Wednesday, August 31

It goes on and on and on

I am trying to ignore the word count on my revision thusfar -- just get it out of my head and edit it later -- but I am starting to panic when I look at the page total and watch Strange steadily growing and growing and growing.

I'm mostly worried that as it gets bigger it won't be able to sustain its own weight before it collapses in on itself. Its already a bit of a potentially debunkable (but fun) premise. I have given myself a deadline however, which should light the necessary fire under my patootie and keep me working.

I figure if I can get the revision draft done by the 3rd I'll be doing good. T gets back on Saturday and I know I will be WAY more interested in playing with him than Strange since he's only back for a week. Plus he might actually have time to read for me before he leaves, than I can do any further tweaking and post it for the CW crit group.

I really want them to look at it since they'll have a bit of perspective and I may also cast it about to a few outside my trusty compadres for a few fresh eyes.

In other news, yeeeaahhh my new phone is here. Its amazing how much I missed the little bugger. Not like I'm always on it, but when I need a phone I have one there...

I lost all my stored photos but managed to retain my address book -- a worthy exchange. Sure beats having to dig around for scraps of paper and call friends who know other friends and try to recreate the damn thing. Which only works until you get somewhere and absolutely NEED to reach so-and-so and realize you never put so-and-so back in your address book after the great phone swap-er-roo.

Saturday, August 27

Weekends are for lovers...

Well, it worked for the state of Virginia but I guess not nearly so well here. As it looks like my plans to go paddling on the Trinity are rapidly going up in smoke I think I WILL clean the carpets this weekend and get that revision of Strange D-O-N-E.

On a delightful note: yesterday morning having finished the enormously fun reversal-fest info-dump that IS The DaVinci Code with half an hour of my morning reading time left, I shuffled into the kitchen to put water on for tea and there it was -- open laptop, crit manuscripts, pages of notes. I called myself "waiting for the water to boil" and worked out another 5 page of the ever growing tale that is Strange. I was almost late to work, but I had to MAKE myself turn computer off.

Dis is goooood, velly, velly goood...

Hit up the farmer's market this morning for honey and hummus ingredients. Also picked up some Spinach and Snap Pea starts for the garden. Now on to Piersons for more soil... yippe..

My phone uncroaked itself with a cry last night (something like Monty Python's "I'm not dead yet!") but still isn't quite right -- if ya know what I mean -- so I'll probably send it back anyway and play dumb about the fact that its suddenly making like it wants to live again.

The tale of the Zombie Phone....wooohahaaaaa...

Wednesday, August 24

And then there was Strange...

So after a long venting session last night with the best housemate on the planet about my fears that I would never write anything good again I finally quit "dickin around" and broke out my Clarion West story box. I spent the last few weeks living -- kayaking, blogging, working, gardening, all the things I missed while I was away. I was collecting stories -- and I have another twenty post its full of ideas, but I WAS starting to worry if the dreaded BLOCK had set in.
I couldn't help smiling, flipping through manuscripts and deciphering Ada's illegible script -- even BJ got into the action, scanning through critiques and adding "wow, that's HARSH" or "I can't believe everyone put that much work into their critiques."
I found it impossible to explain that harsh and detailed were good things -- especially when she got to Swanwick's crit of Strange and her jaw dropped.
"What are all these X's?" She asked, holding up a page where nearly everything but a sentence was completely obliterated.
"The things he thought I should cut." I said.
"And the word 'Brick'?" She flipped through another page and held up the page with the crudely scrawled word beside an enormous chunk of text.
"Its an info-dump," I tried to explain. She stared at me, apparently I still wasn't speaking English yet. "sorta. Like there's just too much information there all at once."
"So are you going to do it?"
"Well, maybe." I shrugged. "He was right about a lot of that opening, its just clunky and awkward and doesn't go anywhere."
She put down Swanwick's crit, genuinely alarmed. Did she think the edits were wack, or that I was -- who knows... Next she picked up the manuscript with precise, penciled notes on college bound notepaper.
"Is this Octavia Butler's handwriting?" Her voice held more than a touch of awe.
"Yeah," I said, "she liked it pretty much. Don't change too much. Isnt' it funny how two great writers can fundamentally disagree on the same story. But there are obviously a few things that need to be tweaked."
"She didn't understand why Mara slept with Ben." She flipped through the pages, obviously looking for an explicit sex scene.
I laughed, grinning with the memory. "Nobody did. Its called a Clarion ending. Its what happens at 3 in the morning when you have a story due by 9 and you're three quarters of the way through and have yet to edit. Eddie ex-Machina."
Finding no sex, she put the manuscript down. She has no idea how hard it was for me to even IMPLY two characters got it on in my story -- I didn't even attempt the Lesbian Vampire Erotica call for entries that had everyone else on fire the last week of CW. When the phone rang she hopped off the couch to answer then returned to top off my glass of wine.
"Hmmm?" I heard her voice, but I was deep in manuscripts.
"Are you gonna work on it now?"
I looked up blankly. A few minutes ago I was feeling morose, like there wasn't a story left to be told in the world. At 8:30 I contemplated going to bed and starting the DaVinci Code. But with my hands full of manuscripts of my first CW story everything changed. I reached for my laptop. Maybe it was the yerba mate, sipped between grimaced gulps of a barely passable merlot. Maybe it was just looking at the first story I'd turned in -- written hastily in 24 hours because the first week at CW, though I was content to coast on my submission story, Octavia Butler set me on fire when she asked "Don't you have anything else to turn in?" The resulting crudity with potential and all the bad grammar I could muster was the best draft yet of a story that had been "stuck" in my head for years.
Yes, I was going to work on it RIGHT NOW. And every night till I got the damn thing ready to go back to the CWers for the re-grilling of its little 30 page existence.
"Not ready for bed just yet." I started sorting crits, making mental notes about what needed to go, and what could stay. She drifted off to her book and bed.
I didn't look up again till 12:15...AM. Ug. I have to work in the morning. HAVE TO WORK.
Shit, I have to be in the dentist chair at 8...Might as well crank out another graf and tighten up that conversation between Manny and Mara. Thank god the battery in my laptop finally threatened to die or I might still be working.
As it is, I can't wait to get back to it.

In other news, I am sleeping much better on the inflatable mattress than even I anticpated. Its not as bad as I thought it was: at least my back doesn't hurt half as bad and I don't wake myself up rolling over on the squealy old box spring. Now, the search for a proper futon begins.

I have found the proper kayak, however. She is beautiful and I love her -- now I just have to break the news to Betty. When T comes back, I'm sure he can comfort her better than I by finding some other kayaking newbie for her to teach the ways of the river to. My new lady is a Dagger Juice 6.9...she is a red hot mama and I gotta find a better paddle.

No new cabbages to report but the fall crop of collard greens is finally coming up -- yippee!


Tuesday, August 23

Life in a small town...


So some of you CWers didn't believe me when I said I lived "small strange town" of my own. It doesn't move around, but when news like this makes front know life has shrunk to bizarre.

Monday, August 22

More useless stats

Current story word count: 231 (still)

Current novel "Slash and Burn project" page count: 329-ish...Sometimes it makes me so depressed -- What is this crap?

# of times I have started next novel in my head: 4

# of times I have started next novel ON PAPER: 0

# of Clarion Stories edited: 0

# of Post Clarion Stories by other Clarionites critted: 0

# of Stories published: o

# of stories submitted: 0

(anyone notice a trend here?)

Times I have mentally kicked myself for not writing more: Oh sheesh, I'm not going to tell you that.

Why do I feel like I'm sliding down a deep dark hole here...SIGH.

In other news...

# of Kayaking trips: 2

# of Cabbages yet uneaten: 3

# of blogs I'm currently running: 3 (how do I get myself into this mess?)

# of movies watched since returning from CW: 8

Amount of stuff now piled in my livingroom & laundry room for thrift store disposal: 3-14 gallon plastic tubs, assorted boxes, six department store bags and a pile of cardboard for recycling.

And now for something completely different -- the 1001 Nights Cast is performing a new story each night for 1001 nights based on a prompt by artist/creator Barbara Campbell. We're at night 66 -- you can read, write or just browse the old stories.

So the rumor go round says an 05er or two just got published. Congratulations and Yipee! Happy Birthday to our Class "Clown" -- and the world just keeps on turning :-)


Wednesday, August 17

Got an awful last line?

It might be helpful if I could come up with a last line period (even a relatively good one) but these are fun to check out anyway! There are even a few of my fellow Clarionites tossing hats in the ring...

Ah, thanks Vanderworld for giving the procrastinating writer something interesting to do...

Tuesday, August 16

The Grrl and her Garden

So as my fellow Clarionites might remember, one of the many reasons I couldn't wait to get home was to check out my garden. It was badly overgrown and under watered, but getting back among my little weedlings and snailnests felt great...Sunday I spent much of the afternoon digging, weeding and watering.

Oh yeah and harvesting. Check out my first cabbage!

So I'm not the most experienced gardener but I love my little dirty veggie pile -- especially the cabbages. Confession: I did have a really hard time pulling the first one. It felt so much like a real little head -- and my roommate had to pipe in with the reminder about the "Cabbage Patch Kids" characters, which I had conveniently forgotten about. I think I used to have one of those as a kid. Oh god, I'm going to hell...

Damn it was tasty though...

Saturday, August 13

Today I...

Woke up, made a pot of tea and finished reading Hidden Warrior. And yes there really was a point to reading it, I'm just not sure what that is at this moment...Oh yeah, sometimes its good to read books you don't really "care for"* all that much so you can see how and why and what the author did so you can either emulate or avoid this technique. Next time I'll try to find a book that I don't really care for that's under 600 pages, however.

It wasn't that it was a "bad" book -- actually lots of the elements were really fun, and the premise was pretty stinkin cool. Plus it had a young adult feel (youthful characters) with a definite edge (complex relationship, sexuality questions and blood n guts). Me gusto. I'll probably pass it next to Kamilah, who I'm sure will like it. It was just too 'epic' for me, it went ON AND ON AND ON...and it aint finished yet. Kinda like the Wayfarer series was. Actually like a lot of the "sword and sorcery" fantasy stuff I have read which I generally like, but find it confusing, drawn out and hard to read in multiple sittings.

... Suspiciously like my own first-novel-in-a-drawer. Hmm...

I've decided that my problem with fantasy books has a lot to do with the fact that I am a cover reader. Guilty as charged. I pick books by titles and cover art. Okay not all the time. But a lot of the time. Especially if I'm a used bookstore with a lot of books to go through...or I'm in a hurry. If I have the time I pour over the first and last chapter then take it or leave it.

If not...okay I pick up this awesome looking book with a neat title "Hidden Warrior" and this cool art of an androgynous looking warrior on a horse staring dead at the reader. And I'm sold.

My second downfall is that I have a HUGE grace period for a book to work out. 100 pages is a bit excessive. I would NEVER make a good editor. This is due to two factors: sympathy and my defective "I believe" button. Sympathy: its hard to be a writer. Damn hard. Especially after going through Clarion West I know its REALLY DAMN HARD. To be a professionally published author seems like some kind of epic quest of its own. Which leads me to #2. Anyone who actually makes it in print gets my big fat "I believe" button shoved in with a stick.

The funny part is, I'd never sat down and analyzed my reading style before CW. I've suffered through lots of books I didn't care for and it always seems as though finding a good book was this hit and miss endeavor. Now I understand my own sensibilities, and I can retrain myself. Life is too short and there are two many fantastic books out there for me to dawdle a 100 pages on something -- especially when CW proved to me that I am not NEARLY well read enough.

No offence, to Lynn. The book was fun. Glad I went there. Can't say the same for lots of folks that have made me want to jab a stick in my eyes after reading if only to keep it from aiming at my "I believe" button the next time a cool cover sashays by...

My vow to self. No more judging the book by its cover. If I don't have the time to do my first/last scan, I will not buy the book. I will also work on reading the recommended lists from my cites and authors. Okay so once in a while I will allow a cover to grab me (that's what good art is for, right?) but I will be far more discerning overall.

(Why does this sound like I'm giving myself relationship advice?)

So this brings me in a very roundabout way to what I did with most of the rest of my day. Inspired by what I don't want my book to be, I grabbed my manuscript, a pair of scissors and two sharpies (red and black)...Oh yeah and a pencil and a regular pen for outline notes. I attempted what I never have had the courage to do with any work of mine -- cut it up. Literally.
This serves two purposes:
1. To get rid of the crappy sentences, phrases and scenes that suck anyway.
2. To remind myself that nothing written, including my own stuff (no matter how much I love it) is gospel truth. Not even the gospel for that matter -- but that's another big mouthed woman writer opinion. It can be hacked, erased, lined out and hopefully, rewritten BETTER than before. But you gotta let go of the crap first -- even if it takes prying it out of cold dead fingers.

This was an up and down process. Initially I was a savage editor, red pen and all. Then I got to a scene I REALLY liked and got all soft. I had to back up half and hour later and re-read cause I realized I'd put my machete down and started cuddling the little darlings. Damnit!

I took a break, ran to the beach with Echo and came home. For fortification I opened a bottle of wine, poured a glass, toasted Michael Swanwick and then grabbed the red pen and the scissors.
(yes I still have all my fingers, pinkie swear) Three hundred pages later I sat back, satisfied and let myself rest. And it was good.

Important things I realized:

1. Essentially my book (beloved as it is -- and I love reading some it too. I love the sentences. I love the paragraphs. I am my own biggest fan.) is a big epic lump of malformed exposition about nice people who do nice things, fall in and out of and in love and live happily ever after. Okay granted there is a sprinkling of shitty background, a few flirtations with dangerous bad people and by the end a few of them (good and bad) die. But in the end, everything is ROSES. Not good.

2. There are some pretty stinking cool characters. There is a reason I keep coming back to Gabriel, Azazael, Nahum and crew. They have great interaction, fun chemistry, cool relationships and really human flaws but right now there are lots of loose ends, misplaced or absent motivations and "Eddie ex machina" induced conclusions. With those resolved, this *might* be a pretty damned interesting story.

3. Lots of great things happen, even some of the bad things are neat, they just don't LAST as long as they should. There's actualy a neat world underneath all the killing time and space I spend on shitty dialoge and ocean metaphors. I will have the courage to build it!

4. #1-3 aren't the end of the world...Just Clarion West making itself worth the tuition, the heartache and the time in Sorority-Land.

So it begins.
*clearing throat* as Heather would say..."Here's your machete and stay to the right."

For the next few weeks I will hack. Then I will rewrite. I will make bad things happen to good people. I will get this incredible world out of my head and onto a piece of paper. I will make sure tension is sustained. I will NOT let my characters get out of trouble so easily. And I will still love them and take care of them and make sure most them them turn out alright in the end. Somebody hold me to it -- use all the arm twisting necessary.

Of course, that leaves me with lots of spare time to work on some new stuff -- I have a flash type item I wrote inspired by that crappy movie Troy and I'm finally feeling ready to take on the grownup version of Kamilah's once bedtime story, working title: The Good Queen's Daughter. Oh yeah and the three Clarion stories to unpack and rewrite. That will leave me with enough time to eat, sleep and to go to work...and that's about it. Life IS good...

*I hate the term 'like' mostly because I'm from California and find it sneaking into my vocabulary far too often for my own comfort -- especially when I'm, like, particularly ampt about something...Oh damn there I go again. As far as use of "like" and "dislike" I hate the both because they're vague and don't really say anything, plus I'm the sucker kind of reader that finds most of the books I've read "likeable" on some level so I'm making a conscious effort to use better words than like -- as in -- I don't "care for..." Which implies some sort of personal investment or lack thereof.

Monday, August 8

Clarion Fact and Fiction (from my not so humble Clarion West Class of 2005 perspective)

Fact: Clarion West does prep writers for professional careers. Even those of us coming to enrich our “art” publication or no learn a few things about the business end of the stick. Sure some of the reality stuff sucks and hearing about the “Editorial Red Line” made some of us nauseous (or is that nauseated) but we persevered. And we learned that perseverance is the key to success, screw talent and inspiration…

Fiction: CW is drama central. I heard the stories about writer’s workshops. Apparently we were a pretty “tame” class (no addicts, no affairs, no brawling, scapegoats or public eviscerating) but I think that’s a compliment. I didn’t come to Clarion West for a soap opera – and I’m pretty damn pleased that some of the biggest static in our class came out of gender roles of characters in stories. To me that says something about our overall class and professionalism. Go team go. (Insert self congratulatory back patting here)

Faction (yes that is a new word in this application, I made it up myself): So before I came to Clarion West I read a website that claimed that Clarionites form this elite clique that thumbs its noses at “non” Clarionites. The truth of the matter is this – we went though an intense experience that none of us will forget anytime soon. We have “in jokes,” stories that sound weird to anyone who wasn’t there, cool t-shirts, secret decoder rings – and a handshake. I’m just kidding about the handshake thing… but there is something to going through an intense situation with a group of people. Its like surviving a plane crash, going through boot camp – or, gasp, pledging to a sorority (heheheeee!) We will probably squeal and/or hug each other on sight, and cluster when we meet at cons for some catching up. Except you Stephen, I don’t think you have a squeal in your entire body, eh? But if you smile and wear that killer WTF tee shirt, I’ll know you a mile away. Hi to your sweetie – I know she’s glad to have you home!

But I can guarantee you that I will neither thumb my nose, nor criticize anyone who hasn’t gone or chooses not to attend Clarion West. It may not be for everyone, and you certainly don’t NEED to go to get published. It doesn’t make any editor more likely to publish you. It doesn’t even guarantee you a ticket out of the slush pile. People come to Clarion West for lots of reasons, the least of which is to feel superior to non-Clarion writers. I for one am happy to talk about the experience to people who are considering the possibility of attending – especially those that think they aren’t good enough or can’t handle the load. Hey if they took me and I survived, you can too!

I’ll even show you my secret decoder ring. Pinkie swear.

Wednesday, August 3

A word of thanks

Now its time to thank the folks that got me here and home. So big thanks to Mom, Dad and Grandmas and Grandpas, not so little sis Kamilah and my Aunties – for more love and support than one grrl can hold on to with both her arms open. To the wonderful ladies of WeCanDo – Lila, Candelaria, Bonnie, Barbara, Janna, Carolyn, Jean, Lorraine, Olivia, Deborah and our fearless guide Akaya -- proving that we can do an amazing project, without even knowing it. Thanks to my friends and co-workers at MMP that supported me and helped me get to Clarion West – and for hanging on to my job until I got back.

To everyone who came to the party and those who donated items to, and shopped at the yard sale. Thanks for getting me to Seattle. Couldn’t have done it without you.

Biggest thanks to my adorable and savy housemate, Bonny Jean Johnson…who was with me when I got the call from Leslie saying I got in and made a killer welcome home dinner when I arrived home. Also thanks to brah-Adam for getting his truck stuck at the beach while taking Echo out to play and for always supplying plenty of Johnny Cash and the Stones.

To my Tolleywog – purveyor of water fun, a safe space to be me, and the best hugs on the planet. Couldn’t have survived week 4 without you T, can’t wait till you get home.

To Toyota, for making the best damned cars on the planet…okay this is getting carried away, I should save something for my Hugo acceptance speech. Heheheeee ;-)

And one last thanks, to Grandpa Silvera – the original teller of strange tales. Annie Pongadon anyone? This one is for you. I’d say rest in peace, but I know you’re happiest staying busy, so just try not to fix all the rundown Cadillacs in heaven before I get there to help out.

In case you were wondering...

Ha. And you thought I’d fallen into the deep dark post-Clarion West hole, never to emerge.

Well, okay so maybe you didn’t. Michael told us to take a break – a week exactly – and go back to writing. This being a class of overachievers some of us didn’t bother to wait that long. Hehehe.

I crashed a bit after the workshop – thank goodness for the kindness of a classmate who let me loaf around her house for days on end, feeding me salmon and mojitos until I was well enough to make the long drive home.

You know who you are. Thank you. And your goddess of a housemate.

So I’m home. Almost two weeks since Clarion ended and somebody out there (if anyone’s still reading this) might be wondering what I’m up to. I heard all sorts of rumors about what happens to folks who go through Clarion: we go on to publish novels in the next six months, we drop off the face of the planet, we get writers block that last anywhere from a week to five years, we quit our jobs, dump our spouses, move to Seattle and/or quit writing altogether.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that lots of folks in this class have a pretty good chance of hanging in there for the long haul—and I can’t wait to see their names in print. Our names. Yours truly started the first 200 words of a short story temporarily titled “The Sturgeon Wife” may just turn out to be an exercise but I’m already learning a few things from it and having a good time. I put it away for a week to make my re-entry into the “real world,” which somehow lacks the reality it once had. If I came away from Clarion West with nothing else, I know that I am a writer. I now announce it proudly – in front of my day job title. Yipee. The biggest challenge is getting unpacked and re-sorted. I learned how little I could survive with at Clarion and am now in the process of literally “cleaning house,” making piles to take to benefit yard sales and thrift stores. I’ll have more space than ever when done – maybe I’ll even get some space to do yoga in my own house!

My housemate is a pleasantly alarmed by the amount of stuff being hurtled into boxes and bags – I always have been the more cluttered of the two of us. I think she’s wondering if I might just pack and move to Seattle next week. Hehehe. Not in the immediate future, but a few things might definitely change in terms of my priorities. And I always have friends in Seattle – and a place to crash iffinwhen I make the big transplant. Best of all, Echo didn’t forget me. He’s been a big grey shadow for the last week and I can’t get enough of his big floppy ears and soft eyes. When I got home he was at the door and wiggling shamelessly.

So as it stands, I’ve still got my job, my boyfriend and my life here in Humboldt. I’m writing, working and now I’m even sleeping a decent amount. I’m starting a writer’s group with a co-worker who went to Tinhouse at Reed this summer – it probably won’t be as intense as Clarion West, but we could both use the maintenance. I miss all my fellow Clarionites – we’ve already had a few publications in the group, and I am abundantly pleased and delighted. It feels weird not to be able to go downstairs at two in the morning and have a conversation about bug eyed aliens and punchbowl zombies. I miss midnight coffee runs, and racing down the hall in my towel from the shower –and barefoot (breakin the rules again!) I miss Joni’s cooking (though I have been doing more at home) and “research” trips to stores on the Ave.

I miss reading brilliant, funny and oddball stories every day – and thinking deeply about them all. Our listserve is still on fire, which I anticipate will drop off and people get busy again, but its nice knowing everyone is still out there paying attention to each other. Hopefully there’ll still be a story or two to critique now and again. And Yes, Clarion West is the best thing I have ever done for myself as a writer…so far.