Saturday, September 26, 2009


From the first time I came down into the little carpeted viewing cave to watch them, years ago on my honeymoon in Galveston, sitting in the dimness looking up into the lower section of the seal tank in Moody Gardens and watching the seals twisting in the water act upon my imagination like a gas jet upon a hot air balloon. Heaviness spreads open in a gasp and grace replaces all the foot-pounds of atmosphere standing on my skin.

To see the seals is to remember a time when focus reached outward. Water does more than forgive a shape that land makes awkward, it blesses it with agile speed. The seals spinning and diving remind me of summers going from pool to pool with a desire to be in the middle of the water so that I could imagine myself once more free of each anchor. Leaning against the glass, I let the anchors rest and watch the seals flash by. Do we seem ghosts to the seals? Movement somehow beyond the reflections of themselves? Do they feel the heat of the bodies standing just on the other side of the glass or are we so well masked that we are invisible?

I've set myself a task as a writer, one that displaces the game of literary conformity. This task is to find a way to perform the seals' transformation in prose, to give a reader the chance to be just such an agile component of my language pool that they flash and dive with the characters. This is what I hope for in a good story and what I would strive for (if I could separate the ego-gratification of status or money from my drives) in terms of success. Because they give me a better goal than I would have come up with on my own, the seals get this entry in the blog.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Once upon a title...

Some times we take a blow to that squishy entity known as one's ego. Such a blow fell recently just as I was preparing a new post for this blog. I had thought that I was well-read, particularly in fantasy. Then, I picked up a compilation that I thought was about fantasy art (book covers, magazine covers) through the years. Instead, I found myself being introduced to or reminded of authors that I had a passing familiarity with but whom I had never read or even seen to sneak out of the drawer in the laundry room under the dust rags where dad kept his fiction stash.

So why should this present a blow to my ego? It's a little like comparing what I've read in school to what others have read--generally, people who went to school somewhere north of me have read more than I have. And, since I live close to the Texas coast...there's plenty of north. What this has sometimes led to, oddly enough, is vanity. I think that there are only a few variations on a story so I should never stoop to plot recycling. And yet, a wider reading would have let me know that stories are new in so many ways other than plot. It also means that my understanding of fantasy and an enjoyable read is heavily inflected toward a particular literary style. My reading (and writing) is missing some of the excitement and wonder purveyed by authors working in other styles.

I have a treasure hunt before me. Many of the books I'll be looking for will be out of print or uncommon in current bookstores, so I will have an instant excuse to investigate all kinds of used bookstores and antique stores to hunt for classics. Avast, and keep an eye out for the flag of the tattered pages!

But, dear reader, what does this mean for this blog? Why the title change? There never seemed to be much fantastic fiction that took place in or around water, at least in my limited reading. Drowned cities, giant creatures beneath the waves, and mermaids have fascinated me for a long time. An expanded reading list will hopefully allow me to concentrate on those stories and perhaps on some natural history (guest bloggers?) that explore the mysterious marine.

What will come up from these pools?

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Although it's not presented as a fictional story, I'm going to mention that I've been re-reading Susan Faludi's Backlash lately. I was on a high school memorabilia kick and decided to snap myself out of it by raiding my college bookshelf. As I'm silently cheering to myself as Faludi dismantles certain "trends" and misuse of statistics, I realize that this is a interesting delineation of opposing needs and the misunderstandings that can arise from them--something that I can use when designing manipulative characters and institutions in my own writing and something I should be carefully observing in the stories that I read.

For example, let's consider magazine ad revenue. Magazine stories that portray trends that support their own advertisers are supporting their bottom line. However, the average reader glancing through probably doesn't analyze (except for the really glaring examples) each story for the relevance to keeping advertisers happy versus accurate reporting and in some cases ('in' colors for paining this fall?) it probably doesn't matter as much. What matters is the accepted basis for these trends, such as "a few people think," or "it seems that in the future." Needless to say, these are gentle but accurate ways to say "we just made this up" or "the guy making mohair booties in Poughkeepsie would like it if..."

The pressure of the idea that "everyone is doing it" or "forward-thinking people are doing it" is internalized, becomes a motivation that seems to arise internally but was carefully and subtly (or not so subtly if you're more sceptically inclined that I am--working on it, not there yet) planted. This seems like a good lesson for looking for the more delicate pressure points of characters and for ways to manipulate characters in my own writing. I'm sure forward-thinking writers are doing this already. ;)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Happy Holiday, First of Fall

Well, it's another comic-book-weekend for one of us and that it makes it another used bookstore weekend for me. The next two weeks will be King of the Sea, by Derek Bickerton and Resume with Monsters, by William Browning Spencer. I've just read a page or two of each and I'm not sure which one should come first, although I suspect the Spencer book should, in case of any horror tropes that need banishing by another story. :)

Meanwhile, I'm back reading Tolkien's essay on fairy stories. I never get very far (shades of Ivanhoe); however, that tends to be because I read a few sentences and just want to crawl from the margins into the type and burrow in for a few days. It must be a form of besottedness, one that responds to concepts and diction instead of voice and form. Voice, in the form of a British accent, would only make it worse (I get that from my mom, who has always disliked Texas, Southern speech patterns, and lazy word choices--an anti-heritage kind of heritage, but what can you do?).

There is a specificity in some academic writing, a clarity of line that I've always enjoyed. This doesn't mean an easiness of reading, rather it is the appearance of a well-formed idea from what was just a related series of sentences. When you respond to a poem, it is this emergence of the idea--language given a chance to rummage around in your head, pull out your sensory memories and threadbare understanding, and create in you a new image, a new idea, a new string of plausibility--that is amazing, a synthesis of possibilities into solidity.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September Fever: Classes and Excuses

We're working our way through a series of classes in my writer's group generously given by a member who is a workshop veteran and an excellent writer. These classes are interesting and very likely giving me good information (and introducing me to otherwise unknown short stories and ideas); however, I find that they are somewhat inimical to my own writing. I'm afraid of my own foolishness...which is something that won't go away by ignoring it.

Writing is a combination of falling in love with an idea or story, breaking it out of its imagined perfection, assembling the pieces while still holding tight to your desire for the original, and then reworking it into something useful (understandable, enjoyable, publishable). In this respect, you're constantly moving on a continuum of emotional attachment and critical detachment that is sometimes disorienting. The important part of this, however, is that you can only continue to move along this continuum if your writing practice is continual and you have a strong commitment to your own voice. Otherwise, the effort will break your own commitment to the task(think midnight donut binge, only in this case it's a midnight bonfire of drafts).

I'm comfortable with lessons and theories--they can be fun to dissect and argue over. It's fall and I'm happy to curl up and discuss them amongst ourselves. But...the more classes, the more areas to think about, the easier it is to not write. This is probably my lesson. Write. Keep writing. Uncork the ferment of the effort and let it carry you onward.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Planning for Fall

A friend recently suggested that I read Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock. We had a copy and I curled up with for three days, reading through the main character's journey from a life lived unstructured into a life lived within a mythic archetype. Along the way, he encounters a father figure grown monstrous with time. Until the deus ex machina encountered late in the novel, the story was compelling: a hungry forest that gives back our fears and dreams, from the first human propiation of the forest to the more recent legends (well...recent as the first world war). The pacing followed the main character's reluctance to begin his journey and then his gradual absorption into the story--normal until his arrival at his birthplace, then slow until he comes to an active role in his own story.

The story is set in that comfortably mythic England--my favorite fantasy land--with old and crumbling houses, wildwoods, and isolated characters who don't care too much about the world tumbling forward around them. It reminded me that part of what I enjoy about fantasy is having someone pull the reins and slow time down, to have the ability to appreciate the creep of the day from dawn to afternoon to evening because you've wedged yourself into a comfortable reading space and have dropped down into your own pocket of space.

Fortunately, there are several interesting books on the schedule for this month, particularly as I slot some older stories in as research for some of the things that I'm working on. I'm thinking about starting to look for three books to take me through these next three seasons -- Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Maybe I'll move Ivanhoe to the Thanksgiving slot. I am determined to finish this novel this time. So far, I'm not even past the introductory letter to Dr. Dryasdust. You'd think this would be a favorite, but I never make it all the way through.