Forward to July, 2003...
Comments: SFF Net newsgroup | Rumor Mill Topic | Night Shade Books Topic |
It's about time I gave a more exciting name to this journal than the wildly original and imaginative "What's New?" Had it this way since 1996, criminy.
So, it's VeraWorld for now.
Another long and excruciating week while I wait for things to be resolved at my part-time job (company merger blues and everyone's jobs up in the air) and the home mortgage refinance (just try explaining to a mortgage broker how freelance writing income works! Argh!).
When stress levels are that high, I am just incapable of writing. I know that for some people that works in reverse -- some of my friends write reams to escape the horrible stress of the "here and now" but I cannot do that. I need a modicum of stability in my life before I can submerge into inner dream-worlds. It's sort of like going to the pool and making sure your glasses and your towel and bag are safe before submerging -- you are so damn ready to go under and yet there's that weirdo eyeing your stuff on the bank and you just don't feel that you can let go just yet... That has been my state for weeks and months now.
And I still have the novella to finish -- argh!! And then there's the novel COBWEB BRIDE to get back to. And then... and then....
At least there were good news last Saturday, in the form of a reimbursement check from the ConJose worldcon programming folks. Thanks, I really needed that! MilPhil and ConJose paid up in the same month. :-)
I finished watching all the Buffy 4 Seasons and looks like Caroline Austin Hazen and I feel the same way about this show (except for the fact that I think Spike is totally my type). ;-)
And now I have been reading a little; just read ARCHANGEL by Sharon Shinn (really a standalone, though listed as book one of a loosely connected trilogy) which was overall a fast-paced good read, neat world-building premise (the pseudo-biblical resonance here is way neat, but it ultimately does not get a better behind-the scenes tech explanation, even in the following books of the series, I am told) even excellent and profound in places (loved the vocal and singing portions best, very spiritually uplifting moments; maybe because I am an operatic singer myself and I could really get into imagining some of this vocal wonder), but it fell flat ultimately because of minor "romance idiot plot" tendencies (the heroine Rachel was acting stupid a lot of the time and the explanation for her "issues" that the author gave was just not enough to justify her behavior. Felt sorry for how she treated the hero Gabriel. I am willing to accept all kinds of weird hangups and bizarreness and obnoxiousness in characters but it all better be for a damn good logical reason). Plus there was that specter of predictability that just haunted me all throughout. I could foresee every upcoming twist and turn (No, Rachel, do not go there, you will get caught by the bad guys, ouch, no, oh... and sure enough she was, etc.) and even when I derived pleasure from some of the best moments, it was still with a bit of sadness and a hollow sense of something missing. Supposedly this is the best book of her Samaria series (my first taste of Sharon Shinn's writing), and for that reason I probably will not bother with the rest, even though I enjoyed this one very much overall.
Which brings me to a mini-rant. I almost cannot be surprised by any book I read. Same goes for movies. (Example -- I was one of those people who guessed the "secret" in the movie The Sixth Sense in the second scene, argh!) I bet that many of you writers are the same. You've imagined all the possibilities. After a while, enjoyment for you is relegated mostly to the story journey itself, a matter of how well the predictable plot points are treated, not what will happen next. So what really impresses me is when the author manages to surprise me. Oh, how I live for such books or movies!
The flip side of this is that I usually tend to be pretty good at surprising my readers. *grin*
All right, I admit it.
I have a terrible crush on Spike and on James Marsters, the actor who plays him. :-)
Since the beginning of June I've gotten my hands on the DVDs of the first 4 Seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and have been gorging myself on this show, watching it on my computer's DVD drive. I hardly ever watch TV, and I have missed seeing Buffy over the many years it's been on -- saw maybe two or three episodes ever (that's where I first saw Spike and was immediately compelled) and I just hate not knowing what everyone is talking about and missing out on this phenomenon and the neat emotional arcs. But now I am making up for it in one month, in a speed-learning kind of way, like putting on a pop-culture speed-learning helmet and finally compensating for the not knowing part -- which brings me to the next topic...
I love what Kurtis Roth says in his 6-18-03 entry about "what editors want" versus "what the writer thinks is cool."
I hear you, Kurt. It is something that has been a personal demon with me for quite some time, for decades actually (yes, I have been writing that long), and only recently have I been able to let go -- not completely but at least by 95% -- of the obsession with trying to please editors and trying to write like the current crop of Cool Writers or SLWs (serious literary writers) as Kurt calls them. This is the main reason I keep saying emphatically that I do not belong in any movement or wave or whatnot (the claims made in my previous entry were drenched like a rumball in irony and reeking of sarcasm-spirit fumes). Yes, I feel like a Stodgy Rock or an Island in the Stream. I write what I want now, and only in the most minimal sense is it market-savy or even marketable. Some of it is, sure, and yes, I can still crank out some things to order.
But mostly, I don't. Gleefully, I don't (the glee took me a while to work up). For example, I know that I will never write a Strange Horizons-type or a SCI-FICTION-type work, because I do not write comfortably in our world. Not even when it is "our world" strongly colored in weirdness.
Because I don't know it. Honest. I live in my own tiny microcosm, steeping in a mindset that is a concoction of classic books and current media images of faux life mixed with memories of growing up in a distant alien culture. I don't know the world my body lives in right now enough to write about it. Sure, I can flush a toilet and program a computer and walk on the sidewalk and pump gas. But at the same time I feel like it is all hollow and a filter upon the true hands-on reality (I can pump gas but don't know how to use the shadowy construct called an automated carwash which is right around the corner from the gas pump and am too embarrassed to ask, nor do I have anyone in my life to ask besides random strangers -- this is but one example), and I have been torn out of one world (my native Russia what it was still under the Soviet regime) and placed in a drastically other one (the capitalist free West) at the point in my development when I have not retained enough of the first nor have had time to discover the second. Thus, I know only surfaces and edges.
I am an eternal alien who just happens to be pretty darn fluent in languages, learns fast, and can pretend reasonably well to know what she is doing. It is true that all of us are aliens to our realities, to some degree or another (in fact, the lines blur and often it is a moving criteria set of lines that separates the so-called "sane," those able to normally function in society, from those who are "insane" or unable to adjust). But I am just a tiny bit more alien than some of you reading this and I always will be, for a good rational reason, even though I am trying the best I can to fit in -- like Tarzan taken out of the jungle and brought into polite society, except with better social skills, learning skills, and verbal abilities.
Okay, there are still more reasons why I cannot write like the Cool Writers stradling the apex of literary slipstream -- it's not because I don't feel comfortable in tropes of weirdness -- I do! -- but because I don't feel comfortable in the mundane. Frankly, it depresses me. To write in our world at all is to write with a "hyperlink" back to the dreary "here and now," and what kind of escape would that be? Why bother writing at all, then when my own reality, my world, is a shadowy hollow place of cultural surfaces and not much underneath? Yes, dammit, it comes right back to the "not knowing" part. I write completely and solidly for escape from my personal reality, an escape from not knowing. Not knowing is terrifying and unacceptable, not to mention annoying and embarrassing. Thus, I create other worlds because that is the only way I feel that I can know something profoundly, intimately -- surface, innards, and foundation -- by making it up. They say, write what you know, don't they? *grin*
Any attempts on my part to create sophisticated edgy slipstream are like watercolors out of control -- the tropes and themes immediately run along the trails left by excessive mainstream water upon genre paper and make eddies and whirls into the pure realm of weirdness, leaving the background of mundane far behind.
I am a solidly Other World writer. Traditionally so. The only way I can make myself imagine profound mainstream reality is far-future SF (leaving slipstream and anything even vaguely resembling the moment of my own existence completely in the dust). But what I really prefer is delving into the past. Alternate past. Weird past, where all the legends and myths and metaphysics have a basis in living form. It is looking back into the ancient realms of humanity's essense -- dreams, philosophy, and belief -- that I can reach in, stir the cauldron and pull out new worlds. It is akin to thinking of unicorns as being real -- which they are, since we are talking about them, have been portraying them in art and literature over the ages. In that sense, unicorns are more "real" to most of us than some obscure species of Australian beetle, since we will probably never come in contact with the beetle while a unicorn is everywhere in popular culture.
In my writing, the so-called "Weird" becomes weird no longer but simply an "other," a completely logical and natural extention of made-up or misremembered realities of historic human memory that belongs in its own category. Since weird is a relative term, it is applicable only when you start to compare it to our reality, to the here and now. Without drawn comparisons, weird does not exist. And since I mostly don't compare, don't write with a link to this world, I do not write weird fiction.
I write Wonder Fiction.
Thanks for making me think along these lines again, Kurt, and thanks for reinforcing the creative freedom to do one's own thing. Your Fat Fantasy is going to be one hell of a unique book and I look forward to seeing it. :-)
Oh no.... *gulp*
I have just been convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am indeed part of the New Weird.
First, I am confident. That's is one of the criteria or symptoms of the New Weird writers that M. John Harrison lists below:
By MJH on Friday, May 16, 2003 - 02:23 pm:
"One of the things that came over very forcefully to me during the ICA event was how important simple *confidence* is to this new stuff. I think we've mentioned it here before: but on both nights of discussions (formal and informal), it was a word we heard from all quarters--insiders, outsiders, mainstreamers, readers who have no idea of what sf is, people who believe in a melting pot, people who believe that f/sf has a self-generated inferiority/martyr complex--all of them used the word confidence over and over again. For me, it's a central tenet of the New Weird: the confidence to do exactly what you see fit. You can't demolish the barricades and take your place in the publishing equivalent of a polycultural community without *confidence*. Guys like China and Justina have it in spades. If you haven't got it, catch up. You aren't in the movement yet, *but you can be*.
"More importantly, perhaps, since pick'n'mix is such an important part of it: you can't *do* that without the confidence to take what you want from the forms & styles on offer across a hundred years of fiction.
"What I felt at ICA was a sudden sharp increase in that confidence. It wasn't just the organisers who went away grinning from ear to ear & telling one another, "We live and rule, guys. We fucking live and rule." The New Weird, is, in part, taking what you want, because it's out there and on offer. Why can't we help ourselves to do this more ? Why have we got this frankly creepy idea we can--and should--only communicate with each other ?"
And second, my novel LORDS OF RAINBOW has a duck in it. I am absolutely damn serious. This is scary. Look for the duck if you ever get to read my novel.
See below for the duck criteria:
By MJH on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 04:48 pm:
"One of the reasons you give yourself a name is to prevent anyone else from doing it. It's part of the drive to individuate. An irony is involved--the essential paradox of identity politics. Every time this discussion hots up, we get a visit from someone whose job it is to steal that identity: spot the new: pivot between what's hot and the genre publishers who think they might have a little punt at it. The more we try to differentiate, the more likely we are to end up diluted and absorbed--intellectually carpetbagged by knackered old academics and upscale f/sf trendspotters. So stay slippery, guys. I'd like to talk, for instance, about how *ducks* are so important to the New Weird. To be honest, if it doesn't have a duck in it, it isn't New Weird at all Me & China were discussing this only yesterday, in between bouts of personally abusing & dissing a few mainstream literary people we had got penned up in an alley near Rathbone Street. Ducks. That's the thing. Mallards and their broods."
Okay, so yes, since yesterday I've been reading along with the New Weird threads, since it peeved me that I was not completely clued into the whole range of talk on the subject, and boy, is it some great stuff!
* * *
It occurs to me suddenly (as I am reading the threads) that the idea of fantasy being either Consolatory or Subversive is not a binary distinction at all but a trinity. The third element is Explanatory. That's the kind of fantasy I write. I don't attempt to pronounce hasty (or not so hasty) judgement upon the status quo and hence proceed to console or subvert in China Miéville's sense (though if anything I am more on the consolation side of the scale since I believe in subtly -- and sneakily! -- earning the reader's trust above all else, and you can't do that if the first thing you do is bludgeon them on the head with semantic shock).
What I attempt to do is explain the world by means of fantastic metaphor, dig at the hidden logic, explore logical patterns and connect all the dots and cross all the t's. I write fantasy because it is the best way I can show others the reason why the world is the way it is and that neither consolation nor subversion is the real answer, but immersion is. Consolation beyond the bare necessary minimum is a waste of time because it promotes stagnation and only superficially salves a subdermal wound without removing the deeply lodged burr thistle that is the real problem. Subversion is also silly and wasteful of energy, direction, and goal resources, and comes down to needless phantom rebellion against something that may not be there in the first place, or may be there for a damn good reason.
What is left instead is analysis, discovery of patterns, the making of connections between seemingly unrelated elements. The exploration of "why" and the search for truth.
And this brings me back to the claim that I am confident. Yes, I have all the answers, and yes I have the gall to think I can explain the workings of the world to anyone (start snickering now, it is true). This is another sure symptom of the fact that I am intellectually confident and thus New Weird. Sure, that confidence may be a bloated moron-ego, but at least it's there, and so far no one has successfully persuaded me to be otherwise.
Now, to continue reading that thread. Lots of yummy food for thought! More blathering to come in the Weirdstream.... :-)
WARNING: The post above contained trace elements of irony and pinches of sarcasm.
PS -- check out The Write Hemisphere, a new writing-related news blog by Scott Reilly.
Okay, that's it, people, the whole New Weird discussion thing has gotten out of control. I like the way Kathryn Cramer compiled links to the different reiterations in her blog.
Before blathering on I probably need to go back and finish reading everyone's commentary (I stopped about two weeks ago and got behind and so have a reading task of biblical proportions). But it seems that most recently in this discussion Jeff VanderMeer took his writerly brethren host and perpetrated a Luther and Calvin breakoff from the Catholic "school" of Miéville, the bastion of the New Weird, which means that what's left of the discussion is going around in circles and everyone is just throwing around wacky terms?
It's likely that I am missing much of the gist here, but seems to me that this whole need to define this New Weird or whatever is the current writerly trendoid term for people working in the speculative genres and having the other foot stuck in the literary bucket and hence feeling the need to assign a measure of respectability and "quality" to their work, is a bit like a publishing cocktail party in cyberspace where everyone feels like something needs to be said, done, defined, achieved and no one wants to simply enjoy the party -- enjoy everyone else just being there and maybe nibble on the food and sip a tall cool glass of prose du jour in companionable silence.
Here's what I think. It is way too early to give the trendoid community any name because the wave/wavelet has not yet played itself out. And I don't even mean it in the sense of having to wait hoary decades and then luxuriating in hindsight and critical retrospection and neat tidy terms for things long past.
I just mean, relax, my friends. The term has not stuck yet possibly because it's NOT THERE! Not fully formed yet! Nothing to name! Sure, there's Miéville and VanderMeer with their wonderful unique works. But that's just it. They have simply done something different. Others have done something different too. There is not enough hard data yet to quantify that difference or to really observe a pattern.
So, no need to flounder and be so eager to assign and name and categorize. That only leads to premature Reformations. :-)
Because, people, there is more to come. Wondrous, glorious, unique things are coming to a fiction-loving community near you....
And honestly, I think all of us -- we haven't seen nothing yet.
In other news, on Monday I received my contributor copy of the anthology STRANGE PLEASURES 2, and it looks very nice. Some really good stuff, those stories. Take a look! :-)
As promised, here are the Book Expo America pictures! :-)
If you missed my scribblings about the first two days of Book Expo America, go look, then come back.
The BEA trade show was over yesterday and after Amy and Alan and I took down the Wildside booth, I got home last night, ran around doing errands, and finally collapsed. We gave away tons of freebie books on Sunday, and I mostly just staffed the Wildside booth. It is honestly an overwhelming experience to do trade shows, paritcularly when you are an exhibitor, and it becomes impossible to really see the rest of the show for much more than a brief run-through -- at which point you just grab the flashiest booth freebies and act like a big baby in a Publishing Wonderland Toys-R-Us.
As I was making my way to the Wildside booth first thing in the morning, I passed through the long connecting corridor between West and South portions, and there was Lee Fyock of Palm Digital Media handing out free copies of Tad Williams' signed hardcover WAR OF THE FLOWERS -- leftover stock from the autographing. I snagged myself a nice hefty doorstopper copy. I think that was the extent of the freebies I got on Sunday since I really did not wander around but hung out in the booth and chatted with our right-hand booth neighbors, the sweetie co-authors of the Mad At Martha Cookbook, who had home-made fudge they were giving out to the passersby, and of course Amy and I got to eat lots of that throughout the show.
We were giving out all kinds of books, and after 1:00 PM on Sunday it was basically a free-for all. *grin* Several photos were taken and as soon as I finish the roll they will be developed.
And now my brain is mush, and here I am, trying to remember what else happened yesterday, and it feels like a thousand years have gone by.