Wednesday, January 28

I realize that I'm about a month late on this one, but if you haven't read Dave Barry's review of 2003, do so. It's funny.

From January:

...which begins with traditional New Year's Day celebrations all over the world, except at the Central Intelligence Agency, which, acting on what it believes to be accurate information, observes Thanksgiving.


Or from June (this is especially for the California girl I met in Canada):

Domestically, the big news is in California, where -- in a catastrophe long predicted by geologists -- a massive, violent tectonic shift opens a huge fault in the earth's crust, releasing a vast mutant swarming horde of gubernatorial candidates. ''It's terrible!'' reports one rescue worker. 'There's porn stars, washed-out actors, strippers, fanatics, lunatics, and somebody named Cruz Bustamante.' '' Federal troops are ordered into the state, where they immediately become stuck in traffic.


Or my personal favorite, from August:

Palestinian and Israeli leaders finally recover the Road Map to Peace, only to discover that, while they were looking for it, the Lug Nuts of Mutual Interest came off the Front Left Wheel of Accommodation, causing the Sport Utility Vehicle of Progress to crash into the Ditch of Despair.


... okay, so it's also depressing. But, dammit, you have to laugh. It was just that bad a year.
12:13 PM - kat -

Tuesday, January 27

The other thing that's driving me crazy with writing Harmony (to continue yesterday's bitch session) is slang.

Making up words to describe new techology is pretty much a breeze; I've had a few hitches, but really, for some reason, no major trouble. Titles were a huge problem for a long time. I had started out simply using male titles for everyone, on the basis that I didn't like any of the female ones; so everyone, male or female, was referred to as "Mister" and called "sir". It was convenient. It was easy. It was logical. It confused the hell out of everyone who read the story. After a couple of months' struggle I gave up and started spelling "sir" as "ser", which still feels like a cop-out but seems to work as a gender-nuetral term for people (the only alternative that I came up with and liked was "dom", based on the Spanish term of respect, and I had to drop that after some kind and less naive soul informed me of the S&M connetations.) "Ille" got used as a replacement for "Mister". It has absolutely no meaning or background, but I liked its noise.

So that was a major snag, but one limited in scope. Where I've *really* gotten screwed up is in the slang.

The main culture of the story, you see, can probably best be described as "militantly athiest", and had been for centuries. This ruled out any swearing that was religion-based, which is an appalling great lot of it. My God, Goddammit, damn, Christ, for Christ's sake, hell - all the little bits of invective with which I spice my own conversation had to go. And my main character is a soldier. She swears like a soldier. In the early drafts she was reduced to saying "fuck" and "shit" a lot.

Good swearing isn't easy to create, either. You need something that can legitimately grow out of the culture and yet will feel blasphemous and dirty to a member of our culture. It's no good telling people that "Garters!" is actually a terrible thing for someone in this culture to say because it refers to a particularly nasty retroviral plague. You have to make them feel it, and not, say, an urge to giggle, because otherwise you're snapping them right out of the story.

And even once I'd dealt with the swearing problem - not totally, I'm still short a few good cuss words, but effectively enough to keep writing - there's all kinds of things. Little modern expressions, like "okay" (my current problem) that are vanishingly unlikely to have survived a few hundred years into the future, or for that matter a hundred years into the future. Of course, the chances that they'll be speaking a language we even recognize a few hundred years in the future are slim, but science fiction makes allowances for that... but the particularly dated bits of modern slang stick out like sore thumbs. Well, they do to me at least. They drive me crazy until I sit around, madly thumbing through dictionaries and thesauruses, looking for a word that feels right - which is the other problem; I can pluck a made-up word out of the air, or tweak an existing word to fit my purposes, and thump it down anywhere - but unless it feels right it bothers me just as much as the anachronistic word did. It has to sound like something people would say to me. I have to like the noise of it.

And they just keep coming. I'm so sick of making up words I could scream. Just yesterday I ran across the reoccuring "okay" problem again and hit on a new problem, which is that I don't have a set of slang terms to describe the mild emnity between people from "old" planets (like Earth), people from more recently settled planets, and people who are from older planets but planets that were settled with the intent of getting away from the Earth government, which later came along and conquered them. And I can hardly go around saying all that every time. I need some suitably contemptous words, and I can't think of any. My brain is word-ed out.

I need a simpler hobby, like international law or something.

(Incidentally, my apologies to those of you who aren't fascinated by the minor twists and turns of my writing - okay, that's probably everybody - for these lengthy and rambling posts. There's about eight inches of snow outside of my house and there has been since Sunday. I haven't had much to do but try to write and then stew about it.)
12:29 PM - kat -

Monday, January 26

Every so often it feels like the whole novel-writing thing is like climbing a glass mountain, or maybe like being caught in a trick mirror - the more you move towards your goal, the further away it gets. I've just spent two days threshing out the details of a scene well enough that I feel I actually can write it - and it's not even a particularly important scene. And after all that thinking and work, it's not even written.

Time and time again, the same thing happens - I'll be studying my timeline, glance ahead at some scene or another, and think, "well, at least that will be easy to write." Even when I'm working on the scene before it - though I might have some intimations of disaster, I'll think, "nah - that one won't be so hard. I've already planned it out. As soon as I get to that one, it'll be smooth sailing, you bet!"

Then I hit the actual scene and realize my twin banes: mental laziness and internal shorthand.

The problem is that, though I may have indeed planned the scene out in my mind, I will have done so in such a way that it will be useless and unwritable. The first part of this, the mental laziness part, is my tendency to think out only the "good bits" version.

My brain - or whatever it is that's in charge of the creativity in there - doesn't much like description. It doesn't like explanations. It absolutely despises transitions. It teeter-totters on plot - sometimes it likes things happening, mostly it doesn't.

What my brain does like is dialogue. Lots of dialogue. So what I tend to find, when I fish up the memory of a scene I confidently thought was all planned out, is a dialogue conducted in a void - two people talking, without any idea of where they're standing when they talk or what they're doing there, completely devoid of any tedious Things Happening. Oh, and don't forget that I hate transitions, so there's no transitions either. Whenever the dialogue switches from one topic or another, or a third party enters the conversation, they do so abruptly and without any cues about what might have made the conversation turn or the third voice pipe up. The bits that I think of are all there, but they've essentially been tossed down without care or consequence or regard for sanity.

The second problem, the shorthand problem, meshes so neatly with the laziness that I sometimes have great difficulty telling where one leaves off and the other begins, and it is, I think, a problem I must share with most other artists. There is a story in my head. The problem is that, in my head as it is, it is self-contained, self-explanitory, and perfect in a way that it never will be on paper. The inside of my head - of anyone's head - is written in a unique and private language, a layered tapestry of old memory, old experience, flavored by perspective and spiced with self-conciousness, a stew that is mine and no other's.

We all start writing, I think, because we have these stories inside our heads, stories that no one else can ever see - and it's so frustrating to have these beautiful stories living in your head and no one to share them with. It's like seeing a gorgeous sunset while standing along on a beach; lovely when you're by yourself, but much more lovely when there's someone standing beside you to point at the clouds and exclaim over the colors with you. So we write them down - but to do that we have to translate them from our private language to the public language, the language of words, and inevitably something gets lost. Sometimes the whole damned story gets lost, and there's nothing to do but throw it out and start over; other times it takes serious, and pointed, tweaking. Because not everyone is you. Not everyone can understand what you're going on about here; not everyone has the background, or the memories, to understand why this is painful or that is funny. It takes a kind of ruthlessness to prune out those purely personal bits, or to twist them and turn them 'round until you find the common angle. The angle that other people, and not just you, can recognize.

In the end you have a completely different story. It's not nearly as good a story, of course; how can it be? Everyone knows that to read it best you have to read it in the original language. Translations are always inferior. But in this particular case, translations are all that is available. The better the translator, the better the author...

But I digress. (At length.)

And so I have to sit down with my jumbled heap of scraps and start sewing them together into an actual scene, a scene that other people can read and understands, and with logical transitions and a background, thank you very much, subconcious; and once I've gotten the thing untangled enough that I can see the beginning and the end from the middle, I can write it.

And all the time I'll be thinking, "but the next scene, now! That one will be no trouble. I've got it all planned. Once I get to the next scene, it'll be smooth sailing, you bet...."

On the other hand, if I ever wise up, I'll probably give up writing and go do something sensible with my life. It's the small mercies that make life worth living.

The whole thing goes with painful slowness. I am approximately thirty percent of the way through this story, after a year's working on it, and most of that progress has been made in the past two months. Only about 15,000 words of the 130,000 I had written on various drafts of the story up until then were salvagable. I struggle with single scenes for days and days; the times when I breeze through a full scene in a day are treasured but rare. And there are many, many scenes yet to be written.

On the other hand, progress is occurring. Small mercies.

And besides, once I get to the scene after this one... it'll all be easy after that. Smooth sailing. You bet.
04:39 PM - kat -

Thursday, January 22


You are too innocent and sweet for your own good.


Which Ultimate Beautiful Woman are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

ARG!

Why, why, why, do I keep getting answers like this from these things? I'm not an innocent! I don't want to be an innocent! I don't answer the questions the way an innocent would answer them! Dammit!

I hate quizzes.

*goes off to sulk*
11:19 PM - kat -

Wednesday, January 21

I've become sick enough of being sick that I was actually willing to take my mother's anti-flu preperation. Mom's recipe goes something like this:

1) Pour a cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Steep and cool. Add 1 cup apple cider vinegar.

2) Drink as much as you can stand. Roll around floor screaming for water.

3) Realize that you actually do feel better. This is because the pepper is killing the virus that's been making you sick. Of course, it's killing your stomach lining too, but hey, omlettes.

The rest of the day has been spent doing research. Dad thinks that we can actually vote in the Democratic primaries here - not something that had occurred to us to do before, since we're independents, not Democrats - but this is definately the year to start. This means I need to have more than a passing familiarity with the candidates.

At the moment I lean towards Kerry. He's a little pro-war for my taste, but then again, we can't back out of the war thing now without leaving a bigger fucking mess than before. This guy has lived through Vietnam; maybe he'll be able to use those lessons for good now. And he's got an excellent, well-formulated environmental platform, and the voting record to back it up.

But I'm still doing research. We'll see. Really - like most Democrats and independents - I'll be voting ABB - Anyone But Bush.
02:08 PM - kat -

Monday, January 19

... or the whole fainting thing could have something to do with me eating a total of, um, two oranges, a box of Triscuits, and a pint of leftover pasta since my parents left Friday morning.

I'm an idiot.
03:43 PM - kat -

Okay, this is just not my day.

I was sitting in front of the heater, got up to turn on the radio, got one of those dizzy spells that you get sometimes when you stand up so fast, but ignored it and walked over to the radio. The next thing I knew I was laying on the floor. I must have fainted, I guess, but why I have no clue. I'd knocked down my keyboard, and I must have been laying there for a minute or so, because there was this puddle of blood where I'd cracked my chin on the desk.


This is only the second time I've fainted in my life.

What the hell? Did I piss off a witch or something?
03:04 PM - kat -

I was trying to thaw out a waterer this morning and, with the collaboration of an evil gate, managed to dump a quarter-bucket of hot water down my shirt instead. Which sounds funny until you realize that our hot water is 180F.

I was very lucky - my clothes absorbed a lot of the water and the heat, and I got ice on it shortly after, so it looks like I've gotten away with minor scalding on my neck and chest and hardly any scalding on my breasts. It could have been a lot worse. Still, I was sitting on the ground and crying for a good two minutes after from the pain, and I'm sitting around half-naked now because I can't bear the touch of cloth on my skin. Sooner or later I'm going to have to put a shirt back on. I am most definately not looking forward to the experience.

Oh, well.

The post I'd planned before me and Mr. Water got all intimate went something like this:

I am addicted to my site stats.

At first it was just the pure numbers - how many people have visited my site? I like getting my ego stroked as much as the next person - and, like most writers, I write for the joy of writing, but I also write to get read. You've got to love it to do it, sure, but it's not nearly so fun if you don't know people are reading and enjoying what you write. My stats could assure me of at least the former.

Then it was the linkage. This has a large element of ego-stroking as well, of course, but also an element of curiousity. How in the hell were all these people hearing about me? What search terms were they using to find me? The last was particularly interesting. Some were using predictable enough terms - "speculative fiction generator", the names of various literary agencies - good ego-stroking, there, because I like knowing people are using the resources I poured time into. Others were understandable mistakes, like "social contract neitze". And still others... well, I may not be up to the weirdness quotent of A Violently Executed Blog, which was once found by someone searching for "ass raped by rhinos" (and now I suppose I will be too), but... "dancing chopstick"? "Individually wrapped livesavers"?

What was it, exactly, that these people were looking for when they found my page?

And then there's the list of countries.

At first this was just fun. "Oh, look, someone from the UK's reading me! Someone from Germany's reading me! Someone from Brazil's reading me!" As I casually knew people from all three places, I wasn't terribly shocked. Then there was the surprise: "Someone from Israel found this page? That's pretty neat. And people in both Sweden and Norway..." and then the pleasure "The Philippines? Wow," and then the confusion: "Slovenia? Um, that's in Eastern Europe somewhere, right?" and finally, yesterday.... " Seychelles? What the hell ? I've never even heard of that country!"

I had to go look it up in the CIA Factbook. Seychelles is a tiny group of islands in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar. They have a total population of 80,000, a president who's been reelected since 1977, and a struggling tourist trade. And I had no idea they even existed.

Wow.

Just goes to show that even unhealthy ego-stroking obsessions can have educational side benifits.
01:11 PM - kat -

Sunday, January 18

I'm writing on Harmony again - I might as well get something useful done while I'm ill and sulking, and tweaking my blog settings does not count as useful (although lookee - threaded comments!) It was moving along nicely for a bit, but now I'm stuck again. I'm trying to salvage material from an older version of the story, always a pain in the ass anyway, and I'm having trouble deciding whether I should salvage one particular scene or not. I like it, but it's essentially unrelated to the rest of the plot - am I just being self-indulgent? There's been little to further the main plot in this section, or at least little that the reader can see at this stage; can I really afford another digression? Or should I try and write a scene that will further the spacer subplot? But if I do that, I might be giving too much away about the rest of the story....

Or am I angsting way too much about my timing?

God, it sucks to be a perfectionist.

It also sucks to be a writer who does not plot well and yet wants to write fairly fast-paced plotty stories - well, it's what I like to read, and why should I write something I don't want to read? But plotting is really pulling teeth for me. Discovering Inspiration and creating my timeline has helped amazingly, but I'm still struggling. Especially with the timing. I seem to be constantly fretting about my timing.

Of course, ninety percent of my book so far appears to be dialogue. Perhaps I should fret about that for a bit instead.

(On a totally unrelated note: Gord, if you haven't got an email from me yet, read the comments.)
03:37 PM - kat -

Saturday, January 17

My parents are gone. My brother is gone. There are approximately one hundred and twenty cows out there relying on me to feed out their hay and bring them their grain and break the ice on their water troughs every morning.

Whether or not I have the flu.

And now it's raining. Bah.
07:50 PM - kat -

Friday, January 16

Livejournal feed is, well, live. And anyone who was subscribed to it just got a buttload of my postings. My apologies.
07:01 PM - kat -

You may notice a slight change in this page.

Well, it's the RSS thing, you see. I beat my head against it for a while and finally decided that the easiest way to work it was going to be to install a new blog.

Ahem.

Well, you had to be there to follow the logic, I guess.

Anyway, Nucleus surpassed all my expectations, in that it actually did what it said. It actually did import my entire blog from Blogger, all 124 entries, with no loss of data and minimal hassle, although I was posting from 1969 for a while there. In my experience, software that actually does what it claims to is unprecidented. Okay, so it said it would import my YACCs comments too and it lied about that, but I'll forgive it.

And the interface is bloody beautiful, a joy to work with, especially after Blogger, and stunningly customizable without being too intolerably confusing. And it's free. If you're looking to set up a blog, I highly recommend it.

Oh, and for the original point of things, yes, I do have a working, full-text RSS feed now. It won't show up on livejournal for a bit though, since the support people are the ones who have to change it. But mission accomplished.

*goes off to play with more settings*
12:41 PM - kat -

Thursday, January 15

The three biggest lessons learned from my latest train journey:

1. There is one hell of a lot of Upstate New York. Obvious, I know, but I don't think the whole thing is really properly expressed on maps. It's only driving or riding across it that you finally realize, my God, there's a lot of this place. And not much in it. It was simply hour after hour after hour of riding across what looked suspiciously like snow-swept tundra, only with more trees in, with the occasional stop in places with names like Rensselaer and Syracuse and Schenectady, the last of which I thought was just a name Harlan Ellison made up. But mostly it was empty. Empty and big.

2. No train ever gets in on time. I took two trains, one from Toronto to New York City and one from NYC to Greensburo, NC, where my parents picked me up, and both were over two hours late. This meant I spent 17 hours on the first train (see? I told you there was a lot of upstate New York) and 14 on the second, for a grand total of 31 hours sitting on my ass wondering nervously if I dared buy something else from the cafe car. I'll say this for BritRail, they might not be any more timely than Amtrak, but at least they didn't actively try to poison me and then overcharge me ridiculously for the priviledge. Many many Walkman batteries gave their lives in preservation of my sanity.

3. New York is just like any other city, only bigger. Admittedly, I did not see much of New York, only those bits that lay between Penn Station and the hostel where I snuck my measily four and a half hours of sleep. And when I say any other city, I don't mean any in Canada or New Zealand, because it wasn't clean enough. And all the potential thieves, muggers, rapists, beggars, drug dealers, and crazies that I was warned to expect might well have been scared off by the sheer amount of luggage they would have had to peel off in order to rape, mug, or beg money from the actual human being underneath (I was carrying Clute's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, which I will hold up to the old trustworthy Bible for a bullet-stopper any day, assuming you'd want to walk around with the thing strapped to your chest, or that you could without, you know, falling over)... but still. As usual, the hyperbole of danger has failed to manifest itself in reality. Someday I will go back and explore that city further, and hopefully with less luggage.

And, in a final point (oh, come on, you didn't think I was going to stick with that three thing, did you?): People who sing along to songs they are listening to on headphones should be shot. Especially on trains. Thank you.

But I am home, safe, sound, and relatively sane, back to my chore-ridden, central-heat-less, 28.8-modem-connection existance, returning to my house of limited indoor plumbing and, courtesy my brother's departure two weeks ago, no food or toilet paper.

On the bright side, my dog was happy to see me, and I have my Mac back. No offense to all the lovely computers that have lent themselves to me on my journey, of course, but to have a computer with decent graphics which isn't forcing me to use Microsoft Word is bliss, bliss, bliss.

Really it's only the loneliness I mind.

Well, I suppose I shall round off the post with some linkage. First off, Making Light has posted a really nifty review of anti-Bush advertisments online. I'd add my two cents, but, well, 28.8 connection. Bah humbug.

And I feel in an obscure way that I should link to this. We've been friends of the family for 16 years now, and I even knew the father (the artist described in the article) somewhat, although generally he was only ever in the house because it happened to be on the way to his studio, and he died when I was still quite young. Both boys, however, are longtime friends, and the artwork is... strange. Makes you look at the world sideways.

The RSS feed, by the way, would appear to be broken. Sigh. It's on the list, right after unpacking and getting rid of the moldy oranges in the fridge.

Right now, I need to do some shopping - because sooner or later, I'm going to need to eat. And use the bathroom.
01:03 PM - kat -

Saturday, January 10

This quiz nicked from eclexys.

British
Britain


?? Which Country Are You From ??
brought to you by Quizilla

I am amused. And bored, obviously, or why would I be wasting my time on internet quizzes? But mostly amused.
07:57 PM - kat -

Wednesday, January 07

Okay, so I'm in Canada, and there's it's FUCKING COLD.

This should probably not come as such an immense shock.

The country snuck up on me, that's what. Okay, so New Year's Eve was a bit chilly, but other than that it's been quite bearable, in the twenties and thirties, and I was thinking, "Hey, this Canada stuff, this isn't half bad." And then on Monday I woke up and there was, like, snow, but when I hiked to U of Waterloo to catch up with Dan it still wasn't half bad. There was a distinct bite to the air, but unbearable it was not. In fact, the walk was rather pleasant. Then we met people....

(I should add, at this point, that I am fairly antisocial in my quiet way and that, moreover, I live in the middle of nowhere. Dan appears to know every other human being in Waterloo. I'm starting to go into meeting-people overload, where the days and the faces and most of all the names meld into one big overstimulated blur. Not that I'm complaining. However, I'm not even going to try to list all of these people on this blog, nifty as they are, because I think that would make my brain implode....)

... so there were people. They were good people. There were couches. There was some yowling when we went back outside at five pm or whatever, because DEAR GOD had it gotten cold, and I started feeling put upon.

And then there was yesterday, when even Dan agreed that maybe it was time to travel via cab, it being -3F, not counting the windchill.

YOW.

Anyway, aside from that it was a good day, with entertainment for all, but with particular entertainment for those around me, considering that I used chopsticks for the first time and got somewhat drunk, although fortunately this happened at separate meals. I should add, at this point, that getting me drunk is not much of an accomplishment. In spite of my valiant attempts to develop an alcohol tolerance I still get tipsy if I have any more than one drink. This generally involves me talking a lot (though the last time I explained this to a friend he tried to take my wineglass away) and going into fits of giggling for no real reason. And talking a lot. Most of the night is quietly and pleasantly fuzzy, although I do remember Dan ordering the all-you-can-eat schnitzel and then eating a second helping - which pleased the waitress - and then a third helping - which made the waitress gape a bit - and then a fourth helping - by which point he'd apparently broken the record, and was causing the wait staff and the cook to giggle a lot, particularly when he dropped in on the kitchen to thank the cook. He was also trying to convince the waitress she needed to wear an anti-circumcision ribbon. I am not entirely sure why he did this. It wasn't like he was carrying anti-circumcision ribbons around or anything, he just seemed to think it was a nifty idea.

Left very large tip for waitress.

Today is slightly less toe-curlingly cold than yesterday, but I am still wondering what the hell I'm doing up here in the frozen north visiting a mad Russian with a bottomless stomach and way, way too many friends. On the other hand, he keeps buying me chocolate and ice cream. Maybe the weather's not so bad.
06:13 PM - kat -

Sunday, January 04

For livejournal folks: I've finally figured out how to syndicate my blog onto livejournal via RSS feed, and have done so. The feed name is kat_feed. I did not think up this name. Blame Dan.

Unfortunately, it's only posting article headers right now. This is annoying. I'm looking into ways to fix it that don't involve large sums of money.

If you've got a paid account on LJ, please add this feed so that the points cost thingy gets driven down enough for those who *don't* have a paid account to syndicate me.

In other news... spent yesterday in Toronto, meeting yet more cool people and getting expensive chocolates bought for me and watching Return of the King. Yes, again. I think it was better the second time. Have now developed a fascination with the beacon fires (which I thought were pretty cool the first time through too) and am battling, not very successfully, urges to write yet another short story. I shouldn't. I know I won't finish it. Dammit!
05:12 PM - kat -

Saturday, January 03

It feels that I should have news, but I don't, really. I'm on vacation. I've gone a few places and met some really cool people, but in general I'm just laying around, reading, laying around some more... hey, what can I say? It's nice to be lazy for a little while, and the company is excellent.

Oh, and an interesting little tidbit: the FBI's latest burst of paranoia has been drawing satiric commentary from all over the web; now, as A Violently Executed Blog points out, people have started leaving satiric comments on the
Farmer's Almanac's Amazon.com page.
And they are very, very funny, with headers like "Don't forget to make suspicious markings in this book," and "6/2, plant lettuce; 6/3, bomb municipal courthouse." God, it's reassuring to see other people making fun of the government....

I've also been writing a bit, and have finally finished day two... the novel, in its current please-God-let-this-work incarnation, covers about eleven days. So I am something like a fifth of the way through now. That's nice. The second part of my article on artificial intelligence is up at Vision, which is pretty nice too. It's the first thing I've ever written that I recieved payment for. A grand total of eight dollars, admittedly, but I'm still obscurely proud of myself.

All and all it's an unusually promising start to the New Year. Cheers, all. I hope your New Years were equally promising.
12:18 AM - kat -



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