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Dec 29, 2008

Frustration

I hate it. I'm going along in my novel, writing one, two even three chapters a day. A nice, satisfying pace. The story is unfolding before me like a well paved road.

Then -- bwam! -- no more road.

It may be sudden, like hitting a rock, or gradual, as the pavement just peters out. Either way, the path ahead is no longer clear. I stop writing. I sit there, staring at my keyboard, at my notes, at my reflection in the mirror while I brush my teeth, wondering what to do. Have I hit a dead-end, a cliff to oblivion, leaving me no choice but to turn my story around, go back to the last fork in the road, take another route entirely? Do I have to re-write a chapter, a whole section, the entire book thus far?

Or should I just keep plowing ahead, in the hope that though a bit of snow and gravel obscures the road, if I can just muscle past the landslide, the road will pick up and keep me going to the end?

I wrote all of Part I and most of Part II in my new book, before the road petered out. Now I'm flummoxed. Is the manuscript working? Or do I need to re-write the story from the start? Have I introduced too many characters, too much history at the start? Maybe I need to start smaller, slower. Or then again, maybe I need to pick up the pace, press the story forward, not dwell on so much detail. I don't know!

I've put the first section draft as it is up on the OWW for critiques, and I've received some. But the readers can't really tell me if I need to start the story over. They don't know where it's going, so how can they tell me if it's taking the right road?

Dec 15, 2008

Depression

I've been feeling rather depressed lately. No doubt the cold and dark play a big part. I wish I could spent this half of the year in Australia.

Dec 14, 2008

Section One Finished

I completed Section One of current WiP. It's about 18,500 words, which is right on target.

Dec 12, 2008

A Diet for a Novel

I've been editing my NaNo "novel", which mostly consists of trimming
and tightening. I put novel in scare quotes because it's really on the
first section of the novel.

A lot of cellulite is landing on the cutting room floor. (If only it
were as easy to shed pounds as to shed excess novel weight!) My hard-
won 50,000 words is now down to about 16,500. (This is because for
NaNo, when I re-wrote a chapter over with different scenes, I just
included all of the versions in my word count, but now I am discarding
the lame early mis-starts.)

There are also a few scenes that need filling out. (In my NaNo
original, I just wrote "Insert some sort of cool kung-fu fight here.")
I expect the whole section to be about 18,000 words when finished.
This is good, because it's just the first 1/5 of the book. If each
section is about 18,000 words, the final book will be about 90,000
words. I hope that's not too long for YA novel, if indeed this book
*is* a YA novel.

Dec 3, 2008

Pride

An Anonymous commenter offered a suggestion on the fraternities issue. Why not look at the names of animal groups? Pack, flock, herd.... What a terrific idea! I wanted a word that suggested strength and dignity -- who would willingly call themselves a flock, implying they were all a bunch of sheep? Pack is too werewolfy, so that was out, but something predator-related.

I decided to try out "pride": they view themselves as warriors, "lions" of the human world.

Thanks, Anonymous.

Dec 2, 2008

NaNoWriMo Winner

Cheating paid off. I hacked out a rough draft just over 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo. Of course, it's awful, and only the first part of the story, but I'm pretty happy. This is actually the first time I've won NaNo, though not the first time I've written 50,000 words in two weeks. Both of my romance books were written in about two weeks.

Now that I have the draft, I can see a lot room for improvement. I'm not sure it even begins in the right place.

Nov 24, 2008

Fraternities

I posed my "two many brothers" question (ha ha) on the Writing Workshop chat list and received some feedback. Of those who piped up, the general consensus seemed to be that, yeah, two pairs of half-brothers IS one pair too many and I should drop the more minor pair of characters, or steal their plot arc and use if for the hero.

Good advice, although it won't work in this case.

Anyway, I brainstormed some more and came up with new ideas.

My character is back to being an only child. But, he is a member of a fraternity. Is there a word for fraternity which includes both boys and girls?

The Thesaurus just gives me: "Brotherhood" (obviously no improvement) and "affiliation, camaraderie, club, confederation, congress, federation, fellowship, frat, guild, house, kinship, order, sisterhood, society, sorority."

I don't want to use "secret society" because I use that in Dindi a thousand times. I want a word with more meat to it than "camaraderie", less Lord of the Rings than "fellowship", more class than "gang", more youth than "order" and more substance than "affiliation." "Kinship" makes no sense. "House" is weak, although perhaps it is used in English for what I have in mind. Guild isn't quite right but I'm leaning toward it by process of elimination right now.

"Sodality" is cool, Maybe a tad too exotic?

Nov 22, 2008

Brothers

November is never a good novel writing month for me, and having a baby hasn't made things any easier. Nonetheless, this year, as in other years, I am driven by an absurd desire to enter NaNoWriMo. Needless to say, when one enters ten days before the end of the month, and can't even commit those ten days to full writing, the chances of winning (writing 50,000 words of a new novel) is drastically reduced.

This year I decided to cheat. Instead of a new novel, I resolved to take the time to do a rewrite of an old one. Now, when I say re-write, I mean every single word is changed, almost every single scene is changed and just about the entire plot is changed. So in essence, it IS a new novel. One might then ask, in what sense, ISN'T it a new novel? Actually, there are two critical areas where I don't need to start from scratch -- the characters and the worldbuilding. I spent years of my youth lovingly crafting the layered histories of this world. My characters have spent years in therapy, being analyzed from every angle. That's great, because I don't have the time for such detailed crafting these days.

I am contemplating one major change in relationship between two of the characters. Originally, they were unrelated, and I'm thinking of making them half-brothers. This way they can have the whole sibling-rivalry thing going in addition to their other rivalry.

The only problem is that I already have a pair of sibling-rivalry-obsessed half-brothers, two minor characters. I love the story arc with those two, so I'm not going to remove it. It was the fact that their story arc was eclipsing in interest the more major story arc of the hero that alerted me I needed a stronger emotional pull for the hero.

But will that make for too much redundancy? Two sets of rival half-brothers -- is that overkill? Can I use one set to contrast and highlight the problems with the other set?

***

I made one other major change to the book.

It's more a change in how I think about it than a real change. Namely, I've decided I might try to sell it (both to agents and to editors) as Young Adult. Young Adult is still hot as hell right now, and the success of Twilight is likely to boost editorial enthusiasm for it in the near future. One shouldn't slavishly follow the market, but I'm not in real danger of that. The topic of my book is quite unlike vampire-teen-noir or Harry Potter wizard-schooling or children-find-a-portal-to-a-magic-world. (All of which I've heard agents complain they have too many wanna-be knock-offs piling their desks). In fact, it may be too untrendy to interest either readers or agents. Then again, maybe I could start a new trend. It would make a great video game...

I've also contemplated doing to this book what I did to Dindi, cutting the original manuscript into pieces and flushing out the pieces into shorter books. (The original manuscript was 180 words, and even allowing for the gross over-writing of a high-school author, that's unlikely to be thinned just by line-editing alone.)

I have to work on the age of the protagonists. It would be nice if they were more or less young adults themselves for most of the series, but in this extended/dismembered version of the story, I have them start out the first book as eight and ten, for about twelve chapters. Too young, too long? Or do they then grow up too fast if I skip them to sixteen and eighteen by the next twelve chapters?

Mainly, I still need a story arc to replace the weak one surrounding the hero. I'm hoping if something comes to me, that everything will fall into place.

I did just get an idea for the end of the first book.

Nov 16, 2008

Body Shifting

My father is visiting this weekend. The female personalities are at the fore again, and they are pursuing their long-held dream of gender reassignment. It hurts the feelings of the ladies that I can't whole-heartedly endorse their goal. For people who don't know, or don't believe, in DID, it's easy for them to congratulate my dad on pursuing this. My husband, for instance, thought it seemed fine, and didn't really understand why I objected. Sorry. As cool and PC as it would be to have a transgender GP ("Genetic Parent"), I have my doubts about the wisdom or fairness of someone with DID getting permanent gender reassignment surgery.

The fairness issue really bothers me, in particular. If multiple personalities aren't in any real sense "different" personalities, then all that is at issue is self-delusion. But if a multiple really does create the equivalent of unique sentient selves, who happen to share a single body, then, for one or a handful of the personalities to gang up against the others and impose a decision they don't all agree to, is no different than any other form of bullying. Either way, we're not talking about a viable long-term solution.

As a science fiction author, I can think of much better solutions. In my Xenophile series, people use cellular-regrowth technology to disassemble their bodies and rebuild them cell by cell, leaving only their brains untouched. They use this to take on alien forms and infiltrate alien societies. I hypothesize that only certain humans have flexible enough minds to deal with this transformation, and most people don't do it. But ordinary people also use a more modest version of the tech for cosmetic changes to their bodies -- sculpting the look they want, rejuvenation, costumes for fancy parties, and gender switching.

If we really had such tech, it is obvious how someone with DID would use it. The inner vision of how the different personalities could become the external reality of the physical body. This might seem to expose to the world that the individual was a multiple, but, in fact, in such a society, singletons would also switch bodies frequently enough that I doubt one would be able to assume DID just because one had a number of "looks." It would be like the internet, where hardly anyone can resist the temptation to create multiple anonymous and pseudonymous identities.

Anyway, that way the girls could have the body they want and the boys could have the body they want. Everyone would be happy.

Well, probably not happy. Because the same brain would be present, no matter what the shape or gender of the body, and I believe the brain is the source of more problems than the body.

That's another matter.

Nov 8, 2008

Natural Vs. Medicated Birth

Yesterday, on Nov. 7, 2008, I delivered my second son.

My first birth was completely "natural", by which I mean drug free. This post has nothing to do with writing, except to admit that one of the reasons -- perhaps a more unusual reason for wanting a natural birth -- was because, as a writer, I wanted to know how most women, throughout history, would have experienced childbirth. How else could I write about it?

This time I wanted to experience how women in the future would experience childbirth -- perhaps point-to-point transport from womb to incubator? Alas, I couldn't find a hospital offering such services.

In any event, this time I agreed to be induced. (Last time I went a week past my due date, to my doctor's annoyance, waiting for labor to begin on its own). Induction is usually done by administering Pitocin, a drug that simulates the body's natural trigger for labor. I'd researched Pitocin and other birth medications during my first pregnancy. One of the things I read about it was that it created much stronger contractions than the natural chemical, and so usually women who took Pitocin ended up also getting an epidural as well. There are various scary complications which can be involved with epidurals.

During my first childbirth, determined not to get an epidural, I instead used meditation and breathing techniques to deal with the contractions. Originally, my husband and I planned to take Bradley classes. Too lazy, we failed to sign up until the last minute. By then it was too late to take the whole slew of recommended sessions, so instead we paid for a one-on-one session with a Bradley duala. She gave us some techniques, and mostly advised us on good-to-know things like when to go into the hospital (not too soon, with a first birth).

That wouldn't have been enough in terms of breathing techniques, but I fortunately had also had a tiny bit of experience with Buddhist meditation. All very Beginner's Level meditation, mind you, but at least I knew a few simple breathing exercises and mantras. Some hypno-baby tapes helped me with childbirth specific exercises and visual imagery. I was in a trance state, and hardly aware of the passage of time or the arrival and departure of various nursing staff.

My first childbirth was fairly successful, up until the crowning. Well, to be fair, up until the transition. I used focus meditation during the contractions, which felt like my uterus was a wine skin being twisted and squeezed like a towel. I could handle this sensation with the breathing without feeling pain. When I reached transition, I began to feel the overwhelming urge to PUSH. But I was only dilated to seven centimeters, and the nursing staff kept telling me, "Don't push yet! It's too soon! Wait until you're ten!" But I couldn't control the urge. Trying to fight it made it much harder to keep to my trance state. By the time the crowning started and I actually WAS ten centimeters and supposed to push, I was so exhausted I lost all control of my breathing or anything else. I couldn't even coordinate my pushing to the contractions any more. It took forty minutes to push the head out, and the pain crashed in on me, perhaps all the more unacceptable because the first part of the labor had been relatively tolerable.

I didn't want to lose control like that this time. I spent a lot more time in the weeks before the delivery practicing my meditation and uterine exercises. Since I was to be induced, however, I wasn't sure it would be of any use to me. I had visions of the epidural turning my lower body so numb that I would be hardly aware of having legs at all. I also feared the Pitocin alone would create overwhelmingly strong and painful contractions. In fact, the whole business of knowing the date of delivery felt weird and made me increasingly nervous. I went in prepared to have an epidural at the same time as the Pitocin.

However, Faith, the nurse who attended me, said it wouldn't make sense to give an epidural until after the Pitocin started the labor. (The epidural slows contractions and might prevent them from starting up properly if administered too soon.) She said she would start the Pitocin out slow, and if I started to feel overwhelmed by pain, she would call for the epidural -- but it would be better if I could hold out longer.

Ok. I agreed. We put on my trance music. (I resisted my husband's query as to couldn't we possibly play more than just the one song for eight hours straight? Uhm. No.) I did my breathing excercises. It seemed to me that the contractions actually started slightly before the Pitocin drip was set up -- something the nurse confirmed. She set up the drip anyway, and I didn't object.

For the next several hours, though, the contractions were very gentle. Faith asked me to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, and I rated them a zero. I was afraid that the Pitocin was SO low that it wasn't doing any good at all.

I struggled a bit with boredom, since I was strapped into the bed. I had worried about that; mightn't I want to move about, as I had last time? But actually, holding one position facilitated the breathing exercise. The whole thing was so low key, I was tempted to entertain myself by reading a book, rather than meditating, but something told me not to do that. And when my husband, who was surfing the net on my laptop, began to talk to me about news headlines, I had to ask him not to interupt my concentration. So clearly, the meditation was doing something. In fact, it was working so well, it was almost transparent.

I began to feel the contractions were getting very strong after all. This time, I called the nurse, and asked if she could give me the epidural now. I still wasn't in pain, exactly, but I just had this feeling I should have the epidural soon.

She was a little dubious, perhaps because I was still calm, and warned if I weren't at least 4 cm dilated, we should wait longer. I hoped the stupid Pitocin had done something, and I was at least that much.

She checked me, and went into a panic. "You're already seven centimeters!" She quickly called for the anesthesiologist to come but he was busy with another case.

Then it happened -- just as I had at this point in my last delivery, the nature of the contractions began to change, urging me to PUSH.

"Don't push yet!" the nurse ordered. She called my doctor and told her to come NOW.

Several uncomfortable contractions passed, where I fought the PUSH PUSH PUSH sensation as best I could. Then I had to hold still while the anesthesiologist set me up and poked a big needle in my spine. A few more bad contractions, while I waited for the epidural to kick in. By now I was doing my counting meditation out loud -- "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten...." About three counts of ten per contraction. As I counted, I performed kegels -- this helped me resist the need to push. I don't think the nurse knew about the kegels, but she began to count aloud with me.

Ironically, although the epidural slows contractions if given to early, apparently if given at this point in the labor, it speeds things up. I went from seven to ten centimeters within three contractions. The epidural hadn't really had time to kick in completely. I could still feel the contractions just fine, but the edge was off, I was able to control the amount I wanted to push.

My doctor arrived and told me it was now okay to push. I did. Within twenty minutes, really just a few long, hard contractions, the baby came out. I couldn't believe how easy it was compared to the last one! Yes, those pushes where the head comes out were still painful, and I did have to take a break with the head still half in, half out -- the most painful point -- and the doctor asked to do an episiotomy, to which I assented -- but the next push was sufficient to get him out!

Second births are so much easier, and I was happy with the whole Pitocin/epidural thing. It worked just the way it was supposed to. But my meditation worked the way it was supposed to, as well, which made me think that the whole dictomy between Natural/Medicated birth is a bit silly in the end.

Nov 5, 2008

Multiple Minds

What prompted me to resume entries in my blog was actually a personal matter. My father has Dissociative Identity Disorder (formally known as Multiple Personality Syndrome). I've known for some time, but only recently did he "come out" to me, prompting us to have a lot of really refreshing heart-to-heart conversations about it.

One of the interesting things about DID/MPS is that so many people, including many therapists -- and for that matter, many people with DID themselves -- disbelieve in it. I find their disbelief curious. It's not that the evidence for DID is any more scanty than evidence for other personality disorders, so why is it so hard to grasp?

I think people have two different kinds of problems believing it. Or maybe, two different kinds of people have trouble believing it.

On the one hand, there are those whose sense of self is so solid and singular that they really just can't imagine, literally cannot imagine or picture to themselves what it would be like to have a multiple structure of self.

On the other hand, imaginative people, who are rather chameleon themselves, are aware of how easy it is to pretend to be one sort of person with one crowd and another sort of person with a different crowd. So they find it easy to think that someone else could just "pretend" to have different personalities. They shrug, "Everyone does that, big deal."

Apparently, this was one reason the name of the disorder was changed from Multiple Personality Syndrome to Dissociative Identity Disorder. The distinctive feature is not the ability to have multiple personalities in different situations, but the fact that these personalities are dissociated from one another. A singleton is aware of behaving one way with his boss, another way with his buddies from college and a third way with his fiancée, and his story of his self that he constructs includes all three memories, no matter how much his behavior or even feelings change in response to each situation. A multiple, on the other hand, has parallel storylines, and isn't able to easily merge them into a single plot. If a singleton wakes up in a strange location, with no memory of the last 24 hours, this is an extraordinary event and a cause for considerable alarm. A multiple may occasionally be disturbed by gaps in time, but in the main, seems to have an amnesia regarding his own amnesia. Multiples lack of awareness of the fact that they are not aware of what they were doing just a few hours or years ago. This is part of the dissociation. It makes sense, since "someone", somewhere in the brain does know what happened, which is quite different from the case of a singleton who had to have been completely unconscious or drugged to have a similar gap in time experience.

DID appears to be caused by trauma. The greater and earlier in life an individual experiences trauma, the more extensive the dissociation the individual employs to deal with it, with DID at the extreme end of the dissociative spectrum disorders. So far, no genetic predispositions or temperaments have been found to be more especially vulnerable. (Compare with schizophrenia, which appears to be mostly genetic, or antisocial personality disorder, which appears to be a combination of genetic predisposition with an abusive childhood). However, other characteristic symptoms are found together with dissociation, including gender dysphoria, and -- to me, the most interesting -- something called hypergraphia.

Hypergraphia (not to be confused with hyperlexia or hypolexia), is "the overwhelming urge to write." Is it a coincidence that many multiples keep journals as a way of opening communication between their alters? And is it possible there is a genetic component to hypergraphia? I find it intriguing to think I may have inherited this "condition" from my father!

I recently finished Lisa Zunshine's book Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Grounded in recent cognitive research, especially Simon Baron-Cohen's "Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind", she makes the case that "it is our ToM [Theory of Mind] [which] makes literature as we know it possible." She explores how different authors and different genres tease and challenge our mind-reading ability. No snob, she tackles among her sources not just Woolf and Nabakov but also detective novels and an episode of Friends.

Perhaps novel writers suffer not just from hypergraphia, but from over-excitable mirror neurons as well. Thus we have a compulsion to both imagine what other minds are thinking and to then write about it. This could constitute a sort of inverse of autism, which renders it difficult to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling. In fact, it seems likely it is far more common for humans to inaccurately project human-like minds onto inhuman objects and situations (anthropomorphism, animism, belief in deities) than the reverse. Evolutionarily, it would surely have been safer to mistake a lightning storm for an angry human than try to interact with an angry human as you would an annoyingly blustery wind.

This brings us back to the fact that no one really knows how we create the theory of our own mind. This is another reason I find it laughable that people "don't believe" in multiple personalities. Why should anyone assume that creating a singular self is such a given that no other possibility is even conceivable, when we don't even know how we construct a singular self? If writers can construct whole worlds filled with other, wholly imaginary, minds, why is it hard to conceive of someone with the same inborn skill constructing a menagerie of parallel lived minds?

Blog Notes

I've always been a bit at a loss what to do with this blog. It's not a personal journal, so I don't want to delve into my personal life. It's not a political blog, so I definitely don't want to go there. It's supposed to be about writing, but usually if I'm writing, I'd rather be writing than writing about writing. As a result, though, I don't blog much about anything, and the blog has been neglected.

So, in attempt to revive the blog, I'll take a new approach. I will get a little more personal, at the risk of wasting your time with my boring life. Mostly, I'll talk more about the things that intrigue me -- history, psychology, physics -- the stuff which sparks my stories.

I still don't promise to write all that regularly, but at least when I have a little something to say, I can (hopefully) feel freer to discuss it here than I did before. That's the whole point of a blog, right?