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Dear readers,

I have not been using this blog for some time, but you can read my new blog here, which includes updates regarding my recent performances and publications.
Ellen Denham

Some thoughts on story idea generation

I've been intending to get back into the habit of writing in this journal. I have written some in paper journals, but mostly for my own benefit and nothing of interest to anyone else. But I just started journaling in Scrivener, which I'm also using for my current novel-in-progress, and found I really like it. It makes a difference now that I have a MacBook Air (thank you, Indiana Arts Commission, for the grant that allowed this purchase). It's lightweight and portable and I can take in wherever I go. Though I know lots of people swear by writing on real paper, I'm not good at indexing and keeping track of what I wrote where or in what month or year. The real benefit, I think, of Scrivener is it is so easy to tag by keyword, organize, and search, and even link to relevant web pages. In short, something like Livejournal, but for my eyes only.

However, I would like to maintain this public journal as well. Today I began brainstorming a new story, and it's really exciting. I sometimes despair that I'm just not good at coming up with workable story ideas. I mean, I can come up with ideas, but are they "wow" ideas or something that, if written well, will be a pretty ok story but not much more?

I think my real problem is going from the "what if" to the actual story premise to the plot. I've got lots of interesting "what ifs" floating around in my head, but it sometimes takes a long time for one of them to ripen and I can see a story there.

For instance, I know I had the idea "what if an opera singer died, and they took our her larynx and hooked it up to a machine so people could still hear her voice?" I had that thought, wrote it down on an index card, but it took me months to figure out the story in that. At first it was a sort of "Emperor's New Clothes" type story in a rather short first draft, then later I found the story in the story which dealt more with issues of identity and how to cope with having strong drive to excel artistically but a mediocre talent. I wrote something that, after revision based on some great critiques, got an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future. I haven't sold that one yet, but I have received personal rejections from senior editors at three different SFWA-qualifying markets. Not the same thing as a sale, but at least it's getting passed up there.

The "what if" for this as-yet-unnamed story has been percolating in my back brain probably for years. It seemed it could be taken as sacrilegious, which in and of itself didn't bother me, but it seemed more like a gimmick suitable for a silly humor piece, and I'm not as interested in that.

Then today I thought of a way I could incorporate it into a story with a little more meat on its bones, a story that would maybe seem shocking to some but would definitely make the reader think. I've even got a one-sentence pitch for it, which I'm not going to give away here. :)

The next step for me is to brainstorm it, which I did in my new Scrivener journal. I didn't so much start writing the story or start writing an outline as much as just writing stream-of-consciousness about what I wanted to do with the story, who I think my protagonist is, what I want to say with it (theme), the fact that I need some major threats and obstacles for my protagonist to avoid making the story too cerebral and not visceral enough, etc. I think it will be a one-act story with a struggle for the protagonist that ends in him having a rather startling (I hope) revelation that leads to a major change of heart. I've got a murky idea of the ending and wrote a couple possible lines. I identified some things I need to research and thought of a couple people I know I can use as sources for this.

I wish I knew how to streamline the process of going from the "what if" to the story. I suppose I just have to give the creative part of my brain license to noodle on an idea for a while. At any rate, I'm excited about the story and expect to mull and brainstorm for a few more days and then get to the writing!

Not dead yet. And silly rhymes.

I've been neglecting this journal in favor of shorter snippets on Facebook these days, but if only for my own sake, I do want to get back into it. I realized today after finding my certificate for "Best Neil Gaiman-Themed Clerihew" from Mythcon in 2004 that I had a vague memory of winning the guest of honor Clerihew contest again in 2006 when Lois McMaster Bujold was our guest. But I didn't have anything to confirm this. "Oh, I bet I blogged about it!" Sure enough, I checked my good old livejournal for August 2006 and I had indeed mentioned that I had been the recipient of a bottle of invisible champagne for my troubles.

So for posterity's sake, here is the Clerihew I wrote in honor of Lois McMaster Bujold. It almost makes sense if you've read The Curse of Chalion.

Lois McMaster Bujold
Has conceived in her work a new mold
For a pentagonal pantheon
Of gods to put dresses or pants thereon. rhymes!

Sadly, I won't be at Mythcon this year in Albuquerque. I hope someone writes a really good Clerihew for Catherynne Valente!

Jamaica trip report part II

Blue Heron
I have a habit of starting trip reports and never finishing them. (For that matter, I have a habit of starting fiction projects and never...but wait, that's not what this post is about. And I did submit a new piece today, so go me!) I'm attempting to remedy this by actually posting a second installment of my Jamaica Trip Report before another month rolls around!

The first part of the trip report is here: Jamaica Trip Report Part I

Part II:To the south coast, with pictures!Collapse )

Next up, the trip to YS Falls, the Appleton Rum distillery, and one really mean pothole!

February sign-ups

This looks really cool--I'm not signing up this month because I'm a bit behind on writing and already have one collaborative project in progress for March. More details on that to follow in the next month or so. :)

Originally posted by niamh_sage at February sign-ups
Hi everyone,

It's very nearly February! *startled shriek* Time to sign up for our next round of 2xcreative.

As always, here's how it works:

- You put your name in the hat by commenting on this post (people without LJ accounts, please make sure to leave an email address!).
- After sign-ups are closed, I get all the names together and perform a feat of randomisation in order to produce a list of pairs, which I post here on the comm.
- You and your partner get in touch with each other to cook up a collaborative creative project, which you will have a month to complete.
- At the end of the month/beginning of next month, you and your partner come back to the comm to show us what you've made.

Sound cool? Okay, go to it! I'll leave the sign-up post open until Monday 31 January, 20:00 my time (GMT+1)).

One thing though - PLEASE only sign up if you intend to follow through on the project. There have been a few occasions recently where people's partners have not showed up. This is a big disappointment, so please, don't do that. Naturally, this doesn't include unexpected occurrences of Real Life, but if something comes up that makes it impossible for you to continue, please let your partner know as promptly as possible. Thanks!

One more thing: LJ has this spiffy new feature, a re-post button! If you'd like to spread the news of the latest [info]2xcreative sign-ups, you can do so by clicking on the button below and sharing this post on your own journal.


One of my Christmas presents this year was an gift certificate, always useful. (Thanks, Chris!) The only problem is deciding what to get.

I went a rather eclectic route. Because Jo Walton's papersky latest book, Among Others came out this week, I ordered it. I don't often buy hardbacks, but I've loved everything I've read by her, including Lifelode, which I nominated for the Mythopoeic Award last year. It won, deservingly so. I've got so many books backed up and waiting for me to read them, but this just went to the top of my fiction pile. I'll probably start it tonight.

I also got a nonfiction book that friends have been raving about (Hi Roberta and Lori!), Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. I read a bit of it today and did some of the exercises, which are focused on figuring out what you really want out of life as opposed to what you think you should want or society tells you you should want. I'm not usually big on "self-help" type books but this looks really good in terms of just nudging the reader to examine his or her own life and consider some positive changes.

I hadn't quite used up the gift card with those two purchases, so I decided to get something I'd put on my wish list a long time ago but didn't expect to ever buy: Gentle Giant Octopus by Karen Wallace. It's a children's book, but I had put it on my list after doing a search to find my absolute favorite book as a toddler. Because I read a book about an octopus when I was barely able to read at all, the octopus became my favorite animal. I had two stuffed octopuses by the time I was 3, one of them handmade by my parents. The book had beautiful, realistic art and told the story about a day in the life of an octopus: she escapes from predators by squirting ink, finds food, squeezes into a cave to lay eggs, the baby octopuses float away, etc.

This book really sounded like that one, but it didn't look quite right. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. It came out in 1998, so it couldn't have possibly been the right book anyway, but I guess I was hoping it was a later printing of a previous book that had gone out of print. The story is so much like the one I remember that it's hard for me to imagine this author came up with it without having read the previous book. The artwork is nice and more or less realistic, but not as rich as I recall. The language used is nice with some great use of imagery. The octopus "sinks like a huge rubber flower," for example. But it's not the same. I recall something in my old favorite book about the baby octopuses being described like confetti, or at least that is the way they looked floating away in the illustration. It's really a shame when a nice book goes out of print and is replaced by a pale copy. Still, I'm glad to have the book.


Jamaica trip report part I

Blue Heron
I'm back from a wonderful start to 2011 in Jamaica. This marks the fifth visit to that blessed island for me and Stephan. Though I know I love Jamaica, I forget how much until I'm actually there and it hits me hard with a take-your-breath-away sort of love that makes me know I'll be back.

I kept a daily journal while I was there, nothing too fancy, mostly just an account of what we did each day with a few thoughts about my novel and other writing projects. So I actually have the raw material for a trip report of sorts, something I always mean to do but seldom get around to doing. Throughout the course of this report, I'll include some links to places we visited as well as organizations that we support that do great work for community improvement, environmental protection, and sustainable tourism. Here's part I.

Part I of Trip Report, with picutres and links!Collapse )

Up next, the trip to Treasure Beach on Jamaica's south coast!


What was that?

In a fit of inspiration, or more likely, of novel procrastination, I have just written a bizarre little story of under 500 words. It might even be a prose poem, though it's been a long time since I've willingly committed poetry. But it does have a plot, with a beginning, a middle, and an ending that feels inevitable and is hopefully at least a bit surprising. At some point I'll have to consider what to do with the funny little thing, but for now, I'm going to make myself get some words in on the novel. So there! Take that, imagination!


The end of the feral cat colony. Almost.

Today I found Shankar, one of our feral cats, dead in the snow. I'd been worried about him because of the bad weather and because he was limping a couple of days ago and didn't seem to be feeling well. I don't know that there was anything more that we could have done for him, since he was avowedly feral till the end and only in recent months had permitted a small pat or back scratch while he was eating. To my knowledge, he never used the feral cat shelters we had put out.

As far as I know, he's the last of the group we had neutered and spayed in October 2007. The others are presumed to have died, but because we didn't actually see a body, we didn't really have a chance to mourn them. So with the death of Shankar, the last member of our little feral family, I feel the need to reflect on our experience caring for these beautiful creatures.

Remembrance of our feral cat colony with some pictures behind the cutCollapse )



Freya & Narvi
A couple of nights ago I dreamed that I woke up to find a garter snake snuggled up in bed with me. My first reaction was "Ack! What is this snake doing in bed?" My second reaction was, "Well, duh. It's cold-blooded. It's just trying to keep warm." So I just went back to sleep.

I suspect this dream was prompted by a couple of animals who, despite being warm-blooded, seem to feel the need to sleep plastered up against me on cold nights.

In other news, I'm done with my college students and high school music magnet students for the semester! I'm lucky to have so many excellent singers to work with who made great progress over the course of the semester.

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