If a Novel Were a Math Problem

Watching the vast majority of my non-artsy, analytically minded friends go into computer-science and mathematics makes me jealous sometimes. In their field, there’s such a thing as a right answer.

That’s attractive sometimes. As a girl who’d rather draft another two novels than spend a few months editing the one she has, I’m not too enamoured of revision and fine-tuning. I tend to catch myself thinking in binary ideas, and dismissing everything that can’t be described in yes-or-no terms. Is my novel drafted yet? No? Then I better keep working on it until I can say YES! Editing does not have the same simplicity, because you can always do more editing. No matter how thoroughly you go through a piece, there are always stylistic improvements to be made. Even once the plot is solid and whole thing feels complete from a macro-view, sentence structure and word choice can be nitpicked ad infinitum. That’s why I hold myself to such high personal standards when drafting in the first place. Some authors have a blissful anything-goes mentality about a first draft, but my approach is to end up with a product that requires the least amount of editing.

Editing is, for me, the greatest drudgery associated with crafting a book, simply because it never ends. You never solve for x, you never find the solution. You just keep going until it’s “good enough.” Maybe that would change if I had a really professional editor helping me with the process, but until then I have no idea how to polish my manuscripts well enough on my own.

Of course, the upside to this is that there is always progress. Once you have a novel drafted, no matter where you are in editing, you can show someone a finished product and just admit, “it’s still a little raw.” Others can help you finish editing, too. There’s no such thing as being proud of a half-solved math problem though, or letting someone solving the last three steps of it. As much as I wish I could sometimes just declare, AHA! I have the right answer, and forevermore am done with this challenge, it’s really probably for the best that I’m never given the opportunity to bang my head against the wall and question why I still haven’t gotten “the” answer yet. Baby steps and little progress will have to suffice.

You Have To Be Crazy: Summer Writing

I thought I was going to get so much writing done this summer. I did manage to crank out a sixy-two page thesis that convinced my advising professor that I could have a future as a literary critic and send off a lot of (admittedly, rejected) query letters. Even still, summer always used to be a time of creation for me since there was so little motion and change associated with the season. Back when I was in school, it was the only time that I wasn’t juggling homework and quarters, shifting from social season to social season. Summer was about taking a break from academia to live.

It gets a little different when you don’t show up to classes and your entire life seems to become for integrating work and whatever it is that you want to do with your life.

Travelling, graduating, moving, and job-hunting have taken a lot out of me these past three months, but I’m always reluctant to let myself believe that’s a valid excuse for not doing more. My boyfriend’s always telling me that people do, in fact, have upper limits of what they’re capable of, and I’m always telling him that shouldn’t matter. I continue to cycle through my manic moments and burned out recoveries. As frustrating as the process is, so far it’s the only thing I’ve found that allows me the headspace I really need to create. Lately, I’ve been more moderate. No extreme diets or sugar binges, no staying up past midnight or getting up after nine. Exercise, sleep, food, and even sociality have been coming in carefully regulated packets in the interest of seeing if this really does help me stay sane. It does, but I go crazy slowly as I realize that this strategy reduces my creativity to the same tiny packets. I can’t do substantial work like that. This whole summer I’ve hardly written five-thousand words of the story I’ve been working on. A hard blow for someone who likes it best when NaNoWriMo has got her churning out ten thousand or more words a week.

It’s hard to realize that you have to be crazy to get anything done in this world.

Responsibility-Hiccups

I like to justify everything in my bubbling little literary career with the opinion that artists are all a little scattered brained and unreliable. I’m very reliable in all other facets of my life, but when it comes to my loyalty and dedication to myself, I’ve been known to have some responsibility-hiccups.

I think we all have though, haven’t we? Has anyone actually sent out as many query letters or written as many words as they said they were going to after those first few weeks of embarking on the epic project of writing a book or publishing one?

I think the important thing to remember is that fouling up and taking breaks is a vital part of keeping your sanity in this game. I know how I push myself when I’m “on” a project and in the zone with it…and I also know that’s its just not humanly possible to go on like that indefinitely. I’m trying to get in the habit of taking modest, manageable breaks from querying and long-form fiction projects so that I don’t end up pushing myself to some breaking point where I feel I’ll never be able to return to the pursuit again…until I inevitably do.

This week I’m finishing a thesis, but after that I think I need to get on top of my querying again so I’m in a flow before I start my new job later this month. I also want to finish the novella I’m drafting on before work starts up so that I don’t feel caught in the middle of any long-term projects as I begin adjusting to post-academic life and working 45 hours a week.

So the moral of my relationship with writing is one I’ve been attempting to apply to all facets of my life: don’t panic. Even if it has been so long since you blogged that WordPress changed its GUI and you no longer have the comfort of a familiar interface.

GISHWHES 2014 Story

For Lyssa Norton, a GISHWHES 140-Word flash fiction up at my site: http://www.audreygreathouse.com/writing.html

Mischa Collins was a gifted professional actor, something that was advantageous in his day-to-day life as well as his career. Even still, he could not hide the injured pain he felt when told that Castiel was being recast. On Her Magesty’s Royal orders, Collins’ character would now be portrayed by an elopus. “I don’t understand!” he exclaimed, flabbergasted and unamused. His head hit the bar, but his hand held to his brandy glass. “Think about it from the producer’s standpoint,” Eric Cripke volunteered, “if you were in charge and the network was leaning on you for even higher ratings, and then you get publicly denounced by the Queen of England for not even bothering to portray elopuses…elopusi…elopuses? What would you do?” Collins downed his brandy, knowing he simply couldn’t fight an #elopusrepresentation Twitter phenomenon started by dear old Elizabeth herself.

Solstice Graveyard Picnic

It’s really strange to try to fathom how much my life is going to change once I’m in California, my little brother will go to college, and my retired parents move to Orroville (which happens to be the one point in the state farthest from any interstate highway in Washington state.) I’m trying not to think about how melancholy it is that this chapter of my life is quickly coming to a close…that a year from now if I come “home” to Seattle there isn’t going to be a home for me to come home to.

It was the solstice yesterday though, so my family decided to celebrate by picnicking in a graveyard. This is actually kind of a long-standing Greathouse family tradition. Back when we were in West Virginia we used to go to the graveyard all the time because there were so few other parks in Morgantown that were good for walking around. We would park at one end, walk across it, and get Hostess cupcakes at the store across the street to eat on top of nice gravestones. It kind of desensitized me to death at a young age in some ways, and it was weird when I went through this period as a pre-teen where I didn’t want to be in graveyards because it suddenly dawned on me how weird it was. I’ve since recovered from that stigma and made a bit of peace with my own mortality, so I’m good to eat and laugh on graves again.

We had a crazy picnic. My Dad ate nothing but grapefruit, which is kind of par for the course these days, but the rest of us managed to pack balanced meals. We looked around until we found a nice name, and then spread out our picnic blanket over Crispina Tiberi. Most of the time these days, we go to graveyards when we think the parks will be crowded. In Washington, the first (nice) days of summer are always people-traps since the novelty of warm weather and clear skies is fresh and exciting again. The graveyard we were in was over by the University of Washington, so we could see the dorms my friends used to live in and the Space Needle to boot. Dad brought his binoculars. Afterwards, we did a stroll through Ravenna Park. We headed home, and in a strange reversal of sociality, Dad and Hasdrubal both had people to see and a party to be at. Mom and I stayed home and sorted the whole house, helping me pack a kitchen, gather spices, and make peace with the emblems of childhood that will vanish as she and Dad pair down their belongs and prepare to move into a cozier house somewhere in Eastern Washington. My life is packed up in cardboard boxes now, making a faint existential scratching noise from inside.Image

Dad unpacks a camera, while my little brother Hasdrubal spreads another blanket.

My Final Days: 8 Days and Counting Until the Move

I figure that the best thing I can do with this evening is to make (and start fulfilling) a summer resolution. Summer resolutions are always easier than New Year’s resolutions, because it’s just a simple fact of life that it’s easier to get things done when there’s nice weather egging you on. I should get in the actual habit of blogging. All the really interesting people I know keep blogs and keep interesting blogs at that, so why shouldn’t I?

I worked today, but it was an easy day for little nanny me since I only had to put in a few hours, and while the baby was still asleep. It was virtually high-paid house-sitting. I plowed through the last of the work for my online courses, marveling at the reality that I will never have to take another class again. Eight weeks from now, my thesis will be turned in and I’ll be done with school for good. I installed Skype on my computer and finally got it working for the first time ever; I have someone who wants to do a video interview with me for one of the nanny positions I’ve applied to down in Palo Alto.

Considering that last week I put in three times as many hours at work, spent an eight hour day with my friend Nick, got lunch with Alison, went to both Claire and Hannah’s 21st birthday dinners and following celebrations, took my CLEP placement test for credit, had dinner with Sean, drove to Leavenworth and back with Magi, went to dinner in Bellevue with the family, saw Little Shop of Horrors at the ACT theatre in Seattle, visited all old high school teachers, and wrote two papers for my finals…I think I deserve an easy down day. I’ve only got eight days left in town before Zaq and I pack up the van and move down to California together. I don’t want to be running myself ragged everyday. Tonight I wasted in the best way possible, just walking up to the woods to go play on the St. Edward State Park swing set and watch the sunset over the trees by the seminary. It was really beautiful, and with the right soundtrack, it was perfect. I love MP3 players, man.

The Lotus Eaters

The Lotus Eaters – New EP by Jennifer Kingwell

There are two great misfortunes in this world. The first is that too few people appreciate Jen Kingwell…a misfortune which stems from the second, which is that too few people know about Jen Kingwell.

This week, she released her first solo work, which is charmingly different than her previous cabaret-style work with The Jane Austen Argument and neo-noir experiment with Neon Bogart. The Lotus Eaters, a short six-track EP wrought with melodic elegance and experimental beauty, is a must-listen for any fan of baroque pop or chamber pop. The link is above; she releases all her music through Bandcamp so it is perfectly possible for you to start listening to it as you read through this blog :)

Its spoken word opening sets the contemplative tone for the entire EP, and the rich strings that follow the echoing words give a sense of regality to the beginning. In just fifty-two seconds, Jen piques your interest in the entire project.

The second track, “Sleeping Lessons,” offers a song as mellow (yet intriguing) as its title. This really showcases Jen’s voice right off the bat, and the ambient sound that trickles in behind her is the perfect prelude to instrumentation that gradually enters. Wordplay like “you’re not obliged to swallow anything you despise” throws an engaging message, both rebellious and gleeful as the song builds.

Bizarre imagery against a rhythmic background defines the title track, “The Lotus Eaters,” giving an ominous tone to this adventurous song. Full of pounding percussion, the pulse is broken only for a crash of cymbals and an exposition of Jen’s upper range. It doesn’t tell a story so much as show us a character, giving a sense of futility and determination all in one wallop.

And somewhere in the world

There’s two kids with their hands

In each other’s hair

Kissing in tutus

And the whole world is watching,

The whole world is watching

Cause this is the lens that makes sense.

Next, with “Kissing in Tutus” (previously released as a single) Jen gives us a higher, more feminine beginning to a song that carries itself with a driving drum—thumping like an over-eager heartbeat. It bears some of the same inspirational vibes as “Sleeping Lessons,” but it’s elevating “ah-ah’s” play against crisp strings and sharp staccato sounds in a very different way. The flow of her voice against the instrumentation is uplifting, and this song as a whole paints a picture of love familiar and fanciful, iconic and individual. It seems to seek to remind us why a kiss—any kiss—is unique and powerful.

I must have missed a memo, because I was pleasantly surprised when I heard track five and recognized that delightfully distinct British voice telling me, in little more than a minute, a brilliant story of a girl and her dreams. How can you not be curious about a track entitled, “She Never Trusted the Stars Again,” and how can you not be satisfied when Neil Gaiman tells you exactly how the stars could lose a girl’s trust? The poetic nature of the story is relayed in simple, concise terms, and is all the more enchanting for it.

The final song, “Andromeda,”full of longing and a loving appreciation for the sublime, gives the EP a strong but sentimental ending. A perfect follow-up to the previous track, it becomes a love letter to something bigger than the stars. Much more subtle than the high-strung electric pop of The Impossible Girl’s The Sky is Calling, this final track on The Lotus Eaters does give a similar sense of musical appreciation for the cosmos in its own way, distinct to Kingwell.

While I still miss the cabaret-sound that she had when I first heard her playing with Tom Dickens, this EP further proves what any Kingwell fan has known since Phoenix: this woman can not only hold her own as a solo performer, but continually blow us away with a new take on her own style every time she composes for us.