Monday, February 26, 2001

Hi there, long time no see.  There's some news after the rambling if you want to skip down.

Let's see, what have I been up to? I wrote a poem, "Stuck in Traffic on Highway 101: A Meditation on the Virtual" (which belongs with "The Ant King" in some kind of  "Nostalgic Silicon Valley Parodies" series), finished up a poem called "To work" that I've been working on forever (it's a Whitmanesque series of images and always seemed unfinished, so I added a philosophical little rhyming coda... I don't know if it's an improvement or not, but I'm sick of it lying around), and sent them off together with "Susie" (in its original incarnation as a poem) to a fun little lit mag called Amelia. And I wrote a couple of beginnings to short stories. All that, really, as a way of procrastinating on revising "A Siege of Cranes".

I got a lot of good critiques back. Maybe too many. I don't know, sometime I want to write something and have everyone say, "Wow, this is the best story in the history of Western Literature! Don't change ANYTHING!" This has not happened yet.  I got ten critiques of this story, if you count showing it to Esther as a first reader. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Ten critiques was a little overwhelming. I sometimes feel like I need to change everything anyone didn't like. (I know, I just went on about following your vision even against the majority vote of the critiques, but I'm mercurial like that.) 

The top five things people hated about "A Siege of Cranes" were:

  • Pacing, especially the beginning being slow and pompous (and somewhat irrelevant)
  • The dénouement not being foreshadowed or set up in the slightest
  • The hero's dialect being inconsistent (especially since the plot calls attention to it)
  • The villain's motivations being unclear
  • The voice of the story being too emotionally distant from the hero
Well, I took a crack at it on Friday and wrote a new beginning which foreshadows at least some of the ending a little better. I have an idea for explaining the villain's motivations. I tried to bring the tone a little closer to the emotions of the hero, but I may end up being somewhat stubborn here: I like the tone being somewhat distant -- I think it works for Sword and Sorcery, I think it bestows some subtlety and grandeur. (However, at the same time I'm somewhat suspicious of myself; I think a flaw in my writing in general is a lack of convincing emotion. I'm more comfortable with things being droll and dry and removed, or with deep emotion being implied in an understated way, off screen as it were. So I'll struggle with it some more in "A Siege of Cranes" and try to find a balance.)

The big problem I have -- oddly, since it doesn't seem like it would be that big a problem -- is with Marish's dialect. I actually think the way I hear Marish -- the way he talks in my head -- is consistent; it's both sort of folksy and archaic; it's not like any dialect I've heard, it's just the way they spoke in Ilmak Dale. I think I could do it in a spoken monologue and people would get it. However, I despair of communicating it on the printed page. People pretty unanimously had a problem with it, and unlike the emotional distance or the alienation at the end of "Baby Love", this is not something where I feel like I should stick to my guns out of artistic integrity. In "Baby Love", I think I produced the effect I wanted in the reader -- people sympathized with Ted, but were disturbed. People just didn't always like that, but that's okay. But here, I am not producing the effect I want at all. It's just not coming across. It's a clear case of "murder your darlings". 

However, I have no clue how to make Marish's dialect recognizable and consistent and not totally cheesy, except to make it standard English, and that gives me an annoying plot problem. I suppose I could invent something other than Marish's dialect for the djinn to buy, but somehow I'm totally uninspired to do so. Blah. After I hit this problem, I stopped revising and brooded and played Civilization all weekend (which, after Sanctum of course, is my favorite computer game). When I used to be in the game industry I could play computer games all night and call it research. Now I can call it... ah... working out creative tension. Yeah. And lying fallow. That's it.

[I also read two good books, The Lady in The Lake by Raymond Chandler (not as good as Farewell, My Lovely, but still, the man is a master) and Fake Liar Cheat by Tod Goldberg -- a first novel, and an excellent one. The voice is great, the pace is unrelenting, and it's very funny. I was reading it this morning and I could hardly manage to stop and go to work. The ending was a little bit of a letdown, though. Oh, and I saw Mystery Men on DVD: corny but funny and sometimes delightful.]

Some of this procrastination (and I was also pretty cranky when not doping myself with fiction and electronic entertainment) may also have been nervous will-I-get-in-to-Clarion tension, which brings me chronologically to Monday morning's email...

I'm in!

Yep, I got into Clarion East. I will be spending six weeks this summer (most of them away from Aviva, which sounds like sheer hell at the moment ;-< ) being pounded and fired like a Ploughshare of Longing beaten into a Sword of Truth. Or something. Either in Michigan or in Seattle, as I am still waiting for a response from Clarion West. Clarion West is actually my preference, as it would be easier timing-wise for Esther and Aviva to visit in the middle of my stay, I have friends in Seattle, and Octavia Butler is teaching and I think her work is fascinating.

This clears up my tension depression, and I am pretty excited -- when I think about the six weeks themselves, other than the missing Aviva and Esther part, I can't help but smile and bounce up and down a little. At the same time, I didn't actually run around the house hyperventilating the way I did when I sold "The Ant King". Partly this is because this means the hard work has just begun -- I'm a little daunted by Clarion, now that it's real. If I thought ten email critiques, mostly positive, of  "A Siege of Cranes" over the course of a couple of weeks was hard to take, how am I gonna take the intensity of speculative fiction boot camp? Yikes.

And the other thing is that, somehow, I've just been assuming I'm going. I know that sounds a little cocky. But I've spent so much time and energy dreaming about and preparing for Clarion that it's just gradually grown from being a wild idea to being a certainty in my head. I just declared I'm going and the universe has to hustle along to get in line with that. I know that's odd, but that's what it feels like. I saw it in my email and my heart jumped, but at the same time I thought: "Ah, yes. Of course."

Karina got in too! The one consolation for not getting into Clarion West would be getting to go with a fellow Web Rat. (Are any other Rats applying this year?) Congrats Karina!

Other good news from this morning's email: Sock Monkey Charles Coleman Finlay reports that he and I are listed together as upcoming new authors in the "Coming Attractions" blurb of this months' F&SF. What fun!

And, a rejection of "Corporate Anthropology" from Paul Fraser of Spectrum SF, who writes:

Thanks for letting me look at your story -- unfortunately I can't use it.
IMHO the first part is a little wooden and unconvincing and the rest of it unfolds more or less on its own regardless of the characters.

Ouch. But you know, he's right. My excellent critiquers from RMCrit will perhaps be annoyed to learn that, frustrated with tinkering with it and without the oomph to make the big changes needed, I just sent off the old version. I guess I won't send it again until I actually go through with that revision I keep talking about. 

Still, I like getting rejections. They mean closure. Though an acceptance is better, mail is mail. I'm like a six-year-old acting up; positive attention is preferable, but I'll take what I can get.

The Aviva report! I don't have any actual new pictures, but here's an unintentionally arty one you haven't seen, and here she is with Esther's folks, I don't think you've seen that one either.

Aviva is getting stronger, more in touch with her environment, and more purposeful. She has crossed the line from pretty clearly just flailing her arms in response to stimuli to a state where it's a judgment call if she's flailing or reaching. She reacts differently to different sounds (she grins when you say "OOooo!") and sometimes says things back (like "oo!" and "oigle!"). She has more complex expressions, like pride, mischievous delight, rage and betrayal. That's what they look like anyway. Betrayal comes up when you turn her over when she was PERFECTLY COMFORTABLE THE WAY SHE WAS, THANK YOU!

Aviva is not really into this whole being on her stomach thing. If you put her on her stomach she immediately does a push-up, picking her head and as much of her chest off the floor as she can manage. She's actually pretty pleased with herself for about three seconds of this, at which point she stops finding it amusing and starts bobbing downwards unsteadily, rocking back and forth, and getting really mad. We do it anyway sometimes because, you know, won't she end up looking all funny if she's never on her stomach? But we have a pretty low tolerance for her frustration.