Category Archives: writing

Mixing Fantasy and Reality

When I was little, I hated those squat, rainbow-hued My Little Pony toys. I was a huge fan of horses (yeah, what twelve-year-old girl isn’t?) and I had a collection of sixty-odd Breyer horses. You know those horses–prancing Morgans, preening Tennessee Walkers and galloping Arabians, each perfectly detailed and accurate down to the grooves in its hooves. I used to play with them by the hour, using Barbie as an accessory. In most little girls’ worlds Barbie was the main character and the horses would have been pets. But not me. Barbs was second-string, there to advance the plot, if at all. Most of the time my horses had human-free adventures. My pretend Mustang herd galloped across the open plain (the green shag carpeting of my bedroom floor), made friendships, were hunted, trapped and escaped back to freedom. And there was no place in that scenario for short-legged pink ponies with purple hair and stars on their asses. As much as I enjoyed fantasy, it had no place among my “reality.”

And yet that kid eventually grew up into the chick who digs blending modern life with the fantastical. I’m not sure how or when it happened. Maybe it had something to do with overdosing on too many sword and sorcery tales. Quite possibly Joss Whedon had a significant hand in the deal. Then again, maybe it was growing up to discover the enticing mysteries of adulthood were nothing more than chains which would tether me to a daily reality that was far less than mythic. In the midst of work, finances, housecleaning and insipid routines, I think I realized everyday life lacked the mystical quality my childhood held. Toadstools were only a sign of a fungus in my lawn, rainbows meant that it had finally stopped raining, and lightening bugs were just insects trying to get their freak on. And that loss of the “what-if” portion of my imagination must have had an impact, because somewhere in my mid-twenties I ditched the mainstream novels I had been planning and went genre.

While the mundane details of my daily life still exist on a grand scale, I now have an alter-existence where the strange, wondrous and mystical happens in the modern world. It’s like gaining back a lost bit of my childhood, a forgotten piece of me.

My horse collection is in my niece’s possession, now. But, I can still see every one of my old friends in my mind. And the next time I let the herd roam free, you can bet there’ll be some pink, yellow, and blue rumps mixed in with the rest.

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Ups and Downs, News and Such

Sorry I’ve been absent for an extended stretch again. The warmer weather vaulted the Architect and me out of our winter hibernation and back into the renovation gig. He fixed our front door–which could have been kicked in by a toddler–and I tore down plaster and walls. I found two more dead rats–one mummified, one just a skeleton. I stepped on another nail. This time it really hurt. But, I don’t seem to have lockjaw, which is nice. The big upside is that my prison of an office is now part of the openness of the rest of the upstairs floor plan and I don’t feel anywhere near as confined sitting here writing as I did before. And it’s nowhere near as frigid in here.

I just got news this morning that while I did make it to the second elimination round, I did not make it to the quarterfinals in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I was really hoping to make it to the quarterfinals. Well, hoping for the part of the quarterfinals where Publishers Weekly would read my entire novel and review it. I wanted the awfulness that would undoubtedly go along with such a “win” because I wanted some brutal professional feedback by the biggest publication news source on the planet. I wanted to know whether or not to shove “Resonance” in a drawer and forget her. I wanted someone to tell me, instead of having to figure it out myself. Guess that’s what I get for trying to insert divine intervention into a free will universe. Still, I’ll be getting two reviews of my opening pages given by the Amazon Vine Reviewers who essentially knocked me out of the competition. Two opinions of why my book didn’t work for them. That should be fairly helpful. And making it from roughly ten-thousand people to two-thousand on the strength of my pitch means–fucking finally–I don’t have to stress over that thing anymore. It apparently does its job. Now I just need my novel to do the same.

It’s funny how I don’t feel defeated, resigned, or even belligerent. I feel just as determined as I did before, just as calm, just as focused. Have I finally reached that spot of firm belief in my work? Or is this just the first stage of rowing a big barge down a river in Egypt? I don’t know. It’s going to take a couple of weeks for those reviews to trickle down to me, so I’m going to just keep on keepin’ on and forget all about “Resonance” for a while and push ahead with the new novel.


When Funny is– Not Funny?


You give your manuscript to a beta reader or a writing buddy. They take a few days, give it back and say, “It was good. And that part in Chapter Five where she…. That was hilarious.”

You blink.

Clear your throat.

Blink again.

And again.

You mutter a weak, “Thanks,” and snatch back your manuscript, all the while thinking, Dillhole. Dillhole. Dillholedillholedillhole.

You walk away fuming. That part wasn’t funny. That part was never meant to be funny. You poured your heart and soul into that scene, hoping it would tear the same out of your reader’s chest. And they giggled. Chuckled, maybe. Who knows? There could have been a whooping fit to match a hyena.

If it hasn’t happened to you already, it probably will. And I feel there are two ways to handle the situation: ignore it, or don’t ignore it (mind-blowing stuff, right?).

Let’s start with Don’t ignore it. I feel this situation applies only if you were trying to establish the most tragic, romantic, or profound of moods. For example: You write a scene where your protagonist, after six years of searching, finally finds the home of her birth mother. She rings the doorbell and peeks through the sidelight to catch her first glimpse of the one brought her into this world, only to give her up. An older woman appears at the top of the stairs. She squints back at the familiar-seeming face, her expression of curiosity melting into one of recognition and joy. She steps forward, arms outstretched, and trips over a puppy playing on the tread below. The protagonist screams, but can do nothing to stop the horror playing out in front of her eyes. Both woman and dog tumble down the steps, a windmill of fur and extremities. They hit the landing with a sickening crunch, the window framing their deaths like a grisly postcard.

At this point, unless you happen to be one of the Python boys, you’ll be wanting your reader sobbing onto the well-worn pages of your novel (not enough to smudge the lines, mind you, but enough to leave a telltale grief stain so other readers will know in advance of your knife-twisting skill). If, instead, they’re holding their sides and howling, “A puppy!” between shrieks of laughter, you’ll probably want to rewrite it (Scratch that. If you write anything involving puppy-tripping-tragedy, you should definitely rewrite).

Moving on to the more apt option, Ignore it:

Not everyone has the same sense of humor as you. Some people find irony in things we overlook. Some people have a very dry wit. And others are just plain weird when it comes to what they think is funny (like Adam Sandler movies). Unless no one gets your jokes and everyone thinks your drama is hysterical, just let it go. It’s not worth second guessing every single reader’s reaction to your work. In fact, it’s impossible. Just let them find what they need in your writing, and move on. At least you’re getting a laugh. It’s more than you can say about I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

I know, I didn’t have to go there.

I just wanted to.


Putting on the Brakes

I’ve been futzing around with my WIP for a while now, finding ideas here and there, but never getting into the whole writing thing. I thought it was maybe the house issues distracting me, the cramped chaos of my new writing area (see above photo–eeek!), or some random symptom of an undiagnosed malaise. But, today I had an idea for a novel. And I got excited. Really, really excited. That was the moment a grim realization hit me; I’m just not that into my story.

For what it’s worth, the concept for the WIP is solid; there’s a good plot with lots of potential. But, it has been in my brain for the entire time I’ve written Resonance, sat patiently in my thoughts as I polished the other and sent it off to agents. Somewhere along the line I think the sitting might have turned to moldering; it just feels old and tired. And that makes me sad. They were born together, those two ideas, but while I poured my full attention on its sister, Green sat in stasis–immobile to the point of rigor mortis.

Maybe this isn’t the end. Maybe I just need some space. A breather.

It’s not it.

It’s me.

Yeah, I think I’m breaking up with my book.


The Extent of Responsibility

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article in Canada’s Globeandmail.com. The author, Lynn Crosbie gives a sometimes compelling argument about the relationship between art and life, and the way the two often bleed together in the form of mimicry. Drawing parallels to the rash of teens burning homeless men in the seventies after seeing it done in the movie Fuzz, and the copycat killings ascribed to the movie, Natural Born Killers, I can almost see Lynn’s point. The rest of the examples, however–Marilyn Manson’s “responsibility” for children’s crimes and Ted Bundy’s supposed addiction to porn linking him to his first rape–fail to move me to emphatic agreement. Still, I’m willing to concede there is a correlation between art and life, and sometimes it’s a negative one. After all, as artists, we want our work to resonate within the mind of the ones reading it. And, we’re more than happy to take the credit when that shift in thought is positive. Yet, when the negative occurs, we put our hands behind our backs and take refuge behind the word, “art.”

But, is it all that simple? Monkey see, monkey do? I don’t think so. If that were the case, there would have been social upheaval of the worst order after the debut of Pulp Fiction: heroin overdoses everywhere, gangster-type violence and thuggish dinner knock-overs on every block. Most of us know the difference between reality and fiction, the immediate relationship between action and consequence, and we act accordingly. For some, however, the lines are blurred. Fantasy becomes reality and the intended thought-provoking words we put on paper transform into inspirational text. Since I can’t argue that some will take away only the evil of which we write, I move on to the next concern, responsibility. Can we, as artists, be blamed for the actions of those who use our work as an instruction manual?

The waters here are murky and gray. I’d like nothing more than to shrug the weight of it off my shoulders and hide behind the art. My novel speaks of darkness, of acts unspeakable in reality and just as horrifying to the imagination. It has bothered me more than once that one might see these pages as a permission slip, a validation of their own flawed belief system. These acts are integral to the story, to the formation of the characters and the relationships they have with one another. But, I cannot argue that someone with an already skewed perception of the world might not see that, will only see rote approval for their twisted lifestyle. Having conceded that point, can I remove all blame from myself if someone takes inspiration from my words? Can I, with all honesty, step away from this mirrored act without a speck of guilt on my soul? I’d like to, but, I don’t know. Once a connection has been established, cause and consequence, can there really be absolute blamelessness? Sure, the individual could have picked up “pointers” from any other book or movie, hell, the internet is a literal den of inequity. But, the source was not from them, but from me. My work. Like the rest of life, there is no black and white, here. But, there is right and wrong as far as fallout is concerned, and most certainly when the time for finger pointing comes around. The question is not if any fingers will be aimed in my direction, because they will. More importantly, I wonder, where will my own be pointing?


I Was Called "Emo" — and No One Got Hurt


Two weeks ago, I received a frantic e-mail from my college roommate. It said something akin to, “Are you still as organized and neurotic as you used to be?” It seems finishing her masters and trying to raise a three year-old while pregnant with a second child had put her in the weeds household-wise. Always ready to help a friend (and more than gleeful for the opportunity to feed the OCD beast in my head), I took off for four days to help restore order to chaos. While I was there, my friend’s young daughter took to calling me “Emo,” which is the term for a maternal aunt in Korean. So, to my early dismay (and eventual delight) I was called “Emo,”and, as I hinted earlier, no one got their teeth kicked in for it.

As Emo Avery, I suddenly realized the power the old(er) have over the young. My tiny minion wore headbands when I did, ate what I said was delicious, and, at my behest, announced to her mother (a former punk with undoubted visions of impending karma) that she was going to wear black lipstick. Unfortunately, the lyrics from The Smiths were too hard for her to manage, so, “Girlfriend in a Coma” came out as, “Boppy, boppy, bop.”

All of this potentially useless backstory leads me to a frigid afternoon when I was driving the clan to Ikea to purchase storage containers. There was a CD in the car stereo playing “kid-friendly” versions of wildly inappropriate songs by current pop artists. At one point, a childish female voice belted out something about being, “A very bad girl.” For a moment, my mind spun at the suggestive nature of those lyrics. After a few moments of indignation, I realized I was listening with my adult ears. While world-weary Emo Avery was picturing whips and leather, her inherited niece was blithely singing along, thinking this Very Bad Girl had just been busted coloring the walls purple with her crayons.

It’s all about perspective–first understanding ours is shackled to us much like our mortal coils, then realizing the need to try and step out of it, and ultimately accepting that no matter how much we want otherwise, our collective life experiences unfailingly filter our comprehension of the rest of this crazy, complicated race. As writers, we’re beholden to provide a glimpse inside the human condition, destined to forge entire people without applying personal prejudice. The question is, can we do it?

No.

Regardless of how fast we sprint, we can never outrun ourselves. And so our private filters color every page with our own experience, inserting the essence of our beings into each word we write or say, into every encounter we come across. But, it is the simple attempt to see beyond that allows us the chance to guess at the inner workings of others, to create new and interesting characters that live and breathe inside the ink we put down–and can occasionally help transform a string of horrific lyrics into pure innocence.

Thanks to Natasha (Spyscribbler) for a great post that solidified for me the importance of this seemingly trivial event.


The Pros and Cons of Invisibility


‘They’–the illustrious hearsay experts–liken a writer’s existence to a vacuum. I’m starting to realize ‘They’ aren’t wrong. Between the sucking vortex of silence on the receiving end of my agent queries to the ominous passing of contest deadlines, the vastness of my professional solitude has begun to wear on me a little.

In fact, there was a moment a few days ago when I thought I had died.

In those brief delusional moments, I surmised everyone around me was a manifestation of my subconscious, nothing more than elaborate scenery for my postmortem ghost-drama. I imagined my possessions were only echoes of what I used to own–my computer, my printer, my paper–all shades of what I’d had on my earthly desk. It made perfect sense; I wasn’t getting feedback because I wasn’t sending out anything physical.

On many levels, I find my plane of existence not being on a mail carrier’s route a more preferable explanation than the fact I might not have whatever it is the publishing world wants in an author. Then again, the poltergeist-in-residence scenario would be a little too Beetlejuice-ish even for me (and since I left my veiled beekeeper hat in nineteen eighty-seven, I’m not really dressed for that particular event, anyway).

The deadline for notification of winners in that one writing contest is supposedly the twenty-first of this month. I’d already figured I hadn’t won, but I felt the few weeks between now and the release of the December issue of the magazine (which makes public the list of winners) would let me down gently–ease me out of expectation into acceptance. But, I opened the mail today and there was that December issue, sitting in my mailbox, the winners of the contest tucked neatly inside. It was enough to make me want to crawl back into my imaginary grave.

The lack of communication in this business is disheartening, at best. At least at my old job people were lining up to tell me how much I sucked. I didn’t have to guess. But, then again, my old job was hell, too, just a different kind–an inescapable realm of monotonous torment packed to the brim with neurotic, nouveau-riche malcontents.

I guess when I look at it that way, this vacuum ain’t all bad.


Inspiration and The Brain Recorder


There’s a band called VAST (actually, it’s just one guy, Jon Crosby) that’s magic for my writing. I don’t know what it is, but whenever I play his songs, ideas flood my brain. My iTunes has the complete collection of forty-six tracks on four albums spanning from 1998 to 2004. I switch it on, and some undisclosed well of ideas rise up in me and I’m flooded with a rush of mental stamina. And the results are pretty much consistent; I turn on VAST, I get ideas. In celebration of the upcoming album release, I decided to turn on the album Crimson this morning. True to history, I experienced idea overload. Unfortunately, I was in the shower and my computer was too far away to be of any help. That’s when I decided I needed a brain recorder.

I don’t know about other writers, but when I get ideas, they come in a torrent of broken bits and pieces–a flutter of imagery, a snatch of dialogue, a whisper of setting. Hardly ever do thoughts come complete and whole, and never do I remember them all. Most of the time, they’re not even fully actualized thoughts, but scraps of visualizations. No matter how fast I run to the computer or my index cards, no matter how much I struggle to retain all of those bits of inspirational flotsam, the majority slips away, never to be heard from again. That’s where the brain recorder comes in.

Imagine an implanted device that could not only record your every thought, but could translate those amorphous images into words. Instead of running to the keyboard, we could mentally switch on the recorder and catch all of those baby concepts at their fruition. Once we’d captured the entirety, we could remotely download the files to Word and never again lose that perfect idea.

Of course, the military would seize control of my brain recorder and use it for Bad Things. They’d make it classified, locking it away for only the most devious of uses. And those of us that desired it for truly pure reasons would still be bolting from our showers, dripping wet, scattering droplets of water and inspiration as we went. Or, even worse, we’d all have brain recorders and they’d be on all the time, archiving our every thought in case we commit a crime (so the files could be downloaded for our prosecution). Anyway, our Sci-Fi brethren would at least gain some benefit from my misguided ideation–reaping creative illumination from my innocent-turned-insidious little device.

Not that this isn’t all hypothetical at this point, anyway. I can barely change a light bulb without risking loss of life or limb, so building this technological wonder myself is out of the question. I suppose I could hire some combination of mad scientist and evil genius if he didn’t mind working for peanut butter sandwiches, but that route would just open a whole new can of worms. First off, I don’t have a dank, foreboding basement for this melding of technology and humanity to take place (nor do I have a stark subterranean lab that glows with an unhelpful green light). I do have a crawl-space, but that’s pretty much taken up by the hordes of mutant crickets this time of year and they don’t seem the roommate type. That means I’d have to put the evil scientist in my garage, which wouldn’t make him very happy because it’s not an evil garage. In fact, it’s quite sunny and nice. I could put him in the attic, but there’s barely room to walk up there, and, again, there’s nothing really evil about stacks of old architecture magazines and Christmas decorations.

I guess I’ll have to shelve the idea of the brain recorder for now and settle for playing VAST with the hopes I can retain at least a quarter of what I envisioned during the bolt to the computer. At least I’ll have a new batch of songs to listen to next month, so my inspiration can avoid growing stale.


"To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…"


My mortal coil is a Slinky. It starts at my feet and winds up and up, so tightly wrapped around me that it would take a great deal of doing to shuffle it off. It’s not that I fear the state of death, or what lies beyond, because when I reach that point it will no longer matter. The afterlife will do what it wills — be it roasting my sinning butt in an eternal all-you-can-eat Avery barbeque, or allowing me to pass into floaty happiness as a tiny part of the greater One. And even if there is no sense beyond that which the living body provides, it still won’t matter to me once I’m dead. After all, the insensate form has no means by which to mourn itself. No, I worry more about the single second right before all goes blank (or all is revealed) when I’ll recognize that one moment as the last for me — at least the last as I currently recognize moments.

I’ve been plagued the entirety of my adult life with what I call my Hamlet complex; my considerable concern with becoming whatever it is I will become in the end. Equaling this is my concern for being myself until the end of time.

I guess what I’m saying is, I fear eternity.

The idea of never-ending sameness strikes a chord of horror within me. As much as I don’t relish the idea of being dead forever, I sure as hell don’t want to be alive forever. If I had the choice, I think I’d prefer to be dead a while, then wake up and live a while, going back and forth in that manner until time itself passes into oblivion. I’ve considered the hope of reincarnation, but the thought of not recalling who I am at this very moment bothers me (then again, if I’ve already reincarnated into this particular life, the process hasn’t done much to me in the way of trauma). I suppose it all goes back to that instant when I die. At that moment, when I’m still Avery, I suspect relinquishing my memories to become another person entirely would be an unwelcome idea. But, once I’d crossed over (or up, or down, or whatever direction I’m to take) it might not seem like such a bad deal.

These issues — as with countless writers before me — have wound their way into my book, snaking around the storyline much as my mortal Slinky coil has encompassed me. I’ve flung death onto pages of text, infusing this novel with themes of mortality and resurrection. Mirroring my trepidation of a future without change, Resonance spends some time in a version of the Norse Hel, a icy wasteland that stretches without variation into eternity. My necromancers speak of a cycle of life, death and rebirth — but also with options for those who choose not to inhabit a living shell again. There’s no punishment or consequence, only personal choice. The dead are allowed to select how they want their afterlife to play out. They’re given back their freewill — something ultimately taken from them at birth when they were not consulted about the matter of their eventual demise. And so, I’ve gone on, attempting to placate myself with my own fancies, soothing my inner uncertainties within my characters’ spirituality.

Has this exercise in self-trickery lessened my Hamlet complex? Not really. But, at least I’ve made some use of useless qualms. We writers are lucky; we have the will and ability to forge entire worlds of our own choosing. We can create people, and then pass onto them the hopes we don’t dare hold for ourselves. We are granted the range to give vent to our frustrations and fears, and then to conceal them all under the pretty guise of art. Do you know what the best part is? It’s cheaper than therapy.

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6:47pm

I was given a link to this video by my friend X, who is, as always, ever sensitive to my fits of despair:


Your Only Friend, The End.


What makes a good ending? What makes a great ending? What is that one thing that takes a breathless reader through those last twenty pages before he puts the book down with a sigh, feeling like the journey was well worth it? What are the keys to forging a solid, leave-em-happy ending? Or, more specifically, what are the issues that make the actuality of that ending a pipe dream? I think I’ve come up with a few:

1) Predictability. No one wants to finish a book when its apparent by mid-point exactly where events are leading.

2) Impossibility. There can’t be some Deus ex Machina ending where the hero not only produces a hat out of thin air, but also waves it with a flourish and yanks out one, two, three little bunnies. The feeling of betrayal or of being had is not a good one with which to leave the readers.

3) Unsatisfactory. Here’s where the waters gray. Some may say a book is unsatisfactory unless everyone lives happily ever after. I think a book is unsatisfactory if everyone lives. Stephen King obviously thinks a story is unsatisfactory unless there’s nary a person left standing (or, if there is, that person is covered in blood, missing a limb or two, and is mentally scarred forevermore). In this arena, research has to be a key element — truly knowing one’s audience and understanding what they feel to be a fitting conclusion.

4) The bane of my new writing existence (and probably the most culpable of the offenders out there) — Flatness. There’s nothing really wrong with an ending of this type; it builds to a climax, resolves the conflict and then ties up all the loose ends. It’s technically on the mark, but somehow doesn’t deliver the grand finale readers crave. There’s no gritting of teeth or twitching of anxious fingers as eyes sweep the last few paragraphs of the page in the hurry to get to the next. There’s no racing of minds to figure out just how all will be resolved. The book simply ends. What remains is a feeling of lacking, that we’ve been cheated of that ending — The ending.

Unfortunately, I could probably list more books that fall under the one of the above categories than those that don’t. Which brings me to the five hundred dollar question, Alex — What makes me any different? Is it the fact that I’ve already mapped the pitfalls? Or that I’m overly conscious of the issues that could send me into a downward spiral of blandness? I’m not so sure. Despite my awareness, I could very well find myself in the exact same position. In fact, I have. The whole reason for rewriting the final chapters of Resonance is because the first ending just… Ended. Even with my plot twist, there was little need to break out the pins and needles.

I’d like to hear from you seasoned writers out there; you who have tread the uncomfortable path of “wrapping up.” How have you managed your endings? And, did they ever shine as brightly as your mind pictured them? And, for the newbies like me, how are you managing? Is the resolution as torturous for you as it has become for me? Let me know. I’m curious to find out.