Mixed Media

Today I’ve got two things for you. A (more?) complete regional map of Selari and its neighbors, and a teaser for a short story project that I’m working on.

Selari Regional Map wm rszjpg

You might have to squint a little, but as you can see, we have towns and a bit more geographical information now. Khosseth will be the capital of the Selari Kingdom, I think, so I’ve made the font just slightly larger to denote that. I also added an almost-imperceptible touch of snow to the heights of the larger mountains and smoothed out an “oops” of an edge where there should not have been one.

Our first protagonist’s story will start in Emmerton, a little northwest of Khosseth. I hadn’t planned to put her so close to the capital, but I think I’ve actually made things a little easier on myself with that. All in all, the map will help me tell the story a little easier.

And now the short story news, which is a bit of a diversion from my main fiction projects, but I really want to get the wheels turning a bit more freely before I put any kind of pressure on myself to write something good.

The premise is pretty simple. The story is called Keep the Change. These are the first lines:

“And what is in each of these bottles will change me, all in different ways?”

“For one day only, yes.”

I didn’t have to think on it long. “I’ll take seven.”

You’ll get seven, possibly eight mini-chapters, and they’ll be posted here on my blog once I’ve finished the story and gone back and tweaked it to my satisfaction. I’m almost done writing the second bottle now, and I have plans for the rest, so it shouldn’t be too long, but it might be quiet around here while I work on the story. Then I’ll release it over the course of about a week, I think.

Hopefully, it will be fun for all involved. I’m enjoying writing the story and thinking about how I want it to end.

That’s about it for now! Maps and writing, writing and maps.

Quick discussion question for anyone who feels like commenting:

On the subject of change, if you could change something about yourself for one day, what would you choose to change, and how would it change? Bonus cookies for answering “why” as well. Serious and frivolous answers welcome alike.

No, I Didn’t Die

I’ve been absent from my writing blog for a while because the words seemingly dried up. Yep. I got a massive case of writer’s block and doing-anything-else because I couldn’t get any words to flow. I had nothing to say. It’s the most terrible feeling as a writer. And don’t tell me writer’s block doesn’t exist, because it may not exist for you, but non-neurotypical people tend to have a lot more barriers mentally even when it comes to doing things they love.

Part of the writer’s block was (and I think I can say ‘was’ now) the problem of “everything I write is crap!” Yes, okay, even if that’s true, though, you have to write the crap. But even the crap tap was shut off.

Part of it was a spurt of depression that I’m trying to work through. I’m having more good days lately, though, and the words have started to come back, partly through sheer determination to squeeze something out of stone…

And you know, another part of the problem was I was getting really stagnant in my current story. I was having some success writing backward from the end, but I think the problem there is that I am so invested in Euryale’s story that I can’t piece out where she needs to start from, where she needs to go… It’s like I got overwhelmed, really. So what I’ve done now is hopped projects. It’s what I do – I grasshopper. When something doesn’t work, change your tactics.

I’m having a good day and I hope it lasts. I’ve been working on another story with the working title of The Bearers of Song. There are five main characters/protagonists, and one main antagonist with a slew of behind-the-scenes antagonists. The basic plot idea is this: There is a magical song that is a key to a ward somewhere guarding something, and the song is broken into five parts. You can see where that’s going; yes, each main character has inherited one part of the song, and only they can remember it. So they team up and start this initially aimless quest to go drop the mysterious ward with their song. But maybe some things should stay hidden.

I don’t have a lot of this story figured out, which may be why it’s working for me right now. It’s a very open world without much structure to confine me. If I want to say there are purple dogs in raincoats, I don’t have to worry too much about how that might conflict with the yellow cats in galoshes. You get the idea.

So, back to writing with me, and hopefully I’ll have an excerpt to post from something here in a while!

On Pacing

No, I’m not talking about pacing in regards to the story itself – though that’s important, too. Today I want to talk about the impact my chronic illnesses have on my writing. This is a little bit of a personal post, I suppose, digging into my daily life rather than just my writing – but my writing is such a huge part of my daily life, and this is the other huge part. This is the silent, unseen monster that keeps me from taking over the world. Maybe it’s doing you all a favor by keeping my power minimal, who knows! 😛 But living with it frankly sucks.

First off, let me introduce you to the culprits by name. Fibromyalgia, probable psoriatic arthritis (in the process of getting a diagnosis from my rheumatologist), bipolar type II that’s mainly manifested as depression and anxiety, some vague and undiagnosed cognitive difficulties (I have trouble concentrating and focusing on things that I feel goes beyond the fibromyalgia cognitive symptoms), a minor heart rate disruption I’ve had since I was 11, and all the myriad symptoms that go along with those diagnoses.

In case you’ve never run across fibromyalgia, which is becoming sadly more common from what I can tell, it’s a bitch. It runs hand in hand with chronic fatigue, which you can either say is a symptom or a separate disease. I really have no idea whether I have chronic fatigue because I have fibromyalgia, or whether I have chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Either way, I am tired all of the time, and it goes bone-deep. Getting up and moving from one spot to another is, on a bad day, a herculean effort. In addition to the fatigue, fibromyalgia’s main manifestation is widespread, chronic pain. It’s hard to pin down – it likes to move around. Some days, it’ll be your shoulder. Some days it’ll be your shoulder and your back. Other days it’s your arms and legs. It’s really a matter of “what’s screaming the loudest for attention right now”? By that, if my meaning is not clear, I mean that everything generally hurts all the time, but the pain tends to move around and get worse in certain areas, so at any one time it comes down to what hurts the most.

The pain from fibromyalgia is mainly muscular, but it can also cause lots of other symptoms. Migraines, IBS, wobbly balance, sensitivities to light, sound, and smell, the ever-present, damned fatigue, insomnia or even sleeping too much, forgetfulness (I actually forgot to list this one and had to come back) and difficulty concentrating… I mean, the list goes on for twenty miles, and hand to the Goddess, every one of those symptoms is real. We’re not making things up for attention or just lumping every disease into one, though sometimes it does feel like we have every goddamn disease known to man. It’s tricky to diagnose, because there’s no definitive test for it, but we have very tender trigger points that, when pressed, HURT LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER! This is one of the diagnostic tests. There’s also an interesting test with an instrument that reads how much pressure you’re exerting with it. This is what made my first rheumatologist go “Yep, you’ve got fibromyalgia.” He pressed on a spot on my elbow with it, slowly, and told me to tell him when I first felt pain. It didn’t take very much pressure at all. Then he showed me on himself where he felt pain. I think my reaction was to burst out laughing – or at the very least, I felt like it, because he pressed the meter all the way down as far as it would read, and said “It almost hurts now.”

If that sounds a little bit hokey, well, you have to get adaptive when dealing with shit like this. If it’s too much to suspend your disbelief, I don’t have the spoons to convince you that it’s real. (The Spoon Theory – ever heard of it? It’s an analogy written by Christine Miserandino about what it’s like to try to get through a day as a chronically ill person, using spoons as energy currency. It’s highly recommended reading, and not very long.)

So that’s fibromyalgia… And you all know what arthritis does, even if you (I HOPE!) do not know what it’s like personally. You know what it’s like to be tired, even if you do not know what it’s like to be deep-down exhausted all the time. Depression is a common enough enemy that I don’t feel I need to expound on it here – anxiety, well, it’s just nervousness that doesn’t serve a useful purpose and won’t go away until it’s damn good and ready. And then I’ve got this heart thing I mentioned. There’s nothing, apparently, wrong with my heart physically, but since I was a kid, it’s raced out of control with little or no provocation. I’m talking resting heart rates of 120-150 beats per minute, no factors I can point to that would increase the rate, and when I stand up or move around, it gets worse. This is without medication, and I’m currently in the process of finding one or a combination of medications that will work to keep the heart rate manageable. It’s weird, and exhausting, and dealing with doctors is frustrating. I won’t even go into my latest cardiology visit, as that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

Then, on top of the physical woes and the emotional ones, I’ve got these vague cognitive difficulties! Maybe I hide it well, but there are a lot of things I have trouble with. Beginning about a year and a half ago, I suddenly started having trouble finishing books, movies, TV shows, anything like that. My knitting projects took longer and longer. I just couldn’t concentrate. I honestly feel so dull and slow, and I don’t know why. This is something I’m in the process of getting figured out, so right now I don’t have any answers at all. I’m beginning to get better at finishing books again, but I’m still a MUCH slower reader than I used to be, no matter how gripping the story.

I swear I don’t go looking for new things to “add to my collection.” They just seem to fall into my lap. And every day, they affect my writing. You can begin to imagine, from my description, what it might be like to try to move around in everyday life with limitations of ever-present pain, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, and sometimes depression and anxiety for “good measure”. I don’t get out much. Writing is my major escape. But there are days, like this morning, when I wake up and my brain says “nope.”

I wrote a paragraph and a half this morning after I woke up before the fatigue and exhaustion I’ve been dealing with (the flu really didn’t help with that) set in hard. It feels almost like a cloud descending over my mind. When you’re really tired, it’s hard to think, right? Right. Try pulling creative “genius” out of your ass when all you want to do is fall over and lie there thinking about how much you hurt and how tired you are. I can manage this blog post because it’s established information – this is my every day, I could write a post like this half-asleep – and because it’s informal. But my brain simply said “…what?” when confronted with the idea of continuing the thread of my novel this morning.

So I set it aside, and came to wordpress. But you know what? That paragraph and a half is a paragraph and a half more than what I had when I woke up this morning. Chronic illness be damned; this book will get written if I have to write it crawling. It’s why I’ve set my goal low for daily word count – 750 words isn’t an awful lot, but it’s a feasible goal for me most of the time. And when I fail to reach that goal, I remind myself that all progress is worth having (to bastardize a quote from the magnificent Jacqueline Carey series, Kushiel’s Legacy).

I may be sick, and it may be forever. But it’s not going to stop me from doing what I want with my life. I took a different path than the one I might have. Every twist and turn looked like a sharp one at the time. Every diagnosis seemed to change the path laid out in front of me. But it’s not a horrible life by any means. I deal with some horrible things, but my life is not bad. There is happiness in it. I have a loving husband who means the world to me and supportive family I couldn’t do without. I have a beautiful, sweet cat. I have many friends, even if I don’t get to physically see them much or ever. And I have hobbies I can do despite my illness. I knit, as you know. I also crochet, embroider, paint (sometimes), play video games, read books, and in the past I’ve made jewelry, candles, and other things. I’m also an amateur photographer though I can’t get out to take pictures very often. There is richness in my life, even if I can’t live it at the pace I’d like to. So this post is a huge middle finger to chronic illness, okay? Let’s take a good hard look at it and say “Fuck no, that’s not going to be anywhere near enough to stop me.”

Pacing yourself is necessary when dealing with chronic illness. It’s not fun, and it’s not easy, even after a decade plus of dealing with the limitations and having time to “get used to” them. Here’s the thing, you never do. It’s always a pain in the ass. But you can learn to get around them. So this novel, all of my future novels, will get written. It might not be at the pace I desire, but it is going to happen. It’s happening, even on slow mornings like this one. That paragraph and a half will grow into thousands more words if I keep watering and tending the garden I planted it in. And that I most certainly will do.

Back to Work

Well, my word count for this month is going to be fairly abysmal, at this rate, but given that I’ve had the flu for the past 8 days or so, I think that I can forgive myself the lapse.

The hard part is going to be getting my momentum back. I’m still not feeling my best, but maybe the break will work in my favor despite its length. I haven’t been able to do much that I deem useful (though as a friend pointed out, healing is useful, so thank you for that much-needed perspective which helped me get through the most boring days of the illness!) – my word count tracker has registered a zero every day for the last seven, and I feel like I’ve just misplaced a week of my life, but that’s left me chomping at the bit to get back to work as soon as possible.

When I stopped writing last, I was just finishing up an argument between the main character Euryale’s parents. It was an oddly difficult thing to do, as I’m almost never in arguments. And I wanted it to be an unusual thing, too, something that Euryale really has to chew on, because her parents aren’t the type to have shouting matches any more than I am. The way I’m currently writing it (I say currently because as it’s a first draft, I know everything is bound to change over time), Euryale hears the tail end of the argument as she’s coming home, but she can’t make out exactly what the argument was over.

This scene ends with Euryale’s mother Hermione stepping outside for some air, and meeting Euryale. I want to show, in the span of maybe a page or less, the closeness of their relationship, which might be a challenge, because I also don’t want to give away everything that Hermione and Athanasios were arguing about. I had planned on a scene between this one and the next to do that job, but realized it was almost entirely filler, and that wasn’t going to do at all, so I cut that scene’s idea completely.

Balance is a tricky business. You can have too much filler, or not enough… But I do tend to write long scenes and long stories. I think I can safely err on the side of cutting some scenes – this book will end up plenty long enough without lots of filler besides. While the filler scene would have served a purpose, why should I write a scene solely for the goal of showing the depth of a relationship when I can use an existing scene with a plot-related purpose for the same goal? Two birds with one stone. Every word should be used well. But I definitely think that it’s better to come up with too many scenes that might read as unnecessary and have to cut some ideas than it is to have not enough meat on the bones of your book. Write first, edit later. There’s a quote I heard this past November (hey, National Novel Writing Month!) that really resonated with me:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” – Shannon Hale

It doesn’t have to be neat and perfect on the first draft. Neat and perfect come later, if perfect ever comes – but if you do it right, it’ll be someone’s idea of perfect. So that’s something I periodically remind myself of while working on my many first drafts. I’m definitely a perfectionist when it comes to writing – not necessarily in blogs, where I’m just letting my thoughts go where they will, but in my fiction. I may not have any finished works yet, but I’ve got scenes I’m pretty proud of nevertheless. And funnily enough, I got those scenes mostly when I was able to let go of the desire for perfection. When I can just get into the flow of writing and shoveling sand, sometimes, an unexpected castle pops up.

So I think that’s enough of getting nothing done. Tomorrow, I get back to shoveling sand.

Motivational Thrills

Sticky tabs. Fluorescent flags and highlighters. Brand new mechanical pencils, a freshly-dedicated spiral notebook, and intention bringing it all together. It all sits before me, ready to receive my inspired prose. Or uninspired prose, or maybe ideas, or scene notes, or research questions (“How widespread are wolves in Greece?”), or notes on the various myths I hope to draw inspiration from.

There’s something to be said for little motivational thrills like brand new office supplies. Do I need them in order to write? No, there are plenty of programs designed to take the place of “cumbersome” physical objects, and my laptop has a nice selection of them. I use Scrivener to write, to keep character biographies organized, to keep detailed summaries and outlines, and so forth. I honestly can’t live without that one. I’ve also just recently started using the free version of Evernote to keep track of my scenes and clip research information from the web. OneNote would be a useful program, if I cared to replace the paper notebook entirely. And I use Excel to keep track of my word count. But there is something utterly satisfying and evocative about holding a pencil to clean paper. The action says, “I have ideas.”

I am not, generally, the type of person to have ideas pour out of them in a waterfall of inspiration. The lucky seat-of-their-pants writers who go off on a tear and then have to cut back their work, rather than extend it? I wish I was one of them, honestly. Sometimes, getting the words on the paper is like walking up a hill of molasses. And so I surround myself with small things that inspire and motivate me — life can’t be counted on to supply a steady stream of these things on its own. No, as Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” The muse is sweet, fickle, and inconstant. She may actually be a cat. But when she’s not present, work continues: I still have to write. I’ve read (probably in a Stephen King quote) that habit will serve you better than inspiration. I believe that’s true. It is also true that you must be working in order to make the most of that inspiration when it comes to you. So: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.

Probably the most important quality of being a writer is persistence. The second I would have to say is enthusiasm. You have to love your story. You have to be driven on by it night and day until the words pour into your dreams when you sleep and you wake up at six a.m. to catch the overflow in buckets. And when that enthusiasm fails, persistence and discipline will serve you well.

Motivation, unlike inspiration, can be summoned any time. A steady stream of it is possible. For a long time, I had an index card pinned to a small corkboard above my desk. In bold lines, it said “People want to read your book. Write it!” That was daily motivation for me. Now, it takes the form of my organizational materials. But I don’t need the index card in front of me physically to remember its motivating words.

I may not have many people invested in my stories yet, but I am confident more of you will come in time. I’ll share excerpts here when I can, introduce you to my characters, and tell you about my research. This blog previously lived at this location, but it should be easier for you to follow my posts here on WordPress. There are a few options for getting notified of when I make new posts, and you should find them near the bottom of the page.

Thanks for reading.