Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recovering Habits: Basements and 8-Hour Challenges

I have recovered quite a bit since last week.  I have been dreaming and stories are coming back to me.  However, I have been significantly knocked out of my habits.  And.... as tends to happen when life throws you for a loop, bad habits storm in, while the good ones run for the hills.

This is not entirely a bad thing.  Being able to zone out when life is hitting you hard can be a great way to keep it together.  I happen to play puzzle games when this happens.  And I often come out of it with SERIOUS game addiction.  I am currently struggling with Bejeweled.

So the problem I cited last week -- having lost the ability to do certain things -- turned out to be temporary. The real problem is that I have such a terrible need to get certain little gems all in a row, that I sometimes wish that cars on the highway would just slide over into that open space rigth beside them and create a five-in-a-row lightening gem.

My brain, now that it has recovered most of its parts, needs puzzle diversion challenges, and I have two tried and true methods.  They both are ways to practice accomplishing things.

Method #1 - Clearing Junk

This is a particularly useful way to get back in the swing of things after major life issues, but it also works when you have just been too busy to think and a lot of junk has piled up that you didn't have time to take care of.  I also tend to call this "GTD" which stands for Dave Allen's "Getting Things Done" but you don't have to use any particular methodology.

Pick a closet, a junk drawer, the pantry cupboards, your desk, the garage -- anything you've been meaning to get done -- and start clearing it out or fixing it or doing whatever needs to be done with it.  If you really need to rebuild habits -- to the extent that you aren't writing anything -- pick a BIG project and do this in your writing time.  (This works extra well if it overlaps with your creative life in some way -- either involves the subject matter of something you're writing, or you are pulling out old creative work.)

And treat it like a writing project.  Brainstorm.  Plan, and organize, and even buy things for it.  Make seven trips to Staples to buy banker boxes and a quick document scanner.  Start taking notes on further projects this one will spawn. ("Oh, look at all those family photos. I really should scan those for posterity...." Don't stop to scan.  DO take notes on what you might need to do that project -- like a slide scanner, or a space to work in -- and put that list with the photos.)

You will find this job often reflects the sort of discipline you have for your writing, even those "blocked" moments -- just as you need to stop to beat out a detail, or do some research, so you MUST head to Staples for the aforementioned banker boxes.  Possibly to the point of dropping everything in order to do this.

I will likely talk more about this next week, as I have many amusing things to say about what I'm doing in my basement this week.  Right now I will just point out one thing:

In the course of creating an archive for my old photos, artwork, and ephemera/paper collectables, I came across a book of cartoons I did in high school.  They were all on the theme of "Sheep."  They involved these little straight-faced sheep -- fluffy cloud-like body, closed eyes, no mouth, stick legs -- who, in the course of ever more elaborate puns, did all sorts of funny and interesting things.  The captions were not actually clever, nor supposed to be, but were setups for the sheep themselves, who were strangely expressive for creatures with no facial expression.

There are 40-50 of these, and several more captionless sketches.  (My favorites are the little sheep playing a big cello, and the "sheep wreck.")  I will probably post some later on, because my scanner is in a drawer and there is no place to put it.  I don't know what I'm going to do with it, maybe a book, maybe a website.  Maybe t-shirts?

In the meantime the other method of getting back into gear.....

Method #2 - The 8-Hour Challenge

This started with Joe Konrath. Fueled by alcohol, I think, he sent out this challenge one day a year or so ago for people to conceive, write, edit, format, and upload a little book in the period of eight hours.  At the end of the day in question, people sent him their links, and he posted them somewhere.

This, of course, is insane.

Which means that a bunch of people on KBoards decided to make this a regular event.  Except they change the rules somewhat.  Not all on one day, the eight hours don't have to be consecutive. I think they actually expanded it to an outside limit of 24-hours (non-consecutive).

And that is actually a magical thing.  Because if you say "I'm going to do X in a week," you really are leaving yourself a lot of fuzzy time.  You might spend 60-80 hours in a week, or you might spend 8 minutes.  If you actualy give yourself a goal on accomplishing something in a specific number of working hours, though, that can really focus you on a task. 

For instance: This month, the KB folks are choosing finishing unfinished works in their 8-24 hour challenge.  It's all about getting 'er done.  And very often all we need is a few concentrated hours to actually finish something.

I'm going to do some non-fiction for this challenge.  I have been meaning to collect posts from this blog, for instance, into themed booklets.  I have gone so far as to comb through the 1300+ old posts and picked out a number of them, organized which ones might go together.... and proceeded to get stuck on the editing for publication.  Because it's really easy to say "You know, that one's practically ready right now, but this one that goes with it really needs work. I could write a new one from scratch...."

And then get lost in editing and super-ambitious rewrites.  Or just think it's too big of a job for now, and go off and do something else.

So I'm going to stop dithering and being ambitious and just say, "You have eight hours to get this booklet done -- and only six for editing. Save the other two for formatting and such."

I've done similar things -- without intending it -- on finishing a short story.  I'll find a draft that's 3/4 done, or done but for some tricky editing, and I'll just see how far I can get with it in a single session.  And often, if I did this because I had a specific idea in mind, I will get it done, and ready to do that one night.

So, anyway, I'm still not fully back in gear, but I am getting there.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Fog of the Change

This is a difficult blog post to write.

Oh, no,  not emotionally difficult.  It's just that words are failing me a lot lately, and ALL blog posts are difficult to write.  It's difficult to write a shopping list, actually.

It's a hormone thing.  The French refer to it as something that happens to ladies of "un certain age."  Also known as "The Change." The Big M: Menopause.

And I had been warned: Many if not most women experience a fogginess of brain at the time of the change.  It can last for months, a year, even forever.

What I hadn't been warned about was that this "fogginess" has a devastating affect on my creativity.  I have lost most of my narrative functions.  I don't even dream any more.

And that's downright scary, considering that I have always been a lucid dreamer.  That is, for as long as I can remember, I have been able to drop myself into a dream state at will, and when I sleep my dreams have always been vibrant, strange, entertaining narratives in which I play many parts.

My usual habit, on going to bed, is to drop myself into the skin of a character and let my unconscious run loose.  But for the past month or two I drop myself into a character and then... nothing.  The character sits there until I go to sleep.  On the few occasions where I think I remember a dream, it was purely abstract -- no characters, no language, no drama or emotion.  More like... math homework.

On the other hand, it is less scary, because it tells me that my issues with writing really are biological.  And it's also kind of familiar, because during peri-menopause -- the build up to The Change -- I had monthly migraines that were a mini version of this.

What To Do About This

With a migraine, the main strategy is waiting it out.  And that may be possible with this.  The fact that I am aware of it may be a sign it's letting up.  (Often I didn't know what was wrong during a migraine until late in the process.)

But those words "... it could last as long as a year, or maybe forever..." kinda hang over my head.  If this is a permanent change in brain function, then it will have to be dealt with.

Start with the usual health stuff.  Consulting doctor, etc.  (However, the "fog" issue is not something well studied, and most of the literature kinda shrugs at whether anything will actually work for it.  Or even why it happens.)

Lose weight ("There's estrogen in them there fat cells!")  Except one of the side effects of this is an insanely short attention span.  I mean, it's not just the Homer Simpson effect: "I should cut out donuts from my diet .... mmmmmmm, donuts."  It's more a matter that I am thinking about how easy it is to cut out pop from my diet because I'm not feeling any cravings for it at all while I'm sipping away at a Big Gulp, and then when I notice that I just finished it, I am thinking "No more refills" WHILE I REFILL THE DANG THING.

If the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in my head is a test of intelligence, I have become a genius.

Occupational Therapy

It seems to me, though, that if this is a long term thing, that the first step is to treat it like an injury or a stroke.  Figure out what you can and can't do, and retrain yourself.

What I can do: I can beat out a scene.  This is very strange, but I can take a scene that was stuck for years, and beat out the logic of "this happens, then that happens, then that happens" and make it flow emotionally, etc.  I think this is because fitting the pieces of a scene together can be like a puzzle, and I can do puzzles.

What I can't do: I can't go on and write that scene.  I can't do "voice" right now.  The best I can do is flounder around with false starts for a long time, until I get a sentence or two.

I can: Edit finished work that just needs corrections or pragmatic shortening. (This is good because I've got a novel for you.  More about that in another post.)

I can't: Edit things that require new passages.  (Can't do voice.)

I can't: do big plot arcs, or do much with brainstorming.

I can't: do those analytical blog posts I usually do. The ones where I break down a story or film, or go into depth on it.  That started last year: I can start it, but I hit a wall.  I find that right now, I'm hitting a within a paragraph of starting.

And that, I think, might have some fatigue issue.  Brainstorming is probably a fatigue issue too.  So I'm holding off on that for a while -- just testing the waters now and then.

The big issue, though, is voice.  If I can't drop into a character and have something happen, that's a problem.  But part of that problem is that I tend to do that on a very advanced level.  My existing projects require highly nuanced voices.  So here is where the occupational therapy kicks in: I need to go back and do some beginner things.  Classroom exercises.  Writing from a prompt, jut a paragraph or so, and see if I can remind my brain of what it used to do.

The New Book

I'm also doing final edits on a book I wrote way back in the 1990s.  It is mostly well polished, because I was sending it around to publishers back then.  Editors found it charming but hard to place in commercial terms.  (I will tell you more abou that later -- probably Friday.)  There is one chapter that rambles too much, but otherwise, it really does give me an idea of what I'm aiming at.

So, ironically, I hope to be publishing a "new" book in October, in spite of the brain fog.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Life as a Science Project

Time to start blogging again.  I was going to wait until the end of September, but a lifetime in academia has primed me to feel that the seasons change on Labor Day.  It's September: the start of the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Harvest, cool weather, colors.

I haven't seen any fuzzy caterpillars in a long time, so I can't use them to predict anything of the coming winter -- but if the orange and grey coat on Miss Cookie the Semi-Feral Cat is any indication, we're in for a doozy of a winter.

So it's time to get back to work. 

I don't have a firm blogging schedule in mind, but in general my plan is to post up to three times a week, when I have the material.  Fridays will be the "Friday Favorites" stuff: reviews and commentaries on movies and books and things like that.  Wednesdays will likely be devoted to writer stuff.  More about that ON Wednesday.

And Mondays.... Mondays will be a kind of "Life in Michigan" column. Sometimes this will be closely related to writing.  Other times, the relation to writing will be less obvious -- just that this is the life that inspires what I write.

Fermentation: Life as a Science Project

I make my own bread. And though I don't cultivate my own sour dough, all bread making depends on the culture of live active yeast.

But it has been too hot to bake most of this summer.

I also make my own yogurt -- which is basically the art of spoiling milk in just the right way.  But before you can culture it with the right bacteria, you have to pasteurize it to kill the bad bacteria.

And it's too hot for pasteurization, even if the temperature is just right for culturing the yogurt.


I never made pickles because I don't like canning, but real fermented pickles (and kim chee and sour kraut) aren't really meant to be canned.  If you do a short cut version, where you just steep them in vinegar, sure -- can them.  But if you actually ferment your own pickles, then by golly, you don't need to heat anything up.  You just salt it and let it rot.

Here's how pickles work: you pour brine over them, and the salt kills the bad bacterial, but certain positive bacteria -- the "lacto" bacterias that make yogurt and sour cream and which everybody touts as being the key to health these days -- like the salt just fine.  They get to work turning the starches and other compounds in the food into vinegar, which will also help preserve the food.

I also happen to really like lacto-fermeted lemons, but often find people make them too salty, so wouldn't it be cool to make my own?

So this summer I layered a couple of slices of lemon, and then garlic, dill and cucumber slices in a jar with a little mustard seed and peppercorns, and poured brine over them. (One tablespoon salt to a pint of water -- an average brine -- could be saltier or not, depending on how long you want to keep the pickles.)  I also poured in a little booster of yogurt whey to be sure there was some lacto bacteria around to do the job.

I then put a small glass jar on top of them to press the floating veggies down into the brine.  And I've swished and burped them every day since.

One Week Later....

Almost every recipe I came across for lacto-fermenting pickles says they should be done in three days and to leave them a week if you like them more sour.  And they also say that the brine should become cloudy in a day or two, which they did.

However, in spite of bubbling and cloudiness, and a wonderful smell of dill and garlic, my pickles right now taste wonderfully of the spices and salt ... but aren't particularly sour.  As a matter of fact, to my taste, they aren't sour at all.


It may have something to do with the fact that I forgot to use distilled water, and there's chlorine in tap water.  They do say that the chlorine dissipates after a day, and I added more yogurt whey the second day -- AND the pickles did indeed ferment as advertised. However, it was whey from Dannon yogurt, which isn't very sour.  Maybe that's an issue.

Or maybe it's just that most people are in a hurry and find that it's good enough to just let the seasonings seep into the pickles.  After a few days, the pickles do taste pretty good. They're just not sour.  There was that one recipe which said to let the pickles ferment for a month or two -- this, to me, indicates that maybe the 3-day folks are not giving it time.

I'm thinking of sticking the jar in a warm water bath like I do with yogurt.  Keep them at 90-100 degrees for 24 hours and see what happens.

I'm also thinking of starting over -- just eating these and starting another batch, this time being really strict about my ingredients, AND using a warm water bath, AND leaving it longer.

But I'm not sure the garden has any more cucumbers for me.  It has been a blight year.  So I might make kim chee or pickled lemons.

OR... maybe I should cheat and put the pickles in a seasoned vinegar bath.  Not cook or can them -- so the healthy bacteria stay around -- but just give them a little more seasoning.

Or just eat them.  Because they do taste pretty good.

In the meantime....

Happy Labor Day!

Take a moment to remember that every aspect of your life was made possible by thousands of wage laborers.  Nobody built anything without them.  Labor built the roads, manufactured the tools, harvested the crops, built the buildings, wove the cotton, made your clothes. Labor keeps the water and electricity flowing, puts together the device you're reading this on, drove the truck to transport it.  Labor makes your Big Mac, films your movies and smiles for your cameras, and sings for you iPods.

And never forget that not all that labor is fairly paid or gets a day off, or has healthcare, or safety protections.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Writing for Real Now - No More Updates

Detcon had an effect on me that I'm not sure I can express without writing a dissertation on it.  But I will give you a shorter, if inexact version:

Detcon was a catalyst for all the threads in my life right now. 

It was partly what happened (giving me a glimpse of the kind of reader-writer culture I haven't seen in a while, a reminder of what all this is about) and partly when it happened (summer, when I'm usually shaking things up and hatching some changes).

The thing that was drumming in my head from the moment I walked into the con and felt the atmosphere was: Shut Up And Write.

Nobody at the con actually said that in my hearing.  It wasn't even a subtext of anything I heard or saw.  And, even more odd, the cool element in the con that made me think that phrase was not about shutting up and writing: it was about talking. About talking between readers and writers and fans.

It was a reminder of what was important, and that was the sharing of story between writer and reader.

I will talk about this in the near future, but right now I want to tell you what a week of thinking about this has changed -- which is my relationship with the internet.

No More Updates

The first big change is that I know what this blog has to be now.  And it ain't a place where I post word counts.  It's a place for serious, if informal, discussion of story.  That may involve talk about the writing life and business and personal issues -- but only in the service of talking about story.  Life begets stories, stories inform life.

The main thing is, though, that I consider this blog to be a part of my body of work.  When someone who knows nothing about me happens upon my blog, I want them to be presented with something of value.  Something worth their time.

Which means that, although I might want to post a funny story about getting lost in the Renaissance Center while at Detcon, it really can't involve things like, "!204 words today. Not bad.  I wanted to do better, but I made my goals...."

Not that there is anything wrong with posting that sort of thing on a blog, but for me, that stuff belongs on Twitter.  Twitter is ideal for the mundane hatchmarks of life that won't matter to me a week from now.  And one of the reasons why is because Twitter limits me to 140 characters.  Some people may be able to handle quick informal reporting -- I can't.  No matter what I vow to do, I end up fussing over it and spending three hours on it, then trashing it an writing it up anew.

I realize that this may be the explanation as to why self-discipline doesn't work for me... because I get all geeked out about the record keeping and go chasing after that rather than what I should be doing.

So... What Next?

Well, I'm dropping out of ROW80 except on Twitter and encouragement of other participants.  And that 175 Day Not-Really-Blogging experiment is, well, changed.  I'm not going to post any more junk posts -- and I may remove at least some of the update posts I did this summer -- but I may not post anything else until the end of that time either. 

Right now my instinct is to start posting again in September, and even then, post slowly.  I might post some of my reports from Detcon before then. 

In the meantime I'm continuing to work on the WIPs, and also write short fiction for the paying magazine market.  I am determined to break into Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  I'll be marking my progress on Twitter.  You can find me there at @camillelaguire.

And, as always...

I'll see you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 16(ish) - Back from Detcon

Got back from NASFIC (The North American Science Fiction Conference) which is the "world con substitute" held in any year the real World Con is held somewhere outside of North America.

This year it was held in Detroit, at the beautiful, but incredibly complex and not particularly handicapper accessable Renaissance Center.  It was a wonderful conference and I have loads of things to tell you about.  Lots of great inspiration and ideas.... and yet, I noticed, as the conference wore on, I took fewer and fewer notes, with a few exceptions.

What happened was that the verbal/social centers of my brain completely burned out.  Because I'm not shy, most people don't realize that I am an introvert, and just being in the proximity of this many people and this many conversations (fascinating conversations!) wears me out.

When the conference began, every conversation had my brain fired up with spinning words and ideas, and I couldn't wait to sit down and start writing up a con report and maybe some blog posts.  But usually by then it was very late and time to go to bed, so I took some notes for later.  By the end of the con, I was still conversing reasonably well, and could more or less think... but my ability to compose words had been reduced to a Frankenstein level.  "Errrrrrr.  Fire bad!  Errrrrrrr!"

Or, actually, more like dead silence.

Even after a night's sleep at home, I found that I had progressed only to writing shopping lists and maybe taking some notes.  I suspect the con report will come out as a series of posts this fall.  Or maybe I'll post bits, along with pictures, for updates over hte next few weeks.

All the same, I am energized on writing and art and everything.  I had a bunch of ideas for short stories, in particular. And in spite of the sprained verbal center of the brain (it can hobble and flex a little now, but not dance) I find myself moving back into the stories.

I think I'm gong to give myself all tomorrow to edit and plot.  However, I think I will leave you with an image. My photo doesn't do it justice -- but we began the week by visiting the Detroit Institute of Art, where there is a room -- a grand hall really -- with Diego Rivera's monumental tributes to Michigan industry.  I knew there was a Rivera mural there, I hadn't realized that it was a whole hall, and I had not realized that's the room we were stepping into when we walked in to see this.  It's one of those jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring moments.  And words just don't suffice.

This is one part of it -- the central figures of the main panel on one side of the room -- but there was a lot more to this image, and there were many more panels.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Oops - A Break for Detcon

I'll be going to Detcon, which is a NASFIC convention, which is what gets held in North America when World Con is held out of the region.  It's in Detroit which is not that far, and it is held at the lovely Renaissance Center.

It kinda crept up on me, as did a number of other things, so I realize this week is unlikely to see much (or any) progress on anything.  I may or may not post con reports during the convention, but if not, I'll likely post thigns afterward.

I think that what I might try to do is print out what I have of In Flight (which has lots of duplications and such) and mark it up in idle moments.  And also keep my deck of handy index cards to see if I can game out more of the nefarious plot behind The Man Who Ran Away.

That book, by the way, had a major break through after I posted the bit about casting the parts.  I realized that the Mary Wickes character might own the property next to the Country Club, the one where Karla used to ride her pony over to weekly Saddle Club shows.  Given that she is elderly and a former athlete, she probably sponsored that club, and would probably remember Karla....  I was thinking that property may be the MacGuffin, but now it's more.

Anyway, I may not be posting again until next Tuesday night.

(But if any of YOU are going to Detcon, drop me a comment or something.)

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 6 - Casting the Characters

I've been busy (made more bread, more creton for the elderly cat, ragout pour moi, found stashes of old books to read, plus typography work to be done, more health kerfuffle...) but things are going well.  Staying a little ahead of my goals

Here's my ROW80+ Goal Meter (my goals are listed here):

7124 / 87000 words. 8% done!

Wednesday: Day 3: 1220
Thursday, Day 4: 1113
Friday, Day 5: 1125
Saturday, Day 6: 1157

I've been hitting two sessions most days -- one mid-afternoon, one late.  I think that one of the down-sides of blogging is that I tend to lose the late session, especially on busy days.

These sessions have been making progress on both WIPs.

I've been spending some time catching up on reading around the internet -- in particular publishing issues.  It's entertaining, but I think I've had enough for a while.

But the most fun thing I've done this part of the week was go back to the Story Game.

The Casting Game

I am still playing around with too many options, and not enough of the right kind of detail in terms of the mystery.

If you remember, I played around with a variation on the Relationship Circle game to create a cast of characters for mystery, and I did one for The Man Who Ran Away, and found it fruitful.  It gave me the setting for the story, etc. But I just need....  more personality to it.  I keep getting hung up on choices.  I have so many good ones....

Well, I had this other version of that game. I called it the casting game.  I took a hundred half-size index cards, and wrote the name of an actor or famous personality on it.  I tried to make them relatively equal in males and females.

My idea was to use them for two purposes:

One is just to liven up any moment when my imagination isn't giving me anything interesting.  A faceless minor character enters the story -- just a functional character, like a gas station attendant who is a witness to something.  If my imagination doesn't hand me anything interesting for the scene, I draw a card and cast that character with that actor. 

The other was to liven up the Relationship Game.  Instead of drawing a sex/age of the 6-10 characters in the relationship circle, I'd draw a card for that part.  I haven't played with this yet.

But for this story, I was already happy with the relationships and such I'd already come up with.  I was dithering over a few things, but mostly I just wanted to goose my imagination.

So I drew ten cast cards and then figured out how they could fit in with my scenario.  I didn't think it would work that well, and I'm not sure I'll keep everything I came up with, but Wow, I did find it goosed my imagination

Here's what I came up wtih:

The Denizens of the Vue-Du-Lac Country Club

The Concierge - played by Clark Gregg
You know, Agent Coulson.  He's so ... contained.  So helpful.

The Golf Pro - played by Katherine Hepburn
A blueblooded American "princess" who always loved golf and decided to make a career of it, in spite of the male domination.

The Most Powerful Member - played by Chris Cooper
CC is so subtle, and manages to mix dangerous with buttoned-down with blue collar. I'm sure he's a self-made man.

Senior Member #1 - played by James Garner
Probably won't be as easy going as he seems.

Senior Member #2 - played by Edward Everett Horton
Horton was originally drawn as the concierge, but I think that's a little bit too "on the nose."  So he's a member instead.  Garner needs a sidekick or rival. (I'm leaning toward sidekick.)

The Matron - played by Angelica Huston
She's Chis Cooper's wife, and is the uber-friendly 'hostess' who chats with everybody and tells them how marvelous they are.  Also a good source of gossip.  A little bit against type -- too fluffy -- but I think Angelica can pull it off.

Senior Woman Member - Mary Wicks
She was likely the one who broke down the barrier back when the club did not allow women.  She was likely Katherine Hepburn's mentor.  She might be married to one of the senior members.

The Restaurant Manager/Greeter - played by Joan Hickson
Sharp as a tack and maybe up to something.

Waitress - played by Frances MacDormand
A teenaged MacDormand -- not so sharp, but also maybe up to something.

Busboy - Macauly Culkin
Definitely up to something

And the bonus draw: I think the victim must be a semi-outsider, so I drew another card, and got...

Victim - Robin Williams.

Will these characters look like these people? Probably not.  It's more a body language and voice quality thing for me. (Things which tend not to be described very much in fiction.)  And a couple of these characters didn't really exist in the original scenario. (Mary Wicks and Katherine Hepburn).

We'll see how it goes.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day 2 - Life Knows When You've Got Goals

My ROW80+ Goal Meter (my goals are listed here):

2509 / 87000 words. 3% done!

Wednesday Check-In Totals

  • Monday, Day 1: 0
  • Tuesday, Day 2: 681

It sure was a good thing I started early, so I'm not actually behind... yet.

On Monday, I woke up with what seemed to be a sinus infection.  I was walking through jello all day.  With the judicious application of caffeine and left-over Chinese food, I was able to put in a two hour session, and hammer out some sticking points in the villainous plot behind The Man Who Ran Away.  But didn't quite break through to the blank spot in the back story, but I did enough that the stuff I worked on this weekend won't have to be trashed -- they actually fit.  (I know this session happened because I wrote it all down. The rest of the day is a blur.)

Tuesday -- today -- was expected to be a busy day full of kerfuffle.  It turned out to be even kerfufflier than expected.  (It started with getting up early to accompany a family member to a doctor's appointment which had, apparently, never been put into the system by the office staff, as well as a long drive through the rain on bad roads, and a "treat" of bad donuts and watery coffee.  While the day didn't get any worse, it didn't get appreciably better -- right down to the newbie waitress at late dinner who kept forgetting things and doing minor things wrong.  Not enough to lose her tip, but enough to make me feel my life was in retrograde today.)

I didn't get started on writing until after midnight -- which was probably fortunate given the general kismet of the day.  I worked on a scene from In Flight -- a new scene I added in because I realized that Angela's reaction to being alone and on the run again wasn't right.  I realized that she had been doing this since she was a child, so she would have a routine for coping with the boredom and emptiness.  And being an artist, of course, she drew pictures.

Here's a clip -- completely raw stuff.  In Flight is about a woman who has been on the run with her step-mother ever since she was a small child, when she pushed her father off a cliff in defense of the step-mother.  Twenty years later, she had almost settled down into a job with a catering company (run by "Chef" who is already turning out to be the detective in this story, and his handsome sidekick, Reef).  But events have set her on the run again.

With every flight, she has to cut all ties, erasing or leaving behind all evidence of each past life. She can't keep pictures ....


SHE FILLED PAGES with scribbling images: streaks of highway flashing through leaves and clouds, fairies, faces, bears, eclairs.  The faces were hidden, disguised with pattern or fanciful costume, half turned away, half covered.  People she wanted to remember. People she couldn't keep pictures of. Chef, his mustache now long and curled, peeking slyly from a cloak, from behind a tree. In the bark of the tree were hidden other chefs, and the tree bore bakery fruit. 

And beneath the tree another face was clear, and light.  A contrasting shape to the tree and it's complications.  That face was serious, almost grim -- but not really grim, the eyes were bemused -- and his white hand parted the high grasses for him to look out directly at the viewer.

It was David Reef.

He looked as he did at dinner, too frank, too sweet, and yet trying too hard not to be either.  She was glad to capture that face, that look, even though she would likely destroy the whole picture later.  Even if she did destroy it, she thought he was not well enough disguised.  She should at least make him a knight, or....  She smiled as she recalled his story about saving the hotel magnate, and about how Chef had been wise enough to stand back.

So she made him a simple guard; dirt on his face and hands, hair spiky and mussed up, covered in chain mail.  And she added his other hand and arm, reaching through the grass to grasp the hand of someone who had fallen into the as yet empty space at the bottom of the picture. 

It was only as she found her fingers cramping up from gripping the pen so hard, that she realised that the dark outline of the hand Reef was grasping was the dark cut-out shape from her dream.

It was her father.

Keep drawing, she told herself.  Draw through it.


See you in the funny papers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Day 0 - On to the New Challenge

My ROW80+ Goal Meter (my goals are listed here):

1828 / 87000 words. 2% done!

It's Day 89 of my 175 Day Non-blogging Challenge (in which I resist blogging by only posting progress reports).  But since I'm starting the A Round of Words in 80 Days Challenge, and I'm even doing that a little differently than most, I figure I should simplify things and just start the count over again.

So, today is Day 0 of ROW80.  I usually start on Day 0 because I am obsessive compulsive, and it drives me nuts that ROW80 ends the day AFTER the last check in.  If you just start on Sunday, rather than Monday, you can post your results at the right time.

But this time I'm going on until the end of September -- beyond the end of ROW80 -- and so I figured I might as well start earlier, and I started yesterday.

First Progress Report:

  • Day -1: 901 words.
  • Day 0: 927 words.

All words so far are on The Man Who Ran Away, (the second book in my Starling and Marquette series, which began with The Man Who Did Too Much).  A visit to the country club restaurant, which was the scene of the suspicious behavior, and the place form which the missing $20 bill was kidnapped.

Some of this is incompatible with some of my ideas, so it may be cut or significantly changed, but for now, it'll do.

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Day 88 - ROW80 Kick Off - The Goals

Goals Summary:

*1000 words a day from July 6 to September 30, inclusive.  That's 87,000 words, I think.

*To finish my two WIPs: In Flight, and The Man Who Ran Away.  (That second one may not be complete, as the first book in the series ran long -- but I want it at least mostly roughed in.)

I will be posting daily - which is a part of my 175 Day Non-blogging Challenge.  (In which I resist the urge to blog, by committing my blog to progress reports ONLY.)


For those who haven't been following my blog:

About nine months ago I looked back at my lifetime productivity and discovered that most of what I have actually done wasn't achieved by self-discipline, but rather by chasing enthusiasm.  (Here's the post if you want to know more about that.)

In the past nine months I've been playing with undisciplined chasing of enthusiasm to see if it could be an actual strategy to employ.  I was going to keep it up for a year, but I think I have my answer.  Which is; um, sorta, sorta not.

It works as a lifestyle.  It works if there are a whole lot of different things you want to do, and you enjoy doing them for their own sake.  It's very existentialist. Very zen.

But on the productivity front, the problem is that you produce a lot, but it is more scattered, less useful.  Over a very long time, that works out, but in the shorter term, it really doesn't feel like it works all that much better than anything else.

So I am going to embark on the next phase of this experiment: disciplined chasing enthusiasm.  Or perhaps just find some kind of mix of running wild and toeing the line.

Hence, the reason I am rejoining ROW80.

What I'm going to try to do is set the daily goal low, just to bring my attention back on the task at hand every day, and then chase enthusiasm the rest of the day.

I was thinking of setting the goal super low -- like 500 words a day -- but I also really do want to finish up my two works in progress.  So I'm going to make it the standard 1000 words a day.

That should be enough, all by itself, to finish In Flight, and get most of The Man Who Ran Away blocked in.  I'll talk about each of these projects on the upcoming check in days (Wednesdays and Sundays).

(Note: I've been posting every day, but ROW80 posts updates only on Wednesdays and Sundays.  I find posting every day to be motivational, but it does take time so.... not sure if I'll keep it up or not.  I can say, however, that I will start ROW80 for reasons I'll mention on Sunday, Day 0.)

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 87 - Halfway-ish

Tomorrow I will post the goals for A Round of Words in 80 Days, which I will start Sunday (though everybody else starts on Monday) and which I will carry on for, I think, 87 days. (Until the end of September.)

Which I guess makes tomorrow the halfway point in my 175 Not-Really-Blogging Challenge.  But since you'll be reading this tomorrow, that makes this the halfway point marker.  I think.

Today I wrote about 4000 words of blogging, which may or may not show up later.  I was trying to get it out of my system.  One subject was probably a waste: I've been a little caught up in all the controversy in the publishing world about Amazon vs. Hachette.

The other is that I've started to keep a "red herring" and "clue" diary as I read various mysteries.  Pausing as I read to note down the things going through my head as a reader of mystery fiction, and then thinking about how this helps me plant clues as a writer of same.

This might be an interesting series of posts in the end.

In the meantime, I'm going to bed.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Day 86 - Finishing up the cooking

(Whoops! Forgot to click "publish" on this....)

The weather is still cool, so I spent another day cooking.  More bread, as well as ragout for the freezer, which required some shopping.  Also "El Azteco Dip" -- a green onion, cheese and sour cream  concoction similar to a local restaurant's dip.  That wasn't to keep, because the ingredients don't freeze.  It was simply requested that while I was cooking that I make some.

You want a recipe, here it is: approximately equal amounts of sour cream, cottage cheese, your favorite shredded Mexican cheese and chopped green onions.  A little milk to make it easier to mix.  Some chopped jalapeno to taste (I like to use the pickled ones people use as a side or for nachos) or some of your favorite hot sauce.

It's good to make this in a very small batch at first (like, with heaping tablespoons instead of cups) because hitting the "to taste" factor among the dairy products is tricky.

Tomorrow is predicted to be another mild day. I doubt I will be doing so much cooking though.  I might make another batch of bread only because we seem to be eating up the first batch really fast.  However, my legs and feet are tired, and there is a possible day next week to do some additional baking.

I have decided, as you may have guessed, to put off any serious writing efforts until I start with the ROW80 on Sunday.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 85 - More Cooking....

Man, I'm exhausted.

Bread making, cookie making, shopping, doctor's appointments, yogurt making, and other similar kerfuffle.  I just finished making some creton* for the elderly cat who needs to put on weight but will only eat certain things (most of which she is allergic to).

Making creton is laborious (even when you're short-cutting it for catfood) so I decided to screw it, and leave the making of dough for tomorrow's bread until tomorrow.  I stay up late anyway.

I am now going to give the boy cat some quality time with me, while I give myself some quality time with Detective Nathan Shapiro.

See you in the funny papers.


*Creton is a French Canadian pork paste.  However, when I make it for the cat, I leave out the onions and spices. (I suspect it might be onions that hurt her health in the first place, sigh.  She's loves 'em and is prone to steal a bite of things that have onions in it.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Day 84 - Cooking

Tomorrow it's supposed to be cool enough to bake.  Therefore this evening, instead of writing, I made two batches of bread dough.  I will make two more tomorrow, as I need to fill the freezer to get us through the excess heat of summer.  Friends and family have been living off store bought bread and bagels.  This is not acceptable.

I will also have to make cookies and maybe brownies for the freezer.

I always do this during cool weather, but unfortunately people raid the freezer while it's still cool and eat it up, rather than actually telling me "hey, we need bread."  Which means we run out of bread when the weather gets hot. I feel like I need to put "Don't use until..." labels on it.  Or maybe mark it as "haggis" and hope they don't see through the ruse.

I was going to tell you about the new "aggregation" blog idea today, but I would rather try to get a little writing done before bed, so I will leave that until tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'm reading the Richard Lockridge book that was the transition of the Shapiro stories from the fluffier suspense stories I enjoy so much, to the police procedural whodunnits the series became after Frances Lockridge's death.

Murder Can't Wait is actually a book in the other main series the Lockridges wrote -- featuring Captain Heimrich of the New York State Police.  These were all little more straight puzzle mystery with the police procedural bent.  Not your modern gritty dark police procedurals, but just whodunnits that followed the police investigators around, and maybe threw in a little personal stuff from their lives.  While this series kicked off with an overlap with the Mr. and Mrs. North series, it has a less cutesy tone.  (Actually that first Heimrich appearance was in Murder Out Of Turn -- the second or third Mr. and Mrs. North novel -- which takes place "up north" at the North's vacation cabin.  I'll be reading that one next.  I vaguely remember it, and it seems to me that either Weigand or Heimrich meets his future wife in that story.)

I'm also reading a more current book -- Who In Hell is Wanda Fuca? by G. M. Ford, the first in the P. I. Leo Waterman series.  This was one of the series I discovered in the 1990s, only to see it disappear immediately after I got hooked on it.  I was happy to see the books are now back in print with Thomas and Mercer, and priced reasonably.  These are fun hard-boiled P.I. stories.   Takes place in Seattle, and the detective, who has his own colorful background, has even more colorful sidekicks. (In particular a team of drunks who assist him in his investigations.)

Links and real reviews later on. (Maybe to be posted in the new blog.)

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 83 - Taking Stock

DWS had a post today about The Time of Great Forgetting - the time between New Years and the Dog Days of Summer when writers have slowly forgotten their goals and ambitions of the beginning of the year.  A good post for anybody doing goals.

One of the suggestions he gives is for people to treat July 1 as a secondary New Year and make your resolutions all over again.  I'm not doing goals this year, but I thought this would be a good time to stop and think about things.

Last year I looked back and realized that goal setting hadn't helped my productivity any.  I realized that over the years, I had done more by chasing enthusiasm than by putting my nose to the grind stone.  So I've spent the past year working on making "chasing enthusiasm" a strategy.

It has been less than the year I was going to play with this strategy, but I think I can say that "Chasing Enthusiasm" isn't something you can just do.

I did predict that.  I said that, when I was chasing enthusiasm, I would do great bursts of work on many things and not finish things so much. (Or I would finish them all in a different burst of enthusiasm many years later.)

So as predicted, I didn't finish much in this past nine months or so.

But the thing that bothers me is that I also didn't do as much raw writing as I had hoped.

I did do more than I have done in recent years, but not what the theory said I should.  Part of the problem is that I when I am on a roll, I come up with a dozen new ideas in every writing session.  I come up with new ideas faster than I can play with them and abandon them.  I don't even have time to note down the basic idea.

On the other hand, my personal satisfaction level has never been so high as it is right now.

I think I'm ready to try to find a balance.  Satisfaction is one thing, but I still have these stories that won't exist if I don't write them down.

So I think it's time to play around with some goals again.

Rejoining ROW 80

I've decided to rejoin A Round of Words in 80 Days for the third quarter, which will approximately coincide with the rest of this 175 Day not-really-blogging effort.  I will post the specific goals sometime this week when they do the "goals" Linky for ROW80.  (It begins July 7, and as usual I will start on July 6 to make the ending match up with the last check in day.)

I expect my goals will be pretty simple: 1000 new words a day, to get In Flight finished, and The Man Who Ran Away mostly blocked in.  Beyond that is all chasing enthusiasm -- I will undoubtedly be doing some higher productivity days, but also doing art and game making etc.

In the meantime... the blog.

I've had some interesting thoughts on what direction I'll take my blogging.  I've been thinking about what I want to do, what I like to do, what I just happen to do whether I want to or not.... and also what is useful to the world.

My current thoughts are.... I think I might keep this blog as a personal writing progress blog.  Maybe even cut it back more.  But I will also start a new blog (and maybe ramp up one of my others).  The blogs I tend to follow most closely are the "aggregator" sites -- blogs that act like newspapers or magazines, posting many times a day.  Sites like Passive Voice, or Daily Cheap Reads, or for politics, Daily Kos. Or for that matter, like Elizabeth's "Twitterific."

I really think that the subject of mystery fiction could use an aggregator. And I"m not sure it would be that much work.  (I'm also not sure it won't be a lot of work.)

More on that tomorrow probably.

See you in the funny papers.