March 5 Weekend Odds

Just a reminder (I did mention it before, didn’t I?) that the version of Privileged Lives I’m posting isn’t quite the final one. Very close, but not finished. And an invitation, in case I didn’t mention that, comments, questions, and criticisms are welcome.

I meant to post another section yesterday, but forgot about until late in the evening. Does anyone see a pattern here? Maybe I’ll put up two today. After all, there’s nothing like swamping readers.

Anyway… the final  revision is going well and I’m over halfway through. It’s going to be a much more solid novel than the first published version.

I’m currently engrossed in reading The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo. It’s a long book and is turning out to be possibly critical to another book that I might possibly write some day. As a confirmation of my belief that humans are a basically flawed species that is failing Mother Nature’s grand experiment it’s extremely depressing. I’m about halfway through and looking forward to the hopeful conclusions he says are coming at the end of the book. Frankly though, I believe whatever hope he has is as delusional as the many delusions about ourselves that his Stanford Prison Study reveals.

Between The Lucifer Effect, research into criminal justice, and keeping tabs on the political and other craziness that fills the news every day, a coherent overall view of humanity is trying to assemble itself in my overloaded brain. Thank goodness, I will probably never find the time to write it, because it would undoubtedly look just like the rantings of all the poor souls who’ve tried to give us a true big-picture view and are remembered, if they’re remembered at all, as kooks and cranks.

Editing, Kitty Adoption, News

The revision of Privileged Lives is going well, although stuff got in the way yesterday and I only did about two chapters. Still… Cutting the fat, expanding scenes, combining chapters, all on the way to a final rewrite. It’s down to 29 chapters, from 38, and I’ll probably combine several more before I’m through. It’s kind of amazing how much I’ve learned since writing it back in the Spring of 2011. And it’s hard to believe it’s been hanging around that long. This is one of those cases where you have to decide whether a book that’s never sold more than a few copies is worth overhauling. It might still languish unread, but it’s worth it to me.

The “stuff” that got in the way of book work yesterday, was one of the massive shopping trips I go on almost every week with my son. Usually, it’s two grocery stores and one or two thrift stores. Yesterday’s started with the local Humane Society. I decided a month or two ago that I missed having a fur ball, so I kept checking out the photos on the HS site. The cat I’m adopting is a ten-year-old orange female who might not have found another owner at that age. She wasn’t exactly abused by her previous owners, but they put her in their basement because of their little kids (no details on that except her inability to cope), and lived down there for a year. She’s still skittish, but didn’t have any trouble with my petting her, leaned right in, in fact, so I think she’ll be fine once she settles down. We’ll probably go in tomorrow to sign the adoption papers and take Stella home.

As part of getting my life somewhat normalized, which used to mean being owned by a cat, I’m cutting way back on the news. I’ve accepted that things are mostly going to get worse as the new “president” lays about him with an axe handle. There’s nothing I can do about it except put my little bit of money where I hope it will do some good. I made a second donation to the Standing Rock Sioux this morning, even though I know that particular battle will probably be lost.

RESIST!

Orwell Would Be Proud

Or maybe jealous. It’s all over the internet today, the “President’s” puppet’s new take on truth: alternative facts. I hope someone’s collecting the 21st century additions to Orwell’s Newspeak. We’re probably going to be seeing a lot of that kind of thing.

Did anyone seriously think that the man would suddenly turn presidential? That his people would gently coach and guide him in his role? Did anyone expect that the very first press conference of the new administration would be a series of blatant lies? If you were surprised by any of this, you haven’t been paying attention.

 

Coming up — Four Years of Inspiration for SF Writers

It’s hard to believe that this country’s most significant and dangerous step into the future is only a day and a half away. The writer in me rejoices, not that I’ve been lacking for ideas. But the humanist in me shakes with dread. Will it be a never-ending nightmare in which the future is the blackest of black comedies, or a black comedy that makes every day a nightmare?

Humans, as a species, aren’t good at facing reality, and the next four years may be the ultimate proof of this failing. Global climate is, in a way, the metaphor that illustrates what such blindness will cost. It is proof that when faced with an unacceptable reality, humans are perfectly capable of rejecting what they see with their own eyes and experience with their own bodies, and retreating into a fantasy world in which bad things simply don’t happen. There is factual, real-life evidence, from every part of the world, that processes we can’t stop are already underway, and that they are proceeding at a much faster rate than scientists were willing to admit until very recently.

There is no shortage of rose-colored visions of a future that won’t be as bad as the worriers and Cassandras predict. Wishful optimism fits both climate change and the upcoming administration. The belief that raising buildings a few feet will defeat the incoming waters, or that the man moving into the White House will, sooner or later, start acting more “presidential,” are dangerous delusions. What will happen, sooner or later, is that the wearers of rose-colored glasses will be the first to scream, “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” And they will be looking for someone to blame.

Money on Their Minds

One of the big forums for writers is a never-ending source of revelations about the “art” of making money by writing. If you read this forum regularly, you’d have to come to the conclusion that no one becomes a writer for any reason except to make money — preferably big money. How to write to market, which trends are on the upswing, how much to spend on advertising — it goes on and on, with craft entering the discussions so seldom that it seems like an actual intrusion.

If you can’t churn out a novel every month or two, as this “industry” requires, why not try short stories? If you’ve obviously never read any short stories and have to ask how to go about it, what’s involved in writing them, and even how to find ideas for stories, why that’s just a sensible approach. At least in the anything-for-a-buck mentality. Learning on the job is a natural part of becoming a writer, but somehow, this willingness to jump into something you know nothing about for no better reason than to fill in the gap between your written-to-market novels is particularly specious.

Despair for the Human Race

Close observation of human behavior can lead to severe depression, but it’s also a never-exhausted source of inspiration for stories if you can keep yourself from giving up on everything, including writing. The same psychological patterns repeat themselves on all scales, from the behavior that leads to wars to discussions on the internet. I wish I were smart enough to illustrate this in a novel or short story, but I’m not.

A ubiquitous pattern, maybe the most important one that keeps people at arm’s length from each other and provides a basis for hatred of the other and justification for wars, is the emotional response to topics that desperately need to be met with reason. A comparatively harmless example of this is currently underway on a forum for writers, in a thread that is now 10 pages long and still going, and becoming ever more acrimonious.

What was the innocent firecracker that turned into a bomb? Someone asked why the site didn’t have a women’s fiction category for submissions. This is a critiquing site, and like any such site, it can be difficult to find the just-right category for your work. Without going into the gory details, I’ll just say that it took less than a page of responses to turn into a gender war. As a woman with no interest in women’s fiction, either reading it or writing it, I’d appreciate such a label. I don’t have a lot of time for critiquing, and the label would make it unnecessary to read the introductory blurb for something that’s only listed as fiction or short story, and that I’m not interested in reading or critiquing. If categories for children and young adults are acceptable, why not women — or men, for that matter?

But no. Clutching their rigid variety of feminism to their breasts, some women found that disgusting and degrading, and a way of warning off potential male readers. Not to mention that it would serve to stereotype anything written by women. I was among the few who tried to keep the discussion on track. Women’s fiction is a standard publishing category. It’s a tool to help people narrow down their search for reading material. There’s no requirement that a writer use it, or that a reader pays attention to it. It’s purely descriptive, not prescriptive.

But the one thing you can always count on, no matter the topic, or how seemingly uncontroversial, any topic can be blindsided by emotional responses that require all-out defense rather than reasoned argument. An emotional response comes from a place that is highly personal and must therefore be defended as if it were the person themself being attacked. Once emotion takes over, rational discussion is impossible.

We see this on every level — politics, national pride, and religion at the highest, and at the lowest, arguments about who is entitled, or permitted, to do what. There was a brief moment when PC thinking (political correctness) seemed to be on the wane, but it is now in full swing again, running wild in away that’s barely short of insane. What you eat, what you wear, doing yoga, what music you listen to — all are being dragged into the black hole of emotionally based PC.

My last comment on the thread was something that had occurred to me while reading it. People’s lives are no longer under their own control, a frightening fact of life that can’t be tolerated for very long. Attempting to define and limit what others are allowed to do is one way of regaining control, even if it’s only an illusion. But the illusion must be maintained if it is to be effective, thus the emotional responses that are incapable of responding to reason.

Welcome to 2017. It’s a mad, mad world.

Little Random Rants and Notes

I seem to have a thing about headlines. They provoke strange thoughts even if I don’t read the articles they’re trying to lure me into. Like the one on vox.com that I just stumbled over: At What Age do People Stop Shopping at Ikea. That’s just loaded with implications, and I don’t even need the accompanying photo of a deliriously happy young man standing on a scooter outside an Ikea store and waving at me. Ignoring what it’s trying to tell me, probably about millennials, I’ll say: at the same age you should stop shopping at all similar stores, when you’re ready to stop acquiring stuff and are ready to just live.

In completely unrelated news, I’m very glad I stayed home for Christmas and had a completely normal day. Because, looking back, I’m pretty sure that would have led to an unnecessary overload to push me further into my current state of mind-death. I shuddered at the thought of having to interact with five adults, including a guest/stranger, plus two dogs, sitting around for hours with absolutely nothing to do, and waiting for a dinner I wouldn’t have been allowed to help with. Even on days when I know I’m not going to be able to write, that’s a form of torture I don’t need.

At the moment, I’m dithering about whether to go to the drugstore a block away, just to get a little fresh air, and roam the aisles more or less mindlessly. It’s about 32 degrees outside, which makes the decision more difficult than usual, what with having to put on the layers of clothes I’ll need, gather up keys, etc. It reminds me that beneath this dithering and a lifetime of not doing things that need to be done because the preparation seems more complicated than I can deal with, is a failure of executive functioning. That’s just one of the many little quirks of my neurology that goes along with Aspergers. 99% of the time I don’t think about it, or any of the others, but they’re always there, little roadbumps that keep tripping me up. At times like this, when the whole world seems determined to go to hell, they pile up, and come to consciousness in a very ugly way. Theoretically, writing about stuff like that bleeds off the stress, but it rarely does.

If you’d like to read a provocative analysis of one of my current irritants, here’s http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/30/mourning-celebrity-the-public-sphere-of-emotional-surrogacy/

Random Ruminations

This is really no time to be blogging  (any day immediately preceding the election, or immediately afterwards), but it’s Sunday, so I’m entitled to take time off from having done not much of anything the last few days. Which seems to imply that I will  be working hard today, but I won’t, even though a loaf of bread is in the machine and will be ready by lunchtime. So far, that’s my only accomplishment for the day. Five minutes worth.

Camp Expendable is still waiting for me to grit my teeth and subject it to Scrivener’s Compile. A reminder for all two or three of you that there are some excerpts here on the blog is waiting for a more auspicious time. How dare politics get in the way of my feeble attempts at self-promotion? Looking at those bits today, I noticed that they aren’t quite what they finally wound up being, but close enough.

The whole world seems to be consumed by the ongoing cat and dog fight, so there’s very little of interest to read on my score of news sites, and even on Scribophile, the critique site that I joined recently. It’s as if everyone is holding their breath. Me, I’m just sitting back, knowing that the only difference either candidate will make is the speed at which the US continues sliding downhill, and the number of people who will be hurt in the process. Either way, those two factors aren’t going to politely fade away. Though I am beginning to think that any future-dystopias I write about should include the possibility of nuclear war.

There’s one good thing about periods when I’m not writing. It gives me lots of time to think about the writing. And that isn’t a joke or a rationale of some kind. The concept behind A Well-Educated Boy is expanding far beyond the basic plot I originally intended, and a good deal of that has come out of just sitting and brooding about Hart, the protagonist, and the learning and maturing process he’s forced to go through.

I was recently drafted as proofreader for my son’s weekly newspaper, a job that has to be the most terminally boring task possible. He usually drops it in my inbox Friday evening or Saturday morning, but here it is almost noon Sunday and it just appeared. So, it’s off to do something useful, even if it isn’t for me. Here’s hoping it’s a 12-page edition this week, rather than 16 pages, and that the football season is well and truly over for the local high schools.

 

Cleaning Out Post Drafts

So I’m putting off real work again, but discovering that I have 60 drafts hanging around on WP is as good an excuse as any. I’m down to the last three chapters of what was supposed to be the final edit of Camp Expendable. But so many notes have accumulated that I need to evaluate and decide whether they’d be worth the trouble of adding in. That would mean another round or two of edits. Can I face that? As long as the book isn’t what I hoped it would be, I’ll have to. Maybe somewhere in those notes is the detail that will be the magic key.

Procrastination!  While I’m in the process of weeding out some of those old drafts, I might as well pass on a few of the thoughts they began with.

  1. Golden halos don’t really brush off. When you’re writing that all-important blurb, comparing your book to x, x, and x is the surest way to signal that you have no voice of your own.
  2. How much can your hero suffer? People stop reading books for all kinds of reasons. Bad writing, cardboard characters, dumb plot. But I’ve learned that they may also stop reading because you’ve given them a protagonist they like and sympathize with — and then hurt so badly that they just can’t deal with it. Do you need to find a balance, or should you just put your hero through whatever suffering fate seems to be decreeing, or the story needs?
  3. I am, by temperament, a bridge burner. Sometimes that’s a very good thing, and other times, it doesn’t work out so well. What’s most important is the willingness to accept the consequences.
  4. To what extent does the trackable data about our lives enable interested parties to determine who we are and what we want, and use that to their advantage? And how can we manipulate the image that is supposedly who we are, to our own advantage? How can we, as writers, explore the implications of data collection and interpretation in our fiction? The important question: Should we manipulate our data, if it’s to our advantage?
  5. I don’t write books that will ever be best sellers. I don’t aim to earn a living as a writer. I’m not, in any sense of the word, a professional writer. I write for the love of it — translating ideas into stories, bringing characters to life. But I don’t write just for the love of it. I want readers. I want to see some concrete benefit from spending hours and brain cells creating the books. Above all, I want to be a better writer than I am today, and even better on down the line.

Random Weekend Bits and Pieces

Amazon can’t spell. I happened to look at a book by someone named Alan Watt the other day, and ever since, Amazon has been suggesting books by Alan Watts. I find their algorithms for trying to sell me stuff alternately annoying and amusing. Apparently, the primary one is that if you look at just one item in a category, you’re potentially interested in others. Looking at Your 90-Day Novel resulted in being offered every book in this 90-Day shtick that someone is working for all they’re worth. I have no idea whether the books are selling, since the first one wasn’t worth more than a quick glance.

How many tomato plants does anyone need? Son and I toddled off to the Habitat for Humanity resell store yesterday, and came back with three flats of practically dead tomato plants. For free, so they couldn’t be resisted. I resisted, but he didn’t, and it turned out one of the flats was for me. Oh goody. Just what I needed: nursing three dozen moribund plants back to life. No thanks. Dumped them into a pail of water overnight and picked out eight barely-possibles to save, the most that would fit in a currently unused planter. At least they were loaded with a crop of ripe orange cherry tomatoes that must have been their last-ditch effort to survive. Pass on the genes. The tomatoes were excellent, so even if none of the plants come back to life and bear, that variety will be on my list for next year’s planting. Sunsugar cherry tomatoes. Yum. Hybrid, unfortunately, so there’s no point in saving seeds.

Camp NaNoWriMo — I’ve exceeded my goal of 6,000 words by 1,200 words so far. I can’t believe how much Camp Expendable has changed since the original draft, and I’m still working out possible scenes. Still clinging to the goal of having it finished and ready for publication by the end of the month, but it will probably run into August.

Gardening. Summer is now in full bloom, and promising to be an extremely hot one, after a very long, cool Spring. I cut the first two (very small )summer squash the other day, and tomatoes are going gangbusters. I hope to start seeing color soon. The Roma types started bearing first, so I imagine those will be the first to ripen. Green beans are coming back from having been eaten by some bug almost as soon as they popped out of the ground. Still waiting to find out whether the pepper plants Son gave me are hot or sweet. I suspect hot, so I planted some bell pepper seeds. The exotic Japanese variety of eggplant is probably a total loss. The one plant that got to a healthy, transplantable size is now failing. It looks like a spider mite attack, but there are none to be seen, and spraying hasn’t stopped the slow deterioration.

Lurching and Tilting

That title expresses, more or less, the way I feel lately, trying to overcome my own distractedness while also being submerged in the noise from what I now have to consider the neighbors from hell. Much of the noise problem is intensified by the two houses being not more than about 20 feet apart, with my bedroom/computer room windows on that side — of course. Currently, the neighbors are having their utility building and house reroofed. Since the work is being done only in the morning, I can look forward to several days of not being able to sleep past 7:00, being trounced by whatever noises are necessarily involved.

The weather is making its own contribution to the noise problem. I can’t tolerate much heat, so as the temps rise I’m spending more and more time with the window AC running. I bought it in the belief that it was a “whisper quiet” model, but it roars and rattles like crazy, driving me crazy. At least it does cover some of the noise next door.

I signed up for July Camp NaNoWriMo in order to give myself an extra push to finish revising Camp Expendable, but it isn’t going very well. I do most of my writing in the morning, which is now impossible, and by afternoon, I’m so frazzled that I can’t pull myself together enough to write anything, much less do a major revision. With a goal of only 6,000 words, and only eight more chapters, it should be a walk in the park. Best intentions and all that hooey.

The one thing I did accomplish this week, maybe because it was a mindless job involving only hundreds of mouse clicks, was deleting the last of my Live Journal posts. It went fairly quickly and contributed only marginally to my right hand’s ongoing deterioration. Skimming over some of the posts, I came to the conclusion that the ones without any comments were usually personal stuff, or about the writing process. Most of my readers hung around, pure and simple, for the free reads. Going back and back through those posts, I now find it unbelievable that I actually posted entire novels. Not something I’d do anymore, for sure.

The big question now is whether I can finish Camp Expendable this month, and get on to something else. I won’t be taking any bets.

Linky

Alice Adams talks about the books that have influenced her life. Why Does Anyone Write? “I didn’t set out to be a writer. As a child, being a novelist seemed like the most exalted possible career but it was like wanting to be a movie star, a wildly unrealistic dream.” I can relate to wanting to be a writer, but not to wanting to be a movie star. Luckily, I didn’t know how hard writing actually was, so I held onto that dream until I was almost too old to do anything about it.

If you claim that you don’t watch TV, you’re either an asshole or a liar, according to this article by Alissa Walker: Everyone Is Lying About Not Watching TV You can decide for yourself which one I am, because I don’t watch TV. And I don’t “cheat” by watching streaming programs on the internet. Granted, the title is meant to be provocative, but it does seem to be true that there’s a non-TV-watching segment of the population that seems to think it’s a mark of intelligence, or sophistication, or whatever, to let people know that they don’t watch. And apparently they never miss an opportunity to let the crass enthusiasts know, not only that they didn’t watch the latest episode of whatever, but that they don’t watch TV at all.

I’ve always had a problem with television, even back when there were a few shows here and there that I enjoyed. But by the time analog was ploughed under by digital, I hardly ever turned the set on. Despite all the media concentration on the cultural significance of certain shows, I see TV as basically a substitute for everything else that people used to do, like hobbies, travel, even creative projects. It’s a time filler, and pretty much of an addiction for people too tired out by pointless jobs to dredge up the energy for “free time” pursuits.

For SF aficionados: Systems fiction: a novel way to think about the present. Quirks of the human animal and the systems that it invents are two of my favorite concerns. Never been much interested in space opera or alien encounters. Still, when I looked up some of the books recommended as involving exploration into systems, none of them seemed very interesting. I started reading Kim Stanley Robinson Red Mars years ago, but dropped it out of sheer boredom. It’s all very well to write about systems, but not to forget that they include human beings. So-called hard SF tends to forget about the characters in its fascination with the technical details.