Muse and Writer Dialogues #15 In Which I am Desultory

Scene: Writer at his desk, staring at the screen. In other words, Monday.

Writer: Crap

Muse (reluctantly putting in an appearance): You again?

Writer: You’re my muse, so who else? And before you ask, yes, I’m having trouble.

Muse: I wasn’t going to ask. Laddie, you are trouble.

Writer: So you’re Scottish now?

Muse: Just an expression, a whim, you know—creative license. You should try it sometime.

Writer: Very funny. I need some inspiration.

Muse: You need a lot more than that. Besides, inspiration is overrated. Yes, you’ve managed the “butt in chair, blank screen” part of the work ethic, but so far you’ve left out the “putting one word after another” part.

Writer: This, I know. But what words?

Muse: If I knew that, I’d be the writer. Your problem is you’re desultory.

Writer: Maybe right now…

Muse: Luke warm? Half-hearted? You’re failing to understand the nuances of the word and all the synonyms in the world don’t do it justice. The full meaning is more along the lines of “without a purpose, a plan, or enthusiasm.”

Writer: Ouch…but accurate.

Muse: The truth often hurts. Why do you think so many people—not to mention politicians—try to hide it?

Writer: It’s not always the truth.

Muse: No, but it always is at the start. You begin weak and finish strong. You generate a purpose, a plan, and then enthusiasm, but not until the first several words are written. Most writers I know start off strong, inspired, and enthusiastic then get worn down. They’re desultory toward the end, not the beginning. You’re opposite. It’s a little weird, to tell the truth again.

Writer: Just how many other writers do you know?

Muse: Neither here nor there. And a lady never inspires and tells.

Writer: So you’re saying?

Muse (sighs): Put some words down, idiot. Doesn’t matter what they are, since you’ll change them once you figure out what you’re doing. The magic won’t happen until then. Inspiration, for what it’s worth, is a lot more important during the process than at the start.

Writer: I wouldn’t mind a little inspiration at the start.

Muse (sighs again, a little disgusted): Listen, twerp. You almost always know what you want to do from the beginning, in a general way, but not how. You hesitate because of uncertainty and fear that this time you won’t be able to pull it off, doesn’t matter how bloody many times you’ve been in the same place feeling the same thing. Once you get going, a fuller and more focused purpose, plan, and enthusiasm all fall into line. I would have thought at the very least you’d have picked up a clue about that by now.

Writer: You said it yourself—I’m a little slow out of the blocks.

Muse: Slow? By the starting gun you haven’t even gotten your shoelaces tied. Words. Now.

Writer: Okay. “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Muse: Don’t make me hurt you.

Writer: You said it didn’t matter what they were.

Muse: Well, I lied. Call it creative license.

 

Context is for Wimps

Today’s blog post is a snippet from the current WIP. It will be perfectly clear and yet totally meaningless. When I’m far enough along I’ll think about doing weekly  full chapters at least part of the way through, but I’m not there yet.

 

Bonetapper scowled. “How will we get through the mountains?”

In truth, Marta had been giving that question some thought. There were two main routes commonly used. The Snake Pass was currently blocked, and even if it wasn’t that would take them further east to Conmyre, a long way from Shalas. Not to mention the pilgrim road crossed Wylandian territory for some miles. While travelers were protected by treaty, it wasn’t a physical threat Marta was worried about. Three Rivers Pass led to Borasur-Morushe, much closer to Shalas, and that was the path Sela and Prince Dolan had taken. As much as she would have liked to see them again, after the events in the Blackpits they had all agreed this was unwise, at least for a while. It might be possible to traverse Borasur-Morushe unnoticed, but more likely not. Plus she would have to cross Duke Okandis’ territory to reach Shalas, and he was a man with a grudge. Having met the man she had his measure, but—as with her friends Sela and Dolan—he was a complication. And Marta had her fill of complications for the time being.

Not that she would have hesitated to take either of those routes, even the blocked pass, if she could feel the pull of the Sixth Law in either direction. That was her next goal and priority, but at the moment she felt nothing.

Bonetapper, noting her silence, spoke again. “May I make a suggestion?”

“If you wish.”

“What about that magician fellow in the Blackpits? He’s used to moving freely about and might know the best way to get back to Shalas.”

“Tymon? We’ll see him again. I’m not sure if that’s for good or ill, but it will happen. But not yet. Besides, while he does travel freely, we cannot use his methods. No, there’s only one way.”

Marta reached into her pouch and took out the map she’d copied from an old scroll in Kuldun. “We’re going to take the Penitent’s Road. That way we can reach Shalas without having to cross Borasur-Morushe at all.”

Bonetapper cocked his head, which was as close as the raven could manage to a frown. “I thought the Penitent’s Road was a myth.”

“It is. Doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

 

Yamada Evolution

I spent a fair chunk of yesterday going over the editor’s line edits for the second new Yamada story, “A Minor Exorcism.” Rereading it reminded me of how much the character’s life has changed since the events of The War God’s Son and The Emperor in Shadow.

Now he’s got a wife he adores, three daughters, an adopted son, an estate with no fewer than six villages and their people who are all his responsibility. Sort of makes it hard to just tear off chasing ghosts and monsters any time he wants. His situation has changed and so his perspective has changed.

In short, Yamada has changed. He still does what he does best, though lately he’s not looking for monsters—the monsters are finding him.

I can understand the appeal of books and stories where there is simply one adventure after another with people who are just the same in book 1 as they are in book 4 or 5. They’re known and comfortable. You always know what you’re getting. Yet we all know life doesn’t work that way. Situations and people both change. Living does that.

Character or not, Yamada is alive to me. And that means change.

 

We Don’t Want That, With “Story Time”

Today’s topic is fashion in fiction. And I don’t mean what the authors and editors are wearing this year. I mean trends in topics, settings, and whatever. We don’t always think of fiction in those terms, but there’s always a “hot new thing.” Sometimes it really is new. Most of the time it’s a new approach to an old subject, but trendy for a time..

For example, when I was first getting ink on my fingers (in those days, literally), Sword and Sorcery was huge. As in that was most of what was being published as fantasy. I have since seen Cyberpunk, Mannerpunk,  Elfpunk and (briefly) Crackerpunk. (To be fair, that last was simply because a few of us Southern authors were coming online around the same time and rather tongue-in-cheek co-opted the term). For a while “punk” stuck on the end was all that was needed to make a movement rather than a blip. Then came the New Weird, which was a lot like the old Weird, only newer.

And then…well, you get the idea. They come and go with amazing regularity.

Most of the above was just marketing, though each had its own core of what was really happening in fiction at the time. There’s always something else.

And then there’s the subcategory: The Cliché.

These are the stories that no one wants because, well, they’ve become cliché: The Deal With the Devil. The Magic Shop. The Adam & Eve. Not that such stories can’t be well done, they’re just harder to do and not much point.

Or maybe there is. Because, in the case of the first two, I think they’re fun. And there are some stories I write simply because I can, and I enjoy writing them now and again with the full understanding that they are nearly impossible to market. Witness the DWTD collection above. In honor of that tradition, I present a brand new Story Time. This is from the Flash Fiction group I belong to, and the word we had to write a story around was “comeuppance.” A difficult word in the sense that it only means one thing and shades of meaning don’t apply. Unless of course you turn it into a pun in a magic shop story.

I therefore present, squeezed into a 500 word limit,  “The ComeUp Pence.”

There was a more obviously political way I could have taken it, but after last week I resisted. You can thank me later.

How Writing is Like a Snowblower

Snowfall

I mentioned the snowblower last time. Well, the snow we were warned about hit yesterday and today and will likely continue through at least some of the night. About a foot and half by my estimate; I have no idea what the official measure is. It was, to state the obvious, a lot.

Time for the snowblower. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. I had an electric model snowblower for the first couple of years in NY. I was, frankly, kidding myself. It was not up to the task most of the time. On a day like to today, the poor thing would have squeaked and hid in the garage. Rather the way I felt too, but things to do, schedules to keep. I had already read the manual and knew the basic operation. Also, many Southern summers wrestling (almost literally at times) with a classic Big Wheel Yazoo Mower taught me the basics of working with a small gasoline engine. I wasn’t too worried.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know how to operate a snowblower. I didn’t grow up with these things. In other words, a snowblower, despite some similarities, is not a Yazoo Big Wheel Mower.

I was in full on learner mode. And this wasn’t anything like a minor training snow, maybe five-six inches or so. This was well over a foot with drifts twice that high. Then there’s the snowplows on their regular rounds which leave a berm of ice and snow across the start of your driveway, and add another foot to the drift height plus the complication of ice in its most immovable form. In short, this was a challenge.

Blank canvas of snow considered as a blank page. You start. Things are going okay, only now where you were throwing the snow is where you need to clear next. You’d fix it in the rewrite except you’re clear on what the change needs to be so you do it now, and correct your mistake on the fly. At this distance from the curb you need to throw the snow this way, at another, that way. Are you throwing it high enough so it doesn’t just avalanche back down? Are you throwing it too high and hitting the side of the house? Adjust, find the sweet spot.

Put the words in. Take the words out, rearrange. Try to get the snow where you want it. Adjust on the fly, don’t let yourself get blogged down. Piece too high too long too deep? Take it in slices until you get what you want. Be flexible, but persistent.

In the end you have a clear driveway. Or a story. Depends on what you’re doing, but it’s all, every bit of it, process.

Yeah, one might say, but the next time you’ll know what to do. You’ll have the snowblower thing worked out.

Next time the snow will be different. So will the words and the story.

Process is how and what we learn. Not rules. Not procedures. Process.