ellenkushner: (Default)
The London Review of Books yielded this at the breakfast table:

"In the words of A.S. Byatt, who worked with [Penelope] Fitzgerald at Westminster Tutors, the London crammer, she was ...  ‘someone with an austere, original talent’, and Byatt presents the way she came to understand this as an epiphany.

‘She said to me about
Human Voices’ – the scent rising, perhaps, from the sausage roll Fitzgerald was warming up on the radiator for lunch ['cause how could I cut that? - ek] – ‘that she wished I would write something … to point out that it was based on a German poem by Heine, “Der Asra”’. Fitzgerald’s fourth novel, on the face of it a tragicomedy of love and loss among careworn bosses and dewy office girls at the wartime BBC, resonated, in its author’s mind at least, with a poem in which a Yemeni slave explains how, for the people he comes from, to love is to die.

We are talking about a writer for whom intellect was a passion, and whose books as much recount romances with whatever she has been reading as they do anything else."


--Not Penelope Fitzgerald, obviously - unless she's a particular passion of yours - but if you write, do you do so in conscious - or unconscious - dialogue with other things you've been reading?

I would have said, "Probably not anymore" - but I am very conscious right now of the fact that all my first published work absolutely was just that!  I am re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's the Lymond Chronicles [a fun discussion on FaceBook], and it's bringing it all back - just how bouleversée I was by that series, and how much I learned from her technique, both consciously and un-.  I'm seeing now even more clearly what a perfect master she is of characterization, pacing, transitions, and POINT OF VIEW . . . but that's another post. I just mean to begin by answering my own question by saying that there have definitely been times when my work has been, not so much a romance with what I've been reading, as a response to it - or a way of engaging with it in some manner.

I'll be curious to see what you have to say about your own.

ellenkushner: (Default)
Last night, we went to Town Hall to see Richard Thompson solo acoustic concert of perpetual bliss.  He always does that to me.  A genius songwriter and guitarist - but also a performer of tremendous generosity.  The air changes when he's in it.  I love his albums, but LIVE . . . I swear to you, he cured my flu one night in Boston - for 24 hours, anyway.  Miraculous.

Opening last night was his perfectly competent, rather dull son Teddy. Never mind, I thought; it's the perfect chance to think about all those thorny issues in the book you're writing.  No distractions, you know?

But, no.  I was just bored.

And then RT came on.  He started playing, and my brain & heart cracked open like a John Donne or George Herbert poem!

I was glorying in the songs, I was thrilling to the guitar riffs - and the novel started marching through my brain, throwing off sparks - I was watching it all happen - I was seeing all the connections - and during the guitar solo on "Vincent Black Lightning," not only Delia but probably my poor neighbors heard me shout, "Yes! That's it!" followed I'm afraid a few beats (and visions) later by a chuckled, "Of course! Damn I'm good."

And then I just enjoyed the show.  Because I now had the entire second half of my novel to hand.

Oh, dear, and now I want to write a long screed here about how the Power of Richard has moved in me, from the stormy cross-country drive where my friend Nick popped a cassette of Shoot out the Lights in the car stereo, and I went: Holy crap!!! This is just like that book I'm writing (Swordspoint)!!!! . . . . to the chance meeting I had with RT on the shuttle plane from NYC back to Boston where I was making Sound & Spirit . . . to last year's City Winery all-request show where kind friends saved me a seat down front . . . . .

But I must march myself and my backpack back up to Butler Library, where a long table in a quiet room awaits me, smelling of brass and old wood and many, many books, and tall windows let in the sun over 114th St.   After all, I've got the second half, now!

Oh, what the hell:
ellenkushner: (Default)
 My favorite quote from Day 2 was when we were going around the circle of our writers' group, asking what everyone was working on.

Sarah Smith "I am about 1000 pages into a 400-page novel!"
ellenkushner: (Default)
 And so concludes Day One of the Mass(achusetts) All-Stars 2-day  Ad Hoc workshop, in which Our Gang convenes whenever someone gets a novel draft done, and "sits on it," subjecting it to intense peer scrutiny and analysis.  

Today was Holly Black's stunning & scrumptious The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.  Nothing beats talking Writing with her and Sarah Smith, Kelly Link, Cassie Clare, Josh Lewis & Delia.

In striving to express myself, I came up with two pretty useful lines which I will probably use again:

The Arc of Reader Desire
"Sometimes Cool Shit trumps Narrative Tension." 

Whether they were useful to anyone else remains to be seen!
ellenkushner: (Default)
 So many wonderful people were at Readercon - ones I would gladly have spent all day with - or at least had a meal or even a drink with - I never even got to do more than wave at across the lobby!  Which is not to say I didn't have a splendid time with the ones I did spend time with; I did, and I'd been hoping/planning to write up a full con report before it all floated away on a sea of "Now..."  Maybe I still will.  It's such a high for me every year, but I never write it down, and then all I remember is the general sense of elation, and am surprised all over again at the specifics!

Where was I?  Oh, yeah:  So I ran into Nick Mamatas just as he was leaving to catch a taxi to the airport.  And he kindly gave me his new book, STARVE BETTER:  SURVIVING THE ENDLESS HORROR OF THE WRITING LIFE (Apex Publications). 

I was particularly taken with this, from his section on Writing Dialogue:

  People in bad short stories [I would add, in novels as well! - ek] always say what they mean.

  In real life . . . people only rarely say what they mean.

   . . . . Character dialogue can serve to do more than just express in a straightforward manner what your characters are thinking and doing.  Dialogue is full of mysteries . . . secrets . . . and lies.

So true.

Delia & I have been talking/thinking a lot about how most young writers now watch a lot of TV and movies, which are great entertainment, but not great writing.  As teachers (she just got back from a week at Clarion), we really have to caution our students against "TV kabuki"-style characterization: where everything is coded for instant recognition.  The Mamatas book also has a great bit about why people (other than us!) are able to read the opening of The Da Vinci Code without falling on the floor laughing:  It's because it's written as if you're a film camera, not a reader.  "These sentences," writes Mamatas, "are the sort of thing that give genre fiction a bad rap amongst people who actually pay attention to words. . . . But as bestsellers are books bought by non-readers, that snippet 'works' for its audience because the story is told in a manner with which they are familiar--the mode of modern Hollywood films."

Thanks for clearing that up, Nick!  I feel better, now. Sorta.
ellenkushner: (Thomas the Rhymer)
And so we have arrived at the House of Heart's Desire: big house in Maine near Blue Hill, looking out over the Reach to Deer Isle, alone here, settling in to do nothing but read, cook & Write for 10 days.

Came upstairs the first morning (yesterday) to find Delia still in bed, finishing Ysabeau Wilce's new Flora Segunda novel, FLORA'S FURY. Since this is to my mind one of the greatest fantasy series of our day, I am very pleased that she's done so I can read it next!! We got to spend some quality time with Ysabeau at Readercon - I am so sorry we are missing her reading tonight at KGB (w/ Leah Bobet) in NYC!! Go if you can. She promises an excerpt from a novella about Buck. Droooool.  

Readercon was superb, and deserves - and will get - its own post.  It was full of remarkable delights for me, as always, and this time I want to get them down before I forget!

Meanwhile, here in Maine, I find myself more tied to the computer than I had intended, since we're putting the final touches on the TPOTS audiobook, prefatory to getting it to launch NEXT WEEK, if all goes according to plan.  But I hope I can get all that settled today, and begin going off-line tomorrow to settle down to a more 19th century Writing Life (but with hot water On Demand).

In one of those delightful coincidences that the goddess Synchronicity sometimes arranges, I also just learned that the brilliant online magazine Strange Horizons will be reprinting my Riverside short story, "The Death of the Duke," on the last week of the month.  Which is perfect, as we'll have just brought out TPOTS audiobook, and have already begun prepping for THE FALL OF THE KINGS.

This begins, as always, with me reading it aloud to Delia while she sits knitting in the evening. (Last year, we were here at the end of August, and I was reading TPOTS to her - so it's a Tradition!)  We began last night.


Feb. 19th, 2012 04:51 pm
ellenkushner: (gargoyle)
‎"Stories are always really, really hard. I think it's totally rational for a writer, no matter how much experience he has, to go right down in confidence to almost zero when you sit down to write something. Wy not? Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you."
-- John McPhee: 
The Art of Nonfiction No. 3
The Paris Review
Spring 2010


Feb. 3rd, 2012 10:19 am
ellenkushner: ("Suonare")
"I do not want actors and actresses to understand my plays.  This is not necessary.  If they will only pronounce the correct sounds, I can guarantee the results."
-- George Bernard Shaw

I'm not sure I agree with that - hell, I'm not even sure GBS did - but I sure love the line.  Gearing up for more "illuminated" audiobooks, control freak that I am, I wonder if I should back off the actors some . . . . Nah. GBS never did.  He was a complete pain in the ass at rehearsals.

I read a lot of GBS when I was a kid - over and over and over and over . . . . I had Pygmalion, St Joan, and Androcles and the Lion. I made my best friend in HS come over after school and read the best scenes in Joan aloud with me (guess who was Joan?) - and I honestly read the Introductions over and over, too. The resemblance of the end of Swordspoint to that of Pygmalion is not an accident -- or rather, it is an accident: I only realized some time after the book was finished just what it was I'd done.  

As influences go, I can think of worse.
ellenkushner: (gargoyle)
One of the nicest gifts I got this year was this, a cover letter to a set of copyedits from our publisher to all his authors from editor Jonathan Strahan:

 As is often the case, the copyedits are sometimes perceptive, sometimes
save the day, and occasionally miss the point or wreck the sense or
poetry of your prose.  In most cases the copyedits are minor, but in
some instances they are not. In either instance I wanted you to have
the chance to see, consider and accept or reject them. I would also
add that, while I value copyeditors a great deal when it comes to
catching grammatical issues and the occasional minor problem, I also
routinely overrule them, and so should you. This is a chance to ensure
the text is as you want it to appear, so you should make whatever
changes you require.

It is advice that every author should pin up over their desk, or secrete with lavender in their handkerchief drawer, or put behind glass next to a teensy hatchet with the words:  
When panicking over suggested copyedits, Break Glass!

It is very much the advice my college writing teacher of blessed memory, Joy (B.J.) Chute gave us:  "It's your name," she used to say, "that the work goes out under, not the editor's!"  But what did we know?  We just hoped there would be an editor to contend with some day!

And so, I offer it to you, and hope that you enjoy it all 'year round - and if not this year, then the next.

ellenkushner: (gargoyle)
Absolutely wonderful piece on the author of "Downton Abbey" (& screenplays of "Gosford Park," Vanity Fair," "Young Victoria' - which we recently saw & were suprisingly impressed by; now I know why - "Emma," etc.), Julian Fellowes, in this Sunday's NYTimes Magazine.  Everything he says sounds right to me - I particularly loved this, though:

"I don't believe that most people wake up and think, How can I be horible today.  In their brain it is a legitimate response to the bad treatment they have received or some bad situation they perceive.  It's rather like when you're an actor, it's always a mistake to play the audience's opinion of your character.  If you're horrible, let them decide without you."

* * * 

Thanks for all the useful casting suggestions for the Swordspoint audiobook!  We're hot on the trail; I'll let you know how it goes.  My producer dryly told me that we could not afford ALL the people I suggested for the plum roles - but I said it was simply my Wish List, and we'd just have to pick them off one by one.

(Of course, my big fantasy is that [YOUR SUPERSTAR'S NAME HERE] is approached, and says, "Swordspoint?!  Omg, I love that book! Of course I'll do it for union scale!"

Shut up.  It could happen.)

I did my first 3 chapters in the studio today.  It went well, I think - but now I'm really wondering how long it's going to take to get up to speed and record all XXVIII of them!  I hope some are quite short.  I hope I don't have to do too many pickups.  I hope that "one more for safey" doesn't mean I'm essentially recording the same book twice!

I hope you'll be pleased.

ellenkushner: (Bessie McNicol)
I am full of bliss. Delia is already hunkered down on the sunporch, working on WIZARD'S APPRENTICE. Tomorrow we may go to Blue Hill to look for books with colorful Maine sayings in them, which she needs for the book. And to see what the trees along the road look like. Again. Can't get too much of that. And if she considers picking blueberries to be Research, we'll do that, too. We will definitely go to the Blue Hill Fair (yaaaay! can't believe we made it this year!) to interview people about goats. Can't get too much of that, either.

Internet (and cell phone) access here is VERY limited, so if you don't hear back from me right away, don't worry. Closest wi-fi is up the steep drive & down the street to the steps of the one-room (open 6 hours/week) public library. And I don't know how many times Delia will believe that I'm just going out for cigarettes.

So good bye for now - I must go write some novel or other!
ellenkushner: (Thomas the Rhymer)
Assured one of my anxious Hollins students that there are web pages that briefly & clearly tell historical/fantasy writers how long it takes to get places on horseback or by carriage (and how it all works).

Am I right?
ellenkushner: (book swords music)
Yes, I did it! I wrote *5* Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books for Bantam/Edward Packard back in the day. Recently the delightful Molly Tanzer interviewed a few of us original writers - and readers! - and.... series creator Ed Packard himself!  What a nice guy he was - and clearly still is.  And now her piece on CYOA is up on Fantasy Magazine's online, um, magazine thing. You can read it here.

I found out about CYOA's at a World Fantasy Convention, when a very nice Bantam editor  (Ron something?) was there showing them off.  "Hey," I thought; "I could do that!"  And I needed the money because my first novel, Swordspoint, was taking a whole lot longer to write than I thought it would.  So I put together a proposal, and went in to see the CYOA editor.... And I made a little money.  I wrote a little novel.  Or two.  (And then I got a Real Job....and my books were published . . . but that's another story.)

*Oh, OK, here they are:

Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (#47). 1985.
The Enchanted Kingdom (#56). 1986.
Statue of Liberty Adventure (#58). 1986.
The Mystery of the Secret Room (#63). 1986.
Knights of the Round Table (#86). 1988.

(They're all listed here in my newly-revised Complete Bibliography, too.)

ETA:  And most of my illustrations were by my friend & neighbor, Judith Mitchell.  We had fun with that - I had her draw my old boss as the Sheriff of Nottingham! (I was temporarily her art agent, too - mostly because she was anxious about taking her portfolio 'round, and I wasn't.  This was the best gig I managed to get her, I think... Not really cut out for the agenting game.)

This just in:  And Kat Howard's companion story in the same "CYOA" edition of Fantasy Magazine - titled, not coincidentally, "Choose Your Own Adventure" - is dedicated to
So says Kat in her Author Spotlight.  
I am suitably chuffed.  And touched.  And delighted.
ellenkushner: (IAF)
Thank you, Harvard Book Store, for the signing Saturday, and thank you everyone who showed up!  (We did leave some signed books there, if you want  one.)  Thank you, Vericon, for the very nice time!  Got home to find copies of TEETH waiting for me.  Holy smokes - it really is as good as the reviewers say.  By not-quite-concidence, I read aloud my story therein, "History" (working title:  "Another Irritating Vampire"), at Vericon.  Was delighted to find it clocks in at <:25, so look for it in another half-hour reading slot near you!  Just read it in the book, now, as well.  It's amazing how much different - and better - a story looks when it's in print. Or maybe - and I'm not being facetious here - it is ennobled by the surrounding company.  Like fine wines complimenting a meal:  Is this the best duck I've ever had, or is the accompanying Morgon Beaujolais bringing it out some?

I have new glasses.  I think they're shocking & radical, but no one else seems to notice.

Oh, and if you haven't dipped your toes in the waters of the Interstitial Arts Foundation's MARCH MADNESS posts, please do.  You won't believe the goodies you'll find in there!  Not just reviews & interview of not just writers & books but designers & performance artists, but videos & whatnot.... Trust me.  There will be something you hate, and something you love.  Or we're not doing our job.
ellenkushner: (Default)
For the past week, Delia & I have been with friends in a perfect little jewel of a colonial town in Mexico.  We're in a huge glorious palazzo of an 18c house together on a writing retreat, and while I fear I have spent far too much of my time trying to raise funds and attract stations to our Witches of Lublin show for April, I have managed to complete, polish & submit a short story to Jonathan Strahan's YA Witches anthology - a whole 2 days before the deadline, yet!  (Those who know me of old will know what a crazy achievement that is.)  I've also  - after a fair amount of dithering & taking counsel of the assembled colleagues - officially begun a new novel.  Of which more later.  And I've listened to other people's plot points, and read assorted mss., and counseled in my turn.  And eaten lots of amazing Mexican food, and found the massive rings I've always wanted (one rocky opal, one labradorite), and gotten very nearly enough sunlight to banish all mooligrubs . . . and found myself living in a gloriously aesthetic and luxurious space that is the sort of place one usually visits only in dreams.  There is a colonnaded courtyard with a fountain, into which bougainvillea blossoms drop and float.  Here is a photo of Delia working in it:

(There really is a fountain in the middle.  I guess I must be standing behind it.  I will try to post more photos, if I can find a way to do it without being too annoying.)
ellenkushner: (gargoyle)
YA fantasy author Mette Ivie Harrison has an interesting new post up on Mistakes in Romance, comma, LIterary, on her LJ ([livejournal.com profile] metteharrison ).  I must say I agree with her and [livejournal.com profile] blackholly  that the Misunderstanding is not such an enjoyable mistake to read about -  of beloved Georgette Heyer's delicious romantic plots, it is definitely the least tasty to me.
ellenkushner: (FurCoat)
When you write historical/ historical fantasy novels, you need to be able to imagine looking at the world through very different eyes.   One of the best ways to do this is by reading source material:  text from an earlier period, in which cultural suppositions are clearly stated - and usually unexamined by the writer . . . Unless, that is, he is the great Anthony Trollope!  

This passage from  his  Phineas Finn (1867-9)  caught my attention, as it describes a young woman, an aristocrat from a powerful political family*, who is not universally admired - in part because what we now call her "body language" confuses people:

She was...about five feet seven in height, and she carried her height well.
There was something of nobility in her gait, and she seemed thus to be taller than her inches.
Her hair was in truth red -- of a deep thorough redness..... But in these days we have got to like red hair,
and Lady Laura's was not supposed to stand in the way of her being considered a beauty.
Her face was very fair, though it lacked that softness which we all love in women....
Her complexion was very bright, but in spite of its brightness she never blushed.
The shades of her complexion were set and steady.
Those who knew her said that her heart was so fully under command that
nothing could stir her blood to any sudden motion. As to that
accusation of straggling which had been made against her, it had
sprung from ill-natured observation of her modes of sitting. She never
straggled when she stood or walked; but she would lean forward when
sitting, as a man does, and would use her arms in talking, and would
put her hand over her face, and pass her fingers through her hair,-
after the fashion of men rather than of women;
-and she seemed to
despise that soft quiescence of her sex in which are generally found
so many charms. Her hands and feet were large,-as was her whole frame.
Such was Lady Laura Standish,,,,

Shades of Jo March!*

*Daughter of the Earl of Brentford and sister of Lord Chiltern. Greatly interested in politics, she maintained a distinguished salon in London" -- anthonytrollope.com 

** Little Women published 1868-69 as well!
ellenkushner: (Madame J. (closeup))
The Datlow/Windling teen vampires that are profound & have literary value & can be genuinely scary YA anthology TEETH is coming this March - and already advance reviews are popping up and torturing me.  Because I hate spoilers, that's why:  I want to come all brain-virginal & pristine to new work by personal heroes like Suzy Charnas & Jeff Ford & Tanith Lee & Kathe Koja and and and..... Which is why when [livejournal.com profile] ellen_datlow  sends us links to rave reviews like this one, I have to just skim it to see if my story's  mentioned (me! me! me!) - and [livejournal.com profile] deliasherman's, too, as of course I've already read hers (through aherm several drafts).  So far, so good.

has been selected already for the Junior Library Guild.  Who knows what honors may follow?

For those who hate Amazon,  pre-order from your nearest indy bookseller.  And for those who don't, save $ by pre-ordering at the crazy lowlow price currently on offer there pre-publication. (The same advice goes for Welcome to Bordertown, coming in May - Amazon seems to think the full cover price is $19.99, but I happen to know it's now $22.99.... so do take advantage of Am's pre-pub price of $13.49 if you can.) 
ellenkushner: (gargoyle close)
[livejournal.com profile] deliasherman  deserves all the credit for her wise, warm & wonderful Letter to a Young Writer on How to Survive a First Draft - but I'm the one who, when asked to look it over before she sent it to said relative, got all choked up and said, "You have to post this for everyone to read."  "Really?" our modest darling asked.  "Really."

(And you do know that "My Shitty First Draft" is not Bad Language on Riverside Drive, but lifesaving canon from Anne Lamott's invaluable Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life ?)

OK, now go read it.  You'll feel better.  It's doing me the world of good.
ellenkushner: (Bryn Mawr: Writing)
I belong to a very loose-knit writer's group:  when someone has a big project done, h/she convenes all the others in our little brain trust to critique and discuss it.  Last year, someone finished the first draft of a novel.  By the time the group was able to meet, she'd already gotten notes from her editor for revision.  We all assembled in the livingroom.  "Do you want to hear the editor's notes first?" she asked. No! we said.  Let's do our own comments - but every time we say something the editor already said, you have to shout BINGO!

Oddly enough, after nearly 2 hours, we'd only scored 1 1/2 Bingos.

Which just goes to show - there are more than 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel.

And speaking of writing:

I just stumbled across Lynn Flewelling ([livejournal.com profile] otterdance )'s excellent article The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters, over at the SFWA site, which offers many, many such gems on the art & biz of writing.  Full of wise advice, encouragement & common sense.  Go see.

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