Closer to the Heart

(I was going to spend this afternoon working hard, but my puppy hurt herself and it kinda shook me up! I hope writing this will settle me and help me concentrate again. At least I had a good early morning session, before Ms. Pup decided to get too rambunctious!)

“Closer to the Heart” is arguably Rush’s most famous song. It’s short, it’s melodic, it doesn’t feature an excess of shrieking or synthesizer or time signature changes or science fiction references. I think it’s the first song of theirs I actually liked, that I didn’t find incomprehensible or grating. It has a highly recognizable guitar riff, which gives me light chills. I think I could sing it, which I can’t say for all Rush. Geddy Lee can sing higher than me, or he could in the good old days.

The song epitomizes the thing I like best about Rush, and the thing I find most irritating, which are – astonishingly – two very closely related things. I first understood what this quality was when I did one of those silly Facebook memes, the one where you’re supposed to answer questions about yourself using song titles: “My Life According to [Name of Band].” I chose Rush, anticipating a hilarious time indeed.

I got stuck on the very first question: Are you male or female?

Unless your answer is “male”, that’s a hard question to answer with a Rush song. I considered putting “New World Man” as my answer, but surely, SURELY Rush had written a song about a woman? Somewhere, sometime? I don’t know all their works; they’ve put out a lot of albums. I started perusing song titles online, and I never did come up with one. I ended up using “Where’s My Thing?” as my (slightly rude) answer to the meme question.

But the experience made me think. Songs with the word “woman” or “girl” or a female name in the title are usually love songs (or, y’know, lust songs). Rush doesn’t do love songs, almost without exception. The closest I can think of is “Entre Nous”, which is a song about love in the abstract, about the way two people relate to each other and never know each other completely. It’s one of my favourite Rush songs, in fact. I put it as the answer to “Your current relationship?” later in that Facebook meme.

I love that Rush doesn’t sing love songs. I love songs about philosphy, SF/F themes, atheism, art, history, natural science. Hard-edged, lyric-centric songs that make you think. They’re wonderful.

But they’re also problematic, because there seem to be no women in Rush’s intellectual/emotional universe (because let’s not pretend they never sing about emotions; I hold up “Snakes and Arrows” as Exhibit A). I’m not sure they’re intentionally leaving women out; I imagine they’re singing about themselves and their own feelings and experiences and they’re guys so that’s what you get. Maybe they can’t figure out how to incorporate women into a song without it turning into a love song (and that’s pretty rare anywhere, right?). Whatever the case may be, I think this is one reason this band isn’t very popular among women: we feel alienated when don’t find ourselves included in the music.

It happens that I DO find myself in this music, but I can see why one wouldn’t.

“Closer to the Heart” epitomizes the problem. Because here we have a thoughtful, passionate call to a new kind of life:

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart.

Ah yes, those men and their crazy high places! Later on, you get philosophers and ploughmen, and “each must know his part”. I know the song is from the 70s, but the language is embarrassingly dated — which is too bad, because I love the message.

For me, the message outweighs the language: it’s a call for truth, art, and integrity. I love that stuff. Even as-is, I guess I don’t feel completely excluded because the song ends with:

You can be the captain
And I will draw the chart…

Geddy Lee is talking to me, there, friends. ME. I guess I’m willing to believe that any song about art, authority, and intellect must be about me – or about any of us – whether it calls us by name or not.


30K words of sequel written!

I actually passed this milestone already, before I scrapped 25 pages last Thursday, but I just want to put this down in writing for my own reference, to remind myself when I get bummed out: I scrapped 25, and I’ve already written back 20.

It goes so much faster when I’m going the right direction.

In related news: I’ve put my name in the NaNoWriMo ring! If you’re doing NaNo this year, and want to be my buddy, I’m “amyunbounded” (I know, sad Amy fans, but the name is never, ever taken). I am, of course, cheating egregiously — I’m going to be working on THIS novel, the one I’ve already done 30K on. But the point, for me, really is the camaraderie and the lighting-a-fire-under-my-bum.

I feel the need for the latter especially, but also the former, more than usual. I’m on hiatus from Goodreads for a month or two – friends there have acquired eARCs of my book from NetGalley, and they’re READING IT. My nerves, they are wracked! The temptation to check in every five minutes and ask Are you done yet? How about NOW?? is immense. I’m trying to just relax and get used to the idea that yes, other humans are reading my book and it’s ok. I need some distance, need to breathe.

I used to be on GR just for the reviews, but I’ve met a lot of interesting people there, and I’ll miss them while I’m away! Still, it’s for the best until I’ve really learned to be the calm, cool, collected author I aspire to be. As my inner Darth Vader keeps telling me, “You are not a Jedi yet!”

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1)Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Thar be spoilers here, matey! And I hate those fiddly spoiler tags, so I’m just wantonly spoiling everything left and right. This is your only warning.]

[OOPS, the review didn’t cut’n’paste correctly from Goodreads the first time! There was a big gaping hole in the middle. Apologies to anyone who read this in the last 24 hours and couldn’t make head or tail of it.]

I need to start this review with a caveat: I am a weirdo.

Okay! Whew! Good to have that off my chest! But seriously, I want to acknowledge fully and honestly that most of my issues with this book are probably MY idiosyncratic issues, and may not apply to anyone else. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to review a book as if I were someone else, so you’re stuck with me and my idiosyncracies I fear.

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More ways writing is like fighting. Also: like igniting.

So today I flushed about 25 pages.

It’s not like I didn’t see this coming (see previous post), but I had some merry notion it was just the one scene and that I could leave it and Captain Editorpants would make me cut it later. But no, I realized last night that I was hating the whole book pretty hard and I needed to sort out why because I could no longer push forward.

I generally find that when I’ve been heading the wrong direction, it’s like wading deeper and deeper into quicksand, or a brambly thicket. It gets harder and harder to move forward, until I’m completely immobilized.

Now hold on! you’re saying. What about the scaffolding? The place to stand? I liked that metaphor!

Yes… that’s the trouble with metaphors. They’re apt until they aren’t. Unfortunately, in art, nothing is ever just one thing. The scenes can resemble scaffolding AND quicksand — unlike real scaffolding and quicksand, which tend to be nothing alike.

And the scaffolding still stands (haha). I don’t know if it’s like this for other writers, but sometimes I really can’t figure out the right way to go until I’ve gone the wrong way. I learned a lot about some new characters, about their home city, about their goals, assumptions, and beliefs. As frustrating as the last week has been, as heartbreaking as it is to have to throw away 6K+ words, this wasn’t a waste of time.

Writing is never wasted. I believe that with everything I have. It is an article of faith; it is the only way I get through this stuff without falling into depression or just plain quitting. That credo is the result of years of experience, getting it wrong and getting back up again.

I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt, though. Hm. I think I wrote a post about that recently, too. October has been a rough month!

But you see, this is where the years of experience come into play. I know what happens after I prune off a big chunk of text. I get an idea that sets my head on fire. I’ve already had it, this morning while walking the dog. I know what to do, and I’m ready to get back in the ring.


Good writing today, although I feel virtually certain this scene will not make the final cut. There’s not much action besides drinking lemonade and taking a bath; there’s a certain amount of playing with themes, but I suspect even this will turn out to be an understudy for better handling of the same themes later.

Why write it, then, if I already know that? Well, it’s because I need to understand what happens in this scene – in an irritating amount of detail – before I can write other, better scenes.

I try to skip ahead sometimes, but it rarely works. I’m someone who needs a very strong foundation to build on, because I’m not just throwing up a tool shed, here. I’m building a cathedral, maybe, or a skyscraper, or the Taj Mahal. Seraphina is part of that foundation, yes, but it’s not sufficient in itself. This book is sending up spires in other directions, and they have to be able to stand.

Or maybe a painting metaphor would be more apt. I’m painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but I can’t just throw paint upwards and hope. There’s scaffolding that has to be built so I can do my job. Some scenes are like scaffolding: they hold me up while I write other scenes, and then they are removed. But I can’t just skip them. I’m not magic; I can’t reach the ceiling without a place to stand.

Scaffolding is ugly and cluttered, I admit, but once it’s gone you can’t even tell where it stood. All that’s left is ceiling.

Progress Report

I’m on page 99 of the sequel. C’mon, brain, just a little bit more! Let’s make it an even 100. That would make me feel accomplished.

I suspect I am a slow writer. Maybe not the very slowest ever, but slow. I’m not sure why, exactly, though perfectionistic tendencies run in the family and are always suspect. My son has a written-output LD, which he presumably got from somewhere.

But I think some of it, too, is that I don’t think optimally while sitting or standing still. I think better while walking, and I don’t just think it’s because my thoughts are freer without the pressure of having to write them down. I think motion gives me access to things that are hard to dredge up otherwise. Seriously, we should find a way for me to write while walking. A treadmill? A stationary bike? It’d be a great experiment, to see if I’m right or if it’s just an illusion (because it might be, certainly). And think how fit and healthy I’d get, if nothing else.

(I am now noticing myself fiddling with the wording of this post. It’s entirely possible that I’m nothing more than a chronic, undisciplined fiddler. Phooey.)

I have to share it here, too

Because it’s funny.

I just came THIS CLOSE to naming a character “Breast” in Greek! More like chicken breast than boob, but still! I wanted a Greek-y sounding name, and the word “Stithos” came to mind, and I thought it sounded awesome, but luckily it occurred to me to look it up. Do your research, kids!

Apparently I eat a lot of Greek food.

Seraphina: Origins IV

(It’s been a while since I wrote an Origins post! If you’re interested in the previous instalments, here’s the first one, or you can check out the “Roots” category under the “Preoccupations” heading on the sidebar.)

I sometimes hesitate to bring up my influences because it can create inaccurate expectations. If I list Tolkien as an influence, you might assume I’ve written a sword and sorcery quest book. If I mention Neil Gaiman, suddenly my book (in your imagination) turns into a Goth girl with black nails and an ankh necklace. Which would be awesome, but nothing like my book.

I guess my caveat here is that influence isn’t the same as resemblance. If you want to know who I write like, I would protest loudly that I’m probably the least qualified person to answer that question. If you won’t accept that answer, I might say, “John Green?” in a squeaky little voice. Which is nuts, right? Except that it’s not: we’re both preoccupied with epistemology and our books are full of nerds. I’d call that a resemblance. (I fully expect this to come back and bite me someday, when somebody sends me an irate letter saying, “Hey! Your book is fantasy! I was expecting John Green!” Allow me to say preemptively: Oh, were you? Oops.)

I can’t call Green an influence, though, because I never read any of his books until Seraphina was pretty much done, and my husband has not yet invented that time machine I keep asking for. (Confidential to my husband: DUDE. TIME MACHINE. I need it like, yesterday.)

I consider influences to be writers (or others) who have taught me something new and expanded my understanding of what is possible in art, people I technically owe a thank-you note or maybe even a fruit basket. Seraphina and I owe this debt of gratitude to Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, and George Eliot (TIME MACHINE, NEUTRINO MAN).

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Hello, new friends!

The site is beginning to see some traffic from people who haven’t known me for years. That’s wonderful!

It’s also slightly comical timing, since I just spent the last week and a half raving about YES. It’s a bit like answering the door in your underwear. Oops. Um, yes, I was just dancing to “Don’t Kill the Whale”, ha ha. I’ll just, um, get dressed now, shall I?

All right. Much better. Welcome, darlings.

I promised my editor that when we got to this point I’d be ready to serve tea and discuss Proust – and we can certainly do that. But I am a person of myriad enthusiasms and variable attention. I tend to go a lot of different directions, sometimes all at once. I’m not good at maintaining a decorous and dignified façade. Rather than pretending to be something I’m not (calm, aloof), it’s better to be up front about what I am.

I’m a laugher, first and foremost. If it makes me laugh, it wins. I love many kinds of music, but especially the nerdy kinds: prog rock, early and ancient music, classical music, bagpipe music. I am interested in psychology, neurology, and archaeology; I am a passionate amateur Medievalist. I am a dog person, not a cat person. I like trying strange foods just to try them. I find travelling to new places exciting and renewing. I love my family and friends more than anything, but require vast tracts of time alone. I am an Epicurean and an atheist who dabbles in meditation. I used to belly dance, and will again once I find a new teacher. I love plants, rain, reading, occasional TV, and baseball (go Cardinals!). I once spoke very good Spanish and passable Irish, and could read ancient Greek, but I haven’t kept up on any of them, I’m afraid.

Second only to laughing, I enjoy thinking. If you make me think, you win. Consider it a challenge. Hm. I like challenges too. That’s one reason I became a writer: because it’s HARD.

Please make yourselves at home. Sit anywhere. Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge (although knowing me it’s something strange). I’ll be in and out, puttering about.

I’m happy you’re here.