Monday, August 24, 2009

Whom Do You Love?

In talking to my family recently, I realized that I've made one of those assumptions that reveal some of our opinions for the asinine craziness they are. This assumption was about what reading is--that it involves reading fiction (preferably fantastic fiction) for fun and that everyone should be doing this. That readers who like nonfiction aren't 'real' readers. What an idiot I am and what an opportunity I've missed to share interests with someone rather than hector them.

My bookshelves have classics, natural history, fantasy, science fiction, biography...many genres and many time periods. They are a reflection of my interests and I am well-read to the extent that money and time offer me the opportunity to be so. However, that doesn't make me the "typical" reader, the "right kind" of reader, or a "scholar." It makes me a reader.

As my writer's group discusses different ways to become better writers, we begin to touch on the assumptions that are the basis of our judgment calls and our writing. I can attest that this can be difficult, as I seek to break down firmly established opinions about fantasy and writing and come out with a better, more entrancing story. Learning the difference between the writer's skill comment and the reader's preference comment is still one of the hardest challenges of belonging to a group. After all, I, too, tend to offer opinions on the 'right' way to approach a character or story and find myself sometimes peeved that the author and I don't share a closer basis for our fictional architecture. I'll be running at this wall until I break through and I be interested in hearing from others who've made it to the other side. How did you come to trust in your writing or music or art or whatever?

Friday, August 21, 2009

And We're Reading, Reading

The past few posts have been general and it might seem that the proverbial nightstand has been empty; rather, I've been reading a few longer things that didn't move as quickly as expected. One is Silverlock, which is an interesting trip deftly negotiated but one that begs you to keep looking up references and breaking out of the story to chase another rabbit. It verifies that I'm nowhere near as well-read as I need to why am I reading this novel? Aside from the fun of finding signposts for new books and following the good-humored guide and narrator through their mix of plots and periods, that is.

I'm excited about next month's review for Supernatural Fairy Tales, as well. The book we've chosen is a great read and had me hooked from the first few chapters. It was a fun detour between the serious stacks on writing and the thick fantasy puzzles still on the nightstand.

Books on poetic myth are the other side of this stack and those are just starting to filter slowly down in the back of my brain. These are the concepts that are mean to be fed deep into the understory of understanding, the things that give the symbols shape and the themes a familiar chime when you run them around the glass. Right now, it's Robert Graves but I'm thinking that next it should be something Celtic and oakey in honor of Renfest and Fall.

That does it for the sweets, here are the sours: Is anyone actually editing Realms of Fantasy?! The first story in the current edition had so many typing errors I felt as if I was reading something intended as a lesson for markups. Clashing, clanging words that were spelled correctly (thanks, SpellCheck!!) but didn't belong in their sentences. I didn't bother with the second story, although I'm sure that I'll go back to it. It didn't help that the stories seem to be continuing in the dark fantasy tradition that is seeping up and clutching the neck of the entire genre. Grumpiness ensues. Fortunately, I've got a few other magazines to peruse, including the new-to-me The Black Gate. Grumpiness abates. :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Avoiding The Desk

After attending a spectacular class given by a member of our writing group last night, I came to the intimidating conclusion that I should throw out all of the material I'd worked up on the novel I'm currently writing. Fortunately, it's our week to clean up the house, so all of it is being shuffled into a folder and crammed at the back of my already full writing drawer. Tomorrow, starting over from word 1 (outline level one, actually).

So, now that I'm in the mood for analysis, I've been thinking about conflict. Specifically, why I'm so bad at getting my characters into serious trouble. Part of this is that I enjoy meandering and looking at stuff, so that characteristic tends to pop up in my writing. Part of it, though, is that I'm realizing that I prefer a kind of ultimate stability, the kind of temperate grace that Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Madeleine L'Engle, Robert Silverberg, and early Anne McCaffery portrayed in their societies and use of magic. One might go through a thunderstorm, but one was relatively sure that the grass would be softer for it. I prefer to read it, but I don't yet understand how to write it. Or if it's something that I still believe in.

Even when I worked in the city and the pigeons were crying from the dumpster lip, I was imagining fairies with 20's finery, fashion bruised green and purple from it's brush with modernity but still enchanting. Shifts in taste have brought us to a landscape in which urban decay, madness, lust, and the last reserve of humanity lash about, loving and killing the monsters that stalk through the stories. Plots revved ever higher squeal past in sequel after sequel. This isn't my headspace, although that does not bless or condemn it. Fantastic fiction has become a new city for me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Twinkie Dense

Remember when novels came in different lengths? When 200 pages could contain a fascinating story? Why are fantasy novels so long now? Are they denser...and denser how? World-building, gravitational rotation of character development dense or filler dense (twinkie dense)? Lately I've been feeling that more of what I read contains a certain amount of flash-bang expansion of this twinkie density: grotesque fight scenes, diary-quality character rumination, and desperately high stakes that eventually peter off into stratospheric incomprehensibility.

As I've been haunting used bookstores looking for Brittle Innings and am taken by the number of fantasy novels from years (or decades) ago that accomplish all of the intensity, character building, and world building in a much smaller space. Longer novels seem to be solely about a great confligration that flickers, ignites, and steadily consumes the characters. So many actions and reactions fall into the fire that evenutally only the great theme--survival--emerges. In a smaller novel, there is time to see some of the smaller actions and thoughts loom larger and, for me, this means that I can enjoy the arc of a well-told story in a way that I can't with a larger tale.

This doesn't mean I'm ready to sweep away any novel longer than 200 pages. What it does mean is that I'd like to see good stories in miniature--not novelizations that gloss a movie or tiny stories that cram in all the flash-bang twinkie grandiosity and none of the interest. Focused stories are much more common in fiction aimed at younger readers; but I don't believe that I've lost my interest in a good story as I've gotten older. I just don't always have the time or patience for the long version of the History of the Fifty Fiefdoms of Planet Huge and Perilous. I'd like to know what happened on the one day that the eldest daughter of the smallest fiefdom visited her cousin in the forest of the largest fiefdom and why it mattered. Maybe tomorrow I'll be ready for the epic.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Couch-Bound, Waiting For the Resolution

What are we reading today? Well, despite a few recent disappointments with urban fantasy, particularly as it plays pin-ball with thriller, romance, and science fiction, I found my copy of Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews and have been hovering over the page, waiting to see how it turns out.

The story is lithe and drew me further and further in, while questions regarding who the main character is, what is going on with her world, etc. kept me picking through the details for more clues. Laying on the couch and poking my toes under the snarfling dogs, I enjoyed the unfamiliar setting (Atlanta) and the idea of an ebb and flow of magic, which gave a lovely visual and kinetic mood to the story (think of gazing into a snowglobe and letting your imagination drift with each shake). Since this is a darker urban fantasy, there were parts that I would have preferred to skim regarding the tortuous progress of the villian, but I was glad that the twists didn't telegraph themselves quickly nor did the main character seem to be half a person searching for her other half. Instead, her determination and professionalism bristled around her. I found that the narrative voice didn't function as distinctively as I could have wished...perhaps a bit too much bravado and sabre-rattling and not enough local flavor? She was fun to read but somewhat opaque (well in keeping with her established persona) and I suppose that I wanted a little more--not sure of what, exactly. Could be something as simple as a little more specific information on what the parameters of this world are. Maybe in the next book?

Time to snag the Pesky and get back to the rest of the book.