Friday, February 26, 2010

Revisions completed!

I'm going to break the pattern I've been following slightly to throw in a writing update. I've been avoiding that because I don't want it to be the only focus here, but now and then, it's good to get a hint of that out.

Ever since nearly two years ago, I've had occasional posts here about the serial project I've been working on. I ended up breaking it down into thirteen 4k-5k-word episodes for the first season and then did the second (and at this point final) 13-episode season for NaNo last November.

Ever since the New Year, I've been focusing on revising the first 13 episodes. Revision...doesn't always come easily to me. I find it very easy to be distracted by new ideas. Copy-editing is easy, but when it comes to any deeper structural reworking, I tend to rationalize it away or procrastinate. So I think it's been good to force myself to immerse myself in revisions.

For the month of January I didn't write anything new, beyond little writing exercises, and when I started letting myself think about writing something new (without letting it overwhelm the revisions), it had become difficult to get into that mindset. I ended up taking one of those writing exercises from January and expanding it, and that's going well at last. It builds on the whaling stuff I mentioned a few of the inspiration posts.

Still, my focus is--and has to remain--on revisions. I have so much I've written that I like and believe in, but if I leave it rough, then it won't really do justice to the story. As of yesterday, though, I'm finished with the revisions on all of season 1. One more thing I thought of that I ought to read through and make sure everything is consistent, and I may decide to revisit them in a few more months, but if this were something I was sending to a publisher, it would be at the point where I'd consider it ready to go.

What do I plan to do with it, now it's done? I'll leave that for another time. For now, I'll end with the story teaser/info that I'd put in my NaNo profile while working on season 2:

In a city of beetle-drawn carriages and steam cars, dangerous factories and mysterious spire singers, a mad scientist's serum is infecting the poor and indigent with a sickness that turns them slowly into animals. A group of these infecteds struggles to make its way on the streets and dreams of turning the tables on the mad scientist.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

I enjoyed Lavie Tidhar's "The Language of the Whirlwind" this week. It's another post-apocalyptic story, but about as different from last week's choice as could be, within that context. This one is set in Tel-Aviv after a mysterious and inexplicable mountain appeared within the city and simultaneously the city is cut off from the outside world. It's the story of a priest of a new religion forming in response to the completely supernatural nature of these events. I sometimes wonder, with post-apocalyptic stories, if there's something a little too--how to put it?--trite or superficial with these stories of people surviving in a bleak landscape. This story has none of that. It's a rich story that's much more than gosh-wow images of an imagined future tragedy.

My focus in these blog posts has been on free online fiction in zines, but I also enjoyed this week finding Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Gambler." It appeared in the print anthology Fast Forward 2, but is available online as a sample of that anthology. I discovered it this week because it is nominated for a Nebula, and I've definitely enjoyed Paolo's work in the past.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Monkey and the Inkpot

Slate this morning has an article about the poisons the US government mandated in industrial alcohol during Prohibition, knowing full well that the result would be the deaths of the (primarily poorer) people who chose to drink alcohol.

It's a terrible part of our country's history.

Two things drew me into this article. First, it's forgotten history, something relatively recent, and yet little known. With all the romanticism behind bootleggers and speakeasies, I'd never heard any glimmer of this sad aspect of the era.

Second, it seems an odd sort of not-quite reflection of the conceit in the serial fiction project I've been working on, on and off, for almost two years. In that, there's an infection targeted at the city's poor, one that may or may not have its source in the city government, but at the least has the knowing support of parts of the council. Its effect, though, does not quite match what its inventor had hoped.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

I enjoyed T. F. Davenport's "The Motor, the Mirror, the Mind" this week. It's very much the kind of story I tend to like, with its strange setting of mind-boggling gyres and industrial trappings. The twists within it are well earned, and the story--though relatively long for an ezine--an engaging one. I think I would have liked to know more about the narrator sooner in the story, but besides that small complaint, I found this to be a good story.

My Chrome browser right now is overflowing with tabs of short stories I'm hoping to read, including some going back a few weeks that I started and thought sounded promising...but then haven't had a chance to get back to yet. So hopefully I'll have a good range of stories to choose from next week as well.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bar Book Club

I've just returned from our latest book club down at the bar. We were a small group tonight, but we enjoyed a good discussion.

Beer of choice: They still had the Bourbon-barrel Stout that I'd enjoyed so much last month, so I went with that once again.

Book: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

I enjoyed the book a lot. The others...not as much. It wouldn't be fair to say they all actively disliked it, but it wasn't as much to their tastes, I suppose. The book is full of Spanish slang, and you get the general gist without knowing the words, but a big part of my enjoyment was in the wordplay, that someone unfamiliar with Spanish wouldn't get. It's also full of references to SF & fantasy works, especially the kinds of works that would have inspired fanboy responses for someone growing up in the early 80s (late 70s maybe?). I had enough context to enjoy this a lot too, though in honesty much of it was unfamiliar to me--a lot of comic book stuff that I'm less familiar with, and I'm just enough younger than the protagonist that my frame of reference would have included very different works. Still, a very fun book--even in the most painful parts about the Trujillo atrocities, I always had a sense that the writer was having fun. Not at the expense of or disrespectful of those terrible events. In fact, it was an angry sort of fun at times, if that's possible, a dark humor. David James Duncan kind of fun (look down toward the end of that essay).

Our next book is undecided since the person who was going to bring books couldn't make it. We should know soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Inspiration

I mentioned last week that the nonfiction book I was reading wasn't thrilling me. The book is Avram Davidson's Adventures in Unhistory, a book I'd been looking forward to for awhile. The basic idea is that he explores various myths and tries to uncover the possible source or sources of various parts of the legend. The first chapter, for example, gives a convincing explanation about the way an odd behavior of various birds, called anting, may have ultimately led to certain parts of the phoenix legends. It's a fascinating and well researched investigation.

Why the ambivalence, then? Partly it's a factor of the book being almost twenty years old and so not being sure how well the arguments jive with more recent research. Partly it's that not all the legends (or their explanations) I found as engaging. And largely, though I feel bad saying this, it's Davidson's style. He was a well respected SF and fantasy writer, and maybe I'd have a different opinion if I'd read some of his fiction, but in this he comes across not only as a clever person, but as something who thinks himself enormously clever. Datedly clever at times, which doesn't help. I found it grating often.

But anyway, one that I did find inspiring was an essay on the origin of the myth of Hyperborea (the actual Greek myth, not the silly appropriation of the myth by some of Hitler's cronies). Far to the north of Greece, the myth goes, beyond the north wind there was a land with six months of day and six months of night, but it was a warm land.

Davidson's explanation of this myth I find fascinating: you see, amber can be found anywhere, but one of the biggest sources in the ancient world was the Baltic. Well north of Greece, note. In some of the amber that found its way down to Greece, they would have found tropical insects, scorpions, and plants, trapped within. Not knowing just how ancient the amber formed and the way the climate can change over such lengths of time, Davidson argues, it was a logical conclusion that somewhere beyond the north, cold lands known to the Greeks lay another where such warm-weather creatures and plants lived. Pretty cool, and well supported by many different references in ancient texts.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Short Fiction Tuesday

I've got a number of stories open in various tabs of Chrome at the moment, all of which have something in the opening that's piqued my interest. There are another couple that I've read this week and could mention here perhaps, but the one that really drew me in was K. J. Bishop's "The Heart of a Mouse." It's a weird one. New Weird? Old Weird? I don't know, but very much that imaginative, out-there kind of weird that appeals to me. It's post-apocalyptic, I suppose, but the apocalypse it follows isn't any of the usual suspects. Nothing nuclear, atomic, terrorist, plague, environmental... More of a Wonderland apocalypse, where everything's become surreal.

It's quite a long story, but definitely worth the time.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Inspiration

The nonfiction book I'm reading at the moment isn't really grabbing me. It's interesting at times...but it just isn't quite as, umm, engaging as I'd been expecting. So no real inspiration from that. There was a glimmer of something as I read this morning that reminded me of a story I started some years ago and abandoned, as if perhaps the information here might give me a good way to continue the story. If that's the case, as I keep reading this section of the book, then maybe I'll discuss that next week.

I did, however, just finish Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Behind the times, I know--it's been on my to-read list almost since it came out (definitely since before it was an Oprah book and before I'd heard any rumor of it being turned into a movie), and I just finally got around to getting my hands on a library copy. It, like the nonfiction book I'm reading, was one that I'd brought as possible book club books last week.

Others have said so much about the book (and movie) that I don't feel any need to add anything to general discussions about the book, but I guess what was inspiring was the voice. The spare, bleak tone fits the mood and storyline of the book so well--the way the man is just "the man" and the boy unnamed as well, the imagistic fragments of their journey. I think those of us who identify as genre writers and genre fans have a tendency to privilege so-called transparent prose in a way that can sometimes bleed writing of voice. McCarthy is not writing baroque, lush prose by any means, but he still creates his voice in a way that, well that I think we're often afraid of. I can certainly think of works firmly considered genre that break from that tendency and have strong, distinctive voices, but the shying away from such an approach seems to underlie many discussions on writer forums and reader forums.

So that's my nugget of inspiration this week--we talk of each writer having a unique voice, and that's true in a sense, but each work has its own voice as well, one that needs to work with the thematic and story elements to build the story into a cohesive whole.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Short Fiction...umm, Wednesday

I knew exactly what I was going to mention this week in short fiction, but then things snowballed last night and I ran out of time. So here, a bit late, are some comments on the short fiction I read this past week.

The main story I want to recommend is Kage Baker's "The Bohemian Astrobleme." I'd already had the story open in a tab of Chrome when I heard the news that Kage Baker died of cancer this weekend. So it seemed fitting to make sure I read the story right away. It's a story of a secret society of scientists investigating the source of a strange rock or meteorite origin. There's a...I was trying to put my finger on how to describe the tone of the story, and the best I can do right now is a certain distance to the voice, a quaint distance. Not like it's completely removed from the story, but a hint of a story recounted after the fact, perhaps in some drinking establishment for England's intellectuals. It makes for an entertaining story.

I also enjoyed the two-part Theordora Goss story "The Mad Scientist's Daughter," which concluded last week. Much of the fun was in the references to the famous stories (and the way this undermined them or tweaked our understanding of them). I did have to Google "Rappaccini's Daughter" (though once I did, I realized that I'd read that as well), and I wasn't able to identify Helen Raymond/Meyrinck. Anyone have any insight on what story she is pulled from?

Anyway, sorry I was late this week, but hopefully those stories are worth the wait.