NaNoFiMo

Final NaNoFiMo total—33200, or thereabouts. Not nearly the wordcount of a NaNoWriMo, but I finished two books under contract and stuck words on a couple of other projects, so it was generally a very productive month.

Despite the constant harping that writers sit down and write every single day, I will confess to you that I don’t. I sit down between two and four times a week and try to hammer out a thousand words. Since there are only 15K worth of words in a Dragonbreath book, this allows me to finish two a year easily, and fool with other stuff. If I were a conventional novelist, I might work to a different schedule, but there you are.

My only point with that is that there is no one true writing schedule, and writers who will try to tell you that NaNoWriMo is just normal life and all Real Writers write every single day to a specific word count are perhaps being unnecessarily hidebound. I hardly ever write on weekends, for example. And sometimes I can only lay down five hundred words, and I do write Dragonbreath books on the assumption that at some point, I will get struck by lightning and knock out three thousand words and get large chunks of the book done thereby.

I understand why people say these things, since writing is Real Work and it is easy to put it off when it’s not fun any more or get really soppy about the need to be inspired and how it just isn’t flowing and that must mean you are blocked, etc etc ad nauseum, and so sometimes the easiest way to establish that discipline is to sit down every day and demand the brain to perform. If it works, fantastic! Those people may well have a higher level of completed projects than me, and more power to ’em. However, if you tend to work in jags and spurts and spend several days at the time when you do not Sit Down And Write Goddamnit, I will humbly submit that you are not an imposter posing as a writer, you are not Doin’ It Wrong, as long as all the writing does get done in a timely fashion (i.e. by deadline.)

So, y’know.


By the way…

There’s a series of auctions running to support Terri Windling, the well-known author/editor/artist/etc who’s hit some rough patches in recent months. Ms. Windling certainly doesn’t know me from Adam, but The Wood Wife was one of the touchstone books during my divorce, so I’ve contributed the very last jumbo-sized artist’s proof of “Naked Mole Rat Dreams” to the cause—it’s been on my studio wall for a couple of years now, being one of the very few of my own pieces I really like, but hey, good cause.

The auction doesn’t actually mention shipping, but it’s free, since…well…y’know.

Anyway, go check it out, there’s some amazing stuff available, bid early and often!

Chopped

Okay, I’ll admit it. I watch Chopped. (Along with Mythbusters, My Little Pony, occasional random cartoons on Boomerang, and whatever nature shows are on at any given time, plus the Daily Show if I have summoned any political give-a-shit that day. This forms the majority of my TV viewing since Survivorman went off the air. The TV comes on maybe one day in three. But Chopped I like.)

T’other day they had an episode where four lunch ladies competed against each other.

Now, the standard format of this show is pretty straightforward—four chefs compete in three elimination rounds, clips of interviews are run, and you get The One Asshole Who Thinks He’s Better Than Everybody, the One Who Keeps Mentioning Their Dead Father, who you rapidly start to suspect is milking it, The One Who’s Just Happy To Be Here and the One With Low Self-Esteem Who Has Something To Prove. (There are variations, but this is the basic line-up.)

You root against the asshole and for one of the others. This is just how it works. (Obviously the clips they show are probably not representative, some of them are probably terribly nice people, but they’re asking leading questions and all. Doesn’t matter. It’s fun TV. With cooking!)

So, the lunch lady episode.

It is really hard to get into a show like this when they run four women eligible for sainthood against each other. Seriously.

Kevin and I laid in bed watching four women say “Well, we’re here for the kids,” and occasionally timidly mention that nobody takes them seriously as cooks because they’re just cafeteria workers, and how honored they are to compete somewhere where they’re being treated like real chefs and how they have to make meals for kids who sometimes are only getting the school lunch to live on, all on a budget of approximately $1.75 per child.

The sincerity oozed from the screen. The judges practically cried every time they eliminated one of these competitors. There was hugging. And it wasn’t the milking-my-personal-tragedy types that you get sometimes—they were acting so damn nice. By twenty minutes in, I was willing to rate lunch ladies as the greatest unsung heroes of our time.

“I have wasted my life,” I told Kevin, as one explained how she always did a pasta meal on Monday because she lives in such a poor area that some of these kids weren’t eating on the weekends, and pasta provides the biggest caloric bang for the buck.

“Compared to these women, we are horrible human beings,” said Kevin grimly, while she went on to explain that she had started a backpack program to provide food for those kids to take home on weekends.

The show went on. There was more crying and more sincerity. Every time one of them said something nice, we would clutch our heads and whimper. The human soul can only take so much awesomenss.

“Smother me with a pillow,” I begged Kevin. “I am NOT FIT TO LIVE.”

“Only if you smother me at the same time!”

Our pillow suicide pact fell down on the point where we would no longer be able to watch the show through the pillows, so we resigned ourselves to living. You couldn’t root for any of them, because they were ALL so damn kind. You couldn’t even suspect them of hamming it up. Your heart was going to be warmed if they had to crack your ribs open and shove a space heater into your chest cavity.

“We’re usually not allowed in the teacher’s lounge because we’re just cafeteria staff…” I fell off the bed and vowed to make the plight of the lunch lady my personal crusade, once I had finished with native plant restoration and taught the universe about endangered farm animal breeds.

It ended. The judges were crying openly at this point. Kevin and I were carefully not looking at each other because you lose serious macho points if you have to admit that you got a little choked up over an episode of Chopped.*

“Right,” muttered Kevin. “I have to go take the dog out. And then write a letter of resignation so I can go take a job that pays $2oK a year as a lunch….guy.”

“Is there a save-the-lunch-ladies fund we can donate to? Somewhere? Dear god…”

And this, boys and girls, is why I watch so little TV.  Dear lord.

 

NaNoFiMo: 29159

 

*Unless it was the one with the priest who gave the money to the other competitor so she could go visit her dying grandmother in France. I mean, c’mon, nobody’s made of stone.

On Writing

On a whim I downloaded the sample chapter for Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which is actually a book about writing. And I am howling through the whole thing. (For example, talking about writing bad first drafts, she talks about writers she has known “Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.”)

It’s not a book on technique or anything else, but then again, I don’t read many books on technique. I think I’ve read three books on writing in my life–On Writing, by Stephen King, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card (back before he lost his shit) and…um….okay, maybe I’ve read two books on writing. No, wait! The intro to the book of poetry that we used as a textbook in Freshman Writing in college had some stuff about how you should just call snow snow, goddamnit, and calling it “pulverous silver essence” didn’t make snow any better. There. Three.

It’s not like art, where you can learn various techniques about layering colors and different media and all that. Writing is all words on the page, and you can’t do the equivalent of jumping between encaustics and watercolor without torturing the hell out of a metaphor. (You leave that poor metaphor alone! It didn’t ask to be here!) Writing advice tends to either be so specific as to be generally useless (“Ursula, it looks like you filled a shotgun full of commas and fired them at the page.”) or so general as to be specifically useless. (“People like action!”)

About 30% of writing books can probably be summed up as “No, really, there’s not a secret or a trick that writers all know. You just sit down and write what happens next, over and over, until it’s done. That’s really what they do. Honest. That is all it is. No, there is nothing that makes this easier or go faster.” and the other 30% is “No, really, if that’s how you get yourself to sit and write what happens next, that’s fine. Do that. Seriously. No, it’s okay if that’s not how Hemingway did it. Do the thing you do if it makes words happen. It’s cool. No one will yell at you.” Then the other 30% is padding and inspirational quotes and a suggestion that you buy the Manual of Style, and then a recap of the first bit, with the addition “It’s okay that it’s bad. Everybody writes bad stuff. It’s cool. Just keep practicing.”

You can read all kinds of suggestions on how to get the ideas flowing. If you need to get the ideas flowing, fine. Very few books seem to have been written for those of us who suffer like the guy in Sandman from ideas that never bloody stop, probably because nobody wants to hear about it, but possibly because there either is no cure or the people who know about it are too busy writing their paranormal romance about night-gaunts to write the book about how to shut your brain up and focus on one idea at a time, or maybe the answer is blindingly obvious and there’s a common kitchen tool that fixes it and nobody told me because they all thought I knew, like getting through the foil on wine bottles.

After a point, though, I’ve always felt that writing technique is pretty much between you and your god. This is not to diss workshops, support groups, how-to books, or anything else—if they work for you, great. Do that. That is a good thing. Just don’t talk to me about it, because I will glaze over quickly and look around for the gin. Technique is the thing that happens when you sit down and your heroine has to get from here to there and then you get bored and add ninjas. I don’t know HOW it works. It just happens or it doesn’t, kind of like a bowel movement, and if you try to force it, you’ll end up with an aneurysm, and at the end of the day, I don’t want to hear about how you poop* and will assume the feeling is mutual.

If you must talk about it, it is best to employ a specialist.**

Having said all that, I will now share the one bit of writing advice that I actually remember from a how-to book that has stuck with me, which was “You can use unlikely coincidences to get your character INTO trouble, but if you use it get them OUT of trouble, the reader will think that’s cheap.” I felt this was good advice and have attempted to adhere to it ever since. And also I think Ursula K. LeGuin said that if you try to fake your way through a language, one of the readers ALWAYS speaks it like a pro and will catch you, so either make the language up completely or bloody well learn what you’re doing, and this absolutely includes Ye Olde English, so either thee and thou correctly or not at all. This was also excellent advice.

None of this has any bearing on anything, except that I’m really enjoying Bird by Bird, because it’s full of actually useful statements that have nothing to do about writing technique, like the fact that everybody wants to get published and once you do, it doesn’t actually change the world and make you suddenly happy and fulfilled and you do not run toward your self-esteem across a field of flowers. Which is totally true and made me laugh a lot and then go put my head in the oven. Then I realized it was an electric oven and felt stupid. (Side note, I always heard about sticking your head in the oven as a form of suicide as a kid, but only ever having had electric ovens, I just assumed that you were dying because it got so hot your head cooked and it seemed sort of unpleasant, but I was really impressed at the sheer dedication of the people involved, because dude, that’s hardcore. I do not want to admit how old I was when I realized that wasn’t what was going on, but I’m pretty sure I was at least old enough to vote.)

But anyway, I digress. Time for ninjas!

 

 

*Unless you tell it really really well. And if you’re going to tackle that, you better write like an angel with wings of wine and orgasms.

**Unless you have an interesting parasite. I am always up for an interesting parasite story, like the one comic about the guy with the tapeworm at the restaurant. That was awesome. I’m not actually sure if we’re talking about writing any more, though.

Sometimes I think I may have a bit of a problem…

I am easily distracted by shiny objects. Or projects.

Actually, they don’t have to be that shiny.

Actually, they don’t even have be sane.

Which is why, in the middle of working on a Perfectly Good Story With Potential That People Like, Goddamnit, my brain said “Hey! I want to write a paranormal romance!”

“No,” I said.

“It’d be fun! You’ve never done it before, maybe you’d be great at it!”

“…Really, no.” I went back to writing.

After a few minutes I stopped and stretched and winced a little because I pulled a weird little nameless muscle across the top of my ribs and said “Okay, for the sake of argument, if I were going to write a paranormal romance, what would it be about? Don’t say vampires, because I’ll lobotomize myself with my plastic drink straw right here and now.”

“I wasn’t going to say vampires,” said my brain haughtily. “I would never say vampires. I have some standards.”

“Good to hear it. And don’t say were-whatever because everything that can possibly turn into another thing has already been done to death. Including selkies. I don’t get selkies. Who wants to get in a relationship with a blubbery mammal that stinks of fish?”

“Nope,” said my brain. “I’m better than that.”

“And no dragons.”

“Absolutely no dragons,” agreed my brain.

“Fine,” I said. “Lay it on me.”

“Night-gaunts,” said my brain smugly.

I stared into the middle distance. My favorite cafe makes a mean chicken salad sandwich, but they also have some really bad art on the walls. I stared at the lumpy head of a badly painted heron for so long it started to look like high art.

“Night-gaunts,” I said after awhile.

“Sure!” My brain was really excited about this one. “They’re dark! They’re mysterious! They have wings! They serve Nodens, Lord of the Hoary Abyss, which totally sounds like a euphemism!”

“Why do I even talk to you? Seriously. I am sure the pancreas could take over most of the basic motor functions if I asked nicely.”

“It hasn’t been done,” said my brain, with dignity.

“There’s a reason for that.”

I went back to writing.

After a few minutes I said “Seriously, they have no faces and they communicate by tickling.”

“Totally a fetish for some people!” said my brain, and then ducked as I tried to punch myself in the neocortex.

“I am never listening to you again.”

My brain let me stew for a bit and then said “Maybe you take some liberties. Say he can talk. Maybe he’s only half night-gaunt.”

“In that case screw him, I want to know what’s up with his parents!”

“He could have a tail!” offered my brain. “You’ve always wanted a tail!”

“I wanted a prehensile tail so that I have another shot at catching things when I drop them. That’s not a selling point in a hero. What’s next? Ghouls?”

“Don’t be disgusting. They eat dead people.”

“Totally a fetish for some peop—”

“The waitress is staring at you,” said my brain haughtily.

“And whose fault is that?”

I returned to my writing on the Perfectly Good Project. I have finished a solid dozen books in my life, so I know that I can finish things. It’s just that I started about thirty books in order to get those dozen. My ratio is poor.

“Seriously. Night-gaunts? Really?”

“Fine,” said my brain, in a snit. “When you see that Stephanie Meyer has written Gaunt and it’s made twenty million dollars on the YA market, you’ll wish you’d jumped on my idea.”

“I see absolutely no possibility of that happening.”

“There’s a market!”

“There is no possible world where the Lovecraft/paranormal romance fan crossover is a viable marketshare. The Venn diagrams barely overlap. And my agent doesn’t read Lovecraft. She will have no idea what I’m talking about.” I fiddled with my mouse for a minute. “Actually, it’d probably be better if she didn’t…”

“A few chapters,” said my brain. “Just a couple. Ten thousand words. If you don’t like it after ten thousand words, you can chuck it on the pile with the other thirty unwritten books.”

“You have no idea how much I hate you,” I said.

“And you can finally use that blood-drinking hummingbird you’ve been trying to shove into a manuscript since you were nineteen!”

“I knew vampires would come into this eventually…”


NaNoFiMo: 24823

Emphasis on the Fi…

Well, NaNoFiMo has claimed another victim—I had a mad 3500 word jag today, and knocked off Dreambreath.

Now I am having post-partum book blues. I was able to stave them off on Bread Wizard because I had to immediately go to Dreambreath, but now they’re BOTH done, and all I have to work on is these unsold projects and god, I have too much free time now, I am seriously under-employed there were several whole hours this morning when I had nothing that had to be done and I’m not feeling the art bug and I had to go buy edging bricks for the garden so I didn’t feel like I was wasting the morning and if I am not working AT ALL TIMES how will I hold off the nebulous Bad Thing that lurks in the dark space slightly to the left of the mirror waiting to strike the unproductive and drive them into grinding poverty and/or the life of a Wal-mart greeter?

My neuroses. Let me show you them.

(Thank god they need me to paint the cover tomorrow, or I might have to take drastic measures.)

 

NaNoFiMo: 23343

Money and Mortality

So I live in a small town, as I’ve said a few times, and it is in fact too small to have a Wells-Fargo (or, up until a few weeks ago, a Wachovia.) As I’ve banked with them for years and Wells-Fargo seems intent on buying out every bank I have an account with, I have resigned myself, and honestly, other than one or two issues with the phone bank on their end during the switch-over, it’s been fine.

More importantly, it’s all the same people at the branch in the bigger small town twenty minutes away, and they all know me by now. When I get a check (which averages out to every other month or so, although sometimes they get crammed together—Nurk royalties arrive on the heels of Ninjabreath royalties, although Nurk royalties are teeny, but I’m still just absurdly proud the book finally earned out. It’s kinda like having the bright kid that you know has potential finally move out of his parents’ basement and get an internship somewhere–it’s not that it’s a lot of money, but damnit, you KNEW he could make something of himself if he just applied himself!)

Ahem. I digress. Anyway, when I get a check, I go to this bank and go inside because I work at home and it is occasionally nice to have to be civilized and talk to other humans without grunting, pointing, or demanding that they pick up their dirty laundry off the floor. And they all know me, since it’s a very small branch and I brought them a book once when the teller wanted to know why I was receiving money with a memo line that said NINJA FROGS. I quite like them.

The only downside to this is that they are located just down the block from a tombstone maker.

Prior to relocating to semi-rural North Carolina, I was unaware of just how excited people can get over tombstones. They have quite a lot of little graveyards here, including the occasional buried-on-the-homestead headstones in people’s yards. (This is always particularly surreal where there is a ratty mobile home with an elaborate family graveyard—those things ain’t cheap, and I start wondering what the story is. And don’t get me started on the one that had Mickey-Mouse ears.)

The headstone maker displays his wares outdoors—as you would, they’re all-weather by definition—and they’re located right opposite the turn for the bank, so you get a good long view on the approach. It’s mostly squat obelisks, but there’s a couple of saints and one reasonably terrifying giant angel.

The end result of all of this is that when I head off to drop off the check, I’m bopping along going “Yay! I have money! We eat tonight!” and then I am confronted with PROOF THAT MAN IS MORTAL AND YOU TOO SHALL DIE.

This mostly just makes me vow to be either immortal or cremated, depending on how it all goes down, but still, I always wind up slinking into the bank in a distinctly pensive frame of mind.

Ungh.

The worst part about being self-employed is that when you’re waiting for other people to get back to you, you start to feel…unemployed. Yes. I have done all my writing for the day. I am totally and completely on track for everything, if not way ahead of schedule, I have written 2200 words today, I would be justified in laying on the bed and playing video games, but…well…then I’d feel like a slacker.

Ungh.

NaNoFiMo: 17850

 

Blue Jayfowl

Digital, Painter 11

I really wanted to paint chickens with markings from other birds. Tiny goldfinch chickens! Cardinal chickens! The noble Bald Chicken, symbol of our nation, coming in for a landing at the nest!

Bluejays are the most distinctively colored birds I could think of, so I started there. And I think the color bit works, but I kinda shot myself in the foot with the pose on the rooster.

See, I wanted to make a rooster that looked a bit like it was scolding, sort of like a bluejay, so I went for crowing and yelling roosters. And that…well…roosters are noble, lovely birds when they pose, when they strut, even when they sit.

They are damned ugly when they stick their necks out and crow. They develop all these lumps and bumps and weird protrusions. The smooth line of the neck and back turns into a strange set of not-at-all-intuitive curves. And I tried to capture all that faithfully…which left me with a weirdly lumpy chicken. Which I attempted to smooth out a bit, but…well…there you are. The end result is not graceful.

Sometimes reality sits oddly on the eye.

Anyway! Prints available, as always, and despite my dissatisfaction, I’m glad to get the idea off my chest.

 

Snippet-tastic

A chunk from NaNoFiMo. This definitely won’t get finished this month, but at least I should pack a bit more meat on its bones…

 

It was a small stream. It had never been dragged with iron chains or even shackled with a footbridge. It lay across her path, glinting in the light that slipped between the trees, gurgling and joyous and mad.

Laura did not want to cross it. It looked to be about eighteen inches deep—too shallow for sirens, too fast for the mud-colored wights with their moss-green teeth.  Between those two extremes lay any number of Other creatures that could drown a mortal girl and pick the meat off her bones, and a few that wouldn’t bother with the drowning and would proceed straight to the picking while she was still alive to appreciate it.

Jack did not seem troubled. He snuffled at the water and nothing came out of it to get at him.

“Easy for you,” muttered Laura. “You’re not all the way normal.”

Of course, neither am I.

She followed the stream a few hundred feet, skidding on the faded corpses of last year’s leaves. Jack kept pace, the red tips of his ears tilted up to catch the forest sounds. Nothing strange happened. The water rushed and chuckled in its bed.

Perhaps it was only water.

They reached a clearing in the woods.

“Ah,” said Laura. “I see.” She felt the need to sit down—right now, at once, without looking for a handy rock or log—and did so. Leaves stuck to her dress.

At some point in the past, a beaver had tried to dam the little stream. He had built a framework of logs across the streambed. Perhaps he had been a normal beaver, or perhaps one of the strange altered ones, but it scarcely mattered, because the stream had not particularly wished to be dammed.

The water ran right up to the log pile and then broke apart in a hundred white-furred bodies with blood-black eyes and sharp black tail-tips. Ermine. Yes. Laura recognized them. Pa trapped them sometimes, but never in great numbers. Not like this. This was a flood.

The slender weasels slid and scurried over the logjam and down into the streambed, and within two paces they were water again.

She watched the flowing weasel-water for a long time. Jack sat down next to her and panted happily.

“Very well,” said Laura. “Very well. I suppose—well, I suppose they can run up my dress and drag me down and eat me. Hmm.”

Jack, who knew only that his person was talking to him, wagged his tail.

The stream lay across their path. If Laura was going to continue going north, she had to cross it, or follow its meandering route east until it became a spring. That could take hours or even days.

If I cannot even cross a stream, she thought, I have no hope at all. She took a deep breath and dusted old leaves off her backside. Very well.

“I am looking for the Jack of Woods,” she told the stream. “If you can’t help me—and I suppose you probably can’t—then I ask you not to hinder me. Um. Please?”

She stepped into the water.

It broke around her foot instantly, into a scurrying flood of ermine. They scrambled out of her way. Her foot came down on the stones of the riverbed, which were as dry as old bone.

She took another step. The ermine skittered away, and that foot stayed dry too.

Inches away, the water ran on undisturbed. Slender white bodies squirmed away from her, their tails flickering like foam. They chittered and whistled and squeaked, a noise not entirely unlike the gurgling of the stream.

If she closed her eyes, she might not be able to tell the difference.

Closing my eyes is probably pressing my luck.

She took another step. The water rushed to fill in the space behind her.

Jack—her Jack—was frantic, snapping at the weasels as they ran by, but as soon as his jaws closed on one, it became a shower of droplets that splashed into the body of the stream.

“Stop that!” she hissed at him. He dropped his head and whined.

It took her six strides to cross the weasel-water. When she was safely on the other side, she turned and looked back, and there was only water in the streambed.

She called to Jack. He leapt into the water with a great splash and crossed to the other bank, then stood and shook himself off. She saw an ermine splash together under his chest and run down to the stream, but that was all.

“Well,” she said to her dog. “Well.” And then she could think of nothing else to say, and they continued in silence into the flickering wood.

 

NaNoFiMo: 11040