Friday, June 29, 2012


I don't know how it is for other writers, but every time I take a long hiatus from doing fiction, I always have this little needling worry that when I decide to write again, the machine will be broken, and somehow words won't come out when I put my fingers on the keys. It's a relief when the machine chunka-chunka-CATCHes back up again, coughcoughSPUTTER, and the words come.

Last night I wrote my prologue. Just shy of 2,000 words, and I wrote it good, in words I'm proud of.
The ache in me won’t subside. Couldn’t Racchi have been kind? To betray once, and then twice, and for it to have cost him nothing, encourages a cool voice to say that I’d been wrong about him all along. That there is no taming a thaiad, even a half-blood, and he was just a chimpanzee trussed up in evening clothes of my manufacture. He’d still screech and mess himself. Nothing but an animal.
But then, perhaps the same is true of me.
I decided semi-firmly to write this one in first person. I've stayed away from first person in the last few years, for the most part. Most of my juvenilia is in first person, and I tend to get lazy when I write in it. I make my character a lot more like me than like herself (or himself), and I do a lot of asides and emotional explaining, and the whole thing gets to be a lot more like a blog post than a work of fiction. So it'll be a disciplinary exercise to write this in first person and not do all of that.

One of the ways I got around this problem in the past was by writing shifting first-person for my sci-fi novella. I had a genuine purpose to the three characters I chose to rotate - they all had very different things to contribute to the story, and they shared a particular fate that took place at the end - but when I read over it the last time, I agreed with one of my beta readers that shifting between the characters, all "I"s, was a little confusing. I think I managed to give the characters distinct voices, but when they were working on the same thing, sometimes you didn't notice the name change in the chapter break.

In any case, I think I'm going with first person for this one. I might change my mind a few chapters in, if I can't distinguish Berra's voice from my own, or if it doesn't feel right. This decision was also drawn from the urban fantasy I read - two of the series books I read were in first person.

Speaking of reading, I am finally almost done with a steampunk anthology I started about a month ago. It's a 500-page anthology, in my defense, but honestly, after this experience, I don't know if anthology reading is for me. I find it emotionally exhausting to read all these different authors and all these different stories all mashed up against each other. The same is true in miniature in books of short stories by the same author. I get immersed in the world and the characters, and then the author yanks me out of it and we go on to the next thing. Like living a hundred lives in a single day.

Finally now I have read good steampunk, thanks to this anthology. I enjoyed some of these stories immensely, and some of them I found really blah. All of the writers seem to have enthusiasm for the trappings of steampunk, but not all of them make those trappings integral parts of the stories. Some of them are just telling a story with clockwork and airships duct-taped on top. (Dear God, please let that not be true of what I'm writing now. I don't want to overdo it, and I don't think pure steampunk is really me, but there will be clockwork and there will be Victorian fashion. Later there may be Zeppelins.) I wish I hadn't felt compelled to read every story in the book for the sake of Research, because I might have enjoyed some of the stories a lot more and felt free to skip others that weren't working for me. Oh, well. Nearly done now.

In other news, this week I saw Don Giovanni in a summer encore movie-theater presentation. (No need to read the next few paragraphs if you have no interest in opera.) I feel like an uncultured jerk, but I didn't love it as much as I hoped I would. There are a lot of parts to why:
  • The staging was not terribly interesting. Straight-up late-1700s costumes, a sort of multiple-balcony setup that they really took zero advantage of, and taking the words of the opera literally. (I started imagining a staging in the 1970s with Giovanni as an actual pimp, and the last scene with all the food referring to girls, instead. I kind of love this idea, and any opera-stagers reading this are free to steal it.)
  • Some of the cast actually seemed incompetent to the task of the opera. There were some not-quite-hit notes and some inability to keep up with the tempo of the syllables. I know how this sounds, because they know opera better than I'll ever know opera, but I don't think I was imagining it.
  • One of the sopranos (Donna Elvira) seemed to have a range wrong for the part; she was loud and soft at weird times.
  • All the above bullets despite the fact that this was the Metropolitan Opera of New York. WTF?
  • Mostly male voices. Male voices do a lot less for me than sopranos, in general. (Tenors fail to move me at all 90% of the time. Crazy, right?) This show was mostly baritones, and Giovanni himself had a lovely rich velvety voice, but I just didn't feel very much.
  • The last scene. Although it included the biggest laugh of the production thanks to Don Ottavio (played by a very homely fellow with few acting skills, unfortunately)'s sole good acting instinct, I found it totally tacked-on and lame. The supper scene was arresting, astonishing, I felt absolutely stripped when Giovanni got dragged down to Hell, and just when I thought I'd leave in a post-opera emotional fog, the whole cast tramped in and distracted me out of it. Learning that this scene was mostly omitted until the 20th century made an awful lot of sense.

Like I said, uncultured jerk, right? Flaubert said that Don Giovanni, Hamlet, and the sea are the three finest things wrought by God. I'll agree with him on the last two - I reffed Hamlet in my writing last night, because I wrapped it up in the last two things I wrote, and why break tradition and write something new? - but Giovanni just didn't captivate me. It could have been due to the not-quite-live performance; I know that the orchestra sounded a lot flatter than it should have in the movie theater, because I didn't have the same shock-to-goosebumps that I always have at the opening notes of the overture. But I think ultimately it's just not really the opera for me.

There are three more summer encores in July, and I haven't decided whether I'll go to them or not. They're showing Lucia, which I don't plan to attend because I had such an unforgettable experience with that opera and don't want to blot it out even partially. The other two are operas I'm not familiar with, Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Der Rosenkavalier. I mean, $13 for an opera is the best deal ever. So I'll probably go.

THERE, done. Now to work...and thence to writing, this evening. I'm actually excited to get to work again, instead of feeling dread and inadequacy like I have for so many weeks. Oh, but I have a question for you. Answer the poll, pretty please?


DeAnna said...

You're supposed to read, like, one story a day with anthologies. They're like a box of shouldn't eat them ALL AT ONCE, you greedy doof.

Katharine Coldiron said...

Dude, it's so not greed that was motivating me to read these all at once. The clamor of different author voices all getting at the business of steampunk was helpful, actually (forgot to put that in up there), but definitely in the future I'll do it your way.

Denise said...

I want to first mention about the poll, because I wasn't sure sure how to answer it. I think that if your audience is fringe teens then definitely no, if it's me then definitely no, if it's REALLY the general reading public then possibly yes.

I'm glad you're writing again and it's moving. Just writing my reading blog feels really good to me, to just write something, and I like the fact that I get to articulate my ideas about what I'm reading, hear other people's ideas, and later remember what I thought about what I read.

I feel the same way about anthologies, but I understand wanting to get through a lot for research.

Lastly, you mentioning Hamlet just further convinces me that I'm going to my Shakespeare anthology soon, so it should turn up in my blog. I have to say, I loved reading it but I haven't loved any performances of it I've seen. I've seen a film of it, but a long time ago. I saw it in the park and fell asleep. And I saw it at MHC with all women and didn't enjoy it. I even saw a production of Hamlet Backwards in LA. It was ok. I AM looking forward to reading it again, and please recommend your favorite version.

Katharine Coldiron said...

Decidedly not fringe teens - really just the general reading public. Like, if you picked up a paperback in B&N and it had a bisexual main character, would that be a problem for the picker-upper? I was all worried about it until I remembered that Lisbeth Salander is bisexual, so now I'm thinking it's not that big a deal, am forging ahead, and am really just curious what other people think.

Responding to your last paragraph could be an entire blog post. I saw a live Hamlet in DC that I still haven't really recovered from. The staging was pretty interesting and the rest of the cast was good, but the actor who played Hamlet was goddamn electrifying. He played the role slightly unhinged, as if a lot of his dialogue was speedy babble by a brilliant mind and he was sincerely emotionally damaged. It was the best performance of anything I've ever seen and I only wish I could have gone three more times. Made me weep.

If you have the time, watch Kenneth Branagh's film of Hamlet. (Although I think Ian Holm's Polonius is better, that's in the Mel Gibson Hamlet, which Zeffirelli fucked up nicely if you ask me.) It's very, very long, because it's the conflated text of the play (argh, but necessary), including many scenes that no one ever performs,but if there is a definitive movie version of Hamlet, Branagh's is it. It shows such depth and cleverness and despair and joy, hitting all the notes of the play without overdoing it, giving you some uncertainty, and NOT making Hamlet seem like a whiny waffling idiot. Plus, it has just an unbelievable cast, unbelievable, and all of Branagh's on-the-money filmmaking instincts.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been reading your blog for a couple weeks, and have really enjoyed both your criticisms and bravery in sharing your thoughts about your writing. Really looking forward to your steampunk. I, personally, love steampunk and wish it would gain the mainstream acceptance it deserves. Having said that, there were a couple of things I noticed about your opening that have me confused. The first thing is the opening sentence, “The ache in me won’t subside.” What ache? It’s never mentioned again and from the context I can’t seem to figure it out. Does the ache come from Racchi’s betrayal, you being wrong about him, or even that he is an animal? I’m not really sure, and that begins to make my interest fade.

Another thing that challenged my suspension of disbelief is the line, “…he was just a chimpanzee…” That completely took me out of the tone and even genre. Why not use an animal of this specific fantasy world you appear to be creating? The use of such a strong visual image of a chimp shatters my suspension of disbelief and grounds me back in the real world, instead of the world of the novel. Wouldn’t it serve the story more to use a foreign or ‘alien’ animal? I mean the line about it screeching and messing itself pretty much explains it’s an animal, so you could actually reference anything and the reader will get it, no? It just pulled me out considering the previous lines are peppered with “thaiad”, “half-blood”, and the odd name of “Racchi”. The use of a chimp seems to totally undercut what you are trying so hard to set up.

One last thing that kinda got under my skin. The word flow is awkward. It doesn’t appear to have a rhythm. Read it out loud. “To betray once, and then twice, and for it to have cost him nothing, encourages a cool voice to say that I’d been wrong about him all along.” It is difficult to read, and feels like being pushed along by a crowd in a subway in tiny little staccato bursts. Rhythm is very important to the read. For example, Poe’s word choice augments the characters and worlds he creates. The alliterations and frenetic phrasing add a layer of description for the reader, but do so in a very efficient and fluid manner. If you read it aloud, it flows. The aforementioned sentence does not. Neither does the rest, if I’m to be completely honest. I would suggest you read them aloud. It reads like I feel when I’m watching people drive bumper cars at the fair. Slightly amusing, but mostly painful. It appears that you haven’t truly found your “Voice”. Having said that, though, it does appear you’re working very diligently to find it.

Well, that’s my $0.02. I hope it helps

Denise said...

Thanks, I'll check those out, probably after I've read it again. I know that can be a mistake, but it's what I want to do.

I'm glad you're forging ahead with your bisexual character choice. I think you should do what feels right to you; I was just trying to be honest about your question. It may just be that with all the political hoo ha lately I feel like people are more conservative than they really are. I hope that's the case. <3

Katharine Coldiron said...

Thank you for your feedback, and for reading my blog. However, this is not my opening; it's actually toward the end of the prologue, so the source of the ache has been well-established. My tendency when I write in fantasy worlds is to mix fantasy and reality, so I'm comfortable with the chimp; I even mention Bette Davis in this prologue. It's actually more of an alternate history world, not a completely Other world. The chimp is supposed to be a clue to that, that a lot of things are the same even though a lot of things are different. Also, the rhythm of these sentences being pushed and staccato (I like your image of a subway crowd) is, in fact, on purpose. :) Thanks again for reading, and I look forward to hearing more from you!

Katharine Coldiron said...

No, hey, thank you for your honesty. Matt agrees with you, and your reasoning is why I asked the question!