Monday, 28 May 2012

Traveling the inward spiral

I'm most definitely back on the inward spiral part of my usual cycle. Right now, my life's mostly about processing, thinking and exploring issues. Part of the process is verbalised, most is under the surface. Usually, I'm coming back from that land with stories and ideas.

I have been productive on the historical novel - a few hundred words at a time, nothing on some days, but I've overcome the anxiety of "OMG, I'm not writing 5k a day!" Essentially, it is what it is. Writing at all is a miracle, and I'm grateful for every word. Every sentence gets me closer to the end. This is a slow book - foot rather than fighter jet.

Lately, my thoughts and stuff I was working on deal with my roots - and I'm getting somewhere with matters such as ancestry and the cut-off history beyond my own generation, with everything else beyond my own generation in my family sinking into myth. It's my own attitude to those myths, and how much of that I want in my own life, space and thoughts, that I've been tackling.

The other big theme is fear. I'm going to confess one of my biggest fears: that I might actually make it. That what I sometimes laughingly call my megalomania isn't. (Just typing this makes my inner introvert coil uneasily, I mean, who cares, right?)

At the bottom of it all is the fear that, should I hit success, somebody will take my writing away. I won't be master of my creativity anymore. I'll have signed a contract that forces me to deliver, even if I don't want to, on pain of having to pay back everything, disappointing people, and publishers getting nasty. My natural response when signing any contract is that I want to run away. I don't want the obligation. In fact, I resent it from the foundations of my soul.

Another worry is that I will have to deliver - write books I don't feel, because I'm obliged to. Again, a matter of freedom and free choice. It all boils down to something I have so deep in my DNA it's one of the guiding principles of my life. Never to depend on anybody. To be strong, independent, my own master. It's a lesson I've learnt from my mother, who spent half her breaths on it: "Never rely on anybody. Never make yourself dependent on anybody. You will regret it." (She'd won that wisdom the hardest way imaginable - with four husbands who ranged from kind and supportive to complete assholes, the worst of them my father.)

The history of my relationship with my dude is about that. Whenever it looks like I might become the weaker partner, something inside me simply screeches in terror. Fear. Horror. Resentment. Poor bastard certainly doesn't deserve it. Never does. I just don't deal well with it. And I think that ties into power. I have issues with power and authority. To me, it seems to imply dependence. Weakness.

So, ironically, being successful as a writer wouldn't feel like a powerful position to me, but one of weakness, obligation, and loss of control. Defensive. I'm rather a niche author in control than a big author who's not, because at the bottom if it all, something inside me is terrified of losing my freedom. To me, being the thrall of a king or pope and making art for them sounds like a complete nightmare. Depending on somebody's whim for my creative livelihood. It's certainly the seed of a story, that conflict. I bet it's going to show up at some point.

The good thing of this kind of explorative work is, I can examine these issues without risk. I don't have to become anybody's thrall to explore that situation. (And here I was, wondering why all my characters are tied so deeply by obligation and their own sense of honor - it's my shadow expressing itself. A possibility, in part unlived, in part kept at arm's length, and permitted only after careful consideration when I feel "safe".)

Another good thing is, I can overcome that fear, tiny step by tiny step. Tackling that fear is the big work I'm doing at the moment. I've examined other fears - all the childish, profound ones that hold authors back: fear of not being loved, fear of rejection, material/financial angst, being a failure, standing out/making yourself a target - and I don't mind any of those.

When examining "fear of not being loved", something twitched in my soul, so there's some substance to it, but that's something I've made good progress on, not in the least by repeating "somebody is being an asshole on the internet" in a mocking sing-song to myself, reminding myself of that cartoon ("Come to bed!" - "I can't! Somebody is WRONG ON THE INTERNET!" - that one) and how silly that is. Somebody somewhere will always hate me and my writing/books. They are not my readers. I can just let them go on their way to something that will please them more. No hard feelings. Not everybody likes strawberries. Blaming or hating the strawberries is not exactly a productive use of time, space or emotional energy. (And, yep, getting there took me a while, but I made a big step over the last few weeks, helped along, in part, by former friends of mine and what their words/actions taught me.)

So, I'm looking at my fears and try to walk towards them. Path of greatest resistance. I see the guardians of the threshold, and I'm taking small steps towards myself. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Some thoughts on uniforms, soldiers and Nazis

It's one of the topics I find endlessly fascinating. War, and those who do war. The culture of war. What war does to people both on a collective and individual level. The last months, I've almost completely focused on WWII in my reading, writing and thinking. I think my co-writers are beginning to think I'm nuts. Every conversation ends up derailed with anecdotes like, "Did you know that Goering did..."

I call it total immersion. I'd quite like to do nothing but travel to the relevant museums and archives and locations, but in the absence of a few million in the bank to grant me that gentleman of leisure lifestyle, I'm doing the best I can with primary sources (letters and diaries, but also music and films/footage of the time), secondary sources (books and documentaries) and anything else I can get my hands on. I'm hoping to go up to Duxford and visit the Messerschmitt fighter plane they are keeping there for a nebulous idea I've had.

For the current novel, I'm pretty tempted to go to Paris and take my new camera to shoot the locations. Above all, that would be Montmartre, but also the general area where the Germans had their HQs. The photos I have bookmarked on the internet already help, but I only viscerally understand a place when I've walked it. (On that note, every long walk in London, especially those I do with guests who are often interested in things I wouldn't have sought out by myself, helps me come to grips with this city.) So, Paris. Eventually. Again. And this time, no "Louvre as extreme sport." It'll need some planning - I'll actually have to make a list of the places I want to see and photograph as visual references.

In any case, it's Men in Uniform Month over at Chicks & Dicks, and they invited me and kept hassling, so I rewrote my original 2k post on soldiers yesterday night - I'm amazed it made any sense at all. You can find it here. 

And now I'll try to find even a few words for my historical novel and then wrap up an editing project tomorrow. I'm so close towards the end, but editing/thinking when I'm so tired doesn't do anybody any favours.

The bitchslapped author (or: Goodbye Goodreads)

As much as it heartens me that my books are doing well on a Goodreads reader-voted list, my solo books being on the "Kick-Ass Women-Written M/M Books" feels like a punch in the face.

I'm totally OK with my co-written things to be there - fact is that I most of my co-written things are co-written with women and female-identified writers, it's the nature of the beast - but my solo stuff? Way to make a compliment feel like a bitchslap. It's this need to decide MY gender for me (like I can't work it out on my own) and to "out" me (just like my charming ex-co-writer has done for years), when there's really no big newsflash. I've "outed" myself back in November, and apart from the death of my mother, it was one of the most painful events of my life. It's even worse - it attempts to make my identity invalid. It says "HE IS NOT TRANS, SHE'S A WOMAN!"

Honestly, words fail me. Just seeing this today was a punch to my gut. I sit in front of the computer, feeling ill and angry and irrational. I want to punch somebody, and I can't. Welcome to the internet, where people go out of their way to be assholes, because they are unaccountable for their actions.

I will try to stay away from Goodreads now. It's not an environment that is any good at all for me. I have enough things on my plate - productive things, writing things, editing and publishing things - to allow that place to mess with my head like that.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The eagle's wings are broken

Today I went back to the Imperial War Museum. It's one of those places I visit every few months - for the bookshop, and to stare up at the planes suspended from the roof. And then I do one of the galleries, or maybe two. If my stomach is especially strong that day, I go to the Holocaust Exhibition - something I'm not always strong enough for.

Today, I had a stroll through the WWI and WWII galleries, and while it was busy, I got some quality time (=unimpeded time to photograph) with this exhibit. This helps me with my WWII novel - and learn my camera. But mostly, I could stare at it and allow it to go deep, deep enough into my soul where my characters live. And, yep, that's a Third Reich bronze eagle - the holes are from bullets. Some people bring the weirdest souvenirs from war. I think they get bigger when you click on them.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

In-flight entertainment

I went to Canada last week, and that's often a good moment to catch up with my reading. In this case and thanks to a pretty crowded and loud flight, I ended up watching movies. I guess you could say I was catching up with movies that I either missed or simply didn't want to spend money on.

For the flight in, I chose three, which were totally meant to be brainless entertainment. So the first I saw was Captain America, which was one of the "only over my dead body" and "no popcorn is so good that I want to go see it" movies. My partner's eyes were large as saucers when I selected that, and I said "well, it does have Nazis" - which it did. I did like the look of that, and they actually managed to wring a decent movie out of the most boring of all the superheroes (actually, scratch that, Superman *is* more boring than Cap). It was certainly entertaining - only thing missing was the popcorn.

Then I saw War Horse, an overrated piece of sentimental tosh if I've ever seen one. Spielberg presses the emotional buttons with a gleeful "haha! It has animals! Soulful shots of men doomed to die! Landscape! Olde English pretties! I CAN TOTALLY GET YOU, suckers! Oscars, here I COME!" I'm not sure why this fell so flat to me - for the record, I've seen the stage play and loved it, so I was curious how they approached it. I think the structural weakness inherent in the book really opens into chasms on the big screen, whereas, maybe in the theatre, you're more willing to suspend disbelief. Also, the cast at the National Theatre did an autstanding job. There was a funny scene when both sides tried to attract the horse (one by tsking, the other by whistling), which summed up the whole bizarre war, but otherwise, a definite "meh" experience.

With an hour to spare at that point, I re-visited Kingdom of Heaven, which I'd seen before. I was getting so bedraggled that I ran for comfort, so pushed into Middle Ages and Crusades and Stuff Seen Before (I feel rarely that mentally vulnerable, but I did there). Many things I loved - the shots, the colours, the set-up (although many of the premises and ideas behind the movies break my historical heart, or what's left of it after Orlando "Elf Boy" Bloom's "acting" - I mean, really?), but when the flight's end cut that one short, it didn't really hurt. I was at that cringe-worthy moment where Orlando is being so honorable and knightly that he condemns everybody to die and suffer, from the people he's sworn to protect to the woman he loves. I might pick the movie up again just to revel in the images, but I might need vodka to stand the rest.

On the way back, I had much better luck with my choices. First, I saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which wasn't a bad movie at all, and well-chosen for an overnight flight that will make your brain bleed with an additional 5 hours' time difference. It's pretty, it's fast-paced, and a decent enough action movie (also, wow, vertigo!). Loved Simon Pegg in it and can totally see all possible combinations of characters pairing off for a hot two-, three- and foursome. Also, the female team member was competent and less of a nuisance, though not particularly deep (though the reversal of the male-character-death-as-motivation in her background was a neat reversal).

Best movie, though? I only watched The Matador on the strength of the casting of Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan is interesting here because he's totally playing up his charisma, and they are not relying on a suave, smoothe or beefcake persona like in the Bond movies. The character he plays is at times gross, repugnant, charming, competent, ridiculous, sentimental and then plain vulnerable human (which actually takes acting chops to do, which Brosnan really really has). Him getting older (and wrinkled) has allowed him to play actual *characters*. Also, the relationship between the hitman and the businessman is basically a romantic comedy. I would totally not have blinked if the "secret" of that night in the past had been a hot love scene. There's also a long moment in the film where I found a threesome with the wife the natural outcome - and I'm pretty sure that's the very much intended subtext. Definitely worth watching for some fantastic character moments, good acting, and really tense moments. Not the most expensive or shiny production, but it held up well against the really big blockbusters thanks to its intelligence and the acting chops on display. Definitely one to re-watch.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Gaining a year

I noticed something really weird yesterday, when a friend asked me how old I'll get in two days (4 May). I said "37." She said "That's not possible." Assuming that it was a form of flattery on her part, I said "yes it is."

And then she calculated that if I'm born in 1975 (which I am), and have my birthday on 4 May, I'm actually not yet 37, but 36. So, uhm. I'll just be 37 for two years, or maybe I'm gaining a year - I haven't quite made up my mind, but you'd assume that somebody somewhat conversant with numbers can actually calculate his own age.

I'm not sure if that kind happens to other people, but it also means I'm moving in a "post-age" space. It used to be a big deal, this age thing (especially when you want to see gory action movies or want to stay out late), but in the last few years I've pretty much decided that I'm about 27-30, or an "advanced teenager with a paycheck" - the only reason why I'm not 15-17 is that I've finished what they call "higher education" and don't feel like repeating it (or the anxiety about not being able to pay rent).

I fully expect the age thing to become important again when I'm counting down the years to retirement (and to accessing my pension fund), but for the moment, I'm floating in a space where I do need both hands with all fingers (okay, the calculator on my iPhone) to calculate my actual physical age.

At times, I feel like I'm inhabiting my own side-pocket in the space-time continuum; it's like the reality of other people, just a little bit warped and possibly inhabited by a larger amount of fairy-tale creatures and archetypes than normal. It's the Voinov version of Gaiman's Neverwhere. (That said, London IS it's own dimension, I have no doubt about it. Many other places I've been to are just less real. Or it's the history.)

In any case, normally I'd try to celebrate my birthday with free fiction of some kind, but the truth is, I'm currently not actually writing (I'm nostly reading, researching and doing Other Things, like plotting world domination). Maybe I'll come up with something though. Will think on it. I might be a touch late - I'm off to Canada (Ottawa) tomorrow and I assume I won't be spending that much time on front of a computer. Back on 11 May, then to tackle the mail inbox.

Have a great start into May, folks!