Wednesday, January 26, 2011


For the last several weeks, I've wanted to sit down and write out every half-baked story idea nudging around in my mind. I wanted it to be all-inclusive; even if it's just a single, creative burst that popped into my head during an episode of Spongebob (don't judge), or a single character, a single quote, a single conflict. You get the picture.

Yesterday, I went home early because it felt like someone was stabbing me in the hip with a fork. I've had hip issues for as long as I can remember, and after two trips to the chiropractor, I was sore and my hip still hurt.

So home I went, and I collapsed in bed with a Tylenol and the beginnings of a sinus headache. I napped on and off for an hour or so, and when I woke up I realized something: for the first time in forever, the house was completely silent. No TV, no Pandora radio, no train, nothing. Even the Danes were being quiet, with Sunni passed out on the floor and Duke belly-up on the bed next to me. And that's when it hit me. I could write my story list, without Hub or work to distract me.

I grabbed my laptop and opened up a new file, and I started writing out every story idea I could remember, no matter how small they were. I wrote out the basic plot for N2N, and then another story inspired by time travel, and then the fledgeling idea that popped in my head the other morning. I even put the story ideas that I've literally had since I was in my teens. If there was a blank spot in the plot, I just made something up on the fly and made a note of it.

When it was all said and done, I had a dozen smallish ideas and five or six semi-meaty stories on the document in front of me, and I was surprised at the variety. There was the urban fantasy of N2N, a futuristic story heavily influenced by the large doses of sci-fi I devoured during my teens, a fantasy set in another world entirely. No two were alike.

Having them laid out in front of me like that helped me look at them more objectively than I've been able to in the past. I could see the specific strengths and weaknesses of each of them. Some of them had a lot more potential than others. Some of them were downright silly.

To get even more feedback, I handed my laptop to Hub and told him to pick out any of the ideas that he would willingly pull off the shelf and read.

(Let me de-rail right here for just a second and say how much I love Hub for all the feedback he gives me. Not only does he give me awesome constructive criticism, but he catches 99% of the typos I miss because he's such a meticulous guy. He was not a reader when I met him, but now we're both hard-core bookworms and I'd be lost without him. )

Not surprisingly, Hub passed up N2N in favor of the futuristic story and the hard-core fantasy. He said both of them jumped out at him because they were unique. When I asked him if he thought I should shelve N2N, or at least bump it back in line, he said he thought the two stories he'd picked out had a lot more potential, at least right now. I hated to admit it, but I agreed with him. I've been avoiding N2N because the more I work on it, the weaker it gets. The point of view bothers me, some of the plot progression bothers me, and on and on and on. And I hide my discomfort by saying "Oh, I'm taking a break from it! I'll stop thinking about it and then I'll get back on it in two weeks and be fresh and ready to tackle it!" But then when I open it up two weeks later I'm right back where I started, irritated at myself because parts of the story just don't work.

Changing gears will be painful, because I'm more than 100 pages into N2N, and the two stories Hub thinks I should focus on are so very different from it. They'll both require loads of world building, and I'll be right back where I started with creating the characters, with figuring out action pacing, with working out the tiny plot details. I'll be back on page one.

Here's the thing, though: I LOVE worldbuilding, and the character development stage of planning is one of my favorite pieces of the entire writing process. That part always goes the fastest, because it's the part I most enjoy. 

So am I disappointed that N2N is shelved? Yeah, I'm pretty bummed. It's hard not to spend eight months of your life on a story that you realize is going nowhere. But one of the things I'm most grateful for is my imagination, and how it always leaps to the rescue when I think that I'll never, ever come up with anything readable.

I'll do some things different this time. I'm still learning about this crazy creative process, even though I've been telling stories since I first learned to write. And I'll keep doing it until I finally get it right. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rain Drain

Well, we're kicking off Week 3 of freezing, raining, nasty weather. We had a brief respite over the weekend, with the temperature just barely nudging 60, and now it's back to the low 40's and coats and umbrellas and galoshes.

I'm just hoping I don't get called out to a wreck in this weather, because not only did I forget my galoshes, I forgot to wear a coat with a hood. Clever girl.

When I'm not at work, rainy days compel me to dance around the living room in my pajamas and slippers with a hairbrush microphone, only because I get the world's worst cabin fever. We won't go into that, though.

For the most part, rain and cold bum me out, especially rain and cold that last for weeks on end. They sap every ounce of creativity that I possess, replacing it with a mopey, grumbling, cranky reporter who wants to do all of her interviews over the phone.  Heaven forbid I have to get out and actually do some real REPORTING in this weather. Pshaw, I say.

Needless to say, that lack of creativity and enthusiasm doesn't bode well for my writing. I tend to stare out the window, bemoaning the crappy weather and making excuses to stay indoors where it's warm and dry.

On the flip side, though, I also tend to take too many showers, which are great for spontaneous bursts of creativity. Supposedly, the rush of heat that hits your head causes all the blood vessels in your brain to swell, which kick-starts the thought process. It's totally legit. I read it somewhere. I just can't remember where.

I  also finally got around to buying myself a new laptop, which was supposed to stop me from whining that I can't work on N2N at home. Lapzilla the dinosaur tended to try and set my lap on fire, and a rush of blistering heat to the thighs does NOT kick-start the thought process. (Also totally legit, because I've experienced it.) Unfortunately, Critter (the new laptop) didn't come with Word, so I'm back to trying to work in Wordpad. It's just as well, since when I work on N2N during downtime at work I'm using Notepad, anyway. It was still a little depressing, though.

Another interesting tidbit: the other day I woke up with a fledgeling story idea in my head. This doesn't happen often; usually my dreams involve toothy things chasing me. I've been tossing it around, letting it flap its tiny, featherless pleeb-wings and squawk, and I think it's time to jot it down in my idea notebook.

I keep reminding myself that spring is just around the corner, and with it will come the manic productivity that real, not through-the-windows kinda-hazy sunlight brings. I'm a beast when I get my Vitamin D, I tell you.

Getting dark early + camera set to long exposure + time to kill = Hours of fun

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cat, part 2

I've ranted before about my sociopath of a cat. The one who leaps out of nowhere and whacks me on the shins with his tiny forepaws. The one that comes up to me begging for attention, and then bites me and runs away.

His name is Singe, and he has a new favorite occupation.

Though it's not something I regularly talk about outside of my nerdy circle of friends, I game online. It's a great way to relieve stress. Usually, I'll play on Friday nights if I don't have anything else to do, and maybe one or two weeknights a month.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I redid our nerd-cave so that it was more gamer-friendly, and so we both had a little more leg-room. Unfortunately, we also moved the bookcase next to my computer, and Singe has used this to his advantage.

Since we moved the bookcase, Singe has taken every opportunity to jump up on one of the shelves and poke me in the back of the neck while I'm deeply involved in my game. I'll shoo him away, get back into the game... and there he is again. Poke. Poke. Poke. If I ignore him, he keeps doing it until it tickles so badly I can't stand it.

We've tried shutting the door, but then he just scratches and cries and flails his little paws under the door, like "Woe is me! If only I had thumbs, I could reach the knob and come poke you until you're convinced of my love!"

The problem is, when I do stop and try to pet him, he purrs for about three seconds, then his personality does a 180 and he bites me. It's like Jekyll and Hyde, I swear.

He's lucky I love him, because otherwise I'd have made him into a pair of mittens by now.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let's talk

I've fallen behind on keeping up with this thing. A lot of real-life drama is getting in the way, I'm afraid.

This real-life drama has led to some unfortunate health and sleeping issues. A splitting headache sent me to bed at 8 p.m. last night. I woke up at 10:45 p.m. and thought it was morning and I was late to work. Even worse, since Husband wasn't in bed yet, I thought he'd gotten up and left for work without getting me up. I didn't notice that the clock said "PM." I didn't notice that it was still dark outside.

It actually took me about five minutes, which included vaulting out of bed and getting dressed, for me to realize that I'd only been asleep a couple of hours.

Another fun side effect of real-life drama and the sleeping issues is nightmares. Seriously. I'm having them constantly, and not the "Oh, that was totes scary, but I'm awake, it's over, the end" nightmares. The kind where I wake up and I'm not sure I'm awake, and I'm still half-convinced that something's leaning out of the darkness, inches away from grabbing me and dragging me off to wherever those nighttime boogeymen live. Having Husband in bed with me doesn't help, either; there have been times where I was  convinced he was the boogeyman, or I've forgotten he was there at all, or in the nightmare he's already been eaten/killed/whatever.

I've found that writing these nightmares down provides some catharsis for me. They're on paper now, so they're out of my head.

And since I've been doing this a few times and picking my 'favorites' (can you have a favorite nightmare?) I thought I'd post one here. Obviously I took some artistic liberty; I don't like first-person scary stories, so I wrote it from third-person POV. It's different than my usual style, too; I worked it into a "creepypasta" (Google it if you get time) format.

The Shadows

Eva noticed the paintings the day she moved in. Just a few shades darker than the cream-colored wall, the paintings were no bigger than her thumb and depicted a dozen or so different animals. Though they were one flat shade, they were quite detailed. It was almost like a tiny zoo paraded along the hallway that ended at her bedroom door. Briefly, she thought about painting over them, but they didn't bother her enough for it to be an issue. Not at first.

Once she'd settled in, she could swear that at times, out of the corner of her eye, she'd see the paintings move. Not much, just enough for her to notice. The wolf would switch places with the bear, or the lion would slowly slink from one end of the hall to the other. Of course, if she ever turned and really looked, they were all in the right order.

The Friday before one of her rare weekends off, Eva trudged up the steps and carefully unlocked the apartment door. Her hands were full of last-minute paperwork, with a container of Chinese takeout precariously balanced on top. As she closed the door behind her, though, something caught her eye. She thought she saw a small, dark shape frozen beside the light switch. It was two-dimensional and shadow-like, and almost looked like it had a tiny leg extended, as if she'd interrupted it mid-stride. Eva rolled her eyes and reached for the light switch. Another eighteen hour shift had taken its toll on her sensibility, she thought. 

Just before her fingers touched the panel, though, the shape slowly turned its miniscule head toward her.

Eva jerked her hand back, sending the files and food in her arms scattering across the floor. It was looking at her, she thought. Looking at her. She darted into the kitchen, where the apartment's other main light switch was located. The apartment's entryway was suddenly bathed in bright fluorescent light. Trembling, Eva crept back to the door and examined the wall around the light switch. There was nothing there.

Down the hallway, she could make out the shadow-paintings, each one exactly where it had been when she left for work the night before.

Eva laughed, a thin, fluttering sound. She was going to paint that wall. Tomorrow.

After three coats of the best cover-up paint she could afford and a Saturday half-wasted by a useless chore, Eva was ready to scream. The animals would disappear as she applied the paint, only to be just as visible once it dried. If anything, they were a little darker than they'd been before. She slumped against the opposite wall, absently wondering if she was, in fact, going crazy. In the daylight, the animals looked anything but threatening. The incident with the light switch seemed as if it had happened months ago, and could easily be chalked up to too much work and too little sleep. There was no sense in ruining the rest of the day stressing herself out.

Eva spent the rest of the afternoon curled up on her couch, catching up on the television she'd missed during her working hours. Before she knew it, it was past eleven and she was reluctantly pulling herself off the couch and toward her bed. She hummed softly, her fingers undoing the loose braids in her hair as she reached the hallway.

Though Eva couldn't see it in the darkness, the animals along the wall no longer resembled zoo favorites. They were longer and more defined, with muscular, elongated legs and ears and sharper edges. Now they stood on their hind legs in a clumsy mockery of human posture, their forepaws extended like clawed, grasping hands. Like silent nightmares, they watched as she made her way down the hall.

It was too dark for her to see them, following her as closely as they dared, as she reached her bedroom door. They leaned toward her, their extended claws inches away as she walked inside the room and disappeared in the darkness.

The shadows filed inside behind her, their muzzles curled into nightmarish, toothy smiles.

The humming careened into a high-pitched scream.

That's what I get to watch at night. In the dream, though, she didn't hum; the shadows followed her into her bedroom, and then everything went black and all I could hear was roaring and screaming. While I was trying to write that, though, I started getting... anxious, I guess. It was stressing me out to write the last part, so I changed it.

I have another fun one that involves the Michigan Dogman. That's my own fault, because I'm all-but-obsessed with that critter, but that's a nightmare for another day.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Taking a step back

One of my biggest problems is the complete inability to take a step back and NOT think about something that's bothering me. I would think, with the holiday insanity and the 18-hour drives finally behind me, I would be able to sit back, relax, and get some writing finished. But no, that's just not an option, because I can't stop thinking about N2N. Not just in a "Hmm, I should write x and y and z," kind of way, either. The thoughts are toxic. "I HAVE to change x and y and z or a, b and c won't make sense! But then if I change xyz, I have to go back through chapters 1-4 and change efg! Oh! And I should change it to third-person POV too, because I feel like the  first-person narration is clunky. BUT THE STORY IS COMING IN FIRST PERSON WHAT DO I DO. I SHOULD JUST GO FIND A BOX TO LIVE IN BECAUSE I WILL NEVER ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING. FUUUUUUUU-"

And then I close Word and go curl up in the nerd cave for a few hours and try not to cry. Or I go take a shower, because for some reason that's my coping mechanism of choice.

Bad news, buddies: that's where I am now. With all of the time I've been devoting to N2N, I discovered last night that I just have zero brain-juice left for it. None. The brain-juice is gone, replaced by a bitter, gelatinous goo that just refuses to cooperate. I spent an hour staring at the screen last night, trying everything I could think of to get the writing process going - music, no music, TV for background noise, no background noise, and tons of other little things - when I realized that this kind of block has been in place for more than a week now; I've just been able to deny it because I've been so busy.

While this is awful, horrible, terrible, no good, very bad news, there is a silver lining: at this stage, I ALWAYS get tons of ideas for new books, as if my brain is trying to win back some favor by showing me that it is, in fact, operational and still capable of great things. It gives off this great "Please don't lobotomize me in your fits of frustration!" vibe, and in the last day or two it's thrown two or three really good ideas my way.

So, I'm taking a step back from N2N and starting a brand-new project, one that should get off the ground a little faster and give me a chance to stretch my stubby, featherless little third-person POV chicken wings. Maybe a few days of focusing on this new story will work out whatever kinds N2N has twisted itself into inside my head.