the recluse writer, but on purpose this time

So plague-blogging is a thing now!

I’ve gotta be honest with y’all, being shut up in the house is not doing as much for my productivity as I would have hoped. Previously I had been going to the library to get my work done, and, well, the libraries are all closed. Along with everything else. It turns out a change of scenery is one of those load-bearing things that helps put me into work mode just as much as pen and paper and reliable audio do, and without it, I get a little — how do you say — antsy. And not the good kind of oh-man-gotta-write antsy, the I-need-to-get-outta-here kind.

Crochet is very good for combatting the antsiness and keeping my hands busy (and watching new-to-me Austen movies at the same time, hello Persuasion and Emma, 1995-6 was a very good time for Austen yes indeed), but very bad for my overall word count. We’re over the 15,000 word mark on the draft now, but less than 5k written over the course of 10 days is not what I call a good sign. Of course a small amount of writing is better than no writing at all, but still.

Well …

Reader, I was trying to avoid marathon sprints, but life in the time of corona means I can go ahead and subject my eyeballs to the blowtorch and write 10,000 words a day and not have to worry about being an utter recluse (quarantine means social distancing is a GOOD thing!) or about being utterly useless afterwards.

And hey, once I finish the draft, then I’m perfectly justified in crocheting my little heart out until my eyeballs recover. Then editing, and publishing the darn thing.

Maybe I’ll even dip my toes into audiobooks. Hey, I’ve got the time for it now.

According to a whole bunch of people on Twitter (and any number of articles written in the last few days; apparently Twitter is a primary source now) Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. Well, I’m no Bill Shakes, I know that for sure. But I can see how madness being a factor makes a whole lot of sense; same as witches talking about regicide in Macbeth makes sense when you take into account King James’s fascination with witches and his brush with an assassination attempt. Well, maybe my main character being shut in a tomb for safekeeping is a bit too on-the-nose for COVID-19 … but in my defense, the thing she’s hiding from isn’t a virus, just other people.

Talk about social distancing.

the only place left to go is up

So — a 2019 recap is in order. The second week of February isn’t too late for that, right? Right.

I was not active on here. I should have been, but if I’ve learned anything from the last year, beating myself up over not doing something is the best way to ensure I continue to not do it. So there’s that: it is what it is, and we learn, and we move on.

I got a new day job. A step up from the old one, and a step closer to where I want to be.

I picked up some new/old skills. I learned how to fight with a rapier and a dagger in addition to a longsword, and I relearned how to crochet, and I sewed my first big clothing project. (A brocade jacket, which I’m pretty proud of. I should post pictures.)

I lost fifteen pounds. I blame that on rapier class, mostly, which can be blamed on Alexandre Dumas, because I read The Three Musketeers and just had to learn.

I got more active with tabletop rpgs. Even started my first ever campaign as a DM, which has been an amazing experience.

And I wrote.

I didn’t publish anything. Not original fiction, and not fanfiction. My AO3 account has been dusty and silent for over a year now, and, well … you know how my Amazon page has been.

But even if I never published a word of it, I still wrote. I polished off an entire 40k first draft of a novella. And here and there — halfheartedly, but still better than nothing at all — I worked on a partial draft of the fourth Iron Gentry book, adding just under 20,000 words to the draft in 2019. Most of these were written before I got the new day job; and the majority of the novella draft was written in a caffeine-fueled marathon that lasted for three days, clocking a total of 28,617 words in that time.

Not exactly sustainable. Add a day job to the equation, and … yeah. No. Definitely not.

(No, NaNoWriMo did not happen in 2019. Partially because day job, and partially because I got sick twice.)

But 60k words in a year isn’t anything to sneeze at. That’s a novella and a half, and it’s more than I wrote in the year 2018, if I remember correctly.

But in addition to that, I also wrote just under 225k of personal projects with a friend, most of which was based on The Three Musketeers.

Yeah, Dumas is definitely the criminal mastermind here, not me.

Will any of that ever be shared with the public? Probably not. It was damn fun, and I have a good time rereading it, but it wasn’t written with the intention to be consumed by anybody except myself and the friend I wrote it with.

… which I think goes a long way toward explaining just why I was so prolific with that, but not with the original fiction, or even the fanfic I pop on AO3. It’s a hell of a lot less pressure to goof around with a friend where no one else can see than it is to try to make something worth putting out to the public, to say nothing of putting a price tag on it.

The other main explanation is that because it was a personal project, a series of ongoing conversations with a friend about a book (and a movie, or multiple movies) that I love, in the year 2019 we wrote pretty consistently from the middle of March all the way through December 31. We did it in our free time, in stolen minutes during lunch breaks and in the morning before work, after work, long stints on the weekends. I haven’t tracked it on a graph, and I’m sure we had a few dry spells, but if we didn’t average writing 5 days out of 7, I’ll eat my tablet stylus.

It wasn’t a job. It was a hobby: it was fun, and I looked forward to doing it, and I did it whenever I could.

A third, smaller and sillier explanation is that formatting factors into it more than I’d thought. There’s this darn thing called smart quotes, and when I’m plunking along in the message system I use with my friend, smart quotes don’t register and it doesn’t matter what device I’m typing on. Whereas in Google Docs — my go-to for writing original and fan fiction on-the-go — on my laptop, smart quotes populate; but on my mobile devices, neither love nor money could convince those little Android keyboards to give me smart quotes.

Google Docs used to let my tablet do them, but it updated in the middle of last year and now… yeah. Nope.

This is why there’s a saying that goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

(See, I told you it was silly.)

In any case, altogether that’s nearly 300,000 words that I wrote in 2019. The equivalent of four novellas, or three nice-sized books, or one doorstop.

There’s a number of lessons to be learned here.

  • Get past the block of “oh man this has to be perfect on the first try,” so stuff can actually get written. Give myself permission for it to be silly and florid and dramatic, and to goof off with it a bit.
  • Getting excited, looking forward to it, leads to doing it whenever possible. Make it as easy as possible to do.
  • If something else is blocking me, find a way around it. Writing longhand seems like a good solution here, since I don’t have to worry about mobile devices formatting all my quotes the wrong way.
    • Related to the “make it easy” bullet — bring a notebook and pen with me everywhere I go, so I can write wherever I go. Not just my personal journal, but a writing one.
  • Reward my brain for writing, instead of beating it up when I don’t. Joy Demorra over at @thebibliosphere has a writing log that’s part of a rewards system for her daily routine, which is basically tracking the daily word count by putting a shiny sticker in her journal for every X amount of words. Does it have the same basic function as one of those NaNo tracker graphs, or my Writeometer app? Yes. But oooh boy, my crow brain is a lot happier about shiny stickers than it is about graphs.
    • At the same time, don’t fix what ain’t broke. The journal is for tracking total daily word count; Writeometer is best for tracking progress in a specific project. So I’ll probably end up using both.
  • Last but not least: when all of these conditions are being met? When I’m enthusiastic, when I’m giving myself permission to go off the rails, when I’m writing every minute that I can and not worried about formatting? I actually write a hell of a lot.

And that’s pretty reassuring.

So 2019 wasn’t a total bust after all — and hey, it can only get better from here.

alexa, play “the boys are back in town”

That there is a joke, because I will never own an Alexa, because the Internet of Things scares the living daylights out of me.

— Anyway.

The thing about the internet is you can start a sentence with “the thing about” with absolute confidence, and sound like you actually know what you’re talking about, as though you’re an expert.

I am not an expert.

I mean, clearly, considering my last post was from (*checks blog*) March. Yikes.

Procrastinator? Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

There are a few factors into this. One, the day-job-search which turned into the new-job-navigation (five-month-mark at the end of October, woo!). Two, the attempt to Konmari my living space, which has had middling success thus far. Three, the re-engagement in my local European martial arts club, which I had dropped last fall and only got back into this summer. Four, jumping headfirst into more tabletop rpgs with some long-distance buddies, including my own pseudo-homebrew LOTR campaign. Also, this month I picked up sewing as a hobby, and actually made a pretty cool  brocade jacket on the first try, if I do say so myself.

Life goes on. I’m not going out dancing every night, but I am busier than I was this time last year.

But the fact of the matter is that these things don’t excuse my absence on this blog. If nothing else, I could have at least spared a few minutes here and there to write “I ain’t dead”.

And if I’d taken a few minutes here and there to work on my novel drafts every day, then — well — see my previous post in March about writing being like brushing your teeth.

Writing-wise, I am full of cavities right now.

And then you look at the pile of Things To Do, which seems to get bigger every minute, and then (if you’re me, at least) you balk, and then you decide to ignore it, because in the moment that’s easier. That’s a problem for Future Me is practically a slogan of mine by now.

It’s not a good way of doing business. I can’t write this on my taxes next year, that’s for sure, unless something miraculous happens in the next (*checks calendar*) two and a half months.

Yikes.

It feels disingenuous to tell you now that I’m gonna work hard to be better, when I’ve made those promises before and not kept them. It feels disingenuous to say I’m going to try to post a weekly update, and write SOMETHING every day.

But the alternative is to do nothing at all, and I’m done with that.

I want to be better. So I am going to try — actively try — to be better.

And hey, NaNoWriMo is coming up soon. What better time to start holding myself accountable again?

oberhau!

The fun thing about getting to whack people with swords (in a safe environment, with proper equipment) is that, along with meeting new and exciting people and getting to do something that makes a pretty excellent ice breaker, I also learned some things.

Shocking, yes, absolutely.

The downside: I wrote Singing in Key before I knew .. uh, anything about swords, and looking back, it really shows. My fingers are itching to go back and edit. Can’t do that, of course, because it’s already published and if I start, then I won’t be able to stop. It’s already out there. I gotta let it go.

The upside: Every other book I write is now going to be informed by this class, and every future class I take. What I now know about overhand/underhand blows, blocks, strong or weak binds, I can put that into the Iron Gentry series and my writing will be stronger for it. And what I know about sword fighting can translate into other types of action scenes as well. And now that I have this foundation, I can build upon it.

Guys, I really can’t recommend it enough. If you’ve got a local HEMA chapter (Historical European Martial Arts), sign up for a beginner’s class. The beginning classes usually provide the equipment for you, it gets you out of the house and meeting new people …

… and eight weeks of waving around a plastic sword is a hell of a lot of fun.

LTUE 2k18 recap

Life, The Universe, and Everything at Provo, UT is over now — yesterday was spent entirely in transit, and the jet lag has been properly dealt with. I attended for all three days, and my editor/cover designer buddy came with for days two and three. This was my first proper con, let alone writers’ con, and I think I’ve been stuffed so full of new ideas they’re coming out of my ears.

It was amazing.

As advertised, this was a con (or symposium) for the craft and business of writing, as opposed to a con designed for fandom. Indie distribution, school visits, construction of ancient languages, the tips and tricks of writing mystery … I learned something new at every single panel I attended. I have so many notes to write up.

And I have a long list of things to read, too. Research of course, and novels written by panelists and people I met at the book signing. Between new things to read and my own writing projects, I think I’ll have enough to keep me busy until Thanksgiving at least — at which point the word “audiobook” comes into the conversation. (And wouldn’t you know, there was an LTUE panel on audiobooks, too.)

Most of all, it was just awesome to be around fellow writers for three solid days. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

adaptations, Hugo style

A couple weeks ago they came out with the main cast of the new Les Mis BBC miniseries that’ll be coming out sometime in the next few years. Filming apparently starts this February on-location in France and Belgium.

Guys, I am yelling about this.

Which, you know, isn’t surprising given that I’m a humungous nerd about the book. A tv mini/series gives you the chance to spread out and really delve into the fun details of a monster like Les Mis (they call it “the brick” for a reason – the unabridged novel is almost 531,000 words long). And while the musical adaptation is a lot of fun, and there have been scads of movie adaptations in the last four decades, most of them haven’t … well … really been all that accurate to the book.

I know, I know. Treat adaptations like they’re completely separate entities and you’ll have more fun. It worked with Neil Gaiman books like Coraline and Stardust, it worked (mostly) with the Harry Potter series, it worked with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. The book-to-movie or book-to-musical transition, which naturally involves snipping a lot of things to make sure it’s at the generally accepted 2-3 hour time limit, means that something’s gotta give. And that’s only taking the plot and characters into account, let alone the execution.

Anytime that you switch media, there are going to be changes you have to make. A graphic novel transmutes fine to a movie or tv series because it’s essentially a storyboard; a novel transmutes fine to a podcast because it’s essentially a script. But going from something with only one medium (pure words, pure sound, that mix with the reader/listener’s imagination to produce an experience unique to each individual that consumes it) to something multimedia (words and image, or image and sound) means that the image in the reader’s head isn’t going to match what you see on stage or screen. How can it? Unless we develop telepathic technology to project our imaginations onto a screen, there’s no way to tailor-fit someone else’s thoughts into a movie. Even a movie or stage director won’t be able to do that exactly, because the actors or the set designers or someone will throw in something different. And sometimes the things that other person thinks up are really awesome. I sure wouldn’t have pegged Coraline for a stop-motion adaptation. But inevitably there’s going to be somebody complaining that the adaptation “isn’t what I pictured.”

The time constraints create the biggest changes, though, and these can make or break an adaptation. Cutting down a megalith like Les Mis into a two-hour movie or a three-hour musical is … well, that’s why a miniseries or a full tv show is a better multimedia idea, just off the top of my head. I mean, heck, just look at the Mortal Instruments series, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both had movie adaptations that kinda bombed at the box office, but that are doing really quite well on the small screen. (I still need to watch ASOUE on Netflix … one more New Year’s resolution, I suppose.) It gives the adaptation creators a chance to really take their time with all of the plot.

Wicked the musical and Stardust the movie? Almost completely unrecognizable from their original books. I found the adaptations more enjoyable, but then again I’m prejudiced; as much as I respect Maguire and Gaiman’s writing (and I can’t thank Neil Gaiman enough for introducing me to Terry Pratchett’s books), I … really just don’t have a taste for a lot of the weird stuff that went on in Wicked and Stardust. Sorry, but nihilism and unhappy endings just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m an escapist at heart. And probably, for all the same reasons that I love the adaptations, other people might think they’re too saccharine and dopey and prefer the original books. Whoops. To each their own.

Les Mis? Well …

… This requires a Part 2.

Stay tuned.

2018 reboot

Recalculating …

“New year, new me,” she proclaimed, and then proceeded to act the same as always.

2017 was the year I finally got off my butt and started writing things I wanted to publish – and publish I did. Not as many as I’d aimed for (yes, IG book 3 is still pending), but 2 books published is still yonks better than none. I’d say 2017 was a vast improvement over 2016, personally speaking. As to the rest of the world, well, let’s leave that alone, shall we.

In preparation for the new year kick-off I spent most of NYE and NYD making lists. Astoundingly exciting, yes, I know. What can I say. I enjoy making lists. It helps me calm down instead of worrying my head off. And if I have a list to stick to, a schedule to follow, then I don’t spend my time faffing around and not getting anything done.

First item on the agenda: write more.

Write more here, specifically. I’ve been pretty bad about posting here lately, and I want to fix that. So hand-in-hand with sticking to an exercise schedule of 5 days a week, I’ll also be writing here 5 days a week. Now, whether they’ll be posts about writing, or movies, or flash fiction, that all depends – and if you tell me there’s something you’d like to see, I’ll try to provide more of it. But having a more constant presence on here is the main thing.

And writing more fiction is the other big thing, of course. I want to try to hit the 10-book mark in 2018, and have them be longer books, too, not just 50k novellas. Along with that, I’d like to try my hand at short stories so I can have some free reading material for y’all to peruse. Hopefully, along with the novels, I’ll be able to put up one short story every other month, and in different genres, too.

Second item on the agenda: get out and about more.

It’s really flarking cold outside, but I found an exercise schedule that I think I can persuade my suspicious lazy lizard brain to actually agree with. This pairs nicely with the “blog more” goal; if I already have to spend 20 minutes sitting down trying to stop sweating, I might as well put that time to good use on WordPress. And this way, when the local HEMA longsword class starts up in February, I’ll be in enough of a shape (besides “round”) that whacking people with pointy bits of metal will be something that doesn’t leave me wheezing after the first ten minutes.

(Longsword class is something I wanted to do not just because it’s cool (it is very cool), but because, hey, I’m writing a series about fairies with iron swords. Maybe I should learn how to actually fight with one of those.)

And the other fun thing that’s happening in February: I’m going to LTUE! Cue the pterodactyl shrieking – Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt will both be there (two giants in the indie writing world, and Mad Geniuses, too), along with a whole slew of amazing panels and workshops. My editor/cover artist/all around renaissance friend will be there too, and we are gonna take Provo by storm. I can hardly wait.

There are other things that I want to do in 2018 as well, but those are the main things. I’m not going to say “here’s hoping I can make them all happen”, because I know I can, and hoping never did diddly squat. As Sir Terry himself said in The Wee Free Men:

“If you trust in yourself … and believe in your dreams … and follow your star … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

Words to live by.

zoom zoom

I really like to travel. I mean, I stay at home a lot, because a) The Day Job and b) traveling means throwing money at things like transportation and a place to rest my head at night and also food. And when I was in France, I didn’t really do any day trips out to places – when I went out, I went for a week or for two weeks at a time. Unless I’m already familiar with a place, I want to spend at least two days there to explore it a bit. I’m kind of useless at navigating without constantly checking the map every three seconds, but I like to get the feel of a place. And once I’ve gone from Point A to Point B with a map, I can pretty much retrace my steps without a map without very much trouble.

Unless we’re talking the Green Belt metro. Don’t Talk To Me About the Green Belt Metro.

Thank God for GPS, that’s all I can say.

It helps to take pictures, and it helps to write it down. I can press memories into a page like a dried flower, and the words help me to remember those places almost as vividly as the first time I experienced them. I’ve been putting them into my fiction, too, along with my little black book. What’s the point of recording something if I’m not going to share it with others? (As for the little black books – maybe after I’m dead. There are some things, especially in the older ones, that are a bit too embarrassing to have other people read while I’m still alive.) I put Arras into Singing in Key, and I put Arches National Park into The Wayward Changeling, and what’s cool is having people who have also been in those places recognize them in my writing. There are some places I’ve never been that I’ve experienced through books, and I’d like to be able to do that with my own writing, too.

this went on a weird tangent but bear with me

There’s just something about wearing a button-down and a vest and oxford shoes that … makes me smile. I really like wearing dresses too, and there’s something about a fully made up face that’s nice (without going into the politics of it all), and I do like wearing heels sometimes. The traditional trappings of femininity aren’t bad things. They aren’t the end-all be-all, but they’re not eeevil. I just … also love the styles that fall into the “dapper” category. I like looking at other people wearing that style, and I like dressing in that style. I don’t do it as often as I could, though, considering how many button-down shirts I own – or rather, I don’t do it to that extent. Usually I go for more of a business-casual route with the rolled-up sleeves rather than the full Monty. Which is weird, when I think about it. It’s not like the full Monty of button-downs and vests and oxford shoes are exactly inappropriate office attire.

I mean, ideally we’d be able to walk around like fluffy Renaissance shirts and dresses with trumpet sleeves down to the knees were normal office attire, right up there with glowing neon buttons on shirts and other fun things out of a Star Wars film, but that’s neither here nor there. Maybe in another century.

Though by then things like button-downs and oxfords will probably be seen as an archaic costume to dress up in, like Renaissance festivals now. Now imagine a twenty-second century “office party”-themed thing. Who knows what hilarious anachronisms there will be.

I guess flip-flopping between different styles is kind of like food. I really enjoy both sushi and pasta, but I’m more likely to go for pasta simply because it’s A) easier to find B) generally less expensive and C) I have to be in a Sushi Mood, whereas pasta is eternal.

Flip-flopping between different styles isn’t the weird thing, whether it’s clothing fashion or food or music genres or anything else. Hell, religion and lifestyle enter into it, too. Stereotypes exist because humans like assigning people to categories, and those categories allow our brains to take short-cuts instead of second guessing everything in our environment. But no one fits neatly into a template. It’s easy to reduce someone you don’t like to cardboard cut-out status, and it’s easy to write characters that are cardboard cut-outs, but the best characters are like humans – all humans – in that the first three things you notice about a person don’t necessarily define the rest of the person.

But appearance does matter, however much we might want to deny it. Everyone presents an image to the world, whether they do it consciously or not. And we like to say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we still do it, because some of the information that first impression presents is important.

Sometimes the little bug in the back of your brain says “I don’t like this person,” and you table it for later, and it turns out to be right. Sometimes the little bug in the back of your brain doesn’t say “I don’t like this person” until after they’ve provided reasons for you not to like them. Sometimes the little bug in the back of your brain waits until years after the person’s provided reasons not to like them, to realize what went wrong. And sometimes the little bug in the back of your brain says “I don’t like this person,” but they never give you an actual reason to dislike them, so you have to stuff that little bug back in its box.

But you never know what it’ll turn out to be.

make the best of it

“Glitter and Be Gay” sounds like something out of a pride parade, doesn’t it. Bahaha. It’s actually from the operetta Candide, and it’s the song in which young waif Cunegonde decides to stop moping around about her situation and start taking advantage of it. The message or “plot” of the song is funny on its own, but the song is really technically difficult – if you take a listen, the notes jump around a lot, and very quickly, and get progressively higher and higher, some of them notes that only dogs can hear properly. Then on top of that, while the singer could just stand there and deliver a technical performance, the blocking of the scene generally requires a lot of jumping around and playing with costume jewelry.

I don’t usually think of acting in a musical as a strenuous workout, but seeing Kristen Chenoweth perform this song, I can definitely believe it.

What’s interesting to me about this song is that Cunegonde has been treated horribly by the narrative (thanks, Voltaire), so it isn’t as though the moping at the beginning of the song isn’t justified. I mean, if your family had been slaughtered in front of you, and you had been rock-paper-scissor divvied between a corrupt member of the Church and an old merchant, and that was only the start of your troubles … well. That kind of tragedy is pretty exhausting. But underlying this is a sort of meta idea that while it makes sense to feel sorry for yourself, it’s also boring to watch other people wallow in misery – and it doesn’t do anything for the plot, either. At some point the character’s gotta pick herself up and find a way to keep going, otherwise she’s a cardboard cut-out.

And while in the original novella, Cunegonde pretty much was a cardboard cut-out, the operetta’s got some dissenting opinions on that.

So, having endured so much already, Cunegonde decides to not only endure her current situation but to take as much advantage of it as she can. She redefines her character from “broken victim” status to “survivor,” and when she does finally reunite with Candide, she’s got the willpower and resilience to escape with him as an active participant in the plan.

(A cynic might ask, “well, if her situation is so horrible, why doesn’t she try to leave sooner?” But that discussion is a subject for a different post.)

(And if you’re thinking, “jeez, who reads this much into a musical number,” all I can say is I was an English minor for a reason.)

Anyway, if you’ve never read the book Candide, you’re not missing out on that much. The operetta sensationalizes the story and makes it a lot more fun for consumers, but it gets the main point across, too, and the plot points are easier to remember when they’re attached to snazzy musical numbers. I wouldn’t call it “pandering” so much as “making it more accessible.”

Besides, what book hasn’t been vastly improved by the inclusion of snazzy musical numbers.