Wylder’s Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Wylder’s Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
A Gothic tales of Victorian real estate… which means there’s murder, blackmail, and at least one mentally maladjusted relative wandering around the estate like a ghost.
I have to admit to being the type of person that’s skeptical of popular books unless they’re over a hundred years old. I have no patience for the page turning genre bullshit of today, but give me some Karl May novel or a forgotten “sensation novel”, and I’m there. Maybe I should approach contemporary page-turners in the same way, because it’s fun to breeze through a book, scanning pages, snidely commenting on how awful it all is – there’s a 1st person narrator in this book, but only for a third of it, yet he knows everything! How!?! WHY!?! No explanation – Wylder’s Hand is awful, but for a good bit it’s deliciously awful. The problem being that it then becomes awful again.
At the end you realize the plot could have been solved by the two heroines moving to Switzerland and becoming lesbians sooner. At least they were one of the two couples in the book that showed any affection for each other. The other was the Vicar and his wife, but their relations were so insipidly treacle-laden that I needed an insulin shot just to get through their chapters of endless, “Wha’does’wittle’wapsie’tink’I’should’do’boo’?” It was horrible.
But, geez, what a great cover – and for all the rage-reading I ended up doing at the end, skimming vast swaths of the book because it was written like this, “The cart road leading down to Redman’s Dell and passing the mill near Redman’s Farm diverges from the footpath with which we are so well acquainted, near that perpendicular block of stone which stands a little above the steps which the footpath here descends…” I have to admit I want to read another one of these great, clunky, shittily-written beasts of a Gothic novel. But if you want to read Le Fanu, don’t start here. Find a copy of In A Glass Darkly. It’s the better book by far.
On Leaving Facebook
I deleted my Facebook account last week.
Or I put in a request to have my Facebook account deleted.
Or some iteration of that…
And this isn’t out of some privacy, anti-Zuckerberg stance, but simply for my own mental health. I wish I could be one of those people that lurk and post once or twice a year. The people who know what’s going on with you, but never say anything. Yeah, they’re creepy, and yeah, I’m talking about, you know, my aunt, but I envy their self-control. If I could simply lurk and not opine, I’d still be there. As it is I can’t, and I know I can’t, and I also know 4PM with low-blood sugar and bored at his desk Justin is really and truly not the best Justin. So as not to give “him” a soap-box and to cut down on the petty annoyances of finding out your former good friend thinks alien wooly mammoths built the pyramids because we now have cell phones, on one hand, and the daily machine-gun barrage of outrage-inducing current events that I must form an opinion about and emote about RIGHT NOW, on the other, the whole thing was getting me down.
Of course, I’m having second thoughts. For one thing, I’ve somehow managed to become friends with people that don’t check their email regularly. Send them a FB message or a Twitter PM and they get right back to you. But an email? No. (Although the worst of those people are the ones who you email and then they text you back, because WTF.)
The other reason I’m waffling is that FB groups were easy to organize and most everyone checked them regularly, so if I cave it may just be to belong to one or two groups for gaming and swapping books. Otherwise I start feeling like that asshole vegetarian friend of yours from high school, you know the one that passive-aggressively manipulated everyone to eat where they wanted, because they were assholes more than they were vegetarians. What ends up happening is everyone makes plans on FB to meet, and then one of them has to email me to get my input, and then bring that to the group, then back and forth, so on and so on, so that in order to stay connected I have to find a friend who doesn’t mind being stuck in the middle, and I know if that was me there, I’d be as annoyed as shit.
All that’s making me rethink my decision a bit.
To Trunk Or Not To Trunk
Reasons to trunk a story:
- If it were published you wouldn’t tell anyone and you’d hope no one would read it.
- You know it’s not together yet. Parts might be working, but parts aren’t. It will simply accrue rejections and thereby limit its markets for when you do figure it out in the future. Put these on the trunk’s top shelf. Months from now you might know exactly what needs to be done with them.
- You’ve seen hundreds of stories exactly like it in the slush and yours isn’t any better.
- Better a story go in the trunk then e-pub it and guilt all your friends into buying it.
With the caveat:
NEVER THROW ANYTHING OUT.
Knowledge Presupposes Ignorance, or Ouch!
“A reason knowledge/learning in general is so unpopular with so many people is because very early we all learn there is a phenomenologically unpleasant side to it: to learn anything entails the fact that there is no way to escape learning that you were formerly ignorant, to learn that you were a fool, that you have already lost irretrievable opportunities, that you have made wrong choices, that you were silly and limited. These lessons are not pleasant. The acquisition of knowledge–especially when we are young–again and again includes this experience.
“Thus most people soon actively desire to stay clear of the whole process, because by the time we are seven or eight we know exactly what the repercussions and reactions will be. One moves toward knowledge through a gauntlet of inescapable insults–the most painful of them often self-tendered.”
– Samuel R. Delany, About Writing
Do the Pulps Still Matter?
I love the tradition but hate our adherence to them.
I love that authors have been working with the fantastic for so long that there are literally hundreds of years of material from around the world to get lost in. I love that every week I can potentially encounter a new author’s work. But I hate our desire to delineate genres and name epochs.
I hate tradition. I hate the collector scum, mylar bagging bull shit. (“Well, blah blah, American SF really starts with Hugo Gernsback.”) I’d rather no one walled the genres apart from each other. I’d rather find my own Golden Age than be stuck with someone else’s.
The Golden Age is the books you read when you were ten. The classics are any author writing before you were born. The walls can’t erode fast enough — and the more the pulp squad circles their wagons and closes their ranks around their andropause and incunabula the more I say good riddance.
Fandom doesn’t matter. The community doesn’t matter. Books matter. Reading matters. I fear we often forget this.
One could look at fandom as junkies on one side (“GRRM, I need my fix!”) and fetishists on the other. (“Oh my god! Sniff this book’s binding!”) What some marketing department decides to name Steampunk or what some editor calls the “new” Sword & Sorcery (when really it’s just recent sword and sorcery) or what some grad student writes about the “sense of wonder” doesn’t matter. They’re either tour guides or real estate agents who’ve positioned themselves between a reader and a book. At best they are useful in small doses.
This might be why I raise my eyebrows whenever I hear an SF writer say: “I love science fiction”. It smells too much of an abusive relationship loaded with codependency. I love to read, and I love books, and most of the books I love happen to be genre books, but I don’t love the genres.
The squishier and spongier they get, the happier I am.
I’m not a fan of writing posts, especially those written by unpublished, self-published, and/or “neo-pro” writers. Nor am I fan of “celebrity slushreaders” going on about how they dream a story they select might win a Nebula like they were right there writing the story beside the author, or at the very least keeping their tea mug filled, as if reading slush wasn’t the equivalent of being so much human baleen.
Bullshit on all that.
But I’ve got two writing posts itching to get off my fingers so let me just get them done between now and next week and then I won’t have to write about writing or slushing for the rest of the year. I’m putting it here for my own benefit as much as anyone else.
People talk a lot about hooks and openings and grabbing the reader so they keep on reading. And yeah I use the word hook as well, but it’s not about that at all. (Rudy Rucker has a great bit on “hooks” in his Writer’s Toolkit, which everyone should download.)
Other folks talk about establishing trust between reader and writer, and I agree with them but wondered how that trust was gained because it has to be right at the start. Then I got a couple stories in the slush this week that helped me figure it out.
What it comes down to is control.
You can do whatever you want in your story. Write it lush or transparent. Climb Freytag’s pyramid or flip it on its peak and kick it in the rear. Anything goes as long as you’re in control.
As long as each word and sentence connects to the next word and sentence and the whole thing makes a pattern where there’s nothing more you can subtract from it. That’s control. Having pieces left in your hand at the end is control.
What’s not control is starting your story with a well-groomed hook and then piling on introspection, backstory, and/or setting details. What’s not control is leaving nothing out, but throwing it all in there and hoping for the best. Lush doesn’t mean overgrown or overwriting a story so thick it collapses under its own weight.
Every word must link together. They can be ugly or oddly shaped words, but they have to fit into the story’s overall pattern (and of course that pattern can be all freak-a-deak weird, but there has to be some discernable resonance there).
That’s it. Writing post number one is done. It’s all about control.
Next week 10 Bad Slush Habits. Until then here’s Spoek Mathambo’s disturbing cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”. Don’t blame me if it gives you nightmares.
And Another Reason
And here’s another reason to keep a blog: I get to make a little archive of neat stuff found or read online. Case in point, today’s post over at Things Magazine:
“What emerges from all this is more evidence of the steep valley that lies between history and nostalgia, wherein a penchant for the latter tends to shape one’s attitude and interpretation of the former.
The Internet exacerbates this condition, building up our perception of the past through the endless reproduction and celebration of past ephemera. The past is filtered through a lens of celebration, a perpetually art directed world, be it the gritty black and white world of life sold from a suitcase in these images of Brick Lane in the 80s, or Soviet ruins, or abandoned lunatic asylums, rusting machinery, filleted libraries, caches of Eastern European match box covers, esoteric ephemera from long-forgotten Olympic games, boring postcards, found photographs, passive aggressive notes left on refrigerator doors, weird LP records, shopping lists, ticket stubs, or even our own almost entirely context free Pelican Project.
Collectively, we’ve managed to make a fetish of the failed, forgotten and the marginal, mashing them together with the Utopian and the celebrated until the edges are blurred. Whether its the decline of manufacturing and urban centres (Chicago Urban Exploration) or nuclear catastrophe (Approaching Chernobyl) or the collapse of the housing market (Scenes from Surrendered Homes) is all rendered flat and equal by the vivid resonance of the image. This is where the overwhelming emotional content of a carefully filtered past meets our nostalgia for now (‘… a mourning for the transience of a moment when you are still in that moment‘), and the result is a state of being that appears to seek out the romantic past in every captured moment.”
Fetish of the failed? Nostalgia for now? Alliterative indigestion aside, I’m going to be chewing on these paragraphs for months.