Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oh! This is So Evil

What a nefarious scheme. One that could not fail.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Mirrors are odd things. They're how we see ourselves, but it's a reversed seeing. Yet they're perhaps the most common way we know to visualize ourselves.

If I tell myself to touch the right side of my face, my hand goes up to touch my cheek. No problem. But looking in a mirror, touching the right side of my mirror-face, the hand wants to cross over.

It's as if my image were another person; that would be their right side. So what I see in the mirror is a perceptual mix of myself and an imagined 'other person' looking at me.

We see bits and pieces of ourselves in mirrors. I can brush my teeth before a mirror and come away with no idea whether or not my hair is tidy. I can see what I want to see to some degree. It becomes trickery to allow myself to see my image without that filter.

Such an odd thing to see yourself in a mirror unexpectedly. For a sharp moment you see a stranger. For an instant, you see yourself as others see you. Then the filters kick in and you see you.

Such honesty can be hard to bear, either from mirrors or from other people.

People are mirrors for one another. We mimic words and gestures of those we get close to, even of strangers. We are influenced by the moods written in their faces, their gestures, their voices.

We see how other people act. If we admire it, we want to take it in and reflect it back from ourselves. Smiling makes us feel happier. Acting strong changes our hormones and makes us strong. We can make ourselves to be more as we wish to be. Mirroring others is part of that process.

Friends reveal so much of who you are. Who are they when they're with you? Long term relationships can become reflections of reflections, both of you mirroring long-past conceptions or stages with perhaps no validity in the present. Habits. If you disrupt the reflections you fragment the relationship.

This can be good. It lets you both see one another as who you are, not who you are in your interpreted reflections of one another. But it can also mean that instead of a friend you see a stranger, and all you share now are those long-established mutually reflecting images.

A friend who reflects you truly – why does that happen? It can be hard to bear, to have to be honest with them and with yourself. It is also liberating. If they're still around after that honesty, they truly are a friend.

Friendship. Seeing another person for who they are, not who you want / need them to be. Taking what is weak or unkind in them and holding it in gentle hands, helping them accept and improve that part of themselves. Recognizing what is noble and wise in them and honoring that, taking it into yourself and giving it back to them with humility and gratitude. Giving them the joy of loving them for all those facets, not just for the few you like best.

Letting them love who you are, too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Alan Garner on Alan Turing

Since I first learned of Alan Turing I have been outraged at what was done to him. A comfortable outrage, I now realize. Intellectual. From a safe distance.

No longer.

A blow to the stomach -- a shock wave shattering my complacent sanctimony into bitter fragments of self-understanding and horror.

Alan Garner's simple, short biographical statement does more to show evil in the guise of morality than any epistle or sermon ever could.

This is what writing can do.

My hero: Alan Turing, by Alan Garner

 In the 1950s I was an athlete. Those were the days before joggers clogged the highway, so it was unusual for me to see another runner when I was training. We fell into the habit of meeting up and pounding the miles together for company.
He was stocky, barrel-chested, with a high-pitched, donnish voice and the aerodynamics of a brick. He was funny and witty and he talked endlessly, but I understood very little of what he was saying, and it became clear that he ran in order to think. He seemed to be obsessed by mathematics and biology. That much I could work out.
We had one thing in common: a fascination with Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, especially the transformation of the Wicked Queen into the Witch. He used to go over the scene in detail, dwelling on the ambiguity of the apple, red on one side, green on the other, one of which gave death. We had both been traumatised by Walt.
On one occasion he asked me whether, in my opinion as a classical linguist, artificial intelligence was possible. After a couple of miles of silence I said that, in my opinion, it was not. And that was that.
He killed himself when an ignorant and uncouth judge gave him the choice of a prison sentence or chemical castration; and I was overwhelmed by fury at the salacious, gloating humiliation imposed on my friend, and by a sense of guilt that I did not, could not, help him; which lasted for decades, and was made only worse when the Official Secrets Act revealed his true heroism.
He died of cyanide poisoning. By his body was an apple, partly eaten. The apple was not tested for cyanide. His name was Alan Turing.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to Die?

This article is about two deaths. Two men, both artists, and how they faced early death.

One in dissolution and despair. One in awareness and creation.

Isn't this article really about how to live?

NPR's Krulwich Wonders

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kids or Spouse?

A friend and I had just been discussing this question. We wondered how many other women question this. Of course, there's two sides to the question: kids and no spouse, or spouse and no kids. Either way, society often frowns.

I'm thinking a lot about cultural myths lately. Tradition dictates marriage and family. But in this as in all things, people should be free to choose -- and most importantly, society should support those choices. It's all too easy to feel guilty for wanting a non-traditional life.

Then I think about choices that are even more non-traditional, and I am once again humbled at the courage people have, who choose not to hide who they are: different sexual orientations, gender change, even (omg) atheists.

We are getting better, I think, as a society, but there's still so much intolerance, even hatred for those who don't abide by a perceived norm. But what is normal, and why? And who decides?

I think it's easier on everyone to stop insisting we have the right to tell others how to live, and ask instead for respect. Be kind. That's all.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I know I'm a Writer Because ....

I've read the quotes. 'unhappy is the house where a writer lives' sorts of things. I don't know about unhappy, but a writer does live here.

I am not a person who writes. I am a writer.

I know this because my deepest, most soul-stirring or harrowing emotions are greeted with a rapturous: "Oh cool! Now if I can just get this into words, I can use it in a story!"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anoesis: How New Words Open New Worlds

Yesterday morning I learned a new word. Such a delight (thanks to word of the day). There are words that I feel the lack of. One is a word for the deliberate act of ignoring. If I say ignorance, (IG-nor-ance) it means I don't know. But I want a word for ig-NOR-ance. Humans are very good at deliberately ignoring things, so why is there no word for it?

Yesterday's treasure was Anoesis: being flooded with emotion or sensation, and unable to form rational thought about it.  And the most peculiar thing happened. That afternoon I was plunged into anoesis.

I love to analyze, and having a label for that abstract, overwhelming, compelling state helped. Of course, I was trying to find a way to express this state of being so I could use it in a novel, but also to help me understand why I felt that way.

Like the apparent duality in physics, I live in a Newtonian world. My still-enduring moment of anoesis plunged me into a Quantum universe where all I know and think is altered, pulsing to different energies and perceptions. The quantum universe underlies all I think I know. I, too, am looking for a grand unification of what I am and what I seem to be.

Words are not dangerous things, but they do foment revolutions, personal or global.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Anti-Intellectual Incompetence

 An interesting post from Massimo Pigliucci at Rationally Speaking.

I was particularly intrigued because I had just read yet another 'discussion' on religion vs. science, where the arguers for religion were chronically unable to discern the difference between proof and belief. If one cannot make that very gaping distinction, there is no hope of discussion. I admit to feeling there is no need for discussion. Religion, in this so global modern world, should be private and personal, and ought not to be imposed on others. My beliefs are mine; theirs are theirs. But provable information -- that is the realm of the public domain.

This article discusses another false dichotomy: intellectualism vs engineers. Timothy Ferris of 'Wired Magazine' argues that only productive technology is worthwhile (does he work for Perry?) and that thinking, ideas, and intellectual processes are a waste of time.

How, I wonder, did he get the education that allowed him to think about this? Not that he did much thinking. It is clear he is bias-promotion rather than genuine reasoning in his article.

Massimo makes several good points, most notably that Ferris "makes his case by cherry picking examples, distorting history, and simply ignoring what is not convenient for his thesis." He provides examples to support this claim.

Later, Massimo says, "five minute of serious reflection should have made Ferris realize that he created a straw man with precious little correspondence to reality." Again, he offers counter arguments worth considering.

I am, as with religion vs science, willing to allow both sides validity. I see them as reflecting different aspects of human nature and need. I have always been grossly suspicious of any premise that requires absolute exclusive validity. Nature vs Nurture. Particle vs Wave. Life is seldom so clear cut. My guiding principle is 'it's a spectrum' and from that beginning, I proceed, cautiously, to determine how dark or light the shades of grey are on any issue.

Well worth reading:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pitch Puzzles -or- Jane Austen in Twenty-Five Words

I read about a pitch opportunity on the blog Help! I need a Publisher.

Twenty-five words to hook a reader onto your story. Not at all easy. I wonder if it helps if one's story is dramatic as opposed to thoughtful? Certainly some of the pitches in the comments were catchy -- well written, but also full of interesting premises and exciting events.

So what if you're writing about normal people living normal lives in normal ways, with no supernatural beings, no murders, no abusive family-members: then what?

I started wondering, how would I pitch Jane Austen -- any Jane Austen, in twenty-five words?

Feisty young woman tangles with arrogant man. Both mature, and despite family upheavals and conflicts, romance follows.

Quiet woman finds lost love again, but has he forgiven her past rejection? Family conflicts, scheming plots, but steadfast love wins all.

Two sisters exemplify reason and emotion, and both learn that a balance between the two is the key to love and life.

Okay -- I've gotten a bit silly. Sorry. In order, they were 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Persuasion', and 'Sense and Sensibility'. I didn't use my word quotas, so I could flesh them out a bit -- these ideas were off the top of my head.

The problem for me is that what sets these stories apart is not the basic plot, which sounds like a simple romance novel, but the development of the characters. "Both mature". They do. Both Elizabeth and Darcy are very different people by the end of the novel, and that is what's compelling: the people she creates and the interactions between them.

So my puzzle is, how do you pitch character development? Ideas, anyone?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Naming Your Characters

I started a writing course at the university this week. Still hoping to learn what is literature versus literary genre. Ideas? Writing style? Doom and gloom?

Hopefully I will learn. I've already learned they use a different jargon. For example, workshop = critique.

My first assignment was a very short (2/3 - 3/4 page single space) story on an assigned prompt. That was a challenge. I always have lots of ideas I want to write about, and it's been many years since I've been told what my topic must be.

I needed a name for the second character -- a name that reflected a certain, not innocence, but goodness. Argh. I finally used my default name of Jane, thinking I'd change it later when inspiration struck. It didn't, so it's printed now with Jane.

How do you choose characters' names? Very tricky, although sometimes inspiration does help.

UPDATE:  Sunday's comic on the same theme:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Writing, Bacteria, Evolution, and Rules

I wasn't sure which blog to post this article to. It is science, yes, but it is also philosophy, and very little thought was required to turn that philosophy into writing advice. So, writing, philosophy, and science? Sounds like it belongs right here.

How Life Arose on Earth, and How a Singularity Might Bring It Down
September 23, 2011

The origins of life; the process of evolution; the dangers of too rapid growth, but also of stagnation.

Can you see the application to writing?

There is a quote early on, from Sean Carroll. He blogs at Cosmic Variance.

“The purpose of life,” meeting co-organizer and Caltech cosmologist Sean Carroll said in his opening remarks, “is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide.”

Well, that's a downer for all of us who want to believe there's something inherently unique and purposeful about humanity. But as a writer, I see that as a call to remember the true purpose of my work: to write stories.

Writers are not marketing machines; we are not  role-models; we are not advocates for this, that, or anything. Of course, these are aspects of our work, but they are tangential, not essential to what we do. Writers tell stories. In non-fiction, writers provide information.

That's it. That is our whole reason to be. To write. Anything else is the proverbial icing on the cake. Don't get so caught up in the add-ons that you lose sight of your true purpose. Just tell stories.

Back to the article. Inorganic reactions become biological reactions.The evolution of life-forms was driven by the spontaneous generation of complexity.

In writing, we start with a few tools. Words. Sentences. Grammar. Themes that determine how we arrange those elements. Then we reach a critical level, and the ideas take over, dictating the words, forcing the patterns into new lines.

Some people say their characters take over the story and they can no longer tell them what to do. Such willfulness is analogous to the emergence of biological reactions in evolution. What these writers are saying is that the story has found its life. It has evolved from connected words to an entity with a need to grow and develop.

Just as there are millions upon millions of life forms in the past, present, and future of our world, so too are there millions of stories. Like life, they rely on a few basic structures, but also like life, the pressures of their environment, the resources they have, the stimuli they perceive will alter and adapt them in to myriad forms.

Nothing new under the sun? Quite correct. It is not new, it is the history of life and of literature to constantly create new permutations, new adaptations. Infinite variety.

The article goes on to discuss how a strain of bacterium discovered they could use the citrate in their agar, rather than depend upon the glucose. This evolutionary adaptation proved repeatable. (I loved the comment, "Sympathetic murmurs of pity for the grad students spread through the FQXi audience." Grad students do all the long, tedious slog-work essential for science) It's not just making stuff up, folks. It's an incredible amount of painstaking, repetitious labor that leads to science. That's why we don't call it science unless it can be proven and repeated. Not at all the same thing as merely wanting it to be true.

In writing, the old patterns work. We are taught how to craft a sentence, how to develop a character, how to 'show-don't-tell.' But if we read, we discover that the greatest writers break the rules and enhance, even throw out the accepted forms. They bring new ways of telling stories into the world. Innovation drives literature as surely as it drives life.

Many, perhaps most innovations will fail. But a few succeed. Don't be afraid to try new styles, new characters. Never let yourself fall into believing that there's a one-and-only way to write. That said, like the bacteria in the experiment, there's a reason why we are taught rules. They work. If you innovate, you may fail. Be warned.

The end of the article discusses how different systems follow similar patterns. Bacteria, cities, humanity: all follow predictable relations. Smaller organisms have faster metabolisms. People in cities walk faster. And short stories require tighter, more urgent pacing.

Complexity theorist. Now there's a job title I'd love to have. "Complexity theorist Raissa D’Souza of U.C. Davis argued in her talk that when you have coupled complex systems, any break in the growth trends tends to be accompanied by wild fluctuations. Modern society is predicated on growth; stability is tantamount to collapse."

I've long wondered why humans in western cultures are so obsessed with growth. The town I live in, a delightful, charming place, is being destroyed by growth. The university is being mutated into a cancer that absorbs and destroys the quality of life for the campus and the town. But it will be a Big University, and that is, alas, all that matters.

Snarking aside, being big is not, by default, better. Books are too often too long. Don't be afraid to cut. Remove whole scenes. The joy of computer-aided writing is that you can copy out the entire novel in a blink, tear it to shreds, rearrange the bits, keep what works, paste that into a new version, and delete the rest.

Do hire an editor. They aren't enamored with your words, only with the finished product. They have the objectivity to see what is extraneous where you can't bear to let anything go. Trust your editor!

The final advice of the article is one all writers hear frequently. Get off the internet.

Time, lots of time, gave us life on earth. Even more sweeps of time gave us our selves. What's a few months to give life to your words?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Links to Think About

Being deeply and happily absorbed in editing, I find it impossible to post. I know -- excuses, excuses. But there are a few things I've read recently that deserve mention.

The blog, Rationally Speaking, by Massimo Pigliucci is one I check daily. Here are three recent posts that are well worth consideration.

First, the final installment of his series on Ethics. The series is an easily accessible introduction to the question of ethics, and how we interpret and devise ethical systems.

Next, his Seven Questions on Skepticism. As I have written before, being skeptical is work. It is not being a toddler snarking "prove it" with clock-like predictability. It is attempting to see around, inside, and outside a question, trying to understand origins and ramifications, and, above all, recognizing that imposing limitations on yourself, on others, or on ideas is a very serious thing to do. It must be done, but we owe it to ourselves and our society to do so with kindness and understanding, not dogmatic decree. Massimo offers some very good suggestions on how believers and nonbelievers can learn to discuss reasonably even if they can't agree.

Today's post also relates to ethics. Are we innately evil or good? Can we create a society that encourages respect and tolerance? An intriguing read.

Also today, NPR's Adam Frank offers a thought provoking look at time. I have often wondered what it would be like to live in the past, when time was a generality, not an absolute. Where I could say, "this afternoon" to a friend, and not be at all disturbed if they showed up right after lunch or right before dinner, because all that span was, indeed, afternoon. No more specific reference point was available. Of course, the church did have time keeping rituals that defined the day more precisely. And I recall reading that in ancient Rome the day was divided according to sunlight, so a day in summer would be broken into longer units than a day in winter. But still, none of these have the urgent and impelling tenseness of "on the dot' modern time keeping mentality. Life was more relaxed. Was it better? What do you think?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Creative Creativity

I admire his creativity, but I hope the future is brighter than this for him -- and for me!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Editor's Demonstration

I know how this feels. Okay, not completely rewritten, but it sure felt like that at first glance. Here's to hoping the next draft will have fewer crossings-out!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Literature or Confusion

When did it become necessary for literature to be ambiguous, or to explore the dark corners of the human condition without pity or love or even understanding?

Any of those attributes would offer a sense of completeness to a tale well told.

Far too often I read a modern literary work only to feel the killing 'so what?' as I close the book. What did I learn? What experience, what pleasure, what insight did the author grant? If the answer is, 'none', then I have to wonder why it was written. Did the author not know enough, did they deliberately leave holes and unresolved issues, trying to convince the reader the story is true to life?

Life is filled with ambiguities. That is both its chief joy and chief torment. We can never know why things happen as they do. That is why we so love stories. They, like religion, offer the illusion that something is clear, understood, complete.

I often speculate that I must not be capable of reading literature, but then I read books written before, say, 1960, that are in the canon, or books from other countries, and enjoy them. They are stories -- well crafted, illuminating, but complete. Why this modern obsession with unresolved endings? Is the fault in me, or in the modern stars?

I read a modern book -- Finnish, translated -- both literary and a compelling story. Elegant prose, wonderful sense of mood, thought provoking, sympathetic characters (even the ones I didn't like), and though the ending could be called ambiguous, she dropped enough hints throughout the book I was left with not only a stunning twist at the end, but also a good sense of what the protagonist's future life would be. Troll  by Johanna Sinisalo.

And I have read modern American novels that I've enjoyed. I am deploring a trend, not an absolute.

Fierce debates rage over the relative merits of literature and genre. If Jane Austen was writing today, where would she be classified? Chick Lit? Okay, I'm being snarky, but almost certainly genre, Women's lit. What about Shakespeare, whose works were enjoyed by all classes? When did he become literature instead of popular entertainment?

If one thinks of literature as illuminating the human condition, offering insights into motivation, dissecting the layers of delusion and confusion we wrap ourselves in, I doubt there is a greater modern master than Terry Pratchett. But he is never admitted to the sacred halls of literature because he writes with humor, irony, and affection.

How would you rather learn: through sympathy, humor, and insightful observation; or through long-winded, tedious, willfully obscure pages of unresolved misery?

Let us be very clear. I am generalizing, but a truth remains.

Literature should not be obscure. It should not hold gloom and despair as its highest attributes. If it aspires to illuminate humanity to itself, then it should understand humanity first. And humans, as a whole, are not keen on pretensions. We want to be with those who care about us, and approach us in ways we can understand; hopefully, to help us see more clearly, think more reasonably, and learn to be a bit wiser.

Who was your favorite teacher at school? The pedant who droned, or the one who spoke to you with interest and enthusiasm? From whom did you actually learn?

An earlier version of this was originally posted in my other blog, but the questions still perplex me:

Coffee Shop Danger!

Sorry for the hiatus. Been taking a break, and getting new inspirations. More tomorrow, but this is too good to not post.

I feel guilty at long hours in coffee shops. I have a write-together-but-don't-talk-much group I go to on Wednesday afternoons, and we meet in coffee shops. Fortunately not ones that actually reek of coffee. We are not alone -- there are always tables full of people who do just as this article describes: 

Café owner going to kill laptop-using bastard

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First Draft Done - Yay, Sooty!

As everyone who writes will know, there is no such thing as finished. One goes through and clears up one set of issues only to emerge at the end with a whole new set.

And thus it was with this first draft. I went through. I cross-checked and verified and inserted required information and elaborated where noted. And all the while I was compiling a list of further changes to make.

The first draft is done. And all that means is that I am now free to start on the second draft. But I am pleased -- and proud that I got it done.

Tomorrow I will be gone for the day, taking a hike around what has to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. If I'm not too tired tomorrow night, I will celebrate the first of September by diving into Adjacent Possibilities. All this month I have been jotting ideas for that story. I have a new opening in mind and I want to see if it'll work. I've been following a wonderful series of posts on ethics that have given me ideas for one of the characters. The book's philosophers focus on ethics and beliefs, you see.

So I will enter September actively editing two novels. The third? It haunts me. I wish I could accomplish more, but even five or six straight hours of work can't get me through enough pages: sometimes ten, sometimes twenty, sometimes two.

I am very tired, so I will have to add word count tomorrow.

And tomorrow I will celebrate. Tonight I will sleep!

Will I Meet My Goal By Midnight, 31 August?

I'm ending up down to the wire on this. I promised myself 70,000 words, one round of editing, and a whole-draft revision in one month.

I need more discipline. I have spent two days now trying to skim -- not read, but skim -- my way through the story to find all the notes for elaboration or insertion and get them worked out.  Instead, I find one, work on it, and proceed to edit and rewrite around it rather than move on.

Thus I have a first draft that is roughly complete, but has gotten its first round of editing in chunks.  Not sensible.

To be fair to myself, there have been an unanticipated abundance of interruptions.But then, isn't that one of life's most important and ironic lessons -- always plan for the unexpected.

I did better tonight, but am still only about one-third through the story. Tomorrow I will leave home, leave cats and people who distract me, and hole up to get this done. I must be able to say, truthfully, that I achieved my goal.

I am over the 70k goal, so I won't bother with word counts until I have the draft complete.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Makes A Real Character?

What makes a 'real' character?

I read many posts on the topic. They seem to involve check lists, formulas you can plug in and hey, presto, you have a three dimensional, well rounded, believable, likable (even the bad-guys) character.

I know it can not, does not work that way. No formula can replace authenticity. But how do you create authenticity?

Writing is a reflection of reality. It is also a simplification. We want a story to have a clear arc from beginning to end. We want to see how things have changed. Real-life people don't often change much. Lottery winners are a good example. Sudden wealth alters their lives for a short while, then they settle back into old habits. But in stories we expect our lead characters to change. We want the exceptional, not the normal.

Each genre has its own expectations of how real a character must be. Much as I love cozy mysteries, soft science fiction, and fantasy, the characters tend to be flat. This doesn't mean we don't like them, or loathe them, only that we usually know right up front if they are the good guys or the bad guys. No grey areas. We learn a few quirks and we're done. In a series it gets complicated. The author has to keep adding traits and life-history, leaving us to wonder why we didn't know about them earlier on. Literary fiction is more like life. We can see the complexities of human nature more realistically portrayed.

 When you step back and think about a day -- even an hour in your life, how many fleeting moods, random thoughts, odd memories, half-completed actions are there? Far too many to ever account for. But they reflect the prism of your personality.

I want my characters to have those facets.

No one is without moments of weakness, and no one is always weak. No one speaks uniformly good or ill or anyone or anything, unless they are speaking from hate or prejudice.

Normal people like and dislike aspects of people and life. A real teacher will complain of annoying students while also glorying in the good ones. My characters should be real enough to do the same.

What's important is that behind the specific attributes of a character, we can clearly see their core nature. Speaking ill of a bad person is consistent with a 'good' character. If they find they made a bad judgement they will try to rectify it. But they will still make occasional bad judgements. We all do.

To label a character good or bad, then assign a few traits or habits to flesh them out doesn't create a person, only a stereotype with garnish. But give that character too much reality, and the reader might become confused.

So, let the reader know how you feel about the character. Do you like them? Why? Choose a few aspects of their nature to focus on. Don't be afraid to show them as inconsistent. When you do, though, be sure to refocus on why that seems inconsistent -- get back to the core.

An example: if my enthusiastic teacher dislikes a student, that seems inconsistent. But if she says the student is a trouble maker, then we understand that it's the student who's the problem, not the teacher. She's a real person, just like you and me, one who reacts to stimuli, and not an inert mass of attributes selected from a check list.

Real characters, like real people, are complex. As a writer, we have to give a sense of that complexity in a simplified form. Not an easy task.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Researching a Novel

There always comes a point where I have to cope with all the "insert here" comments. In Adjacent Possibilities, that was, and still is, working in the philosophy that is integral to the characters' world views, in a palatable form for readers.

Tonight I've been working on the chemistry aspects of the Sooty story.

Sooty is a creature from another dimension. He cannot live on the naturally occurring elements we have. His world is more like the neutron soup of our just-post-Big Bang. He needs to combine and break apart atoms to simulate the energies he's familiar with. It has to be a mix of elements, as each one has a unique 'flavour' that helps sustain him, much like the variety of nutrients we need in our bodies to function, including tiny traces of metals.

Hey, it's the distinctly science fiction aspect of the story. I classify Sooty as speculative, though, as the science is adjunct to, and not the main purpose of the tale.

Anyways, I've been reabsorbing what chemistry I knew, and much that I've forgotten, and then making my own use of it to suit my goals (apologies to real chemists).  But it took many hours to get even the limited amount of factual information I required into story form.

Next is to go through for character consistency. The rereading that accompanied inserting chemistry revealed several major flaws. If Anna and Sooty manipulate her best friend, Tai's mind, I see that Anna has to tell Tai the truth eventually. How would I react if I found my best friend had controlled my thoughts? How would you?

I've got ideas jotted down, and hopefully tomorrow will get them into the story, along with other omissions.

So, mostly revising, or editing, or whatever you call it when you are sticking in the bits you avoided in the creation stage. But I have gotten two thousand more words in over the last two nights. Whee!

I will declare the first draft complete when I eliminate all the "insert here" or "expand this" notes. Of which there are far, far too many.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Humor For Sooty (and Chemistry)

Gotta love these. Lolcats has been running a series of Chemistry Cat jokes, and now Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal gets in on the act.

Chemistry is part of Sooty's story, you see. Again, I find synchronicity. When I work on Adjacent Possibilities, the world is full of philosophy, and when I work on Sooty, chemistry.

Of course, I know it's only that I notice these things because I'm thinking about them, but even that is good. It means I'm seeing things I wouldn't have noticed before.


 (sorry about the overlap, but using a smaller size-option made this one unreadable)

Update 23 Oct, 2011  I was just going over old posts and saw this image had vanished. I can't get it to reload, so here's the direct link to the comic from its site's archives:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sooty's Parts Are United

I look at how many hours I put in today on Sooty ( about 7, not including breaks. Actual working time), and then I see I wrote 3 words less than yesterday. I am appalled. How could I have worked so long, with such concentration, and achieved so little?

I have to remind myself what I did in those hours today. Fiddly stuff. Little things that started simple. 'Expand on this' notes in the text, or 'add this bit here' that necessitated writing new scenes, then finding they belonged better elsewhere, then massive rounds of copy-paste as I rearranged bits of what I'd just written into several different spots in the story.

Lots of back and forth comparing what had been said in various places and adjusting for consistency.

Structure. Continuity. Lots and lots of character and relationship consistency. All essential, and all most dreadfully fiddly.

The middle is found. It is now in outline and chunks-of-scenes form, but the story has its structure from start to finish.

Along with writing that bridge, I also have to do the necessary research on chemistry, and get the results inserted where they belong. Way too many 'look this up' notes in the story.

I am, however, pleased with what I got done today, and will focus on that for a few hours, rather than on what's left to do before the first draft is completed.


Update with even more hurrah!

I discovered that there was a big chunk of text that had been copied, but not deleted. I hate it when I do that. But I forgot to take that into account when I wrote up yesterday's total writing count. The chunk came to 1811 words.  So I actually wrote 4817 words yesterday, not 3006.

Whew.  That is much more in keeping with all the writing I felt I had done.

Current total word count is correct, only the daily allotment was wrong -- and is now revised.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Most People Are Good Drivers

We all laugh when we read studies saying that most people rate themselves as above average in some category. Intelligence, thoughtfulness, honesty, and driving.

Driving home this morning I realized something. Most people *are*  good drivers. Maybe not super-courteous, or following speed limits, but they do stay in their lanes, they don't cut out in front of you (except the twerp who did that to me last fall, drat her), and they stop at stop signs.

Think about it. We rely on people following the basic rules. When someone turns left in front of you and you have the right of way, why are you angry? Because that's abnormal. Not just that it's illegal, but that you expect them to follow the rules.

We assume that people will drive respectfully. Sure, we look both ways even when the light is green -- we know we can't trust everyone to be alert or rational. But we can assume they will be.

It doesn't require any particular religion, or any religion at all. It has nothing to do with race, or age, or gender. Most people don't steal. Most people don't lie -- excluding social lies, or course. Most people are kind most of the time.

We notice the exceptions.

We need to remind ourselves just why we notice bad behavior.

We notice it because most people are good drivers, of cars and in life.

And I thank you all.


One of the themes that always pokes its way into my stories is integrity. Not being who you think you should be, or who you think others want you to be, but rather, finding who you truly are.

Facing facts is a tangent of that. And yet, self-delusion can be helpful. It gets us through times of hardship. "This, too, shall pass." "It's always darkest just before dawn," "Light at the end of the tunnel." Myriad proverbs to choose from, all telling us that we needn't give up hope, needn't face facts. Instead, we can adapt reality to make us comfortable.

So, we have to find a balance between accepting reality clearly enough that we can deal with life as it is, but not so bluntly that we become despairing or incapable of action.

My re-interpretation of reality was that I could write a novel in a month, including at least one thorough round of editing and revision, and then publish it as an ebook. I cheerfully announced that I would let it go, knowing it wouldn't be a good as it could be, because I need the satisfaction of having something 'finished' and out-there. Also, I need to learn how to get ebooks formatted for the various distribution sites.

My learning novel, I called it.

And now I find I cannot do it. Oh, I can have it written. I can revise it, too; I already am. I find I cannot write the outline that will facilitate said revisions without stopping to implement them. No self-restraint, alas. So I will meet those goals.

But -- I cannot put a book out into the world unless I make it something I'm proud of. So now I see myself with not just two novels in editing, but three.

I have to get back to Adjacent Possibilities. I've learned so much from the Sooty Experiment, and the editing will go more easily because of that. But I did so want to believe I could relax and accept an adequate novel, just for the sense of accomplishment in saying: I have a story available.

I'll keep to my month. I'll get Sooty  written. I've already spoken to an editor, too, to provide that so-necessary extra pair of eyes. I'll get Sooty  shaped up to where I can let it try its proverbial wings. I cannot say when, but I'm now hoping by mid-October. Still very fast, I know. But I'm trying to find that precarious balance between the sense of completion I need and the sense of pride I have to have in my work.

( Update:  I should clarify. I normally do not write so swiftly. For the other two novels-in-editing, one is going on for almost 2 years, the other, Adjacent Possibilities, for just over a year. Both are still being researched as well as edited and revised, and for both I sometimes wonder how one ever knows when something is finished. All I know is that neither of them is finished, nor will be for many months, perhaps years to come. )

Word counts are not totally abandoned, but I'm letting them slide until I get the outline done. Then I'll get the middle written, and have a completed first draft to announce.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Oops -- Revising Before Finishing

I haven't written in the last two days, but I have been poking about at the Sooty story, adding bits, taking out bits. And I've gotten quite a few notes of character development, plot points to clear up, and such. And pondering over a title for it. Sooty just won't do.

I've spent a day running errands, and another day on a wonderful hike to a new and different waterfall in the Coastal mountains. That walk will find its way into the women's fiction, Adjacent Possibilities, that I am currently not-editing, and hence grieving for. I have been making notes for it, too, as I write the Sooty novel. It is always in my mind, as is the third novel, the crossover speculative fiction. And all the other stories I can't wait to write.

"If we had world enough, and time..."

Part of the problem is that having been writing from the beginning forward as well as from the ending backward, I now need to meet in the middle. This was confusing me. So I opted to stop writing the middle until I got a detailed-note outline completed.

I dedicated myself to that today, but am barely a quarter of the way through it, as I keep stopping to adjust the story. And also stopping to do laundry, to answer the phone, to feed the cats, to take care of dinner, to move the sprinkler in the flower beds, and to walk to the frozen yoghurt shop after dark with my kids. Sundry things that take many little snippets of time and are distracting.

But then, that's also part of why I chose to work on the outline today. It's more forgiving of interruptions as there's no sweeping chain of thoughts to be broken off and perhaps forgotten.

This is why I growl when male writers thank their wives for taking care of daily life for them so they can write. Who, I ask again, takes care of married women writers?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sooty Update

I only wrote 200 words today. I had revised the first few pages to take to my critique group, and then, working off their suggestions, revised the scene more this evening.

I've been working on the foreshadowing in this scene. Anna starts seeing things in weird new ways, but she doesn't know why -- after all, she hasn't met Sooty yet!

So, here's the current revision of the opening - previously seen here.

Sooty -- Opening Scene

 Anna huddled on her bed, clutching a pillow. They were at it again. Not quite fighting, but arguing. It seemed as if they were always arguing lately. Her tightly shut door couldn't block the sounds from the living room down the hall, voices that echoed in her as if she heard not through her ears but in her mind, and left her stomach churning acid sour. It didn’t take any brains to figure out her mom was unhappy, but why'd she have to make the rest of them unhappy, too?
       In her mind's eye, clear as clear, she saw her dad hunkered down in his big chair, his puff of pale blond hair sticking up over the back. He was holding a book, one finger carefully marking his place. The TV was on, though muted, and he was glancing furtively at the flickering images.
       His image was also flickering, as if she were seeing him through a camera lens while adjusting the focus. And when her mind twisted itself to a slightly new focus, she could see waves streaming out from the lamp beside the chair, and from the television – even from Dad himself. Waves of energy that overlapped in interference patterns like she'd seen in science class.
       Her vision spread. There was Mom, tall, straight. If Dad were flickering, Mom was a laser. Her energy, or whatever it was Anna was seeing, was so intense it was hard to look at her. Anna felt her mind pulling back, observing with something more like normal vision again.
       Despite her anxiety, Anna's curiosity was aroused. She'd never seen anything so clearly in her imagination before. And certainly never seen energy from people and lamps. Was it a stress induced hallucination? In unconscious habit, she filed the puzzling thought away for future consideration.
        Her mom's voice rose, words that sounded like needing to be herself or something. Why? She had a job she loved, a family she said she loved – what more could she want?
       Out of the rumbling that followed that proclamation, her mother snarled, “All you see is boobs. You never think about the person they're attached to.”
       A growling sound. Her father shouting – actually shouting, “I thought sex was what this is all about?”
       Anna's vision of the scene in the living room shattered. She didn't want to hear any more, either, and twisted around to drop face first onto her bed, squashing the pillow firmly over her ears. It did no good; she was still aware of her parents in her head, aware of the tense silence between them as the echoes of her father's shout jostled the corners of mind.
       And then her mom laughed, an awkward, gulping sort of laugh.
       That was a real sound. Intrigued, Anna jumped up and ran to press her ear against the crack between the door and its frame. She could hear their voices, talking now, not shouting, but she couldn't make out any more words. She brushed uncooperative straggles of her soft brown hair from her eyes and shuffled back to sit on her bed.
       She wasn't imagining things now, but she knew from experience that while Dad was listening to Mom, he was also hoping for distractions to save him from having to commit himself to a clear statement. That was how he disciplined her and her brother, Alan, too. Tried to discipline. He'd start by laying down the law, then sidle over to one side, then the other, and end by saying do what you think best. But do think, and do be careful, okay?
       The tight muscles in her face softened in a brief smile and stayed soft even when she thought about her mom. Mom did lay down the law, but, as she and Alan both had to admit, never unreasonably. She rarely issued her decrees, but when she did, what she said was absolute.
        Footsteps in the hall. Anna froze, a rabbit in headlights. The footfall stopped at her door. Someone knocked. Not someone. She knew who it was. Mom.
        She grabbed the pillow again and squeezed it hard If only she had something alive to cuddle. Her friend Jay had a cat, a big fluffy calico. Anna loved to pet it and hear its rumbling purr. Just looking at it made her feel soft and cozy. She could use that comfort right now.
       She'd asked her parents if she could get a cat. They'd said no.
        “Anna?” Just as she'd expected, her mother's voice.
        Oh boy. When Mom had been arguing with Dad, she often came in to talk at Anna. And usually it was the same speech. Don't waste your opportunities. Don't try to be someone you're not. And oh, by the way, you need to be more outgoing. Get more friends. Maybe try a new hairstyle. Not that her floppy straight brown hair would hold a style. Even the permanent her mom had coaxed her into a couple years ago had flopped. And she preferred glasses. Putting her contacts in took too long, even if Mom did say her dark eyes were pretty.
        Anna sighed. “What?”
        Her mom opened the door slowly, then peeked around to catch Anna's eyes. "Can I talk to you a second?"
      When Anna nodded, her mom stepped in, her hand gripping the edge of the door as she closed it almost shut. She stood that way, her lips pressed tightly together, her eyes on the floor, until with a visible breath she let her hand fall. She leaned against the door, and it closed with a sharp click. She seemed diamond hard, yet once again shimmering, as if Anna could see the aura of her life force. Her best friend Tai was always on about such things. Maybe Tai wasn't crazy.
       How strange, Anna thought. It's as if I've never seen her before. Or, she reflected, as if I'm seeing her through someone else's eyes. She studied her mom's face, long and thin – a well bred horse, Dad used to say as he tugged mom's long black ponytail affectionately. Thin – too thin, Anna now realized. Just being around Mom was exhausting. She never seemed to slow down, even when she was, in theory, relaxing. And she was always vibrating with energy that, for some reason, Anna could now see.
        “Anna… I'm sorry about the yelling. I've been trying to make a decision. I need to do something.”
        Anna didn't answer; she was waiting for the rest of the lecture. Instead, she lowered her head and made sharp little folds in the sheets.
        Her mom fidgeted around the room, opening and closing drawers, straightening the papers on the desk, twirling the cord of the blinds.
        “Anna, I do love you. And Alan. And I love your father. Please try to understand.” She let fall the cord, turned, and left the room, closing the door gently behind her.
        She was gone. There'd been no time for a reply, even if Anna had had one to offer.
        Anna held held up her hands. She noted, with almost clinical interest, that they were shaking. She let them fall, and turned her head to stare blindly at the closed door. Something was going to happen. She had no idea what, but she knew it wouldn't be good.
        The last few months had taught her how to cope with the turmoil she felt. Turn yourself into a robot, that's the trick. Finish homework, then get ready for bed, everything mechanical, without thought. It got things done, even if it couldn't make things better. Tonight, though, her mind wasn't cooperating as she'd like. She kept going back to that one exchange between her parent, about boobs and sex. Was that what the problem was? It wasn't something she wanted to think about.
        That night she dreamed, a strange dream, unlike any she'd had before. She dreamt she was a ghost, or something inhuman like that. Without shape or form, but not void. She dreamt she looked about her and saw the world as shimmers of energy, as of heat mirages above baking pavements in the summer. Everything shimmered, even the people she passed.
        She wasn't walking. She drifted like a puffball from a dandelion, caught in currents and eddies, not of air, but of energies emitted by people and objects.
Then she slid through a person, feeling in one bright flash all their thoughts, their dreams, their fears. She woke, choking on a scream that wouldn't come out.
        Dawn was barely lighting the window, but Anna didn't try to go back to sleep. She sat on the edge of her bed, pressing her forehead into her hands as if to force her mind to serenity. More hallucinations. I'm really messed up, she told herself. I need to get my act together.
        She pulled on her glasses, stood and stretched tall, then stumbled over to her desk. The internet would distract her, and help her to put her dream, and the visions of her parents that she'd imagined the night before, out of her mind.

Updated: I reread this, and felt it wasn't quite my writing. I keep running into this. I am not a florid, descriptive writer. I am told I have to put more description in, more tags that anchor dialogue to an action. That is not how I like to write. Yes, I need more, but rereading the above, there is too much. It is not me.
Writing is so bloody hard to learn, and it's even harder to find and develop your voice when others want something different from you.
I keep striving.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pronouns and Word Choice Reveal Gender, Rank, and Intelligence

One reads posts analyzing how to write a male character, or how to write a female character. I often find myself irritated -- women have to have lots of friends, they have to be emotional, they have to care about dressing up, and they have to think men are uncommunicative. Men have to be taciturn, talk about football, have only one or two close friends (to whom they speak in occasional grunts), and they have to think women are irrational.

In reality, some women are sports-mad and some like fluffy little dogs. Some men are sharp dressers and some like fishing alone for hours.

But this article from Scientific American has real advice on writing relationships. Chose your pronouns carefully, writers. They can reflect gender, social rank, and intelligence.

Although we never notice it, when analyzed our speech patterns and writing show that women are far more likely than men to use cognitive words (e.g., because, reason, think, believe); social words (e.g., he, she, friend, cousin); and 1st person singular (I, me, my).

Men use articles more than women: (a, an, the).

According to Psychologist James Pennebaker, "men and women use language differently because they negotiate their worlds differently. Across dozens and dozens of studies, women tend to talk more about other human beings. Men, on the other hand, are more interested in concrete objects and things. To talk about human relationships requires social and cognitive words. To talk about concrete objects, you need concrete nouns which typically demand the use of articles."

Also, people of lower rank use "I" words in communications, whereas higher rank people avoid them.

These offer new ways to look at characterization. Although in reality we are unaware of these cues, if we write them into our characters, mightn't it make the reader's perception of their roles more vivid?

It's not just gender. This fascinated me:
"Higher GPAs were associated with admission essays that used high rates of nouns and low rates of verbs and pronouns. The effects were surprisingly strong and lasted across all years of college, no matter what the students’ major.
To me, the use of nouns -- especially concrete nouns -- reflects people’s attempts to categorize and name objects, events, and ideas in their worlds. The use of verbs and pronouns typically occur when people tell stories. Universities clearly reward categorizers rather than story tellers. If true, can we train young students to categorize more? Alternatively, are we relying too much on categorization strategies in American education?"

As I growled about a few posts back, writers can be seen by more analytic minds as being of inferior intelligence -- something that also plagues women in the eyes of some men. Emotional, social, story-telling minds are less valued than analytic, concrete minds.


I would argue both are important, and are equally essential to our human existence. Without the story tellers and the emotion-givers, we are robots. Without analysis and concrete reality, we are adrift without reason.

I am intrigued, and anxious to try gender-pronouns and concrete versus emotional in my stories.

How do you write? How do you tell a story that reflects the concrete? Do you have special cues you use for gender and rank? I'd love to read about them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Literal and figurative coasting.

My daughter and I went over to the coast yesterday. One of those rare and marvelous times when the coast is warm (between 61 and 65 while we were there) and sunny, and only a gentle breeze.

The Oregon coast is a beautiful place, but odds are it will be cold, damp if not wet, and windy.  We were truly appreciative.

We fed gulls, an imperative for us, and discovered a new beach that will now be a favorite. We walked and walked to the accompaniment of the thrumming, rolling, unceasing roar of surf.

Lunch: fish and chips and clam chowder -- of course. Then another beach and more gull-feeding.

And then another beach, walking and watching the sun slipping into  bank of clouds on the horizon.

Driving home through the Coastal mountains at night, with a huge full moon appearing, apparently, from all directions as the road wound its circuitous way.

No writing, but a lot of living.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Writing in Reverse, and How On Earth Does One Self-Edit, Or Self-Evaluate?

I'm quite enjoying writing backwards. I ask myself, where do I want this character to be at the end of the story, and then I write. I refer to things that will need to be added or explained earlier in the story.

Then I ask, how did they get from the beginning to where they are now? What had to happen for the ending to happen as written? Add in the points I mentioned above, and a scene in front of the one I just wrote takes shape. Step by reverse step, I'm finding out where the story is coming from, rather than where it's going.

I may not get anything written tonight. Busy, busy, unfortunately. But I did jot down some ideas, and I got a section of the story worked up for my critique group.

I had another melt down last evening. I looked at my writing and thought, "This is crap. Total, incontrovertible crap."

Then I started writing, forgot about crappiness, and just enjoyed the story.

I keep wondering about my desire for external validation. There is a notable agent that is accepting the first 20 pages from ten local authors for her critique. Even if it weren't out of my budget, I wonder if I would do that. If she said it was no good, I wouldn't stop writing. If she said it was good, I still wouldn't stop. So, why seek opinions?

Obviously because I have no confidence in my own abilities. How does one acquire that objectiveness? All I read (and I read so very much) about self-editing seems inevitably to rely upon one's own discernment of what 'feels' right.

All I know is that when my editor has returned pages to me with lots of green crossings-out, I cannot understand why this was cut and not that, or why this emotional depiction was deemed unacceptable but this other was okay. I remain perplexed.

He tells me I should write more, and thus learn. Well, huh. I wonder how much writing it will take for me to feel confident in what I create?

Do all you other writers get hung up on this? Do you feel you know when you've gotten it right? Do you angst over understanding, or just enjoy the writing and accept the editing?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gratuitous Sex and Violence, or Realism?

Young Adult, as a category, has become increasingly violent and sexual. There are books that are not, but these themes are prevalent. Often justified as 'realism', I always counter that realism also includes laughter, love, and happy times. Admittedly, those don't make such compelling reading.

Without getting into the research I've read on the cultural / social motivations for this trend, I find myself speculating on how much, if any, sex and violence I want to include in my current YA Experimental Novel.

Write what you feel. Yes, but there is a perverse streak in me that wants to turn this into another sort of experiment. Like the idea of writing a 70k novel (with editing and revising) in just over a month as a break from editing, I find I want to experiment stylistically as well.

It is not my nature to write sex and violence. It might be intriguing to see what happens if I make myself do so.

If the emotional catharsis that resulted from switching to first person in the other novel is anything to go by, the results of such an experiment could be mind-blowing.

Curiouser and curiouser....

I'll let you know what happens. But, I wonder how others feel: do you find yourself thinking about, or actually writing more sex and violence in YA than you would have a few years ago?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sooty, Science, and Writing Backwards

I'm still struggling with the desire to get back to editing. Who knew it could be so seductive? But I need to keep to my goal, too.

This is not arbitrary. I need some sense of accomplishment, some goal I have attained. The editing -- who knows how long that will go on? After I work through all the notes I've made of things to add, clarify, or rewrite, I need to go over the work as a whole. Then it gets bundled off to my long-suffering editor. Then back to me for who knows how much more work.

Sooty, though, I am treating as an experiment. Yes, I want a good novel. Yes, I must be proud of it or I won't put it out. But I'm trying to learn necessary skills by doing them, not by reading about how to do them. Applying intellectually attained knowledge in the real world. That sounded pretentious enough, don't you think?

I'm doing something new tonight. When I took Adjacent Possibilities through the first round of editing, I pulled out all the scenes that had passed muster with The Editor, and then rewove the story around them. This got me thinking. There is no compelling need to write the story in sequence.

After all, this is how I solve mazes and other puzzles. Start at the end, then work backwards. For some reason that often works better for me.

So, I worked on the ending tonight. I was fascinated to find myself tying together threads that hadn't yet been spun, making connections that hadn't yet been clearly visualized.

I am also *forcing* myself, and it takes real will, to just write. The page is a mass of red squiggles, but the story is there. I will correct typos later. Right now, I want to see if I can get the words.

I have also started a bookmarks page, with links to articles on chemistry and on the many things we use everyday that came out of the space program. I wish schools would teach that fact: even space research, so often held up as an example of unnecessary spending and wasteful hubris -- our lives have been enriched in so many ways through products developed for the space program. Discoveries are often serendipitous. We might as well cut off our hands and feet as cut funding to research, or even require, as short-sighted politicians do, that research produce immediately usable results. Foolish, foolish blindness.

That was my soap box for today. And yes, there will be a hint of that in Sooty.  I cannot seem to help myself. I have to have intelligent characters who understand the value of science and research, of thinking, and of being reasonable. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Trouble With Taking Breaks

I am working on Sooty, the young adult speculative fiction that I will (!) have done by then end of the month.

But now, only a week or so into my break, I am longing to return to editing my philosophic, romantic, thoughtful but light-hearted novel, Adjacent Possibilities. It is calling to me. Like the wafting scent of the sweet peas I picked yesterday, like the fluffiness of a cat's tummy needing to be rubbed, like a path leading into the green darkness of a Cascadian forest, it entices.

The sirens were not so compelling.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adjacent Possibilities and A New Ethics

The novel that has been getting far and away most of my efforts at revision is (working title) Adjacent Possibilities. It is a story of two people who learn to trust and accept one another. They have friends who help them in this process. They face threats and find ways to conquer fears. They go hiking a lot. And there are cats.

The two main characters are professional philosophers. Between them and me, there are, oh horrors, ideas in the book (trust me -- I am keeping them as low-impact as possible -- ideas don't sell).

The title reflects one of the dominant themes of the book. Life holds more than we can see, but not what is out of reason.

We can imagine gods, faeries, demons, aliens; but they are not provable. They are not rational possibilities, not adjacent to reality. One can argue: if I can see them to believe in them, they *might* be real. But that is not rational, only wishful.

I can see myself as a published author. It may not happen, but there is a clear chain of events that are in the real world that could lead to this new reality. It is adjacent to my current reality, and therefore possible.

Corollary to this, if we are presented with proof of something, even if we thought it outside reality, even if we don't want to believe it, we have to accept it or forfeit our rational integrity. Climate shift falls into this category.

The relationships between the characters in this novel are of adjacent possibilities. New ways of thinking and seeing alter what is possible in their lives. 

Another theme of the book is ethics. What is right and wrong, and why. In their philosophic research, my characters ponder this question.

And this has been troubling me as well. I cannot accept that there is an absolute morality. To do so would put many actions that are obviously necessary, perhaps even virtuous as evil. A simple example: do not kill. If someone tries to kill me, and in defending myself I inadvertently cause the death of my assailant, am I immoral?


The history of humanity shows that times and conditions alter what we accept as moral behavior. But I am equally troubled by relativistic morality. We cannot say that everything is flexible. We need some sort of guidelines.

The solution seems to me to be that we establish ethics within our culture. This allows us to live together as a community. But, if it becomes clear that an accepted ethical belief is causing harm to members of our society, then we need to moderate our ethics.

This is exactly what happens when we accept that gays and women are just as human as the men who have traditionally dominated our culture. In the past, morality meant abiding by rules of behavior that kept these people in charge, and kept society within limits of which they approved.

Greater education has allowed us to realize that more people than those few deserve respect. Society has to reshape itself to accept people and behaviors that hurt no one as ethical and equal, even though they lessen the absolute control of the dominant group.

That the dominant group resists is inevitable. They don't want to lose their control. That many of the people they've rendered unable to think for themselves also resist is, unfortunately, inevitable. But those who break free, who learn to recognize human equality unhindered by past cultural shibboleths -- these are the creators of the morality of the future. Humans, whatever their age, their skin color, their gender, their sexual preferences; all humans deserve the freedom to choose their life. Repressive, archaic morality must not be used as a weapon against them, as long as they do not hurt or hinder others from equal freedoms.

To demand adherence to a moral code derived from an unprovable and irrational entity is a blatant attempt to deny full humanity to everyone in the society.

We have an adjacent possibility. Humans can accept that we create ethical codes to provide a framework in which we can live as communities. We can accept that there will be minor differences, but we can agree that, as long as no one is hurt by the actions of others, everyone should have the freedom to choose their own life, without harassment or repercussions.

We must never treat any other human as less important, less real than ourselves. Politicians who cut benefits to the needy in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy should be recognized as immoral. Anyone who would rob, or rape, or harass others on an individual, institutional, or national scale should be equally abhorred. Laws, necessary to maintain societies, should reflect these values.

This is a morality that protects all and harms no one. This is possible.

Sooty is Growing and Changing

I started writing yesterday, then realized I needed to get a more definite outline. I don't use a specific, point by point outline, but I do find it helps to have a sense of character relationships and developments, and plot points along the way to give me a sense of what I'm working towards.

When I start revising, I like to make a detailed outline of what's in each scene. This is really useful for that nagging feeling of 'didn't I say that already?'

So I set to work on the overall structure, and realized that the opening would work much better if I didn't introduce Sooty right away. Let the reader get a sense of Anna's life, and the domestic issue that is fouling things up for her, before Sooty comes in. At first he seems to be a deus ex machina, but is actually even more complications and dilemmas.

Therefore, much of yesterday's work was pulling out scenes and rearranging them, then writing them into a semblance of a coherent whole.

I wish I could do that often advised 'just get the first draft done, then worry about revision', but I don't seem to be able to swing it. If I see an egregious failing, I have to go back and try to poke it into cooperation.

Here is a bit from the beginning:

They were at it again. Not quite fighting, but arguing. Always now, always they were arguing.
      “You're just like all the men I work with. You don't see a person, you see mobile boobs. I've got a mind. And feelings. Just like you.”
      Anna could hear a sharp reply, but couldn't make out her father's words.
      Then her mom again, loud and clear. “I take that back. I'm a person. You're a narrow minded bigot.”
      Anna cowered in her bed. Not that she wasn’t used to these fights. They'd been happening more and more often. It didn’t take any brains to figure out her mom was unhappy, but why'd she have to make the rest of them unhappy, too?
      She squeezed her pillow hard, wishing she had something alive to cuddle. Her friend Jay had a cat, a big fluffy calico. Anna loved to pet it and hear its rumbling purr. Just looking at it made her feel soft and cozy. She could use that comfort right now.
     She'd asked her parents if she could get a cat. They'd said no.
      Her mom was talking again, something about needing to be herself or something. Why? She had a job she loved, a family she said she loved – what more could she want?
      Anna debated turning up the volume on her music, but instead decided to take a shower. The water drown everything, even her own tension. At least for a while. She rolled off the bed, and had one foot on the floor when someone knocked at her door.
      “Anna?” Her mother's voice.
      Oh boy. When her mom had been arguing with dad, she often came in to talk at Anna. And usually it was the same speech. Don't waste your opportunities. Don't try to be someone you're not. And oh, by the way, you need to be more outgoing. Get more friends. Maybe try a new hairstyle. Not that her floppy straight brown hair would hold a style. Even the permanent her mom had coaxed her into a couple years ago had flopped. And she preferred glasses. Putting her contacts in took too long.
      Her mom never seemed to run out of suggestions, though. Anna got the feeling her mother was trying to relive her own life through her. That felt better than admitting that her mom was disappointed in her.
      On top of everything else, her mother always hoped she’d be popular. Anna couldn't figure this out, since her mother wasn’t social. Her career at the university kept her busy. Too busy for her family, came the inevitable conclusion to that line of thought.
      Anna sighed. “What?”
      Her mom opened the door slowly, then peeked around to catch Anna's eyes. "Can I talk to you a second?"
      When Anna nodded, her mom stepped in, her hand gripping the edge of the door as she pushed it almost shut. She stood that way, her lips pressed tightly together, her eyes on the floor, until with a visible breath she let her hand fall. She leaned against the door, and it closed with a soft click
      Anna lowered her head and made sharp little folds in the sheets.
      “Anna… I'm sorry about the yelling. I've been trying to make a decision. I need to do something.”
      Anna didn't answer; she was waiting for the rest of the lecture.
      Her mom fidgeted around the room, opening and closing drawers, straightening the papers on the desk, twirling the cord of the blinds.
      “Anna, I do love you. And Alan. And I love your father. Please try to understand.”
      She was gone. There'd been no time for a reply, even if Anna had had one to offer.
      Anna held held up hands. With almost clinical interest, she noted that they were shaking. She let them fall, and turned her head to stare blindly at the closed door. Something was going to happen. She had no idea what, but she knew it wouldn't be good.

Statistically Significant Verbiage

I sat bolt upright, and drew a deep breath. Brushing strands of my hair from my face, I raised my eyebrows in dawning dismay.

Was I, too, so conventional, even cliche in my word usage?

Was this the inevitable result of the 'show don't tell' so beloved of fiction writers?

Grimacing, I gritted my teeth, and wiggled my fingers, preparatory to evaluating my collocations.

I did not, however, grunt.

And in case you're curious at this absurdity of mine, read the New York Times article on language in fiction: The Jargon of the Novel, Computed

Friday, July 29, 2011

The New Novel: Working Title 'Sooty'

Sooty is a character in the novel. It is a non-earth entity that enters Anna's life at a time when her world is already in upheaval, and sends it into chaos. With humor, of course. I don't like to write depressing stories.

He requires unusual forms of nutrition, including elements that he transforms to suit his nature. One of Anna's challenges in the book is to find sources for these elements.

I was delighted to get these sites today: Visions: Rare and Precious and the Dynamic Periodic Table.  Thanks to GrrlScientist for the table via her wonderful series on the elements. I look forward to each week's element.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

70k Words in 39 Days -- Or -- Yes, I've Gone Bonkers

Not just words, mind you, but a revised and edited novel. Something I can be proud of.

I realized the other day that for the last, oh, 8 or 9 months I've been doing revision. And editing. Two full length novels, very different, but still.

Now these tasks are both challenging and rewarding, but I like to write, too.

I also need a break so I can step back from the story that's been getting my main focus before I attempt yet another full-length edit and then revision.

And I want a feeling that, yes! I've finished something (as much as any writing can ever be said to be finished).

These points combined gave me the idea to write a young adult novel of about 70,000 words, written, edited, revised by the end of August. I will allow more revision and editing in September, but I want it to be as close to ready to go as I possibly can make it by midnight, 31 August.

I hope to have it up as an ebook by mid-September. I have to learn all that stuff anyways, so that adds to my motivation.

I will be posting a daily word count, and occasional bits from the story. I'll add links to articles that give me ideas, or references to topics discussed.

I will also ask questions, seek advice, and maybe even run a contest to name a character or set a scene.

Hmmm - now that would be interesting. Let someone tell me where to set a scene and then have to work it into the story in a credible way. Fascinating....

Without further ado, I announce that as of today, after four days of writing, I have 16,230 words down.

I was feeling confident because I will have a lot of free time in August. But today a one hour errand ended up taking over three hours, and that has shaken my certainty a tad. Well, that just means more time writing tonight, right?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Writers Are Smart, and I'm Angry

I heard this in a conversation yesterday:  "She's so stupid she can't even add 2 + 2. I told her to take Creative Writing courses instead of math."

I am not good with snappy comebacks, and even if I were, the social setting would have precluded responding. I didn't want to be seen as creating a scene*. Besides, I know from experience that the speaker would say, "I didn't mean it that way."

A long history with said speaker has shown that he may like to believe he doesn't mean it that way, but he keeps saying things like that. I am skeptical of his self-knowledge, to say the least.

And yes, he knows I am a writer.

An angry, not stupid writer.

Obviously, as in all things in life, there is a spectrum. There's some really bad writing floating about, and more is put out every day thanks to ebooks and self-publishing.

All that means is there's more to wade through to get to the gems.

It does not mean that all, or even most writers are bad. Or dumb. Or anything else. Any more than a small percentage of fundamentalist maniacs with murder on their brains means that religion is inherently violent, or that a few teenagers who get drunk means that all youth is doomed to alcoholism.

I spend an hour, often closer to two every day reading science, philosophy, psychology; trying to get background for my writing. I read writing blogs trying to understand options, processes, and changing procedures in publishing.

I write. And write. And write, and strive to improve with whatever input I can coax and beg out of anyone who'll read my words.

You don't need to be a math teacher to be smart. You don't need a degree in physics. You do need a questioning mind that is open to -- no, actively seeking new information and new ways to see the world. A good writer spends their life doing just that.

Writers are smart. Talented, determined, brave, and above all, people who can face more rejection, more isolation, more years without any positive feedback on their dreams than any other profession I can think of.

Twitter.  #writersaresmart

I'm curious what you have to say in response to that offensive comment.

*why is it that when someone says or does something, it's always the person who takes them to task that's seen as 'causing a scene', and not the original offender?

Friday, July 22, 2011

What Would You Censor?

This is a great post from 'The Guardian' literary editor and blogger Claire Armitstead.
I enjoyed the comments, too, both the serious and the humorous. Way to go, Gogg. What a horrible thought that people should learn to read -- and, oh horrors! maybe even ask questions and think.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Than Merely Literary Fiction

I still puzzle over what differentiates literary from genre.

"I know it when I see it" is so often the final definition. Character driven, high-minded, complex, many layered.

I love this definition: "Work of great sensibility and refinement, where it can take up to 500 pages for nothing to happen." from Frank Baron

In the end, it is, like almost everything in life, a spectrum. There are books that are genre, no question. There are books that are literary, equally without question.

But all along the way, there are books whose ideas, whose writing style, whose detailed evocation of place, mood,or character are so eloquent that, even though there is a romance, or a crime, or an alien invasion, they are also literary.

Over and over we read  that everything in the story must move the story forward. Every scene must fill at least two roles: establishing motivation, explaining necessary backstory, revealing character, and so on.

Perhaps part of the difference, then, is that in literary fiction, you have greater latitude in how much you reveal or the pace at which you move the story forward.

In literary fiction, you can have, as in "The Life of Pi", paragraphs of imagery and impressions that serve to create the mood of the story and the way in which the character views the world that in a genre book would be considered too slow. "Tighten it up" I hear an editor cry. "You'll lose your readers' interest."

And you would, if they were reading it as a detective story or a romance story. But when the book aspires to be something besides -- note - not more than -- science fiction or thriller; when the writer wants to draw you into a world or a state of mind; then you are entering the world of literary fiction.

And we are left again with personal preference. I might read it and see it as a literary fantasy. You might read it and see it as fantasy only.

This is part of why I favor the label Speculative Fiction. It allows the idea that elements of fantasy or science fiction are not the absolute arbiter of the story's classification. A space ship can carry the tragedy of Hamlet in its crew, and a mystery can encompass the eternal question of what it means to be human.

I could wish that we weren't so determined to make arbitrary distinctions. I realize that, like standardized testing in the schools, there are times we need to stick labels on things. But if we are interested in understanding what books have to offer, then we need to look past the labels publishers and booksellers require and accept a book on its individual nature.

Any time we break down barriers, we are enriching our world.