December 27th, 2006

criminal minds reid yes i'm a genius

Yeah, I suck.

I know I said I wasn't reading reviews anymore, but my spies keep reporting in, and I just looked at the list of things and realized how freaking extensive it had gotten. And if I don't put them here, I never remember where they were.

So I think I'm in a sufficiently centered emotional space where I'm just going to make a solemn pact with myself to read the word "slash," if it is applied to Carnival, as "rutabaga." Because really, I've gotten innured to just about everything else the internets have to say about my work, I can handle being inaccurately tagged as a derivative queer romance writer. Hmm. Or perhaps I should say, a writer of derivative queer romances?


None of these contain any rutabagas.

Some of them contain spoilers.

Carnival: (papersky, also a review of Farthing here)

A cache link to an LKH forum post on Carnival. (this one spoilers many things. *g*)

The Mysterious Galaxy holiday newsletter says some nice things about both Carnival and The Chains That You Refuse.

houseboatonstyx is proof that my editors' continuing efforts to teach me to write books with an A plot that makes sense if you read it in front of the TV are, in fact, bearing fruit. Woot! Lookit that, I can learn.

Synchronistically, some discussion of the opening sentence of Carnival:

Alternative Reality Webzine here.

Lis Riba over here. Also, Lis could use some he'p, if you are or know a Windows geek.

An itty bitty nice thing about TCTYR over here. And she liked the Schrodinger story. Huzzah! Nobody ever gets the Schrodinger story.

And Fantasybookspot reviews Hammered.

See what I mean about letting them pile up?

Speaking of reviews, I just read the first book in desperance's Selling Water By The River series. And I'm starting the second one, which in your case you probably have not yet got. In any case, fabulous prose, bright reversals, intriguing characters. I begin to identify why people sometimes feel I kick them into the middle of things, though, because I would have started this book about fifty pages from the end....

Which didn't limit my enjoyment, because Chaz is a good enough writer that I'll follow along for the joy of the words sloshing around. And it's all got that stately enjoyable worldbuildy pace I just cannot write to, so I admire it when other people (like truepenny) can. You know, that immersive wandering-the-bazaar worldbuilding thing. It's just one of those things you start doing when you learn to write. You start playing the "how would I have told this story?" game.

And when you are new and shiny and wet-behind-the-ears, you mistakenly think that what you are seeing is how you would have told the story better. But that's not quite right, and after a few years and a million words or so, you realize that what your brain is doing is figuring out ways to tell the story different. Different =/= better.

I'm actually experimenting with my own reading protocols currently, because I mean to write my next column on reading protocols and how they shift as one learns to write. That's something to do next week too.

I'm really in love with this icon. It's almost as much micro-flash-fictiony goodness as the "So he died" one.

Funny thing is, I tend to use my favorites really sparingly, as if I were saving them for special occasions. Isn't that odd?

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criminal minds boom

you know you'll never read that book again because the ending's just too hard to take

I disagree with Jay, but his post on "genre as a shield" is interesting. I dunno: I would say "maybe it's a guy thing," except I think Chaz is still a guy, and here I am fifty pages into The River of the World and it's quite thoroughly gutwrenching, thanks[footnote 1]. (Far more difficult to read than, say, the last John Irving book I waded through.)

I think the flaw in Jay's argument is the conflation of "confessional" with "bloodletting."

One can let quite a lot of blood without showing in clinical detail the weapon that made the wound. In particular, I would say that there is an artistic covenant in which it is the duty of the artist to get the blood on the page. And get it on the page in a manner where it can infect the viewer or reader, rather than seeming exhibitionist (which is alienating). (There is a place for the confrontational knife, and there is a place for the subtle knife, as it were. But if you're just standing there hacking at yourself going "Look at me! Look at me!" ...well, okay, it might have been a horrific kind of art when Iggy Pop did it, but even he seems to think it was a bad drugged out idea these days.) 

In other words, if you're doing anything more than writing pulp entertainment, it's your job to get down past the facile and into the twisty turny tensing and moving muscle, to expose those fibers with the edge of the knife and maybe fray them a little.

If you do it carelessly, it's shock value, grotesquerie. (Pass the broken bottles.) If you do it right, though, you're exposing how the human machine works under stress, and that's kind of amazing. Kind of like an Elizabethan executioner getting the heart out of the hanged, drawn, and quartered victim, and aloft while it's still beating. To stretch for a really, really grotesque kind of metaphor.

If we pull back from that, it's a failure of courage.

And whether that's an important failure is an interesting question. Because in one regard, it's just art. It's just art. It's the sound of one brain wanking. It's not as important as a single human life, is it?

Or is it?

Is the contents of the thousand or so books or I can see from my chair worth a human life? I would say no, sitting here. But then, one of those books is the Poetic Eddas, and another is the Pelican Shakespeare, and another one is The Last Unicorn. Is the idea of the collected works of William Shakespeare important? The existence of any edition of those works, anywhere? Like Van Gogh's sunflowers... what is that worth?

In four centuries, how much enlightenment and comfort and catharsis have those stories and poem delivered? There's an edition of Aristophanes over there somewhere. Fahrenheit 451. There, let's make the irony manifest.

Is a book a life?

I can't answer that. But it's one of the questions that Fahrenheit 451 asks, isn't it?

Does Fahrenheit 451 in any way insulate you from the power of its contents? How about 1984?

I don't think so. I think emotional distancing is a failing of genre work, not a feature. And while there are a certain number of readers who may prefer not to be challenged in that way, who may prefer that insulation and distance, and a certain number of writers may not be willing to dig hard enough to get to the honest grief and joy... I don't think it's of necessity something that genre fiction has to do.

There is that ongoing issue, where speculative fiction is in tension, our pulp roots at war with our literary sensibilities. That tension produces, to me, some of the most interesting work out there. In fact, it kind of defines the modern genre, for me.

I know for a fact that I can't read The Last Unicorn in public, because my emotional response to the book is so strong. It kicks me right in the squids, and its powerfully human and, I think, emotional in a lot of raw and revelatory ways. Vonnegut does it too, at his best. Any veneer of speculative fiction doesn't change the aching power of a true story told well. When Frodo (spoilers at the spoiler) at the end of The Lord of the Rings, it hurts. And it hurts because we all know what war does to the people who fight it, and that those wounds never can be healed. The fact that Tolkein makes it a manifest retreat into the distance in addition to a metaphorical one increases its impact, I think, concretizes it, makes the hurt patent.

So I think to say that genre insulates one from bloodletting is dishonest; it's seeking an excuse not to dig after that vein a little deeper. I'm an Ellis Peters fan, and I used to be an Elizabeth George fan, though I've lost interest as she's slid into self-indulgent angst. [The hacking was more interesting when Iggy did it, and it was still a bad idea.]

That's genre fiction too, and it follows the genre conventions of the murder mystery--but you know, the emotion is honest, even revelatory.

I think it's a mistake for us as genre writers to back away, and to justify that backing away. If it doesn't hurt, in other words, we're doing it wrong.

[footnote 1] Another thing I like about Chaz's books is how humane they are. Not in the sense of being kind, but in the sense of being compassionate. He's not kind to his characters, but he does understand them, and that makes a difference in how I percieve them. I can deal with all kinds of horrible things in narrative if they're approached in the right way (and this book is full of horrible things, oh yes. Shiny and dark and wonderful horrible things, with full emotional connection.)

Also, he's very subtle and tricky in his characterization and his reveals. I will be swiping some of his techniques. I could learn from that.


bear by san

the weird thing is...

...if I got hit by a truck tomorrow, I would be pretty relaxed about not dying with unfinished business. Which is a weird thing, because after The Bad Autumn, what got me started writing again was the bone-deep realization that I could, in fact, die and have accomplished none of the things I had wanted to do with my life.

I mean, yeah, I really want to live to revise the Eddas and write Dust, but I currently feel as if I have accomplished enough with my life that I have justified my existence. The books I absolutely had to write are written. And sold, even.

Don't worry. I'm sure I'll get het up and full of fury again next week.

Man, I have to figure out what I'm cranky about for purposes of writing Dust. Can't write a book without having an argument with myself....

My failed croissants are squamous. Now I am absolutely certain I know what squamous looks like.

And the interior texture is a bit spongy, somewhere between biscuit and shortbread.

Squamous. Wow.

I think I'll have brussels sprouts and wild rice for dinner. I don't like brussels sprouts, but I try them every couple of years to reassure myself that I still don't like them.

On exposition: like everything else in writing, it's a tension, and a line that you will wobble back and forth over a thousand times while you learn your craft.

First you will not explain enough. Then you will overcorrect and explain too much. Then, you will become enamored of your own cleverness, and become cryptic and mysterious. Then you will become frustrated by the rejections that read "This is beautifully written, but too ambiguous," and you will over-explain. Then you will under-explain. Then you will over-explain and your first reader will say, "but this is boring." Then you will under-explain... and you will sell something. And then you will not sell anything else for a while, and then you will over-explain and sell something. You will bemoan your fate. You will bemoan the stupidity of editors, or their fickleness.

You will sell a novel. Readers will be confused. You will sell another novel. Your editor will say, "I'm confused." You will spend a month and a half clarifying the obvious.

Readers will still be confused.

You will bemoan the stupidity of readers, or their fickleness.

You will over-explain. You will under-explain. You will put in a bunch of exposition your editor asked for and then on the CEM take half of it out again.

Finally, more people than not will understand.

Hey, if you wanted an easy job, you could have been a brain surgeon. There are sometimes rules, for that.

All we have here in writerland are a series of approximations that occasionally work.

spies mfu (sorta) going to hurt ivan & h

We can rebuild this slapfight. Bigger, faster, stronger...

In case you missed it, Jay started a slapfight over the emotionally distancing effects of genre. (I, of course, had nothing to do with it.)




(the Wyrdsmiths have their very own sub-slapfight, which is pretty cool)




(Absolutely I do mean putting my characters to extreme tests. Impossible choices, that's what I do. Life is full of meathooks. And life is also full of unexpected joys. I mean, if all you get is meathooks, where's the fun?*)





Jay again.


(Most of these people are published novelists. Just to prove the old point that there's seven billion different ways of writing a book. But my way is always best.)

Thank God. We were all behaving so well, I had forgotten this was the internets.