And Worldwired is in its FedEx bag, just waiting to be sent back to Random House today. And my line-edit of A Companion to Wolves is back with truepenny.
I think it's Miller time.
Or at least taco time.
Joshilyn Jackson on the Amazon Sales Rank Obsession (warning: if you are a writer, swallow what's in your mouth first) (via jilljames)
I wrote two sentences on the Tindalosi New Yorker story yesterday.
This week's planned debut of "Botticelli" over at The Agony Column (I got to see a sneak preview of the artwork last night--it's quite unsettling) gives me a lovely self-absorbed excuse to talk about some stuff that's been under discussion around the blogosphere (including right here!) relating to auctorial intent, the purposes of fiction, and Ms. Emma Bull's fabulous one-liner regarding fiction, the writing of, and saying things in as small a space as possible.
One of the things I love about fiction is its ambiguity. It allows me to discuss things obliquely, on an intuitive level, and provide arguments and counter-arguments within the context of a rhetorical structure without having to choose a side. It's discussion as a game, in other words--what astounding fun! What a marvelous game!
(Oh, and, um, spoilers Although not plot-related ones; these are strictly about theme.)
"Botticelli" is a story that lives or dies by its structure and metatext. If the story works for a particular reader, it should work as a swift kick in the squid. Shakabuku. *g* You know.
It's not, in other words, a story that's about the narrative. The narrative, if anything, is strongly slice of life, unresolved--perhaps even a bit cursory.
I love this trick in short stories. It's much more difficult to pull off in novels, which have to sustain tension so much longer--and I haven't tried it yet. I've read some virtuoso examples, though...and, interestingly, a lot of them play games with POV as well. I was thinking of it, when I did it, as a clue for the reader that something a little funky is going on here--and it's also a direct address of the third character in the story, who is, in my mind at least, the projective reader or writer, the one who identifies strongly with the characters presented.
This story is very hard for me to talk about, because so much of what it does it does on an intuitive/subtextual/metatextual level, and it's packed in layers of thematic macramé. I wind up waving my hands and going, "well, uh, it's about stories and warcrimes and the balance of terror and the balance of power and, uh--well, what do YOU think it's about?"
It's a little easier for me to talk about *how* it does some of those things, because technique is pretty concrete, and so is structure.
There are two big structural techniques at work here. I often talk about stories having a shape--this one is (in my head) arranged like a triple helix--in other words, what if DNA were a series of stacked triskelions rather than a ladder? The three rising strands are the American's POV, the Russian's POV, and the projective POV, and the links that bind them together--the treads on the ladder--are repetitive bits of imagery and wordplay--the embraces (which also serve a thematic purpose) and the who-am-I guessing games.
One of the things that was heavily on my mind when I wrote this story was fanfiction. On the purest--the most meta level--it's a story about the urge to make up stories, about the folk process, about self-insertion. About the way musicians add verses to songs, and ballads and stories change and evolve over the years. It seems to me a very primal human urge, that adaptation, that retelling--"more of the same, only different."
I was working on The Stratford Man--which is, on some level, Shakespeare and Marlowe and Jonson and Spenser fanfiction--when I discovered the online world of fandom and got sort of fascinated by it. It seemed to me very plain that what these writers were doing with their fanfic and vidding and what have you, in more-or-less sophisticated fashion (and some of them are quite sophisticated) wasn't all that different from what I was talking about in what I loosely term my Faerie books (Blood & Iron, The Stratford Man, One-Eyed Jack, Whiskey & Water, eventually Balm & Oil when it gets written.)
They're organized around the declarative statement, "All stories are true," and they talk in various ways about how narrative affects reality and how reality affects narrative. (The Russian and the American, by the way, also show up in One-Eyed Jack. But they're not this Russian and American.)
Well, at some point, I was trying to explain to truepenny how I saw Kit and Will in SM, and I described them as having a sort of Man from UNCLE relationship. They're spies! They banter! They fight crime!
She wasn't familiar with the show at the time, and--I think the technical term is--I pimped her into the fandom. (Which I wasn't a member of at the time, but I've since made some very good friends there.)
And anyway, I was reading around in the fandom in the course of finding stuff to show her, and some I was struck by some very vivid realizations. One, was that the fandom characters of Napoleon-and-Illya were not exactly like the television show characters (my first experience with the phenomenon of fanon) and two, that the characterizations had evolved over time, and that various writers had very different takes on the characters. And I started to realize, wow, this is cool--here's the folk process in action.
This is what happens between Child Ballad # 39A and Steeleye Span, and what happens in between Fairport convention and pameladean. And between pameladean and buymeaclue, and between all of them and me (Blood & Iron is a Tam Lin book. Yeah, I know. It's also a King Arthur book. Stand back.).
And how cool is that?
Or, as Keanu would say--whoa.
Okay, so I had that thing kicking around my head--and the educated observer will notice some seriously fanon touches in "Botticelli"--frex, the "Botticelli" Russian doesn't talk like David McCallum. At all. He talks like the fanon-Illya.
And I had this Elizabethan idea of adaptation and appropriation and reinterpretation and so forth running through my head. And then that piled up with some of the research I did for Blood & Iron--about how stories change, and also about Nazi atrocities in Ukraine--and, because I have a very accretive/synthetic story-generating process, I happened to read a story about American Korean War veterans struggling to expose American atrocities in Korea--
Well, it stuck. I had these images of obscene embraces, kisses and death, and was wandering around reading fan fiction, both slash and gen, and it all kind of kept piling up image-wise with my own frustration--over patterns of war, and the way we demonize our enemies, and the endlessness of cycles of atrocity and war crimes, and the way, every so often, we manage to be better than we have any right to expect--and by we, I mean "us" and "them".
So I wound up building these interlocking helixes--this density of repeated imagery supported by a structural scaffolding and three character studies that also interlock--the Russian, the American, the audience--anyway. I could probably go on in this vein until Livejournal cut me off for exceeding the character limit, but suffice it to say, that's some of what lead me to the story. I could talk about prisoner abuse, for example, and problems of identity and self-identification, and the Reagan era, and the folk process, and the amusement value I get out of deconstructing a text that's a deconstruction of another text (the James Bond oeuvre, in this case).
No. I didn't think so.
In other words, I've proved without reservation Emma Bull's dictum--it's faster to just write the damned story than explain it.