"...it's as if the original photograph were a ghost that died and came back as a body."
-- from Peter Schjeldahl's profile of Photo-Realist painter Robert Bechtle in the 05/09/05 New Yorker
I'm in the middle of a rewriting frenzy -- I have a pile of things to get through before the end of the month, when my full-time job ceases to be writing and becomes looking for a job that pays. During these frenzies I tend to stay up later and later, and eventually my bedtime is 8:00 AM.
This was the case yesterday, when I learned that such behavior is only practical thanks to a little thing called electricity. I woke up at 3:00 PM and discovered we didn't have any.
No big deal, I thought. I'd fire up the laptop and get to work. The power should be back on by the time the battery ran out.
6:00 PM -- the battery was at 11%. The power was not back on, and the sun seemed really interested in going down. S moved most of our candles to the dining room table, in case we were in for a long haul. Fortunately we're both candle types, so we had plenty.
She went out to the deck to grade papers in the last of the sunlight. I grilled steak and zucchini, which I would have done anyway, even if we didn't have a useless electric stove. Still, hooray for propane and propane accessories.
So now it's almost midnight (also hooray for cellphones that show the time). S is still grading papers on the deck, now by the light of citronella candles. I'm at the dining room table, writing the longhand version of this entry.
I put a spare mirror behind the candles -- take that, MacGyver!
The house smells like lavender tangerine lime basil tea rose cinnamon warm vanilla sugar pear jasmine sea breeze sugar plum lemon verbena sage citrus mango. Which explains my headache. Well, that, and the eyestrain. In the last five candle-lit hours, I've done a longhand revision of a short story ("Mayfly", if that means anything to anyone) and 30 pages of edits to the novel.
Yep, that's a chunk of the novel and the inked up version of this entry
There's a work crew outside our house at this very moment -- turns out that mysterious grate I've been mowing around is the Gateway to the Magical Equipment that Keeps the Lights on.
The Gateway to the Magical Etc.
S went out to chat with them. Apparently something blew up. This could take a while.
S assisting the crew in an improvised hardhat that probably isn't the best choice for electrical work, but at least it keeps the government from reading her mind. Just before I took the picture S declared, "I need a tool!" then ran to their truck and pulled out a...broom. Never underestimate the significance of brooms when it comes to keeping the lights on.
Update: The power came back on around 10:00 AM today. I was sleeping.
S and I are watching Sin City on DVD:
Cool Visual Effect Josh Hartnett Sex Violence Cool Visual Effect Cool Visual Effect Bruce Willis Violence Violence Violence Cool Visual Effect Violence Violence Sex (is that...? yeah) Mickey Roarke Violence Cool Visual Effect Objectified Women Cool Visual Effect Violence Cool Visual Effect Violence Violence Benicio Del Toro Threatened Violence Threatened Violence Threatened Violence Violence Clive Owen Violence Cool Visual Effect Violence Violence Violence Chuck Taylors Violence Cool Visual Effect Violence Sex Violence Theoretically Empowered Women in Uncomfortable Clothes Violence Violence Violence Violence Romance (?!!) Violence Violence --
S: I'm going to the bathroom while they cut up the bodies.
Me: Are you sure you don't want me to pause it?
-- Violence Violence Violence Good Dialogue Violence Cool Visual Effect Violence Goo Violence --
Me: So have you ever been to the La Brea Tar Pits?
Me: They're something else.
-- Violence Violence Bruce Willis Again Violence Violence Blah Blah Blah Violence Violence Cool Visual Effect Violence Redemption Violence Sacrifice Violence Josh Hartnett Again Implied Violence. The End.
I will add that Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson did their best to crawl off the prop table, but really, the movie just wasn't on their side. It was visually stunning (in all senses of the word "stunning"), and it did make me want to converse with it, which is my measure of success. My side of the conversation was often, "Wait -- hang on -- what the hell? -- now that's just -- oh, come on!" but that counts, too.
My first rule of blackberry picking is Find the Gigantic Garden Spider. Because, you see, there is always a gigantic garden spider near that little clump of ripe and delicious blackberries, and if I don't find it first I will just end up sticking my hand through its web, and then the spider winds up on my arm or in my hair and then there is the screaming and the flailing and the unpleasantness.
In other garden-related developments, yesterday S came home with a bypass lopper, a bypass pruner, and a trowel. It's a sign of my lingering urban-ness that I think Lopper, Pruner, and Trowel sounds like a law firm.
So I quoted two lines of an Irving Berlin song in the draft of my novel, and now I'm doing copyright and permission research. I finally found the company that administers permission for Berlin's songs, but it has a fancy (read expensive) website, and since their version of fair and equitable handling of charities' requests for gratis permission is to tell them all "Hell, no!", I don't have high hopes for a response in my price range.
My character will still be in heaven, but alas, her heart is not likely to beat so that she can hardly speak.
I'm taking a break from the heartless work of slashing out the parts of my novel that don't offer sufficient bang for the buck. I knew it had to be done, but man. Ouch. Every time I start to chicken out I consult the notes left on copies of the first chapter by Octavia Butler, Andy Duncan, and Michael Swanwick. Tiny little versions of them are all sitting on my shoulder chanting like a Greek chorus who accidentally wandered into a Lord of the Flies writing workshop ("Kill the darlings! Cut their prose!").
Okay, time to get back to work. Grabs exposition by the neck, takes out knife. "Quit squirming, you!"
E says this reminds him of me, but "this" originally referred to the Zachary Taylor Washingtoy™ strip, which you now have to scroll down to see.
I'm not sure why E thought of me. It could be the snarkiness, of course, but perhaps he recalled my fondness for Whigs.
Or maybe on one occasion I let slip an elaborate sexual fantasy regarding former Postmaster General Jacob Collamer.
Love the blogging cat, though.
C brought me up to date on Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, but sadly a schism has already been declared between those who believe in a Spaghetti Monster who flies, and those who worship a Flying Monster made of spaghetti. Expect a holy war in three...two...one...
Inspired by the mention of Handwavium in class, and also influenced by the Week Six presence of Michael Swanwick and his nifty Periodic Table of Science Fiction, several of us, most notably S. Hutson Blount, Assistant Lab Technician, started labeling the Clarion West elements:
A stand-in ending, e.g. "Everyone gets hits by a truck. The end." Among the most common of the Clarion West elements. Same Group as Underwritton.
Commonly found near the ends of stories--or is it?
The fundamental element in Exposition molecules. Same Group as Telline. Explodes when brought into contact with Showium.
A heavy, colorless gas. Would be in the same Group as Tedium and Boron, if those weren't already real things.
Toxic element capable of contaminating most other elements by exposure. Use severely restricted in most markets.
A random sex scene, particularly one in which the female(s) don't actually get off.
Close chemical relative of Borrowlium and Thievium, which mimics the cool properties of all the other elements, often without attribution.
Frequently diatomic, and always horrible. Same Group as Squickine.
Especially pretentious element in high demand, yet of low market value.
Contains pleasing properties of many kinds. Often found in compound with Homagium.
Extremely ambitious substance which can cause uncontrolled story growth.
Often found in time-travel uses; unstable isotopes of Paradoxium will eventually decay to become more Paradoxium.
Has extreme attention-getting properties, often used to divert focus from less stable elements. Same Group as Distractgen and Miscuvium.
Golden-Age element, with properties more innocent, exciting, and sexist than other elements. Same Group as Nostalgium and Campium.
Water-soluble element used in mermaid formation.
Frictionless, mass-less, and indestructible -- in high concentrations, even invisible. Related to Handwavium.
A pleasant smelling gas, often used to keep a flagging story aloft. Most every story benefits from the presence of Zepplon. Same Group as Monkine.
Essential element in all zombie-making catalysts, e.g. alien virus, bioengineered virus, television, voodoo. Same Group as Undeadium.
Comments on, since there are surely more to be added...if nothing else, at least Texasholdium, Viagron, and Hornyhousewivescheatine.
Alrighty! Here I am, back and refreshed and on a regular work schedule again. First, the final set of stats:
Number of Times I Was Late to Class / Meetings: Remarkably, Three. I'm a little dazed about this, but I think I finally have a theory that explains it. My tardiness comes from a persistent tendency to underestimate how long it takes me to get from Point A to Point B (this is true of more than geography). At Clarion West, it was impossible to underestimate the amount of time it took to get to the classroom, since it was down one flight of stairs from my bedroom.
It also helped to know that at most I only had to make it through two hours, tops, before a break gave me access to food, or coffee, or a toothbrush, or whatever I'd neglected to grab before taking my seat in class at nine o'clock. And I only had to manage four hours of alertness before I could crawl back into bed if I needed to.
So why, under such felicitous circumstances, was I ever late at all?
On one occasion I was doing dishes and lost track of the time. The other two happened when my stories had to be pried from my grip before submission...[insert dreamy flashback effect here]...
Week Six, the day my story is due, 8:57 AM. I'm sitting cross-legged on my tiny little dorm bed, blanket wrapped around my shoulders, hunched over my laptop. I've been at the story for days and all of the previous night, but instead of getting better, it just gets longer. I'm frantically adding hand-written corrections from the manuscript to the file when there's a mild tapping on the door.
"Yes?" No answer. "Yes?" Still no answer. My bed is right by the door, so I lean over and push the door open. I stare blearily up at Cat, who tells me that Neile wondered where my story was (I suspect Neile actually used her super nifty Clarion West Administrator powers to predict and forestall a meltdown). Cat is the perfect emissary: calm and fearless, and perhaps informed of the previous occasion when I was a touch tetchy with the wonderful, wonderful Kris (well-yes-I-know-it's-nine o'clock-of-course-I-know-it's-nine o'clock). This time I try to play it cool, and just say, "Okay, thanks." Cat leaves, closing the door behind her.
I immediately have second thoughts about playing cool. "Caaaat?" No answer. I push the door open and poke my head out. "Caaaat?" She turns around and comes back.
"My story isn't done. What do I do?"
"Turn it in." She does an admirable job of sounding comforting, and not exasperated.
I am so utterly demoralized by my story that I'm relieved to follow any clear course of action, particularly one from someone as levelheaded as Cat. "Okay," says my tiniest, most pathetic voice.
Five minutes later I was in class. Unhappy and unwashed, but present.
Number of Oh-My-God-I-Need-a-Drink Moments: Lost Track in Week Five. The majority, I should note, were Idiot Frat Boy / Alley Traffic related.
Number of Drinks Consumed in Said State: Two, the most significantly impairing following a Frat Traffic incident. In general, I didn't drink much, in part because I was too tired for it.
Number of Times I Use My Yoga Mat: Nine. Shoulda done more.
Overall Caffeine Intake Level: Medium. In fact, I consumed far less caffeine than I expected to, which was good, because I was able to hold some of its boost in reserve for dire occasions (see flashback above).
Overall Sleep Deprivation Level: Ah, now here's the thing...I was able to get enough sleep to stave off severe caffeine dependence, but the sleep I got was too intermittent to be of the best quality. So I rarely experienced the kind of sleep deprivation I'm used to (up to a week at time followed by catch up) and the effects thereof (alternating blurriness and euphoria). Instead, there was constant, low-grade not-quite-rightness. This was, however, counteracted by the glorious presence of Joni (see Blood Sugar, below).
Number of Occasions I Had a Low-Blood Sugar Temper Tantrum: Amazingly, Zero. This was due the stabilizing influence of Joni, who made us the most spoiled Clarion West class on record by providing -- unexpectedly -- lunch four days a week. Lunch is the meal I'm most likely to forget or delay, often until I'm suddenly transformed into Janesaurus Wrecks. This is my one recommendation to Clarion West administration: find a way to keep the lunch option. I strongly suspect this went a long way toward making the Class of 2005 such a productively unfussy bunch, and probably prevented at least one fist fight, and certainly many sharp words. Without the salad bar, I would have had to spend a lot more of my time apologizing.
Homicidal Tendencies: Almost purely Frat-directed.
Number of Stories I Critiqued: One Hundred One. And I was a slacker -- several of my colleagues had the stamina to critique extra stories.
Number of Stories Written: Six. Seven if you count the bit of zombie flash in Week Three. Seven and half if you count the lesbian vampire story I started for an anthology (several CWers wrote submissions for this) but didn't finish because I actually started to get really into the plot, and decided I couldn't do it justice before the deadline.
So here's how my stories break down:
- Two that can be fixed up with a minimal effort and can probably find a home somewhere
- Two that wouldn't take much effort to spruce up, but probably aren't sellable just yet
- Three that need a lot of work, but I'm keen on them so the work will in fact get done
Which brings me to...the future! My first set of tasks are rewriting the synopsis of my novel, revising the novel to include Clarion West-acquired improvements in technique, and revising the two most promising stories I wrote there. I also have two story ideas I haven't drafted yet, one of which I expect to be a quickie at less than a thousand words. And the critique goes on: several CWers have already posted new stories to our group, and I look forward to reading them.
Back to work!
Yipes, that previous post was an awfully dire note to leave sitting around here for so long.
All is well -- I'm glad to be back home, but I miss my fellow CWers, and I'm looking forward to posting in more detail and also catching up with the 200+ e-mails in my queue...after I've had a little more sleep.