Monday, April 30, 2007

And see your dentist twice a year

Patrick Nielsen Hayden should make a dental appointment. Dawno says so, and I join the chorus (though not in Greek).

And I should check when my next one is. And see my chiropracter. And phone about my lovely new bike's 3 month checkup.

It's a bird, it's an ocelot, it's a spider

I'm not a Philip Pullman fan particularly, but this is amusing. You can go to the website for the Golden Compass film and find your own daemon, based on a rather muddled questionnaire.
Mine is presently a crow (or raven, I'm not sure) named Callum.
You can look at it here, and answer another muddled questionnaire about how you see me, to change my crow into some other beastie, though still named Callum.
The graphics are quite nice.

Friday, April 27, 2007

rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

A threatening mob grumbles outside the back door. Yes, it's this year's crop of rhubarb, which I thought I'd missed, because it's almost finished being April. I picked the massive stalks and decided to try stewing them, instead of my usual practice of eating them raw with sugar (only advisable with very young and tender rhubarb, snatched untimely from the bosom of the earth) or adding them to apple crumble.
So I cut up five or six mighty stalks, poured some sugar over top, and cooked them at 350ish until I forgot and the Corningware casserole dish boiled over a little.
And it was good. The packet of ginger teamix that I poured in with the sugar was doubtless a contributing factor, because ginger teamix improves almost anything.
Since then we've had stewed rhubarb pretty much every night, and I've gone to microwaving it, which reduces the chances of boiling over (but hey, it made the oven smell lovely for the next three times we used it, so not all bad).
Yesterday I went out to pick some more, and discovered that there's nothing left but scrawny little stalks, and was disappointed. I suppose they'll work too, but there's so much more chopping involved.

Both the rhubarb and the acanthus suffered in the late snow we had, which crushed rather a lot of plants. The rosemary in the herb garden, already taking up more than its fair share, flattened and spread to cover one whole end. The garage-whelming white rose is looking alarmingly dead, except for some tall greening vines by the drainpipe. I need to find the rose-map again, so we can figure out what's been lost or crippled.
The apple trees and the plum came through safely, but have been subjected to severe pruning, and I feel as if I should do something with all those lovely straight fruitwood suckers. Maybe there's something in the basketry book.
Mark cut down a volunteer holly tree or three (one had hidden behind the grape vines for perhaps five years and was very sturdy) and cleared out damaged rose-vines and dead brambles. The results of this clearing lie on the boulevard in front of the house, in a heap of thorny defiance. We are the only ones on the block with a kraal, so if any lions come by, they'll go after our neighbours first.
To make up for the cutting back, we have new raspberry vines, a third blueberry bush, an espaliered cherry and a multi-graft pear. Because my poor old pear tree is coming to an end, after many years of producing far more than we could eat.

Writing, yes, really, and reading
The Willow Knot hit 78k and I'm ready to fill in the blanks of the last quarter, Myl at court. In a book on The Royal Interiors of Regency England, by David Watkin (lovely repros of Georgian watercolour paintings of the various palaces) I found a fascinating insight. After the floorplan of Windsor Castle, showing the many royal apartments, this explanation:
"It may be helpful to consider the sequence of State Rooms as a kind of frozen memorial of the gradual retreat of the sovereign from the public, or rather of the endless encroachment on his privacy by his ministers, courtiers, and subjects. The essential rooms in the early medieval palace had been the Great Hall and the Chamber, the latter subject to use by the King for both sleeping and holding councils. Tudor palaces contained three essential rooms: the Guard Chamber, the Presence Chamber, in which the monarch gave audiences, and the Privy Chamber. Beyond the Privy Chamber there would be a bedroom. By the time of Charles II those seeking audience had invaded the Privy Chamber, so that a 'withdrawing room' was inserted between it and the bedroom. The withdrawing room, in turn, had become a public room by the early eighteenth century. All this would indicate that the rooms did not supersede one another but, as a modern authority has put it, each 'merely added one more unit to the suite'. Furthermore, 'each room retained its appropriate attendants--the Yeoman of the Guard in the Guard Chamber, the Gentlemen Ushers in the Presence Chamber, the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber in the Privy Chamber, and the Groom of the Stole in the Drawing Room and the private rooms beyond. Each of the principal reception rooms might still boast its canopy of state, marking the position where the King had once sat, one, two, or three hundred years before. The history of the court was therefore encapsulated in the State Apartments of the English royal palaces as the existed in the reign of George III.'
Wow. I had to quote that, because this idea--the concrete tangible show of the receding monarch--just staggers me.
I'd been browsing The Secret Memoirs of the Princess Lamballe and hit the part where Maria Antoinette is delivered of a daughter, and such a crowd of people (unidentified, but presumably courtiers and nobles) bursts into the room that 'Her Majesty was nearly suffocated' and they have to be removed by force so she can breathe.
I guess the Groom of the Stole couldn't keep them out. What were the Yeoman of the Guard doing? Singing Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs?
One knows in theory that royalty and nobles have next to no privacy, but details like that bring it home.

Not getting anywhere with: Aramaya, by Jane Routley, Avon 1999. It's the 3d in the series, so you'd expect the author to be fairly practiced. I'm thus not even going to attempt the earlier books. The writing is passable, but the blend of high fantasy tropes (quest, demons, betrayal, immense magical powers) with kitchen sink drama, or more accurately, what they call in England Aga Saga, is really not working for me, especially when the dialogue lapses into 20th c. suburban slang ("Well, what a grouch") or soap-opera exchanges:
"Oh Shad I didn't mean for it to happen like this,"
"I know sweetheart. It's just a big mess."
Punctuation as in original.
Dion Holyhands is, too, a raging Mary Sue. She's the most powerful demon slayer ever, every mage she meets is awestruck by her, she's pursued by her estranged husband and the incredibly sexy Russian prince/mage, not to mention the demon Bedazzer who still has the hots for her, and all she does is angst about how she can't have a baby. And why can't she? Because her own magic is working against her, as if it had been reading R.D. Laing's Knots.
But I was struggling through, because the Russian setting is unusual, though the use of clearly Russian names (Grigori, Nikoli) in a not-really-Russia annoyed me (like Frank Herbert giving the desert dwellers in Dune Arabic-style names). But when our ill-assorted party got on a riverboat and travelled by river from the Russia-equivalent to an Egypt-equivalent...
Tonstant Weader fwowed book away.

Monday, April 23, 2007

tilling the technopeasant fields

I've posted a chapter of theoretically-publishable work over on my Livejournal, because a long post is easier to read on LJ than here, I think. I struggled for close on two hours to get the damn thing up and under a cut. Gah and double-gah. Matters were not aided by my home computer and mouse being difficult about selecting text, especially long text. But it's done.
As my mum might have asked: "And what's this in aid of?"
International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, that's what. But I suspect most of the multitude (multitude, I say!) who read this blog will know all about this festival already, and have made their own contributions.
I'd just like to note that I do not wish to be known as a webscab, quite aside from the inaccuracy of using the term scab when no one is on strike and there's no picket line to cross. I am a web-blackleg, and I'll thank you to remember it.
Hm. I wonder if I can filk Blackleg Miner? (exit, pursued by a folksong)

Apparently I can, though Uncle Jim would do it better, of course:

It's in the evening after work
In his old sweatpants and slogan'd shirt
The sf reader his duty shirks
And reads the blackleg writers.

Well, he pours his joe and takes his pick,
The websites open to his clicks
He'll heed no word of Doc Hendrix
But he reads the blackleg writers.

Oh, the intarweb's a terrible place,
The pixels streaming at your face,
And around the blogs a furious pace
Is set by the blackleg writers.

Don't click on that cyan link,
Or the craft of writing it will sink,
You'll break the quill and you'll dry the ink
Of all but the blackleg writers.

So vote for Hendrix while you might,
Don't wait until the End's in sight,
The future's looking far from bright,
Because of the blackleg writers.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

rambly thoughts about magic

I'm not keen on the idea of the Mageborn. Maybe it's my semi-socialist upbringing: What abaht the workers? Or my Canadian background: Who do you think you are?

Whatever the origin, the dubiety is similar to my feelings about genius in art. Nice if you've got it, but irrelevant to the learning of the craft. I rather mistrust the assumption of genius, because it seems to be taken as an easy out--you can't teach someone to be a genius, therefore genius can't be taught. At worst, anyone who isn't a genius isn't worth teaching, the genius doesn't need teaching, and the teaching of the craft is lost.
If that sounds far-fetched, read Jonathan Stephenson's opening essay to Materials and Techniques of Painting, describing how painters lost the knowledge of grinding and mixing pigments, making brushes, and preparing canvas and panel, and how an artisan's craft became a gentleman's hobby. And how that knowledge was painfully regained from the study of a few surviving artists' handbooks and analysis of paint on manuscripts, panels and canvas.
What attracts me to the guild system, and to the idea of apprenticeship, is that it assumes that all crafts are equally accessible. Some apprenticeships are longer than others (a tiler is only a few months, others may be 5 or 7 years) but provided the apprentice is sound of wind and limb, and willing to work, at the end of it he's turned out as master (later as journeyman) capable of earning his living, whether by making shoes, casting pewter, tanning leather or painting altarpieces.
Masterpiece once meant a competent work showing mastery of the materials and techniques proving one's readiness to set up shop. Nowadays it means something brilliant and outstanding, original and elite.
But that is a many-layered rant, and I digress.

The idea that only the mageborn can do magic is, to me, like the idea that only a genius can paint or play an instrument. If you have perfect pitch, you'll learn to sing faster than someone who has to begin with scales, sure. Genius exists, and talent exists, but while that gives you a leg up, it doesn't take you to mastery without study and practice. If you don't master your materials and study your techniques, you'll fall behind the 'untalented' student who is willing to do the work. (There's a quote from Wee Free Men applicable here, but I leave it as an exercise to the reader.)
The idea that two people can recite the same words, or make the same gestures, or draw the same circle on the ground, and that one of them is successful and the other isn't, because of some inborn quality in one of them, is not an idea that works for me. It's like saying that you and I can pick up a paintbrush, dip it in the paint, and my brush will make a mark on the canvas and yours won't. Or you and I can sit down at the piano, and your keys will make lovely chiming noises and mine will make a dull thud. Assuming here that both of us have rudimentary training and recognise the different keys, that isn't a plausible result. Come to that, if two untrained people pick up violins, I'd bet that even the musical genius of the pair will not, first try, sound lovely.
You'll note that I'm not using, here, the definition of genius as 'an infinite capacity for taking pains'. I'm using genius in the Romantic sense. I'm all fine with the idea of genius as an infinite capacity for taking pains--and I'm not a genius in that sense either, because I'm lazy and easily discouraged.

Some writers make the Mageborn concept work. I don't mind it in Barbara Hambly's books, in part because she doesn't make it easy--there's years of study and in the Unschooled Wizard series, there's a brutal ordeal followed by years of study. Hambly also plays with a persecuted minority subtext, which you could read as Jews or as gays without much difficulty. That gets risky in lesser (naming no names) hands, because it can too easily turn into 'oh woe, I am enormously powerful and must now angst about the responsibility and how everyone hates me' which is boring and makes me want to smack said characters (a poor plan, because they're both enormously powerful and immature). On the whole, I think Hambly does it well and avoids the traps. It doesn't hurt that she's a damn good writer.
I don't think I could make it work, because I can't follow through with the system. I'd keep fussing about details and genetics and logic. I like the concept of magic as learned craft, and I like folkloric magic, though I can't claim to be any sort of authority on it. Only that when I read about it, it seems to fit together, to make sense to a non-rational part of my brain.

An interesting thing about what I might call documentable magic (surviving grimoires and folk practices) is that it doesn't seem to concern itself particularly with the sort of things that fictional magic-users do. (Admission of bias: when I read the word 'magic-user' in fiction I twitch, because to the best of my knowledge, the phrase was created by the authors of gaming manuals. It's not in the OED, which does list the more evocative 'magic-monger', and also gives 'magic' as an adjective meaning 'addicted to magic', which provides an interesting slant on 'magic-user'.)
Folk magic divination is used to discover how long one may live and who one will marry, and what the weather will be. Charms are used against illness or injury, against theft or to recover lost or stolen items, to make crops grow and to keep animals healthy, to gain someone's affection (or lust), to bring on or avoid pregnancy. This is all rather petty and commonplace compared to what magicians in fantasy novels or FRP games do. No casting of fireballs, no petrification, no raising armies of the dead.... No tech-substitutes like wards that act like tripwires, or communication via crystals.
To generalise horribly, folk magic concerns itself with basic survival, food and shelter. Grimoire magic concerns itself with gaining influence and power over others. FRP magic seems to be most concerned with winning battles--naturally, since FRPs are largely combat and quest-based. FRP games do view magic-user as a craft, something learnt rather than inborn, due to the mechanics of the game. And due to the mechanics of the game, the learning part tends to be backstory.
To generalise even more horribly, some sizeable percentage of modern epic fantasy seems to have the same structure and needs as an FRP campaign, with the addition of magic being an inborn gift, rather like being the True King but without a validating prophecy. But I don't read that much epic/high fantasy, so I'm probably biased, misled by the back-cover blurbs and a quick thumb-through.

I'm drawn to humble magic, useful everyday magic. That's what makes sense to me, but I can see that it isn't as exciting as fireballs and darkness-by-day and other cool CGI effects.
You do find some fairly high-end magic in folktales. Petrification, yep, transformation, yep, sleeping for a hundred years, yep, bringing the dead to life, yep. The mechanics are not explained, and sometimes the internal logic of the story is a little shaky. Magicians are rare in folktales; witches are common indeed. There are also random characters not identified as magicians or wizards, who still employ magic. Cooks, princes, daughters of ogres, peasant girls and enchanted animals, any of them may have a handy spell for good or ill. While there aren't many designated magicians, the contest of magic shows up fairly frequently--at least, that's how I interpret the chase and disguise sequences where one character throws down a magic item to delay pursuit, or transforms herself to mislead pursuers (Fundevogel). I don't know whether Stith Thompson would agree.
Medieval romances (of which I have read maybe half-a-dozen) have magic elements. Some flashy, like transformation, and some lower-level practical jokes, like gowns or goblets that reveal infidelity (always good for a laugh). Some useful, like shields that can't be broken, or belts that prevent injury. Magicians seem to be rather more common, witches rare. I have the impression that magic is more often the plot device that starts the trouble and the plot, rather than resolves it, but I haven't read enough to validate or disprove the impression.
The courtly fairytales (Perrault, Madame d'Aulnoy) (really good Terri Windling essay here) were fond of stage dressing and gadgets, seven-league boots and caps of invisibility--swiped from Greek hero-tales, perhaps?--and those were adopted by the literary fairytale writers like Andrew Lang and Dinah Mulock Craik.
Gadgets seem to have been dropped in modern fantasy in favour of what the Tough Guide calls Quest Objects. I'm not sure why, perhaps because of a lack of acquaintance with the classics, perhaps because they might have made things too easy, too apt to be solved within a single volume. The written fairytales used more magicians and wizards than they do witches, and magic starts the trouble often enough, as do magic beasts like dragons. Force of arms and virtue, sometimes aided by gadgets, sort things out. The clever peasant girl and the lucky simpleton don't get so much love here--back to the folktales for them.
Which brings me back, I guess. Folktales are often about the triumph of the humble, the simpleton winning the clever princess, the old soldier beating out the Devil, the clever peasant girl winning the king, the unfavoured child rewarded for a kind act.

Just so there's something pointful in this rambling...some useful books on folk magic include:

Anglo-Saxon Magic, by Dr. G. Storms, published Martinus Nijhoff, 1948 - The first chapter is a concise introduction to common concepts of magic, the uses of spittle, blood, dirt, water and silence. Almost all the charms are concerned with protection against illness, theft, and general harm. Life is precarious.

The Galdrabok: an Icelandic Grimoire, by Stephen Flowers, published Samuel Weiser, 1989 - This is 'book magic', relying almost entirely on runes and signs. It doesn't portray the magicians as particularly benevolent or enlightened, since the majority of spells are intended to gain the favour of the powerful, find out thieves, and play unpleasant practical jokes (oh, and force women to sleep with you.)

English Folk-Rhymes, by G. F. Northall, published Kegan Paul 1892 (reprinted) "A collection of traditional verses relating to places and persons, customs, superstitions, etc." Ch.4 on superstitions includes charms and spells, and, slightly cloaked in Latin, a very down-to-earth spell for gaining the affection of a young man. Some of the other sections include rhymes that look very like spells, and could be easily adapted.

The Secret Common-Wealth & A Short Treatise of Charms and Spels, by Robert Kirk, published D.S. Brewer for the Folklore Society, 1976 - Short, as it says, but ties in nicely with the other sources. Mostly of interest for the first section, his account of Fairies and Elves.

The Fate of the Dead, by Theo Brown, published Brewer for the Folklore Society, 1979 - "A study in folk-eschatology in the West Country after the Reformation" and utterly fascinating (I'll probably blog just about this book at some point) in its examination of the folk beliefs about book-learning and the power of the printed word. An unmarried Oxford graduate is the best man to banish a ghost, in case you were wondering.

The Pattern Under the Plough, by George Ewart Evans, published Faber, 1966 - a small but dense book showing how belief in magical protections and encouragements is woven into rural life in East Anglia. Hagstones, witch-bottles, threshold burials, and how to jade a horse.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Today I am a real writer

I was tempted to make that 'Today I am a woman' but it's a bit late, really. Or 'real boy', but I never much liked Pinocchio (and was his name really a rude joke?)
The second issue of Coyote Wild is up on the web. And my long story, The King of Elfland's Stepdaughter, is there in the table of contents. Right where people can come along and read it.
This is the first story I've sold. It was the second short story I wrote with the intention of submitting for publication.
When I re-read it, I was surprised that I felt no urge to tweak or fiddle with it. It's not perfect, I'm sure, but it's complete. I've released it into the wild and it isn't really mine anymore. It belongs to the people who read it, in their eyes and their interpretations of what I thought I was saying. Fly away, little bird.
Not to say that I'm anything but twittering with excitement over having a paid-by-the-word story out there with my name on it. 'Cause I am twittery. And we'll see how philosophical I am if there's a negative review--what price my zen-like detachment then?
Please insert here any mental images of over-excited dancing icons that seem appropriate to you.

Writing: The Willow Knot hit 75k (about time!) as I completed the first draft of chapter 12. Chapter 13 is (for now) intentionally left blank. Chapters 14 to 20 are drafted, with gaps. The proposal, the opening of documents, and the trial are still to be written. The complete draft will run over 80k, I'm almost certain. Still, I'm really liking how the changeling hints worked out, and I don't think they'll overweight the story.
There are going to be bits of story that don't get explained or resolved, though. Like how Midame acquired witchy powers, and what happens to the bear who may be an enchanted man. I'm okay with that. Hopefully an editor will be as well. It will leave some openings for fan-writers, should I achieve that distinction.

Presently reading Concepts of Cleanliness: changing attitudes in France since the Middle Ages, by George Vigarello (Cambridge 1985). Much fascinating social detail, from the communal baths of the Middle Ages to the obsession with clean linen in the 1600s, including a paragraph on lousing (yay!) and the information that "Certain women with particularly nimble fingers even made a profession of it". The sociological/psychological argument, about the skin being seen first as a barrier and then as utterly permeable and vulnerable (with water, especially warm water, invading the body and bringing disease with hit) is presented straightforwardly. A relief, that, because sometimes I really cannot be doing with French academic writing. I'm a third of the way into it; I expect it will be my lunchbreak reading for another few days.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

research happy things

Alright, blogs are useful in one way. When I want to hop up and down and do the happy dance over some petty triumph of research or plotting or characterisation, and nobody in my real life is likely to do anything but say 'well, that's good' in a 'smile, nod, and hope she goes away' sort of voice, I can come here.
In the root story, Little Brother and Little Sister, the queen is done to death (it's unclear what happens to her body) in the following way:
they carried the weakly Queen into the bath-room, and put her into the bath; then they shut the door and ran away. But in the bath-room they had made a fire of such deadly heat that the beautiful young Queen was soon suffocated.
Straightforward, right? Except for where she gets to and how she returns to feed her baby and so on. But don't mind that for now. What's important is that I have a major scene to write that takes place in a bath-room. A royal bath-room. (Badstube, in the original German.)
Which looks like what? Where in the palace would it be? Steam bath or immersion? Water heated how? What's the floor made of? And so on.
Sure, I can go and look at Ingres, though his Turkish Bath is a bit more crowded than I think is plausible for the plot--in fact it's hard to make out the decor, so well-fleshed is the room. The Small Bather is likelier, if a more modest establishment.
I've been looking at a nice Victorian book advocating public bathhouses and laundry houses to improve hygiene in the cities. I've been looking at books of architecture. I was even courageous enough to google sauna and "bath house" and found a useful short history of the Finnish Sauna, with the following amusing notes:
He probably means the people in northern Germany, especially near the Baden area, who are rather loose with their morals. Among these people there are some who are so loose and degenerate in the hot baths that they even drink and sleep and allow themselves all kinds of evil and other foolishness in the baths. If such immodest creatures were found with their customs in Nordic bathing places, they would immediately be carried out and thrown into the deep winter snow drifts with the risk of being smothered. In the summer they would be thrown in ice cold water and left some time without food.

Which is interesting, but doesn't necessarily help me. So back to the bookstacks, where today I was lucky. First I found Die Bauernhausformen im Baltischen Raum (Farmhouses in the Baltic, roughly) with lovely drawings of rustic saunas and bath-rooms (Badestube, here) both set in the earth like a root-cellar and combined with a summer kitchen in one long building. There's the bath-house on Midame's farm, that Myl can remember wistfully, to establish the idea of steam baths.
Then a guidebook to The Royal Palace of Visegrad, with complete floorplans (as far as excavated at the date of publication) including the stove, the fuel storage, the water supply and drainage, the two rooms, one the sudatorium, the other not cleared but probably cool baths.
As a backup, I have Whitehall Palace, by Simon Thurley, an account of the excavations, including a sunken pool (Charles II did all right by himself) and a possible steam bath heated by a huge ceramic-tiled stove.
So now I can get it right. And I'm probably going to steal Visegrad for Alard's palace, because why not? It had great plumbing. And add some 1700s decor, to bring it up to date.

I'm ludicrously close to 75k, and still have about half the plot for the court section to go. Some ruthless cutting to come, clearly, but not until all the first draft is done. Then I'll put it away for a couple of weeks and draw maps and floorplans.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Not writing, not writing at all, reading a little

The other night Mark and Chris and I saw Grindhouse. (warning: annoying website) It's nice when we do things together as a family.
Mark had been reading reviews and telling me about the trailers and the Rodriguez zombies, and that the Tarantino movie had Kurt Russell in it as Stuntman Mike. "They made a movie for you, how can you not go and see it?"

I admit, I am a sucker for trailers. Back when Chris was a little codger, I ordered tapes full of trailers from a little company run by a guy who used to act in Andy Warhol films. Nice guy, we corresponded a bit about films; he'd make suggestions about which tapes would keep a toddler's attention (the '60s sf adventure ones, and some Hammer horror). I used to joke that the first words Chris would read would be blurbs like NEVER BEFORE SEEN! AMAZING! SPINE-CHILLING!

The best Grindhouse trailer, for my money, was Don't! by the Sean of the Dead guys. It was note perfect, and the ripped-paper layout was absolutely right. Mark said it gave away all the money shots, but I thought it only stayed on one for too long, and the rest were shown briefly enough to pass.
Chris thought Thanksgiving was the best, and certainly the sample footage of the parade was a beaut, the whole crappy handheld pov camera was just right. The rest of it was a bit meh, but I'm not as well-versed in the slasher-holiday genre.
Machete was brill, especially the part where he opens his coat and it's just wall-to-wall blades - it reminded me of one of my fave kung-fu flicks, Sacred Knives of Vengeance (a film with three endings, one after the other).
Hobo With a Shotgun was perfect in its incoherence and poor production quality. I bow.

Of the features, the Rodriguez Planet Terror was more successful, I thought. He had the selective incompetence down, the overabundance of characters with intertwined backstories, the oh-no-oh-no moments, the badassery and the anyone-can-die ethos.
And some great lines that we've already started quoting:
"I looked for that jacket for two weeks"
"Useless talent number 32."
"I brought you something."
"Self-preservation comes to mind."
"This is my yellow friend. This is my red friend."
Odd, considering that Tarantino is supposed to be the dialogue / banter guy. Chris had some difficulty with Death Proof, because he can't stand Tarantino banter (though I think it was toned down.)
While Death Proof was a fun ride, I thought it suffered from being too much of a turnaround. Once the good guys get the upper hand, they keep it, and the baddie pretty much collapses.
Now, I haven't watched nearly as many car-chase movies as I have zombie flicks, but I have watched more than a couple revenge movies, and once the revenger picks him/herself up and goes after the baddies, the outcome should still be uncertain. At least once it should look as if the revenger has overreached and the baddies will take their revenge, which will be even more appalling because they've been shamed and scared and on the run themselves.
But this does not happen. And because of that, the ending loses some of the hellya! it should have had. Too much time was spent with the cannon fodder, as well. Granted that grindhouse movies had a lot of waste space, this was meant to be a hommage, not a replica.
On the other hand, Zoe Bell makes up for a lot. I wondered if the second part of Death Proof might have been a nod to Aussie film Fair Game, a revenge-chase film featuring Cassandra Delaney doing the hood-ornament turn before she takes revenge. Suppose I'll have to wait for the dvd commentary.

Mark pointed out that although both features supposedly have missing reels, they both run full-length, or darned close. The originals usually ran about 80 minutes, sometimes less. The reason MST3K mocked shorts was that the films they mocked didn't have enough running time to fill their slot.

Reading right now: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, new edn, by Diana Wynne Jones. Wonderful book. This edition has a back-cover essay on how she came to write the first edition - while working on The Encyclopedia of Fantasy with John Clute. This caused me to hit Reference and check the Encyclopedia, and...gosh...I can see how it inspired her. Many, many of the entries could have been taken over with minimal editing.
Somehow or other, I never read much Extruded Fantasy Product. Which may have been a merciful escape. I'm still able to laugh at the Tough Guide, and at Limyaael's fantasy rants, (which are terrific writing advice anyways) but perhaps I'd get more out of them if I'd suffered for my art by reading dozens of cod-mediaeval pseudo-Tolkien doorstops. I'm having a perverse desire to hit the thrift shops and find some for cheap. If nothing else, so that I can look at their maps.
I admit it, I'm not very bright. I bought the Tough Guide at the beginning of March, and I only yesterday figured out that the map is Europe upside down. You may now pelt me with clues.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Writing-avoidance activities, series one: Worldbuilding

I am presently tempted to get out the coloured pencils and start drawing maps. So far I've kept rough track of the forest part of Willow Knot with a series of concentric circles that represent one-half day of walking, with the willow cottage at the centre. I fear that once I expand that 'map' to discover where the country borders are, I'll have to revise about half the directions I've been using. The road between the capital cities will almost certainly be reworked.
I've been putting it off, but the coloured pencils are calling me, especially as I get into the 3d section, Myl at court. I'll need some idea how the countries work, how close the cities are, means of travel, and so on.
Which means I need to make important decisions. So far I've thought of the story as set in the Grimm Brothers Maerchen Forest. Boreal forest, foot and horse travel, material culture at late 1700s level. Magic is real, sometimes, but it's the magic that most uneducated people believed in, so there's little adjustment to make. Other times magic is fraud, but frauds and tricksters show up in folktales often enough.
The real countries (France, Germany) may exist, but the action takes place in 'kingdoms' that are more like principalities or duchies, and may be revised into duchies etc. later. As long as I'm dealing with peasants and foresters, I can that vague. (There's a terrific scene in Witchfinder General where Marshall and the soldiers pursuing King Charles reach the coast and find an old man (mending nets?) who doesn't know the king has fled, doesn't know anything about kings or Protectors. Bare sandy beach, grass, and the wind blowing over their voices. It's as if they've reached the edge of the world.)
But once the story reaches the court, the situation has to be firmed up. I need names and maps. I can approach this a few different ways.
(Pause to strongly recommend Wrede on Worldbuilding)
  1. make up a fantasy world. I really don't want to do this. Really, really, really. I don't know enough about geology, geography, politics and logistics to even start. I suck at invention.
  2. alternate history. Take the map as it stood at the turn of the century, change the names of all the countries and fiddle the borders a bit. I think Guy Gavriel Kay approaches it that way.
  3. go the Ruritanian / Graustarkian route and just fiddle the borders to squish a few small countries in amongst the big ones, maybe in disputed territories like Alsace-Lorraine. Caroline Stevermer did that in College of Magics, I think. I don't count it as alternate history (though I suppose it is) because the trick predates the category.
Obviously I now have to find old maps of Europe, and books on the history of mapmaking. Obviously.
I'll need a rough map of the forest and the marsh, showing the road, the robbers' den, the willow cottage and the edge of Midame's lands. I'll need a floor plan for the palace for the 3d part. I may need a layout of the capital city, but I'll probably steal that fairly directly from a city map of the appropriate time and appropriate landscape, if I can figure out those out.
Maybe I'll do that in the evenings, instead of reading FandomWank.

Another thought experiment: If your book were published, and acquired not only readers but fans, what sort of fanfiction can you imagine being written from it? How might you feel about characters being revised, and which characters or situations do you think might be more susceptible to revision?

The answer to yesterday's question is: Wait one or two days. If the swelling etc. just stops, it was the arthritis. My knee is almost normal today, which seems unlikely if it had really been injured.
Nice to have that figured out.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Thought experiment for today

If you had an unusual form of arthritis that caused your joints to swell and stiffen randomly, how would you tell whether you had injured yourself?
Yesterday my right knee was stiff. I attributed this to the ravages of age, and to sitting and typing for a few hours. Walk it off, I said, in the voice of an internalised PE coach. It remained stiff, though more flexible when I exercised it gently. I could achieve almost the full range of motion--but not simultaneously with putting weight on the joint. Oh well, can't have everything.
Today it's swollen and resists motion, though I can move it slowly. Going up and down stairs (which I do often at home) has gone all Christopher Robin-ish. I only need a Pooh-bear to thump down the stairs head-down behind me. At least I'm not reduced to doing it on my bum like a toddler; given my present dimensions and the narrowness of some of the steps, perhaps riskier than walking.
I don't know. Perhaps I've really injured myself and should right now be sitting in the walk-in clinic, waiting 3 hours for a doctor to probe my knee and tell me to take an anti-inflammatory (which I can't, because I am).

Just finished reading The Silence of the Langford, by Dave Langford, with introduction by TNH. I bought it at Potlatch, and was barely 1/3 into it when it was swiped by my husband, along with He Do the Time Police in Different Voices. This deprivation did allow me to get some writing done undistracted. When Silence (was) returned, my productivity dropped, because I kept picking the damned book up and reading another selection. "Trillion Year Sneer" and "Inside Outside" in particular, though I rejoiced in every poke at Stephen R. Donaldson, having been unable to get more than a couple of chapters into White Gold Wielder (if that was the first one).
But it's finished now, and I'm only distracted by the question of what did happen after Harry Harrison introduced Langford to Donaldson?

Writing: the alleged raison d'etre of this blog
So I had my main character up a tree, and the current baddies were poking torches at the tree to set it on fire. The rescued princess was stashed in a somewhat skimpy hiding place all too nearby, and the transformed brother had buggered off somewhere. It was dark, with a waning moon.
The tree, for no particular reason, was on a low mound (okay, it was so it wouldn't set the whole forest on fire if it burnt) with the remains of a stone circle lopsidedly around it. There wasn't much cover, other than some brambles and bracken. The princess was under brambles at the base of the only really standing stone.
How to get them out of this? I was torn.
On the one hand, I'd been recently listening to a couple of versions of the King Orfeo ballad, and was drawn to the idea of having the stone turn out to be one of the gates to the fairy mound, and the princess being taken under the Hill, saved from the robbers, but possibly under the spell of the Fair Folk, and Myl having to rescue her again--would she even want to be rescued this time?--with potential uncertainty later whether she had brought back the mortal princess, or a changeling?
The debit side is that I'm wordcount-wise on the final lap, and this risks bringing in a major subplot and changing the emphasis of the novel. The credit side is that it's just very cool, is all.
The alternative was to bring back the dark shape that had menaced Myl and Sefina during their watch through the night over the guard's corpse. I'd put that in to keep things from getting sleepy and dull, but had lately been thinking it might be the same as the bear that attacks Myl in the spring. If Tyl had run off to find the shape (not yet identified as bear) and goaded it to chase him back into the midst of the robbers, that would remove the immediate threat without overweighting the story elements. Potentially, another rule of three or triad: once to be seen, once to help, once to harm. As uncertain and equivocal as the forest, both danger and shelter.But darn, the fairy hill idea was cool.
So I asked for opinions on the Furtive Scribblers thread, and Holly agreed that the fairy hill was cool, but also agreed that the bear-shape would fit more tidily in the story. Yay Holly!
After that I figured out a way to still hint at the changeling idea.
The Willow Knot stands at 72k, and I have all the court intrigue still to cover, and the Lurv subplot to flesh out, and a trial to write. In 8k, and that's including the slop factor I've left myself. Damn plotty stuff, it never fits in the space it's supposed to.