Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Carry a Notebook!

This morning I had an appointment at the Family Health Clinic at SF General Hospital, which is where all my health care is. It's a wonderful clinic with a gorgeous memorial garden out front of a somewhat Gothic red brick building with many molded architectural details. Just short of looking like a church, with iron fences that have wisteria crawling over them and a long winding disabled ramp that sweeps through the rose garden on the way to the front door.

I got up early because my cat woke me up an hour earlier than I needed to get up. Cats are Muses. This cat has been patiently shedding Cat Hairs of Inspiration at me for all 12 years of his life - his birthday was a few days ago. He's a big hairy long hair colorpoint with a deep purr and a fine-tuned awareness of my health problems. I'm planning on getting him qualified as a service animal because on bad days, he takes care of me. He will literally apply Fuzzy Tummy Treatment to exactly the worst of my sore joints and lay there for hours applying heat and love. That literally eases the pain.

Of course, he also sheds Cat Hairs of Inspiration. This morning that meant his whiskers went up my nose and his purring was right in my face. I opened my eyes to big round blue eyes only two inches away and a gentle purring mew. Of course I petted him. Of course, wakened that gently, I vaguely thought about my novel, the Yellow House novel started coming back to me.

I didn't think anything of it. I enjoyed the rumination, got dressed, got ready, decided to go down to wait for the van about half an hour early because I didn't want to just sit around dressed. Of course before going I fed the cat and gave him plenty of attention for his sensitive awareness of my sleep cycle. He waited until my sleep cycle had just ended rather than the alarm mechanically waking me in the middle of it when I'd be too sick and miserable to move.

Meanwhile the Yellow House novel concept percolated in my mind. Down the elevator, out the door in my power scooter, rumble over the wooden steps they put in when they put up the barricades around the street work in front of my building.

I looked at the time. I waited about a minute just watching people. The first line of the novel ran through my head. Just that clear and distinct. I heard the narrating character's voice. He was reading it aloud to me.

Gnomes don't hate cats.

For me, 500 words or so isn't a massive word count for a day. But an unexpected out of season novel opener when it's nowhere near November and the concept was spur of the moment, that's something new and joyous. I live in San Francisco now. I am in the right place doing what I do, living well enough to have the time and energy to spare for novel writing.

So there it is. I've got my opener. The most critical part of the first draft process is done - after this a chapter a day is just a pleasant routine I established for years and years. It's possible for me to both write and have a life - that's today's discovery. Tomorrow I'll keep going with it and all the following tomorrows, not worrying about how much word count I get per day but just saying hello to it daily and seeing what's next.

It's going to be fun. To my surprise the first cat who appeared wasn't a black Oriental Shorthair or Maine Coon like most of the mage cats so far, but a gray Persian named Misty. Yeah. A pansy-faced cat. She gets groomed by gnomes and appreciates their brushing as much as the food treats and affection just as Persians always do. She's a girl and a Persian, what will happen next? This might be the World's Least Spooky Cat to put into a novel. No one's going to notice she's magical, just that she sheds a lot.

I mean, would you expect a purring gray Persian that looks pampered and pretty to have some connection with the supernatural or do you think she's more associated with the Fancy Feast commercials? But she's invisible at twilight and her soft wool provides many a warm cloak and sweater to the gnomes. For all her daintiness, the people who live closest to her know she is a cat. Many humans will think she looks more like a toy - and that may be a big advantage for Misty and her friends.

Moral of the entry: Carry a notebook. It doesn't have to be paper and pen, any smartphone with a note-taking function will work fine for it. The little one-key-at-a-time virtual keyboard is good enough to get it down fast. Evernote will get it down fast in a way it can be exported, maybe next time I'll use that instead of the note pad. But have something with you no matter where you go or what you're doing.

You never know when the Muse is going to strike or the best first line will surge up from the place stories come from. When you jot those down, you hook the big concepts and your unconscious is often a better writer than you are.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Sorry about my long absence. Most of that has been health reasons. Winter and spring even in San Francisco are seasons that get rough on my chronic conditions. I've been sleeping a lot, putting up with massive pain and also working on some art projects lately. I've been doing more art writing and art blogging without writing about writing because my fiction's been mostly on hold. Funny coincidence, because yesterday was the second time I painted a house recently. This was a paint-along with Johannes Vloothuis, noted Canadian landscape artist. He worked in oils very large, 16" x 20". I adapted it to pastels at 8" x 10" because I'm not someone who can stand at an easel. Most of the painting process, I was staring at the screen and my painting trying to keep up. Making artistic decisions to leave out this and that because I needed to scale it all down to my size and medium. I completely changed the architecture, not understanding his sketch. So the entrance is quite different and came up from the murky depths of my memory - of so many different Northern states, from a gated neighborhood in Minnesota to Westchester, New York.
When I posted it, my responses all had a consistent theme. "It looks like a fairy tale." "It's the cottage in the woods, comfort and warmth near the wild." "I can see gnomes and fairies there." That wasn't what I saw when I was painting it. Unlike the last time when I set out to do an illustration and came up with a Lovecraft story, the painting just happened and all my associations were nonverbal. It makes sense because art is right brained. Your right brain is the source of creativity. The well of inspiration, a place that's essentially wordless. Your left brain understands language, so using language creatively is like riding a bicycle. You need both sides. Nonetheless, after months of writing hiatus, a story idea did creep in. Obvious enough that everyone who saw the picture told me the story. It's like Spiderwyck, the place where the worlds wear thin and all the little legendary people hang out throwing parties in the kitchen or tribal wars in the attic. It's a good place for little people. I asked myself "Do the people in the house know all the other peoples that connect with it?" Sure they do. Yep, that read true. They get on well with them, the humans that own the house are gatekeepers and if some of the paranormals are human sized or magic can deal with scale differences, they may not even be pure humans. A touch of elven blood wouldn't hurt for a family like that. Talking about it with an artist friend, the idea hit me. Bank of America doesn't know that's a gateway between worlds or that the current owners are holding a peace with the supernatural. I read an article about a guy who didn't even have a mortgage getting foreclosed on and spending months and a fortune in lawyers fighting it when his house was paid up, he didn't actually borrow against it! That could happen to the Magic House and if it did, if they carried out the eviction - it wouldn't be that total an eviction. Instead with the gatekeepers gone and the gates left open, perhaps purposely, things would start to go nuts in the neighborhood. I can't imagine gatekeepers to the supernatural actually defaulting on a mortgage or needing one. They usually pay their bills with ancient gold, which in this day and age would mean selling a coin now and then to an antique dealer and depositing the money. But if there was even a minor bank error - whoops, there you go, house in foreclosure despite not having a mortgage on it. Any trouble sorting it out and they could actually get foreclosed on and have to move. That invites the squatters who aren't human and life gets interesting. So what do I do when I get an idea like that? Title of this entry: Ideafile. I set up a new file in my journal folder, titled Ideafile. This one was "Ideafile - Foreclosure." I describe everything I thought of for the idea and store it. Writing it out is a good start to remembering every detail. I'll probably copy out this entry and add it to the Ideafile, which I'll go back to every time the idea comes up again. They're not hard to search for - just search my computer for the keyword Ideafile. This way when I do make time to write and sit there wondering what to write, I have my choice of all the ideas that came along when something else was scheduled. That's when ideas come. Today I'm planning on going out to Golden Gate Park with a friend, not banging out the start of a new rough draft. But as long as I've created the Ideafile, I can come back to it again. This will eventually be written. I'm also working on some older ideas, sometimes they steep for years. My lost science fiction novel "Garden of Earthly Delights" is getting a new cast. I've been working on building new characters for it and reconstructing it. Not exactly outlining but making a lot of notes, getting ready to do it again better this time. The lost version stank, the new one will have the benefit of a lot more life experience than back when I first got the idea. So when you get ideas, don't just ignore them. This is where the ideas come from. They come up when you're doing something else, when you don't have time to stop and work on a novel or story, when you're trying to sleep or muzzily waking up. Get them down and develop a system for finding them easily. Then when the day comes that you do make time for your writing, you'll have some choices when the left brain takes the lead to put these stories into words.