Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, April 28, 2014

So Much for Resolutions

Though it doesn't look like anyone missed me posting here.

I have the just-back-from-vacation blues in a big way.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Two Chapters Down

I'm really glad I put together that list of Nice Things People Said. It's good to have that reassurance while slogging through the trenches of "should I keep this line of dialog" and "really, how dumb can I be" and "what, exactly, is wrong with that sentence grrr harrumph pout."

I'm pleased with the progress. The first two chapters are tighter. I've added description where it was missing, tried to make motives more explicit, and to keep up more sense of momentum. With chapter 3, I'm going to start a minor rearrangement of events, which I hope will keep that going smoothly.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Starting Draft Four

I never used to do drafts. I used to just tweak things endlessly and forever and occasionally do a ground-up rewrite, which may or may not have fixed anything, because I had very little idea what I was doing.

Now I do drafts. Drafts have goals.
  1. I may or may not have an outline, but the goal is to get something, anything, out there. Result: one horrifically shitty first draft.
  2. Fix gaping structural flaws. Result: One continuous story.
  3. Fix the remaining problems I am capable of seeing for myself. Result: One story I am comfortable having other people read.
  4. Fix the problems the beta readers found. Result: (I hope) One story I am comfortable submitting to agents.
There are still a few readers yet to report in, but as I said the other day, I'm starting to descend into bathetic depths due to not having a project in front of me. I can't seem to focus on research while waiting on tenterhooks for critiques, so I'm setting about the work. Instead of being cranky because I'm not working on a book, now I'll be cranky when people ask me to do anything other than work on the book! That will be much better for everyone, I'm sure.

First, because I like good things, here are some of the positive things people said about the draft:
  • "very professional"
  • "amazing, awesome concept"
  • "interesting"
  • "nice energy"
  • "a grand adventure"
  • "powerful playing with language" (this might be my favorite compliment ever)
Yay for that. On the less cheering side, I have the following:
  • "way more way faster"
  • "tighten up the pacing"
  • MC's motives fuzzy
  • one reader had a big issue with my version of Gawaine
  • MC "slippery", "flip-flops"
  • sketchy description
  • "orientation issues"
  • "under-described"
  • "murky scene transitions"
  • MC "some depth missing" "don't always know where she stands"
  • some confusion on the magic system for one reader
  • finale "needs more fireworks"
  • "wanted connection to art tighter"
  • "want more drama in her life"
  • why not (villain) seduce her
  • "doesn't seem black"
  • need to know more about relationship with (other character)
Some of them, I'm just plain not going to touch. The villain isn't going to try to seduce the protagonist, at least not sexually, because I think that's predictable and therefore boring. I'm not going to try writing the character to sound "more black," for several reasons.

I'm of two minds about a suggestion to rearrange one significant plot point to come earlier in the book; given that only one person seemed to find the pacing a problem, I'm likely to move cautiously there.

I'm also of two minds about Gawaine. There are smallish things I can do that will improve his characterization, and a few more things I can do to explain the changes in it, but if anyone out there is reading this and expecting Excalibur, they're doomed to disappointment. I'm not at all sure how familiar most readers are with this material. People seem to like the BBC Merlin, which makes my revisioning of the Malory version look downright timid.

Murky scene transitions and readers not being able to figure out what's going on in the MC's head, though, those are issues I need to fix. Even if it's only a subset of readers who were bothered, it's the kind of thing where fixing it will only help everyone. Unfortunately, it's kind of the toughest thing to fix. I know what's going on in her head at all times, so it's really easy to be blind to what I'm failing to put on the page.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Things Had Best Improve from Here

The first week of March... sucked, there is nothing else to be said for it.
  • Writing - Complete feedback or not, I need to start this revision. Putting it off is making me even more neurotic than usual. I have printouts and many colors of pen at the ready.
  • Reading - Got back into The Glamour Factory, one of my research books for the alien novel. Read Soulless, the first of the Parasol Protectorate books, and found it delightful. If nothing else, this is looking like the year I finally get reading back into my life. 
  • The stove is finally gone; long live the stove. 
  • My stand mixer broke. *cries softly*
  • Workouts have been more consistent, though my speed is not improving. 
  • I got a raise. Living in the vague state of financial dread that precedes getting our taxes done, and I have the strong suspicion that a car repair lies in our near future. I will never be a full-time writer; I couldn't handle the stress of that much financial uncertainty.
  • Although I didn't do most of the photography stuff I had planned for February, I did finally put the Christmas pictures online.

The March goal is supposed to be decluttering -- tackle closets, weed through things we have too much of, that kind of thing. Given the flop that was the February goal, I'm not holding out much hope, but I suppose it could happen. I did clean out the downstairs entryway during a bout of stress cleaning last weekend.

Here's hoping that the second week involves an upswing.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February Wrap-Up

A few days early, but this month has been so damn quiet. Feeling crummy today, so I figured that a progress check would either cheer me up or motivate me.
  • Writing: Self-indulgent tragic backstory for my PT characters. In another week or so I ought to get some more beta reader feedback. Then I can get to grips with the revision, assuming I can drag myself out of the Swamp of Isuck. Which I will, but those first few days are going to be gross and full of tears. 
  • Remembered today that I submitted Fury  to the Angry Robot open door month. Checked my spam filter; doesn't seem like they've gotten around to me yet, and there's no announcement on their blog that they've finished slogging through the slush. We cherish these pathetic little flickers of hope so.
  • Reading: Historical fiction, of all things. A Morbid Taste for Bones was light and amusing. A Game of Kings, which I picked up because someone I follow on Tumblr keeps insisting that it's amazing, is entertaining but very slow going. I think there are 100 characters in this book. It is an example of a style I've run into in some SF/F novels, in which there is a central character around whom the plot and the rest of the characters move, but whose POV we never get to experience. I find that somewhat frustrating as a reader. 
  • The old stove is still in our living room. Thinking of hanging Christmas lights on it. 
  • Workouts continue to be spotty, with snowstorms and sickness and random interruptions keeping me to my three-times-a-week average. Still, my dumbbell rows are up to 30lb, I did 2 sets of 25 pushups this morning (knees down, I'm not Wonder Woman), and I had a decent run yesterday.
  • Finances scraping along as expected for the month. Have to make a tax appointment (don't. want. to.). 
  • Haven't gotten to a single one of the month goals. I'm not sure why photography is such a blocking thing for me right now. I know where my camera is, I know where my cable is, but connecting the damn thing to the laptop and doing anything just seems like some awful, insurmountable task that's just not worth it. March is supposed to for tackling the closets.
  • We did manage to have some friends over for dinner--twice! Yay for sociability. 
March is going to be busy, with a couple of milestone birthdays in our circle, and with any luck a return to the writing trenches. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Even Less Valentine-y Than Usual

I'm not one to make a big deal out of this holiday - I resent anything that appears to have no other purpose than to make me buy cards - but we do usually attempt to have a nice dinner or something like that. This year, Mr This is Boskone-bound. Which okay, for us, means more or less down the street, but anyway he won't be home.

Also, our 9yo is down with a fever. Also, it is the most archetypal gloomy, slush-coated February day imaginable out there. Also, today is Pay the Bills Day. So an accountability post can't actually make anything worse.
  • Still not working on the new book. I may, however, have come up with a strategy for improving the opening of the old book. I think I will have to actually write it and see how it works, though. 
  • I also seem to be inventing an entire alternate Arthurian history a la Marion Zimmer Bradley, although with less Mother Goddess stuff. 
  • Other than Arthuriana, not much reading going on. Gamification does not appear to work on me.
  • The new stove is installed. The old stove is still in our living room. I just... okay, fine. Whatever.
  • Weighed myself on Monday. The news was not good. Four workouts in a row this week was good, but I will now miss four days because of Things.
  • Finances okay. Slush fund will suffer this month because of the way our car insurance company does billing, but that's expected. Psyching myself up to deal with taxes.
  • Photography month has so far been a bust. People who manage to do the daily photograph thing must have a less boring routine than I do? Hoping that on Sunday I can find a couple of hours to deal with something thing on that list. 
In sum: blah. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Grail Quest in Malory: Bad Stitching

Having blazed through 3/4 of Malory in a couple of days (yes, I skimmed here and there) I got back to the question of the Grail Quest. The story bothers me, which is why I'm happy to dismiss the entire episode from my own version. The tone of the tales shifts drastically, and the prevailing mode is scolding didacticism.

The early books are notable for the absence of religion as a significant force. It's certainly a part of the environment -- the knights hear masses, observe holidays, get married, and take refuge in the occasional chapel -- but motivations are never described as religious. Holy objects and people play no role in their quests. Occasionally characters are praised for being "meek" or religiously dutiful, but far more often they get accolades for beating everyone else up. They're in it for glory, women, revenge, or fun, which makes perfect sense for echoes of a pre-Christian ethos.

When Galahad shows up in Le Morte d'Arthur, the party is over.

His arrival at the court so closely retraces Arthur’s accession as to suggest a deliberate echo. He is conceived under magical deception, and arrives as an unknown and untried youth. While I can see a reason for keeping young Arthur out of the public eye, Galahad's being raised in secrecy makes no real sense. There are no more warring barons; his father and everyone else at Arthur's court are pleased to make his acquaintance and duly impressed by all of the omens. Even Gwenivir, who you might think would be a little miffed at her straying lover, magic or no, is content to remark only on how much Galahad looks like his father. (Timelines! Even if one adopts the most generous possible definition of early manhood, that's a lot of years to have passed.)

The magic that saturated the early stories is replaced by religious symbology. Galahad pulls a sword from a stone, but this time it is described as a miracle, Merlin being long gone (later on he gets another, even more miraculous sword, with a sheath made from the actual Tree of Life). Galahad’s awesome is explained by him being a ninth-degree relative of Jesus, rather than being the rightful king. He is fated to heal the Dolorous Stroke delivered by Balin and fills the empty Siege Perilous, capping off untied threads from old adventures. The visitation that starts off the adventure is from the Holy Ghost, not a strange beast or mysterious damosel.

This newly revisioned realm cannot coexist with the previous, less godly version. There are heavy premonitions of doom, that many of the knights will die in their quest. In order for the quest to be accomplished, the Round Table cannot remain.

Off everyone goes on the adventure. Galahad's perfection is stressed so far that it sometimes seems unfair to everyone else. The rules have changed, and no one told them. Gawaine helps to kill seven wicked knights. That's good, right? Nope! Bad knight, no cookie. Galahad doesn't kill people willy-nilly. Galahad is also a virgin, as we are reminded on many pointed occasions. Galahad defeats both Lancelot and Percivale in one of those random anonymous combats, and the symbolism is not subtle; the old guard is no longer useful.

There is a chapter of what I can only call ret-conning regarding the Round Table. Malory starts with the version in which the table is a gift from Gwenivir's father, although the names on the seats are magic. In this flashback, it was made by Merlin, and he utters a prophecy about the three who would achieve the Grail.

Every few pages the knights find a hermit, a holy recluse, a monastery, or a mysterious chapel. Everybody has omen-filled dreams, which have to be laboriously explained by holy bystanders. Percivale and Bors both have adventures that ends with being tempted by a woman. Percivale maintains his virtue by stabbing himself in the leg, but he still gets killed later on. Magic has always been dangerous in these stories, but it has never been explicitly ascribed to Satan. Women have been dangerous because they would either kill you themselves or get you into a duel, not because they were literally fiendish harlots.

The cast of characters in the Grail quest is fairly small, and it gets smaller as it goes. Gawaine kills Bagdemagus, and in some versions, many other knights. Bors and a deeply chastened Lancelot go home. Percivale gets killed. Galahad too dies, of course--blissful and unstained, having achieved his quest and after receiving communion from the hand of Joseph of Arimathea himself. Having been used as a sufficiently blunt object lesson, he had nowhere to go from there but down.

It's hard not read a lot of this as a writer punishing the characters for their previous incarnations, when you go from "for in all tournaments and jousts and deeds of arms, both for life and death, he passed all other knights" to "for of a sinner earthly thou hast no peer as in knighthood." Clearly there has been a change in priorities.

And yet? A few chapters later, we're back in Camelot, and the queen is accused of murder. The plot is all vengeance and fighting. Lancelot is back to "the most man of worship in the world" and the only Galahad that gets mentioned is a different one (and about whom I am quite curious, as he is identified as "the haut prince," but prince of what is never specified).

The Grail quest is a completely different type of story from the others around it, and it's very badly stitched in here. Of course, Malory's isn't the only version of it, and Galahad himself appears to have been a late invention.

I'm going to gleefully ignore the entire episode.