Christmas-in-July

Christmas tree old time

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

Right now as I look at the time, it’s 12:25 on Christmas-in-July.

When I was little, I always planned parties in my head.  We had this mostly-empty garage behind our house that seemed rife with possibilities for two little girls with lots of imagination and plenty of time, and we talked about holding parties back there—for Halloween and for Christmas, and any number of other holidays, but never for Christmas-in-July.  Oh, not that I didn’t want such a party, but anyone who’s familiar with a humid Louisiana summer, full of “waterbugs” and other creepy insects that lurk in dark spaces, knows that hanging out in a garage with no A.C. isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon.

To this day, I often think about holding a Christmas-in-July party at my apartment.  You know, drag out the 4 ft. artificial tree, hang some fairy lights, crank the Christmas carols, experiment with home-made eggnog, and invite the people I work with over for the evening.  Around the actual holidays, everyone has so many Christmas and New Year’s parties to attend, that they couldn’t possibly fit one more party in, so I never hold a party then.  But Christmas-in-July…well, people are around town, and probably not doing a whole lot other than trying to hide from the heat.

But I never remember I want to have such a party until the actual July 25th is upon me, and by then it’s too late to pull anything together.  Maybe next year…

Anyway, a few months ago, I saw a submission call for Christmas stories for a Christmas-in-July themed issue of Edify Fiction, a journal that looks for “uplifting” writing.  And it happened that last December I had written a little Christmas story in Kathy Fish’s “Fast Flash” writing workshop, and it wasn’t doing anything but gathering dust.  And lo and behold, Edify Fiction liked the story, and took it for their fourth issue.

They made some editorial changes which I personally chafe at, including putting a comma in the title, and changing the tenses, but a pub is a pub. (Or so I tell myself.)  And I can “always republish it my way in my flash collection” blah blah, if I ever make one.

Anyhow, to cool you off in this hot Atlanta sun, please enjoy my story, “Love, Tinsel.”

Writing and Dithering

The second Hecate Applebough book (sans title, at the mo), grueling though it was to write, is completed, and I feel a sense of accomplishment about that.  It took longer to write, probably because I wasn’t on the high of NaNoWriMo, and of course, Christmas and New Year’s and the beginning of a new semester intervened, and there’s just a lot of things you have to get done at the end of the year, making writing another novel difficult.  (That sounds so pretentious right, “another novel.”  Gag me.)  I still have to tweak a couple of scenes before I will be satisfied with it as a first draft.  (Although of course no one is satisfied with first drafts, but you know what I mean.).  And I might have to seriously reconsider some other scenes which I know why I wrote them the way I did, but I don’t love them, and they need fixing.

But I knew I had to get Hecate Applebough 2 done so I could start the third one, which I’ve done in the last few days—and somehow I have a good feeling about this one.  Like I’m going to try to make it much more lighthearted, more comic.  I think that was my problem with the second one—it was like a goddamned angstfest—NOBODY was happy in the entire book.  I kept just making everyone miserable—like, it was a contest with myself:  how much can I screw with Cate’s life?  Just how twisted can I make her relationships?  Can I make some of the minor characters sad?  Yes?  Great!  And kind of what I wound up doing was making myself miserable in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, while I’m my own worst critic, and by the very nature of breathing, I assume everything I write is utter and total crap, there are “moments of possibility” in it, but the moments of pure dreck outweigh the possibilities of goodness.  I keep thinking, if I were Cate, and that was my life, I would probably swear off men forever and become a hermit.  The men in her life really are just fucked up—I wasn’t totally being funny when I joked about naming the second book Hecate Applebough and the Fucked Up Men in Her Life, because they are just such drama queens and so needy and complicated.  Honestly, I don’t know Cate stands me.  She must think I’m a total bitch to keep putting her in these stupid, angsty situations with men who don’t know what they want.

Which is why, as I said in a recent tweet, I need to let this book mellow.  Because it’s very raw, and it’s very overemotional—not like melodrama, but yeah, kind of sudsy at points.  I need that time away so I can come back to it fresh.  And maybe with some distance I can figure out what I really wanted to do with that second book and see if I can’t get it more there than it is right now.  (Of course, it will need substantial revision—I just want it to be a good first draft that will make revision be something hard but worthwhile instead of painful just to get to ok-ish-ness.)

And writing the third one will help me a lot because I am determined to make it fun.  Cate needs a break from constantly having her life explode in her face—and I need a break from that too.  I suppose, all fiction authors are either consciously or unconsciously trying to work out the crap of their own lives, and it manifests in the lives of their characters.  I know that I’m working through some issues—that sort of became obvious in the second book, because Cate is always thwarted, she always thinks things are settling down and then, hello, some tragedy or another happens and she’s back down in the sewer trying to dig her way out.  And that’s kind of how I feel my life is.  Of course, I don’t have two hot guys vying for my affections, so I can’t relate to her on that level (alas and alack—that might be a fun problem to have!), but that’s just a mask for the angsty things going on my life, I think. (So personal life spoiler alert:  I have problems and bad things are happening.  And who suffers?  Cate.)

Anyway, not to give away too much about the plot, but the third book already is starting with the comic premise that Cate, Val, and Lonny are all going to visit her Dad in Nebraska for Spring Break.  Book 3 starts on the airplane and I had a good time writing Val and Lonny sniping at each other and Cate just rolling her eyes, and now they’re in Nebraska and she’s dealing with her stepmother and her infant brother, and the change of scenery, away from Sunderson Academy and the Study Salon, is doing me a lot of good.  I’m really hoping that I can sustain the humor because Cate deserves a little happiness after what I’ve put her through.  But on the other hand, it wouldn’t be Cate’s life if it were charmed.  So I have to figure out how much I can torture her and still keep the majority of the book breezy.

In other news, I admit that I’m still vacillating back and forth whether to share Book 1 with Brilliant Fiction Writing Friend.  He’s super persuasive, with his metaphorical chisel that chips away at my protests (plus his company is awesome).  My insecurity, however, is equally persuasive—pugnacious, even (which means it usually wins out when I have these “what if” wars in my head).  But he said something to me the other day that—guilted isn’t the right word—tipped the balance in his favor a little more, let’s say—something about making editing a part of his professional development, and that my book would help him work on those skills.  And frankly, when he pitches it like that, and I can see letting him read HA1 not as an opportunity to deprive him of time he could be writing, were he so inclined, but as opportunity for him to grow in a way he’s interested in growing, well, how can I turn that down?  That would just be mean of me.  And of course, if he didn’t have my book to read, he has other people whom he could help, so it’s not like he’ll languish if I said no (and really meant it).  So, why not let him help me, right?  But…blah blah blah.  Shut up, JC. (Can’t you for once just accept good fortune?)  (Not easily.) (OMG OMG OMG, I realize, I write this blog the same way Cate writes her diary—I’m such a headcase.) (Please send help.)

Anyway, apropos of nothing, please enjoy a picture of sleepy TimToms, who has been keeping me company today as I’ve been writing.

2016-01-30 16.28.27

Seriously, JC, They Make Pills for This

My novel went on a “first date” yesterday.  Metaphorically speaking.

What I mean is, it is in the process of being “courted” by a potential future editor, which is to say, my Brilliant Fiction Writer Friend™ (whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog), who, despite not being a fan of YA, has graciously, and generously, and kind of insanely agreed to read my NaNoWriMo novel Hecate Applebough because he believes in me as a serious writer (even a serious writer of fluff), and sight unseen is willing to work with me to revise it and maybe make it into something good (or good-ish).

I must admit I am in the absolute worst dither of insecurities about my writing ever.  Like I’m back in my first creative writing class when I’m 20 years old, and so shy about what I’ve written that I really fear—not just that what I wrote is crappy (because that is surely a given)—but that I will have a) inflicted my mental crappiness/ drivel on another person; b) wasted someone’s already limited amount of leisure reading by forcing them to read something appalling (and deeply flawed on all levels); c) imposed on someone’s friendship, even when they offered, even when they are doing their best to wear me down to make me agree to continuing this part of the writing process (and I am deathly afraid of imposing on people, like pathologically so); and d) allowed someone to discover proof  that I’m not nearly as hilarious and awesome as I think I am.  (Perhaps that last fear on the list sounds trivial or frivolous, but I assure you, it’s a deeply-seated fear.)

It’s really a weird place to be in—like I believe in my ability as a poet.  I might be having a shitty time convincing contest editors that my volume of poems is fantastic, the next best thing, blah blah, and they need to publish it already, goddammit, but I don’t doubt in any fiber of my being that I’m a poet.  When I think “JC,” I think “poet.”  These ideas fit in my head together, like synonyms.  And sure, it makes sense—you think about all this time that I’ve worked on writing poetry, that I earned that Ph.D. in poetry—I mean, if I didn’t see myself as a poet after the time I’ve invested in it, that would be a huge (and annoying) problem. (And would make having to pay back student loans even more of an insult.)

Except, I don’t want to be just a poet.  I have more words in my head than that.  I’m not saying I believe BFWF that I’m a “novelist” either (just by virtue of having written 1.99 “novels”), but limiting myself to one version of “who I am as a writer” doesn’t fit me any more either.  Of course, in terms of writing fiction—well, I still feel like I’m still 20 years old, with zero experience—but there’s an expansiveness that’s been coming the last few years, a real desire to try something new, and to tell stories that take more than a page.

That narrative bent in my writing and my voice is there—and let’s be honest, the poetry world does not appreciate narrative as a form.  So, I need to use forms that narrative work in… which is why I wrote Hecate Applebough, which is why I also write these memoir-y vignettes that seem to find homes in little journals too.  Hmm.

But getting back to the possibility of having a real reader/ editor:  I was asked if I want to be worn down.  That’s a hard question to answer.  Like, realistically, who wouldn’t want a person you admire who is brilliant and has critical and practical expertise and proclaims a genuine wish to help you succeed to be the one who reads your book and helps you edit and revise it—the two hardest parts of writing?  You’d have to be an idiot to turn that down—particularly when there is so little return in it for them.

(But to be fair, my idiocy is well-documented.)

As I’m thinking about this and talking myself in-and-out of this amazing opportunity that has shown up in my life like a late Christmas gift, I realize my fear isn’t anything like worry that I’m a “fraud” as writer.  I don’t question I’m a writer, per se.  Because there’s so much that goes into writing beyond the actual writing of whatever the piece is, you have to believe that you’re a writer deep down in your heart because if you don’t believe it, then what is the point of doing this really lonely, difficult  (and often barely rewarding) work?  Once a piece of writing is released into the world (and that’s after the writer has spent her time polishing her poem or story until it gleams) you can’t control the people who read it.  If your submission (or your “novel”) shows up on a day that the editors/ grad students working on a journal are on the rag, or hungover, or pissed off at their bosses, or they hate anything that smacks of genre or narrative poetry or they just read a great bird poem right before they picked your bird poem up from the pile and so can’t imagine any bird poem after the one they just read as measuring up (or whatever), your writing, no matter how good it is, won’t go beyond the first pass.  It might not even go beyond the first lines. (I say this as a person who has participated on the grad student side of the journal publication process.)

There’s so much luck involved in a person’s work entering the wider world by being published. And forget about the accolades.  You have to believe you’re a writer—because the odds are so stacked against you that your work will ever resonate with anyone and find a home in their journal or on their upcoming publications list.

So it’s not a matter of lacking faith in myself as a writer (in the generic sense) that is the stumbling block with my sharing Hecate Applebough—the fear emerges from the realization of just how drafty the first draft is—and sharing a piece of my writing with someone that is 98% imperfect terrifies the fuck out of me.

Because when I share my poems with people, they only see them after—typically—the poem has gone through 8-10 drafts already.  Like my writing group?  I show them poems that are, to my mind, already mostly good.  Poems after I meet with them may go through another 5-10 drafts, but when the writing group sees them initially, they don’t see the first draft.  They see something I’m not ashamed to show.

First drafts are unfit to be seen by anyone.  And Hecate Applebough is a first draft.  I mean, it’s prettier than a first draft, in that I’ve line-edited it, I’ve changed some words here and there, or added a few scenes to smooth over some plot holes.  But the aggregate is still first drafty.  (It’s so drafty, it needs to wear a coat.)  And sharing imperfection with someone, even someone as committed to helping me as BFWF is (someone who expects imperfection, moreover, so I’m not going to shock them), even someone who is my friend, is just one of my worst anxieties.  It just seems so wrong—so contrary to my process.  So naked.

And I guess I either need to get over myself and stop being so crippled by self-doubt and all this blather and take the opportunity because when the Universe wraps it in a bow, how stupid do you have to be to say no?  Or I just need to STFU about this book and move on to the next thing and be satisfied with sabotaging myself (again) and learn to enjoy obscurity and blown chances.

(Ugh.  When I put it like that, suddenly I think I must be pretty foolish to have spent 1400 words to realize I planned to say “Yes” all along.)

P.S.  I know BFWF will have read this post (being one of my Five Faithful Readers). And BFWF will think “I knew it.”  But I’m pretty sure, recognizing the kind of headcase I am, that I will change my mind at least 58 more times.  Possibly more. So certainty tonight may shift back over into uncertainty many more times before I actually hand a copy of the book over.  Fair warning.

P.S. #2  BFWF should in no way feel compelled to comment or to cheer me on. (This post is not a plea for more convincing.)  Sometimes I blog just to take the edge off my neuroses.

Final Report on NaNoWriMo 2015

Have you missed me?

I got so engrossed with writing the NaNoWriMo novel in November and the sequel (still in progress) in December, and the of course the holidays intervened, that I took a break from my blog.   This was my thinking:  I can either write 1,000 words on my blog, or I can put that 1,000 words towards my novels’ daily word counts, and the novels won out.  But here, enjoy some metrics about the actual novel I wrote in November.

Novel Facts…

Title:  The Life & Times of Hecate Applebough, Teenage Poet
Words:  79,142
Page Count:  281 (double-spaced)
Certified NaNoWriMo Winner:  Yes
Genre:  YA high school romance-ish
Plotline:  Hecate (“Cate”) Applebough attends a school for wealthy, gifted students while developing her interests in writing and poetry.  She also attends events at an afternoon club and becomes friends with its members.
Timeframe of Plot:  August 22nd-December 25th
Setting:  Fictional town of Lytton, Maryland
My Favorite Character Besides Cate:  A toss-up between her Mom and Professor Khaniff
Character I’m in love with:  Alaunius

Novel Statistics:  Number of…

Times the Main Character (Cate) is Named: 184  (But this is somewhat disingenuous, as the book is written in first person.  I tried to do a search on the number of times “I” was mentioned, but it listed all the I’s in the book, to the tune of 23,744 times.)
Times other Salon characters are named:  Alaunius/Lonny:  472; Val/Malik:  463; Finian:  147; Felix:  133;  Arwyn:  93; Dhruv:  68
Times Mom/ Maggie is named:  369
Times Professor Khaniff is named:  30
Poems Cate “writes”: 4  (There are references to others, but I only include 4 poems in the actual text.)
Poems others “write”:  5
Times the words “Poetry” or “Poem” appear:  176
Texts from all characters:  111
Times the word “Text” appears:  96
Times the fictional manga title A Moon for Autumn appears: 10
Times the fictional character Takehiko from A Moon for Autumn is named:  23
People who have read this book besides me:  2 (1 for sure, 1 I’m not 100% about, but I gave it to her to read.)

The Sequel, You Ask?

The sequel is currently title-less… I really could just slap “Volume 2” on it, but I don’t love the original title so much that I want to repeat it (and frankly, the original title is subject to change, anyway).  On the other hand, I don’t want to adopt the format of Indiana Jones and the… or Harry Potter and the… either.

Or if I do follow that pattern, I guess the title will be something along the lines of Hecate Applebough and the Fucked Up Men in Her Life which I don’t think anyone would naturally gravitate towards if they saw the book for sale in Barnes & Noble.  (Despite it being an accurate title to describe Cate’s life as it appears in the sequel.  And let’s be real, that would probably be an apt title for the first one too… Hmm.)

Speaking of the sequel, it’s making me lose the will to live.  I’m really having to work to write it.  It’s like the first one wrote itself, like it was buried somewhere in my psyche, and just needed an excuse to be expressed on the page.  But LaToHATP ended on a cliffhanger so of course I had to write the sequel…which is going sooooo sloooowly.  I mean the first book covered four months; I’m only in February in the second book. (Still.) Granted, I’m at February 26th, but really, I’m 215 pages in (currently 66,702 words), and she’s only lived 2 months since the original book? Come on.  And somehow I have to resolve this story in the next 14,000 words?  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I don’t think it’s necessarily slow in terms of plot, I just think that there are so many characters making demands on me, that it’s really hard to progress.  Also, it’s really hard to write in first person.  Like, there are so many things going on in the background that Cate can’t know, and it’s really restrictive to me as a writer, and that annoys me.  (But to be fair, I’d probably complain if I wrote in third-person too.  But if I did write in third-person, at least I could let the audience know things that would be helpful to know in terms of backstory.  But alas, I cannot.)

2015 was a pretty good writing year for me over all.  Back when I decided to challenge myself with NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t even sure I could write 50,000 words in a month, and in 2 months plus a week, I’ve managed to write 145,844 words, which is amazing.  Add that onto all of the publications I had in 2015 (10, across genres, plus several more accepted, and a Pushcart Prize nomination), and I have to count it as my most successful year of writing yet, and I’m proud of that.

Of course, if I plan to do anything with LaToHATP, that will require a hella lot of work, and while I’m working on the sequel (and sadly, one assumes the sequel to the sequel, because I can’t fix Cate’s life in the remaining 14,000 words, there’s just no way in hell), I can’t think about revising.

Plus…revising fiction is really hard, and I’m not good at it.  Like revising a poem?  I got that down to a science.  But since fiction is basically a mysterious genre to me, I don’t know how to revise my own work.  I mean, I can tell other people how to revise (hence, why I teach fiction in my creative writing class), but I seem to have blinders on when it comes to my own work.  I just have no idea where to go.  And, frankly, no idea whom to ask for help.  Well, ok, I have an idea of whom to ask, but I feel like it would bleed him dry, and I couldn’t possibly ask him. Unless I had $100 lying around I could slip him for the pain and agita… Anyway.

Still, I’m not gonna worry about revision for a little while.  I need to worry about resolving Cate’s life and then I can get back to writing poems full time.

At least, that’s the plan.

Report on NaNoWriMo, Week 3

I unearthed a folder of—I guess you’d call it juvenilia—a bunch of poems and stories that I started writing when I took my first creative writing class in college.  I had high hopes of mining this old (crappy) work for stuff I could appropriate as material for my two main characters in my NaNo, both of whom are poets.  I was thinking that the style I had when I was much younger might be appropriate to two teenagers, new-ish to writing, the way I was when I wrote it.  But the fact is, my juvenilia is godawful.  (Well, the poems are.  The stories don’t suck that bad—probably because they are SF, and I used to read a lot of quality SF, so I had good influences impacting my writing.)

But the poems?  Holy Cow.

And yet, I bet when I was much younger I probably thought my writing was awesome.  Like sometimes, as I’m flipping through this folder, I’m so clever in my word play, I’m OBNOXIOUS AF.  I was trying to find one of the poems that I could reproduce here to demonstrate how deliciously bad I was, but I actually am too embarrassed to show any of that stuff.

If I had any sense, I’d burn it all.

Ok, well, here’s a “This is Just to Say” parody I wrote, which is a little funny and not so appalling that I’ll have to hang my head in shame for sharing it:

Wm. Carlos Wms.-esque

This is just to tell you

that the plums
you ate were
actually
small grenades
which I was
saving
for when your
mother comes

Forgive me
that was mean
you’re so dead
and so cold

(Though I would probably line it a little differently now.)

Anyway, all of this is by way of saying, I’m still plugging away at my novel, although it’s dreadfully long-winded, and not making the progress I’d like it to be making—not in the sense of words, because I’ve got more than plenty of them.   But rather, since it’s framed as a diary, and I envisioned that I would be encapsulating the entire school year in it, I’m kind of annoyed that I’m not further along than November.  (When I started the book with August.)  I don’t think it’s boring (but then do authors ever really think their own writing is boring?)—though a good beta reader would probably strike out whole diary entries as being immaterial to the plot. (Which it probably needs.)

I also keep reminding myself that the upper end word count of a YA novel is 69,999 words, and I should just remember this isn’t a Victorian novel where publishers paid by the word.  But whatever—I can’t worry about that, when what I really need to think about is keeping on and figuring out how I’m going to resolve Cate’s life.

Also—since I think it’s a romance, who is Cate going to end up with?  Is it Val or is it Lonny? Or is it a dark horse, like Finian?  (Or is Finian actually gay?)  I like all these guys in her life for different reasons—and she likes them all too.

Which actually just reminds me how much of a bad fiction writer I really am.  Because maybe Cate is really just me—or what I could have been like if I were cool in high school—and maybe these guys are really just fantasy guys I imagined—the Mary Sue factor is pretty damn high.

And maybe that’s something I’ve realized about writing a novel—I mean, I knew it was hard, but what’s really hard is divorcing my brain, and my thinking, and even my writing patterns (which, I’m sure you’ve noticed in these blogs tends to be parenthetical and interrupting).

In a little flash fiction piece, of only say, 500-600 words, I feel like my writing can be so much more imaginative, and so much more not me.  Initially, I thought my novel was going to be “so not me” too—I might even have used that term in an earlier blog—and yet as I go back over it, I think, well, the stuff in this book may not have actually happened, but I’m still, somehow, writing my life.  Cate sounds like me.  Like she’s a 40 year old…stuck in a 15 year old’s body.

That just may be bad writing at its finest.

But I’m not discouraged, because I like Cate.  I like her Mom.  I like her teachers, especially Professor Khaniff.  I like Val and Finian, and I’m pretty sure I’m totally in love with Lonny the way Cate is.  Even if he’s kind of a dumbass.  Because he is a sensitive writer who has the grand vision, who won’t be defeated on the macro scale even if he pouts on the micro scale when things go wrong.  He’s…ebullient.  Which is so alien to me, and so very beautiful.

Anyway, there are still 12 days in the month to go.  I have no doubt that I will get my 50,000 words—and probably a lot more, since I plan to write like a fiend over Thanksgiving.  (When I’m not cooking a feast.)

I hope any of my Five Loyal Readers, if you too are doing NaNoWriMo, that you are experiencing good success, and that your characters continue to delight you, the way mine are.

Report on NaNoWriMo, Week 1

I’m just going to say it:  so far, NaNoWriMo is going great for me.  I’m doing everything wrong, everything I remind my students, ad nauseam, not to do—I’m telling more than showing, cheaping out on sensory description, failing to use character tags as effectively as I could, lollygagging (emphasis on gagging, I expect) with my dialogue, using adverbs a little more heavy-handedly than I ought.  And it’s FUCKING AMAZING  how much you can get written when you just don’t worry about MAKING ART.

I’m having a GREAT time.  I love every damn flawed word I write.  It’s so much fun to just focus on plot and vomit words down on the page—and to know that I can delay the revision process till much later, if I want.  Or not at all.  There’s a heady freedom knowing that there’s no stakes attached to this “novel.” I don’t agonize over the words the way I do when I’m writing poems, or even my “real” stories—here, I’m just racking up the word count.  If I can’t think of a more elegant word for when my character feels emotionally bankrupt and friendless and dorky, she just says she feels “crappy.”  And I’m totally ok with that.

Why?  Partly because she’s a teenager, and teenagers are not particularly known for their emotional depth and elegance in articulating the way they feel.  Partly because I know that this “novel” is an exercise in stamina and persistence.  And partly because I know that even if I write the lousiest, lamest, most derivative novel this November, that’s ok.  Because it’s practice writing.  It’s making me sit down every day and prioritize my writing over everything else.  And face it, that’s what we writers need to do.

And you know what else?  I would love my friends to read this novel when it’s done—because it’s cool in its way—and its aesthetic is so not me (at least I don’t think so) that it would be interesting to see what my friends think.  The way sharing writing with friends used to be—something you did for fun (instead of something you did because you’re concerned with publication)… Geez, when you have no expectations about publishing, you’re crazy free—like going to Kroger in a skimpy tank top and no bra when you’re a 46DD kind of free.

Something else I like about this novel is that it’s definitely not like most young adult fiction that seems determined to be depressing, dystopic, and dysfunctional.  This is about a girl at a new high school who likes to write poetry and who finds a guy at the school who like to write it too.  Sure, there’s bound to be heartbreak, but no one is going to be shooting people with arrows and trying to stay alive so your district can eat a little better the next year.  My characters are basically happy.  How’s that for innovative?

I think, honestly, overall, there are some good ideas in my story, and I actually kind of love my main character and her relationship with her Mom—they have an amazing rapport, and I like writing them together.  (Maybe I’m Mary-Sue-ing the hell out of them… somehow I have no problem with that. ) Actually I like all my characters.  None of them has disappointed me, and I don’t expect them to. They’re just cool people I’d love to hang out with… that’s what fiction should do, right?  Make you fall in love with the characters and want to Netflix and chill with them?

As I think about it, maybe there’s some real potential in this book that it could become something awesome at some point (with massive revision, let’s not kid ourselves—it desperately needs the artist’s/ critic’s eye leveled against it, and all of its blemishes to be smoothed away with the writer’s equivalent of Clearasil).  But again, if it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s ok too.

The main point is, it’s fun.  And I feel like there hasn’t been a lot of fun in my writing this past year.  I’ve definitely had some whimsy, but not out-and-out fun.

It’s fun to break the rules.  I possess such a serious attitude towards writing in general—I’m so concerned with making art, and creating something that will resonate with Important Readers (like editors and other academic creative writers and journal-reading types), that, frankly, it’s kind of constipating, artistically-speaking.

This novel, in contrast, is the Dulcolax approach to writing.  Anything can happen.  Characters can do stupid shit and say the unexpected thing—and I can worry about making it work later. I’m going to go on those writing tangents—I can be a little more plot driven and not obsess about creating these finely-wrought (overwrought?) characters who gnash their teeth in their sensitivity.  Sometimes my characters have whole paragraphs of dialogue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  OMG, the dialogue doesn’t drive the story forward!  Oh, the horror!  You know what I say to that?  So what.

And my characters laugh and smile a lot.  And they gaze at each other intently.  Yeah, I know:   I really need to expand their action repertoire.  They need to do more than laugh and smile and gaze intently at each other. They need to “inhabit their space.” (I tell my students that all the time about characters in their stories and plays—make them physical beings, block their movements, blah blah blah.) I know I need to move their asses around more effectively and get them from place to place with a bit more style.

But not right now I don’t.  And why is that?  Because it’s my novel, and I can.

Even with the “minor” setback of the exploding Coke Zero that decimated the motherboard in my desktop computer yesterday and the possible permanent loss of 1200 words (and potentially everything else I’ve ever written—though I’m really trying hard to have faith that my data is safe and not freak out and imagine the worst, as is my nature to do), hasn’t really fazed me.  In fact, it’s not even a real loss… it’s like I’ve “temporarily misplaced” 1200 words—sure, they comprised a few really good scenes with some funny dialogue—but hell, if the scenes are gone for good,  there’s more where that came from. Because I feel like the Mount Vesuvius of language—there’s just so much inside of me oozing out everywhere—even if I actually really have lost those 1200 words, that ain’t no big thing.

To have this experience in my writing life is remarkable and wonderful and really weird for me.  It makes me wonder what I could accomplish in other areas of my life if I just gave in to the fun and didn’t care about being proper and appropriate and sensible and practical—maybe I would be as grandiose and giddy as I feel now.

We’ll see how I feel next week—maybe by then NaNoWriMo will get harder, maybe I won’t feel so Mount Vesuvi-esque with my language… But as of today, I have logged 6899 official words so far—which technically counts the 1200 I lost, if I’m remembering correctly, but since there’s still a chance my data is safe, I’m counting them.

And if they’re really gone, like I said, it’s ok, I’ll just write more to catch up.

Reading Many Books at Once–Dilemma or Delight? (Well, It Depends, If One of the Books is Magic for Beginners.)

When I was in grad school working on my comprehensive exams, one of the things I had to learn to do pretty quickly was read many different books at once.

Now, if you think about it, when you’re in any kind of school situation, you naturally read many different books at once, all the time, to keep up with your different classes.  Somehow, though, that seemed different.  Maybe because of the “compartmentalization” that going to school requires—i.e., when I am in my Whitman seminar, I am only reading Whitman; when I’m in my Women’s History class, I’m only reading Women’s History books.  But of course, you’re still taking multiple classes in a single semester, so you’re actually reading multiple books, and you might not finish one on one day because you need to prepare for a different class the next day.

Logically that makes sense, and yet when it came down to my comps, I suddenly felt like, OMG, I have to read 100 books (or whatever it was) all at the same time??? How will I keep them all straight?

And of course, the reality is, you’re not reading 100 books at once.  You’re maybe reading five or six at once—and taking notes, to keep them all straight.  And many of them were books of poetry, so of course, it’s easy to finish off reading one at a stretch.  But you add in books about practice, about writing, about theory, and you just can’t read 400 pages at a sitting.  (Well, I can’t.)  So you learn to negotiate, and you work your way through the list.

All of this is by way of saying that I used to be particularly rigid about not starting a new book until I had finished the previous one.  When you’re reading for personal enjoyment (i.e., not studying for a comprehensive exam), you can be restrictive like that.  My thought was:  be disciplined, finish the book!  And then of course comps happened and then I let that goal go.  You have to, to manage all that information without losing your mind.

These days, I do mostly just read one book at a time—you can inhabit the world and connect on a really deep level, concentrating on the characters in front of you, and only have them to think about for the duration of the novel.  But occasionally I read multiple books at the same time.  Sometimes, it’s because my attention is wandering in the book I’m trying to focus on.  Sometimes people tell me I need to read X, Y, and Z, so I think, ok, I’ll add them into the rotation.

As I mentioned last week, I was reading Aimee Bender and Kelly Link, in between reading chapters from Kerry Greenwood’s Queen of the Flowers.  But then I got on this Kelly Link kick, because multiple people were saying how she awesome she was, so I focused entirely on Kelly Link.

And got really pissed off.

There are stories in Magic for Beginners that I like.  I liked the first one, “The Faery Handbag,” quite a bit, and both of the zombie stories (“The Hortlak” and “Some Zombie Contingency Plans”) though I didn’t love their endings, were enjoyable in their way.  What pissed me off though was the story, “Stone Animals,” a story which my little writing workshop held up to the highest esteem, and so I had great expectations for it.

It is not rational, when we have a visceral repugnance against something like a fiction story.  But I repugn “Stone Animals.”  I despise it.  I hate it so much, in fact, that I wasn’t even sure that I was going to finish Magic for Beginners at all because it took me so long to get through, and I was annoyed that Kelly Link forced me to read it since she wrote it.  Every page was like pouring acid in my eyes and gulping down deodorant.  Catherine’s obsessive painting, Henry’s inability to quit his job, the rabbits, the rabbits, the rabbits—really?  About the only thing I liked about the story was how they’d stop using some household object because it was suddenly “haunted.”  But after multiple pages of this, I was like, come on.

Perhaps what really pissed me off was that there was no payoff for the story. Like, after I felt I’d given my life’s blood to read it, to discover the rabbits were waiting for Henry to get on their back and be prepared for an attack against Catherine’s party inside the house?  WTF?

Actually, I don’t need an acronym, I need to write that out:  WHAT THE FUCK?

Now, considering the kind of writer that Kelly Link is, I know better, after having read several of her stories, than to expect a conventional, satisfying ending.  She’s kind of out there—she writes horror and fantasy, and they have their own genre-imposed behaviors and audience expectations.  But the horror of “Stone Animals” is its obsession and obsessiveness, and its obsessive repetition, and at some point, I just really wanted to fling the book across the room.  I mean, Goddammit, Kelly Link.

So you’re saying, Why not just stop reading?

Because I was looking for a payoff.  I was looking for THE BIG REASON she wrote that story—I wanted to believe that somehow after reading 53 pages, investing that kind of time into unlikeable characters and a story that just seemed to go nowhere, that everything would be clear—albeit clear in Kelly Link’s kind of fucked up way.  But no.  I got to the end, and couldn’t even feel the relief that it was over.  I just felt angry and betrayed.  (I know, not rational.)

I had to put to put the book aside after that—even though the next story was called “Catskin,” and I’m drawn to anything cat related—because I was too mad.  I was just too mad at her and didn’t want my brain to feel defiled any more.

So I started reading the first book of Chobits (manga) by Clamp (a collective)—I’d long since seen the anime, but found the first book buried on a high shelf in my office (from the previous occupant, I suppose), and thought it would be good to read, then I picked up Kerry Greenwood again, and Aimee Bender… then went back to Kelly Link.

I’m in the middle of “The Great Divorce,” which is interesting from an idea standpoint (that a person can marry a dead person and have dead children), but I find my passion (good, bad, or otherwise) for Link is spent.  I’m wondering why everyone loves her, in other words.  Yes, she’s inventive, but at what cost?  My sanity—what little there is of it—is precious, and I don’t like getting angry at books.  That seems like a waste of time.  Still, I’m determined to finish the book so I can say I finished it.  But it’s happening about six pages at a stretch.  I find that’s all I am emotionally prepared to give her.

(Sadly, when I bought Magic for Beginners [after all the Kelly Link love I was hearing about], I also bought her Pretty Monsters.  I feel depressed just thinking of it sitting on my nightstand and taunting me to read it, knowing as I do that it will probably be more of the same.)

I’m also currently reading the manga for the Ouran High School Host Club. (I’ve watched and loved the anime multiple times, and thought I should finally read the manga—and it’s just as funny as the anime, and I like how the author, Bisco Hatori, periodically makes herself known and comments on her own work, which amuses me—although I know lots of people don’t like when an author breaks into the world of the story.  Generally I don’t either, but maybe it’s ok in a comedy full of highjinks and farce—you learn to accept that anything’s possible, including authorial intrusion.)  And I’m reading a couple of books of poetry, one of which is Daniel Khalastchi’s Tradition, the other, The Octopus Game, by Nicky Beer.

Speaking of the “payoff,” in case you’re wondering what it is for this post:  I guess it’s this—that my reading process is kind of like my writing process—all over the place.  And that’s ok.  If a book annoys you, put it down and come back later to it.  Or don’t.  There’s no Book Police out there who will hunt you down if you don’t finish a book—especially if you’re not reading for educational requirements.

I don’t know why I feel like I HAVE to finish a book though–like I will finish Magic for Beginners, even if it kills me—which it very well might.  I certainly don’t feel that way about my writing.  If something’s not working in my poetry (and especially my abortive attempts at fiction), I set it aside, and come back later. Or I don’t.  I guess with books that are already written (in comparison to my writing which is in various stages of completion anyway), if you don’t finish them, you’re denied that little perk of feeling a sense of accomplishment.

And if you think about it, that’s really ok too.