Worth Watching TV For:
Someone at PBS likes me, they're rebroadcasting Ken Burn's amazing Civil War
documentary series. While I think television is usually an excellent way to rot your brain, this program won't wreck your brain cells. One of the coolest aspects is the chance to listen to Shelby Foote again; his insights and storytelling makes the whole series. Check your local listings, the documentary will be aired Sept. 22-26, I think.
Watching Our Backs:
As I write this, Hurricane Isidore
is slamming into the western tip of Cuba a couple hundred miles from here. Winds are now up to 105 mph and the storm is expected to strengthen when it enters the Gulf of Mexico, so we're tracking this one. Gulf hurricanes can be very bad, but according to forecasts it should bypass my section of Florida. Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and a couple other places are more likely to get slammed, so if you live in those areas, please keep an eye on the news for the next couple days. You can also find out the latest online at the National Hurricane Center's website here.
Late Calendar Entry:
I neglected to post the next Think Tank date on the FM calendar until last night (when I was reminded, thank you, Erik) but just FYI, there will be one tonight, 9-11 pm EST, in Conference room one.
Just Worry About Yours:
I can't sleep. I've been trying not to worry about things, but it's hard to turn it off. Worrying about stuff has been a problem since my formative years. If I were going to write a screenplay about the role models of my youth, the character list would read Transvestite Poet, God's Inspector General, Snake Queen of the Prom, The Jesus Clone and It Crawled From Jack Daniel's Ageing Vat #19. Try growing up with that crew and not have a care in the world.
Not fun, but not all bad -- it's helped me deal with Katherine's anxiety attacks. I hear that squeaky note in her voice and I flash back to the days when I wanted to graft myself to Grandma's right leg, so I'm right there with her. Fear is nothing to ridicule or dismiss.
I don't sleep because I'm either writing or worrying, overtime. I worry about my problems, the kids, the family, friends, the writing clan and even my ex now and then (though that's mostly the "I hope he doesn't do this because I'll be hard pressed not to kick his teeth in" brand of worry.) I've done the mental worksheets on this over and over; Mom's "Let Go and Let God" approach, Holly's wonderful "Be Water" philosophy, and even Jessie's "Let's Go to the Gym and Wreck Some Machines" exercise mantra. Doesn't always work but they do help, and I just have to remember them, maybe combine them. Let go, let God, be water, and there will always be Nautilus to mess up tomorrow.
I'm waiting to hear if I'm actually eligible to participate, and if I can submit a screenplay based on my own published work, but if I get a "yes" to both questions, I'll be competing in HBO's Project Greenlight.
I wanted to do this last year, but waited to see how the first contest went. I figure I've got just as much chance as anyone, and it should be a fun learning experience.
I miss cruising blogs, so I've been trying to check out a few more at random moments. After seeing this name pop up one the latest updates list on the Blogger main page, I found my way to The Wonderful World of Nobby Dobscrub.
Check it out if you get a chance -- the author's view of coworkers and hubcaps are particularly hysterical.
The Writer Stumbles, Bangs into Stuff, Etc.:
After hearing much praise of the book, I invested in Christopher Vogler's "The Writer's Journey" and have been reading bits of it during Homework Hour. Vogler is not a novelist -- he's a critic who evaluates screenplays and does stuff with a company called StoryTech to make money off writers as a "literary consultant" -- but I'm trying very hard not to hold that against him. The most interesting aspects of the book so far are the language it's written in, which is, um, interesting, and the number of times Vogler pats himself on the back in one chapter, which is, um, interesting. He also based most of it on someone else's theories, which means he's an acolyte, and acolytes sometimes can be dangerously narrow in the vision department. Seriously, it's not that bad, it's just an outsider looking in book with a lot of very pretty theory, and I tend to be very wary when people who don't write for a living try to tell me how to do it anyway.
Writing is not a pretty journey at times. At 3:29 am last night, when I was printing out the new proposal and backing up the hard drive, it felt a little more like indentured slavery. I was tired, gritty-eyed, babying my right hand (which still feels like I punched out a wall) and so dehydrated that I chugged 32 oz. of chilled water in about ten minutes. I'd spent most of the day editing and rewriting and obsessing over the synopsis and sample chapters, which made me forget to eat and drink at regular intervals. I ran out of the Levenger's folders I like to use for business and had to get my backup blue ones out of the bowels of the supply cabinet, and a badly-placed stapler fell from an upper shelf and gave my skull a good ding. Then I had three and a half hours to sleep, 2/3 of which I spent staring at the ceiling as the plot for another novel rolled through my head. Even though I've given myself the day off -- like an irate boss says "Take some vacation time or I'm gonna fire your ass" -- I know I'll repeat a close variation of the same nonsense tonight. Hopefully I'll dodge the stapler this time.
It's not all slavery, though. There are long stretches of time that I wish I had adequate words to describe to you, when I'm utterly lost in a story. When I watch it play out on the screen and I'm part of the story and I'm watching the story and I'm telling the story, all at once. When it's good, it's better than any mind-altering substance on the planet. When it goes beyond good -- and it does that for me the same way a long-distance runner gets that surge of endorphins after so many miles -- it owns you. Maybe it is a little like slavery, after all.
Off to the Agent:
First draft of the Jax proposal is going off to the agent tomorrow for a read-through. I still can't think of it as Rooms in Hell yet, but eventually the new title will kick in. I just don't know about this one; I feel like it's some of my best work but it's not familiar as in stuff-I've-been-doing work, so I'm back out in new territory. I think it's going to have to be tagged as horror, or fantasy with a heavy emphasis on the horror. Even with the blurring of genre lines, I think it's too punchy and dark for a straight fantasy label. And I ended up giving Belenger a little more of the stage and that worked okay, but I'll have to watch him. The book is only half-written, and I'm not investing any more major time into it until I get some feedback. I'm giving myself the day off tomorrow so I can refuel the muse and get ready for the next pitch.
Finished the Jax novel proposal last night, but I'm not 100% happy with it. It still needs a plot tune-up; the threads are strong and clear but a bit too linear and the end twist needs more boom. Also, because I'm tying together mythologies from at least six different ages/societies, I have to clarify some things without creating a multicultural muddle. Belenger is messing with me, too, he wants a bigger chunk of the story and I'm really tempted to give it to him -- a pox on all interesting secondary characters. The good news is, after some great suggestions from my partners in crime, I've settled on a title -- Rooms In Hell.
I've mentioned how my mother regularly requested that I write something "nice" while I was growing up; and remembering some of my earlier work, I can see why. One of my first novels,"The Diary of Sebatina Hariski," dealt with nuclear war, Russian/American politics, racial purity, the regression of the continent of Africa into the stone age and people growing large and their skin turning blue from fallout. Yeah, I know, but I was fifteen and I thought they'd look pretty. It was also science fiction, but I never thought of it that way -- it was just what I hoped would happen if Russia ever nuked us, something my generation really worried about. It was adventurous and scary and anything but nice.
Mom, who cursed me to have a child just like me (probably after reading the Diary novel) finally got me where it hurts today. During homework hour, Katherine proudly read to me her latest story, "Squish the Tadpoles." It was about a large-footed giant, much mayhem and the cold-blooded slaughter of under-developed frogs. She assured me it was purely fictional and no tadpoles were actually harmed in the making of her story, but -- I swear to you -- the first thing that popped into my head was, "Couldn't you write something nice
I managed not to say it, but I have a whole new respect for the power of Mom's mojo. I'm telling you, this curse works.
This is another get-the-proposals-done week; I'm pitching four new books to two different publishers. It's also nice to hear my agent say things like "they'd be thrilled to have you." Now the job is to be thrilling enough to snag the actual contracts.
Also, early good news on top secret project #2, that may actually lead to something solid as well. I feel like I'm taking baby steps when I want to run like hell, but at least there's some forward momentum, versus just standing still or watching things blow up in my face.
My editor happily accepted the revisions for the Kissing Blades, so as of this moment, I am officially done with that contract. Some writers find this depressing but I love it; it reaffirms everything for me -- I can write, I can get paid for it, and I can finish the job. I gave up chocolate again for a good cause so I can't hit the M&Ms, but there are apple chips and pretzel sticks and I think I'll make a victory salad for dinner. And as a reward for finishing the trilogy, I get to read Kushiel's Chosen tonight. Every Monday should be like this.
Early AM Apprehension:
Aside from the owl ceaselessly pondering the eternal question "Who?" in the pine tree outside my bedroom window three or four nights a week, I have a three inch long lizard living in my closet. We have so many lizards in Florida it's simply impossible to keep them out of the house, but usually they don't live very long in mine, thanks to the three mighty hunters. Even knowing he's marked for certain death, I have been trying (unsuccessfully) for two weeks to catch him, but no luck. So now I'm running a lizard protection program; I keep the closet door closed to keep the felines out; I distract Rush -- who never met a lizard he didn't love to eviscerate -- whenever I catch sight of of that thin, pale green tail; I've even offered lizard bounty to the children (who enjoy ripping clothes out of hangers and screaming much more than any apprehension.)
Anyway. This morning I woke up early and went to get my robe, and Death Wish was perched on the uppermost shelf, eyeing me like King of the Mountain. I tried to grab him, he eluded me and jumped into a box of old cassette tapes. Standing on my shoe rack, I slammed the half-open top down and wrenched the box down, and crowed over my triumphant capture as I carried it out to the balcony. I may be old and slow but I can still catch a lizard when push comes to shove. I released him, and as he scrambled across the concrete, I warned him to go eat bugs, meet a nice lizard girl and if he values his tail, never to darken my door again. Across the way, I notice one of my neighbors was also up early watering the gorgeous potted ferns for which I will eventually become a cat burglar. She must have heard me lecturing the lizard, because she was shaking her head and I think chuckling. I wonder if I offer to catch the ones that have gotten into her house, will she give me one of those ferns?
Slaying the Synopsis:
I stumbled across one of the best articles I've ever read on writing synopses here.
If you struggle with composition or just plain don't like writing them, definitely check it out, the author does a great job in breaking down the work and making it less scary.
I've been searching for a job title for Matthias (aka Sno, from the Jax story) that would describe what he does besides own and manage a bar. Jax is the caretaker, Matthias is the exact opposite, so he's the . . . what? "Executioner" and "destroyer" have been done to death, "demolisher" sounded like something out of pro-wrestling, and "butcher" is too extreme. I took my own advice, went over to the online thesaurus and started putting words in -- destroy, execute, kill, annihilate, and banish -- and studied the results. I found the perfect word. A really ordinary word that I wouldn't have thought of without the prompt. So now Matthias is -- drum roll, please -- the dispatcher.
For reasons unknown, Locus has added
Eternity Row to their New & Notable releases for September, and even provided a link to my website. While I'm grateful for the free publicity, I can't imagine why I'm getting it from Locus. Possibly there's a new employee involved, or it was a slow month for SF or something. Utterly mystifying. Still, mother raised me to be polite, so thank you for the plug, Locus.