The Restless and Ranting Writer Part II

I just needed a little push out the door...

I just needed a little push out the door…

Writing really is an ironic task. We want to tell stories and connect to people’s lives but the process of doing so usually means working alone. Without speaking we create words and conversations, describe scenes and journeys, and if we’re lucky, explain a little piece of the human condition. Blogging is one of the great oxymorons: we connect to the world socially without ever leaving our writing place. No wonder writers can become such maladroit companions.

Writing may be a solitary task, but writers need community. I tweeted that out last week after I realized that what was making me so frustrated was the solitude I had confined myself to. Even Bilbo had to step out of his shady hobbit hole to move his life into a new adventure.  Sure, I’ve shared in brief writing communities-too expensive conventions filled with promises from some in the publishing world, homegrown critique groups that gave way to life. I’d had little success because I didn’t venture much.   I’d like to make it to that dragon horde of success but first I needed a little push out of the door of my own dusty hovel.

After digitally lamenting my fate, a writer friend reminded me by her own efforts that actively seeking community makes a difference. Despite the fog of media, there are still ways to make connections and at times meet face to face. My search-engine fires stoked, I found a local writer’s group to meet up with and ventured out. I felt like I’d just taken a gulp of air after swimming laps underwater in the pool. I wondered where I’d been all my life. Will it cost money? A little. Take time? You bet. Is it one of the best things I’ve done for myself since I can’t remember when? Yes times one thousand.

Those folks in the middle ages had the right idea. If you worked a craft, you belonged to a guild.   You met with others to hone your craft, share ideas, swap success stories, cry about failures, and spur each other to keep on keeping on (they probably said “thou must keepeth oneth” though). It’s why we geeks trek to conventions-to meet with others of like minds (and costumes). If I’m willing to do that, what was holding me back from the one craft I’ve always clung to for identity? I’m not sure. But I am glad that I decided to stop along the way of my journey to get published and find some travelers to keep me company. I’m sure it’ll make the road seem shorter now.

 

P.S. If you want to follow me on Twitter, find me @CHthewriter.

P.S.S. Shout out to my hubby who was a great editor for this post!

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The Restless (and Ranting) Writer

Ever feel like you’re just not in “the club?” I’m feeling downright ranty about the closed door of the publishing world today. Even as a member of a professional writing association, I’m the unchosen at kickball. Critique groups in your area: Click to page. Scroll. Open to new members? No. Or maybe if you send us a sample of your writing and we decide you might fit our writing style. What? Now I have to query to join a critique group? $#%##!&%$#.

Okay, I feel better now. Sorry you had to see that.

Writing is hard. Darn it, it’s a slow, lonely, frustrating, beautiful and very individual process. It’s even harder if you *gasp* write fantasy.

I’m trying to be in the trenches but I’m often overwhelmed by this social media world that demands that I connect on every share your stuff site, do cool things and take pics of my amazingly pinable creativity, snark my way into the hearts of millions, and lead a life besides all this. Can I just go into my little hole, create, then come up with a precious gem that I’ve hacked out of the earth after years of refining?  I don’t know.  I’m told writers need a brand.  But I wonder if my particular cereal will ever sell.  When I say I’ve had some great rejection letters from agents, my non-writing friends look at me like I’m crazy.  But even good rejection wears on the soul.

Conflicting information abounds in the “How to Get Published” circus. Don’t compare your book to other books in your pitch; give an editor or agent a comp (comparison) so that they can get a quick idea of how your book is like what’s already selling. Include a synopsis; a synopsis is evil! I’m not making this up people! but I’m trying to stop my head from a get-out-the-holy-water-spin-fest.

I have writer friends in the area and right now I feel like I need to do what my daughter does with stuffed animals: pull all of them close to my face and smother my sweet little cheeks into their softness. I need a giant support/critique group hug. I should be noveling right now but that pesky writer’s itch has struck again. And despite my Gollum-like love-hate for social media, I get sucked in because it’s easier to watch other people’s stories than to write your own. It’s easier to say “it’ll never happen” than to hunker down and do it.

That said, there’s a tenacity that I and perhaps most writers have and after these periods, be they long or short, we slap ourselves in the proverbial face, dust off our fingers and type, scribe, tap or speak our way out of a “woe is me” slump. Even if it’s a paragraph and it isn’t that good. Because somebody, someday might read my words. And that makes it all worth it.

 

Here’s a brief bit of something I’ve been working on. Comments are welcome.

 

“The Faceless,” Wynn whispered to Finn. “They’re after me.”

Finn’s eyes grew wide and she redoubled her speed, pulling hard on the ropes with other sailors to unfurl the main sail. The ship began to glide away from the wooden slats and posts, its ropes dangling in the seawater.   “Jonah!” Finn cried, pointing to the end of the dock.

The Faceless were crowding onto the dock, their ceaseless walking undeterred by cries from other sailors. Most backed away but didn’t run. The Faceless weren’t interested in them. They advanced down the long boardwalk, hands at their sides, blank faces turned toward their prey.

Wynn felt cold pinpricks all over her body.   The pirates kept hurrying around the deck, lashing ropes and encouraging sails to collect wind. Balton, at the helm, kept his gaze on the horizon, guiding them out of port at a snail’s pace.

“We’ll never make it,” muttered Wynn. She backed up to the hold, hitting the knobs of the doors to the captain’s quarters with her back. She watched, helplessly as Jonah untied the last of the mooring ropes. The Faceless were within feet.

The Captain unsheathed his sword and swung at the Faceless as the nearest grasped at his throat. His blade cut right through its hand, dropping it with a thud to the dock. The creature made no sound and no blood ran from the wound. Wynn found this more terrifying than seeing the gore of severed flesh. The rest of the Faceless horde converged on Jonah. He swung madly but deftly, chopping limbs and kicking their bodies back, but they kept moving, like slugs over a log, toward the ship’s ropes.

“Haul in the lines!” Finn cried.

Jonah struggled, visibly tired as he fended off the Faceless bodies. He fell back against the dock, pressed down by two of the creatures. Others wrenched his sword from his hand and flung it clattering back down the dock. Jonah kicked and thrashed, but they held him fast. The Faceless not holding Jonah began to jump into the water and swim out to the Sleep in a steady track.

Suddenly, one of the Faceless holding Jonah slumped over, a dagger protruding from the back of its neck. Jonah struggled against the other, flipping both of them off the dock and into the sea. For endless moments, nothing surfaced until the Captain broke, gasping, to the surface.

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Pixar

creativity animated

creativity animated

My father is my personal Pinterest of old fashioned newsprint and glossy pages. He’s always finding the best tidbits of life wisdom, geeky news, educational insights and a plethora of other blips to keep me reading in those moments I catch between work, caring for my little princess and the business of doing life. Sometimes he strikes gold and I find a piece of writing so inspiring it stays tucked beside my bed or in my pile o’ stuff (okay I really have lots of those, but the one for bits of reading I want to save), like the one I found today: “Creativity Inc.,”a feature in Fast Company about Pixar’s behind the scenes leader Ed Catmull and his business philosophy.

Pixar is an inspirational organization. When the movie industry became a proud peddler of mediocre, if not appalling scripts, along came this humble animation company that reinvented the precedent for storytelling on the big screen. One example: the first 39 dialog-free minutes of Wall-E tell more story and give deeper character development than the entire franchise of Transformers. Still not convinced? Toy Story 3 grossed $1.06 billion. Adults cried. I saw it three times in theaters.

The article reminded me that Pixar originated as a part of the Lucasfilm animation department, so it’s no surprise that groundbreaking is in their nature. What I didn’t know was that Pixar counts failure as a part of their creative process and relies on a system that embraces candid reworking of an idea until it’s as right as it can be. They don’t tie anyone to a project unless they were a part of its inception and they don’t let one person’s creative process overwhelm the entire venture. What a concept.

If I remembered this when I get single-minded in my pursuit of a writing career, my forest-for-the-trees storytelling would be strengthened. “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when challenged,” Catmull says.

If we applied this to education, the pundits demanding higher-level thinking would be sated. “There is this notion that fewer screw-ups is always better, so the tendency is to say that zero is the optimal number of defects. But in most industries, that is completely false. The notion of zero errors in our industry is completely false. Zero errors in educating a child is not meaningful,” Catmull tells in his interview.

If more companies allowed failure and think-tank sessions, perhaps the human capital would be worth more dollars in the long-run instead of tight-fisted budgets that eke out a profit. Imagine if creativity ruled more of the adult world. I love the way Pixar embraces creativity –with unique passion. They succeeded at being creatively different to the point where the Disney giant stooped to beg their forgiveness when they realized that animation without story doesn’t work (Walt would surely have shouted that from the rooftops). But story doesn’t come from a machine or some perpetually rehashed franchise, it comes from people; and good stories come from people who are given the freedom to think and rethink.

I believe creativity is innate in everybody. Somewhere along the way we form inhibitions that wall in or choke our creative processes. Sometimes this comes from management, sometimes it comes from ourselves. In either case, creativity is too often stifled before it can bloom and so the same old, comfortable routine becomes the norm.

Ultimately, those who long to be creative will. However, this is a monumental task. Life gets in the way. It’s easier to sit on the couch and suck in entertainment than to sit at a computer and tell stories through the keys. Adults have too much to worry about right? Clean the house or write a blog? I get to feeling like I’ve let my adult-self down if two hours have passed and I’ve done nothing but rewrite a few paragraphs or look up craft ideas online. “We can’t spend time doodling about projects,” our programmed conscious tells us. Strangely enough, Pixar’s next movie addresses just that-the inevitability of growing up but still retaining a child-like spark in our minds. Inside Out tells the story of Riley’s emotions and how they help her cope with a move to San Francisco from their position at “headquarters.” Ticket fees are a small price to pay for inspiration.

A Bit O’ Steampunk Fiction

My friend sent out a quick drabble challenge to write about snow using a fandom you’ve never written about.  So here is the result.  My current fandom zeitgeist that I can’t believe I’ve never written about: Steampunk.

Steam Through Snow

By Christie Hudon

“What do you mean we can’t get through?” the shrill voice of a fur-wrapped lady sounded through the train car.

The passengers of engine 105 were becoming restless, their agitated state adding thin clouds of fog to the glass windowpanes.

Jett sighed and tapped her wrench against her skirt.  She watched from the back of the car as the conductor puffed up like a peacock.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that there is a snowdrift blocking our path and at our present capacity, the train cannot attain a speed fast enough to simply plow through it without damage.  Our engineers are working to clear the drift as soon as possible.  In the meantime, the refreshment trolly will provide you all with some refreshing drinks to pass the time.”

The man didn’t stick around for questions or to hear the chorus of exasperated sighs and grunts.  Jett smirked-she didn’t blame him-and pulled her watch from her coat pocket.  Okay, things were getting serious.  If she didn’t make it into Lampton by 3:00, she would miss her chance.

Jett grabbed her rough carpet bag that served as purse, suitcase and home (for now) and stepped behind her seat to the lavatory.  Shimmying her skirt over her stockinged legs, she slipped on a pair of coarse wool breeches and tucked them into her laced black boots.  Jett pulled a pair of goggles over her eyes and slipped a cap over her hair.

Stepping back into the cabin aisle, Jett stowed the carpet bag under her seat and strode past listless passengers to the front of the car.  She pushed open the door slowly and crept out the slim crack, lest the whiny passengers complain of cold.  The crisp air stung Jett’s nostrils in a pleasing way, waking her up to the task at hand: get this train to the station soon because the ones running it sure weren’t doing anything to help.

Cautiously, Jett set her foot against the outer walkrail of the engine car.  She grabbed the iron bar above it and swung herself over the connectors.  Before she remembered not to look down, Jett gasped.  The engine car was parked at the start of a bridge, long struts holding it above the steel-colored water of a freezing river.  No wonder those engine boys weren’t plowing anything.

Jett breathed deeply, letting the cold sharpen the world around her as she gripped the rail.  Hand over hand, she slowly made her way along the side of the engine.  Every few moments, warm puffs of steam belched out from the stalled train, making her face thaw and chill as they fell down over her.  As she neared the open engine compartment, Jett heard exasperated yells from the crew.  Wrenches clanked and the door of the steam engine’s burning belly creaked as they fed it logs.

“What in blue blazes,” one of the crew members spotted Jett and dragged her into the engine car.  Heat swelled over her and Jett sighed.  She pulled her wrench out of her back pocket and pointed it at the gages that controlled the steam engine.

“I’m here to help you get this train going.” Jett tried to sound more confident than she felt.

“And just who are you,” a larger crew member pushed toward her, his denim overalls dusted with black soot that matched his face.

“You need to tweak the thermal pressure gage to do a blowout.  If you expel enough steam you should melt enough of the drift to get through,” Jett replied, gesturing to the front of the train.

The engineer who helped her aboard smiled.  “Why didn’t you think of that Adamson.  That’s brilliant.” He pulled his cap down and winked at Jett.    He held out a gloved hand dark with cinders.  “Matt Rook.  Care to help?”

“Juliet Smith, but my friends call me Jett.” She took his hand firmly and smiled.

“What are you, a new hire come up from the luggage car?” Adamson sneered.

“No, just a concerned passenger.”

Jett shrugged and stepped up to help Matt adjust the steam intake.

“Cripes, are you crazy?” Adamson said.

“Come now Mr. Adamson, would you really miss out on your only shot at getting into the engineers academy?  My test is at 3:30.  Now, bring me some wood.”