So when you sit down to write a particular story, and it makes you physically ill, and you keep trying, how long do you go before you decide the sheer misery isn’t worth it?
I’m not asking for a friend.
It appears my particular answer is “about a month, all told.” About a month of dreading working each day, sitting down, struggling to type a few more words, and my stomach suddenly feeling as if a blowtorch had been turned on inside it. I am unsure whether I have grown more stubborn or less, because I’m not used to stopping a book because it physically pains me. I’m used to just powering through, as I do in so many parts of my life, disregarding any damage because I’ve promised, or it’s necessary, or I’m just too goddamn intractable to know when to quit. I appear to have finally reached my limit with this particular book.
To be fair, this book has been years in gestating, and has had a tortuous path at best. I’m just…finally…done, I think. No matter how much I want to finish it, it’s not worth the cost. I can’t afford to lose this sort of working time on something that makes me stagger into the loo and retch from sheer pain.
A factor in me deciding to stop hurting myself was an editor I trust saying to me, “What would you write if you didn’t have to write anything? That will be our next thing, because you work best when I let you just run.” Which led me to start working on the thing I really was looking forward to, and wouldn’t you know, I had forgotten what it felt like to be excited to sit down and work. I’d forgotten when it felt like to not have my stomach lit on fire and crawling out through my mouth while I typed.
I have found (shockingly, I know) that I rather prefer not feeling that way. I suppose I’ll have to chalk this up to “lesson learned.” It’s been an extremely expensive lesson all the way around.
In a month or so I will make a final decision about that poor book. It may be that I just need some time away. I’m hoping that’s the case. In the meantime, I’m going to work on things that don’t make me physically ill.
Well, I’m feeling better. Partly because the damn holidays are over, partly because the high-level anxiety and huge black hole of depression have both retreated, partly because I’m back at work, and partly because the Selkie visited recently for a cuppa and a long chat. It’s nice to be able to trust someone. (By the by, her book Trueheart is on sale today! If it sounds like your thing, go show some love!)
I have been rather en garde lately. Even my formidable agent has commented upon it. “You’ve been burned,” she says. “And sometimes you don’t even want to turn the stove on, because of it.” Pretty apt. I take some things to heart I probably shouldn’t; a risk of being human. After so long in publishing I have very little patience for some things, and it shows. The risk of being seen as “prickly” or “unapproachable” or “mean” is less and less off-putting, mostly because I’m forty this year and I do not have time to fuck around with that bullshit.
Anyway. Feeling better, that was the subject, right? I was provoked to deep laughter twice this morning, which is a good sign. I like to laugh, especially instead of screaming. Yesterday there was an incident involving shoes in the Little Prince’s gym class. I spoke to the teacher this morning, and wonder of wonders, the kid we suspected know EXACTLY WHERE TO FIND some missing item, though he DENIED STRENUOUSLY any part in moving it from one place to another. I laughed so loud I think I scared the teacher. The second was an ongoing Facebook joke about “Say what again!” ; it’s rivaled only by the ongoing one about “Apologize to my mule.”
I laugh daily, though it may not seem like it. Often, it’s the best response to an absurd situation, of which there are many in my life. (Especially when I am wearing no shoes and a tree-climbing rodent is involved.) Then there’s the fact that I live with two amazing pint-sized (except one is taller than me now, my God, where does the time go?) comedians. Then there’s the dogs. I can amuse myself mightily just by narrating their days.
Still, I haven’t found much career-wise to laugh about for the past few months. Which could just be a function of my sense of humor contracting. One doesn’t last long in publishing if one can’t giggle at heartless, bumbling absurdity.
My mission for today is to find the funny things. I may even have to engage in film therapy–for example, Blazing Saddles, or Life of Brian. Either will do, I suspect. Above all, I need to put on my goggles and loose my whitened knuckles a bit. Soon I’ll be finding everything in my office (not to mention the rest of the house) hilarious again.
Hey, you. You with the eyes and the literacy. Wanna read something awesome?
My writing partner, Mel Sterling, has a book on preorder, and I am BESIDE MYSELF WITH GLEE. Here, have a look.
Loyalty. Desperation. Grief.
Eight months ago a mysterious drug killed Tess Gordon’s brother, and now it’s spreading through her rehab counseling clients. They all claim they’re not addicted, the drug leaves no trace except its drained victims, and the cops aren’t interested. Aching with loss, Tess vows to find the source. What she finds instead is Thomas.
Slavery. Duty. Enchantment.
Thomas, the half-fae guardian of the goblin market, has plenty of problems—and just got another one. Pressed into the service of the Unseelie Queen, all he wants is his freedom. But Tess won’t go away, and the human girl is in way over her head.
One perilous late-autumn night, the fae and human worlds collide. Tess’s and Thomas’s separate tasks are inextricably tangled. Now, a half-fae and a human rehab counselor must walk the knife-edge of obligation, love, death and transformation–with the entire Unseelie Court, including the malevolent Wild Hunt, out for their blood.
Over the holiday I read War & Peace, so I can check that off my Lifetime Accomplishments List. It even kept me occupied. (Thank goodness for Norton Critical editions. I love their footnotes.) Tolstoy’s resolute misogyny irritated me as much as misogyny ever does–and you know, next time I read, I’m going to be marking conversations between female characters and seeing if they pass the Bechdel.
I think maybe one will, Sonya and Natasha arguing about packing all the rugs and everything when the Rostovs are fleeing Moscow. But I’m not sure it qualifies as a conversation, per se.
At the end of the first epilogue, all I could think was “Boy, Pierre’s going to have a bad time when the Decembrist revolt happens.” (Later, I read that Tolstoy had intended to write about that very thing, and wrote War & Peace instead. WHOOPS.) Then came the second epilogue, all about Tolstoy’s theory of history vs. free will. As hard as he keeps trying to insert God into history, it just wouldn’t fit, even with the shoehorn of rhetoric. As a thought experiment, the entire second epilogue was pretty nifty, and as a peek into the author’s mind it explained a great deal of why his characters behaved the way they did.
Yes, there were a million names for every single character. It’s like Shakespeare, one’s brain cramps for a little bit, then one falls into the rhythm and starts thee-ing and thou-ing with iambic abandon. Other reading on the Eastern Front and the 1918 Revolution and subsequent civil war, not to mention a bit of Soviet history, prepared me for the multiplicity of names. One just gets the hang of it after a while.
The whole thing was a vast, enjoyable experience. Reading a book like that is like wandering through the large house of an author’s brain, having time to stop and look at things, eat a little from every table, touch a few draperies and picture frames. I was annoyed with Natasha at most instances, especially when Kuragin was making eyes at her. After a little while, though, I thought here is an ignorant teenage girl, cut her some slack, and I did. Though I’m sure Tolstoy meant Prince Andrew to be a noble and sympathetic character, so his eventual “forgiveness” of Natasha carries weight, I found him a jerkwad who hadn’t loved Natasha as much as he said if he was willing to throw her away after that. BUT OH WELL.
Pierre Bezukhov irritated me as well, mostly because Tolstoy made a point of him “not understanding” anything going on around him. Consequently, what Tolstoy intended as great struggles within the soul of a man who wanted to do good for the whole of humanity fell a bit flat. I kept thinking, okay, Tolstoy, if this guy is such an idiot, how does he retain any of this wealth he inherited? How did he learn how to write? How the everlasting fuck did he even remember to breathe on a daily basis? I was not trembling in fear for Pierre when he witnessed the executions, I was thinking Tolstoy would kill him and put him out of his misery.
The thing that irritated me the most, though, was Tolstoy’s treatment of Sonya Rostova. I really, really wanted bad, bad, very bad Dolokhov to be redeemed and take her away from the nasty Countess, whose betrayal of Sonya once she sees a chance to marry her son to an heiress is un-fucking-forgivable. Making Sonya into a “sterile flower” who “lives for self-sacrifice” and ends up taking care of the kids of the guy who swore her eternal love and then married the rich girl instead was just…Tolstoy, you asshole. And no matter how bad Dolokhov was, he treated his family, especially his poor mother, so well I wanted more of the book to be about HIM, dammit!
But no, instead I got Natasha and Prince Andrew and Pierre. *eyeroll* Which, fine. The bit players around them were far more likable, but perhaps that was Tolstoy’s point–when you get far into the head of a character, you’re bound to find something you don’t like, and it’s often those we know best that we like least, even if we must love them.
As for the rest of it, I enjoyed Tolstoy’s portrait of Kutuzov to the max, and his characterization of Napoleon sent me into fits of giggles more than once. After reading Caulaincourt’s version of Napoleon’s march into Russia, I was pleased to see a Russian side of the tale. As giant set pieces go, the burning of Moscow–and Pierre lost in the flames, one of the few times he didn’t irritate me– and the battle of Borodino rival anything Game of Thrones could put on. Tolstoy was very, very good at showing soldiers under fire and the chaos of combat, and showing the sudden whims and violence of a mob. (I actually, physically gasped when Rostopchin gave the boy over to the mob.) Plus, the tastes of life in “old Russia”–Nicholas and Natasha’s sleigh ride, Sonya at the samovar during the first epilogue, the sudden sharp turns in influence at the Petersburg salons–were more than worth the price of admission.
All in all, it was time well spent, and I don’t begrudge a moment of it. I may eventually read it again, to pick apart many places where characterization succeeded instead of galled me, and to suck the marrow out of some of the (many) savory bits. I think before I do, though, I’ll have to read The Kreutzer Sonata and Sofiya Tolstoy’s answer to that particular little tale.
I survived the holidays with only a few days’ worth of crushing black depression and nauseating anxiety! I can now get out of bed and do not have to force myself to shower or eat. Hooray!
I found out someone had taken the Patreon bits of Steelflower 2 and put them up for torrenting. (This is why we can’t have nice things, people.) Yes, I know who it was. No, I’m not telling. Yes, I am reconsidering writing the damn book. BOO.
I did, however, get a payout from Patreon today. Hooray?
It does not soothe the sting of someone else stealing my work, especially since that’s what killed the first Steelflower. Boo.
The kids are back in school today. I have the house to myself. Hooray!
I miss them. It’s too quiet in here. Boo.
I can go for a run now that everything is thawing! Hooray!
There are still icy patches and Miss B will no doubt try to kill me. Boo.
…I could go on, but you get the idea. Every silver lining has a cloud today. I’ll be in the corner catching up on revisions and muttering to myself, thanks.