October 7th, 2013

writing everywhere

Towards a Farthing Party con report: Maybe It’s Sunspots

I’m going to talk with names on this, because it was a very personal panel, and there was a lot of “this works for x but not for y.” It featured Jo, Greer, and me, since we are all having very productive years. One of the important points Jo made was that productivity is personal–Greer is having a very productive year for Greer, and while that meant she was a little startled by the word counts Jo and I were discussing, it didn’t make her productivity less real or less important. Jo talked about how we are improving on ourselves, not reproducing others.

I quoted Alec as saying, “Thinking is the most important part of writing,” and it sounded like we had been substantially thinking in advance on these books, so that they were more ready when we got to them. Someone–I didn’t note who–described chunks of book falling on them with flaming swords through a blizzard. For me it’s more that everything I’m writing is much closer. It’s like I would usually have to stretch a little to reach it on the shelf, and now it’s all just sitting on the desk within reach.

One of the notable points of commonality is that these bouts of productivity did not, contra suffering artist cliches, come from times of great suffering. Greer was coming out of the first flush of a great grief, and Jo and I had less physical interference than we sometimes do with writing. (I should note that the plane ride home was through a thunderstorm and has kicked up my vertigo–and that this has not turned the spigot off. Which is in some ways a relief and in some ways pretty alarming.)

Greer apparently had her book fall on her head while eating strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar. And to this I say: this is excellent advice for young writers. Those who have strawberry or dairy allergies can modify it slightly. But think of all the things we tell young writers as advice! Some of these things are potentially harmful! Eating strawberries, on the other hand, might not help them with their stories but is highly unlikely to do any harm. The next time someone tells you to outline or freewriter or talk it out with a friend or keep it bottled up inside or whatever else they tell you as writing advice, feel free to substitute, “Or strawberries. I could eat strawberries and think of my story. It might work, and if it didn’t work, at least there would be strawberries.”

I bet this works for other art forms, too, at least as well as it works for writing.

Anyway. I talked about the three rules I was following (discussed in this post, and Jenett and I had a good laugh about how well they map to the 4H pledge), but that’s by no means universal. A lot of people don’t try to keep up with doing everything else while they’re having an unusually productive period, or else can’t even if they do try, and that’s okay; the unusually productive periods do not last forever. One of the audience members once wrote a contract novel in 56 hours, playing Richard Thompson on repeat the whole time. This audience member still appears to be on speaking terms with their family.

Honestly, folks, I expected this panel to be a retrospective. Gosh, I had a productive month! 2/3 of a novel and 8 short stories! Wasn’t that productive! But so far it’s still going. I have one or possibly two short stories to finish up this week, and then it’s straight into the next book, for which I have [counting] five pages of notes on paper sitting on my desk. It’s doing that thing where if I don’t actively think of something else, the book says, “Helllooooo, book here, you wanted this plot point, didn’t you? I could tell you did. Also here is some worldbuilding! You’re welcome!” I think it was during the process panel (more on which anon) that Jo talked about if she didn’t want to do the laundry, getting a character in her head who thought the washing machine was awesome modern technology, so much better than having to drag it down to the river and pound on it and etc. And I do that too. Except, for example, if an opening act at a concert is no good and it would be rude to snark out loud about it, if a novel is going well, there’s usually at least one character in the novel who would snark about it too. And then the snark starts telling me worldbuilding things about the character’s assumptions about education or art or whatever else. And then there it all is. Which is a lot more diverting than a bad opening act, don’t get me wrong! It’s just that it’s there all the time.

And this is part of why I’m writing another novel: because the fire hose is still turned on, and sticking short story shot glasses under it to catch the water is only partly useful. And then there’s this novel! So who knows how long the fire hose will keep going, but…there’s this novel! So here we are. Still. Okay then.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

out with friends, crown

Towards a Farthing Party con report: Saturday afternoon

The work of John M. Ford. This panel ended up more memorial than analytical. Both are worthy, but I think with Mike’s work, there’s so much variety that it would be hard to talk analytically about more than one or possibly two at the outside, just to bring the focus into something manageable for an hour-long panel. In fact one of the issues discussed was that Mike didn’t do just one thing, and that this was a blessing and a curse for him as a writer. He changed the rules of each form he worked in and had a horror of being obvious. There was also substantial discussion of his focus on triumph over despair and his firm moral sense.

Make a will make a will make a will make a will no really I mean it make a will.

Families and Generations. I was on this. We talked about the primacy in many speculative genres of romantic relationships but not the aspect of romantic relationships that gets to be familial–negotiations and “roommate stuff” and like that, which shows up a lot more in mimetic genres. Someone proposed that the mimetic genres have more room for this stuff, since they’re not having to build the world from scratch, but on the other hand the speculative genres have more need for it, since what we don’t build is not there. What I want, and what I think several people present wanted, is not necessarily for families to have to play a direct role in every story but that they should cast their shadows on it–that characters’ places in their families should be clear from characterization, that they should think of their families and be influenced by them in various real-world ways–at least some of the time.

We talked a bit about how the timing of the story matters as to what kind of dynamic you can have–little children have a very different story dynamic with each other and with parents than do teens or grown children. It’s also possible with younger grandparents in a story to–gasp shock amazement–have a story with grandparents wherein the grandparent does not have to die.

There was also some thought about how difficult it is to write a sequel to a romance, how it require some kind of destabilization of the previous ending or in fact of the character’s lives in general.

Works discussed: Pilgrim’s Progress, Dark Lord of Derkholm, Minerva Wakes, the Moomin books, pretty much all of Pamela Dean, Saga, Pacific Rim, superhero comics (in that some companies are walking back nearly all their familial relationships–but not the Fantastic Four, the Fantastic Four is all family!), Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Steve Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, Jay Williams’s The Magic Grandfather, Among Others, Aliette de Bodard’s “On a Red Station, Drifting,” C. J. Cherryh’s family ships, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, Suzette Hadin Elgin, Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside, Robert Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones, Brave, Buffy, Medium, Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population, Daniel Abraham’s Long Price quartet, Piers Anthony (very very badly), and Marge Piercy’s He, She, & It.

Ends of the World: every age its own apocalypse! There was a strong theme of different apocalypses being popular in fiction for different generations: while plagues and environmental disasters are good perennial staples, their forms do vary. Overpopulation and nuclear war are out of fashion. The Yellowstone supervolcano and the underwater cliff out from the Canary Islands are much more de rigeur perhaps.

The cyberpunk motto (or at least a cyberpunk motto) was apparently, “Apocalypse is boring.” Humans tend to muddle through.

“Apocalypse” means revelation: you will understand everything on the last page. That’s part of the appeal. Another theory proposed was that there was a certain amount of processing of the possibility of nuclear war through more fantastical apocalypses. Also there is a certain sense of the cozy catastrophe–the idea that if only these other people weren’t around, how grand things would be. This is in some ways apocalypse as high school escape fantasy rather than nuclear war processing. The 14th century’s huge European population drop resulted in improved property and labor conditions for the remaining humans, so there’s something to the coziness, even if it’s sometimes creepy and sadistic. Another panelist theorized–I think possibly quite correctly–that it’s a lot easier for some readers to consider mass extinction than their own personal individual deaths.

On the other hand, the panelists who had lived through urban disasters reported that people behave much better than writers theorize. JG Ballard’s personal experiences are at least something of a counterexample, but they relate to war, not other disasters.

Works discussed included: Joanna Russ’s “We Who Are About To…” (the anti-”The Cold Equations”!), American Psycho, Breaking Bad, Iain Banks’s Complicity, Stephen Baxter, Larry Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” and Fallen Angels, The Stand, Spider Robinson, Alan Nourse, Earth Divides, Fourth Horseman, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s The Time of the Fourth Horseman, The Screwfly Solution, John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes, Peter Watts, Thomas Disch’s The Genocides, Christopher Priest’s Fugue for a Darkening Island, Keith Roberts’s The Furies, John Christopher, Good Omens, Kim Stanley Robinson’s capitol trilogy, Vinge’s The Peace War, Barry Longyear’s Sea of Glass, Z for Zachariah, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Lord of the Flies, Revelation Space, Spin, John Varley’s “Air Raid,” Ilsa Bick, Childhood’s End, The Child Garden, Left Behind, and Bruce Sterling.

Also, if various calculations are correct, Dante is due to exit Purgatory in 2017. Surely some fun can be had with this.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux