Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Magic of the Update

1) Still NaNoWriMoing, still behind. But I am at about 34K, so I may not make the magic 50, but I have been more consistent and inspired in the past month than, well, almost ever. Making the time is difficult, but the experience has been rewarding and heartening. The trick will be to keep at it after November 30.

Once it's over, I am going to put the novel aside and take a hard look at my short fiction. I have one story that needs editing, one that needs finishing, and three that are in the foetal stage and are screaming to be born. I would like to start submitting pieces (finally!) after the holidays, and start racking up the piles of rejection slips. I am, weirdly, looking forward to it.

2) I did my usual Apex and Forces of Geek posts. I really like the former, and want to get more into it. The latter was a bit rushed, but I would love to expand it.

3) I just finished re-reading Jo Walton's Farthing, which is a fine piece of literature and one of the best alternate-history novels I have ever read. I recommended it in my "Diabolical Dozen" guest post over at Culinary Carnivale and just had to go read it again. It's so well done that I forget that I don't like the sort of novels it is based upon, the dreaded "country-house mystery."

I am nearly done with Haunted Legends, the new anthology edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas. Holy carp it's good! This is for me the best anthology of the year, because it fulfills the promise of the title in unexpected ways, and the authors write stories that are soulful, visceral, and that find the truths of life in the legends they use as their inspiration. Even the few stories that I did not like I still admire for their writing. I will definitely be putting up a longer review once I finish the last few stories.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Little Flash For Friday

I revised this piece last night and thought that it would make for a good #flashfriday piece:

"The Wonders"

She lay there on the ground, breathing deeply, sifting the soft alien sand through her fingers.

Why doesn't this atmosphere hurry up and kill me, she thought, taking another deep, rattling breath.

The shuttle had crashed into a dune with colorful featherlettes waving cheerfully from its crest. No dust had been kicked up by the sudden impact; rather, little fey motes had streaked away from it in terror, and now they clustered on the crumpled landing gear, sparkling and chirping in the waning light of this world’s day.

She gasped; her lungs were about to seize up. About time.

She was tired of it; tired of all the wonders. Her eightieth exploratory landing (ninth crash), her twelfth planet discovered on the tip of the Spiral Arm. And still her bones were tired, and she couldn't get laid, and her dog had died a hundred years ago, so far away that the light from this world’s star would not reach his little gravestone until she was a memory of dust. If this world had dust. . . .

Racing light was for suckers. Fuck the wonders! C'mon already, oblivion!

"What is this. . . oblivion?" something whispered in her ear.

"Buddha wept in a cantina!" she shouted. She leapt to her feet, coughed, and her knees buckled. Dammit, just some chlorine in the air, this would all be over. . . .

There was nothing but a voice, a reverberation in the air. Hallucinogens in the atmo; great! Now she could sink into delusion before she died; that should make dying easier. . . .

"You will not transition," the voice said carefully, as if language was something new and delicate to manipulate. "You cannot achieve unearned discorporation here."

Hell I can't. Her lungs were blazing and her pulse fluttering. It sure felt like dying. . . .

"No, our world will adapt to you momentarily. Your form will not release your essence." A pause, and then, an invocation. "It is so."

With one last rattle, her breathing cleared; something surged through her bloodstream. The sky went from weak squid-ink to a faint, faint blue. The featherlettes danced in a sudden light breeze, and the fey motes shifted in their swarming and their sparks dimmed.

Crap. She took a deep breath, and it was sweet and restorative. “Please,” she said to the planet, “ I would just like to die.”

She felt a presence mimic the equivalent of shaking its head. "I am apologetic, but no. You must earn your end here."

She felt the presence fade. The sun shone brightly, and off to her left, the featherlettes wilted, and something like an apple tree began to spring up. Shoots of many colors began to rise and uncurl from the earth, and somewhere in the distance something like a bird began to sing.

Fuck the wonders, she thought, watching the tree begin to grow branches. Maybe I can hang myself from it in a couple of days.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Writing Crap, & Loving It

So, NaNoWriMo this year has so far been a brutally wonderful experience. While I am behind, I am writing more consistently and with more confidence than ever before. There are two reasons for this that immediately come to mind: first, I am setting aside time to write and doing my best to just write. Currently, that means 1-2 hours each evening (after 8PM, when either my daughter has gone to bed or I get home from work) and two dedicated pockets of 90 minutes on Sunday morning and during my laundry run. What makes me pleased about this is that, for the first time, I feel horribly guilty when I am not writing during a designated time. I have the compulsion and the desire to use that time to write.

The other reason, which partly buttresses the first one, is that whether I am writing a description of a city, a fight scene, or a diplomatic exchange, that I regardless of what I am writing, I embrace the fact that I AM writing, and that even the worst crap, the most awkward prose, the lamest idea, is progress. Everything is forward motion.

That doesn't mean that everything I write has inherent utility. In fact, when I look at some of what I have written, I find awful passages, stilted dialogue, and vague descriptions full of cliche. I also find promising writing, but what is important at this stage is to accept that I am doing the basic task of getting words on the page/screen. If I am writing crap, that crap has to be written to clear the way for the other stuff that is rolling around in my imagination. I used to refuse to write when things got difficult, but what I am learning through this exercise is that getting the flow going, getting the mind working, and stimulating my creativity is what is important. And as a result, good stuff comes out, and other ideas come out that can be improved or that can serve as a gateway to others emerging later.

I was thinking about this last night after encouraging a friend to wade through the crap, regardless of how it might feel to do so. I was having a bit of trouble as well (and did not make my word goal last night), trying to work through a flashback scene. I took a sort break, and happened to see that Holly Black's NaNoWriMo pep talk had arrived in my email inbox. It was not merely inspirational, it was a blueprint for how to change your thinking about the process, how to see the struggle as necessary to get through to the accomplishment of finishing. The idea that most resonated with me right then was "You don't have to believe you can; you just have to do it." So, instead of staying bogged down, I started on the next section, and found that I had worked out an idea that could be expanded later, and that had given me some insight into the plot that led to a much more interesting scene that provided some of the texture that I have felt lacking in the novel to this point.

Of course, this sort of fortuitous situation does not always occur; sometimes, crap is crap, and just needs to be exorcised from your brain and from the page. Once you see word count and the task of writing as not just abstract goals, but a concrete part of the process, the notion of crap itself can change. Writing crap is setting yourself up to get to the good stuff, to utilize your artistry and work up an intellectual sweat, to get yourself into a groove where the words that come inspire something better, or create a moment that makes you smile. Taking the hard work seriously, and realizing that the results of your efforts will vary and need shaping, means affirming to yourself that crap has a place in your process, and that it will always be there, and that dealing with it will make you more disciplined and more productive. Writing crap, and loving it, means that you are a writer.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fabulae of the Reconstruction

So, my Nanowrimo work is proceeding apace. I am behind but catching up, and there is more flow than blockage, so I am happy. It's choppy as hell, but the characters are fleshing themselves out and I am getting a sense for how some of the sections are fitting into the larger story arc. Best of all, I am carving out the time to write, and feeling a more consistent rhythm. The plan now is to catch up and finish NaNoWriMo, and in December get at least two stories ready to send out.

At the moment I am cleaning up the blog and doing some reorganizing, re-tagging mostly. Some older stuff is coming down, other things will shift about. And then it's back to writing misinterpretations, reviews, and WIP.

For now, here is a signal boost for my last Forces of Geek column on superheroes and the grotesque.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Genre-love, Genre-fail (?), Genre-rage

I was on my way here to post a link to a guest blog I wrote about "Must-Read" fantasy books, when I ran smack-dab into a couple of highly relevant pieces on, essentially, the problems of genre. Jo Walton wrote a great post on SF's problematic aspects as a genre, which I thought was well-done and brought up a number of points about how we both categorize and stigmatize stories. I no sooner read that than I saw Cat Valente's long excoriation of steampunk on her blog. Both are strongly-argued discourses on the problems in the definition and application of the bundles of tropes and ideas that constitute a delineated genre classification.

They are also both noteworthy for the way that they show the effect of sociality on genre. The nigh-inextricability of SF/spec fic/fantastika from the socio-cultural trends and practices of the moment comes to the forefront in both pieces, albeit in different ways. Walton argues that SF is a sponge that is sensitive to the world around it. Valente takes steampunk to task for being too much about the social and the aesthetic, and not enough about the writing or the stories. While coming from different angles, both pieces trenchently take apart commonly-reproduced assumptions about genre. Which I find to be edifying, as discussions like these push me to look more critically at my own writing.