Dec 30

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Back to basics

Got a lot done on “TYSBAS” today. Don’t have a word count, because I’ve been working the old-fashioned way. Pen on paper. It’s been a long time since I wrote by hand, and I’m noticing a great difference. Using pen and paper, I can’t write as fast. That forces me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. I have time to consider words and sentence structure, dialog, foreshadowing, all the stuff that often gets lost when I’m banging out words on the keyboard. The down side is that my hand hurts. Those muscles are way out of shape! I think I’ll try this periodically just to keep from getting stale.

DUH!

It’s The Interior Castle, you big Dummy! Mea culpa. I’ll have to ask Saint Theresa to excuse my all-too-human blunder.

I have no idea where that Haunted Castle shtick came from. Sometimes I scare myself.

Dec 29

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Readin’, writin’, and…uh…what’s that other one?

Finished reading Rising by Brian Keene. The fact that this novel won the 2003 Best First Novel Stoker fills me with dismay. It’s mediocre at best. Stereotyped characters following a predictable plot to an obvious and unsatisfying ending. If this is the best new novel in an entire year, then the horror novel is in a sorry state indeed. Maybe Washed in the Blood can start a new trend toward excellence. 🙂

Next on the TBR list is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, followed by The Haunted Castle by Saint Theresa of Avila. No, it’s not a ghost story. St. Theresa was a Catholic nun and mystic who had some interesting things to say about a person’s relationship with God. After that, it will be time to re-read Writing the Breakout Novel with highlighter in hand.

Today’s writing work was mostly preparation. I worked up character development worksheets that suit me by combining elements from 2 that are on the Web (1 from Eclectics.com and 1 from Inspiration for Writers). Just for laughs, I went over to facade.com and generated Tarot readings for my 4 major characters. I’ll look at them over the next few days and see what gives. I’ll do my own readings, of course, this was just for fun. I may even run horoscopes on them, we’ll see.

As a change of pace from all the paperwork, I started writing the new version of “Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet”. This time, I’m going to take a real good look inside everybody’s head. It promises to be lots of fun.

Dec 28

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Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!

And so another year dies a slow and agonizing death. Yes, it’s time for the Post-Party Depression. The week after Christmas is always bleak for me. Everybody has been so jolly and giving and smiling and happy for the last month. Then, on December 26, it’s back to the same old grouchy, rude, inconsiderate asshole-ness. That kind of hypocrisy is one of the reasons I don’t really like Christmas. Where’s the giving spirit in February when that needy family you gave toys to has to decide whether to have lunch the rest of the month or pay the gas bill? It’s not the Christmas spirit, people, it’s the Christian spirit. A true Christian would celebrate Christmas year-round and in all aspects of his/her life. Sadly, true Christians are in desperately short supply.

“What would Jesus do?” is one of the catch-phrases of today. Jesus told His disciples to give everything they had to the poor and travel the world preaching the Gospel and depending on the kindness of strangers for their sustenance. That’s what He did. Draw your own conclusions.

Oh well, bitching ain’t gonna fix it. Let’s start looking ahead to 2005.

I am declaring a new start on Washed in the Blood. I have to lose about the first 8-10k words off the beginning so I can start with a bang. I’m thinking either the scene in Polly’s kitchen or the discovery of Maggie’s body would be good starting points, then bring in backstory as we go along. That means a new outline, etc. First, though, I am going to actually put together a “writer’s notebook” on this project. I have resisted that so far, but I have learned that a first novel is just too big a project to run off-the-cuff. First step is character building. I will start on my charts tonight and try to have at least John, Maggie, Polly, and Thomas done by Monday. I already know them reasonably well, so it should go fairly quickly. Ultimately, I am shooting for a finished first draft by the end of the year.

Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet is also undergoing some radical changes. A friend offered me some insight on the story (Thanks, Dawn!) that has led it into new territory and new depth. Re-plotting is under way, and actual writing will commence apace (Monday, if not before).

Actually, I feel pretty good about 2004. I have learned a lot and pushed my writing to a new level. I feel like 2005 will be a breakout year for me. Anyweay, that’s my dream, and I’m sticking to it!

Specific goals:

  1. Finished first draft of WITB: average of 2k words per week. I can do that.
  2. Finish and submit one short story per month. Also eminently do-able.
  3. Finish and submit one article for each issue of Vision (6 issues). No sweat.
  4. Minimum 25 points in the Great Rejection Slip Contest at Forward Motion. Made 10 points in 4 1/2 months this year, so that seems reasonable.

Lunch time’s over. Back to the “real” job. 🙁

Dec 22

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Abort, Retry, Fail?

The turning of the year is the traditional time for reflection and planning. Looking back on 2004, I see a lot of progress. Looking forward, I see a lot more. Looking around at where I am, I see some changes that I need to make.

Sometimes, you have to move back before you can move forward again. I find myself in that situation with Washed in the Blood. Over the past 6 months, working on this novel has taken a lot of thought and effort. I have been introduced to plotting and outlining, character building, and novel structure.

With close to 20,000 words written, I find that the story has now taken a major turn away from my original conception. My newly gained knowledge and experience tell me that this is an extremely positive move. Though the core of the story remains the same, the plot and some of the characters must change dramatically.

That means that about 10,000 words must be ripped out from the beginning and replaced. That’s scary. I know it’s necessary, but it still hurts my heart. I will keep a backup of this version before doing that, so that will help a little bit. I can keep the body around until it starts to stink the place up.

Ultimately, this means that WITB will be on hiatus for a while while I actually finish the pre-writing work that I should have done long ago. If I take a month or 6 weeks to establish a solid foundation, I could have a first draft completed sometime in the Fall. If it takes longer, then so be it. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.” In the meantime, I have lots of short stories that need finishing and new ideas to develop.

A more appropriate message should be: Abort, Retry, Succeed!

Dec 20

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‘Tis the season

The Christmas Crazies devoured my weekend and are threatening the rest of the week. My writing goals are in the toilet. I’m holed below the waterline and sinking fast. Oh well, better luck next year.

Just finished reading (actually re-reading) Emotional Blackmail by Dr. Susan Forward. This book gives some excellent insight into the ways that people use Fear, Obligation, and/or Guilt (FOG) to blind and confuse us and convince us to let them have their way. It also points out the ways that we cooperate with and enable the blackmailers. “It takes 2 to Tango”, as they say. Anyone who finds themselves giving in to friends, family, or even strangers because of FOG would benefit from this book.

This headline on the AP wire a little after 5pm Eastern:

Iraq PM: Rebels Want to Cause Civil War

Ain’t no flies on this guy! Look, dumbass, if they’re “rebels”, you already GOT a civil war! It looks to me like there are organized Iraqi forces fighting with forces of the government that the U.S. backs. Looks an awful lot like civil war to me!

How about this? Vioxx, Celebrex, now naproxen. If the disease doesn’t kill you, the medicine might! Who’s minding the store up there at the FDA?

Enough! Craziness begone! I banish thee!

Hey! Wait! Where did everything go…

Dec 17

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Looks like I’m gonna make it

1211 words on WITB today. 500 tomorrow will get it over 20k. Things are really hopping now. John’s holed up in an old gold mine. He’s being pursued by an armed search party that thinks he’s a sadistic psychopath. Nothing like a freshly minted vampire trying to figure out how to survive under that kind of pressure for generating tension. Tomorrow the FBI steps in. That’ll crank the heat up a few degrees more.

Dec 16

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Mama told me there’d be days like this

Got no words today. None. My mind feels like it’s slogging through mud. Oh well. It’ll get better.

Started reading instead. Rising by Brian Keene. Decent so far, but nothing to really get excited about. He has a fairly interesting take on zombies, but the plot is way derivative. Think The Stand with zombies instead of Superflu. So far, we have the middle-class white dude, the guy who let this thing loose on the world from some secret lab, the black junkie chick from the inner city, and the aging black minister. Stereotype characters, stock plot, I sure hope he’s got some interesting twist coming up, or it’ll be 7 bucks down the tubes.

On top of everything else, I want a cigarette so bad I can’t stand it. I’ve been quit four years, now, but today the craving’s back. I think it’s just my mind getting in my way so I can’t work.

Hey, you! Sit down and shut up! You ain’t the boss of me!

Huh? What? Oh, hi, Mind. Oh, nothing. You know I just get carried away, sometimes. It’s cool. No, no, everything’s fine. Just go back to sleep. I’ll call you when I need you.

Whew! That was close. Shhhhhh. Gotta go…

Real writers don’t

On Silent Bounce this morning, Holly posted about having to put her Secret Project on hold because of requested changes that would have compromised the story. That’s a tough decision for any writer, especially one who depends on these books to put food on the table and a roof over her family’s head. That’s having the courage of her convictions.

It’s always refreshing to see someone who values principle over making a quick sale. It has to be hard to turn your back on money in the bank in order to preserve the integrity of your story, but it’s a decision that every writer will probably face at some point in their career. I hope I have that kind of courage when my day arrives.

We all face this dilemma in small ways all the time. Compromise and win or stand firm and risk losing. Compromise usually wins. The vast majority of the time, the principles involved are not really worth fighting for. We give a little to get a little. The challenge comes when the decision involves compromising your vision, your dream, your passion for a story. That’s when it gets hard. That’s when the rubber meets the road, as they say. Will I have the courage to stand up and fight for my vision. I hope so. I’m sure I’ll have the chance to find out one day.

Dec 15

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Baby steps

413 words on Washed in the Blood today. That puts me over 1000 for the week and gets the total over 18k. I would like to go over 20k this week. I’m off work Friday and Saturday, so I’ll be able to put on a push. Just on a whim, I’m going to try for 25k by the end of the year. It will be a stretch, but isn’t that what goals are for?

“The Easy Way Out” was rejected by Conversely. The score is now 22-5. That’s an 18.5% acceptance rate. Not too bad, I think. This one did put me into double digits in the Great Rejection Slip Contest at Forward Motion. One goal down for this year! I still have some things out, so it may go even higher.

Mouth shut; ears open

My wife and I (actually just her, I just helped) started a support group for people with clinical depression and/or bipolar disorder that she runs locally. Nothing spectacular, just a group of people getting together and talking about things once a week. It’s been a real benefit to some people, and that’s all she expects to get out of it.

I threw together a quick and cheap Web site at OrgSites (a truly great place for small non-profits). That site has put me in touch with people all over the country. They all tell me the same things, and they are the same things that I have experienced.

People who are deeply depressed feel very much the same things: loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, muddled thinking, lack of energy, etc. I have found that most “normal” people are afraid to talk to someone who is depressed, even a loved one. They are afraid that they will say the wrong thing and push them over the edge, or they just don’t understand how someone can feel so bad without having physical symptoms.

What depressed people need (besides professional assistance, of course) is someone to talk to. I did not say someone to talk to them, i said “someone to talk to”. Sympathy and understanding go a long, long, way to helping them feel a little better. I have spent a lot of time on the telephone just listening.

Depression isolates people by reinforcing their feelings of low self-worth. They can’t stand to be around other people, because other people all seem so happy and well-adjusted. They wonder why they feel so bad when everyone else feels so good. “What’s wrong with me?” is a frequent thought, as is “Why can’t I be strong like…?” Withdrawing serves two purposes. It takes away the torment of seeing other people’s happiness, and it allows the feelings of worthlessness to feed and grow.

When someone is depressed, they need to hear that they are worthwhile, that they are valuable just as a human being just as they are. They need someone to believe in them. Many of them also need someone to give them permission to feel bad, to lie in bed and cry when the darkness is just too deep. They need someone to care whether or not they get up in the morning.

They also need to talk. They need to say how badly they hurt and have someone believe them. They need someone to hold their hand and tell them that it will be all right, that the darkness doesn’t last forever, and that they do have the courage and strength to pull through. They need an ear to bend and a shoulder to cry on, even if it’s over a phone line. Knowing that you are not alone is very important. The feeling that you’re all alone in the world and no one understands you is the killer.

What if they’re suicidal? What if they say that they have nothing left to live for and don’t want to go on living? First, take that statement as absolute fact! People don’t talk about suicide until they have given the subject a lot of thought. By the time they get to that point, they already have a plan and are only trying to get up the courage to put it into motion. They need intervention immediately!

While you’re waiting on the paramedics, ask them to talk about the reasons they feel the way they do. These are probably things that they have never talked about with another person. Sometimes the very act of talking about it lets them see that their thinking is skewed right then. Do not patronize them! Don’t pooh-pooh their feelings and their reasons and try to laugh it off. For that matter, don’t joke around at all. These people need for others to take them seriously and pay attention to their concerns and to know how they feel.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when dealing with depression is that depressed people do not think the same way that others do. Depressed people can only see the down side. When you show them sunshine, they see the tornado that is inevitably coming. When they hear birds singing, they hear a grating, irritating noise that is almost unbearable. When they look at themselves, they see ugliness and failure and weakness. It is easy to lose patience with someone in this state. Encouraging them to see the good things in life seldom works, if ever. The depression blinds them to that whole side of the world.

Understanding. Sympathy. Listening. These are keys to dealing with depression in others.
Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanzaa, a Joyous Yule…Screw it, y’all just have an extremely pleasant Winter Solstice.

Dec 14

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“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man…”

Many thoughts, little organization. Welcome to my world.

650 words on WITB today. I hope I can get a better count tomorrow. I just really, really, haven’t wanted to work this week. Too much psychic baggage. One of the marks of a true professional, whether writer, librarian, or whatever, is showing up for work even when it’s a struggle. I guess I’m making progress.

True professionalism requires commitment. That’s a real nasty word, these days. A commitment is serious business. That means that your word is on the line. Do you keep your promises? Do you show up even when you don’t want to? Keeping your commitments means that you are maintaining your integrity.

True professionalism requires integrity. All professions have ethics. As a professional librarian, I refuse to violate my ethics, even in the face of anger or scorn from others. Integrity used to be a good thing. These days, it’s seen as old-fashioned, out-of-date, and irrelevant. I beg to differ. Ethics are not situational. Morality is not situational. Though my standards of right and wrong may differ from others’ in small ways, they will coincide to a great extent.

Integrity means standing up for what’s right, even if it’s not popular. Integrity may require me to be ridiculed and scorned, mocked, even cursed. That’s the price I have to pay. That’s the price any person must be willing to pay if they want to remain true to their beliefs. Integrity is a harsh and sometimes cruel master. What’s right and good seldom comes easily and is never free.

Integrity used to be worthy of respect. That is no longer true. Today’s world is built around the notions of selfishness and disregard for anyone or anything that is not desired by or pleasurable for a particular individual. Anarchy, in other words. Other people are increasingly considered objects that must be shoved aside or climbed over on our way to our goals. That is sad.

Back in my younger days, I fell in love with a novel by Alistair MacLean named H.M.S. Ulysses. Most people consider him a hack, and he really was in his later years, turning out books by the handful, all with the same plot, the same characters, etc. And making tons of money doing it. However, before he sold his soul to the Demon Moolah, MacLean gave the world one extremely unappreciated novel of honor, courage, and redemption.

I consider Alistair MacLean a failure. He wrote a lot of books and made a lot of money, but he lost his integrity. He sold his vision and his talent for a mess of pottage. H.M.S. Ulysses shows that he had important things to say and could say them with passion and beauty. I count it a great loss that he did not maintain his professionalism under pressure.

I got off on this track while thinking (actually brooding) about my wife’s family crisis. H.M.S. Ulysses is about the men on an escort vessel on the Artic convoy run to Murmansk during WWII. Referring to an oil tanker that has been torpedoed and set on fire, the author writes: “Tankers die hard. Terribly hard.” That statement also applies to families.

Families die hard. Love dies hard. Terribly, awfully, tragically hard. It hurts.

I am also put in mind of a line that sits in my “Ideas” file waiting its turn upon the stage. One day it will provide the lead-in for a really fine story:

“They say time heals all wounds, but sometimes an eternity is barely enough to stop the bleeding.”