Welcome Back

I managed fourteen hundred words today, and then came up blank. I hate when that happens, but I just can’t force the creativity, you know? And those fourteen hundred words were hard to do, frankly. But I printed out the next chapter (Chapter Seven, to be exact) and will reread that at some point before getting to work on it, perhaps later, before Game of Thrones airs. I am planning on making this weird combination Swedish meatball/beef stroganoff dish for dinner (I’ve made both, and then one time when I was making Swedish meatballs later I realized I’d used the stroganoff recipe, but you know what? I also liked it. A lot. And I’ve made it that way ever since) later, and the kitchen is relatively clean already (and my goal is to leave it clean when I finish cooking; the worst thing is to go into my two long days at work with a messy kitchen, knowing it will most likely stay that way, getting worse, until Thursday–unless I somehow have more energy during the week than I usually do). I’ve filed stuff, cleaned the floors, paid the bills, made groceries, mailed things that needed to be mailed, and I wrote fourteen hundred words on the WIP today before running out of steam. Perhaps someday I’ll work my way back up to those halcyon days of three thousand or more I used to do routinely, but having a nice, relaxing weekend where I am actually able to get started writing and get caught up on things and have a clean home is a lovely way to start, don’t you think?

I certainly do.

I’m going to miss Game of Thrones when it ends, and I doubt very seriously I will ever go back and watch the entire series again. It’s a tempting thought, to be honest, to devote several months to rewatching it in full, from episode one to its conclusion, in one massive binge and think about what I am watching, in terms of what I know is going to happen and watching for possible foreshadowing. I’ve always loved history, and that’s part of why I love Game of Thrones so much; it’s kind of like history where you don’t know how it all ends. When I was a kid I used to redraw maps of Europe and create countries and change the way wars ended and try to create my own Eurocentric history of the world; who knew that what I was actually doing wasn’t simply a waste of time but rather an incredibly creative experiment in world building via alternative history. Every so often, when I’ve been caught up in a science fiction or fantasy epic series, I wonder at the world building/universe building creativity of the author and think I could never do that. I’ve always wanted to, but never have; but perhaps that was simply a failing of my own. Of course I could do it, but whether I could do it well would be an entirely different thing.

I don’t read as much science fiction and fantasy as I would like–I’ve always geared more towards crime and horror–but I’ve certainly read and enjoyed the Dune series, The Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, The Shannara Chronicles, and Azimov’s science fiction novels about the robots and the empire and the Foundation, which wound up in the end all being one great big long series. There are writers out there now that I am looking forward to reading–I am not only diversifying the types of stories I read by race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, and sexuality, but I am also trying to read more broadly across genres. Reading science fiction, fantasy, romance, even what is condescendingly called “chick lit”, and even some literary fiction will influence me and help make me a better writer in the long run. I read primarily for enjoyment, yes, but I also want to be a better writer, and reading different stories and different perspectives can only serve to make me a better writer.

I guess in reality when the show ends I won’t be saying goodbye completely to Game of Thrones; I still have the books to finish reading, and there will undoubtedly be spin-off shows–but seriously, is anyone at HBO listening? Your next big series should be Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern. Her dragon books would be fantastic television, and for that matter so would Naomi Norvik’s (which I need to read; I started reading one a long time ago and was completely enthralled; something came up and I never finished and I never got back to it, and I’ve always regretted that).

I am also, in case you haven’t noticed, not only in that stage of writing where I never want to do it, have to force myself to do it, but when I finally do I am not happy with what I have done. I am completely convinced this book isn’t going to be what I want it to be, what I envisioned it to be, and its entirely due to my own various shortcomings as an author. It’s all part and parcel of the same neurosis, really; the endless cycle of Imposter Syndome, where you think you’ve somehow managed to con people for years that you can write but eventually the gig will be up and the marks you’ve been conning all along will finally wise up. This all too frequently translates I need to work today into what’s the point of writing? This book is shit, anyway, and no one is going to want to read it which very easily becomes let me get watch Youtube videos of Game of Thrones fan theories and listicles or highlights of exciting LSU football games or really hot well built muscular professional wrestlers or old music videos or clips from old episodes of All My Children–yes, those downward Youtube spirals can be quite frightening sometimes.

But I did make myself get those fourteen hundred words done today, even though I didn’t want to do it, even though I thought I should do three thousand, even though I currently think the words I wrote are crap and the chapter is crap and the character is two dimensional and I don’t know what I am doing, I FUCKING WROTE THOSE GODDAMNED WORDS TODAY.

And that’s fourteen hundred more words than I did yesterday, or Friday, or Thursday.

And I bet tomorrow I can do more than fourteen hundred.

Watch closely now.

What do I say to the God of Imposter Syndrome? NOT TODAY, MOTHERFUCKER, NOT TODAY.

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I Want to Know What Love Is

It’s been raining pretty much most of the weekend, which is fine. I went to get groceries, pick up a prescription, and get the mail before getting home and starting to work on the mess that is my home; I also finished writing a chapter of one manuscript and started writing another–which was my writing goal for yesterday. Today’s is to do second drafts of two short stories to prepare them for submission. I also have to go to the gym and finish the cleaning of the apartment and organizing my office. I started reading the big y/a best seller One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus yesterday; I can see why it’s a bestseller and I can also see why it’s being developed into a television series a la Thirteen Reasons Why; it’s a deceptively simple yet surprisingly complex story, and likewise–well, I’ll talk some more about it once I’ve finished.

I’m enjoying writing again for the first time in years, which is a good thing, and I am actually putting a lot of thought and planning into what I’m writing, which is a really good thing. What I’ve written over the last six or seven years has been a lot more organic, coming to me as I wrote it from a basic premise and perhaps knowing what the end was; without putting near as much thought into theme and what I am trying to say, what I am trying to explore with the story, than I used to–I mean, it worked, but it also made the work a lot harder than it needed to be. I think this is particularly true of short stories; I think that’s primarily what I’ve been doing wrong in writing them–my entire approach to short stories has been wrong, and I’ve been, as I said, making it a lot harder on myself than it necessarily needs to be.

Which is, sadly, what I always tend to do for myself: make things harder than they need to be.

Heavy heaving sigh.

In addition to cleaning and everything else I did yesterday, I also managed to start watching Season 2 of Black Sails, which continues to enthrall. I am still liking the idea of finally writing my pirate novel (Cutlass), but not as much as before; it remains one of those dreams that I hold on to for when I am making a living as a writer again and able to not have a day job any longer. (There are several of those; they also require not only making a living but making enough money to travel and do research.)

Some day. I never give up on the dream.

The Short Story Project also continues; yesterday I read a story by Ross MacDonald from The Archer Files and one by Karl Edward Wagner from the gorgeous two volume collection The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, produced by Centipede Press maybe seven or eight years ago.

MacDonald’s story, “The Bearded Lady,” was quite good, as everything written by MacDonald is.

The unlatched door swung inward when I knocked. I walked into the studio, which was high and dim as a hayloft. The big north window in the opposite wall was hung with monkscloth draperies that shut out the morning light. I found the switch beside the door and snapped it on. Several fluorescent tubes suspended from the naked rafters flickered and burned blue-white.

A strange woman faced me under the cruel light. She was only a  charcoal sketch on an easel, but she gave me a chill. Her nude body, posed casually on a chair, was slim and round and pleasant to look at. Her face wasn’t pleasant at all. Bushy black eyebrows almost hid her eyes. A walrus mustache bracketed her mouth, and a thick beard fanned down over her torso.

The door creaked behind me. The girl who appeared in the doorway wore a starched white uniform. Her face had a little starch in it, too, though not enough to spoil her good looks entirely. Her black hair was drawn back severely from her forehead.

Lew Archer, on his way from Los Angeles to San Francisco, decided to stop in the small town of San Marcos and look up an old army buddy, inadvertently stumbling into a murder case. The story is interesting, the writing whipcrack smart, with MacDonald’s trademark, cynical short paragraphs immediately getting to the essence of a character. Don’t we, as readers, already have a strong impression of who that young woman is as a person after those three sentences? I’ve often wondered how one solves a murder in a short story–or writes a detective short story. I’ve tried and failed often enough. But the great thing about the Short Story Project is I am starting to understand how to write them, how they work, and how to make them work; which is a lovely thing. I have several ideas for Chanse short stories that I’ve never written because I didn’t know how; now I rather do, or at least have an idea, thanks to The Archer Files and Kinsey and Me (Sue Grafton). Both books are great learning tools for people who want to write detective stories, and MacDonald’s influence on Grafton is clear. (Although I’d still love to see someone do an essay, or book of criticism, comparing and contrasting MacDonald’s work with that of his wife: The Murderous Millars would be a great title.) MacDonald’s stories usually have to do with damaged and dysfunctional families; “The Bearded Lady” is another one of those, and is very well done. I highly recommend it.

The Wagner story I read was from the second volume of he Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner, which was titled Walk on the Wild Side, and was titled “The Last Wolf.”

The last writer sat alone in his study.

There was a knock at his door.

But it was only his agent. A tired, weathered old man like himself. It seemed not long ago that he had thought the man quite young.

“I phoned you I was coming,” explained his agent, as if to apologize for the writer’s surprised greeting.

Of course…he had forgotten. He concealed the vague annoyance he felt at being interrupted at his work.

Nervously the agent entered his study. He gripped his attache case firmly before him, thrusting it into the room as if it were a shield against the perilously stacked shelves and shelves of musty books. Clearing a drift of worn volumes from the cracked leather couch, he seated himself amidst a puff of dust from the ancient cushions.

I received both volumes of Wagner when I was judging the Bram Stoker Award for Best Single Author Collection, or whatever it is called; it was so long ago that I don’t even recall who the finalists were or who actually won. My memory is perforated like Swiss cheese nowadays, with holes and gaps; it also works like a sieve as new knowledge, and new books I’ve read, tend to pass through it without catching hold (I used to be able to name every book I’ve read, the plot, the main characters–and even some of the minor; over the years that ability has been sadly lost to time). I don’t, for example, remember the titles or the contents of the Wagner stories I read; but the books are beautiful volumes and I remember being impressed by his writing, so I kept them on my shelves. It was only a week or so ago that I realized, that I remembered, them; and that they might make a good addition to my year-long study of short fiction.

I’ve often said that writing about writers, about the business of writing and publishing, sometimes (often) feels masturbatory to me; only other writers would be interested in such a story. And yet writers pop up in my work all the time; Paige is a journalist and wannabe novelist in the Chanse series (and now that I’ve retired that series she’s migrated, apparently, over to the Scotty); another writer character I’ve created has appeared in several novels of mine–one Scotty, The Orion Mask, and one pseudonymous; he also appears to be the voice I used in several first-person short stories, including “An Arrow for Sebastian.” I have another such short story in process; I’ve not quite worked out how to make the story work, but there you have it. I was tempted to write an entire series about a writer, but as I started to develop my gay male writer character more I soon realized I had turned him into a hybrid of Scotty and Chanse; there was nothing new or original about him other than he was a writer and not a private eye. (I really do want to reread Azimov’s Murder at the ABA, though, and Elizabeth Peter’s brilliant Die for Love and Naked Once More.)

“The Last Wolf” is also about a writer, a writer who firmly believes in himself and his work, and that his work is art, and art should never be compromised for commerce. The world in which he lives is one where he is the last (apparently) person attempting to still write fiction; novels have fallen by the wayside and short stories are no longer published; the world has completely changed and his agent wants him to try to write for television shows–which, as described, sound horrifically awful. The writer refuses, the agent leaves, and he goes back to his typewriter. This story could easily be seen as angry, or even whiny; in the hands of a lesser author, the story would be precisely that. But Wagner paints a picture with his words, and maybe it resonated with me more because I am an author myself, but the sympathy rests entirely with the author. (Although I am one of those whose eyes roll so hard that  they almost unscrew when I hear another author speak of their ‘art’; but that’s a topic for another day.) I am looking forward to digging back into Wagner’s work again this year.

And now, I need to file and organize, perhaps vacuum, before I head to the gum. I want to get some things written today, and I need to revise those stories.

Hello, spice mines.

Sigh.

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