my three dads

There is a line in a movie that I am not ashamed to admit I have seen way too many times* which goes:

“Typical isn’t it? You wait twenty years for a dad and then three come along at once.”

I feel a little like this right now. I’ve had several months of plugging away at a project with all the diligence of an AP English student (which is to say, very little diligence, but we fake it well), and now everything has kind of exploded in my face.

I titled this post ‘my three projects’ because there were three things that immediately jumped to mind, but then I’ve remembered a few more. It’s more like my three dads, plus a couple step-dads, and then that one creepy uncle.

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Three problems I’m okay having.

So, of the original three, I’ve got the three huge projects I’ve been working on /  brainstorming. I’ve basically been in genre fiction mode for quite a while now, which seems to put to bed (without supper!) my whole would-I-rather-write-genre-or-literary-fiction?

There are three novel-length things I’ve been picking through currently, and these are the aforementioned three dads. But let’s just be clear, there is nothing paternalistic about this other a fervent desire to make them proud of me.

By this weird token, I have another first draft of a complete novel waiting for a second draft. Which is to say, a re-write. Call it a step-dad. It lives in my house, but we have a stilted, awkward relationship. Perhaps we can make it work.

(I am also ignored the one complete literary novel, which I have basically chosen to abandon.)

I guess this brings me to the other step-dad and the creepy uncle. Perhaps creepy uncle is too harsh, but what else do you really call a podcast?

Yes. Podcast. And not just one!

Tomorrow, I’ll be recording with several friends, the topic of which shall remain a mystery, while sometime in March, I will join a Riverdale podcast for one episode to espouse my expertise on Archie Out of Context. By expertise, I mean, I have the blog. That’s it. All the expertise.

But nevertheless, I am excited. After months of slow drudgery and toil, everything happens all at once.

It’s given me a nice push so let’s wait and see about the follow-through….


*Mamma Mia! I was raised on ABBA and I have no shame. But, come on, what other films have such a plot that could in any way engender a line such as the one quoted above? Maybe that long-forgotten Michael Keaton classic Multiplicity if you somehow combined it with that other long-forgotten Michael Keaton classic Mr. Mom? Oh that we lived in such a world.

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This always happens. I get 2/3 of the way done my final draft and I decide to start outlining a whole frigging series.

accepting my slytherinness

I didn’t join Pottermore for the longest time. My relationship with Harry Potter was intense, but troubled. It oscillated between shameless joy and celebration to cheek-biting scrutiny and critique.

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In one past life, I’d enthusiastically dressed up in costume and painted signs, windows, and children’s faces for the midnight releases at the bookstore. In another, I’d spent two semesters engrossed in academic study as I wrote a dissertation critiquing Rowling’s implicit versus explicit ideologies. (Seems pointless now. Ten years later and Tumblr has my thesis covered.)

Anyway, I finally joined Pottermore and had myself sorted. This seemed a needless formality. I was Ravenclaw. I knew it. I had always known it. I was a Ravenclaw, just like I was a Donatello and a Miranda and a George Harrison. There was no reason to doubt it.

In fact, since childhood, a very significant portion of my self-identification stemmed from this very assumption.

But no.

Lo, I am a Slytherin.

I stared at the screen in shock for several moments and then I told Husband, dismayed.

He replied: “J.K. Rowling wrote that, right? That means it’s canon. That’s, like, the definition of canon.”

I texted Dr. Roommate. If anyone had insight, it was a medical doctor / my former roommate. Her text back read: “That makes sense.”

What. What, what, WHAT.

How the hell did that make sense?

But the longer I thought about it, layers and layers of self-perception began to peel away. I began to look at not what I did, but why I did.

What had made me think I was Ravenclaw to begin with? Well, I was a bit of a swot and I loved to learn. But did I care about knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself?

I was forced to admit not really.

Rather, I realized that I am aware just how much knowledge there was in the world and I want it all. I want to know everything. I don’t learn something and think “Cute. Add that to the collection,” I think, “How can I use that?”

Even when I was a kid, more than learning things, I wanted to be seen as the “Smart Kid.” It was the one thing that came really easy to me and so that is what I focused on.

I had never thought it possible to be Slytherin because I never saw myself as ambitious. I had always viewed ambition on a macro scale. It was the determination to succeed and the willingness to go to any lengths to achieve that success.

That wasn’t me at all. I stuck with a job I settled with. I give up on things way too easily. When something is hard, I back away. Something in my mind simply shuts to it. I avoid, avoid, avoid.

But once I realized that ambition can also work on a micro scale, then it all snapped into place. Anyone who has ever worked with me in any capacity will realized just how over-the-top organized and perfection-driven I am with something I care about. I’m shrewd. And resourceful. And cunning? At times.

Suddenly, it made sense. It totally fucking did. I was never a Ravenclaw. I was a Slytherin and always had been.

There is a reason I quickly give up on things. It’s not laziness, it’s pragmatism. As soon as I think I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all.

When school got hard to manage, I closed down. I skipped class, I curled up until it went away. When film-making got too frustrating, I stopped doing it. There was something so deeply unsettling about watching dailies and realizing there were imperfections I was never going to be able to correct. I couldn’t handle that.

Perhaps that was why I retreated into writing. That, I could control completely.

And perhaps that is why I sit on so many drafts. If I don’t know how to make it perfect, I can’t let it go. And I can’t let it be anything less than perfect. I’m determined.

I’m a Slytherin.

Christ, I really am.

kurt vonnegut’s eight rules for writing fiction

kurt_vonnegut__jr__by_siglarkEight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Source: Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

a post from someone who just finished a first draft then needed a cry…

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pixar’s rules of storytelling

Each writer has a different approach to rules. For some, they’re made to be broken, others they are mere guidelines, and even others, they are cliches to be avoided like the plague (guess which one I’m not). 

Anyway, advice in general is like excerpts from the bible: people cherrypick what works for them and ignore the rest.

But when you get stuck, you never know what it is that might help get you unstuck. So it’s good to have something to go to. Who knows? Therein may lie your answer.

These Pixar rules, which have been floating around the interwebs for a while, are an excellent go-to. Thus, I thought I’d share it because it made they’ve made their way to my bulletin board of oh-my-god-help-me-now (pictured).

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Here we go:

  • #1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • #2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
  • #3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  • #4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  • #5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  • #6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • #7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  • #8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  • #9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • #10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  • #11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  • #12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  • #13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  • #14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  • #15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • #16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  • #17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  • #18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  • #19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  • #20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  • #21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  • #22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Source: Emma Coates, via The Pixar Touch.

travel and the art of mental maintenance: VIII. Broken Down Somewhere in Belgium

This is part of a series I have been working on. The Introduction is here.

I can’t remember how it was I found out that the bus had broken down. What I definitely remember is that it was extremely cold.

The bus breaking down did come several hours into a long bus trip from London. From there, we went across on a ferry from Dover to France and into Belgium. From here, the intent was to pass into Germany and then head all the way down to Munich.

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Tess and the Bullshit Bus

And those several hours came after a morning of scrambling to check out of hostel in London, have my wallet stolen, cancel my credit cards, call home to have them get a new debit card from my bank and have it forwarded to a future hotel, and then get to Victoria Station to meet our bus.

If I recall, we barely made it.

Once on the bus, we got our rundown on the Oktoberfest tour from the over-enthusiastic tour guide. All of it can be summarized by the cheekily declared: “There’s a fifty quid penalty for anyone who chunders on the bus.”

It was in the first hour that we met our (as the kids call it these days) squad for the week, Sally and Tess from Australia. They too were up for binge-drinking and risque behaviour but also appreciated the value of quiet-time and slumber.

Many others on the bus did not. Many brought milk crates of beer on board.

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Here I am, reluctantly enjoying said beer.

 

Look how horribly tired I am.

The day presumably passed on with strained social behaviour and blurred views of cows in fields.

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Blurred Cows. New band name. I call it.

And I must have fallen asleep. And that must have been when the bus broke down somewhere in the middle of Belgium.

We were in the middle of a truck stop and the bus was so utterly fucked that the heating didn’t even work. We dug out our sleeping bags and huddled up inside of them for warmth. It was all very tragic and miserable. In our privileged naivete, we probably thought this was what it was like during the war.

This was the entirety of our Belgian impressions. Aside from the cows, of course.

After a while, dawn broke and the diner above the service station opened.

We ambled into there to try to get some sleep.

I recall a stiff neck from diner booths maladapted to sleeping. As the day outside warmed up, we moved outside, legs stiff and wobbly. The other displaced bus partiers were lingering around, splayed across the narrow patch of grass between bus stalls.

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It was like someone had pulled the fire alarm at a rave. Only in the day.

Eventually a new bus arrived. Whether it came all the way from England, I have no idea. But that might account for the Greek epic-style wait.

All I remember is it was night by the time we got to the camp site and all Bri and I did was climb into a flimsy little tent with all the clothes we had layered up over top of each other like Michelin Men, and shivered.

As it turns out, camping in Munich in late September can be a blissfully chilly experience….

the hiatus and moving on

It seems like every time I return to regular posting after something of a hiatus, I have nothing but complaints about what kept me in hiatus.

And I feel like I’ve come out of one of the most stressful times of my life. There are two kinds of stress I experience: time-related stress, where a million things need to be done ohmygodlikerightnow; and, the deeper, more existential stress… the stress that keeps you up at night and never really goes away, only morphs and mutates as you age.

Earlier this year, it was the former. For the second time in less than a year, we had a landlord tell us they were selling the place. It’s definitely not as bad as getting reno-evicted, but it still kinda sucks. The uncertainty is what plagues you. Will you have to move? Should you move preemptively? Where the hell will you move to?

Now, we’d been saving up for a down-payment for a while, but in a real estate market like Vancouver’s, the downpayment milestone is a milestone that always lies on the horizon. You reach your goal but suddenly whoops! Sorry, you ain’t getting a studio apartment in Chilliwack with that!

But maybe we were close enough that we could manage it.

And, oh my god, am I glad we tried. We started looking at townhouses in Surrey.

We love New West and called it home, but, damn. Those townhouses were well over half a million to begin with. For a townhouse. Not even in Vancouver proper. Good luck with a detached home anywhere.

We were just priced out. Simple as. We could have gone for a condo and that was Option #2. We had just heard way too many horror stories about new and old condos alike.

In the month or so that we were looking, prices on townhouses kept going up and up and up. The average price rose by almost $100K in the short time we were looking!

And looking was hell. Multiple cash offers were coming in after one open house. Offers were going for $50K over asking.

So we did end up getting a townhouse in Surrey. It definitely quite suburban and several concessions were made, but, hey, we’re homeowners. And that’s an incredible privilege.

And we got to paint the walls bright colours, which was nice after so many years of white rental walls.

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And there is a farm market a two minute walk away. And a huge park with nature trails.

So it’s been nice.

But the instant that time-suck stress ended, the existential one set in. Life was suddenly entirely different. I miss New West a lot. I don’t really have a routine yet. I’m coping by moping. It’s a time-tested strategy of mine that has never worked.

I’m like a frigging plant that’s been repotted and is a total wuss about it.

Anyway, I feel like I say this biannually, but I’m trying to get around to posting more often, and perhaps about far less navel-gazing crap. That’s the thesis statement.