February 13th, 2006

writing everywhere

Breathe in, breathe out.

One of the editors who bought a story of mine has asked for a blurb about its inspiration and difficulties in writing it. And I'm sitting here going, "uhhh...it came from my head...and then I wrote it down on the page...and now you're publishing it. Good story, huh?"

Look, this is what my brain does, all right? Pattern recognition, pattern creation. There was a guy wearing a funny hat on BART once, and that's why I wrote the story in question. The series of stories in question, actually. It wasn't a really ultimately strange hat with cuckoo-clock mechanisms and solar power. It was just a hat that was shaped slightly strangely and cast a slightly pointy shadow, and this is the third story in that series I've sold, and I've written a fourth, and I can promise there will be more. Because of a hat. Does this make sense? No, of course it doesn't make sense. You can't ask writers to go around making sense all the time. Inspiration is breathing. You learn to see story things the way you breathe. It's not the only way, but it's certainly one way, and then you come back and say, "Well...I read this book about Russian art...and two of the Fabergés' assistants were Swedish Finns...and now I have two books and three short stories and more on the way." Do you think I've skipped a step there? Because that's roughly how the brain worked, with "and then a miracle occurs" right smack in the middle there. And I think that's always how the writerbrain works. A big leap happens somewhere, or you never get to secret planets of predictive mathematicians in the kinda-Roman Empire or to Trollopian dragons or to aliens whose gender isn't the same for very long. Sometimes you can say something like, "Oh, I thought that it was a scorpion on the back of CJ's bathroom door, but actually it was a lobster. It was the hanging hook that made me think it was a scorpion, you see?" And then you smile as though you've said something helpful, and everyone else smiles as if you might get loose at any minute, and you try, with a wrench, to restart the conversation with no one understanding the essential step any better than they did before.

And the difficulties in writing it? This question really baffles me. I had to think of the right words and put them in the right order. Like you do. That is as hard and as easy as it ever gets.

Perhaps I am just obtuse. This is a possibility never to be neglected.

Stupid adjectives anyway.

For the record, I have participated in exactly one of the window adjective thingamawhatsits, and that was pegkerr's, with the positive set of adjectives, and I used a name she will recognize as me (I believe it was something subtle like Mris). Some of my friendslist people have specifically requested anonymous participation, some the opposite. I'm not playing either way.

I have a problem with adjectives. One of my best former teachers, Marylyn, gave me a journal that she insisted was just for writing character sketches in. It now contains the sort of information about the characters in Fortress of Thorns and The Grey Road that you keep compiled for the sake of consistency: that Minor Character X has blue eyes and Spear Carrier Y is short, that Main Character Z has a December 8 birthday. Because character sketches of the type Marylyn means are not how I work; they're not how I think of people.

I feel sure that some fiction writers get a great deal of benefit out of telling about people that way, but it is frankly contrary to my storytelling impulse. If I could just sit down and tell you that Charlotte is a very stubborn person, intelligent, and fixated on figuring things out, I wouldn't have to write a four-book series with Charlotte in it. Adjectives don't cover it. Action covers it, dialog covers it, sometimes introspection covers it. But adjectives? No.

I am suspicious, is the problem. If a book tells me that Jane is generous, I say, "Really? What does she do that's so generous? Is she generous with stuff that matters to her, or does material stuff matter to her less than it does to many people? How does she behave that makes you think she has such a giving spirit? What could make her not be so generous?" This kind of adjective use makes me read with my arms folded and my mouth twisted: who says? And why should I trust you?

If someone asks me what kind of a person my friend S is (S is a psuper-psecret psubtle pseudonym for an actual friend), I won't say, "she's very conscientious" or "caring" or "generous," even though S is all of those things. I will say, "She spent her morning off taking T to the emergency room, and she worked nine hours overtime in one day to make sure everything was all right for the people she was helping." Or if they say, "What is markgritter's family like?", I might tell the story of my father-in-law and the borunjungens, or I might say how my biggest ongoing argument with my mother-in-law is about whether quantum mechanics is correct or not, and that seagrit is heartily tired of that argument even though it doesn't come up more than once a year.

I will tell stories 'til the cows come home. I just don't like adjectives.