Story Time: Fox Tails

This week’s Story Time is the novelette that began the Yamada Monogatari series, “Fox Tails.” It was originally published in the June 2005 issue of Realms of Fantasy.

As I’ve said before, I originally conceived of Yamada no Goji as a sort of noir style detective in Heian Japan. Unlike some cases, I did know it was a series when I first wrote it. I don’t always know that, witness the Eli Mothersbaugh stories. What I didn’t know and couldn’t have imagined at the time was how much Yamada would evolve over the series from my original concept. Yamada had his own ideas, apparently, but I didn’t mind. Ill behaved characters are usually the best.

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Faking It

That’s sort of what this post is about, as in it’s not quite true, but there is some truth in it. Rather like posing the title as a riddle, “How is a DIY project the same as writing a story?” Answer: It isn’t. Except when it is.

No wonder I have trouble with titles. Regardless, and I will get to the point eventually, let’s start with home improvement. When we moved into this house there was a sunroom that had been only partially renovated. That is, it had sheetrock, but no window sills, door/window casing, trim, paint or flooring. There were several other priorities to deal with first, but finally it was the sunroom’s turn. Painting was no problem, as I’ve done a lot of it over the years. I was equally confident that I could redo the floor, since I’ve had experience at that as well. However, I’d never done the finish work on windows or doors. So I did a bit of research and then got to it. I had two of the windows completely finished and then First Reader took a look at my work. She then said (and I paraphrase slightly):

“Wow. It’s almost like you knew what you were doing.”

Bear in mind that First Reader is a perfectionist and doesn’t praise lightly. What I thought but didn’t say was “Of course. I’m a fiction writer. I know how to fake it.”

Which in this context is referring to the process of writing and writers in general. We do our research, which for some of us is the fun part. A history geek or a physics buff is going to get to read what they might read for pleasure anyway and then apply it to the project at hand. You use specific knowledge to lay down the society in broad strokes using the occasional telling detail that places the reader in that time or that place. Yet at some point you’re going to hit something that wasn’t covered in any of the texts. It could be something big or something small, but you’re on your own…only you’re not. If you truly have done your research, you draw on it to fill in the gaps. For instance, you may not know if the asobi class in Heian Japan were doing z, but you do know they were doing x and y, so z is a reasonable extrapolation, but you only know that because you did your homework. It may or may not be true, but in context it’s plausible, which for story verisimilitude is even more important. Otherwise your assumption is no more than what my old polymer chemistry professor referred to as a “WAG Factor.”  i.e. Wild Ass Guess. The problem with those is that there’s a good chance they’ll not only be wrong, but so very wrong that everything after them falls apart. You do not want that.

So a finished window that works is a lot like a finished story that works. You look like you knew what you were doing even if that’s not quite true. Ever. But if you do your homework, it’s true enough to get the job done.

 

 

Quick Reminder: Since I’m now on a weekly schedule with the Story Time page, on Wednesday the 27th of September, “Crack’d From Side to Side” will be replaced by something else. If you haven’t read it already, time is ticking.

 

 

Almost Normal, For Outlying Values of Normal

New Desk

New Desk

After over four months working off of a folding card table, I finally have a new desk. Carol found it online, a discontinued model for a ridiculously low price, and I only had to argue with the instructions once while I was putting it together. While it’s not my normal style–I have a style? Sort of. I lean more toward Mission and Arts & Crafts–I’m frankly not that picky when push comes to pen. Give me a good working surface with a bit of storage and I’m happy. Plus I managed almost 2000 words on my first writing session on the new equipment. I score that both a good omen and a solid win. Just don’t expect the desk to continue looking this neat. When it comes to my work space and library, I don’t do neat.

Now all I have to do is get the rest of the boxes in my new library sorted, which is going to lead to more painful decisions, but you can’t fight physics. I know the shelf space I want doesn’t fit the shelf space I have. More books will have to go into the attic. Granted, these are mostly books I want to keep even though I know I won’t be reading them again anytime soon. I just have to decide which ones those are. I’ve already had to pack up most of my brag shelf, which stroked my ego a bit because there were so many, but stung it a bit in that I just can’t keep them all out and visible. But then, I was the only one looking at them and I already knew what they looked like. Priorities.

I can see most of my floor now. Once the remaining boxes are dealt with and the guitars on their wall hangers, I can put down a rug. Nothing says “you’re home” quite like your own area rug. That pretty much declares “space of your own.” Little things, but they do matter.

As for the book, it’s coming along, and for those who care, here’s a heads-up.  Yamada Monogatari: The Emperor in Shadow, is going to be a much more political book–Heian politics, I hasten to point out–than The War God’s Son. I sort of knew that before I even started writing it, but my previous writing session rather emphasized the fact. Just saying.

Reporting From Upstate

IMG_0377Don’t you hate it when someone gives you the “I know something you don’t know. It’s really cool, but I can’t tell you.” That one? Well, this one is sort of like that one—I’ve seen the preliminary cover art (by Alegion) for The Emperor in Shadow. It’s pretty much done, but I can’t show it to you just yet, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it is indeed very cool, in my opinion the best cover on the series so far. And I’ve seen it and you can’t. Don’t you just hate that? Don’t you wish I’d just curl up and DIE? Or worse, send me to the Harmony Hut? Your call. I’ll be over here fretting about something else entirely. I got a million of ’em.

I’ve been sleeping on a thin quilted pad with a quilted quilt over me for the last two weeks as I’ve attempted to get the new house sorted before the move. I rather fancy the experience mimics that of the way the Heian (and a lot of other era) Japanese slept, with a roll up futon for a bed and their clothes or blankets as covers in however many layers the season required. It’s at once uncomfortable to someone used to a western-style bed and yet I sleep very well, to my own surprise. Almost too well, sometimes. Things to do.

A contact in Belgium has licensed non-exclusive French Language rights to translate “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls” into, yes, French. Looking forward to seeing it, even though I can’t read French. It’s just the idea. So far I’ve had stories translated into Russian, French, Chinese, and Japanese. Germany and the Latin and Nordic countries remain holdouts. If anyone in those countries would like to read anything of mine in their native language, bug your local publisher. They’re in charge of those things, not me.

Meanwhile, Back at the Emperor’s Palace…

Opinions are divided about series, both at the novel and short story level. Readers love spending time with characters they already know and like, but some purists think they’re the death of the genre (in which case sf/f has been dead for a loooong time). One accusation that’s leveled at series, novel and story length both, is laziness. “Once the background is established and you’re familiar with it, that’s half the work. You’re doing paint-by-numbers after that.”

Yeah. Right.

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