Thursday, May 31, 2012

Last Day o'May

Note to Self #1: Do not take an entire Unisom tablet unless you are prepared to be comatose for 13 hours.

Note to Self #2: Do not fritter away The Son's school time with the rationalization that you'll get your words after he goes to bed. Writing in the 7:30-9:00 time period sucks: the phone rings incessantly, The Husband bangs cabinet doors in the kitchen, The Son comes out of bed to impart vital information (such as, "When I shake my hair, it sounds like sand."), and you wind up feeling persecuted and grumpy. Why do you forget this so easily?

Note to Self #3: Don't go overboard buying books for your birthday. It's not a good sign that you've already bought one and your birthday is still three weeks away. Remember the stack of partially-read books you need to return to and finish.


Last day of the month! Let's check in with the goals I set on May 8 and see how I did:

1) write 500 words a day on TOB, continuing to move the story forward --DONE. I didn't miss a day!  I've written 12,000 words in the past 3 weeks. 
2) finish phase outline for Part 2 --DONE.
3) complete at least 5 more exercises from TFiF --Not done. I did one of them, and then just never got around to doing more. 
4) blog here every day, even if just a few lines to report progress --DONE. 

Not too shabby, all in all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Got my 500 words, which puts me at 15,000 for Part 2 so far.

I just took a sleeping pill, in a Hail Mary attempt to unfuck my sleeping patterns. I have been sleeping for shit lately, I'm becoming dependent on coffee, and I'm sometimes more snappish with The Son than the situation calls for. The 2:00am hailstorm that sounded like an ocean's worth of broken glass and marbles being dumped on the house didn't help. I plan to be asleep in less than an hour!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5/29 Report

500 words: done. We're at the cusp of a Big Reveal. Willa thinks she understands how outmatched her people are compared to their opponent, but what she learns in this scene will make her realize she hasn't even scratched the surface of their power.

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Are Building a Religion

500 words, which I just finished at 10:45pm because I spent half the day mooning over this woman's uh-frickin-MAZING illustrations. Check out the Tarot deck! And the book covers she's done! *swoon*

I wound up over there because I was looking for mythic/fairy tale images to inspire me to do a little retroactive worldbuilding for TOB. The isolated culture to which my heroine belongs is a mostly rationalist one: they don't have any gods, and the closest thing they have to a Holy Book is an encyclopedia of pre-plague knowledge (which is not really a book at all, but a bioengineered ROM device that reproduces asexually) (my novel is weird, okay?). They're living in small, agriculturally-based villages, for the most part at a Middle Ages level of technology-- except for the few pieces of ancient technology they've retained (such as the asexually-reproducing ROM device mentioned above), which look more and more like magic as the decades and centuries pass.

They have stories about the early days of their people, which happened after the encyclopedia ends (the ROM devices can be neither added to nor subtracted from) and for which there is no one official story or set of records. These stories are part history, part tall tale, part fairy tale, and are told to small children at bedtime and around bonfires at village festivals. They are just beginning their metamorphosis from myths that no one really takes literally, to the basis of a belief system.

I sort of knew the skeleton of all that, but I didn't work it out in even that much detail, because I didn't think it was going to be relevant to the story I'm telling.

Turns out it is.

I'm not going to go nuts with it (so I say now; building religions is like my favorite thing ever, except maybe building educational systems), but I do think I need to sketch out a few of these myths, create a few characters that are about to become gods, and work out the meanings of some symbols in order to add this layer to the story.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ready for Summer

The next few days are the last of my tutoring gigs for a while: this is finals week at the boarding school my evening gig kid attends, and my two remaining SAT kids have the test this Saturday. I'm not likely to get any more work until mid-July, at least. I'm looking forward to getting a lot of writing done in June and July.

500 words today. I've reached a little hole in the plot: at this moment, my heroine has to screw up in a really embarrassing way in front of a lot of witnesses, and completely due to a flaw in her own character. I know this. I just don't know what she does.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Like a Movie

500 words on TOB today, of which 400 were random notes to myself about things to change in what I've written so far or things to add to my plan for what's yet to come. I read this blog post about Fantasy author
Rachel Aaron's process for storybuilding (following a link from this post on writing 10,000 words a day)(holy shit), and found it was very similar to the process I used with The Owl Bearer-- with one intriguing addition. Aaron says she avoids writing unnecessary and boring scenes by thinking through her whole plot, watching it unfold scene by scene like a movie in her mind. She said it helps her see the story with her "reader" self, and that she finds that some scenes her writer self thought were necessary to the plot are boring to the reader self.

Now, I've certainly thought about TOB as if it were a movie. I've "watched" chunks of it at a time, like skipping around chapters on a DVD, but I've never watched it all the way through from beginning to end. I "watched" it in my mind from the beginning to the scene I'm working on now, and saw a lot to tweak; thus, the 400 words of notes to myself. It was a really valuable exercise, and I'm planning to try to think through more of the story-- the scenes I've planned but not yet written-- tomorrow. I'm feeling excited to finish this draft now, so I can get busy sculpting it into what I see in my head!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Welcome to the Newest Member of the Geek Tribe

500 words done, but in more important news, The Son watched Star Wars (Episode Four, DUH) for the first time tonight, and now has a dude-crush on R2D2.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Classic Literature Rant

The other day, I was browsing through the boards over at Absolute Write, when I came across a thread titled "Books You've Thrown Against the Wall". In some cases, books were flung (either literally or metaphorically) because the content was triggering in some way, but usually the readers just plain hated the book. Among the usual suspects (ahemTwilight*cough*) were a whole lot of Books Assigned in English Class, and almost invariably the poster would apologize for hating on a "classic", or self-consciously joke about not being smart enough to "get" the book.

It got me musing:

Why do so many otherwise intelligent and enthusiastic readers hate "classic" novels?

Is it us? Have we been ruined by short-attention-span-inducing modern media like untold number of cranky, priggish English professors would have us believe? Or is it because our inner teenagers still rebel against having had these books forced upon us by the grown-ups?

Is it just that times have changed, and some of these "timeless" stories are actually more a product of their time than our English teachers wanted to admit? Are some books we call classics simply not relevant any more?

Is it that some of these books actually kind of suck? I mean, how much did they actually revise back then, when they had to write it all by hand? And when there was 1/1,000,000,000th of the competition for the public's entertainment hours and dollars?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But I do know that I was a voracious reader as a kid. I started reading very young and my proud parents indulged me, showering me with books and rarely complaining about the amount of time I spent staring at the page.

By the time was 11, I was probably reading at a late High School level, and had already read my way through all the YA books available in the late 1970's (which was a somewhat depressing selection of "issue" books, primarily serving to warn young girls against the evils of sex, drugs, running away from home, parties with no adult supervision, teenage pregnancy, shoplifting, hitchhiking, and guys in vans). I wasn't sure what to read next. My mother didn't have a lot of time for pleasure reading, and when she did read it was mainly Mysteries, which weren't my cup of tea. I was glad when I hit HS and my English teachers started assigning real, "grown-up" books. Finally, I'd get some guidance to develop my adult reading tastes! But to my dismay, I disliked most of the books I read for school. They were hard to read. And boring. And were about eras I knew nothing about and people I couldn't relate to. Some of them I didn't bother to finish.

And they were all so old. The most contemporary book I read in HS was The Catcher in the Rye (hated it, thought Holden was a tool), which was published 20 years before I was born. But my teacher presented it to us like it was totally radical to read something for school that was written so late. Literature, it was implied, had stopped a long time ago. Nothing being created today had enough merit to warrant close study.

This was all very confusing for me, especially since I'd wanted to be a writer since I could remember. I decided that maybe I'd been wrong. Maybe I didn't like to read after all. Maybe it was just another childhood love I'd grown out of, like John Travolta and unicorn figurines. Maybe writing books wasn't for me after all, if I didn't even like to read them, and if everything important in Literature had already happened.

Fortunately, I'd discovered poetry by this time. I became a poet. I wore all black and read Sylvia Plath and was on the staff of the literary magazine, and then I went to an artsy little college where I majored in English and studied poetry with a semi-famous semi-perverted Irish poet. And then I took "Forms of Modern Fiction" with a young and daring professor, and read Italo Svevo, Mikhail Bulgakov, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Thomas Pynchon, and Ursula K. LeGuin for the first time. Surrealism! Magical Realism! Science Fiction! Holy shit! I DO still like novels!

Another thing that sticks with me about that class is that the professor included a book on the syllabus that had been published only a few months before the class began (See Under: Love by David Grossman). She'd read it that summer and been so impressed with it she wanted us to read it too. I was so blown away by that, by what a gutsy move it was to have us read something without being 100% sure that college kids would still be reading it in their English classes a hundred years from now.

It was a total revelation: novels still spoke to me, and important novels were still being written right now. I changed my concentration from poetry to fiction writing by the end of the semester, and in the years since I have continued to discover new authors and genres that I love.

But I still mourn those ten years I didn't read fiction at all, because my English class convinced me I didn't like books.

Now, I'm a teacher myself. I might even be a High School English teacher at some point in the future. I totally get why we make kids read the same books we read in High School English. It's all about cultural literacy. In our society, part of being well-educated is catching references to Hamlet and The Great Gatsby on episodes of The Simpsons. But... and I realize this is totally blasphemous... do they actually need to literally read every one of these "culturally necessary" works in order to gain the literacy? For instance, the overwhelming majority of college-educated people know the Oedipus myth: king banishes his baby son because of a prediction that son will kill him, son grows up to hear prediction that he will kill his father and marry his mother, son tries to escape his fate, winds up killing father and marrying mother anyway, puts his own eyes out. But how many of those people have actually read Oedipus Rex? I have, and you know what? All I remember of it is the same skeleton of the story that almost anyone else could tell you. Another example: I've never read Merchant of Venice, nor seen it performed. But I've absorbed enough of the story to "get" references to Shylock and understand what people are getting at when they say "a pound of flesh".

I guess what I'm saying is that there should be a balance. Yes, kids should read some of these books; they should stretch themselves, and see what they can get out of reading the full work that you can't just get from a synopsis and class discussion. But reading isn't just about filling the bucket of cultural literacy. In the SAT tutoring I do, I can always tell which kids read for pleasure: they're the ones with the vastly superior vocabularies, the ones who can figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word in context, the ones who understand inference, the ones who have an instinctive sense of the rules of grammar, and the ones whose own writing sounds like a college freshman wrote it rather than a 12-year-old. And it's not classics they've been reading (except for school... and then they tell me that they hate those books and just SparkNotes them...); it's YA, usually of the SF/Fantasy ilk.

English classes should be doing all they can to encourage kids to find and read the books that speak to them-- not because kids today (with the hair, and the music...) are too addled by video games and text-messaging to appreciate "the classics", but because the academic advantages of reading something they're engaged with are too great to risk turning them off reading altogether. And because if the "Books You've Thrown Against the Wall" thread is any indication, a whole freakin' lot us in the pre-cell phone generation hated those classics, too.

Why can't kids create their own reading lists, sharing ideas and books recommendations with other kids who share their tastes, and then read one or two assigned "classics", book club style? And if it makes us all hand-wringy that they're winding up with cultural literacy holes, why not just tell them the story and point out some pop-culture references to it? The kids who are intrigued by the story or have a bent for older literature will be inspired to read it... and the ones who aren't wouldn't have read it even if it were assigned. They would've SparkNotes'd it.

And for the record, I threw Sons and Lovers and Ulysses against the wall. I thought they were both complete crap.

P.S. 500 words done.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


500 words done.

Sorry for the very dull posts this week. I have a lot of thoughts about literary "classics" rattling around in my head, but I haven't had time to spit them out and glue them together into a post. Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Checking In

500 words, plus I worked on the structure of Part 3 a bit. The second half of Act II is always the haziest part of the story for me, probably because you can be all coy and tricksy in the first two quarters of a novel, but in the third you have to start pinning shit down and giving some answers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Plans for Today

I have a long stretch of free time before I have to tutor at 3:15, so I'm going to try to accomplish a few "extra" writing tasks.

The plan:

--write my 500 words
--clean kitchen partly finished; I emptied and filled the dishwasher and need to do a second load before I can clean the counters. The Son and I made soft pretzels yesterday, which accounts for some of the mess. Done!
--following the phase outline, spin the second half of Part II
...and I didn't make it to anything else on the list. I spent an hour badgering The Son into cleaning his room. Does that count as meta-cleaning?
--meta-clean 1 hour
--complete one exercise from The Fire in Fiction
--If I have time, start working on scene ideas for Part III

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Small Milestone

Today's 500 puts me at 10,000 words for Part II.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I worked the nursery school yard sale today while The Husband took the The Son an hour south to a model rocket launch. It was more complicated than it sounds, with a lot of shuffling of schedules and vehicles so The Son could bring his cardboard arcade games to the yard sale before leaving for rocket and ice cream fun.

Got my 500 words. I'm actually having a lot of fun with it these days. The writing is a whole lot crappier than in Part I, but what the hell. It's a-gittin' writ.

Friday, May 18, 2012


500 words done.

No meta-cleaning today, though. The Son had a playdate, I had to make cookies for the nursery school yard sale tomorrow, and then tonight I went and helped organize and price items for the sale.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

My Day o' Virtue

Got my 500 words. Cleaned for an hour. Wrote a report for work. And my car was in the shop all day, so I walked a ton. I'm feeling very virtuous.

The action has shifted from far-future post-plague New England to a small island in the vicinity of Indonesia. A whole crop of wild-ass minor characters are about to burst on the scene. But for now, Willow is having her first face-to-face encounter with Ruyad (a.k.a. Antagonist #2) in an open-air rotunda on a jungle night, and wondering what the heck that oil lamp is all about.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

5/16 Post

I had an attack of the I-don't-wannas today, and sadly squandered my daytime writing time on such vital tasks as watching trailers for Duplass brothers movies and finally looking up "mumblecore" on Wikipedia. Now if I meet any indie-film lovin' hipsters in this country burg, I'll be set.

Got the 500 words, though.

And I meta-cleaned for an hour. Two rooms in reasonable shape, and two boxes of outgrown toys brought to the nursery school.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Got my 500 words today. I'm ~32,000 for the draft so far, which is about a third done. My SAT kids are dropping off now (most of them took the test two weeks ago), so I'll have a nice long stretch to work tomorrow. After I get my daily words, I'm going to try to do some scene sheets for upcoming scenes, and maybe work on another The Fire in Fiction exercise.

I also meta-cleaned for another hour today. By "meta-clean" I mean sorting, discarding, rethinking organizational systems, restoring function to chaotic areas of the house. I am the first to admit that I am neither a skilled nor tenacious housekeeper, and I am also the first to complain that the other two people who live in the house with me contribute disgracefully little to the Avoiding Actual Squalor cause. I give myself a B+ on keeping up with what I refer to as "subsistence-level housework": dishes, laundry, and grocery shopping. And I can whip the whole house into presentable shape in one long, miserable day if I have to. But underneath the achievable surface clean lurks a deeper, more profound mess: closets you fear to open, a junk room that could be featured on an episode of Hoarders, drawers in the grip of an identity crisis.

The root of the problem is that a good 15% of the stuff in our house has no designated place, and we've kind of run out of places to put more furniture to hold more stuff. We're also bad about putting stuff that does have a place back in that place once we're done with it, and bad about throwing stuff away once it transitions to crap.

We're all to blame: me with my stacks of books that won't fit on my groaning shelves, The Husband with his 50 t-shirts that he wears at a rate of 2 per week, and The Son with his art supplies and projects slowly taking over the planet. Even The Sibling, who used to live here lo these many years ago, has a hand in it: he left behind half-dozen archaic computers when he moved out, which now take up like a quarter of the junk room and can't just be hauled to the dump.

Thus, the meta-clean. I'm still doing the subsistence-level stuff, but I'm also committed to spending an hour a day meta-cleaning this place until it isn't such a sty. The Son's school is having a fundraising yard sale this weekend, and I'm unloading a metric buttload of toys he's outgrown. And I'm planning to bring the old computers to Best Buy, and the less-loved books to the used book store. Other than that, I'm trying to be methodical, attacking one room at a time until it makes sense.

And to work this post back to being about writing: I started in the guest room, which doubles as my office (if a cat-clawed wing-back chair, a footstool, and a storage container of books and notebooks can be called an office), and I feel like I can think again in that room, now that it's not a sea of books and papers and stray Legos and random markers and kid art and are those underpants? When did The Son leave his underpants in the guest room? Now it's just boring gray wall-to-wall, and my soul is soothed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

5/14 Report

Goals met!

*500 words added to TOB
*finished phase outline for Part II
*completed one TFiF exercise
*cleaned my house for one hour

Now I have another hour in the library study room. I'm going to fiddle with the phase outline a bit, and then dive into the book I'm taking out (blithely ignoring the SIX books I have in-progress at home). Sweet!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In Praise of Tardy Students

Happy Mother's Day to all the USians! I got a lovely necklace and took The Son to a birthday party. The Parent is in Italy, so I didn't get a chance to wish her a happy day.

I didn't get much downtime today (so, no writing time), but fortunately* my evening tutoring kid was wicked late to our session and I busted out my 500 words while waiting for him. I'm still waiting now, actually.

Tomorrow I should have a long writing day. The Son has school in the morning, and it's supposed to rain so I'll probably leave him there for lunch (we usually go to the playground with school friends if it's nice weather). Then my mother-in-law is taking him in the afternoon so I can tutor... supposedly. One of my Monday kids just finished up and the other can't meet tomorrow, so I actually have 2 hours reserved in one of the private study rooms in the library, and no students! I plan to make the most of those 2 hours.

So, the plan:

Drop The Son at school, return home and start work by 9:00.
Get my 500 words.
Then, spend an hour cleaning the house. I've been patient, but it doesn't look like the house sprites are coming to clean it for me.
Then, work on the phase outline for Part II with whatever time remains until I have to pick up The Son.
Pick up The Son, grocery shopping, home until MIL comes for him.
Hit library. See if I can finish phase outline. If I do, or if I hit a wall with it, work on TFiF exercise.

Squee! I'll let you know how it goes.

*fortunately for me, not him. He has a five-page research paper due tomorrow and is all kinds of screwed.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

5/12 Post

Just finished up my 500 words for the day. I may do some more work tonight, but I wanted to post this so I don't forget again!

5/11 post

Ack! I forgot to post last night. But I did my 500 words like a good little girl. It's coming easier now that I'm past that scene.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

5/10 Report

500 words for the day.

But more importantly...


Thank God.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


500 words on TOB today. Didn't get anything else done.

I will be so, so happy when I get past this scene. I've been stuck on it for so long, and I'm itching to just get to the island already and explore everything there!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I haven't had such a focused, productive writing day in a long, long time. It was really nice-- like taking a walk in the woods and breathing in fresh mountain air after being cooped up in a room with an electric heater and fluorescent lights for two months. I worked for an hour on the phase outline, wrote 500 words in TOB (crappy words, but at the moment I think I need to embrace the philosophy: if you get stuck, lower your standards and keep going), and wrote a long paragraph of Akenam monologuing about his strange relationship with his mentor/nemesis Ruyad (this was an exercise from the Maass book).

Y'know, looking back at the blog archives I see that last spring I fell off the writing train too. And I distinctly remember other frantically productive winters followed by slothful springs. Hm.

Anyway, now that the train has groaned to life, I want to keep it moving straight back into the obsession phase of the Pattern. So, goals ahoy!

For the rest of May:

1) write 500 words a day on TOB, continuing to move the story forward
2) finish phase outline for Part 2
3) complete at least 5 more exercises from TFiF
4) blog here every day, even if just a few lines to report progress

Okay, that's the plan. See you tomorrow, kids!

Back In the Saddle... I Think

Gah. I've had a bad few weeks, writing-wise. But I'm feeling inspiration creeping up again. Today is the first day in a week that I've had a chunk of free time, and I'm going to dive back into TOB. When I left off, I was working my way through a phase outline of Act II, so I'm going to spend an hour on that and see how far I get. I also just read The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, author of my beloved Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and I'm planning to slowly work my way through the exercises, since I think reading The Fire in Fiction has provided the spark to reignite (ha! spark! ignite! get it?) my love for Willa, Akenam, and the complicated world of my novel.

I'll report back later.