More on “St. Peter in Chains” & some K-Pro

Fellow writer Christine Rains will be posting her review of “St. Peter in Chains” on her site on Tuesday. The following Monday, July 9, she’ll publish an interview with yours truly. Thanks, Christine, for the awesome hospitality!

Now to focus on The K-Pro. I’ve given myself a deadline of July 31 to finish the draft. I’m not sure yet how realistic that actually is since lately I’ve felt kind of flat when it comes to writing, but I’m sure as hell gonna try. I sometimes forget that a draft is just that: a draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It won’t be. But if I want to try Camp NaNo in August, I need The K-Pro to be done first.

Quiet & Imagine

I recently read (and have mentioned here) Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. And now I’m reading Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works. I find them to be a good double billing for those interested in these kinds of subjects. Having studied psychology (and particularly fan psychology, but I find people and the ways they act and think fascinating in general), I am interested in these sorts of studies—and anyway, I sometimes need a break from the fiction I typically read (and write).

What’s especially thought provoking is how Cain and Lehrer use the same kinds of situations and examples to their own purposes, which are not at all opposed—the two authors are looking at two different aspects of personality, but these aspects happen to intersect in a way that causes the authors to cite similar material. And so, reading the books back to back as I have done, these things stand out. Cain uses Steve Wozniak and the Homebrew Computer Club to showcase Woz as an introvert; Lehrer uses the same to point out how cross-pollination of ideas aids in creativity.

Even something as simple as color can be looked at from both angles: extroverts are more drawn to red, which seems to echo and fuel their high levels of energy, while introverts like blue, which they find calming and soothing. Cain points out that extroverts look for stimulation; introverts often feel overstimulated and so search for pockets of quiet. Meanwhile, Lehrer shows how red backgrounds in studies cause people to focus more in a convergent thinking kind of way, while blue backgrounds aided divergent forms of thinking and free association.

It’s no surprise that extroverts and introverts are both creative and in different ways, which is what I take away from reading these two books and mentally compiling the data provided. Lehrer discusses the general idea that many artists turn toward focus-enhancing drugs (Benzedrine, Adderall). If we consider that many such personalities are likely to be introverts, and that they are perhaps given to head-in-the-clouds modes of thought, then when they’ve finally come up with that great idea for a story or poem or song, it makes a little bit of sense that they would then need something to help them zero in and do the job. Meanwhile, an extrovert might turn to a little marijuana to help him loosen up and free-associate more, allowing him to come up with new ideas.

Lehrer points out that creativity is something that can require the right mix of insiders and outsiders; that is, people with a lot of experience in a field and people with only a surface understanding of it. And Cain discusses the careful balance of extroverts to introverts in interactions and how offices should utilize both sets of skills and talents and personality types. Somewhere in this mix, then, is surely a solid equation for the perfect storm of talent, creativity and ability: the right number of extroverts tempered by the right number of introverts, the right number of experts balanced by the right number of newcomers, and the key method for using them all to their fullest potential (time alone to think and come up with ideas + cross-pollination of those ideas + teamwork/experts + newcomers = ???). It’s a tall order—more math than I’m willing to do—but find someone who can and will do it, and you’d have the formula for the perfect workplace.

As a writer, I spend a lot of my time alone, chasing ideas around my own head. And then when I find one, I have to sit down and focus long enough to get it written, edited, &c. All the mechanical bits of my trade. (I’m a writer who doesn’t use Benzedrine or Adderall, just lots of soda and chocolate.) I have to balance this with networking and attending functions, which I usually enjoy but have a difficult time getting excited about because of my painful shyness; a room full of writers is often a room full of people looking sullen and standing around the outskirts, at least until one of them has had enough to drink. Lucky for me I work a bit in theatre, so all the drama types will do the work. And, as pointed out by Cain, even introverts can have meaningful conversations once they open up, but there is a long warm-up period, and as a rule we’re terrible at small talk. In the end, I almost always end up having a good time once I find one or two people to talk to. I only want and need those one or two, though. Then I’m satisfied. More than that and I get tapped out pretty quick.

But as Lehrer explains, these networking events are very important, not only for making those connections, but for stimulating creativity via the cross-pollination method.

To summarize, these two books work together to make one very interesting read. They more or less dovetail into one another and give one a lot to think about.

As if I didn’t have enough to think about already.

Building Character

“What made you decide to make him gay?”

Huh?

It took me a minute to understand the question, which was a minute longer than it should have taken, but I sometimes forget not everyone is a writer, and those who aren’t sometimes have strange ideas about how writing is done.

“I didn’t build him out of LEGOs or anything,” I said. “I don’t create characters by using a blueprint. Maybe some writers do, but I don’t.

“For me, creating a character is like meeting someone new. They’re already who they are, complete. They might be blond, they might be short, and they might be gay.

“Peter Stoller is gay because he’s gay. I didn’t ‘decide’ it. That’s just how he is.”

Open the Channel

I’ve done a few little Tarot readings—and I’m crap at reading cards, I have to use a host of resources to try and work it all out—but several of them have come up lately with this . . . I don’t know, what do readings do? Suggest? Intimate? Declare? . . . Anyway, the long and short has been that I’m somehow designed to take information from the ether and translate it for the masses. Like Moses on the Mount, I suppose. “Prophet” has come up in a few interpretations, and talk of my having “access to the Divine.”

Well, I don’t take any of that too seriously, but it does make me think of my writing. Which isn’t prophetic by any stretch, but I have noticed I have two distinct modes when writing: active, conscious effort and a sort of “other” mode. And when I’m in the other mode, it’s almost like automatic writing or something, except that I don’t feel possessed at all, I’m just tapping into something, like a jet stream of inspiration. Maybe that’s what people mean when they talk about their muses, but for me it’s more like an idiot savantism.

I wrote a poem in college (don’t know why I bothered to take poetry writing; I can write anything but poetry), and when my instructor handed it back, she’d written this note on it: “Wherever you got this, go back for more.” And I thought, If I could, I would, Sister. But the thing about these flashes or whatever . . . They’re like rides, but they can’t ever be scheduled, and most of the time I never remember them later. I wait at the station for the train. Sometimes I force the issue and jump on any ol’ train but I don’t go anywhere interesting. But when the right train comes along . . . At the end, I’m back home and can’t recall anything about the trip, but I’ve got a bunch of written work as a souvenir. That poem the instructor liked so much? I have this vague memory of being at a friend’s house when I wrote it. And most of the time after having written something like that—something that came from “out there”—I can’t even remember that much about where or when it was written. It’s like I wake up and find it and wonder where it came from.

Of course, the same thing happens to me when I’m on stage. I can’t remember any performance, and so I always feel bad when people come congratulate and thank me after a show.

Maybe I have a disorder. I probably have several, actually.

There hasn’t been much by way of inspiration lately. No trains at the station. So I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, which is to bully my way through the writing I’m trying to get done. Else nothing gets done at all.

M & Mr. King

Neil Gaiman has posted the raw draft of an interview he did of Stephen King, the polished version of which appeared in UK Sunday Times a few weeks ago (while I was in London, in fact, though I never picked up a copy, so I’m glad Neil posted this).

Which gives me, in turn, the perfect excuse to write about the time I encountered Mr. King in the Borders at Downtown Crossing in Boston, back when there was a Borders in Downtown Crossing, or anywhere for that matter. I think it was a game day (that’s the Red Sox for those not in the know), which would explain why “Uncle Stevie” was in town. I was just browsing; we lived on Beacon Hill and haunted Downtown Crossing when we had nothing better to do. The place was pretty empty. I spotted Mr. King in the stacks—he was taller than I expected, though then again, I really didn’t expect to see him in person, like, ever, much less in the Borders—and, after catching his eye, gave him the universal “Are you . . .?” questioning look. He gave me a little nod, which might’ve been resignation, and I left him alone. Maybe because he was really tall (though not as tall as my grandfather, but nearly), but I like to tell myself I did it because I’m not the kind of person who goes around bothering people in bookstores. Even if they are, themselves, famous authors.

Go read the interview in any case. I agree with King that I “find” my stories, and that often, as I’m writing them, they start to fit together in ways I never imagined at the outset. I’m excavating, discovering, as much as my readers do. Maybe that’s craft, but I don’t try to put any label on it. I take it like I would take a gift and thank whatever is in the cosmos handing it to me.

Also like King, I’m not happy if I don’t write. If I go a couple days without writing, not only do I suffer for it, but everyone around me does, too. I’m not pleasant to be around if I haven’t been allowed to release that pressure.

I’ll never be as prolific as King, and horror isn’t my genre, either . . . I like to read his books, though. I remember sneaking them off my father’s bookshelf, slipping a similar-sized book into the space. But my dad is no fool, and he keeps his shelves neat and alphabetized; he worked out pretty quickly that something wasn’t right. And then said to me: “Just don’t let your mother find out you’re reading that stuff.”

On a good day, I’ll get the six pages King writes about. Some days I’m struggling just for three. I try to make three my minimum, but the point is to write a little every day, no matter how little.

Lastly, I share King’s fondness for John D. McDonald. And that one is courtesy of my mother, who introduced me to Travis McGee after I’d exhausted the public library’s stash of Agatha Christie.

It’s childish, though, to compare, and ridiculous too. King is, well, King. And I’m just me. But I’ll keep writing anyway. If only to spare my family.

Balancing Work and Play

I’ve developed a kind of schedule for my writing while I’m here in London. I get up and work in the mornings, then—just as my laptop is crying to be recharged—I go out and do a little something before holing up again in the afternoon/evenings. This will work on most days, though I do have a few days (the 4th, 5th and 7th) where I have evening plans. On those days I’ll work all day (as much as the laptop will allow; there are no outlets, you see, near the table where I’m writing, and nowhere to sit near any of the outlets) and then go out in the evenings.

Yesterday I wandered down to the London Eye. I’ve been to London so many times but had never bothered with the Eye except to walk past it. So this time, the line not being long at all, I did get on for a go. ::shrug:: It was nothing special. I actually think it would be better and more impressive at night. I’d consider trying it again then.

I bought an ice cream cone from a young man in a truck who kept calling me “darling.” Boy couldn’t have been old enough for university, but there he was: “What can I get for you, darling?” And when I told him to keep the change: “Are you sure, darling?” It was too cute. Made my day. But by then it was also 5:00 and there was no way I was going to get on the tube on a Friday at 5:00. So, having walked there to begin with, I walked back, stopping at Whitehall Gardens to finish my ice cream while sitting on a bench.

Today’s outing was to Covent Garden. I’d never been to the market there. I ended up buying three etchings by a local artist. Scott and I have this tendency to buy “travel” art, which is to say we end up with paintings and pictures of places. We have two Krasnyanskys, one of Venice and one of Prague, and then a couple of pieces of art from Savannah depicting some of the lovely squares there that we bought at a gallery while visiting that fine city. So these from London will fit in nicely. I also had an Asian artist write each of the children’s names in Chinese calligraphy so we could hang those in their rooms in our new house.

Took the tube as far as Green Park after that because the Victoria Line is closed this weekend but I’m very used to the walk from Green Park to Victoria Station. Stopped at the station for some lunch; I hazarded on a burrito, though I had my doubts. But it was surprisingly good. And when I came back to the flat, I found Scott had sent some flowers to help brighten my workspace. I now have a big pot of daffodils to cheer me on as I work.

Which, incidentally, is what I’m off to do next.

In London

Now ensconced in Eccleston Square. Well, no, not ensconced. Makes me think of light fixtures. Ugly ones. Like the ones my parents had when I was a kid. Sconces. And bad faux paneling. They had that too.

But I’m at Eccleston Square now and relaxing a bit. I’ll need to venture out to stock the kitchen and such in a bit. Beautiful weather, too.

My driver today was Dave, and he was awesome. The M4 wasn’t even that bad.

The flat is lovely, but there is some kind of work going on next door . . . I hope that’s done soon. Will be hard to concentrate if they’re banging around while I’m here. How will I get any writing done that way? iPod + earbuds, maybe . . .
 
 
 

My writing space for the next 10 days.

 
 
 
Let’s get this screenplay finished.

A Writing Meme

1. Tell us about your favorite writ­ing project/universe that you’ve worked with and why.

When I was an undergrad (this appears to be the day for undergraduate nostalgia), I took a course called Parageography, which is “the study of imaginary places.” It was developed and taught at the University of Texas at Austin by Dr. Douglass Parker, who structured the course as partly literary–we read things like The Wizard of Oz and Orlando and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–and partly creative writing in that we were required to come up with our own, well, worlds. We made languages and maps and all kinds of things. My world was called AElit, and I wrote part of its holy book (the Teuchos) in actual AElitian. I came up with an extensive theology, etc. I even started writing a novel based in this world, and I hope some day to finish it. I go back and tinker with it now and then.

2. How many char­ac­ters do you have? Do you pre­fer males or females?

How many characters do I have in what exactly? Right now I’m writing a play with two characters and a third poised to make an appearance later on.

3. How do you come up with names, for char­ac­ters (and for places if you’re writ­ing about fic­tional places)?

If I’ve got a character fleshed out enough, the right name will come to me. I’ll cast around for a bit until something fits. Same for places. I couldn’t begin to tell you where I came up with AElit except maybe I had been looking at a bookshelf with an old encyclopaedia and thought I’d like to use an “ae.” Or maybe it was an archaeology text. For my deities in that particular world, though, I used Greek and Latin roots. Like the goddess of death is Telamenos which, if I’m remembering right, means “ending spirit.” I recall a different Classics professor being very excited by that for some weird reason.

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

Well, you know, I started out writing stories based on movies and television shows that I liked (which is why I went into screenwriting later), so all my early characters were borrowed. Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, etc. I guess one of the first stories I wrote that was original is one I sort of came up with while playing with my best friend. We were the Hemlock sisters and we solved mysteries. I was Elizabeth and my friend was Lauren, and we lived with our Aunt Miranda (“Aunt Randi”). Later I wrote a short Hemlock sisters story for a reading class. I still have it somewhere, I think.

5. By age, who is your youngest char­ac­ter? Old­est? How about “youngest” and “old­est” in terms of when you cre­ated them?

Good God, I don’t know. Akkad and Sekhmet are probably my youngest in terms of age; they’re just shy of 13. And Tithendion would be the oldest, since he’s basically the father of the gods. But the Hemlock sisters are oldest in terms of when they were created. And these play characters (Arthur & Dilly) are youngest, I guess.

6. Where are you most com­fort­able writ­ing? At what time of day? Com­puter or good ol’ pen and paper?

Mostly it’s important that I be alone. Not just in the room, but the whole house should be empty. And I’ve found it difficult to write where I currently live for whatever reason, so I travel a lot to write. Mid-afternoon and late at night are best for me. As for computer or pen and paper, I do both. Sometimes it depends on the story, sometimes it depends on where I am and what I have access to.

7. Do you lis­ten to music while you write? What kind? Are there any songs you like to relate/apply to your char­ac­ters?

Music inspires me, so I get a lot of ideas from it. But that’s usually when I’m driving and listening to the radio. And there are songs that make me think of my characters. I do sometimes listen to music while writing, too, but most often I don’t.

8. What’s your favorite genre to write? To read?

I’m not sure what I write. Fantasy, I suppose, and sometimes mystery. I started a YA novel that I never finished. I’ve got a paranormal romance novella going at the moment. Which is funny because I’ve never read any paranormal romances. I do like to read mysteries and historical biographies and Regency romances. I used to read a lot of fantasy, too, but got bogged down by so much of it.

9. How do you get ideas for your char­ac­ters? Describe the process of cre­at­ing them.

I haven’t a clue where they come from. I usually start with a situation, I think, and populate from there.

10. What are some really weird sit­u­a­tions your char­ac­ters have been in? Every­thing from seri­ous canon scenes to meme ques­tions counts!

My fanfic characters get into way weirder situations than my original ones, but let’s assume you mean my originals. Well, Seladion and Amaurodios get kicked out of Argyros (think of angels being booted from Heaven and you have the gist), David and Andra have a past history as Greek gods, and in one of my plays two of the characters are possessed by ghosts.

11. Who is your favorite char­ac­ter to write? Least favorite?

I guess this depends on the project, but I often enjoy writing Seladion because he’s just so sly and can be so nasty. It’s fun. Akkad might be my least favorite, since he whines a bit.

12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of world­build­ing? Any side-notes on it you’d like to share?

Oh, the AElit stuff by far. I trenched in and created something very complex there. A whole other language, in fact, and snippets of their literature (plays, prayers, inscriptions).

13. What’s your favorite cul­ture to write, fic­tional or not?

It’s funny because AElit isn’t actually my favorite culture to write, which may be why I haven’t finished it yet. I’m having fun with the film set culture in “The K-Pro.” And I also like setting things in ancient times, Greece and Rome and Egypt.

14. How do you map out loca­tions, if needed? Do you have any to show us?

I have a map of AElit but there’s no digital file.

15. Mid­way ques­tion! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether pro­fes­sional or not!

I like a lot of Neil Gaiman’s work. Stephen King, too. These guys know how to tell a compelling story.

16. Do you write roman­tic rela­tion­ships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you will­ing to go in your writ­ing? 😉

I write attraction. I write sexual tension. And sometimes there’s even some actual sex, though I’m of the pan-the-camera-away type, so my readers usually only get a taste of the foreplay and the aftermath.

17. Favorite pro­tag­o­nist and why!

Of mine? “The K-Pro” has two protagonists, and I like them both because they are very real but also just slightly unreal. Being incarnations of Greek gods does that to a person, I suppose.

18. Favorite antag­o­nist and why!

Him in “Warm Bodies” maybe. There’s something weirdly malicious about him . . . It’s a short play, but I could see taking that character and doing some more with him.

19. Favorite minor that decided to shove him­self into the spot­light and why!

Alfred in “The K-Pro.” He was just going to be a funny but annoying co-star but he’s been given a bigger role than I originally planned.

20. What are your favorite char­ac­ter inter­ac­tions to write?

Banter. I’m a dialogue person (screenwriting again, and now playwriting I suppose). And I’m good at character-driven interpersonal relationships.

21. Do any of your char­ac­ters have chil­dren? How well do you write them?

Some of my characters are children. They’re definitely more difficult to write. I have to think about what I liked and did at that age and hope I don’t sound dumb.

22. Tell us about one scene between your char­ac­ters that you’ve never writ­ten or told any­one about before! Seri­ous or not.

I can only think of fanfic scenes I scrapped. Like Sherlock’s first encounter with Charles Whitcombe–I had to know in order to write the rest of that story, but I never actually wrote the mental scene I came up with. Or there was a scene with Sherlock and John in a church, and Sherlock gives John his coat because John is cold and his jacket isn’t heavy enough.

23. How long does it usu­ally take you to com­plete an entire story—from plan­ning to writ­ing to post­ing (if you post your work)?

Depends on the story. Some come fast and some have taken years (and continue to take years).

24. How will­ing are you to kill your char­ac­ters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most inter­est­ing way you’ve killed some­one?

I don’t have a problem with killing a character off, even a major one. Writers have to be fearless in that way, and be willing to go where the story demands. That said, I’m not sure I’ve had any especially interesting deaths.

25. Do any of your char­ac­ters have pets? Tell us about them.

In my unfinished YA novel, there was a cat named Nacho.

26. Let’s talk art! Do you draw your char­ac­ters? Do oth­ers draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favorite pic­ture of him!

Oh no. I can’t draw. I’ve tried, and I dearly wish I could–I even took classes. My brain just doesn’t work that way, though; what I see comes out as words not pictures. So instead I cast my characters. For example, Dixon in “20 August” was a young Ewan McGregor.

27. Along sim­i­lar lines, do appear­ances play a big role in your sto­ries? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about design­ing your char­ac­ters.

Well, I mean, I describe my characters but I try not to belabor the point. I don’t know how it is for most people, but when I start reading a book, I almost immediately formulate mental pictures of the characters on my own, often regardless to what the author has written. So unless it’s just that important that he or she look a certain way, I touch on it and move on. Though I do like eyes. I’ll often talk about someone’s eyes.

28. Have you ever writ­ten a char­ac­ter with phys­i­cal or men­tal dis­abil­i­ties? Describe them, and if there’s noth­ing major to speak of, tell us a few smaller ones.

Oh, I’ve written people who walk with canes or something. Nothing major.

29. How often do you think about writ­ing? Ever come across some­thing IRL that reminds you of your story/characters?

I think about my characters and stories a lot. While driving, when a song reminds me of them, when I see or hear or read something in the news I think I can use . . . In stores I’ll walk past clothes and think, so-and-so would wear that, or I smell cologne and think, he’d smell like that. I feel like it’s important to know these things, to know my characters intimately.

Procrastination

It almost sounds like a Rod Stewart song . . . Pro. Cras. Tin. A. Tion.

I’ve managed not to get any writing done today, much to my shame. Laundry, yes, and I’ve baked brownies and mailed off a couple more writing submissions, but I have not actually done any writing. The problem is I am well and truly stuck in this story, and it’s a bit like embroidery–I’m dreading having to go back and take out some of the stitches, which is what I think I’m going to have to do if I want to move forward.

It doesn’t help that I had a nightmare about being stuck in a tower with Benedict Cumberbatch. Or maybe we were at the top of a building, like a hotel or apartments or something? I don’t know, but bad dreams throw off my day. I end up restless, which makes it difficult to sit and write.

I must ruminate instead, figure out how to fix my story, and once my mind is firmly set, off I will go to write it.

Two of Swords

I really want to get back to my writing. Problem is, I’m not connecting with my material these days.

I’m never sure what to do about this sort of thing. I don’t think it’s writer’s block per se so much as me not feeling it. And in order to write well, I really do need to be emotionally invested in what I’m writing. After all, it would be easy to do a paint-by-numbers job and just construct the story, but (at least in my case) it wouldn’t be very good.

Now it’s often said that writers should just write, even when they don’t feel like it, and I do this a lot of times, but I usually don’t get very far. Not because I want it to be perfect (though it’d be nice if it were); I know the important thing is to get that draft out and then go rework it later. I just don’t have the steam to push through like that. I get restless and want to move around the room, find something else to do. It’s a weird sort of impatience, with myself or the work or both. So I often channel that energy into submitting things. Which, of course, only ups my impatience because then I have to wait for feedback and responses.

I love writing. But it’s a lot of work. And yet it’s even worse when I can’t write for whatever reason.

I will try.