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"

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. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mucking About with Arthurian Mythology

While I wait for Prometheus crits to come in, I've been revisiting source material for the Arthurian segment of the story, which needs work in the revision. Things I glossed over in the last draft are going to take some more thought and digging. Horrors, I have to read more.

One thing I want to mention up front: I haven't seen the Merlin TV show or any of the movie adaptations other than Monty Python's. It may be quixotic (ha, ha), but I wanted to approach the characters from as close as I could get to their literary origins without learning any dead languages. Obviously there's going to be a modern lens applied, but I wanted it to be my own lens.

Because I am incapable of doing anything the simple way (see: including Arthurian mythos at all), I'm not going with any single source, but synthesizing a few versions of the story into one that suits my needs. I do this in the serene certainty that I am following not so much in others' footsteps as on an actual highway. I'm starting from Malory as readily available and readable, but adding and subtracting freely.

Even if I was going with just his version, I would have to do a fair amount of sorting and adapting, as he wasn't paying attention to consistency. Was Mordred Gawaine's cousin or his brother? Was the knight who followed the Questing Beast Pellinore or Palmides? Was Anguish the king of Ireland or Scotland? Really, "Anguish?" How many damn times did Tintagel change owners, since everything important happens there? Don't even get me started on Lancelot's family tree, which grew more cousins and nephews with every chapter.

Regardless. My story takes place in (mostly) the real world. Arthur did not exist as depicted in our world. Therefore, I have to come up with a version of the story that is identifiably itself, but which satisfies some basic rules for realism in my book-universe.

I had reasons for thinking this was a good idea, I swear.

From the outset I discarded the invasion of Rome. That story doesn't make sense as anything but exaggerated propaganda no matter how you slice it. I am on the fence about the Grail quest. It extends the timeline and the scope of the action enormously, and it requires going literal where I prefer to leave things metaphorical. Not to mention that if you were going on a quest in which purity by any definition was important, you could hardly do worse than this lot of characters, no matter which version you read.

Also, Galahad's existence bugs me. There is no way to un-squick fathers pimping out their daughters via magical deception -- the goal of which is to make a guy think he's having sex with a woman who's already married to someone else to begin with -- in order to satisfy a prophecy. While there are many interesting elements there that suggest alchemy to my imagination, it's hard to imagine God approving.

Slicing out both of those sub-plots simplifies things a lot. The next task is putting some boundaries on the story. When he first becomes king, Arthur is described as "beardless." I'm taking this liberally to mean that he was under twenty, not necessarily too young to shave. By the end of things, he is still a formidable warrior. I have a hard time buying this after age 50, and that's stretching. I don't care how bad-ass you are, that lifestyle takes a toll.  This puts an outside limit of 30 years on his reign.

This makes for further simplification, in that some of the tales continue into a third generation. Mordred, for instance, is supposed to have an adult son at the end of at least one version. Well, when could that have happened? Out he goes. This leaves me with a skeleton that resembles a single story, rather than the conglomeration of assorted individual tales that were smushed together willy-nilly in the sources. My simplified timeline breaks down into the following chunks:
  • Arthur's accession and the early wars to legitimize his rule. This period is capped off by his marriage to Gwenivir, which spelling I have settled on because it is the shortest.
  • A stabilization period in which many of the famous individual adventures happened. Room can be made here for Arthur himself to still be doing some solo adventuring, along with the big names from the first generation of knights.
  • Continental wars, drastically down-scaled from the invasion of Rome. This period includes some notable deaths from the first generation of knights, and Lancelot's early life. I'm using the French version of his story, in which he got kidnapped in infancy by the Lady of the Lake. I'm also putting him in the second generation of knights, because otherwise we have to believe that he carried on an affair with the queen for several decades, during which (per Malory) everyone in the kingdom except for Arthur knew about it.
  • A second period of stability is a false one, as evil is starting to get its act together and the queen is straying. A lot of the Tristram stuff would end up here.
  • The affair is discovered, war between Arthur and Lancelot, Mordred makes his move, everything goes to tragedy. 
This is relatively simple, but flexible enough to accommodate what I want it to. I may write later about some of the characterization issues that fell out of this syncretic approach.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

That Was Fast

I knew it was going to happen like this, but damn. One month already down. So how are we doing?
  • Alien Hollywood research has ground to a halt, though the stack of books to read grows. I have almost five thousand words of a Tapestry sequel and a ton of notes. Y'know, just in case. (Evernote is awesome for this stuff.) Three of my critters have sent their feedback. That's enough of a pool for me to start actually reading it and getting the brainwork of revision under way. Cue panic.
  • Not happy about the drop-off in reading. I'm going to try a new app this week and see if gamification works on me. However! I set myself a goal of reading two books per month this year, and got through five in January, which is slightly awesome.
  • Home life is good. The unending battle against chaos holds steady. We've been diligent about cleaning, and we've been making time to get out, to see people and do things. We have a new stove... in our living room, but hopefully that will be installed later this week. The end of this painful saga is in sight. RIGHT?
  • Workouts holding steady at 3-4 times a week, which means either running, weights, or yoga. Haven't been pushing very hard. Haven't weighed myself at all, which is either denial or mature acceptance of my body setting in. Have been paying more attention to stretching. It would be nice to see my flexibility improve this year.
  • January was Finance Month, and we did pretty well. I spent quite a bit on books, and there was that one splurge, so the slush fund grew less than planned. The dedicated savings funds are looking good. This may be a manifestation of my overall tendency to be goal-oriented; I do much better at tasks that have a tangible payoff ("save enough money to buy X") than general ("save money"). Now we just have to keep on with good awareness of where it all goes.
  • In assorted non-themed "to do" items, I decided not to finish a story that has been languishing for a long time; losses, cut. We got rid of two boxes of outgrown kids' clothes and two of toys. All of my cute new containers have been put to work in the kitchen.
February is Photograph Month. The goal, again, is to plan a series of small, do-able tasks in one area I've been neglecting. For this month, I want to try taking more pictures (maybe I will post some here), send out pics I owe to to relatives, and get some prints made.