Pink Floyd it ain’t.

Remember those long all-night study sessions back in college, when you’d stay up passed your usual go-to-bed time of 1am in order to cram in a few more hours worth of work? Back when you had that big exam coming up, and you really wanted to make sure you were prepared? You’d down triple the caffeine of a normal late night, stock up on M&Ms and cold pizza, then hit that wall where you’ve just read the same paragraph seven times and still aren’t sure what you’ve just read?

But you push on, and suddenly get this surge of energy that seems to come from nowhere, but it carries you through till the end of your study jam and you walk into that test feeling secure in your knowledge of every aspect of the bovine digestive system, knowing you could pass that oral exam in front of the boards with your eyes closed.

We call that sudden boost of energy in the middle of your fugue state a Second Wind. And it happens in novel writing too. You’ve started out with a grand novel ahead of you. Characters, situations, plot twists – you’re confident and excited. You write with abandon, glory in your sentences and smile quietly to yourself knowing how this novel is going to turn out.

Then suddenly, perhaps in the middle of the night as you drift off to sleep with thoughts of your last chapter in mind, you hit The Wall. I don’t mean your roomie puts on Pink Floyd and forgets the headphones, I mean THE wall. The wall of doubt and despair, when you instantly doubt your entire novel, can’t clearly see the ending, and fear every word you’ve written thus far requires a complete revamp from page 1.

It’s a fear of sorts, perhaps even a fear of success. Irrational as it may be, it’s there and it’s holding you by the throat, keeping you from adding words to your novel, making you wonder if the last few months have been a waste.

Then, almost as suddenly as it hits, it’s gone and you’re writing again.  Right?

Do you hit the Wall?  Is it common with every novel you write, or did it shock you the first time it came? How do you get over the Wall? Do you have a trick, or are you still working on finding the Golden Way?

Just a Friendly Reminder

This is just a friendly reminder for the contestants of TGTD. If you haven’t shipped your prize offering to Jeanne yet, please do so. I know she’s received Kristine’s and Arachne’s offering. Pete reports that his offering is boxed, addressed, and sitting on his table waiting to be shipped.

Mine ran into a little snafu, but I’ve talked to her about it. The tea house I was going to purchase tea from closed. As a result, I’m substituting Indian dust tea, the same tea I gave Pete for the last bet I had with him. The dust tea will be delivered to me by special courier on Christmas Eve and I’ll mail it to Jeanne on Thursday, after my holiday company has departed.

If you’ve already shipped yours and she hasn’t received it yet, no worries. It is the holidays and there’s a backlog of packages in the system.

Top of the World, Ma!

I love the Discovery Channel. Not just for Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, but something my sister got me hooked on last year, in its very first season: Climbing Mount Everest. There’s this guy, Russel Brice, who takes clients up to Mount Everest, puts them through their paces, and helps them summit the mountain. They don’t all make it, they see people die all around them, they struggle, they risk their lives, and they pay him $50,000 each for the opportunity.

The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly.”

This season, asthmatic Mogens Jensen finally admitted – after three failed attempts – that he would have to use the supplemental oxygen 99% of the other climbers use, if he truly wanted to reach his goal. Tim, the LA Biker, who almost died on the mountain last year because he was stubborn and lazy, was almost kicked off the summit team again this year for being a slacker. This time pushed himself, broke his hand, and continued to climb until he made it to the summit, then back down again.

It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

This year, in tonight’s final episode – though I’ve heard it a hundred times – something Mogens said suddenly struck a cord. He was still on his way up, struggling but making it, and he said “You know, I’m not here to conquer the mountain. I’m hear to conquer myself.” Sitting there, trying to come up with an intelligent (or semi coherent) post to blog, it suddenly struck me how meaningful that simple statement is. At least to me, at this time in my writing life, this very moment.

If you never try anything new, you’ll miss out on many of life’s great disappointments.”

I’d recently gotten a rejection that hit hard, because it came with a sudden, unexpected high, spanned just enough time to allow daydreaming, then ended with a crash. And I waxed melodramatic about it. It got me down, but by no means out. However it did get me thinking on a certain path. Mostly that path is leading to my own Mount Everest. A goal I need to push myself to reach, something that will test my abilities, and possibly either make or break me.

Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly stupid.

Two Mount Everests, in a way, are Publishing, and Pushing. My ultimate Mount Everest is to become a published author in the traditional sense. Someone who obtains an Agent, who then wins me a Publisher, who then pays me some monetary sum and eventually produces a hard or paperback version of my novel.

There is no greater joy than flying high on the wings of your dreams, except maybe the joy of watching a dreamer who has nowhere to land but in the ocean of reality.”

I’ve been getting rejections, yes, but admittedly I’ve also had nibbles. I’m waiting for quite a few replies yet, and I have reason (somewhat) to hope. But until I’ve achieved that goal – until I’m standing on that summit, I still have to conquer myself. And that leads me to my second mountain – Pushing. I’ve been giving my writing some serious thought these past few days. My style, my technique, my “usual” – and asking myself “What do I need to change to make these stories lure an agent? What are they missing that’s keeping me here at Base Camp?”

The race for quality has no finish line – so, technically, it’s more like a death march.”

Someone once said it wasn’t their job to know what sells. That’s partially true – but it is our job as writers to read books, and get an understanding for what has sold in the past. To look at published works objectively and mentally compare them to our own writing. I think another big part of the picture is to ask ourselves if we’re pushing our own individual envelops, or are we basking in the glow of our golden, unpublished words.

If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone.”

My second Mount Everest is to push myself beyond my limits. To extend my next novel outside of my own personal envelope and delve deeper, go left when my instincts say right. I need to challenge myself to write a tale I’ve never told before – one that I’ve dreamed of one day writing, but allowed the exhaustion of effort keep me down. A story that’s complex, intricately woven, bringing a new world to life in rich, interesting ways. It’s time to step outside what flows from my fingers, slow myself down, and truly – deeply – consider every sentence, every detail. I believe the Penman Shipwreck is the perfect launching pad for my new summit quest. Writing with pen and paper is going to slow me dramatically, make me think differently, and consider the possibility that this new novel might take longer than the others to write, but will eventually be so much more than anything I’ve written before.

So that got me wondering – What’s your Mount Everest? Is it finishing a novel for the first time? Getting published? Stretching your own limitations to see what’s out there – how far you can go as a writer? What are you doing to push yourself to higher goals? Or are you quite happy sitting at Base Camp, with binoculars and a parka?

When you wish upon a falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it’s really a meteorite, hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you’re pretty much hosed no matter what you wish for. Unless it’s death by meteor.”

Legacy

Call it a gift, but our own dearest Ed Pahule has been triggering a fair number of lengthy articles on my part, in the past couple of days. And, even worse, he’s triggered an entire spate of reading obsession, but that’s a topic for another day.

Ed and I are pen pals, I guess that’s the term. We both got excited at the idea of sending letters back and forth. I love the idea enough that I have two: Ed, and Tori. I have written them each a letter, and I adored doing it. It was the first time I’d written letters to anyone in a lot, lot of years, and it was a terrific experience. I likened it to my ages spent drinking far too much Mountain Dew, before I ‘got clean,’ (chortle if you will, that stuff will kill you) and then discovering tea. It was caffeinated, without the highs and lows! It had flavors and varities and communities and it’s enjoyable and it gives back what you put into it! It’s more fun than popping a tab and drinking.

Writing a letter was the same way. I really, really enjoyed writing letters. They came out a little long, because you don’t want to send out a two-sentence physical letter. I don’t, anyway. With the inclusion of G-Mail and its conversations in my life, my e-mails have gotten shorter and shorter over the years .Writing a letter was a blessed rediscovery of communicating at length, and I adored it.

But what Ed said that really got me thinking was, he talked about the letters of people like Robert E. Howard, who wrote volumes back and forth with H.P. Lovecraft.  Howard Lovecraft was a painfully shy person, but wrote tons and tons of letters. They have been published variously, and are fascinating. Likewise,  one of my favorite books is called “Yours, Isaac,” and is a collection of various letters Isaac Asimov wrote to fans, friends, other writers, publishers, etc, over the year. It’s a thrilling book. Furthermore, there is the book “Letters to Jenny,” by Piers Anthony, which is interesting for a lot of entirely different reasons, many of them very sad.

Letter books. Legacies. They are some of my favorite things to read, like biographies (and autobiographies, viz. Isaac Asimov’s). Granted, they aren’t something that has necessarily entirely vanished, with the advent of the internet age that I’m told repeatedly We Are All Fortunate To Live In. For example, there is Adventures in the Dream Trade, which is a miscellany of Neil Gaiman’s material and includes a portion of his blog in the back, the portion that was written exclusively as an American Gods journal. This is really an entirely different thing, but it’s a bit of an evolution.

I’m young enough and I’ve still got (IhopeIhopeIhope) a fair number of years to spend dillying around manuscripts and pottering around stories, but as a writer who spends every second he can thinking and poking and thinking some more, I do think about my legacy. Not very often, mind. It’s not an easy thing to think of, because it’s a subject that is filled with ego, and I am desperately paranoid of coming off egotistical, at any point.

So, Ed’s comment has stuck in my head, as I’m writing handwritten pages of my novels. And it’s stuck in my head as I write letters to people. It does cross my mind as I’m whining about my novel, “this will go into the About Writing section, won’t it…?” and mostly, I chuckle.

The question, at the end, is: What do you want to be really and truly remembered for?

Alternative Media

In yesterday’s Guardian, there was a rant about advertising on the back of tube tickets being equated to great underground literature. This got me thinking on an unrelated tangent.

More and more markets are coming forward to present readers with readily available fiction. Beyond the standard print magazines, publishers have placed fiction on the back of coffee cans in the form of the currently out-of-print Story House Coffee, sent straight to mobile devices, such as done by Burst, or delivered to your e-mail inbox, as done by Every Day Fiction.

My question for you is, what do you think of these different mediums? Are they viable? The future of short literature? Are they fulfilling a need? What do you think about writing for them?

I am a leaf on the wind –

– watch how I soar.

If you live in a cave without electricity and haven’t seen Serenity and don’t want to know – stop reading. If you have, then you’ve witness something spectacular.

I remember a few years ago riding in a van with some friends and listening as they talked about reading Harry Potter. They were discussing the characters, and some rumor they’d heard that the author was going to kill one of them off in a future installment. They were both so angry at that possibility, they went so far as to say that if the author did that, she was making a huge mistake. Then – and this part floored me – they both agreed that the author had no right to do such a thing.

No right.

They were agreeing with each other – and I was too fascinated with their conversation to say a word at this point – that the author has, by having written an engaging and exciting series of novels, entered into a pact with her readers and now has an obligation to keep them happy. And, they concurred, it would be in this author’s best interests to keep the readers happy. They were of the singular impression that the author now owed them something, and they – as readers – could demand a specific outcome.

I was a little flabbergasted. As a reader, I can see how they’d prefer the hero to survive, the Prince to marry Snow White (or Cinderella, if his divorced from Snow is finalized) I’m a reader, too, and I don’t like to read a book where a beloved character dies – or see a movie where Wash is cut in half from a Reaver’s spear. *wipes tear from eye*

But as a writer, I do reserve the write to own, dictate the lives of, and kill whomever I so choose.

Can you honestly say, from a writer’s standpoint, that Joss Whedon made a mistake? No. He was brilliant. In fact, he was friggin’ brilliant. He drew us in, hook, line and big brass sinker. We fell in love with each and every one of those characters he created. He wove us a tale of wonder that had our hearts in our throats and our buns on the edge of those pseudo-cushioned theater seats. We were so taken in by that story, when Wash was killed – it didn’t register. So thorough was our involvement, so honest our shock, it took a good 3 or 4 minutes for us to realize what had happened.

But he didn’t stop then. He continued that adrenaline – he made us realize that any one of them – or even every one of them – could die at any second. And we felt lost. We felt rudderless. This writer had just taken the rule book of “the hero wins and saves the day” and tossed it out like an actuator falling off our Goram ship.

As a writer, he had balls. He didn’t just kill some side character. He didn’t introduce us to a minor red-shirted crewman and have that guy croak. No. (sorry, Mr. Universe) He took a beloved and well-known character – an integral part of the plot, story and universe – and he killed him. Sure, he killed Book, too – but we saw that coming. We steeled our nerve and readied our tissues when Mal was looking for Book. It was a little easier to take, we saw the bodies all around, we figured since Book hadn’t been on the Firefly the whole movie, something had to be up. And if we had to sacrifice one of them, I’m betting a lot of us would have picked Book over the others.

We didn’t see Wash’s death coming.

The creator has the right to kill his characters. And if he’s smart, and really talented, he’ll sacrifice anyone and everyone necessary to tell the best, most exciting story he can. And if he’s done his job, he’ll have sucked you in and made you weep because he was first able to make you love.

But what about those two friends of mine? Do they, as readers and fans, have a right to complain? Are they right in assuming the author has entered into an unspoken contract with them, as readers, and therefore owes them something other than an exciting, compelling tale? If you were writing a series, and in the final installation you had a death planned – the death of a beloved and favorite character – but you heard from fans everywhere that if you did kill this person off, they’d be so angry they’d vow never to buy another of your books again – could you do it?

You’re the author. They’re your devoted, loyal fans who buy your books and make your publisher very, very happy.

Can you do it?

Welcome to the old school

    Despite the fact that I’m the one writing it, I take comfort and solace in knowing that this column isn’t actually my fault at all but, for variety, the blame can land squarely on Lori’s shoulders. It’s a nice feeling. It will never last.

The other day, I had a couple of hours to kill in the morning and decided that I was not going to write. No, I was going to sit down on the couch with a hot cup of tea and — after a couple of minutes — a large sleeping kitty, and I was going to turn on the lamp and finish reading a book, damn it.

I’d been reading the book off and on for several weeks which is, in and of itself, pathetic. It grows sadder still when you realize that after several weeks, I was only halfway through the book. This was not because of the complexity of the text, nor the density of the ideas, nor the breadth of the story. It was because I just don’t have time to read anymore.

Does that sound familiar? I bet it does, a little.

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