Monday, September 27, 2010

Severed Heads and Punctured Egos

My husband has been having a couple of rough weeks, in the way that only a paramedic or cop or other civil servant tasked to deal with catastrophic trauma can. Since his birthday, and 1 year as a paramedic anniversary was last weekend, I decided to kidnap him and run away to a B&B on Carolina Beach, in hopes of getting his stress levels back to normal or lower.

It worked marvelously. We played with a boogie board I bought, soaked in the jacuzzi, and drank red wine from a Styrofoam cup under the full moon on a deserted beach, picking out planets and stars and various thoughts from our heads.

And my husband reminded me why I really married him. As we were sitting there on the beach, I told him about the two critiques I'd received about writing, (namely that when I tended to write in first person narrative, the other characters weren't fully developed as personalities. Both people said they wanted more of a sense of who the other people were.) And instead of petting my nose and telling me not to listen to those mean people, my husband dropped a bomb on me.

"That's because you aren't a good conversationalist."


"You are a great story-teller, but what you do when people talk is you wait impatiently for a point at which to contribute your own experiences, rather than building off of what they said, and asking questions to expand their statement. They may start talking about watermelons, and the conversation segues into bicycles, and when you get a chance, you immediately interject a story about watermelons, even though the conversation has moved on."

Ow. More so because I immediately recognized the truth of what he said, and also realized that I had been completely unaware that this was in opposition to what a good conversation REALLY is.

"Oh lord. I'm a bore?" I asked, still reeling from the epiphany.

"Sometimes. But I love you."

I always admired the bit in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night, when Lord Peter tells the woman he loves that she hasn't yet written the book she could write if she let go. She admits that it might hurt too much. And he looks at her and says brutally, "What does that matter, if it's honest?"

The fact Lord Peter was willing to savage Harriet's ego because it was the honest thing to do always seemed one of the essences of a true marriage of minds. Your partner has to be willing to tell you the unpleasant and painful truth, because sometimes they are the only ones who can or will do so.

If there were no other reasons for me to marry Max (he makes me laugh, he's a great kisser, and he's a genuinely good person), the fact that I can trust him to tell me the truth I don't want to hear is enough.

The hard part is giving the full measure of credit for insight to a man who squee'd like a girl when he found a severed rubber head (with windpipe and esophagus) of Jason, the serial killer from Friday the 13th, in a Walgreen's and promptly bought it so he could hang it in his ambulance for Halloween.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Woo hoo! - Batman vs. Blake = A- for me!

One paper down, six to go. I got an A- on the paper my Blake and Batman paper.

(Why yes, my constant cartoon habit served me well.)

My thesis was that "The Tyger" is more about the darkness that preys upon man from without, than the darkness within man. To me, this poem seemed to rail against the unfairness of life and the bad things that happen against which there is no defense but submission and progression.

This seemed rather self-evident to me, but I was raised on the mantra of "Life sucks, get on with it." This is to say, stop whining, and get to work fixing what ails you. Could be either West Texan or Southern Baptist, I'm not sure which, but I suspect the first more than the second, though there's definite hints of "bad things happen so you have the opportunity to rely on God who will help you through" in the theology.

I suspect Blake was extremely frustrated with his lot in life, his unrecognized genius, his constant monetary struggles, (and his definite impression that he could lead the world into enlightenment if only people WOULD LISTEN to him. - Frankly, I find it much easier to enjoy his poetry without thinking about Blake the man, because his personality traits aggravate the hell out of me.)

The point is, the poem seems to be asking why there's evil in the world, but my point was that it was from the viewpoint of someone being victimized and preyed upon, rather than from someone who wondered why people did bad things. The use of a man-eating tiger, the use of darkness as a personification, and the definite indictment of whatever being's "daring" created the monster that preys upon mankind.
Those all seemed evidence to me that Blake was writing from a victim's point of view, than a philosopher's. I read a lot of "Why *me*!" in the poem.

(which is not to say that I don't like the poem. It's been one of my favorites since junior high.)

Batman came in as evidence of the modern interpretation that Blake was talking about the darkness in mankind, asking why evil people exist, given an episode involving a genetically spliced Tiger-man named Tygrus quoted those lines, though as an indictment against the evils of man playing God with genetic tampering.

What got me, was she said this was an original paper and a very unconventional thesis. I've been trying to figure out if she meant it or if she was blowing grey clouds of encouragement up online-student derriere all day, cause I thought I was being very conventional. Goes to show I have no sense of normal I suppose.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Building a writing career for $200, Alex.

I submitted the short story about the gangster that isn't a communist to my fiction writing professor, (The illustrious Richard Krawiec. I keep trying not to gibber at him. I'm also bragging a little bit 'cause, totally neener.)

As a note, this is the very first time I'd ever given my writing to someone who qualified as a professional writer for feedback. I was a little nervous about it, because
a) I was supposed to turn in a dramatic scene only. He was under no obligation whatsoever to give me any feedback at all on a 4,500 word story instead of the assigned 500 word scene, and I was worried that it might have been very rude to ask.
b) OMG, professional, published, acclaimed writer looking at my work!

He nailed me on the point that I needed to cut all the communism references I'd initially started with as they felt contrived compared to what had evolved as the real story, and he pointed out some logistic errors regarding points of view and my transitions therein. He also pointed out that one of the characters needed to be more than a wall to bounce conversation off. There were a few other things as well, but all of the things he mentioned were things that I hadn't seen. (And I had spent several hours, -6-, revising before I sent it on.)

My reaction to seeing all the red spots? "WOO! He took my writing seriously!" Because he gave me detailed, pointed, and lots of feedback, as opposed to a vague, "That's nice. Try revising a little more to get rid of some of the nonessentials, and it'll be better!"

So I went through each of his suggestions and revisions, and I reworked it. I'm letting it sit, and then I'm going after it again tonight.

So here's what I'm not sure of. Should I send it back to him, and ask if I properly understood and implemented his suggestions, or should I email him and ask if he would want to see it after the changes were made? I mean, on one hand, he's my professor in a course on creative writing, but on the other hand, I am taking up his time on technically-unrelated-to-specific-class-assignments.

Mrph. In other news, I applied to join a writing group that meets locally, in hopes of kicking my own ass on a schedule.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Characters are like Zombies. They rise up when you least expect them.

My first serious writing experiences were on MUSHes. (Multi-User Shared Hallucination). MUSHes are text-based games in which you create a character, and interact with other created characters, all via text. The better you write, the more real your character becomes. You learn how to give away what you want to share about your character without coming right out and saying it. And you write a LOT. Paragraphs and paragraphs, pages and pages. You learn to start thinking in entire small blocks of action/reaction. I'd recommend them for writers as practice, if it wasn't for the fact they're terribly addictive and time-sucking.

The catch is that MUSHes are usually thematic. The point of the game is known to everyone, and the plot is known ahead of time. Rather than moving from a beginning to an end, your characters are moving through time, moment by moment, scene by scene with the endpoints in far distant future and past, unknowing of your own fate.

The downside here is that you start thinking of plots in these huge overarching waves, and your characters tend to live so much in the moment that they never go anywhere.

The one thing I learned on MUSHes though, was that characters evolve, sometimes in ways you didn't expect them to go. They'll develop phobias, or feelings that you don't agree with, or suddenly hook a left turn into crazy town without signalling.

I figured that was just an aspect of MUSHing. That in a carefully constructed plot, plan and story, that they wouldn't go rogue, because they would be taped the hell down.

I started writing about a communist gangster, because the idea amused the hell out of me. I imagined this short story that would be a humorous diatribe about how a mafioso decided to become a communist because he hated banks, and because he viewed the mafia ownership of unions as supporting the proletariat. I'd be sticking it to the man.

I initially put him in a bar with a beautiful woman, to chat about the purpose of communism and his roles in the mafia. A great contrast of two things that shouldn't go together.

So I started writing. But then out of nowhere, a plot whapped me upside the head. My characters were suddenly driving the story, and I didn't know how it was going to end. I got hijacked by my own writing.

I ended up with a 4,500 word story that I then had to go back and clean up, because the communism had become completely irrelevant to what the characters and story were really about.

I don't know what to do with it now. It was intended to be a journal exercise only. But it's got a life of its own, and I'm a little afraid it won't be content to hide in a drawer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My brain is getting toned.

In the British literature class I'm taking online, we've been feasting on Blake ("Tyger, tyger, burning bright"), Wordsworth (Christabel) and Coleridge (Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kublai Khan), and drowning in the decadent waves of rhythm and sound and meaning and beauty. Thick, rich, multilayered beauty. Beauty that echoes in your brain and breeds its wiggly spawn of inspiration. (It's not a coincidence that Elephantis hatched after a night of reading Blake.)

I've spent most of the last few years on a steady diet of Agatha Christie (fish-and-chips - British and enjoyed by everyone), Terry Pratchett (dry wine - intoxicating, sharp, and sneaks up on you when you're not looking), Meg Cabot (Cotton candy - Sweet, pointless, and guilty pleasure), and an occasional foray into Dorothy Sayers when my brain demanded vegetables. Suddenly getting a glut of actual intelligent and carefully crafted wordsmithery is making my sluggish and out of shape brain rebel. I have to read things two or three times because I taught my brain to skim entire paragraphs at a stretch. In order to catch every nuance and meaning, I have to read, and reread, and reread again.

I hadn't realized that my literary muscles were that out of shape.

Last night, talking to my wise Canucky husband, I mentioned that I needed to get cracking on working on the revisions of my novel, since one of my beta readers had returned it with comments, edits, and suggestions. He pointed out that I might want to wait until the end of the semester, because I'll be a different person, based on the education and practice I've received. My brain will be trim and toned, and reading for sound and meter, and meaning, and purpose.

He also suggested I work on something else like another short story or perhaps the beginnings to novel #2. Something entirely different that doesn't have the dregs of previous thoughts weighing it down.

It's entirely possible I'll scrap novel #1 entirely as a practice effort.

From now on, I'm putting my brain on a diet of *good*, *quality* writing (Healthy grains and fruits and veggies). Good poetry to set up the mental metronome, so it can tick away the rhythm of sentences, and whisper the imagery of dreams into listening ears. Short stories that rip and tear with genteel phrases. All that good super-foodie stuff.

Instead of the physical fitness revolution, let's start the mental fitness revolution! Go read something that won awards, and doesn't make sense the first time through. Time to get that flabby frontal lobe in fighting fit!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A poem

I got whacked last night by an inspiration fairy, and this poem popped into my brain. If I hadn't left my journal in the car, I would have gotten up to jot it down. As it was, I repeated it to myself 8 times before I would let myself go to sleep.


O Elephantis from Atlantis
tell us what the fault of man is!
Our enlightened ways have come to naught,
our great thinkers have all thought.

Yet still there's suffering and despair.
Poisons taint land, sea, and air.
O Elephantis from Atlantis,
give us guidance in your answers.

Tell us which path we first should wend,
that all our troubles will soonest end.
Should starving children first we feed?
Give shelter and schools to those in need?

Or, Elephantis, think it wise,
that environmentally we devise
our efforts toward nature's regime?
Should we kill to justify our means?

There are so many voices now,
all clamoring for ears.
We can not choose between them all,
and drown beneath their tears.

O Elephantis from Atlantis,
tell us what the fault of man is.