Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lips finished

Just wanted to let you know that the short story for Apsia, code name 'Lips', is finished, and so I will start writing the second book in the Flesh and Fell series tomorrow--code name 'Wanton.' As I work on Wanton, I'll be revising both Flood and Lips, and I hope they'll be up for sale by late January / early February.

Warm wishes for happy holidays to everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

David Farland on Intellect in Fiction

I recently read David Farland's 'Daily Kick' about appealing to the intellect in fiction (I'm sorry, I received the 'Kick' as an email, and I can't find an archive with this post, so there is no link provided). In all, I have to admit, I found it to be a somewhat puzzling piece. David talks about the difference between emotional and intellectual appeal in fiction, setting up what feels to me like a straw man argument that many people believe the emotional appeal of fiction is inferior to the intellectual. However, it's never really clear to me what he means by the intellectual appeal of fiction. At times, it seems like he wants the intellectual appeal to be explicative, as a type of explanation of events; at other times, it seems like the intellectual appeal is a type of mystery that is resolved by the text (which is related to the idea of explanation, but not necessarily the same). Likewise, what he means by the emotional is not completely clear. In the context of the 'Kick,' the emotional seems to be linked to the plot, and David has talked in previous 'Kicks' about the emotional response people have while reading.

I'm certainly not writing to disagree completely with David; I respect his opinion and certainly agree with him that a large reason that many people read genre fiction is to obtain an emotional response. My only purpose here is to suggest that there is more to both the intellectual and emotional draws of fiction than plot or mystery might suggest. If we think of the text as an aesthetic object, then the possibility for plot to have a deeply intellectual function is just as likely as the emotional, and in the same way even the emotional, or the affective, can have a powerful intellectual role. I guess my resistance to this 'Daily Kick' is founded in my belief that the text is more than just the plot, and that a truly 'literate' work should operate in a multiplicity of ways. I think in part my resistance also arises from my confusion about David's terms and the weight he places on concepts I'm not sure I fully understand.

In any case, if you can track down the Daily Kick, it's worth reading because David always offers good insights and, more importantly, good tracking points for thinking about reading and writing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tradition and originality

I read an interesting post on Magical Words today; you can find it here. A. J. Hartley talks about the idea of originality in fiction.

While I find his argument for a view of originality as the idea of 'originality in execution' compelling in some ways, I think his argument becomes somewhat tautological. How does originality in execution escape the idea of originality? It seems like all he does is shift the location of originality from content to treatment, a move that seems, to me, intended to respond to the unfavorable review he mentions at the beginning.

It seems profitable to extend his argument against the 19th and 20th century views of genius and originality that, although increasingly being rethought by contemporary artists and thinkers, continue to dominate much of our view of the artist and the creation of art. Originality is, of course, always a part of art--what an artist contributes  to the project, what makes it different from every other piece of art (as much a part of its temporal situatedness as of its author's own range of knowledge and practice). But originality as a sign of genius, which really comes to prominence in the late 18th and 19th century with the advent of Romanticism, is neither a necessary nor an intellectually stable concept. Art always comes out of what has been produced before (a point well made by T. S. Eliot, among others, as Hartley points out), and 20th and 21st century art has been marked by an interest in self-aware engagement with that tradition. To shift the location of originality, as Hartley does, is insightful, but deals more with a symptom of the problem than with the problem itself.

Just a few thoughts--I'd be eager to hear and think about this more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To Say Nothing of the Dog

I just finished Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog. What a fascinating book! It won the Hugo and the Locus in 1999, and it was a very interesting read. The book is funny, light-hearted (even the threat of a total disruption of the time-space continuum doesn't seem too threatening), and incredibly smart. Willis clearly does her research, which is very enjoyable, but more than that, she has an amazing range of knowledge that is not immediately connected to the story at hand. The book is densely allusional and intertextual, and I absolutely love the way it rethinks and reworks (in a self-conscious way) the idea of the mystery genre.

In some ways, I think reading Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog would be a good way to point out some of the tensions that genre fiction raises in comparison to what many people would call literature. Willis's book is able to be enjoyed as just a fun time-travel story, but its real richness comes from its ability to operate at multiple levels--not just as the level of the plot. Willis does this best when she's doing something funny--she has a great ability to track a joke over several different iterations (and through initially unrelated elements) to great effects. She also does this very well with the idea of genre and mystery, which ultimately plays back into the plot as well. However, the book never takes this deep, complicated approach to literature, time, causality, etc., and develops it fully. The book ends with a somewhat sentimentalized view juxtaposing and synthesizing Grand Design and chaos theory, which fits the book's trajectory very nicely.

This is a great read, and I highly recommend it for people interested in both good writing and good science fiction. Unlike some science fiction, this book is eminently accessible to the uninitiated, and I think a valuable touchstone for those interested in writing genre fiction.

Friday, December 9, 2011


A quick update: I finished plotting Wanton. I'm *really* excited about this book. I guess I say that every time, which is probably a good thing. If I weren't excited about them, I wouldn't write them. But I am eager to put into practice some of the thing I've learned lately.

Before I start writing Wanton, though, I'm going to finish the short story I have planned for the Apsia universe. I plotted it out and have written the first bit. Since it is a *short* story, I'm expecting it to be somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand words. I'll plan on having it up for sale a little bit before, or around the same time that, Flood goes up. The code name for the short story is Lips. Preview: Lips will deal with what happens in Greve Sindal at the end of Fold Thunder. Once Lips is written, I'll start writing Wanton and then I'll go back and revise both Flood and Lips.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mr. Monster and Horror

Just a quick follow-up to my last post. I'm still thinking about Mr. Monster and my reaction to it. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if my aversion to the content of Mr. Monster can be traced along generic grounds. Perhaps Mr. Monster fits very well into the horror genre? I don't read much in that genre, so it's hard for me to say. If that's the case (and it seems that horror does find its entertainment value in representing, well, the horrible) then my problem was simply one of reading in a genre I'm not comfortable with. In any case, I wanted to write this to moderate the tone of my last post, since I realize it maybe off-putting to some.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mr. Monster

I wanted to post about the latest book I finished, Mr. Monster, because I already talked about reading I Am Not A Serial Killer and I felt I should say a little bit more. I'm a bit torn about how this post might be received, so I ask you to consider my comments carefully.

Let me just start off by saying that Mr. Monster is very well written. Tight use of language, even tighter use of plot and structure, all of which comes together very nicely at the end. In that sense I enjoyed it, and I found it to be a quick, easy read.

At the same time, it really wasn't easy for me to read at all. The content is horrifying--not just disturbing in the way that Serial Killer was. I'm a firm believer in the value of pre-critical reactions, as long as they are recognized as such, and my pre-critical reaction was: I was deeply upset by this book. Mostly, that's because this book seeks to entertain by titillating with some of the foulest behavior imaginable; Dan Wells avoids the more gratuitous forms of this style, but he still grounds the entertainment of the book in the act of staging attraction to these types of behavior (and to these actions).

I try to avoid mentioning books on here that I don't like, but I felt like I should make an exception in this case because I had already reviewed Serial Killer. Also, I do this because I recently recommended Serial Killer to my brother (before I read Mr. Monster), and I now regret that recommendation. As I've said before, both books are very well written, entertaining, and engaging, but while I found Serial Killer enjoyable, although it was difficult to relate to John as a protagonist, Mr. Monster was just too much for me. Considering Mr. Wells's comments that the last book in the trilogy is the most provocative, I won't be reading the last book in the series.

I hope this doesn't come off as any sort of 'bashing,' or even any sort of negative treatment of the book. I'm trying to offer an evaluation of both my pre-critical and critical responses in light of my response to the first book in the series. If you've read and enjoyed Serial Killer, as I did, then I think you should be aware of the shifts present in the next book in the series.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Updated book page

Just to let you know that I've added Indifferent to the Books page, where EPUB, mobi, and pdf versions are all available for free.


The Darkest Road

I recently finished the last book in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar trilogy. I enjoyed the resolution to the series, although it tied up so very neatly that I found it a bit unsatisfying. I think this was my least favorite of the books; I had very little interest in the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot story, and so I found that the resolution of that sequence did little for me. It formed a large portion of how the series ended, which I think explains my lack of excitement. I also think it's hard to follow on the brilliance of The Summer Tree, and The Wandering Fire had its own genius, so I can't fault Kay too much. And don't get me wrong, I still greatly enjoyed The Darkest Road, just not nearly as much as the other two. I look forward to reading more of Kay in the future, but for now I'm going to try a few new authors.

I've been plotting out Wanton over the last few days; my plans are to finish plotting Wanton, then take a break, plot and write the short story set in the world of Apsia, and then go back and write Wanton. Plotting Wanton has been a very different experience for me. As I've mentioned before, I love starting a new project, and in some ways I find it to be the most exciting part (well, except maybe the resolutions). But I've put a lot more time and energy into the plotting of Wanton, and I have really high hopes for how this book is going to turn out. I'm still hammering on the details of the last plot-line (hint, it involves Fadhra) to get it into shape, but I'm really excited about it.