So I’ve finally stopped hacking like Chekhov and popping Mucinex as if I’m Burroughs popping hash. Which is a relief, because if I added one more simile to that terrible chest cold, I’d've exploded from sheer reference.

Good morning! We made it into 2012. (Insert obligatory Ancient Mayan Prophecy joke here.) Once again I survived the holidays, a feat made easier by the avoidance of vast tracts of People Who Stress Me Out. Oh, and by the application of said vast tracts of time to hanging out with the kids and the dog. Best therapy around.

I suppose it’s time for the yearly list of Goals Instead Of Resolutions. I like “goals” much better; it sounds achievable and more active than “resolutions.” I can “resolve” just about anything, and escape actual implementation. (Committees and office work taught me that.) Goals, though, somewhat demand to be broken into small achievable bits, then hammered relentlessly until dead and tossed into the pile of “Done!”

This perhaps says a lot about my personality.

I have a very short list of goals for 2012. Here it is:

* Continue my habit of reading one poem per day
* Find a new historical era to research for fun
* Learn to say “It makes me tired,” and move on
* Make all my deadlines for contracted books
* Attend at least one Krav Maga class
* Keep running and climbing
* Get that zombie cowboy trunk novel into reasonable first-draft shape
* Work on the second Steelflower book (Shh! You didn’t hear this one…)
* Be as decent as I can every day, all day
* Accept that the cat will try to sleep on my hands while I am typing, and get over it

There it is. That’s it. I can’t figure out whether I’m being realistic or lazy. I like to think keeping the goals small and pretty-much-achievable saves me from a death-spiral of guilt and self-recrimination down the road. I mean, because adding another death spiral to my life has been done so many times. It’s getting boring.

And now it’s time for me to suit up and take Miss B for a run. She has been expressing, in several long-suffering sighs and small whines, her need for some damn action instead of just sitting around typing. Silly puppy.

Over and out.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 31st, 2011 06:06 pm)

So, 2011. You’re headed out, no time for a chat? That’s okay. *points at chair* Sit down, this won’t take long.

You think that’s a request? It’s not. Sit down.

Thanks.

You were better than 2010 by a long shot, but that’s not really a compliment, is it. 2010 sucked so hard for me, you were the year of recovery. So, measuring by that benchmark, pretty much anything you did would have been okay. I’m not denigrating your ability to suck less than the previous year, not by a long shot. No way. I’m just saying, that’s not doing you justice.

In the wider world, there were earthquakes and tsunamis and wars and insurrections. There were widespread protests, and they look like they’ll continue. I’d say it’s about damn time, and I only hope the Occupy movement gets bigger and more widespread. So, thanks for that. I guess. But the earthquakes etc.? Not so much. Well, you can’t help that, can you? Nope. You’re just the year, doing your job.

In my own tiny corner of the rock called Terra, well. You sucked way, way less than 2010, and I did a lot of healing. I started the year finally-divorced and ended up actually contemplating going out to coffee with a person or two. I also made my peace with the fact that I’m never going to hear an apology from certain people, and that’s just the way it is. I found out that surviving the years of survival is in some ways the hardest task, and that yes, time does heal broken things. That sort of knowledge is a spiral–you always keep coming back to it, in deeper and deeper layers. Like ogres.

I also found out I can eat lasagna again, under certain circumstances. That I can nod and smile when some of my former abusers say, “I miss you…” Well, of course you do. But you miss the idea of me more than the actual me. Which isn’t really missing me at all…so I can put aside the guilt I feel. It is not my fault you miss what you thought I was instead of what I actually am. Which is a human being with actual rights, thoughts, dignity, and my own reasons for keeping those secrets you’re so terrified I may tell. (Go ahead and be terrified. If it keeps you away from my door, so be it.)

But, 2011, you were all in all not so bad. You taught me how to be reasonably happy again, 2011. You weren’t optimal, but then again, I wasn’t at my best either. We’re about even. You did what you could, and so did I. I think we can call this one a success on both sides, even if neither of us ended up where we wanted to be. Thanks for the time and the opportunity. You were very patient when I was in a hurry, and pulled me along when I really wanted to be still and stagnate. All in all, we did pretty well together, considering. I finished a few books, I had some laughs. I put in another year of raising two of the most beautiful human beings on the planet, and they managed to teach me a lot inside your (completely arbitrary, but that’s another blog post) boundaries. So, thank you for that.

I see you fidgeting and eying the door. You’re tired, and rightly so. You’ve been a hell of a year. Feels like you’re just as eager to be gone as I am to see the new turn of the wheel. Still, we’ve got a few hours here in this corner of the world. Have a drink, and relax for a little bit. I make no demands on you–you can totes hurry out the door and slam it if you want. That’s okay. But it might be so much nicer if we just hang out here, you and I, just a writer and her year, and give each other a weary smile and say, “We made it.”

Yeah. We made it, both of us.

*lifts glass*

Good for us.

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I got to push Anne McCaffrey’s wheelchair once.

It was at an event in Seattle–the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, I believe. One of Anne’s researchers was a friend, and I pitched in to help that weekend, as well as to attend the ceremony.

The best part was standing next to Anne, in front of a glass case holding the typed manuscript of Dragonflight. I’m not gonna lie: I cried. It was that beautiful. It was something I never in a million years I thought I would have a chance to do. It was magic.

Anne was warm and generous, with an ever-mischievous twinkle in her eye. We emailed a bit. I will never forget how gracious she was to a starting-out author. She told me she liked the Watcher series and the Danny Valentine books. I’d sign copies for her, and her researcher would send them to Ireland. It made me warm and happy inside to think she was reading them–that I could maybe, in some small way, give her a tiny bit of joy in return for the great gift of Pern, the dragons, Restoree, the coelura…such richness she gave us, so unstintingly.

Anne passed away today. The world is sadder, duller, and a little more frayed. The dragons are mourning, and the harps are stilled.

Rest peacefully, ma’am. Thank you for your books, and thank you also for having time to be gracious to a scared newbie writer. You were endlessly kind, and I thank the gods we still have your books.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Sleep well.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Nov. 19th, 2011 08:23 pm)

I know you read this.

I know you’re watching.

I know you sweat sometimes, thinking of the secrets I hold. I know you think that just because you terrified me many years ago that I’m terrified now. There is, however, one thing you’ve forgotten.

Let me just take it from the top.

While you were busy fucking with those weaker than yourself, I was busy getting strong. Every time I hit the floor, it was only to get back up again. Every hit, every stab, every moment of abuse made me stronger. Did you not realize you were training me to become dangerous? Did you not think that one day, the small helpless thing you did whatever you wanted to would grow teeth and claws?

I got out. I got away. I glued the broken bits back together. The idiot stubbornness in me that kept me getting up off the floor every time you beat me down has become a bright polished edge. I wrapped my hilt with leather, I trained myself to push past the pain, I did what I never thought I could do. While you have contented yourself with fat laziness, carrion-picking at the bones of easy prey, I have become something else, whether I wanted to or not.

And I have been patient.

I have been so fucking patient for other people. The comfort of those still in your orbit has been my reason, because no matter how little I care for you, I care for them a great deal. I have kept secrets that eat me from the inside out like swallowed glass shards, for their sake. I have kept my mouth shut, I have swallowed rage and the unwitting insults of people who love me and just wish everyone could get along. I have relentlessly tried to be a better person than I ever thought I could be, because, after all, I did not want to be like you.

But you have gone too fucking far.

You make the mistake of thinking that because I am gentle, I am also stupid and harmless. You are, quite simply, wrong.

Here it is: you have been adrift in the shallow, warm waters of my patience. This is no longer the case. Put one toe over my boundaries again, disturb my peace, engage in that manipulation or that naked aggression you are so used to deploying, and you will no longer be in that safe harbour.

I am no longer a child you can injure with impunity. I am a grown-up. More than that, I am a mother, and my curses carry weight. More even than that, I have the ability to dial 911, and I have the ruthless willingness to do whatever is necessary should you trouble me one iota further.

I have put up with this for years. I am serving notice: that phase is over. You have been warned.

That is all.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Nov. 10th, 2011 11:27 am)

Let’s talk, dear Readers. Let’s talk about endings. (If you haven’t read Reckoning yet, I’ll do my best not to spoil you.)

Read the rest of this entry » )

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So I’ve been glassy-eyed with mild fever for a few days, aching all over, and with a nose not as full of snot as it could be. It took my writing partner saying, “Maybe it’s flu?” for me to figure out that perhaps, yes, some sort of virus. Great. Just wonderful.

What the hell? I hate being sick. I don’t have time. I have climbing to do, running to get out of the way six days a week, revisions packed tight for the next six months and oh yes, two books to write in the next six months too. (Well, six to ten months. STILL.) My immune system needs to get on the stick, for heaven’s sake.

Let’s see, what can I report? Copyedits for the first Bannon & Clare were finally bled dry and sent in a neat package back to the editor today. The Little Prince has expressed a desire to take karate classes. (This is going to be fun.) I am still addicted to Glitch. (Also fun.) It’s concert season for the Princess’s choir. (Oh God.) Plus, I am eying the upcoming holidays the way a mongoose eyes a cobra she’s not quite sure she’s big enough to bite to death. (I could write about why my childhood makes me view holidays as poisonous, but that would take more energy than I have today.) Oh, and one of those books I have to write? Deals with plague. OH, THE IRONY.

I know I should write the last half of the Battle of Pelennor Sunroom. It’s just…release hath followed upon release, and I went on an Internet semi-fast for a little bit. Just didn’t have the bandwidth, plus, it is my firm belief that a writer should not respond to reviews, and if one cannot keep one’s mouth shut it is best and easiest just not to look. This is the same principle I avoid watching television on.

On the other hand, the smell of autumn and falling leaves does not disturb me nearly as much as it has in years past. The Moon last night smiled down at me as I jaunted out to the rubbish bin, and it struck me that at this time two years ago, I was just barely afloat; a year ago I was healing but still fragile. The faith that time will heal a wound or two is a fragile thing, and cold comfort at best, but it kept me going during the dark times. (Along with a healthy dose of tough love from my Chosen Family.) It is always a shock to look back and see how far one has come.

Now if I could just kick this virus in its snot-soaked, irritating little nads and send it crying away, I’d be all set.

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Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there’s tons more writing advice, contests, and pie! (Okay, maybe no pie.) Check us out!

Every once in a while, I like to sit down and think of about five things to make a post. Since I’m exhausted and stare-eyed after a long, very busy week that went straight through the weekend without even pausing to nod, I see this as a very good strategy for today. So, without further ado, here’s Five Things Writing Will Teach You, Or, Valuable Skills Learned By Telling Lies For A Living.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Jul. 13th, 2011 06:56 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are giveaways. And advice. And pie. Check us out!
I was raised to (by and large) obey unquestioningly.

Jesus. Stop laughing. I’m serious.

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You know, dry pants do help to civilize one.

This morning I ran several errands with Miss B. along. She still isn’t too sure about car rides, but one of the errands was a 2+ mile walk in the rain, and she was glad to get back into the car after that and spent the rest of the errands snoozing.I did not think of myself as the type of high-energy person who could wear out an Australian shepherd, but apparently, I am. My vision of myself as a sedentary, ambitionless lump is taking rather a hard knock or two.

However, breaking up the errands with that walk meant that for about an hour and a half I was wandering around soaked from mid-thigh down. My feet were okay–wool socks and combat boots, so my toesies were damp but not cold–but my jeans were absolutely dripping. I’m sure I left a trail of moss behind. I have to say, peeling out of wet clothes and into dry is one of the most sensual, civilizing experiences I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. It’s right up there with hot tea, good Thai food, a glass of Sangiovese, and the ability to press a button and hear Beethoven.

Ahhhh.

Anyway, it’s Friday. I’ve grown away from doing Friday writing posts. It’s not that I ran out of things to say. Far, far from. There just hasn’t been a lot of bandwidth available, what with three books due this year, another few books in revision and proofs and copyedits, gah, plus the constant chaos of two kids, now with extra dog.

*time passes*

I wrote all that this morning, then left for afternoon errands. Now I’m here trying to pick up the train of thought that derailed when I looked at the clock and thought oh, dammit, almost late! It was very White Rabbit of me. In any case, I have limited time now before the set of evening tasks rises up to gnaw at my ankles and demand my attention, so let’s get on with it.

To quote Stephen King: Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.

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It is really hilarious to have a herding dog. This morning she tried to herd some crows. They laughed at her, she kept bellowing “HEEEEEERD IT!” and I was laughing too hard to step in as soon as I should have. Also, this morning’s three-mile walk was full of squirrel reconnaissance. They kept poking their heads out of shrubs and mumbling into their walkie-talkies. I was concerned, but Miss B gave my fears short shrift. “LET ‘EM COME! I’LL HEEEEERD THEM TOO!”

After the exciting walkies, Miss B is all knackered, with the result that whenever I go into another room she follows me, then flops down heavily with a sigh and stares at me like you’re not gonna make me move again, are you? Poor thing. I didn’t think I could wear out an Aussie, for heaven’s sake.

So I’m settled in with a cuppa and a metric ton of triple-ginger gingersnaps. (I have absolutely, positively no self-control when it comes to these gingersnaps. I will eat a whole tub of them in a day unless I hide them from myself, and sometimes even then.) And it’s time for a Reader Question! I had planned to put this in the podcast (still working on #2, sorry) but it’s probably better to do it here. Today’s question is from Reader Anna C:

I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a writer, although in everything I try to write, I hit a stumbling block after thirty pages or so.

Your blog has helped me immensely over the months but I keep getting stuck at The Hole. I’ve got the idea and a chunk of writing down and it’s very shiny and golden and the style is exactly how I want the rest of the book to go. But then I fall into The Hole and the writing steadily disintegrates from there. The style differs greatly from when I’ve begun and it just seems to get worse and worse.

Your advice so far seems to consist of putting my head down and plodding along and its seeming to work (I set a New Year’s Resolution of at least 1K a day). I was just wondering if there was anything else I could do to help it along, or whether I should just finish the damn thing and work on revisions to get the style right. (Reader Anna C., from email)

Try to consider this idea: perhaps your “style” isn’t changing. Perhaps your perception of your “style” is changing. You may just hit the Slough of Despond part of writing a novel. Every time one sets out to write a novel, there’s the “oooh shiny!” in the beginning, and then, sooner or later, it becomes The Book That Will Not Die No Matter How Many Times You Stab, Slash, Hack, Burn, Or Otherwise Try To Murder It.

The interesting thing about the slog, for me, is that it started out being at the end of the first third of a book. Nowadays, it’s reliably after halfway or at the very latest, two-thirds of the way through that it will hit me. Working through it time and again seems to have inoculated me, at least slightly. Total immunity, I’m afraid, is not really possible.

Your perception of your “style” changing from “golden” to suckage is not unique. This alchemical reaction happens to every writer (indeed, I’d bet money it happens to every artist, no matter the medium) and, like puberty, it’s overwhelming and robs you of perspective. I haven’t found any cure for this. The only thing that helps me is the snarling stubbornness. So it sucks? Fine. I’ll make it be the best suckitude EVER. Take THAT, self-doubt! Nyah!

Not very adult, but it gets me through.

Above all, keep writing. If you have not finished a piece yet, you need the experience of finishing in order to gain some small amount of perspective on the process, and to prove to yourself that you CAN. It wasn’t until my third or fourth finished manuscript that I began to see the pattern and the various ways I would try to trick or sabotage myself out of getting the damn thing well and truly done. Like facing any fear, the first time is often the hardest. Then you know you’ve done it at least once, and you have object proof that the world didn’t end and it perhaps wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.

When faced with this, I am reminded of something Stephen King had Adrian Mellon, a minor character in IT, say. “It may be a terrible novel,” the writer remarks, “but it will no longer be a terrible unfinished novel.” That’s always stuck with me. Whether the book sucks or not is not important. You can’t hope to get better at writing a complete book without writing complete books, which means finishing. Just try to keep in mind that the perception of your “style” changing and suddenly sucking may not be the absolute truth, and if it is, well, you’ve a better chance at fixing it when it’s seen in relation to the whole, finished story.

Over and out.

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I just got one of the Best Presents Ever: a stack of handwritten thank-you notes from my daughter’s English class. They were writing to thank me for coming in to talk to them about being a working writer. Among the highlights was one earnest piece of advice: “If the zombie apocalypse happens I’m going to Costco, you could live FOREVER there.” There was also an anonymous piece of (quite good, certainly memorable) short fiction involving wolves, and certain kid wrote that when I admitted I had trouble with spelling, she realized she could be a writer too. (Which made my Grinch heart swell three sizes.) The notes are absolutely adorable.

I broke down and cried. In a good way. *sniffle*

I also want to point you to Chuck Wendig’s The Writer’s Survival Guide. (Best part: the lava vagina.) He and Stephen Blackmoore talk a little in the comments about viewing writing as a craft; something I wholeheartedly endorse.

One of my writing students asked me recently if one ever gets over the fear of showing my writing to other people. I can’t answer for anyone else. All I can say is that I’ve found different ways of ameliorating the fear slightly so I can cope around it. The fear doesn’t go away, but my strategies for dealing with it are in a constant state of refinement. That’s about the best I can say.

Honestly? At the moment, I’m terrified.

I’m branching out, you see, writing something I’ve never tried before and hoping like hell that I don’t finish and send it to the editor and get a “Well, this is crap, can’t you do better?” in return. My anxiety, always high at this stage in a book’s creation, is given an exponential increase by the fact that I have literally never attempted this sort of book before. I don’t mind admitting this scares the hell out of me. The habit of sitting down and putting my hands on the keyboard is serving me well. The only cure for this anxiety is to just put my head down and go through.

Normally I’d be running to help cope with the strain. Chin-ups and crunches aren’t cutting it, neither is the walking I’m allowed to do until my ankle fully heals. Climbing helps, but only for a few hours. So I’m a spiky ball of restlessness most of the time, but I am not going to quit. I do not like turning away from what scares me. If the beast is coming for me, I want to face it head on, fists up, boots on. The only thing that is going to get this over with is finishing the damn book. In order to finish I need to pull my hood up, stick my hands in my pockets, and just keep slouching toward Bethlehem. (In a manner of speaking, that is.) The important thing is to keep swinging.

*sigh* It’s going to be a long spring…

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It’s Monday again. I am blinking blearily at the clock and wondering why the weekend couldn’t last longer. Of course, I spent the weekend moving furniture and cleaning, and it’s not like I want more of that. But I like the idea of sleeping in some more. That would be okay.

Why was I moving furniture, you ask? First there was the fact that the Princess needed a desk to do her homework at. Things had Reached That Point. Which wasn’t so bad. At least, I could do that during the day. It was hauling furniture around at midnight that–well, let me back up.

The Little Prince saw a video game at a friend’s house. This video game featured zombies. Apparently, while the Prince is cuddled up next to me watching a movie, zombies don’t bother him. But over at his friend’s house, they terrify him and he comes home still scared. The upshot of this is, midnight last night found me dragging his bed away from the window. Because the zombies would “peel the glass off and come in,” otherwise.

Every kid hits that thing they’re scared of when they’re about eight or so. Mine? Clowns. I can’t regard a clown with any equanimity. My response to greasepaint, bright colors, and a wide smile is to run like hell. The seal upon this was Tim Curry’s Pennywise. IT was scary enough when I was eleven; but Curry just blew the doors off in the television series.

So, there I was, moving furniture at midnight because of the zombies. Do other people do this? I’m just wondering. Anyway, there was a limit to what I could do during the night. This morning we finished rearranging his room completely. Now he feels safer.

It’s the little things.

What else, let me see…I may have convention news to report soon. There are a limited number of events/conventions I can do, being a single mother and all, but it’s looking like I’ll make one this year. Further bulletins as soon as everything’s smoothed out and official. Plus, we’re working out an April signing. Again, further bulletins when it’s all official.

The ankle is healing slowly but surely. I went climbing today without a brace for the first time. I’m only allowed one 5.9 per session; the rest of the time it has to be easier climbs. So far, so good–the ankle’s strengthening and stretching nicely. I’m using my arms a little more, but that’s to be expected. The only thing not to like about this is that I still can’t run. I can walk on the treadmill, sure. But no running. Which annoys the hell out of me. I NEED THAT ENDORPHIN RUSH, OKAY?

The strange thing is, top-roping doesn’t bother me at all. But bouldering–easy traverses, never more than a foot or so off the ground–makes my body freak out. My heart starts hammering and my palms slick up, the buzzing starts in my ears again. The body remembers silly things you’ve done to it, and it does its level best to warn you.

Me: Calm down. We’re not even a foot off the ground. We’re not doing any vertical problems. Just traverses. We can’t get hurt doing this, okay?
Body: NO NO NO! I REMEMBER THIS! STOP IT! FIRE! FLOOD! ASSASSINS! HIGH FOOD PRICES! APOCALYPSE!
Me: Cut it out, you’re making this harder!
Body: THEN STOP. IT’S THAT SIMPLE.
Me: Look, I’m in charge–
Body: OH YEAH? *stops breathing*
Me: ACK!

Something like that. So the problem becomes gently coaxing the body into seeing that it’s not so bad. I mean, when one’s active, one’s going to get injured occasionally. If I can just reach a detente with my body, we’ll be rocking the vertical problems again. That detente will become easier once my body doesn’t suspect me of lying to it.

That’s all the news that’s fit to report, I guess. Or maybe somewhat more than what’s fit to print.

Over and out.

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“…not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” –Ghandi

We are a very little better than we were. But it is not over yet.

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lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 24th, 2010 02:12 pm)

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames. Have a great holiday!

I honestly couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t string a thought together inside my noggin until I realized I hadn’t had coffee before I left the house this morning. Now, safely returned and soaking up caffeine, I’m amazed nobody got hurt. It’s a big ol’ zoo out there. I’m glad to be settled in now, listening to my windchimes rattle and watching rain speckle the window.

This Friday, instead of a process post, I thought I’d get into the holiday spirit (so to speak) and list a few things writing has given me. It’s difficult for me to understand how people get on without writing, but a lot of people find it just as difficult to understand how I get along without watching telly. Fair’s fair.

Writing is what I was made and designed to do. I suspect that when I was being made someone poured a dose of graphomania into my bones. I cannot conceive of not writing, I know I would not have survived a few things if not for the act of stringing words together. That act, an old and deep magic, has saved me uncounted times, and it continues to save me every day. These are a few things writing has given me, or taught me:

* Endurance. I’m a big fan of stubborn endurance anyway. Well, maybe not “fan”. Maybe “unsuspecting idiot who can’t do anything else”. Writing, especially writing for publication, has fed that deep-down stubborn refusal to quit I’ve carried around like a load of lead in my bones my entire life.

Example? When I was learning to ride a bicycle, I didn’t get that you had to pedal backward to brake. It just made no sense to me. So I simply got up to speed, and when I wanted to stop I just picked something to run into. This was a bit uncomfortable (it’s a miracle I didn’t break anything, really) and it took a month or two before the “click” happened and my body figured out about the pedaling-backward-to-brake thing. I could give another hundred examples, but I think that one will do. I approached publication basically the same way: I kept going until I found out how to make it work. And the several iterations a book has to go through before it’s publishable (draft, draft, draft, copyedits, proofs, ARGH) are a test of that stubbornness. Good or bad, writing fuels it, and in doing so, writing has taught me a lot about just picking up and carrying on.

* The habit of observation. The world can be a cruel, malicious, terrible, nasty, brutish place. Human beings seem to love nothing better than helping it along down that path. Or at least, that’s what I was convinced of decades ago, growing up in an emotional desert and struggling to survive. The habit of observation to gather material for writing, however, has crept in and loosened some of that. Yes, the world is a nasty place sometimes. But it is also good. Things work out a ridiculous amount of the time. Not only that, but the act of observation is critical to the act of art, which is (to me) the act of transforming the world. Observing in service of writing has taught me that yes, life is suffering (thank you, Buddha) but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Beauty lies under the surface, and the potential for beauty can be seen and made.

* Value. Or perhaps more accurately, worth. For most of my life, I have struggled with an acute sense of worthlessness. I was told over and over that my value was essentially zero, or even negative. Writing taught me this was a lie. Not because I write things people eventually end up buying (though that is super-awesome, don’t get me wrong). No, it’s because the act of writing, of creating something out of nothing, has to have value. When I say writing has saved more than my life, this is what I mean: writing, creating something that wasn’t there before, teaches me in a very basic way that I have worth. Over and over again, this magic is performed for me. I just have to show up.

* Everyday increments count. This is my bargain with the Muse: as long as I keep swinging, she keeps pitching. I make the commitment to show up every day, and she brings the rest with her. I may only get a couple steps staggered down the road some days. But each inch I move forward gets me closer, and sooner or later, I get to the top of the mountain. Writing has taught me about breaking a journey to Mordor up into single steps, and taking each step one. at. a. time. Boring? Sometimes. Slogging? Yes. Thankless? Mostly. But it gets me there.

* Holding the line counts too. I got a lovely Christmas card from a reader. Inside, she wrote, “Thanks for throwing the line.”

I cried.

Writing is pursued in solitude. It’s easy to lose track of the outside world when you’re sewn up in a manuscript. When the book goes out into the world, it’s hard to remember that other people are picking it up and handling its internal world. Shouting into the void is a writer’s trade, and when the void answers…well, I can’t easily describe the feeling. I’ve had so many people write to me, or tell me at signings, of one of my books affecting their lives. Giving them strength or an escape, a shock of recognition or a few hours of release. It’s humbling and proud all at once. And it makes me ever more determined to hold the line, since you never know when someone might catch at the other end.

* Companionship. Writing has been my spur, my solace, my refuge, my vehicle, my weapon, my shield, a faithful friend and a constant lover, a source of strength and comfort, a necessary frustration and a saving grace. Whatever it is in me that searches for words to build a framework on, whatever accident or quirk that cracked the bedrock and gave me this secret spring, is a reminder that even in the desert I have an inner resource. One can be lonely even in a crowd, but writing makes my essential aloneness less lonely. Writing has never disappointed, failed, or betrayed me. It has literally saved my life and soul, and it asks so little in return–just the commitment to show up every day.

There are other things writing has given me, but this would turn into a Gormenghast of a blog post. (Can you tell what my reading project in the new year will be?) Anyway, this is just a few of the reasons why I write, why I will continue writing, why I can’t see stopping and why I say writing saved me. It has given me so much. And now we come to the point. (Yes, I had a point.)

You, whoever you are, have something similar inside you. Your bedrock is cracked too, and you have a secret spring. Don’t be afraid of it, or minimize it. Get down there and drink all you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s genius or pedestrian, if it’s novice or amateur or professional, it just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. There is something inside you that can transform the world. It will always be there for you, no matter what. It’s yours, and nobody can ever take it away. It will remain with you always, and it is never too late to start dipping your cup.

This is a gift that is given. Grab it with both hands.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Dec. 13th, 2010 03:44 pm)

It was a long weekend, but a nice one. Our teensy little book club read A Room With A View, and I stole a day from the round of work-reading to swallow it whole. I’d seen the Merchant-Ivory movie, of course, and to me Julian Sands will always be George Emerson. (Daniel Day-Lewis will always be Cecil Vyse, until he moves to America and gets all sweaty as an adopted Mohican.) And of course, there’s That Kiss. It was a good palate cleanser. There is a suggestion afloat to read Maurice next, for compare/contrast.

*time passes*

Let’s see, so far today I’ve run six miles, finished the Christmas shopping and wrapped presents, cleaned the kitchen, done my personal best on the blue 5.9 (otherwise known as the Blue Devil) at the climbing wall, given an interview and a pronunciation guide to the people doing a very awesome audio enactment of the Valentine books, and searched for a copy of Forster’s Maurice. (No luck. Yet.) No wonder I’m tired. That’s the thing about Mondays–I usually work through the weekends, so Monday is my catch-up day for errands and all sorts of things. It’s my Saturday, if you will, only without the parties. And it’s not over yet.

Anyway. The year is winding to a close. It seems like just a few weeks ago 2010 was just starting, and I was struggling to keep my head above water and close the door on one of the worst twelve months of my life. I’ve rebuilt a lot, and thankfully 2010′s beat the pants right off 2009.

One of the most profound things is learning (again) that the pain of missing someone does eventually fade a little with time. (Especially when that someone is well, not very nice.) Getting to the point where I can say, “I used to miss you very much…but now, not so much. And tomorrow, even less,” is very healing. Accepting that you can’t save someone unless they want to be saved is terribly difficult. It hurts each time. I should learn to pick my battles better.

Ah well. Next year.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Nov. 8th, 2010 04:29 pm)

It was one of those moments when one is forcibly reminded of the subjectivity of human experience.

“Jeez, I never thought you’d say that,” I told him, the line crackling briefly with static. “You were always in such a black mood. It was like I couldn’t say anything right, it would just piss you off more. I wondered why you kept meeting me; it didn’t seem like you enjoyed it. It seemed like immunizations for you–something painful and annoying, but necessary.”

“Nope.” Slight shift of fabric as he moved. “No, everything you said was perfect. It was at the exact right time.”

We talked about other things, and after we hung up, I found myself reappraising those conversations a decade ago. All this time I’d felt bad, because I could never seem to say anything to calm, to soothe, or to help with his pain. But now, ten years later, I find out that those words, even though they didn’t seem to matter much at the time, were kept and cherished as a line thrown to the drowning. I find out that the kindness that cost me nothing helped far, far more than I ever would have dreamed.

We never know, as we go about our daily lives, the moments when we are the grace that saves, or when ours is the smile that gives hope. Our actions have effects we can never fully understand. This humbles me. Paradoxically, it also makes me proud to be human, and glad to be muddling along with everyone else.

Why?

Because we are all alone, but sometimes we can help each other be less lonely. And when we do, we are all saved by just a tiny increment. It might be less than an inch, less than a centimeter.

But I’ll take it.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

lilithsaintcrow: (Default)
( Sep. 6th, 2010 11:52 am)

It’s eminently frustrating when you can feel the story vibrating like a jet engine, just aching to go somewhere, but a measly trickle of words is all that comes out. Part of this is that the story isn’t finished “cooking” yet, and that jet-engine sound is the rumble before everything is unleashed and I start frantically trying to keep up with the download. But for right now, everything’s sort of in abeyance.

If there’s a part I like least about writing, it’s the frustration of knowing that the process is in a certain stage, one can’t rush it, but one does need to keep knocking away, disciplined and irritated, so that when the magic happens you’re Ready and Waiting. I have to say, this stage is only about 20% of my writing days…but it feels like a much higher percentage. I don’t have the luxury of not writing, so I spend these days fine-tuning and poking at different scenes like jigsaw puzzles, a little here, a little there. It all adds up to wordcount in the end.

In other news, last night at dinner the Princess asked me what Labor Day was all about. I explained the ideals behind organized labor as well as I could. The thing that made the biggest impression on her was the child labor laws. “You mean they would make [the Little Prince] work in a factory?”

“Yes,” I said. “Look, every advance in working conditions hasn’t come about because companies or corporations are magnanimous.” (Yes, she knows what “magnanimous” means. It was a word of the day not too long ago.) “They came about because people protested and fought. Nowadays a lot of people are saying we don’t need organized labor…but I don’t agree. You’ll learn more about that later. For right now, we celebrate people who work and look back at how far we’ve come.”

“Oh.” She thought about it for a while. “They would have made me work in a factory too?”

Or worse, I think. “Possibly. We’re not rich. For a long time, we weren’t even middle class. It’s very likely you would’ve had to work hard in a factory so we could survive.”

She digested this. “How would I go to school?”

“You wouldn’t.” I didn’t even want to tell her about how recent an invention compulsory schooling for all social classes is, even in the First World.

It was a good thing too, because she looked at me with undiluted horror. “No school? At all?”

“Yep.” I took another bite. “I probably wouldn’t have gone to school either, not for very long. We might not even know how to read.”

Well, that did it. She let out a gasp. “I had no idea this was so important! I just thought it was a day off school!”

“Well, you can go look up the labor movement. We can get some books, if you like. Be warned, though–some parts of the story aren’t very pretty.” I was thinking, in particular, of the story of Wesley Everest, as sung on Washington Notebook.

“I’m glad I get to go to school,” my good little Princess says. And from there we were on to other things. I figure consciousness had been raised enough for one day. Hers–and mine, because saying these things out loud to her made me think about them a little bit more. It reminded me of how lucky and privileged I am.

A lot of people moan about unions and the like, even as they reap the benefits of coffee breaks, lunch hours, the eight-hour day, overtime, or vacations. A lot of people will badmouth unions in one breath and move onto bitching about how their rights are violated in the workplace in the next. Unions aren’t perfect–no group of human beings is going to be perfect. But, again, no advance in human or worker’s rights has come about from the noblesse oblige of those in power. The advances are fought for, sometimes tooth and nail, sometimes shamed and driven into the social fabric. Stumbles and all, those advances are worth celebrating, remembering, and endorsing. The effects and fruits of those advances, those fights, are something plenty of Americans feel the benefit of every day.

Things are deadly rough right now. People are frightened, hungry, and angry. Paul Krugman is making comparisons to 1938. (Unemployment benefits came about in the US in about 1932. Just something I found out today.) For a long time jobs have been exported to places where the workers don’t expect–indeed, don’t even know they can insist on, or may not even be able to insist on–decent treatment. But a lot of people in the US don’t give a damn about that, because they’re suffering, hungry, and scared right now. Tea-party xenophobia is on the rise, fanned by demagogues who peddle hatred and fear while reaping obscene profits.

This is when things get dangerous.

So, this Labor Day, I’m hoping we can all be a little more Mother Jones. I’m hoping we’ll take the long view, and I’m celebrating just how far we’ve come. I’m damn grateful that I’m in a position where I can be reasonably well-educated and send my kids to school. With those benefits comes the responsibility not to forget those who raised hell, fought, and shamed society into taking those stumbles forward.

Happy Labor Day.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

For the past couple weeks the Deadline Dames have been blogging about How We Got Published. We’ve had:

* Dame Devon: How I Got To Where I Am
* Dame Jackie: My Path To Publication
* Dame Rachel: The Echo Of My Own Voice
* Dame Keri: The Long Road To Publication
* Yours truly: The Rocky Road
* Dame Jenna: An Overnight Success
* Dame Kaz: Dark Nights and Brighter Days
* Dame Toni: A Business Analyst Becomes A Novelist

There’s a lot of good stuff there, and frankly I don’t have much to add. Earning a living through writing is a chancy proposition, and certainly not one I’d recommend unless one has near-pathological persistence and a taste for punishment, as well as tolerance for manic-depressive career swings. (I’m only exaggerating slightly here, if at all.)

So why do it? Why on earth would anyone pick this way to make a living?

I can’t speak for anyone else. Why do I do this, then?

I’ve always loved writing. No, that’s not quite accurate. I have always written, ever since I can remember, and sometimes I love it. More often, I write because I am in the habit of writing and I am unable to stop. I compare my urge to write to a socially-acceptable mental disease, and I am only half joking. I am compelled to write, and extraordinarily uncomfortable when I do not write.

Writing is how I’ve chosen to make sense of the world for years now. Writing was my sanity during my childhood and difficult adolescence, my most trusted friend in young adulthood and my faithful ally now. Writing was and is my constant companion, the way I chose to sharpen my skills of observation and expression, the thing that made me feel sane when the world was falling apart. (Or if not sane, then, at least, marginally more able to cope. I’ll take what I can get.)

I write because it feels good. I write because it helps me make sense of the world. I write because there is a pressure inside me, and the writing bleeds that pressure off. I get paid for writing, true–but that’s merely a recent development. My writing life has spanned a good twenty-five years, and it’s only in the last four or so that it’s paid enough to be considered a decent living.

Don’t get me wrong. I love making a living from writing. To be able to make a living from the thing that makes me feel most alive is a gift I will always be grateful for, and one I intend to hang onto for as long as people will read the stories I spin. As Louisa May Alcott once said, I have taken Fate by the throat and I intend to shake a living out of the bitch. I am determined that if my career goes south, it will not be because I’ve given up. It will not be because I’ve stopped trying.

But.

I am going to be writing as long as my body and mind permit such an activity, whether I am paid or not. I cannot not write. I literally don’t feel right if a day happens along that I don’t write. I can only think of a handful of days in the past decade when I haven’t been able to write, and most of that handful have diary entries to mark them, so I’m not sure they count. Writing is just what I do, and if it is an addiction I don’t particularly mind. I don’t know what might happen anymore when I don’t write, simply because any attempt I make not to write during a day results in extremely uncomfortable tension. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it anguish, even.

So, I write because I must. I have grown accustomed to it, it seems, much as I’ve grown accustomed to caffeine.

Yet I also write to please myself. I listen to editors who help me make a book better and I listen to Readers and reviewers, of course. But when it comes right down to it, you have to get something out of the hours a day you sit, day after day, and pour out the words to make a novel. If you’re not getting some pleasure or enjoyment out of the process, it’s not going to end well. When all is said and done, I revise to please my readers, of whatever stripe they be.

I write, I create, solely for my own pleasure. And what a marvelous pleasure it is.

When I was about twelve, I got a set of Mary O’Hara books–the Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming novels. (Curiously, though, I have never read My Friend Flicka.) Thunderhead was a magnificently ugly white horse, and he could run. He didn’t care if it was on a racetrack or with the herd. When he decided to, something would go off inside him, and he would shift into a curious, floating gallop and leave everyone else in the dust.

This made quite an impression on me. Because every day, when I am writing, I feel like I’m doing the thing I was made for. I feel like Thunderhead probably felt when the explosion happened inside him and the gallop took over. Making a living from writing is damn fine, and I don’t ever intend to stop. I’ll do it as long as the Readers let me. Still, like Thunderhead, I don’t care if I’m at the racetrack or a city street, a meadow or a canyon or the surface of the moon. Every day, that explosion goes off inside me…

…and I write. I really can’t see doing anything else.

For what it’s worth, that’s the clearest explanation I can give of why I do what I do. Your mileage may vary. The world is an odd place, and we are forced to make sense of it in whatever way we can. Mine is with words.

What’s yours?

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

It’s Monday, and another scorcher. I spent my Sunday putting together an Ikea dresser. I triumphed, but just barely. Between the dresser and rock climbing, my knees look like hamburger. I could, i suppose, stop using my knees to brace myself as I clamber up the wall…but I doubt that’s going to happen.

Anyway. There’s an interview with me over at the Book Mogul. And this Thursday at 7pm I will be signing at the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s! Come on by, if you like. I will be reading from Defiance, the Strange Angels book that won’t be released until spring 2011. So now’s your chance to hear a little of What Happens Next with Dru and her (occasionally) merry crew.

Things have calmed down immensely. There’s a sense of the storm being past. When you decide to no longer deal with someone who creates drama like a thunderstorm creates lightning, there’s a certain relief. I can deal with the guilt of not being able to help –I did literally all I could, and not only am I at a loss to figure out what more I could do, so is everyone else involved in the situation. In other words, things didn’t go belly-up for any lack of work on my part.

Cold comfort, maybe, but you take it where you find it.

And with that, I’m out. See you later, alligators.

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

Recently I’ve been asked about writing advice that isn’t geared specifically toward new writers or those looking to “break into” print. It’s not often I write about those further along–because careers, like people, are pretty unique, mostly, and any advice I’d be able to give might backfire terribly in someone else’s arena. But I figure what I’m about to say is Reasonable Life Advice as well as Publishing Advice.

My Friday the 13th started about 24 hours early. The 12th was one of the more bizarre days I’ve ever had in my life, and that’s saying something. I’ve found myself today having to say no, in both personal and professional (albeit completely unrelated) situations.

This is not easy.

In the first place, I was raised not to say no when someone pressed an emotional hot button–something like “I need you now.” My only value was how compliant I was, and I was trained well and thoroughly that compliant was what I needed to be to survive. For years it has been extraordinarily easy for anyone I cared about to get pretty much anything they wanted out of me, just by appearing needy or in-crisis enough. Now, taking care of your friends isn’t a bad thing–but you need to be cautious who you call “friend” if that’s a commitment you want to make.

If it’s very distressing for you to say no, you can bet a certain type of person will sense that. And a series of painful games may begin, with you trying to make this type of person happy and avoid saying no. And it can’t be done. You will be sucked dry like an orange slice, and they, flush with stolen vitality, will find another victim. It’s wreckage waiting to happen, and it happens every day.

As a female, too, it’s presumed that I don’t say no. It’s difficult for me to outright refuse someone, especially in high-stress situations. There’s a huge weight of cultural disapprobation involved in a woman saying “No.” Over and over, in many implicit and explicit ways, women are told that it’s necessary to play along, be gentle, be nice, spare everyone’s feelings. And God forbid you should say “No!” and stick to it, or listen to the inner voice that warns you of danger. Then you’re a bitch.

When it comes to working in publishing, another layer of uncertainty and pressure is added. If you say no, there’s always a chance you won’t be invited back. To be a writer is to be a freelancer, and to be a freelancer is profoundly unstable. Every “no” must be weighed against the damage it could do down the road.

You’re beginning to see why a “No!”, whether diplomatic or not, is an act sometimes fraught with danger.

Most often, my “no”s are part of a long process that involves me taking several barometric readings. In the case of a personal no, I usually discuss things with a friend I can trust. I tend to “chew it until the flavor’s gone” and agonize over how hurt someone will be if I say that dreaded single syllable. It takes a lot to make me close up and stop giving.

When it comes to saying no in the writing world, I have to balance the prospect of possibly not getting paid against the trouble the job will take, and how I interact with the editor, and a whole host of other issues before I even get close to saying no. I also often run a prospective “no” past my agent, partly to check in with the longer-term plan for my career and also to get her opinion on the best and most diplomatic way to refuse. It takes a while.

A great deal of my life lately has been saying no in small ways with people I trust. Just to check out what happens when I do so.

And you know, I’m discovering the damndest thing: most of the time, a no given in those situations isn’t really a big deal. The person you say that dreaded single syllable to shrugs and goes on to star in their own life movie. It doesn’t make the sun go out or the world end.

But in the last twenty-four hours, I’ve had to say no in a personal situation where I’ve felt unsafe to refuse, and yet compelled to do so. All my emotional hot buttons have been pushed, and the fact that I was also agonizing over saying no in a professional situation just made it worse. (I should stress again, the two events were in no way related. Except temporally. Bad luck, that.)

It’s been incredibly difficult. I’m fighting against my conditioning, my upbringing, and fighting in the face of a very real fear to say “no” and stick with it. My friends–those I can trust, those who I’ve practiced the little tiny “no”s with–have closed around me like a protective wall, each in their own warm way. I am told over and over again that it’s OK for me to draw my boundaries, that I am not, in fact, crazy, that I have a right to protect myself, and that they love me just as much as ever.

But it’s still tremendously difficult. And the fact that I care for and want to protect the person I’m having to refuse is extraordinarily painful.

Saying no professionally has consequently been more upsetting than usual. It may mean I don’t work with a particular editor again, but it’s a chance I have to take. I pride myself on giving my editors what they need, and I try very hard to be reasonable to work with. Having to refuse, especially when it’s really nobody’s fault and just a mess-up, is utterly crazymaking, and contributes to a round of professional second-guessing and doubt that makes a hurricane look like a teapot tempest.

Which leads me, in a roundabout way, to my advice. If you want to make a career of writing, sooner or later you will have to say “no” to something. Spend some time thinking about saying no. What it means to you to refuse, if you can do so with little angst or if it’s a hot-button issue with you. Figure out how to do it gracefully, figure out if you need backstops and people to talk to before you actually utter the dreaded syllable. Cultivate those habits and the comfort with that one little word now. Being unprepared when the time comes to say it is very uncomfortable. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I can only imagine how badly I’d feel if I hadn’t been working on this very issue for months.

Now I’m going to go do some deep breathing. And, my dear Readers, if you can, help me out here. What helps you say no? Have you found a trick to it? Do you agonize over it, or is it no big deal to you?

Posted from A Fire of Reason. You can also comment there.

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