January 1, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions


I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.  I gave them up decades ago.  If they work for you, then great for you, and no doubt your desk is tidy, your accounts and bank statements are tidier, your bathroom scales hold no terrors, and your sock drawer is the wonder of seven counties.  My sock drawer might possibly be the wonder of seven counties, but not in a good way.  Anyway.  I don’t do resolutions.  For someone like me they’re just an excuse to shake my own finger in my own face and say, Bad girl.  Go stand in that corner and no Tolkien, Kipling, Georgette Heyer, Diana Wynne Jones or Peter Dickinson until you have paid for being a shiftless weeny and once again failing to write three bestsellers in six months, solve world hunger, or remember where you ran out of composted manure when you were feeding your rose bushes and had to stop till you went to the farm shop and bought some more. *

            I got tired of standing in the corner with nothing to read.  The solution seemed obvious.  I gave up making resolutions. 

            But I forget that this excellent form of self-management is not general, so every year at this time I’m startled at all the people turning over new leaves and blogging about it.  Oh.  Um.  So I thought I’d make one New Year’s Resolution, just for variety.  It’s good not to be too attached to your own prejudices.**

            In 2012 I am going to resuscitate Ask Robin. ***

I have only one question for you – what is hilliehoolie? You referred to it in Chalice, and I understand it’s something made with milk, but nobody seems to know exactly what it is, at least so far as the internet is concerned.

Heh.  I’d be very disappointed if Google scoured alternate realities till it triumphantly produced a recipe.  It’s a CHALICE-world thing.  And yes, it’s milk, and it’s fermented milk, but beyond that I don’t know. 

I’m wondering, were you at all inspired and/or influenced by Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast film in writing either of your Beauty and the Beast retellings? 


              I didn’t see the film till I’d written BEAUTY and had, in fact, sent it in to Harper & Row (as it then was) and was waiting agonizedly for them to send it back.  (Which they didn’t.  The rest is history.)  This may have warped my attitude, but I didn’t like the film much (bad me).  I don’t find either Josette Day or Jean Marais particularly beautiful, and the stylised posturing which, it seemed to me, was based on the audience finding them beautiful, irritated me:  and I hated the whole business of Marais also playing Day’s venal creep of a real-world would-be boyfriend.

               This is in the FAQ somewhere:  the one image I took away with me is the disembodied arms along the walls holding candelabra, and sweeping back and forth to ‘follow’ Day as she paces.  I thought that was deeply cool.  And it does appear in ROSE DAUGHTER.  So an itty-bitty fraction of ‘yes’ to the second part of your question.  But then I’ve read—or seen—about forty six gajillion Beauty and the Beasts, including a lot that don’t bear that title, like JANE EYRE. 

What do you consider your writing strengths?  Weaknesses? 

I don’t think in those terms.  I can’t afford to, or my superego would shut me down.  (See:  why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.)  I tell stories.  The stories come to me and say, Write me!  WRITE ME!  And I try to write them.  I try really, really hard to write them.  It’s a narrow, intense focus and I try to stay out of the swamp that in my case passes for my sense of competence and self-worth. 

Have you ever written a scene and thought, “By gods, this is utter crap!”?   

Of course.  Granted I’m at the oh-gods-I-suck end of the self-confidence spectrum, but I would still hazard that any writer who hasn’t . . . isn’t a very good writer.  The moment any dust mote of complacency sets in, you’re dead meat. 

What do you do then? (ie, tear it out, crumple it into a ball for hellkittens to play with, only to rescue it hours later and smooth it out, reread it, and think, “Well, it’s not THAT bad.” ……) 

Keep going.  Shut the superego off, turn the story-tap on, and keep writing.  Don’t reread.  Not yet.  Keep going.  You can edit later. 

How often do you edit your own work in progress?  Do you start from a basic outline and go from there, or just have a general idea of a plot, plop it down onto paper, and then let it take shape?  When do you reread your own stuff… in the middle, when it’s ready to go to the editor, or constantly?  Where do you keep your notes (if you have any)? 

I start at the beginning and keep going to the end.  And stop.  Then I do it again.  I start over at the beginning, write through to the end.  And stop again.  Then I do it a third time.  Usually at that point I’m done.  Usually.  But I think about the whole process as little as possible, except for the paragraph or the chapter immediately under my fingers on the keyboard at that moment.  The mantra is:  Keep writing.  

What does your writing space (if you have one) look like? 


How much do you feel your characters portray you in your novels?  

This is so in the FAQ on my web site. 

How many novels (finished or unfinished) did you practice on before finally finishing Beauty? . . . 

I wrote one honest to goodness complete novel the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college.  (Just before I dropped out.  Ahem.  We will not speculate on causality.)  It was enormously useful in terms of learning some of the nuts and bolts of the writing process and I feel it was a summer well spent.  As a novel it is bulgy-eyed, gibbering, pernicious dreck.  I think I still have a copy of it around somewhere.  I hope I don’t stumble across it unexpectedly some day when current novel-in-progress is biting me and I’m feeling fragile or I might retrain as an accountant.† 

How do you convert ideas for stories you have into believable plots? 

I start with about 4 cups of good flour, 5 cups of warm water, a tablespoonful of dry yeast and another tablespoonful of honey . . . 

* * *

* Or give up abyss-black tea, similarly dark chocolate, or champagne.  I have given up both chocolate and tea twice each, on separate occasions.  During each of these four harrowing experiences I maintained the self-torture for over a year, so my frelling superego can’t say I didn’t give it a fair trial. 

            But wasn’t worth it.  It was like banishing the colour pink or not talking to Hannah for over a year.   So I welcomed them back into my life.  Everyone needs some outlet for excess.  And silliness.

            I admit I’ve never tried to give up champagne.  Shudder.  But I started on champagne comparatively late.  I had a traumatic virgin experience with a bottle of cheap rosé which put me off the stuff for years.  Which is just as well since I had trouble paying the rent into my thirties.  Even cheap nasty champagne was about half the week’s grocery budget. 

** Usually.  Some of them—for example the misuse of may/might, lay/lie and ‘between him and I’—I cling to with unchecked ferocity. 

*** For those of you wondering (a) what I thought I was doing last night and/or (b) where the frell I am on all the doodles and special projects I still owe to too many of you: 

(a)    Castles in the air are not resolutions.  They’re fantasies.  Although I’d better be somewhere on PEG II^ by this time next year. 

(b)   These are not about making resolutions, except in the resolute doing sense.  Getting the auction/sale stuff finished is just there, like hurtling hellhounds is there.  It goes (more or less) like this:  Fall out of bed in (something like) morning.  Moan.  Ingest tea.^^  Doodle.  Hurtle.  SHADOWS.  More hurtle.  More doodle.  (More tea.)   Possibly, if it’s been either a very good or a very bad day, more SHADOWS.  Ring some bells.  Blog.  Sing.  Go to bed. 

             Repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat. . . . 

^ Other than under the bed. 

^^ See previous footnote. 

† Okay, probably not an accountant.


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