Saturday, March 31, 2007

Impossible Sentences

Okay, so maybe I exaggerated a bit.

Last night, in my fulsome praise of staying up late, I said that this is when I do my writing. Well, that's certainly true of these blog entries; I seldom start on one before midnight. But the fiction is another story. Aside from the fact that I haven't gotten nearly enough fiction writing in recently, the truth is that what I have written in recent months, I've mostly done during the daytime, usually at lunch.

Today at lunchtime, for example, it suddenly occurred to me that Rutana, the mage who is based on my mom (Ruth Anne), has to be at least a decade older than Fayubi. This is potentially a problem, because I imply a past relationship between the two characters. Yet in the "otherworld" version of Mâvarin, Fayubi's counterpart was infatuated with her in his student days, when she was his teacher and mentor. See? Older. And it gets worse. All this time, I've thought of Rutana as being in her 60s or early 70s. But Fayubi is 52 years old in Mages. So Rutana needs to be in her early 60s at most.
(Art by Sherlock)

Thinking all this through today, I realized that I didn't have a very good grasp of the otherworld Rutana's history. Nor had I worked out how her husband, Pol Ramet, who valued truth and honor over everything else, managed to head up the police force of a morally questionable regime in both worlds.

So I did some character building as I waited for my shrimp burrito, and made a few notes after I sat down with my lunch (and mopped up the Diet Pepsi I knocked over). But I didn't have much time. I wrote less than a page, enough to get through Rutana's ten year teaching career, plus an aside about another character's secondary magical ability. I didn't get to the bit about Pol having an understanding with monarchs who genuinely liked him, and protected him from their more ruthless relatives and associates. I'm not even sure whether that works as an explanation.

Tonight I thought it would be good to work on the problem a bit more, but instead I opened up Chapter One, page one of An Adept in Mâvarin, which is the first volume of Mages of Mâvarin. It begins with a prologue bit that I quoted last Saturday night, the one about Keni's father trying to kill him. And I decided that I don't like that opening sentence any more. I ran it by John, and he agreed. It's too deliberately slam bang, too manipulative, too over-the-top. Yes, okay, one needs to get the reader's interest (particularly the first reader's interest) in the first paragraph or two, but

Keni Tarso couldn’t help noticing that his father was trying to kill him.

...just isn't the way to do it.

So what if I just left off that sentence? Does the scene play without it? Not really. The next sentence is, or at any rate was,

A few seconds before, Filo Tarso had been smiling as they sparred in front of their house, offering encouragement and praising Keni’s improved parry technique.

Yuck. First of all, the sentence is too long and complex, especially if I cut the "kill him" sentence and make this one the lead. And look at all those past participles! All that smiling and offering and praising! Gives me a pain. Plus we no longer have a clear identification of Keni as Filo's son. Yes, it becomes clear as we go along, but I mustn't start the reader off with something long and confusing like this sentence.

But how could I fix it? I played around with it for a while tonight, but everything I tried just made it worse. There must be a clear, concrete, concise was to introduce the scene, but I haven't found it. And maybe it's because I'm tired, having been up too late for too many nights this past week. Or maybe it's because I'm not very good at writing sort declarative sentences. But for tonight at least, making that sentence work seems like an impossible task.

Ah, well. I guess I'll sleep on it.


Friday, March 30, 2007

After Midnight

Weekend Assignment #158: What's your favorite time of day and why? It doesn't have to be a specific hour and minute, mind you: "early morning" or "after midnight" or "sunset" works just fine, too. Although if you do have a very specific time, by all means note it.

Extra Credit: What's the longest you've ever stayed awake?

My answer to this will surprise no one. What time of day am I most likely to pop up on your Buddy List? What time of day is coded on my blog entries, give or take a few hours due to Blogger wonkiness? What time is mentioned in the subject header, quoting an Eric Clapton song?

My temporary set-up in the kitchen, after midnight

Yeah. You know the answer. It's not just that I'm a night person. I'm an after midnight person.

Doctor Who series 2 DVDs, and furniture from my office

After midnight, I'm a little tired around the edges, but relaxed and creative and having fun. After midnight, I can watch a favorite Doctor Who or Buffy episode yet again, and nobody will mind. After midnight, the house is quiet, except for the tv if I have it on, and there are no distractions save those I introduce myself. After midnight, there are seldom any IMs, no telephone solicitors, and very few Wikipedia vandals. After midnight, it's just me, and whatever is engaging my imagination at the moment.

And after midnight is when I write. Sometimes I even write fiction after midnight. At the very least, I write these blog entries. Then I make my leisurely was toward bed, usually stopping off first for a bubble bath and some quality time with a good book.

Midnight blue

There are disadvantages, of course. After midnight is not usually a great time for me to do certain kinds of analysis. Debits and credits sometimes make less sense after midnight. I probably commit the same number of typos, but I'm less apt to catch them before I publish.

And, of course, there's that whole "getting up in the morning and going to work" thing.

John painted the wall and the piece of wood around the
air conditioner, and then went to bed around 8:45 PM

Be that as it may, this is my time. John, who painted the office wall tonight, was in bed well before 9 PM. He can get up long before dawn, putter around, go to the gym, come home, clean up, and make his long commute in to work, all by 8 AM. At 8 AM, my alarm hasn't even gone off yet. For me, dawn is a time to be approached only on the way to bed - and only when there's no need to get up before noon the next day. Waking up around 2 PM is even better.

Shortly after we moved to Tucson in 1986, John and I slipped into a schedule that took advantage of his ability to get up early, and my inability to go to bed until long after midnight. We were taking a year off to write, and sharing a Macintosh SE to do it on. John was working on a comic book, Beatles research and other stuff, and I was working on the Route 66 book and a nature book we were calling Critters. My research for the latter involved going out and birdwatching, pretty much every day. While I did that, John had the use of the computer. He'd go to bed around 7 or 8 PM, and then the computer was mine. I'd write all night, and go to bed around dawn - just as John was getting up for the day. I even coined a Sniglet for my increasingly late hours: dawntending. John, moving the other way, was dusktending.

After a few months, though, my sleep schedule got a little out of hand. One day I still wasn't sleepy by dawn. I didn't get to bed until three in the afternoon. I'd probably been up for 24 or 25 hours by then.

Years later, when I got my job with Worldwide Travel, I stayed up all night at my previous job, closing the books on the previous year as best I could. I left around 7 AM. At 8 AM I showed up at Worldwide Travel for an orientation meeting with my new bosses, Mal and Sandy Potter. I didn't work all day, though. I probably went to bed at noon.

And when I finished my part of closing 2005 at my current job, I came in to work at 3 PM Sunday, having been up since 9 AM for church. I left work 2:30 Monday afternoon, and went straight to bed. The 2006 closing was a lot like that, but not quite as extreme.

And now you have your extra credit answer. One of those times is probably the time I stayed awake the longest. But I really didn't keep score in that respect.

Now, before you go telling me I should take better care of myself: those were far from typical days. Yes, I stay up until 2 AM very often, but you will seldom catch me awake at 4 AM or later unless there's a crisis, or a deadline doom, or a chance to sleep in the next day.

So anyway, that's my favorite time, for all those reasons, the time I'm most relaxed and creative and interested and having fun - and, truth be told, playing the rebel and eccentric a little bit.

There is one other time that comes to mind, though. I was reminded of it by John Scalzi's very specific favorite time of 12:34, which he likes for the numeric sequence.

When I was in 8th grade, I had a best friend named Tracy, or possibly Tracey. She lived in Cherry Manor, about half a mile or less from my house on F-M Road in Manlius. We listened to Beatles records together, and fooled around with cheap cameras, and walked into the village to shop at Weber's or the drug store, and even dropped in on my English teacher a couple of times at a nearby apartment complex. We were both due home for dinner at 5:15 or 5:30, something like that, and we worked out that if we left each other's houses at 5:05 PM, we'd be home on time. It got to be a running joke with us, to watch for that time, and sing about it to each other when it came. "It's 5:05...!" we'd sing. I don't think we did a whole song, just that phrase, repeated. But we definitely sang it.

And now it's 2:24, which is another fun mathematical sequence - and I'm going to bed. Good night!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The UFO on the ceiling

It's been another night of goofing off. In other words, I mostly watched Doctor Who all night. Do you ever get caught up in watching a whole season of some favorite show on DVD? Well, that's what's happening with me right now. I've watched the Tenth Doctor's first season rather a lot lately, and now I'm watching the Ninth Doctor's shows. There are some awfully good ones in there. Tonight I watched Dalek, and The Long Game, and Father's Day. Father's Day is the best of the whole season. I watched it twice tonight, once without commentary, once with.

Aside from some IM sessions, buying fish tacos and washing some forks, my only other accomplishments tonight were planning my next Ficlet and shaking up a can of primer. The primer is a special kind that's supposed to be good for covering water stains. As you can see, John put it on both the wall and in certain spots on the ceiling.

The ceiling shot above (how appropriate!) isn't very true to life, but that's what I like about it. The camera and the photo editing software decided among themselves that my ceiling should be blue. It's really white, but I like the effect. The oval of light ends up looking a bit like a flying saucer.

Next step is more painting, and John's going to put up molding. After that we'll take up the carpeting, probably cutting it up for easy removal. If the rest of the tile is in good shape like the bits of it we've seen, we'll rent a buffer/polisher or something, clean it, and keep it. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway. Once that's done, we finally get to build my new desk.

Tomorrow night is another Weekend Assignment. I'll try to write something more interesting then. Meanwhile, it's time to sleep the sleep of the sleepy. Good night!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Karen Show

My office. Tonight John cut off the excess foam where the wall meets the ceiling.

At one point tonight, John and I were
both trapped behind furniture.

For some reason, I didn't feel like accomplishing anything much tonight. I read a little of a friend's novel in revision, enjoyed a bit of Scalzi's book on writing (nicknamed Coffee Shop), checked in from time to time on the debate over whether Barbara Bauer's deleted article on Wikipedia should be reinstated, watched House, helped John move things around in my office (see above), watched the second half of The Truman Show, and watched a Doctor Who two-parter from the Christopher Eccleston season that relaunched the show and the character.

You've heard of The Truman Show, right? Great film. For every moment of the thirty years since his birth, Truman, played by Jim Carrey, has been the only real person in an artificial world, interacting with actors while hidden cameras record his every move in the ultimate 24-hour a day reality show. Eventually he figures it out, rebels and escapes, undeterred by the tricks and arguments of the show's creator.

And it occurred to me, as Jim Carrey's character stepped out of the world created for him and into the real one, that we bloggers something in common with Truman. This is especially true of those of us who update one or more times a day. We're not generally the people with webcams, so it's not televised; but still we perform daily for the world. Unlike the character, I know pretty much exactly is going on, and I choose to do it, for a much smaller audience than his. Truman was manipulated by his Svengali, the Ed Harris character, who improvised the dialogue and situations. Me, I write my own scripts, but I also follow scenarios set by John Scalzi, whichever Robin has suggested the current photo challenge, and occasionally some other meme. And although you've probably never seen video of me, you've seen my picture. I'll be interested to see whether Scalzi recognizes me when I drive up to Phoenix next month for a book signing. Under his Law of Internet Invocation, I've probably just guaranteed that he will.

So what does that say about the modern world, when people like me look for something in their lives with which to entertain others online, night after night, for three years and counting? What does it say about us that a fee-charging literary agent is as famous for trying, unsuccessfully, to suppress unfavorable attention online as she is for being on the 20 Worst Agents list in the first place?

Beats me.


Take it Outside

Your Monday Photo Shoot: Take a picture of people working outside. Because now the weather's right for it (mostly). If you have a photo in your archives of people working outside, that works too.

Humph. This is going to be tricky to do. I was barely even outside today. The only person I saw working outside was a next door neighbor, and I wouldn't presume to photograph him for this. So I need to go to the archives, but I can't, for the most part, because most of the photo files have been cleared out onto CDs to relieve my overburdened hard drive. Those CDs are in one of the many boxes currently stacked in the den as we work on fixing up my office.

But let's see what's still on my hard drive that matches the criteria, shall we? I've found a handful of pictures for you that I haven't shown off before, which show people working outside - but with a strong element of fun.

This latter-day Betsy Ross is sewing a flag in the tent village at the Picacho Pass reenactment. I don't know whether anyone is paying her for the sewing.

Here she is again. Note all the spectators, who are not working.

I also have lots of shots of the faux soldiers, who if they were the actual 19th century combatants could certainly be said to be working. But since these 21st century folks are instead playing soldier for fun (and probably spending lots of money to do it), they don't really count. This policeman, on the other hand, is definitely on the clock. Seems like a fun assignment, though.

This fellow was carving pumpkins at Disneyland last October. I'm guessing his admirer is interested in more than his skill with a knife.

And this chimney sweep, Bert by name, manages to avoid the appearance that he's working at all. Need I mention that this was also taken at Disneyland?

It occurs to me belatedly that John S. paid "people." plural, whereas I've posted individuals working essentially alone. Let's rectify that with a few more Disneyland shots. Full disclosure: John B. may have taken one or both of these last two shots, but I don't think so.

The Dixieland jazz band that works out of the "Disneyland Fire Dept" is a successor to the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a real, working band that included legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ward Kimball.

And here we have Alice and the Mad Hatter arguing, which probably is a lot of work, at least for Alice!


Monday, March 26, 2007

Look What We Dug Up!

I must go to bed, so I'll just mention a few things in passing:

1. I wrote another Ficlet, mostly for promotional purposes. For this one I finally used the Dennys doorway / freeways to anywhere idea I've had kicking around in my head for 20 years, looking for a story.

2. We went to see Ernie Menehune to night at Kon Tiki. No, I'd never heard of him either, but he's evidently been around forever. The photo on this flyer has to be at least 40 years old, probably closer to 50. Review to follow.

3. John discovered today that under the awful orange carpeting is some rather nice tile. This means we probably won't buy flooring for my office, and we'll have the project done that much sooner. It also means I can move this computer from the underlit kitchen back into my office, at least temporarily.

But not tonight. Aloha!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In medias res

Saturday morning.

Suddenly a shot rang out!

Well, no it didn't. I just wanted to play around a little with the concept in the subject line tonight. "In medias res" means "in the middle of things." In literature it's the technique of starting a story in the middle of the action, and catching up with the background stuff later in flashbacks. The Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters" begins in medias res. with a guy named Elton finding the TARDIS and then being confronted by an alien monster. Mages of Mâvarin starts in medias res, sort of, although it's technically a prologue:

Keni Tarso couldn’t help noticing that his father was trying to kill him.

A few seconds before, Filo Tarso had been smiling as they sparred in front of their house, offering encouragement and praising Keni’s improved parry technique. He’d even hinted that Keni had finally shown he was ready to go off to Thâlemar and join the Guard, like his brother before him. Now suddenly the elder Tarso’s face was distorted by hatred, and his sword thrusts were fast and reckless. He was also muttering something. As Keni struggled to deflect his father’s attack, he also struggled to hear his father’s words.

“Die. Die. Die.”

Knowing what his father was saying didn’t help at all.

Anyway, I mention the concept because I'm tired of quoting from Flowers for Algernon in my subject line, and because I'm very much in the middle of things right now. The photos at the top of this entry were taken, I think, Saturday morning. The one with the boxes was early this afternoon. The rest were taken tonight. We've got my office closet pretty much emptied, as well as my old desk, except for my laptop and scanner. John has packed up my QL scripts off the shelves behind my desk, and we've made a start on consolidating a bunch of old papers, throwing away old mail, convention flyers and such and keeping about 50% more than John wants me to keep of the rest.

John's also done some work on the outer wall, which needed some filling in at the top. We'll be painting it soon. Then we'll be ready for new flooring and new shelving, and to put together my new desk.

So I'm in the middle of that project, in the middle of figuring out that one paragraph in the other book, and in the middle of trying to introduce the new church website to the parish. Tonight I added a WooHoo "Ken Burns style" slide show thing to the welcome page. With any luck you should be able to see it here too. (Nope. It's refusing to embed.)

And last but not least, I'm waiting to learn whether a cryptic, rather scary note a friend got tonight as I worked on this entry is related to me, possibly because of a Wikipedia page I've worked on; or just someone's random paranoia about an entirely different set of people and circumstances. We may never know, but I'm taking it at least a little seriously. That scene between Keni and his father is strictly fantasy, but this note I read tonight reminds me uncomfortably between another conflict between parent and child many years ago. One day in my high school gym class, some classmates talked about Diane H's mother, who had gone to the elementary school and confronted a teacher there, claiming that the teacher was spreading lies about her. It was the first time I heard an example of paranoid behavior in the real world. A couple weeks later, Diane's mother killed Diane as part of a murder-suicide. This note my friend got tonight reminds me strongly of that tragedy, because it's a clearly paranoid rant directed at a total stranger for no apparent reason. I just hope that a) it isn't related to that Wikipedia issue I mentioned (in which case the paranoia could be directed at me personally), and b) whoever the person is gets help soon, and doesn't do any harm more serious than the spewing of words.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Equilibrium Recovered

Today's obligatory photo shows that snow
has returned to the Catalina Mountains

I think Ficlets has served its purpose for me, at least for now. I wrote a third one tonight, a sequel to "The Birthday Race" titled "Transformation." But that's it. John can rest easy. This isn't the start of yet another obsession. I'm done. Probably. Sort of.

In Ficlets, prequels and sequels aren't quite the same thing as in longer fiction. Each ficlet is a tiny vignette at best, but a bunch of them will often be strung together into a larger story, sometimes with more than one author for the larger series. That's part of the point of the site. It's social networking in the form of interactive fiction.

So I wrote a second part to my story about a heavily fictionalized, futuristic version of my friend Sara, and then two regular contributors to the site continued the story with a sequel each. To be honest, I don't like what they did with it. Their version was much darker than what I had in mind, with a big planetary threat making a quick and devastating entrance.

That's perfect valid; there's nothing wrong with what they wrote or the fact that they wrote them. But I've come to the conclusion that I don't have the temperament for round robin fiction. Round Robin Photo Challenges, yes, because nobody comes in afterwards and changes my photos to suit themselves. But fiction is something else again. Even in these few teeny tiny snippets I've developed a proprietary interest in the stories and the characters. I hate to see someone else muck about with them, even if they did it well. Never mind that the child in "Do You Want to Meet a Pirate?" is heavily based on a certain well-known writer's Pluto-defending daughter. That one got sequeled, too, and I didn't like that, either, through no fault on the part of the sequel writer.

It doesn't matter, though. I wrote a little short fiction to a certain specification, showed myself that I can do it, and had a bit of fun. That's enough to restore my confidence and perspective after this week's disappointment. Now I need to go back and get past this paragraph in which the otherworld King Jor argues, with an ironic subtext, that it's a good thing he wasn't kidnapped 15 years ago. So far he hasn't managed to communicate the gist of his argument to me, but we'll figure it out. There's a version of the paragraph in my handwritten draft, but Jor misses his own point entirely in that bit. At some point I'll extend my version of the crystal woman story, but I'm not in a hurry about it.

News of the Weird tonight, courtesy of Julie, is that literary agent Barbara Bauer is apparently suing practically everyone who has ever been less than complimentary to her online, with the possible exception of individual Wikipedia editors and such. Wikimedia Foundation is among the many named defendants. If it ever goes to trial, will they call on me as one of the people who worked on that article? If so, will they pay my airfare? Hey, I'd love an excuse to go Back East for a visit.

In the morning I try to give blood again, and then I've got to get on with the emptying of the office. And before the weekend's over I hope to get a few more queries ready to go out. Meanwhile, now that I've spent the evening and half the night watching Doctor Who, I think I'd better go to bed!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Transcendental Refrigerator

Weekend Assignment #157: So, what's in your fridge? Be honest. If you include a picture of the current state of the fridge, that'd be nifty.

Extra Credit:
What's the oldest thing in the fridge?

Part of this is true.

Our refrigerator is relatively new, but it's already a bit of a mess. I'm not going to give you full particulars, but I will mention just a few things. The Alpo replaces Prestige* dog food, the Safeway house brand that's now on the do-not-feed-to-Tuffy-under-any-circumstances list.

*I originally called it Premiere, but I was misremembering the name. The important thing is that it's one of the brands on the massive recall list, and yes, Tuffy had a open can of it in the fridge when the news broke. Yes, she's fine, fortunately!

And here's something odd. It's a Diet Code Red Mountain Dew dispenser. So why is it dispensing Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi and diet root beer?

We always wanted a bigger refrigerator, and this time we finally got one that was roomy inside. I should have noticed that there was something odd about it, but it doesn't usually look like this. Perhaps it requires a certain frame of mind - some recent disappointment, followed by hope, and an openness to possibilities. Or perhaps it was that little dial in the back corner. Maybe it wasn't a temperature control for the freezer compartment after all.

The nearly opaque maelstrom swirled for thirty seconds or so, and then started to fade, revealing something beyond. I followed the orb, noting with only minor surprise that the space around me had become much more spacious than the inside of a normal refrigerator.

Sure enough, he was waiting on the other side, looking rather impatient. Does the Doctor count as the oldest thing in my refrigerator? At 900-plus years, he's much older than the diet Jello or John's tofu.


John's birthday was tonight. He didn't let me give him a new iPod, but he liked the turquoise metal watering can. And we ate at Kon Tiki, which I now know for a fact to be the greatest tiki bar and restaurant in Arizona.

And I wrote a little fiction tonight. No, I don't mean this entry. I tried out Ficlets on AOL. I wrote two ficlets, which are extremely short short stories. Here they are:

1. The Birthday Race (for Sara)

2. Do You Want to Meet a Pirate? (Guess which one I have in mind!)

Thanks, everyone, for your encouragement today. I feel much better now. One thing, though. Whenever someone suggests (with the best of intentions) that I move on, set aside my first novel and write something else non-Mâvarin, it always irritates me a little bit. It's not that I can't or don't write anything else. Just tonight I wrote these ficlets. Last year I wrote The Jace Letters. I already have a borderline science fiction story about St. Nicholas, and about two-thirds of a novel about Joshua Wander. There will always be more stories, not all of them about Mâvarin.

But. Short fiction is neither my forte nor my interest. More to the point, Mâvarin isn't, and never will be, something to set aside, to give up on. Yes, I started it in high school, over thirty years ago; but it's neither the sophomoric effort of the 17-year-old I was nor the foolish obsession of a perpetual wannabe writer. That first novel is good, damn it. It wasn't good in high school, nor that much better in college (although it got me into Clarion!). Even as late as the late 1990s, it still needed serious work. But this is the book that taught me to write books. It just took a long time, that's all. And it's just the beginning. Rani and his friends have taken up permanent residence in my brain, and continue to tell me about their lives. I would no more give up on selling Heirs of Mâvarin that I would give up writing.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

I'm Not Fooling Anyone....

I just wrote a rather long post on my LiveJournal, listing in extreme detail the contrasting timelines between my most recent submission to a publisher and my extremely recent submission to a literary agent. I won't repeat it all here; go take a look if you're curious. Here's the gist of it. On Friday it will have been 13 months since my three chapters, synopsis and cover letter for Heirs of Mâvarin arrived at Tor Books. I'm not blaming or complaining, just reporting. Meanwhile, less than 23 hours after sending a one-page query by email to a literary agent who specifically says to send queries by email, I received her form rejection tonight by return email. Drat.

It's hard not to be depressed about this, even though the agent's standard form rejection is as nice as an unpersonalized form rejection can possibly be. I know what my emotional response is supposed to be, too. I should be an adult about this, a professional. As Tom Hanks says in You've Got Mail, probably quoting from The Godfather, "It's not personal, it's business." As John Scalzi (who also quotes this) points out in his recent book, You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, "If you take rejection personally as a writer, you will go mad, because every writer gets rejected. A lot." (The link is to the Whatever posting that sentence originally came from.)

Scalzi also says that a lot of the time, a writer will never even know why the work was rejected. That's just how it is. There are generally far more submissions than any given agent, editor or publisher can possibly accept, even if every one of them were great. Therefore a lot of rejections must be sent out. Time is at a premium for these folks, so they're not likely to waste it on personalized rejections for all, not when the stuff that's actually being published or pitched requires their attention. Thus: the standard form rejection. Jill's novel is brilliant, but the publisher just bought a similar one from Stephen King. Result: form rejection. Fred can't even write in complete sentences, but he wants the publisher to fly out and read Fred's manifesto while Fred watches (so that the publisher doesn't steal it). Result: form rejection. Karen's query matches the guidelines perfectly, but... the one-paragraph description just doesn't sound original enough catch the agent's imagination. Result: form rejection.

I know all this. I also know that writers, especially the ones who haven't sold their novels yet, are notoriously oversensitive about rejection letters. They often perceive condescension or hostility in the mildest of wordings, and take insult from the manuscript coming back too quickly or too slowly, with a response either too personalized or not personalized enough. I've been there, and I'm determined not to behave that way at this stage in my life.

Besides, it's clear from the tone of this particular agent's form rejection letter, which she posted on her blog a few days ago with annotations, that she's a genuinely nice person. She clearly wants writers to succeed, even the ones who don't make it past her initial email screening. Aside from the fact that she doesn't want to represent my book, I haven't the slightest basis for a complaint against her. I wish her well.

Similarly, I know enough about Tor and its editors to have a lot of respect for what they do and the way they do it. It is inconvenient for me, but not at all surprising, that the Nielsen Haydens didn't snatch my submission from the slush pile back in February or March, 2006, clutch it to their respective chests (they could take turns, maybe), and proclaim, rapturously, that this is the book they've been waiting for all their lives. I know it will take as long as it takes, and that there's no guarantee, even thirteen months out or longer, of my receiving anything more than a form rejection. It it happens that way, I promise to do nearly all my wailing and gnashing of teeth offline, and not lay a word of blame on anyone but (possibly) myself.

These are my good intentions, and the principles are sound. I know that there are other agents in the world, and even other publishers. I even know that the book is good, even if I seem to have trouble convincing the right people of this.

But you know that it's all a front, right? My intellectual good sense can't squelch the hurt child inside, the one saying, "Why didn't she like it? What did I do wrong?" That so-nice standard rejection hasn't drawn a single tear from me, but my throat is sore and tight, as if I have been crying. I am not angry with anyone, because everyone has done what they were supposed to do, even if it hasn't gotten me the result I want. Nevertheless, I'm depressed as heck.

Tomorrow I pull myself together and start again.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Human Nature

Yes, it's Round Robin time again. Our newest Challenge, "Nature," comes to us from Gina, of Gina's Space.

When I introduced the topic on the Round Robin blog nearly two weeks ago, I teased myself by asking the question, "Are you hung up on sunsets?" I do post a lot of sunset photos, so it would not surprise me at all if a few of you come to this entry expecting to see more of the same. I don't like to be that predictable, so we'll give the setting sun a rest for tonight. Besides, as I thought about this topic, and the fact that I haven't had much chance recently to photograph birds and bunnies and such, a certain phrase kept popping into my head: "Human nature."

A hummingbird takes a break at Taliesin West

Humans are both part of nature and, by definition, the source of all departures from it. Our marvelous brains, our hands with those all-important opposable thumbs, and every other body part we were born with arise from the same source as the bunny's ears and the hummingbird's wings. All are part of the natural world, the amazing system of physics, chemistry and biology that makes the world what it is. I don't want to renew the usual arguments here, but I think of nature as a set of rules that God set up long ago to create everything that is, the blueprint that forms a large part of the divine plan.

A rock with petroglyphs at Taliesin West.

It is not in the nature of humans, however, to leave the rest of nature alone. Thousands of years ago, we were scratching odd designs into rocks, and painting on cave walls. The first time we sharpened a stick or planted seeds in furrowed rows with that revolutionary invention, the plow, we were making something artificial. We were taking nature and "improving" it, adapting it to our use. We love nature, by and large, but we always have to tinker with it. Who among us would want to do without clothing in winter and summer, lie on the floor of a cave every night, and eat only what we could catch with our hands? No. We appreciate nature, but we can't live in it. Not really. So we take what we like from nature, and fashion it into what we think will make us productive and comfortable and, we hope, happy.

The edge of the desert that surrounds Taliesin West

So it was with the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 - April 9, 1959). He loved the Arizona desert so much that he bought a chunk of it, miles from civilization. All these years later, much of that original parcel of land remains untouched. At first he lived in tents in the middle of it all, but soon he
built his winter home there. He named it Taliesin West.

Taliesin West was designed not to stand out from
its natural surroundings

Nowadays, Taliesin West isn't all that far from civilization. It's in Scottsdale, Arizona, but in a relatively remote part of it. The property remains very nearly unspoiled, because of Wright's foresight in buying up a lot of land at bargain prices, and leaving much of it in its original state. To get there, a visitor goes north on Frank Lloyd Wright Drive at the northeastern edge of metro Phoenix, and then follows a private drive for half a mile, climbing through Sonoran Desert scrub. For most of that drive, no buildings can be seen, left, right, or up ahead.

Frank Lloyd Wright's studio at Taliesin West originally
had no glass in the windows.

Wright built a studio at Taliesin West, with interesting stones visible inside and out in the handmade walls, canvas roofing to let in the light, and, originally, open air instead of glass windows. It didn't bother him if birds, squirrels or even snakes stopped by for a visit. Eventually, though his third wife talked him into adding glass windows, which he agreed (in retrospect) was a good idea. His style of incorporating nature into his designs was called organic architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright's living room is a mixture
of natural and artificial elements.

I can't remember now whether it was Wright's studio or his living room that had another change made after the original construction, raising the wall so that the windows had a higher view of the desert beyond. The reason for this was that civilization had arrived at the edge of Wright's domain, in the form of power lines and telephone poles. Taliesin West was self-sufficient for a while in terms of well water and electricity, and during that period the only power lines were underground. Eventually, though, the poles arrived, a little way down the hill, spoiling Wright's view. He didn't want to see anything out his windows except nature, and perhaps a few things he personally put there. He would be horrified if he saw what stands at the bottom of his land today: at least a dozen of those huge high voltage electrical towers, carrying power across the desert to feed the human need to control and improve on nature.

A collage by Clare Booth Luce in Wright's living room, made
of all natural materials, is nevertheless a work of artifice.

Isn't the adulteration of nature pretty much the definition of art, though? Art is short for artifice, the source of the word artificial. Wright's buildings may have used wood and stone and been decorated with fur and clay pottery, but they were works of art, adaptations of natural materials into something the architect considered both aesthetic and practical. And it wasn't just Wright who did this. For example, the decorative panel shown above was one of two pieces of art made for Wright's living room by pioneering journalist and playwright Clare Booth Luce. It's made of saguaro ribs, chunks of dried cholla, stones, shells and seeds. It's all natural, and completely artificial. Nature provided the materials, but it took a human to arrange them in this particular way.

A former apprentice's sculptures at Taliesin West

And so it goes. In creating art, we both imitate nature and alter it, reflecting back what it means to us, using it to discover more about nature and ourselves. Even this blog entry is an attempt to turn nature into art, and art into a window on the inside of a human being - human nature. If I had posted a sunset photo tonight, it would have been a digital photo, a way preserving an image from nature in the artificial construct of ones and zeros. It would have been further removed from the original interplay of star and planetary atmosphere by the use of photo editing tools, making the sunset a little brighter and more colorful. I didn't do that tonight, but the same process, more or less, went into the photos that accompany this marathon text. They have been cropped or lightened or darkened or saturated, and one has been narrowed at the top to fix the perspective. And yet, all of those edits were done to approximate what my natural eyes saw - through articificial lenses, of course.

And now I'm done. Go see what the other Robins are up to!


Linking List

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Stately Barrett Manor

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Night at the Museum of the Weird

Your Monday Photo Shoot: It's Night! Take a picture. Naturally, taking a picture inside at night (i.e., where it's well lit and indistinguishable from day) won't do; take a picture that captures some of the quality of the night time. Also: No sunset photos. We'll save them up to do another time.

I took this photo outside, but the picture is of the inside of the Museum of the Weird, specifically the den, as seen through the sliding glass doors. The dark, slightly menacing shape in the foreground is a dying, potted Christmas tree. On the left is our ever-growing wall of storage boxes. Across the room are my dolls and a framed drawing by Disney animator Marc Davis.

This was taken more or less in the same spot, but pointing the camera in a different direction, toward the kitchen.

Here's the view from inside, looking out. through the same sliding glass doors. Note the midcentury modern curtains.

This is from a poolside garden area at the Tempe hotel where we stayed last weekend (La Fiesta Resort). It's full of those round reflection things again. I experimented a few times with saturation and effects, but this particular edit is only somewhat adulterated for levels and saturation.

Aside from taking and editing the home photos above, I've been tweaking my query to an agent all night. The query has responded much better to my efforts than the photos have. I'm fairly confident that it will be ready to be sent by tomorrow night. But I must sleep, and soon, so I'll probably only pack one or two boxes tonight. Sorry, John! I'll do better tomorrow.


Monday, March 19, 2007

Progris Riport #2; Wild Blue Yonder

Know what these are?

These are the boxes I've hauled out of my office in the last couple of days. A few of them, especially the odd-sized ones, were aleady boxed, more or less. The rest were not. I've emptied my trash at least five times, filled two shoeboxes with more trash, and discarded old packing and other large items in two other, larger trash bins. And you know what? It's finally starting to look better. I know you don't have a "before" picture for comparison, but take a look at the "after" as of tonight:

The rest of the stuff in the closet here, including the bookcases, will also go away, so that John can put in new flooring and build more efficient shelving. Meanwhile, you can see what I mean about the ratty orange carpeting. Yuck!


A word of photographic advice to those of you who may live under the flight path of an annual air show, and think it would be a good idea to get pictures of the Blue Angels and other jets. Prepare to be frustrated. These guys are fast! By the time they get close enough to be much more than a dot on the viewfinder, it's almost too late to take the shot, leaving you with something like this:

It didn't help that I failed to identify the sound of their approach as coming from behind me. They went directly over my head, but by the time I snapped the picture, they were tiny leaf shapes at the very edge of the frame. Fortunately for me, they gave me a second chance a couple minutes later. This time I almost got the shot:

One of the problems was that they were mostly flying in front of the sun, which threw its glare on fairly heavy cloud cover. I've darkened these last two photos considerably so that you can see everything: the jets, the sun and the patterns of the clouds and jet trails. They really were "flying high right into the sun!"

Good night!