Friday, October 30, 2009

Looking Over the Rail: Life Course Changes

Not much progress on the website. I'm a writer, not a webmaster!

Oh well.

Back to stuff about writing. One of the tough things about any kind of work or really anything is how to enact necessary changes. Dean Wesley Smith put it very nicely in the master's class--life is like an ocean liner. It can't turn on a dime. My corollary--you personally can turn on a dime, but it'll involve jumping ship. What does the ship represent? Family. Job. Home. Financial and social obligations. Your life as you know it, and all the ties that connect you to the world around you. The more you're willing to give up, the faster you can change.

A fast change isn't necessarily a good one, though, and it may not be lasting. In fact, you may crash and end up managing nothing but the damage you've caused yourself and others (if they don't abandon you entirely--and financial institutions will of course haunt you.) You'll have escaped into a storm, not the future you wanted. Going back to the jumping ship analogy, you have a moment of freedom--freefall--scary and exhilarating and, if you're that sort, fun. Then you hit the water. Slam. Culture shock, as in your own personal culture is no longer accessible and you're a stranger in a world completely alien to you. Shock from damage. Damage you cause yourself, financially, emotionally, maybe even physically (but I thought living in a cardboard box would work--why am I having to deal with frostbite?) Shock as you realize that big change is hard, and that now you have to swim. Staying afloat isn't a stasis situation anymore. Or, if the ship was sinking, at least it was sinking slow and now ...

Some people deal with shock better than others. They can run away to Europe and start hitchhiking, just getting by, and never look back on their old lives. They can ignore their family and work sixteen hours in their office every day, only surfacing for junk food, and not suffer from the resentment, or ensuing divorce, or the guilt if a child gets hurt and they don't notice for three hours. Each course change a person sets has positive and negative effects, foreseen and unforeseen. The bigger the change, the more effects there will be. If you can't deal with those side effects, you may try to climb back onboard. But the ship may have already gone on its way. Even if it hasn't, it may not be possible to get back on unless someone throws you line. And if you do make it, you can bet your status on that ship will have changed.

I'm not saying if you need a big change, don't jump ship. But consider how much you can handle, and whether or not you're willing to lose everything. A slow change may be more manageable, and more sane, and you may be able to adapt more easily to those unforeseen circumstances as they come up.

Sometimes there isn't a choice. Sometimes a lifestyle change is what you need to save your life, or to give yourself a shot at a future you want to live to see. Maybe those two things are the same. And maybe your ship has run aground and the only way to move forward is to get off. Anyway, as a model this works really well for me. I'll look at my decisions in a whole new way. Maybe it'll make me a more effective writer, and a more effective human being.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crazy-Making Website Update

Now I'm totally confused. If my site goes down for no apparent reason ...

well ...

there's a reason.

It's because I am an ftp amateur.

Pity me.

Crazy-Making Website

I've been working on my old website. I don't have anything new up yet--it's going to take me a bit of offline gymnastics to figure out how to upload the work I've done over the past few days. Watch out for that last step, it's a doozy ...

One of the things that I found particularly difficult was working up each page so that it fit the subject matter but also connected in some way to the home page. I don't think I was successful. There are things that I could do if I was working on Word that I can't seem to do with the themes in this program, like adjusting fonts. I can't adjust fonts on this thing or that thing? Really? And why is it that if I have access to this background here, it doesn't show up on the menu there?

It can be crazy-making.

The sooner I finish this, the better, is all I can say. I'll let y'all know how it works out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Master's Class: Kidnapped by Pirates

When you've been through a life-changing experience, it can sometimes be hard to convey what happened, what's different now that you're back home, etc.

I happened to stumble on a metaphor in the middle of class that makes the explanation child's play.

Remember Hook, the movie starring Robin Williams? Peter Pan's son and daughter have been kidnapped by pirates, and the kids are instructed to write some things down. The daughter refuses, and Captain Hook instructs Smee to give her an F. Which he does. "F?!" she cries. "You gave me an F?!"

The real problem, of course, is not that she got an F but that she's been kidnapped by pirates. And that's what the master's class was like. For a while I focused on the mechanics I didn't have and where I failed as a writer. "F? Zero out of ten points on my revision paper?" Oh my gawd. I thought they'd send me to the remedial class before I could proceed.

Luckily, I figured out that some score on a revision test didn't matter at all. What I really had to pay attention to was that I'd been kidnapped by pirates. And I wanted to be a pirate. Er, writer. I finally began to look at what I did right, instead of what I was doing wrong. From that mindset I could then think about what I left out of my writing (not what was wrong, but missing) and commit to including that piratical, er, writerly stuff.

Suddenly, I began to sail the high seas, battling storms, tasting salt on my lips, deafened by the thunder of waves against the hull that shook through my very bones ...

I didn't give a rat's tail if I got an F on some grammar-related test thingy.

And that, ladies and gents, was what I came home with, and why I view writing, and life, in a different way than I did before the class. Wouldn't you, if you'd been kidnapped by writers?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Appearances Matter: Story Setting

What does every story need at it's very beginning? A character, in a setting, with a problem. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived an old woman who was so poor she didn't have enough money to buy bread.
At the master's class, I learned, (and I wasn't alone) that I had a lot of problems with setting. Characters came through okay, problems percolated in the evil coffee machine, but setting? Not so much.
I just read a story for a workshop (not for the Lucky Labs) where all the errors I'd been guilty of with setting were amplified. A character arrived at home at twilight. Um ... home? What's home? A ranch? A mansion? A cardboard box? Is this in a neighborhood or a cottage in the woods with wolves howling in the distance?
If writers don't supply the details, the readers will fill in their own. The problem is, every reader has a different home in mind. When a Persian rug appears in the living room on page three, this may fit the reader's mental image, or it may shove the reader out of the story. After all, a Persian rug doesn't really belong in the Frank Lloyd Wright house they imagined.

The class really brought home the fact that writers are building a world, whether it's a familiar one or an alien one. Shorthand very seldom works. I can officially stop envying urban fantasy writers. Because, thinking about it, it's just as difficult to describe an urban landscape well as it is to drop the reader into an alien one. Maybe moreso--in an alien landscape, the reader isn't busy filling in false details. They wait for the writer to let them know what color the trees are, and whether those trees have tentacles or not.

The fall colors this year, speaking of colors of trees, are incredible. That's what you get when you have a really cold previous winter. Our view of the Gorge takes my breath away, and the light filtering through stormy clouds runs the full array of autumn gold to cold, pale, winter light, depending on the time of day. I'll have to post a pic soon, and pics of the happy dogs playing Don't Catch. Finn, btw, had actually begun to play actual fetch while Brian was away. Brian quickly reminded him of the rules, and now everything's back to normal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brian is Home!!

Yes, our wayward wandering dog has come home. For those of you who've read Benji, this'll sound familiar:

Apparently Brian spent several hours hanging out with dogs downhill from us. There were two puppies and the owners noticed that he wasn't hounding the chickens, so they didn't mind and figured he'd go home when he was good and ready. They called him Bear.

Brian didn't go home, but wandered for a couple more days, going further north and west. He ended up wandering back south again toward the road, where he came upon Windy Ridge, where Mary found him. Mary had given me, the kids, and our groceries a ride home when our car broke down one day, so she knew us but didn't connect Brian to our home.

They loved Brian. Her boys became very attached and named him Wesley. They didn't see any signs and didn't have time to go door to door (it would be an enormous task anyway! I don't expect that sort of thing) but they did call two separate humane society branches. For some reason the humane societies didn't connect the dots, possibly because she described him as a Newfoundland (black dog) retriever mix and perhaps the person on the phone didn't hear 'white' in the description.

Mary has a ton of wonderful animals, including horses and llamas, and is in touch with our animal hospital. So the next time she went there she checked the boards and realized she had Brian. She called immediately.

The boys were crushed, but we're elated. The DH and I put together a huge gift basket and brought it over as a big thank you. And we all lived happily ever after.

Beast and Finn were a little puzzled when Brian came home, btw. He smelled completely different, so they followed him around and checked him out to make sure he wasn't some weird dog that happens to smell a little like Brian. For his part, Brian is happy to be in his old dog house again, and slept in it all night. I think he's a little confused, but not about us. He was so happy to see me, he ran right into my arms.

Physically he lost some weight, which will turn out to be actually good for him. He was turning into sausage dog and it was hard on his hips. I'll try to exercise him more so that he keeps that weight off. He's in excellent shape now. Rapid weight loss (which he no doubt experienced while he was wandering around for about four days with no food) is *not* recommended, btw. Do not fast an overweight dog. We'll be keeping a close watch for any health problems, but since he's been fed for 2 1/2 weeks and seems active and happy, I'd say that any danger he might have been in has long passed.

Thank you everyone for your ongoing support. We're very happy campers. A big hurray and thank you to Mary and her boys. You guys are heroes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Things I've learned

Thoughts for the day:

Competent work employs the first workable idea.  A competent craftsman will have practiced his skill up to a certain point such that his work, on first perusal, will leave nothing to offend the eye.  He will use the materials most easily available to him that will get the job done.  And he will put just enough thought into his work so that it's clearly a unique product.

A good craftsman will think deeply to get past the early ideas to find an elegant one.  He will trust that his skills are competent and focus on expressing his ideas and himself through his work.  He will use materials that inspire him and others without being overbearing or gaudy.  And he'll know he's achieved something true to himself when the results of his labor surprise him, not because his work is bizarre, but because his work of art taught him something he didn't know before, and perhaps reveals to others what they didn't know about themselves.

I plan to apply these principles to writing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Polishing rice to a mote

One of the things we went over in class is polishing a manuscript to death.  It seems I've been doing that.  

I should have known.  I know better than to turn my paint into mud, so why in the world would I do the same with words on the page?  Going over a work is fine.  Going back to fix things that need to resonate with things written later, no problem.  But I've been playing with sentences, even individual words, trying to get that perfect lightning/lightning bug thing going.

At least with my process, that may need to happen on the first draft, because work that I turned in that I thought was some of my best work couldn't hold a candle to the stuff I wrote overnight for the class.  And you know what?  That was true for everyone in the class.


Just think of what we could do with a longer deadline so we could really think things through and no rewriting?

I firmly believe that learning to rewrite words on the page is critical--at a certain stage in a writing career.  Those are important skills, at least in my opinion, if for no other reason than it would be good to be able to respond to an editorial request without falling apart.  On the other hand it seems I've gotten past that stage.  My revision skills went from productive to destructive somewhere along the line.  

My classmates shared that trait.  We are Borg.  (We all had similar problems, and we even came up with similar story ideas until K&D started handing us completely different news articles to write from.)

So it's back to Heinlein's Rules for me, and with a confidence I didn't have before.  I've now had complete strangers, over a baker's dozen of them, tell me my writing is better when I don't polish it to death.  I may write a little more slowly and be more considered with those first word choices as a result.  Or not.  I'm not sure what it'll do to my writing speed.  I'll be interested to find out.

In other news, no news about Brian yet.  We'll be going to the humane society again in a bit to see if he's there.  I suspect he isn't.  They called when a dog matching his description came in last time.  They'll probably call again when another comes in.  But we'll look just the same.  Maybe they haven't had time to give us a ring and he'll be there, fanning his tail and looking very apologetic.  

That would be incredibly wonderful.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Glory in the Details

I'm home.  Still feeling overwhelmed, in a good way, about Kris and Dean's master's class.  

We didn't just learn about writing at this class.  We learned about different aspects of a writer's life, from budgeting to marketing, writing pace to contracts and all kinds of stuff in-between.  Some of the more valuable lessons I learned came from watching Kris and Dean react to new information.  They're learning all the time, and voraciously investigate anything having to do with writing craft, business, or their other interests.  

I try to learn about stuff, and I thought I'd done a pretty good job.  Well, sort of.  My sources of information about things like writing craft have been pretty limited, unbeknownst to me.  I'd forgotten a big, very important source of information.  Direct experience.  That means reading (for pleasure first) and then dissecting writing, among other things.  That also means listening to my senses, even if it means snorting dandelion pollen and then sneezing for two days afterward to get a description right.  

I get away from my office from time to time; I've even posted about escaping my desk to write, hopefully not with a note of superiority.  But it's literally been years since I've gone downtown to check out architecture, or savored a hot chocolate with raspberry sauce and extra whipping cream specifically to imbed the sensory information into my head in a way that I can later access for writing.  Taking notes helps.  I'm sure the wonderful staff at Mo's restaurant in Lincoln City thought I was nuts, but I took four pages of notes about the food--how it tasted, smelled, felt, the clientele, the view ...  When I sat down to write the story, I didn't even have to look at those notes.  The memories were right there waiting for me.

And of course there's writing practice.  Writing with a specific goal in mind--to get an effect, or to deliberately include scents on every page, or to express an opinion through character voice without actually stating what that opinion may be.

The different ways to get direct experience are still percolating in.  Until then, I've got to write with what I've got.  Tonight, in fact.  I'm pretty pooped but I could stand to write something that isn't an assignment, as fun as those assignments were.  (Some of them I have to say were ~fun~ assignments rather than fun fun, but I ended up enjoying the results anyway.)

It's good to be home.  I'll miss my writing buddies, but I missed my family lots and I'm all grins right now.  If Brian comes home that'll be even more beautiful.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Before the Long Drive Home

I've had a fabulous time at Kris and Dean's master's class. What an incredible experience. I'll be spending the next few weeks (or years) assimilating all the information I got here and making it part of my writing process.

Actually, I'm still here, technically, but in about three hours I'll have graduated from this particular asylum and can carry on wreaking havoc out in the world at large. Dinner first. And maybe a glass of celebratory glass of champagne.

Later I'll post a blog entry with a list of folks who were here who wouldn't mind a little shout out. I've been privileged to work with some really amazing writers; talented, dedicated, creative, intelligent, and almost as crazy as me though not as dopey unless they want to be.

One of the things that's going to be on my mind will be my writing style. I can't imagine that I could have changed a whole lot in two weeks, but at the same time I feel like I'm living in a completely different universe.

It's always kewl when you get thrown off a cliff and manage to fly. Flap awkwardly, in my case. They say there was a nice warm pool of water to catch me down there, but I didn't want to find out the hard way.

I will go over some of the interesting lessons over the next bit, but I don't want to throw anything out there before I know what I've got. 'Cause, I may think I'm throwing a bouquet of flowers and y'all might run screaming spiders! spiders! and then I'd be all embarrassed right before I started dancing around doing my Kami freaking about spiders dance. Followed by Kami realizing she'd touched spiders and doing the boogety woogety shudder I touched a spider dance.

No word on Brian, btw. I think having him missing has been easier on me than the rest of the family since I've been here all sleep deprived and busy. If it hits like a ton of rocks when I get home, I may whimper about it here. You're all forewarned.

I walked on the beach today. My whole body feels clean but imbued with a living perfume. Incredibly beautiful day today. Pouring rain, sunshine, damascus steel sky. My hair flew around my head and the ocean thundered and sand sizzled down the beach. Five pelicans ghosted through sea spray whipped up into the air by northerly wind.

My DH will be driving in today. I've really missed my family, especially him. I feel like I've got a whole lifetime of words (here's where he'll let out a groan) of words and ideas that I want to share with him.

That's what long drives home are for.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Signing off, sadly

Last post before I head off to Kris and Dean's master's class on the coast.  This is not the departure I thought I'd have.  Brian is still not home.  Going to the shelter and stopping by local vets with fliers hit me again and again with the fact that an animal I love is missing, possibly hurt, possibly worse, maybe hypothermic and lost and scared and there's not a damned thing I can do about it.
The rest of the family will be on the lookout while I'm away.  Who knows?  He might turn up overnight, or tomorrow morning.  Every passing moment is another moment that Brian might find his way back to us.  
Adding to my grim feelings is a dream I had of Brian coming home.  I had similar dreams for every pet that's left this world.
This blog will be silent (or whispery at best) until October 18th.  I should have some interesting writing-related blogs when I get back.