I can do without days like this one. What I know to try when a computer disputes me is pathetic, but it does take a little while to run through. Rather like running through my pathetic repertoire of things to try to make hellhounds eat. Also, there’s the adrenaline factor. Crashing off the internet when you’re trying to organise and then post your nightly blog provokes a rather substantial fury spike, which is slow to drain away again.*
Especially when hellhounds decide not to eat their supper.
At least there weren’t any bats.
I’m still very, very short of sleep and very, very, VERY grateful that I HAVE PHOTOS FOR TONIGHT. These are Vikki’s; I’ll put some of Cathy’s up tomorrow.
The Nice Man had asked me if I’d do a reading or a Q&A or a presentation of any kind and I said that I’d be happy to do a Q&A as a lead in to the getting out of the favourite fountain pen. The very first question was whether I was going to write a sequel to SUNSHINE. I’m out of practise. I did not immediately laugh lightly and answer some other question, which is what, when I’m in practise, I do, when someone says something punishable by instant death. I could hear the Blog Contingent going very still on the other side of the audience** and then Ajlr, BLESSHERATHOUSANDTIMES, not only asked a question, but asked an interesting question about what it’s like being a writer writing about a lot of different imaginary countries, and do they feel different–the answer to which is yes, they do. I dream about them, and I always know which one I’m in before I see the pegasus or the sashed, bridleless riders or the guy with the long teeth.
I was sufficiently unnerved by Question One that I spent most of the rest of the evening talking to the floor. This is something else I’m better at not doing when I’m in practise being an author in public. Make eye contact! I don’t want to make eye contact!
A very nice poster. Although there may be something just a little bit WRONG with the top line.
Cathy got a more comprehensive shot of it which I’ll post tomorrow. And I apologise for my look of total disbelief, but . . .
One intrepid photographer and one smiling bull terrier. Oh . . . well, the last time I saw that pink feather boa a bull terrier was wearing it.***
And book. And chocolate.# And a lovely pink knitted bag courtesy Mrs Redboots. The cables are bits of (ringing methods) Kent and Cambridge. Cathy and I were trying to figure out which was which. This should be embarrassingly easy, but somehow it isn’t, when it’s pink knitting.
That’s asssssembly line. At the end I signed all the stock that was left.## The Nice Man pulled it off the table in stacks, opened each to the title page, I scrawled, and my official Penguin minder was waiting to slap on the ‘signed by the author’ sticker### and put the completed trophy in the book cart.
More photos tomorrow. I’m going to bed. But first let me just say THANK YOU VERY MUCH to everyone who came to Forbidden Planet last night and bought book(s), both blog readers and–er–non-blog-readers, and friends and readers known and unknown, and who generally made this not one of those occasions when I go home declaring I’m giving up this writing scam and getting a job stocking shelves at Sainsbury’s. It was good energy last night, you guys. Thanks.
* * *
* It turns out to have been the exchange. It was peculiar that both Peter and I were off the air—we’re at opposite ends of this tiny town but we’re also on different servers. I did of course ring Computer Men today, who were booked solid, it being a Friday and all, but being angelic, one might almost say seraphic, as they are^, Raphael did his remote-meddling trick after I’d wasted forty-five minutes on the phone to my server who clearly had no more clue than I did.^^ Meanwhile I’d gone off for my Friday cup of t—I mean, my music lesson, with Oisin, and he was off the air too. He was busy swearing at his server^^^ who did, however, have more of a clue than mine did, and then BT finally got its finger out, and Raphael twisted the pipe cleaners back together and . . .
^ Hey. I wonder if either of them sings?
^^ When I rang Raphael back he was positively testy. He rarely gets testy, except when other computer professionals are being morons.
^^^ Relatively speaking. Oisin does not swear the way I swear. You can still hear what he’s not saying.
** As one of them commented drily later, Not a blog reader.
*** Anyone who came to my last London signing will remember this clearly. PS: Her t shirt says Doctor Pooh.
# Several people gave me chocolate. I have no idea why.
## One of the things Forbidden Planet gets enormous points from this author for is that they made a real effort to rake in a good selection of my backlist. This is good anyway and enormously in their favour when I’m mostly as rare as hen’s teeth and reliably eating hellhounds over here. And it’s a good thing, not a bad thing, that they had a lot of stock left over to sign. It means they think they can sell it.^ I hope they’re right.
^ They do have several stores to share the burden.
### Very carefully designed to have glue that peels OFF again.
I can’t decide whether I’m glad that a literary tentacle has slithered away from the slimy, bulgy-eyed, axe-wielding main body of horror back in my cringing, hiding-under-the-bed direction—or not. As someone who pretty well grew up rereading DRACULA and HP Lovecraft and DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE and Edgar Allan Poe and SOME OF YOUR BLOOD and Shirley Jackson** clearly I must like being creeped out of my skin. Possibly I’ve fallen out of the habit—or got old, of course.*** I’ve said many times that getting-on-for-ten-years-ago when I wrote SUNSHINE, while I wrote it because it wanted me to write it, I was also aware of writing it for people like me: who grew up reading DRACULA but were merely grossed out by the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE style of horror, which seemed to have taken over there for a while. But as I was being kept awake by the following two books it did cross my mind once or twice to wonder if I was really having such a good time. Or not.† The fact that I was choosing to be kept awake through the (remains of the) dark hours due to certain airborne wildlife in my immediate vicinity†† may have something to do with my fragile state of mind however.
LONG LANKIN is Lindsey Barraclough’s first novel.††† Cora and her little sister Mimi have been sent down from London to stay with their great-aunt who lives alone in a large, ramshackle—and haunted—house beyond the outskirts of a little village.‡ It’s the 1950s, and post-war austerity hung on a long time in Britain; electricity is patchy, not everyone has a telephone, and there’s a lot of make do and mend. Cora and Mimi’s great-aunt is spectacularly not pleased to see them, and orders them to go straight back to London, but they can’t. They were dumped unceremoniously by the man who brought them, resentfully doing a favour for their father; and their feckless father has dumped them on his wife’s aunt because his wife has left him and he has no idea what to do with his daughters. Cora is a tough London girl and determined to be ready for and equal to anything—and to protect her little sister. But she’s out of her depth. She wishes they could go back to London—especially when she starts hearing ghostly voices and unravelling the story of Long Lankin, and comes to understand that the reason their aunt is so unwelcoming is because she’s afraid something awful will happen to Mimi—the same awful thing that has happened to many other little children over the centuries, including members of their own family.
The best haunts are embedded in recognisable reality, and much of the pleasure of this book is in the background; Barraclough is extremely good about the reality of children.‡‡ Mimi wets the bed she shares with Cora because she’s afraid of the dark in her aunt’s house, and she has a disgusting toy named Sid, which Cora describes as ‘her knitted thing’. Cora makes friends with Roger, a boy from the village, who is curious about Cora’s aunt and her haunted house—and the church that belongs to the old house, which is even more haunted, and which every child in the village has been forbidden to go anywhere near—and which has ‘cave bestiam’ cut into the wooden arch of its lychgate. Roger is one of five children, and his offhand tales of home life are funny and distressingly vivid: ‘Our house is specially noisy on Mondays because Mum does the washing. The whole place smells of Baby Pamela’s nappies boiling in the big pan on the gas stove. . . . The other annoying thing about going home is that Pete and I have had a row because I trod on one of his soldiers and broke its leg off, and he’ll be hopping mad because I’ve sneaked off and left him to do the wringer on his own.’ It’s out of this kind of ordinary reality that the confrontation with the ancient evil that is Long Lankin gruesomely emerges—let me suggest that you plan to read the last hundred pages all in one go.
CHIME by Franny Billingsley came out last March. Someone sent me the ARC months ago and I put it on the pile. And then one day I took it off the pile and read the first page:
‘I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.
‘Now, if you please.
‘I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories—the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp.
‘How can you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.
‘I know you believe you’re giving me a chance—or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again. . . .’
Eeeep. I’m afraid I put CHIME down again. I finally braced myself to give it a proper try and . . . it’s lovely. Creepy, but lovely. It’s really good. And that line ‘the gulp and swallow of the swamp’? Billingsley is another very, very stylish writer, although of an entirely different sort than Barraclough; it’s not the ordinary reality that draws you into CHIME but the extraordinary reality: ‘The earth tilted beneath my feet. . . . The second sight was coming upon me. Not the ordinary sort of second sight, the sort that links me to the Old Ones. . . .
‘The sort that, only three days ago, linked me to the skull of Death.
‘The world shook herself like a dog. She tried to fling me off, but I clung to the nearest gravestone. This sort of second sight is never roses and moonbeams, but death and blood and the smell of fear.
‘From the grave beneath came a little voice. “’Twere the Boggy Mun what sent the cough what took me.”. . . .
‘“The Boggy Mun,” said a second child from the next-door grave. . . .
‘The earth tried to scratch me off, like a flea. “Took me, and the baby too,” said a third. . . .
‘“And now we be asking you for help, girl what can hear ghosts. . . .”
This is the first Billingsley I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. I’d heard of her WELL-WISHED, heard that it was excellent but . . . well, hadn’t got round to it yet. I will now. ‡‡‡
* * *
* And permit me to remind you that Tessa Gratton’s excellent BLOOD MAGIC came out in April. http://robinmckinleysblog.com/index.php?s=Tessa+Gratton
** I never loved FRANKENSTEIN for some reason, and I didn’t discover (the sublime, the supreme) M R James till I was almost a grown-up.
*** One of the advantages of getting old—and you take your advantages where you can find ’em, say I—is being able to blame it for stuff. I’ve always been cranky, but nobody expects me to outgrow it any more. Mwa hahahaha.
† I had exactly the same reaction to the denouement of BLOOD MAGIC. I am a snivelling wet. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.
†† You’re supposed to be outdoors eating bugs. Go away.
††† The ‘about the author’ says she was a music teacher. I’m looking forward to whatever she’s going to do next anyway, but I’m especially looking forward to it if she’s going to blow up another scary old ballad like Long Lankin.
‡ I think it’s Essex, but geography has never been my strong suit. It’s out the Thames estuary, at any rate, and there are marshes. Marshes are made to be haunted, especially English marshes.
‡‡ ‘About the author’ also says she has five of her own. She has good reason to know kids.
‡‡‡ And CHIME just won an Honor in the Boston Globe-Horn Book 2011 Awards list: http://readroger.hbook.com/2011/06/2011-boston-globe-horn-book-awards.html Congratulations!
Because I am a MORON—also because I don’t keep track even when I should and mean to, and furthermore this time of year my head is full of roses, but chiefly because I’m a moron—I’ve managed to miss that Melissa Marr’s GRAVEMINDER came out . . . um . . . well, I hope it was recently.* My attention was finally caught when I was half-attentively scrabbling through old tweets and saw that Melissa** herself had posted that USA TODAY had liked GRAVEMINDER. Woohoo Melissa!
I read it a while ago, when it was still only in pages. In my slow elderly way I don’t get the business about creating ‘buzz’ by blogging and reviewing and talking about a book long before pub date, so unless I have a publicist nagging me I will probably wait till the book’s available and I can tell you that you should check it out. The problem with that system is the likelihood that I will forget. . . .
You can read a plot summary and cover fluff on line, as well as some very nice reviews, both blog and (gasp!) other media. What’s important to me is that Melissa’s gift for ordinary people shines in this book too. There isn’t anyone out there who doesn’t know her WICKED LOVELY series, is there?† One of the pleasures of it is that ordinary-people-rising-to-extraordinary-circumstances thing that I’m so fond of, both as a reader and a writer. †† GRAVEMINDER is very different from WICKED LOVELY, but its main characters have a not-dissimilar ordinary familiar reality to them†††—including an obstinate determination to remain ordinary when they clearly are nothing of the kind. Part of the way Marr’s books draw you in is that sense that these are people you might know, who might live down the street from you. You might even be one yourself. Eeep.
Big eeep in this case. Byron has long known what is ahead of him; Bek ran away from finding out what was ahead of her. But she comes back to Claysville when her grandmother dies, her grandmother who used to attend all—repeat, all—the funerals in town, and perform an odd little ritual: three sips from a silver flask and the words: Sleep well, and stay where I put you. Another of the pleasures of Marr’s stories is her feel for folklore: I totally believe in something called a graveminder, and who must, as part of her job description, attend all the funerals in her town, take three sips from a flask and say these particular words.
This is a horror novel, of course‡: the dead walk, and do horrible things, the way the walking dead usually do. But it’s an old-fashioned horror novel—I say that cheering and waving banners—in that the horrors are in the atmosphere, in what isn’t told, in the aftermath of those untold horrors—in the choices that the characters have to make—in the choices the characters have taken away from them. I’ve said often enough that I don’t do graphic horror—it squicks me out—I find it both gross and boring. But GRAVEMINDER is a page-turner—the kind of sneaky, understated creepy that gets you by the ankle and won’t let you go. There are a lot of best frisson bits: the chief ‘villain’ is probably my favourite of these, and one scene involving her is one of the most macabre I’ve read anywhere—while not really telling you a thing. Also, her part in the denouement is . . . splendid. Icky and splendid.
I think there are rumours of a sequel?, although with my standard flimsy Google-fu I’m failing to find anything I can provide a link to.‡‡ There is certainly plenty in this story Marr could go on with, if she (or the story) is so, ahem, minded. I think I read GRAVEMINDER before it was final-final-final; there may be more (or fewer) loose ends in the finished book. I plan to reread it and find out.
* * *
*Very slightly in my defense, it’s apparently not available over here yet. The Book Depository is supposed to tell me when I can buy it, and when I checked today they seem to be saying the hardback passed silently and invisibly through availability a week or two ago and may or may not be obtainable again some time in this dimension, and the paperback is coming out in July. I am in this case going to attempt to hold out for the hardback which from what my computer screen is telling me has a killer cover
Although the paperback looks pretty cool too
** Yes, I even follow her on Twitter and I still hadn’t noticed. Twitter is a little . . . overwhelming, you know? I only follow 40-odd people, places and things and I still can’t keep up.^ And the real people tend to get lost among the I-should-be-paying-attention-but-I-don’t-want-to stuff from all the what’s-happening-in-publishing sites.
^ I can’t even begin to imagine what the people who are following 100s or even 1000s of other twitterers are getting out of it. And how they’re getting anything out of it at all, except stress saturation.
*** It’s an unnecessarily weird photo though. Try
† I admit I haven’t finished it, but that’s because it’s fallen into the Saving For Later category. I’m both a slow reader and someone who likes to look forward to something she’s going to enjoy. Also coming to the end of a complex, engrossing series is sad. Then there won’t be anything to do but read it again! —Plus my slight cowardly fear that she may not do absolutely everything the way I want her to^ and I’ll come to the end of DARKEST MERCY going noooooooo! I mean, it’s not the most reassuring title, is it?
^ I do love reading other writers’ calm, gentle, polite rebuffs to importunate readers. I often wonder if it costs them anything, the calm, gentle, polite thing. But it is reassuring that other writers have importunate readers too.
†† We’re all kings, queens, pegasi and dragons really.^
^ If you’re a vampire, don’t tell me about it.
††† It’s being billed as ‘Melissa Marr’s first adult novel’. Yaaaaaawn. Okay, the main characters are out of school and earning a living but—so? Teenagers will read GRAVEMINDER and adults are reading WICKED LOVELY. Let’s all take a deep breath and read what we want to read.
‡ Well, it’s an ‘of course’ to me. Those more learned in genre may disagree.
‡‡ Here we go.
Give up and be looking for something else and then you’ll find it.
A pleasing degree of chemically-enhanced hilarity has been successfully achieved, and what a good thing I have something to hang a blog post on.*
Speaking of physical aspects of heroines, I’ve always found it interesting that so many have very long hair–which is to say, Harry and Aerin do.
::Cringes with embarrassment:: Yes, I’m afraid so. Harry in particular has ankle-length hair, as I recall. Good frelling doodah grief. I was very young when I wrote that, and I even knew I was being a trifle self indulgent. That’s one of the things I would change, if I could—I don’t mean literally could, I don’t know if my publisher would let me or not, but You Don’t Mess With Stories, even your own, once they’ve gone out into the world and developed their own life without you. Without a really powerful reason, and authorial embarrassment isn’t powerful enough.
And I will identify EMoon as saying this:
Characters need to be the size they are, whatever that is and I’m of the “not too much description please” persuasion. But readers vary widely in what they want/like/will stand for in physical description (I’ve had people ask plaintively why there’s not more, much more.)
. . . Because I want to agree. Strongly and vociferously. Characters are the size that they are. And I too get the complaints about not enough physical description—and I also get people who want to argue with me about what this or that character looks like. That’s fine, honey, if he or she looks like that to you. But it’s not in the book.
I’ve been picturing Jake as Latino. But I did get that he wasn’t all white.
Um. Latino is white. It’s a different ethnic from Anglo-Saxon, but it’s still white. And Jake’s dad’s name is Mendoza, so yes, he’s Latino—he’s, you know, recognisably ethnic. Pause for groaning, since of course we’re all some kind of ethnic, including the Anglo-Saxon uber-nonsense. I briefly tried—speaking of characters being what they are, and not what you make them—making Jake’s dad the one who was part black, thinking I could work in some physical description when he and Jake are having one of their rows . . . but it didn’t work. Forcing stuff on your characters never does. The nearest I got was that Jake had a photo of his mum that he used to talk to, but that’s one of the bits that was left on the cutting room floor.
I personally have always had it very clear in my head that Harry was definitely tall–and as a short person myself, left to my own devices, I will make heroines shorter, if their height isn’t absolutely necessary.
Yes. This is a kind of summing-up of what I’ve been blundering around saying in too many words. What is necessary needs to be in the story—the rest is and should be up to the reader. That’s how the characters go live for that reader. And I haven’t got a problem with readers lying to themselves a little to make a character more what they want them to be. I do it myself. What—as an author—I do object to is when readers insist on their version as the One True Version.** There aren’t that many one true versions in any aspect of life . . . but that’s another rant for another day.
One of the things I loved about reading “Sunshine,” for instance, was how amazingly little description there is for Sunshine, at least in the classic terms. We have a few side-ways descriptions (like Pat telling Sunshine how he’d described her for the desk assistant), but there isn’t a lot of the usual physical list and detail. And it left so much more for me to just allow form naturally, rather than trying to “force” an image to appear with all the “right” description. It’s not to say that my image of Sunshine isn’t clear enough that I could probably describe her like a friend I see often, it’s just that most of it is made up out of my own head, and I rather enjoy that.
Sorry. Brief pause for authorial purring. Mmmmmmmmm.
Then again, another thing I like about the McKinley heroines (and heroes!) is that they’re so rarely ever stunningly beautiful creatures, or at least not beautiful because of their “raven black hair, and emerald green eyes.”
I find the habitually beautiful stock character type a total and complete snore. But speaking of necessary, Beauty in ROSE DAUGHTER has to be beautiful; it’s part of the story. So does Lissar in DEERSKIN. That nonetheless didn’t stop various readers—including one famous author/critic who I’m still mad at—from slamming the latter book because I’d sold out my audience, blah blah blah blah, by reverting to the ‘beautiful heroine’ trope. READ THE STORY I WROTE AND NOT THE ONE YOU WANTED TO READ.*** Arrrrrrrgh. Although people mostly hate me for the end of Part One of DEERSKIN. I was even braced for this and it still surprised me. What? You think awful stuff doesn’t happen? Oh, my bad, awful stuff isn’t supposed to happen in a fairy-tale fantasy . . . at least not a Robin McKinley fairy-tale fantasy. Grrrrrrrrrr. It amazes me the permission some people give themselves to blame and be abusive. And that’s not even touching my major rant about DEERSKIN, which is about the people who tell me in outrage that I’ve RUINED my heroine, that she is RUINED . . . hey, great, you guys, please get on the next rocketship to Alpha Centauri and don’t hang around on this planet making it harder for people who have awful stuff to get over to get on with their lives. . . .
DEERSKIN isn’t for everyone. No book is for everyone. And that’s fine. I just wish a few more people would remember that their personal opinion is their personal opinion and not the latest delivery from Mt Sinai.
Over-description narrows the imagination.
I’m tall enough that it’s the sort of thing that people comment on. I never forget how tall I am (since if you’re a woman I am probably looking at the top of your head), so when Sunshine didn’t have that awareness, I figured she was probably somewhere around average height. I was a little disappointed
You realise that remarks like this are what drive authors to drink, or to getting jobs as warehouse technicians.† We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t write all stories for all readers; we can’t make perfect matches between readers and stories. We can only do the best we can by the stories the Story Council sends us. I can’t write enough tall characters to suit everyone who wants tall characters, and I can’t write enough short characters for people who want short characters. †† Which is kind of where we all came in, since this conversation began with me tearing my hair over an email from a reader who claimed that most of my heroines were too short.
I wanted to grow up to be Harry or Aerin or Cecily or Rosie or Sunshine or Mirasol or Sylvi. Life, that freller, is disappointing. But at least we do have stories.
* * *
* . . . having also been awakened by the phone two hours before my alarm was due to go off. Moan. However, the need to appear sane and coherent to a superfluous in law whose chief impression of me is that I’m American and another of these peculiar writer people^ woke me up so thoroughly there was no chance of getting back to sleep. Which at least meant hellhounds had a nice hurtle before the arrival of Computer Archangel Raphael. Who says there’s at least a month’s wait for an iPad 2. There are two iPad 1s among our visiting houseful.^^ They are hideously desirable. It’s going to be a long month.
^ Couldn’t Peter have married an office manager or a mechanic or something?
^^ We were playing Scrabble on one of them at dinner around the glasses of champagne. Fortunately we were playing in teams, so I could just say, mm hmm, good idea, occasionally. I am terrible at Scrabble.
** This kind of thing leads to trashing a book for not being the book that reader wanted at that moment, or expected from that writer, and never mind what the book is. Hell has a whole special subdivision dedicated to the permanent containment of these people. The only reading material found anywhere in its smoking ravines is the backs of cereal boxes. For eternity. Old cereal boxes. This infernal area is however shared with the people who read books wrong and trash them for what these readers thought they read.
*** See previous footnote. Did I mention the sharpened stakes in the bottoms of the smoking ravines?
† Or office managers. Or mechanics.
†† Or red-haired characters, or not red-haired characters; or fat characters—I get kind of a lot of mail from women who are offended that I don’t seem to have written any heroines with weight problems; or boys, or not boys: opinions are divided on Jake, either I’m such a genderist and it’s about time or I’ve sold out my (female) audience again; and I get a lot of mail from people who feel there should be more kissing. Visible, centre-stage kissing. Which is pretty well balanced by the people who are mortally offended by the kinky almost-sex in SUNSHINE. . . .
I’m not listening, you know. I only listen to the story. I can only listen to the story. This kind of thing is just the fire-ants a malign fate is tipping down your collar while you’re trying to work.
More about the writer’s view.*
Reviews…I have spent 20+ years not growing the thick skin it’s said you must grow.
Well that’s at least two of us then. I gave up: I’m not going to grow the thick skin, so I concentrate on the evasive manoeuvres. These writers who compulsively read their amazon and Goodreads reviews are another species.
I don’t read them, or hardly ever. Editor sent me one last week which she said was “mostly favorable” but which to me was one slice after another. (The favorable bits go right past me; the negative bits, however small, are shrapnel in the heart.)
Yep. Me too. Ms Fancies Her Keen Critical Faculties in THE ONLY BOOK REVIEW THAT COUNTS said that the relationship between Sylvi and Ebon was touching and poignant? She did? All I remember is that she said that Fthoom was boring, the pegasi implausible, and there should be an elephant stampede to add interest.
You need to train your editor better. Mine, poor woman, checks with Merrilee even if a review has three stars and the only adjectives are ‘brilliant’, ‘amazing’ and ‘irresistible’.
I am very much the same way about the story [as I’ve been describing it]…it exists already and I’m just writing it. Sometimes it hides under the couch, or wants to play silly games with me, but if I can hold the focus (in spite of everything else going on and my own undisciplined mind) it’s there, as it is, and no amount of “Why don’t you just…?” or “Shouldn’t you do this other…?” or “Change this!” works. That’s their story, not my story…the story that came to me and tickled the inside of my head, and then poked me in the ribs and finally grabbed something painful and twisted and said “Write me. Write me NOW.”
Yes. We could compare scars some day. Here’s the one where Gulp whapped me up longside the head. Here’s the one where the pre-faenorn Master of Willowlands tapped me on the shoulder. Here’s the one where one of the Beasts held me over a bottomless ravine by one ankle. Here’s the one where Woodwold’s floor jumped under my feet, knocked me down, and rained plaster on me.
God knows I would like to be a better writer.
Yes, but you have to want to be better. Wildly. Yearningly. You have to want to be a better writer like you have to write, I think. If you lose the hopeless despair I think you also lose your edge.
More like A in handling this, more like B in handling that, and OMG how does C do that thing C does, that rips my heart out even on a fifth reading?
Yes. And you think, it’s just words. How do they do it with just words? Words are the most powerful things on the planet . . . except when they’re coming to mortar dust and broken eggshells in your hands.
I read better writers than I am, I read them silently and aloud, hoping the magic will rub off, but my stories are stuck with me, the imperfect.
Which is the little light in the hopeless despair. The story came to you.
Like the kid in the corner of the studio with Michelangelo, struggling to outline just one acanthus leaf on a scrap of stone, and watching with wondering eyes the David emerge from marble…
Frivolous note from an evil cow: I don’t like Michelangelo’s David. You can add it to my list of sins. Which just got one shorter, since JS Bach has moved to my ‘angels’ list. I nonetheless take your point.
I will never be there…but at least I’m trying to serve my story, as it came to me and wanted to be told.
Yes. The thing to hang onto at 3 or 7 o’clock in the morning, with your hands full of dust and grit, or even 3 in the afternoon or 7 in the evening. The story came to you.
Which sounds all gooey
I dunno about gooey. Pretentious, maybe. But big scary important true things have a nasty habit of sounding pretentious. We also both write genre stories, which as we all know are entirely enshrouded in cooties, like a kind of armour, so we’re being doubly pretentious having pretentions at all. But I’ve long been a believer in the spectacular power of good trash.** So here’s to us. And pffft to the snobs. In fact, pfffft.
or something but it’s how it seems…the stories wait for me, a row of them, ever more shadowy and vague the longer it will be before I get to them, but they exist on their own…alone until I can write them and let them find their readers.
Yup. You got it. For me too. Although I could wish the queue was a little more orderly, and things didn’t keep jumping out of it, rushing up to me, whispering in my ear, and then running away again giggling madly. And playing leapfrog*** with their neighbours.
* * *
* Remember that I write these entries after I’ve pretty much tapped myself out on the articulate sentence front and have tapped myself out on the possibility of coherent thought for the rest of the day. But at least one thing I should have made clear last night: I do understand about wanting to wait till a concluding book is out before you read the first one or ones—I don’t mean what I would call a proper series like (say) Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files—but the ones like LOTR or, pardon me, PEGASUS, which are all the same story whacked up in pieces. I haven’t got a problem with the decision to wait.^ I’ve been known to wait myself.^^ What I’m objecting to is people who seem to think either the waiting or the publishing in separate volumes is legitimate grounds for complaint to the author.
I think it’s another form of Othering. Of which there are multitudes. I suppose it all still comes back to the tribe thing: we’re hardwired to believe in us and them, to believe our tribe is significantly different from your tribe—and we’re probably far superior and therefore have the right to tell you what to do. I think evolution could get a move on this one soon. It’s not doing us any good, now that sabertoothed-tigers in the neighbourhood are not a big issue.
And then there’s atavistic Othering. I had an email from a pregnant friend yesterday who is beginning to show, and is suffering a kind of boggled astonishment that is familiar to me as a recipient of reader responses. How can someone possibly think it’s okay to pat the pregnant belly of a stranger? she says. —Probably because the hippocampus still auto-fires at the sight of someone contributing to perpetuation of the species. But how can someone think it’s okay to rush up to a total stranger, give them a passionate hug and tell them that you are twin souls? I don’t think we can blame the hippocampus for that one.
And speaking of twins, my friend added: And how can someone possibly think it’s nice/friendly/acceptable/polite to say, are you expecting TWINS? You’re HUGE. I’ve NEVER SEEN anyone so HUGE. —Yes. It’s somewhat similar to the people who write me to say, why is SUNSHINE the only audiobook I can find? I don’t like that one. Or, why don’t you write another Damar novel? None of your other books are nearly as good. Or When is PEG II coming out?
^ So long as I can go on buying chicken for hellhounds. Which is a practical rather than a philosophical dilemma.
** I also had a long Twitter conversation with Richard Kadrey after I posted about SANDMAN SLIM, and he’s another one who believes in the power of trash. We’re out there and we’re dangerous.
^^ I was just discussing THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO with a friend. I think the second one was out before it really registered on my radar—I am not a dystopia person, so as soon as the d-word gets used I tend to be out of there—as something I probably do want to read.+ But then I started hearing about the major-eeep endings of both the first two and I thought, hmm, I can wait.++ The thing is that there are always lots of good books out there. You don’t have to read a cliffhanger if you don’t want to.
+ Yes. HUNGER GAMES is in the pile.
++ The third one is now out. And they’re all in the pile.
*** Leap gecko. Leap pegasus. Leap dragon. Leap . . . not unicorn.