Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Deadline, I Have Defeated It

At approximately 106.5 K words, I now declare the first draft of THUMB complete. To say that I am proud of myself is a vast understatement. I wrote 3,191 words tonight to finish this draft. I wrote 16 K over the course of the past two weeks to meet this deadline. I pushed myself through severe joint pain and fatigue, through an arm that liked to go numb, and the more standard laziness and procrastination. I got sick of letting my health rule me, and so I ruled it and am not the worse for the wear, though I am going to sleep very, very well tonight.

As a treat, I'm going to order a full bottle of Namaste from BPAL and have fun with whatever samples they send me. And also the Month of Short Fiction will be a welcome change of writing scenery in which I hope to ready a minimum of three pieces for submission. The problem of THUMB will camp out in my brain somewhere and start picking apart all the tangles and knots and sort through the general mess that is this first draft. I will leave this camp alone and let it do its thing.

It feels very good to have now two complete novels to my name.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

From the School of "Consider the Audience"

Via John Scalzi, I read Orscon Scott Card's latest screed against gay marriage. It should be noted that I have never read any of OSC's books, and that the manner in which I hear his name these days goes something like this: "Great writer, pity about the politics." (With varying degrees for "great" and "pity" and all manner of descriptors for "politics.") Through all of the mentions of the politics, though, it never sunk in that OSC is LDS. Boy howdy, it's sunk in now.

From the portion of his rant in which he decries the deplorable state of marriage today (admittedly as created by heterosexuals themselves):
Men routinely discard wives and children to follow the nearly universal male biological desire for diversity in mating. Adultery is now openly expected of men, even if faithful wives deplore it.

While there was much in the way of head-scratchery and eye-rolling and whatnot in the text, I actually did a double-take at this point. Didya see how it's all apologetic about male infidelity? Kinda excusing it whilst railing against it? I suppose that's the sort of comment one can expect in a cultural niche still rooting out the last vestiges of its once widely accepted and encouraged practice of polygamy.

Then OSC really ramps up the rhetoric and gives a foamy take on "them's fightin' words" that is so over the top that it makes me wonder if perhaps he's writing for an audience of Mormon separatists living on a stretch of land in Montana. I skimmed over it mostly because the rant had gone on just a tick too long for me to keep my "This wrong-headedness is so wrong as to be laughable" attitude. But I paid enough attention to catch this gem:
Biological imperatives trump laws.

Another double-take. Particularly as that previous quote was still fresh in my mind. I asked myself, "Did I really just read someone lay down the groundwork to re-establish polygamy? Even as he decried adultery as destructive of marriage, a sacred union between one man and one woman?" But as I considered the whole further, it strikes me more as another apologist stance toward polygamy itself. As in, yeah, sure, we can't do it anymore by our own church's teachings, but, hey, it wasn't really all that wrong in the first place; can't fight biological desires/imperatives.

Good thing OSC offered a quick parenthetical dismissing all of the current research demonstrating that sexual preference has a rather significant basis in genetics.

This logic, 'tis all twisty. I think I'll stop trying to follow it now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Process Examination #23: Lights, Camera....Uh, Where's the Set?

Last week I threw my writing skills against a chapter for what felt like an eternity. Every night I would sit down and tell myself that I would finish the thing. And every night I would shut down the computer after having written another 4 pages that extended the chapter instead of bringing me to the concluding action sequence. It drove me nuts and made me wonder what the heck I wasn't getting right.

At first I thought it was a problem with writing action. This seemed a very plausible theory. Writing action requires a detailed knowledge and understanding of your characters, the story so far, and the setting. Plus, I wanted to get the action as right as possible for this draft because it would be hard to know if a sequence that essentially went "and then this happened, then that, then this other thing..." actually served the story I was writing or just served the purpose of finishing the friggin draft.

So I gave myself a pep rally, reminded the left and right brains that I can write crap, and plunked myself down Sunday afternoon, determined to finish a chapter that was already long at over 4K. And I discovered that as soon as my MC described the room she was in, the rest of the chapter flowed very very well. Turns out visualizing the surroundings was holding me back. Wrote 2K in two hours to round out the chapter at a shocking 6.5K. Yeah, probably will need to break that into two chapters in revisions, assuming it stays in the book in any recognizable form.

To further prove the point, yesterday my vague outlines for the next chapter featuring the MC crystallized once I sketched out the area of the antagonist's ship in which it occurred. Now the only thing holding me back is plot and backstory details, knowing what three characters were doing before the MC busts into the room with a goon hot on her trail. I know essentially how I want those three characters to interact once my MC is in the room, but I want to know what they have to transition from to get there. That will certainly make it easier to start writing this next chapter.

By the way, I have only the denouement to write after this chapter, and that's already well sketched. I'm thinking I'll definitely meet my July 31st deadline. Go me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Drew's Current Concept of a Higher Power

It started several months ago. Drew took notice of the air conditioner and heating vents in the ceiling of our house and in various buildings. This in and of itself is not strange. The fact that he, in one particularly memorable visit to the doctor for him, thinks that there's a dog trapped in the ventilation that he needs to help is fairly singular.

"Help brah." He said it over and over again, pointing to the vent in the little exam room we were in. I tried to reason this by saying there wasn't a dog up there. He persisted. I tried to explain that someone else was going to help the dog, that we couldn't do it from there. This mollified him, but he kept a decent amount of attention on that vent.

A week or so after that, he grew fascinated with the vents in our house, and Momma had to help the dog in our ventilation system by touching the vent with a vacuum cleaner attachment that Drew likes to use as a sword. Drew's favorite game for a couple of days was ordering me around the house, pointing to each vent, and saying, "Help brah!"

I didn't think much of this beyond labeling it quirky until Drew started consistently saying that a dog was going to stop the rain or the wind or the clouds. "Brah stop sound."

We don't have a dog. He sees dogs on a regular basis because my mother and my brother have dogs. But these dogs do not accomplish amazing feats such as controlling the weather. I really have no idea where he got the idea or how he formed the concept that a dog is wandering through ventilation systems, managing the weather. It's very unique, aside from all that joke about the dyslexic agnostic pondering the existence of a dog.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gary Stu Transcendent and the Question of Fiction Categories

Based on anecdotal evidence1, the vast majority of Americans, when they do manage to pick up a book, read for the pleasures of escapism, to live vicariously another life. But they are looking for a specific set of qualities in that other life: power, success, confidence, vast intelligence, admired by all, attractive to the opposite sex2, and single-handedly saving the day (or playing the most substantial role in a set of people saving the day). There is a character that serves this purpose in spades: Mary Sue, assuming she's written "well." When written poorly, the Mary Sue experience is best described by Teresa Nielsen Hayden as follows:
A Mary Sue story is the literary equivalent of opening a package that you thought would be the new jacket you ordered on eBay, only it turns out to contain a poorly-constructed fairy princess costume made of some lurid and sleazy material. It’s tailored to fit a human-size Barbie doll, not you; and when you hold it up to the light, you can see the picked-out stitchmarks where someone else’s name used to be embroidered across the bodice. The dress has been used but not cleaned, and appears to have last been worn during a rather sloppy romantic interlude.

In order to write Mary Sue well, the serial numbers must be filed off just enough to serve a large chunk of the American book-buying population. The physical description of the character, while sufficient to make members of the opposite sex swoon, must be generic enough to be Everyman. The character's job or hobbies must be whatever popular culture considers vogue. The homelife must be supportive or, if there are problems, they must not be the character's fault, and the character must be doing everything humanly possible to resolve the problems. The conflict must always be external: Big Bads mucking things up for the hero. It is essential that the character not really be a character at all, but a flexible outfit that the reader can easily don and move around in without any chafing from rough seams or itchy tags.

In essence, to write a Mary Sue story well, one must transcend the entire purpose of the phenomenon and write not self-insertion stories, but reader-insertion: a choose-your-own-adventure story without the use of the 2nd person voice and conventions of choosing options. This is not exactly easy because human creatures are inherently selfish. We go right to the most cliched of Mary Sue stories when we first start writing: we are seeking that escapism, that world in which, by golly, we are the most important being. Our minds make us the heroes of our own life stories, so naturally we create stories that indulge that. And every slushpile and fanfiction archive groans under the weight of those smelly, used fairy princess costumes.

But we mock and deride Mary Sue. We laugh at her, at the obvious and often grotesque display of someone else's particular ego indulgences. For those of us who don't read for escapism (or at least, not solely for that), and for those of us who write for a story that doesn't serve only to launch ourselves out of our own daily grind and disappointing experiences, we find her in popular culture and roll our eyes. I'm beginning to think we shouldn't. We may be lumping the successful character suit with those soiled fairy princess outfits. The former serves a purpose that millions of Americans pay good money to experience. The latter is the amatuer conflating the experience with the purpose. It's important to sift through those lurid, well-worn costumes. Teresa gets at this herself:
(Someday, not today, I’ll tell the story of how, years ago, Joanna Russ and I used Star Trek fanfic as a sort of Rosetta Stone to decipher recurrent themes and motifs in fantasy and SF written by women. It’s often easier to see underlying patterns and mechanisms in amateur fiction than in slicker commercial work. This started when Joanna identified and described some recurrent narrative motifs she’d spotted in the Trek slash of the day, of which the inverse relationship between incidence of explicit sex and liebestod denouements was the most obvious and least important. There was much more to it. She laid out her entire description; and I, considering it, said “Which is not to say that The Left Hand of Darkness is a specimen of Star Trek slash fiction.” Joanna’s jaw dropped, and we stared at each other in wild surmise. The patterns not only fitted; they explained some otherwise inexplicable plot twists in that novel. We were on to something. And—hey! What about thus-and-such story by Zenna Henderson? And that one by Leigh Brackett? And so forth and so on, ever onward. For the next few weeks we were stoned on literary theory and the codebreaker’s buzz of seeing a seemingly knotty puzzle resolve into plaintext.)

There's a lot of festering humanity in Mary Sue stories. A treasure trove of psychological profiles and cultural trends. This is why they fail as written works, though. They are not stories with characters and conflict and arcs and resolution (genre fiction). They are not clever essays on language and human nature (literature). They are not plot routines for a character suit (popular fiction). They are little more than journals, generally of use only to the author for purposes of entertainment.

At this point, I almost feel compelled to apologize for every snide remark I ever made about Jack Ryan, popular fiction's most successful character suit, Gary Stu Transcendant. I held him in contempt because I decided to hold my reading needs as superior to those of others, while also discounting the purpose behind him. People need that safe haven to shed their existence and don someone else's and experience the euphoric rush of winning big against impossible odds. Some people prefer to fold that need in with other things. Some people don't want that need at all because they'd rather take all the lumps of their own life head-on.

So that is how I shall endeavor to look at book categories and Mary Sue stories. Popular fiction is not trying to tell a story, it's trying to provide the reader with a vicarious experience of another life. This is something that can happen in genre fiction, but is more often than not not the primary purpose. And literature attempts to examine language and humanity, often without the use of a story. Neither method of fiction is better than the other, they only serve different functions. However, within each function, you have a broad range of authorial ability to serve those functions, and some categories are more predisposed to publish the lesser examples than others. For example, a chafing Gary Stu suit is still likely to make a lot more money than a poorly realized genre story or a failed language experiment.

What brought on all of this philosophical musing? The experience of picking up what I expected to be a good space opera (genre fiction) and instead discovering I was being presented with a character suit and asked to dance around in it as the plot moved along. Yet this author is very popular and even escapes from the genre ghetto every now and then to the "validity" of the bestseller lists. This was a thing that made me go, "Hmmm." And, thus, a blog post was born.

1. What, you were expecting something more empirical? From a blog?
2. This is a reflection of the fact that the majority of Americans if not are then at least choose to identify as heterosexual.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Writing Lesson Mirrors Life Lesson

One of the first things I realized when I started examining my process was that I had to write down my musings, no matter how far from the mark they were. I also realized I needed to review said musings every now and then, keep the memory of those paths taken (or not taken) fresh to keep the story clear in my head.

Thus, I shouldn't have been surprised that, when I went to journal my recent "being a mom is HARD" frustrations, I found in the previous entry from two months ago analyses of the same insanity my mind is dishing out now along with affirmations to kick said insanity to the curb. Should've been reading my journal. Should've typed out those affirmations and kept them up for regular viewings (which is what I did upon seeing them again).

I'm sure this is not the only way in which the application of writing wisdom will be useful outside of writing. In fact, I should probably think about that some and maybe, I dunno, journal through the possibilities. Incidentally, the reason why I need to notebook explains why the concept of my journals as memoirs to be handed down or published drives me batty. My journals exist to remove all filters, to sort through the morass of stupidity that is my right brain and my left brain trying to find common ground. The handwriting is going to vary between neat and painful even to a doctor's eyes depending on the severity of the junk trying to purge itself. My journals are the worst of my rough drafts.

I don't really have a problem with someone reading these thoughts and musings, though I would prefer to be dead and gone should that happen (I'm much too steeped in my middle class/air force brat upbringing to want to shed all polite fictions of appearances as I live and breathe--right now, anyway). I have a problem with someone reading those journals as if they told a story with any sort of narrative thread. Because they don't. They never really pretend to. That's not to say that there aren't threads in there. They're just cut up into lots of pieces and scattered all over the place. I'm not sure I could go back and link things together, let alone an outside reader.

That's part of the reason why life can get so frustrating, though. It's such a bad rough draft, and we're creatures who crave coherent stories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Process Examination #22: PLOT!

I am looking at anywhere from two to four chapters remaining in THUMB. My current word count is at about 93K. I could conceivably finish this draft this week, and by the end of the month looks imminently doable. Part of my brain is already trying to map out the bumps and scrapes that need to be smoothed and schelacked; the other part is hamster-wheeling these last few chapters to wring out as much plot as possible to tie it all up into a complete draft.

The vague ideas and hazy outlines of these chapters will no longer suffice. I have to get down to the details and step through a viable course that carries the characters to a resolution that I might have even set up in a chapter or two way back at the beginning. I'm tugging at all sorts of half-remembered threads from Act 1, retconning shamelessly some events in all previous acts, referring to things that I know will easily fit into previous chapters but aren't there as yet. Every trick I can muster to make the plot two-step its way to The End.

There is no discovering what happens as I write at the moment. No, now I'm discovering what happens as I notebook and block the scenes. The characters have had their chance to surprise me. Now they must submit. For the most part, they're cooperating. As I've said before, this process for me is all about finding a common language between the right and left brains to tell a story. The characters have been a part of that, they know that there's a lot of work to be done and that just finishing the simple "who does what next and how" quickly will get everybody fully on the same page so the real heart and soul of the story can get hashed out.

(As a very interesting aside, my brain kicked out the notion that this story isn't the flogging of family matters that I thought--or, at least, that's only the most obvious thing going on and may not be the most significant. Last night my brain started going off about the Singularity and how I think it's not going to create a world unfathomable to us. Rather, the Singularity is going to get absorbed the same way all technological advances have been and humanity will chug right along in much the same way, just with neat-o tools and tech because today's laws and economies aren't equipped to deal with humanity evolving past our current boundaries, even if the tech might one day exist to do so. Or something like that. Could be just a lazy way around explaining why my story can have tech that allows for cloning and consciousness transfer, but is just Big Business in Space. That's what the Month of Short Fiction is for, to let wacky ideas like that stew and fester and, you know, develop into something I can actually type coherently and with a straight face.)

It's actually rather nice to be able to look at various methods of accomplishing what needs to be accomplished for each scene in the notebook stage and having all the info at my fingertips to compare and contrast those methods. I think it's something that, for me, I can only accomplish after achieving familiarity with the story in the course of the draft. To do so before writing any words feels arbitrary to my process.

Still, I am taking notes on how I'm outlining these last few scenes, how I'm notebooking the various ways everything can shake down. It's very possible that I'll figure out a way to do more advance planning earlier in the draft game by paying attention to what I'm doing now.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Everyone Needs a Blanket

Drew, like most kids, has a blanket that has been with him through thick and thin since he first got into the world. It's eased him to sleep, served as a familiar element in the new world of daycare, and comforted him when even Momma's kisses couldn't make a boo-boo vanish completely. He's gone through phases of needing this blanket in his grubby hands every single second of the day. He's also gone long stretches of time only looking for it when he sleeps. Regardless, it symbolizes instant comfort and peace.

Thus, the Drew Monster has decided he must share the amazing healing powers of blankets. We collected quite a stash of blankets over the course of Drew's time as an infant. They came in handy as the sustained cleanliness of a baby and surrounding apparel is a variable quality depending on several input/output factors. We've kept all his blankets folded neatly in the bottom drawer of his dresser, more for storage purposes than any real tendency to need them these days.

That changed a couple of months ago when Drew discovered how much fun it was to empty said drawer. But soon he wearied of simply strewing blankets everywhere. He decided to assign blankets to people. At first it was just Momma and Daddy who benefitted from Drew's Share the Blanket Love campaign. Now it's everyone he sees regularly. My mother has a blanket, as does my mother's boyfriend, as does my brother, as does my brother's dog. Drew doesn't feel the need to actually give the blankets to these folks. They stay in our house. But the blankets are labeled consistently to each person (or animal) and provide Drew with some extra measure of comfort that he is taking care of those who take care of him. It's a very interesting phenomenon to watch.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Not Dead Yet

The saga of my health is more frustrating than it is entertaining, but, hey, I don't want to neglect my blog. So here's an update on the exciting Medical Maladies of Kellie Hazell.

I did end up going to the doctor on Friday. I knew it was going to be a rough time when Drew refused to settle down at any point before my doctor actually came in. The roughness increased when I realized that my doctor was frazzled for reasons of her own and "interviewed" me and listened to my complaints by skimming through (out loud, at least, so I could try to interject more info) my history on the joint issues and the various reports from the orthopedic specialist and my physical therapist. Each time I took breath to interrupt her assertively and make her listen that I didn't think it was bursitis again (a diagnosis I think she might have made before she even opened the exam room door), Drew would act out and I would have to address him instead and the moment was gone.

The only really aware thing my doctor did was to forego a steroid injection in my shoulder as when they tried that with my hip back in January, my symptoms escalated to severe piriformis syndrome and a mildly numb leg. She gave me oral steroids instead and the same NSAID from the previous merry-go-round adventure in January. By that point, I was indifferent to the process and figured it'd be best to try out her preferred treatment and be able to rule out anything obvious. That was Friday night.

Saturday, I woke to worse joint pain than before and horrendously tightening muscles. I put up with it through the day, taking it easy as much as I could. On Sunday, I went looking for all sorts of information on the particular steroid I had been prescribed to examine all those fun side effects. Sure enough severe muscle tightening and joint pain were listed as major side effects. So I groaned a bit, but decided to troop through (as I had also discovered Sunday morning after delaying the next dose a couple of hours that going cold-turkey was going to give me severe headaches and other unpleasantness).

Then, last night, the right hip and shoulder pain (which had been non-existant before Friday) grew to levels almost too uncomfortable for sleep, and this morning became so severe that in order to just sit and work at the desk, I had to take the pain med. The pain med cut away the worst of the pain while leaving behind swelling in my knee that prevents me from straightening my leg and gives a nice tingling sensation below the knee. Oh, and have I mentioned the occasional shortness of breath and mild dizziness? So, yeah, going back to the doctor this afternoon. My doctor is out, though, so I'll have the benefit of starting fresh with someone new at the clinic. And I'll be leaving Drew to hang out in the pool with my mom so he doesn't distract the process.

I was trying to figure out what book I wanted to bring with me, as going anywhere by myself during the weekday is something of a novelty and a book would be useful. As much as I want to read anything by Robert Charles Wilson, the only book I have on hand is Blind Lake, which begins in the POV of a character who has snorted coke just to be polite over the course of a mostly anonymous one-night stand. I'm all for flawed, interesting characters and kicking someone to their lowest spots to watch them struggle to get beyond it, but I just don't have the patience for it right now. So I remembered I had Karin Lowachee's first book Warchild, and I thought that would be the perfect engaging read without presenting me with such a difficult POV right of the bat. Then I scanned the first few pages and saw they are in 2nd person POV (the "you went down a hall and someone shouted at you" variety). I went back to the TBR pile and snagged Kevin J. Anderson's Hidden Empire, which I had picked up when it was on sale for $2.99 (same way I picked up Terry Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule). This is what I get for being a good reader and trying to cut through the TBR pile instead of buying new shiny books. I have nothing of reliable bubble gum (perhaps with surprising staying power) material on hand.

And, of course, it goes without saying that writing hasn't really been happening lately. Hard thing to do when your left arm has a tendency to go numb when kept in the typing position. No, my life has been reduced to a giddy anticipation for shopping in the brand new super grocery store that just opened this morning. I wish I were kidding, but I actually had moments of night-before-Christmas-squee last night while putting together a shopping list. I fear I have not kept my distance from the suburban mom mask. It has absorbed me. Beyond that, one of the highlights of the past few days has been listening to the audio commentaries of Psych Season 2 and anticipating the 3rd season beginning on Friday.

The glamour of my life: revel in it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Post-a-Rejection Friday

There was an internet skirmish involving someone posting a rejection to the 'net that got picked up for widespread outcry because it contained some objectionable language. This led to the author of said rejection letter complaining about the posting of said letter as poor nettiquette. Most of the SFnal writerly internet quarter took objection to this as the core of the substantive response to the outcry and made an effort to start a theme a la International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day.

So, for purposes of solidarity, I post the sole rejection with feedback I have garnered. From Nick Mamatas of Clarkesworld:
Thanks for the story, but not for me. There was a lot of "top of mind" stuff in the early going: what would a politician watching tv drink except for Scotch? What would an engagement entail except for a huge diamond ring that had been passed down for generations? How could we not make out in an ol' Mustang? Where might one buy a bra but Victoria's Secret? As such, these characters don't live as anything other than cardboard cut-outs. Characters need to be individuated by their consumption patterns, their interests, their personalities. These figures are far too generic, and all the signifiers are generic as well.

Yeah, ouch, but not horribly so, not gratuitously so, and no evidence of a ethnic slur in sight. Plus, it got me thinking about the story and why I had used those signifiers. It's taken me about a year, but I finally figured out why I had that story set up the way I did. I hope I have the chops to pull off the revision (next month, after I finish THUMB) because it's a pretty fun thing I'm trying to do.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is That Full-grown Clone Option Viable Yet?

I hates my body. It hates me too. My left shoulder is in agony, and unless I hold my arm in a precise position, the damn thing gets all tingly, making typing a no-go (you wouldn't believe how long it's taken me to write this vs my normal speed). I can't even hold a book well to read, though I've managed a pillow prop set-up that seems to work.

And, of course, now that I've sat down at my desk, my left hip is bitching at me again.

I'm calling the doctor tomorrow to set up an appointment. This is ridiculous.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Chasing the Ghost

Ow. Very bad PT session today. My left arm feels mostly dead and my left leg is only slightly alive. Typing this hurts. So no writing for me tonight. And now, after trying to run down all the funky aches and pains in my body and some of them getting worse, I'm starting to think I need to go back to the doctor and make sure there's not something else going on that requires different treatment. The joint stuff is kind of scary, and it wasn't all that encouraging to hear my therapist today start asking me signs of stroke questions when I mentioned the regular left shoulder and hip weakness. Really, I do so enjoy seeking treatment for my various maladies. Nice to have my body's quirks addressed and resolved in so straightforward a fashion.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Let's Go to the Movies, Andrew

We took the Drew Monster to see Wall-E last Thursday night. It was a bit of a last minute idea. We had originally planned to take him to a Sunday morning or early afternoon matinee in another week or two in order to get a less crowded showing that would give him the run of a whole row of seats for when he gets antsy. (No matter how engrossed he is with a movie, he simply can't sit still for the hour and a half of watching it. He has to find new vantage points, new positions to sit in, etc.) But the timing was right that Momma and Daddy needed a treat STAT, and Drewbie was amenable to a special treat as well, even if it meant keeping him a good two hours past his bedtime.

Drew's been to a grand total of three movies in the theaters, including Wall-E, but he still knew what building we were heading toward and what it meant. He was very excited to see a "rawb har tee!" (robot on the big TV). To the point where, after we swung by to pick up tickets before heading elsewhere in the shopping complex to grab dinner, he didn't want to leave the car. We were all set to go to Rubio's, his favorite restaurant (boy can devour their kid's quesedilla in five minutes flat), but Drew was so excited about the movie, that he didn't want to leave the car unless it meant going to the theater. So Daddy hopped out to buy dinner to go and we'd eat in the car.

The entire time Mark was gone getting dinner, Drew kept saying, "Daddy buy corn!" I hadn't heard him say "corn" before, and we haven't had a lot of corn with dinner lately, so I thought maybe he was talking about corn chips or corn tortillas, which were the only ways I could think he had hear the word recently. But after wolfing down dinner and heading into the theater, I went to get refill for free our popcorn bag from a previous outing, and darned if the Drew Monster didn't exclaim with delight that we were getting "corn!"

As for the movie itself, we all loved it. Mark and I won't mind letting the boy watch this one dozens of times in a row as soon as it's out on DVD. That seems to be the only way we can catch everything we miss by having one eye on Drew and one eye on the movie. We were disappointed not to see any sort of preview for Pixar's next movie (which might be Toy Story 3?) because of all the childrens movies we've watched, Pixar seems to be the only company consistently producing anything that can stand up under repeated viewings for adults as well as children. Shame, really. It shouldn't be that rare.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

4 Things on a Sunday's Eve

Felt like mixing things up instead of posting a routine progress summary (and I have nothing coherent to say for more than a few sentences at a gulp). Here's the odd smattering of thoughts as this week winds to a close.

1. Wrote 1,141 very painful words today, but at least I'm over the block of starting this big turning point chapter. My total word count is 86,865 (43,865). Chugging right along, no matter how much it hurts.

2. Found the squick in Carter's Sade essays. A quick bit of information that any parent of small children likely understands: most reading of shorter things like magazines and short stories is probably going to be happening whilst the parental unit is sitting in the dubious privacy of the bathroom, making use of the facilities. Thus, a discussion of how Sade's characters indulge in coprophagy is even more uncomfortable than it would be outside of said room. (For those of you not familiar with the term or rusty in your Latin, beware before wandering off to Google. The information you get could very well be NSFW.)

3. Found in the latest issue of Discover: evidence of the government's very twisted sense of humor. In the 50s, unwitting patrons of a particular west coast brothel were subjected to a secret governmental experiment involving LSD. The code name of this experiment? Midnight Climax.

4. And one last writing tidbit, I guess. I wrote a funny that probably won't make it to the final draft as it's tone is clearly grounded in this cultural moment and sounds out of place in a cultural moment 90+ years in the future: Barrett's charm could only be described as an acquired taste, but she found his current attitude on target for stupid awards the likes of which she'd never consider Barrett eligible. Hmm. Sorry if that was one of those "you had to be there" things.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

I Am Now Hooked on xkcd

I've enjoyed wandering through, found much of the webcomic entertaining. But I was waiting. Waiting for the panel that absolutely did me in. A few came close, but I wanted to be completely seduced.

Wish granted.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Progress: It's Bad, But It's a Chapter

Man, the draft is getting way rough in the end here. But it's still progress and I'm now well under 20K left to write. Definitely doable in this fine month of July. I'm rather bummed about it, but I had to push my deadline back to the end of July. I had hoped to make this month the Month of Short Fiction, but it looks like August is going to have to have that title. Oh well.

Deadline: July 31, 2008
Today's Words: 1,437
Total words: 83,917 (40,917) I think, anyway...forgot to write that down and the program is closed, too lazy to boot it back up

Musical stylings: Ion
Munchies: The remainder of my egg salad from lunch with crackers.

Mean Things: Cryptic messages from the MC's best friend; forcing said BFF to sit ship with her love interest to serve as bait (don't worry, they'll get over it in a hurry, but that's next chapter)
Placeholder of the day: Not quite a placeholder, but the chapter is really a lot of exposition of the "hey, let's all sit around and discuss the badguys next move and how we think we can avoid it" variety. Just talking heads. Will need to address this in revisions.

Amusing Tidbit from Kellie's Day: Drew is real keen on this concept of "fireworks." Little guy can even say the word very very well. He just doesn't quite get that he has to wait for the sun to go down.

Physical therapy contortions: I got The Lecture last week because I'm not doing my stretches and exercises at home. I'm trying to find a good time to do this that doesn't take away too much of my writing time, but it's hard, mostly because the best time is right before bed after I've done my writing, but that's usually when my body is protesting the most, thus making the idea of further straining the poor thing unwelcome. But things are actually getting worse than they were, so I obviously need to make an adjustment somewhere. Silly goofy joints.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Scattered Thoughts on Reading Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber

I've had this collection of Carter's short stories and her book Love in my TBR pile for a while. I picked up The Bloody Chamber when I was doing research on the Interstitial Arts Foundation, particularly to figure out if my writing would be a match for their anthology. (Boy, howdy, not only was Carson's Learning just an unbelievably bad product once I was finished revising, it was also dripping so horribly with commercial fiction's lesser points that I will be shocked, shocked I tell you, if I learn that the poor IAF anthology sub readers got past the first page.)

I enjoyed the collection, though some of the stories struck me with that depressingly familiar head-scratching confusion I often get when I read short fiction. Each story is a retelling/re-imagining of a fairy tale or folklore trope. I could follow and enjoy the fairy tales much better than the folklore, most often due to the focus on wolves and werewolves. I never did get interested in that much, so I found myself lost in some of those stories.

Regardless of this reader's unfortunate inability to parse everything she read, it was quite clear that Carter is a master wordsmith. In fact, I'll likely reread many of these stories just to get a sense of how she created everyday images in non-everyday terms as well as evoking the fantastic just as well. Also, the establishing of character voice in "Puss-in-Boots" is a very compelling reason for a reread. Lots to learn, oh yes.

I think my favorite story is "The Bloody Chamber," for which the collection is named. It's a retelling of the Blackbeard story, which I've somehow managed to read a few renditions of without really intending to do so. At its heart, the base story is about women being punished for their curiosity despite having been all but told to be curious by the punisher (if I'm remembering the various dissections and discussions right). The lightest reading of it I've found is an erotic twist in which Blackbeard subjects his wife to a dungeon scene for exploring his naughty room. There is no death and no real pain or fear in that one.

Carter's "The Bloody Chamber," however, is very different, but it still keeps the kernel of the myth at its heart: the role a woman plays at the whim of a powerful man, including relinquishing her life into his hands. One detail of this story that my brain keeps dragging out to examine and seek more from this story is that the woman, a pianist, eventually starts an affair with the piano tuner Blackbeard has hired. From the moment of the consummation of their affair, the woman (in narration and in dialog) no longer calls the man by his name, she only calls him "my lover." In fact, he is one of only two characters who is ever named outside of their title or their relationship to the narrator. I find this fascinating and a brilliant tie-in to the themes of roles and selfishness and self-discovery the story employs.

A juxtaposition that caught my eye and worked to the detriment of one story and the enhancement of the other was the order of the two Beauty & the Beast retellings. The first, "The Courtship of Mr. Lyons" was fine, and I enjoyed it well enough, particularly how it twists the tale in on itself and almost has Beauty trap the Beast as such and possibly doom herself to the same fight through the sins of self-absorption and narcissism, exactly what got the Beast in so much trouble himself. But then I read "The Tiger's Bride," and the manner of that retelling of the same tale was far and above the better of the two that I can't help but think of "Courtship" as a light, fluffy story that doesn't really do much beyond a clever writer's trick.

The collection became a challenge for me, though, once I started "The Erl-King." I couldn't place the parent text. And the last line just thoroughly confounds me. Maybe I'll read something later that will clue me in. And then came the Snow White story "The Snow Child." I could offer a couple of readings on it, but they are so inextricably linked with my own particular experiences and viewpoint that I'm not sure they even approach the authorial intent, let alone the accepted literary wisdom. (Note to self: actually read some Carter litcrit soon.) The collection ends in a series of stories that run vampire-werewolf-werewolf/Red Riding Hood-werewolf/vampire/Alice in Wonderland set that, as I mentioned above, gets decently far away from my interests and background knowledge for me to comment much beyond, "Yes, good story, that."

A couple of tiny details I picked up on that I hope were intentional, but if not were beautiful accidents: the heavy use of the word "somnambulism" and its kin, and the tie-back toward the end of the last story to the first story with the use of the phrase "the bloody chamber."

I'm working my way through my mother's copy of Carter's The Sadeian Woman, a collection of non-fiction about the Marquis de Sade (which manages to be scintillating instead of squicky), and there is that copy of Love still sitting in the TBR pile that I'm looking forward to reading. I'm not sure I get the "interstitial" label that the IAF in particular is keen to give Carter, but most of my reading since the CL debacle has informed me that my idea of insterstitial is far too heavily grounded in commericial fiction to mesh with theirs.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Finding the Tell

Satire is a tricky thing sometimes. It can be so subtle that otherwise intelligent people can't find the clue for the right reading and go a bit kookoo thinking that what they're reading (or watching) is meant to be serious.

I first encountered this phenonmenon with the movie True Lies. I was around 16 when I saw it, and watched the first fifteen or twenty minutes through a standard action movie with amusing sidekick moments filter. Thus I was a bit perplexed by Charlton Heston's over the top, eyepatched spy boss character. However, once Ahnold chases (on horseback) the Big Bad (on a motorcycle) up to the roof of a building, I was beginning to suspect that there was an eye wink I had missed. Then when the Governator tries to get his horse to jump from one rooftop to the next in pursuit of the badguy, I finally got the joke. True Lies is no standard action movie with big stunts and crazy special effects. It's a satire of same, designed specifically to show the rediculousness of the genre. I started paying attention to the feedback of the movie and realized that critics bemoaning the film's lack of believability so did not Get It.

Looking back on that experience, I realized that the first tell that the movie is satire can be found in the title: True Lies. The second was the parenthetical "perfect Arabic" in the subtitle explaining Arnold had escaped a guard's attention by claiming to be lost while desperately seeking a Water Closet. I was young, though, and not accustomed to a big-budget product being something other than its obvious packaging. But I was hooked on this concept ever since watching that movie, particularly when it comes to satirizing action movies, a mainstream flogging of the Gary Stu phenomenon that puts even the most inane self-insertion fanfiction to shame. (Don't get me started on the Jack Ryan movies, let alone the books.)

Some movies are going to be obvious, moving from satire into baldfaced parody (see all the Austin Powers movies). Some will, like True Lies provide early tells but front as the Real Deal. Finding those first few tells is vital (for Shoot 'Em Up, it was the protagonist killing a bad guy with a carrot to the jugular; for Wanted, it was the fact that a society of weavers--no shit, weavers--had formed a fraternity of assassins) for the best experience of the movie or book.

Then there are a subset of books and movies that are so exaggerated that you think it must be satire, that you've found tell after tell--only to realize that it's likely meant in all seriousness. For example, I'm still unsure about Independence Day as action satire because there are just enough moments in which the movie takes itself seriously to confuse the issue. Sometimes, over the course of a first exposure, you can determine without a doubt that you are not reading satire but Serious Genre Fiction. This was my experience with Ghost by John Ringo. I went into that book not knowing anything about the author or his previous books. I laughed my way through the first third of the first act, thinking it was superb satire to the pain of parody at points of a particular mindset. But when all the other characters played straight-faced along with the protagonist's thinking, I realized I wasn't reading satire, and I stopped laughing. (But I kept reading, mostly due to a "deer-in-headlights" way. See this review for more on this topic.)

On-line essays are a real bear in the satire navigation department. With a book or a movie, you have a lot of extraneous information to provide supporting evidence of a tell or non-tell. In a blog post or comment, all you have are words. No soundtrack or scenery, no cover art or genre placement. Just words. So when someone goes on a tear about an issue, using heightened rhetoric and overstretched arguments and logical two-steps, it's hard to tell if it's real or satire. In these cases, reading becomes an exercise in finding the tell of truth rather than the tell of satire.

For example, the comment by John C Wingate in this round-up of opinions about the most recent gender bias in SF kerfuffle (you'll need to scroll down to the 7th commenter) had some very astute readers considering his words in a satirical light at first, only to headdesk when they realized, to Wright, truer words were never written. My satire radar is not very sophisticated when it comes to on-line essays and rants, so I read it at face-value only seeing their comments about potential satire afterward. Then I went back to see if I could find the tell of truth.

I thought it might be this:
For example, my writer-wife, L. Jagi Lamplighter, has not sold the same number of novels to date as have I. She took some years off to raise our children. I am also older than she, and started writing earlier. Likewise, if even a few woman authors take off a few years to tend to other duties, the statistical impact will be disproportionate. What can one do? Ask my very feminine and maternal wife, or women like her, not to like babies? Good luck with that.

That word "duties" made my AP English Rhetoric and Comp Spidey Sense tingle. It's hard for a feminist of any stripe to use such a word to describe child-rearing and housekeeping, even in jest. I thought "duties" would be a bit much for even the most subtle piece of satirical genius. But then that whole "not to like babies" bit is so over the top with rhetoric (and rife with the logical fallacy that, if women won't taking care of the babies, no one will), that I decided the piece could still be read as masterful satire at that point.

I settled on this as the tell:
There used to be a color barrier in baseball. But when Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, suddenly the managers of ball clubs found that they could no longer afford, could no longer financially afford, to exclude the pool of talent presented by the black athletes. A team who called upon a wider talent pool than its competition could, in the long run, outperform a team who restricted their talents to "whites-only."

So, I submit that there is a natural force in the free market, a profit motive, that makes prejudice of any kind too expensive to maintain in the long run. Talent will always prevail, eventually, because truly talented people never give up.

Because the example, if used and applied correctly--particularly in a stunning piece of satire--would then posit that, because we already have some women writers in the field, this prejudice (should it ever have existed) is already gone. We've broken the gender barrier. We've had our Brown v Board of Education moment and everything's now just a matter of talent. But he kind of skips that to go right for a "prejudice can't last in the free-market, because talent will out" mashup of logic that indicates to me he realized to so baldly state that any imbalance occurs because women just aren't as talented is impolitic, and changes his tactics to "well, dearies, iffin there is a problem, just be meek and humble and trust in the power of capitalism to set you free." That bit could be good satire, as well, but of a different sort than the one the original thread of logic was building on.

There comes a point, however, when faced with something so exaggerated yet genuine, that the piece becomes funny again. I couldn't get there with Ghost, but I got there with Wright's comments. The starving children in China homage ("In a world where women are stoned to death for wearing fingernail polish, complaints about lesser offenses sound shallow.") is particularly priceless.

(By the way, if you want some current numbers on gender representations in nearly every aspect of the SF field, look here.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Progress: I Has Some

Managed to squeeze 844 words out of me today on the new DDJ computer. It arrived yesterday, and I spent last night getting everything set according to my wants and needs. There's a couple of bugs trying to get worked out still, but it works and it's quicker than the last one. All signs point to better days in computer land.

I also managed some progress last week that I never posted, so my total word count is 81,957 for THUMB. This thing is nearly a finished draft. Go me. Oh, but the computer snarl set back my deadline again. Rather than run myself too ragged, I decided to hell with it and shoved the deadline back to July 31. I can do this. I WILL do this.

But now I must sleep.