All posts by Elizabeth Bent

“Fire burn and cauldron bubble!”

Hello, dear readers- no, I haven’t gone Harry Potterish on you all. The Shakespearean quote above (one of my favourite scenes in Macbeth) refers only to the state of my mind as I cogitate upon how to change Anagama around. There are lots of possibilities and they sort of come to the surface, bob about among the bubbles for a while, then convection carries something new to the surface and the old idea, once recorded and cooled, sinks into my subconscious again.

I’m taking it fairly easy today since I’ve had a very difficult winter psychologically so far and I feel I shouldn’t push myself too much. This sounds a lot like making excuses, but honestly- I really don’t want to relapse into nightmare, even if it does bring forth book ideas. I’ve only recently achieved normality, or a semblance. So apologies, perhaps it is lazy, but I am taking today to write down notes as they come to me, and watch videos relating to a jazz appreciation course I am taking online. Who knows, maybe a jazz musician will wind up floating about the surface of my cauldron, floating serenely on the surface of an old idea, tootling away on a saxophone.

Back to the drawing board

So, readers, the critiques of the current working draft of Anagama came back- or rather, one did- and the verdict is that it needs a fair bit of work. As in, it may need elements and entire subplots to be dismantled and revised, the pacing is off, and a fair number of characters need to be reworked or omitted.

I’m actually pleased with this verdict- it’s much more useful than “Oh, it’s fine.” I wasn’t sure how well the book held together as a work of fiction, since I’ve been working on it off and on (mostly off) for nearly two decades, I finished it very quickly, and I knew it must have problems in consequence. While it’s always galling to realize one has made errors or fallen into the clutches of cliché, it’s better to have someone point this out before you try to publish or widely distribute something- not afterward.

I’d hoped to have Angama ready to distribute to friends and family by Easter, but barring me getting a few weeks of unexpected vacation and bursts of creative energy, this won’t be possible- so the timeline for this work being ready to distribute has changed. Now I’m hoping to have it done sometime in 2016- I won’t say when, because I don’t want to rush again and produce another disappointing work. Possibly by the end of the summer, possibly by Christmas. It really doesn’t matter, honestly, because I don’t have a contract.

This elongated time frame gives me some time to recover from the recent bouts of illness I’ve had which have launched so many odd ideas which, in the fullness of time, may eventually become books. I’d hoped to start work on one of those (working title Hypnagogia) after Easter, but I think maybe I should take the time to let the ideas settle and disconnect from me a bit more so I can actually write them down (and be able to evaluate them carefully) without causing myself undue stress.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my first (and so far only, alas) critic, who shall remain anonymous, for his help in this- it is extremely valuable help, as I trust his judgement and taste. It’s always a struggle for me to find the time and energy to work on my writing, but with help and perserverance I hope to have this second novel reworked, finished and polished sometime in 2016.

Best idea to come out of a nightmare ever

So, dear readers, this past three or four days I’ve been struggling with an evolving set of nightmares- a story coming out of nowhere, apparently, and it’s triggered an idea for a novel in my mind. I’m going to use the name of a novel project I started in 2003 and abandoned: Hypnagogia, and it will not be a science fiction book. This one is set in a Canadian or American university town which is terrorized by a sociopathic schizophrenic woman who becomes obsessed with a mild-mannered bipolar woman who works at the university as a scientist. The bipolar woman- I haven’t given her a name yet- is unable to remember details of events like threatening phone calls, or even physical attacks- she assumes she is imagining them and edits them out of her memory, and only can recall the events much later. Because everyone knows the bipolar woman is ill occasionally (like me, she takes medication), it is easy for the sociopath to frame her in the beginning for bizarre acts that she, the sociopath, undertakes. More events happen and everyone is terrified- except the bipolar woman, who in the end ultimately faces down her stalker.

I’m very excited about this project- it draws upon many very vivid paranoid ideas I have, and upon my experiences as a bipolar person and university scientist as well. I’m still mustering energy to revise Anagama, and that is my priority for the next two months, but this next project will probably be written before I finish with Infinity. 

Now back to some much-needed rest while I continue writing down ideas for this new book project as they come.

Anagama draft sent for critique

I just sent a draft of Anagama to my writing critique team (all members not currently travelling overseas, that is). It clocks in at 32,560 words, so it is short for a novel, but then I don’t see the point of writing double that just to add extra word-padding.  This noticeably detracted from Tolstoy’s works (he was paid per word), and while I may not be Tolstoy, I figure it would also detract from mine.

I haven’t yet thought of a good pitch for Anagama– but basically, it focuses on the question of what it means to be human. It is set on a future Earth in which humans are classified as having genomes 99.5% similar to a “standard” human genome, and anyone different enough- by birth or after infection by DNA-altering retroviruses- is considered non-human, and therefore potential property. The story follows the adventures of two such mutant humans and their efforts to take down Zurvan Corporation, a company which kidnaps and profits from the DNA of unfortunate mutants.

There are a few small edits that need to be done, which I will probably take care of tomorrow (things like adding in song lyrics or artist names to certain sections, fixing en and em dashes, fixing incongruities in UK vs US English spelling, that sort of thing).

But it feels good to have a working draft out there.

Happy 2016! And if you are an agent or editor and would like to see the first few chapters, write to me at bent dot elizabeth at gmail dot com.

Anagama is finished!

As of December 23, 2015 I finished the first working draft of my novel, Anagama! I still need to proofread, polish and edit, and check the draft for inconsistencies, potential plot holes, that sort of thing.  Even so, it is finished!

I’m very happy- I’ve beaten my self-imposed deadline by eight days! The time I set aside for writing next week I will use to edit and polish, and hopefully have a really good draft ready for criticism by December 31, 2015.

Merry Christmas to me! And to you, dear readers, if you celebrate (and I hope you enjoy the day even if you do not).



Writer’s block

So I have been struggling with writer’s block this past fall. I actually do not find it hard to write words, but to write good words and to stick to the complex plot I envisioned instead of taking the tired way out and wrapping up scenes too quickly. So I’ve written, but I need to rip out and rewrite. I am still having trouble with the tricky section I mentioned in my last post.

On the happy side, I do have over a week of vacation days left to use this year, and I may use up 5 of them and take that extra week of vacation to just write, write, write.

Unless, of course, I am derailed yet again, but I find I have enough energy during the day to do things- it’s just by the weekend I’m exhausted from the week/insomnia. If I didn’t have to worry about waking up early, and if I could sit in my PJs and scribble or tap away in my kitchen for a week straight, I feel like I would be able to beat this thing.

As I said in my other post, I have two hours left today to try to write. Time to scribble and type. Even if all of it is crap.

Hope you are enjoying December,


[UPDATE: “butt in chair” works! I managed to revise the outline of a bunch of chapters, threw a bunch more away, and wrote two chapters that I actually like. Now I am trying to deal with spambots trying to hijack this and other blogs of mine. ]

Writer’s indecision

Hello, readers! I managed to keep up a fairly steady writing schedule in October but alas, November has me falling behind. The reason is that I’ve come to a climactic part in the book and I keep writing it out, then changing my mind because it doesn’t seem quite like what the book needs. I do have notes I’m trying to write from, and I think I have to spend some time plotting, doing nothing but visualizing what is happening, before I can make progress. But this is nothing that can’t be remedied. I think I’ll probably wind up writing five or six chapters in one go as I deal with this part of the book.

Today most of my writing went toward figuring out a budget and writing out a budget justification for a grant I’m writing. So with that, and a lot of laundry, finished, I think I can spend this evening working on this tricky section of Anagama.

To be honest, one reason I haven’t just plunked myself down and dealt with this section already is that I’ve been just exhausted, and dealing with a lot of weird anxiety-producing thoughts (welcome to winter! This happens to me every winter, which is why I take every chance I get in the winter to travel to warmer climes). Last weekend I felt fine, but I was in Stockbridge, MA helping a friend move. Hopefully there will be no more travel, and no more family obligations (other than my sister-in-law visiting on the first weekend in December) that will eat into my writing time.

I’m not really worried about missing my Dec. 31st deadline, though, because I have a full week off work in December, and I have not made a lot of holiday plans. One day I will spend organizing my desk, which is actually a dining table heaped with piles of papers, and filing things away. My husband will be working a lot over December and the holidays, and so I’ll be spending many of those days alone by choice- this gives me plenty of time to focus on getting Anagama finished.

Happy Thanksgiving to my USA readers, and may everyone stay safe and warm, wherever you are.

This train is still on track, chugging away

Hello, readers! My writing, while it goes slowly, goes well. I am pacing myself so I don’t have breakdowns, which unfortunately is something I’ve learned I have to do. A clever analogy to this is summed up by the Spoon Theory. In my case, while I don’t suffer physical pain, I can overwork myself very easily and consequently suffer psychological malaise that makes it very hard to function. I’ve learned I need to rest often and break up work into segments, and as long as I get my segments done in time, the project is also done in time.  So my work is like a train, stopping often for water and coal, chugging down the track at a slow but steady pace.

I’ve had a really, really good idea for a twist to the plot of Infinity– so good that I don’t want to hint at what it is, other than that it will require a bit more research on my part.  I’ve got library books and as I am feeling feverish and under the weather with a cold, I figure I will read my books and cogitate, rather than try a lot of writing.

My novel Anagama is still on track- I will be flying to and from California to go to a wedding next weekend, and I will probably work on it during the plane rides, unless I am exhausted. I may work on it tomorrow night or Tuesday night as well. I have a tricky section of the book to figure out before I can write it- I want to make it as exciting and action-packed as possible, and yet still plausible. So I may have to rethink how my characters go about their activities for several chapters, and I don’t want to just write some stuff that I’ll have to throw out again later because it makes no sense. A lot of what I will do today is just scribbling ideas down and deciding which of them play out the best.

Even if I don’t do any actual penning of words today, I’m on schedule for finishing a draft of Anagama by December 31, and I figure after that I should be able to finish polishing it up by Easter, if not before. At that point I should be ready to start writing Infinity. So all is well.

Enjoy your Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and if you don’t like Pumpkin Spice Lattes, this story is for you: In Which No One Drinks a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

On Mr. Robot and its portrayal of mental disorders

I like to spend time with my husband watching television at night- and often I pull out my laptop and only half pay attention, dealing with emails or surfing social media.

When he put on the series Mr. Robot, I couldn’t stop watching.  The main character, Elliot, suffers from social anxiety disorder (and probably other disorders as well) and the portrayal of what it’s like to deal with mental illness is absolutely spot-on. I can’t give any details or I risk spoiling the story for people that haven’t seen the show, but I was amazed at how well the show was able to nail down the sensations people like me go through at times.

My own particular blend of problems is not entirely without merit. For example, I go through hypomanic periods of greater activity, happiness,  creativity and self-confidence, and these periods bring with them a lot of good ideas. One of them turned into my cancer-fighting gut bacterial project (find information here) and others have led me to ideas for how to reduce greenhouse gases produced by farm manure digesters, or how to make antimicrobial molecules which target ony specific pathogens better able to be taken up by cells, and so make those molecules more likely to be useful medicines. I also have had a lot of different recurring dreams, and while some of them are unsettling many are harmless, even entertaining. For example, I keep thinking I might have met the cast of Family Guy at a coffee shop in North Hollywood.  I’ve also got a memory of meeting Julius Sharpe (a writer) at the same cafe at a different time, where he complimented me on my polka-dot sunglasses.

I have turned some of my odd notions into the plot for my novel Infinity (which I will get to when I finish my current work, Anagama).  For those unfamiliar with my work, Infinity is a story of a bipolar scientist who is the target of  bizarre attacks which  she never quite believes happened, and how her descendants must use time travel and quantum entanglement devices to try to rescue her.  Anagama is set in a dystopian future where Zurvan Corporation is able to designate kidnapped people as property if their genomes are sufficiently different from “normal human”; two designated non-humans and their allies join forces in an attempt to bring down Zurvan and find freedom.

I’ve been struggling with food poisoning symptoms today, but as I type this it is only 3 pm in the afternoon and the house is quiet. I should be able to pull off another couple of chapters this evening, and/or transcribe what I’ve written in my notebook to my digital files. I’m not too far off track in terms of my writing schedule for Anagama.

If you haven’t seen Mr. Robot, I strongly suggest you do- I found it absolutely fascinating, and the most realistic, and sympathetic, portrayal of mental illness I’ve seen on the small screen in a long time.

Move over, kitty!

I’ve written before about my struggles with maintaining my productivity in the face of carrying out a full-time day job that’s creatively exhausting and also completing deadlines associated with my other interests.  These include my personal cancer research project, and the general audience science articles I write for The Conversation. I don’t get paid for the latter two things, though I may be able to fund part of my salary via grants for the research project, and I find the science article outreach to be rewarding on an emotional level.  Today I wrote a 500 word outline of an article that will be about evaluating the risks and benefits of a new technology, with a focus on the debate surrounding neonicotinoid pesticides and bees. Since the final article will only be about 800-1000 words, I guess you can say it’s already half-written!

So that was useful, but I promised myself I’d do more creative fiction writing as well- and while I struggled for a few weeks to get anything written down since my last blog post, I did manage in the past three days to write four chapters for my novel-in-progress Anagama, as well as edit a number of other chapters to fix errors in continuity or to make events seem more plausible.  I actually sat down with a printout of what I have written so far as well as a notebook that I’m scribbling in longhand, since I wasted a lot of time in the past paging back and forth in my lengthening novel document, trying to find chapters I had written previously to remind myself of details, or try to regain a feel for a certain setting.  This new system of writing is far more efficient and relaxing for me, even though I write more slowly than I type.

I still need to sit down and type all the scribbles into my computer (something I look forward to, as I know from experience at this point I edit and re-edit, adding in details, which I find extremely satisfying), but I am happy with my progress.  Upon finishing this blog post, I will probably try to write another chapter (though this one will not be fuelled by espresso drinks, as the previous four were).

The fat orange cat was sitting in front of my camera for a while there, but determined effort on my part has made it shift its fluffy butt away. With luck, I can keep it occupied while maintaining my current good health and energy levels, and stay on track to finish a first draft of Anagama by the end of the year.