So the first draft of no. 29 clocks in at 19,167 words, which I think is the longest first draft I’ve done (for as long as statistics have been kept, at any rate). And only a couple days past two weeks late on the initial deadline! —But there’s one scene that doesn’t exist yet, really, and one that needs to be radically uprooted and then maybe replanted upside-down, and there’s the one I decided to leave in its current form until I had a better idea of just how much off the leash I could let it get, which at least I think I might have now, but the overall point is this is also perhaps the messiest draft I’ve ever sat back and said okay, it’s done, let’s revise, but here we are.
The thing about this one is it’s the seventh of the volume, the seventh of the season, and like the first seventh it comes after an overture, an opening, a statement and initial elaboration of a theme, and so one might play a little, mess with structure, ring some changes, take a chance or two as one steps aside and contemplates for a moment where we’ve gotten and where we’re going. And it just so happened that iTunes decided to play a song from Merrily We Roll Along as I was sketching the initial outline, and, well, so.
(One might also note the seventh card of the Major Arcana is the Lovers, but I honestly have no idea why we keep bringing this up.)
—I wrote the draft from end to beginning, is the thing, and now I will revise it from beginning to end, and not having done it this way before I’m not sure what to expect, but at least it helps to explain the shagginess of the current circumstances. Let’s tentatively suggest that I might be done in January, with Patreons to receive copies at that point, and it might then appear here in February, but don’t let’s take that too seriously just yet?
—posted 64 days ago
Now, I’m not insisting this is what the official portrait of Jo Maguire, Duchess of Southeast, Queen’s Favorite and King’s Huntsman, Widow of the Hawk and First of that Name, would look like…
—posted 72 days ago
Here; put on the red cap of Liberty; thrust it on your head. If you would be saved, you must come to Paris with me. There is a plot—a plot; but I will not forsake you. Madame Rouge et Noir and—others—others are in it, and you cannot escape. Come; come at once. I have discovered the secret entrance to the closet, and can take you down, and we’ll go to Paris with the mob. You shall lean on me, and I will carry you if you are tired. It is Lord d’Eyncourt himself who commands. You come with me to Paris. Ah, Mademoiselle—Madame, I mean—do not hesitate; for it is to prison our King goes, and our Queen; and you would be free, and you would help. Don’t hesitate, but come!
Redcap. One of the most malignant of old Border GOBLINS, Redcap lived in old ruined peel towers and castles where wicked deeds had been done, and delighted to re-dye his red cap in human blood. William Henderson gives a full account of him in Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (pp. 253–5). He describes him as “a short thickset old man, with long prominent teeth, skinny fingers armed with talons like eagles, large eyes of a fiery-red color, grisly hair streaming down his shoulders, iron boots, a pikestaff in his left hand, and a red cap on his head.” Human strength can avail little against him, but he can be routed by scripture or the sight of a CROSS. If this is held up to him, he gives a dismal yell and vanishes, leaving one of his long teeth behind him. The wicked Lord Soulis of Hermitage Castle had Redcap as his familiar, who made him weapon-proof so that he was only finally destroyed by boiling him in oil in a brazen pot on Nine-stane Rig.
In Perthshire, however, there is a milder Redcap, a little man who lives in a room high up in Grantully Castle and whom it is fortunate to see or hear. The Dutch redcaps, or Kaboutermannekin, are of the true BROWNIE nature and typical brownie tales are told about them.
—posted 80 days ago
Oh, I know the kind of love it meant. Fictions of the fourteenth-century jongleur. Friendship run riot. Pointless nestlings; sharings of tacky dreams and tawdry aspirations; promises of emotional dependency that pass for constancy; fumbling manipulations in the backs of cars; the sweat of the connubial bed. That kind of love may be thought free, and considered dear at the price. But in fact it is not free at all. One pays endlessly for the shabby amateurism of romantic love.
—posted 94 days ago
So back in July I set down a marker, as I usually do, picking a deadline for drafting the next chapter, and knowing, as I usually do, that I’d hear it go whooshing by overhead, only to set another, as I usually do, and another, and maybe even another after that, and as I usually do I picked a deadline that would require an average of about 300 words a day, since I know myself, and my limitations, even if I’m not always as honest as I might be about it, with myself, as I’m usually not, but anyway, the math and the calendar worked out such that I ended up putting that pin in Saturday, the 17th of September.
Only this morning I went and wrote down the 17,817th word of no. 28, and finished off the first draft five days early. —I’m not quite certain what to do with myself.
—Oh, there’s the edits, and revisions, the laying out, the prep work for ebook and website and ’zine, the usual, and patrons should expect to see it in October, and paper copies too, and then everyone else in November, though I’m not making any promies yet, the cup not yet to the lip and all.
So! That’s the news from Rip City. —Expect more when there is more.
—posted 163 days ago
M Train is a self-portrait of the artist in late middle age, and it’s to her credit that she includes most of the everyday stuff other rock stars are usually afraid to mention. She potters, stares out of the window, does the laundry, reads; she buys, makes and thinks about coffee. (There’s a lot of death and coffee, but no sex or taxes.) This is not the ageing rock star à la Keith Richards or Lemmy, maintaining the gnarly crocodile-skinned persona to the bitter end. But though she gives the impression of spilling the (Arabica) beans, there are also signs of something more ambiguous—details that make you distrust the performance of homeyness, or least take it with a pinch of artisanal honeycomb. There is, for instance, her membership of something called the CDC or Continental Drift Club, which (allegedly) holds semi-annual conventions in places such as Bremen, Reykjavik, Jena and Berlin. “Formed in the early 1980s by a Danish meteorologist,” she explains, “the CDC is an obscure society serving an independent branch of the earth science community. Twenty-seven members, scattered around the hemispheres, have pledged their dedication to the perpetuation of remembrance specifically in regard to Alfred Wegener, who pioneered the theory of continental drift.” Reviewers seem to have taken this at face value, but even if such a strange little cloistered society did exist, why exactly would Patti Smith be asked to join? Note the “dedication to the perpetuation of remembrance”: is our allegorical leg being pulled here just a bit? And is it just coincidence that nestling in her book bag are authors such as W.G. Sebald, César Aira, Haruki Murakami, Roberto Bolaño, Enrique Vila-Matas and others, writers who purposively smudge the line between memoir and fiction? M Train, with its dot-dash series of woozy photographs, even looks like a Sebald text, and I got the same queasy feeling from it that I’ve often had reading him: half-admiring, half-sceptical; almost seduced, but finally left cold. As with a flawless magician, you know there’s some form of misdirection going on, and it chips away at your pleasure in the performance. (I was annoyed at myself for assuming her visit to a “place called Café Bohemia” was some kind of wink-wink sign, when it’s also a fairly common name in Mexico, where she happened to be.)
—posted 202 days ago
In his lectures, Teller explained that the trick did not originate with him. It is based on techniques developed by a largely forgotten man named David P. Abbott, a loan shark who lived in Omaha and did magic in front of invitation-only audiences in his specially built parlor. Houdini, Kellar, Ching Ling Foo, Thurston—all the great magicians of the era made the pilgrimage to Omaha and left baffled. One of Abbott’s tricks involved a golden ball that floated in the air around him. But rather than use a thread suspended from the ceiling, Abbott revealed posthumously in his Book of Mysteries, he ran the thread horizontally from his ear to the wall. By manipulating that thread with his careful hands, he could make that golden ball seem as though it were defying reality. Best of all, he could pass a hoop over it—what magicians call a prover—and eliminate a piece of thread from his audience’s range of possibility, because a horizontal thread had never entered their imagination. They were looking only for the vertical.
The real point of magic, Teller said during those lectures, is “telling a beautiful lie. It lets you see what the world would be like if cause and effect weren’t bound by physics.” It’s the collision between what you know and what you see that provides magic’s greatest spark.
So Teller rigged a thread in his home library, and he put Abbott’s ancient instructions on a music stand—pages that had been miraculously saved from a trash fire years before—and he went to work on making the impossible seem real. Eventually, he decided that the ball shouldn’t float but roll. That would look simpler, but it would be harder. He practiced some more at a mirrored dance studio in Toronto, and at a cabin deep in the woods, and on the empty stage in Penn & Teller’s theater. After every show for eighteen months, he would spend at least an hour, by himself, trying to make the Red Ball obey. (“Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect,” Teller says.)
—posted 210 days ago
If you listen to what people are actually saying, and reproduce it faithfully, that material will find a useful place whatever you are writing. I like to isolate found material so that it becomes a kind of absurd commentary on the story’s events, especially in fiction set in the present day; but I also like to take found material out of its present-day context and use it to point up the oddness of an imagined future, or country, or character. If you want the unheimlich, you must have dissonance, although you have to be careful not to overdo it. Establish a context, then violate it quite sparingly. In weird fiction the strange is made to intrude on and threaten briefly the normal; but it’s equally important to threaten the strange with the normal. I get many of my effects by making sure of that two-way process. (If we’re to talk about more immersive fiction, i.e. fantasy or space opera, another benefit of this device is to create discontinuities, glitches in the so-called “logic” of the so-called “secondary world” which make it harder for the reader to suspend disbelief and escape into the fiction.)
—posted 218 days ago
Novelization Style combines strict, unvaried close third person point of view with transparent prose. It feels like an attempt to render in prose the feeling of a scene filmed by a camera, creating an illusion of objectivity. The result is a standardized generic narrative voice, and what feels like a denial that the story is being narrated at all. Novelization Style is mostly paced moment-to-moment, again like a scene playing out on video; in some books section breaks echo the way a movie or TV show cuts between scenes. Novelization Style prioritizes action over interiority. Descriptions are brief and concrete instead of evocative; dialogue is plot-relevant; function trumps form. When it comes to plotting, bigger is better; generally at some point we learn about a conspiracy or pending disaster that will cost lives. Raising the stakes means making the threat bigger, not the emotional arc more intense or the intellectual and philosophical questions more urgent. Novelization Style sometimes uses recognizable Hollywood storytelling patterns, like the prologues and wrap-ups I described in the last post, or an apparent divide between “speaking roles” and “extras.”
—posted 226 days ago
So the first pass at no. 27, “ – tends to crumble – ”, weighs in at 19,148 words; bloated, even for a first draft, but that’s not why it took so long, I don’t think? Why I think it took so long is maybe because there are a couple of thornily difficult scenes, not so much because of what it is they’re about, as how they go about it, the disjunct I kinda shoulda known I was vulnerable to, what with on the one hand the o’erweening desire to tell it slant, to write the negative space, to play (to be) the fool, while on the sternly insistent other hand, the one that would touch on, deal with, handle, incorporate, come to grips with—topics?—subjects?—themes?—that demand a more direct, or rather less coy, approach. —Despite the conventional wisdom of the error in serving two masters, I think I’ve done justice to both—but I am but one reader, at this point. Each of everyone else will be left to determine my success on their own.
So that, or most of that, I wrote a couple of weeks ago. But then I set it aside, and set to trimming and revisions instead (it’s down to 16,205 words now, which is just about final), and spent some time structuring no. 28, and laying out some of the stepping stones I’ll maybe need to get to 33. I had an odd conversation with someone who doesn’t know anything about City of Roses about trying to speak plainly in negative space, and fell to stammering when I realized I was quoting myself. I looked back at some of the earlier versions of this sort of post (one, and two, and three and four), and blanched at the blithe hope that I might have finished no. 27 by June—having meant, you see, at the time, by June one year ago. —Ah, well. The story continues.
No. 27 will be going out to Patreons in a week or so, and then will have its online première here in August—let’s say Monday the fifteenth, to make no. 27 the first installment of the second decade of City of Roses. —While we’re on the subject of Patreons, I should mention I’m looking to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the launch of this enterprise with a (slightly) redesigned volume one, to be made available through channels other than Amazon’s narrowing straits; the more attentive among you might’ve noted this is part of the $100 Patreon goal, and we’re a few dollars short yet of that mark. I’ll put out the new edition whether or not we cross the goal, but do feel free to help push things along with your own contribution: there’s volume two, and the website itself, to redesign as well. (I could sweeten the pot by noting that Patreons have already seen the covers for the eleven chapbooks of volume three, and some raw possibilities for volume four, among other glimpses behind the scenes.)
But enough rude commerce. Gordon’s checking his birds. The story continues; ah, well.
—posted 227 days ago