Monday, January 30, 2006

varmints

Bout 6 o'clock tonight, I was sitting at the sewing machine, Scott was standing with the remote in his hand, programming the CD player to my direction. "Where'd you get this compilation?" he asks. "I had Tony make it for me," I said. "I asked him for some Gordon Lightfoot, and he--"

The power goes out, abruptly and completely, as if a switch had been flicked. I gasped as the room went dark, and distinctly heard a high-pitched voice squeal from the back yard, "It went off! Go, go!"

I leapt for the patio door, wrenched it open, and got out on the balcony in time to see three pre-teen girls leaping across the drainage ditch and running all-out across the vacant lot for the cul-de-sac behind us. Pink coat, gray sweatshirt, dark skin on the middle one. "Son of a bitch!" I exclaimed, incredulous. I grabbed my sweatshirt, stepped into my shoes, telling him what I'd seen and heard. "Call the rental office, now," I said, and dashed out the door, down to the ground floor and around back.

By the time I get down there, there's nothing to see except a couple of small footprints, in the mud next to the bushes. They're twisted on the balls of the feet, as if the feet had pivoted to run. I wedged in between the bushes and found the fuse box, with the main toggle switch for our building. None of the meters are running. I flipped up the breaker-cover: no lock or anything, heavily coated with cobwebs that had been recently disturbed. It was too dark to read the labels.

Scott's out on the balcony with a flashlight. "I called the office," he said. "They're calling KCP&L. You see anything?" "Drop me the flashlight," I told him.

He did, and I went back to the breaker-box, saw that yes, the switch had been flipped down from ON to OFF. I swept off the cobwebs and shoved it back up. Pop! Electricity makes such a hum, but you don't notice it until it's gone. The heat pump comes back on, and the lights upstairs.

"Holly," Scott calls, low, and I emerge from the bushes. He points. "Is that them?"

I peer through the bare trees and scrub brush. The girls are loitering down the hill, between two houses. I watch them walk up to the side of the duplex, behind the air conditioner, but one of them says something and they run away.

"Go catch 'em," Scott says.

"And do what?" I say. Not that I'm averse to the idea. I once shook the living daylights out of a twelve-year-old skater punk who thought it was cute to bounce herself off the hood of my car, in the movie theater parking lot.

"Tell 'em you've seen 'em. Scare 'em a bit."

Sounded good to me. I put up the hood of my sweatshirt and took off across the ditch, down the hill. I trotted around the side of the house to come on them at an angle. Sure enough, they emerged around the side of the house just as I was approaching it. They startled, but not guiltily. I am a smallish, nice-looking woman, after all. Not threatening.

"Which one of you is Maria?" I said, to get their attention.

They look at each other, confused. "None of us," the littlest one says, after a pause. She's maybe eight, Mediterranian-looking. The ten-year-old is black. The oldest is maybe twelve, with straight brown hair.

"Don't--" I say, and hold up the flashlight. They look at it, nervously. "--mess with the breaker boxes." Their faces slacken with surprise. "I saw you running away. I've seen your faces. I know where you live. If it happens again, I will send the police to find you." I make deliberate eye contact with each of them. Their eyes are looking misty and scared, none of the defiance I expected. "Do you understand?"

"Yes," they answer in unison.

"Now go home," I say, and stalk off up the hill.

I found out, shortly, that they'd turned off the power in at least three buildings. Pat the maintenance man came around not long after, and turned on the building next to us. I gave him a good scare when he saw me emerging out of the dusk. I told him what had happened, then repeated the story thirty minutes later when the P&L guy showed up.

It's kind of funny, now. I mean I can see how a kid would find it funny. Basically a harmless joke, just alarming. But it still disturbs me. Why do that to people you don't even know, just to cause trouble? I've always found that discourtesy, that disregard for other people's feelings, alarming. It's the root of all the world's problems, really.

But I did enjoy throwing my weight around. I was always in awe of the way my father could terrify the neighborhood kids without raising his voice. Apparently I inherited his technique.

Dang kids. I guess this means I am officially a grown-up, now.

track 18, "mellow"

Open the door love
The sun lights up the gloom
I know you been out walkin'
I will not ask with whom
The night will soon be over
The sky is almost gray
Your hair is all a-tangled
Your thoughts are all astray

It's alright, baby it's alright
It's alright, baby it's alright
Anything you say, gonna be OK
Cause it's alright, baby it's alright

Open the door love
Let your light shine in
Stayin' here is foolish
To leave would be a sin
I know I'm close behind you
I'll catch you if I try
For I will surely win you
Or I will surely die

--Gordon Lightfoot

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

everything must go

I put some things up for sale on ebay today. Suspect I may be wasting my time, given the time of year and everybody's broke after the holidays, but I'm broke too and I'm tired of this stuff sitting in my closet. So, if any of you have any secret yearnings, or know someone who likes to play dress-up, the following are now up for sale:

Black fairy dress.
Red renaissance gown.
Green Victorian Bustle gown, a/k/a the "Darla" dress.

As you were.

Monday, January 23, 2006

territorial pissings

My writer's meeting was Saturday, thank God. I think I needed some writer time, and actually came out of the meeting feeling energized and relaxed, though this post isn't going to sound like it. Trudy was there again, with her husband John, whom most of us were meeting for the first time. John and Trudy are semi-professional fans; they've organized small cons in the midwest. They both have a fawning demeanor toward the group, particularly toward Rob.

Now I love Rob, I respect his opinions on writing and editing perhaps more than anyone else's, but he's still just a guy I hang out with one weekend a month, so it kind of weirds me out when those two act like he's Asimov. Regardless of how famous someone may be, when you're in their home it's just not cool to gush. Trudy said, "Oh, I don't know if I can say anything critical about Rob's story, I'm just so in awe of him." John kept dropping names as if he and Rob were colleagues and the rest of us were plebes.

Now, John may be a very caring and interesting person, but unfortunately for him, he intruded on my world in exactly the way that will bring out my claws. For instance, in "Horseflesh," he questioned whether my money figures were accurate: what would a cowboy's pay be, what would a horse sell for. He had no counter-examples or references, he just wrote "$$??" in the margins, thereby implying I hadn't done my homework, or perhaps I was too young and female to know anything about cowboys--after all, I never even heard of Hanky the wonder dog.

Of course, John couldn't know that I've been working on these stories for a year and have successfully defended my research before the gauntlet of the group, but how rude is it to walk onto somebody else's playground and immediately imply that they aren't playing the game correctly? Whether you know the rules or not?

What really got my goat was his point about the silver nitrate. Yes, Trace uses a bottle of silver nitrate against the werewolf in "Horseflesh." Yes, I understand that silver nitrate is a chemical compound and the properties are not the same as those of the elemental metal. So what? The wolfsbane that grows in the U.S. is not the same species as the traditional blue stuff from Europe, either, and some werewolf afficionados insist that only the blue wolfsbane/monkshood will do. But again: who cares? In some stories vampires are susceptible to silver, in others they aren't. Blade and some other modern vampire stories use silver nitrate as a weapon, and even if the precedent weren't there, and even if it weren't a flippin' fantasy, silver nitrate is an antiseptic. Given that werewolfism was presented as a disease in this story, wouldn't it stand to reason that an antiseptic might have an affect on a person infected with said disease? Isn't it amazing how writers and fans will fight hardest over the things that are most unprovable?

I dunno. I shouldn't be so hard on the guy, he was just working with the tools he had. But that kind of petty "you've got this wrong!" drives me crazy.

The others were pretty hard on him, too. I've gotten used to them over the years, but Lynette and Alison do tend to pound on people. They'll say "this character's stupid!" when what they mean is, "You haven't portrayed this character well enough to justify his being in a managerial position."

Rob's comment was even more cutting, in a way. He said, "Lester Del Ray did this thirty years ago," and passed it on to me.

So how was John's story, you ask? Well, the general plot held together, but it was painful to read. He needs work on his characterization and on conveying information in the right places and with the appropriate emphasis. He also crossed out several paragraphs of Horseflesh, labelling them, "backstory," and while I'll admit that Horseflesh is a huge bloated sprawling thing that really needs to be lanced, what his comments tell me is that he's read too many writing manuals that tell you to leave out backstory. I carefully tried to point out to John that "backstory" was precisely what his characters needed--it makes them more sympathetic. I'm not sure he took it well. He seemed much more edgy and uncomfortable while I was talking to him than he did with the others. He probably thought I was being defensive of my own work.

And I didn't even have to defend myself. Jan read through the MS after he did and wrote "STET" after every one of his remarks. "I trust her research," she wrote. When he said my story was wordy, she said, "Oh, I've gotten used to her style."

Love Jan. Poor John.

Anyway. Jan's supposed to be writing me an email about Horseflesh; she finally got to finish it. And they were all really keen on the beginning of Curious Weather. Alison wailed "More!" like Oliver Twist. I think they're being unusually lenient with me on this story, because they've gotten involved to the point where they're projecting their own images of Trace on the page. But who knows. Fans will be the first to skewer you if you misstep. They're really going to be mad when *bleep* makes Trace *bleep* on the *bleep*.

Heh heh.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy MLK day.

I'm off work today. So in the spirit of one of the most proactive men in American history, what I am I doing? Sitting on my duff, blogging!

Believe me, though, I did plenty this weekend. And I have plenty more to do now, I'm just not doing it.

I am currently working on four different forms in tai chi/kung fu. The second-year kung-fu students are learning the cannon fist form, which I learned two years ago, so I get to lead that a lot, while Sit looks on and refines my style. It's nice, getting this refresher course while the newer students are learning.

In tai chi class we're doing the broadsword (sabre) form now, don't know if I mentioned that. It's pretty cool, challenging but not difficult, flashy enough to look impressive. I actually find it quite simple and exhilarating, really, but then it has a lot in common with the fan and the umbrella, and I just really seem to feel comfortable with a machete in my hand. Tony, Tim and I are a good bit ahead of the rest of the class, so we should finish it up in a couple of weeks.

Those're the easy parts.

In-between classes, me and Tony and other applicable people practice the Chen-style form. I still have blank spots in my memory on that one--I know all the moves but I'm a little shaky on sequence. It's a very repetitive form, and each repetition is just a mite different, so it's easy to lose your place and think, "Wait, did I leave out that move?" And what makes it even more difficult is, it's very similar to and completely different from the Six Elbows internal form, the big dog that Sit's been spoon-feeding me a few moves at a time for the last three weeks.

I'm probably making the internal form more difficult than it needs to be, since I already know most of the moves from forms I already learned. The problem is, they're all just a wee bit modified for the easier forms, so I'm having to learn a whole new syntax while my muscles insist on following what they already know. So it's kind of like trying to learn both Castillian and Mexican Spanish at the same time. Throw the Chen-style in there, and it's like learning Spanish while brushing up on your French grammar.

Then at home I'm kind of wrapped up in my car and my husband's new diet. There weren't many carbs in the house anyway, I don't buy junk food, but I had to get rid of a few things and stock up on produce and cheese. It's really not any more effort to cook low-carb than any other way, and my tummy is happier if I don't eat starch for dinner. I've lost a pound and a half already, I don't know about him. Now I just have to get him off his butt to exercise. I keep threatening to teach him qi gong.

My car, though--that's a problem. The gas mileage has plummetted in the last two weeks; I'm literally filling up every three days. I have some idea of what valves need to be replaced, but to replace them would cost more than the car is worth. We're supposed to go see this dealer/finance guy tomorrow, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that the writing is going very, very slowly. There simply isn't enough quiet space in my brain to work out plot. I can write down sentences and paragraphs well enough, but all of my large-scale plotting resources run in the same hard drive space that is currently processing four different forms and a week's worth of menus--not to mention rearranging the living room to accomodate the exercise machine. I have a fair chunk of text written on Curious Weather, but it's piecemeal: the diary entries I've been posting here are supposed to be spaced out with real-time scenes of Trace, which aren't written yet. I don't really want to take the piecemeal stuff to my writer's group, which is Saturday. But I have today off so I'm going to try to start filling in gaps. Or I may rearrange the living room.

=========

Minor point of interest: I got what you might call a "call-back" from that one publisher on End of the Line. The first reader's superior contacted me and asked for an .rtf copy, so she could forward it to the editorial board. So it's still afloat. I don't dare get too optimistic, but it sure would be nice to get paid professional rates for that thing--that would be a Godsend right now. And Raechel from Jinstu wrote to let me know that she'd sent out the reversion of rights last week. Poor kid. In a way I feel more sorry for her than I do for myself. Up until December it really sounded like Eggplant was doing well and poised for growth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I liked the lady, all right monkey boy?

The Emperor of Ice-Cream, by Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Friday, January 06, 2006

two jokes

One--

On a certain blog belonging to two editors of a certain publisher, I found this:
A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar.

The bartender looks up and says, "What is this, a joke?"

Two--

I put a query package in the mail to said publisher today. Wocka wocka.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

waiting for the plot fairy

Writing is work, despite and still. No matter how good the buzz when it's going, no matter how strong the sense of pride when I finish something really cool, there's often a tremendous amount of inertia to overcome when I first sit down to start writing--or when I'm trying to force my butt into the chair so I can start writing. There are exceptions, of course, like when I get a really clear pivotal scene in mind, and then it becomes a matter of can't-get-to-the-keyboard fast enough.

But at the moment I'm kind of stuck on a couple of things. "Horseflesh" needs a couple of scenes in the middle ripped apart and knit together, and the same thing done with a couple of scenes at the end, and it's harder than hell for me to take apart a story that's already basically done and tinker with the structural underpinnings.

At least I have a pretty good idea what needs to be done, there. Curious Weather is, in some ways, in worse shape because I have all these cool intense scenes I want to get to at the end, and only a shaky idea how I'm going to construct a plot around them. Don't dare start on that until I know, because see above re: tearing out structural underpinnings after the veneer is already on.

I've been compulsively checking to my email and my usual round of blogs, almost hourly, the last couple of days. It's a procrastination technique, of course--I tell myself I'm looking for distraction, but I think in reality I'm hoping to find a mysterious piece of email from an anonymous benefactor, which will contain the missing connective bits of story, which I can then cut and paste into place and have to do nothing more strenuous than the editing.

Sigh.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

back in the swing

Well, it's 2006. And Tuesday. And I'm back at work. Y'know, when you're a kid, the holidays are fun in part because it's a break in routine. But me being the creature of habit I am, after almost two full weeks at home, I'm actually glad to be back in the office.

Some random events and idle thoughts...
  1. My husband is working on a new resolution to lose some weight. He mentioned this several times in the last month, even went so far as suggest he'd like to start swimming again. Then after Christmas his parents volunteered to help pay for a club membership, so he can swim, so we went down to the local community center to see what the rates and facilities were like. It's very nice. The pool area is amazing; five double-wide lanes, plus several lagoons and relaxing areas, even a water park and slide. More impressive to me was the room full of cardio equipment and weights, and the lovely dance/group activity classroom, with the blond hardwood floor and two walls of mirrors. Which leads me to the next interesting thing...

  2. We stopped by the registration desk to ask questions about rates and such, and some compulsion prompted me to ask whether they had any martial arts classes. The guy said they used to offer tae kwon do, but the instructor moved away and they hadn't hired anyone else. I said, "Where do I apply?" The guy says, "Are you an instructor?" I nodded, and opened my mouth, and before I could say anything the woman behind the desk said, "Don't you take tai chi with Sit?" And I go Yeah, and she introduces herself as the wife of one of my classmates. I had met her once a year or so ago and forgotten. That seemed like an auspicious sign, so I filled out an application. Who knows if anything will come of that, but even if it gets us free access to the facilities it should be worth it.

  3. Speaking of tai chi, Sit started me on the Big Daddy of forms last Sunday, the Six Elbows internal form, which is the basis of his kung fu style, the sacred hand-me-down of his teacher's teacher, blessed be his name, amen. This is heavy-duty stuff, because he doesn't teach this to just anybody. It's long and difficult and it's a sign that he takes me seriously and believes I will take it seriously, which means I may actually have to practice. He also offered to start teaching me some advanced meditation techniques, but I don't know that I'm ready for that kind of time commitment--it's not the kind of thing you can pick up and put down when convenient, and the last thing I want to do is flake out at this stage. He mentioned once that in 30-some-odd years he's only had one female student complete the internal form, and I don't think he's ever taught the meditation to a woman before. Serious, indeed. I don't know if I can handle that kind of pressure, I put enough on myself.

  4. The number-one source of self-induced pressure at the moment is, of course, Trace. I want to have it finished by summer, which is going to be pretty tough at my current rate of production, and considering that I may be even busier for the next few months. After I got the news that Jintsu was folding I quickly submitted End of the Line to a new venue and almost immediately ran afoul of one of those Barracudas-in-a-guppy-bowl, a/k/a the First Reader. He said the story was well-crafted and left indelible images, but said I needed to be careful with my dialect. I asked if he could be more specific. He said that nobody with Trace's education would EVER used an "unlettered" dialect. I countered with examples of how I do it every day, and trumped him with a news article about how politicians take elocution lessons to sound more "folksy." He responded with, "well, I'm an editor, and I strongly suggest you change it." I said, "Change what, exactly? If you could give me some examples I might know what the problem is." He said, "Forget it, you win." As if I was really being difficult for requesting a little specificity! I told Rob and Alison from my writer's group about it, and they told me to quit screwing around with rinky-dink e-publishers and make up a package for Tor. So that's what I did New Year's Day; I wrote a query letter and hashed out some summaries for the last five Trace stories. Which brings me to issue number five on my mind....

  5. I have a pretty good idea how the last half of the book is going to go, but I'm concerned about Mereck as the Big Bad, because he hasn't really made an onscreen appearance yet. He's been working well enough as this shadowy presence, kind of an abstract of evil or in Sabine's case, the devil who made her do it. He's going to get some development in Sabine's backstory, however, and in story number six, he's going to--needs to--appear front-and-center with a vengeance. And I'm not really sure how I'm going to do that, because the personality extremes are pretty well filled in the Sabine/Trace dynamic. And then AJ posted this Whedon quote, which kind of brought to the front of my mind how we've become accustomed to shades of gray in our good/evil dynamics, and what I wanted to do with this was create something much more black-and-white. Which means, Mereck has got to be BAD. But not Clive Barker-Rawhead Rex bad; at the moment I'm leaning toward the Victorian Old Scratch idea of the Devil: dapper and gentlemanly and seductive and inherently evil. Hating humanity, utterly consumed by his own selfishness and contempt for a good deed, but attractive even though you know he's going to destroy you--an extension of the theme of Trace's fascination/addiction/repulsion with regard to his powers and to Sabine. I'm thinking in terms of sexual deviancy, where you're aroused and nauseated at the same time. I'm thinking in terms of medieval torture devices. Poor Trace.