Dec 102014
 

Sitting in the type of weather I perfectly hate: muggy, unmoving air, thick with plump mosquitos; and all I can think is: I miss Iceland.

Ice Littering jökulsárlón Beach

This is the black-sand beach where Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon fed by Vatnajökull, empties its iceberg shards into the Atlantic Ocean. The day I visited it was bitterly cold, hanging so low and thick I couldn't see more than a hundred yards off the lagoon's shoreline. There was no chance of glimpsing the glacier itself, but I didn't care. It was such a stark and startling environment, so utterly beyond Australia's purview. It cracked my mind open and shoved icebergs in there. Not book-learning, not a leap of imagination, but the kind of bone-deep knowledge only first-hand experience can give.

Looking back, I think my favourite aspect of Iceland were those beaches of black sand. I expected the sand to be rough or gritty, but it was always sinking-soft, an undisturbed sweep of shoreline, and perpetually wet. Ocean and rain and mist and fog clung to the beaches during our visit, keeping them empty. I liked to take Squawk toddling along them, lava fields on one hand and waves from Antarctica nibbling at the sand on the other. It gives the mind enough space to roam, a landscape like that.

Dec 012014
 
Calvin & Hobbes - Writer's Block

In the world of news (of me), my Twelfth Planet collection … is officially delivered.

A little under a week ago, in the bleary hours of the morning, with my eyes pointing in different directions and the room a little wobblier than I prefer it, I handed in a workable draft of the final story.

The collection is in no way done done, of course. I've the final edits to go on all the stories, but that's line editing1 and it won't involve the crippling doubts of never quite finding a workable ending.

But the stories are written. Beginning, middle and a hopefully cohesive end for each of them.

And if I'm going to be honest, that's something I completely lost faith in achieving this past year. Toddlerhood is not big on sharing.

Out of curiosity (and/or a morbid habit of giving my mind ammunition with which to punish me), I looked through my statistics spreadsheet and discovered:

  • The very first words on "The Wages of Honey" were written in 2007. 2007! Who was I then? I have no idea anymore. The story went through 6 drafts over 5 years (I was writing/publishing The Binding books during that point in time, so Wages of Honey kept getting picked up and put down again).
     
  • I started "The Briskwater Mare" in 2012. It, too, underwent 6 drafts; in 18 months this time (January 2012 – July 2013). Swift I am not. It clocked in at around 12,000 words, but over the 6 drafts I actually wrote 58,000 new words to end up with those 12,000.
     
  • "The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood" took 13 months, spread over 2 years, to write (July-November 2012, January-May 2013, and September-November 2014). I toiled through 7 drafts and wrote a whopping 102,000 new words to end up with a 22,000-word story.
     
  • "The Miseducation of Mara Lys" (aka Clockmakers) took me 15 months, spread over 2 years (May-November 2013 and January-August 2014) and 6 drafts. The finished story is 19,000 words, and I wrote 67,000 new words to find them.
     
  • In 2014, I have only worked on Cherry Crow and Clockmakers.
     
  • Counting only Briskwater, Cherry Crow and Clockmakers, since the start of 2012 I've written 227,000 new words. Only 53,000 of them were good enough to stay.2 Plaguey little blighters, words. Get in everywhere.
     
  1. holy papercuts, please let it be nothing more serious than line edits []
  2. I know now why I cry. []
 Posted by at 9:07 pm  Tagged with:
Jul 072014
 
Sesame Street Martians (radio)

Here's my new hobby: coming up with alternative — and representatively inclusive — verses of Baa Baa Black Sheep.

It all started when I learnt the lyrics to the second verse.1 Instead of the master, the dame and the little boy who lives down the lane, the second verse I learnt was about the jumpers, the frocks, and the little girl with holes in her socks.

Only in singing it for Squawk, I kinda messed up and said socks where I was supposed to say frocks. Oops.

Luckily, toddlers don't care about lyrical tangles, they just want the tune to continue, so continue I did, and what I came up with was this:

One for the jumpers, one for the socks,
And one for the little boy who likes to wear frocks.

Ahhh, inclusivity. That's what we like around these parts.2

Time to come up with more!

  1. I'm sure there's plenty of verses out there. I remember a verse about a white sheep and have you any cotton, once upon a time. []
  2. Because the second verse now features a boy, I've changed the first verse for Squawk to be about the little girl who likes to fly planes and/or drive trains, depending on my mood. []
 Posted by at 4:48 pm
Jun 102014
 

Today delivered a lovely reminder that hey, there was this thing I used to have time for, called writing

2014-06-10 20.14.38

My contributor copies of Cemetery Dance #71 arrived!

And the internal artwork for my story, "Teratogen", is awesome:

2014-06-10 20.15.10

2014-06-10 20.15.20

As soon as I put Squawk to bed tonight, I couldn't help but sit down and re-read my own story. Is that weird? It's probably weird. But there's something about seeing my own words typeset and professionally produced. I don't normally read the whole thing so much as thumb through it, appreciate the texture of the pages and the crispness of the ink against the paper, and just enjoy being published. For me, a story isn't finished, not truly, until it's published. (And not really even then. I mentally edited the story as I was reading it…) This one I truly read because it's short and because, well, I started writing it in 2004, put the finishing touches on in 2005, sold it in December 2007, and I've waited until now for it to see print. It was not unlike reading a stranger's work.

So, there you have it, I have a new (old) story officially released into the wilds.

May 132014
 
image courtesy of xkcd.com

In order to get Squawk to eat baked macaroni1, I have to eat it with her. At this point in the proceedings, in fact, I have to eat it for her.

I find I am entirely okay with this.

And because she's extremely cautious around food, I know I'm going to need to eat it for her about 10 times before she consents to taste it. And then I'm going to need to eat it with her another 10+ times before she decides she likes said taste. This means baked macaroni every night for the next 10+ days.

…I am entirely okay with this, also.

  1. Who doesn't simply stuff their face with this the nanosecond it's put in front of them?! []
Apr 112014
 
image courtesy of xkcd.com

Ah, productivity, how I miss you. You never call, you never write…

I feel like I've been spinning my wheels on this ever since Squawk was a week old and I began thinking about trying to fit my writing around her.

During all this time my thoughts — thanks to my brain chemistry and a remarkable ability to self-sabotage — have centred around my failure to be driven enough, or efficient enough, or organised enough. When I've remembered to be kind to myself, I've thrown in a few mitigating circumstances: I'm tired, so tired, no wonder I can't think to plot or plan. That sort of thing.

It's taken me fifteen months (quick on the uptake, me), but today it occurred to me: I have no routine. Well, okay, I've known about that ever since Squawk came and stripped it away from me, obviously, but the epiphany is that I rely on routine in order to be creative and/or productive.

Writing is an investment for me. I can't sit down and start unless I know, without a doubt, that I'll get at least fifteen minutes uninterrupted. More preferably half an hour. I need time to sink into the world, to pick up the threads and start weaving again. The more advanced a draft is, the more rewrites I've attempted, the more time I need in any given session to get started. The longer since I last looked at the story, the more time I need in any given session to reacquaint myself with it before I can get anywhere. (It's a vicious cycle: with no routine to ensure I get a dedicated session each day on the story, my memory of the story withers and I need longer and longer sessions, which my routine can't accommodate…) I've tried plotting in advance, so I can write when I get even a moment to myself, but I can't seem to plot without a notebook or keyboard in front of me — there's something about the physical act of writing or typing that allows my mind to let my thoughts flow. Otherwise it just holds on to that last thought, as if afraid of forgetting it, and I spend hours circling around the last known plot point but never advancing anywhere from it.

The solution is simple, right? I come up with a routine.

Implementing said solution is going to be challenging, however. Yesterday I utterly failed at explaining to Squawk that she couldn't have the biscuit in the picture because it was just a picture of one.1 I also apparently destroyed her every chance of happiness because I asked her not to touch fire.

I can just imagine how well the phrase "No, it's Mummy's laptop" is going to go over with her. A bit like explaining "not now" to Vesuvius, I imagine.

  1. To be fair to me, I actually succeeded at explaining this to her, I just didn't succeed at doing it in a way that made her happy, or at least resigned, to the situation of having to eat a milk arrowroot biscuit that was a different shape to the milk arrowroot biscuit in the American picture book. []
Mar 152014
 
image courtesy of xkcd.com (http://xkcd.com/220/)

The indefatigable Ellen Gregory — who is currently writing a fantasy novel with a unique magic system; she's been telling me snippets of the world and the plot over our many cafe writing dates and I really cannot wait to read the finished product — has tagged me for a blog hop about writing process. I have to say the short version of my process can probably best be described as "what process?!", but here goes anyway.

1. What am I working on?

A collection of short stories — none of which will "officially" qualify as a short story, since the shortest is about 11,000 words. So a collection of novelettes, then. I have two of the stories written-written, one in alpha draft, and one in not-quite-but-very-nearly-alpha draft. When I'm finally finished all four of them, they'll be edited to within an inch of my life, and published as part of the Twelve Planets series.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Oh. Um. I'm not sure I'm best qualified to answer this, as I'm never distant enough from my own work to truly know. Also, these stories are each different to anything I've ever written before. In subject matter they're all a little grim and in surface trappings they're all a little whimsical, and when all that comes together it's (at least in these stories) various shades of the pensive and the passionate.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Honestly, I could answer this question and all its many cousins a thousand different ways every time I'm asked it. And each answer would be true and false (or at least incomplete) at the same time.

I write because it stops (or addresses) my thoughts. I write because it's my way of processing the world and all its various stimuli. I write for the fun of it, for the discipline of it, for the escape and the creation and the privacy of it. I write because I have something to say, and I write because I want to say it quietly, to those willing and working to listen.

As for my genre … I write speculative fiction because I can't resist it. I love the layering it gives the real world, the sense of something more lurking beneath the mundanities. And I love the way it makes (or has the potential to make) the human condition universal, that even when everything else changes, nothing changes.

4. How does my writing process work?

You know, I didn't know the details of my writing process before Squawk happened. Now … well. Let's just say that this post was supposed to go up last Monday, so blowing through deadlines appears to be a part of my post-Squawk process.

I used to be a pantser, trusting my rambling zero draft to somehow coalesce, with its dead ends and false starts, into an inefficient outline from which I could draw out a story. These days I try and plot a little more upfront. I can't say it's working out, I'm still spending an awful lot of my zero draft floundering and flailing, but I'm still experimenting with what works best. I find it changes with every story I attempt.

I'm a character-driven writer, so I can't start without a character, and these days that includes their world. I can write not knowing everything else, however — although the less I know, the messier it makes the initial draft and the more time-consuming the revisions. And the more cafe/email chats my long-suffering friends have to sit through while I admit I've pinned down a ludicrous number of words without actually asking myself key worldbuilding questions yet…

5. Pass it on

As part of the blog hop, I'm supposed to tag three more writers to answer these questions, but where's the fun in restricting it to just three? So if these questions take your fancy, consider yourself tagged, and link back here so we know where to find you!

Feb 282014
 
The Unstrung Harp – Straying; text and image from Edward Gorey's "The Unstrung Harp", icon created by me

Last night, I wrote the last words on the alpha draft of what I've been calling Clockmakers, the actual title of which turns out to be "The Miseducation of Mara Lys".

Calling it an alpha draft is a bit generous, to be honest, but in the interests of having something pinned to the page which I can print out, read through, and start turning into something coherent enough to be read, it'll do. I've spent this morning duly reading through it, adding to the comments in the margin and taking down a master-list in my notebook of Things To Fix. About one-third of the way through the manuscript, still in the relatively-well-written-and-clean section of the story, and the master list is already 4 pages long.

I had hoped to have the coherent draft written by the end of today, but clearly that isn't quite going to happen.

I'm quite enjoying the read-through. It's already daunting, and even the opening section is not as clean as I remembered, and the tone is inconsistent as well as utterly wrong — but writing down questions without having to trot off and research/answer them straight away is awesome. Did Babylon have ducks? What names did the Moors use for that delicate lacework of stone thing they had going on in their eaves and architraves? What types of wood are pliable and flexible, and which more rigid, and which ones would be accessible in Mara's city? Do they have paper? What types and colours of cloth are common? (Why don't I know any of this already?)

The good news is, Clockmakers is (hopefully) the last story in my Twelve Planets collection. So now all I have to do is get Cherry Crow Children and Clockmakers into proper beta draft form so that they can be edited, and and and … (could it be true?) there'll be something for Twelfth Planet Press to actually work with?

I can't even let myself think it, I want it so much. Oh for more actual blocks of time I could give to my writing!

Feb 152014
 
image courtesy of xkcd.com (http://xkcd.com/470/)

It's been about a fortnight. Maybe more? I'm not sure. I've not said anything before because I didn't want to jinx it, and I still don't trust it – but guys, guys, GUYS.

Squawk sleeps. Through the night.

As a data point1, she's just shy of 14 months old. And it was basically an unforeseen step change. She had been getting gradually better, up to the point of sleeping in 3 to 4 hour stretches, and the resettlings were quick and simple, just a matter of letting her know she wasn't alone in the house — and then, one night, she went to sleep and 13 hours later she woke up. Not even a whimper in the meantime. And the next few nights, she did exactly the same thing.

Sickness, teething, it doesn't matter any more, she goes to bed and doesn't get up until the morning. She doesn't always not wake — but when she does, she puts herself back down within 5 minutes.2 Last night, sick and feeling poorly because of it, she even asked for an early bedtime and popped herself to sleep before I'd finished lowering the blinds.

The differences in our household are everywhere. There's the obvious one, in that she gets rest and so we get rest, but it spiders out further, into everything else. I can trust her to put herself to sleep, and she's no longer frightened of her cot, so bedtime has become less stressful for everyone. If she wakes up early in the morning, she's happy to just sit there and burble away to her toys while she waits for us to drag our sluggardly heads off our pillows. She wakes up happy. She wanders off alone through the house, less fearful of solitude or unheralded noises. She likes to sit and read her books by herself.

To celebrate, have a picture of Squawk demonstrating her skill with the Force, care of the pterosaur:

yodasquawk

  1. for those desperate parents who've passed through sleep-debt and found themselves wondering whether Guantanamo Bay might prove a restful change, who might thus land on my site because they're looking for the answer to the question of when, when, when will a baby honestly sleep through the night, not the five hours in a row that officially qualifies as through the night but real honest goes down at bedtime and doesn't make a peep until morning []
  2. She does sometimes cry during those five minutes. Listening isn't always fun. But it isn't always horrible, either; sometimes it's just muttering to herself sort of cries. []
 Posted by at 3:58 pm