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The urge to pornography
Thoughts on violence and death in fiction

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Bob Dylan, It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)

Like rape, and threat of rape, as a plot device or character's motivation, I've (mostly — there are some brutally delightful exceptions) lost interest in death as a plot-device or, worse, as the solution to a story.

Physical violence has mostly been absent from my work, though not entirely; there's no denying that there is an inherent drama in a fistfight that doesn't exist in a conversation. Not all of us are Jane Austen, capable of keeping a plot moving through a dented feeling or raised eyebrow, so the temptation to stoop to violence and death is one almost impossible to always resist.

But is it really stooping? Always? '24. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What's the most interesting way you've killed someone?' )

Click to see all the questions )

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The pollster's lament

Meditations on complexity and nuance

23. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story — from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)?

Over the years, I had a number of stints working for polling companies — you know, those people who call you at dinner-time and who want to ask you "just a few quick questions", from Statistics Canada on down through the food chain.

The most common frustration from those who chose to respond — and one of the reason I so seldom respond to polls of any kind, unless they're meant more to be fun than anything else — is that they almost invariably try to force the world (and the person answering the questions) to fit into a reductionist's dreamscape of either/or questions and answers.

This isn't so bad when the question is whether you prefer to the Montreal Canadiens to the Toronto Maple Leafs (hint: the correct answer to this question is "Yes"), but not so good when it has to do with morally complex questons about public privacy or private morality.

23. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story — from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)? )

Click to see all the questions )

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White screens of death and stories untold

"Then I guess it would be okay to ask you questions about the moon." Kid grinned.

Kamp nodded. "Sounds like a pretty safe topic."

"Can you tell me something about the moon you've never told anybody else before?"

After a second, Kamp laughed. "Now that is a new one. I'm not sure I know what you mean."

"You were there. I'd like to know something about the moon that someone could only know what was actually on it. I don't mean anything big. But just something."

"The whole flight was broadcast. And we were pretty thorough in our report. We tried to take pictures of just about everything. Also, that's a few years ago; and we were only out walking around for six and a half hours."

"Yeah, I know. I watched it."

"Then I still don't get you."

"Well: I could bring a couple of television cameras in here, say, and take a lot of pictures, and report on all the people, tell how many were here or what have you. But afterward, if somebody asked me to tell them something that wasn't in the coverage, I'd close my eyes and sort of picture the place. Then I might say, well, on the back of the counter with the bottles, the bottle second from the left — I don't remember what the label was — but the little cone of glass at the bottom was just above the top of the liquor."

Kid opened his eyes. "See?"

Kamp ran his knuckles under his chin. "I'm not used to thinking like that. But it's interesting."

Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren

Yesterday morning started where Sunday night left off: with a "white screen of death" in place of the website I am developing and which (I thought) was within a few tweeks of being ready to go live.

Instead, after breaking my brain for several hours on Sunday night, only to still be seeing a blank (white) page whose featureless expanse was broken only by two lines of black text beginning with the words, "Fatal error," I eventually decided to call it a night in hopes the morrow would bring to me happier tidinds.

And so it was. Where google had not been my friend on Sunday night, on Monday morning its advice was fullsomely useful. Not only did I have everything restored fairly quickly, but soon after I had made what I (as, I hope, will my 'client') thought were some quite appropriate design changes.

But this is supposed to be about writing, not web-design, isn't it? On wards to Question 22: 'Tell us about one scene between your characters that you've never written or told anyone about before! Serious or not. )

Click to see all the questions )

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21. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?

The perils of not taking a sneak-peek ahead: Yesterday's entry, and especially the extensive excerpt from The Valley of Shabathawan would have served as a pretty conclusive reply to both questions.

But in case you didn't read Question 20A then or don't want to now, I'll sum it up by saying, "Yes" and "Quite well, thank you."

Still, that's not quite all. The question itself strikes me as a little weird, and not in a good sense. I'm tempted to go in for some armchair psychoanalysis of the meme's creator, but I'll just note it instead.

"Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?"

The presumption that children are not characters in and of themselves vexes me the more I look at it. I don't know about other writers, but when I write children, they are characters (mewling and puking babes in arms notwithstanding, perhaps).

I said I don't want to get into any armchair psychoanalysis, but armchair sociology isn't quite the same thing. Click for more! )

Click to see all the questions )

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Young Geoffrey basks in Watts of praise

Accepts correction from a tabby
(and apologizes for the really second-rate word-play two lines up)

"I'm not generally given to flattery. That was just one damned eloquent piece of commentary." — Peter Watts, to me. (Yes, that Peter Watts.)

Yes, I feel flattered again and am struggling with the urge to tell him so. Probably best to keep silent, yes?

Meanwhile, the LJ blogger [personal profile] sabotabby answered the question I had about this meme's Question #20, "What are your favourite character interactions to write?"

I had blocked on what the question meant, wondering in essence whether it inquired as to whether I prefer to write sex scenes or fight scenes. [personal profile] sabotabby suggested, quite rightly I think,

I took it as meaning that sometimes characters are interesting in particular combinations. So I might prefer writing scenes where Aisha and Boris interact, because they have such a complicated relationship, over writing scenes where Clarissa and Darshika interact. Everyone else took it to mean "do you like writing fighting scenes or fucking scenes?"

So, and without further adoo and with no desire to be like 'everyone else', Young Geoffrey tries again. 'What are your favorite character interactions to write?' )

But I'll put it behind a cut anyway. )

Well. There wasn't a of wit in that dialogue, but I think it holds up pretty well anyway. And those are the kind of character interactions I enjoy writing. Interactions that hint at the nature of the characters, that suggest motivations and threats and emotions that may not be explicit, and dialogue that moves the story along and also makes me want to find out what happens next.

Even an hour a day would see me re-write this thing pretty quick, wouldn't it?

Click to see all the questions )

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Being Phil:
Second-banana takes centre-stage, won't let go

I've actually been kind of surprised it hasn't happened more often lately; I know damned well that my journal ain't what it used to be. Almost nothing personal, even less sexual and not even a whole lot of politics or Doctor Who to keep folks interested.

So I've been a little surprised that the numbers on my F-list haven't been dropping, much. (Of course, if LJ's stats are anything to go by, there aren't many people actually reading what I write here/there any more anyway. Between summer holidays, natural attrition as people's attention drifts elsewhere and reading filters, I suspect my LJ audience to be around a dozen or so, maybe less.

Which is fine — well, not fine; my ego would (naturally) prefer that readers were flocking to me like cats rushing to the sound of a can opener. But I know that what I do here is primarily intended for me, as an exercise in writing, as practice, as venting ... as a journal, in other words, though I seem to be evolving away from that model as well, towards something that is little more or less than a promotional tool for Edifice Rex Online in particular and for me in general.

Of course, having so few readers means I'm doing something pretty wrong on the self-promotion front, aren't I? Must ponder ...

Meanwhile, occasionally the attrition is active. Yesterday, LJ notified me that a long-time 'friend' had ended our relationship. Normally, that is something I merely note; it happens, after all. However, in this case, the de-friending was by someone I've hung out with a number of times; we weren't friends, but we had a relationship beyond pixels, even if we had not seen each other in a few years and if he seemed to have more or less disappeared from LJ for quite a long period of time.

Feelings hurt, I dropped him a terse note saying, in effect, so long and thanks for all the fish. He replied that it was nothing personal but that we hadn't hung out in a long time, etc.

All quite true, of course, but for the "nothing personal" bit. Of course it's personal when you decide you know longer want to know someone. And frankly, when someone decides that about me, especially if we've spent time in the flesh, I think the classy thing to do is to say goodbye, not just to hit a delete button.

And now, back to the meme. Young Geoffrey talks about his favourite angry young woman. )

Click to see all the questions )

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More memeage: In this edition, Young Geoffrey ponders the words of folks he admires.

I had a couple of interviews yesterday — we'll see whether I qualify for a security clearance; if not, getting a decent job in Ottawa is going to prove a little, er, problematic (no, I haven't given up on freelancing. There's a possible ghost-writing gig coming up in September, but neither am I any longer willing to live on spit and promises to coin a phrase). Anyway, if I don't look too terrible, tomorrow you folks (all three of you?) might be lucky enough to see me as be-suited eye-candy.

Which is a roundabout way of overtly copping to the fact that I missed yesterday's entry to this meme.

I opened up the file and started typing, but found it too hard to concentrate, whether due to stress or to the many possible answers to today's question. Should I talk about the usual genre suspects like — Tolkien or Delany, or the more obscure, like Arthur Kostler or Mary Midgley.

But then, what about Peter Watts or Kim Stanley Robinson, Melville or Heller, Woolfe or Lapham or Klein?

The list of good published (and usually at least somewhat famous) writers who have impressed and/or influenced me — whom I "admire" — would get pretty long pretty fast.

So instead, I'm going to talk about a couple of you, Livejournalers whose words I've been reading for some years and whose thinking and craft I've watched (usually with pleasure) change and develop over more years than I care to admit.

Click to see who I'm talking about! (That oughta pump up my aenemic numbers!) )

Click to see all the questions )

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Making up the real:

Middle-aged white guy writes teenage black girl as heroine, tries not to offend or to Mary Sue

More memeage: In this edition, Young Geoffrey talks about culture, making use of the familiar, making it up and (sort of) appropriating the other.

Click for Question 13, 'What's your favorite culture to write, fictional or not?' )

Click to see all the questions )

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More memeage: In this edition, Young Geoffrey complains yet again about the quality of the memage but is secretly relieved it is one he can quickly dismiss — or so he thought.

But instead, he finds himself discussing questions of character and how they can spring to life and wrench control of the work in question away from the writer.

Click for Question 11, 'Who is your favorite character to write? Least favorite?' )

Click to see all the questions )

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More memeage: In this edition, Young Geoffrey ponders genre and the comforts of the familiar.

Click to see all the questions )

8. What's your favorite genre to write? To read?

As I've re-discovered through the process of working through this meme, I started off writing SF as often as I did so-called mainstream stories. That shouldn't have been any surprise.

The first "grown up" fiction I read was Stanley G. Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey" in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame and I've been reading science fiction (and some fantasy) ever since. Not exclusively, far from it, but a plurality of my reading has been of those genres.

I suppose what should be surprising then, is that I pretty much stopped dabbling in genre.

Until I began working on my latest unfinished novel, The Valley of Shabathawan, which was very consciously a juvenile SF story in the spirit of Doctor Who, I've mostly written character-based fiction. Slice-of-life short stories and sociological/psychological coming-of-age novels.

More recently, I've dabbled in smut or, if you will, "literary erotica". Stories that are intended to engage the libido but that are also still, y'know, stories.

As for reading, well, I still read a lot of F and SF and much of that is, frankly, comfort-reading, the familiar in the strange, as it were. I haven't sunk to Star Trek or Doctor Who novels, but I rip through Analog every month and generally enjoy the comfort that comes from genre, even a genre as varied as science fiction.

I tell myself it is better than vegging out to sit-comes every afternoon, but Infinite Jest has been waiting for me to crack it open for a while now and it's about damned time I challenge myself again.

Which is not to say that all SF is pabulum. It isn't. There's genre and there's genre, as it were, just as there are romance novels or soap operas and there is Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace.

But just as I have done too little hard writing in recent years, so too have I done too little hard reading.

September 2017

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