Plants and Trees and Things

How It Goes

This is a writing process post for those of you uninterested in that crap.

But okay, I’m declaring my shitty first draft done.  I feel like a manuscript is like a paper mache sculpture. Your shitty first draft is just the balloons and the chicken wire and the interior supports that will not be seen in later drafts. It is the big underlying shape. And not even necessarily the final shape. It’s like you’re saying “Here are all the things I think need to happen and roughly how I think they need to happen.”

This time, that took me from roughly November to yesterday to do–about five months. I’m up over 80,000 words, but I have two endings, so it will come down in count some when that gets straightened out and go up in count when other stuff gets added. I don’t think the number of words you have in your first draft really tells you much about the number of words you’ll end up with in your final draft.

This second draft is going to be weird. I spent a lot of time in my first draft just floundering in ugly ways to try to understand what was motivating people and why. The second draft is going to mean straightening out a lot of the contradictions that come up from writing while floundering. It’s also going to be my first attempt to see if everything that needs to be in there is in there. And to see if the voice is working.

I’m very concerned about the voice and I’m not sure I’m anywhere near where I’d like to be.

But we’ll see. It took me five months to make an enormous mess. Soon enough we’ll see if I can pull it into anything.

I Have a Goal

I have a goal, but I just realized that I should probably share it with you, in case you can hook me up. So, I have enjoyed the fuck out of interviewing Elizabeth McClellan for the Scene blogs. And I think it would be really fun to interview other Tennessee folks involved with sci-fi/fantasy/horror writing.

Especially because it’s just not a genre you really expect from Tennessee writers.

So, if you know of someone published in the field, especially if you think they’d make a good interview, let me know. If you are someone who should be published in the field (coughNewscomacough), hurry up!

The Day

I have to be here for the HVAC guy this afternoon, but I have the whole morning to go to the post office and the park.

I should get started, but I’m kind of relishing just sitting here anticipating going to the park.

I’m feeling better, in all ways–less snotty, less down on my skills as a writer. Hell Harry Crewes had for novels rejected, I just read, and he kicked butt. Also, I think my reworking of the end of the novel is better. In the old end, it was Sue who was seduced by Lee’s fake antebellum South and Ben had to rescue her, but in this one, it’s Ben who’s seduced by Lee’s claims of scientific spiritualism and Sue has to figure out how to save them.

I’ve been reading a lot of claims about how fiction shouldn’t have  point, shouldn’t have an agenda. But I can’t really write this novel like that. My book does have a moral, or at least a central claim. Maybe that’s why my writing sucks, I don’t know.

But I write with a point of view. And my point of view is that wanting what Lee wants and going to the lengths he goes to get it are not just damaging to his victims and his son, but they can’t ever actually satisfy him, because the thing he wants is gone and the thing he’s put in its place is a lie. And I want to be sure that’s clear, that even he, who wants so much to be the demi-god of his own magical antebellum plantation can only imagine one that bears only superficial resemblance to life as it was lived. He wants the fairytale and demands it be recognized as truth.

Anyway, it looks like rain, so I called the heating and cooling folks and said they should try to come early. Which means no park and that I have to get to the post office.

Frank Nicely, Please, Shut Up

Yes, when I think “stripping states’ rights,” I think the 14th Amendment. Jesus Christ.

Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, provided what he called “a little history lesson,” relating that two Oregon state representatives were kidnapped by “radical Republicans” when state ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was in issue during the 1860s. Two men masquerading as the kidnapped legislators then voted for ratification, which passed by one vote in Oregon, Niceley said.

The kidnapping thus effectively “changed the course of history” and “stole power from the states,” he said. Passage of the school board bill, he said, could lead to similar situations.

I am speechless. Just speechless.



Big Old Buildings

I’m still tickled by how well the pictures on that Scene article turned out. The local lodge, with the blue walls and the big windows and the white ceiling… ugh… I want a room like that. Though probably not with pews that can roll as I would spend all my days rolling around and not doing much of anything else.

I know it’s from my time knocking around in old churches, but I would love to live in a big old building. I mean, look at those bookcases!

Isn’t it Billy Bob Thorton who has an antique-phobia because he can’t handle the weirdness of those old things having all those people and stories attached to them? I am–in so many ways–the anti-Billy Bob. That’s exactly why I like them. Well, old buildings. I like being one in a long line.

The Undead Crappy First Draft

I am not revising. I’m just tacking a different ending, complete with stripper poles, onto the last ending. The first ending just did not have the right… something. Though it’s still there, so I can borrow from it if I need to.

And I’m still feeling like a huge failure and that I’ve set a task for myself I can only fail at in spectacular and embarrassing ways.

And yet, I plod on. I can’t really say why. But I’m glad for it, really. I mean, I know me sitting around moaning about how much I suck doesn’t seem like gladness and it’s not. But I’m glad that part of me will be dragged kicking and screaming to work, still.

And How Will This Be Constitutional?

Honestly, is it so hard to ask these yahoos who propose laws in our state to outline, even briefly, how they think they’re going to hold up in court? The state legislature is trying to pass a bill that would require all state schools to allow religious organizations that receive school funding to discriminate in who holds their leadership positions. This is in response to Vanderbilt now enforcing a rule that organizations that receive school funding cannot discriminate in who holds leadership positions. So, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes could have an atheist treasurer at Vanderbilt if said atheist got enough votes.

Now, I love Vanderbilt. Don’t get me wrong. And they can and often do wonderful things for great reasons. But they would not have a.) had this rule or b.) started more strictly enforcing it unless they felt it was going to cost them money at some point. I have no inside knowledge of that. I’m just speaking the truth. A staid slow-changing institution doesn’t suddenly go “Oh, hey, big change, happening quickly!” unless something is forcing it.

And while I would have loved for the state legislature to look into this to see why a slow-moving institution would switch course so rapidly, to see if there was some legal liability they might face by not changing, before the state legislature possibly opened all the state universities to that legal liability, I know that’s wishful thinking. So, instead, I’d just like to hear how the State thinks it can defend this law in Federal court. If you have to be Christian to serve in the leadership of a Christian organization at a State school, then someone, acting in the capacity of the state, is going to have to make a decision on who’s Christian.

Once the state is in the business of defining who isn’t and is a Christian, as if the state is the ultimate religious authority, it seems to me you run into church/state issues and the State is clearly going to be in the wrong.

If we have to have fiscal notes on bills, can’t we have legal notes on bills just outlining possible legal challenges the bills might face? And then folks can explain how they think those legal challenges are going to be overcome.

Because you know it’s not going to be the atheist at UT who can’t be the treasurer of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It’s going to be the Jehovah’s Witness or the Mormon or the Catholic kid.

And that’s going to be ugly.

Tell It

1. On the one hand, I find this upsetting. On the other hand, I surely don’t want my employer to tell me what I can and can’t blog about. AND I think this is useful information for the public to have.

2. Hey, Fitzhugh, at least Governor Baby read your bill.

3. A man talks men. I do think a lot about my boobs, but only because they are constantly doing dumbass shit.

4. I think I have a piece in the real Scene tomorrow. I’m excited to see what photos they have. So be on the look-out for that. I will have to treat myself to lunch some place where I can grab a bunch of copies.

One last thing

I’ve been thinking about how my brothers would have beat up any stranger who was following them in the dark, who got out of his vehicle and started asking them questions. Of course they would have.

The amount of “stranger danger” that we had drilled into our heads as kids, coupled with the amount of creepy behavior we got to see thanks to my dad’s job?

There is no way that they would not, had they been in Trayvon Martin’s shoes, fought Zimmerman.

But I heard this morning that the police who arrived on the scene wanted to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter, but the District Attorney (or State’s Attorney, whatever they have in Florida) declined and there was some speculation that he declined because of his friendship/acquaintance with Zimmerman’s dad.

And I know that well, too. My dad tried, when they were younger (though there seems to have been a change in policy) to make my brothers face the legal consequences for their actions. There just weren’t always legal consequences. They just mysteriously failed to materialize.

I don’t really have anything profound to say except that, yes, this is how the world works.

Phil Bredesen, Break out the Green Vest of Comfort, Your State Needs You!

Lord almighty, read this post from Joe Powell and then come back here and tell me if there isn’t some way that we can’t force Phil Bredesen to come back here and be Governor Haslam’s governor tutor? Completely non-partisan, just “This thing is called a legislative body. It makes bills. Then it’s your job to decide whether the bills are a good idea and to veto them if they’re not” type stuff.

Because I think it’s becoming dreadfully apparent that Haslam does not know what the hell the office he ran for and won actually does.


I’m just down. I’m tired of being sick, once a month, every month since fucking god knows when. I’m just not feeling the whole garden thing this year. And I kind of  feel like I’m failing because I just don’t have the skills I need to succeed. Nobody looks at me and says, “if she can do that, then I can get her to a place where she can do this.” And I don’t know how to get to the place where I can do this myself, because I don’t even know what this is. And it makes me angry, but I can’t quite articulate why.

The Professor and I were talking about the difference between our 20s and 30s, and how much of our 20s was devoted to figuring out what we didn’t want and fleeing from it. That’s what motivated us–fear. And I feel like I’ve spent my 30s trying to learn how to positively want things–to not be motivated by fear, but by desire.

I’m afraid I’m going to spend my 40s learning how to live with not getting the things I want.

He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune

Digby has a good post about how upset churches are to discover that, if they take federal funds, they have to abide by federal laws. It’s funny, because I remember when they first were talking about opening up more faith-based programs to federal money and my dad thought it was a terrible idea. I remember, because it upset members of his congregation. But it was exactly for this reason–when you take the government’s money, the government gets to tell you how you can spend it.

I feel like, if that seemed self-apparent to a small-town preacher, it should have been self-apparent to a lot of people who are acting hurt and surprised now. Call me cynical, but I think they thought they should just ride the government-money train for as long as possible, even knowing that it wouldn’t end in a way they liked.

And now here we are.

Blackbird Amusement

There’s some country star who’s covering The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and it came on this morning. I turned to watch the Butcher’s face and he was somehow grimacing and frowning at the same time. Like his face was pulled into a grimace immediately but then, the longer we listened, the more the song weighed on the corners of his mouth until his whole face just looked like “What the fuck?”

We then tried to figure out what was so god-awful about it. He thought it was because, if you weren’t going to show off your massive guitar chops, you shouldn’t bother to cover the song. I thought it seemed like she brought nothing new to the table. It was just her singing the song. Nothing about her singing the song caused me to hear something new or different in it.

The Butcher brought up that some other country artist is covering a Will Hoge song that he really likes and every time it comes on the radio, he stops to listen and enjoy and then it’s not Will Hoge, but some other voice.

I think this is part of my problem with the “Blackbird” cover. If it’s so close to the original, just with your voice, I’d rather hear The Beatles and it kind of makes me angry when it’s not them.

And Nathan Bedford Forrest Shows Up

Okay, the shitty first draft is officially complete, weighing in at 74,710 words, which I only mention because it will be interesting to see how that changes.

It’s weird. We’ll see how it settles out. I’m ready to not be thinking about it for a few days/weeks, that’s for sure. I felt all weekend like I was intellectually constipated. So, I’m glad to have something down on paper, even if it’s shitty.

I’m just not sure, people. That’s all I can say about it. I’m just not sure. I’m not sure if I can pull it off. It’s going to take a talent I’m just not sure I have and some insights into pacing I KNOW I don’t have. So I’ll have to figure out how to learn.

My Newfound Sympathy for Stephen King

Oh, Stephen King. He’s so great except that he doesn’t know how to end things.

If you’ve said it once, you’ve heard it a hundred times.

Except, I get it. Fuck ending things. It’s hard. Some shit has to happen that is somehow greater than what’s come before but in line with it. I want to grab my manuscript, my first shitty draft, by the lapels and shake it and demand it tells me how the fuck it ends.

Also, I’m feeling better, but god damn. I wasted a whole fucking lovely weekend feeling like crap, complaining about Yeats biographies, reading Irish poetry, andfailing to write this god damn ending. Maybe it can just be 140,000 words long. The last seventy thousand words are just me dragging shit way the fuck out.

Also, everyone has the same fucking names.

I hate it. It’s horrible.

And yet, when I finish writing this post, I’m going back to it.

Yes, We Get it. Yeats Had Some Problems with Women

The book I do not want to read any more of in any iteration:

Yeats: Oh Maud Gonne, I love you, even though you’re so not into me. Oh Maud Gonne, marry me even while you’re out having children with a dude you’re not married to and lying to me about it. Oh Maud Gonne, marry me even though you claim you’re not into marriage while you’re marrying an abusive dude.

Pound: Here I am, secretarying away!

Yeats: Oh, wait, Maud Gonne, I’ve lost my virginity and come to realize it’s your daughter I’m in love with. Yes, the one you claim I am the spiritual father of. That’s not creepy at all!

Mrs. Yeats: Why did I marry you again? Never mind. Here’s some automatic writing that every single author seems to agree was just me telling you what to do in a form you could not refuse. Go do it.

Me: Ugh. I quit.

The book I do want to read:

Yeats and Crowley have a run in. Crowley gets beaten up. We learn how Yeats knew Crowley. We learn what Crowley was up to, what Yeats was up to, and why they were at odds. We find out what was up with the Theosophy movement and why Yeats had  falling out with them. We get some insight into how Yeats saw himself and his magical work in relation to Ireland and the rest of Europe. We discover more about what drew George Yeats (his wife) into the occult.

What were they up to and why? How did it tie into and play off of what other people were up to? How long was Yeats publicly involved with these occult groups? Was he any good at it?

I’m sad to say that all of the books I got on Yeats were, in one way or another, just variations of the book up top there, the story of Maud and whether she was a total bitch or he was. Even the one about Yeats’ ghosts is filtered through his very fucked up relationships to women and says very little about his involvement in the occult community except as it pertains to his fucked up relationship to women.

I don’t know if this is just a late 20th-century bias or what, but it’s frustrating. It’s as if that part of Yeats’ life was so strange that people force it to be about women, because that’s less weird? Or silly, maybe?

Oxford’s big two-volume Yeats biography is actually the least bad about this, but it still doesn’t really broaden out to tell me everything I was hoping to at least glean some insight into.

So, I’m a little down about that. I was really hoping that seeing how someone functioned in that kind of organization might give me insight into Ben Allen.

Arriola isn’t All Bad

I took the day off work to do taxes and get my car tags and it turns out you can get your tags right at the emissions place. You pass, they run your card, and the tags come in the mail.

That could not be handier.

Political scandals aside, I’m glad Arriola has got this stuff handled. Now, he’ll probably charge me $50 for saying nice things about him, but insist I call it a donation, so that part sucks.

Let’s aim for a non-corrupt guy who is this competent next time.

There are Worse Things to Build a Party Around

You know, they already say Tennessee Democrats are too far to the left of most Tennesseans. I say, then, that we just go ahead and be too far to the left of most Tennesseans.

There are much worse things to build a party around than legalizing weed and protecting “transvestites.”

I also love it that, when Turner accuses the Republicans of being obsessed with sex, their reply is to insinuate that he has a small penis. Like that’s supposed to convince us that you’re not weirdly obsessed with sex? Maybe we need to make Mike Turner some shorts he can pull on over his pants that say “My eyes are up here” with an arrow pointing Representative Maggart away from his crotch.

I’m with Lowe Finney about This and I’m with Lowe Finney about Nothing.

As you all know, I’m still boycotting giving money to the TNDP. After news that Chip Forrester is getting a 33% raise, I feel even better about my boycott.

“My initial reaction is I am a little surprised at this,” Finney said. “I think that when people give to the party, they do so with the idea and the understanding that their funds will be managed in order to get Democrats elected, and those funds will go into races.”


How Would This Work?

So, the state senate is debating whether all college professors (or I guess instructors?) should also be allowed to teach high school. For reasons that aren’t really clear to me, the Democrats are opposed to this.

But what I don’t understand is why there’s a need for this. If you have a job teaching at a college, why would you want to teach high school? I mean, can you imagine the professor of Biology who would want to have to teach the “controversy” when it comes to evolution? Or the Women’s Studies professor who is suddenly faced with abstinence-only rules?

I don’t really think Democrats know why they oppose this bill. Their reasons seem pretty silly. But it’s hilarious to me that the Republicans, looking at all they’ve done to teachers, would think that college professors would want to wade into that mess.

It Seems So Early for Lilacs

But both bushes are going to bloom.

Endings–So, Um, Spoilers

One of my favorite endings is the ending to Things Invisible to See, which I imagine would be a more problematic book if I reread it now, because it literally has a Magical Negro–Cold Friday–in it. The only black person that I remember in the whole book is literally magical. But the premise of the end of the book is that the protagonist has to win a baseball game against a team the Devil puts together in order to save the boy she loves. And the Devil has at his disposal all of the baseball greats and the gals are just the gals, ordinary women left behind in World War II. But then the guys on the all-star all-star team cheat to lose. They throw the game for the girls. It’s just tremendous and says something I really like about the kinds of generosity we’re all capable of.

The most perfect, but terrible, ending of a book is Huck Finn which is just Twain’s way of saying “I can come up with no plausible ending for this book, so I’m going to send everyone to Oklahoma. Also, Tom Sawyer sucks. Never ask me to write about him again.” But there is no plausible good ending. So, there you go.

I really admired how Horns meshed every single thing back together in its end, like Chekhov’s gun firing in order to set off a Rube Goldberg machine of things falling into place. And yet, somehow it didn’t feel like “Oh, come on!” but more “Oh, yes, of course.”

This is kind of a tangent, but I’ve been having a kind of ongoing email discussion about how it seems like some folks really believe they live in a world full of supervillains–like that women who seem perfectly ordinary are secretly murderers, and, in the case of black women, genocidal murderers; or that men who love other man are secretly reveling in their own disgusting degradation and corrupting immorality; and so on. I know there are religious reasons for this, but it’s really hard for me to understand this as anything other than pitching your lot in with make-believe.

You’d rather live in a world where you, humble you, with only your faith to protect you, are surrounded and besieged by evil than to live in a world where people are pretty much like you, but different, and the sadists and blatant evil-doers actually make up a very small portion of the population.

Honestly, it’s easy for me to understand why. It’s much more exciting. It gives regular life some kind of overarching story or purpose. And it feeds religious certainty–everything confirms that what you’re thinking is right–which also feels awesome. I mean, religious certainty is certainly a lot more fun than not knowing if something has meaning or what it might mean or whether you’re interpreting it correctly or what.

Certainty feels better than uncertainty.

It’s easy to choose to live as if everyone is your enemy.

But I wonder, once you realize it’s just not true, what you’d be willing to give up to live in the mundane, boring world. If you can live in a fake world that suits you better, why would you ever come back to us?