Speaking of April, and more specifically April First, Unlikely Story has just published The Journal of Unlikely Story Acceptances, which I am linking to here only because one of the stories, "Whinny If You Love Me," by Andrew Kaye has a vampire pegasus, which is the sort of thing the world needs more of, although it needs more of this in better written stories.

On a completely different note: last night, CBS aired the final episode of How I Met Your Mother...

...and it's safe to say Twitter exploded. (Apparently Tumblr exploded as well, but Tumblr terrifies me so I'm just going to have to take other people's word on that.)

I don't really watch the show (I think I've seen about three or four episodes), and I didn't watch the finale, so I can't comment on the actual finale. But I was intrigued enough by the explosion to seek out a few reviews of the finale to see what, exactly, people were yelling about - and in the process found some very interesting comments about the writing process, for novels or television.

Probably the most interesting reaction was from Alan Sepinwall, over at Hitfix. The good stuff is on page two. There's also this.

The takeaway lesson here is that sometimes, you have to let your original plans go (are you listening, Arrow writers?). Friends did that, to wild success; its finale wasn't perfect and was certainly widely criticized, but nothing to this extent. Same with Cheers and several other great comedies and dramas through the year.

It's a hard lesson to learn. Like many writers I do often write the end before I write the middle, or in some cases even the beginning, and sometimes it's very hard to let that ending go because I'm so incredibly proud of it or tied to it. I'm having to do that just now with a story, where the ending was one of the earlier things I wrote. It worked beautifully with how the story was at that point; it doesn't seem to be working now. So I think I have to let it go, even though the very thought is making my fingers itch.

I meant to connect this thought with something about vampire pegasi, but I think that's another thought I'm going to have to let go of.
I have this novelette that I'm struggling to finish right now. Struggling partly because the ending just does not work, at least not yet, so I'm trying different endings, different sentences, to get something that works.

As I do this, I keep glancing back at the earlier parts of the novelette, checking, checking, obsessively checking --

For nitpicks.

And as I'm doing so, I realize that I can almost hear them, the voices in the back of my head -

And they sound like negative, snarky comments from Twitter, Tor and various internet forums. Because I know just how much readers/viewers can snark and nitpick and criticize anything.

It's not necessarily bad - I do need to find mistakes and errors in my work before I shoot it out to editors and try to sell it. But at the same time, it can be paralyzing, and it can distract me from the inner voice that's giving me the narrative I need to fill up the other holes in this novelette (it's not just the ending, although that's the major problem at the moment).

I realize authors had inner self-critics pre internet - I certainly did - but my previous inner self-critic had a distinct academic tone, a more serious literary tone, not "I LOLed." "Like, seriously." "This author is crap. I'm out of here."

Silence, I try to tell myself. This thing is nowhere near ready to appear on the Internet yet.

And then I take another look at the ending, and try not to type, "This story is crap. I'm out of here."
Poet extraordinaire Amal El-Mohtar has been yelling at everyone to do this, so --

Writing is an odd thing: what you are actually doing, and what others see, is often far apart.

2013 was a classic example of this for me.

I know I've talked a lot about not writing as much as I should, but the first half of 2013 took this down to an all time low. I barely wrote at all; which made me feel even worse about my writing. In July, matters improved, but improved only in comparison to the first half of the year; it was worse than previous years. And all this while my fellow writers were happily totaling up booming word counts and publications on Twitter. Gulp.

But you might not guess any of that from my publications in 2013. As I noted earlier, I managed to publish nine full length short stories this year, five of them at "pro" rates, including one at Tor.com; three flash stories, including one over at McSweeney's; and five poems. That's rather fewer poems than in recent years, but I haven't been writing as much poetry, so the decline is to be expected.

Anyway, here's the rundown of the stories:

Probably the most widely read and popular (barring a couple of dissenters) was In the Greenwood, Tor.com, December, a folktale retelling, which has popped up in a couple of best of lists for 2013. Publishing being what it is, this is also the oldest (in terms of when I wrote it) story on this list.

Runner-up probably was The Princess and Her Tale, Daily Science Fiction, May, another folktale retelling.

Other retellings of folklore and fairy tales included The Gifts, Daily Science Fiction, September; and "Godmother," "Marmalette" and "Palatina" in Missing Links and Secret Histories, Aquaduct Press, July 2013, which more people should read, because the other stories in it are hilarious, and no, I'm not just saying that. I still pull out the book to cheer myself up.

Stepping away from the folklore retellings for a bit, we have the only story set in my "Stoneverse" setting, An Assault of Color, Apex, October 2013, which has started to appear, much to my surprise, in a few best of lists for the year. This surprising because no one seemed to notice it when it first came out. Remember that reality versus perception thing I was mentioning? Here's another example.

And something that was not a folktale retelling or tied to anything else I've written was The Dragon and the Bond, about, well, a dragon. And a Bond. But not James Bond, despite the obvious joke that several people picked up on after the story was published. I have to say I missed that entirely; then again, one of the hardest parts of writing for me remains coming up with a title. This story is called "The Dragon and The Bond" because, well, not to give too much of the story away, it has a dragon and it has a bond and after spending far, far too long trying to come up with a title I just went with two things that were in the story.

And there's the writing process in action, everyone!

Anyway, title issues aside, "The Dragon and the Bond" was one of my personal favorites from last year, along with Stronger Than the Wind, Stronger Than the Sea, Demeter's Spicebox, July 2013; a combination of science fiction and fairy tale.

And then the three pieces of flash fiction:

What to Expect When You're Expecting Cthulhu, McSweeneys, August 2013, humor, and the only piece this year that I cackled over as I wrote it.

Seaweed, Daily Science Fiction, August 2013, part of the fairy tale series that yes, I do plan to finish one of these days, along with the connecting bits.

A Winter's Love, Goldfish Grimm, December 2013.

And poems:

"Gleaming," Mythic Delirium, Issue 28, April 2013

"Walking Home," Dreams and Nightmares, Issue 95, June 2013

Iron Search, inkscrawl, August 2013

Mountain, Through the Gate, August 2013

The Loss, Strange Horizons, September 2013.

Along with this I also published one or two posts per week over at Tor.com, covering works by Mary Norton, Roald Dahl, Lloyd Alexander, Christopher Moore, and Georgette Heyer. That turned out to be a bit too much, so since the Georgette Heyer reread is over, this is going to drop back down to the usual one post per week plus very occasional extras -- yes, yes, I am looking forward to that upcoming Oz movie -- to let me breathe a little.

Now to see what 2014 brings. If the stars align, it should bring at least three short story publications, two flash fiction pieces, one novella, and one poem so far....but we'll see.
I meant to note that I can so envision the writers' room for this show. It goes something like this:

Writer One: Ok, I have NO idea how to end this scene.

Writer Two: MACHINE GUNS!

Writer One: Got it.

Writer Three: I'm confused. Why exactly is George Washington already chasing down Evil Hessians even though the Revolutionary War hasn't technically started yet and --

Writer Two: FIRE! Lots of FIRE!

Writer One: Ok, so, any thoughts on what the ghosts want?

Writer Two: MACHINE GUNS!

Writer One: Got it.

Writer Three: So, how do we get out of THIS SCENE?

Writer Two: MACHINE GUNS!

Writer One: Or, maybe, fire.

Writer Three: Damn it, we need a bit of exposition here!

Writer One: Ok then, time for a ghost OR a conveniently loquacious German soldier. You decide.

Writer Two: I'll ready the machine guns.

Narrative lessons for every writer. I'm just waiting for the ghost dinosaurs to show up and start munching down on the police force as they hunt for machine guns, because, let's face it, that would be AWESOME.

And, um, NO, I'm certainly not procrastinating on other stuff right now. Why would you even think that?
A number of other people have already objected more eloquently than I can to the "Ten Questions to Know if You're a Pro" questionnaire here ("pro" in this case meaning "pro writer.") John Scalzi, for one, has noted that by that definition, he's not a professional writer, and several other full time professional writers have jumped up to say the same. I'm with them: it's a terrible list. But apart from all of the major, major assumptions appearing all over that list, I was particularly struck with this comment:

"5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunites (either research or networking potential)?"

I'm going to (mostly) skip past the obvious responses of "Can you afford vacations?" and "Is a research/networking thing actually a vacation or, you know, part of your job, whatever your job/field," and instead say this:

Writers, real, unreal, pro, hobbyist, don't go on vacation.

Ever.

In the literal sense. I have, at that all time premier vacation spot, Walt Disney World, written various Tor.com posts (six of the Oz posts were written there), flash fiction pieces, the story that recently appeared in 16 Single Sentence Stories (that was written while I was in line), and bits of other things. Admittedly this is partly because I know Disney very well, so it's not a particularly big deal for me to whip out a notebook (or these days, the Nook) and type things out (especially in line). But this has also happened in other "vacation" spots and times, on road trips, on planes, in places very far from home. When words come, I grab them. It's not just me. I have lost track of the number of writers who assured me that they were really truly really going on a nice relaxing vacation where they would not even think of writing only to return with a completed short story or poem or two.

But even when we are not physically putting words down on a notebook or electronic device, we are still, as writers, observing, watching, imbibing. I never know what might or might not appear in a later story. Going mangrove snorkeling, for instance, just seemed at the time to be fulfilling course requirements until it popped up in a fairy tale, years later. I have taken bits and pieces from other travels, other quiet moments, and put them in various stories and various poems; sometimes I don't even recognize these bits for years. Sometimes I know them immediately. Sometimes it's important to know.

And very often I have no idea that I'm doing "research." A trip to watch the space shuttle go up turned into a paragraph that thankfully I did not have to research, but at the time, I thought I was just watching the space shuttle.

Other times I need to see something new, something different, to find words again.

I'm not by any means saying that writers have to travel to write. Obviously, many writers and poets have written beautifully and deeply while rarely if ever leaving home (Emily Dickinson leaps to mind, but she's hardly the only example). But I do think that writing requires two things: one, time to focus on words, just words, time that may, or may not, require a "vacation" (however defined) to achieve, and two, above all, living. And if a writer needs that vacation to live -- well, I'll still think that writer is a writer.
Issue 15 of Shimmer, with my story, "A Cellar of Terrible Things," is now available in print or electronic form.

Shimmer is one of my favorite zines, focusing on really beautiful language and tales, and I'm very pleased to be part of this issue. I talked a little bit about the story came about here, probably not well, since I'm not very good at describing how I write a story, partly because each story is a little different. Some come a little faster than others, some need more planning, some need more revision or rework, and often, by the time I'm asked about the story, I don't remember the specifics.

Anyway, enjoy!
Some time ago, Shimmer interviewed me regarding my story, "A Cellar of Terrible Things," which will be appearing in their upcoming issue 15. (Which not at all incidentally is available for preorder here and will be available for real order on Friday! So, upcoming soon!)

During the course of the interview, they made the mistake of asking me for writing advice.

....I think it's safe to say that after that no one will be asking me for writing advice again.
And now finally one of those little pieces of good publishing news that I was mentioning can be told: February's issue of Clarkesworld Magazine just came out, and with it, my story, And the Hollow Space Inside. If you'd prefer to listen to it, a podcast, read by Kate Baker, is also available, and you can purchase copies of the issue or subscribe to Clarkesworld through Weightless Books (my recommendation) or Amazon.com (possibly more convenient). The issue is also for sale at Bn.com for the Nook. The issue also features lovely work by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu in his ongoing attempt to take over the speculative fiction world (check out his stories in the archives; no, really, check out his stories in the archives), and Helena Bell.

And now that that's all out...I've found my fingers lingering over the keyboard, trying to figure out what to say about this story, since it's one I feel kinda nervous about, and finally deciding to just let it speak for itself.

Though on a general note, I'm noticing a trend with my pure science fiction stories, like this one: they tend to contain a lot more details stolen from my life, even as the pure fantasy stories tend to reflect the reality of what's going on in my life, with the notable exceptions of Colors, which was written in fifteen minutes of fury and is one of the most personal stories I've ever published, and Pogo Stick. I'm not sure what this says about me as a writer or my approach to either genre.
Writing tic

In a recent conversation I joked that I was having problems telling the difference between "discreet" and "discrete." (Well, it wasn't entirely a joke, but I do know the difference. Most of the time. When I'm not dizzy or tired or distracted – this is just not going well, so I'll stop.)

But this reminded me of one of my little writing verbal tics: an almost pathological aversion to using the words lay/lie.

This wasn't always true – back in high school and college I knew the difference and used them without thinking too much about either word. But later, I started teaching English grammar. In my rotating English as a Second Language classes, we usually hit "lay/lie/lie" (the listening part of the TOEFL test also tests whether or not non native speakers can tell if the speaker is talking about dishonesty) right after the nightmare of the multiple meanings of "take" and the excitements of "do" and "make."

This is a bad time to hit "lay/lie," with students already wishing that "take" had never entered the English language, and generally resulted in significant sulking. It did not help that the most common phrase they typically encountered using either word was "get laid," which is not tested on the TOEFL and also offers its own grammatical confusion. As an end result we all became very fond of the word "put." "Put" is a nice easy word to spell, you don't have to change it, and you can put anything anywhere you want to without worrying about how exactly you're going to end it. We all loved "put." We also liked "recline" and "rest." Great words, and you never have to wonder if "recline" means "dishonesty." (Bonus: this also removed some of the "sit" and "set" confusion.)

But the result of years of this was to leave me twitching with the words "lie/lay," partly because when I use either word now, I feel the need to look them up, but mostly because I feel a sense of discomfort around them, a sense that these are words that cause annoyance and pain. It doesn't help that although I know it's grammatically correct, the word "lain" always looks archaic to me, calling up thoughts of the King James Bible and Shakespeare, which is rarely the tone I'm going for – I know a few people that can sort of pull off an imitation of that language in a pinch, but I can't – far too steeped in contemporary America, for all of my medieval/Renaissance reading and studies.

And I just caught myself trying to avoid using one of those words again.

This writing musing brought to you by avoiding watching the Golden Globes.
Now and again, my brother and I pick up DVDs of the BBC's Marple and Poirot shows. We just finished up a couple this week. Bear with me while I meander.

Marple lurches between relatively faithful to the plot of the original book, with some sex and/or lesbians thrown in, and the occasional POC character or bit of incest, both treated with considerably more -- how do I put this - calm acceptance than I recall from the Christie novels. (This is not to say that Agatha Christie was a major racist, exactly, although some of her pre-war statements about Jews can be discomforting, but rather that multicultural casting and discussions of the impact of incest in society were not high on her list of priorities, and her one major attempt to write a more multicultural cast -- Hickory Dickory Dock - was just not a very good mystery. Anyway.) The other major shift in quality, and one you can't always predict from the DVD cover, is who is playing Miss Marple: the first Marple, Geraldine McEwan, is very good, sharp as a button, acidic, and yet easily leaping off into the digressions of "I remember so-and-so in St. Mary Mead....", managing to show that she is genuinely thinking through these otherwise completely off topic digressions.

I find myself oddly more fascinated by the shows that go wildly off the point and plot of the original novel, partly because with those shows, I don't know who did it. (And in the hands down worst Marple episode, bar none, the adaptation of Why Didn't They Ask Evans/The Boomerang Clue I still don't know who did it in the show. I know who did it in the book, which had the typical tight, crisp plotting of vintage Christie that makes no sense when you step back and think about it but works within the context of the book, but the filmed version not only added Miss Marple (who wasn't in that book) but a lot of very confusing and poorly edited stuff about China and poorly edited flashback scenes with left both of us going, huh?)

Sometimes, as in By the Pricking of my Thumbs, the going off the plot works -- that was a fairly effective episode if seriously hampered by a couple of inexplicable edits and some terrible acting by the American in the cast, who was just awful, and if you, like me, were willing to repress all memories of Tommy and Tuppence from the books, and willing to accept that solving a murder mystery will also solve your alcoholism problem. (It's a two for one deal!) Others....distinctly do not, providing an model lesson on what can happen when you go off your planned plot: quagmire.

Going off the planned plot is not always a bad thing. I'm currently writing a story where the original plot that I thought up for the original concept just wasn't working, and a side element that I just started typing out has sort of overcome the main story, meaning that I'm going back and transforming the former side element into the main story - and this is working out much better. Then again, I rarely have a plot in mind when I start writing a short story -- the plot sorta evolves as I go along. Sometimes, some of those evolutions have to be tossed out.

Marple doesn't toss out all of the non-working evolutions. That's its problem. Along with the solid question of why bother to change the plots of the one writer pretty much known and celebrated only for plot*, but that's a separate question, I suppose. Do the producers genuinely think that anyone is picking up an Agatha Christie novel for its nuanced characters and insightful depictions of British society? And while I'm at it, throwing a romance into each show is nice enough, I suppose, but I don't think anyone is reading an Agatha Christie novel for a romantic happy ending, either.

Poirot retains considerably more faithfulness to the original books, and tends to be a better show -- but less, for me, absorbing. I guess because at this point, I'm as interested in seeing failures as successes: a large part of figuring out what works in writing includes figuring out what doesn't.

ETA: Meant to add, the main thing we end up thinking, after every episode, is why on earth do people continue to welcome Poirot and Marple anywhere since so many dead bodies follow in their wake? Angela Lansbury had the same problem in Murder, She Wrote, of course.

* To be fair, Christie also mastered a deceptively simple and effective prose style that allowed her readers to focus only on the plot, one reason for her success. But again, that just goes back to why we read Christie - it's the plot.

Highway

Apr. 26th, 2011 02:51 pm
This next poem was not a success, which is why I never submitted it anywhere. But what's interesting is why. As I've noted, I have a decided love for – some might almost call it an obsession with – structured poetry. I wanted to master every form, including the various forms of the sonnet, and one form I hadn't played with was the Petrarchan sonnet, and so, when the first two lines of this poem came into my mind, I decided to try to write one.

Disaster. Well, not quite disaster – I think a few lines of this are ok – but overall, the poem feels forced to me: forced rhymes (and a couple of rhymes that are just absurd), forced meter, forced images. And part of the problem was that aside from the first couple of lines, I really didn't have a point.

It was a good writing lesson: technique and structure can only do so much for you. Which is why I include it here. And I haven't quite given up hope on mastering the form.

Cut for a couple of ridiculous rhymes. )
Tor, or more specifically, Narnia blogging, continues with Prince Caspian today. This is my least favorite of the Narnia books and I'm glad the post for it is over.

*************

In somewhat related news, I am slowly beginning to feel like a writer again. I didn't, for awhile there. Various things happened in August and September, and then October and November were filled with moving and renovating, and December with holiday stuff, and although I had some non fiction stuff to work on during that period, I was dry of creative words, beginning to wonder if I would ever write again. I've felt that way before, of course, but each time it still feels new, terrifying, uncertain: this time, the well of dead words will remain dead and dry.

But living words are creeping back, bit by bit: a poem here and there (although my poetry never really marches in step with the rest of my writing in any case, and I have a sad feeling that some of you will not think that one of my recent poems is a poem at all), a paragraph here and there, reopening the various novels in various states of disarray and seeing what might be done with them.

Not promising anything, but hoping for more words to come in February.
(partly in case you missed yesterday's posting thanks to the holiday)

Snowmelt is a chain poem, consisting of fourteen different poems that continue to get more and more complex, culminating in a sonnet. This is the fourth chain poem I've completed. Each time, I find myself wanting to free up the form just a little bit more.

For the curious, poem one is a compliment, or introduction to the poem; poem two is a couplet; poem three a triad; poem four a quatrain; poem five a mirror poem; poem six a triat, or sextet; poem seven a variation on a septet; poem eight a triolet (maddeningly fun poems to write); poem nine a novet; poem ten a rondeau; poem eleven an eleven line poem; poem twelve a pantoum (another maddening mirror poem type); poem thirteen a variation on the rondel; and poem fourteen a sonnet.

Chain poems start off easily enough. It's generally around poem seven and eight that things get...more tricky, especially if you are trying to tell a tale. From poem eight on, things get tricky enough that the sonnet actually comes as a relief, although I am not, as a rule, overly fond of sonnets, or of writing them.

Until this poem, I had generally written chain poems in response to writing challenges, or as a writing exercise, filling in the lines the way I might fill out a crossword puzzle. This was a bit different: the first line sprang to mind, along with an image of flying crows, and suddenly it occurred to me to weave those images into a structured form of this type. To my astonishment, this poem flowed, right from the beginning (with the slight exception of poem 6, which needed some rewriting).

It's a lesson, I guess, in poetic structure: the stronger the image or the meaning, the easier the structure, no matter how confining it might seem at first.
Over at Black Gate a commentator whined, among other things, that "… fantasy fiction is in desperate need of is good adventure stories free of contemporary politics. There is no shortage of politically driven fiction of varying quality."
Ordinarily, given some of the other things this commentator said, I'd ignore this, but I keep seeing people bring this up, and it makes me want to scream. Or, you know, blog.

Look, almost all art, or attempted art, is, on some level, political in nature – even if unconsciously so.

Let's start, for example, with a very quick look at Hollywood films set in the medieval era. (I know. Calling many of these "art" is a stretch, but I'm using "art" in the sense of something created by a human for decorative or pleasurable, as opposed to purely functional, purposes, i.e, music, paintings, film, fiction, poetry, and so on. It's not the best of definitions, but go with me for a bit here, at least for this post.) Nearly every single one of these films has something in common: it features at least one, and usually several, aristocrats who have become utterly corrupted by power, often to the point where they have become physically corrupted (Braveheart, with its two elderly male rulers literally rotting to death, is the best example of this, but the trope appears everywhere.) Frequently at least one or two younger, good looking characters stomp around talking about how we all have to think for ourselves, making nasty comments about aristocrats, and delivering stirring speeches about the importance of independence. Aristocracy, state these films firmly, is inherently evil, so evil that it will make nearly everyone associated with it evil as well.

Here's the problem: this does not, in any way, shape or form, represent widely-held political thought in the medieval era.

Medievals certainly revolted – usually over taxes, or food issues, or religious concerns – and certainly hated various specific kings/monarchs/authority figures. But the general idea of the aristocracy being inherently corrupt, a system that inevitably leads to evil, was not universally held. Rather, many (not all) medieval argued that the aristocratic system was divinely inspired, ordained by God, and part of the natural order: coming from God, the aristocratic system was inherently good, and only the flaws and failures of men turned it to evil. Many believed that the very act of revolting against an authority figure was in itself evil, since this meant going against something ordained by God. True, many people making this argument were themselves authority figures, but this argument was still made. Then as now, not everybody believed the same thing, and I certainly doubt that everyone in the Middle Ages believed in the divine right of kings, but, in general, medievals were not, as a group, running around shouting for political freedom and independence.

And yet this trope shows up in all major, studio-backed, American films depicting the medieval era – serious, silly, with dragons, without dragons. (I'm being specific here, because this trope appears in some but not all European/Japanese films depicting the medieval era.) The trope is so strong that even The Lord of the Rings films, based on a British book that did not contain this idea (Tolkien certainly believed that the world was flawed, yes, but not that the aristocracy was any more flawed by virtue of being aristocrats than the typical hobbit; both the aristocratic Boromir and the middle-class Frodo fail.)

And I honestly cannot imagine a Hollywood film attempting to argue for the divine right of kings,

Now, is anyone who sits down to write a silly script featuring a dragon really considering the political implications of the script? Certainly not (although some screenwriters and directors are equally certainly more overtly politically conscious – again, Braveheart -- than others). But, simply because that screenwriter lives in a place where democracy is considered the least evil of the various political systems out there, and because, post the 20th century in general, we have become all too aware of the evils that can follow in the wake of political leaders, that screenwriter is not going to be presenting a positive image of a monarchy/theocracy, even in a script that presents us with a heroic prince/princess.

Contemporary culture seeps into anything a writer/artist/musician creates, whether the creator is reacting to/against this culture, or going against it. This is as true for the dregs of "popular" fiction/movies as for the more "literary" stuff out there (I'm putting this in quote marks because I find these definitions questionable.) Another example from the decidedly low end of the artistic scale: back in the 1970s/early 80s Harlequin/Boons & Mill published several romance novels featuring the woman moaning, "No, no, no," while the romantic hero overpowered her cries of protest and took her to bed – in a reflection of the then-held belief that when women said, "no," they really meant "yes." Harlequin has largely backed off from publishing this sort of thing, largely because now, we have more of a recognition that when women say "no," they really mean "no." (Still not universally held even in the U.S., but we're moving more in that direction.)

Whether art is reinforcing our beliefs, or challenging them (and I like both types, just to be clear – well, not the above referenced Harlequins, but that's another story), it is still created in the context of those beliefs. Expressly political or not, silly or serious, "literary" or "popular," that culture is still there.

And, well, ok, this might be just me, but as a writer, I know that sometimes a discussion about politics or culture does spark a little worm in my brain and ends up as a story – often something that doesn't necessarily seem that related to the original conversation at all. (The most extreme example of this, in my case, is Bonfire and pearls, which partly came from my wanting to write a selkie story and partly from a seemingly completely unrelated conversation about iTunes, ebooks and electronic downloads, which got me thinking about how we pay for art and things, which….led into a seemingly unrelated selkie story. Selkies never came up in the original conversation, but that doesn't mean that parts of the original conversation didn't slide into the selkie story, which, I'll note, doesn't mention iTunes, ebooks and electronic downloads.)

Feel free to ask for silly art, for adventure art, for things that don't seem to have a political agenda. But asking for purely non-political stuff, that doesn't react to or agree with contemporary culture? Not going to happen. Art isn't created in a vacuum.
I know, I know. I have retreated to another one of those periods of tedious dullness again, where my sense of humor has tiptoed off to hide in a corner to avoid the risk of permanent damage, where my mind stumbles looking for words, where I am obsessed – obsessed – over matters that matter very little to the rest of you, like, can those kitchen cabinets be painted in time? Can they? Can they? The worst of it is that I know I've been dull much of the month, even before the house stuff. Especially for those of you who are just here for the movie/television snark, and you know who you are.

Part of the problem is that I find myself writing blog posts full of complaints, reading them over, and thinking, do I really want that out on the internet? And deleting a post. Exhaustion also makes me more rambling than ever: I had a post about the three Life Achievement Awards from the World Fantasy Convention this year which went on and on without making its main point: if this is a world fantasy award, why have we only nominated a couple of actual international, i.e., non English speaking writers? (Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino, if I'm correct) Before realizing that there, I'm really part of the problem – I didn't exactly nominate any international writers either, which is going to change next year.

And I'm rambling again.

The second problem is that I have been fighting, very hard, against this turning into a disability blog, or a disability/writing blog, and yet, the overwhelming theme of the month has been, you are disabled and in a wheelchair, and, well, as I've mentioned before, this is something I'm still struggling to accept. Yes, you'd think that a year would have been enough, but not really.

And yet this unquestionably has had an effect on my overall attitude. On Monday, I happened to be passing a building in Orlando MetroWest that I'd never seen before, with a corner lined with magnificent stairs, and rather than thinking about most of the buildings, I found myself focusing on the stairs: where was the ramp? The wheelchair access? And, come to think of it, with that many outdoor stairs (a full flight) was an elevator anywhere? And so on.

These are not things I've had to think about before, although those of you who are wheelchair users are probably nodding along right now, but I'm finding that they've become an automatic part of my thinking. I'm spending probably more time

And there's other issues that I figure most of you probably just don't want to know about: I mean, did all of you really want to know that the kitchen cabinets were so covered in grease (and assorted other things) that not only was I becoming more convinced than ever that Cthulhu was trying to get in, but, the paint primer wouldn't stay on even after repeated cleanings. I didn't think so.

(Yes, cleaning/repainting is just a temporary solution for the kitchen cabinets – we just don't have the time to replace them properly just now, and that's something that should be done right.)

And the frustration that I wish I could be doing more right now.

Of course all this and the my low writing output in general has made all of those old fears, I think typical of writers, come creeping back: I don't know how to write anymore. I can't be interesting. I'm not funny. I'll never write again. I'll never write anything good again. (If it's not obvious, I'll note quietly and publicly that not surprisingly outside factors have got me down again.) It's insidious, and however much I'm trying to say, temporary, temporary more of me is noting just how often this sort of thing, creating writing issues, has happened this year.

So, yeah. Dull. Not funny. But hang in there (directed more at me than you, frankly): World Fantasy is coming up next week, some major things, not just the move, should be over by mid November, and also, I understand that a certain trainwreck of a movie is coming up rather soon, which should bring the snark back on.
I waited until after Flashforward the show was over before picking up the novel – I didn’t want to get spoiled for either the novel or the show. And then I waited a bit more, since apparently half of Orange County had the same idea, and getting a library copy into my little hands took a bit more time.

It will probably surprise no one to hear that the book is considerably better than the television show, and in retrospect, I should have just watched the first episode, and turned to the book.

Mild spoilers for the book and television show. )
Like many writers, I suspect, I sometimes read works in progress out loud to the cats. (Most usually, to one cat, since the Grey One apparently only appreciates works of Serious Intellectualism and Lots of Footnotes that require Chin and Belly Scratching on Her Schedule, Not Yours, Thank You Muchly.) This is partly to hear the flow out loud, but also in hopes that the cat will tell you, does this meet the probability test? Do you think this could actually happen?

The cat usually responds by yawning, putting out a paw, heading off for intense bird watching (this is discouraging) or sometimes by burying his little face in his paws. Sometimes he purrs excessively, although this tends to happen, I must admit, more based on his position (leaning against me or entirely on me) and whether or not I'm simultaneously scratching his little cat head while reading out loud. In other words, not entirely helpful.

But I digress. The plausibility test. The truth is, things happen in real life that are more implausible than anything in fiction (keep reading, keep reading, and much thanks to [profile] simplykathryn for the link). SERIOUSLY, people ask, when I explain that the most unexpected thing with the trike was finding that it was irresistible to 15 year old middle schoolers with a sex addiction issue and a tendency to steal cop cars. 15 years old and still in middle school? That can't be right. Look, I say, the dude was stealing cars. I'm guessing academics wasn't his chief priority.

My own life has been filled with improbable things (getting rained on at Masada, the desert citadel by the Dead Sea that went three years without a drop of rain once, and even now gets about .2 inches of rain for the entire year, all when I just happened to be there, the one that comes to mind now, more will come, doubtless, as the coffee hits and stirs up improbable memories) enough to the point that I don't always know what the plausibility standard is. Part of why I write more fantasy/science fiction these days; things like "It never rains in Masada!" "But it did!" can be waved off with "We have a mystical/scientific rain making thing!" and so on.

But characters still have to act, as we say, in character, by which we mean, plausible. The problem is, humans, as a group, have a tendency to act irrationally and do things that you would not really believe they would do, like, for instance, choosing to allow small furry predators to make critical judgements about their work. It means creating characters who have reasons to do the improbable, misguided, illogical, unthinking things that people do in real life, so when that happens, it can be believed. Whatever a cat might think on the subject.

Which is all a long way of saying that I have some rewriting to do. Because right now, none of you would believe this. Even if I have to believe the most incredible things you say.
I finally got around to seeing the most recent BBC production of Sense and Sensibility (the three part 2008 version). Also contained in the DVD case, to my surprise (this bit was not emphasized on the cover) was Miss Austen Regrets, which was like, yay, bonus movie!

I'm always surprised to find just how much I enjoy filmed versions of Sense and Sensibility, given that this is frequently my least favorite of Austen's books, depending on how recently I've reread Mansfield Park and wanted to toss Fanny Price right off its roof again (sorry, Fanny Price admirers but the girl gets on my nerves and I can't stand a book where the single most annoying character gets the happiest of endings although I continue to hope that very early in his marriage Edmund started to handle matters by fantasizing in bed about Mary Crawford and moaned this out loud over and over and over again and even added little porn pictures of her to their shared bedroom. A completely wrong image for Austen, I know, but I can't help it. Fanny Price smush. Where was I? Right, Sense and Sensibility). I think part of the issue is that I find that two parts of the book's ending usually work far better for me on screen than they do in the book – that sexy Lucy Steele snatching up Robert Ferrars and Marianne marrying Colonel Brandon, who always seems a lot sexier on screen than in the book. But that could be just me.

Anyway, this version, which has a considerably more, dare I say the word in connection with Austen in a non-Northanger Abbey context, Gothic feel, what with opening with a sex scene (! in Austen? Yes, yes, people in Austen books have sex and plenty of unauthorized sex at that [which was something else I hated in Mansfield Park, come to think of it] but offscreen, Austen adaptations! Offscreen!) and a duel and a hawk (beautiful hawk) and lovely gloomy pictures of a churning sea and an Edward Ferrars who seems to have decided to be a character from another book, possibly Northanger Abbey instead, which, ok, all intense and glowing and joking and cutting up logs in a sexy manner to prevent him from launching himself at Elinor right there in the wet wet grass and considerably more kissing and physical contact than I recall from Sense and Sensibility where my last reading left me convinced that pretty much everybody but Lucy Steele was going to have a very dull time of it in bed. (Go Lucy!) For those about to complain that I am spending far, far, far too much time considering the sex lives of people in Austen books, of all things, you unquestionably have a point but this is the sort of film adaptation that Makes You Think About It Because These Characters Certainly Are.

This particular adaptation brings back some of the book's more irritating characters, including Miss Anne Steele (played very well here by Daisy Haggard who keeps the character right on the edge of grating and funny) and the colorless Lady Middleton, has a Colonel Brandon who if not quite as hot and romantic as the 1995 Alan Rickman portrayal, actually seems closer to the book. (Plus! Duel! Swords! Duel!). The acting is uniformly excellent, and if I continually found myself comparing this film to the earlier 1995 film, it wasn't always to this film's disadvantage. (Also, hawk!)

The one thing that does not work too well in this version is, once again, Lucy Steele snatching up Robert Ferrars, mostly because in this version, Lucy seems to have more genuine feelings for Edward – and true jealousy of Elinor – and because this version fails to allow the camera to show Lucy and Robert talking, so the whole Lucy and Robert marriage comes as even more of an inexplicable and suspiciously convenient surprise. I never really felt this made sense in the book, either – at best, it's far, far too convenient, and at worse, I never could see Robert Steele not holding out for a heiress – so I can't precisely complain that this makes little sense in the movie. The other, minor problem was with the casting of Willoughby – the guy is a decent actor, but my impression from the book is that he needs to be really, but really, good-looking, and this guy, not so much. But that is a quibble. Overall it was fun and mostly close to the book (except for the sex, the kissing, the hawk and the duel, but, clearly BBC felt this version had to be distinguished from the 1995 version in some way other than different actors, so, duel!)

I also enjoyed Miss Austen Regrets, a biopic about Jane Austen in later life. I can quibble a lot with the film's accuracy, which included bits like Jane Austen going to meet the Prince Regent's librarian (they corresponded, but did not meet) and more romantic interests than I recall from Austen's letters and an infatuation with a London doctor and love triangle with her niece that I don't recall at all from Austen's letters (Austenites, feel free to correct me here) and a scene that did happen in real life that STILL MAKES ME MAD, Cassandra burning Jane Austen's letters, which, BAD CASSANDRA, and I am only sorry that the various sea monsters and zombies and mummies currently running through Jane Austen's books can't come over and dig up your grave and stomp on you (too much info?). The scene in the film is quite well done but it just made me mad at Cassandra ALL OVER AGAIN, even though I think I was meant to be feeling sympathy. That was not the chief feeling the scene actually invoked, but I suspect that I was reading something in it that the screenwriters didn't intend.

However, to get off the subject of Cassandra Austen's perfidy for a moment, the film also offers Olivia Williams, previously known to me as the bridesmaid that slept with Joey on Friends and one of the few consistently watchable actors on Dollhouse, as Jane Austen, focusing on the competing demands made on Austen as writer, a writer infuriated at her economic and social restrictions, her dependence upon financially problematic family members, and her anger at approaching illness and death. The details may not be accurate – well, ok, aren't accurate – but the portrayal feels real, and I imagine most writers will be empathizing.

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