Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Process -- May 2011

First Draft

Chickpea. In April I had written three pages. I’m trying to move to a different level here, where maybe my first drafts aren’t all completely crap. So I started by knowing how it was going to end, and having a story in my head. It went kind of to hell towards the end, but I can fix it in post, right? My draft wound up probably 3000 words long.

One Degree. At some point in April, I lost my notes for this, which I guess was a good excuse not to work on it. After Chickpea fizzled to a lame ending, I found my notes while doing some filing, and it became my page-a-day, which wasn’t what I had intended for it, but whatever.
Medusa. Another Chuck Wendig challenge, 1500 words max. Wrote a first draft Monday (May 17).

“Take Down the Lot of You”. Chuck Wendig challenge, 1000 words max. Wrote first draft May 30, wound up with 1700 words.

Editing

"The Rabbits". Could this only be the fourth draft I just did? Removed about 2500 more words, and it was easy, down to 6600 words. Then I did another draft and realized that until I figure out what the motivation of my “hidden” character is, the story just isn’t going to work. It makes sense to me, because I know what I’m going for, but it won’t make sense to anyone else.

“Bezoar”. The middle and the ending largely work, so May 2 I spent about 3 hours making draft 6 (?), where I had to fix the characters’ motivations, because they had none, and give them some immediacy. Let Ed read it, he had a couple of small comments so it just needed a smoothing draft (sometimes I wonder if he’s scared to say something mean, however). Did that draft. It’s done. I’ve sent it out.

“The Cats”. I had forgotten to check the weekly challenge, so it was Monday night and I still didn’t have an idea. I was just going to pull out Dowsing and edit that instead of doing the challenge, but then I came across a draft of this. I had 1064 words and no POV in the first draft.

Second draft (Monday): I added a POV, trying to do second-person to see if I could (maybe I should just try to write a decent story, I know you’re thinking...) and it ballooned up to 1200 words. I realized the story started on p. 3 (of 5!) so I moved everything around.

Third draft (Wednesday) I got it down to about 1046 words, and then fourth draft (Thursday) I cleaned it up and improved the ending. Then Blogger was down for many, many hours and I fretted about being able to post it, but you can find it below somewhere.

Medusa. Typed up Tuesday (May 18) at work, because I was off on Wednesday and I wanted to have something to edit on, because boy, it needed it. Did that second draft on Wednesday, then a third draft on Thursday, and put it up. As I said in my note at the start of the story, I’d like Medusa to have been angrier; if I’d done another draft, that’s where I would have gone.

“Dowsing”. Read through the first draft one evening before bed, to give it some thought. I’d had an idea about adding changing the beginning in order to give it an ending (because like a lot of these stories, it just trundles to a stop, and an illogical, unmotivated one in this case) but was afraid I’d wreck it if I messed with it. The first few pages aren’t so bad – maybe a little over-written is all, so if I could find a way to insert my change to the world without wrecking it, that would be cool.

Ignoring

“Succubus”. Short story; working on 2nd draft
Troll.
Pampelmouse.
“Imp Face”.
Needs to be typed.
Pause.

Being reviewed

Apophis. (on OWW – two crits from April... one liked it, one hated it) Third crit in May, didn’t seem to hate it.

“Karate Zombies”. Lent my printout to a friend who kept asking to read it. It’s really hard to hand someone something you know is partly flawed, without telling them all the flaws you know are there. He went on holiday to Belgrade (bastard! I want to go to the Tesla museum!) so he had it for several weeks.

Knitting

Morrigan. 60 rows of 1st sleeve. The plan is, if I can do 10 rows every day I’m off (i.e., weekends) then it will be done by October, when it will be wearable. There’s no point rushing.

Convertible-a-Go-Go Socks. Finished first sock.

Cormorant. In April I had started seaming, but the bottom peplum thing was when last I counted about 660 stitches per row, so took forever. Done now. Gorgeous. I blocked it on my dressmaking judy. I love this sweater. Too bad it’s out of season. Might change the snap, but otherwise perfect.

Avalon armwarmers. On needles since April. I pulled out my notes and started knitting once I’d finished Cormorant (seems I’m a 3-project person).

Monday, May 30, 2011

What I read -- May 2011

“A Book of Tongues” by Gemma Files. I bought this one at Ad Astra after hearing her read (I got it signed! I can’t read what it says!), and I started reading it, and OMG I could totally hear her reading voice in every word. And it was laugh-out-loud funny. Though perhaps my idea of funny is not everyone’s. One of my coworkers asked if I’d read “Not wanted on the Voyage” by Timothy Findlay a few days ago (actually, he sort of assumed I’d read it, which was true) because his son is reading it for school and having a rough time getting through it, because it’s so grim. And I said, sure, there are some dark bits, but it’s so funny! Anyway, like for example in this book one character is describing a horrific stoning of a presumed witch, and another character says “Only way, sometimes,” and I thought that was so funny! But I can see where other people might think it’s sick.

“Ha’penny” by Jo Walton. After I read this in January, I said I wanted to buy about ten Farthings and give them away. I gave one to my friend Lucy. She went out looking for this one, so I thought I’d better read it so I can continue to discuss reasonably. I got it for Christmas. I thought it was, if possible, even better than the last one, which had a few moments of awkwardness and a little bit too much twee (but was still awesome). JW did a brilliant job of the “you won but really you lost” ending here. I read it in less than a day.

“What I didn’t see: and other stories” Karen Joy Fowler. She’d had two stories in MMSKMMFHAM (that I read in April), one that I thought was fabulous, and the other that I have no memory of, and then the story in the YA edition of the subpress mag (I read that at work, giggling the whole time, so one of my neighbours asked me what was so funny, so I sent her the link, but she didn’t giggle the whole time, and she said “so how old was he, anyway? They never said,” which I totally caught his age, so I guess I read differently than some, and KJF’s rhythm works for me. Also, it’s pretty rare for a short story to make me cry, and “King Rat” did that.

“Half a Crown” by Jo Walton. When I finished Ha’penny, I requested this from the library. I found it a much more stressful read than the previous two, maybe because I’d read the previous one so recently. Also, the stakes were higher. I carried this book around for an entire weekend at karate camp trying to get in enough time to read the last 75 pages. She wrapped up the problem that started in the first book and gave me a really satisfying ending. I wasn't sure the schtick of having alternating chapters between Carmichael and whatever young woman is featured in this book was going to work after "Farthing", but it did. I love Jo Walton.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Medusa

The challenge was here. I watched Tangled last weekend, and thought, someone should do a mashup, since both were about magic hair and eyes, but so different. If I'd done another draft, I would have made Medusa angrier. She doesn't come off enraged enough yet. But for now I'll just call it done.

She had been born bald. When it grew in, her hair started blonde and curly at the back, dark and straight at the front. The curls worked their way forward, and the darkness worked towards the back, and by the time she was of age, Medusa had a magnificent head of hair.

That had been a problem. Her beautiful long coils of hair had hung to the middle of her back, setting off her stunning eyes, high cheekbones and ripe, red mouth.

Because of those looks, she thought she could get away with anything. Anything in this case was stealing lettuce. The punishment was that her hair was turned to snakes, anyone who looked in her eyes was turned to stone, and living on a desert island. The Temple of Athena had a zero tolerance policy on dine-and-dashing.

Perseus was just a Greek prince fated to kill his father. He'd been invited to a theme wedding -- horses as gifts. He didn't have any, so he'd offered to get anything else. The groom had asked for Medusa's head. It had seemed a high price for a banquet hall dinner and a night of dancing, but whatever.

It had been a trick. Medusa wasn't even in Greece.

Poseidon had grown tired of the island’s erratic growth from all the people she'd turned to stone falling in the water, messing with the shipping lanes.

The old woman (one of the Hesperides, accustomed to working blind, since they shared one eye between the three of them) had come and offered her more salad. Medusa, tired of fish and seaweed, had taken the old woman’s salad and tried to stare her down, but it hadn’t worked so well due to the glaucoma. When Medusa sat down to eat, the old woman had caught her wrist in a manacle and dragged her to a boat.

They had blindfolded Medusa and brought her to shore, and trotted her through Greece and the Balkans to this German tower.

Every morning, the old woman would come after the sun was up and the bread was baked. She would shout up, “Medusa, Medusa, let down your hair, that I might climb your snakey stair.”
She would cackle, as if the rhyme was something clever, and add, “And make sure it isn’t one of the biting ones, if you want to keep eating.” You’d think she’d try to keep the poetry flowing. But no.

Medusa's hair was all kinds of snakes – cobras, cottonmouths, coral snakes. She'd tried cutting the python off, but it had been a mistake. Now the wretched thing was like a freaky 70-foot dreadlock. It would slide straight down the wall, loop its body into handholds and footholds, and let the old woman climb up like a marine.

She would feel around, touching everything, looking for a flat place to put down the day’s bread.

“Can you hear them hissing?” she would ask as if she had a familiar. She didn’t. Or, if she did, it was a ghost or a flea. “Coming closer. They always want to see how close they can get. Want to bite me, or wrap their coils around my neck.”

"You crazy old bat, do you think I would let them kill you?" Medusa asked.

"You couldn't stop them if they wanted to," said the old woman.

"Let me out of this fucking tower," Medusa would say, sweetness having never gotten her anywhere. "I preferred my island."

"Not the right place for you," the old woman would say, and snap her hand out and catch a cockroach. She'd offer the meat up to a random snake, regardless of the threat of poison.

Naturally Medusa wanted out of the tower. It wasn’t a particularly well-built place, drafty, cold in the winter, cold and humid in the summer, cold and damp in the spring and fall. The window didn’t close properly. The fireplace was full of rats.

But the snakes would not cooperate. It was only a three-story tower, and the snakes wouldn’t help her down. She’d tried tying bed sheets together, but the snakes had clung to the window sills. The old woman had confiscated the bed sheets. Now she just had a scratchy, moth-filled wool blanket.

So, Perseus. The Hesperides, the old women, three, blind, with one eye between them, would have told him where to look. This tower gig couldn't have been any great shakes for them. Greece had a way better climate for old, mostly blind women. They would have told him to polish his shield to a high gloss, and not to go for the snakes.

After the old woman left, Perseus shouted up from below, "Medusa, Medusa, let down your hair, that I might climb your snakey stair.” He didn’t say anything about the biters. He didn't use his fancy magical footwear, because that would give him away.

Medusa sighed and let the python drag her over to the window. It was the one that answered the call, not her. Probably the old women had trained it, feeding it cats and puppies. It slithered down, and weaved its head and stuck out its tongue. Perseus took a deep breath and pulled out a Bulgarian bagpipe. It was entrancing enough that the snake fell asleep.

The music made Medusa's even more foul-tempered than usual. There are few things more annoying than a bagpipe played up close. The snakes didn’t seem to mind it, though. They fell asleep.

Perseus stopped playing and did a round-off back handspring to avoid the python’s head, and hung onto its neck while it bucked and weaved and finally went back up to its mistress’s window.

“Interesting music,” Medusa said, as Perseus rolled on to the floor as the snake went totally limp. “Self-taught?”

Perseus groaned. His polished shield and sword rattled around, the cacophony waking everybody up. He rolled over away from her and whipped his sword and shield off his back, looking in the shield. He’d practiced this.

Medusa hadn’t practiced defending herself. She hadn’t needed to until now. She’d practiced raging. “Look at me!” she yelled. The snakes hissed and writhed.

Perseus leapt in, but he swung wild. He spun, his eyes passing hers faster than they could lock.
The sword flat brushed away what might have been a rattler. The shield pushed at the python's face and held it far enough away it couldn't get a loop to wrap around him.

“What are you waiting for, muscle boy?” She snarled. But he was expending all his effort trying to stun the snakes, not lop them off. "Here to show me your one-eyed snake?" She was trying to make him lose his head.

“Don’t engage,” he told himself.

“Look in my eyes,” she shouted. She stepped closer, and he could see green eye liner to match the green snakes reflected in the smooth silver of his shield. “Look at them!” She raised her arms to grab him by the ears and drag his eyes up to hers. She jumped, and got her legs around him, and her hands went for his eyes.

He stumbled back, squeezing his eyes shut because he couldn't see the shield.

She tried to pry his eyes open.

With a desperate sweep, he bashed, flat side of the blade, at one of the vipers, and then swung the blade across her arms, sharp side on. Then down again the other way, the sword went across her neck, more by luck than by skill, and because he'd been dragged down by its weight.

"Oh, very nice," Medusa's head said. The python was dragging it, bumping it along the rough floor, towards the window.

After he wiped his sword off on her old wool blanket, he put the head in a knapsack, still using the shield to see.

He tossed all that out the window first, and then started down the side of the building.

The field stones were smooth and tough to get a hand or a toe hold on. Perseus fell out of the tower and blinded himself on the thorns that grew around the base of the tower.

But he picked himself up and grabbed his shield, sword, and the backpack, and gamely started off again.

"Come on, bitch, we're going to a wedding."

He had to pull Medusa's head out of the magic backpack and let her lead the way as they flew back on Hermes' magic sandals towards Greece.

And they got there, and he set the head on the gift table.

"Fuck you all!" Medusa shouted. "Marriage is legalized prostitution, sex by contract!" That got everybody's attention, and they all turned towards her.

And got turned to stone.

"I'm not sure they wanted to hear that," Perseus said. Now that he was blind, he could see she had a point. But maybe she could have been more subtle about it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Better late than never? (thanks to your cats)

This week's challenge was to write a story with some cussing in the title. I seem to be a bit doomed with this challenge, as I didn't find out about it until Monday (my fault) and then Blogger was down last night. I pulled out a first draft I'd had lying around since maybe December 2009, and cleaned it up through three drafts. So without further ado:




Edited September 29, 2011: I took it down because I edited it and actually submitted it somewhere!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Should have been obvious, maybe I'm just slow

I think I upped a level in story last night. I was really close yesterday, when I was walking to work after writing my morning page, and realized that a choice I was making with my setting was going to make my story work completely. Then I had decided to do a “final” pass on Bezoar, because the weekly challenge didn’t really speak to me. I was reading along, and I realized that a scene I was working on was “a character asks another character to do something, and then he does it.” No tension there. I needed some reason for the one character to make the other character do something, and the other to resist, but then do it anyway. And I had a throwaway line that I’d tagged about the setting, that I was really going to throw away, because there was no good place for it, and I realized that if I made that line into the tension of the story rather than deleting it, and moved it to the front, then my characters had a reason to do things, and a time frame.

Stories need tension. Characters can’t just ask each other to do things and then do them. It’s not interesting to read. I wonder if anyone on OWW tried to point this out to me, and I missed it completely.

Also, all those “maybe” phrases I write, and “perhaps” and “possibly”, those aren’t for the reader. Those are for me, so I know what I was going for, and I should take them out in the second draft, turning them into show-don’t-tell moments.

Monday, May 02, 2011

What I read -- April 2011

“My mother she killed me, My father he ate me” edited by Kate Bernheimer. Yet another library book, this one a request. A collection of modern fairy tales. I’ll admit I don’t know every fairy tale on the planet, and in fact I might only know a couple of dozen of the more obvious ones, probably from Disney books and movies. I thought the Gregory McGuire intro was annoying, but then I read the first story, and I had to google John James Audubon, because I had no idea what he was really like. What I totally enjoyed was that I could chat about the story as being about Baba Yaga, and people knew what I was talking about, because these are all archetypes. That’s what (in my opinion) copyright has removed from Canadian literature – we can refer to the same places, but we can’t build archetypes the same way, because that’s “stealing”. The Karen Joy Fowler and Stacey Richter stories were standouts. A couple of the stories were just punishment.

And I see it’s been nominated for a Shirley Jackson award! Awesome.

“Kill the Dead” by Richard Kadrey. Library book. The boy read it first, in less than a day. Ed read it next and had weird zombie dreams. I didn’t read it as fast as the boy, but I totally enjoyed it. The plot and characters were easier for me to keep track of than the first one in this series. My only quibble would be that when Stark’s human half died off, I didn’t really sense much of a difference in the voice of the story, and then when the human half came back, the same.

“Napier’s Bones” by Derryl Murphy. Bought this one at the Chizine book release party during Ad Astra. There was something strange about the style or the editing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but that was far outweighed by the well-constructed magic system. Right at the start of the story two characters start sharing one body, and this was really interesting to read. The Billy character (I thought he was going to turn out to be Shakespeare, but I was wrong) seemed like he was in the car, in the plane with the other two, and then I would realize again that there were only two bodies, but three people. Worth the read.

“Dogsbody” by Diana Wynne Jones. This had been on my list for ages (I’ve read several other of her books, mostly the Chrestomancy ones, which I loved), so when she died, I requested it from the library. When it came, it had a card pouch in the front! It had stamps from around 1978 or ’79! The ending was awesome, with Sirius getting what he wants, for the most part, but not being happy with it. She so got into the head of what it was to be a puppy, and I loved how Kathleen was picked on for being Irish, which is so much how the real world works and brought into the story real world issues (I didn’t love that she was picked on, I loved that the children did not get along wonderfully all the time and in fact were quite cruel). DWJ really knows how to build a story to a climax. Ed picked it up when I was done because I’d talked it up so much, but he kept asking me questions like “what’s a zoi?” and “who’s the old lady?” Oh, just go with it!

“My Date with Satan: Stories” by Stacey Richter. I got this from the library because I liked her story in “MMSKMMFHAM” so much. I think all the stories but one were in first-person. I guess that’s her schtick. I personally have been trying not to write every story first person, because it starts to seem like an easy out sometimes. They were very entertaining and didn’t seem all that dated to me.

“Ash” by Malinda Lo.
Reminded me of “Book of a thousand days” that I read last year, maybe because it’s a retelling of a fairy tale (in this case Cinderella) for a YA audience. In this story Cinderella does not wind up with the prince, but winds up with someone else instead. It had other fairy tales all worked through it as well, which was neat but didn’t totally work for me stylistically. Still, it was a quick, entertaining read. I’m starting to notice style more, and which authors’ styles resonate with me, and which don’t, which isn’t to say they’re bad books, and also stories where the author seems to be taking a risk, walking a tightrope between what shouldn’t work, and what does.

In process -- April 2011

First Draft

Pause. I had a really hard time with this one keeping it on track. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but I just couldn’t get it to go there. It’s going to take a lot of editing to make it into the story I want it to be.

Ian’s Dad’s Ashes. Start-to-finish April 18, 2011, 1900 words.

Geese. First draft was 261 words and 16 sentences and took about 20 minutes to write on April 26. Since the target was 3 sentences, I had some work to do. However, my strategy was to write the whole story and “fix it in post”.


Chickpea. Short story, just started. It’s a post-zombie-apocalypse retelling of The Princess and the Pea. At three pages long, it’s still in the stage where I like it, before I wreck it by trying to write it down.

Editing


“Bezoar”. Mostly I carried this around. Since I restructured the ending, I needed to read the ending again to make sure it made sense what I’d done, and smooth it out.


Ian’s Dad’s Ashes. Typed April 19, 2011. Second draft April 20, 2011 (1400 words). Third draft April 21, 2011 (995 words) and posted. Ed read it, and thought it worked.


Geese. Over four drafts, I got I guess a story. Not terribly enamored of it, though.

Ignoring



  • “Succubus”. Short story; working on 2nd draft

  • Troll.

  • Pampelmouse.

  • “Imp Face”. Needs to be typed.

  • “Karate Zombies”. Another friend has asked to read it.

  • “Dowsing”.

  • One degree.

  • "The Rabbits"

Being reviewed


Apophis. Really did get on OWW. Ed read it, also. I guess things I leave on the kitchen table are fair game. However, reading the crits, I get the feeling maybe the purpose of my life is to make other people look better in comparison. Oof.


Geese and Ian’s Dad’s Ashes are both around here somewhere, so if you feel the urge, read and comment. If nothing else, these Chuck Wendig challenges are making me put actual stories in a position where they can be read, and are forcing me to finish things.

Knitting


Morrigan. Still ignoring


Doubleknit Fair Isle shawl. Finished the knitting April 13! Tied in the ends April 22-23! Blocked April 24! It’s really done.


Convertible-a-Go-Go Socks. I’m at the heel on the first sock, and also cast on for the separate cuff. I’m using Noro sock yarn, and the buttons are really unpleasant. However, I do have buttons! I bought them last week.


Cormorant. Back, both fronts, and both sleeves are done. I’ve started the seaming, and there’s a lot of finishing on it – the whole peplum is part of “finishing”.


Avalon armwarmers. I don’t know why I even put this on needles, as I’ve been ignoring it since. Wishful thinking, I guess. They’ll be great when they’re done. I did pull out my notebook to find out how I’d done them in the first place so I can continue in the same vein.


Went to the knitter’s frolic, bought yarn for three pairs of socks, a book of sock patterns, and some buttons.