Subtitle: Notes from the Sweaty Malaise of Summer
I hate heat. I mean, I really hate heat. I would always rather be cold than hot, to the point where as a child I refused to wear snow gear in the snow because I was actually more comfortable being cold (and perhaps a bit wet) than I was in the stuffy snow clothes. I hate the feeling of having sweat on my body unless I have just exercised and can appropriately shower down afterwards; I hate the way my clothes stick and darken and stain; I hate the way my skin (always sensitive since the day I was born) is abraded by the salt unless I pay nearly surgical attention to it and the way those irritations stick with me long after the heat has passed. I hate being afraid to put on a pair of pants or a slightly-too-thick shirt. I want fog, and rain, and to sometimes zip up my hoodie against the breeze. I want every painting of Seattle; I want every movie about London. I want to stand on a tor with wind slapping and punching at me and not be able to see anything but gray mist and the condensation on my glasses.
Unfortunately, the world isn’t giving me that option. Instead I’m having to just pray to the gods of air conditioning and try to do whatever I can to make myself comfortable. It’s having kind of a major impact on my mood, which I say partially as a preamble to…
The writing update. This week’s writing has been, mmm, circuitous? I’ve been going back and doing what I’ve termed my ret-cons, changing a few things about a few characters and situations. Partially, it’s an effort to have better representation, as several of my characters were white-by-default, had no particular reason to be white, and in a couple cases had every reason to be something other than white. I also realized I had been engaging in a couple cases of tacit erasure of marginalized groups (through failing to represent them even though they would absolutely be represented in this story), and I wanted to fix that. I had to carefully consider whether these retcons were me engaging in tokenism or fishing for ally cookies, but after some thought I decided that, no, they are not; and so I began.
Unfortunately, in beginning, I ran into what I will call a case of my writing being both Real But Boring and engaging in some nasty psychological time compression. Two of my main characters have an ongoing argument throughout the first part of the book, mostly involving the way the main character is approaching the strange situation that forms the crux of the story. This is a natural thing to include in a book that is basically a loving deconstruction of urban fantasy tropes (I love me some of that); of course there’s a Doubting Thomas of a friend who thinks the main character’s quest is either madness or frivolity. The Real But Boring problem is, the main characters spend too many pages having that argument – they keep starting to bring it up, getting distracted, and going back to it. Some of that is OK, but too much of that is not fun to read about – the revisited argument takes the place of plot advancement or character development, the same way it can when a TV show needs to pad out an episode. The time compression problem is that the main characters are far, far too open and invested in each other for who they are and how long they’ve known each other. A year or so of familiarity is assumed in four weeks; while some of this is the main character’s personality coming through, it’s happening with the people around him, too, so it’s an issue with the writing. This is a classic television problem, and also a problem with trying to use time in the way I was in this book; another case of a much younger me being Clever and digging himself into a hole. I tried to parcel out the story in weeks of the school year rather than natural chapter breaks, and it’s causing me some issues – especially once I calculated out how far into fall quarter Thanksgiving break would actually be.
I realized these things, and through realizing these things, I realized that, quite simply, what Eyes of Stone needed was for me to go back and outline these chapters and make sure everything feeds into the advancement of the plot and the development of the characters. I was still trying to be a seat-of-the-pants writer when I wrote this, and the repetition is likely a symptom of that. The big, revelatory part of the argument can happen later in the year; the characters can have multiple conflicts over it but it should be used to either drive a character to where they need to be or to show the changes their situation is causing for them. These are qualities that will improve the book; and honestly, including them will only require a bit of nip and tuck – in other words, my prose is not a doomed pile of terrible crap, it merely needs some refinement, which is exactly what the editing process is all about.
The problem is, in going back and doing this rearrangement and refinfement; I am not moving forward with the rest of the book; and the other problem is, I’ve changed how I am handling the rearrangement and refinement something like three times already. This is a thing I do sometimes, spiraling around what I view as a weak spot in the writing, and it usually hits when I’m going through a patch of impostor syndrome, or when I’ve been smacked with some criticism of my writing, or have otherwise been given cause to linger in the Land of Doubt. I’ll tend to try to get a small patch of writing “perfect” and wind up driving myself insane going over it and over it and over it. In this case, I do think it’s necessary to address a weakness in the opening of the book, but am I saying that because I want to let myself spin rather than move forward? Am I afraid of finishing this and showing it to someone else? Do I want to just hover in this liminal space for ever, uncomfortable as it might be?
All of this points to me being overstressed on the writing front; I’m the equivalent of the meth-head at midnight, face pressed to the grout as I savage it with a bleach-soaked toothbrush. I am under an amount of stress I do not always realize is there, and I am in a part of the year where my mood is often bad and my energy level low, which makes it very easy for me to get self-critical and try to feed the inner critic and correct one small thing rather than deal with moving forward and come back to it later. I need to take two steps backward and let my brain sort itself out.This isn’t to say that I will not do the edits I’m doing, or that the rearrangement does not lead to a stronger book; but it is to say that I recognize that editing angry is about a bad as driving angry in terms of the damage done to the object of the sentence.
The good news is, this need to unplug comes just in time for me to be taking one of my biannual trips to Mendocino County. This time tomorrow I will be in a car, your choice of Mastodon’s Crack the Skye or the audiobook of Soon I Will Be Invincible blasting on the speakers. I will sleep in every day up through Tuesday; I will eat food that reminds me of a simpler, lighter time when my biggest jobs were math homework and Silent Hill; and maybe, if I have the money, I’ll look into getting a massage while I’m up there. I will not make myself get on the Internet, and I will not demand any of my HabitRPG tasks of myself, including my daily word count. I can disconnect geographically and mentally and let my batteries recharge. There is no doubt I have tolls being taken of me that I do not always see, and that I drive myself harder than it’s possible I should; so it’s time to give myself a break.
But just in case, I’m bringing my laptop. Just because I’m giving myself a break doesn’t mean the muse won’t strike – and some solid prose-work can be a wonderful accent to a vacation.
I always end on a recommendation, and this week will be no different. This week, I recommend to you the comic book known as Rat Queens. The titular Queens are an adventuring party in a world unabashedly inspired by D&D, with a heavy dose of modernity in their dialogue. The characters and the art in this are the big sellers, with a rich, relaxed style to the panels that really meshes well with the kind of story being told. The Queens are capable, brutal fighters, all of them adept at their own shtick, and all of them unafraid of themselves – whether that self is kind, sarcastic, foul-mouthed, serious, or socially awkward. They have problems and backstories that real people might have in the insane world they find themselves in, and their personalities are very clear and compelling, jumping right off the page and making you wonder which one is your favorite – which, as Sonya says, is the primary hallmark of a good ensemble cast. The book is violent, with middling levels of gore (more than your average Marvel comic but less than Sin City), and the adult language flows like so much water; if those don’t bother you, the story is just too much fun to pass up.
Have a good wekeend, everybody. Leave a sacrifice with the thermometer gods for me.