Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Word...

For super fans only, here's a downloadable screen image. 8)

For the rest of ya:

That product known as Microsoft Word, as everybody who has used it knows, is a dog. A Pinscher, to be specific, dressed up as a Wolf. Which makes it pathetic. It also, as little dogs are inclined to do, bites the hands of those coming close to it and it definitely defecates and urinates all over your home—which in this instance means your computer of course. Nothing new in that, but I thought I'd take another cheap shot at Microsoft. (Yeah, I know it's just too easy, ain't it?)

The only reason why anybody might conceivably want to use Word is a function that allows comparison of documents and creation of an output document with the changes appropriately flagged.

For those who wonder what kinds of 'changes' Keaen has suffered in revision, here's a real-life set of Word comparisons, shown as images from screen captures. Click and they'll open in a new window with more resolution, and you can read them there. Red stuff has been taken out and blue writing are insertions. These are not the final versions, and still have some error in the blue stuff, which have been corrected in the typeset document.

Warning: these excerpts unavoidably contain spoilers—major ones. Read no further if you want to avoid these.

Comments on this excerpt:
A 'consistency adjustment'. Clearly the whole thing Magices do is just science disguising as magic, with a bit of 'psychic' powers thrown in for good measure; which I left in, because what the Sareens do is far more outrageous than a bit of telehypnosis! The original description was far too 'magical' and simply had no place here anymore.

Comments on this excerpt:
Geld, the assassin, had a rather limited function, serving mostly to provide a contrast in character to Caitlan. ('Geld' = German for 'money'; so how obvious can I be?) Now he's also used to provide hooks for later books, in terms of mentioning, e.g. the Duke of Brys and his possible role in tracking down Sareens for his own purposes. Not something, of course that could have been in the original because I didn't even know at the end of the original version of Tergan what the significance of Lacynth, Duke of Brys, was going to be. Hell, I didn't even know his name!

Comments on this excerpt:
This is a revision of a most important, and to-me utterly surprising, walk-on scene ever. I thought it needed just a teeny bit of adjustment and fleshing out. Taking out long-winded surplus verbiage and replacing it with visual and other sensory impressions.

Comments on this excerpt:
Just streamlining and tidying up Tahlia's final moments with Tegel, plus a bit of aftermath.

Comments on this excerpt:
Naela getting more coverage; just a bit and with a mention of something that is referenced in Fontaine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In Defense of Sentimentality

A valid chain of reasoning leads to the determination of truth.

This quote is from Isaac Asimov. I forgot where it came from, but I believed it for a long time. A long damn time.

I don't anymore; haven't for something like a decade maybe, though doubts crept in well before that.

A valid chain of reasoning leads, at best, to only those conclusions it is capable of leading to, given the assumptions it started from (a.k.a. 'initial conditions'), the constraints imposed on the concept-spaces (a.k.a. 'boundary conditions') and the definitions of the rules considered 'valid' in performing steps of 'reasoning'—with the latter probably not being specifiable without tautology, which kind of puts it all in suitable perspective, don't it?

Anyway, this bee zipped under the bonnet protecting my hairless pate because I just finished working my way through the essays—for a collection of connected essays it is—of Robert Solomon's In Defense of Sentimentality. It took me a while, because I have so much else going on that any reading is being allotted short time slots.

Not since Colin Wilson, whose Outsider series of books opened to me whole new vistas of appreciation of 'literature', a (living) philosopher has evoked my interest and has elicited a similar appreciation of his way of thinking to the degree Solomon has. My esteem of the community of contemporary 'thinkers' and philosophers, as most of my trust blog-readers will know, is...well, let's say 'low'.

Solomon is a scholar who considers Nietzsche his 'mentor'—though he disagrees with him on various issues—and for those who shudder at the very mention of the name of the great amoralist, IDOS probably isn't good reading; because, though it is intensely 'ethical', it often asks the reader to assume a bird's-eye perspective in questions relating to 'morality'.

For those of 'rational' disposition—and by that I mean those who believe, at least implicitly, in Asimov's dictum—the book probably is a waste of time, because they'd just be sitting there reading and getting neck strain from shaking their heads. I got neck-strain from nodding, because, although Solomon, as is the wont of philosophers, does go on at length about things he could have said briefer, I appreciate his proclivity for wanting to hold these things he's talking about up before our eyes and turning them this way and that, so we get to see all the angles. And I must admit, what is obvious to me may need some explanation for those who haven't spent time mulling this stuff over—me in connection with my fiction, of course.

The essays range from serious to laugh-out funny. In the latter category there's the one titled 'In Appreciation of the Seven Deadly Sins' which is at the same time comical as it is revealing; because it is here maybe that the reader's sense of 'moral perspective' is stretched most and in which the absurdity of social norms, attitudes and sheer hypocrisy and lack of perspective is laid bare.

In the 'pensive' category my favorites are those on the 'virtue' aspects of (erotic) love, as well as that one trying to sort out the vexed question of whether one loves for 'reasons' and what that statement actually means to begin with.

Solomon comes very close to providing an answer of sorts to the issue of who is whose slave—reason the emotions' or vice versa—and maybe, as he asks the question and within the tradition of, inter alia, Hume and Nietzsche, he actually answers it. I'm not quite satisfied, but in this instance it does not matter. I appreciate to see, for a change, a philosopher whose mind appears to be functioning as it should.

IDOS contain endless quotable lines, statements and insights, not a single one of which I disagree with. It may not be complete or the last word on the subjects raised, but which book on philosophy can possibly be complete—since philosophers are, like the rest of us, human beings of finite cognitive ability. Within those limitations—and Solomon would be the first to acknowledge them without being falsely modest—he is a man on whose manner of thinking and integrity of reasoning I can look upon with profound respect. It makes a nice change to find someone like that.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

If...

...I were to design a cover for a purely hypothetical second edition of Keaen, this is what it might look like (see below). I decided that I wouldn't go with the idea I had mentioned before, because the aspect ratio is all wrong for that design. Besides, I like the thematic symmetry between this version and the Tethys cover, which kind of book-end the set.

This then, for the record, would be the complete set—if I were issuing a second edition of Keaen; which I am not.





Friday, March 23, 2007

KEAEN Second Revised Edition

I'm getting good at this. A regular production machine. The first ever upload of Keaen (Second Revised Edition) into book form has just been completed. The cover still has no actual image, but everything else is in place. Sorry, but you can't get it. But completion is nigh.

On a sad note: today I found out that the old man who bound the first ever edition of Keaen and out it into a nice slipcase has since died. His name was Brian K. Aynia and I got the impression that he liked what he was doing and took pride in his workmanship—which he conducted during his retirement underneath his house in a small workshop.

Now he is gone.

I hate people dying—and especially if they're nice people. That may sound rather selective and arbitrary; and, after all, one person's 'nice people' is another's 'I couldn't care less' or even worse. Still, all judgments of this nature ultimately are arbitrary, and that's the way of things.

One way in which a writer can honor the dead is by writing about them—in careful disguise of course. Dance of Tigers will pay implicit homage to a number of people that aren't among the living anymore, but who deserve more, at least in my eyes, than to just have their ashes, or whatever passes for their ashes, or maybe their bones and some rotting pieces of garments, lie under some headstones in some stupid cemetery; but who are otherwise forgotten by all but those who, for some reason or other, either loved them or maybe remember that they owe them a debt that can never be repaid—if for no other reason but that these people are dead, and it's just too late.

Forever too late, and never will that change.

The best we can do, I guess, is to honor them. And how can we do that? I mean, they'll never know, right? Never ever. And maybe you'd say that there isn't much mileage really in honoring their memory, because said 'memory' in in our heads, and it's really just egomania and trying to make ourselves feel good.

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. But isn't it better to think that it is, and to act accordingly—maybe by making the world a better place and all that kind of stuff? Maybe the dead can't benefit from it, but there's a whole bunch of living ones that might. There are times when our desire to want to feel good actually serves a purpose that goes far beyond the confines of our own, limited existence. Maybe that's one the evolutionary reasons why we are actually capable of feeling good.

On the last episode of The Unit (Ep 0208) one of the wives told her young daughter that her daddy jumped out of airplanes for a living and was paid less for what he did than some entry-level clerk in your average civilian job. Yeah, well, there are many more people that we owe quite seriously. A very few we may have the good fortune to know—but let's face it, most of them we don't.

I have always made it a point of not starting a new book unless I felt that I had something to put into it, something to say about matters I care about, that hadn't been in something else I'd written. You've got to care about what you put into those stories. They're not just a bunch of words and exciting—or not—contrivances of the imagination. Or maybe I should say that they ought not to be just that. If they are, they're...well, I was going to say 'crap', but that goes without saying, and it doesn't convey what I meant to say. I was trying to express more something more along the lines of 'soulless'. While I don't believe in a 'soul', the word still captures a meaning that hopefully will convey to you what I might mean. And a story without a soul is a hollow shell without meaning. Anybody trying to 'write' would do well to remember that.

You can always improve your vocabulary and style and technique and whatever qualifies as the 'technical' aspects of writing—or whatever story-telling kind of 'art' is your game. All it takes is practice and time; for some more than for others. Big deal. Woohoo! But to allow your 'soul' and 'heart' to enter into whatever it is you're wanting to say, requires the exercise and cultivation of that elusive thing called 'character' and decisions about what's what that go far deeper and demand more of you than any acquired and practiced technique will ever demand.

In the Neverending Story it was about the 'unsafe' book for the ones who read it and were captured by its contents/meanings/whatever. In truth, authors who write from the heart and soul are faced with 'unsafety' every time they contrive another tale. Because they're really showing stuff to themselves about themselves, and in the process also lay it open to others—who may quite conceivably tear it to pieces, because they either don't care, or because they sense that their only defense against the revelations they find in what they're reading or hearing of watching is to try and tear apart what someone else has created. Yes, it is because they're scared and stupid.

But that's the way of things and if you can't hack it, it'll either destroy you as a story-teller/artist or it can do even worse. If that's your problem, there's only one solution: accept what is and get tough.

Easier said than done, I know. But trust me, it's the only way.

Finister... CLICK!

After all the work, it comes down to this: the point where you can either loop back and try to get it yet more perfect or take the leap. Dither or take the next step.

For Finister, as the first in the list of four sequels, I just clicked APPROVE BOOK. And then there was a variation on the ARE YOU SURE??–dialog, and that needed another OK. Did I falter? I did not!

Still, it's a daunting moment, because this is the first time I've done this. Now it goes out and 'into the system' with warts and all, and it is now and unless I'm willing to pay a large revision fee, out of my hands.

I'm hoping it'll get easier for the next ones. Please let it be easier for the next ones.

So, I shall label the copy of Finister I received last as 'The One' and focus on the continuation of the task. I found a teeny mistake in Tergan, and since I have to order some more copies anyway, I'll fix that first. About Fontaine I'm still conflicted, and Tethys really needs another reread—I think. Ahh, the agonies of the author during the final stages. Writing the initial story is so much simpler and more fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

KEAEN — 10 years on

So I finished the long-announced major edit of Keaen, and here's the lowdown, if for no other reason, but that this blog is named after said novel.

Statistics:

Original: just under 144k words.
Edited: just over 147k words.

Since I probably edited 1k words or more (I really have no idea how many, but it might be 2+k, for all I know) out of existence, that means at least an additional 4k story words for this second, majorly-revised edition.

Copyediting and related stuff:

Removed a gazillion wrylies, extraneous adverbs and adjectives, unnecessary he-said-she-saids that were obvious from the context, clumsy circumlocutions and turns of phrase designed merely to sound cool but which really were just shit and needed to be flushed down the loo.

Fixed another far-too-many inconsistencies, like those relating to my then-practice to use serial commas before 'and'—a habit I have since discarded, but which existed in Keaen—which was followed most of the time, but I didn't spot the instances where it wasn't and neither did my precious editors! Lots of other punctuation issues that made me cringe.

Stylistic fixes, phrasing, use of same words in successive phrases or same paragraph, crummy dialogue, inadequate descriptions, point-of-view violations.

Story-edits:

Improved consistency; found lots of places where a person said or did something that really made no sense, either in 'immediate' logic or in the wider context of 'consistency' of story, plot or character. There were also some basic issues with 'characters are being rather stupid' that I dealt with, especially where the knowledge of the Pandrak-Armist and Caitlan-Ailin secrets are concerned. They're not meant to be surprises, and I tried to make sure readers don't think they are.

The characters, and especially Armist and Tahlia, and even more especially Tahlia, are recognizable, but in many aspects bear little resemblance as people to the ones of the original. As I may have mentioned, I have re-inserted their pre-revelation decision to defy fundamental social codes and conventions—a decision that not only revealed character, but also had a profound influence on their relationship. I never saw the full implications of that in my first writing of that part of the story, and then it was nixed by the censors, and now it's back with a vengeance; and providing a much deeper insight into the characters and what they do and why they do it and how much are they actually aware of what they're doing and how that influences how we see them—because people who are 'aware' reveal character by their decisions; while the older versions of A & T revealed a somewhat insipid disposition by being driven by contingency.

I like these people much, much better, and I believe them much more.

I also, now that Keaen is just #1 in a series, have allowed myself the luxury of 'hooks' and foreshadowing. Characters with a paucity of depth and function, like the assassin, Geld, have acquired additional dimensions by serving as 'hook'-providing characters for, in this instance, the story of the Duke of Brys and the captive Sareens in Fontaine.

Oh, yes, and then of course 'Circes' became 'Sareens' and 'Nyla' became 'Naela'—with her also getting just a teeny bit of extra screen-time and focus.

And so on. There was more, but I forgot. I just ploughed through this, on the computer screen—because on paper this would have been a nightmare!—and tweaked and chopped and added as it pleased me.

————

And what did I feel about all of this?

Well, first of all, it was a tad odd. I hadn't read Keaen with a view to 'story' for a long time. The last years of editing were in compliance with the requests of editors, and that was all about what someone else wanted.

At that stage in an author's existence he's probably more interested in 'getting published' than anything else. The pressure on him (or 'her' of course, I use 'he' in a gender-neutral sense, just in case someone gets uppity) is enormous and akin to the pressure someone I know is under in relation to conforming to the expectation of that pompous bunch of influential nincompoops known as 'critics' and their likes. One tweaks stuff here and adjusts it there, but somehow the important issues get lost in the need to conform to social mores. Precisely—ironically so, one might say—one of the major points in the novel.

Now, I'm not sure that, say 5-6 years ago, I would have understood what the issues with Keaen really were, and especially with the characterization—but I would have expected that, rather than giving me grief over conformance with 'house style' and my use of 'unsurprising', someone would have, at the very least, told me that it made no sense for a character to say this, when s/he actually wasn't stupid and probably knew that and was likely to guess this.

And then there were glaring issues, like the thing about the door in the wall of Castle Keaen. Did it not occur to anybody under the f...g sun that there was something inconsistent here? I had adjusted the description of Armist and Tahlia and later Pandrak using the exit—and then later they all used it to get back in!—so that it wasn't quite as unbelievable as in my very first drafts, but by the time I did that, the book was so far ahead that there was no more leeway for more significant edits. And nobody but me noticed? What the...?

Anyway, it's all been adjusted so I can believe it myself. Because people do screw up, and I can believe that if the door is left closed sufficiently far so that a casual observer won't notice it's actually not...well, folks do assume things, and it's unlikely that a) someone at the castle would have been in paranoia mode checking on it being closed on a regular basis and b) everybody else on the outside would also have assumed that it was closed and locked tight, as it had always been. But that wasn't obvious in version 1, and I didn't fix it properly and it was an inconsistency that always offended me, because I like things to make sense—not necessarily because humans make sense, but as long as it is in line with expectable human behavior I'm cool with it. This one wasn't and I cringed every time I thought of it. It didn't take much to fix; just a tweak here and there in maybe half a dozen sentences. Sometimes it's as simple as that, but only the clarity of distance-perspective will reveal this.

There were some other nurgles like that, and how the editors (three in total) missed them is beyond me. The only explanation I have is that they were like the blind men with the elephant; always touching this part and that, but never connecting anything and having no understanding the the story itself.

In the end, years later, it was then left up to me to tidy these things up; to give my characters depth where it was missing; to find endless stylistic offenses that should never have seen the light of publication.

BTW, don't get me wrong: this was an 'edit' and a 'revision', not a 'rewrite'. Thing is, I basically liked Keaen, and after touching it up I really like it, more than ever. But I didn't want to change it completely, because it is representative of where I was as a writer ten years or so ago—at a time in my life when I was struggling, like every writer does, with 'finding my voice'; that is what to say and how to say it—and why to say it at all.

I think that these days I've resolved some of these issues, and it's interesting to look back and see where I was then.

One of my main feelings as I was doing this was a great sense of relief and freedom. That was probably because the environmental/editor/critic/peer pressures weren't here. And I wasn't struggling with writing the story, because the story was already there. But I was free to take the characters and make them more like I see them now and as I like them now.

It was a good feeling. And I saw, yet again, that I had always been right about the thing that was taken out because I was ordered to do so. It was not only significant, it was the actual point of the story, without which the characters involved, Armist and Tahlia, actually never had a chance to have personalities and depth, but remained, almost until the end, people pushed and prodded about by circumstances. And that was not what the novel was supposed to be all about.

And now it isn't anymore.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Que será será

What will be will be.

What must be will be. What must be, is.

But must what is be?

I ask this, because yesterday I listened to an interview by the ever-annoying [name omitted to protect me from retaliation], with someone whose name I never caught, but it seemed like he was a cognitive scientist of some note. Despite the silly questions he managed to give some good answers. For example he slammed, as much as one can in his position 'slam' someone from one's peer group, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker and materialistic simpletons like P&P Churchland for being dimwits who don't know their asses from a horse's.

So I said to myself "cool, so here's a guy who knows at least about some of what he's talking about [which he must be, because I agree with him, which is a good-enough reason, right?]". And then suddenly he comes out with some stupid statement that makes me go "what the f...?".

Disappointment strikes. Till is majorly pissed off. Turn off the damn radio. Shouldn't have turned it on to begin with. That'll learn me!

So that's how all that came about. And it led to reflections on the whole issue of how people are really stupid when assessing the significance and implication of biological research. Just because biological science comes up with results that, in their nature appear look similar to those from most other scientific research—numbers, statistical results, cause-effect statements—even sensible scientists often believe that the results may be interpreted in similar ways.

This just isn't so, because with statements about biological organisms there isn't a single one that does not require the proviso that, whatever the conclusion, it is highly 'statistical' and probably requires a careful analysis of all the contextual factors involved in its derivation—plus a gazillion more that have not been considered, but which actually do have an influence on its range of validity.

The statement that riled me—to get to the heart of this—was that 'older' people find it harder learning new things than younger ones. On the average that is—or at least I'd guess so.

Still, what does the statement mean, and can it even be said to be true statistically speaking?

OK, so I admit, I'm piqued partially because I am probably a member of the group of 'older' people the man was referring to—as would he be, though I'd say he's more likely to be a case in point of his statement. And it's probably true that if he'd said something derogatory of 'younger' minds I might not have responded in a similar way. (This also is one of those contextual conditions you've got to take into account when reading this little rant—as an object lesson for making my point, if you will.) But he's still thinking in that way typical of most people who have reached the limit of their ability to think properly.

I'm not going into the whole issue at depth, because this is a blog. But it occurs to me that to even begin to understand the inanity of that statement, here are a just a very few questions for starters:

What cohort of people is he talking about? What social grouping? What environmental/nutritional/educational factors were taken into consideration?
Males? Females? Differences?
Was the statement epidemiological or physiological/cognitive?
What does he mean by 'new' (random numbers? concepts?), 'things' (mental, physical), 'learning' (memory? applied skill?), 'harder' (what are the rulers?), 'young', 'old' (limits of these parameters?)?
What is the spread of applicability of the groups referred-to?
How much of this is due to disease/abormality and how much is an inevitable byproduct of an aging organism?

Yeah, and now you say "all right, but you know what he meant to say when he said that, so why make it complicated?"

Well, I don't 'know' what he meant.

Thing is, if we don't ask the right questions, we don't get the right answers. The history of biomedical science is littered with the corpses of fads, fashions and theories that resulted from people not asking the right questions—or enough questions, or questions that properly delineate the area they're supposed to delineate. And when I hear this kind of simplistic stuff being popularized by people who really should know better, I wonder who has a hard time learning things here.

Come to think about it, the history of just about everything in the story of human development is littered with the corpses of the results of wrong questions.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

KEAEN cover design

This is an imperfect scan of the first ever cover of the first ever edition of Keaen, done in 2002 by my daughter Aynia (her blog) for a project during her Design course at Otago University.

I shall shamelessly use it as the template for the one I'm going to design myself, despite the different aspect ratio that constrains me.

Just to let you know that I'm thinking about it while I ravage through Keaen and tweak it here and adjust it there, until it is what I would like it to be—if only, in this case, for the sake of making the five-book series a consistent whole.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Life and art

So, friends of mine, one of whom was a proof reader for this...


...in Felicity, CA, found this...

Now, Felicity appears a somewhat odd place; but not stranger, really, than a lot of things human civilization has to offer. The object no doubt qualifies as 'kitsch', though the painting that provided the 'model' for it, if you will, is considered high and 'classic' art. Which reminds me that Robert Solomon, in a book I've mentioned before, discusses the nature of kitsch and the arbitrariness and context of our judgment of what and why 'kitsch' is. The Wikipedia entry has an interesting mix of definitions and understandings of the term, whose nature reflects Solomon's assertions about the phenomenon. Another instance of what is being said being revelatory about why it is being said and what it tells us about those who say it. This investigative approach is closely allied with the Husserl brand of phenomenology—for those who are interested in such matters, of course.

(Stop yawning, MLBB!)

And, by the way, my original conception of the 'statue of Yeolus' in Gaskar was nothing like it appeared on the Finister cover. I had thought of it as a man in a long coat, pointing, and with the arm being covered in a sleeve that hung down like the sleeve of a monk's gown maybe. But then it occurred to me that a nude, male, though basically sexless, statue would do much better. That it now assumes Michelangelaeic dimensions hadn't even occurred to me, though I must confess that, within the context, it wouldn't be inappropriate.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tiger, Tiger

From our 2007 National Geographic 'Tigers' calendar...


Not so supercutie, eh? And definitely not in the mood for dancing.

Give and Take

There's a sliding scale, say from 0-10, onto which one can map writers/storytellers/film-makers/whatever in terms of what you might call the 'giving' factor.

At the 'ZERO' end are those who are all technique, form, plot, polish, design, plan, perfection and such like things, but with a 'giveaway factor' of zilch, nada, nix, nichts, rien, diddly-squat...except for the fact of course that they give away something about themselves by not doing it.

[Sidebar: The same applies to 'performers', from actors to concert pianists—for reasons not too dissimilar to those I'm going to be talking about. But that's just something to keep in mind while reading this.]

At the other end of the scale are those for whom writing is the act of pouring themselves out into some handy medium, so the world can see them. They don't do anything but that. Their interest in anyone else but themselves is basically zero, no matter how it appears.

I suspect that most beginning writers, and especially those starting young, meaning when they're below, say 25 or so, is close to the '10' end. That's cool, because it's true that one should write about what one knows (the only way to avoid the label 'derivative', though of course, everything ultimately is 'derived'), and when one starts off on that path known as 'life', oneself is all one really knows. Egomania is the natural main character feature of youth—with a few exceptions, of which there always are some. That invariably translates into one's writings.

As I said, nothing wrong with that—at that point in life and one's 'writing' or 'story telling' life. Am I speaking from personal experience and looking-back self-analysis? You bet your ass I am.

Does that trouble me? Not one bit. You see, there is no way—and I mean no way!—that someone can, like me, hang in there and keep on doing this shit without major financial or major validating reward for...well, let me call it 'years', though I should admit to 'decades'...without having something of a what for lack of a better term I'll call 'ego-presence'.

Doesn't matter if they hide it behind some faux façade of passive-aggressive modesty. They may even congregate in writing groups for mutual validation and touchy-feely support, but anybody who doesn't see that they're either egomaniacs or those who would like to be serious egomaniacs—or those living in major delusion-land—needs some serious lessons in human motivations. Writing and storytelling of the kind that creates major 'works' requires individuals of a disposition that enables them to do things done in lengthy stretches of solitude and being-wrapped-up-in-one's-inner-world-ness—and in order to do that they need anything but modesty, self-effacingness and all the qualities that go with people who qualify as 'balanced' or 'stable' or possessed of similar attributes, all of which imply a personality disposition that has no significant—to use physics terminology—energy gradients. In the mind, these gradients are known as 'emotions', and 'll talk about them in another blog, where I will review the book I'm reading right now, In Defense of Sentimentality.

It is from these energy gradients that great stories are written and what gives stories that are in essence 'derivative' new life. Because there really is nothing truly new to tell, except for the novelty that arises from the uniqueness of a particular configuration of contingency, and which makes an old story 'interesting', despite its just being a 're-telling'.

Back to the 'giving factor' scale. The writer—let's stick to writers, and take that to be a shorthand the whole ilk—during his or her time as a writer, will be positioned somewhere along that scale, usually in varying places, depending where the writer's 'head' happens to be at any given time. Some writers will remain in particular places for longer than others. Where you find them pretty much mirrors who they are in their lives. Egomaniac assholes will probably be found at both extremes of the scale—the ones at '0' because of their contempt for their audience, which is mixed with a terrible fear of revealing anything about themselves; the ones at the other end because they actually are incapable of anything but self-revelation, which to them is the truly most important thing in the world, and the world had better know it, because they are, after all, some kind of divine gift to it. And yes, it goes without saying—but I'm still saying it, just in case you think I might think otherwise—that these people also are basically contemptuous of their audience. All egomaniacs are, once they've grown out of immediate postpubescence and have lost the excuse of 'youth' and hormonal turmoil and all that.

Like everything else in life, some kind of life around the center-marker—the fabled 'middle way'—is probably the sanest way of conducting one's writing existence, once one gets to a position where one is actually capable of doing so.

That means in practical terms:
• giving of oneself
• without making the whole damn thing about oneself.

Something has to be 'shared': something more than political of philosophical positions or opinions; something that comes out of the inner life that makes oneself different from that of others—without overemphasizing that difference, and instead using it to help the reader to see themselves in ways they might not have seen themselves before, or discerning order in the chaos thatis their life—for every life is chaos. That is the way of the world.

The energy flowing from story teller to story recipient is like that used by our bodies to keep alive: entropy production along energy gradients that create and maintain a dynamically ordered system.

'Form' does not provide energy. Form, by itself, is devoid of energy. On the other hand, form serves as a channel and shaper of energy, but the energy must come from somewhere. 'Form' makes it usable by others. Think of form like the bed of a river. The bed shapes the flow, stops it from going over the banks and just flooding the countryside around it. The water flows down a gradient that combines with the force of gravity to create the energy that requires channeling. I could extend the metaphor, but invite you to use your imagination. Also, if you will, consider the issue of putting a dam into the path of the flow. There's a lot of useful analogy here, and it probably works better and more effectively than spelling everything out at length.

Am I going somewhere with this? Of course, and it is this:

As a writer (or whatever) you have to make certain decisions about what it is you do. Just 'writing' won't do. Because that's not what it is about—and if you think it is, then you've got a damn long way to go. It is about energy and energy flow and channeling it in the best way to have it do the most good. And the thing is—and most people aspiring to be writers never learn that—is that, when the energy flows strong and is properly channeled, and maybe with the odd overflow to make things interesting—and it all goes from where it originates to where it should go, then you, too, will end up feeling something quite amazing.

I don't quite know how to describe it, but I guess it has something to do with things just being as they should be. Of course, there is no real 'should be', because that whole notion is just something we make up. But it feels like that anyway. I can't explain it and I don't think I'll try very hard either. Some things just 'are' and require no 'explanation'. At least I don't need it, and am content to just experience whatever it is that I cannot explain. I wish more people would realize just how right Wittgenstein was with the final words of his Tractatus.

"Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen."
["Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."]

In truth, only the tellers of stories have any hope of ever resolving the paradox of how to be silent about the 'whereof' and at the same time revealing it to plain view.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Retard owls

About my owl friends—why' friends'? well, think 'owlgass', right?—I thought they were so terminally cute that I went to find out what kind they are, and it so happens they're known as 'Burrowing Owls'. And here, for your edification and a serious cute-attack, are more pictures.










And what I consider the crowning glory...



Jack's back

After the comparatively benign and very romantic Wolves, the next installment of Fables (actually a spin-off) features the incorrigible Jack plus that decidedly nasty character 'Goldilocks', plus what qualifies as an 'evil conspiracy'—against the folks we have come to like and Fabletown as a whole— giving this set of tales a decidedly nasty character. I love nasty conspiracies. Won't tell you how this one ends, but for one thing: it ain't over until it's over.

I mean, I knew Goldie wasn't killed by Snow White, despite the axe buried deeply in her skull, blood sloshing all over the place, plus the truck that collected her on the windshield and the plunge into the river. Goldilocks is hard to kill, because...

Well, I'm sure Bill Willingham has read Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes and had Dahl's delinquent B&E girl in mind when he characterized Fables's Goldilocks. Because she is just about what you'd expect from the more grown-up young lady described by Roald Dahl as "Goldilocks, that little toad, That nosey thieving little louse, [who] Comes sneaking in your empty house...". But, of course, a 'Fable' survives partially on its popularity with the common folk, and Goldilocks is, after all, very popular.

Goldi was the one who shot Snow White in the head, but fortunately the latter also is very popular, and therefore survived to have Bigby Wolf's odd little cubs. Here we have one of the great antitheses of these stories. On one side selfish, murderous Goldie, who led a bloody rebellion at 'The Farm', and turned out to be the worst of self-serving cynical ideological agitators in the stories. On the other a less-than angelic tough-chick Snow White, the right hand and executive mayor of 'Fabletown', who ran the show for centuries, before this thing with the cubs happened.

A similar contrast exists between Jack and Bigby Wolf. Jack is the charming cad, whose only interest is himself. Period. He isn't quite as nasty as the late Bluebeard, but take away the wife-killing fetish of the latter, the two are damn close. Whatever Jack does is for Jack's benefit. Egomania as a driving motive for action, ethics and everything else is fascinating. It isn't 'evil' per se—or maybe it is more evil than the 'evil' that's recognizable as such. I'm still pondering that one.

Contrast him to Bigby Wolf, a man who spent most of his life as a giant wolf—and still spends the occasional stretches of quality-time in that condition, when the need arises or he just wants to go for a run in the woods. At one time he was a creature of simple appetites, which went to killing whatever came his way. His father was the emotionally-distant 'North Wind', whom Bigby once describes as 'truly evil'. Bigby's animal nature was transformed and he was redeemed into becoming a human being through the intervention of Snow White, whose scent he could never forget, ever since the first time he caught a whiff of her. Since then his life has been, in one way or the other, about her. Redemption by love and all that—ultimately for both of them, because Snow has serious issues, too; all of which are called or caused by one 'Prince Charming', another cad of renown.

No such redemption for Jack, who is a true psychopath and therefore unredeemable. Same goes for Goldilocks, and so the story of Jack of Fables and the conspiracy plays out. As usual, cool stuff; this one on the nasty side.

Fables rule! Only fiction I read these days, really. Except for the latest Hiaasen novel perhaps. Whatever that signifies I do not know. Possibly just that I spend too much time writing. Writing just takes up a lot of time. Right now I'm going to tackle a major edit of Keaen, which I'm actually looking forward to. By the time I'm done, it should actually be a really good novel—ten years after its first writing. For those who ask me nicely, an informal edition will be available, though it will not be publicly visible on lulu.com and I won't really be able to mention it on my website.

Anyway, here, to finish off, is a part of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" by the incomparable Roald Dahl, for those who've never had the pleasure. (Couldn't find a quote of the whole poem, and was too lazy to type in in, sorry!) If you like it, you might benefit from buying the whole damn collection.

"This famous wicked little tale
Should never have been put on sale
It is a mystery to me
Why loving parents cannot see
That this is actually a book
About a brazen little crook..."

"...Now just imagine how you'd feel
If you had cooked a lovely meal,
Delicious porridge, steaming hot,
Fresh coffee in the coffee pot,
With maybe toast and marmalade,
The table beautifully laid,
One place for you and one for dad,
Another for your little lad.
Then dad cries, 'Golly–gosh! Gee whizz!
'Oh cripes! How hot this porridge is!
'Let's take a walk along the street
'Until it's cool enough to eat.'
He adds, 'An early morning stroll
'Is good for people on the whole.
'It makes your appetite improve
'It also helps your bowels move.'
No proper wife would dare to question
Such a sensible suggestion,
Above all not at breakfast–time
When men are seldom at their prime.
No sooner are you down the road
Than Goldilocks, that little toad
That nosey thieving little louse,
Comes sneaking in your empty house...."

"...(Here comes the next catastrophe.)
Most educated people choose
To rid themselves of socks and shoes
Before they clamber into bed.
But Goldie didn't give a shred.
Her filthy shoes were thick with grime,
And mud and mush and slush and slime.
Worse still, upon the heel of one
Was something that a dog had done.
I say once more, what would you think
If all this horrid dirt and stink
Was smeared upon your eiderdown
By this revolting little clown?
(The famous story has no clues
To show the girl removed her shoes.)

Oh, what a tale of crime on crime!
Let's check it for a second time.

Crime One, the prosecution's case:
She breaks and enters someone's place.

Crime Two, the prosecutor notes:
She steals a bowl of porridge oats.

Crime Three: She breaks a precious chair
Belonging to the Baby Bear.

Crime Four: She smears each spotless sheet
With filthy messes from her feet.

A judge would say without a blink,
'Ten years hard labour in the clink!'
But in the book, as you will see,
The little beast gets off scot–free,
While tiny children near and far
Shout 'Goody–good! Hooray! Hurrah!'
'Poor darling Goldilocks!' they say,
'Thank goodness that she got away!'
Myself, I think I'd rather send
Young Goldie to a sticky end.
'Oh daddy!' cried the Baby Bear,
'My porridge gone! It isn't fair!'
'Then go upstairs,' the Big Bear said,
'Your porridge is upon the bed.
'But as it's inside mademoiselle,
'You'll have to eat her up as well."

Oh, yes, and needless to say, the things Goldie does with Baby Bear before the 'revolution' on the Farm are definitely not suitable for inclusion in any kiddie's book. But then again, this is Fables after all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Timelessness

When you come to think about it, there's a whole other genre out there that strives for 'timeless' stories. Oddly enough, it often half-pretends to be 'present day', but at the same time obviously isn't. That's kind of even harder to do than, say, writing future-fiction—'future' being near or far future—or outright fantasy, where you can place some action anywhere you please, and may even be expected to do so.

The genre I'm talking of is 'comics' of course, and in particular those of the Batman, Spiderman and Superman kind. They're all located in cities recognizably 'present day'—usually thin allusion to New York. Yet they are definitely not those places, because the names are wrong and there's no history that makes them recognizably 'real'. A lot of them have their roots, like the comics themselves, in the contexts those cities provided when the comics were first created—with what amounts to either a 'camp' or 'noir' tinge, depending on which one we're talking about. Sometimes both. The modern movie incarnations of the three comics mentioned above, of course, modernized these images—with the exception of the truly awful Batman movies of the 1990s—but they continued in parallel realities, if you will, to the reality that 'is'. Of course, it could be argued that a lot of journalists, for example, also live in 'parallel realities', separated from what's actually happening in the world, but I'm just mentioning this peripherally and because I thought it's been too long since I took a cheap shot at journalists.

The notable 'comic' exception in all this is, of course, Bill Willingham's Fables series (and BTW, Volume 9 can now be pre-ordered from Amazon.com!!), whose only claim to parallel-world-ism lies in the fact that it posits that among us—mostly, again, in NYC; and where else could it be?—live creatures really belonging into the fables and fairy-tales of old and new, East and West and North and South. Mostly of the 'old' kind, of course, because that's where they came from. And let's face it, the gazillion Matrix-Agents that tried to invade Fabletown in March of the Wooden Soldiers are even more obviously the Golems of Jewish (and other people's) folklore than Asimov's robots.

Of course, comics of the type I mentioned above—as opposed to something bizarre, suitably outré and avant-grade and therefore qualifying as 'art'—are usually frowned upon by the hoity-toity adjudicators of what is worthy of one's literary or artistic consideration. But those who pay attention to critics deserve the shit they end up reading, watching or listening to as a result. We all make our own beds to lie in.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Timeless Stories for the 21st Century

They say log lines are everything. Get a good one and the movie can be shit and bomb at the box office, but some dumb-wit producer will go for it anyway, just because of the log line.

Of course that's what 'they say' and 'they' are notoriously dimwitted, and retards to boot. So it's not like I believe this kind of crap, but who knows, maybe there are such retard producers. Considering the incredible shit that appears on straight-to-video and even on the big screen—costing tens of millions to make, and that's cheap!—it makes you think, don't it? Remember Frank Zappa's dictum about stupidity and hydrogen?

Back to loglines. The Timeless Stories for the 21st Century one came to me as I was trying to find something to write as a header for my website home page.

Of course, you can't have 'timeless' stories, because everything has its time. As I read the other day in Robert Solomon's In Defense of Sentimentality—a book definitely worthwhile reading—even what we consider 'timeless' notions of male-female romance, that one would expect not to have changed substantially, at their core, like forever...that these notions are actually quite recent; just a few hundred years old and definitely 'Western', though they have contaminated the minds of Easterners as well. I'm not too sure how much I believe that, but it's a reminder that attributing 'timelessness' to things—even stories—is a dicey thing to do.

So, maybe I was a bit hyperbolic with my slogan/logline. Still, there is a way of telling stories that are more timeless, if you will, than others. For example anything that makes direct reference to current political issues—despite the potential for endless repetition of these issues—definitely needs to convince me that it can lay claim to temporal independence, if not outright transcendence. More importantly perhaps, this kind of writing—for book or screen—seldom helps people to actually see the essentials behind the particular.

Which may be why I avoid it like the plague—as have others, better writers and story tellers than I; as it indeed may be the ultimate justification for that literature often called 'imaginative' or 'fantastical'.

Anyway, Timeless Stories for the 21st Century it is. After reading certain portions of In Defense of Sentimentality I also realized that, quite without knowing, I was touching on some very basic themes, not just in the area of ethics, but of a much more delicate subject, namely that of romantic love and its causes and manifestations. Maybe that critic who accused of just being a romance in the disguise of fantasy was more right that I gave him credit for. But then again, isn't that what much of a lot of literature is all about? I said, a couple of blogs ago that I thought 'stories about people without romance are...well, 'boring''. Maybe that's not because I'm a 'romantic', but because there's something essential here that's missing from those tales it's missing from.

It has occurred to me that the low-level-to-acute embarrassment people feel when romance is involved and talked about—and I am not talking about 'romance' because they usually cross the line into outright kitsch, which is an entirely different universe—may be actually be a reflection of the fact that it actually is so important; to the point of exposing weaknesses that people, usually men, really would rather not have exposed.

However, I think that knowing, but not being afraid of, one's weaknesses is actually sign of strength. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. So there.

And to end, here's the narrative 'hook' in the final chapter of Tethys that leads into the next book. It's Falcon speaking, just before the final two paragraphs of the story:

“...if you see [Tigers] dancing, it is not because they are happy or enjoying themselves. They do it because it serves their purpose and that purpose is to kill their prey. In other words, it is not a dance at all, but a stratagem to deceive and ultimately to maim and kill; and thus to ensure their own survival, and by implication that of their species. Nothing wrong with that, of course, for we all do it, in one way or the other. But when you see a Tiger dance, be very much afraid, for it means that it has set its mind on something that is not going to be beneficial to your welfare.

“Mac has invited a Tiger to this world. One day that Tiger will come here, and he will do so with the sole intent of pursuing his own self-interest; and he will do whatever it takes to deceive us about his purposes—even though he must guess that we know them only too well. And he will be gracious and graceful, and he will attempt to convince us that he is indeed of the same mind as we are. And he will charm and befuddle people until they forget that he is a Tiger, and that Tigers do not dance. They stalk, they plan, they prepare for the kill. They never, never, do anything for any other purpose.”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

So sue me

OK OK, so I just had to share this one. Blame the person who sent it to me to begin with.

'nuff said already.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why?

I am fortunate in that I know a fair number of people who a) qualify as 'intelligent' to 'very intelligent', b) disagree with me on some fairly important and/or basic issues, and c) think highly enough of me to actually let me know that they disagree (rather than, say, just turning away and rolling up their eyes, as they well might).

I was reminded of this when, last weekend, we were visited by some friends from the US. One is an emeritus professor of mathematics, the other a computer scientist. Both are people possessed of lively, sharp and acute intellects; with scientific dispositions and enquiring minds. There's a certain overlap between what they think about or believe in or consider significant and what I think about the same things. There are also areas where we don't overlap, either in interest or conclusions about what's what. Having them here, apart from the pleasure of seeing friends come and visit, also provided some major intellectual stimulation from quarters I don't ususally get it from.

My mathematician friend in particular provided ample opportunities for intellectual challenges. He is of a disposition that questions everything which appears worthy of consideration and questioning and unabashed about vocalizing his doubts; the kind that doesn't let you get away with something he considers bullshit. As for me, when on the receiving end of one of his challenges, my reaction is 'cool'! So there's obviously a reason why he questions this. And what would that reason be? Is he merely unaware of certain facts that might change his opinion? Is there a line of argument he hasn't pursued and which might cause him to see my assertions as less questionable? Or are my thoughts truly requiring requiring a challenge?

After several of his challenges I found myself thinking about stuff that I had previously considered as 'dealt with'. Often this is the case because it has been dealt with. I've believed more impossible things before breakfast than you'd know. It's probably in the nature of people disposed to being storytellers to do that kind of thing. Which means that I can say with some confidence "been there, believed that; and it's bullshit". I have no desire to revisit certain places and considerations.

The Japanese have a saying: "The wise man climbs Mount Fuji once. Only a fool does it again." Once you've believed the tenets promulgated by one religion, there's no need, after having decided that it is truly just a lot of baloney, to try another and another. After all, the issue is not which religion is true, but if any religion has any likelihood of telling you anything about the life, the universe and all that that is true; or if instead, as Mencken said, it's all like someone believing that their kids are smart and their spouse attractive. Truth in the eyes of the beholder, is what it's all about, and so why bother with Islam if you already know that Christianity is just a load of fiction-taken-for-fact.

I mention this particular example, because my mathematician friend pointed out, not unreasonably, that a lot of highly intelligent scientists have believed and do believe in 'God'; and I gather he took that to be an argument why one should not dismiss religion quite as much out of hand as I do these days. Thing is, of course, I don't just dismiss it out of hand. I have believed a lot of this mumpitz, when I was a chronological and/or philosophical juvenile. But now I've grown up a bit and, being a good Absurdist and follower of General Semantics, I have come to the conclusion, as I may have mentioned before, that just because you're a great scientist your opinions regarding metaphysics don't necessarily carry any particular weight per se. Remember that somewhere most people stop thinking and instead go philosophically AWOL or even MIA for good. The reasons for this are limpidly clear to me, but it appears that they are by no means as evident to others.

I may have the time to blog about it one day, or maybe not. If I do, my Buddy Benny is sure to fall asleep reading the blog, because there's no pictures or porn. So maybe I won't, huh?

In publication news:

I've done my edit pass through Tethys and now have to type in the changes I made on paper. Big job. The temptation not to add some red here and another bit there, just because you know that it's going to be a shitload of more work at the computer, is overwhelming sometimes. I resisted it valiantly and went for quality over laziness. In the process I got my own first complete re-read of Tethys, with so many ideas about the sequel story springing up in the process that it was all I could do not to put the paper down and fold open my iBook to get started on what will be called, after some reconsiderations, DANCE OF TIGERS.

Of course, Tigers don't dance, and what is one to make of the fact that already the title has changed? Well, nothing much really, except that the concept is evolving. Thing is, since Tigers don't dance, a dance of Tigers is really an oxymoron; and it really means, as I have Falcon point out at the end of Tethys, that if Tigers appear to be dancing it just looks that way, while in truth it is a fight to the death that looks like a dance. This will be one of the themes of DANCE OF TIGERS, with other themes being betrayal, loyalty and the need to choose if one is willing to pay the high price sometimes demanded for survival. Plus, inevitably, there will be a goodly measure of romance, because I think stories about people without romance are...well, 'boring'. Oh, and violence! So keep the kiddies away from this one, because they might be corrupted.

As the process of concepts, ideas and story-lines coalescing in my head repeats itself yet again, as it has done many time before, I get a better chance each time to actually observe how it happens. It's as if one part of me stood by and observed how in the other parts the creative act plays itself out. I don't know if, supposing that someone else looked at themselves and performed similar observations, they would come to the same conclusions. But what I am seeing makes perfect sense within the context of what I have learned about brain function and how it relates to the 'mind'. Hence I would conclude, albeit tentatively, that the process I'm seeing may have some universal aspects.

Whether it has or not, there is no doubt that it is getting to the point where the process itself has achieved something of the familiarity and 'hand'-like quality I described as being a goal in iaijutsu. You don't think about it very much anymore. You don't struggle with your 'creativity' itself. Instead you work on those things that are to be created. I'm quite happy to be rid of those kinds of conflicts. I don't think that, except in the 'development' stages of one's creative life they do anybody any good, and basically act as creativity-retardants and not much else.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Big day

So, this is it. Today I purchased an ISBN for Tethys, which means that everything is on the way. The cover of Tethys is OK as it is, methinks. I like it at any rate, though someone I know might remain unconvinced by...hmmff, call them 'anatomical'...issues.

The content is still under revision while I wait for the ISBN. Lots of red in my paper copy.

Next in line: a cover for the revised version—to remain without ISBN for the indefinite future—of Keaen; as well as the edits, of course. I found a cool set of castle components for Poser, which I purchased for a small fee and shall use for creating the Keaen cover. The basic model is still the concept use by my daughter for the design of the first-ever cover of a single-copy hardback edition of Keaen.

All's on-target. Long live deadlines!

Oh, yes, and as of today Finister, Tergan, Fontaine as well as Seladiënna are available from lulu.com. Just click on the appropriate images in the books-page on my website. And if you live in NZ, you will be able to get these things much cheaper if you contact me personally. The lulu prices unfortunately had to be adjusted to be in-line with recommended retail pricing and competitive market shit, because the books are going to be published worldwide. Long story, but it's a pain in the ass. Still, I hope to find a way, in due course, to help bring those prices way lower. Until then talk to me and I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tethys cover


Methinks I'll leave it at this.

For your reference, this is what it looked like some days ago.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Asimov's Fairy Tales

Budding cognitive scientists: here's the material for a Ph.D. thesis. I have subjects for several of these. However, I am more in the results than the research, which in most of the instances the research would merely serve as an exercise for jumping through academic hoops and, not to put too fine a point on it, wasting time I cold spend writing good stories. The results are basically a foregone conclusion, limpidly obvious, at least to me. So I'll leave the work to someone else, thank you very much. Still, it would be research that promises to be much more interesting and far-reaching than a lot of the stuff candidates have to put up with.

The thesis is simple: What you read when you learn how to read will determine, or at least influence in a 'predisposition' kind of way, what you think, believe and find pleasing to read/listen-to/watch for the rest of your life—and if you're a writer of stories, the kinds of stories you'll be telling and retelling all your life, no matter how carefully disguised.

When you come to think about it for a moment, especially from a cognitive science point of view, the matter is almost self-evident, and you might wonder 'Why a Thesis?' Well, at the very least because a) it would be nice to have it verified within the 'respectability' rules of science and b) because it might prove interesting and lead to other research into matters you might not have expected to come up.

Case in point, to pick a random sample from the pantheon of s-f 'greats': Isaac Asimov, one of the writers often dragged in when talking about 'hard' science fiction—that being the fiction of science, about science, containing serious science, projecting about future topics in a scientific kind of way, and so on.

Essential and 'hard' science here, n'est-ce pas? Robots and the three laws of robotics. The Foundation Series. The classic Nightfall. And so on.

But replace 'Robot' with the term 'Golem', the three laws of robotics with something like 'three binding spells'—to control the Golem(s) in question—and you have the basic story that a boy who grew up in a simple Russian Jewish family would have gotten to know at about the same time he learned to read. He may well have learned to read with these stories. Look at the Foundation Series and and you have Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire mixed in with some classic Messianic themes. Look at Nightfall and you have a Judgment Day tale.

I picked on Asimov, because when talking to a scientist friend I casually mentioned that Asimov told fairy tales, and that provoked a 'how can you say that?' kind of reaction. Well, it's easy to say, because that's the way it is. Fairy tales are just kinds of mythologies—or, maybe it's the other way around; at any rate they are basically one and the same: spider-tarantula, that sort of thing.

You can pick on anyone, basically. The extreme examples of the phenomenon are the readers of religious tracts, who learn how to read while reading said tracts. The association between reading and subtle evocation of the contents of what they read will be almost inseparable. That doesn't mean they actually think consciously about these things; far from it. But in the 80+% of the mind that lurks beneath the ready accessible levels of consciousness, the patterns established at that early stage become reinforced by association. Add to that all the other conditioning and imprinting that happens to go with this process, and we have a model for the development of biases and predispositions and what amounts to 'implicit inclinations'—that being inclinations we can not explicitly trace back to their origins by pure thought and introspection, but where we must resort to looking at our real personal history. Much of what we 'believe' and apparently choose to believe—if we are mentally aware enough to understand that we do choose such things and then go out and try to actually do it, rather than just be driven—can, I suspect, be explained by these kinds of processes. There is no easy way—maybe no way at all for the vast majority of people—to undo undo the imprinting damage inflicted on them by having them learn to read using religious tracts. Whenever I see shots of kids in some school—be it Christian or Islamic; I don't really care and find both profoundly sad, because these kids don't have a chance, really—poring over religious crap, my gut reaction is that I want to go out and beat the shit out of whoever makes them do this. But then I remind myself that it was/is/will-be someone who probably was in that same kind of position and is so profoundly imprinted with the basic truths of some stupid 'faith' or ideology or whatever 'conviction' that it would be simply incomprehensible to him or her that not only are there people who are equally convinced that it ain't so, but that it actually really isn't and the poor bastard is in the same position as one of Asimov's golems.

Same, by the way, goes for the kind of 'literature' that we can relate to. I learned to read with basic European fairy tales and myths and legends. You can see what kind of literature I not only find familiar and relatable-to, but also what kind of stories I'm likely to be able to tell and tell in such a way that my comfort with them translates into ease of telling. Of course that means that people who haven't achieved a degree of comfort with that kind of story will simply not relate to it. This, partially, is responsible for the creation of 'genres' which are nothing but comfort-zone niche-markets for story-telling—and niche slots for authors to fit themselves in, of course.

Man's gotta know his limitations, right?

There is only one way out of this, and that is by the equivalent of the nullification trick of the spell used by the character T'sais in Jack Vance's short story of the same name to break a spell of compulsion-to-obey-every-command cast upon her boyfriend and comrade by a beautiful but evil witch. That, of course, is just another fairy-tale—but like so many it is instructive and offers us the solution to the quandary we're in. I'm not going to spell it out, because it would be better if you went out and bought a copy of The Dying Earth, wherein you'll find the story.

And, no, it will never be implemented by anyone responsible for 'education' in any nation of this Earth. How could it? It breeds, not slaves, but men and women capable of defining the world and its values by making open-eyed choices, with no excuses attached, no matter how things turn out. The notion is anathema to anyone involved in any form of organization aiming to control the actions and thoughts of people.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Original(ity) Sin

I am loath to admit it, but, let's face it, Keaen wasn't exactly a bestseller and still isn't. (This will change, but there's a time for everything, and it may come soon.) I have previously commented on how that may ultimately have proved to be to my advantage—but these comments must sound, to some at least, like me putting a good face onto what's not an encouraging situation. Gute Miene zum bösen Spiel. [Literally: 'good expression to a bad game'.]

Still, it is also true—though unprovable—that if the sequels had been written under the constraints imposed by a very-widely sold first novel and under the watchful eyes of editors of publishers interested in continuing a winning streak, I would not have had the freedom to go where I went with the series. Editors are a meddlesome lot, who go places they shouldn't, and today I would not allow them to tread on my toes as I have allowed them to in the past.

Also, there are 'house style' rules with just about every publisher extant, and I would have little patience with them these days. If someone told me that a word is not in their dictionary I'd probably go and tell them to screw themselves and either find a better dictionary or google the word—or else to learn and live with an occasional neologism. The point is that I don't use words that make no sense to anyone possessed of mediocre literacy. Likewise, I won't dismiss my readers as incapable of gleaning the meaning of words possibly unknown to them from the contexts in which they are used. Also, I think that my English grammar and style is quite...well, let's call it 'competent'—and I don't need some editor homogenizing it to their expectations and prejudices. To have to tell a story I want to tell with some 'house style' in the background of my mind, when everything in me itches to say something like this and not like that...I don't think I could stick it, to be honest. Correct my spelling and typos, but leave my story alone. Period. I'm quite capable of looking after that myself, and if there's anything I've learned it's that there are as many ways of 'understanding' a story as there are readers. Editors don't have the market on 'comprehension' cornered; far from it.

Truth is—and I'm saying this now, and would like to think that when the time comes I will have the fortitude and integrity to live up to this declaration—that if I sold anything else of mine to anybody, I would make it a stipulation in the contract that I have the final say in matters pertaining to editorial issues with the book(s). I may be persuaded, but I will not allow myself to be coerced again. That ship has sailed and is gone for good. Stories written by committee—which is what much 'editing' is all about—tend to end up homogenized and, not to put too fine a point on it, as shit.

However, this isn't what this blog was to be all about. Instead I wanted to talk about the disease of 'originality', which runs rampant throughout much 'creative art' today, and it achieves occasionally grotesque proportions in modern-day science fiction and fantasy; though I hasten to add that it isn't the only place where such excesses are commonplace. But sci-fi and fantasy is basically my genre, so I'll stick to it. Just remember that the comments have wider applicability.

Labeling something as 'original' is probably the greatest compliment those sitting in judgment over artistic creations can dish out these days. 'Originality' is what the 'discerning' consumer of art and entertainment has been indoctrinated into believing is a virtue and as a result hungers for. Originality gets you grants for producing shit.

If it's not 'original', there's always the alternative of being 'in the tradition of XYZ', which is the other extreme of what recommends a work for consumption. Of course, and more's the irony, the greatest bestsellers these days are the Harry Potter series, which have little to claim in terms of either 'originality' or being 'in the grand tradition of'. Still, they now belong to a different category of literary work: that known as a 'phenomenon'; which means one really doesn't give a shit about how good it is, but it's...well, a phenomenon, and what more can you say? Should be enough, shouldn't it?

Meanwhile the works of Jack Vance, for example, linger in the limbo of public ignorance and disinterest, despite all the efforts of the good people of the Vance Integral Edition. An utterly charming, enchanting and literate set of fairly tales—Vance's Lyonesse trilogy, possibly the most magnificant work of fairy-tale-dom of the 20th century and before and beyond—has almost been forgotten; even though, in the late 1990s the author received a World Fantasy Award for the last one. Alas, thus go the fashions of the world.

'Originality' in essence says that the thing it describes has an 'originating' quality, having created something that hasn't existed before. With the overuse of the term it has been completely forgotten that it makes little sense in real terms. For either everything is 'original' or nothing is.

Let me explain by what I mean.

Everything
is 'original' because nothing is ever exactly as anything that ever was, and everything that is represents an 'origin' of whatever comes from it. Since this is so the term actually has meaning but is totally useless to describe anything whatsoever. It's like 'Pantheism': meaningless, content-free bullshit. If everything is 'God', then what's the difference of that from everything not being 'God'? Zilch. Terms attributing qualities must have the capacity to distinguish between things. Some of those things have those qualities and some haven't. Otherwise why even bother with the word?

Nothing is original in a different sense, which is closer to the way one might actually use the word in a more distinguishing function. For we mean 'original' in a larger sense of giving this thing a quality of having been created as something novel; something that never was before and which serves as an origin for whatever it 'originated'. In that sense there's the notion of 'novelty' mixed in here—of something truly 'new'.

Well, if that's what people mean, sorry, but no-can-do. Stories are, after all, always about people, because that's the only thing stories—even 'idea'-stories or those with non-human characters—ever can be about. Anybody who thinks different doesn't understand the first thing about the human psyche. And 'being human' is something that hasn't really changed for quite a few thousand years—said period having produced a prodigious output of a gazillion stories told in act, writing and visual media; covering every fact of human emotion and experience. Only in the sense mentioned above—where everything is original, because no situation can ever be the same as any other—could it be said that any experience of someone living today or in the foreseeable future is 'different' from that of many people now dead, whose stories may have been forgotten, but they were lived nonetheless.

No, 'originality' is a canard; a buzzword of fashion, which, I would hope, will one day soon got sufficiently out of fashion to allow a greater voice to story-tellers who address what really matters to most people and helps them get through their occasionally chaotic, complex, unpredictable and often apparently senseless lives. And, yes, I think that Harry Potter may well do that at some significant level. Even a 'phenomenon' needs more than quicksand to base this kind of success on. So, don't misunderstand me: I'm not slagging Harry Potter, though it does nothing for me whatsoever. It became a phenomenon to begin with because it hit a Zeitgeist-nerve; though after that the 'fashion' component kicked in with a vengeance. I don't think that without all the hype and marketing it would have gotten anywhere close to where it is. It is, after all, nothing but a reconstituted fairytale. Is there really anything in there that you wouldn't also find in—suitably sanitized—'classical' fairytales; who suffer much and have lost much of their zing and substance because of their sanitization? I couldn't tell, being unable to work up sufficient enthusiasm to venture very far into the series—another reason why I'm careful not to pass judgment, though spot-reading has done nothing dispel my impressions. And I can't stand the names in the thing. Don't get me started on the names!

Anyway, and back to the original subject. In truth, it isn't about 'originality', is it? People just abuse the term to no end, just as they do with so many others. It's not really even about 'novelty'. What people really care about is 'difference', and most of them are too dense to distinguish between 'different', 'novel' and 'original'. It is the hunger for making that difference that drives much art-production these days; riding, of course, on the backs of the consumer of said art, because without consumption art ain't worth a monkey's fart. And the niche-markets of the world—applied here to literary niches, such as 'genres'—demand this and not that, and that's all there's to it. Market it under the 'dazzlingly original' label and you're almost certain to have a winner. It's got to be different then, right?

Whatever.

Thing is, I don't and maybe can't play this game, which is probably to my detriment. In many ways I'm a throwback to a time and a 'side' of the science-fiction and fantasy genre as it existed sometimes in the 1990s. The novelty of bug-eyed monsters had very much exhausted itself, as had the social fiction that followed it for a while. Robert Heinlein had died, leaving a legacy and work whose scope and variety in this genre has no peer, and the sci-fi/fantasy world was filled with endless series, like those penned by David Eddings, which eventually ballooned into the Robert Jordanesque monstrosities that followed. Not a trace of 'original' in sight, but it sold and still does I guess, though not even remotely as successfully.

It was a heady time in many ways, wedged in between the angst of the 80s and preceding 70s and the niche-market stuff of the 2000s; with Harry Potter thrown in, just to confuse the issue. Funny old world.

In this world I think I just have to find my niche, huh? Let's face it, the Tethys series is a mix of a lof of things. Taken as individual books, they are basically adventures with pronounced 'journey' themes, a goodly measure of romance and, yes, sex, and another goodly measure of violence. Taken as a series they represent a historical account which ties it all together; with the history seen through the characters' eyes, often from very limited points of view, which broaden as the series progresses and the scope widens. It borrows from the people whose fiction has impressed me, for how else could it be? It's nothing 'new', and I make no such claim, because I don't believe in the existence of 'novelty'; only in new configurations of a fairly limited range of variations upon the themes of being 'human'.

I'd like to think of these novels, and maybe of my style and the content of my writing in general as a synthesis of sorts, with my own viewpoint and 'voice' lending it a flavor that may be, if not unique, then at least maybe 'interesting' enough for people to want to read more. That's the main requirement for it becoming more than a side-line activity.

Gotta keep working on it, I guess.