Writing Stops and Starts

Okay, so I’ve been struggling to get back to the writing project on the creepy haunted dollhouse, in part because it’s going to take research to get where I want to go with it, and that’s a time and energy thing. But the more I rewatch my current favourites and obsessions — Marvel movies, Castle, OUAT, SupernaturalThe MartianGhostbusters (reboot) [I go through periods of obsession over a universe and then they are overtaken by new ones, but they are always in the background] — and read articles about their characters and writers and directors, the more it’s bugging me that I can’t get this story under control or back into momentum or whatever you want to call it.

For me, writing is both planning and pantsing: I know what I want to produce, and I think I know how to get there, but in the middle of it all the damned thing surprises me over and over again as the characters take on their lives. Sometimes, I start to feel like I’m just an observer for the words that are coming out, a passenger on the journey who is tasked with documenting what goes on.

The creepy haunted dollhouse thing was supposed to be a narrative at first, but then I realized that it really wanted to be an epistolary. So, I started working on that, building a treasury of tales of the consequences of coming into contact with this object that had been built for mysterious reasons out of used coffin wood. Had to come up with those reasons, after a while, and doing so opened up a whole second world of possibilities, some of which my teenage son told me were too out-there for the whole thing. But for whatever reason, I can’t just let go of that secondary plot. I tried exploring it more in NaNoWriMo, and found that by the end of November, it was almost cornering me in. Sought out feedback from friends and other talented writers (who are friends), and it was very helpful in conceptualizing, but I still have to do the work.

Tonight, thinking about The Martian again, I realized that I need to make a list of things to do for the creepy dollhouse novel in order to get the first draft done. It’s not like writing the Talbot Trilogy, not in the least. Here’s what I need to do, how to work the problem, as Mark Watney would say — how to begin:

  • Soundtrack — I find it really helps to have music going on in the background for inspiration. I had playlists for the Talbot Trilogy, and I think I’d started on one for this, so I’m hoping I can find it. Songs connect to theme and character development, plus inform plot twists and moments of insight as they come about in the writing.
  • Protagonist — I’ve got her name (Bronwyn) and I know her genealogy, but I need to write it out in full, I think, with a timeline of events in her life to really know where she’s coming from. Sometimes these things come up during the drafting, though, as well. I had a recent experience at a hypnotist show that probably explains my rekindling of interest in the Bucky Barnes storyline, in the psychology of memory, so I may delve into that for Bronwyn’s purpose and actions. This means I’ll likely be re-writing her chapters. I want to sigh about that, but you know what? Sometimes the second draft is more satisfying than the first.
  • Research — a lot of what Bronwyn does is based on my own suppositions and extrapolations from past experience, but it doesn’t feel authentic enough because I haven’t done the proper research into the job she does. There’s a list of things I need to look up, in my head, that I need to put to paper. Kind of jealous of Diana Gabaldon and her team of researchers and assistants . . .

The big thing is that I have to consider what attracts me to the Bucky storyline, as well as others that involve amnesia and brainwashing — big fan of the Bourne series, for example — and the elements of horror and suspense that I want to include, and keep them in mind at all times when I’m putting bits of the story into place. This is why Stephen King recommends staying on the draft until it’s done, I guess.

If I had a room in my house dedicated to writing, I’d put these keys on the wall. I want my creepy dollhouse project to be about the creepy dollhouse, and the things that it does, but I also want it to be about memory, programming, identity, secrets and revelations, hope and despair, being trapped and searching for escape. I see it as The Dybbuk Box meets World War Z, in a sense, touching on fairy tales and lore. It’s a huge project. I don’t want it to take years; I can’t afford for it to take years, too, because I’ve applied to do grad school online and I have a full-time job on top of that, plus I’m going to apply to theatre grad school in two years. But I can’t rush this process, either.

Here’s a video I keep coming back to — for some reason, it keeps connecting with the creepy dollhouse in my head. Wish I knew why. For now, it’s tenuous.


I should be sleeping, but this is how it is — sometimes, my head grabs hold of these things and won’t let go. So I’ll list some strategies to try out tomorrow, see if that helps:

  • Character sketch
  • Freewrite / association
  • Brainstorming through mind-map
  • Timeline of (possible) events
  • Soundtrack with associated (possible) events
  • Specifics to research

Maybe it will help to tell you what happened at the hypnotist show. I’ll do that tomorrow, too.

Thanks, Internet peeps. Appreciate the listening ear and reading eyes. 🙂

Thank you, Peterborough Book Club Ladies!

I want to send a special shout-out and thank you SO MUCH to the ladies of the Peterborough Book Club for hosting me via Skype tonight! I had a wonderful time chatting with you and answering your questions — very much appreciated talking about Rayvin, Charlotte, Andrea, and the malevolently marvellous Malcolm de Sade! Cheers and hope to meet you all in person, too! <<hugs>>

Nails, Teeth, and Napping: Battling My Anxiety

These are the three big ways that my anxiety manifests itself: picking at my nails (or my eyelashes), grinding my teeth, and napping. I sleep when I can’t handle the negative emotions threatening to overwhelm me.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen and everyone still finding a label or choosing to be label-free — I am one of those who has struggled with my mental health for more than a decade. Sometimes I’m vocal, and other times, I keep it to myself for many different reasons, some of them valid and some of them fabricated by my own mind. But right now, I’m healthy, and that’s something.

One of the indicators of health is controlling my sleep, only napping when I’m truly tired instead of using it as avoidance or coping, or because the exhaustion is a result of pushing myself beyond my endurance. Another is that picking. I’m not a nail-chewer, though I’ve tried it once or twice. No, I run the tips of my fingers over my nails regularly and frequently, checking for snags, dips, chips, and weak spots; I rub my cuticles, looking for loosened bits of skin in the corners and along the edges of my fingers; I examine them closely, and the moment I feel imperfection, I begin to work at it. I whittle and pull and slice with the other nails in a futile effort to bring things back to smoothness. Sometimes this ends up taking the nail right down to the quick, or in a cuticle turning into a hangnail, or both. It’s a nasty, occasionally painful, and curiously satisfying business, but only to a point — as soon as I find another irregularity, it starts all over again. The only thing I’ve found to be helpful in stopping the madness? Knitting.

This week, I discovered that because I’d been knitting again, consistently, my nails had grown out to a surprising length — long enough to clack and click on the keyboard, and therefore be prone to chipping, dipping, snagging, breaking, as well as being a general nuisance in my documenting at work. I started to feel the urge to pick.

Instead, I found a nail kit I’d bought months ago and stashed in my knitting bag. And folks, I slowly and carefully trimmed and filed my nails to an appropriate length. No pulling. No mad angles jaggedly running down into the pink bed and making hand washing, typing, and peeling fruit a stinging pain. I didn’t get the temporary satisfaction of material easing away, but I do have ten even, clean fingernails with healing cuticles (for the most part).

Part of my brain will tell me that this is trivial in the face of other problems in the world. But another part of my mind says, this is a battle won. Self-care is important when it comes to mental health. If I can take this little step of looking after my hands, instead of abusing them, it’s one more positive light that helps to push back the dark always threatening around the edges of my perspective.

I took care of my hands. Point: Me.


What Makes Me Write

So, I didn’t blog once a week as I’d planned to do over the last year.

And I haven’t completed my next novel — yet.

Still, I’m here. I’ve started innumerable blog posts in my head, but never got around to typing them out. Gotta smarten up about that.

The last several months have seen momentum, though. I’ve had my novella, Rip Gone Wrong, go through editing and once I complete the notes and have it proofread, I’ll either shop for a publisher or go for self-publishing.The family trip to FanExpo was amazing, and we were right into the school year immediately following that, which meant getting into another haunted house fundraising event. As soon as the event was over, I dove into National Novel Writing Month and got a draft underway for the experimental writing project started in the summer of 2015. Reaaaallly hoping that it doesn’t take me another seven years to finish the damned manuscript, this time. So I’ve been trying to boost my motivation by indulging in some of the stories that inspire me, such as Castle (my darling spouse gave me the final three seasons for Christmas), and my favourite films from the Marvel Universe.

Like Captain America: Civil War — I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this, and I’m watching it because I am always so intrigued by the Bucky storyline. Something about a person’s mind being no longer their own — fighting against programming to regain control, and the struggle that goes along with even recognizing that the control was even put in place, I am very interested in all of these things. It’s very Manchurian Candidate. The psychology of Bucky Barnes is a fascinating thing to me. I should start collecting all comic book issues that have to do with his journey, following what he went through in war, before and after being captured by the Nazis and turned into the Winter Soldier, and his gradual resurfacing. We all change and grow over time, but for Bucky Barnes, the choice of how and when he was changing (and for what purpose) was taken from him, as it is for so many in areas of conflict. The actions he took and crimes he committed still live in his memory, a reality he has no choice in living with. He exists in a permanent state of grey, eventually fighting toward the lighter side in his actions and choices (e.g., not killing the armed men sent to kill him).

I am fascinated by grey. Rayvin, the protagonist in The Talbot Trilogy, exists in some grey, as well. She’s forced into cohabitation with a terrible supernatural being and recognizes the awfulness of her situation, but some part of her also enjoys it, I think. And she hates that she enjoys it, because she knows it’s wrong for her to have the small moments of joy that de Sade gives her. It’s not just the sex, though that’s a big part of it — I think that she, like many people, feels a degree of comfort or security on some level, at least for a little while, when the boundaries are clearly demarcated, even if they’re against her will. If someone else is calling the shots and you have no choice in your responses, there’s a moral relief somewhere in there. Rayvin could honestly say, “It wasn’t my fault.” And then she could choose to dive deeper into the morass, submitting wholly to the power being wielded over her, or fight back with full knowledge of the awful consequences that would come next: physical pain, emotional torment, and death — hers, and that of others.

Bucky Barnes makes me think of Anakin Skywalker, too, and his transformation or slip into Darth Vader. That moment when he chooses to stop fighting against being selfish and allow corruption to fuel, guide, or inform his actions, it’s so recognizable. But the difference between Bucky and Anakin is that the former is overtly brainwashed, while the young Darth Vader is fully aware of what he should and should not be doing, yet chooses the dark path. And his reasons for doing so are complicated. It’s a very human condition to want to give in to the easiest way, take the road that’s of most benefit to the self, and once you’re there, maybe it’s a point of pride or saving face to refuse to admit that the choice was wrong. Bucky, at least, can say that he didn’t choose corruption, but it is no less uncomfortable to be him.

Moral ambiguity, corruption, power and selfishness — these are themes that have been repeating in the media for months. Maybe mind control could be added to them, when we consider how much choices of media are said to influence people’s perspectives and values. Where there are two opposing views, and each side proclaims the other to be wrong, declaring that the evidence is overly biased / false / doctored / exaggerated, it gets hard to know what’s real anymore.

This is what makes me write. What makes me want to write. Every story has a degree of truth, an exploration of humanity. I want to know what is inside Bucky Barnes and how he gains the strength to fight his conditioning, cope with his memories, and move forward trying to do positive things. How did it feel for Anakin Skywalker, when he gave into the fear and despair and turned against all of his training, knowing what the choice would do to him? How much is what we tell ourselves truth, and how much do we fool ourselves to keep from hurting (ourselves / others) and dealing with the consequences of poor choices coming to light?