the numberless stars

The books I’m reading (I pick these up and put them down, but all of these are currently inching forward):

  1. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
  2. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (the book du jour)
  3. Memories, Dreams, Reflections by C. G. Jung
  4. Trickster: An Anthropological Memoir by Eileen Kane
  5. Legends of the Fire Spirits by Robert W. Lebling
  6. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch by Henry Miller
  7. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture by Walter L. Williams
  8. When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits by Mary Ann Winkowski
  9. and my own book Shivery Bones, doing one last bloody read-through.

Books I’m writing: If you count worldbuilding and creative noodling, then I’m writing Carmina and The Numberless Stars.  If you’re talking about actual words getting written, then I ain’t currently writting nothin’.

The book I love the most: Couldn’t possibly choose.  I usually love the one I’m with.

The last book I received as a gift: I made a killing on book gift certificates.  I’ve included all the books I bought this way—not really to brag, but because I wouldn’t want any of these books to have their feelings hurt because I left them off the list.  (I anthropomorphize everything.) (Hi, Lisa!):

  1. Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie
  2. Holy Ghosts: Or, How a (Not So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night by Gary Jansen
  3. Spooky California: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore by S. E. Schlosser, Paul G. Hoffman (Illustrator)
  4. Lover Unleashed by J. R. Ward
  5. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
  6. Red-Robed Priestess: A Novel (The Maeve Chronicles) by Elizabeth Cunningham
  7. Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  8. Meditations with Meister Eckhart by Matthew Fox
  9. Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner
  10. Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
  11. Everyday Tarot by Gail Fairfield

The last book I gave as a gift: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Lately I’ve only been taking half-hour lunches at work because I need to get on the road home earlier than I used to. A half hour doesn’t seem sufficient to get any writing done once I’ve gone down to buy lunch and come back upstairs. But I’ve managed to squeeze in some “research reading,” which makes me feel as if I’m keeping my hand in as a writer. Between caregiving, a full time job, and exhaustion there is no other time slot for actual writing. I realize my research-reading-as-extension-of-writing is something of an illusion, but it’s been quite a creative illusion for all that.

Currently, I’m reading a fascinating book called Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert W. Lebling. It’s sparked all kinds of ideas. Curiously, most of them have been for existing stories rather than new ones, fleshing them out, solving plot issues, broadening character. None of these stories are about djinn, but the book brings up many wonderful cross-cultural themes. Anytime I read mythology of any sort it sparks loads of ideas for me, and the fact is, most Western mythology has roots in the Middle East. We share a profound cultural connection, an archetypal basis, with that part of the world, whether we care to acknowledge it or not.

This week the book sparked a ton of ideas for the Annia Sabina book I mentioned the other day. Last week it pumped out goodies for a novel I’ve been playing with for several years. Before that, I was reading The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture by Walter L. Williams specifically to do research/get ideas for my historical fantasy, The Numberless Stars. That book did its job well and I got plenty of ideas. Before that, it was yet another something that had my mind clicking away at yet another novel.

Which is all well and very good, but it does mean I’m bouncing around a lot. That’s not an unfamiliar pattern for me when I’m between projects. I tend to bounce until something takes a firm hold and I commit a substantial amount of writing to the page. Then momentum takes over and I work through the idea, generally, until it’s finished.

But, as I said, I’ve got maybe a half-hour a day to dedicate to anything me-related, to my writing, and research reading, and cozening the muse. Unless I’m stealing time from something else I should be doing to do…this. Or something like it.

I’m itching to write. I have moments when I speak with such confidence about what the next project will be! But in truth, I’m bouncing. I may bounce until I splatter myself unless I can figure a way to steal or carve out what I need and still meet my honorable commitments.

Writing requires sacrifice. Art requires it. We’re always stealing from something else in order to do that thing which makes us feel whole. Generally from time with family and friends, from our social lives, etc. There is no easy way to do this and do it well. Even if you manage to achieve full-time artist/writer status, there will always be something you have to give up in order to do that which makes you feel whole. The question of what and how much is an individual thing. No one can make that decision for you, and sometimes the circumstances are very hard indeed.

For me, I can’t go forever with my creative channels choked off. Something has to give, but it’s impossible for me to say what at this point. In the meantime, I’ll continue to bounce and steal and hope that something anchors me before I splatter. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Just do it, for God’s sake!”

Just do it. Sometimes it’s as simple and as hard as that.

1. Under the heading of “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” I was asked to do a favor for someone I don’t work for. I agreed and set about the proofreading, formatting, etc., of a long document. I spent five hours at this task and sent it back to the author only to discover that I had been given the wrong version. I was unhappy, but not so unhappy as the author who had to do a compare/contrast of my changes/his changes over the weekend. Then I got it back to finish cleaning up.

2. I got a robo-call last week to remind me that I had an appointment at UCLA Med for Monday, October 31. I knew I did—it was my semi-annual thyroid check up. Yet somehow, between now and then, I dropped off the computer. They had no record of my appointment and the doctor was booked solid with other people. I’m glad I took a half vacation day to go to this appointment and that I made special arrangements for a friend to take my mom to dialysis so I didn’t have to reschedule and wait and additional 2-3 months for a new appointment. I’ll be seeing the doctor in mid-December. At least I got to go home for a couple of hours and put my sore knee up with a heating pad (crone!) before picking Mom up at dialysis.

3. Since we usually get home from dialysis between 7-7:30 p.m. (sometimes later), I knew that I would miss most of the cute little trick or treaters that I love giving out candy to. Plus, after a dialysis day, we’re usually trashed and I was so not in the mood this year. So I left the porch light out when I drove to pick up Mom. They had a Haunted House at Westchester Park, about a block from our house, right where Georgetown deadends. As I made the turn from Manchester to Georgetown, I saw hordes and hordes and hordes of older thugs pouring out of the Haunted House, and more parents driving onto our street and disgorging their vans and cars of screaming invaders. I knew we were in trouble. So Mom and I sneaked like felons into our house to avoid the hordes. Even so, as we were letting ourselves into our darkened front door some particularly ambitious candy extortionists followed us up the driveway. “We don’t have any candy here!” I yelled. “Sorry!” and quickly slammed the door. Later, as I was making dinner I was forced to turn on the kitchen light (though the porch light was still out) and as soon as I did kids streamed to our front door yelling, “Trick or treat!” I quickly turned the light out, ignored them, and they departed. Thankfully, it was a school night and everyone had pretty much departed the neighborhood by 10 p.m. Or so I think. I fell asleep in my chair by 8:30. When I woke at 9 they were still traipsing about, and when I awoke again around 10 things had quieted considerably. So I went to bed.

4. This morning while I was showering I noticed the water lapping around my ankles. Sure enough, it was refusing to go down the drain. Simultaneous to this, my mother’s toilet refused to flush and threatened to o’er top its containment vessel. I thought fleetingly, “This must be the trick for refusing to give the treats.” Eventually they both drained, but it took close to a half hour and there was much gurgling and scary sewer sounds. You may remember that we had the entire sewer pipe replaced about a year ago? The plumber who came out today (a different plumber) said that pipe was just fine…but there was this other pipe underneath the house…He’s coming tomorrow morning to replace it. The good news is, we must be getting close to having all new plumbing for this old place. It’s gotten so absurd at this point I just have to laugh. What the hell else am I going to do?

5. Mom seems to be doing better and we have no new doctor’s appointments until Thursday the 10th. I’m hoping we continue in this undramatic fashion for awhile.

6. One more than five! I continue to poke at research for The Numberless Stars, and even did some creative thinking about the plot. There still remains little to no time for actual writing, but you can’t have everything. Some day, however, I may write the Great Crone Epic. I’m wondering if anyone in this youth-obsessed market will even want to read about kick-ass crones?

1. There has not been much to report except the same old same old so I haven’t reported.

2. I continue to poke at The Numberless Stars, my Old California fantasy. Not really writing. I’m poking online research, specifically about the El Camino Real and the Los Angeles River and stuff. I’m obsessed with learning as much as I can. Considering that the bulk of the novel has nothing to do with these things, it seems a bit excessive, BUT I maintain that knowing that stuff, whether I use it or not, enriches the story.

3. I’m the girl who once read three books and countless partials on Robert Clive’s India for what wound up being one paragraph in my novel, Blood Geek. BUT, I do think all that informed the character of Jeremy Jones, the hero, so it wasn’t a waste.

4. I did a trip count Monday on the miles I drive on Monday and Wednesday when I come to work, go home at lunch, pick up Mom, take her to dialysis, come back to work, finish my shift, go home to feed the cat, go to pick Mom up at dialysis and thence back home. 52.4 miles on these days. I knew it had to be significant because I really notice the difference in my gas tank. Thank the gods it’s only twice a week.

5. I really must stop waking up at 4 a.m. and not being able to get back to sleep. I’m usually a champion sleeper, but things have been screwy this week.

The current novel, The Numberless Stars, may be doomed in today’s market.  (The story of my life.)  I seem to be writing a female POV picaresque fantasy novel, and I don’t believe there’s any tolerance for that sort of thing in today’s instant gratification climate.

Of course, at this stage of the game the novel sucks (it’s a barely there first draft), so perhaps it isn’t a valid test of the viability of the picaresque, fantasy or otherwise.  It’s too twee, too infodumpy, too lacking in immediate and identifiable conflict.  Maybe the fault, dear Brutus, is not with the genre but with myself, my execution of said genre.  A story which wanders hither and yon and uses satire to point out a society’s flaws may indeed have some place in today’s world, but a wandering story which doesn’t engage the reader in some fashion early on is just a badly written novel.

Lord knows my first drafts take way too long to get to the point.  I spend enormous amounts of time getting the feel of the characters just so and have an unfortunate tendency to throw it all on the page.  My rewrites consist of paring down and refining, taking out gallons of character and tangential lard and boiling it down to make candles. And that’s for the novels that aren’t picaresque.  God save me if I actually write a novel where wandering around and having episodic adventures and living by one’s wit is built into the genre.

Because even if the conflict is there on the first page, it’s rather broad and cyclical:

  • Hortensia versus the Western Society of her time.
  • Hortensia versus her family.
  • Hortensia versus deity, leading to transformation.

Then cycling back to:

  • Hortensia versus her family, and finally,
  • Hortensia versus the Western Society of her time.

God help us all.