my lunatic friends

Imagine, if you will, that you are in another city, wherein there is a chocolatier who sells the most divine hot chocolate you have ever tasted — thick and rich and beautifully bitter as the best dark chocolate can be. And you intended, while there, to go and buy more of their mix, so that you can continue to enjoy this divinity while at home . . . but alas, you planned poorly, and you will not have an opportunity to go there and buy.

Imagine that you mention this to your friends while sitting around and packing picnic baskets for that afternoon’s wedding.

Imagine — if you can — that not only will one of your friends take the time to go by that chocolatier before the wedding, but that the one who will take the time to arrange this is the groom himself, who really ought to have other things on his mind.

And then — because we’re not done yet! — imagine that you mentioned, during that conversation, the exorbitant price charged by the chocolatier if you order the five-pound bag of mix online (some of the exorbitancy stemming from the chocolate, some from the shipping charges), and that said groom friend gets it into his head that you intended to buy a five-pound bag (instead of the rather more reasonable two-pound bag), and therefore, during the picnic following his wedding, presents you with a sack containing two two-pound bags and one one-pound bag (owing to a lack of five-pound bags in the store), accompanied by the words “Happy Birthday.”

Thus did I acquire an absurd amount of Burdick’s hot chocolate, from a friend whose mind really really ought to have been on things closer to home. But I’m grateful to him anyway, and am now equipped to hand out samples of this divinity to all and sundry, for about the next three years.

The Egotism Post

Long-time readers of this journal will be familiar with today’s exercise, but for those who are new, an introduction in three points:

1) Today is my birthday.

2) So long as I continue to be involved in academia, my birthday will fall during a rather hectic and stressful period of the year.

3) I am perhaps a little too skilled for my own good at pointing the flaws in my accomplishments, how I’ve done this thing but not that other one, etc.

So, for several years now, to counteract my tendency to be in a bad mood on my birthday (for reasons that have nothing to do with my age) and my habit of denigrating my own achievements, I’ve made a practice of
posting, on this day, a listing of all the cool stuff I’ve done in the previous year. And I’m utterly forbidden to qualify my statements or include anything that isn’t positive (and you have no idea how much self-editing it takes to obey that rule).

So. I’m twenty-six today. What do I have to show for it?

This.

tabula rasa

It’s an incredibly tedious process, but I have to admit, there are some benefits to biting the bullet and reinstalling Windows on one’s machine. And I don’t just mean things like “Adobe no longer gives the system a hairball” or “it’s stopped hanging whenever I try to delete something through Windows Exploror;” I mean that it’s faster than it’s been in years, and has also provoked me into doing a lot of digital housecleaning that I’ve been avoiding for a while.

Mind you, there are other ways I would have preferred to spend the day, but it could have been a lot worse. Many thanks to the boy for his assistance.

Now, having spent most of the day with my eyes glazing over as one program after another installs itself, I think I’ll go watch the rest of Batman Begins.

In Spanish. Because in theory I’m going to take the proficiency test next week. (On my birthday. Won’t that be fun.) Watching films subtitled is not a bad way to study, honestly. And it’s surprising, how quickly ten years of dust can be brushed away from one’s language skills. (At least with Spanish, which has always worked better for me than any of the other ones, with the possible and backhanded exception of Old Norse.)

Vámonos.

Grant Morrison on Batman

It’s a little odd, reading these things when I’m not actually a follower of most comic books, let alone Batman and the rest of the superhero crowd, but Grant Morrison has some fascinating things to say about his current work on that title. Even when I don’t know half of what he’s talking about, it’s very intriguing, seeing how he approaches the task of integrating his ideas into the existing material while doing something new. Anyway, I figured the comics fans among my readers who hadn’t already come across this article . . . okay, are probably few in number, but for them, I wanted to provide the link.

lengthy thoughts on fanfic

If you aren’t aware of the Great Cassandra Claire Fandom Implosion, I won’t inflict my own summary on you. This post will be sufficiently prefaced by saying that the million and one analyses and responses to that situation have sparked me to lay out my own thoughts on fanfiction. This will take a while, so you might want to get a snack first.

Point #1: Fanfic is illegal. Got that? This is the opinion of several people whose legal knowledge I trust, though I’m interested in learning about it for myself, and hope to sit in on a class this semester that will cover those kinds of topics. But you’re borrowing someone’s intellectual property when you write fanfic, and even if you don’t make money from doing so, it’s still against the law. This point is often missed by people who can’t be bothered to pay attention.

Point #2: Having said that, any number of writers (both in print and media) are okay with you writing fanfic. It may be illegal, but it isn’t worth anybody’s time and money to sue you; a cease & desist letter tends to suffice when someone gets upset. And frankly, fanfic is a way for readers/viewers to engage more deeply with a story, and can even serve as a kind of grass-roots publicity, so just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. This point is often missed by people who feel persecuted when you tell them how the law works.

Point #3: The only thing that differentiates what we call fanfic from works such as Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is intellectual property law. Stop and think about it for a moment: they are the same thing. They just fall on one side or the other of the legal divide. In both cases, one writer is taking someone else’s story and doing something with it. Maybe the story’s a fairy tale and doesn’t have a specific author; maybe it was written four hundred years ago and the author’s long dead. Doesn’t matter. You’re still engaging in the same activity. The difference is your legal right to do it. Nothing prevents a work of fanfic from being as clever and witty as R&GAD, but the world tends to pass moral judgment on the former, and not on the latter. This point is often missed by those who want to claim that all fanfic is trash, but Stoppard’s okay.

Point #4: Moving into the realm of opinion, I feel that it’s good manners to respect the creator’s wishes with regards to their intellectual property. If they don’t mind fanfic, go for it. If they do mind, then be polite and stay away. If they don’t mind fanfic but they object to certain kinds (frex, their underage characters having sex), then write about other things. Is there any force that can stop you from writing whatever you want? The same forces that can stop you from writing fanfic at all, which is to say that it probably won’t happen (see point #2). But just because the author is willing to let you climb the fence and swim in her backyard pool doesn’t mean you should pee in it.

Point #5: There is also a difference between fanfiction and plagiarism. The categories are fuzzy ones, of course, existing on a continuum. The small amount of fanfiction I ever wrote was generally of the sort where it took place in a world created by someone else, but involved my own original characters, perhaps with cameos by canon characters. I tended to be more interested in the possibilities of the setting than anything else. Other people write mostly about canon characters, perhaps with a Mary Sue or less irritating original addition. Maybe they cross one fandom with another, producing a Buffy/Highlander crossfic about the two groups of Watchers being the same. Maybe they allude to other fics. Maybe they even quote things. You hit the “plagiarism” line when you’re Cassandra Claire, lifting not just characters, not just quotes, but extensive lines and scenes from other sources and not attributing them (then basking in the praise of people who say your ideas are so original and you write so well). I haven’t followed that whole debate in full (I’m not sure any human being can, and I’ve not really tried, though I’m anthropologically fascinated by it), but what I have read included enough side-by-side textual analysis to persuade me that she did indeed rip off Pamela Dean and other writers far above and beyond what gets winked at in the illegal activity called fanfiction.

Point #6: If you’re writing fanfiction to improve your craft, it will help you — up to a point. You can refine your prose, dialogue, pacing, etc. as much in a fanfic story as anywhere else (provided, of course, that your dialogue isn’t stolen wholesale). But it won’t do much to help you develop characters, settings, and other large-scale elements of the craft. Its inherent intertextuality may get in the way of you learning to write a story that stands on its own. If your eventual goal is a writing career, there’s nothing wrong with fanfic in principle, but there will come a time when you’ll be better served devoting that time and energy to original work. And fanfic publication probably won’t help you sell your own work, with two exceptions: one being work-for-hire media properties (where it may indeed net you a contract, if that’s what you really want to do), and the other being (again) Cassandra Claire, who has landed a novel deal, apparently at least in part on the strength of her fanfic writing. (This, as you might guess, is a source of much of the brouhaha, and I fully expect to see the blogosphere descend on her first book like a pack of rabid weasels, waiting to catch her if she’s plagiarized again.)

Point #7: How do I feel about this relative to my own position? As I said, I used to write a little fanfic, but not much; mostly I wanted to chase my own ideas. I haven’t written any in years, though my mind will occasionally play with it for amusement. If Doppelganger fanfic or something based on a later book of mine starts appearing on the web, I will be flattered by the attention, and I’ll probably let it go unless somebody tries to make money off it. I will not, however, read it, partially because I could subsequently stir up trouble if I later wrote something that resembled said fic, and partially because it would weird me out, watching someone else write about my characters. (No offense to y’all, but you’d probably get them wrong, relative to what’s in my head. It’s the nature of the beast. We don’t see them the same way.)

Point #8: Hmmmm . . . I think I’ve hit everything I wanted to say for the moment, though I may return to this at a later date. Fanfic is a huge and complicated subject, with many byways I don’t find particularly intelligent or attractive, but I issue no blanket condemnations against it. Just the occasional specific one, against specific acts of idiocy.

Tuesdays are good

‘Twas on a Tuesday last month that Talebones bought “But Who Shall Lead the Dance?” from me, and behold: ’tis on another Tuesday, four weeks later, that Aberrant Dreams (who just published “Such as Dreams Are Made Of”) writes to me saying they’d like to buy “A Thousand Souls.” And both are me making a repeat sale to a market, which I take as an indicator of success.

I’m glad that story has found a home. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for it.

retro entertainment

Tonight, the boy and I watched the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s movie of The Call of Cthulhu. For those not aware, it’s filmed in black and white, 1920s silent-film style, which lends it a certain campy panache.

Two things fascinated me while watching it. The first was the care and attention to detail the film-makers lavished on their work. It’s not on the scale of the Lord of the Rings movies, but then again, few things are. But knowing some of the challenges of amateur cinema, I was all the more impressed by their success at creating a 1920s setting (let alone the Louisiana swamp scene or, you know, R’lyeh). They did a good job at, not just costuming people, but getting props and sets and the like to look sufficiently period that I didn’t get jarred out of the story by anachronistic elements.

And it startled me, how well I felt the silent-film style worked for this. One of the special features (a hilarious making-of piece) detailed the corners it allowed them to cut; costume pieces didn’t have to match in color, for example, and the visual schtick means that when they represent with the ocean with some glitter-covered sheets being waved up and down, it looks appropriate. Beyond that, though, I think it might be the perfect way to film Lovecraft — as odd as that may sound. Not only is it the style of the period in which he was writing, but in a sideways manner, the very cheesiness of it keeps the horror elements from feeling as cheesy as they might have. Example: we never have to hear people swallowing their tongues trying to pronounce the unpronounceable. Example: when a character looks upon Cthulhu and dies of fright, his mind shattered, we don’t actually hear his scream (which could not possibly be as grotesque as it should be). Much like Lovecraft dodged descriptions of certain things by instead describing people’s reactions to them (thus leaving the things themselves up to our imaginations, which can make them scarier than words ever could), the silent style leaves more unsaid. No, Cthulhu isn’t as mind-shatteringly horrifying as he ought to be, and if you stop and look at him he’s a slightly jerky stop-motion figure, but I almost think it would work less effectively if he were some slick CGI creation. It’s easier for you to look at that figure as a signifier for the concept, and to fill in the requisite gaps.

It’s a short film (47 minutes), and certainly not perfect, but we enjoyed it quite a bit, and the making-of feature was fabulous. And you can watch it with the intertitles translated into twenty-four languages, including Euskara (better known as Basque)!

promotional news

I’ve been doing quite a bit of promotional work for Warrior and Witch recently. To begin with, there’s the somewhat unexpected venue of the Romantic Times Book Club; I discovered when they reviewed Doppelganger (and gave it a high rating!) that they apparently cover a far wider range of fiction than their name would suggest. I’ve been interviewed for their October issue, and they’ll also be running a short essay of mine on the website, regarding Warrior and Witch and my experiences writing it.

Separately from that, I’ve also been interviewed by one of the Culture Vultures at Sequential Tart; once again, I don’t fit into the mainstream of what they cover, but they’ve taken an interest in me nevertheless. That one really illustrated to me why Big Name Authors often have to turn down interview requests; answering the questions was a lengthy process, with me tackling a few, wandering away, coming back a few hours later and doing another one, etc. You have to think about, not just your answer, but how to make that answer interesting, and how to do so in a relatively concise manner. I imagine “interview answers” will prove to be its own micro-genre of writing, like “cover copy” and “author bio.”

Then there’s a bit of promotion I didn’t have to do the work for: a nice person named Joana Rodriguez has, with my permission, created a fanlisting for my writing. Fanlistings aren’t something I was aware of before, but they’re basically web-based networks of fans for particular writers/TV shows/whatever. Check out the above link to see the site she put together for it, and to sign up.

That’s it for the moment, I think, though I have a few other promotional schemes in the works. This is, I must admit, the part of the “being a writer” business I’m probably the worst at; I can get myself to conventions and on panels there, but aside from that, I’m not very good at pimping my work. I’m learning, but it’s a slow process.

Updates will, of course, be provided when the aforementioned interviews and such go live.