Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Trees & Curses

Not that kind of curse. (About that, though, one thing Jim & I were both astonished by when we started decorating our Christmas trees together 8 years ago was this: it is not necessary to curse when putting up tree lights. Growing up we both got the impression that it was the most complex operation in the world, the way our dads both cursed -- and my dad is pretty mild-mannered and not a big curser, so I thought it must be a horrible job; all I can guess is that lights are much better than they used to be and are now curse-optional.) So, not that kind of cursing, this kind: (drumroll) I finally finished the revision of my story "Spicy Little Curses Such As These." Yay halleluja! It turned out to be half revision and half rewrite, with an expensive detour into research, and took more time than it should have. And while it was taking more time than it should have, I hit a patch of writer's paralysis that many of you will be familiar with, the kind where you know you were sitting at your computer for hours, but at the end of the day all you have to show for it is a few rearranged sentences and a lot of anxiety? Well, I have now come to recognize the value of those days: they make me desperate. Desperate to move past whatever part of the story is causing me such anguish. Desperate. (Having just now learned how to italicize in the blogs, I am making up for lost time.) And I finally DO move on; I pull myself together, grit my teeth, roll up my sleeves, and write through it. But it really takes getting to one's wit's end. Wit's middle just doesn't create sufficient desperation.

This was a good little side-track for me and I'm glad I took the time to work on "Spicy" because it reminded me on a small scale of things I learned on a large scale over the 2+ years I worked on Blackbringer. One thing is this: it might take a few drafts to "find the story." You might think you know what it's "about" when you start out, and you might be right, but in my case: probably not. Magical things happen inside the story, a little world grows like a garden, and you just don't know starting out what will get eaten by gophers and what will flourish. In the case of Spicy, the story stayed the same, but the center shifted so it revolved around a new focal point that didn't exist in the floundering of the first few drafts. In the case of Blackbringer, there were BIG pieces of the story that I didn't "find" until I'd been working on it for over a year. And they were revelations. I think of those moments as making a sound like a "snick" -- the sound of a puzzle piece settling into place. And why that is such a perfect word for it is it's not just a sound. You can feel it. You know what I mean? When the puzzle piece snicks into place?

At the SCBWI conferences they kick things off by having the whole faculty of writers, illustrators, editors, art directors, etc, file across the stage and say a single identifying word into the microphone; it's great fun. I think, if I were ever up there, my word might be "snick" -- but no one would get it and they wouldn't laugh or nod approval. They'd look sort of puzzled and polite and I wouldn't want that. But it really is such an important piece of my writing: searching for the snick. It makes everything else worth it and gives me a high that counterbalances any amount of writer's paralysis. So, the reason I'm so glad to have had this little reminder is because it renews my faith in my current novel project. It helps me remember to keep going, to not expect to know everything yet; to know I won't know anything unless I do keep going. Phew!

And now, onto Christmas preparations! We decorated the tree last night. Love doing that. We make mulled wine and build a fire; it's just the two of us and Leroy underfoot because the snapping of the wood scares him and makes him restless. (Shiloh, meanwhile, snoozed unconcerned in another room.) Here are some favorite ornaments:

We got this green glass angel in Venice the day Jim asked me to marry him! And the little red horse I've had since I was a kid.

Cute old-fashioned Santa! I got this for Jim's stocking a few years ago because I really wanted it for the tree!

A Laini's Ladies holiday ornament, and one of the silly clay guys I made in a fever of creation last Christmas. I had so much fun with them! Here's another:

And another folk arty guy:

And here's the living room, looking like Christmas just threw up on it:

After we cleaned up that mess, we wrapped some presents so there would be some to put under the tree. Five or six years ago we couldn't have done that: Leroy was then extremely perplexed by the idea of an outdoor tree indoors and he thought outdoor rules applied. So yes, there was random leg lifting, and hence, no presents under the tree. But he has learned at last.

What's on the Christmas agenda for today? Probably gingersnap-raspberry-jam sandwich cookies, and/or maybe mini cupcakes. Hm.


Anonymous said...

hey your christmas tree is so cute and so your blog!!!Im giuliana,im 22 and im from italy...Can I ask you a favor?can you tell me the aplle pie's recipe?it looks awesome!this is my
I don't have a blog yet.
write back :)

Anonymous said...

Love the ornaments you made, Laini! I can sympathize with your predicament with Leroy's perplexion at the outdoor tree being indoors - only in our house, it's our cats who have the confusion. They don't lift thanks heavens but they certainly do want to climb it! They've gotten better, but we've also got a hook now in the ceiling to tie the tree to with fishing line, just in case anyone gets too excited and forgets the "no climbing" rule.
Happy December to you!

meghan said...

I'm sitting here giggling with relief for you that Leroy figured out Christmas trees! I love reading about your writing process. In the almost-year since I;ve known you you have helped me to dispell a lot of the myths and fears that I believed about writing - and I hope that I am at that conference so that I can smile and nod in appreciation!

Your ornaments and house look very festive and lovely - happy Christmas preparation to all of you!!


Jim Di Bartolo said...

The Christmas prep is SO much fun! It's second only to seeing your loved ones open the gifts you've given them. And my Mom's coming up to spend time with us just before Christmas so I'm extra excited for the holidays this year.

I'm doing my best to make sure my gift to Laini isn't spoiled by phone calls like her surprise to me, but so far so good! :)


Dan said...

it is not necessary to curse when putting up tree lights.

You are so wrong. It's absolutely necessary. They don't come out right otherwise.

By the way, I love the banner at the top of your blog. Very creative and original. You are quite talented.

Anonymous said...

Your ornaments are the best! I have many from my childhood, as well as those dating back to my grandparent's tree, and they are beautiful, no matter what their condition.

And congratulations on getting through your story, as well as your revelations along the way.

Happy Holiday Season to you!

Jamie said...

Your home just looks so inviting! All set for love and laughter and good conversation and snuggles!

As for the lights, I remember with great pride that I, as the oldest, had the job of helping my dad with the lights. I would plug them in and patiently wait for his inspection to be complete and then help untangle the next set. I loved it.

And what beautiful ornaments full of memories. How wonderful that some are your own creations! Justin and I have just started pulling out Christmas decorations and it really struck me how much of our history is tied into them. You've inspired me to take some pictures to capture that too :)

Happy Holidays!

Kim G. said...

Okay - now you have challenged me to help you find another word for "snick". I so think that that is your word and you describe it so well and from the few things I've written creatively, it is just a "snick" moment when it all comes together. Maybe if we just start using the word once a week, visit all the writing sites in bloggerdom and write about "The Snick Factor" it will become part of the writing community's vernacular in time for next year's conference!

Anonymous said...

congr@s on story.
i know just what you mean by "snick"..
it takes ages, but when it happens, you just get the feeling: this is RIGHT!

although i don't celebrate christmas,
i do use a strand of tiny xmas lights to border my wall,
throughout the year.
it makes it pretty and sparkling!

p.s. those whimsical creations are so

Amber said...

I get the "snick"! I often just start writing with a thought, like when I am thinking about a memory or my family and wanting to go with it...And then by the end I hear that snick! It all comes together. Perhaps I don't give the snick enough of a chance, when I try to write fiction. I feel like I have to have it all figured out to start. I like to read that you do not...Hmmmmm.... Something to think about.

Merry Christmas!


Deirdre said...'ve finished a story and decorated your house and wrapped presents, which means, of course, that you've done some shopping too. And written a great post about it all. Hmm. I haven't even thought about most of this.

I'm hoping I'll get to read the finished version of your story. I'd like to see how it's evolved.

paris parfait said...

The tree is beautiful, as are the sentiments behind your special ornaments. As for that story, I loved the first draft and can't wait to see the finished product.