Thursday, May 26, 2011

And now there's coffee everywhere...

It's funny what you spot on a read through when you've had time to forget what you wrote. For example, I had one character hand his roommate a cup of coffee. Roommate was holding a beer in the other hand. Roommate dumped the beer into his coffee and, (watch closely now) shadowboxed cheerfully out of the room.

Did you catch that? Doubtless you did - I had a man with a full cup of coffee and beer in his hand punching at the air. Thus the title of this post. *Sigh*

Now shadowboxing cheerfully early in the morning is completely in the Roommate's character. But even he isn't dumb enough to slosh hot coffee-beer all over the kitchen. Writing like that is rather like the hammer problem in cartoons. You know - the completely naked, except for gloves, rabbit suddenly produces a hammer the size of his torso, just in time to smash the duck. It works in cartoons because we accept that we're in a sort of surreal bizarro world where this is consistent with cartoon physics. But if your character is holding hot coffee in his hand and he waves it around, it's going to spill. When I wrote the scene the first time, I was thinking of Roommate's personality, not the physics. But all actions, even the most delightfully symbolic ones, have consequences and those consequences can't produce an unwanted effect or they will kick the reader out of the story. Suddenly the reader is wondering why the Roommate isn't covered in scalding coffee-beer instead of following the plot.

Have you guys caught any moments like that in your own writing?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Retreat - Lots of Work, Little Writing

God was willing, so here I am having a literal mountain top experience at the Franciscan Serra Retreat Center. So far I have walked the Labyrinth and the stations of the cross, attended a lecture on global warming's implications for national security, and gotten to know my colleagues better. All very edifying, not to mention fun.

What I have not done is write much. This is partly due to circumstances from last week. My brilliant plan was to compile the research for my article the week before the retreat and then spend the retreat pounding out the actual first draft. Instead, I spent last week contemplating the relationship of law, justice and Ciceronian rhetoric as Juror #11 in a criminal case. (More on that later.)

The other reason I haven't written much is that I'm tired. I've taken two hour naps both yesterday and today. Apparently, I can't wait until I'm dead to sleep. Some of it has to happen now.

So tomorrow, I face a choice. Continue working on the article OR set it aside and work on my fiction for the next two days. On the one hand, I haven't done any scholarship for months and I miss it. I miss the intellectual wrestling match, the assemblage of reason and academic language that goes into an article, not to mention the meticulous documenting of evidence to build a persuasive case. Furthermore (see, I just can't resist academese sometimes) I'm neck deep in this article and it has to be finished sometime. It is my job, after all.

But I also miss the rapid fire outpouring of fiction, when my imagined world runs through me, so that I inhabit two worlds at once, the real and the fictional.  In one, I'm just a sedentary little woman sitting cross-legged in a straight-backed chair, her hair in a bun. In another, I am a berserker tracking ice demons through the gullies of upper state New York. I'm a red skinned lizard woman herding 20 little hatchlings on a field trip to her planet's surface. I'm the Queen of the Summer Court, plotting my rival's downfall.

Ah, choices.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Retreating Forward

So tomorrow, God willing, I'm off to the APU faculty Writer's Retreat.  First item of business will be to finish a 5 page synopsis with my writing partner because an agent has asked for one.

Updates as events warrant.

Friday, May 6, 2011

You want fries with that? The value of your English degree

This is for all of my darling students who are graduating this weekend, or have graduated, or are looking forward in fear to the day you do graduate. Go read Sugar's graduation address to the students of Alabama.

Go! I say. Go read it now and have a tissue handy because it will heal your heart from every thoughtless jerk who said "you want fries with that?" when you said you majored in English major and from every well meaning but wrong person who pushed you to switch to dentistry or law school or whatever other thing they hoped would make you a lot of money.

Here's a sample:

"You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth.

But that’s all."

Now go read the rest of it. It's my final assignment and my blessing to you. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Goodwill, Good reads

It's not winter that makes me discontent, it's spring. That's when the wander lust gets into me and I dream of exotic locations, fabulous adventures. But spring is also when the grading ramps up into high gear and my allergies assert their personality while my bank account stays stubbornly absent of funds for luxury vacations.

When that happens I take little mental vacations. I drive a random road I've never tried before, start a hobby (yay! knitting) or buy something cheap, but fun. In this state of mind, I read Misty Massey's post on finding  magical objects for inspiration and it reminded me how fun a good thrift store can be. (I once found an entire set of forks, knives and spoons for $0.50 at one in Columbus.)  So, after giving my last final exam, I hied myself over to the new Goodwill on Foothill and spent a happy hour wandering among the goodies in the back of the store. I came away with a tiny japanese style tea pot (I'm a sucker for teapots), an ornate metal thingy that is either a jewelry holder or the mystic key to the final lock barring the doors to the dungeon of Azadruul, and books. Books galore!

I had left the book section for last, expecting nothing but an incomplete Time Life home repair series and left over self help books from the 80s.  Instead I came home loaded down with classic sci-fi.  And a book of bread machine recipes. There was even an old edition of the compact Oxford English Dictionary in two volumes. I had to make myself leave when I couldn't carry anymore.

So now I'm off to meet up with Frederick Pohl. We're visiting the Alpha-Aleph system on a routine science expedition. If all goes well, we shall return before grades are due.

PS I left  a lot of good stuff behind if any of you local folks want to check them out. At two bucks per paperback even a broke college student could afford one or two of these books.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


As my last student was leaving after the last final exam of the day, an email popped up in my Entourage. The subject line said RE: Query - KnightSpelle.

"Crap," I thought. "Just what I need. Another rejection." For a second, I thought about moving it to the submissions file without reading it. I could at least go home, get dinner, and take some more decongestant before I passed the bad news on to my co-author, right?

But it never pays to put off nasty realities, so I opened the email.

And read this, "Thank you for sending me sample pages of your novel, KNIGHTSPELLE.  I would like to take a look at the entire manuscript."

WooooHooooo!!!! Somebody is willing to read our novel! Somebody not already our buddy!

There's lots more in the email about format and return times and stuff. And I know from painful experience that a "please send me your ms" is not an offer of representation. But it's a big step in the right direction! Yay!!

Much like my reaction to the death of OBL I have very little rational reaction to this. Just a big dopey grin and a sense that the horizon has become visible again.  Updates as a events warrant. (Though I doubt President Obama will throw us a press conference.)