March 15th, 2011

Narcissa

"I don't think the sun even exists in this place."

Sunny today, and the temperature's heading towards 47F.

As for yesterday, it was a mad blur of line editing, the sort that makes me scream and curse and wish I'd chosen just about any other career than fiction writing. I shifted to working on The Drowning Girl, and Sonya and Kathryn took over Two Worlds and In Between. I'm not entirely sure who drew the short straw there, but I suspect it was Kathryn and Sonya. We worked for about seven hours. I didn't stop until sometime after ten p.m. I managed the "last" edits on the novel, the last before it goes to my editor. Which I intend it to do tomorrow, after I make a few more little tucks and tweaks.

Sonya and Spooky picked their way through "Andromeda Among the Stones," "From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6," "Night Story 1973," "Les Fleurs Empoisonnées,” "Onion,” "The Road of Pins," and "Spindleshanks (New Orleans, 1956)." Which leaves about eight stories to go, and, I'm sorry to say they're some of the most heavily edited, as they're the oldest. Also, I think I may pull "By Turns," and replace it with "Giants in the Earth." The latter really needs the reader to be familiar with Micheal Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time sequence. But it's vastly better written than "By Turns," which suffers from...well, lots of things. But mostly "By Turns" suffers from me committing the heinous crime of writing about a romanticized South that never existed, which I've rarely ever done. You do not romanticize, not ever. It's the first thing a "Southern writer" learns.

Regardless, Sonya very, very kindly agreed to stay over one more night, and we're about to make a huge push to get through the rest of Two Worlds and In Between. Well, except for The Dy Salvages, and that's another thirty-thousand+ words Spooky and I have to get to later this week. But we're exhausted, sleep deprived, and nerves are on edge. This shit takes its toll.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to be an author who simply writes a short story, and never, ever goes back and revises it. Many of the stories in Two Worlds and In Between have been revised four and five times since their initial publication, revised to varying degrees before each and every publication. All at least once or twice. And I don't mean rewritten. I mean heavily revised. But I intend this to be the very last fucking time. Ever.

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About midnight last night, after I'd had a hot bath and we were all trying to wind down and get sleepy, I showed Sonya Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998), and I'm just going to quote her post from earlier this morning, because it was very cogent, and I need to wrap this up. So, from sovay:

"At the very beginning of tonight's movie, I said to Caitlín, 'I'm glad to see this director likes German Expressionism.' Near the very end, I said, 'That is the best film I have ever seen about the process of apotheosis.' Both of these statements are true; neither is going to convey how much I liked Dark City (1998), which begins like a solid little film noir and ends like Gnosticism. And of course it recalls Metropolis (1927) and M (1930) and Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920) and even some films that aren't in German, chiefly Jeunet and Caro's Delicatessen (1991) and La Cité des enfants perdus (1995), but I am not sure I had ever before seen a street scene simultaneously evoke Franz Kafka and Edward Hopper and you know, they're a natural fit. I can't imagine how the theatrical cut was supposed to work. I've had it explained to me, but I still can't imagine it; I don't know what it is about thoughtful science fiction that makes studios want to tack on idiotic voiceovers, but I hope it's not some kind of actual, contractually-obliged law. And even if one could make a convincing case that the central mystery of Dark City is less compelling than the characters' actions once they figure it out, I still can't figure out why any of the deleted scenes were, because one of the neatest things about the film as it stands is its three-dimensionality, the sense that any of its characters, John, Emma, Bumstead, Schreber, even Mr. Hand, might be the protagonist: and so, by turns, they all are. Take out certain lines, conversations, even reaction shots, that depth of field is lost. God, I bet this is how you jinx a movie, taking Fritz Lang as your model. At least Alex Proyas didn't have to wait eighty-plus years for the restoration.

...It's mostly the hair, and a little of the cheekbones, and the eyes, but I kept looking at Rufus Sewell as John Murdoch and being reminded of Michael Cisco. This comparison may haunt me for years. Then again, any film that contained multiple shout-outs to Daniel Paul Schreber's Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903) would probably remind me of Michael Cisco all by itself. I still wonder if this explains anything about the world."

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Okay, kittens. Back to the special hell of words.

In Perpetual Exhaustion,
Aunt Beast

(And remember, I AM NOT A HORROR WRITER!)
Mars from Earth

The Dry Salvages Redux

Sonya and I are reading through The Dry Salvages (Subterranean Press, 2004). It's the last real hurdle in finishing up editing Two Worlds and In Between.

There's a lot of ancient history here.

The Dry Salvages (for those who do not know) is a very short sf novel about the ill-fated exploration of an extrasolar moon — Piros, which orbits a planet named Cecrops. It's dystopian, dark, tense, a bit Lovecraftian, heavily influenced by the cyberpunks and New Wave writers, with a big Stanislaw Lem influence, and pretty much devoid of optimism. I did an enormous amount of work on it, and went to great lengths to get all the science as right as I could get it. The physics, paleontology, robotics, astronomy, geology, biology, engineering, mathematics...everything. I enlisted the aid of people knowledgeable in areas where my own expertise was lacking.

The book meant a lot to me. I was weary of writing dark fantasy and wanted to make a switch to sf. So, I had a lot riding on critical and reader reaction to the book. I likely had somewhat unrealistic expectations. Subterranean Press did wonderful things to promote the novel. It got a grand cover from Ryan Oberymeyer:


The Dry Salvages, Copyright © 2004 by Ryan Obermeyer


The review that meant the most to me, the one I awaited with bated breath, was the Locus review. It finally arrived. And it wasn't exactly glowing. Moreover, it had been written by a reviewer for whom I had (and still have) a good deal of respect. Whether or not I should have been, I was...I still don't know the right word for the way I felt. Confused, mostly. I'd never gotten a bad Locus review. Even The Five of Cups had received a good review. But Locus is, first and foremost, a magazine devoted to sf, and this was sf, and now I was playing in the Big Leagues. And I think the way I felt was that I'd been told to stay in my place. Indeed, the review included a line which I shall paraphrase, as I don't have the actual text on hand (those files are in storage): "This is what happens when horror writers try to write science fiction." I'm sure that's not an exact quote, but I think it's the exact sentiment. To be fair, the reviewer did not think the book was entirely without merit, just not up to the standards of contemporary literary sf.

Though I am absolutely certain it was not the reviewer's intent, the review had an immediate and chilling effect on me. I believed he knew what he was talking about, and so obviously I'd blown it. I resolved to stick to dark fantasy (my agent hadn't wanted me writing sf, anyway, but that's another story).

The Dry Salvages sold well, and there was even a weird bit of business with a Very Big Hollywood Production Company of which nothing ever came. I still wrote sf short stories, many of which appeared in my 2009 sf collection, A is for Alien (which I don't think Locus even reviewed). But I haven't tried to write another piece of sf even half as ambitious as The Dry Salvages. (And no, I do not believe that was the reviewer's desired effect; not at all.)

And now, more than six years after that review, I'm reading The Dry Salvages for the first time since I sent the final manuscript to subpress (I didn't read it after it appeared in print). And I'm reading it with fresh eyes, almost as if it were written by another author. We're halfway through, and I'm delighted with it. Anyone who knows me, or who's read this journal for a while, knows I'm one of my own harshest critics, and that I usually grow unhappy with a story or novel after only a few years. But...I'm enjoying The Dry Salvages.

And this is the perfectly fucking obvious thing that I am concluding: Reviewers whom you respect, whom you very often — but not always — agree with, can be very wrongheaded. For years I believed what that review said about this book, but reading it now, I see that I was mistaken, as was the reviewer. Is it "hard" sf? Well, sort of, but not exactly. It's not space opera, but there's far more emphasis on wonder and awe and the perils of space travel to the human mind than there is on tech. It's also not the recently fashionable "mundane" sf, which eschewed space travel and alien contact. But the science is good, and the writing's some of my best from that period.

And the review was wrongheaded. This doesn't mean the reviewer doesn't often offer valuable insight about books. It just means that, in this instance, a book failed to measure up in their eyes (and, in part, I think that's because there was a strong and mistaken preconception that I was a "horror writer"). But, the only real fault here was my reaction. No review should ever make you waver the way I did in the wake of that review.

And now, reading The Dry Salvages again after all these years, I'm reclaiming it. I did a good job. And maybe someday I'll write another sf story like it, of that length and scope.

Regardless, very soon the story will be in print again, and as I read it tonight, I'm glad of that.

No hard feelings.

P.S.: With all due respect, I AM NOT A HORROR WRITER!