Character study

I am planning a new story!  Here is how I’ve been planning:

j and Gnat and a dragon

I am certain that these two characters will at one point encounter a dragon.  And I am certain that Princess Natalia Neinugrava will be wearing frilly boots with suspiciously practical soles.  J_ will wear their favorite tee-shirt, even though it could never be described as lucky.  I am less certain how they will get to the next scene, because my plans for stories are a collection of scribbled scene ideas and drawings and scraps of dialogue that I am looking forward to writing.

I am sure that there are very practical ways of composing an outline, but I have a very hard time focusing on the practical when I am sitting down to write.  I have to make a game of it.  I write through the scaffolding parts of a story and am rewarded with the pieces I am most excited to write.  Dialogue and image are fun for me.  They make good rewards.

But without the context of the story they live in, they’re flat.

J_ Tillie Gnat

The trick is staying excited about the ending.  But its hard to think of the fun that far in the future.  So I draw my characters and I think about what they wear, what they think is funny, and how they’d like things to end.  And If I’ve done it write, they’ll carry that fun through after I’ve gone through the trouble of beginning.

And middling.

And to be honest, ending is hard, too.

Writing is hard.  Staying focused on a story is hard.  Sustaining the joy required for creating is very hard.  But I have managed before.  I’ll do it again.

I have another week before drafting begins.  In between, I am attending NorWesCon, which is a local-to-me convention for science fiction and fantasy.  Aside from books and the hours I’ve spent writing, it is where I get a lot of my craft education.  MFA’s are expensive, and difficult to break into when you’ve got a spotty history of education and a healthy interest in speculative fiction.  Summer spec-fic workshops are difficult to get into because of the number of applicants.  Many of the writing panels at NorWesCon are tailored to newer writers (people who have yet to sell any stories), but there are a few that focus directly on what I want to write.

Some of my favorite educational moments from last year came from watching other writers read, and I am excited to have that opportunity again.  The best education in story telling is still enthusiastic story reading.


Terror Tactile

I am a little obsessed with the physical objects one finds in fiction.  Hermione’s time turner in Harry Potter, the comic book in Station Eleven, Breq’s serviceable tea set in Ancillary Justice; pretty things which characters can hold.  Things that reflect on the person holding them, that deepen our connection to a character.

I like making things.  When I was a kid, my dad made our garage into a wood shop and I was allowed to make things with the scraps, so I always felt capable.  I made a doll because no one else made an action figure of my favorite NPC in a Nintendo 64 flight simulator.  My brother and I made lightsabers out of tree branches and wailed on each other through the dunes at Ocean Shores.  And in 1999, I stripped the bark from a plum tree branch and scribed Harry Potter spells into the handle with a little electric wood-burner. The more work I put into it, the more it felt like magic.

A coworker taught me to knit in my 20’s.  A lot of work goes into sweaters, more than enough for magic.  And I am a writer.  I channel magic through language.  “U R O K” is raised in Morse code on the left sleeve of my sweater.  It works to keep me calm.  So does the fit of the sweater.  And the elk prancing across the yoke.  Magic is made of many things.

Life and art are intrinsically linked, and the magic of this life belongs equally to the magic in my stories.  So I wrote about a person who makes the most fantastic objects in fiction, and I gave them the greatest power I know of; the power to create.

Their story will be a part of the Artemis Rising month at Cast of Wonders.  It’s going live on the 25th of this month.  It involves windchimes made of banshee skulls and swords forged from the iron draw out of dragons blood.  Much work goes into collecting dragon’s blood; more magical even than sweaters.

I plan to continue their story beyond the short featured at Cast of Wonders, and I’m telling myself that I’ll need more skills for making.  Block printing, sand casting, maybe even some welding!

Well, maybe I’ll start with the block printing… must remember to set aside time to write 😉

Capture No Lightning

Some stories flash onto the screen through my fingers as though I am a conduit for their lightning.  These are not reliable stories.  It can be years in between lightning.  But I want to tell stories more than once every three years.  I get fidgety if I don’t.

Recently I took part in a competition (gentlemen’s agreement style, no prize but the works produced) to churn out fully written stories in the span of two days.  One came easy, like lightning.  Two were like dredging mud from the back of my brain.  And two were like constructing lightning from the inside of a bottle.

Those last two worked.  They had the spark of a lightning story, they read easy, but in the throws of writing I was a bit of a mess.  Each story was written to a prompt (both to aid in story writing, and to show that each story was written whole cloth over the two days), and in my notes I had dashed off so many false starts that I can’t even decipher what I was thinking two weeks later.

But as I scribbled all my false starts, I tapped into old memories.  When I was very small, the neighbor girl was the coolest person in the whole wide world, and she liked to play with Barbies.  I did not, because I didn’t understand the rules to playing Barbies, but I wanted to play with her, so I ended up playing Ken most the time.  Later on, I had a craft kit, and I made my own doll because I really wanted a figure from a Nintendo64 flight simulator that nobody else cared about, and there is no holding back a nine year old with a glue gun.

These memories collapsed into each other, and where I had nothing, memories bubbled into story.

It helped that I had been exercising the parts of my brain wired for story.  The lightning I had constructed found a natural path toward character.  Writing is one of those practices that from the outside looks the same at step one and at step 100, but oh man does that practice pay off.

And all this might seem common sense to anyone on step 101 of the never ending staircase to authorial perfection, but I am putting this here to remind myself that it is possible to conjure a story when it feels like there is nothing.  Find your blank page and a pen, and fill it with nonsense.  Somewhere, eventually, something will spark.


You’ve been busting your ass

When you love the work, it can be hard to acknowledge that it is work.

My husband said recently that I’d been busting my ass writing, and that I should be proud of my accomplishments.  It was nice of him, and days later I’m still thinking of it.  Writing does not look the way I believe work ought to look.  When he’s been busting his ass, cars run better, chrome is shinier, the house is cleaner.  When his extended family is busting ass there are visual arts to enjoy.  When my extended family is busting ass, something gets built.

When I bust my ass, my desk is still a mess.  And it is rare that I get to see the finish of my work.  I write stories.  Stories don’t feel complete until they have found a reader, and have lived in another person’s head the way they have lived in mine.  Selling a story has become the stand in for that, but it is hard to sell a story.  And selling a story is largely out of my hands.  All I can do is send it in to open calls and hope it strikes a cord with that editor.

And because I don’t always get that finish with a story, I don’t have that moment where I step back, admire the thing I have built, and clink glasses with my husband as we celebrate with a drink. (Well, we do that for sales, but again, those don’t happen very often.)

I have been working very hard to make a lot of new stories.  It has worked.  I have new stories.  They might not sell, but that does not mean that I have not been busting my ass.  It is difficult to make a story resonate with somebody else.  It is difficult even to sit down and make that story happen when there are so many other things competing for time.  And the cat! Oh, the cat hates it when I sit down to write because I am focused on a box of light that is not him!

I think the cat might be fueling some of my anxiety over what work looks like…

But damn the cat! (No don’t, I love him.)  Work can look like twitchy fingers on a keyboard, or blank stares into the depths of my Dracula mousepad while I’m trying to decide if “antediluvian” is too pretentious a word. (It is.)

I bought some yarn to reward myself for the work.  I’m going to knit a sweater because unless my husband reminds me to sit back and have a drink, I reward myself with even more work.

I have read (or listened to) two stories this week that I really really really want to share:

And Then There Were (N-One): A Sarah Pinsker is invited to an interdimensional conventions of Sarah Pinskers, and must solve one of the Sarah’s murders.  Written by this reality’s Sarah Pinsker.  It is genius.

The Starship and the Temple Cat by Yoon Ha Lee: A ghost of a cat guards the ruins of its temple from a starship that wishes to share poetry. I listened to the podcast, and I had to skritch behind Mr. Peeper’s ear while listening to keep from openly crying.


Let’s Be Monsters!

I am scared so much of the time.  Sometimes little thoughts like “your house is on fire” will interrupt my conversations, my eyes will blank, and I will apologize and ask that you repeat that last sentence.  Sometimes my lungs constrict like they’re about to scream, because idk, we haven’t screamed in a while, and there’s probably something we should be screaming about.

I can cope.  I can leave my house.  I can hold a lit match to a candle.  I can snowboard down a mountain even though my brain is constructing all the horrifying images of my broken body airlifted off the resort when it all goes wrong.

And I can write monsters who are small against my subconscious fears, but they are bigger than me, and they stand a greater chance of winning against despair.

I made a mask this summer with eight eyes and a soft fabric face.  I cut a sea witch out of black paper, and painted my favorite peaks in the Tatoosh Mountain Range.  I like making things with my hands, and although my favorite thing to make is stories, I don’t know of any markets that will publish an envelope full of paper cut outs.

That’s what the mask was for.  I did an odd brave thing and put on an eight eyed mask so I wouldn’t stutter so much on camera, and I introduced a couple stories constructed from cut paper.  Would you like to see a thing I made?

In this story, a ship sails from the world you know and into the one where monsters dwell and where mountains keep the waters from falling into space.

Thanks for listening, and for reading, and for continuing to be while the world is so terrifying.  If you need a match, I’ll light one.  If you need a mask, let’s make one.

spider round (2)

In publishing news, my story “If We Could Fix the Horizon” just went live on Toasted Cake, episode 168.

Also, I will have a story called “Where You Get Your Ideas” in the upcoming Artemis Rising month with the Cast of Wonders podcast.