Strategy

Here we are at 66,000 words. I have come from one weird, ridiculous things and something happens that leads into a tragic, ridiculous thing. I have been struggling with the “something happens” part.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a pain in my toe. See, some idiot dog stepped on my toe and now my toenail is slowly breaking off. Like, way down to the quick. And I guess, as it’s separating, one part of it is poking into the side of my toe in an unpleasant manner. So, I wake up to this new, annoying pain. And I’m walking myself through the logic of how I came to wake up in the middle of the night.

And, like a lightbulb coming on, I am illuminated. The “something happens” has to not just be a brief stop on the train to someplace else. It needs to escalate the tension and the action and show us something about the characters. Which, duh, I know is obvious.

But there is something really helpful about stepping back, when you can’t figure out how to make something work, and just asking yourself, “What would make this worse?”

Sex with Terrible People

The other day, M. was talking about how many of my stories have difficult families at their core. This is true. And maybe more autobiographical than I care to be.

But working on Ashland has me thinking of just how often I send my characters off to have sex with terrible people. The sex is fine. The people are wicked and immoral and, you know, often The Devil. I feel like my real life sex life is the regular mashings of two (or more) awkward but nice people’s bodies together in ways that make gross noises you don’t really notice at the time. I did once or twice fail to seduce a hot libertarian, which is almost like bedding a wicked person (KIDDING, COBLE, KIDDING!), and I don’t normally have fantasies of, like, reanimating Stalin or anything.

But I guess that I think very evil people make room for the people in their sphere of influence to be just a little more evil than they normally would be and sex creates opportunities for people to let their guards down and for them to let want overwhelm good sense. It provides opportunity for otherwise good characters to do terrible shit and make really gross mistakes.

Days off, Glorious Days off

On this manuscript, I’ve been writing about 1,500 words at a sitting, which I was having about three days a week. Yesterday, I got 4,000 words down and today I got another 2,000.

Are they any good? Who knows?

Did anyone fuck a ghost? No.

Do I have mixed feelings about that? Yes.

The Yarn Has Arrived!

I can return to the tripping jaguar afghan. I really love it. It might be a little muted for the room it’s going in, but it’s wool, so it’s a winter afghan. I think people are allowed to curl up under something warm and dark during the winter.

I finished a very rough outline of the end of Ashland, which was helpful in that I realized I had in my head the wrong person doing the incredibly stupid thing. I also realized I kind of have a vestigial husband and I either need to bring him into the action or cut him loose. Also, I definitely have a kid who needs to go. Not be murdered or anything. Just, his parents need to be childless. And I have a couple of other kids who probably need to be a little younger. Plus, probably some neighbors need to be nosier.

But all that can be fixed.

The dog and I had a really nice walk this morning. The orange cat joined us coming and going, though he was smart enough to stay out of the road. Every time the cat walks with us, I think, isn’t it weird that cats, so vicious, so ruthless, were never used as animals of war? And then the cat, for no reason, decides to walk between my legs and almost trips me and I see why they were excluded from the armed forces.

First-draft-itis

The thing about writing a first draft is that, even if you think you know what you’re writing and where it’s going, you can still be startled by how the story surprises you. And you can know those surprises may mean reworking things earlier.

I have an ending envisioned for Ashland. It is deliciously terrible. But I need my narrator to do something so vile and stupid that I about can’t believe that anyone would do it.

So, I’m curious if I can narratively make the argument that of course she would. You just have to try, you know? If it doesn’t work, I’ll work something else out. That’s what first drafts are for.

Not Walking

I’m going to regret not going for a walk this morning, but I was trying to sleep in a little. It didn’t really work. I’m at the point in my draft when I think it sucks and isn’t working, which is a normal point in a first draft, but I was up late trying to write to a place where I felt like I had firm ground again.

I’ve been kind of bummed lately. It’s hot. Things are stressful at work. I just can’t find my groove. And it was really nice this morning, which makes it even stupider not to have walked. Mostly, it’s just an existential kind of bummed. I’ve been fixating on how many novels writer say they have that weren’t good enough to get published. Five, seven, ten, just sitting on computers, not good enough.

I don’t know if I have it in me to write five or ten shit novels.

That’s the toughest thing about it. There’s no one path. Everyone flounders. Could I flounder that long? I don’t know.

Lunch

I love going over to Two Boots for lunch and just observing people. I’m not sure why it’s the kind of place that makes people relax and be worth observing, but it’s really excellent.

I could really use time off, even if I can’t (yet) afford to go on a real vacation and I’m kind of thinking of taking a week and forcing myself to do a historical home and lunch people-observing every day. I think that would be good for the book. And, I think, if I committed to it and didn’t just say “Ugh, I’m going to sit at home on the couch because I’m lazy” I would enjoy it.

Oh, This is Why I Do This

Yesterday, I had a lovely lunch with friends, then I wrote a chapter for Ashland that just went exactly how I wanted it to. No doubting, no stopping to check Twitter, no getting up to clean the bathroom. Just me, that screen, and all the words I wanted to get out.

I also finished all the Return to Hill House squares. Now on to the end-tucking. I’m listening to the audio book of A Head Full of Ghosts as I work on the afghan and it’s terrific. The voice actor they have reading it is just amazing. And I’m definitely picking up on things that I didn’t give enough weight to when reading. I’m especially starting to wonder about the younger daughter’s stomach problems and her sleeping in her clothes.

I just really want Ashland to be good enough to get published. Or eye-catching enough, or something. And I really want to figure out how to make that happen. So, I’m studying.

Writing

It’s tough going on Ashland at the moment. Or maybe has been all along. I’m surprised to find myself second-guessing everything and having to remind myself that this is just a rough first draft of a form I have never tried before. But I’m worried my POV character is not very interesting. But then I also kind of feel like, let’s get the blocks of the plot in place and make sure that works, before we worry about fixing things that can be fixed on edit.

I am closer to the end of the Return to Hill House afghan. I have,  by my reckoning, thirteen squares left. Because who’s not looking forward to getting an afghan in July?

Also, it’s official, official. F&SF bought my story and announced it.

Look What Came in the Mail!

What’s this? Oh, just some paperwork I have to fill out today.

fs&fw9

I’m acting cool, but believe me, I am freaking out. I am so elated. In my mind, this is one of The Big Boys. I assumed you had to have an agent or a million publishing credits or… I just never really thought this was a possibility and now I’m filling out at W-9. I mean, you guys, they’re a print magazine. And they’re going to run my story.

Based On

The event at Belmont was really lovely and fun. I liked sitting in the green room getting to meet all of the artists and, man, musicians can tell some stories–quickly and with humor. I also liked seeing people’s pre-show rituals. A lot of folks got quiet and needed time to gather themselves. Some folks seemed cool going straight from watching in the audience to playing on stage.

When I got back to the green room, I had a million texts of pictures of myself from all my friends in the audience. Which made me smile.

But man, we have so much talent in town. I was glad I went early on, because I think I would have lost my nerve. The whole thing was just one spectacular reader followed by an awesome artist after another.

Anyway, I may have more coherent things to say after I wake up a little, but basically, it was lovely.

And, also, I’ll just say, because the Butcher brought it up, too, Craig Havighurst is some kind of minor god. He just kept things moving and lively and shifted the crowd from one artist to another in a really smooth and lovely manner. It’s one of those things that is a real and complicated skills that, when you see someone who’s got it mastered, you kind of wonder how they even knew they’d be good at it, if they just worked at it. Like, obviously, it’s a needed thing, but when done well, it’s kind of mostly invisible how much work it is.

InfoDump

There’s an informal term in writing for when an author just hits you with a wall of background information–infodump.

The Butcher is back, which means my week of writing is over. I didn’t get nearly as much accomplished as I’d hoped. I’m just having a hard time figuring out the shape of this, even though I took notes extensively and have done my research. I get into the text and I’m just like “My main character is too passive” or, more important to this post, “All I’m doing is just dumping information onto the reader.”

I keep telling myself that this is just a first draft and that I’m going to have to see what shape it takes before I know what I can prune. But, man, I’m second-guessing myself hard.

I also keep thinking “This is unoriginal.” Of course, if it’s unoriginal, why can’t I find other books like it to study? So, you know, fun in brainland this week.

Just a Truth About Me

Some things have happened that make it clear that “Maybe I suck as a writer” is just some bullshit my brain tells me to make me unhappy. But I had to laugh today when I realized that recent events mean that even my stupid brain can’t make that script fly anymore. Now I’ll have to content myself with making myself miserable with worry that I’ll never write anything as good as x again.

Where Has This Week Gone?

I have far fewer squares done than I expected and much less progress on Chapter 2. And it’s already Thursday!

I’ll admit, through, that I’m restarting Chapter 2. I didn’t delete all the work I’ve done on Chapter 2 and I’ve not quite gone to the lengths I did with Chapter 1, where I moved all that material to another file, in case I thought I might need it, but needed it out of the manuscript. But so far I am finding myself almost writing two books in tandem. There’s the book I want to write and the book I need to write in order to throw up my hands and say “This isn’t working!” and get back to the book I want to write.

I think the thing is that, in my long fiction, I tend to dwell on characters and to let the story grow out of stuff going on in those characters’ lives. But a haunted house doesn’t grow out of stuff going on in your life. It’s an outside force bearing down on my characters. So, I think, we always need to feel the house leaning against them.

But instead, I’m writing about divorces and cute outfits and old football injuries. I don’t think that writing is a waste or anything. I think I need to know this stuff about my characters. But I don’t think it goes in the book. So, I’m having a little difficulty switching gears between how I write and how I want this book to go.

Writing

The Butcher has work that will keep him from home in the evenings this week, so I have stocked up on my favorite things to eat–brussel sprouts, that sausage vegetable crap I love, peanut butter M&Ms–and an intense desire to knock out chapter 2 of “Ashland.” I’ve been listening to a lot of writing podcasts lately (I’m getting a lot out of Brian Keene’s podcast–though you should have a high tolerance for guys like the guys I went to college with getting drunk, though, I suppose, if you are those guys, this is less of an issue. I like it. It brings back fond memories and makes me feel fondly toward these guys.–and Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace’s.) I’ve also been reading a lot.

They’re full of good advice and hard truths.

I have to say, I used to think that getting rejected was the hardest part. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not fun and, especially at first, lord, it’s really, really, really not fun. But I think this experience with The Wolf’s Bame has taught me that rejection is not the worst, it’s the waiting. I mean, it sucks if someone comes up to you and is like “I’m going to pinch you hard” and then does. But it’s worse for someone to be like “I might pinch you hard, later, sometime” and then you have the anticipation and then the pinch.

I don’t know how “Ashland” will be. I am planning on a substantial revision process, to make sure that I like the pacing. One thing I’ve been thinking about with both The Haunting of Hill House and The Red Tree is, as I’ve said, there’s an economy to them. They trust the reader’s imagination a great deal. And I want to have respect for that with my readers, should I have some for this story.

I also hope to get some work done on the Return to Hill House afghan.

But mostly, I’m excited about brussel sprouts, the Butcher’s most unfavorite thing, which I never, therefore, get to have when he’s around.

Process Post

When I write a short story, it usually goes like this: write, write, sit down to write, but then have to get up and clean the bathroom, sit down to write, but then remember I wanted to look at something in my room, write some more, write, write, get stuck, go for a walk, get unstuck, finish. Then I edit and maybe ask someone else to read it and edit some more.

Then I log it in Duotrope and consider all the places I might send it.

I have this story. I thought it was good. I even got to the point where I logged it in Duotrope. But I didn’t send it out. I don’t know why. It seemed fine. Really fine. But I didn’t do anything with it.

Then, yesterday, I read this story, “The Cellar Dweller” by Maria Dahvana Headley, which is nothing, really, like my story, except that I felt, once I’d finished it, that the end of the story was the inevitable outcome of the beginning. I just read it and thought, “I could not have predicted this, but that is the end the beginning promises.” And I knew, suddenly, the problem with my story. My ending was the one that tied up all the loose ends in a way I found satisfactory. It was not the end the beginning promised.

And this morning, as I was walking the dog, I realized what ending the beginning of the story made inevitable. So, I cut 200 words from the end of the story. All the wrapping things up and explaining things? Gone.

I added back 100 new ones. And I changed the ending from “here’s what changed in general after the main action of the story” to “here‘s what changed in the protagonist.”

Then I reread it and I threw my hands up in the air. Touchdown.

It’s ready to go out and be rejected! A million times!

Ha ha ha. Good thing stories aren’t sentient beings, because it’s all “Go get kicked in the teeth a bunch and then maybe someone will want to smooch you.” But there is no other way. You do the work. You get rejected. You do the work anyway.

Grouchy

I don’t need people to say only good things about my writing, but I am a little done with people saying bad things about it. The hate-mail I’ve gotten about the Isaac Franklin piece has just been so infuriating. Like, seriously, I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike the term race-baiting, if only because the people who use the term seem to think that black people are just aimlessly and happily tooling about their days until someone comes and agitates them, like they’re just too stupid to notice that things are amiss without the race-baiters. Is there anything more infantalizing than “they wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong if you hadn’t said anything?”

But, at heart, the hate mail I’ve gotten seems to be deeply offended and discombobulated that my writing sometimes puts the reader in the position of imagining Franklin from the perspective of his victims instead of imagining him in a more generous light than he clearly would have put himself in. That is the main thing that kills me about American history, how often people insist that we should extend to people in the past a generosity that distorts them. Like when people try to insist that the Civil War was about states rights and that claiming otherwise is dishonoring the past, when you can read the materials the states created when they talked about why they wanted to leave the union and why they were fighting and their own words are “We’re doing this because of slavery.”

Isaac Franklin didn’t see himself as a good guy. So, why can’t I take him at his word?

Also, someone is upset with me for writing fictional ghost stories. Okay, well, there’s a whole lot of really good, fun, interesting books about real Tennessee ghost stories. Those are not my book. Read any of the rest of them and be glad you didn’t buy my book. Christ.

“You got this fact wrong” or “You didn’t take into account x, y, or z” or “Is a paragraph/word/letter missing here?” or “This part didn’t work for me for these reasons” are all legitimate criticisms I know how to do something with. I might even be interested in reading something on the ethics of making up ghost stories. But “You’re not writing what I, internet stranger, want you to write” is just not something I can do anything about. Read someone who is writing what you want to read or write your own thing.

Old Things

I saw a dear old friend yesterday at lunch. I hadn’t seen her in years and it was good to catch up and too short.

Then I dreamed that a mutual friend of ours, who I haven’t seen since grad school, and I were on a car trip, driving home from somewhere in Michigan and we stopped at my Grandma’s house in Battle Creek, which was, of course, not her house this time, but the house full of people from where I graduated high school.

The guy who stalked me was there. He lived in that house. And he worked at Burger King. And I stole his hat and threw it through the brazier, which upset him and I told him I’d buy him another one. And then we left.

As dreams usually do, it sounds stupid when I type it up.

But man, it’s weighing on me this morning. It’s the two things that weigh on me all the time: In what ways am I hidden from myself in ways that are harmful to myself and others? How am I here when so many people I know are smarter or more creative or more deserving (which, yes, I hate that word) are not?

The magnitude of luck that has brought me to this point is immeasurable. That’s what I keep thinking.

But the thing about the weight of the dream is that it reminds me that lucky and happy are the same word at heart and part of the weight is that I don’t experience them as the same thing. Being lucky in this way–me being here, the guy who stalked me working fast food–it doesn’t make me happy. I feel grateful, don’t get me wrong.

But I’m always waiting for the world to be set back right. I am so far out beyond where I was taught I’d be allowed. I never feel like “Oh, well, it is what it is and the things I was taught were wrong.” Well, that’s not true. I feel like that in the light of day all the time.

But at night, I know the scales are uneven and tipped in my favor. And I know every story of the gods monkeying around with the fate of a person leads to that person’s eventual downfall. You can’t be lucky all the time.

And yet, I don’t have the things I want. I want to write a damn fine haunted house story that people love. I want it to be published by a publisher who will get it into bookstores. I want to be able to walk into Parnassus and Barnes & Noble in my own town and see it on the shelf.

And that’s farther out, scales tipped even more ridiculously. I can’t do it. There’s just no way to be that lucky, considering how far luck has brought me. It just can’t hold.

But I have to try for it.

Not 100% In Love

octagon afghan 1 octagon afghan 2

So, once I get all the ends tucked, this is how it will go together. Obviously, not with non-gray yarn, but I wanted to see what I was doing. I don’t love, love it. I kind of wish the squares were big enough to fit in the hole correctly, but they’re just a hair too small.

Oh well, I’m sure it will be fine. And, technically, this way appears to make my squares octagons.

One of the people who came Friday night told me he likes my writing because I write like a man. Today I realized I should have asked him how he knew about the severed dick I type with. And now I can’t stop giggling at the thought of trying to hit these stupid keys with a penis. I mean, maybe I’m giving myself too much credit, but I’d like to believe my dick would be all ikj azsmjk tfryhupolikjnhjgtf whenever I was trying to typle “I am typing.” I believe myself swaggery enough to have a three key dick, if I were to have one.

Just, guys, I love you but any variation of “you’re not like other girls” isn’t the compliment a lot of you think it is.