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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

I don't care if your heros have wings; your terrible beauty's been torn.

You know what's weird about omniscient? The real awareness of the narrator's agenda managing the story.

Progress notes for 2 April 2005


New Words: by hand only
Total Words: 27,144
Pages: 126

Whiskey & Water

New Words: 1,284
Total Words: 15,538
Pages: 72

Something good about working on these books in parallel. Unlike Carnival, which is written in a largely transparent style (Well, I think it's transparent, anyway--I keep looking at it and going "There's no there there!" but it reads smooth and it seems to be holding people, so far.), Whiskey & Water is quite richly written, with a nice thoughtful pace and a sort of meditative, contemplative narrator who is pausing, occasionally, to look around and have a few words with the scenery. It's reassuring, because Carnival had me half-convinced that I had forgotten how to write pretty. (Of course, for me at least, writing pretty needs to remain in balance to narrative, but in general, I am rather proud of my ability to write pretty and pacy, both at once. It's not a skill that was earned without some blood on the bricks, so to speak.)

But here, let me show you what I mean. (Both first drafts; no warranty)

Vincent was staring at him, tawny eyes bright. Kusanagi-Jones shrugged and turned his back, running his fingers across the rainbow lights of his subdermal watch to order another drink. He stared out the bubble again, waiting while it mixed, and retrieved it from the dispensall less than a meter away.

"Oh, good," Vincent said. "Nothing makes a first impression like turning up shitfaced."

"They think we're animals anyway," Kusanagi-Jones said, gesturing to a crescent world becoming visible as Emer entered the plane of the ecliptic and altered shape to give her passengers and crew the best possible view. "It's not like there was ever a chance of making them like us. Look, the crew's modulating the ship."

"You've seen one reconfig, you've seen them all." Nevertheless, Vincent came to stand beside him, a warmth at his elbow. They remained in silence while Emer's program reworked her from a compact shape optimized for travel to something spidery and elegant, designed to dock with the station and transfer cargo--alive and material--as efficiently as possible.

"Behold," Vincent said, teasing. "New Amazonia."

Kusanagi-Jones took a sip of his drink. "Stupid name for a planet," he said, and didn't mind when Vincent didn't answer.

...he wore a patchwork tailcoat, red velvet and copper brocade sewn with bugle beads, fringes, droplets of amber, silver and steel bells and chips of mirror, a phoenix embroidered on the left lapel and a unicorn on the right. Matthew wouldn't wear a shirt under the talisman on Hallow's Eve, so the skin from his collarbones to his belt shone bare, revealing the black edges of the spells etched into his skin. The coat smelled of nag champa and dragonsblood incense; he kept it in a drawer with his aromatics, so the odor wouldn't fade.

The owner of the vintage shop he'd bought it from--without haggling, as was right for a ritual tool--had claimed it had belonged to Jim Morrison. This was a lie. Joey Ramone had tried it on once but hadn't bought it, and the real magic of the coat was the fabric and beads that had been salvaged from other sources: a skirt panel from the original Broadway production of Kiss Me Kate; a harness bell from Andrew Carnegie's carriage horses; a fragment of a busted bathroom mirror from The Bitter End; enough baubles to buy Manhattan twice over (purple and white wampum sawn from the shells of quahog clams, a handful of love beads thrown away by Robert Crumb, a pewter tourist's trifle of a charm bracelet charm shaped like the Empire State building that somebody had given to Gregory Corso, once); a steel jingle made from a valve cover off Peter Beagle's motor scooter; a penny John Coltrane picked off the floor of Birdland (heads) and ran through a press at Coney Island in 1963... and that wasn't half.

Matthew brushed the gold fringe on the epaulettes until it fell properly. He laced and double-knotted his steel-toed boots, made sure his knife was in his pocket and his ring of rowan on his thumb, and stared at the man in the mirror one more time. A little more gray in the hair, a few more lines beside the eyes, the ink in his tattoos starting to fade and blur just a little, here and there.

His jeans had a steel zipper and copper rivets. He wore a black leather glove on his clawed right hand. The healed scar where a unicorn's horn had pierced his heart shone white and crescent-shaped among the black lines on his skin.

He slapped his hands together, the strong one and the shattered one, and let himself out through deadbolts, chains, and the police lock to see what Hallow's Eve would bring.

Sunset gave the illusion of warmth to a city whose nights were already chilling into winter. New York had never been one of those cities where Halloween became a ritual, a citywide block party, and an excuse to riot all rolled into one. It was San Francisco that claimed Halloween as it's own; New York's Saint's-day was New Year's Eve.

But Halloween was Halloween, and New York also wasn't a city that missed an excuse to throw a party. Or a parade.

That always fascinates me--the way the book will demand a certain voice, and take it, whether it's what I want to give or not. I wanted something a bit less transparent for Carnival. I'm not going to get it. And Whiskey & Water demands that dense, smoky, kind of knowing voice--and it's also forcing me to learn omni.

Did I mention I don't like writing omni? It's utterly foreign to me. I'm a limited-third writer by nature, although I've trained myself up pretty good in first person, and I can do second as a stunt or to a purpose.

But damn, it's neat. The book knows what it wants. The book is boss.

The book is a train; it's going where it's going, and God help you if you stand in its way.

Reason for stopping: It's tomorrow. I didn't get more done because Saturday is my Bad Work day. :-P Which is a pity, because I do have a head full of stuff for Carnival, I think.
Mammalian Assistance: Marlowe was an annoying little twit. Especially the part where he reached out deliberately across the keyboard and sank his fish-hooks into my collarbone. His nails have since been trimmed.
Stimulants: China Rose Lychee, lemon zinger
Exercise: gothercise, not as much as I would have liked.
Mail: nomail
Tyop du jour: tangled strands of red and gary and gold
Darling du jour: The witch sipped her tea, holding her hair out of her face with the back of a freckled hand.
Books in progress: Ed Sanders, Tales of Beatnik Glory; Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver
Interesting research tidbit of the day: Conflating disasters, I somehow just now managed to realize that "Back Home in Derry" is generally sung to the tune of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." I'm ruined for life.

In other news, I'm wondering how the heck they found Henry Kissinger's heart to perform that angioplasty, and happy birthday, Marvin Gaye & Hans Christian Andersen. And in Alabama, they're testing a drug that may possibly be able to correct a genetic defect--the stop mutation--that causes 10% of cystic fibrosis cases.

Just to make sure my ass science is dated as fast as possible.

And, oh boy, there's new evidence of outright faking of the site safety testing at Yucca mountain. Apparently in addition to making up the drip and humidity measurements, they apparently also just kind of adjusted the air temperature readings. You know. A little. Because that doesn't affect corrosion rates.

I think I'll just die of radiation sickness proactively. It'll be faster.

(As if they could manage to actually get the stuff here without derailing a trainload somewhere in the middle of Kansas City.)

And, just to bring a certain circularity to this section, the lyric to the Phillip Chevron poem-slash-Christy Moore (or) Seven Nations song "Faithful Departed" is one of the most gorgeously bittersweet things I've ever read. (Not that this is news, but it's one of the things that's in heavy rotation on the Promethean Age writing soundtrack, and I was reminded again today of how beautiful it is.)

Other writing-related work
: Handwriting and thinking until my brain smoked about Carnival. Still trying to figure out what a feminist dystopia's version of the festival of meat would look like.


Tangled strands of Gary--that needs to be ... something.
Um, festival of meat? Many things leap to mind, but pray tell, what is this?
more or less literal translation of "Carnival." *g*

Cool, isn't it?
...Which explains why it usually comes before Lent, right?

Well, as stillsostrange pointed out, it's not actually "festival of meat"--it's more like "farewell to the meat." But that's more or less what it amounts to. Hey! Meat!
Great. I'm going to have "Faithful Departed" stuck in my head for the rest of the day, now.
*passes the earworm*
how the heck they found Henry Kissinger's heart to perform that angioplasty

Do you know Evelyn Waugh's comment on the report that a tumour removed from Randolph Churchill was not malignant? - 'How clever of them to take out the only bit of Randolph that wasn't'.
SO maybe what they're calling an angioplasty was the removal of a vestigal organ? Perhaps to relieve the pressure on a swelling ego?

Sort of the reverse of what they did to Clinton?
That contrast is indeed interesting.

Tiny quibble: I don't think "sawn" is the right word for the wampum-making process; as I understand it, it involved a lot of grinding and drilling, but not sawing, if it was made by actual Indians in the actual earliest Contact period (or earlier). Of course, I'm probably one of only 100 or so people on the planet who'd be bothered by that ...
Wampum qua wampum (the stuff we know as wampum, I mean) waited upon the introduction of metal tools, although there were a variety of shell beads made earlier with stone tools, they were larger. The external barrel (or octagon, or rectangle) was ground to the right size. (apparently there was a factory for the manufacture of wampum in upstate New York, a tidbit that I find fascinating.)

*g* If it helps, think of it as a metaphor for action involving a grinding back-and-forth movement. (One doesn't use a saw to saw off a hunk of meat, after all.) And the metal drill bits were made from cut-down handsaws, so in one regard the term is accurate.

Mostly, however, the word choice was dictated by needing a single-syllable word to carry the rhythm of the sentence, since it was getting a bit cluttered in there.

Wampum research brought to you courtesy of Genevieve Marie Casey. *grin* I got interested in the stuff when I was writing Hammered, because of the treaty belts.
Interesting contrast, although from the excerpts I don't know that I would label the differences the same as you. To me, Carnival seems like more spare, lean writing... but it is inside at least one character's head (see the last line in your excerpt). Whiskey & Water seems more rich in description and overlaid with past memories.
To me, Carnival seems like more spare, lean writing... but it is inside at least one character's head (see the last line in your excerpt).

Sure. It's tight third-person limited--which means, specifically, it's *always* inside a character's head. I suspect you're thinking of third-person objective, whick involves an external narrator who is strictly an observer, and never enters the thoughts of any character. Third-person omniscient is pretty much what it sounds like, and free to dip in and out of anybody. (Whiskey & Water is third-person omni, although the passage I posted is closely focused on Matthew, there are interjections by the narrator--the comments about the history of the magic topcoat, for example.)

Re: ((sighs in happy fangirliness over Matthew))

You probably don't need anybody else to tell you that the coat is magnificent. I'm now ready to believe anything you tell me about the world of that story.

I miss writing omni. After having it drummed into my head by many people who are in a position to know that an omniscient POV will be dismissed as "head-hopping," which is a sin no editor can forgive in a first novel, I've reworked everything in my manuscript into limited, and it's as if I've cut off two or three of my fingers. I understand the virtues of a 3rd person limited POV, and I disagree with John Gardner's assertion that 3rd person limited inevitably renders narrative sappy, but damn, it can be crippling when the story Wants something else.
Why will no editor forgive omni in a first novel if the novel demands it?

Speaking as an omni by default myself.
I'm definitely not the best person to explain it, and I'm not really in a position to say whether it's just conventional wisdom or an accurate assessment of real market conditions. All I can do is repeat what others have said to me.

Orson Scott Card's somewhat persuasive explanation is that film and television have so saturated our culture's sense of how narrative works that the best way for fiction writers to give readers something they can't find better at the local dodecaplex is to use a POV with deep penetration (3PLimited being the POV that allows deepest readerly penetration of the characters' subjectivity).

Other sources, mostly young agents and editors who have found niches in the industry but can't possibly have seen everything yet, tend to say that 3PL is the best POV, the most accessible, most marketable POV, the one in which a new writer is least likely to screw up other stuff if s/he get's the POV mechanics right, etc. These sources are in a much better position than I am to assess the industry, but too many of the best (and best selling) books I've bought in recent years break the rules these folks promulgate.

If indeed it is the case that 3POmniscient is forbidden, there are probably more reasons why that would be the case, but I'm not the person who knows what they are.
I have got to get out of the SAT prep business. The above post reads too much like an essay for the new writing section of the SAT. You write what you read!
Well, in general, my understanding is that 3pl is the easiest POV not to bitch up, and as such less experienced writers tend to get steered toward it. (Also, there are people with unreasonable POV fetishes, see above--but none of them seem to have a POV fetish that excludes 3pl past tense) so, in other words, it's "safe."

Really good first person requires a hatful of narrative tricks, and 3po requires that the writer be in absolute control of the POV, able to (metaphotically speaking) do bootlegger reverses and doughnuts and flip it up on two wheels and spin it out on the ice without breaking the axle. He has to be able to keep the reader's eye on the ball, in other words.

And that's tricky. Damn tricky.

By comparison, 3pl is driving on a straight road in mostly dry conditions. It's a lot easier not to crash under those conditions if one doesn't yet have a good feel for how the vehicle handles in the muck.

ANYway, what I think happens is that because 3pl is easier, Thou Shalt Write 3pl gets handed down as Recieved Wisdom, and bandied about as a Natural Law. And it's not. Maybe a fashion, at best.

I was told repeatedly when writing HAMMERED that "you'll never sell that book because it's mixed tenses and POVs, and if you do sell it, readers will hate it." Whatever. *points at Locus bestseller list*

Readers care about a good story, taut narrative, interesting ideas, powerful writing, and fascinating characters and settings. If you can do it in omni and omni is what the book wants, go for it. The narrative has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.

(Actually, a litfic-writin' friend of mine tells me omni is all the rage in that genre, right now, FWIW.)
I have long suspected that the common objection, "Don't do that, the readers will hate you," is frequently (though not always) code for "I would be too scared to do that in my writing."
Or code for "I tried it an the readers hated it" or "I think you're bitching this up."

In any case, I stand by my assessment that if the simplest tool that will do the job is usually the right tool (which is why I save the POV stunts for when they accomplish something, generally speaking)--but the fact of the matter is that a crescent wrench is useless when you really need a saw. *g*

So, yanno, if the book needs omni, I'd give it omni, and if you don't sell it first, maybe you'll sell it third.
I would say--if the story wants something else, like omni, give it what it wants. (Which I'm sure is exactly what you want to hear after all your hard work.)

I would like to think that a good editor can tell the difference between somebody who is writing competently or well in omniscient, and somebody who hasn't mastered the art of figuring out whose head s/he needs to be in. (They look very different to me, at least--good omni generates a feeling of assurance that one is in good hands, while head-hopping leaves me, in general, head-scratching).

At the very least, there are 3pObjective passages in my first novel (along with third person and first person) and while a few people have complained about tense changes (One POV is in present tense), the only person who commented on the 3pO was all, "Ooo! Shiny!").

I did in the past few years read a novel (Melissa Scott and Lisa A Barnett, THE ARMOR OF LIGHT, Baen, eighties, I think) that was head-hopping of the worst sort--I mean, there were a lot of things to recommend the book, but there were paragraphs and paragraphs where I was quite unzipped from reality, as the poet said, and completely ungrounded as to who the "he" whose head I was in was supposed to be.

So I tend to think the oft-touted dislike for first person/ omniscient/ present tense/ second person/ whatever is auctorial and/or editorial fetish, and has absolutely nothing to do with how useful or helpful the POV in question is. They're tools, and when somebody tells somebody else "Oh, omniscient is better than first person" or "omniscient is always bad" I find myself blinking at them as stupidly as if they'd said "A half round rasp is better than a pair of dikes."

Um, for *WHAT*? If I want to snip some wire, a half-round rasp is pretty goddamned useless.

And I know what you mean about Gardner. *g* He has his little fetishes. But he is very clever about observation, so I forgive him some.
You know what's weird about omniscient? The real awareness of the narrator's agenda managing the story.

Dude, that's the fun part.

Always pay attention to what the narrator does and does not do, and not what (s)he says (s)he's doing.

'Course I'm a little punchy because, during our many flight delays today, I figured out how, in this story, to undercut my omniscient narrator -- AND finished all but the last scene, which exists in a couple-line sketch.

Dude, that's the fun part.

I don't like it. I find it detracts, for me, from the organic process of telling a story and turns it too much into an exhbition of skill and/or manipulation. It makes the storytelling process feel very artificial, because of that constant awareness of agenda and manipulating the reader--and I suspect in part I don't like it because it's the sort of thing that makes me put a book down and not pick it up again if I'm reading it.

(I'm reading QUICKSILVER right now, and not liking it very much, in part because I'm very aware of how I'm being managed.)

But, alas, the book is boss. And I can do things with omni I can't do with 3pl.
Maybe it helps if the story's about exhibitions of skill and/or manipulation.