Poor Trundles. There was not enough bacon grease in his breakfast bowl this morning (a mere dollop! how could I be so cruel!) and for some reason, the pillows on my bed, heretofore perfectly adequate for the fort he builds himself daily for his morning naps, was not to his liking. Consequently, after a great deal of grousing, his temper broke. He tore out of my room, scrabbled down the hall, did a lap of the kitchen, then a lap of the living room, and scuttled down the hall the other way to enter my office on a flood of remonstrances and barking.
With his displeasure expressed, he then promptly fell over into the dog bed in my office–the one he would never sleep in while he was a puppy and now uses to store whatever toys he can subtract from Miss B’s watchful nose. Which means he’s sleeping on two tug-of-war ropes, a couple Hurleys, and a sad little plushie he’s torn the stuffing from but refuses to part with the rest of. The last is merely a rag of polyester fur now, but apparently it’s Trundles’s best friend aside from Miss B, and any attempt to remove it causes lamentations.
Something tells me it’s going to be a very long Thursday for a certain cranky bulldog.
Well, it’s Monday, and the world is wrapped in mist. It looks like a Stephen King story out there–the wrong season for Strawberry Spring, but very close to The Mist. There doesn’t seem to be any tentacles lurking in it, but if there are, I am antsy enough to put on a burst of speed and escape. I knew all that agility training, tripping over a dancing Australian Shepherd, would pay off eventually.
Every big season shift means I rework my running playlist. This time around, there’s a lot of Beyoncé added, and some Rain since iTunes finally added a few of his albums. Odd Trundles is a Formation fan; whenever he’s in the office and it’s playing he dances around, excited by the beat.
A lot of stuff that was on the soundtrack for The Marked has been shifted off, and I’ll do a soundtrack post for that book soon. It’s kind of sad to be putting that book to bed, it was in my head for so long. The beginning, in particular, has been haunting me for years. To finally have it gone is liberating, but each book that goes out into the world also leaves a sort of hole–a tooth socket, if you will. You can tell something is missing in your internal architecture.
The weekend passed in a blur of chores, as weekends tend to do nowadays. I’m glad it’s over and I can get back to producing actual wordcount instead of just 200 measly words or so in between hoovering, cleaning the cavy cage, attacking the kitchen counters with a rag, brushing and washing dogs, doing laundry. I just don’t feel right when I don’t write. It’s like the I-need-a-run itchiness, but more painful.
So, today I am in a Mood. No patience for anything except getting the zombie apocalypse characters to a bigger city and getting everyone in Harmony full of the approaching dread. I need both stories cleared out of the zero phase so I can turn all my engines to Afterwar, which is beginning to take on the aspect of a monstrous headache. All the research is bubbling and boiling in the back of my skull, but it’s still subconscious. My conscious mind is stretched in a thin Saran Wrap film over the shape of the series, pokings and stirrings underneath disturbing the orderly flow of everything else. Some find this the most pleasant part of a book, where one is excited about the upcoming thing but one hasn’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and started fucking up the perfect imaginary whole. I often like this feeling of the book boiling and getting ready, but not for this particular project. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that the project’s been orphaned at least once now. *eyeroll*
Anyway, I am going to go take my sharp edges and see if sweat can dull them a little. Miss B will be displeased with the clamminess outside turning her coat into a fuzzball, but it can’t be hlped and truth be told, she looks so goddamn cute when she poufs up I cannot resist giving her a double dose of pets and “who’s a good girl”s.
When our neighbours go on trips, one of my kids takes care of their cats. And generally, I drive them to the airport and pick them up when they come back. They keep telling me “when you travel, we’ll do the same for you”, but the thing is, I don’t travel. I hate flying, I don’t have the cash to go anywhere, and in any case, I’d rather be home writing. That may change when the kids are both well embarked on their adult lives, but for now, that’s the way it is.
So instead, this last time, said neighbours brought me duty-free booze. Which is very welcome, especially since hot toddies are probably the only way I’m getting through this cold. Alcohol kills germs, right?
So, yeah. They brought me a very nice bourbon. I could get very, very used to this.
The cold is fighting for supremacy inside my body; my immune system is hunting it down and just barely managing to stay on top. Consequently I’m tired, bloody cranky, and sore all over. I could only get four and a half running miles in yesterday, which irritated the life out of me. Even the returning rains aren’t managing to cheer me. Getting wordcount was like chipping marble with a toothpick, and to top it all off, I think I’m getting a detox effect from drinking a gallon of water a day. Even if it’ll help my body hose off all my mucus surfaces (that’s what snot does, really, pressure-washes your internal driveways) it’s still…itchy.
Super itchy. All over. Like stress hives–not as unpleasant, really, because my throat swells during those. But still annoying.
Despite all that, I made wordcount, and today’s prognosis is good even though I’m forced to take a day off running, again. At least the bees have stopped crawling out of my hair and cleavage since the weather is cooler, and the time I’d spend running will be spent producing additional words. So far I’m hoping to get the second half of Harmony done for NaNo–that’s 50K to add to the 50K I’ve already got–and at least getting a skeleton zero of the zombie apocalypse book before I have to shift completely to Afterwar. I’m not spending working time on the latter until the contract arrives, because if I’m going to kill myself working on a gigantic project, I need to be getting paid for the wear and tear on my nerves.
I mean, I’d write the trilogy anyway, but it would take a loooooong time fitting it around other projects. *sigh*
If you’re thinking all three of these seem longer than my usual run of zero drafts, you’re right. It appears the next step in my growth as a writer is attempting longer, more complex stories. 100K zero drafts instead of 60-70. I vacillate between “wow, this will be great” and “OH MY GOD LILI WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO YOURSELF STOP STOP IT NOW.” On the bright side, my agent is thrilled and happy. I guess that’ll have to be enough.
Time for me to shuffle to the kitchen and make some herbal tea for my throat, and fill up my water glass. I want to drown this cold quickly so I can get back to running tomorrow. I’m twitchy from not enough sweat, and added to the full nose and raw throat, it’s making me snappish. Which is good for tormenting my characters, but hardly pleasant out in meatspace.
I may actually have to turn the heat on in some point. I love living in a temperate zone where I don’t have a lot of heating or cooling costs, but when my toes get numb even in socks it’s time for the indoors climate adjustment.
Work on Harmony has taken a strange turn. I’ve recently read quite a few pieces on Shirley Jackson, and this one in particular struck a chord. Quote: “The literary effect we call horror turns on the dissolution of boundaries.” This has been knocking around in my head for a few days now, and finally I chased down the tail end of the thought it spurred, grabbed it, and dragged it out into the light.
I don’t ever want to write YA again, for a variety of reasons. Yet there’s Rattlesnake Wind, and now Harmony, stories where the protagonist is a teenage girl. I’ll probably have to self-pub the former, since several YA publishers are demanding it be watered down before they’ll accept it and I am unwilling to do so. The latter most probably won’t see publication as it’s merely a gift for my agent, but neither of them are “young adult.” They have teenage protagonists, but they don’t fit easily into the YA genre. Consequently, nobody would know where to market or shelve them. C’est la (publishing) vie.
In both of them, the dissolution of boundaries happen. Women are constantly forced to endure invasions of their bodily sovereignty, and the pressure on young women to accept such things as the status quo is immense. You must be thin enough, pretty enough but not TOO pretty, independent enough but not to the point where it makes men uncomfortable, you are “upset” instead of “passionate”, you must cut and bind and shape and sculpt yourself to fit into a narrow, always-moving ideal–and if you do not, others will. Your body isn’t your own, it’s for people to make judgments (and catcalls) about.
Both stories qualify as “horror” for other reasons, but I had not seen this commonality in them. Also, in both the theme of bodily (and psychic) sovereignty under assault shows up. The strange thing is, I didn’t know that was a theme in Rattlesnake until I started thinking about it today. I didn’t even realize it was part of Harmony. It’s not quite blindness. I think it’s more not seeing the forest for the trees, in a way.
One of the questions I used to get in writing classes was “how do I put a theme in my work?” My answer: you don’t. You just focus on being honest, not looking away, not punking out, and the themes will happen. You won’t be able to swing a dead cat without hitting one. The time to worry about a theme and highlight it, if such a thing needs to be done, is in revision. Trying to “insert” a theme is a short road to damnation in the form of bullshit, and readers are allergic to that. Even if they were not, it is to be hoped that a writer aims to avoid the fragrance.
I tend not to see themes in my stories until an editor or my writing partner points them out. (There’s a funny story about the Valentine series in that respect, but it’s–say it with me–another blog post.) Once it’s pointed out, I feel like I was blind not to notice it. This is why I say trust the work, and trust the Muse. Your job is to show up, to get your ass in the chair and your fingers producing the words so you can catch the magic when it drops. Themes will happen almost to spite and despite you.
One of the more exotic parts of revision is coming across passages I don’t remember writing, especially when they solve some deep-seated plot problem I wasn’t even aware of during the zero draft in a particularly elegant way. The sensation is close to being haunted–a sense that some other intelligence was at work while I was in a creative fugue state. The idea that I’m not quite in control of what comes through in my stories used to be incredibly disconcerting, but parenting, at least, has taught me that total control is neither advisable nor possible in this mad, messy, beautiful thing we call life.
These are my somewhat rambling thoughts this chilly Tuesday morning. The weather report swears there will be thunder later, which I will like but Miss B will not, and Trundles will ignore. There is chicken soup to be made, with plenty of garlic to make my corpse uninhabitable for the cold threatening to fill my nose and knock out my immune system.
It’s that time of year again–the time when I get a deluge of letters from people who have school projects due, and want to put me in those projects in some way. I feel kind of bad that I can’t answer each one fully, but if I did, I would have no time to write and consequently no income. I’ve tried to ameliorate this by talking about my writing process openly and even collecting essays about it into convenient form, but each year, as school terms wax and wane, I get spates of requests. I’m honored to be asked, of course, and I wish students all the best. I just cannot do more than I’m doing.
This past weekend, I finished Volume II of Shelby Foote’s massive work on the Civil War. I was warned going in that Foote bleeds magnolia sap, and it’s been interesting to see subtle (and not-so-subtle) choices made in that vein. He is never so happy as when the South wins one, and never so conflicted as when he faces the fact that the South simply refused to turn away from slavery, no matter what. At least he has the intellectual honesty to admit and highlight the latter, though one can sense his gritted teeth during those passages.
I popped by the library to look at what they had in the way of Civil War stuff, too–specifically, about guerrilla actions in that timeframe. They had nothing much, and I suspect I’ll be forced to mine Foote’s bibliography for some starter overviews. This is, of course, me gearing up to write Afterwar. The prospect of that trilogy terrifies me as much as ever, but mere fear can’t be allowed to stand in the way. My head is a strange place these days, between geography, logistics, and the peculiar creative ferment of turning “tomorrow” into “history” and letting the result show me its own internal logic.
I’m also working on the zombie apocalypse book, a monster if there ever was one. I’m attempting bigger zero drafts–in the 100k+ range instead of 60-70k. This calls for more endurance and a greater attention to certain types of structuring. I’m hoping it means I’m growing as a writer.
These things mean Harmony has to be set on the back burner. I don’t like that, I’d rather finish it first, but needs must when the devil drives, and I have a deep abiding need to feed my dependents and keep the house standing. It won’t be hurt by a little more time to boil in the back of my head.
It’s a good thing we’re coming up on NaNoWriMo. I still haven’t decided which work I’ll use for it this year, but the time is getting close. Maybe I’ll use it to finish the last half of Harmony while I also lunge for the end of the zombie book. Once I turn to Afterwar, there will be no room in my head for anything else, so the sooner I get these other two finished, the better.
The only other news from Chez Saintcrow is the change of seasons bringing a heightened amount of squirrel antics. Every time I let the dogs out, one of the arboreal rats decides to induce a merry chase or two. Miss B’s fondest desire is to catch one (again, since she has a dim recollection of doing so at least once before) and Odd’s entire world narrows to the excitement of making a new friend each time. I have committed to wearing shoes even inside until things calm down a bit, because you never know. Chance favors the prepared, and all that.
So. Wish me luck, and something for the inevitable headaches this proposed amount of work will spur. *sigh*
Humming power in the wind today, a great deal of unsettled, floating energy. The shift gathers pace, even afternoon heat stopping at the edge of the shade and turning brisk. There’s no rain on the wind just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
This morning I stumbled in the kitchen and almost poured heavy cream into the espresso machine’s filter holder, tripped twice over Miss B, rescued two books from the Jaws of Trundles, and spilled a bunch of hair powder on myself. All this was before coffee, but caffeination didn’t seem to help, because I almost fell out of my chair twice after I had my mug. Not only that, but I banged my shoulder into a doorway (don’t ask) and nearly jabbed myself in the eye with a toothbrush.
Grace and dignity, yo.
Fortunately, the morning’s run (which I was dreading) went without incident, even though Miss B longed, I tell you, looooonged to make the acquaintance of a dog or two left unleashed by their idiot owners. Generally if I stay calm during the entire interaction it all ends well, but I have to say I have a bit of longing myself, centered around yelling “IT IS A LEASH LAW, NOT A LEASH SUGGESTION. DOGS DO NOT MAKE GOOD DECISIONS, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, CUT THIS SHIT OUT.”
The run seemed to shake out my remaining klutziness, and my luck has improved. Not only did I not have to wait at the petrol station to fill my tank, but the total ended up being a round dollar figure without any help from me. Which is extremely tidy and pleasing. And my after-lunch coffee does not seem to be making me incredibly hungry.
So there’s some Prince on the speakers, a couple projects open that need serious wordcount, and the cedars in the backyard are smiling sleepily in the sun. It’s the little things.