Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A few little words

Here's a quick update because I'm not inspired enough to write an entire paranoid, Toaster-Oven inspired post today. So I'm logging in with three things: Yola is posting this week on Yolawriters' blog. This version of the old gal is the one whose ring requires kissing. Her boots might want a little attention too.

My story is live on On The Premises, featuring a miracle of editing by Tarl. Thanks to those guys, especially the prompt payment!

In getting Madison ready for some submission or other, my old critique guru Dave Lewis completely re-designed page one. This is an example of the kind of thinking you just can't do for yourself:

Our farm workers came from all over, wherever the wind blew them. Refugee camps, other farms, places where everyone had died but them. They'd all had jobs Before—stockbrokers, salesmen and housewives. Once we even had an airline pilot. They came and went, blown away by the same vague wind after a day, a week, a month. I got used to not remembering their names.

Except for Tierney. He was first one I ever saw with a book.
I was working during lunch, going from worker to worker and ladling water into their bowls. When Dad wasn't looking, I carried the bucket to Tierney and pretended I hadn't already brought him water that day. "Do you know how to read?"

Other than the book, he was just another stranger who'd come to the valley to work for Dad. But I liked his eyes when he glanced at me. Blue. He closed the book. "Do you?"

Dad came back from the barn. "Madison!"

"I learned how. What's the book called?"

He held it up. "It's a dictionary."
--------------------------------- end

Dave is that good. Check out earlier weeks of Yola for his fine hand.

And finally, I've had some new Madison ideas lately. Yes, I realize the novel is finished, but there continue to be issues that I know aren't resolved. Maybe I've been a little fearful. If I go into sequel mode (just pretend I didn't say that word, sequel. Sequel, sequel, sequel) I'd be an idiot to ride into that sunset as blind as I rode into this one.

Oh, right, the art show. Let's just be quiet about that for now. I'm shopping at Art Media today. That right, not Office Depot where they have beautiful, cheap paper and printer supplies. No, an art store where they have gesso, acrylic medium and rabbit glue. Who knows what this stuff is? Why is it so expensive? Everything about this project screams of pain.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why I'm not a Visual Artist

A big BTW, On The Premises is the magazine which picked up The Moon Dreams of Water and lauded it with an Honorable Mention. They pay real money and do real editing and best of all, they are a writer's dream of promptness. Highly recommend.

So, I was hanging out with my dad at Winestock last night. He's a sculptor with an amazing work ethic. Visit Lee's artwork here, if you are so inclined. We often discuss the differences between our two art forms—me with text, him with visual.

We talked about an artist's crisis of self confidence. Since it's daily life for me, I always thought it had to do with how little exposure I've had. The theory being that the more you publish the easier it is to have people read and judge your work, and the more objective you can be about it. No published writers have self confidence problems, right?

I'd never heard my dad talk about a crisis of confidence before. He's a mature artist and sells work all the time. I assumed it didn't happen to him.

Anyways, we discussed two issues. The first was how do you cope during a crisis of confidence. The second, more nebulous, what does it feel like when you can't cope? What saves you?

Unlike writers who can shut off the computer and stuff manuscripts out of sight in a drawer, visual artists can't always escape their work. My dad, for instance, has huge sculptures all around the place. And from every era of his life too. But even during dark times, he lives with the art. I think he has a mechanism, rather like my being able to read Stephanie Myers or watch Vin Diesel movies. He turns off critical functioning and simply stops looking.

Here's an example. Fortunately he doesn't read blogs, so I'm safe telling this story. For months he kept matches in a Christmas cookie tin with a really ugly Santa on it. I wondered if it had sentimental value or there was some sophisticated design element that I simply wasn't getting. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and asked him why he kept it. Didn't it bother him as an artist? He looked me like I was insane and said it didn't have a design on it at all. Imagery like that, ugly and mass produced, isn't really art so he doesn't see it. It's just a tin holding his matches.

Okay, that's part one of the conversation, how to cope. Part two is more complicated and I'm just going to lay out the problem. What happens when you can't cope with your own work? When you can't stop judging yourself and every piece of your work looks cowardly, needy, unfinished, and amateurish? When those little flaws you thought supported or balanced your PERFECT idea have taken over the piece like some kind of virulent mold? When you can't even see your idea in that rancid stew, and very possibly your first draft dashed off on a napkin was the only thing worth keeping?

Imagine if you will, taking these deformed tadpole ideas and hanging them on a white wall, in front of big windows, where women in $400 shoes walk by and peer in, and couples in beige enter with their wallets aglow? Sometimes there are openings where hundreds of these people and all their critical friends troop past your work and say…nothing at all. What are they thinking? Are they comparing it to last year's show? Do they see that spot where the paint dripped? Oh, God, I can't fix it.

The idea of exposing yourself to the world in this frame of mind makes me weak, nauseous, hollow, panicked, and crazy. Hell on earth, people! And that's why I'm not a visual artist.

I do not know how Lee copes. He says he continues to see something of interest in his work during these times. And we both agreed that no matter how bad it gets, being an artist is the most interesting and absorbing thing anyone can do. I'd call it a career, but writing/making art really isn't a career. It's an occasionally profitable entry in the DSM.

I think—don't quote me on this since you know I'm not overly exposed in the word game—hypnotism might come in handy as a coping mechanism. Or a monstrous ego. Or extremely developed marketing skills. Lee says that falling back on training and craft and skill doesn't hurt either.

Or chocolate and television.

The secret reason for this post is that in August guess what? I'll be making visual art and hanging it on walls in a public place where people not related to me will see it. In a wine-soaked moment, my evil bad self volunteered for this torture. Winestock in OC starting August 1.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Atmosphere Is Not Plot

Things have been quiet in the mailbox lately which has given me a lot of time to ponder. I heard back on one contest, where I received an honorable mention and the story will get published. Nice. My Duotrope stats can crawl out of the basement. AND I doubled my writing income for 2009. I was so worried I wouldn't be able to afford a Mocha Frappuccino this summer.

I'm almost done with my AA short story. I have a theory that everyone has to write about rehab/AA, the apocalypse and time travel once in their lives. I really like my AA story, but I can tell you right now I've invested too much time in the voice at the expense of pacing. Why do I do it? Because I'm so f-ing in love with my own powers of creation. My lead character is Ronnie, a down on her luck real estate agent who meets a guy who reminds her of her dead ex-boyfriend. I suppose dead means ex, right? Dead boyfriend.

Characters as big and brassy as Ronnie chafe in the short story format. The page count goes up to accommodate the snappy dialogue and huge sections of plot are buried to keep the page count down. It's happened before. In another story, about this lonely slacker dude, I focused the first draft almost exclusively on his slacker voice. I massively rewrote to achieve a balance but other readers still felt I'd undersold the plot. I didn't actually care what other readers thought. In the end, however, I caved and it didn't take much to make it work. There was only one tiny change I wouldn't have made.

Here's where I could go off on a rant about the sanctity of the author's intent, how it really was my story and no one edited Jack Kerouac like that. Yes, all true. I had put some serious hours into the slacker dude story and I had also let it rest for five or six months. That's enough time for me to be objective again. But it got rejected twice in its finished form and when it was finally picked up, I was happy to make the suggested revisions because I could see the reward at the end of the tunnel. Fame and fortune, here I am.

But this experience, and the fact that I will have the same experience again with Ronnie, has caused me to ponder. What have I really learned about myself? How can I write faster, edit more effectively, and let go of cuteness sooner?

Stop me if you've heard this before:

  1. Planning the plot ahead of time REALLY helps. If I know I have to hit certain marks at certain times, I can maintain a reasonable pace.
  2. Know the goal. If my goal is to create a character sketch with dialogue, stick with that goal. In other words, know what shape I want the piece to take. This has more to do with voice and tone than plot.
  3. Atmosphere is not plot. It really isn't. No, no, no.

More about atmosphere, in which I return inevitably to Lovecraft: In his short stories, atmosphere is what the plot grows out of. It's never a sunny day in Lovecraft. He asks a question in the beginning of each story, a question which is inevitably bound to the setting and atmosphere. One of the benefits of writing the same story over and over again until you DIE is that you eventually get this right.

Cuteness. I really don't have a solution to cuteness or to my shameless love of my own creative awesomeness except surgery or amnesia. Maybe both. Cut out my brain and make me forget I ever wrote that story.