<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Friday, November 26, 2004
Cut It Out

So late last week I got a note: the anthology deadline has been extended! And so the bagpipe story, in all its irritating glory, did not need to be written quite yet. What a relief. I know that I could have gotten a story finished, and who knows, it might have even been readable, but it wouldn't be what it should have been.

It's actually been interesting to look back and examine my behaviour towards this story over the last little while. For a few weeks, other than work I effectively shut everything down to concentrate on getting this story done. I read very little (something bound to make me twitchy at the best of times), watched very little TV, didn't go out, just sat and tried to make the story work. And I did get a lot of good work done--not necessarily good words, but good work in terms of figuring out what had to happen and how and what it all should sound like.

The weird thing, though, is how conscious it all was; I spent so much time trying to logically plan things out--trying to plot--and that's just not really how I work. The majority of that stuff is usually subconscious--which is why so many of my stories are written from ideas that I had quite a while before. Days or weeks at rare lucky times, but usually months or years. The main Peak of the Ocean plot is something that I've held in the back of my head for over seven years at this point; and now that it's all coming to the fore, I'm working on the little details but my subconsious has already hammered out the rough shape.

Not so with the bagpipe story. I said on more than one occasion that if it wasn't for the anthology deadline I'd have just pushed the idea to the back of my brain for a year or so until it was ready to write. But, without that option, I attempted to make an unconscious process conscious ... with some success, but more failure. (It is also, I realize, the reason that I'd suddenly go watch episode after episode of Farscape--trying to occupy the conscious part of the brain while the subconscious chews on the story. Or is that just more justification for procrastination?) I know a lot more about what this story needs to be now than I did before, but did not at all enjoy the process of coming to those realizations.

And since I have historically had problems with working on multiple projects at once, I stayed focused on that one story, even when it wasn't working, and didn't let my brain write the thing that it wanted to write. Of course, I used to think that I had to write chronologically, too ... until one day I began writing a story in pieces, totally out of order.

So looking back on what I had been trying to do, I could only say to myself, "Well, that was dumb."

Which is when I caught myself doing the second dumb thing: becoming conscious and obsessive in exactly the same way about the work that I really did want to write.

It's funny how we train ourselves. After writhing around with the creative entanglements of a story that didn't want to be written yet, I was looking for yet more problems and difficulties and stumbling blocks with a project that didn't have any. Looking, without knowing it, for a reason to keep writhing. Realizing that--and paying attention to the realization by stopping and thinking of only that for a moment or two, rather than immediately distracting myself with email or peachy-o candies or the internet staring at me out through the screen--was really all it took. Wanting to writhe and feel distressed--yes, I'll say it: that's dumb, too.

And so I plunked my ass down in the chair and said, "Book time!" And yep, it was book time. No distress, no writhing, no woe-is-me nonsense; just a moment or two of pondering and re-reading lines written months before, and then writing. Just ... writing.

Sometimes I can see why people go for the whole distressed artist routine. (Despite what others tell you, it's not because black is such a slimming colour.) There's something addictive about examining the creative process curled in on itself, and one feels so much more important when fighting so hard to be creative.

To the part of my mind obsessed with such drama, and everyone else who is subconsciously playing the same game, I'll say it again: that's dumb. That's bullshit. Cut it out now.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 2:10 PM (0) comments

Monday, November 22, 2004
An Explanation

I am wearing jeans at work. Anyone who has discussed my place of work with me in any detail will know that this is Not Acceptable. I, however, argue that I have a good reason for my rather casual attire.

See, yesterday it was a lovely day: sunny, warm (for November), with a perfectly blue sky. Mid-afternoon I decided I’d take a little drive to visit and have dinner with my parents. Not only was it such a lovely day, but I hadn’t seen or spoken with my family very much in the past weeks, and hadn’t seen my animals, and besides, I was being bombarded with requests for more Season 2 episodes of Farscape. It was to be a trip of just a few hours; I’d home in time to wash my dishes and get my clothes out of the laundry and get to bed in time for work the next morning.

What was also handy about this trip was that I needed some help putting air in my (well, Siro’s) tires. It is not a hard task, I know, but was something that I’d been wanting to do for weeks, owing to the fact that I could not get the little caps off the air valves. I blamed this on my ineffective child-sized hands and thought little more of the matter.

Enlisting my father’s help, I discovered why I hadn’t been able to get the little caps off: when I had my tires replaced, some genius in the tire store put all the hubcaps on wrong so that they pressed the air valves into the rims. The removal of the hubcaps required considerable force—again, more than my child-sized hands could generate. Well, once the hubcaps were off, putting air in the tires was no big deal … until the removal of the fourth hubcap made something start … hissing. Something as in the tire. Hissing as in leaking air at a furious rate.

It seemed that in one tire out of the four, the bending of the air valve caused the valve to crack, so that when the hubcap was removed and the crack was exposed, the tire thus lost any ability to hold air. Delightful. Luckily, tire air valves are only a few dollars—a bit of a pain to replace, but only a few dollars. However, it was at that point 6 PM on a Sunday, and no place that carried air valves within an hour’s drive of New House was open.

I was suddenly the owner of a three-wheeled car.

Now Siro has a spare tire. But, being an economy car, the spare is also best described as an economy tire. Not something I could drive far on, even had I desired it.

Thus the plan was hatched: I had to stay at New House overnight, borrow another vehicle while Siro was in the tire store, drive to work and come back afterwards. Great! However, I had only packed for a four-hour trip: in other words, no work clothes. An examination of my closet revealed my velvet renaissance dress, a summer silk Chinese dress, and a kicky pair of sweat pants.

So I wore the jeans. But, let me tell you, it’s going to be a while before I live down the comments.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 4:32 PM (0) comments

Friday, November 12, 2004
An Open Letter to the Work Previously Known as "the Bagpipe Story"

Dear Story,

I understand that you’re one of those “difficult children” that I must sometimes deal with. I also understand that the related pressures of a quickly-approaching deadline, your being set in a real location, and seemingly everyone I know not only knowing about your (continued lack of) existence but also inquiring about your progress, plot and motivations are making things difficult.

I truly believe that you could be a great story, or at least a quirky, enjoyable little story; but, if needed, you will simply be a completed story. I am fast running out of compassion and patience. This will be better for the both of us if you just pick one plot, one voice and one tense and stick with it. (Or, if not, make your bizarre stylistic intentions obvious so that I may gleefully work with them instead of deleting yet more text.) Otherwise I fear we’re going to have a pretty terrible weekend.

Hope we can work everything out.

Love, your frustrated author,

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:48 PM (0) comments

Thursday, November 11, 2004
I Get High on My Attitude, Latitude

You probably don’t want to read R.E.M. concert report #4, I’m guessing, because certain things are always the same: I have a great time, feel happy and uplifted listening to the music, don’t eat a good dinner, only get a few hours sleep and post something rambling with a silly lyric-based title. I gave you the title; assume the rest.

What was different this time: they played at the Hummingbird Centre (for those who aren’t locals, this is the same place where they hold operas and the ballet and similar things) so the tickets were expensive and the acoustics were incredible. Michael Stipe was displeased at The Incredibles for stealing his look (and the moment he said it, I realized it was true—if not the stealing, then at least the similarity). The opening act was a guy named Joseph Arthur, who I’d never heard of, who looked kind of scruffy, and who thoroughly impressed me. One guy, one guitar and by recording and looping bits that he played, he created these complex, layered songs, some of which I really enjoyed. But also we must remember that I’m easily impressed by musical ability; a case of me greatly respecting that which I lack.

And since I’m not posting a concert report, that is all.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:39 PM (0) comments

Thursday, November 04, 2004
All Sorts of Incredible

Not going to say anything about the election; even thinking about it makes me feel so damned tired. I will only say this: to my American friends--especially those who've discussed this with me earlier--you are welcome to stay with me while you find a new place to live.

Still busy, still jetlagged, still not sleeping properly, but good things are definitely happening. Take yesterday, for instance. Sarah (and lord only knows how she does this, and so very often) won tickets to go see a preview screening of The Incredibles. This was a movie that she really wanted to see; me ... not as much. But hey, free tickets. And so I went.

I surprised myself by not only liking, but absolutely loving this movie. I've enjoyed other Pixar movies--clever, fun, well-written--but something about this one just grabbed me. It's all those things I said, but more; at one part I laughed so hard that I couldn't see the movie screen, and at least twice something happened that made me nearly jump out of my seat. (Course, I am a shockingly jumpy person...)

Of course, my true love is always those slightly indescribable pieces; things that are subtle and resonant and elegant. But in this film, things blow up, and get sucked into jet engines, and people have cool superhero powers. It made me laugh. It's all about variety.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 9:47 AM (1) comments

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
World Fantasy Con Report, Part 1

Thursday morning, 4:45 AM, I am up and scurrying quietly about the apartment, trying not to wake Carly with my last-minute preparations. Earlier than expected, Jana and the taxi arrive, and I'm off--not to work, as I should be, but to Arizona and World Fantasy Con, my first time to both.

At the airport, Jana and I quickly encountered Jane and Michelle. The business crowd hadn't yet arrived, so the trip through customs and security was quick and painless. Having over an hour to kill before the flight, we all sat at the gate and chatted in our somewhat sleepy, somewhat excited manner. Michelle held her coffee and seemed displeased with being up so early (I quite agreed and would have slept on the floor if I wasn't so jittery), and Jane took pictures with her Palm, and we talked and wondered where Ruth was.

We boarded the plane. Where was Ruth? Surely she'd be coming. She'd be there any minute. And then the blocks were pulled from the wheels and we were leaving the gate and it became clear that Ruth had missed the flight.

As flights go, it was decent enough. The airline headphones that I'd brought, feeling ever so clever for having the super-special two-prong jack end, didn't fit in the America West jacks and damn if I was going to pay them $5 for headphones I'd have to give back. When I got tired of reading, and tired of being tired, I watched Spiderman 2 without the sound. I ate and distributed my apple muffins, happy with myself for that decision after all, because yes, I'd been up to late making them, and yes, they'd turned out a little odd, but there I was with a bag full of fresh muffins, not needing to pay $7 for airline food.

When we arrived in Phoenix it was cold. And raining. I was not impressed.

After some confusion at the airport, Jana, Jane and Michelle left to get the shuttle to the hotel and I was picked up by my friend Amy. Amy and I went to Clarion together, and despite the fact that we were good friends, somehow we just lost touch over the past while. I realized that I hadn't actually seen her in something like two and a half years, and hadn't even spoken/emailed her in about a year and a half (due in part to the only email address that I had for her no longer working).

I spent the next couple of hours driving about Phoenix and Chandler and Tempe with Amy--we went out for lunch at an excellent Mexican restaurant, and chatted about everything that had happened since we'd last seen each other. I was, actually, supposed to stay with Amy for at least part of the trip, which I was looking forward to. However, the discovery that she had three cats (and the subsequent wheezing that heralds the beginning of an asthma attack) quickly made me change my plans and stay with Jana and Ruth at the con hotel instead.

The hotel itself was gorgeous: only four stories high and built around a large courtyard that was filled with fountains, palm trees, pathways and little concrete tables with pots of cacti on top. Inside it was nice, too. My only complaint, really, was that it was so damn cold. I was wearing all the layers that I'd had on at 5 in the morning in Canada and still shivering.

Registration was a wonder, if only because all the stories that I heard were true. They really did hand me a big canvas bag full of free books. I can't even express how happy this made me. (We'd discussed this in the airport, and Michelle said that she usually ended up giving most of her free books away. I said sure, but she was used to people just sending her piles and piles of free books for her to review. For some of us it's still a delightful novelty--though one liable to cause injury and muscle strain if one is not careful.)

As no programming had yet started, we hit the art show and I was thoroughly impressed. Okay, sure, there were a few artists that did not impress me, but that's only to be expected. For the most part, the artists' work ranged from good to simply excellent; there were quite a few works that just made me stop and stare ... and stare ... and stare. One of which I bought a print of right off the bat (not having thousands of dollars and a very large wall to spare for the original). My only real complaint about the art show, really, was the irritating preponderance of artists who clearly use the latest issues of their favourite men's magazines for their female models and poses. (The facial expressions would give them away even if the poses hadn't.) Some were just ridiculous--especially when improper foreshortening of various limbs made it look more like someone had a leg half the length of their torso rather than curled under them in a sexy pose--sometimes to the point of making me turn away else I start to laugh. (After all, one never quite knows who the artist is...)

My one word of advice for aspiring artists is this: no woman, no matter how tough or sexy, no matter how windblown her hair or how silky her wings or how dangerous her blades, is going to wear a loose chainmail shirt without something to protect her breasts. If it's loose enough to shift, it's loose enough to pinch. And that's all I'll say about that.

After Amy had left for the evening, sitting around waiting for Ruth to arrive, I had my first fortunate random encounter of the con: I happened to be walking by just as someone pulled a copy of Summoned to Destiny out of their bag. I stopped, looking at the book and then the person holding it. Making the leap, I said, "Bryn?" At her startled look, I introduced myself. Because it was indeed Bryn Neuenschwander aka Marie Brennan, one of the other authors in the book. (Bryn also won the Asimov Award in 2003, when I again placed as an Honorable Mention.)

Had dinner at a mediocre pseudo-Mexican restaurant with her and another girl whose name I currently forget, then went back to see the opening ceremonies where I spied Ruth in the audience. We stuck around for Bryn's panel on fantasy based on existing mythologies, which she was moderating, and which was actually one of the best panels I saw all weekend. Near the end, however, I absolutely crashed; not surprising, as I'd been up at that point for something like 22 hours.

Sleep was good: it was the first time I'd felt truly warm in 22 hours.

Friday it was not raining. It wasn't warm, either, but it was not raining and that made me happy. Went out for breakfast to a place called The Coffee Plantation, which (despite its name) I referred to as the tea house all weekend. I'd thought about attending some of the morning panels, but ended up going to readings by Janny Wurts and Mindy Klasky instead. By the time lunch rolled around (I had onion rings, how healthy) I still hadn't managed to spot Amy, and thus began to ask the #1 question of the weekend: "Have you seen Amy?" (or its variant, "Does anyone know where Amy is?").

It was then time for Ruth's reading--Ruth's first public reading ever. She was nervous and worried about it for a while beforehand, but when the time came she was calm and spoke in a calm, clear voice. It was an excellent story, too; she read her short story from the DAW anthology Haunted Holidays, which I hadn't yet heard, instead of her Summoned one, which I'd read.

I finally managed to track down Amy (all praise to cell phones), who unfortunately only had an hour or so left until she had to leave again. Timing, timing...

Went to Ellen Datlow's GOH interview, of which I'd said beforehand, "This could be interesting so long as she's feeling chatty." I'm not sure if she was exactly chatty, but it was definitely interesting, and I don't think I can think about Ellen Datlow and geese without giggling to myself. I went up afterwards to talk with her for a moment, say thanks for the HM (or to pass along thanks to Kelly and Gavin, whichever was applicable), and then ran for the door. If there is one thing I'm terrified of, it's talking to people I don't know. Really need to work on that.

Anyway, as Ruth, Jana and I were heading out to dinner, they broke it to me that they and Bryn had signed me up for the mass reading that evening. I vowed vengeance. Something to dread during dinner, which we had at the local and irritatingly named My Big Fat Greek Restaurant. Despite the name, the restaurant was fabulous.

The signing itself ... well, it was an experience. I'd hoped to just wander around with my stack of books, talking to people and having them sign. Seemed like a plan to me, but now there was this whole angle of *me* having to sign books ... The only real problem was, Summoned hadn't really hit the States yet. Or at least not locally; no copies at the dealer's room, no copies at the local Borders. The only people who had copies were either us authors or people who knew us authors. But, as the others reminded me, we had promotional materials--all the posters left over from Book Expo, which I'd gone to fetch from Fitzhenry & Whiteside's main offices the week before.

The entire (freezing) courtyard was set up beautifully, tables with white table cloths and candles following the winding paths in every which way. There were a few tables inside, which is where my fellow authors grabbed spots. I, however, remained stuck outside at the nametag table for a very, very long time. The other three were all on the WFC programming, so of course the people knew their names. Me? They'd never heard of me. So as the famous and semi-famous authors all came up and got their nametags and went to their tables, I stood there ... and stood there ... and stood there.

"This," I thought to myself, shivering in the cold and generally looking like an idiot, "is not fun."

More waiting and a few complications later, I finally had my nametag and sat down at the table. Inside, no longer shivering, and with others to keep me company, I felt much happier. I signed two books and a few posters, and it was something. And part of the way through I just abandoned my table and went back to the original plan: wandering among the tables, finding people whose names I knew and getting them to sign books for me. Sharon Shinn was absolutely lovely, and every bit as cold as I was; Jennifer Roberson, who'd been hidden away in a far corner, seemed happy that someone could find her; Charles de Lint was gracious and approachable and happy to see another Canadian; and Kij Johnson forgave me for the fact that I didn't have a book for her to sign, and then we gossiped about Thomas.

After the event, Jana and Bryn vanished, and Ruth and I decided to head to one of the parties that we knew about: the Wildside party. There, I initiated my World Fantasy party tradition. How can you tell if I was at the same party as you? Did the lights turn off for seemingly no reason? If yes, then yep, I was there. I had an uncanny ability to lean against light switches, one that freakishly reoccurred all weekend. After a few minutes, recognizing no one and finding no one to talk to, we fled.

These two events had made me ponder: I knew that this was a fabulous opportunity. I knew many, many of the names of people who were attending; they were big name authors, and editors, and even agents. And yet the networking thing was just not happening. I realized the difference between this and other cons I'd attended; I had no gateway person. There was no one more influential than I who I could go to and say, okay, where are the interesting parties going to be? No one to introduce me to people that I could not bring myself to introduce myself to. And I'm not in any way suggesting that this is necessary or even an entirely good idea, just that it was something I was used to. I've been to few enough cons, that I took the presence of someone like Kelly or Jim or Julie somewhat for granted.

I had to admit to myself, I wasn't in a position to be influential, or meet influential people, or make important business contacts--because of my own reserved "oh my god what do I say" nature, if nothing else. It just wasn't going to happen. And by trying anyway, I was just going to make myself dissatisfied and unhappy. So I Want to be a Professional Karina got tossed out with the long-awaited nametag, and Fangirl Karina settled in for the duration.

And in my fangirl mode, I realized, I didn't really want to go to overcrowded parties where no one would be able to hear my voice, even if I shouted. So instead, Ruth and I settled down on the hearth of one of the outside gas fireplaces and read bits of stories to each other. When Jana joined us sometime later, I named it the first in the Fireside Reading series. Sitting by the fire (okay, nearly in the fire) I was warm, and reading stories I was happy, and I looked up at the palm trees and thought to myself that this really was an amazing place to be.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 9:48 PM (0) comments

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