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bear by san

March 2017



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writing gorey earbrass unspeakable horro

it's wonderful. everywhere. so white.

I haven't been doing a lot of writing at the big computer on my desk recently--most of that happens in my comfy chair, with the laptop--though I have been known to resort to it when stuck, or when the laptop (inevitably) dies when I am on deadline. It used to be that I only used the laptop when away from home. Funny how our patterns change over the years, isn't it? Someday I'll probably swing back in the other direction again. I get a lot of other work done here, too, and it's kind of essential that I have a backup computer.

So last night, I did battle with the forces of Russian malware, and emerged victorious. Today, I slept way late, for me--9 am--and then got up and spent two hours shoveling out my email inbox and dealing with pending issues. Maintenance work, in other words.

I guess I needed that sleep, because normally sleeping that long would leave me feeling stupid and sick all day, and today it seems to have been just about right--although it is nearly noon and I haven't managed to shower or dress or eat anything except a handful of pomegranate arils, all of which are things I should address. I fed my shoggoth last night, but forgot to make the sponge, which means that bread will be delayed until late tonight or tomorrow after my dentist's appointment. But there is other food around, and I could eat some of it. Go figure. I'll get right on that.

I think I'm processing something writing-wise, some deep issues of technique. Part of what I've been thrashing out all this year. I think I've finally gotten my prose to a level where I'm more or less happy with it--I have control of my prosody. Which has been one of my major issues for the past few years. Now, I'm moving back to thinking about how stories get told, and the most effective ways to make them both interesting and challenging--and accessible to the reader. As we have noticed before, most people's brains don't work the way mine does: I hyperintellectualize, and I'm also incredibly nonlinear. So stull that seems like obvious patterns to me isn't always, um, obvious at all to other folks.

I've been reading a lot of really brilliant older stuff lately--I just finished a Barry N. Malzberg collection, and I want to do a bunch more reading before I get back into the coal mines of novel drafting--and one thing I'm realizing is that I want to let some air into my own work. Which is not to say I want to dumb it down, any, but I think I need to keep adding levels to it, opening it up on top. Complexity and accessibility are not antithetical: they're elements that can be brought into balance and harmonized.

It's like cooking--if only one flavor predominates, you haven't made anything very delicious.

I think I got it about right in All the Windwracked Stars, honestly. It's got enough deep levels to keep me happy, and enough surfaces that it can be read entirely as an adevnture novel. And I sort of wonder, why is it that as a culture we have this tendency to assume that if something is bitter and unpleasant, it is far more likely to really be Art than if it's not? I'm not talking about fluffy-bunny stories, here. But realistically, life isn't always all that awful. If it was, no one would do it.

Anyway, for the time being, I have no plans to do any more writing just yet. I need some time off, and I have the luxury of having earned it, and so if you want me I will be under a pile of neglected books on the sofa, reading for pleasure--or what passes for it, these days. Really, it's kind of a busman's holiday. But it's still a holiday. In any case, the backbrain needs time to work out whatever it is that it's working out back there, and when it's done, it will certainly spit out all this stuff that's backlogged, and turn it into stories.

I swear, I've written a lot of posts just like this one over the years. I'm having the most intense sense of deja vu right now. Where's Laurence Fishburne when I need him? (Sorry, having a moment here. Ahem.)

Man, climbing is gonna be fun tonight, given how much my core muscles still hurt. Surprisingly, I'm in better shape than I expected--I guess I'm in pretty good condition--but my lower back is feeling all the walking around hunched over I did on Saturday.

And now I only have one more email left in my inbox, and that will require actual work, so I'd better go shower and eat something and think about the work in question.


I suspect that the Awful = Art thing has its roots in religious fundamentalism: the idea that if you are enjoying yourself then you must be being sinful.
I think it's absolutely Calvinism. *g*
a handful of pomegranate arils

I hadn't known that word before...

Does this mean we get six more weeks of winter?
Winter's just starting here. So probably more like twelve more weeks of it. *g*

(I think it's one of the words that only exists in Scrabble.)
I don't know if you've poked at them previously, but it strikes me that you might enjoy Hal Duncan's Vellum and Ink, in that "I am going to challenge the reader by not being terribly linear, but this stuff is brilliant enough to make it work the effort" sort of way.

I keep recommending your stuff to others, so I kind of feel obligated to recommend stuff back in your direction to sort of balance things out, you see....
I've read Hal's stuff. *g* It is excellent. Vellum is one of the best first SF novels of the decade.

It's also the the sort of thing that exemplifies tendencies of my own that I'm currently working against, at least at novel length, though I still do a lot of the nontrad nonlinear stuff at shorter lengths.
I sometimes wonder if, for me at least, the test of a book lies in its layers -- there are many books I have enjoyed but never felt the need to reread. I'm done with them, somehow. The ones that sink their hooks in are those that resonate with me somehow, and challenge me, and are coy with all their secrets. One of the most disappointing moments in my reading life was they day I picked up The Secret History -- a book I loved -- to reread it for a third time and it fell apart on me. In those two readings, somehow, I had drawn all its marrow and it had nothing left for me. Which may be a warning, I don't know. Writing needs to be robust, it needs to be -- I want to say brocaded, which sounds silly, but what I mean is that mix of texture and ornament and weight and practicality. To get that -- well, try to, anyway -- in my own writing I have to hit some kind of fugue state almost -- let the words fill me up.Or something. I'm not at all sure I'm good at it, but as a process its one that's peculiarly hard to describe (as above nonsense demonstrates).
As for Art... The cynic in me wonders if there is some puritanical ethica t work that suspects anything that is not a little unpleasant or bitter as being too enjoyable? A lot of today's art was yesterday's popular entertainment, but like class-conscious renaissance aristocrats we don't lilke to praise our contemporary entertainers too much, just in case.
Indeed. I enjoy art that rewards repeated interactions. *g*
I very much like thinking of you surrounded by the hitherto-neglected reading, luxuriating in having a bit of time for it. Go for it! You have definitely earned it.
Art was a construct of the Church and the Aristocracy, as were to a large extent, colleges. As the academy (in the modern sense) became less clerical and more aristocratic, then art took on some of the trappings of secular aristocracy. It was not until a hundred years ago, or less, that lower class art had any meaning or value to the academy, Pieter Bruegel not withstanding.

Vast over-simplifications of course. But in my art, lutherie, there is a strong opinion that if an instrument is not dripping with ornament, it is trash. Even electric guitars have to have inlay.

In literature, it is a general rule that the best of the trash will survive, while the highbrow stuff is unreadable in a generation.

I believe it has more to do with the creation of archetypes, that with authorial skill levels. But i have ranted about that a lot. sorry.
there is a strong opinion that if an instrument is not dripping with ornament, it is trash

Is it the luthiers who have that opinion, or the musicians? I know I was always less concerned about what my instrument looked like than how it played, but I know not all musicians share my opinion.
Hmm. Funny, my first thought was "because it's the hurting that makes us grow." This would apply to both the protagonist and the reader. In my head, anyway.
Er, sorry for the spammy Open ID. That did not work the way I expected it too. O_o
If I’m going to spend my time on something bitter and unpleasant that isn’t the news, it better damn well be Art. :-) I suspect enough people feel this way that claiming something to be Art is the way to sell things bitter and unpleasant.

Except with the art = misery stuff, I don't blame religion (the suffer to be beautiful stuff's been with us longer than Puritanism) I think it's more to do with the twentieth century and a legacy of world wars and ideas of what art is -- including a desire for "realism" -- which starts out with people who're attempting to reflect the issues of their time, make art reflect life, but they're followed by people who mistakenly think that the 'dark' or unpleasant nature of the art produced is what makes them art... like someone creating a miror, and instead of other writers/artists understanding that what's cool about it is that it reflects what you point it at, they get the idea that it's what's being reflected (where it was pointed) that's important. They copy that image, rather than using the same means of capturing an image to reflect other aspects of life (although those are just as real).

(Or then again it might just be that misery is easier to paint)
So essentially you're suggesting it's a second-artist problem?

That's a good thought.
Accessibility/happiness in a story has been much on my mind lately. Was quite happy to hear you chat about it. :)
I guess by now it'd be a fourth and fifth generation -- and has become enshrined as the sterotype of what art literature is. We certainly seem to have got to a point where people want to call something literary but hesitate because it's also fun! (or feel obliged to explain that it isn't what you'd normally think of as Art)


I've never written to an author before, and am not sure of the correct etiquette. However, I've been reading your journal for several months and have listened to you struggle with Chill, with your Muse. I've read you apologizing for your struggles and I thought that perhaps you'd like to know that there was someone out there who is desperately happy that you're a writer. I am so grateful to you for your Kind Kit and his Will; I'm not sure I've ever encountered characters so real and beautiful and ... haunting.

At any rate, I heard this poem a few months ago and immediately thought of you; your writing is as a cat's purr. I hope next year finds you well, and happy, and inspired!

Thank you


by Coleman Barks

The internet says science is not sure
how cats purr, probably
a vibration of the whole larynx,
unlike what we do when we talk.

Less likely, a blood vessel
moving across the chest wall.

As a child I tried to make every cat I met
purr. That was one of the early miracles,
the stroking to perfection.

Here is something I have never heard:
a feline purrs in two conditions,
when deeply content and when
mortally wounded, to calm themselves,
readying for the death-opening.

The low frequency evidently helps
to strengthen bones and heal
damaged organs.

Say poetry is a human purr,
vessel mooring in the chest,
a closed-mouthed refuge, the feel
of a glide through dying.

One winter morning on a sunny chair,
inside this only body,
a far-off inboard motorboat
sings the empty room, urrrrrrrhhhh
That's lovely, and thank you.

Also, I am deeply grateful that you appreciated Will and Kit. And even more grateful that you let me know it.

circular skill acquisition

In dressage, there is the (in)famous training pyramid, where the base levels inform the subsequent work, but each new skill forces the rider and horse to re-evaluate the previous levels to fit this new thing in. It ends up feeling intensely circular, as though I am going over the ground work repeatedly to get the next small piece of collection or extension or lateral softening integrated into the daily ride enough to allow me to build on that.

Re: circular skill acquisition

That's pretty much common to any kind of directed learning of a complex skill, I think. And very true.

Something else that's interesting is that reviewing the basics often gives one a chance to come back with new flashes of insight.