December 08, 2006

"Come on, Ripper. You remember that time we partied with Soft Machine."

Another November victory, in case you didn't see: Patrick successfully completed his NaSoAlMo project, and it's a winner. Julia is everything you look for in a concept album (or at least, as the hints have it, the first movement of one) - deft storytelling, an interesting structure of themes and movements, and lots of really fine songcraft that holds up both separately and as a coherent whole. There are hints of Bowie and Floyd here, and of more avant influences, but in the end the voice is all his. And "Cabal" and "Dr. Bennett's Machine" are a couple of utterly terrifying pieces of industrial-edged apocalyptica that are alone worth showing up for.

I listen to this and think, "Damn. I get to be in a band with this guy." I can't wait to hear what he does next.

(And when you're done there, go grab NanoCycle too, which is lovely and strange and eerie in the signature Big Tony soundscape style, adding just enough structure to keep things, well, progressing. And I get to be in a band with him too. I have a truly fine life.)

December 03, 2006

Silhouettes Like Shivering Ancient Feelings

O frabjous day! Kip Manley's "A 'Restless' Exegesis" - one of my favorite pieces of Buffy crit, on the subject of one of my favorite episodes - is back online.

Of course, in the post-Season 7 world, some of it is inevitably dated (at least for those who believe there were more than five seasons of Buffy; you resurrection-deniers, I suppose, are on your own), but it's still an incredibly smart, incisive, and erudite essay that demonstrates how very intelligent both BtVS and its fans got at their best, and I've missed it while LSSP was undergoing its own long slow crawl back from the grave. Manley's style can be infuriatingly dense and playful at times, especially if you're not used to it, but it's more than worth the untangling. Go check it out.

December 02, 2006

A Vast Writhing Heap

If anyone's had any doubts - yes, I did make goal once again this year. Huzzah! (It was touch-and-go this week; I was sick since last Saturday night, and still not quite feeling at full even now, but I managed anyway, because I am a Serious Artist and will Suffer Magnificently when required. So it goes. Anyway.)

Those of you who've signed on as readers, at least those with a supernatural talent for weighing prose quantity at a glance, may have noted that the last version doesn't quite measure up all 50k; this is because I got desperate at the end and started writing out of sequence, and while I'm willing to get naked enough to share my first-draft staggerings around, I don't feel quite up to posting stuff without any connective tissue. If and when I figure out what happens in between the bits I've got, I'll have it up in more complete form. (Or not, which I add simply as a way of avoiding the "More to come!" thing I've consistently failed to follow up on in previous years, and I'm done jinxing myself with that.)

Anyway, that's five for five, which is something of an accomplishment, I think. Now I'm off to give NanoCycle a listen, which promises to be something like the Coil version of Robert Wyatt's Shleep; needless to say, I'm all down with that.

Happy December, everyone!

November 21, 2006

The Inside is the Outside

Brief updates, since I haven't in a while.

So I left off last night at 31,700 and a bit, which certainly puts me well on the downslope (wordcount-wise, but not for plot, which is really just now picking up). The good news is that the book itself feels less broken in some ways than maybe all of my previous efforts, which I guess is the kind of progress I ought to be making.

This also steels my determination to go back to The Vasty Deep as my next big project. It's become increasingly clear that the next incarnation of that book is going to be a different and sleeker beast than the first one was; one of the good effects of the first person/present tense style I'm using in Black Feathers Fallen is that it corrects in some measure for my tendency to wax poetical in the narration. With greater immediacy comes less sense that I'm telling a story, I think, and I'm less tempted to fall back on tweeness to get the point across. Maybe because there's someting about the delivery that feels less, I dunno, artificial in the first place. Hmm. We'll see how it goes as it goes on.

Shifting the gaze upwards from the navel: I should point out, for those of you who haven't already seen, that Patrick's been making much better documentation of his progress (for NaSoAlMo) this month than I have, on his new blog; and that Andy's been writing again, after too long away, and seems to have catapulted himself right into unlikely celebrity.

Tomorrow night we're off to WV for our first Thanksgiving at home in five years, which may even end up being worth the nine or ten hours in the car it's going to take to get there. Me, I'll be sucked up into The Novel for most of the long weekend, but I've promised to surface from time to time for food and socialization. Still, I'm hoping for Many Words to be coming my way in the next few days, and maybe that way I'll have a chance to update again before Slachtmaand is over. Because if there's one thing the world needs more of, it's pretentious amateur writers dissecting their processes right where everyone can see.

November 07, 2006

NaNoSeconds, Part IV

Whee! I am woefully behind! This will, I hope, be corrected for as of the the upcoming three-day weekend; in the meantime, another set of helpful hints for myself and all the rest of you.

Everything I Need to Know About Plot I Learned from Running RPGs

1. No outline survives contact with the characters.

2. You don't have to have every room mapped out if you keep a couple of generic encounters handy.

3. However, if something is on the map, you had better be prepared for when someone inevitably decides they need to go there.

4. Don't make the supporting cast more interesting than the heroes; they'll keep drawing your attention at the protagonists' expense. This is fair to no one.

5. The search for fortune alone is probably the least interesting thing for the heroes to be motivated by.

6. If you don't give them something to fight, solve, or negotiate with at all times, the characters will get bored and wander off on their own.

7. If you come to a place where nothing much is happening, you should sum it up briefly and move along to the next good part.

8. Someone will want more firepower unless you come up with a very good reason not to give it to them.

9. At least some of the characters will discover that it's to their advantage to act like thugs at least some of the time. This is more interesting if you allow there to be consequences for it.

10. Archetypes are best used as a starting point for creating individuals.

11. Someone will inevitably want to try something not covered by the rules. It's more fun if you don't always say "no."

12. When things threaten to get out of control, remember that you are in charge.

13. The people you are trying to entertain have read the rulebooks, and probably the adventure scenario too. You don't have to throw something unexpected at them, but if you don't, don't be upset if no one seems surprised.

Redefeat Wishworld, Revisited


Later, ETA: Good work, everyone.

November 02, 2006

Doc Tidings

Okay. After some consideration, I think I've decided that the best way to share my work-in-progress this year is through Google Documents' handy Viewers feature, which lets me invite people to look at the text without me having to do much of anything except keep the damn thing updated (which I'll be doing anyway, since Google Docs is also functioning as one of my backups).

Some of you were in the first round of my testing this feature, which went sort of okay, and in which I learned that the sharing process is slightly... quirkier than it seems at first glance.

So, here's how this will work. If you want in on watching me write this year's novel in all its stumbling first-draft glory, send me an email at You'll need a Google login, which you already have if you've got a gmail account of your own, but which you can associate with another email if you don't. This means you should let me know what address you need me to send the invite to, since that will be the one you log in to Google Docs with. (And if you don't have a gmail account and want one, I have a whole pile o' invites to give out.)

Er, I hope that's not terribly confusing. Google Docs is in beta right now, so it's still got a few creases, but it's actually a pretty neat way of saving and passing around text.

Oh, and: 2100 words at the end of Day One! Yeah, baby, yeah!

October 31, 2006

NaNoSeconds, Part III

And now, at the eleventh hour, I reveal my Big Secrets. Attend:

How I Hit 50k Four Years Running and You Probably Can, Too

It occurs to me that, this being my fifth (!!) year participating in NaNoWriMo, and having four-for-four shiny Winner bars to my credit for it, I might count as something like a Veteran; and it may be useful to share such wisdom as I have for how you might do the same.

And it should be cleared up now that I didn't have any particular breaks in being able to accomplish this. I work full-time and don't take vacation in November, and one year I did this around a three-and-a-half-hour roundtrip commute. I've written around massive depressive breakdowns, packing to move, weekends out of town, and the more mundane sort of complications of just maintaining life on top of everything else. This is all to say: Stuff will come up, and you can still manage this. And I am a spectacularly lazy person, and if I can pull this off four times in a row, there's hope for you.

Also, stuff I did not do includes many of the tricks mentioned by other forumites: no search-and-replace three-word names, no avoiding contractions, no extended dream sequences or excessive porn (note I did not say "none") - so help me and against all advice, I always come to this with a desire to write a good book, or at least one that doesn't make me cringe too badly on the reread. This is not meant to discourage any of you who want to use that sort of thing to pull you through, nor to speak ill of those who do, only to make the point again that they aren't necessary to succeeding in this.

The biggest thing - the simplest and hardest idea behind getting from Word 1 to Word 50,001 - is that you need to put one word after another until it's done. The truth is that it really comes down to that. Outlining is not writing; worldbuilding is not writing; making lists of your dramatis personae is not writing. Those can all be useful things, and I don't want to downplay them as helpful devices. But only writing is writing; anything that doesn't lead you right into the business of producing prose in a story might be getting in your way. You need to give yourself, or steal, as many hours of Butt-In-Chair time as it takes to do the actual writing of story. These don't need to be all in a row every day, depending on your schedule and particular needs (though it does help a great deal if you can break yourself of as many fetishistic crutches as you can - the Writing Hats and Special Tea Mugs and all the other stuff you're convinced you just can't be creative without - so you can better allow yourself to work anywhere), but you do need a number of them, and you need to put them to use without distracting youself too badly. Get your family on board if you can (this is one area in which I'm very lucky) so you can get sufficient time to isolate yourself and work.

And here's some slightly bad news: It's very true that some days the prose will flow out of your fingertips in golden splendor, and some days will feel like bricklaying with a hangover. You will look back at your manuscript three months later and not be able to tell which was which. There's no workaround for this, except to do your best to get your inner critic to shut up so you can work, and repeat for yourself the mantra "Keep going and fix it in the rewrite." (By the way, about half the stuff you hate the first time around will look good later, just as about half the stuff that feels brilliant will feel sort of lame in the long run. So it goes.)

All that being said, here are a few things that have made the above just a bit easier and smoother. I will not claim that they have anything like universal application, but I offer them up here nonetheless, in the hopes that some other poor bastard will find a gem among the dross and be inspired to keep on going through to the 50 large.

1. I write about people who interest me. This seems like a "well, hello" data point, except that I understand there are folks who find theselves saddled with stupid, insipid, boring people in their novels. Cut that out. Find some people who are intersting enough to obsess over; you'll be spending many, many waking hours in their company, so you might as well have them be people you want to get to know better. If that means you get a Mary Sue or two, so be it; better than the alternative. Keep going, and fix it in the rewrite.

2. I like doing multi-threaded narratives. This gives me a chance to alternate storylines and POV and such every other scene, and also gives me more Cool Shit to throw in. Even if I'm doing first-person, there are ways of breaking it up so that there's more than one linear plotline to be stuck with: backstory, digressions, vision quests, nonlinear plot tricks. Build stuff into your narrative that lets you do something different from one scene to the next, and the project's more likely to hold your interest.

3. That Cool Shit I mentioned? I don't hold back on it. My stories are always about the stuff that obsesses me. I like occult imagery, mysterious immortals, dimension-hopping, cities at night, tentacled monsters, smart, tough women, and Magicians in Big Coats. My intended audience is Other People Who Think That Stuff Is Cool. I couldn't function if I allowed myself to be self-conscious about all that; as with characters, it's going to be what I'm immersed in for as long as I'm working on the novel, so I'd better be keeping my own interest in it while I'm there.

4. I do a very broad outline beforehand - enough to have certain things I'm working towards just to keep things moving, but not enough to feel restrained if new ideas present themselves. I also keep a list of bits - ideas or scenes - I'd like to include, so I have some things to fall back on if I really get stuck. A lot of these are diversions; this is in some ways easier because I'm a genre writer, and I can usually find a place where it's useful to stop and explain something about my world or cosmology that's good for an easy five hundred words. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but it's better to put it in when you're thinking about it - you can change, move, or delete it later as needed, and in the meantime you've distracted yourself enough that you can probably pick your storyline back up again. (Keep going, and fix it in the rewrite.)

5. I make sure there are lots of reversals going on to keep the plot itself moving. Again, this is probably easier because I'm doing pulpy adventure fantasy, where fights, captures, escapes, attacks by gruesome Things, and other derring-do are de rigeur, but I'm sure that sort of thing can be transposed or translated to whatever you're doing. If the people I'm writing about are bored, I'm not doing my job. A sticky situation to get out of is good for an awful lot of words.

6. Keep going, and fix it in the rewrite.

And, uh, that's about it. The rest is detail. I'm happy to take questions if there's anyone who wants to ask 'em.

October 27, 2006

Bear Witness

John M. Ford's memorial service was today. I post this shortly before his wake is scheduled to begin.

(That first link, by the way, has a couple of excellent places to make memorial donations, if you're of such a mind.)

I cannot be with his friends and admirers today except in spirit, but I can make this offering; as I said in the thread on ML, everybody got a little Mike Ford in 'em now.
Justice? We're in the wrong cosmos for that.
Only in Story is all that should be, fair.
Here, deus exes aren't drawn from a hat
Nor complications vanish into air.
Meanwhile, we do our best with what we've got,
Imagining what could be, only If;
Light-conjuring, as though all life were not
One foot still on the shore, one on the skiff.
Might some of this playacting, in the end,
Keep just a little Entropy at bay?
Far worse games have been played of Let's Pretend;
Our hope's high, though the House wins anyway.
Regret's beside the point; things fall apart.
Do what you must. Be honest. Increase Art.

October 26, 2006

Ten Forgives All Kinds of Sins, at Ten Begin Again-O

Ten years ago tonight - and probably about this time too! - I was in a little bar in Parkersburg, WV where I'd gone to see a really excellent band called Jimmy Clinton and His Mean Red Spiders, when I got a drink sent to me (for the first time in my life, no less) by attractive young woman in glasses and a black pleather skirt. Turns out she'd seen me play a couple of times in the same place, where in those days I was hosting an open mic on Tuesday nights and performing my first round of off-color folksongs.* We talked a bit, and she asked me, "If I give you my number, will you call?" And because I am a sucker for women in glasses, I said Yes, and she wrote it on a cocktail napkin, and I did.

She's asleep upstairs now, in the house we own together. We have a dog and a cat and a collection of DVDs and neither of us is working retail any more. If you'd have told me then that this would be the outcome of that first night, I might not have believed you.

It's been a good ten years. Strange and sometimes trying, as life often is, but good. I marvel still that she's stuck around this long; I am, when all's weighed, an extraordinarily fortunate guy.

Here's to many more decades to come.

*See, kids? Being a musician really will get you laid.

October 25, 2006

NaNoSeconds, Part II

This one I posted to the Plot Doctoring section of the NaNoForums. It's long, and substantial, and probably mostly speaks for itself. I should make the point here, once again, that I am in no position at all to be dispensing writing advice, callow amateur that I am, but I'm not really letting that get in my way. And it's proven to be a popular thread on the boards, which certainly warms my dark little Gothic dilettante heart.

I suppose I should also confess that, in addition to having lifted many of the ideas from my playwrighting and directing classes back in my miscreant Theatre Major days, I recycled some of this from one of my Last Dark Art columns on a coupla years back. I figure if you can't cannibalize yourself, there's no point even getting into the biz at all.

Dramatic Plotting Made Simple

...if not, perhaps, "easy" as such.


What follows is a very particular slant on the idea of plot-engineering, designed to (hopefully) jog the writing of those who do character well but couldn't outline with a Maguffin to their head, or who intend to spend their precious October prep time creating a really amazing setting without being bothered to decide ahead of time what happens there. It's founded on the principles of playwrighting as I learned them as a wee dramaturg at the knees of several learned gurus of the Theatre some witch's dozen years ago, though the application is very broad and flexible; thus, Dramatic Plotting, in several senses of the word.

To understand plot, it is necessary to understand the smallest unit of plot: the event.

An event happens when pressure is applied to the characters in sufficient quantity to force one or more of them to take action to relieve it. If this is done right, the resolution creates a new pressure which must be dealt with in turn, and so on until the force of the narrative winds itself down in a satisfactory way.

Constructing an event can be tricky, especially if you have any inclination to resist being cruel to your cast. A general guideline is that the bigger the initial pressure, the more momentum the events that follow from it will have. Pressure is the fuel that drives the engine of plot; don't underfuel your story vehicle. Turn the pressure on early, and crank it high.

(So what makes a good source of pressure? It depends on the people it's happening to. The key is that it doesn't have to be earth-shaking - it just has to shake up the world of the characters. People are very capable of blowing up trivial matters to life-and-death proportions, as long as something they care enough about is in the balance. Know the needs and desires of your characters; find out something they want badly, and take it away from them.)

The other thing that makes event-construction challenging is that it's very tempting to create a good, solid event that resolves too easily and ends the story. Once again, avoiding this requires being mean to your characters. This is where you need to stack the deck: create dilemmas where the only choices are two bad ones. Force them between desires that are mutually exclusive. Set up conflicts that aren't good vs. evil, but good vs. good (or bad vs. bad, even). Make them give up something else they treasure in order to something they want just a little bit more, and then give them a reason to regret it. Do whatever you have to do to keep the pressure not only on, but escalating, so that each new solution has inherent in it a new problem (or two, or three). And remember that, very broadly speaking, happy and contented people make for lousy stories. Give them a reason to be miserable, and watch events unfold.

The advantage of this method of constructing (and thinking about) plot is that, done right, it develops organically, out of the characters' own conflicting motivations; events that are created out of pressure don't feel artificial or contrived, as if the author is simply moving the cast around like pieces on a board. The disadvantage, of course, is that it has the tendency to take on a great deal of runaway momentum, and may not end up having much to do with where the author intended it all to go. This is Okay, of course (and after you do it for a while, you learn to nudge the pressures to put people where you want them to go), but may not be satisfactory to those who like a great deal of structure.

Not the only way to run a novel, obviously, and certainly not the only useful one; but an approach with a great deal of potential for breaking the writer out of the trap of having a lot of cool ideas and nowhere to go with them, and keeping the wheels of what-happens-next turning until you find a way to wind them down.


(Several posters come in with good questions.)

An example of an event? Okay - a well-known one, even. (I'm assuming y'all speak Fannish, or at least have been to the movies in the last few years.)

Frodo finds out his crazy uncle's magic trinket is actually the legendary One Ring - and not only is Sauron trying to get it back, he probably knows where it is and is sending the Black Riders to collect it as we speak. When, and not if, they get to the Shire, they'll tear the place apart until they get what they came for. Pressure abounds! Frodo takes the Ring and hits the road. That's an event.

Of course, that means now he's on the road, in territory he's never been, hunted, and by the way trying to keep his friends and his gardener from getting themselves inadvertently killed for his sake. Lots of new pressure, and that's not even including the fact that Gandalf doesn't show at the planned rendezvous, and now there's some shady guy in a cloak eyeballing him, and the enemy's closing in... and so on and so on all the way to Mount Doom.

Or how about this one, from more literal drama: Lear is King of Britain, but he's getting old and tired. He decides he's going to divide up his kindom among his three daughters and retire to a life of leisure. (This is arguably the first event, and note how it's a small pressure and a relatively minor event - and note too that the action is already in motion when the curtain comes up, and how we're coming in just as things begin to get interesting. This is an Important Lesson.) But just as the ceremony's going well, Lear springs on everyone his wacky idea of asking his daughters how much they love him - in front of the court and all the nobles - and rewarding them in proportion to how much they stroke his regal ego. Pressure in spades! And it turns out that his youngest is caught between her duty and her integrity (or possibly stubbornness) and just will not play along with Dad in his quest for empty flattery; she's caught between two bad choices and makes the only one she can. That's an event. So Lear goes apeshit, declares her banished and by the way disinherited, and generally makes a big ugly scene in front of the gods and everyone. New pressure! So now Lear's right-hand man Kent decides he can't keep his mouth shut or leave well enough alone either, and calls the king out... and so on. You get the idea.

As to how many events are necessary for a decent novel - well, "as many as it takes" is the wiseass answer, but also maybe the best one. You need to start building to an event every time it looks like nothing is in danger of happening. This is the idea behind the "When in doubt, send in two men with guns" advice or its several variants. It means that when things are floundering, it's probably because the pressure's letting up before it needs to. Turn up the pressure! Spin the dials until something breaks!

A better answer, maybe, is: Look through the books you love - the ones that were real page-turners. Find the events - the places where Something Happened that made you say "Oh my god! What's next?" Events, and the new pressures that result from them, are the hook that keeps the reader in the tale. You need as many as necessary to keep the story in motion and the reader hooked.



It occurs to me that I might not have answered the questions of yesterday's responders as fully and well as I should ought to have done; and that Examples from Lit'rature, however well-diagrammed, might not offer much help in how to build your own. So.

How do you create an initial event? Well, you (presumably) have your characters, and you have your setting, and you have an understanding of how the one interacts with the other. Somebody here wants something (and if they don't, you better get in there and make damn sure they do). Whatever initial pressure you introduce has to engage the characters in what they desire.

Desires come in a lot of flavors, but you can do well by the basics: Love. Comfort. Home. Dignity. Honor. Those come up all the time because they're things lots of people can relate to wanting, and wanting badly. (And by the way, lots of other needs boil down, in the end, to one of these.) But the trick is, too, that you need to be specific. What are the boundaries of this person's honor? What are the requirements of home? What sort of love does this person need to find to be truly happy? Once you establish this, you should also pinpoint whether this want is something they're looking for, or something they have that you can take away. This is going to determine the nature of the pressure you exert, and how you're going to really get them where it hurts.

So if you're going with love (and there's no reason why you shouldn't), and you're further exploring your protagonist's need for romantic love, and you know exactly the kind of Honorific Right they're seeking, you've got a nice little hook you can slip into them to begin to apply your pressure. Now you can start throwing obstacles between them and the thing they're after. Boy Meets Girl And They Fall In Love And Are Happy does not make good story. Boy Meets Girl and one of them loves another; or their love is forbidden; or one of them has Other Obligations; or one of them dies - all do. This is why love triangles, Romeo-and-Juliet scenarios, and tragic marriages of one kind or another are such popular and durable ideas. They're cliches because they continue to work.

Now - whatever obstacles are messing up your characters' lives (creating pressure), they have to be present and immediate, or nothing is going to happen: no event. And part of the trick of making it work right is that the characters' desires have to measure up to the pressure at hand. Boy meets girl (or whatever recombination or variant tickles your squid, natch), and one of them loves another, and the other shrugs and moves on: Also not a story. For a proper, solid event, people need to be, in some measure, desperate.

This is where you need to make sure the pressure is at a high enough level. "The love of my life doesn't love me, but I can wait" is probably not sufficient to create an event on its own. "The love of my life is marrying Bruno Brutenheim unless I do something about it TONIGHT" - probably is.

The exact nature of the event depends very much on the nature of the people involved. In the scenario above, what our hapless romantic hero will do to resolve the pressure depends on what kind of guy he is. Does he try and serenade his beloved with her favorite lovesong? Propose to her himself? Seduce her after the rehearsal dinner? Kidnap her? Kill Bruno? The important thing is that he has to take a big acton, and that the action has consequences. Those consequences are the source of your new pressure.

One more thing I should note: As the pressures escalate, you'll probably notice very quickly that things will build to the point where the entire world of your cast threatens to go nova. This is a good thing, and you should at least consider letting it.You are in the business of breaking stuff and finding out what people do afterwards. Be fearless about exploring what happens when everything implodes; the fact that you pushed it that far is a sign you're doing it right. Over-the-top is preferable to underwhelming. An author is a Shiva, a god of destruction - just keep in mind that Shiva destroys so that new things may come into being. So burn it all down, and see what springs up out of the ashes.


(Later still.)

Right. Now, a bit more about pressure:

As noted previously, a pressure doesn't have to be objectively big to be sufficient; it only has to be important enough to the characters. Of course, if the pressure involves a need or want for something with little or no significance outside the context of the story, you've got a Maguffin and a particular challenge in making the pressure believable. The Maltese Falcon and the One Ring are the standard classic examples of Maguffins, which just goes to show that it can be an effective device; another one I'm fond of is in Clive Barker's Tyl Eulenspiegel play Crazyface, set in a medieval world where the characters are willing to kill or die for the secret of making chocolate.

It probably goes without saying that pressures can be imposed from within as well, as long as there's something getting in the way of the character satisfying whatever need it is that's creating the pressure. Someone wants to do something they know they shouldn't ought to, or will be censured for, or will face the opposition of another character in; these all illustrate the dynamic that can happen very effectively between desires and obstacles to build pressure. Even boredom can be a source of pressure under the right circumstances (ask any Chekhov character), as long as you're dealing with the right combination of situation and personality to build up enough tension for something to need to happen.

The one thing that truly makes a source of pressure effective is a component of time. In some sense, the clock needs to be ticking down on the characters' situation, or they'll be able to sit it out as long as you can. Don't let them! Even if this time component is itself internally imposed - "that was the last straw, and I can't stand it a moment longer!" - the reader has to be ready to go along with the need for something to happen right now.

This points to another question it's useful to answer for yourself in creating Dramatic Plots: Why is this day different? What happens in the story you want to tell should be different in some significant way from any other day in the lives of your characters, and the sooner you get to that thing the better. That advice you've probably heard about tossing out the first three chapters of your novel, because that's where the real beginning is? Get to the Why Is This Day Different (and the pressure) right away and you won't have to. You don't have to linger over establishing your characters and setting nearly as much as you think you do; dive right into the Martian ship landing, or the caper that goes all wrong, or Johnny Poor Impulse Control finally getting restless enough to do something picturesque to Mr. Higgins.

If you're still stuck on how to jumpstart your plot: One of the best pieces of advice I've read on running roleplaying games is Attack the Party Right Away. If you're not familiar with RPGs, there's a danger at the start of every session where the players will want to wander and explore and get drnk and go gear-shopping before getting down to the business of going on the adventure, but if the gamemaster makes sure everyone gets in a fight right off the bat, this is not going to happen; what's more, the characters get a chance to interact immediately in a high-stakes situation, and you'll have the rapt attention of the players right from the beginning. The same principle works in prose fiction, too. Needless to say, the "fight" doesn't have to be a literal violent skirmish, but the idea of having a high-stakes conflict happen right away (or at least in the first few scenes) has broad application, and may give you additional ideas for building pressure and keeping it on.

One more thing bears mentioning. It's very popular for writers, especially young ones, to claim that their characters get away from them and run off with the plot. Of course, if you're enjoying where they go and the progress of events stays exciting - no worries, and more power to you. But if they're just being stubborn and short-circuiting the story, it's your job to assert authority as author and intoduce whatever pressure you need to get them back on track. Raise the stakes, set off new timebombs, send in two men with guns - do whatever you have to do to keep things moving and the pressure on. You are the author and you are in control, and if you need the characters to be in Cairo on the Equinox, it's your job to make sure the mule-headed little bastards get there on schedule.

"Nobody says the B-word"

The ever-sensible piny has started (well, a couple of days ago now, but never mind) a Feministe thread on bisexuality; I contribute, way down the line.

October 24, 2006

Lie In Bed Like Steven Wilson Did

I have returned from another long weekend in the West Virginia hills, this time for a session of recording with two-thirds of OVO to lay down the first serious tracks for Supplicant, our debut LP.

Of course, we started things off in proper rockstar fashion by finishing half a bottle of amaretto and sleeping till Saturday afternoon, so while we weren't quite as productive as we might have been, we nonetheless got some very decent material out of it. And considering that I loaded up the wagon with guitar, bass, mandolin, strumsticks, violin, whistles, recorders, drum, and wok and managed to use almost everything I brought along, I feel a good deal was accomplished in an all-too-brief time.

More to come.

October 19, 2006

NaNoSeconds, Part I

Most of my online writing these days, it seems, is on the NaNoWriMo fora, where, contrary to my presence almost everywhere else on Teh Internets, I can't seem to shut up. I have, indeed, been well-nigh pontificating on a number of writing-related subjects, for all that in measurable terms I have as much authorial cred as your average prizewinner. But I've never let that sort of thing stop me before, and I'm not about to start learning humility now.

So, this being the case, I figured I may as well spread the ego-onanism around as much as I can manage before all my writerly energies are directed elsewhere, and I'm reposting some of my Collected Dubious Wisdom here. For posterity. Or something.

Anyway, this first one is from the Fantasy genre forum, where every year the NaNoZeitgeist seems to bring a new tide of neurosis about something or other; one year it was everyone worried about writing Mary Sues, and another it was avoiding cliches. This time around it's a sort of free-floating anxiety about what actually qualifies as Fantasy, and you can probably imagine about how much patience I have for that. It was quickly apparent that expecting my little screed be a preemptive strike against every young fantasist's genre dysphoria was too much to ask, but I suppose it was worth a try. So, then:

Some Not-Rules

In an effort, however futile, to hopefully forestall a tide of threads on some variant of "Does This Qualify As Fantasy Or Will The Genre Police Come Get Me In The Night," a few points bear making. Thus, a preliminary-if-of-necessity-incomplete list:

1. Not setting your novel on another world does not disqualify it as fantasy.

2. The absence of magic in your novel does not disqualify it as fantasy.

3. The absence of elves (dragons, unicorns, cockatrices, manticora, Generic Evil Hordes, or what-have-you) does not disqualify it as fantasy.

(3a. The absence of elves-as-rock-stars does not disqualify it as urban fantasy, but that's really another rant.)

4. The absence of epic quests, bildungsroman'd formerly-humble heroes, Feudalism Lite, and/or the stark division of the fictional cosmos into Good and Evil, singly or in any combination, does not disqualify it as fantasy.

5. The subtlety with which you treat the otherworldly element(s), whatever they may be (and however you want to stretch, bend, fold, or spindle the meaning of "otherworldly"), does not disqualify it as fantasy.

6. The presence of gunpowder, clockwork, the printing press, the seed drill, the steam engine, the incandescent lightbulb, or any other technology that would have given Paracelsus a headache does not disqualify it as fantasy.

7. The presence of rayguns, supercomputers, antigravity, faster-than-light travel, or any other fx-laden ultratech shininess does not disqualify it as fantasy.

8. The presence of elements, either of plot, style, or tone, normally associated with the various modes of Horror does not disqualify it as fantasy.

9. The use of any narrative or character voice other than the stentorian and faintly purple This Be a High and Valorous Narrative, Forsooth does not disqualify it as fantasy.

10. And so on. You get the idea.

...which is not to say, by the by, that there's anything at all wrong with doing fantasy that's Exactly What You'd Expect. This is not a discussion about cliches or the anxieties thereof, which is probably also worth having, but not on this thread, i'faith. If that's the book you're doing, you are almost certainly confident in its fantasyness, and this list is not about you.

This list is about everyone who approaches genre with a great idea dampened by fear of breaking the Rules.

And I am here to say: Cut it out. The Rules you're worried about don't exist, or they've been broken already so badly they might as well not. If you think you might be writing fantasy but are concerned that you're violating some sort of protocol if you deviate from the standard (whatever that is), I can give you a long list of folks who have already shattered those icons and danced among the shards.

(Oh, alright: Gene Wolfe. Jack Vance. Ellen Kushner. China Mieville. Kelly Link. Jeff Vandermeer. John Crowley. Sarah Monette. Garth Nix. Hal Duncan. And that's just for starters.)

Look: Genres (and subgenres) are not checklists, they're not pigeonholes, and they're most definitely not straightjackets. Genre is not prescriptive; when it works, it's descriptive, saying "If you liked that, you might also like this." (Or not.) Fantasy in particular is an elusive quarry, and changes shape as soon as you pin it down, but it's enough to say that it isn't only what's considered "generic." It probably has room for whatever it is you're doing too, so for the love of all the gods and muses, resist the urge to second-guess yourself on whether or not it "fits" and come let your work join the conversation already in progress. (And if you're still worried that it doesn't fall under the definition, consider the possibility that the definition could stand to be expanded; fantasy, of all the modes of Lit'rature, has enormous capacity to grow and include.)

Here endeth the ranting. Additions and expansions welcome.

October 18, 2006

Remember, Remember

Yes, as I mentioned previously, it's about that time again.

This has not exactly been my best year for writing (prose, anyway; songwriting I've actually managed a bit of); that rather impressive breakdown I had right at the end of last year's effort seems to have taken some of the wind out of my sails, especially as far as trying to continue Otherwood goes. We'll see if this time around does better for my momentum.

So, to that end, I am already wading out into the uncharted waters of the planning stage for this year's NaNovel. It will indeed be another Jenny book; I am, in fact, thinking of this as a kind of proving ground for the voice and style of the revision of The Vasty Deep, which I promise I haven't forgotten about finishing. (Hey, V's taken five years to get back to his and it was much better the first time around than most of my first drafts actually mumble mumble razafrazzin expletive deleted.)

I remain ambivalent about circulating the work-in-progress this time; while I certainly like the added incentive to keep producing story for a (presumably) committed audience, it also presents me the unfortunate temptation of wanting to be a participant in my own fandom, which probably isn't quite fair to all you folks. I definitely won't be posting it publicly to the Intarwebs, since I might actually be getting over myself enough to be concerned about first-publication rights; I'm considering putting it in friends-locked posts on the LJ, which may be either the best or worst of both worlds. We'll see. I still have at least another two weeks of vacillation before I sort that out, which will frankly be the least of my concerns by then.

Otherwise, though, let me toss this out: I have a vague and general idea of what I'd like to do with this year's effort, but I'm still early enough in the outline that I can incorporate some Audience Participation. If you've got a request of something you think I ought to put in this year, let me know; if I can incorporate it into what I've got planned so far, I might just do it. (Yeah, I know: "Finish it." Everyone's a frickin' commedian.)

Threefold Law

Oh, all right, one more (since Aishwarya tagged "you," and I, like Vishal, am taking it personally):

Three, Three, Three Things

3 books:
  • Imajica, Clive Barker
  • Riddle-Master, Patricia McKillip
  • The Nightmare Factory, Thomas Ligotti
3 albums:
  • In the Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson
  • Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre, Current 93
  • Hoofbeat Caw & Thunder, Timothy, Revelator
3 movies:
  • Se7en
  • The Name of the Rose
  • Night Watch
3 thoughts:
  • I'd gladly eat this Boston Creme doughnut even if it was considerably more stale than it already is.
  • Why haven't I discovered the Decemberists before now? They're like if Jethro Tull had somehow halfway turned into the Smiths. On a pirate ship.
  • I can tell I'm rapidly approaching the point where I'm going to be obsessed with next month's novel all the time. Is it too early to say Sorry, and Goodbye To You All?
(Still not tagging. This is yours if you want it.)

October 09, 2006

"There's trees in the desert since you moved out"

Tagged again, this time by belledame, who caught it from feministe; and who am I to refuse? So, then: five things (hail Eris!) Feminism Has Done For Me:

1. I work as a Filthy Assistant at a small woman-owned company, and am the only male out of ten employees at corporate HQ. Aside from having feminism to thank for making it possible for me to have the Best Boss Ever, I also don't have to feel like this situation is some sort of failing on my part.

2. Thanks to my feminist mom's unwillingness to believe that having a dick makes certain kinds of work impossible, I am self-sufficent: I know how to cook, clean, do my own laundry, buy my own clothes and groceries, and generally see to it on my own that any place I live remains livable. Of course, the fact that I'm not especially good about doing all of those things regularly is another of feminism's lessons, in that I also realize that if they don't all happen every day the world will, by some miracle, consistently fail to end.

3. The work of Ellen Kushner, Susanna Clarke, Patricia McKillip, Carla Speed McNeil, Elizabeth Bear, Jill Thompson, Joolie Wood, Carla Kihlstedt, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and many others has had a profound influence on my life and my work. Not only am I proud to list those women among my heroes, I'm glad to live in a world where I have access to their work and can pick it up without the fear of getting Girl Cooties all over me.

4. I've kept my hair long for the last four vaguely respectable jobs I've held, and worn an earring to interview for the last three. The breakdown of strict patriarchal standards has given me a great deal more freedom to be who I am without sacrificing material success. (And I don't worry about losing my job if I get spotted by a coworker on the weekend while I'm in nail polish and eyeliner, either.)

5. Some of My Best Friends are Chicks, Really! Er, that is: I feel confident in saying that having an alternative framework for interacting with women (i.e., as actual, yanno, people), without needing to dominate, condescend to, or try and fuck them, has given me a long list of satisfying friendships I wouldn't otherwise have had, and my life would be poorer without them. And I have the pleasure of a marriage that's a geniune partnership; in addition to not needing to be the sole breadwinner/caretaker/responsible adult in my house, I get to spend my life with someone who's actually my friend along with everything else. The whole thing makes me wonder why we didn't start to figure all this nonsense out a long time ago.

...all of which, btw, feels just slightly uncomfortably like I'm pointing out my Feminist Cred, something I generally hate to do (I've said elsewhere that I suspect it's one of those things like cool or Zen, in that if you think you have enough of it to draw attention to, you don't), but the benefits of having one or two bona fide hairy males joining in on this is probably to the greater good. (If it makes you feel any better, The Missus just observed that the bespectacled Naughty Librarian look is suddenly in all over the place, and that's a benefit of feminism I can get behind for almost no altruistic reasons whatsoever.)

Um, not going to tag anyone on this one, I think. I'll leave it to those Fawning Admirers who feels sufficiently inspired to do their own if they like. But I'll point out here that there's also a fine list over at Butterfly Cauldron, and that both Jean and A White Bear are using this meme to launch promising-looking series. Go and read.

September 25, 2006

Resolution Wanting

Like many, many others in fandom, I was devastated this morning to learn that John M. Ford died late last night.

I knew him mostly by his delightful (brilliant, funny, erudite) posts on Making Light; I knew his writing largely by reputation, though I'd just gotten around to rereading his story "Chain Home, Low" in The Sandman: Book of Dreams and marvelled at its loveliness, determined to find more of his work now that I knew who he was. And, of course, I knew him as the author of this, which remains, five years later, the most poignant, touching, fitting memorial to the events of September 11 I've yet seen.

I didn't have much interaction with him even on ML, and certainly never felt familiar enough to address him as Mike, as his friends did. He did leave one perfectly-turned response to a comment of mine (itself a reply to this), which had me giggling for hours; I wondered if he knew how much it made my day. I thought, in the way of fen who come to be in touch with the community of their literary heroes, that I might find a way, someday, to craft something smart and witty and poetic enough to properly repay him for it. I am sad beyond words that now I will never have the chance.

I will say this, though: John M. Ford was what I want to be when I grow up.

The world is too soon without him, and he is already sorely missed.

We work so hard to contain the fires of our spirits, and every day I am more convinced that this is an error and a tragedy. Better by far to be a bright sun burning fiercely against the vast cold dark. The other stars are closer than you realize, and they go out sooner than you think.

September 22, 2006

Beckon and Egg

Well, this is timely: We have finally got out act together and put up the long-overdue OVO page on MySpace, which also find linked at sidebar.

Mostly rough mixes, at this point, but nonetheless that's a whole new crop of material suitable for unsettling the listening public, available for download and for Vishal to sigh and give me a firm talking-to about my doubtless mangling of Sanskrit. Huzzah!

September 20, 2006

If I Had Some Words, This Is the Way I'd Sing Them

Well. Since the subject's gone and come up now, I might as well lay this out plainly - the closest thing to a manifesto I'm likely to do on my own tastes and on my philosophy of composition. I figure it's all going to be out there at some point, so I might as well go ahead and own it now.

I like music with solid, simple, repeating chord structures on which you can layer other things, and maybe improvise around, that's appealing enough to keep the attention but instinctive to jam to. I enjoy writing that kind of music; I'll no doubt do lots more of the kind.

I like music with the utterly straightforward three-chord phrases that have been used by folksingers for centuries - the progressions that get used time and again because they work, and provide the kind of melody that doesn't need to go anywhere unexpected to say what it has to say. I enjoy writing that kind of music, even if I've moved somewhat away from it more recently, and I'm sure that approach will always be one I eventually return to.

I like music that's complex and intricate, with strange and unorthodox chords and lots of little movements that add up to a cohesive whole. I'd like to write some music like that, though I'm only now starting to feel like I have the tools at my disposal to even begin to make it properly.

I like spare, stark, minimalist music that does what it needs to do in a few well-placed strokes. I'd like to write some music like that, if I can ever get myself to the point where I have the confidence to stop embellishing what doesn't need it.

I like shimmery, swirly, ambient music - the kind that's usually built around a couple of very basic pieces but piles on as many layers of sound as it needs to create its atmosphere. I'd like to write some music like that, especially if I can get comfortable enough with the requisite technology to really make it self-indulgent.

I like dissonant, difficult, experimental music that pushes the boundary of being just plain noise. Gods help me, I'd like to write some music like that too.

I like pretty music and creepy music, and the places where the two intersect. I like straightforward, sincere music and pretentious music. I like subtle, understated music and over-the-top, bombastic music. I like music that builds on ancient traditions and music that's so cutting-edge it still has fresh blood on it. I like, to use a favorite metaphor stolen from Tony, music that's been aged and corked and music with a screw-off cap. And if you want to know what music I'm interested in creating, I'm afraid my answer is going to have to be the same one I approach almost everything in life with: "A small slice of each, please."

What I'm not interested in is One-True-Wayism, or worrying about what's already been done ('cause it all has, kids), or limiting my palette out of fear that the Comic Book Guys of armchair criticism will sit around and say "Worst chord progression ever." I'm not interested in making happy either the proverbial masses (whoever they are, besides me and thee) or the self-appointed elite; indeed, I'm not interested in catering to anyone's aesthetic except mine and that of Folks Who Might Like the Kind of Thing I Do. And I'm really, really not interested in kowtowing to the opinions of anyone who clearly wishes I'd made something other than the work that's on the table. I am more than happy to accept that what I do will, inevitably, not be everyone's thing. At the same time, I have a reasonably good picture of the level of my own talent and skill, and feel confident in saying that if you don't like what I create, the problem is not mine.

Two more things bear saying now, so hopefully I don't need to say them again.

First: if you feel inclined to pass judgment on everything I've ever done, or contributed to, or indeed am capable of, based solely on the handful of pieces I've made available for free on the Interwebs: You are under the impression that an elephant is some variety of rope. This is understandable, under the circumstances, but you are not in possession of anything like enough knowledge. Please refrain from acting as if you are.

And second: Having an opinion does not entitle you to set aside all standards of discourse; that is to say, while your tastes are entirely your own business, all attitudes are not of equal merit. Or, to put it as plainly and unequivocally as I can: If you can't think of anything nice to say, go on and fuck yourself.

September 19, 2006

Pop Goes the Perkygoth

I wasn't sure I was going to link to this, but I think it really gives the following the necessary context; plus, hey! It's my first Internet your-music-sucks flaming! It's giving me that warm feeling of having arrived, somehow, like your first mugging in a new city.

The whole unfortunate exchange has cemented something for me about just what it is that gets up my squid about snobbery, and why I find stuff like What Not To Wear so unbearable, and why my own lingering elitism feels like the character flaw I'm most self-conscious of:

Snobbery is, in its essence, a form of bullying.

It's not about improving the world; it's about using that trusty old poleaxe in the Emotional Abuse arsenal, shaming, to bring someone else down and make them small and hurt. It says: if you enjoy this... make this... wear this... you are not only inadequate, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. And it's toxic and awful and, when you think about it, a horrifying way to relate to other human beings. And it gets a pass, I suppose, because the people who are capable of doing it are often clever or funny or talented, and because watching one person destroy another has been entertainment since the Coliseum and before; and now, we can say that, hey, no one died, and look! It's all worth it; you're a better person now! Your tastes have been corrected!

But it's not okay. It's not okay when spouses or lovers do it to each other, and it's not okay to do it to strangers, and it's not okay to make a spectacle of it for the sake of amusement at some poor clueless bastard's expense. (And it's really not okay to make excuses for it just because it's funny.) It's hurtful and nasty and it leaches joy from a world that does not have that resource in abundance.

If I'm coming across a little vehement here - well, I did just get called a no-talent paint-by-numbers songwriter today, so it's just possible that maybe there's a touch of stung pride talking. But also, as I said, part of the reason I recoil so strongly from this stuff is that it's a sin I very much feel the temptation of, which is no doubt one of the factors at play in having written my initial comment on Der's site with - to be completely fair - more vigour and heat than was really called for. I feel how easy it would be to condemn and snipe and set myself up as Better Than All You Lot; there's something very satisfying about the assurance that your tastes are right and proper, and everyone else is a moron. Part of this is, yeah, the frustration of just living (not to mention trying to create something worthwhile) in a world where relentless banality and Sturgeon's Law are ever-present. The trouble is that, when you really look at things, it's clear that "banality" is a slippery and subjective thing, and that there's very little agreement on what the theretical 10% of everything that isn't crap comprises. This suggests to me that we'd damn well better start learning two things: 1), how to get along with people who just plain like different stuff; and 2), that a preference is not a fucking virtue.

And that's all that probably needs to be said about that. You'll have to excuse me; I have some musically and lyrically uninteresting work to prepare to subject the clueless public to this weekend. I'll let you know how that works out.

You'll Think I'm Dead, But I'll Sail Away

Holla and avast! 'Tis that most glorious o' days again!

Yer stalwart cap'n has been adrift in strange waters some while now, what with peregrinations ta lands afar; but he's returned ashore, and is preparin' ta regale ye with no end o' salty tales, and mayhap a fine shanty or two. O' course, it be worth notin' that a mug or two o' the strong stuff might go far in recallin' his custom'ry loquaciousness, should ye be inclined to offer't.

Precedin' that, though, I've all this rigging ta see ter. Ye can find me later in port, and I'll open up this sack o' plunder and toss a couple o' doubloons yer way. Arr!

August 31, 2006

In the Hills, the Hippies

In a few bare hours, I'm off to Swampstock XIII and likewise more or less off the radar for a short while. Some of yez I'll be seeing there.

And it gives me the warmest of rock-star warm fuzzies to note that OVO will be taking the stage on Saturday to perform a whole set's worth of material that will be new to lots of people in attendance because it didn't exist a year ago. Woot. (Take that, bitchy inner critic! I have Accomplishments!)

Anyway, wish us safe journey and good weather, and I'll let you know how it goes.

August 29, 2006

Zhongguo Boogie

You probably know this already, but Caren and Niels have arrived safe and sound in the Middle Kingdom, after some small red-tape delays. Everyone wish them well and send them love!

August 18, 2006

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

I have a strong suspicion that there have been conversations going on in my house not unlike this one.

August 16, 2006

Someday I'll Grow Up to Be a Beautiful Girl (reprise)

You Are 52% Lady

You're part lady, part modern woman.
Etiquette is important to you, but you brush aside rules that are outdated or silly.

...Well, hello.

August 09, 2006

Word Virus

Literature is holy to me, which again shows how much I know about holiness.
- Kurt Vonnegut

I've been tagged by Jean, who had it of Antiprincess, who got tapped by Belledame; so on with the memeage:

1. One book that changed your life: Er, "the good ones all do" is a copout, so I'm going with The Hobbit, which made the kind of impression on me at six that you never get over.

2. One book you have read more than once: Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett; I go back to it every December as proof against Scrooginess.

3. One book you would want on a desert island: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It rewards rereading in every way I need a book to do.

4. One book that made you laugh: Anansi Boys. Niel Gaiman's extraordinary sense of humor is often glossed over even by his fans, but this one has him in top form.

5. One book that made you cry: It's tempting to say Little, Big, out of sheer despair that I'll never write like John Crowley. But that's another copout answer, so: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I mean, who didn't?

6. One book you wish had been written: One more Fafhrd and Grey Mouser novel.

7. One book you wish had never had been written: She Said Yes - the one about the girl who was supposedly shot at Columbine for saying she believed in God. Because first, that never happened; and second, shame on this poor kid's family for using her tragedy to fuel uptight Midwestern Christianity's ongoing sick martyr complex.

8. One book you are currently reading: The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, by Daniel Pinkwater.

9. One book you have been meaning to read: The Mind of the Raven. Actually, I've started it; I just keep meaning to pick it back up. In the haven't started at all category: Iron Council, by China Mieville.

10. Now tag five people: Er, I'm not gonna actually pressure anyone to do this. But I'd love to see The Missus, Spyder, Vishal, Maija, Andy, and Big Tony give their answers. (Yes, I know that's six.)

August 07, 2006

Into the Sunrise

Over the weekend we bid a fond zai jian to Caren and Niels, who are going to have to settle for what passes for Chinese food in China for a year or so; we're already looking forward to being able to take them out for proper Chinese when they get back to the States.

And oh, yeah: we miss them already.

Safe journey, sweethearts. May the Lord of Beginnings shine His light and grace upon you as you start your grand Adventure, and bring you back home and whole again.

August 05, 2006

Yes, We Have No Sense of Subtext

Belledame skewers an especially deserving example of premillenial loonyism; I contribute, with my usual sense of subtlety and tact.

August 02, 2006

Ring of Fire

Today or possibly yesterday was Lughnasadh, though considering the truly awful heat wave currently boiling this slice of the Mid-Atlantic, I'm reluctant to set anything on fire I don't have to, and dancing is right the hell out; one assumes the gods will understand.

As compensation, though, I offer this, which I wrote ten(!!) years ago and, alas, probably works better sung than read:

Fields of grain of golden hue
Make a crown for Master Lugh
Gather round beneath the tree
Pass the jug of Barley Bree
Light the pipe and hand it here
Crow as loud as Chanticleer
Howl a love song at the stars
Glorious on Lughnasadh

Honor Him who blessed the land
The Bright One of the Skillful Hand
Keep the Goddess's accord
Her union with the Great Horned Lord
Swear by Oak and Ash and Thorn
Swear by blood of Barleycorn
Say you'll love me near and far
Marry me on Lughnasadh

Come and join the feast of golden Lugh
Give a little back of what you grew
Scrape the fiddle, dance and play the drum
Turn around and see what you've become

Holly King is standing by
Waits to watch the summer die
Take your fill before it ends
Save a seed to plant again
Merry meet and merry part
And merry come back to the start
Dance the dance of all we are
Round and round on Lughnasadh

Bright blessings, all; keep cool out there.

July 21, 2006

Very Seldom Naughty

Good show last weekend - or at least we more or less looked like we know what we're doing, which goes a long way.

Here's a brief rock star montage, for them of yez that missed it:

I'm off to WV tonight, and from thence to Cleveland to see Les Claypool make thumping noises and be disturbing; and after that, we're having a big rehearsal and bandthink session, so there will hopefully be more OVO-related good news here soon.

On the domestic side of things, we added four wee paddy-paws to the L-K household over the weekend. Meet Willow:

She's been having a grand time of it so far, even if it's been challenging convincing her big brother that she isn't the best squeaky toy ever.

(All photos by Miss Mita, who we are going to be missing very badly all too soon.)

July 11, 2006

I Have No Text and I Must Comment

Weird glitch with comments in the last few days: you can post 'em, but they don't register with the comment count. So if you've left one since yesterday, it really does show when you click through, even though it reads as 0 on the front page. But you probably noticed that already.

I assume this is some strangeness on the part of BackBlog that will resolve itself in due course.

Come On You Stranger, You Legend, You Martyr

Syd Barrett, dead at 60.

David Bowie, from the linked article: "His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."

See also the BBC's obit.

Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands
The bleeding hearts and the artists
Make their stand

A fond farewell; the world is sadder and less strange today. Wish you were here.

(Hat-tip to Antiprincess, on whose site I read the news.)

Update: Read this too. Heartbreaking and lovely.

July 09, 2006

That Space-Cadet Glow

In case anyone's still watching this space who wants to know and doesn't yet: OVO will be playing at The Cup this Saturday, and it looks like we'll be rolling out some new material. It's our first show since St. Patrick's Day, so I think this may actually count as a reunion concert of some kind. Come on out for the ren-folk proggoth love!

July 04, 2006


I've been seeing a lot of references to this lately, but hadn't clicked through to watch until today (appropriately enough - not to mention we spent the afternoon watching Serenity, which has plenty of things itself to say on the subject of Independence). And can I just say:



And yes.

June 23, 2006

Strange Visions

It's probably much too early to start getting excited about this; but not too early, perhaps, to fervently wish for Alan Cumming and Ian Holm in the title roles.

June 22, 2006

Ra and June

This month's been a whirlwind, Faithful Readers, and I've been off the radar as much as not; forgive my sparseness of discourse lately.

I was in NYC for MoCCA a coupla weeks ago; thence to WV this past weekend; and tomorrow I'm leaving for NEARfest, which looks to be especially good this year - I'll do an after-action report if I have the opportunity.

And somewhere in there I picked up the new Current 93 and haven't had a chance to give it the listening it deserves, though some encouraging reviews continue to get me all aflutter to do so.

That's all I got for the moment. Real Serious Blogging will commence when the dust settles. Meanwhile, here's hoping everyone had a lovely Solstice. Sumer is icumen in!

June 06, 2006

Old Dead Calendar

It's 06/06/06 today! I hope you're all enjoying your Scandinavian death metal albums and Black Masses.

Meanwhile, slacktivist commemorates the day with one of his immensely sensible meditations; and of course there's some clever Beastliness going on over at Making Light. Me, I think I'll just relax with a bit of soothing music.

(Of course, whether or not 666 has any apocalyptic significance is subject to debate, depending partly on which version of Nero's name you crunch through the gematria; but nobody released any dubious remakes last Thursday, and besides, I have a soft spot for the classics.)

May 23, 2006

Pick a Window!

This most Erisian of dates marks the anniversary of the Second Defenestration of Prague. Celebrate appropriately.

May 19, 2006

They Eat of the Beef, and Enjoy to Look at the Bosoms

The wise and excellent Sage talks sensibly and at some length about boobs.

May 10, 2006

The First Rule of Project Mayhem

Stuff there's no social protocol for: Looking at your boss's computer at work and noticing she has a World of Warcraft icon in the Start menu, and sharing that split-second moment of nerd telepathy where you agree to pretend that you didn't see it and don't know what it is.

The Star to Every Wandering Bark

I blinked and missed the last two weeks, most of which were spent new-parenting with Monty.

He's growed a bit since then, too. We love him to pieces.

April 26, 2006

"A lot of filing, giving things names"

You've likely seen it already, but Making Light set off another round of the neverending fanfic debate yesterday, with this heretical apologia:

Good fiction gets under our skin. It can change the way we see the world. But whatever its effect, it’s a significant experience. It would be a bizarre thing—unnatural, even—for writers to not engage with that experience. ... In a purely literary sense, fanfic doesn’t exist. There is only fiction. Fanfic is a legal category created by the modern system of trademarks and copyrights. Putting that label on a work of fiction says nothing about its quality, its creativity, or the intent of the writer who created it.

Regrettably, if predictably, lots of people showed up to make a lot of generally unconvincing arguments that no, actually, fanfic is just Bad, because it's lazy, or it's creatively bankrupt, or it's just creepy, or it detracts from original works in some way that no one's really able to define; all of which mostly serves to show that people with a squick-reaction to something process their experiences very selectively, including debate on the subject of the squick in question.

I get a bit prickly about this sort of thing, I think in part because a lot of the reactions I see sound distressingly like the way folks who squick-react to homosexuality talk about it, even in the face of long and patient and thoughtfully-presented argument. (Indeed, the more I think about it, the more the parallels are startling: No matter how much you reasonably point out that, look, this is a phenomenon that's been around for as long as we've had history, at least, and it's actually incredibly diverse in its manifestations, has often been actually sanctified, and, really, the closer you look at things, the more you can see it come up in all kinds of notable contexts - there will always be someone who can't stop talking about omg the indecency, and the immaturity, and how dangerous it would be to break down those walls, and if we legitimize it it'll just erode the Real Thing, and please won't someone think of the children? and look, it's just icky, okay? and besides, it was different for the Greeks.) One commenter a ways down the thread objected to the use of the word "provincial" to characterize anti-fanfic attitudes, that that word implies small-mindedness - to which I thought, Yes, it absolutely does, and rightly so. It's a kind of thinking that says This Sort of Thing is Good, but This Sort of Thing is Bad in very broad terms, and comes up with myopic reasons to justify it; I don't like that philosophy aimed at people, and I don't much like it aimed at Art either.

What I find particularly interesting, though, is that almost none of the objectors have really engaged with the examples that have been brought up that, if not for issues of copyright, all kinds of works of acclaimed and established literature - from the Iliad to King Lear to Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead to Grendel to Wicked - would unquestionably be categorized as "fanfic" by modern standards. The few reactions have generally been to assert or imply that those don't count, but without giving a convincing argument for why they don't. The only reasons given seem to me to be very weak, and ignore or sidestep the opening thesis entirely.

All of which has made me think that maybe there's some other phenomenon at work here. I've been sitting for a while on a half-assed and crackpot theory that one of the psychological axes that people show up on is whether they're wired to be connectors or categorizers. A connector instinctively draws parallels and sees the common qualities of things; a categorizer instinctively makes distinctions and understands how things may be separated. Obviously, they're both important ways of engaging the world (note how I'm doing both in this post!), and they yield up different ways of understanding and processing knowledge. But I think that realizing that many people are inclined strongly one way or the other might serve to illuminate why it can be so difficult to come to agreement on certain things.

I don't really want to privelege one over the other, despite being a connector myself (and I married a diehard categorizer, so there you go), but I do wonder if some of the brouhaha over in the fanfic discussion has its roots in a hardcore categorizer mindset that has a hard time seeing boundaries blur and needs the world to be tidier and better-organized than it actually is. I know there are people who get very upset with ambiguities and edge-cases, even in things like genre classifications (and especially in things like sexuality). I wonder if addressing this idea directly would lead to any interesting social breakthroughs; we do live in a culture that is, in many ways, in love with categorization, and resistant to the notion that "they're more what you'd call guidelines."

Has anyone heard of serious thought given to this or a similar idea? I'm certainly not up on my psychological science, so I don't know if this has all been said better long since. Though it is, of course, already on its way to being an old joke: "There are two kinds of people in the world - those who divide everything into categories, and those who don't."

(Cross-posted on the LJ, which I'm reviving after long silence.)

April 23, 2006

Someday I'll Grow Up to be a Beautiful Girl

I missed out on Blog Against Heteronormativity Day Saturday, more's the pity; but a post on my new favorite feminist blog says everything I'd have wanted to anyway:

But I do think that until such time as it's genuinely not seen as shameful to be "girlie," we're not gonna make much more progress. Not in feminism, not in the gay rights movement, not on a number of fronts, in fact, that on the surface might seem to have little to do with gender.

Because the dirty little secret, which has become a bit more open these past few years, perhaps, is that at the end of the day, "girlie man" isn't just an insult to actual girlies (that is, people with girl bits), or implicitly homophobic, or transphobic, although it's certainly those things as well. It is a very effective club to keep men--ALL men--in line. Just how much violence is committed in the name of proving one's non-sissyhood? How much wasted energy and misdirected passion? I am thinking: quite a lot.

She also gives a well-deserved tip of the hat to Joss Whedon, girlie-man par excellence. RTWT.

April 22, 2006

A Bottomless Cup

For the benefit of anyone who might be dropping by here after recently acquiring one of my CDs, I declare this Open Thread I.

Welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment, introduce yourself, and join in the general conversation here. The same goes for anyone who's been lurking and just needs an excuse.

As for youse regulars: if you haven't already, check out our new baby.

April 20, 2006

Alternate Tunic

Submitted to the wisdom of the collected readership: Would I be guilty of presumptuous cultural misappropriation if I started wearing a kurta? Because, damn, I'm really starting to want one.

April 13, 2006

Keep Them Mowing Blades Sharp

Posted without comment: two examples of position descriptions from a government website I came across this morning while researching labor categories:

Functional Responsibility: Follows a number of specific procedures in completing several repetitive clerical steps performed in a prescribed or slightly varied sequence


Functional Responsibility: Uses some subject matter knowledge and judgment to complete assignments consisting of numerous steps that vary in nature and sequence

Blink. Blink. *facepalm*

April 04, 2006

Warning: You must be this cool to participate in this conversation

Q: Why can't you listen to prog today?

A: Because it's 4/4.

- Feel free, obviously, to replace "cool" with "irredeemably dorky," as per your own preferences.

(Hi, everyone! I sure had a fun March. More on that soon. Meanwhile, if you haven't already, have an eyeful of this.)

February 23, 2006

Almost Illuminated

Just under the wire this year, but today's the day Spyder goes up to eleven twice.

Happy Birthday, my evil twin! I played "One of Those Nights" at the open mic tonight in your honor. I hope you did something even cooler; here's to a fabulous year-to-come.

February 13, 2006

Blaze On!


A shield party per bend sinister Argent and Gules; in chief a tankard Sable; in base a cockerel close regardant Or. Below, the motto Sapor Is!

Okay, so that was a completely self-indulgent bit of whimsey inspired by this; but I think I'll let y'all geniuses parse it out on your own, should you be so inclined.

Y'know, it's a damn shame I don't know any artists.

February 11, 2006

The Everyday Turned Solitary

Heaven and Earth, people. You'd think I hadn't posted since... Oh. Right. Never mind.

Some updates in brief, then:

Just finished Week One at the new job, and it went pretty darn well, all considered. Lots to learn, but the atmosphere can't be beat, and they don't seem to regret hiring me. I call that a win.

A week from this very day will be the return of OVO to The Cup, this time around featuring the guitar-god genius of Big Tony. (And here's your collectible poster, fenfolk.) And as a special bonus, we've got a talented young up-and-coming singer-songwriter named Kristen Watts opening for us, so it looks to be a heck of a night.

I've also been recording a bit over the past week; they're one-off demo versions, but some of 'em don't sound half bad. Judge ye for yourself by this, and this.

And that's about the run of things for the last few weeks hereabouts, though we continue to eagerly await the arrival of Andy within the month. More news as I knows it. Promise.

(There. Happy now, Fawning Admirers? Good. Go bug Maija next.)

January 25, 2006

Hipy Papy Bthuthdth Thuthda Bthuthdy

I'm 23 today! ...Wait. Strike that; reverse it.

I've been lax and slack about posting this year, and I wish I could tell you it was because I've been producing brilliant Art instead; but no, mostly it's just that I'm getting old and lazy and it's winter and, yeah. You know this tune.

But as I failed to report in a timely fashion, the last gig went quite well, and I have another lined up for February 18th, so obviously we're not doing too badly. (Thanks, indeed, to everyone who dropped in and made that weekend the roaring Bacchanalian success it was.) And I got a new job over last weekend; more details on that later. The point being that things are indeed looking up.

And Janine has now joined the household, which is a good thing for everyone. We've already managed to get the Buffy hook in her, because, well, that's what we do.

More of everything soon. Meanwhile, I'm off for a celebratory drink to mark my inverted Illumination. Whee!