Monday, January 29, 2007

Mini Summer Flashback

I spent the weekend meeting up with friends from CW06.

Friday night we had dinner at Guy's house with Gord and his girlfriend. Gord gave me an English translation of two stories by Kim Young-ha. He thought I'd especially like the second story, "Whatever Happened to the Guy Stuck in the Elevator?", without even remembering my brief incident being stuck in an elevator the other week. I finished reading the story last night and I did enjoy it tremendously. Darkly funny with lots of energy. Plus, it's different enough from my usual fare that I'll be churning over in my head how he made the story work. Anyway, dinner was mellow and relaxing. I'm glad I finally got to meet Gord's girlfriend, plus Guy's wife Gayle is lovely, and it was good to have an evening out with Brad where he could finally meet some of my friends.

On Saturday I drove down to Seattle with Guy and Gayle. We met up with Caroline, Mark and his wife, Paul Park, and Leslie at Tula's jazz club for dinner. I didn't get to talk to anyone much there--loud jazz music makes that a little hard--but it was good to see everyone.

Sunday was Paul's workshop on writing settings. Mostly he talked about the same things he talked about during class at Clarion West, but that seems like it was so long ago that a refresher was good. Things about playing with the reader's expectations, having different layers of your story working against each other, how emotional effects are often the result of the visualization you do when writing while intellectual effects are the result of the architecture of the story, the skeleton you outline and plan. How story can generate itself out of a clear visualization, and how when plots go off track, it's often because your visualization has become vague.

He did some in-class writing exercises which were new to me. The first two were focused on describing a setting while keeping in mind a scenario picked from a list he provided. The options all incorporated some sort of contradiction or conflict between what was expected and what was actually happening with the character, like writing about a beautiful setting from the view of a depressed person or decribing an occasion where there's an emotional subtext different from what we'd expect, e.g. fury at the wedding or joy at the funeral. For the third exercise we wrote about a person from a photograph we'd chosen, gradually expanding our paragraph from a straight physical description to include the moment surrounding it and then the person's emotional context, his/her history and motivations. The last exercise had us watch a section of a film showing a very detailed and rich setting into which we were to put some characters and write a scenario that included as much of the setting as we could. The last exercise was the hardest for me, I think because there was so much about the setting that I didn't know. The scene we watched was from the film Barraka, showing the steps by the Ganges in Varanasi with pilgrims bathing and praying in the river and families burning their dead on pyres, and there were just so many things that I would have wanted to know the words for and the proper ritual for before I wrote anything set there that just trying to come up with a scenario based on the visuals I saw was tough.

It felt weird sitting at a table with Mark and Guy and hearing Paul say, "What worked for you in this? Think about the effect of [insert interesting way of changing the story]..." and yet not having the rest of my class around the table. It was like one of those dreams where half of what you expect is there but the rest is all mishmashed with strange objects and people. Like a Paul Park story.

Overall a good weekend. Good especially to see some friends and get my brain thinking about writing, apart from the usual "Dear God, I need to finish a story!" I'm surprised by how many CW friends I've managed to see post-Clarion, and I hope I get to catch up with some more of them soon.

[Note to CW06ers: Paul mentioned that, sadly, the lion no longer speaks.]

Monday, January 22, 2007

Universal Order Restored

At least in my personal universe. All crises have been averted.

One of my bosses told me I could get my laptop fixed for free at the repair shop they use. The problem, I discovered over the weekend, was simply that the power connector thingie in the back got knocked loose, which is apparently a common problem with these computers. So it got re-soldered today and everything is fine.

I guess this means that all my writing deadlines are back on. ::gulp::

Saturday, January 20, 2007

No Writing

Maybe the computer overlords tapped into my brainwaves while I was contemplating stories about evil computers taking over the world or maybe I made one too many complaints about the lazy, drunken gnomes that run the Internet--I offended someone somewhere along the line, because after the elevator incident (which I now see must have been a warning), I've spent the week wrestling with a string of computer problems at work, and then yesterday, my laptop died.

I'd hoped that I just needed a new power supply, so I took it to Futureshop to buy one and had them plug up the universal adapter they sold to make sure it worked. It didn't. So one of their tech guys carried it to the back room. I felt like I was watching a friend being taken into the ER. He tried another power supply, and it didn't work either. My laptop refused to power up at all.

I need to resuscitate it long enough to retrieve my files. I think it's mainly an issue with the power supply, because even after my computer stopped recognizing the adapter, it still ran on the battery. Unfortunately, my battery is dead now too. If I could swap it out with a charged battery, then I think the computer would start. All of that aside, though, I need to get a new laptop.

Why this means I can't write, I don't know. Pens and paper do still exist after all. I guess it's just demoralizing. Of course, this all happens when I have a self-imposed deadline I've been pushing hard to meet, the story half-finished on my hard drive. Every time I get into a groove where I think I can finally start being productive, it lasts for just a couple of days before life somehow intervenes. Always more drama and crises happening in my life than on the page. I really wish I could reverse that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

An Elevating Post

This is how my day started:

We're taking the elevator down to the garage, running a little late as usual. Brad, still groggy, gazes at the ceiling. "I never noticed they don't have an escape hatch in here."

I glance up at the solid panelling, note the lack of seams. "Huh. Interesting."

A second later, the elevator stops. Between floors. We exchange looks of quiet panic. "You jinxed us," I say.

The elevator did finally drift all the way down to the lobby after five minutes and let us out. We walked the remaining two flights down to the garage.

The day never improved from there.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Drooling Over Apple

I'm not a big gadget freak, but I love this.

Draft done?

"Done" is such a weird word. Technically, I could say I've finished a draft. There's a beginning, middle, and ending to the story. But I'm not quite done fiddling with it. Things are still quite a mess, a result of the slapdash method of writing I employed for this particular piece at the beginning, rather than my usual meticulous planning. So I've still got a little bit of hammering to do to get the pieces to fit. Hammering and sewing. But all the pieces are there, I hope. Maybe that means I'm "revising," rather than "writing." At least, I'd like to think so.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

You sunk my battleship!

Look what I found:

Miniclip Games - Battleships

Can you be the savior and destroy the enemy fleet?

Play this free game now!!
I love this game, especially the sound effects. Brad has a lame version of Battleship on his cell phone, which inspired me to go looking for one on the Net. Ah, productivity!

(Obviously, I've been working hard. Although, seriously, I should have a new story done tomorrow. And no, you can't read it... yet.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Op-Ed at the Rent-a-Car

"I'm calling the paper and cancelling my subscription. They shouldn't print stuff like that." The woman sat at a desk behind the Hertz counter, one hand balled at her waist, the other pressed flat against the desktop. A newspaper lay spread open on a nearby counter, too far away for me to read, but a glance at it made the red of the woman's hair seep into her face.

"Good for you," chimed the lady processing our rental. "Nobody speaks up. That's why they think they can get away with it."

I looked over at Brad to see if he had any clue what they were talking about, but he shook his head. Neither of us were feeling particularly alert just then anyway. The whole week had been hectic and tiring, and we'd been looking forward to getting back to Vancouver for New Year's Eve, only to find out moments before that we'd be stuck in West Virginia for the night.

The red-head continued fuming as she stood and walked to the phone on the counter. "We're cancelling our subscription to the Gazette," she yelled into the receiver. "I was reading the wedding section, and there, plain as day, was a picture of two women in white wedding dresses, saying they got married. I don't want my children seeing something like that." Her tirade went on for another few minutes. It was morally wrong, it was illegal, and she didn't want to see it. "My husband says to go ahead and cancel our subscription," she told the other lady when she hung up.


We got the rental car keys and left before I could hear any more of the conversation, but I made Brad stop at a gas station on the way through Charleston to pick up a copy of that day's Gazette. And sure enough, in the "Celebrations" section, there was the picture she'd been talking about, with the wedding announcement underneath.

Thumbing through the rest of the Gazette, I thought about what the Hertz woman had said, and I realized that I'm glad I don't subscribe to a newspaper. I saw article after article about things I'm morally opposed to: terrorist bombings, war, murder, drug abuse, Internet sales taxes. How could the paper's editors possibly print things like that? Innocent children might read the news and start murdering people or taking drugs or passing legislation to tax my purchases.

Or maybe not. Maybe we could teach the children to be smart enough readers that they can think critically about the news they read, reach their own conclusions based on the facts presented and the values we teach them, and know that shooting the messenger is a useless form of protest. Maybe teach them that freedom of the press is not about censoring reality to conform to someone's religious views. And that there are worse things in the world than the expression of a new family's joy, things like blind hatred and bigoted intolerance.

On the other hand, I can understand the woman's anger. I get upset reading the news, too. There's far too little respect for grammatical niceties, such as actually using commas and writing complete sentences, for my taste. I don't know what editors these days are thinking. As far as the wedding announcement goes, though--

I don't know who they are, but congratulations to Julia McDonald and Christine Letcher on their recent nuptials and warm wishes for a happy marriage.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Christmas Loot

I'm finally back in Vancouver, a day late and more than a few dollars short. For probably the first time in my life, I'm glad that I'm going back to work tomorrow. My "vacation" time was woefully short of time to actually get any writing done, which has left me feeling stressed and irritated. I have a better chance of doing my writing when I'm working ten-hour days.

On the plus side, I got some new books to add to the ever expanding list of To-Read list, all of which g0t a free pass to the front of the list.
  • The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Darin Park and Tom Dullemond--I've read the first couple of chapters so far, which didn't contain anything particularly memorable, but there does seem to be some interesting stuff later on about devising magical systems and societies and other fantasy-specific issues
  • Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree Jr.--Haven't started this yet, but she seemed like an author I ought to read.
  • Steering the Craft, Ursula K. LeGuin--Another writing book to feed my addiction. I like reading books on writing, because it helps keep me focused on process rather than product.
  • Stardust, Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess--The movie comes out later this year so I have to read this before then.
As far as New Year's resolutions go, I'd thought about doing JanNoWriMo this month with a few other people, but I've decided to try another goal for the first few months of the year instead and start the novel writing in the summer. I'd post what my goals for the year are, except I've found that I do better when I keep them to myself.

A happy, productive, and prosperous New Year to all!