Sunday, April 26, 2009

Touching base with a few characters

Dear Tiern,

I am not neglecting you. I promise. I'm at the tail end of a work-intensive semester, and I'd rather put your current chapter down for a few weeks than rush through it and churn out pages of crap that I'll regret later. In addition, your very, very long story is coming to an end. Figuring out how all the ends tie up takes a lot of mental percolation, so I'm doing that right now, even though I'm not writing you. This work is just as important as the actual writing.

So please stop complaining that I've left you hanging. It's only going to be for a little while longer, and it's not even that bad a spot in the story to be waiting in - you have beer and appetizers, for crap's sake! Besides, you survived being left in the midst of awkward revelations in J's kitchen for almost two years when I started college. This should be a cake walk.

Love and minor strangulation,
Your writer

P.S. I'm still debating giving you a sex scene in this book. Stop pestering me about this little hiatus, and maybe you'll get it.


Dear Seb,

You were a real, live character to me from the first line I scribbled down, your story is quirky and engaging, I adore the cast you've surrounded yourself with, and to top it all off, you're the most polite, easy to write narrator I've ever worked with.

Please hold on a little longer, sweetie. You're my summer project, and I am so excited to write you. (Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if your story became my first published novel. Don't rub that in with Tiern, though - I think he's already jealous.)

Premature love,
Your soon-to-be writer


Dear Sunshine, Kat, and Ronnie,

Have you seen my project list for this summer? Please chill. I will write you when I get a chance.

If you really want to speed things up, go help Seb with his romance plot. Dude needs all the help he can get.

Hugs, sympathy, and flicks on the ear (respectively),
Your eventual writer

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Apocalypse Snippets #5 - Jessie Shumaker, age 23

Disclaimer: This is part of a project I'm undertaking this semester to explore the--ah, you know the drill by now.

Kevin always hated wearing seatbelts when we were kids. Mom was a stickler for car safety - car seats until we were X inches tall, no kids riding shotgun, and those sweat-inducing seatbelt adjusters keeping the belts safely away from our necks. I didn't mind it enough to put up a fuss, but Kevin? The kid couldn't stand to be hugged for too long without swinging his arms. Being restrained in the car turned him into a tangle of thrashing limbs and escape artistry that would've impressed Houdini. All my memories of family road trips when we were little are strung together by that inevitable request from Dad: "Jessie, keep your brother in his seat."

Every car trip. It used to calm Kevin down. My hand on his chest, reminding him to chill.

It's been a while, but it still feels like second nature - my hand pressed into the jersey fabric of his t-shirt, holding him upright. Only this time, he's allowed to ride shotgun, and I'm driving.

The rain's starting to let up. I can feel the Toyota's wheels slipping a little less on the pavement, though the whole frame still rattles and tilts every time there's the tiniest pothole. Piece of shit car. It's half rust and older than Kevin. He traded one of his high school friends an Apple IIe for it - pretty fair trade, if you ask me. His friend wanted to play Oregon Trail. Kevin wanted a car that would last him the summer. That was four years ago.

Now the front seat has loose bolts, and it rattles as we turn onto a side road. Kevin's body slips forward a little, and I readjust my hand, pushing him back against the seat. I buckled him in, but the seat belt only sorta works. I can feel the vibrations of the gravel through his ribcage.

I remember three years back, when I borrowed this stupid car for a trip down to Chicago, and Kevin got pissed at me when he found McDonalds wrappers in it afterward. Like his piece of shit Oregon Trail car was too good for people to eat in it. Never mind that he took it through the White Castle drive through all the time, and that so-called "food" has twice the stink of anything I'd eat while driving.

There's no food wrappers in it now, though - just an SA bag stuffed with tissues and his backpack contents scattered around the back seat. I was trying to find his inhaler, about three hours ago, when the thing on the news hit. We were driving to Mom's, and even with the radio off it was obvious when it happened. The air felt like a migraine coming on, and then all the drivers on the interstate panicked, their cars making squealing noises like this one does when I take it over 60. That, and crunching into one another.

The gravel's easier to drive on than the pavement. It's a narrow road running parallel to the river, and through the row of pines to my left, I can just about see the river.

I can see Kevin, eleven years ago, dunking me into the lake by Uncle John's cabin, laughing while I flailed and then patting my back while I coughed up water in the shallows. I can see me cheering him on at the last swim meet of his senior year, three years back - I was the only one in our family who showed up. I can see us drinking on my apartment balcony a few months ago with the rain dribbling down onto our heads, me laughing so hard I just about couldn't breathe because college made my baby brother a filthy-mouthed little bastard.

My breath hitches now thinking about that, but for a different reason. Aside from the thrum of the road under the wheels and my own breath, there's no sound in the car. Kevin's chest doesn't move under my hand. It hasn't since three hours ago, when I buckled him in.

Since three hours ago, when traffic went crazy and the air tightened up and so did his airway. His stupid asthma - just another lame genetic hand-me-down, like the monkey arms I got from Dad or the straw-like hair we both got from Mom that breaks brushes. His stupid asthma, which only hit bad a couple times even when he was on the swim team.

The spot on my arm where my brother grabbed it is dotted with purplish half-moon bruises. I still don't know where the inhaler is. I could've sworn I'd grabbed it for him with his keys when we left his dorm room.

Even while he was going blue, a guy on the radio was talking about dead spirits and things returning. I saw it happen in the cars around us, but not in the shitty Oregon Trail car. Nothing happened to Kevin, maybe because his body was busy dying. Nothing happened to me, because...I don't know. But I figured, if spirits were taking over human bodies like the radio said, all I had to do was wait. Wait for Kevin's to find his body again. So I drove, and I waited.

Seemed logical. Wait it out. He'll be back. He can't not come back. Everyone who ever died is coming back, right? That's got to include him.

That's what I figured three hours ago, anyway. But my hand's been on his chest in the meantime, keeping him in his seat, and I don't feel anything. Nothing that's him - nothing that isn't him. Only genuine lifeless body in the tri-state area.

I pull up to the edge of the river, rolling the car through the grass and brush between trees. From here, it's a short slope down into the water. I put the Oregon Trail car in park and leave my hand resting on the lever. Without it on his chest, Kevin slumps slowly forward against his seatbelt.

"What d'you think?" I say. "Ford the river?"

If Kevin was here, he'd think that was hilarious.

I ease the car out of park, taking a deep breath as it starts rolling forward. Maybe I'll find him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It took me way too long to discover this.

Audio books: GREAT IDEA.

How did I go so many years having never listened to one? (Pretentious book nerd side of brain: "Because nothing will ever match the tactile experience of reading a physical book! E-books and audio books and Kindles, roar grr argh!")

I downloaded Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for class this week and realized ten minutes in that I could multitask while taking in a book this way and still enjoy the story. This was supposed to be one of those weeks where I'd be so buried in class work that I wouldn't have time for much else. Instead, I knitted the entire time I listened to Down and Out.

Here is the Ethel Mildred Ferguson sweater body so far, pinned together to test the sizing. I only had about half of the rows on that front panel done when I hit Play on the first chapter.
I'm definitely going to listen to more audio books while I knit from now on. Maybe I can find something by Neil Gaiman - round out Ethel's literary exposure a little and cut down my Bookalanche list in one swoop.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Apocalypse Snippets #4 - Walt Kripke, age 43

Disclaimer: This is part of a project I'm undertaking this semester to explore the way the apocalypse goes down in a novel I've had half-formed in my head for a couple of years. The following may be random, shitty first draft-type writing, unsuitable for human consumption, and may not make up a complete story by the end of the semester. Do not read while operating heavy machinery, not intended for ingestion, etc.

Figures my damn alarm clock would die on me the day I've got a presentation with the senior partners. I woke up half an hour late because instead of the weather report, it was spouting out nothing but static. I'm still cursing it with every fiber of my being while I walk to work, wishing I was awake enough to get a proper jog going. But then again, I'd probably just sweat and not get there any faster, and nervous-guy-with-pit-stains isn't the impression I want to make today.

Goddamn alarm clock. I wipe a hand down my face, trying to remember what was on the first cue card I wrote up last night. Is that me that smells like McDonald's? When did I last have this suit dry cleaned? Did I pack the flash drive with my presentation? Crap. Crap, crap, crapcrapcrap--

Digging into my briefcase, I slam into the shoulder of a woman walking down the street. It's hard enough to hurt, but she doesn't say a thing. "Sorry!" I call over my shoulder as I keep walking. She doesn't even look my way. Her head's tipped sideways, and she's walking, she's probably drunk. Who gets drunk at 7:40 in the morning? This used to be a decent neighborhood.

I still can't tell what smells like McDonald's, and everything's jostled around in my briefcase. I check my watch - still twenty minutes until I need to be in the conference room. Thank God. I cross the street - no traffic this morning, weirdly - and step into the Starbucks. A jolt of something with espresso in it will help me focus.

It is damn near empty in here - no line, one guy slumped at a table by the door, a couple of teenage employees shuffling around aimlessly behind the counter. They don't even make eye contact as I step up to the counter. Where's the work ethic? Where's the pride in a job well done? This generation, Christ. Bunch of zombies. The place doesn't even have its patented draw-you-in-with-the-aroma-of-
caffeination smell going on - somebody's not doing their job.

"Excuse me," I call, drumming my fingers against the counter. One of the baristas, a tiny Latina girl with disheveled hair, turns toward me. Her eyes are glassy, and I can't tell if she's high on something or just really completely checked out. "I need a venti caramel macchiato," I tell her, fishing in my pocket for cash. "Skim milk. Triple shot, at least."

The girl scowls at me and grumbles something under her breath.

"Excuse me?" I repeat, sharper, leaning over the counter and looking her in the eye.

The barista screws up her mouth really tight, then all of a sudden her voice explodes out of her, bigger than I would've thought possible for a girl that size. It bowls me over backward, grasping at my suitcase. I can't understand a word of it. The girl shouts gibberish, leaping up on the counter, chucking hard syllables and chocolate covered coffee bean packs at me. The other workers don't even move. I scramble backwards and scoot out of reach of her projectiles, under a table. Bags of gourmet coffee smack against the tabletop, and grounds rain down a few inches from my head.

"Help!" I shout. "She's gone crazy!"

"He's fine," says the guy at the next table over. His voice is a little flat, with an accent I don't recognize, and I barely hear it over the barista's surprisingly deep bellowing. The guy glances at me over the lip of his paper, which is from yesterday. He's got the same dead eyes as everyone else in the place, but he's smiling slightly.

"He?" I say, not knowing how else to answer.

"Búri," says the guy.

"What's that?"

The barista sounds like she's swearing. She's started rattling the cash register.

The guy at the next table gives me a dull look. "'I am Búri, begetter of Borr, begetter of Odin. I am born from the ice of the void. My might shakes mountains. I do not fetch beverages for mortals in cheap suits.' You don't listen very well, do you?" When he catches my eye, I can see into the depths of him - nothing but darkness and deadness all the way down.

My throat feels like it's closing up, I fish in my pocket and pull out my cell phone. My hands have started to shake so badly it's hard to dial 9-1-1. I press the phone tight against my ear and listen as the other end of the line rings.

The barista rips the register from the counter with a screech and throws it on the floor, kicking so hard the sound echoes through the cafe.

"World ended while you were out, friend," says the dead man at the table. "Best wake up."

The edge of my phone digs into my cheek so hard I can feel it bruising. "I was trying," I manage to say. "Need coffee for that."

The dead man at the table shakes his head and goes back to the newspaper. His eyes don't move as he reads - or stares, or whatever he's doing. In my ear, the other end of the line rings and rings and rings.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I am the bread bringer!

Amish friendship bread is one of the coolest food-related things in existence, if you ask me. My friend Jordan passed a bag of bread starter on to me a month ago, and it's already become a staple at my house - we make our share, pass on three of the starter bags, and keep one for ourselves to continue the cycle. Everyone who partakes of the bread pitches in ingredients (and smooshes the bag of bread starter daily - it's weirdly relaxing). I've ended up being the official bread maker in my household, and it gives me a weird sort of domestic nerd-glee to make a bag of goop into tasty, sweet bread.

We handed a bag from the last batch over to my brother, who lives in the Theta Chi house on campus, and now apparently the frat boys are also taking a weird sort of domestic nerd-glee from making their own bread.

Mmm, bread.
Aside from bread, all I've made in the last week or so (aside from class work and some just-for-fun, rather terrible writing which will never see the light of blog) is this:
That's about the first third of the nifty cabled front side of the Ethel Mildred Ferguson sweater. I'm still loving the pattern. It's surprisingly mindless for something that requires you to keep track of a massive non-repeating cable chart, and engaging enough that I haven't gotten bored yet.

This is a big class work week for me, so I won't be making a whole lot of posts here (except ones for class, which knowing my project will likely end up making no damn sense or being depressing). To make up for that, have a bonus picture of the shiny spindle that was recently delivered to my doorstep:

Friday, April 17, 2009

I only use its full name when I'm mad at it.

Ethel Mildred Ferguson, stop playing in my desk drawer!
Ethel Mildred Ferguson, give me back my computer! You don't even have a Twitter account! What are you--are you listening to Hanson? So help me, if you've changed my Pandora settings...
Ethel Mildred Ferguson, you leave that wipeboard alone this instant! That is for Helpdesk business only, and you don't even work here.
Young lady, you march your purly butt up on that brick wall and block yourself out so everyone can see your finished back panel.
That's better. And the cables.
Very nice. Now go have a nap in my bag. Terrible sweater.

Monday, April 13, 2009

An open letter to the chopping block fan club

Dear characters,

The chopping block is not a toy. If you have a really good idea for how you might die in a plot-relevant and emotionally significant way, you may step up to the chopping block and state your case. I will hear you out, and in rare cases, I might accept your proposal and leave you on the chopping block to be killed off as you wish.

The chopping block is NOT to be used for the following purposes:
  • finding out how I'd kill you off in...this situation? Well, what about...this one? Or hey, what about...this one?
  • depressing me to make me listen to that Aimee Mann song you like
  • getting a sneak peek at who else is on the chopping block (which you can't know for real, anyway, given how many of you are up there dicking around at any given time)
  • proposing your own dramatic six-page dying monologue
  • seeing if I have the guts to kill you off (aside to first-person POV protagonist: that's not funny)
  • hosting picnics with dead characters from the last book/short stories I've written/old seasons of Supernatural
  • trampolining
These behaviors are unacceptable. If they continue, the chopping block will be cordoned off and none of you will get to play around with fun death scenes that weren't on the novel outline. All this is really not making me eager to return to your story. Please knock it off.

Yours (unfortunately),
the author

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The other books in the series weren't this difficult.

The current novel WIP and I are having a bit of a spat right now. I write a few sentences, the novel accuses me of eying other projects, I tell it to stop being difficult, and the novel goes off to mope in a corner, hissing that it's witholding character development until I close the three other Scrivener projects I've got open.

"One of those is for work and one is for class," I say, crossing my arms.

But the novel isn't listening. "And you've been plotting to write another novel this summer!"

"Because you're going to take another year and a half, at least! I need side projects!"

"You don't need other projects!" the novel yells, getting all snotty and pathetic. "You only need me! I miss the days when I was the only big project you ever wanted!"

"You mean when I was fourteen and thought you were going to be an intergalactic war story?"

"Yeah," the novel sniffles.

"I couldn't write for crap back then! And you sucked."

"I don't care! You only loved me then."

"I also wrote terrible fan fiction then. Maybe I should get back into that, too."

The novel freezes. "You wouldn't."

"Watch me," I say, opening my laptop.

"You harlot!" the novel cries, and it starts throwing first draft pages.

Ah, well. The novel can have its temper tantrum, and I'll content myself with other projects right now. This is a good time for me to not be working on it, anyway - I've got a major project looming for class, and it would be nice for my writing outside of that to be a fun, relaxing project that doesn't throw things at me.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Why hello, Mrs. Ferguson!

I've been in love with this sweater since the designer posted the prototype on her Ravelry page. The cables! The flattering cut! The flared ribbing around the wrists! The cables! And of course it's from Emily Johnson's Family Trunk Project, which I think is one of the niftiest ideas on the planet. So I said to myself, "The minute that sweater pattern is released, I'm going to buy it and cast-on."

Weeks passed, and the pattern became available. But by that time, I was in financial crunch mode, so the promise became, "The minute I can afford the yarn for it, I'm going to cast-on."

But by the time I could afford to buy a sweater's worth of yarn, my workload had risen up like a monster from a Calvin and Hobbes strip and devoured me. So it became "The minute I have time for another project..." and once that cleared up, "The minute I get the pattern from the designer..." (She has a fantastic alternative method of payment where you trade her a few pages of your family story for one of her patterns.)

And then "The minute my yarn comes in the mail..."

The minute the yarn came in the mail, I had a stack of reading, writing, and other class and work projects looming, aside from my own neglected novel WIP. But by that point I was sick of delaying sweater gratification, so I cast-on anyway.

I'm about four inches into the back.
And at the moment the cables look like owls!I may have had to cram half my reading for class into my workday today, but I'm happy. It doesn't take much, especially when a sweater's involved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Apocalypse Snippets #3 - Jacob Reuben, age 23

Disclaimer: This is part of a project I'm undertaking this semester to explore the way the apocalypse goes down in a novel I've had half-formed in my head for a couple of years. The following may be random, shitty first draft-type writing, unsuitable for human consumption, and may not make up a complete story by the end of the semester. Do not read while operating heavy machinery, not intended for ingestion, etc.

The moment it happens, the air sort of snaps and crackles. Those are stupid words for it, and I realize this as I think them. Humanity’s being swallowed up by something, and I can only think of it in Rice Crispies terms.

I’m standing on the sidewalk on Avenue des Champs-Elysées with my track jacket hoisted over my head to keep the rain out of my face, watching a row of TVs in a shop window as the news captions scroll by. I can’t read half of them - don’t speak more’n five sentences of French, just here for a summer research gig - but I can read the faces of the others clustered around the shop window, and one TV’s got CNN on.

It’s been trickling across the globe for half a day now - started with the Pacific Rim, near as anyone can tell, and just spread out. The news captions and explanations seemed laughable at first, but repeated over and over, with not a bit a humor, they sank in.

Underworld Attacking Humans.

Souls of the Deceased and Other Dead Beings Possessing the Bodies of the Living.

Armageddon Feared Imminent.

Half an hour ago CNN was playing a story about an ancient Norse god possessing a Starbucks barista. A woman in the crowd across from me broke into hysterical laughter and had to sit down on the wet pavement.

I almost had to sit down myself when they started running footage of the Ganges River. Millions of people milled around the banks to pray this morning, and then something rose out of the water and turned those millions of people into walking puppets. It happened quickly and invisibly - millions praying, millions gone limp like they were dead, millions getting up again, aimlessly, silent and glassy-eyed. They reran that footage for three hours, the newscasters poring over it for clues. All they found was that on close-up shots of the river, you could see the surface ripple and break like something was walking out of it.

A lot of somethings.

Anyway, the air changes when it hits Paris. You can tell people feel it because all at once the clusters of people on the sidewalks stop moving and the miniscule cars on the streets slow and bump fenders. Everything stops, and then everything moves. Pedestrians scramble for the subway, choking the entrance so hard they can’t even move. Drivers get out and join them, even though it’s pointless. I cling to the face of the electronics store, my coat still over my head even though I’m under the awning now, and listen to the glass shattering down the street as people make last-ditch efforts at looting.

I brace myself against the wall, clenching my eyes shut and praying that whatever takes me takes me quickly. The cacophony of the street stuffs my ears like cotton, and then I can’t hear anything.

But I can feel the smooth stone wall against my cheek, so I’m not dead. Or I’m dead and death smells just like a trash-strewn city street. I peel open my eyes.

Everyone is still here - in the street, clogging the subway entrance, trapped in tiny cars. But they’re silent. Some have fallen over, some are just board-stiff in the middle of everything, staring around themselves. I recognize the glassy-eyed stare from the news reports. And something else - music somewhere.

It takes me a minute to figure out it’s coming from the cracked open window of the Disney Store across the street - an old Doors album playing loud enough that it pumps into the street. Someone on staff must have a sense of humor. Must have had.

I check myself over - still breathing, heart still beating, hand still hurts from where I smacked it against a lab table last night. Faculties still intact. And in the window of the electronics store, I catch my reflection - no glassy eyes, same lost expression as the newscasters on the TV. I’m still here. Everyone I can see from here to the Arc’s been swallowed up, gone, and I’m still here.

That’s when I need to sit down.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How to look productive

Step 1: Gather up all the unfinished projects you haven't worked on in days/weeks.

Step 2: Take pictures of them.

Step 3: Post pictures on blog.

Step 4 (optional): Read Supernatural fanfiction instead of doing anything productive.

First up, spinning. Work-friend Kate gave me a bag of her leftover spinning goodies to help get me started, which included a couple ounces of this gorgeous silky pink stuff (soy silk? Ingeo?). The stuff is a more difficult material to spin because of the shiny, slick fibers, so the plan was to set it aside as inspiration for later.

Um, yeah, that didn't work out.
I only used a little bit of it, though - saving the rest for when I'm actually good enough to make something awesome with it.

A few days before my hard drive went kablooie, lots of neat things came in the mail. Corriedale roving from Knitty and Color:
4-something ounces each in "Kermie" and "Mariner's Revenge." My camera can't capture how gorgeous the second one is. I drooled a little when I opened up the bag. Also, since this Etsy shop is new, they sent along another 1oz roving sample as a "Welcome to our shop!" freebie, which was too perfect. The green in it is Kiah's favorite color! She claimed it immediately, as you can see.

I also got a spindle set with a cute bag, from GreenBeeGoods:
And new spindle plus easy to spin roving means...
This is probably the best spinning I've done so far - the yarn only ranges from about lace to sport weight and doesn't have any slubs.

In knitting, I've made a little headway on my Two for his Heels knee-highs.

And also my Monkey knee-highs. For someone who takes forever to complete a pair of socks, I've gotten myself entrenched in a lot of knee-high socks commitments.
The Swallowtail Shawl is still sitting around 3/4 done. And I'm still staring at it going, "How am I making lace?" because this seems like an alien concept. But look - lace!
Lace that I made! What the crap. It must be magic.

The other crafty thing I've been working on lately is woodburning. Michael's sells a variety of unfinished wood plaques for cheap, so I picked up a bunch a few weeks back and started doodling on them.
Woodburning is weirdly relaxing for a craft involving red-hot metal and marks you can't erase. I should do more of it. If I manage to fit it into my regularly scheduled programing, I could see myself making a small Etsy business out of it.

See, doesn't this make me look productive? Truth is, I haven't picked up any of these projects in the last week or so, and I spent all weekend avoiding creative work, my right wrist in a brace. But right now, the house is quiet and my wrist is feeling less on fire. I'm going to go write.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The mid-semester project accumulation

Between my computer's near-death experience, work stuff, and a lovely tendonitis flare-up in my right wrist, I haven't gotten much done all week, and there's not gonna be a sketch. Instead, here's what I've got on my plate at the moment, in my free time:
  • First draft of Sum (novel #3 in the fantasy trilogy) - still moored at the 1/3 point
  • The Sum sweater, which stitches dropped and twisted
  • First draft of The London Party, an apocalyptic novel whose beginning I'm writing for class - a few short chapters laid out
  • Reading three books outside of class - Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, Beowulf: A New Telling by Robert Nye, and Tex by S.E. Hinton (reading this one aloud to the muppet-dog, who seems to be enjoying the attention)
  • Three pairs of socks on the needles - Feather the Waves Socks (relegated to a drawer in my office as a work-only project as punishment for taking too long), Two for His Heels in knee sock form, and a pair of toe-up Monkeys knit two on one circ, also intended to be knee socks (knit-along with Bex unintentional this time).
  • The famous (and lovely) Swallowtail Shawl - well over halfway done, but as it gets wider my mind starts wandering
  • Spinning - oh so very doomed. So very, very doomed. (Pics to come later - many went with the deceased hard drive)
  • My Haruha scarf - the only project I've been able to consistently work on since the tendonitis ate my wrist early this week. It's simple, relaxing knitting, and lookit the pretty:
I love that zig-zag thing the darker shades are doing. Love love love. I think I'll go work on that now.