Friday, September 5, 2014

Plot Armor and Why I Need Some Now

Having been fully functioning adults for a while now we rarely run our cars past the "empty" line on the gas gauge. I mean life is just too short to deal with that kind of stress. 

But the kid was in Vermont and needed to come home NOW mom! So help me I'm going to start walking. I was going to make her stay anyway- I had a car full of hangers I wanted to stash in my sister's barn while she was at work. C said we'd come get her. He is a sucker and didn't fully understand the hanger issue anyway.

I feel like maybe we should talk about the great state of Vermont for a minute.

Vermont is a mountainous place full of cows and graveyards. That's pretty much it. Really bad roads wind through fields of cows and/or graveyards. There are some houses, trees and rivers but that's about it. Goats. I have seen goats there. Maybe some sheep. I have a really weird uncle who lives in a yurt somewhere in Vermont. And my sister is there. It isn't a bad place. It just lacks human oriented amenities of any kind.

Amenities like gas stations for example. I assume everyone in Vermont runs their vehicles on cow poop. 

We, being civilized citizens of the Granite State, do not run our cars on cow poop.

A wise person would have bought fuel while she could. We had most of a tank when we left the house and figured we'd get some in Concord on the way home.

It's a long, boring drive down 89. We were listening to C's ipod and I remembered a conversation the kid and I had about Bruce Springsteen. She would not believe that anyone would write a song like the one I quoted.

"C, isn't Downbound Train a real song?"

"Of course it is. It's on my ipod."

And C proceeds to play every Springsteen song *but* Downbound Train. An argument ensues. The kid isn't paying attention. She's listening to Jim's Big Ego or Zombina and the Skeletones or whatever on her own ipod. 

While we were fussing about what songs were on the ipod and what weren't we missed our exit. And suddenly we realized that getting gas was a thing that had to happen *right now*.

We took the next exit which let us off into this weird, very rural area in a place where there should have been a city. 

It was dark.

We were lost.

Bruce Springsteen was on repeat.

Times were hard.

C and I were pretty stressed out but, amazingly, we saw a sign for a town we knew and before too long we were able to coast into an open gas station.

"Whew that was a close one," I said to the kid as C filled the tank.

"I wasn't worried."

"Why? It's a long walk in the dark when you run out of gas out in the middle of nowhere."

"Yeah but we have plot armor. Okay now maybe I jinxed it but up until just now we had plot armor."

Then, before I could respond, Downbound Train came on and we got to talk about how I was right.

Which is my favorite kind of conversation.

Since I have a brain that never quite lets anything go until it's ready I've been thinking about plot armor, why the kid thinks we have it (she'd old enough to know better), and how I can get me some of that.

It all comes down to one thing.

I fully believe that I have it already or, at least, I used to believe it.

C and I have led a very adventurous life. We have pulled off so many impossible things that I kind of started to believe that we could do anything together. 

And I guess I still do.

It's just.

I mean.

We've lived in a ruined shack for a year now. We have spent every spare minute working on it. And it is STILL a ruined shack- it's just a weather tight, squirrel free ruined shack. My cat sleeps on a piece of insulation in the ruins of what will someday be a kitchen. It's pathetic.

I have been assured that we really have turned a corner with the renovation thing. The house is almost there. 

Which I could believe if the ruined room I was talking about didn't also smell really bad like expensive main line issues (if you don't know what the main line is you can count yourself VERY lucky). 

And I know this is silly but it has to do with writing too.

I've been working on a book that I HAD to write. It is certainly the most ambitious thing I've ever written and it's the story I felt I could turn into something great.

I have had to fight to write it. It's, like, been an epic battle to make art. 

"If I just had time, enough privacy and my computer I could finish this book in two weeks." I have said that to myself (and others) about a thousand times over the last six months. 

Well I have all of those things- got 'em yesterday.

Desk? Check.
Computer? Check.
Kids back at school? Check.

I sat down at my desk. I opened up the dusty old word document that is my WIP. I looked at the last thing I wrote and saw a character that I swear I had never met before.

It's entirely possible that my heart stopped.

The last time I worked on this book was (thank you Word for marking it for me) March 14.

In the many months since March 14 I have read at least 75 books. I have watched countless hours of story driven movies and TV because renovation work, and escape from renovation work, is all I do anymore.

Apparently that was enough extra input and time for me to forget my WIP. The story that was so good that I wrote in the car for Dog's sake. I wrote in the middle of the night. It was my lifeline, the thing that made all of this shit worthwhile, and I was away from it long enough to forget a damned character! 

So I took a deep breath and started to read the novel from the beginning. 

That's really the only sensible thing to do in a situation like that.

Except I was completely freaked out. I couldn't pay attention to the story because I was too busy fixing stupid comma problems (frigging commas). Then I started to worry that this book is YA but the two main characters are not YA at all. One is 8 and one is 28 or 29. And that was it. I completely lost my mind.

Through all of the changes and mess this year (really it has been more like 18 months) the one thing that kept me going was that I was going to be a successful writer someday. 

Anyway, like a trooper, I just kept on writing. 

And, until yesterday, believed that I would be great someday. Like really great not just "look at me I'm great" great.

I had my own plot armor.

All the bad stuff- it didn't matter because at the end of the day I would be a legit published writer. I would be able to say "look, let me have some peace so I can finish this. I have a deadline for Dog's sake!" And people would be like "oh, right. Sorry. Keep writing."

Instead of what I get now which is pretty much laughter. I am the BIGGEST joke. Haha look at M writing her stupid books. My deadlines are mostly my own so they should be flexible but you know what? They aren't. They shouldn't be. Just because I am the boss *and* the employee doesn't mean that the work doesn't have boundaries... 

Haha look at me being silly again. It isn't work if you don't get paid. I mean, can I go to the bookstore and see anything I've written? I don't exist on Amazon for Pete's sake. What kind of game am I playing here?

Even the people who love me best think I am playing writer or something. My sister called it the weirdest midlife crisis ever.* 

I guess I can give up on the idea of being great. I just need a tiny bit of plot armor. A chainmail plot vest would be enough. A wee little taste of invincibility.

Honestly, at this point I'd settle for enough luck and skill to have my book published in hardcover.

So I can hit people with it.



* This is part of the reason I didn't feel bad about dumping a car full of plastic hangers in her barn.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So Are You Working or Are You Still Writing?

I would like to think that someday people will stop asking me whether I'm working or writing in *that* tone. The one that sneers and says "so are you a productive member of society or are you still a big ol' loser?"

 I am sensitive to the fact that I have written a couple of books now- put thousands of hours into this writing thing- and have little to show the outside world. I know I may never have anything to show other people except for a few bylines, a drawer full of rejections and a shelf of unpublished (but complete) novels. But hey. It isn't really any of your* business, is it? I'm not asking you for anything. In all likelihood, the only thing I said to you was "hey, how's it going?"

Let's make it about you though because what your question really is is a way to show me that you are valuable and I am not. In America working for pay is good and working without steady pay (or no pay at all) is bad.

I want you, person who feels like this is a reasonable question, to ask yourself what you have to show for your working life? You what? Take care of your family? I do that too. You get recognition for your good work? Great! Find fulfillment in what you do? Me too! Work long and uncomfortable hours for a demanding and unreasonable boss? I do that too- but I can never escape from mine. Ever. 

When next you meet a working artist (and writers are artists as well as craftspeople) I implore you to to think before you speak. You may have an idea that you're clever, that you'll somehow guilt the artist back into the 9-5 mold from which you can not, do not want to, escape but trust me she has heard it before. I'm here to tell you that you're not half as clever, or persuasive, as  you think you are. **

And yes, I am touchy. 

This has been a tough and humbling year for my family and me. For one thing, I haven't been able to write as much as I need to and I'm uptight about it, disappointed in myself and so incredibly frustrated. It has taken me more than a year to write 100 pages of my WIP- it took two months to write the first 100- and I had to fight to complete every page. I wrote in the car. I tried to write at the table in the only habitable room of the house we're renovating. Heck I even tried to write in public but found it completely impossible. I have had to face the fact that the conditions in which I live aren't all that conducive to creating art.*** 

Eventually I just got tired of fighting to write but not writing made it so I was also not sleeping. 

I've kind of struck a balance lately. Some days I maybe write a word or a paragraph. These disjointed words tend to suck so I don't feel like they count for much. I skim a favorite writing blog or two, check in with PW just to feel like I'm still in the game. It's enough to make it so I can sleep but not enough to finish the damned book. Which, in spite of everything else that's pressing on me, is a weight that's almost impossible to live with or relieve.

What I feel like I need is two weeks of uninterrupted time to finish this novel. The inescapable truth is that there is no way I can get that here until life becomes as it should be. An occasion, best case, months in the future. Leaving sounds like a good idea but even if I could come up with the money to get away I can't afford the time.

So really I am neither writing or working (y'know except for rebuilding a house and trying to make as normal a life as possible for my family) and would dearly love to throat punch the next person who brings it up. 


* By you I don't mean my blog readers necessarily. I mean the *you* that asks questions like that at places like reunions, funerals, the grocery store etc. 

**Job offers are a different story of course- many writers have day jobs and have a vibrant and productive writing life as well. IMHO It's perfectly reasonable to offer any artist a day job that pays well but still gives the artist time to create.

Interestingly enough, I am frequently asked whether I'm working but have never once been offered a paying gig from someone who has asked me if I work (though I have been offered, and have accepted, writing work from people who ask if I'm taking any. That's just networking and a vital part of being a successful freelancer). In short, "hey are you taking any freelance gigs?"= good especially if  you are asking for (or are) a paying client. "Hey are you working or are you still writing?"= bad. Period.

 *** Like sooo not conducive. This house was abandoned for three years before we got here and seriously neglected for many years before that. We have to remove and replace almost everything but the studs. And the studs even need repair and cleaning. All the major systems need serious work- it's a fucking nightmare of a project. The funny part is that we are only renting this house. Hahahasobhasobha. It is part of our "living a simpler and more intentional life" plan. A temporary, uncomfortable readjustment before a better life. 

Frankly I liked our "live in debt and denial" life plan better but it had some sustainability issues that we couldn't overcome. It's an amusing little twist that part of the reason we decided to simplify was so that I could write more and "work" less. Hahahahasobhasobha

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fiction For Neglected Blogfans

By M.K. Brick

She thought about the poem he'd read aloud and said, "I think the world will end in ice. Hell is a cold, frozen place heated by small fireplaces and wet wood." She blew on the pathetic pile of kindling in front of her.

"I don't believe in Hell. Not really. I mean, eternal suffering for one act, or even one lifetime's worth, of bad behavior? It seems a little..." Joey bent down to tie his muddy shoelace and tipped over onto the dusty floor in front of the fireplace. He managed to struggle into an upright position and rose undamaged except for a dark smudge of ash between his eyes.

She rocked back on her heels, threw up her hands and kicked at a blackened piece of newsprint- all that was left of the once nascent fire.

"You do this. I'll see if I can find something to eat."

"Okay. No problem. No meat though. Remember last time?" 

It was beyond unlikely that she'd forget. She shuddered and crawled under the loose plywood that was meant to secure the door from intruders.

Their city had been vibrant and beautiful once. A happy place, for the most part. At least their part of the city. The part they knew about. The good part. Now, of course, no part was better than any other. The few remaining humans...

A lie.

She survived by lying to herself. And to others. At this point the lies were so thick on the ground that they looked like pavement. In the evening she would step out on them and walk her way through the night. During the day though, eyes shut, hidden in their hovel, she couldn't avoid the truth. She hadn't slept for more than an hour at a time in months. This was pretty much the worst part.

Another lie.

It was all pretty much the worst part. 

She looked twice, then three times before she moved to cross the road. She stopped and looked again. One could never be too careful. Not that it made a difference.

The street reflected light like a river. For a moment she was overwhelmed with the idea that it was a glossy river in the woods. She wanted to believe that all she had to do to reach home was to cross this one little river. She wanted it to be a real home though, not the house where their stepmother probably still bitched her way through life. Not even the idea of home their father was driving them toward when he decided that this world wasn't worth the effort. 

An upside down convenience store taunted her from the ersatz river. Nine months ago she and her brother could have walked into the store, the real one, and bought anything in it. Almost anything. Anything they wanted anyway. 

Not trusting that the traffic would leave her alone, she ran across the road. Once she reached the other side she checked to see if she was still in one piece. The only thing she could take for granted was that she couldn’t take anything else for granted.


She stuck her hands in her pockets and slouched past the store. She considered whistling but decided against it. Nothing was more suspicious than a whistling teenager. She thought she’d heard that somewhere and decided to believe it; she didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the chance department. A few people strolled past. Gangbangers with their pants all down, a man with a dog…

Nobody walked past. Nobody walked these streets anymore, not past midnight anyway. Nobody but her. And sometimes her brother. Nobody that counted anyway.

A nobody that counted bumped her arm. She pushed back. She didn’t mean to, but her first instinct was always fight and seriously, the sidewalk was huge and, except for the space she occupied, empty. What the fuck? She regretted falling prey to instinct, but it was too late.

The nobody stopped walking and looked, she assumed, right at her. She slid into the most submissive pose she could muster and watched her shoes; dirty old Keds that were more hole than shoe. She pushed her big toe against the thin side canvas and watched the material pucker and strain as she waited for the nobody to make his move. She had been around enough to hope that if he was going to hurt her he would have done so by now.



Another lie.


He blew on the little fire until it started to flicker. He gently added more, then bigger, pieces of wood. Mary was too impatient. She always had been. If she would just relax a little... He sighed. Relaxing was not Mary’s thing.

 When the fire was going well enough to burn without his help he stood and began to hop up and down. Exercise tended to warm him faster when Mary wasn’t there to tell him that his jumping around gave her a headache.

Fire. It was heat. Light. All things good. He agreed with his sister about Hell though he’d rather eat meat from the dumpster behind the convenience store than tell her that. Arguing was the only normal thing they had left and he wasn’t about to give it up.

He looked around and thought, as he often did, that the house must have been something to see back in the day. Its past was the only thing it had going for it now. The place was in such awful shape when they first got there that even the animals found better places to stay.

As soon as his fingers tingled with warmth he stopped jumping and started to clean the one room they had salvaged from the ruined house.

Mary was nuts about keeping their space tidy. He complained but really, considering everything else, it wasn’t as bad as it should have been. They scavenged furniture, curtains, even a picture or two. It wasn’t great but it was kind of a home.

He was always amazed at what people threw away. He remembered some of the stuff he used to have and wondered what happened to it all. He was willing to bet that it was under almost a year’s worth of junk at the county landfill.

“Are you sure you’re not Mary?”

“Yep.” This nobody was denser, more persistent, than most.

“You look a little like the picture though.”

“Sorry about that. Look, I have to buy milk for my mom. She gets all upset if I’m gone too long. Great talking to ya.” 

The nobody looked at her for what felt like an hour then finally stepped aside. His long coat brushed her leg as it swung past. On her way at last, she stepped forward like the normal teenager she pretended to be.

“There’s a new soup kitchen at the First Church down on the corner. They don’t ask questions,” he said to her back. She stopped, considered her next move and spun around to face him.
“I’ll tell my mom you said so. Maybe now she’ll buy me some new clothes.” That seemed to satisfy the nobody. He shook his head and shuffled on down the sidewalk.

She wanted to run home to make sure that Joey was hidden, safe, but she had a job to do.


“Mary I had that dream again.” Joey traced patterns with his fork through the baked bean slime- all that was left of his supper. She emptied the rest of the pot of beans onto his plate and put her elbows on the table- a habit her stepmother despised so much that it was a part of who she had become.

“Look kiddo, I found him and I don’t dream about it. Just let it go.”

“I can’t. It was so…”

“At least he didn’t take us out with him. He could have.”

“Are you sure he didn’t?”

No, she wasn’t sure, but she tucked that truth away with the others- behind the lies that helped her get though each day.

“Don’t be an idiot.”

Light forced its way around the edges of the covered windows. They let the fire die and curled into the coffin shaped sleeping bags their father had bought for them before their last road trip.


“What, bud?”

“I miss ice cream.”

“I know.”

They fell into their usual sleeptime silence. Joey thought about the past. And Mary? She decided that, after months of struggling just to survive, they were ready for the future. This shadow fearful life was over; their new lives waited somewhere in the blinding sunlight on the other side of the morning. All she had to do was get them there.