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Posts from the ‘WRITING: ART’ Category

Writing Slapstick

I’m venturing out of my comfort zone with this story I’ve been working on. You see, life has been… interesting this year. It’s not just that feeling that the Four Horsemen are breathing down the back of my neck (don’t turn around) with plagues and earthquakes (what’s next? I don’t want to know!). It’s that my family seems to be taking turns one after another having health crises and there is *nothing* I can do. I’m stuck, at the day job, and the world is slowly turning upside down around me. I dropped my daughter off at work in the dark of the morning and she was telling me how work has been this last week. “Someone deadass looked at me on Wednesday and told me thank you. They said ‘thank you for working.’ I was thinking ‘What the f*ck does that mean?!” (Sidenote: the Junior Mad Scientist has a mouth that would make a sailor blush. It was getting better, and then she started working in a kitchen. All hope is lost).

What it meant was that people are running scared. Read more

More Blood-and-Thunder Adventures

I was reading a lovely old Magaret Mahy book (it’s a children’s book) called ‘BLOOD AND THUNDER ADVENTURES ON HURRICANE PEAK’.  It’s a delightful absurdity about the Unexpected School on Hurricane Peak above the great city of of Hookywalker. The villain of the piece is Sir Quincy Judd-Sprocket, a wicked industrialist (and former scholar of the Unexpected School) and the weighty and weasely hench-villains Amadeus and Voltaire Shoddy.  The heroes include the famous inventress Belladona Doppler, and her cousin somewhat removed Heathcliff Warlock, not to mention the Headmistress, Mrs Thoroughgood. Read more

Fantasy as Literature?

I’ve had a long rough day putting in fiberglass insulation, some of which involved slithering on my back over ceiling joists, where it is too tight to fit any other way, and pulling the stuff over my body to get it flush with the frames. Second day of this process, so I am glad to say it is done. I have a little more in the middle to do, but I can kneel or crouch for that… a big improvement. Everything is relative, including relatives. Tomorrow will see that job done forever (until I build something else that needs rock-wool).

So I am cheating and quoting from an interview with one of my favorite authors, Sir Terry Pratchett.

The entire interview is transcribed here, and my thanks go to Patrick Rothfuss for doing this and putting it on his site.

O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P:  (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.

The downside, of course, is that while I agree with his argument… I LIKE writing something the literati despise.  If they started approving of my work I would be sure I was doing something very wrong. The last thing on earth I need is their approval. Anyway, one man’s ‘Serious literature’ is another man’s schlock. I read catholically… and I am a little smarter than average monkey (on a good day), and I tell you frankly there is often as much of value to be thought about in a good entertaining piece of fiction than there is in ‘modern literature’.  And it’s fun to read and has several orders of magnitude more readers.  

Image by Iván Tamás from Pixabay

A Writer’s Letter to Santa

“Oh dear,” the elf on Christmas letter rotation sighed. “What this year?” Writers always wanted the impossible.

“Dear Santa,” the letter, written in tidy cursive on creamy 40 bond paper began. “I have been very good this year. I did not scream at my editor, nor have I said unkind things about other writers, unless they deserved it.”

The Elf adjusted his reading glasses and shook his head. “Not an auspicious start.”

“I only want four things this year,” the letter continued. “First, a new computer, one that will do what I want and not what I inadvertently tell it to do.”

Read more

Rabbit-holes

I am sure Alice found Wonderland down one of these. I sometimes find rabbit droppings, or, more occasionally, rabbits.  Fortunately, not here on Flinders Island, as we don’t have rabbits… but I daresay if went down enough holes here you might encounter a wombat’s bottom… (they have a very tough thick skin pad on their derrieres  – which they use block their holes to unwelcome visitors, like dingoes, or possibly Alice.) They also produce very odd rectangular droppings, so while you’re down there you could investigate the shaping of these. It must require an odd orifice!

Maybe the wombat’s world domination plan was to convert vegetation into small building bricks? Read more

Writing To Your Audience

oh, hai! I sort of forgot this was Saturday… I’ve had first weekend, you see, and now I’m working on second weekend. It’s blissful, and I was all focused on family and not thinking about writing at all. Well, except for Thanksgiving morning where a friend inadvertently gave me a story prompt and I had to sit down and write a little flash fiction before I could get on with making the feast from scratch. I really love to cook. Oddly, more than I love eating it. Don’t get me wrong, that was a lovely meal. But it was more about seeing my family sitting here at the table enjoying the food, laughing, and talking than it was about my own plate. Read more

snippet

For me anyway, books have distinct phases. The ‘what a great idea I am plunging into’ phase, to the ‘this is hard complex yakka phase’, creating the details and shape of a whole world, picking the variables that will determine your character’s path. This where you find the character and plot have had a less-than-amicable divorce, are shit-talking about each other, and will do the exact opposite of the other wanted, out of spite. It’s the hardest part of the book for me, except for some of the other parts…

Like the next part, where the book is starting to run on rails again… and I ALWAYS re-read and think and wonder… why the reader should bother, and why I as the writer should bother going on.  Yeah, doubt and depression win against the earlier uncertainty, every time, easily. Now, I have written enough books to know that this too, will pass.

It’s like the sign just outside our great metropolis of Whitemark, which says ‘pass cyclists safely’ without giving you a clue how to do this. I mean, if you swallow them with their bicycles, those have lots of spiky stick-out bits, and if you swallow them without the bicycles, the bicycles make a tripping hazard. The answer is to wrap them – and their bicycles in duct tape first. And then lubricate them well to help them pass easily.  Olive oil is better than sunscreen.

Or in other words, there is no obvious easy way of going through this phase: because it, as often as not, it is you that needs fixing, not the book.  This is often where we turn to first readers and ask them what they think. When we have finished the book, we want them to be nasty and try to find the mistakes. At this stage we want them to say ‘take my money’  (Seriously, if helping a friend at this stage, this is not hard edit time.).

So: from the WIP (unedited, raw, hot off the fingers.)

 We had to run to keep up.  The wolf stopped just as I was about to drop. I stood there, hands on my knees, panting. Bey was panting too, but he, like the wolf, was turning his head to listen.  And he looked deathly afraid.  Then I heard it, and I was afraid too.

It was a giggle.

How a giggle could sound quite so nasty, quite so evil… and quite so… gleeful was a shock. But it did. And then off to the side, was another. And then, another, from the other side.

“What is it?” I asked, looking around the snowy forest-land we found ourselves in.

“Nithings.” The word was almost a hiss from Bey. He plainly hated and feared whatever they were.

“What are ‘nithings’?” I asked, not sure I wanted the answer.

“Illska hlátr. The cruel laughter. The children of the hag of Niflheim.  They take glee in torture and find sport in tormenting those they catch. That’s who Uncle Luke rescued me from, after the Jotunar killed my parents.”

“What do we do?”

“Run. They wouldn’t be chasing us if there weren’t hundreds of them.”

“I don’t know if I can run much further.”

“You just have to try, Liss. We can’t stop,” said Bey pulling me upright. His voice, his manner… I remembered that, when he first came to stay with grandfather. Bey was on the edge of panic, just holding it in. Only just.  So I tried running again. Got a bit of a second wind, or maybe it wasn’t as steep uphill. The snow up wasn’t deep, just a nasty, slippery crust. It had got a little lighter, possibly because we were mostly out of the forest, onto a rocky ridge.  But the whatchamacallits were definitely gaining on us.  I saw one for the first time, through the trees just down-slope.

I wasn’t prepared for that.

It looked like… a bunny.

And then there was another. It was a cute little baby-face.

There was something wrong with it… with both of them. Babies and bunnies didn’t move like that, though.

And they didn’t laugh like that either.

We’d come to a steepish piece of rock. The wolf bunched itself and leaped, taking it in two bounds and few bits of rock, falling down on us. Fortunately nothing large, but I flung the first chunk as hard as I could at the chasers. Hit one. It even sounded like a baby, yowling about it. “Climb,” said Bey.

So I did. Both of us did. Looking at the milling pack of things below us they… had more legs than a baby. Or a cute bunny. I said as much to Bey.

“They sew the skins to themselves. They like the small and soft. They skin them alive, and then sew them to their own skin.  Angbroda’s seidr keeps the skins looking alive. You’re supposed to feel sorry for them. To spare them, to hold back… and then they kill you. They use pity and goodness as a weapon against men.”

 Image by Monfocus from Pixabay