May 13, 2010

Finding the Happy Place

Writing is really not a simple in the microcosm of a daily life as I'd like to pretend it is. I've been able to knock out entire novel HALVES in a month's time, and then go for half a year and barely eke out a chapter. This is no way to pace oneself.

There's a cold, hard reality to being a writer - shoot, being an ANYTHING, really - that depends so much on finding your rhythm and then getting all possible distractions locked outside your periphery. A good friend of mine who's working on his first manuscript actually took several days off from his paying job so he could focus on it. Another author I know actually works full time as an editor to pay the bills so he can afford to write.

Myself, I work as a crisis manager for a "major telecommunications company", meaning that on a good day I have almost nothing at all to do. And on a bad day I'm up for 24 hours straight, taking phone calls, sending emails, and generally trying to keep track of where all the bodies are. It sounds fairly idyllic, yes?

Then to dash that little fantasy, bear in mind that about 75% of my job happens without warning. Just your basic sunny day, birds singing, people laughing, all is fine in the world, when suddenly, BAM.

Tornado over Oklahoma.

Then, it's all sirens and phone calls and SMS messages and emails and .... bleargh.

Living in potential expectation of that possibility is what keeps me from just sitting at a desk and writing an additional chapter in the book. No, to be honest, I actually almost prefer the crazy days - - because, then, at least, I know something's happening. I can set things in motion and my mind can, oddly enough, relax. Once the crisis has passed, however, my brain remains keyed up to that elevated stress level, and it takes sometimes weeks for it to calm down and flush the adrenaline from my bloodstream.

And then, it's quiet. Almost...too quiet. And how am I supposed to write, then?

No, clearly my job does not intend for me to have any brain juices left with which to grease my creative wheels.

And that's not all. Occasionally, the flavor of my writing slips unnoticed into my professional communiques - and let's be clear on this: far too many professional types do not appreciate getting a little fictional prose in their bullet points. It's an entirely other kind of writing style - and one I can do, but one that I do not necessarily enjoy. I was reminded today that corporate professionals do not like italics or boldface. It reads to them like condescencion and superiority, not emphasis for content.

Now, when I say I was reminded today, I mean that in quite the literal sense. Reminded, in fact, by my grand-boss (the boss of my boss). Now, he was awesome about it. Really. He knows I write, and realized that I had dropped some of my chocolate in their peanut butter, and in this case the mix did not go over well. Execs took my points as abrasive and cocky and arrogant.

What a swell way to be reminded of why I'm not really in an occupational environment hand-designed for me. Granted, I whisper soft the faint reminder: "You are not your job," I say. "What pays your bills is not your Soul nor your Identity." But if you spend all day long working in the sewer, you still smell like s**t. And if I may be completely honest, I'm really tired of smelling like s**t.

So, on that recognition, I sent out another query letter today. Haven't heard back from TOR publishing, but then I didn't honestly put all my chips on that square anyway.

But I don't expect quick fixes. Need to write. I'm on chapter 13 of "Reaper's Flight." Not quite the home stretch, but it's about ready to smack into the end of Act 2. It's coming together much more cleanly than "Morrow Stone" did. But it also feels a lot like chiseling out a statue from marble:



Look again.


Sip of Water.

Look again.

Position chisel.

Ready hammer.

Breathe again.

Change your mind; step away.


The rush will happen again, that's not my worry. The simplest way to respond to "writer's block" is to just embrace it and let it happen; clutching it just keeps it around.

Enough for today. Time to leave work and clear my head. The words will come again.

May 11, 2010

Death and the Maiden

It might have started with the zombies.

Yesterday afternoon, the Bean and I were talking about this and that while working on her homework, and the conversation turned to zombies and ghosts. She asked me if I'd ever seen a ghost, which led to another conversation - one that I'll save here for another time, perhaps.

Then she asked me why I thought ghosts were here at all - this led to another series of topics involving ghosts vs spirits vs angels, empathy, reincarnation, and, well, death. This is a tricky conversation to have with a 9 year old, let's be honest. But the Bean has always been very sensitive to the concept of death - it's been kind of surrounding her since she was very young - with Lizz's parents and uncle Stan having passed away, it's just become a sort of thing present in the background ever since she was born. But also, it has really impacted her in general.

I made a kind of breakthrough, I think, in that we were able to address the concerns of life and death and life beyond in a way that didn't involve religious considerations, but still embraced the idea of faith and belief. Those are things that I had feared forever tainted by my exposure to religious indoctrination, and it was liberating to see that they were really only as inextricably bound as I allowed them to be.

I was able to tell Jillie what I believed, and it gave her something to consider - something that she realized she also thought was a good thing to believe in. We even talked about the scientific principle about the conservation of matter and energy; about how something can never be destroyed nor created, but can only be converted and processed. It gave her something to wrap the unwrappable in, and gave her a toehold to believing in the immortality of the human soul.

Belief really is a tricky thing. It's even stranger to think of how much it's been a part of my life, but, stripping away all the extra trappings of it all and leaving it in its primal, simplest state.... it's a very beautiful thing.

Jillie also made a comment that has stuck with me. She said "sometimes I wonder if I'm just dreaming or if this is real. Or if my dreams are real."

Nine years old, facing an existential quandary? Is that a symptom of bad parenting? Hrm.

It made me think a lot, as well, about my expectations for development with my characters in the Morrow Stone's sequel. I'm over halfway through the first draft at this point, and I've noticed little perceptions coming out in Rom and Kari, as well as Cousins, as they've learned more about who they are and about the world in which they live. The concepts of life and death have been radically altered, and it won't be the last time they have to face the transition of the two states of reality.

It's funny how life imitates reality, really; how sometimes our own characters have lessons to teach us - even those of us who pretend to be the gods of their destiny.