Archive | March 2013

Wow. Structure.

It's happened to me twice now, so I'm convinced that it's not a fluke.

I can now outline my story from beginning to end, and plot a solid, forward moving novel that raises the stakes to a climax. I no longer have to write to discover what I want to do.

Here's what I'm doing: First, I write a general summary of the things that I would like to see happen in the novel. I have some fuzzy moments, and I have to bang my head against the wall, but I capture the entire novel in more or less a sketch. Usually, I think of what the instigators of the plots will do, and I write their actions first. And then, I write the protagonists actions and counteractions. This is a fairly inchoate form, but it generally has forward movement.

Then, I start to write the novel. About a chapter in or so, I go back to the summary, and I look at the thing critically. What moves the story forward? What is slow and needs to be cut? What essential scenes are there that drive the story forward that are needed for tension or the elements of creating tension.

Where the story is slow, can I cut the scene? If it drives the story somehow, what more action-y piece of the story can I pop in there? Do the stakes escalate?

And then I write some more.

Of course, there will be changes. Characters will surprise me. There will be texturing. There will be bits that I hope will work, but won't.

However, I am excited that I spent my writing session today firming up my summary due to this morning's writing epiphany, and then I put the entire skeleton of the novel into Scrivener. This is HUGE for me, a pantser in the past, who usually has to throw away thousands of words.

Don't get me wrong. There will still be lots of work and change and revision. That said, it is so nice to know how to get through the middle of a novel, how to have those benchmarks, how to see the whole picture in the early days.

Actually, this might be the best commercial for Taos Toolbox I could give you.

Chain Reaction of…EVIL!

And of course, I had some acid reflux stuff on Monday. Still following the diet. Still not drinking. Still watching portion size. What could be different? What? What?

Oh. My job. Right. Spring break was over. 🙂

When I was a kid, I'm talking in my 20s, I set up some impossible expectations for myself, and I often met them. I graduated undergrad in 3 years, and had my MA by the time I was 23. I won't go on. My achievement record sounds like I'm boasting, and while I am proud of my accomplishments, in many ways it is a sad litany of doing all sorts of whacky, hard-to-do things to validate my existence in the universe. I am SO over that part of my life.

The point? In the past, I could run myself ragged, stay up late, overcaffienate, and abuse myself in some sort of homage to stubbornness and workaholic-ism, and the stress and anxiety, while it would bubble up, would bubble back down.

Flash forward to age 47, and my current life, and ta-da! my body attacks me because of stress. Read more if you like. I promise you it's not a litany of woe. It's sort of an understanding of the phenomena. And again, what seems to be happening is that I'm not getting any younger.

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Taos Toolbox: Could this Be Your Year?

Okay, writers. Let's talk for a moment.

Maybe you're at a point where you've had a couple of stories accepted in pro venues, but you can't seem to pull off that last pro sale. Maybe you're caught in the mushy middle of a novel, and you're not certain how to make the novel work. Maybe your writing has improved, but you're getting a lot of frustrating middle of the road rejections. (The kind that sound like this: It was great, but I didn't quite fall in love with it enough.)

Well, if this sounds like you, and you'd like to ramp up your game a bit, please consider Taos Toolbox this year. Why this year? This year, Taos needs applicants. There have been several writers who have applied, but not enough to make the workshop happen. Walter has asked us alums to reach out to the writers that we know, and this is the easiest way for me to do that.

Let me be honest with you: Taos was a very hard experience for me. It was physically hard. Altitude dried me out fiercely for the first week. The days were long, the nights were long, the work was immense. There were issues among certain people in our group that made the workshop sometimes unpleasant. (DISCLAIMER: I understand that our year was a very unlucky year, and usually there is the kind of bonding that one hopes for from an affair like this.)

On the other hand, I met some awesome people. My roommate was fantastic. Many of the attendees knew a great deal about pop culture and comics. Many attendees were just plain fun. I'm convinced that we had the best volunteer social director ever, and I wouldn't exchange my breakfast conversations with Rebecca and Pat for anything. Walter and I discovered that we shared a love for Utena. There were good moments with many folks.

But most important, and this is why you should go, whether your group is cranky or wonderful, whether you can hike miles or barely crawl up a mountain, whether you like bears and hot tubs or not, and hear me out, for this is the salient point: YOUR WRITING WILL IMPROVE. If you are more at the beginning edge of the workshop, you will receive faith in your abilities. And if you've already opened that gift, you will receive insight into the process of writing that will change the way you compose permanently.

I wasn't sure after I left Taos whether I could recommend it or not. And about two months after I got home, I realized that yes, what I was doing had changed, and what I was doing now was better. And that's totally what I hoped to gain from the workshop. My epiphany as a writer happened not while at Taos, as I had heard it would, but after Taos, when my brain had a chance to cool down a bit. I am a much better writer now than I was at this time last year, especially in behind the scenes kinds of ways.

So, consider it. It's a bit of a roller coaster ride, because it's an intensive workshop where you're locked with about 15 people on a mountain for two weeks talking smack at each other. 🙂 It's also a chance to bond with some fellow writers who have passed a certain bar of ability, and are ready to push themselves a little farther.

Walter gives you all the information you need to apply right here.
And if you want more impressions from the folks who attended last year, here's my page about the workshop. If you've got questions, just send them along.

What’s in a Name?

Identities are interesting things.

My name is Catherine. Interestingly, many aspiring authors are named Catherine or some variation thereof. It so happens that at at least two workshops (Taos, Paradise Lost) I was/will be at the workshop with someone else named K(C)atherine. You can't throw a stick at Wiscon without hitting a Catherine. Heck, there have been times at the Broad Universe Reading at ConVergence where I read with no one but Catherine's.

This surfeit of Catherine's has led to a couple of interesting identity shifts. BUT perhaps I should start at the beginning.

I am named for my two grandmothers. My mother's mother was named Catherine. My father's mother was Frieda Marie. No one wanted a little girl named Catherine Frieda, so I lucked out and became Catherine Marie. In the end, it was my mother who saved me. My father thought Cheryl Rae might be a good option. Nothing wrong with that name, but the chances of me becoming an author? Well, see above...

i went to school in a tiny, tiny town, and from Kindergarten on up, my name was Cathy. I made a few attempts at Catherine, but it was another way for me to get made fun of, and besides, everyone called me Cathy. My younger brother and my uncles still call me Cathy. There's nothing wrong with that variation either, but given my background, I sort of cringe when I'm called Cathy. That's a name from a past time in my life when I was living most of my days in crisis.

And...off to college, where my friends would call me Cathy, Catherine, or Cath, and I didn't have much preference. However, when I started teaching as a TA, I was only three years older than most of my freshmen students, and Catherine was a bit more professional, a way to get them to take me seriously.

So, Catherine became my professional name. In my social life, most people called me Catherine or Cath. One friend even tried Cat, and I was okay with that. But no one called me Cathy anymore.

Then there was major identity shift number one. I became in charge of ELA, and I told my students that they were welcome to use the American college tradition and call me by my first name. One of my students from Puerto Rico talked to her father, who told her that she was absolutely forbidden to call me Catherine. She knew I had a doctorate, and her father thought it would be the epitome of bad taste for her not to acknowledge that. I thought for a moment about how I could marry exposure to US culture with the respect teachers were shown in her culture, and thus was Dr. Catherine born.

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Blue Zones Project: Diet and Exercise

What ho, Live Journal!

(The husband and I have been reading The World of Jeeves, Wodehouse's Jeeves short stories organized chronologically. Good, clean fun, but you start speaking affectedly two pages in.)

Spring break is over, and there really wasn't a lick of spring in it. Most of our temperatures were in the low 30s, with wind chills to boot. I was taking a cruise in my head, but my body was very much here. So, it wasn't bad, but it was not particularly memorable. And cold. I did mention that, yeah?

What did I find myself doing mostly? Watching videos, actually. My brain wanted a little downtime, and so we went with it. Over break, Bryon and I rewatched X. I watched Rock of Ages (do yourself a favor and don't go near the movie) and the last of Black Books. We went to see The Croods, and we started in on a rewatch of Revolutionary Girl Utena, which might get some journaling love.

But overall, I guess I was tired, and I needed a vacation. My acid reflux and I have been coming to terms with each other again, so I was busy with that as well. I am finding that the suggestions in the book I talked about the other day are helping some. Who would guess that a doctor would know what they are talking about?

At any rate, I am back in the saddle. That means work and writing and stuff like that.

And it means it's time for me to write another Blue Zones Post. I'm focusing on

Number One: Move Naturally
Number Four: Eighty Percent Rule
Number Five: Plant Slant

I wasn't keen to talk about these before, but now it's easy for me to talk about them, because of the recent changes in my portion size and digestive habits. Let me explain.

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Workshop Preparation

I've been using some spring break time to look at the stories of my compatriots at the upcoming Paradise Lost 3. I've read seven stories and it's interesting, the things that looking at other people's work will teach you. You see the reasons why your own stories don't work, because someone does something you should have thought of. You see ways in which your experience might be able to give an insight to someone else, because they aren't seeing something you can see.

One of the ways that Taos Toolbox has improved me is that I am always looking for the way in which a scene contributes to the story that we're reading. I used to write a lot for texture, diversions that I wanted to take, and ideas I wanted to flesh out. I think that's really important to explore in those first drafts, but ultimately, there has to be a thrust forward, a movement toward the end. So, yeah, I guess that little road trip was worth something.

***

What'll be interesting for this workshop is that the work I have submitted is pre-Taos. I have edited out a piece of the old Troll story, and I can see what a hot mess that sucker is, how it really wants to be more than one project, but how enamored I was with the coolness of the research, and how I wanted to put as much of it in as possible. Oy. This does not behoove well for the future. Will I be always doing this as I look back on my work? I believe that I will.

***

The rest of the break should be some writing on my novel, now that I've got the workshop prep done. This afternoon I have a little bill paying to do, followed up by writing a letter in Japanese for a thank you. Haven't done that for a while. Should be a little adventure.

My Little Disease Part 3: The Acid Reflux Solution by Jorge Rodriguez

The GERD has been pretty bad of late. Last Monday was a trip to the emergency room, already detailed earlier. I had an equally bad attack on another night, but decided hey, you know what this is. Suck it up. And it's been pretty stubborn and persistent since then.

I thought I would try a low acid diet, and the end result of that and too much antacid seems to be that I'm not digesting the food that I eat entirely. Sooo, that's not the result we want either.

I am trying a new book by Jorge Rodriguez called The Acid Reflux Solution, and it does limit certain foods that have been proven in studies to do things to the sphincter that causes the trouble (mint, coffee (yes, also decaf), caffeine, carbonation, chocolate, fried foods, saturated fat, booze, cigs, and processed foods), and it suggests you proceed with caution regarding the things you know are a problem. And of course, losing weight features heavily again.

Portion control is key in this book. I have not been good about this in the past. I manage pretty well at small meals most of the time, but if I go out, or if I am hungry at the end of the day, it's time for the gigantic dinner, and that, my friends, is a stomach distender. So, my goals is to eat smaller portions more frequently, which means I'll be a joy to dine with. You'll eat, and I'll...watch you eat. 😀 And you can watch me eat about five small meals a day. No eating after seven either, because then I'll turn into a bad gremlin.

Anyway, something's gotta give. I've been on acid reducers for the last 10 years, and that's not good for you, and there's talk of putting me on something stronger, and that'll be worse for me.

I go to see my gastroenterologist next week, and there's one more thing I'm going to ask about. It seems that the little esophogal flap can be repaired by a minimally evasive surgery now called (and I'm not making this up) Esophyx. I know, sounds like an Asterix and Obelix character. Anyway, that's a fantasy. People who undergo this surgery pretty much get a second chance at a normal digestive system. And I would respect the new system so much, that I would never, ever mistreat it. So, if I'm lucky, maybe I can talk them into it. Hey, it'd save money on a kabillion pills in the long run. I take TWO Aciphex a day, and one Zantac. So, that's pricey.

Well. I need to get up to some cat care and cooking. And I think some story critiquing, and actual novelizing, today or tomorrow.

Still waiting for someone to put the Spring in my spring break.

Lately (On fire!)

I wonder what you think.

Many of the writers I know are online less. Why? I have this crazy hypothesis that, like me, they are writing their little hearts out, sending out stories and working on novels. This takes up a fair amount of energy. For me, it's the same energy that I use to put together some of these entries.

Also, I'm interested (read--hot to do) the things I'm writing now, and so I'd rather be putting those together than writing about life. I enjoy writing about searching for the work/life balance. Sharing my research is an easy way to solidify my research and helps me with the writing. AND the writing interviews are fun, but they are not labor intensive on this end.

Yes, I am lazy blogger. But in my author life, baybee, I'm on fire! And I've got to be. I've got about 4800 more hours to write before I become the Beatles. ;P

I wonder if my writing friends are having the same kind of focus shift. Well, it's food for thought. Now, I have to do some editing. Instead of writing here.

On fire!

Isis

Isis is the mover and shaker of the Egyptian pantheon. She is one of the main antagonists and protagonists.

Early on, she poisons Ra, and while Ra is sick, she lets Ra know that she can cure him, but only if Ra gives her his true name. This means that Isis holds power over Ra, which is a handy thing.

Isis is an important character in the cycle of stories about her husband Osiris and his rivalry with their brother Set. Isis is responsible for finding all the pieces of Osiris and putting him back together long enough for her to engage his affections and conceive Horus. Isis and Horus hide from Set until Horus is old enough to challenge Set for the leadership of Egypt. We'll come back to that in another entry.

Isis governs the province of magic, and she has longevity, being worshiped into Greco-Roman times. She is a mistress of manipulation, representing the mother and the spouse, literally the great woman behind every man.