writing is like brushing your teeth

or: get ready for an overly-explained metaphor that you’ll have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the post to read.

My new laptop has been up and running again for just over a week now, and in that time I have written nearly 28,000 words — today I’m hoping to cap it off at a neat 35,000. On Goodreads the other week I mentioned that using the Writeometer app is a good way of making writing fun, because the neat little bar graph and line graph show my progress (and the bright green graphics certainly make it nice, and the little inspirational writing quotes on the main app page are super cute).

But what it also does is it keeps me honest in not only how much I write, but how long it takes me to do it. What it comes down to — and I can’t claim that it makes sense, all I know is that that’s how it works — is that if I don’t time myself to write as much as I possibly can within 20 minutes, and do so multiple times a day, then I waffle around a bit and at most I’ll write 5,000 words.

The week before my old laptop died, I clocked almost 12,000 words, none of those using timed sessions.

Between yesterday and the day before, I clocked nearly twice that amount. By timing myself, 20 minutes at a time, for nine hours yesterday and six hours the day before.

Now, that wasn’t all in one go each day. I had to get coffee and eat food and take out the recycling and water the plants and get the mail and sleep. And what I found is that I naturally fell into a rhythm of 4 sessions in a row, then getting up and stretching my legs and running errands as needed, then getting back in the saddle.

And waking up this morning, I knew very well that doing marathons like that isn’t sustainable: because my wrist hurt, and because my eyes felt like they’d been dried with a blow torch. I normally spend my days staring at a computer screen, but not quite in such a concentrated manner, and dang if it doesn’t make a physical difference.

So: writing is like brushing your teeth. If you’re anything like I was as a teenager (and college student), and you forget to brush for days at a time until finally about a week later you realize your teeth are absolutely covered in gross slimy fur, then when you finally do brush your teeth (taking five minutes to excavate and floss and all the rest) your teeth feel so shiny and slick and clean that you wonder why you don’t do this every day.

I do brush my teeth regularly these days. And (knock on wood) I haven’t gotten a cavity yet. But the procrastination to the point of discomfort, and then the mad rush to do a week’s worth of time in a matter of hours, is the exact same whether you’re brushing your teeth or whether you’re writing.

And frankly, it’s healthier to write 3,000 words a day for eight days than it is to write 24,000 words in the space of 48 hours.

The long and the short of it is that by the end of the day today, the rough draft of my first romance novella will be going up for edits — and by the end of next week (given a more reasonable pace rather than a marathon), so will the fourth Iron Gentry novel.

Les Mis BBC, a review

or: the one where I’m tempted to use capslock, and must manfully refrain, otherwise it would be all capslock.

I wrote a post almost a year ago mentioning the BBC adaptation of Les Mis, and made a lot of placating noises about how adaptations are never exactly like the book, and how in some cases I actually prefer adaptations that are wildly different from their origins. And in some cases, yes, that is still true. But with Les Mis BBC …

Oh boy, how do I put this.

Wicked the musical has some of the character tropes from the book, and has the same basic plot beats, but is completely different from the book in terms of tone and outlook. The book is nihilistic and pessimistic; it speaks of terrorism as the only way to combat a totalitarian regime, it speaks of death as inevitable, none of the characters (and I do mean none of them) are sympathetic, and there is so much weird R-rated stuff going on that it’s frankly amazing my parents let me read it in middle school.

Wicked the musical is about none of that. Wicked the musical is about finding meaning in life even when it’s easier not to, and about friendship and love saving people even at the eleventh hour; its characters are all sympathetic, except for the main antagonist, and nobody dies. And yeah, there’s a suggestive scene, but it’s nowhere near as raunchy as something from Heathers or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Frankly, it barely hits the PG mark.

Transforming a pessimistic book into an optimistic show, that’s something I’m fine with. More than fine. Enthusiastic about, even.

But what Andrew Davies did with Les Mis was the opposite.

Continue reading “Les Mis BBC, a review”

update roundup

or: the Case of the Over-Caffeinated Laptop.

First off, an extremely belated happy 2019! LTUE was two weeks ago now, and the con crud has run its due course. I have several sparkly new ideas to either turn into new projects or add to existing projects, and a whole bunch of new reading material. Shoutout to Natalie Whipple, whose book The Vengeance Code is first up on my to-reads, and who had some great insights in the “Pantsing: Making the Most of Draft 0” panel.

In terms of actual writing, the fourth Iron Gentry book is still on Draft 0. For the last few months – well, basically, up until a week ago – it had been extremely slow going. Then all of a sudden, something in my brain went click and I was averaging nearly 1700 words a day (the same as a NaNo daily word count). Everything coming up roses, all was well, one of those days I clocked over 5000 words –

– Then yesterday the great coffee spill of 2019 occurred.

Reader, I wept. I bawled like a little baby. That laptop has everything on it, not just my writing, and there was only one viable USB port left on it – and the last time I backed it up was back in September.

If nothing else, this has hammered in the lesson that I really, really ought to do weekly hard drive backups.

According to the various tech support sites, for liquid in the keyboard the device is supposed to air out for 96 hours before you should even try to revive it. So for the next three days, it’s mobile devices only. Thank God for tablets, right? I would hate to be typing this up on my smartphone.

If everything goes well, I should be back in business Monday evening. At which point it’s full steam ahead, and aiming (ideally) for a mid-April release.

I’ve decided, in the interim, to work on some projects that I can’t sell for money (aka fanfiction). That way I can try to keep the high productivity going and maybe even turn it into a habit. It makes sense to me to have links to all of my writing in the same place, too, not just some of it – so as I update fanfic, I’m going to post links to them on here as well.

A Harry Potter/Les Misérables crossover fanfic is a very different subgenre of fantasy than Iron Gentry, considering the time period if nothing else. And I find that my writing style changes a little between original stuff and fanworks. (For one thing, I would never dream of selling something written in the present tense. But that might just be me.) But it’s really fun as a hobby, honestly; and fanfic lets me do crazy whackdoodle crossovers that I can’t use to turn a profit, too. And since original flash fic isn’t working out for me as well as I’d hoped, fanfic seems like the best way for me to get free writing samples out there.

Wish me luck on my laptop – and see you soon!

The Tree’s Gossip

“Perhaps it’s time to teach you summoning.”

This was completely out of nowhere, in the middle of lunch, a thin vegetable soup that Yarrow had spent almost the entire morning poking at. Yarrow nearly dropped her spoon; as it was, she could not contain herself from gaping at her teacher like an idiot.

“Summoning? As in, spirits? D-demons?”

“ ‘Demon’ is a very broad term,” the old woman said dryly. “And most of them look on it as an insult, so maybe pick another word to call ‘em by.”

“Alright. But — well — summoning!” Yarrow tried to collect her thoughts. The first truly witchy thing since she’d come up the mountain! “What — can I ask what brought this on?”

Nettle gave a gusty sigh. “Anthracite’s gone and stuck his beak in fey business. It’s only a matter of time until Her Royal Nibs decides to interfere aboveground. And that means getting backup from other places. You might as well learn it now, before you have to.”

It was gibberish, all of it, as far as Yarrow was concerned. But she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the eye, or however the saying went.

Especially since it looked like some of her questions might finally be answered.

Continue reading “The Tree’s Gossip”

The Apprentice

Yarrow first met Anthracite as a mistake.

She was still getting used to answering to the name “Yarrow,” which was the first of her problems, because any witch worth her salt never answered to the name she was born with. Names were powerful things, more powerful than nail clippings or strands of hair. Only blood came close. If one of the long-leggedie-beasties of the forest got ahold of your real name, you could say goodbye to sense and wit and freedom.

Anthracite wasn’t just a long-leggedie-beastie, though, and more’s the pity: he was the crow-headed ferryman of the dead.

The second of Yarrow’s problems was connected to her first, and it was this — that she had only been a witch for three weeks. Where other young people in the village her age were taking on apprenticeships as chandlers, carpenters, spinsters, and blacksmiths, Yarrow had taken up an apprenticeship with the forest witch. She was an old woman, her hair pure gray and her face as wrinkled as a walnut, her clever fingers gnarled and spindly-long; and when she had knocked on the door and settled by the fire, Yarrow’s parents had taken the news … reasonably well, all things considered.

“Reasonably well” included such behaviors as turning pale (her mother), turning bright red (her father), making angry comments about how the witch ought to get out of the house before her hide got tanned (her mother), and pleas for the witch to reconsider (her father).

The witch Nettle had been undeterred. And Yarrow, after the initial shock of having someone tell her that she had the knack for magic, had been intrigued. It was the curiosity in her: once you got Yarrow by the curiosity, then she had you, and she’d not let go for love nor money ’til she found the answers to her questions.

(That was her third problem. But we’ll get to that shortly.)

Continue reading “The Apprentice”

the name’s the thing

Well, so I’ve talked about linguistics, now I guess it’s time to talk about names. Or rather, how names matter. This time, we’ll be scrutinizing Tolkien’s Silmarillion.

When I was in middle school I bragged about reading the dictionary for fun, I think mostly to establish my nerd cred. A sham, naturally. I think I was still mainlining EragonRedwallArtemis Fowl, and Harry Potter instead of actually studying anything. (Probably reading the books under my desk, too. Actually I think I did get in trouble for that in my ninth grade biology class. Whoops.) But the dictionary my parents have – not the huge, unabridged, old one with pages so yellowed they’re orange, but the slightly new-ish one with the gray cover – has a section in the back with male and female names, alphabetized, and their name meanings, and that I did read.

Buddy, that name section of the dictionary was like heroin for my little developing writer brain. I went on a streak, in middle school, where I spent nearly every day after school feverishly typing at my dad’s old Dell desktop, and I crammed it full of half-finished drafts with heroes called Danae and Romulus and all sorts of things. I’ve posted a few of those half-finished ideas before – I don’t have any of the files saved, un/happily, but some of them stuck in my brain quite vividly. Rest in peace, Tess and James, my Pirates of the Caribbean rip-off. I’ll never forget how I had one of you climb up to the crow’s nest of the ship and then jump off and land on the main deck, upright, without breaking a single bone in your body. Truly it was a miracle of illogic.

Anyway! Even if you don’t painstakingly curate the names of your characters the way twelve-year-old me did, the names of characters matter. A Jim and a James and a Jamie might have the same base name, but James is more formal, and Jamie is more gender neutral, and Jim is solidly masculine, possibly even lumberjack-like.

And if a character goes by James, but his mom keeps calling him Jamie even after he’s repeatedly asked her not to, that right there matters – especially if the author treats that as a symptom of a bigger plot point. A coming-of-age story is the first thing that comes to my mind with that example. But there are any number of other possibilities you could explore.

And when a character changes their name … or someone else gives them a new name … then it gets even more interesting.

Continue reading “the name’s the thing”

I thou thee!

Time to talk about linguistics as it pertains to literature — specifically Les Mis, and even more specifically Valjean and Javert. This is going to get pedantic and also very passionate, so buckle up, y’all, it’s gonna be a fun ride.

Several languages — French, Dutch, German, Russian, just to name a few — use two forms of address when speaking to another person (2nd person). French has a handy flowchart here which explains the difference pretty succinctly.

Basically, if a stranger bumps into you on the street, and you don’t want to get into a fistfight, you call them “vous.” But if you do want to get into a fistfight, you call them “tu.”

The nouns and verbs in French to describe this phenomenon, of addressing people in/formally, are tutoyer/tutoiement and vouvoyer/vouvoiement. The same way that gender is hammered into every single part of speech in French (even the chair has a gender, which, that doesn’t make sense to me but you do you, chair), so is in/formality. It’s not something they really emphasize in written literature because to them it’s just as natural as swimming is to a fish. For native English speakers, though, it’s a struggle to convey that cultural and linguistic difference without a couple paragraphs’ worth of explanation.

English used to have an in/formal dichotomy in the 2nd person address. “You” used to be the way a person addressed their teacher or king or possibly their parents, and “thou” was the way they addressed their friends, their children, and their underlings.

The interesting bit about English in/formality is that nowadays the “thee” form is only actively consistently used in places like Rite One of a Christian Protestant church service. We call God “thee” — we address Him informally.

(Yeah, there’s a theological reason for that, but I am not anywhere near qualified to answer that question.)

But in modern media depicting ye olde days, the “thee” form is used pretty haphazardly, addressing any old person any which way, when back in the 1600s that really wasn’t the case. If a princeling talked to some commoner on the street, the prince used “thee” on the commoner; if the commoner used “thee” back at the prince, he would probably have been beaten for the impertinence. There’s a reason all the best Shakespearean insults start with a “thou” — it’s purposefully conveying, through the dang pronoun even before you get to the good part of the insult, that the speaker is the hearer’s superior in every possible way.

With that in mind …

… Javert calls Valjean “tu” throughout the entire book — when he knows it’s Valjean he’s addressing.

Continue reading “I thou thee!”

oh, the horror

Full disclaimer: I’m not, nor have I ever much been in my life, a horror fan. Coraline and Over the Garden Wall is about as spooky as I get, and that’s mild-kiddie-Halloween level. Just like the occasional sprinkling of paprika is about as spicy as I get: it’s not spicy in any way that actually counts.

Gore? Humungously not my thing. Jump scares? Nope. Psychological shenanigans? If it’s got cannibals/incest/people turning into mindless monsters and losing all their humanity? Yeah, that’s a no.

Hey, I watch Game of Thrones for the politics, not … that other stuff. And I can always plug my ears and take off my glasses when the going gets grody. But I won’t read Poe’s “The Black Cat” more than once, and there’s an episode of Doctor Who that I will not watch because of the whole humans-losing-humanity-unwillingly thing. Yeah, the water on Mars one. That one. Awful. Does it technically count as horror? Maybe not to veterans of the horror genre, but it gives mid-twenties me the same willies that a cartoon brain-eating alien gave seven-year-old me.

Actually, that brain-eating alien still gives me the willies.

So take what I say with a big old honking grain of salt.

On the other hand, I freakin’ love the Resurgam trilogy by Joan Frances Turner, which is from the point of view of a zombie and absolutely involves the whole cannibalism thing, and goes into meticulous and nearly poetic detail about the process of corpse decay. It even has the personification of death as this eldritch non-being that is everywhere and everything, and – spoiler alert – is about to swallow the entire planet into nothingness.

But despite the whole zombies-and-existential-dread thing, I don’t think that DustFrail, and Grave count as horror books. Because even with the apocalyptic setting, there’s always a shred of hope, and – spoiler alert – the characters we care most about make it out unscathed. Or, if not unscathed, at least scathed in a way they can accept.

In the horror panel at LTUE, they talked about the horror genre as a loss of control, as something horrible and irrevocable happening, as fear being present and inescapable throughout the story.

In a horror story, even victory counts as a failure. It is impossible to win.

… Huh. I guess that one Doctor Who episode does count as horror after all.

But all of that only means that the dressing of the story, the setting and the species and the time period, are very nice and indeed important things to pay attention to — and must be integrated with the plot — but they do not drive the plot. The Resurgam trilogy takes place in a world where mind-numbing hunger razed society to shreds, but it is never hopeless, and the characters’ victories matter. Zombies and all, they cannot be horror books.

Meanwhile, a story with no supernatural trappings whatsoever can be the worst living hell a body can imagine. Have you looked at the battered women statistics recently?

Horror lives wherever it can. It isn’t where and when you are that counts — it’s what you do.

rainy day movies

Today was the kind of rainy Monday that makes you wish you were still in bed. The kind of day that makes you want to camp out on the couch with a mug of hot-beverage-of-choice (in my case, coffee) and watch a movie.

My rainy day movie tends to be Coraline. Yep, the stop-motion animated film with the creepy button eyes. Somehow the combination of stop-motion and the lullaby soundtrack music and all the loving care put into production — did you know that all of the dolls’ clothing was handmade, and Coraline’s tiny sweater was hand-knitted with miniature needles? — just makes for a lovely comfort movie. I can probably recite 90% of the dialogue from memory, I’ve seen it so many times. The animation is phenomenal, the script is tightly written, the music is alternately soothing and just the right amount of discordant. Laika puts care into all of their productions, and it shows.

Keith David as the voice of the cat doesn’t exactly hurt, either.

I know it’s a creepy kind of movie, with a few images (like the Other Father’s distorted face as he seems to become more candle wax than person) being a bit disturbing. If I had seen it as a kid, it probably would have given me nightmares. Disney’s The Black Caudron certainly did, and I didn’t see that one until I was ten. But as a teenager when I first read Coraline the book and delved into Neil Gaiman’s oeuvre, I found a little more horror in stories like “The Last Temptation,” which was also sort of designed with young readers in mind, and which I still enjoyed … unlike “24 Hours” in Preludes and Nocturnes, which was very much not for youth consumption, and if I never read it again it will still be too soon.

This begs a question about what exactly constitutes horror, and how different people see it as different things. But that’s probably a question for another post.

The book Coraline is stark and lonely and it’s got its fair share of existential dread along with the eldritch monster to be beaten. The movie Coraline still has all its teeth — it hasn’t been tamed or tamped down in any way — but it’s less about the existential dread and more about the relationships people build with each other. It makes for a brighter, warmer story — a comfort story — a well-used story, at least in my case. I can’t think of a single rainy morning or afternoon where I haven’t thought, “hum, I want to put on Coraline in a few minutes.” And maybe there’s another movie I’d rather watch instead, but my default for rainy days will always be Coraline.

What’s your rainy day default?

Superstar!

It’s Easter Monday – happy Easter, by the way – which means it’s time to go over NBC’s live broadcast of their version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ, Superstar!

I’ve had opinions about this musical for two years longer than I’ve had opinions about Les Mis, so buckle up.

Norm Lewis as Caiaphas was perfect of course. The Annas was pretty good too. Backstory: the reason I ended up actually wanting to see this particular version of JCS was because of Norm Lewis as Caiaphas. Norm played Javert in the 25th Anniversary Concert for Les Mis, and also on Broadway; the guy is fantastic. So whatever else went on with JCS Live, I knew that the Caiaphas would be perfect. And I was right; and Annas and the other Pharisees were excellent too. “This Jesus Must Die” is the best number in the whole production.

Alice Cooper was … eh, he was alright as King Herod. Fumbled a line, didn’t have as much flair as I expected actually. I mean, come on. It’s Alice Cooper. I expected a bit more vocal diva. He wasn’t horrible, he wasn’t bad, he was just kinda alright. And that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing – not every cast member can be a powerhouse – but if the guy’s one of the three people you’re putting on the marquis to sell the show, you kind of expect him to be a powerhouse. Sorry, buddy. I like your cover of “This is Halloween,” though.

Sara Bareilles was great, as expected. She made a really wistful Mary Magdalene, balanced the sweetness and the belting very well, which of course is her calling card. And man, she delivered. The few trills and embellishments she made didn’t detract from her songs. They reminded us that, oh yes, this is Sara doing the singing. Nice. Solid performance, 10/10 good Mary Magdalene.

Erik Grönwall as Simon the Zealot was .. really good. Really, really good. Strong belt, lots of passion, hit a nice high note at the end, sustained his notes well. So … why wasn’t this guy cast as Judas instead? I’m just asking. This guy has potential. He was a strong member of the ensemble, but he could have been a real powerhouse if he’d been given the opportunity.

Jason Tam as Simon Peter was also a nice solid member of the ensemble, again, lots of passion. His final denial (in a song titled “Peter’s Denial”, who’d’a thought it) was a desperate frightened scream, and man, it worked. I wanna see more of these guys.

Ben Daniels as Pontius Pilate was pretty decent. He’s no David Burt, but I’m pretty sure only Anthony Warlow would be able to match David Burt for sheer British snarly menace. Ben Daniels is also a tenor, as far as I can tell, and the Pilate role was definitely written for a baritone. But he put his all into it, and the result is a Pilate who genuinely wants to be good but ends up doing evil anyway.

John Legend was .. wait for it … legendary.

The actor for Jesus I’m most familiar with is Steve Balsamo of the original cast album. That dude had a pair of pipes – he hit the high notes as hard as possible, and held them longer than is normally possible for human lungs. He also didn’t embellish the notes at all, just sang them straight, no trills and no frills. John Legend hits it from the other direction – he keeps to the lower register for the most part, and does trills almost every line, and he holds his notes a reasonable amount of time. But here’s the thing, though: Trills and frills and dipsy doodles can be annoying if that’s all you do, and you don’t put any power behind your notes; but John Legend puts power into everything he does, so they weren’t annoying at all. His “Gethsemane” is a very different kettle of fish from Steve Balsamo’s, but it’s just as good, because they both put all of their passion into it.

Meanwhile, Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas was … sweet.

Which is an extremely weird adjective to associate with Judas Iscariot, the ultimate traitor.

He went for the Zubin Varla riffs, the same ones from the original cast recording, which … I don’t know, it’s a bit odd considering how far John Legend deviated from Steve Balsamo’s performance in the original cast. This Judas is very pop-y, if that makes any sense. I mean, JCS is a rock opera, but he doesn’t belt the way you’d expect in a rock opera. In fact he doesn’t belt at all. For contrast just look at Drew Sarich as Judas in Amstetten 2005, who super leaned into the rock aspect and belted every line he could. – and actually, Brandon Victor Dixon doesn’t even lean into the rock aspect as much as Zubin Varla did either. On the one hand, the way he did “Damned for All Time/Blood Money” does a damn good job of making Judas reluctant to betray Jesus, and there’s a solid ten seconds’ silent hesitation before he actually does so. And for “Judas’ Death” he’s impressively torn up about it. But on the other hand …

… Where’s the anger? There’s no anger! And not even a hint of spite! You’re telling me that Judas Iscariot, ultimate traitor, isn’t even a little bit angry at the man he betrays?

The point of JCS is to portray both sides of the betrayal, and to explain that Judas had reasons for what he did. The lyrics do indicate a certain level of not only frustration but anger and vindictiveness that Judas feels towards Jesus. Brandon Victor Dixon is a decent vocalist, but the way that he delivered the lines didn’t exactly say “anger” to me. There’s despair and love and anguish in there, sure, but those are nuances that I look for to balance out the anger. It’s like putting all the garlic and onion and celery you could ever want into a chicken soup, but leaving out the dang chicken.

And this is exhibited the best in “The Last Supper.” John Legend is pouring all his passion into his lines, but with a sad-sweet-despairing Judas, what’s usually almost a fight scene is instead … really vocally unbalanced. “To think I admired you – well, now I despise you!” are words that should be hurled like arrows, like daggers, like a freaking fireball. Instead they’re almost whispered. “The Last Supper” is the opening number in Act Two, and it should start off with a punch! And with John Legend as Jesus, it does! But then Brandon Victor Dixon opens his mouth and … it kind of falls apart. I’m sorry, buddy, I really am. I’m sure you’d make a wonderful Peter. But I’d pick somebody else as Judas.

And honestly – if you’re gonna pick a guy from Hamilton to play Judas, why not pick Leslie Odom Jr? Or do you not think he’d work as well in the glittery shirts?

Or Erik Grönwall would look pretty good in the glittery shirts too. Just saying.