Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fake it 'til you make it.

Just a quick entry, because I'm tired, but I wanted to share.  Lookee what I got for the conference I'm going to this weekend:

My new business card!  Behold the prettiness.

(On a slightly unrelated note: I covered up the right portion of the card with my thumb, because I really don't want my address and phone number going out over the entire internet.  But now I can't stop staring at my thumb.  Is it really that ugly?  My nails are pretty ragged and bitten at the moment, and God knows it's been months since I had a manicure, but sheesh!  Also, why do I have those weird little divots in my nail?  I suspect the chronic nail biting and the freaky-ass nail texture are interrelated.)

So this might seem a bit odd, given my recent post whining about self-doubt, but it's all kind of related.  On the one hand, I wonder if I'm being arrogant, tooting my own horn when there isn't anything to toot about.  I used to hate people who would talk about their writing as if they were already on the New York Times bestseller list.  I, meanwhile, kept hidden in a corner somewhere, afraid people wouldn't take me seriously when I told them I wanted to be a writer.  (It was a legitimate fear: they often didn't.)  I was afraid people would tell me I wasn't good enough.

I'm still afraid, and I still worry that I look arrogant.  Maybe I do.  But I'm trying not to care.  After all, if I don't believe in myself, who will?  And even if I don't really have the confidence I want to have, I'll just fake it for awhile until I do.

Now...let's hope I can take that feigned confidence and use it to actually talk to people I might want to give my business card to at this conference.  But that, my friends, is a completely different story.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Revision Angst

It took me six months to write the first draft of my novel.

Now, three months into the revision process, I feel like I'm going nowhere.

I'm trying to go through the story in order, hoping it'll feel less overwhelming that way.  I'm on page 64...of 309.

Yeah.  So much for that.

There are some reasons for my slowness, besides just the general ickiness of the revision process for me.  Between traveling and Sex Week, February was kind of a wash for me.  And I just started a new job (at the beginning of last week, actually), which meant that for several weeks before that, my mornings--which I had normally been spending on writing stuff--had been spent doing fun stuff like getting those damn dental appointments out of the way.  (On a side note: getting crowns--not fun!)  My new job requires me to get in by 7:30.  The good news is that I'm usually out by 4:00.  The bad news is that I have to be awake, showered, dressed, and out the door by the time I was previously stumbling out of bed.  Daylight Savings Time also hit this week, which means that I was actually getting up two hours earlier than I was used to.  The rapid schedule change gave me an on-and-off headache that lasted up until yesterday.  As such, I spent most of my non-work hours last week...well, sleeping.  I haven't reoriented myself to write at night yet.

I know.  Excuses excuses.

But I need to try to look on the bright side.  The two complete read-throughs I've received so far have really helped me see where I need to go and what I need to do.  I think I have a good sense of the characters and the direction of the story now.  And the stuff I've revised and workshopped thus far has been getting really good feedback, so I think I'm going in the right direction.

Still, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed, knowing I'm only a fifth of the way into the book and that the scenes that are likely to be hardest to revise are yet in front of me.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to stop treating my fiction writing as a hobby and start treating it like a career.  After years of writing, reading, and, more recently, blog-stalking reading some of the online wisdom of my favorite authors, I realized that the only one keeping me from pursuing a writing career...was me.  I could make all the excuses in the world: I don't have time to write, I'm not good enough, it's not a "real" career, you'll never make money that way, etc.  A lot of it was fear talking.  Well, fear and all those sad people I've met in my life who don't believe in dreams.  (And unfortunately, there are a lot of them out there.  I'd say, in my ever-so-cynical realistic worldview, the vast majority of people don't believe in dreams by middle adulthood.  And many of them, despairing their own disillusionment, like nothing more than killing other people's dreams.)  But I decided to say, "Fuck it all!" and not be a quitter.  It may never happen for me.  But at least I won't wonder, "What if?"

That said, it's hard to channel the Pollyannish optimism I need when, three months into my revisions, I feel like I'm getting nowhere.  The worst of it is that I haven't even gotten to the hard part of the process!  Forget revision, which is a pain in the ass for me, but still very much within my own personal control.  Soon enough, I'll be sending this poor little novel that I've worked so hard on out into the world.  I'll be writing query letters and synopses and flooding the post office with self-addressed, stamped envelopes.  And I know what'll come after that: rejection.  I got plenty of them even when I was treating writing as more of a hobby than a career.  What I will likely get in the future will make the angst I felt then look like a day at Disney World in comparison.

I'm not being pessimistic.  I'm trying to be realistic, to brace myself for the inevitable.  Sure, I'd love to be one of those authors who gets multi-million dollar, multi-book deals on their first sales, but I'm a nobody from nowhere, and I don't have that kind of luck. 

You see, this can-do, fuck-it-all attitude of mine is a relatively new thing for me.  Most of my life, my attitude has been more like, "When the going gets tough, give up."  I'd like to think the new worldview is a sign of maturity and personal growth.  Of course, it also hasn't been tested much yet, and old habits die hard.

I believe I can do this.  It will take time.  It will also take patience and a thick skin--neither of which are personal strengths.

I believe I can do this.  But I have to keep going.  So tonight, having whined myself out, I'll go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up all refreshed, and go to work in the morning.  Then, when I come home, I'll put in a couple of hours of revising time before dinner.

I believe I can do this.  I just can't let my doubts get in the way anymore.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What type of book am I?


You Are Fantasy / Sci Fi

You have an amazing imagination, and in your mind, all things are possible.

You are open minded, and you find the future exciting. You crave novelty and progress.

Compared to most people, you are quirky and even a bit eccentric. You have some wacky ideas.

And while you may be a bit off the wall, there's no denying how insightful and creative you are.

Real blog post coming soon. Between starting a new job, and fighting off a headache this weekend, I've been a bit off.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why I like my cat better than most people

I am Annabel. Revel in my cuteness.
So, in the tradition of extraordinarily self-indulgent blog posts, I've decided to do a posting about something very near and dear to my heart: my cat, Annabel Lee.  (At the shelter, she was called Annabelle, but, being the morbid type that I am, I decided to name her after an Edgar Allan Poe poem about a dead girl.)
I adopted Annabel Lee from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on September 12, 2010.  She was, at the time of her adoption, approximately six years old, and she had been taken into the shelter as a stray.  She's very well socialized.  She doesn't scratch or bite or chew on odd things or fail to make it to the litterbox.  I suspect that she had an owner, and the owner, rather than taking her to a shelter, dumped her out.  This infuriates me.  It's not the first time I've heard of something like this happening.

My friends, family, and coworkers were shocked that I adopted a cat because, up until that point, I had been terrified of cats.  I was attacked by two cats a few years ago--not strays, but house pets.  For years after that, I couldn't stand to be in the same room as a cat.  But I wanted a pet, and a dog simply wouldn't work with my schedule.  Plus, I couldn't stand the idea of being ruled by fear.  (It's the same reason I often volunteer to rent cars and drive in strange cities, even though I'm terrified of driving.)  So adopting a cat it was, even though I practically broke out in a cold sweat at the shelter.  I had read Annabel's profile online, and I thought her gentle disposition would be a good match for me.  (And just as a side note, the shelter staff was extraordinarily understanding when I told them that I wanted a gentle, easygoing cat, and I explained my fears.  I honestly thought they'd look at me like I was nuts and kick me out.)

Who, me?
The shelter staff brought Annabel out, warning me that she was often shy at first.  She came up to me, rubbed against my hand, started purring, and attempted to nuzzle my face.  I was hooked.

To be fair, I still, if asked, wouldn't call myself a "cat" person--in no small part because that label annoys the hell out of me.  I think people try to use whether you're a "cat" person or a "dog" person to say something about your personality, and I enjoy nothing more than defying such easy catagorization.  Also, I don't think it's fair.  Cat person, dog person, bird person, not-an-animal person, whatever.  So long as you're not kicking puppies or drowing kittens (or dumping them out on the side of the road when you decide you don't want them anymore), it's all good.

But I also wouldn't call myself a cat person because I'm still not comfortable with other people's cats.  It's not the bone-shaking fear of a few years ago, but more like...a healthy, wary respect.  I stay out of their way, and they stay out of mine.  Cats are, from what I understand, territorial creatures.  As am I.  I love Annabel not because she's a cat, but because she's my cat.

Which kind of brings me to the subject of this entry: why I like Annabel better than most people.

I am deeply cynical about the human race.  As a former extrovert who became a jaded introvert at a very early age, I find myself constantly on guard around people.  Most people are inherently self-serving; I'm certainly no exception.  If you're lucky, you'll have a few people in your life who will have your back.  But in most cases, what you'll find is that people are "fair weather friends."  Sure, they're there when things are easy and fun, but when things get more difficult...not so much.  There's nothing wrong with that, really.  Some people you're just not as close to, and you drift apart.

I have very little use for fair weather friends.  It's one thing to not be as close to someone, it's another to feign closeness when it doesn't really exist.  It's why I don't consider myself "close" to many people.

Furthermore, people always have their own agendas.  I work in an office.  Office politics are brutal.  I've seen some things go down recently that just enrage me...moreso, because my actions were the catalyst of some of these things.  I love how people can be all nice to your face, and then turn around and stab you in the back.  Why bother?  I mean, if you're going to take someone down, at least be straight about it.

Annabel likes to expand her mind by reading books and
watching soap operas.
Which brings me back to Annabel.  There is a complete and utter lack of artifice there.  She's a cat; what would she need artifice for?  When she's happy, she purrs and nuzzles me.  When she's unhappy, she snaps at me.  (Though she's rarely unhappy; she's quite the contented cat.)  When she doesn't want to be petted but she's willing to indulge me, she makes this noise that is the cat equivalent to an "ungh" with an eye roll.  When she's hungry or wants attention, she meows.  When she's near me and doesn't feel I'm paying her sufficient attention, she'll nudge her head/paw/body in between me and my Kindle/my computer/my iPhone until I pet her.  There's a delicious amount of selfishness to her behavior.  She wants what she wants.  She shows me what she wants.  I give it to her, or I don't.  (If she's trying to get me to pet her while I'm doing work, for example, I may not satisfy her desire.)  She gets happier, or she jumps off the couch or bed and moves on to something else.

She doesn't pretend to be happy when she's not.  She doesn't act nice to my face and then say things behind my back.  She isn't conspiring to "get" me.  I feed her and give her clean litter.  She sleeps on my chest and purrs in my ear.  It's a very straightforward relationship.  I don't have to feel constantly on my guard, listening to all the things she doesn't say or reading between the lines.

She doesn't hold grudges.  When I was away for a few days at Christmas, I had a friend come to feed her rather than putting her in a kennel.  When I came home, my normally docile Annabel ran into my lap and started going crazy nuzzling and head-butting me.  You'd have thought I was gone a month!  For weeks afterwards, Annabel would follow me all around the apartment.  She'd meow plaintively outside the door when I went into the bathroom.  I had to keep pushing her off my lap when I needed to work.  A human would have been angry that I left.  Annabel was just happy that I came back.

There are very few humans in this world with whom I feel I can totally let down my guard.  It's the constant back-and-forth, the dance of conversation, of interaction.  But with Annabel...it is what it is.  She is a reasonably content house cat, and I am an oft-grumpy human who sometimes prefers to lock herself away in her apartment with her Kindle than interacting with the rest of the world.  We dig each other.  It works for us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

February: A Month in Review

February was...well, February was a crazy month.  I didn't post much, because I was crazy busy with Sex Week for a big chunk of it (which was awesome, by the way).  And then afterwards...well, afterwards, I pretty much just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for a month.  I swear, my sleep rhythms are still recovering.

I read 30 books in February.  How the hell did I manage to read 30 books in 28 days, you ask?  Three things: 1) I read really, really fast, 2) I don't watch much TV, and 3) I have a very limited social life.  The latter is by choice, I swear.  I have friends, and I have opportunities to go out.  But...well, I think the best way to describe myself is as an introvert who was born an extrovert.  I was the kid who would walk up to anyone and everyone and start a conversation.  The "don't talk to strangers" conversation must have been a nightmare for my parents.  Then I got into school and spent the next 10 or so years of my life being ostracized by my peers.  I moved around quite a bit growing up.  I went to three different middle schools, and then high school in yet another state.  Still, I was always the "weird" kid, and--after realizing that no amount of wishful thinking on my part was going to change it--I embraced it.  I eventually made some friends, and spent four years of high school in the same place, but my deep-seeded mistrust of humanity remains.  I can talk to people.  I'm told I come off as confident, outgoing, and assertive.  But when I get off of work at the end of the day, I'd often much rather curl up with my Kindle than deal with other people.  And I've been feeling particularly reclusive this month.

That said, February hasn't been a bad month for me.  I got hired for a new job, which I am greatly looking forward to.  It'll move me into a different field--training--and allow me more opportunities for traveling.  I start on March 14, and I've got a crapload of stuff to do before then.  Since I'll be working with people more, I think I need to go out and buy grown-up clothes.  Since I'll be standing up in front of a class all day, I think I'll need to buy some sensible shoes.  (All my dress shoes have heels, and I cannot stand in those things for extended periods of time.  I know.  I've tried.)  I know I have some grown-up clothes somewhere (a few, at least), so I need to clean out my closet to see what I have and what I should throw away.  Within the next week, I'm heading for the dentist and the veterinarian--though not at the same time, and not for the same reason.  I need to get a haircut.  And dammit, tomorrow I'm going to eat ice cream...and see a movie!

Anyway...I digress.  This blog is, primarily, about writing and reading.  And as you can tell, it's been a busy month.

Book series that I just discovered (and wondered why I was so late to the party): The Downside Ghosts series by Stacia Kane.  Oh my God.  These books are friggin awesome.  I've heard the description "dark urban fantasy" used before, and I didn't know what it meant exactly...until I read these books.  Urban fantasy is not a light genre anyway, but these books make many of the other urban fantasies I've read look like children's cartoons in comparison.  The heroine, Chess, is a drug addict trying to escape the demons of her past (namely being abused and molested by her foster families).  The male lead, Terrible, is an enforcer for the drug dealer/pimp/mob boss who raised him.  Their world is an unnerving, dystopic combination of Puritan New England and Poltergeist: 20-odd years earlier, ghosts invaded the world, angry and hungry and wanting nothing more than to feed on human life force.  An athiestic church emerged and forced the ghosts into an underground city.  Now, everyone knows the city is where you go when you die.  There's no God, but there is an eternity of hunger trapped in an underground city.  Most people think it sounds wonderful.  Chess thinks it sounds like hell.  I'm inclined to agree.  All other religions have become obsolete, and there is only the Church.  If you don't agree with them, don't follow their rules...well, let's just say they've resurrected stockades and public executions.  Chess works as a debunker for the Church, investigating ghosts sightings and (hopefully) proving them false.  (The Church doesn't much like real hauntings, since they have to pay the victims mucho dinero for failing to protect them from the ghosts.)  The Church is the only place where she's felt accepted, yet she hides herself, knowing if her drug addiction is revealed, she'll be punished and exiled.

See?  Bleak.

I was worried I wouldn't like the protagonist when I heard that she was a drug addict.  Yet I found myself rooting for her more and more.  Yes, Chess is an addict.  She's often preoccupied with getting her next fix, and this addiction is often used against her by others (as blackmail fodder, mostly).  She also lies constantly, usually to cover her own ass and hide said addiction.  But there are reasons she's so incredibly fucked up.  And she genuinely tries to do the right thing, even if she screws up as often as she succeeds.  In spite of everything, she really does want to help people.  What I loved about Chess and Terrible is that they're fighters.  In spite of everything that's happened to them, in spite of the craptastic world around them, they fight--for themselves, each other, and for the world.  They are beaten but not broken, and I love that about them. 

These books were awesome, and I can't wait until book 4 (which, sadly, I think is not being released until September, and I can't even find comfirmation of that).  They are dark, and they definitely fall into that "morally ambiguous" area some people hate.  But if that works for you, read them now!

Old friends who came to visit: Jeaniene Frost's This Side of the Grave came out this month.  The Night Huntress (Cat/Bones) series was one of the first urban fantasies I read, and I was instantly hooked.  Five books into the series, the dynamic between Cat and Bones feels a bit different than it did in Halfway to the Grave, as well it should: it's been seven years since they met, and Cat has matured a lot.  One of the things I love about these books is that she didn't stop the story at their "happily ever after."  Instead, Frost portrays a couple in a committed, long-term relationship--one that still has ups and downs.  Things are a bit more stable for them than they were in the last book, Destined for an Early Grave.  They're an "old married couple" now.  Yet they're still hot.  They still have the kind of sex that makes me both titillated and jealous.  (Kelley Armstrong also does a fantastic job with this in her Women of the Otherworld series, especially with Elena and Clay.)

The action is not as intense here as it has been in some of the previous installments, but it was also the most emotional of the series for me in a lot of ways.  It felt like a transitional book.  In the last book, Cat finally decided to leave her half-human status behind for good and convert into a vampire; in this book, she's still struggling to adjust to her newfound abilities and lifestyle.  But in a symbolic way, it felt like this book was where Cat said goodbye to her human life, and the things that tied her to it, for good.

But it was also, oddly enough, probably the funniest of the series.  The side characters, especially, had me in stitches.  Vlad was awesome, and now that I've heard Frost is going to do a spinoff starring him, I can't wait.  Meanwhile, another old favorite who I've been wondering about made an appearance: Timmie, Cat's college neighbor and friend.  (And thank goodness, too!  I've been waiting for him to show up again for four books now!)

So while I'm a little sad to say goodbye to half-human Cat, not-quite-dead vampire Cat seems like she'll have some interesting adventures in the future.  And Bones is...Bones.  I love him.  I love the series.  And I'll be anxiously awaiting book 6.

And now, it's March.  The winter is almost over, spring is creeping in, and I couldn't be happier.