Saturday, November 12, 2011

Magic Doors

Self-confidence doesn't come easily to me. I could list a lot of reasons as to why I suspect that might be, but it's not actually going to help me understand it in the slightest. It's only relevant to this post in that I am consistently amazed at how much I am enjoying working on The Juniper Bones. I mean, I don't want to imply that I generally don't like writing -- obviously I would hardly be doing it if I hated it -- but because I often end up in despair over what I am writing, it's a little bit strange when I find myself actually saying to myself as I write: hey, this is actually pretty damn good!

It's probably something to do with the change of scenery. The Juniper Bones, unlike the other two novels I've been fiddling with, is set directly in our world in fairly recent times. It makes it slightly easier to deal with in some respects (I don't have to make stuff up) and harder in others (I'm not allowed to make stuff up). But that's not it entirely. It's written in the present tense. I don't habitually write in the present tense, you see; for a very long time I had the garden variety knee-jerk reaction I was taught to have to the present tense, which appears to be NO IT'S BAD DON'T DO IT. But in 2000, when I first started at university, I bought a book my first night there from K-Mart. It was a random selection. I can't even remember now what it was called; I do still own it, but it's stashed in the barn somewhere and has been since I moved to Sheffield in 2006. I'll find it eventually. But it was written in the present tense and I loved the immediacy of it. It was also a very well-written story.

Still, it didn't really grab me as something I ought to be doing. That didn't happen until 2002, when I read a Smallville fanfic also written in the present tense that to this day still blows my socks off whenever I chose to reread it. And I do reread it a couple of times a year. It's highly atmospheric and by turns wry, silly, sorrowful, passionate and very, very funny, and I am still very charmed by it. But the way the author wrote these words struck a deep chord with me, and I chose to write what exists of People In Looking-Glass Houses because the ironic style was well-suited to the nature of the story. I've never finished a draft of that damn novel, but when I first started working with Eliot in a short story named Stockholm Syndrome in 2005, I decided to go with the present tense for him too. It's been stuck to him with crazy-glue ever since.

It can take me a while to get back into writing that way, I must admit. And by "a while" I mean "about two seconds." There's something very natural to Eliot's ironies, to me, and I suppose that's why I like reading back his stories more than most of my work. I still can't decide whether or not this means that it is actually good, or if I've just repeatedly flicked a switch in my own head.

But I am hopeful of actually finishing this draft. I wasn't at first, partially because I was so sure I would RAGEQUIT before I finished Hibernaculum anyway, but The Juniper Bones has a particularly messy denouement I still don't entirely understand. (And considering the copious amounts of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey...stuff, I possibly never will.) Yet...I so badly want to tell this story, because I am so in love with the characters right now. And not just Morgan and Eliot, my so-called Usual Suspects. I'm still surprised by something I discovered during NaNo last year, which is Erik's increased role in the story. He was supposed to be a shadow-character for Tess, someone for her to interact with if I needed someone to fill that role. Instead he quietly stepped forward and filled that role for Eliot, even though that was what Pania was for. It's changed the tone of a lot of things, and that...well. I suppose this is why I write, and why I read. It's for the surprise. It's for the joy of picking up a book or sitting in front of a keyboard and opening a magic door with no real idea what lies beyond it, or where that door is going to take you. When I clicked absently on the link to that Smallville fic in 2002 I had no idea that it would still be influencing my writing in 2011. And yet here we are.

Long live the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey magic doors, I say.

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