I've been doing this commute for a little over a year now, and I've gotten familiar with the people patterns of my walk from 9th and Stewart to 3rd and Pine. On these walks, I'll typically see the following:
The cellist playing awesome classical music at the entrance to Pacific Place mall, where the acoustics can't be beat. Either him or the earnest singer-songwriter with his guitar, alternately playing his own music and classic, familiar covers.
The metal drum player hammering out calypso or reggae, accompanied by a back-up audio track.
The twenty-something canvassers looking for signatures and trying their charming best to stop passers-by.
The Women in Black who, every Thursday, come out to distribute their flyers in solidarity with war victims, the missing, the distressed, women in trouble all over the world.
The drug traffickers, pot smokers, and street artists on the block between 4th and 3rd who will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
The one or two crazy homeless people who hang out by the bus stop on 3rd.
It's like getting to know the traffic patterns on 520: once you've done it a while, it becomes the thing you just do without thinking about it overmuch.
So, since the listing has been posted on their website, I'll go ahead and announce it here: on March 27th, I'll be giving a talk ("He, She, They, Per: Language in the Liminal Spaces") at the University of Connecticut as part of their "Out to Lunch" lecture series.
And yeah, that means I'll be flying in the day before, crash-sleeping for a night, doing the talk and some further conversation with the campus community, crash-sleeping one more night, and flying out the next day. (In short, ouch, travel.)
Further details are available at UConn's Rainbow Center website, here.
In the department of general news, my former housemate, good friend, and Sassafrass composer Ada Palmer has sold a series of novels to Tor Books, with the first one coming out in 2015 and almost certainly called Dogs of Peace.
I've read several versions of this in manuscript, and it is going to be a very interesting contribution to the general conversation in SF, I tell you what.
First, I think I'd like you to visit this link. Then come back, and we'll talk.
Did you look over there? Good. Just two short days ago, Ferret was writing blog posts that were sort of low about his chances of getting an agent. I'm glad that this story had a happy ending. I think more so, because I've watched this struggle over a matter of years. I met him in 2009, and I know he's been working on his writing career long before that.
This would be the point where I would normally do a reversal, and talk about myself. But since I'm so damn zen now (!), instead, I'd like to suggest that this experience is one that a lot of us can identify this. Why do I think Ferret finally got his agent? It's the same old, sort of like the same old advice on how to lose weight. Which is a different post. Here's what I see happening.
1. Ferret actively and continually improved his craft. He went to workshops and participated in other workshops, and tried to learn new tricks. He got educated.
2. Ferret ripped his stories to shreds and put them back together, a lot. He didn't send out crap. He sent out solid stories that were worth reading. Strange, yeah, but worth reading.
3. Ferret kept writing and submitting. Even in his darkest hours of doubt, depression, and rejection, he kept at it. Persistence was Ferret's mantra.
4. Ferret published short stories. He gained some recognition for it. Through this venue, he became a respected writer.
5. Ferret has an online presence as a writer, so people know what he's like and can access him. This tends to give a writer a boost.
6. Ferret wrote a couple of novels. He sent them out. And got rejected. And sent them out. And got rejected. And sent them out. And didn't get rejected.
There's probably a lot more than this I don't know. But you know, there's a lot of blog over in the Ferret-verse to get the whole picture. The point is, the salient points to me, my friends, is this one: all of this took time, and this man put in the time. He put in the work. He didn't let the rejection and the depression keep him from doing that. He's often said that it's work for him, that he doesn't have a natural sense of what to do. I can relate. I often intuit my way through a story, but costuming? Man, I had to build that skill through much trial and error. That ain't easy. There was no magic bullet here, or overnight success. He worked hard.
And I'm more puritan than I like to admit, because that whole work ethic thing just works for me. Also, it should give you hope. It gives me hope. Because this is what I'm doing too--creeping closer and trying to stay on track, and working my way to my goal.
I like to see success for someone when they've put in time and effort. It makes me happy. And you know, if Ferret can do it, we can follow his path. In the best sense, this guy deserves the blue ribbon.
Now, I gotta go wrestle some stories to the ground. It's my daily writing time.
I was talking a bit about plot stalls on Twitter, and said I would do a post, so here it is. This is just what works for me personally, so remember your mileage may vary:
A plot problem, or plot stall, or writing yourself into a corner, is when you're going along pretty good, writing your story, and you suddenly get stuck. You don't know what's going to happen next. Or the thing you wanted to have happen next doesn't seem to make sense anymore. The story was going along smoothly, now it's all awkward and bumpy and wrong. You will find yourself having to explain why characters are doing things they are doing, coming up with elaborate justifications for actions that you know in your gut are out of character. Hand waving things that really don't work. And then you may just hit a point where you can't go on.
It's not that you're lazy and you don't want to write, you're not blocked, it's that you know something is wrong and the plot path you are on doesn't work anymore. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't match the image of the story that is stored in the back of your brain somewhere. Whatever it's supposed to do, it's not doing it.
The reason a lot of writers and artists watch Project Runway is to listen to Tim Gunn's tutorials. He's been a teacher and a mentor to creative people for a long time, and a lot of what he says can apply to any artistic project. One of the things he will tell people is, to paraphrase, "you need to free yourself from this" where this is the thing you've worked yourself into a corner over. That means you need to step back from the flawed thing you have been trying to fix and mentally start over. Your basic idea is probably still good. But somewhere along the way you went off the track from it.
The longer the work, the more likely the plot problem doesn't originate at the point where the story-car slid off the road and your writing came to a halt. The plot may dead-end in chapter six when you realize this is just not working, but the groundwork for chapter six was actually set up in chapter two. Chapter Two is where your problem starts, not chapter six. You need to stop hammering at chapter six, trying to make it work, and think about how you got there.
Take a fresh file or sheet of paper and start outlining the plot so far, in simple declarative statements. "Janine wakes up, discovers someone has broken into the cargo hold of her airship." "Janine calls Esther for help, and they find footsteps and follow them out of the compound." etc.
Just outlining it like that may help jog something. Are Janine and the other characters taking the next most logical step to figure out their problem? Did they/you make an assumption somewhere that doesn't make sense? Is the solution too easy? Is the solution too complicated, because it's trying to fill in plot holes that shouldn't be there in the first place? Are you making the characters do what you would do rather than what they would do?
Maybe Janine should call the airship police, maybe that's really her next most logical step, maybe it's the natural thing for her character to do. If there isn't a reason she shouldn't do it, maybe she should. Maybe it will add a layer of complexity to the plot that will lead you to the next step, and open up more interesting possibilities.
(There's a bit in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night where Harriet is working on her book, dictating it to her secretary, and she is trying to write a scene where a guy, Wilfred, finds the murdered man's handkerchief in his girlfriend's room, and assumes she has it because she's the murderer. The scene just won't work, and finally the secretary says, "If that happened to me, I'd assume the laundry just made a mistake." Yeah, pretty much. Wilfred isn't going from A to B, he's going from A to M, and most of the readers are going to need a willful effort to follow him on that journey. It just doesn't make sense. Harriet solves this by going back to the beginning of the book and making Wilfred the kind of person who would naturally make the assumption, on very poor evidence, that his girlfriend is a murderer.)
If that doesn't help jog something, look at the individual plot elements. Are there any that make you, in your heart of hearts, go "blegh." Are you actually stalled because you're really thinking "I don't want to write this part because it's boring"? This isn't a report for work, it's fiction. If it bores you, it's going to bore your readers. Get rid of it and think up something better. Maybe you picked the easiest thing, the first thing you thought of, when you should have pushed yourself and picked something different, trickier, edgier. Maybe it shouldn't be Janine's airship, maybe it should be her sentient flying whale.
If that still doesn't work, try explaining your plot to someone in person or email. When you're thinking about a plot, telling it to yourself, you can unintentionally gloss over the tricky bits that don't work and they slip past. When you're trying to make another person understand what you're talking about, those tricky bits stand out like they're lit up with neon.
But basically the key is, for me anyway, to step back. If you're trying to get through a maze and you come to a dead end, you go back and look for the first wrong turn you took, you don't stand there pressing your body into a hedge trying to will the pathway to appear.
I'm thrilled to be heading over to Ohio this weekend to be a Guest of Honor at Millennicon. Here's the schedule, just in case you want to come say hello or make sure you know how to avoid me all weekend.
6 pm, MR 1210, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (In which the convention throws a birthday party for my son, because they are AWESOME!!!)
7 pm, Harrison, Opening Ceremonies
8 pm, Con Suite, GOH reception
10 am, Harrison, GOH Reading
2 pm, Hotel Lobby, GOH Autographs
3 pm, McKinley, There are No Dumb Questions (Moderator)
10 am, McKinley, Fan Fiction and “Real” Writing
Noon, Hotel Lobby, GOH Autographs
2 pm, Harrison, GOH Q&A
3 pm, Harrison, Closing Ceremonies
Tom Smith will be there as Filk Guest of Honor, which should make my wife happy. She tolerates me, but she'd much rather hang out at one of Tom's concerts ;-)
There are a lot of great people at this one, some of whom I haven't seen in a while, so I'm expecting this to be a lot of fun.
Richard Nixon was kicked out of the White House because his people treated the Democratic Party like a black group or a peace group. Not learning from history, the CIA has treated Senator Dianne Feinstein like an ordinary citizen.
When I was a child, "Bossy" was a cow's name. (It comes from ancient Greek.) Now it's one of those words we use to shame girls for acting in ways we'd praise if boys acted that way, and it works even less well on me than most of those because of the old image I have for it. For those who do not have that advantage, Amanda Marcotte points out why it's a stupid word.