Whip Cracker

I’m sitting in a co-working space in downtown Santa Cruz. I’m here because the business I started in December now has an employee, and this employee needs to see me and speak to me frequently (mostly to show me something hilarious he found on the internet, but who says that startups shouldn’t be like larger companies, wasting enormous amounts of time on the internet looking up fart jokes featuring cats?). And I’ve noticed that for the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling really down.

Could it be the weather? It’s unseasonably warm, although it’s still below freezing at my house in the morning, so I have twelve layers on as I leave, and progressively peel them off as the day wears on. I’m acutely aware that we’re in the worst drought I’ve ever seen. It’s bad enough that my husband has cleared room for a second cistern so that, when it does rain, we can capture it and have slightly less dependence on city water. I’m freaking out that, come summer, we’re going to have to clear-cut a sizable portion of the land around our house and spend the summer in the city, because the entirety of the Santa Cruz mountains will be aflame. This is the first time since we’ve lived in the mountains that the fire danger has remained high into the winter months.

But it’s not the weather.

I’m in the period of time when there’s not a lot of outward evidence of progress in my business. It’s not that things aren’t happening, it’s just that when people ask me how things are going, they don’t want to hear about things like market research or developing pitches. They want to hear about meetings with famous people and big, wealthy companies. They want to hear about helicopter rides and high-powered meetings in expensive restaurants where everyone’s speaking in some kind of code.

And in the meantime, I’m not at home where I can pet my dogs whenever I want, the fridge is full of whatever I bought the last time I was at the store, and I can be doing other things to support my household while I’m doing this boring market research.

But the truth is, I can’t do other things and be as productive as I need to be. The truth is that I can really only do one thing at a time, and it makes me feel like I’m letting myself down. Holy shit – what? I’m not superwoman? Since when? But it’s true. If I don’t want to feel like I’ve thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain and wasted months of my own time and several other peoples’, I have to take this seriously, which looks like sitting my ass in an office, doing stupid research, and writing things down on little scraps of paper that I will later assemble into cogent arguments for people to use my product.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel sad about missing my friends, my husband, my kid, and my doggies.

Empathy’s Sharp Little Teeth

When I was little, we listened to the radio all the time. Does anyone do that anymore? I mean, in their houses? It seems like nowadays with iPods and iPhones and Pandora, nobody listens to the radio anymore except maybe in the car and at the doctor’s office where they always seem to play the kind of music that was new back when people listened to the radio all the time.

Anyway, when I listened to music, it changed me. Listening to the Beatles sing “Run For Your Life,” I would feel that I was doing exactly that – running through the house, staring wildly behind me at the ghost of John Lennon who would rather see me dead. I would shake my head, trying to erase the image of someone chasing me, trying to hurt me. If the music happened to be in a minor key, I would inevitably cry. I think that my parents ascribed my tears or frenzy or euphoria to something going on in my life, but that was never true. My “Run For Your Life” frenzy lasted exactly two minutes and twenty-five seconds.

Music isn’t the only thing that changes me. Right now, I’m reading Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World, and it’s having the same unfortunate effect. As the characters sink further into desperation and hopelessness, I feel that my own life is somehow slipping out of control, although when I take a step back, nothing could be further from the truth. Financially, I’m not teetering on the brink with a mountain of debts and a questionable career path. Personally, I’m not the sort to indulge my fantasies of throttling random children I don’t like. And, most importantly, my relationship with my spouse is not based on a mistaken notion of the person I suppose my spouse to be based on my own needs and insecurities. The book has gaping plot holes that make me downright angry (do they have no bail bondsmen in Wisconsin?), but I am sucked in anyway.

And yet, I realize that my dreams are increasingly frantic. My business dealings leave me feeling out of my depth and worried that things aren’t happening the way they should because there’s something I’m not doing. I tend to see only that I have a whole lot of irons in the fire and not the fact that I have many capable, willing friends and associates to help me tend them.

When I talked to my therapist, she said that of course I feel overwhelmed. That I demand more of myself than is perhaps reasonable. When I told her about my need to not only do many things, but to do each of them perfectly, she laughed at the notion. When I shared my feelings of frustration that I have so many ideas crowding in my brain that I can’t capture them all or act on most of them because I can’t write them down fast enough, she was nearly bug-eyed.

But the worst? The absolute killer that will send me under my bed in a fœtal position for a week? Hearing from my real, actual friends about real actual problems they’re experiencing in their real, actual lives that I can’t do anything about. That doesn’t come with any music, I can’t argue that it’s not believable, or that I don’t have to care.

I feel like letting the world in just hurts. It hurts my heart, it hurts the other people in my life who have to deal with me freaking out for no reason they can see or understand. I wish I knew what to do. I really do.

Gotta Be Cruel to Be Kind

In addition to my own writing and revising and inventing new literature, I do a great deal of reading and commenting on other people’s work. It’s hard revising your own work – you’ve been looking at the same words for months, or maybe even years, and by now your mind fills in all the things that aren’t there and should be, and glosses over all the things that are there are shouldn’t be.

girl with typewriter

With my new typewriting machine, re-writing every page a dozen times will be as easy as washing my 14 sister’s petticoats in my new mangler!

I have a long list of rules for my writing, and when editing myself, I can run through this very technical and mechanical list no matter how familiar with the material I may be. My computer’s “find” function doesn’t care whether the word “were” is in the proper context, is irreplaceable or is the prefix for something only half-human, it will find and display it. Also true for “had,” “seemed,” and all adverbs, including my own list of 50 or so that don’t end in -ly.

But when you’re editing for someone else, is it fair to hold them to the same standard you hold for yourself? For instance, I want to know the precise moment on the fourth page where the reader began nodding off, so I can punch up the action, but is it okay to doodle “losing consciousness….” in the margin of your editee’s manuscript? I want to know which of my jokes fall flat, but is it okay to rubber stamp “NOT FUNNY” on every failed play on words in your friend’s novel?

Frankly, I think it is. I think that not only is it okay, but it’s required. I feel that when I’m editing or critiquing someone else’s work, they’re saying to me “I want to make this work commercially viable.” Modern publishing being as competitive as it is, I feel that I would be a rotten friend, colleague or student if I soft-pedaled my opinion of things that aren’t up to snuff.

Mah Jong Massacre

The last one standing gets his blog turned into a book!

The one thing that anyone getting criticism from me has to remember, though, is that I am only one person, and a little bit warped, at that. When it comes to other folks opinions of your puns, your imagery or your use of “so” at the beginning of every other sentence, your mileage may vary. If you think that I’m being mean when I point out dozens of instances of passive voice or strike out as unnecessary an entire section it took you weeks to perfect, it’s not because I hate you and want you to die. It’s because I like you and want you to succeed. You’d be forgiven for confusing the two things, though. My kids do it all the time.

To Bag the Impossible Bag

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been on a quest for the ultimate handbag. I’ve had bags that were like luggage:

Retro squirrel bag

How could you not love this?

 

Bags that were actually boxes with handles:

Red glass box purse

Frankly, a good box purse is still my first choice

 

And bags that had pockets for everything:

Fossil Backpack

Okay, this one's really more of a backpack.

 

But each one left something to be desired. What am I looking for? Something that goes with everything (so, black or brown leather would be ideal), but that has more pockets than just a simple bag. Something that is spacious enough for my tendency to over-prepare (I generally have at least two small notebooks, four pens, seventeen lipsticks, a phone, a large wallet, another wallet with all those stupid loyalty cards, a brush, an iPod, earbuds, and forty-seven receipts, and that’s when I travel light). Something that looks nice, but not too pretentious.

Alexander McQueen clutch and shoes

This, for example, is a little too pretentious for me. Just a little. A smidgen.

 

The fastening has to be secure, but easy to open (don’t say it, I know that’s an oxymoron). And it has to have a shoulder strap. I am normally juggling five things in my hands, and I don’t want my purse to be one of them. At least, not until I have staff that follow me around, interacting with the world for me so that all I have to do is hold my tiny yappy dog and tea.

I think I may end up getting…

 

 

wait for it…

 

 

a diaper bag.

 

Think about it. Diaper bags are the epitome of “holds a lot of stuff.” And modern designs are pretty posh looking! But I’m trying to decide whether giving in and buying a diaper bag as my regular carrying-around bag is the clutter equivalent of giving up and wearing sweats all the time. Clearly, I’m going to have to angst over this for a while longer. And keep switching my stuff between the three purses I have now that I hate and love in equal measure for all sorts of different reasons.

My Watch Is Messed Up

The future is now

The present is past

My watch is messed up…

Veggie Tales

A problem I’ve encountered when editing other writers is a sense of time. Long stretches of time pass without weekends, holidays or changes in the weather to mark them. I don’t realize how much I depend on those markers until they’re gone and I’m wondering “Why is this man wearing a scarf in this scene, and shorts in the next?”

But it’s not just a problem in fiction. I have a kid who has regular appointments on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and every single time, I end up thinking to myself “Oh, crap! It’s Tuesday/Thursday/Friday!” and I have to drop whatever I’m deep in the middle of and rush out the door at full speed. I used to put one of those cloth covers on my car, but I had to stop because the percentage of time I am late for something and don’t have the five minutes to waste pulling off the cover.

How do we anchor ourselves in time? I habitually wear a watch, end up sleeping with it on most nights, which helps me tell one hour from the next, but it can only work if I’m looking right at it. I wonder if I don’t need to set some kind of alarm for every single event in my life – eating meals, bathing, going to bed at night. What do I become if I’m always so heads-down in my own work that I can’t remember simple things like that?

I’ve been inundated lately with evidence that most good writers are, not to put too fine a point on it, bugshit crazy. While I don’t know that I would put myself on the same level as, say, William S. Burroughs, but even the author of Naked Lunch had it together enough to remember what time was lunchtime.

Pandering to My Inner Nerd

Now that I’ve gotten about 2 dozen people’s written comments on the first 25 pages of my novel Two Women and a Boat, it’s time to do something about them. But I’m not the kind of person who can pull up an electronic document, pick up a pile of markups, and just dive in. I’m more methodical. More anal.

WHAT I’M SOLVING FOR:

  1. Much of the feedback, like typos and grammatical errors, is the same throughout all the edited manuscripts.
  2. I won’t act on all the feedback I get from each critic.
  3. I don’t want to have to keep going back and forth over those 25 pages over and over. I want to be able to go through and correct all the typos, then all the single-line fixes, then all the global fixes, etc.
  4. I want to keep track of who gave what feedback.
  5. I want to be able to incorporate the recommended grammatical fixes from all seminars/classes/lectures.

I don’t mind taking a little more up-front time to create a system that will save me time later, but I’m not a natural programmer (unlike my amazing husband). I can’t just look at a pile of data and order it in a way that will get me what I wanted. After four tries, I think I’ve come up with a database that I think is perfect.

It captures the name of the critic, a description of the correction, the date it was entered and the date it was completed, the manuscript version, and, the touch that I really feel will make a difference in my ease of editing, a field for correction type. I’m all excited now because it means that I can power through these 24 packets of comments, enter them into a single long list, add in all the rules that I know I should be looking for in my whole manuscript, and THEN sort by the type of correction I’m making. I can do all the globals at once. I can fix all the typos in one sitting. All the missed words, all the added words, all the local changes…

And now I’m going to get back to it.

Getting Closer…

I’m in the middle of writing a hypertext novel – I think I’ve told you about it. And at the time, I told you that I was chewing over the programmatic difficulties just to get out of doing the writing, because I’m the most procrastinating monkey ever. But, as often happens, by letting the problem stew in the back of my mind, I’ve made some decisions.

First, the whole point of this hypertext novel is to invite the reader to take a more active role in the text. There are decisions to make – whose point of view do you want to read? Is there a location that interests you? So, I realize that I need to write both a list of the dramatis personae and the settings.

The first thing that a reader will see is an interface introducing them to the players and asking them who they want to hear from. Alternatively, they could pick any of the three settings and say that they’d like to hear the entire story in that setting. If that’s the mode they choose, they will be directed to the character with the earliest entry in that node. When you’re in a page, it should have some kind of background image that tells you which character you’re seeing – perhaps a light wash of color and a graphic. There will be a next button and a previous button. The next button will take you to the next node in the timeline of the current character, the previous button will take you to the previous node for that character, even if the node you came from was a different character. Along the bottom will be icons for any other available characters for that node. Along the top will be icons for the other settings, and when you mouse over the icon, it’ll give you the choice of any characters with nodes at that point in the timeline.

I get that this post is about as exciting as a detailed description of my breakfast oatmeal, but trust me on this one. Anyone reading this: this is something brand new and cool that we’re inventing here. When it’s done, it’ll be revolutionary. The important thing is this: the next TechRaising event is in May, and I’m hoping to pitch this project to a team who will, in one weekend, create the UI. Are you ready? I’m totally ready.