Art and life and death – a collation of points

When I began writing Boralos in 2003, my father had just completed his first course of treatment (radiation therapy, from memory) for his cancer. The treatment was successful, he went into remission, he was vibrant and healthy; we all got on with life.

All characters are, in some way, a reflection of the author; I always saw that reflection in my heroine Dacia's strong relationship with her father, one where he taught her a number of important things, some outwardly and some as by-products of living his life. It was only as I wrote, and dug deeper into the story – her story, and her development through the rest of the story – that I appreciated the significance of her father's death on shaping who she was and what she was doing with her life. That death plays no actual part in the story, but the shadow of Dacia's father lies across her for the duration of the story, a key if understated element of her unpacking of her self-identification.

My father died yesterday. He taught me how to tell tales. How to lie, how to tell jokes, how to speak to an audience, how to chat at a dinner party. He taught me rhetoric and pacing and rhythm without every mentioning those words. My mother made me a reader, but he made me a writer because he was the one who showed me how to start putting words together with the intent of achieving entertainment and communication of more than just their face value meaning.

He will never see me in print. I know he was proud of me, for reasons that are arguably better – for being a good person and being happy – but he will never be proud of me for that. And I sort of wish I'd told him all of this, that really it's him who set me on this path, but I don't think I'd even figured it all out myself until right now.

I love you, Dad. I will miss you.

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Today's moment of cynical hilarity

In The Age today, Clare Cannon believes that young adult readers are unable to engage with the moral complexity of The Hunger Games as well as she can, a view which I should think anyone who's ever been a young adult reader might find a bit patronising.

What I found a little irritating and disingeuous was that she doesn't mention that the site of which she is an editor – – is dedicated to culling the available body of literary work down to those compatible with Christian values.

In visiting the site to confirm my suspicion of this fact, I noted the point that was actually hilarious, however: endorses The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I am now extremely curious about where the recreational use of cocaine fits into Christian values, and why this was never raised during the seven years I attended Sunday School. (Though I do note that apparently the stories that comprise this volume may have been carefully selected so as not to include any untoward material – a story containing adultery was apparently pulled after the first imprint. So maybe it is the sanitised version of Sherlock's adventures, for those of a delicate and impressionable intellect.)

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Checking in – nearly five months later

The hacking 50k words out of Boralos is still underway, having been interrupted by various pesky excrescences of real life. I'm about six chapters from the end (of sixty chapters), and looking like being about 130k words by the time I'm finished. That's slightly less than I was asked to cut out (50 rather than 60k) but I'm pretty happy with it as a first pass, and suspect that I can carve more from the first third still.

What's more, I'm pleased with the changes its wrought to the story itself. I'd always been worried that there was a little too much sitting around and talking going on (but then again, I'm constantly worried that I'm a derivative, pedestrian, paint-by-numbers storyteller who's committing all the sins I hate most about genre fiction and delivering nothing big, nothing new, nothing amazing and I should give up right now and set fire to my work… so basically I squint suspiciously at everything my subconscious kicks up about my writing and often ask other people for their opinions). On the other hand, I'd always sort of been aiming for “political fantasy of manners (in the tropics)” for this book, so I have resisted most strenuously the urge to have people dashing about doing uncivilised violence instead. But in the course of editing, I've been able to trim, combine, elide, circumvent and trick out quite a bit of the sitting-around-talking stuff.

Once I'm done, I may need to find one or two readers who haven't seen the thing before to see if it still makes sense, or if I've cut out something vital to the plot without realising. That could be tricky, since I think I imposed upon just about everyone I know to read it the first time. We'll see.

(While I've been doing this I have, of course, had another story idea. I've always been a bit hysterical-laughter about that whole “how do you get your ideas?” question. I want to respond with, “How do you stop??“)

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Meanwhile, back on the hippo ranch… (aka doing November backwards)

Last week, I got a response from an agent I queried last year. This, in and of itself, was sort of spiffy, since I was batting at about 60% cricket-chirping silence in response to Boralos queries. As a (big) bonus, it was a “I really like your writing voice, but…” response. I've been getting quite a few of those. But I can't sell single-volume fantasy in Australia. But my list is full. But there's no action in the first chapter (being the last one that stymied me in conflicted inaction on the book). This one was “But it's too long at 180,000 words. Could you cut out 55-65k words?”

I considered that Actually, no, first I said, “HOLY SHIT!” (in the office; no one noticed) and then spent two minutes trading exclamation marks on the phone with my husband. During which I calmed down enough to say, “Well, I don't know. Can I?”

It's a writing challenge. Anyone who knows me in any sort of writing capacity knows how much I like those.

And so I am back on the horse hippo!

Yay, energy on a project! )

Related on a technical front: using Scrivener to edit )

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The Magicians – for those who were interested…

C&Ped from my GoodReads…

The MagiciansThe Magicians by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This could get long, so to sum up: this is a highly competent, intelligent, enjoyable read. That really irritated me in a few ways. It was interesting, but for me, too facile and shallow in its exploration of the fantasy tropes it was engaging with.

In more detail – with a few very mild spoilers )

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A character named Sue

Seanan McGuire has made an excellent post about the misuse of the term Mary Sue. It really is an excellent post, thoughtful and insightful and calling out some issues that people really need to pay more attention to because they're those issues that just slide by insidiously, sucking all the while. Heaps of things about unconscious use of derogatory terms for female characters we just don't like, whereas we'd probably use more analytical/critical language to describe male characters we don't like. (The difference, really, between saying, “she's a bitch” and “he's unpleasant and condescending and I don't like him because of it”. We might mean the same thing, but the different language choice unconsciously reinforces certain gender dichotomies.)

So that stuff? That stuff I totally agree with and could not endorse more. But there's other stuff in there that I didn't agree with, so I'm going to ruminate a little on why no, actually, I believe Mary Sue is a bad thing )

Just as a PS: of course readers are more critical of female characters. Most media with a strong female protag is probably aimed at a female readership (women read more than men anyway), and women have always been – and possibly always will be – more critical of other women. I'm not saying it's not a problem and something women should be aware of and work to remedy, I'm just saying that it's there and we haven't fixed it yet.

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Not sure what this is, so putting it here for a time when I need it

There are tales about birds who push their hatchlings from the nest to teach them to fly.

I have never understood why these stories do not include the hatchlings returning on the wing to attack their parents. Are we to believe that such birds have sufficient language to communicate the dire necessity of this action? Is the moment of flight so transporting as to instantly forgive the machinations that led to its discovery? Or are these animals simply so stupid that they will forget this betrayal? Birdbrain.

Sorcerers have excellent memories. It is one of the required attributes.

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You'll go blind

I've been roleplaying quite a bit for the past… er, well, thirteen years. But my involvement with and the nature of Harry Potter roleplaying fandom has meant that in the past six or so years, I've done a lot of hopping into and out of games – there have been a few long-running campaigns that have been wonderful, just great adventures in group storytelling, but in general, the area as a whole is characterised by the way games coalesce and disintegrate, and people drift hither and yon. This means lots of creation of new characters, adaptation of existing or previous ones, and – even if you're not the one doing the moving about – reconsideration of storylines for your characters as others come and go.

It needs flexibility, but it can be its own sort of exciting, as an important element of your character alters, and new possibilities and interpretations open up. I have had so many conversations with people that go along the lines of, “Well, they could be friends, or they could be enemies, or they could be past or future lovers, or they could be complicated frenemies who are engaged in an ongoing potions duel but go for smoothies. I know how each of these is made possible through my character's history and personality, but I don't know which I like better.”

Emphasis added, because that's the point here. There are so many options, and once you've been RPing for a while, you play a whole range of different sorts of storylines (well, you do if you're actually doing it right – whole different rant) and you come to realise that every option – every option – has its own varieties of delightful and delicious to explore. And this is the problem I'm finding. I can see the wonder and opportunities that lie down every branching of the path. It's fine when you're in a game with other people – you wrangle and negotiate and brainstorm and come up with a way that's maximum fun for everyone involved.

But when I'm writing prose, it's just me standing at the fork in the road, looking into multiple distances that all look equally splendid and not taking a fucking step because I can't make a bloody decision. RPing, you have broken my certainty of the singularity of story.

Realising this over trying to plot a new story idea – come on in and help me flip my metaphorical coin )

…Great, I just came up with more options in writing this out than I had before. *le sigh*

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Less a new chapter, more a redrafting of familiar material

All right, let's try this cross-posting malarkey.

An orientation note to start: my dreamwidth journal is for writing. I discuss original things I'm working on, the process of writing, media consumed as it relates to the general business of creativity. I will also begin using this for general life-updates, in the hopes of inculcating in myself a mindset where writing is intrinsically tied up with my life. (Yes, I do play these mindgames with myself. What's more, I win.)

Recent renewed productivity (post wedding/moving/lifestyle-change-panic) has been assisted by everyone's new favourite thing, 750 words. Though I'm not really using it the way it says on the box. Personal ruminations on the Artist's Way )

…and on ruthlessly exploiting tools for your own uses )

And the most important thing, of course, is summed up nicely by this wonderful piece of advice.

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