Update on Willow (or Running the race as slow as I can…)

My friend Nicole recently ran the Chicago marathon. You can read her story, "Chasing Garbage Trucks (a marathon story)" at her blog, Five Penny Nicole. It’s really moving. Nicole is a fellow Chicagoan who also moved to Madison, so a lot of what she wrote resonated with me.

I mention this because as you can see, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this month. Just putting all my energies into my current short story and Willow.  And even those have been going slow. With work and Daniel’s school, I just haven’t had any decent writing time. And I also admit, I’ve been slacking in writing in the evenings. We’ve been watching Babylon 5, and while it’s an awesome show, I haven’t been able to dedicate my usual hours of work in the evening. Sometimes I do write, but it’s hard to concentrate when I’m engrossed in the workings of the Sintari. So it’s getting to be that it takes me two, maybe three weeks to finish a chapter of Willow. And at this snail pace, it would be a miracle if I finish at all next year.

In Nicole’s blog, she talks about running when most of all the sprinters and experienced runners had taken off, leaving the slow runners behind. She talks about running on the sidewalk because the police had open the streets to cars again. She talks about passing empty water stations because the helpers had packed up to go home. And she talks about how despite that, she kept on running. She had made it her goal to finish the course, no matter what place she came in.

It’s not like I have writer’s block that keeps me from working on Willow. While it feels like I’m chipping away at each chapter, paragraph by paragraph, what emerges from all that chipping is some real good storytelling. I’m taking time to think through the logistics: atmosphere, description, believable action. It helps that I’m not in a hurry. Yes, there are times when I get frustrated. I feel that I should be further along.  Here it is getting into November and I only just now finished introducing all the players and starting the dive into the story itself…

But wait…I lie. That last line didn’t feel me with frustration at all. It filled me with glee. It’s got me rubbing my hands in anticipation. I want to see the book to the end, and the thing is, I’m enjoying what I’m writing. It’s not like it’s turned into a thing I have to slog into. This week, I’m putting in the details of a palace that’s based on African architecture. Do you know how much fun it is doing that?

So yes, I’m going slow. But it’s okay. My goal is not to write fast. My goal is to write Willow and finish, so that’s what I’m going to do. And for all you NaNoWriMo writers out there who feel like you’re flagging, like you can’t keep up with the daily word count, ask yourself this: did I sign up for this just to write anything, or did I promise myself to write and finish a novel?

If it’s the latter, then congratulations. You got yourself a goal. Now just keep writing until you reach it. Oh, and thanks Nicole for re-inspiring me. Now if you don’t mind, I got some writing to do!

Rambling Thoughts on a Rainy Cold Night…

I’m sitting here in my chair, a mug of decaf hot Lipton tea next to me (my third one), and an episode of Babylon 5 playing on the TV.

Rainy nights always make me moody.

Our cable went out a couple of months ago. I haven’t missed it at all. Been too busy working on Willow and other short stories. I’m starting to watch movies again. Last night, I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Brilliant movie. Absolutely brilliant. The storyline and editing was wonderful. I want to watch it again, pick it apart bit by bit.

What makes a good story? Is it plot? Is it in the writing itself? Language? Is it the ability to empathize with the characters? Is it turning a twist on a cliché?

I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I realized that one of the ways to learn is to become a slushreader. A couple of weeks ago, Fantasy Magazine put out a call for new slushreaders, and I was lucky to be chosen as one. So far, it’s been good. I’ve read stories where the ideas were so-so. And I read stories where it pulled me in, but something about the story was off…not quite right.

I’m trying to figure out how that applies in my own writing. I’ve been making good on my goal of releasing a story a week out to markets, though this week might be a little hard because of this cold. But for the most part, it’s been fun fore me, mainly because I’m not agonizing over every little word. And these stories have sat on my hard drive long enough. They deserve to get a chance, though it’s more likely they’ll get rejections. But still, better than just sitting there, unread by anyone.

Well, my mug’s empty, and my nose is drippy. I think I’m going to turn in early tonight, read a book. The rain patters against the windows, and I want it to be background noise for Barrick as he travels in the Fae Realm.

Dealing with Fantasy of a Different Sort (or I would reject your reality to substitute my own, except my fantasy is nicer than my reality…)

So last week our dryer broke down. Just stopped working on us. You would think that would sadden me, but it didn’t. For me, No dryer meant that I could actually dry our clothes outside.

Now let me tell you something–I’ve always had this weird desire to do line-drying outside. Call it a idyllic vision from my past: running past flapping bedsheets, hiding in their billowy folds, smelling the sweet fresh scent. Hearing Mrs. Sykes yell at us to get out of her laundry before we yank it down. Yeah, that’s right. It was my babysitter’s line-dry laundry I remember most. I honestly can’t remember if my family did it. Which is odd because I’m sure we did. At least, we had one of those drying racks…didn’t we?

Anyway, line-drying laundry in the sun. I always wanted to do it. When we got a house in Chicago, it was frowned on because it being the suburbs, anything that marred the ‘perfect’ landscape was a no-no. So when we moved to Madison and saw all these houses with laundry flapping in the wind, I knew one day, I’d be doing the same. Except it’s a little difficult to put up a clothesline at a rental apartment?

When our dryer broke down, I wound up putting our much-needed-to-dry washing on our fence, which worked pretty well, provided that I brushed off all the splinters when I collected it. And I had to turn the clothes around so that they would dry evenly. And I had to make sure none of the neighborhoods made off with my underwear (“Hey! Put that down! It’s already stretched enough as it is!”) And just yesterday, I learned the pitfalls of drying laundry when there’s a 40% chance of rain.

I’m learning that my little idyllic fantasy doesn’t come close to matching reality.

I bring this up because there’s a website out there called Where I Write: Fantasy & Science Fiction Authors in their Creative Spaces. Basically, it’s a bunch of F&SF authors in the places where they work.

When I started clicking on pictures, I noticed most of them among nice rooms with lots of books surrounding them, some with art, some with their hobby. And there would be desks and computers. Some even posed with their cats. It all look so nice and idyllic, it actually depressed me a bit. I don’t have a nice looking house. Most of my books are packed away in the garage. My writing desk is currently in my clothes closet, because that’s the best place to put it in our bedroom. And instead of a cat, I have a wild, rambunctious five-year-old who constantly bursts in to demand when dinner will be ready.

It’s not the sort of thing one think of as a writer. Even when I picture myself writing, I see myself at a coffeeshop, settled in an overstuffed chair, my laptop balanced on my lap.

But the appearance of being a writer is vastly different from the actual being a writer. When I write, I don’t see the laundry piled up on my bed or the papers that need to be cleaned off my desk. I see what’s going on in my head. That’s more important than having an office of my own surrounded by books. Having a fancy office doesn’t mean squat if I’m not writing.

And the beauty of being a writer is really, one could write anywhere. Taking a look again at the pictures on the Where I write site, I like the sparseness of Harry Harrison’s writing space. Even better, I love Frederik Pohl’s space—sitting on a couch, writing on a roll up typewriter stand. Now that’s something I can relate to. (What would be even more wonderful was if there were some pictures of writers at the kitchen table with their kids in the background. Or maybe some writers of color. They’re out there…)

And hey, there are times when writing for me does get idyllic. Especially those times I get to take the laptop out to the patio with a tall glass of iced tea. Mmmm…typing in the warm sun…while the birds chirp overhead….

Birds. Birds chirping. Birds flying.

Excuse me. I need to get my laundry in. Then I’m going to place a call to my landlord so we can get this @&*% dryer fixed.

Weeping of the Willows update (actually, it’s more of a non-update…)

So this week is the last week of the boy’s summer school. Can’t believe six weeks went by so quickly. It’s a good thing I used all that time to focus exclusively on Willow…

…oh, wait. No I didn’t. Truth is, I did not work on Willow at all.

You see, back in June, I was working hard to make the June 30th deadline for Writers of the Future contest. Then I learned that another deadline for a rewrite request I’m doing got pushed down to August, which gave me the whole of July to focus on reworking my story. I’m glad it got pushed, because if it hadn’t, I would’ve just done a slap-and-dash rewrite and hope for the best. This gave me time to really contemplate on how to change the story. But yeah, because I was working so hard on these two short stories, Willow fell to the wayside because I didn’t have time to work on it.

Which don’t make sense at first–with the boy at school, I had oodles of time to write, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except with all that time, I did other things too, like clean and nap and uh…read email…play Bejeweled…

But the other thing was that I was totally wrapped up in these short stories. I couldn’t put them down. I had to finish them to see how they turned out. There were the deadlines, too, but still–I was having fun working on these stories. And I felt that if I switched to Willow, I would lose my momentum in getting them sent out.

Both stories have gone out now. And I got a week left of freedom…of sorts. Except really, it’s only two more days, because I have in-laws visiting on Thursday. Which means we have to get the apartment clean. And I have an essay to wrap up that needs to get done by Saturday, which means I need to finish it tomorrow…

But I miss Willow. I miss working on it. I want to work on it again.

Okay, here’s a promise to myself. Make August Willow month. Sure, the boy will be back to being at home in the afternoons, but to be honest, I miss the structured time I had with him. Actually, there’s a lot more I miss from him not being around, but that will have to be a separate post. Trust me, come next week, I’ll probably be thinking, man, I so wish he was back in summer school…

More thoughts on the closing of Realms of Fantasy & Year’s Best…

So I’ve been doing some thinking. Serious thinking. And I’ve come to a startling revelation.

Realms of Fantasy closing and The Years Best Fantasy & Horror Anthologies no longer being printed? Their ending don’t affect me at all.

It’s startling because I consider them the highest levels a writer can get in writing. When both of them folded, I was devastated, yes, in learning I won’t be getting any more stories from them. Which is sad, because from those venues I learned about Kelly Link, Theodora Goss, Nalo Hopkinson and other writers who inspired me to write.

But the startling part that got me was this: when was the last time I read either of those?

The Year’s Best Anthologies I haven’t picked up for a while because, well, I’ve been pretty busy; not to mention that my local library doesn’t have them on hand (actually, they do, but I’ll probably have to get it on loan from another neighborhood library, which could take a couple of days—not exactly self-gratifying if I have to put in an order for it instead of just taking it off the shelf I used to do in Chicago. Then again, I could always drive to another library that’s better stocked, but geez, that means that I wouldn’t be able to gripe about here…). And the last time I bought a copy of Realms of Fantasy was…ummm…hmmm…

Nowadays, I’m getting my short story fix online. There are a dozen of websites I go to on a monthly basis, and several more that I download to my mp3 player. (I swear, I will update my blog sidebar to show them) And these are all really good stories; perhaps not as the same caliber as what was in Realms of Fantasy, but I would’ve nominated them in a heartbeat for Year’s Best.

Yes, I’m still bummed that these venues are gone. But there are other markets out there. Markets that are easy to access. Markets that you don’t have to pay unless you want to. Markets that allow everyone to read, yet still have editors to filter out the really good stuff from just your average mediocre story.

This got nailed home to me this Sunday when my short story “The Liberation of Roscoe White” got put up at The Town Drunk. (What do you mean you haven’t read it yet? Stop what you’re doing and go read it! Go! Go now!). Some very good stories are on that sight (besides mine, of course). It’s nice that that I can give people a website and they can go and read my story for free, but it’s extra nice when an editor who runs a ezine tells me, “I like your story so much, I’ll pay for it to put it on my site.” That is nice.

The publishing world is changing. What does that mean to me? Well, it just means that I keep on writing and keep on submitting. I keep my eye on what markets are considered the best and send my best stories to them. And then I’ll keep writing. Granted, I’ll have to look to a new market to set my high standard bar to–

Then again, maybe I’ve already done that.

I just finished reading the Writers of the Future XXII Anthology. The first story was so-so, but there were other stories in there that blew me away.

One of these days, I’m going to get a story in there. Just you wait…

Speaking of which, congratulations to all the winners of the 4th quarter contest. You can find the winners on the WOTF website. The next contest deadline is April 1. All you writers better get writing.

Back to Normality and Routine…Hooray!

If you noticed, I hadn’t posted anything last week. There’s a good reason for that–I’ve been playing around with my writing schedule, figuring out when was the best time to do work on which writing projects, now that we’ve settled into a normal routine again.

A normal routine. I never thought it would happen. After all the chaos over the past six months…actually, no, make that eight months…it feels strange to be in a normal routine again. Part of me is somewhat aghast that I need a routine to define my life.

Back before marriage and kids, I used to be more spontaneous–in fact, when I was with the RCA, I took a Gallup Strengths Finder test (similar to Meyer Briggs) and one of my strengths was Adaptability: the ability to change direction when needed. People with an Adaptability strength was very good at multi-tasking, and they were great at changing focus at a drop of a hat. I prided myself with that. I thought that being spontaneous was the best thing for me, the artsy person that I was (never mind that I wasn’t actually creating any art at the time–simply the thought that I was made me happy).

When Daniel was born, I had to build routine into our lives. Suddenly, I didn’t mind doing the same thing over and over each week–routines became familiar to us like a warm blanket, because we knew where we stood in life. It gave us structure, a framework I could build my life on, particularly my writing. A routine forced me to sit in a chair and produce something, not just say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll write that down someday…” Without routine, I would have never finished The Weeping of the Willows.

So now that we’re in a normal routine again, I feel a little wary that it might be taken away. When my hubby got his job with the school, we thought that we were set for life, if only for a couple of years. When all the life changes took place last October, it shook us up good. Who’s to say that the same thing won’t happen now that we’re up in Madison?

I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s where the trust in God’s leading comes in. He brought us here. He had a reason. So as long as we’re here, I’m going to enjoy it.

So anyway, back to writing. Because our apartment is so tiny, sound travels very easily, which sucks when I want to concentrate on writing. Luckily, I don’t have to concentrate so much in reading through the first draft of Willow. Doing a read-through is easier, and harder, than I thought. Some books say that you only reread the first draft just to get a feel for the story; others say to scrutinize every line in a reread, because you need to get the second draft just right. What complicates things is that there are whole chapters that I want to strip out, and new scenes that I need to write.

Because of the whole moving thing, I did not print out the story, but rather, I’m doing the whole reading on Word 2007, using the Track Changes and Comments feature. It works quite well for me since I’m not constantly printing up paper. I just read the story and make notes to myself on what I would like to change, what needs to be researched, etc. The hard part is not making revisions right away–in some places, it’s very much needed, and I find myself doing some quick corrections. It’s okay, but I don’t want to get bogged down in it. This is not the time to rewrite the whole book. That will come later, when I’ll do the actual revising.

I don’t know how long it will take for me to reread the story, but since I’m not doing the massive 600,000 word count, I’m guessing that it won’t take me as long. Back in January, when we were working on the house, I managed to read through a chapter per week. Now that I have more time to dedicate to it, I would like to bump it up to two, perhaps even three chapters a week. Let’s see, I’m on chapter 9 now, and there are currently 51 chapters in the book, so if I read through 3 chapters a week, I can be done with the reading process by the middle of September. Oy, that’s a lot of work.

In the meantime, there’s also the short story I’m working on, “She’s All Light”. I’m so sick of working on this story, because it’s all I’ve been working on so far this year, other than Willow. I want to start working on new stuff, but SAL is coming to the point that I’m almost ready to send out. That requires much more of my concentration, so the best time for me to work on it is when I come back from work, after Daniel goes down for quiet time (and ever since he started preschool, when he comes home, he’s so exhausted he actually naps. Thank you, Preschool!) Working on Willow works well (hee-hee…alliteration) in the evening, when my hubby watches TV and I can afford to glance up every now and then to see what’s on the screen.

And as for blogging? Well, to my amazement, so far the best time seems to be in the early morning, right before I go to work. And the strangest thing is, I have been getting up early, at least early for me. Go figure.

It’s getting close to 7:30. Time to get ready for work. Looks like it’s going to be a normal, routine-laden day.

Ahhhh. Feels good.

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