Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's overcast and warm, and there's this staticky feeling in the air, like somewhere some kids are finding a coin that half-grants their wishes or stepping into a wardrobe rich with the smell of cedar. I wish I could just grab this feeling out of the air, slam it onto the page, and make it stay there. *Sigh*. Limitations.

Stalled on Edits

Blech. Something feels wrong. I'm trying to edit PHOTO FINISH, and while I can normally muster the creative energy to write something that at least sounds okay for the moment, for the past few days I've just been dragging. The sentences are short and choppy. They all have a repetitive form. The verbs are muted or strained. Everything sounds like this.

I suspect that there are several culprits: stress, exhaustion, the deep immersion in choppy academic writing (I'm grading a lot of papers right now), and the fact that I haven't read anything good for a few days. I know a lot of writers suggest staying away from good writing, especially within your genre, when composing or revising, but for me a great novel is like a drink of water or lube for an engine or a spark for a fire. It gets things started, keeps them going, and gives them the energy to run.

And of course the mounting panic that comes from realizing that I have to pitch in 8 days and feeling like my novel is total garbage is not helping.

I need sleep, chocolate, water, melon, watermelon (as long as we're on the topic), sunshine, new flowers, a good book, and an hour long massage. Ah, man. A girl can dream.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Next Few Weeks

This is the time of the semester where I live on the verge of a hysterical panic attack and breakdown. Finals week is coming. There are papers coming in, papers going out, assignments being juggled, students cheating, students pleading, students sending in late work, deadlines falling like hail around me. I have headaches. My pulse races when I think about it. I have a lot of heartburn and stomach pain.

This year it's more stressful because I'm going to LDStorymakers during the weekend between finals week and when final grades are due, which means that I also need to do in advance all the grading and scoring that I usually do that weekend. And on top of that, I also need to revise another 45,000 words of my own writing before then. Also, I have three young kids at home. Their need for attention, food, clothing, help with homework, tooth brushing, and play time are, shockingly, not abating in the face of my stress. Also, I'm pregnant. Also, since I won't be returning to work in September and we keep encountering huge expenses (1200 bucks on the van this month and Storymakers in May), I'm worried about money. (I've been worried about money since I was six, so this is not new. I sometimes think that I could win the lottery and still worry about money. I'd love to try it.)

Bottom line, well, actually a few bottom lines:

1. I'm probably going to die of a heart attack when I'm 65. I've come to terms with that.
2. I remember being this stressed out before very frequently, and I survived every single one of those times with no casualties or epic failures. I know that this time will be the same, and while that doesn't necessarily make me feel better, it does prevent me from curling up in a ball or making hysterical phone calls to my mother and husband.
3. The world has chocolate, nacho cheese, and melon for times just like this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Waiting for Inspiration to Strike

I'm revising my second completed novel, PHOTO FINISH, and I'm realizing that I need a whole additional subplot. Something more about the world and less about the particular character conflict. I have a faint niggle of what it ought to involve, but more than that, I'm striking out. I've done this enough, though, that I'm confident that if I continue writing and keep it in mind, inspiration will strike. Here's hoping, anyway.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

You Think Too Much

I try to keep my conversations shallow. Personal conversations make me kind of nervous, probably because I'm not sure where others draw the line between "getting real" and "being a total freak." In the past, the results have been mixed when I shared what was on my mind.

In college, simply looking pensive in public ran a 50/50 chance that some guy would stop and say, "Smile, beautiful! It's a gorgeous day!" I wondered why they thought I needed to be cheered up (fixed?) if I was looking thoughtful. It bugged me.

Other times I'd let loose with some crazy thought or question or wild imagining ("What if aliens are a more highly evolved version of us, and the reason they keep abducting people is because they're collecting specimens of the evolutionary chain for a huge living museum?"), and my friends would stare at me and then give an observation: "You're way weirder than you look." "Ooookaaay. TMI." Or by far the most common, "You think too much." The observation would often be followed by a prescription. "You need to get sleep/eat chocolate/pray/get laid." (Mixed bag, my friends.) So I kind of stopped having those conversations, preferring instead to stay in the shallow end of the pool, perhaps even more shallow than most people stay in. I don't know.

Now don't get me wrong. I think that trivial social exchanges have a very important survival function. When I hear people (usually college students) speak with scorn of the "How are you"/"Good how are you" call and response, I kind of roll my eyes. Those conversations are not, as is so often implied, the mindless blathering of thoughtless sheep. Rather, they are efficient reaffirmations of a casual and non-intrusive social web. We take it for granted, and sometimes it can even feel chafing, but the "How are you"/Good how are you" relationships are the ones that show up to stack sandbags when the river is flooding. Those exchanges are important. They have to be shallow and efficient in order to serve their purpose.

But sometimes I wonder what would happen if just once I were honest when someone asked me those daily, mundane questions like, "How are you doing?" I don't mean honest as in whiny, but honest as in truly introspective.

Picture this:

"How ya doing?"
"Great. I feel light-hearted and upbeat, and at this exact moment, I feel certain that amazing things are coming my way. It's probably because of the sunlight and the way things smell and the fact that my family was just here to visit, and I know it won't last long, but I'm trying not to think myself out of it because it feels really great."

Or this:

"How are you?"
"Thoughtful. I'm wondering if Thoreau was right. Do you really think that most men will, when they come to die, discover that they have not lived? Or do most of us actually live our lives pretty well, at least as far as our natural dispositions are comfortable living them? Do you think that Thoreau himself changed how men live?"

Or even this:

"How are you?"
"Oh man, my head is in a freakin' weird space right now. I just finished reading a Peter Straub novel and we've been in the middle of the dry, dark winter for three months, and I'm pregnant so I'm nauseated and hormonal all the time. The total effect is that I feel like a strange and relentless evil is stalking the world, and right now I feel like I've never been happy and I'll never be happy again. My kids are annoyed because I keep grabbing them and giving them hugs. But, I'm old enough to know that these feelings will pass, so I'm trying not to indulge them. That's why I cleaned the house and graded my papers and am out for a walk. Just trying to jump-start the mood boost I know will come eventually. How are you?"

What would happen, I wonder? Probably somewhere out there, there's someone who would stare at me in astonishment for a moment and then say, and mean it, "Oh my gosh. I can totally relate," and then I'd have made a friend, which would be great. I have a hard time making real friends. But I think most people would just stare at me, shift uncomfortably, and then say, "Oh. Is there anything I can do to help?" because these are good people and if something is wrong, they really do want to help fix it. Then I'd say, "No. Nothing really needs to be done. That's just how I'm feeling right now," and they, feeling greatly relieved, would scurry off. And I wouldn't blame them one bit.

But later they might say jokingly to a mutual acquaintance, "Tell you what, just don't ask Heidi how she's doing. The other day she dumped on me with way to much TMI. I don't even know what she was talking about."

And then the acquaintance would say, "Really? She always acts so put-together."

And then the person I'd talked to would say, "I know, I'll tell you what, that girl thinks way too much."

I know that could happen, plus, I truly don't want to intrude on someone else's rhythm by breaking the call and response, but I'm still so curious. What would it be like?

So here's the deal: if I see you and ask you how you're doing, you have my permission, if you feel like it, to tell me what's really on your mind. I'm not talking about a gripe-fest, just a simple conversation about the things you're wondering and thinking and batting around in your head. I'd like to see what it's like, and I promise not to tell you that you think too much.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Rough Draft Isn't as Sucky as I Thought It Was

I started editing PHOTO FINISH last night, and I was surprised to find that some of what I'd written was actually pretty good.

It's been more than a year since I looked at this novel, and last I knew, I hated it. Loathed it. Despised it with the bloody rage of a thousand swirling daggers. When I typed THE END, I thought, "Good freakin' riddance," and shut the laptop on it, sure that I would never see or think of it again.

And then a few months later, I thought, "I wonder if this would work." And a little while later, "Oh yeah. I've got to add that." And then, "That's definitely a good idea."

But I let all those ideas percolate for months because a) I was in the middle of another novel and b) I wasn't prepared to face the total garbage I knew I would find when I once again opened the file. But a couple nights ago I typed THE END at the bottom of FIRST HAUNT, and I knew that I was out of excuses for avoiding PHOTO FINISH. (Plus, I have to have something to pitch to Weronika Janczuk at LDStorymakers,* and I figured it'd be nice if I had something I'd actually edited at least once.)

So I braced myself, opened it up, and thought, "Whoa. Some of this is actually really good. Like, printed material good." Not to worry. I'm not so delusionally in love with my own prose that I thought it was fine as-is. I eviscerated most of it, rewrote whole swaths of story, added scenes, removed scenes, reassigned and re-wrote dialog, and changed characterization (and all that was just in the first 3,000 words). However, I sensed potential and the possibility that the story might not be the suckfest I remembered, and that was nice.

*I knew that signing up for a pitch session when I had one and one-half finished rough-drafts to my name was colossally stupid, but I did it because I knew it would force me to get my act together. It appears to be working.