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homeless robot liquor kitchen

Well, yesterday was far and away better than Thursday, and yet it was also frustrating and disappointing and, yes, it was tedious, too. I managed to get all the way through the five new pieces that will be appearing in Tales from the Woeful Platypus and did the corrections and a little more revision that is usual for me. But I did not manage to get to the four reprints from Sirenia Digest — "Untitled 17," "Untitled 20," "Pony," and "pas-en-arrière." Those I will have to do today, which puts me another day behind. With luck, this evening I'll have the whole ms. together and can e-mail it away to Subterranean Press. Because I need to have started work on The Dinosaurs of Mars two weeks ago.

There is some dim, reckless plan to take two or three days off, beginning tomorrow, but I've already decided to spend one of them cleaning the house.

And before I drift too far afield from the subject of writing, I was over at Elizabeth Bear's LJ (matociquala) and that particularly tiresome old shibboleth, the bit about good prose being akin to a pane of glass, "transparent prose," had come up. And I ought not say anything at all, because anyone who's been reading this journal for any time at all knows a) how I feel about declarations that, when writing fiction, one ought or ought not do any given thing and b) how I feel about the No-Style Style of writing championed by people who like to go on and on about how good prose must be transparent. Bear had many sensible things to say on the subject, and she knows I'm not addressing her. But I started trying to remember where this whole "transparent prose" nonsense got started, because I thought I recalled a quote. The best I can come up with is this bit from George Orwell: "Good prose is like a window pane." (1954, "Why I Write," from A Collection of Essays).

For my part, I'd say that good prose is like a stained-glass window. In fact, I might have already said that here before. It should allow the light through (or the darkness), but it must not be devoid of flavour and texture and sound and all the millions of things which makes each individual writer a unit discrete from all those other writers. I'll take Ray Bradbury over Mary Higgins Clark any damn day. Give me James Joyce or Angela Carter or Mark Twain or Charles Dickens and please, please keep your Robin Cooks and Jonathan Kellermans. I want to hear the writer's voice, because fiction writers are not frelling journalists. We take a story, a story anyone could tell, as all tales have been told and re-told, but then we make it our own. We find a way to tell it that is ours. Breezy, fast-paced, airplane-friendly plots are a dime a dozen. The magic is in the voice, in the point of view conveyed by the voice. The artist is the art is the artist is the art, round and round and round in that familiar Ourobouros dance of tail-swallowing. I do not write transparent prose. I will not write transparent prose. If I'm not there, on every page, in every sentence, I might as well be off somewhere writing copy for the AP.

There's a new e-ish of The Adventures of Boschen and Nesuko, wherein I reprise my role as a topless alien whore. Right there in panel 1. Really, topless alien whore, fiction writer, six of one or a half dozen of the other.

The tediousness of yesterday's editing left me too tired and stupid for anything but television. Good thing there was actually some decent television, for a change. Just a quick recap, because the platypus is crouched here beneath my desk, tapping herhisit's webbed foot. Someone asked me last week if I'd seen Heroes, and I didn't reply, because I hadn't. I was afraid it would just be another festival of pretty, interchangeable faces (i.e., Lost), wrapped up in a rip-off of The X-Men. Last night we watched the second ep, and while I think maybe the X-Men thing might still be an issue, I was surprised that the faces of the actors had character, that the characters had character, and by the end of the hour I was ready for more. So, I remain cautiously optimistic that Heroes may amount to something interesting. Then, of course, I watched the first ep of the "new" season of Dr. Who, which was really my first taste of David Tennant as the Doctor. Confession: I'm not a Dr. Who fan; I'm a Christopher Eccleston fan. That's why I was so nuts about last season. That said, I thought "Tooth and Claw" was actually very good, and I might just be able to get into this next season after all. He's no Christopher Eccleston, but David Tennant might yet win me over. And finally, the two-hour season premiere of Battlestar Galactica. Wow. I think the creators of the series are making very smart moves and have managed to pull the series out of the doldrum it had wandered into midway through the second season. And while I'm at it, let me just say that a) I hate having to say good things about programming on the Sci-Fi Channel and b) at least Friday nights have at last been freed from the bland and tiresome grip of Stargate SG-1.

Oh, and there was half an hour or so of Drakengard 2, just long enough for Manah to kick Caim's sorry ass.

Okay. Must go now. The platypus is showing me those venomous spurs, reminding me that tedium waits for no nixar.

Comments

( 16 comments — Have your say! )
the_urban_monk
Oct. 7th, 2006 05:42 pm (UTC)
When I read Orwell's essay about twenty years ago, I laughed hard when I got to that sentence, because, of course, Orwell has a distinct, unmistakeable prose style.
matociquala
Oct. 8th, 2006 02:21 am (UTC)
Even the clearest window pane makes a frame. ;-)

So yeah, what you said. And what Herself said as well.
jtglover
Oct. 7th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
I think the current fad for transparency has more to do with the success, financial and otherwise, of Stephen King, Terry Brooks, et al., than Orwell. There is a line of thinking that seems to go something like: writers must write transparently if they want to get paid... and only paid writers are professional writers... and surely all writers want to be "professional" about their writing, unless they're dilettantes... because being "professional" and earning the most money means you're "serious"... so writers must write transparently. I don't know what pros talk about when they get together, but this kind of thinking is all over the net, especially in places where new or aspiring writers gather.

Your continued success as a writer puts paid to the transparency lie. I know you have to bust your hump to get by, but you're doing it without sacrificing your style and that's so admirable. That's one of the things I admire about sovay as well, or, say, Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti doesn't make (or never made, depending on whether he ever writes again) a full-scale living from his work, but I think it has a chance of surviving because it's an expression of a worldview in style. The same, of course, applies to your work.

By the way, my copy of Alabaster came and I enjoyed it very much. It really is a beautiful thing, one of the more beautifully-designed books I own.
docbrite
Oct. 7th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
I think Stephen King's style is extremely distinctive and anything but transparent. Give me twenty paragraphs on any subject, written by twenty different authors -- hell, forty if you like -- and I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that I can choose the one penned by King.

jtglover
Oct. 7th, 2006 09:45 pm (UTC)
Maybe it depends how you define transparency. I agree his style is recognizable -- I've read some of his novels literally dozens of times, and he is distinct from his imitators. He's said in past, however, that his style is plain, and I think that's true for much of his early work. "Plain" isn't the same as "transparent," but I think that it might as well be, as far as the pro-transparency people are concerned.
docbrite
Oct. 8th, 2006 03:39 am (UTC)
He's said in past, however, that his style is plain, and I think that's true for much of his early work.

I believe he thinks it is, and it's true that he doesn't employ a lot of fancy stylistic maneuvers, but to me his natural language is just too colorful to be called plain. Who else has injured backs and legs singing "Ave Maria"? Who else has characters insulting each other with epithets like "wet end" and "ringmeat"? Who else could write an entire novel in the voice of a bad-tempered old housekeeper named Dolores Claiborne and not have it turn into a tiresome slog through incomprehensible dialect? Rather than plain, I'd call his style deeply conversational, and I think that's a major key to his success -- no matter how disturbing a tale he may be telling, he has the gift of making you (the reader) feel as though you're engaged in a friendly, intimate conversation with him.
greygirlbeast
Oct. 7th, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)
I think Stephen King's style is extremely distinctive and anything but transparent. Give me twenty paragraphs on any subject, written by twenty different authors -- hell, forty if you like -- and I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that I can choose the one penned by King.

Yeah, personally — though I'm not the King fan I once was — I have to agree. I've never found his work guilty of the whole No-Style Style. King has a voice that is King. A voice need not be florid to be distinct. For instance, I've seen people blame Hemingway for the beginning of the No-Stye Style, which I think is horribly wrongheaded. In his own way, Hemingway's style is as distinct as, say, Joyce's.
greygirlbeast
Oct. 7th, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC)
The same, of course, applies to your work.

And on this tedious day I am especially grateful to you thinking so.
(Deleted comment)
girfan
Oct. 7th, 2006 09:31 pm (UTC)
Eccleston's Doctor was nice in a paternal (or maybe a really cool uncle) sort of way. When he got angry you believed he was angry. Tennant is just too cute, I think.


Since I live in the UK, I've seen all of the David Tennant series and he is very able to do angry and has an undercurrent of "something" which builds and builds.


I like both as Doctor, though at times I wish Eccleston has done a second series, just because.

setsuled
Oct. 7th, 2006 11:44 pm (UTC)
homeless robot liquor kitchen

Is that a Futurama reference?

the bit about good prose being akin to a pane of glass, "transparent prose," had come up.

What seems to especially frustrate the discussion is the proponent's almost accidental use of "transparent prose" as though it implies good prose. That a book compelling you to read on necessarily has to do with an invisibility of style. So what kind of weird dimension would it seem to her to see people preferring a book because of style?

The impossibility of good prose without style seems so clear to me; I can't remember any book I've ever read, good or bad, that didn't have a noticeable style. Which leads me to think she, at some subterranean level, considers "style" a synonym for "mediocrity."

please, please keep your Robin Cooks and Jonathan Kellermans.

Yep. I haven't read either of those authors. Maybe this is a whole province of Fiction I've managed to completely not experience in my life? Hmm. There were a couple books I read in High School that I barely remember . . .

I want to hear the writer's voice, because fiction writers are not frelling journalists.

I sort of think a perceivable voice is good for a journalist, too, but that's another kettle of fish . . .

wherein I reprise my role as a topless alien whore.

Hey, you're a topless alien Madam.

I was surprised that the faces of the actors had character, that the characters had character, and by the end of the hour I was ready for more.

I also caught only the second episode of Heroes and was also pleasantly surprised. I liked how, for the most part, everyone was behaving like people instead of plot pawns.
greygirlbeast
Oct. 8th, 2006 12:45 am (UTC)

Is that a Futurama reference?


Bingo.

The impossibility of good prose without style seems so clear to me; I can't remember any book I've ever read, good or bad, that didn't have a noticeable style.

I don't pretend to entirely understand the reasoning or aesthetics of proponents of No-Style Style. But I almost feel like "forgettable" prose might actually be a goal here. Recall the "story" (and a huge kettle of fish could be opened regarding what contistutes "story") not the prose. It baffles me.

Hey, you're a topless alien Madam.

True. Ah, what a life...

everyone was behaving like people instead of plot pawns.

Yep.

docbrite
Oct. 8th, 2006 03:34 am (UTC)
"please, please keep your Robin Cooks and Jonathan Kellermans."

Yep. I haven't read either of those authors. Maybe this is a whole province of Fiction I've managed to completely not experience in my life? Hmm. There were a couple books I read in High School that I barely remember . . .


I wouldn't bother with Cook if I were you. Kellerman, while certainly no whiz as a stylist, is decent at characterization (except when trying to create sympathetic women -- evil bitches are his only convincing female characters) and a hell of a good storyteller. I also give him big props for using an extremely non-stereotypical, extremely well-drawn gay detective as a major character in his Alex Delaware series.

As successful as either of these authors, but better than both put together, is Michael Connelly. He's one of the faith-renewing proofs that "bestseller" doesn't automatically have to equal "shit."
setsuled
Oct. 8th, 2006 05:31 am (UTC)
Kellerman, while certainly no whiz as a stylist,

Hmm. But would you say that he has a perceptible, perhaps unconsious, style, as you describe Stephen King having when he writes "plain"? I agree with that assessment of King's style, by the way. And while I also agree with the "conversational" thing, I've always been struck by how the characters in his books don't talk like anyone in any other book or in real life. It doesn't repel me at all, but it's interesting.

an extremely non-stereotypical, extremely well-drawn gay detective as a major character in his Alex Delaware series.

There certainly needs to be more of that. It's something I enjoyed about Liquor--extremely well-drawn, non-stereotypical gay characters I mean. Thanks for the recommendation.

is Michael Connelly. He's one of the faith-renewing proofs that "bestseller" doesn't automatically have to equal "shit."

Man, my finger is so far from the pulse of the bestseller arena, I wouldn't have any faith to lose or restore. I'm a slow reader, and most of my reading consists of books I hear of around these parts, or books no younger than 40. But maybe I'll try that Connelly fellow; thanks.
docbrite
Oct. 8th, 2006 06:47 am (UTC)
"Kellerman, while certainly no whiz as a stylist,"

Hmm. But would you say that he has a perceptible, perhaps unconsious, style, as you describe Stephen King having when he writes "plain"?


Sure -- I think almost all writers do. I'm not even convinced that a so-called transparent style exists, though of course I do believe that some writers have dull, colorless styles. Even those styles, though, tend to be dull and colorless in their own sad little individual ways.

Kellerman can be sly and witty, especially when making fun of pretentious L.A. restaurants, which makes him dear to my heart. His narrator, psychologist Alex Delaware, has a convincingly earnest, wannabe-cynical, ever-so-slightly-self-pitying voice. The hardass gay detective, Milo Sturgis, is a great foil for him. Kellerman's dialogue is almost always spot-on, particularly between these two characters.

Michael Connelly is a whole other ball game -- both his characters and his style, particularly in the later novels, are more reminiscent of old L.A. noir fiction. Not just Chandler et al. either, but also Nathanael West. They're set in a modern-day Los Angeles, but it is a vividly pictured one full of emotion and strife, bones rising everywhere from the tar that occasionally bubbles to the surface -- both in the city and in recurring character Harry Bosch's personality. They are really worth a read.
shadowmeursault
Oct. 8th, 2006 03:45 am (UTC)
damn. i was hoping that "homeless robot liquor kitchen" was someone else's version of my own "elephant purple square guillotine," which is my justification for why i will never be a victim of mind control/perpetual thought-monitoring. it just gets too abstract in here.
um.
yeah.
anyway, i wanted to thank you for always stomping on these much-lauded bits of advice on how one ought to write. i'm a few more minor psychotic episodes from trying to get an agent, and manage to stumble across this sort of stuff all the time. on the bad days, it worries me greatly, eps. in regards to some comments made by my first reader that he "had to get used to my voice" to read the story at all (granted, he usually reads the stock fantasy novels that have Fabio clones on the cover, but still). it bolsters the spirit to hear sucessful authors talk about what a bunch of dren much of this advice is. though i did appreciate matociquala's rant on POV, and USM's 39 writing tips, the best of which was number 17: Grace Slick.
wishlish
Oct. 9th, 2006 01:57 pm (UTC)

"How much for that topless alien whore in the window
The one with the raggedy...um...what do you call that?"

Needs work.
( 16 comments — Have your say! )

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