Friday, September 02, 2005

Ideas that Die

After finishing the revisions on TDD, I've been taking a break. The idea was to get a few short stories written, and to generally do a lot of "in-take" (a.k.a. reading.) It's time now to get back to novel writing, and I find I've completely forgotten how. Actually, I should also say that during this hiatus I managed not to get much done in terms of short story writing, either. I think part of the problem is that, with the short stories, I've been attempting to write to market -- something I very rarely do. While looking for a market for existing stories of mine, I came across John Scalzi's call for submissions for his themed issue of Subterranean Magazine. He's looking for stories, as he puts it in his guidelines, which feature "Big Honkin' Science Fiction Cliches." For some reason that idea totally appealed to me, especially when I followed some of his links to lists of SF cliches. I started a story about the last man on earth, but I haven't gotten farther than a few paragraphs. I guess the idea didn't quite grab me as much as I thought. Also, as most writers know, it's one thing to get fired up about an idea, and another thing to craft a living, breathing, publishable short story out of one. The other market I got interested in submiting to was Lynne Jamneck's Erotic Lesbian Science Fiction Anthology. Part of the appeal of that one was that I was thinking that I could set a short story in a world I used to write in. I have another great idea, which even satisfies the guidelines request that "both the erotic an science fiction aspect are crucial." But, once again I find myself writing a few lines and then petering out. This is one of the great mysteries of writing, as far as I'm concerned. The few short stories that I've sold, all came to me in a flash and were written quickly (albeit over the course of a few weeks, but the words poured out without much struggle.) The stories I've finished but haven't sold were written with more struggle. And, then there's the multitude of Ideas that Died. Half the storage space in my fiction directory is full of these half-starts. Some of them are several pages long. Some, when I open them again, I diddle a few more lines on to them, but they never seem to light a spark under me for whatever reason. Why do some stories spring from my head like Athena, fully-grown? And why do some of my "coolest" ideas fail to germinate? Well, let's think about that. Obviously, one of the issues is what I mentioned earlier. Ideas do not a complete story make. Ideas and characters sometimes aren't even enough. Let me think back to one of my most successful stories. The idea, world, main character and basic conflict hit me one day after talking about the idea with a writer friend of mine over lunch. I started writing that afternoon and had a completed draft by the end of the week. I don't remember having a clear idea about the ending, but I did have a strong sense of conflict and world. Maybe those are the crucial items for me. If I have a conflict, the resolution comes over the course of writing the story. If I know the world I'm writing in, the story begins to feel alive. I think, as a writer, part of what gets me going is having something to say. Theme, I guess. I know for a fact the story I'm referring to above, had a strong, definite theme. I had something I wanted to say about a certain segment of the population. I had a gripe with an ex that needed airing. But, that's not always true. I have written published stories that didn't have that thematic fire in the belly. I can think of one, my first published story, which really was just a cool idea. Of course, it was flash fiction, so maybe that was part of it. I don't know. This mystery is probably deeper than I can handle in a single blog.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

One of THOSE days

Attitude is everything, I've decided. Like today. It's 11:00 in the morning, and today should suck. On my way to taking my partner to work, the car died. Just ran out of gas. The gas gauge has been wonky for some time now, but I usually keep a careful watch on the miles I've gone on the odometer. Except today. Today I spaced. So, we rolled to a stop ten blocks from my partner's work. She hoofed it in high heels, and I entertained Mason, our two year old, while waiting for Triple-A to show up. Entertaining Mason is ridiculously easy. I should mention that the place we broke down was a gorgeous part of Saint Paul called Summit Avenue. We were up at the "top" of Summit, which also known as Cathedral Hill, because the Saint Paul Cathedral is right there. The houses are mansions -- grand, grand mansions. The lawns are expansive and expertly maintained. Huge, ancient oak trees line the broad boulevards. Flowers bloom in profusion. Birds sing on every branch. It's like paradise in the middle of the city. Not a bad place to have to sit and wait. And today is simply gorgeous. It's one of those amazing end-of-summer days where the sun shines brightly, sky is crystal blue, the clouds are fluffy and white, and the air holds a touch of autumn chill. Mason and I strolled around near the car, picking up fallen Maple leaves and arranging them according to a toddler's sense of order, which in this instance meant we moved the leaves from the sidewalk to on top of a retaining wall. Then the big truck came and loaded up the car and took us all for a ride to Grand-Wheeler Sinclair service station. I had them tow us because it would bring us closer to home, and I had other things I wanted my mechanic to tune-up on the car. Then, we wandered home -- toddler pace. Lots of stopping to chase squirrels ("icicle!" For some reason the way Mason says "a squirrel" it comes out more like "i - cicle!"), lots of clambering up on to my shoulders so we could read the pine cones in the various pine trees we passed, we even stopped at our local park ("ding-ding" park, so named because it's near a fairly active rail road crossing) for a romp on the monkey bars. We got home after a few hours, and I discovered that I forgot my house keys in the car back at the service station. Luckily, I live in a old house -- it was built in 1911 (Taft was president), so it's actually fairly easy to pop a window screen and shimmy in. I left Mason on the front porch with some "bon-bons" (his word for candy), and I broke in. Because I'm usually pretty good about closing the windows so someone else can't do this, I had to clamber in the small kitchen window, which is actually a few feet off the ground. To this involved climbing up the gas pipe and throwing myself at the screen. I wish someone had been around to film it. I'm sure I looked hillarious trying to wedge my big butt in through that small window. I managed to get in and not fall on my face. Triumph! All this without my first cup of coffee. I should be grouchy. I should be pulling hair or gnashing teeth. But, I was in the right frame of mind, and we had nowhere to go and no time we had to be there. It's been a beautiful day.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Vampire Vixens

I recently joined a group of vampire authors, known as the "Vampire Vixens." Check out their web site, at The Vixens are also doing a joint blog, which I thought I would attempt to post to occasionally (though I'm having trouble keeping up with this blog.) If you want to check out that blog, you can find it at: