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Archive for March, 2011

I’m the boss, guys.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that my new work’s characters were willfully disregarding my outline. (“Newsflash, characters: I’m writing the story. Not you!“)

Since then, they’ve become even more willful. Despite the fact my outline contained exactly no references to a lad named Jacob, one of my story’s protagonist’s has an entire Gchat conversation with him on page 11:

Abigail: yo, u there?
Jacob: I’m here. If I weren’t, my status would show it. UNLIKE YOU.
Abigail: whatevs. i got bigger things to think about. UNLIKE YOU.
Jacob: My soul! You’ve crushed it!
Abigail: suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure
Abigail: anyway i have a favor
Abigail: u free tom.?
Jacob: Tom? Who’s Tom?
Abigail: haha. u suck. but i need a fave, k?
Jacob: Your wish is my command, if it’s both reasonable and practical.
Abigail: can u take me to eugene tom.? and a friend?
Jacob: Take you to Eugene, then to a friend’s? Sure.
Abigail: omg. stfu noob. can u take me n a friend to eugene tom.? pretty pls?
Jacob: You make wanting to do you favors so enticing.
Abigail: are u freE? can u do it?
Jacobsigh I’m free. As for whether I’ll do it . . .
Abigail: yes pls!?!?
Jacob: How serious are you?
Abigail: way
Jacob: Serious enough that you’d have dinner with me Sunday evening?
Abigail: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew u did not just say that
Jacob: That answer makes me think I’m not especially interested in driving your sorry ass to Eugene tomorrow.
Abigail: siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh ok yes i’ll have dinner w u sunday
Jacob: What time shall I pick you up tomorrow, then?
Abigail: 9. gotta clear w mom tho
Abigail: will let u know if not 9 k?
Jacob: You’d better not. I’m counting on Sunday.
Abigail: l8r loser!
Jacob: Good night. Also, it’s a good thing you don’t talk like this in person.
Abigail: i shud. then u wouldn’t want to date me!
Jacob Miller did not receive your message.

I can protest all I want. I can throw a fit in the style of my son, who screams and thrashes when he’s denied power cord nomming privileges. Yet it’s pretty clear that Abigail is just going to keep on talking to Jacob throughout the novel, no matter what I say.

It’s looking more and more like writing is advanced training for having a teenager.

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140 characters: a little . . . or a lot?

I’m pregnant.

Just kidding!

If you’re asking yourself what the heck you can say with 140 characters, just think of what’s communicated with the 13 characters that started this entry. Think further of what can be said by adding a space and the following 15 characters:

With octuplets.

Those 29 characters communicate a hell of a lot, don’t they? Imagine, then, the worlds of possibility that open when you’re granted the luxury of another 111 characters:

I was abducted by aliens and I’m not sure what these babies are gonna look like. Will know and send pics soon!

OR Read more…

Villains & pedicures

If you’re anything like me, you love reading a good internal monologue in the middle of an action sequence.

Wait. I don’t love that. At all. As far as I can recall, I didn’t love it six years ago, either. So why the heck did I write so much of it back then?

Ginny slammed the stake through his heart and cried, “See ya, sucka!” She then wondered sadly if it was right of her to celebrate the end of a life. But if he’d already died a long time ago, was this death really death? Or was she just freeing him, rather than killing him? He was a monster, after all, or she wouldn’t have been forced to toastify him in the first place. It was his fault she’d had to do it, for the good of humankind, even if he had a mother, and sisters and brothers and children before he’d been vampified. She considered these weighty matters mournfully for several pages.

Meanwhile, Mr. Toast’s companion got a pedicure and read some Jane Eyre while waiting for her to make peace with her inner monsters, which were at least as ghastly as said companion. When he wasn’t getting a pedicure.

That’s not an actual excerpt, mind you. It’s my 45-second approximation of such a scene. I’ve killed dozens of such scenes on sight the last few weeks.

I’m 80% of the way through my first edit of The Monster’s Daughter’s sequel. Each page I edit feels like a victory, since I frankly want to toss my computer out the window and wash my hands of the ordeal every 20 seconds. A little piece of me dies inside when I think that I have another sequel yet to first-edit. Since that sequel, the third of the Glass Ball trilogy, was written in the same month as its forebears, I feel like I can reasonably assume it shares their flaws.

@#)$@)#$*)!@#. (That’s me dying some more inside.)

The good news is that editing the trilogy is really benefitting my WIP.  Every several sentences, I ask myself, “Will editing the last few sentences make me want to jump off a roof?” So far, I haven’t answered “yes” even once, but it’s good to keep checking. This diligence now is an investment in a happier, saner future me.

If my WIP’s Tuesday teasers are a little awkward, I hope you’ll forgive me. I’m trying something new and better. The work—and my writing!—will be spiffier for it in the end, but it’s bound to be a little rough at the start.

Speaking of “Tuesday teasers,” I’ll be blogging about writing Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other weekdays will be for personal reflections. You’ll get a blessed break from me on weekends, which I’ll spend tearing out my hair whilst editing.

As I do, I’ll most likely be muttering, “The next edit will be easier. The next edit will be easier. The next edit will be easier.”

I’d cross my fingers, but that probably wouldn’t help my editing.

Waitress, I’d like to return my Katniss and get a Sophia instead

Tell someone you don’t like The Hunger Games. Seriously, try it. Turn to the person sitting next to you and say, “I don’t like The Hunger Games.” Humor me and do this even if you want to make sweet love to the trilogy and spoon it for hours afterward.

Be prepared to cower, for if your experience is anything like mine, laser-beam vision will be turned upon you as you’re proclaimed certifiably insane. You’ll wonder if your tongue didn’t slip so that you accidentally said, “Yo, dude. I pretty much hate your mom.”

I don’t care for Katniss Everdeen. I didn’t like what I read of The Hunger Games.

I wanted to. I really did. In the end, I only managed to force myself through 100 pages of the second book before I cast it aside and emailed a friend for her recommendations on YA books I’d actually enjoy. (Happily, she was kind enough not to do Elliot Reid’sI told you so” dance, though she likely very much wanted to.)

How could I not like The Hunger Games?

For me, it’s this simple: I’m the survivor of a very difficult childhood. Almost the entirety of my early life was spent surrounded by people–family and otherwise–who were also focused simply and purely on trying to survive. Forget about trips to Europe, or even an hour away to the coast. The folks around me were trying to keep a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and, in many cases, their violent and/or crazy exes from hurting or killing them or their children. They weren’t strong simply because they survived. They were strong because, despite their hardships, they found the magic in ordinary moments. They laughed and loved despite those hardships.

When I wrote my autobiography for NaNoWriMo several years ago, I laid down what I thought was an accurate accounting of my childhood. I was surprised when my sisters asked me, “Where’s the good stuff?”

“What do you mean, where’s the good stuff?”

“Like, the stuff like your telling us stories about all the magical things that could be if we made it through childhood. Making us laugh with your silly impersonations. Helping us dream. Where’s the good stuff about you?”

[silence]

Katniss isn’t me as a teen. She’s how I remember myself as a teen. She’s caustic, unsympathetic, and driven to survive because–like those around her, and those around me as I grew up–living creatures are instinctively driven toward survival. You wouldn’t be here reading this if your ancestors hadn’t made it through some undoubtedly crummy circumstances because of this very drive to survive.

What’s missing from The Hunger Games are the things that make Katniss someone I’d want as a friend. They’re the good things my sisters remember about me as a teen. One or two throwaway efforts to show Katniss isn’t a robot aren’t enough to make me care for her. It’s not that actively I want her to die, though I don’t care enough to stick around and figure out whether she does. It’s always a good thing when people find the courage to survive.

It’s just a millionfold more interesting to me when they find the strength to go beyond merely surviving and actually live. You can’t always change crummy situations. But you can find and appreciate the grace in passing moments, and in the love of the people who are in the struggle with you.

The Hunger Games is an interesting premise. In the end, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to overcome the fact I didn’t care about its unidimensional protagonist. “Will to survive” isn’t strength, in my book. It isn’t a rockin’ or unique character trait. It’s biologically predetermined.

It’s what a person does beyond just getting by that makes her strong, and interesting to me. Life Is Beautiful, anyone? The Glass Castle?

In the end, I’d much rather have read a story about Sophia FitzOsborne trying to survive The Hunger Games to protect her younger sister, Henry. Sophia may wear dresses, but unlike Katniss, she’s determined to live, not merely survive one more “meh” day. She’s both charming and captivating as she shows the indomitable spirit of a true survivor. That’s what I want to see in my entertainment: who a person is beyond her base survival instinct.

I’m not trying to change your mind. I totally understand why you’d be captivated by Katniss’ tale of survival, even though I don’t share your enthusiasm. It’s just that, having been there and done that in the mundanity of this world’s poverty and hardship, it’s not what I’m looking for in my entertainment.

And for the record? I don’t hate your mom.

Note:
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Reposted 6/20/15

Outlining, shmoutlining

When I wrote The Monster’s daughter (and its sequels) many moons ago in Japan, my entire “outline” was as follows:
Girl has vampire dad.

Plot? Nope. Character sketches? Nope. Character names? You guessed it: Nope.

In contrast, I had a plan for the YA urban fantasy novel I’m writing now. I wrote it down, tweaked it, thought on it, tweaked it some more and started writing.

The first thousand or so words totally cooperated with my outline. Everything was I envisioned it. After that, however, things started breaking down. My characters almost immediately began clawing and gnawing their way out of the boxes I’d neatly fit them into, so that by 5,000 words, I found myself frustrated by their orneriness. Newsflash, characters: I’m writing the story. Not you!

One of the things especially frustrating to me was how quickly the perspective I’d envisioned fell away. The way things were shaping up at 5,000 words left me feeling like I was being unfair to one of the key players in the story. So I asked my buddy Mack, am I being unfair? And, furthermore, how the heck do I fix this?

She replied with a complex, brilliant assessment, which included two core points:
(1) Roughly, “Keep writing, silly, because you’ll never get this sorted out if you sit around agonizing over it!”
(2) Exactly, “I think it’s because you said merpeople that I’m thinking in these particular terms, but the best example I can think of is the film of HELLBOY, which I’m sure you’ve seen. The story’s about Hellboy, we see the world through the lens of his experience, and it doesn’t diminish the fish-dude any (okay, it’s maybe diminishing that I don’t remember his name) that he doesn’t get equal screen time. Because if he did, it would be boring. It would be like, ‘And Hellboy could’ve DIED, srsly! And then that fish-guy sat around and read a book. And then Hellboy jumped off a building and had emo lovelorn angst! And the fish-guy said something funny. For an equal amount of time.'”

Mack, Mack, Mack, where would I ever be without you?

In addition to answering the specific question in a way that made me laugh and move on, her response enabled me to see the question wasn’t just about perspective. It’s about control. It’s about me deciding I want things to go one way and forcing them to go that way, even if–with very good reason–they don’t want to.

Getting around this mental hurdle took likening it to my work life. In the IT world, a project manager addresses a specific problem by identifying its components and finding, then implementing, a solution that corrects that problem. Even with copious planning at the front end, that project manager is going to find new facts along the way that will change how she has to implement her solution to a problem. (Often this will come from one of the project’s resources going, “Wait, what? No, what we needed is x.03, not x.031! It’s right here in this email . . . oh, um, I meant to include in the email, anyway!” Pretty please see here for a giggle-inspiring, totally accurate visual about project management.) She still has a mostly viable sketch of her solution’s implementation. The solution itself remains mostly unchanged though the path to reach it now includes a few hurdles and at least one pit of rattlesnakes that must be safely passed over to reach the project’s successful conclusion.

It’s unrealistic to assume that any project–whether IT, writing-related or personal–won’t change at all while it’s underway. Life is full of moving parts. If the project manager is doing things right, she’ll see what’s changing and respond to them sooner than later rather than trying to sledgehammer her initial solution into fitting new facts. If a project manager’s stuck in an old paradigm, she’ll throw her hands up in the air, ditch the project and go start a new one, after having a bunch of beers.

Writing, it turns out, is like project management, which is like life. If you start out with a plan you’re willing to constantly revisit and tweak based on new facts, you might find a different end result than you first anticipated . . . but you’ll get where you’re going, eventually. And maybe, just maybe, like in the movie Threesome, the detours and asides you took to get there will be the best parts of all.

Categories: Uncategorized

Mortification then, overwhelming joy now

“Omigod, Mom, please, please, please do not get in that Dumpster! Not with me in the car!”

I’d wager I said these words to my mom at least dozens of times, if not hundreds. 100% of the time after I’d uttered them, my mom would stop whatever $200 car she was driving at the moment, peer into the applicable Dumpster and—if the goods there were good enough—climb on in. I’d quietly swear I was never going anywhere with her in the car, ever again, a vow I’d forget the next time I neededarightomgrightnowpleasemom. (This was more often than not the same day.)

At the time, I thought my mom did the Dumpster divin’ thing because she thought it was fun. “Oh, I can get free stuff and mortify my teenage daughter at the same time! Score!” It would be years before I really understood she was part of the “gleaning movement” of necessity. Sure, she got revved up by a good find, but mostly? The computers, televisions, stereos, often brand new clothing and furniture someone else threw out was $50 in her pocket for food, rent and dollar-theater movies.

I loved some of my mom’s Dumpster finds. I didn’t object to benefitting from them as long as I didn’t have to be there when Mom rummaged ‘em up!

Then this thing called “law school” happened. With about zero dollars to spend on furniture, I’d meander past a sofa or a dresser or a coffee table on my way home from classes and go, “I can totally get this back to my apartment!” (Years of experience hauling stuff out for my mom’s garage sale really helped with this.) Apart from my mattresses, every single piece of furniture in my apartment during my first year at UCLAw was someone else’s castaway. This wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. It was just part of a college neighborhood’s no-cost, easy recycling system.

Over the course of a half-dozen years, I went from mortification to satisfaction at scavenging good finds. Stuff for free! Yes! Good stuff for free! Yesyesyes!

More recently, while I was pregnant, I’d take my dog on walks and come across furniture folks had set out on their lawns. A few times, I saw some Really Groovy Stuff. The Mom—yes, that’s capital-m Mom—saw it and exulted, so that I’d go home and tell Ba.D., “I found this love seat we’ve gotta get!”

If I were to sum up his wordless response to this in a couple of words, it’d be a loving:
Bitch, please.

If I had a few more words to add, they’d be:
We are not exposing my future baby to some germ- and hobo-pee-saturated rubbish ‘cause you can’t pass up something free!

The love seat did not come home that day. Exactly none of the delectable freebies I found while I was pregnant came home with me.

But yesterday, after scoring a parking spot not at all far from my apartment—on my first sweep!—I found a gorgeous little rocking horse next to my car. The Mom in me went, “Oh, there is noway I am passing this up!” I swept that sucker up by a handle and felt the delight of a total score.

Wickery goodness

We need to use smaller screws near the “head,” but this is a keeper!

After I wiped it down, I let my son at it. At first, my little daredevil just wanted to surf on it. After a few gentle efforts to coax him into a sit, he got the hang of it and rocked for several minutes. His smile the whole time lit up my heart.

When Ba.D. walked in, he saw the horse and exclaimed, “Cool find, Deb!” Just like that, it was like my mom was there with me, laughing and going, “You get it now, huh?”

I really do. A score is a score is a score. Every single one I get from here on out is a link back to those now giggle-inspiring memories of my teenaged mortification . . . and to my mom’s glee every time she found something awesome to take home.

In a simple abandoned rocking horse, I found something I’ve spent the year since my  mom’s death struggling toward: the blessed memory of how irrepressible my mom’s joy was when she found something—an item, a moment, a memory—worth keeping.

Note:
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Reposted 6/20/15

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Just like a tattoo.

When I moved back to L.A. three years ago, I made three compilation CDs to keep me awake through the 16-hour drive. In a rush of originality, I labeled these discs Driving Disc #1, Driving Disc #2, and Driving Disc #3.

Since then, I’ve bought a lot more music, which has led me to make four more driving discs. (OK, I’ve made five, but one was produced in the throes of pregnancy-related hormone fits, and was so utterly unlistenable I tossed the disc and tried vanquishing it from memory. Shh.) I won’t tell you how they’re labeled, but I’m sure you’ll put that puzzle together all by yourself.

This morning, I made it to the end of the fifth disc. The first strains of Jordin Sparks’s “Tattoo” filled my car and–I hate to admit this–I got goosebumps.

Also from the hate-to-admit it files? I probably listened to that song a couple hundred times while I was editing The Monster’s Daughter.

Listening to the song this morning, I was overwhelmed by elation. Since I last listened to it, I moved from halfheartedly editing to actually releasing the book. Sure, there’s still a little work being done behind the scenes, but mostly? I did it. That satisfaction, one I couldn’t feel when I listened to “Tattoo” ceaselessly before, is one I’ll surely wear on my heart like a tattoo for years to come.

Heh. I know, I know. Cheesy, right? But no matter how cheesy it may be, the heart of The Monster’s Daughter is captured in these lyrics:
Don’t look back, got a new direction
Loved you once, needed protection
You’re still a part of everything I do
You’re on my heart just like a tattoo
Just like a tattoo, I’ll always have you

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