Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bravery

"And if I were to be condemned, and saw the fire lit, and the wood prepared, and the executioner, who would burn me ready to put me in the fire, even when in the fire I would not say other than that I have said. But I will maintain what I have said, until death."

Jeanne d'Arc, 23 May 1431, one week before her death at the stake.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tentacles! Tentacles! Tentacles!

Do you want to read something fabulous? You know you do. So click on over to Conjunctions, and read the completely and utterly fabulous "Tentacle Mind Report," by Stefani Nellen. This story blew me away when Steffi workshopped it at Clarion, and is now even better. Be warned: you won't easily stop thinking about this one.

And yes, I'm biased, as Steffi was one of my wonderful roommates. She regularly braved the horrors of the Canyon Vista Bad Breakfast with me, provided much-needed infusions of French-press coffee and sanity, and did our apartment's laundry every week. But my bias doesn't negate the fact that she is an extraordinarily talented writer. You'll want to be able to say you read her when. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Troll's Eye View

From a reader's perspective, there are very few things that make me happier than the publication of a new Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling anthology. I've found some of my favorite writers in the books that they've edited, and reading their collections has helped me think about the kind of writer I want to be, and the kind of stories I want to tell.

Their latest offering, Troll's Eye View, is my new favorite. The authors (who read like a who's who of my best beloveds -- Peter S. Beagle, Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and oh, honestly, if I keep going it'll just be the list of contributors in its entirety), were asked to think about fairy tales from the perspective of the villains. It's a wonderful concept, not the least because it causes the reader to think about what it means to be the one who gets to tell the story.

I vastly enjoyed each of the entries in this collection. I found myself smiling over the inclusion of "speculative fiction" as one of the offerings of Evil Wizard Books in Delia Sherman's "Wizard's Apprentice" and mumbling, "Well, and of course they would have," after reading the last line of Neil Gaiman's "Observing the Formalities." And the prickly strangeness of Kelly Link's "The Cinderella Game" is going to haunt me for quite some time.

Troll's Eye View is a fabulous anthology. Buy two copies, because if you loan it out, you won't get it back.

Friday, April 24, 2009

With the wardrobe of the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Jack Sparrow's eyeliner

So the return to fencing has been a great deal of fun. It has not, however, been without slight mishap.

I fence foil. Which means that my legs are not part of the target area. So I don't usually wear my knickers unless I'm competing. (Let me clarify that "knickers" is a technical term for fencing pants, not a Britishism for underwear.) And as it was 83 in Minneapolis yesterday, and I train in an un-airconditioned basement, I wore warm up pants last night.

Which is why the young man I was fencing against managed to get his foil underneath the hem of my jacket and open up a line along my flank. (Knickers would have overlapped with the jacket further. What happened was my fault. And not at all the usual sort of thing in modern fencing.) We both thought it was just a hard hit until we noticed that my weapon stopped registering touches, and realized he had sliced through my body cord. Then while swapping out body cords, my hand came away sticky, and he said, "Um, that's an awful lot of blood." At which point his eyes rolled back in his head, and I decided I was done with training for the evening.

I am going to have an awesome scar. However, being slashed open with a sword, even in a fairly minor manner, feels, well, about like you would expect it to. Not awesome.

But the best part was when I was walking the dog, and bent over to hug a little neighborhood girl. She saw the bandage and asked how I got the owie. I explained that it was from a sword. She paused, and then very seriously asked, "Are you a pirate?"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

O for a muse of fire

I love Shakespeare. Not the "Gee, that Hamlet really is a great play" sort of love, but the squealing fangirl, "I have lines from The Tempest tattooed onto my back" sort of love. ( I do, actually. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on.")

The first time I fell in love with the way in which a story was told, rather than just the story itself, was when I first read Romeo and Juliet. I read it out loud to myself and I could hear the magic in the words: Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, the sonnet the two lovers speak upon meeting, the passion that burns through Juliet as she says:

Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Yeah.

And I wanted to do that. To learn to use words in a way that mattered, that made things happen, that created beauty. 

But the thing that gets me most, as I think about my own writing, and what I want to do with it, is that Shakespeare continued to push, and to grow as an artist. I don't just mean that he improved from the "bad revolting stars" and dramatically schizophrenic Joan of Arc of I Henry VI. (I mean, he did. Except for a couple of glorious speeches, that's a fairly terrible play.) But that he changed the way he thought about language, and stagecraft, and tried new things. He could overcome a serious inability to render a coherent plot with a moment of utter transcendence -- the lost one found, the statue that moves. And he knew what I think is the most important truth of being an artist: that sometimes you must break your staff, and drown your books, o'erthrow all your charms, and stand before your your audience with only your own strength.

Happy Birthday,* Will of Stratford. Thank you.

(* Said with the understanding that 23 April was an 18th c. scholarly error that happened to match up nicely with the date of Shakespeare's death, and the feast day of St. George, and was close enough to the 26 April date of Shakespeare's baptism that it has become the default birth date as well.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Needing more than he said, she said

I love to write dialogue. I think this is because the first author whose writing style I imprinted on was Shakespeare. Who, you know, wrote dialogue. And "Exit, pursued by a bear." But part of the reason that we notice his stage directions is that they are so rarely in the text.

(NB: Thursday is "Talk Like Shakespeare Day." So start putting iambs into your pentameter now, my friends.)

Because I like to write dialogue so much, remembering to anchor it in my story is sometimes difficult for me. Especially in early drafts, I tend to have a lot of floating conversations -- the kind where you just have people talking to each other, with no clues as to where the conversation is being held, what the people are doing as they speak, and sometimes even no tags other than "she said" to indicate who is speaking.

What I realized last night, is that I am much more likely to have these floating conversations when I don't quite have the emotions of the scene right. When I know what people are feeling in the scene, I know if one person touches the other's hand while she's speaking to him, or instead turns away and fiddles with the cord of the blinds, or picks up her sword. Until I know what the characters want, I don't know if the floor is deep red tiles, cold under bare feet, or worn wood, covered with a Persian carpet with missing fringe. Every part of the story builds out from the characters.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I am not left-handed, either

So of course, of course, the first person that I fence in four years was left-handed. The bout started off as a disaster. My body cord went down. (Surprise! I didn't remember that the ones with the red tape on the ends were the ones that worked.) I attached my mask to my hair. (It used to be a lot shorter.) And she went up 4-0. In a five touch bout.

And then something in my brain shifted. I could actually see the lines of attack again. And I knew the angle that I needed to take. The right disengage to make to hit her flank after I parried. Then the bout was 4-4. La belle touche. She won, but I was back. I felt like a fencer again. It was a good night.

Spring continues to be present. My Mom is in town for the weekend, and we went to the garden store. I bought violas, and herbs, and about five different kinds of random tomatoes. And strawberries. Tomorrow, we will plant. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It must be Spring, as I have painted my toenails blue

Right. In case you couldn't tell from the title of this post, I'm feeling a little random today.

Visited the amazing Twin Cities Fencing Club last night. It felt a bit like coming home. I'm officially back in training tomorrow. I am really, really excited. 

I finished rereading through the novel draft this afternoon. I have a pretty detailed list of things that I need to change or move around or think about. But I feel good about the shape that the story is in overall. It's not as good as it's going to be (that's why I revise, and have lovely friends who give me useful feedback, and with whom I can have odd conversations about ravens and games of not-chess and creepy eyeless things in the library) but it is solid. There is something there, and I'm telling the story in the right way. So I'm looking forward to working on it, and making it better.

There were wood hyacinths blooming along the path that I run. 

If you looking for something new and wonderful to read, and you're not reading this already, try Locke & Key. It's a comic, written by the mind-blowingly talented Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez.  The story is creepy and complex and gorgeous. Also, I can tell you the exact moment that I went from fan to squealing fangirl: the boat was named "Kelly Link." Coolest. Name-check. Ever. (I brought that issue with me to Clarion to show her, and she was completely surprised and flattered. And blushed. Fuchsia.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

One word at a time

Today, the work felt like work. 

I went through three more chapters on the revision, diligently taking notes and tweaking sentences for greater felicity. More of the note-taking than the felicity, really, as my effervescent prose was as bubbly as yesterday's champagne. And who made the rule that typos look even worse in double-spaced 12-point Courier?

The bright spot is that my brain is gearing up for the next novel. It has already started putting together the playlist for me -- music is going to be big in this next one. Not just in the writing of it, but in the story itself. I'm pretty excited. Apropos of that, if you know a great song about angels, the Devil, or a really cool cover version of anything, drop me a line in the comments.

But before the fun, come the revisions. To which I now return.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"And here I stand, with a sword in my hand"

I am thinking seriously about fencing competitively again.

I've been playing with the idea for a while. I never fell out of love with the sport. I stopped because I had a spate of exciting injuries (torn hamstring, dislocated shoulder) and grad school. I couldn't train like I wanted to, and losing to people I had helped train was a bad mental place for someone who considers herself to be both a perfectionist and very competitive.

But I kept up with some training on my own, casually. And recently a little bit more seriously, as the point of view character in my novel is a competitive fencer, and fencing is important to the story. I realized that I really missed the weight of a foil in my hand. And even more, I miss the way fencing makes me think, and the sensation of fully inhabiting my own skin that I got while bouting.

If nothing else, it'll serve as research.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Some other things with which to entertain you

I'm about one-third of the way through the novel reread. It hasn't been as traumatic as I thought, at least not so far. I'm doing the sentence level stuff as I go, and making notes in brackets where I need to go back in and add actual scenes. And it is nearly always addition -- because I leave too much of the exposition in my head, the normal "your second draft is your first draft minus ten percent" idea completely does not apply to my writing. My later drafts are always longer, even after I cut the stuff that didn't work the first time through.

Since all my felicitous words and thoughts are currently living in a dreamworld, I thought I would tell you about some other people's amazing writing. Two of my wonderful Clarion classmates have recently published stories. E.J. Fischer added to our canon of non-traditional zombie stories with the haunting "Husbandry" over at Strange Horizons. At Everyday Weirdness, there is a marvelous piece of flash fiction, "The Music at Bish Bash Falls," by Sarah Miller. The best way for you to congratulate E.J. and Sarah? Go read their stories. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

All a matter of perspective

The last time I revised this manuscript, the revision process began with one of my cats peeing all over it. Awesome.

As yet, no one has peed on this version of the novel. (And if you are one of the people I sent the manuscript to, and you have, please don't tell me. Also, you can keep that copy.)

The last revision was a rewrite. When I was finished with the first draft (one that I knew, upon finishing, was not good enough to send to anyone else) I had the bones of a real story. But I didn't properly understand my characters, I hadn't put in enough of the underlying mythology, and there were some bits that were just flat wrong. I had good bones, but I had hung the wrong flesh on them.

I feel much better about things this time. I've started to hear back from my readers, and the things that need fixing, well, as I read over the manuscript and begin to take notes, I can see how to fix them. Much of that can be summed up with "more exposition here." As a reader, I hate when the author hand-holds me through a story, and so as a writer, I tend to go vigorously in the other direction. Which means sometimes the necessary bits get left in my head. However, the necessary bits are in my head, so it's just a matter of realizing when and how they should get on the page. 

Which makes it sound easy. It's not. It's really hard for me to look critically at my own work, and to cut the well-turned sentence (kill your darlings, my dears). And some scenes aren't any better the fifth time I write them. They're just wrong in an excitingly new way. But I can feel the story getting better. And that's what matters.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Does anyone else find this hysterically funny?

"In one instance, in 1346, Philip VI gave Edward III a choice of the next Thursday, Sunday, or Tuesday as a battle date, but Edward simply refused."

Just me? Right. Moving on.

In tonight's other exciting research news, Joan of Arc was prophesied by Merlin. And the Sibyl. No, this is not research for my fiction. It is for the dissertation. Seriously.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"And we dance while the sky crashes down"

"I didn't know who he was, but the description of the show said 'Legendary Punk Accordionist,' and I thought, that must be kind of great," said the stylish woman I was standing next to last night, waiting for the Jason Webley concert to begin. 

"I love his music," I told her. "I think you'll have a great time."

I hope she did. 

Jason Webley's concert at the Bedlam Theater (excellent name, by the way) in Minneapolis was amazing. Jason is an absolutely charming person, has fabulous stage presence, and really knows how to relate to his audience. He obviously loves performing, and flings his whole body into each song.

And the songs... the songs are wonderful. I'm a big fan of literate lyrics, and his don't disappoint. He did a marvelous version of "Icarus," which is my favorite of his songs, and of course, "Eleven Saints." He told a ghost story, and made us all spin around so that we could properly sing the "Drinking Song" (while hanging on to each other and swaying like drunks.)

It was a wonderful show. I highly recommend seeing him in person if he's touring someplace near you. And if not, give his music a listen. The Legendary Punk Accordionist is kind of great.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

For love...

One of the lovelier memes going around the internet today is this one.

One of the most beautiful meditations on love I've ever read comes from the late medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich. In explaining her visions, and why God gave them to her, she writes (and because I love you, I will translate from the Middle English):

"'Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Hold yourself in love, and you shall know more of the same. In time without end, you shall never know other than love.' Thus was I taught that love is our lord's meaning. And I saw with certainty in this and in all things that before God made us he loved us, which love has never decreased, nor never shall. And in this love, God has done all of his works, and in this love, God has made all things good for us. And in this love, our life is everlasting."

There is a poetry and a beauty there that I find amazingly comforting. 

Tell someone you love them today. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

A rose by any other name

My sister used to have BlondTxGrl as her email address. And she was, indeed, a blond girl from Texas, so as descriptive names go, that one was a win. However, some of the, oh, let's go with "less savory" denizens of the internet made certain assumptions about my sister based on that name. Assumptions that led to them sending her photographs of a personal nature. Needless to say, that is no longer part of her email address.

I recently joined Twitter. If you want, you can find me there as @KatWithSword. Which I thought was a pretty safe name. However, there does seem to be a contingent of people on Twitter who feel like a woman with a sword is the archaic weapons version of the Guns and Ammo bikini girl. 

Guys, no. I am a foil fencer. I wear a lot of protective clothing when I fence. Four layers over my shirt. And I wear pants. 

Sorry to disappoint you.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Excuse me but can I be you for a while"

Bear with me, please. This isn't an easy post.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. One in six women will be sexually assaulted at some point during her life. You have a mother, two grandmothers, maybe a sister, daughter, wife, friend. Look around at the women you know, and think, one in six.

Or, well. Hi. My name is Kat. I'm a survivor. 

(I hate the term "victim," by the way. Because while I was that once, the thing that I do every day is survive. The friends of mine, the women in my classes, they survive.)

One of the things that helped me was knowing I wasn't the only one. I mean, intellectually, I knew. I read the statistics. But knowing was different. I'm a huge Tori Amos fan, and she wrote a song called "Me and a Gun." I hate listening to that song. It makes me tremble, and I feel sick inside when I hear it. But I am so glad that she wrote it, because it also made me feel a little less alone. That song is one of the things that helped me get through some of the worst days.

I got help. I found RAINN. For years after, I was too ashamed to tell anyone that I loved, because I was afraid they would think less of me, that they would think it was my fault. I wouldn't have blamed them: that's what I thought, too. But RAINN helped. They listened. I got counseling. And I survived.

So if you can, this month, support RAINN, or your local crisis center. Give time if you can't give money. Or give space on your blog for a link, or write a post like this one. If you need help, be brave enough to ask for it. And if you are a survivor, and you can speak out, and let someone know that they are not alone, please do that.