22 December 2008

Spider in the Snow

I didn't take this picture:

Wm Jas did, and it's licensed under a CC Attribution Share-Alike License.

But last Wednesday, I saw a spider like this crawling across the five-inch deep snow in the woods. The dog almost trampled her. But as we walked away, she continued her long, slow crawl across the snow.

This month I'm trying to work through some of the lessons I learned by doing NaNoWriMo. November taught me so much about how discipline and regular writing feels (answer: like coming home). How to proceed from here?

Last night I attended a guided meditation class in celebration of the solstice. The woman who runs this group is a powerful healer, well versed in all kinds of different modalities and symbols. She likes to talk about how animals and the natural world can communicate messages that are significant to your path. If you see an animal in an unusual context, or exhibiting behaviour that really makes you take notice (a bird peering in at you through the window; a deer haunting your campsite every evening), she recommends opening to the question of what it means, and paying attention to the first thought that flashes through your mind.

(The next thought, she says, will probably be your ego telling you off for being ridiculous. As usual, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.)

I love writing, but the question burning in my mind is, do I just keep going in the direction I'm going? (With a certain puslating concern throbbing in the background: what about money? what about my debt? what about money?)

When I saw the spider, the message was this: "The spider weaves a web and waits."

Righto. Patience. And continued work without immediate gratification in exchange for a shot at longterm benefit.

At the meditation last night, I asked about seeing the spider. "Spiders are associated with writing," said our meditation leader.

During the guided meditation, one of the guides who greeted me was a tall and androgynous angel with a beautiful face. I asked hir for clarification on where my focus should be: money (i.e., gainful employment) or writing.

"Don't worry about money," the guide said. "Just keep writing."

I hear ya, and I'm trying to take this advice. I feel at a delicious sort of impass with this life stuff: I know I'll be unhappy unless I write, and any other occupation just won't do to satisfy me. This attitude alone has been a long time coming. But I can't keep going with the income level I'm at; I'm afraid I'll reach the end of February and be unable to find gainful employment, and I'll really be in a jackpot.

The guides can be so harsh sometimes. Why couldn't they give me a complete financial picture for the rest of my life? (Snark.)

Despite fears, I want this dark creative juice more fully and intensely than I've wanted anything.

"In the beginning, there was the dark purple light at the dawn of being. Spider Woman spun a line to form the east, west, north, and south. Breath entered man at the time of the yellow light. At the time of the red light, man proudly faced his creator. Spider Woman used the clay of the earth, red, yellow, white, and black, to create people. To each she attached a thread of her web which came from the doorway at the top of her head. This thread was the gift of creative wisdom. Three times she sent a great flood to destroy those who had forgotten the gift of her thread. Those who remembered floated to the new world and climbed to safety through the Sipapu Pole the womb of Mother Earth."

Stacy Kowtko, Nature and the Environment in Pre-Columbian American Life

30 November 2008

Good to know

56%

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Nine


Word Count: 50139 / 50031 (according to the NaNoBots)
Authors who need a drink: 1

Well, that was satisfying. And an amazing release. I'm off to hug my pets and feed them treats and to try to put back together the shambles that I have traditionally called my home and love life.

29 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Eight

Word Count: 48320
Spectacular monster-slaying stage plays: 1
Displays of supernatural powers: 3
Hilarious lines: lots, I hope, but my favourite one is this, shouted by an old woman heckler after witnessing a particularly scourge-eriffic display of supernatural powers:

"Jesus Christ you ain't!"

Oh man, it's been a long month. I've experienced quite the learning curve. Everything they say is true: novel writing is like a long, solitary trip across the desert of yourself. Or maybe (if you're lucky) the dessert of yourself. The worst moments are right before you sit down for a writing session. If you can get your bum in your chair and a pen in your hand and even one word down on that page (after procrastinating further by numbering your page and carefully noting the date at the top) you'll probably be fine.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm just under halfway to a full draft of the novel. But I'm quite sure now that I can do it.

28 November 2008

Cold Shoulder Haiku

Bring your anger here;
Leave it on the forest floor.
The trees will take it.

27 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Seven

Word Count: 45906
Zombicidal children: 12, give or take
Troupes of slightly nonthreatening monsters: 1

I didn't intend for the monsters to be friendly. HOW DID THE MONSTERS BECOME FRIENDLY?

Because they all have their own stories, that's how. Well, crap. There's a layer of complication that I hadn't banked on.

At the same time, I think my overarching metaphor - the one about power - just got a lot more complex and interesting.

26 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Six

No new words today. I decided to take the day to do some research that's essential to generating the next 8k and completing the NaNoWriMo challenge. This pause for recherche is actually making me far more excited about the next section of writing than if I'd barrelled on through. Don't get me wrong: barrelling is important and fun.

But you know what K. Rog has to say:

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Five

Word Count: 42361
Deadly moral interludes: 1
Heart-munching: 1 heart, 3 munches
Appearances of Satan: 1
Plague sores: dozens

The devil I'm dealing with is only an ersatz devil, a perhaps-once-human person whom time and circumstance has utterly transfomed. But when I wrote the scene I was thinking of images like this one, purportedly of St. Augustine and the Devil, painted by Michael Pacher in 1480:

I don't know anything about Pacher, but Hugo Zoom observes this about the painting:

I have seen this painting referred to as Saint Wolfgang and the Devil as well as SaintAugustine and the Devil. I'm inclined to believe it's Wolfgang, as the devil's butt would quit smirking if he was dealing with St. Augustine.


I love images like this one because the devil looks so totally alien. A confection of otherness. Especially because his butt is smirking.

So too the devil in this Daniel Hopfer etching. Hopfer was a late 15th / early 16th century artist. We've got a firebreathing crotch here, and numerous devils flying overhead and creeping behind the trees in the background. But at least for now, it seems the three old women are able to triumph over evil.

It's a wonderful image because these women, in their decrepitude and flowing longhairedness and wrinkliness and overall crone-like gorgeousness, would have been the sort to most likely appear in medieval and renaissance art as being in cahoots with the devil. Not beating him (or her, if you take the cue of the devil's breasts) into submission.

25 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Four

Word Count: 38773
Dead monarchs: 1
Famous playwrights: 2
Creepy moral interludes: 1

Finally moved on, after much ado, to the second part of the book. Woo, and hoo. And holy crap.

The way things have turned out, November, which has included all the support that you get from the writing collective as you soldier through the NaNoWriMo challenge, has felt kind of like training for a marathon. December is going to be the marathon.

I can't wait. I've been fearing writing this part of the book because I feel it's under researched. I didn't read the scads of biographies I'd planned to on Marlowe and Shakespeare.

But writing them, especially writing them into a clandestine meeting of a secret vampiric underworld, well, I've decided to wing it. I've been studying what they wrote for years.

Of course I know these two. Very well. Once might say intimately, even.

24 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Three

Word Count: 37009
Formerly syphilitic and currently cruel generals: 1
Public executions by burning: lots

I'm still kind of stuck on Mary. I'd had no idea that she would be such a key figure before I started writing this. It's downright fun, though, and she makes an awesome villain, one that I might regret losing. I don't think there's enough for her to make her own novel, but she's certainly cool enough to give Elizabeth I a run for her money.

I'm hoping a couple of things at this point:
1) that my currently hinky internet connection holds steady.
2) that my bedroom ceiling doesn't fall down before I'm done my complete draft (ETA: December 21)

Is that too much to ask?

23 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-Two

Word Count: 35 008
Plot developments with which I am totally surprised: 2 or 3
Messes that I'll have to deal with in revision: 2 or 3

I'm happy with the scenes of gore and grue I'm working on. I've finally managed to work in a scene that combos vampiric grossitude and syphilis, which has (naturally) been my dream since, well, forever. (Read: since I started researching the history of syphilis for my doctorate.)

Syphilis. Yum.

21 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty-One

No words on the 21st. I just finished counting up my words for the 20th, and it's five to eleven and I'm in favour of sleep over word count tonight. I'm on my own tomorrow late afternoon and evening, so I'm hoping for a productive day.

Plus I'm kind of drunk. Darn D.'s boss for giving us an amazing bottle of pinot grigio. Darn the Dog Whisperer for being so entertaining that I just had to watch another episode. Darn the landlord for being so much of a jerk that he inspired yet another discussion about how soon we can get outta here. Darn life for being...life and stuff. Darn the bed for looking so comfortable.

NaNoWriMo Day Twenty

Word Count: 33091
Beheadings: 1, the regular political kind
Nefarious enemas: 1
Bloody tyrants coming into power: 1

I'm not totally sure about the enema. It might be a little bit over the top.

On the other hand, I'm thinking a lot more about staying in the present tense and avoiding the problematic territory of the flashback and the recollection.

I guess for me part of the problem is that I think conflicted people - heck, all people - tend to haul the past into the present on a constant basis. Unless you're a saint, the past is there, informing your decisions.

Like your decision to give your little brother an enema using your own vampirically infected blood.

Too much? Too soon?

I have so much trouble discerning where the line is these days.

19 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Nineteen

No words today. I'm fighting the flu. I'm close to par; things have been going well. Days like this are what padding is for, right? Sleep now.


NaNoWriMo Day Eighteen

Word Count: 31027
Scenes of mass slaughter: 1
Profound transformations: 1
Deus ex machina: 1
Deus ad machina: 1

Now that everyone who's not dead is radically changed, I must introduce some new characters.

18 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Seventeen

Word Count: 28920
Demonic inversions of the miracle play: 1
Staged crucifixions that are real crucifixions: 3
Instances of heart munching: 2

Chris Baty and sundry NaNoWriMo cheerleaders claim that things get easier once you clear 30k words. I have to say that although I enjoyed the 20k zone, I can see that things are getting easier now.

Because this project isn't just a daily word count any more. It's a book in waiting. It's a commitment.

Driving to tai chi this morning, I thought about the book after this one, and the one after that. (It's a series.) Likewise, I thought about my NaNo novel: the section after the one I'm writing, and the two sections to follow. I've been thinking about writing this project for such a long time, but only in the last few days has it begun to feel like something I will actually do. My feeling about it has changed from an amused speculative mode to an anticipation of setting my pen to the page and getting it all down. Of shaping it and surprising myself with how it all shakes out.

There's a tangible difference between a dream and a goal. Both are important to have, of course, but it feels so very good to be working toward something real and concrete. To be bringing an idea into the world.

17 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Sixteen

Word Count: 26746
Monstrous births: 1
Hostile angels: 1

The imagination factory is working overtime, which is great.

Today I was thinking about completing something. I'm thinking ahead to how I'm going to complete the draft of this novel. I plan to keep going through December and January to finish the draft, and to try and polish 'er up. Much of NaNoWriMo involves writing by the seat of your pants in the name of sticking to the all-important word count. It's been really interesting to see where that takes me, while I try to adhere to my (very general) story outline.

I'm thinking about how I'm going to finish this beast and what I'm going to do when I'm done (uh, hello: agent search? portfolio building?). And that's making me think about working on some shorter pieces intermittently over the next little while. I'm craving the sort of focus that comes from editing and polishing and, well, completing. That sort of finished feeling seems, at this point in the program, very far away and in the distant future.

I've got a couple of short story drafts kicking around. I think I'll do some fiddling, just to give the old editor something to do.



16 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Fifteen

Word Count: 24593
Broken legs: 1
Broken necks: 1
Broken heads: 1
Broken spirits: a churchfull

I usually divide my time on Saturdays between running around and socializing. Agility lessons for the dog were cancelled yesterday because of bad weather, though, so I slipped in some unexpected writing in the early evening, before D and I headed out to a friend's birthday bash. I will probably pass the NaNoWriMo halfway point later today, and to be on par by bedtime tonight. Woot!

Still playing around with POV in the scene I'm writing. In the previous scene, which was about a big reveal, I was using multiple (sympathetic) points of view, and flipping back and forth between them. I'm working with using POV as a sort of cinematic technique: five points of view = five different camera angles on the scene.

In the scene I started yesterday, I shrank the POV down to one character whose perceptions are substantially compromised. My theory is that this will help build suspense. It's certainly made it fun to write.

15 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Fourteen

Word Count: 23477
Actors in danger: 6 or 8
Enormous stages: 1
Savage dramatics: coming soon
Bonk bonks on the head: 6 or 8


Bonk Bonk on the Head


I'm having a fun time managing the tricky logistics behind multiple POVs in a single scene. My heroes right now are the troup of actors, mentioned above. So far, four of them have significant things to say, but I've made sketchy references to a couple of "extras". Hum...they might have to be emphasized in the second draft. But I've been flipping around between different members of the group as they go into a tense scenario. It's an interesting game; I'll leave it up to my revision to decide if it works.

Do any of you flip around among perspectives as you describe a scene? Does this raise tension, or scatter the scene's energy?

14 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Thirteen

Word Count: 20819
Revelations: several
Frightened villagers: 1 village's worth
Actors on the trail of monsters: 1 troup

The question of the day has to do with information distribution: how much is too soon? I figured in the earlier scenes of the novel, if I didn't have somebody explaining some of the really important core notions, I might forget them myself.

Now I think I might have blown my wad waaay too early.

It's okay though, because it's only a first draft. I'm making notes to erase and rewind some of the less graceful expository moments of chapter one. Making plans to strategically release information on the basis of when knowing it will inflict maximum damage on my MCs.

Bwah ha ha.

12 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Twelve

Word Count: 18757
Supercute actors: 4 main, countless others
Italian actresses dressed as women pretending to be men dressed as women: 1
Bawdy songs: 1 (Watkins Ale)

It's fun to write about cute characters who are genuinely likeable after dwelling with Bloody Mary for a few days.

It's even more fun knowing that horrible things that will change them forever are about to happen.

Writing is fun!

Do you need a cataclysm?

Lately I've been really jamming on Christopher Moors. If you're at all interested in cultivating yourself spiritually, in deepening your creativity, and in finding out what a real teacher sounds like, I think you could do a lot worse than listen to his stuff. (You can find many of his Red Ice interviews and more on his website under the "Radio" tab on the lefthand side.)

I've been going through the back catalogue of his interviews at Red Ice Creations Radio. In one of them, he makes reference to a song that he wrote, and he sings a little bit:

"Do you need a cataclysm to face yourself? Or can you do it now?"

I've definitely gone the cataclysm route in the past. Around the time that I hit twenty, I was really starting to open up in interesting ways. I thought I'd try some yoga. Then I broke both my arms in a cycling accident. Uh...you can't do yoga with two busted arms. So I tried tai chi instead. I'm still on the tai chi path, and it's been deeper and richer and more fascinating than I could have imagined. It's the foundation for all of my spiritual practice. And I have to say that the world is way different - and much better - than it was when I first started tai chi all those years ago.

A few days ago I wrote about an emotional and psychological breakdown I had during grad school. Uh, hello: big indication that there was something not right about what I was doing. (That breakdown came in the wake of a bad breakup - nothing like the end of a crap relationship to make you really ask "why?")

The thing is, I think many of us wait for a big smack to the face before we stop long enough to ask, "Wait - what am I doing? And why am I doing it?" There are few opportunities to look within, especially in this culture, where the key to many people's self-worth seems to lie in their claim to being "really busy". "Oh, I'm so busy," we sigh, and we feel rather proud of ourselves. I recently told some friends that I had made it my goal in life to never be busy again. One of them looked at me like I had two heads. "You can do that?" she said. Sure I can. Watch me stop and smell the roses. Watch me do stuff, but not so much stuff that I run out of time.

Sometimes, if you're lucky (and I consider myself very lucky), life will hand you an opportunity to look within.

If you're smart (and I think I occasionally manage that these days), you'll take the opportunity to look within often, and you'll look thoroughly, and with different sorts of eyes.

So, if you're having a sick day, or something happens to stop you in your tracks (whether it's something beautiful or something terrible), ask what it's trying to show you. What do you need to know? What do you need to face?

For those who want to start without a cataclysm, here are a few clues. If you assemble these into a coherent shape, they might draw a map to your next step:

You totally deserve to be genuinely happy.

Are you living in conflict with something or someone? Why?

Creativity is not just for eccentric artist types. It's for everyone, all the time.

Your body deserves the best care you can give it. If you keep the body happy, you'll be happier, too.

Can you relax? What does relaxation mean to you?

Why did you go where you went? Why did you do what you did? Why do you love who you love? Why do you hate who you hate? How good are your answers to these questions? Do they have deeper, more meaningful answers? Drop down a layer and see.

11 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Eleven

Remembrance Day today. Whatever you call it, it's good to take a moment and remember people who sacrificed themselves for you, especially those who died violently. Veterans, I salute you.

No words today. I was here having my energy tweaked. Highly recommended for what ails ya, whatever that may be.

But I'm gonna be ready to take on a new chapter tomorrow! Go, turtle crew, go!

NaNoWriMo Day Ten

Word Count: 16733
Zombie Queens of England: 1
Assassinations by trepanning drill: 1
Mouldy Kings of England: 1
Successions to the throne by boring children: 1
Angry bitch aspirants to the throne: 1

I'm finished with Mary for now. I think it's interesting when you write a villain that you end up liking. Although yes, she's technically on the wrong side of things, there's something fun about giving evil some plausible motivations.

I like a monster who isn't totally inhuman.

You know?

10 November 2008

How do you free yourself?

In many ways, this NaNoWriMo season is a culmination of a long and slow climb toward self-awareness and freedom (in the broadest sense of the term).

Once upon a time, I knew that I wanted to be a writer (since grade three, in fact, thanks very much, Mrs. Cooper, for liking my story about the duck).

And then I decided I had to have some way to make money, some kind of a title, some kind of a place in the world, a job. But the world of literature kept calling out to me, and I decided that a reasonable compromise would be academia. Ten years ago I went back to school for a Master's degree in English literature, and I really loved it. When you're doing degree studies, it's neat because you have more coaching on your writing than you ever will in any other circumstance. It seems like an ideal scenario, really, because you can read all the time and write about what you're reading. And there is an art to the academic essay, whatever people say about how incomprehensible academic writing can be (and oh, it can be ornery stuff).

I finished my PhD three years ago. As I began to go on interviews, though, I began to feel really sick in my heart. I'm sure it showed: the interviews were mostly terrible and even the ones I enjoyed, I ended up with a bad feeling about. I didn't get any job offers. It seemed I had stalled out. I decided not to continue.

That's the superficial level of what went on. But the real story isn't about how I failed at the job market (and oh, I did fail. Sarah Palin's interviews looked pretty good compared to some of the answers I gave). While I was doing all that flunking out career-wise, I was slowly building up my resources elsewhere.

While to the outside world I was working toward my PhD and earning fabulous scholarships and shaping up to be the next bright thing, I was also performing acts of creative espionage. I was having a little bit too much fun. I was spoiling myself for the austere life of a professor:

I read novels that weren't on my reading list. I attended a conference outside of my area of study, but on the topic of one of my favourite horror films, The Wicker Man (the original 1973 film starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee). I wrote a short story and sent it out to a good magazine. It didn't get published, but I got a nice note back from the editor about how it was an "almost". I enjoyed my area of study a little too much. Some of my research sent me into a giddy bouts of raucous creativity, as I imagined ways to spin what I was learning into a fabulous novel about plague and zombies and vampires and Shakespeare. (This is the novel I'm beginning with NaNoWriMo this year.)

Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole I went: I meditated a lot. I chanted. I did tai chi. I opened my mind way, waaay up. I listened to some pretty weird shit. I did Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way course - twice. I still faithfully write morning pages every day.

It wasn't all nice. I suffered through a mid-degree nervous breakdown. I had panic attacks that were pretty scary. I cried a lot of tears. I felt a lot of distress. I did a lot of therapy. I did a lot more tai chi. I meditated. I chanted. I went for long walks in the woods.

Finally, I recognized that the academic world didn't acknowledge or allow for most of the things that rocked my boat. I wished it did. I wished the job market had been better. I wished that being a professor didn't entail sacrificing everything else. And then I decided that the only thing to do was to face the truth. To acknowledge my truth.

So I quit. About a year ago, I had to decide whether to go on the market again or not. I decided not to. I still say the degree was worth it: I have mad research skills now, and I can read just about anything that's written in just about any sort of English. It took me a year to extract myself from the contract work I was doing. Thanks to my ridiculously supportive partner, I'm taking this time to build a fiction portfolio.

At thirty-seven, I decided to begin again. At thirty-eight, I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing. I'm doing it in relative poverty, mind you, and I'm doing it with a lot of consciousness that I will eventually need to find a way to bring some dollars in. I'm doing it with a healthy heap of guilt, reinforced by our culture at large, that I'm not being "productive". But I'm also doing it with the understanding that doing the PhD was a lot harder than what I'm proposing to do now.

Sell some stories? Way easier than selling out.

This is not to diss the academy altogether. There are a lot of people there, people I consider to be great friends, who are genuinely and deeply invested in expanding knowledge and educating students. But they're working under a sick administration, and the resources they need to do their jobs well are simply not there. The support for a true diversity of opinion is not there. And in English departments everywhere, there are a lot of people who would much rather be writers. Who ache to create, and who are instead looking longingly and lovingly at the work of others, and trying, sometimes even patiently, to explain to undergraduates why creative work is important. But it's a hard place to be. And I don't want to sacrifice myself any more.

My suggestion? If you're reading this, do something creative today. Pick up a paint brush, get your hands on some clay or some plasticene, or write a little poem, play a little music. It might feel silly. Do it anyway.

Chant "om". If that starts to feel good, go for "omanepadmeom". It will open your heart.

Find a good teacher who will show you how to meditate. Stretch a little. Go for a walk. Talk to an animal. Adopt an animal.

Anything to get a wedge into your routine, especially your routine channels of thought.

Open the floodgates, just a crack, so that a trickle of fresh, clear water can run into your life.

And don't forget to ask if you're doing what you really want to do. It's the most important question you can ask yourself. And you might want to ask it over and over again, until the answer is a resounding YES!


09 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Nine

Word Count: 14740
Poisonings by zombie blood: 1
Horses with a taste for human flesh: 1
Births: 1
Wives of Henry VIII: three down; three to go

I hadn't intended to make Mary I a character in this book. She really is a dour sort if you judge by her portraits.


(Portrait by Hans Eworth, done between 1555 and 1558, and therefore during her brief rule and not so long before her death.)

I thought that Mary and her fellow monarchs would remain figures in the background, using the power of vampires to keep the common people down, but who wouldn't make many personal appearances. But to give the book texture, and to give more context for why the low characters are encountering vamps and zombies by the bucketfull, I decided to add her and some others (so far, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, little Elizabeth I - soon, Edward VI, Philip II, James I, Charles I) into the mix.

And it must have been tough for her - being interested in killing people and flip-flopping England back to Catholicism after the measures taken by her little brother Edmund couldn't have been easy. There are apologists who claim that had she been able to live longer than she did, she might have been able to establish peace long enough to return England back to stability, and she might have secured it as a Catholic nation.

I keep lingering on this detail of her long final illness, however, that she apparently thought she was pregnant on more than one occasion, the first of which was in 1554. Eventually it turned out that she was suffering from a large cyst. She went to her death believing that she was pregnant, declaring her husband Philip II of Spain regent or guardian of her child after her death.

That's gruesome enough for me to spin into a malicious bodily plot. In my treatment of Mary, her crimes against humanity are largely driven by a lifelong habit of sipping the blood of vampires.

Bloody Mary, indeed.

NaNoWriMo Day Eight

Saturdays are not good writing days because of general busy-ness. I've determined to not try to write on Saturday - if it doesn' t happen, it's no big deal. So zero words added yesterday to my 12102.

Major resolution to a problem with our fourteen-year-old car yesterday. I've been feeling kind of loony because I've been convinced (due to evidence on the road where I park) that the car's been leaking something or other for a year now. Drips here and there. I guessed oil. The last three times I've taken it in for oil changes or whatevs, I've asked the guys to check for leaks; they couldn't find anything drippy at all. So I decided to live with the phantom leak, knowing that eventually, it would probably get way worse and all would become obvious. That day was yesterday.

Last week the car started smelling extra gassy. Super gassy, in fact.

Yesterday, on my way back from morning tai chi, I pulled into my spot, and there was a big puddle-o-something where the car had been sitting earlier. I looked behind me, and there was a trail, all the way down the street, and another big puddle where I had turned into the spot. I touched my fingers to the puddle and sniffed.

Gas.

Drove the car to the garage, two and a half clicks from our house, trailing gas all the way. We lost a quarter of a tank to the road - probably about 8 litres.

Cheap repair - $10 in parts.

I'll be extra nice to nature today to make up for drizzling gas all over the place.


08 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Seven

Word Count: 12102 (five-figure numbas! woot!)
Future Queens: 2
Dark bloodletting rituals: 1
Beheadings: 1 (implied - Anne Boleyn's)
Powertripping nutjobs: 2

Everybody's into the Tudor royal family these days. There have been more films about Elizabeth I than I personally care to watch. But there's something fascinating about these people. So I'm including them in my novel. Today I was working on a bit about Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's older half-sister, and a totally sadistic nutjob, as far as I can tell.

Whatchu looking at, Mary?

A plausible explanation for the behaviour of the Tudors is that they were involved in a vampiric blood drinking cult. Because really, what goes better with power than superinfected blood that imparts a slightly longer life and supernatural abilities - if it doesn't kill you?

A hilarious interactive site with some crude yet hilarious photoshopping work on the portraits of Henry's six wives can be found here. Seriously, go take a look at that. It will make your day.

07 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Six

No words today. Brief pause to do life stuff, survey the landscape, get my plot points in order, and do some necessary research.

I resolve to call it a night and get back on the word count pony tomorrow. Or mount the Yoda tomorrow. Or whatever metaphor works for you.

05 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Five

Word Count: 9564
Granny killings: 1
Makeout sessions: 1
Encounters with pervy princes: 2

To bed late last night after all, lingering on the joys of resolving a major plot point in a clever and semi-blasphemous way. Also lingering over really good snack.

How saddened was I when I was woken up by what sounded like this outside my window:



Saddened, but hopeful. Coz who wouldn't love a little Ash in the morning (hur hur hur)?

What I saw instead looked a whole lot more like this:



Without the gothy fun. Landscapers, using a tiny chainsaw and a lot of yelling to cut down a shrub. Awesomely hilarious after an early night; horrifyingly loud and sleep-disturbing after a late night.

So: tired now, amazed I got my words in today, and grateful for an early bedtime.

NaNoWriMo Day Four

Word Count: 7623
International conspiracies based on blooddrinking: 1 big 1
Beheadings: 1 (in flashback, bringing the total to 3)
Burgeoning love affairs that will possibly lead to elopement: 1
Predatory princes: 1

Today was a beautiful day in Hamilton - 18 degrees (celsius, for those who think that sounds cold). I took the dog out for a super long hike this afternoon, leaving this evening for writing. Seriously: could you resist this face?

It was awesome to be out and about with Dizzy for some time in the woods and the warm sun. (It's a tough life, but somehow I'll manage!)

Things are starting to sort themselves out, plot-wise. I've been working with a particularly astounding historical incident as inspiration for this part of the novel, and it's been fun.

Onward and upward!

03 November 2008

NaNoWriMo Day Three

Word Count: 5786
Plucky young heroines: 1
Hot Scottish cross-dressing actors: 1
Beheadings: 1 (for a total of 2)
Ultraviolence: 2 instances

Very happy I've kept the ball rolling on the forward progress today. This NaNoWriMo thing is great! Plot progressing on the fly; themes coalescing magically; bad writing happening with the good; research scanty but there, and effective. Very grateful for Wikipedia despite my academic superego telling me it isn't a good research source. Telling academic superego to suck it. Also very tired and sleepy. Aiming to divebomb the bed by midnight.

Oh, and earlier today on nanowrimo.org I posted a synopsis of the novel, and a cute mock book cover that I made.

Synopsis:

In the ancient middle east, a massive army gathers in the foothills beneath a mountain city, the last to resist a tyrant king. The soldiers feed on one thing alone: the blood of their general.

In medieval France, an English woman watches as an actor in a stage play beheads one of his fellow players without remorse while the audience applauds.

In the latter years of the 16th century, two young would-be playwrights meet at a gathering in the house of a great lord to watch a private performance. The star of the show, an actor playing the role of Death, moves with a preternatural grace, and commands an exceptional respect among the elite audience.

As the English monarchy crumbles under the pressures of a sinister Parliament, an Italian woman painter, famous for her gory art, arrives in London to serve under Charles I. Along with her brushes and canvases, she carries a secret weapon against the undead.

The Medlar Tree is a novel about the secret history of the Great Undeath, about the relationship between political power and supernatural power. Caught between an elite that has been tainted with the infectious blood of the undead, and the common people who die to feed them, a group of playwrights, actors, and artists must choose sides.

And the cover:




Image: Raphael's Adam and Eve, 1509, from the Stanza della Segnatura.

They are not evil, and Brad Sucks is even more not evil

Good old Magnatune. I don't know how artists feel about them, but as a music consumer, I like them. The philosophy behind the company seems to be that they'll give you free and open webstreamy access to the music they're selling. Once you've had a good listen, perhaps you'll buy. I think this approach to marketing is one of the most exciting things to emerge as a consequence of the relationship between the internet and art. Because if you purchase, you do it because you want to give something (money) in return for something that's been given to you (tasty musical goodness). Which makes you not only cool, but an even better person than you already were, too.

(For a fabulous example of this philosophy in action, not to mention some durned great music, check out Brad Sucks, his amazing thoughts on why sharing is good, and the juicy goodness he has spawned. Be amazed at his openness and awesomeness. Then buy his records! Or buy him a mood-altering substance, whatevs!)

If you sign up for Magnatune's free song of the day, they send you a (almost-daily) link to some free music for you to download and enjoy. Good especially if you have eclectic taste. They also allow/encourage you to embed albums on your own website. If you browse Magnatune and find an album you like, you'll find a link that will lead you to some magical code that you can paste into your site and thus embed the non-discreet player (below) or a discreet player (a simple and tiny gray bar).

If you like this music (played on the original Renaissance instruments), and you have a few bucks to toss around, please support the artists and purchase it!



Vihuela Duets of Valderrabano by Duo Chambure

NaNoWriMo Day Two

Word Count: 3707
Strange and homocidal creatures, the meaning of which has yet to be revealed: 1
Holy widows on a mission: 1
Beheadings: 1

The prologue is done. Think The Red Tent meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with fewer references to menstruation, but no fewer instances of bleeding, if that makes any sense at all. I'm writing and counting by hand. It's a bit annoying and it means the word count is approximate, so I'm trying to err on the side of counting fewer words than are actually on the page. In any case, I've caught up to the ostensible goal of 3334 words for the day, and there's a bit of a cushion. I couldn't be more pleased.

This image, among many others depicting the Judith and Holofernes story, has been my inspiration today:

02 November 2008

The Magic Flute

So one procrastination point on Saturday was taking the evening to go see Opera Hamilton's awesome production of The Magic Flute. A previous production of this opera had left me impressed by the Queen of the Night's famous aria ("Hell's vengeance boileth in my heart"), but basically thinking that Magic Flute was a weird and cute crowd-pleaser. Not so with tonight's production. It was a deeply weird and ritualistic production, rich with quasi-Masonic (or possibly seriously Masonic) imagery, techniques from German expressionist theatre, and some incredible casting of children as the three spirits who help out the protagonists with handy interventions as they undergo their trials.

It was also hilarious. As with many productions of this opera, they translated the recitative into English and spoke rather than sang it. But this wasn't dumbed down dialogue - it was often smart and smartass, too. Way to take a risk, Opera Hamilton!

During the show, I had a flashback to a vinyl record that was in my parents' collection. I think it was just an "opera lite" selection of Mozart pieces, but it had a picture of Papageno on the front.

Papageno is one messed up character.

He's a man; he's part bird; and his job is collecting birds for the Queen of the Night. What they do with the birds, I don't know. But there's something of the weird cannibal in Papageno.

As a kid, I just could not figure out the picture on the album cover, which was much freakier than any of the images I could find of Papageno online. But watching the production at Opera Hamilton tonight, I had moments where that frisson of disorientation came back to me.
Image by Kay Konrad.

Thanks for the memories, guys.

NaNoWriMo Day One

Word Count: 0
Bright ideas: 3 or 4, solid
Research: lots

Okay, so Saturdays are wall-to-wall busy for me, and I didn't write a single word today. But I did do some necessary-to-plot reading and timeline planning and stuff. I sorted out some major plot points. Of the variety that if you don't sort them out, you can't proceed. And I'm mega excited. Tomorrow is a clear day for me, so I'm planning to load up on caffeine and do my 1667 words times deux.

A note on planning: although I've had this idea for forever, and I've even tried to plan and execute this novel in the past (unsuccessfully), I found that coming up on this NaNoWriMo, I felt really unmotivated to plan and do deep research on the things I need to look at ahead of November. I don't know if any other WriMos out there feel the same way, but for me, doing intensive research and planning has been really lighting my fire in anticipation on NaNoWriMo. I didn't want to stoke that fire too extremely prior to November 1, lest it burn out prematurely. So to speak. In other words, I've found holding off on really diving into this project has been a bit of a struggle.

Hallelujah for that! It's nice to feel this excited about anything, isn't it?

31 October 2008

A confession

With less than an hour to go to the start of this year's NaNoWriMo, I want to make a confession about my plot:

I tried to write this novel before. In fact, I tried to write in during NaNoWriMo '06.

I'm using NaNoWriMo to write it again for two reasons:

1) in '06 I didn't get very far. I wrote less than 15 pages, I think, before I quit.
2) I'd been thinking about this idea for quite some time, and in '06 it just came out wrong.

I was pretty angry then about where my life was going, and how little time I'd had to work creatively. Grad school doesn't leave you with a whole lot of free headspace. (If anyone tells you that doing a PhD is worth it, believe them. If they tell you you'll have loads of time to do creative work while you write your thesis, then they are dirty liars.) I was uptight and upset and those 15 pages of malformed book were hilarious and gross and pretty awesome in their own right, but they didn't do justice to the idea as I had originally envisioned it.

So I'm starting over. I've done more thinking, and more research. I've pared down my responsibilities. I've decided to spend a few months on creative work. I've been meditating and exercising and trying to like myself better and I've cleared away all the logistical obstacles I was able to. I'm ready to embrace this project fully: intellectually and emotionally and hell, even sexually and spiritually, if you want to get personal about it.

It's a new beginning.

What's a medlar?

The title of the novel I'm planning to start (in the sense of "write half of") during NaNoWriMo and finish (in the sense of "write the other half of") in December is called The Medlar Tree. It's a journey through the world of medieval and renaissance theatre - and its secret history as a major tool in the war against the zombies and vampires that threaten human society. I don't think I'll actually be calling them zombies and vampires, though. But what they are is animated bags of disease that can walk and (sort of) talk and feed voraciously on human flesh and fluids. Sometimes they have sentience and consciousness and are powerful; sometimes they're just walking corpses. It all depends on how successfully pathogens meet and propogate within them.

So what's a medlar? A medlar is a type of fruit that, while still grown here and there, is no longer widely available. It's something between an apple, pear, and rosehip.

But the thing about medlars is that they are only good to eat when they begin to rot.

In the Renaissance, medlars became a common metaphor for moral decay, as well as the physical decay that was often strongly associated with moral decay. This association was aided by the rise of syphilis in the late 15th / early 16th century. As an STD, syphilis meant that those who crossed moral boundaries often displayed the results of their transgressions in physical symptoms of rot.

To call a woman a "rotten medlar" was to call her a ripe, juicy, and appealing - but pocky - whore.

The lovely Barbara Wilde writes on her site Au Potager about medlars. Some choice quotes:

"Its thick, russeted skin remains dark gray-olive green well into autumn, and the flesh is hard and inedibly astringent until...until it starts to rot. Oh no, forget I said that. Scratch 'rot' and substitute 'blettir'--a French word that means 'to soften by undergoing the initial stages of decomposition.'"

"To eat a medlar, you have to get rid of its skin...and of the 5 rather large seeds contained within the fruit....What is left after you get rid of the skin and seeds? A curious, soft, non-juicy dark copper pink pulp the color of a bruised apple with a flavor that is complex and subtle. It's like a mixture of apple and pear, with notes of caramel, cider, spice and sweet wine, with a mildly acidic undertone--a mixture of vegetal and bacterial, as the fruit is slightly fermented when it is ready for eating. In fact, as for a fine cheese or a mellow wine, a bit of bacterial action is needed to render the medlar delicious."

The medlar is something beautiful, in Barbara Wilde's discussion, and maybe even something essential. But it's also something that has been touched by death.

In my vision, the world of Renaissance England is also touched by death. The dead walk among us, only by virtue of the internal rot that animates them.

21 October 2008

Wanna see something really scary?


Joshua Hoffine makes the most amazing photo art. Staged like movie stills, his photos certainly invoke many of my favourite childhood nightmares. Bonus: Mr. Hoffine is really thoughtful and articulate about why he does what he does. Multiple interview excerpts can be found in his blog.




NaNoWriMo

I've decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (for reals) this year. Here we go. Have you read the interview with Kerry McFee, who wrote 425,000 words last November? Amazing.

I'm ramping up to it this time by doing a little last-minute research and planning.

Are you ready for action?



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