Thursday, September 24, 2015

One poem, then another

I heard a reading of a poem last night on NPR. It was called "A History of Everything Including You" by Jenny Hollowell. (Link is to a video. I found a copy of the text here.) I liked the beginning, but eventually the simplistic boiling down of all human history irked me. It felt pessimistic, like it was mocking humanity instead of representing it.

My college edition of Byron's Poetry
The last part, in particular, about a marriage that's American Beauty meets Everybody Loves Raymond depressed the hell out of me. The message I was left with was, "Life sucks. It's meaningless and 95% ugly but hey, what else is there to do?"

The experience brought to mind a similar poem. It doesn't chronicle the beginning of human history, but the end of it - Byron's "Darkness". Byron's poem is about the apocalypse and the slow, awful death of absolutely everything. (Alternatively, it's about a volcano in Indonesia, but that's a matter of interpretation.) Here are the first few lines:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy Earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air

How is it that this doesn't depress me? To the contrary, I'm drawn to it like I'm drawn to Tim Burton movies and Edgar Allan Poe and Vegetarian Vampires by Remedios Varo. (No good link to Varo's painting. Google or look it up on Pinterest if you want to see. It's worth it.)

So why is this? Is it dark humor or the romance of death or something? Maybe it's the absoluteness of darkness and death. The people in Byron's poem are doomed. No doubt about it. Beetlejuice was dead before his movie even started. The narrator of A Cask of Amontillado was incurably insane.

There was no hope in these stories, but there was surety. They're black and white, not gray. Hollowell's poem is gray. I always think of literature as a whole as gray, because it's open to interpretation. If you can state a thesis and point to evidence in the text to support it, you're right. That can be a wonderful thing. But gray also leaves a lot of room for moving about. It's not stable.

I think that's it. It's got something to do with stability.

Reality is unstable. It's the epitome of unstable, isn't it? Life is a never-ending battle against darkness and evil. Every choice is a swing at the ethereal enemy. It's exhausting.

Have you ever thought about how you'd react if your plane was going down? I mean, going down hard, with no hope of survival. Don't judge me, but I have thought about this. There are really only two options for how to react in this situation. You can scream your head off, fighting and ranting and raving to the end. Or you can be Douglas Adams' bowl of petunias, which appeared spontaneously in the air, already plummeting to its death.

the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again.

In other words, you can accept that the plane will crash and ride it out nice and calm. I like to think I'd do the latter. Dylan Thomas might disapprove, but perhaps not. There's dignity in serenity, in acceptance, in not giving in to fear.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite images from Byron's Darkness, and a hope that you've enjoyed these existential ramblings as much as I have :-)

The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal : as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge--
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The Moon, their mistress, had expired before

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Predictions for Game of Thrones Season 5 Finale, OR How I Wasted My Morning

UPDATE (6/19/15): Correct predictions highlighted for my satisfaction. That word's a stretch, though. Despite accurately guessing the best-case-scenarios for 6 characters and the worst-case-scenarios for 4, I have found this entire season to be so unsatisfying that I'm glad it's over.

Warnings
Trigger - Mentions of sexual violence
Spoilers - All the spoilers*
*I wish! These are really just guesses, but they include spoilers from previous episodes + the books

So, I don't know about you, but I've been incredibly distracted thinking about Sunday's season 5 finale of Game of Thrones. To help me let this train of thought go, I thought I'd outline all of my worst fears and best hopes for the characters below. Worst-case scenarios (WCSs) come before best-case scenarios (BCSs), obviously, because it's GoT.

I have so little hope.

In ESSOS

Daenerys
  • WCS: Wandering the Red Waste 2.0
  • BCS: She gets really good at riding Drogon. She begins the process of leaving Meereen for Westeros.
Tyrion
  • WCS: He dies. From anything. This would be catastrophic. I would cry. Or Jorah kisses him and he gets greyscale.
  • BCS: He becomes the dragonrider of Rhaegal or Viserion. His dragon burns some bad people up. Judge me all you want, but I love watching bad people die by dragonfire, especially when the event is preceded by the word dracaris.
Jorah
  • WCS: His greyscale is revealed and he's banished from the city for a third time, which would be boring and repetitive.
  • BCS: He dies an honorable death before he can infect anyone else or be banished some more.
Daario + Missandei + Grey Worm
  • WCS: The Sons of the Harpy take over the city and kill or imprison them. Or Jorah gives them greyscale.
  • BCS: They sit quietly and wait for their queen to return.
Arya
  • WCS: Meryn Trant rapes her (I'm sorry, but given the show's history, it's not impossible.)
  • BCS: She kills Meryn Trant. Also Jaqen blinds her because right now her storyline is boring and some temporary blindness would spice it up a bit.
Varys
  • Is he still on the show?

In DORNE

Jaime
  • WCS: Nothing happens. He isn't in the episode.
  • BCS: He's in a fight. He or Bronn dies. They're all boring at this point.
The Sand Snakes + Ellaria
  • WCS: They continue being useless.
  • BCS: They kick some ass like they were always supposed to. Or one of them dies and this gets Doran off his butt and motivates him to do some political damage.
Myrcella + Trystane
  • WCS: They go to King's Landing. *yawn*
  • BCS: They make out some more. This show needs more making out.
Doran
  • WCS: He's not in the episode, or he continues to do boring things that make me lose hope that he ever had a master plan to take down the Lannisters.
  • BCS: He unveils a master plan to take down the Lannisters, which is pretty much just Cersei at this point, although Doran may not know that Tommen isn't evil.

In THE NORTH

Jon
  • WCS: Olly kills him, and his death is clear and finite. They burn his body and he doesn't even survive the flames like a Targaryen. He never gets to ride a dragon or meet his awesome aunt (presumably). He never learns the identity of his parents. GoT loses its last swoon-worthy hero. Besides Daario.
  • BCS: He lives and Olly dies from something random. I'm tired of that kid's dirty looks.
Sam + Gilly
  • WCS: Sam throws himself in front of Olly's knife to save Jon but dies himself.
  • BCS: He kills Olly and saves Jon. He and Gilly have sex again. Or get married!
Stannis
  • WCS: He continues marching to Winterfell but doesn't get there by the end of the episode.
  • BCS: He conquers Winterfell (because the Boltons need to go) and dies from something super mundane, like falling off a tower. OR HE GETS GREYSCALE!
Melisandre
  • WCS: Stannis wins the battle exactly like she hoped and she continues to believe she knows everything. Maybe they need some more luck so she burns Sansa for being related to the King of the North.
  • BCS: She watches Stannis die and I laugh hysterically as she realizes she was wrong about everything.
Selyse
  • WCS: She enters a conquered Winterfell and acts like a queen.
  • BCS: She quietly kills herself for allowing her daughter to be viciously sacrificed.
Davos
  • WCS: He's not in the episode. Or he stands up to Stannis and Stannis lets Melisandre burn him.
  • BCS: He abandons Stannis or kills him. 
Sansa
  • WCS: She's pregnant with Ramsey's child. Her hellish life continues.
  • BCS: She gets to watch her husband die a horrible death. Also her father-in-law dies and Littlefinger dies, too, because I no longer believe he has good intentions for her. Also Stannis conquers Winterfell and makes her Wardeness of the North. (Although if he did, what would she do? She has no idea what to do with power.)
Brienne
  • WCS: Ramsey or Roose or Stannis kills her.
  • BCS: She rescues Sansa and kills Stannis, Ramsey, Reek, and/or Roose. 
Ramsey
  • WCS: He kills Stannis and continues to treat Sansa and Reek the way he has been.
  • BCS: Most of the episode is devoted to his slow, agonizing death. Sansa gets to watch and smile. Fat Walda burns the papers that legitimized him before his dying eyes.
Roose
  • WCS: He wins the battle against Stannis.
  • BCS: He dies painfully but quickly. I don't want to waste a lot of time on his death, I'd just like to be assured that it happens.
Reek/Theon
  • WCS: He continues living his wretched life.
  • BCS: He kills Ramsey and/or helps Sansa escape. Or he dies. I am so done with this character.

In KING'S LANDING

Cersei
  • WCS: She does her walk of penance but all the focus is on her sexual crimes (because she's a woman and it's GoT). A million people call her a whore (so sick of that word). She gets to the end and Robert Strong rescues her. I know he's coming because they showed him on Qyburn's table but I don't want him to do anything useful. Cersei has been in power far too long.
  • BCS: She does her walk of penance and the focus is on her real crimes, like arranging King Robert's death. There's no Robert Strong and she realizes she's alone. She goes back to Casterly Rock a broken woman so I don't have to look at her anymore.
Margaery
  • WCS: She dies in prison. Or she stays in prison and slowly starves. Or she isn't in the episode at all.
  • BCS: She does some minor penance and gets free of the stupid Sparrows. She returns to her husband and teaches him how to be a real king and they start kicking ass. (Likelihood of happening: <1%.)
Olenna
  • WCS: She's not in the episode. Or she dies and House Tyrell loses its mastermind.
  • BCS: She gets her grandchildren out of prison and eats cotton candy while she watches Cersei's walk of penance.
Tommen
  • WCS: He continues being useless.
  • BCS: He dies. It's time. He's proven himself to be entirely useless with no potential whatsoever. It's time to get Cersei's prophecy moving, and her children have to die for that to happen.
The High Sparrow
  • WCS: He gains more power and his zealots spread beyond King's Landing.
  • BCS: He slips on a banana peel and dies.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vindication!

Source: SB*Nation
I used to teach 6th grade English, so I find myself particularly susceptible to grammar pet-peeves, but less vs. fewer really gets my goat. With one line, Stannis Baratheon bumped himself up onto my list of favorite GoT characters. If it weren't for Daenerys Targaryen, I might even back him for the iron throne!

UPDATE (6/7/15):
STANNIS IS NO LONGER ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Defensive Writing

A few weeks ago I finished a major rewrite/revision - those words mean pretty much the same thing to me at this point - and I hope that'll be the last one for this book. (Oh, look, I already lied. I intend for there to be one more after my sister reads. But THAT is the last one. Hopefully.)

After I finished the rewrite, my husband read for me and gave me some very excellent feedback. I dubbed last week Overdrive Week because I was determined to apply all of his feedback in five days.
AND I DID IT.
Usually my deadlines are optimistic, but I killed this last one. I was done by 11AM on Friday, at which point I looked around, trying to remember what people do when they're not revising books.

Now that I've caught you up, here's what I wanted to talk about: Defensive Writing. This is a term I made up last week when I was going through Derek's notes. Basically, there were a lot of points in my novel where I would over-explain or justify a situation in a way that disrupted the narrative. I didn't know I did that, but I know exactly why.

I love to read and discuss other people's books, and just like how everyone at a party gets drawn to the kitchen, book discussions are drawn toward the holes. The tropes. The missing character motives. The deus ex machina. The "Why didn't the character just do this? It would have been so much simpler" etc.

I look for these holes in books and I've been on Goodreads enough to know that everyone else does, too. And it's not because we're jerks, trying to tear each other's work apart. We're lovers of literature. We look for the weak points not because we want to find them, but because we don't. We want to search and think and discuss and come to the conclusion that This is a Great Book. For me, finding a single great book I can recommend to everyone is enough to justify reading a dozen books that are just meh and one or two that I donate because I can't stand the sight of them.

So the problem is not that readers look for holes in stories. The problem is that when I wrote the draft Derek critiqued, I had written it like a reader. I saw all the places where people might poke the plot with a stick to see if it collapsed and I added a few extra sentences to prop it up. There were a lot of sentences in that draft along the lines of,
MC knew this wouldn't work because A and this wouldn't work because B, which meant C was the only option.
Derek pointed out quite rightly that 90% of the time, such justifications for my choices are unnecessary and they come across as defensive.

I've spent the past few days thinking about how to avoid this pitfall in the future and here's what I've come up with: I'm not going to try to avoid it at all. I'm going to let myself trip into the pit because that's what drafts are for.

I don't ascribe to the idea that stories are like dinosaur skeletons waiting to be unearthed, but I do believe it's necessary to write a whole lot of crap before you realize what a story needs. For me, defensive writing is part of that crap, part of my process, and now that I know about it, I can make later drafts that much stronger.

That's all for now. Good day - or good morning, or good night...good afternoon?

What time zone are you in?

just kidding