Monday, March 20, 2006

Man's Best Overlord

Someday I will post about something other than my dog. Today isn't that day.

One of the things I learned when I was researching breeds was that Australian Shepherds are smart dogs. More than one article warned that they could out-think their owner. Now, while I understand that it's a good thing to include in an article that one is ostensibly going to read prior to plunking down anywhere from $500-$1200 for a purebred dog, it's also the sort of information that will lead someone who considers herself to be forearmed (like me) to wonder if her puppy is engaged in a scheme to undermine her.

Is my dog smarter than I am? Ye gods, I hope not. He's fifteen weeks old and completely entranced by squeaky toys. I hold a Master's Degree from The George Washington University.

And yet, I have to wonder: how does this game of mental chess begin? Is my dog using me to get what he wants, and I'm too dim to realize it? Maybe it starts with the realization that Sitting Patiently By the Door means that, yes, he'll be brought outside (as, in our house, that is Dog for "OMG I Gotta Pee!!"), which then leads to the dog sitting by the door every time it wants to be let outside, thereby throwing the owner into a quandry -- does he really mean it? Does he really have to go, or is this going to turn into the owner standing in the yard while the dog in question trots around, sniffing every blade of grass, but producing nothing.

Is the owner stupid if s/he falls for this ruse? I don't think so -- it just means s/he isn't of a mind to clean up a mess.

What I'm worried about is whether this trick (which, yes, Darwin does pull) will lead to larger, more grandiose canine manipulations. Will I start discovering unusual charges on my credit card and slobber on my mousepad? Is he asking to be taken for a walk just so the cats can indulge in whatever nefarious deeds are lurking about in their frighteningly complex and occasionally evil feline brains? Underneath the chasing (Darwin) and hissing (Bronte and Kisa), is there an unholy alliance brewing that will result in humanity bowing and scraping before three furry overlords?

Actually, it would be two furry overlords, as Kisa is sweet, but her scratching post doesn't go all the way to the top. Bronte, however, knows how to open doors, and is perilously close to figuring out how to turn on the kitchen faucet.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Eureka!

Well, I finally figured out my problem with the writer's block. Essentially, chapters 9 and 10 built up to an opening scene in chapter 11 that... wasn't cooperating. It was all causing me to foam at the mouth, because it's just frustrating when you're trying to write and everything you produce just sucks.

So I went back to, oh, about chapter 5 or 6 and read everything through, and finally decided that what I needed to do was scrap 9, 10, and 11 and change my approach entirely. My characters were doing unexplainable things that complicated their situation unnecessarily -- it's something I call the "Stupidity Quotient." You know how you'll watch a movie, say your generic, run of the mill "disaster" movie -- and there's an active volcano, and it's gonna blow, and there's no escaping the fact that it's going to annihilate everything in its path, and yet you'll have the one character who stubbornly refuses to evacuate, or the kids who decide to go exploring, or the young hot couple who'll go make out in the shadow of said volcano? High stupidity quotient, there. Horror movies have a ridiculously high SQ, too. It's a shame, because I love a good scare, but idiocy just makes me gnash my teeth.

Anyway. My characters were being stupid. And I can't abide by that, so I scrapped the chapters and I'm starting over again, trying to keep things a bit more reasonable and realistic, and stick to actions and reactions that make sense. (Before, I was going for a bit of humor -- a whole "comedy of errors" thing, and it just wasn't funny.)

In non-writing related things, I took my dog to a local dog-park today, because running full-tilt in a wide, open space is something he doesn't get to do as often as we'd both like, and (hey, since we're speaking about stupidity) I'd like to wonder WTF some of these dog-owners are thinking by (a) taking aggressive dogs to a place where other dogs congregate and (b) what the owners of small breeds are thinking by taking their dogs into the "large breed" area. Darwin's a puppy still, yes, but he plays rough (Australian Shepherds, more often than not, are known for being rambunctious playmates), so I can't really take him into the "small dog" area. There's actually a weight limit in the small breed area, and recently passed that cutoff point.

Anyway, today I brought him to the park, and everything was going fine until this one dog owner brought her Golden Retriever in, and he started bullying the other dogs. And then someone brought a wolf hybrid mix in, and... yeah. I've brought Darwin there before, and the other visits have been very positive. Today, though, we left soon after the wolf-hybrid got there, because a few of the larger dogs were starting to gang up on Darwin.

Now, I realize that it's my responsibility as a puppy owner to be aware of the safety of a situation, and I'm not suggesting that the other dog owners should let my puppy do whatever he wants. I also realize that dogs have their own rules for hierarchy. I know that dogs will play rough. But when a dog has chased mine behind/under a bench, and has him cornered, and is barking its fool head off keeping my dog cornered, I'm going to get a little annoyed. When I take my dog to the other end of the park, far away from aforementioned other dog, and that dog chases Darwin down just so he can get my dog in a submissive position and then keep him there, I'm going to get a little more annoyed. And when the owner is nowhere to be seen, then I'm going to get downright cranky.

Why is it that I can maintain better control over my puppy than someone else can over their adult dog?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

An effort to post more often...

Mark said I'd be forgiven for my lapse if I took care of myself, walked the dog, and posted at least twice a week. I'm flu-free, and I've taken the puppy out, so here's an effort to post more often.

I've been giving serious consideration to posting the novel-in-progress, tentatively titled "Universal Truths," here. I'm hesitant, for a variety of reasons, but lately I just feel lost with it, like my characterizations are inconsistent, my dialogue is awful and I can't make things progress forward. I'm sure everyone has days when they feel like they can't write for beans, but I'm having a hard time shaking this. It's been difficult for me to get constructive criticism from my beta readers, because they all have their own lives, and I'm not needy and demanding enough to whine that they pay attention to me, me, ME!

That said, I'm not sure if posting it here would be a good thing either, since I'm pretty sure mine is a not-widely-read blog. And... I don't know. I feel strange about posting original fiction online. It's a whole different ball of wax. I suppose part of it is insecurity, and maybe a little bit of shyness. Part of it, however, is that online posting (or, if you prefer, "publishing," though that would be using the term loosely) seems... it just feels like a bad idea. I can't articulate why. Does it "cheapen" the work? This is something I'd like to finish and shop around, so is it best to keep it to myself and limit the number of people reading it? (And I'm not even assuming it'd get read if I posted it here.)

I think I'll keep thinking about it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Oh, for crying out loud...

I just read my last entry, and am in the process of whanging my head against the nearest wall. I'd managed to write some more in January, but February... ate me.

On February 2nd, I became the proud mama of an 8 week old Australian Shepherd. On February 5th, I was hit hard by the flu (which lingered for about three weeks). Add to this a grad-level accounting class, and you get a month with the life sucked out of it.

But now Darwin (the Aussie) is reaching something resembling housebroken, and I can turn my back for five minutes at a time without looking up to find him chewing away, quite happily, on one of the cats' toys, a sock, or a bit of god-only-knows-what from the carpet.

I just wish I hadn't had to lose an entire month of writing. (I tried. I definitely tried. I had the laptop in bed, and when I wasn't lost in a fever-coma, I was... glaring ineffectually at the screen and staving off sleep for as long as I could.) And when you have a puppy that needs to be let out every two or three hours (even overnight), that makes life Very Interesting indeed. (I will never, ever miss standing outside at two in the morning, in 30 degree weather, with a fever and a cough, waiting for Darwin to Do What He Needs To Do.)

Of course, now that I have the time and mental stamina (okay, that part was questionable to begin with) it's almost as if I've worked myself into a sort of psychological block. The writer's block I had in January is still in place, mostly because I'm stuck on a scene -- I'm not sure whether to write everything out as it happens (which seems like it'd be laborious and dull), or to gloss over the event itself (a luncheon) and get to what happens afterward. I mean, it's a scene that has to happen, because two important characters meet, and things really start to happen AFTERWARD. So... I'm starting to think I've built it up too much in my mind, and I should just write the damned bit, and if it's awful, then it's awful -- but at least I'd have something to EDIT.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The holiday that ate my brain...

I sincerely hope I'm not the only one who experienced a severe lapse in creativity during the past month. This year's holidays, for some reason, seemed more hectic than any other. Or maybe it's just that I'm getting older, and have more responsibilities. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and at Christmas made my first-ever Christmas dinner. (Ham, if anyone was wondering. And, yes, I made it myself. No honey-baked spiral hams here, nosiree!) Add to this the general stress of gift-buying, and the too-late revelation that my fiance's company would not be doing Christmas bonuses this year (no one found out about this until, oh, about the 22nd or so), and... well, I certainly tried writing.

Well, I tried writing after I finished my round of hard-copy editing. I think it went well overall; I made a lot of significant changes, and even more changes when I went to the soft-copy and edited it. The only thing that bothers me a little is that, while doing that helped a lot with cutting a great deal of unnecessary prose, but I can't help but think I ... sterilized my "voice" somewhat. I may go through again and make another round of edits, trying to put my voice back in.

But, back to writing.

It seems whenever I found myself with a spare block of time, I'd open up the document and stare at it with an expression I lovingly refer to as the "glazed-over roadkill stare." Nothing came to me. It was kind of scary, actually. These characters that had been in my head only weeks before, living, breathing, thinking, doing... were suddenly silent. They were still there, certainly, but they were milling around, looking shiftless and vaguely guilty, scuffing at the ground with their feet, looking at me like, "Yeah, so now what, fearless leader?"

However, now that we're into another year, and all of that insanity has diminished, I'm starting to feel them moving about again -- it's a clunky, slow, almost arthritic movement, but it's movement, and I'm not going to complain. Much.

Ironically, I found that keeping this blog helped me rather than hindered me with my writing. Funny thing, that. Particularly when it sometimes seems the general opinion about struggling writers and blogs is that the blog is essentially a timewaster, and that we'd all be better off doing something else. Like, oh, writing.

But I need something to write when I feel the roadkill-stare creeping over me. I need something to write that will keep the front part of my brain occupied while certain frustrating little details work themselves out while simmering on the back burner of my mind. I need to figure out why my favorite character's voice has suddenly, inexplicably changed, and what I have to do about that -- do I wrestle him back to the way he was when I started writing him? Or would I be better off seeing where this subtle shift takes me? (I'm tempted to do the latter, frankly.)

But keeping this blog keeps me thinking about writing, and for me, a lot of things fall under the "out of sight, out of mind" category. When I wasn't updating this blog, it was easier to not think about writing. Now that I'm updating it (*cough* now that I discovered that it wasn't my password I'd forgotten, but the correct spelling of my username), I'm hoping to get myself back into the swing of things, as it were.

Of course, directly after Christmas, when I wasn't writing, I was reading. I got a lovely lit-crit book on Gothic literature, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman, volumes 1-10 (and his Sandman standalone, The Dream Hunters, which is positively gorgeous), a collection of HP Lovecraft (love it), and an anthology of "The Best New Horror," which... so far is actually kind of lame and disappointing. Lovecraft makes my skin crawl, but this anthology is... mostly kind of uninspiring. It seems quite a few of the stories don't really have a firm grasp on what's really scary -- those base, primal fears that lurk in the shadows of our minds. (And Neil Gaiman has a short story in there as well, and so far it's only made me laugh, because it seems to poke fun at the conventional Gothic novel in a way that reminds me vaguely of Northanger Abbey. It could get spooky later on, but I don't know yet.)

That said, you have to know something in order to poke fun at it, and after finishing ten volumes of Sandman, Gaiman's Morpheus supplants Heathcliff and Melmoth as Best Gothic Hero, Ever.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A lesson learned...

As I've mentioned before, I'm a compulsive editor. I read and re-read and edit my chapters, usually when I'm stuck on the current one.

Right before Thanksgiving, I started to get the feeling that my chapter breaks were off. I didn't -- couldn't -- write during the week (too much to be done), and this week my goal was to print out the whole shebang and read the hard copy in an effort to figure out the more... organic spots for chapter breaks.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that, because upon reading the hard copy, I'm realizing how many things there are that don't work, how much needless exposition I have, and how much I dislike my phrasing in many places.

I didn't see any of this in the soft copy. None of it. I read it, edited it, had other people read and make suggestions on it, and... it's just amazing how many things I didn't catch when editing the electronic copy.

So, looks like another slew of revisions for me, AND renegotiating chapter breaks. That's okay, because I was having a lot of trouble writing the current chapter, I'm still pretty shocked at how much I disliked what I read in the hard copy.

New rule: Whenever I think I'm "done" with a chapter, I'm printing it out and doing a hard copy edit before moving on. Yeesh, I feel dumb.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Writing Progress and Quirks

I haven't posted here in a while, but that's actually because I've been writing lately, rather than complaining about not being able to write. Last week was wildly productive -- I managed somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 words last week (this is only an estimate, since I didn't count exactly) and I started to wonder if I should've signed up for NaNoWriMo. But then, I'm writing a lot, and it's possible that imposing a deadline on myself might've sucked up any and all creative energy from me, so maybe it's better that I didn't.

Mostly I work on the incentive plan -- if I manage at least 500 words a day, I treat myself with something. Usually it's something mindless -- like watching a favorite DVD or relaxing with a favorite book. Of course, the inspiration's been flowing, and while I'm way over my "treat myself" quota, I haven't been treating myself, because I've been writing. Too busy to treat myself, I guess?

Either way, I'm up to chapter 9, and the scenes I've been looking forward to writing are finally coming up, and I'm finding out that I've been looking forward to writing these certain scenes for so long that I've managed to psych myself out. I fretted for most of the day yesterday, because I couldn't make the dialogue come on one of these scenes. Then I decided that I would just write, and even if what I wrote was blindingly craptacular, I'd still write, because then I'd have something to revise. As it turned out, I think the scene's dialogue was not "blindingly craptacular," and was marginally better than what I expected to produce, so it's all good (until I take my "every three chapters" break and do heavy editing/revising).

I've also been thinking about the "quirks" meme that Jason did over at Clarity of Night. He invited me to give it a whirl (without the pressure of "tagging" me to do it, thank goodness), and I've been trying to think of what things I do that may be considered "quirky." So here goes:

1. I must match. Must. Shoes, purse, and belt should all either be black leather or brown leather, or something that matches black or brown leather. I avoid buying "novelty" accessories for this very reason. I always, always, always match. Even when no one's looking, or when it's something no one will see -- like pajamas.

2. I hate confrontation, and as a means of gearing myself up for an unpleasant task, I have been known to "practice" (out loud) what I'm going to say. I try not to do this with anyone listening.

3. When presented with a plate of food, I work on one section at a time (ie, veggies first, then starch, then meat). This is seen mostly around the holidays -- Thanksgiving in particular. I tend to work around the plate in a clockwise direction, but I notice myself doing that less and less as I get older.

4. I'm a freak for personal hygiene. For instance, in the morning I'm nauseous until I've brushed my teeth, and the idea of not showering for a day makes my skin crawl. It's not that I feel dirty, or freak out over germs -- it's more that I just really enjoy being clean.

5. As an addendum to #4, I'm also a slave to... hmm, what would it be called? "Cosmetic maintenance," maybe? Come hell or high-water, I will see my hairdresser for a trim every 6 weeks, I keep my nails trimmed (meticulously), and I'm hyperaware of the general state of my hands, feet, eyebrows, etc. Basically I like for things to be smooth -- I hate the feel of split ends, dry hands, or uneven nails, and it drives me to distraction.

6. I bake to conquer writer's block.

7. I can NOT listen to two people at once, no matter how hard I try. If I'm on the phone with someone and my fiance starts talking to me, it's like the other voice turns into Charlie Brown's Teacher, and I can't concentrate. This drives him crazy, because he can listen to two people at once.

8. When I'm a passenger, long car rides put me to sleep inordinately fast. It's a struggle to stay awake during one, and usually I have to consume more caffeine than the driver to do so.

9. I can keep other people's secrets better than I can keep my own.

10. I have what has grown to be an irrational fear of fire. Not so much candles or fires in fireplaces, but the idea of fire, if that makes any sense -- like the idea of electric fires. I blame this on one particularly vivid nightmare I had as a child. We live in a fairly old house at the moment (about 30 yrs old), and I fret what feels like constantly about the wiring.

I'm not sure if some of these count as quirks, but it's all I could come up with. :)