, of course, that the rest of Life needs to be taken care of (the house needs looking after, the for-pay work needs to get done[1]), and part of it is that I’m Tired. I’m Tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired.
And, yes, I do feel that whiny. My wife isn’t sleeping well, which means I’m not sleeping well; the weather’s been cold over night and I keep thinking there are Things in the bed with us because my nerves are firing on overdrive; my neck is bothering me; yadda-yadda-yadda.
 
The truth of the matter is that it won’t be long, if I don’t go back to work on this, before I just want to run-and-hide from it rather than picking it up again. (This is where having a deadline – in my case, the fact that my guide-book is due back at the library in ten days – is really helpful). So, since I have An Event in the Glebe this evening (and will, gods willing, be able to pick up groceries after the fact), my Plan is to swing up to the bridgehead around the corner from The Venue and scribble for a couple of hours before I need to turn up for the show.
Wish me luck! πŸ™‚
 
 
TTFN,
A.
 
 
[1] And did! I submitted my second bunch of for-pay copywriting on Monday. yesterday was spent half on cleaning the house and the other half on doing RHO work so that I actually earn my $300/month for July. Today, though, has been all about the blogging. Two for Urban Meliad, one for Syrens, and now this.

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Paid Work! :-D (Landing Pages)

Okay, this is a microscopic bit of news, and it’s about copy-writing, so not exactly Amazing Creative Gold going on here, BUT: I got hired to write a bunch of landing pages for an Australian moving company, and I did the work and I just got paid.
I’m still so very, very much at the point where actually getting paid (in money, no less, rather than Contributor Copies or store credit or whatever) for my written work is Kind Of Amazing. Even if it works out to hovering around minimum wage.
Explanation: Given the number of pages I wrote and how long it took me and how much I was getting paid per page… I was making somewhere between $10 and $13 per hour. Which, seriously? Is pretty much what I make doing temp work, so it’s nothing unusual, and is a good economic shot-in-the-arm as far as I’m concerned.
PLUS
Writing! πŸ˜€
 
Seriously. Even though I was gritting my teeth through most of it, and even though I was honestly worried about whether or not this company was hiring people literally half a world away from where they were located (their dollar is worth less than mine on a global scale, fyi) and offering an acceptable wage for the work, because they had no intention of actually paying up (… I don’t know. There are so many scams on Kijiji and Craigslist, but this one looked legit enough because they weren’t offering a huge amount of money. I’m glad this turned out to be the case). Despite all of that, and despite my having been willing to put it down to “a learning experience”[1] if it turned out to be a Big Scam, I’m still really glad to have found the ad, applied for the job, and got the job because it meant I was professionally doing what I do anyway, which is write all the goddamn time. πŸ™‚
 
So that’s my joyful elation for the morning. I now have an extra $130 in the bank (YAY!) and am feeling that much better about the world. πŸ™‚
They have asked if I’d be interested in doing more work along similar lines, which: Yeah. I would. πŸ™‚ Looking forward to it, even. πŸ™‚
 
Anyway. For the moment, I’m going to hie myself to the Byward Market where I will sort out more Novel-Related stuff (Moral Decisions and similar), hit up the Sassy Bead for some bits and bobs for a proto-comission (I’m iffy as to whether or not that one’s even going to happen, honestly), and then meet a friend for coffee.
But mostly: Writing.
YAY! πŸ˜€
 
 
TTFN,
A.
 
 
[1] For example: Always send an invoice. I’m so used to modeling, where you get paid in cash and there is no paperwork involved (most of the time) or where, when there is paperwork involved, it involved me filing out a form that’s provided by my employer. Either way. This thing where I create a bill and send it off (and it doesn’t get ignored!) is still – weirdly – a new thing for me. πŸ™‚

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“The Anatomy of Story” (or: I Went and Got Myself Some Writing Help)

So. I’ve been frustrated and discouraged with my novel of late. And by “of late” I mean “for the past two to three months”. In a fit of angst, I hit up the library and picked up a couple of books on storytelling. One of them, Improving Your Storytelling, I haven’t really looked at yet. It’s about the art of performance storytelling. Useful. But not what I need right this second. John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, on the other hand, is about writing and building a good story from the bones on up. It’s directed at screen writers, so a lot of the examples the author uses to break down the techniques he’s presenting are movies (“Tootsie” and “The Godfather” feature pretty heavily so far). Because it (conveniently?) doesn’t break down movies like “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “The Witches of Eastwick”, it means that I’m forced to, y’know, actually do my own work.
 
The novel I’m trying to write, it turns out, is not a Fun Romp with a romance at its center.
It’s a story about mothers and daughters and the way families fuck each other up for generations.
And, hopefully, a Fun Romp as well. I still want to get Chicken Antics in there somewhere.
 
What I’ve been doing is going through what the author is billing as “22 steps to becoming a master storyteller”, one step at a time, and trying to figure out how my novel is going to do its own talking.
For the moment, I’m about half-way through Chapter Four (“Character”) and I’m running up against the requirements of making my hero – Imogene – a fascinating and relateable character.
This is kind of stumping me a little because, for the moment, Imogene isn’t all that fascinating. Or at least I’m having trouble seeing how she’s going to be fascinating to anyone other than me. I like reading about rehabilitating neglected farmland, learning how to forage, and making preserves for the first time. (I loved Under the Tuscan Sun – original memoire version – for just that reason). Other people? Mmmm… Maybe not.
 
Imogene is a woman who is, honestly, past the age where she can be forgiven for not really being an adult yet; a woman who has been repeating a cycle of (1) need help/support/care (2) find someone to offer that help/support/care (3) allow personality and dreams to be subsumed by helper/supporter/care-giver in order to maintain relationship and retain help/support/care (4) pressure builds up until BLAMO: big fight, runs-away/gets-kicked-out (5) repeat from start, possibly with a honey-moon/appology period if the new helper/supporter/care-giver is the same one as before… She’s been doing this since she was in her teens. First with her mom (who does something similar), and then with her girlfriends (who, in a way, are stand-ins for that first unreliable care-giver, but who are also used by her mom to keep herself (Mom) as “the good guy” or “the reliable one” in Imogene’s eyes). It’s messy and kind of gross.
Imogene is, essentially, a woman who is mooching her way through life because (a) she believes she’s incapable (not smart enough, not reliable enough, not skilled enough, not employable enough, not, not, not… Girl needs to read her some Adulting) of doing otherwise.
And (spoiler) because she secretly (like: she doesn’t even know she thinks this) believes that, if she suddenly starts reliably exhibiting competence, confidence, and the ability to take care of herself… nobody will ever love her. (Okay, yes, this totally plays into how she was raised – her mom is very insecure in an “I need to be needed, therefore how dare you exhibit independent thought?!” kind of a way).
 
… Most of which I figured out to the point of being able to articulate it that concisely, oh, in the past 36 hours or so.
Seriously. O.O
 
So I’ve been looking at my characters, at the poly triad who might or might not stay a poly triad; at my MC’s dead grandmother who left her a house out of spite against her estranged daughter, and who might have been in the same position as Kate – the non-legally-married member of the above-mentioned poly triad. I’ve been looking at Maddy, the 15-year-old being pushed into adulthood too fast by a needy mother who is self-medicating with alcohol to cope with undiagnosed depression, poverty, and a parenthood that she wasn’t ready for at all; and seeing how she is a foil for Imogene (whose mother was also coping badly with poverty and unplanned parenthood, if not undiagnosed clinical anxiety, but who pulled her child into perpetual childhood rather than pushing her into premature adulthood), and also for Emily, who is fourteen and stretching her wings and whose mom – whose barely-nineteen-when-Em-was-born, working-two-side-eye-gaining-jobs and single-parenting an unplanned child mom – is becoming one of Imogene’s closest friends in Emerson. I’m looking at Mary-Ellen, the almost-60-year-old who is a foil for Imogene’s mom, whose oldest (Kate) and youngest (Jade – who will potentially be Heather by the end of the story) daughters are living far outside the boundaries of “normal” (particularly in a tiny town like Emerson, pop: 5,104 not counting out-of-town university students) one for her relationship and the other for her body. I can see how Jade/Heather could potentially be a roll-model/mentor for Maddy, who badly needs to see some other artsy, freaky kid who is loved by her parents and has a safe place to call home and how being an artsy, freaky kid doesn’t automatically mean that your mom can’t deal with you or that you have to sleep in the university library during the day because you’re spending all night at the 24-hour Tim Hortons and have to stay awake to stay in the warm…
 
…I’m looking at all these people and wondering how, when thrown into that mix, I’m going to make Imogene the fascinating one.
 
 
John Truby’s book says that a main character needs to have (a) a moral need, and (b) a psychological need; both of-which drive the character’s development, but also (c) a specific, bounded-by-time-or-activities desire upon-which to hang the events of the story itself.
 
Imogene’s NEEDS are (a) to stop being such a mooch, stop lying to herself about her competence and whether or not people will have her back if she shows it, and also to stop confusing “independent” with “isolated/lonely” and “connected” with “merged/subsumed”. But here desire? The thing that I’m hanging the events of the story on? It’s this:
Pre-Beginning of Story, she unexpectedly reconnected with her grandmother (the one she hasn’t seen, or heard from, since the age of three or maybe four, when her mother got the hell outta Dodge on the coat-tails of her soon-to-be-first-ex-husband and never looked back) during a romantic getaway with her now-ex GF (Jan) in Emerson. She’s been intermittently corresponding with said Grandmother for about a year – not quite – and it’s still a bit of a bone of contention between her and her mom, when said Grandmother ups and dies. I’m not sure of what (it may not actually be relevant to the story). But Imogene doesn’t know this.
She finds out because, as the story opens, she is recently broken up with the above-mentioned GF, has run out of couches to crash on, and is staring her (believed to be only) options in the face:
1) Move in with her mother. Again. Which she doesn’t want to do, but she’s run out of couches to crash on.
OR
2) Go and “visit” the country-dwelling grandmother… and see how long she can milk that visit in order to have somewhere to live while she finds a new GF (ideally back in the big city) with a U-Haul on hand.
Gross?
Gross.
So she picks up and goes to Emerson and is banging on the empty house’s front door, and then goes around to the back to see if her grandmother is outside, and comes back out only to meet some dude pulling up in the driveway who turns out to be The Lawyer (or some other Official – possibly an easy-going cop who’s been called out by a nosey neighbour to see who this stranger is who’s trying to get into the Deceased’s house)… and it’s through this interaction that she finds out her grandmother is dead. And also, eventually, that she’s inherrited the house.
So…
The story is hanging on her decision – made in part to put some distance between herself and her own mother – to stick it out in Emerson for one year before deciding whether or not to sell the inherited house and move back to The Big City.
 
 
So my hope is that I can show her growing and changing and becoming more confident in her own ability to pay her own bills and generally provide for herself (once away from the influence of her mother and the romantic stand-ins who she’s been repeating her cycle with for years) over the course of an agricultural year (May to May, but also potentially September to September) through actions like:
Finding a job that she finds fulfilling and which miraculously covers her (extremely minimal) bills
Growing some of her own food, learning to make preservers that will not result in botulism
Raising half a dozen laying hens (yes, really!)
Whining a lot, but actually getting shit done
Going from [asking for rescue when things have Gone All Wrong] to [asking for Help when things are getting slightly out of hand] to [asking for guidance when a given task is looking like it might potentially go pear-shaped]
Discovering that her assumptions about Rural Old Ladies aren’t all entirely accurate
Discovering that her assumptions about Rural Lesbians (or straight people, for that matter) are *also* not all entirely accurate
Being moral support for friends going through hard times
Being literal, physical support for friends going through even harder times
Repeatedly taking initiative on things
Slowly becoming a deeper and deeper part of a community of people she likes and cares about and wants to have like and care about her
 
 
…Which, hopefully, will actually work rather than feeling like buckets and buckets of filler.
I’m hoping that chapters 7-10 (“Symbol Web”, “Plot”, “Scene Weave”, and “Scene Construction and Symphoic Dialogue”) will help me prevent the events of my story from being boring. But I have to get through chapters 4-6 (“Character”, “Moral Arguement”, and “Story World”) before I can do that.
 
 
Wish me luck!
 
 
TTFN,
A.

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Insecure Writers and The Anatomy of Story

Okay.
So Lissa Bryan has this lovely post about how real writers are everywhere and how, by definition, a writer is someone who writes.
And part of me goes: Hell yeah!
…And part of me doesn’t.
 
I’m a largely un-peer-reviewed-publication-published writer. I blog all over the place. By that token, I’ve been published hundreds of times. But as far as getting published after a review process where someone else had to say “Yes, this is awesome enough for me to take the risk and put my name behind it, too”? Only a few. A couple of poems and one short story. Only a couple of which were paid markets.
 
And, to be perfectly blunt, I want that validation. I want someone – someone other than me, someone who isn’t my wife or my friend or even someone I’ve met in person yet – to say “This is a really great story. Here’s an editor on me. Let’s polish this up and help you develope into the even more amazing writer that you so clearly have the potential to become.” The $5000 advance that theoretically comes with this mythical occurance? Not so much on my mind. Wanted, sure. But not nearly so freaking yearned for – at least not right this minute – as hearing that a jury of my peers has judged me and found me worthy.
 
Wow. That was slightly more impassioned than I meant to get. :-\
 
Anyway. Maybe that’s why, when Sofia asked me what I wanted in terms of reception of my writing, I said “I’d like to win a Lambda award” rather than “I’d like to sell five million copies” or “I’d like HBO to buy the rights and turn it into a mini series” or whatever.
 
But why am I writing about this? Well, dear readers, I’ve been having a really frustrating couple of days weeks months on the writing front. 40,000 words or so, and I don’t feel like I really have a clue on how to get my novel to go where it’s supposed to be going. I feel like I’m churning out filler in the hopes that, somewhere in the drose, I’ll find the little thread of gold that I can use to turn into the actual Novel Novel during Draft Two. And, honestly, I’d like to be a little more efficient than that, and I’d like to feel a hell of a lot less lost.
 
Yeah. That lost feeling? That feeling of what-the-fuck-am-I-even-doing? That’s the real bugbear right there. Because when the characters are actually talking? When it feels like all I have to do is take dictation from my Creative Brain (who is going a mile a minute and I’m in that zone where, as Ursula Le Guin puts it, “the words cannot be wrong”) and type fast enough to keep up with a story that is telling itself? Then I really don’t care whether the story ever sees the light of day[1] because I’m actually WRITING and BEING A WRITER and the high of that experience is so very much enough.
But when it’s all just endlessly slogging-slogging-slogging and I can’t see where the fuck the narative is going and am deeply suspicious that this is because it’s going nowhere… That’s when I need some sort of external validation to remind me that, yes, I’m still a writer. That’s when I start plotting out Paranormal Romance Novels – not because I enjoy gritty urban fantasy with an element of noir and a (significant) element of the erotic, and not because I have a couple of characters whose relationship, story, and world I’d like to expand upon, but because “Paranormal’s hot right now, and romances are formulaic enough that I might be able to write one without getting completely lost”[2].
 
So.
Feeling deeply discouraged and wondering what the fuck I was doing, and even wondering if I should bother trying to be A Writer at all[3] I hied myself to the library and picked up a couple of books on how to improve one’s storytelling.
 
They’re actually helping.
 
At least the first one I picked up, The Anatomy of Story (which I think might be targeted at screenplay writers, but that’s not really relevant), is giving me a good bunch of Things upon which to build the skeleton of my story –> things that are kind of like “interview your MC to find out her personal brand of neurotic” but rather more direct.
I’ve been applying it to “Small Miracles” (the small-town lesbian manuscript), working with the elements I already have (which is technically not what I’m supposed to do, but whatever) to fill in the structural blanks. Not surprisingly there were structural blanks to be filled. I’m far from finished this process, which I’ll be doing again with “Crow Maidens” (which might wind up being told from a different PoV, we’ll see), and I’m also far from finished The Anatomy of Story (I’m almost to the beginning of Chapter Four, fyi). But it’s already helping. It’s showing me where I’m missing stuff. My “plan”, while probably acceptable, feels a little too vague to me to really be able to build something around. So I’m poking at it, trying to find the weak spots, and continuing on with this book to see if, getting on with bits like “character theme opposition” or “building conflict”, I get also get a better idea of how The Plan should look.
 
Wish me luck.
 
 
TTFN,
A.
 
 
[1] But also know that it will, somehow, because I’ll make sure of it.
 
[2] Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to write my Crow Maidens expansion. It just meanst that I’m going to take a good, long poke at it before I go any further in the words-on-the-page department and see if I can’t get a really clear idea of how the skeletal system works, first.
 
[3] I figured out pretty quick that if I just flat-out stopped bothering and went and tried to find a day-job or something, I would probably just wind up going squirrely due to all of the un-written, un-processed, un-acknowledged STUFF swhirling around in my head… and that was actually kind of a relief: Oh, good. I must be a Real Writer because I can’t fucking stop.

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Crow Maidens – The Continuing Saga (literally)

So. Years ago, I wrote a short story. Paranormal porn. There was a shape shifter. There was a hot hook-up at a Pagan Fest (because that’s never happened). There was… a remarkably unsatisfying second half of the story and a mediocre ending and the feeling that this was not actually supposed to be a short story, but was supposed to live somewhere on the Lesbian Paranormal Romance spctrum as a novel.
 
Fast foward past a couple of nanowrimos and a lot of dust collecting on that story, to now.
 
And suddenly my characters are talking to me again.
Not… loudly. Exactly. And I have no fucking clue where this is going to go. (So far, I’m just trying to avoid Massive Information Dumping during Chapter One, and trying not to get side-tracked by the part of me that wants to edit the original short story before getting on with the rest of the thing). But they’re talking. I know that my Corvae gal has lousy eating habits and dresses neat but also kinda punk-ass. I know that my working (successfully!) artist human chick is vegetarian. I know that there’s a bit of long-standing animosity between the Corvae and one of the other shape-shifter clans/societies/cultural-groups/whatver-the-fucks that may wind up playing a more significant role in the story, though I have no idea what at this point. I know that my crow-chick’s (very extensive) family isn’t going to give two hoots (ha! Okay, wrong species) about her getting involved with a human girl, so that’s not going to be a source of Drama.
 
I know there’s some kind of race-against-time going on, there may be a bomb of some sort involved (although fucked if I know how the hell some chick with a paintbrush is going to be any use on this one)
 
I’m not entirely sure that my human MC is 100% human – and it might be convenient if she wasn’t.
 
I’m not at all sure where the non-sexual Action for this story is coming from.
 
…Is it just me, or do a LOT of paranormal romances involve some kind of cross-over with cop-dramas? Some kind of whodunit for civilians to solve, or a Major Mythic Disaster that needs to be averted… by the Department of Elfland Security or whatever.
 
I mean, I suppose I could just mix together… an unusually-specific artistic commission for a wealthy recluse, a country house with a secret, a megalomaniac with a thing against shape-shifters, an unknown birthright, and a time-sensitive ritual to Raise The Minotaur (or something) and call it day.
 

 
Fuck it. Let’s run with it and see where it goes. πŸ˜‰

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