Quote of the Moment

Maybe you’re just imagining that you have a good imagination.
- from ConceptArt.Org forums

Friday, April 28, 2006

Feeding the Monster

It's midnight on a warm Friday night. The stars shine through a veil of clouds. Frogs croak in the yard. And I sit at the computer, putting the finishing touches on another site update. Another few pounds on the great monster.

Don't get me wrong. I love my sites. Always have, and hopefully always will. Sometimes, though, when I'm looking at what I've somehow created over six years (has it been six years? Eight, counting the Realm), I wonder how I managed to come up with it all. 500+ individual pages. 34 Skyhaven species/variations to date (25 in the Lair, 9 in the Hunt.) Over 400 reviewed books, and counting. At some point, it stopped being a simple accumulation of ramblings and became a monster, taking on a strange life of its own. Certainly, even over six years, I couldn't possibly have concocted this huge, sprawling beast, could I? I can't even string two chapters together reliably in my own writing, and yet somehow I've been weaving a world of words without consciously realizing it, surprisingly coherent considering the sporadic nature of its origins and growth. Maybe I am more of a writer than I think I am, if all this crawled from my mind at some point or another.

What really astounds me, though, what really makes me think of my sites as something beyond my own making, is that they exist at all. I'm rather self-conscious about most of my writing. My own mother doesn't read anything I write. Seriously - she won't go near it. She doesn't disapprove of writing (despite preferring "Fluffy Bunny" stories to my usual not-so-sappy style), but she never reads mine. Every so often my sister or father get to read my stuff, incomplete as it is, but for the most part my fiction never leaves the house. It always needs something - better characters, a tighter plot, more chapters, fewer chapters, an ending, a beginning - before I can call it "done" and show it to the rest of the family, let alone the rest of the world. So to look at the sprawling navigation trees of my sites in FrontPage, to see the hit counter at Skyhaven Keep crawling higher, to read the posts in the guestbooks and the occasional e-mail, to stop and think that all of this is visible to anyone, anywhere, with a computer and a modem... this can't be all my creation. Somehow, somewhere along the way, an invisible entity must have attached itself to my computer. An invisible monster crawled into the hard drive and found a place to live, calling itself a website. There it sat, growing fat like a leech, ingesting the occasional minimal input, creating a great virtual nest of pages and links, and there it lives to this very day.

At least it's a nice monster...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bird Watching

Mama Bird busily fluttered about her new home, adjusting a twig here, a string there.

"Hi, dearest, I'm home!" Papa Bird called, fluttering in for a landing. Mama hopped over, looking at the peculiar pale bundle he dropped at his feet.

"What in the world is that? I sent you out for more downfeathers!"

"This is ten times better than downfeathers, dear!" he said, puffing with pride as she investigated. "It's..."

"Dog hair," she announced flatly.

"No, it's wolf hair! Real, genuine wolf hair! All our neighbors will be jealous! Their chicks will be shivering in plain old downfeathers, while ours will be nice and cozy in wolf hair!"

"Honey," Mama said patiently,"this is dog hair. It looks like dog hair. It smells like dog hair. It's dog hair."

"No, no, no!" Papa insisted. "That's what I thought, too! But it's wolf hair, I swear!"

"It's white. Wolves are gray."

"It's albino wolf hair."

"There haven't been wolves here for ages."

"I said it was rare!"

"This didn't come from that back yard, did it? The one with the big, howling, white dog?"

"Well, maybe... but it's wolf hair! That nice starling who sold it to me said it was!"

"Honey..." She paused, then forced herself to ask. "How much did you pay?"

"Er..."

"Honey?"

"Um..."

"Honey..."

"It was a bargain! Real, genuine, albino wolf hair!"

"..."

"Dearest? Sweetie?"

"..."

- + -

The above was inspired by watching a chestnut-backed chickadee on the back porch today, busily scooping up a heaping beakful of shed Shilo hair from the mat before flying off for parts unknown. I didn't notice if he returned for more or not...

I never promised to post interesting blog entries...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Little Blue Butterflies and Cherry Blossom Snow

They say practice makes perfect, and it's true. Musicians practice scales. Artists doodle. Writers... is there a word for the written equivalent of scales and doodles? Anyway, as a form of written doodling, if you will, I thought I'd take all none of you on a little trip down the algae-choked, giardia-infested stream of consciousness that trickles through the muddy swampland of my brain, by way of my more-or-less-daily walk.

Today is a beautiful spring day, the kind of day almost too perfect to be real. The sun is warm, the breeze gentle, the skies blue and the clouds white. I've lived in this neighborhood all my life, and I still love days like this. Coming down the road, I see two hummers chasing each other, cursing each other in Hummerspeak (a language whose vocabulary consists mostly of curses.) Hummingbirds always remind me of home and Mother. Back when we had an antenna, Mom used to call the first male hummer who sat up there to guard the feeders Trilby; somewhere in the back of my mind, every male Rufous hummer is now called Trilby. Since we went to cable and the antenna came down, Mom put up a weathervane with a hummer on it for the Trilbys to sit on. There don't seem to be quite as many of them around as the years pass, though. I wonder if I'm just not noticing them, or if they, like so many creatures, are being pushed out of house and home by my fellow humans' encroachment.

I hit the paved road, recently cleaned, and turn south. Funny, I don't often think in terms of directions other than uphill, downhill, towards town, or away from it. For a long time as a kid, I considered north to be "up" and south "down", because that's how maps were so often oriented; it still seems a bit strange to think of north as a direction downhill. I see white butterflies in the neighbors' garden. The breeze picks up, sending cherry blossom petals drifting from a dying grove of cherry trees above the nearest church; we have three of them on our little road, for reasons I've never understood. The petals remind me of snow, dancing on the warm wind. Looking up at the woodpecker-drilled holes on the snags, my mind starts combining woodpeckers and squirrels, chipmunks and nuthatches, into fantastic critters bound for Skyhaven. Glancing up at the sun, I see a hint of a rainbow-hued halo. Long ago, I read that halos usually meant bad weather, but my own observations rarely support this story; a halo around the sun just means there's a halo around the sun. I'll have to keep an eye out for circumzenithal arcs later; it's the same type of high, crystalline cloud that's responsible for both. If you've never seen one, I encourage looking for them - they're quite spectacular.

I hit the southern end of my walking route, touching the Stop sign as is my custom (to keep myself from turning back when I can just see the sign), and turn north again. I've always liked this shady end of the "loop," so to speak. The trees, the moss, and the ferns always make such beautiful, bright patterns in the sunlight. I've tried photographing them for reference, but it's never the same on film or in pixels. I pass the snowing cherry trees and the base of "my" road, heading downhill past familiar houses and unfamiliar neighbors. The new development continues with its usual slothlike progress. I wanted to be out of the neighborhood before the rich owner went ahead with his plans to bring more cell-phone-yammering, BMW-driving speed demons to what was once a relatively peaceful suburban spur. The little unnamed creek is running; I remember when it used to run year-round, before the same rich guy behind the development put in an illegal holding tank. I wonder what it's like to have the kind of audacity to act first and ask forgiveness later, both resenting and admiring that kind of selfish moxie. A little further on, and I'm passing between a dandelion-strewn field and the llama farm. Llamas are strange creatures, oddly proportioned when one is used to horses (who used to live there.) I should base a Skyhaven critter on a llama someday, just for fun.

Further still, onward and downward. Past the little gray house that's perpetually for rent and the corner field where there used to be a great cottonwood. It's just a stump now, a stump near a dilapidated shed and a mailbox, the latter legacy of someone who thought they'd make a killing buying the saturated little triangle of real estate when the Bypass That Won't Do Anything goes through. I don't think it's going there anymore, if it's going through at all; a vendictive part of me that hates seeing greed rewarded chuckles. A little cornflower-blue butterfly dances across the road. I've never actually seen a cornflower, at least not knowingly, but I grew up with Crayola colors, so I call it cornflower blue. It's the first blue butterfly I've seen this year, the rest being white. Later the tiger swallowtails and painted ladies and others will come, but for now it's just the white and the blue, bits of spring sky given wing.

Down to another Stop sign, a quick tag, then back toward Tiger Mountain, up the little spur-road hill. It passes through a small swampy wetland, thick with willows, snags, and the pungent scent of skunk cabbage. So many people see nothing but bugs, mud, and wasted land in wetlands. People in places like Indonesia, Florida, Louisiana, and New Orleans... people who live in flood plains and wonder why the flooding gets worse year after year as Nature's water holding tanks and storm buffers are drained, cleared, and developed. I've always rather liked our little neighborhood swamps; I wonder how long it'll be before I see houses instead of hummingbirds there, trash instead of tanagers. The sun shines brightly on the water through the trees, reflecting tangled branches and blue skies. Up the shaded hill to a small sign, a random point to tag just to make myself go up another hill. Back down again, past the wetlands and the ditch. Something splashes in the green water; a frog, most likely a bullfrog. Bullfrogs aren't native to the area, brought in by people from Back East who assume that frogs is frogs, mail-ordered as tadpoles for pond decoration or little Billy's science lesson before being dumped in the ditch. They're rapidly driving out native frogs and who knows what else. Someone else's nostalgia threatening my own. Not unlike starlings, though at least they eat the European crane flies. Nobody else really seems to care. I suppose Nature will balance itself in the end, for good or ill.

Up past the hilly meadow, sparkling with many shades of green and dandelion gold. Anyone who thinks grass is all the same has spent too long among suburban lawns and their chemically-induced sterility. I like the many textures of a meadow, from low-growing soft greens to large, shining dark blades. I even like the dandelions. They're actually quite pretty to look at, fuzzy bright shades of yellow-gold against grassy greens, perfect spring colors. Somewhere I heard a story about an old lady with bad vision who called them her "golden coins," who hated it when the lawn mower destroyed the treasure in the yard. I know they're imports, that they're technically weeds, but the line between "weed" and "wildflower" seems rather arbirtary. In this meadow, at least, I call them wildflowers. Looking over Tiger, I see a long rolling wispy cloud, rising and curling like an inverted wave. Again, I wish I were better at photographing clouds, of capturing their shape and depth.

I walk up the hill, past golden-glowing spring green trees, leaves shimmering in the breeze. The people who think trees are green have spent too long standing on those artifical lawns. I wish I could paint with half that vibrancy. Looking to the clouds again, I see the wave has broken, leaving a vague, foamy white smear on the blue sand of the sky. I don't see the sun halo anymore. Part of my mind works on that story, tries to see the characters on a day like this, in a place like this. Would they see bright-chested robins and little brown sparrows skittering in the undergrowth, or something more exotic? My mind plays with recoloring songbirds, adding iridescence, crests, trailing tails.

Once more down the southern spur, through striped and mottled shadows over the gray asphault. Tag the sign, then back home. I take my time climbing the hill to my house. In 30 years, you'd think I'd be used to it, that it would no longer wind me, but it always has and always does. Then back home, to my computer. And here, to write down the blog entry that I was composing in the back of my mind, squeezed in amongst those Skyhaven critters, unpainted pictures, unwritten scenes, and snatches of nostalgia.

No wonder I never get anything done...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Beginnings, Endings, and In-Betweenings

Well, I did it. I finally wrote the words THE END on a draft of a story and meant it. This is the first time in years that this has happened. I should celebrate. Unfortunately, I'm broke, so it'll have to be an imaginary celebration. And a small one, since I need most of my imagination free for the second draft.

So now I'm at a stage I'm almost never at in my writing: the second draft. I know of a few major flaws in the first draft, but seeing a problem and seeing a solution aren't always as synonymous as they would be in a perfect world. For my own peace of mind, I've determined that I need a better idea of the lay of the land. In other words, the story took off before I even knew the name of the world it's set in, let alone had a map, however crude, to orient myself. I also need to decide on the scope of the story; though the events have roots and impact far beyond the characters, I didn't want to fall back on the trek-across-the-known-world formula which dominates so many fantasy stories. The action starts and mostly stays in one city, and I wanted to keep it a relatively intimate portrait of the three main characters (intimate as in personal, not intimate as in orgy-fest - too much of that in a lot of fantasy, too, which I don't mind so long as it's not gratuitous.) As I wrote, though, I kept finding myself looking beyond the city walls to see what was going on out there and how it might impact their respective stories. Some of it seemed to work, but I don't want the story to become unmanageably large. I know there are pacing problems as well. Then there's the information/action ratio, which probably leans a bit too far to the former. I wanted to convey the history and ideas behind my major characters' races/species, especially as it does prove to be relevant to the story, but I probably need to do so in a way that doesn't eat pages at a time. And those are just the problems I know about.

Before I start the second draft, I need to at least have the world map in some semblance of order. I suck at drawing maps. I've spent hours staring at atlases and maps in other fantasy books, I've read about various terrains and where/why they tend to occur, and I still suck at it. I think I'm trying to impose too much logic on it; I can't just stick a forest or a swamp in the middle of the map without a rough idea why a forest or a swamp would occur there, and what needs to be around it to ensure that it would be there instead of further north or south. It's just a fantasy world, after all, but I like a little logic with my fantasy. I also need to finalize at least the major culture/nation names. I've mentioned a few in the first draft, invented mostly on the fly as I wrote, but with the map I need to come up with an idea of where these cultures live or lived and what significance, if any, they had in creating the world at the time the story is set. Then there are minor things that bug me - titles that need tweaking, myths/legends that need outlining, building and city layouts to rough out, timelines, magic rule refinement, and other general background things. All said, it could be a while before I'm ready to start on the second draft proper, but my hope is to do so before May. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Universe wants me to be making my living off my own creativity, so I really need to get the lead out and get this sucker patched and polished.

I intend to post the story - parts of it, at least - either here or somewhere else online eventually, and I'll want beta readers once Draft 2 is as good as it's gonna get. I probably should get some to help me with Draft 1, but the perfectionist in me doesn't want this thing to see daylight until I've done all I can do to make it presentable to the general public. Well, the fantasy-loving general public, at least. It's not worth the aggravation to present a fantasy story to the general general public. It's like fixing a prime rib dinner for a horse; no matter what you do to the meat, and no matter what you say to the horse, he'll never take a bite. Might as well give it to the carnivores and save everyone the aggravation.

Sorry for boring anyone who happens across this post (or this blog in general.) I wrote it primarily to organize my own thoughts while the conclusion to the first draft was still fresh in my brain...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Productivy (Or Lack Thereof)

Well, it's 11ish PM, the Saturday before Easter. The rest of the family is presumably asleep. The cats are quiet. The neighbors' dogs are quiet, as are the neighbors themselves. It's just me, the computer, and my choice of graphics or word processor programs. I should be writing down one of the half a million story ideas drifting through the vast empty stretches of my pseudobrain. I should be playing with my Wacom tablet, drawing one of the many images that tend to come attached to said story ideas. At the very least, I should be looking at my web sites which haven't been updated since February - if nothing else, I ought to rotate book reviews at the Realm, and I have some dangerously complicated ideas for cyberpets and Hunt expansions (that won't make a bit of sense if you haven't been to my sites.) And yet I'm here.

I'm not sure when I first got in the habit of avoiding doing things I enjoy. It may be my lazy perfectionism syndrome kicking in. This is the syndrome wherein I have a strong desire to do things - great, wonderful, beautiful things - yet am unable to make myself start them because I know I need time and practice to get them right; if I can't do it perfectly the first time through, my brain tells me, why waste my time starting at all? Yes, I know practice makes perfect, but that's the problem with lazy perfectionism syndrome; it doesn't see practice, it sees wasted time and materials and an end product that's probably much more flawed to my eye simply because I alone know what I saw in my head when I started, and therefore can only see how it fails to match that initial vision. I also know there's an element of stinginess involved, which unemployment doesn't help with; much as I enjoy creating things, I find it difficult to justify buying a new pen or expensive paper when the cats need litter and I need food. I've also only recently acquired something resembling a workspace of my own, so I'm used to stopping myself from doing things with the excuse that I had nowhere to do it without everyone looking over my shoulder or burying my junk with their own junk. Even now, the mere thought of anyone possibly seeing what I'm doing or writing tends to make my fingers freeze up. Heck, I even freeze up when trying to read if I think someone might happen by, having been snapped at one too many times for failing to engage in conversations. (I'm usually fairly good at multitasking, but reading and talking are mutually exclusive; I've yet to find a tactful way to explain that "What are you reading?" comes across as "Whatever that is you're reading, stop reading it - and don't dare pick that book up again until I've left the room, you nonsocial twit!")

Among my resolutions for the new year, printed out and taped to the closet door above my computer where I have to stare at it every day, are "Do more artwork and writing," "Finish at least one story," and "Stop overthinking; start doing." December should've been enough of a smack between the eyes to remind me that time frittered away doesn't come back later when you need it. And yet I still do it, using most of my free time either wondering what I should be doing with my free time, second-guessing whatever I decide by telling myself why I can't or shouldn't do it or why I should do something else instead, wandering off in daydreams before reminding myself that I'm trying to actually do something, and then criticizing myself for having wasted it when I actually do have to do something else. Perhaps I'm not doing it quite as much as before - my sketchbook seems to be filling up at a faster rate than last year, and I'm the closest I've ever been to finishing an actual, non-Skyhaven-related story - but I'm still doing it. I suppose I'm just a creature of habit.

I just wasted half an hour typing this post. I suppose I ought to do something more productive with what remains of the night. Wonder what I'll end up doing...

Monday, April 10, 2006

I Have It, I Might As Well Use It...

Okay, so I'm not used to this blogging thing yet. Most of my pointless rambling is vented on message boards. But, since I have it, I might as well use it. I'm sure the board regulars would be just as glad if I had another place to rant, ramble, and rage.

I'm still in the middle of an unemployment crisis - as in, I'm unemployed, and it's becoming something of a crisis. Ever since the Universe nearly had to kill me to convince me that, no, I wasn't going to be a Medical Transcriptionist even though I'd sank my savings into the course and equipment, I've been waiting for some hint as to what the Universe thinks I ought to be doing instead. Sadly, the Universe's No's are much easier to spot than its Yes's. The voices in my head are, as usual, divided as to what to do about this. One camp insists that I should march right down to Target, fill out an application, bury whatever half-formed dreams I had of making a living off creativity in the compost bin where they belong, and let the retail world grind me down into a hopeless, desensitized zombie like the majority of modern Americans. Another part maintains that if I just got off my lazy tail and worked like the proverbial dog (who bears no resemblance to any dog I've ever met, to whom work is as foreign a concept as quantum mechanics), I could indeed thumb my nose at convention and achieve the freedom I've always dreamed about. Both parties have mountains of supporting data, good real-world examples, and slanderous names for their opposition. A third group, somewhat more sensible, says that if I keep my eye on the want ads I'm sure to find something remotely tolerable to help me pay bills and keep the cats from starving whilst I work on my own projects. So far, that's been the one getting my vote of action, but like most third parties the power it holds seems to be dissolving in the face of the increasingly long slog to There from Here. It might help if I had a clearer vision of what There I was aiming for; right now, it's simply a There where I have enough money, time, and energy for things I need and enjoy.

So, what do I want to do? If I could answer that, I wouldn't have wasted my money on Medical Transcription. I wouldn't be 30 and still living at home. I wouldn't be down to almost nothing in savings, wondering if anyone would pay decent money for a box full of My Little Ponies so my cats can get their shots. I wouldn't be having nightmares about being forced back into my old job (stocking shelves) because that's all I was ever going to be halfway competent at and I might as well accept it. But maybe I do know. Since as far back as I can remember, I've been fascinated with fantasy/sci-fi and animation. I always blame my parents; they met through fandom, so I don't think "mundane" ever stood a chance with me. I see the aurora sequence in Brother Bear, Aslan in Narnia, space fights and light sabers in Star Wars... I read about magic and heroes and heroines and worlds above, below, within, and beyond our own... I feel the awe and sense of wonder that's so long been my greatest form of joy, the ultimate high of imagination, and I think, I want to do that to people. I want to be able to write that book, or make that movie, or draw that scene that someone else reacts to like that. I think it was in Orson Scott Card's book on writing SF/F that he mentions the peculiar effect of sci-fi/fantasy on its fans - at some point, they want to start giving back that sense of wonder that they've been given by others . (I'm paraphrasing, naturally, but that's the gist of it. ) I've been told that I'm reasonably good at writing, and I'm better at art than I used to be. Sometimes I look at stuff I wrote years ago, or what I've done with Skyhaven, and I'm amazed at these things I somehow created, amazed that other people seem to be enjoying them. However, I'm not completely clueless. I know I'm not pro quality, and if/when I am, creative fields are terribly competitive, and one of the many things I'm lousy at is competing. Most of them are also expensive as heck to get training for, and tend to require materials and workspaces that just aren't feasable when one is 30 and essentially living off the good graces of one's parents. About the only thing I'm truly equipped (or as equipped as one can be) to do is writing, which doesn't work well when others keep intruding on your thoughts.

So, here I am, stuck in limbo, unable to dream and unable to stop dreaming.

I wonder who's hiring today...