Friday, May 30, 2014

The Bitter and the Sweet Blog-- Guess Who I Play?

In which we check in our participants
 of the 90-Day Challenge, one happy and one hapless, at the 2/3 mark, and discover that things are looking up. But not for everyone.
Some of Holly's work

James Sie:
We’re on day, what? 56? Are you on track?

Holly Meyers:
Okay, slightly less focused that I thought, bc I'm still technically behind by a few. BUT some pictures are way more detailed than the original parameters required, so I give myself some credit for that.

JS: How MANY are you behind?

HM: Only 9.

JS: Hmm.. last time it was 7.


JS: Oh, so BIRTHDAYS are exempt. And busy WEEKENDSCan we be just done with this?

HM: NO, we will get through it.

JS: C’mon, let’s just delete all our blogs and no one will be the wiser. We'll wake up in the shower and it will all have been a dream.

HM: And we'll be our 17-year-old selves again, and go back to high school and try to get recruited for college basketball. Oh wait that's a Zac movie.

         JS: It all comes back to Zac.

         HM: Always does.

JS: It's negative conditioning; I'm starting to HATE the thought of Zac. Because he represents crappy writing and guilt.

HM: No way. By the end of these 90 days, when you have your first draft, 
he'll be a vision again.

JS: If I have a first draft. IF.

HM: So how is it going?

JS: Everything I wrote in my last blog was a lie. All that affirming shit. I’m miserable.

HM: Oh noooooo.

JS: Just drudgery drudgery and wondering what the hell I'm doing. Though it's amazing how a promise to myself becomes so binding, like I'm pretending it's an actual deadline.  I'm afraid that I'm going to get to the end of this and then look at all the wreckage and not know what to do with it.

         [full disclosure: the book does warn against this darkness descending, and says I'll eventually move beyond it]

HM: If that happens, at least you will have created some original wreckage, and that counts as producing something.

JS: Hrmph. Anyhoo, many days missed, word count perilously low. I keep thinking I should just stop now and work on it in my usual methodic way, but that would preempt the challenge.

HM: Exactly. We're in this challenge for a reason, so chaalllleeenngggeee ourselves and our normal patterns. Maybe the last third will be the breakthrough phase.

JS: Maybe gilded monkeys will fly out of my butt.

 How are you feeling about it?

HM: I'm feeling good, but nervous! A few people at the new job have caught wind of this 90-day thing and have gone so far as to send my blog to art people. Like, legit art directors and stuff. It's freaking me out. Now I feel like I have to get super organized with a real website and business cards or something.

JS: Wow!

HM: Yeah. Mostly, said Art People have been very friendly and polite, giving me good advice about the business of editorial illustration.

JS: Editorial illustration. Explain, please.

HM: Magazine art directors hire people (like... me?!) to create illustrations for articles, online products, and even covers. It's a lot of freelance, so if I want to get in the game, I need to be legit.

JS: Oh! And is that the field you've been focused on?

HM: Well, it wasn't my original plan! I thought maybe it would get my blog a little more traffic (which it has), but I didn't think I'd need to mobilize so soon! I actually got one little gig for a fellow NYU alum, to create a poster for an event in Brooklyn next month!

JS: Look at you! Gilded monkeys aflight!

Does it affect your work on the challenge, knowing it's being scrutinized?

HM: Big time. I thought I could get away with casually posting just anything, but now I'm paralyzed with fear.

JS: Some actual trepidation!!

I only sit at my computer paralyzed with fear until I remember that someone thought it was worthy of a magazine, then I feel confident again.

JS: Do your hands get tired, squeezing all those lemons into lemonade?

HM: Bahahaha!

JS: So, I guess this has all been worth it. I guess it ennobles MY efforts, knowing that it will have gotten YOU somewhere. I feel... downright philanthropic.

HM: Seriously!! I wouldn't have done this without the challenge you set up! THANK YOU.But you're not off the hook about your own writing.

JS: [grouse grouse grouse] Okay, I guess I can suffer through one more month.

HM: Yay k bye!

[Note: Sorry if there's weird spaces and tabbing and stuff; for some reason this posting has been acting up and I'm too tired to try and figure it out. Also, I figure I should actually do some, oh you know, actual WRITING, instead of mucking with it more.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mid-Way— The Slog Blog


"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

I won’t lie— it’s been a slog. A month and a half into my 90-Day Challenge—halfway!—with two weeks of writing every day (well, almost every day) and it's been a lot of placeholder writing, with occasional flashes of inspiration. Hard to finagle the time, especially with end of the school year activities, and Doug! elbowing for time. What I’ve written is probably 75% unusable, as I dutifully scramble to get from Point A to Point B to Point C in whatever form it comes out in. Quite different from my usual delicate snail’s pace, my sporadic but painstaking method of writing. It’s hewing at granite instead of carving scrimshaw.

And yet. My wise friend and former playwriting teacher Linda Jenkins (who is herself developing a 90-Day Playwriting book, due out this summer) sent me some encouraging words: 
“Remember—it isn't forever, just three months. And, you're building good new muscles for discipline.” 
It’s true—there is something to be said for making yourself set aside a daily block of time to write, no matter what. It’s giving yourself permission to Do as Authors Do. 

The daily grind is also helpful for the creative process: returning to the world of your novel day after day, you find it never quite leaves your thoughts; the story is marinating, untended, in your brain. It’s much easier to dive back into the writing the next morning, as bad as it sometimes is, because you’ve somehow figured out what’s lacking and have come up with other possibilities: your subconscious had been noodling with it while you slept. You haven’t let the trail grow cold.

And, let’s face it, after two weeks of actual writing I’ve got 10,000 words on the page. 10,000 words that were not there before. A rough-hewn shape from a block of granite is a better place to be than looking at said block of granite every day and thinking, "I should really do something with that one day." It's an ill-favored thing, sir, but mine own. 

Life, however ungainly, is forming. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

So, This Happened.

The doorbell rang just as we were getting ready for dinner. Doug went to answer it as I was taking out the plates. A delivery. I knew what it was even before he started whooping. 

I continued setting out the plates even when he came into the kitchen, waving the parcel about madly. “Do you know what it is?” he asked excitedly. I did, but it might as well have been an Amazon order of tennis socks for all the emotion I was mustering. A slip of the knife, and there they were, exposed to the air and for all the world to see:

I could barely bring myself to take one of the manuscripts out. I willed my heart to pound at a more measured beat. I may have felt a bit nauseated. The truth is, joy has never been an easy emotion for me. There is rarely a moment of happiness that does not seem to me to have a second shoe attached, ready to smash down at a moment’s notice. So I let my joy unspool slowly and quietly over the next few hours. I have only now dared to open the “uncorrected bound manuscript” and look inside. My editor, Sara Goodman, had warned me that they would not be pretty, that future galleys would look much more designed.
But I have to say: they look beautiful to me.
These copies, a few months before the actual book launch, are for a very specific function—I need to get them to literary fiction and/or graphic novel authors who may say a few kind words about my book for publicity’s sake. It's all about the blurbs. They start the buzz going. So far, I have been lucky enough to have two writers I have long admired agree to read it: Diana Wagman (The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets) and Noel Alumit (Letters to Montgomery Clift). My editor at St. Martin's, of course,  has a few other names up her sleeve. My dream roster would also include Alison Bechdel, Michael Chabon or Lynda Barry— if anyone out there are BFF's of theirs, let me know!
On my nightly walk with the dog, all the plants seemed to glow in the moonlight, bending upwards with anticipation. Three blocks from my house I swear I saw a deer  (though it may have been my Patronus) bounding up my street. Life, at this moment, seems very alive with possibility.

Zac Efron Hijacks My Week 4 Blog

Disney movies. And now Zac Efron. Since beginning this 90-Day Novel Challenge I've been checking in with my cohort and pal Holly Myer (who is going to be drawing 90 illustrations in 90 days) and our conversation has been turning ever to the sunny side, much to my dismay. I chalk it up to Holly's pernicious and persistent optimism. I thought I was immune but perhaps it has taken root even in this parched and barren land. The girl will not go dark! I swear, if my book ends with a basketball game or a musical number set in the halls of a high school, my attorneys will be contacting her.

We might blame Holly's positive attitude on her upbringing by a Methodist Pastor mother, but Doug's Dad was a Methodist minister and we know how that turned out:

Here's our chat-conversation from last week. Yes, I realize it's late, but, you know, I've been WRITING (and yes, I have been making my quota):

Holly Meyer: Hello! it's been a while!

James Sie
Okay, before we get started, I have something serious to discuss with you.

HM: Oh wow, what is it??



JS: I don't want you to be upset, but… I'm not sure I'm feeling it anymore.

HM: Zac? Or the project?


JS: I mean, he's gone from being this friendly, approachable guy to something more… fratboy-ish. That perpetual pursed grimace on his face, like he's vaguely pissed off—

HM: Well. Maybe it's to promote the new movie where he's a pissed-off frat boy.

JS: —that macho posturing— wait... Are you saying that he's actually so good as a performer that…that he's inhabiting the IMAGE of a pissed-off frat boy, but is not actually becoming one?

HM: He's that gooood.

JS: Ohhhh.  I'm back in. I'm guessing, judging by your pastel Easter Zac, that you have not lost the faith.

HM: Nope. Never.

JS: Let's talk projects. It's almost been a month, can you believe it? A MONTH.

HM: I knowwwww! I'm a little behind.

JS: How behind? 

HM: 23. I can make it up!

JS: Okay… not bad...
What happened?

HM: I had a few busy weekends of family Easter, then wedding mania. Excuses, I know. I haven't lost motivation at all, just time. 
How's your progress?

JS: Oy. I'm in a terrible terrible mood today, because tomorrow I have to start ACTUALLY WRITING.

HM: Ooooh. The planning stage is over?

JS: Yes. It's been great just doodling, as it were, without the pressure of writing. And I hadn't put NEAR enough time into it, but I did show up for at least fifteen minutes every day but one.

HM: That's pretty good!

JS: Now, I've got to write. Around 1000 words a day-- 3-4 pages. IMPOSSIBLE!

HM: Oh wowww that's a lot!

JS: I'm the kind of person who, in high school and college, would just compose on the typewriter. No

drafts. Everything had to be perfect. This was the days of no cutting and pasting, you know. Or do you know? You probably don't know. There was only white out, if you had a typo. No do-overs. Or correction tape. WAAAAAAAY before your time.

HM: I used to use a typewriter in my mom's office!

JS: For your ABC's!

HM: I WAS 12! It taught me a lot about patience and attention to detail.

JS: So the idea of allowing oneself to write badly, just to get it all down, is going to be extremely uncomfortable for me. I don't know what's going to happen. It IS a lot of pages!

HM: That's the idea of a big challenge though!

JS: Sigh… I guess… 
If I get stuck I'm just going to keep writing "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."


JS: Have you had any epiphanies while drawing, in connection with your book?

HM: I've realized I admire strong female characters. Most of the reference photos I've banked are of ladies with opinions.

JS: On your tumblr I recognize Lena Dunham, but who's the first woman?

HM: I just posted a Kristen Wiig, in a scene from Bridesmaids. She's a character who feels like she's losing her connection with an old friend, and having trouble finding her way on her own.

It's interesting, especially, as my friends are starting to get married! I feel like I'm always defending my life as a single lady. Stuff like that. GIFs I've been using all year suddenly have more meaning to me.

JS: Does 2 more months of this stretch out like a barren wasteland, or a yellow  brick road?

HM: Yellow brick road, for sure. (Dorothy's another good character!) What about you? Especially now that you're starting to write 1000 words a day?!

JS: Tomorrow. I'm filled with dread. Because I'm going to have 60 days worth of dreck to despise.
How's that for optimism!

HM: Room for improvement.

JS: The author talks a lot about self-destruction, about not letting doubt impede you. I do have to  say this: tonight, I went for a walk with the dog and almost immediately he began pulling, straining at the leash. There, as if it were waiting for me, was a coyote. He just sat there in the dark, staring at me.

HM: Ooooooh.

Look right above the stone post--you can see its eyes shining. I swear.

JS: "Don't back out now." I imagined it saying.

HM: Seriously. THE ANIMALS KNOW. Now you really have to. Or else.

JS: Yeah, they might ambush me otherwise. 
Okay, I've got to get to sleep so I can get up and write (eeeeeeeesh). Let's check in soon. Wish me luck.