Monday, January 18, 2010

Music Monday: The Old Ways - Loreena McKennitt

Suddenly I knew that you'd have to go
Your world was not mine, your eyes told me so
Yet it was there I felt the crossroads of time

And I wondered why.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Music Monday: Music and Writing

I'm a music whore.

There, I said it.

As a very little kid one of my prized possessions was a plastic record player. After a few years went by it was a small, purple portable radio with a cassette player, which usually held either a Michael Jackson cassette or Snoopy's Christmas.

I got my first stereo system, complete with a CD player, when I was 11. At the time I think I was listening to Lari White and Mariah Carey, with a bit of Vanessa Williams and The Eagles thrown in. All music reminiscent of my parents' tastes.

As time progressed, my musical tastes grew and technology, quite obviously, improved. (Though I side with the people who say there's a warmth in the sound quality of a vinyl that you just can't get with digital.)

I tested the waters, developed my own aesthetic tastes in music, and tried various sounds and artists on for size, genres varying from rap to heavy metal, folk to synth-pop. I developed a pretty eclectic taste, that I largely tried to keep hidden during the last few years of grade school; certain music just wasn't in .

But, eventually I got rid of the juvenile need for peer approval about my auditory tastes, embraced my likes wholeheartedly, and today I have in my music library everything from Selena to David Bowie, Death Cab for Cutie to The Dresden Dolls, Loreena McKennitt to X-Japan, The Judds to Emilie Autumn, Opera to Swamp Rock.

You get the picture.

And music, over the years, has become more than just something to listen to.

It's a back drop for my life and a back drop for my writing.

I think the first piece of music that I ever wrote fiction to--a bad piece of fan fiction, I admit--was Loreena McKennitt's "Samhain Night". Her beautiful lyrics and haunting vocals seemed a perfect soundtrack for a story about moving between worlds.

After that, it became more common for me to set a piece of fiction to music or for the music to act as a springboard for a story. My headphones or stereo speakers became a regular compatriot in my writing time and some of my favorite pieces have been developed because of a certain song. (Bauhaus's "Hollow Hills" comes to mind; I have a particularly creepy, Gothic skeleton of a short story with a setting inspired by the lyrics.)

These days, I listen thoroughly to the music in my library, chasing story ideas throughout the lyrics or the melody; and I'm always on the look out for new and inspiring sounds.

That I can also use music to block out the sounds of the world around me--from colleagues to pets to significant others--while I'm writing, is a nice side benefit.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"In Wood and Water, Earth and Air, A Silence Is Everywhere."*

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself. ~Ruth Stout

I hate the cold. (A combined total of 11 years spent in the deserts of Las Vegas and Phoenix destroyed whatever tolerance living in south Georgia and Spangdahlem, Germany had managed to build up.)

But I love the season of winter.

Particularly when it brings snow.

We took a midnight walk through our apartment complex, across parking lots with patches of ice that nearly took our feet out from under us several times. I caught snowflakes on my tongue.

The lake is half-frozen over.

It's beautiful.

There's something so quiet, and soft, and reserved about winter nights like these.

The snow fall is slow and steady. The flakes, little more than whispers of ice.

And the ground glistens and sparkles. Like stars. Like moonlit mirrors.

Nights like these capture a little bit of that magic that seemed to abound when I was a kid.

The world under a layer of ice seems alien and exotic. And the question "what if?" that has run through my mind with fair consistency since I was little seems to be that much stronger.

What if those prints in the snow are from the hooves of a satyr? What if those long shadows under the frost laden branches are sylvan spirits come out for a breath of winter air? What if something's lurking beneath that ice on the lake?

The cold itself makes me pull inward, long for a cup of tea or coffee, the soft warmth of my bed, the pull of a good movie or book.

But the snow, the quiet hush of a world that seems to be holding it's breath beneath a white blanket, makes me want to pull out a notebook and see where my pen takes me.

(Title: From Loreena McKennitt's "Snow.")

I'm hopping today.
(I'm kind of amazed I had an old post that would actually fit in this category.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Starting the year off right...

The New Year is seven days old and I've finished two novels.

That's a good start for me.

The first is the near-epic in length Stephen King novel, Under the Dome.

Strangely, it only took me about five days to get through this one. The Stand took me a year.

...But I did take a sabbatical of about six months after I read the first half of The Stand because I wasn't ready to read about the rebuilding and restructuring of society.

I think I'm an apocalyptic gal at heart.

The second? Libba Bray's Rebel Angels. Which I read cover to cover last night.

In addition to apocalypses, I'm also a sucker for a Victorian setting and a decently strong female lead character.

So, I guess what I need is a woman battling against the odds during a Victorian era apocalypse and I'll be all set...

Monday, January 4, 2010

What’s Your Writing Style?

1. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

A little from column A, a little from column B.

Longer stories require more pre-plotting. Sometimes that's journaling, in character. Sometimes it's writing flash fictions for different characters. Sometimes it's outlining or note-taking or character profiling.

Shorter stories...those are usually "pants to the chair" types. It's the only way I can get them done. Otherwise, I wind up getting an information overload--more stuff than is feasible to go into a short story and then I have trouble deciding what to cut and where.

2. Detailed character sketches or “their character will be revealed to me as a I write”?


I have one novel idea for which I'm writing flash fictions for the main characters. It lets me get into their heads a little bit.

Some characters take well to doing a profile sheet (name, age, desires, etc.).

Some require actually delving into the novel/story content before they'll talk to me. Just depends on their personality.

3. Do you know your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts before you start writing or is that something else you discover only after you start writing?

I have a general idea of some of them. They're usually minor and play only a side part to the overarching goal/story/plot. The rest usually come as I write.

4. Books on plotting – useful or harmful?


Anything on writing, I think one must keep at arm's length. Read, consider, learn...get rid of what doesn't work for you. Not every person's process works the same. One exercise or piece of advice isn't going to work for you the same way it works for another writer.

5. Are you a procrastinator or does the itch to write keep at you until you sit down and work?

A little from column "A," a little from column "B."

An average writing-night for me might go something like this:

Cup of tea. Write a paragraph. Cup of coffee. Delete half a paragraph. Write two paragraphs. Clean the kitchen. Write a paragraph. Watch an episode of Buffy. Write a few lines. Delete a few lines. Write a sentence. Clean off the computer desk. Cup of tea. Write three or four paragraphs. Dance around to some music. Write a 500-1000 word flash fiction. Food break. Write a character sketch.

On a non-average night, when everything's clean (definitely not average) and there are no interruptions (from the partner or the cats), I can probably put my pants to the seat and get a good rough draft or outline of what I'm working on.

6. Do you write in short bursts of creative energy, or can you sit down and write for hours at a time?


The day job can be hell on my creative spark. Sometimes I just don't want to mess with words after I've spent all day doing just that... Sometimes I just want to veg out. Or I want do something physical (take a long walk).

During those times the creative bursts of energy are the one thing that can usually get my pen moving.

I'm getting better at making myself write, even if I don't want to and can come up with a million excuses why I should be doing something else.

But, I still fail a lot.

7. Are you a morning or afternoon writer?

I'm a night person by nature, a morning person by necessity. I can write at any time, in any place, and, usually, with any kind of distraction. Sometimes the best stuff comes in the mornings, when I'm still half asleep, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Sometimes it comes late at night, when I'm, again, half asleep and starting to think the pillow would be a better head rest than my keyboard.

8. Do you write with music/the noise of children/in a cafe or other public setting, or do you need complete silence to concentrate?


In general, I can write with distractions. Drafting, editing, character sketches, whatever. You have to be able to do that, because there's always going to be someone who's interrupting you, invading your space, talking to you about something they think is interesting. Even if you have your "writing hat" on. (The one that has a sign on it that says: "Unless something's on fire, don't disturb me.")

But I have moments--if I'm trying to figure out a transition, or get through a particularly hard scene--where I need quiet. I need everyone to leave me the hell alone and let me get through what I need to get through (even if they occasionally hear sobs or muttered cursing coming from my general vicinity).

9. Computer or longhand? (or typewriter?)

All of the above. Some works come out easier long-hand and halfway through I move to the computer. Some works come out easier on the PC. Sometimes I use the electric typewriter for the industrial click-click-clack of the keys that make it sound like I'm working really hard.

10. Do you know the ending before you type Chapter One?

Sometimes--for novels or novellas--I have a general sense of how they'll end. I may not know the exact scene.

For short stories, I generally have a good idea of the ending scene. It's the middle I have problems getting to...

11. Does what’s selling in the market influence how and what you write?

In the business sense: hell no. I will admit that I'm influenced by fiction I read... Just as I am by music I listen to, movies I watch, art I see, etc.

If I wrote for the Market, I'd never get anything done.

It's better to write for yourself and have no audience, than to write for an audience and have no self.

I try to remember this.

I don't want my writing to turn into this mind-numbing, soulless occupation. It's something I enjoy. I want to enjoy it. I can't do that by trying to anticipate what other people want to read or what the markets want to sell... And, anyway, by the time I finish something the market will have changed yet again.

12. Editing – love it or hate it?

I love refining words. It's like sculpting. You already have your material (words on paper) so it's a matter of pushing and pulling and stroking and smoothing things to suit your needs and the needs of your characters.

When editing bugs me, it's for the same reasons as writing bugs me. I'm blocked. I can't figure out a transition. I don't like/can't work with the POV I've written in. Certain pieces in the story don't fit well together or events seem out of order or over developed.

I have some stories where, in the editing process, I've found I need to scrap (or come close to scrapping) the entire story, which is endlessly frustrating because I've already spent so much time drafting and sculpting.

And a Happy 2010 to you.

According to my "Get Your Words Out" spreadsheet, I wrote 108,213 words of fiction in 2009. I fell short of my goal of 200,000.

Though, knowing me, I probably wrote more than that and forgot to record it.

And when you add in blogging and private journaling and the writing I do for work, I probably jetted past the 2k mark. (Though such words don't count for this challenge.)

So, in all, not too shabby a year. Word-wise, at least. The rest of the year...well, let's not dredge that up. It's not all bad. The came at intervals.

Let's look ahead.

2010 is off to a slow start.

I blame the weather. (Between you and me, I've largely been lazy, but I maintain the weather plays a part. It's been below freezing; my blood turns to ice. Seven years in the desert removed whatever cold resistance I built up during three years in Germany.)

On Friday I finished Stephen King's Under the Dome, a book which I hadn't planned on reading but picked up post-Christmas at B&N and got sucked into. Took me five days. I could have finished it sooner had I not needed to take breaks from it every so often because some of the characters were so corrupt and downright evil that I just couldn't turn another page without taking a breather.

I enjoyed that aspect very much.

King is wonderful at writing corrupt, power-hungry fundie-religious political characters with good ol' boy syndrome.

And dogs. Mustn't forget the dogs. Heroic Corgis and German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers.

Saturday and Sunday, I spent curled up in my bedroom in my apartment, with my heating pad, my laptop, and piles of pillows and blankets as well as four cats--who rotated their presence in the room, occasionally napping on my lap and sharing their furry little body heat--drinking coffee, tea and having a Xenomorph marathon (Aliens Quadrilogy, AVP, and AVP: Requiem).

In those two days, I managed to write...wait for it...a paragraph.

Not even a good paragraph.

It's a load bearing paragraph.

And the load it bears isn't that much. But it's a footstep back into the short story I was working on before I got sucked into NaNoWriMo '09, so I won't complain too much; I can't expect the characters and the mood to just jump at me with open arms after a two months long abandonment. (While I didn't do much during December, I did manage to wrangle some research for the NaNo re-draft and do some plot journaling.)

This story is next on my plate--as I continue to fiddle with the NaNo re-draft--something short and fairly contained that I can have a reasonable expectation of completing in a couple of days to a week.

If the seat of the pants keeps to the seat of the chair.

I digress, to say that all of this is, in a roundabout fashion, leading to my tasks for the year.

Not resolutions, because resolutions get broken.

Tasks. I'm used to tasks.

The tasks?

To stop making excuses for my lack of writing. If I don't write, it's because--barring heavy illness or broken fingers or major emergency (fire, flood, hemorrhage, etc)--I didn't want to.

To wrangle the muse if he or she's in reach; to trudge forward if he or she isn't.

To write fiction everyday, even if it's only 100 words.

To write fiction sporadically, if need be, instead of waiting for a stretch of time in which to settle down and write.

To tell my Inner Critic to fuck off whenever she starts to come out during the drafting process.

To allow myself to write shitty first drafts.

To allow myself to write shitty second drafts.

To allow myself time, without guilt, to chase some of those strange and interesting topics that have nothing to do with my story when I come across them while researching. (You never know, they could come in handy later.)

To allow myself time to read without feeling guilty about the fact that I'm not writing.

To put words before play. 100-500 words and then I can read Facebook or check the blogs I follow. 600-1100 words and then I can play an hour of Borderlands. Or Arkham Asylum. Or whatever other game is currently swallowing my psyche. (Games are wonderful inspiration for me, especially atmospheric RPGs, but they're a double edged sword.)

To submit "Drawing Shadows" to the next market on the list and not worry about whether or not it will be rejected, but enjoy the fact that it's out there, making the rounds.

To submit the flash pieces I've been sitting on for the last six months.

To worry less about being an author...

...and focus more on being a writer. With all the headaches and annoyances and neuroses and pleasures and internal successes that writing brings.

At the moment, I'm at work, sitting in my icy cubicle--in my corner, I get the brunt of winter chill and summer heat--and trying to reconfigure my brain after having taken a week and a half off for the holidays. I'm going into a meeting at 10:30. I'll probably have internal meet ups before that.

But, until then, I'm going to refill my coffee cup.

And write 100 words.
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