At its most conceptual

…what is your novel about? Can you sum it up in a one- or two-word phrase?

I have seen this exercise written up before, but this weekend my brain of its own accord (not because I saw a recent article about this) just sort of started filing some of my stories into categories of character/scenario dynamics. For romance I found I wanted two concepts: one for the external reason the characters were pushed together/held apart and one that best described what their relationship was about.

For example, for A Christmastide Courtship I came up with duty and acceptance. Duty is what draws Piers to court Catherine, but what they are each looking for – and find with one another – is acceptance.

The old/new/whatever it is WIP (maybe I should just say “the WIP du jour”….sigh…) has themes of familial coercion and trust. The characters are pushed together by family, and the main conflict of the book is that they do not trust one another when they marry and struggle to build it afterward. I might parse the two as “resentment and trust” since the coercion they both submit to in marrying causes resentment, and neither has anyone else to take it out on.

I like the clarity that being able to state a theme in one word offers me as the writer. Being able to do so tells me I have a solid grasp of the work as a whole.

Alas, I don’t, by this rubric, have all my works in progress firmly in hand – far from it.

For the long novel I am revising, I do not know how to distill either side of the story. I am not sure I can even clumsily lay hold of the themes. Maybe it’s because the hero and heroine have opposite themes: living for oneself and not society vs suppression of self for society. The story is in a way about loyalty to family conflicting with loyalty to self. It’s also about the hierarchy of needs, and which loyalties take precedence and whether that can change. The lovers spend most of the book with ambivalent feelings about their growing attraction and where they both fit in each other’s hierarchy of obligations. Their feelings grow into love almost despite themselves. “Split loyalties” might describe the external issues, but I am not sure how to phrase what is happening between them. It’s not the kind of breathless fated love words like “inevitable” or “inexorable” evoke, even though it is the sort of love that can’t be stopped once started, because they are right for each other…it’s more that they find in each other someone to lean on, someone who has their back, but in that specific way such that “trust” or “loyalty” doesn’t really convey the relationship. Fealty, except with sex.

I don’t know. Reading that paragraph back makes me think “split loyalties” covers both dynamics pretty well.

The Christmastide companion piece I would – ahem, Muse, looking at you here – like to finish and get up this fall so as to actually do seasonal marketing for the duology is another I have no effing clue how to distill. Perhaps that is why the muse went for the one story I know well enough to summarize without much thought at all.

…if I can tease out the novellette’s themes, will I find myself suddenly able to write it? I wonder….

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

When Closer Is Farther

Maybe I should have titled this post, “Through the looking glass.” Because I sort of feel about the book I just tried to read like I imagine Alice did when she stepped through the looking glass and into Wonderland as place of opposite dimensions and misaligned corners so that something’s very familiarity enhanced its Otherness by virtue of being almost-but-not-quite right.

What happened was that I tried to read The Barrow by Mark Smythie. It came recommended for various reasons, mostly that one of my favorite fantasy subgenres is grimdark adventuretime shit. I will give the sample another shot, when I am less sleep-deprived, and see if it was just a trick of my exhaustion, but last night when I tried to read it…I couldn’t, because his writing was too close to my own. It was like trying to read something I wrote 10 years ago, where the cycle and flow of words would shift within the same paragraph from being exactly how I would say it to…not, but not in a way that felt clumsy and juvenile and would make me cringe to read back now, with my old and jaundiced editorial eye, if it were my own. It was bizarre to find myself going in an out of sync with the guy’s words, and every time we fell out it was jarring and uncomfortable. Like deal-breakingly jarring.

I am not sure I have ever experienced this before. I have authors whose words hypnotize me because they say things in ways I never would but find mesmerizing to hear. I have authors who write things pretty much the way I would, if I were writing that story. I have authors whose books I cannot read because of the very Otherness of their thought patterns displaying in their writing. But I have never had someone who writes two sentences like I would and fumbles the third, over and over again. Just enough to get me into a rhythm and then bounce me back out – and not in a good way, because it’s clearly not an intentional way. It simply is. What is this guy, an ENTJ or something?

Anyone else ever experienced this with someone’s writing?

**Edited to add: I want to make it absolutely clear that I don’t mean to say I felt like the writing was actually clumsy or juvenile. I honestly cannot evaluate the sentences that threw me for a loop objectively, because my issue was more that’s not how I would say that than it was “that was a tragic sentence.” I think. Maybe someone can read the sample for me and confirm it’s either spotty or that this is purely and strictly a Lily issue, because he was writing a funhouse mirror version of my writing.

6 Comments

Filed under Ramblings, Writing

100>0

Even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

***

I was going to end this post there, but I need to add: my muse is a ginormous ass. He has decided, for reasons known only to himself but for which I can at least spot an inkling due to what I have been reading recently, to come dragging back from hiatus, hung over from a 4-month bender and grabbing the toast off my plate like an insolent older brother, and focus his gritty, slit-eyed gaze on a story from YEARS ago rather than something current and useful. It’s a story I want to write, but not right ow…the idea that made me decide to try romance, that I have never quite gotten to hang together, that I put aside to write my Twelfth Night novellas just to prove I could finish something and never went back to in a serious way. I have ungodly amounts of notes, scene sketches, and a start that I will not use because it’s simply too slow and cumbersome to run with or even bother salvaging much of. But it was not in my plans to go back to until I finished other things.

Why that story and not the short I wanted to write for Seb and Julia, as a complement to A Christmastide Courtship? Why that story and not last November’s never-quite-abandoned NaNo project? Why that story and not the novel needing a new opening third?

Sadly I know why: because it’s the only story I have started where the characters are at odds as oppose to indifference, and I have been reading too much conflict as courtship lately. But at a work pace of 100 word per day, a short piece is more practical. And I am above all things a practical creature…

…so I guess it only makes sense that I be saddled with a goddamned dilettante muse with a head in the clouds and his feet in the gutter.

100 is greater than 0. Something is better than nothing. Therefore I cannot complain about my 100 words.

But damn, I want to.

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Let Me Tell You About My Favorite Book

Nobody ever knows this book. It is my secret…my own…my precious.

I found it when I was twelve. Later twelve; seventh grade twelve; but, nonetheless, twelve. I went to the bookstore in my town (a Hastings – that should tell you what you need to know about the size of my town and the size of the bookstore) about once every two weeks in search of a new fantasy novel. I knew the selection there like it was my own personal library. There was a book with an interesting cover that jumped off the shelf at me, over and over again. It had no description on the back cover; the title was a cipher. This was before the internet was a household utility, so I had no way to find out what the book was about except to read it. Even then I hated reading books blind, and I hated the thought of spending half my monthly book allowance on a book that was a literal shot in the dark in terms of whether it would appeal to me. But that damned cover kept looking at me. Finally I gave in. I bought it. This is what I encountered on the first page:

illusion

I was hooked from the first sentence. I loved every successive sentence as much as the initial, and I loved everything else about the book, too – the plot, the setting, the characters, the fact that it was loosely a fantasy retelling of A Tale of Two Cities (which I had read and enjoyed that summer). It promptly became my favorite book and gave me aspirations about who I wanted to be as both a person and a novelist.

If you want to understand where I come from as a writer, reading Illusion by Paula Volsky will get you 80% of the way there.

As you can see in the sample above, she employs an insanely high level vocabulary, and she does so consistently throughout the book. (All her work, really, but that quality of her voice is on best display in Illusion.) More than that, she uses such language effortlessly, as if her lexicon of English is so vast and so fluent that she cannot help but to select the polysyllabic Latinate words in order to express herself most accurately. And accuracy is at the very heart of how she uses language, and why. This is not a writer who is using the largest word she can merely to impress; this is not a writer who selects words from a thesaurus in order to elevate her prose from pedestrian to erudite. This is a writer who uses only and exactly the words she needs to express herself most precisely. Her usages are incisive. Her meaning is absolute. You cannot rewrite with simpler words her sentences and retain every nuance that her she built with her highfalutin’ cant…at least, not without adding on extra sentences or metaphors and thereby betraying the adage that “you can say just as much with simple words as you can with fancy words.” No. You cannot. Not without using a great deal more of them, anyway.

For a long time – throughout the rest of my secondary education and on into college – my goal with every piece of writing was to be this eloquent, this elevated. It came off pretentiously, because it was a pretense. I am not this well-spoken. I am not this well-educated. I am not this well-heeled.

It took that class that I told you about to help me find my own voice and balance my language a little better with my personality. I am well-read and have a complex vocabulary; I do prefer to use one worth with my exact meaning than 5 to approximate it; I love the melifluent sound of sesquipedalian words. But I also have a predeliction for straight speaking and despise people who try to intimidate others by using language they do not know, and so I find my voice falls naturally a little more toward the mean than Volsky’s does.

In terms of understanding my preferences as a reader, Illusion embodies many of them. Supremely intelligent hero who is utterly masculine and yet displays not a single hint of “alpha” tendencies? Check. Resourceful heroine who is capable of both fitting into her culture and seeing beyond it so that she can be relatable to a modern audience without being anachronistic to her world? Check. Events and choices that build to inevitable conclusions while still allowing room for surprises? Check. Wonderfully quotable dialogue? Check. Oh, and a breathlessly forbiden love? Check.

I don’t write to that aesthetic, either, but it does hit my buttons as a reader. Or perhaps it is simply that Illusion set most of my buttons.

19 years later and every time I re-read it I realize it’s still my favorite book.

2 Comments

Filed under Ramblings, Writing

Equilibrium

Or, In which I do not discuss the film (even though it is awesome)

It has been a month since I went back to work at the day job. A month since I had to act against all of my maternal instincts and leave my baby for the bulk of his waking life. A month of tears and guilt and stoicism and relief that he hasn’t been unduly traumatized by our separation, a month of gratitude for the family who has come in to watch him and help me around the house, a month of short-sleep nights as baby reverted from sleeping through the night to waking multiple times a night every night, a month of reminding myself that I am working now so that my husband, my love, my life partner can have some relief from supporting us on his income alone and also reminding myself that I am working now because I will be homeschooling later, a month of agonizing over whether to remain ensconced in the city or sell out and retreat to the bucolic splendor of a country estate.

Motherhood hit me harder than I expected, in the best possible way but also an excruciatingly difficult way because of the reality of my life.

I am finally starting to feel like I have found my new equilibrium. Baby is sleeping through most of the night more often than not now. I am fully caught up and up to speed at work, mentally and physically. I have almost resigned myself to the reality of this necessity. I have begun to think of doing things for myself again – an overnight trip with my husband maybe, what cos-plays I want to update or make for costume season (Halloween, Ren Faire, Mardi Gras), giving my hotel-booking friend a soft confirmation for DragonCon next Labor Day. I have moments when I realize I have time to write, and feel frustration that I lack either the energy or an immediately possessing idea; that angst usually precedes a creative swell. (If it does now, I for one am intensely curious to know which story of the ridiculous multitude in my head catches my attention.)

I do not presume this fragile balance will hold. Family will eventually go home, baby will have to go into daycare, and I will have to find time for all the chores being done for me right now. Baby will stop going to bed at 730 and napping half the day, and will need more of my diligence on weekends as he becomes mobile. I will finish stories and need to find the spare time to polish them and publish – along with revamping the things I have published now, all of which need some type of update or another.

I assume that life is now a constant balancing act, and every time I find equilibrium it will be finite, and only when it is gone will I realize the surface beneath me has shifted yet again.

But for today, I feel like I have my balance. And it’s beautiful.

2 Comments

Filed under Housekeeping, Ramblings

A Month of Sundays

Sadly, my time of being a stay-at-home mommy is drawing swiftly to a close (for now). I am due to go back to work at the beginning of August, and I have about another week before the first family member comes in for an extended stay to nanny my son. Eventually we’ll run out of family, and he will have to go into daycare, but we are trying to get him to about 6 months so he has had all his shots, is beginning to explore food, and is more able to communicate to us if there is a problem with the care provider than he would be at a younger age.

And it will be good to not have to pay 25% of my salary in order for me to earn the salary for at least a few months while we recover financially from his birth and my time off. I wish I could say home with him, period, but it’s not realistic for us right now. If I had no personal debts, we could scrape by on my husband’s income – so the goal is for me to be debt-free by the time baby #2 comes along, since 50% of my salary just for me to work begins to look prohibitive if the working is not in and of itself a reward. Our ultimate goal is for me to homeschool the children, anyway, so me being able to not work 2-3 years from now is much more important (whatever my feelings about it) than me staying home now. I confess, the notion of a $10,000 advance from a publisher sort of looks like life-changing money right now, and isn’t the common advice to only sell a book for life-changing money? But I don’t have a book to sell, and I am, in all honesty, not sure I really could give up on one of my stories, which is what selling it for current contract terms would feel like. If I wrote faster, perhaps each one would matter less.

Anyway, July has felt to me like a month of Sundays. May was the shellshocked immersion into parenthood, and June was the halycon days when I had it figured out and my time with baby stretched endless before me. Since the first of July, though, I’ve had in the back of my mind that it’s drawing to a close – the way, as Calvin so aptly pointed out, you can’t truly enjoy Sunday the way you can Saturday because there isn’t another day off after it. Sunday isn’t over yet, but it’s waning fast, the shadows of tomorrow looming long on the periphery.

At least I’ve got him sleeping through the night. And at least we’re on a good schedule for me to just stay up after his pre-dawn feed, and write while he sleeps in his wrap against me. It might hurt to get only 6 or 7 hours of sleep each night, but I will get both a precious couple hours more with him each day and time to let the words out.

But for now, it’s still Sunday.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ramblings

A Thought

Writing in this piecemeal way is turning this novel into a play: dialogue, free of all encumbrance of description, and the barest of stage directions.

“Your talk of postscripts makes me sad. Let us dance, if we aim to.”
[they dance]

Literally how I just wrote (“wrote”) that scene. Clearly everything composed in this between-computers and between-drafts period will have to be rewritten later. What joy is mine.

At least slogging through all the narrative signals is easier when I know exactly what needs to be there and am not trying to envision the scene as I go….

2 Comments

Filed under Writing