Writers rule.

My writers group is so frigging cool.

Okay, both writers groups. ;) (I still consider you FM folks 'mine' even though I don't show up much anymore. But you're too awesome to let go of.)

Every other Wednesday I drive an hour to meet with three other writers in a coffee house and lovingly trash each other's work. I come home exhilerated, wanting to produce more. I look forward to it for the two weeks in between.

I've got The Novel to deal with, (now thoroughly demon-infested — the posse has adopted the Too Close to Home demon, and the Personal Transparency demon,) but I've set it aside in favor of getting a couple of other things finished. My self-esteem has suffered a lot over The Novel (it has a working title but I'm not totally comfortable with it yet) so I figured working on a short story where I'll get to write “The End” some time soon would be good for me. So my most recent submissions to the group have been two short stories — both of which remain incomplete (of course.)

“Most people can start a short story or a novel. If you're a writer, you can finish them. Finish enough of them, and you may be good enough to be publishable. Good luck.” – Neil Gaiman

Well, that explains a few things, doesn't it.

But the good news is that at least the second one seems to be working. My first drafts are clearly much, much better than they used to be — what a relief that is, to know that there's progress! My first drafts are looking the way my third drafts used to look. That feels good.

And working with such great people and great writers feels so good. It's really a bit miraculous — one of us started a Meetup group and the four of us showed up. We decided pretty quickly that we are a matched (or very complementarily mismatched) set and — in the 'if it ain't broke' spirit — shut down the Meetup group in favor of closing membership.

And they're gonna work the conference with me. Because they're just that awesome.

It feels good to be writing again. It feels good to be thinking about the conference.

It will feel really good to write “The End” on something soon.

More to come.



Duck alignment, take 2

So now it's time to do some spring cleaning, take out the metaphorical trash, and simplify. You know how it is when you go through a major change — it's hard to know where to focus, and sometimes too much energy gets put into things with zero return while other things fall through the cracks. And then there are consequences. Personal, financial, professional — it's all stuff that needs attention in appropriate amounts.

My friend Patrick pointed me to Getting Things Done by David Allen as the system that changed his life. It arrived today (in another Amazon book binge that also included The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction – Building Blocks, and A Bottomless Grave and Other Victorian Tales of Terror.) I'm only a chapter in and so far it makes perfect sense. Patrick also pointed me to Remember the Milk, a great (free!) tool which is proving very handy.

So. Ducks are still largely misaligned, and I have a couple of pressing deadlines now: End of March is when I need to have my income stabilized, and then the writers conference is coming up in June. I was |this| close to backing out but everyone in my writers group wants to volunteer, so I can't very well not do it, now, can I. :)

I'm working on a short story that has been languishing for some time; I was stuck again for a week but last night I kicked out a two page treatment that at least describes how to get from where it's at to the end. I'm hopeful. And then maybe I'll return to the novel. Or maybe not. It's still a Fiction Demon, for sure; but I figure as long as I'm working toward getting something finished I shouldn't beat myself up about it too much.

Happy thoughts to you and yours…


Applied Skepticism

I'm sorry, but this is really bothering me.

We're writers. We agree that plagiarism is a terrible thing. It's reprehensible. But given what I have read, I do not believe that this girl is plagiarising.

Why? The words are nearly identical, you may say. Yes, they are — but the skeptical mind must ask, are they all that *original*?

>>In The Princess Diaries, the following passage appears on page 12: “There isn't a single inch of me that hasn't been pinched, cut, filed, painted, sloughed, blown dry, or moisturised. . . . Because I don't look a thing like Mia Thermopolis. Mia Thermopolis never had fingernails. Mia Thermopolis never had blond highlights.”

In Viswanathan's book, page 59 reads: “Every inch of me had been cut, filed, steamed, exfoliated, polished, painted, or moisturised. I didn't look a thing like Opal Mehta. Opal Mehta didn't own five pairs of shoes so expensive they could have been traded in for a small sailboat.”
<< I've written passages very similar to this in years past, and I've never read Cabot, nor do I plan to. It is not an original rhythm or idea. It's a common experience, in fact -- ask any young woman going to a prom, coming-out party, wedding, theatrical performance... I'll bet any number of them would describe the experience similarly, and if they were feeling jaunty, they'd even state it the same way. The example of the use of "a full-scale argument about animal rights" isn't a sign of plagiarism -- it's a sign of cliché. The most damning examples that journalists can find are all absolutely pedestrian ideas presented in a standard, competently formed paragraph. All of the other examples were a sentence or two, which can be easily attributed to unconsciously imitating style. (I still, in my weaker moments, find myself imitating Neil Gaiman's and Douglas Adams's styles. Does that make me a plagiarist?) Another example was a rhyme that Salman Rushdie used in a book, where he placed it on a wall as graffiti, and Ms. Viswanathan places one very similar on a poster. BFD, Mr. Rushdie. It's scenery. I think it's unfortunate that such a young woman should have her reputation smeared this way. Who, at nineteen, has an original thought? Of *course* she's regurgitating style -- but I do not believe she is consciously stealing. Do I think she deserved to be making truckloads of money? I know too many good writers who haven't been published at all yet to think so. But I don't think she needs to be dragged through the mud and utterly ruined this way. And this I find just plain stupid: >>Both Jack, the love interest in Kinsella's novel, and Sean, the romantic hero in Opal Mehta, have a scar on one hand and “eyes so dark they're almost black”. << Again, the supposedly damning quoted fragment is a cliché. Read Neil Gaiman's thoughts on the identical accusation that J.K. Rowling 'stole' Harry Potter from Gaiman's Timothy Hunter. And here's an interesting coincidence: the paper that broke *both* stories was The Scotsman, a publication I shall now avoid like the plague. (Wait, you've written “avoid like the plague” before, haven't you? I must have stolen it from you.)

This is probably more upsetting to me today than it normally would be because it smacks of scapegoatism, which this week I have a particular distaste for. But that's another post.

As writers we need to be careful about how we treat each other. I think there are two lessons in this: 1) Avoid cliché and 2) there is nothing new under the sun (which I should have avoided writing — like the plague — on the grounds that it's a cliché.)

No new tale to tell…

My latest Amazon Book Binge arrived today:

  • Self-Reliance and Other Essays (Dover Thrift Editions)
  • Biology: A Self-Teaching Guide, 2nd edition
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Dover Thrift Editions)
  • Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work
  • Biology for Dummies
  • Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-On Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed

I started on the workbook tonight, and just the first exercise has helped enormously. I have a new area of research to pursue and a new opening scene to write. Just thinking about who my heroes are and why was a mind-expanding process that I'm sure will go on for some time.

I really needed something like this to get me moving and thinking about the novel productively. I think only good things can come of going through the workbook. And I can't wait to sink my teeth into the Bio books. :)

Cogita Tute

This should be required reading for all humans. I've sent it to half a dozen people tonight, some who are struggling with what to do with their lives (like myself – most of us are in our mid-30s, still trying to figure that one out) and one or two who actually know and are doing something about it, but I thought they might get a boost out of it anyway.

With no further ado, I give you:

What You'll Wish You'd Known, by Paul Graham. Enjoy.

Art and Fandom

I've been working sporadically on an essay on the subject of Fandom for probably a year now. I still haven't quite cracked the nature of it to my satisfaction, but I got more fodder for it tonight.

I'm a “fan” of very few artists: two musicians (or groups of musicians) and two writers, (one of them dead.) I *admire* many more than that — in some cases admire them deeply — but only those four get inside me and make my heart swell and my vision go fuzzy. I only really lose myself in their work.

Tonight I had the opportunity to see a band called Lapdog play, in a relatively tiny venue, with a significantly limited crowd. Lapdog is the current project of Todd Nichols, formerly of Toad the Wet Sprocket. I've been a fan of TTWS, and specifically of Todd, since 1987, when I first saw them play in a little coffee house in Isla Vista, the student community outside the University of California at Santa Barbara.

What is it about a certain sound that just gets under your skin and transports you? Why this band, and not a million other bands? I don't know. But they got under my skin 19 years ago, and stayed there.

So tonight I sat about ten feet from the stage, dead center in front of Todd, and got to hear some of my favorite songs played live, and was introduced to a host of new material. It was intoxicating.

And I just can't figure out why that is.

What is the nature of fandom? It seems to me that one distinguishing feature is a sense of *importance.* The fan doesn't merely like or admire the artist (or their work – a distinction I'll have to explore) – the work is *important* in the fan's life. It adds a dimension. There's a relationship between the fan and the work.

I'll have to think about it some more. If I ever get that essay finished, I'll post it here. I certainly welcome your thoughts on the subject.


Edit: I completely forgot to mention that I got a new tattoo today. Hurt like a mf'r. Got it to cover the mess I made trying to give myself one in 11th grade art class. It's my third professional tattoo, and my first one to be done in color. I actually went in with a koi design (yes, a goldfish of sorts) but the artist didn't think it would cover the mess well enough. I figured he's the pro. I'll try to remember to post a pic.

Borders' Reply

BordersStores.Com Ccare to me
More options Apr 5 (17 hours ago)

Dear Christie:

Thank you for your expression of concern about our decision not to carry the issue of Free Inquiry magazine featuring cartoons depicting Muhammad. Borders is committed to our customers' right to choose what to read and what to buy and to the First Amendment right of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. In this particular case, we decided not to stock this issue in our stores because we place a priority on the safety and security of our customers and our employees. We believe that carrying this issue presented a challenge to that priority.

We value your thoughts and sincerely appreciate that you invested your time to tell us how you feel about the issue. I can assure you that our management team gave careful deliberation to this decision and considered all sides of the issue before reaching this conclusion. As always, we are interested in customer feedback about our choices and while we know you do not agree with our position, we hope you can understand the challenge of balancing the needs of our customers, employees and our communities.

I hope that this information is helpful. If you should have any other questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact us.


Borders Customer Care

Well it's certainly thoughtful and respectful. I still think it's chickenshit.

Borders Cowed By Cartoons

Tipped off by Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars, (a favorite daily read,) I just sent this via email to Borders Group, Inc.:

Dear Borders Group, Inc.,

According to the Associated Press, Borders Group has chosen not to carry an issue of Free Inquiry magazine, a periodical that is normally stocked (I know, because I buy it from you,) because it has reprinted four of the Danish cartoons that have caused such a senseless uproar around the world.

Not in the U.S., mind you. There have been no reports of violence related to the cartoons at all in the U.S.

But Borders has decided that it shouldn't carry the issue anyway.

“For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,” Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday. Where is the evidence of risk to your customers and employees? Do you really believe that fundamentalists are going to riot in the bookstore, or threaten those buying or selling the magazine? No one would have even known what was *in* the magazine unless they were looking to purchase it, if Borders hadn't brought attention to it by refusing to carry it!

“We absolutely respect our customers' right to choose what they wish to read and buy and we support the First Amendment,” Bingham said. “And we absolutely support the rights of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. We've just chosen not to carry this particular issue in our stores.”

And in so choosing you've limited Americans' access to the information that we want from the source that we normally get it from – you. That *is* censorship, and it is in direct conflict with the spirit of the First Amendment.

I have typically shopped at Borders weekly, and I have always loved the wide selection available. I have always been able to find material on the most off-beat, controversial topics without a problem. My confidence in Borders has been shaken by this very unfortunate and misguided decision. Free Inquiry will receive my subscription today — but I don't know when I'll be back to Borders.

Why are these assholes still in business?

Over at Neil Gaiman's blog, we find another poor hopeful who has been suckered by PublishAmerica, and is likely crying herself to sleep now that she knows the truth. I do not understand why these guys are allowed to do business. How much flagrant misrepresentation does it take?

Meanwhile, out in Dover, PA a decision on the Kitzmiller vs Dover case (also known as the Dover Panda Trial) is expected tomorrow. Keep your opposable thumbs crossed.

I just finished reading Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees, and it was every bit as wonderful as promised. Recommended.

In other news, I'm back to work on my 2004 NaNovel (yes, the one I swore I'd never bother to finish because it bored me so.) I hope to finish it before the end of the year. I got SWK back in the mail, (sent to McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, which is by far my favorite periodical. I'm aiming a bit high probably. Ah well.)

I'm also working on putting together a panel on e-publishing for that conference that I attend, and so far I've got bites from Zette (I am *so* happy about that! I hope she can come,) and the fine people at EPIC. Wish me luck, I'm absolutely terrified that I'm going to flub this thing.

I hope everyone is plugging away at their own WIPs even during this holiday season. Best wishes to all for Hannukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/Yule/New Year.