Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I've noticed (not for the first time) that exiles play a big role in a lot of my writing. Sometimes it's a single person cast out for some reason. Sometimes (more often), it's an entire society--the Morhali of Darkness have been driven from their native lands; the Genies of Genies fled their original city to create what they still called even 5 centuries later, "The City in Exile"; and the entire population of my current novel has fled the Forgotten South to live in exile. This last one especially has exiles within exiles because of the strict caste society and people being cast out.

The theme seems to pop up elsewhere as well, in more metaphorical ways--the blind narrator of Genies, for example, is an exile even among his own people.

I wonder what it is about exile that it seems to come up so often. I don't personally feel exiled, even though I don't live where I grew up. But I know I find something very poignant about the entire concept. I remember hearing the story that when my grandfather sailed to the US, his father refused to speak to anyone for a long time, I want to say an entire year. They left, knowing they'd never see each other alive again. Someone could probably do something with that image that would make it feel merely sentimental...but there's just something about it, something about exile in general, that resists mere sentiment, that makes it powerful, I guess. It makes me think of LeGuin's discussion of archetypes.

I almost went off on a tangent there as to what archetype it might be, but I deleted it. Anyway, anyone who happens to stop by, I'd love to hear suggestions of novels or stories you can think of that deal with exile, whether literally or figuratively, in interesting ways.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Novel progress

I finished another chapter last night, and I have to say that I'm very excited about how this is shaping up. I know I'll have a lot to do in rewrite to get it where it needs to be--tweaking the characters so they have more consistent developments, setting up some of the plot points so they don't come quite so out of the blue (and some of them really did as I was writing), etc.--but that's fine. I think where it's at now is showing me that it will reward that full rewrite process and become a very solid manuscript. It's very different from the other things I've written in some ways, especially on the surface, but I'm sure that those who've read Darkness and Genies would see connections there, probably even many that I'm unaware of.

One thing I know I'll need to do before the rewrite (and really before the final chapters of the first draft), is a map of the city. I love maps--I'm sure I've mentioned that here before--but usually my maps have been on a bigger scale, showing a country or continent or even world (usually not quite that big of a scale, though). I guess on family car trips when I was young I'd entertain myself drawing maps of invented national parks (which had to include a canyon the size of Grand Canyon, a waterfall as wide as Niagara and as tall as Yosemite, and towering mountains for scenery, so that's not really a small scale) and invented campgrounds (with trails and ballparks and playground-type equipment that would appeal to whatever age I was at the time). So we'll see how the city map drawing goes. I sketched one this morning and realized that the full city is too big to map in the kind of detail I want, so I'll try another that zooms in on the southern part of the city.

Anyone else who is as fascinated with maps as I am (or even just a little curious), I'll recommend both Strange Maps (a blog that collects a variety of fascinating maps of real and imaginary places) and the series of columns at Strange Horizons about the cheese map of France, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Review of Postscripts #9

My review of this magazine is now up at Tangent. I enjoyed the stories...mostly. There were a couple that didn't work well for me. Those who know some of the things I've said about setting here and on forums (as well as those who've read even a few of my stories) will probably recognize just from my review that my favorite in many ways was the clown story by Lavie Tidhar--favorite and yet frustrating because it didn't feel like it ultimately lived up to its promise. The other standouts are probably "The End of the World Show" and "The Unforbidden Playground." And "Kins"--that's one that really stays with you long after finishing it.

My next assignment is an anthology--in hard copy, which makes me much happier.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A couple quotes from Black Swan Green

I just finished Black Swan Green by David Mitchell--it's quite different from both Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, which share a lot in common with each other, but still very good. (Cloud Atlas remains my favorite of the three.) It does make me curious--there's a stereotype of British schoolteachers as being cruel to their students, not just that they seem unfair from a student's perspective (every teacher will seem that way at some time), but that they do things to mock their students, even siding with the cool kids against the one being picked on. I've occasionally seen this in stories set in the US, but it seems especially to be a British image. This book has that--not that the teachers are always shown negatively, but they do fit this angry-at-the-world, belittle-your-students stereotype at times. So I wonder how much of this is simply an exaggeration of that unfairness every child feels against a teacher from time to time, and how much of it reflects how teachers in Britain (used to, I hope) teach? It's ridiculous pedagogy, if it ever was as common as it seems in stories. I wouldn't say I had extrememly progressive teachers growing up, but I certainly never had anything approaching the kind of cruelty in this stereotype, and the former teacher and educator in me is horrified that this might have been a common way to teach.

Anyway, that wasn't what I meant to blog about here. There were a couple quotes in this book near the end that seemed fitting in response to my earlier post about when a story ends (and I know that B. A. Barnett just received the same type of rejection that I had gotten to spark that post, that the story felt like one episode of something larger)--"The world won't leave things be. It's always injecting endings into beginnings." And the final line of the book: "'That's because it's not the end.'" As I said in that earlier post, any ending is artificial, every story is an episode of something larger, and to pretend that the end of a short story or novel is the end of an entire story seems either naive or dishonest. I guess the key is to find the ending that fits with the opening so it's satisfying but leaves the reader imagining what might happen from there.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Language of the Night

One of the books I'd debated getting with my gift card was We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. They actually had two different translations of this book, and it's one I first heard of when reading LeGuin's collection of essays, Language of the Night as an example of science fiction that has power to confront the world. The blurb on the book called it an inspiration for 1984 and other dystopias.

Anyway, thinking of that made me think back to when I first discovered this book of essays. It was a paperback, tucked in among the fantasy/SF paperback fiction books--one jumbled case at the back of the narrow library. I'd read one LeGuin book earlier and hated it (I realize now I was much too young to appreciate it), but it had been several years and I was in high school now, so I decided to give it a read.

Wow. These essays made me realize that there was more going on in the stories I read than I'd ever known. I'd never realized that someone could look at fantasy in these others ways and see all kinds of different layers of meaning, of intellectual play. In fact, I probably hadn't really realized you could look at any story that way, and I think that's important--I discovered a literary approach to reading fantasy as early as learning a literary approach to the classics and other writing. (You may have to dig through the archives to see how exactly I use the term literary--I don't tend to consider it an attribute of the writing itself so much as an approach that a reader takes when reading any text--so the ones they [we] call 'literary' are the ones that satisfy or reward those ways of approaching them.) That had a big impact on me as I went on to study literature at college, and I was able to incorporate my interest in fantasy into my studies.

I have since reread it as well as reading some of her other collections of essays, and I can still say that they're well worth reading for any reader or writer of fantasy. (I've also gone on to read many of her novels, and I greatly enjoy them, though it took me several years even after appreciating the essays to try again. And I never went back to give Lathe of Heaven another try. The other book I read in late grade school that I hated was the fourth Dune book--I still have no desire to reread that either, or even any of the other sequels because of how much that poisoned the series. I did, however, reread Dune itself a couple years ago and enjoyed it.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Chain Bookstores

I had a gift card for Barnes and Noble, and ran over there yesterday to use it. It struck me that many of the books I'd had at the top of my head to look for weren't there at all. I found some good books that I'm looking forward to, though, a short story collection from a writer I've heard of but not read, and a novel that I've been considering reading. I may blog about them sometime soon (though I have some other reading to catch up on first). There were a few others that I had to reluctantly pass on for now, so it's not like I couldn't find anything worthwhile. And I'm not surprised, since my tastes aren't exactly dead center of the most popular types of fantasy. It just makes me curious--if we're optimistic and my book gets picked up, I wonder how much it will be available in stores like that. And how much does a local branch of a chain have control over what they stock? Would the store here in town carry it simply because it's from a local author? I'm sure that depends somewhat on the prestige or reputation of the publisher itself and possibly on the salesmanship of the author. And this is really too early to worry about any such thing since I don't have an offer of any kind yet--but I'm curious and like to learn what I can about the many aspects of publishing.

I won't bother explaining how right now, but as I was typing this I started thinking of Ursula LeGuin's Language of the Night--so I think I'll blog about that next time.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Ship of Silk on the Calmest Sea

Well, I was going to blog about something completely different today, but then last night just as I was going to bed I noticed that this story is already up at Reflection's Edge: "The Ship of Silk on the Calmest Sea." I usually pay a lot of attention to the rhythm and flow of language as I write, but this is definitely the one I had most fun with in that sense, piling on the alliteration and such that it borders on purple prose. I don't think it crosses that line--for all the rejections this story received at professional and semi-professional mags, not one said that it was for being too flowery.

I like hearing from writers about the genesis of stories, so I'll share that for this one. It came from a writing prompt and story challenge that involved a series of story elements for each of us writers to incorporate into one story. Among those was the word boat. I was writing down the different words, and when I got to boat, I simply kept writing, "boat of cloth on the calmest sea." I don't know where the phrase came from, but I liked the rhythm of it. My first reaction was that it made no sense--no matter how calm the sea, a boat of cloth wouldn't work (though I learned as camp historian that the first canoes at Camp Roger were made of canvas that had to be coated in some thick paint/sealant every year). But then I thought, well let's assume that it did make sense--how would the story happen? And then I began to write.

This is, incidently, the first thing I wrote related to my current novel in progress. The subtitle of the story is "A Fable of the Forgotten South." At the time I knew little of the story, though I had this vague idea of writing something in an isolated northern valley warmed by volcanic hot springs where the people lived in exile from their original southern homeland. There's little other direct connection between this story and that apart from the idea in my head that this is a story they might tell in their exile. But it was because of this that I decided to make the silk weavers of that society among the highest caste...which has become a very important part of the story.

Anyway, go check it out!