Monday, August 4, 2008

All kinds of harvests

Fruit harvest. Mark is in Pennsylvania, at the Pennsic War, while I manage the home front. The Transparent apples have already started dropping, and I've done two dehydrator loads and have a third humming away in the laundry room as I type. It's a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator, by the way, and I'm quite pleased with it.
Two mixing bowls of windfall Transparents sit on the counter, waiting their turn, and a half-dozen unbruised apples are reserved to the hanging basket, to go for brown bag lunches.
Transparents are nice tart apples, best just before they're ripe (I think). They bruise easily and their ripeness window is much like pears, in that when they look lovely and golden on the outside, they've passed their prime and become mushy. Like pears, they tend to come ripe all at once, so that you have to run around the neighbourhood by night, leaving bags of fruit on your neighbours' doorsteps. In late summer there can be a lot of this sort of traffic, and what Neighbourhood Watch makes of it I'm not sure. But this is why I consider dehydrators one of those Important Inventions, like printing presses and bread slicers.
The white currant bush has been fruiting for a couple of months, and I've been having a bowl of currants for breakfast, with no apparent diminishing of the available crop. According to Food From Your Garden, I've been picking them wrong, and should have been taking the whole stalk, then removing the berries by 'running the prongs of a fork down the length of the stalk', which sounds like a brilliant idea.
The blackberries, which cover the rock that makes a sort of back wall to the garden, are vigorous this year, probably because I was hacking them back in the winter and spring. The berries are coming in purple and black at the tips of the stalks, and I had a bowlful this morning. As the ripeness moves back along the vine, there'll be more and more coming ripe at once, and they don't dry well, so it'll be the freezer for them.
Hmm, this might be a good time to try defrosting the freezer, with the dehydrator going beside it to provide extra impetus. Hmm. Before it starts to fill up again with fruit.

Book harvest. I've been bookswapping with my friends Joanna (who used to run Poor Richard's Books) and Anna, and have been making some small inroads on my TBR pile(s) as well. Recently read:
The Sun the Moon and the Stars, by Steven Brust, in the Fairy Tales series, both because I read most of the Fairy Tales series, and because it's recommended by Jim Macdonald in his Learn Novel Writing with Uncle Jim thread on Absolute Write. I can see why, because the narrator talks about how he understands painting (the modern part of the story takes place in a studio shared by struggling artists) and his discussion and discoveries about painting and creating art are dead on for writing. They might also apply to music, but I'm not sure, because I'm not a musician, and because I think there are differences between 'artifact art' and 'experience art'. Someone on the writing thread stopped reading the book because of not liking the narrator, which seemed to me to be missing the point, rather.
Through a Brazen Mirror, by Delia Sherman, which I'd wanted to find because I keep a list of books based on ballads and folksongs, and this is a retelling of The Famous Flower of Serving Men (Child 106), the version performed by Martin Carthy. It's a bleak song, and a bleaker story, beautifully grounded in a closely-observed medieval world. Happy endings are in short supply. A young woman's husband and child are murdered by bandits, and she is left to wander the world alone. It isn't cruel fate, it's the malice of her mother, a witch who fears destruction at the hands of the daughter who doesn't even know she exists. In the witch's thread, it's the old trap of trying to defeat a prophecy, with every stratagem doing more to bring it about. In the daughter's thread, it's trying to survive when you've lost even the reason to. Disguised as a young man, she takes service with a king, who himself mourns the death in battle of his favourite.
I was interested to see how the song narrative was fleshed out with motivations and background, because that's what I've been doing with Willow Knot, filling in the gaps. It's felt to me as if most of what developed was already there in the original text, like seeds in the furrows, and the revising and reworking and rethinking is what brings them to full growth.
Winter Rose and Solstice Wood, by Patricia McKillip. I'm not entirely sure I should consider them together, because they're quite different, although one is a sort-of sequel to the other. Both are first person narration by a young woman who lives by a forest that is also the Fair Folk's forest, and who is unsure whether she herself is fully human, both are about mortals trapped in the Fairy Queen's land and the bargains made to bring them out again. But Solstice Wood pretty much overturns everything you think you learned from Winter Rose. In a pretty conceit, Rois's account (the first book) is preserved as a guide and handbook by her descendants in the second book.
The first book is not really a retelling of Tam Lin (Child 39), I'd say more that it's informed by the story of Tam Lin (surely the most retold ballad in the English language), as well as by The Heir of Linne (Child 267), with its ruined hall and father's curse. The writing is beautiful. F&SF's review is quoted: 'every sentence seems chipped from jewels or woven from water'. The storyline is fairly low-key, concerning a few people in a small village, and the stakes are a sister's life and a lover's soul, no kingdoms or worlds hanging in the balance. There's higher jeopardy in the second book, where the fairy realm may be at risk--though what the reader cares about, I think, is the two young mortals lost in that realm.
There was a discussion on Absolute Write some time back, about whether fictional heroes always have to save the world. One of the points brought up was that 'the world' is a rather amorphous concept, and needed, often, to be personalised (accessorised?) by a specific and concrete jeopardy of a loved one or a home. Which makes me wonder whether one really needs to bother with the world part, or better to save time and wordage by going straight to the small and particular jeopardy?

Beta harvest. I've had two sets of crits back from the Willow Knot 3d draft readers, mostly specific tweakings and clarifications. The denouement (Paul points out how appropriate that word is, meaning 'unknotting') is still an issue. I've found a jury-rigged solution for Midame's story, but it's not quite satisfactory. Paul suggested doing it as a prologue, which indeed I had considered except for that whole NO, NO, Nobody reads prologues! thing. Personally I read prologues, epilogues, forewords, afterwords, acknowledgements, dedications and the excerpt from the next book that's sometimes tucked in at the end. Because I paid for those words, dammit, and I'm going to get value. But I realise there are readers out there who just let extra words go to waste.
I'm doing my best to fix all the faults that I can clearly see as faults, but there are some places where I can't choose between alternatives. Midame's testimony is one. Another is the question of whether Baldolf should escape - it might make the trial (and hence the book) shorter, which would be a good thing, because ideally I'd like to cut another 5k and bring it down to 100k even. But it would look so much like sequel-bait, and might reduce the (already limited) satisfaction of the ending. Argh.

Deadlines: the 3-Day Novel Contest is coming up, and I want to have this draft (semi-draft?) finished before that weekend, so that I can concentrate.
Also, Viable Paradise is coming up, and at Potlatch the VPXers present vowed to have their current project at least half finished by the next VP, which means I need about another 20k wordage on The Astrologer's Death. I groan here, because that means another fight scene with revenants, and writing action scenes for me is like wading knee-high through gumbo mud. I'm told that this doesn't show afterwards, which is comforting, but still doesn't make me look forward to them.
From p.50 of The Sun the Moon and the Stars: "But you know what annoys me? It doesn't bother me when the work paints itself (or if you like, paints me)--that's what I most love. It doesn't even bother me when I have to fight for every drop, and spend hours covering a two-inch square ... No, what annoys me is that after I've finished a piece I can't tell which parts were easy and which parts were like pulling teeth."

2 comments:

Evan Goer said...

Yikes, thanks for the reminder. I'm hoping to have a complete draft done, but time is slipping away.

The good news is that my necklace story is finally done. I need to ping Elise.

batgirl said...

You're welcome - I'd hoped to have a complete first draft, but this revising, it takes time!
Congrats on getting the necklace story done - you're in fine company there.