Borne in Progress

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After helping Ann deliver the Lambshead Cabinet antho, I’m back on track with my novel Borne.

In case anyone thinks writing a novel is a swift or easy thing to do, above find the marked-up first page of Borne above. I think it’s safe to post this since I’ve posted a version of this opening before.

Process-wise, I originally wrote the description of Mord in this post-apoc city with no real sense of the character’s point of view. I was more interested in getting down the description/details and making it a tactile, real experience. So I polished that until it was in shape for that initial, very simple purpose.

But, as usually happens, you get a deeper sense of character as you write, and have to go back. Somewhere around 10,000 words, the character clicked into focus and the next 10,000 words were different in style and voice. I let that run out to about a total of 35,000 words before coming back to the beginning, just so I’d have enough text to work with.

Now that I’m going back over the manuscript frag, that first 10,000 will change radically in voice as well as structure, and that will affect the next 25,000 because some stuff that occurs later in the novel will be placed closer to the beginning and the whole thing will eat itself and regenerate along different lines. Among the things that entails is fleshing out a character called the Magician, researching the history of traps, and reading Mike Davis’s Dead Cities.

The page above had gone through five drafts to get the description down, and now I’m ripping up the floorboards and constructing a different kind of room, so to speak. Some changes have to do with the narration, some with moving around information, some with setting. And in more than a few places this draft had way too many words better suited for an essay. I was much too in love with the descriptions, which would work perfectly well if this were a short-short. But it’s not. It’s the opening of a novel that is supporting, foreshadowing, and setting up many different things. In an odd way, it has to be simpler to become more complex. And, since I now know I’m writing a novel not a novella the opening can simultaneously convey less pure information since I have more space to add in what needs to be added in to properly contextualize.

A lot of this may seem bloodless in the way I’m describing process, but it’s actually an extremely personal, intimate, and emotional type of drafting, as my aim is to remain true to character and to the integrity of the events that should occur. There are also issues of balancing types of scenes, as the past is integral to the present of the story, but big lumps of past inserted incorrectly will, from the reader’s point of view, just slow down the story. So they must be correctly connected to the other scenes, including transitions that aren’t arbitrary or surface but hardwired and integral to the narrative.

All in all, just another day on the job, and immensely satisfying. But: requiring patience. Shortcuts and thinking something is done when it isn’t are killers to drawing out the full potential of a manuscript.

Underground Transmissions

The soundtrack’s definitely Arcade Fire and Magnolia Electric Company/Songs Ohia. The mood’s somber but punctuated by absurdist humor. The themes are threading through the text, and the text is simplifying and complicating itself. The characters are branching and changing and doing odd things to the plot. The plot is coming to lift itself clear while still being inundated and bombarded by solid state narrative particles. Long walks in the woods are bringing a whole world into being in my head, and I’m assimilating people’s mannerisms, textures, sounds, at a heady rate. I’m an Absorber of Nothing Spectacular. I’m having moments of religious ecstacy–the religion of story-building. I’m having moments of euphoria and then of near tears. Means nothing to the reader, necessarily, but means a lot to me. (“That’s nice, Jeff. You go on cracking up to get in deep, but leave us out of it.”)

Perhaps more importantly, I feel like I’m on a journey I’ve never been on before–in fact, a journey I can find few parallels to in the history of fiction. Given that my next fiction project after Borne, Komodo, is similarly unique, at the very least I’m going to crash and burn and bounce through the wreckage in ways no one’s done before.

Avaunt!

Steampunk Reloaded: Creating Books is Like Cooking?

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(Some days, you’ve got to love your job. Like, proofing pages from a fake children’s mag titled Five Eyes For Every Child.)

This week, my wife Ann and I have been doing some of the final proofing on the Steampunk Reloaded anthology (pages pictured above). It’s over 400 pages this time, and thankfully Tachyon’s managing editor, Jill Roberts, has spearheaded the main copy-editing/proofing efforts, while we’ve mostly focused on adjustments to image placement, re-checking the intro, and tweaking the 17,000-word “A Secret History of Steampunk” that forms the bulk of original fiction in the book. It’s unrelenting detail work, and important. It’s easy to drop the ball at this point and wind up with errors. Sustained concentration across many different stages of pre-production, production, and publication is key to creating a quality book. (It doesn’t hurt to have genius artist/designer John Coulthart doing the interior layouts.)

In a similar way this week, my colleague S.J. Chambers and I made final text changes to the Steampunk Bible—little tweaks, typo marking, and a few additions of text to help with the flow of images. We also just got done working with the editor to determine the final images and their placement—in the process picking up amazing new stuff by both J.K. Potter and Molly Crabapple. As you can see from the page below, part of the process is taking off all of the image note post-its (our editor has kept the final notes on that part of the process) and then just turning in the pages with text changes.

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In going through this process, and also beginning to learn how to cook, it’s struck me that creating a good book and a good meal share some commonalities…

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On the Magpie Mind and the (Mis)Uses of Research

This evening I had the weekly write-club session with my writing buddy Peter M. Ball (the man who committed the novella Horn). I went back over the novel, which I’ve not touched for about a month for a multitude of reasons (PhD, proofing short story collections and stories for various anthologies, fear, laziness, etcetera). I re-read the last chapter I’d written just to get a feel for it, to put myself back into the story (so I can distinguish the pseudo-fairytale German-like setting from the pseudo-Arabian Nights Damascus-like setting, and get my tone straight).

Everything was flowing rather well; I was happy with the state of the writing as I’d left it. It needs work, of course, it’s a bit skeletal in parts and needs a good hamburger of plot, but on the whole I was happy with the first draft. And then I came across one of those gems that a writer finds her/himself heir to … the things you insert into the text when you’ve not yet done enough research about a particular topic, so you put in square brackets, type in CAPS a note-to-self and highlight it in yellow. Or that’s my normal habit, at least. On this occasion I seem to have been a little laissez-faire and so what I actually found in the middle of a paragraph was this little beauty:

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Summer travels and story

Summer brought with it a trip to Malmedy in Belgium where we visited the Baugnez 44 Historical Centrum. I found myself quite impressed by the museum and while walking through it, I couldn’t help but be moved by the fate of the soldiers who were massacred at Baugnez. My son was very vocal in opining that the Germans were the evil guys and the Allied forces were heroes. Indeed, this is what history tells us, and there is no excusing the atrocities of the Nazi army. But, as I told my son, we cannot apply blame to an entire people because not all Germans condoned the acts of Hitler and not all Germans embraced his agenda. There is also something to be said about denial, and how it is possible for people to close their eyes wilfully because seeing is equal to accepting responsibility and accepting responsibility means having to take action, and action always involves risk. In this particular case, risk being a life or death thing.

I think it was Nalo Hopkinson who said to us at Clarion West that every character is a hero in their own story. This statement was brought home to me when we visited another museum at the border between Belgium and Germany. In this museum, there was an unlabelled case with memorabilia and relics from German soldiers. Looking at these relics, I wondered whether the German soldier considered himself a hero fighting for the beliefs of his Germany. I thought then of how there are casualties in every side in every war, and how on all sides there are victims. If we look at the enemies as individual people, hating is something we cannot do.

Sometime ago, I attended a talk given by Sarah Waters. Sarah spoke of how she was constantly busy with her fiction. How even when she was not writing physically, she was writing inside her head. While we were out in Belgium, I did not write as I had intended to, but the impressions I gathered have found their way to a story I am working on right now.  It’s somewhat political in nature having to do with armed struggle, the displacement of a tribal people, and the conflict between tribal right and corporate power. I was thinking of how my corporate people seemed too one-sidedly evil and I wondered whether the corporate people in my story saw themselves as saviors–as benefactors–instead of the villain I had presented them to be. I realized that the change came from how I no longer hated my corporate people as wholeheartedly as when I created the first draft of the story. While I did not condone or like them, I could write about them with compassion.

The challenge that faces me in writing this story is how fine the line is between preaching and storytelling. Too heavy a hand and it would be better to rent a church and start yelling at the top of your lungs. I feel that where a story succeeds is when it opens up room for conversation between the storyteller and the reader.  The conversation may not be a vocal one, but when the reader takes the story and moves with it into realms of his or her own speculation, then the story ceases to be a static thing on the page, it takes on a life of its own and that is what moves us.

Needless to say, I will only know if I succeeded with this story once it is read by someone other than myself.

On reprint collections or Never accept a raisin danish from an Evil Monkey

*Angela is snoozing on an eighteenth century fainting couch, using a pile of books as a pillow, and blanketed by sheets of a A4 paper (printed on one side, double space, 12 pt font). A blue pen dangles from her limp fingers and a large blue splot of ink mars her wrinkled brow.*

Evil Monkey creeps closer, leans down and yells: Hey!

Angela: Argh!!! *flails about, falls off the eighteenth century fainting couch, swears* (a lot)

Evil Monkey: Did I wake you?

Angela: I’ve known you for what? A week and a half?

Evil Monkey: About that, yeah.

Angela: And I already hate you. [Read more...]

Lightness: Italo Calvino’s hope for the future of literature

Gio Clairval is an Italian-born refugee who lives in Paris and writes in English, also translating stories from several languages she has forgotten to a language (this one) she has never really known. She’s published here and there and can be spotted, when she thinks you’re not looking, at Kosmochlor, first place in the internets (evar) to showcase Umberto Eco’s “rules for writing well” in the tongue Inglès. Being late at the wake is considered chic where she comes from.

The idea of this post came to me from the image of a floating city, a poster by French artist Stephan Muntaner (not the artwork displayed here), to be inserted in the forthcoming Bible of Steampunk brought to you by the master of this blog. The poster depicts an industrial city yanked away from earth along with a cushion of soil. An aerial impossibility.

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Writing Fighting

I originally posted this on my blog, The Gist, several months back, but I thought it might be of interest to you Ecstatic Days readers, too, and I wanted to chip in over here while I could.

For a week or so, I plugged the “ask me anything” feature on my tumblelog, hoping to get some fodder for blog posts. The last question to come in was this one: “Any tips on writing fight scenes in fiction?”

Tips I don’t know, but I have some personal tastes that I try to serve when I write action. The thing about my answer, though, is that it depends greatly on just what I’m trying to accomplish with the fight scene. Ideally, a writer has several voices or styles at her disposal when it comes to writing action, so that a single writer can offer up this:

She stabbed. Blood rushed out. A scream.

or this:

She lashed out with her sword in both hands, the blade finding flesh, finding blood. He answered the blow with a gurgled cry.

or this:

She swung her sword in a wide arc, telegraphing one move, but halted her swing midway and leaned into a surprise thrust. The brutish maneuver pushed through his elegant, stale defense. Her sword-point pierced tunic and skin and sent him reeling back. He cried out in equal parts pain and surprise and tumbled onto his rump and palms.

When it comes to the language of a fight, I think clarity is probably key (confusion being one of the cardinal sins of storytelling). After clarity comes rhythm and detail, which make a fight readable and tangible. Each of those elements is a spectrum, though, and how far you turn each dial is an authorial judgment call.

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On the Thickness of Skin by Angela Slatter

I’ve dealt with a lot of rejected/dejected writers this week, for one reason and another. They’ve been dejected because of the rejections. It’s completely understandable. Rejection hurts.

It somehow says ‘You’re not good enough’, no matter how confident you are of yourself as a person or as a writer. Sometimes a writer’s week brings more than one rejection, which just feels like the Universe has given you a paper cut and rubbed lemon juice into it.

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