Sunday, October 23, 2011
I moved because Wordpress works better, for one thing. It's not as simple, and there are things to learn about running the site, but I like it. Also, I needed to make the shift from an Internet handle to my real name as I undertake the process of writing professionally. I am still toying with what name to use (John Stevens, J. H. Stevens, etc.) but it is time to come out from behind my cute name and be me. This is in part something I need to do to own my writing, to be more confident in my work. The new blog will be much more focused on writing, and less on personal stuff, which I think will make it more interesting to folks.
So come on over!
Friday, July 15, 2011
Today I am off to Readercon, and I will be posting assorted updates from there over the weekend. It should be a fun and thinky con.
Monday, July 4, 2011
1) Confidence. Yeah, this zero-draft stuff is not much to read, but doing this on my blog, regardless of responses, is good. I am writing every day, I am writing without fear, which sounds grandiose but is not meant to be. I started this solo workshop with a very general sense of what I wanted to write, and I am finding that as I write a lot of elements of the future story are becoming clearer. Writing this protean stuff in public is helping me break down some internal barriers, and as a result I am writing more overall with less hesitation.
2) Discernment: When I write an early draft, I do a couple of strange things: first, I write actions and interactions in excruciating detail. which I parse in later drafts. When I compare what I am writing here to a few other pieces, this problem stands out mightily. Feedback on previous stories has pointed this out, and this excessive detail was also a problem in essay-writing in grad school. This is linked to confidence, in part, this to a need to map out everything. I hate missing something, so in early drafts there is too much. I prefer to whittle rather than add on.
One of the things I learned in my creative writing education and in graduate school was to not be wedded to what is on the page. One of my writing teachers in college was Taylor Stoehr, who saw this tendency of mine to overwrite immediately and spent a very patient year pointing out its effects on my work. He even gave me a collection of Arthur Waley's translations of Chinese poetry to inspire me to do more with less. I took the lesson a bit differently than he wanted, I think.
In academic graduate school, you are encouraged to overwrite, and then chided for it. I tried to follow what I found to be the conventions of authorship, and had some of those whose writing I studied tell me what I was doing it wrong. I soon learned that "do I say, not as I do" was the motto to follow. But their advice was theoretically precise, yet technically vague. Again, one person gave me some excellent advice early on; Thomas Kirsch spent most of my first semester giving me pointers on how to approach not just academic writing, but the process of practice of writing itself. He was fascinated with the tension between anthropologists "getting it right" and their often larger-than-life self-images and aspirations. This often resulted in writing that was very detailed but had little behind it, or dense academic discussions that were far removed from the ethnographic material. What he counseled was simple: write clearly, always keeping not just your point but the world you are writing about in mind.
3) Rhythm: Spattering ideas on the screen often shows me what objective I want to achieve (see above about detail, etc.). I think through writing more often than I form a full idea in my head. What I am noticing in this project is that this influences the rhythm and flow of my writing, and I need to pay more attention to that when redrafting and shaping the story in revision. I also tend to search for characters' voices and personas in this manner, and that affects the rhythm as well. In this novella I am trying to play with the third-person perspective a bit and let a focal character influence the perspective in each section. We'll see how well that works as I keep unfolding the story.
4) Exercise: This Write-a-thon is good exercise, partly because there are prompts from Clarion. I am going to tackle this exercise tonight and see what it yields, then get back to writing. I am a day behind but I will catch up after working the prompt.
5) Enlightenment: There is nothing like working on a story to remind you of how difficult and amazing the writing process can be. Even without publication, fiction writing does a lot for me, from improving my mood to influencing how I talk about writing in my column and articles. It's hardest sort of fun around and I get a lot from it.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
The creekside plots were cukes and pumpkins this year, although Leigh had little use for the former and had asked that they not be grown. Bloody useless little peckers. But the vegetation here was turning lush quickly; this was still some of the best ground they had for cultivation. There just wasn't very much of it, especially with the boulders here and there and the rock formation that jutted out from the bridge and came down the shore from what used to be the big lawn, when the Falls were a park. Now that was a precious little grain patch, barely enough to feed a few people for a season. Too little, too little. . . . .
She realized that she could hear music now, some twangy guitar notes. She came over the hump and saw Eoin standing at attention, hands behind his back, watching Gracie play on the big boulder. The maple gave them both ample shade. It was still warm under the canopy but lulling and sweet. Leigh felt herself smiling. She compressed her lips, lingering for a moment until the tune ended, then turned and headed back to the homestead.
"Ah, protein." She waved to the other two as they secured the rope. Their sun hats had been pushed back, and their hair, short and gray for both of them, was soaked with sweat. They both wore light ponchos and blood-stained aprons, but the older woman's clothes were dark red and slick. The girl brushed a few droplets from her face and smiled at Leigh.
"Good size. Meaty."
The older woman nodded. "Hello Leigh. We have a prize pig here for sure!" She laughed; the other two women smiled and nodded politely. "Like El said: good size, plenty of flesh. We'll have him butchered in no time. Smokehouse most of it, have barbecue for the rest tonight." She tromped past Leigh and opened the hatch to the small house's cellar, disappearing inside.
"What's the word?" Leigh asked El.
"I talked to Heather; they have enough pasture for the season, but they may have to convert next year." She undid the apron tie behind her neck and slipped out of the blood-spattered garb. "Levy on pasture might up to triple, with all the food drop delays."
"That's stupid. Who's going to work it? Brad, Heather, and their grandkids?" Leigh heard something clang in through the open basement hatch and cursing erupt. "Too much field. It's ridiculous."
El nodded and tossed her apron over by the tree. "There might be more Unemployed by next spring."
Leigh wrinkled her nose. "You're kidding."
El gave her a funny look. "Of course I'm not. Brad saw some tax revenue projections, and even with the shopping bonus the Employed got, still not enough coming in, he says."
"Fuck the Employed," Leigh replied, "I told them that horseshit plan wouldn't work."
Words for tonight: 607.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
I have updated my Clarion page with my specific goal for the six weeks, which is to write a novella of at least 25,000 words, currently entitled "Waterfall Pulls the Sunlight Down." At 600 words per day, and no editing, I can make this goal, and I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges, raw as it may be.
The Write-a-thon officially starts tomorrow and runs until 6 August, but some writers started early, and I did some writing earlier in the week, which I will not count towards the 25,000 word total. Part of the process is promoting your writing and getting people to sponsor you, so if you enjoy this story, please do donate. As incentive, I will happily tuckerize every donor who wishes it into the story, and the person who makes the largest contribution will receive the final product in whatever form it is eventually published in.
Here's the first installment:
June, The Month of Hoping Things Grow
Eoin found Littlegrace Bear by the falls, strumming the dead woman's guitar. It had rained overnight and the water was roaring, throwing sparkling drops into the air and crashing down into a white maelstrom below the chunky rock formation it ran over. The little waterwheels craned out on the near side of the falls were spinning and rocking in the spray, but the din of the water drowned out their creaking and whirring. Maybe we'll get enough power for a movie tonight.
Gracie watched the falls sparkle and ran her fingers across the strings, lightly depressing them near a middle fret. That guitar twanged with poor tuning, but she swayed along with the slow rhythm. Eoin cleared his throat. The strumming changed, became lighter and slower.
"You doing alright?"
She smiled at the waterfall and blinked as the wind came up and blew a little spray their way. "It was nice of her to give me her guitar." The strumming picked up speed again. "The waterfall likes the music." She closed her eyes and raised her face to the breeze-driven droplets.
"Yeah." Eoin tried to quell the light shaking that had been in his hands since dawn. He looked down at them, thin but strong hands. He still had a bit of the dead woman's blood under his fingernails, he noted. He put his arms behind his back and stood up straighter. "If you need anything, you let me know."
She smiled at the waterfall. "I have a guitar. I ate breakfast." She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "There'll probably be a movie tonight." She moved her fingers down the neck and the guitar moaned. She bent over it and started playing it for real, bluesy and curt notes groaning out of it. She sped up the rhythm a bit and started shaking her head to the music.
He felt a tear form at the side of his right eye, like one of those cocoons a wasp would spin on its victim/protector. Maybe this one will take some anger with it. His stomach rumbled. His arms were tired. He nodded at Gracie, stepped back to the edge of the shade given by the massive tree they were under, the last one by the creek on this side of the falls. Far behind and up on the little bluff he could hear people talking, maybe shouting. He checked the sun, out beneath the cool canopy of the maple.
He stood there, still as stone, and listened to the rough, sad music until the sun went behind the shattered house on the ridge across the creek.
She crossed Lake St., which was hardly a street anymore, partly cleared off but even more pocked than Falls St. Up the old driveway of the former parking lot to what was now the lower field, a combination of tomatoes and squashes slowly maturing in the harsh sunlight. She skirted the edge of the field and kicked at the rich soil along the edge, the imported stuff that had cost them a horse and 900 hours of server time. If Darkboy's stereo eats the reserve power I'm going to feed his testicles to the hounds. She scrambled up the rough steps along the top of the rockface overlooking the creek gardens and wished once again there was some sort of railing.
She found Damon on the little bluff near the falls in his sun hat and puffy shirt, squatting down in the new field, looking at a row of seedlings that were stunted, some of them browning. She made noise as she approached when she saw the gun on his hip. He let some soil drop from his fingers and wiped them on his trouser leg, then put his gardening glove back on. She pulled her kaffiyah back and cleared her throat.
"Hey," he said as she came up beside him. He kept looking at the seedlings. "How's town?"
"Still there," she replied. "Mail's late. Food drop's late. Treatment plant is down again." She looked over the field to the far side, where some recently cut-down trees lay near a tall chain-link fence. "I got the new parts for the tiller, finagled some grain for those extra tires." She heard him mutter and caress a wilted shoot between his fingers. "There's a Common Council meeting Thursday night."
He quieted and looked sideways at her shins; the fabric of her silky beige skirt clung to them in the rising breeze. "For what?"
"What do you think, Damon?" She sneered a bit at the top of his head. "Second week with no drops, no mail, just a few independents and tinkers rolling through with wares." She looked down the length of the field, which was farmed right up to a thin stand of trees about back to the creek before the falls. She squinted and saw one of the thin irrigation pipes dripping water, but as the wind kicked up soil blew off in stinging puffs. "How's the field?"
She was pretty sure she heard him whisper "fuck you" before he raised his voice. "Trouble with the irrigation; DeShawn and Alice are working on it, may just drag the manual gear up here and try to hose the field for now. Darkboy says weather forecast is for rain on Wednesday, but three days is a long time for no water." He flicked at the plant he had just been fondling. "But it's not just water; something else is up. I need to run some tests. . . ."
She sighed. "Really? Again?"
Damon finally looked up at her, his milky right eye as piercing as the clear green one. "Yes Leigh, again. This seed was supposed to be clean and delinked. Signal free. Parent. Untampered with."
"It's corn, Damon. What did you expect? I told you. . . ."
He hissed to cut her off. "I expected that my preliminary analysis was right. And this is not. . . it's not. . . ." he turned away from her and tossed a pebble down the row. "I'm not sure what's wrong, and I need to find out, deal with it before. . . ."
"Thursday." He stood up, finally. Slowly, his knees creaking. His clothes were too big for him and the intermittent breeze pushed the roomy white fabric of his voluminous shirt sleeves against his bony elbows as he hooked his thumbs into his belt. "I need to know what's up by Thursday."
"Yeah, I guess." She shook her head at the tiny plantlings. "How's everybody doing?"
"Fine. The girls are working the tax garden, kids are over at the big playground, Mischa and El are bringing that pig back from McLean. Vim and Darkboy are doing their thing. I think the rest went down along the creek to forage, and check around."
"Eoin and Gracie are down by the falls," Leigh said after a moment. "They're under the maple, but I don't think they have any other protection."
Damon sighed. "Gracie I don't worry about; she's the proper skin. But Eoin, he knows better. They should be checking the animals and getting ready for milking."
Leigh rubbed her lower teeth along her bottom lip. "Right. But, how's everybody doing, Damon?"
"I just said they're fine. They're doing their stuff, except for Eoin and Gracie. Could you. . . nah, I'll go down when I'm done here and get them going on the animals."
Leigh sighed again. "How about I do it, and you just do your little tests." She turned to go before he replied.
"Please remind Eoin that we need him," he said towards her, then settled back down near the dying plants. He waited until the field was quiet again, then brushed the back of his fingers down a bending shoot of immature corn. "What the fuck do you want?"
Now the creekside was crowded with vegetable plots, some raised-bed, one an experiment in "lasagna" gardening. Without the trees, and with the smaller rocks removed, she found it uninviting. The huge old maple down by the falls stood out like an arrogant old fart. The skinny, almost leafless trees across the creek felt envious, the ones who hadn't snapped or died already at least. The carefully-plotted land on this side left no room for play, and it seemed to Leigh that it stole all the life from the areas around it. Perhaps that's the problem with Damon's stupid corn.
Note: farming, animal husbandry, and some other technical matters that come up in this drafting process may not be accurate, so if you see a gaffe or problem in the story, please let me know!
I will be posting each day's entry here, and as soon as I find a word count indicator I will put that up as well.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
So, since there was no way I could participate in The Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop at UCSD this year, I decided to do the next best thing and sign up for their fundraising Write-a-Thon. I've got a page at the site (click on the badge to the right to go to it) and am now soliciting donations for the project. Details are all on the Write-a-Thon page. I'm looking forward to being pushed to write more.
I write a lot now, but I need to branch out, to take the confidence I've been building with the columns and reviews and write more fiction without letting apprehension get the best of me. It's all about being willing to suck, at this point, and keep writing and developing.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
There's a lot going on behind the scenes. I have two assignments in the works that if successful will result in publication. I am very excited about this, although it is odd that my first "real" publication will likely be a non-fiction piece. Part of that is a result of my writing online, but another part is my own reluctance to put my fiction out there. I've written two stories that I have set aside, and the current one is at the "this sucks. . . PANIC!" stage. The novel is a different creature, because while the end of the initial draft is in sight there is more comfort in the sheer deluge of words and ideas.
Caitlin Kittredge issued a challenge on her blog a few days ago, and I took her up on it. To that end, I made the following to-do list that I vow to fulfill by 1 September:
1) finish the first draft of A CROWN OF CRUSTED BLOOD (am at 77K, looks to be about 110K for some sense of drafty completeness)
2) Finish current short story, then go back and finish the two I bumped because I had an attack of the “I sucks.”
3) non-fiction book proposal.
4) finish up some assorted legal documents and obligations.
5) do all this while writing a weekly column, a monthly column, and two reviews a month, while also reading a book a week.
6) oh yeah, not get fired at Day Jobbe.
And I have to add a 7) take care of my daughter and give her the proper love and attention. It was implicit but I think it needs to be said.
I've been looking at the calendar and re-figuring my commitments, and as always it comes down to sticking to a schedule, putting my ass in a chair and writing. Although with my hip getting worse, sitting is increasingly painful. I should probably add an 8) continue to improve my health, eh?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
The World Is Abiding and Ever-Strange: The Carnival of Dreams in Ekaterina Sedia's House of Discarded Dreams
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I'm not sure what this means; I initially thought it meant "if you made up a soundtrack, what would it be?" Maybe? I decided to poke around on the tubes and discovered that this one stumped a lot of people. What is means, apparently, is a fan-made soundtrack/mix tape for a book. Uh, I have no idea! So, for the heck of it, here is a quick soundtrack for reading a book I just completed, Sam Sykes' Black Halo:
While Angels Watch - "Obsidian Blade" (coda)
Day 9: "Saddest scene in a genre novel:"
So many to choose from. There are classics like poor dumb Boromir trying to redeem himself after being a massive tool in The Fellowship of the Ring. There are scenes such as the ones in The Wolves of Memory where you feel awful for Sander Courane as he shambles along with his dead lover in his arms trying to make sense of it all. So many moments where plans fail, lives are ended. . . I think the problem for me is that I read a lot of heavy novels and sadness is woven into them, much like life. It is hard to pick one.