To Start Again, Reset, Reboot, Renew

I like Mondays.

I like making resolutions at the beginning of a new year.

I like a clean desk, not because I’m satisfied all those projects are complete, but because I look at it and see it’s ready to start something new.

This summer has been a drag writing-wise. I’ve spent the last 100 days wrestling with the current work-in-progress. Mostly in my mind because I’m not thrilled with the revisions I’ve been making. It doesn’t snap like it oughta.

Looking back over the last few years the best time I’ve had writing was turning out short stories regularly, so I’m going to do that again. I’m not giving up on the long WIP, but my timeline for completing it is extended greatly.

I’m at the beginning of a new semester, and moving to a new house. I think it’s also time to refocus my writing goals. Summer is winding down and a new season is around the corner.

What I did this summer: I bought a house, killed my dog, and my computer magically turned into a brick

And, in addition to all that, I’ve been working to shrink my digital life.

We’re buying a house! Yay? It’s exciting and nerve-wracking, and all happening faster than I expected. We already own a house, but we never really liked it. So, a few years ago we decided to start saving for an upgrade. Our target date was 2020, but after meeting with a financial adviser (because now that I’m fifty-something I do responsible adult shit like that) we determined there was a way to move forward this year.

We sat down with people at the bank in May and on the long July 4 weekend we started to look for a new home.

We found a house that weekend!

But then learned someone had already bid on it, and the buyer only looked at bids in the order in which they came.

The next weekend we euthanized Abby the dog. Abby had degenerative myelopathy for about a year and a half before she died. On Tuesday she had some sort of fit, which the vet (based only on our description) guessed might have been a spinal infarction. Regardless, after that night her ability to move her hind legs diminished greatly. She walked like the drunkest of drunks. She had already been pooping inside the house (because she was losing control of her bowels due to the myelopathy) for the last couple of months. But, the key indicator that it was time, was that she stopped eating. Even her special crazy expensive delicious food that she gobbled down even at her most anxious and picky. By Friday we determined that the time had come. We’d been expecting this moment, but it was still a really sad weekend.

Let me back up for a second.

The first week of June we went to the beach for a week. It was awesome. When I came back and fired up my computer nothing happened. It was dead. Bricked. There wasn’t much on it. Lots of pretty pictures I saved off the internet for my screen saver. Old tax returns (which I also have in paper). And, oh yeah, the novel work in progress. Fortunately, I’m pretty good about backing stuff up, so I have the novel. What I didn’t have were the latest round of edits (which was about 40 pages worth). So I had to find a new strategy for editing the novel.

Then my dog died.

Then we found a house. A different one. One that we made an offer and it was accepted. One that we expect to own on Aug. 31.

And, somehow, in the midst of all this, I lost interest in my WIP. I didn’t stop working on it. Not completely. I began editing sections again. But it became a depressing chore instead of an engaging interest.

My solution? Next post.

First Round of Edits are Done

Yay! I’ve reached another milestone in writing this novel.

I finished this currently untitled project at the end of 2017, and then gave myself three months to do the first round of edits. I’m happy to report I finished only three weeks past the deadline.

The purpose of this round of edits was to situate everything in time and place. I wanted to know, on a scene-by-scene breakdown, who was involved in the scene, where it took place, what that place looked like, what time it was, etc. I also wanted to firm up the chronology since it takes place over the course of six years.

The next round of edits, for which I’m also giving myself approximately three months, is to integrate all those notes. I went through the manuscript and made notes by hand (ink on paper!) and now the whole thing needs to be rewritten to include those notes. This will take me from draft zero to draft one.

After I finish re-working all the sections to make them more grounded scenes I’ll go through the manuscript and tighten up the language on a sentence-by-sentence basis (essentially taking out all the verys and actuallys and turning passive voice into active voice). Then I’ll re-outline to make sure I have all the beats in place where I want them, then I’ll polish and infuse it with the voice I want, then it will be time to start getting feedback. If I stay on track I should have a readable copy by the end of the year.

It’s not done yet, but I’m happy to have reached this milestone tonight. I think I’m going to celebrate with a beer and maybe root around the refrigerator for something to eat.

Time for an Update

Time for an update.

I dropped in the feed from my Twitter account in the right-hand column since most of my online writing is short tweets rather than substantive, or at least longer than 280 characters, blog posts.

Editing the novel is still a work in progress. I reached the half-way point this weekend. On the one hand this is good. Yay! I’m persistently persisting. On the other hand it’s not moving as fast as I wish it would. Boo! I was supposed to finish this round of edits by the end of March.

Regardless, it’s comforting that it has not been abandoned.

I sent out a couple of stories before the busy-ness of February. Now that February is over, and I’ve caught up on some things, I expect to send out more stories soon.

I’ve finally managed to pick up the podcast habit. Right now I’m cycling through a variety, looking for something I can listen to regularly. One of my favorites so far is Talk Nerdy.

Inspired by listening to a variety of programs I’m thinking I should post an audio story. Not sure exactly when I’ll do that, but maybe in May?

My New Year’s resolution was to work on lessening my hermitish ways. To that end I started a book club, and we sort of randomly selected Trouble Boys since we are all of a certain age and listened to The Replacements frequently in our various youths.

I’m a heavy user of RSS feeds, and Digg Reader was my RSS reader of choice. They announced recently that they are ending that service. Right now it looks like I’ll be switching over to Inoreader. Feedly only allows 100 feeds in their free version. I weeded myself down to 400, and Inoreader had no problem handling that many feeds in their freebie version.

Whoops! Movie is starting. That’s all for now. I’ll update again in a few weeks.

Persistently Persisting

I forget how much the beginning the semester can sap my energy. Rejuvenated over winter break I foresaw much busy-ness when it came to creative work and blogging. Alas, that is not the case.

THE NOVEL
I continue editing the novel. I will eventually go through the whole thing multiple times. I’m currently one sixth of the way through this edit. Not quite on target for completing this go-through by the end of March, but I’m still confident I’ll hit my target date. It’s going well.

STORIES
I managed to get one story completed and submitted in January. I have another deadline at the end of February. Unfortunately, I’ve been at somewhat of a creative loss and don’t have a story in the works. There is still time, but it’s running out fast.

MEDIA CONSUMPTION
I’ve started listening to the podcast Ditch Diggers. I’m not really a fan of podcasts, but I’ve been able to tolerate this. It’s two working SFF professionals discussing the business side of the biz.

Started watching Altered Carbon. While watching episodes of Black Mirror and PKD’s Electric Dreams I vowed I was done with dystopic SF, but here I am. We’ll see how far I make it.

Read Fifth Season and liked it. Read Three-Body Problem and didn’t like it. Next up is The Only Harmless Thing by Brooke Bolander.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION
I am by nature asocial and an introvert. My efforts to counter that are going alright so far. I’m getting out and socializing.

SPINNING FREE
On one sojourn out and about I hung out with a friend who is totally engaged with his work. He’s loving it. Everything is feeding into his research and creative process. He is excited about what he is doing now and what he will do next. A few nights later, another friend is spinning free, no idea is gaining any traction, and he’s not sure what to do next.

I find myself similarly at a loss. Perhaps it’s February and work busy-ness. Keeping a record of my writing allows me to see that these fallow times happen periodically and will almost certainly pass. But, for now, every idea is a thin gruel, every opinion is shallow, the world is dull, and the future is dim. Nonetheless, I persist.

First Story of 2018 Submitted

WRITING
This year I decided to change tack when submitting stories. Instead of writing stories and then looking for a market, I study a particular market and write a story for them. My first deadline was Monday. I wrote the story (“Funeral Champagne”) the first part of January, edited it over the weekend, and sent it out in time to meet their deadline for the next issue.

Today I start conjuring up a new story for a new market with a deadline at the end of February.

I’ve edited two of ninety sections in the novel. Not as far as I wanted to be, but at least I finally got started on it. I’m setting that deadline for the end of March. By ninety days into the year I should be able to finish editing ninety sections, right? It will need multiple revisions, so this will be going on all year.

READING
I finished reading Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin and enjoyed it immensely. I’m typically not drawn to multi-volume fantasy series. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. I feel anxious about spending so much time reading one long work instead of multiple shorter works. Before I start the second volume I’m going to read Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (another multi-volume work!).

I liked Stone Sky because it wasn’t a typical orc, dwarf, thinly veiled European mythos fantasy. Instead it has a Jack Vance Dying Earth far future weirdness vibe I dig.

WATCHING
I watched Mother! recently and thought it was terrific. Less enthusiastic about the new season of Black Mirror, or the one episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams I watched. Of course, I’ll probably watch all the episodes in each series.

I’m secretly excited for the rest of the Supergirl season. I haven’t watched it at all this season, but I deeply loved the Legion of Superheroes when I was a kid, so I’m looking forward to seeing them live and in action.

I added a text widget in a column on the blog which tracks my movie/tv watching.

GROWING
The cold snap we had killed all my peppers, basil, and tomatoes (though the carrots, beets, and green cauliflower came through OK), so I’m going to re-seed next weekend. It’s supposed to get down to below freezing tomorrow. In Florida. I know it’s cold everywhere, but it’s not supposed to be that cold here. I can’t grow peppers when it’s freezing outside! And, I don’t know if the banana trees will make it through this winter.

CONCLUDING
Still getting into the rhythm of the new year. The 3-day weekend felt almost like a continuation of my winter break/vacation, but there’s nothing but work for the foreseeable future. At least until May/June. I feel like I’m starting slow, but I’ve managed to be somewhat productive and found time to hang out with friends, so maybe it’s not a bad start at all.

Writing Update and Crafting Story Ideas

At the end of 2017 I organized all the sections of my novel, put them in order, then printed out the whole novel. Then I typed up and printed out all the accompanying notes. I did a run-through on my initial editing process to make sure it would work, then I put the whole thing away.

Then came JB’s birthday (which we celebrate around here rather than Christmas), then the New Year, then Key West. So, now it’s back to work and time to start editing the novel.

Large binder is 400 pages of novel; small binder is 100+ pages of notes

One goal this year is to not get down on myself if i don’t get some writing/editing done every day. Instead, I’m scheduling four hours every Saturday for writing work. I’d like to make it 10 hours a week somehow, but I want to be thoughtful about where those hours come from.

In the sidebar of the blog I have a space to track the first round of edits. Right now it sits at 0/90. We’ll see where it is after the MLK weekend.

My goals for short story writing this year are to select markets and write stories targeted to those markets. My first deadline is January 15. The story I’ve started is stalled. I’m not exactly sure where to go with it. Over the next few days I want to read more stories published by this market to get a better sense of what sort of flavor they prefer.

And, since I’m currently conjuring up a story, I thought I’d take a minute to discuss my own creative process for stories.

I tend to work by a method of accretion or lamination.

Some of you might remember a story I posted last year titled “An Unhaunted House.” The premise is that there is a small town where every house is haunted, and the single unhaunted house is a hard sell. A real estate agent decides she can sell it, but she decides that instead of selling an unhaunted house she will kill someone in the house and then have the easy task of selling a haunted house. Her plans backfire somewhat. She ends up accidentally dying and becomes the ghost that haunts the house.

The initial story idea – ‘an unhaunted house in a town of haunted houses’ went into a notebook. I keep notes like that in google docs and in a tangible notebook I carry with me. Each idea is like detritus in space, floating in isolation. But, sometimes, another piece of space junk runs up against it and sticks. In this case it was the name Country Rose (the real estate agent’s name). Unrelated to the story I jotted down the name Country Rose as a child’s name given by a mom and dad without much foresight. It’s a pretty name, and a sweet concept, but problematic when it comes to diminutives (what do you call her for short?).

What keeping notes like this does is allow the alchemical mystery of the creative process to do its work. I had a sense of what a woman with this name would be like, and she struck me as the perfect person to cast in the role of real estate agent in “Unhaunted House.”

Once this character and this story idea came together I had a stronger sense of what kind of story I wanted to tell, which is common for my process. If I can get a concept and character together a large chunk of the story reveals itself. A large chunk, but not all.

Once I had the concept and character of that story I ran through a lot of “what if” scenarios until I got to the point where I could write a beginning, middle, and end.

Sometimes it takes months to laminate one element on top of another.

In my ideas notebook I recently jotted down the name Croaker, as a character. I had some ideas about who this might be, but it didn’t go anywhere. Then I overheard JB talking about a gift her niece got for Christmas, which is some sort of 3D printing device. “Croaker should 3D print drugs,” I thought. When that idea came a few others followed — he works for a private prison that lets him get away with his shady drug creation work. I asked a few questions about what kind of prison that would be like and realized that his story could be the subplot missing from a draft of a novel I wrote four years ago. (I looked up Croaker when I had the idea as a name and saw that prison physicians are sometimes called croakers.)

The collection of ideas is the seed and soil of the story. Once two or more ideas/characters are pushed together I start the inquisition. Why are they here? What does that world look like? What do they want? What’s stopping them from getting it? Who or what opposes them? Do they have an adversary? Can I make this go in unexpected directions?

Even if a story gets as far as the inquisition stage it often doesn’t get beyond that.

And that’s where I am on the story I want to write by this weekend. I have a scene. And that’s it. I don’t have the next idea to laminate on top. I’ve tested out a variety of ideas to push the scene forward, but nothing’s stuck. Saturday I’ll pore through my cache of notes and see if I can find something that clicks into place and brings the story more into focus.

Ideas come from everywhere. What’s important is getting in the habit of collecting them. This is one reason I like to read book reviews of academic titles. Yesterday on Twitter I pointed to an essay (Wily Ecologies) on the lack of humor in US fiction about environmental catastrophe. Not an easy topic to joke about, perhaps, but the author was pointing out that there is a significant lack of satire in this realm as well. The worst excesses of humanity often attract satirists, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for tales of environmental collapse. I jotted in my notebook – satire about environmental collapse. Then I wondered briefly if VanderMeer’s Borne might be considered a satire. Or, how would it be different if it had been written as a comedy? That’s not enough for a story, but the seed has been planted.

Bustling Folly

To start off the new year I’ve re-designed the blog and renamed it. This year’s blog title is Bustling Folly.

“Bustling folly is the character of our species: people hastily set off on the path of the good, but do not persevere steadfastly upon it; indeed, in order to avoid being bound to a single goal, even if only for the sake of variety they reverse the plan of progress, build in order to demolish, and impose upon themselves the hopeless effort of rolling the stone of Sisyphus uphill in order to let it roll back down again.” — Immanuel Kant

This year there will be no 21st century politics or hot take on the outrage du jour. Instead of venting my anger I’m going to focus on the stuff that engages me. And what engages me are books, stories, and ideas. Especially weird books, stories, and ideas.

Because of my day job I spend more time than the average person reading book reviews and skimming scholarly papers. I’m going to start funneling some of that into this blog.

Because of my hobby I spend a lot of time reading weird fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. I also want to funnel a lot of that into this blog.

With any luck it will be weird and fun and maybe inspire an idea or two. At the very least it might provide a moment’s reprieve from the inside-out, upside-down lunacy of our current situation.

Here’s to a new year of bustling folly and mind-bending weirdness!

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”Ursula Le Guin

2018 Resolutions

Fresh beginnings. I love them. I am that weirdo that loves Mondays, because with a new beginning everything seems possible.

I don’t love January 1 and Mondays because I’m optimistic, or because I think everything is going to be OK. I don’t. I like them because they are cues, opportunities to re-focus my attention and energy.

And it’s because of the opportunity to re-focus, to re-plan that I love resolutions.

Typically I try to avoid self-improvement resolutions. Last year I resolved to get in tune with the moon. A few years ago I resolved to eat more pie. This year, though, I’m tilting toward the betterment of self.

This year I’m resolving to be more social. Online and off.

I am an introvert in the sense that I find being around people to be tiring. I like people just fine. I’m comfortable in front of a crowd. I can speak extemporaneously to any size group without fear. I like parties, and hanging out with friends.

But, I have a weird sense of hypervigilism when I’m with a group of people. This sort of extreme attention can be exhausting.

Over the years it’s become apparent that that sort of isolation isn’t healthy. So, I’m working against my instincts this year and plan to spend more time hanging out.

Other resolutions are simply to do more of what I enjoyed in 2017. Write more, read more, blog more, submit more stories, and move around more. Where will I find the time? Less passively browsing the internet and fewer TV hours.

I hope your 2018 is getting off to a great start despite the blast of cold that’s chilling us all, even down here in Florida. Here’s to 2018 and more of the good stuff!