[In Other Words] Horrible Horror

When I’m at work, one of my favorite things to do in terms of background noise is to find someone who has a bunch of Let’s Plays for indie horror games on Youtube (preferably in a playlist) and set it to run throughout the day.  I prefer the ones that have game commentary because — since I’m working — it helps me keep up with the story progression.  To paraphrase that tired old chestnut, I like horror games for their stories over their scares — but I think that stories are what should make a horror game, and certainly the best ones I’ve audienced and played have been the ones that focus on substance and style rather than just style.

I am super easy to startle; it’s something I have always had a problem with.  Even when I know a jumpscare is coming, it can still “get” me and I will still startle and react; I still get that tiny adrenaline spike that comes from it.  I think they’re useful as a mechanic for what they are — a way to help ratchet up the unease/paranoia factor in a horror scenario — but I hate when a game (or a movie, or any format of story, really) relies solely upon that sort of thing to be “scary.”  It can be effective, and they often are, but overusing them just sort of feels cheap and I end up not feeling scared, but instead cheated.  I’m pretty bad with excessive gore, too; I can handle it better when it’s animated or written or drawn, but anything live action and/or photorealistic tends to get me good and fast.  Which isn’t to say that it’s all a bad thing, because gore usually relates to body horror and/or the fear of death, which frankly are visceral things for me to react to, as an audience member.  But my tolerance tends to waver on a razor line; if it feels like “well, we’re lacking scares, so let’s throw in a sudden mutilated body! dropping out of nowhere when you least expect it!  that’s scary, yeah!” the whole thing just feels heavy-handed and that’s not what I’m looking for at all.

My favorite horror pieces are the very subtle ones.  The ones that creep up on you when you least expect it, because everything seems normal and then suddenly the pieces click into place and you as the audience realize there is something very wrong going on.  I don’t want to be smashed around with cool dramatic visual effects and have that carry the burden of making me scared; I appreciate them, but I will always prefer substance over style.  As much as I really really enjoy paranormal things, my favorite horror stories are the ones where there is nothing supernatural at all — no demons, no weird magic cults, no spooky rituals, just people being creative and awful with the resources available to them.  I like when there is a mystery element to the horror, because those tend to be better at slowly building their reveals and play their cards one by one, rather than simply flinging them all out into the open.  They (when they’re good) follow the logical rules of the real world; they feel like they could happen, and there’s a weight behind the old “this happened to the brother of a friend of my roomate’s” chain of events.  When I was a kid it was easier to get me, because I had an active enough imagination that I did believe that the climbing jasmine over my window looked like fingers at night, or that the oak tree by the guest room window was some bony-fingered creature trying to get inside.  Nowadays, while I hesitate to say I’m jaded, I prefer when people try to put a little more effort into their stories.

I still enjoy ghost stories, too, and stories about demons.  I am not picky if it’s well-written and there’s a good story.  But my favorites, where I feel like the horror is well and truly executed, are the ones that freak me out because they could have genuinely happened, and what if it happened to me?

With that, I’ve noticed a lot of indie games (since I am more familiar with them these days than movies — I am the Absolute Worst when it comes to watching movies ever) tend to follow a lot of the same trends — you’re searching for pieces to a solve a puzzle of some sort (a lot of knockoffs of Slender’s “find the eight pages” mechanic), you’re in some poorly-lit area with limited help from your flashlight (if you’re even given one), and a lot of times there is some aggressive thing in the darkness trying to eat you.  And a lot of those are well-done; a lot of those are extremely cool!  But what I really want to see is something different — and granted, indie games are pretty different from the big Triple-A releases, and thank goodness for that — but I want to see something that doesn’t require the search-things-out-or-die mechanic; I want to see things where, instead of exploring some ruined haunted mansion or dark prison or anything, the slow corruption of horror into one’s everyday life; I want to see something that utilizes bright lights and white spaces and really stark negative space.

And if someone can recommend me more LPers on Youtube, that would be pretty great too.


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[In Other Words] My Productivity Paradox

So you know how people will say that the busier you are, the more productive/happier/etc you are?

I think that must apply to me, even after years of believing otherwise.

See, here’s the thing: I am an imminently lazy person.  I like to roll around and lounge and I like not having any obligations … but at the same time, I’ve noticed, it also simultaneously drives me crazy.  I can last maybe a day or two of utter laziness and then I start feeling bad — not just physically, but also mentally.  I start to feel guilty about the things I could have done, and should have done, and in fact, would have liked to do, but instead passed up for the sake of aimlessly surfing the internet.  It’s really easy to fall into that trap for me (and I have to assume most people out there, or else there wouldn’t be fifty thousand meme sites) (that’s an exaggeration) (but only a little, I think).  It happened to me in college (my busiest quarter with my hardest classes netted me the highest GPA of my college career at 3.8, and that was with physical chemistry on the roster) and it’s happening to me now that I am a boring grown adult.

Case in point, this past weekend, I went to the Fremont Fair/Solstice Parade on Saturday, and I accomplished grocery shopping, but for the most part I wandered around and looked at stalls and at food (new grocery stores are like my grown-up version of toy stores; I love just looking at new different foods, or just at foods for sale in general) and then I came home and was promptly downed by a headache that blossomed into a migraine.  I managed to get my writing done, but only the bare minimum of 1000 words.  Sunday, I accomplished getting dinner ready (bless the invention of the slow cooker, seriously) and had pretty much no other obligations.  I still only managed to right just barely over 1000 words.  Looking back on it now, I’m disappointed in myself, because there was a lot of time I could have used to write more — the novel I’m working on, the AU scenarios for my original fiction that I promised my editor for her birthday, even some stabs at preliminary editing.  I didn’t do any of that.  If I look at my wordcount since I started my new “adult” schedule for writing, I’m managing an average of 2075 words/day.  If you cut out the weekend wordcounts, that jumps to about 2500/day and that’s not insignificant!

(I should add that I don’t actually know what an average word count for a professional writer is.  I have friends who can write 2000 words in an hour and friends who can write 300 words in an hour and obviously I land somewhere in the middle.  I don’t know what is a “good” pace for other people, though I know that the average I maintain on weekdays seems to work to keep me from getting burned out.)

But the thing is, I would instinctively think I’d get more done on weekends — we usually eat out during the weekends, I don’t have to go to my day job, and there are errands, but they only take a small portion of two days.  Instead, those are the days I usually struggle to hit my usual 2000 for the day, whether by laziness or distraction or some other indeterminable thing.  On weekdays, when I have work, and dinner, and dishes, and the next day’s lunch, and also to shower so that my hair is dry before bed (as opposed to just staying up no matter when) — it feels like I have so much less time, but I always end up writing so much more during that time.  The same holds true for my writing vacations — as long as I strictly set it to myself that this is writing time and that is my obligation to myself, then I can get a pretty decent amount done.

I am one of the first people to say that if a hobby starts to feel like work, that’s when you should reevaluate it, and I do think that — but when it comes to writing, I’m a lot unhappier when I don’t get something done in a day.  Beyond the 240+ day streak I have at 750words.com, I just feel a whole lot better about myself when I actually accomplish something, even if it’s only another scene, or even just a part of a scene.  And if I let my natural laziness take the reins, I absolutely won’t get that stuff done.  So as much as on some level, I really balk at scheduling my free time, I think it’s safe to say that after two weeks of trying this out, it’s definitely working for me a lot better in terms of overall productivity/happiness.  With luck, I can keep ramping this up — this year, my major writing resolution was to make it to 365K words for the year; maybe next year, I’ll try to at least scale it up to 1.5x that, and then maybe even double it the year after.

(Quite possibly I will end up lying on the floor metaphorically and crying, but at least it won’t be for a lack of trying.)

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[In Other Words] Outlines, though

So I have a confession that is neither terrible nor dramatic, but sort of seems to put me in the minority compared to a lot of writers I know — and that is that I am utter failure at using outlines.

(That is not to say that I don’t know anyone else who is the same, but definitely things are skewed towards people who set up a skeleton for themselves when they sit down to write something.)

When I was younger and first really starting to seriously apply myself to writing, I read a lot of books of advice on How Things Were Done, and pretty consistently across the board, I was advised to write myself an outline.  On paper it made perfect sense: give yourself a framework, then apply your efforts to it piece by piece, and then you would have a whole and completed story after all the parts were filled out.  Tah-dah!  So of course, because I was very serious and very determined to be a Real Writer!, I wrote myself a lot of outlines for a lot of things.  I would write things and I’d finish them and gosh maybe I’d be one of the youngest full-length novelists ever!  That’d be pretty fantastic, right?

Except I ran into the roadblock where, when I finally sat down to write the story itself … I ended up blocked and confused.  I’d written myself pretty some thoroughly rigid guidelines; it was practically a cliffnotes version.  Things should have been easy, right?  But when I tried, I just felt stymied; it felt like I had already written my story, but instead of having a full and finished story, all I had were a bunch of notes and nothing to show for it.  I had plenty of cool-sounding chapter titles and book titles, but nothing of any real substance.

Part of this was a discipline thing, I’m sure; it was really hard to make myself sit down and see something all the way through, no matter how much I wanted to — I was pretty much the epitome of the “I’ll write a novel someday” attitude that NaNoWriMo talks about.  Someday I’d do things write.  Someday I’d write an outline and apply myself and magic would happen.  Someday I’d be a Real Writer! who wrote real stories.

I have definitely gotten better about the applying myself, at least, but I’m still faltering a lot on actually using proper outlines.  I still feel like I’ve already told my story if I try to write things out beyond the absolute barest bones. In the novel I’m working on right now (uh oh!), I know how the story will ultimately end, and I know general events I want to happen — I know that the story will be broken into roughly three parts, and I know what I want the main thrust of each part to be.  I even have a couple of significant events that I want to have happen in each part.  I don’t have it exhaustively written out, though; my notes are pretty much hand-scribbled in a battered moleskine (and doesn’t that sound ridiculously pretentious?) along the lines of shorthand phrases and lines.  A couple of weeks ago I saw someone suggest writing a short 50-word max outline at the end of your daily writing to remind yourself of what you want to work on for the next day’s session, and that has been pretty much the extent of what I’ve done.  And even then, I’ve had the same one-line note to myself for the past week and haven’t gotten anywhere near to where I need to be to enact that scene.

When I was younger, I worried that this made me sloppy and less legitimate as a writer.  Now, I still worry that it’s sloppy (and really, it is, a little), but it’s been working out for me extremely well.  To date this year I have written 285,573 words of fiction, and of that, I would hazard a good 90% of it relates to stories that are now finished and edited — a couple of which were decently long (25K to 37K words) without any particularly detailed outline.  I have jotted myself notes for things that I’d like to work on, either in conjunction to the novel I’m working on now, or else when that’s in editing and I’m waiting to hear back.  I’d still like to be cool and use outlines, but my discipline possibly doesn’t extend that far.

But who knows?  Give me another couple of years, and we’ll see where I am then. ;)

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[In Other Words] Works In Progress

I was going to be more clever and perhaps come up with more content, but then I had a long night and a long day, so instead I will think back to my days on Livejournal, when there was a meme going around that was essentially post a snippet from all your works in progress.  Which seems like fun, so I thought I’d go back to it.

(The Darkest Secret, finished and edited, but given the subject matter, unlikely to see a wide distribution.)

Sometimes, after dinner, as the dishes were being cleared away, the Monsieur would say: “Alexis, please see me in my study.”

And Alexis, who had been animated and enthusiastic throughout the meal under the Monsieur’s indulgent smile, would go still and quiet.  He would blush and drop his eyes, fidgeting a little in his chair as a servant gathered up his dishes and the silverware he’d used during the meal.  Eventually, though, he would straighten up and meet the Monsieur’s eyes, and he would say, “Yes, Father.”

Julien watched all of this with his head bowed and his lashes lowered; he tucked his hands under himself and bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything.  The Monsieur did not like to be addressed by Julien unless it was absolutely necessary, and always did so with a faint sneer of distaste, his lip curled in a delicate and dismissive way.  As the son of his mother’s first husband, his presence was only mildly tolerated at the best of times; it was only a stipulation in her will that he not be separated from his brother that allowed him to remain in the Monsieur’s house.

(The Hardest Place, finished and being edited, with a sequel in the works.)

Kastor lifted his head to watch 5663 return to its bed.  “Tell me your name, at least.”

5663 paused in the act of lying back down.  It turned its head to look at Kastor, its narrow blue eyes glittering.  “One has no name.  One’s designation is 5563.  One needs no other identity than that.”

“A number?”  Kastor’s disbelief welled up strong in his voice, coupled with another restless upheaval in his heart.  “What kind of treatment is that?  Everyone should have a name!”

“One has no need of a name.  One is one of many.  An identity is only troublesome.”

(The Scholar In The Tower, a short fairy tale, almost finished)

In a tower east of the sun and west of the moon there lives a man. He has a name, but it has not been spoken for thousands of thousands of years.  Those who live in the shadow of his tower call him The Scholar and leave it at that. He is eccentric in the ways of the academically-minded, they say, and there is no use in digging any deeper than that.  On nights when the moon is dark and the stars are out, sometimes he can be seen walking in silhouette. But he never comes down, and no one ever goes up.

If you were to ask him (though first you would have to get to him) what he is looking at, then he might point. If you look very hard, you might see a star that is dimmer than the others, small and sparking.

(Red And Mister Wolf, another fairy tale of sorts; in progress)

But it wasn’t that Mister Wolf was just some bogeyman Red’s father had devised to frighten him out of misbehaving, he knew.  There was a single photo, tucked at the back of the same yellow-paged album that had photos of his smiling mother in her wedding dress, of his father (years and years younger, not nearly as stern as Red knew him) with his arm around the shoulders of a tall lean man, sharp-eyed and shaggy-haired, with a smile as bright as a slice of the crescent moon.  It always surprised Red to find it again and see that it hadn’t yet been destroyed, but he wasn’t entirely certain his father knew it still existed.  It had no note or caption, but Red knew, deep in his gut, that the smiling man was his father’s Mister Wolf.

(A Winter Story, title subject to change, and story terribly, terribly in progress)

Their handshake was firm and easy, Frest exuding an easy confidence that was very nearly contagious.  Winter could feel his own spine relaxing, even as his shoulders straightened, and he resisted the urge to smile, foolishly and openly.

“Sir,” he said.  His voice was more strangled than he would have liked, and he felt his ears begin to heat at that.  Rather than meet Frest’s gaze right away, he stared at their joined hands until he forced himself into a deeper state of calm, then let his eyes trail up, along the length of Frest’s bent arm.

Winter looked up into blue, blue eyes, and fell in love.

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[In Other Words] Roadblocks and writer’s block

In completely obvious news: writing is hard.

In elaboration of the completely obvious news, part of it is the general paranoia I have of just being one tiny fish in a very big pond.  The ebook market is ridiculously huge right now; I’ve heard statistics along the lines of 10k new things released on KDP in a single day.  And when you hear something like that, it’s a whole lot of good lord how do I even compete? :(

I mean, I have vaguely done it before in a non-pay sort of way; I was never a BNF in fandom, but I had a very nice and very friendly following that helped me feel a lot better about my writing when I was in the young and extremely self-conscious stage of my writer life.  I am super-grateful to those people even now!  But the pond is much bigger now and my personal stakes feel a whole lot higher.

A couple of years ago (more like five or six at this point, sob), I had this epiphany that helped me calm down a great deal about my writing.  When I was much younger and first starting out, I was really extremely invested in validation from my readers.  Even now a nice comment will make my day!  But when I was younger it was a thing; it was a personal issue; it was like if I didn’t get [x] amount of comments, I had totally failed as a writer.  My one consolation is that I never went down the road of holding my writing for ransom, which I have seen happen before (the whole “I want [x] amount of comments before I post the next part!” phenomenon) — no, I just made myself personally very sad, and anyone who was close enough to me to talk to me regularly got the brunt of a lot of that.  I do regret that.

But then, like I said, a few years ago, it was like something just flipped in my brain.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care any more about comments; I still super incredibly appreciate the nice things people have said to me about my writing. I have saved pretty much every single piece of commentary I have gotten, because when I am having a bad day I like to go back and reread them and cheer myself up.  But it no longer became a desperate craving need to get comments; it was simply a feeling of “well, I enjoyed writing this, and I’m glad I did it; I hope you the reader enjoy it too.”

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve come back full circle with my original writing, though — and then I wonder if it’s not that, it’s simply because I care about these characters a lot more than I ever did for the fandoms I wrote for.  I still liked them, I was still invested in their stories, but they were always someone else’s creations, to be given back at the end of the day.  Now that I am regularly writing original fiction, I am infinitely more invested in these characters, and I want them to flourish and I want them to be widespread.  I want them to be read, and I want to find myself another little niche of people whom I can write things for, who will trust when they see my name on something, that it is something I have worked hard on and will be an entertaining story.  Maybe not deep literature, maybe not anything incredibly proud, but an entertaining story that pleased you to read.

I was telling my roommates the other day that I don’t want the money so much (though admittedly it is an extremely nice bonus, and I am incredibly grateful for that) as the readers; I want to be able to reach a wider audience and I want to be able to at least be considered readable and worth the couple of dollars people have to pay for it.  That’s part of why I have tried to archive all of my original fiction from Imaginary Beasts and Shousetsu*Bang Bang; that’s part of why I’d like to write snippets and freewrites for this blog as a regular ongoing thing.  For now, though, I’m working on a much longer story — one that has a bigger scope, world, and cast than I have dealt with in a long time — and part of me is afraid that by taking the time for that (and it could be at least three or four months), I am going to lose what traction I have with the tiny niche of selling I have done now.

On the other hand, I am definitely in for the long haul; I don’t intend to get halfway through and just give up.  At this point, I think this hobby is so ingrained in me that I would go completely stir-crazy without it.  (At the very least, I would drive my roommates up the wall going on about missing it.) If I lose it, I will just try my hardest to build it up again.  And maybe cross my fingers that I’ll just suddenly be able to pour out 5k words a day that are usable and viable and don’t need to be culled on the editing room floor, haha.

(I really want to make it, guys; I really want to just be able to steadily sell and succeed.  Wish me luck.)

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[In Other Words] Social links, level up!

I think ultimately one of my biggest faults is that it’s very easy for me to fall out of touch with things — people, the world, my immediate surroundings.  (I am not actually being facetious when I talk about running into walls.  On one memorable occasion it was a telephone pole.  Ow, by the way.)  It’s really easy for me to get distracted with small things and suddenly weeks later I realize I’ve left something I meant to do fall by the wayside, and there’s no one to blame but myself.  The internet is both really good and really bad for me in that sense; it’s a lot easier to get in touch with people again, but it’s also a lot easier to just get flat-out distracted.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I think about five or six things at a time, but frankly, it only takes two or three before I’m confused, haha.

As I get older (and though I’m in the middle-older range compared to my friends, I actually very rarely feel old; it’s nice) I want to get better at that.  So I’m putting an effort into that, just like I have been with this new attempt at a More Responsible Schedule (today is day five and I’ve done pretty good on all points so far!  I’m proud of me).  I’ve picked up twitter again and will be cross-posting stuff on this blog to my tumblr.  I’m undecided about LJ/DW because that just starts to sound like spamming, but I have to admit, I will miss my icons. (sadface)    I’d like to at least keep posting links to new stuff here, but we’ll have to see how things go.

With that in mind, I am @nekokoban on Twitter, and my tumblr is tumblr incognita. Please feel free to add me or not as you wish!  ♥

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[In Other Words] Progress

On June 1st, I started a novel!

Or at least, it is something I hope will become a novel, and it currently sits at around 15.7k words — there’s been some beginning foreshadowing to the overall plot (and subplots), and establishing the main character and his family (as well as his love interest, let’s be honest), and it still all feels very much like a beginning more than anything else.  It’s the expansion of a Shousetsu Bang*Bang story I wrote yonks ago (August-ish 2011, to be precise!) for the Hot For Teacher issue.  It was called Lessons Learned, which admittedly was not the best title ever, but I find titling a story a whole lot harder than writing it, haha.  At the time I wrote this, I was mostly aiming to fit the criteria for SSB*B, which was that it had to have a minimum wordcount (1500 words) and had to include an explicit sex scene.  I succeeded, obviously, since it made it to the public issue, but at the time I was vaguely dissatisfied because there were a handful of scenes that I had to cut out for lack of time, and also lack of connection to the “payoff,” as it were.

At the heart of the original story is a young noble heir who doesn’t particularly want his position and the weight of expectations on him, and the mysterious and sexy new tutor he picked up.  Originally the main character is twelve when he meets the tutor, though nothing happens until he officially comes of age.  (The nice thing about fantasy worlds is that I can determine the rules of things.  I have issues with the argument of historical accuracy when applied to fantasy fiction, but that’s something for another day.)  Certainly he and his tutor continue their affair, but as the story stands, there were things I wanted to flesh out and explore and a couple of months (at the time, with the writing habits I had) was just not enough to get to where I wanted.  So I cut things and I bandaged the edges and I submitted it.  People responded favorably, for which I was (and still am!) glad, though a few people seemed to pick up on the fact that I had something bigger in mind.  So I thought to myself, just because that part of the story was done didn’t mean I had to be.  I could do something with it!  I could make it into something bigger and bolder and maybe better!  So I wrote myself some notes, the beginning of an outline, and resolved to come back to it.

Fast-forward almost two years, oops.

Winter’s story never really left me for long, though I obviously spent a lot of time dabbling in other places and writing other things, meeting other characters and getting things settled there.  So I resolved to actually do something with my notes this time, and I sat down for my nightly writing session with the ambition of writing the whole story.  At this point there’s not a whole lot that really resembles the initial story — Winter himself is still the same, and so is Frest, but I juggled ages around, I introduced the family members that are far more influential on Winter’s life than his father (which is to say, his mother and his sister) and slipped female characters into the story, which pleased me greatly.  It’s still a love story between a boy and his tutor, but there’s more to it now, and I have my fingers crossed that I’ll really get there.  Maybe even in a two-month time period, as long as I don’t let myself slack off.  Novels are long and intimidating and I am not going to lie and say I’m not daunted, but I’m interested, I’m excited, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. \o/

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[In Other Words] A real adult schedule!!

When I was a kid, I had this idea that creativity was just something that happened to you — you just saw down and there it was, like a wellspring ready to be tapped.  And if it wasn’t there, well, good luck in actually getting anything done.  Somehow I parsed the idea of writing as something that would be easy and fast — I liked to tell stories, after all!  I liked to make things up and be creative and use whatever resources I had to make a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.  And I guess when I was a kid, this was sort of the case; it certainly was easier to write often and write a lot.

Then I hit high school and a lot of academic pressure was on; my parents were pushing me hard to make the Very Very Best Grades I could possibly make, because the family expected me to go to an Ivy League and of course that was going to happen because I was a smart girl!  I could do anything and go anywhere I wanted!*

* I did put my foot down about Ivy Leagues fairly early on.  They’re prestigious and they probably would have looked good on my first resume, but I am also pretty sure I would have exploded from stress before the end of my first year.  Just, blort!  And there’d be no more me, just a vibrating ghost of sheer frustration.

After that, writing became harder to maintain and keep up with.  I sort of got into the swing of things again in college, because I was in a science major and while there were labs to be attended and completed, after my freshman year there was very little in the way of long papers or critical analysis or essays.  The longest paper I ever wrote in college was 10 pages double-spaced for a freshman English course; everything went down from there.  So I had the time to write more, and I did write more, though not nearly as much.  Then I graduated and I began working full time and boy howdy, that was when everything slowed to a grinding halt.  I was still writing, I was still completing things, but it was harder and a lot like pulling teeth.  I’d tell myself it was all right to skip [x] night because I was tired, or [y] day because I had things to do, but in reality, even with the tired and the things to do, there was a lot of free time I was just kind of letting slip by.

I think if I really regret anything, it would be that; I am not the worst at discipline (though neither am I the best), but when I let myself go, I really just sort of let things go.  Now, though, I have goals!  and ambitions! that I would like to see fulfilled, and as much as I thought things would just magically happen as a kid, as an adult (or would-be adult), I find it’s a lot easier and I’m a lot more likely to get things done if I actually schedule my fun time.  I think as a kid I would have protested that; part of me still protests that.  But I average something like six hours between getting home and going to bed, and in that time I usually have to a) feed myself/roommates, b) feed the cat c) make lunch for the next day, d) write e) shower f) other.  I’d like for “other” to include things like doing the dishes so the sink doesn’t become gross and start reading regularly again.

So I have a schedule!  I have a plan!  Today I attempt to begin implementing it!  Wish me luck.

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[In Other Words] Happy Friday!

First and foremost: thank you so much to everyone who took a look at my stuff!  I am extraordinarily grateful and a little overwhelmed that anyone period would take a look, and each and I would hug each and every single one of you if I could.

(Or, you know, if hugging is not your thing, cookies or banana trifle can be offered instead.)

I am very slowly (very slowly) trying to dip my feet into the wider world of publishing, both the self-pubbing thing and looking into smaller presses that are aligned with the sort of thing that I am interested in writing.  It’s really intimidating, frankly, because I am, at my core, a ridiculously shy person.  I don’t know if anyone whom I’m friends with would believe that, but my shyness is the sort that stands there and trumpets loudly in an attempt to distract the audience from shaky foundations with bluster and bravado.  It’s a little different from confidence, because I do think I am a decent writer (though naturally with lots of room to grow and improve), and I do my damn best to make sure a story is readable and entertaining before I put it out there.

But actually selling my efforts — waving the Banner Of Me to catch someone’s attention?  That’s difficult.  I’m the person who would rather keep my mouth shut and smile rather than make someone else feel obligated; I can fake it if I have to, but talking myself up is one of the hardest things I have ever attempted.  I really want very much to be able to reach more people with my writing (because for me, at least, it’s a given that I will continue to do so; after this many years, I think it’s a habit that’s here to stay) — I don’t need or want the glamor, I just want to be able to write stories that are read and enjoyed.  No high literature or deep vast meaning, just an entertaining time and a fond memory in its aftermath.

So once again, thank you to everyone who has read, who has commented or bought or otherwise given me a chance.  I feel extremely lucky, and I hope you’ll keep giving me more chances in the future. ♥

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[In Other Words] New Story — In His Proper Place

I published a new story today!

In His Proper Place (Amazon | Smashwords), which is a m/m romance novella about a lord and his butler. The lord is older and (so he thinks) wiser; the butler is much more willing to be daring and damn the consequences. The lord’s wife finds the whole thing quite amusing, mostly at her husband’s expense.  Somewhere along the way, they manage to figure things out.  There are some sexy parts, but mostly it’s a love story, in its quiet way. I started it on a whim and it ended up being about 25K words, which I don’t think is too shabby.

Please check it out if you think it’s something you’d be interested in; if it isn’t, but you know someone who might want to take a look, please send them to the proper place! (rimshot)

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[In Other Words] Desensitization

Sometimes I have to take a step back and look at how my time on the internet (and most particularly in fandom) has really kind of desensitized me to a lot of things that are generally frowned on — not to say that I condone a lot of these things in real actuality and life, but in fiction, I have reached a point where it takes a genuine lot to shock me in terms of violence or gore or sex.  I have friends whom I respect as people who like some really “awful” things in the grand scheme of the world, and it hardly even begins to bother me.

But then I’ll go to a different forum — like the KDP writer’s forums, or other, less fandom-populated boards — and it’s … not exactly like the proverbial splash of cold water, but it does sort of throw one for a loop.  People talk about how their readers criticized them for being too detailed in a grim scene, that the reader didn’t need that sort of depth of following a character’s struggles through a difficult time.  Meanwhile, if I rewindow to my plurk timeline, people are talking about a visual novel where one of many bad endings involve a messy and unhappy death for the protagonist — not just in written detail, but with full-color illustrations!  And I always have this moment of cognitive dissonance where I have to consider that the “safety” of fandom has basically meant that as long as it’s fiction, I can turn a blind eye to a lot of terrible things.*

* This is not to say that I am completely immune to things.  In all honesty, I am one of those people who can get entirely too invested in the stupidest things.  In high school, when they would show us the shock videos against drinking and driving, complete with the photos of accident victims, I very nearly had a panic attack there in the auditorium.  I am not ashamed to say that I outright begged my teacher to let me skip it when my schedule just happened to be structured so that I would have to see it twice in a day.  For fiction, I still vastly side-eye underage stuff, and narratives that endorse behaviors as healthy, or as acceptable because they are the norm.  If I, as a reader, read something and think, “this is not the narrator, this is the author saying these things and believing them,” beyond whatever constrictions of character voice and unreliable narrators give, then I definitely do not give things a pass.

On the other hand, though, this sometimes leaves me at a loss of what to do about the things I write.  At the risk of sounding like one of those special stars for everyone! people, I really dislike forcing myself to write in a single genre box; sometimes I want to write eldritch horrors, sometimes I want to write a quiet romance, and sometimes I want to write both together.  Sometimes I want to write something that I am reasonably certain my friends would enjoy, but the greater world would look at and believe that I condone these things, rather than want to explore something through the lens of fiction.  Most of the time I end up writing these things, but once they’re done and as polished as they can be, that’s when I’m at a loss, because what do I do with this?  If (completely nonhypothetically; this is done with its revisions and as ready for the world at large as it can be) I write a story about an unreliable narrator watching his stepfather abuse his brother and eventually take (bloody) justice into his own hands — only to imply at the end that he is on the cusp of following in the dead man’s footsteps — what do I do with a story like that?  Sure, there’s an audience for that out there somewhere, but that’s not my normal audience.

Honestly, I can’t with any confidence say what I want my “normal audience” to be.  All conventional wisdom I have seen about self-pubbing boils down to “build a solid base and they will come; build a solid base and then advertise yourself and be true to those roots.”  And there are people who primarily write erotica (which I sort of have done to date, though I feel like I probably stray more towards hardcore in softcore romance than anything else), people who primarily write horror, and people who write thrillers and fantasy and sci-fi — in the traditional world of publishing, you don’t see a whole lot of crossover of genres.

But in fanfic, where I got started, you had the freedom to do that sort of thing all the time.  You could build yourself a name in fandom because you had the umbrella of the canon, rather than the genre.  And in some ways, I think I’ve been spoiled by that — fandom taught me that there’s very little that won’t find an audience out there somewhere, and that if you write it, they will come.  (Just like they say about self-pubbing, though that’s a much, much bigger pond with sharks in the water.)  So if the whim takes me and I decide, “I want to write a story where a character observes abusive incest and doesn’t realize how unreliable he himself is becoming,” I do that; and if I decide, “I want to write a story where a man quietly realizes he’s falling in love with someone who is utterly unsuited for him, but loves him honestly back,” I do that.  And what that shows about me as a writer to people who don’t know me, I honestly don’t know.  I don’t want to be someone who strangles the stories she wants to tell because they don’t fit her “image,” but does that mean I don’t create an image, period?  Instead of seeming like someone with varied interests and tastes and likes to explore a lot of different things, do I just seem indecisive and careless, flinging myself blindly onto a shock bandwagon and then off again onto the coattails of this genre or that subject?

Honestly, I don’t know that answer.  And to be fair, I’ve only really been considering it for the past six months, since I started self-pubbing.  To date I have eight stories available, and most of them are under 20k words.  That’s not really enough to really establish anything, except that at I am at least trying to do more than simply “publish story and expect things to happen.”  Ultimately, I don’t really care if I can’t make a living off my writing — just as long as there are people out there who are reading and enjoying.  If I could build even a small group of people who could trust me no matter what topic/genre I choose to write, that would be pretty fabulous.

Who knows if that will happen!  But hey, I can always dream.

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[In Other Words] My Pace

I think, if I were to pick my number one method of self-sabotage, it would be my short attention span.

My personal story isn’t too different from a lot of writers (would-be or otherwise) that I know, in that I was telling stories at a very young age — what started out as epic and convoluted fantasies involving plastic dinosaurs, Korean Barbie knockoffs, and my various stuffed animals (narrated diligently into a cassette recorder, and boy doesn’t that date me?) became actually writing things down, and that’s where my proclivity stayed.  Beyond fanfic, though, it took me years before I could actually make my whole way through a story, beginning-middle-end.

The problem wasn’t always having ideas, because those I had (and still have, let’s be honest) by the dozen — the problem was having the discipline and attention to actually keep going through a story until its end.  I can’t do detailed outlines, because then I feel like I have already written the whole story and I’m stuck with just a skeleton; I can’t skip around because if I write the “fun” parts, I’ll never get through the necessary bridging pieces.  I like to think that as I get older, I’m getting better at it, though how true that actually is, I’m not honestly certain.  There is certainly more than enough free time in my day to get more done — that’s in between working full-time and doing the majority of the cooking.  I can, when I sit down and dedicate myself, write about a thousand words in forty-five minutes, and I’m given to understand that’s not too shabby.

But I have other hobbies too — I like cooking, I play games, I badger my roommates into going out to eat, because that’s definitely my most expensive hobby.  (Oops.)  I read; I look at pictures of cute animals; I do a dozen little timewaster things that all add up, and sometimes I will catch myself thinking, “Man, I really should be writing instead.”

I’m really afraid of burnout, though; writing is definitely a thing that I love to do with my all of me, but — and maybe it’s because of that whole attention span problem — I can get burned out easily.  More frightening than that, I’ve seen other friends attempt to dedicate themselves to things and completely wreck themselves for a once-beloved hobby; I’ve seen people swear off something they loved to do because they pushed themselves too hard with no sort of middle ground, and ended up crashing spectacularly.  And I know that’s kind of against a lot of advice blogs I have seen, especially in regards to writing or art — you do have to keep pushing yourself, they say; you have to push yourself to your limits and beyond or else you’ll never get anywhere with it.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to do this too, you have to strive to make your own success.

And you know, I don’t think that’s wrong, either, but — I also think that sort of thing applies best to a certain kind of person, and I don’t think that’s the type that I am.  I love writing, and I love telling stories, and I think I’m not too bad at it, overall.  But I don’t have it in myself to pour my all of me recklessly and desperately into something; I like safety nets and having Plans B-D.  I want very much to continue with this writing habit and share my stories in any way I can — I’m excited for each and every sale (though I don’t have many) because it signifies that someone is reading something I wrote!  And that is the most exciting thing.

Except, at the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice the other things I do in my day.  I mean, I’d love it if I could be self-sufficient selling my writing alone; I don’t think there’s any writer who wouldn’t be thrilled with that.  But like I said, I prefer my safety net (especially with my family’s history of health ailments), and I like my other hobbies too.  I feel like they give me a more well-rounded approach to the world; I feel like my writing is more interesting for not being the only thing in my life.

So I write about a thousand words a night (more on the weekends usually, depending on how busy those are); I have a resolution to write 365k words this year, and I’m already over halfway there.  I’m not producing dozens of dozens of stories, though maybe one a month isn’t a super terrible pace.  (Of course that does depend on the length of the story itself; most of what I have up on Amazon and Smashwords average about 4k to 8k, though the last two have been significantly longer, and the one that I have in-progress right now just broke 20k words.)

I still have a large number of stories in my head, and sometimes I get fussy because I’d rather be working on them, I want to work on something else, I don’t want to keep plugging at the thing that was so new and shiny when I first started it.  But I guess with age comes more discipline, so even if I still waste a lot of time in an evening playing dumb flash games or going out somewhere, I’m still getting things done.

I’m glad for that.

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the woods behind the house (a story)

We walk on the path behind the house
with its wide, wide,
windows, all open, like eyes.
Duck and don’t meet them.
Don’t let them see you seeing.
(There are hungry shadows.)
(Their teeth are sharper than ours.)
We walk on the path behind the house
with my hand in yours,
with your hand in mine,
and the wide wide windows
stare after us as we go.
(Once they were us.)
(Sometimes they look at remember.)
Into the woods we go,
the deep, deep,
dark and quiet woods behind the house,
which smells like dirt and things that are living
(and things that are dead).
(There are skeletons buried here.)
(Do not go looking for them.)
Into the woods with go,
with leaves in our hair,
with leaves under our feet,
and the deep deep dark
watches us as we go.
(They have eaten us before.)
(Our blood is in their teeth.)
I will take the knife and put it in your hand
and its sharp, sharp,
edge gleams like bright silver.
It has a home inside of me,
like once it was inside of you.
(Once I thought we could leave.)
(But leaving is only temporary.)

Return what was once mine to me.
And we will start once more
on the path behind the house.

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[In Other Words] I wrote what I felt and got a hangover instead

Today I gave myself a feelings hangover over a story I’m writing — less because of the content (though it is probably the most hardcore and dubious thing I have ever written) and more because when I ran it by my beta team, the initial response from both of them was that it was too derivative of a story.  Which, I think, on one hand, is not necessarily a bad thing — I got my start with fanfic and I still write it now and then (as evidenced by numerous entries in this blog) — but was really the last thing I wanted to hear for this particular story.  I ended up thinking so hard and getting so invested in trying to fix it that I ended up with a headache, sore eyes, and that queasy-vague feeling that upright wasn’t really the position I wanted to be in.

(Hello; how’s this for a first non-fiction post for this blog.)

At this point, I’m honestly not sure how much of this story is salvageable — or even if it is something I want to share beyond a carefully-controlled group of people.  It’s the sort of thing that covers a lot of stuff I absolutely recoil against in real life but really enjoy exploring in fiction.  While I don’t outright try to embrace going against the status quo, or writing/exploring things for their shock value, I’ve never really wanted to stay in a particular genre of writing, either.  I think there are certain reoccurring elements that I return to a lot in terms of setting and style, but honestly, I tend towards short stories over novels, and I think part of that is because I can dabble in a lot of genres at once.  I don’t honestly know how this looks to someone who just stumbles across my stories on Amazon, especially if I decide to publish the one I’m currently working on, because it is pretty downright dark and focuses on several touchy subjects together.

To date my Amazon collection are a few erotic m/m stories, a couple paranormal erotica m/f stories, and one strange fairytale beast that I would classify as a love story and a horror story both.  I’ve heard people discuss using different pen names for writing in different genres, and while I can see the wisdom of that, I also am not sure how much I want to follow on that.  Maybe it’s because I got my start in fandom, where the people I generally interacted with did run the whole gamut from humor to erotica to sometimes the outright bizarre or dark.  I don’t really want to separate out what I write into categories — for one thing, I’m not really sure that Amazon would allow me that many pen names. ;)

So yeah, at this point, I’m still dealing with a lot of trial and error in how I handle everything.  I don’t particularly think I will be one of the raging success stories — but I think if I could make someone feel as intensely as I do writing (like with that story today, the one I am slowly hammering more details into, the one that may or may not ever see the light of day), I think that’d be more than good enough for me.

… that’s a pretty trite paragraph to end this entry with, but what can I say?  Sometimes the trite derivative thing works best.

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[In Other Words] Adulthood is a many-peculiar thing

When I was a kid, I genuinely believed adulthood was some magical point in my life (I had arbitrarily decided 27, because at the time 27 seemed like a really long way off, and surely by then I would be all the things I thought I would become) where some switch flipped and I would stop liking “childish” things (as deemed by my parents) and stop being lazy; I would gladly clean and cook and work and do all the things that I was meant to do, and my hobbies would be staid and calm and easy to handle on a few hours at a time.  I’d read more, and I’d write no-nonsense literary things sometimes, and I’d occasionally watch TV.  I wouldn’t be interested in surfing the internet; I wouldn’t want to play video games or go shopping or read comics; I would be An Adult and that would be the end of that.

In retrospect, I can look back and tell it was because my parents were — and still are — very practical and no-nonsense people.  Mom’s hobbies are gardening and romance novels — which she herself always disclaimed as silly and told me I shouldn’t read (though whether it was because she didn’t want me to read the florid dirty bits or not, I’m not sure); Dad’s are science and math and deep thought (he likes to sit with a beer in His Chair for hours, and even if the TV is running, he’s not really paying attention; he likes the background noise).  They were both hard workers when they were part of the 9-6 crowd; they were and are always practical people.  We didn’t go on fancy away vacations or even pay much attention to popular culture — my parents both came from poor backgrounds and were determined to make a better life for themselves and for me here in the US.  Dad liked to say, when I was in college, that my graduation present wouldn’t be a new car (which I never asked for) or anything like that, it would be to be debt-free.

(Even then, I thought that was the far better present.  In some ways I am very much my parents’ daughter.)

My friends’ parents were always more relaxed, and honestly, my parents had their vices that didn’t really fit with my idea of Adulthood, but that didn’t really change my impression that someday, someday, I’d become a responsible person who would do her chores and keep her room clean and not waste hours on the computer doing absolutely nothing of any real worth.  I held onto that idea through college, because that was my first real test and taste of the real idea of Adulthood — I had chosen to go to the University of Washington in Seattle, which was a far cry from my childhood home in Austin, Texas.  I wouldn’t be able to just call my parents up and have them show up to help me if I needed it (like the horror stories I’d heard about people who’d let themselves go once they were in college) — they’d help me, of course, if I needed it, but in the every day stuff, I would be on my own.  My half of my dorm room started out neat, but slowly became more and more of a disaster area — I’m lucky I had roommates that were either tolerant of me, not around very often, or friends who just made fun of it (affectionately, I’m sure, but there’s a grain of truth in the fact that I am a tremendous slob).  And I still continued to think that someday I would be an Adult and then I’d take care of everything properly and on time.  No procrastinating until the last day to do things; no being lazy until I was panicking for being behind.

I graduated still thinking this, living in a rented house with four friends and working my Real Adult Job! with my room still a minor disaster area and grumbling in my heart about doing the dishes and how much I missed a proper dishwasher.  (At one point I even caught myself hesitating over a pair of CDs I wanted and realizing, to my bemused horror, that I was waiting to ask my parents for permission, as if it was still money that I had received from them, to be subject to their approval or otherwise.)  I moved out of that house and into an apartment with a friend from college and it was more of the same, especially with the dishes.  I moved into an apartment by myself and all that having a room to myself meant was that my stuff had even more space to spread out all over.  I got a cat and I was better about keeping his litterbox cleaned than my bedroom.  I bought a condo (with help and advice from my parents — most of the down payment money came out of an account that they had set up for me at birth, and which was handed over to me when I turned 21, but they did gift me money to help with it) and I have a significant other and roommates who pay me rent.  I still have the cat.

I still have the vaguely disastrous mess all over the place, and the kneejerk protest in my heart when I have to do dishes or take out the trash and recycling; I spent most of today out at the University Street Fair (love it! ♥) and then playing a silly farming game.  I haven’t done my daily writing — and honestly, most of the time, my daily writing happens in the last hour before I have to shower and get ready for bed (which is usually later than it should be).  I’m proud of myself for managing to keep my kitchen sink empty and (relatively) clean for about a week and a half now.  I’m almost thirty and I still play video games and read comics and write genre-focused stuff (no fancy literature for me, it seems) and sometimes I spend an entire weekend doing nothing of worth.  There are weeks where we eat or order out over 50% of the time.  That magic switch I imagined in my childhood is apparently an entire lie.

On the other hand, I have a full-time job with benefits, which is a pretty amazing thing in this day and age — one that I enjoy with decent pay and managers I respect and trust — I have a mortgage, I have a significant other, I bought a brand-new washer and dryer the other year when the old ones died.  My cat is fat and happy and healthy.  I’m fat and happy and healthy.  I’m writing regularly and managing to finish things, even if that’s at a slow pace, and even if I am just one of hundreds of thousands (of millions?) of people who are dabbling in the ebook self-pub market.

It’d still be nice if I could get the gumption to do my cleaning without a lot of internal whining and procrastinating, but as far as Adulthood goes, I like what I ended up with a lot better than what I imagined all those years ago.

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