Monday, January 31, 2011

"As if death itself was undone"

The book (working title: Stronger Than Death) is cooperating right now. Even if I did, er, kill my pov character last night. As I reassured my friend Tim, Buffy died twice in seven seasons. Everything is going to be fine.

And there are enough words on the page that this feels book-shaped in my head when I think about it, which is good.

The other good thing is that I know what the book sounds like in my head, at least at this point in the story. So, for those of you who like this sort of thing, here's the playlist:

"Blinding"  - Florence and the Machine
"On an Unknown Beach" - Amanda Palmer
"Love Vigilantes" - Iron & Wine
"My Body is a Cage" - Peter Gabriel
"My Darkness" - Lookbook
"Love You More" - The Pierces
"Rox in the Box" - The Decemberists
"Ramalama (Bang Bang)" - Róisín Murphy
"The Ship Song" - Amanda Palmer
"To Darkness/ Kripa" - The Dharohar Project
"Harder Than Easy" - Jack Savoretti

No annotations this time - I've grown increasingly superstitious about giving the details of a work in progress while it is, you know, in progress.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dwelling in the ivory tower

I'm working on an article about horror in fiction. As part of the research for this, I recently read an analysis of Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Among some of the smarter pieces of analysis, this article also made some colossally stupid ones: that Hyde represented the need to write for popularity and Jekyll the desire to create art, and that this duality was a manifestation of Stevenson's own feelings of betraying his artistic calling because he had written The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in order to make money.

The horror! The horror!

It was one of those moments where I shake my head and blush for my profession. And it would have been a moment I could have snarked about on twitter and then left alone, except then I read about how I am a apparently a dry and bloodless person, in a profession full of intolerant, narrow-minded twits, and the combination of the two things, well.

I mean, look. I get that there are hide-bound people in academia, as there are in every profession, who are resistant to change and new ideas. I took classes from some of them. And yes, some literary scholarship seems wildly out of touch with any actual love for or understanding of literature. You know what? I don't like it, either. I don't think it's good scholarship, and at a very fundamental level, I don't understand choosing to spend that much time and effort thinking about something that gives no pleasure.

Here's the thing: I love teaching literature. I get paid to read works that I love, and think seriously about them, and then talk to smart people about all the cool stuff in those books. That is a really great job. I don't see literary analysis as a way to suck the life and fun out of texts, but as a way to find the Easter eggs hidden inside. I feel pretty safe in saying that bringing in Neil Gaiman's Worlds' End and JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I teach Chaucer this semester will make the students more, not less, excited about what they are reading, and more, not less, likely to think in braver ways about what we read.

I believe that a truly great book is like the TARDIS: it is bigger on the inside. My role, as the Doctor in the room, is to help students think about the ways in which it is. I know that I am doing my job when I get told that "Shakespeare is kind of fucking awesome, which I didn't know before this course" (still my favorite comment on a course eval) or that "I didn't know fantasy could be like The City and the City" or "I bought all of Cat Valente's books on Amazon last night."

I aim for the same results in my scholarship. Yes, I want to think rigorously about the texts I am writing on, but if I don't make clear why I love them, why I think they are worth thinking rigorously about, then I have failed.

And sure, a lot of this sounds like me trying to defend myself "But I only have the one tweed jacket, and it's black, and dammit, I am dreamy in it." But I think of my advisor, who watched as a seminar on Piers Plowman turned into a discussion of the geography of the Dreaming, of my friend Jen, who blew her class' mind when she introduced them to Ender's Game, of the man in the office to my left who works on Shaun Tan, and the woman in the office to my right who is writing a book on imaginary geography in Renaissance Lit, and I think that the ivory tower isn't such a bad place to hang out.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Speculation and name-calling

When people ask me what I write, I tell them speculative fiction. This is probably not a surprise to you, as that's what it says, down there in my profile.

Not everyone loves the term. Cat Valente just wrote a post about why she hates it. I actually agree with a lot of her concerns, even if I respond to them in different ways, so, hear me now and believe me later, this post is not me trying to start an internet slap fight with Cat. What this post is, is an explanation of why I use the term, and some musings on why I think definitions and terminology matter.

Another caveat: this is one of those definitions that's like, "I know it when I see it," or "x is what I point at when I say x."

So: when I say speculative fiction, I mean all fiction that is not mimetic. Fantasy, science fiction, magical realism (a term I happen to hate, and I'll get to that), horror, weird, new weird, old weird, slipstream, streampunk, et cetera, et cetera, and so on, and so on. I like the term, because in my head, it is inclusive. It is not hierarchical or snobby. It is not jealous, nor does it have connotations of appropriate rigor or literariness.

I use the term to describe my writing, because I write a lot of different things that fall under the non-mimetic umbrella: fantasy, weird, horror, and, dear God above, I am trying my hand at writing science fiction. Saying "I write speculative fiction" takes up fewer words. I don't particularly care what goes through people's heads when they hear those words (although, when I told my Mom I sold "Choose Your Own Adventure" to Fantasy, she did ask if it was the sort of magazine we could tell my grandparents about) other than hoping they will want to read what I wrote.

But the other reason I use the term speculative fiction is that I am also in academia. Now, I am lucky, in that I am currently at a place that has never told me that I could not teach a course or a text because it was not academically rigorous enough. My department invited me to give a reading, and the Chair sent around a letter of congratulations when I made my last sale. But I also know enough about academia to know this is lucky.

I know what it's like to be told we don't teach fantasy, even though Shakespeare and Spenser and Mary Shelley are on the syllabi. I hate magical realism as a literary term because as far as I am concerned, it's what gets used so that people do not have to admit that works of fantasy have won the Nobel prize (and other literary awards that do not look like shiny rocket ships.)

(Actually, I hate it for more than that, but that is a rant for a different day.)

And the terms matter - not just to critics, but to those of us who write in the area, make no bones about that - because it is those labels that connote respect. Or allow texts to be added to syllabi without criticism from the department, or threats that your scholarship won't be thought rigorous enough to get you tenure if you write your book on a comic. Works of magical realism win the Nobel, works of fantasy win the Hugo.

We fight about our labels, it matters to us where our books get shelved, because - and we all know this, we writers of speculative fiction, and fantasy, we scribblers of the impossible - because names have power. We want to feel like what we do matters, that people take it seriously, or at least don't dismiss it out of hand, the way we do when we sneer at the latest New York Times best seller that's about a man, usually a professor of English, who has a midlife crisis and fucks his gorgeous grad student, and realizes a Truth of Life because of it, and oh, how unrealistic is that. (Penispunk? can that be a genre, too?)

We want a name that levels the playing field, and makes us feel like maybe, just maybe, the only thing our writing will be judged on is its quality. I don't know a word that magical. For now, its existence is merely speculative.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thinking about books and magic

So I want to talk about a book. I know. I do this a lot. But this isn't a review. This is me, thinking out loud.

The book I want to talk about is Jo Walton's Among Others. There is a great deal I like about this  book. It is told in diary entries. Maybe that's an odd thing to mention, but I love novels that step outside of the traditional form. I love that Mori Phelps is such a voracious reader, and that it is through books that she learns about herself, and we learn about her. (I have often thought that if I were ever to attempt memoir, it would take the form of a very personal annotated bibliography. I do not measure out my life in coffee spoons, I measure it in other people's words.) I love the precision of the voice - Mori is real. And she is real in a way that I think explains a lot of the raving about this book in the speculative fiction community: we recognize ourselves in this bookish girl who lives a life outside of everyone else's.

But there is one thing that I really don't quite know what to think about. The magic. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to believe that the magic in Among Others is actually there, that the book is a work of fantasy. Walton's discussion of the book on Whatever certainly supports this supposition. It's published by Tor, which publishes fantasy, and Mori certainly believes that the magic is real.

Except: all of the magic can be explained mimetically. That it's coincidence, or grief, the combination of isolation and imagination, or simply the miraculous strangeness of the everyday. 

Mori believes the magic is real. Maybe that should be enough for me as a reader - I spent years working on a dissertation about women whose experience of the divine fell into the category of the supernatural. And the academic answer I gave to people who would ask why I was writing on mentally ill women, was: "Well, they believed, and I owe them the respect of not treating their experiences as less than true for them." Mori's experience of magic is certainly true for her.

Maybe the point of Among Others is that uncertainty - that magic is a liminal kind of thing, and so there shouldn't be concrete explanations, and I should take off my academic gloves and stop trying to pluck out the heart of its mystery. But I guess the thing about this book, the thing that, while I like it a great deal, prevents me from loving it, is that I don't quite know what the mystery is.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Five things I learned at Clarion

The Clarion Writers' Workshops, Clarion and Clarion West , are currently accepting applications. Jim Kelly has asked those of us who attended to participate in a meme, sharing five things we learned while we were there. (Okay, he asked us to do this on facebook, but I'm really boring there, and this way, I can go off on digressions and tangents. Hurrah!)

Also, caveats. If I had to come up with this list in August of 2008, right after Clarion was finished, it would have been different than it is today. Ask me again in a year, three, five, and my guess is the list will have changed once more. I learned a lot when I was there, but the things that are most important to me (both in terms of writing and in life) have changed, and will again.

1. Write ten endings. Since the meme is at Jim's request, we'll start with one I learned from him as part of "Jim Kelly's 10 Stupid Plot Tricks." I use this all the time, not just - and not usually - for the ends of stories, but for the what happens next. A useful corollary to this, a 1a., if you will, is Neil Gaiman's suggestion that, when you don't know what happens next, ask your character what she wants. 

2. Eventually, you have to walk down the street naked. Neil again. Terri Windling and Ellen Kushner (another Clarion instructor, though not one of mine) have written about this recently as well. In other words, be brave enough to write your story. Stop worrying that your mother, or your priest, or your lover will read it and decide you are a pervert or a freak. Pick up your pen, and write your story.

3. There's very little that can't be fixed by a watergun battle, an all-night dance party, or a Buffy singalong. Some days, being a writer sucks. You mix your metaphors, dangle your participles, and split your infinitives. The first thing you see in your inbox is a rejection letter. The critique session makes you cry. Remember that there is life outside of writing, and live it.

4. You can be a good writer without putting yourself on the page. You can't be a great one. 

5. Writing is a job. Show up for work. When I taught this fall, three of my writer friends came in an guest-lectured for me. Every one of them was asked how they deal with writer's block. Every one of them answered: "Writing is my job. I don't get to have writer's block." If you're going to be a writer, in the words of John Scalzi (teaching at Clarion this year), "find the time or don't." Don't wait until your life is awesome, or the muse visits, all smiles and seductions, or until you know what happens next. Put your butt in the chair, and write.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

She saved the world. A lot.

Buffy Summers turns 30 today. Which is a fairly impressive achievement for a woman who once sang the lyric, "Hey, I've died twice."

I didn't watch Buffy when the show was on tv. My reaction, when it started, was, "But I like vampires. Why would I want to watch a show about a Slayer?" I decided I would after a law school faculty party, where I overheard a less than flattering mention of myself, which provoked the response, "What did you expect? You married Buffy Summers."

I have never been blonde or a cheerleader. I bought the entire series the next day.

And I love it. As far as I'm concerned, season 5 of Buffy is the most perfect single season of television I've ever seen. I love the show, and Buffy, in a way that - while I realize there were flaws and missteps over the course of the run, and can talk in depth about the things I didn't quite like - means I can't fully articulate why it is I love the show as much as I do, why Buffy is a character who speaks to me as truly as she does.

It's just my show. Buffy is my hero. The elevator pitch for the novel formerly known as Linger is "It's like Buffy meets Camelot with fencing."

She saved the world, and on some days, I think she saved parts of me, too. She's my younger sister's age, but still the person I want to be when I grow up.

Happy Birthday, Buffy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rocks fall, everyone dies

Well, okay, no. That's not quite what happens. But if you're faffing about on twitter, and you ask people how to end a scene, every single person who responds will say some variation of that. That isn't the story I wrote, but that's where the idea for the story began.

What story, you ask? "Choose Your Own Adventure," that I just sold to Fantasy Magazine.

It's a great market, and a story I'm really proud of. I can't wait for you all to read it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Here I stand, with a sword in my hand

I can't remember I time when I didn't want to fence. One of my earliest memories, in fact, is of drawing z's all over the walls of my house, pretending I was Zorro, wishing I could hear the blade flick through the air.

My last Nationals was my worst competition ever. The bad started seven months before, when I got hit by a car, and cracked cartilage in my hip. There was no way I wasn't competing - I had qualified as part of a team for my club, and I wasn't letting them down. So I did MRIs and intense physical therapy. I got massages, ice baths, and regular cortisone injections (you know, the kind of thing that puts baseball players on the disabled list. My orthopedic surgeon drew smily faces on my ass in purple ink to mark where the needle had to pass between the bones, and laughed when I cursed at him.). And I trained.

And we went to Nationals. The day of the team competition started badly - I had a terrible fight with my then-husband, and spent most of the warm-up period vomiting in the ladies room. I had, for the first and only time in my life, a blade break, actually snap in two, during a bout. I could not get my shit together. My coaches, quite rightly, pulled me, and put in an alternate. We were fencing for bronze and she got hurt, so I had to go back in, and of course, of course, the club we were competing against was my old club. I could not stand up to the psychological weight of that. We didn't medal. I don't even remember the individual event.

But it would okay. I was in the best shape of my life, and the ending of one competitive season meant nothing except the beginning of the next one. Except. In my first tournament back, I tore a hamstring. Once I recovered from that, next tournament, my shoulder was dislocated. My right shoulder. Training through the first injury, the hip, instead of stopping and treating it, letting it heal, had put strange stresses on the rest of my body, and the time had come to pay the piper.

I retired.

I hated it.

I hated not training, not competing. I missed the way fencing made me think. It had been part of my life for decades, and then it was gone. There wasn't a day I didn't miss it.

Five years later, I came out of retirement briefly. But I was writing then, and I write by hand, and I was writing a dissertation as well as fiction, and my shoulder, well, it's barely worthy of the name. When I could no longer hold a foil en guarde, I stopped training. Again.

There is a foil in the corner of my office right now. Beautiful. Maraging steel. Visconti grip, made for my hand. Hand wired. When I need to think, I run through bladework drills. I can hit a quarter taped to the wall 100 times in a row. Blindfolded. I've been building my strength back up, doing physical therapy. It hurts. I hate it. But I love it, too, because tonight, the pain finally felt clean. Not poisoned, but like there was possibility on the other side. 

Like some day, I might be a swordswoman again. Please God. Because I am my best, my realest self, with a sword in my hand.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Scary monsters and super creeps

The other day I was having a conversation with a friend (that I am now going to excerpt, summarize, and vastly over-simplify for the purposes of this post) about a particular graphic novel. She had liked it, but it had scared her. I asked if it was too scary for the classroom, and she said that, in certain circumstances, yes, and the thing that made it so was the images that went with the text - when something was just words, she said, you could just skim over, and didn't have to see the images in your head, but in comic form, the images were there and you had to see them.

It was, honestly, something I had never thought about before, because for me, seeing something automatically makes it less scary. Having a concrete image, no matter how graphic or horrifying, shuts down the part of my brain that imagines The Worst Possible Thing. So because this new idea completely shifted my worldview, I did what anyone would do in this situation: I asked twitter.

The results of this obviously very scientific study was an overwhelming number of responses saying that scary stories without pictures were scarier than those with. Which I mention not because I think it definitively proves anything (different things scare different people, and horror is the one genre I have consistently seen defined by the emotional response it evokes in the reader, as well as the content of the story), but because it made me continue to think about the question. Most of the people I talk to regularly on twitter are writers. I believe that everyone who responded to my question is. And so I wonder if, because as writers, we work with words, we are somehow wired to respond more strongly to written art than to visual art.

Fairly quickly, I think, the discussion moved to "what makes effective horror," how showing too much of the monster served to negate its ability to frighten someone, and whether too much knowledge can diffuse the atmosphere of horror. I really liked this response, from Gwenda Bond, "I just reread Danse Macabre and directly visualized horror is tougher. Chaos lives in glimpses and the dark." 

Another response that I found very helpful in thinking about this question was from Jason Ciaramella, who writes comics, and spoke specifically about the form. He said there were two reasons why he felt that comics, as a medium, couldn't really maintain an atmosphere of horror. One, because you turn the page, and that acts as just enough of a reprieve from whatever the writer and artist were able to do that it stalls the buildup. The other is because, for most of us, our first experience of comics is with cartoons. No matter how good a particular artist is, he or she is working against our subconscious idea that Ziggy and Garfield just aren't scary. 

It's an interesting discussion, and if you've read this far because you were hoping I'd formulated a Unified Theory of Fright, I'm afraid I have to disappoint you. The one thing I do know is there are all sorts of horrors, both seen and unseen, and I need to go write about them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ain't good enough for you

I used to think that books were written as they are read: first a title, then the opening words of the first chapter, and then on and on, until the end. That there were no corrections or alterations made, except for fixing typos, or perhaps removing an errant semicolon.

Truly. No exaggeration. This is what I believed.

It was, you see, the way I wrote. A research paper for school would be written the same way as an in-class essay: a brief to medium period of thinking, followed by the writing of the paper. I did not do multiple drafts. Until graduate school, I didn't need to. So I assumed that Real Writers, who were, obviously, by their virtue of being Real, much better than I was, wrote in the same way, just, you know, better. 

(I think, perhaps, I am not the only person who has ever held this assumption about Real Writers. Whenever I have taught a writing-intensive course, I have put Stephen King's On Writing on the syllabus. There is a section at the end where he shows part of his revision process. Reading this section tends to cause a wide-eyed, hair-clutching reaction of surprise that someone of King's stature is not perfect straight out of the box, and relief that do-overs are allowed.)

The problem with assuming that Real Writers did not commit word to page until the word was right and perfect meant that when I first tried my hand at writing fiction, I became absolutely certain I had no talent for it. I ran out of perfect very quickly, you see, and because I couldn't rekindle it, I assumed that I would never be a writer.

Accepting that my drafts are as imperfect as I am, and that I am still a Real Writer is the hardest thing for me. Paralyzingly hard, sometimes. There are things I can't do, even in draft zero. I cannot start from anywhere other than where I think the beginning is. I cannot leave bracketed scenes - you know the [awesome space battle HERE!] sort of place holders. I've gotten better at moving on from sketched in scenes as long as I know the emotional state of my characters. I can leave a sloppy sentence that is almost there. I've learned that sometimes, interesting is better for a story than perfect.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What are words for

"I saw King Lear yesterday. Mrs. Siddons as Goneril. The idiots had given it a happy ending."

"That will not last. The Great Stories will always return to their original forms."
               - Hob Gaddling, in conversation with Dream of the Endless. "Men of Good Fortune," written by Neil Gaiman

I am going to use some words in this post that are ugly and offensive. I do not believe they belong in my everyday conversation. They do, however, belong here.

NewSouth Books has announced they will be publishing a new edition of Mark Twain's classic, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The edition, edited in a cowardly fashion by Alan Gribben, will replace the word "nigger" with "slave" and will rename "Injun Joe" as "Indian Joe." In an interview, Professor Gribben (who heads the English Department at Auburn University, a fact I will state without comment) said he made this choice because, "After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can't do it anymore. In the new classroom, it's really not acceptable."

Yes. Because obviously, academia's response to literature that makes people uncomfortable ought to be bowdlerization. Maybe Gribben can age up Lolita while he's at it.

Twain's use of the word "nigger" makes people uncomfortable. I'm fine with that. It should make people uncomfortable to hear that word. We should be uncomfortable with America's racist history. Perhaps, people are even more uncomfortable with it because Twain is one of our literary heros. A smart guy who wrote great books, and we don't like thinking that smart guys who write great books can be flawed.

But literature isn't necessarily meant to make us feel comfortable. The literature we teach perhaps even less so. How can anyone learn anything if they are not challenged, pushed outside of their comfort zones, made to confront things that are ugly, and terrifying, and that they would be far happier not thinking about? When I put together a syllabus, I think about texts that will make my students learn, not books that will pat them on the head and tell them they are smart and and morally superior already.

And sure, maybe that's easy for me to say. I have always taught at the university level, where I have academic freedom, and I don't have to deal with book banners insisting that I not teach books that have ugly words in. But it is the responsibility of a teacher at any level to teach. To show people truth, even when it is ugly and uncomfortable and people call you bad names for doing so. Because you know what's really not acceptable, in any classroom? Censorship. Placating the book-banners. Covering things over so you don't have to have the difficult discussions.

Words matter. Even the ugly ones. We do not get to cavalierly unsay them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

That thing we do

The nominating period for the Hugo awards is open, and we're in the middle of the nominating period for the Nebulas, and so everyone is posting their lists of eligible works. I feel mildly uncomfortable about doing this, because I only published two short stories in 2010, but honestly, I'd probably feel mildly uncomfortable about doing this if I had published 20 short stories, a six-issue comic arc, and a best-selling novel. And when it comes down to it, I'm proud of what I've written, and I'd be honored to have my stories considered. So:

"A Life in Fictions." In Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

"Beauty and Disappearance." In Weird Tales

I am also in my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (which is not a Hugo, but the same rules for who can nominate apply). I am so very aware that the odds of someone who has only published two short stories being nominated for this award can charitably be called "minuscule," but technically you only need one publication to be nominated, and hey, if you want to nominate me, I'm certainly not going to stop you.

If you are eligible to nominate (meaning for the Nebulas, you are an active or associate member of SFWA, and for the Hugos you had a membership to Aussiecon 4 or you become a member of Renovation 2011 before 31 January) and would like to read either or both of these stories, I will happily send you the files - there is a contact link in my profile. Thank you for your consideration.

Monday, January 3, 2011

With great power: Being a review of The Cape

Right. Let's start with the necessary clarification: this is a review of the comic, "The Cape." Published by IDW, written by Jason Ciaramella, based on a short story by Joe Hill. Art by Zach Howard, and colors by Nelson Daniel. It hasn't anything to do with the upcoming tv show. Got it? Good.

The first time I read "The Cape," it was Neil Gaiman's fault.

I wasn't sure, I said during our conference at Clarion, if I could write about the things I wanted to write about in short stories. Well, he said, have you read any Joe Hill? I had, yes, Locke & Key, the most recent issue of which I had brought with me (Welcome to Lovecraft #5) because it was the one with the boat named after Kelly Link in, and she was our week one instructor. (When I showed Kelly, she turned as pink as the filling in the strawberry pies she made for us.) You should read his short stories, Neil said, before you can decide what you can or can't do in the form.

So when I got home, I read Twentieth Century Ghosts, the short story collection that contains "The Cape." It was a story, I thought, that really wanted to be a comic.

It is now, and it's a brilliant one.

Because here's the thing about superpowers. I don't think they always make you a better person. I think we hope they do. We hope the person who winds up with super strength or lightning speed or who discovers he can fly turns out to be a good person. We whisper our comic book mantra of "with great power comes great responsibility" and pray that if we say it enough times it becomes a predictive statement.

Because otherwise, we have to face the uncomfortable truth: that a person who suddenly gains superpowers is going to be the exact same person he was before. Only with cooler toys to play with.

"The Cape" is a story of a boy and a cape and a comic book power. Ciaramella's writing is tight, and smart, and Howard's art is perfectly suited to the story. And the color palette - the red, blue, and yellow, so closely associated another young man is a cape, is washed out, made subtle and melancholy. It's exactly right.

"The Cape" was originally supposed to be a one-shot, but due to circumstances I think are best described as "excessive awesome" - that is what you call it when an issue sells out in under a week, right? - it will be returning as a series. I'm thrilled, and can't wait for Issue #2

Think about the people you know. Think about them carefully. How many of them would put on the cape, and become a hero? And how many would become something else?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Harder, better, faster, stronger

One of my writerly goals, perhaps the one most important to me, is to continue to improve. It is, as most of my writerly goals are, a nebulous one. Any time I even try to consider how I would quantify the improvement in my writing, I flash back to the scene in Dead Poet's Society, where they begin by graphing poetry and end by ripping pages.

But sometimes I get tangible proof that I can do things in my writing now that I couldn't before (and for the sake of my self-confidence, we'll call this improvement.) A little over a year ago, I was working on a short story. There was a particular form I wanted to use, an issue I wanted to address. I did those things, had a draft that I didn't love, but felt comfortable sending off to beta readers.

I got great feedback: what I had wasn't a story, it was an idea, and a little too on the nose. The deus ex machina at the end destroyed the character growth of my pov character. Those things were exactly right. But I didn't know how to fix them, and the suggestions I got on what might work weren't directions I wanted the story to go in. I poked at the story a bit, set it aside for a while, poked at it again, and realized it was just going to stay broken. I put it in a file, and pretty much didn't think about it again.

This morning, I woke up, and knew exactly how to fix it. Knew the shift in the character that would make it her story, not that of the deus or the machina, and that would serve to actually make it a story. It's a solution I couldn't have made work before, even if I had seen it.

I can't tell you what has changed in my writing. Maybe I have a more flexible brain, or maybe I have a better grip on my craft. Maybe I trust my story more, or maybe it's none of those things. But it's nice to put the pen down and feel like I've accomplished something.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Be more like the man you were made to be"

The first second of the first day of the new year. The symbolism of the new beginning, full of potential, made of possibility. I'm not immune to it - last night, I chose to stay home, and made sure to be writing as the clock and the calendar rolled over. I wanted to begin as I meant to go on, to remind myself of who I am, and what I am capable of. I am a writer. I use symbolism to shore myself against ruin.

Still, for all I love the symbolism inherent in the fresh page on the calendar, I don't believe in making new year's resolutions. Not because I think I am already practically perfect in every way, but because I know I am not. I know that over the course of the year I will make mistakes, and stumble, I will hurt the people I love. I will be less than the person I want to be, and I don't want to wait until next January to fix that.

Today is a new beginning, full of possibility and potential. But tomorrow is as well, and there is a magic in that.