And… the cat came back

Hello, readers!

Yesterday was my father’s memorial service. I’ve been struggling this past month with his death as well as my own illness, which after a lull in February has come back full force. On top of all this, I’m trying to teach myself more about the Linux operating system and basic commands, as well as learn about structural equation modelling.  I need to know this kind of stuff to stay competive in my line of work.

I am aware that I’m not really making enough time for my creative writing, and this bothers me. I realize the problem with putting off writing projects forever is that life spans are finite- my writing projects may never finish at this rate. I have a lot of newish ideas bubbling in my brain for how to improve Anagama (the major criticism was poor pacing and too many cliches) and for new things to write as well, but when I sit down to write I’m distracted by the ideas coming forward for my paid work, or I don’t do the best job I can do because I’m rushing to finish a chapter or a scene.  I’ve started to realize the futility of making myself stick to a writing schedule when I have so many other things in my life which, as they pay my bills,  must take priority. Unfortunately, I have to take things slowly and not push myself too much, so when I do write, I write as well as I can. Lesson learned.

I’ve had commentary on the first draft of Anagama for three months now. I had thought I could polish up and have a good manuscript ready by Easter, and of course that seems ridiculous in hindsight! I simply haven’t had both creative energy and heart to really delve into it. That orange cat of life I wrote of last year has come back and is sitting on my chest this time, breathing in my face, preventing me from doing too much.

Today’s a lovely day, sunny and while there’s snow on the ground, it isn’t too cold. After some time outside I plan to spend time on Igor, my bioinformatics computer, analyzing some important data for a cancer-fighting gut bacterium project I started in 2014. This will probably occupy my spare time for a week. Next weekend I’ll be alone still (my husband is in Ohio, for work), so I hope by then I’ve gotten my head back on straight and can spend a solid day becoming familiar with my manuscript again and making cuts/edits to it. It’s been pointed out to me that editing a finished manuscript is easier than writing a new one- this is true to an extent. We will see how this process goes with a manuscript written in various stages, like Anagama.

If I manage a vacation this year, I will certainly spend time relaxing and, hopefully, create something that’s worth reading, even if only a short piece.

A bit of a ghost story

I’ve had an interesting week. Difficult at times, especially Thursday, but interesting, and I’ll explain why.
My Dad died on Saturday morning (March 5). Monday morning, just after 6 am, I was at Mom’s house with my husband Seth asleep on the couch (behind me) and Mom asleep in her bedroom nearby. I had insomnia. I was chatting with a friend of mine (and actually, I did mention that I’d never seen a ghost and wanted to see one) via IM. I thought I heard Seth talking on the phone to someone: I heard a middle-aged man’s voice (not my father’s voice) say, “Over here, I’m here by the table” and I wondered why Seth would say such a thing. I looked around and there was no one. The voice said something else and I don’t remember, I just was typing and said aloud, “if you’re going to talk on the phone, go downstairs so you don’t wake Mom up, she’s sleeping.” I kept typing and next thing I know, the TV reciever switched on. When it had been turned off, it was tuned to Comedy Central. When it turned on again, it was playing CBC News. It was loud- I thought it was some sort of clock radio alarm and sprang up to try to figure out how to turn it off before it woke up Mom. I couldn’t figure it out so I called to Seth, whom I thought had been just awake and on the phone, to help- and when I went to see where he was, he was fast asleep. Deeply asleep- he hadn’t just been awake. He sleepily got up and turned off the TV reciever. I was kind of confused- hadn’t he just been talking on the phone?
I sat down at my computer and looked at the IM chat box. In the window on my end, not sent yet, I seemed to have typed “I’m OK take care”, though I didn’t remember doing that. I kind of shook my head and cleared the window, then typed a different message to my friend. I was sleepy and I thought maybe I had typed “I’m OK take care” myself though no one had asked me how I felt and I wasn’t ready to sign off.
I heard my Mom say, “Fred, is that you?” and apparently she woke up, then thought she felt my Dad’s hand holding hers.
Thursday, at 11 am, it was the viewing for my Dad. We went, and my Mom thought that when she first touched him, he was warm. She wondered how they had been able to do that. Then he felt cold again.
At 1 pm I had coffee with a friend. I told her my story, about Monday. She looked kind of startled. When I asked why, she told me a story: a psychic had once told her that her dead father and grandmother sort of hung out by her left shoulder, and if there was something really important and true she needed to pay attention to, they would cause kind of a cold prickling sensation on her left side. It didn’t happen very often. She said that as I told my story, she felt the cold prickling sensation.
We both kind of looked around at that! It was most eerie.
So I might have gone from being an atheist to being an agnostic Thursday afternoon. My mother has seen my dead brother periodically ever since he died, and I’ve always wished I could have these experiences. This all might just be our imaginations, except- how did the TV turn on and change channels? No cats were around the remote, it had definitely been off, and then it definitely was on. It wasn’t connected to a clock or timer that was set to turn on. It woke everyone up in the house, it wasn’t me imagining that.
I feel like I need a blanket fort and flashlight!

Scrivener, and vitamin B12

Dear readers, allow me to share a bit of news with you.

First of all, I’ve managed to snag a coupon and download Scrivener at a discount. I’m going to try it and see if  it helps me keep track of details and continuity better than I seem to have been doing just by typing into Word. It wasn’t expensive, so I don’t mind spending a bit of money on an experiment.

Secondly, I’ve been diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency. I had a real problem with fatigue, and trying to write while fatigued- I would push myself to produce and write something to stay on schedule. Often I’d get tired and end the scene quickly, or fail to describe it well, or choose plot elements or characters that were kindly described as “bordering on stock”, just because I was exhausted and while I was enjoying writing, I also wanted to finish the chapter and move on. I’ve been intentionally spending time since I read over the commentary on my first draft of Anagama marshaling my energy, thinking over how I could improve the book, and trying to schedule a long block of time I could devote to working on the book without interruption. I think this May I will ask for two weeks off work, but that depends on finances and what is going on at work at the time.

I’m so pleased to report that, since taking sublingual B12 supplements, my energy levels have increased spectacularly. I don’t find myself swaying with fatigue while I fold laundry, or on the couch holding a book, unable to read the page in front of me because I’m that tired. And while I’m still holding off starting back on the edits to Anagama, I am optimistic that soon I’ll have enough energy at night that I’ll not only be able to write more often, but that the writing will be more fresh, lyrical, and original than what I managed last year.

I suppose time will tell, but I remain hopeful.

Maybe Ray Bradbury was right

I did something foolish the other day- Neil Gaiman’s ebook Trigger Warning was on sale for a fraction of its ordinary price, and I purchased it- but using my Amazon.com account. This is a problem because my Kindle is registered to the Amazon.ca site. It created all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the loss of the ebook (I had to return it, after all sorts of mucking  about with “Kindle Specialists”). I managed to fix the problems on my own,  and to test my newly-fixed Kindle, I decided to download the free sample of Neil Gamian’s Trigger Warning .

The sample contained the Introduction to the book- perhaps the entirety of it, perhaps simply a fraction. In this Introduction, Neil talked about the origins of each story in the book, and one of these stories he had written for Ray Bradbury. He talked about Ray and Ray’s advice to writers: “Write every day!”

I’ve heard this advice from many sources. Get your butt in the chair and write. Write each day. Read voraciously. Immerse yourself in your craft. I did this in high school- I read everything, I wrote every day- in summers sometimes I wrote six hours a day, and by summer’s end I not only had written novels, I had written them easily, almost effortlessly. I don’t have those novels any more- I threw them away, thinking they were terrible, in a fit of self-critcism- but the key thing, the main thing, is that I wrote. A lot. Every day.

When I was in college, studying microbiology, I stopped being able to read and write fiction every day, and I only had time for fiction on weekends at first- then maybe once or twice a month, then maybe less often than that. Writing became something I did for technical reports- a different kind of writing, using different parts of my brain (or so it seems to me). I went to graduate school and it was the same thing, though toward the end of it I managed to write fiction again- arguably not very amazing fiction, but it was something.

I graduated and worked, and I spent many years where I would hardly write any fiction at all- maybe a few poems here or there, or a short humorous sketch to make a friend laugh. I would occasionally dust off manuscripts and try to write, but I never had enough energy for them when I had time- and I rarely had extra time.

In the past couple of years I’ve tried making fiction writing a more routine thing, putting aside one, maybe two days a week where I knew I had blocks of time free to work on fiction. This has worked to an extent, but I’m out of touch with the side of my brain that is really good at writing fiction- all day every workday I spend time writing technical reports or computer programs, or conducting numerical analyses with complicated data. It’s a different kind of thinking, and when I get home I find I no longer can find the energy and drive I had as a high school student for fiction reading and fiction writing.

I have managed to put together a manuscript for my second novel, and I still plan to try to fix the structural problems and edit and polish as much as I can (which, alas, may take another few years, at my pace). I keep telling myself that I’m not in a race, but I can’t help missing the side of me that felt compelled to write fiction and that found writing fiction to be both freeing and effortless. The time I spend switching mental gears from how I think in my daily life to how I must think as a fiction writer exhausts me, and tonight I am having a bit of a crisis of faith. What if the part of me that was able to write well has died, or atrophied to the point where it can’t be resucitated? What if I will never be a writer- that is, a good writer, a productive writer whose work is read and enjoyed by many?

I will still work on my novel- or rather, novels, since I’ve got ideas for many floating about in my head. It’s a harmless pastime and it actually does give me enjoyment when I manage to put words to paper and they aren’t entirely terrible, or I come up with an idea that I think is new and interesting. I just wonder how much I’ve cost myself- how much time, how many works of fiction that could have been written and will now never exist- because I wasn’t able to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice to write every day.

“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).

xo

Liz

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,

Liz

[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. ]