Saturday, September 29, 2007

One Wookie to Rule Them All

It's been on the net for two years now, but via Abigail Nussbaum, I have just now read this great secondary character analysis of the Star Wars mythology. If I were Lucas, I would cop to this interp as it would make me look oh so smart.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Trouble With Growing Up

While yesterday's post of self-awareness and enlightenment does a nice job of making me seem mostly well-adjusted and right with the world, it left out a key piece of information. The knowledge gained by catharsis and navel-gazing is great when it's there and helpful and makes you interact with the world in marvelous ways. But it's not always there. Or, rather, it's always there, but our damned dirty ape brains can't always get to it. So we can acheive enlightenment all we want and still wind up being compelte jerks to each other when it counts.

There are times that I wish I hadn't looked closely at myself and tried to improve my way of looking at the world. If I hadn't, I wouldn't be wincing about stupid things I've said and done in the past, ways I've mistreated people, times I've been so self-absorbed that I couldn't see the needs of others, or, and this is what really irks me, moments when I've been so focused on my life that I missed opportunities of friendship and mentorship.

Here's the kicker: I'm going to do it again. Because as much as I can sit here and post about "happiness is a journey, not a destination" and live life for the moment and yadda yadda yadda--it's a very safe bet that when I need that understanding most, my lovely little brain will be spinning a loop elsewhere and I'm going to do or say something stupid that I'll wince at later.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hey, World! I'm Finally Over Myself....Or Not

Over the course of living with my mother for three months, dealing with unemployment twice in six months, getting a sixth manager in three years without having changed positions at the DDJ once, traveling for three weeks as a single mom, buying a house, setting aside 80K in one novel and navel-gazing my way through 20K of another, and juggling part-time hours from home with the Drew Monster, I think I managed to put my sense of self into an appropriate perspective. I no longer have an inner twelve-year-old strutting around in my head, yelling, "I'm destined for greatness! Greatness, I tell you!" Instead, the inner voice has aged and developed some kind of wisdom and now says, "Greatness may be in the cards for me. It may not be. I'm just living my life, taking care of myself and those I love to the best of my ability day by day. What happens, happens."

This way, I can still dream big and spin scenarios that have me winning Hugos for my first novel and short story the same year I win the Campbell--and then I can laugh myself silly, shake my head, add a dose of reality to the scenario (God, can you imagine the sophomore slump after such a freshman effort? Talk about pressure for the rest of your career.), and get back to slogging through the draft that feels like shit.

I'm also not holding my past pains as close to my heart as I did before. Cloaking even the smallest part of my self-image in victimhood and pity just made consistent happiness all the more unreachable. That's not to say I'm going to ignore the bumps and bruises life's given me. They are a part of me, they've shaped me (in ways I may not fully understand still). I will continue to examine them insofar as I can learn from them. I'm not going to wear them like a badge of honor anymore.

Being a stay-at-home Mom who also works from home has finally allowed some of my perfectionism and control-freak tendencies to lessen, too. This is something that writing started five years ago, that career changes continued, that the first year of Andrew's life furthered. But it wasn't really until this month that I finally understood that I'm going to have moments and days and maybe even weeks when I can't seem to get anything right with Drewbie. I'm going to pick the wrong battles. I'm going to have moments when the TV will have to serve as a sitter because my brain won't respond to even the lightest prodding. I used to worry about every inconsistency, every failure, every second I wasn't engaging Andrew in an activity that would enrich his mind and develop his skills. I've got one smart, tough kid. He's working as hard at figuring this world out as I am at trying to help him through it. We're going to stumble as we learn--and learn something then as well.

Accepting that, destined for greatness or not, I've got a life to live as richly as possible each moment, puts the pressure of perfection neatly aside for the most part. Tomorrow's another day, and all that jazz.

That all sounds great, and between a lovely drive through the valley between the Dragoons and the Chiracahuas at the beginning of the month and a drive around the Catalinas just over a week ago, I think I managed to really accept this knowledge, absorb it, and understand it after years of gathering it. Because somewhere in there I realized that the DDJ isn't ideal, but it allows me to have the lifestyle I want (stay at home with Drewbie, extra time and energy to write). Because somewhere in there I fully accepted that I don't really care if I ever get published or not--I'm writing for me. Because somewhere in there I stopped seeing Andrew in light of all the ways I've screwed up and started seeing him in all the ways he's succeeding, sometimes despite me.

But it all breaks down when I get to my physical self-image. I am beginning to loathe my body, to hate my smile. I think it's because I've finally come to appreciate how I looked when I was in college and see how much I've changed in appearance since then. Also, while my weight is just fine for my height (though I wouldn't mind slimming my tummy and thighs a bit more), I want better tone in my body particularly in my abdomen so I don't have to stare at the flab hanging over my c-section scar for the rest of my life. The big problem with the State of the Bod is that I am literally covered in stretch marks from my belly button to my knees because of the weight I gained during pregnancy. Because I scar easily and keep the scars I do get, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get rid of those stretch marks. And they are ugly and impossible to ignore.

How do you accept the way you look, embrace it, and ignore the inner twelve-year-old who thinks you should be the most attractive creature to wander the face of the earth?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Process Examination #9: Variations on the Theme

I should've known better than to submit a query letter for critique by an editor who doesn't publish SF. I tried to quibble a bit in the opening paragraph and highlight elements that might be more fantasy than SF so it wouldn't look totally stupid to be submitting this query to her attention. Unfortunately, in that quibbling, I opened the letter with this lovely sentence and got appropriately dinged for it: "I don't know where to draw the line between fantasy and science fiction." So, of course, the editor talked about how unprofessional that sounded, that you don't know your own field, etc. An excellent point, but it made me wince all the same.

She then went on to say that query letters don't need to summarize the plot and to stay away from big blocky paragraphs that belonged more to a snyopsis. The query letter needs to get to the heart of theme and characters that create an intriguing concept to entice the editor to ask for more. Another excellent point, phrased in a way I either hadn't heard before or hadn't absorbed as it wasn't my own query letter on the chopping block at the time.

That got me thinking, can I even begin to distill this novel into its selling concepts yet? I've got some ideas, but it's hard to mention the one element I know that's fun and sets my story apart--80s hairmetal throwbacks--in a way that explains why that element is in the story without bogging it down in a worldbuilding infodump. So I turned to that squirrelly concept of theme to look there for something that might make a query letter stand out.

OK, I also looked at the characters, examining what makes them unique and fun to write, what conflicts they get tossed into that make the story interesting. But that, in turn, brought me back to theme as I started noticing, well, themes in my characters and conflicts.

Unfortunately, all I've got are words: chosen vs blood family, decisions under pressure, corporate shenanigans, and breaking the rules. I had the first three more or less from earlier contemplations on the concept of theme. The last one came up while considering the query letter and what stood out about it as strong. Every single one of my characters breaks the rules in some fashion and often for interests that aren't self-serving. Well, my bad guy's the exception, but even there, he's more concerned about his family's company surviving, not really about his own power and interests. I guess the key difference is that my good guys don't break rules that put others in danger without the consent of those others, whereas my antagonist doesn't see a need for any such thing. To him, everything is expendable as long as his family's company endures.

While all of these meditations on theme and characters and conflicts are enlightening, I still don't have a theme I can articulate in a sentence or two. I still can't convey clearly the awesome in my book. I know, I know. I'm not even at 20K yet, so I shouldn't be fretting about this too much. I'm sure by the time I get to "The End" in this draft I'll be able to express theme and Teh Awesome in a way that's going to make a wicked query letter. But I don't think I'm going to stop analyzing THUMB for theme and intriguing elements as I work through this draft. It's helpful. It keeps me on top of what my characters are doing, on how my conflict is twisting and shaping.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Opening a Can of Worms

We bought some cans of cat food the other day, and they instantly became Drewbie toys. He loves to stack them. He loves to slide them around on table tops. He loves to move them between his two favorite areas: the coffee table and the breakfast bar. Yesterday, he surprised his parents by stacking up the cans on the breakfast bar, climbing down the stool, walking over to the utensil drawer, and fishing out the can opener, which he then dragged back to the breakfast bar and played at opening the cans. He has rarely seen us use the can opener.

This morning, he showed off even more of his impressive smarts by digging out a bottle cap popper/can puncturing combo to work on the cans with.

Also, he's added "hot" to his verbal repertoire and "Bye, Daddy" to his list of crude sentence constructions, although our favorite was when, upon returning from a trip down to Tucson, I asked him (but was really asking Daddy) if he had pooed today. The Drew Monster's answer: "Oh, yeah!"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Obligatory "Darn Those Fightin' Irish" Post

I'm told by my mother's Wolverine-loving significant other that I have been remiss in mentioning that Michigan did in fact pound the Irish last weekend. And, yes, the Irish did lose to Michigan State yesterday. The '07 Irish have indeed made Notre Dame history: this is the first time we've started 0-4 (and we could very likely go 0-8), and yesterday also marked the first time a team has ever come into our house and beat us five times in a row (*shakes fists at the Spartans*).

But I'm the wife of a man from Buffalo and life-long Bills fan. And I was a Bills fan in my own right years before I met him. I'm also a Cubs fan. And I was at Notre Dame for the beginning of our spectacular bowl game losses. Hell, I even went to one of them. I know how to shake off the ouch of this season and look for the positives (we finally scored an offensive touchdown yesterday! woo-hoo!).

So, yes, Michigan trounced the Irish. After they got stomped by Appalachain State, though, I find it telling that my mother's significant other would consider the Wolverine's beating of an Irish team ranked 104th (or lower, after yesterday) is gloat-worthy. We're the college football punching bag this year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Process Examination #8: Maintaining the Narrative Thread

I'm in the process of completing a very tight-focused revision of the 17K words I've written in THUMB. The only purpose of this rewrite is to add in new narrative dots and delete some old ones so I can connect them in a slightly adjusted narrative thread.

I've discovered that I am not the sort of writer who can say, "Hey, if I change/add/delete this plot point way back in Chapter 2, the story will look like X here in Chapter 8 where I'm at now," and just keep going ahead with draft. If I try to do that, I get lost in the many ways from Point A to Point B in each chapter and end up building an entirely different narrative thread than before I came up with the new plot points but that doesn't follow from the new plot points, either. It's one of the ways I got to 82K in SoZ without leaving Act One.

It's not easy to force my way through a "only look at this one aspect" revision. There's a part of me that wants to burrow down into the nitty-gritty of every sentence and Fix the Whole Damn Thing. But that would take way too much time, and I'm not willing to invest energy in that sort of revision when it's likely I'll be making more substantive narrative thread changes as I work my way through the rest of this draft. But it's hard to catch a bit of dialog or description and wince a bit, knowing it could be better, but just zip right past it because it's out of scope for the revision.

So I've decided to dangle a carrot for this task. Via Sarah Monette, I have discovered the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. They specialize in perfumes that represent poems and literary characters and the like. I'm not really excited about it for dousing myself in scent (though I have no objection to that, should I enjoy the scents I purchase), but Muse is practically pinging with the possibilities. Scrolling through their scent descriptions, looking for character matches, getting olfactory input for the novels. And I'm completely caught up in Muse's excitement.

In one of my backstory scenes, I have a character spritzing herself with perfume. It's more than just a "hey, it smells good" thing. To her, it's like armor and a weapon. It hides her even as it empowers her. She knows this and revels in it. But I had no idea how to describe that kind of a scent. Now, after wandering through the BPAL website, I've got a couple of ideas based on their allegorical connections.

So, as soon as I finish this limited rewrite (which I'm thinking I can get done by the weekend), I'll be rewarding myself with a purchase at BPAL. And then it will be back to the draft, armed with the super sniffer and an intact narrative thread. Nothing's gonna stop me then.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why I'm Watching the Oscars in 2008

Jon Stewart's just signed on to host. 'Nuff said. Watching him snark on Hollywood is more entertaining than watching what Hollywood produces, with a few notable exceptions.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Flip the Switch

I've been pulling words for THUMB out of my fingers for a while now, feeling like everything was terrible, that I was somehow approaching things from every wrong angle possible, that I was going to have one helluva time rewriting this book (assuming I could onsey-twosey my way through to the end of it).

I started to feel a little better when I got the idea for the medical device, but then I still struggled with the ship's mechanic chapter. I kept thinking of different directions to go with the scene and kept telling myself it felt like a housekeeping scene the way I was going at it. I just couldn't get a read on it that would let the words flow.

So I sat down with my notebook today, put the day's date, and then wrote the following: "Problems w/Chapter 6." On the second item, the solution to my problem with the scene hit. The rest of the page in that notebook starts with "OK, this is good." Then it goes on for a half page of how to revise the first two chapters to mesh up with the solution for the problems with Chapter 6. Then I've got a page of draft for the New New Chapter 1. And then I wandered into a query letter draft that ended up reading more a like synopsis for a page. I stopped that effort and sketched out the bullet points of what needs to be my query letter.

Let me explain.

My RWA chapter is having a special "members only" sit down chat and critique session with Mary-Theresa Hussey (senior editor of Luna, among other things). She's willing to look at the first two pages or query letter from any of our members. I thought about this opportunity, how I'd hate to pass it by. But I don't really want to have the first two pages critiqued. I've actually already been through that experience with HD and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. I've also had my query letter and first 30 critiqued by a multi-pubbed author, so at first I wasn't too eager to try to whip anything up for MTH and was content to listen to her pick apart the work of others.

But then I remembered how much I hate not knowing why an agent or editor passes on a query letter when that's all they've got. This is a perfect opp for that. So I'm trying to put together that query letter for a novel that's not even a fifth of the way finished.

Mark's been having all sorts of great success with finding a new job (hasn't landed one yet, but there are three possibilities that seem to be moving very fast from resume forwarding to interview to calling the references). I'm happy for him, but part of me is both relieved and irked that he's using up our good luck. Relieved, because it's a lot less likely with all this stuff falling into place for Mark that MTH is going to read my query and say "Send me more now". And irked, because of the same.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Observed Trauma

The Truth Shall Set You Free. This is such a glorious aphorism. It's certainly one to live by whenever possible. And yet, I struggle with it in certain venues. A while ago, Elizabeth Bear posted at length about the trauma in her life, mostly to help herself and some close friends process current and past trauma that had flared up to get in the way of life. I remember reading that and having a riot of reactions for days. I have no trauma like hers. In fact, most of the trauma in my life is observed, secondary instead of primary. It's had a profound impact on the shaping of my life, of course, but I can't really purge it in a blog post because it's not mine.

Honesty is a great thing. Outside of the dark places in my mind that I prod for writing ideas every now and then (or from which writing ideas tumble out and scare the piss out of me), I could quite happily post at length about who I am and how I came to be that way. (The dark places, given time and the light of more attention, likely will fall into the "share and share alike" category. But I think I have another decade of knowing myself before they get there. At the least.) Unfortunately, I can't. Because the shaping of me is the product of others' pain and suffering and secrets. I can't out their trauma to explain me.

It's a strange thing to always be there to watch your loved ones take a traumatic blow while you emerge more or less unscathed. You don't think about your scratches. You collect yourself after the shockwave and go rushing to the loved one's aid. You get the urgent needs cared for and settle in for the long wait by the hospital bedside. Maybe that's when you notice that there's a long scratch on your arm or a shallow gash under your eye or maybe your neck has some backlash or maybe your ankle is a little stiff from the fall you took due to the shockwave. You make sure your loved one's attention is elsewhere, then you clean and bandage your minor bumps as best you can and go right back to the bedside. This is usually when you start replaying the event over and over in your mind, looking in hindsight at all the warning signs, berating your lack of attention, swearing to be more vigilant in the future.

And maybe months later, you'll notice that the scratch left a wicked scar or your ankle acts up whenever a storm comes. You set that aside, feeling guilty for even daring to catalog your own injuries given what your loved one had to endure. Eventually, you learn to take care of any bumps and bruises that life deals you, always comparing them to that observed trauma. You don't mention them until the wound festers and suddenly it's so much bigger than it should have been and it embroils those around you. You berate yourself yet again for letting things get so bad, for burdening those who already have too many burdens because you failed in taking care of yourself properly.

It's not quite survivor's guilt, because the other person is still alive and struggling to meet each day, and you weren't really in the same boat anyway. You try to make yourself perfect, to be strong, to be there whenever you're needed, to help with the recovery, to protect against future trauma. You get used to denying your own pain and needs because, damn, how can you even begin to impose when the comparison is so off?

Of course, that enables those around you to think that you don't need help and to dismiss your problems or to hear them as an attack (either reaction may or may not be due to the presentation of the problem), prompting you to delay sharing your problems in the future so as to prevent those reactions. The Circle of Hidden Pain. And it's a pain that makes you feel guilty for even having it because you haven't really "earned" it like those whose trauma you've witnessed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Process Examination # 7: Focus Point

For this writer, inspiration doesn't always come in the form of a great character, or a fascinating conflict, or a beautiful setting, or some intricate thematic concept, or a grand plot. This is particularly true when I'm in the midst of writing a novel. Inspiration comes in odd ways during the novel writing, often when I'm thinking about some niggling macguffin of one sort or another. That is, the niggling detail is important in that it frames a daily aspect of the characters' lives but isn't really central to the plot.

In this case, I was trying to get some details figured out for exactly what the medical device that one company sells and that my MC repairs/maintains/audits/what have you does, other than the hand-wavey "it uses advanced tech to sequence DNA, hunt for illnesses, and monitor cellular processes in a short amount of time". Hand-wavey is good for vague plot directions and outlines. It's bad for actually composing draft (unless you don't mind going back in to put in details). And I was in the middle of a chapter in which I realized how much the hand-wavey details sucked for my space ship mechanic.

So, of course, I side-stepped the mechanic's details and went to the MC's job details. Helpful for the next chapter I need to write, not for the one I'm currently mired in. BUT, it worked! I got the most amazing idea for my medical device. It's specific enough that it acts as a focus for further research I need to do on the topic.

Research of any kind needs a focus point. As someone who participated in academic research for five years, I obviously knew this. I just don't think I ever quite understood it. I've known for a while now that THUMB was going to be addressing cybernetics in a big way. I even tried to do a little bit of general research on the topic to get my bearings, but I was frustrated that no clear path to what I needed for my story emerged (not in the sense that I wanted answers for how a futuristic technology would work; more in the sense that I couldn't escape the general). So I set the research aside and kept writing, wanting at least to keep the story going, knowing I could add details in later during revisions (though this would not make for a pleasant rewrite).

Now that I know how the medical device works, that serves as a focus point for the cybernetics research. I know what interface of biology and technology I'm looking for now. I can read articles and books with that in mind, culling details when they turn up. Another chunk of the novel falls more securely into place, serving as greater assurance that I can in fact make my way to "The End." It's the reverse of "connect the dots." Pre-writing inspiration, of the sort I described in the first paragraph, provides snapshots of an overall picture, which I then dutifully piece together in a way that seems to make sense. Inspiration while I write is like a microscope, showing me the subtleties of that picture. But if the microscope has nothing to focus on, it's still a big blur.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Digging in the Dirt

Andrew loves to dig around in dirt of any sort. Mud works just fine for him, too. I have no idea what about dirt fascinates any child so much. Is it the texture? The sense of buried treasure when a rock or something a little more animate is unearthed? The way it changes the color of the skin and turns white fingernails black? The strange taste of it?

One of his favorite things to do at my mother's house is to help her in the garden. And I'm not looking forward to the day when we finally rake out the remaining piles of rock in our backyard and take away his fun rockslides (that become mudslides after a rain).

Yesterday, while Mark was grilling up dinner and chatting with Brad (D'oh! I think I've completely neglected to mention on the blog that my brother moved to one of the Phoenix suburbs a few weeks ago. It's nice to have him so close and indulge in sibling relationship that lets us talk face to face regularly.), Andrew found a patch of dirt in the backyard and just started digging with his fingers. At first, I think he was trying to pry loose some small rocks. Then it became some sort of mission. The ground was packed too hard for him to dig very deep, so he settled on digging a shallow ditch over a large area, tossing the loose dirt over his shoulder to varying degrees of success. A couple of times, he laid down in his ditch. Or tried to. Cleaning his hands for dinner was quite a task.

I don't mind the dirty clothes and child. One day, when his clothes might actually fit for more than a few months, I might. But it's amazing to watch him dig. He's so determined, so intent. There's a purpose to clawing away at the ground for him. I just have no idea what it is.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Best State in the Union

We thoroughly enjoyed our camping trip in Chiracahua National Monument and the valley between the Chiracahua and the Dragoon Mountains. The drive was gorgeous, including the trek along I-10 south of Tucson, particularly when we entered the Texas Canyon and got to stare at gorgeous rock formations crowding around the highway and beyond. Exploring the Dragoons and Chiracahuas and the valley between was just amazing. The biggest cities in the valley are Willcox and Douglas, and labeling either "city" is a bit generous. Most of the valley is rural desert grasslands, small towns dotting the state roads the run the length and width. Douglas, the little we saw of it from the car while driving longer to let Drewbie extend his nap, has a fascinating historic downtown district that really needs to be restored. We saw the Mexican flag waving about a half mile or so in the distance, the closest Mark's even been to that country.

I don't think I stopped smiling the entire time we wandered through that valley. We even found the perfect writing retreat. Now's not a great time to be thinking of extravagant vacations just for writing, but Mark and I are already devising ways to set aside time and money so I can spend a weekend at the Sunglow Ranch and write my fool head off. It might take us a year, but we'll get me there. I think I'll probably set up some sort of savings so I can make that retreat an annual thing. Just wait till you see the pictures we took.

We're already planning another camping trip to the area as we didn't have enough time (and didn't know the grade of the hike) to explore Cochise Stronghold more than having a quick lunch in the campgrounds. Plus, Tombstone is just on the other side of the Dragoons and there's a number of other sites and trails in that valley, so we might need several more trips as the Drew Monster grows up and can handle more hiking.

Drew is already an excellent hiker and climber, though. Mark and I realized as we watched him scramble up rocks (while Mark remained close by and had a firm grip on the Elmo tether) that we need to get in better shape if we're going to keep up with El Boyo Diablo in the future. The Drew Monster mostly had a good time, although he had several hissy fits as if to remind us that, yes, he is indeed less than a month away from turning two. He was pretty excited to be in his own sleeping bag on his own mat this time instead of the travel crib we used before.

It was a great trip. So much to see and marvel at in that valley. Mark and I have now been to the southeast and northwest corners of the state, and explored a decent amount of the central corridor. And we know there's still a ton more we've missed. We're already planning another camping trip near Lake Havasu in a couple of months, and we've got another camping excursion over to Canyon de Chelly in the works for next spring. Arizona truly is the best state in the Union.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Things to Make You Smile, In Case the Long Weekend Isn't Enough

1. Mark had an interview yesterday that went very well. Keep those fingers crossed and the prayers and good thoughts comin' as they're obviously working.

2. #5 Michigan just lost to Appalachain State. At Michigan. For the season opener. During the innaugural broadcast of the Big Ten Network. Understandably, the Big Ten Network announcers are now all over themselves, talking the game up as the biggest upset in college football history (which, if you've gotta go back to the 50s to get anything comparable, it likely is) in order to put some sort of spin on their first broadcast of the Big Ten's marquee team. Warms my heart it does. I feel for whomever Michigan is playing next week. That's going to be one ugly game.

3. Notre Dame's star QB recruit was injured over the summer and isn't starting, and the starter fumbled the ball not two minutes into the game. This makes me smile because, win or lose, we're playing Georgia Tech, a team with valid Top 25 aspirations just like us. If we lose, we still get to laugh ourselves silly at the Wolverines.

4. In case the International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day kerfuffle wasn't enough to amuse you about how some science fiction writers seem to fear the future, read up on the latest from the Discover-endorsed standard-bearer of science fiction and fantasy writers in America.

5. #4 would be even more entertaining were it not for the fact that it seems there is a trend that writing orgs have internet slapfights that seem extraordinarily ironic for their genre. Every year or every other year, there seems to be a big RWA scandal involving authors who dress a bit too naughty at conventions or try to sell their much-too-steamy books. I predict the Mystery Writers of America will have some sort of huge falling out in the ranks about the identity of a writer satirizing them under a pseudonym within the next five months, just for parity's sake.

6. We're going camping starting tomorrow morning (have a family BBQ this afternoon), so we should have more pictures of the Drew Monster getting crazy dirty while roughing it soon.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend.