On Hitting Day 50 of #100DaysOfStories

I hit day 50 of my challenge #100DaysOfStories last week. I’d let off keeping track of the days that I actually managed to write for a full hour, although I hadn’t stopped using that time frame as the goal. Also, because the Daily Writing Challenge spreadsheet I use was originally created for the 250 words a day challenge, getting at least 250 remains a goal as well.

So for instance, in writing “The Gods That Made God” (aka “Young Gods”) I might write for a full hour for several days. But once the story reached its end, the most important thing I can do during the daily hour is read/review/re-write. So then I would do a free write on some other essay or story (I also like to do this in order to prime the pump even when not doing re-writes) to get up 250 words, and then I can spend the rest of the time combing through the story and not think about whether I’m meeting my word count.

I’m tired.

I was up last night, not because of my younger son, but awake for 3 hours just because. I suspect this is the inevitable return of my monthly hormonal cycle; while I’m neither ovulating or menstruating quite yet, the ghost of the hormone machine is beginning to crank up, getting ready for full gear in a few months, I suppose.

What have I learned in these first 50 days? That it took 5 months to get those hours. That many days all I can muster 250 words, or about 15 minutes. That in order to do anything at all, I have to abandon whatever story I wanted to work on, and just free write a blog post on my feelings or reactions to the news.

What I’ve learned is that like marriage, the only thing in writing is getting back up and starting over again. There is no there-there; some days I feel it, feel the deep soul of my relationship filling me up, illuminating each aspect of my life. And a lot days I just tread water. Like my marriage, I riot and complain and threaten to leave … and then get right back to it in the morning. These 50 days have taught me that like my marriage or running, the comfort is not in what is accomplished, but rather the routine itself, the repetition.

What I’ve come to respect in these 50 days is how crappy a writer I am. I’ve written about it in this blog, but I can’t stress enough how hard that simple fact is to face. As I discussed with my brother, and he agreed he faced the same, when you realize that you will never glamorously succeed, that the fantasy must be retired, a gush goes out of you. Like a dam let loose, you watch that power rush away and standing in the trickle that barely covers your ankles, you think, man, is this enough force? In the end all the energy was in the dream.

I’m tired.

I also think there maybe something important in enjoying the story that I’m writing, finding the whole process not a chore or a drag, but a simple, indulgent joy. But I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to get there. Maybe like running, there’s days for knowing that everything hurts and that all you can do is a maintenance run and there are others where you realize you soar.

Disappointed, Diadactic

In an interview with Zadie Smith, the interviewer [Terri Gross?] said that she, Smith, had said of herself that she was always disappointed when she finished a novel. I don’t know and haven’t been able to find the original quote. But for me, hearing it, there was a gulf of relief.

Maybe that’s what we all know, all fear about finishing something. Or, ha, even beginning. That at the end, we will be left with how far we are from what we wanted.

I suppose there are those that can sustain the fantasy of successful creation (and reception). But most (I assume) have fantasies in tides that recede, leaving us stranded, naked, exposed, beneath the sun.

And, ok, maybe there’s times/people/places where the creation is enough. It’s just good enough.

But back to me.

Knowing that it’s ok, that even great writers feel let down, that’s something just to breathe into. Know. Accept.

When I was just past the cusp of my thirties, I related to a friend how I thought this decade was off to a good start. She was a couple of years older, had a young daughter and partner. Had an MFA. Had already dropped out of a graduate school, all but dissertation completed. Her response was more measured: you know who you love, what your life is. She didn’t say, but is almost needless to say: you know yourself. What you are and what you aren’t.

I am didactic. I know it was true when I was when I was young, with every character or element a proxy for some larger concept or entity. And I hated how awful my writing was, I would go into tangents, write up a storm, and then in reviewing them, be so deeply embarrassed by my writing, that I’d shutter it all away. I still carry these notebooks with me, but nothing, almost nothing, is near completion.

And now I look at what I have with the same disenchantment.

I’ve been busy, called on to do more than usual with work. And it’s good, I’ve racked up extra hours I can put toward the future. But getting out the practice of giving my first good hours toward writing pushes it to a recess of the mind. Suddenly I’m thinking of all the coding I should be doing, skills that, you know, might actually help something other than my vanity.

I realize there’s another thing: reading about Dennet, a philosopher of the mind. And how as a young man he started out as a sculptor, had success, but realized he wasn’t really good enough. What a relief to just stop, move something out of your path with the whisk of a thought. Rather than beat yourself, feel there is nothing but this, and you suck at it.

The Mother and Other Stories, Writing Utopia, & #100DaysOfStories, Day 40!?

“In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous” Aristotle, according to the little paper attached to my tea bag.

Two things conspired on me this morning: one was submitting a flash fiction to Flash Fiction Online (the staff is interesting, the work is solid, but dear g-d that has to be the dullest title of any magazine I’ve seen yet. perhaps created during the early digital optimization days when it was oh-so-important to have a title that would come up in google. or not. maybe the editors were simply tired by the need to have clever titles.) I don’t know if this was in the hard sells section or just general advice, but the editor explicitly states that she’s tired of misery. She makes the argument, which has been on my mind of late, that given the generally agreed upon depressing state of affairs, doesn’t it behoove us to write something upbeat. She even refers to the Depression/postwar penchant for optimistic media, a point which I just used in an fight with my brother.

Except, of course, I was arguing that folks like him [which is to say, doing really well] are obsessed with dystopia worlds, because that’s their form of escapism. Free me from this plenty!

It’s a shame, then, that I sent a dystopian flash fiction piece. On the bright side, when I receive my inevitable rejection, I’ll be able to to assuage my grief with the notion that at least they were pretty clear that this was not what they wanted to see. [and on a curious other note, hard sells included mother/child stories. Since I just decided that the overarching theme I want to pursue is not feminism or gender issues, but pointedly maternal issues, this came as a kind of side blow. Really? Really!? There’s LOTS of mother/child stories? Am I that much under a rock? I mean, I am. I know I am. But. Damn. Still disappointing.]

But what I actually wanted to think about in this post is: how to write interesting, but not dark fiction?

I read this part of their website just before listening to a segment on wnyc on Dutch author Rutger Bregman’s new book about utopia via open borders and universal basic income. There’s an author whose name I don’t recall, interviewed in Clarkesworld (maybe. it was years ago) and he said that he has set several stories in utopias and guess what? There was still plenty to say, still plenty of action.

I’m not terribly drawn to the idea of dreaming up utopia or for that matter, dystopias: if the story (or the character or the conceit) needs a utopia or dystopia, then that’s what the world will be. Actually, now that it’s in my head, why not create *my* take on utopia? (From my current set of half writtens, Flippers or the IT Manager might actually be more compelling if set in a utopia) For now, I’ll leave that challenge alone for the more interesting one: writing something … what’s the right word? Upbeat? Cheerful? Wholesome? All those words make me cringe.

But what doesn’t make me cringe is an awesome story where there’s real love, courage, moments where you go, Yeah! Go, go, go!

If I’m honest, I, too, am exhausted by dark worlds where no one can be trusted and nothing is what it seems.

But. Let’s be honest. Disney and disneyfication* exhausts my patience as well.

The answer is  good art, but that’s tricky. For all the commentary on the different elements of Stranger Things, from the use of pastiche to the music and everything else, it was just good. Good as in it made you feel good. There was also a surprising triumph of good&love&courage in the show. Bwah. But it’s just not that easy.

How do you do it?

And the final thought for today: The Mother & Other Stories. That’s going to be the name of the collection of speculative fiction short stories I am working on. It’s going to begin with the short story “The Mother” and end with the novella “The Fire God and Nothing.” Maybe done by 2020 at my snail’s pace? Maybe self published on Amazon because I’ll finally have reconciled myself to just loving my work without the need for recognition?

 

*disneyfication actually refers to the colonization by Disney of real spaces, not fictional ones. But you get the idea.

 

white artist, black body

There’s some discussion about a white artist’s depiction of Emmett Till’s body (listen here). I get why the artist would want to depict the body: these racist actions affect the white psyche as well as the black. White people need to process this history too.

But that doesn’t mean it should be put on display.

Because while I understand the artist’s desire, I have to side with the critique: this is an extension of white power over black bodies. And there’s a place for shutting up and listening.

I remember a guy in my last writing group depicting a woman masturbating. And while I agree that he had the best of intentions in his writing, as woman reading it, and I can’t help but think, dude, let it go. No matter how much he may, as a man, want/need to enter into his female character’s space and wrestle with her sexuality, I can’t, as woman appreciate it. There’s just too much baggage.

So too then with a story I wrote that’s been haunting me: because the group I used to belong to focused on questions of race and identity, I felt I could write a story about race. There’s much I’ve been trying to pen for years about being white and about becoming aware of whiteness: I wrote an essay “Bleach” long before I learned the term white privilege.

But this was my first foray into fiction. And although I intended the story as a white woman getting woke, and intended the story as a critique of a world I know very well (ahem, white american superiority), everything went shittily wrong. The leader of the group thought I should add more black characters and, worse, give them a voice.

Yeah. One of those times to walk away from writing group advice.

Because in review, the people that loved the story were white people over 50. My black and biracial beta readers hated it. Hated it with an underground turbulence that was not concretized in their critique but written in their faces.

I took writing two additional characters as a challenge. A challenge to my comfort level, because I felt I was digging into territory which could get me into trouble.  Because if you have to preface your story with a personal biography on why race matters to you, a white woman, you’ve already lost the battle.

But I thought it would be good for me to push my own boundaries and I felt, after all, that I was supported.

But the guy who’d made the suggestion never came to the other meetings where the story was critiqued (it was long. too long. and as such, there were several meetings). So I was left knowing I had offended other members of the group, but not receiving feedback as to what was actually wrong.

Other than everything.

My husband has argued, in regards to the white artist that created the Emmett Till painting, that Till is part of her history as well. Till’s body and that photograph belong to American history, to our unique and scarred psyche, and it is as much her responsibility as a white person in the US to use her tools to cope with that history.

My husband, though, is German: there was and still is in postwar Germany, a need and an effort to understand the country’s history as perpetrators. Also, he’s not trying to write stories and essays that communicate with other people, so he doesn’t have to face the fear/frustration with having your work misunderstood.

The Long and the Short [Sentences]; Flash Fiction

I just finished and submitted a story. I am pleased with it. I am pleased that it finally came together; like many stories, this one has been in my back pocket for over a year or so. Granted, I had a baby and a major work project in the past year, but I am certain that the wait for this and the others is/was not lack of time and effort.

I did some things differently with it. I submitted it to a new online magazine for speculative flash fiction [link’s above if you’re interested in exploring, submitting]. As I’ve noted on this blog, I’ve already been thinking about working on flash fiction because then I can focus on structure, rather than character or other nuances. There are a few other factors, though, that make this story different:

(1) I read an article on Angela Carter, a British writer known for her renditions of fairy tells. The article writer points out that short stories were where Carter truly shines. There’s even a quote from Salman Rushdie on how her novels don’t really work: her style is best suited to short form.

Much like coming across the essay on essays and realizing how well the description fit me, I recognized myself in reading about Carter. There may be a day when I blast off into longer work. Despite my consummate need for attention and glory, and knowing that all the accolades go to novelists, I have serious doubts that I will ever write anything longer than a novella.

Suddenly I was able to see that [many of] my stories should be very, very short. Perhaps not all under 1000 words, but much shorter, tighter, crisper. Because the significant element is the conceit. In Embroymancy or The KarKari Don’t Want to Die there is no real reason to contemplate character, in fact doing so may detract from the story.

There are other stories that are about a character’s change, but even there, it’s worth contemplating how much can be burned off.

(2) So in thinking about what can be burned off, in the story I just finished, I allowed the story to go over 1000 words in order to get to the ending. But then I went back through and eliminated excess. This can’t always be done: I have edited stories into  obscurity before. But in this case it was satisfying to see how much can be stripped away to leave the story elegantly lean.

I can actually see a cloud lift from head: I had been thinking, falsely, that some how I needed to *pack* my stories. That I needed more meat, more muscle, more fat. And some stories need it: M John Harrison’s Viriconium would not be the same story without mood of setting. Here is necessary excess, because it is not just about what happens: his worlding is in the sentences. No, I don’t own a copy, which is dumb, I should. if I did, I’d go through and find some examples.

(3)This brings me to my last point which is sentences. I f*&^ing love long sentences. I don’t have a copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, but he is a user of the longer sentences, which I find to have a hypnotic effect. Until. He needs. To get your attention with short ones. At least, that’s what I remember thinking while reading it. Particularly because around the same time I picked up Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. Gay is all about short. Short short short. I don’t actually care for it so much. I feel like I’m reading her on a bumpy road and keep. stopping. short.

But.

In the interest of pushing myself, I specifically went against my own inclinations and wrote super short sentences in this last flash fiction piece. And I found that I like it. And I found that it served the story far better than my deliciously long sentences.

For comparison, Adichie’s Americanah begins with a sentence 5.5 lines longs. LOVE. Any how. child crying.

The Myth of Your Decline

So my brother, who consumes much more sci-fi media than me, read a story I just finished. I have been trying to write about America and use it in sci-fi stories. So it’s interesting to see that were my brother and I disagree on the story is on how I use America.

In the story, America is a promised land. The narrator refers to certain privileges of Americans, notably that they enjoy tools/toys that the narrator and his community must share collectively. Also, Americans have innovations that the narrator realizes his community will not.

My brother says this is terribly inaccurate: America is, after all, in decline. He thinks it would have been far better to use Sweden, Norway, South Korea, or, best of all, China, because so much anxiety is generated over China’s succession to us.

These are all interesting choices, and I agree with his assessment in a general way, which is to say, yes, [maybe] America as a center of power is declining and so it behooves the sci-fi writer to project some other world power in whatever future world is being proposed by the story.

Except that it’s bullshit.

America is not going anywhere any time soon– we just like to imagine we are. I’m not saying this an Obama optimist or an America Firster: my husband and I often worry about the future, worry we won’t have jobs, worry about how to prepare now for unemployment later. I don’t think that America’s place is so much secure as I think that decline is slow. Real slow. And many Americans are doing great and their going to keep on doing great.

The point of using America in the story is as a placeholder; it’s possible that in this future world, America is not a world power. It’s possible there’s high unemployment, under employment, economic decay … but that’s only ever going to be the case for some of us. Plenty of people will be fine. Hedgefund managers, silicon valley tycoons: these people aren’t going to shed their passports just because America is no longer a majority middle class country. Right? They haven’t left yet [there’s still so much meat on this bone, after all]. They will continue to occupy [literal and figurative] gated communities.

And as such their/our world will continue to bedazzle others, just as is used in the story.

But the more important thing I gathered from this conversation with my brother is that the prevalent notion of “American Decline” is so strong that even referring to America as opulent/individualistic in a future setting disconcerts him. It’s like I’ve casually mentioned gravity is no longer in effect. What!? America continues to be [relatively] prosperous!? Inconceivable!

But I think there is an incredible lack of honesty in this. My brother’s wife and her siblings were adopted from other countries (all east asian countries, I believe). When people are talking in nervous tones about American decline, how soon do they think they will start migrating to China? How soon do they think their kids will be up for adoption by foreigners? My point is not that these things can’t happen to America, but rather that the obsession with our decline has everything to do with our wealth. We like America-as-dystopia precisely because we are doing fine: it’s escapism. We escape our comfortable chair, our fat ass, our obsession with weight and food and everything else. We escape into … darkness.

What this begs of me is to write a story that rather than casually mentioning America, takes this myth of America head-on.

 

My Past as Gothic Drama

Just realized that my love story with D (I mean the actual life that I lived and the actual person I dated in my early twenties) might make for a great gothic romance redone. Post modern gothic, if post modern is still a relevant term. Instead of an innocent governess, we have a suburban-kid-turned-stripper. In juxtaposition to EVERY female character on tv, she would not be a victim of sexual abuse; rather, I like the idea of examining all the other reasons a girl might start taking her clothes off.

of course, because it’s me, I want to make it as anti-salacious as possible. Not because salaciousness is necessarily bad, but just as a general FU.

I was thinking about how I met him and then he disappeared, how I sent emails off to a black hole, without knowledge of where they went or what happened to them, how he existed in my life as such an abstract and strange presence: sending bizarre, beautiful gifts (dozens individually and gorgeously wrapped, gathered, and shipped in a large box, not once but over and over again), stumbling upon emails which were written more for himself than me. How could there not be a sense of danger and intrigue? Of course, what threat does he actually pose?

What interests me is not so much the plot, but the inversions and details: taking the girl out of her victimhood stance, but not “empowering” her either. She is. Showing the girl in that numb state, that tough girl that can’t be touched, yet is vulnerable to beauty and attention.

May the catch would be: he allows her to tell her own story, and in telling her story, she finds herself … the catch being, he wasn’t really listening to her narration. Hmmm. I’m imagining her being sent a medium format camera (medium format, of course, to appeal to hipster throwbacks, because we have to take it out of the digital age. actually, that’s a bit of an issue: it can’t be images she’s making, otherwise, hell, she could have just used her phone.), instructions on how to use it (this being part of classic love story, right, the older-man-teaching-girl. maybe these instructions would be sent via snapchat or youtube). And maybe the goal is just to get her to send pictures of herself –no no. that just goes back to exploitation and victimhood. Maybe the crux/reveal is that he’s effing nuts. the point I am imagining is that she begins to think of the world as capturable, seeing birds on a wire, shadows, even her own image as something she can and desires to own (that is, render artistically).

should probably watch whiplash; heard an interview where the director said he had fashioned a personal/psychological tale in the way of Suspense.