Thursday, February 28, 2002
Yes, I know. I've been neglecting the journal again. Mostly it's because I haven't begun Chapter 4. The last few days have been full of all the annoying detail work I've been putting off while I finished Chapter 3.
Today I got photocopies of the artwork that Darcy did for In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers, and it's very cool. Also, an illustration that Richard Kirk did for a technical paper I'm writing on a new Alabama dinosaur find. Today was art-by-mail day.
But the big news for the moment is, I suppose, all the award nominations. I've got three on the International Horror Guild ballot - Threshold (Best Novel), "Onion" (Best Short Fiction), and "The First Adventure of Miss Catterina Poe" from The Dreaming #56 (Illustrated Narrative). Also, the story I wrote with Poppy, "The Rest of the Wrong Thing," has made the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker award in the category of Long Fiction (novella, whatever), as did The Dreaming #56 in the category of Illustrated Narrative. To top it all off, "Onion" was chosen by Ellen Datlow for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Volume 15.
There are times when these are the sorts of things that keep me going.
Oh, and Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press says that my collection, From Weird and Distant Shores, is now down to only 25-30 copies. I can't believe this book has almost sold out in barely a month! If you want one, and don't want to have to pay out-of-print prices, you should probably hurry.
Monday, February 25, 2002
I have survived a workless weekend. Those are rare things. Thank goodness. If I had to do that regularly, I'd go absolutely bahooties.
Sunday, February 24, 2002
I hate weekends, and I especially hate weekends when I don't work. Dead air.
Okay, I did proofread "On the Road to Jefferson" (a chapbook to be released with In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers) this afternoon, but that only took about 30 minutes. So it doesn't count.
I'm waiting to see Dame Darcy's artwork for In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers, which is finished, but it won't reach me until Tuesday morning. But I know it will rock, because everything the Dame does rocks.
What else. Oh, I'm reading oodles (exactly how much is an oodle?) of Sherlock Holmes stories, because I'm writing a story for a theme anthology, edited by John Pelan (Darkside, Darkside II, The Children of Cthulhu) which will feature new Holmes mysteries involving the mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. As yet, I have no ideas whatsoever, and I haven't written for a "shared world" anthology in some time now, but this one sounded like fun. Of course, this might have been more interesting if it were, say, a Lovecraft/Yoknapatawpha County cross-over, or Lovecraft/Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Lovecraft/James Redfield cross-over.
"Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my ass!"
Bear with me, gentle readers (and the rest of you, too). Weekends without work do nasty things to my head.
Saturday, February 23, 2002
I'm sitting here listening to my cat barf somewhere in the hallway. It's amazing how loudly cats barf. You'd think they would hurt themselves. It's an ominous sound, like an alien parasite disgoring itself from a host's throat. And this place has a lot of hallway, and it's mostly dark, so stepping in said disgorged alien is always a danger.
I think my cat barfs more than any other cat in the world. I think it's her hobby.
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate writing synopses for books I haven't yet written? Well, I do. I mean, I know half the stuff in the outline won't make it into the book, because it'll change as I write it and characters do things I never intended them to do. And my agent knows it. And my editor knows it. But thems the rules. Write a synopsis. It's a bit like trying to see the future. My outlines are rarely more accurate than a three-week weather forecast.
And everything sounds stupid boiled down to a synopsis.
Then again, trying to see what a story will be like from reading a synopsis is almost paleontological. Trying to see a living, breathing organism from, at best, a skeleton and some fortuitously fossilized soft parts. Trying to infer behavior from osteology. Speculations on lines of descent when most populations vanish without leaving any fossils behind. Yep. That's a lot like trying to see a novel from one of my synopses.
Having been a very good girl and met my somewhat unrealistic goal for the month of February (getting Chapters 2 and 3 written and off to NYC), I believe I may reward myself with another road trip to the sea. The van's up and running again. turns out it wasn't the radiator, but some hose or another, which was a relief.
By the way, questions should be sent to me c/o Desvernine@aol.com. I'll try to answer the interesting ones. The cat's barfing again . . .
Friday, February 22, 2002
I finished Chapter 3 just a little before noon today (Thursday) and now have a ms. that's about 25,900 words in length, or probably about one-fifth of what I expect the length of the finished manuscript to be. That is, if Low Red Moon comes out about the same length as Silk and Threshold. It might be longer. It won't be shorter. Jennifer and I spent the evening proofreading and polishing, which can be extremely frustrating when you find a couple of fairly big, dumb mistakes clogging things up, as I did tonight. I want a continuity monitor in my wp software. Anyway, tomorrow I write the synopsis letter and it goes in the mail (again). Tonight I'm allowing myself to enjoy a limited sense of accomplishment. Whee.
I want so badly to write about what the book is about, not just these notes on the daily slog from page to page. Soon. Well, at least a little. The danger, of course, is in giving so much away during the writing that there's not much point in buying the book once it's published. "Nah, I don't have to buy Low Red Moon, because I already read the blog." (Isn't it strange, new nouns? It's a verb, too — blog, blogging, blogged. I wonder if the vigilant Steph is as disturbed by the instantaneous creation of new nouns and verbs as she is by impromptu compounderations?)
Some news. The novella that Poppy and I wrote for Wrong Things, "The Rest of the Wrong Thing," has made the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award. What? You still haven't bought a copy of Wrong Things? These things won't last forever, you know.
Okay. Time to go start preparing to think about contemplating readying myself to try to sleep . . .
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Tonight we can party, though, at the moment, I'm having considerable difficulty just getting both my eyes to point in the same direction.
This morning I decided that would finish Chapter 3 today and put myself a day or two ahead of schedule. Not that novels should be written on schedules, but there you are. So, I wrote from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with about an hour's worth of short breaks for coffee. About 4 p.m., I was running out of steam, getting the sort of foggy head that usually forces me to stop for the day. Instead, I had another cup of CDM with one of those little Snap Back powders mixed in for an extra 200 mg. jolt of caffeinated joy. That bought me another two hours. But, sadly, I still didn't manage to finish the chapter, but I did write a remarkable (for me) 2,000+ wds. (roughly 8 pp.) and almost finished the chapter. I haven't written that much in a single day in years and years, probably not since I was working on The Five of Cups way back in '92. Anyway, it'll be done tomorrow.
At that point, it goes back to my agent, along with a brief synopsis of the novel, and then to my editor. And I get to take a very short break.
Stay tuned . . .
Wednesday, February 20, 2002
No party tonight, guys. Only 1,300+ wds. today. But that gets me to page 91 and very close to the end of Chapter 3, which should conclude around page 100.
Dr. Grover Krantz is dead. You may never have heard of Grover Krantz, but he was an anthropologist at Washington State University who spent the last few decades of his life doggedly trying, without success, to demonstrate that the Sasquatch was more than a myth. Though thoughts of hairy man-beasts roaming the Pacific Northwest of North America (as well as the Himalayas) were a terrifying delight of my childhood, I've pretty much given up hope for the existence of such creatures long since. But I've always admired Krantz' persistence and determination to be taken seriously by other anthropologists. He's someone I would have loved to have had the opportunity to meet.
Speaking of science and myth, I've been rather taken aback by the new studies indicating that caffeine is good for you and insomniacs may live longer lives. Taken aback in a good way, but taken aback nonetheless. I have to begin to wonder, though, if this isn't all some terrible conspiracy hatched in the mind of Darth Gates, to insure he'll have legions of sleepless, hyperactive drones to crunch code for him in the years to come.
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
This is getting monotonous, isn't it? Oh, but just wait. I'm only on Chapter 3. This novel will have at least fourteen chapters. Which is to say, I wrote 1,400+ words today, more productive than usual, but not particularly remarkable. That's one of the things about writing (and if I've already said this, skip ahead or whatever) that all would-be writers should know from Day One. It's boring as hell. No, really. Forget all that garbage about the romance of writing and the life of the mind. If you're lucky and things are going well, it's monotonous. Period.
I'm just a little black rain cloud . . .
Ah, hell. That's it for tonight. I'm about a quart low on wit and insight, my van has a leaky radiator, and I strained a calf muscle tonight. Maybe tomorrow I'll write 1,500 wds. and we can have a fucking party.
Monday, February 18, 2002
The words came to me a little more willingly today than yesterday. Another thousand on Chapter 3. I hope to finish this chapter by Thursday at the latest. I'm beginning to think that perhaps this journal is making me into a slightly faster writer, by complicating my already manic work ethic with the fear of being perceived as lazy by however many people are keeping up with this thing.
Anyway, not much else to say tonight, except I need sleep. A lot of sleep. I don't know when that'll happen. I did find a quote I thought I would share, though it only seems half as amusing now as it did a few hours ago. But it pertains to my ongoing thoughts of language and style. From The Elements of Editing by Arthur Plotnik (Collier Books, 1982):
We have no authority, no national language board. What we do have are at least ten thousand educated and well-spoken "experts" with hundreds of thousands of disagreements among them.
For example, the Harper's Dictionary of Contemporary Usage (Harper and Row) claims to be "the most authoritative and comprehensive reference book on the state of the language today." Why so authoritative? Because, recognizing rightly that "standard" usage varies according to human experience, it draws upon the advice of 136 outstanding writers and editors, not to mention the wisdom of editors William and Marey Morris. The result is an excellent source of advice for editing decisions, one of the best of its kind. But those seeking absolute authority will note that, overall, the 136 writers offer 136 different views on "correct" usage. True, there is general accord on some questions. Only 4 percent of a panel voted yes on using ain't in writing, and then only as a matter of style; but a panel voting data is vs. data are was split 49 percent for is , 51 percent for are . One ends up taking the view of favorites on a given panel — or that of W. H. Auden, whose opinion on the data question was simply: "I am not sure."
My goal here is not to undermine the authority of experts on the English language (and I do believe that such experts exist and should be respected, when it's possible to figure out what they mean), but to draw attention to the fact that standardization of the language has been, at best, marginally successful. And I think that for authors working within this language (which truly is not the more euphonious of mother tongues), writers in desperate need of all possible latitude, this can only be good news.
Sunday, February 17, 2002
Another 1,000+ words on Chapter 3 today. I have about 75 ms. pages on Low Red Moon now, but today was one of those hideous writing days when every single word was a strain. I'd say, "Like pulling teeth," but that's cliché and not entirely accurate, as having a tooth pulled is quick and you get novacaine. A writing day like today is more like pulling your own teeth with a rusty pair of very dull tweezers while riding a teeter-totter. I spent twenty goddamn minutes simply getting a character to flip on a light switch. I kid you not. Twenty minutes. Over an hour getting the character to flip a light switch, lock a door (two locks), and open another door. One paragraph. And people wonder why it pisses me off when they tell me they read SIlk or Threshold in an afternoon.
So, yes, this was one of those days. Everything seems to takes ten times more effort than it can possibly be worth and the distance between the images in my head and the feeble shadows of them that make it into the prose (you can't simply say, "onto paper" anymore) is a million million miles.
It's almost painful sometimes. I can see it in my head. Perfect. And then I have to tear it all apart, these perfect, intricate, fluid images, and put it back together in clumsy, faltering words. The worst part, though, is the end of a day like this, knowing that I have to get up at eight o'clock and do it all over again, start where I finally gave up and quit today, after reworking much of today's prose until I'm halfway happy with it, and then slog on ahead, hoping that it'll get easier.
I even obsess about how well this damned journal's written. And whether or not I spelled obsess correctly! Oh, wait. My cat just walked into the room and said it's time to stop writing for the evening. She's rather strident on this account. I'm helpless before her furry, feline will . . .
Friday, February 15, 2002
And finally, Chapter 3 began, the first few sentences rolling into my head while I was walking on a deserted beach near Charleston on Wednesday afternoon. I'm home again and have almost 2,000 words of the new chapter behind me now, so maybe the trip was a good idea. Low Red Moon is going to be a strange, strange book. Maybe not stranger than Threshold, but strange nonetheless.
It was good to be back in Athens for a time. My favorite coffeehouse, my favorite bar, my favorite vegetarian restaurant (which is really saying something, as I am not a vegetarian and view that whole enterprise with a bit of suspicion). I have a few ghosts there, and I bumped into one or two, enough to add a hint of sadness, but it was still a good visit. On the UGA quad, the tulip trees and daffodils were in bloom. I drove by the carriage house where I lived for three years and it looked almost the same. Almost. I didn't make it to the science library to visit the giant ground sloth, or have time for a show at the 40-Watt, but I did drive past Poppy's old place on Pulaski. She left Athens just a couple of years before I moved there, so our Athens periods don't overlap. Everyone I saw kept asking me if I live in New Orleans now. Was that expected of me? "Caitlín? Oh, she writes spooky stories now so she must be living in New Orleans." People seemed disappointed to learn otherwise.
We left town about sunset and drove on to Charleston on I-20 to Columbia, then I-26 to Charleston. It was too dark to see anything much but stars and billboards, but I yammered on about local geology anyway, how the metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont give way to the sedimentary formations of the Coastal Plain. I don't remember the name of the motel (which is curious), but I'm fairly certain it found several new ways to be seedy. The beds seemed to be clean, at least, and there was no dried blood on the walls (that's another story). Old houses, the beach, the aqauarium, then right back home again. I already miss the smell of the sea.
Jennifer's been working hard on the "Sense of Place" page on my website and she put up new pictures today. Check it out.
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
And tonight I'm writing from Athens, Georgia. Sitting in the living room of a friend, listening to Cocteau Twins and Blade Runner samples. My friend, whose name is David Ferguson, made a cameo appearance in Silk as Jobless Claude. He brewed coffee for Daria and Niki and brought them pastries. These days Jobless Claude is Student Claude, studying Japanese and Japanese literature at UGA. I tell him how much I envy his current academic status and I suspect he doesn't believe me. We're trading his digibilicus back and forth and Jennifer just said, "This is what passes for socializing in the modern world," and then she went back to reading her novel.
Athens. I spent three years (and then some) here and it's a lot like coming home. Driving through the February Georgia night looking for UFOs and seeing only airplanes and stars and helicoptors. Dark pine fields and bright splotches of gas station brilliance dabbling the ribbon of Highway 138. And then Athens. I used to call this place Never-Never Land. It might still be 1983 here, or 1994, or seven years from now, but it's always Athens time, which no one seems to bother keeping up with. That used to drive me nuts. My internal clock would never reset itself to Athens Standard Time, my clockdriven self, which made me an oddball among oddballs. "What do you mean I'm late," someone would say if I complained, as though "late" were not a valid concept here.
Tomorrow I may go on to Charleston, to see the Atlantic and the aquarium. There are times nothing brings me peace like the sea, and aquariums. And right now I need peace. Or I may spend the day prowling the used records shops and Jackson Street Books, coffee at Blue Sky and then Guinness at The Globe. I go away and everything stays exactly the same, almost.
David has to be up at 7 a.m., so I'm probably keeping him awake.
But he seems unconcerned. Athens Standard Time.
I did not begin Chapter 3 today, but it's coming.
Monday, February 11, 2002
Chapter 3 is making me wait. I'm trying very hard to be patient. There's so much paleo' to do, anyway.
I wrote the following this morning in answer to a question someone asked in my Horrornet.com forum. I'm reposting it here because it links directly back to comments that I made a little while ago, regarding plot and contrivance:
By plot, I mean, simply, the story. What Margaret Atwood so astutely referred to as "a what and a what and a what." The narrative.
For a long time, I've been of the opinion that this part of any piece of fiction is a) exceedingly artificial and b) exceedingly simple to create. We learn to lie as small children, to tell stories, to embellish the truth, to make the mundane and perhaps plotless world more interesting. Writers keep doing this long after they grown up enough to know better.
But what irks me is to see reviewers (of whatever caliber) complain about any particular aspect of fiction being "contrived," when nothing can be so contrived as the very idea of plot. I shall make up a story. I shall contrive a beginning, a middle, and an end. I shall contrive only those characters that are convenient to the progression of the story along one form or another (Campbell's heroic wheel, Freytag's Triangle, Artistotle's unity of action, etc.) and none that inconveniently get in the way. I shall be sure to fashion my contrivance so that the plot is "accessible" and that, in the end, 2 and 2 make 4. And so on.
But "rustysharp" is contrived.
Story is easy. It comes naturally. If it doesn't, it probably can't be learned and time will only be wasted in the effort. Those who can tell stories (somewhat like grasping basic arithmetic) are ready (if they choose) to do something more grand, to write (which is more akin to calculus - no, this is a stupid analogy, never mind). Writing is far beyond the setting down of "a what and a what and a what."
Sunday, February 10, 2002
Brevity leads sometimes to silence.
To which I would add that noise is somewhat over-rated.
Anyway, polishing Chapter 2 took a little longer than I'd expected. But now it's done. Next week I'll be on the road a bit — Charleston and Athens — for research and friends and fresh air, but I'm going to try to make journal entries while I'm away from home. I desperately need some time on the road, something to look at besides these four walls. I'm finding that it's extremely frustrating not being able to discuss the matter of Low Red Moon in a journal about Low Red Moon. And that this paragraph is beginning to lose focus.
Today, sick to death of my office, I packed up the iBook and walked the five or six blocks north to the library, where I spent three hours puzzling over the osteology of the hindlimbs of Pteranodon. Pterosaur hindlimbs are a little like the hindlimbs of other archosaurs — theropod dinosaurs, crocodylomorphs, and birds — but not much at all like the hindlimbs of mosasaurs. But new animals, that is, animals that are new to me, animals I've not yet memorized in all their anatomical details, are always a delight. It's a shame the impact at the K/T boundary took out the pterosaurs. They'd have been marvelous things to see alive and breathing.
Next week I also have to proofread "On the Road to Jefferson," which is being released by Subterranean Press as a short chapbook, which will be given away free with the limited edition of In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers. It's an odd little non-fiction thing, relating a bizarre event which I experienced after one of the Death's Little Sister shows back in 1996.
There. That should atone for a portion of the silence.
Thursday, February 07, 2002
I believe that tonight I will commit briefness, which should come as a welcomed change. I spent most of the day putting the finishing touches on Chapter 2. And reading a long osteological monograph on the pterosaur Pteranodon.
Most of my paleontological work has concerned mosasaurs, but I had the incredible good fortune to discover (while looking for mosasaurs) about half of a very small pterosaur femur. By all acounts, it seems to be a juvenile, possibly a hatchling. The length of the femur, well the part I recovered, is only a little better than 2 cm., which is remarkable, considering that an adult of the genus that this appears to be would have a wingspan of 20-30 feet!
Tomorrow I may begin Chapter 3.
Wednesday, February 06, 2002
I was sitting down to work on this journal when, lo and behold, I get a funny e-mail from David Schow. Curses. It is absolutely impossible to write anything of any merit after reading a long e-mail from Dave Schow. So, everyone can blame him, not me, for any lameness that follows.
But if you bump into him, tell him to explain to you why he hates the Super Bowl.
Anyway, today I finished Chapter 2 of Low Red Moon one whole day ahead of schedule.The ms. is now 66 pp. long. It has weight. Sure, Chapter 2 still needs a few nips and tucks tomorrow, but basically, it's time to move along to Chapter 3. Though I may take a much needed day off to catch up on neglected paleo' stuff, like the new baby pterosaur femur I'm working on.
And do not write me asking what a "pterosaur" or a "femur" is; that's why Al Gore invented the internet.
Anyway, thanks to Mr. Schow (curses), I will forsake Ann Radcliffe tonight and indulge in one of those idiotic surveys floating about the web:
1. Four things you would eat on the last day of your life:
2. Four cds from your collection that you will never get tired of:
- The Cure, Disintegration
- This Mortal Coil, Filigree and Shadow
- Radiohead, Kid A
- Tori Amos, Under the Pink
3. Four celebrities you would have sex with:
- John Malkovich
- Wilem Dafoe
- Milla Jovovich
- Gary Oldman
(My profuse apologies to any of them who may be reading this, but if they are and would like my phone number . . .)
4. Four vacations you have taken:
- What the hell is a vacation?
5. Four songs you get stuck in your head frequently:
- "Losing My Religion," R. E. M. (Hi, Spooky!)
- The theme song from Samurai Jack
- The theme song from Shaft
- "Dancing Queen," ABBA
6. Four things you'd like to learn:
- Gaelic (Irish, not Scots - no offense to Scots)
- Kung Fu
- Rocket Science
7. Four beverages you drink frequently:
- Café du Monde coffee with chicory (the Elixer of Life)
- Guinness (the Other Elixer of Life)
- Peach Snapple
8. Four tv shows that were on when you were a kid:
- Barney Miller
- Sanford and Son
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids
9. Four places to go in your city:
- Other cities.
10. Four things to do when you're bored:
- complain about being bored until someone entertains me
- stare disconsolately at whatever's on AMC or TCM
11. Four things that never fail to cheer you up:
- yeah, right
That's it. Show's over for the night. Thank you K-Mart shoppers. Next . . .
Tuesday, February 05, 2002
Today, a break in the monotony. Not a thousand words, but almost 1500. Which is extremely unusual. I've only written that much at one sitting on a very few occassions. The night I started the short story, "The Long Hall on the Top Floor," I wrote that much at once. But I begin to distrust myself after a point and make myself stop. I begin to feel like I'm rushing through the prose, not paying attention, getting careless. I could have done 2,000 words today, I suspect, but I'm pretty sure it would not have been a good thing. Whenever it starts to feel too easy, I'm pretty sure it's time to slow down. Let it sit. Come back tomorrow.
I don't mean to be coy with this talk of Anne Radcliffe. Honestly. I'm letting certain ideas percolate, and they are not yet whole. Just bits and pieces, sort of like the beginnings of a novel, or a new paleontological project, a theory, an hypothesis, a model. Slowly, it seems to be coming together. But it could suprise me and never amount to anything at all.
It has been my experience that a lot of people, especially people who think of themselves as genre writers and/or genre readers begin to get uncomfortable if the conversation turns to literary theory. They get far more uncomfortable when you begin to talk about the possibility of moral and immoral fiction. We are wary of any restraints on the perceived sanctity of self-expression, and yet, as John Gardner pointed out, there is an essential tyranny in all art.
It seems to me this is serious business, telling stories. Walking the fine line between expanding the soul, as Ms. Radcliffe said, awakening the faculties to a higher degree of life, or causing that same soul to contract, recoil, pull in upon itself and all but annihilate the ability to feel.
That great difference.
The possibility that dark fiction, in one form, may either lead to a sort of mental loop, an existential shock, that gradually numbs the audience to pain and wonder. And the possibility that, in another form, it may perhaps be capable of opening our minds to awe, to the sublime.
Whether I love or hate writing (and my entries here should make my feelings fairly clear), it is something I have chosen to follow. I'm not the writer I was when I wrote The Five of Cups in 1992, because I'm not the person that I was in 1992. Nor am I precisely the same person that I was when I wrote Silk (1993-1996). The stories, the world, and me, we play this game of leap frog. The world changes me, the act of writing stories changes the stories that I write, and the stories I write seem capable of effecting at least very small changes upon the world. I'm not even the same person who finished Threshold and every day, as Low Red Moon unfolds in that infinite space between my fingertips and my hard drive, I see that change more clearly.
Writers, all writers, have responsibilities. If we cannot honestly see ourselves, we cannot ever hope to be true in what we write. And if what we write is not truth (which is not to say fact, because many factual things are false and many truths are entirely beyond the realm of fact), then we're in the wrong line of work.
By the way, a special thanks to Darren McKeeman and everyone else at Gothic.net, who have given this journal, as well as my website, a home. They keep things together. Check out their site (www.gothic.net) if you aren't already familiar with it.
And don't forget to vote for Edgar Allan Poe . . .
Monday, February 04, 2002
I slept seven whole hours last night, with only moderate nightmares. And another 1,250+ words of Chapter Two of Low Red Moon today. I expect to be finished with Chapter Two on Wednesday, at the latest.
Our brief, pretend spring has passed and it's cold again.
Sometimes I try to remember my life before computers. Before the internet. When I wrote everything on a rusty old Royal typewriter that had belonged to my grandmother.
Perhaps my grandmother sometimes thinks, Sometimes I try to remember my life before television . . .
Ann Radcliffe. A great difference between terror and horror.
When I was in college, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture on chimpanzees by Dr. Jane Goodall. She described a group of chimps that she'd watched reacting to an enormous waterfall. Clearly it disturbed them greatly. They seemed terrified. They would cower and peer out at it from between their fingers. But again and again, they would return to see that damned waterfall. And "I began to suspect," said Dr. Goodall, "that I was watching the origins of religion."
Those things unimaginably more powerful, more grand, more beautiful, more terrible than a chimp. Or ourselves.
"Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakes the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them."
I watched a tornado once, from a mountaintop.
I think I'll go to bed and read. It's not quite as good as sleeping, but at least there are no computer screens, no dpi, no html. The bedroom is the one part of the apartment that I insist remains absolutely computer free. The clock winds. The telephone is vintage '30s Bakelite - not microchips, not even a transistor. I haven't yet banned electricity from the bedroom, but the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occassion. It's not an easy thing, being a Luddite and a geek.
Sunday, February 03, 2002
Chapter Two proceeds apace. I reached page 50 today with another thousand words. There's something very magical about 50. Suddenly a ms. stops being just a pile of paper and becomes the beginning of a novel, which entails a possibility of completion, which brings us back, of course, to the search for endings.
Someone asked me if I feel bad about laying into the urbane Steph of Steph's Book Reviews last night. I replied that, yes I do. Just a little. But not nearly enough to remove last night's post.
In other news . . .
A distinction has been much on my mind lately, and it's simplest to cut to the chase, a quote from Ann Radcliffe, which gets directly to the point.
"Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakes the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them. I apprehend that neither Shakespeare nor Milton by their fictions, nor Mr. Burke by his reasoning, anywhere looked to positive horror as a source of the sublime, though they all agree that terror is a very high one; and there lies the great difference between horror and terror, but in uncertainty and obscurity, that accompany the first, respecting the dreader evil."
A great difference between terror and horror.
Terror and horror.
A recent interview question, somewhat slightly paraphrased: "Do you find it more difficult to write stories that frighten people in the wake of September 11th?"
My response will be printed somewhere.
I'm getting tired of telling people that I'm not a "horror" writer. I'm getting tired of them not listening, or not believing. Most of them seem suspicious of my motives.
Which might bring us back to "pretension" and "contrivance," perhaps the two most abused words employed by those who attempt to bludgeon the meaning out of anything they don't comprehend at first glance. What is it that I am pretending to, anyway? What, exactly, have I contrived?
We'll come back to this a little later. I promise.
One young lady (okay, that's a somewhat shaky assumption based on associate photographic evidence) recently posted to her website, upon reading The Girl Who Would Be Death, that "Neil Gaiman needs to have that woman lynched." I thought about writing to her and telling her the whole damned thing was his idea in the first place. Then I decided that she wouldn't believe me. People are cynical. She also pronounced me the "worst writer ever," or something to that effect. That would be a sort of accomplishment, wouldn't it?
Four and a half hours' sleep last night. Fifteen minutes' sleep this afternoon. The sclerae - the whites - of my eyes are turning the color of Red Zinger.
Saturday, February 02, 2002
Another 1,000+ words on Chapter Two today. That's getting montonous, isn't it? But it's a good sort of monotony. Ah, and the uncorrected bound galleys for In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers arrived today as well (I'm debating whether or not to offer one for sale on Ebay to raise a little field paleo' money).
I was speaking, last night, of them what's got it coming, wasn't I? Yes, I thought so. Long ago, back when my career was just starting out, a writer friend advised me, as she had been advised before me, "Never respond to your critics. You'll just end up regretting it later." Though it hardly seemed fair, I took this to heart and, with only a very few and minor exceptions, I've pretty much managed to avoid mouthing off when confronted with the inevitable "slings and arrows" that all writers have to contend with on a daily basis.
But, every now and then, enough is, well, just sort of enough.
One of most irksome of the almost infinite series of unpleasantries that the web has visited upon mankind (and especially authors) has been its creation of a new forum for The Great Opinionated Unwashed. People dedicated to expressing opinions about things of which they are genuinely, if sadly, ignorant. No, that's not a myth. There really are ignorant people in the world, even now, right here in 2002, there are ignorant people. Perhaps it's not politically correct to point them out, but there they are anyway. And, as has always been the case, ignorant people want to be heard. The web has given them the intellectual equivalent of handicapped access. No longer do dictatorial editors and the high costs of printing stand in their way. If they have access to a computer, they have access to a potential audience of billions.
Which, I think, rather levels the playing field.
And if the field is level, then it's fair for me to play, too, right?
Caveat: I am not complaining here about legitimate critics, people who have studied literature and understand its history and complexities, as well as the history and complexities of the languages in question. I don't love critics, but I do tolerate them as a sort of necessary evil, like earthworms and gynecologists. What follows is explicitely a response to something that fails to qualify as criticism. It is best described, I suspect, as "mouthing off."
Yesterday, someone was unkind enough to bring a particulay obtuse review of Threshold to my attention, from a website known simply as "Steph's Book Reviews." I won't quote the entire thing as a) that would be entirely too tiresome and b) it would violate the author's copyright. Instead I will respond briefly to a few specific comments made therein:
"As much as everyone likes to pick on the French for being language-preservationist Nazis, I have to admit that I sometimes see their point. Granted, language is a human tool, designed to adapt and evolve to accommodate new ideas and modes of thinking, and "preservation" can easily become stagnation. But there are some unforgivable linguistic crimes, and the worst of them are crimes of pretension: contorting and wrenching language into shapes it was never meant to take, just because conventions are so...conventional.
"Kiernan commits a new kind of transgression in Threshold, as thankfully unprecedented as it is painful to the ear. Compound words . . ."
Okay. Here we go. Pay attention.
" . . . are normally formed in three stages: first, they appear as two separate words (to morrow), then as two words joined by a hyphen (to-morrow), then, finally, as one single word (tomorrow). Subverting this whole process, Kiernan peppers her narrative with bizarre, train-wreck chains of adjectives, nouns, or whatever comes to hand. Some, like stickyhot, almost make sense, although no additional nuance of meaning is gained by jamming the words together. Others, like saltbland, do not. In Kiernan's world of literary pretension, things can be gooeysharp, pastysharp, or suddensharp; plasticfalse or blindperfect. Occasionally, an extra-strong burst of creative energy generates three-word combos (deadwetdecay being my favorite)."
Now, though I would dearly love to be able to claim credit for "subverting this whole process" into a "new kind of transgression," I'm afraid it's been going on for quite a long, long time now. I might start, for example, with a discussion of ancient Anglo-Saxon kennings, but since that's genuinely a different language, I'll stick to English. In fact, I'll stick to British and American writers from the 20th century. Perhaps Steph has heard of those. I'll begin with James Joyce who, in Ulysses (1922) and Finnegan's Wake (1939) devised such impromptu compounderations as "snotgreen," "scrotumtightening," "paperstuck," "flowerwater," "fourhundredandeighth," "squarepushing," "rustbearded, and so forth (there are hundreds; a compendium is needed). Then, moving along to another favorite author of mine, there are the unfortunate "crimes of pretension" committed by William Faulkner. Let's look, for example, at Light in August (1932). Here, at a casual glance, we find a whole bevy of compounderations (a word of my own invention, so far as I know): "womansmelling," or, more specifically, "pinkwomansmelling," "cinderstrewnpacked," "inwardleaning," "neversunned," and "spectacleblurred." Faulkner, by the way, has had a bit more influence on me than Joyce and I blame him more directly for corrupting my once-perfect English.
So, no, nothing about the creation of compound words in Threshold is new. The author of the "review" is merely ignorant of some of the most important authors who ever wrote in her language.
Christ. This is silly.
An hour ago, I had in mind picking apart this whole ridiculous screed and now, at 1 a.m., I find my determination flagging. In light of the ignorance displayed by the "review's" author, what's the fucking point? As some other ignorant soul once said online, it's a bit "like shooting ducks in a barrel."
Just a couple of more things that I found rather odd:
"Chance is being followed by a spooky, homeless albino named - ahem - Dancy Flammarion."
I assume the strategically-inserted "ahem" is meant to indicate that my choice of names is, in some way, unfortunate. So. I will explain myself. I chose the name Flammarion while reading a biography of Harry Houdini, who was acquainted with a Flammarion. I liked the name, scribbled it down somewhere, knowing that I'd want to use it one day. As for Dancy, that was borrowed from a small town in Greene Co., Al., which I drove through one day in 1998 while doing field work there. Again, it struck me as a marvelous name. And it is, in fact, an actual first name. Ahem, indeed.
" . . . and everybody dies anyway."
No they don't.
" . . . Chance and her boyfriend blow up the brick wall . . ."
No, they do not.
This does get old quickly, doesn't it? And I feel it's unsporting of me (or anyone else) to continue to flog poor Steph for not bothering to be qualified to write the literary equivalent of a book report, much less an actual critique. My free advice to other would-be Opinioneers: if you're going to plague the web with your thoughts, please, please, please, make some attempt to grasp that thing of which you've chosen to speak.
Many of us out here will be very grateful.
Friday, February 01, 2002
Another 1,000+ words on Chapter Two today, which got me to ms. page 40.
It's too late to say much of anything coherent or useful. Maybe tomorrow night. I'm saving up some choice barbs and jabs for them what have them coming, plus all sorts of sage wisdom on "horror" fiction and writing in general. That way, when I have a night when I'm not utterly wiped out, I won't be at a loss for material.
I learned, early on, that it's best to stop writing while you still have something to say. That way getting started again the next day is much, much easier.
Meanwhile, another question from the mailbag: "ScaryGal34" (no real name given, sorry) wants to know what my favorite H. P. Lovecraft stories are. In no particular order: "The Colour Out of Space," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "Pickman's Model," "The Call of Cthulhu," and "At the Mountains of Madness."
Until next time, same bat-time, yadda yadda yadda . . .