Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Inching toward a better job...?

Yesterday I was trained to do some very basic penguin care. Exciting, because I hope this means they're already considering me for a position that *might* open up toward the end of the summer. Not exciting because a) I hate fish prep more than anything -- seriously, I would rather clean and skin rodents than do fish prep, and this fish is herring so these evil little scales get all over everything, including me; b) penguins stink like hell. But still, I'll take it.

Said position probably won't give me more hours and won't give me any benefits, but it will pay me almost twice what I'm making now, which would be an enormous help and a huge relief. Anyway, that position all depends on whether the gal currently working it moves. She's seriously considering it, but you never know. I'd love to have that job -- it would entail more responsibility and a whole lot more BIRDS! Woohoo!! Plus it would get me a step closer to grabbing a permanent, full-time position with benefits.

Between work and my much-alluded to "personal problems" I have had a hell of a time keeping myself writing. This morning, I have a critique to send to somebody and then I am going to see if I can't get in a good 1500 words. I really want to get Baptism for the Dead finished by the end of the summer, which I should be able to do handily if I just stay focused! I still love the book but I am allowing outside forces to drive me away from my disciplined writing routine.

If I can't get those 1500 words done this morning, I'll do them after I'm home from work, Hell or high water.

Oh, and here is a fun fact: some Humboldt penguins like to get hugs. :D

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Resolution Fail!

Ack! Has it really been six days since I last updated? I blame house-sitting for this breach of commitment. It's distracted me. That, and all the personal shite I'm dealing with at present. My road-o-life is not just rocky right now, it's pitted with enormous potholes and also there are some downed trees across its breadth. This makes daily travel difficult, but I am determined to find a way through.

I had a good weekend with some of my closest friends. I love my friends -- they really keep me sane and focused and happy. I have not done much writing lately, which burns me big-time, but my personal struggles have really overcome my energy and are kicking my ass pretty hard. Gotta shake that off, though. What do writers do? They write.

I will find time to write today, and tomorrow, even though I've got two different seldom-seen family members in town for visits and need to get a whole bunch of stuff done in preparation for my sorely-needed vacation next weekend. Writing will be a priority starting right after breakfast. Back on the ball, back on the chain gang. Can't sell books if I don't finish them.

Speaking of my vacation, I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this. I am dirt-poor, so it's nothing fancy -- just going to Lopez Island with some friends to get away from the stresses at home and recharge my brain in a peaceful setting for a few days. I fully expect it to be glorious.

Okay. This post doesn't make much sense, I know, but I am trying to stick to my commitments and keep up with a routine, especially as concerns my writing. That will help keep me from becoming too depressed and/or distressed. So here's a blog post. Make of it what you will.

Go write!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why you even gotta do a thing?

Man. Don't go through what I'm going through. Don't do it. It's no fun at all.

That's my personal crap, though. On the writing side of the coin, things are all shiny and spit-polished.

I'm making unbelievably rockin' progress on Baptism for the Dead. Hooray for outlining! It's still some of my strongest writing ever (I feel, anyway...we'll see what other people think, such as my agent). I have partnered up with my friend Lori to exchange 2500 - 3000 words every Tuesday for critique, and this has been no problem for either of us to meet since we both write at least that much daily. It is, however, keeping us very focused and giving our brains something to do other than write.

Which brings me, apparently, I suppose, to the topic for this slightly-overdue blog update. We all know that it's important to have your own work read and criticized by others. But did you know that's just as important for you to do that reading and criticizing of others' works? Not only because this is a bit of an exchange system -- you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Without readers/critics, the system collapses. But also because it's fantastic practice for your own self-editing. When you become able to quickly identify problems and solutions in writing, you gain the amazing superpower to do so not only with others' words, but with your own.

Of course, it takes a lot of practice. And of course, it's not failproof. You'll still probably need to get regular readings of your work from sources you trust to rip it to delightful shreds and then put them back together.

That's it. That's all I've got. Now I'm going to eat some chocolate eclairs while I get my daily writing done. I have just enough time for 2500 words before I have to run to work.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One (or two) liners

Somebody on AbsoluteWrite started a thread on "The 100 Best Last Lines of Novels" yesterday. I was thrilled to find there the last two lines of Lolita, my favorite book (yes, I have a single favorite...with many, many second-favorites that come very close to matching the magic of Lo).
I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.
It got me to thinking with some surprise how much that image and those words have influenced my current WIP (Baptism for the Dead, that is, since I'm in the very new position right now of kind of having two WIPs going at once -- something I "never" do, except for when I do, apparently). The idea of two people forming a connection and creating a permanent relationship via art, even though the actual relationship itself will probably come to an end, is one of the more important themes in Baptism. I wonder, reading the last lines of Lolita, whether this idea was seeded in my mind by the brilliant closing of Nabokov's brilliant book, or whether I am merely noticing an interesting coincidence. I have read Lolita probably a dozen times throughout my life; I can recite the entire first chapter (it's a short one) from memory. Who knows.

Anyway, opening lines are often lauded, and with good reason, although I've never been one to flip right to the first page of a book to decide whether to buy it. I sample from the middle when test-driving books, and often read the last few paragraphs, too. Spoilers don't spoil it for me.

But closing lines are seldom discussed.

So I'm curious. What powerful opening and/or closing lines have made a big impression on you?

(Edited to add: I have officially reached my pinnacle on the internets. I cannot possibly top this.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Give me a machete -- I'm cool with it. I don't mind chopping out whole chunks of my books. And I do it fast, too.

Natalie gave me some really astute notes on the pages we're planning to send to NAL. That woman has a brain for books. She's so right in all her notes. Per her suggestions, I've spent the last two hours cutting the first 20,000 words of Egypt 2.0 to bits (I might give this one a serious working title -- I'm thinking Daughter of Amun -- it goes with Bride of Amun, but maybe that's too matchy-match). Now it's time to patch it all back together. I'm also going to write an additional chapter to bring the wordcount back up to 20K, since that's what she told NAL she'd give them.

I've never been the type of writer to balk at extreme revision. Nor have I ever quailed at a critique. I'm not entirely sure why this is -- it's not as if I don't put as much sweat and blood and tears (literally on the tears part) into my writing as anybody else. Any scene for which I've had to tap into my real painful memories -- whatever they may be -- brings up fresh tears when I read it again, no matter how many times I read it. Any scene that hurt me to write hurts me to re-read.

In BoA, when Thutmose loses his cool and brutalizes Ahmose, I get a cold fist in my gut each and every time I read it. I remember when I wrote it, how hot it was in Tacoma, sitting by the window AC unit and shivering not from the cool air but from what I was doing to this character. I love my Thutmose, he is so gentle and understanding, so sweet and kind -- but I couldn't stop the story from taking him to this dark, terrible place, and turning him into a monster I never planned for him to be. It was his grief that took him there, and I had to feel his grief in myself in order to know that this was the most authentic situation I could create for him. That scene stayed in the book, but if I'd been told by a wiser, more detached voice to cut it, I would have, no matter how powerful the scene still feels to me.

And Baptism for the Dead -- forget about it. That whole book has been nothing but a cryfest for me, it's so close to my heart. Once the first draft is done, though, I know I won't hesitate to edit or change or remove anything that doesn't serve the story. As near as that story is to the core of my self, it remains in my estimation a product I'm creating, a product I want to sell, a product I want to use to hook returning customers. I am, in fact, looking forward to notes for Baptism, so I can figure out how to trim the emotional fat and streamline my very raw feelings into a useful product.

Maybe that's the thing I like to much about revisions. some writers think I'm odd or detached because I am so quick to make any cuts that are suggested by those I trust. I know it's rather unusual for a writer to feel so little hesitancy about obliterating hundreds or thousands of tens of thousands of words she's worked so hard on, chosen so carefully. But maybe I have an instinctive voice that tells me I've made too many trees to see the forest, and it's pleasant to allow somebody else to choose for me which parts of my emotional outbursts deserve to stay and which can go into the round file.

I can always scratch up some fresh pain to tap later on, after all. There's always more to come. The nice thing about writing is we never stop doing it, so what do a few machete-hacks matter in the long run?

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's too late for this kind of thing, really.

About half my life ago, my friends and I would spend our weekends at a cabin on the shore of Lake Cavanaugh. It was almost always cold, and more often than not it would rain, but we always went. There was a sauna, hand-built out of old cedar shakes, with two tall windows that looked down on the lake and a pot-bellied stove with a train wheel on top, and in the wheel, rocks cracking under a dipper full of water. We took off all our clothes, boys and girls, laid on our backs on the benches and told stories. It was dark inside. The whiteness of our skin took in and reflected back what little light came off the evening lake. Glowing pale bodies with lost edges in the steam. Sometimes we sang songs, listless fainting songs that trailed off mid-chorus because of the heat. Mostly, we bared ourselves in front of each other and just lay still, feeling the comfortable proximity of one another's nakedness.

One time I remember so well -- after the sauna, we dared each other -- I dare you, jump in the lake. It was black night, very cold, clouds moving fast over shifting stars. We walked down to the shore. The mud sloped into the water. I went in thigh-deep, and stood hugging myself against the cold. J__ kept going past me, laughing as the chill bit into him. And just before he dove in, he turned back to look at me. I was shivering, I was covered in goosebumps, but I knew that what he saw was beautiful: The curves of my form, the paleness, the night sky over me and a forest of blackness behind me. In that moment I was certain that he loved me. And maybe for that moment, he did.

When we came out of the water, wool blankets and sleeping bags by the fire to warm our bodies. Nylon-stringed guitar singing somewhere behind me. J__ stood across the fire from me. We saw each other, perfectly and wholly, in the red-orange light. We opened our blankets to let the fire's heat in.

There is something to say here. There is a point I'm trying to make; I just can't find the right words. All I have are pictures to play with. I can line up little images and hope you get the idea, but why can't I ever put my most important thoughts into simple, easy words?

There are these moments in life.... Life is so short, and most of it we forget. Most of it we never really see in the first place. And once we're gone, we're gone. Our brains, our minds, or memories.... Gone. All that exists is what we observe and remember now. All that is real is whatever we take the time to recognize, to meditate on, to accept, to describe.

I drove to Lake Cavanaugh alone one night. I'd had a bad fight with my mother. I just wanted to be with my friends, the people who saw me and understood me. The people who accepted me. It was spring. The rain was coming down hard. I was all tucked up inside myself, sad, so focused on being sad and so unable to do anything else. I came down a dip in the road. My headlights fell on hundreds and hundreds of moving dots. In the blur of the rain it took me several seconds to identify them -- frogs. Maybe a thousand frogs or more, black and slick, going from one side of the road to the other. The rain had set them moving. They traveled with such certainty across the road, directed by some secret so powerful and primal it overcame me, pulled me right out of myself. I stopped and watched them for a long, long time.

And then I realized I'd have to go through them. There were thousands of frogs; they'd keep coming all night. I couldn't wait for them. I edged my car forward as slowly as it would go. I figured they'd hop out of the way of my tires if I just gave them enough time. I didn't feel anything crunch under my tires so I figured I'd made it -- I'd passed through their magic hollow on this obtrusive, offensive human road without harming them. Our paths had crossed, the frogs had erased my pain, and I was grateful. My thanks to them was that I'd respected them enough to go slowly, and spare their lives. But a few days later I found a frog's dessicated body stuck to the bumper of my car, and I cried for hours. Seldom in my life have I felt as badly as that dead frog made me feel. I still ache and cry when I think of it.

All right, so that one wasn't so clear. Let me approach it from another angle.

These frogs will always be with me. Especially the one I killed. Until the moment I die, they'll be inside me. I really saw them. I really was there, in that moment, with them -- and I was there afterward, when I pulled the dead frog off my bumper and wept over its broken, bent little body.

If we're not fully engaged, if we are not awake to the moment and thinking and observing and really seeing, we miss so much and there is so much to miss. When you hiked alone among the rock fins, and found the spot where perhaps seconds before a kit fox had urinated -- and the two of you were the only living things under the fast-moving sky. When you climbed the table rock at Dry Falls, and J__ pulled you up the final stretch with his good hand. The man who sat across the table from you and talked in a voice that was all wet ocher and honey-in-a-jar. And his voice dipped down out of your hearing so you only caught a handful of his words, but it was okay, just fine, because you saw the tremor in his eye when he tried to stop himself, again and again, from looking at your mouth.

This is the only short and sweet life you have. But it's not enough to just know that. You have to really expose yourself to yourself. Expose yourself to others. When you find a person who sees you naked (this is me, the dark little moles against skin that burns but doesn't tan -- the white scars -- the lake, the frog on the bumper) be glad, be brave, be grateful.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Didn't even have to use my AK.

Sometimes you have such a great day that you wonder if it's even possible that any day could ever get any cooler.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vegetarian Pattern Baldness

I admit it: I have not been particularly vigilant about my diet of late. Due to ethical obligations, I stopped consuming commercially raised animal products about a year ago, which makes me effectively a vegan at restaurants and a vegetarian most of the rest of the time, although I am technically neither, since I don't have any problem with actually eating meat -- only with treating living beings as production units who are incapable of suffering.

On top of that, since learning how incredibly destructive and resource-heavy feedlots and commercial dairies are, I've been even more reluctant than usual to support factory farming. If you are worried about doing your part to put a dent in BP's profits, don't cut back on your driving, cut back on your steaks and spare ribs. It makes a much, MUCH bigger difference.

I don't have the income at present to buy humanely raised and slaughtered meat, so I've been living off of fruits, veggies, and rice. And chocolate, of course. While I find this delicious and gastronomically satisfactory, it has apparently had some impact on my health. My hair is thinning. Like, whoah. It's a little scary, in fact. I'm thirty and I'm going bald.

Thank goodness for research. I've learned that in women of my age, hair loss is nearly always due to iron deficiency -- and what is the biggest cause of iron deficiency? Not eating meat. Damn. Of course, you can still get lots of iron from a vegetarian or vegan diet, but I haven't been eating with my iron needs in mind, so I undoubtedly have failed miserably to do that over the past year. My hair is punishing me for this. In any case, eating humanely has to be done carefully -- iron-rich non-animal foods are out there, but their iron is less accessible to the body, and there are some tricks to making full use of it, such as eating iron-rich foods with vitamin-C-rich foods (no problem for me -- there's nothing I'd rather drink with any meal than a big fat glass of grapefruit juice). Oh, and both soy and caffeine inhibit the body's absorption of iron. Good-bye, grande soy caramel sauce lattes. :'(

Heme iron -- the kind found in animal sources -- is the simplest for the body to access. No special tricks needed, no calculators, no graphs, no grapefruit juice -- just eat a steak. A delicious, juicy, medium-rare steak with bleu cheese and worcestershire sauce. Mmmmmmm.

Knowing all this doesn't help me keep at bay the monstrous craving I've had lately for meatloaf and barbecued ribs. Dear god, I need my books to sell SOON so I can buy a chest freezer and a quarter of a nice, happily raised, humanely killed cow.

In any case, I've started taking iron supplements (again -- this happened to me once before. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson) and seeking out iron-rich veggies and vitamin C. Hopefully in six months or so I'll have thicker hair and I won't look like a granny, getting all thin and wispy around the crown.

This is not good for my image. There is nothing sexy about balding lady writers. I bet Joyce Carol Oates never went bald. She probably yells at a steak every day and then writes a novel in its steak-juices, though. SIGH.

At least the sun is finally, FINALLY shining today. We've had the most disappointing summer ever. We wait for nine months to get a little sunshine, and so far we've been denied until this late into the season. I knew last night that today would be a good day, because I saw the stars come out for the first time in months. It's making me feel hopeful -- about my hair, about my writing, about everything.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Audiobook time!

Ahh...nothing like downloading a new audiobook to cheer me up. I am currently acquiring This Side of Paradise (Fitzgerald) to listen to while I paint. In the bull pen is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Several of my friends have been singing the praises of Murakami and I haven't read any of his works yet, except for one short story which was weird and very good and a little bit sad. Just the kind of writing I like.

I am a voracious consumer of audiobooks -- in fact, it's only recently that I've gone back to reading the traditional way with any regularity. I'm not sure why this is -- maybe it has something to do with my short stint as a bookseller. Audiobooks are my usual schtick, though -- I listen to them while I'm driving, at the gym, jogging, and while doing any kind of artistic activity. When I don't have a book to listen to, it's the podcast of PRI Selected Shorts or other short-fiction podcasts, and when those run dry I turn to This American Life and The Moth. I am a story addict -- what can I say?

I've got a subscription at Audible.com (highly recommended!) and take full advantage of it. My iPod gets a good workout every day.

If you've never done the audiobook thing, you don't know what you're missing!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some Nabs to ease my aching heart

"Okay," she said co-operatively, and bending toward her warm upturned russet face somber Humbert pressed his mouth to her fluttering eyelid. She laughed, and brushed past me out of the room. My heart seemed everywhere at once. Never in my life -- not even when fondling my child-love in France -- never --

Night. Never have I experienced such agony. I would like to describe her face, her ways -- and I cannot, because my own desire for her blinds me when she is near. I am not used to being with nymphets, damn it. If I close my eyes I see but an immobilized fraction of her, a cinematographic still, a sudden smooth nether loveliness, as with one knee up under a tartan skirt she sits tying her shoe.

(Ahh. I know. I know.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I'm an outliner.

I am most definitely the type of writer who needs to outline. I can fiddle around for a few weeks with writing random scenes and random moments of character development, but sooner or later, the not knowing exactly what will happen to my characters starts to freak me out. I MUST outline.

I am happy to say that I did finally work up a good outline for Baptism for the Dead today, at last! it's been around six weeks since I started working on this novel. That's the longest I've ever gone without outlining and then making serious, concentrated progress. These have been very frustrating weeks for me. I feel drifty and fuzzy without my outlines.

The nice thing about the process of writing an outline is that I see the story actually happen in little short scenelets, like small clips from a movie. As I look back at the outline and expand each part into a chapter or a scene, I am able to replay and revise and embellish the scenelets into whole cinematic spans, and I simply write down what I see. Easy cheesy.

Best of all, as I work on the outline the final scene forms in my head, and I am a "write to the end" writer. Once I know exactly how the story ends, and can see that moment of catharsis and resolution playing on a loop in my brain, the stuff between the title page and that last scene practically writes itself.

Outlining is the key to my speed and efficiency. I love it.

Are you an outliner, or a by-the-seat-of-your-pantser (more commonly called a pantser)?

Monday, June 7, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things...

A long dry spell, and now two updates in a single day! Just a quick note to note that I have expanded the links lists on the left sidebar...more books I love and recommend to you, broken into user-friendly categories. Please feel free, friends, to recommend me more books! I am especially interested in reading more excellent short-story collections and more poetry collections. But any and all recommendations are welcome!

We can always read more, amirite?


I resolve to update this blog no less than every third day. I am resolute.

I've had a copy of Tender Is the Night sitting around for quite some time and never delved into it. I don't know why, since The Great Gatsby is one of my all-time favorites and I swoon over Fitzgerald's prose.

I finally started reading Tender Is the Night, and I find that the story speaks to me and the position in which I find myself currently in a very direct and startling way, which is exactly what happened when I read Gatsby for the first time as an adult.

(I firmly believe that any teen-age assigned reading of that book doesn't count -- one must have experienced adult love and loss in order to understand what is going on in Gatsby. That's not to belittle the reality of youthful love and loss -- those are just as poignant, but in a totally different way.)

Now, since both The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night deal to a greater or lesser extent with adultery, let me point out that I am not cheating, nor would I ever. I don't respect that kind of behavior in anybody, and would especially not respect it in myself. It's more the unique perspectives the characters in both books have on relationships that affect me so deeply -- that, and Fitzgerald's moving, delicate, incisive prose.

Have you ever had the experience of picking up a book that was just right for your emotional situation? What was it about the book that spoke to you?