matociquala: (criminal minds bad shirt brigade)

(reposted from Patreon)


Above, a photo of three adolescent kittens. Please ignore the background clutter: it's an actual picture of my actual bedroom 30 seconds ago, unretouched except for a little color correction, complete with the clean sheets I didn't manage to get on the bed yesterday.

The goofy tuxedo cleaning his toes is Duncan; the elegant blue blending into my robe is Gurney. They're littermates.

I want to talk about the vigilant little tortoiseshell on the footboard.

Her name is Molly, and she's a little over a month older than the boys, but two pounds smaller. She came home with them because when she came into rescue, she was housed with them as a near-agemate, and the three of them have bonded like true sibs; there is washing, and chasing, and spatting.

The difference is, while the boys somehow wound up in a shelter and from there eventually a rescue, they obviously had good mothering and good human socialization. They know how to play without using their claws; they have a number of vocalizations that they use liberally with humans; their favorite game is fetch.

Molly is a semi-feral who was netted on a street in New Jersey and got very, very lucky to find her way into the same crate with her foster brothers and eventually on to my nice warm bed--rather than being euthanized.

She's almost always vigilant; her head is on a swivel, and even when she's napping she almost never completely relaxes. She's difficult to approach and will only sometimes tolerate human contact, and she needs to be in control of the interaction.

In human terms, she's anxious and on the defensive all the time.

Some of this is genetic, of course; she's pretty obviously got at least one feral parent, and she'll never be the sack of comfortable snores her brothers can be.

Some of it is the kitty equivalent of PTSD. She's been traumatized, and she knows that everything can vanish under her in seconds, and she might have no control about where she lands.

The boys are rambunctious, bold, and while they're both very athletic, one of them--Duncan--has a real tendency toward getting himself into scrapes he needs to be rescued from. He doesn't follow the rules of parkour very well, and he doesn't always know how to get out of what he's gotten himself into. (Gurney generally has a plan. Duncan is like KOWABUNGA IT'LL WORK OUT SOMEHOW.)

Molly always has a plan. Molly has three plans. In addition to her plans, Molly has two escape routes, and she's prepared to fight for her life if they don't work out.

The boys crash and bang and stampede all over the house. Molly moves on little ghost feet, in doorways and around the edges of rooms.

Molly acts like she works in the publishing industry.

Specifically, she acts like a writer (or any artist, probably) who's forced to confront the realities of making a living in a field with wildly inconsistent rewards and quite a few punishments, and doing it through the means of stripping out all her fears and vulnerabilities and waving them around for people to be entertained by (or not) and to judge (and quite possibly publicly disdain.)

I know so many anxious writers.

Hell, I'm an anxious writer. Coming back from a really messy, crippling bout with it right now, actually, and currently have the upper hand, but let's not talk about the latter half of 2015, and almost all of last year.

I have so many brilliant friends who are anxious about what they are writing about, or the quality of what they are writing, or showing their writing to other people, or whether the internet will fall on their heads no matter what they do, or even being able to write at all... and it pisses me off, this anxiety (and my anxiety, which manifests in I HAVE NOTHING USEFUL TO SAY AND I AM SAYING IT POORLY SO WHY BOTHER) because it robs the world--and selfish me--of so much good art I could be enjoying otherwise.

I wish I could take all of their anxiety and roll it up in a ball and ship it to those guys who spend a lot of time stomping around the internet fussing about how the world doesn't understand their genius and plotting ways to game award processes. Except I know that that's anxiety, too.

It's a way some people deal with it--by seeking validation any way they can, and blustering if their self-image isn't constantly reinforced. Just a some people deal with it by internalizing and eating themselves away, or being paralyzed into being unable to write or unable to submit, or withdrawing, or--my favorite, and the most subtle of all!--pulling themselves back from their art, no longer being honest and making themselves vulnerable through it, and creating something more facile than true.

What's the answer?

I don't know.

I suspect everybody has to find their own solution, because everybody's anxiety manifests in a different way.

I've dealt with it recently by getting angry and sad enough that I feel like I have something to say that's worth saying, and reminding myself that it's better said poorly than not said at all. I've dealt with it by (with the help of my spouse [hello, spouse!]) making space to work early in the day, when I am relaxed and not yet feeling the press of worries and duties of the day.

I've dealt with it by bulling through, but that doesn't work in the long run. I've dealt with it through medication, which does, sort of, but you still have to use the respite to get to the underlying issues. I've dealt with it by figuring out what I was afraid of, and remembering that--like Molly (remember Molly? This is a post about Molly)--I have lived through worse.

Also, you know, this is my job. And I love it. And I'm doing it to the best of my ability, which is pretty damned well, actually, because I am good at my job.

And I am entitled to my voice, and to the space to speak out with that voice. My falling silent will not, in fact, in any way improve the commons or its diversity. It will rather diminish that.

People don't have to choose to listen to me, but they have no right to tell me not to speak.

And if people are unhappy with my books, they can write their own damn books.

I'm sure as hell not stopping them. They shouldn't let their anxieties stop them, either.

Molly doesn't need anybody. She, unlike her brothers, can take care of most things herself.

But here's the thing: they're noisy little guys. They talk to me, their toys, birbs, bugs on the ceiling, each other.

I've only heard Molly vocalize (other than a defensive hiss) on two types of occasions, and until this morning, it was only one. If she is somewhere else in the house and doesn't know where her brothers and Scott and I are, she will pause in her explorations sometimes and emit a perfect little "Meow?" or two until somebody says--in cat or human--"Molly, we're over here."

And this morning, she was sleeping on my feet, and was startled awake by a boy-noise in the hall. She sat bolt upright like a little meercat, front legs dangling, the better to survey the situation.

And while she was sitting there on my feet, she emitted a little, muttering growl, as if to say, "This is my spot, and I will fuck you up if you come for me here."

Molly may be anxious, but she also has something to say, and she apparently has a platform to say it from.

If a six pound semiferal kitten with PTSD can manage it, so can we.
matociquala: (ascii frog by Jean Seok)
(Reposted from Patreon)

The caper in this caper story I'm writing kind of vanished.

I had too many genre savvy characters who went, oh it's a caper, and got on with their lives.  So now it's more of a character-driven adventure, without all the who's-zooming-who.

I got stuck three times writing the first thirty pages of it, went back and started over, and you know, it just didn't want to go into the shape I had planned. Eventually, I decided I would rather have a finished story than the story I had planned on it being, and got with the program. Now I'm averaging six pages a day and expect a draft before the New Year.

Stories are kind of like relationships. You can try to force them to be a thing, and break them, and make everybody wind up unhappy.

Or you can let them be what they are, and enjoy them, and realize that sometimes you have to let go of your control issues and let things just be.

matociquala: (genuine risk)
Here is thing I learned when I was 29, which I now give away for free:

If you want to do a thing, do it now, or as soon as feasible. Because there might not be a later.

If it is a complicated or expensive or hard thing that takes many stages or has a steep learning curve, start working on the parts you can work on while you can work on them, then move on to the next thing. Accept that there will be a lot of failures along the way, and that you can come back from nearly any mistake that doesn't involve making a left turn in front of an oncoming semi. Concentrate on yourself and what you can do, and don't rely on other people to fix things for you, even though you might love them or they you. (This doesn't mean you can't love friends or family or partners. Friends and family and partners, in the long run, are the thing other than Useful Work and Adventures that make life worthwhile. Well, all that, and a really nice coffee and tea kit in the kitchen and the skill to use it. But that last thing isn't terribly expensive unless you make it be.)

But to succeed at a thing--a job, a relationship--in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary. And commitment is scary because once you're in you're in. It's not bobbing around close to the shore, paddling with your feet. It's both feet and swimming as hard as you can out where the rip currents and the sharks are, where the water turns blue.

You can't hold back because you're afraid of getting hurt: you have to accept that you are going to get hurt, and put your hand in the fire of your own free will.

It's like climbing. You can make sure you've got good ropes and a belayer you trust (you SHOULD make sure you have good ropes and a belayer you trust!), but there's moves you can't make unless you're willing to risk falling. I'm not saying follow your bliss off a cliff, in other words: part of being prepared and committed is having the right kit, whether it's money in the bank for the lean times when starting off as a freelancer, or a partner who supports your work, or being young enough that starving in a cold room for a few years with pneumonia is romantic (I have the T-shirt!).

That's why it's scary. It's scary because you are taking an actual chance.

But: things don't work out the way you want them to if you just kind of drift along seeing what will happen. Nice things might happen! ...but they didn't, for me.

Basically, what I figured out was that I had to be a protagonist if I wanted anything to happen, and part of being a protagonist was accepting that I might fail. And then have to deal with that failure. And that if I didn't do it I would more or less inevitably fail, but I could pretend to myself that it wasn't because I wasn't good enough and that I didn't know why.

Seeking success, in other words, meant letting go of a layer of ego defense.

This realization directly led to me having the career I always wanted, and doing pretty well at it.

It also led to me having the best relationship of my life. I wish I'd learned it when I was sixteen, rather than twenty-nine, but I had some things I had to work through first.

So that thing you want to do? Assuming it’s not illegal or immediately fatal? Do it now.
matociquala: (criminal minds gideon murder before coff)
Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is authenticity, finding your voice, finding your self. And it's such a tricky topic--in art as it is in life. Because we all have aspirations (I hope we all have aspirations!): better selves, the person who we want to be, the change we want to see in the world. The artist we want to become.

I'm a terrible guitarist and singer. I do it for fun, and I refuse to take it terribly seriously, because I know what happens when I take art seriously: it starts to become a stressor, a thing I worry and fret about, a thing I become perfectionist over. But I still like doing it, and I still practice new things, and I have some vague aspirations to take singing lessons when I'm doing a little less traveling.

I did not, however, really learn to sing at all until I was in my late thirties. And a lot of this was because I didn't learn to stop struggling with the voice I thought I should have (I wish I had a lovely, smoky contralto) and be comfortable with my own voice until then. (I have a very high singing voice, and I don't like it very much. But I like singing, so I work with what I have, I suppose.) I kept trying to make my voice into something that it wasn't, into what I thought it ought to be, and that prevented me from working with what I did have and making it better.

This principle applies to writing, as well. And, well, life. You have a voice, as an artist and as a human being. That voice is part of who you are, and it's comprised of your core beliefs, your internalizations, your hopes and dreams and influences and experiences.

You can develop it. You can make it better. But until you find it--until you find that authentic voice, and accept it, and begin working on making it stronger and trusting it and letting it shine through--you will always sound artificial and affected. 

And there's a reason we call it "finding your voice," and not "creating your voice." The voice is there. Whatever it is, you are stuck with it. So you might as well learn to like it, and work with it, and improve it.

And when broadened out to life, this involves being who you are, rather than who you think you ought to be.

And sometimes that's hugely painful or difficult, especially when we've been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it's all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it's risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it's also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)

That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being--and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.

And it's tricky! It's so tricky! Because it involves determining what is an unrealistic desire for a thing we aren't (I want to be a contralto) but not accepting limits that don't have a foundation is reality, but only in our own fears and risk-aversion (I don't have a voice at all and shouldn't try to sing). 

That learning process is part of the path to authenticity. And authenticity and saying what you mean and observing honestly, inside and out, is where we find art. Actual art.

And I think it's also part of the way out of anxiety, because anxiety arises from internal conflict (fear vs. desire, or incompatible desires, or desire vs. obligation). And if we don't learn who we really are and what we really have to say, we can't make honest art, and we can't actually accept ourselves and learn to sing as best we can with what we have.

Because we're too busy trying to imitate somebody else, or be what somebody else expects us to be, or be what we've been trained to believe we ought to be.

This is also, a lot of the time, when we're wasting a lot of energy trying to control somebody else's life or choices or art, because is we are insecure in our own choices, we feel challenged when somebody else makes a different choice, and we thus try to invalidate the thing that challenges us. Denial is a hell of a drug. The classic example, of course, is the unhappily married person trying to matchmake all of their friends. Or the guy who complains about books that have adverbs in them, because they have internalized some weird advice from some book on writing that you should never use an adverb.

Relax. Smoke an adverb if you have one.

It's all good.
matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)
1500 words today on the welves, give or take. And I've been engaged in the auctorial pastime of updating my honeydew lists... and having one of those self-indulgent moments where it feels like it might actually be under control.

One of the things I've been meaning to chat about is the tendency of writers, and creative people in general, to really shit hard on themselves and their work. Stop me if this sounds familiar: Nothing you do is ever good enough; no daily wordcount is ever enough; no recognition is deserved...

Stop it.


Stop trash-talking yourself over your art.

That kind of unrelenting self-criticism is one of the best ways to (a) make it harder to work (human beings, like all mammals, respond to being punished by not wanting to do that particular thing again) and (b) eventually break your own creativity, if you keep it up for long enough.

There are enough people in the world who will tell you that anything you do is not up to their standards. No matter what you do, and no matter how hard you work at it.

Try giving yourself a cookie for good behavior now and again, instead. It works for pretty much everything.

We reward the behavior we want to see more of.

If you want to be more creative, don't punish your creativity. Reward it.

travel and appearances 2014:

October 31-November 2, 2014: ICON: Iowa City, Iowa (Guest of Honor with Scott)
November 14-16, 2014: Windycon: Lombard, Illinois (Guest of Honor with Squeecast)


Tiptree reading and judging

An Apprentice to Elves: Autumn 2014
"Gallowglas":  31 December 2014


story and ap content for Worldspinners: January 31, 2015

The Stone in the Skull:
September, 2015
Ancestral Night: February 2016
The Red-Stained Wings: March 2017
White Space #2: August 2017
The Origin of Storms: September 2018

Appearances 2015:

February 13-15: Boskone (Boston MA)
March 13-15: Tucson Festival of Books (Tucson AZ)
April 2-5: Minicon (Minneapolis MN)
May 9: CAPA U Writer's Workshop (Hartford CT)
June 25-28: 4th Street Fantasy (Minneapolis MN)
July 2-6: CONvergence (Minneapolis MN)
August 19-23: Sasquan (2015 Worldcon) (Spokane WA)
October 8-12: NYCC (NY NY)
October 18-24: Viable Paradise Writer's Workshop (Oak Bluffs MA)
November 4-8: World Fantasy Convention (Saratoga Springs NY)

No fixed deadline:

Smile (unless its name is actually Salt Water)
The Poison Tower
Unsuitable Metal
Patience and Fortitude

Untitled Gangland Urban Fantasy That Keeps Bugging Me
Untitled Bard troll story

"Tall Ships Go"
"A Time to Reap"
"Posthumous Jonson"
"On Safari in R'lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera" (It finally grew a plot!)
"Persephone Takes the A Train"

matociquala: (spies mfu goodliest outside napoleon)
I totally just did a tripod headstand with no spotter and no wall. This physical fitness thing is really awesome.

(Scott took the photo. Because he is tolerant. And he's been spotting me since last year some time while I practiced. He is a patient soul.)

I have not been this geeked about a yoga accomplishment since wheel pose. (Proper crow was pretty exciting too, I admit. And handstands, even though I still use a wall and cheat to get up. And bound side angle. But wheel was the best! And so is this. Exhilarating. Success, when you have worked for it, is the greatest thing in the world.)

You practice and practice and accept that you're never going to get it and you fall over a lot and then one day it happens and it's actually easy. Easy-ish. Easier than you expected. Much easier than the practicing made it seem like it would be.

I was thirty years old before I learned how to learn things. Nobody has ever taught me. Either I could do things or I couldn't, and there was never anybody who explained to me that no, you have to study. You have to fail. And keep failing better (and trying different things and researching and stuff) until you're not failing any more.

It was writing novels that taught me this, by the way. Because I never could. And then eventually I just kept trying long enough and did. Then I wrote four more, and sold one.

Reader, I had an epiphany. Stuff doesn't just happen or not happen. I mean, some of it does. But some of it happens because you keep doing hard things long enough to learn the knack of it, and then it's less hard.

Writing novels is exactly the same thing as running thirteen miles, or doing a headstand, or learning how to cook.

And I'm better at this stuff at 41 than I was at 14. It's amazing how useful it is to know how to learn things.

Also, damn, have I got some spinal erectors going on. Let's hear it for deadlifts, boys and girls.

Now to work on my form.
matociquala: (criminal minds reid runs like a girl)

On Endurance:

She got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

She got to get behind the mule
In the morning and plow.

--Tom Waits

Last night I wrote 4000 words. Today, I ran twelve miles.

These two activities are not really dissimilar. They require good prep, training, proper rest and nutrition, and they're the sort of feats that become destructive if repeated on a daily basis, unless you are some kind of Eddie Izzard freak of nature. (Seriously. Eddie Izzard. Fucking amazing.

It wasn't easy, and actually on the run, I pushed myself a bit too far. I've run 11.4 miles before (I'm training for a half marathon in March) but apparently there is some kind of two-hours-of-intense-exercise time limit on my body) with no ill effects other than muscle soreness, but despite the fact that I really felt like I was ready for this, the last half mile was a series of negotiations with myself along the lines of "We're doing this with or without you, meat, so you may as well get on board and help push." And I suffered a fair amount of nausea and GI distress after I got home, which is just about gone four hours later.

My requisite post-run snack was a challenge to get down, I will tell you that. And I am going to be seriously under for calories today.

Oh, well. Except for yoga, tomorrow is a rest day.

But there was a whole long part where I was running with a tailwind beside a leaden lake, half-thawed and tossing in that stiff breeze, and I felt like I could run forever. The same stride I hit yesterday in my writing, where I was just cruising along, crushing page count. In a few minutes, I'm going to have to get to work on today's writing obligation. It won't be an endurance event like yesterday's outing, just an easy eight pages or so.

But that's another thing. When I was running two miles regularly, running two miles seemed really hard. Now it's a pleasant quick run, over before I'm really warmed up. Even four miles is perfectly comfortable now.

Writing eight pages doesn't seem bad when you wrote twenty the day before.

Your body and mind adapt to what you expect of them, and it helps to get better performance out of them overall when occasionally you push them past the point of comfort. You get faster by running faster, even beyond what's comfortable. You get more efficient and creative as an artist by pushing your boundaries, by expecting more of yourself. Not necessarily more pages, though I think sometimes it's very satisfying to blow it out and see just what you can accomplish, but more ideas, more craft, more technique, more characterization, more beautiful language.

Any personal trainer will tell you that if you repeat the same workout over and over again, your body adapts to it and you stop improving. You stop benefiting. To continue to gain you have to push yourself to do things that are a little uncomfortable. A little too hard.

But you also have to know your limits. Because if you push yourself to the point of exhaustion every day, all you get is diminishing returns. Your body and mind get weaker, worn down--not stronger, fiercer, sharper, more capable.

It would be fucking stupid, in other words, for me to go out again tomorrow and try to run another twelve miles. I'd hurt myself. Perhaps seriously.

I mean, my goal is that by March, this exercise (which today I found exhausting) will be--if not trivial--well within my abilities. It had better be, because I have to run thirteen miles, not just twelve.

But next week, I only have to run nine and a half on my long run. Which is still strenuous, but will seem pretty luxurious by comparison to today.

Writing a novel is a lot like training for a marathon. It demands endurance and consistency, but also--brains need a balance of activity and rest. Creativity needs time to work. Of course, I do this for a living, which means creativity also has to work to a schedule or I go hungry, and I also inconvenience a lot of people. But the mind, like the body, needs nourishment and downtime.

I could not have done what I did today without a serious breakfast, nutrition and hydration along the way (dried apricots and Mott's fruit snacks are my poison of choice), and I could not do it again later if I didn't get protein and carbs in my head afterwards. Likewise, I can't create if I don't consume--art, the world, information in all its forms.

People sometimes ask why on earth I would run--why I would tolerate the discomfort and inconvenience. It's because, for me, having a fit body that can meet my demands and sometimes even exceed my expectations is a greater pleasure than sitting on the sofa eating ice cream. Which is not to say that I don't sit on the sofa eating ice cream, because you bet your ass I do. And drinking bourbon, too, on occasion. I don't love running--but I love how easy it makes it to do other things that I do love.

It's a question of opportunity cost. Writing books is hard and sometimes uncomfortable too, but I do that maybe sixty hours a week and I only run about four or five. The rewards of both are evident--a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of well-being. And at the end, I have something to show for it, which is pretty awesome too.

matociquala: (david bowie realism _ truepenny)
So if for some incomprehensible reason you are a creative person who does not follow Warren Ellis' blog, here are some posts on the process of creating a new project with Mike Oeming (of Powers fame).

Half Moon with Mike Oeming: First Notes
Half Moon: New concept art
Half Moon: zeroing in

Seriously. I'm not sure what these posts are doing to my amygdala, but it's important.


I got nothing. I'm trying to figure out the plot for "Underground" and enjoying the post-novel ennui.

I actually have had some of those them there epiphanies about creative work lately, and I feel like I'm edging up on something important. All of it is stuff I knew--or know--but it's all somehow clicked together in a new shape, in that way that koans do when you achieve a new level of understanding.

I've been thinking about the necessity of writing your passion, and about how you have to not be scared of the story--even though the only stories worth telling are the ones that are terrifying. Because the truth is scary. I'm also thinking of the necessity of this thing I don't quite have words for: it's like "tell the truth but tell it slant," but that's not quite it. And it's also that the specific is universal, but the general is didactic.

And it's also about letting go of stories, and letting them be what they are, rather than what I wanted them to be.

And trusting them, I guess, to be what they are.

Maybe this is unconscious competence finally sneaking up on me?


Or it could just be that I'm getting lazy....
matociquala: (david bowie realism _ truepenny)
So if for some incomprehensible reason you are a creative person who does not follow Warren Ellis' blog, here are some posts on the process of creating a new project with Mike Oeming (of Powers fame).

Half Moon with Mike Oeming: First Notes
Half Moon: New concept art
Half Moon: zeroing in

Seriously. I'm not sure what these posts are doing to my amygdala, but it's important.


I got nothing. I'm trying to figure out the plot for "Underground" and enjoying the post-novel ennui.

I actually have had some of those them there epiphanies about creative work lately, and I feel like I'm edging up on something important. All of it is stuff I knew--or know--but it's all somehow clicked together in a new shape, in that way that koans do when you achieve a new level of understanding.

I've been thinking about the necessity of writing your passion, and about how you have to not be scared of the story--even though the only stories worth telling are the ones that are terrifying. Because the truth is scary. I'm also thinking of the necessity of this thing I don't quite have words for: it's like "tell the truth but tell it slant," but that's not quite it. And it's also that the specific is universal, but the general is didactic.

And it's also about letting go of stories, and letting them be what they are, rather than what I wanted them to be.

And trusting them, I guess, to be what they are.

Maybe this is unconscious competence finally sneaking up on me?


Or it could just be that I'm getting lazy....
matociquala: (sf doctor who meant to be?)
Today was my last jukido class for three weeks, and I am sad. (I will be on Martha's Vineyard for the next two Fridays, and my dojo does not meet there, you see.) I already miss it.

I love this class. I love it as much as I loved bellydancing, back in the day, before my bellydancing studio dissolved into a mess of toxic politics and I took the coward's way out. (i.e., I stopped showing up for class.) And that was back in 2001. It's funny; people are free to ask questions and make jokes; sensei is kind of amazing in the breadth of his knowledge; and there are very few egos on display (and those that are, are getting their edges gently chipped away by the senior blackbelts).

Today we were doing O-goshi (a hip throw) from various starting positions: front grapple and rear wrist grab, mostly, and man, I need to bend my knees more. And get more hip into it, though I'm starting to get the hang of it. (my partner said my kuzushi was good today (for, I mean, a white belt) and that was one of the better things I've heard this week.)

One of today's cooler exercises was for our partners to teach us the throw without words, and without physically positioning our bodies--just teaching by demonstration and gesture. As a kinesthetic learner, I loved that. I'm sure it was more frustrating for my uke. but she had the hard job.

I think I've mentioned that I really enjoy being a novice at martial arts. It's sort of a blessed state of innocence. Once upon a time, I would have been very ashamed of my lack of knowledge, and trying like heck to make up for it in any way possible. But now--well, sometime in my thirties I learned how to learn. And part of learning is accepting that there's a world of stuff you don't know. And that the only way to learn it is to be open to it.

Eventually I will get better at it, and have more expectations for myself. But for now, my goal is not to hurt my martner, and not to hurt myself, and to do things as well, technically, as I can. And right now, it's a nice reminder that not every aspect of my life has to be fraught with performance anxiety.

It cracks me up, sometimes, how much of sensei's philosophy-of-learning speeches sound like things that I say to my students. That what we are doing is learning techniques that are tools, suited or not suited to various situations. That the more comfortable you are with those tools, the more applications you find for them, and the greater your ease of use. That there is no perfection, only iterative attempts to get better. That learning a complex system (like a communicative art, or a martial one) is a lifetime process.

I'm also one of the older students in the class--most of them are high school students, a few college types--and that's nice too. It's an interesting reversal of the usual social power dynamic.

This is very good for my soul.

Speaking of performance anxiety, I'm still climbing down a couple of grades while waiting for my pulley tendon to heal, and that too is a nice reminder. Because I can do these climbs; I'm even good at some of them; and it reminds me of my progress in this sport in ways that I tend to forget when I'm pushing out at the edge of my ability.

I mean, it doesn't do to get sloppy and backside. But maybe in life I can accept that I do not always, always, have to be giving a hundred and fifty percent.

Although boy, I'm pretty sure that the writing will always demand that. 'Cause god, I don't want to be That Guy. You know the guy. The "I respect his early work" guy.

But, yanno. Maybe I don't have to be beating my head against the rocks of the limits of my ability every goddamned minute. Maybe once in a while I can write something fun and challenging that's not an absolute strain, and not even feel too guilty about it.

I might even wind up writing some books I like, rather than ones I can see all the places where my skill didn't quite stretch.

The trick, I guess, is to balance that with not allowing my ambition to create better art wane. Because there are also things to be learned by practicing the basics, more and more perfectly each time. There is a reason musicians play scales.
matociquala: (writing gorey earbrass unspeakable horro)
I haven't been doing a lot of writing at the big computer on my desk recently--most of that happens in my comfy chair, with the laptop--though I have been known to resort to it when stuck, or when the laptop (inevitably) dies when I am on deadline. It used to be that I only used the laptop when away from home. Funny how our patterns change over the years, isn't it? Someday I'll probably swing back in the other direction again. I get a lot of other work done here, too, and it's kind of essential that I have a backup computer.

So last night, I did battle with the forces of Russian malware, and emerged victorious. Today, I slept way late, for me--9 am--and then got up and spent two hours shoveling out my email inbox and dealing with pending issues. Maintenance work, in other words.

I guess I needed that sleep, because normally sleeping that long would leave me feeling stupid and sick all day, and today it seems to have been just about right--although it is nearly noon and I haven't managed to shower or dress or eat anything except a handful of pomegranate arils, all of which are things I should address. I fed my shoggoth last night, but forgot to make the sponge, which means that bread will be delayed until late tonight or tomorrow after my dentist's appointment. But there is other food around, and I could eat some of it. Go figure. I'll get right on that.

I think I'm processing something writing-wise, some deep issues of technique. Part of what I've been thrashing out all this year. I think I've finally gotten my prose to a level where I'm more or less happy with it--I have control of my prosody. Which has been one of my major issues for the past few years. Now, I'm moving back to thinking about how stories get told, and the most effective ways to make them both interesting and challenging--and accessible to the reader. As we have noticed before, most people's brains don't work the way mine does: I hyperintellectualize, and I'm also incredibly nonlinear. So stull that seems like obvious patterns to me isn't always, um, obvious at all to other folks.

I've been reading a lot of really brilliant older stuff lately--I just finished a Barry N. Malzberg collection, and I want to do a bunch more reading before I get back into the coal mines of novel drafting--and one thing I'm realizing is that I want to let some air into my own work. Which is not to say I want to dumb it down, any, but I think I need to keep adding levels to it, opening it up on top. Complexity and accessibility are not antithetical: they're elements that can be brought into balance and harmonized.

It's like cooking--if only one flavor predominates, you haven't made anything very delicious.

I think I got it about right in All the Windwracked Stars, honestly. It's got enough deep levels to keep me happy, and enough surfaces that it can be read entirely as an adevnture novel. And I sort of wonder, why is it that as a culture we have this tendency to assume that if something is bitter and unpleasant, it is far more likely to really be Art than if it's not? I'm not talking about fluffy-bunny stories, here. But realistically, life isn't always all that awful. If it was, no one would do it.

Anyway, for the time being, I have no plans to do any more writing just yet. I need some time off, and I have the luxury of having earned it, and so if you want me I will be under a pile of neglected books on the sofa, reading for pleasure--or what passes for it, these days. Really, it's kind of a busman's holiday. But it's still a holiday. In any case, the backbrain needs time to work out whatever it is that it's working out back there, and when it's done, it will certainly spit out all this stuff that's backlogged, and turn it into stories.

I swear, I've written a lot of posts just like this one over the years. I'm having the most intense sense of deja vu right now. Where's Laurence Fishburne when I need him? (Sorry, having a moment here. Ahem.)

Man, climbing is gonna be fun tonight, given how much my core muscles still hurt. Surprisingly, I'm in better shape than I expected--I guess I'm in pretty good condition--but my lower back is feeling all the walking around hunched over I did on Saturday.

And now I only have one more email left in my inbox, and that will require actual work, so I'd better go shower and eat something and think about the work in question.


Nov. 7th, 2007 07:28 am
matociquala: (comics invisibles king mob)
My Storytellers Unplugged column for November is up.

It's about rock climbing, and Chaz (Remember Chaz? Poor Chaz. He's turning into one of Those Characters, like Jenny and Kit.) and how writing is like everything else.

And now, I need to go to the gym and the massage therapist, and pay for falling off walls last night.
matociquala: (muppetology floyd pepper groovy)
[ profile] pecunium talks about the process of improving a photograph through cropping, color-balancing, etc, here.

This is how the editorial process works in writing, too. You have your grotty first draft, with through-line problems and false trails and misleading bits and muddy stuff and muddles and messes. And then you go over it gently and carefully, to make it precise and bright and to let it show everything it must, without showing anything it shouldn't.

Although sometimes, honestly, you just can't get the red flowers off the bottom unless you are willing to cheat.

I'm still waiting for the edit letter for Hell & Earth (this is so not getting done before WFC), but I've just gotten a preliminary note on By the Mountain Bound from [ profile] casacorona, who has a perfectly reasonable problem with the POV of the book. (It's a problem that I'm not sure I know why is happening, because I was at pains to prevent it, but there you go: sometimes what we are trying to do just doesn't work.)

So I have two potential solutions, both of which entail yet another complete rewrite of the book. One is to recast it in third person, which I am loathe to do, because of intimacy of POV--a story about three people not commicating very well, it seems to me, goes down better if they are the ones telling the story; it helps makes the miscommunications intimate and organic, rather than horrible cheap tacky romance-novel plot devices--unreliable narrator issues. (Okay, Blood & Iron has an unreliable third-person narrator, but since part of the unreliability is the third-person (it's a lie!)) Which is to say, and "I" telling you a story is, in my head, allowed to be purblind, mislead, and often just plain wrong. A "he" telling you a story--if that happens? It's the author cheating, because she sucks, and probably should have her typewriter taken away and smashed with a hammer to learn her better.

Um, yeah, I'm unreasonable about that one.

On the other hand, I'm aware that it's a gut-recoil issue and a squid, and I could probably be convinced if it's really what's best for the book. After all, I'm going to hate it by the time it's done anyway; it doesn't matter if I hate it for unreasonable reflexive issues or because I've read the motherfucking thing seventy-three times and rewritten it six. (I honestly can't even open Blood & Iron, at this point. It gives me hives to think about it.)

But before I do that, I'm going to try to sharpen up the distinctness of the voices in the first few chapters and see if that will work for Beth. I'm not actually sure what the problem is, because while the characters have similar cultural and social backgrounds (always a problem) they also each have a series of well-defined linguistic quirks and habits, and a sensory palette. But you know, I can front-load those things a bit more and see what happens. It may just need a tiny push to shift the equilibrium.

I want what's best for the novel, after all. The novel is what's important, not my own unreasonable prejudices. But I would also like a book that doesn't make me reflexively want to chop my fingers off for having written.

But first, I need to start going through Refining Fire. Because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a draft. At 56,000 words (MS word count, not manuscript count) or so.

It's a short novel, but it's a novel.

matociquala: (problem cat)
[ profile] slithytove on Ira Glass on storytelling.

Mr. Slithy is a Writers of the Future winner in his secrit other life.

Listen to him. He's smart about things.

And so is Ira Glass: "Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap... All video production...all radio production is trying to be crap." (and) "If you're not failing all the time, you're not creating a situation where you can get really lucky."

There was another artist (a musician) quoted on the radio this morning, though I didn't catch the name, who said "The deeper in I get, the further I am from the opposite shore."

And this is also true.

I am good at my job. At this point in time, I'm comfortable in saying that.

I'm not claiming to be one of the best, by any means, but I am secure in my competence to tell a story. That security only just happened recently, I should add, and it's still new and shiny and comforting. Look, I am making progress!

And I just got off a plateau that lasted years, and made everything I did a terrible, agonizing grind. Writing is often fun again lately, and that's a good thing, because barring commercial disaster, I may be stuck with it.

And the more I learn about writing? The more I learn there is to learn. If I lived to be a thousand, I might master this art form.

Then again, I might just find more stuff to learn.

What's interesting is that I can tell what the narrative portion of my brain is working on by what it fixates on. It used to fixate on what others did poorly; that passed, after a while, and now it fixates on what others do well. (And it doesn't have to be writing-related, because writing is like everything else, and one can learn from other disciplines. The current Criminal Minds fixation has a lot to do with wanting to swipe a lot of the techniques by which they handle character and self-contradicting narratives, for example, like the thing where every time a character tells some cute anecdote about his or her past, it's incredibly revealing about who they are. Hotch is the guy who picked out his future wife across a crowded room when he was sixteen, hatched a scheme to get her attention... and is still married to her now. JJ is the girl who can get a room full of FBI profilers to total buy in with an over-the-top tall tale about a slasher at a summer camp.

(So it seems my next narrative project, now that I've gotten control of my prosody, more or less, is getting control of the way I develop character. I do a lot of that unconsciously, and now my brain appears to want to get a handle on it so it can be driven where I want.)

Anyway. Back to Slithy, and Ira Glass.

I would expand, and say, all art is trying to be crap. You have to be aware of that, and keep pushing back, cutting off the bits that slide into crapdom. You have to stay on top of the crap. The crapalanche.

And as for that other thing, [ profile] buymeaclue says, if you aren't falling off, you aren't riding hard enough.


Staying within one's limits never got art made.
matociquala: (spies sandbaggers sense of occasion burn)

(or: part umpteen in an occasional series on how writing is like everything else.)

When first you undertake to train a dog, there are a lot of things you can try: dominance, fear, behavioral conditioning. But the most effective technique, in my extensive amateur experience, is that of making the dog want to be trained.

Get him working with you, and you are halfway home already.

And to do that, the very first thing you have to do is establish trust. The dog has to feel safe with you. He has to understand your limits, his limits, the relationship. He has to believe that you will behave in a consistent, predictable, and trustworthy manner. He has to believe you will not hurt or abandon him.

The way to do this is by delivering on your promises, offering consistent rewards for good behavior, and by making your expectations clear.

This is the same way we tame a reader. We lure him in with treats and romps and games of tug-a-war and snuggling on the sofa.

The second phase is attention training, For this phase, we must have come to understand our dog. You see, while we were taming the dog, encouraging him to bond with us, training him to trust--so we were coming to be tamed as well. We know him now; we know his moods and his limits. We know what he loves, and what he does not love.

We know his heart.

For every dog, there will be one ideal reward. It may be food; liver tidbits or pieces of turkey. It may be play; a tennis ball, a squeaky toy. It may be the praise of a voice or a clicker.

It may just be your hand on his neck for an instant.

To earn the dog's attention, we make sure that he knows that, at any time, we could produce that Best Treat. That we have it on us. That it's right here in our hand. And any second, we might give him a reward. We might give him a reward because he's being good and attentive, because he has come perfectly to heel, because he is lazing about by the door watching us with big eyes. There are only two rules: he doesn't get a treat when he's not paying attention, and he doesn't get a treat when he's being bad. Of course, in the process of this, we train the dog to be hyper-aware of us at all times. To be engaged and looking for his reward.

And he trains us. We become aware of the dog. We maintain that awareness always. He is with us, beside us. He's being a good dog. He gets the kind word and the pat. And we learn to be conscious of him.

The dog thinks he's training us. "When I am like this, I would like a treat." And nobody can ever have enough treats, especially if those treats are kind words.

When he is relaxed in our presence, and when we have earned his attention, then we can try some tricks. He'll work harder, because the attention itself has become the reward, because there's a joy in working together to get the job done. You'll work harder, because the dog deserves it, because his work is your reward. He'll be able to follow any course you set for him--always respecting his limits--and you'll be able to use those rewards to motivate him to try harder and harder things.

It's all about trusting each other.

matociquala: (going to hurt ivan & hunt)
You know that thing I keep saying like a broken record (there's an expression that's on its way to becoming as dated as "hoist on his own petard), how writing is like everything else?

It's got a surprising amount in common with gitar pickin', too. Specifically, [ profile] arcaedia was here for a couple of hours this afternoon (I took her out for sushi to celebrate, though I probably shouldn't say that, or all the agents will be expecting their clients to feed them) and she asked me to mutilate a couple of songs for her. So I did, more to show off the guitar than any presumed talents of my own, and she (she plays piano) mentioned that piano was easier, because you can see your hands. And I explained, no, actually, the trick with guitar is *not* to look at your hands, but let the muscle memory tell you where to put your fingers. And then I demonstrated, by playing somewhat better with my eyes closed.

And it occurs to me that this applies to writing too. So much of it is drill--teaching yourself through repetition and self-correction (which is what editing is, really) what to do and what not to do. (And it's just as easy to reinforce bad habits as good--which is one of the reasons I think reading slush is bery useful for aspiring writers, because that whole denial thing we do ["Oh, it works when *I* do it"] doesn't hold up to repeated exposure to other writers making the same amateur mistakes.) And the thing is, in some ways, it really is easier when you can internalize those skills enough that you don't have to watch yourself doing them. In other words, when you don't have to constantly look at yours hands.

(One of the tricks to juggling, by the way, is also not to watch your hands. You watch the apex of the balls' arc.)

Anyway, I was just muddling through "City of New Orleans" for the third time tonight (my neighbors must love me) and I emailed [ profile] truepenny to comment that my love for that song knows no bounds, despite the fact that there are several chord changes I just bloody skip right now, because Bm? Not so much happening any time in 2006. And I said something to the effect of that I was cheating like a cheatery cheating cheater, and she replied:

"Hey, you cheat until you're good enough not to have to."

And I realized, yanno, that goes for writing too.

There's a way you keep improving at anything, which is to keep aiming just a little beyond your ability. To keep trying to do things that are too hard, in other words. Pushing your limits.

On the other hand, if you stay on the edge all the time, it gets a bit frustrating. And you never actually accomplish anything. It's important sometimes to just play, even if you kind of suck.

Or more than kind of, really. And to find ways to circumvent your shortcomings. Even if it's just plain not playing the damned barre chords just yet.

So that's what I learned today.
matociquala: (david bowie realism _ truepenny)
So, that thing [ profile] jaylake was talking about, regarding how voice influences a narrative?

Do yourself a favor, and listen to both of these versions before watching the videos.

[20:29] [ profile] matociquala: wow.
[20:29] [ profile] matociquala:
[20:29] [ profile] matociquala: I am not sure how I feel about that.
[20:31] [ profile] stillnotbored: Bear, I think I love this
[20:32] [ profile] matociquala: I am conflicted
[20:32] [ profile] matociquala: it is... very different.
[20:33] [ profile] stillnotbored: oh it is
[20:33] [ profile] matociquala: I'm not sure that makes it bad.
[20:33] [ profile] matociquala:
[20:33] [ profile] matociquala: compare and contrast
[20:34] [ profile] stillnotbored: I'm going to revoke their right to grow their hair out
[20:34] [ profile] matociquala: The Exies?
[20:34] [ profile] matociquala: Or your characters?
[20:34] [ profile] sosostris2012: yes
[20:34] [ profile] sosostris2012: heh
[20:34] [ profile] sosostris2012: would that work as a threat?
[20:34] [ profile] stillnotbored: classic Talking Heads *g*
[20:35] [ profile] matociquala: David Byrne obviously learned to dance by watching David Bowie on coke and thinking "That's not really spazzy enough."
[20:35] [ profile] stillnotbored: lol
[20:35] [ profile] matociquala: (MY GOD! WHAT HAVE I DONE!)
[20:37] [ profile] stillnotbored: it's the same song, but so different
[20:37] [ profile] matociquala: yah
[20:37] [ profile] matociquala: Voice is everything
[20:38] [ profile] sosostris2012: I should probably watch it with sound
[20:38] [ profile] stillnotbored: oh yeah
[20:38] [ profile] matociquala: It has no bassline

matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)
If you read my blog and enjoy it (I suppose there must be people out there who read it and loathe it, given the law of averages, although I can't imagine why, on a giant internet, one would do such a thing), I'd like you all to take a moment and appreciate the fact that you all owe Rick Springfield a tremendous debt of gratitude. You see, it was Mr. Springfield who first acquainted me with the concept of narrative irony and the unreliable narrator.

Like most adolescents I was irony-blind. This is a situation that was probably exacerbated by having been raised, as previously documented, by wild lesbians, in the era when political correctness had not yet crept extensively into the mainstream, but was The Driving Force in the dyke scene. Fortunately, I recovered, probably in part due to early exposure to my matrilineal grandfather's Swedish sense of humor. (I'm a lot funnier than most of you think I am. Just ask [ profile] mrissa.)

I can still remember the penny dropping. And as I recall it, it was Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" that clued me in that sometimes, things were not what they appeared to be.

And specifically, the lines quoted in the title.

...Dude. The narrative knows the narrator is kind of an asshole. And deeply in denial.

Well, how about that? Next thing I knew, I had figured out that Sting sort of understood that the narrator in "Every Breath You Take" was maybe not right in the head. I've had a weakness for tricky storytelling, in music and elsewhere, ever since.

You'd be amazed the narrative tricks you can learn from pop music and stage performers.

OMG it's 1980 and I'm wearing Keds with a power suit!

(danger: crunchy hook. the management assesses a fairly high earworm risk)
matociquala: (phil ochs troubador)
Gotta figure out what I'm doing wrong with the way I'm holding my left wrist before I do myself a permanent injury. Or maybe it's just training the muscles to adapt to that position. Or, you know, I could start actually using the stool when I practice. That might be smart.

My big triumphs for today: I managed to switch between strumming patterns without bitching it up completely, I got a F major to ring almost clearly (once, out of about twenty tries), and I managed to count beats, sing, handle chord changes, and strum for about four whole bars simultaneously. Admittedly, the song in question was "Horse with no Name," which might in fact be too simple to actually count as a song for any practical purposes, consisting of two chords which involve shifting two fingers exactly one string. But I will take what I can get.

What's interesting is that, in learning a new skill as an adult, I can *see* myself learning. The other day, driving to archery practice, I caught myself humming along to a strumming pattern of a song that was on the radio. A month ago, I wouldn't even have noticed that, but my brain knows what it is now and is paying attention. That's kind of neat. I like it when I catch my brain working. It's interesting.

Well, okay, I have three hours before I have to be in Glastonbury. I guess I should write.

Why *is* this damned novelette/novella taking so long? You would think I would be done now: it seems like I've been writing it for weeks.

Oh, right: there was a convention in the middle there, wasn't there?

...guess I also better figure out what happens next....


March 2017



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