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turning on a dime, one thin dime

I carry a virtual map of the history of life in my head, phylogenies and taxonomies and biostratigraphic correlations. Even though, strictly speaking, I no longer consider myself a palaeontologist, the knowledge remains, and I try to stay up to date on things. So it's cool when I find something I don't know, not a new idea but one I missed somehow. For example, only yesterday did I learn that an hypothesized sister-group relationship exists between bats and primates. That is, bats and primates evolved from a common ancestor and are more closely related to one another than either group is to any other group of mammals. It's not too surprising that this one slipped past me. Mammals have never been my thing. But still, I love the idea of the bat/primate link (collectively, bats, primates and the most recent common ancestor of both are referred to as archontans). Humans might have had wings, if things had gone just a little bit differently. By the way, as long as I have my geek on, the earliest known bat is Icaronycteris index from the Eocene of Wyoming (about 50 million ybp), while the earliest known primate-like mammal, Purgatorius ceratops, comes from the latest Mesozoic rocks of Montana (about 65 million ybp), deposited just before the extinction of the dinosaurs. We don't yet know where or when the bat/primate divergence occurred.

I keep forgetting to mention a package I received last week from Lisa at Projekt Records, which included the new black tape for a blue girl CD and the latest Projekt sampler (new stuff by Voltaire, Android Lust, Mira, and others). I love getting cool, free stuff, and it reminded me how long it's been since I've spoken with Lisa, not since the birth of Sasha, her son.

Sometimes, it seems that I'm losing track of everyone.

Last night, just before bed, I started thinking about how amazing it is that the Coen Bros. have gotten away with not repeating themselves (Miller's Crossing was on some station or another...one of my all-time fave films). That's no mean trick, in any art. And then I started thinking about how I've felt a certain amount of pressure to write another novel very much like Threshold and how some readers have been disappointed that Low Red Moon and Murder of Angels were so different from Threshold. And, really, I think this all began when I was standing outside earlier last night, staring down an alleyway at the shadows and the stingy shafts of lights getting through tree limbs and thinking what a fine setting it would make for a scene in a book or story, maybe someone being chased along that alley. And then I thought, But that's so much like the scene in Cat People when Jane Rudolph is walking alone past Central Park, pursued by something cat-like. Besides, you did that scene in Low Red Moon, remember? When Sadie has to cross the park with Narcissa following her? Disappointed, I admired the dark alleyway for its own merits, not as a potential story setting. And so, later, I moved quickly from my thought about the Coen Bros. to the thing about Threshold, and that led me to consider the books I'll probably never write because, not only do I fear repeating myself, I so fear repeating other writers.

I suspect, for example, that I'll never write a Haunted House Novel. What could I do that hasn't been done better by so many before me? Could I possibly best The Haunting of Hill House, The House Next Door, The Shining, or House of Leaves? Not likely. I've played a little with the haunted house archetype, through the sick, old house on Cullom Street in Silk, Low Red Moon, and Murder of Angels, and in some of my short fiction, too (most prominently in the Dandridge House stories and in "The Long Hall on the Top Floor"). And the old house where Narcissa and her grandfather lived on the Massachusetts shore. But I've never really sat down to write a proper haunted house novel, sensu stricto. I would have to either find something truly novel to say, or I'd have to find some truly novel way of saying something someone else has said previously. Just writing another story about a haunted house? Why bother? Which brings me back around to Threshold and the Coen Bros. I don't want to start repeating myself, writing the same novel again and again in order to capitalize on the success of an earlier book. Hell, I was worried I came too close to repeating Threshold in The Dry Salvages.

I'd rather continue to write novels that surprise me. Daughter of Hounds has already surprised me.

It's better that way. Someday, I might even write something as good as Miller's Crossing, if I can avoid doing Raising Arizona for the third or fourth time.

Comments

( 20 comments — Have your say! )
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 04:02 pm (UTC)
Re: haunted
Well, but even leaving aside the question of whether or not the "Shining" is "better" than "Hill House,"

Actually, I'd say it's the other way round (and I do think it's fair the compare these, as King was very obviously reworking Jackson's book early in his career; you see it in Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, and The Shining).

whatever you wrote would be shot through with yr unique temperament and observations and esp way of putting things

I just don't think that's good enough. I mean, by that approach writers risk becoming flavours. You might, for instance, have your Anne-Rice flavoured vampires, your PZB flavoured vampires, your Nancy-Collins flavoured vampires, ad nauseum, and sure, here are different flavours, but does that really justify an endless stream of vampire novels? I don't think so.

greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 04:31 pm (UTC)
Re: haunted
guess having an early background in the "Great Books" really brought home to me the belief that it's all been done already.

Yes, you have a point, of course. Everything has already been done, in some sense. As I said below, all art is genuinely derivative. But, still, the trick is to bring something new to the undertaking or at least a convincing illusion of something new. And with so many of the horror tropes (vampires, haunted houses, etc.) that seems very difficult, given the sheer bulk of work that's been done.

Perhaps I stated my case too strongly. But I'd hate to look back at my work twenty years from now and say, well, there's my haunted house novel. Yep. I did of those. And there's my ghost story. And there's my vampire novel. And there's my werewolf novel. I did one of those, too. And, hey, there's my serial killer novel. Wait. Didn't I ever do telekinetic teenage girl thing?
marlowe1
Nov. 8th, 2004 06:53 pm (UTC)
Re: haunted
Although if you titled them "My Goddamn Haunted House Book", "My Fucking Vampire Book" and "Here's the Stupid Serial Killer Book, Happy?" I would buy them.
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 07:17 pm (UTC)
Re: haunted
Although if you titled them "My Goddamn Haunted House Book", "My Fucking Vampire Book" and "Here's the Stupid Serial Killer Book, Happy?" I would buy them.

*snork*
__hecate__
Nov. 8th, 2004 11:36 pm (UTC)
Re: haunted
"by that approach writers risk becoming flavours."
But they are, to some extent. I know (at least when it
comes to fiction) that I initially goes for contents but
that my focus shifts to prose and story telling skill in my
choise of if I will read him or her again. In other words, it's
not the story but how you tell it that matters. Unless the person just
keeps telling the same story over and over.

"but does that really justify an endless stream of vampire novels? I don't think so."
Me neither, but as you pointed out in the next quote, it depends
on your intentions, if as you say.

"But, still, the trick is to bring something new to the undertaking or at least a convincing illusion of something new."
Then I don't think that you should change (the story in your mind)
just because the setting you happen to see has been, lets say over worked.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 03:56 pm (UTC)
Re: addendum
but just the fear of repeating what someone else is done is just about the last thing I would think anyone would accuse you of.

Perhaps because I worry about it so much.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 04:24 pm (UTC)
Re: addendum
But I think "derivative" would be the last word anyone would apply to your work. Ever.

Ah. But they have. I've been accused of being derivative of everyone from Neil to Poppy (lots with Poppy) to Nancy Collins (???) to Alan Moore to Kathe Koja. And I don't just mean people making comparisons, but actually accusing me of being derivative (in that negative sense; all art is derivative). It happens.
(Deleted comment)
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 05:23 pm (UTC)
Re: addendum
Well....but they're WRONG.

Hopefully, yes.
dreamtech
Nov. 8th, 2004 04:41 pm (UTC)
Have you ever thought of doing a book that would utilize your knowledge of paleontology? Not suggesting another Jurassic Park, either. I find the subject fascinating, even though I am merely an amateur (Discovery Channel watcher) enthusiast.
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 04:46 pm (UTC)
Have you ever thought of doing a book that would utilize your knowledge of paleontology?

Well, I think I have, in Threshold, The Dry Salvages, and, to a lesser extent, in Low Red Moon. There's even a dab in Murder of Angels, and it shows up all through my short fiction ("Valentia," for example).

I suspect that as I continue to branch out into science fiction, palaeontology will be a common motif in my work.
dreamtech
Nov. 8th, 2004 05:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, OK. My apologies - I must admit that I have not read a lot of your work... yet. I fully intend to seek some of them out soon. My "To be read" pile just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
sclerotic_rings
Nov. 8th, 2004 08:28 pm (UTC)
(contented sigh) I'm glad that someone else has an interest in the primate/bat connection, especially since it's very probable that bats evolved long before the extinction of the dinosaurs. (Considering that the first known bats, from both the Messel Shales of Germany and the Green River of Wyoming, are structurally nearly identical to modern bats, the current surmisal is that they developed their traits sometime in the Cretaceous, probably as a way to fill a niche that wasn't being filled by pterosaurs or birds.) And if that isn't strange enough, several palaeontologists suspect that pterosaurs themselves evolved long before the Great Permian Extinction, considering that they are already developed fliers by their first appearance in the fossil record.

Never mind me. When you have science to study, who has time to write pointless glibberings and meepings for equally pointless science fiction essay magazines? And the world comes out ahead twice.
greygirlbeast
Nov. 8th, 2004 08:35 pm (UTC)
(Considering that the first known bats, from both the Messel Shales of Germany and the Green River of Wyoming, are structurally nearly identical to modern bats, the current surmisal is that they developed their traits sometime in the Cretaceous, probably as a way to fill a niche that wasn't being filled by pterosaurs or birds.)

I very much love the idea of Cretaceous evening skies filled with bats.

Some days I miss paleo' a lot...
sclerotic_rings
Nov. 9th, 2004 05:13 pm (UTC)
And what keeps you from going back?
mellawyrden
Nov. 8th, 2004 10:02 pm (UTC)
Many of the most successful visual artists seem to have repeated themes - subject matter, gesture, materials and so on - throughout their bodies of work. Jim Dine, Alberto Giacometti, Remedios Varo, Joseph Cornell, Edward Gorey are a few examples. In fact it's seen as a disadvantage if the body of work is not repetitive in some way.. it's said to lack cohesion .

Also in music, people listen for "influences" in the way a performer makes work.. there too I think it's seen as an artistic advantage in some way.

Are criticisms different in the literary world?

Considering the parallels that could be drawn from any work of art to any other, I imagine it would be impossible to avoid unintentional repetition of something, that someone would eventually try to call you on (rather than praise you for, as they likely would if it were music)?
greygirlbeast
Nov. 9th, 2004 12:04 am (UTC)
Are criticisms different in the literary world?

Well, no, not really. Again, I think I stated my case rather poorly this morning. Clearly, I'm influenced by other authors. Clearly, I repeat motifs throughout my work, reworking themes again and again. Clearly, other works of art have profound influences on my own work.

For example, a number of reviewers have pointed out obvious strong cinematic influences on The Dry Salvages2001: A Space Oddessy, Alien, Solaris etc. — and they weren't saying this was a bad thing.

I think I meant one thing and said another. Yes, the Coen Bros. have not repeated themselves, but it's also true that certain themes run through the body of their work, providing that "cohesion." Likewise, many of their influences are obvious.

Never mind.
happyspector
Nov. 9th, 2004 12:20 am (UTC)
As to the Coens ... Honestly, "Fargo" has always felt to me like an attempt to re-capture the whole "Blood Simple" thing, and it ("Fargo") never quite done it for me.

Incidentally, off the cup, you haven't done any of those advance promo things since "The Dry Salvages," have you? I just realized I don't think my old place in VT has a forwarding address, and that's the one remaining matter I can think of over which I'd WANT mail forwarded.
greygirlbeast
Nov. 9th, 2004 01:01 am (UTC)
Incidentally, off the cup, you haven't done any of those advance promo things since "The Dry Salvages," have you?

Nope.
floridacayman
Nov. 9th, 2004 06:34 am (UTC)
Yay! I love Mira! But somehow, I've lost the actual CDs during my last move and only have the empty forlorn jewel cases.

I love haunted house stories, but I imagine it is very hard to do anything new with them. The last several Haunted House books I've read have been very uninspiring.

Michael
styggian
Nov. 9th, 2004 08:19 am (UTC)
I've seen Lisa three times before.
The first time was a long time ago before she and Sam were even married at a show they did here in OK.
The second time was years later when she was pregnant at GothCon 2002.
And the last time was this past may in Chicago for C10.
I never really said anything the last two times but we did speak quite at length the first time and she and Elyzabeth remembered me even years later.
Always seemed liike one of the nicest people Lisa did.
I'll bet she's a great mom.
( 20 comments — Have your say! )