Omnivorous and Opportunistic

I am in a strange and happy little place this morning.

I have put the kettle on, brewed a pot of Lady Grey tea, a dark pekoe tea with hints of orange and, for most, entirely too much sugar. My nose is remembering the scent of breakfasts past, of a toasted english muffin slathered with natural peanut butter that goes from too-solid to slippery, uncontainable, dripping off the corner of your mouth faster than you can work your tongue around it, seconds after it hits the warm surface of the crumb.

I may make it today. I may not. I don’t know yet.

I have been on a reading binge. I have noticed this trend as I’ve gotten older. Not just binge reading, but binge anything. I go through phases like this, where I only want to do one thing and damn the rest. Writing is always in the background, though, a silver thread that never leaves the fabric, but the other colors wax and wane, brighten and dull all around it.

It might be a taste of something. Pop, especially Coca Cola, is something I’m terrible about. I will go weeks without drinking it except for the odd glass and then I will consume it like am gulping air, can after can, until it no longer tastes good but strange and metallic and unsatisfying. But it might be a kind of food, like freshly-made salted popcorn or creamy and rich homemade macaroni and cheese. If I don’t make it, I think about it, and other food, no matter how good, will not appease me. When I finally do make it, I gorge, satiate myself, and move on, it’s hold over me gone.

It might be sleeping, where the body just wants to lay down, to stretch, to slumber.  I can’t get enough. But now the pendulum has swung the other way, and I find myself struggling to go to sleep at the right hour, for the right number of hours. So like today, I am awake too early and sipping my tea, waiting for the caffeine to lift me up the rest of the way. I have never learned to sleep in.

It might be fiction and if it is, it might be a type of fiction, either form or genre, that I favor over all else. It might be non-fiction, like writing how-to books, or it might be just general information on any topic that’s struck my fancy, randomly discovered when I wasn’t looking. Fiction turns me inward, non-fiction turns me outward. I should try to find a balance, but instead I just swing between the two.

And that’s where I am. Reading binge. Non-fiction. The inspirational and the historical. I am halfway through the second book of Glen Cook’s Black Company series, but finding my attention pulled in several directions. Instead, I am finishing Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones (one of the few books I read and reread, finding something different and personal each time I do), enjoying a skulk through the halls of 15th Century Italy, and flirting with the philosophies of Buddhism. I am an omnivorous and opportunistic reader; perhaps spring has wakened the hunger?

I’m journaling, too. More than usual. Which sounds to my ear as if I mean that is a bad thing, which it isn’t. At all. I reconnect when I journal, either here or in a book. I am grounded. I am safe, and aware. And this all feeds back to writing, strengthens the silver thread and brings alive patterns in the larger cloth. A word written is never wasted.

But I should finish, should put on clothes, finish the tea, brave the early morning before it isn’t all that early. I’ve groceries to buy for two nights worth of special dinners. Since when did I become a hostess? This is a new, unexpected development. But good. Only, it means I have to take care of my time. Words may not be wasted, but time certainly can be.

Back To It!

Weekend was a bit of a wash on the creative front, as Saturday night was the TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) party for Script Frenzy and then Sunday night I came home after work, retooled the wireless router and then found myself sinking into a sleepy fog that claimed me way before bedtime.

But when I became restless again around 9:00 pm I picked up Illustrated Teachings of the Dalai Lama (sadly out of print, but his works and words are available in many volumes). I found myself peaceful, centered, curious. I finished off the book today and will be returning it to the library during tonight’s write-in. I’ve ordered another of his through Amazon.ca. I look forward to reading more. I had picked it up on a whim after coming across it in the stacks, among a few others.

That’s the one thing that libraries can do that a brick and mortar store or an online store can never offer. The book store categorizes everything so neatly, so discretely. Everything has its own place. If I’m in the mood for a fantasy or science fiction novel, I go to that section of the store, I peruse, make my choice, if any, and then go on my merry way. Only if I am wandering, if I want to cover some ground, will I encounter anything outside of my initial driving interest. And an online seller, with access to millions of titles? Un-perusable. I defy you to peruse an online sellers multitude of choices. I would wager that people go to the online book stores with a title in mind. Of course, through recommendations, either automatically generated or based on purchasing habits of others who bought the same book, a long, nebulous network begins that can carry you from book to book, like to like to like down a continuum of titles. Useful, yes, but not random.

In a library, or at least the libraries I frequent, they are small things, staffed with a few well-intentioned but overworked bibliophiles who must not only manage the collection but also group activities and maintenance and order. Books are one of three things: fiction, non-fiction, or children’s books. There is no time or space to break books up by genre. Fantasy lives alongside cowboys, sordid love stories, galactic empires.  And the collection is small enough that if you go down one shelf of non-fiction you will find science books up against paranormal books, history near cooking, writing how-to besides celebrities.

This is how I get into trouble on Monday nights. My legs get restless and I have to wander. And in wandering, discoveries.

They don’t all pan out. My last run was a mystery with an intriguing cover, a setting that I’m interested in (a hotel/food service) and a great opening line. Read about 20 pages and nothing clicked. But a non-fiction book I grabbed detailing the plot against the Medici’s in Italy in the 15th Century? Bingo. (This may be related to having played/finished/loved Assassin’s Creed 2, which is set in this era, but it’s still damned interesting besides.)

Enough book talk. I am a day behind my writing plans and need to catch up.

Taking it Easy, Making it Fun

And here I thought I had gotten back on track with my posting! (Though somehow I have messed up my MacJournal. All the fonts are defaulting to super-tiny, eye chart squintiness. Weird. Anywho.)

I am at the Sudbury Public Library for the Monday night write-in. When once we shivered against the wall of windows, wondering why the heat wasn’t coming out of the vents, now we broil under a sun that sets an hour later than it used to set. We begin blinded — I was wearing my sunglasses indoors and had no choice in the matter — and we end in relief, with gentler dusk light and cooler temperatures.

As for the words … not bad. I had about 400 words or so before I realized that the scene I had originally written to occur where it was simply cannot go there anymore. And why? My heroine asked a simple, obvious question. “Where is my father?”

And he’s not there. And there’s no good reason for him not to be there, unless he was not nearby at all. Which will happen, but later, not now. *sigh*

So now I’m blogging, because it’s been a while, and I have a teeny window above the MacJournal program showing an old episode of Iron Chef. (Apple and Chocolate battle, for those interested. For Valentine’s Day in Japan, women buy the men chocolates, not the other way around. S’cool.)

In truth, I’m taking it easy. After a moody couple of days, I’ve seem to discovered my pep again, and I’m enjoying the personal buzz. I’ve also spent some time at work play-writing. I’ve been using Take Ten For Writers by Bonnie Neubauer (who writes these terrifically fun writing prompt books with this punch, playful graphic design) and Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen (a gentle, welcoming introduction to poetry, which has always been an indecipherable art to me but one I want to put to use more often in my prose). I play with the exercises in one of my Moleskine notebooks, just a little soft-cover slip of a thing. It’s all play, but so much fun! Even my Moleskines and other notebooks … I just wanna get crazy and funky with them, instead of being all prim and proper, writing in between the lines. Wanna break out the markers, the water-color pencils. Maybe it’s springtime having this effect on me?

I’m a very guarded person. Sure, I may act loud sometimes, I may have the big laugh, the weird joke that comes out of no where. But despite a very public blog (that no one reads, thankfully!), I’m a private person. I second-guess myself. I hold back. I’m better about this than I used to be, but it’s still an issue I struggle with. I still clench when I should let go. And worse, it creeps into my writing. It’s like a steady calcification, the bones fuse together and every movement, every word is stilted and gnarled and painful.

Ah, but when I find that flow, I am leaf, watch me soar!
(Yeah, not mine, obviously, but perfect here — stolen with much love from the great Joss Whedon.)

And I find that flow most often when I’m playing, when I forget the process. When I am working on something big, like a novel, I try to micro manage it. I try, often without success, to hold it all in my head at once and it gives me a creative headache. I am least likely in that precious state of flow, when I am working on a novel but I can get there if I stop thinking so hard about everything.

Which is why I’m turning once again to Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I have it in the pocket edition, so it’s my portable creative-zen-writing bible. I’ve been re-reading it again, and it’s helping to center me back to where I need to be. Back to the now, not the then or the will-be.

More to come. I think it may be a spammy, journally weekend for me.

More Books, More Worries

The last couple of weeks have been eaten up with work and worry over a job I was applying for. The dust seems to have settled on that matter, so it’s back to regular life-stuff.

Which mostly hasn’t been about writing.

I finally got my hands on a copy of The Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Science Fiction by Cory Doctorow and Karl Schroeder (tho’, rather shittily, Schroeder is not credited on either Indigo or Amazon’s book page and I put the blame squarely on the stores). I picked it up after seeing them both at the Cecil Street Irregulars panel at World Con in order to bolster my notes. I thought I was going to mainly skim it save for that section, but I’m enjoying it quite a bit. Zippy and fun, and clarifying some terminology that I’d heard of but never had explained, like “over the transom.” Both websites show a more recent publication date, 2003 verses the 2000 copy that I have, and I wonder if any updates were made for that second printing. I know at least half of the web-links are dead or changed and this book pre-dates the podcasting trends that are so prevalent now. I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have an updated version with Doctorow’s thoughts?” But then I realize that I have read them, scattered across the web. Unfortunately it’s totally out of print, so no getting my own copy. More note-taking. The most useful thing about the Idiot’s Guide book is a section about how you think about writing, that writing isn’t a single activity, but multiple activities that you have to make room for every day. Got me pondering.

Meanwhile, the Underground Writers group is … progressing. We are meeting mostly weekly, we’ve sent our first group submissions for critique (all but 1 of us, anyways), and we’re posting on the group blog.

But.

We went from the three of us, to four, and we were posting fairly frequently on the group blog, until we added the last three. One of the newcomers does post, but the others have yet to do so. Part of that is connectivity issues that the pair has (which would drive me insane … I need my Internet!) but it’s disappointing to see the site usage decline with the addition of new members. I am partly to blame. With the last two weeks my own productivity and posting has tapered off. That’s changing, starting today.

Still, we feel, to me at least, fractured. That we have yet to find our groove. It’s early days yet, of course, and I know that. I just hunger for a tight-knit group, all the same page, plugging away at it night and day. And, again, I pine for the bustle of a place like Toronto, where it would be easier to find like-minded fellows.

I’m going to be re-subscribing to the OWW, and this time I’ll post, I’ll critique, and, gods-willing, take part in the email list that I’ve been lurking on for over a year.

To “e” or not to “e”?

Time for a book entry, since my writing has gone to shit and back!

Finished reading Sarah Monette’s Melusine on my iPhone in Stanza, but purchased in eReader and moved over.

The book itself? Quite good. Strong 1st person narratives from two, one could say even three, perspectives, and rich world building built upon the European Renaissance cultures with a heavy dollop of magic thrown in to all the right places. (Is this a new sub-genre? The fantasy Renaissance? Books like this and Lynch’s Locke Lamore series and Kusher’s Privilege of the Sword make me think so. And make me want more…) But while it resolved three story points, the madness, the relationship between the two narrators, and their origins, it really felt like we were at the first major truck stop of the journey. Still so much more story to go. Very much a Book 1.

As to how I read it? Well, this was the first experiment. I have downloaded books that looked interesting for my Stanza reader. Plenty of good, free e-books out there to try. But while I had a bunch, none of them were in my massive to-read pile, my books of shame that keep amassing on the book shelf every time I turn around. These e-books were all interesting, but nothing I had bought, excited to read.

So, while I swore off buying any more books, I did buy Melusine through eReader. I’d wanted to read it forever, I hadn’t seen a paper copy anywhere in town and just hadn’t added it to my last few Chapters purchases. I thought, if I paid for it, I’d be more likely to read it on the iPhone instead of just letting it take up e-space.

First, why the buy and switch? eReader is the closest thing I have to the book selection that Amazon affords for it’s segregated Kindle, but I’m not overly keen on the interface. Stanza feels and reads more comfortably, and a dictionary comes built in.

Second, the book experience itself. I liked it, for the most part. It did seem like I was reading it faster than I read a regular book, but it’s hard to tell for sure. I can’t get a page-count that compares to an actual book, so I can’t calculate how many words the novel was. And while I seemed to read it faster, that was only when I was able to sit down with it. The limitations I feared — primarily battery life — did come in to play and there were times that I couldn’t read because I just didn’t have the juice. While I will read one fiction and one non-fiction at the same time, I can’t read two novels at the same time. So there were instances when I wanted to read fiction, and couldn’t. Which was weird. I’m also not allowed to have my iPhone out and about at work without getting into trouble, so that didn’t help, either. Still, it was nice having the backlit screen and the ability to reverse the colors. Reading white text on a black screen at night is the best — no bright lights to keep Todd awake, you can read in absolute darkness yourself, and it’s very easy on the eyes.

Still, it was a relief to get my hands on a book. Next up, I’m reading Asimov’s SF 30th Anniversary Anthology. Started it last night, in the tub (another thing I wouldn’t dream of doing with my iPhone), and I flipped to the first page — where I found Connie Willis’ signature. Another thing that an e-book can’t do. I didn’t get to see her at World Con, but she came by the Tachyon book and signed copies of the anthology where her story, Cibola, is reprinted. God, I dropped nearly all my money at the Tachyon booth, one of the few US companies who braved the border and our tax regulations to come and sell us Canucks hard-to-get books.

So, coffee, shower, and then hitting the road. It’s the world’s Monday and my Friday. It’s been a struggle this week, one that’s pulled me under a few times, left me gasping. Got to refocus. Tonight I’m going to map out the plan for the next two days. And Thursday, the Underground Writers meeting!

10 Cent Surprise Bag

Here’s a list of everything and anything else besides writing that I did today!

I’m enjoying Melusine by Sarah Monette. I’d been meaning to read it for a while now and I used my trip to Montreal as the test to try out Stanza on the iPhone. Yes, I did buy it on e-Reader, but I switched over to Stanza right away. Just like the application better. I’m about a third of the way through the book on what’s felt like little reading time. My friend Lesley swears that she reads faster on her iTouch than with a real book. I wish there was a way I could time my usage, just so I can compare.

The upside? Digital bookmarks, the built-in dictionary (at least for Stanza), and being able to not only not require a reading lamp but also being able to reverse the text and background colors all make it worthwhile. The downside? I’ve already been in a position twice of not being able to read the book because the iPhone was charging, or so close to dead that I had to reserve the battery in case I needed to make a call. Nor, if it’s a book that I really, really love, can I keep it and use it for reference to guide my own writing. Can’t get a rough estimate of the number of words in the book. Maybe that’s buried somewhere in the app. Most incriminatingly, many books I want to read still aren’t available through e-Reader.

I made a lovely pizza. Chewy yet airy crust, dry-cured pepperoni, stretch mozzarella, and all of it cooked to perfection. Amazing how a bad day can just drop away after you bake a good pizza. The only thing it was missing was a good beer.

I visited my mother, with the dog in tow. I’ve been told I have to give her a copy of the horrendous first draft of my first novel. I think she has the unrealistic expectations regarding the quality of said, never-revised first novel. And I’m having regrets about even agreeing. There can only be a bad outcome, here. *sigh*

I updated the Off-Week Writers website, newly christened just The Underground Writers. Mostly fiddling with the template, making a cheesy banner graphic and tweaking some parameters.

I spent way too much time at my computer not writing. I angsted over the inability of my desktop Net News Wire client to sync with the iPhone Net News Wire client because I stupidly downloaded the new Beta that will be syncing with Google Reader going forward. No one but me seems to appreciate that not having a sync-able RSS reader is going to be a huge pain in the arse.

And then I installed Microsoft Office.

*winces*

I know, I know. I’ve sworn off the multi-headed beast that is all things non-Mac.

But. But.

I’ve come across it many a time in my trawling of the internet that most places, if they do accept electronic submissions, often want it either included in the body of the email, attached as an .RTF format document, or, especially for novels, in a Microsoft Word document. I couldn’t point you to any particular website that says this, but I’ve come across it enough for it to tickle my memory and, when seeing an opportunity to get Office for Mac, pounced on it. Damn shame that OneNote isn’t available in the Office suite. Damn fine program, that one.

And it didn’t help that, frankly, my iWork ‘08 (purchased just weeks before the ‘09 was announced…grumble) disappointed me. I had a hard time figuring it out intuitively and it didn’t appear to let me do what I was used to doing with an Office-esque software suite.

So, right now, my computer looks about as disorganized as my office.

And I haven’t written a damn, bloody word.

Tomorrow is our new, regular meeting. Drama-less, with any luck. We’re going to decide our collective future as a group and, hopefully, get some writing in as well.

World Con Fangirl Report

What follows is a brief rundown of the fannish aspects of my World Con experience, with more personal commentary and thoughts to follow in a separate post.

I didn’t go to any of the signings for two reasons. 1) I didn’t have the space to cart all the books by the authors I’ve loved to the Convention to get them signed. 2) Going to the signings without my already purchased books would then mean purchasing new copies on site and that wouldn’t have left room for the new books I planned on buying. Yet I still felt very dirty/bad/wrong about not going to the signings. Like I was un-fannish, or something.

Anywho, here’s who I squealed for:

Neil Gaiman was just as delightful as he has been during his other appearances — cute, rumpled and insightful. Saw him from afar at the New Media panel with Cory Doctorow, whom I also got to see at the Cecil Street Irregulars panel. Very informative, that one.

Nancy Kress was another highlight and I got to pick up one of her latest books, Dogs. Went to several of her panels during the course of World Con and she is just as funny and thoughtful as her work. I actually had a moment when my con-mate and I were heading back to the hotel, where we passed Nancy Kress and her husband heading out. As soon as we passed, I started babbling over and over to Pauline, “ThatWasNancyKressOMGThatWasNancyKress!”

Caught one panel with Larry Niven near the end. His books, specifically The Integral Trees and Ringworld, were ones that shaped my interior landscape in my formative reading years. I remember pouring over the maps and calculations in the beginning of those books, loving them as much as I loved the work.

In a “late to the party” moment, I also managed to catch Ellen Kusher and her wife Delia Sherman at several excellent panels. Sherman is so passionate about her work and Kusher is downright hilarious and down-to-earth. I’ve only just come across Kusher through her book Privilege of the Sword and I must find more.

I also got to meet, and have breakfast with, Elizabeth Bear! I can’t thank Pauline enough for letting me tag along. We skipped the morning panels and hung out by the park near the Palais with its fountain and slightly ominous water effects. She was hilarious. For her reading, she read a snippet of her forthcoming book, the sequel to All The Windwracked Stars. Go! Read Bear! Follow her on Twitter!

And George R. R. Martin, of course. On my first day, when wandering through the dealer’s room, I was happily ambling along, checking out the wares, and then realized I had just walked past him. Fangirl twittering commenced shortly thereafter. Caught several of his panels and, again, just like Kress, funny and thoughtful. One of my all-time favorite writers. His thoughts on writers as either Architects verses Gardeners have given me much to ponder.

If there was one downside at all to World Con, it would be that it’s just increased my to-read authors list by many orders of magnitude. Always better too many than too few, right?

Full Immersion

I’m at the end of Day Two of World Con, trying (and failing) to come up with any coherent thoughts that would express, even minimally, how productive these two days have been. Productive and exhausting, both mentally and physically.

My right hand, for instance, has one hell of a cramp. I haven’t taken so many notes since I was in high school. I’ve put in a solid dent into the Moleskine notebook I have dedicated just to World Con and I’ve already killed the first of my pens, ruining the nerd-esque color-coding I had planned. I have blisters blossoming on my feet. My back has only just begun recovery from the twisting depravity that was the 10-hour bus ride here. After surviving on only two hours of actual sleep on my red-eye trip, I managed to make it through the first day of panels until the evening, where I had to crash with the comfort of two liquid gel painkillers. But that was the worst of it, so it’s not too bad.

Our quiet, non-party hotel isn’t; there is a massive, multi-night French rock festival happening literally outside on the corner. Strangely, perhaps because it isn’t in english, it’s not keeping either myself or my roommate up. And the beds are sinfully comfortable. That never hurts. Tonight may be different. We’re clearly on a hard rock, Fracophone Metallique style. May require headphones.

But the Con itself. My god. Everything I could have hoped for. In some cases, too much. I pour over the convention panel schedule, highlighter in hand, and my thoughts run from “When am I going to eat?” to “Those evil fuckers!” In some time slots there are, no word of a lie, five panels that if they were back to back instead of simultaneous I would happily dedicate the entire day to attending each one and leave feeling completely satisfied. Instead, I must pick one and only one, and then do it all over again each and every hour that follows. I could go to this same Con five times and get an entirely different experience out of it each time.

And as for the writers themselves, so far I’ve managed to attend panels with Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, and Nancy Kress — all of whom make my inner fangirl squeal. (Okay, my outer fangirl, too.) I also got to listen in to a live taping of Writing Excuses, one of my favorite podcasts. I’m not doing the signing thing, though, for practical reasons. I did not have the ability to lug significant quantities of books to the convention to get signed nor do I have the money to purchase new books to be signed and then brought home. I have already bought too many new books and must resist the urge to purchase books 2, 3 and 4 (of 6!!!) of the new Roger Zelazny collection. In fact, the logistics of how I’m going to bring them home have already hit me and I pray to whatever gods there are that the bus ride heading back is not packed body-to-body as the one coming here was for the selfish reason that I will need the extra seat.

Tired, but in the happiest sort of way. And there are still two days left!

More commentary to come when I am lucid. Which may not be until Monday afternoon.

Other Peoples Stories

Just finished getting my mind blown away by Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. When I read Snow Crash, it was a revelation, yet The Diamond Age handedly surpassed my already high expectations. There is so much happening, so many good and interesting and deep extrapolations, not just with technology, but with culture, too. Your mind is left full for days, weeks, past what other perfectly fine books offer. I would love to take a peek at his process, see how he writes his books. So much happens, and so much world-building. I couldn’t imagine not having a book bible as big as a room, and if he does it all in his head — my god, I can’t imagine it.

But I loved reading it. I don’t know if he’s going to World Con. It would be amazing, but I can find no confirmation of this. Hope springs eternal, though.

In the meantime, I am reading The Gunslinger by Stephen King with the hopes of finishing it before World Con. This book isn’t from my to-read pile; it’s part of a cultural exchange. I’ve been begging and begging Todd to read A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. He’s loved the dark storytelling of HBO’s Deadwood and Rome and with HBO beginning work on adapting Martin’s series, I’ve been pushing him to read it. In retribution, I must at least read the beginning of King’s Dark Tower series, and so I am committed. I want to (and should be able to) finish it before World Con because I don’t want to bring any books with me. Irony? No. I am sure I will be buying books when I am there and I want to keep my baggage light. Instead I plan to put my various e-book reader programs to the test during the long ride there. I might even buy a book off of e-Reader, not just read one of the freebie SF downloads for Stanza I’ve managed to find.

Anywho. Working on the novel right now. Not happy with my default choices for where the action of the scene takes place. I know the content of the actions, the verbal fight my character will have with her mentor, but not where to put it. This is becoming a procrastination wall. Yet no shorter a wall because it is self-made.

Maybe I’ll just write the dialogue until it hits me where the hell I should have it take place. I mean, I have a back up idea, but it’s boring. I’m going through that right now, hating the book and then finding it strangely compelling. Rasifrasm.

PS: Only 8 days until World Con!