Saturday, May 30, 2009

I r srs riter, I r revising

Reading another book on writing: Revision, by Kit Reed. Opened with some little trepidation, because as a pre-teen I read a Kit Reed story that scarred me for years. (I've just spent 10 minutes with the wonderful Index to SF Anthologies, and I think the story may have been called 'Winston') Even when I bought Other Stories and Attack of the Giant Baby, I read with my eyes half-closed, ready to flinch away.
Fortunately, this is non-fiction. Originally I picked it up to recommend to the writer I was prepping a critique for last week, but I'm finding it interesting for myself. I skimmed the first two chapters, which are openly intended to convince a beginning writer that Revision Is Necessary, because I belong to that weird subgroup that believes Revision Is Fun.
Lately I've been trying to puzzle out what separates one draft from another draft. I mean, at what point do you say you're now working on a 3d draft rather than continuing to fix the 2d draft? I get that the first draft is when you actually have some form of the whole story down, even if bits are more notes-to-oneself than actual narrative. But after that? Where's the split between 3d and 4th? Should I be rewriting the entire story, start to finish, every time?

Reed's chapter 3 gave me a clue about my own revision, um, system. She differentiates between
1. Draft writing, draft revision. The draft writer gets out a first draft without stopping to look back and make changes. Revision comes in subsequent drafts.
2. Block construction, or; revising as you go. The writer using block construction revises sentence by sentence, progressing slowly through a story of novel to what is essentally a polished version.
Add to these first two major types of revision, a third. This one takes place after the story or novel exists in more or less complete form. It is:
3. Revision to strengthen structure and story. ... This third type of revision comes after you think you're finished.
I know I turn out a pretty clean first draft. I realise that the superficial smoothness can mask structural problems. And I've been fidgetty when general discussions of problems with first drafts tend to concentrate on fixing surface messiness.
Reed's discussion of the advantages of 'block construction' sound very close to what I enjoy, especially the 'running head start' of tidying yesterday's work to build up speed for the next bit of story.
I'm not quite a match, because I'll also jump ahead in the narrative to write a scene that's in my head, while I still have it fresh. But I'm getting so many little sparks of 'oh yes!' reading about block construction that it's a bit exciting. After all I've read about coshing your internal editor to get the first draft down, and dreadful warnings about writers who endlessly polish their first pages or first chapters and never complete a book, I've felt somewhat defensive about my friendly relationship with my inner editor. As long as I can keep her from dithering, she's quite helpful.

Revision is on my mind because I've received a request to rewrite a story, and have a file of editorial comments and suggestions. Just as if I were a professional writer & stuff! Speed up the opening, fill out the ending, change the commas to house style. And change the title.

I think I will look at my old copies of Boy's Own Annual etc., to get the correct feel, because this is the Chimps story.
Here's some sample story titles from a boy's annual of 1928:
  • Dangerous Cargo
  • The First Grenadier of France
  • Coward of the Lost Legion
  • Del Oro's Luck
  • Two Miles a Minute
  • When the War God Walked Again
  • The Mystery of the Malakai Light
  • The Riddle of the River
  • To Rescue the King
  • The Red God's Call

Or perhaps the titles of articles might be more fruitful?
  • How I Flew from New York to Paris
  • My Most Thrilling Air Experience
  • Sentenced to the Hulks
  • Twenty-five Thousand Miles in an Eight-ton Boat
  • And Then I Jumped

With a little work, I could rearrange those into a flashfic. But revision comes first. And tidying the cat.
As Priscilla Fluffycat loses her winter coat, brushing her is no longer sufficient. She must be combed, combed with a fine tooth, which makes her puff out like a seeding dandelion and become surpassingly plushy.
She's afraid of the vacuum noise, though, so that's out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Intellect action figure

I've been reading Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card, and finding a fair bit relevant. I don't know that I'll need to hang on to it and reread it, but it usefully puts into words a number of things I'd had wordlessly floating about in the back of the brain.
One section, though, left me depressed. In the chapter on What Should We Feel About the Character?, the section on Characters We Hate:
This isn't true in every culture, but certainly the American audience resents any character who is smarter or better educated than other people. Robert Parker can only get away with having his detective, Spenser, quote poetry because he works so hard to establish Spenser as a tough guy. ... We're afraid of and resentful of people who know more than we do, and when they act as if they think it makes them superior to us, we hate them.

This may be true. Card knows his audience, I have little doubt of that. He's a popular (if/because manipulative) writer, and more successful than I'm ever likely to be.
But the assertion depresses the heck out of me in a few ways.
1) Like Doyle, I have 'the dangerous scholar' as my personal archetype. James Asher, from Hambly's vampire books. Peter Wimsey. Erudition to me is sexy, not threatening.
2) The hero should be 'like us' but in the chapter on The Hero and the Common Man, Card says 'Despite their seeming ordinariness, these heroes always turn out to be extraordinary, once we truly understand them.'

So, under a veneer of the ordinary, the hero is extraordinary. I'm not happy with this phrasing, because what I'm taking from this is:
1) the hero is not like us. He is special. He's just pretending to be like us.
2) he is already special, born special.
3) he does not achieve specialness through effort or sacrifice, though it may require effort or sacrifice to strip off the veneer. He already is a hero.
4) being born special is NOT elitist, even though ordinary people can't become special.
5) becoming educated IS elitist, even though ordinary people can become educated.
6) keep your place. Improving yourself is the path to evil.

So, yeah, as the child of working-class parents who worked damn hard to educate themselves and improve themselves, and who was taught that the riches you store in your head are the only kind you can rely on through any upheaval and disaster... I don't find I want to write for the demographic that hates and fears education, but admires unearned status.
I'll be over here, hanging out with the AV Club and the Intellect Ninjas.

In other writing news, my 33 e-queries have netted 18 form rejections, 7 no-answer-means-no, and 3 request for partials, one of which led to a request for a full on a 2-week exclusive. One week to go.
I'm not laying any heavy burden of hope on it, but it was nice to have someone say "I'm enjoying this. Can I have the full?"
Oh, and I sold a story to Mindflights, my second story-sale evaaah, and the first story I wrote with some vague intention of selling it (Spellcheck). I'll put a link up once the story actually sees pixels.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

photosensitive me

Back from May Crown, a terrific weekend at the Daisy May Campground near Fort Macleod. I visited with my kick-butt apprentice Alis and her lady Asha; former but still kick-butt apprentice Sina and her cute-beyond-bearing children; amazingly talented friend Nan (with detour to see her new yarn shop); about-to-be-married Meg; stunningly gorgeous Kate, and others that I'm too silly to adjectivise just now: Klaus, Nessa, Elaine and Malcolm, Freydis, ....
So yes, I was very social. And dutiful. I did about an hour of folding event handouts, two hours of gate, attended the (mercifully brief) Laurels meeting, the 'Show & Shine' (all of one person displaying work, possibly because the name is not indicative of anything specific), and the Laurel Q&A (where I ended up being Mistress Bossy-Boots because no one was in charge).

The site is a former or occasional swamp off the Oldman River. Once off the flattened campground, you can clearly see the channels and humpy islands, even without water to delineate. Doing a bit of a wander, I found two half-sunk squashed cars, with scrubby trees growing through the windows and hood in approved post-disaster movie fashion.
The full-grown trees were mostly leafless, making for a somewhat artificial, stage-setting look. Trinity thought it looked like the set for a Harry Potter film.
Where the swamp wasn't, the ground was strewn with river stones, some remarkably large. We found an impressive lump of quartz, black basalt, granite, lots of blobby sedimentary and others that Freydis identified for us (yay Freydis!). I found a little square striated stone that turned out to be petrified (?) bone - a bit of buffalo rib, maybe.
Yes, I brought back rocks. Because rocks are cool.

The first day was clear and still, the stars that night thick and swarming, the night bloody cold. I didn't properly warm up (having done the 10-midnight shift) until near light. The next two days were windy, gusting erratically and continually, and my canvas tent luffed all night. Every time I dozed off, I dreamt of sailing and woke trying to duck under the boom as we swung about to catch the breeze. Since I haven't sailed for, oh, thirty-five years, this seemed unfair.
I'm a bit wonky from lack of sleep, although I did sleep until 11 Monday morning.

After take-down, I discovered that the methotrexate warnings aren't kidding about photosensitivity. I'd managed to keep my head covered almost the whole time, but apparently not enough, and not my nose. Not only did about 15-20 minutes of sun toast the back of my neck, but my nose was blistered.
The backs of my hands burnt! The most weather-exposed, toughened parts of my body burnt, from being out in full sun for part of a day. You can see where my cuffs fell partway across the knuckles.
It makes me want to do leaf-prints on myself. If I stuck some ivy leaves on my bare pallid arms, it would probably only take about 10 minutes to establish a temporary sun-tattoo. Sure, it might hurt some, but so do tattoos.

In other health-related musings, you'd think that a test involving the words 'occult' and 'blood' would be creepy and cool, possibly admitting one to membership in an order of mystic assassins.
But this is not the case.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Probably a bigger woodchipper

Would be needed to dispose of a body. The one we rented this weekend, while too large to be transported in the back of the van (without laying it down, which would spill fuel) was only suitable for blackberry vines and rose cuttings.
I can't say much for the design of the woodchipper. It's not the sort you see in films, where you could pretty much shovel in whatever you like. That sort has to be hitched to a vehicle. Ours was a little beastie, hardly above waist-height, with a rectangular opening at the top and a funnel at the side. At first I took the funnel for the outlet, but it's the feeder for larger things. The outlet is a vent at the base, which chokes up after a while so that the heavy & unwieldy chipper must be awkwardly wheeled a few feet away from the chip-pile it's made.
The design is almost anti-ergonomic. Unless it's meant to be operated by prepubescent children, the feeder height requires bending over constantly.
In the two hours before it ran out of fuel, we did greatly reduce the slash-piles stacked around the back yard, and produce a few buckets of sawdust mulch for the roses. But most of that was done through the side-funnel, rather than the top opening, which proved nearly useless, even for the small cuttings, twigs and leaves.
The side funnel is a lot of fun to use. You feed one end of a vine into it, and once it catches, the whole vine whips in, waving about like a retracting Triffid. But any projecting stub of vine (you know, the natural way that both blackberries and roses grow) can catch on the funnel edge and leave it vibrating blurrily instead of entering the grinder.
After an hour, I was vibrating somewhat blurrily myself, especially about the hands, and my gloves were speckled with those blackberry thorns that hadn't managed to reach my skin. So I wasn't terribly regretful when the fuel ran out. Our neighbours may have been relieved as well. It's not a sleek purring machine.
I suppose anyone who reads mysteries (or watches trashy movies) would think of body disposal while using a woodchipper. I'd recommend the bigger size.
It occurs to me that the development of dna tech has made forensics less interesting rather than more. I was impressed by the detective who spotted a kidney stone (gallstone?) mixed in with the gravel of a garden path, and with the story of a murderer who woodchipped his victim and aimed the vent out over a river, but was defeated by the discover of a single tooth.

Rhubarb and roses
The rhubarb has leapt up in the last weeks. Whee, she said feebly, I like rhubarb. Maybe I'll make more pies.
And transplant the volunteer sweet rocket into the front yard, under the bay window where it's hard to grow things.
And prune the roses over the front gate, the part that needs a stepladder. The Adelaide d'Orleans is healthy enough, but the one on the other side of the arch may be dead (I'm still cutting back) and I can't find its nametag or remember what its blooms looked like when last seen. I'm wondering if the blooms I vaguely remember were the Adelaide spilling over to the other side?
I've cut back the garage-swallowing alba in the backyard (hmm, maybe I should take a cutting of the alba and see if it would grow where the unknown arch-rose is giving up?), and in the front made some inroads on the sprawling Dortmund, the Bourbon Queen, and the Rosearie de la Haye.
I've barely touched the Wenlock, which remains healthy despite the shadow of the boulevard trees. The Jacques Cartier and Alain Blanchard are holding up, but another three are pretty feeble. Stupid shade. Okay, not to be ungrateful for Victoria's urban forest, but I'd rather have an ornamental cherry or something else that dropped pink petals than dusty catkins and aphid juice.

The frame of the old cable-ride is beside the Dortmund, and I've thought about hanging a basket-chair from it (I have a hanging chair lying in the attic, waiting for a frame strong enough) but I don't know whether I could keep the vines away from the chair. One doesn't want to swing idly into thorns. The other end of the cable-ride has a lilac tree growing into it, but at least it wouldn't be thorns. I've cut back some of the lilac, but tentatively.
While my thumbs are far from green, I rather like pruning. It's like editing. Ooh, that bit doesn't need to be there ... LOP! Just as when I'm editing, it's far easier for me to trim out a clearly dead bit than it is to remove something vigorous but in the wrong place, even with the promise of a more satisfying shape to come.
Editing, like body disposal, is in my thoughts just now because I'm reading some work that needs pruning. I've colour-coded my high-lighters: blue for hackneyed language, green for confusing, pink for punctuation and typos, and yellow for superfluous. It's not quite Fanthorpian levels of repetition, but enough that I'm covering 1/2 to 2/3 of each page with yellow.
I need to buy another yellow highlighter. This one's dying, and the woodchipper isn't fine-tuned enough.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

tea and painted walls

UK 08, the never-ending ....

And on we pedalled, as mentioned, to South Elmham Hall. To be accurate, we walked the bicycles through fields until we found a paved road, muddled about with the OS maps, then pedalled on.
Circuitously, we found the entrance, with a little wooden sign saying OPEN. This was a relief, as we'd not managed to make contact with the Hall by phone or email, but were chancing it since we were close by.
Hm, no vehicles in the gravelled parking lot. Hm, no bustling staff. There was Bateman's Barn, though, and the door open. We poked our heads in. A fellow with a short haircut and squared-off build that suggested ex-military was mopping out the hallway.
"We're closed," he said.
We explained that the gate and sign said otherwise. He took pity on our windblown state and offered tea and sweets, which we accepted gratefully. I had a brownie, which was very good, even discounting for exercise & hunger.
You can see more about Bateman's Barn here, where it's ready to receive guests, but I couldn't resist a few pictures of the beams OMG the BEAMS! they are huuge. Even if it is 16th century, and therefore late by my standards.
My cunning husband explained that we'd hoped to see the wall-paintings, because I was an enthusiast of wall-paintings, and mentioned our visits to Hoxne and Thornham Parva for the sake of their wall-paintings, all said in the best-buttered 'no pressure, mind' way.
And because the owners of South Elmham Hall are terribly kind people, and have their own enthusiasm for their home (and no wonder!) by the time I'd finished the brownie, we had an invitation to see inside.

LinkJohn gave us a brief background as we walked across. The Hall is a 13th century hunting lodge for the Bishops of Norwich, and the surrounding land was a deer park, set in a moated enclosure that's older still. Ruins of a gatehouse remain, and parts of the chapel and cloister were incorporated into later farm buildings. The 13th century hall was swallowed by a 16th century farmhouse, which is itself a listed building.
The remaining wall paintings are foliate and floriate repeat patterns, nothing figural, but done with some skill and grace, considerably pricier-looking than those at Thornham Parva. John was concerned that they were fading slowly, exposed to the daylight, and indeed the section painted in (what was now) the loo did seem deeper in colour.
Mark took many more pictures--he has a steadier hand--and John mentioned that he didn't have that many photos, so we promised to email ours when we got back home.

Less impressive to the eye, perhaps, but hugely interesting to me, were rows of what looked very much like the sinoper (the sketch or underdrawing usually done in charcoal or lead and fixed with a mix of red & yellow ochres) left unpainted. Because process is more interesting to me than product, especially in medieval painting, where there's often no description of process, and it must be guessed at.
I didn't want to go sticking my face into the wall to check for pinpricks that might be compass marks, though. It seemed more polite to stick my face into the enlarged photos, afterwards.
After many thanks, we bicycled away, and turned the OPEN sign around to CLOSED as we left, just in time to forestall a small tourist party.

So, past the Church Farm moat, past where St. Nicholas used to be, on through St. Margaret Green, up Wash Lane and to St. Peter's Hall, an extensively moated site with a 13th century building (renovated extensively in the 16th century, using bits probably looted from the nearby priory and church).

You can see a bit of the moat here. There's a good deal more of it, though some has been filled or lost over the years.
Presently St. Peter's is a brewery (you can buy the ale at our local liquor store) and restaurant. A good thing, since however impressive the moat complex (and it is) one needs sustenance. The day was clear, bright, and windy, and we'd been cycling rather a lot. Also my rear tire was deflating slowly, and the pump didn't seem to affect it one way or the other.
Here's the front entrance. Nice porch, isn't it?
Some very thorough restoration work has gone on here, and given the hodgepodgey nature of many older English houses, restored and reworked and gutted and recovered over generations and wildly variant theories of architectural style, the looted ecclesiastical bits don't look out of place. It's a good idea to have done your looting a few centuries ago, and let the mellow aging settle things down in the meantime.

This is not the part we ate in, because we weren't there for dinner. We ate in the bar, which has booths and comfier benchs, having what my notes describe as a 'sumptuous lunch'. Mark had steak & ale pie, and in the interests of research I had smoked eel salad & potatoes. Smoked eel tastes like a mild white fish. The flesh is white and flakes apart easily. The skin was very slightly scaly, a little shiny. It was tasty, but not really distinctive.

Despite the sun, no one was eating outside. I found out why when I went to take photos. The Saints being on a sort of plateau (to strain the word a bit, since East Anglia isn't all that tall to start with) there isn't anything more to stop the wind than there is on Salisbury Plain.
I had my jacket tied around my waist, and very nearly lost it into the moat, tugged off by the wind.
Standing by the wall overlooking the moat was rather like standing abovedecks on the BC Ferry, the wind banging at you from all around and the sun slapping off the water. So I stayed out for a while, because I like that sensation.
Afterwards we had a walk around the brewery and the shop. Unfortunately what we'd really have liked to buy would have been difficult to bring home safely on the plane. But it was still interesting. Not often one sees a brewery with a thatched roof, after all.

Because of the troublesome rear tire, we decided against continuing on to St. Andrew's Ilketshall, even though it has wall-paintings. One mustn't be greedy.

Yes, we did see more churches, about half of the Saints that day, but this post is long enough already, so I'll leave that for another. Because I know you want to read more about moats.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

ruins amid the Saints

Simon's entry on South Elmham Minster is here, for supplementary reading.

Leaping ahead in chronology, because this site deserves its own post. We visited it on the day we meant to see as many of 'the Saints' as we could. The weather was bright and windy. With the help of our OS maps (#230 Diss & Harleston, and #231 Southwold & Bungay) we reached the plateau (relatively speaking) and found Mundy's Farm, the first landmark.
A signposted right-of-way led across the ploughed field, straight into the woods. We briefly considered finding somewhere to lock the bikes, but the only structure was the signpost, so we set out walking the bikes across the flinty field. The woods, as you can see, are open and sunny. It is very quiet, easy to believe yourself alone for miles.
Side note: I can lift a bike over a fence more easily than I can lift a bike over a stile. I have no good explanation for this.

Then, past hedges and a stream, we came to South Elmham Minster, as it's called. Flint-core ruins, roofless, with trees growing around and among them.
It's probably impossible to describe the place or the atmosphere of it without invoking Tolkien. Twisty trees. Inexplicable ruins. Deep in the English countryside. It only needs someone in a cloak, to tell you by what names this place is known to the elves and the ents.

In the first picture (up top), you can see the edge of a bench. That and a sign giving the probable history of the site are (thankfully!) the only overt modern additions. Mostly you can wander without speaking, imagining almost any sort of past use and purpose: castle, chapel, temple, manor, even cathedral. The name 'South Elmham Minster' comes from the belief that it was a cathedral, for all the small South Elmham churches. But apparently that Elmham Minster was in Norfolk.

Another theory is that it was a pagan temple, and it is surrounded by earthworks, which might be the remains of a Roman encampment.
Presently, though, it's believed to be a private chapel for a Bishop's residence, dating to about 1000 AD, built for the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga. (If anyone knows what name the Elves knew him by, I'll add that here).
It's easy to believe that the site had a religious purpose; even now (even more so now?) one wants to be still, whether to pray or meditate.

The trees (beeches, I think) are very nearly as striking as the ruins. Several are intertwined in this loving yet Laocoonish fashion. Perhaps it was the influence of the Minster, but I saw them as more intriguing than disturbing.
As many times before, I wished I were a better sketch artist, with much more time. But that's where photographs are useful.
We leant our bikes against a huge fallen tree that had begun to sprout upwards. I almost took a picture of it, and discovered later that the same view was for sale as a postcard--also that most of the pictures I'd taken were from the same angles & places that the postcards were taken from.
I'm not sure what this says about my eye for photos, whether good or just predictable. Or simply that it isn't possible to take really bad photos of some place this beautiful and mysterious.

Our next stop was to be South Elmham Hall, but I'll save that for another post. Since I neglected to take any pictures of the right-of-way across the fields, entering, here's a pic of the way out (to South Elmham Hall) which shows, maybe, how miles-from-anywhere the Minster seems to be.

I could have stayed longer, just sitting and being quiet amid the trees and stones, but South Elmham Hall has secular medieval wall-paintings, not to mention a caff, and biking does make for an appetite. So through the fields we trundled, following the footpaths from the eleventh century to the fourteenth century.