Fog Brain

shutterstock_1213716793So, here we are, at the end of May, and I’m feeling alternately super-productive and completely useless.  The past week or so (I honestly can hardly even tell,) I’ve been lucky to hit even my smallest minimum daily word count goal.  I usually aim for at least a thousand words a day, which for me is the low end of achievable.  It assumes I can get some peace and quiet and more than 2 minutes to string together without being pestered.

But my absolute rock-bottom minimum is 500 words., because that’s enough for me to get a whole thought down, story-wise, and it feels like I’m making more progress than pecking at a project word-by-word.  (Also, in the interests of complete honesty, 4thewords has a minimum of just over 400 words to count as a day in my writing streak, so…  What?  I’ve got quests to clear out of my log!)

But lately…  I’m skipping days.  I’m opening up my files to do my edits and… then I’m sitting on the sofa and opening my book of the day, reading the same sentence over and over and yelling at my kid for making too damn much noise.  I can’t keep my focus, and going back over things I’ve already written?  Forget it.  I get five words in and my brain checks out.  It’s infuriating.  In part because I want to work– it makes me feel like a contributing member of society.  And partly because if I could just get through these damned chapters, I could get this book out and published!

It’s not even the writing part that’s suffering.  I am my own marketing team and business admin, and I have pretty much ignored both of those parts of being an indie author for the last two weeks, and it’s kind of showing.  I have got to sit my butt down and do some boring business shit or I’m going to be in a world of pain come next year at tax time. Even thoughts of the IRS on the warpath aren’t enough to get me moving, though.

So, when I woke up this morning, I was shocked to feel like I could sit down and get some things done!  I worked through my Duolingo like a good girl, I made some coffee, I posted to Instagram, I updated some of my spreadsheets… and I hit my 1K word count easily.

I’m not counting on this trend continuing, but maybe I can get almost caught up today?  We’ll see.  My son just woke up, so I’m not holding my breath.

The Blur

Greetings, from deep in The Blur.

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What’s that, you ask?  Surely you know it.  Hell, I’d be willing to bet many of us are experiencing it right now.  The Blur is a concept I was already familiar with when it was named for me on a parenting blog or something a decade ago.  I was still expecting the birth of my son, and was consuming information like a teenager consumes all the food in the fridge, and I came across the phrase.  The writer then was talking about those first few weeks of parenthood when a newborn is successfully destroying their parents’ brain cells through lack of sleep among other things.

The Blur is when days blend together in a long string of “what day is it?” and  “were we supposed to do something?” It’s where you can sit down and make a list of things you need to do or plan out your day, and yet, somehow, three days later you find your list in the fridge, under a sticky mess that might have been a cookie on a plate at some point.  It’s where you turn to your son who just asked ‘what day is it?’ and tell them that it’s the same day as yesterday, why is he asking?  My husband and son are both home all day, every day.  We have no plans to go anywhere, and no work or school to attend, making no day distinct from another.

calendar-date-time-month-week-planning-paper-1The Blur isn’t so much a psychological thing, though it can definitely affect a person’s sanity.  It’s more of a constant state of sameness that causes everything to just sort of… blend together.  Mornings and evenings are not noticeably different from each other, only differing in drink choice.  I have tried to impose some sort of routine upon The Blur, establish some kind of order to help us through the days, but The Blur is powerful.  It seeps into your very bones.

The upside to The Blur, for me, is that at least I’m writing.  Writing is part of my morning, like coffee, and being annoyed at my son’s energetic cheerfulness.  The downside is that almost nothing else getting done.  I am forgetting to post to Instagram where I used to enjoy it as the end of my morning routine.  I’m not managing to get a meal plan together on the weekend, because when the hell is the weekend?  But that also means grocery lists are sketchy at best.  And my publishing schedule?  What schedule?  I didn’t even make an entry for April in my bullet journal.  Mostly because I forgot that April was happening until my birthday mid-month.

So.  If you, too, are deep in The Blur, I feel your pain.  We will get through this, somehow.  Schools will eventually reopen.  Offices and shops will throw wide their doors.  Friends will once again meet up and make plans.  Someday.  But, until then?  I’ll put a light on in my window, so you have some way to tell the street from the sidewalk.  Also: Today is Tuesday.

Well, it is here in Japan anyway, your timezone may vary.

routines in the time of COVID

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Well, here we are again.  It’s April and it’s been weeks since I posted.  I feel almost like I’m failing you all, and yet… Honestly this blog is sort of at the bottom of my priorities list.  It’s actually below washing the dishes, so you know I mean that, too.

We don’t have a dishwasher here in Tokyo.  It’s all hand-washing.  Ugh.

ANYway.  I am going to try to do a little better.  No, I am!  Because I have got to get some routines back into place in this apartment or I’m going to go stark raving.  See, that’s one of the biggest things that really is getting me about this whole COVID-19 thing.  We’re all fortunately healthy here at the House of Kim, and our extended families are well, too, from the news trickling to us over the phone and video calls.  And honestly, one of my resolutions was to leave the house more than once a week, so having an excellent excuse to not do that is kind of wonderful.  But…

Oh come on, you know perfectly well that there’s always a ‘but’…

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Photo credit: Fairy Heart ♥ on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

With my husband and my kid home all day every day, and everyone has different goals, and everything sort of up in the air, it’s a major source of stress.  I can’t plan for anything! (is school going to start?  Is it going to start again on May 6 like they said?  What about restaurants, are they CLOSED-closed or just delivery-only, or what?  What about the Olympics?  Can they even cancel them? Apparently, they can, but now what about all the schedules? I need answers, people!)

So I managed, somehow, to cobble together a daily routine that was working for me.  I got up early to get some alone time for my introverted self and got my writing done then.  And I managed to get some meditation in, and some coffee, and was braced for my super energetic kid and my not-at-all a morning person husband by the time they got up.

Then, I sploshed a little coffee onto my laptop and my whole, carefully constructed COVID-19 coping time was destroyed like the Big Bad Wolf came and blew down the straw house it was built in.  My poor keyboard still isn’t back to really normal.  My arrow key seems to think it’s the ‘play’ button for iTunes and the tilde doesn’t even register.  Don’t as me why the tilde- all the way across the keyboard from where the coffee splooshed- is malfunctioning.  I couldn’t begin to tell you.  To irritate me and prevent me from making winky-faces in my chat messages, maybe?

So, I’ve been reading way too many books, both good and bad.  I haven’t meditated much for two weeks, and it’s weirdly starting to show in severely decreased word counts.  I can’t face my outlines or my revisions.  I’m irritable and grumpy and not even chocolate chip cookies have helped.

So, even though it is Saturday as I write this, I’m up.  It’s early-ish, and I’m tempted to go for a walk right now.  Tokyo is an early-rising city, I’ve found, at least my corner of it is, and even with the state of emergency and the new, odd hours and rules, there are still places to buy a cup of coffee and replace my small purse notebook.

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Combini: saving society since their creation.

Maybe I should add that to my morning routine.  A walk to the combini.  I mean, at the rate my kid drinks it, I can almost guarantee we’re out of milk anyway.  A morning milk run seems like it’s just what the writer ordered.

homework

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I was never this tidy when doing homework.  I’m, um, still not this tidy when working…

There’s this thing in indie publishing circles that’s kind of a hot subject, and that is writing to market.  The idea, basically, is to write what readers want to read.  Sounds pretty simple, if you’re an author that wants to buy groceries and pay rent and whatnot.  I mean, it makes sense, right?

Well, it gets a little bit more complicated than that once you start getting deeper into it, and some people start arguing that writing to market is gross commercialism and selling out and all that. And then there are other folks who are pointing at popular authors saying ‘see?  It works! Give people what they want to read!’ and it all often devolves from there, as things are wont to do on the internet.

And then there are those of us that don’t really want to go hardcore either way– I love my readers and want anyone who reads my work to enjoy it, but I started publishing because I couldn’t find quite what I wanted to read.  So… what that means really, is that I want to know what the common themes and tropes are in my genre so I can know which ones are what I’m looking for in a story and which ones make me insane. And that’s kind of the problem.

You might have noticed that I kinda like to read?  >_>

It’s partly because I like finding a good, fun, stress-free place in the world.  (Hint: the news isn’t it.) So, when I read, if it’s a good book, my active mind turns off.  So I’m enjoying the story, not analyzing it like I’m in ninth grade English.

Nothing ruins the fun of a good book quite like high school English classes.

If I have to keep my brain active enough to think ‘this is a plot point,  I should take note of that, and be aware of what the characters are doing and thinking’ then I am kicked fully out of the story.  I might as well be reading the driver’s ed manual, or Hamlet for the five hundredth time (oh, the perils of a theatre degree.) Either way, I’m no longer enjoying a good urban fantasy adventure.

How is that a fun thing to do to a book?

The obvious option is to read it through once for fun, and then if I enjoy it enough, go back through it and find the tropes and beats and analyze the structure.  But… (you know there was a ‘but’) that feels an awful lot like homework again.

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What I did last weekend.  I regret nothing.

I just finished Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews, for example, and it was amazing.  I stayed up way too late over the weekend to finish it and it was worth every sleepy minute I struggled through the next day.  If you haven’t read this, you probably should.

Since I finished it, though, I’ve been playing with the idea of going through it again and taking notes on the major tropes and plot points, and… I can’t bring myself to pick it up again to do that.  Because that would suck all the magic out of it for me.

And sucking the magic out of a story seems like the worst sin of all.

Limit break

gnome-garden-decoration-dwarf-littleI know I’ve mentioned my anxiety here, and you are all likewise aware that I am an introvert.  These things combine fairly often to become more than a little toxic and have ended up with me not leaving my apartment more than once a week at most.  I can easily go for several weeks without leaving our small home.  Frankly, my circumstances make it easy.

My husband is very outgoing and gets a bit twitchy if he doesn’t get out into the crowds often.  He’ll frequently just head out to the combini for a drink or over to the station to grab a cheap bento just to get out among other people, but me?  I’m thrilled to get some peace and quiet at home, and I’ll often suggest he take our son with him, just for a short wander so I can get some serious alone time.

But this isn’t healthy in the long run.  Humans are, after all, social animals.  Not to mention the fact that if I want to write about people I need to be around people to know what I’m talking about.  But… I live in Tokyo, and my Japanese is, um, not great.  Language learning doesn’t come easily to me, and even after so long here, I’m not very good at the language which makes me both embarrassed at my lack of skill and frustrated at my inability to communicate.

Which keeps me inside.

Which I am fully aware is unhealthy.

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While the Lawson’s is nearest (and our favorite,) there is both a Family Mart and a 7-11 close by.  

So!  I have decided that I’m going to Do Something About It.  It’s not a resolution or anything like that, it’s more of a goal.  We have trash day on Monday and Thursday, and the recycling goes out on Tuesdays.  So.  Every time I take out the trash or the recycling, I am going to take a short walk.  Even if it’s just around the block, it will be outside in public, where other human beings can see me.  I might even stop in at my local Lawsons, where they actually do recognize us (and they adore my son who managed to charm them early on.). That will be both leaving the apartment AND interacting with people!  Primarily in Japanese, even!  I’m hoping to work up to heading off to a coffee place and getting a breakfast set without my husband doing all the ordering for me.  I know, lofty goals, right?

Honestly, it’s terrifying to me, and it’s well past my comfortable limits.  Which seems stupid.  It’s a convenience store and they know me, so why am I stressed out?  Who knows?  The human mind is a weird place and I sure don’t understand how it works.  I just know myself and I know that if I don’t actually face this small thing, I really will end up becoming a hikkikomori, and I think that’s honestly more frightening.

Crowded

I woke up this morning and my brain was full of people.  Not even all my own people, which would make sense since I’m in the middle of writing a theft and a murder.  No, mostly my mind is filled with other people’s people, and it’s feeling a bit crowded.

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There’s the character from a book I read a while back who I really liked but disappointed me badly.  He was a young man who for several reasons had nothing much to do besides hang out and train at his local dojo, and thus grew up to be a very skilled martial artist.  His story in the book was one of trying to find a real place for himself, a path besides just hanging out and now teaching classes in his master’s school.  By the end of the book, while he does find a path that fits nicely with both his skills and his lack of patience with bullies, he winds up meekly following along with whatever his partner decides, flat out saying ‘he tells me what to do and I do it.’  For a character that started out fiery and passionate, it was a serious letdown, and it’s bothering me like it was a close friend in a bad relationship.

Then there are the characters who are abrasive and awful.  I read a book recently that I really, thoroughly enjoyed, and went on to grab another of the author’s books set in the same universe.  Within three pages, however, the main character showed off her violent anger problem and her complete refusal to take responsibility for said issues.  Then over the next chapter or so, it was made clear that her family was aiding and abetting with the excuses. “You’ll find a job that won’t fire you, I’m sure!” and “Just keep trying, someone will see you for the gem you are!” are not appropriate responses to “I got fired again for assaulting a customer.  Again.”  And it’s definitely not a trait that should be rewarded with jobs, adventures, and powerful friends.

And then, of course, lurking in the corners are my own characters.  The clever one that I can’t seem to write out of a hole.  The persistent one who is feeling like giving up.  The annoying, bubbly one who is sliding into seriousness and, well, not despair.  That’s a bit melodramatic, but definitely a melancholic mood..

Sigh.  It’s frustrating that the only people in my head lately are the ones that frustrate, irritate, or disappoint me.  I suppose it’s human nature— the bad sticks so much more easily than the good, after all.  So I’m going to go back and sit down with a few books full of characters I know I like (I strongly recommend The Wood Wife by Terri Windling) and hang out with a cup of coffee and some old friends.

What’s your favorite character?  Who should I meet?

Politicing

In the last post, I wrote that was an actual post, I mentioned how much I hate finding politics in my fiction. I bet that a fair number of you wondered where I was finding all this political fantasy, and who was writing about wizards and werewolves running for office. (Side note, I have actually read a book about a werewolf running for sheriff.)hand-puppet-snowman-political

But that’s not the kind of politics I mean.  I’m not especially fond of election process badgering, what with having grown up so near Washington D.C., but that’s not what I meant.  I’ve been trying to explain for so long that I had to resort to looking up the definition

politics[pol-i-tiks]

4. political methods or maneuvers:

6.use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university,etc.

Dictionary.com

So when I talk about ‘politics’ in a story I’m really talking about a character trapped by arbitrary rules and traditions that are in place only to prolong the plot.  The characters in these stories ruled by political machinations usually refuse to consider an outside-the-box solution.  “The elders have forbidden us from drinking well water, so I’ll sit here next to the well and die of thirst!  Alas!” “I am a mere apprentice and so touching the Master’s crystal ball means death by law, even though the only way to save the city is to shift it one inch to the left!”

These stories are usually pretty easy to pick out, though.  They often start with a lengthy explanation of how the world society is set up specifically keep the main characters down in one way or another.  Three pages about how the rulers of the magical kingdom wrote the laws to keep apprentices firmly away from any real tools of power because of one guy who did a thing two thousand years ago or some such thing.

I’m sorry.  I simply don’t have the patience for that nonsense.  It’s entirely possible to write a story where the heroes must fight tradition or The Man— frankly just about any lovable rogue is doing exactly that and I do love me a lovable rogue— but when the whole world is crafted around laws and traditions, that’s going to a place I just don’t want to follow.  It grates too hard on what remains of my faith in humanity.

A bit of a note: on Wednesday, April 17, the Spirits of Los Gatos box set–the first three complete books– goes on sale for $0.99.  Go pick it up while it’s on sale!

It’s good to be bad, sometimes

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There is a long history behind humanity’s love of criminals.  Sure, there’s plenty of ruthless villains out there to loathe and fear, and rightly so.  Criminals in the real world are not who most folks want to associate with.  But there’s always that romantic idea of but what if… in the back of our mind.  What if he’s really a Robin Hood?  Or a Dexter?  Pirates were many things, many of them very contradictory, but they were still violent murderers and thieves with nary a Jack Sparrow among them.  And then there’s the Sopranos and The Godfather.  Nobody can argue that those stories weren’t entirely about criminals being celebrated, whether or not you think they were acting heroically

I think— and feel free to disagree, it’s totally my own thoughts on the subject— but at least a large part of it is the idea that justice and the law are often wildly different things.  How many times have we heard on the news about some horrible criminal getting away with theft or rape or murder because of some legal technicality?  Now, I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where anyone can just go after someone else for any perceived slight, but boy is it appealing to think that there’s some golden-hearted assassin or cat burglar out there willing to take out the worst trash humanity has to offer, laws be damned.  Batman is a fine example.  Or better yet, Deadpool.

But as for fiction?  My mind springs right to Arsène Lupin and Danny Ocean.  You may have heard of the former as the grandfather of Lupin the Third, but the Maurice Leblanc stories are worth a read.  And, honestly, if you haven’t seen the Ocean’s Eleven remake for an entirely charming take on Danny Ocean and his merry band, where have you been?  The appeal there is the wit and the caper, and the hook is that the criminals often end up having far stricter moral code than the police that chase them, and are often out to right some sort of wrong, or at the very least balance the scales.

And then there are the real-life heroes who broke laws that were entirely unjust and were labeled criminals in their own time.  Rosa Parks springs immediately to mind as an example.  Nelson Mandela, as well.   They broke the law, and the world has been made better for it.

Personally, I’ve been really entertained recently by the adventures of a wildly successful international assassin.  He quickly and brutally murders his way through some of humanity’s worst while trying, with various degrees of success, to retire to a nice house in the country.

It’s nice to imagine someone’s watching over us, even if they are ruthless, hardened criminals.  Who’s your favorite not-so-good-guy?

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Finish one thing

I’m trapped.  It’s terrible.  And it’s not fair to anyone, least of all you.

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Photo credit: theilr on Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

See, I’ve got about a million ideas swirling in my brain right now.  Characters, plots, snatches of dialogue or scraps of a scene that doesn’t have enough story behind it to function properly…  All this amazing writing is clogging my brain and scrabbling to get out my fingers into the safety of Scrivener.

But I’ve got to finish editing Spiritkind first.   And I’m honestly not in California anymore, in my mind.  I’m in Virginia, and North Carolina, and Ohio for a hot second.  And the California where the Spirits of Los Gatos live isn’t even n the same dimension as those other places.

And oh man, you guys.  I’m so excited to be working on those stories.  I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers and I have so many ideas! And I’m kind of falling in love with Caroline and Darien and the gang.  I even met a few folks I didn’t expect to, and they’re not too bad either, even though I’m not sure about them yet, really.  And hoo boy has Greg been telling me stuff that I had no idea about.  AND it turns out that Caroline has a cousin that gets into his own mischief, further up in New England.  My imaginary friends have gotten really chatty and they have such wonderful adventures!

But… I have to finish up with Sarah and Kai and the folks in Los Gatos.  It’s only fair to them what with one thing and another, and I’ve had emails from you lovely readers who want to know more about what’s up with them, and that’s what I need to be working on.  So I’m revising and editing and doing my homework, I promise.

But just you guys wait.  It’s going to be an interesting year.

Cooling off period

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Photo credit: @lattefarsan on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

I have a rant to post, but it’s… a little ranty, and a wise person once said to me never to post something online when I’m mad or drunk.  So…  Let me get back to y’all.  Maybe tomorrow if I can think a little more rationally.

 

Being a reader is tough when you get blindingly angry at your imaginary friends.  Anyone else have this problem?