By Jove, I Think I’ve Got It!

It only took, in the end, five tries and six sessions to write the first sex scene I expect to publish.

I got it from an original ridiculous 5,ooo words to a practical 1869…enough detail to be interesting, not so much as to be tedious. I think. I hope.

Huzzah?

Is that…worth celebrating? I simultaneously feel like the scene should have come easier (ha!) and am terrified I’m going to have to re-write it yet again.

Maybe also there is fear that I will have to start Chapter 1 over from the very beginning yet again.

I think I like this version…but I’m also worried there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome going on with it, or just exhaustion with trying such that I’m settling for the current iteration simply because I am out of patience with it.

I am literally making this face about it, is what I mean:

I think I love my draft?

Which is maybe not the healthiest place to be.

I am just worried about this opening because normally openings come on an inspiration – to be fair, this one has a prologue that did – and I have never really had to sort of search and flail about and test different variations before finding the right thread to start with.

I am worried about having to do it over because I am so fucking sick of it AND because I am really excited to get into the meat of the story, both new scenes that are replacing old inadequate ones (events-wise, I mean, because I dropped a sub-plot) and tweaking extant scenes to better suit the themes I decided were most important after seeing the thing as a whole laid out in Scrivener. I am genuinely excited about the raw material I have to work with, and so ready – so very, very ready – to get to those parts and get this whole into coherent enough shape that I can enjoy reading it. Because it’s a story I’ve been waiting…

**stops for math**

…three and a half years to read! Actually more like 5 years. It’s been three and a half since I started writing it, but I’d had the kernel long before I started writing it out.

Well. Nothing else I can do about it tonight – I’ve shot my load (heh) word-wise and can at least rest easy knowing that I trimmed the inciting sex scene enough that it won’t be more than half my sample, and possibly a good bit less than half of it depending on what the revised final word count is.

Now THAT is a noble cause!

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Predestination: Time Travel Mindfuck of the Year

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Predestination is a recent (2014?) low-budget independent science fiction movie that released with little fanfare in my movie-watching circles. I am not even sure it had a theatrical run. It stars Ethan Hawke (and convinces me that he, like Scarlett Johansson, is secretly a nerd, because no one accidentally makes more than one philosophical SF movie) as a man who can travel through time as part of a tragedy-prevention bureau. His job is to prevent mass tragedies, not minor personal ones; you don’t risk the butterfly effect for one person. He is nearing the end of his career (a person can only make so many jumps through time before they go insane), and chooses to “retire” to a point in time where he can perhaps still catch the one criminal he was never able to stop.

If this scenario sounds like your sort of thing, I suggest you stop reading this review, go watch it, and come back here so we can talk about it, because I am about to spoil the entire thing in order to discuss the philosophical concepts it brought up and its plot structure. The movie is well made, and it uses physical effects instead of CG and gets bumped up at least half a letter grade because of that. It is small, yes, but not obviously indie in the sense of being amateurly filmed, acted, or produced with obvious monetary corners cut.

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Libertarian Thought for the Day

It’s another Friday the 13th, the day The Honest Courtesan asks vanilla people who believe it is morally wrong for sex work, up to and including prostitution, to be illegal to publicly say so. I am one of those people. I consider the criminalization of sex work an attempt to control female sexuality, agency, and self-ownership; an attempt to legislate morality; and an affront to both liberty and common sense to declare that an action undertaken for the motive of money is criminal when the same action undertaken for fun is not. It is a thought crime, in a very basic sense, and as such utterly indefensible.

No essay today; I had the natural follow up to my post on the last Friday 13, a defense of romance genre, 2/3 written. WordPress app ate it. I can’t recreate a thousand words of edited prose in 10 minutes at lunch, so I’m not trying. I am leaving today’s thought at the above.

Down with thought crimes.

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Romance Novelist Whinge: Problematic Sex Scene Requires Fourth Re-Write

This is another of those posts where I am tempted to just leave it at the title.

In the never-ending novel revision project (never-ending because I am writing it 100 words at a session, and I have like…17,000 words to go), I am up to the first sex scene. And I’m writing it for the fourth time. Which, I dunno, maybe sounds like a lot of fun? It’s not. At all.

See, the first sex scene is basically the inciting incident for the whole rest of the book, so it happens REALLY early on. Like first chapter early. And it isn’t necessarily meant to be a sexy, hot sex scene. But I don’t want it to not be at all sexy, either, because it’s in the part of the book that would be in a sample download, and something that’s too either analytic or bad (in the sense of bad sex, not a bad sex scene, which are not the same thing!) might turn off (heh) readers who are trying out my work for the first time. So, since plot-wise what matters is that the hero and heroine have sex by mistake (it’s complicated), not what kind of sex they have, I would prefer it to be at least moderately good sex and a moderately good sex scene.

Hence writing it four (or more – God forbid) times.

The first time it was waaaaaaaay too long and involved and tender. The second run swung too far in the other direction, and it was just too abrupt and selfish (on the hero’s part) and not fun to read (there was spit involved. It’s funny in a Joe Abercrombie book…not so much a full-on romance). The third time did a better job with pacing and mood, but was still a bit too ornate and also hinged on a revelation I decided the heroine does not make. Or, rather, one she makes but the hero misunderstands – it’s just one more part in their ongoing conversation where one says a thing and the other hears something different.

I’ve got the fourth version started; it’s written up to the end of the heroine’s POV section, and I will be able to use the intercourse section of the third version (also heroine), so I just need the hero’s perspective for the bit in between. I haven’t had a good block of time to sit down and write it, and I will say from experience here, that sex scenes really do read best when they are written pretty much in one go and gotten on the first take. Like, I can’t write this section in 100-word increments and expect to get a workable scene.

Coitus Imaginus Interruptus is the fucking worst.

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Cover Talk – Australia > U.S., Joanna Bourne Edition

I don’t feel like I need to add much to the title, except to reiterate how obnoxious I find the “sexy” covers so prevalent in U.S. romance cover art. I basically don’t look at books that have covers like this – and always look at books with covers like the Australia edition. The man-titty tells me it’s a sex-romp in which the relationship will be based primarily on the physical, which means I will find it unsatisfying, while the fully dressed woman in roughly accurate historical costume tells me the book is character-focused, which means I’m more likely to find it satisfying.

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What It Means To Love

Probably the most hurtful thing I’ve ever said to my husband was along the lines of “Maybe I would have made a different choice 10 years ago.”

I like to pride myself for not saying things I don’t mean when we are fighting, even in anger, so this comment didn’t stick out as being particularly awful when I said it. When I realized, analyzing the fight later, just what a shitty thing to say that was, my initial reaction was a knee-jerk apology; of course, I didn’t mean that! But then I wondered: was this a time when I forgot myself and said something untrue in anger, or was it yet another time when I did something worse – accidentally speak a terrible truth?

So I forced myself to consider it. Knowing everything that would happen between us, would I tell my college self to run, or to stay? At first I wasn’t sure; things were that rocky. But a lot of good happens in a relationship, and the more I thought the more I realized, no, I would not make a different choice, even in the midst of a rough patch. Even, perhaps, when everything is in splinters.

I read a memoir once (Kingbird Highway) in which the man wrote, about meeting his ex-wife while hitchhiking, that even if he could have looked down the tunnel of years to their divorce, he’d have gotten in the car with her anyway. Even if I don’t make it to 80 on the porch with my husband, I believe I will always answer the question the same way.

Re-watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reminded me of that moment, and I realized – that is what it means to love someone: to choose them again anyway.

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Joel’s answer to her is, “Okay.” Okay, I’ll take the chance that things will unravel the same way they did the first time. Okay, I’ll take the chance that I will come to regret this choice. Okay, I’ll take the chance that you will hurt me. Okay.

Okay.

It’s the most beautiful scene in the film, to me. And it’s absolutely what it means to love someone – to choose them again, no matter what.

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Lessons from The Worst Idea of All Time (Podcast)

Around Christmas I was introduced to the podcast The Worst Idea of All Time and pretty much immediately glommed all extant episodes and caught up in plenty of time to finish out the 52nd and last episode the day it went public this week. If the podcast hasn’t crossed your radar yet, all you need to know about it for our purposes here is that two friends (Tim and Guy) watch the same bad movie (Grown-Ups 2) every week for a year and then discuss it after each viewing. In hot Kiwi accents liberally sprinkled with cursing, existential despair, and a pretty epic bromance. I had a wonderful time.

In listening to all 52+ episodes, I found not only barrels of laughs but also occasional moments of brilliant insight for an author (sometimes any creative type) – and some insights that might only be brilliant to the particular writer that I am. I thought I’d share them.

1. If you look at any given project too long you lose all sense of perspective. There were so many moments in the course of the discussions where Guy and Tim would heap praise on some tiny aspect of the film merely because it was mediocre (instead of bad) or good (instead of mediocre). But those compliments would NEVER have appeared without the insane scrutiny they were putting on the film. Writers in particular struggle with maintaining perspective on a project, because for some of us writing 100,000 words takes years, or because some people revise so many times they lose track of the actual story they are trying to tell.

2. If you look closely enough at anything you can find hidden meanings. It sort of makes a mockery of the whole institution of English as a university major, listening to some of the profundities Tim and Guy projected onto this film. Serves as a reminder that all art interpretation/criticism really is is an externalized version of the critic’s own ethos (or pathos, as the case may be).

3. A text can change solely based on the mood of the consumer. What might strike you as funny in one mood can seem tragic in another. Some days you might relate to one character but relate to a different character entirely on a different day. As readers/viewers/consumers of art, in any medium, we bring with us our moods, our frustrations, our education, our cultural context, and all of them influence how we connect with a particular piece of art on a particular day. How does this affect me as a writer? It doesn’t. But it’s good for any kind of artist to remember that all art is interactive, and the audience is not entirely passive nor a tabula rossa. You can’t control what they bring to your work with them – but it might influence what they get out of it all the same.

4. Simply having a full-length project does not mean you have a story. Probably the biggest criticism the guys have of Grown-Ups 2 is its lack of an overarching plot. There is no theme; there are no stakes; there is no climax and concomitant emotional payout. There is simply a string of things that happen, some of which the characters respond to and some of which are dropped as quickly as they are brought up, and the whole is an unsatisfying waste of time.

5. Putting care into the details is not enough to make the whole thing good. Tim and Guy frequently praise the efforts of the production team – great lighting, great set design and dressing, great wardrobe choices, great sound mixing, good camera work, etc., and yet having great production values did not make the movie good. The writing equivalent would be someone who has a perfectly polished, error-free and easily readable narrative wherein the story is nonexistent and the characters bland and shallow. It doesn’t matter how well something is written, technically, if the subject is boring. Conversely, poorly written books can sell in record numbers because they include a story or character that readers find compelling (looking at you, Fifty Shades, my objet d’haine du jour).

6. Conversations are shockingly unpredictable. One of my favorite episodes – perhaps my very favorite? Certainly my favorite from a writing perspective! – was around 43.5, the one titled “Coal.” It consists of Tim basically talking to his imaginary friend about this movie, because the two were Skyping the discussion and recording two audio files to mix, only Guy’s didn’t record. The one-sided conversation is a masterful lesson in how actual conversations between two actual individuals work. Tim attempts to make points, and is, more often than not, sent off on a tangential quest that never leads back to the original point. Sometimes he is the one making leaps away from Guy’s unheard path. But it shows in a really profound way how unpredictable interactive speech is, and how what makes a conversation interesting is the give-and-take of competing perspectives and thought processes. It also shows just how much we play off of one another in conversation, how much we use the fact that we can’t predict what is about to be said to spur our own creativity in responding. Conversation is a lot like dreaming: it’s an act of simultaneous reaction and creation. What allows us to create so freely, though, is the purely reactive state we are in. One of the hardest things to do is have a conversation with an imaginary friend that actually progresses like  a real conversation would. God knows when my son is babbling at me, I struggle to find responses that can keep me talking, because I don’t have any words or ideas to play off of, just his squeals and burbling. And as much as most of the dialogue in my books comes from inspiration rather than brow-sweat (seriously, the voices in my head…they just talk), I still know that the conversations my characters have are a little too on-point. Real conversations almost never stay on one course or even conclude any topic.

7. One of the clearest signs of friendship/emotional bonding with a fellow human being is having a shared “language” with them, basically layers of callbacks and references to prior meetings/conversations/shared experiences. Listening to Guy and Tim go from friendly acquaintances to close mates over the course of this project was both heartwarming and an amazing lesson in how friendships progress. The injection of callbacks is definitely one of the key ways to track the shift, until, by the end, the two of them are having two simultaneous conversations, one with words and one with the history embedded in the words and phrases they choose that is, essentially a code they share. In this case, of course, the listening audience shares it, too, but that’s a rare occurrence.

8. Friends do not talk to one another the same way acquaintances do. There is a marked difference in how Tim and Guy speak to each other between the first episode and the last. By the end, they offer a hilariously awesome example of how best friends talk to each other. It’s a dynamic I’ve been between my husband and his friends, between my first boyfriend and his best friend (which I remember mainly because it made me think the friend was way more interesting, which made me realize I probably shouldn’t be dating that guy), between my brother and his friends. Somehow, though, hearing it between two strangers – or maybe hearing it develop in the compressed, time-lapse nature of a weekly podcast that I listened to in the course of 8 weeks instead of 52 – really struck me. Perhaps it was really just my brain leaping onto the a trigger at the right time for the revelation. I’ve been struggling with the personality of a couple heroes in books I’m slowly starting to write. One of them – the one from the first romance I ever tried to write – has always been a bit of a cipher in terms of his own personality. I know why he reacts to and behaves toward the heroine like he does; I know how and why he redeems himself for asshatery. But I couldn’t figure out what actually made him an interesting or special person…a worthy hero. The one starting place I had thought of was his best friend, who is immediately and obviously awesome. So what does his friend see in him? What does his friend value that he provides? Listening to Guy and Tim didn’t offer a specific answer, but it did provide a great look at how male friendship expresses itself and gave me some great ideas as to how the hero and his bestie treat one another. Being able to organically explore his character in such a way is the first step to unearthing the things about him that are most special.

I guess that means I should add a quick 9: inspiration truly can be found wherever you aren’t looking for it. :)

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