Sunday, August 31, 2008

sleeping while writing

Didn't post last night because about 9 pm the sleepy-and-stupid fell on me with a thump, and I went to bed. Mark followed me up and read in bed for a while, so I didn't fall asleep as soon as I'd hoped, though that might have been due to plot bubbling around in my head.
I woke up about 4 am from a vivid dream of forests, and of scrambling up a steep slope of red duff (red because of the cedar bark, I think) to get off the logging road before a logging truck barrelled down on me. Oddly, although the duff gave under my feet in that way it does, there wasn't any of the dream / nightmare run but get nowhere element.

Well. Yesterday's progress:
Drank entire large pot of tea, started second pot. This may not be the best practice.
Drank one cup of coffee.
Iced and heated muscles behind right shoulderblade, as directed.
Wordcount at lunch break: 2218
Wordcount at supper break: 4007
Wordcount before bed: 5268

That made my absolute minimum, but won't bring me to the 20k mark unless I make up the deficit today. I do wonder if I'd be better not to write at home, for this. There are too many distractions, like dishes to be done and clothes to fold, and the plums coming ripe, and pears and apples falling off the tree. The first year I had to break for teaching a class, judging a display, and the usual camping stuff of setup and takedown, but my writing was done in a coffeeshop by night, without company, so each session was more concentrated.
On the other hand, where would I stay? Hotels are classed in my mind as too expensive, last resort only, can't you sleep in the car?

Oh well, plot. Since the mpd plot escaped me last year, I decided to make it central this year, and to pull in some of the ideas growing from the Climbing Boys story that were discussed at Potlatch, of trafficking in ghosts.
Tim Powers's idea of addicts snorting ghosts is of course the best ever, so I've gone with a lower-key and smaller market. The opening scene is the theft of a ghost (but not the ghost they thought) from a castle during a tour. The motive for the theft isn't explained yet, but the castle staff assume it's to reduce the tourist attractiveness.
When I quit last night, it was in the midst of another pair of characters, one being a natural ghost-attractor, about to discover how that works, by sucking up a ghost. For mutual benefit.
I'd really like to hit 14-15k tonight. So this may be a late one. I'll see if chocolate covered coffee beans work better than coffee does for me.

Friday, August 29, 2008

write while sleeping

The 3-Day Novel Contest starts tonight at midnight. I will be asleep. My plan is to get up at my usual time tomorrow, between 5 and 6 am, have breakfast and write until noon. Break for lunch, write again until dinner. Write until I feel sleepy and stupid, then go to bed.
Sunday night I may invoke caffeine and ginger teamix and stay up into the stupid stage. We'll see. I will try to pop online and give a brief rundown of where the plot has gotten to--probably somewhere between the table-legs, covered in dust bunnies--each night.

I've stocked up on ginger teamix, black tea, dried fruit, rice crackers, and emergency chocolate. I have an outline written out on 3x5 cards. I have no commitments except writing.
Wonder how much of the appeal of this contest is the opportunity to get into the siege mentality? The attraction of zombie movies--how would I defend my house against zombies, and what supplies would I need to have on hand?
Now I wish my outline had zombies in it. I could write about a hopeful novelist besieged by zombies over a long weekend. Nah, it's been done. My outline does have rather a lot of plot in it, so I should be able to restrain my style by concentrating on the action. And I've acclimatised myself by reading several past winners over the last couple of weeks.
Love Block
Body Speaking Words
Stolen Voices / Vacant Rooms
Circle of Birds
Starting Small
Hardwired Angel (the only sf to win)
Accordion Lessons
Dr. Tin

As soon as the blackberry pie comes out of the oven, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why layout matters

Unfortunately, they don't come in black.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

ills that flesh is heir to, continued

Rheumatologist appointment this afternoon--made only this morning, so I suppose someone cancelled--and the tentative diagnosis is that I'm in the 30% of palindromic arthritis cases who graduate to rheumatoid arthritis.
Pretty much what I'd expected, since the second knuckle of my left hand has been swollen since February, unlike the usual palindromic thing where a random joint swells and goes down again within a couple of days (sometimes only hours). The right hand has been fine, so I wasn't symmetrical, but arthritis is just shifty and variable and unreliable. Though not as bad as lupus (It's never lupus) that way.

So, new drugs! Going to add methotrexate, which is such an exciting drug that the rheumatism website wants to show you an exclamation-marked video about it! It's on youtube! It is cooler and more exciting than me!
Methotrexate is a chemotherapy drug, but not to worry, because the doses for arthritis are teeny-tiny (a technical term) compared to the whacking huge doses you'd get for chemo. Oh, and they're not quite sure why it works for arthritis, just the way they're not quite sure why hydroxychloroquin (a quinine derivative) works for arthritis.
I think they may know why naproxen works. Maybe. It would be nice if I were taking one drug whose workings were comprehensible.
RA is a possibility I've been aware of from the first diagnosis, so I'm not upset. I'll just have to see what happens down the road, and cope with it as it comes (which is how life works anyway). Dr. Northcott seems pretty positive about the methotexate, which I keep wanting to call meths, and I tend to be lucky with side effects, so there's no point fussing.

What is more than a little annoying is that alcohol is pretty much out. One drink a week is what the pamphlet says. Of course this happens just as I've found a local cider that I like. I thought I didn't like cider (I don't like beer--it smells bad to me) until Mark got me to try a local still cider while we were in Suffolk, and it was lovely. Like what white wine ought to be (this will make no sense to you if you prefer white wine) and nothing like the fizzypop cider that comes in cases.
I stopped at Sea Cider on the way back from the ferries, caught their birthday celebration, and bought two bottles--Pippins, and Kings and Spies. Both were very nice indeed but I thought Kings and Spies had the edge.
If I can only have one drink a week, it had better be a good one.

In other news, I've almost caught up with the Transparent apples, and the blackberries have come in, forcing me to learn to make pies. Honestly, pastry intimidates me. It's one of those deceptively simple things, like gesso sottile, where the ingredients may be exactly right but all hope of success lies in having the right touch, and preferably decades of experience. So even though the pie looks okay, and the fruit sets, and slices can be cut and it all gets eaten, in some subtle way it can still be a failure.
Which is why I prefer making cookies. Pastry seems like a sneaking incursion of the imponderables of cooking into the rational world of baking, where if you follow the recipe you come through safely.
The third blackberry pie I've made in the last week is cooling on the baking centre now. This is not my fault.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

a bit early for the mellow fruitfulness

I am beset by apples. Two dehydrators (one with the charming name of Jerky Express, the other the Snackmaster) are humming away in different notes--possibly reducing my hearing in the 'annoying hum' range--and an apple crumble cools in the fridge, yet a heaped mixing bowl of apples remains untouched. Oh, and a bag of apples was left surreptitiously on our neighbour's porch. (Passive voice used to avoid identifying the agent.)
This is just the windfall of two days, you understand. I've filled two tupperware storage tubs with dried apples, and this from the windfalls of the first tree. I'm thinking of offering a sandwich bag of dried apples to anyone who sends me the postage, which Mark thinks would be about $3 for the smaller size of padded envelope & mailing costs.
I don't know--any of my theoretical readers interested in utterly organic apple slices, dried only by air, with no sulfates or sulfites or whatever it is, not even lemon juice?

Assorted signs and portents: a sign that I've been neglecting new writing in favour of revising. I was bustling around the big table, laying out the dancers cloth for painting, and realised that a spider had built a web from the corner of my laptop to the corner of the bookcase beside it.
Unfortunately both cameras were away from home, one in Pennsylvania and one camping somewhere (Saltspring?) so you must rely on my words only. A small tawny striped spider, possibly thumbnail size with legs extended, swaying gently in the centre of a full-size classic-style web showing as thin angles of light where the sun struck.
I'm enough Scot that I won't kill a spider, so I spoke gently to it, and lifted the mooring strand from my laptop over to the bookcase. The web rolled up and the spider scrambled to the upper regions. Hoping that we could reach an understanding, I got myself a cup of tea, sat in the windowseat and opened up the Refuge doc, to establish my territory.
The next day the spider had moved down and covered the spot where I put my teacup. Okay. I spoke gently once again, and lifted the bottom of the web. The spider retreated behind a corner of Trinity's multicoloured unicorn picture and remained there while I typed.
Repeat the next day. I don't mind a spider in the corner. I just want my seat and the place where I put my cup free. I'm still hopeful that we can work this out.

A sign of whose meaning I am unsure: my willow bush dropped its leaves. A few years ago, while at the Golden Swan event in Oliver BC, I broke a couple of willow wands from a tree at the event site, wrapped them in damp paper, brought them home and stuck them in a jar of water. One survived and grew, and I put it in a jar of dirt, eventually transplanting it to a flowerpot. Then to a bigger flowerpot, and off the windowsill where it no longer fit to the back steps. It survived late repottings, dry spells, a crushing snowfall (that killed the upright shoot and sent it growing off at an angle) and being blown over. Presently it sits on the front porch, in the biggest flowerpot I have, and most recently survived going unwatered while we were in England.
Even though I've been watering it regularly, this month it was losing its leaves, and those that didn't fall off were brown and withered. Yet I couldn't find any sign of parasites or other damage. Did it need repotting again? Was I willing to repot it endlessly, when I could barely lift its latest home? (Answer: no.) Also, I was busily ignoring any possible parallels between the growth and die-off of the willow and of The Willow Knot.
This week I see that new growth is springing out, little clusters of leaves replacing the fallen ones. Willows are hard to kill.

Writey things: I was at Bolen Books and found a copy of Year's Best SF, so yes, I looked in the hon. mentions list to make sure, and yes, the Elfland story was in there. Also the amazing Jen Pelland had two hon. mentions - woo! and her name spelt right, I think.
I've sent my registration off to the 3-Day Novel Contest. I see that it's the same weekend as the Farthing Party, but since I can't afford to get to that one anyways, I'm not too conflicted. I am almost decided to get a membership to Worldcon 2009, though, which also means stumping up the money to get to Montreal.

The polishing of draft 3 of Willow Knot is almost finished. I've cleaned up the timeline and fixed some motivations, clarified how Tyl came to be enchanted, and some things like that. I'm a little happier with the proposal scene and with Midame's testimony. (can a woman give testimony? what would she hold onto?)
I've also been thinking on prusik's tough question of what the book is about, though mostly by trying to come up with a logline / elevator pitch / summary. I'm much better at doing this with other people's books, naturally. I think the book is about responsibility and when to let go of it; about how love is more complicated than it looks and easier to mess up than you'd think; about how some things are better unmade. None of which are very helpful or intriguing.
Logline attempt: "When Mylla's brother is trapped by enchantment, all she wants is to free him. But to do that she must save a princess, a kingdom, and herself." I want to work in that she has to accept the help of the king who executed her father, but I can't get it to flow yet. Will think more, though really I should be coming up with a two-paragraph summary, not a two-sentence one.
Also I should finish the polishing first, and take my territory back from the spider.

Monday, August 4, 2008

All kinds of harvests

Fruit harvest. Mark is in Pennsylvania, at the Pennsic War, while I manage the home front. The Transparent apples have already started dropping, and I've done two dehydrator loads and have a third humming away in the laundry room as I type. It's a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator, by the way, and I'm quite pleased with it.
Two mixing bowls of windfall Transparents sit on the counter, waiting their turn, and a half-dozen unbruised apples are reserved to the hanging basket, to go for brown bag lunches.
Transparents are nice tart apples, best just before they're ripe (I think). They bruise easily and their ripeness window is much like pears, in that when they look lovely and golden on the outside, they've passed their prime and become mushy. Like pears, they tend to come ripe all at once, so that you have to run around the neighbourhood by night, leaving bags of fruit on your neighbours' doorsteps. In late summer there can be a lot of this sort of traffic, and what Neighbourhood Watch makes of it I'm not sure. But this is why I consider dehydrators one of those Important Inventions, like printing presses and bread slicers.
The white currant bush has been fruiting for a couple of months, and I've been having a bowl of currants for breakfast, with no apparent diminishing of the available crop. According to Food From Your Garden, I've been picking them wrong, and should have been taking the whole stalk, then removing the berries by 'running the prongs of a fork down the length of the stalk', which sounds like a brilliant idea.
The blackberries, which cover the rock that makes a sort of back wall to the garden, are vigorous this year, probably because I was hacking them back in the winter and spring. The berries are coming in purple and black at the tips of the stalks, and I had a bowlful this morning. As the ripeness moves back along the vine, there'll be more and more coming ripe at once, and they don't dry well, so it'll be the freezer for them.
Hmm, this might be a good time to try defrosting the freezer, with the dehydrator going beside it to provide extra impetus. Hmm. Before it starts to fill up again with fruit.

Book harvest. I've been bookswapping with my friends Joanna (who used to run Poor Richard's Books) and Anna, and have been making some small inroads on my TBR pile(s) as well. Recently read:
The Sun the Moon and the Stars, by Steven Brust, in the Fairy Tales series, both because I read most of the Fairy Tales series, and because it's recommended by Jim Macdonald in his Learn Novel Writing with Uncle Jim thread on Absolute Write. I can see why, because the narrator talks about how he understands painting (the modern part of the story takes place in a studio shared by struggling artists) and his discussion and discoveries about painting and creating art are dead on for writing. They might also apply to music, but I'm not sure, because I'm not a musician, and because I think there are differences between 'artifact art' and 'experience art'. Someone on the writing thread stopped reading the book because of not liking the narrator, which seemed to me to be missing the point, rather.
Through a Brazen Mirror, by Delia Sherman, which I'd wanted to find because I keep a list of books based on ballads and folksongs, and this is a retelling of The Famous Flower of Serving Men (Child 106), the version performed by Martin Carthy. It's a bleak song, and a bleaker story, beautifully grounded in a closely-observed medieval world. Happy endings are in short supply. A young woman's husband and child are murdered by bandits, and she is left to wander the world alone. It isn't cruel fate, it's the malice of her mother, a witch who fears destruction at the hands of the daughter who doesn't even know she exists. In the witch's thread, it's the old trap of trying to defeat a prophecy, with every stratagem doing more to bring it about. In the daughter's thread, it's trying to survive when you've lost even the reason to. Disguised as a young man, she takes service with a king, who himself mourns the death in battle of his favourite.
I was interested to see how the song narrative was fleshed out with motivations and background, because that's what I've been doing with Willow Knot, filling in the gaps. It's felt to me as if most of what developed was already there in the original text, like seeds in the furrows, and the revising and reworking and rethinking is what brings them to full growth.
Winter Rose and Solstice Wood, by Patricia McKillip. I'm not entirely sure I should consider them together, because they're quite different, although one is a sort-of sequel to the other. Both are first person narration by a young woman who lives by a forest that is also the Fair Folk's forest, and who is unsure whether she herself is fully human, both are about mortals trapped in the Fairy Queen's land and the bargains made to bring them out again. But Solstice Wood pretty much overturns everything you think you learned from Winter Rose. In a pretty conceit, Rois's account (the first book) is preserved as a guide and handbook by her descendants in the second book.
The first book is not really a retelling of Tam Lin (Child 39), I'd say more that it's informed by the story of Tam Lin (surely the most retold ballad in the English language), as well as by The Heir of Linne (Child 267), with its ruined hall and father's curse. The writing is beautiful. F&SF's review is quoted: 'every sentence seems chipped from jewels or woven from water'. The storyline is fairly low-key, concerning a few people in a small village, and the stakes are a sister's life and a lover's soul, no kingdoms or worlds hanging in the balance. There's higher jeopardy in the second book, where the fairy realm may be at risk--though what the reader cares about, I think, is the two young mortals lost in that realm.
There was a discussion on Absolute Write some time back, about whether fictional heroes always have to save the world. One of the points brought up was that 'the world' is a rather amorphous concept, and needed, often, to be personalised (accessorised?) by a specific and concrete jeopardy of a loved one or a home. Which makes me wonder whether one really needs to bother with the world part, or better to save time and wordage by going straight to the small and particular jeopardy?

Beta harvest. I've had two sets of crits back from the Willow Knot 3d draft readers, mostly specific tweakings and clarifications. The denouement (Paul points out how appropriate that word is, meaning 'unknotting') is still an issue. I've found a jury-rigged solution for Midame's story, but it's not quite satisfactory. Paul suggested doing it as a prologue, which indeed I had considered except for that whole NO, NO, Nobody reads prologues! thing. Personally I read prologues, epilogues, forewords, afterwords, acknowledgements, dedications and the excerpt from the next book that's sometimes tucked in at the end. Because I paid for those words, dammit, and I'm going to get value. But I realise there are readers out there who just let extra words go to waste.
I'm doing my best to fix all the faults that I can clearly see as faults, but there are some places where I can't choose between alternatives. Midame's testimony is one. Another is the question of whether Baldolf should escape - it might make the trial (and hence the book) shorter, which would be a good thing, because ideally I'd like to cut another 5k and bring it down to 100k even. But it would look so much like sequel-bait, and might reduce the (already limited) satisfaction of the ending. Argh.

Deadlines: the 3-Day Novel Contest is coming up, and I want to have this draft (semi-draft?) finished before that weekend, so that I can concentrate.
Also, Viable Paradise is coming up, and at Potlatch the VPXers present vowed to have their current project at least half finished by the next VP, which means I need about another 20k wordage on The Astrologer's Death. I groan here, because that means another fight scene with revenants, and writing action scenes for me is like wading knee-high through gumbo mud. I'm told that this doesn't show afterwards, which is comforting, but still doesn't make me look forward to them.
From p.50 of The Sun the Moon and the Stars: "But you know what annoys me? It doesn't bother me when the work paints itself (or if you like, paints me)--that's what I most love. It doesn't even bother me when I have to fight for every drop, and spend hours covering a two-inch square ... No, what annoys me is that after I've finished a piece I can't tell which parts were easy and which parts were like pulling teeth."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Actually, it IS a pen.

Dear parents who are bringing your children through our Living History exhibit, please refrain from the following two behaviours:
1) From a distance, carefully not speaking to the people who are actually doing things, tell your children 'look, that's what they did before they had (blank)', most especially when you do not know what those people are actually doing, and you are guessing wildly.
2) When your children have come closer and are excitedly trying out whatever the re-enactor is demonstrating, loudly say to your child 'That's really hard, isn't it? Aren't you glad you don't have to do it that way now?'

I understand that in the first case you are trying desperately to maintain the illusion for your child that you do know everything, and in the second you want your child to appreciate his/her advantages. But the only solid way to achieve the first is to lock your children in a cellar without an internet connection. The second one is self-defeating--how can someone gain and maintain interest in the world around them when they constantly get the message that other ways of being and doing are inherently difficult and second-best? Might as well stay in that cellar, provided it has internet access.
Admittedly, I subvert both of these tactics every chance I get. When I hear from one of the passing blurs (I don't wear my glasses when I'm 14th c.) "Look, that's what they used before they had pens." I say clearly "But this is a pen. It writes well, and I can make it myself. Would you like to see how to make a feather into a pen?" If I'm feeling stroppy, I ask cheerfully if they can show me how to make one of their pens.

Fortunately, the majority of kids who come through are straightforwardly interested in everything we're doing, from weaving and cooking to woodturning and cutting quills. The armour and the Fiore school combat, of course, is teh sexxorrs, and the rest of us get a break when the wooden waster swords come out. Mark had more armour this year, and there was much excitement.
Many children went home with cut quills--Harry Potter has been good to the craft of writing with a quill. Many children also went home with 'your name written with a feather' which is my reliable turn, and gives me a snapshot of fashionable kid's names.
The old-fashioned names like Olivia are holding up (three Olivias) along with the oddly-spelled standard names. I collected about five different spellings for Kayley including Ceilidh (only one this year, last year I had two Ceilidhs), and a Kimber-leigh. The most gratuitous, I think, was Mhina, which her parents(?) admitted was spelled that way just because.
Probably these children will not be bothered by the spellings because their whole generation will have to spell their names out routinely. Mind you, because of bleddy Streisand, I've had to spell my perfectly ordinary name out for most of my life anyways. And medieval names had no standard spelling so it doesn't matter how anyone spells Linot.

Anyway, to celebrate Mark's new armour, here's a pic of me gazing adoringly at it--or at something just behind his head, according to him.