Five Days

Five days. That’s how long it took to finish two projects spurred by the 3am Whatifs. There was revision involved, and formatting, and the end result is just a few more hours of waiting before the links go live. *sigh* It’s been a while since an experiment took me over so thoroughly, which is another way, I suspect, of saying “I LEARNED A LOT.”

It wasn’t painful, except to my pride, and that’s an injury I suspect I did well to suffer. Writing characters of monstrous arrogance can bleed into one’s own self-image, and the book I was distracting myself from holds a character of rather breathtaking self-regard. Most of it is warranted, sure, but still.

I’ve grown a little more charitable towards my characters. This doesn’t extend to saving them pain–it can’t, and remain honest–but I find myself understanding more. I still loathe Japhrimel, want to slap Danny, am still frantically afraid of Perry, wish Jill could just relax for a moment and Robin could allow someone to care for her, and let’s not even talk about my feelings on Christophe and Graves. But I feel a little more compassion than I used to for the situations they find themselves in, especially Japh. It doesn’t mean I excuse, that’s not the job of compassion.

Writing is an extended bath in empathy, or at least, it should be. Sinking into someone else so thoroughly, even a villain, is good practice. I spent my young years hyperaware of the emotional state of anyone around, trying to predict when the explosions would occur. That sensitivity, traumatizing in its own right, also gave me a set of picks to burrow into characters with.

Calm Therapist used to tell me those skills were normal, but not to the extent I’d had to use them, and they were hair-trigger instead of having a decent amount of pull. I didn’t believe her, not really. My mistake.

The trick, really, is harnessing those wild skills. Putting them in the traces so they pull for you, instead of running around mucking up your life. I’m finally feeling like I might conceivably have some sort of handle on the goddamn things. I’m sure the feeling won’t last, but I’m going to enjoy it while it’s here.

Over and out.

Don’t Fucking Mansplain Wagner, Thanks

Coming Home
© Kwest19 | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Everyone around us is saying “snow! snow!” We have not a flake, not a trickle. It’s not even cold enough.

I’m not complaining. The last incidence of snow-n-ice was more than enough for me, thanks.

The weekend was full of many things, not the least of which was trying to get some housecleaning done. I did try to get the glut of work dropped on me at the end of the working week done, but weekend means other priorities. (Don’t get me started, dear God.) I am almost done with the shawl, courtesy of last night’s knit-and-livetweet-an-opera.

It was Parsifal, the Met version, and I couldn’t make it. Four fucking hours of watching Wagner; I bailed at three. Everyone on the stage was moving through molasses. I should have done the livetweet on a drinking night, except I would have dropped even more stitches. (Look, Jonas Kaufmann was Parsifal, and dude is mega hot. I want to see that stone fucking fox as Don Jose now.)

I think a lot of the problem with Parsifal is Act I. It’s two goddamn hours of exposition. I really didn’t need two hours to figure out Amfortas got stabbed, wound won’t heal, Klingsor has the Spear, Kundry is the focus of Wagner’s HYOOOOJ misogyny. (He was as misogynistic as he was anti-Semitic, and that’s saying something.) It was interesting to see the endurance contest on stage, with singers forced to stand and look interested while the orchestra plows on through chord after chord. Really, you could have condensed that into a prelude and gone straight to Act II, which could have been crackerjack blazes–I mean, a garden of vampiric flowers! Blood on the stage! Kundry and Parsifal and their Oedipal little thing! Klingsor with the FUCKING SPEAR OF DESTINY!–but instead draaaaaaaaaags as well.

Even a mega-uber-hawt Parsifal couldn’t save the damn thing. Let the tenor sing, Wagner! JESUS WANTS TO HEAR THE TENOR SING.

Kundry, as usual with women in Wagner’s operas, is a powerful force just aching to escape the chains the composer tries to clap on everything female. Katarina Dalayman is just fantastic, a bright spot in the Catholic cannibal masturbation-fest Wagner wanted. Most of the time onstage she looks like an immortal woman who just wants some sleep, or, barring that, a soy latte to get her through the foolishness of the men around her. When she laughs at the knights, it’s a beautiful bitterness, and more than once I just wanted her and Kaufmann to run away and adopt little opera children.

The staging was innovative, but Jesus, I really would have liked this effort to have gone for some other opera that isn’t a gigantic snoozefest.

Anyway. The other highlight of the livetweet was neckbeards trying to mansplain Wagner to me. *eyeroll* I mock, true, but it’s in a loving fashion, and my patience for anyone mansplaining opera to me is infinitesimal. I love how neckbeards think my mockery means I must be Educated in the True Meaning of Wagner. For some reason, the Wags just brings out the asshole factor ramped up to eleven. (To be fair, I keep calling the Grail the Magic Vajayjay, but you know, I stand by that.)

SO that was my weekend, and I’ll probably livetweet the rest of Parsifal tonight, because I have a bottle of cheap wine and nowhere to drive this evening. Hopefully the third act will be all about Kundry finally getting her soy latte and my hope that Parsifal will again take his shirt off. Rawr.

Over & out.

Cheerful Muffin

GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE. Not going running until my phone charges–the weekend was a busy, busy cupcake.

Oh, who am I kidding? It was busy because, undaunted by the fact that I have three deadlines happening at once (and another round of edits for Desires, Known just landed this morning, whee!), my brain decided to hork up 5K on a book I’m not supposed to be working on. Oh, I’d planned on doing other things, sure, but the story took over. Stolen time to write is the most enjoyable, of course, and I could feel the pressure of the Slough of Despond bleeding away.

That’s one thing I didn’t plan for when I realized I had three projects going at once: hitting the Slough on all three of them at the same time. Fortunately the Veil Knights project is still mostly in the new-shiny phase, but I’ve been thinking about it for soooooo long that when I flip to the file and take a breath to re-insert myself, I find myself staring at it going, wait, I know I wrote more than this, where’s that chapter? Then I realize I didn’t write it, I just THOUGHT REALLY HARD about it, and the urge to weep and drink rises a notch. Afterwar, of course, is deep in the weeds, but at least the disembodied hand is in a jar now. That’s one thing.

As for Roadtrip Z, I’m cogitating on the current scene, which is Ginny’s insomnia and a few realizations about just how fucked the current situation is. She’s sort of the only one who fully grasps as much, what with everyone else being concerned with survival first and deep analysis later. And poor Juju, wracked with guilt and grief, is not having a good time of it. Maybe they can help each other.

Anyway, my day’s work is all mapped out for me, including going for a run to work off Miss B’s fidgets. Bad weather and depression put a dent in my training schedule, but there’s no way around it, I’ve got to get back. It’s a vicious cycle–the more the depression mounts, the less I want to exercise, but exercise is one thing that interrupts the depression and pushes it back. It’s really hard right now, with so many trash fires going on. I keep reminding myself to keep swinging, to just put one foot in front of the other, but…yeah. It’s difficult. If not for the meds, I’d probably still be in bed, curled into a small ball and staring.

As it is, well, it’s hard to pry myself out from under the covers. So far I’ve managed it only because the dogs and the kids need me upright. Giri: the net that keeps one from the abyss. Left to myself, I’d probably withdraw until I erased myself from existence, but I have others to care for, and that forces me outward.

*looks over last paragraph* WELL. AREN’T I A CHEERFUL MUFFIN. Time to check my phone’s charge and get out the damn door. I’ll feel better after a run, I always do.

Over and out.

Story Bones

Story bones are strange and difficult things. Imagine a skeleton, structure for the dips and curves of the whole body, or a scaffolding to hang a three-dimensional tapestry on. Either way, there are weight-bearing supports in your stories, things that have to be strong enough to keep the whole thing from sliding into a pile.

Sometimes they’re character-driven. If you have a particular character who, say, has a volatile temper, your reader will believe them making bad choices in a fit of anger. Or it can be point-of-view based–a character who appears outwardly calm but is boiling inside, so we can believe it when they erupt. Showing either character’s internal state is a fine point of craft, not necessarily a structural choice. The structure is deeper, in whatever purpose that anger serves in the story.

Some bones are pure plot. These are tricky, because you have to make sure your characters are serving themselves and their own wants instead of said plot. A villain in an action movie has to work harder to avoid being a simple mustache-twirling device. At the same time, to sell a farfetched plot you have to do a lot of heavy lifting and scaffolding in other areas. Ideally, a plot should be inevitable, even its twists, from the very first sentence. Every beginning should carry within itself the seeds of its ending.

Notice I say ideally. It’s something to aim for, a moving target that changes shape, direction, speed, and everything else each time you begin a story.

There are other types of bones–emotional, where your character’s reactions and internal states reflect the motion and disturbance in the story. Or worldbuilding, which requires more than you’d think. Shoddy world building makes for a shaky scaffold, even if all other structural elements are in place. It also hikes the threshold of disbelief to chest-high, if not further.

About a quarter of the structural work in every story I write is what I call “excavation”. I’m not really building a narrative, I’m digging around a patch of disturbed dirt and clearing a submerged shape. Sometimes you only find a cellar down there, but other times you stumble across a palace to be dug out with shovel and toothbrush. There comes a certain point in writing–about a third of the way in, just before the long deadly slog–when I have to sit back and think about the shape that’s forming under my fingertips as I type. I’ve grown much better at seeing the whole thing earlier in the game, so to speak, but there’s still the odd book that will refuse to be seen from above. For those, it becomes a swing from one handhold to the next, with attention to how I’m shifting my weight–now there’s a rock-climbing metaphor, but it’s the closest I can come to the sensation.

Knowing where the bones are can save you a lot of time and trouble, and it helps in the other sixty percent of writing a story, which is–are you ready?


Revision is where you see the bones and can wrench them about to make the body take the shape you want. This is not a painless process, for you or for the book/short/novella/whatever. At the same time, it’s so much easier to revise when you have the whole thing on the table and can see both its current shape and the one you want it to take. Sometimes books have a weird butterfly effect going on inside them–one thing changes, and the changes ripple out until all of a sudden the structure clicks into place with a jolt you can almost hear and certainly feel. Other times–let’s be honest, this happens a lot–you’ll be going through and looking at the underpinnings, knowing you have to solve a problem, and the solution will be in a passage you don’t even remember writing, a little gift from the Muse. She anticipates, the bitch; there’s nothing she enjoys more than leading you through the labyrinth and letting you sweat a bit thinking the bull is right behind you and there’s no exit.

I do some revision in my head while zero drafting, of course. I don’t recommend doing much, really, because you can end up grinding the same few chapters over and over instead of finishing the damn thing. This is the seductive trap of mistaking the effort of circling for the effort of writing, which I’ve covered elsewhere. For me, the majority of revision happens between zero draft and the first draft I send to my long-suffering agent. It’s rare that I have to do more than one more pass for an editor after that, but there are exceptions–I think Cormorant Run, in particular, needed more than one revision. After that it’s copyedits, and then proofing.

So how do you know where to set the bones, or where to yank them around? That is a matter of instinct and craft, and you learn as you go along. It helps to be a voracious reader, because you end up absorbing a lot about structure, what works, and what doesn’t, just by the act of reading. There is no magic secret…but if there was one, it would lie in two words: internal consistency.

Characters must be internally consistent. So must the plot, and the worldbuilding. With a story’s beginning, you make choices, and those choices narrow the range of options further and further, all the way down the line to the ending. If you break that chain, you must do it in a way that is consistent with all three: plot, character, world. A deus ex machina at the last minute is lazy storytelling, though there have been geniuses who make an apparent God-in-machine internally consistent, but those are far and few between. If your magic system is built on rocks, all of a sudden having someone use an internal combustion engine for said magic isn’t going to fly. (Wow, that is a weird sentence.) If a character is a rage-filled sociopath, their sudden, unprompted change of heart at the end is likely going to make your reader throw the book across the room.

In revision, one of the hardest questions to ask yourself is about internal consistency. You can fool yourself into thinking it’s just fine because you’re the writer, goddammit, and you are the god of this small world. Sometimes it helps to map a book’s structure out on a roll of butcher paper, or with Post-its or a whiteboard. Sometimes it helps to give it to a beta reader who can pinpoint the weak spots, though you must choose your beta readers with care. When you’re also revising for craft, getting rid of weasel words, layering in more details, and whatnot, adding one more thing to the pile to watch for and manage can be overwhelming. You may even want to break up the revision of a zero draft into two passes: a structural pass, then a detail pass for everything else. And of course the process is never going to be the same twice, each book/story is different and more than likely will demand a different strategy.

And people wonder why writers drink.

I want to say “just pay attention to the bones and everything will work out fine”, but that would be a lie. They are an important, critical component, and not the only one. But that’s (say it with me) a whole ‘nother blog post.

Over and out.

Mermaid Doesn’t Wait

This morning’s been all about soaking up the weird dreams I spent last night having while listening to Blue October. I still remember where I was the first time I heard Hate Me, they lyrics staying with me long enough that I got home and fired up my old Windows laptop (good God, that was a long time ago) to search for them. Approaching Normal is one hell of an album, and one that I’ve never felt the urge to write any books to just because it is so raw. It forces me to listen instead of write.

The mermaid short story will be finished today, I think. Then it’s into revisions for The Marked. Getting that done as soon as possible and through the copyediting and formatting is the priority now. Once that’s finished, I may look into the genie story again. It would be nice if a publisher would show some interest in that or in Afterwar, but I’m not holding my breath.

On that note, every once in a while, I’m going to quietly and politely ask that if you liked one of my books, you head on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever you like, and at least leave a rating. Ratings and reviews get books pushed up in the algorithms, and that means more books sold, which means I can afford to write more books for you. (It also means I can pay my mortgage. I’m a big fan of that.) If you have the time and the inclination, I’d appreciate it.

There’s another short story pressing on the back of my brain to be told–the Fifteen Wings one–but that’s going to have to wait. It’s not finished marinating yet, and in any case, short stories are just not a good use of my working time unless they’re already sold. If the mermaid would wait, that would be nice. But this mermaid doesn’t wait, I think. Especially when she’s hungry.

The Princess is playing Chopin in the living room, which marries uneasily to the music playing softly through my desktop speakers. It makes me smile. As soon as I finish this I’m off for a run, and then it’s work, work, work. As usual. I feel like the year’s turned a corner, which would be nice if it hadn’t taken over half of it to do so. Of course the news is still terrible, but I have a faint glimmer or two of optimism welling up inside my tiny, shriveled, blackened little heart.

I’ll take it.

Muse, Exercise Vengeance

The Muse has decided that I need to write short stories after finishing revisions on Cormorant Run. I finished a 7K short for an upcoming anthology, and it made me feel almost frantic with loathing. Not because the story is bad, though it could very well be, but because it’s Perry. If there’s a single character that makes me want to scrub myself with hot water, bleach, and a wire brush, it’s him. If I didn’t feel like scrubbing myself raw after a scene with him, I went back and did it again, over and over. Trying to do justice to a hellbreed’s disgustingness is no small order.

So it’s leaving that zero draft to soak in itself for a little bit, while I write the carnivorous mermaid one–alternately titled Fish and The Sea Has Time, though I suspect in the end its title will be a third choice–and then it’s straight into revisions for The Marked. I know Cormorant Run will need another pass, because it’s just that type of book.

So it’s all short stories all the time over here, for at least the next couple of days. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I dislike writing them, I do find them difficult in different ways than novels. A full-length book is an endurance contest, and I am particularly fitted for those. Short stories are a sprint, an iaido cut instead of a drawn-out slugging match, and they require that I know the arc already before my hand even moves for the hilt. It’s an entirely different set of mental muscles, one I don’t use naturally. So, short stories are hard, and I prefer not to work in that vein.

Which just makes it ever so much more ironic that the Muse is serving them up now. “Here,” she says, “is the entire arc, I already did it for you, now write me this.” Serving up what she thinks I need, dammit. It doesn’t help that short stories aren’t very financially viable, either. Not a good return on my investment of working time. Although I should put together a collection of them, one of these days.

It doesn’t matter–my job is to swing for what she pitches, no matter what brand the spinning globes are. But I really would prefer it otherwise. I think maybe she’s getting back at me for exercising her in new ways. Cormorant Run was probably the strangest thing I’ve ever written to date, and Afterwar, the next big project, is similarly complex, new, and terrifying.

So maybe the Muse is just giving me her version of a breather before we go into the trenches for Something Different again. it’s a version that’s twice as much work as regular work, of course, because the Muse is a bitch and wants me to despair.

*sigh* Off I go to write a mermaid. Enjoy your Monday similarly, my chickadees.

In Which I Enjoy a Problematic Movie

So yesterday I played hooky after a doctor’s appointment and went to see Legend of Tarzan. It was serviceable–I have a thing for the Tarzan story, even though Burroughs is problematic as fuck. Margot Robbie was a decent Jane, and the CGI was great. Skarsgard looked fluid and very lithe, and clearly liked Robbie a lot. Their pairing had chemistry. It was Samuel L. Jackson and Skarsgard who had the most screen time together, and their chemistry is pretty brilliant. I would love a Jackson/Skarsgard buddy movie. HOLLYWOOD, GET ON THAT.

As for the rest of it, well, it’s a Magical Honky[1] Film based on a huge series of Magical Honky Books, so it’s not going to be anything other than–you guessed it–problematic. And oh, that source material! Before going in, I skimmed the original Tarzan one and two, and rolled my eyes in all the usual places.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a film about the early stages of Tarzan and Jane’s relationship, with Skarsgard and Robbie on deck. That’s what I’m really into the Tarzan thing for, and while I got a bit of it here, there was much more roller derby and not a lot of girlfriend. Which is okay, I like roller derby.

All in all, it did exactly what I wanted it to do, even though I winced at all the Magical Honky tropes.

So today it’s back to work. I’m glad I listened to my writing partner, who said, “THIS IS TOTALLY YOUR NARRATIVE CRACK, GO SEE IT AND ENJOY IT FA CRY-EYE.” I have been hitting the “work work and nothing else” button a little hard lately. Sinking back into the Cormorant Run world is…strange, and a little disconcerting. It came out of my head in such a rush, all its sharp edges tearing, and those places inside my skull are still tender. I keep flinching, having to force myself to look at what happens next, because I know things just get worse for pretty much every character, and now I’m really slowing down and describing the “worse.”

I needed a little restoration, and a little time off from the discomfort. Now it’s time to get back into the fray.

Over and out.

[1] This is the trope where a white boy is Better and Faster and Braver and More Super than any of the darker-skinned people he’s raised by/rescued by/comes into contact with, and ends up ruling them. The darker-skinned people are often, in this trope, conflated with animals/savagery somehow, which makes the whole thing patronizing as well as racist.