In Which Rookie Mistakes and Essay Questions Overwhelm

6 May 2004

I have been making rookie mistakes this week. No. I would like to work up to making rookie mistakes, because then I could come upon those pages and excise said-bookisms and tired clichés in the edit, and that would be that. No, I've been making Little League mistakes this week.

Tuesday's was the worst: I sat and stared at the scene that comes next. That is, I sat and stared at the space where the middle of Chapter 24 will go, and I have the scenes that lead up to it, all of them for this go-round anyway. And I did not want to write it. Could not make my brain wrap around it. How on earth would Nea react to Edward's newfound authority? I didn't know at all at all, not in the moment. I didn't want to write it. I wanted to cry. I wanted to get up and walk away, but I'd just been lying down and that didn't seem like the thing. This was not "I'm sick" wanting to cry, this was book-being-horrible wanting to cry.

And then it hit me: I don't write sequentially. I've never written sequentially. Why on earth would I assume that I had to start now? Chapter 24 is the next chapter to be completed in sequence, but I have 150 pages already written that occur after it. I can make that 200 if I want. I can make it 250. I can write every scene in the book except the middle scene of Chapter 24 right up until the day I finish this book if I want to. I know this. I've been working this way since the second novel I wrote -- not the second publishable novel I wrote, not the second novel I count, but the second novel I wrote, when I was 14. I have been working this way for over a decade now. Nothing has happened to make me think it should change. I just get sick and, apparently, forget.

It's the lure of the outline, is what it is. I can delete all the bits of the outline up to where I've finished sequentially, but I can't delete the finished bits beyond that because they have to hold their places around the unfinished bits. But they can do that. I can handle it. I can delete them later. It doesn't mean I should make myself cry over having to write scenes when I'm sick. That's stupid.

I am creeping towards better. Mother's Day shopping yesterday knocked me on my butt, and it wasn't even all that extensive: just one thing for my mom and I knew where I wanted to go for it, and it was there when I got there. It was in almost every way an ideal shopping trip. (The frustration would tip Mom off too clearly about what it was I bought her. It was a small frustration.) And yet, hoo, by the time 8:00 rolled around I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I am getting better, though. I can't sing yet, but I can talk normally. Hurrah.

Yoon was talking about War for the Oaks (it's spoilerific, so if you haven't read WftO yet, don't follow the link), and Paula and I were talking on e-mail about the Minneapolis book of a few days past, and it all came back to how I live in a magical Minneapolis. And I think that's the thing about War for the Oaks: it is my Minneapolis. It's my Minneapolis of twenty years ago, and that isn't the way I experienced it twenty years ago, as a kindergartener. But I live in that city, with that magic singing to me, and books like War just have the bright bits turned forward, is all. You know how in faery stories you can turn your coat inside out for protection from the Sidhe, so they don't see you? Books like War are like that: to some eyes the shift from that reality to the one they live in are enough to render it unrecognizable or unseeable, but to others it's just got the bits you don't look at much. But it's a clear and natural part of the same thing.

Paula thinks I should write a Minneapolis book. I told her every book I write is a Minneapolis book. Other people do it, too -- the Dragaera books, The Curse of Chalion, those are Minneapolis books, even though the word never appears in them. But she's right, in a way, and I opened up "Family Leave" and started working on it again. It's going to be long. It's going to be another freakin' novelette. Because that's just what I need, another fantasy novelette to market. That's exactly what would be best right now. Yes. Argh. On the other hand, it's part of the episodic novel, so if I get sick of marketing it when it's done, I can just toss it in the book and go on.

Do you know what we have here? We have violets as weeds. They grow because they feel like it, out in the back of the yard, white and purply blue, near the oaks trying very hard to be a forest. This never happened in Omaha. Magical magical. Violets! Like a present in my yard.

You know what the problem is for me with "yellow dog Democrats" and "yellow dog Republicans?" I'd almost always rather have an old yellow dog running things than the people we get, Republican or Democrat. I like dogs, and they generally want sensible things, like scritches and chew toys. I'm sure we could formulate a foreign policy that somehow resembles "throw the stick again! throw the stick again!" if we really got around to it. Might even work better than our current options.

You know my other, apolitical problem? We were setting up an account online, and it had a security question. You had to pick from their security questions and tell them the answer you wanted to have given to prove you were you. Here were the options: "What is your favorite book? What is the name of your favorite fictional character? What is the name of your favorite movie actor/actress? Where was your favorite childhood vacation spot? What was your childhood best friend's name?" And here's my problem: those are all essay questions!

Seriously, this is another case of enshrined institutional total orderings. I've heard people claim that portable digital music devices will render the "desert island discs" question obsolete; I wish. That question is a reflection of hierarchical thinking with which our culture is rife. On the surface, the questions for this account would make me think these were "my kind" of people: having fiction/book options and also travel options. Yah. Except who has read so few books that there's only one that ever ever could be their favorite on every single day of their life? It's just not okay. And fictional characters, I mean, really, this is like asking which is your favorite of your children, only you have something like seventy thousand children.

And childhood: where does childhood end? What if you liked one vacation spot in early childhood and another in middle childhood and a third in adolescence? What if you liked Norway and Sweden about equally but didn't care that much for Denmark due to the illness and the bird poo so you can't really just say Scandinavia? What if you were fondest of Jimmer for years and years but played more often with Gina or Jason and then with Jenny or Tina? If you did pick Jimmer, would you write James or Jim or Jimmy or Jimmer for his name? And were you still a kid when you and Jimmer didn't like each other any more for awhile?

These questions left me paralyzed. I stood and sputtered until Mark suggested that we put down one of my own novels as my first book, on the grounds that it might not be true (in fact, it isn't) but would certainly be memorable, which was the point. But it just seemed like an awful set of questions.

Ah well; it's back to alternating work and rest for me. And if you want to see a cute picture before you get back to work or rest or whatever it is you're doing, Roach and Matt have baby Charlotte, healthy and happy and just brand new. Awwwwww! (I refrained from asking whether they are bringing her to WorldCon. What a good kid I am.)

Back to Novel Gazing.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.