Friday, November 30, 2007

Still Giving Thanks

I normally don't post on Friday nights, especially not after writing 2000 words, and after staying up past 2:00 am almost every night for a month. Have I mentioned that my girls get up early and the baby, while great at going to sleep at night, doesn't nap reliably during the day? And we have an extra tonight, though she's been no trouble at all.

A friend just defended his dissertation today, earning his PhD in astro physics (yes, seriously) so we offered to keep their daughter tonight so that he and his wife can have a night off together.

We were all at Blueberry Hill for dinner, and when we left, Paul was leading Ellie by the hand. Ellie was holding onto 2-year-old T's hand, and I was following along carrying Ada. The early dinner crowd was beginning to transition into a live music bar crowd, and we got lots of stares and comments as we walked out in single file with our three adorable little girls, ages 10 months, 2 years, and 4 years old. It's possible that they could all be ours, but whew! As if the past 4 years haven't been hard enough.

All three girls and Paul are peacefully sleeping now, and I intend to follow in their footsteps very soon.

But first, I want to answer the question for the StLBloggers November Blog Carnival: What are you most thankful for this year?

There are a lot of contenders this year.

In 2007, I gave birth to a wonderful, strong, intelligent, healthy baby girl and have watched her grow into an amazing almost-toddler. What could beat that?

In 2007, I have watched my three year old turn four, and develop by leaps and bounds, especially in her speech. She can run now, and carry on conversations with me that I didn't expect a year ago. And she is potty trained. I don't even ask her if she needs to go very often, anymore. I can't remember her last real accident. Amazing.

In 2007, my family was healthy, and everyone did well professionally. We saw each other frequently, my parents took all of us on an amazing trip to Scotland, and Paul started a great new job.

In 2007, I wrote a novel. My first one ever. And since this is what I want to do with my life, the fact that I'm actually working toward my goal is so exciting that I can barely talk about it.

But the winner this year is something of a dark horse, because it's something that, 18 months ago, I never would have thought to question. At the end of 2007, I am still married. I am even - dare I say it? - happily married.

While my life has grown and changed a lot over the past year, my marriage has grown and changed the most, I think.

And, for that, I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Wrote a Novel

Well, technically, I'm about 2/3 of the way done, but I won NaNoWriMo, and I don't feel inclined to stop now!

PARTY!

I'm off to go wake Paul up to celebrate.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pet Peeve

False Tautologies

For example, I say, "I like X," and someone else hears, "Y sucks."

Or.

I say, "X describes Y," and someone else hears, "Therefore no other entities can contain any X whatsoever."

Note: precondition followed by assumption, without platform of fact upon which to base assumption. So annoying, so defensive.

I loved math in school, but if I had to narrow it down, I think that my favorite math class ever was the hard-to-describe course I took my sophomore year in high school. It was Algebra II, but it was an advanced course and we learned other stuff in there as well, including quite a bit of logic and whatever else the instructor was interested in teaching. I loved Geometry, and Trig, and I must have loved Calculus because I took a few years of it, in high school and in college. But Algebra II was one of the most valuable courses I ever took at any level of my education, because it taught me new analytical ways of thinking.

It's all a playful interest on my part, however. I like to exercise my brain with logic puzzles, but I have no desire to live and work in a completely logical world.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thankful, Indeed

Everyone is feeling much better, and I never did get sick. We made it to my parents' house safely. Leftover Thanksgiving dinner was all the delicious fun and a lot less stress than the traditional meal always ends up being.

All in all, it's wonderful to be out of my own house for a little while and back in the comfortable clutter of my parents' home.

And Paul bought me an adapter so that I can power my laptop in the car, which allowed me to write nearly 4000 words on the drive! I'm not a great typist, but occasionally I can look up from the screen, and it was an interesting experience to be living in my fictional world, typing along, and looking out the windows at the dark Illinois landscape rushing by.

"There's a 24-hour Starbucks at the next exit!"

All in all, the weekend has gotten much better, and I am, as ever, Thankful.

And then Georgeanne’s shriek and Coralyn’s giggle brought him back with a blink, and he saw their colorful coats against the white snow and black trees, he saw the rolling hills and icy ponds, he saw Maggie’s face looking up at him, he saw the textures and pieces of his life laid out before him, and his heart felt so full, so full of love and longing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Year Is It?

I have been so off-kilter for the last few days. I've always been a little skeptical when reading authors talking about their characters taking on lives of their own, changing the stories, talking to them throughout the day, etc. (I know that some writers do seem to experience this, but others do not. I'm in the latter group.) For the most part, I know what my story is before I write it. I know who my characters are, and where their arcs end before I begin or shortly thereafter. The more practiced I get, the more I know before I start writing.

But I have been in a fictional fog for a little while, today especially. My last 20,000 words or so have been set in February 2012. And while the year isn't a huge deal, the month is really throwing me off. I keep looking at the trees and expecting to see preparations for new buds, not dead leaves gradually falling. I am thinking more about valentines than turkey sandwiches. I am looking ahead to our spring break trip rather than Christmas vacation. It's a weird, weird feeling, especially this time of year, when it usually seems like no other time of year can ever exist.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Genre Fiction

I've written before about genre fiction. Here, for example. And here. To sum up: I think that great quantities of rubbish are published by genre publishers (Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery) because they fit the template and readers will apparently buy anything that fits the desired template. This trend is good for getting published, but is bad for fiction in general. And it gives genre fiction a really bad name that it doesn't entirely deserve. There's some really wonderful, exciting, emergent writing going on in genre fiction, especially in SF&F, that's obscured from general readership by its association with the piles of dragon dung. At the core, good writing is good writing, and I'm the sort of reader who appreciates good writing, regardless of genre.

What I might not have shared before is that I've actually done a bit of genre writing, as well.

The first short story I wrote all by myself (without my mother writing the words down for me) was a fantasy story. I was in first grade, and I illustrated the story and taped the audiobook too; I was a jill-of-all-trades. As an adult, the first short story that I was really proud of, that I still think might have been published somewhere if I'd tried a little bit, was sort of a fantasy story as well. It doesn't fit a modern fantasy template, though, and is more Gregory Maquire than Anne McCaffrey.

And my first, failed, novel - to which I still intend to return at some point - was a mystery. I love good mysteries, and have about a dozen of them in my head; I just haven't found the voice yet in which to write them.

What's more surprising, it seems, to those who know me, is that I once thought about writing romances. The fall of my senior year in college was an interesting time for me. I decided that I really needed to break up with the guy I'd been dating since high school graduation before we ended up married. Around the same time, I decided that I'd been on the wrong life path since I was 9 years old. I realized, all at once and with no warning, that I really didn't want to be a doctor after all.

What now?!!

I thought about what I loved to do, and the answer was easy, even then: I love to write. Even when I wanted to be a doctor, I was secretly hoping to be Michael Crichton, publishing popular fiction rather than peer-reviewed studies.

But I have always been plagued by self-doubt, and I didn't think that I could do it. I knew for sure that I couldn't support myself and pay off my student loans by embarking upon a career as a novelist. But, I read up a little on Harlequin romances, and I decided that I could do that and make enough money to live. I just needed to learn the pattern, I figured, so I joined the Harlequin readers club and received my 4 books plus a complimentary gift each month.

I quickly realized that romance writing is not for me (this is that part that's not surprising to those who know me, or who have read any of my writing) but I kept my membership until I had a full set of wine glasses, and those are still the wine glasses we use today as, apparently, we failed to register for any at our wedding.

They're bright green, and they do make a wonderful conversation piece.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Structure

I'm on track to make the NaNo halfway mark (25,000 words) on Wednesday night, if I continue at this pace. That will, not entirely coincidentally, be the halfway point of the book (although lots of what I've already written needs to be expanded; that can happen later, after November) and the main crisis, which has been building since the prologue, will begin to explode.

My novel is divided into three parts, each of which should eventually be about 25,000 words. Part 1 spans 15 years and has a lot of shorter scenes: bam-bam-bam. The pace slows down, but the crisis picks up significantly in Part 2, which spans 2 months. Part 3 stretches out, is more introspective, and covers about a year.

Part 1 is fun, Part 2 is exciting, and Part 3, which I have not yet begun to write, is supposed to be lyrical and haunting. Ah, well, what's the use of trying, without making lofty goals? If I'm going to be a writer, this is the sort of writer I want to be. Can I carry a story on the merits of the writing, without relying on plot? We'll see by the second or third draft of Part 3. In the meantime:

Writing lesson from book club. The Time Traveler's Wife taught me that people can fuck in contemporary literary fiction. My characters, and my narrator, don't say that; though I think it would be interesting to write in a voice that could, someday. There is sex, though. And hopefully there's a little laughter too.
The undulating women, the thumping music, the pulsing lights, it all screamed sex-sex-sex. Mark closed his eyes and moved to the music, feeling fuzzy around the edges, feeling the beat and the lust in his muscles, in his bones, in the very core of his soul. There was no today, there was no tomorrow, there was no Maggie, there was no Mark, there was only this feeling, this being, right now. He was the beat. He was the music, the lights, the vapor of evaporating sweat steaming off the dancers.

Until someone threw up on his shoe.

Tales of the Journey: National Youth Workers Convention

Through the PCUSA webring, I stumbled upon a youth director talking about the recent National Youth Workers Convention. (Aside: there is a fascinating mix of progressive and conservative bloggers linked on that site.)

Anyway, youth director Brittany posted about a keynote speech by Veggie Tales creator Phil Vischer, in which he asked the question "Is this dream more important in my life than God?" in response to living his dream and then losing it.

In response to that question, Brittany said,
I realized that my dream really didn't have anything to do with God. It was just my dream. I owned it and expected God to fill in the missing parts. What a backwards idea about God, like I'm the one writing the story. It's easier sometimes to play the part of God rather than letting God be God and me be me.

I think I'm like that about my writing. It's hard not to be, when you want something so much. But I'd like to remind God that I have pledged that 10% of every single penny I make from my writing is tithed. (My tongue is planted firmly in my cheek, here; I'm being flip, not bargaining.)

NaNoWriMo update: I'm at 19,075 words and still liking it. My automatic counter widget (see right) isn't updating as quickly as I'd like.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Still Writing

Friday's Total Word Count: 17,140

I should be proud of what I've accomplished so far, and I am. And I know that Week 2 is when a lot of people hit the wall: it's starting to drag on a bit, and the end is not in sight.

But I am very concerned about running out of material. Given where I am today, I'm afraid that I'll say everything I have to say, I'll tell the story, and find that it's an awkward 25,000 words. I don't mind finishing up after NaNoWriMo is over; I expect that. But I do really care about this story, and in the end, I want to have a novel, not a novella.

Saturday night update: Today's Word Count: 16,908.

Yes, that's fewer words than yesterday, but I wasn't editing, just removing some stuff that will come back in towards the end of the story.

Today's progress: one of the most successful days so far. Worried about flailing, or failing, I spent tonight creating a detailed timeline for the main character and a list of all the scenes in the story, with rough size targets. Lots of words, none of which count toward the NaNoWriMo 50,000 target, although I'm still ahead of where I need to be to meet that target while continuing at a steady pace. The scene outline should go a very long way toward helping me stay on track to finish the novel with the three main sections appropriately balanced.

I've never come this far, and I'm not talking about word count. I think this piece has potential. I'm not afraid to write it anymore.

Blogger Buzz: To-Do List (the book)

Blogger Buzz: To-Do List (the book)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Still Love Fall

Silly writer. Imagery is the sort of thing you go back later and fill in, after the characters are developed, after the plot's sketched out, after the NaNoWriMo word count hurdle has been met.

The weirdest change about Maggie during her pregnancy, though, was her hair. Mark had always loved Maggie’s thick curly hair, in that hard-to-describe color that was part chocolaty brown and part autumnal orange, all shot through with strands that shone pure copper and caught afternoon sun to turn her head into a burning pile of leaves. He loved to grab her hair in both of his hands and burrow his face into it, almost expecting the scent of crisp fall air and pumpkin pie spices. Maggie tended to choose shampoo based on continuously evolving criteria like price, bottle shape, brand name, ingredients list, and quality of marketing writing, though, so her hair’s perfume changed regularly, though it always overlay a smell that was purely, uniquely, Maggie.

While Maggie was pregnant, her smell changed slightly, and so did her hair. Her tightly wound curls became softer, gentler, still curls but more like paper links in a Christmas tree decorating chain than the springy store-bought ribbon on a child’s birthday present.


Wednesday's Word Total: 13,071
Thursday's Word Total: 15,086

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Writing Poll

Writers,

How do you deal with longer pieces of work-in-progress? Do you keep the entire document in one large, cumbersome file for administrative ease? Do you keep separate files for each chapter? Some chunking system in between?

I've worked both ways, and have not yet stumbled upon a comfortable solution. I like being able to scroll up or down from where I'm writing - I don't always create sequentially or chronologically - to edit or verify a detail. On the other hand, large files are slow, and it takes a long time to move around in them. But it sure is a lot easier to compute things like word count in a single file rather than a chapter-by-chapter approach, and to ensure consistent formatting, page numbering, etc.

What do you do?

Today's NaNoWriMo word count: 11,120 words.

Monday, November 5, 2007

His Dark Materials

No amount of caffeine is keeping my head off my hand off the table, and even I am bored with the short section that I just finished writing. It's time to get some sleep!

Another successful NaNoWriMo day, all in all. My total word count is 9031 words, and according to the little spreadsheet Paul made for me, I needed to be at 8333 words to be on track. If I can keep this up, I might get a couple of days off at Thanksgiving! Or maybe just some lighter writing days to do more research and planning for the harder, later sections of the novel.

This is already the longest work of fiction I've ever written, by a hair. (I've written short stories, the first 5 or 6 chapters of a novel, and a longer pieces nonfiction/creative nonfiction/memoir, but most of my writing has definitely been in bite-sized chunks. I write a lot of beginnings before paralyzing in fear of failure. What seemed to me at one time to be great titles, great first lines, great opening paragraphs clutter my "Writing" folder.)

Moving on.

Have you read Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy? We loved it. And we're all looking forward to the movie of The Golden Compass, opening in December. By "we," I mean Paul, me, my whole family (mom, dad, two sisters, various brothers-in-law), and a couple of good friends.

I'm not sure I want my daemon to be a chimp, though. I mean, chimps are clever, and that's really good. But they're not exactly sexy animals. Maybe you can help determine if I've got the right daemon?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Really Good Guy

The NaNoWriMo website is currently down. This is frustrating, because once I've finished my writing for the "day," I count on being able to log in and input my new total, in order to watch my little blue status bar move slightly to the right.

So far, so good. I have a rough outline, I have a timeline, and at the end of day three, I have 5264 words.

Orange asked me what I'm writing this month. The "it's late and I'm really tired" version is this:

I'm working on a literary fiction, very character-driven novel called The Really Good Guy. The title character is a married-with-kids, 36-year-old workaholic who has always been described as a good person. More importantly, that's how he sees himself. And then he does something that's pretty awful. He has to deal with the consequences, but most importantly, he has to see himself as the sort of guy who'd do such a bad thing.

This story presents all sorts of challenges for me, not least among which are that my main character is older than me, male, and a workaholic while I'm an at-home mom. (That's whole different kind of working hard.) It's hard for me to keep his wife and kids in the background where they belong.

"Write what you know" is good, solid writing advice. And I am writing what I know, just in a different way. Sometimes using a narrator who sees the world from a different perspective can shed interesting light on a story.

It really is impossible for me to write well this fast. It's not, however, a wasted exercise. I might not have a beautiful, lyrical novel, but I often put pretty stuff in later, once the outline of the story is in place. I shade after I sketch. I upholster after I construct, and so forth.

At the end of the month, I don't plan to have a publishable novel. I hope to have 50,000 words, the bones of a really interesting story, consisting mostly of scenes and summary without a lot of connective tissue: a great outline that can be fleshed out and lifted up a bit into something that I can be proud of.

3 days ago, I had a few notes jotted down at the Borders Cafe. Tonight I have more than 5000 words of new, original fiction typed and saved. I don't care which words they are; I'm proud of that.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Give It To Me

OK, I'm disabling the word verification thingie until I get fed up with the spam again. This lowers the bar for commenting. Let's chat!

Second day NaNoWriMo total: 3680 (slightly ahead of the daily requirement to stay on track for 50,000 words in 30 days).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Write On!

Yo yo yo, it's NaNoWriMo; here we go! In general, I do believe in quality over quantity. But when I'm paralyzed, any movement is a positive development, even if it's just a muscle spasm. And at the end of the first day, I have more than 1700 words on the screen. For the record, Ada does not feel that this is the best use of my time. In turn, I do not feel that being up and crying 3 hours past successful bedtime is the best use of her time either.

Ada did the funniest thing last weekend. I was playing Wii with my sister in the family room while my mom was playing with Ellie in her room, down at the other end of the hall. Our family room and Ellie's room are like the weights on a barbell, with other rooms (a bathroom, my room, Ada's room) shooting off the main hallway to the sides. So it's not like a barbell at all, but the family room and Ellie's room are at opposite ends of a hallway, see?

Anyway, Ada got bored with the way LilSis and I were neglecting her, so she crawled all the way down the hallway to Ellie's room for some more stimulating company. Once she got there, she got up on her knees (tall kneeling!) and looked at me, while defiantly shutting the door. Her reach is impressive, but she is only 9 months old. So she'd push the door a bit, crawl toward it, push it some more, crawl to catch up, etc., until the door finally closed. Until the last possible moment, she stared right at me, meaningfully.

I got the message!