Yesterday was fun. I saw Mrs. Dave off to work, as I usually do, then placated the Wee Horde with flesh of beast, and imbibed the brew of the bean. As I was turning my attention to the doings of the day, however, I noticed a spot of glare in my vision. I couldn’t remember looking into any bright lights (some of you will already have guess where I’m going with this, or rather where this took me) and the morning was rather overcast. I experienced a distinct sinking feeling as the spot spread to cover a large portion of the right side of my field of vision. I had a migraine. I spent most of the day dealing with the fallout of that, rather than getting anything done. Consequently, I’m struggling to come up with anything useful or interesting for you. Read more
Posts from the ‘WRITING: ART’ Category
A guest post from the delightful and witty Rob Howell is always a pleasure. So let’s go play with our words along with him! What is your favorite to create after you read this?
You might know that portmanteau is a great word, but do you know just how wondersational it really is?
In medieval French, portemanteau meant “the “court official who carried a prince’s mantle” as of about the 1540s. This is fairly easy to see. “Porte” is the imperative of porter, which means “to carry.” Hence we get porter. “Manteau” is simply mantle. Read more
We’re all a mish-mash of experiences and talents. The system for finding writers rather like the brute force approach taken by Bosch (of the Haber-Bosch process) to finding a catalyst that would make sequestering those precious nitrates (in the form of Ammonia) from the air cheaply and effectively. They just tried a lot of substances, without having a clue what would work or how it would work. Frankly, they got lucky.
Publishers — and indeed authors –are no better off when it comes to finding the catalyst that turns words and imagination into an irresistible story. And then it may be an irresistible story for me, and not you. But as time passes we do get slightly better at it.
Well. Maybe. I’ve just been looking for a specific short I wanted.I thought I’d write about it tonight… after the hell of a day I just had.
Which for the life of me I could not remember what I called. So I started looking through my Word ‘shorts’ folder, and as the names tell me little, reading a bit of the story… and sometimes the whole story , because it carried me. I’ve certainly written a lot, and much of deserves obscurity (at least as far as I am concerned) But looking through a couple of hundred shorts (not all of which I finished) written over twenty years (and that’s not all – there’s stuff on paper only from before that) I could see some some stories that needed to be revived, and some that needed whole books… and I could also see the change (and lack of it) over time.
It’s a good way of seeing what you’re good at… and bad at. I decided I was probably best at being a sort of Simak-lite, writing the country people I know best, and like. (I was surprised to find just how many Australian rural-based shorts I had written. I’ll put together a collection one day.) Old dogs, cats, and children, and country people… well they’re comfort reads anyway, if not put together with that magic catalyst.
So I’ve got some idea of where the stories come from, how I have got to here. But I still have no idea where the story I was looking for is, and whether I dreamed it and never wrote it. Which in itself is odd, because I do keep -and back up, my stories and even fragments. Searching on phrases I remember… gets nothing.
Yet it seems so familiar. Which some of the shorts I re-read… didn’t. Which brings me into a rather odd idea. Either I’m channeling (and he was no genius – just like I am the re-incarnation of a Polish peasant, and everyone else gets to be the reincarnation of kings, or generals or princesses) or my subconscious has been sneaking off and writing without me – perhaps channeling that to some poor schlub in another continuum. I have to feel sorry for them.
Do you ever have that feeling?
Anyway I couldn’t find the story, but this one my channel must have left there instead.
Death walked the moonlit tall hedgerows and narrow lanes. There were deep shadows there, which suited him. Somewhere in the distance, the bell tolled.
A nightjar warbled joyously. Death took it. It was a small and petty gesture, but all that lived must die…
He knocked on the heavy wooden door.
Normally walls and doors were no object to him, as thin as an insubstantial as smoke is to mortals. But this one was… different.
No one answered his knock
So he tugged the bell-pull.
A dolorous clanging could be heard, somewhere in the nether regions of the stone hall. It echoed the sad peals he had heard earlier.
And then the door was flung open and ghost-white sylph stood there, looking at him… with untrammeled delight. “Death!! she squealed. “It’s SO good to see you, at last. We’ve been waiting CENTURIES for you. Forever! Come in! Come in, do! Oh Motherrr! We’ve got a visitor!”
Death, paused, and hastily checked the hourglass that went with the fatal hour for all those he came for.
His empty eye-sockets could not blink. That did not stop him wanting to.
The sand in the hourglass was fountaining upward. The scythe in hand felt heavy… and yet he knew it had no weight. Nor should the blade be flecked with rust.
“Don’t let him stand on the doorstep!” crooned a voice from the darkness behind the bonewhite slyph. “Bring him to me!” The voice like was honey… thick and warm and sweet and drawing…
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
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
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.
“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.”
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
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
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.”