Gordian Not

Writing is always work, but sometimes it’s fun too. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Carousels are fun. Conventions are/can be fun. Writing is something beyond that. I feel relieved after a good writing day. Pleased. Justified, as if I’ve earned my oxygen for the day. I even feel that after a not so good writing day, because at least I tried.

Then there are days like I’ve had lately. What I’ve taking to call the “Gordian Not” days. Slight pun, since it’s not quite a Gordian Knot. Knots are easy by comparison. If you can’t untie one, you can always cut it, and a pair of scissors will work if no swords are handy. This is different. This is a Gordian Not. As in, you are NOT proceeding with this story until you solve this problem.

It’s no secret that some scenes are easier to write than others. There’s no shame in saving a difficult scene for another day when you’re feeling stronger. If you know what comes next, just write the next part and come back to the passage that, for whatever reason—drama or unpleasantness or whatnot—you just aren’t up for now. Gordian Nots are different. Gordian Not passages are worse than difficult. They are crucial. You literally do not know what comes next until you know how this one stubborn scene is resolved. Everything depends on it.

And you, scrivener, do not yet have its measure, and there’s no guarantee that you ever will.

Gordian Nots can kill stories in their cradles, and novels in the nursery, and have. I still have stories I can’t sort out…yet. I think most writers do.

For example, I have been hung up on the current project, a (mere?) novella. I have written novels in less time than this novella has taken, all because of a Gordian Not. Which, thank the patron saint and all the ancestors, I finally unraveled last night. I think I’ll be able to finish the story now. Finally.

As long as I don’t run into another Gordian Not.

Reading and Writing. We’ll Skip the Arithmetic

This Wednesday evening I’ll be part of a group reading at the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts. I’m rather fond of readings in general. Back when I was attending a lot more conventions, I generally preferred the author readings to panel discussions, even when I was on the panel and someone else was doing the reading. Maybe especially then.

There’s nothing quite like hearing the author read their own work, especially if it’s a story you’ve already read yourself. Now you can hear where the stresses go, and what the author chooses to emphasize or minimize. Literally hearing the work in the author’s own voice, aside from their narrative voice, which can be quite different.

I think I was completely turned on to readings at my very first World Fantasy Convention. I had the pleasure of hearing Parke (Pete) Godwin read then, and it was an eye-opener. I know I’ve mentioned Pete several times before, but something I wanted to point out here is that he was an actor for many years before he became a writer, and it showed in his performance. And I do mean performance. As an actor he knew how to work the lines and hold the audience’s attention. I realized then and there that the act of doing an author reading was or at least should be, at least in part, a performance, not just the person who wrote something reading it aloud. If you’ve ever attended a convention or library reading with an author who doesn’t know how to read (in the performance sense), you know what I mean. You miss out on most of the value of the work.

Now, I’m not an actor. Never was, never will be, and I don’t have nearly the chops that Pete did. But I always  take his example to heart when I do a reading, and I try to bring at least a little of that performance art to it. I do my best. I don’t always hit the target, but at least I know where the target is.

That’s half the battle.

Adulting Sucks

The main problem with being a grown-up, at least in terms of age, is now and then you have to be an adult. Not all the time, granted, but more often than is either comfortable or convenient. So I spent most of yesterday afternoon on chat hold because my phone had stopped working. You can tell how much I value my phone AS a phone because it took me almost two days before I realized it wasn’t working.

Because I had to make some phone calls in my role as alleged adult. Anyway, after several hours wasted it turned out to be a misaligned sim card. So I’ll have to adult again later today. Not looking forward to it.

As soon as I sign off here, I have a story to write (and other things to write, but this one has a deadline). I don’t look at that as doing grown-up things. Making myself sit down and get to work? Sometimes. But the writing itself?

Never.

Scottish Folksingers, Sliced Tomatoes

The title is a play on a recent dream. I dreamed I was assigned to do a non-fiction piece about Julie Fowlis, the traditional Scottish folksinger and instrumentalist. No mystery there, I’m a fan. (If you don’t know who she is, I’ve included a link to a YouTube video below. She also sang the theme song to Disney’s Brave, though that one’s in English.) Regardless, the catch was that the article also had to include a link with sliced tomatoes. Specifically of the heirloom sort.

I blame the Benedryl. It has that effect on me if I take it before bedtime. You’d think I’d have learned by now. So what do a folksinger and sliced tomatoes have in common? Fortunately for me I woke up before I had to know the answer.  Good question, though,because it’s always a good question which suggests another. This one got me thinking about fitting together the pieces of a story.

I know there are people who plot out anything they plan to write ahead of time, which will never cease to amaze me. I never know what I plan to write until I’ve written it. Which sounds all mystic and ethereal but, in its own way, is a colossal pain in the ass. That’s mainly due to story segments one writes not knowing what it has to do with the story. The sort where you feel compelled to write it exactly how you’re doing it, but have absolutely no clue how it fits into the whole. And it has to fit for the story to work, and all those weird bits which felt like asides or tangents at the time are absolutely crucial.

But how?

That’s the hard part. Writing them, by comparison, is pretty easy. Yet by the time  you’re done the reader has to see the piece as a whole, seamless, as if you could stand right there and place your hand on the book or story and say, with a straight face, “Yes. I meant to do that.”

No matter how ridiculous or far-fetched an individual scene or plot line is. In the current, slowly-progressing project, I have three members of the Fae community, each with their own unique skills and attributes, who must combine those skills in a specific way to solve an intractable problem and avert disaster. Which I’m very sure I’ll figure out any day now.

Like Scottish folksingers and sliced tomatoes.

Julie Fowlis, sans tomatoes.

 

Life, Intervening

I spent most of the day in the repair shop, getting the Yeti’s snow tires swapped for summer tires and having the alignment corrected, which required new tie-rods, and etc. The point being I didn’t have time to do a proper blog post. So in an attempt to make up for that, I’m putting up a piece of flash done for this week’s meeting. I hope you enjoy it.

 

The Professional

I’m one of those people who do what they’re born to do. Sounds ideal, right?

“’Follow your bliss” was the way mythologist Joseph Campbell put it. Yes, I thought so too, once, before time and experience kicked that notion in the ass. I learned bliss has sod all to do with it; the reality goes a lot deeper.

We’ve all heard stories of the four year old sitting at a piano for the first time and playing a complete song by ear.  That’s what it was like. Something inside me was dormant until that moment, a day I will never forget. One of my friends, Jack Thompson, came back to school after missing a week due to the death of his mother. He was still in a very bad way, and everyone was being extra nice to him, which in junior high probably made things worse. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just put a hand on his shoulder.

Just like that, he wasn’t sad anymore. His grief drained out of him like a sink when you pull the plug. It didn’t go away, though. Whatever he was feeling, I felt, and then he didn’t feel it anymore. As simple and profound as that. That very afternoon he was playing ball with the rest of us like nothing happened. I don’t claim to be the quickest mule on the track, but by the third incident I figured out what happened to the ones I touch, and to me.

It’s what I do, now. People find me. I’m not sure how, but when it’s too much for them, they come to me. Lisa was the most recent. She appeared at my door one day, unannounced, as they almost always do. Appointments are optional.

“I’m told you can help me,” she said.

I invited her in, got her a cup of tea, looked her up and down. Pretty, twenty-something, with the eyes of a whipped dog.

“It’s because—“

I stopped her. “It doesn’t matter,” I said, though I knew. That was part of my gift. Fear was holding her in a relationship she didn’t want to be in. Fear was in her posture, in her speech. We agreed on a price and I took her fear away and swallowed it.

When I was done, her face was like all the rest. Not bliss. Not joy. Not even happiness, only relief. Someone else bore the burden they could not or would not.  I want to hate them all for that, only I know two things they don’t—the fear, the grief, would always return, born anew, whatever the circumstances. I can ease their troubles but I can’t cure them, only they can do that.

Something else I learned, that first time. It was right before lunch. I was hungry when I touched Jack’s shoulder. Afterwards, I wasn’t. Maybe there’s always capacity for trouble, and I don’t really solve anything, even though I’d like to.

At least I never go hungry.

-The End-

©2019 By Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.