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writing

I typed,”He’d written the algorhythm that compared the camera takes to the database headshots.”

“Wait,” says one of my brain hemispheres to the other, “Something’s not right about that word.”

“Which word?” asks the other hemisphere, now three sentences ahead, sentences that have not been typed because apparently the typing is controlled by the hung up on spelling hemisphere.

“That one. The rhythm word.”

“But rhythm is right. That’s how you spell it. Looks weird, I know, but it’s right. I’m positive. And it can’t be ‘algo’ that’s wrong. That’s totally basic spelling, no tricks there.”

“Something is WRONG, I tell you.”

“Ok, ok.”

Placate now or forever lose your next three sentences.

I flip to dashboard’s dictionary app and type ALGOR, happy yet again for its completion search.

Algorithm, it tells me.

Ooooooh.

“See?! I told you something was wrong!”

Heh. Brains are funny. Algorithm. But I still say Algorhythm is a cool word. It should apply to something. Algorhythm: a word looking for a meaning. Give it one today. Meanwhile, I have three more sentences to type.

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I owe a state of the writing entry at some point, but this is not that. This is notekeeping about short pieces.

Things subbed to markets:

  • Another Boot (flash)
  • Stranger’s Child
  • Three Second Memory
  • Peeling Off The Pale

That’s the most things I’ve ever had out at one time, though I’ve had four things out at various points during 2007, but this time around none of those four things is “Hindsight”, which after more than two years of being almost the only thing I sent out and ten markets has officially been retired. I’m getting better at sending things out. Tea-leaf market reading at Duotrope says both “Stranger’s Child” and “Three Second Memory” have been at their markets longer than the average time for a rejection but ehhh, that doesn’t mean much, does it? I’m probably in for a couple of those “almost bought this” rejections that my stuff seems to be accruing lately.

Things that need to be polished and sent out:

  • Easier Next Time
  • Would Be Super (flash)
  • Lie Down With Dogs
  • How I Lost My Nissan 350Z

I pulled out “Easier Next Time” yesterday and realized with dismay it isn’t flash, as I believed, and also guh, it’s not speculative but is somewhat fluffy (as opposed to serious and significant) and I have no idea where to send it. Still, fixes first, markets second. It would be awesome if I got these four things out before the end of 2007. If I do all four of these, I can potentially double the items I am, as a friend says, “sending away for rejection letters.”

Things that are setting a while before edits which I believe I’m capable of:

  • Adding to Naught
  • El Vientre
  • The Genocide Hotel (temp title)

Things that are broken and I’d like to fix, but I’m not sure how:

  • Far From The Tree
  • Nine-Tenths
  • Found Objects
  • Loyal Companion

Things that are unfinished, but I mean to complete, soon as I figure out what goes next:

  • the bleak angel story
  • both failed slushbombs, the first one and the cooperative one
  • the one about the messages in the margins, so long as it isn’t “Found Objects” again (and I can’t tell yet)
  • the one about the camp kid building the voodoo doll
  • the one in the file called tattoocode.txt
  • the Chelia backstory one
  • a testing waters story in the new world I’m harboring, probably about carnaval
  • the post-apocalyptic segregated gender story
  • the one about the kid who reads the dying stars

There’s a lot left to write, even without digging into the idea file, which is itself voluminous. I suppose I can stop thinking of myself as someone who doesn’t have a lot of ideas. None of these sort of started stories are entered into the database. Key them in with “Started”, willya? Also, this is not exhaustive of the drabbles on the hard drive (or in paper! Ignore the paper!). I just mentally checked whether I was engaged with the idea represented in the file right this second, and left the others unlisted.

Things I mean to write but have not actually started:

  • the story about the ponies for Sophia (needs to be about 300 words, full plot and girl arc)
  • linked 55 word stories, a half a dozen or so (for Sophia)
  • standalone 55 word stories, another half dozen, YA slant
  • the VP Evil Overlord story, because really, it was an assignment, wasn’t it?

Things that are broken and shelved for now:

  • Egghead Kingdom
  • Ennui (suitable for mining, I think, together with Hindsight into some new monstrous whole)

Things that are shelved:

  • How Does Your Garden Grow (it’s not a strong enough story…I’m not happy enough with it)
  • Hindsight (also not a strong enough story, plus it’s been to ten markets! I will dismantle it and steal the good bits)
  • Olympus (aka the speculative version of Adding to Naught. I’m going to mine this at some point but it will never see light as it is)
  • My Viable Paradise Titanic story (it’s not very good, and that’s being kind)

Things that have sold:

  • The Way Before (flash)

Stories on the various lists which I wrote this year: Stranger’s Child, Three Second Memory, Would Be Super, Adding to Naught, El Vientre, The Genocide Hotel, The Way Before. There are no stories I wrote this year that are not represented. This inventory tells me that my stories are coming out less broken than they used to…so I must have internalized some author toolbox stuff, though I wouldn’t have known that from the writing itself. I’ve felt much less productive this year than last, and though I made less novelistic progress, I do appear to be regularly writing short stories so maybe I shall be less hard on myself about wordcount. Fewer words but the right words has greater value than the raw number of words, at least to me. I long to write brief anyway, so why tell myself I need to put in more words? (Amusing aside, I was given a very stern crit on “The Genocide Hotel” about not being afraid to add in more words. I always prefer winnowing to fattening. I wrote the recommendation down, so I would take it seriously). Examining the list(s) also tells me that I need stories to sit about six to nine months between writing and polishing. That’s a huge lag time and I’m going to have to figure out a way to shorten it (“Stranger’s Child” and “Three Second Memory” did not seem to need that long to steep, but “Three Second Memory” had been in my head a long time, and I cribbed plot for “Stranger’s Child” – uh, I mean it’s an homage). I think I will use wordcount tracking for novel progress and completion tracking for short pieces. Thus, I started and finished seven things this year. That’s fewer than I would like (but more than I expected). Also, if this exercise has been reliable, less of what I write needs to be discarded than I thought, and most of what does need to be discarded is stuff from my first year writing. Note to self, it’s easier to see progress when you make a list (or series of lists).

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20 Mar 2007, by

Random Thought

Maybe if I thought of revisions as translations I wouldn’t hate them so much.

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Right. So I realize I vanished for a long time (I use the metric of whether my brother in law asks me if I’m ever going to blog again to know whether it’s been a long time. This past weekend, he asked). But the crocuses are back, and the woodpecker too (even though the city cut down the tree he lived in last year and I thought I might not see him again) so why not me too? I have returned!

As of yesterday, I sold my first story. No kidding. It’s “The Way Before”, going to Escape Pod, which is a dream market for me because a – I love it and b – I think audio stories are the bomb and c – it has a wider listenership than F&SF has subscribers. Thousands of people could hear my story. Ha! And here’s the thing : I completely was not expecting it, because my story didn’t make it to the finals in the Contest. Now, all along Steve (editor) had said “top three get special prizes plus standard contracts to whichever other ones I like,” but I had just kind of assumed those would be culled from the other finalists. So imagine my surprise when he announced which stories he was going to buy (an additional nine, besides the winners) and my story was on the list. I thought it must be a typo, then found the email with the story contract in my inbox. Vertigo, shouting and dancing ensued in quick succession.

I’m going to be published, though probably not promptly. About six months, I think. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when my story is available for download. With any luck, it’ll be read by someone who doesn’t stumble over the pseudo-Quechua names.

Not only am I going to audio, I have three other things out in markets. I rock. Not as much as I could, as there should be way more stuff out trying to find homes, but still. Nolove from Fantasy magazine on “Stranger’s Child” so I sent it elsewhere, and turned around “Another Boot” on Flashquake’s rejection (the classic rejection for me: this story is about too many things at once). Though I’m sure they didn’t peg it as a Garden of Eden story. Those serial numbers well filed. “Hindsight” still out, too, and I’m going to trunk it when it gets 10 rejections. It’s done well for me as a thing I can stand to have rejected, but I’m not sure it’s really publishable.

So other than the obvious giddy inducing first sale, writing lately is a little…spotty. I seem to be beginning things just fine, but I don’t seem to be able to finish anything. So because I’m a listmaker, here’s a list of the things I’m currently working on. There’s a meme I’ve seen a lot of places lately that has writers posting the first lines of their published things, or their works in progress, or their unfinished things, or whatever. so I’m going to use the first line meme as a frame for my list. First lines is one of the things I’m terrible at, but working hard on, so this is good work for me in more ways than one. In fact, highly verbal and unselfconscious me totally shut down at Viable Paradise during the opening line exercise. I wrote them, but they were all so bad I refused to read them aloud. Which, you know, is not like me at all. But I’m working on it. Here are some fruits of my work, though you’d be wise to watch for worms and rot.

  • the glass ghost story, untitled, “Daisy stood as close to the tank as she could, watching the shark.” Here is the counterexample to my bad opening lines claim. I’m completely happy with that line: it sets tone, foreshadows, tells you about the world, and suggests the menace I want. I don’t think I can get much more work out of an opening line. I don’t know how hooky it is, which is my biggest weakness, but it’s about as hooky as I can come up with at this competence level. The only thing I’m not sure on is the protag’s name, but that’s just a placeholder.
  • the margins story, also untitled and which has two opening lines at the moment. 1 – “Millie was the sort of girl no one usually addressed.” or 2 – “Millie sat in her corner of the library, reading her book, knowing it would be up to her to observe when it was time to leave, because neither her classmates nor her teacher would notice her absence.” 1 is backstory, too much like telling and having an obvious narrator. 2 is clunky. Neither matters until I get this written to the end, of course, but they’re both pretty terrible as is.
  • This one might be called “Tattoo Code”, or it might be called something else, “‘Share with me,’ the man behind the counter said, when he saw the Mardi Gras colors shifting over my skin.” Does some good work but isn’t hooky enough.
  • the moving backward hard to plot one, no title,”Time is a luxury, they say. I miss my wine cellar, the fit of tailored clothing, and sailing. Those were the extravagances I sought before, and would gladly indulge in again, were I able.” Yech, there’s nice resonance with the luxuries there but I’m not sure I can afford to start with a cliche. Does a saying qualify as cliche? I don’t know, but this opening line doesn’t work as a standalone (I had to add the second line) and it’s certainly not hooky.
  • untitled, nursing home one, “‘What really counts is people.'” Not all that hooky, but it’s dialog, so I think I’m allowed some leeway.
  • Provisionally titled “The Genocide Hotel”, “Josh stood in the lobby with his tablet tucked under his arm and the guest card gripped tightly in his right hand”. Needs work, I believe.

These are only things I’ve started in the past few weeks, of course, not counting the reams of other unfinished things from the past two years. I’d like to get back to finishing things, and not just starting them.

In other news, my new favorite song is Gogol Bordellos “Not A Crime”, though I still love their “Start Wearing Purple” too.

iTunes says I was listening to Not A Crime from the album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike by Gogol Bordello when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.

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And I just cannot help but tell you. I submitted a piece of flash fiction to Escape Pod’s 300 word flash fiction contest. So did my friend, the Queen of Plot. Because Escape Pod rocks, and this is the first time I’ve seen a call for something not reprints, which is what they usually favor. Even better, it’s a reader (listener?) rated contest. No, I’m not going to tell you which one is mine, that would be against the rulez, but you should join the forums and read the various flash bits and vote for your favorites nonetheless. I’d vote for myself (and other ones I like), but I’m scared to read the comments on my piece. My ego is weak, weak. But you have no stake, right? So go, enjoy. Discover the wondrous good that is Escape Pod. Even though I’ve linked some of the stories here before, in a few weeks I intend to do a “Best of Escape Pod” post, so you can stay tuned for my five or eight favorite stories ever from Escape Pod.

This makes three things I have out in submissions, more than I’ve ever had out before. Ha.

You notice how I revealed one secret so that I could hold back another? Double ha.

Also, I shoveled snow today. For the first time. In my life.

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14 Dec 2006, by

Not good enough.

So I guess it’s about time I wrote a little something about writing. I don’t actually want to. I have no good news and I’m doing whatever I can to avoid thinking, working, anything on this topic. I’ve written almost nothing for – oh, about three months now – and if I hadn’t given myself a deadline of November 2008 to beat my head against this wall I would have quit by now because ugh, the headache. I want out. I apologize in advance for how negative and discouraging this post is going to be and my only excuse is eh, you (at least one of you) asked.

  • Exhibit A: I’ve done this for two years and published nothing. To be fair, I’ve sent out almost nothing, but that’s because I can’t stand any of it. I have a grand total of six rejections, all from the same story, the only one I ever sent anywhere. That’s nearly all my problems right there : I don’t write enough plus I don’t like what I write enough to send it anywhere plus when I miraculously get up the gumption to send something somewhere it gets rejected (which, naturally, is no surprise, since I knew it sucked before I sent it).
  • Exhibit B: There’s no faster way for me to feel bad about something I’ve written than to read it at my writer’s group. I’m not sure why this is. I don’t think it’s because I can’t take criticism, but that may be it. I don’t think it’s because I’m convinced what I’ve written is great, since I’m pretty sure nothing I’ve written so far is great. Though I long for something to be. Just like that, all archaic and yearning. I want to write something great. But obviously, I haven’t yet. Anyway, usually I’m just reading things I think are passable but need help, and when I get to the end and hear everyone’s comments I just feel like the thing is sullied and worthless. These are not even comments that are wholly negative, I should explain. My writer’s group has a pretty soft touch. Usually I feel like I totally failed to get anything across. Like I came in and read a poor version of Jabberwocky, all nonsense words in the right syntactical places, but failing to convey any meaning. Or like it’s the wrong trousers and they’re all wrong. It’s not them, I’m pretty sure. It’s me. Still, I’ve got to figure out how to handle criticism, right? Totally basic, necessary skill. Skill I thought I had, too, so I don’t know what’s wrong with me these days. I’ve also got to figure out how to read aloud something I’ve written and not hate every word as my mouth shapes it, but I don’t know how to learn that, because it seems to be something I unlearned.
  • Exhibit C: I’m not sure I love writing anymore. I don’t love doing it, and I certainly don’t love having anyone else read anything I’ve written. It’s totally agonizing to contemplate sending things out for people to read. It all sucks! It’s all broken! Sometimes I even know how it’s broken, but so rare that I can fix it. Blech. I hate every word! If I hate every word, and I wrote them, how can I expect anyone else to feel otherwise?
  • Exhibit D: Ok, so I lied in exhibit C. I don’t hate every word. A couple of weeks ago I was rummaging through some papers and happened upon my failed slush bomb story. And I got sucked completely into it. And I loved it. But you know what? That story doesn’t go anywhere. It’s stuck. So what’s all the pretty, engaging writing get me? Nothing. Not a thing. Because there’s no story there. Well, there’s a story there but I can’t get at it, I can’t make it come out. Just another three pages full of word detritus that doesn’t cohere. And I don’t know which is worse, all the finished stories which are not right or all the unfinished stories which are so promising but I don’t appear to have the ability to fashion to completion.

I can’t honestly say I suck at writing, but I’m pretty sure that however good I may be, it is not good enough. I fall short. Maybe I harbored too many dreams of greatness, I don’t know. I was pretty sure I had my head on straight, non-delusionally, when I started this. I didn’t think it would be easy, and I didn’t think I’d make any money, but I guess I thought I’d be pretty happy with what I wrote. And I’m not. At all. It’s not good enough. None of it is good enough. It’s all I can do not to start a big bonfire and reformat my drive. Meanwhile, as I exercise the great restraint of not purging the world of my poor words, I’m expected to polish and edit and send all those sad little specimens somewhere? When I can see every blindness, every deafness, every cleft palate, every club foot? How inhumane a task is that to set oneself? I swear I’m not a perfectionist, though I’m sure this rant will sound like I am. I’m a complete and total believer in good enough instead of perfect. Problem is, I can’t even get as far as good enough. I’m not sure how much better, or longer, I can fail.

Gah. I’m sorry I subjected you to this. You can see, maybe, why I didn’t really bring it up. Next time, maybe you’ll think twice before asking.

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21 Nov 2006, by

Le mot juste

Ok, this is going to be very short, because I’m very tired, but I’m trying so hard not to miss a day! I’m really excited because I just got back from a crit group where we’re going over Cualcotel. My readers got new, from-scratch written text (as opposed to edited and reworked), because this is where the novel takes a sharp turn from last draft and enters undiscovered plot country. So, I hesitantly added several cans of plot to thicken the stew, hoping I wasn’t totally botching it because you know me and plot. So…both readers thought it was good, and the queen of plot actually said I’d done a fine job. Damn, if it wasn’t like getting a smiley face sticker or an A++ on a paper. Skills, slowly and painfully acquired, while you wait. That’s what I’m talking about!

Anyway, the rush of joy is so great, that I give you freebie text. Have some bits of Cualcotel that I liked very much but had to go, for plot reasons. So it’s nothing that will ever appear anywhere except right here:

It was as though she were still dreaming, or maybe watching herself across a courtyard from a balcony in another building. It wasn’t really she standing before a broken palace. Chelia laid her hand on Punyami’s neck and stroked his ears. The velvet smoothness of them anchored her in a way that her own feet did not. Smoke clung unnaturally to tumbled down rocks. It didn’t disperse in the cool mountain breeze. The air was especially cool on her bare arms, making her wish (again) that she’d had a chance to dress and get an overshirt. She shivered. Chelia had stopped, and everyone around her still moved. She was jostled aside by a trio of sun virgins carrying large bouquets of flowers. The guard was far ahead. He had neither stopped nor acted surprised at the sight of the wrecked palace. She darted between the crowds to reach him. Punyami followed.

and then a bit later this line of dialog from the guard was also excised : “No battle, keeper-to-be, the Kingdom of the Sun takes its wars to others. War is not brought to us.”

See? When the writing goes ok, we all win!

But that’s not enough, is it? Alright, then, here’s the text that replaced what was cut in a never before seen preview of my work in progress Cualcotel:

Chelia’s throat closed up, stifling the whimper rising in her. She laid her hand on Punyami’s neck, calmed by the motion of his muscles as he walked with her. She would never enter that trapezoidal door again. Her father would not allow it. He’d given her Punyami. They kept one another safe.

I’m going to have to do something about that word trapezoidal. So far slanted and leaning have bombed as replacements, and really, they’re trapezoidal. Le mot juste and so forth. I think it stops the eye on the page, though. Anyway, plenty of time to think about something other than trapezoidal to put there after it’s finished, right?

That’s all, folks. Have a good night.

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I know that I often complain about (bad) poetry, but sometimes – it’s true – a poem can say things that no other form quite can. If I could write a poem as beautiful as Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ausencia“, I would write such in memory of Simone. As a lesser artist, I will have to satisfy myself with the work of translation instead, and hope that I do not diminish the work with my efforts.

Absence by Jorge Luis Borges (translation mine)

I shall have to lift the vast life
that even now is your mirror:
every morning I shall have to rebuild it.
Since you have gone away,
many places have turned vain
and senseless, like
lights during the day.
Afternoons that were alcoves for your image,
songs where you waited for me,
words from yonder time,
I’ll have to break them with my hands.
In which ditch shall I hide my soul
so it will not see your absence
like a terrible sun, at constant zenith,
shining calculated and ruthless?
Your absence surrounds me
like a rope around my throat,

like the sea in which I drown.

For grins, and to show you just how limited my translation skills are, here’s Google’s run at the same text.

Absence by Jorge Luis Borges (translation Google’s)

I will have to raise the vast life
that still now is your mirror:
each morning I will have to reconstruct it.
Ever since you moved away,
how many places have become vain
and without sense, equal
to lights in the day.
Afternoons that were niche of your image,
musics in which always you waited to me,
words of that time,

I will have to break them with my hands.
In what depression I will hide my soul

so that he does not see your absence
that like a terrible sun, without decline,

shines definitive and ruthless?
Your absence surrounds me
like the cord to the throat,
the sea to which it sinks.

I read these at my writer’s group back in July. Several people mentioned that places publish translations and that I ought to submit my version. It went like this :
“You should submit that for publication.”
“I didn’t write it.”
“Places take translations. That counts.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, all sorts of places small presses, university presses…”
“Nah, really?”
“Yes. Really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. You should submit this.”

Heh. It’s still kind of mindboggling. I can see why someone might hire someone to translate a work. But just sending out an unsolicited translation somewhere? That seems like crazy talk, to me. And you know, I didn’t write it. That’s the bottom line. But then, I was two seconds from thinking “I could translate all of Borges. I could fix the brokenness in the translations I’ve read of Ficciones. That would rock.” It has its appeal. But almost certainly in mending some words and sentences I would break others. Translations are doomed to be approximations, imperfect. As for submitting the poem, I think I succesfully undercut that by posting it here. Not to mention that you have to do your own work of securing the copyright. What a pain. So if I do end up translating all Borges’ work, you’ll never see it.

One of the myriad tiny ways Spanish is not like English : there are no separate words for “worse” and “worst” nor for “better” and “best”. Sometimes, you can say “lo peor” or “lo mejor” and convey that this is the single worst thing, but essentially, there’s not a lone superlative word like there is in English. Another way the two are not the same: I’ve spent long minutes trying to come up with the English word for when you put a half lemon on that little conical ridged thing and press down to squeeze out the juice, and I was blank. Is there not a single verb for that? Is it the generic “squeezed”? There’s no sense of wringing out in squeezed, no sense that you’ve stripped the lemon. How disappointing. I’m looking, of course, for the equivalent of “exprimir”. My handy-dandy Spanish/English translator tells me I’m looking for the word “express” but ugh, how inelegant. And were I to use “express” how many people would assume I was using it in the far more common “to convey” sense and not the “to squeeze out the juice” sense?

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