September 8th, 2006

bear by san

Book # 60: Emma Bull, War for the Oaks

Only a classic of the genre, and one, of course, to which I owe a tremendous debt of personal gratitude--because I doubt very much if Whiskey would exist without the Phouka (and without the Each-Uisge who shows up in a short story linked to Matt Wagner's graphic novel Mage, as well. Also, Brian Froud and Alan Lee's Faeries, which of course has an absolutely chilling pencil sketch of a Kelpie in it.).

Whiskey grew up not very much like his antecedents; he's neither so sympathetic as the Phouka, in the end, nor so elemental an evil as Wagner's version. He is what he is, and he's mine, and he's not the sort to apologize.

But he started encysting in my brain when I met the Phouka and the Each-Uisge, when I had been browsing the Froud-and-Lee book for years, and thought, I would love to write a shapeshifter character like that.

And eventually, I did. I still remember the first words he said to me. She drank me down like a glass of rain.

I never did wind up using that title. Maybe for a short story, someday. I have one about Whiskey that I'm working on called "Black is the Color."

You never know.

A funny thing. I haven't read War for the Oaks since I was in college; I would place it at 1990, 1991 or so. And I had only read it once; I'm not a big re-reader of books. And once I was working seriously on Blood & Iron, I was no longer allowed to re-read that, or Tam Lin, or Thomas the Rhymer, because I knew how much of an influence each of those books had been on the way I viewed fantasy, and on shaping what I wanted from a book about Faerie.

And I needed to write my own book, not just remix Emma and Ellen and Pamela. (And how weird is it that now, fifteen years later, I consider all three of these fantastic writers friends, or at the very least fond acquaintances? The world is a very strange place, and the internets are very small.) So I wasn't allowed to touch their work for a while, and I had read it all long enough ago that I had largely forgotten it.

And I was a much less critical reader then, and a much less meticulous reader, and I am sure I missed a great deal given the speed with which I tore through things. In fact, I was half-worried (when Blood & Iron was finally published and I was allowed to read these books again) that I would find they weren't as good as I remembered.

Well, I've re-read Thomas the Rhymer and War for the Oaks so far this year, and they are, aye, both still quite wonderful. And a shiny new copy of Tam Lin is sitting in my to-read pile, waiting to be picked up and petted.

Here's a funny thing. I'm trying to talk about War for the Oaks here, and all I can do is talk around its edges. It eludes me; it's too much a part of me for me to separate from myself. And of course it's not my book, it's Emma's book, but it's crept into me and contaminated me, in that way that great stories do, and I can't get far enough back from it to get a look at it and talk about it sensibly. I'm all grown into its rootlets and tendrils, as it were.

Here's some things I can say about War for the Oaks. It's a love story, and if it were being published for the first time now, dollars to doughnuts they would market it as a paranormal romance. But it's not just a love story between two people, or three people, or any of the things it could be.

It's something much bigger. It's a love poem, in fact, to a place and a time and a scene that's vanished, poof, like a Faerie glamour, gone in the morning, are you sure it ever happened? Not that Minneapolis is gone, not that its music scene is gone, but there was a time in the mid-eighties where it seemed like Minneapolis (even to those of us on the East Coast) was the center of the rock-and-roll world. Anything could come lurching out of the twin cities at a moment's notice. You never knew.

I used to own a pair of paisley jeans. They were black and lemon yellow. They had zippered ankles. I'm just saying. That is all.

War for the Oaks ia also a love poem to a city. It's a beautiful evocation of place and shape and texture. It immerses, it submerges, it might just keep you under long enough to draw that fatal breath.

It's a hell of a book.

The climax might be a bit rushed. The thing with Willy and Hedge is obvious enough that the half-astute reader will see it coming from the top of the hill with its headlights on. And maybe the Seelie court are a little too human, or quick to pick up on human behavior. And there's a couple of slow spots in the middle, maybe, but I doubt if you would ever get two readers to agree on what they were.

But man, it's one hell of a book. And I owe Emma a pony.

bear by san

and now it can be told

Eric Flint's announced the ToC for a hardcover anthology to be entitled, The Best of Jim Baen's Universe, 2006. (Although, as he explains, to paraphrase, it's not so much the "best of" as the "stories we could fit between two covers that we thought had the most wide-based appeal')

"The Cold Blacksmith" made the cut, if I'm growing any Weyland Smith completists out there in Radioland.

Here's the list:


John Barnes, Every Hole is Outlined
Gregory Benford, Bow Shock
Dave Drake, The Darkness
Ani Fox, Giving It Fourteen Percent
Dave Freer, Candy-Blossom
Thea Hutchison, Fishing
B.B. Kristopher, The Girl With the Killer Eyes
Garth Nix, Dog Soldier
Lawrence Person, Bob's Yeti Problem
Mike Resnick, All the Things You Are
Katherine Sanger, Decaf and Spaceship, To Go
S. Andrew Swann, A Time to Kill
Ray Tabler, Local Boy Makes Good
Jo Walton, What Would Sam Spade Do?
Eric Witchey, Brienna's Constant


Elizabeth Bear, The Cold Blacksmith
John Barnes, Poga
Maya Bohnhoff, The Nature of Things
Esther Friesner, Benny Comes Home
John Lambshead, As Black as Hell
Marissa Lingen, The Opposite of Pomegranates
L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Sisters of Sarronnyn; Sisters of Westwind
Jeremy Simon, A Hire Power
Jason Wittman, Femme Fatale
Gene Wolfe, The Old Woman in the Young Woman

I notice, at the very least, mrissa, papersky, and davefreer there as fellow livejournalers.
bear by san

The boys all go to Hell and then the Cubans hit the floor.

Last night, on the way to the archery range, I made a side trip to Portland to see if the cider was in yet (it wasn't, but I got some of the white peaches which are finally ready--shouldn't that have been six weeks ago? man--and they said come back next week for the first press) and then bought white cheddar garlic bread at the Really Good bread bakery in Manchester. (It's a Great Harvest Bread Company franchise. And yeah, okay, franchise, but man, this is some really good bread.)

They lie. It's yellow cheddar garlic white bread. But I forgive them, because it's delicious and brings its own cheese. Even if it is yellow cheddar and not white. (This is a distinction that only matters to New Englanders, and to us, it's an issue of religion. Yellow cheddar is not real cheese.)

Anyway, the other thing I got yesterday was my slushbomb rejection, which entertained me. The story I sent is "The Rest of your Life in a Day," otherwise known as the penis-tattooing story. (Poor John. I do this just to make him suffer.)

It's related to both Blood & Iron and a novelette previously rejected by F&SF, "Cryptic Coloration," otherwise known as the venom cock story. (Interestingly, the cock in this story is a real one, not a metaphorical one.)

...Aaaaanyway, both CC and TRoyLiaD (best acronym evar) concern Matthew Magus in the time before B&I. TRoyLiaD takes place when he's eighteen and nineteen, in the very early '80's. CC is set one year before Blood & Iron.

The funny thing is, Gordon mentioned in his rejection letter that he thought this second story (TRoyLiad) was the better of the two.

Now, me, it seemed to me that the story is sort of irrevocably broken. It's broken in a way that I don't think is fixable, that has to do with it having a swinging joint in the middle where Matthew stops thinking its a story about one thing and starts thinking it's a story about a different thing. And I've tried to patch that up and shore it up and spackle it to match, with thematic resonances and parallels and so forth.

But I still think it's broken. In part because it's self-fanfic, on one level: it's backstory for Blood & Iron and Whiskey & Water, and there are things that happen that don't have results until fifteen, twenty, thirty years later.

On the other hand, it also does some interesting things in its own right, and I think it's as good as I can make it.

"Cryptic Coloration," on the other other hand, I thought was a successful piece of short fiction, and I would personally call it the better of the two.

Just goes to show what I know.

The moral of the story? Still can't judge my own work.

(one more post in my morning livejournal spam, and then I'm off to edit.)

They can all kiss my ass
But if they wanna kiss my ass
They better do it fast
Because we're all gonna die someday.

--Kasey Chambers

Thank you, panjianlien.
bear by san

Publishing is not a zero-sum game.

One of the two best pieces of advice I ever got about writing was from ccfinlay. (1) What Charlie said (to several of us of the OWW amoeba) was "There is always room for excellence."

And it's true. (2)

What this means in practical terms is that there is no such thing as good enough for the aspiring writer. Don't aim *for* the target. Aim through the target. Adequacy isn't.

The other thing that it means is that writers, while we are in some respects in competition with each other, are in competition in a funny sort of way. You don't lose readers to another writer the way McDonald's loses customers to Burger King. You lose readers because you aren't giving them what they want, not because somebody else is.

Admittedly, on one level, there are only a certain number of novel slots in a given year. On the other hand, while my readers may have some overlap with, say, autopope's or desperance's or papersky's or truepenny's or naominovik's readers, the fact of the matter is that all those book purchases come out of a discretionary budget. And people do in fact spend the food money on books, if they want the books badly enough. (I've done it.)

So, scott_lynch selling a book does not automatically mean that I will not sell a book. In fact, it may mean, in the long run, if Scott is wildly popular, that there are more readers in the bookstore looking for science fiction and fantasy. And some of them may slop over to me.

It's an ecosystem, in other words.

And so that's one reason why I do the day-in-the-life-of-a-writer blog I do. *g*

(1) The other one was from skzbrust, and it went something like, "It doesn't matter if the first novel you've finished sucks. Because finishing a novel is more that 95% of the people who want to be writers will ever do, and if you have finished one, you can finish two. And the second one may suck less than the first."

(2) In fact, I am reasonably convinced that there is a heck of a lot of room for commercial mediocrity, too.
bear by san

quit it. *

Yes, you. Those of you have finished a book and revised it and done everything you know how to do to it to make it better, and won't send it out because (a) you hate it or (b) you think it's still broken. Quit it.

They're all broken. Every one of them. Every novel I've published, every novel I've sold, every novel I've ever read has something wrong with it. Every novel I've ever loved is irretrievably fucking broken, all right?

Broken in ways that can't be fixed. It doesn't matter.

And no matter what you do, there will be people who dislike your work.

That's okay. In fact, I would venture to say that you can't write a book that some people will love unless there are also other people who will hate it. Strong emotion is not raised for the bland, my darlings.

Here's what you do if you want to be a published novelist.

You write a book. You put your guts into it. You get naked and you get honest and you get off your ass and you write a book.

1) Write a book.
2) Revise that book to the best of your ability. You will know that you have reached this point when you cry when you think about opening the file, because you're so sick of it you could puke, and you have no idea how to fix what's wrong with it.
3) Start sending out queries to agents and/or publishers.
4) Write another goddamned book.

Repeat as necessary.

Five years down the line, if book one hasn't sold, book seven may have. And then you will know you have the skills to write a publishable novel. And then you can pick up book one, look it over, and decide if anything there is worth saving.

(You know, I have it on good authority that nothing scares an editor more than hearing from a writer that they really like the manuscript they're working on, and they're sure it's the best one yet. On the other hand, my editors and agents all seem to respond to my cries of inepitude, incompetence, horror, despair, and self-loathing (which, yes, accompany every manuscript) with "Excellent. I can't wait to see what you do with it. No, we can't move the deadline.")

I have four broken novels in print, and a collection of broken short stories. In the next eighteen months, I expect to have four more broken novels out, and a broken mosaic novel, too. Three of those broken novels won two major genre awards for me. Were they broken?


But they are also as good as I could make them. Now, they're on their own.

The difference between published novelists and you is that they finished the damned books and sent them out to work for a living.**

(N.B. This does not apply if you *do* know how to fix it. If you can fix it, then for the love of Mike, fix the damned thing. If you go through the manuscript and twiddle commas, it's done. If you open it and are blinded by its awfullness but have no idea what elese to do ito it, it's done. Get on with your life. Learn to be a serial monogamist. You'll learn more writing a new book than fixing the old one endlessly.)

*Being some notes inspired by more serious discussion spun off from the (mostly humorous) "How to Write a Novel" thing.

**This does not apply if you have finished a book and sent it out to seek representation. In that case, all I can say to you is, good work, man. Good luck. And if I were a Christian, I'd say, "May Christ have mercy on your souls."

By the way, in case you thought any of us knew what we were doing, here are a whole bunch of published novelists talking about how to write a novel:

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