[short] The Hallway Witch

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.

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[In Other Words] Guilty pleasures (part 1?)

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. ( ・◇・)

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[In Other Words] Writer’s block

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.  (゜▽゜;)

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[In Other Words] Festina lente

So as of last night, I have made 20k words progress this month!  Which I don’t think is too shabby for a week’s worth of time.  When I step back and consider that, I’m really super proud of that progress!

But when I actually consider how much more I have left to do (not so much in my Camp NaNo goals as much as the story itself altogether), I feel like I am just not going fast enough.  (´Д`) Which I know is a completely arbitrary and ridiculous thing, because everyone writes at a different pace!  Some people get 10k words done in a day just par the course, and some people are lucky to get 300 in.  (I know I’ve talked about this before.  Sometimes I like to state the obvious in an attempt to convince myself of it.)  I really enjoy the sheer accomplishment of finishing something, and right now that goal seems awfully distant.  Having made it as far as I have, I think I’d be mostly really disappointed in myself if I gave up — and honestly, I don’t want to give up, because I like the story and the characters and I am enthusiastic for everything!

I am just also at a point where I really want to be able to share my enjoyment more beyond talking about things in a roundabout fashion.  I want to be able to proudly display a finished copy and say, “hey, come look at this!” and strut my stuff, but that’s still a long time coming, because not only do I have to finish the whole thing, I have to get it edited and run through the wringer.  I’m anticipating a lot of cuts and rewrites in my future, but there are some times where I really wish the future was now. (꒪⌓꒪)

The thing is, I don’t really consider myself an intensely competitive person; my mother used to try very hard to motivate me by using the fear of others doing better to get my spirits fired up, and that … was always less than successful, and that always baffled her.  Maybe it was because she was doing it for academia (where, in high school, I was clever and observant enough to make it through the higher-level courses with decently good grades even without strenuous amounts of effort0 versus writing, but I have to admit, these days, I’m really curious.  I don’t know what the “average” wordcount is for other writers.  I don’t know what a professional full-time writer can put out in a day, though I imagine the answer varies consistently.  I don’t know what people consider a “fast” writing pace or what the average time to write (just plain write) a novel is.  As it stands right now, I feel incredibly slow and behind the curve, which is a distressing (though, at least, not discouraging) feeling.

Though I guess also, if I snap and just write spontaneous porn at some point this month, no one should be surprised. ( ̄へ ̄)

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[In Other Words] The worst enemy

I think if I had to pick what was my biggest obstacle — not just in writing, but in life — it would be my attention span.  (Second would be my energy levels, since I have a vast preference for the hours of evening to late morning and slump out the most during longer afternoons.)

There are a lot of things I would really like to do that I just end up flopping out on, because I get bored or distracted — or, alternately, because I know myself well enough to know I would go overboard and give too much of my attention instead.  A lot of my friends are participating in online trading card games, and those look like a lot of fun! … but between maintaining my writing and my roleplay games, plus cooking and window shopping at farmer’s markets, I don’t really super feel like I have the time to spare for it.  I’m trying to learn how to prioritize the things I really genuinely want to do, and boy is that tough.  Few things discourage me more than feeling like I have fallen too far behind to recover — I will take personal failure over defeat to letting other people down.

In my writing it ends up manifesting as having a lot of ideas that I just can’t keep up with.  I’ve made small summary-notes to myself in my notebook just so that I don’t forget them, because these are all things I genuinely want to do — but I don’t really think I’m the sort of person who can split her attention between four or five projects and actually accomplish finishing them, never mind two.

(But boy do I really want to.  In my notebook alone I have ten separate suggestions to myself.  Of these, one of them got expanded and will be a project with a friend.  The other nine?  Those are still all entirely on me.)

Honestly, I think that’s what defeated my attempt to write novels in the past — I would perhaps make a good and earnest effort, but then something else new and shiny would come along and I would transfer to that, telling myself I’d balance between the two … and naturally that didn’t go at all like planned.  I was sorting through my files the other day and the amount of unfinished things I have is really embarrassing.  (I’m thinking of a number between 40 and 50.)  My hope is that I have hit a point where I am better disciplined in my life — and so far, I think that’s true!  I think I have gotten a lot better about keeping reign of my flightiness.

That does come at the cost of having to skip out on new shiny things, though, which I do regret.  ( ´△`)  I might not be an extrovert, but I do like being with and interacting with my friends; I can’t help but feel a bit sad when they’re all into some new wave of cool and interesting and I either can’t participate or deliberately don’t in order to save myself time.

Really, my ideal is to have a good balance in all things — I would love to get to a point where I could work simultaneously on just two separate personal projects without severely neglecting one for the other.  Who knows though; it took me over ten years to get to a point where I could force myself to start sitting down and shutting up and turning “I wanna write” (during my free time) to actual writing.  I’m an easily-distracted magpie of a person, and maybe I’ll never get to that point.  If I have achieved “true adulthood,” that must mean I obtain that balance, right?

tl;dr Animal Crossing understands me:

Tally ho. ヽ(´~`;)

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[In Other Words] All Best Laid Plans

So far (having not done my writing for the day yet), my wordcount for the month stands at 5283 words! (⌒▽⌒)☆  That’s pretty good, I think; I’m proud of myself for managing that in between everything else in my life.  The more I get involved with my writing projects, though, the more I understand the whole stereotype of writers not having any other hobbies or much of a social life — I used to not understand the whole myth of the writer being holed up while their friends and family are off having a good time, but now I can see the mouth of that rabbit hole, and I can see how really easy it would be to just slip into that and not come up for air.  (At the same time, at least at this point, I still refuse to give up my other hobbies.  I’m not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do get lonely and sad when I have absolutely no social interaction beyond the route encounters I have at my dayjob.  I don’t want to give up the things that connect me with a lot of really cool people, though I am okay with gently scaling them back.)

At this point, the novel I started on June 1st is ~60k words.  As I was doing some idle outlining (not anything too serious; I still can’t do “real” outlining, but I can at least jot myself notes in vaguely chronological order), I had the epiphany that this story is probably going to be too large for a single book alone — even if we assume by conventional standards that a full-length novel is 100k words or thereabouts, that’s just not what’s happening here.  Sixty thousand words in and I am introducing elements that still need time to build and to develop, and there is a very clear and clean “breaking” point.  I don’t know if I can get to that in 40k words.  I don’t know how much will need to get cut out and tightened up for the sake of a cleaner read.* I do know that I have enough material that I want to write and explore that this is going to be a far, far longer story than I originally anticipated.

* I do think I draft things fairly cleanly the first time around.  The fanfic I’ve written over the years has pretty much only ever been spellchecked and cursorily looked over before being posted, which is perhaps to my detriment, but I do think I have a fairly decent grasp on language and flow.  My pubbed stories have definitely gone through a betaing process, and I suspect this novel (/these novels) will require quite a bit.

The thing is, nothing that I have written down in my novel is something “new” to me; it’s all stuff I have been shuffling through in my head and reordering and reconsidering, both over the past month and the past two years, since this story first began percolating.  At this point it barely resembles the short story that was its original incarnation, because it has all the things that I’ve had to cut out (well, except for one scene in particular, but that will just have to live forever alone in my imagination) and all the things I’d wanted to do, but hadn’t had the time with the original deadline.  It’s just that now, in the process of writing it and laying things down in a more concrete fashion, I realize that my plans for a single shot are … really not geling in the way I thought they would. ヽ(;▽;)ノ Ha ha oops.

And there are other stories that I really want to work on that are just as interesting and exciting, but I only have so much time in a day, and I don’t want to turn into the same scatterbrained writer I was before, unable to finish a longer project because I got distracted by some new shiny.  I really want to finish this thing and its second half; I want to go back and write the sequel to a (still-unpublished half-edited) story; I want to recruit someone to help me so I can write a really terrible visual novel; I want to do so many things and so far I haven’t really succeeded in any huge endeavors, but boy do I have hopes and dreams!  (Me and everyone else, really, but I can only take responsibility for my own life.)

In my heart, my five-year plan is to keep writing and evaluate how I am doing as a self-pubbed (and maybe small press?  I’m looking at small presses that are interested in the sort of stuff I write) writer and whether I can try to transition to doing that more seriously and more intensely.  Maybe at that point I’ll be doing decently well as a writer!  Maybe at that point I’ll be exactly where I am right now — or worse off!  I don’t really know, and I know this is the sort of thing one has to be patient and persistent for, and if nothing else, I can do persistence, even if I am still not so great with patience.  But this past week has blown some of my smaller plans out of the water, and who knows how things will go in the bigger picture of things.

(Wish me luck, I am going to need it.  ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ )

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[In Other Words] Camp Nanowrimo! And noveling. And sales!

I think that after eleven years of living in the Pacific Northwest, I have finally fully acclimated — which is to say, when the temperatures hit the high eighties, I turn into the saddest lumpy slug to have ever existed without air conditioning.  I’m so glad that most of the news outlets agree we’ll start seeing cooling starting tonight/Tuesday; I think I got maybe max four hours of sleep because of the heat last night.

However, in spite of the terrible sunny weather, I did manage a pretty productive weekend!  My grand total wordcount for the month of June came out to be 59,156 — if I’d managed roughly 800 more words, I could have hit 60k and effectively hit double my minimum world goal for the month.  I feel pretty good about that!  And beyond roughly 2k words, all of those words were for the novel I started on June 1st.  Some of them have already been cut and there’ve been a few reworded editings, but I have stuck through the project for the whole of the month, and I’m going to be doing it again this month!  I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo with a goal of 50k words, because if I can keep applying myself even just an extra fifteen minutes in a day, I think I can make it.  (And maybe I’ll actually have something finished by the end of July, sob.)

I’m a little nervous still about this whole novel process; I’m still struggling with the whole “author” thing, where I put stories up for sale and people hopefully buy them.  I can definitely see where the suggestions that people should continuously keep writing and adding to their catalog in order to make sales and a mark on things, but right now all of my energies have gone to this novel, and I don’t entirely know when it’ll be finished.  (At ~48k words, it’s about a third of the way done through the main story arc I have projected.)  I definitely do better in the months where I actually have something new to offer, but that’s not likely to happen in July.  Maybe with some impetus, though, I can get something much longer finished, and that’ll attract at least a few more people my way.  (I can dream!)

In the meantime, though, I am participating in Smashwords’ July Summer/Winter sale!  I went for the 50% off coupon (which is SSW50, to be entered at checkout) so for the month of July, my stuff is half-off at Smashwords!  Please check me out if you’re interested in light m/m fiction. :)

In the meantime, I’ve got Camp NaNoWriMo to keep me going.  Hopefully this time next month I’ll have an actual finished product to share, ha ha (sob).

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[snippet] Last Breath

Have you ever had the opportunity to watch someone die? If you do — when you do — there’s something you should do as it happens.

Stand vigilant to the right of the dying person, with your back straight and your shoulders squared. Watch that person’s face carefully. Try not to blink, because it happens in a split-second, and you could miss it if you’re not paying absolute complete attention. At that time, when that person’s final breath is drawn in, reach down and cover their mouth and nose with your hand in a single movement. You have to time it exactly or else the trick fails. If you do it right, the dying person’s eyes will open wide, staring straight into yours, and you will see the dimming energy of their existence in their face. I don’t mean things like a “soul” or “anima” or whatever religion wants to call it — I mean the raw fabric that powers a person’s life, the thing that makes them move and speak and think and be. If you can keep that person’s nose and mouth sealed as they die, then when you pull your hand away, you will find sticky glowing threads stuck to your palm. This is pure energy, such as science and faith both cannot quantify or explain. It’s weak, because it’s nearly used up — but it has enough punch to give you a boost. More energy, reversing aging — like the ultimate in health food.  Try that for a diet, and I absolutely guarantee you the results will be far beyond what you could have ever imagined.

You can get something similar from infants, as they draw their first breath, but this timing is even trickier.  There is a split second before the beginning of the very first breath of someone’s life where all their potential is there, boiling up hard and high and rich.  If you can get it, it’s a lot stronger than someone who’s dying, but … well, if you think about the situation, you can see why it’d be more of a problem, right?

Once you have it, though, whether from a corpse or an infant, take your prize immediately or store it however you see fit — but be aware: just as I’m telling you this secret, so have other people learned it, and told others in turn. Some people can’t get the timing right, but they still crave what they can get. Murders have happened solely for the sake of this collection. Anyone who has a decent store of the stuff, whether within their selves or kept in a tupperware somewhere — they’re targets.

Is that sort of thing worth the risk? I think so. I’m five hundred years old today, but you couldn’t tell that, could you? It’s fine if you don’t believe me, though. If you ever get the balls to try it, you’ll see.

And someday in the future, if you’ve decided you enjoy what you’ve learned, and you’ve spread the story as you see fit, come and find me. I’ll be waiting.

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[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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