I want candy

My life since graduate school: I am a child in a candy store, the one who is told she cannot eat anything until she’s finished her chores.

I have a job, but beyond that, few responsibilities. I am single and childless. I don’t belong to any organizations (anymore, used to be a thing with me). I have a few family obligations, but nothing that taxes on a daily basis. My family (including my GF) gives me lots of space. Even in my job, I am left pretty much alone as long as I get the work done. Sure, sometimes that work is demanding.

But it is safe to say, that for the most part, I do what I want when I want.

Which means there is a candy store of experiences waiting for me to just try them. What’s the candy? Sometimes, it’s a wonderful television program. Sometimes, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Sometimes, it’s feathering this little nest I’ve built for myself. Sometimes, an interesting friend. Sometimes, it’s literally a piece of candy.

But I’m not allowed these things until my chores are finished. So of course, I sneak off and I eat the candy, and then berate myself. No candy until your chores are done.

And what are my chores?

Writing. That’s my chores. “The great American novel.” That should be one of the pieces of candy, the most delicious, enticing candy in the store. Instead, it’s the thing that the mom-voice in my head is telling me to finish before I can taste one little delicious piece of life.

So of course I’m always rebelling by watching TV, working on some personal project, or eating. And then berating myself, bitterly. In an endless cycle.

Self-beratement doesn’t work. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. All it does is turn the best thing in my life into a cudgel I use to bludgeon myself with.

Are blogs the new journals?

I saw this article recently in my writing blogs:

Are Blogs The New Journals?

It’s been ten years since I kept a “proper” journal. You know, the kind you write long-hand into a private (note)book? Actually, I was in a journaling slump even the early ’00s, so it’s been more like twelve. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen (even earlier than that, but in a fit of teenaged angst, I threw that earlier one away). So I believe with conviction that blogs are not the new “journals.” A contemporary form of ongoing letter-writing correspondence, perhaps, but not a contemporary form of the journal.

If any blogging platform comes close to journaling, it’s Dreamwidth/Live Journal, which in my experience is more intimate than your average blog. People talk more about their personal lives, their highs and lows. But blogs and “online journals” are social media. They allow you to interact and form communities. I remember when I first heard about Live Journal from some ATPo friends ten years ago. I was flabbergasted. They keep their journals ON LINE? It seemed the height of exhibitionism to me.

Because at the time, journals were, for me, a private space where you wrote your innermost thoughts, didn’t censor, poured out emotions you wouldn’t reveal any other place, engaged in self-indulgent naval gazing, and kept the metaphorical pressed flowers of your daily life preserved for later nostalgia or mortification. Assuming you could even pick up that volume 20 years later without wanting to kick your younger self in the shins.

Journaling isn’t better or worse than blogging, it’s just different. You blog for attention and validation, in part, and you risk criticism and rejection. It’s the school yard, the neighborhood coffee clache, the backyard barbecue. A journal, on the other hand, is just You, and sometimes Your God (my mom, forex, thinks of her jouraling as a form of prayer. Self-indulgent whining at God kind of prayer, but cathartic for that very reason).

There is a gray middle ground, of course. I sometimes write private entries in my Live Journal that are more like my old journal than a blog entry. But I do censor myself in those entries a bit in the paranoid fear some security bug will sweep through LJ and make them public ever so briefly. But I don’t often just journal with a notebook and a pen like the old days anymore. The only time I still feel compelled to write in a notebook that is totally disconnected from online blogging and emails is when I’m hiking and feeling kinda spiritual. Computers and the woods don’t mix for a lot of reasons.

Confessions of a Hero Whore

dresdent_files

More often than not when you ask me who my favorite character in a book, film, or television series is, it’s the hero. Not that I don’t appreciate the grayer characters, the morally ambiguous types–tricksters, shady allies and informants, double-agents, self-serving baddies with sympathetic pasts and motivations. But I think sometimes those grayer characters get overvalued, proclaimed “way more interesting” than the heroes, who are decried as boring and predictable when the do the right thing, and lambasted when they make a mistake. Similarly, fans who like hero characters are made to feel like throwbacks to 1952.

But where would we be without the heroes? A story full of characters whose primary motivations are self-serving or up for grabs may make an interesting read/viewing experience, but an abundance of stories like that leave me feeling ungrounded. Morally gray characters are like icing without the cake. I need to have someone in the story who I can root for without feeling like I washed myself with a dirty rag. Someone far from perfect, but who shows genuine courage, and who I know is trying to do the right thing, even if they mess it up a lot along the way. Even if, in the end, they fail.

An engaging hero character requires work on the part of the writer. Many heroic characters face odds so steep that their success, or the traits they possess that allow their success, make them larger than life and difficult to relate to. Giving them flaws that humanize them, though, is tricky. If a hero character is flawed in ways that make him or her unlikable, a reader/viewer can feel manipulated by the narrative–as if they’re “supposed” to like them, even if they don’t.

One thing to remember, though, is that there is a difference between the viewer/reader rooting for the hero even though s/he’s a better man than you, gunga din, and being able to “relate to” him or her. I often don’t relate to the heroes that I find myself rooting for. I can’t imagine being them. But I root for them nevertheless, because the writer has made them sympathetic, human, and likeable.

It’s a bit embarrassing, though, to be asked who your favorite character is and have to “admit”:

Oh, Highlander? Duncan Macleod
Harry Potter series: Harry Potter
Merlin BBC: well, Merlin, of course
Angel the Series: Angel
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Ben Sisko
Once Upon A Time: Emma Swan
Harry Dresden: Harry Dresden

…and so on.

It’s not always the case though. My favorite ST: TNG character was Data. But of course, he was the epitome of the awkwardly sincere trying-to-be-the-best-of-humanity. And my favorite character on Lost was Hurley, but y’know, Everyman with a Heart of Gold, he was. On ST: Voyager, I liked Be’lanna Torres. I have a thing for the fucked-up tough girls. But I’m not sure I would have stayed glommed onto the angry, screwed-up babes if they weren’t flawed-but-trying-to-be-a-good-person. To wit: Faith on BtVS/AtS. Although she was never my favorite character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never really had one, except possibly the foursome of Buffy+Giles+Willow+Xander. The collective heroic.

Do I get points if my favorite Anne Rice vampire was Armand? He was no saint. I could never stand Lestat, but I liked Louis quite a bit. I prefer my vampires with a soul.

The kinks: stories and our emotional response to them

A friend and I were discussing some of the more “interesting” fannish speculation we’ve encountered while out and about on the interwebs for various reasons re: Once Upon A Time. We both agreed we have no plans to participate in general fandom again. It is a hairy quagmire of divergent points of view and divisive passions, and we have both been there, done that with the bruises to prove it. Best to stick to the discussions we can have with our immediate internet friends.

But that got me thinking about why fandom is the way it is. Anything that makes us equally passionate–hobbies, areas of expertise, particular people, things of beauty–can lead to divergent points of view and divisiveness. We form strong opinions about those things, then the realities of internet communication exaggerate them: a degree of anonymity makes us bolder, ruder, rasher. The visual and aural cues that come with face-to-face or telephone communication are not there, which leads to unintended ambiguity and misunderstanding.

But there’s an additional element to fannishness about fictional books, films, or television shows that also contributes to the potential turbulence of the fan experience: our human response to stories. Continue reading “The kinks: stories and our emotional response to them”

Holy Yikes! Self-publishing and Tax Law

I published a book last year. I made some dough on it. Not a lot, but enough to generate two 1099-MISC forms from Amazon and Smashwords.

This week, I went to the TurboTax website to do my taxes. 1099-MISC with an amount in box 2, it told me, is either property rental income or business income. Plz to be proceeding to fill out a Schedule C.

I have a business?

So I start in on the schedule C. Business name, business address, business type code. This all seems rather silly. I write fiction from a chair in my living room. Some day, God willing, I might be a self-employed writer, but not right now. I have the proverbial day-job, a full-time job in an urelated field that brings in the majority of my personal income. Now onto the deductions. Oh, yes, I paid some money to get a personal website put up to promote my writing and book. Enter the expenses on that.

Suddenly, my refund, which was not itty-bitty due to mortgage interest, doubled. What. This can’t be correct.

Now, ask some people, this is all perfectly legit–especially if Turbotax lets you do it leads you down the garden path right through it. But I’m not keen on the idea of being audited. So I spent an hour plus today waiting in the queue for TurboTax’s free CPA chat. Schedule C is correct, says my Free CPA. “But it’s not a business,” type I. Free CPA disappears for a moment, then gives me this useful info dump:

“There is quite a bit of law on the distinction between a hobby and a business; but basically you have to record hobby income and you are allowed to deduct the expenses to that hobby, as long as they do not exceed the income. Some of the factors the IRS and the Court looks at as to in the distinction are:

(1) The amount of time you spend at this hobby or business can be a determining factor. If you have other trades or businesses, or if you have employment with someone else, it may be obvious that the activity in question is a hobby because you may not have sufficient available time to devote to the concept of making this activity a business. An example of this was a case in which an attorney was found to be in the business of gambling because he concentrated on his betting activity more than his law practice and his intent was to make a profit.

(2) Your intent in this particular activity also weighs heavily in whether or not the activity is a hobby or a business. intent is usually determined by considering other factors. Do you keep records as though this were a bona fide business? Do you spend sufficient time to show intent to make a profit? Do you advertise? Do you do other things that are characteristic of a person who’s trying to make a living at this activity?

It’s not a cut and dried decision, but if your activity is a business, your best defense of its business nature is to treat it like a business.”

Yeah, legally a hobby, for now.

So I return to Turbotax, enter an expenses write-off equivalent to my sales, and wipe my hands clean.

Know thy book

Now here is a lesson I need to take to heart:

Tell Me

I think I spent more time during the writing of the first draft of my novel explaining what was going on to my beta reader verbally after the fact of her reading a chapter than I spent writing the chapter.

In my defense, I thought I was writing an entirely different kind of book than I was. I thought I was writing a book in which the true nature of one of the heroes, several of the villains (including one who really isn’t a villain, but must act like one), and a few other characters is revealed very gradually and is only explained outright around chapter 16 or 17 of 23. What I wanted was for the reader to uncover the answer to a mystery, gradually, with the heroes, as the clues unfolded.

I imagined my book was something like my childhood favorite, Alexander Key’s Escape to Witch Mountain, where you’d have a perfectly comprehensible adventure about two magically-gifted orphans even if you never got the “big reveal” the book/film was unfolding towards (that the children are in fact aliens, not witches). The book would still make sense without that ending, but that ending makes better sense of the events and clues scattered through the story than what you assume through much of the story.

Based on that model, however, I struggled for 17 or 18 of the 23 chapters hiding every thought, every word, every action my more “unusual” characters had that would give the answer away too soon, until I had a cast of characters who were doing incomprehensible things for incomprehensible reasons, or who had to be made ignorant of things I had fully planned for them to know upfront so they wouldn’t “give it away” to the reader until the characters who didn’t know found out, too.

So now I know I am writing a story in which I need to tell the reader much more upfront, and in which I have to figure out the delicate art of knowing when, and if, I can hold back details to maintain the sense of mystery.

And that’s… harder.

Once Upon A Time: On Henry

Emma-Henry

I got the first season of OUAT on DVD for Xmas and have been doing a rewatch. Simultaneously, I’ve been plotting the second draft of my novel using the hero’s journey as a rough template, so I had the concept of the Guide archetype in my head while watching.

Assuming Emma Swan is the Hero of OUAT, the first Guide she encounters, at least in season one, is her son, Henry. He has the “Once Upon A Time” book, and he is constantly interpreting events and people for Emma (also, for Mary-Margaret/Snow White, and Graham/the Huntsman) in terms of the book so that she can see herself in the larger picture of what she is supposed to accomplish as the “savior.”

Spoilers through the end of season 1, with some unspoiled speculation

Writing update, week of… January so far

I suppose I didn’t have an actual recorded New Year’s resolution to report about my writing to the webosphere, but I nevertheless thought that might be something I’d do for accountability purposes, now that I don’t have a reader waiting for new material as I did in my first draft. Somehow, though, the first two weeks of January passed before it occurred to me to do so. It is now mid-January. Mid-January! How did *that* happen?

Well, at least it feels like mid-January ought to feel. Brrr.

So, on the novel-writing front: there has been no writing. Which is not to say there has been no work on the novel. I have been doing plot-reinvisioning (work left over from PlotWriMo last month), and this past week, I have been doing research to feed the world-building muse I “played by ear” or something in the first draft. Short story long, I was not happy with the story-world rules I had going in that draft. They were not well thought out, and now they need to be before I spill another pixel on plotting.

I may, at some point, do some free writing just to stretch the writing muscles a bit, since I haven’t done much “writing” writing since the end of October.

Why is it I feel guilty–like I’m not “working on my novel” if I am not writing the text of the story?

Writing goals 2013

The problem I’m having with setting a writing goal for the coming year is that there is no one task I do everyday when I’m writing. Not even putting words on a page. Which is why a daily word count goal is meaningless. Jeez, if my goal was word count alone, I could do that with a manuscript like that creepo was typing up in The Shining. Writing is also not (for me) a linear process of going from page one to page 341 (or whatever). I don’t write start to finish. Sometimes, the end has to come first, or the middle, because those sections help determine the beginning. So setting a goal of “one chapter a week” or every two weeks or every month is also not workable.

I hop between composing, editing, plotting, and research depending on where the energy of my creative focus is that day and what my story currently needs. Yeah, I edit while composing. Bad me, no cookie. I go back and rewrite previously-written stuff when I’ve changed my mind about how it should go because sometimes FIXING old stuff is psychologically necessary for moving forward with newer stuff that contradicts it.

So I think the best daily goal is a time chunk. Two and a half hours a day, six days a week. Which comes out to only 15 hours a week.

My main goal in January is re-visioning my MacGuffins. The “obscure, powerful” archeological artifacts that are at the center of a story that is really science fiction, not fantasy. They can’t be supernatural–they need to be Clarkesque technology, but they can’t be ridiculously complicated Clarkesque technology, either. So much of January will be taken up by research and contemplation, and very little of the writing I do on this task will end up in the 100,000 final words of the story.

And yet, my goal is to have a draft worthy of beta-reading and possible publication by the end of the calendar year. Onward.