Tag Archives: Writing

Writing: Life Gets in the Way

It’s all a bit much right now.  I know you know.  Everything is in constant flux as though 2020 is the biggest, twistiest roller coaster morphing at every turn into something worse.  Nothing fits any more and all we can do is try to hang on and not fall off.

It’s not easy for me to admit my reading and writing have fallen into an abyss of 2020 proportions.  Rectifying it feels Sisyphean.  But every once in a while, something happens which drives me to the keyboard, ’cause I gotta share it.

From what I’m reading,  ConZealand was an epic cluster of celebrating old white male authors both living and dead.  A gross old white man who fancies himself a bestselling author couldn’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce the names of Hugo award finalists, and turned the ceremony into a “let’s talk about me” nightmare.  SF/F twitter is pretty lit up about this.

It’s heartbreaking, and infuriating, to hear about this year after year after year.  I left fandom once because of the gatekeeping, but I’m back now, and since I don’t give a fuck anymore about what the keepers think they’re doing I’m going to do my thing.   This latest fiasco made me decide to work harder on getting my writing jam on and to lift up the really excellent work I consume.

The pain I see from those given such utter disrespect at the Hugos sent me running to FIYAH Literary Magazine screaming, “Take my money!”

FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

Partway through issue #13 and … FIYAH, I’m glad I met you.

Writing: Almost a Year

Uncle Buck’s Grill and Diner is a uniquely updated version of a bowling alley food counter.  It’s part of the monstrosity called Bass Pro Shops, a sporting goods store which takes up the entire side of a strip mall filled with big stores.  The draw to Uncle Buck’s was their underwater theme for the bowling alley. I knew we wouldn’t bowl, but I wanted to see the place anyway.

So late on a warm Sunday morning, my friends and I descended on this spectacularly overdone place for lunch.  Entering, we walked past the statue of Uncle Buck with the dumbest “I caught a grrrrrrrl” look on his face holding a mermaid cuddled up to him as if to say, “My hero!”  Through the small alley filled with families eating pizza and playing on the black light lanes, decorated under the sea with shark heads on the ball return. The balls themselves were reptilian eyes.  On the way out Henry, who is from Florida, pointed out one set was alligator eyes. To which I retorted, “That’s Godzilla! What are you talking about?”

The three of us were the only ones in the restaurant proper.  Deep fried gator, a boar cheese burger, and a shared dessert were talked over.  I was so full I figured I wouldn’t be able to eat for a couple of days. I was pretty close to right.  Gone are the days when I could have eaten that, not shared the dessert and gone home to another meal later.

Joy is my emotional intellect partner.  We drill down into our feelings and sort through them.  She has talked me through many anxiety and imposter syndrome attacks.  Always understanding, empathetic and loving, she shows me I matter.

Henry, my book benefactor, is my intellectual jack of all subjects partner.  We’ve drilled down into feminism, religion, books, emotional trauma, art, etc. He is my museum partner, come hang out and help me get stuff done friend.  He also helps me remember my past has shaped me, and the struggles I fight are almost always because of childhood trauma.

The day before my birthday I asked Henry to come over because I didn’t want to be alone.  I was all kinds of freaked out about turning 60. The number didn’t bother me so much as reflecting on what I thought I should have and didn’t at this point in my life.  The dream had always been a house, a husband and a career. None of which were ever a possibility in my non-dream state.

The realization I was ill-prepared by my parents to face the world had come earlier in the day, but it was Henry who helped me drill deep and figure out why I was feeling like 60 was some sort of doomsday marker for me.

Watching my mother handle money was a master class in what not to do.  But it didn’t teach me the things I needed to do to attain a house I could make a home.  Things like saving and using credit judiciously in order to secure a mortgage.

Which brings us back to the weekend after my birthday when the three of us sat in Uncle Buck’s Diner and Grill and talked.  My writing, the books I’ve read, the plans I have. And, somewhere during the S’mores skillet Joy and I shared, she looked at me and said, “Look how far you’ve come.”

Stunned into silence, my thoughts reviewed what we’d talked about.  Henry and I taught Joy about genre appropriation, #LitFic vs. genre, ways of looking at the text.  As I spoke, I felt the voice of authority creep through me. I actually sounded like I knew what I was talking about, and was thankful for the practice of explaining it to someone who doesn’t read genre.

Underneath all of this is a layer of anxiety which has caused procrastination which has led to guilt and paralysis.  I keep taking deep breaths, reminding myself what it’s about, that being a critic is why I put up with the shenanigans at the day job.  All the things, I have planned, scare the bejesus out of me if I let them

And when I stumbled over Black Leopard, Red Wolf, I panicked.  I circled that review like my life depended on it.  The perfectionist in me held me back, while my imposter taunted me.  Who was I to think I could do any of what it would take to reach such lofty goals?  I would come home drained from the day job and stare at the blank page. WTF did I have to say?

None of the conversations I’ve had with encouraging friends made it better.  While talking to someone who’s also read Black Leopard, I bemoaned my inability to just write the review.  “It’s dark, violent, and complicated.”

“Why can’t that be your review?”

Uhm …. Back to the blank page.  I typed those words, and then I typed some more.  I referred to Moral Fiction, which led to more typing.  My imposter was laughing hysterically at me by this point.  Jumping up and down and pointing at me in ridicule. I was an anxious, guilt-ridden mess.  Then one weekend, “Oh fuck it I just want it to be done.” More words on the page. Still doubting myself, I wrote.  I referred to my notebook, and thought about why I didn’t like this book, and about the conversations I’d had about it.

I got through a shitty first draft.  And then I left it. I spun through the emotional cycle.  Anxiety, guilt, fear. During my breaks at work I breathed deeply, and while reading another book, thought about Black Leopard as though it was a career defining review.

But I also thought about why I want to do this work, and what it would feel like if I stopped.  What would happen if I just went back to reading and writing Reader Response? That thought didn’t make me happy at all.  “No, I’ve come too far, learned too much to ever just go back to that.” Forward, onward it is then.

Why then am I following this path which has the possibility of taking me lofty places I’d never dreamed of?  It’s easy to answer, and it’s not. The kind of conversations I have with Henry and Joy are the kinds of conversations I want to have with others.  I want to cut through the chatter and get to the meat of a book. I want to stand in a hall at a gathering of geeks and talk about the way Marlon James thinks he can read Game of Thrones and then write the African version.

I want to talk about the way Alfred Bester took a noir crime thriller and turned it into a cyber-punk story with SJW overtones and bad feminism.  Further, I want to write the critical reviews that almost no one else is writing. I’m not sure I’m up to saying I want to inspire others to dig deep and demand better from our genre, but I do want to hear those conversations.  I want to see a LitHub for genre, a place where serious discussions are being had. Selfishly, I want to have more people in my life I can talk to the way I do Henry and Joy.

And what this means is I have to fight through that emotional cycle.  I have to remember that getting the thing done is more important than getting it perfect.  There’s no going back for me. I’ll never be able to read in the same way. My book journal will always be out with the book I’m reading.  It’s scary. But I can’t give up, I just can’t.

And so, in not quite a year, I’ve gone from wanting to learn the better way to read and write about what I’ve read, to actually doing it.  I’ve gone from just wanting to do it to amuse myself to wanting to do it for the community. From reading whatever came off the pile to reading with purpose, and writing about it with purpose.

I’m still stunned when publishers send books at my request for review.  But I’ve gone from hoping I’d win a copy on LibraryThing to asking the publisher directly.  This work fulfills me, even when my anxiety leads me to near paralysis.

It’s also led me to understand I just need a day job, not a career.  It’s easier in some ways to shrug the nonsense off and move on. I may be drained when I get home, but I know there’s more for me than trying to carve a career out of yet another place made of jello and bandaids.

That sunny day at Uncle Buck’s will serve as a marker in time.  It’s the one that reads, “I made 60 and am thriving.” It also reads, “We were together in congenial company and I was lifted up by the reminder of how much I’ve grown.”  And that’s the difference a year makes.

The Daily Communiqué – 14 April, 2019 – Week 2 Recap

Monday’s announcement of the Hugo nominees led me to write about my experiences with WorldCon and meeting authors.

I’ve been listening to a lot of different music at work, thanks to the global record collection, and shared some of my discoveries on Tuesday.

In the same vein, on Wednesday there were works by artists I found intriguing.

Some reflective writing on writing on Thursday.

A tiny bit of fiction for Friday night.  The monster is real!

And rounding out the week, my reaction to former pope Benedict’s letter about sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Currently reading:  Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.  I don’t know what I think about it yet, other than it’s weird.

The Daily Communiqué – 12 April, 2019 – The Coffee Break

Harold whispered through gritted teeth, “Go back to your desk!  Go! Now!” His eyes moved quickly as though watching for danger,  face screwed up in fear.

Uh oh.  It happened again.  Scurrying back to my desk, I put my hands on the computer keyboard and listened.  Who was it this time?

Somewhere on my aisle, a phone rang.  Heads popped out and made shushing motions.  One of the rules was, don’t make noise, she might hear you.  And if she heard you … better to not even consider that.

My hands fell into my lap.  I squeezed my eyes closed and tried to hold my breath.  “Not me, not me, not me,” my mind chittered nervously.

Memories of the last time popped to the surface.  I’d barely escaped, tried to cry quietly in the bathroom, great heaving sobs escaping.  It was horrible, and every day I dreaded a repeat.

I sniffed.  Cigarette smoke?  I didn’t know she … oh, that’s not good and it’s not cigarette smoke.  Crouching down, I wrapped my arms around my head. I knew everyone else was doing the same thing.  Something loud was coming …

My neighbor let out a little squeak.  I crawled across the aisle into her cube and we wrapped our arms around each other, trembling in fear.  “No, no, no, nonononono …” Opal whispered.

Leaning closer to her, I whispered in her ear, “Whose turn was it this morning?”

A tear rolled down her cheek, “Mine.  I got in late, she was here before me …”  Her face fell. We were all terrified.

The last person got fired on the spot.  The floor around them scorched from the flames coming out of the monster’s nostrils.

As the roar died down, quiet clinking came from the break room.  Glass on porcelain. A spoon stirring in liquid. The smell of coffee rose over the smell of sulphur.  Who was stupid enough to be in the break room right now?

Then, porcelain on floor tiles.  The metal of the spoon moving the liquid.  Opal and I put our heads down, our fearful tears mingling as we held our breath.

Quiet.  Slurping.  Really loud slurping.  The sound of heels moving across the floor.  The swish of clothing. A collective sigh as we all went back to work.

Crisis averted.

The Daily Communiqué – 11 April, 2019 – On Writing

Mostly my writing doesn’t get read by anyone.  Writing so publicly in The Daily Communiqué is challenging on more levels than just publishing something, anything, on a daily basis.

There will be a discernible variance in quality as I find my public voice.  Critical reviews are one thing, I can hide behind the intellectual and LitCrit when writing those.

Getting more personal, staying away from the diary like posts requires a willingness to be vulnerable to a buncha “I don’t know who might be reading this types.”  To be clear, I chose this and I welcome the challenge it brings.  I want it to elevate my writing.

Reading M. Todd Gallowglas’ Stopwatch Chronicles recently shook something loose.  I’m not sure what yet, but it definitely changed my visceral thoughts about my writing.  Some of my daily communiqués will be working through these new ideas.

And since writing this in November, I’ve been thinking about memoir.  River Queens is a great example.  This needs more research, and careful study, but I think there’s some things I could write that wouldn’t be too cringe inducing right now.

Aside from the work with my mentor on metamodernism (yes, it’s a thing and yes, I dig nerding out about it), I have no other “assignments.”  What we’re reading is challenging, and will take some time to get through them thoughtfully.

There are memoir-ish ideas for very short pieces floating around.  I want to weigh where the boundaries are for what I want to say.  Stopwatch Chronicles will have a fundamental impact on how I approach these pieces.

How I’ve evolved as a writer since October leaves me a little befuddled some times.  More than ever I claim “writer” as a part of my self and I’m becoming even more dedicated to pursing the craft.  Bette Davis said it best, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy [ride].”

 

The Daily Communiqué: 4 April 2019 – Procrastination

Procrastination.

“… procrastination is deeply existential, as it raises questions about individual agency and how we want to spend our time as opposed to how we actually do.”  (Lieberman, Charlotte. “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control).” The New York Times, 25 Mar. 2019)

Been there, done that to the point where I’ve lost complete track of what I’m supposed to be doing.  It’s the worst when I’m between day jobs and sit at home trying to convince myself things are getting done.  When clearly they’re not.  “I’m not writing right now because I’m thinking.”  Possibly true, but also a great disguise for procrastination.

I don’t wanna do that thing, usually write that thing, because it’s scary in there.  Big scary.  Even if it’s something no one but me is ever going to see, the inner critic/imposter convinces me I’m better off not even trying.

I mean, it’s not going to be any good right?  So why even try?  I’ll toddle off to do something completely mundane like filing or website clean up or, heaven forfend, dishes.  Yay!  I’m cleaning!  Boo, I’m still not doing the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

It becomes a spiral.  I recognize I’m procrastinating and I feel crappy about it, but I keep finding other things to do.  Until, finally I just give in and do the thing.  Then I wonder what all the fuss was about.

“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”  (op cit)

As I become healthier, I look to my emotions first.  “This is an interesting reaction to whatever just happened, what’s really going on?”  Knowing my emotional state helps get me going.

As I’ve developed in my writing, it’s gotten harder.  Many writers talk about this, “the better you get at writing, the harder it gets.”  And I often find myself putting off writing something because “ah, man harder?”  As far as I can tell, there is no point at which writing gets easier.

This is why it’s important to me to follow my favorite authors on Twitter and Facebook.  All of them have published books and work hard on their craft.  And all of them, these people which books I’ve paid for and admire from afar, say “This is hard, just shoot me now.”

So it appears I’m in very good company.  And that helps me get past the big scary and write.  Or at least be willing to face the big scary and write anyway.

 

Review: How Fiction Works

How Fiction Works by James Wood

Title:  How Fiction Works
Author:  James Wood
Published: 2018
ISBN: 9781250183927
Publisher: Farrar Strouss Giroux (now MacMillan)
Publisher’s Blurb:  James Wood ranges widely, from Homer to Make Way for Ducklings, from the Bible to John le Carré, and his book is both a study of the techniques of fiction-making and an alternative history of the novel. Playful and profound, How Fiction Works will be enlightening to writers, readers, and anyone else interested in what happens on the page.

Being a reviewer is writing, “This female character isn’t very nice which means she’s not a very good person and that makes it hard to read.”  Being a critical reviewer is writing, “this hard to like character takes everything we know about the anti-hero trope and turns it upside down, to the purpose of saving the Queen from near certain death.”  Knowing how craft works is the difference.

In How Fiction Works, James Wood writes, “… reading for significance is always a negotiation between our excited discovery of the work and our comprehension of the work after the excitements of discover have faded a bit.”  We could have read Goon Squad for the sheer brilliance of the story itself, and left it at that.  A lot of readers have. But because we look for significance in what we read, we cogitated and poked around.

Knowing about the craft of writing allows me to ask the questions which allow me to get beneath the surface of a work.  In working through Goon Squad three times, I found questions I didn’t know to ask, and ways to answer those questions.  Because I am working my way away from Reader Response, and learning to be think critically about a work, I need to know about craft.

When I look for reviews about a product, I look for the ones which tell me what the craftsmanship is like.  “This insta-pot is put together well. The display is easy to read, the settings are easy to set, the lid closes tightly, and the removable pot makes it easy to clean up.”  As opposed to, “I love this insta-pot and would buy again.” I’m not buying an appliance based on the last review, unless I know the person making the recommendation well.

Thinking critically about a book is recognizing how the book was written, the choices an author made to tell the story, and being able to write a more informed review.  As to credentials, people will trust reviewers who know about the craft of writing more than the one who only wants to recap and express fondness, or dislike, for the author and the genre.

When I review a book critically, I want to make it clear that I know something about the writer’s craft, and that I have some understanding of how craft serves the story.  I want my own writing to reflect that I know something about using craft and strive for thoughtful, well-crafted reviews. Having this knowledge leads to being included in conversations which go deeply, and being taken seriously enough to be invited again.

Instead of saying to myself, “Oh I know I can do better than that,” when I read reviews, I now look for reviews which go deeper and encourage myself to strive for that level of writing.  For me, it’s the difference between saying “I loved this book and if you love zombies you will too,” and, “Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series gives us a look at how her protagonist gains agency and self-esteem through being turned into a zombie and finding a power structure which supports her in her growth.”

“124 was spiteful,” is one of the best opening lines of a book ever.  Reader response would figure out that 124 was an address and the house at that address was haunted, and they might leave it at that.  Critical review will delve deeper, “Why is the ghost at 124 spiteful? What is it doing to tell us, the reader, why it’s behaving in such a way?  Why did Toni Morrison use the word spiteful instead of something like angry?” Even further a critical reviewer would be able to point to other examples of this deliberate type of disorientation in storytelling.  Once we learn about the craft, we can find the patterns in other stories and discuss why disorientation is good craft. We also learn when it’s been applied well and when it doesn’t work. This also gives us credence as reviewers, and provides evidence we speak from authority when writing a critical review.

Knowing about craft elevates the discussion and makes the experience of reading, and writing, richer.  How Fiction Works provided me with more tools with which to think about reading.  Plus it gave me the phrase “flaneurial realism.” to cherish.