i love the soundtrack to Glory. it is a beautiful thing. even after all these years, i still love it ~ maybe even more than the soundtrack to The Thin Red Line. both can make me cry on a good day, so it's hard to choose between the two. so i won't ~ hahahahaha.

here's another thoughtful sunday at -33 wind chill. i don't feel like drawing, which is a bit dangerous because the wheels and gears in my brain are turning over a conversation i had with [livejournal.com profile] bachsoprano and i am trying very hard not to tip the scales over into too deep a self-evaluation at the moment. i will never be an artist, nor fit into an artist's community. i know this because my heart knows it. i love other people's art. i don't love mine and never will. i mean, i like it in that sympathetic "there, there, isn't that nice" sort of way and that's all good and safe. but it doesn't set my world on fire. not the way crafting an exquisite sentence or exchange of dialogue does. i am a writer. no matter how much i run from it, no matter how much i try to bury it in other pursuits.

yesterday i watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. i love Ron Hansen's work, but this is a book of his i have not read (it's a long booger and i have the attention span of a gnat). but i think i might read it after all. or at least poke at it with a stick to see what it's like. the movie is not great. casey affleck gives a good performance and the story is a good one, but somewhere the film got off on the wrong foot and never gets in step. it's got a glacial, field of wheat blowing quality that is too spare to keep it moving. it makes the poignant conclusion too-long-suffered-for. i thought the whole time: the book is probably really good, but impossible to adapt easily (which is strange because i think Hansen's other novel, Mariette in Ecstasy is purely cinematic). anyway, it got me thinking about writing and how sometimes writing is the only right medium for a thing, no matter who wants to dress it up and send it out into the world as something else.

what a gorgeous picture.
unfortunately, if you stare at it for three hours you'll
have some sense of what the film is like.

re: the current project: i find it interesting that drawing this story, i suddenly feel the need to create transitions (like that train), and fill in backgrounds (like those bricks). a hundred bricks in writing is three words (if even that ~ it could just be one: brick). a train ride in a novel is just a blank space between paragraphs. when you draw soldiers in an illustration, you have to paint every single button on their coats. when you write about them, the buttons are the reader's job.

i had some other ideas rolling around in my noggin, but i got interrupted by just how ridiculously piled up my desk is, so i took a major detour to try to clear it off and lost my train of thought.

lucky you, probably.

: D
i have been trying to write this entry for days.

i am still reading the Baroque Cycle. i finished the first "book" (of the seven). we've at long last encountered pirates and that's fun (it only took 300 pages ~ sheesh). i feel like i might be able to get into a rhythm with it and possibly push through to the end (only about 600 pages to go!). the first book ended with an off-stage war won by the dissenters (led, in part, by isaac newton if i understand correctly), random pirates, daniel washing out of religion and natural philosophy to become a political whore, and leibnitz tossing his calculating machine to work on solving euclidian mysteries.

if i had the energy i would explain why all of this makes for just about the most depressing end of a book ever (excepting The Painted Bird, which will never be eclipsed in my mind). suffice it to say, it's only the first book of seven, though, so i fully expect stephenson to get daniel (at least) to rebound. there are things about stephenson's writing that grate on me a little. his occasional lapse into old english spellings (when not in the dialogue) is kinda obnoxious and pretentious, i think ~ particularly because it seems pretty inconsistent. but i feel more or less grounded in the story finally (and there seems to be a plot forming), so i will push on through the next book even though it does that supremely irritating thing of starting fresh with a whole new set of characters who will eventually dovetail with the first, but not for another 300 pages or so. grrrrr.

i am making a tag for this nonsense because i have a feeling you will hear more about it along the way. that, and i'm studying the book's structure as an experiment, so i might make the occasional comment about the style, etc.

: o p

in writing: this is going to seem completely random, but i am working out a disaster scenario. i need a fire and a flood, but i need to figure out how to work them into the mix. feels a little crazy to be adding something like this so last minute. i mean, i always knew i wanted it in there, but never really saw how it fit in and now that i am trying to mega-outline, i see that it's sorta necessary after all if i can somehow work it. i dunno. this may be the last platform on my departure from any vestiges of sanity. as i try to work out the details, i'm researching the johnstown flood. i don't want anything of quite these proportions, but it's a good place to round up grisly details.

of the more than 2,000 people who lost their lives at johnstown,
one third (nearly 800) were never identified.

maybe i picked a disaster because that's how i feel about my life. also, plots need active conflict and most often my conflict is too internalized.

i hate plot. plot will be the death of me.

i had other stuff to share about stephen crane and james joyce, but i don't have the wherewithall to try to articulate any of it.

school has caught up to me, life has caught up to me.

i'm off to make soup and might not be back for a long spell. i still have a bunch of prompt illustrations to post, but i may not get to them until december. sorry all.

: o p
i am generally having a good day, which makes it somewhat perplexing as to why i feel like chucking it all like Gauguin and moving to tahiti (i really need to make that into a tag). i've been drawing (or rather struggling through the drawing ~ which is okay, it's progress). and i took the doggies to the park and i went grocery shopping. i ought to wash dishes, but maybe i will get to that after dinner.

i feel like writing a long thing about writing and confronting demons in our work, but i don't really have the words. today i was working on [livejournal.com profile] lanyn's prompt with sorta unexpected results and though i love the scene and think on some level it could be brilliant if properly executed, i have rampaging trepidation about posting it because it will likely offend people (and it should!), but i cringe at being the cause of offense. i don't know if i am wise enough to tackle with effectiveness some of the more complex themes in my own work. and this is the sort of scene that seems easier to write than to draw (because the drawing feels like such a reduction sometimes). like every flaw of the illustration makes it somehow more offensive.

i dunno ~ this makes sense in the wasteland of my own head, i guess. i'm prolly pre-worrying and pre-flipping about nothing and should just post the picture and let you all be the judge (which i will, i promise).

and this is just because this post needs a picture

last night i read a short story by s. weir mitchell (obsessed, i know) called "House Beyond Prettymarsh". if i had known what sort of story it was, i would not have read it before bed because it was freakin' yarghy as all get out (totally unexpected). basic premise: guy decides to have an idyllic day taking a sail and is intruded on by an acquaintance he can't easily shake. they get caught in a storm and wind up at an old abandoned house (recognize this formula?). nothing much actually happens: the house is weird, one of the rooms is burned as if set on fire, they discover a smashed and rotten cradle in the basement (with a single baby's shoe), then have a spectral encounter with a woman in a mirror that sends one of them screaming out into the rain. it was just creepy enough to unsettle me (which isn't easy ~ i know few writers who can actually scare me). mitchell had an interest in spiritualism, which he writes about in a number of his other books (and which was all the rage in the last half of the century), but this is the first straight up ghost story i have come across by him. a serendipitous halloweeny treat.

anyone have any favorite ghost stories they want to share?
this is just a necessary update on the whole pursuance thing:

the bad thing about saturating your brain with victorian writing is that you inadvertently start emulating it.
Mr. Hanty never settles easily into anything, being by nature vigilant and by experience knowledgeable in the myriad ways that fickle Fortune turns her face from the favored.
yeah, wow. i churned that buttery crumpet out with about a dozen others like pez this afternoon. i can't decide if it's bad writing or just really amusing.

the book is mostly a mess. i've lost confidence in doing it justice. the characters are more alive than ever for me, i feel like i have a solid handle on them, but now they're bopping around in my head, knocking into each other like little shorebirds puttering drunk in the surf.

spent i don't know how much time cutting Poppet's defense from 17 pages down to 11, but it still seems pretty dang long and even though i think i did a pretty brilliant job of preserving its integrity and tightening some of its very victorian rhetorical devices, i just don't know otherwise what to do with it.

i want to hire an artist and dispense with the narrative. the dialogue is all written, it's painting in the rest of the scenes that's making me crazy.

i am trying, so hard, not to get so frustrated that i throw this thing out the window. i want to finish it ~ at least so that it's complete beginning to end, even if that means i have to shove it in a drawer for a few months in order to get some perspective on it. at least then i can come back to it as a whole instead of scattershot as it is now. for having generated such an extensive and elaborate outline for this project, i sure have made an unsightly mess of keeping it all organized.

: o p

p.s. lj seems to having some strange notification lag going on ~ so i'm not ignoring anybody, i promise. if i haven't responded to something it's because i have no idea i was s'pose to.
today's lesson is "style and no substance" and our "what not to do" example comes to us from the wondermaker who also brought us that astonishing lump of corpolite, Sin City. i'm just not sure how many slow-motion beheadings one ought to endure in a movie and war was simply never made so dull. what thin plot is here is negligible, the acting painfully stiff, and the direction is just a lot of posturing for the cgi backgrounds.

who cares if you make a beautiful movie if you say absolutely nothing with it?

the same must be true for writing.

point. well. taken.


in other news, i'll finish Westways tonight and plan to settle in to work on the book.

it's a gorgeously rainy day, made all the more sweet by finding parker's history of the 51st Pennsylvania in the internet archive. that saves me photocopying and a trip to the library tomorrow.

i don't have much else to say. i thought i would write a birthday post as i have in past years, but i guess this will have to do.

: D
i've been threatening it for a while, but last night i actually started to do it: i'm pitching all my old files. i've already dispatched nearly a thousand (that's 1,000!) files and though it doesn't seem to have made a dent in the computer folder problem, that's a thousand less documents i have to futz with on my hard drive.

in writing: curious about s. weir mitchell's The Summer of St. Martin, i rooted out a copy of the text from internet archives (here it is if you're curious ~ they have all of his books online). the flip books are very cool there, by the way (they have tons of nifty stuff, including Poppet's memoir). the text is also digitized (not terribly well), but i dumped the words from St. Martin into a .doc file just to see how long the story is (word-wise, page-wise, etc.). it's really a very wee thing: just over 3k and about 10 pages (the design of the book it's printed in translates it into 30 pages!).

i thought this was really interesting. there was something very satisfying about its brevity in a book form ~ turning the pages, feeling like i was getting a whole meal when really it's just an hors d'oeuvre.

i've never been much of a short story writer (i've published a couple, but it's never appealed to me as a form). i much prefer the epic ~ but small epics! cram an epic into 150 pages and i am ecstatic. it's not impossible ~ some writers do it amazingly well. a while back, i agreed (after polling) to concentrate of "a lot of little books". this has become my mantra. and mitchell certainly raises the bar on just how short they can be! i am challenged, and by that challenge, emboldened.

: D

in other news:
my brother sent me a picture of our booth at ComicCon (looked fab!) and i have updated the Order page for the Here There Be Monsters press. yay!

was roused out of bed by a terrific storm at about 3:30 in the morning. stumbled around, closed windows, listened to the rain. now i am yawning like the grand canyon (so much for getting extra sleep on the weekend).

for my birthday i was gonna order a whole mess of s. weir mitchell's books, but after carefully pruning through them and making selections and going through every used bookstore online, i piled about $60 worth into my alibris shopping cart and then just didn't feel like ordering them.

yesterday i read (and for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge:
no. 51 ~ New Samaria & The Summer of St. Martin by s. weir mitchell. this is two stories bound together. the first is really fun: a rich man has an accident in a far away town, is robbed of his identity, and forced to beg on the street with a man he had previously treated rather harsh. includes a hilarious confrontation with a cop, a circus clown, and the man all arguing over a gold watch. and a dog named Tramp (must'n't forget the dog!).

the second story is exceptionally (and i really hate to use the word) sweet. a general in the twilight of his years sits in a fog of nostalgia and is visited by the young daughter of a friend who thinks all her suitors are beneath her. they play a game in which they pretend he's 25 and courting her and she refuses him despite his most gallant attempts to win her affection. we later learn that he lost the love of his life and never married, but we don't what precisely happened. it's all very innocent and charming and romantic ~ if a little sad. then they go in supper together and there's no promise that their game meant anything more than that ~ but i'd like to think maybe it does (hey, Poppet married a woman 20 years his junior late in life, so it wasn't unheard of then for young girls to fall in love with charming generals without the match turning out to be a foolish disaster).

illustration from "The Summer of St. Martin"

i'm still reading Westways (it's a long book!). but as i was getting ready for bed, i was trying to think about what it was about mitchell's writing that compells me (subject matter, certainly). but mitchell is a weak writer in many ways ~ his characters tend to talk about nothing a lot and repeat themselves. he has a habit of writing whole scenes that explain what just happened in the scene prior. this is the first full-length novel of his that i have read and he didn't have this problem in his shorter works, so i'm assuming at the moment he was just better in the shorter form (short story, novella).

but his ramblings don't really bother me. he knows how to weave a decently intricate plot (Westways has several arcs going all at once), and his characters are both steady and alive. halfway through the book they've gone through a lot of changes, but you still recognize them all. mitchell was definitely a student of psychology and seemed to understand people well. where most victorian novels fail (creating wooden people with stilted language and cliched gestures), mitchell succeeds ~ even if he could use a winch to tighten everything up (already i think Westways could probably lose about 100 pages and not really miss it.)

anyway, so he's good at characters and he's especially good at making storytelling easy (which, for me is a big deal because i can write and craft words, but i am not a very good storyteller). he seems so absolutely comfortable and confident that he knows where it's all going and when he needs something to happen, it does. it makes me reevalaute my own transitions in particular ~ i always feel like there's "stuff in between" that's missing. i really need to work on that.
so, july 7 came and went and nary a book did drop from my labors. i didn't even bother trying on saturday. i was in the middle of attempting to resuscitate the sprawling draft in the prior week, but it seems all for naught. i'm reorganizing in my brain for another assault, but i don't know when i will have the energy to mount the parapets.

any other time in my life i could have finished. i have to give in to the fact that i simply have too much going on right now.

Jack is finished as of yesterday. Eleison will be finished wednesday (i need to work on that e'en now). then i have four more papers to write for the summer and classes will be over the first week of august. that in addition to working full time and suffering this murderous heat seems cause to not be as focused as i would like.

i don't want to just put In Pursuit of Said Conspiracy down because i get rusty quick on stuff (and i guess that's officially the title now, what do you think?) that, and my notes are such henscratch that i worry i won't be able to make heads or tails of them a month from now. i went to a lot of trouble on sunday to train my brain to understand hancock's handwriting (no easy feat, lemme tell you), and if i don't transcribe his notes now i will have a dickens of a time trying to understand them again later.

i'm going to take some pages from various writers i admire to reconceive the book in the image i began with, which was light, loose, and literary (and not so waylaid with facts and information). there's a distinction between details and minutiae and sometimes i forget to pay attention to it. so:
from Ondaatje: poetry. point of view. every person counts. every word counts.

from Fermine: brevity. simplicity. a narrative haiku.

from Lightman: contemplation. a sense of wonder at the human imagination.

from Hansen: mystery. awe. the supernatural.

from Barrico: intimacy.

from Crane: universality. what's sacred in the mundane.
tall order, of course. but i think i can find it if i stop looking so hard. this story is easy, after all. sure, it's full of complexities, but the basic arc is really really easy: there's a murder, then a trial, then a hanging. and all of these things are pretty much known before hand, so the story is about how it's told more than anything else ~ at least that seems like what is most important to me.

and anyway, that is the state of the onion (not a dry eye in the house).

: o p
lookingland: (balloon)
( May. 15th, 2007 10:08 pm)
this week's [livejournal.com profile] writers_five questions made me laugh when i tried to answer them for the Chammy:
What did your character want to be when he grew up?
a veterinarian first, then more likely a minister (no kidding!)

What did your character's parents/creator want them to be?
i'm thinking likewise on the minister part.

Does your character like his/her job/calling/destiny?
i don't think "like" enters the picture here. i think he's resigned/bound.

When was the last time your character got a vacation? What did they do for it?
hahahahahahahahahahahaha ~ i don't think a poor southern boy whose just spent five years in the killing fields in 1865 has any concept of "vacation".

If your character could have the perfect day, where would he/she spend it and with who?
i wouldn't have the slightest idea. honestly.
i would have to say, on the whole, that i really can't answer these questions for the Goodie Proctor project.

i think my approach to "real-life" historical fiction character building must be painfully different from my regular character building. i could answer these questions much more comfortably for any one of the cast of a thousand in my "made-up" universe, but trying to answer them for real people doesn't sit well with me because i don't know and i don't like to conjecture too far off the path. i get images in my head of martin fido waxing weird about "awl the flesh!" (you have to say it with a british accent) on PBS's "hunt the Ripper" as though he'd been at the scene of the crime. gehhhh.

i'll readily admit to being a geek and a freak, but i can still separate my obsessions from the real world.

that said, i have a date this evening with Mr. Poppet and Mr. Ew (my names are getting less and less creative) ~ anyway, they're having dinner at Willard's and i need to figure out what's on the menu. this is part of that whole "logistics" problem i'm having currently.

it's been a long farking day.

: o p

the present-day Willard lobby;
i have to find out how much
it's changed in 140+ years.

a final note about one of the weird joys of reading history: no matter now randomly you pick your subject, you'll find that everybody knows everybody. it was such a small world back then. i've managed to find most of the best strange tidbits about characters from reading the random writings of other people. so and so knew so and so or served under so and so and/or they had a run-in with so and so. it's almost freaky the way everybody's connected (and by a lot less than six degrees).

my favorite so far is Mr. Poppet's story about Mr. NastyOwlFace threatening to fire him every time they had a meeting ~ and Mr. Poppet just taking it in due course after a while: yeah yeah, i know, i'm going to be fired (he never was). probably the funniest thing about it is Mr. NastyOwlFace also threatened to fire Mr. Hanty and pretty much everybody else he had a run-in with. which, i guess, is why he's called Mr. NastyOwlFace.

i think it's bedtime now.

: D
lookingland: (coach)
( Apr. 25th, 2007 10:30 am)
i did my laundry, i'm almost finished with all of my final projects for school. there is light at the end of the tunnel.

plopped together another 2,163 words to finish Reconstruction's "Undesirable" (go read! especially if you want to see sloppy writing in action).
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i've been playing with modifying engraving graphics. haven't done anything noteworthy ~ it's just an idea at the moment. might get ambitious about it later.

i also realized this morning that i haven't been reading much lately. i have a few books to give reviews for (maybe tomorrow), but i've really been slacking in this department. i am looking forward to getting back to reading after this weekend.

and, just for fun and poetry month, a poem i used to teach in my classes all the time (and one of my favorite of e. e. cummings (the spacing is a wee off, but it is the best i could do):

Buffalo Bill's
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death
i did some homework.

i watched some lame tv.

i finally finished "Unclean". it's a lot grimmer than i thought (and a lot sloppier, but oh well).
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darling for the day: He waved his hand through his cigar smoke to deflect it from his sudden guest’s space. It was a reflex. The Tall Blond Soldier did not draw breath. He had been dead for years.

mean things: yikes ~ aside from some minor comic relief over a pot of beans, this is mostly nasty.

i may have to go get ice cream now.

meanwhile, for your random enjoyment:

cool sculpture from the Bishop's Palace & Gardens
i'm not dead ~ just really busy as the semester winds down (projects, job stuff, etc.).

the [livejournal.com profile] writers_five question this week was about villains, but i've always said that i don't really have villains per se (antagonists, yes, but they're never primary "foes"). and someone there responded with the axiom that everyone is a hero in their own story. well, conversely in my world, everyone is a villain in their own story.

i wanted to ramble on some thoughts about the series Smallville (i just finished season two). this is a natural segueway from "villains" because the most interesting thing on the show is the villainous Lex Luthor. i really like lex in the series and i think his inner struggle is interesting (he outshines clark as a character of interest most of the time).

i've always been a big fan of Superman. i think the show tries to stay faithful to the icon, but the second season emphasis on "destiny" could bore tuber eyes to tears. it sorta robs the mythos of the whole American ideal (what the heck happened to free will?). and i'm really tired of people treating lex bad for no real reason at all (i hate to say it, but i'll be glad when jonathan kent bites the dust, he's obnoxious).

i was so happy and sad to see Christopher Reeve in his brightly shining cameo, but otherwise the show is getting lame. i'll try to press through season three, but between the continuity problems, the infuriating lack of character logic, and the current blah-arc, i feel like this one's days are numbered for me. it's unavoisable that lex and clark will become enemies, but i don't really feel the writers are strong enough to motivate this in a way that will be satisfying and maintain the compelling nature of lex, so i feel like when it happens, i'll prolly lose interest in the show altogether. tom wellington is well-cast as clark, even if he is dull.
lex is by far the more interesting of the two.

i had lots else to say, but eh ~ i'll spare you.

re: villainy online ~ here's a rant about some dumb thing on a message board that i've been thinking about for some time (cut for being obnoxiously long-winded) )

re: villains

so i tried to pick a "villain" to answer the questions, but as near as i could come to one would be Captain Kale Porter (all my "bad" guys have stupid names ~ it's the easiest way to recognize them in any story i write).

1 - What is your villain's main pet peeve?

social climbers, the whole ridiculous idea of "promotion by merit" and/or promotion by popularity (whichever one disagrees with him on a given day). every spiteful thing he does comes from this peeve.

2 - What is the most depraved thing your villain has ever done?

i think sending the protagonist to jail under deliberately misguided pretexts is pretty villainous, though i'm not sure he has any idea how depraved that decision will turn out (and in all fairness, James shares the blame on this one). i don't think porter's depraved, really. just snotty.

3 - What is a redeeming quality your villain has? (if any)

he's probably good at what he does, generally. if he wasn't, James would have gotten rid of him sooner than he does (sadly i have lost the draft in which they get him stinkin' drunk, shave him bald ~ save one large curl on his forehead ~ and send him back to his camp on a donkey wearing nothing but a diaper. rewriting that one's gonna be a doozy).

4 - Does your villain think he's evil?

certainly not. he's the creme de la creme of berkley county!

5 - What is your villain's justification?

he's better than everybody else (his blood is bluer, he's got a pedigree, so he should have special privileges). and he's also an officer and knows everything about everything, so everyone should listen to him. if they'd just put him in charge of the army, he could win the war in a week.
moving right along ~ did a pile of writing yesterdy. problem with my outlines is that i like to write around the bullet points so much, so once again i'm off on a tangent. i'm willing to see where it goes, but i need to remember to rein things back in if this starts straying too far.

The Company We Keep: this scene: "Unclean".

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scene synop: james ropes lewis into recruiting a cook from among a company of whores. he picks a woman who may have formerly been a slave (much as i want this to turn out well, i can already tell it won't).

Their madame was an androgynous hulk of a woman named La Petit. She sat like a man in a folding canvas chair, smoking a pipe, with her enormous breasts pendulous between her knees under a flimsy chemisette. It was cold out, but La Petit was smoking hash and between that and her own blubber, she was well-insulated against the climate. She looked up at Lewis Fletcher from under the brim of a fairly well-kept man’s silk hat.
mean things: lewis isn't a misogynist by a long shot, but he comes off contemptuous of women (frankly, given his upbringing, i'm surprised at how proto-feminist he actually turns out) ~ but it's true he doesn't like being around women of "low character" (it's a shame thing). prostitutes are sad to me overall, so this wasn't a fun scene to write.

random fun fact: (or really not-so-fun at all ~ maybe i should eliminate "fun" from this section) suicide was the most common cause of death for prostitutes in the 19th century. by and large these women suffered very short, very violent lives and in post-war America that was where a lot of women ended up without husbands or fathers or pensions to take care of them.

i was going to post this picture of a pregnant pre-teen prostitute circa 1871, but the image is so disturbing i'll let you decide whether you want to click on it. it's not terribly graphic, but it is very sad. the caption reads: "Mary Simpson a common prostitute age 10 or 11 years. She has been known as Mrs. Berry for at least two years. She is four months with child."


: o p
after running amuck last night like richard the 3rd after a horse not forthcoming, i've decided that i should never post my disgust for my work until i've had a full 24 hours to be disgusted with it. not because in 24 hours i'll have some perspective and find it less disgusting, but because in 24 hours i'll have some perspective to do other than snark and snarl and writhe around on the floor like a stapled maggot (okay, i dinna do that, but it felt like it).

however much a piece of writing may suck, it's never so bad that you can't learn an important thing or two from it.

in this case i learned that ever since i made the Darkesville Independents an irregular infantry regiment, i've sorta lost a sense of where they are in the order of battle and this has created monumental confusion and a lot of pussy-footing around that drags the action into a weird passive vortex.

see, one of the problems with historical fiction is that you have to ask yourself how much you're going to care about people who are poised to eviscerate your work because you've tampered with some piece of well-documented history (like a battle). i myself am pretty sensitive to wholesale history rewriting, but if you've got an invented regiment in an actual battle, you have to shoehorn them in somewhere (and preferably somewhere that they don't muck with the integrity of the original action). basically, you have to find something thrilling they can get embroiled in without it actually having any impact whatsoever on the larger scale.

that's not as easy as it sounds.

the good news is, knowing the problem, i think i can get around it.

i think.

~ * ~
meanwhile, here's some truffles for the [livejournal.com profile] 50bookchallenge, both by ernest thompson seton (who was a pretty well-known naturalist at the turn of the century):
no. 22 ~ The Biography of a Silver-Fox; or, Domino Reynard of Goldur Town. this one tells the life story of a fox and his family, his hunting and dodging exploits, and his adversarial relationship with a nasty hound named Hekla. it was a fun read, though felt a wee bit repetetive (he steals chickens, people chase him, he gets away). there are a few surprises though, so it was a good read. dunno whether i think seton knew all he could have known about the nature of foxes. some of the stuff in here strikes me as "off". i like how his animals otherwise behave like animals (no talking or being human-like in any way).

no. 23 ~ The Trail of the Sandhill Stag. simple premise: man goes into the woods to hunt a stag, gets dazzled by it and spends the rest of his life pursuing it and never catching it, though he has the opportunity to. i liked the simplicity of the plot in this one. it's really just a long short story with a lot of interesting woodsy descriptions. i still prefer felix salten, but this was cool.
i came across these books browsing in the library. these editions were from 1909 and 1899 respectively, so the books themselves were wonderfully crafted and illustrated. that was most of the joy. i found them because seton wrote a book called The Preacher of Cedar Mountain and i was investigating which mountain precisely (turned out to be not the one i wanted). anyway, it's always fun to come across something new and different.

i'm currently still reading Strong's Cadet Life at West Point (insert long depressing ramble that i've twice typed up for lj and then deleted), and a history of Castle Thunder (oh wow, i'm going to enjoy writing the review of that one far too much). last night i mostly read the Krick book (for the second time, though i got tired around about the time reinforcements arrived with A.P Hill, so i went to bed). i'm pretty sure i meant to read more fiction. i have to work on that.

: o p
weekends are so quiet around here. last weekend i didn't even bother posting.

this weekend i feel like posting up a storm.

so, last night i was laying in bed thinking about my top ten favorite contemporary (post-1960, let's say) novels. novels that i think are absolutely flawless in terms of form and characterization. i qualify this because i'm talking about my own personal aesthetic, which tends to emphasize style and structure over plot (a novel can have a mind-numbingly simple plot and still be positively brilliant, but if the characters or the structure fail to hold it up, even the best-plotted novel will disintegrate).

so these are novels that do something more than just tell a story. novels that master the art of reversal, the nuance of personality, the fine art of narrative voice, and the tenuous balancing act between storytelling and word painting. these are books on which every level i found totally, enduringly satisfying (no kvetching whatsoever in review of their literaryness). in every case, these are books that have influenced my writing and taught me things about the craft.

in no particular order, they are:click for the winners! )

i'll have to come back and do my top ten picks for the classics.

in the meantime, what are your favorite contemporary novels?

: D
lookingland: (doggy)
( Jan. 3rd, 2007 03:35 pm)
i was on to something very important yesterday, i'm quite sure of it.

in the morning i built a lovely house.

by afternoon it was looking a little tilted, but i felt confident that the foundation was solid.

by evening it had been reduced to a pile of sticks and bricks without a pillar or post standing.

moments like this, i think there's too much residual "stuff" laying around and it's distracting me (old drafts, old darlings, cooing from closets). makes me dog-tired. periodically i think i'll just torch the whole store and henceforth move forward freshly, but that takes courage i don't got.

i really want some boop with smackers right now.

~ is it just me or has my brain run away with the spoon?

: o p

lookingland: (angel)
( Jan. 2nd, 2007 10:08 am)
[beware of the undertow]

i reread sunday's pages and was amused by how self-amusing they are. when i step out of my way with my work, it's very interesting how well i entertain myself (if nobody else). but for me that has nothing to do with actually creating something. it's just spinning a top and watching the colors twirl. i think this is what i've had a hard time articulating to people about writing and my relationship with it.

sure, writing to me is like breathing: it's natural, necessary, and automatic. but there's nothing inherently creative about breathing unless you're God ~ then Ruah, your breath, your spirit, gives life. but that's a conscious act, not an automatic one. and so, creativity being an act of identification with our Creator, creative writing must also be as conscious, as deliberate, as purposeful and life-giving as that (cue dramatic sinking feeling: could it get more loaded?)

my deliberate writing is like a bubble in a barometer ~ always trapped, suspended between two poles and at the mercy of the weather's whims. i want it to be both an endless feast and a bite-sized morsel, epic and haiku, boldstroked and pontilist. i want it to be five- or six-dimensional (that's not asking too much now, is it?)

i don't think writing should balance like a weather bubble, it should challenge the creator and the audience. and the challenge is not to maintain balance, it's to deliberately lose balance without falling (this is the basic premise of all dance ~ and all faith by the way).

oh, just write, people say. stop hanging so much baggage on it.

oh, just breathe.

is that really sufficient? to just breathe? and then when you come to the end of it all, to say: well, i breathed and it was enough?

in many ways the answer can be yes.

in many ways the answer has to be no.
the essential update: Orthopaedic Injuries of the Civil War: $42.91 (yes, this has become my new hobby)

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks.
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There's a feeling
of Christmas

Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile
and on every street corner you'll hear

Silver bells, silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them sing
Soon it will be Christmas day

~ * ~

like every year, i want to write a Christmas story. i have several in mind, but this morning, as i walked in to work, i think i decided which one i wanted to set down. now if i can just find the time to do it!

: D
i purposely didn't get on the 'puter all day yesterday ~ i feel compelled to apologize to my flist (livejournal can get so obligatory, can't it?). and then i feel bad because i have read a lot of your entries, but didn't respond because i was busy elsewhere in my head.

anyway, i apologize. for what it's worth.

~ * ~

i'm 2k away from finishing NaNo. big whoop. congrats to the rest of you who are sticking it out in a more committed fashion!

i've been working on painting stuff and trying to get Eleison in order. I'm also trying to breakdown, compositionally, pages for Jack because we were supposed to debut this in 2006 and it would appear the year is coming to a close.

all that and i have been thinking about Beeton's dime novels lately. we had a tour of the Anderson Library special collections (got to see a copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle up close and personal, even ~ squeeee!). Anyway, the Anderson Library has a large collection of Sherlock Holmes materials, including Beeton's first appearance of the character in A Study in Scarlet from 1887 and another copy that was in the library of the Tzarina of Russia (and allegedly among her possessions when the family was executed).

at any rate, this got my mind turned back in on the whole dime novel thing, which i have ruminated over in the past (and which was my original desired concept for Reconstruction except i chickened out on doing it). i'm thinking seriously of picking up this thread and trying to start again on this particular quilt. see, i don't think i will find a solution to the narrative problem that i continue to tangle with. i've come to the conclusion that there is no fast and easy solution, that i simply must choose a "box" and start packing this thing into it or else it will never get done. i don't know why i continuously talk myself out of my ideas, but this is definitely case-in-point.

all that remains is deciding whether there is one box or several (divided by epoch, for example, or by some aristotelian sense of unity), what goes in the box (in terms of regular content to be indexed), and what wrapping to give it (ooo pretty covers!).

and that's as far as i've gotten with this idea because it's about here that i always get stuck on the same problem of chronology.

so here's question about spoilers (please elaborate in a post):

American Beauty begins with the narrator explaining that he's about to be dead very soon. so we know he dies. i think it works anyway, but any story that begins at the end and then employs flashbacks can potentially tell "too much" and spoil certain aspects of the drama (i know [livejournal.com profile] bachsoprano is wrassling with this issue as well). john knowles frequently employs an authorial intrusion (i'm thinking specifically of The French Lieutenant's Woman) that tells us what's going to happen (my favorite moment in the book is when it "ends" halfway through and the narrator says [paraphrasing here] ~ "well you know that can't be the real ending because you can clearly see there's so many pages left" ~ brilliant).

anyway, what do you think? is this maddening and destructive to the enjoyment of a story for you?

let's poll!

[Poll #871087]
i made a vague feint at doing my homework in the off hours. i think i'll do passably for wednesday's class, but thursday's is a wash. it's pretty pitiful.

i won a $20 gift card for b&n at work. i think i will order the third Montmorency with it.

so the kite thing i promised to post yesterday: it's very simple, really:
we fly kites to send a message by the patterns and dips. some people watch the kite to read the signal, some just watch the movement and the colors ~ because they think that's what it's all about.

don't quote me on this because my memory is fuzzy, but i also believe that the word "kite" in Nahautl means both kite and butterfly ~ the butterfly being a symbol of rebirth, etc. (sort of in the way that literary creations are born out of the union between writer and audience).

anyway, fornes went on to discuss the dynamics of color ~ one adjacent to another ~ and the effect it creates. she also talked about style being a personal imprint, like a fingerprint: you don't choose it and no two are alike.

i spent a lot of time with fornes in dc and discovered she's mostly insane (how shattering it is to have your heroes be so fallible after all), and yet none of that changes the fact of what she's written, the impact she's had on the theatre, on writers like me (an impact which will continue). in many ways, despite her lunacy, i felt validated one-hundredfold by her absolute humanness, her insecurity, her jealousy, and the way in which she obstinately refused to see the world on other people's terms.

man, i'm talking about her like she's dead. hahahahahaha ~

tomorrow: NaNo.

gentlemen (and gentlewomen) start your engines!


: D