greygirlbeast: (Default)
Not a good morning, this. Instead, the sort of morning you just have to keep moving through. Not because there might be something better on the other side, but because the only other option is to stop moving. And somewhere along the winding course of my life, the irrational belief was instilled in me that stopping is a Bad Thing.

Anyway...

Yesterday, post-"vacation mistake" epiphany, I wrote and answered emails. I signed the signature sheets I mentioned. We worked on the line edits for Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart and The Yellow Book (and we're not too far from being finished with that). Today, more. Of everything. I think Kathryn's going down to her mom and dad's place. Would that I were going with her.

---

Yesterday, I was looking back over my Blogger entries from December 2003, and I found this passage, written on the 25th:

I will not get smarmy this morning, because I will not be a hypocrite, but I will wish you all the finest things that I can for the long year to come. Peace and freedom from tyranny and fear and repression, in all ways. The realization of dreams, or at least the luxury of the dreams themselves. The dignity that comes with pain that may not be avoided, and the strength to bear all the unbearable moments in life. Beauty and the eyes to see it. And perspective. And joy, which is a far finer thing than any passing happiness...Spooky and I have had the finest Xmas of any I've enjoyed since the late '80s.

I know why I wrote that, why I found an Xmas I could endure. What I spent a considerable bit of the day trying to puzzle out was exactly how things backslid so much between 2003 and now, what happened in the intervening seven years. Oh, I know the answer: a lot of bad shit. A fall. The whole affair left me sort of sick and confused.

---

Not much else to yesterday. I did manage a decent bit of reading. Three stories: Charles Stross' "A Colder War," Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's "Mongoose," and Don Webb's "The Great White Bed." I don't think I'm ever going to "get" Stross. I believe he and I must simply exist on different points along the dial. But, reading him yesterday, that old chestnut about SF being the literature of ideas came to mind. Who said that? Pamela Sargent? I think it was her. Anyway, sure, "A Colder War" is a great bundle of interesting ideas. But there's very little in the way of characterization, and without solid characters, a "literature of ideas" is pretty much a textbook. Characters first, and then science. All the technoporn in the world can't save a story from the vacuum created by an absence of solid, believable characters. Also, the Burgess Shale fauna isn't Precambrian, it's Middle Cambrian. Sorry. I know it's poor form, one author publicly grousing about another, but Stross' stories always leave me feeling like I'm missing something that everyone else plainly understands.

As for "Mongoose," it's a beautiful, brilliant, and delightful story. Each of those adjectives was chosen with care, by the way. I'm not just heaping hyperbole. I can also use it to illustrate a point I was trying to make yesterday. I very much dislike Lovecraftian fiction that is parody and/or attempts at literary irony. Almost without fail, they fail, those sorts of stories. The author/s, having decided they cannot possibly take Lovecraft seriously, and that no one else can, either – not in this day and age, and probably not in any day and age – turn/s to satire (usually dimwitted satire). "Mongoose," on the other hand, manages to have a lot of fun with a futuristic extrapolation of Lovecraft's universe, and never once does it feel as if the authors are mocking the source material. It is, I think, a story HPL himself probably would have loved. The difference, I believe, is that "Mongoose" never stoops to parody or derision, but chooses wit and whimsy, instead. Especially whimsy. And it just works. Brava.

It took me forever to get to sleep, but I can't blame Monsieur Insomnia. Not when I didn't get up until one p.m. the day before. I think I finally found sleep sometime after five ayem, after watching the first half hour or so of Clarence Brown's The Rains Came (1939).

Slivy,
Aunt Beast
greygirlbeast: (Mary Sue)
Yesterday, I wrote 1,296 words on Chapter Five of Blood Oranges, which puts the word bank at 801 words. Today, with luck and determination, I'll find the chapter's end. But there need to be many fewer distractions today than there were yesterday.

The weather today is warm and damp, with more rain on the way.

[livejournal.com profile] readingthedark arrived early in the evening, and the three of us had dinner at Trinity Brew House. I had a very raw hamburger, a thing I was greatly desiring. Back home, there was an hour or so of conversation. Not nearly enough. But sex and tentacles, that came up, the octopoid bauplan as an eight-penised vagina, something of the sort. Prehensile penes, at that. But also cats, shaved heads, energy drinks, open sims, polygon mesh vertices, and book trailers.

I wasn't able to get to sleep until after five-fifteen ayem. The sky was going grey and lavender.

---

Back on the 7th, both [livejournal.com profile] hollyblack and [livejournal.com profile] matociquala wrote rather good entries on the "Mary Sue" problem. The misapplication of the term to fiction that isn't fanfic, and other deeper problems with a very problematic phrase and a concept fraught with problems. You can read Holly's post here, and Elizabeth's here. I found myself agreeing with most of what was said in both, which was hardly a surprise.

My only significant quibble would be with Holly's list of what is used to identify a "Mary Sue." Read it for yourself (don't be a lazy bastard), but it basically comes down to one word that repeatedly appears in her list: unrelatable. For example:

The reviewer believes that the female protagonist of the novel is so perfect as to be unrelatable.

The difficulty I have here may only be one of personal habit and preference. I don't see fiction as something I do expecting people to relate to any character. I only expect readers to read and consider and experience the story, to have individual reactions to the various characters, and to draw whatever conclusions they may. I'm most emphatically not doing something in order for people who don't write stories to project themselves onto. So, to me, whether or not a reader can relate is immaterial. I don't see the ability to relate to a character as a prerequisite for, say, sympathizing or empathizing with a character. Otherwise, yep. Brilliant posts, and thank you.

Oh, this bit from [livejournal.com profile] matociquala, which was basically a quick summation of Holly's quote for those too lazy to follow a link: "It's frankly misogynistic to identify a competent female protagonist as a 'Mary Sue' because she's at the center of her story. She's at the center of her story because she's the goddamn protagonist."

For my part, I continue to maintain the term will never have any authentic utility beyond fanfic, and even then...okay, not going to beat dead horses today. It only attracts flies.

A Bit Player,
Aunt Beast
greygirlbeast: (Default)
Spooky and I just made a deal, that we would never again both smile at the same time. It was just all kinds of wrong. And we weren't even really smiling. We were sort of grimacing. So, we're really agreeing never again to bare our teeth like that at the same time.

Kind of muggy and sticky and too warm here in Providence.

I just got the artwork from Vince for Sirenia Digest #58 (and I love it). But it seems very unlikely that I'll be able to find time to get the issue out before we leave for Portland. Again I apologize. I hate being late with anything, ever. Tardiness just irks me. I am a punctual beast.

As for yesterday's interesting email from my agent, let's just say that not all unexpected opportunites are good, and so we move on.

I'm trying to be higgledy-piggledy without the --- dividers. Seems more honest.

Still much too much to get done before we leave in the morning. I have a very long list. Yesterday, we drove to South County, to Spooky's parents' place. We have a housesitter for the days we'll be away, but Spooky's mom will be coming up to give Sméagol the malt-flavored prednisone he takes for his plasma cell pododermatitis. So, we took her a key. On the farm, wild grapes and ferns were going yellow with autumn, and there were autumnal bursts of red in a few trees. It was raining and windy, and I thought about the much worse weather in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut. I visited the steamsquid, who's getting along quite well, a year and a half after we rescued himherit. Afterwards, we drove to Warwick, and I looked for a couple of pairs of pants at the thrift store. I have developed an almost religious enthusiasm for thrift stores of late (in spite of garish overhead lighting). Anyway, I found two pairs, including an absurdly large pair of brown corduroys. I almost got a pair of seersucker pants, but it's late in the year for seersucker.

I read two more stories in Haunted Legends, Steven Pirie's "The Spring Heel" and Laird Barron's "The Redfield Girls." I liked both, but found the Pirie story especially effective. And we finished Kristin Hersh's Rat Girl last night, which is truly excellent, and which I strongly recommend.

I also finished Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age late last night, when I should have been asleep, but was, instead, awake. My opinion at the end is pretty much the same as it was halfway through the novel. Wonderful worldbuilding, an intriguing (if far-fetched) future, an interesting quasi-Dickens pastiche, but not a single act of characterization in sight. The novel is actually more like a long outline for a novel. It's a great mountain of plot and ideas. This happened, and this happened, and this happened. But...we are never allowed to see into the people to whom all this plot is happening. Sometimes, we're told how someone feels, but we're pretty much never shown. Which makes this only one half of a good novel; I can't even consider it finished. It's sort of amazing, that a book can be so devoid of characterization. Anyway, I think I'll read the new China Miéville next. And probably a bunch of other stuff, because I seem unable to read only one book at a time.

This will be my last entry until after Portland, and I feel like I'm forgetting shit.

I read "Pickman's Other Model" aloud last night. It's the piece I want to use for my reading on Sunday. The reading's an hour long, and reading the story at a leisurely pace, it came in at about fifty-five minutes. So, I don't know. I'll either read it, or something from The Ammonite Violin & Others. Oh, and DO NOT FORGET. This weekend is be kind to Spooky weekend. Oak moss and voodoo donuts. I'm serious. Just don't try to hug her, because she bites.

And while I won't be tweeting, or blogging, or facebooking (???) on this trip, I will be taking tons of photos, and will post a bunch of them afterwards.

Now, I think I need a bath.

Oh, fuck! It's National Coffee Day!
greygirlbeast: (Eli6)
Last night there was sleep, last night and this morning. I didn't find it until about four a.m., but then I proceeded to sleep eight hours, without Ambien (or anything else). I've not slept that much at a stretch in forever. So, I dub today the beginning of the New Restoration. I almost feel rested. Spooky and I fell asleep talking about how marvelous is Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, especially the Hatter and the March Hare, the Bandersnatch and the battle with the Jabberwocky.

Here in Providence, it's rainy and drear and chilly and windy. I do very much love New England, but it's hard...no, it's impossible...not to miss the spring that must presently be springing in Atlanta and Birmingham. Here, we likely have another month of winter ahead of us.

Yesterday was every sort of hell that one receives when one agrees to be a novelist. I sat here, trying to begin The Wolf Who Cried Girl. I sat, and I sat, and I sat. All day, I sat. I wrote three sentences, and likely none of them are any good. Today, I will either sit again, or I'll go to the library and sit there. I only have to find my way in, now that I've scaled the novel back. I know this is primarily a novel about a sculptor named India Phelps and her obsession with the art of Albert Perrault (whom you may remember from "The Road of Pins," "La Peau Verte," "Last Drink Bird Head," "Rappaccini's Dragon (Murder Ballad No. 5)," and probably a few other stories I'm not recalling just now). I know it is also about her lover, whose name is Eva Canning, who is a stage actress. I know it's set in Providence, and is sort of a werewolf story, though I suspect there are no actual werewolves in it. I know it's very much about sex, and art, and repressed and/or taboo desires. I ought to be able to make a beginning, knowing all of that.

Last night, we watched the new episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and marveled at the sweaty man flesh and the cheesy dialogue (oh, and the severed penis). Later, I had a very good roleplay in Insilico. It was very good, and I thank Molly and Fifth for it. It was so good, in fact, I shall likely edit the long transcript and post it on my page at the Insilico Ning. But...that said, it left me (and by "me" I mean the typist, the player, not the character of Victoria [Xiang 1.5]) rattled and uneasy, angry with myself and feeling foolish. I am not accustomed to playing (or writing) characters who are naive, innocent, effectively adolescent, and so forth. Which is precisely what Victoria is, a self-aware AI slowly, painfully coming of age in a harsh, ugly world that wants no part of self-aware AI. And, both as the character and as the player, I have repeatedly done, well, dumb and childish things. I know this is because I immerse myself so deeply in a character that I can only do what she would do in a given situation. But the effects of those actions can be devastating to a character, as they were last night to Victoria. As for last night, she appears to have survived, and this hasn't spiraled into another catastrophe— of the sort that got Xiang 1.0 killed, and Xiang 2.0b boxed, and Victoria tossed out on the street —but she has, of course, been changed on some level forever and for good (which is not necessarily to say for the better).

Have you pre-ordered your copy of The Ammonite Violin & Others, with cover art by Richard A. Kirk and an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer? If not, you should correct this oversight immediately.

And now I should wrap this up, and see what sort of today today will be.

A bruised full moon play fights with the stars.
This place is our prison, its cells are the bars.
So, take me to town. I want to dance with the city.
Show me something ugly, and show me something pretty.
(Editors, "The Boxer")
greygirlbeast: (Kraken)
Since I mentioned it this morning, here's the clip Spooky shot yesterday of me experimenting with the buoyancy of clam shells, filmed near Moonstone, on the stream connecting Trustom and Card ponds.

Clamshell Boat, Riding the Current from Kathryn Pollnac on Vimeo.



It's starting to look as though my shadow is destined to get a lot more screen time than I ever will. Which is probably for the best. If you listen, you can hear the foghorn at Pt. Judith, almost five miles southeast of Moonstone Beach.

I'm still mulling over the whole silly "Mary Sue" thing. And yes, I still find it a painfully silly and generally useless concept. Though, I think there's something more insidious here. The idea that characters must be mundane to be believable, and a sort of elevation of the ordinary, that I find undeniably repugnant. Great literature is most often about extraordinary people, even when it purports to concern itself primarily with the "common man" (consider Tom Joad in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, for example). The whole idea of this sort of character police, it makes my skin crawl. We are good writers, or we are not, whether we are professional or amateur, whether we write fantasy or sf or genre mysteries or what so many mistakenly refer to as "literary" fiction (a grand redundancy). There is no place for dismissive categories like "Mary Sue." I see why it's happened. I even see why it's being applied beyond fanfic. Sure, I can understand the appeal of dismissing Stephanie Meyer or Laurell K. Hailton's distasteful and absurd heroines by simply labeling them "Mary Sues." They are undoubtedly idealized avatars in the service of the authors. But if we do that, given the inherent subjectivity of the concept, we must, wholesale, also dismiss thousands of other characters who have the same relationship to their authors. People are trying to invent a very simple solution for a problem that has no simple solution. And it's just dumb. I keep coming back to that, and I can't fathom why I'm wasting so much energy on such a completely reprobate idea. That which irks me gets my attention, more than it usually deserves. And, for the record, I do not, necessarily, have any problem with fanfic. But I've said that lots of times before.

Anyway...

I'm currently obsessed with NIN's "La Mer," from The Fragile (1999). Here are the original French Creole lyrics, which are spoken on the album by Denise Milfort:

Et il est un jour arrivé
Marteler le ciel
Et marteler la mer

Et la mer avait embrassé moi
Et la délivré moi de ma cellule

Rien ne peut m'arrêter maintenant


Which may be translated into English as:

And when the day arrives
I'll become the sky
And I'll become the sea

And the sea will come to kiss me
For I am going
Home

Nothing can stop me now


Or, somewhat more literally:

And the day has arrived
To thresh the sky
And to thresh the sea

And the sea has embraced me
And it has dispensed me from my cage

Nothing can stop me now

"Mary Sue"

Jun. 16th, 2009 10:31 pm
greygirlbeast: (stab)
So, a while back, I came across a nitwit somewhere online who described Echo, a character I wrote in The Dreaming, as a "Mary Sue." Previous to seeing this particular comment, my familiarity with the phrase was extremely limited. Indeed, I only had some vague impression that it was used by writers of fan fic who wished to complain about characters written by other writers of fan fic. Last time Sonya ([livejournal.com profile] sovay) stayed over, we talked about this, and she was surprised (and annoyed) to see the term has apparently escaped the realm of fan fic and is being applied to non-fan fic characters. Myself, I thought it was a dubious concept to begin with, so, mostly, I was just baffled.

According to Wikipedia, a "Mary Sue" is defined thusly: "A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fan fiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as 'Mary Sues' is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the 'Mary Sue' character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an "author's pet". (Note that Wikipedia has tagged this article for a lack of cited sources, verifiable claims, etc.)

Now, tonight I see that Poppy ([livejournal.com profile] docbrite) has come across this Mary Sue Litmus Test thingy and applied it to two of her characters. So, I thought it might be interesting to try it myself, using Sarah Crowe from The Red Tree.

Not surprisingly, the test is stupid as hell. No, really. Big-time, ginormous, Godzilla-sized stupid. But regardless, Sarah only scored an 18. The author of the Mary Sue Litmus Test writes, "11-20 points: The Non-Sue. Your character is a well-developed, balanced person, and is almost certainly not a Mary Sue. Congratulations!" So, I guess that's a relief. One thing I can stop losing sleep over. Keep in mind, by the way, I have repeatedly admitted that Sarah Crowe is my most autobiographical character to date, though I'm not precisely sure how that admission fits into this mess.

There are so very many things wrong with the basic concept of a "Mary Sue" character, I'm not about to undertake a point-by-point critique. It's just dumb. By this definition, Tom Sawyer is likely a Mary Sue. I could make a very long list of famed literary characters who would fall into the Mary Sue category. And why the hell should we accept that the person who fashioned this test is any sort of authority on anything?

Obviously, this all begs the question of whether or not Echo might be considered a Mary Sue (by the standards of the person who wrote this dumb test). Maybe some other time I'll take it again, for poor Echo, but first I'd have to read back over a bunch of issues of The Dreaming, none of which I've read since 2004.

Fuck it, Dude. Let's go bowling.
greygirlbeast: (cleav1)
Today we will do the finalmost round of edits for the 3rd edition of Tales of Pain and Wonder, and I hope to email the ms. away to Subterranean Press this evening. It will be a great load off my mind and shoulders. I still have to put together the chapbook that will accompany it, which will include some odds and ends not found in the actual collection, such as "Angels You Can See Through" and "Little Conversations," the original, shorter version of "Salammbô Redux." I think I'm going to call the chapbook Tales of Tales of Pain and Wonder, because how could I call it anything else?

Yesterday, we read aloud through all of "Salammbô Redux," which came out to 46 typescript pages, or 10,069 words ("Little Conversations" was about half that length). I was very pleased with how it turned out, and I'd been worried it might not work, going back and writing the middle of a story after I'd already written its beginning and ending (which is basically what "Little Conversations" was).

I have this email from Jerome Dent:

I wasn’t sure if the proper place to ask this question was on the journal or not, so I decided to play it safe and email it. When you create characters do you make profiles for them? So many sites and books talk about character profiles and dossier’s and I think that you have amazing characters like Deacon, Dancy, and Chance. I was wondering if you agreed with the masses about the importance of the “profile”.

I know that a lot of authors use profiles, and yes, I understand it's part of the orthodoxy of workshops and how-to books. That said, no, it's not something I do myself. I never have. I begin a short story or novel with some general idea of who a character is, then allow them to grow organically via reaction with their environment (which is to say, the narrative). I can't really think of any time that I've sat down and worked out in detail who the characters are before beginning. If nothing else, that would rob me of the surprise of learning who they are as I write. Of course, as is always the case with writing, what works for one may not work for another, and I can imagine certain advantages in profiling characters beforehand. It just doesn't happen to work for me, and I certainly don't view it as necessary.

The little Cthulhu statuette Spooky put up on Etsy yesterday sold almost immediately, but you can still have a go at the current eBay auctions, which include a copy of the new paperback edition of Low Red Moon.

Last night, Spooky made spaghetti. We had a good walk in Freedom Park. Byron called. We finished another chapter of Dune (I truly admire that the chapters in this novel are neither titled nor numbered). We talked about Halloween decorations and costumes. That was yesterday.

I have scheduled tomorrow as a Day Off. It's a new idea I have, actually scheduling days off every seven or eight days or so, instead of waiting until I'm so exhausted I have to have a Day Off to recover.

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Caitlín R. Kiernan

February 2012

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