Wednesday, September 26, 2012

To Continue Today's Theme: Flailing

I am deep in the hinterlands of Bayles & Orland's Art & Fear this afternoon and know that this is one for both the keeper and the keep-within-reach shelf. Instead of being a strict focus on technique, it is short and vivid encouragement for times when one is blocked or otherwise challenged.

This is a good thing, because a few chapters ago, I encountered the following:
Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you can experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life. Limited by the very ground on which you stand.

I was rocked back by the idea that I'm working on things whose time has passed, that my own laziness and lack of desire to poke at painful areas while they hurt has allowed time to cave in around those ideas and block them off from full fruition. Also bound up in that paragraph (and the surrounding text in the book) is that appropriating others' cultural symbols is a bad idea. Good-bye fairy-tale road (sorry.).

The contradictions between trusting that I can navigate my own stories and the fear that my writing will completely stop if I have to eliminate the fantasy have had me spinning around uselessly this afternoon. While the dogs have started at invisible people on the porch, I've growled at self-created dichotomies and worried at the edges of the novel until it's nice and velvety. And kept reading.

I do wonder if my "ground" is too limited to support an entire novel. I've worked out my initial theme in short stories written since the novel was begun and now I have characters and a shell of plot and perhaps a new character who doesn't want the story to be consigned back to the draft file before he has a chance to see what he can do with it; is this structure to ephemeral to hold a fragile story ecosystem?

Am I trying to patch things on out of desperation? (um...yes?!) Does this mean that my Thunderbirds and leviathans are going to fall out of the sky because there is no support system for them (no game, no twitter feed, no common cultural ground)? Where and how often do you have to live with a idea or concept before it is yours or before you've used it up?

I am flailing. The dogs are kicking me while dreaming. We're all flailing today.

Reader Bashing

Apparently, the author of one of the books that I'm currently reading feels that bludgeoning me with plot points, drama, and hints about The Next Book In The Series is a great way to add heft to an otherwise light story. Romantic quirk! Wham! Trite gender stereotype! Wham! The same romantic quirk, again! By now, I'm just trying to race to the end without becoming black and blue.

The humorous grace notes (possibly induced, like cartoon bluebirds, by the pummeling of the plot) are the best part of the novel.

And, once again, I'm confirming that certain genres just don't appeal to me (hence the lack of titles & authors--it's definitely not an author's responsibility to be all things to all people). This will probably lead to heartache over the next few days as I start new books picked up under the influence of good reviews but who live in similar genre subdivisions.

Part of trying out new books is trying out new identities, something that I've been thinking about since I decided that I needed to add more discipline to my life. There is a conspicuous lack of structure in my days that I'm trying to cure by osmosis by reading books I don't like by author's whose work ethic I admire. It's not the most successful thing I've attempted, but it has led to my trying to break done some ridiculous prejudices I've built up over the years. Over genre.

Just walking into, for example, the romance section of my local B&N (because what other options are there?) embarrasses me. It seems like I'm giving up on books to peruse these shelves of here-and-gone paperbacks, instead of giving up on the idea of ranked genre divisions and on my own particular reader-bashing tendencies.

None of which has much to do with discipline, except that it works against the notion that identity is monolithic because what was enjoyed in the past and supports the idea that you work, continually, to be something. If I want to be a writer, then I must write. On the other hand, just because I have a soft spot for Tolkien doesn't mean that I am doomed to search for his legacy in every sentence that I read or write.

Unless I'm wrong and running away to literary fiction and romantic fiction and historical fiction and non-fiction will never remove that need to search for that echo and I'll be back at the computer, back at the table, back at the shelf still waiting to find my way back to dim south Texas bedroom and the chill of a blocked mountain pass and the sudden, horrible knowledge that now we have to go Under the Mountain...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Fair!

Running an errand this morning I noticed that the local elementary school had posted the words "Book Fair" on the notice board out front. Just those words and I was grinning all the way to the store and back.

Book fairs were one of my favorite things when I was in junior high and elementary school. Rows and rows of new books in the library that you could take home & keep--what could be better. Current paperbacks full of people and creatures that I had yet to meet. Oddly enough, it's similar to the way Lydia responds when we find an unexplored cave in Skyrim: "Hey, look, a cave. Wonder what's in there." That, for me, was the possibility of a book. What would I find and carry out of the new stories?

Which probably hints at why I've been a bit frustrated lately with the books on my shelf. Some of them, mostly the non-fiction ones, are interesting and give me something new to explore. But as I've tried to steer my writing in a different direction, my reading list has changed. The things that I'd like to carry out: tighter plots, more adrenaline, more romance are things that I don't find myself wanting to pick up. They are the things I never pick up in those caves: iron arrows, hide boots, potatoes. (Seriously. Can't bring myself to waste carry space on potatoes or cabbages.) The uber-gendered tropes that circle the characters like thick lines in a coloring book.

Somehow, I need to retain that sense of discovery that I had back in the day for reading in my own writing. And it doesn't need to be perfect or published for me to find it. In fact, it's better that it isn't. Writing was something that I always wanted to do without ever noticing that I was doing it.

Which seems an odd angle on which to end this post. However, I think that growing as a writer means acknowledging that you didn't invest the time in your craft when you should have and knowing that going forward your craft is going to remain strictly personal. Which is okay. I should have some cost for my lack of effort earlier.

There are still caves full of wonder and I can still poke around in them.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Irrationality and Hope

Let's just get this out of the way: politics and I are not rational bedfellows. This stems from the kind of social anxiety in which ostracism is assumed and speaking your mind is a sin. I have a deep, reflexive revulsion for candidates who demonize the weak or those they perceive to be powerless or less than human. It's been a difficult election season and Facebook has turned into my bete noir. A post or two can ruin an otherwise productive morning.

Anchors of hope are welcome, therefore, and I've been fortunate to find a couple recently. The first is a new writer's group centered on my local library. After the first meeting last night it seems like this is going to be a good, get-back-to-basics group and I'm looking forward to moving my novel draft from "when can you show it to an agent" to "how are you reweaving the plot in this draft."

The second is a book on art and fear, titled Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If the rest of the book is as good as the beginning, several people I know will be getting this book for Christmas.

I need to get a handle on my quickness to abandon projects out of anger and the fear of weakness mentioned in the first part of A&F. Sometimes the armor is a good playlist, sometimes the subtle pressure of a good group meeting for which I should prepare something.

Hope needs to win.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Late Night Blogging

It's late where I am, past midnight. If this were a radio broadcast, you'd be listening to instrumental music and a husky-voice DJ encouraging you to chill out, relax, and enjoy the latest from a group whose music could have been transcribed from a pulse and a magnetic field. So relax and let me tell you that kind of story.

Begin with rain, the threat of clouds and the promise of cooler weather and the gasp of a strong wind current that heralds the power going out. We're sitting in the dim square of the window, which is wavering between being visible and diffusing into the same pale grey as the rest of the room. The power outage won't outlast the cool air in the house.

When the house begins to hum and the fan to whir, the light is trying for brightness but can no longer quite reach the front windows. You notice the clearing sky but not the blank digital clock on the bookcase by the bed.

It's waking up close to 10 and not realizing it until you're pulling into the Panera's parking lot and shrieking that it's almost lunch time that reminds you the power went out and the clock reset itself. You stayed up to nurse a passing queasiness brought on by a plastic cup of queso and let the clock's irrational time stamp lull you into staying up half the night clinging to awareness and a sour stomach.

And then, of course, you're blogging after midnight, not really tired but definitely getting the munchies. There's leftover Tex-Mex in the fridge. Queso seems like a reduced risk if reheated.

Not that any of this happens to you. When the post gets to you, the moment has passed and the rhythm and sentiment is unsynched from experience. There is no tone, no husky DJ to explain why you're listening.

The song ends almost before you're aware of it. Despite listening to the station off and on when you're up late, you still don't understand the language of this particular type of composition. It fades away, one more layer of time and beat and pitch unlatched from the formal staves and flickering out past you, 30 seconds, an hour, 5 days in your wake.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Break Down Lane

Actively avoiding writing at the moment. Instead, I'm wandering around Skyrim and looting dwarven ruins for no very good reason. Eventually, I will get back to Blackreach and add to my alchemy ingredients. Essentially, I need to finish the game so that I can start weaning my brain off big screen virtual questing and back into old-fashioned text adventure. :) If it would cool off again and I was spending more time hiking the arboretum, that would help.

The retreat from activeness is finding its way into the short story drafts and novel drafts and all my characters are turning into giant eyeballs without any anchoring physicality.

[side note: fixed the line breaks on the blog!! hallelujah!!]


So, physicality. I have it not, at least on the page. This wrecks the emotional fabric as well since characters who aren't paying attention to their bodies aren't reacting to danger, desire, etc. Some writers may have an easier time of this while they're writing than I do, but I have a very hard time shrinking that eyeball down and getting a handle on the rest of the character. I'm sure I've mentioned the play I saw decades ago where the expectant father fantasized that his child would be born just as a single eyeball. While I can't really relate to that fear, I find that my characters often replicate it, becoming mere looking glasses over the storyscape. Mixed metaphors are also a specialty.

Endings are not.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nothing Says Upbeat Like a Business Card

First, a minor squee over finding a brief recording of the Star Trek record I had as a kid (In Vino Veritas, Peter Pan Records). EEEEEEEEEEE!!! Just hearing the intro music made me feel 10 again. The corners of the furniture, the feel of the carpet, and the pink & blue straw-wrapped bottle on my desk surface and I'm floating--shorter, an Alice trick--in the memory. Which just tops off the kind of day where I woke up from a dream in which I'm jumping up and down telling everyone who will listen that I just got my business cards. Obviously, ordering official "writer" business cards yesterday was some kind of signal to my subconscious to quit hashing over my previous office job and reorient itself on what I'm working on now. Weird but welcome sign of finally emerging from the depression occasioned by losing my job (as the business closed) several years ago. Squees all around.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Polar Bears and Meridians

Lately, I have been obsessively creating mini-scrapbooks in those little 40-page 4x6 brag books you can get for $2 at Target. It could be that my brain is trying to tell me to tie up loose ends so that I can start on a new project (for example: getting in shape enough for costume 2014). On the other hand, it's possible that, like the heroine from my favorite fairy tale, I need to hold up a candle to some of these bedfellows and see what they really are. The most recent book dealt with the characters I'd created for the MMO City of Heroes, which was, until Skyrim, pretty much the only digital RPG that kept my attention, partially by feeding my creativity and partially by assuaging my enduring need to create and change character outfits. Barbie, I lay this on your doorstep. Anyway...COH is coming to an end. That's probably a post in itself, but as the game doesn't go dark until November, I'm putting that off. When I found out about the game I *had* to print out lists of my characters, images, and backstories. When the first book was finished, I started on a second and then ideas popped up for a few more. Summaries are where I am right now. Not yet insights, just summaries.