Saturday, August 27, 2005

Trace No. 2 1/2

I went to my writer's meeting today. Love those guys. I finally feel as if I've started to bond with them, after--what, five years? It ain't their fault, though. I'm hard to get to know, and they are all twenty years older than I am. Hard to find common ground, outside of the writing, and I'm the only one doing that these days--and y'all know how little of that I've been doing of late.

Although, Rob (Chilson) just sold a story to Analog. It's called "Space Farmers" or something like that. We critted it in-house, and there's some interesting material in there--it's very solid speculation about how to raise produce and grains in zero-gee and zero-atmo. Stan Schmidt told him he liked it and wanted it, but they didn't have any money to pay him right now. That's terrifying, in my opinion. I don't know when it will be coming out, but I'll keep you posted.

I was the only one with any material today. I've been feeding them Trace stories in installments--they see rougher versions than I let leak to you guys. I've been writing frantically for the last few days, trying to get some material on paper so they'd have more to read, so they got to see about two-thirds, or 20 pages, of "Parlor Games." They were very approving, which is a relief because I hadn't had a chance to look back over the text I pretty much just regurgitated onto the page. The dialogue was a little rough, especially the German accent of one character, and there were some anachronisms of vocabulary, but that's what I keep them around for. We had a lovely little discussion about language and character development. They all really seem to get it and be on board with it. Jan is always first to laugh at the funny bits. Lynette said she really enjoyed how I've balanced Trace's dilemma: how he may have learned to cope with his curse but he's never really dealt with it.

Alison is a little disatisfied with Trace's reticence and wimpiness. She wants him to suck it up and tell Fairweather off--or at least ask more questions, take steps to control his own destiny. I just smile and tell her not to rush me.

By the way, can anybody provide me with a few nineteenth-century substitutions for "bitch"? And "kraut'? What was the common derogatory term for a German back then? I've found a nifty dictionary of 19th century slang, but it's a bit limited. And my "Cowboy Lingo" book has been sanitized for someone's protection.

Anyway, I will probably have this done, at least in rough form, in another three or four days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

book report: Conjure Wife

I finished Lieber's novella last week. In a nutshell? It was good, but not life-changing. I've read a lot of good things about this story, so maybe it was over-hyped in my head before I got to it.

Through most of my reading I was really conscious of its datedness. It was written in the late 1930's, I believe, and you can really see that early-twentieth-century transition in style, from narrative to scenic emphasis. I found parts of it, especially the beginning, overly descriptive and info-dumpy, but considering the length of the work it was probably appropriate. Lieber summarized in a lot of places where I wouldn't have, but then I also read somewhere that the story was originally published in serial form. So that explains both the cliffhanger-endings of chapters and the tendency to step back from the action and rehash the setting at the beginning of each chapter.

Strangely, perhaps, I kept remembering that the story was written and set just prior to World War II--and for some reason hard-wired into me that I don't fully understand, all the machinations of witchcraft on a small college campus seemed unbearably trivial in the wake of what I knew was coming. I could make a case, if I were so inclined, that the whole book is about the triviality of academia--the descriptions of the professors and their social lives makes this point more than once. It also works as a satire of how deadly seriously some women take their petty little machinations. But other people have made those points, at length, so I won't.

A lot of people, when they talk about this story, point out the subtle sexism, if not outright misogyny. It is there, but mostly in the narrator, Norman's, point of view. To my ear, the story offers an ironic explanation for why every good man has a good woman behind him. I could make a case that Norman was actually the old-fashioned one, clinging to old ideas about wives and domestic hierarchy, but that would be a waste of time and is probably just my own baggage, anyway. I found myself thinking, at the end of the book, that Norman was probably in for a hell of shock, to find out he was being topped from below--I had the feeling there would be a seismic shift in the power balance of that relationship.

I enjoyed the story. There were a lot of genuinely creepy moments in there--the old-fashioned atmospheric chills without the Victorian verbosity and inverted sentence structure--thank God. Some of it was even suspenseful. The tone, and the balance of arcane and mundane, are exactly what I've sought to find in the Trace stories, and I remarked to Scott that I wished I'd found that book six months ago.

But at the end, it leaves me rather indifferent. It was clever, but I'm not the type of reader to get off on satire just because it's clever. I think Lieber handled the characters very well, with the right balance of interior and exterior development (a theory which I am developing elsewhere), but I never really bonded with any of them--not even Norman or Tansy. I would have liked the opportunity to bond with them, but the story was so rushed and plot-heavy (and so bent on making its point) that there wasn't time. It was a well-crafted and appropriate story. I will probably read it again, but it will be for study purposes, not enjoyment.

And you know what? I find myself wishing that it had been recommended to me by another reader, rather than an editor who had to make a point about how clever and theme-heavy it was. Theme is great, but it should be something to take away after, not a steamer trunk to bring on board.

Monday, August 01, 2005

meditation and dim sum

I did pretty much nothing all weekend, and it was lovely. Saturday I lay around and read. I baked an apple crisp for breakfast, and while it was in the oven I meditated for about 15 minutes.

I have been taught to do standing meditation, yes, and Tony pointed out, after reading the "WANT CAKE" entry despite instructions to the contrary, that Sit did offer to teach the deeper meditation, so it's not that Sit is a sexist boor or anything, but I was feeling sorry for myself and resentful for reasons that I don't want to go into here, thus it was easier to imply that the obstructions were external, rather than internal.

More to the point, I have always been slightly scornful of meditation. I respected its use as a mind-cleaning tool, and put prayer in the same category, although my mother would be appalled to hear it. I never felt the need for prayer or meditation, because my writing served the same purpose. But I have not been writing lately, and I have become addicted to the Internet. Furthermore, my husband is one of those people who constantly has to have the TV on when at home--sometimes both of them, on different channels, in different rooms. I can't escape. Because of those factors and other things, plus no quality input, I have been severely frazzled lately. So I'm trying the meditation. There are some other reasons for doing it as well, but they have to do with kung fu training and are too complicated to explain here. If you want to know, go buy Yang Yang's book on Taiji.

Sit had to miss class on Sunday because of work--possibly the second time he's done that in my memory of almost four years--so we had a small class on Sunday. Tony led the kung fu exercises, I led the fan form review, then Mary Ann came at eleven and led the tai chi class. Afterward, we all went out for dim sum. This was the second time I've eaten dim sum. It's best to go with someone who speaks Chinese and knows what to order. I ate some strange things yesterday: beef tendon, shark's-fin dumplings, a sweet pastry roll with "barbeque" pork inside. It was all pretty good but you can't think too much about what you're eating. Tony kept taking things off the Lazy Susan in the middle of the table and putting them on my plate. "Here, try this." "I'm full!" "No no, you just gotta try this." Karen said, "Is he trying to fatten you up?" What's really funny is, Mary's younger son Charlie was there with us, home from college for a visit. And Mary kept doing the same thing--taking stuff off the serving dishes and putting it on Charlie's plate until he snarled at her and we all started laughing. "Gee, Mom, let the kid cut his own meat!"

The meal was good but rather starchy for my palate. I have also been instructed to learn how the "Lazy Susan" got its name. Tony tells me this is my function in the group--to define obscure words, just as Matt's speciality is math (we had a terrible time dividing up the lunch ticket without him) and Tony's is carpentry.

I started feeding Scott green tea this weekend. He likes it; says it cuts the phlegm. I have to agree. Actually what he said was, "Now this is going to make me immortal, thin, cancer-free and make my dick three inches longer, right?" And I say hey, if you believe in it enough, it just may.