reading in Chicago

It’s a bit short notice, but if you’re in the Chicago area, I will be at the Twilight Tales reading series next Monday, the 12th. Show starts at 7:30 at the Red Lion Pub; more info is available on the website. I’ll be reading three short stories: “Silence, Before the Horn,” “Centuries of Kings,” and “The Twa Corbies.”

In unrelated news, man, after spending half an hour struggling to come up with Xie Meng-lu’s name (for the lurking short story idea, “Xie Meng-lu Goes on Pilgrimage”), I’m convinced I need to buy a good, comprehensive book on historical Chinese names. I don’t suppose anyone has a recommendation? I want to write a series of these stories, and that’s going to be a nightmare without a good desk reference. The Internets simply do not cut it in this case. (With the result that Xie Meng-lu’s name is subject to change — but I needed something to call him, since his name is half of the title.)

Two Down, Two to Go

I neglected to mention, when I was posting updates on Kit, that there was more going on than simply me getting that story out of my head at last. Akashiver and I have formed a pact to write four short stories in four weeks, of which that was the first. Tonight I managed to knock out a longhand copy of “Waiting for Beauty,” the story Kit mugged on his way to the forefront of my brain. It turned out to be quite short; about a thousand words, I estimate. We’ll see when I type it up.

But that counts for week two, which means I’m halfway to my goal. Next up, I think, will be the Driftwood story I started at ICFA. After that? Your guess is as good as mine. I have a list on my computer of story ideas composting in my head, but none have shown Kit’s initiative in wanting to be written. Some (“Hannibal of the Rockies,” “Mad Maudlin”) require irritating amounts of research, which makes me reluctant to tackle them on this schedule, especially after my adventure through Elizabethan history last week. Some (“Once a Goddess,” the faerie trouble story) haven’t the blindest clue where they’re going. Some I could maybe write, but I just don’t feel much desire to.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll do something with “Kingspeaker.” It was trying to get itself written a while back, after all; maybe I can wake it up again.

But it’s good to have short story productivity again. Which is, after all, the point of the exercise.

Sartorias linked to this LJ post about violations of narrative protocols, specifically point of view. It makes for interesting reading, but when all’s said and done, I really don’t agree.

I simply don’t have that strict a view of narration, when it comes down to it. I think it’s an interesting device that Tolkien constructed The Lord of the Rings as a real story plausibly handed down to us by real narrators, but I don’t find the incident with the fox to be a “ghastly lapse.” (At least not a lapse of protocol. It is a bit twee, and in general, I approve of avoiding the twee.) I don’t need to believe that a specific person is the narrator of a story, or that they had an opportunity to communicate their thoughts to others. I’m privy to a character’s thoughts while they’re dying alone? Cool. It probably means I’ll find their death more interesting. (The Aldiss example, on the other hand, does sound annoying, and likely the result of Mr. Alidss setting himself a challenge he couldn’t consistently meet.)

As far as I’m concerned, everything we do in writing is artificial. (I almost said “nearly everything,” but decided to go for rhetorical force rather than covering my ass. I haven’t been awake for long enough to think through that assertion and decide if I have any exceptions.) Back to the point, everything’s artificial, and so I don’t have any particular reason for balking at conventions of narration that tell me things no person in the story could tell me. The issue, for me, is whether or not the writer induces me to care, and in pursuit of that goal, they can do whatever damn thing they please. Head-hopping? Violation of pov? Blatant asides to the reader? Knock yourself out. If you get me to follow you through it, then you’ve won. (Mind you, if you violate established conventions of narration and don’t get me to follow you, then I’ll be irritated, whereas a conventional approach that fails will merely bore me. Your risk.)

Of course, I’m saying all this as my agent prepares to market a novel that’s in first person with no explanation for when and how the narrator came to tell anyone that story. My defense here is not disinterested. Fortunately, when I responded to the original comment quoted at the beginning of that post, I was not the only one who said they had no problem with such a trick. There will be people who will throw the book down in disgust, perhaps, due to the point of view, but I hope they will be a minority.

X-Men thoughts, spoiler free

I generally go to see comic-book movies with friends who read many comic books, so as someone who has read very few at all (and essentially no superhero ones), I often find myself with a different perspective than those sitting next to me when the credits roll.

I couldn’t tell, from the snatches I overheard, whether the consensus among said friends was that they liked it or disliked it. Personally, I liked it.

Having said that, its biggest flaw was its density. That clip you’ve seen in the trailers, of Juggernaut smashing through one wall after another at high speed, is a good metaphor for the script. Virtually every quibble I had (with one very spoiler-y exception; ask me about it in person) grew directly out of the speed with which the story slammed through its component parts. Some of that, I think, can be attributed to the shift in personnel between the second and third movies, and the concomitant shift in narrative focus. Had they continued on with the elements they’d set up in the first two films, I think they would have been fine;
conversely, had they been setting up the elements of this third film during the first two, again, I think they would have been fine. As it was, much of the material in the third movie was starting from a dead stop. Is it any wonder the acceleration required to get to the end was so extreme?

I really think I want there to be an extended edition on DVD. My opinion is that this was a good movie, but it could be better than good with the right insertions. More stuff with this character, more context for that decision, and some actual denoument — it would be interesting to see.

Ding, dong, the story’s dead

“The Deaths of Christopher Marlowe”

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3,247 /

Okay, so it ended much more quickly than I expected.

I don’t know, at present, whether the story works. All I know is that I’ve written a story with nary a speculative element in it, and I’m not sure what to do with it. I mean, I can only think of one other time I’ve done that, and it was on commission for the Microsoft Intern Game. I guess enough writers read this journal now that I can ask: where does one send such things? (Other than Paradox, the obvious one). Are there any other spec-fic markets that are friendly to non-speculative historical fiction? What about non-speculative markets?

I should, by the way, record my gratitude to Peter Farey, for applying Occam’s Razor to the Le Doux theory and finding under the surface, not a Marlowe/Shakespeare conspiracy, but Anthony Bacon. For someone who had made a fairly scholarly and thorough argument for Marlowe as Le Doux as Shakespeare, it’s impressive to see a follow-up where he sighs and demolishes his own argument to kindling. It saved me from this turning into a Marlovian story, hence the gratitude.

Anyway. It’s written, and it can bloody well sit for a while before I deal with it again.

not dead yet (this time)

“The Deaths of Christopher Marlowe”

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2,805 /

Stopping short of the third death because I have to go do other things. I probably won’t get a chance to write any more today, but methinks the end of the story approacheth. I’ve dropped the estimated count to 5K, and it may well be shorter than that.

Kit entertained me with his ego in this scene. I may have to go back and work that in a little more pervasively — provided I can do so in a way that won’t point me at a “then he wrote Shakespeare’s plays!” conclusion. This may be a Marlowe story, but I refuse to make it a Marlovian story.

Oops, he died again

“The Deaths of Christopher Marlowe”

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2,061 /

Inexplicably passed out for two hours, but after I woke up, my brain was ready to tackle the second version of his death.

The 6,000 is a standard estimate, by the way — I don’t know how long this will turn out to be. Currently I think it might be shorter, but everything depends on what the hell the end of this story is supposed to be.

It’s requiring an irritating amount of mid-writing research and revision (looking up the names of the guys hanged for sedition and the members of the “School of Night,” getting rid of this reference to espionage and instead putting it in that part of the story), but at least it’s getting written. After lurking in my brain for something like a year plus.

Happy yet, Kit?

“The Deaths of Christopher Marlowe”

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1,153 /

I expect I’ll write more before the end of the day, but it encourages me to post an update. Kit’s died once so far. There’s at least two more to come.

Does England go on Daylight Saving Time? Kit died (or didn’t die) at 6 p.m. on May 30th, and I’m trying to figure out what the light would have been like. Sunset’s at about 9 p.m. right now in London.

Signs of the Apocalypse: Outlining

I tried to outline a novel precisely once. It was the fourth novel I wrote, and I’m not sure why I tried to outline it. I think it was because the writing community I was involved with at the time had convinced me that this would somehow be a step forward in my craft. The outline bore little resemblance to the novel I wrote, and the novel I wrote bore little resemblance to quality. Whether the outline had anything to do with that, I couldn’t say. I just know that I had to rewrite the novel practically from scratch; to give you an idea of scale, it got thirty thousand words longer, and I know I wrote more new material than that. It was the Amazing Accordioning Rewrite — like a hamster on a wheel, I ran and ran and ran and never got anywhere — and I hope I never have to do its like again.

I am not a writer who outlines.

Except, perhaps, right now.

It’s a very different type of outline. As in, I’m not sitting down to outline because I think I should, attempting to make up the events before I even know what they should be. This is a story where I had some bits that I knew I wanted in it, and those bits spawned other bits, and so on and so forth until I find myself with an assortment of intertwined narrative threads that impinge on one another here and over there and that will affect that other thing. Not only that, but I know where the story’s going. I know the major plot resolution all those threads will lead towards.

What I don’t know is timing. I know the novel will start with a conversation between certain characters, but I’m not sure what stage of the relevant plot thread they should be discussing. Do I need to start at the very beginning of that plot, or would I be better served to leap into the middle of it? I know steps A, B, and E of Plot 4, and that E needs to happen after step M of Plot 2, but what about B? Etc.

So I have again Committed Notecard. I sat down and wrote every plot bitlet I had onto an index card, one bitlet per card. If it involved more than one scene, it went onto multiple cards. (There were fewer cards than I expected, though; it may be there are bitlets I’ve temporarily forgotten, which will return to me later.) Then I went through and put colored dots in the corner, marking which plot thread each card had to do with. Then I sorted them into sequences where I knew their order. The stage I’m at now is integrating the sequences — figuring out whether that development should happen before or after that kablooey, etc. The idea behind the colored dots is that it will allow me to see more easily the frequency of particular plots, and whether I’m having big blocks of one thing or another, so I can decide if I want to interleave them a little bit more.

Is it working? Hard to say. At the very least, I have a record of my bitlets, which is good. It hasn’t told me what to do with the conversation in that first scene, but if need be I’ll go back and change it. I’m just hoping that the exercise will help me time the various threads better. This novel doesn’t have full-blown subplots, precisely, but it does have threads, and (since Karina recently woke me up to my tendency to use weaving metaphors about my writing) I want to make sure they’re all spaced and tensioned correctly. It’ll save me some nightmares in the revision.

Rage Diverted

I was literally in the middle of writing a long and ranty entry about this article in the Washington Post, when I got a heads-up from Ellameena to read this entry of hers. I don’t have the motivation to wade through the actual CDC document at the moment, but the short form is, the spin the WP writer put on the situation may well be a misinterpretation of the CDC recommendation.

Which I rather hope for, since I’d prefer to live in a world where the CDC isn’t actually recommending that all women of childbearing age be treated as “pre-pregnant.”

But I thought all of you currently chewing on your desks in fury might appreciate the (hopefully accurate) perspective.