Friday, February 29, 2008

Strange Awakenings

I figured the day would be slightly odd when a nightmare woke me around 4AM. It wasn't anything like a giant spider or my son in harm's way or [insert standard terrible fears here]. No, my dream involved an unusually thin, ambulatory, life-size Santa Claus doll made out of cloth. And that bastard wanted to rassle.

Here's the context: I was in some old Victorian house with another person (he/she was only outlined hazily in the dream) playing Ghost Hunters essentially, waiting for something to happen. And lo, I look into a darkened hall and see the white fur on a Santa suit. We immediately investigate. The unknown partner mutters something about "orb activity" and "EMF" this or that, while I decide to provoke the Standing Santa Doll. (And it was standing all by itself, without strings or a stand or being a mannequin or whathaveyou.) Bad Santa grabs my thumbs unkindly. I somehow manage to gain control and hurl him up the stairs like the cloth doll he is. Then the sumbitch gets back up and comes back down the stairs, ready to really dish it out.

That's when I woke up. But I was so tired, that my body was trying to go right back to sleep, but I didn't want to back to sleep and risk finding out what Possessed Bad Santa had in mind for me. So I fought to stay awake and distract myself for about a half hour or so. The rest of my sleep was dream-free as far as I know.

In addition to the general WTF quality of this dream, I'm now struck by the ability I seem to have developed of easing the terror and fright of my nocturnal musings by either 1) recognizing it's a dream early on (not enough to lucid dream), and telling my dreaming self that I've already had this dream before, and I remember that X monster is going to jump out here or Y bad guy will get his in the end or 2) retconning my dreaming self into expecting the bad turn of events by being there specifically to study them (like being a Ghost Hunter). Thus it's been quite some time since I've had a truly terrifying, must turn on all the lights, whimper in hubby's arms nightmare. It's a fairly neat trick. No idea how I did it, of course.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Your Daddy's an Old Man Now"

Mark's words to Drewbie this morning. My husband abandons me for the world of the thirtysomethings today. I'll be a few months behind him. Shockingly, there is a real dearth of taunting cards for this milestone. Most of the ones I found were along the lines of "Hey, welcome to REAL adulthood" in some flowery form or another.

That's OK. I made up for it by getting him a T-shirt that had "NERD" plastered across the front.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Process Examination #18: In Which I Hack my Brain a Second Time*

With short fiction, I write by letting the story pour out of my fingertips as fast as it can, heading in whatever direction muse decides to go. I might have a general sense of the ending or the character arc or something, but usually I get an inital idea, spill it out in a small amount of time, and then leave it be for a bit. When I come back to the story, I look at what I wrote, compare it with the original idea, figure out if there's a disconnect to fix or if the story I wrote evolved into something else entirely that needs a new framework. Then I do serious revisions of the sort I did for PPR: Toss out 6K words, write an extra 25K. This brings me to the place where a lot of other writers are when they finish their first draft and then have to go in for revisions. I do said revisions, then the once or twice over for grammar, etc. Voila, I have a finished product of the short fiction variety.

For novels, though, my brain clearly wants to do this same process, but the left brain absolutely panics and gets in the way of the story-purge, trying to take me in directions better suited to give me a viable novel. See, the left brain is all about logic and efficiency and sees that spending six months to three years banging out 100K words or more that are going to get axed anyway is just Not Acceptable. The right brain, trying to translate the story vision to words fast enough to appease the left brain, gets all twisted in knots and misinterprets the vision and gets things horribly wrong. I end up in a terrible snarl anywhere between 20K and 80K because of this. The left brain wants to finish the draft and get on with fixing it so it's actually a novel that can, you know, start the process of getting representation and/or publication. The right brain sees the mangled corpse of what it originally intended to write and can't pick up any narrative thread that has a fraction of a chance at carrying a draft through to the end in any way that relates to the story I'm trying to write.

I compromise by starting revisions of the words I've alredy written, to help the right brain find my story vision and to convince the left brain that I'm making changes that will translate to less time spent on revisions later down the road. But the conflict between the two hemispheres inevitably starts again, this time snarling me within 5K to 20K from the original snarl point. I might compromise again with revisions or the left brain will retreat and let the right brain try to carry the story through to the end. Neither option works. When my brain realizes that I am stuck and conflicted within myself as to how best to proceed to finish the project, I start all over again on a new novel idea.

My problem in dealing with this pattern is that I have only fully understood where the left brain is coming from. Finish the book! Revise it! Sell it! Get going on that professional writer path, already! You only have a small number of hours each week to write! The longer you take to write one book, the longer it will take to sell that book, the longer it will take to eventually earn you the money that will allow you to quit the DDJ and have more time to write more books! So write! Write better, faster! You can do it, I know you have talent! Let's go, go, GO!

The right brain never explained itself to me, it just refused to produce at the pace the left brain demanded and developed skills in telling me that I wasn't being true to the story vision, not in the least. But I figured it out, all the same. It gets back to the map analogy and how I can't outline a novel. This is because story ideas come to me in complex, three-dimensional images (or groups of images) that have all sorts of sensory and extra-sensory elements embedded in it. The trouble comes from not being able to convey that image accurately into words for the right brain. The right brain is constantly frustrated at its inability to communicate with the left brain, and the left brain keeps trying to boost efficiency by throwing more words at a story, only to frustrate the right brain even further because they are the wrong words, and not just "fix this in revisions" wrong, but taking the story sometimes far away from the complicated images.

Getting back to taking a trip without a map, let's say that one person, Jack, is trying to meet up with another, Jill. Jack starts driving towards Jill, asking her for directions on his cell phone as he goes. Problem is, Jill can only describe her surroundings in ways that don't help Jack at all. Jill says she's in the place where the air smells just like the end of summer. Jack asks what's around her. Jill says she got some mountains to the west. Jack asks how far. Jill says she can pinch the highest peak between her thumb and forefinger while she squints at it. Jack asks what's to the east. Jill says a gray, three-story building with no numbers or letters on it, but many of the windows are missing, and some have been replaced with green glass instead of clear.

Jack asks for a street sign. Jill says there are none, but the asphalt is cracked on one side and smooth and deep black like new on the other. Jack asks her what city she's near. Jill says the energy of the place reminds her of a sprawling urban center that hasn't swallowed up all the rural pockets just yet. Jack asks her if there's anyone around her who can answer his questions. Jill says the few people nearby are stuck in a loop of some drama or other and are far too busy unraveling their own crises to help with hers, and would Jack like to hear some of the things these folks are saying? Jack says only if they're talking about a street address.

This goes on and on until Jack finally gives up, calls Jill's cell service provider, and has them triangulate her location with the satellites. He swoops in, gets her into the car, and drives them off to someplace new.

Dealing with these two yahoos for the course of a novel is going to drive me insane if I don't find some way of managing their miscommunication.

*Not only does this post make clear to the world that, yes, in fact I am a gemini, but it also demonstrates my left-right confusion issue admirably well. Or, at least, it did before I edited it to be, you know, accurate. I got the left and right brains pegged correctly for the first paragraph they appear, then it went downhill from there. Fixed now.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Drew Goes to the Zoo

We went to the Phoenix Zoo yesterday, pretty much right after it opened. It was perfect: not too many people were there yet, those that were had kids near Drew's age in tow, and the weather was cool and pleasant with cloudcover to keep the sun from draining us too much. This was Drew's third trip to a zoo, the second one with Mark and me. On his first trip, he apparently found the giraffes fascinating. On his second trip, he tried to climb every fence in sight and wasn't too interested in the animals overall. On this trip, he couldn't get enough of running the trails, pointing out the animals, watching them climb and run and move, and, of course, climbing every fence in sight.

It's really amazing how much he's changed in the past year, and how much he's stayed the same. He didn't want to be in the stroller much last year, and we didn't even try to bring it with us this time. However, last year, he took his release from the stroller as permission to run far away as fast as he can because it was fun to have Daddy give chase. This time, he ran ahead because he wanted us to get to the next area quicker, but mostly he stayed close to us. Of course, the obvious change in these two visits was how much he talked and pointed and understood what he was seeing and how it connected with his animal puzzles, the books we read to him, his stuffed animals, and the shows he watches. Our kid's brain is on the go.

But the highlight of yesterday's trip was watching Drew ride a camel. It wasn't exactly cheap to have him and Daddy hang out on a camel for a quick walk, but Drew's wide grin was well worth every penny. Daddy reported that Drew, in addition to grinning madly, spent the entire ride saying, "It fun!" over and over. We'll have to print out copies of the picture I took of them.

It's amazing how much fun it is to watch your kid have fun. My enjoyment of the zoo really had very little to do with the zoo itself (although, watching a tiger climb down from the top of a very tall tree was awesome), but I can't wait to go back with my son.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Confidential to Sonja*

You won a raffle item yesterday! Phoebe's hanging onto it to give to you at the next meeting.

By the way, while you did miss out on a great second half of the meeting, you may have had the right of it jetting out when you did. I think at least half of us had grey matter dribbling out of our ears by 2:30. Most of the rest of the workshop passed in a haze of "Malfunction, malfunction! Cannot compute! Error! Error!"

*Because all the cool kids are doing it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Recently Achieved Milestones

Another hastily assembled group of things for your perusal. This time, they are happenings of note.

  • This blog has been chugging along for five years as of last Wednesday.

  • This blog has something along the lines of 1045 posts now. (I completely missed the 1000-post threshold. I may go back and figure out which one turned the counter over.)

  • I'm all booked for my first ever Writing Retreat in Inspiring Locales. Thanks to all of the hotel stays I've done for the DDJ, I racked up an insane number of reward points through Marriott and was able to treat myself completely free to a night at a beautiful Resort & Spa in the Tucson Mountains. That's Stage One of my Retreat. Stage Two is a night in the Sunglow Ranch in the Chiracahua Mountains that I mentioned back in September. This bliss of solo writing time and me-indulgence the likes of which I'd love to repeat annually but will likely have to make do with "in a couple of years" is all set for March 14-16. It won't be completely me-time as I've got to go to a doctor's appointment in Tucson before I can check-in to the resort.

  • Drew woke me up at 5:15 this morning for something rather momentous: he decided it was time to pee in the potty. Of course, he hasn't shown any interest for the rest of today in repeating this remarkable feat, but I have high hopes for more morning forays into the world of Potty Training.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

I do have regular blogging to catch up on, I know this. And I should be back in the swing of things starting sometime this week, but definitely picking it back up by Monday.

In the meantime, I have to offer up the following as a public service announcement:

The Prisoner is quite possibly the best red wine I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. For those of you who like to imbibe, I cannot recommend this wine enough. It's a steal at $32, really. For those of you who are under age or allergic to sulfites, I weep for you.

Some history: On Valentine's Day in 2004, Mark and I splurged went to the Boulder Cork as we had just earned some unexpected winnings on a weekend gambling trip in the Rockies. We had a bottle of The Prisoner (2003 vintage) that night and were delighted to discover that the local liquor mega store was one of the few places in the country that stocked this label. We indulged as often as we could spare the money from then on. Then on Saturday as we were buying wine and cheese and other vittles for our delayed Valentine's Day dinner this year, Mark said, "Ohmigod, Kellie, look behind you." I turned and saw The Prisoner on display. Yes, it put as a bit above what we had intended to spend on the meal, but neither of us complained a single bit. We finished the bottle last night and were quite sad that we didn't have another to uncork. But now that we know we can get it regularly again, we'll be budgeting for it and drooling until we can pick up another bottle.

Seriously, if you like red wine, you've gotta try this stuff.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Permission Slip

I, Kellie Hazell, do hereby give myself permission to write complete and utter crap in the composition of any and all first drafts of any and all works of fiction I commit to digital space, notebooks, looseleaf paper (wide and college ruled), note cards, sticky notes, and any other surface deemed suitable for the purpose of writing from this point forward until such time as I decide to revoke said permission or until the end of the world.

Crap shall be defined as any or all of the following:

  1. Prose that contains any or all of the following: poor word choice, spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, passive voice, repetition, cliches, and any other wince-inducing construction of words not listed herein.

  2. Characters who are inconsistent, stereotypical, annoying, angst-ridden, whiny, and behave in any manner that is readily conducive to acting out the story that is playing in my head.

  3. Plot points that are obvious, overdone, unimaginative, boring, repetitive, and in any other way shorthand for the story trying to make its way out of my thick skull.

  4. Descriptions of scenery, machinery, technology and job expertise that are sketched or heavily reliant on hasty googling or wiki, or that are completely lacking in anything but the barest of bones.

  5. Narratives that do not adhere to any traditional or uncoventional means of logically laying out a story.

  6. Any other crime against the English language and art of storytelling that in any way assists with the translation of the story in my head to a draft that can be improved into a saleable novel.

Signed digitally by the author, one Kellie Hazell of

Witnessed by The Internet this Fifteenth day of February in the year Two Thousand and Eight.

Feel free to replicate this, add to it, detract from it, rail against it, and comment on this permission slip as you see fit. You can even forge your muse's signature if you are not the responsible party in your writing process.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Random Thoughts Make a Less Insane Post

Lots of rest and quasi-relaxation (more on this below) on top of surviving the DDJ and RWA insanity of last week went a long way toward making things feel more normal this week. Of course, I still haven't written any fiction yet, but that will change tonight. (Actually it could have changed last night, but I decided to take one night just for me as the quasi-relaxation didn't count.) So, on with the randomness.

  • Potty training is a strange road. Right now Drew thinks it's all a game and hasn't quite figured out that he can do his business in the potty in addition to sitting on it and playing with toilet paper.

  • After years of working with Celeron processors and above, Pentium 4 feels like moving through molasses, especially when trying to use Office 2007. I miss my old laptop.

  • I read 9 books in 10 days as a judge in a romance contest. I didn't have to read them so quick, but I found that reading for a contest feels more like a responsibility than fun and didn't like having all those books hanging over my head. Plus, romances tend to read very fast for me, so it was just easier this way. That being said, it was fun to get 9 free books and breeze through them all in the name of service to a writing organization. I signed up to do this again next year.

  • Related to the above, it is apparently a Bad Thing to have a heroine utter "Shit!" The preferred expletive is "Crap!" I find this word wholly unsatisfying as a single utterrance to express any emotion beyond a desire not to seem coarse. In fact, the only context in which I use the word crap is in full sentence, usually along the lines of "this is a piece of crap" and even then I tend to opt for the much more satisfying substitute of shit. But I have noticed that I am in the minority of women in this word usage preference (at least based on the books we choose to read). This is not the only word choice difference I seem to have with the female majority, but that is another post and one that requires a certain amount of bravery on my part as the words are rather loaded and my grandmothers read this blog.
  • Friday, February 08, 2008

    February Hasn't Magically Wiped the Slate Clean

    Life continues in the mad, frenetic swirl that was SOP in January. I have discovered exciting new technical problems such as my LCD monitor suddenly not working and my DDJ applications on the new work laptop suddenly not working. I've spent several hours today working with my IT department via phone, email, and them hijacking my system to get the latter one resolved.

    Meanwhile, Drew and I both picked up some sort of cold during the recent travel, the ortho specialist is re-ordering an MRI (like we couldn't see that one coming) and telling me to see a PT, diagnosing me with, essentially, a lack of abdominal muscles. (C-section killed 'em, motherhood prevented me from getting 'em back in shape, and the rest of my body started compensating to try and protect my back and spine; the hips finally decided to get pissed at this arrangement.) I've been slaving away to my RWA responsibilities this week, fighting a new computer environment as I do it, realizing my learning curve is steeper than I had thought. Oh, and I haven't written a word of fiction since January 13th.

    Me? Cranky? No. I'm unraveling at this point.