Dead Winds' and Spent Waves' Riot

And our newest feature - guess which poem today's title was snurched from! A bit of a game I play sometimes, for those of you who know me well. Several of the blogs I read use song lyrics, snippets of poetry, etc. in their titles, and I get a little thrill when I recognize where it came from. A clue to a secret message; a shared wink, as it were.

1300 words on "Limbs" yesterday, wrapping up my first draft. Today I need to jump back in and start the revising process, though that can be a tricky thing. Sometimes you need to step away from a project in order to see it clearly again. I also hate to do it because I know that, in its current form, this thing sucks, and as many times as I tell myself that first drafts are supposed to be awful, that every piece of art starts out as a crude approximation of its final form, it's still hard to look back at what I've written and see it so mangled and crude. In some ways, it's easier just to look away. It has to be done, though. I need to get some fresh stuff to market.

So here I am, in this bright morning time when I'm groggy and fuzzy-headed and not quite all there yet. I normally like to write in the afternoon, sunset or thereabouts, but the time between 3pm and 9pm is taken every day by homework, extracurricular activities, and the like. Things have definitely ratcheted up a notch this year, for both my kids. And, as a consequence, for me.

Still, I'll do it. In a few minutes I'll rattle into the kitchen for a fresh shot of caffeine, then screw up my courage and open that file. I do it because, despite the anxiety, despite the uncertainty of a paycheck and the nagging fear that I'll never be as successful as I want to be, I still love what I do. Time to get to work.

27 August 2009

August 25, 2009

1200 words yesterday on my new short story, "Limbs", inspired by a chopped up live oak tree I glimpsed along the side of the road Sunday while bringing the kiddos to visit their dad. This will be my first horror story in a while, and I'm happy to be back in the area. I like writing horror, or, as I suppose it could be called, "dark fiction." It's a place where I'm comfortable as a writer - peeking into the darkness we all know is under the bed or in the closet. It appeals to my inner child (and yes I know I was a weird kid. I still am.) For a while the only stories that came to me were fantasy. I'm glad that black-eyed kid is back. I missed her.

In other news, a very unusual August cold front arrived over the weekend, bringing in dry, crisp air with the tiniest taste of Fall. It's my favorite time of year, my most productive as a writer, and it cheered me a great deal to feel the first, tiny yawn of Nature. She'll be going to sleep soon, and I'll be waking up again. But, isn't that always the way of it?

25 August 2009

Review: The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

I've been a follower of Caitlin R. Kiernan's blog for a year or so now, but The Red Tree is the first of her books that I've read. I follow her blog for the same reason I follow other authors - to get a glimpse inside what the process is for them, how they write, create, and manage to move in and out of the world of their art. I think I like her blog best, however, and I find myself looking for her posts every morning, mainly because she doesn't gloss over the life she leads, and the difficulties she has as an artist. It's all out there for the world to see - the bad days, the periods of writer's block, the fears she still has about whether or not she's good enough. She lets her readers into her life in ways I'm still not brave enough or comfortable enough to do yet in my own writing, or even here.

Yeah, I know, I know, this is a book review. I'm getting to that.

My point is, over the course of reading her blog I've come to know a few things about her, and when I read somewhere that The Red Tree was autobiographical to some extent, it interested me. It's a tricky thing, injecting some of what you are into a story - it sort of sets up a "is it real, or is it memorex" kind of situation for readers and fans. I started reading the book with that mindset, and the feeling stayed with me throughout the experience. The reality of it, however, turned out to be much more layered and complex than that.

Let me say first of all that I loved the book. Not in the way one loves Shakespeare, or Hemmingway, but in the way one loves Poe, or Lovecraft, or Swinburne. The Red Tree left a mark on me, a feeling that I know I'll get every time I see it sitting there on the shelf. Even as I type this, and look down at it here beside me, I'm drawn into it, into the atmosphere the author created, and I feel myself slipping into a memory of that world - the world of Alice - through the looking glass, as it were. A world where "everything we see is but a dream within a dream."

And that's the point of The Red Tree, I think. Throughout the novel, I went round and round with the story, in and out of reality, in and out of what might be true, what might be dream. I thought about how many things the protagonist had in common with the author, and I wondered - what is real here?- with every chapter I read. What is real for Sarah, the protagonist? What is real for Caitl in? What is real for any of us?

Throughout Sarah's journal entries and dreams, her research and her memories, I was kept slipping, looking for a foothold into reality. As it turns out, this is both the draw and the magic of The Red Tree. It's a book about finding oneself lost, even though the path may appear straight; about the confusion and pain of losing our way, and how anger and pride cloud things even further. It's all of those things wrapped in an atmosphere of dark fantasy and gothic sensibility, and it was a great read. Five Stars.

18 August 2009

I Love the Night

Homework done. School papers and forms signed. Time to write.

Terrible time waking up this morning. I've always been a night person, and this is not something one turns on and off with a switch. The first day was taken care of by the fact that I was excited for my kids, but three days in and I'm suffering from severe time-warp shock. It's still dark when my alarm goes off at 5:30am, and, I don't know, that just seems to me like an affront to nature. My body fights it with everything its got. Unfortunately, I know myself well enough to understand that I won't ever really adjust. Oh, well. Guess I'll just play catch up on the weekends.

As it turns out, my best-laid plans of writing all day while the kids are at school have gone predictably awry. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have to be with my son at school every day, which doesn't leave much time for fiction. During the day, anyway. So, as an alternative, the LOML and I have worked out a schedule whereby he takes over when he gets home from work, and I disappear for a couple of hours to write. I'm sure it will be a fluid thing, changing here and there as need calls, but the point is I have set aside time. Everything else be damned, I have set aside time.

This experience I've had the past year or so, the experience of "becoming" a writer, has really opened my eyes to the balancing act most of us have to perform to practice our art. We have jobs, families, a million things that call us from the pen, a million distractions waiting right there at the edge of our vision. That some of manage to do all of these things, play all of these roles, and still find time to create worlds in the time that remains is absolutely amazing to me. It's a balancing act to be sure, a delicate dance, whereby I try to avoid alienating my family, keep up my obligations, and write a book. Oh, yes, and make sure everyone has clean socks to wear.

Yesterday I used my apportioned block to begin a new story, "The White Crow". It's based on another story I started last summer on vacation, one that ended up losing it's focus and being shelved. This time around I managed to pick up the spark I'd somehow lost, and finished the outlining along with a few paragraphs in one sitting. So now I have a plot, and tonight we'll see how closely I end up sticking to it.

You have to want to be a writer. You have to want it bad. Turns out it's not really a choice of careers - it's a vocation.

13 August 2009

My Thoughts Were So Loud...

Everyone is gone this afternoon and I am alone for the first time in weeks with my thoughts. It's a good feeling, this - everyone should be comfortable rattling around in their own heads once in a while. For me, it's peaceful - the constant need for conversation and interaction when other people are around is hard for me to maintain indefinitely. I imagine I could do rather well as a hermit, though I'm not interested in a cloistered life. The little silences I come by from time to time are enough.

It's been a long, hot summer. I haven't written much at all, only collected ideas on little scraps of paper like a squirrel saving up nuts for winter. I have them all over, in my journal, on my desk in a little shuffling pile, even as voice memos on my phone. I just spit them out, from time to time, as if my writing self is just trying to remind me she is there, waiting, albeit not terribly patiently.

The weather this summer has been uncommonly hot and dry. Louisiana in summer is normally hot, yes, but not Arizona hot. Not West Texas hot. It is supposed to rain here, nearly every day, in afternoon thunderstorms that darken the skies and send cool breezes. Most of this summer has instead been dry, and eerily quiet. Tempers are on edge. Lots of people are angry, and restless. So far even the hurricanes have been kept at bay, though as we learned with Andrew in '92 that type of summer can end badly.

My kids and I have spent a lot of time down at my mom's old place, cleaning up and restoring her gardens. We sweat buckets, work until we're about to drop, and then have a picnic lunch followed by a dip in the local river and later on, a visit to Sonic. My children have had a taste of what my summers were like as a child, and that makes me happy indeed. My daughter calls herself a 'country girl' now, and wants to move there permanently, and to that I laugh, though a little sadly. Not yet, my girl. Not yet.

It's also been the summer of the vampire around here. The LOML and I have been watching True Blood on HBO, and reading Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels. Last night I finished Let Me In, the book upon which Let the Right One In was based. My kids have been dressing up in an old bat costume and running around pretending they have fangs. It's lent an air of surrealism to this place, but I consider that a good thing. I'm happy that my kids are inheriting a penchant for the fantastic.

In any case, though the heat refuses to let go, summer will be winding down soon. The kids go back to school on Tuesday, and after settling them in, I'll go back to writing. I'll miss them, but I've missed that creative outlet as well. It's never been about the money for me (that's a good thing, too, cause I make practically zippo); it's about loving to tell stories. About finding magic in the world, and, failing that, creating magic myself, stories and people and lives out of thin air. I wouldn't change my life for anything, and I gladly give up my summers to make those memories with my children. I want them to remember these days when I'm gone, remember me as more than just a shadow at the computer. But there's another side of me as well, and she's calling to me. She has always called to me. And sooner or later, I always have to answer.

08 August 2009

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