Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gay Beltaine

Beltane is coming up, with all its "Tra-la, It's May!" imagery.

If you do an image search on Pinterest for "beltane" or "beltaine" you get lots of saucy pictures of white folks dressed in scanty scraps of green, with crystals or elk horns stuck on their foreheads. Or you get suggestively posed trees. There's some maypole dancing, and a few folks jumping over flames. Oh, yeah; and deely-bopper-anteneaed flower fairies.

If you do an image search for "gay beltane" or "gay beltaine" you get _nothing_. Not even gym-queens in Pan drag. Same thing for "lesbian beltane" and "LGBT beltane." Granted, this is Pinterest and not the whole internet. But still, it reflects the heteronormativity of the Neo-pagan community.

I've always had difficulties squaring homosexuality with mainstream Neo-pagan celebrations of Beltaine because attempts to do so seem like simple token substitutions (http://johnburridge.blogspot.com/2009/02/why-im-solitary-neo-pagan.html). To be fair, my latest Google search did bring up an interesting ritual exploring the erotic relationship between the Greenman and the Horned God as a metaphor for the interconnectivity of as the plant kingdom and the as the animal kingdom. ... and then it turned into a discussions of the symbolic roles of tops and bottoms.

Turning away from the internet, when I think of this time, I tend to not think in terms of Beltane and more in terms of it being The Ides of Spring: the purifying balance-point between the new beginnings of the Spring Equinox and the transformations of the Summer Solstice. For me, the male divinity of this festival manifests as an attractive man, drumming, with flowers or a wreath in his hair. I like the custom of jumping over a fire, or passing between two fires as a kind of purification--and a ritual circle of scantily-clad men drumming together around a roaring bon-fire for purification would be enchanting. And hot.

Thinking about the ritual and the erotic energy connected to this festival, I can't help think about boundaries and taboo--which circles around again to purification. And then I get conflicted thinking about how to share this kind of festival with my family. I know balancing body- and sex-positive ritual with family-friendly ritual is an on-going debate within the NeoPagan community, and it gets even more complicated in a mixed-faith family. I imagine some Neo-Pagan families get a babysitter for the "adult" rituals.

Beltane Babysitter. Now there's a story idea.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mid-Spring Sickness

Monday morning I woke up to write and writing went OK for about twenty minutes before I realized I was writing extra slowly and I wasn't feeling so well. Rumbling guts called me away from the keyboard. By breakfast time, I had lost my appetite. Mark usually makes oatmeal--when I brought the spoon to my lips, the oatmeal tasted bitter and wrong.

I stayed home from work on the theory that telecommuting would allow for less obtrusive bathroom breaks.

I wish I could blame the pollen for this, but something's wrong because tea this morning feels unappetizing. I had very little yesterday, and we'll see how far I get on half of what I normally have by now. I'm hoping there are no caffeine-withdrawal headaches involved.

At the very least, this gives me material for characterization.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writing with the Sphinx

The last two days, the morning sunlight has shone on our garden sphinx, turning her stoney countenance rosey. When it happened yesterday, I looked up from writing and it seemed as if a person in an Egyptian headdress crouched amidst the squill and Portuguese laurels.

I almost went out in my bathrobe with a camera. But then I decided that I would consine the vision to memory. I have pictures of the sphinx already, and they never quite turn out the way I see them in my mind's eye. Besides, sometimes Mark accuses me of living behind a camera.

And, if I was photographing the sphinx, I wouldn't be writing, which was the reason I was stumbling about before dawn in the first place.

This morning the rising sun performed its magic again. This time I noticed the cherry blossoms scattered on the lawn. I almost photographed her again. But as the shone moved and highlighted different features, I looked up at her between working on the current short story. Which was stubbornly being difficult.

The characters did something unexpected and threw my outline out, which meant I had to stop writing and try to follow where they were going. I've gotten into a bad habit of editing in my head while I write, which slows down the transcription process. And when the characters take an unexpected turn, it slows the word count further. I know several folks who just write whatever comes out and then go back and edit and revise later; supposedly this is faster than dealing with the word buffer in my head.

And now the Day Jobbe calls...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oh What A Lovely Morning

The cherry tree out back is blooming. Mark thinks it looks like some silly Dr. Seuss tree, but I kind of like it for the soft pink color it brings to the yard. Mark likes the tree a little later in the season, when it has leaves and provides shade. Still no blooming irises yet, but they're putting up their swords of leaves and I expect we'll see their purple flags blooming in a few weeks.

I'm still thinking a little about last weekend's character workshop.

This morning when I dragged myself out of bed to write, I found that the main story I was attempting to work on was defying me. It was annoying, because I'd tried to set everything up the evening before by leaving Scivener open with the words "this is the scene where they escape the Voivode" along the top. The Big Clue that this wasn't working were the lines and lines of "It was a dark and stormy night" and "I want tea." So I switched to the character scene I worked on at the workshop. I got a little farther, but it became obvious to me that I was not in a writing groove.

I guess some days are like that. I think some of the difficulty was that the previous night's sleep wasn't the best for various reasons. I'm trying to be serene about times like this, when I set out upon the path and stupid little things come to test my resolve (and I fail). I'm sure there's a seven of something tarot card that I should be looking at this morning.

And now, off the The Day Jobbe.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writer Thou Shalt Nots

One of the conversations that came up during the Clarion Day Workshop was how critique groups sometimes become rule-based, and they start to develop lists of Things A Writer Shouldn't Do. A writer shouldn't use flashbacks because it slows the plot and confuses the reader. A writer shouldn't start a story with dialogue.

This is incomplete advice which leads to auto-pilot critique and writing. The complete advice is There Are Things A Writer Shouldn't Do Poorly. For example, poor flashback use will confuse a reader, but skillful use of it will make a story work.

The take-away reminder is that a skillful writer can break the rules.

Another gem of advice that I was reminded about was how good writing is like walking on a narrow plank. My personal plank is the details plank: fall off it one way, and the story is buried what I call Tolkien Sclerosis; fall off the other way and the reader can't see the scene on the page or gets confused because the writer has assumed knowledge on the reader's part. One other dichotomy was when to use internal exposition verses character dialog to bring a reader up to speed about the story's situation. Go too far one way, and the characters are having flashbacks in the middle of sword fights; go to far the other way and the characters are having "as you know, Bob" dialog.

Post Clarion Mini-Workshop

I'm on the train after attending a Clarion one-day workshop on character.

What I learned.

1. I write slowly. I think I am editing in my head too much. The remedy for this is to not use the backspace key and instead hit return and recast the sentence the way I want it. Then go back and revise. I was blown away with how much good content people created in short amount of time.

2. It's common for science-fiction and fantasy writers to be good at world-building and writing plots, but not so good at writing characters. Insert "'Tolkien's Women' Essay Joke" here.

3. My particular approach to writing characters is to draw a picture of them, what they're wearing, and any objects or tools they may be using in the story. And then sort of fine-tune the character depiction with an increasing number of approximations. I need to supplement this method with a concisely written set of character traits, character goals, and author goals for the character so I'm not staring at a picture--instead of writing--trying to divine the character as if it were a tarot card. It will help when I'm returning to a manuscript later.

4. Good characterization is layered. Add the layers during revision. The most common writer errors are defaulting to the writer's vocabulary and observations, and having a character observe things because the plot demands it. During revision look at how word choice, character observation, a character's interpretation of observations, and character's vocabulary reveal character on a word by word basis.

So.

Practice, practice, practice. Which means discipline going to bed early so I can have discipline getting up extra early to have solid, consistent blocks of writing time.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Seattle Writing

It's 5:30 AM and I'm sitting on the Amtrak Cascades writing. Well, OK. Blogging. I'm on my way to a Clarion Workshop in Seattle. It's a short one-day session on Sunday that I'm hoping will help me think about characters more effectively.

The trip to Seattle should be fun, although the conductor has warned us that there's some sort of baseball game and that the (relatively) empty car will fill to capacity once we get to Tacoma. So I should probably write now while I have the luxury of a table to myself. (And while the wi-fi is still good.)

Linda, an old Reed Psychology friend, is planning to meet me at the station, and we'll catch up. I will try to connect with other Seattle friends at Olympic Pizza this evening.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Anxiety Elevator of the North

Last night I had a strange mashup of dreams.

What had started out as a kind of house inspection turned into a party and then a ritual. This involved me standing in a knee-deep circular pool of water and spinning like dervish.

Then.. At one point I was waiting for an elevator. Elevators in my dreams are usually bad things--they pulse up and down between floors after their doors open, which makes them difficult to enter or exit. Or they have difficulties getting to the top floor or the bottom floor; it's as if they have two floors they want to go to, two-and-a-half and nine-and-three-quarters. And there's always the possibility that they'll plunge to the bottom of the shaft at any moment.

This elevator was slightly different. It was more a personal lift. As the doors opened, a recorded female voice chimed, "Mind the gap." I should have been suspicious when the elevator floor, which was a square metal grate, was still inching up a little below the level of the corridor. I hopped in without thinking that this was a dream elevator. The elevator shaft was shiny metal and the metal grate sped up little. There were no buttons I could see on the inside, and square shaft was only about three feet wide.

Then it reached the end of the shaft. This was a kind of iron trap door. I had a second where I thought I might be smooshed between the door and grate, but I got it open. The trap door opened in the middle of a field. And the the platform grate kept going. The shiny metal shaft telescoped out of the ground with me looking out of the top.

I slid down the inside of the shaft before it fell over. I'm going to sidestep the obvious Freudian interpretation and say that this reminds me of the tarot card, "The Tower." Also, this was at the end of the ritual and it felt like some kind of earthy counterpoint to the watery dervish part earlier.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Walking and Imagination

Yesterday our Matrix was in the car shop getting maintenance. Somehow in the thick of things, we added a few more things for the garage to do, and so I was without a car for a little longer than I thought.

The result was walking. About twenty-five blocks. Luckily, there wasn't too much rain. What usually takes about eight minutes to drive takes fifty walking. Since I wasn't being pampered by automotive technology, I had to purchase sustaining chocolate donuts to nibble on every three blocks.

Walking that distance reminded me of my Grandma Agnes. She was a farmstead girl in 1920, and she walked to school along an lumberjack trail and through a pasture holding a bull. I wonder what sort of thoughts went through her head as she walked--I imagine she had conversations with her dog, Sport, or any animals she might have encountered.

When I was walking the city blocks of southern Eugene, I was thinking about the various yard plantings and garden features (OK, and the next donut). It's easy to imagine stories attached to the differing houses. Why do those folks have a fancy gate across their driveway, and do the stars and moons mean anything? Is that a haunted house and what happened to the owners? In contrast, when I'm driving, I'm listening to the radio and imagining what on earth could be motivating the driver in front of me to be driving they way that they are.

Well... speedily arriving somewhere or exercising one's imagination. To quote the Baker's Wife from "Into the Woods," why can't it be both? With chocolate.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Trimming

I restored Scrivener after a computer crash. The crash wasn't too bad; I use DropBox to sync my files between two machines. One of the first things I did was print out an manuscript. I've been working on it off and on for a while. I'm more likely to notice problems whit a manuscript when it's printed out, and this one is no exception.

The main problem with this manuscript is that the opening is clunky. I think I wouldn't have noticed if the manuscript were on the screen. Looking at a paper manuscript, I saw where the story really begins. I think there's a writing rule is called "Chekov's Razor," which states that most writers can improve a story by cutting out the first three paragraphs or -- depending on the length of the piece -- pages. It applied to this story, which is now better.




The other day was a difficult one. Some days I just feel worthless and stuck. I don't know if I'm getting the wrong amount of sleep or I'm fighting off a cold. It turns out Mark has a bug, so maybe I'm fighting it off, too.

I was talking about how I had been writing more--getting up extra early to write. But then then I got sick and then Daylight Savings started and I fell off the writing wagon. Mark's reply was to offer to poke me a 4AM.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Spring Update

I was doing so well this morning -- I managed to wake up before 6 AM, make some tea, and finish up a critique. Then I went to The Day Jobbe. This afternoon isn't going so well -- once again between little errands and lunch, I'm finding myself with little chunks of time that are akward. Somewhere between the phone ringing so a recording could try to sell me something and Scrivener suggesting a software upgrade, I realized that I wasn't going to get much done in the way of writing.

Last week I put the finishing touches on a short story that I'd like to send to Sword and Sorceress. It would be so cool to be in S&S. I guess we'll see. I'm resisting the urge to fiddle with the story, but I'll put it away for a bit and re-read it a few weeks before S&S opens and see if I like it as much as I do now.

The current short story I'm working on has been an off-again, on-again affair. I'm a little embarrassed by how long I've had it sitting around. I guess it's not that long a time, and I have gone on to some other projects. Still, there is a little voice in my head reminding me that a better practice would be to work on one thing at a time and finish projects once I start them.

In other writing news, I'm excited to be attending a Clarion one-day workshop in the middle of April. It's focusing on character development. I have about three stock characters that I seem to be re-writing (one who keeps showing up in my published stories), and I'd like to be able to write a variety. I tend to be strong in world-building, language, and in interesting ideas, but my characters don't seem to be as well fleshed out.



In other news, we hope to be adding a deck to the side of our house.

Last year we replaced a large window with a sliding glass door and spent the summer bouncing out of the house onto a small round trampoline. And into the house off of the trampoline. And in once case bouncing into the screen door instead of into the house.

We're looking forward to the deck. It will make going into the backyard easier--currently we have to troupe through the garage--and it will be nice to have an "extra" room.