Saturday, January 31, 2009

TV is the cure-all.

Well, I'm home.

I was going to write about how awesome it is to travel by myself because I can step off the bus at a McDonald's and order a Happy Meal just for the hell of it.

...But then on the way into St. Paul, I watched a hit and run on the interstate. A sedan in the next lane over got rear-ended and crashed into the median. The cop car that hit it didn't even slow down. A woman on my bus called 911, and the operator didn't seem to believe her when she said a cop car was responsible. Half the people on the bus saw it - the lights and siren were going, and traffic was trying to pull over for it (the sedan included, but not fast enough evidently).

Oh, hey, faith in humanity, how're you today? You look a little thin. Have you eaten today? I'd give you my Happy Meal, but I already ate it.

As soon as I got home, Kiah started cheering me up with my usual insta-cure. We took a trip to Super America for energy drinks and candy, followed by a marathon of all the shows I missed while I was away: House, Battlestar Gallactica, Supernatural, and now Lost. I'm loving Desmond's mismatched shades/cap/scarf combo.

Me: "Desmond, you look doofy."
Kiah: "He's in his rock star/professional baseball player/gay scarf designer disguise. So Whitmore can't find him!"

These are the things I care about after two servings of mango-orange energy drink and a Wonka Bar.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not much for today.

Slow progress today - on short story revision and sweater alike.Bah. Sleeves. Who needs 'em?

...aside from me, sitting here in northern Wisconsin with 3+ feet of snow creeping up into the windows, I mean.

After the other short story revision this week sped by, naturally this one had to be like trudging through drying cement. I'm only 650 words into retyping the (7000 word) story so far. Changes needed: cut 1000+ words off the total length, fix passive sentences, add more sensory details, improve the overall cohesiveness, patch up the lame ending, and get rid of the deus ex machina aftertaste that walking suit of armor gives me. (I did figure out his motivation. Turns out, it's "be awesome." Think Barney from How I Met Your Mother, but saving people instead of picking up chicks. And also a suit of armor instead of a dude in a suit. It's possible I'm stretching this too far. I blame the eight metric tons of turkey I just ate for dinner.)

Also, I finished reading The Bone People yesterday, and I'm trying to pick out the words to describe it. I think this one deserves a proper essay. That should be appearing here soonish.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Well, that's new.

Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning I was woken up by something falling in my closet. When I turned on the light, a snorkel and a lone scuba flipper were lying on the floor. There weren't any cats in the closet at the time who could've knocked things over, and I have yet to find the second flipper.

While working on the draft of a story, I found myself stuck on details. This isn't unusual for me, but the particular detail was: "I need to pin down the motivation for this walking suit of armor!"

And today, it took me less than an hour to complete the second draft of another short story. That's unprecedented. And exciting! I officially have one story ready to send off with my Clarion application. Now, it's on to revising the second.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Out, off, away

I love long bus rides. When I sit down on a Greyhound bus, my shoulders go slack and all the tension from my daily life seeps away. I can't read, write, or knit in moving vehicles without feeling sick, so I have nothing to do but listen to music on the bus. This should make my rides boring, but instead I adore them. In everyday life, I'm always supposed to be paying attention to something, whether it's a project at work or a bad scifi movie at home. I rarely relax fully at home, even when I'm vegging on the couch. On a bus, though, I can't do anything. So I put on my headphones, queue up a band I know well, and watch the scenery slide by. A masseuse couldn't get this level of relaxation out of me.

I'm on vacation for the week. This is where I've been hanging out since yesterday. My aunt and uncle's house in northern Wisconsin is my favorite retreat. Every inch of this house has been modified to suit their needs and aesthetic - from the hand-made shelving to the multiple additions - and the walls are covered with my aunt's artwork. I walk inside and am immediately struck with an urge to create something.

Unfortunately, this time that urge didn't extend to writing. I have a short story on my harddrive waiting for an ending, but instead of working on it, I've been sitting in a patch of sunlight, knitting my Snow White sweater and chatting with my aunt. It's currently sort of a Snow White tube top.

But that fit? Perfect. It's at the point where I need to set down the body and knit the sleeves, and I've promised that short story I won't cast-on the sleeves until I've written a proper ending.

Projects I've got to work on while I'm here:
  • "No and the Walking House"
  • Novel #3 (currently stuck in the midst of chapter seven)
  • Snow White sweater
And one book to finish reading - The Bone People by Keri Hulme.

But for now, I hear my name being called for dinner.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The defeat of the woolly green sons of bitches

Back in October, I started knitting a pair of socks for one of my roommates. I had initially promised to knit her socks as a Christmas present several months before that, thinking I'd use that project to learn to knit socks. By fault of my impatience and my local yarn shop's tempting sock yarn selection, I learned to knit socks well before the gift knitting season came around.

And then it was October, and I cast-on the first of two simple, cabled green socks, thinking I would easily have them done in time for Christmas...ignoring, of course, the facts that the pattern called for size 1 needles, the yarn was rather thin, and my roommate's proportions tend toward the Amazonian end of the spectrum.

I just finished these sons of bitches tonight. Sock-math tells me there's about 25,000 stitches between them.

Goddamn. My wrists hurt now. I think I'm going to stick to size 2 needles for sock knitting for a while. And only knit socks for my own size 6ish feet.

The roommate, upon putting them on, immediately began speed-shuffling across the wood laminate, gleefully picking up floor crud and announcing that she never intended to walk again, only shuffle about in socks. I'm going to take that as a compliment.

But she will be responsible for any sock darning that needs to happen. A shuffling-about lifestyle precludes socks from being eligible for hole insurance under my company policy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How is a Sears home like a mound of broccoli?

I have an aversion to doing real-world research for fiction. I do it, but I drag my feel about it like a little kid staring down a mound of broccoli at dinner. In any other medium, I'm fine. Looking up real estate comparisons to flesh out my daydreams? Fun times on the internet. Twenty-five page paper on zombies, with at least that many works cited? I am all over that shit. Doing research on witchcraft for a novel in the works? No no no NO NO WHY DO I HAVE TO EAT IT MOM IT'S GROSS! The poor book I've borrowed from the library sits at the foot of my bed for three months and then gets returned unopened, while the novel project gets shelved for another year.

I always forget how much I enjoy actually doing the research. Starting is the daunting part - once I'm in, it's all a playground. I've developed a couple of tricks to get myself started.

First, there's the obvious: just do it already! Setting goals and incentives works (when I finish reading up on snowfall levels in the Pacific Northwest, I can have a cookie!). But only sometimes. I'm far more stubborn than I give myself credit for, and I'm likely to get distracted by webcomics and eat the cookie before my goal-setting mind catches on.

My second option, and the one that I unfortunately took at the beginning of my first fantasy series, is a clever line of thought that goes like this: "Oh, what the hell! I'll just make up my own world instead!" Making up your own world instead of doing research is like building your own house instead of buying the bungalow down the block that needs new paint. Not only does it take an epic amount of planning, but you need to research the basic building materials anyway: culture, language, environment, and all of that other fun stuff you were hoping to avoid. I didn't realize how backwards this idea was until I'd been writing the story for five years and found myself hunkered down with a linguistics textbook, plotting out building blocks for a plot-relevant language that my cast might occasionally run into. The next time I write fantasy set in an urban environment, I'm placing it in St. Paul, where at least the languages are ready made.

The third and best option I've found for getting myself to do research is letting stories stray into subjects where my interest is piqued. I'm interested in a wide breadth of topics, so this method never gets old. Nuclear bombs, small town gossip, psych ward policies, and zombies aplenty have wandered into my writing due to curiosity. Sometimes a topic wanders in and becomes a tangent, but that's what revisions are for. More often than not, I've been able to make space for the random interests.

Today, I wandered into researching Sears homes from the early 20th century. The idea that people once ordered their houses out of catalogs has fascinated me since I was a kid, and today when I decided to work a Sears house into the short story I'm writing, I found an archive of the catalog home ads, including floor plans. Not only do I now have a floor plan for the house in my story, I got about two hours' entertainment out of looking for it. (And a strong desire to own a Maytown home, though they haven't made kits for it since the 1910's.)

Gee, this broccoli isn't so bad once I'm actually chewing it. Why was I complaining so loudly again?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Things to do instead of writing - #1

Redecorate the Oval Office with Ikea furniture.

I put bunk beds in mine so Barack could have friends over for sleepovers. There had to be multiple bunk beds, because Rahm Emanuel always calls top bunk like a jerk and otherwise the president would be stuck on the bottom bunk. Plus, this way they have room to invite Joe Biden over. And Hillary, if they repeal the "No girls allowed" policy.

On a related (but far less silly) note, I got to watch the inauguration yesterday on CNN's live feed. This was the second time in this election process that I felt like I was watching history unfold - the first being election day itself. History is being made around us every day, but we usually only see it clearly in hindsight. Yesterday's inauguration was an event that, while watching it, you knew would be something that future high school history students will be forced to write essays about. And you already knew why it was significant.

Part of the "why," at least. It could be that, aside from the significance of being our first black president, Barack Obama will be the one to fund the robotics program that will spawn violent hive mind AIs and doom us all. In which case those high schoolers will be writing about him from refugee camps deep below the war-charred surface of the earth. All things in hindsight.

At any rate, this will definitely become one of those events that sparks "Where were you when..." conversations years from now. And when someone asks me "Where were you during Barack Obama's inauguration?" I can say I was sitting at work, watching the CNN feed with a cluster of my coworkers, knitting a sock.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Horror nerdery, yarn addiction, and story concepts

My roommate Kiah and I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D yesterday, and I can say with absolute certainty that my two hours and $23 were well spent. It was the kind of terrible horror movie where you guess the killer twenty minutes in, the plot holes may as well have their own dressing room, and none of the characters have more depth than "He's crazy, Sarah." Now, all these elements normally make a bad horror movie watchable to me. But add the fact that this one features Jensen Ackles (star of my favorite show, Supernatural, and Kiah's girlish fantasies since she was fourteen) and has 3D gore splattering everywhere...just brilliant. Sitting in the slightly too cold theater, watching a man's jaw get ripped from his face and flung at the audience, I felt the sort of giggly contentment that only comes from fully enjoying something that by all rights should be terrible.

Afterwards, Kiah and I wandered through the mostly-closed mall talking about the apocalypse and noting ominous kiosk advertisements. ("You are here," read one, "Do you know where your family is? Make an emergency plan!" "Cross your fingers.," read another. But my favorite was an image of a candy heart inscribed with "Will you be my handbag?" which--seriously, how did they not expect that to not remind people of Silence of the Lambs?)

We sang the Bad Horse theme on the bus home and continued the Jensen Ackles Day experience with Ten Inch Hero and a couple of episodes of Dark Angel. At some point I played leg-guitar, in honor of Jenson's stirring "Eye of the Tiger" performance on the Supernatural set.

And now you know exactly how big a nerd I am. Still with me? Super.

Aside from the intense bouts of nerdery/awesomeness, I also got some major progress made on my Snow White sweater.
That's about 30 rows in a day, which translates to about 4,300 stitches. An average knitting day for me is maybe half that, but I couldn't put the damn thing down. Y'see, the yarn I'm using is Malabrigo Worsted. This stuff is rub-on-your-face soft, and the hand-dyed colors are beautiful. Even though the pattern is 2x2 ribbing (translation for non-knitters: slow-moving tedium), it seems to fly by because I'm using the yarn equivalent of chocolate. And it fits just right - I tried it on last night.

I wasn't nearly so productive in writing yesterday, though I did have one potential plot-epiphany appear for novel #3. My characters in this story are very eager to hop onto the chopping block and offer themselves up for dramatic death scenes, which I usually talk them out of (they're more useful to me alive, generally). But this time one piped up with, "Excuse me, could I die undramatically off-screen?" and that's just such an bizarre request I'm considering it, along with some of the related ideas brought up. So, no words on the page, but lots of scribblings in my Book O' Scheming.

And I'm taking a page from The Ferett on the evolution of story ideas. The short story I'm working on today, "No and the Walking House," started off like he describes - an interesting idea (in this case a house coming to life and taking a stroll) that needed a character at the heart of it. I've been working on the main character for the past week, building her up into a character I can believe. Some questions that have helped:

Why is it this particular character who gets involved in the interesting story idea? What does she have that makes her pivotal in this story's rising action? These helped me flesh out No Porter as a useful character, an element of the plot - what she's capable of, how she affects the action.

What does this character want, outside of the interesting story idea? How does that tie into the interesting story idea? These led me to the heart of the story. Because "No wants to stop the house from walking" is a pretty lame motivation.

The difficulty of writing speculative fiction is the concepts themselves are foreign to your readers - the chances of finding a reader who will pick up your work and say, "Yes! I know exactly what it feels like to have your spaceship run out of gas forty hours outside any inhabited planet!" are pretty slim. You have to bring the story home by means other than the wild ideas themselves. Find an element of the characters that readers can identify with. Loneliness, desire, guilt, betrayal - something human. Once you've got the human element, you can convince a reader that they know what it's like to be stranded in the middle of space (or in a walking house, or in a fantasy world in their wardrobe, or whatever), because they identify with your characters' emotional experience. The interesting story idea is secondary. Even if it's really really cool.

And now, I'm off to let a little girl explore a house.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kicking this off with the usual internet fare

This is my dog.The cold makes his old joints hurt, and I let his hair grow out so he wouldn't need to be stuffed paws-first into sweaters, so at the moment he's sort of a curmudgeonly muppet-creature. He just walked outside and planted his entire face in the snow bank for no good reason, so I thought I'd take a picture and post it on the internet. I understand this is the standard protocol with pet pictures.

I promise this blog won't be entirely about my curmudgeonly muppet-dog. Mostly it will be about my projects.

Here's what I have going at the moment:
  • Novel #3 (Sum), third book in a fantasy trilogy I've been working on since high school. I'm about 1/4 into this one. The characters are behaving so far, which is a nice change of pace.
  • "No and the Walking House," a short story, currently drafting.
  • "Or Your Money Back," another short story, currently in revision.
  • Both of these short stories are going into my application for the Clarion 2009 Workshop, which is a bit of a project in itself.
  • No Tears Socks for my roommate, a belated Christmas present. (A deceptively named pattern - there have been many tears shed on this project, most of them right after I've poked myself with size 1s while cabling.) One down, one to go.
  • Feater the Waves Socks for myself. I don't know what the name means, either, but they're very pretty. One down on this pair, too.
  • A Snow White sweater for myself. I've been wanting to make this sweater for months, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Ysolda Teague. The cast-on for this sweater was four rows of bewilderment, but I'm an inch into it and I'm already in love. Helps that I'm using Malabrigo.
  • A Haruha scarf for myself, in gorgeous red and orange yarn that makes it look like it's on fire. This is a long-term project that's sitting by my bedside waiting to get worked on when I have a free half-hour. I'm usually listening to Savage Love while I knit it, so this scarf may also be a pervert. It's only about three inches long now. (That's what she said.)
  • A wood burning of Dr. Horrible, which is sitting half-done in my art closet. Wood burning, for those who haven't tried it, is the most badass of the 2D arts. You take red-hot metal to wood and draw with the charred remains. The resulting image is sort of rustic and classy at the same time.
  • A scarf made out of spare audio cables at my work, knitted with two #2 pencils taped to a cable to make circs. This is how MacGuyver would knit (if he worked university tech support over Christmas break).
  • A pair of improvised slippers, which I'm about to frog because they're being very disagreeable.
  • Two pairs of mittens which are currently stuffed into cubbies in my room because I have Second Mitten Syndrome something terrible.
  • Another sweater, complicated, largely self-designed, and full of cabling, which is waiting on back-ordered yarn.
  • Peter Apterix, a potential webcomic I've been working on at Black Hat Collective meetings. It's about a little kiwi bird who gets fired from his accounting firm in Minneapolis for not wearing pants. It's a legal drama. And also a romance. And there might be drug trafficking. The whole thing is done in ink and watercolor, and I'll be testing the medium for a while to see if it's feasible before anything goes online.
  • And in the very background, I've got mental plotting going for a handful of novels, another comic (two?), and a creative nonfiction book celebrating zombies as a cultural phenomenon.
And that's what I've got going at the moment. Snippets about all of these projects (and more! Call now, toll free!) will show up here more than occasionally.

The muppet-dog may make a cameo every so often, too.