99 posts categorized "da novel"

February 24, 2013

Yeah. Short Stories, Not.

Laura Miller isn't buying the "short story boom" story.

Totally.

Just look at TV and film. So much of our at-home video watching is now cable TV drama series with season-long story arcs. And the most successful films are franchises which carry relationships and storylines over from one film to another (The Matrix, LOTR, the Hobbit, Avengers -- and pretty much all the superhero films.) Busy, attention-strapped audiences don't want shorter stories, they want longer ones.

In fact, right now when my attention span is at its lowest point since grade school (because of ongoing CFS), I crave novel series, not just single-shot novels, and have NO attention at all for short stories.

And I think it's because *any* new fictional world we give ourselves to requires an initial investment of energy and attention to orient ourselves in that world and with those characters. Once we've done that, it's basically easier to stay in that world, with those characters, over multiple stories and arcs, than to pull out, reorient, and invest in something new. Short stories are exhausting to me right now, and I won't have them.

By the way, I think there's a synergy between audiences wanting longer relationships with filmic worlds and characters than is available in a single film, and the transference of comic book stories to film franchises. Namely that comics mastered the art of telling stories containable in limited episodes, but that fit into longer arcs, and that's what the TV world had to do following Buffy, and what the film world now has to do, now that audiences have clearly spoken on this issue.

January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions IV

Stuff:

Also, I'm realizing that, for UF and mystery series, the usual conflict formula doesn't apply. For standalone novels, it's the protagonist's DESIRE + OBSTACLE = CONFLICT that drives the action. And in UF and mysteries that's still true at the most superficial level. The protag is the detective and desires to solve a mystery. That's the structural conflict. However there's not any development of this desire or the characterization or world around it.

The real, underlying motives and desires are those of the murderer/criminal, which the protag is trying to uncover. So that's why mysteries have to be series ... because the protag's underlying stuff can't be displayed over the course of just one book. You need a series arc to do it in. Hm. This is why mystery novels are more intricately plotted. Hmmmmm ...

January 12, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions III

OMG, so entirely this:

Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and gender relations from a primarily female point of view.

And then, this:

The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.

And this:

The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.

Which I don't really agree with. It would, if most UF didn't present female violence with the same lack of thoughtfulness with which action presents male violence. But it's not often reflected on, so it's often just transferring the violence over into hot wimmin bodies. Even Buffy did a lot of this.

But then, this:

The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.

Again, word, but only if it actually DID that, instead of knee-jerkingly imposing magic on the proceedings because that's what the ladeez wants.

January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions II

And there's this:

"There is simply something fascinating about vampires and werewolves. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be so many movies about the damned things. Or so many books. Or legends. There is something about the notion of great power coming with an awful curse, the notion of a man becoming both more than a man and less of a man at the same time that inspires the imagination. Whether it be the horror a man experiences as he loses the very things he never knew he held so dear and having to suffer that loss for all eternity, or the notion of becoming something so uncontrollable that a man would want nothing more than to die, if only for that single moment of peace. Talk all you want about those 'cheesy old Universal monster movies', but by god, those movies had heart. Those movies had soul. Those movies dealt with the very essence of what it was to be human.

Those 'cheesy old monster movies' managed to understand the very essence of what those crazy old legends were really all about.

But maybe that isn't what you like about Vampire/werewolf lore. Maybe you simply love the sheer fright of the notion of these once human beasts prowling the night, with the ability to suck a person dry of every last drop of blood whilst they slept or tear a grown man limb from limb in a heartbeat."

From here. Gotta remember this. But change "man" to "woman." This reviewer was right in saying that Underworld was structurally flawed because it was The Matrix told from Trinity's point of view. This is only ridiculous if you don't completely commit to telling The Matrix from Trinity's pov. If you do (and Underworld didn't, it's true) then you have something pretty damn cool, very urban fantasy-y, and dealing with WOMEN's issues and not men's, the way The Matrix did.

Anyway ...

January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy Structures and Definitions

So I'm starting to see if I can put together an urban fantasy novel (and/or series) entirely by pre-plotting it. If it doesn't work, I won't write it. But I want to try writing this way, since I've never tried it. (I always start with a concept, a basic plot, even possibly an ending ... and nothing else. Then I start writing and see where it goes, leading to spending three years on a short story and ten years -- and counting -- on a novel. Trying something new now.)

So right now I'm investigating the urban fantasy novel formula. And I'm reading stuff I wanna respond to. Let's start with Carrie Vaughn's series of short posts on this (in which she never lays out the actual formula.) She does enumerate annoying clichés, though, and also says this:

I can’t help but look at the popularity of urban fantasy and ask, What is this symptomatic of? What anxiety in our culture is being expressed so eloquently in these works that they’re striking such a powerful chord in the readership, leading to phenomenal popularity?

The answer is pretty simple: these books are symptomatic of an anxiety about women and power. We have made so many gains over the last few decades. Women really can do anything, pursue nearly any career, become influential and powerful in any area. And yet. Women are still ostracized for appearing powerful. Women are still told that their role is to be deferential, nurturing, humble, self-deprecating, and they’re still criticized and marginalized when they don’t fit conventional images of femininity. Women still have to fight for acceptance in so many areas. You think this dichotomy, these mixed messages, aren’t real? Look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s (aka The Bitch) and Sarah Palin’s (aka Caribou Barbie) runs for office and get back to me.

So many of my pet peeves are symptomatic of this conflict: these aggressive yet conflicted women characters who are simultaneously strong yet exhibit low self esteems, who kick ass with violence but submit to the sexy alpha male. Another symptom: so many of these books only have one strong woman character, and many other female characters are stereotypical and inconsequential. Maybe lots of urban fantasy isn’t really about strong women, but about one special, chosen woman. (Thank you, Suzy McKee Charnas, for articulating this so well at Bubonicon.) There’s still anxiety about toppling the status quo. It’s possible in these worlds to have a strong woman, but not strong women.

I have to say that it's interesting to see her looking at the anxieties these fictions work on from the outside (i.e. NOT from the pov of the writers and readers.) But I think you also have to look at them from the pov of the people whose wishes are being fulfilled, i.e. the writers and readers, who are all or mostly urban professional women of childbearing (read: dating/marrying/relationships-with-men-having) age. And it's clear that these books are dealing with the confusion and anxieties of these women themselves, who want a number of conflicting things. Among these conflicting things are:

  • Personal power: the power to be and do what you want in life and in the world.
  • Negotiating power in your relationships; equality with your partner.
  • Kickassedness: the ability to protect yourself against exploitation, violence, oppression; but also the ability to appear very cool, to protect yourself in cool-looking and -seeming ways, not in gross or questionable ways. (e.g.: directly kicking someone's ass rather than being manipulative.)
  • Desirability: to men, that is. Most of these novels give very little thought to being a desirable friend/coworker/associate, much less lover, to women. Yes, sexual desirability. But only to men. This is heteronormativity, yes, but it's also about the kind of desirability that is the most problematic for urban career women. The wish being fulfilled here is to be desirable without negative consequences. (ETA: reading over this now and realizing how this sounds. I meant: sexual desirability to people with whom you have a massive, society-wide, gender-based power differential. And wanting to be desirable to them without incurring the negative consequences of being less powerful than they are. That's all.)
  • Competence: in life, but mostly in career. This never crosses over into desirability, i.e. being a desirable worker to employers and coworkers. That desirability is taken for granted, interestingly. Our heroines never have to stress about applying for a job, or even for a promotion. However, the wish fulfillment is to (grudgingly AND willingly) be acknowledged as competent/great by bosses and coworkers, who are mostly or entirely male.
  • A traditionally masculine man, who wants a contemporary, powerful woman: HA! The biggest crock, but also one of the biggest wishes being fulfilled. This one is the most regressive, but possibly the most understandable. It's wish fulfillment for women who were raised to desire the traditionally beautiful and masculine alpha male -- women for whom alternative masculinities have never been effectively promoted -- but were also raised post-second-wave-feminist, i.e. raised to take advantage of and expect to be treated as equals. This item is the one that shows up the biggest failure of second (and third) wave feminism: its failure to not just conceive of, but also actively promote, alternative masculine roles that work with the alternative roles for women we've essentially pushed through.
  • Outsider status: although all these conflicts and anxieties and desires are common and mainstream, there's still the desire to stand outside of the mainstream, to be special and also be to be a bit oppressed. This is partly adolescent, partly American (wherein our entire identity hinges on overcoming challenges and being individual), and partly guilty-white-girl. The last one is why so many urban fantasy heroines are mixed race (never just poc, though.) In this post-civil-rights-movement era, outsider status is most quickly vouchsafed by being a person of color. But, of course, no white woman REALLY dreams of being black, so it's always American Indian or Asian (although the half-Asians are usually the sidekicks.)
There are more, I'm sure, but these are the ones jumping out at me. No conclusions right now. More soon.

January 05, 2013

What I Read in 2012

  1. Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards!
  2. Terry Pratchett Men at Arms
  3. Terry Pratchett Feet of Clay
  4. Terry Pratchett Jingo
  5. Terry Pratchett The Fifth Elephant
  6. Terry Pratchett Night Watch
  7. Terry Pratchett Thud!
  8. Terry Pratchett Snuff
  9. E.C. Myers Fair Coin
  10. Naomi Novik Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
  11. Faith Hunter Raven Cursed
  12. Kim Harrison A Perfect Blood
  13. Diana Rowland Sins of the Demon
  14. Naomi Novik Crucible of Gold
  15. The entire Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series (reread)
  16. Seanan McGuire Discount Armageddon
  17. Robin Hobb Assassin's Apprentice
  18. Robin Hobb Royal Assassin
  19. Robin Hobb Assassin's Quest
  20. The entire Carrie Vaughn Kitty Norville series (reread)
  21. Robin Hobb Fool's Errand
  22. Robin Hobb Golden Fool
  23. Robin Hobb Fool's Fate
  24. Holly Black Black Heart
  25. The Hunger Games series (reread)
  26. Kristin Cashore Bitterblue
  27. Patricia Briggs Bloodbound
  28. The entire Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series (reread)
  29. Faith Hunter Mercy Blade
  30. C.E. Murphy Urban Shaman
  31. C.E. Murphy Thunderbird Falls
  32. C.E. Murphy Walking Dead
  33. C.E. Murphy Coyote Dreams
  34. C.E. Murphy Winter Moon
  35. C.E. Murphy Demon Hunts
  36. C.E. Murphy Spirit Dances
  37. C.E. Murphy Raven Calls
  38. C.E. Murphy Heart of Stone
  39. Ilona Andrews Gunmetal Magic
  40. Ilona Andrews Magic Dreams
  41. Carrie Vaughn Kitty Steals the Show
  42. Saima Wahab In My Father's Country
  43. Faith Hunter Cat Tales
  44. Kalayna Price Grave Witch
  45. Kalayna Price Grave Dance
  46. Kalayna Price Grave Memory

And this is where I stopped updating, sometime in ... August? In August, I think. The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was worse this year than the previous two years and didn't let up when the summer was over. Also, I had to work through it so I was even more exhausted. So I did a LOT of rereads (which are comforting and unchallenging) especially of urban fantasy series (which are comforting and unchallenging) so it didn't really seem worth mentioning. But here, in no particular order and with no guarantee of completeness, are some of the new reads I completed since then:

  1. Seanan McGuire Ashes of Honor
  2. E. Lockhart The Boyfriend List series (four books)
  3. Diana Wynne Jones The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (five books)
  4. Mira Grant The Newsflesh Trilogy (three books, obviously)
  5. Seanan McGuire Velveteen vs. the Junior Super-Patriots
  6. Rachel Vincent Stray
  7. Stacia Kane Unholy Ghosts
  8. Lilith Saintcrow Night Shift

I know among my rereads was Harry Potter, Temeraire, all the Kristen Cashores, and the Ellen Kushners ... sigh, oh well, I'm not gonna remember. And it doesn't matter.

I seem to have torn through all the good woman-centered urban fantasy series and am now scraping the bottom of the barrel: series involving wish fulfillment about men controlling women in (apparently to others) sexy ways. Yuk. Stray was like that. And ... there was another one, whose title I've forgotten. No other female characters, but lots of vampires and werewolves telling our heroine what to do and she not objecting very much. Ugh. Oh well.

It's occurred to me this past week that something productive should come of reading (and rereading) so much urban fantasy: I should be able to write some. I've decided to see if I can come up with a good series -- but not in the usual organic way I write fiction. Rather, I'm going to try to outline a series, book by book, in detail; structure it from the ground up. And only write it if I can figure out the whole story beforehand. I don't know if I have the energy for this, but I'm going to try. Fun!

January 02, 2012

What I Read in 2011

  1. Graceling Kristin Cashore
  2. Fire Kristin Cashore
  3. Disgrace J.M. Coetzee
  4. Buffy Season 8 Vols. 1-7
  5. Bud, not Buddy Christopher Paul Curtis
  6. Diwata Barbara Jane Reyes
  7. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake Sarah Maclean
  8. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord Sarah Maclean
  9. Faking It Jennifer Crusie
  10. Welcome to Temptation Jennifer Crusie
  11. Chinatown Beat Henry Chang
  12. Rosemary and Rue Seanan McGuire
  13. A Local Habitation Seanan McGuire
  14. An Artificial Night Seanan McGuire
  15. Open Andre Agassi
  16. Mark of the Demon Diana Rowland
  17. Blood of the Demon Diana Rowland
  18. Secrets of the Demon Diana Rowland
  19. Moon Called Patricia Briggs
  20. Blood Bound Patricia Briggs
  21. Iron Kissed Patricia Briggs
  22. Bone Crossed Patricia Briggs 
  23. Silver Borne Patricia Briggs
  24. Fight Club Chuck Palahniuk
  25. Huntress Malinda Lo
  26. Beauty and the Beast Robin McKinley
  27. Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
  28. Late Eclipses Seanan McGuire
  29. River Marked Patricia Briggs
  30. Cry Wolf Patricia Briggs
  31. Hunting Ground Patricia Briggs
  32. The Thief Megan Whalen Turner
  33. The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
  34. The King of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner
  35.  A Conspiracy of Kings Megan Whalen Turner
  36. Blood and Chocolate Annette Curtis Klause
  37. Patricia Briggs Moon Called
  38. Faith Hunter Skinwalker
  39. Faith Hunter Blood Cross
  40. Faith Hunter Mercy Blade
  41. Michael Frost and Holly Black White Cat
  42. Holly Black Red Glove
  43. Ilona Andrews On the Edge
  44. Ilona Andrews Bayou Moon
  45. Ilona Andrews Magic Bites
  46. Ilona Andrews Magic Burns
  47. Ilona Andrews Magic Strikes
  48. Ilona Andrews Magic Bleeds
  49. Patricia Briggs Masques
  50. Patricia Briggs Wolfsbane
  51. Patricia Briggs Steal the Dragon
  52. Patricia Briggs The Hob's Bargain
  53. Patricia Briggs Dragon Bones
  54. Patricia Briggs Dragon Blood
  55. Patricia Briggs Raven's Shadow
  56. Patricia Briggs Raven's Strike
  57. Kathryn Harrison The Kiss
  58. Hat Full of Sky Terry Pratchett
  59. Wintersmith Terry Pratchett
  60. I Shall Wear Midnight Terry Pratchett
  61. Kitty and the Midnight Hour Carrie Vaughn
  62. Kitty Goes to Washington Carrie Vaughn
  63. Kitty Takes a Holiday Carrie Vaughn
  64. Kitty and the Silver Bullet Carrie Vaughn
  65. Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand Carrie Vaughn
  66. Kitty Raises Hell Carrie Vaughn
  67. Kitty's House of Horrors Carrie Vaughn
  68. Kitty Goes to War Carrie Vaughn
  69. Voices of Dragons Carrie Vaughn
  70. Leche R. Zamora Linmark
  71. Cold Magic Kate Elliott
  72. Magic Slays Ilona Andrews
  73. Kitty's Big Trouble Carrie Vaughn
  74. Carrie Vaughan Steel
  75. Scott Lynch The Lies of Locke Lamora
  76. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
  77. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  78. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  79. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  80. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  81. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
  82. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  83. a friend's novel MS
  84. Tess Gerritsen The Silent Girl
  85. Patti Smith Just Kids
  86. The Power of Six Pittacus Lore 
  87. Knightley Academy Violet Haberdasher 
  88. The Secret Prince Violet Haberdasher 
  89. One Salt Sea Seanan McGuire 
  90. Goliath Scott Westerfeld 
  91. The Girl of Fire and Thorns Rae Carson 
  92. Drink, Slay, Love Sarah Beth Durst 
  93. Cold Fire Kate Elliott 
  94. Wolf Mark Joseph Bruchac
  95. Alanna Tamora Pierce 
  96. In the Hand of the Goddess Tamora Pierce 
  97. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man Tamora Pierce
  98. Lioness Rampant Tamora Pierce 
  99. Trickster's Choice Tamora Pierce 
  100. Trickster's Queen Tamora Pierce 
  101. Leviathan Scott Westerfeld 
  102. Behemoth Scott Westerfeld 
  103. The Thief Megan Whalen Turner 
  104. The Queen of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner 
  105. The King of Attolia Megan Whalen Turner 
  106. A Conspiracy of Kings Megan Whalen Turner 
  107. White Cat Holly Black 
  108. Red Glove Holly Black 
  109. Graceling Kristin Cashore 
  110. Cold Magic Kate Elliott
  111. Wolf Mark Joseph Bruchac
  112. Daugther of Smoke and Bone Laini Taylor
  113. Troubled Waters Sharon Shinn
  114. A Posse of Princesses Sherwood Smith
  115. Coronets and Steel Sherwood Smith
  116. Mastiff Tamora Pierce
  117. The Grimm Legacy Polly Shulman
  118. Blood Spirits Sherwood Smith
  119. The Trouble With Kings Sherwood Smith
  120. Crown Duel Sherwood Smith
  121. Dead Witch Walking Kim Harrison
  122. The Good, The Bad, and the Undead Kim Harrison
  123. Every Which Way But Dead Kim Harrison
  124. A Fistful of Charms Kim Harrison
  125. For a Few Demons More Kim Harrison
  126. The Outlaw Demon Wails Kim Harrison
  127. White Witch, Black Curse Kim Harrison
  128. Black Magic Sanction Kim Harrison
  129. Pale Demon Kim Harrison

ETA: Whoops. I allowed this to automatically post without finishing it. I started this post at the beginning of the year and just added books to it as I read. I set it to post automatically on Jan. 2.

Anyway. As you can probably tell, Kristen Cashore's Graceling is my comfort read of choice. Love that book! Can't wait for her new one to come out next this year.

Read a few memoirs this year: Andre Agassi's Open, Patti Smith's Just Kids, and, finally, Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss; all "celebrated" and talked about memoirs, and all worth reading for various reasons. The Kiss has all the faults and stupidities that I hate in popular "literary" memoir: the deadness of emotion that seems so trendy, the exact sort of "poetic" language that contributes to said deadness, the beautification of an ugly and sordid episode in someone's life, etc. But it was good to read the book that -- sort of -- started it all. Smith's Just Kids was a celebrity tell-all memoir written by a poet -- albeit a poet who never grew past adolescence, a permanent Rimbaud. There are a LOT of hints in the book as to why she's stuck in that stage, artistically, not least that she disembodies herself in her work and takes on male personas (physical personas.) And the ghost writer of Agassi's memoir is simply a terrific biographer and ventriloquist, who wrote a wonderful book about drive, obsession, and what it takes to be a top competitor and athlete.

I read a LOTTTT of series in the "urban fantasy" or "paranormal romance" vein. Still not sure which these are. Seanan McGuire's October Daye series (plus I met McGuire at Wiscon, in an elevator, and drooled on her!), Diana Rowland's demon series, Patricia Briggs' werewolf serieses (how do you indicate more than one series?), Faith Hunter's skinwalker series, Ilona Andrew's Kate Daniels series and Edge series (the first another werewolf/demon thingy, and the second definitely a world in which paranormal romances take place), Carrie Vaughn's Kitty werewolf series, and finally, Kim Harrison's witch series. LOVE. All of them. Of course, they're trash of the highest order, but oh, what middle-aged woman wish fulfillment! I love how most of the heroines are in their early thirties, are mixed race (or have a mixed-race best friend; it's all about the exoticism and wish fulfillment, ladeez!), kick much ass, and have these sensitive, macho, alpha males as suitors. Doesn't say ANYTHING about me, does it?

And finally, did a lot of YA again, although nothing that really stands out, although I did re-read the stuff that I loved, including Graceling, and the Megan Whalen Turner series. Oh, and I really dug Drink, Slay, Love, and not just because of the title. Unicorns and vampires! Yay!

The only really serious reading I did was reviews for Hyphen. I should do more of those.

And I read more actual books this year, although so many were re-reads ... because I was reading so much comfort food. It's all about the illness, I'm afraid. I think I'll try to read slightly more challenging stuff in 2012, but there will still be a lot of comfort food.

November 24, 2010

Exploratory Phase of Writing

When I teach writing, I'm constantly trying to get my students comfortable with the concept of exploratory writing. This is a part of the generative phase of writing, where you're producing a body of text which will become the subject of the other half of writing: revision.

Exploratory writing is where all your plans have broken down or been fulfilled; you've written whatever parts of the story you intended to write and now have to move forward without plans. Or else, if you're an obsessive outliner, you've tried to fulfill your plans, but the sketchy story you had in your head doesn't work out so well when you try to make rounded characters perform it. Or you're writing an unplanned story entirely, inspired by some sort of trigger or idea, and you're letting it unspool organically. Whatever way, you're in unmapped territory, and you don't know where you're going in the immediate future, and you don't know what will, much less what should, happen now.

This is a moment where you have to just let yourself go. You can't start making new plans. You can do research to make you more comfortable with the situation, but there comes a moment when you have to break off the research and just write. And that writing has to be open and experimental, because, as we just noted, you don't know what has to happen.

What happens for me in this phase is that I wander all over the place. I see a shiny thing, and I hare off in that direction, talk about it for a while, examine it, then eventually lose interest or turn it into something else. I'll see another shiny thing, and run off after that, often in exactly the opposite direction, and do what I need to with that. I let my interest level determine my course. Often an idea will lead me to the logical next idea, but the logical next idea isn't as interesting as the original idea. When I get bored, I stop going in that direction and head off in another one.

The goal of all of this is to hit the fire lode, the vein of liquid heat that consumes your conscious mind and takes you off in the right direction, the direction that will make your story amazing for you to write and for your readers to read. You don't always hit the motherlode. Sometimes you only find, so to speak, placer nuggest of fire, and you have to build your story around small, bright moments, knowing that this is a "good" story, but not a "brilliant" one -- by your own standards, that is. ;)

You can see it in my story "Vacation," where the first part of the story is told in short episodes that explore the new world, and the protagonist's relationship to it. This is all exploratory, and originally included a lot more exploratory stuff: how the women in this new world recreate government, how the media changes, etc. But once I hit the scene on the basketball court where the young boy disappeared, I took off. I knew that this was the direction the story needed to go in, and when I went back and revised, I cut out all the exploratory stuff that didn't contribute either to this part of the world, or do development of the protagonist's capacity to do what she does. I left the first part deliberately sketchy and exploratory, because I felt it set up the somewhat choppy rhythm of the story -- which isn't plot and action-heavy, but rather centers around a moment of transformation which proceeds from mosaic emotional logic rather than a causal chain.

Do this enough and you can see the different phases of writing in another writer's work as well. When I started being able to see this more clearly in the work I was reading, it inspired me to want to hide my tracks better. ;)

I'm going on about this right now because I'm in an exploratory phase right now with da nobble. And I'm not comfortable with it. I've just started year nine of work on da nobble (holy shit!) and thought I had left generative work behind me and was just going to revision. But I've hit a very important chapter that just wasn't working. I've rewritten this chapter twice, and have to rewrite it again now. And I'm having to generate. The research I did got me through an important scene, but now I'm dealing with the aftermath of that scene and I have no idea what happens now. Argh!

Now I just have to let-go-let-it-flow. I hate that shit! It's much easier telling my students to do it than doing it myself. I think part of the problem is that I'm out of practice. But part of it is certainly that I resent having to go back into exploratory on a novel that I've been working on for 8 years and have two finished drafts of. I don't feel starry-eyed and excited and in that fresh phase. I feel jaded and worn out. Committed, but worn out, like eight years into a rocky but loving marriage.

Sigh.

August 15, 2010

Miners and the Year Abroad

From Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth Century America by Richard Stott:
The argonauts felt free to reject the tenets of bourgeois conventionality not only because of the absence of white women and churches but also because their California sojourn was temporary. ... Most of those involved understood that the day would come when they would return to their settled existence in the states. Horace Greeley thought that rural men went to cities "to balance a year's compelled decorum by a week's unrestrained debauchery." If a week on the Bowery could compensate for a year of pious and sober behavior, what would a year in California do? Balance it for a lifetime? California lived on in the memory of former miners as something close to paradise, a place that had afforded them a charmed season of youth, jolly fellowship, and few responsibilities. One forty-niner wrote of his "fascination in the memories of that time ... [and] intense longing for such days again, ... I feel a pang, almost a pain, at the thought that I shall never see their like again." Perhaps the careful gold-rush diaries that so many men kept were to help them vicariously relive their once in a lifetime adventure. For the returnees, indulging their unruly impulses during the gold rush may have helped reconcile them to their more sedate later lives in the field, workshop, and office and thus have facilitated the embrace of the values they temporarily abandoned.

It is possible that the rush thus served a significant function in consolidating the transformation in male comportment that had begun earlier in the century.
Indeed. In fact, the main part of the rush took place over only three years: between 1849 and 1851. By 1852, the placer gold had been removed, and individual mining was done for. But men -- especially young men -- were still coming out. It seems certain that they were looking more for the experience than for the fortune.

All this reminds me of the atmosphere in Prague in the early nineties. I remember well a conversation I had with an acquaintance in 1990. She was a fellow creative writing student a year ahead of me in the program and getting ready to graduate the following year. I asked what she would do then and she said she was going to Prague. "That's in Czechoslovakia," she automatically elucidated. I was astonished. Less than a year after the fall of the Wall, anyplace in a Warsaw Pact country felt like falling off the edge of the Earth to me. I asked why and she explained that it was cool there. I don't remember the words she used or the images. What she conveyed, though, was excitement at something wide open, intellectually and morally. "Their president is an avant-garde playwright!" she said. "How cool is that?"

I imagine that the word-of-mouth about the gold rush probably sounded a lot like that: the stories about picking up chunks of gold from the soil was probably less about making a fortune and more about conveying excitement at something wide open. When I finally got to Prague three years later, it was probably like arriving in Calaveras County in 1852. The gold was over, but the rush wasn't. The American gold miners were so thick on the ground, you couldn't have found the "gold" even if there had been any. But it was no longer about that anyway. It was about experiencing the openness, and the "miners" had started making a business out of making life possible and easy for newbies. The American cafes and hostels I found in Prague were like the groceries and saloons and general stores of 1852 San Francisco.

Not to belabor the point, but my sojourn in Europe ended around the time the struggle between former east and west was settling down, the renovations were finishing, the rents were going up, and the openness was closing down. And my nostalgia for that time has been at times an "intense longing," and "a pang, almost a pain." I suppose everyone has nostalgia for their young adulthood, particularly when they first start to hit middle age. But I do wonder if that nostalgia is stronger when it is for a time spent on the frontier between the productive middle-class existence to which we are all doomed/destined, and the open and anarchic freedom of the unsettled territories that are left to us.

And are there any such unsettled territories left to American youth? Where would they go now? Is that the attraction of the military and of places like Iraq and Afghanistan?


August 09, 2010

Reading Update: Masons, Comanches, and Iran

Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America Mark C. Carnes

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History S. C. Gwynne

Death to the Dictator! A Young Man Casts a Vote in Iran's 2009 Election and Pays a Devastating Price Afsaneh Mogadam

Secret Ritual is research for da nobble. I've gotten stuck (for several years) on a key chapter about 2/3s in, where one of my main characters, Leonard, is living in a Martian mining colony (in 1899; it's an alternate history: the gold rush on Mars.) It's an all-male society (something I'll never have any experience with) and something needs to happen to send Leonard running away from the mine.

Note: Leo's gay, and my original thought was that there would be some violence around that, but it was too simplistic, and when I wrote the scene, it just didn't feel right. I don't understand what sexual dynamics would be in a 19th century, all-male, gold rush mining colony, and I suspect it'll be impossible to find any primary sources that address the topic directly. But I can't imagine that guys stuck out there with no women for miles, for months on end, wouldn't be getting down with each other ... at least some of them. So how would they work out the dynamics of such a situation?

One thing that I was thinking of focusing on was a cult the miners have developed. I thought Leo could be initiated into the cult, and have some sort of symbolic reckoning with his manhood that way, rather than addressing the sexuality issue directly. So when I saw the title of Carnes' book, I thought that would be the one for me.

And it was! The book is about fraternal organizations (Masons, Odd Fellows, etc.) and their rise during the latter half of the 19th century. Carnes sez that the main attraction of fraternal orgs in the 19th century, after they had gotten rid of the drinking and carousing that characterized them in the 18th, was the initiatory ritual. The ritual took them back to before Christianity (Christianity after the Second Great Awakening had become increasingly liberal and feminized) and (re)imposed a set of masculine values, and an emotional experience intended to appeal to men whose roles in society were changing rapidly.

So I got some good ideas about how to structure the initiation ritual (which was completely stumping me.) Now I'm reading Jolly Fellows, about male milieus in the same era, which should help me with dynamics some more. And I have a few more books to check out, too. Just a word: Secret Ritual is, for the most part, highly readable. There are some boggy requisite academic sections that twiddle with theory, but Carnes makes his way through his argument with expedition.

Empire of the Summer Moon actually helped me with da nobble too. In this alternate timeline, the U.S. has withdrawn from the Louisiana Purchase territories, and Mexico has sponsored a sort of federated Indian buffer state between its U.S. holdings in Alta California and Texas, and the new/old shape of the U.S. behind the Mississippi. (New Mexico and Texas are part of the Indian Federation, but Texas has an American contingent that won't leave, and New Mexico has a Mexican contingent that won't leave, and ... well, it gets complicated from here, and it's not a main part of the nobble.)

I was thinking earlier that the Federation would be led by Plains nations, but particularly by the Sioux (since they hold such pride of place within the American imagination,) but after reading Empire I'm thinking we can get more complex with it and have the Comanches doing their thing as well. The book makes the argument that the Comanches -- during the early to mid 19th century the best light cavalry in the world -- managed to turn back the tide of white settlement in the southern part of the plains for a couple of decades.

The book is particularly fascinated by Quanah Parker, the mixed-race child of Comanche chief Peta Nokona and Cynthia Parker, a white woman captured and adopted by Comanches as a child. Parker was wildly successful as a war chief during the last period of the Comanche "empire" on the plains, and then managed to reinvent himself  as a wildly successful assimilated reservation Indian when he saw the writing on the wall. He was an effective leader in getting his people to adapt their existing culture, but was unable to get a people raised free on the plains to adapt to sedentary farming life. Imagine, though, if the Comanches had gotten a new lease on their plains life -- at the cost of allying themselves with other plains tribes. I think maybe Quanah Parker could have managed it.

The book is an incredibly fun and interesting read, well-written as a cracking good tale, and without pulling any punches about either Indian atrocities, or Western mendacity and betrayal.

Death to the Dictator is a very engaging, and very fast, read. It's the true story (I think, can't seem to find information) of a young man who gets involved in the election campaign and subsequent protests in Tehran during the 2009 Iranian election (in which the opposition leader, expected to win, lost amid huge protests claiming fraud.) More than that, though, it's a view, from the ground, of what that historic episode was about. Not a lot of history is sketched out here, but enough to ground even the most ignorant reader (namely, me) in the context of last year's happenings. More than that, even, it's a portrait of the young adult generation of urban Iran: their attitudes, fears, concerns, blind-spots, and courage. I highly recommend this book. (Warning: he is arrested and subjected to torture and rape, so some of this might be triggering.)

June 28, 2010

Nobble Reading Thursday!

Hey all, I'm breaking out da nobble for a first ever reading this Thursday. For those of you in the Bay Area, it'll be at a private home in Oakland, so please follow the directions below to get the address.

Hope to see bunches of you there!

DEBUTANTES: A FIRST LOOK AT WORKS IN PROGRESS

with Sita Bhaumik, Samantha Chanse, & Claire Light

WHEN: July 1; doors 6:30 pm; presentation 7-9 pm

WHERE: a very lovely home in Oakland. RSVP at SFDEBUTANTES (at) gmail (dot) com

HOW MUCH: $5 suggested; proceeds go to KSW
(the broke and the forgetful not turned away)

WHAT: Three Kearny Street Workshop artists will present works in progress in fiction, theater/performance, and visual art. It is a complete coincidence that they are all female and mixed race. Tea, wine, punch, cookies, and finger sandwiches will be served. Someone will spike the punch. All proceeds from the event benefit Kearny Street Workshop's programs educating, supporting, and presenting multidisciplinary arts. Attendees are encouraged to bring seat cushions and wear flowered hats.

WHO:

SITA KURATOMI BHAUMIK is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and writer born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She is an MFA/MA candidate at California College of the Arts and likes to exhibit at galleries that appreciate good food. She is the art features editor for Hyphen magazine, a community advisor for Kearny Street Workshop, and currently teaches at Rayko Photo Center. You can reach her at www.sitabhaumik.com

SAMANTHA CHANSE is a writer&performer, educator, and arts organizer whose work has been presented with Kearny Street Workshop/Locus, The Marsh, the NY International Fringe Festival, Bowery Poetry Club, Asian American Writers Workshop, Asian American Theater Company, PlayGround in residence at Berkeley Rep, Intersection, Bindlestiff, and others. She received an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission, an Artist In Motion residency from Footloose/Shotwell, and an Emerging Artists Residency from Tofte Lake Center. She served as KSW's artistic director & as a Locus co-director, co-founded salon series Laundry Party, and is pursuing a MFA in playwriting at Columbia University in NYC as part of her bicoastal lifestyle. Her solo play, LYDIA'S FUNERAL VIDEO, will be published by Kaya Press in 2011. For more information please visit www.samanthachanse.com.

CLAIRE LIGHT used to be KSW's program manager and is now on the board. She has an MFA from San Francisco State, a little collection of short stories called SLIGHTLY BEHIND AND TO THE LEFT from Aqueduct Press, and a Bay Area-based freelance practice in nonprofit hackery. At this event she will be debuting her novel-in-progress, CHINAMAN TREETOPS, an intensely literary masterpiece about a Chinese feng shui master on Mars.

March 24, 2010

Reading Update

David Small Stitches

Malinda Lo Ash

Georgette Heyer Faro's Daughter

Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army

I have a lot to say about Daughters of the North, or The Carhullan Army (which latter title I vastly prefer) but I just don't have time right now. Maybe I'll get to it later. Had some problems with the insistence on "beautiful" over functional language at the beginning (was surprised to hear that this is "stripped down" from her previous books.) Had some problems with backstory (weak) and character-building (her motivation was weak.) Had some problem with the major plot-killing point that the Carhullan radicals never once seemed to consider the issue of how badly society would collapse and how few resources they actually had to keep the masses alive if they actually succeeded in their revolution. But the main portion of the novel, depicting the life and world and human dynamics of Carhullan was breathtaking. Bottom line: Great book!

November 21, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

Just wrote a post and then lost it. Annoying. Spent the day making pace charts after Scott Westerfeld's recommendations. Very helpful.

November 19, 2009

Writing Update

My NaNoFiMo is back! I did an entire mailbag (mailbag 6) today (that's, like, four short chapters to you.) But tomorrow, when I do the next mailbag, I'm going to get into some serious cutting out of things. And some serious rewriting of things. I think the hardest rewriting of things will start in mailbag 8 or 9. (Can't remember.) So I'll have a little space to run up to it.

Also, because I got stalled, my Mo is going until Dec 11th. I don't know why I chose that. Random, I guess.

November 02, 2009

NaNoFiMo Update

I just realized today that the sixth mailbag is where I start hitting my really hefty revisions (as opposed to edits.) What a way to start the month! I was busy running hither and thither today, so I wimped out and just did one letter. Sigh. Tomorrow. Nothing planned for tomorrow. Just a work day. Work Day!

October 31, 2009

NaNoFiMo

I almost missed the beginning of NaNoWriMo, as I do every year, but I caught it in time, thanks to Justine's blog.

I've never succeeded at a NaNoWriMo-type project, but a few years ago, when I tried to write a No in a Mo (not exactly the Mo of November) I did get more than half of it written.

So I'm going to try (again) to use NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to Get Stuff Done. As in, Get My Novel Done. So this year's November is my National Novel Finishing Month, or NaNoFiMo.

Actually, I'm not going to finish finish Da Nobble; that's not even in my plan. I just want to finish the third draft. Once that's done revision should get easier. Here's how it's going to work:

  • Da Nobble is epistolary (written in letters) and is organized by mailbags. Each correspondant contributes one letter to each mailbag, of which there are 15. There are five correspondants, which gives us a grand total of 75 letters. I'm currently in the middle of the fifth mailbag.
  • Of course, some of the letters are short and some are long; some of the letters require hefty rewriting and some do not.
  • I intend to complete planned revisions on 3 letters per day--that is, three letters that require revisions--until I hit the difficult ones. The difficult ones are the ones that don't just need revision, but the actual incident described in the letters needs to be thrown out and rethought. For each one of these, I will simply work three hours per day on them until they're done.
  • I'll check in daily here.
That is all. Wish me luck!

September 09, 2009

Reading Update

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin

Read it for a review I wrote for Hyphen. You'll have to buy Issue 19 to read my review. Short version: not a good book.

August 27, 2009

Reading Update: Mammothfail Is A World-building Issue

I just read: Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede and the fourth Buffy Season 8 Omnibus.

Naturally, I ordered this Thirteenth Child from BookSwim (netflix for books, not sure I recommend it yet) as soon as Mammothfail broke. I'm not sure I recommend BookSwim yet because it took that long for those books to reach me. So I'm reading this very late, with regard to the brouhaha, and in fact had forgotten that the book was coming at all.

First of all: yes, Wrede is a good writer. The book was a fun and fluent read, with a decent plot, interesting magical rules, and very alive characters. This last is very rare. I've noticed that readers will often credit a flat-charactered book with good characterization if the book itself is good. But a book doesn't have to be character-driven to be good. There are other drivers.

The book is also distinctly feminist in outlook, but also in a very rare way: feminist historical fiction tends to invest its characters with anachronistic attitudes and skills. Thirteenth Child didn't make this mistake. Its female characters, although strongwilled and powerful people, never complained about having to stay home and do the mending while the boys got to go out and play. They expressed frustration over it, but didn't combat it on a theoretical level that would have been inappropriate for the nineteenth century. I really appreciated that. It made the expression of female power so much more interesting.

The one part that is problematic is, of course, in the world-building. Yes, race in SF is a world-building issue. It has to do with how you see your world, not with how your world really is. There are very few places in the US that are actually all white. But there are also very few places in the US where middle class whites can't get away with failing to perceive the actual diversity all around them. We think there are huge all-white pockets of the US because writers portray fictional USes as all white so often, that they must be drawing on some sort of reality. But they're not. They're drawing on their perception of reality, as are all us chickens.

Let me break this down a bit for myself as well. There are three types of white-protag books by white authors in SF: the type that has important characters of color, the type that doesn't have important characters of color, and the type that has no characters of color at all.

The white-protag, white-authored book that has no characters of color in it: we don't need to talk about those, I hope. They are what they are, and I don't read them anymore. Some of them are extremely well written, most not so much. All take place in an alternative world in which white privilege has won, irrevocably. I think they have become immoral to write, as do a lot of other people, but as long as there is a market for them, they will sell. But let me just underline, before we leave this subject: these books have fictional worlds that are utterly unrealistic, in both the sense of fictional mimesis, and in the sense of human truth. US-written SF comes from a country where all-white simply doesn't obtain outside of certain clubs and gated communities. Period.

PoC, especially activists, will tolerate the type that doesn't have important characters of color -- like Harry Potter -- as long as there is a clearly genuine good faith effort to reflect some sort of real-life diversity in the book. There's a lot of discussion, and there can be a lot of disgust over the second-class-citizenship of characters of color in these worlds, but it's clear that the author hasn't completely ignored the actual racial diversity of the situation they are depicting. In fact, there's an honesty to this sort of writing: if you're white in America and middle class or higher, the chances that the main characters in your life are white are enormous. So reflecting diversity in your fictional world -- while your main characters are all white -- is at least honest about not just perception but your own personal reality. (Of course, it's fiction, so you're supposed to not reflect your own personal reality exactly, but I'm making a point here.)

The first type of book, in which some of the more important characters are of color, makes the situation more complex, because -- while these are the books that really start to deconstruct the white-only paradigm of American fiction -- there's the danger of the Magical Negro, and the dark-skinned sidekick, both stereotypes. There's also the danger, when a CoC is focused on so intently, that the CoC will be either whitewashed, or overethnicized. And finally, there's the danger of tokenizing. Because so much authorly energy is spent on a main CoC, there seems to be no color left for the rest of the humanity, and so you have an M&M adrift in a sea of marshmallows.

To reiterate:  while the diverse-world, white-main-characters book has a world-building honesty to it, it still keeps CoCs in second-class citizen mode. Whereas the oC-main-characters book may utterly fail in world-building. That's what's so puzzling.

What's weird about Thirteenth Child is that this book is two of these types: there are two important characters of color, both black; there are no other characters of color in the book at all; and the whole takes place on a continent that has no indigenous characters of color. If you look hard enough, it looks like a Harold and the Purple Crayon-scape: deft and lively figures and scenes, but drawn on a completely blank background. What has been making everyone so crazy about this book is that it is an attempt to write a "morally correct" fiction with important characters of color, but it is placed over a fictional world that has been deliberately and completely whitewashed.

Let's deal with the first one first: the book has major characters of color. These are a female magic teacher and a male itinerant magician and mentor. Both are black, both practice some fusion of "Avropean" (European) and "Aphrikan" magic, and both mentor the white, female, teenaged protagonist in developing her own magic, which maps better to Aphrikan than Avropean styles. Neither encounters any racism in this world ... one in which slavery was abolished three decades earlier, certainly, but one in which there was black slavery.

While both characters presumably have their own goals in life, we don't know what these might be; they are never hinted at. One character has a background, a family, and a place to go when she leaves the school she's teaching our protag at ... but the fact that she'll be leaving that school shortly after our protag graduates sort of underlines the idea that this teacher is there specfically to help her. The characters serve three purposes in this particular story: to teach the white protag a form of magic that whites couldn't teach her, to diversify the population of the story both by being black and by embodying the cultural diversity of magic, and to give the main characters moral stature by being their friends. (Yes, in a world where trolls cite their one black friend to justify racism, social proximity to one black person does serve to heighten your moral standing.)

So yes, these two characters are the very definition of Magical Negroes. Thus ends the analyze-the-two-characters-of-color portion of this review.

When you look away from these two characters, the rest of this world is entirely white. I've mentioned above that that's a danger of white-authored narratives with important CoCs. But it's much deeper than that in Thirteenth Child. Even white-washed frontier narratives like the Laura Ingalls Wilder books had Indians in the background, or at the very least, the threat of Indians. Their presence in the land was minimized, but it was one of the essential givens of this world, one of the essential elements that shaped frontier life and limited migration. Yes, their presence. Because, unlike with African Americans, whose presence in the US wasn't the issue -- it was rather where they got to go, what they got to do, and who got to decide what these were -- the whole issue with Native Americans was their presence. Remember that little word "genocide"? Yeah, that's a presence issue. It's not about where you get to be, it's about if you get to be.

So, there's a little something extra going on here than merely a white middle class author reflecting her privilege of being able to ignore the PoC all around her since her particular neighborhood is mostly white, as are all her friends. No, this is extra-blanking. Even old SF took us to other worlds to give us our white-only. This is an alternate, white-washed US, a re-do, a retcon. Aside from all the moral issues, it's impossible to get with on an imagination basis. Throughout the reading, especially once they left the safe settlement and went out into the wild, my mind couldn't stick the idea that there were simply no Indians out there. It's the Old West! There are Indians! Bad Indians or good Indians depends on whether it's Terence Malick or John Ford making that film. But there are Indians. My mind kept sliding away from the empty-of-humans landscape and putting Indians over the next ridge. Seriously, it's impossible. The only way I could make it work was by blanking out the landscape and blotting out human AND animal threat, both. This was easy since there weren't many descriptions in the book. And it resulted in the Harold-and-the-Purple-Crayoning of the story.

One more thing I want to mention about this and then I'm done: I have to wonder what Wrede was imagining the landscape as when she wrote this. Did she have trouble seeing the Indian-free landscape? Presumably not, but she doesn't fill in what she sees very much or very well. (Usually I appreciate low-density-of-description narratives but there are times when these don't serve their purpose.) This makes me wonder further ... in whitewashed mainstream narratives there usually isn't a lot of description of landscapes and cityscapes in which PoC don't take place either. I imagine this is because white writers, writing for predominantly white readers, only have to sketch in the consensus perception of an all-white reality with a few gestures. So the barely gestured, non-Indianed US frontier of Thirteenth Child: did Wrede subconsciously assume that the rest of her predominantly white audience could see an unpopulated American West just as easily as she could?

And my last question about that is: could they?

July 13, 2009

Updatingss

Finished Epileptic by David B. The first half was wonderful. The second half kinda fell apart. But that was because it was a memoir, and when kids get into their teens, the world gets immensely larger and it's harder to make a clear narrative out of it.

Still haven't started on Phase Two of Draft Two. Too much other stuff to do.

July 06, 2009

Iz Finish

Phase One of Draft Three Iz Finish.

That was the easy part: editing a printout of the MS, and noting the places where I need to rewrite. Now comes Phase Two, otherwise known as THE HARD PART, i.e. actually rewriting.

Onward!

July 05, 2009

Updatingss

Okay, so I've finished Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens, which is an extremely mediocre book. Waaaay overrated. Both Pratchett and Gaiman are much better on their own. Also finished Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which is the melancholy, literary, zombie YA nov. It's good, only ... somehow Ryan manages to flub the writing of the key moments and scenes. Like, where a scene turns, somehow the transitions tend to falter, so I don't know the scene has turned and have to go back a couple of paragraphs to figure out what the new situation is again. Argh.

Also, been stuck for a week about a dozen pages from the end of da nobble. Next time I get to it I'll finish it, and then Phase One of Draft Two will be done. I also might have found a novel writing group. Yay! More good news forthcoming in upcoming weeks.

June 30, 2009

ID This Book!

Hey guys,

My sister was given a book as a young teen by a friend, which I read, and I just now remembered. Can anyone tell me the title/author?

It involved a beautiful, dark-haired princess or chieftain's daughter, who was a spoiled brat and had an affair with some dude and got pregnant. He bailed and she shamed her family with her bastard son. The son had red hair, which was a sign of magic, and punishable by death. I can't remember what happened next, but they both ended up as slaves under the protection of some other chieftain and she had to dye the son's hair dark to hide his magic. She ended up becoming the chief's concubine. Meanwhile, there's another slave there (male, of course) who also has magic and he starts teaching the boy.

Don't remember most of the plot, but at some point it comes out that she herself is the one who passed magic on to her son (not the dude who bailed on her) and, if she would only learn it, she could become a powerful magician herself. Or something.

Any clues?

Did a little work on da nobble over the weekend and got through quite a bit today. I only have the last two or three chapters to go now, and these'll go fast. I've noticed, actually, that the beginning third and the end third don't need a lot of work (just minor edits), but the middle third is a mess and I'm going to have to go back in after this pass and rewrite a whole bunch of stuff. Argh. But good. I'm progressing.

June 27, 2009

Reading Update and Check In

Argh! My writing time yesterday was hijacked by a FIVE HOUR MEETING that wasn't supposed to start for another two hours when I arrived at the cafe. ARgh.

I did finish reading Timmi's Alanya to Alanya two nights ago, and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next installment. Awesome (that is a comment, not a review. No-review rule holds.)

June 25, 2009

Cell Phone Assholes

I did not work on da nobble today. I was in my favorite cafe during my writing time, and there was one too many assholes talking on their cellphones. Yes, inside. Yes, in a room in a cafe where people mostly sit and work, not talk. I can manage to ask people to take it outside at most once a day. Today the third cell phone user drove me outta the cafe. When I got home there was netflix. Argh.

However, I did go to netflix and put myself on vacay for two months, to see if I can do without. If I can, I might just cancel it altogether. It should at least get me reading more.

June 24, 2009

Check In

Didn't work on the MS yesterday, but it's okay, because I spent my writing time thinking about what I posted about in my previous post, and that was a really, really important realization for me. I've been able to get granular about what setup I need to have to get writing again.

Really got rolling on the MS today and worked through probably about 60 pages (I didn't count) including the most sticky chapter of all, the one I know is completely wrong and out of character, but which needs to happen in some way for themes to get played out and for the character to get moving across the geography again. I figured out, in general, how I'm going to rewrite this, and it's good. It'll kill about three birds with one stone. I been killin' lotsa birds today.

I'm starting to get excited about finishing the editing phase and getting back into rewriting. Hope it's soon.

Good writing day. And now a friend is coming over with wine and we're going to have the awesome dark rye/fig/olive/nut crackers I got at Whole Paycheck and it'll be a good evening as well.

June 22, 2009

Write-A-Thong

I'm not participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon because I do other fundraising among my friends and family throughout the year and need to choose where I spend that energy.

But I think it's a great idea, both as a fundraiser, and as a writing initiative. So I made a private commitment to write every day during Clarion West-time. Today was my first day. Officially it started yesterday, but Clarion West officially starts the night before classtime starts when the first instructor is introduced, and NOT when your writing needs to start. So I took advantage.

Anyhoo, I'm going through a printed out MS of da nobble right now, editing. And by "editing," I mean both line-editing and hefty, more structural stuff. When I'm done with this phase, I'm taking the heavily marked up MS back to Scrivener and doing the rewrites there. After this rewrite, I think I'll actually be ready to show it to some first readers.

I'm hoping this phase will be done by the end of the Write-A-Thong. But I'm not holding my breath. Will make an effort to post daily about my progress but, again, no breath-holding.

June 20, 2009

Up(Yours!)Dike's Rules for Book Reviewing (And Why They Suck!)

John Updike's Golden Rules for Book Reviewing, via (you'll have to catch this link quickly, since it forwards after a few seconds):

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
  2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?
  6. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

Okay, let's just be clear here: these are "golden rules" insofar as they are John Updike wishing reviewers would do unto him as he would have them do unto him. I know he wrote reviews himself, but he was primarily a fiction writer and had no benefit coming to him for developing a reputation as a strong and honest reviewer. Rather, the opposite: he had a stake in not pissing anyone in the industry off and in building goodwill among writers, publishers, and other folks with cookies.

I'm a writer as well, though a barely published one (no book yet, so no nasty reviews yet, so grain-o-salt it.) I also write reviews for my blogs and for more ... er ... legitimate venues. And I, openly, thoughtfully, and advisedly don't follow Updike's rules (with a few exceptions), even though I know it could hurt me as a writer in the long run. Here's why, point for point:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

    Really? So if we've seen -- in the past decade -- twenty, or fifty, or two hundred debut novels by white, male writers in their late twenties about rediscovering their and their family's place in the universe by backpacking around ________ (fill in foreign locale here), we don't get to blame the 201st writer for not attempting anything different? That's bullshit. Book reviews are part of a larger conversation analyzing our culture by examining artistic and artificial products of that culture. The writer's choice of subject is absolutely fair game. If we're bored by a book not because it's horribly written but because it's the five-thousandth iteration of that particular subject -- stale, clichéd, and unoriginal -- the reader needs to know ... and we need to say so.

    Or to get more granular: if a writer chooses something hot-button and difficult as a subject and displays her huge blind spot in doing so, do we not get to point that out? Say she's writing about prejudice against the disabled in a city like, say, Oakland (to get really blatant) but there are no characters of color anywhere in her narrative. In Oakland. It's bullshit to say "she didn't want to address race so she left the POC out." You can't address anything in a mimetic scenario that in real life would include X, if you don't include X. And reviewers get to call writers on this.

    Maybe I'm laying too much weight on reviewing, but I consider it part of cultural criticism, which I consider to be something of a sacred trust (or a profane trust?) I consider cultural production itself a sacred trust: people talking to other people about what they think is important; telling stories about what it is in our society we should be paying attention to. If they leave stuff out, ignore stuff, or choose not to address stuff, they get to be called out for it
    , one hundred percent, you betcha.

  2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

    Ar to the Gh. Seriously? This explains a lot about Updike and about how MFA lit fic is written. It's written so that it can be quoted, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph, in reviews! Think about it, folks. What's the point of writing (or reading) a 80,000-word work of prose if you can get an adequate "taste" of it in 50 words? Doesn't that basically tell you that the 80,000 words are written in (bo-ring) equal, like increments of 50-100 words? Why would anyone wanna read that?

    A book is long-form prose. It should not be quotable, that is: it should not be tastable via quotation. It should be so integral and complete a piece that you have to read the whole fucking thing to get a real "impression" of it. This is not to say that enjoyment -- "mouth feel" -- of the language is unimportant. It is, however, to say that insisting that a quotation be included will disadvantage books that were written as wholes, and not as excessively long and plodding and plotless prose-poems by people whose prose poetry would never be accepted as such by the poetry industrial complex. And, in my not-humble opinion, all books (excepting collections) should be written primarily as wholes, with the lovely language taking second priority to the integrity of the piece. (Unless, of course, the writer specifically chooses a project that deconstructs novel or book structure and focuses in on the moment of language, in which case the writer should be prepared to be called out for it.)

  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

    Again, this means that you can only describe the language of the book, and not character, structure, plot point, theme, setting, action, thought, or that indescribable something that animates (or fails to animate) the whole and makes it a living piece of art. The only things that are quotable in a review are small increments of language. You can't quote a plot, or confirm a plot by quotation. You can't quote a character, or confirm a book-length characterization by quoting a phrase. And, let's be clear: a characterization that can be confirmed by quoting a phrase? My people call it "stereotype."

    And "fuzzy precis?" Eat me, Updike. The typical review is 500 - 1000 words. You can't give anything but a general summary of a novel or book in that space. You just can't. The succinct precis is the reviewer's most basic tool, you tool. In fact, I would even say that the "art" of the review is being able to convey a sense of the book without having to hack up the book into pieces to do so. Casting contempt upon this "art" by referring to it as a "fuzzy precis" doesn't do anything. Reviewers won't, and can't, stop using it, and whole books will become no more quotable thereby. Asshole.

  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

    I mostly agree with this, but want to point out that Updike gives only the example of his own books being spoilered, and not having his experience of reading another's book spoiled thereby. That's pretty revealing.

  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

    No and no! Comparisons are odious! This is the one, specific place where what Updike said above -- about not calling out a writer for failing to do what he didn't attempt -- applies. My rule number one: DO NOT COMPARE INDIVIDUAL WRITERS AND DO NOT CALL OUT A WRITER FOR FAILING TO ACHIEVE WHAT ANOTHER WRITER ACHIEVED. This is the best way to encourage people to imitate one another: by implying that there is a correct way to do something and an incorrect way to do something. Saying "this writer's way of addressing the subject is correct, yours is incorrect" only sets up an orthodoxy. Writers should rather be critiqued purely on the successes and failures of their own projects, and not on how their projects compare to those of others. If someone tries something and fails, yes, say so. But with an eye towards how THAT SPECIFIC ATTEMPT could have been more successful, rather than with an eye toward how that specific attempt is wrong, but hey, look at this one!

    The only thing I agree with is this: "
    Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?" That goes double for me.

  6. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

    Yeah, yeah, fine. I can't really disagree with any of this. But I have to say, if a book fails to relay the "joys in reading," that needs to be said. Readers must become more discriminating through reading reviews. Readers must learn over time what makes a book ordinary, and what makes it challenging or interesting. They must be given a vocabulary they can use to talk about books. They must understand that some joys of reading, the ones they are always seeking, are not the only joys. They must learn that simply because a small joy may be discerned in a book, it doesn't mean that the book is worth reading. And they must ultimately learn that every mediocre book that is published, reviewed, bought, and read, means very specifically that another, much better book will not be published, much less read. Readers must learn how to improve the publishing economy for good writing, and poison the publishing economy for bad writing.

June 12, 2009

First Book Trailer!

Wow! I'm super proud of this book trailer we produced for Kaya Press (Sam Arbizo did the work.) After having a look at the field, it seemed there was a lot of room for improvement. What do you all think?

(By the way, I'm still working on some longer posts. Just recovering from jet lag and getting back into the swing.)

April 01, 2009

Bad Book Reading Consequences


Awrsome.

Via.

March 22, 2009

BSG Finale. Yawn.

Talk about no bang and not much whimpering.

Apparently BSG is finale-ing, (today? tomorrow? I don't know) and I don't even care. I'm behind two episodes as it is, and I'm certainly not going to watch it at the time of broadcast. No spoilers, please, even though I don't care. I'm going out on a limb though: it's gonna suck.

In other news, I'm writing again. I had a good writing day today. If this keeps up, I won't be blogging much. But then, I've been so busy the past month, I haven't been blogging much, anyway. So let it be for a good reason I'm not blogging.

That is all.

February 19, 2009

Nobble Update

Things looking up!

I printed draft 2 out and am reading it through and put it down because I was so bored. Yes, BORED!

This is good news because Orwell said that:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

Which I feel to be true in my case to a certain extent (minus a little hyperbole.) I've been working on da nobble for 6.5 years now and I've felt actually possessed by a demon which is essentially the spirit of the nobble. The "horrible" part was the year I spent NOT working on it ... but still being possessed by it, and stung, and taunted, and told I was worthless by it because I wasn't paying it its due attention.

The possession feels like infatuation or love, and very easily turns into hatred, contempt, loathing. So my boredom with the (boring parts of the) MS is like a light at the end of the tunnel. My infatuation wanes! I see a way out! All I have to do is cut away the chaff and preen up the rest and I'll be free of this ... thing.

And free to be possessed by the next thing. Sigh.

January 23, 2009

Readin' Update

Nisi Shawl FILTER HOUSE

A book of short stories from a fabulous writer who is my friend so the no-review rule holds. Awrsome.

Ernest J. Eitel WHAT IS FENG SHUI?: THE CLASSIC NINETEETH-CENTURY INTERPRETATION

Just what the title says: an 1873 publication from an English-language press in Hong Kong. Eitel was a German Protestant missionary -- apparently with a gift for languages -- who spent his career in China and ended up becoming something of an expert in Feng Shui, Buddhism, and Cantonese, writing texts on the first two and a dictionary of the last. He has his own form of Romanization for Cantonese, apparently.

Anywho, the book is extremely valuable not just for helping me to cut through all the latter day, Westernized, interior decorating crap that fills most feng shui books I can find, but it also teaches 19th Century feng shui and conveys the attitude of an educated and enlightened Western man towards feng shui.

Eitel is alternately contemptuous of and fascinated by feng shui, condemning it as "rank superstition" at the same time that he claims it as legitimate Chinese natural science. He makes the point that I've had to make before, that although the art/science of feng shui is infused with hoo doo and superstition, and doesn't follow the strict rules of western empiricism, there has been a science to the manner of study of feng shui; there is a form of empiricism and experimentation involved -- only it isn't "pure."

Perfect research item for da nobble.

January 05, 2009

What I Read in 2008

Take two, i.e. I wrote this entire post a couple of days ago, and then lost it because Typepad is stooopid. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm missing a couple from the list below because I didn't post about them or didn't tag them "whatcha readin'?" Sigh. Whatever.

I've bolded the books that really did something for me: made me think, changed or created an idea. You'll notice that I didn't include A Passage to India or Huckleberry Finn among these. Those were rereads, so they actually stank up my universe this year. Maybe if I read 'em again in a few years, they'll be good again.

  1. Christopher Barzak's One For Sorrow
  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  3. Passing by Nella Larsen
  4. High Wizardry Diane Duane
  5.  A Wizard Abroad Diane Duane
  6. The Wizard's Dilemma Diane Duane
  7. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
  8. The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  9. At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place by Kate T. Williamson
  10. Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm
  11. The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs
  12. Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce
  13. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  14. First Test Tamora Pierce
  15. Page Tamora Pierce
  16. Squire Tamora Pierce
  17. Lady Knight Tamora Pierce
  18. Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
  19. His Majesty's Dragon Naomi Novik
  20. Throne of Jade Naomi Novik
  21. Black Powder War Naomi Novik
  22. Empire of Ivory Naomi Novik
  23. A Wizard Alone Diane Duane
  24. Wizard's Holiday Diane Duane
  25. Flora's Dare Ysabeau Wilce
  26. Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  27. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  28. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  29. The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
  30. The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud
  31. Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  32. In Cold Blood Truman Capote
  33. Nora Pierce The Insufficiency of Maps
  34. Four Letter Words by Truong Tran
  35. Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler
  36. E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
  37. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil
  38. Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam
  39. E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
  40. Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy.
  41. Barack Obama Dreams from My Father
  42. Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King
  43. Terry Pratchett Monstrous Regiment
  44. Terry Pratchett Making Money
  45. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
  46. Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh
  47. Buffy Season 8 comic book (three omnibus volumes)
  48. The Last Man first omnibus
  49. Nation Terry Pratchett
  50. Outliers Malcolm Gladwell
  51. Octavian Nothing Vol. II MT Anderson
  • 51 books completed in total, just about a book a week, like last year.

  • 5 nonfiction books

  • 1 graphic novel and 2 comic book series

  • 21 YA or middle grade novels, or novels packaged as such

  • 31 books in speculative fiction genres

  • 21 male and 17 female authors (however, I read several books each from certain female authors)

  • 12 authors of color, as far as I know

  • 11 re-reads

  •  9 series that the books I read were part or all of, not including the comics

  •  19 books with strong female protagonists (down from 27 last year! That must be because I read less YA!)

One thing that's noticeable here is that I did a lot of escapist reading. I didn't intend to reread so much, nor read so much YA. Not that YA is automatically escapist, but I read deliberately escapist YA. This had to do with my being depressed for large chunks of the year (Jan - Feb and June - Nov). Escapist reading has always been a primary coping mechanism, but this year I also watched a lot of TV. Not as much as last year, mind you, because TV sucked so bad this year, but a lot.

Another thing was the lower count of strong female protagonists in this year's narrative. That was a little shocking. First of all, a number of my favorite women writers had male protags, such as Naomi Novik, Susanna Clarke, and Vandana Singh. Nothing wrong with that. But there were also a couple of books with female protags who were weak: Kate T. Williamson's memoir and Nora Pierce's novel. Of course, the memoir was about two years when Williamson was stuck living with her parents (and yes, the book was just. that. boring.), and Pierce's protag was the small, dependent child of a mentally ill single mother. But that raises the question of why literary narrative is so interested in women and girls at their weak moments and why we have to turn to genre fiction to get stories of powerful women and girls.

I'm certain that part of it has to do with the fact that the gatekeepers of lit fic are primarily male, and get to decide what is and isn't appropriate or "good." And I'm sure that part of it has to do with the fact that genre is engaged in a lot of escapism and therefore wish-fulfillment--of whatever sort--is on the menu. Wow, that's depressing. Any arguments there?

So, I'm thinking I'll probably be reading less from series in 2009 ;) and branching out a little more into other genres. There will be even more nonfiction since soon I'll be going into final research mode for da nobble, and because I want to do more reading for atlas(t). Other than that, I am, as always, open to suggestions (although I'm so distractable that I'll probably forget your suggestion as soon as I read it.) What did you read last year that blew your mind?

November 02, 2008

NaNoFiMo Update

Well, NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month) isn't going too smoothly so far. Yesterday I was busy and didn't do anything. Today I tried for two hours to manage a tiny detail: I needed to put in what Christian sect one of my main characters grew up in (he's no longer religious, so it's important, but minor.) I needed a non-communitarian, abolitionist but not pacifist sect. I spent two hours looking online for such a sect before I realized that this was a detail that I could let go. Do we really need to know exactly what sect he belonged to? It won't be referred to again. Seriously.

Then I looked for other small things to handle and decided that we didn't need to know how they mark trails to clear after dust storms (who cares?) or need 100% to hear that mention of a transport line to Alba Patera (I don't even remember what that refers to, but I'm sure it's unimportant.)

Then I figured out that a small detail I need to seed in there so it will bear fruit later is actually already part of a larger fix. Then I moved two small fixes to the medium fix column because I don't know what I was thinking, they're going to take longer than that. And that's about three hours of work right there.

Welk, I guess this is the job. I guess a lot of revision is planning and then planning again, and then getting disgusted with your obsession with unwanted detail and revising your PLAN, all without actually touching your text. Arg. I have only eleven items in the short fix column now.

Tomorrow, a few short fixes in the airport, yes?

October 23, 2008

Mono Lake Materials

Just a quick check-in: I'm up at my cousin's (bless him!) house on Mono Lake for a week (I'm halfway through the week now.) I had visitors with me the past five nights: Patty until yesterday and Sam the past three days until today. The next three nights I'm on my own. That's good, in its way, but it does mean that I'm not going to be reading Turn of the Screw in this phase of the retreat ;).

Patty was working on some sketches for her new calendar project, and Sam did some work yesterday on residency applications. I do not envy her. I've been working on an essay for Timmi, which I have no idea if it is good or not. (I also have no idea if I structured that clause correctly.) I'm hoping to get that done today so I can get at least two good days of work in on da Nobble, but I'm not sure that'll happen. This essay is a monster and it's killin' me.

Anyway, last night, after Patty was gone, Sam and I brainstormed. We are both looking down the barrel of Kearny Street Workshop's 10-year APAture retrospective (called Shifted Focus), part of which will be a reading and a performance night at the de Young Museum in conjunction with their Asian American art exhibition (called Shifting Currents, see what they did there?). I'll be doing a reading on December 3 and Sam will be doing a performance on January 23.

Anyway, we agreed a few weeks ago to a) both present new work created specifically for this event, and b) collaborate on that work by c) coming up with a set of "materials" from which we would both create our pieces. By materials, I mean characters (and names), concepts (like "fossil"), locations, (like "rooftop"), activities (like "two fisted drinking"), words, phrases, etc. The idea is that we'll come up with a short set of things--one in each category, perhaps five or less--which we will both be constrained to use in the pieces we create. (The examples I used above are probably not the ones we're going to use, by the way.)

So we're still brainstorming, but we'll have the set ready by next week. I don't think I'll post them here. I think, instead, I'll encourage you all to come to the reading (maybe I'll post a video of it on YouTube) and the performance and see the results for yourselves. Itsth an ecthperiment!

October 06, 2008

What I've Read So Far in 2008

Just checking in on it. Still reading a lot of YA, but this time, entirely for pleasure. No silly I'm-writing-a-YA-novel excuses. This is actually 37 books, since the Bartimaeus trilogy is three, Protector of the Small is four, and the Temeraire cycle is five. So I'm almost on track with last year's one-book-per-week rate. On the other hand, a few of these are re-reads (Temeraire and Protector, and Passage to India) so maybe they don't count as much.

Anyway, I'm going to try to make the last 12-13 weeks of the year count. I'm working on re-reading Orwell's Burmese Days for the essay I'm writing and I'm reading the second Flora Segunda book, but then I'll come up with another short reading list. Some of the books from Hispanic Heritage Month or American Indian Heritage Month maybe.

Any suggestions? Things I should not leave the year without reading?

  1. Christopher Barzak's One For Sorrow
  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  3. Passing by Nella Larsen
  4. High Wizardry Diane Duane
  5.  A Wizard Abroad Diane Duane
  6. The Wizard's Dilemma Diane Duane
  7. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
  8. The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  9. At A Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents' Place by Kate T. Williamson
  10. Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm
  11. The Death and Life of Great American Cities Jane Jacobs
  12. Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper #1 Tamora Pierce
  13. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  14. Protector of the Small cycle Tamora Pierce
  15. Victory of Eagles Naomi Novik
  16. Entire Temeraire cycle (so far) Naomi Novik
  17. A Wizard Alone Diane Duane
  18. Wizard's Holiday Diane Duane
  19. Sherman Alexie The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  20. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  21. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  22. Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
  23. Four Letter Words by Truong Tran
  24. Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler
  25. E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
  26. Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil
  27. Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam
  28. E.M. Forster's A Passage to India
  29. Justine Larbalestier's How To Ditch Your Fairy.

October 01, 2008

Reading Update

Just finished re-reading E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. I read it the first time in college, when I was going through my Forster phase. I didn't think much of it at the time, but for completely different reasons than those making me not think much of it now. I'm reading it now as an example of decolonization-process novels for something I'm writing. So I'm looking at it critically that way, and don't have much to say about it now ... except: what a load of hooey!

Was Forster always that annoying? This is what bugs me about the stupid stupid lit critic expression "closely observed." No writer worth her salt puts things in her novels that aren't closely observed. Why praise a novelist for doing what their art form requires? It's what they DO with the observations that count. And Forster uses his, here, to bolster a half-baked, half-formed idea of the coldness of the universe and its intentions. Through all the bizarreness of his method, you can see many, many moments of close observation. They ring true, like the right kind of metal, in a way that his explanations of the natives don't. But it's all part of a net of insufficiency.

It made me kind of sad. This is a great novel--a piece of writing by a brilliant writer at the height of his powers--about an impoverished set of ideas that the writer evidently found grandiose. It also made me kind of ugh. I'm going to have to read Howard's End again, the book of his I found the most brilliant. Perhaps trying to understand "India" in the mid-twenties was beyond him, but maybe understanding England wasn't? Who knows? All I know is that if Howard's End fails the re-reading, Forster's getting demoted.

September 23, 2008

Readin' Update

I finished Barbara Neely's Blanche on the Lam, the first of the Blanche mysteries. Took me two weeks.

I read the second or third one many years ago when it first came out (my mom had it), Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, and was surprised that this story of a black domestic worker among richer, lighter-skinned members of "the race" would ring familiarity bells with me. It was the first book I ever read that described a (small) part of my own experience. Don't ask me now how that can be, I'll have to read the book again. Something about Blanche being one of them yet being repudiated.

Anyway, I always meant to go back and read the others and I was recently in Marcus Books on Fillmore and found this one on a table. It took me two weeks to read, even though it's only 200 pages, because Neely was so intent on exploring the contemporary master/servant relationship from the point of view of the servant. The murder doesn't actually happen until more than halfway through the book. The relationships in the book are complex, complicated by race and class and personality.

The book is terrific until the end, when the bad buy deteriorates into a caricature. But definitely worth reading.

September 08, 2008

Reading Update with SPOILERS!

Wow, I really get behind.

So I read the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud and loves it. It's the only successful commentary on the Iraq war that I've seen so far in fiction (not that I've read that many attempts.) It should feel heavy handed, but doesn't, because the secondary world created here is so weighty and balanced and alive. It shares one thing with Harry Potter and that is the depth of the world-building. But it also shares this with the Temeraire series and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

My one real quibble (SPOILER!) is with the very end when John Mandrake sacrifices himself for the others. It sort of needs to happen, but it feels way too much like the proper punishment for the radically flawed character ... his only way to redeem himself. I don't like that and it brought the book down for me. I can't quite see how else it could have ended, but this was just a good ending--just a neat wrap-up ending--not a great ending. The quality of the book was such that a great ending could have raised the book (or, I should say, the series) to greatness. But just a good ending make the book/s just good. Not really a problem, though.

Then I read Lauren McLaughlin's debut Cycler and loves it. Dewd. I'm not allowed to review friends on this blog but I'm so relieved. What if your friend wrote a book and it sucked? What if your friend wrote a book and it didn't suck but all you had for it was faint praise? Dodged that bullet. Why are you still here? Go read the sucker already. I might even review it on my udder blog but you didn't hear that from me. Oh, and here's Liz Henry's review.

September 04, 2008

*Triumphant Screech!*

I have finished Draft Two of da nobble!

\o/

I did it by employing a little trick. I was in phase two of three phases of Draft Two. Phase one was a major revision of a problematic area of the book and fixing the outward ripples of this revision. Phase two was then going back and writing in all the peripheral material I had always wanted to include but didn't in the first draft (which was about creating a coherent novel, without necessarily the richness of a complete thing.)

Phase three was going to be going back in and fixing all the fixes I had noted throughout draft two.

BUT. Draft Two has now taken a year all told (although that year was spread out over two calendar years). And the list of fixes now comprises about ten pages in Word. This is not a Phase. It is its own draft. So the list of fixes is now Draft Three, which shall commence next week.

Woot!

Also, Draft Four will be me going back in and doing chiropractic work. (Structure and deep character fix.) Then there will be a spit and polish and we're done. I have until August 2009.

Deep breath.

ETA: oh, ... uh ... and actually, there's that little matter of cutting out 50 or 80 thousand words. The MS at this moment is 203,036 words. I shit you knot. I'm gonna hafta rethink the whole draft numbering system. Maybe I'm back to Phase three of Draft Two. Sigh.

September 03, 2008

Oh My oG

I'm so close to done with phase two of draft two I can TASTE IT.

August 27, 2008

Reading Update and Writing Lessons

So I've just completed two really good books. Not great books. Really good books. Both I should have read in 2004.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I bought this when it was all the rage and expected a solid fantasy and didn't get it. At the time, it felt really really slow to me and I got bored about 100 pages in and put it down. Then recently I was reading a blog post that mentioned something interesting about it (have forgotten what) and decided to go back and see if I could get a little further into it.

What a difference! Since I knew what to expect this time the book motored along briskly. It wasn't fast, but it certainly wasn't slow. In fact, the pacing was perfect. I detected notes of Dickens, Thackeray, Tolstoi, and of course, Spenser. Not in the language or in the "themes" (whatever those are), but rather in the structure of portions of the story. That's the kind of literary allusion I can deal with.

Clarke uses a tactic that I'm using in da nobble, which is putting some essential information into the footnotes. And also, letting the spillover from her fertile imagination reside there. It's a fake-out: you think you don't have to read the footnotes but you actually do. But it's also a really effective way of including infodumps, and an even more effective way of including important world-building perspectives that don't fit within the flow of the narrative. If these were intruded, even as is, into the main text the reader would process it differently, but as footnotes, these pieces get reserved--and highlighted--as off-flow text.

The one problem with this is that she didn't set up a conceit that allowed for footnotes. There were a few places in the book where she compared Strange and Norrell's time with "today." But she never clarified what day "today" was or who was writing those thoughts from what perspective. And most of the book read as a novel, not as a history; there was no explanation for how a person could know what these "historical" figures thought or experienced when they were alone. I think this was a weakness, but a minor one.

The book's main weakness SPOILER was that, at the end, the Raven King appeared to be nearly omnipotent, like a neglectful god. This took all of the interest out of the character of the Raven King and also out of what role he was playing in the drama. He was much more interesting as a man with special powers, not as a daddy figure who realized his kids had gotten themselves into a mess and reached out a hand at the end to fix the mess. First of all: deus ex machina = boring. Secondly, the kids got themselves into the mess and it would only be interesting if they got themselves out of it.

The book was powerful because the Raven King remained vague, but popped out clearly in moments making it obvious that he was a man, albeit a very powerful one. The book's power also came from the choices the main characters made. To have the climax drive by one part accident and one part deus ex machina was a shift away from what the book had been saying about humans all along.

Writing lessons:

  • Leave what's vague, vague. Not everything has to be clarified, particularly not the mysteries the characters live by.
  • The mechanics of a character's movement through the events of the plot (i.e. if by choices, deliberate action, or accident) must stay consistent. If the mechanics change simply for the climax/resolution, that's cheating.
  • The climax/resolution must be compressed, sped up, slightly, or else intensified in some way. You can't be in the middle of the climax and not know that this is the climax or, well, you know. Bummer.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

It's almost pointless to compare this to Catherine Valente's Orphan's Tales. They have only one thing in common and that's the nested stories tactic. But done so completely differently. My complaint about Valente is that she didn't give us enough of each nested story to make us (me) care enough about it to come back to it. She gave us almost no characterization so I didn't care about the characters either. Can't make either of those complaints about Mitchell.

Mitchell is brilliant in his ability to shift voice, genre, pacing, structure from story to story. A virtuoso performance. Something to learn from because, while I'm not doing exactly the same thing in da nobble, I am playing with different voices, and different ways of structuring narrative in different contexts.

The big fault here is that the stories don't connect very strongly, so the book doesn't really feel like an integral whole. The "themes" or more likely, inquiries Mitchell is pursuing are so tenuously linked across the different sections that the books can't be said to be about anything in particular. SPOILER Mitchell recognizes this and even hedges his bets by having his composer character--whose masterpiece is the "Cloud Atlas Sextet," a piece with six completely different, but nested themes--explain that the piece (a blueprint for the book's six nested stories) isn't supposed to make direct sense.

Mitchell doesn't signal the reader properly on this one. Part of the purpose of post-structuralist, fragmented prose is that the fragmentation of the text itself signals the reader's mind to depart from the order of ordinary narrative flow. The reader's mind is therefore scrambling for order and making connections between fragments that may or may not exist. The mind is open to diagonal, multilateral, and backwards-flowing links.

Mitchell, on the other hand, gives us too much story here for our minds not to fall in--settle in--with the order of the narrative. So our minds are not primed to make connections, but rather lulled into allowing the author to make the connections for us. If the stories, each broken off at a crucial moment, were left broken off, then, in spite of the clear narrative direction of each, we'd be left casting about for connections. But instead, Mitchell goes back and re-nests the stories on the other side so that each narrative arc is completed. The satisfaction of completing a narrative arc makes it almost impossible to connect the text with another text outside of it, especially when that text is of a different narrative stamp. Every time I try to think about it, my brain slams the door.

If this was his intention then, great, but it's a one-liner: "See? Narrative is coercive. Nyah nyah." If this was not his intention, somebody's gonna have to tell me what was. He gave a virtuoso writing performance, at the expense of the greatness of the novel as a whole. I'll tell you what: for the first half of the read, I was indignant that the jacket said that this was shortlisted for the Man Booker, rather than the winner. For the second half, I increasingly agreed with the jury.

Writing Lesson: If you're telling a story, or pursing an inquiry (and I am, both, in da nobble) then make the connections strong. Be clear with yourself what you're trying to do, and give the reader enough to understand this, too. You can do all this and still give structural food for thought.

Altogether an exciting reading week. Yeah.

August 13, 2008

New Deadline

Not that my deadlines ever hold up, but I've just decided--with Susan's help--that I will be going to WorldCon in Montreal in August 2009 and by then I will have a finished MS of Da Nobble to bring with me.

Just registering it here.

200K

Yikes. Draft Two of da Nobble has reached 200,000 words. That's around 800 pages.

Don't worry, it will be cut. In Draft Three.

Onword.

July 07, 2008

These Kids Today

The aesthetic of choice these days is the aesthetic of exploratory excess. It sets before the reader a world featured as a swirl of competing energies and stimuli; it searches patterns, connections, instances of psychological complexity. The old gestural muteness won't play in these halls.

To some degree, of course, this is a necessary and healthy compensation—fiction suddenly feels enfranchised again. With a new tolerance for ramified expression come new subjects, new perspectives. The dense fabric of contemporary life—its changed ways of doing things, of interacting—is brought more clearly into view. The evolving cultures of science and technology become available, as do more of the vagaries of our destabilized modes of living. Carver's tamped-down narration, guiding us from streetlamp to barstool to sparsely furnished apartment, could never hope to take in the burgeoning culture of virtual simulation (Powers), the domains of science (Goldstein), the endlessly branching nuances of psychological self-awareness (Antrim, Foster Wallace, Eggers), or indeed, scarcely anything of the noun-deprived and process-worshipping way we now conduct our lives.

What is sacrificed, perhaps, is a certain emotional force. Thrilling and dark and expansive as so many of these new expressions are, they have a hard time generating a strong emotional charge. The language, mental and nuanced—like the prose structure itself—often serves a bemusedly ironic sensibility; life is more spectated than suffered. When tragedy does occur, it is more often than not given a black-comedic inflection—as in works by Wallace, Antrim, Eggers, and their ilk—not because the authors can't do powerful conflict and emotion, necessarily, but because the hyperconscious self-reflexiveness of their style is hard to turn off. The seductive cerebral-ironic style, which allows so much, doesn't seem to permit the shift to a full frontal seriousness.

---Sven Birkerts, "Carver's Last Stand" in the Atlantic Online

July 06, 2008

Book Throwin' Update

Thank Og somebody said it so that I don't have to.

After the seemingly universal lovefest for Valente's Orphan's Tales, and owing to the fact that I got In the Night Garden as a very sweet present from badgerbag, plus the fact that I never finished it because the tenth time I threw the book across the room it got badly injured and I had to take it to the book hospital and leave it there forever and never come back ... well, I didn't have the heart, and by that I mean the balls, to say how much I didn't like (i.e. hated) that book. (sorry, badge! Let's still have dinner and talk about it!)

It wasn't just the overheated, nonsensical "lyricism," which vito_excalibur mentions here. It's the fact that she keeps starting stories and never seems to finish them. Everyone's got a limit for nested stories and she surpassed mine with a vengeance. Because of the cheap language, I didn't care about the first characters in the first place. And layering character after situation, after story, after character on top of them just made me forget them only to be reminded of how much I didn't care about them when they came back.

I get what she was trying to do, but if your reader leaves the room before you do it, can it really be said to be done? (That was the sound of one hand clapped to a forehead.)

Plus, I love that vito_excalibur is quoting "A Reader's Manifesto". Everybody needs to read that whole fucking thing right now. When I read it a few years back, I couldn't believe that Myers had managed to attack every lit writer that I had serious isshooz with: McCarthy, Proulx, Delillo, Auster. Gotta love that.

Plus, this lolcats is hysterical:

Oscarwao

In other news, I devoured J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians and take back everything I thought about how boring Coetzee must be if everyone is always on about how great he is. The deal with him is sheer density of storytelling. Barbarians is a short novel, but he covers a lot of ground simply because he doesn't waste words thinking or meditating out loud. When a character thinks something, Coetzee states that thought in a sentence or two and moves on. Yet, the whole novel gives a very slow, meditative mood. I haven't quite figured out how he does it, but it's a huge writing lesson for me for when I go back in and revise da nobble.

Speaking of which, I have three letters to catch up on today. Off to the races ...

July 01, 2008

Pledge

I'm going to Panama at the end of July and I still have a bunch of new stuff to write on da nobble before I can start the long, cantankerous process of cutting out the old stuff. So my pledge is to work my ass off on the new stuff and get all new text filled in before I go to Panama on July 25. That means writing every day.

I have 24 days, starting today, and 25 new letters to write (da nobble is epistolary, dig?) These letters are from the peripheral correspondents and aren't required to move the central story forward. They're also much shorter letters because these correspondents have to be brief for various reasons: one is illiterate and has others write for him, one is a child, and one is simply writing an introductory note to the other letters. So these are very brief letters, but they do need to be coordinated to the longer letters.

So, basically, I need to write at least one letter a day, every day, until I leave for Panama. So that's my pledge. At least one letter at day from here on out, and the whole thing done by the time I leave for Panama. Panama will be a vacation and I will let the whole thing rest then, for two weeks. Basta.

June 19, 2008

wordle

Wordlenobble
Via Justine, this wordle word cloud of the most used words in da nobble.

Finish This Year

It's also occurred to me today that da nobble was conceived and drafted entirely within the Bush administration. That's why it's so damn dark. I need to get it finished before the election so I can maintain the proper mood.

Because, you know, McCain won't win.

June 18, 2008

Wow

Da Nobble is about to hit the 200k word mark.

That's a lot. In traditional pages it's between 670 and 800 pages. That's a lot.

Wow, that's a lot. And I still have more to add.

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