Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Month: November 2014

Why I’m Not A Prolific Writer (As I Sort-Of Want To Be)

There are several reasons why I’m not prolific. I’d like to be, but not strongly enough to work at it like other writers I know. I’m just not that driven.

The fact is, with me, my inherent personality leans toward laziness. This Nano, I’ve frequently not gotten started on the scene I needed for the day until long after nightfall. And that’s after managing to get the plot card necessary for maintaining my outline before sunset. If you look at my stats for my current Nano novel, you’ll see I’ve been stalled at just over 48k for the past few days—and that was in part to laziness. The rest was in part due to overthinking the opening of the next scene and the fact I hadn’t slept well enough or been alert enough to feel capable of writing—a bit of a writing downswing, which I think is over, thank goodness; it started to clear last night just before I went to bed and I woke up feeling more confident in my ability to write than I’ve felt the past few days.

I also take it rather easy with regards to my writing. I’m still healing from killing my creativity with the genre I wrote before, so if I don’t feel like writing one or two or more days, I don’t. It drives me batty not to write, but if the ideas aren’t flowing, I can’t make them go. While it’s true inspiration strikes most predictably and strongly when one is already working creatively, every writer is different, and these days when I don’t write—when I completely lack ideas or a way to figure out how to handle something—are my creative mind’s way of saying “slow down, take it easy, stop dwelling on the issue. It’ll come in time. Rest a bit while it surfaces.”

Yes, I know the rule is “write every day.” And that, since I can, I “should” follow that rule. I did when I was younger and had a full-time job. I’d get off work, write for a couple hours, then go to bed. It seems like it should naturally follow that now I’ve got all this free time, I shouldn’t have any problem at all meeting the “write daily” goal. My mind simply doesn’t work that way any more, though. Part of it, I suspect, is my bipolar disorder getting into the way. The rest is simply the fact that I do have all this free time. I know I’ll be able to write when I feel like it—and I feel like it nearly every day these days.

Another part of the reason why I don’t rush things is because I’m trying to make the first draft as strong as it can be. This means I take a little more time to come up with scenes to outline—I won’t write one until I know the point of the scene I’m plotting. I want that point so I can ensure the scene either pushes plot forward, builds characterization, reveals a little more about the world (hopefully in a plot-forward or characterization-forward way), or does any combination of or all those things. I think for as many plot cards I get early in the day, I get even more in the evening because I’ve taken the entire day to develop the point. I don’t even care if the point I “see” when I write out the plot card turns out to be the one which shows up in the scene as I write it. All I require of my scene summaries is that they improve an aspect of plot, characterization, or worldbuilding info for the story in the scene it summarizes.

None of this of course stops me from coming up with lots of new ideas for books. I just won’t get around to writing anytime soon. LOL

My Trans-Self Image

Back in October, I spent a day or two experimenting. Alone at home like usual, I tried to picture myself as a man. Now, for comparison, I’ll tell you how I see myself as a woman: Ashe-as-a-woman is slender; she has small breasts long, red, wavy hair; she’s got all her teeth and she doesn’t wear glasses. In real life, I’m far from slender; my breasts are quite large; my hair’s short and brown with a slight tendency to curl if kept so; I don’t have all my teeth, and I wear glasses. In real life, I’m comfortable with my weight, though I’d like to shave off about sixty or seventy pounds—I still want to have a bit of fat, because I don’t want to be too thin (being fat, to me, is a kind of security to me). I’d desperately like to get rid of my breasts; I’ve never liked them. I like my hair short, the kind of style which is wash-and-wear, because I hate spending a lot of time on grooming outside of the shower. I don’t really mind that I don’t have all my teeth—I’m able to close my lips now, when before, with my two front incisors, I couldn’t without those two teeth still protruding; and I love my glasses—I remember being a little kid and want-want-wanting glasses like nothing else and being absolutely thrilled to get my first pair when I was in sixth grade.

But as a female, in my head, my little picture of myself I’ve carried around for years and years, none of these facts was acceptable.

When I picture myself as a male? I’m my current weight, and still very comfortable with it. I’m not ashamed of my missing teeth. My hair’s short, and I wear an attractive style of facial hair. And I wear glasses. I’m quite handsome in my male image of myself—and it was very easy to picture myself this way. Far easier than it ever is for me to picture myself as female. Nothing against women in general; women are great, and they’re beautiful.

I just don’t want to be one.

When I think of being male—or at least being able to present as male—with facial hair, etc.—I feel confident. In a female body as I am now? I feel vulnerable. I feel like I’m not taken seriously. I feel weak and am uncertain in a lot of social situations. I understand I may be just as uncertain as the me I want to be if I’m ever able to get top surgery, a hysterectomy, and have testosterone. I may still feel vulnerable and weak, too, but I’m not certain about that. When I picture myself as a man, I see a much more confident Ashe, one who isn’t afraid to express his opinions and who can do so respectfully and tactfully without offending people. I see an Ashe who doesn’t get offended, because that Ashe is self-assured and doesn’t take things personally because he isn’t afraid of attracting the wrong kind of attention.

That has been one of my overriding fears throughout my life. I’ve never wanted to attract the wrong kind of attention, and I’ve always felt like my female body does that. I hate my feelings of vulnerability my body give me, and wish I could be as confident as I want to be. I’m good at acting comfortable with myself in my female body, and confident, and strong, but I’m really not feeling any of those positives. Inside, I’m cowering. I’m fearful. And I really wish I didn’t have to interact with anybody because doing so puts a lot of stress on my ability to appear as confident as I do, especially when I’m in places and/or with people who I’m unfamiliar with.

In an odd way, that feminine self-image I’ve forced myself to carry around is tied up in my feelings of security as a female-bodied person. I’m not sure just how, but I do know one thing: having that particular female self-image is what I used in order to help me deal with people. I use the masculine self-image in the same way, but it feels more natural to see myself this way, so it’s easier for me to feel confident around other people, even though I know perfectly well the body people see has no current hope of matching what I see of myself in my head. It was incredibly easy to discard the old feminine self-image and replace it with the masculine one, and doing so has opened up other aspects of my masculine side and enabled me to relax about the type of person I would be as a man.

The Challenge I’ve Been Looking For

I realized, late Saturday night last week (the 15th) as I was eating circles ’round my midnight snack of blackberry oatmeal prior to taking my night meds, that I have no freaking idea what I’m doing with my Nano wip. It hit me as I scraped another ring of oatmeal from the clump in the middle of the bottom of the bowl. I have no idea how to make this story work. How do I drop the clues? What should those clues be? How will my MCs figure things out? How on earth do I make the clues subtle, but not so subtle they don’t make sense when I CAN’T SEE CLUES IN MYSTERY BOOKS I’VE READ MYSELF?!?

Ahem.

I’ve been vaguely aware of a lot of these issues, and pointedly aware of the last issue since before beginning Masks, but that didn’t stop me then. It won’t stop me now. I’m committed to these characters now. If I don’t finish this book, I can’t write the half-dozen or so other books in their series, and I really really want to do that. I have plans for these characters. Fun plans, full of mayhem where my characters will learn things about themselves they wouldn’t otherwise know.

And, you know, the not-knowing is part of the fun for me. Writing a mystery novel, even dressed in the fantasy genre’s trappings, is a stretch for me. It’s a good stretch. One I need to make. It’s a challenge I set myself a few years ago, before I went way off course from Fantasy, and it’s one I don’t think I’d be trying to meet now if I hadn’t returned to fantasy writing. I may not be ready to face this challenge just yet, but I’m having fun trying right now, and that’s the most important factor.

I can fix the wip after I’m done. There are friends I have who’ve already offered to read through to help me with things. I can’t fix it if I don’t write it, and I have a feeling that the first three—four—five—six—whatever!—of these fantasy mysteries will all be learning experiences for me.

I haven’t been this uncertain of my writing skills since the mid-late 90’s. Back when I was really picking up on learning how to improve my writing. And I kind of like that uncertainty. It’s going to force me to do things I don’t usually have to do any more. Hell, with this mystery series, I might find myself developing new habits just for it—or new habits I can use in all my writing, and that means writing this fantasy mystery series is a good thing all around.

To be honest, I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. I’ve repeatedly put it to my subconscious/creative mind/muse/what-you-will that I want to write something challenging, something to force me out of the comfortable little rut I’ve created for myself. Something that makes me think and gives me the fun kind of anxiety about fitting everything in like I want to. I’ve wanted something to write that fills my head as I’m working on it—and Masks is doing that.

Each day before I get my new plot card on the Nano wip, I read through a couple scenes, just before where I’ve stopped writing. Then I read through each and every one of the fifteen plot cards I’ve worked out from where the prose stops. I must. Sometimes I read through the all of what I have of the wip to make sure I have everything as it needs to be for the plot cards to work and for other ideas (since written scenes don’t always follow the plot cards they’re spawned from precisely) to form. After reading the plot cards, I think real hard on what the next scene should be, sometimes even going to lay down and listen to “Space Time” by Chang Jing or “Heavy In Your Arms” by Florence + the Machine with my eyes closed. I may fall asleep, but I usually come back to my computer with an idea for the next plot card, so I can write the next scene and hopefully catch my Nano daily goal—or maybe even surpass it by a couple hundred or so words.

And the whole time, I’m excited, and I’m outlining scenes I look forward to writing out. I think this is the right time to write this, no matter how unready I feel, because this story is so much fun to write right now. It’s the challenge I’ve been looking for.

Sunday at the ER

For a few weeks now, I’ve been experiencing fluctuating levels of pain in my left shoulder/upper arm. I have no idea what I did to cause this, but as the pain was never so bad I couldn’t get to sleep at night, I didn’t bother doing more than taking a painkiller at night if I needed it so I could get to sleep. The pain never disturbed my sleep, and I usually awoke with it much dissipated. Some days were worse than others, but none were as bad as Saturday night this past weekend.

On that night, the pain kept me awake. I’d taken a half-dose of Nyquil (the berry flavored kind) because my sinuses were acting up too, so took no other painkillers. Then I went to bed. The 325mg of acetaminophen in the Nyquil did absolutely nothing to the pain. In fact, the pain only got worse. And, as this was the variety of Nyquil which doesn’t have any alcohol in it, I barely slept an hour, and then that was only half-sleep, where I felt the pain even in my vague dreams. No position I tried eased any of the pain, and I tried everything except sleeping propped up because I already knew from my hours awake with the pain it wouldn’t ease if I couldn’t prop it on something firm (and my pillows are hardly firm).

I finally got up at six on Sunday morning, and, near tears, managed to dress despite the incredible pain (yes, even my bra, and that was torture, even though I don’t hook it in the back and haven’t since I was in my early 20’s). I came out to my living room and made some coffee to wake me up, then, after sorting my medications into the pillbox sorter I have, I texted my friend who was supposed to drive me to grocery shopping that I was suffering excruciating pain in my shoulder. Through text, we arranged that if I didn’t text her that I didn’t want to go shopping, she’d contact me when she was on her way.

I didn’t text her refusing to go grocery shopping (I really needed food). It took me ten minutes to get my winter gear on after she texted she was on her way, and by the time I was done, she’d arrived. Usually, I’m downstairs outside waiting for her. The moment I got in the car and she had me buckled in (I had to ask for her help), I asked her if she’d be willing to drive me up to the VA Hosp after grocery shopping, and she stated she’d be happy to.

Did my grocery shopping despite the pain, and my friend took the lion’s share of my groceries to help me bring them upstairs in one trip (wasn’t as much as I thought it might be), then she drove me to the VA.

Now, going wisdom is that, at least on weekdays and Saturday, it’s best to arrive before 8:00-8:30 AM, or you’re likely to spend most of the day there waiting for care. It was almost 9:30 by the time I arrived on Sunday, so I expected there to be at least a few other people waiting. After arranging with my friend to keep her updated via text about my progress through the ER, I went in and discovered one person waiting—and she was waiting on someone who’d already gone in for care, not on care for herself.

I checked in. Five minutes later, they had my vitals and I was in an ER exam room waiting for the doc to come see me. About 50 mins later, the PA on duty came in and tested my range of movement and strength. She declared my arm not broken, but that I had likely pulled or strained muscles/ligaments in my shoulder somehow, even though I couldn’t recall doing anything to do so. All I could say was that I’d not fallen on my arm.

She showed me some exercises to do. 1. Bend at the waist and do circles with my arm as big as I can make them; she showed me only one direction, but I do both directions; and 2. gently swinging my arm side to side as far as I can—still bent over; I also do this the other way, backwards and forwards as far as I can. I figure the extra effort can’t hurt. I’m to do these exercises “several times a day” until I see physical therapy for their advice, and PT is to call me this coming week. These exercises are meant to keep my shoulder from freezing.

She also gave me a sling and prescribed Naproxen and Acetaminophen for pain. I’m to take the Naproxen every 12 hours for pain and reduce inflammation; and the Acetaminophen for pain in between. I fetched the meds (after a 15 min wait) at the pharmacy and texted my friend I was out, and she kindly picked me up and drove me home.

Solid First Drafts

I’ve been writing since sometime around September 1988. I’ll admit, my first efforts were pathetic at best, and downright awful at worst. They were little vignette pieces, Star Trek: the Next Generation pastiches which I created original characters for. I don’t have any of these “stories” any more, but I do remember most of my original character were to some degree Mary Sues, I couldn’t get a good grip on the canon characters’ characterization, and they were extremely incomplete. I’d write a scene, then write the next scene I had in mind, and so on, then leave the empty spaces between them empty; I was writing them linearly (even then, I was a linear writer), but I was leaving out a lot more than I was putting in.

Over the next nine or ten years, I developed the ability to write more in my stories. They were by no means complete, and I recognized this around 1995. I read through one of the stories I’d considered “completed” and realized it was little more than a glorified outline.

Two years later, in the autumn of 1997, I discovered the recently-created Forward Motion for Writers website when we got our first home computer. I was working in manufacturing then, and between having hours of time when my mind had little else to do except create plots and scenes for my writing and the critiques I received and made on the site, I developed better writing skills.

Even with this, I did not come close to creating solid first drafts. For the next approximately four years, until I left North Carolina to try and make a life out in Colorado, I practiced, and I learned. As I did so, my writing skills improved. I moved from making glorified outlines to decent full first drafts.

Then, from Colorado, I joined the Navy. Gave up writing for the duration, until I returned to North Carolina in November of 2002. I rediscovered FM and set to practicing my writing skills and made further improvements. I still wasn’t quite getting just what I wanted in my first drafts, so I became an adder-inner—a writer who puts in more details and stuff after they’ve written their first draft. I still wrote linearly, and I did my best not to skip scenes unless I felt forced to.

Then, in August of 2003, I went back out to Colorado, to try living on my own again. There, I realized I’d end up homeless again, and a friend invited me to come stay with him and his wife here in Utah. So I came to Utah.

My new friends had a computer they let me use, and I continued writing. I was working on a science fantasy project at the time and couldn’t decide how alien I wanted my characters to look, so set that aside for a couple months and worked on pure fantasy stuff for a while. Then, in about 2004 or 05, when my friends had to get a smaller apartment, I moved out on my own and was once again without a computer. I still got online at the local library, but I couldn’t write.

For about eight or so months, I lived in a residential hotel. Rent was about $320 a month there, and I barely scraped by some months because hours at my job as a survey taker (over the phone) fluctuated. I had food stamps. Eventually, I was able to move into a proper apartment, when my application at the City Housing Authority finally came to the top of the list for one of the programs I’d applied to.

So now I had a home. Still no computer until Mom sent me our old one from North Carolina prior to moving out here herself—in I think 2005 or 06. With the computer, I was able to write again, and I threw myself into it whenever I had time to spare and ideas to type out.

Now I changed my focus in my writing from learning about it (that’s an important part still, but I do it other ways than how I was doing it previously) to doing my best to create the story I saw in my head the with the first draft. I wasn’t frequently successful in this endeavor at first, but I got better. Then, in 2010-11, I started outlining my stories.

I can’t say how much outlining has helped me. I’d worked myself into getting first drafts I was satisfied with. I’d no longer been skipping too many scenes unintentionally, I was getting better at including description and not infodumping. But the outlines helped even more.

I have worked myself into the ability to get solid first drafts. It has always been a goal for me since I realized I wasn’t doing it back in the mid-90’s. It’s taken a lot of effort and practice. I wanted to write solid first drafts because I’m not a very fast writer—I never have been, for various reasons—and thought if I could just get a good, solid first draft that had the complete story in it, I’d have a good writing foundation to work from.

But it took me over 20 years of writing to get to this point. Years well-spent, but years of constant practice nonetheless.

Responsible Pet Ownership

I’d like to get a “companion animal.” That’s what pets are called here in my building. I’m not quite sure on the procedure here, but I have to either have my psych doc write a note, or get a form for the same doc to fill out so I may have a pet.

My pet of choice is a cat.

I haven’t actually gotten one yet for a couple of reasons. One is that my mother owns an elderly dog. If something happens to her, I may need to take him in, either temporarily or permanently, and my building permits only one pet per household. I could not consign my mother’s dog to a shelter for his last days.

The other reason?

I want to be able to afford my pet’s care if at all possible. Taking Mom’s dog in would be on an emergency basis, but any cat I get would be a pet I’ve spent (quite a bit of) time considering getting. Right now, my finances could not endure the burden of a pet’s care; I have too many bills going out and I struggle to save money even without bills. If I’ve spent any amount of time considering adopting a pet, I simply want to ensure I can afford the animal.

To me, “responsible pet ownership” goes beyond getting my pet fixed. I’ve seen, in the government subsidized housing I’ve lived in the past ten or so years, a lot of irresponsible pet ownership. People adopt animals, dogs and cats, when they can’t really afford the care. They do it not thinking of the possibility they may have to pay high medical bills if the animal gets sick. Or, if the pet has a chronic illness or disease which medication can help, how much that medication will cost over the long term. My Mom has only occasionally taken her dog in to a vet, and then only when his health concerns exceeded her capacity to deal with them on her own.

This is not responsible pet ownership.

I’ve come to accept that getting a cat may be years in my future—or possibly never at all. I have too much stuff to straighten up in my life right now to welcome a dependent creature of any kind, no matter how much I’d like one. If I can’t take care of myself—and I mean in every way I need to, not just feeding, clothing, and sheltering myself—right now, I do not need to be bringing an anmial into my home unless, as I said, I must take in my Mom’s dog because something’s happened to her.

So, no kitty for me—yet.

Nano 2014’s Project

I didn’t intend to work on my current Nano story for Nano this year. I was trying to line something else up when the characters for Masks started yakking at me. Since it was a couple weeks before the event started, I decided to run with both projects for a few days to see which one produced more. To be honest, it was about the same amount, but I was getting far more in the way of plot points, characterization, worldbuilding notes, and other ideas for the fantasy mystery characters than I was on Autocrat’s Rise.

But my Fantasy Sleuthing Duo (FSD), as I affectionately call them, first popped their heads up about six or so months ago.

I’d kinda-sorta put it to my subconscious some months or even years ago that I wanted to write a mystery. I didn’t care what kind it ended up being as long as it was a murder mystery. Sometime during May, I conceived the first notions of my FSD. When they announced themselves, I didn’t get their names right away, but I knew just where they’d go: Elindu, a world I’d resurrected and renamed for another project, a more regular fantasy story I thought may become a series—but which hasn’t (yet). I knew they belonged in the city-state of Jodalur, and I suspected they belonged there during an era either approaching industrialization or just afterward. And I knew one of the children of the First Chancellor would die during the course of the book.

After that initial day, my characters retreated back into my subconscious. I was pretty okay with this, as I wanted to focus on another story at the time. So, I must say, them popping back into the front of my mind two weeks away from Nano was quite a surprise.

This time, though, as I said, they brought a truckload of info on themselves, their stories (yes, plural), and the city-state of Jodalur. I now have worldbuilt Jodalur up to a technological level allowing electricity (but not automobiles—yet, if at all). There are now about half a dozen or so stories lined up to be written in the series. I have PLANS! for making my FSD suffer.

Geriatric Vestibulitis

My mom’s dog had a serious, and shocking, attack yesterday morning. According to Mom, Poopie collapsed and stretched his legs toward his head. He rolled on his side and back, and he writhed. She noticed his eyes were darting and circling in their sockets.

She didn’t know what it was. It came on suddenly, without any previous symptoms of ill health. He simply collapsed, writhed, stretched his forelegs up toward his head, and had a fit. No matter what she did, she couldn’t keep hold of him or bring him out of it. At last, she managed to gather him into her coat and went downstairs in her apartment building to see if somebody could drive them to the veterinarian—whom she was planning on making an appointment with for a checkup for Poopie.

The first vet she saw, a younger one, suggested she consider the possibility of putting Poopie down. They did blood work, which came up clean for anything indicative of a stroke. The vet didn’t tell her he’d done anything to help Poopie come out of the fit, and told Mom to bring him home. When Mom flatly stated she couldn’t since he wasn’t better (she still had no idea what was going on) and was herself somewhat freaked out by everything, distraught, and wasn’t thinking clearly herself. The vet agreed to keep Poopie, and Mom went home, where she called me.

I thought the same thing, and suggested to Mom to go back to the clinic to have Poopie put down. We were both in tears. However, after she hung up, Mom did something else. She researched Poopie’s symptoms on the internet and discovered what the problem may be: Geriatric Vestibulitis.

They’re not precisely sure what causes this condition in older dogs, but it does often lead to them being euthanized. The dog can take up to several weeks to recover, and may be left with a tilted head. Some dogs need to be nursed through their recovery—hand-fed and watered, and carried out to potty. Another “attack” may occur in some dogs—but by far not all. Most dogs recover with minor side effects—or none at all.

Mom went back to the veterinary clinic to fetch Poopie in the afternoon and met the other veterinarian who runs it; he had a much better “bedside manner” and told Mom the other vet had given Poopie a steroid shot. They’d put Poopie in a cat kennel and padded it well so he wouldn’t hurt himself. When he came out to Mom, he was shaky, but seemed back to himself for the most part. The shakiness Mom took care of by taking Poopie out to some grass to potty and they went home.

Poopie’s spent the day recovering today, and Mom says from what she’s seen, there are no averse effects like head-tilting or walking in circles. He’s slept, eaten, and had water and seems to be well on his way to a full recovery. When I last talked to Mom, she said she’s going to wait a couple days before calling the vet, so she can be sure Poopie’s fully recovered.

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