Wednesday, January 9, 2008

things I can't write

But Mum was not the kind of person who listened when you told her things. So you ended up not telling her, and when Mum realised, she was hurt. And when Ivy was hurt, she shut you out completely.
Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones.

I was reading Fire and Hemlock last year, sitting on the bus, and when I read that, I had to stop and catch my breath. It struck so exactly to the centre-point of the relationship I was struggling with at the time.
No change to what happened, in the end, but I gained some understanding of what was going on.
DWJ is good at human (and gryphon and so on) relationships, and writes manipulative people in a nastily convincing way. Particularly she does the inner workings of dysfunctional families well. Her own family seems to have been quite spectacularly dysfunctional, and Time of the Ghost looks to be nearly autobiographical. I found it a hard read. I kept wanting to call the child protection agencies for those girls.
I don't know whether I could write that sort of family with conviction.
I'm fairly sure I couldn't convincingly write an adult woman's interaction with her mother, because I have no direct experience. Even my adolescent interactions with my mother would probably look unconvincing, since I had very little conflict with her. It was mostly my peer group I hated and feared.
Not that we had a perfect relationship, because I was a self-centred, unhelpful and over-emotional child, but there wasn't a generation gap (in the parlance of the times) between us. We shared books and ideas and a sense of humour. If she had lived into my early adulthood, would we still have gotten along? I think so. We hadn't developed any of those mother-daughter routines that go nowhere and drive both parties to distraction, and if we hadn't by the time I was 16, it was probably safe.
I can't write landscape description either. I blame this on my shortsightedness. So I had better not attempt a story where a dysfunctional family squabbles in a landscape.

Rejection yet again: But a promising comment from Clarkesworld.

Barbara,

Thanks, but it's not for us. We found it mostly engaging and
well-written, but towards the end all the question-answer
exposition in the dialogue becomes a problem for the pacing.
More of the climbing boy himself than the tiny taste we get
at the end would probably help, and less meandering through
theories like this:

"Some of them is right for ghost-sweepin'. The doctor has some
poncey word which I don't recollect just now, Multiples or suchlike."

Since the idea of "multiple personalities" has become old hat
in genre fiction of all kinds, it would be more interesting to
stay far away from inviting the reader to compare Ned's
condition with it. Instead, if there must be speculation, it
should be particular to this setting in a way that expands the
differences between it and our own world. We also thought the
suggestion of a story at the end would be potentially even more
interesting; a piece about the climbing boys' attempts to form
a union would be something we'd like to read. In fact, should
you ever write a sequel to this, please feel free to send it
our way.
Ack. Why is everyone suggesting I write something else which I don't know if I can write?

4 comments:

Dave said...

It is a bittersweet kind of rejection, isn't it? Like, "Oh, they like me enough to ask for another story. Sweet. Unfortunately, it's not the one I've sent them or one I have..." Yeah, keep plugging away, Barbara. Are you thinking about writing the story they suggested?

avo said...

That reminds me of a riddle: how many bowling pins does the audience want you to juggle?

One more.

dawtheminstrel said...

A friend of mine gets a newsletter from Holly Lisle. She recently sent me these paragraphs from that newsletter:

If you haven't started submitting your own work yet, you don't realize
what a massive step it is to start getting personal comments from editors
and agents. Most of my first hundred+ rejections were unsigned forms.
Then I got one or two notes back from editors, scrawled across form
rejections. And suddenly I was getting a steady stream of
"almost-but-not-quite" notes.

Within a year of that, I'd made my first sales (those two poems to
Aboriginal), followed by the sale of my first novel just under a year
later.

Personal rejections from agents and editors in any major market are huge.
When you start getting them, you're close to becoming published.


You see my point?

batgirl said...

Dave, I'm fairly daunted at the thought of writing the story they suggest, especially if I have to keep it within a 4k limit. I mean, there's a reason I ended the story there. I must think about it, thoughtfully.

Bart - my husband used to practice juggling with crusher balls from the copper mine he worked at in the summer. It teaches you to keep your feet out of the way...

Dorothy, yep, there's an encouraging aspect, even allowing for Nick having committed to comment on every submission (bets have been placed on how long he can keep doing that before exhaustion). His rejection of Bride was less encouraging, but Bride was also a more superficial story.
I just need to cut closer to the heart, I guess.
-Barbara