Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

So both the last story I finished - Wine & Chocolate - and the current one I'm working on - an untitled, unfinished free write - both involve a mysteriously deserted city as seen through the eyes of a first person.  There is no connection between these two tales, not even in their conception:  the story fragment was written a little over five years ago and just happened to be the next one, chronologically, that I hadn't finished.  The explanations, plot and motivations are entirely different.

Even so, as I started to work on this new tale, my brain nagged at me with a sense of deja vu and finally the thought, "Wait, didn't we just write this?"  I stopped myself, puzzled, then realized what had happened.

On the other hand, I have written another story with a deserted city at its core - Sleepwalking - so it may be simply that it's a theme that interests me.  Perhaps it's that I'm antisocial and the idea of a city with no people in it appeals to me.

Just another episode in the life of a writer.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

GoodReads Review: The White Hart

The White Hart (Book of Isle, #1)The White Hart by Nancy Springer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's hard to judge a novel like this, decades after its time, when the archetypes upon which it draws have become cliché and the style has become something most modern readers don't appreciate. To me, I love the lyricism, the flow, the stylized language - it is one part novel, one part poem / ballad / ode. It feels mythical, even though the land in which events occur is invented. This book draws deeply upon Celtic, specifically Welsh, mythic sensibilities. (I read this first as a child - in hindsight, it's easy to see why I adored it, coming out of The Prydain Chronicles, which are themselves a loose retelling of Welsh mythology. It's certainly part of my lifelong affinity for all things Welsh.)

This novel relies heavily upon destiny, fate, and the motion of powers beyond ourselves - powers against which even gods have trouble standing. For the most part, the power of the language carries these elements and makes the reader (or at least me-as-reader) feel the mystery and inevitability. However, there are other places where, with more modern fantasy sensibilities, I'm just not sold on the inescapable nature of events. As a child, I was wholly swept away; as an adult, there are places where I can only say, "Bevan is a jerk."

I also have to say that the prophecy, written as all such things are, about the future line ending with a character named Hal ... that made me giggle. Because when I hear the name Hal, I picture a balding plumber. (This would actually be a great story, but I'm sure the like has been written.)

That said, this is a lovely work, as long as you treat it as half story and half poetry; there is a kind of fairytale logic to it. It shows its age, but it is based on some of the elements that give fantasy its power, and those are timeless.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Those of you who know me will be aware that, as an author, I am strongly against the idea of stories having a constructed message - that is, the story was written to illustrate a specific viewpoint or philosophy or to explore a certain issue under the guise of fiction.  Of course, all stories inevitably make some kind of statement about the world they reflect, but to me, that should be secondary - incidental, if you will - to the story itself.  To me, a good story has a life and existence of its own, which needs to be respected.

All of this is to preface why it might be surprising when I say that my problem trying to figure out the exact ending of Wine and Chocolate was solved by looking at the story question.  To me, the story question isn't one of underlying theme or meaning:  it's the core of where plot and character meet, the reason the reader keeps turning pages (we hope - both in that they turn pages, and that they're doing it for the same reason the author intended!), and the question that must be answered for the story to satisfy.  The resolution of the story question is arguably what separates a standalone story from a chapter in a novel.

(... although some editors who have read my short stories may disagree with me on this point ...)

Most often, for me, the answer to the story question is a, "Yes, but ..."  The main character is successful, but in achieving their desire, new complications arise, leaving the sensation - which is crucial in fiction, to me - that life goes on.

In any case, back to Wine and Chocolate:  the story starts with a specific problem and a mystery; the latter is resolved in what I hope is a pretty dramatic reveal late in the story, and then ... and then I halted.  When I had started the story, I had a very clear image of the arc to this point:  it was my goal in writing.  But I had no idea how to move from there to a conclusion.  I played with two or three possible resolutions, all of which felt unnecessarily drawn out and labored.  I couldn't quite put my finger on what wasn't working.

Then I realized that I was trying to "solve" the new issues raised by the reveal; to go back to my own terminology, I was trying to resolve everything after the "but," which was outside the scope of this story.  I need to pull back on my ending, reveal less, but lay groundwork for the reader to assume the eventual resolution.

So that's the direction I'm going.  It may be quite a while before Wine and Chocolate sees my submissions queue - I have about forty finished stories right now that haven't even seen the light of day; even considering some never will, that's a lot "ahead" of it - but I hope it will satisfy.

Yes, but ...