Sunday, September 30, 2012

Walk in the Rain

10:14 pm. Miserable weather, a stupid spitting rain that might as well be a cloud of flies.

The dog is walking me into a cul-de-sac when I hear a noise on my left. There's a woman standing in an open doorway, a complete stranger in slippers and a long shirt with wild hair, hissing at my dog.

"Oh no," I think, "what madness have I stumbled into now?" It's dark, but the woman has a mad silhouette. Is she on some drug? Heroin? Meth? I think of her coming at me with filthy nails at my face - permanent scarring. I'm not likely to fight her off with Lina's leash in one hand and a bag of shit in the other.

The dog of course thinks "Friend!" and starts running across the street. "No, Lina," I say, tugging her back, "not now." But there's no way out of the cul-de-sac without passing this madwoman again, and she's still hissing even when I'm halfway around the circle.

Then the noise stops. I look up and she's gone from the doorway. Is she following - no, a silhouette in the house, a light turning off. What in-

Then it hits me: the woman was calling her own dog, some tiny breed that I missed in the wet. Relief washes over me, closely followed by a tree dumping its load of rainwater down my neck.

Back home in the light, dry and seated with a drink at hand and the dog eating kibble, I stop and wonder what I look like on these stinking nights. A pale, half-dressed bearded figure with a blue bag in his hand, cursing and dragging against a twenty-six pound animal that's running right at you, teeth bared and straining so hard that it's choking itself? Just another lunatic stranger, passing in the night.

On Angels In Manhattan

So, Doctor Who mid-season finale. Without spoiling anything, I enjoyed the episode and I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here. Now I'm going to do a slightly more detailed review, and talk about some of the narrative challenges I think Steven Moffat had to face while writing it. So stop reading now if you haven't seen the episode yet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Oh Hi

Forgot you were there. Well, not really, I just keep coming up with hideous ideas for blog posts that I should not write in a million years. Seriously, nobody needs to read yet another political rant for the next two months.

But I Just. Can't. Stop!

I've also been kind of busy in meatspace. My house now has functioning hot water pipes, repaired drywall, a pane of glass which is not cracked, two new sets of blinds, a new cubby shelf, and a brand spanking new desk which my wife kindly purchased for our five year anniversary and which I will be putting together as soon as it gets here.

Five is the Wood anniversary, I'm told. Stop sniggering. I got her a jewelry box. It looks lovely.

My current desk is one of those small-but-serviceable metal computer desks that lets you sit at a terminal and not much else. It is falling apart because it was put together shoddily (by moi), or because it was manufactured shoddily in the first place. I can believe either or both. The keyboard tray is currently sitting at a 40 degree angle where my feet ought to go. I am ready for a replacement.

Does the Goodwill take a partially-assembled desk? It still works fine as a desk. Just not, you know, as a desk with a sliding keyboard platform thing.

Oh yeah, I also rebuilt my entire home network after my venerable wireless router (God bless the Linksys WRT54GS!) began dropping connections about every other day. There is only so many times in a week I am willing to pull the plug and count to thirty. I replaced the wizened blue box with an Airport Extreme, which means Apple hardware has finally penetrated my home infrastructure. (iPods don't count.) Setup was a breeze once I remembered to power cycle my modem, and my whole network now runs on a sexy MAC-filtered WPA2-encrypted stream of secured data. (Thank God for firmware updates, or my TiVo would still have me stuck on sad sad WEP.)

All of this, of course, is a distraction from what I'm supposed to be doing, which is Writing The Book. Or more properly, Prewriting The Book.

Everyone says you should outline, except for the people who say you should never outline, and I'm done listening to them because I always come out with something that bent at non-Euclidean angles halfway through. I don't believe a first draft should be perfect, but I do expect it to be coherent enough that I don't have to re-plot the entire book when I'm done drafting it.

Here's an example: I tried pantsing a Victorian-era monster mash that included all the classics: vampire, werewolf, Frankenstein's monster, the works. Then I found out halfway through that the original Wolfman, Larry Talbot, isn't public domain, he's a Universal property. But I was already halfway through the damn book! So rather than go back and fix it from the ground up, I just made another character the werewolf. And then that didn't work, so I made him not the werewolf. Without going back and editing anything.

What I ended up with was a manuscript where one character ceased to exist halfway through, and another character ended up acting like three different people. And the same thing happened to a few other characters - they grew and evolved into completely different people as I wrote, but because I was out to get the first draft done done done, I didn't take the time to go back and fix the cardboard cutouts they were earlier in the story. So when I finally got the draft done, I was stymied trying to figure out where to start revising. "From the beginning..." Yes, well, no. I needed to note down the needed changes, which meant nailing down what the characters were actually going to be like, which of the multiple-choice plots I was going to keep and which I was going to cut...

In short, I would need to outline the damn book as if I was starting from scratch. Better, I think, to just outline the book first, then write the first draft without letting it fly out of control halfway through.

I'm happy to report this has worked for some short fiction pitches, but I'm running aground on the latest book (which is not the monster mash - I'm leaving that on the back burner until I can do the necessary Victorian research). I don't think this is a fault of technique, but just me being too unmotivated to get notes down on paper. And maybe a minor fault of technique - I'm taking plenty of notes and jotting down ideas, but I haven't quite got everything organized in a way that makes sense to me yet.

But! Not giving up. That's what they want you to do. But unless I have a few epiphanies between now and November, I'm probably sitting out NaNoWriMo this year. I still think the challenge is great if you want to prove that you can be productive, or if you feel like testing yourself. But I keep generating 50,000 words of complete gibberish that falls apart on revision. I'd rather take my time, plan ahead, and get an ambulatory first draft I can eventually coax to full health.

Even if it takes a long damn time.