Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010
Waxing Moon
Mars Retrograde
Sunny and pleasant

I’m back home, for a couple of days. Weekend gig was good, but busy. I could only get online via the very slow PC, so all I did was check messages and tweet occasionally. The essay I busted my ass so much to get in on time — still not up. Typical. Last time I take a quick turn-around demand from them seriously.

Didn’t do much work on ANGEL HUNT. I’ve gutted chapters 10 & 11. I’m going to combine them in the current draft, and I think I’ll write most of it from scratch without looking at the earlier draft, and then fold in anything that’s still relevant. Right now, by trying to revise what’s on the page, I’m getting caged by it, when what I need to do is take the literal meaning of the work and Re-Vision what purpose the chapter needs to serve and how to get there. I won’t be able to take the hard copy with me to Philly — I’m not hauling around several hundred pages of manuscript — so I won’t do much work on it while I’m there.

Besides, the conference starts on Friday — I’m teaching two workshops for an entire week AND doing a live chat on Sunday afternoon. That will take up the bulk of my time.

Made some notes on a few other pending projects, worked a bit on the short stories. I’m trying to gear up and get back into the headspace for the commissioned plays, but the light humor isn’t coming through. I need to get on the ball with those — the producer has to plan next season, and I want to be a part of it.

I did start another play, a much more serious one. that just sort of came to me out of nowhere, and wrote the first two scenes.

Reading-wise, I finished THE SWAN THIEVES. I liked it, although I felt the end was a little anti-climactic, and there were questions left unanswered (not directly related to the main plot) that I needed answered. In a way, it reminds me a little of AS Byatt’s POSSESSION, which is one of my favorite novels (never saw the movie).

After THE SWAN THIEVES, I needed something light and completely different. I read Michael Thomas Ford’s JANE BITES BACK, which is quite clever and funny, riding the Austen and the historical figure re-creationist wave while also poking fun at it.

I also picked up another book that I loathed. I won’t bash the writer here — it’s too hard to make a living doing this. Let’s just say that, after 50 pages, I was so furious, and the fury gained when I skimmed it, that I took it back to the store and swapped it out for something else. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before. It was unrelenting, unnecessary gore, and unrelenting violence towards animals, which is one of my personal “don’t cross” boundaries. In the first 50 pages, a horse was brutally slaughtered in detail AND a supposed favorite pet dog was handed to a character to be eaten alive — no way. And that’s not even touching what was done to people.

Elegantly sparse prose can communicate horror much more effectively, in my opinion, than the verbal equivalent of a slasher film. And that’s what this was. Not for me.

I picked up something that looks far more interesting. I stuck it in my bag to serve as my travel book to Philly later this week, and, if I like it as much as I hope, I’ll write about it.

Watched the Olympics nearly non-stop. I don’t think I’ve ever had the television on so much in my life. The US Women’s Hockey Team continues to thrill me. I just can’t get enough of them. The US Men’s Hockey Team has come together nicely, as evidenced by their 5-3 win over Canada last night, which was a great game. and goalie Ryan Miller is obviously one of the unsung heros, until now, of the sport. These Olympics will change all that. Earlier in the day, I’d called the game as going 4-3 to the US, but they got that extra, empty net goal. The Russia-Czech Republic game was also great, although I expected at any minute, they’d start ignoring the puck and go after each other swinging. Yes, you can’t have physical fights in Olympic hockey, the way you can in the NHL, but you could tell they REALLY wanted to!

One of the things I like about the snowboarding is how much individuality the participants retain. Watch someone do a run once or twice and you don’t need to look at the screen anymore to know who it is — the style is that distinctive. I hope that doesn’t get sponsored out of the sport.

Watched a lot of the skiing, the aerialists, the ski cross (first year for that). I’m annoyed that the Olympic committee won’t allow women to have a ski jumping event — they do it, why not include it? Watched the speed skating and short track — so glad for Apolo Ohno. As I said before, it’s wonderful to watch him really grow into himself. Delighted that Bode Miller’s doing so well, and loved his interview about his definition of success and basically telling everyone who tries to force him to define himself in their terms to F*&k off. I totally relate, since I live by my definition of success in my field and am constantly attacked for it — especially by those who can’t earn a living at it. He articulated what I feel very well.

I love that fact that Julia Mancuso wore a tiara to the medal ceremony. She’s my favorite of the female skiers. And tiaras and cookies make everything better, in my opinion!

Good for Evan Lysacek, congrats to him. I felt Johnny Weir’s program was underscored, though, because it was gentle instead of flamboyant, and he should have gotten third or fourth.

I know I’m forgetting some of the fun moments, but I didn’t write them down, so, oh well.

Research books were waiting for me when I got home, including one on taxes (since this is the year I start the whole self-employment tax thing), the Mac, and the new WRITER’S MARKET. I started going through the WM. So far, I have 15 pages of single-spaced notes on markets to which to pitch articles. ARTICLES, not fiction or anything else. And that’s just the list that covers topics with which I’m familiar and don’t have to spend hours or days in additional research. So, when some wanna-be who defends content mills and getting paid for pennies starts up that there’s no work out there — if I can have 15 pages of notes on well-paying markets just on topics where I can pitch myself as experienced — there’s well-paid work out there.

More fuel for my live chat on Sunday on making a living as a freelancer.

I’m reworking my workshops a bit, tinkering to make them the best they can be for this group, and will post Welcome messages hopefully later today.

The next few days are filled with practicalities, admin, pitches, errands. I leave later in the week for Philly, and every duck has to be in a row before that. But it’s a good busy, so I’m going to enjoy it.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Waxing Moon
Mars Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

What a difference a day makes! I feel much better, back on track, and like I’ve gained some perspective again.

It snowed on and off all day yesterday. Not a lot of accumulation, and I didn’t have to go out in it.

I tried to do some work in the morning, and had NOTHING in the creative tank. So I gave up, went offline, and had fun.

Part of the fun was starting Elizabeth Kostova’s THE SWAN THIEVES. I really like it. This is not a book one dips into with a few spare minutes — you have to sink into it like a featherbed for several hours at a time. Her writing is beautiful and she takes her time. Genre books are now being stripped in both word count and content so it’s plot/action, dialogue, sex. Kostova’s work is genuinely “literary fiction” — she fills all the senses with her textured worlds without the self-indulgent navel-gazing that’s become associated with so much literary fiction. Even when her characters are contemplative and self-reflective, it’s not self-indulgent.

I also decided to change the location of the Hillary Ice story from San Antonio to Bath, ME. Yeah, that’s quite a switch, and it changes a lot of the texture in the story. I haven’t been to San Antonio for fifteen years or more; loved it then, but unless I make it a period piece, I can’t write about that San Antonio — and this is definitely a contemporary piece. I can’t fly out to do on-site research. I could sit with the maps and the guidebooks and track down natives through blogs and bookstores and schools to ask questions. But that still won’t give me the texture and the emotional geography. I can’t get that without being there, because, no matter how well-researched, no other person will have the exact same sensory responses that I do, and anything I write will feel like a copy of a copy, instead of the direct experience.

I need to know more than just the correct streets and neighborhoods — I need the feel of the place.

Why Bath, ME? Other than I don’t think a whole lot of fiction is set there. Well, for one thing, Hillary’s main partner in this story, Jasper, is an artist who works in both iron and silver. Until I started exploring the story, I didn’t realize it, nor did I realize how vital his art and craft are to the plot. I did some research on forges in the San Antonio area — they’re not set in the area I need them, and I’m pretty sure the zoning in the area wouldn’t allow him to have a studio with a forge in it in the residential areas. I have family near Portland, and one of them has worked as a welder in the boat-building industry up in Bath for his entire career. I haven’t spent a lot of time up there, but the historic town, the contrasting neighborhoods, and the smell of hot, wet iron mixed with sea salt will add the right kind of texture to the piece. Also, if you continue up past Bath towards Booth Bay Harbor, there are artists who work not only in clay (the wonderful Edgecomb Pottery), but I remember signs for and by artists who work in iron. They DO have studios on their properties. Add to that the fact that I’m spending a good chunk of April in Maine, both for research purposes and to deal with a family matter — and I can hop up to Bath easily to walk the geography and add even more textural details.

My concern is that Bath, ME isn’t far from Salem, MA, the headquarters of the organization from whom both Hillary and Jain Lazarus work. I wanted her to be physically far away from them as well as psychologically. But I’ll figure it out.

Jasper is a breath of fresh air after Zeke and Eddie. He’s definitely got his own issues — his third marriage breaking up and children by the first two wives — but he’s come to an acceptance of how his past decisions affect his current circumstances. He’s at peace with that, although he’s still searching for something and doesn’t know what it is. And Hillary, who’s trying to run from something and winds up, through Fate, helping Jasper’s son, has a lot to play off of with that. It’ll be fun to play with, and there’s no fixed deadline for this piece, so I can let it unfold as it wishes.

On the Olympic front, I was in hockey heaven yesterday — three games back-to-back. The US Men’s team beat Switzerland 3-1, the US Women’s team whomped Russia 13-0, and the Canadian Men’s Team beat Norway 8-0. I could have watched the women’s China vs. Finland match, but even I get hockey-ed out after a while! 😉 Because the rules are different in men’s and women’s hockey, with less physical contact for the women, their games seem much cleaner, faster, and more graceful. The men looked rather lumbering and awkward in comparison. Well, the US Men’s team DID lumber, and they WERE awkward — lots of miscues and stumbles. Imagine six foot tall puppies on ice skates — that’s what it looked like. They got the job done, but will have to improve as a team very quickly to be a real contender. The Canadian men’s team was much more in synch with each other, although they made some mistakes, too. It was annoying that the commentators were surprised that Norwegian and Swiss teams were good. Why wouldn’t they be good? Got to give Jeremy Roenick credit, though, in his commentary on the US Men’s game — he says what he thinks, doesn’t back down, is not afraid to disagree,and not afraid to tell Mike Milbury where to get off! I was afraid JR would have mellowed off the ice — nice to see he hasn’t. I certainly don’t agree with him all the time, but I respect the way he says what he means (and backs it up) and stands by it. I really like and respect him, even when he’s working my last nerve. A little less hair product, and he’ll be my favorite hockey commentator. I’m delighted Mike Babcock’s coaching Canada — he’s my favorite NHL coach, period, not to mention a hell of a great human being, and I’m so glad he’s doing this.

Even though I’m not a figure skating fan, I was impressed with Evan Lysacek’s performance last night.

Back to the page today. I’ve got to print out the revisions in ANGEL HUNT, work on two articles, and tweak the workshops for next week. I’m off to a site job tomorrow through Sunday night, then home for a couple of days, and then I head back down to Philly. So I have to be focused, and the next few days are about clearing off the desk and making sure everything is in order, no matter how much Zeke, Eddie, and the others squawk for attention.