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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tilting at Windmills

I did something today I have not done in quite some time. Sitting on a subway train, I took out my tiny notebook and mechanical pencil and I started writing.

It wasn't random. It followed the last scene I wrote for the novella, Magical Stilettos.

The man standing over me seemed confounded, as I saw his expression on the glass door across from us. The mechanical pencil threw him for a loop, “It's a pen yet it is a pencil!” Deep down I think he felt an urge to point at me and accuse me of sorcery.

I started writing this as a lighthearted narrative, now it is turning into what may be a study of perception and reality.

There are some uncomfortable topics to cover: evil; slavery; emotional, physical and sexual abuse. And suddenly this is not as funny as I assume it'd be...

Worlds collide and I still do not know where it is going. But once I started to identify the topics at hand, I also realized that there are huge themes that want to come out and inhabit the page.

Of course, once you come to terms with this, the next realization is that you must do the topics justice. None of these ideals should be treated tritely. 
And then horror starts to set in: Do I have it in me to immerse myself in something so big? Is this something that can be properly dealt with in a novella? Are you freaking insane?

I have no particular desire to delve too deeply into any of these topics, but I don't see how I have much of a choice if that is what the story is about. I just transcribe for the Muse, I know my place.

Knowing my place in Real Life also should propel the rest of the writing. I am feeling slightly disenfranchised at the moment. This feeling that saddens and angers me should be the perfect fuel. 

Aren't tears and bitterness the inspiration to centuries of tortured art?

As long as I'm going to be moody, why not channel it into writing before I can start obsessing about it and fermenting into bitterness. Titling at windmills is a better way to go.
I just want the Universe to know that sending me lemons will not result in lemonade, just because that is what is expected proverbially. I will simply squeeze it into a vodka cocktail! (The fact that I do not have any vodka is but a minor detail, so shut up, Powers That Be. I have an imagination. I can pretend.)

Tomorrow, I have an appointment in the city. I will travel by subway -- in rain and probably snow (when will it finally end?!). I hope I am again compelled to take out the little notebook and mechanical pencil and confuse kids who've never read cursive.

Now if I could find a balance, even if slightly perverse, to add humor to this horror I will be a happy writer. (A happy writer? The ultimate fantasy!) 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Big Bad is Toying With Me

My Grand Jury service came and went and I, sadly, did not find the villain I thought would walk into the courtroom and lend a face, and perhaps a voice, to this character I want to write.

I know better than to force it, so I was hoping he'd insinuate himself in real life by walking right into my day and smiling slyly. I imagined I'd feel a slimy metaphysical disgust that made me shudder from head to toe and want to scream, “Ewwwwww!” and run home to shower it off my psyche.

This did not happen.

There was some research involving mythology and more about nomenclature and language.
There was a lot of sitting around waiting to make justice. Do justice? Affect justice? Effect justice? Justify justice? There was a lot of sitting around.

I can say that I am not hopelessly blocked: I was able to write a scene.

It is an important scene because it's not a throw-away moment. This must appear in the final work. It's a simple thing that moves one character from one place to another – which requires little more than standing, putting a foot ahead of another, and letting momentum take its toll. But there is more to it!
The character is unaware it is undergoing a sort of transformation and in this scene the reader is given its first clue that something is afoot. Something evil, in fact. Or maybe just sinister, perhaps evil is too strong a word. 
(Hmm, lies. These are lies!)

In writing the scene, I was able to convey this, allude to the action preceding it and even managed to add a moment of comedy.

The scene, in short, is a success! The problem is that, while it brings me closer to introducing the Big Bad, it stops just short. And therein lies the question that grabbed me and owns me right now: how much foreplay can you do with your reader before you introduce them to the Big Bad?

Do I hand out tidbits or do I push him out into the open, effectively giving the reader a horrendous full frontal beast? Do I seduce them and then shake them into the horror of what this creature truly is? Or is he far less scary than I think he is right now, and will I be playing the literary equivalent of John Williams' “Jaws” leitmotif simply to find later he is just shadows and mist?

The problem is that he hasn't told me yet. I think that he lies... I'm fairly sure he's still lying to me now! He is a shadowy form that exists in this dark, foggy forest and he wants to pull me there. I insist he can tell me from over there, I can hear him. He's trying to trick me. I just know it! 

I'm not blocked, I'm cautious. (You're welcome.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Funky Definitions

A funky member of Parliament. The funkiest, in fact.

(written on my tablet during downtime, please excuse typos) 

We sit in Supreme Court, waiting... There is lots of waiting. It is awfully exhausting to sit around and do nothing.

My table mate and I joke and chat casually, but mostly we read in between hearing cases (sorry, no details allowed).

I am doing some research until the very personification of my villain walks into the courtroom or emerges fully formed into my head.

Meanwhile, I do research and have found an interesting tidbit.

I have always been curious about the nomenclature used when classifying groups of animals. Animal collective nouns are funny sometimes and I wonder what immigrants, learning the English language as adults make of it -- assuming they get this far in their language immersion.

I am not entirely sure native speakers are particularly familiar with these congregations either, and wonder if the knowledge of such things has fallen to the wayside when schools determine curricula to save or discard in the age of test scores ruling the education game.

Today I've learned that a group of ravens may be called a congress, conspiracy, parliament or unkindness. That the first and the third may be synonymous with the second and last nouns fills me with glee.

At the same time, I've learned that the collective noun for crows may be horde, hover, murder, muster or parcel. Here you find five words that wouldn't seem to have antyhing in common, given the immediate definition that comes to mind for each.

Further research indicates that some nouns are repeated and apply to more than one grouping of animals. Baboons form a congress; owls and rooks form parliaments; peacoks are also known as musters; and, gnats, hamsters, mice, and wolves are called hordes.

Details of where these names originated or why they stuck are a mystery to me, but endlessly entertaining in their potential for obscure puns. Although I wonder if calling Congress "baboons in D.C." won't confuse the issue (as well as be offensive to baboons in general).

The other consideration is whether to freely use this knowledge in my writing. I write for my own amusement and pride myself in the assertion that my readers are smart folks (and a few smartasses, you know who you are!).

One wants the meaning to be understood, and yet it has always been clear to me that once written, the message becomes whatever the reader ascribes to the words.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Speak To Me, Daemon

Magic StilettosI am in a sort of limbo that isn't as deep as it sounds.

I have a character who has suggested himself to be quite important. The moment he reared his monstrous head from the darkness, he told me what he represented, what he'd do and why he was the story, not "that other little story" I'd been peddling...

I know some of what happens, but not all of it. I know what he looks like, in jest. I know how he moves. I even understand how he operates.

The problem is that I do not know what he sounds like. I need a voice. I cannot know who he is unless I know his voice. I need to hear him in my head. He needs to tell me his story and I cannot commit to it until he comes to me and gives me the details in all their slithering glory.

I told a friend that I needed a caricature of a man and I was looking forward to my court adventure for this. He asked if I needed a real person to plant the seed and that is exactly it!

I can write some things on my own, but I find that the easiest passages to put down are those narrated by a character. But it needs to sound right. It needs to sound true.

We were talking about my writing process and how I wanted to write some of it longhand and how it simply awakens a different vibe. And I mentioned using voice memos. If I only write or type, and I do not vocalize, I just spend entirely too long in my head and that is not a good idea. I need to hear it too! 
There is a musicality to words strung together properly. It has to match the feel of it, the context, the hidden meaning. It has to resonate.
But in order for the words to resonate (literally) the characters need to speak their truth in their own voices. A plot idea may be incredibly sexy but it doesn't sprout wings and fly until one of the characters makes it his or her story and tells it with all the love, joy, hatred or fear it requires to move you. That is when you write, when you are moved.

And this is why I am not too worried about letting the story float in limbo until a voice emerges that owns the story to tell. If I cannot be moved to write it, and force it, I am certain you cannot be moved to read it. That's a mockery of both our time and I will try not to ever do that.

Right now, I am not sure if he is slow to emerge or if he is already in my head and is just toying with me because it's part of the way he seduces its victims. One way or another, this will be an adventure!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Artist Interrupted Plans Sweet Revenge

Keep reading, you'll find the relevant link.

The US Constitution allows that “[N]o person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury...”

The Constitution of New York State has a similar statute.

This is a tool in the arsenal of our Justice system and I appreciate that ideal that our system was conceived to have checks and balances to at least try to protect the rights of those involved in it. It fails occasionally, but it is generally a relatively fair system.

The Grand Jury meets in secret and I break no rules in disclosing that soon I will be a part of its proceedings. I cannot blog about it once it gets going and, to tell the truth, I am not really looking forward to it.

It is my civic duty and I accept it, but it also interrupts my job search and I can't postpone it again. This annoys me more than I can say. It's frustrating, especially because I saw some progress in terms of good prospects...

Ideally, it would make for great observations what with the parade of characters that come into my narrow field of vision. A good writer would internalize all of it and incorporate them discretely into future works.

Certainly, the surroundings and the circumstances make for a hyperspecific people-watching experience and, if I am lucky, a plethora of raw and colorful archetypes to populate my stories.

I have been amusing myself with the idea of creating character studies of fictional characters, comic book types, based on the dregs of society (from lawyers, to crime victims, to the unethical underbelly of our metropolis).

In my head it ends up being a sort of Dickensian dark comedy with Shakespearean overtones, but the reality will probably be more akin to amateur porn on grainy night vision goggles. Realistic but not as pretty as one would hope—because courtroom dramas are highly stylized and never even close to what it is like to be inside a courtroom.

Or, if you prefer, it might be more like a really bizarre puppet show as viewed through the eyes of a bad flashback. But that may be a jaded assessment owing to my frustration. Whatever!

I found this out the hard way when my cousin had me sit through a day at the bench. It was interesting to me, but nothing like the stuff people see on TV or film and certainly nothing like the courtroom of literature.

And yet, it seems to me that the whole thing lends itself quite well to the exaggerated noir found in graphic novels. Think on that... you interrupt the artist, even when she is idle, and she plots. Plots!

The “Read an Ebook” promotion at Smashwords is on right now! Visit my page and take advantage of the discounts and even some free titles for a limited time (through March 8).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Visiting the Realms of Fantasy

I was trying to organize my thoughts and in the process realized there was a character that suddenly appeared – no name, no face, no history – and he would change everything. Suddenly, yet slowly, he formed into a force to be reckoned...

The problem that I ran into was that I tried to write Magical Stilettos by the seat of my pants. I wanted to see how far I could take it if I just wrote and allowed it to develop as I wrote.

This is possible, but not with this story.

I need an outline. I need direction.

As I started to jot down ideas, it seemed clear that I was creating a mythology. The idea of working with prototypes became both interesting and more than a little intimidating. Of course, any work of fiction operates within its own mythology. But I am also dabbling in world building. It's getting complicated now!

I want to immerse myself in the creative process but I find too many distractions – worries and insecurities, the weight of this brutal winter taking its toll on my state of being, an unfocused mind, shiny objects – keep me from dedicating myself as I should.

A visit to the realms of fantasy is what is needed here. I have not been there in some time, but I remember enough to imagine a guided tour until I can dive in with unabashed abandon. 

I haven't written a chapter in weeks but I have notes that promise a good payoff when I do get started again.

The one problematic thing was one particular note, written in a sort of shorthand and with which I intended to release a character that screamed to be part of the story (and she has not even been hinted at yet). A couple of weeks later, I looked at the note and it stared back at me. “Prototype of happiness in gloom...”

It did three things:
  1. it filled me with excitement
  2. it filled me with dread
  3. it focused me enough to solve the puzzle at hand.
It was exciting because it clearly opened some possibilities in character development and plot that I had not considered before. It filled me with dread because half of it made no sense. I had no idea what part of my own note meant!

Once I decided I needed to get back this moment and bring meaning to it, it wasn't so much a matter of reliving the moment when I wrote it as it was adding everything I had and surmising where all these loose ends were headed to conclude what I meant.

It may sound a little silly, but being able to focus – even if for short spurts – means the world because there will be more distractions coming up and I need to know I can work around them.

Right now, I want a full outline and at least two full characters before I start jury duty. I want to write as much as I can fit into the proceedings. It will be my life affirming act of defiance.

It seems to me that as justice is part of the story, it might be conducive to writing. Also, perhaps the criminal element might suggest an end game. I still don't know how the story ends. 

Still, progress is progress and I will take any bit that moves me forward. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Magic is Back

Photo by Pedro J. Perez, used under Creative Commons license

It is so easy to fall behind when you are involved in creative projects. This is like a bad habit and should never be encouraged!

Magic Stilettos is a challenge because I allowed the silly notion that I could just write based on a flimsy idea and let the story come to me. That works sometimes, especially with short form fiction. But that is not always true.

Without direction, you always run the risk of getting lost and running into creative walls.

It's a good exercise to just write, but not if you have a specific end game. In fact, I may take part in a NaNoWriMo hangout this weekend where we simply write, long hand as an exercise.

The idea is to adhere to Natalie Goldberg's rules of writing practice. The Rules are relatively simple and something that I tend to do instinctively.

First you write by hand. Pen or pencil in hand, you keep the hand moving. It is a different experience than writing attached to a keyboard, it helps you access and exercise your brain differently.

You do not edit. You write. If you run out of things to write, you write, “OMG! I have run out of things to write,” until that sparks an internal dialog or a feeling, a setting, a distant memory and you write that.

You don't get to censor yourself or your writing, so the internal censor can go on vacation. If it wants to scream and holler, you tune it out like commercials during your favorite show. By extension, you are allowed to write the worst schlock in history. Quality is not the point, writing – the act of writing – is all that matters.

It is not important whether you may use any of the material produced during this exercise. That is not the point. I can tell you from experience that seeds of ideas can be born from the process, so don't discount it as New Age quackery.

I go into my exercise with the germ of an idea that came to me in that stage between sleep and waking, and it will be incorporated into the outline that I have already begun putting together to move the story forward. It is not at all what I intended when I began this project so it is a little scary and also incredibly exciting.

And that is why I write because it offers me a creative outlet and it opens this magnificent well of emotions to draw from and renew my soul! Plus it includes sexy demons. Sexy demons are always fun.