Monday, September 24, 2007

the most beautiful intelligence report in history

Excerpted from The Palace Museum: Peking: treasures of the Forbidden City / by Wan-go Weng & Yang Boda, New York, Abrams, 1982, p.160-163:

"One of the most celebrated of Chinese figure paintings is Han Xizai ye yan tu, or The Night Revelry of Han Xizai. The son of a general executed by the emperor of a northern kingdom, Han (907-970) fled and offered his services to the Southern Tang dynasty. But during the reign of its last ruler, he perceived the inevitable fall of the corrupt regime and tried to stay out of politics, deliberately leading a pleasure-seeking life in order to disqualify himself from responsible positions. The suspicious monarch sent his court painters Zhou Wenju and Gu Hongzhong to spy on Han and make a visual record of his licentious behaviour.
"This scroll, attributed to Gu, is the most beautiful (and possibly the most wryly deadpan) intelligence report in history. It comprises five distinct scenes, artfully separated by three screens and one very brief space. The first scene is of feasting to lute music, with a curtained bed suggestively half-visible in the background. Han, with high hat and full beard, sits on the couch with a man in a red robe who may be Lang Can, a scholar who ranked first in an imperial examination. Before the couch stands a long, low table (like a modern coffee table) set with footed dishes of food, ewers of wine, and wine cups. Seated near the table are two guests, who are probably Chen Zhiyong, an official in charge of rites, and Chen's student Zhu Xian. The lute player is the sister of Li Jiaming, assistant director of the Imperial Theater and Music Academy, who sits watchfully by her side. The small girl in blue behind Li is Wang Wushan, an extremely talented dancer. Behind her stand two students of Han's and two servant girls. Han and most of his guests focus their attention on the lute player, thus subtly unifying the composition by sightlines.
(description of middle scenes omitted, but I can add them if requested)
"In the fourth scene, Han sits cross-legged upon one of the fashionable Western-style chairs. The wine has made him warm: his hat is still firmly on his head, but he has stripped to his loosened undergarments and is fanning himself. A concert is now in progress. Five female musicians are playing straight and cross flutes under the stern eye of Li Jiaming, who keeps the beat with a clapper. Around the edge of a floor-standing landscape screen a man and a woman exchange a few words; they serve as the transition across time and space into the fifth and final scene.
"This penetrating study of a private party displays excellent draftsmanship, exquisity coloring, an ingenious composition, and convincing details such as the celadon wine warmers typical of the tenth century. It is an exquisite commentary on the social decadence of the age. ... the characterization of Han Xizai appears to be true portraiture, although other figures are perhap within the artist's repertoire of stereotypes. The historicity of the subject has never been questioned, and the picture provides us with an irreplaceable example of Chinese figure painting datable between the tenth and twelfth centuries."

The painting is findable online, though mostly in very small images of the original or larger images of mediocre modern copies. On the very small side is this one, at the site of an artist who parodies classic works. His take on 'Night Revels' is reviewed here, and isn't a mediocre modern copy, at least. Ah, here's a more visible image (in two parts) of the original.

I've thought for a long time that this would be a terrific setup for a novel, whether straight historical or fantasy. Someday I may be capable of enough subtlety and texture to attempt it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

fruit stand capital of Canada

Which is how Keremeos bills itself, and where I spent the weekend. Or rather, I spent it outside Keremeos, at the Ashnola campground beside the Ashnola River. The campground is a pleasant small one, flat shelving land on a riverbed between tall steep mountains that seemed to be composed largely of scree and unstable rock. It can be unnerving to drive through the Similkameen Valley because of this, unless you are able to completely ignore the possibility of landslides or floods.
My natural tendency towards fatalism / resignation helps somewhat. I'm old enough to remember the Hope Slide--which we drove by on the way to the event--and I can't help but speculate on what, if anything, one would be able to do, seeing another slide? There's nowhere to go. The rocks would cover the narrow valley floor and splash up the other side. Make one's peace with God, I suppose.
And aren't we cheerful? Well, there's a pleasure in melancholy, and another pleasure in morbid thoughts, or one wouldn't engage in them.
The landscape is striking, in quite a different way from the rocky coast and islands that I'm used to. My family travelled through it any number of times in the summer, and nostalgia tugged at me, especially when I walked among the tents and smelled musty canvas, the smell of summer in my memories. Ponderosa pine with fat cones and needles as long as my hand; the ground a mix of smoothed river-rocks and brown sand (a real challenge to set tent-pegs into); some sort of cricket that opened up yellow-and-black wings when it leapt, looking like a tiny bird; a mottled beetle with immensely long antennae that perched on my sweater like a brooch; a shallow fast river seething between rocks and rippling smoothly where its passage widened; mountains so tall the sun was only visible between 10 am and 5:30 pm, but the valley well-lit by reflected sunlight from 5:30 am to 9 pm, lighting one mountain up with green and shadow in the morning, and the next lit gold and brown in the evening.
The sky was clear until Sunday afternoon, and the night sky was black and thick with stars. I saw the Milky Way more clearly than I have since we lived in Sooke, and constellations I'd nearly forgotten (their names I have forgotten). I was reading Privilege of the Sword during the day, and became immensely jealous of Ellen Kushner for her description therein of the stars 'like spilled salt'. Because, yes.
The occasion of my being there was the Coronet Tourney of the Principality of Tir Righ, or rather, the Laurels meeting scheduled during, and the chance to spend time with two of my far-flung apprentices--one of whom will soon be my peer. Other socialising occurred, but it was a bonus and not planned.
Other than that, I had no commitments (did some gate early Sunday, since I'd be awake anyways) and spent several hours sitting beside the river, reading Kushner or the Memoirs of the Princess Lamballe, or staring at the moving water, sometimes wandering up and down looking at interesting rocks. I wish I knew more about rocks, specifically what the crumpled-looking ones were, and whether the red stains on some of the sedimentary rocks were part of them or left by the water more recently. I found a cracked stone that looked like quartz (and what Stephen identified as feldspar), and a smallish egg-shaped stone, pale grey and speckled with dark grey and small holes. (In June, at FRH, I found another holed stone, so thoroughly eaten through it looked like a petrified sponge.) Something pale and flapping, stuck under a rock and branch in the river, turned out to be part of a hide, probably deer from the bit I scraped out. I thought briefly of trying to salvage it for treating, but the small scrap already smelt bad, and I couldn't feature bringing it home through 4 hours drive and a ferry trip.

Saturday afternoon I was stung by a wasp, which had crawled under my hand where I was holding my mug of water. An odd sort of karma, since an hour or so earlier I'd rescued two wasps drowning in a mug of orange juice (more for the sake of an unwary drinker than for theirs, I admit). This happened to me once before, when I rescued a wasp from a spider's nest, and the same day was stung on the finger by a hornet(?) resting on the newspaper page I was turning. The hornet sting was dramatic, since there's not much room on the fingertip for swelling, so my hand swelled up past my wrist and hurt like blazes until I went to Emergency and had a shot in my rear.
The wasp sting was on my palm, between the forefinger and the second finger, and swelled up in the base joint of both fingers, then on the back of my hand, first over the knuckles, then down most of the way to the wrist. It's a measure, I think, of my adjustment to the arthritis that I watched this with considerably more interest than alarm. Hand swelling up, joints swollen and stiff, yeah, done that, hmm, blue mark on the side of the finger, what's that?
I'd probably have felt less equanimity if it had hurt anything like the hornet sting. MC convinced me to take a benadryl that night, when the swelling hadn't gone away, but it didn't go right down until Monday.
But definitely the last time I rescue a wasp.

So I wrote nothing. Monday wasn't very productive, because I was feeling vaguely sick and achey. However, I did read about the French court of the 18th c., and practiced knots, and knocked a couple of books off my to-be-read pile.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

drizzling and happy writey stuff

Reading up on 18th c. German society, I discovered something that may just have to go into the Willow Knot. A pastime of wellborn ladies, called parfilage, which at first I read as persiflage, but no, less wit required.
Parfilage, or in England, drizzling (I'm not making this up) was the pastime of unravelling gold braid, lace, or trim. Yes, really. Taking ornament apart. Now, I can see not wanting to waste gold thread, and unpicking or unravelling it seems a thrifty thing to do, akin to sides-to-middling sheets, a housewifely task my own mother performed. (If you're not familiar with that, it's exactly what it sounds like.) But as a courtly hobby? As something to fill one's days, up there with tambour-work and opus anglicanum?
Must be an exaggeration, I thought, and started looking for more references. Which I found. It does seem to have begun as an economy, with old-fashioned or worn uniforms and livery being refitted--cutting the buttons off and that sort of thing, and the remainder being given to charity/the poor. The braid could be unpicked, and the gold thread sold back to the goldsmith. Simple enough.
Somehow it was taken up by the nobility, in France and Austria, then in England (England is always a late adopter). Noble ladies were never without a bag to hold the unravelled braid, scissors, and a tool for unpicking. Court business and social gossip had a continual accompaniment of tsrr...tsrr...tsrr. (History of Needlework Tools and Accessories, Sylvia Groves, 1966)
Where did they get all the braid and lace? Aha, here's the meat of it. Gentlemen friends brought them old jackets and suchlike, as gifts. But the enthusiasm outran the supply of old clothes, and pretty soon the clever goldsmiths started making little figures and ornaments of galons that a gentleman could give to a lady for brief admiration followed by careful destruction.
"Sheep, dogs, squirrels, cradles, carriages in miniature, &c. were offered, admired, and then pulled to pieces for 'parfilage'. It afforded good opportunity for innumerable gallantries. A gentleman went to a masked ball in a costume purposely composed of cloth of gold and bullion, worth two hundred pounds, which he sent next day to a lady." (Lady Sarah Davison Nicolas, 1849)
A lady sufficiently flirtatious and industrious could reportedly earn 100 Louis d'or in a year. With apparently no damage to her reputation, either for the labour or the rapacity.
I'm not at all sure what I'm going to do with this, but it fits so clearly into the braiding / untying / knotting themes of Willow Knot that it must go somewhere in the court section.

In other news, I've found another way to make things difficult for Myl. She's been aware that she's vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft, or just nasty gossip, and today I figured out where that's going to happen and how. Yes. And how difficult it will be for her to confront or even track down.
A discussion on the book forum reminded me of the old belief that scratching a witch's face enough to draw blood would break her spell, and I think that's going to fit in nicely.
And last weekend, though I didn't get as much written as I'd hoped, I did figure out a way to up the drama of the scene where Alard has his last chance to catch Myl before she returns to the willow for good. Not only does he get to deal with the walking corpse of his queen (well, she's mostly dead) but Midame will be on the scene as well, and will probably try to prevent any reconciliation by whatever means she has access to.
More characters to keep track of in the room, but much better if she's there.

The awkward part is that I probably won't be home this weekend, although I have all sorts of bits to add to the story. I won't even be near an electrical outlet, most likely. The best I can do is to bring the research books I need and spend my spare time (which there will be hours of) reading what I didn't get to at Pennsic.

Presently reading: Blood and Ivory, by P.C. Hodgell, Meisha Merlin, 2002. I'm enjoying it, mostly because I like Hodgell's books, and I'm happy to read more of Jamethiel Priest's-Bane regardless. The stories so far are fairly slight, giving more depth to backstory already established in the series. It's for fans, and I'm a fan, so that works out nicely. It probably wouldn't appeal to someone who hadn't read the series, or to someone who wasn't also interested in how a writer develops a character. Jame has been with Hodgell since her teens or childhood, by the looks of it, and has gone through many settings and incarnations. I had a little thrill of confirmation to see that Tai-tastigon was intentionally a Fritz Leiber setting, because that's what I thought it was back when I first began reading.
As always, I'm vastly impressed that Jame escapes Mary Sue status. I don't quite know how, because I'm sure she'd score very high on the test. Perhaps because Hodgell is playing with the tropes, winding them until they snap?

Friday, September 7, 2007

fame, how fleeting, how bittersweet

So, that interview I posted about last month? It was in the Times-Colonist yesterday, rating two separate pages. People I work with have read it.
Mark's business name: Gaukler Medieval Wares, was spelt incorrectly and his url was not provided, perhaps because the story had mutated from a Business section story to a Life section story. The PARMA website was given, which is something, and Mark's already had a phone call from a hopeful novelist researching the latter part of the 14th c.
All in all, I'm relieved. The facts are mostly correct (I'm pretty sure I didn't say 'transporting' because it's not a word in my vocab. but that's minor) and the photograph chosen does not show us gazing moonily into each other's eyes. That would have amused our friends mightily. MC has already said that she'd frame one like that, and point to it as evidence that we really do love each other.
Posed, all posed, a put-up job if ever was.
The photo of Beth and Sarah is much cuter. I'm sure Sarah was fun to interview. She certainly provided some fine quotes.

But today's fame is tomorrow's fish&chip wrapper, and what a life lesson is there, eh?
I could do with some fish&chips, come to think of it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

going under for the 3d time

Is that a recognisable reference any more? When I was a child it was supposed to be that drowning people went down 3 times, and the 3d time they didn't come up again. Cartoons had swimmers holding up one, two and three fingers as they succumbed, the last being the three fingers alone, slowly going under. I had a vague idea that rescue was only to be attempted on the 3d submersion.
But I ramble.
Done. Wrapped it up at 11:54 with 18,600 words by wordprocessor count, 98 pages in SMF. I'll post my progress wordcount later, after I've had some sleep. And dazed wondering where the story went, I'll post that too. It might be less dazed by then.

Next morning, FutureBarb entry:
Slept in until 6:30, probably because of putting up a new (darker) curtain in the bedroom. Breakfast, feeding of cat, watering of plants. Feet under the laptop by 7:45
break at 9:40 am for more tea - 12335 words
11:52 break for lunch - 13316
3:44 pm break for heated-up Chinese food - 14027
7:35 break for heated-up meat pie, cherry tomatoes from garden - 15120
Mark returns home somewhere in here, but tells me to keep typing and goes to have a shower
9:08 just checking - 16006
Oddly, this was my final wordcount at 11:45 pm last year. Two-and-a-half hours left to beat it!
11:06 just checking - 17668
11:54 call it quits and format to smf - 18570

Story stuff. The MPD aspect went west. Pearl is kinda crazy (think Emily Carr in later years) but not a multiple. She sees ghosts, goes to art school, falls in love/lust and out again, paints a series of ghost portraits that she becomes known for, falls into cranky dementia and does a landscape-with-crow-and-lost-child series as her last show while she's still holding it mostly together.
At story's end she wanders from the home looking for something, which turns out to be the lost girl, and the crow is looking for them both.
Is it good? Dunno. On the mechanical side, sentence construction, spelling etc. I'm usually okay, even when sleepy and stupid. Things happen in the story, and there are recurring themes and motifs, though some fall by the wayside and aren't really resolved. Pearl's first love affair is kind of scanted, but it may be better that way than fully explored and overbalancing the story.
The writing is less visual than in Fold, though Pearl's artist's eye gets some play, and there's some messing about with art jargon and thinking which medium would work better for which bit of scenery. The story is more rooted in the real world - Alberta farmland mostly - which means I did have to go and check a few things, like which art school she could have gone to, and the names of colours of pencil crayons. Which also slowed me down, of course.
I wasn't able to recover the straight-ahead don't-think altered state that I managed last year but this was a different challenge. The benefit this time is that I can probably edit and revise this one, where Fold has felt so all-of-a-piece I haven't really been able to crack it and tweak.

Today: printing it out and getting a statement (probably from Chris) that I wrote it all over the Labour Day weekend. And mailing.
Maybe next year I'll write an 18th c. epistolary novel with lots of abductions and duels and natural children and false confessions.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

halfway across the channel

Today I wrote the ending and more of the beginning. The MPD aspect may be dropped--I've discovered that the middle will be Pearl studying art, so she may see the ghosts and render them in paint to lay/release them. To be discovered. But I'm not sure yet what the effect will be of her having lost a portion of her child-self.
Tangent: there's a story by Leon Garfield, where an old miser sells 5? 7? years of his life to a mysterious stranger, only to find that he's sold them from the beginning of his life, not the end, and finds himself haunted by the ghost of his child-self.

The ending is Pearl in a seniors home, mental confusion and my attempt at rendering dementia. So that may be taken as the result of the crow hanging over her and the fragmenting of her self, or not.
I'm having a qualm or two, because this is based on incidents in a real person's real life and there are boundaries. I'm just not sure where they are. I've changed names and details (I've had to invent most details), but is that enough?
Well, it's not going to win or anything. The most I'll do with it is print a few copies on Lulu for myself and friends if I like it when it's done.

Up at 5:30, breakfast of egg and cereal. Feed cat, start load of laundry.
Sit down at laptop
8:00 am 6370 words
9:30 am 7125
12:30, break for lunch 8245
2:09 pm 9195
4:08 pm break for early dinner 9790
6:06 pm 10071
9:03 pm break for food 11343 words.
I haven't noted breaks for running in place because I've been fitting those in whenever I heat up tea or coffee in the microwave, so fairly often.
Although I went to the chiropracter on Friday, as part of prep, my shoulders are tight and my back is a bit of a problem. I've taken breaks to stretch, but the more useful thing has been to shove a coldpack between my back and the chairback.

I found my last year's wordcount tracking. It's not by the hour, it's notations of the total each time I had to stop, whether to attend a meeting or recharge a battery. Here's how it runs, for comparison:
late night gate duty has me awake at the 12:01 am opening of the contest. By the time I have to stop and teach a class on resources for performing period plays,
2088 words
at the Haggen's coffeeshop where I can recharge Alicia's laptop,
Sunday morning at the Haggen's
back in camp until I have to break off for a Laurels meeting
after the meeting until the battery runs low
A long stint at the Haggen's, which runs all night, though I do not
Monday morning at the Haggens, a nice long time with no other commitments
Here Alicia copies my file onto a cd and I transfer it back to my own laptop. On the ferry home
home until dinner time
dinner until 11:45 pm, the cutoff being midnight

These are all wordprocessor count, by the way. So I'm not as far ahead as I would have hoped based on staying in one place. On the other hand, I'm working without a net (ie. outline) this time, and that means far more to discover as I go, and less to charge ahead with. A slower business.
I conclude that for speed I need at least a minimal outline. Well, down I go again, and hoping I remember enough of Emily Carr's bio to write 1950s art school convincingly. But I will sleep soon. I only got in about 600 words in the late slot last night. Not really worth the loss of sleep, when I do better by getting up early.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

a bobbing head breaks the sullen surface

3-Day Novel contest is on. At present I am still coherent, and shouldn't really be wasting my 'quiet aware' state posting, but I have my duty towards my fanbase, you know (cough, choke) regardless of the weight of sacrifice I must endure.
I got up at 5:30 am, my usual time, watered the plants and had breakfast: boiled egg, shredded wheat and a bowl of blackberries. Made tea, sat down and started typing.
9:40 am, break to make coffee: 1,011 words
1:10 pm, break to stretch, run in place and fetch snacks: 2,260 words
3:11 pm, break to run in place, think about dinner: 3,212 words
5:09 pm, break to bike to bank, order Chinese food: 4,216
8:40 pm, break to run in place, feed cat: 5,083 words.

My target, which I don't expect to hit, but which gives me something to aim at, is 8-10k a day. My priority is having a complete story, regardless of length. I'm planning the same strategy I used last year, a story with a set beginning and end, the middle to be filled like an accordion, stretching as time and energy permit, pleats flattening into ripples.
As far as story goes, I'm 3 chapters in (chapters being a fairly arbitrary division) and little Pearl has wandered from her home into the prairie. Her parents search and fear. An avatar of slow and lonely death (a crow, as it happens) hangs over her, and a semblance or segment of Pearl flees into the night. The carrion-crow follows, leaving the real Pearl curled sleeping on the ground, where she is found the next morning by German Shepherd Dale.
Dale is based on a real police dog Dale, so I might be changing his name tomorrow.
I'm playing here with the psychic investigation / paranormal theory that ghosts are split away during extreme stress, and will be mixing that up with MPD (yeah, the same idea I'm playing with in Climbing Boys, but a different treatment).

Now I must sink again and see if I can gear up into my 1k/hr speed, my peak last year. 16k total shouldn't be that hard to beat, when I don't have any meetings to attend, ferries to catch or classes to teach!