Monday, September 27, 2010

Keeping the faith

A writing life is busy. I knew that when I signed up for it, but living it is a whole new realization. I sat down almost exactly 7 years ago and started writing my first (completed) novel. This weekend, I chatted back and forth with the marketing department of that novel's publisher, making decisions about the cover. In between those moments, a lot has happened. I've written two trunked novels (they will probably never see the light of day), completed the first draft of a fourth, submitted plenty of short fiction, sold some short fiction, and "minioned" my way through some great editorial projects.

There have been a lot of rejections and setbacks along the way. I've had about 27 rejections this year, which isn't bad--unless I'm having a bad day. Then all those nos start to sting. If you've ever sent words out into the world, you know what that feels like. But my hide is beginning to get thicker. I can even look at some of my pieces and think "that's not very good" without feeling too badly about it. There was a time when I couldn't stand to trunk a piece. It hurt to say that there was no hope or home for something. But now I can look at things and shrug. Sometimes not working is okay.

Part of this detachment comes from my approach to writing short fiction. Some people are short story writers because they are in love with short fiction. Some people only write short stories. And for some people, short stories are just a kind of writing laboratory. That's me. I don't know exactly what I'm going to learn from a piece when I set down to write it. I still don't know what lesson I should have got out of some of my pieces. But I am certain I am learning. I can't say that every story I write is better than the ones before--but I know that I am better. I think I am failing in new and different ways every time I sit down to write. Seven years ago, I couldn't have even imagined the mistakes I make now.

I read something great in an interview with Paolo Bacigalupi that struck a nerve in me today:

For me I actually knew that I had a great deal of talent. I knew that I was a really great writer in high school. My writing teachers were amazing. When I went to college I could write essays and all that stuff—really tight, clean stuff. And having the raw was meaningless, ultimately. It was the willingness to write four novels and fuck them all up and keep going that was the definer. It wasn't the ability at all. Yeah, the willingness to accept failure and not let it stop you, and to not let that define you....

[Quote taken from this interview--Read more:]
I was just like him when I was young. I look back on the short stories I wrote in high school, and they're good, full of fun action and clean dialogue and great description. And my college essays were epic. I couldn't lose when it came to putting words on paper.

But when I was ready to take on writing, I had to learn how to fuck up. Until you've blown it--and blown it badly--you'll never cut through the blithe ease of your talent. You'll never look for new tools or dig down inside you for something more. More meaningful, more powerful, more funny, more sad, more ugly ... whatever. You have to want to look for more.

Because the truth is, words are too shallow on their own. And no matter how hard you work, you're just making busy-work until you break through that superficial surface and feel the currents of meaning swirling beneath yourself.

Will I get there? I don't know. But I've got my ice pick ready.

Friday, September 24, 2010

G**gle-y Gadgets

Somewhere down the line, I became a Google freak. I have gmail. I use gchat. I use Google Notebook (now defunct, sniff) to store many important pieces of information. I use Google Calendar, which between coordinating the family's schedules and a top-secret upcoming project that involves my favorite members of the Internet, has saved my bacon more times than I can count. And I can't rave enough about Google Docs, which not only helps file-sharing, but really does work as a good emergency word-processing tool. Hey, emergencies happen.

But then again, Google makes me nervous. There's the Google-Verizon Internet-twisting deal. The author-crushing Google Book Settlement. And I don't even like to think about the fact that Google is the world's biggest provider of information, what with the search engine and youtube and satellites and maps and YIKES!!! It's just creepy that one organization has become such a critical gateway to knowledge.

But creepy or not, they're dead useful. So I'm not sure what to think. But I do know the more I think about it, the more inspired I get to write dystopian fiction!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seasonal Treats

One of my favorite things about fall in our neighborhood is all the squirrel-tacular activity. Those little gray rodents scurry everywhere, racing up trees, scooting across front porches, digging up flower beds and veggie patches in a mad attempt to cache the autumnal bounty.

Our neighborhood is loaded with black walnut trees, so the squirrels find plenty of goodies. And the combination of black walnuts and squirrels causes one of my favorite fall phenomena. I don't know if you've ever tried to open a black walnut, but they are encased in a wonderful-smelling green husk that takes a great deal of scraping to reveal the shell and the exceptionally flavorful nutmeat inside. (I learned this the hard way at a time when I was fiendishly poor and decided to add roadside walnuts to my menu. Best banana bread EVER.) The green husk contains a compound that stains everything a deep dark brown, close to black, a stain so powerful it was used as an ink base and hair dye in Colonial times.

To remove the husk, the squirrels use their amazing teeth, gnawing and scraping at each walnut for five minutes or so. Their paws and mouths become stained dark brown in the process. I wish I had a picture to share the cuteness. It's like squirrel lipstick. It's beyond cute. It's squeee-dorable.

It's easily my favorite fall treat, better than pumpkin pie, better than apple sauce. Nothing says "autumn in Portland" quite so perfectly.

Anybody out there have a fall favorite? Since it's my favorite season, I'm eager to hear!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Awesome Rigor video!

Check it out! It's too big to fit in my columns. :D

Two of the images are from stories of mine. Maybe you can guess which ones?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Building new routines

I recently made a big life change. Not huge, not major, but big enough to make me really uncomfortable: I cut one of my days at the dayjob. There's no way we'll stare to death, but there will be serious belt-tightening measures around the joint.

The hardest thing for me is knowing that I don't have the spare cash to just waltz into my favorite coffee place and order a whatever latte or a cup of coffee and slice of pie. Going to coffee shops ranks highly on my list of favorite fun activities, and one of the few I've kept over this last year. Gardening has slipped by the wayside as too time-intensive. Gaming and movie-watching have fallen to a once-a-week treat, shared with the Sweetie-Pie--we can do one or the other one night a week. But I've been able to swing by the coffee shop on my way to pick up the kid from school or camp or a friend's house on a fairly regular basis. It's so nice to sit in a warm, delicious-scented space and just read or noodle out new story ideas.

This week has been difficult because I've been pushing myself really hard--AND I missed my night off with Sweetie-Pie. We have company coming this weekend (which of course I resent, because that's just the way it is when I'm struggling to figure out my writing and financial life) and I didn't want to fall behind. Last night I managed to take care of a little business and then gave in. I had to nip my resentful feelings in the bud! So I made margaritas and took them down to the basement and "helped" Sweetie-Pie play Silent Hill 2. Chips and salsa may have played a hand.

Now today I feel okay. I might take an afternoon bath to meditate up some new story ideas, and I'm going to try really hard not to feel like I'm wasting time. After all, I *do* have get clean once in a while!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Super-fast update!

I really know I've been neglecting to blog, but I got sucked into a Twitter challenge to submit 10 short stories by October 1st--which means I need to produce some short stories and/or polish up some older ones. And I've been doing an extra blast of minioning, too.

But there's no excuse for failing my blog! I'm just so boring (glued to computer night and day) that it's hard to find a mote of entertainment to share with anyone. I promise I'll try harder to be funny this week!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Week of Massive Productivity

My online writing group dubbed this THE WEEK OF MASSIVE PRODUCTIVITY. So far, I'm off to an okay start. There are some deadlines coming up in my world, so I've been cranking up my editorial minioning, and last night there was a surprise request from the cover artist assigned to the cover of Her Dark Depths, so instead of writing, I spent a chunk of time trying to figure out important details like my heroine's shoe style. (Heroine: boots. Villainess: gladiator sandals.) Tonight I'm just catching up on the blogging universe, because HEY! it's important, too. Sometimes I miss luxuriating over a good blog entry.

Another thing I haven't spent as much time on lately is my garden. But I got caught up this weekend. I even took out the worm bin and harvested the (really incredible mound) of worm casings. I like to harvest the casings the lazy way: tip out the bin onto a sheet of cardboard and leave the mound of casings out in the sunshine for a while. The worms crawl down to the bottom, leaving a top layer of uninhabited poopy goodness.

I was puttering away, planting some fall kale and waiting for the worms to settle, when I realized I needed to refill my watering can. Coming around the corner, I startled a number of sparrows from the bird feeder. It put a big grin on my face. Oddly enough, the sparrows didn't fly up into the trees when they saw me--they landed on the neighbor's roof, lining up on the rain gutter and staring down at me as I worked. The sound of their little claws on the metal gutter made my neck hair prickle.

After a few minutes, the birds went back to the feeder, and I finished with the kale and chard. And a connection fired in my beleaguered brain. Why had the sparrows been watching me so carefully? And why were they chirping so happily on the other side of the house, as if they were eating something especially delicious? Something uniquely tasty and squirmy?

I darted around the corner, startling seven sparrows from the mound of sunning worm poop. One fluttered around the inside of the actual worm bin, scooping up one last red wriggler who'd been hiding in the corners. The sparrow at least looked embarrassed to see me.

I hurried to return the worms to the safety of their bin, begging Sweetie-Pie & the Midget to help with the refilling process (I needed a lot of shredded newspaper). The birds settled onto our roof in the hopes we would abandon the delicious worms, and after a few minutes began to protest mightily. I felt a moment's remorse. After all, the worms might be my very useful friends--but sparrows are adorable!