If there’s one thing I’ve learned spending all this time alone with the dog it’s that he rarely loses track of where I am, even if I don’t always know where he is. This isn’t out of some great care for me, but mostly because he’d rather be in the house in most cases and, if he loses track of me, he might not be able to get in the house.
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.
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.
I have big news that I can’t tell you yet (not “sold a novel” big).
But let me put in this way, I’m going to meet my goal of becoming an active SFWA member.
[Mild spoilers] As I mentioned on Twitter last night, rather than writing, I spent my evening eating the rest of the brussel sprouts and reading Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. It’s pretty brilliant. In some ways, it’s like Cabin in the Woods, in that it really, really knows its genre and the tropes in it and it knows as many or more than you do, so, even when you think you’ve guessed the trope–I, for instance, became convinced at some point that there was a little The Sixth Sense thing going on and it was going to turn out that Ken was a ghost, but no, he interacts with people–it’s usually something else. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but, also, I felt pretty sure we were riffing off one Shirley Jackson novel when, at the end, it became quite clear we were riffing off another.
But the nice thing about all the references to all the stuff that’s come before it is that sometimes, say, for instance, a name gets thrown in, like there’s a Doctor Navidson, which is obviously a reference to House of Leaves, but nothing major directly ties the story to House of Leaves. In other words, the name is an Easter Egg, not a clue. But then, when the end happens, it’s like, oh, duh, the girl’s name is Merry. It was right there in front of us the whole time. That was a clue not just a homage.
The other thing Tremblay does really well–and it pisses me off because he basically has a character explain to you exactly what he’s doing and he still does it and it still works–is to utterly misdirect your attention. He sits you in the head of his point-of-view character and points your attention out at the people she interacts with. The story asks a series of questions–the main one being whether the girl at the center of the book is mentally ill or possessed–and you read along and you form your theories and you regard how well he manages the ambiguity and leaves enough clues for it to go either way. And then you get to the end and you realize you’ve been encouraged to ponder the wrong questions, to scrutinize the wrong girl, to even envision the wrong person at the center of the book.
It’s so well done.
The other really brilliant thing he does is to sense at which points his readers are going to be “Wait, isn’t this like that part in The Exorcist?” and has his narrator say “Wait, isn’t this like that part in The Exorcist?” or the like. And he then uses the similarity/homage to add to the sense of “well, is it like The Exorcist because it’s real or because it’s fake?”
Anyway, I really liked it and I about died of jealousy, because, damn, I want to write something that smart and unsettling.
I don’t want to end up in any round-ups or in any big way a part of the larger discussion, but I read Mary Robinette Kowal’s comment here and I just want to say that, when you get to a certain age, you recognize the ways that good people who don’t consider themselves sexist reinforce some pretty sexist notions. A big one is that, when a man “upsets” a woman in a professional context, it’s a private matter to be worked out between the two of them, and when a woman “upsets” a man in a professional context, her (male) boss may need to weigh in on it.
And here we are.
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.
Yesterday I saw a bald eagle downtown. I thought I was seeing something… like a mistake… or an impossibility. But it turns out that there was a bald eagle at Radnor last year and a breeding pair in Franklin some time before that. So, it’s actually not that weird, though uncommon, to see a bald eagle in Middle Tennessee.
But it felt amazing.
I know it’s a weird thing to say with a blog like this, but I am a private person. And one thing that aggravates me, but I can’t figure out how to get around it, is when someone does or says something that hits too close to home, to something I don’t want to talk about, and certainly not to that person. And yet, if they don’t pickup on the cue that I’ve changed the subject or stopped talking, I feel like I’m kind of being forced into disclosing something I don’t want to disclose to the person who’s already kind of trampling on my feelings.
I really hate it.
Especially because I’m pretty sure I’m a trampler myself, sometimes. But ugh.
1. The octagon afghan. And it came out of the dryer so soft.
2. The story I told you about yesterday. I even sent it off on submission.
3. The first chapter of “Ashland.” It’s not perfect and, like all first things, will have to be revised substantially once I write the rest, but it’s done. And even, I think, kind of scary.
4. I am going with “Return to Hill House” for the replacement Hill House afghan. It’s lighter than the first and uses some different yarns. We’ll have to see how it goes.
It’s done. I have to wash it. Not just for the sake of this afghan, but because I can’t do the Return to Hill House afghan unless I know this modified beginning works. But man, not tonight.
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.
I both want to be writing and to tour a historic home the tour guides believe is haunted. (Did I tell you guys that I saw a website the other day that claimed Isaac Franklin’s home is haunted by the people he bought and sold?! That must be crowded as fuck. 10,000 angry spirits.)
And I want to finish this afghan. You guys cannot believe all the tails that have to be tucked. I tuck and tuck and tuck and tuck and it’s so little progress. I mean, it’ll be done, soonish I imagine, but whew, I’m probably not doing another octagon afghan, even though I kind of like it better than the hexagons.
Sonnyboy and I got home from our walk and discovered both a sick Butcher on the couch and our friend, the black dog (my current guess? Saluki/Shepherd mix.). In the past month, he’s probably been with us almost two weeks–a solid week when we dog-sat him and then days while his house was being shown and sold. Not two solid weeks, but a lot of time.
And TODAY was the first day he seemed genuinely friendly to me. Not cautious or nervous, but “scratch my butt! Hurray! That’s awesome!” friendly. It was pretty awesome.
Of course, it caused Sonnyboy to climb into the Butcher’s lap, because, I guess, if the Butcher has a dog taking up his whole field of vision, he can’t see the other dog to give it any attention.
I only hope I don’t come home to find Sonnyboy barfed on with that approach to life.
My dad’s cousin’s kid is making an elaborate necklace of Thor’s hammers. I say “kid,” but he’s my age. We sit with him at family functions and behave in rambunctious ways while egging each other on. And we’re Facebook friends, but I don’t know him any better than that.
I do know there are a limited number of reasons a man would have a collection of heathen pendents. And we can rule out “white supremacist.”
So, I laughed.
The dog pulled my rose out of the ground last night. I was so mad I had to put him in the house to keep from beating him with the rose. And yet, the Butcher’s sick, so I had to get up and walk the dog and not be a giant dick, because he doesn’t remember why I’m mad at him.
I don’t know how people with kids do it. Because knocking the shit out of another creature, especially a creature who isn’t really intending to upset you, is wrong. But man, it would have been so satisfying to make the dog as upset as I was. And kids are easy to upset.
So, you have to be able to both be hugely pissed, because things happen and you’re hugely pissed when someone tramples your garden and tears up your rose, and you have to consistently, every time, not give over to that anger and instead try to find some way of curtailing behavior without hurting your children. That’s got to be so fucking hard. And, sometimes, they do shit on purpose.
I don’t know. Just, sometimes, I have these feelings, these kinds of monstrous rages. Not often, but often enough, that it makes me relieved I never had kids. I mean, I don’t think that feeling, that suspicion, that knocking the shit out of something would be so fucking satisfying, comes out of nowhere. I think that’s a mixture of nature and nurture. We’ve got those impulses and we’ve taught ourselves to act on them, generation after generation.
Well, this is a depressing post. But the dog remains unbeaten. I’ve passed no terrible ways of dealing with the world to a next generation. The rose isn’t obviously dead this morning.
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.
Spoilers welcome, questions answered, discussions had. Fair warning.
We went on our walk this morning and he was so pleasant and well-behaved and didn’t tug on the leash. He listened. He charmed the AT&T dudes. So, of course, when we got home, I found the world’s largest pile of poop right by the front door.
I don’t know.
He’s been being really weird about going out front lately. So, maybe he didn’t actually get off the porch last night.
I’ve also encountered a strange problem with the octagon afghan. It’s too hot to work on it very long. I wonder if I’m going to have to crank the air conditioning down to 68 to finish it.
Yesterday, I went on Living Your Best Life with Genma Holmes, a radio show here in town, with Chuck to promote The Wolf’s Bane. It was really cool. The studio is in Metro Center and overlooks the river and this woman sits at the console and just runs everything. I was completely in awe of her. Like some mix of being a band conductor and an air traffic controller.
Anyway, it was really cool and, when/if there’s a link, I’ll share it with you guys. I basically rambled on about Dr. Jack for ever. But I don’t care. People should know about him.
I’m going to buy the yarn for the Return to Hill House afghan today, even though I’m feeling like I’ll be very lucky if I finish up the octagon one this week. I kind of knew this was going to be the slow part, but I’m genuinely impressed with “too hot to work on it” as being the reason for the slowness. Oh, yeah, this is why I don’t make afghans in the summer. It’s hot.
I have a cool, weird thing early tomorrow, so I spent my evening listening to podcasts and working on the afghan and very shortly going to bed. I have all the octagons together. I am beginning to place the squares. Here’s what I know. Each octagon has, wait for it, eight spines. Eight places where there’s one stitch on top of another all the way to the outside of the octagon, no funny business, no fucking around. Those spines are not all straight, because the first stitch on the ring slides pretty dramatically, but they will eventually work their way straight because the first stitch on the ring slides pretty dramatically AND each octagon is connected to at least two, usually four, other octagons. Those four short seams set in place the top ends of the spines and, more importantly, pull on them, eventually pulling them straight. But, I think, because the seams are so short, they don’t give the afghan the strong skeleton it would otherwise have. The afghan doesn’t pull all its weight at the seams. It pulls on those octagons.
The little squares seem to take some of the force off the octagons. It’s still holier than I’m used to, but I think it will look okay.
I’ll tell you one thing about this discussion. It made me listen to Lightning 100 differently on the way home from work. Do they ever play two women back to back? Does any radio station I listen to? I think that dude is a jerk, but I think he may have said out-loud something true a lot of radio programmers believe, across genre.
I’ve been long giving Lightning 100, a radio station I really love, a kind of side-eye because they play very few black artists, which means that both Adia Victoria and Valerie June don’t get played, even though their music–though very different from each other–is exactly the kind of music Lightning 100 plays.
But I keep thinking how studies show that people perceive that crowds look “right” or that women are participating half the time, when women are only a quarter of participants. That feels equal to people–men and women (unless you happen to be one of the women directly shut out because there’s only room for one woman in every four people). How can that kind of conditioned bias no affect what we hear?
I’m sure country music fans perceive that they hear from a lot of women artists. That doesn’t make it okay. It just further shows that, in 150 years, the progress we’ve made in popular culture is to go from almost no presence to 25% presence. Obviously, that’s a pretty big change, but we don’t have the same space in public imagination that we have in real life. Still. Yet.