Sea Change

I rolled out of bed this morning feeling actually happy.

Not just like I could stand another day, not just getting up because I had to, not just like the only thing bringing me to consciousness was the alarm and the idea that soon there would be coffee replacing my blood pint by pint. No, this morning I got up and I didn’t feel like I had to force myself to paste on a chilling little half-smile in order to face the world.

I’m still wearing the half-smile. It’s facial armor, just like eyeliner. And oh my God am I happy for the coffee. As well as utterly weirded out by this sea change.

I don’t think I’ve ever rolled out of bed willingly. I’ve done it because I had to and because people were depending on me. Today I was actually a little excited to get up and see what was going to happen. I felt like things were OK-going-on-good and getting better.

This is such a huge step for me, I’m tempted to go back to bed and think it over. (Just kidding. I’m so funny.)

Anyway, I’ve decided I’m not going to over-analyze or look for holes in this feeling. I’m going to take it as a base to build my day on. I’m cautiously optimistic that the happy will stay at least until lunch. If it stays longer, great. I intend to be a good hostess for this guest, so that we can become bestest friends. I like the idea of feeling happy more often than not.

My life has changed so much in the last six months. It’s incredible. And this is the first intimation I have that the change might stick and become permanent, that I’m not going to slide back down into the hole. There were days when it was enough not to drown. Now I’ve built myself back up from rubble and it’s enough to feel pretty OK when the alarm goes off.

I like this. I think I’ll keep it.

Of course, there’s still those revisions. They were kicking my ass yesterday, but I outwaited and outplayed them, managing to get another 2K of fresh plot thread woven in. From here it’s a gallop to the finish line, and I’m going to make it on time.

Here’s hoping your day has a little happiness too, dear Reader. Over and out.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

I Am Not Them, But I’m Just As Scared

Cross-posted to the Deadline Dames, a year old and still going strong.

I can definitively state I AM NOT MY CHARACTERS.

Most of them–Danny and Jill spring immediately to mind for some reason–come from a pretty dark place. Others, not so much. I’ve had some scary experiences in my life (and something tell me I will have still more, life being what it is.) Some of those scary experiences are fuel. Others are just…there. They don’t go into books, they’re too personal. I have to come to terms with them in other ways.

Using the fuel of scary experiences can be good. It can help you process, it can help you deal. There are several different types of artistic fuel, however, and getting hooked on one to the exclusion of all others is a chancy proposition. Art does not live by one fuel alone–and trying to make it can have bad effects on you.

Case in point? Well, me. I’m in a state of highly personal, highly charged change right now. Some of the fuel I was using while I was miserable five years ago, or two years ago, or six months ago is no longer around. I don’t have that whip to push myself on. I am, to put it bluntly, afraid that if I get healthier or happier I will no longer be able to peer into those dark places or face them with the courage needed to pull those characters out of the shadows.

Most of me knows this is silly. As someone wise recently told me, “Those miseries were ways you had of coping and surviving. They worked to keep you whole and protect you. They’ll still be there if you need them again.” I know it’s true–I can put them back in my toolbox and get them out if I need them.

But, dear Reader…I’m scared. I’m scared the characters won’t talk to me if we don’t have the pain-points in common. I’m terrified that I’m a one-trick pony. I’m scared that getting healthier and happier will change something in my makeup and send me spinning and careening off into the woods, where my career will die a lonely death and I’ll end up hungry on the street.

I know it’s not rational. I know I’m feeling this because change is inherently frightening. When you add personal change to the cauldron of insecurities writing can and does uncover, it’s about as comfortable as bathing in a tub full of very angry cobras.

So how do you get through? How do you reassure yourself the words will still be there even if you change?

I suppose a simple answer is faith, with a large helping of stubbornness. I did not get to where I am today by listening to the fear or letting the rejection stop me. The words have been there during every other damn change in my life; this one just feels different because I’m suffering it OMGNOW! Time will add a measure of perspective that will drain my panic.

None of this helps with the agony of indecision, fear, and agitation I am experiencing, yea even at this very moment.

Which gives me hope. Over the course of a book, I take people apart. I feel their agonies while I whack away every single solid thing they rely on and put them through the wringer. They risk everything because they have no choice. It’s who they are, and living requires the courage to do no less.

I guess we’re not so different, my characters and me. Which brings me to my bone-deep stubbornness again. If they can make it through everything I can throw at them, I can make it through this. Jill would set her chin, glare out of her mismatched eyes, and stride forward. Danny’s thumb would caress the katana’s guard, and she’d wear that little half-smile. Kaia would grin and brace herself. Even Theo, the calmest and sweetest person I’ve ever written, would fold her arms and get that determined little glint in her eye.

No, they’re not (and never will be) me. But the strength to write them is and always has been mine. If I’ve lost the fuel of misery I’ll find something else to burn. If I’ve kept the fire going this long, I’ll likely find something else to throw on it. I have to trust–not my gods, not my characters, not other people. I have to trust in my own willingness to let the words come through me. I have to trust that I’m still interesting even when I’m not broken. That this will only make me stronger and better.

I’m not my characters. They can still teach me something. And I can look back on creating them and know there’s no shortage. Remember? My job isn’t to make the magic. My job is to show up every day.

I can do that. No matter how scared I am.

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Keep Showing Up

There comes a point in every book where one realizes one is not writing the damn book. The damn book is taking shape under one’s fingers, according to its own will and desires. You might as well just be a tube the words are coming through. Although the story needs the tube to contain it–and to work to put it on the page–it certainly doesn’t, well, obey.

I think this frightens a lot of people who want to write. The sense that they might not be in control, or that the story might be coming through them, is a scary one. It’s like having an alien in your brain. Others fight the organic life of the story and end up with a mess, where the reader can tell the writer fought tooth and nail to retain control instead of letting the story take shape. It’s sad to read–it’s like looking at a limping, broken thing that once used to soar.

Even writing to spec requires some submission to the story’s desires. There’s the focused daydream of planning the story, where chunks of the narrative arc come out of the mist and loom inside one’s head like frigates, and then there’s the day to day writing, where you have to get to a particular plot point, but the pleasure resides in deciding how.

This may be different for other writers, I don’t know. For me, it’s an odd tandem: the discipline to sit down and be present every day and the gift of the story taking shape of its own accord. I decided a long time ago that coming up with the story wasn’t really my job. That’s the Muse’s job. Mine is being present in front of the keyboard every day, ready, willing, and Mabel. I give the Muse the vague specs and she takes over. She needs my hands and my willingness, and I need that damn fairy dust she sneezes out. We’re a symbiote, but it requires work.

Anyway, I’ve reached the point in the current book–around 30K, sometimes a little later–where I sit back to think about what comes next and I realize I am not steering this train. The tracks are laid and they’re taking me somewhere through that wall of fog. It’s equal parts terrifying and downright exciting.

Terrifying because I am counting on this other thing to produce the story needed for me to continue working and earning money. Exciting because it’s a rollercoaster, and you know…she’s never let me down yet. The Muse is a fickle, tricky, nasty little wench. But she is also faithful in her fashion, and as long as I’ve shown up she’s never taken a sick day. There’s a certain amount of comfort in realizing that as long as I’m doing my best, she’s going to keep slugging away too.

So, I’m about to turn on the foglamps and charge forward into that white cloudbank. There’s always the risk of running off the edge of a cliff. But if I haven’t yet, in over thirty finished books and God knows how many short stories and slush bits…well, I’ll take my chances and trust the Muse.

She hasn’t let me down yet. All I’ve got to do is keep showing up.

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Goodbye, 2009

Well, another year has come to a close. It’s been a helluva ride. I’ve been broken and remade, done things I never thought I could do, and kept going the whole time. The things I feared most happened, and I discovered the world didn’t end. I’ve discovered I’m actually pretty capable, and lots of things I was taught and trained to believe about myself are not true. It’s been an uphill battle all the way, but now I feel like I’ve reached a hilltop and am looking around wild-eyed with my sword in my hand. Come on, I’m saying, who’s next? Who wants a piece of me next?

I realize this is not the healthiest emotional state, but it’s better than numb grieving or pained apathy. I’ll take it. The battle’s over, now I need to start calming down and patching things up. Harder work, because you’re not in fight-or-flight with a tight adrenaline focus. But all in all, nicer work.

I am not going to miss 2009. It’s been a great year in terms of teaching me I’m tougher than I think I am. Still, that’s the sort of lesson one doesn’t ever really like learning.

So. I’m deciding that 2010 will be awesome. It will be a lucky year, a great year. And if it isn’t, I’m still going to treat it like it is. That’s my Major Luck Experiment–a whole year where I look entirely on the bright side.

I’ll wait for those of you who know me to stop laughing before I reiterate: this is my goal. I’m gonna do my damndest.

I have other goals. Not resolutions. Resolutions are sort of airy-fairy; goals, however, I know about. I know how to break them up into little chunks and work those chunks methodically out of the way. Goals, I understand. I can kick the ass of any reasonable goal, and identifying the unreasonable ones in order to make them reasonable is one of my specialties.

So here are some of my goals for 2010:

* Read one poem a day.
* Get back into the Latin self-study; starting in February
* Continue with my now-habitual six-days-a-week exercise regimen
* Continue with the diet plan
* Grow my hair out (it’ll happen mostly without me, but it’s nice to have at least one goal like that)
* Take a basic digital photography class
* Make time for Krav Maga or yoga classes (I am not picky, not one little bit)
* Clean out my garage (again)
* Write the homicidal-fae and Bannon-and-Clare books, between the stuff I’m contracted for
* Get all my work in on or under deadline, barring major disasters or Acts of God
* Shrug and smile and say, “Oh well, I’ll deal,” more.
* View everything that happens as good luck, one way or another

Whew, what a list! How am I going to fit all these things in? Like I said, I’m no stranger to breaking things up into little chunks and chewing the life out of each chunk. I begin to think it’s the only way I ever get anything accomplished.

So, welcome, 2010! I’ll be watching drunken shenanigans occur out in the rain on my street (I know several of my neighbors have reserved firecrackers for this occasion) when the clock ticks over. But I’ll be smiling quietly, probably with a glass of wine I began sipping and savoring when the little ones went to bed, and I will have my first act of the New Year be two sentences.

“Hi, 2010, we’re going to kick some ass together. Let’s get started.”

Over and out.

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All and then it’s nothing to me, yeah…

Yeah. Like this:

You and I got something
But it’s all, and then it’s nothing to me, yeah
And I got my defenses when it comes to your intentions for me, yeah
And we wake up in the breakdown
In the things we never thought we could be, yeah…

I’m not the one who broke you
I’m not the one you should fear
We’ve got to move you darling
I thought I lost you somewhere
But you were never really ever there at all… (Goo Goo Dolls)

Yes, I want to get free. But you don’t need to talk to me. I’m done talking. Now I’m moving.

There are hard days and easier days. Today is somewhere in between. But when I’m on the treadmill and running, I find pieces of myself I left behind so I could fit in your cupcake tin. They slide back into place like they were never gone, and I feel more and more like myself. Each day is better as the other physical things migrate out of the house–kind of, I don’t know, like bits of shrapnel leaving a wound.

I’ve made my way out of the cocoon. The wings are dry. I’ve climbed the damn tree I was hanging in.

Now I’m going to fly. I’m scared, and there’s no net…but the worst has already happened, and I’ve not only survived. I’ve just plain thrived. I guess I didn’t need what I thought I did. Lesson learned, I won’t forget it. Ever.

Now I’m gone. Really gone. Gone gone gone.

And it feels good.

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Oh, Louisa May. You go, girl.

It’s funny–the further along I go, the more the Universe steps in to help out. I could also view it as my thinking changing so I can take better advantage of opportunities. Potayto, potahto. Like I told the Princess when she asked me if the gods are real: whether they’re psychological constructs or actual beings, the net effect is the same–and you need to be just as careful about what you believe.

Anyway. The Selkie sent me this great link about Louisa May Alcott this morning; the American Masters episode is on tonight. (I will probably not watch it; our telly is DVD-only.) Of all Alcott’s work, I liked A Long Fatal Love Chase best; Little Women irritated me beyond bearing but I persevered because it was a Classic. I did like Jo the best out of all the March sisters, true. It was impossible not to, really. I wanted to slap Meg and send Beth to a hospital. And Amy? I’d slap her twice.

The thing that strikes me in this article about Alcott is that she decided what she was going to do, and she wrote what would sell because she wanted the money. This is treated as a revelation, because in our society artists (and women artists in particular) are not supposed to be in it for the filthy lucre. Money is at bottom, implicitly supposed to be the preserve of men. (As Ann Crittenden points out, when Motherhood started becoming sacred was when mothers started getting really economically screwed.) It’s news that Alcott was a hack, yet the fact that Poe, Dumas, and Dickens were hacks lacks a certain power of titillation.

Reading the Alcott piece, and listening to the interview, I was struck with a single vivid scene: Louisa May, like Scarlett O’Hara, swearing she or her folk would never be hungry again. Louisa May wrote to sell because her family was hungry, and instead of bemoaning it and dying gracefully she decided to do something about it.

Nobility is hard to come by when you’re starving. We have these myths of the Noble Poor, and that’s what they are–myths. I’ve been poor, and there’s nothing noble about it. It’s terrifying and dirty and ugly. When people are frightened and hungry, nobility is the exception. You can’t count on it.

Louisa May Alcott “resolved to take fate by the throat and shake a living out of her.” (Amen to that.) There was none of this “I’ve been rejected so I’m going to give up and bemoan that Editors don’t want my Precious Prose.” Instead it was, “I’m going to find out what they want, and I’m going to give it to them the best way I know how, and they are going to pay me for it. And if it takes me getting rejected fifty times, why then, I’ll get rejected fifty times. Or a hundred. Or a thousand. But they’re not going to lick me.”

Oh, Louisa. Over a hundred years ago you decided this, and you’re still an inspiration. You go, girl.

As for me, dear Reader, I’m gonna go take Fate by the throat and shake some more. Care to join me?

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Even my best friends, they don’t know…

First, the links: I did the Page 69 Test for Flesh Circus. Here’s James Scott Bell on What, Writers Worry? and Nathan Bransford on how to respond to an editorial letter. The inimitable Gillian Spraggs has more on the Google Books Settlement and Monica Valentinelli on Plagiarism and Too Much Free. I’ve been saving some of those links for a bit, things are crazy.

I was on the treadmill this morning (big surprise, I’m up to six days a week on that damn thing and wishing I could do more) and Van Morrison came on in my headphones. Singing The Philosopher’s Stone.

Even my best friends, even my best friends they don’t know
That my job is turning lead into gold
When you hear that engine, when you hear that engine drone
I’m on the road again and I’m searching for the Philosopher’s Stone.

This particular version is from the Wonder Boys soundtrack, which I happen to like a great deal. (The Bob Dylan track that opens the album is Rose’s theme song in smoke, as a matter of fact.) The movie itself, based on a Chabon book, is about a writer who’s kept hammering at a manuscript to follow up his award-winning first novel…but that’s like saying Seven Samurai is about loyalty. There’s a lot more involved.

Anyway. So there I am on the treadmill, and I realize why I like this song so much.

It’s because it’s damn right I’m looking for the philosopher’s stone. My job is to write, yes. But an artist’s job–even a hack like myself–is to transform the world. I write because I must. The world demands it. Pain and joy both demand it. I take the things that could fester and destroy me, the things I scream against, and I write to perform one of the oldest magics known. I name a thing, and that name alters the essence of the thing. I write because it’s the magic I was made to work.

Lead and gold are different things for each traveler, and the method of transmutation is different too. It’s different for each bloody pebble and chunk of lead you find. It is a most personal magic, arrived at through trial and error. One size definitely does not fit all. My lead isn’t yours. The stones I drop in the water to make soup are different from the stones you’ll use. It’s cold out on the road, and fellow travelers may not even see you–because they’re searching for their own method of transformation.

Still, it’s nice to know there are fellow travelers. And it’s good to feel a piercing joy, so sweet it makes the tears start, when you realize a fellow traveler is putting words on your own journey.

Up in the morning, up in the morning out on the road
And my head is aching and my hands are cold
And I’m looking for the silver lining, silver lining in the clouds
And I’m searching for and
I’m searching for the philosophers stone

Yeah, Van. Me too.

Me too.

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