Those two things are not related, I promise.
However, I wanted to let you know where I’ve been (moving across town), and Chris Squire dying was what gave me the impetus to pause in my unpacking and dash off a blog post.
If you read this blog at all regularly, you know I love YES. Well, Squire was the foundation and heart of YES, to me. Here he is being Fish-tastic.
Anyway, back to the unpacking. I’ll come up for air again soon, I promise.
This interview with Cassie Clare and Maggie Steifvater is circulating on the Twitters today, and I found it thought-provoking. Writers do indeed have kind of a peculiar relationship with readers in this day and age, and when readership crosses over into fandom it can become even more fraught.
(I know Cassie Clare is a particularly polarizing figure – I remember this from my Goodreads days – but she’s also a human being trying to juggle the conflicting demands of fame and creativity, and as such she has my interest and my sympathy.)
There have always been reclusive writers; Salinger comes to mind, but he’s hardly the only one. I totally get that impulse. Fame can be anathema to creativity, for some of us. I want to say it’s an introversion thing, but who knows. I need more data to make that claim. There’s a special kind of scrutiny reserved for writers, however; we are expected to be wise and witty at all times. For me (and I don’t believe I’m alone in this), the idea that people are watching expectantly, waiting for me to be brilliant, is death to brilliance. My wit is, in my experience, a bit like Michigan J Frog:
That is to say: busting out all over when left to its own devices, limp and croaking when a funny dance is demanded of it. I am happy to perform – I quite enjoy an audience – but it has to be in my time and on my terms.
This doesn’t mean no one should scrutinize my work or attempt to engage me. More that I can explain my own rules for the “wedding math” Stiefvater mentions: I will smile back if I have the energy to spare, if you’ve caught me at the right time, but that isn’t always the case. If I don’t engage, it has everything to do with me being self-protective of that recalcitrant singing frog. It’s nothing personal. I love you all and deeply appreciate your enthusiasm. My first duty, however, is to my health and work.
Or maybe I do. Here’s Lauri Õunapuu rocking the hell out of the Estonian zither:
Did you know a zither could do that?? Well, now you do.
So I did an interview with Lauren Zurchin at Lytherus. It’s long, but go listen if you like, and by all means enter the Shadow Scale giveaway. Thanks to Lauren for the good talk and the opportunity!
Before you watch it, I experienced a moment of intense brain-farting during this interview as I was talking about my trans friends, and I am worried that my clumsiness will make folks (real people, who matter to me) feel hurt or unloved. It was one of those times when you say something and it just doesn’t sound right, and then you flail around like the proverbial bull, knocking porcelain shepherdesses off the shelves. I am thoroughly embarrassed by it, and I’m sorry to be such a verbal klutz (there’s a reason I’m a writer and not a talker).
Here’s a little lesson in the use of the word “trans” today (as I understand it, as was outlined for me by the patient friend I turned to as soon as this interview was over, because I knew I’d screwed up). Usage is evolving, which is kind of exciting really, but it means that if you’re as old as me, and were actually alive during the time of the Roman Empire, it’s easy to get confused and stumble. Trans is not just a prefix anymore, but is becoming a stand-alone adjective. “Use it the way you would use queer,” said my friend, and that’s a useful guideline.
Because here was my brain-fart: I uttered the phrase “trans friends,” and my sad, wee brain thought “transfriends,” with trans as a prefix. It means something slightly different as a prefix, when it’s used in words like transubstantiation or trans-unsaturated fatty acids or Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As a prefix, it means “across,” and so I got absurdly snagged on the idea of how one could be an across-friend.
It may seem like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but 1) I really don’t want to hurt people with my bungling, 2) I really am embarrassed, in particular because I knew this and knew better, 3) the only way, in my experience, not to get hung up on words that are emotionally or politically charged is to say them more often. To practice. Alas, practice means sometimes hitting wrong notes along the way.
If you watch the video, you may find that there’s some other place I’ve dropped the ball without even noticing (we two Southern white ladies talk about diversity and PoC characters and we do our best but there’s so much potential there). Do not be afraid to let me know. This is why we came down from the trees (as another friend of mine likes to say), so we can talk and work and make things better.
First draft of the infamous Tess in Boots sent to Captain Editorpants. Now I shall sleep for a thousand years.
And by “fishing” I mean “writing.”
I am almost done with the first draft of Tess in Boots (title subject to apocalyptic change without notice). I just need to make one last, frantic push. As a result, I’m going to be off the internets, probably until the end of next week.
I know you’ll miss me. You may imagine me riding my bike up Headache Hill during my off-hours, whistling “A Pretty Little Bonny Lass” and cackling to myself.
I’ll be back.
The best thing you can read about Uprooted is Naomi Novik’s own Big Idea Post over at Scalzi’s. I’m going to try to say something pertinent and illuminating anyway. I blurbed this book, after all. I feel rather strongly about it.
There aren’t many books that I wish I’d written, but Uprooted is one. (Terry Pratchett’s Nation is the only other I can think of off the top of my head.) And when I say “wish I’d written,” I mean it’s a book that seems to have sunk a tap root directly into my brain, siphoned off a bunch of my preoccupations, and transformed them into a gracious, perfect rose, better than I could ever hope to do.
(Ha — I have effectively paralysed myself with that sentence. So early in the review, too. Talent for self-sabotage: I HAS IT.)
Let me try again. Uprooted is a story about stories (as so many of my favourite stories are). It’s about community and being deeply rooted to place and tradition, about the saving grace of friendship and how we’re always stronger together. It’s mythic and psychological — and includes something you seldom see, the psychology of a forest. But best of all (to my mind) it’s about minds and ways of knowing.
Yes, the book made me think about thinking. As if that were so hard to do.
I am always spying and peeking and taking notes on how my own brain works. Clearly, based on her Big Idea post, Naomi Novik is, too. (Seriously, that post kind of scares me. I’d know if we shared a brain in a jar, right?) The fallibility of memory is an ongoing preoccupation of mine, and I was intrigued to learn of the role it played in the book. I can’t say I spotted it, particularly, while reading. What I spotted was intuition.
Intuition is the way of knowing that interests me most keenly. That’s not to say I don’t also enjoy thinking and sensing and feeling; they’re all great. (Well, sometimes I want to punch feeling in the face) It’s just that my best ideas, the ideas that change the colour of the sky and make me quake in my shoes, come upon me intuitively. I think of intuition as the work my brain does when I’m not looking; answers come to me from an unexpected direction, and I’m not immediately able to show my work.
(I would distinguish between intuition and a “gut reaction,” which I think of as more akin to bias. Both arrive suddenly, like a thunderclap [or a knee-jerk, in the case of bias], but intuition is synthetic — joining disparate ideas together to create surprising new ideas — whereas bias creates nothing, just reaffirms what you already think you know.)
(Is it intriguing that the antonym of synthetic is natural? Indeed it is. Bias is natural. OK, then.)
I was deeply pleased, therefore, to see a protagonist (Agniezska) who not only privileges intuitive knowing, but is effective and (by the end) respected. Novik calls her a “gleaner,” a skill that manifests in an ability to go into the forest and come out with… not what she was looking for, if she even had a plan, but something interesting and unexpected.
I glean in exactly that fashion, not in a literal forest but in the treacherous thickets of my mind. The heart of my art comes from what I find there.
Like Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle, Agniezska is accidentally magical. Her mentor (The Dragon) finds her utterly baffling, not merely because she can’t seem to follow the linear, logical rules of conjuration (a straight path through yet another forest), but because she is able to intuit workings that have no basis in theory, and to accomplish magic that he has already (empirically!) determined are impossible.
I wonder if he gets Economist’s Insomnia, up all night worrying about whether what’s true in reality could possibly be true in theory…
I poke fun at The Dragon (he’s earned it), but in fact I admire him. He’s ancient, set in his ways, and married to his methods; if ever anyone had an excuse to be inflexible, it’s him. He (slowly) (grudgingly) comes to recognize that Agniezska is doing something real and vital, even if he can’t figure out how she’s doing it. Even if it makes him grumpy that there are things he can’t know.
The strongest, most effective magic, though, can only come about when their disparate approaches are combined – synthetically, if you will. Neither intuition nor logic gives a complete enough picture. Each needs the other. A rose, seeking sun, climbs a sturdy trellis.
This, too, echoes my experience of making
magic art. Intuition may be my favourite, but it can’t do all the heavy lifting. Believe me, if I only ever operated on that level, I would be an utter dingbat in my personal life, and nothing I wrote would make sense.
(I was lamenting to a friend the other day that my ideas occur in tangles, chords, and clusters, but language is unrelentingly linear. We concluded that novels are a species of slime mould.) (Maybe you had to be there.)
If I haven’t frightened you off with all this reflective brain-combing, and if you read the book, you may find yourself coming back here to scold me. “Why didn’t you mention the pitch-perfect fairy-tale-horrible atmosphere?” you’ll fuss. “Or the well-paced, non-bullying plot? Or the astonishing friendship between Agniezska and Kasia, which is deep and wondrous and all too rare in literature?”
Because you should really go to the Wood and find them yourself. I’ve read this book twice now, and like a vast, dense forest, it’s different every time. Your gleaning will reveal marvels even I missed. That is fantasy at its best, doing what it is uniquely suited to do: the reader brings the seeds of self, sows them in the generous soil of myth, and reaps them a hundredfold.