truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
Q1: More about Jack the Ripper! Who do you think did it?
Q2: Research -- do you plan your approach, or is it more freeform/serendipitous/falling down rabbit holes?
Q3: Are you exclusively reading true crime? If so, what's that been like? If not, what else are you reading?
[each from a different and lovely reader]

Read more... )
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
So, over the weekend, some guy posted an article with the title: "If You Want to Write a Book, Write Every Day or Quit Now." (I'm not going to link to it because dude either (a) genuinely believes this, in which case he's already brought enough misery down on his head or (b) is trolling.) And this makes me mad for several reasons.

1. Anyone who's done even the tiniest bit of thinking about writing, or any other form of creativity, knows that it's subjective. What works for me won't work for you and vice versa. So anyone spouting absolutes is not giving good advice.

2. It's cruelly elitist to say you can't be a writer if you don't write every day. Some people can't write every day, whether because that's not how their process works, because they have other demands on their time that can't be tidily "scheduled" out of the way, or because they have health problems, mental or physical--reasons that mean that some days, with all the will power and desire in the world, they can't write.

3. It annoys me because, actually, I do try to write every day, because I believe it works best to think about writing, not as some kind of mystical, external thing that is out of your control, but like music, where you need to practice regularly in order to perform. But I have fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain/chronic fatigue condition; I have chronic migraines; I have a sort of Neapolitan ice-cream of chronic dyssomnias. I have major depressive disorder, which is what the cool kids are calling clinical depression these days. Some days I can't write. And I've had to learn to relax my "rules" about what constitutes "writing." This post counts as "writing." Letters to Senator Johnson count as "writing." 50 words of fiction, any fiction, counts as "writing." I'm trying to learn to stop shooting myself down for not achieving some mythical goal of "real writing," and instead to celebrate even the tiny accomplishments.

4. It reminds me of the old story about the aspiring violinist who got a chance to play for a great violinist. The great violinist said, "You don't have enough fire. You'll never be a true musician." Twenty years later, the no-longer-aspiring violinist, now a successful business man, happens to run into the great violinist again. He says, "You know, you were right. I would never have made it. I see that now. Thank you for keeping me from wasting my time." The great violinist looks at him blankly, then says, "Oh. I say that to all the young violinists. The true musicians are the one that prove me wrong."

I hate this story. I hate it because, honest to god, isn't it ALREADY HARD ENOUGH to pursue a creative dream? I also hate it because it isn't actually a story about creativity or musicianship; it's a story about how you respond to a devastating critique from a person you admire. The great violinist may, in fact, discourage a bunch of wannabes, but he's also going to discourage, perhaps fatally (remember the girl from Fame?), a bunch of true musicians. And why does this guy get to decide what's a waste of somebody else's time and what isn't? It's a story about arbitrary gatekeeping and thoughtless cruelty, and it is the worst pedagogical model in the world. DON'T DO THIS.

5. It also reminds me of Yoda's, "Do or do not. There is no try." And, pardon me, Mr. Yoda, but that's bullshit, too, and I want to think that a real Jedi master would know that. With anything that's a life-long endeavor, be it writing or dressage or music or rock-climbing or or chess or fencing, or, hell, using the Force, it's exactly the other way around. There is no do. There is only try. You will never "do" the thing that is your passion; you will only try, and try again, and try better. You will never come to the end of the possibilities, to the end of your ability to grow. You will never be done unless you choose to quit. And that's what makes the thing that is your passion also the greatest blessing you can have.

So if you want to write a novel, write a novel. Write it when and how you can. Be honest with yourself: you know what your best is. And whatever your best is, do that.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)

After two years of wandering disconsolately from specialist to specialist like the bird with no feet, I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

ON THE ONE HAND, this is a relief. It means I have a name for why I feel tired and achy and depressed all the time. (And, yes, it probably started cascading back in 2010, when I broke my ankle.)

ON THE OTHER HAND, I'm trapped in a good news/bad news joke. The good news is, I'm doing everything right. The bad news is . . . I'm doing everything right. Diet, exercise, sleep, biofeedback/mindfulness, etc. I already take the most commonly prescribed medications for fibromyalgia for the RLS. There wasn't very much the fibromyalgia specialist could recommend, and I appreciate that he was upfront about it.

(Additionally, because this is the internet, and I know how the internet works, please assume that I have already explored my options thoroughly. I am grateful for good wishes, but I do not need advice.)

So I find that I have to rethink a lot of things. This is not the person I wanted to be at 42, and I'm trying to figure out how to manage myself to get closer to that person, who writes stories and plays music and rides dressage and loves what she does. (And who answers email. Jesus Fucking Christ.) My principal focus is on my writing, because for most of my life if the writing goes well, everything else goes well, too, and hence this blog's new name (all the content from Notes from the Labyrinth is here; I deleted my LJ account, but I did not burn down my blog), because I am in fact experiencing more than a few technical difficulties. As I have the energy to spare, I'm going to try to blog about them, on the theory that other writers and creative persons may be experiencing some of those difficulties themselves, whether because of fibromyalgia or for some other reason.

(Book reviews will continue as they have been.)

We do the best we can with what we have, and this is what I have.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (cats: problem)
1st BIPED1: What the fuck?
UNDERFOOT CAT: Is new toy!
1st BIPED: ... that's a mouse.
UNDERFOOT CAT: Is toy! See! [bats at mouse softly, no claws]
1st BIPED: Seriously?
UNDERFOOT CAT: Is awesome toy!
MOUSE: [escapes]
1st BIPED: Where the fuck did it go?
UNDERFOOT CAT: I will find!
1st BIPED: I wish you wouldn't.
2nd BIPED3: [emerging belatedly from the study] Mouse?
1st BIPED: [brightly] Adventures with nature!

INTERLUDE, in which there is much peering under furniture by UNDERFOOT CAT and both 1st & 2nd BIPEDS

2nd BIPED: [from under the piano] JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
1st BIPED: [dryly] Did you find it?
2nd BIPED: It's on top of the radiator. I thought the cat was just on crack.
UNDERFOOT CAT: Toy! I has finded you!
1st BIPED: [advances with makeshift mouse-capturing device] Cat, you are as much use as a trapdoor in a canoe.
UNDERFOOT CAT: [being dragged away] But! Is toy!
1st BIPED: [captures mouse]
GHOSTS OF RICHIE, BEN, EMMA, & MIRANDA: Biped! No interfering!
2nd BIPED: [gets door]
1st BIPED: [advances to suitable mouse-release point and lifts makeshift lid of makeshift mouse-capturing device] Fuck, I don't have it.
2nd BIPED: [facepalm]

INTERLUDE, in which CATZILLA scoots anxiously through the living room & completely and utterly fails to notice the mouse

UNDERFOOT CAT: Toy is in radiator! Make it come out!
2nd BIPED: [attempting to pry mouse away from the radiator with a dowel] You're a strong little bastard, I'll give you that much.
MOUSE: [escapes]
1st BIPED: It's over here! Gimme the--
UNDERFOOT CAT: Where is toy?
1st BIPED: HA! [captures mouse in makeshift mouse-capturing device]
UNDERFOOT CAT: To-ooy! Where has you gone?
2nd BIPED: [gets door]
1st BIPED: [releases mouse at suitable mouse-release point]
2nd BIPED: This is not how I wanted to spend my Sunday morning.
1st BIPED: At least you're not the mouse.

UNDERFOOT CAT: [peering under bookcase] Toy? Is you under here?
2nd BIPED: Really, cat?
GHOSTS OF RICHIE, BEN, & MIRANDA: This is very embarrassing.
GHOST OF EMMA: Oh my god I can't even.
1st BIPED: I no longer wonder why he was found up a tree.
CATZILLA: ... Is something going on?

1Played by my lovely husband, [ profile] mirrorthaw
2a.k.a. the Orange Creamsicle Dream Cat, the Elder Saucepan, and the First and Second Ninjas
3This would be me.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (ws: hamlet)
This is most likely the last post I will make specifically about my ankle, unless something changes dramatically for better or worse, although I'll probably still bitch about it from time to time.

I'm making this post for closure on the series of posts I made about breaking my ankle and recovering therefrom, and because everything is a learning experience and everything is potentially story material, so that anyone thinking about breaking a character's ankle will have some idea of (at least some of) the possible repercussions and outcomes.

cut for the laundry list )

Overall--and I want to be clear about this--I am extremely lucky. I do have full range of motion, and the lingering problems don't prevent me from doing any of the things I love. The RLS is far, far worse, both in terms of day to day nuisance value and because it makes travel so very, very unpleasant. But my ankle is never going to be as good as it was before I broke it, and while I'm at peace with that (unlike with the sleep apnea, which still makes me want to punch things), it is a fact that requires some workarounds and hacks in order to be manageable. (Really, the cut-up old socks are damn near miraculous.)

And that's the new status quo.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (mfu: ik-wtf)
So, basically, all I want out of a toothbrush is that it will clean my teeth. I have no brand loyalty, I don't care about fancy bristles or contours, I just want a goddamn toothbrush so my teeth don't rot and fall out of my head. Okay?

I went to brush my teeth this morning and noticed that my toothbrush looked like a dandelion clock. Aha! says I. The last time I was at Walgreens, I thought to purchase a new toothbrush. So I fished it out of the bag where it was reposing with the cough drops . . . and discovered that the manufacturer felt it necessary to package the toothbrush so impregnably that it required scissors to get at it. No, really, they say so themselves: CUT HERE. And you can scrabble at the package with your fingernails as much as you want--you ain't getting in.

I found a pair of scissors and cut the package open. WIKTORY! THE TOOTHBRUSH IS MINE! Threw the package away, turned toward the sink, and thought, Why am I suddenly in a cloud of artificial mint?

I looked suspiciously at the toothbrush.

It was all blue and green and contours! and fancy bristles! because you can't buy a toothbrush at Walgreens that isn't, and I just went for the cheapest one that wasn't some eye-wateringly awful color because I really do have better things to do with my time than comparison-shop the toothbrushes.

And, yes, it smelled of artificial mint. Strongly of artificial mint.

I turned back to the wastebasket and fished out the package. And here I quote, because I could not possibly make this up:
SCOPE® Scented Handle
Enhances brushing
experience through
release of fresh Scope®
scent from the handle.

o.O said I. And also O.o

But I needed to brush my teeth and the goddamn toothbrush was already in my hand.

I've never thought particularly about my brushing experience before, but I have to tell you that it is not in the least enhanced by the release of Scope® scent from the handle of my toothbrush. Frankly, I feel disturbed. And weirdly disenfranchised from my own dental hygiene. And like a tiny army has invaded my head wielding weapons soaked in artificial mint.

O.o I say. And also o.O

But this is apparently what you get if you don't stand in the aisle of Walgreens and read the packaging of the toothbrushes.

Here, mintily, endeth the lesson.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (horse: fd-milo)
Diana Wynne Jones famously deduced that the horses of Fantasyland are vegetative bicycles. Here are some ways that real horses are anything but:

1. Horses are very large animals. This is something that you can know in the abstract, as we all do, and still be taken aback by when interacting with an actual horse. Horses take up space. Their heads are massive chunks of bone. Even when they're being affectionate, they're still a good eight to ten times larger than a human being, and they are proportionately stronger.

My perspective on large dogs has completely changed after two years of dressage lessons.

1a. Corrollary: horses have very large, hard, heavy, inflexible feet. Obviously, if one steps on you, it's going to hurt. But even a glancing accidental blow is likely to leave bruises. As I was bringing Milo in the other night, my foot happened to get in the way of his. (See above re: horses take up a lot of space.) Entirely accidental on both sides. And I ended up with a welt on my heel where the edge of his hoof hit me.

2. Horses are, on average, thousand pound herbivores. This means their digestive systems have to keep on trucking pretty much constantly. Which is to say, they are poop machines. And you want them to be. A horse who isn't pooping regularly (by
which I mean several times a day) is a horse who is in trouble.

Also, and I'm sorry to burst the bubble of everyone who grew up with My Little Ponies*, horses fart. Noxiously. A lot.

3. Horses are also thousand pound prey animals. They do not think like human beings. They also do not think like cats or dogs. Even a very calm, sensible horse is going to spook, and he's going to spook at things that make no sense. Milo is in general unflappable, but he has spooked, for no apparent reason, at tree stumps, a wood pile, and an elderly VW. (He's also spooked at the barn cat, but I can kind of see his point there. She did emerge from under the bench quite suddenly, so we'll ignore the fact that she's at best 1/100th of his size.) He's also spooked at himself.

4. Horses are creatures with opinions. The are, for instance, herd animals. A solitary horse is an unhappy horse. They will try to follow each other pretty much automatically, which can be awkward for their riders. Take away their pasture mate(s), and they're going to be distressed. They're likely to call for their absent friends. (One of the horses at the barn screams.) And in general, if they don't like something, they will find a way to let you know.

5. A horse's primary means of interacting with the world is her mouth. (Hard, heavy, inflexible feet, remember?) Anything that isn't a threat is likely to be something that needs to be tasted. Also, horses are opportunistc and greedy (see above re: the needs of their digestive systems). Anything that can be tasted, will be tasted. And eaten if possible.

To sum up: horses have presence. They take up space in the world. They are intensely biological. They have opinions (often very inconvenient ones). And they have needs, both physical and emotional. They get bored. They get scared. They get lonely. They are the farthest thing from vegetative bicycles you can imagine.

*Completely OT, but can I just say how utterly creeped out I am by how thin My Little Ponies have gotten? (Compare the first link, which is current MLP, to the second two, which are '80s MLP.) I mean, seriously, Hasbro, WTF? They're PONIES, not heroin-chic fashion models. FEED THEM.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: glass cat)
As the new year begins, my story "Blue Lace Agate" is live at Lightspeed. (Author interview here.) "Blue Lace Agate" is chronologically the first story about Mick and Jamie, the protagonists of "A Night in Electric Squidland" and "Impostors" (in Somewhere Beneath Those Waves), and I'm delighted that it has finally found a home.

ETA: Also, Mateusz Skutnik has a charming little New Year's game which I commend to your attention.

Although I don't usually write year-in-review posts, after the year I've just had, I really do feel the need to sit down and take stock (4,691 irradiated haggis, check).


2011 in bullet points )

As 2012 begins, I'm going to full-time as a database thrall, and we'll see what effect that has on my health and my writing.

Goals for 2012 (note to self: do not mistype as "gaols," please) include:
  • finish The Goblin Emperor
  • write An Apprentice to Elves [with [ profile] matociquala]
  • finish Thirdhop Scarp and write this backlog of Booth stories
  • write a bunch of other short stories
  • maybe start on this novel that is twining seductively around my ankles
  • blog more

Happy New Year! May 2012 be a better year for all of us than 2011!
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: hippopotamus)
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (horse: fd-milo)
ME: [rummaging in tack room for ointment to put on a cut on Milo's right foreleg]
MILO: [from the cross-ties] I'm PEEEEEEEEEEing in the aisle, just PEEEEEEEEEEing in the--
ME: [emerging from the tack room like the wrath of god] STOP THAT YOU HORRIBLE HORSE!
MILO: What, me? I would never!
ME: Into your stall with you.
MILO: [plaintively] But I don't have to pee now.
ME: Tough.
[five minutes later]
MILO: I'm PEEEEEEEEing in my stall, just PEEEEEEEEEEing in my stall, what a glorious feeling . . .
ME: [facepalm]
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: fennec)
I should descend into the endless hell of revising The Goblin Emperor, and I may even do so this evening.

(Seriously. This book will not fix itself, especially not the big structural problems. And I know what to do; it's just the how that's beating me up.)

However, this afternoon, I have been making notes on projects that aren't ready to be written yet, because if I don't write things down, I will not remember them.
  • This AU-America novel is way more ambitious than I am. Which is a problem, since I actually don't like novels with as much scope as this one is trying to claim it needs (Salem! Mormon Utah! Airships! Lansford Hastings! Circuses! Helen Keller! Frankenstein! George Armstrong Custer! Mammoth Cave! Angels! Demons! Dogs and cats! Living together! Mass hysteria!)
  • otoh, the great thing about writing about Puritans is that you can name characters things like Dread Not Dawson; I don't know anything else about Dread Not yet, except that her older sister is named Remember, but the name is full of promise.
  • Mélusine's equivalent of Jack the Ripper is Jean-the-Knife.
  • Now I just have to figure out which district he preys on. (And approximately three thousand six hundred and fifty-two other things as well. I am terrified that by the time I get Yes, No, Always, Never worked out to the point that I can write it, I will have forgotten most of what I know about Mélusine.)
In acknowledgment and celebration of the fact that I'm working at all, here's that first line meme again.

click here )
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: hippopotamus)
Draft of a short story finished. (Well, except for all the [1], [2], [3] all the way up to [71] where proper nouns (and a couple common ones) go.) I can't tell you how long it is, because I wrote it entirely longhand (although it runs from the bottom of p. 31v to the top of p. 57 in the knock-off Moleskine notebook* I'm currently using. I can't tell you the title, either, because it doesn't have one. (I thought it did, but it turns out the title I thought it had was not correct at all.)

It has given me a lovely example of the moss-troll problem though: Caesarian section. Even though Julius Caesar was probably not born by Caesarian section, the adjective makes no sense in a world without the word "Caesar."

Notice that although this is not the work I should be doing, I am very grateful nonetheless to have a complete draft of anything.

And on that note, I'm going to give this "sleeping" thing a whirl. I've heard it's fun if you do it right.

*I will not be buying the Picadilly Moleskine knock-offs again, even though they are about 1/3 as expensive. The bookmark ribbons come out, and the elastic does not elastic properly, and both these things get more annoying rather than less over time.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: fennec-working)
A couple follow-up thoughts from my post on submitting short stories:

again, click if you're interested in the nuts & bolts )

3. Okay, a third point. The other reason I write and publish short stories is that I enjoy it. I enjoy them. None of the rest of it would matter if I didn't. I do this job because I love it; it's too hard, and too much work, for any other reason to make it worthwhile.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: fennec-working)
So, it's NaNoWriMo again.

(For those of you who do not know, that's National Novel Writing Month.)

In her post about the recent NaNoWriMo kerfuffle, Mary Robinette Kowal, explaining the benefits NaNoWriMo provided to her, said, "When you are getting your legs, writing long form is really intimidating."

Now, I don't doubt for a moment that this is true for Mary. It's her post and she has no reason to lie. But I read that and I thought, Wait, what? Long form is EASY. It's short form that's scary like whoa.

And then it occurred to me that perhaps this was worth unpacking.

When I started writing (at the ripe old age of eleven), I started writing novels. Or, well, "novels," since I doubt any of my first efforts was any longer than what I'd think of as a short story or maybe a novelette today. But for me, at eleven, they were novels, and they were what I instantly and automatically gravitated to when I started trying to write. I knew the old chestnut about "if you want to break into publishing, you have to write short stories," so I tried, on and off through high school and college. (And then there was the most poisonous form rejection letter known to humankind, and I stopped like a lab rat hit with an electric shock.) But I never got the hang of it. Short stories were scary and hard and I didn't understand them. Novels, I just flung myself at; I started dozens, and every time one broke down, I just started another. I finished maybe three or four (using the word "novel" loosely, remember) before I started writing Mélusine, and got more than 50k into at least two others, but I never stopped trying, and I never had any fundamental doubt that I could do it. (Doing it well was a different question, but that's also a different post.)

I didn't go back to short stories until 2000, when I got handed the old chestnut about "breaking into publishing" again, this time by my then-agent. And, serendipitously, I met [ profile] elisem and her jewelry. (I sometimes think my ability to write short stories is really all Elise's fault.) The first successful short story I wrote, in 2000, was "Letter from a Teddy Bear on Veterans' Day", from one of her necklaces. The second was "Bringing Helena Back," which is the first Booth story. And, of course, obviously, I've gone on from there, but I've always felt like my grip on the form was tenuous; I'm never sure why one short story works and the next one doesn't. They're still scary and hard, and I still don't understand them very well, even though I've published nearly forty of them.

NaNoWriMo doesn't work for me because I'm a competitive, literal-minded over-achiever, and if I focus on word count, then word count is all I will get, and the novel will be drivel. (See also, Why Corambis Was Six Months Late.) This does not mean that I think NaNoWriMo is a bad thing in and of itself--and honestly, I don't have any right or ability to judge whether it's good or bad for other people. It's just bad for me.

All I wanted to say, really, was that if you're a beginning writer and NaNoWriMo doesn't work for you, that doesn't mean you can't write a novel.

Learning how to write is a never-ending process of trial and error. You have to try things to find out if they work for you. If they do, that's great. If they don't, it's not a disaster. It just means you try something else. There is no "right" way to do it; it's all down to what works for you and what doesn't. And nobody but you can make that call.


Nov. 3rd, 2010 01:39 pm
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (porpentine: pleased)
"Extract from '"I opened the book and read": Self-Reflexivity and Self-Reinvention in Hôtel Image'" to The Magazine of Speculative Poetry.

(Yes, this is a tiny sale to a tiny magazine, and I don't care. Still. Totally. Geeked.)
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
There's a whole list of "worst" things about this broken ankle, ranging, depending on circumstances and mood, from boredom to my inability to sleep on my side, but I can tell you the most horrible thing.

You may find this disturbing. I know I do. )

Keeping that in mind does help put all my "worst" things in perspective.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)
John Scalzi has 10 things about authors he'd like you to keep in mind. To all of which, I say, "Hear hear!" and also "Ditto."

On a not entirely unrelated note, the FedEx ninja brought me today three ARCs* of Corambis. Two years ago I auctioned off an ARC of The Mirador to benefit the John M. Ford Memorial Book Endownment. Given that Corambis--the actual book--will be out on April 7, and given the current miserable state of the economy, would people be interested if I did another auction (starting bid $25)?

(If I did this, I'd actually do two auctions, one to benefit the JMFMBE--assuming it's still there to be benefited, which I hope very much it is but cannot tell from the website--and one to benefit Scarleteen. Just so people know.)

Replying in the affirmative is NOT the same as promising to bid.

ETA: Yes, I will sign the ARCs. I didn't say that originally because it seemed obvious--dude, they're sitting ON MY DESK--but people have asked. Also, odds are extremely good that I will hand-correct them. Because I am a neurotic pink circus poodle and also a perfectionist and I hate hate hate the fact that ARCs go out with all the things I corrected in the galleys UNCORRECTED. *ahem*

*Advance Reading Copies. Also known as bound galleys.
truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (writing: david bowie-jump)
From a conversation with [ profile] matociquala about why none of my short stories work currently:

It's like being a rat and working your way through a maze, and then the researcher says, "Okay, the next step is, you have to fly." And you're a rat. You don't even know where to go to get wings.

There's clearly something my brain is trying to figure out, but I don't know what it is or how to help. But, you know, sooner or later you can expect a lot of flying rats.


truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Default)

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