leahbobet: (gardening)
July 25, 2012 Progress Notes:

On Roadstead Farm

Words today: 425.
Words total: 26,525.
Reason for stopping: Dinner plans await.

Darling du Jour: You could see every speck of the land that had nurtured four generations of Hoffmanns from this spot. My great-grandparents had angled the old house for that very reason, when they'd planted it in the ground.

Mean Things: Someone inadvertently hitting way too close to home.

Research Roundup: N/A.
Books in progress: Gemma Files, A Tree of Bones

I've been tinkering at this all month, rewriting and revising and futsing, but this is the first day where there has been measurable forward progress, and not just replacing old words with different ones.

The stop-start, the revising, the long gaps in forward motion? This is, at least for me, what learning to write novels on proposal looks like.

CSA blogging later tonight, once I've hit the farmer's market and seen what there is to see there (I want tomatoes very, very badly).
leahbobet: (gardening)
April 12, 2012 Progress Notes:

On Roadstead Farm

Words today: 800.
Words total: 20,750.
Reason for stopping: The hour grows late. Wolves! Ghosts!

Darling du Jour: "Good morning, Miss," he said. A docile rumble. Thunder that'd promised just this once to behave.

Words Hallie Won't Admit to Knowing: N/A. She's getting better about this, actually.
Mean Things: Quite explicitly losing your privacy. Also, I finally found out what's at the root of Hallie's terrible prickly perfectionism, and it makes perfect sense. And I plan to use it against her. But also then it made me cry a bit, so I guess we're even.

Research Roundup: N/A.
Books in progress: Caitlin R. Kiernan, The Drowning Girl; Gina Damico, Croak

One of those days where it goes crack! like an egg and what you need to do flows right out your fingers. Today -- both this afternoon at the coffeeshop and tonight, past one in the morning, stretched out on the couch under a flowered fleece blanket, drinking tea and typing carefully while my nailpolish dries -- has been about looking at the chapters I had, and systematically cutting them open to add in explicit explanations, demonstrations, for everything. Bringing the subtext up into the text. Explaining why a thing makes Hallie feel how she feels. Putting all this stuff on the page, to make it real and not just oblique. It's reading miles better. I'm getting a suspicion my natural length really is short fiction, and that's why my early drafts of novels have that same dense, compressed, zip-file prose.

I can't take entire credit: I had good notes on this to identify the problem. But I can also see quite clearly how the editorial process for Above taught me the things I needed to figure this thing out, and that's a cool little feeling. Don't do drugs! Stay in writer school! and all that.

Ad Astra tomorrow. No idea if I'll get wordcount in the afternoon, beforehand. Or on the bus, perhaps, on the way up to the hotel. I've found some of the heartwood of this book, and I'm in a way where I want to try.
And that is a book report. But I find I have something to say.

This year's books, so far... )

#92 -- Patricia A. McKillip, The Bards of Bone Plain

First thing: I have had an uncomfortable situation with reading McKillip these past couple years, and it has to do with getting older. I've had a theory about this: That when I started reading her books I was very, very young, and they were, and are, very special to me. The Riddle-Master of Hed is what I read when I am viciously sick, because it's sort of like a warm blanket wrapped around you. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is the only book to ever make me sit upright in my bath, where I was reading it, and sob because I knew what was about to go down and I couldn't find a way to stop it. Those books imparted truths, and I have thought for years that part of why I loved them so much is because I was young and didn't know certain things, and then they told me. And that's been why some of her more recent stuff, I haven't loved as well: because now I'm older, and I know some more things, and really this is nobody's fault but all the same it's rather sad.

Second thing: I finished this book this morning. I stayed up to finish it. Yes, until seven in the morning.

Third thing: It is taking an unholy beating on Goodreads.

And y'know? I object. Not because I've suddenly changed my tune on books and taste and the right of everyone to have different opinions on different books. But because I have finally figured out a thing, and in the dim winter dawnlight that's filtering through my window, it's absolutely brilliant.

The crap The Bards of Bone Plain is getting mostly has to do with repetition: People are not happy that she is writing about bards (again), or music (again), or a scholarly grad school environment (again), and so forth. The pertinent comment was "feels like a re-run", and I can also feel the list of familiar elements from past books: mysterious ancient harpists who are not what they seem; a plain that exists in two worlds, and likewise the tower upon it; greatest magic, keeping pigs; music; poetry; riddling contests; a mentor figure who is actually inexpressibly old; figures of legend having dwelt quietly beside you in real life; digging through old libraries for history; schools of knowledge and magic; princesses who have different ideas on pricessing, and their rather indulgent fathers; the ghosts of past powers, trapped in stone; language, and its power.

I could go on.

But here's the thing, and here's what I just figured out about McKillip and her work, now that I'm older still: What she's doing isn't repetition. This isn't a case of reusing the same themes because an author's run out of new things to talk about, or of the reader growing out of the wonder that they originally derived from the author just doing their thing. That's what I thought before, and maybe there was something to it, to that twist of the relationship between the reader and writer, but that's not what ultimately is going on here.

McKillip writes about music. She writes about riddles, and she writes about poetry.

What those repeating, interweaving, slightly-different ideas and images and symbols in every single book she writes really are are motif.

As in the musical sense. As in a perceivable or salient recurring fragment or succession of notes.

She's making music, guys. And making it over the space of years, over multiple novels, dropping fragments of ideas like theme and variation so you hear it and remember, half-asleep, soft dark rooms and pages and where you were those many years ago, and flesh those ideas out yourselves without her having to say the words. So that all these little actions, or set pieces, or thoughts take on this unholy heft and resonance, just like thoughtful Telemachus, or the wine-dark sea, or þæt wæs god cyning. Every repetition, every mention, they build, until they build a hum like the earth moving.

She's writing music, and epic poetry, and the whole of her output is the poem.

And here's my proof:

There's a point at the climax of The Bards of Bone Plain where a character we know has access to magic shouts, and it's mentioned later that people heard a shout and the wall of a stone colosseum cracked. And there's a point in the middle where there's an altercation and neither of the POV characters there are quite sure what went on: just that an inn door was blown off its hinges and all one heard was the low note on a harp string. Later, and earlier, where the low note on a harp string is used to snap another harpist's instrument and blows the top off a tower.

And I knew exactly what was going on. Because I know what a Great Shout is, and I remember the harp string pitched so low it shatters swords.

Neither of these things were mentioned in this book. And they didn't have to be.

I have read the rest of the poem and I kept up.

And thing is, I should have seen it sooner: I've been wondering for years if the riddle Morgon of Hed tells, or is told, about the woman who took in a small black thing and fed it, and fed it, until it grew to fill the whole house and stalked her room to room was some adulterated story about Sybel and the Blammor, somehow hopped across book-universes, passed down, embellished, half-forgotten, until it nested in another story as nothing more than a riddle.

It's happened before. She's done this for years. And twice is coincidence, but three times (or more!) is enemy action.

The funny thing? She's told us exactly what she's up to. You can't expect to read an author who talks so much, and so lovingly, about the secret meanings of ordinary words; the power held in languages; that words are outright magic to not at least try something like this, and to hide it right in plain sight.

So. Dear Patricia McKillip: I have finally, finally caught you. I see what you did there.

Hats off. I am impressed as hell, and smiling.
September 21, 2011 Progress Notes:

Light (bad working title)

Words today: 500.
Words total: 2300.
Reason for stopping: All day is probably long enough to work on this.

Darling du Jour: --and she fell like a plane crash onto the bed.

Mean Things: A vision of grace. Yes, that can be cruel sometimes. Realizing that yes, you did do that thing you just did. We can also argue that the amount of times I've rewritten this one scene this week is mean to me.
Research Roundup: Don River reference photos; what kinds of fish are still there; symptoms of shock. I seem to look up the symptoms of shock for an awful lot of projects.

Books in progress: Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues; Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe.

Make that five rewrites of the same scene in five days. Started right from the beginning this afternoon -- split it open, deleted, added, tweaked -- which means that after six hours of work I have lots of new words, but not a hell of a lot of forward. Panning and chaff-sorting and puzzle-piecing continues. I've got 500 words of just discarded old-version paragraphs at the bottom of the file, which I keep picking through and plumbing for good bits every time I rewrite the working copy. So consider 500 of that total to be fake words. I just haven't pulled them out of the document yet, because I might need their bones for later.

I did find the leading tendril of the early conflict. And grabbed it with both hands, and pulled. And believe you me, there are things at the end of that line, so.

This version seems to cut right to the chase (burn plot, Leah, burn plot), and it's the first time I've actually hit a scene break thus far, so hopefully it might all settle out sometime in the next calendar month. :p

That's really it for today: It's been blustery and rainy, and I found myself too sleepy to go watch Council in person, so after a few morning errands I've been parked at this desk all afternoon, writing, with a faithful pot of Russian Caravan tea at my side. Dr. My Roommate was kind enough to pick up the farmshare on her way home, since the location is right by her office, and let me work straight through. We have carrots and peppers and greens, and I really need to make something that uses a lot of eggs. I have a lot of eggs.

We'll see if the scene has set when I open this back up tomorrow. Until then, I need to be not at this desk.
September 20, 2011 Progress Notes:

Light (bad working title)

Words today: 450.
Words total: 1800.
Reason for stopping: Hit a stop. And before midnight, for once.

Darling du Jour: The quiet seeped out of the walls.

Mean Things: Waking up to some unexpected complications. No, even I didn't expect them.
Research Roundup: Sunrise times for late September.

Books in progress: Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe.

Odd process things tonight: For the fourth time in four days, I am rewriting this same little scene, changing tense (we're back to past) or moving bits around or trying to start it from different places. Tonight I have it disassembled on the floor, cutting and pasting bits of paragraphs here and there, moving them like puzzle pieces, to try to make a picture that's the same picture -- two days later, girl gets up, notes bruising, and goes to Kensington Market -- but new. Somehow. There's a trail of sentences and images, the litter of previous versions, tailing down pages at the end of the file.

I think I am panning for narrative voice. And the leading tendril of an early conflict.

Revising, man. I'm telling you. It does things to your brain.


Today, we did some small necessaries: mailed a few things, bought a new bedside lamp (the last one died the death last week), returned the extra yarn from the sweater to the yarn store for credit, and found some bubble bath, because it's September and chilly and there is no good reason for me to not have one drop of bubble bath in the whole house.

Things learned during this excursion include:

1) There are things Blue Banana* does not have for sale, notably lamps that aren't those ridiculous solid quartz lamps and/or bubble bath;
2) There is a vintage/antiques store in Kensington that, while not having lamps I wanted, has Atari games (!!!);
3) I won't even go east of Spadina anymore if it can be helped.

I also blew off what was probably a very good launch party for the Toronto Review of Books because I'd hit a good patch with the wordcount, and wrote all evening instead. Sometimes it's just like that.

Quick laundry, perhaps. And then bed. Lots to do tomorrow.

*Aka the Kensington Market Hippie Megamall.
September 15, 2011 Progress Notes:

Light (bad working title)

Words today: 200.
Words total: 650.
Reason for stopping: Bed beddity bed bed bed.

Darling du Jour: The pigeons shifted and bobbed below her, a feathered carpet, living, as grey as the sky above the river, stained and spreading with dawn.

Mean Things: Our suicide attempt has taken a surprising turn.
Research Roundup: A reference photo. The etymology of bewildered, to make sure it was thematically appropriate. Infiltration (always useful) for some subway layout around the Viaduct. And a bit of messing about with diagrams and body position on how you actually fall if you jump like I said she jumped.

Books in progress: Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe.
The glamour: This is the first day in a week where I haven't had to do an authorly thing. Instead, Dr. My Roommate and I went for dinner at Pho Hung and bought tiny farmer's market blueberries and stayed up way too late working and drinking tea in our freezing cold apartment, wrapped in piles of sweaters.

Yes, I looked up an etymology so I could use the word in a scene, and did a patterning structural micro-macro thing besides. When you spend enough time taking apart other people's work for essay fodder in university-level English Lit courses, you build in some nice detailing and Easter Eggs for future generations. Or, y'know. For fun.

I got even more free books today. By some metrics this is turning into an absolutely capital kind of week.

Tomorrow: dayjob and possibly the Queen West Art Crawl. And sneaking back, late, for words.
August 25, 2011 Progress Notes:

"Always Winter"

Words today: 750.
Words total: 1150. No, this doesn't add up right. I zorched about 125 words correcting a wrong turn.
Reason for stopping: Round number, it's past 11pm, and this is still World of Fusscraft.

Darling du Jour: He takes his meals in his study these days; in fact, barely leaves his study. His beard has grown untrimmed across his face, wild and white like some shell-shocked St. Nicholas, and the papers shift 'round him like endless drifts of snow.

Mean Things: Lost children. Being rudely yanked out of the fairy tale where you live and plunked square into a Gothic. Haunted house tricks. War. Blowing innocence to bitty bits.
Research Roundup: Middlingly famous British painters; Victorian parlor chairs; child evacuation during WWII; the rudest terms for Germans extant in 1940.

Books in progress: Erin Bow, Plain Kate.
The glamour: There is a farmer's market on my way home Thursday afternoons, and one of the booths, a bakery, is manned by a boy with the most infectious, improbable smile. I find myself buying a lot of pastry on Thursdays all of a sudden. *ahem*

Someone please remind this story that it's supposed to be the easy project. It's gone all fine-grained and finicky and puzzleboxy on me, and I just spent my whole evening assembling it with tweezers, word by word, through a microscope on 40x magnification.

(You know when I've gone to new metaphors for the writing process that there's trouble at the old homestead.)

In other, non-complaining news: audio reprint sale! "The Parable of the Shower" is going to appear in a future Podcastle. Having read this one live a few times myself, I will now extend my deepest sympathies to whoever gets assigned to read the second-person, present tense, language-of-the-King-James-Bible smack-talking angel story. And I will let you all know when it's up.
August 24, 2011 Progress Notes:

"Shine a Light"

Words today: 300.
Words total: 550.
Reason for stopping: Getting sleeeepy.

Darling du Jour: Ismat and Zain are cousins. They have the same fine hands. Neither of them has lost a finger yet. Their hands are too important to the rest of us.

Mean Things: Cutting people's fingers off. A certain lack of mobility.
Research Roundup: Popular Sri Lankan names; chestnut varieties in Toronto.

Books in progress: Catherine Bush, The Rules of Engagement.
The glamour: There is all the thunderstorm in the world tonight. It's been going for over two hours. Also, I think I recreated Bird's Custard, but with real food instead of cornstarch and crap.

That clear, lucid, clean horror-fiction prose? It's hard.

I have a lot of things to say right now -- about politics, about friendships, about grief and inspiration and a lot more -- but they haven't quite organized themselves verbally just yet. There may be essays pending, or fiction, or hectic action. There may not. Stay tuned.
leahbobet: (gardening)
June 29, 2011 Progress Notes:

"On Roadstead Farm"

Words today: 200.
Words total: 3200.
Reason for stopping: It's almost one in the morning, and it is a work night. A little is better than nothing.

Darling du Jour: The cistern hugged it like a newborn rabbit nestling against the light, a small tower built of scavenged tin and our Papa's own ingenuity.
Words Hallie Won't Admit to Knowing: Nothing today, actually.

Mean Things: A touch of the ol' PTSD. And maybe I'm being mean to fantasy tropes too, but I don't think we can disagree with that.
Research Roundup: A few more basic German words; the texture of hulled barley, for which I will probably just have to go to the health food store and pet barley.

Books in progress: Darren O'Donnell, Your Secrets Sleep With Me.
The glamour: Farmshare! An invitation to cool secret back-alley Shakespeare! And then a walk down to Kensington with Dr. My Roommate, because it was nice out and she needed stuff for stew. My feet have some glamorous blisters.

I think I am internalizing my editor.

Me: *typitytypity* That's a nice phrase.
Also Me: What's that mean, though? How's a soldier's sunburn different from a farmer's sunburn?
Me: Um.
Also Me: Most of these dudes were farmers anyway before they got scooped up to go to war.
Me: *attempts to find convoluted logic to justify pretty phrase*
Also Me: That's a lot of gymnastics, and it isn't working.
Me: It's pretty.
Also Me: I know.
Me: I could just leave it there, and screw the logic. I've gotten away with that before.
Also Me: Some editor will just call you on it. Actually, you know which one. She lives in New York.
Me: And then I could delay this decision until she does!
Also Me: You'd still have to fix it. Just fix it now.
Me: No, I could say "Too bad with your logic" and keep it.
Also Me: You'd also be wrong.
Me: Damn.

Moral of the day: It's the same damn sunburn. And this is what having a novel go through the professional editing process does to you.
August 14, 2007 Progress Notes:

The Patron Saint of Nothing

Words today: 900.
Words total: 36,300 MS Word.
Reason for stopping: Out of words for now.
Liquid Refreshment: Stash lemon blossom iced tea.
Munchies: Tuna casserole.
Exercise: None.
Mail: An envelope with a purple question mark on it that was from some dating service. I feel that envelopes with purple question marks on them should be from The Riddler.

Darling du Jour: N/A.
Tyop du Jour: N/A
Words MS Word Doesn't Know: N/A

Mean Things: Case: Girlcooties! Ew!
Qara: Captivity, a boyfriend in shock, and a wet bum.
Research Roundup: N/A
Books in progress: Rudy Rucker, Postsingular; Chaz Brenchley, Bridge of Dreams.

The glamour: I don't even know why I tried this, but apparently the ear piercing holes that I haven't used in five years or so? Actually aren't closed. Tried it with a dull earring and they went through with only a little pop at the back.

I now have some silver ammonite-shell-spiral studs in them, as those are pretty much the only pair of earrings from my preteen years that I'd actually want on my person anymore. Apparently one is supposed to like hearts in one's ears at that age. And dangly hearts. And big silver dolphins. And hearts.

Must sort out what kind of earrings don't look like ass with my bone structure and acquire them.

So yes, back to work on this since we decided to have a working afternoon in chat. I think I've figured out what was actually going wrong here, which isn't ohmigod 35k in and there's no plot just setting aaaaah let's go hide now, but that I was setting up too much plot. I can't have four different major endpoint goals in four different directions. Maybe two. Focus, people! *whipcrack*

I wonder if this is another place where novels built on Cool Shit(tm) fall down: in the beginning in terms of engaging the reader with character and not just place, and in the middle with...failing to focus all that free-floating Cool Shit into something that makes a coherent and causal narrative.
I am linking this because it has fascinated me this morning: a blog proprietor and his friends discussing possible meanings and motivations for the end of "Three Days and Nights in Lord Darkdrake's Hall".

(Okay, partially I want to demonstrate that same I WATCH YOUR INTERNETS FROM THE SKY thing that [livejournal.com profile] matociquala does, but the gentleman in question posted about the conversation in the SH reader forums, which are part of my daily internet rounds, so I can't really take credit for this one.)

For those who haven't read the story* it turns on a bit of dialogue that recurs middle to end. Why this spied-on conversation fascinates me is while pretty much everyone there is on the trail of what that turn means, all kinds of motives get pulled in for the author. There's suggestions made that I'm trying to show off some sort of deepness or profundity or mysteriousness, and that's why it's not coming together. When...well, I guess I just thought there were enough clues there to make the why of it obvious? Still obvious to me on rereading, but dude, I'm the person who wrote it. I can't see the insides of these things.

I'm now wondering if some of that story might still be lodged in my head (and never made it to the page), six months after publication. I never would have thought of it that way before.

Thank you, people on said blog, for letting me steal your perspective for a little while. :)

Back at Christmas, a couple of us had a conversation at a party about ego-surfing and why writers look up and read reviews of their stuff. One of my friends, who's more in the nonfiction end of things these days, chalked it up somewhat scornfully as an ego thing. That we're praise-hungry little creatures needing our fix of validation.**

What a couple of us argued in return is that no, the STORY doesn't actually really exist until we know it's made contact with readers. Until someone's talking about and around and through it in some corner of wherever, adding in the reader's fifty percent. Then it's a real story, when it's reacted to.

Hopefully that goes some way to explaining why I think this is the COOLEST THING EVER to have found this morning.

Real story! Real story! Doesn't matter if it's not necessarily the one I thought I wrote!

*No, I don't actually expect that everyone who reads this journal has read my entire body of work. I don't even know that some of you even read the journal. :p

**Situationally, this can be quite true.
After a truly brutal workday yesterday that 1) went 12 hours, 2) ended with shanghai noodles and a flop in bed, and 3) had me still dizzy and shaky and with swollen feet this morning at 8:30, when my day started again...

I am so glad I didn't wimp out on my committed-to evening at the convention bar and stay home and introvert like the lizardbrain wanted.

So glad.

Because now I am tipsy and helped do a good thing and have learned a large something about publishing, part of which is that I know less about publishing than I thought. Which is learning something about publishing.

It's like a skill jump. Honest. You start that process of getting better by beginning to see that next horizon.

Well, then. We march.

(to bed.)
Spurred by a chatroom conversation on this interesting discussion from Matthew Cheney, I'm interested in your provenance as a reader. What did you start out reading? Which of those authors did you keep, and which discard? Which authors are you reading now?

And, well...why?

I'll start. (and so has [livejournal.com profile] sosostris2012, here)

The list goes ever on and on... )

There are patterns here. At some point around high school, my reading window broadened, I jettisoned a bunch of things I'd been reading since early childhood, and I settled comfortably into a steady diet of fairy tales and hard science fiction. And there are more common elements to those two genres than you'd think: they're both very concerned with the application of fictional (dare I say allegorical, sometimes?) concept to real life, they're both quite grim at times, and they're both...highly structured without being formulaic. They also both have enough of a tradition behind them that they can be subverted within their own text, which is harder to do with high fantasy.

If this partial list can be believed, I read for structure. I read for character, and I read for prose style. I read to know things I didn't before about people and how we work, and I read for shiny ideas, and sensawunda, and rigorous plot logic, and thematic resonance. None of these things are mutually exclusive.

How were your reading habits formed? When? What results in your own data surprised you?

Consider yourselves all tagged.

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