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A Brief Visit to the Pit of Despair

Did I mention that Captain Marvel is fantastic? You should go see it at least twice; I liked it even better the second time.

Anyway.

I got the first set of beta comments on Fairy Hills earlier this week. Being a mature and experienced writer, I scanned them, nodded, wrote an appreciative note to my reader, and then went in the bathroom and cried. When I was younger, I would have done it the other way around, see.

The comments are perceptive, and do an excellent job of pointing out every place where that book is a mess. This is a perfectly normal and necessary part of the writing process. At the same time, being told by someone whose opinions you respect that your best bet is the equivalent of gutting this project down to the studs is disheartening, and the perfectly normal reaction is to plunge into gloom and vow to never touch a keyboard again, perhaps go live off-grid in Wyoming and raise alpacas.

2018-10-06 12.23.49
Advantages over writing: very soft, will judge you but not out loud.*

There are a number of hard things about writing. One of them is navigating the line between writing for your own enjoyment, and writing with an eye toward other people reading it someday, and maybe even giving you money. If you write purely toward the second goal, you’ll be miserable (Samuel Johnson’s famous snark aside), not to mention that there are far more efficient ways to make money doing things you don’t enjoy. If you write purely toward the first goal, though, you won’t have any readers.

Hm.

A further wrinkle comes from the fact that it takes so goddamn long to write a book at all. At least in the early phases of a project, you have little choice but to write for your own enjoyment, because no one else is going to read it for a long while, let alone pay you. But at some point you will have to navigate the hilly transition between “I wrote this for me, and it’s perfect,” and “I want to give this to someone else, and it could use some work.”

You don’t have to do that, of course. You can keep it for yourself and love it just the way it is. Only you know if the rewards of getting over those hills are worth your effort (since you are not actually guaranteed any tangible rewards at all, I find it’s best to stay focused on the Accomplished a Difficult Thing merit badge).

Now what? A new draft of Fairy Hills is going to be a major undertaking; the issues are not “fix this scene” or “fix this bit of dialog,” but “fix this character” and “fix this plot arc.” Meanwhile, I’m 35k words into a new book, don’t particularly want to stop, and dropping it would run counter to my “finish stuff for godssakes” goal. (Which means navigating back into “writing for myself” territory for a while! This business can get confusing.) If I can keep up the current pace, I’ll finish this draft some time in May. By then I will have a plan for Hills. I can spend the summer on that; after eight years, a few more months of work won’t kill me.

The nice thing about writing as opposed to, say, masonry, is that any problem you created with words can be fixed with different words.

So… back to work, I guess.


* Photo is mine, from the 2018 Sandwich Fair. I believe this beauty is named Tupelo Honey.

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The Internet is Full of Weeds

The other day I was walking between buildings at my day job, still musing on the ideas of spaciousness and making room for the things we want to grow, and the image of a weed-choked garden sprang to mind.

The Internet isn’t bad per se; it’s just full of weeds. I’m fond of quite a few plants that are classified as weeds. Most of them mean “summer” to me, or recall rambles through the Pennsylvanian scrub woodlands that were my refuge in childhood. But you wouldn’t want a landscape composed of nothing but milkweed and Queen Anne’s Lace, probably, and if I want to make space in my life for things to grow, I need to clear away some weeds, or at the very least stop watering them.

So far, my experiment with a more attentive 2019 is going well. I’m not going to give a project status report here — that’s for the end of the month — but reframing things as “what do I want to allow into this time?” instead of “how many things do I have to do?” has led me feel a bit more relaxed than has sometimes been my habit. The days are a little more open, but things are still getting done. I’m getting a little better about checking in with myself when I reach for my phone — am I actually doing a purposeful thing, or just filling up time? Is there something else I should be attending to? What am I distracting myself from?

They say that you get what you plant.

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Looking Ahead: 2019

I am the kind of person who likes to make ambitious New Years goals. A whole year is enough time to do almost anything, right? On the other hand, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 45 years on this planet, it’s that making detailed plans too far in advance can be entertaining but is rarely useful.

Since this is my writing blog, I will stick to goals in that area. (I also have a cooking blog, indifferently updated. And a Goodreads. And a Ravelry. And….)

Goal #1: Finish Fairy Hills

This has been top of my list for years now, but I am finally making headway on the book again, and I just need to keep plugging. It has been way too long since I finished a project, and there are literally only a couple of weeks of determined work left between me and the end of this draft.

Goal #2: Keep Blogging

I have not, historically, been very good at maintaining a blog over the long term. I will strive to put out at least a brief weekly update of some kind. If nothing else, it should help me keep track of inputs and outputs. Less tangibly, it may help me get to grips with that perennial question: what am I trying to say, anyway, and why?

Goal #3: TBD

I had a hard time coming up with a third goal, though I gave it several days of thought. “Write another book” is obvious. Workshops and classes are out of reach right now. I could set myself the goal of writing something new and different–a short story? a personal essay?–but that felt off somehow. I don’t want to write something for purely abstract reasons, just because I said that I would.

So maybe what I need to do, per last week’s thoughts, is just… hold this space open, and see what happens in it. Something will come up.

Happy New Year! May we all find more of the things we need.

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Looking Back: 2018

Here we are on the darkest day! I believe these posts are mandatory, at least the writing of; I won’t be offended if you skip this one. It has certainly been an exciting year, and one that often seems to have lasted three times as long as it ought to have.

Writing Achievements:

  • 2018-12-11 17.47.53Obviously the big one is that I self-published a novel. This was a stressful but interesting process, and I feel like I learned a lot. So far I’ve sold 28 copies and made $54. Kindle Unlimited page counts suggest that between five and ten people have read it that way as well.
  • I did NaNoWriMo (again).
  • After uncounted fits and starts, I went back to Fairy Hills with the goal of ending the year with a ready-to-query draft. 17k words to go!
  • I started this blog! All writers ought to have one, or so I have been solemnly informed. I have managed to keep to a weekly posting schedule since setting it up.

Knitting Achievements:

  •  2 baby blankets 2018-11-18 14.11.41
  • 1 hat
  • 2 scarves

Miscellaneous:

  • I read 11 books, most of which were very interesting.
  • I lost three pounds, meaning that the upward creep of the past two years has been arrested.
  • I volunteered at a conference related to my day job, which was a big endeavor and one from which I learned a lot. I’m doing it again for next year.
  • According to my FitBit, I have walked the length of Italy since I got the thing in June.
  • Husband and I celebrated 25 years since we first got together, which I have to admit blows my mind just a little.
  • I’ve kept up with my bullet journal.

Earlier this month I participated in a “personal retrospective” exercise focused on the idea of “holding space.” We spent time thinking about the things we are passionate about and how to make space for those things in our lives, what needs to happen in order to realize that passion. So in addition to celebrating the accomplishments of the past year, I have been trying to think about what hasn’t happened, and how to clear the way for some things I still want to do.

Welcome, Yule!

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The (Kinda) Forgotten Round Table: Sir Lancelot

I can already hear you thinking, He’s not a forgotten character. This is absolutely true, however there’s a lot of hilarious stuff that gets left out of modern adaptations, which tend to foreground the love triangle.

I’m going to stick with Malory for this post, because I’m still grinding my way through Chretien de Troyes. The stories are, of course, inconsistent. Malory tried, but continuity wasn’t actually a thing yet, so even within his one collection, there are points where the passage of time just doesn’t work, and the characterization is wobbly at best.

Which Bits?

If you’re skimming the 500-odd pages of Le Morte D’Arthur for Lancelot stuff to read, you can skip the first four books entirely, because his only appearances are in Merlin’s prophecies. Of the remainder:

  • Book V is the war with Rome, in which he barely appears.
  • Book VI is “his” book, and contains a bunch of short adventures all jammed together in what must have been one very exciting year. None of them are more than a few pages long, and there’s a lot of variety.
  • Book VII is Gareth’s, in which Lancelot has a minor supporting role. Gareth is a cupcake, so you should read this one anyway.
  • Books VIII, IX, and X are Tristram’s story, which will be addressed in a future post. This has some of the best Lancelot background bits; he spends a lot of time rescuing fellow knights, being gracious, and face-palming. Skim it, and don’t try to keep track of the main character.
  • Book XI starts off the nearly 100 pages of the Grail story. A lot of things happen to Lancelot in this. None of them are good. Also, 15 years pass between Galahad’s birth and the quest, during which no one else ages.
  • Book XVIII, XIX, and XX are largely concerned with Lancelot and Guinevir. Includes some funny adventures, some serious ones, more tournaments, and the romantic part of the tragic endgame.
  • Book XXI is the other tragic endgame with Mordred, which is almost an afterthought here, and then more romantic tragic endgame, because even with Arthur dead our lovers aren’t allowed to be happy. Read it if you like to be sad.

Continue reading “The (Kinda) Forgotten Round Table: Sir Lancelot”

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Excerpt: Tisiphone’s Quest

It has been an emotionally trying week to be on the Internet, to say the least. In addition, I had what seemed at the time like a very promising job interview on Monday, which has not panned out. I have encountered a major issue in my current revision project; I think I know what needs to be done, it’s just going to be a lot more work than I was prepared for to get this book where it needs to go. And I had to go to the dentist, which I’ve been putting off for a long time and which therefore occasioned much dread.

(In good news, I discovered Barns Courtney this week. My musical tastes are very predictable consistent. And the dread was unwarranted — no dental work needed.)

Energy has been a little hard to come by, these past few days. So, while I try to get my head back together and make some kind of plan for finishing the book, here is an excerpt from the one I’ve got out so far. A heartfelt thanks goes out to those who have purchased it. You are literally keeping the dream alive!


Chapter 1

Samantha stood in the doorway and studied the library’s wreckage. The air reeked of fire retardant and burned plastic.

A junior member of the force approached and said, “Detective? The wizard is here.”

Continue reading “Excerpt: Tisiphone’s Quest”