Friday, May 22, 2015

Peculiarities

It’s a boring old truism that one of the jobs of a writer is to spend some level of mind-time, *all* the time, on finely observing people, the world, and experience and quantifying these things for themselves so they can eventually steal these considerations, then cannibalize and synthesize them within stories.

It’s a fascinating fact that this self-consuming manufacture comes out of our minds into really cool stories, plays, movies, poems, the texts of graphic novels, and all the genres and forms my wee and paltry little brain has slighted or forgotten. The recent reading of H. G. Wells has provided a master class in tension and character, and the ridiculous as well as the finer points of a society we’d like to pretend was consigned to a dustbin 103 years ago … And all in what, at bottom, is the straight
forward and simple story of two people who get married. If I reduced Marriage to its plot, nothing could compel most people to read it. It would not be possible to baldly explain his wit; and yet, phrases from throughout the work have stuck with me, and may do so for a long time to come.

THAT is awfully good writing.

Now and then, I contemplate regurgitating those things on which I spend my own mind-time day by day. I consider blogging the experience of my commute home, or the way the rain fell yesterday – not from the sky, but from a single oak tree, shuddering from what unknown cause I could not imagine – or the absorbing and yet ugly sensations of what it is like to suffer from prolonged, untreated eczema intentionally, at its height and in preparation to meet a new doctor.

Most of the time, I either turn away from writing these minute observations or vignettes. Illness and injury are my stumbling blocks, and I am all too likely to tarry on the details there, because honestly this sort of experience engages me – probably unhealthily – but there it is. Usually, though, I go in real time, writing my moments or those I witness, letting the words mean something in their course, and letting them go as they pass. Not unheeded, but unrecorded. Some considerations need no more memorial than that we know they *are*, that life has been witnessed. Maybe a prayer, later on. Maybe oblivion, though the moment becomes part of that great swath of memory whose details are invisible, but exist even so.


All caveats intact (though Marriage is nowhere near so awfully uncomfortable as The Cone, it has its share of problematic philosophies), I spent every page – indeed, almost every paragraph, through many long passages – dying to know What Comes Next. What would happen, what decision might be made? Marriage___ may be the deepest exploration of (mostly) two characters I have ever read, and certainly it does expend copious philosophy in the bargain. The latter may be less gripping, but I never put it down, as it were. I read every word, and committed many to memory on purpose.

I honestly recommend it pretty widely – and people who know me know I am rarely to be found spouting about my reading. Either because I have this intimacy issue with my reading, or because in my childhood I was often amusedly chided for sharing in exhaustive detail every last story that crossed my path, *sharing* a book is all but imposible for me except in the most personal of circumstances. And yet – for my readership here, the writers, the history lovers, the random one-offs – I hereby recommend a book. Its language is sumptuous and wonderfully slightly-foreign. Its story is ordinary, and yet keeps you wanting more throughout. Plain as it is, it’s also an astoundingly limber piece of literature. A drawing room comedy; a Sagan- or Tyson-esque musing on science, religion (and the lack of it) and philosopy; a scathing social critique and/or satire at moments; a road novel; a romance. It’s the most acute rendering of a young girl’s mind I’ve ever seen an old man render, and at points an evocation of family relationships par excellence.

Yes. There is recourse to the term half-breed in one act of this saga, which is queasily unforgiveable, and the gender and Semitic politics have aged badly. Indeed, the recurrence, for a while, of the term Eugenics is not clearly pejorative, which is giddy-making in the extreme.

No good-guy here wears a purely white hat; even if there aren’t really any black-hats on hand. And it’s not as if we’re above such problematic currents in any writing today … Perhaps, in a way, it’s worthwhile to read flawed fiction in any case – warts and all.


***


For those of my readers who are writers: do you write down your vignette moments? Do you blog them? (Or share them in the vomments at Janet Reid’s blog?)

I wonder sometimes whether it’s economy or callousness on my part, that I let go so easily of the screeds, scenes, and letters I write half-in-my-sleep; that I sacrifice moments which excite me one hour, but I lose because time gets away from me?

How much of what you think to put on your own blogs/sites do you think better of later, or for one reason or other file away unpublished – invisible, but there, like those experiences we all observe … ?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Thing About Reading

… specifically, the thing about reading multiple works by one author – is that, unless they’re exceptionally good, you learn their go-to strategies. If you’re smart and/or fortunate, you begin to feel your own. It’s not always repetition of words per se, but this is certainly a matter of the linguistic patterns on which we depend.

I have some suspicion that my tendency toward overwrought clauses and loquatiousness comes from some fear of simplistic repetitiveness (and very definitely from a family full of Impressive Speakers – for good or ill), but I also have decreasing illusions about the patterns I do have. Some readers go bananas dealing with my parentheticals or dash interruptions … I pretend to try to keep ellipses to a minimum, but know all too well I use them more than most writers ever would.

An acquaintance online once identified my “voice” unerringly by dint of recognizing my tendency to overuse the word “just.” Ever since, I’ve been overly aware of its presence whenever I type it; yet it’s hardly alone in calling me out. I have an extreme problem with “actually” which, even aware of the problem, I have not reformed. Adverbs generally, one of those tools of our language so many publishing professionals would love to see banned and which therefore I defend and adore like the contrarian I am, are a pretty easy identifier. Too many writers use them in pointless ways; and none of us needs the padding. Yet they are a limber and lively part of our tongue, and it would be a great pity to kill them off wholesale thanks to those who use them poorly.

Ahem.

There’s one writer whose mass of termonological tics render every character’s voice identical, no matter their setting, mood, education, or demographics. The tics transcend character voice and insert an all too literal authorial voice which, because it spans dialogue, exposition, action, and all elemenets of novel upon novel upon novel upon novel, is distracting; unwelcome. It’s cumbersome and even maddening. Yet, because I’m a stubborn ass, I won’t put down a given novel – but will edit it in pen.

This is justified both by the fact that some works are re-run reads for me, and I want to be able to read one, ever, without having to mentally correct it all over again, tiny mental rants bursting forth over and over on every page spread. Oh, and by my smug-assed presumption that (hopefully …) it makes ME a better writer.

Learning from someone else’s mistakes.


I’m not as prescriptivist as I once was, and indeed have come to love the quivering weirdness of the written word, as it synthesizes the spoken, or thought, or comveys a story in simple ways, or dresses up in beautiful words and parades around making a magnificent spectacle of itself. If it does this by breaking rules, or breaking what people THINK are rules, all the better.

Still.

If it does this encumbered: writing sucks. If it’s shackled to an author’s own preconceptions or prejudices, ignorance (writing creatively, without research, is wonderfully valid, but writing in wilful blindness is not; see also, the geological unlikelihood of William Golding’s island for Lord of the Flies, on which we are nonetheless stranded and harrowed and broken down … versus any tale populated by lazily caricatured Mary Sues, none of which I will name for charity’s and safety’s sake) … it’s going to enchain an audience, rather than enfold and transport them.

And so it is, having just finished a cycle of reruns I will not repeat for years yet, I choose to finally spew a bit about the patterns____ repetitions thrust through my suffering wee and paltry little brain of late:

  • Beginning. Every. Other. Sentence. With the word AND. It’s not a rule I give a crud about, but please quit flogging me with *unneccesary* and’s, and interminable riffs of this.
  • Peppering single sentences with and, and, and; and and—and and. Paragraph-long sentences formed with these.
  • “And then,”
  • “Of course”
  • “Suddenly” and "Immediately"
    (If there is any better way to slow the pace than constant repetition of these two descriptors: I don't want to learn it.)
  • “Utterly”
  • “Now”
  • “That”
  • “Which”
  • “In sum”
  • "Slowly”
    (Even I, adverbial defender that I am, can hardly identify an instance in the entire literary world where this is honestly a necessary descriptor; and, even if it’s important to specify, there are so many more interesting words than this one.)
  • Stating the rules of the world even as deep as the END of a novel, by which point we really know these rules, authorial voice, we really really do and would beg you to stop explaining.
  • Doing this even in the briefest of unnecessary clauses. You’re treating your audience like idiots. Seriously, stop it.
  • Describing characters’ extreme attractiveness at every possible moment of a scene. Extra bonus points OFF if you insist upon detailing every point of an ensemble in doing this. Every time.
  • All the characters are attractive. Even the extras. EVERYONE is attractive, and beauty equals goodness – even if the goodness is merely angst-ridden, terminally melodramatic evil. Hooray for pretty!
  • Describing by fancy maker, pattern of drapery/upholstery fabric, age and theme of bric-a-brac, country-of-origin of rugs, ostentatiously tasteful paint color, and at all times most-expensive-possible materials comprising every possible corner of a room in which one single scene should take place in five minutes, but which I have to read about for six pages, because – these characters are conspicuously well off, get it? THIS IS WORLD-BUILDING, GET IT? (This author, not incidentally, happens to be obscenely wealthy, and I could give a hang less how they choose to (clearly) decorate their own personal home. Get on with it. This is not story.)
  • Describing by artist or composer, and with exhaustive critical opinion, every overwrought piece of music with which the author has mentally scored, scene by scene, every single instant of a novel. I don’t give an aching damn what you were listening to while you wrote this, and once you’ve done this eighteen times in a single novel, I know you are just showing off how much you think you know about music, and it’s just as boring as when that one guy does it in a bar so he can prove how he is too good to hang out in bars and is really a wildly overeducated, intelligent, super sensitive snob I knew I didn’t liike in the first place and now find completely insufferable in the second place.
  • Constant. Racist. Descriptions. CONSTANT. If anyone appears anywhere in any of these works, who is not whiter than a sheet of modern copy paper, they are: dumb, superstitious, and *strictly* present as accessories to the white people’s stories.
  • No, seriously.
  • The actual, explicit worship of the very words “white” or “pale” are impossible to ignore. And this is not a 19th century novelist whose attitudes can be glossed over. I mean, this writer makes The Ax and the Vase look progressive, and Ax doesn’t even contain diversity.

Oh my, that felt good – if unseemly.

I may even be able to read one of these books ever again.



Just not within the next decade … or two. Actually. ()—and and and and. BOOP!


(Please feel free to initiate drinking games making fun of MY myriad tics and pretentions. All I ask is you comment and tell me about them, so we can all have fun. Cheers!)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Precipice

The WIP is at that sweet spot stage where I’m giddy as a schoolgirl getting to know it, shyly gazing at its characters and treading a little deeper into its world and generally having quite a crush on it … and *just* beginning to formulate more acute interests in it, which will direct research for a while.

This stage, of course, has curtailed my usual blog reading and writing, but I suspect a general wellbeing ensues, without readers gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair with less of my blather to consume. Russia and Ukraine, for their parts, are certainly barfing all over my stats; still getting hundreds of bots every day cruising in here, so at least there *are* hits showing up – even if most of them happen to be horsefeathers.


It’s an interesting time for a writer, this period of a new work – and a downright entangling time for me.

On the one hand, I’ve had this novel in mind since very very early indeed in the going with The Ax and the Vase; it came up during research for that, and the captivation I had for the subject has never diminished. Indeed, through the querying periods for Ax, it wasn’t rare I wished that could all be over with, I’d be agented and be able to get on with this work.

It hasn’t worked out quite thus, but on with the WIP I am in any case.

When we meet someone who excites us romantically, there are phases of being, and if a relationship ensues, changes come fast and furious. It’s all very exciting, even as it’s giddy in some ways that remind us of our vulnerability.

It’s hard, that is to say, to read Janet’s blog (and commenting community – such as I can these days) about How Long It Takes to write a novel____, and not think both, “I’m working so much faster than I did on the first one” and “Yeah, but faster than a decade is still hardly market-speedy.” Hard not to be excited—and, at the same time, remember my experience with Ax.

I’m a confident cuss. But that has done its damage, and as much as I know this book is different (in good and publication-necessary ways), there absolutely IS some temptation to stick with the liberty and freedom of just never becoming a published author____ (nartist/freedom links).


But back to “that stage” …

I was once told by an ex, “I am quakingly aware of my capacity to fall in love with you.”

That’s where I am right now. I’ve been swept off my feet. I’ve had the second look, more deeply apprasing prospects with my new crush. I’ve started to figure out the fit, and some of the surprises too. The unexpected things are happening – both binding me more tightly to the work, and blindsiding me with expectation-bending surprises that change the prospects entirely.

This WIP – born of Ax though it indubitably is – has never been a sequel, never even been tightly tied to The Ax and the Vase.

And yet, the extent to which it is turning out to be unalike is still a breathtaking vista.

I knew the fundamentals would be not merely different, but outright foreign (figuratively … literally) to Ax. One was first-person from a single POV, told by the possibly unreliable narrator of His Own Glorious Destiny. One was an overwhelmingly male story. Story of power, story of success, story of a bunch of men in the late-antique North. Story of the building of a nation.

Myth, really.

Ax is a ripping yarn, and its central facets are those I’ve come to fear are in fact its stumbling blocks as a debut property.

So – a novel in omniscient voice, a novel featuring more women’s voices than men’s – a novel in which slaves (decidedly marginalized, in Ax) play integral roles … a novel of riots and terrors and unrest and failures …

I knew it would be another proposition.

What didn’t I know … ?

I honestly didn’t know how far I might shift from the character who first enticed me, whose story I thought I needed to tell.

I knew the POV would become more flexible, even inclusive.

I didn’t know just how much #WeNeedDiverseBooks would get into my blood, and amplify characters I didn’t really realize the novel was about.



Its’ been many years since I first sketched what still is the opening scene of the WIP. I couldn’t resist it; needed to get one little yaya out, needed to let that breath exhale – and, indeed, it was about all there was to any kind of draft *writing* (as opposed to research, which cropped up as I was researching Ax itself), until this year.

What is interesting is that, in writing that first scene (a Grand Guignol setpiece of a labor and delivery) – I researched and chose a name … and included a fictional character. There was a face, even back then, on a figure who didn’t necessarily need to exist so early on.

And she is becoming so much more than a supporting character.

I know her hair, I think I have heard her voice (no, seriously – on TV – I heard someone speaking with her timbre).

She’s not alone in surprising me; or perhaps bringing to the fore things I might hardly have suspected, but had somewhere in my wee and paltry little brain.

And that’s the thing. It’s in my brain; even if, to me, it seems external, almost mystical – the idea is mine, if only by right of conquest.

More ideas will show themselves, particularly as I get into more research – little surprises about the way the world worked, the food my characters ate, the color and pomp and dust around them.


And so: exciting times. Cven as they’re indubitably weird times.

New Release!

The recent lull around these blog parts, while I’ve been working on the WIP and generally losing myself in the extreme bliss and satisfaction (hee) that is my enviable life, has seen a shortage of me yipping around, pointing out neat archaeological things and geeky historical clothes (or writing screds about same) … and also a shortage of my linking to neato books you can buy.

And, at this 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo, I have been noticeably short on links to the many articles and posts looking into the events leading thereto.

AND, I’ve been remiss in ushering you, dear readers, toward wonderful literature touching on this subject.

It is with apologies for the lax housekeeping here that I offer up forthwith the wonderful news that Tom Williams’ latest, “Burke at Waterloo” is available now! Yes, even on the west side of The Pond. Take a peek (the Look Inside function is available) and see if it’s not worth a full read. Like me, he has hopes of ever having to work in the insurance industry again; and making a dream come true by reading a book means bonuses all ‘round!


Some time soon, I’ll be back with my usual gritching about historical terminology or gooping about my best-pets-in-the-history-of-ever, or perhaps a shoe style I’m drooling over or something about my dad sure to make you laugh and cry. And definitely stay tuned for the bit about the squirrels, because that is going to be epic.

For now: hooray for reading!

Things I Need to Accomplish Tonight ...

  • Trim my hair
  • Update my incoming mail server
  • Sort mail
  • Order heartworm pills
  • Glue a couple pair of shoes with loose bits
  • Call my mom - hopefully share a crossword puzzle
  • Catch RuPaul's Drag Race at 9:00

Things I have accomplished: trimming my hair. Woot.

I think I'll go for the heartworm pills next.  YUM.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Puppy Smell

The cocka-poo we adopted when I was in middle school, I used to call Mufferstinker. Sidney was my Stinky Tuscadero (though someone once told me, when she was like eight, that she smelled like a puppy; and it was true, most of her life). I always used to tell her, "I like your stink" because - I did.


Penelope came inside from a morning playing in her yard. She smells like sunshine. The soft metallic scent of her blood, warm from playing, and her breath. The grass.

Through winter, Pen really has little odor. Carolina Dogs are very clean, and she doesn't have the sebaceous musk Siddy always had.

For those of us who love our dogs for themselves, who need the heartbeat near us, who appreciate they're animals, who appreciate the excuse to remember we are animals ourselves ... puppy funk isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a warm, seasonal scent right now: summer is coming! It's homey, in a way. It's part of her, part of being a dog-lover; I know there are some who consider it unpleasant or a sign of dirtiness (my *home* does not smell like dog; even her bed isn't a stinky spot).

For me, puppy-stink is one of the silly, secret privileges of the baby girl I am blessed to care for.

I like her stink, too. She gots good stink.


(For his part, Gossamer smells like honey bread baking. It's amazing.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Collection

The Arrant Pedant on whether we can empirically "prove" grammar. "Just because something is doesn't mean it ought to be." An excellent rule for life in general, kids. (This is one of those times I wish my dad were here, so we could talk about this interesting article. He'd have liked the AP, I think. But I hope I'll be dead before new-kulur replaces the proper pronunciation of nuclear.)

NatGeo takes a look at the unexpected brain science behind London cabbies' "The Knowledge" test. Turns out? Intensive learning changes your brain. Neat!

Fellow Reider Brian Schwartz has a great post on not letting a phone run you. I'm late to link it, but love it!

Jeff Sypeck's poetry inspired by the gargoyles of the National Cathedral itself has inspired music. How cool must THAT be!?

Monday, May 4, 2015

The IMPORTANCE of Costume

One of the things about the clothes we wear, even people who aren’t obsessed with fashion or looks, is that for most of us, some events or feelings actually imprint themselves upon what we are wearing at the moment something happens. How many men do you know who have a “lucky” pair of shoes or shirt or the like? How many women wear some particular outfit because it was what they wore when they got a particular job or met someone or just had a great day the first time they took it out, and it still makes them feel like a million?

I am not even sure where its box is right now, and will never so much as fit an arm in the thing again; but my wedding dress is one of those artifacts of my life I’ve never found a way to “give up” … Not least because giving it to any relative of mine would bring with it the knowledge that I was a rotten bride and my marriage broke up, but also because I’m not close “like that” with any of my cousins, and my nieces don’t appear to be stacking up (ahem) to the same build I had (chest-less), and my style in 1993 probably isn’t to either of their tastes anyway. But that dress was made for me – literally built ONTO me, over the course of a day – by a friend I still consider deeply dear to my heart. It is a thing of gorgeousness, and its fate – preserved in a box, never to see the light of day – seems largely inescapable. Who would wear it? I can’t bear to cut it into crafts projects. It is the only garment in my life I ever expect to be one-and-done, so to speak; worn only one time and literally never again.

But even lesser things have their psychic cachet. I can tell you exactly what I wore to work on the first day of my last job; one, because Cute Shoes remarked on it to me as the first clue I had some style. And two: because it was the dress I was wearing when I was laid off, on a gorgeous day in spring, from the previous job – and that dress deserved better than that. It got it; I had hated previous-job anyway, and been looking for months before I won the layoff lotto at an employer that “never” did that. Except that one time.

Today, I wore a dress with an odd mix of emotional ghosts attached. It’s a tasteful number in beige and white, just longer than the knees, sleeveless but conservative, an empire waist with a tie, and a little pattern from there up. It made as good a choice as possible, during the heat of an August day, when I had to go to traffic court: and found myself served with a half-million dollar lawsuit.

The lawsuit is over, and at about the moment that happened, last year, I purchased my Prius – getting rid of a *car* freighted with too much emotional weight – and somehow this dress, the thing covering me at the moment I experienced the greatest horror and cowering fear in all my life, does not bring with it the latter emotional recall, but only its own light color and comfortable wear. Yet I can’t wear the thing without knowing its history.

I color that history now with gratitude – because that ordeal IS over, and I am intact. And it feels GOOD to know that, to remember the fear, to have that in the past. And the dress looks nice, its lightness speaks of spring and of summer, its conservative and flattering lines give me a power-boost at work, and the memory of the people who have said it is a nice dress feels good too. Even my MOM liked this dress. It’s a good dress.

And memory is good, and keeping myself honest, and being grateful – these are all important.

Some days, it can feel important just to look slick. Looking slick in comfort: bonus points.

But memory is always there. Of the important things – and the less-so. The day you were wearing the comfy jeans you like, walking alone on an autumn day, kicking leaves. The boots you had on once when you almost slipped on ice, and didn’t – whether they really saved you or not, you’ll always think of them as Good Boots, and you’ll have them repaired if you can, rather than tossing ‘em and buying new when the leather stresses or the laces go or a grommet on an eyelet comes loose. We can develop actual gratitude even for clothes, if the serve us well.

This is why the disposable clothing industry is sad (even aside from its implications for our natural resources).


I have a little jersey jacket. They’re wonderful, little light cardigans that can stretch a sleveless top’s seasonal functionality, or take us from chilly morning to warm afternoon with no changing or little fuss.

This one, I happened to buy the last time I saw Mr. X.

I’d arrived in the town where we were meeting, and it was early afternoon, and I didn’t “need” to check in immediately, so before I got to my hotel, I stopped at a Ross Dress for Less, and bought a couple things. A long blue sundress with beading around the neck; this little taupe cardi with a bit of a peplum and a nice drape.


The thing about jersey – particularly lightweight jersey – it’s a very flat fabric. If it develops a hole or even a run, there is little that can be done. And what heroic measures would even the best seamstress take with a $12 garment already three years old?

This little jacket is great, I use it all the time, through three-quarters of the year. It’s flattering, goes with many things, and stretches any number of outfits’ utility and versatility.

And it has a little hole in the back, in the peplum, in a broad stretch of fabric that wouldn’t lend well to mending even if I had the skills. A patch would be bulky and unsightly – and, indeed, any bulk over a weak spot could actually create weak spots in its own perimeter. This fabric is THIN.

And the jacket has had three years already – in a variety of garment generally manufactured to last six months or less. This is actually part of the design/making of disposable clothes. They’re meant to be ditched. Not fixed. Just replaced. There’s another cardigan jacket out there just as good; there are fifty; a hundred. This is meant to be tossed, replaced by new.


This is something I wore three YEARS ago, when last I saw the man who ruined me for all the other ones. When last I saw the friend in this world who knows me better than even my oldest. When last I saw his laughter, heard it, MADE it. He’s touched those sleeves, put his arms around the back of this jacket. Felt how soft it is, even as I have a hundred times since, without him.



There’s really no way, even with the finest needle, to pick that hole and pull it back together. It’s small, but it is a hole. It can’t really be fixed.

And yet. And yet. I resist throwing the thing away. It keeps me JUST warm enough, it looks good in front still.

If only I didn’t know it had this flaw. This unfixable, and un-hide-able, flaw.