Fire came on a Sunday morning, sharp and steady. It fell from the sky like rain, and it trailed smoke that lingered like clouds in an otherwise clear sky. Most of it fizzled out quickly in the air, whistling into nothingness. Where it struck the ground it steamed and hissed and left blackened charred spots, which crisped and flaked off with the wind. No one knew why it had come, or what had triggered it: only that it was steady and inescapable, and those who were caught outside when it came were burned badly, unless they managed to flee very quickly for safety.
Broadcast stations were overrun by terrified reports. TV evangelists thundered that this was a sign of the End Times, and it was proof that God was finally bringing his judgment down upon the deeply sinful world. Soon the angels would descend, they claimed; they would come and shepherd off the true believers into the bosom of heaven and leave the rest of the world to burn.
But the fire ended on Sunday evening, as suddenly as it had begun. People crept outside to survey the damage in the light of the fading sun. Everything smelled of smoke and ash and all the things that had burned, bitter and black. There were scars left even in stone and concrete, and places where glass had melted and warped. Some of the debris was left for Monday morning: it was too late to do anything now, they said. Some things would need to be checked in full light of day, they said.
On Monday morning, the fire came again. People stood at the windows and watched as it rained down from the sky, and the smoke was thicker than it had been the day before. More if it hit the ground than before. Smaller fires caught in the dry grass and sputtered and smoked, but they faded out quickly enough.
Again the TV evangelists beat their breasts and screamed. Further proof! Soon, now! Soon the time would come when the true believers were saved and the scum that had abandoned their faith would be punished for their foolishness.
But again, the fires stopped on Monday evening. This time, people came out and tried to clear away what they could — the ruined cars were towed (when they could be), the worst of the clutter in the streets were swept away, and people stopped and looked at each other in confusion. There was a silence in the air that felt more like anticipation than curiosity. Some people murmured to each other, low and nervous, but it was the sort of night for quiet, for wondering and for worry.
Would the fire come again on Tuesday? Everyone looked at each other and nodded: of course it would, somehow, whether people were prepared for it or not. The countryside was already burned in so many places; cities were pocked and blistered and ruined as if a thousand years had passed in the space of two days. How much worse would it be when the third day of fire came?
But it did not. Tuesday dawned sunny and bright, but without any more fire.
This was the calm before the storm, the evangelists roared, before their listening crowds (and how much bigger those audiences were than they had been just a few days before; rows and rows of seats that had stood empty on Saturday now swelled, and there wasn’t enough room to accommodate everyone). After this, oh, after this the fire would return, greater and more terrible than before; the whole world would drown in flame; fire would sweep everything and rebirth the world into something pure and new.
There was no fire on Wednesday, nor again on Thursday, nor Friday. Nor Saturday.
When Sunday came again, there was rain.
The skies billowed thick with dark black clouds, and for a moment the whole world held its breath, waiting–
And there was rain. It was cool and it was sweet and there was no sting of fire to it, no brimstone or smoke or anything terrible. People who were caught out in it — and there were very few, after the mishaps of the Sunday and Monday before — were only soaked to the bone, with nothing worse to show for the event. The soot was washed away in places, and in others it had been burned in too deeply, and the world watched through its warped melted windows.
People inhaled. People exhaled.
The world went on.
Whoosh, and it’s only Wednesday.
This whole rolling week has been just a little off-kilter for me so far — nothing tremendous or off the rails, but just enough oddities that I end up listing when I should be on solid ground. On Friday I ended up going out with roommates, and that was fairly nice and relaxing, though I ended up a little stomach-sick later. (I have a delicate stomach even at the best of times; it’s apparently just a legacy of my family.) The weekend was fairly fine, though on Sunday night, I went to bed early with the tiniest of headaches … and woke up almost four hours later with the most excruciating migraine I’ve had in years. I literally woke up unsure who I was for a few seconds, because it felt as if my head had split into some hideous alien creature of pain. I ended up actually viciously ill for another couple of hours, and I have to say that whatever evolutionary point led us to the ability to have migraines, I don’t want it, take it back. ｡゜(｀Д´)゜｡
Of course, being sick for two hours in the middle of the night meant that my Monday was extremely off — I can function all right on six hours of sleep, but not it’s broken up in between. I spent most of the work day plodding through what I could and dead-eying my screen; I was deathly afraid of the migraine coming back (since I had woken up with a head that still felt delicate, like one wrong step would send me crashing back into pain). I also made sure to buy Excedrin after work so at least next time, I will be more prepared.
Tuesday I was still kind of recovering; it was mostly my stomach at that point. I don’t get migraines — or even headaches often — but stomach troubles are an old recurring midboss in my life, so I settled for eating light and eating a lot of candied ginger and muddling through.
Today my alarm didn’t go off at its proper time — I checked my phone and everything was working; the alarm was on and correct, it just … hadn’t gone off. I am proud of myself that I still managed to get to work less than ten minutes late, which was really a combination of living very close to my office (on the other side of downtown) and super hardcore rushing to get myself out the door. My cat was probably very put out by this, since he seemed to think that me being in bed longer meant that I was going to stay home and cuddle him; when I came home earlier he proceeded to yell and then crawled into my lap to yell even more.
So I have been mostly making it through — hopping on one foot more than not, though at least I am still plugging away at keeping up with my writing. Somehow, in spite of all the other hiccups, that has been going relatively smoothly; I am already over halfway to my monthly wordcount goal! (Which is just # of days in the month x 1000, so it’s fairly easy to remember.) I made a fairly big push during the weekend, and even though I fell short of my actual total goal, I came close enough to feel satisfied that it’s a real and possible thing I can do. At least I can still be productive.
Tonight, though, I’m going to bed early and no one can stop me. (What a life of luxury, being an adult …)
One of the first things you learn is how to fall properly, whether it is by lesson or by necessity. There are proper ways to hit the ground so that nothing fragile takes the brunt of your weight. It’s bad enough, of course, when someone strikes you across the face; there’s no need to add a carelessly-snapped wrist or ankle on top of the bruises. You’ve seen people who’ve taken longer than sooner, and the consequences that follow. It’s just something that you learn–but like all lessons, it can also be forgotten. Time passes and you’ve fallen enough times that there are brittle places that have cracked and flaked open. Then something soft creeps along and winds its way into the core of you, and the next thing you know, you’re walking flat-footed as if the world under your feet is solid, smooth walking from here to eternity.
You have no one but yourself to blame when things fall apart. You misstep and put your foot through the fragile parts of things you let yourself believe were strong enough to bear your weight. The ground rushes to meet you, and you know: you’ve forgotten how to land.
So after two months of a roughly-outlined Real Adult Schedule, I have come to a few conclusions:
1. I really genuinely do feel much better when I have one, even if the lazy kid in me chafes at keeping tabs on my free fun times;
2. I am intensely more productive with one, even if it’s really just kind of the bare-bones of one;
3. Sometimes, it makes me sad, in the same way a lot of things about settling into adulthood makes me sad.
Points one and two are things that I have always sort of known about myself, even if I really rebelled against it for a long time (and, as per point three, I do still complain about in my heart), even if the “schedule,” as it is, is barely a real thing. “Assuming I get home around 6, I will have about an hour to unwind/get dinner prep started, then dinner, then eating, then a couple of hours of free time, then an hour or so of writing*, then a shower, then unwinding, then bed.”
* It’s not a straight hour of writing, even. I usually do two or three 15-minute sessions, using focusbooster, depending on how long it takes me to hit the first 1000 words. Some nights it happens faster than others.
It’s not something I have sat down and meticulously planned out (I have still not mastered dayplanners; I don’t quite understand how one can meticulously plan out one’s day without losing precious time in the process), and of course it’s pretty flexible (sometimes we go out to eat or order out; sometimes I linger with my timewaster games longer than I probably should), but just by having one I’ve seen a huge improvement in my actual productivity. At the beginning of the year, I had a bit of a boost in terms of writing fic, but even then, I was sometimes barely hitting even the baseline minimum of 750 words a day — now I’m averaging about 2000 words, and it’s not something I’m straining that hard to manage. (Again, some days are easier than others.) It’s only about forty-five minutes extra in a given day, but I’ve been impressing myself, at least!
At the same time, though, it does mean I have to compromise on some of the other things I would like to do. A friend of mine started up a new game that looks interesting and fun, and I would like to join! … But I’ve already sort of hit my limit in what I can reasonably juggle, between the game I am already in, recharging time (the joys of being an introvert even with regards to online interactions), offline things, and writing time. I don’t want to go back to skimping on the writing, especially when I feel like I’ve finally hit a point in my own personal discipline that I can keep up with things! It was a choice I made deliberately and willingly, and intellectually I know it’s definitely going to be better for me in the long run.*
It doesn’t mean I don’t feel a whole lot of wistfulness when a large number of my friends are having fun with a new shiny thing. It’s a lot like the metaphorical kid outside of the candyshop, with my hands and face mushed against the glass, wishing there was a way I could go inside and afford everything I want. Only instead of candy, it’s a new thing to do, and instead of money, it’s time and energy.
* A friend of mine linked me to an article the other day that mentioned that the “sweet spot” for self-published authors is to put out a new book every 2-4 months. Yikes. While I have the confidence I could write 50k words regularly every 2-4 months at this point, whether or not this would be a completed story that I can hand over to my betas is another thing entirely. That’s something I’m working on. One thing at a time, I guess.
Part of me is seriously considering seeing if I can juggle things, though the other thing I know about myself is that a more forgiving system — one that says, “no, it’s all right, you don’t need to push your activity levels, it’s meant to be relaxing” means that it will, in fact, be the thing I put off, which in and of itself is not very fair, either to the thing itself, or the people that I would be interacting with within that system. I don’t have such a demanding daily schedule that it’s another unpleasant stressor on everything else; I have enough freedom that I do need the restrictions or else I just end up flopping out. Even in fun things, apparently, I need something to essentially keep me honest.
When I was a kid, I thought that adulthood meant there would be just some switch that went off in my awareness and suddenly I’d be all right with being responsible even in my free time (because even that far back, I had some inkling about the sort of lazy personality I have). Now that I’m actually of an ostensibly adult age, I’ve found that the only thing that’s switched is that instead of my parents nagging me to do things and be good and get stuff done, it’s my own internal sense of responsibility and reaction. Maybe in the end, instead of just playing an adult in my dayjob, I have actually truly become one.
How distressing. (´Д｀)
From the writeworld prompt: All you’ll ever be is a poor little rich boy.
But why is that?
During the hours between midnight and three in the morning, a woman walks the length of the East Wing. All of her pale hair is in disarray, and there are dark stains across the belly and the hem of her nightgown. She wears a veil over her face, but anyone who sees her knows her for who she is: the Madame, Estelle Leclair, and God rest her soul, for her body has been resting in the earth for the past ten years. Though she makes no sound, she will stop in front of every door and put her face in her hands, and her shoulders will tremble, and then she will move on to the next. On particularly windy nights, her voice echoes like a lost and lonely thing: my boy, my boy, where is my boy?
And the tragedy of the situation is that her boy — the son that died just a scant few months before the Madame herself — was likely waiting for her to find him on the other side, in the cradle of the heavens. She cannot hear his cries over her own, and while a priest might be able to give her some measure of peace, the Monsieur refuses to summon one. It is romance; it is his way of keeping her close, even though she has already gone on before him. Surely, after the Monsieur departs his own deathbed, he will take her by the hand and he will lead her home.
Alexis had asked about the ghost of the East Wing once; his mistake, he thought later, was that he had asked Julien, and not his father.
“If it is her,” he said, his face grim, “then let’s pray to every sweet saint that she will move on. She’s been trapped here for far too long.”
Alexis thought this was rather excessive; Julien, after all, had at least known her for far longer than Alexis himself. He had a photograph of her in a locket, and the knowledge from her old maid that she had preferred lilac over rose in her perfumes, and he had his life, but nothing more than that. It was not fair that Julien could not hope, at least for Alexis’s sake, that their mother truly did walk the East Wing, as if she meant to stay close to them even after so many years. Even if she was gone, she was close.
He had tried several times to catch her, bringing a blanket and a pillow and bedding down in one of the empty guest rooms and leaving the door open, forcing himself to stay awake during the long hours of the night — but he always found himself drifting off shortly after midnight, so that if Estelle Leclair did make her appearance, he always missed them. Perhaps if he actually slept in the room that had once been hers — the room where he had been born, the room where she’d died — he would have better luck, but his courage always failed him before he could quite make it to that particular room.
And then, one night, Alexis woke at some point when the world had gone dark gray and soft. He could not say what exactly it was that had roused him from sleep, though his heart was pounding hard and fast in his chest, as if the lingering cobwebs of his dreams were nightmares. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was just shortly after midnight, the twenty-first, the birth-day of his lost half-brother, who had died before the servants could even have any stories to tell about him.
The impulse struck him like a bolt of lightning, and his heart, which had just begun to calm, started off again. He slipped out of his bed and tiptoed out of his room, down the length of the West Wing and to the East Wing, his heart in his throat. For the first time, he felt well and truly awake, so alert that he was on the verge of vibrating out of his skin. When he reached the East Wing, he pressed himself against the wall, and he peered down the hallway, which was lit by the silver glow of the full moon.
Someone stood at the end of the hallway, in front of Estelle Leclair’s old room. Alexis gasped before he could help himself, and clapped both hands over his mouth. He could see the shape now, tall and slim and graceful, and he could see how the moon glittered on the pale strands of her hair, the gauzy gossamer of her nightgown, and more than anything, he wanted to run to her, to throw his arms around her knees and say, Mama, Mama, I am here, I am your boy and I’m here.
He’d even taken one step, preparing himself, and then he heard a voice behind him:
“Alexis, what are you doing here?”
At once he turned, and there was his father, handsome and proud and clever, who was truly all of the very best things that Alexis wished to be. He was dressed as if he were heading out to a party — or perhaps returning from one; an adult’s life seemed to be full of many parties, some of which lasted long and late into the night. He made a noise, then remembered his hands over his mouth, and he removed this and he said, “I am looking for Mama, Papa.”
“Are you?” He raised an eyebrow, and then he looked down the hallway. “But she is not here, Alexis. She left us long ago.”
“No,” Alexis said. “I saw her, Papa, she was right–” And then he turned, and — of course, Alexis Leclair, you foolish child! of course! — the length of the East Wing hallway was empty. Even so, he lifted a hand and pointed, and he swallowed several times because his throat ached, and he said, “She was there, Papa. She was there, and I saw her. I just wanted to be able to see her once.”
“Of course you did,” his father said, and this was why Alexis loved him, because he was kind and he was indulgent — not like Julien, who frowned and said scathing things and could not even tolerate a brief moment of whimsy. “And perhaps she was here, for just a moment. But she must away to her own sleep, and so should you.”
“But I am not tired.”
“Aren’t you? Then that’s troublesome.” His father stroked his chin for a moment, as if considering, and then he knelt down, putting both of his broad hands on Alexis’s shoulders. They were so large and warm, and Alexis thought that he could easily be swept up and carried in his father’s hands with room left over. His father looked him over, thoughtful, as if inspecting him, and so Alexis straightened up as much as he could and lifted his chin and tried to look as very adult as he could.
His father smiled then, slow and thoughtful. “Then,” he said, “would you like to come to my study? I think there are things we could do, perhaps, to tire you out.”
“Your study?” Alexis squeaked, his eyes going wide. His father’s study was a forbidden place, where neither he nor Julien were allowed (though of course not Julien; he was not even the proper son of the Monsieur Leclair!). It felt like an invitation to a strange new world, one that, perhaps, held secrets that might be equal to the memory of his mother, faded and dim as she was. “Of course, Papa! I would love to!”
“Oh, good,” his father said, and he kissed Alexis, first on the forehead, then on the mouth, and then on the mouth again, warm and firm, and Alexis giggled a little before he could stop himself. There was a strange little flip in his belly, like something was waiting to catch fire, or to take flight.
His father smiled as well, warm and secret, and he took Alexis by the hand, and he led him away.
A lot of the time I actually feel decently confident about my writing, which is really a nice and refreshing change from when I was younger, where I was consistently clinging to the idea of getting validation from others via comments or general nice things. And now that I am older and wiser(* well, this is debatable), I still appreciate those things a lot, and getting told I’m pretty can make my entire week, but it’s less of this driving creepy paranoia of but what if I’m really just bad at this and the only way I know I haven’t backslid entirely is because [x] amount of people told me I was pretty. I never tried to hold writing hostage the way I’ve seen people do, but in some ways I think I held my own peace of mind at that proverbial gunpoint, which my friends at the time often had to deal with the behind-the-scenes fallout for.
(To those people, I’m sorry about how intensely needy I was. I’m still grateful for you all putting up with me, here to this day.)
Now I don’t really worry so much about it. I will post things and not get any comments, and that’s fine; I will post stories that make no sales, and that’s also okay. At this point in time, I’m still working a day job; I’m young and I have my health, both physical and mental. I have become more resilient than I think I would have ever believed myself capable of being.
And yet, at the same time, there is a part of me that is like, you are doing it wrong when I go about my daily practices. There’s a certain point where I can call myself a writer, but it feels all rather facetious, like a kid who’s still daydreaming about What I’m Going To Be When I Grow Up. I self-pub; I don’t know how to promote; I am a little fish in a pond that basically consists of the entire internet. There’s a tiny convention for writers in my genre taking place in my city in Seattle, and I’ve had a couple of people encourage me to sign up; I have the registration page open in another tab on Chrome right now and I keep hesitating — and it’s not because of the money. These are actual writers, I keep thinking; these are Writers who have Made It — whatever that nebulous “Made It” actually means (though whatever it is, it is probably all of the things I have not yet managed myself). What am I even doing, trying to call myself a writer?
It’s one of those things that was enough to stop me dead in my tracks a few years ago; it was one of the reasons why I always denied, when my mother asked, that I really wanted to just write for a living. And obviously it hasn’t ever been enough to make me stop entirely, but I think it’s still something I’m learning how to deal with. (And apparently part of my “how do I deal” is to just talk about these same things a lot. Sometimes I visualize my little corner of the internet is actually a canyon where I yell things and my own voice repeats them back in variations.) If I have taken away anything from the past dozen or years, I’d hazard that this really actually is something I really want to do, even if there’s been a lot (a l o t) of stumbling blocks along the way, all invisible until I run facefirst into them.
They’re like growing pains, even though I am about 15 years too old for those. (Or thereabouts; I stopped really growing in terms of height when I was about 14. My parents were terribly disappointed by this.) So I would like to apologize again for any patient people that have been forced to sit through this set of developments in my life; maybe in another five years, I’ll Get It Right and then finally — finally! — I, too, will have Made It.
(Whatever that means.)
I have been doing this whole “writing” thing for over half my life at this point. I’m not a professional by a long shot, nor have I done a lot of the “right” things (going to workshops, doing outlines and meticulous planning, being part of critique groups beyond the one I joined in college — which, you know, yielded me people I’m still friends with almost a decade later (and isn’t that telling about my age)), but I like to think that along the way, I’ve picked up stuff that at least works for me pretty well. I mentioned before that I don’t really tend to plan things when I write; I am, to steal the phrase from NaNoWriMo, a “pantser.” I have a general idea of what the endgame will be of stories when I start them, and maybe a handful of major events, but the connecting details and the things that happen in between? I tend to let myself go where I will, and things tend to slot into place, though sometimes it takes longer than not. In the novel I’m working on right now, I wrote a bit more of a detailed outline, but it still basically amounts to a few clumped paragraphs in my notebook broken up by emdashes all over the place. It’s still more planning than I think I’ve ever done on any solitary project, and possibly more than some co-projects I’ve worked on in the past.
The point of all of that is that I usually do the same thing with my worldbuilding, too. Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t really like immediate exposition in things — I like to do a more drawn-out sort of reveal on things, whether it’s plot or worlds or whatever. (This is one of my issues with first person stories, but that’s probably an entry for later.) Sometimes this is a problem, because I will actually forget to ever fit in a description of how [x] character looks; more than once, I’ve been asked by one of my betas about what characters look like, and when I mention it, their mental image comes close, but is usually off by a few key details. I’ll take some pride in getting close, but obviously the miss is something I still need to work on. And honestly speaking, in an original story — especially a longer one — I feel like the world itself is also a sort of character that needs to get fleshed out by the story and the interactions the characters have with it at large.
There is a manga that I enjoy that starts out in a very narrow, claustrophobic sort of worldview: the main character escapes from one heavily gender-segregated institution to another heavily gender-segregated institution, both male-dominated, but as he leaves that and ends up interacting with the world at large, suddenly there are women who are doing things and having impact on the story! The empire itself is a matriarchy, waiting for its princess to officially come of age so she can properly take the throne. It takes the series some sixty-odd chapters to explore all the political machinations that led to the civil war that happened ten years before the proper start, which is part of the plot, but also displays a lot about the world itself in general. Some of the omake in the volumes are not silly four-panel gag strips, but actual history about the world itself, and how separate kingdoms were eventually rolled together into an empire.
The series itself has its problems and it’s certainly not flawless (my favorite characters are the side ones, who are often set aside in favor of actually advancing the plot), but it is still one of my favorites in terms of how it handled revealing its world to the reader. Part of it is because the main character himself grows up in a sheltered separate environment, so some of it is him learning about the world — but it’s never an obvious thing; it’s never really beaten over the reader’s head that BY THE WAY, THINGS ARE LIKE THIS. THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE. SEE WHAT WE DID HERE? SEE?? There are points of heavy exposition, but there are points where things are introduced and are taken without comment, even when they reveal more about the world itself. That’s the sort of thing I would love to be able to do, though I don’t think I’m really quite there yet.
(Let’s be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever be, because after being involved in writing and having writers for friends for this many years, I’m not actually sure it’s possible for a writer to be 100% satisfied with their work, without revisions or without things that can be improved upon the next time. There are people who say they are, and in my heart I harbor serious doubts.)
It’s the sort of thing I am trying to do, slowly, piece by piece. Of the nine stories I have up on Amazon right now, three of them take place in the same nebulous world, though none of them are direct sequels, and other than a single passing mention in one, there’s no crossover with characters. But they’re part of the same group; they’re subject to the same rules of nature and society, and it’s one that I plan to return on whenever I can. Three of them could be argued to take place in the same world, because it’s “our” world, in some unspecified modern time with no nod or hint of the supernatural involved. Two take place in “our” world with supernatural elements as a strong aspect of the story itself, and one is almost entirely on its own, entirely fantastical. They’re all places I would like to go back to; even if I don’t necessarily link them explicitly in the text, I would like to include easter eggs wherever I can, and eventually subgroup them that way.
(I feel like I should wait to get a few more things out there first. I have a lot of ambitions swirling in my heart.)
Ultimately, though, like with writing plots, I can’t really sit down and say “okay, this is a world I am going to create from scratch; this is how [x] country works and how [y] system operates” — it’s always something I have a general idea about (in my novel, there is a High King and then five immediate powerful families who form a council of advisers below him; after that, there is a Senate, and so forth down the line), but not something I will explicitly plan. Like with my plots (and my character-characters), I want to be able to leave myself some freedom for development — I want to be able to leave myself room for organic growth and movement that only comes, for me, when I don’t restrict myself to the lines I’ve drawn for myself on the page.
Possibly this will bite me in the ass at some later point, but I’ve managed so far. ヽ(；▽；)ノ
While I wouldn’t say that I am outright addicted to the internet, nothing really hammers home how dependent I am on it until it goes out. (￣◇￣;) It was the most back and forth sort of, “well, I can’t load my email right now, so I’ll go check tumblr — no, I can’t do that, I’ll go look at plurk — no, I can’t do that, either, I could just–” and so on. As I mentioned on Friday, I ended up going to a Starbucks in order to get my writing done — since I have copies on my hard drive, of course, but I also keep copies of everything I write in gdocs as well, on top of using 750words as where I do the bulk of my daily writing, so in essence I keep triplicate copies of stuff. ( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ After the last time my external hard drive crashed, and then I lost the thumb drive where I was working from previously, I have been determined to keep multiple updated copies of things, in order to avoid morale-crushing setbacks. Thankfully (and obviously, I hope), things have been fixed! I am now free to procrastinate on the internet once again, hooray!! … wait.
In spite of this, and in spite of the busy weekend (friends from out of town were visiting, and Bite of Seattle was going on; who am I to ever say no to good friends and good food in the same context? this would be more meaningful and less funny if Hannibal weren’t such a thing right now, I’m sure), I still managed to be fairly productive, writing-wise! I hit my monthly/Camp NaNoWriMo goal of 50k for the month on Sunday, though I’ve heard that the validating tool doesn’t go up until the 25th. Oops. (That, and the fact that I have had to split the novel into two separate docs now, because the original one is just too overall bulky for me to be able to open it easily anymore.) I also made some progress on a separate side project, which is significantly more lighthearted than the novel. I’m enjoying the characters a great deal and as a result, I’ve been having a lot of fun with their particular scenario; it’s a good sort of detox for the novel — I don’t intend to stop or slow down on that one (sort of to my surprise) till I finish it, but it is nice to have the break and do new things now and then.
More than anything else, right now, I guess, I’m mostly feeling the strain of conflict between a “must” and a “want” — I want to spend all day writing; I want to finish both my novel and my secondary project; I want to work on that collaborative project with a friend of mine. I have a whole list of things I really would like to write and share! On the other hand, I must go to my day job; I must do things like cooking and helping with cleanup and laundry; I must actually try and be balanced and do other things, or else I will get cranky and lonely. It’s mostly the first that stymies me; I know that writing is hardly a lucrative job, and I know that it’s not even that great for being able to support oneself with on the most basic level, but boy howdy do I have a lot of wistful dreams that have been going on with increasing severity this past month. I still feel a whole lot like this isn’t enough even though I am working hard at the actual progression of the story — I am adding at least 1k words a day, even on top of everything else, and it’s all got to be a slow and steady progress. I know that! I still end up feeling like I have fallen behind and I’m not getting where I want to be, and it’s frustrating.
I do feel good that even with the busy weekend I managed to be productive in the way I wanted — that is, at least 2k words on the novel per day, with any extra as a happy bonus. I just need to get to a point where that feels like enough. I mentioned to a couple of friends (who are also writers, and who have gotten published via indie presses) that I feel a really strong sense of imposter syndrome when I try to talk about myself as a writer. Despite my efforts to really focus on it, and make it a serious obligation — not just a hobby! — there are definitely times where it feels like I am falling short of actually being where I want to be.
On the other hand, man, I wrote over 50k words on a single project in less than 30 days, which is NaNoWriMo’s ultimate goal. I am allowed to be proud of myself, she says, five minutes before she hits “post” and goes back to working.
(Well, with a brief break to make and eat dinner, and possibly play a silly farming game. Baby steps.)
The internet in my condo is being kind of faulty this afternoon/evening — it keeps intermittently flickering to life and then fading out again. So I’ve absconded to a local Starbucks (one of many; that’s living in downtown Seattle for you!) in order to get my daily writing session done. (Because I am not going to let my 200+ day writing streak die because of something as flimsy as an internet connection.)
I had some ideas for a post about visceral writing, and some about writing dialogue, and maybe some about my struggles with social media and promotion. But I actually don’t know when this Starbucks closes, so I’m going to break it off early today and get what I can done before I get kicked out. Happy weekend, everyone!! ( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ
So for the past week and a half at work, I’ve been listening to a lot of various podcasts and Youtube channel series about creepypasta, horror, and general supernatural/occult stuff. A lot of my friends are pretty strongly into a handful of things, both for this current anime season and things that have been ongoing for a while. I’ve been working steadily on my novel (which stands at 95k words total and ~40k for this month in general), and while the novel itself isn’t horror by a long shot, all the general media intake I’ve had or been exposed to secondhand have made me consider (again; this is kind of a reoccurring thing for me) about the impact of a story — whether it’s the characters that matter the most, or the story that really matters.
For me in general, it’s always the characters that have the longest impact; if I cannot appreciate at least one character, I might still enjoy a story, but it won’t be the sort of thing I will return to, and sometimes I won’t even finish it. I really genuinely have to like a character (preferably two or more, though!) in a story in order to want to follow their adventures and recommend their story. At the same time, one of my favorite things on the internet is creepypasta, and those as a general rule are not great shining examples of characters or personality. (I would hazard that this is in part why video game creepypasta has become so popular, because it taps into the same fannish desire and recognition that fanfic has, and allows the adaption of known and beloved characters as a springboard into whatever terrible story the writer is trying to create.) And to be fair, that’s part of the pitfalls of the genre; you don’t really have much of a creepy story with X haunted object or Y terrible ritual if your character is going to be sensible and back off before they even get involved. (On the other hand, these all tend to be ones that I just find sort of bland, excepting a few that have touched close to my own personal experiences or memories of childhood.)
In a general short creepypasta-style horror story, it really is the story that carries the whole thing — the events themselves become a sort of character, because those are the actions that move the plot and have impact at the very end. The characters themselves are generic, because they’re meant to be the stand-in, the ordinary people where “this could happen to you and maybe it will” in order to impact more strongly with the reader. I have never recommended a creepypasta (even ones like BEN — and I was one of the people avidly following it at the time it came out) for their scintillating and compelling characters. I recommend based on the mystery, or the impact of the writing itself, or because the story itself had an impact on me, which is pretty much the exact opposite of how I recommend anything else. The other day I was talking to a friend who was frustrated with the characters of her story, and I mentioned that essentially, I have to really enjoy and appreciate my characters (even the really awful ones, the ones I would never want anywhere near me in real life) or else I feel like the story really suffers in the writing, no matter how much I was excited for the story itself.
It’s a fairly common repeated piece of advice as far as I’ve seen — love what you write, and it will show in the writing itself. It won’t make up for the grammar mistakes or the continuity errors or make it suddenly palatable to someone who wasn’t interested in the first place, but it’s something I’ve really tried to take to heart. Writing itself is a terrible hobby in some ways — it will take you and it will destroy you and you’re unlikely to receive any real outside recognition or appreciation for it. I’ve seen fanfic writers and pro writers alike mourn the dearth of attention; “just one review, that’s all I want!” or “why hasn’t anyone reviewed my story?” and the recognition that implies. I have been that person. So at this point, I want writing to be a rewarding thing in and of itself; I want to write something that pleases me to get through, and something that I won’t completely hate on rereading.*
And maybe that’s the thing with general creepypasta, too; it’s less about telling a good story (and loving the story you write) than it is about the Effect! and the Drama! and the Scary! — I think that a story done with care will have all of those elements and linger better in the heart and the head than anything else. I know it’s kind of the most ridiculous thing, though I would hazard that’s also why love is such a common theme throughout so many things — not just romance, but in general, love is a force that fiction loves to touch on, and I personally think that’s important to your creations and creative process as well. Not numbers by route (though I am proud of my wordcounts!), not flashy lights or jumpscares, not chasing after the last big trend.** You’ve got to actually care and actually put thought in it, and that’s where success as a writer lies.
(She says, being a single tiny voice without much power behind her name. But still having fun with this, at the very least.)
* Which is not to say I’m immune to the whole “you’re your own worst critic” chestnut either. But I usually find that with some distance and a few deep breaths, I can usually find something in everything I’ve written that I can be satisfied with. Certainly I have lots of places where I can improve, and should improve, but I think I do all right with what I have to work with, right here and right now.
** I have a lot of feelings on the recent FAIRY TALES trend. A lot of them. Mostly of the jealous and “why couldn’t I have been part of it?” teeth-gnashing kind. Oops.
In the room at the end of the hallway lives a witch. She moved in during the gray days of early January and she does not talk to any of the people who live around her. No one knows her name.
She wears a black patch over one eye and walks with a lone cane of shiny black wood. Every evening at precisely seven o’clock she leaves her room, taking deliberate heavy steps down the hall; every evening at precisely eight o’clock she returns. Her expression is always sour, as if a piece of lemon has been permanently wedged against her tongue. Lacey is afraid of her, but her older brother, who is fifteen and very loud in the way boys often are, tells her she was a scaredy-cat, and that is the reason why the witch had come in the first place.
“They can sense fear, you know. So it’s your fault she’s here.”
Lacey’s brother is also both tall and strong, which Lacey is not: he is good at sports and reads comic books even when their mother scolds him about his schoolwork. Sometimes Lacey hears her parents arguing about her brother and sometimes her brother is there with her, and he just shrugs whenever it happens and he says that it’s not his fault if they’re old-fashioned. Besides, it isn’t _his_ fault a witch moved into their building and on their floor, that’s all Lacey’s doing. Then he pulls her hair until she cries and their parents have to stop fighting long enough to pull them apart, and then their parents shout at her brother instead, enough to make Lacey’s ears ring.
In the evening, when the witch leaves for wherever it was she went every night, Lacey’s brother cracks the door open to watch her go. Lacey watches him in turn from where she sits on the couch, with her knees hugged to her chest and her chin on them. When the sound of the tapping cane fades, her brother always lets out a huge breath and says,
“That’s it. I’m safe for another night. But Lacey’s gonna get eaten if she’s not careful, ’cause she didn’t hold her breath!”
Sometimes he leaves it at that. Sometimes he keeps going until Lacey cries and their mother yells, but even when he’s slinking off to his room, he mutters to her from the corner of his mouth, “Be careful of what’s under your bed.”
Whenever he says that, Lacey has nightmares of the witch down the hallway coming into their living room with her blonde hair writhing around her head like a living thing and pulling the eyepatch off to reveal nothing but rows of teeth. She dreams that the witch points a finger at her and says that she is a naughty girl who does things like leave her towels on the floor and her breadcrusts on the table, and so she must be punished! And then she pulls Lacey to her and eats her whole, with the sharp teeth that are in her eye.
Then there is a night where Lacey wakes up to the sound of her brother’s voice. His bedroom is next to hers and sometimes she can hear him snoring, or talking to his friends, or singing along with his music. Tonight he is doing none of those things: instead he is gasping for breath. It sounds a little like he is crying. It sounds a little like he’s choking. Lacey wraps her blanket around herself. She’s scared and wants to go back to sleep, but it’s too late: her eyes are wide open and her throat is dry, and the only sounds are her brother’s voice and her own heartbeat.
She gets up and scoots to the edge of her bed. She slides down and walks, trailing the blanket behind her.
Lacey goes into the hallway of the apartment. It is a place where she lives with her mother and her father and her older brother and it is very, very dark. Everything looks unfamiliar in the short distance between her room and her brother’s. She pulls the blanket over her head in a makeshift hood and tiptoes to her brother’s door. It swings open at a brush from her fingers.
In her brother’s bedroom is the witch that lives at the end of the hallway. Her cane lies on the floor by Lacy’s brother’s bed, and she is kneeling on the bed. There is a pale green light in her face and her one eye is completely white, completely without iris or pupil. She has her mouth open like she’s screaming, but the only sound are the hiccuping noises that Lacey’s brother makes from the bed. Lacey curls her fingers into her blanket and watches as something soft and white rises up from her brother’s face, streaming from eyes and ears and nose and mouth until it’s solid enough to form the image of his face. The witch inhales loudly, and the white cloud drifts closer to her mouth. She does it again, then again–then her mouth snaps shut and she begins to chew.
On the bed, Lacey’s brother gurgles and goes quiet. The witch straightens and looks at the door. She is actually very pretty, despite the eyepatch and the sour expression–and that fades away when she smiles, showing even sharp white teeth. Lacey shrinks away. The witch puts a finger to her lips and purses them, whispering, “Shhhhhh.”
Lacey blinks and then the witch is gone. Even her cane has been swept away. Lacey thinks about going to look at her brother, then shakes her head and closes the door gently. She goes back to bed.
The next morning at breakfast her brother comes down exactly on time. His face is pale and gray and he doesn’t say anything to anyone as he sits. Their mother fusses over him, touching his hair and his forehead, and he simply sits there, allowing her to prod him as she likes. Only once does he meet Lacey’s eyes–the only time he looks at anyone directly the whole time–and his lips move. Lacey doesn’t know how to read lips, she she can see exactly what her brother is saying, and repeats them without thinking: “The witch down at the hall did it.”
Their mother clucks her tongue. “Lacey, there is no such thing as witches. Don’t be foolish.” Then she makes Lacey’s brother get up from the table and go back to bed, fussing over him the whole time. He doesn’t look back and he remains quietly docile the whole time. Something about him looks reduced and tired, smaller than he ever was before.
That evening, at precisely seven o’clock, Lacey opens the front door. The witch is walking past, her cane making the same measured tap-tap-tap noises as always, but she pauses briefly to look at Lacey. She smiles and Lacey watches her lips move.
“Wise children are clever enough to know to be afraid.”
The witch walks away. Lacey watches until she’s completely out of sight, then closes the door and goes to turn on the TV. She wraps herself up in a blanket and listens: to the clanking of the heater-pipes, to the heavy clumping of footsteps overhead, to the dogs barking in the street, and the fast uneasy beating of her own heart.
Sometimes, I think I am Part Of The (A?) Problem.
I like to think that I am fairly open-minded and aware of the world; I don’t like to talk too much on topics when I don’t feel I’ve had enough education, and as previously mentioned, I’m usually too shy to independently volunteer an opinion unless I feel extremely strongly (read: personally invested) in something. A lot of the time, I will talk about things if invited, but I usually don’t feel extremely comfortable breaking into a conversation. So to utterly condense things, I am someone who does bemoan the lack of female characters in media, especially those who have agency and action beyond the men in their lives. I dislike the tendency of women being used as prizes or props for the male characters. I generally like an even balance of character types; it’s not a requirement for my enjoyment, but it is for my favorites.
At the same time, when I write, a lot of my stuff angles along the lines of m/m. The novel I am working on right now has a m/m couple as its alpha romance (though the beta is f/f). And certainly within the confines of a smaller story (especially ones that take place in relatively closed environments, which I tend to favor), it’s harder to introduce a large supporting cast and still balance the main thrust (ha ha) of a story. I write m/f stuff too, and I have tried to be better about having more female characters around in general. I am aware of my weaknesses, though I am still attempting to get around them. I keep feeling the conflict between “write what interests and excites you” and juggle that between “but also I think female characters are really cool and would like to properly utilize them more.” At least for the longer novel, I have a good number of female characters that are independent versus the male pov character, who are doing their own things in their own way — but I think ultimately the problem lies in the fact that I do like writing fairly closed environments; unless it’s a longer story meant to span greater territory, the couples I write are going to be fairly self-contained, and the supporting cast, if there is any, will be mostly flavor and flourish. So already, if I decide a pairing is going to be a particular set, I’ve already limited myself right there.
On the other hand, I also don’t intend to stop writing any time soon, and my hope is to not stay constrained to any one particular set. I like writing about people being stupid together, or happy, or sad, or any number of things; rather than say I write romance, I would like to be I write love. I don’t consider myself a traditional romantic by a long shot — I get uncomfortable and side-eye dramatic displays or excessive gestures. Once or twice on occasion is fine, but when it becomes a regular thing, I end up getting tired or exasperated by it instead. I really like writing about how people get together and how they figure things out; I like writing about the ups and downs as people figure their relationships out. At this point in time it’s mostly stupid guys being stupid about other stupid guys (let’s beat the word stupid into the ground a lot here, because that is something I enjoy), but my hope is that I can leave myself open to writing whatever possibilities come to mind. I do want to write more of the different types of love, day by day.
Also, okay, let’s be frank: I like writing sex. Say what you will about prurient interests — I have certainly seen people get huffity about the presence of sex in stories, and I’ve seen them heavily imply that writers of such things are doing it just to get off themselves. And certainly I think that some people do, but sex in and of itself is a fascinating topic to me; how people choose to have it — or not to have it, as the case may be — their motivations, their decisions, their feelings, those are all things that I, as a writer, like to explore. There are stories where I don’t feel sex is a necessity; when I wrote A Good Man, I had actually intended for there to be sex — but by the end, it just didn’t feel right to include it. It happens sometimes! I prefer to go with what feels right for the story in the end; I think that’s part of what it is to be a “pantser” (versus a “planner,” who actually sits down and outlines things). Sometimes you have to rely on your instinct, and sometimes that blows up in your face — but it can also work out, so it’s just a matter of how you pull things off.
I don’t really think I’m “new” to writing, not any more, but I think there’s still enough out there for me to learn and adapt to doing. The world is full of all sorts of things, and I hope to keep it up. ( ・◇・)
In utterly unexpected (to me, when I consider it in retrospect) news, I don’t really get writer’s block for fiction any more!*
*Knock on wood. Oh my god, knock on wood.
To be fair, I have times where I’m slower than others — checking my stats on 750words, it takes me rrrrroughly 20 minutes to get to 750 words total in a writing session, taken over the past 10 days. (Semi-related to my last post, I think that’s probably actually pretty good, statswise? I can’t be absolutely sure, though.) Sometimes a scene or even just a single line is particularly difficult, and I end up rewriting and rephrasing, and sometimes even after various retries, I’m not 100% satisfied. But I don’t open a doc and then stop because I have no idea where to go or what to work on — even with my “pantser” style of writing, where all of my writing is done mostly on the fly, I don’t actually struggle to write my fiction these days.
On the other hand, in what feels entirely backwards to me, I often try to start a blog entry and end up finding myself staring. I have over a dozen failed entry starts scribbled in the notebook I carry around with me all the time; I’ve written myself out an actual list of potential entries, though a lot of them feel kind of pretentious. They’re all things that I have thoughts and feelings on (I have thoughts and feelings on a lot of things, okay), but when it comes to actually talking about them, I end up blanking. As a general rule, I don’t think of myself as an outright private person, but I usually prefer not to volunteer things unless explicitly invited. Which, frankly, is a pretty bad way to handle a blog, and actually a good part of why I decided to try doing it regularly again. （￣へ￣） I miss the social aspects of writing that I had when I was younger and more active in fandom, and I want to get more comfortable just talking in my own voice, rather than that of the Narrator or one of my characters. I’ve mentioned before that I’m on the shyer end of the scale, even though I usually disguise it via allcaps on microblogging platforms; I would like to figure out how to write in a way that isn’t fiction but also isn’t an Essay at the same time.
(Though honestly, maybe these entries do come across as essays. I hope they don’t. I have read writer blogs that come across as ridiculously pretentious and that is the last thing I want to do.)
Mostly I am determined to keep up with this whole blog thing, even if it’s silly or doesn’t accomplish much in passing; I’ve heard that a blog in general is a good thing to have when you’re a Writer, but I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. I missed actual journaling, like I used to do back in LiveJournal’s heyday; this was just a good impetus to get started again. Maybe I’ll get better with it in time, like I did with regularly writing fiction! Maybe I’ll learn connecting socially! Maybe I’ll get over my dubiousness and actually write about the topics I scribbled as suggestions to myself in my notebook — they’re all things I’m interested in, and they’re all things I have feelings on; maybe there is something there.
Until then, peppering with emoticons is my thing to do. (゜▽゜;)