fetish and taboo

February 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm (editing, writing) (, , , )

Jeff VanderMeer just posed an interesting question over at the Booklife blog, musing on the often problematic but also fruitful relationship between fetish and writing. Given the project I’m working on right now, I find myself more inspired to write about fetishes of a different sort, but Jeff’s post made me sit up all prick-eared, especially his opening quote:

In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.

I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.

This really got under my skin (in a good way). Compared to some, I’m not particularly fetish-oriented as a writer, though I have a few quirks, of course. I do my best work up at a coffee shop, but given that my husband works from home as a world history teacher, speaking on the phone all day to children, my need to be up here is more born of necessity than a necessity, if that makes sense. Other than that, I do have an inability to write by hand, but mostly because I do my best work while editing compulsively.

That said, I may not be a very fetish-prone writer, but my booklife does tend to operate within a system of taboos gleaned from writer friends, things I’ve read, advice from writing teachers in my distant past, “common knowledge,” etc. And, just as fetish-objects should be eschewed when they’re hurtful rather than helpful, so should those taboos. As I’ve posted here lately, I’ve been paralyzed by a pretty epic bout of writer’s block. Thankfully, the ice is cracking, slowly, but that’s in part due to my decision to break taboo, in the form of outlining.

I used to outline compulsively when I wrote, for both creative and academic projects. But I found, years ago, that for my creative writing, having an outline made me feel wedded to that outline, and often prevented me from exploring with the characters; it put me in control of them, rather than them determining their own reactions and personality. It also sometimes made me feel wedded to a certain plot, even when it didn’t feel like the right thing.

So I quit outlining. I haven’t written a single outline in years.

But.

The large project I’m working on right now is. . . large. And there are several different storylines. I’m working on the final one, but while it was the easiest of the three to write for the first part, when I got to the real tofu-and-potatoes of the plot, I froze. I had no idea where to go, what to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it. After writing a bunch of short stories and puttering around and griping, I finally broke down and busted out the “outline” function Scrivener supplies. And lo, lo I said, I worked out a mock-up of what I need to do for the rest of the book. Hallelujah.

It just goes to show (as Jeff said), some fetishes really do aid a writer’s creativity. For me, I have to say that the process of discovering (for some are quite unconscious) taboos and then breaking those taboos seems aids my creativity, as well. I have an informal checklist of things I do when I cant write: find new music, edit from the beginning, research more, work on something else, imagine scenes I’ll never include in the project to get a feel for how the characters would act naturally outside of their “screen time.” But I think I’ll add a new item to that list of tricks: engage in self-reflection to see if a sense of taboo is holding me back from a new way of interrogating and negotiating with a project.

And now, I must run. I have a novel to work on!

Permalink 2 Comments

virginia poe, illuminated

February 9, 2010 at 1:00 pm (reviews, this and that, writing) (, , , )

My dear friend S.J. Chambers, independent Poe scholar and all-around-neat-person, whose name you should recognize from her flash fiction “How a Blog was Born,” the Honorable Mention in my Bloggiversary Contest, and, more importantly, from various sundry locations around the internet (check S.J.’s website for a full listing of her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction), has a work of fiction over at MungBeing Magazine!

Stories like S.J.’s “Of Parallel and Parcel” are always of interest to me as both a reader and a writer of historical fiction. My personal take on the genre is this: there are holes in history, gaps where the curious mind wonders why? Those, for me, are some the best places to begin a story, especially if said historical fiction veers into the realms of science fiction/fantasy. S.J.’s story plays it mostly straight, with subtle hints of the fantastic affecting the internal motivations of the main character, in a narrative that treats a figure often overlooked beyond the rather cursory dude, Poe totes married his cousin! one often gets in high school.

S.J.’s love for Poe and Poe-related matters comes through passionately in her writing, in both the framing of the piece and the actual content. It’s worth your time. Go check it out!

Permalink 1 Comment

stuck.

February 2, 2010 at 12:24 pm (writing) ()

I am stuck. Seriously, mood-crushingly, tar-pit stuck. In the weeks surrounding Christmas and the New Year I wrote between 15,000-20,000 words on my current project, it flowed beautifully. Good stuff, natural dialogue, lovely. Then. . . nothing. For weeks. Literally. I’ve gone through all my usual tricks– research, new music, working on other stuff, editing the section from the beginning, but I think I’ve written maybe 1000 words since The Stop. I’ve since written three short stories (approx. 18,000 words), so nothing shabby there, but it’s not the same for me. I want so much for this project to come together, I’m in the home stretch (I think I’ll be “done” in about 20,000 words, and on to the editing stage), I just need to rally and push through but everything I write reads like zzzzzzzzzzzzzz and meh.

I’m not sure what’s wrong. I know what I want to do with this and why and (kind of) how, but I pull up my Scrivener file and just end up staring at it. It’s very disheartening, and it’s been making me really, really, really unhappy. It’s gotten so bad I’m worried everything about this project will be a wash, I’ll have to start over, and I know sometimes it goes like that, but I really thought I had something here. I mean, Christ, I do have something– I have a something that is currently 131,000 words (Jesus Christ, the editing down is going to be painful), so for it to dissipate at this point seems bizarre and stupid.

Hopefully something will happen and I’ll receive some sort of inspiration in the form of a chisel that can crack the concrete surrounding my creativity. Hopefully.

Permalink 6 Comments

anthology news!

January 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm (writing) (, , , )

I sliced off the tip of my finger last night, thus preventing much typing (ugh), but this morning, just when I was starting to be annoyed by my injury I saw that Ekaterina Sedia posted the table of contents for Running with the Pack to her LJ, and holy crap! It’s so awesome. I know I’ve said it, but I’m honored beyond words to be a part of this project.

Permalink Leave a Comment

the darkness grips us all sometimes

January 17, 2010 at 4:29 pm (writing) (, , )

In the wake of the Great Rate Fail Debate of late ’09 people still seem to be discussing why (allegedly) it’s impossible or at least very difficult for new writers to break into semi-pro and pro markets, with or without a list of token or “for the love” markets following their name in their bio, with or without friends, with or without whatever.

A lot of people have had things to say about it, ranging from more or less confirming that there is a glass elevator for those who have already proven they have chops (at least for some markets), to ranting about the Augean task of selling one’s first story (or second, or third), to discussions of whether even discussing the topic is worthwhile, to the revelation that some writers are sending nasty “well, you might have rejected my story but guess what, I just sold it!” letters to editors, which is simply shocking beyond all excusability. Maybe I’m just new to this community (LJ specifically, but more broadly, the world of genre writing and publishing) and this sort of thing happens all the time, but it’s my first time seeing a lot of it.

I personally think that Jeff VanderMeer summed up everything very nicely on his blog:

Stupidity rather than malice is the main reason bad things happen in genre. Let’s be a little more forgiving and also a little less willing to contribute to a sense of vast conspiracy where none exists. It is always good for one’s health and to a community to assume the best until it’s proven otherwise.

How true this is.

I’m going to be starting an experiment. I’m going to start restricting my internet-vieweing to a to-be-determined amount per day (even checking my email). I feel like paying so much attention to the internet–including but not limited to my own snotty ranting about such important things as double-spacing after a period–has been affecting me on a personal level. Quite frankly, I feel like it’s been gumming up my works (though that’s a really gross way to think about it), because to be honest, I’m straddling here. I work for a genre mag, but I’m also a newb author. Half of me comes down firmly on the side of “good writing is good writing, write good stuff and you’ll eventually get rewarded” and half of me knows very well the black tundra of despair, of feeling like my stuff would be appreciated if only I could get an “in” with an editor; that my stuff is just too different, or too subtle, or too slow (it’s not boring, it’s called a slow burn, OK?), or not what’s popular, or whatever serves that day to explain why someone somewhere didn’t immediately buy whatever story and put my name up in lights, the jerks, and tra la la. I’ve walked many a mile on that tundra. I’m not proud of it, and part of me doesn’t even think I should admit it to the internet but what the fuck. I’ve been there, and hiding it seems dumb because it seems like a lot of people have been there. But, the thing is, I’m (in general) sensible and healthy enough hear those thoughts for what they are–bullshit–and try to short-circuit such self-indulgence by taking a walk, having a really stiff drink (gin does it, though Jesse proved that he can actually mix a good drink the other night when he made French 75s, and frankly, had I the funds, I think that would be my drug of choice), or do whatever to slap myself around a little, and remember that the list of claptrap above is just that–claptrap.

It sucks, starting out. It sucks a lot. I’ve been trying for three years now to write and publish, only about six months of that without the distraction of grad school, and I just a week ago I made my first sale. That’s not really a particularly awesome return rate (nor is it particularly terrible, says my defense mechanisms), but I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of the story I sold. I know for a fact that three years ago, when I started considering trying to write fiction professionally, I could not have written “In Sheep’s Clothing.” Six months ago I don’t think I could’ve done it, either. And when I wrote it, I got this feeling about it, something like “hey, you know what? This is my best work to do date, and if anything I’ve written stands a chance of selling, this will be it.”

The first place I submitted it to accepted it.

I do this thing to myself where occasionally (or, uh, more than occasionally) I get tangled in my mind, worrying about whether I’ll ever make a living from writing, whether or not I’ll ever find an agent, whether or not I’ll sell this probably-too-long novel I’ve been working on, whether I’ll “make it” or burn out and give up before I succeed according to whatever definition of success I’m using that day. That shit is just stupid. That is the kind of shit that should not even be on my radar right now. Right now my concerns should be writing, editing, polishing, creating. All that other stuff comes later. It’s more difficult than it should be sometimes in part because my best friend is a very successful new writer and I get to see what he’s up to and that gets me pondering things that are simply just not anything I should worry about because–and here’s the hilarious part–I haven’t even finished my first solo novel. I only have as of this minute three short stories out circulating. I’m not prolific. My strengths are research and editing, not generating a ton of material. So I play to those.

And you know what? I keep the hope that some day it will pay off. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. We’ll see. But the thing is, every moment I spend worrying about things in the future, or feeling slighted, or being distressed, or wondering if whatever I’m working on is too long, or too weird, or too whatever, well, that was a moment I spent not thinking about the important things, a moment lost I could’ve spent time dreaming, or writing, or doing work for my magazine, or planning, or researching. It’s literally wasted time, because no amount of that kind of shit will ever make me a better writer.

You know, unlike blogging. That’s writing, whispers my mind.

Not as much as actually writing is, I say back. And thus, I return to my regularly scheduled novel.

Permalink 2 Comments

there should be only one

January 15, 2010 at 5:28 pm (editing, writing) (, , )

There should be only one space after a period in just about anything you send out to magazines these days. Unless you are a lawyer, I think. But for creative writers and, in many cases, non-lawyer academics (though the rules for those magazines tend to be more quirky), when you submit a story or an article anywhere, you should probably have one lone space after the periods.

“Kicking and screaming” would not be too hyperbolic a phrase to describe my reaction to, years ago, a friend informing me that these days you should only put one space after a period.

I had read this wisdom already, probably over a decade before, in 8th grade. I was reading a manual on how to use Macintosh computers for a graphic design class and the writer of said tome remarked that it was standard to only put one space after a period. I remember this, so disturbing a sentiment it was to young Molly: Look at the type in this book, exhorted the author. There’s only one space after the periods.

I believe my reaction to this statement was: fuck you. Mavis Beacon had taught me to put two spaces after a period when I typed and by God, I was a believer in Mavis Beacon. Through high school, through college, Christ, through my first year of grad school, every damn period had two spaces after it. My reasoning was that you pause longer at the end of sentences than you do at comas, and thus it was intuitive punctuation. Also, that’s how “they used to do it.” Holla!

Then I began working on a creative project with a cohort, and said cohort was all wtf? when I sent him a draft of something or other, ragging on me for putting two spaces after a period. I told him two spaces was standard. He told me I was full of shit, and showed me so. Here, and also here. Christ, even the folks over at The Chicago Manual of Style agree, if you can catch them between fits of weeping over the knowledge that they’re just not as cool as MLA. I kid, I kid. Sort of.

I don’t care if they used to do it back in the day when you learned from Mavis Beacon or a typing class on typewriters instead of computers or if you’re just used to it. Guess what? Printers used to put the first word of the following page at the bottom of each and every page, and we don’t do that anymore. Because it’s pointless. They also used monospace fonts back in the day. Now, with proportionately-spaced fonts, type just looks better in general, and it is unnecessary to have two spaces after a period.

I changed. It took a lot, believe me. Every person who types a lot has typing quirks, and disrupting one’s usual use of spaces is a huge fucking pain. But I changed. You should change too, for a number of reasons.

One, it’s correct.

Two, it’s correct.

And three, other than the fact that it’s correct, it’s also a nice gesture.

Why? Because everything you do on your end, as a writer, to make your manuscript perfect– or at least conform to publishing standards– makes less work for editors and publishers of your work, and thus is really awesome. Now, if you refuse to change your typing habits, and believe you me I understand this, then just, at the end of working on a project, do a find/replace, substituting one space for two. It can be done in one fell swoop, just replace all. This way, if some poor soul is formatting and inputting work for publication in one of the many, many online venues, they won’t do all the work that is associated with that, only to catch anachronistic spacing at the last minute and then be faced with the prospect of either combing through the story to manually excise the improper spaces, or exporting the story to MS Word (possibly losing a lot of the formatting they’ve done already) and re-importing it with the spacing corrected.

I now view using single spaces after periods as just part of the proofreading process, an author-end activity the same as correcting comma splices or poor grammar. It’s professional, it’s courteous, it’s (in general, but always always check your target magazine’s rules) correct. Unlike having your work in Standard Manuscript Format, which generally corrects into Online Publishing Format (explained by the kind folks at Cabinet des Fées here), having two spaces after your period is an annoyance for editors, especially nit-picky neurotic editors, like–well, like me. And others, trust me on this.

It’s not really a stylistic decision any longer, like, say, the Oxford comma (which you’ll have pry out of my writing with a silver crowbar, heretics!). It’s just not in general considered standard. And it will likely be edited out of your work anyways, without any sort of remorse on the part of the editor.

The times, they aren’t a’changin’ in regards to this. They’ve changed.

Permalink 20 Comments

back to it

January 14, 2010 at 12:01 am (reading, this and that, writing) ()

Huzzah! The contest is now over, the entries published, and I can now get back to my regularly scheduled nothing-much around here.

Things have been good around my neck of the woods, but as usual, once I felt like “yeah! I’m truckin with the novel!” I got seriously, unhappily stuck. Thems the breaks. I really want to get back on track, it sucks. Oh well. Something will trigger me sooner or later!

I did however bang out a short story earlier this week. I’m not sure if I like it. It is kind of gross and kind of weird and kind of about morally bankrupt people and. . . well, that’s not usually my thing. I can’t decide if I’m going to submit it to the venue I wrote it specifically for. We’ll see.

I’m thinking about applying to go to Clarion.

I’ve been making kimchi at home. Somewhere along the line I stopped doing homemaker-ish things and I kind of miss it. I’m trying to do more stuff like that, and kimchi is fun and delicious. Mine is too salty, I need to do something about that in the future. The past two days I’ve also been making awesome smellywater to humidify my home, as my husband’s yoga guru (I’m really not sure what the heck she is, he goes to her for yoga and massage and also apparently for little bottles of nose-oil and recipes for a turmeric-based sinus tea that has now stained my pots, my cutting board, and my mugs) suggested some of his sinus troubles might be related to a dry home. The smellywater (it’s not really potpourri since it’s not dry, I guess?) is just water in my crockpot, into which I throw lemon peels, cloves, rose petals, rosemary, and some essential oils, mostly rosemary and eucalyptus. So my house now smells like that, when it doesn’t smell like catfood (though yesterday Jesse came over when the cat-food smell was strong and asked me what the “tasty smell” was. This is not slander, this happened).

Other than that, meh. Stuck on the novel! It’s making me mad.

Permalink 4 Comments

waning moon

January 13, 2010 at 12:01 am (writing) (, , )

Waning Moon

J.T. Glover

Chelsea thought surprise had vanished with hope, but then the man arrived at the window. Two fingers snapped, and the pane swung open. He slipped inside, tilting broad, spiral horns left and right to get through, and his hooves clopped softly onto the linoleum.

“You never called,” he said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 7 Comments

beth/slash/nathan

January 12, 2010 at 12:01 am (writing) (, , )

Beth/slash/Nathan

by Drew Rhys White

Food provided the bulk of their pleasure these days. Beth pulled the car to the cement bar at the end of a ShopRite space and moved the gear shift to PARK. Nathan felt his center of gravity sink from his sternum to the base of his gut as the engine stilled.

“Want anything else?” Beth asked, gathering her purse.

“No thanks,” he said.

His wife stepped from the asphalt to the curb with the slight hesitation of a much older person.

Fat ages you, Nathan thought. It’s aging both of us.

Two skateboarders left the store, laughing. One was dark and curly; the other fair and shorn. They had the same shorts, the same hoodies, the same bright, empty eyes.

If any pair on Noah’s gangplank matched, these boys matched.

Two by two, thought Nathan. Beth and I would sink the boat.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 4 Comments

how a blog was born

January 11, 2010 at 12:01 am (writing) (, , )

How a Blog was Born

S. J. Chambers

Molly Tanzer awoke in an Elysian field. The grass grew long and verdant and swayed in Boreas’ gentle sighs. The sky overhead was a crisp azure with billowy leviathans swimming overhead. She knew not what world she had entered, but saw over the undulating hills a tall, pale man, boundlessly British, with rumpled head and a black leather trench coat standing before an orchard. Suddenly, she stood before him. He had some weird Jerusalem star in one eye, and it twinkled at her as he turned to lead her.

“I am here to show you the way, the way only dreams can, through the subconscious to the conscious.”

Molly looked at the man.

“You look familiar. Have I seen you in like Swamp Thing or something?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 4 Comments

Next page »