I See You Never

I just read Ray Bradbury’s “I See You Never” five times in a row, and I guess it’s time to try to explain–if only to do so in sympathy with the rest of you–why this loss matters so much.

It’s a three-page story. Three. What, 750 words? And in it he breaks every possible rule. In three pages he changes point of view twice. There are absolutely no speculative elements in it at all–but every sentence is pure poetry. Every single line is worth ten from a mortal scribe. And yet it sums up the problems of the Here and Now; it shows–NOT TELLS–what this moment, these two minutes on a front porch, mean to everyone involved. For some it means nothing at all, and they eat their steak. But for Mr. Ramirez, it means everything. For Mrs. O’Brian, it means a great deal, though it’s not in her best interest to say so. For the reader with a heart, it deserves to be read, back to back, five times. At least.

I always feel awkward writing about what other people have said, but sometimes it’s so important I just have to.

Ray Bradbury opened the Santa Barbara Writers Conference every single year for more than three decades. Last year, 2011, was the first he’d had to cancel–his health was simply too poor. His talk went from an hour to half an hour, to fifteen minutes, to ten minutes after his strokes, but by god he showed up no matter what, and just condensed his talk into what he thought was most important. I got to meet him twice, through SBWC–once at a reception at a local winery, and once at his signing table, after the conference had done a Tribute evening in his honor.

The Santa Barbara Writers Conference has some pretty big people attached to it: It’s owned now by Monte Schultz, son of Charles, and has had such luminaries as Thomas Steinbeck, Christopher Moore, and Fanny Flagg as participants. When the conference held the Tribute to Ray Bradbury a few years ago they added David Brin to the roster. There are two things–apart from getting to speak to Ray himself–that I have not forgotten from that night.

One was David Brin’s talk, in which he stood up for SFF in a room full of lit writers, stuck a flag in Ray and his work and claimed him For Our Own. I cheered, and when I got to talk to Ray at his table I told him that I was with David on this one: He belonged with us, dinosaurs and all, and I was so goddamned grateful for it.

The other was an anecdote that Thomas Steinbeck told. STEINBECK. That’s clear, right? His father used to take them on vacation every summer, he said. And every evening the family would gather round and his father–John Fucking Steinbeck–would read to them. He read to them year-round, he said, but during the summer he always read Ray Bradbury stories. Summer, for the Steinbecks, meant Bradbury.

So he would be reading, and the family would listen attentively, caught up in the magic that Ray was so adept at weaving–and then his father would stop, and read a sentence aloud again. And, perhaps, again. And he would fall silent for a long moment, before he continued on.

At some point Thomas asked his father why he did that. Why did he stop, and read the same line over and over again?

“Jealousy,” said John Steinbeck. “Jealousy.”

I don’t feel jealousy when I read him. I am reading Everest, the unattainable summit, the unreachable peak. That’s what I feel when I read “I See You Never,” despite the utter lack of rocket ships and Martians and dinosaurs. He’s everything I have ever aspired to, and will never attain, and I’m so grateful to even know it.

This has been hard to write. It’s 2:37 a.m., and honestly, I feel very exposed. There’s another post for the future, I think, about fandom and what it means, and this one skates perilously close to its edge. But this was huge, and we’re all talking about it, because he meant so much to each of us.

I see you never, Mr. Bradbury. And it absolutely breaks my heart.

Accidental homage, and being part penguin

Today’s Words: 1050 so far, but still going
Found Objects total: 21050 and counting
Fuel: Egg sandwich, tortilla-crusted fish and rice, dinner as yet unknown
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee
Exercise: None
Other Stuff on my Mind: Brains, how do they work?

I have a notebook I started for Found Objects in 2005–I do most of my brainstorming in there. Today I filled pages 100 and 101 with notes on the second chapter. 101 pages of me talking to myself, a book about a book. What’s odd is that I haven’t actually reread anything I’ve written in there in a long time. I don’t think I will until I’ve got the first draft done, and then I’ll go back and discover all of the things I forgot to write.

Seven years is a long time to have a book kicking around in one’s brain. Some of the people and places in it are so familiar to me they’re almost real. So it came as a surprise the other day to find out that they kind of were real, or at least originated outside myself: specifically a character who began life in my head known only as “The Major,” and a place I had dreamed of once, which I called the Lodge.

When I was a teenager and into my 20s I loved Bloom County. I bought the collections and read them over and over. I was talking to someone about it on Twitter the other day and impulsively bought the lovely hard-cover annotated collection of the first two years. It had been probably 15 years since I read any of them. I hadn’t had time to read any of it until a couple of days ago, and when I finally did I had a huge OMG Moment. There they were: The Major, and the Lodge, in the form of the boarding house that all of Bloom County revolves around.

They’re not actually anything alike. My Major is much younger, quite liberal, and also from a different world, so there’s that. And my Lodge is not a house, but a repurposed urban business, and only accessible by a very specific subset of people. No one else would have ever connected them. But I clearly saw the seeds of my world in the world of Berk Breathed.

I think I’ve written here–probably many years ago–about hearing the story of Helen Keller’s accidental plagiarism and how it scared me to death when I first read it in sixth grade. The story stayed with me, and so did the fear that it would happen to me–that I would have something so deeply internalized that when it finally bubbled up out of my subconscious I wouldn’t even recognize it as not my own.

This accidental homage in Found Objects is obviously nowhere near the level of that, but still. We are made up of our past experiences, and those books that we reread obsessively are part of who we are and how we think.

Apparently I am part talking penguin. I’m pretty okay with that.

Tuphlem grdlphump, indeed.

Highs and lows

Today’s Words: 0
Found Objects total: 20,020
Fuel: Eggs benedict
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee
Exercise: 2 miles on the treadmill (38 minutes)
Other Stuff on my Mind: Highs, lows, and starting over

SBWC student, 5th grader, & High School graduate

I am now the mother of a high school graduate and a fifth grader, and the sister of a Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference student. I am immensely proud of my daughters and my sister. Danni’s graduation and having Kate around were definitely the high points of the week. We packed a LOT of living into the past eight or nine days:

  • Danni had her awards banquet and as usual came out of it with a thousand Design Scout merit badges. She also set the record for the amount of time any student has spent in the studio.
  • Grace was in a parade. A long one. A REALLY long one. She toughed it out in flamenco shoes like a colorful, ruffled, dancing BOSS.
  • We all went to Paula‘s house for D&D and dragged Kate along (she didn’t seem to mind).
  • We went by the new house and discovered that it now has a kitchen floor!
  • Danni graduated on a bright, windy day, with the Air Force doing periodic fly-bys. Only one student disrobed. (It was not Danni.)
  • I had pho for the first time and now never want to eat anything else ever again.
  • I heard our sister Molly‘s new CD and was BLOWN AWAY. If you live in the Boulder area you MUST go see The Hits play.
  • Discovered that someone has escaped from Blake Charlton’s books and has been drinking Red Stripe.
  • We learned that Pineapple Wine is awesome, Coconut Wine less so.
  • Kate and I had dinner at the Enterprise Fish Company in Santa Barbara. If you have lived in Santa Barbara and have read So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish, you may know why this was important. (She decided not to have the salmon after all, but did have the universe’s most ubiquitous drink, the Gin and Tonic.)

The low points were mostly personal, and resulted in me sending frantic brain-storming emails to my besties asking for input, solace, advice, and just extra brains, which they all delivered. This once again proved to me that by some miracle I have managed to associate myself with the best kind of humans, and am deeply grateful for their friendship.

The low point we all shared, of course, was the loss of Ray Bradbury, which still feels personal, because what he meant to each of us is unique. I wanted to write something about it the day the news came out but I just couldn’t bring myself to. I still can’t, not in any meaningful way, except to say that I joined the rest of you in shedding tears for our collective loss and our individual ones.

So now it’s Saturday, and mostly quiet, and I’m trying to get back into my routine. I don’t know about you guys, but momentum is hard-won for me. I had some going there for a bit and was feeling good about things, and then Life, and I’m back at zero again. This is okay, and I’ll be able to build that momentum again this week, but it is a little frustrating. I wish I were someone who could not write for a week and then dive back in and hammer out 2000 words, but I’m not. I have to find my place again, get my head back in the world I created.

Off to do so.

Tidbits

Copies of OTHER WORLDS THAN THESE have arrived at the Adams-Yant household and they are freaking gorgeous. Cody Tilson is my cover design hero. My story “The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories” is reprinted within.

Josh Vogt at Examiner.com reviews ARMORED and calls “Transfer of Ownership” one of his favorites. The story was also recorded by editor/narrator Norm Sherman and is available as a podcast from the Drabblecast.

Kat Howard gave a really lovely plug for “This Rough Magic” over on Fantasy Matters. This is particularly swoony for me because Kat is an astonishingly good writer, and compliments from a writer of her caliber make me kind of light-headed and glowy. Go read her story “Choose Your Own Adventure,” if you haven’t yet, and you’ll see what I mean.

My sister Kate is visiting! This is awesome. She’s here for a week before the start of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, which I hope will be as life-altering and craft-honing for her as it was for me.

I can’t believe the season finale of Game of Thrones is tonight! It seems like it just started. What new show will I obsess on during the hiatus? Speaking of, if you have read the books and ONLY if you have read the books, be sure to check out Dave Barr-Kirtley’s column on Wired.com, in which he compares the show to the books and identifies the ways in which they deviate.

I now have 20,000 words of Found Objects, which has me 22.22% done. Must work harder.

Spec fic Kickstarters need your help!

Today’s Words: 3,094, much of which was reuse from an earlier draft so it’s not as virtuous as it seems
Found Objects total: 9,567
Fuel: Prefab butternut squash ravioli with carrot puree, pumpkin seeds, cereal, spicy noodles with tofu.
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee, 1 glass of Curran Grenache Blanc.
Exercise: 2 miles on the treadmill
Other Stuff on my Mind: Oh my gosh I’m tired.

But before I put myself to bed with a book I’d like to point out some Kickstarters that could use your support.

The one ending soonest, and still far from its goal, is John’s new venture Nightmare Magazine. You know that thing he does with Lightspeed where he publishes amazing science fiction and fantasy that spans the spectrum of the field? He wants to do that with horror. This is the guy who brought you Living Dead, Living Dead 2, and By Blood We Live. Trust me, horror readers, you’re in good hands. The Kickstarter ends in two weeks!

Next we have Crossed Genres, who published my holiday story “The Gift” a couple of years ago, and who have now moved on to publishing books that need to exist. The one I’m most excited about is Winter Well, an anthology featuring female protagonists who aren’t all twenty years old and hawt. Because women continue to kick ass as they get older, often more so than they did when they were younger.

And just today Fireside launched it’s Kickstarter for Issue #2. I can’t believe how many incredible creators I personally know and adore in this issue! Galen Dara is doing the art, Kat Howard, Damien Grintalis, and Jake Kerr are writing stories–this is going to be a killer issue. I’m still so impressed at what Brian has put together.

Please contribute if you can! They’re all great projects and I’m looking forward to seeing them manifest.

And now: bed.

Practice

Today’s Words: 1,007
Found Objects total: 6,473
Fuel: 1 apple, chicken and sweet potatoes, carrots and hummus, channa masala with vegetables and a salad
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee, 1 cup of yerba mate, and the wine I didn’t actually drink the night before because by the time I was done posting John had gone to bed and thus so did I.
Exercise: 2 miles on the treadmill
Other Stuff on my Mind: Upward trends

While the word count tonight wasn’t exceptional, my brain was working overtime all day putting this story together. I got a lot of brainwork done, connecting dots, developing character, identifying themes. Going from 0 to 2500 words a night was probably not a realistic goal. But tonight was better than last night, and maybe tomorrow will be better than tonight.

Same sort of thing is happening elsewhere in my life, too. Funny thing happened this afternoon: I actually WANTED to go the gym. I’ve been slowly increasing the amount of exercise I get, first going for a walk twice a week with a coworker, and now adding in the treadmill at the gym on the other days. It gets just a little bit easier every day.

Yesterday I walked/jogged two miles in 38 minutes; today I did it in 35. Yesterday I wrote 650 words; today I wrote 1000. I like this trend.

One of my fellow students and I were talking over the weekend about meditation and how we both want to get back into it. I’ve had good experiences with it in the past, when I stick to a consistent practice. It went much like the other things I’m talking about have gone: initially I could hold my focus for only seconds at a time, then a minute or two. Over time I could mostly (still imperfectly) sustain my focus for a good ten minutes. It’s just practice. (And that kind of practice is very, very good for someone who is by nature easily distracted.) It’s another thing that I think I could do to increase my chances of success in meeting my writing goals.

Anyway, consistent practice. I like the results. Makes me wonder why I ever stop.

Paradise Lost and related reflections

In an effort to be more consistent with my blogging (I was listening, Jay!) I think I’m going to resort to a kind of template for the time being.

So…

Writing: Two hours of mostly outlining and note-making, plus a little first-drafting. Need to step up my game, and quickly.
Fuel: Oatmeal, 1 red apple, small can of Spicy Thai Chili Tuna, six crackers, scallops and vegetables over grits
Poisons: 3 cups of coffee, 1 cup of yerba mate, and 1 glass of wine
Exercise: Two miles on the treadmill
Other Stuff on my Mind: Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost is a workshop originally for graduates of Viable Paradise. John was invited as Editor-in-Residence, which meant lecture time and critiquing. This year it was opened to grads of Taos Toolbox as well, and I got to attend as a student on that basis when Jake Kerr dropped out because he was NOMINATED FOR A FREAKING NEBULA and the Nebulas were that same weekend. It was a remarkably well-organized and spectacularly fun event. I recommend it.

I really had a wonderful time. Sean Kelley, our host and coordinator, was just fabulous and made sure that the experience was as positive as it could be for everyone. I had dinner with friends I rarely get to see, and got to make new friends who I am confident will remain a regular part of my social sphere. I was able to benefit from the wisdom and experience of Jay Lake, who was incredibly giving of his time and advice, and Steven Brust, who provided some GREAT tips on getting unstuck, which I will undoubtedly need in the coming weeks. I was so proud of John in his capacity as Editor-in-Residence, and was very happy to hear such positive feedback about him from my fellow students. I took some pictures that I’ll try to remember to post later in the week.

It was a lot of fun, and I learned a ton–some things about the business of writing, but also about the business of being vulnerable humans. I’ve spent the past twenty-four hours reflecting on things I said and whether I should have said them, and things that I should have said but didn’t, and things I could do differently next time. Much of which, strangely, comes back around to treating my body and brain better, because that directly impacts how I relate to other people. Exhausted and fragile Christie is not much fun to be around; tipsy Christie can stand up to six or eight straight hours of intense socialization and may be fun, but is also possibly more opinionated and frank than is entirely prudent; hung-over Christie is kind of a pathetic disaster and really nobody wants to see that.

So, I think I need to tweak my approach to Workshop and Convention Fun a little bit. More rest will make the liquid fortification less necessary to handle the intense socialization parts, which will then leave me appropriately tired at a reasonable time, instead of artificially pushing on and ending up wrecked the next day. It’s just a nice positive circle of consequence made possible by the liberal application of a pillow and the restriction of wine.

This isn’t like an oh-god-I’m-so-ashamed-what-about-that-poor-goat train of thought (it wasn’t that kind of party), just a reflection on action and consequence and what I could do better, both for myself and for others.

This also intersects with one of the things that Cat Valente mentioned in the article I linked to yesterday: how hard on one’s body it is to sit and pound out a novel in a short time. I would really like to not fail at this endeavor and I figure that taking better care of my body and brain can only give me a leg up.

IT’S ALL CONNECTED, MAN. ALL OF IT. All in the service of the novel.

So crazy that it just might work

I have read this article by Cat Valente, How to Write a Novel in 30 Days, so many times I nearly have it memorized. Good thing, too, because this is what I’m about to try to do.

Do, I mean. What I’m about to do. Small green swampy guy admonishes me in my head.

I have my outline. I have notes galore. I even have some maps. And I have yet another adventure scheduled for early July, and I really want to have this novel written by then. So it’s time to go into Delusional Genius Mode and do it.

This is an absolutely crazy thing to try to do. I’ve done NaNoWriMo many times–in fact, Found Objects was my 2005 NaNovel. But this is different, for the reason that Cat mentions in that article. When I’m doing NaNoWriMo the idea is just to get the words down, no matter how crappy they are. That was a great exercise for a very long time, but it will not serve this time around. This time I have to write something I can believe in. It’s still going to be essentially a first draft, and it will need tons of revision, but it has to a first draft I don’t hate. You can try to talk me out of that, but really, just trust me on this one. I have to bring my A game this time.

The good news is that I think I’m ready to do that. Wish me luck.

Adventure time!

Not the tv show, which I’ve never seen and know nothing about. Just average, run-of-the-mill adventures in real life.

This was supposed to be the year I Did Nothing and Went Nowhere. Seriously. After last year I was so ready to just stay home for a while. Ha! The gods of Opportunity find this laughable. The problem is that I am not one to pass up a chance to learn and get better at this writing gig, and people keep letting me into their workshops. So, y’know. The gods. They laugh.

Anyone else find that all of their vacation time goes to writing-related events now? This year will be three conventions, two workshops, and a retreat. Tomorrow I’m off to Texas for a writing workshop, where I’ll get to reunite with one of my Taos classmates and hang out with and learn from some extraordinary people. I’ll also get to see Texas! Parts of it, anyway. This will be a neat change of pace because generally when I travel it’s for a convention and I only see the hotel grounds, so I can hardly say I visited a place at all.

Anyway, if I’m scarce for a few days, that’s why. I’m busy trying to level up. Cheers!

Starting over

So this is a fraction of the disaster I’m trying to sort through. Notes dating back to 2005, notecarded scenes with the focus on the wrong POV character, things happening in a city I’ve never been to. Even just reading through the manuscript is a challenge because there are multiple versions of it. I’ve spent the past few days sifting through it all and working on an outline, and what I’ve found is that I’m basically starting the whole thing over.

The biggest change since I first wrote it is the small matter of whose story it is, which changed what kind of book it is (for the better). I’ve beefed up the bad guys, named all of my worlds, added twists and turns and other cool shit. I’m surprised at how well this is going. I mean, seven years of thinking about this thing off and on, and it’s only now starting to come together, but it’s doing it in a big way. I’m genuinely excited about this story. It seems that most of the existing 55,000 words are going to have to be tossed out, but that’s okay. We’ll call that a practice run. I’m a better writer now than I was in 2005 anyway.

The novel is consuming a whole lot of brain space right now, but of course life remains in session: Saturday was my oldest daughter’s prom, my youngest has her 4th grade California Mission project* due this week, the car remains in the shop until Tuesday, the home loan is still pending…the list of fairly major life events pending goes on. Plus John and I have a workshop coming up very quickly (he’s teaching, I’m attending). I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but I seem to have a lot more energy for everything else when I’m enthusiastic about a writing project and making progress on it. So for now it all seems manageable.

*For those who grew up in or are raising children in the California public school system, this is a familiar assignment.