What Makes a Monster?

It’s a good question, isn’t it? I’ve been asking myself this partly because I just had a story come out “The Monster.” I’m reading it tonight at ICON, and I’m pretty excited about it.

My writer’s group has decided I’m great with the creatures. They can usually identify those in my stories, and when they talk about the types of characters that we’re really good at, those are the ones who come up. Yesterday’s story had about four characters, and one was a dragon.

The monster story had about four main characters, and two of them being a spider and a tentacled thing that didn’t choose to resolve itself into an actual creature. Might be a squid, might be an octopus. Sometimes they’re like that.

So many times I find my favorite characters are creatures. R2-D2 might not count but Chewbacca, Groot, and Grogu are on my list. I never did figure out why I love understandable creatures who don’t speak English. The personality comes out a lot differently in the writing or on the screen.

Often I find my humans are more monstrous than many of my creature characters. That is directly related to how you define a monster. If you’re curious about my story the link is below.

Moving is Difficult.

It’s taking time to get used to my new city, and all of the new things associated with it. I’m not done finding things, but I am getting a bunch of them scheduled.

Lesson learned about myself? Too many phone calls with strangers can be draining, where phone calls with friends and family are not. It’s surprising, I know, but it is a thing to consider when I’m making a bunch of phone calls to all the contractors for my new home.

The pattern my family has established is to sell the house while living in temporary housing in our new community, then look and buy a house in our new area. It’s a great way to go through it. Though this time we didn’t quite match the school district we will stay in, and that’s hard.

My new house is exciting, though. I’m checking off the boxes slowly but surely. And- I’ve been writing. It’s hard when every day is filled with a bunch of things where my kid’s anxiety triggers my own. Silver lining – we’re getting better care for that here.

The writing is exciting. It’s been an adjustment, but I think I’m finding something. It feels good, even if part of it is only snippets. Snippets still feel good for expressing thoughts and feelings and finding whether a story is in there. Something longer, or if it is better as a simple vignette for understanding a concept that’s been locked.

I find there can be value in all kinds of writings, whether they’re true or completely impossible.

A Thousand Words?

 I spent a good portion of my daughter’s gymnastics meet taking pictures. Some of them are so interesting to look at on their own, and some of them make more sense in context. I still an unsure how the judges manage to be so critical while simply watching, but I also know they’ve watched so much for so long that it looks different to them than it does to me.

Yet, with my eye looking through the viewfinder, a different part of my brain engages. I saw that my daughter would scratch her vault before she made the decision. (The coaches asked her. She’d been planning on rocking it. Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.) I can explain it with just the one picture, and when I showed it to her, she agreed. It felt different to her, and she scratched it (meaning she didn’t compete that event) because it felt all wrong and she was afraid she would not be able to hold onto the table or hurt herself on the way over.

Because I was in the parent gallery, I couldn’t hear the coaches when they spoke to her. I didn’t know they asked her how she felt about it, and offered the spot (a hand in the right spot as she performs) if she wanted to take it. She’s got some good coaches, and I’m really glad they’re there.

I haven’t taken so many pictures for a long time. I don’t really like to do it with my phone. There’s lag time and it just won’t do what the DSLR will. And that camera is just fun to play with. I enjoy figuring out the different settings. Except some of them have flash, and I can’t take flash photos at a meet.

In college, I would look at pictures in my head and try to describe them with words. Sometimes it takes less than a thousand. Sometimes it takes more. It depends on if I need something specific to come through, or if this is part of the backdrop for the entire story. When I was younger, as soon as I got my first camera, I took pictures. With film. And I had to wait to develop it. Sometimes I developed them myself in art class, because i loved taking pictures.

For a while after college, I thought my mother was following me into writing. I didn’t understand how she had left it behind for so long and then picked it up again. But life gets in the way of these things. My mother’s a poet, and she has been recognized for that talent. I understand now, picking up a camera again and just taking pictures for fun.

There’s a bit of a dichotomy to having a camera. For one thing, you can record what’s going on – but with that kind of camera, you’re rarely the one in front of it. I asked an old classmate about a photo, and she said that I had taken it, but she wished I had been in it. I did, too, because I didn’t remember that moment. But I did take so many photos, I didn’t question that she remembered I had taken it. It made sense.

The relationship with the camera changes. It’s never a simple – are you part of life or are you recording it – because there are nuances that we don’t see when we reduce things to simple questions. Do you wonder about how many people spent so much time writing in a diary but never wanted anyone else to read it? Do you wonder about how many scrapbooks have taken so much time and effort but aren’t enjoyed as much by anyone around the person who created it (or sometimes the person who it was created for)? Do I still need a thousand words to get my image across in words, or have I still left things out despite my best efforts?

New Character?

It’s interesting, how different characters show up. At some point, I have an affinity for a rhinoceros. No, it doesn’t make sense. Why do I need a rhinoceros? I have no idea, but at some point there will be one in a story. It’s inevitable when I start thinking about something this much.

I can’t explain how we find the different characters we find. Some of them appear fully-formed and others like the draw out the mystery as long as possible. I have written pages from someone’s point of view trying to figure out their name and they just would not tell me. Anything else seemed possible, but not that.

Sometimes it’s the opposite problem – I find a name but a character won’t emerge for it. Not often, but I do have a few names written that I thought would be perfect somewhere, but never came to fruition. At least, not yet. It’s how I got my pen name, and luckily I love it, but it was hanging around for years without actually being used for a fictional character.

So, this year I’d like a rhinoceros to start talking to me – in my head, not necessarily in real life. If you’d like to send a hippopotamus for christmas, that might also be fun… I’ve definitely got pachyderms on the brain. Would you rather it be an elephant?

There’s probably a bunch of research in my future, too. Good thing I love learning new things.

The Answer Has Always Been Dragon.

If you could choose to be anything… There are a lot of t-shirts that start like this. I have one that says to choose to be yourself, unless you can be a mermaid. My daughter has one to be a unicorn. How I don’t have one that proclaims to be a dragon yet is beyond me, but I’m sure it’ll happen one day.

In our myths, we find things we love and fear and everything in between. Many proclaim affinity to one type or another, and we bring in all kinds of fictional worlds to also represent those facets of us.

Some of us are looking for magic and what’s unexpected from the average, normal day. We cannot all be contained within the mundane world. Magic exists as we see it, as we expect something or not. It isn’t always in a magician’s tricks, though it can be. How much do you want to see magic, versus understanding the process behind it?

I found a poem called Expecting Dragons in a copy of Lyrical Iowa. The poet saw wings, and she expected a dragon. It turned out to be an eagle, but despite the beauty of the sight, she was still waiting for the dragons.

But I would choose a dragon. It might be a light at the end of the tunnel. And then someone asked if it was a train. No, it’s a dragon. It’s always a dragon. I’ve been expecting dragons since I read that poem, and I look for the signs in the air. It might just be an eagle, but no one knows until we get there.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up off a shelf because of the word dragon in the title. Many of them I’ve brought home to enjoy.

Dragons exist. But only if you allow them to take up the space. One problem is they’re huge. They take up a lot more room than mermaids and unicorns and faeries. Yet no one else knows what to do with these things that are not true but exist in our minds.

Rarely do you see dragons as beasts. Most often they’re very intelligent, extremely capable

Witches and goblins might be a thing, but though some aspire to be witches, none seem to aspire to be goblins or gremlins. I often wonder why. One of the oldest forms of tag I remember playing was Witches and Goblins. I think I was six and the ringleader of the group’s activities. But we had fun.

Dragons are in my head. Dragons fill my dreams. Dragons carry me to different heights. Dragons might be tiny and intelligent. They might be huge and stupid. They might fill the skies or the seas or the mountains or the underground spaces.

As humans, we lose so much time doing what we’re supposed to do, saying what we’re supposed to say, and fulfilling expectations. Can you imagine a dragon taking that as an answer? My lovely imagination says no. The dragon would choose to be its own being, and it would be free to do as it chose.

A world without magic becomes boring. It may not be a dragon, but allowing that magic in the world makes me smile, and it keeps me writing. That might be one reason why my heart is set on speculative fiction. And yes, I’ve been writing something with a dragon lately. No answer on when I’ll finish it, but coming back to writing – after such a long time not pursuing much fiction during 2020, is nice. I’m reminded of the morning pages when she said she wrote and just waited to see what would show up. I’ve been writing, and a dragon showed up one day.

Not Another Resolution…

The new year is all about resolutions and starting over. I’m not a big fan of resolutions – I don’t know that they work. It’s not the resolutions’ fault, but perhaps the way we learned to do them.

A little background: I am also a yoga teacher. I teach other fitness classes, and every single January I count down until there are space to park again – usually by the beginning to middle of February. With the pandemic, it’ll be different. I’m rarely at the one with such huge parking issues, and my single class I still teach there is not at a peak time. But everyone who works there gets accustomed to the rhythm of never being able to park in January. Most people have fulfilled their mind’s resolution of working out by then, whether a few times or a few weeks, then they’ve moved on to other concerns.

One of my yoga teacher friends always advocated for intentions rather than resolutions. Her reasoning said an intention was something you could keep working toward, and a resolution was something that you could simply finish by doing it once.

My writer friends always promote SMART goals instead of resolutions: Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-bound.

I’ve been considering my goals. Sometimes I’m not certain what next year will bring. Maybe life will become more like The Times Before- but not right away. I know I had not posted in this blog for some time. It’s been hard to come back to it, to make time for a public face.

While I’m struggling with what I want to accomplish and the number of hours in a given day, I’m also prioritizing. I haven’t been taking on much that’s new, because I’ve been overwhelmed just keeping up with what I’ve managed.

When it’s quiet, I’ve been finding what I want to keep and what I’m ready to stop dragging along with me. Sometimes it’s surprising what I find in that stillness.

One thing I often forget to do with my goals is measure them, and continue to measure them throughout the year. So that’s one of the ways this year’s goals will change, to measure the things that I’d like to accomplish and maybe measure some of the things I do that don’t accomplish anything. Always a trade-off between those two, and we can’t be productive 100% of the time, and we can’t always be resting. The balance between those two changes depending on the environment and how we interact with it.

2020 has been a year we can’t wait to see out. 2021 may not start out much different, but the optimist side says it’ll going to improve. I guess we shall see.

In the meantime, I’ve also been figuring out the differences of being busy and being productive.

Winter Solstice

2020 has been a year. It’s almost over. It might be a year we never speak of again, except as teaching moments for the those who weren’t with us through it or were too young to remember.

But the thing about living is we’re changing, we learn things, and we grow. Even through all the struggles.

I’m thinking about next year already. We know it’s going to start a bit difficult. We hope it’s going to get better. Some of these days have been tough enough that I tell people, “There will be better days.” And while that is true, I know they won’t all feel better. Change happens, and change is hard.

So as I’m going into the new year, new intentions, and new ideas, I’m trying to think of more than one outcome. I’m trying to believe that there might be the bright future I’m hoping for while also understanding that it isn’t like that for everyone. I know I lost a lot of things that I think helped me, like the ever-present notebook and endless lists.

As we move forward with peace and love in heart and mind, I also want to remember that there are little joys that are worth moving toward. My friend gave me a late birthday present today, and it is a deck of cards with the entire rainbow on the faces. I’ve never seen a deck quite like it and I’m enthralled. I also hugged her tiny 3 year old daughter because I got the chance. We don’t always get that chance to be with those we love. There are many friends and family I haven’t seen since The Times Before.

My hope is to see my lovely friends and family again. To share happiness and sorrow in community and be together. And also to come back to some of my practices that help me. One is the lists. Another is yoga and tai chi and meditation. [No, those are not the same thing, it is not my religion, and if you’re curious about that you should ask and not assume.] If you’re reading this, I wish you safety and sanity and contentment – and that we all get there eventually.

Is it the ninth day of NaNo?

I write every day, though some days it looks different than others. Lately I feel like I don’t know how to arrange the sentences anymore. I’m not sure if it’s the project or just 2020 or everything under the sun.

It is weird to be so far “behind” in NaNo, with a project dragging along like it really would rather be ignored a while longer.

I think later on I’ll try tackling it from a different spot, where I haven’t been as likely to keep working. Maybe if I allow it to go out of order for a while I’ll find that spark to keep it going.

I’d love to blame the continuing sinus issues for my lack of progress. I keep thinking it’ll go away and then it hangs on a little longer. Maybe tomorrow will be better. There’s no harm in trying a different tactic.

NaNoWriMo Is Coming

Yes, I know it’s a couple weeks until November officially starts, but I love the writing season. I’m a plotter, so I’m working on that lovely outline and seeing what it is that’s happening there. I finally feel like I’ve untangled most of the pieces of that novel that was actually two novels in one big draft.

Silly me, but I didn’t see it until later. I had a different idea in my head than how it actually went.

My husband asked why I didn’t just leave it as two novels and “pull a Tolkien”. I’m not sure he understood that Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga is really just one novel and he cut it into three parts because no one wanted to publish a book that large at that time. That it became three pieces because of the limits of physical books. It’s a massive story that spans a lot of words, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually 3 books even if people cut it that way in paper books or movies or anything else.

The great part is the characters have taken on lives of their own, and they’ve found reasons to go do the things that happen. Mostly – I know a few of those events will change because they’ve been split into their proper books. I’m excited to see what that looks like, so I’ll be starting that this week.

I know I still have a couple places where I’m struggling to put the pieces in the outline. But I know where they are and what’s happening to them around it- it’s just a few wrinkles to smooth out. Usually a mind-map works, finding the way to get through in several different ways. I’ve been questioning all of the things that happen and seeing if there’s a better way to make it work.

Writing novels. It’s definitely a job. Luckily I love it.

After [Virtual] ICON

The writing energy is high right around ICON. I’ve been working on a book, but it’s been slow. It’s more of a series, because that’s what happens to some projects – they refuse to remain in just one novel. I suppose that’s for the best because the world-building this novel has taken is just so much.

I gave them a piece of a different project. Because the novel I’m working on is just a little too daunting at the moment. I thought I had a draft, and it turned out it was two books masquerading as one. Sorting that into the proper outlines has been quite the job, and I can’t say I’ve been doing a lot of sorting it out this year. 2020 has definitely taken a toll on me that way.

Though the pandemic wears on all of us unevenly, it’s a burden. My jobs have changed. Writing occurs in the quite moments when I’m not working or schooling the kids. The hybrid schedule is working decently for them, but we’re struggling with how much time we spend studying at home. I’m not able to keep a novel in my head while working out whether they’ve done the math or turned in the assignment or anything else.

But slowly, carefully, I’m pulling this novel back out, back together. And I let the Paradise ICON writers read something that hasn’t seen the light in a long time but I keep thinking about, keep trying to get back to. I’m sure it’ll take another outline to figure out exactly what order all of those items should be in, too. Maybe that’s something that can happen in the moments between helping kids with homework and running off to the gym.

I feel the writing season. It’s a beautiful thing.

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