Saturday, April 30, 2011

Writing Different Worlds

So,  today I took advantage of the wonderful local arts festival and its wonderful Readers and Writers Alive! programme, and went to a workshop based around speculative fiction. I'm pretty sure I've said before that I don't really know what genre my writing properly falls into, but considering my tendencies towards the weird and the wacky, spec fic is definitely a place where my mind is at home. So, I was quite excited about this one (although to be honest, I've been excited about all the workshops I've ever been to through Dan Davin; the ones with Owen Marshall and Gavin Bishop particularly stand out as wonderful in my memory, and I still kick myself for not going to Helen Lowe's).

Anyway, today's workshop was with Tim Jones, who was a Southland local for a while there but now lives in Wellington; I can hardly hold it against him, mind you, considering the fact that I myself am a bit of a Wellingtonian at heart. (Although how anyone could hold anything against a place that produces things like this, I don't know. I myself have a vague dream of living one day in Paekakariki, at least partly because saying it is hilarious...whether it's proper or Paekok. Ha!) We spent the workshop chatting about speculative fiction, did a couple of little exercises, and then ended with a discussion about publishing. That's definitely something I need to start focusing on, although then again I need to start finishing things first! Although with that said, Tim said that Young Adult is the genre most likely to be published by New Zealand houses, so I suppose I should really look again at the draft of The Neverboy. It's been sitting around long enough now that I can look at it semi-sensibly, so...

In the meantime, there's always Hibernaculum and The Juniper Bones to finish, and then consider trying for an agent either in Australia, the States or the UK. And I suppose there's always For What We Drown, too, but that manuscript has a gaping hole in it at the moment. The first half of the book, I think, is fine; it just needs a futher round of edits to make it tighter. The second half is a mess. I basically chopped the first three chapters to pieces and started putting it back together, and then gave up. It also requires major editing throughout because I confused myself so much in terms of the world-building of Julia's home, and...yeah. It lost momentum and cohesion fairly early on. I still think it's an interesting story and in theory it ought to be salvagable, but...yeah. It depends on my mood, somewhat. I suppose, too, it's more likely to be picked up in New Zealand than anywhere else being that its first half is set primarily in Te Anau, but we'll see.

I really enjoyed the workshop, though. It had probably the best turnout I've seen for any workshop here in good ol' Invervegas, and the people were fun. I really hope a couple of them will come to the Chapter I meeting tomorrow night. I need to make some cupcakes for that, actually. Ah, cupcakes, my old foe...

But back to the workshop -- the two writing exercises were interesting, both in the writing and then in hearing what other people did. The first was just a warm-up from a prompt, and I rather liked what I came up with in the fifteen minutes or so. Strangely, for me, it was basically a finished piece. I have no idea how many words it was, but anything less than five thousand words is a miracle on my part. I think I will have to type it out and play with it, keep it for some future submission or endeavour or whatever. The second was a bit less successful; we were just writing to show how the world was different in the story. I ended up writing something from the point of view of one of the handmaidens of the Queen of Nylurea, but I actually started, info-dumped, and then started again. That do-over, though, was quite useful for me in that it did help me examine what I was doing and how it didn't work that first time around. I would like to finish it at some point, mostly because it gives me an insight into the Nylurean culture. I'm far more familiar with Sarinian culture, as it's primarily Sarinese characters that I write, but of course there are Nylureans present in most of the stories. And I'm still fascinated by Jeramie and his love for the once-queen Kiriana, so understanding more about how she grew always useful.

I never did finish those short stories for submission this month, though. I was inspired during one of my walks today, however; I think I'll try for next month's Wily Writers submission, which is to do with post-apocalyptic worlds. I've got the song Pretend The World Has Ended stuck in my head, and there's definitely a story there. I'm just not sure which world it's set in. I think it's an entirely new one, to be honest; that's a little terrifying. Maybe it's the crimson moon? Certainly thanks to Henryk Górecki and Lamb the once-opal moon has a terrible and tragic history. It seems maybe the crimson does, too.

In the meantime, I think I shall try and stop eating this evening -- I'm in the midst of a food binge, unfortunately -- and write instead. I think The Juniper Bones might be calling my name; Morgan seems to be having a temper tantrum about something. Or maybe I am just thinking ahead to the poetry workshop tomorrow. The section of TJB that I am working on now is named the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew, and opens with a nice little extract from Ash Wednesday. It's the bit with the juniper tree and its bones, even! But even then, maybe that's not it; I was thinking at the workshop today that I need to go back to the CompuServe forum and spend more time there, and I was reminded of how I had shared some little bits of this novel with them and received such support. There's little bits of poetry scattered throughout my prose, given the way I write, and especially when Eliot is thinking of Lavinia...oh, yes. So I suppose we'll end with a little of that, shall we?

The warmth of her had become as familiar as the sound of the sea, as the rhythm of the waves against the stone waterways of the city from whence he had come. Though he had never been a creature of the water, in that place it had become the touchstone of this life. Yet, in the city of marble and light, he found his rest and his sanctuary instead in the nearness of her flesh, the openness of her heart, the touch of her spirit against his. It did not matter, that he had not been born here, that this was her city. By his very nature, he should never have a home – and then the sacrifice of the widow had rendered her as homeless as he, save for the asylum of one another.
It was enough.
With the careful hand of a musician, he traced a line from the curve of her jaw down to the hollow at the base of her throat, coming to rest upon the delicate collarbone above the beat of her heart. No, this place had never been his home, and now it would never be hers again. Yet she never showed him that she mourned the loss of her human life, and for all she sometimes worried aloud about when this life was done how they should meet again in the next, he knew that she did not regret it any more than he ever could. Of course she missed the widow, worried for her peace and her soul – but Vincenzio had leaned over the other woman’s body and seen at last the peace on her face as she died for the final time. In a strange way, for a moment he had almost envied her. Then he had turned to find Lavinia standing there, his bride and his wife, and he had felt no more regrets.
Still, he thought of the place he had rested for so long, in that world now denied him. Despite being aligned with the watchtowers of the south, with the element of fire, he had been most easily summoned in an unremarkable grove of trees deep in the northern mountains. Even in his new life, he could not explain why.  There had been other ways, other places where his spirit could be invoked. But he had liked those trees. He mourned still the loss of the star-lake, the heavy scent of the silver leaves, and the silent watchfulness of the Menhir to the distant centre of the world.
“What are you thinking of?”
Startled, he looked upward to meet the sleepy gaze of her blue eyes. He had not noticed her awakening. “The place from whence I came,” he murmured, and leaned forward to press a kiss to the skin where his fingers had lingered. Already her eyes flared, dark with desire, though she had barely escaped from her dreams.
“Do you miss it?” she asked, gentle as the memory of the sea. He sighed.
“In a way.”
“Will you ever see it again, do you think?”
“Perhaps.” He did not think so, for he remembered well the dark day of the Ending, when he and all of his kin had either been sent from the world, or enslaved to those it had been given to. Though those gods had by rumour lost that influence long since, he still did not think his own kind would ever have what had been theirs once more. He could not bring himself to say her name, to bring her into their marriage bed, but he suspected that had been the reason why the widow had no longer wished to live. Their purpose had been taken from them, and filled with so little in return. But he had found a new purpose, and he leaned close to again press his lips against the rhythmic centre of her eternal life.
“It was a strange world,” he said finally, and then looked up at her with gentle trust. “But that world is gone. And here I am.”
“And I am glad for it.” Her voice was suffused with rich pleasure as she tilted her head upward, brushed her lips over the brief stubble upon his chin. “But…could we go there?”
“I do not know.” His brow creased; he had not expected her to ever want such a thing. “Do you wish it?”
“Only if you do.”
The memory of trees was like a brand upon his mind. It was true – he did want it. Though the world had changed, had gone on without him, he could not help but wonder if those trees still reached for the sky in the shadow of the great Kaverlen mountains that had sulked upon the horizon since time immemorial. It would have been years since their Ending, but the trees had been touched by his own immortality. And even should they have at last curled in upon themselves, helpless before the grinding mill of time itself, their children would have sprung from their gravewood and reached for the same stars that had once been the jewels in their parents’ silver crowns.
“Shall I take you?” he asked, and touched a chaste kiss upon her forehead. But when he rose above her again, her grin had become wicked, a promise of a world in which no sin existed, save for the denial of love and the beauty it wrought deep in the fabric of their very beings.
“Take me, husband,” she whispered, and reached for him.
He started – but a smile swiftly followed on its heels. As he leaned forward into her touch, he thought ruefully upon her capacity to surprise him still. But then, it was only ever in all the best ways.


  1. What was the first prompt you were given as a writing exercise? Just curious.

    And here's hoping Morgan pokes and prods you into finishing TJB! Or at least getting enough of it in shape to send it to me. By the way, since you like T.S. Eliot, do you like The Waste Land? And have you ever read Wendy Cope's abridged version of it?

  2. I believe it was the first sentence of an Ursula Le Guin novel? It just went "I believe you," said the stranger... As I said, it was self-sufficient unto itself, but I still have no idea what it was quite about. XD Definitely the character had something to do with the Queen of Nylurea, but beyond that...

    TJB's ending is definitely being shaped as we speak. I'm starting to see how it comes together, but I've made it so *complicated!* I think I'll sort out the basic structure first then make it streamlined. At least then it's DONE. As for Eliot...ha ha, yeah, I like Eliot. I was paraphrasing "Prufrock" towards the end of the first chapter of the third part of TJB. Haven't seen this abridged version of TWL though...

  3. I look forward to seeing the whole story! :-) Give Eliot and Morgan my best.

    As for The Waste Land... you can find Wendy Cope's abridged limerick version here, if you like:

    It's pretty funny.

  4. Ha ha, that's beautiful. <3 As for the kids, well...we appear to be having lengthy arguments about who knew what. And who *wanted* what. Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed the workshop - and that first exercise you wrote certainly sounded like a finished (and memorable) story to me - perhaps it will end up as your first flash fiction sale!

    BTW can you drop me a line (senjmito (at) when your "Red Velvet and Absinthe" story comes out? I'd be interested in getting you to re-tell the story of its publication for my blog, if you feel like doing that.

  6. Hilariously, flash fiction has never been something I'd thought about; I rarely write it, being that my idea of a short story rarely dips below five thousand words and that's only with considerable effort; my natural stopping point is closer to 20k. Er. But For some reason, these kind of workshops make my muse less verbose. Maybe I should do twenty-minute prompt challenges more often on my own, see what comes of it. :D

    And yes, I'll let you know! Such an odd experience, that. I usually submit stories with a hope for publication; figures that the one that gets published is the one I sent out just for the heck of it. <3