Saturday, May 29, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation

Today I went to the beach. Twice. Because I could, dear reader, because I could. In between those visits, I went next door and introduced myself to my neighbors. It was a fairly one-sided introduction, as my neighbors are all dead. Next door is a 244 year old family graveyard. (I think this is marvelous. Reactions from my friends have ranged from "Cool!" to "I can understand why you would think that was interesting.") 

I really want to take The Graveyard Book over there to read. We'll see how long I resist.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Shed my skin

For most of my childhood, I thought I was going to be a marine biologist when I grew up. I spent four years in the marine chemistry program at my high school (Bellarmine Prep, Tacoma, WA) and loved it, and was accepted into the marine chemistry program at the University of Miami. I have a scuba license. I've swum next to sharks, with dolphins, and through a wreck 120 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. I'm not Cousteau, but the ocean is home.

For nearly twelve years, I lived pretty much as far as a person on the North American continent could from salt water.

Today, I walked for five minutes, and found this. Standing there, I could feel my skin redrape itself over my bones, and fit correctly again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Still alive

Yesterday evening we (me, my Mom, Sam I Am, three cats, and all of my worldly goods) arrived at my parents' beautiful home in New Hampshire. Moving was... well, we had to get a bigger truck, because no one would believe me when I said I had over sixty boxes of books, I broke my toe, and got food poisoning. But I also had lovely going away meals with many dear friends and received an amazing surprise care package from my wonderful friend Lauren. So the good outweighed the bad. And today, Mom, my brother Doug, and I unloaded all of my things. 

On Wednesday, I will load up the PugBug (the KatMobile?) with Sam I Am, cat Stella, and six weeks worth of my belongings, and drive to Long Island. One of my amazing new colleagues at Stony Brook is letting me house sit for six weeks. I'm looking forward to getting to know the area, and to getting some work done. And to resuming my normal, semi-regular blogging schedule.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Enjoy the silence

A week from today, I close on my house. Two weeks from today, I will be in Stony Brook, NY, at the home of a new colleague, where I will be house- and cat-sitting while I look for a new apartment. I am pretty much thrilled about both of those things.

But in the interim, I will be lo, very busy, with the packing of my life, and the discarding of some of its pieces. There will be the drive across the country, with the stop in New Hampshire, where I will unload many of my things in storage at my parents'. This means that for the next two weeks, blogging is going to be sporadic at best. Partially because of the travel, and partially because packing and all of the last minute things that I need to do here in the next week is zombifying my brain, and, much as I love all of you, if I only have the energy to write a little, it's going to be fiction, rather than blog. 

Twitter posts will be slightly more regular, because, hey! shorter. Although on days with driving, there will not be so many tweets, either (Mom is driving the U-Haul what has my stuff in it. I will be driving PugBug, with Sam I Am and his kitties as passengers.) I do not believe in tweeting while driving.

I'll be back, and I'll miss you while I'm gone.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"I was afraid I'd eat your brains"

I almost didn't buy Feed.

I love Seanan McGuire's writing. (It is a very open secret that Mira Grant, the author of Feed,  is a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire.) Her Toby Daye series is fabulous. I nominated McGuire for the Campbell award this year. She's really, really good.

But, oh, zombies. Gentle readers, I think my brain was broken earlier this year when I saw an anthology titled My Zombie Valentine. (No, I'm not linking to it. Yes, it exists. Do you honestly think I would make that up?) The rotting shambling undead are many things. Sexy is not one of them. Something that wants to eat your brains is a really bad Valentine. You shouldn't need a book to tell you this.

So when I started to hear the buzz about Feed, my initial reaction was a sigh. Because, really, another book about zombies? 

Feed is not just another book about zombies. Feed is about politics and terrorism and truth. Feed is about fear, and how that is just as much of a weapon as a bomb, or a syringe full of virus. It is the kind of book that I want to buy extra copies of so I can stuff it into the hands of all my friends. (Seriously, I raved about it for a good five minutes at the party for my Goddaughter's baptism this weekend.)

Reading this book made me realize that what I'm sick of isn't zombies per se, (or werewolves, another supernatural creature of the week that annoys me to the point of not reading). What I'm sick of is lazy writing. 

One of Feed's many strengths is that it completely imagines the society in which the book is set. The world is real, and fully built. Too many books don't think through all of their elements, and so a woman's sexy and mysterious new neighbor turns out to be a vampire because vampires are sexy and mysterious and over the course of the book it turns out he's no different than any other guy except for being extra sexy and mysterious.

That is what I am tired of. If we, as writers, are going to put the supernatural or the superpowered into our books, we owe it to ourselves and our stories to do it right. We can - and should - write smarter. Because that is what makes better stories. 

Rise up while you can.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Promiscuous girl

My friend Damien recently outed himself as a polyamorous reader, and asked if others were as well. My response was the confession that I am not only poly about my reading (I usually have bookmarks in 5-7 books at once), but that I am promiscuous, fickle, demanding, and needy.

The one piece of advice to beginning writers that seems to be consistent across time and space is to read. Read everything. Read to find out what you like, read to discover what you hate and then think about why you love and hate what you do. Read in your genre to discover what's been done before and read outside of your genre so your writing isn't myopic. Read the classics and read to discover the current state of literature. Read what's winning awards, and read what's selling millions.


Read because while there might be overlap between what you like to read, and what is well-written, the two are not one and the same. Read because the best way to learn to tell a story is to see how someone else does so, to pull back the curtain, and see what is behind it. Read, because to paraphrase Samuel R. Delany, your writing is only as good as the last thing you read.

Have reasons for what you read - and yes,"to be entertained" is a reason and a good one. Read because you want to learn how to do something in your writing, or how to not do it. Read something that makes you weep, makes you laugh, makes you think differently.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Almost already gone

Two weeks from yesterday, I won't live here any more. While I'll miss people, I'm fine with leaving. I won't miss this place. (Even had I been thinking about missing Minneapolis, last night's threat of snow and the current freeze warning we're under would have taken care of that. I like my seasons to be civilized and seasonal, thank you.)

The Packing of the Books has officially begun. I've packed all the books that aren't in my office. This would be more impressive if I didn't keep moving books to my office during the packing process. I'll be house sitting for six weeks when I first get to Stony Brook, and I'll need books with me for course prep, and for research, and y'know, to read. And packing the books has made me nostalgic, and I want to reread a bunch of YA books - Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy, and Pullman's His Dark Materials, and a good deal of Madeleine L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander's  Chronicles of Prydain and... So, yes. I keep moving books into the office. Because even though I am only house sitting for six weeks, and then all my books will move with me into my new apartment, deciding exactly which books must not be put into storage, even for a brief time, has become tricksy. I have a terrible feeling that I am going to be driving a car filled solely with books plus Sam I Am and Stella into Stony Brook.

Speaking of cars and the drive - any good suggestions for what I should listen to on the way? It's about time for me to load up the iPod for the trip. Music more than audiobooks - I have a tendency to listen to the story instead of paying attention to the road, which could be bad. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"Oh, Romeo? Yeah, you know I used to have a scene with him."

"Well, isn't what you're writing just fan fiction, then?"

It was the "just" that made me realize I was going to have to answer carefully, that I couldn't just say, "yes" and move on.

The thing about fan fiction is it has a bad reputation. The phrase can conjure up images of pervy people taking favorite characters out of beloved books and writing dirty dirty sex scenes for the amusement of the other pervy people on the internet. And no, I'm not going to play naive, and pretend like that never happens. But the idea of fan fiction is so much bigger than slash featuring Harry and Draco.

I got asked the question because Linger contains elements of and characters from the Arthurian mythos. I'm not doing a straight up retelling of the story (and incidentally, why are retellings never labeled as fanfic? Is it because they got published?) but it's a strong presence in the text, and I had made no secret of the fact that the King Arthur story is one of my very favorites. I wrote what I did because there were places in the pre-existing and agreed upon story (places dealing with Guinevere, specifically) that didn't satisfy me as they were written. There was still room for a story there, and so I wrote my version of it.

And yes, if fan fiction is writing using someone else's characters, that's exactly what I wrote. The novel I'm currently writing could be seen that way, too, since I'm using part of the Tam Lin ballad as fuel for my story.

Especially if you reduce things to the bare skeleton of plot, there are only so many stories. The thing that makes a story beautiful and unique is the way in which it is told. I think people wanting to spend time in a universe that a writer has imagined, wanting a deeper relationship to the characters she has written is a compliment to the writer and to the story.

So yes. What I wrote is fan fiction. I think that's just fine.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All of the usual disclaimers apply

I don't know everything about writing. It seems like that should be one of those things that is obvious, so obvious that I don't actually need to say it, but clarity is important. So: I don't know everything about writing. I don't know the best way for someone to write a short story, or a novel. Hell, I don't even know the best way for me to do those things - my process is changing in response to my experience as a writer, the skills that I've acquired, the things that are going on in my life, and the new things I am challenging myself to do when I sit down and pick up my pen.

When I write about my process here, or about the things I do that help me to write, I do so mainly because I like reading about that sort of thing. I love reading about how people create. Having those resources, whether from other writers' blogs, or from books on writing, or from talking to writers has been - and continues to be - very helpful to me. I also post about how I write because I like having the reminders. It is reassuring to go back and remind myself that revisions are always exhausting, that there is always a point between fifteen and thirty percent of the way into a novel where I need reassurance that I have a story worth finishing, and that Plot is my nemesis.

I'm still learning how to be a writer. Not just in terms of craft, but in terms of what being a writer means as an identity. It's an ongoing process, and, I suspect, a never-ending one. There is no magic wand I can wave, no incantation to recite at the dark of the moon to make this happen all at once. The one thing I do know is, whatever it takes to get the words on the page that day, that is the best way to be a writer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The ghost in you, she don't fade

I keep being haunted by a question I was asked last week. I was speaking to a King Arthur in Literature course about Linger, and the question and answer session at the end was amazing - the students asked really thoughtful, interesting questions. One sticks in my mind:

How do you get back out of the story, when you're done with it?

Linger is a dark story, and a lot of bad things happen to Aislinn. It's told in first person, and the young woman who asked that question was concerned that point of view made it difficult for me, as a writer, to step out of the story when I was done writing it. What I told her is true: sometimes it does. Sometimes Aislinn's emotions are still under my skin when I put the pen down, and so I cancel plans with my friends and hide in my house, because I'm not quite ready to rejoin the world.

Sometimes living through Aislinn's emotions - a process that is necessary, for me, if I am going to understand them well enough to write them (although by all means, this is not the only way to write) - helps me. I used to have nightmares. Terrible ones, where I would wake up screaming, or shaking, soaked in sweat and reeking of fear. Writing hers seems to have purged mine.

But I also feel like I gave an incomplete answer to that question. Because, sometimes the hard part isn't walking back out of the story, it's walking into it when I know something bad is going to happen. Especially when I am revising, and I know that something difficult is coming up, I will go through all sorts of displacement activities to avoid sitting down and living through that scene. The temptation to pull back, to make it hurt less to write, is constant. The reason that I don't is because then I would be haunted. Haunted by the way the story should have been, by telling a lie instead of a truth. Getting the story right is what makes it possible for me to step out of it when it's finished.