Sunday, February 28, 2010


I was struggling with a way to make a metaphor regarding overwhelming details when my husband suggested two photos--one of a pristine, snow-covered moutain coupled with a pithy phrase about the composite beauty of clarity and one of an avalanche with a pithy phrase about the weight of detail bringing the entire story down about your ears. Clever, clear, and much better than my own extended metaphor.

Details trip me up. I like sumptuous prose, well-imagined landscapes, and language that rings with the rhythm of poetry. In previous posts, I've maundered on about action and plot and how I'm not so hooked on them that I can't live without 'em; however, I've begun to realize that I'm not unaffected by the literature and movies around me. Pacing that used to move me at a steady pace now seems frozen. My writing seems to shifting into a different meter without necessarily getting any better.

I wonder if it's because I'm not walking as much or biking as much as I did when I was younger. Does a more sedentary lifestyle coupled with internet distractions, driving everywhere, and watching more TV change my perceptions enough to moderate the pacing I enjoy? Am I too tired to take things slowly or too hyped up on caffeine to wait?

Perhaps my imagination has become thickened with the junk food of entertainment and is no longer as agile as it has been in the past.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


So, yes, about the hiatus. Still going on, soon to be coupled with a nap which will probably be brought on by small type and complex sentences while the dogs grumble or snooze at the same time. I'm coming to realize that I'm still adjusting to the rhythm of new dogs and more 'free' time and that I need to stop treating these things as an abberration in The Way Things Are and just work. So, perhaps a shorter hiatus than originally planned.

Coupled with a grotesque original poem that should make everyone glad to have a pause to recover their offended sensibilities.

Vaccinated Against Vampirism

Do you miss the night, my heart?
Feeding two desires with one bite
Supping with our knives at dark?

Here in this open nunnery I wait
A wingless mouse, moth quiet
For sun to flush away the pale.

We tell our prayers in daylight
But renatured flesh remains
A coffin for a soul blood-dyed.

Do you walk the sunlit stones
Telling labyrinthine secrets
Heart slapping at your bones?

Urge it be quiet; it is stalked
By a blind red weevil buried
Your thirsty ghost waking sharp.

Do you miss the unlit night?
Unbounded, unlawful,
Unshrunk by this flat light?

My forehead meets the wool,
I am suspended like a pig
Spitted for the undead soul.

What cure I have received
Did not fall far within,
And only touched my teeth.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Conflict Quiz

Lately, I've been working on what makes for a believable, enjoyable conflict in a novel or short story. This is something that I struggle with, both as a writer and a reader. I don't like blood, guts, zombies--all those things that are so popular and supposedly necessary to make snappy, popular fiction. To understand what I'm missing, I've come up with a randow series of questions about conflict. If you have time, I'd appreciate your views on conflict in the comments. Thanks!

What kind of stakes are you looking for in a story? Do you find any stakes overused?

What kind of opening draws you in (high tension/drama, narrator dialog, etc.)?

Do you pick reading material because of the conflict involved?

What do you consider good examples of conflict (either single scenes or entire books)?

What makes conflict unbelievable?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More, Please

In the end, I couldn't sleep anyway. Just as my computer sometimes crashes as it shuts down, staring out at the room for the entire night with a single error message marring the Eomer wallpaper, I was caught out of my normal rhythms by Connie Willis' Bellwether. Once I started, I had to finish, to see the threads tight in their final weave. When the end added an unexpected link to story archetyes, I was just giddy with book-geek excitement. Wow. Couldn't believe she'd pulled it off in quite that way.

Of course, then I was awake. Not enough to start another book, but enough to drift into the thoughts that are liable to haunt anyone in the middle of a quiet night, staring at the ceiling fan and waiting for sleep to creep into the light and carry you off, despite your vigilance.

A restless night is a good trade for a book that shakes up your expectations. It's cool to find a story (a new title, in a brick & mortar sci-fi section) that adds to the way you perceive what is possible. As these perceptions tend to harden with circumstance and experience, anything that shows them for them the permeable fences they can be and not the solid brick certainties you take them for is to experience freedom over and over again.

The reader in me is raising a glass of fizzy happiness at the view before retiring for a catnap.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Just one step out of the door and one is on the path. Who knows where it will go? Most days, though, I keep the door firmly closed and let the path run on, invisible, outside of my scattered attention.

I can hear, if I am calm, the babble of the characters outside. Sometimes, the snatch of a song or the echo of a shout bounces in and I start thinking of sitting down and setting out, of pulling out a pen or turning on the computer and following where the ideas will lead. If I've been 'good,' as I think of good, and have been working on stories and the like, I will start out, garrulous with my companions and in for the trip.

If I haven't been good, I turn to a glass of soda and a round of excuses. But what about those glimpses of the roads that run outside someone else's door? My husband mentioned an idea today--a story of transforming arcade games called Arcadians who live among us, abandoned with the slow decay of arcades or jostling uneasily between Chuck-E-Cheese locations. As a child of the florescent 80's, this caught my attention. I remember the way that you'd get dressed up to go a restaurant and end up squashed in a skee-ball corner, contemplating how depressing dusty carpet and black paint could be while your friend's younger brother racked up the tickets. Eventually, you'd go liberate some plastic toy from it's glass showcase and head home, exhausted and pulsing with the music, light, and sugar.

I don't think this was his idea and I don't think we shared the same experience of the decade at all, but we did share awareness of certain shows and video games, and the glimpse of the arcade game in a neighborhood garage that precipitated this post. I'm tempted to sneak out on that path and find out what those characters are saying and doing while he installs the curtain rod. Maybe they're going someplace that will be more interesting that someplace I've already been.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Class of 90, One Perspective

Because reunions sneak up on everyone:

It ended in the seats of the auditorium
Sleepy, pressed against the rough weave
Waiting to see who’d won the TV.

Not me, but that could be said of most
Roosting in the morning, watching
Our last high school performance.

The 80’s were over, neon lights down;
Give me one more minute, I think
From this long view, zoom back in.

Scaffold sundaes, dropping ice cream
From 10 feet up, in the dark, in front
Of the cafeteria, decorated like a jungle.

Everyone is invited to this, provided
You graduated—it’s not a dance
Like all the ones I missed or didn’t.

This is just Project Graduation:
Cafeteria, auditorium, parking lot
A last use of the school.

Last uses are based on first.
Concerts visited in junior high,
Qualifying for activities.

My first 9th grade activity.
A mission trip with just three of us.
Cynthia, myself, and Joyce.

Freshman biology and baby pigs,
Orchestra and competitions,
Rob opening a locker with his head.

Motion sickness in German class
Courtesy of a home video wobbling
Up stairs and twisting through halls.

And the rest? Assignments, exams
More mission trips, concerts.
Attending Our Town and crying.

Writing about temptation
Because it’s high school and
I am, on a daily basis, tempted.

Inventing a new Genre, boredom
In notes about nothing, linoleum
Marks, or the desk itself.

The epic of the Bearded Burger
Ravaging the orchestra in a downbeat
In multi-color ink.

And there we leave our friends,
Lost to a careless word, to my laziness
Conjured anger resentfully burning.

High school sometimes feels
Like the only thing I’ve ever done;
A mock-heroic triumph.

Everything starts out big, then
Diminishes, like Galadriel gone
Into the west, we shrink.

I never felt, sitting in the stadium,
As excited as I did as a child
Watching my cousins dress in purple.

Their high school color, their mums
Trailing down in my imagination
Like that ur-gown, satin-white and net.

Black shirts, Huff Girls, slick paint
Screaming ‘Graaaaahhh!!!” down
My side, that nameless frustration.

We sit in the SAT room, filling up
Circles. This is it, this is important
But it ends only a few hours later.

Scores come, invitations come;
But the reality is that English doesn’t
Merit an expensive degree.

And the end comes, the sunrise,
The open door of the old silver minivan,
Like all such gateways, dark as night.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Catching Up

I need a plot. Some kind of plot that will take me from point A (short in a magical connection, dark magic flooding an office) to point B (main character risking mortal harm to repair/stop the short). Right now, my plot is "wow, the lunchroom is vanished, that's depressing."

I'm ready for spring to get here and cold season, otherwise known foggy brain season, to be done with. Guess it's back to watching Wallace and Grommit and the one with the revolting chickens. :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The - ouch - Quick - ouch

Slowly, slowly recovering from a bout of the stomach flu, which made reading impossible for several days. Then, of course, along came a new work assignment, which further backburnered everything. There are books that I'm waiting to read (When Autumn Leaves, Tam Lin); however, I'm working back with books that can be put down after each page--otherwise known as writer's instruction manuals.

I'm filling the space with movies. I watched the entire extended version of The Lord of the Rings and was amazed all over again at how well Peter Jackson translated the books onto the screen. Watching the trilogy, like reading the books, reminds me of why I want to write. I think those books made me fall in love with little bits of England that I've never seen, but for which I long. There is much more in the story, but the love of place is evident in so many choices the characters make, both for good and ill. Do attachments with the physical space around us form as readily today? For years, the place that felt most like home for me was the driver's seat of my car, to the extent that I was physically depressed rather than excited at the prospect of a new vehicle.

It's not just the places that become home, of course. I'm writing this in the computer room, two dogs kenneled behind me (work is being done on the house, so they're being kept out of harm's way) on top of a desk that is covered with photos and toys and shiny silver pencils. My husband is threatening that we'll soon have upgraded machines and new software and I'm thinking about having to reestablish connections to websites and learn new software--we'll moving our electronic house, with all the effort and dislocation that implies.

It's probably the days spent on the couch with the remote close to hand that have me thinking about home and hearth and the way stories establish these. I'd be interested in hearing about any stories that create in you the same feeling of being at home and whether it's something you enjoy in fiction.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

All or Nothing

Books are piled on most flat surfaces in the house, on the night stands, by the couch, in the bathroom, on the bookshelves, on the desks. Not books that I've picked up because they were bestsellers or because they came from a genre section. My books come to roost because they seemed interesting, because they caught my eye and then kept my attention or some gracious person waved them in front of me until I gave in and read them. I buy them from brick & mortar stores, online venues, and from card tables at conventions. I check them out from libraries. I download them (actually, the Pumpkin King downloads them).

All this, to say that if you speak for "all readers," you claim to speak for me. So if you insist, for example, that "modern" readers and "genre" readers demand a certain style, a certain type of tale, or a particular hair color for the villain, you are claiming that I demand these characteristics as a modern, genre reader (living in 2010, purchasing new books from the scifi/fantasy section).

Let's say that you insist that I like action, that I (because I'm a modern reader) have to have a book that starts with a bang or else. You would, in fact, be blowing smoke, since I don't care for characters whom I meet dangling from the anchor line of a balloon over a pit of lava with a knife and a can of aerosol cheese. I have no desire to dangle with you over igneous rivers, feeling the can start to get hot and wondering if I'll perish by flame or by Cheez-o cheese-flavored product before I've even met you.

Why would I care? It's like assuming that I want to meet someone in the middle of an . . .er, romantic encounter. I want to get to know the character first. I suspect that if he/she isn't interesting enough to sustain the getting-to-know-you part, he/she isn't really interesting enough to sustain my attention through a novel.

The premise that "all" readers want "X" is wrong. I'm not looking for lazy fiction. "All" is about laziness--it's about not having to think about it, just blow it up, stab it, make it an orphan, chase it down the block. I want grammar-checked, spell-checked, interesting fiction (in whatever genre I happen to be reading). Sometimes I want a fast, fun, silly story. Sometimes I want a story that's deep and tangled with language like hot fudge and maraschino cherries. What I don't want is a story in which I'm hauling the main character like a cardboard cut-out of an actor through a plot rigged with firecrackers.

Yes, this happens to be my particular windmill. No one forces me to buy these kinds of books. However, I'd like to think that books I might like will still be published, even if they aren't the *height* of fashion. Also, I believe that it does us good to remind ourselves when we seem blanket statements that they may be covering up more than they reveal.