Serenity Owwww …

Image Courtesy of 'MPMthe1' @ stock.xchngWhen one of my writing buddies suggested I write some posts about the origins of my latest WIP, I thought at first that I had no idea where this story came from. It seemed that it had always been there, sprung from nothing, unearthed with shovels and then toothbrushes from the tomb of my subconscious. But, since she’d prodded me to blog about it, I dug a little deeper and found some answers, curiously enough right from my own life.

It started with an outrageous doctor’s bill for a routine test. An innocuous envelope, that when opened revealed a bill quadruple what it should be. I know how much it costs because I’ve been having this test done for years at the same place by the same doctor, and since it’s under the deductible for my health insurance, I pay for the entire amount out-of-pocket. I was shocked and, thinking this must be a mistake, I made a few calls.

It went down something like this. Of course, the phone call was being recorded, just not by me, so I paraphrase.

Gathering up my gentlest inside voice, I asked, “But tell me, why does an ‘outpatient’ facility cost so much more than an ‘office’ facility?”

“Because it’s a hospital,” came the disinterested reply.

“Okay.” I breathed deeply. Serenity now. “So why does a ‘hospital’ cost more than an ‘office’ facility?”

“There are more costs associated with a hospital.”

“But it’s exactly the same place. Why does it cost more now?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“I would understand. I work in a laboratory. What kind of costs? Accreditations? Quality control?”

“It’s now affiliated with the hospital. So it costs more.”

“You already told me that. Why does being affiliated with a hospital cost more?”

“Because we can only use one chargemaster, so the rates have to be the same as at a hospital.”

“Fine. So the rates have to be the same.” (Cleansing breaths here.) “But, what I’m asking is why the rates are four times, FOUR TIMES, what they were six months ago for the same test, on the same patient, by the same technician, at the same facility?”

“I don’t know.” By now customer service was getting testy. “I don’t ever worry about that. I just get my stuff done through my insurance.”

Huh? Really?

Why do people not see the complete idiocy in this? Where is the money going? Why is nobody honest anymore? Why are we are tearing our country apart with crap like this?

I ended up paying the bill, with a reduction for prompt payment. But I was still outraged. This seemed unconscionable to me. I’m lucky. I’m healthy and (still) pay about a fifth of my take home pay for health insurance. What about people who can’t pay four times as much as they used to for a routine test? What about people who have conditions that preclude them from having health insurance at any cost?

My subconscious has been stewing over this. Is it right that some people are free to live their lives with the security of health insurance and others live in fear that the next doctor visit will force them into bankruptcy or worse? Who chooses which people get treated and which don’t? What kind of system charges obscene rates to those people least able to afford them? (Read this Time magazine article for more insight on these questions. It’s non-partisan, like me.)

My stories always seem to start with ‘what if’ questions. What if our elected officials handed down arbitrary guidelines about who lives and who dies? How would those sentenced to die react to such a policy?

My Muse had the answer: Vampires.Image courtesy of diego medrano @ stock.xchng

“What? That’s silly,” I replied.

But I’ve learned to listen to that silly voice. It said. “You know, like immortals that pay a high price for their immortality.”

“But, vampires?” I protested. “Does anybody read about vampires any more?”

His soft laugh told me I was onto something though.“They can be sinister,” he suggested. “And dystopian. I know how you love to play with the question of who is worse: the person who chooses evil to survive, or the person who makes him choose.”

And thus my dystopian vampires story was born.

How do your stories reveal themselves? Have you ever written a story because your were outraged? And does anybody still read about vampires?

Blood image courtesy of ‘MPMthe1’, mosquito image courtesy of diego medrano, both @ stock.xchng

The Daffodil Glade

If you’ve been following A Scenic Route for any length of time, you’ll know that I scope out all kinds of cool places to write. I’d like to share one of them today. The daffodil glade at the Morton Arboretum only blooms for about a week, so I have to be quick or I’ll miss it. This year I brought my camera along.

It’s become somewhat of a ritual for me to mark progress in my writing journey with a visit this magical place. Here’s what it looks like as, with my notebook and pens tucked into my backpack, I venture onto the path hoping for inspiration and words.Path with Daffodils

Daffodils-Close upI follow the winding trail and come upon bunches of yellow daffodils, scattered like Mother Nature’s lemon drops, interspersed with another variety displaying the colors of sunshine and cream .Narcissus- Close up
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Feeling as if I’ve stepped into an Impressionist painting, I find flowers stretching in all directions, asserting that spring is really here to stay!
Daffodil Magic
Notebook Page
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Sometimes I come back with words in my notebook, sometimes I don’t, but always I am happier when I’ve visited my little sanctuary from the craziness of modern life. Here, no matter what changes life brings me, the daffodils return with the spring for their brief but brilliant display.
Where do you go to seek out inspiration? Do you have rituals for your writing?

Missing the Boat

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to blog about this, because there is this sense of shame I feel at falling short. But I know all writers, even the great ones, go through this. It’s almost like a rite of passage I suppose. So I’ll come clean.Image courtesy of Guido Giardino @ stock.xchng

My miserable piece of dreck short story was rejected for the Adventures in Creating Anthology.

It’s okay, really. As I read the names on the list, and saw mine wasn’t on it, I naturally had all kinds of emotions going through my head: disappointment, frustration, surprise, jealousy, hopelessness. But I had another reaction I didn’t expect.

Relief. Overwhelming relief.

No more revising that one, no worrying about when it’s coming out or if the cover will look cool. (No harassing my followers to buy the book. ;))

I’m struggling to understand why I feel that way, because it is quite a powerful feeling–one that eclipses all the rest. I wanted to be in the anthology. I did my best with it and had lots of other writers give me feedback before I sent it in. I poured a little of myself into that story, all my favorite things, feathers, a cat, music, wings, all there.

So why am I relieved that the story will remain safely on my hard drive?Image courtesy of Vjeran Lisjak @ stock.xchng

Is it because I don’t care about being a writer? I don’t think so. My creative fire still burns hot. I’ve never needed recognition to pursue my creativity. I don’t need the title of Writer in order to put my words up on the screen.

Is it because I’m tired and just want to get some sleep? Maybe. Finally, I have validation that all this ambition leads to nothing, so I might as well sleep.

I finally concluded that I’m glad my work isn’t out there if it’s not ready. I chose to submit to this anthology because I knew there would be feedback from the contest moderators, and I’m hoping for some insight as to why this story isn’t up to snuff.

Because I want to know.

Did I miss the anthology theme? Was the conflict too small? Did my main character come off as one-dimensional? Was my setting vague? Does my dialogue confuse readers? Are my critiquers not honest enough to tell me what is wrong with this? Were seven critiques and six revisions not enough?

What, what, WHAT, tell me what do I need to understand to write decent stories?

Maybe I’m just tired of fighting the inner editor and ready to give in to her constant nagging that I’m not good enough.

Fine, I’m not good enough.

Not yet.Image courtesy of Marja Flick-Buijs @ stock.xchng

There will be other boats.

(Because you’re special, the Holly Lisle Forum members can find the password for my anthology page and read the story using this link. Be sure you’re logged in when you click. Please remember: This is a work in progress!)

And, how do you react when the boat leaves without you? Do you sink? Or do you swim?

Sinking ship image courtesy of Guido Giardino, folded paper ship image courtesy of Vjeran Lisjak, rainbow paper boats image courtesy of Marja Flick-Buijs, all three @ stock.xchng

What's Up

In which I elaborate on the myriad and sundry reasons for my absence.

For one thing, I’ve been very busy writing! Finally, today, only a few hours ago, I hit send on my very first submission ever. It’s only a short story, the very one I discussed a month ago, but it took a lot to get it finished, revised, critiqued, revised again, polished, formatted … and finally sent. The details of this might make a very long blog post, especially the formatting which nearly put me over the edge, but I’ll save it for another day.

Image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee @stock.xchngWith all those steps to go through for just a short story of exactly 2497 words, I’m beginning to grasp why it’s taking me so long to get through a whole novel!

I’m also beginning to see that all that attention to detail and refusal to settle for anything less than my best is worth it. I’m rather proud of that little story, and now that it is floating in the ether of the world-wide web, I’m no longer worried about it. I’ve done the best I can with it, and the rest is now out of my control. It would be nice to be accepted for the anthology though!

As for what it’s about, I think I mentioned a cat and a mysterious Dr. M, as well as a serious need for inspiration. It’s part of an anthology themed An Adventure in Creating, after all. And there are feathers.

There’s been some travel on my schedule as well. Fortunately, I manage to travel and write (at least a little bit) at the same time, so there’s been some progress on a new draft, though most of my time was spent on, you guessed it, my short  story.

I’ve got a ton of blog posts I’m excited to write and post, so I hope everyone bears with me until I settle back into some kind of normal routine.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this:

Deception Pass, Whidbey Island
Deception Pass, Whidbey Island

We visited Whidbey Island, WA on Tuesday and dined in Coupeville the day before the landslide. It’s reassuring to know that no one was injured in this massive landslide, though the property damage is tragic.

What have you been up to? Have you ever narrowly avoided disaster?

Feathers and rock image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee @stock.xchng, Deception Pass my own shot

So Obvious in Hindsight

Me again, talking about my revision. This is so big, I just have to share.

I was not expecting much today, because I’m managing a minor Muse meltdown. He is going all Monastery on me, shaved his head and took a vow of silence. He refuses to eat anything but broth, has his wings hanging on a hook next to him in the cellar … and writes only one word at a time on a slate with a piece of chalk.Little black chalkboard, isolated

I know—what a melodramatic pain in the butt. But, he’s worth it.

Only ten minutes into my revision session, (I’ve slowed down to two chapters a night to preserve the Muse’s sanity. The rest of the night will be devoted to downloading new music, watching Jimi Hendrix videos and looking up cool sixties quotes) I asked the HTRYN lesson 19 question: What is the credible problem in this scene?

Let’s just say, the answer knocked my socks off. Turns out, some of my characters have something in common that I didn’t see before. They are living on borrowed time, just like my main character. You’d have to read it to see. But Wow. The best revelations usually seem so obvious in hindsight.

My notes look something like this:Roman Malyshev/Big Stock

BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG

Credible problem: Nick is putting together the pieces of his strange waking dreams.

… (Spoilers ahead, sorry) …

Is this a major Eureka? But I just started writing tonight! What’s next, complete writing nirvana?!

BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG

I love revision.

How do you manage your Muse? What is your writing nirvana? Roman Malyshev/Big Stock

Images courtesy of Marinic Borislav and Roman Malyshev @ BigStock.com

What's In Your Bucket?

jamiebucketAwful quiet in here lately …

You might think I’m hibernating— but actually, I’ve been absorbed in revision, (more on that soon) reading fellow writers’ works-in-progress (you guys are awesome, all of you!) and, okay, sleeping.

But I’m back because one of my cyber-buddies, the lovely and super-talented Jamie Ayres, has a book release coming up! This week, on January 24, her debut novel, 18 Things comes out. Be sure to check it out!

Isn't this a lovely cover!
Isn’t this a lovely cover?

As a way to promote her release, she’s sponsoring a fabulous blog hop that poses the question:

What are 18 Things on your bucket list?

Since I love to ponder what I want to do with my life, I simply had to come out of my winter slumber and post mine. So, without further ado:

My Abridged Bucket List:

  1. Experience weightlessness or zero-g
  2. Visit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa.
  3. Read the top 100 novels of all time (though opinions vary widely on what those are!)
  4. Work at an archaeological dig
  5. Learn to play all twenty-one of Chopin’s Nocturnes on the piano.
  6. Swim with dolphins
  7. See an opera
  8. Visit the Haleakala Observatories on Maui and look at the stars
  9. Go hang glidingImage courtesy of Dave Dyet @stock.xchng
  10. Ride an elephant
  11. Celebrate Midsummer Night in Sweden
  12. Live on a sailboat for a year
  13. Pay off my mortgage
  14. Drive a Porsche
  15. Walk a half-marathon
  16. See the Northern Lights
  17. Visit Australia
  18. Hold a real live copy of one of my books published in hardcover

Stephanie Syjuco @stock.xcngWhew, that’s a lot of things! Makes me want to take a nap just thinking about them all …

How about you? What are some things on your bucket list? And, can you tell I love astronomy?

Congrats, Jamie on your  upcoming release, 18 Things!

Images courtesy of Dave Dyet and Stephanie Syjuco @stock.xchng

The Pictures In My Head

Why do I write? Really?

In the beginning, before I ever thought I’d even finish a book draft, I wrote for the pictures the words made in my head. Here’s one that found me only yesterday:

The Muse lies on his back with his raven-feathered wings spread out to both sides over the moonlit grass. He plays his guitar, its black metallic finish reflecting the starry sky, as he watches the galaxies spin in the firmament above us. I listen and I write, translating his thoughts, his wry observations and his whimsy into words.

Sometimes, when the clouds roll in and lightning splits the sky, he stands behind me, holds his hands against my face, and makes me look when I’d rather look away—when I don’t want to feel anymore. When I’d rather sleep, or drink, or run away to kill the pain, he says,

“Look, listen, weep if you must, but live. You only have one shot at this life. Make it count—for me—because though I’m imaginary, I am the only part of you that has a chance to live forever.”

*Sniff*

“Can I stop now?” I ask him.

“You may. But, please, for me, soon, words? In a dark room, just you and I?”

“For you, Muse, anything.”

What kind of pictures have your words sent you? Does your Muse chase you into dark rooms?

In a programming note:

I’m excited to announce that I will be posting more regularly here, as I am winding down my other blog. ‘Write A Book With Me’ has moved back to its founder, Holly Lisle, and I’ve decided one blog is plenty for me! Stay tuned for shorter posts two to three times a week (this is the scenic route, remember? So no hustle!), commenting on my progress or lack thereof, alternating with miscellaneous literary observations fitting into my theme of ‘Postcards from my Journey into Noveldom.’

And what is this ‘Noveldom’ I speak of and that annoys the heck out of spell check?

My noveldom is a place where anything can happen. People can travel faster than the speed of light. Science can discover cures for horrid diseases. My noveldom is populated by birds and music and warm starry nights on beaches where sand sinks between your toes. Here, in my world, good can triumph over evil. Love can last forever.

Let’s explore it together, shall we? What lies in your noveldom?

Black Hair, Grey Eyes

Have you ever done those character profiles they give you for novel planning?

All those empty boxes–hair color, height, weight, scars, eye color, hobbies– used to leave me at a loss for words. How am I supposed to know how much my characters weigh? I don’t even know how much my coworkers weigh, and I see them every day! I don’t know if my character has a scar—I haven’t seen him naked yet! I haven’t spent enough time with him yet to know what his hobbies are!

How could I possibly know all this about a character when I haven’t written him yet?

So, I wrote him. Nick Moore is the main character in my revision-in-progress, ‘The Tempest’s Serenade,’ and here’s some of what I got:

Nicholas Dylan Aronsen Moore is blessed with a physique that balances square shoulders and a strong jaw line, but it is his eyes that draw you in. If you’re unsure of your intentions his stormy stare will make you shiver, because those slate-grey eyes don’t tolerate deception. Give them the truth they crave, and you’ll be rewarded with redemption.

Dark hair veils his classic features in what seems like its never-ending quest to cover those lovely eyes and sharp nose. He hides his face, keeping his reflections to himself, and allowing them instead to pour forth from his fingers as songs on his guitar. He wears an unassuming array of black t-shirts with various dark sentiments printed upon them, alternating brand names of his favorite musical equipment with the logos of vintage rock and roll bands.

When he’s not playing his guitar, he sits very still, as if waiting for the wind to tell him its intentions, always listening for the melody inside his head.

“What? I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening,” he will ask politely if I ask a question of him. Someday I want to eavesdrop on the symphony the surely plays behind those eyes. 

His voice is authoritative, but quiet, unwavering. His words come from deep in his soul as he speaks his truth. He demands that you answer without hesitation. If you’ve been where he has, you have no patience for head games.

His hands are rarely motionless. If he must hold them still, he hides them in his pockets, trapping them like mischievous rodents that need to be kept caged to stay out of trouble. When his fingers tire of the fretboard, the cigarettes keep his hands employed, as the lighting of the flame, the twist of the burning cigarette to deposit its ashes, and the quenching of the sputtering embers, conspire to hasten his inexorable destruction.

When he touches you, he does so lightly at first, letting his fingertips explore your skin, shrinking from your heat, afraid he might draw it out of you by touching you too deeply. Once he has confidence his touch won’t hurt you, he lets his hands grasp you firmly, like a drowning man would grab a life ring with no intention of letting go until he reaches the shore.

He doesn’t wear jewelry, and has no piercings. All that metal holds no interest for him. He doesn’t wear a watch since he’s not bound to a schedule. Morning is when the sun comes up, and nights last until his eyes fall closed with exhaustion. Many times he’s fallen asleep with his guitar on his lap, his arms stretched across it as if around the waist of a sleepy child. When he wakes, he picks up where he left off, and with weary fingers, plays the melody his soul spun while he slept.

He smiles easily when he’s around his many friends, but to find him alone when he thinks no one is watching is to see who he really is. Melancholy, vigilant, pensive. The smile is his defense against the past that plagues him. He doesn’t hide from himself, but hopes to conceal his dark secret from the world, to spare it the trouble.

Now, at last, I can fill in those empty boxes!

Hair: Black

Eyes: Grey

Hobbies: Music

Philosophy: I’m living on borrowed time. Let’s make it count.

How do you come upon your character’s physical attributes? Do you have to write your characters first? Or can you fill in those character profiles like a police detective with a hot lead on a suspect?

Writing On the Road

Life has been rather more scenic than usual, and so I’ve been away from my beloved blog. Fear not; I am back! That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t been writing. I seem to take a perverse pleasure in finding places to write that no ‘real’ writer in his sane mind would consider to be good place to write a novel. I’m still mulling over what compels me to write in all the unconventional places that I do, but I’m pretty sure my feelings about being an outsider amongst writers is part of it.

As much as I love my English teacher, my words seem to flow more easily when he’s not watching me. At home, in front of my computer, I sometimes feel that I need to be working on a literary masterpiece to justify my time. Writing furtively almost feels like a surprise date to me—an unexpected rendezvous with my story.

Among places to write, coffee shops have to rank near the top. The people-watching is always interesting, and naturally, there’s plenty of coffee and assorted sugary confections that congregate near the tippy-top of the nutrition pyramid. To avoid distractions, I put my headphones on to communicate in a non-confrontational way that I need to be alone right now. I write with music anyway, so that works out quite well.

Another place I love to write is in the woods—the Arboretum to be specific, which is members-only so it’s safer. I bring a blanket and bug spray and camp out for hours. When I go for walks, I scope out special places that would be cool to write in, so that when I have a tricky scene to write I have someplace already in mind where I can go to work it out. I wrote the ending to my first novel on a bench next to the lake, and now every time I pass it I remember that moment fondly.

When I’m stuck in my story I go to a spot where two trees grew out from under a boulder as big as a refrigerator. Sitting beneath trees that managed to thrive in spite of the rock that stood between them and the sun makes it really difficult to justify writer’s block.

When I crossed the 100k mark in last year’s National Novel Writing Month, I decided to celebrate that milestone at the library. Libraries, obviously, are perfect to write in! I am surrounded not only by books, but by people who love books! The positive energy is hard to beat, even though I do know the expectations would be higher for my prose if someone knew that I’m actually writing a novel. People would certainly expect my words to be so much more erudite than the silly first draft drivel that pours from my fingers during NaNoWriMo. But since they don’t know, for a few hours I feel as if I am a ‘real’ writer.

The strangest place I write is probably the airport. The uprooted feeling I get when I travel seems to free my imagination. I feel that I’m floating in the midst of so many stories as passengers hurry by, on the way from home to vacation or work or family. I never worry if people see what I’m writing, since most of them really aren’t paying attention and most likely think I’m writing a long email or a business newsletter. If they did ask, though, how cool would it be to answer breezily, “Oh, I’m writing a novel!” They don’t have to know that I feel like I’m still a newbie hack (although I’m working on that part. 😉 )

Writing in airplanes is a special kind of fun for me too. Being airborne, closer to the stars than if I were on the Earth below, makes my fingers itch to write.

Sometimes, when it’s raining and it’s too wet to write in the woods, I write in my car. When it’s snowing I sit in the parking lot and write in my notebook after everyone else has gone home from work. And yes, I’ve even written in the car wash, where the water sluices down the windshields while I huddle in the driver’s seat, alone with my words and my notebook and my characters, who won’t stop telling me their stories.

So, even though I do write at home most of the time—and sometimes in bed like Truman Capote, Marcel Proust, Edith Wharton and Vladimir Nabokov— it’s almost like a dare to myself to see if there’s a place I can’t write. Perhaps it’s because I need to prove to myself that I don’t ever have to stop. Maybe I’m afraid that if there was only one special place, one time of day and certain tools I had to use to get a story down, there might come a time I can’t write.

And that, my friends, would make me sad.

What is the strangest place you’ve ever written? Do you take your writing on the road?