Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: Changeling

Fall Fever

Firstly, generic apologies for not posting for ninteen days. Sheesh. Blogs are funny things, much like gardens: ignore them for a few weeks and they’ve all gone to seed. Or spam, as it were.

Anyway. Fall is in full swing in Seattle, and it’s the delicious part where days of pouring rain altrenate with days of wonderful sunshine and crisp air.

Some people have spring fever; I have fall lust. I lust after the smell of the air and the fall colors on the plants; I take absurd pleasure in the abundance of fall farmer’s markets and the sound of crunching leaves under my feet.

Of course, I also get fall booklust. I am not and will not ever be a true Summer Reader. You know, the person who has the tote bag of books in the summer and somehow manages to catch up on their reading while on vacation or on long summer evenings. These people can often pull off really floppy hats and really impractical sandals. I wear hiking boots in the summer and usually don’t make time to read. I’m all about reading during the fall afternoons, when the light is drawing to a close and the nip in the air is getting cold enough to warrant putting on a fire in the evenings. Nothing makes me happier than a blanket, a cuppa tea, a comfy couch, and a delicious book. This fall I’m tackling some books about writing: 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Janet Smiley is on the current list, and I’m meaning to check out On Writing by Stephen King. Otherwise I’m cruising the science fiction section mainly…more Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany, perhaps delving into other classic science fiction that I haven’t read yet, because goodness knows I have more books on my shelf than I have time or even inclination to read. So. I hope to write about what I actually do get around to reading this fall.

In other news, I’m going to get roped into NaNoWriMo again…with a sequel to the one I’m working on currently (the novel formerly known as “Changeling”). NaNoWriMo, for those of you not in the know, is a race to write 50,000 words of prose during the month of November. Considering how completely crap November is in Seattle, there’s little wonder that the greater Seattle area has the highest worldwide participation. Hooray.

In other other news, I’m taking some excellent classes at the Richard Hugo House this fall. Currently I’m in a poetry class with the inestimable David Wagoner. My assignment this week: Write a slow poem. “You owe it to yourself to try this,” DW says. It’s scary and hard, and that’s delicious, too. I will post results tomorrow.

She’s Not There…

I thought it was bad when my Dad turned into an abusive monster, my parents split, and my Mum dragged us back to America. I thought it was bad living in the most shite town ever, Colorado Springs. Hell, I thought it was bad when my sister Cassie disappeared off the face of the earth and everyone said she ran away with her art teacher. But it was worse almost when she came back, three years later. Without aging. Without memories. Without herself.

That’s Penny speaking, by the way. She’s one of the protagonists of my new novel. You’ll meet more of her in posts to come.

Novel No. 2* is an interesting novel for me to write, in that it’s nothing like the process I went through for Freedomland. I more or less figured out on my first draft what I wanted to do with Freedomland, including how I wanted it to end. With this one, it’s all up in the air. I have a lot of things a-brewin’. One thing that I’m working with is how to keep the more supernatural bits of the story ambiguous–treading the fine line between true crime and fantasy. (i.e. is Cassie stolen by a crazy man from the mountains, or the fairies?) Think of it like an episode of the X-Files: There’s a Mulder explanation of my story and a Scully explanation.

That being said, I love it when I find stuff that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. I recently read about Capgras Syndrome, a dissociative disorder in which a person of otherwise sound mental health is convinced that someone close to them (usually a relative) has been replaced by an exact copy, viz. a clone or changeling. It’s fun when I find a scientific explanation for exactly what my character is going through! …even if I have a fantastic one as well. No reason they can’t sit side-by-side for a while….

*a.k.a. Changeling, a.k.a. The November Queen, a.k.a. What the Hell am I Going to Call This Book

Cannot Be Unthought.

When I went to undergrad at Colorado College, I was a writing tutor. I remember one day a girl came in with a literary theory paper about The Cat in the Hat. Her assignment was to pick a critical point of view and analyze The Cat in the Hat from said point of view. She’d picked Freudianism. I will forever think of the fish as the superego and the cat as the id. And I won’t even get into the stuff with the mother’s dress. Forever and ever when I see that book, I’ll be thinking about Freudian psychology. (This is awkward, when my day job is teaching preschool…)

Anyway, my point is that there are just some things that once seen, cannot be unseen.

So, with all this research for “Changeling”*, I am reading a lot about fairies and fairy tales. With that, I am reading a lot of original fairy tales and Grimms’ mildly-edited versions of fairy tales. And let me tell you–they’re a doozy.

So far, here are my top five ridiculous fairy tale moments:

5. In the 1800s Grimms’ version of the Frog Prince, she does not kiss the frog to make it turn into a handsome prince. She gets grossed out and throws it at a wall. It still turns into a prince, and not even one with broken bones or anything.

4. The tale “The Twelve Brothers” bothers me on several levels. Sure, at the end the evil mother-in-law is put into a barrel of boiling oil and poisonous snakes and dies a horrible death, but even before then, something’s off. The plot centers around this princess who has twelve brothers that are supposed to die when the girl is born so she can inherit the kingdom. The method of death isn’t really touched on…the king in the story just decrees that they shall die and make twelve coffins for them. Not an award-winning parenting move. No one questions him, either!

3. The story “The Maiden Without Hands” revolves around a maiden who was accidentally promised to the Devil by her father. The Devil tells the father he has to make her stop bathing, and then later chop off her hands. Apparently, if she has clean hands, the Devil can’t get to her. Was this a message about handwashing?

2. “The Castle of Murder” was left out of the Grimms’ manuscript entirely for being to disturbing, apparently. It’s about a shoemaker’s daughter who’s being courted by a very nice young man with a nice castle in which he kills his dates and has his creepy old servant scrape out their intestines. This cautionary tale is possibly relevant for when your children learn about online dating.

1. Another one of the fairy tales that the Grimms cut entirely because there was no way they could sanitize it is called “How the Children Played at Slaughter.” It’s about kids who watched their farmer parents butchering meat and then decided it’d be a really good idea for one to cut the other’s throat with a knife. Then the mother got so angry that she stabbed the one who’d killed the other, and then hanged herself. And their dad died, too, out of misery that his whole family had murdered each other randomly. I’m not entirely sure what the moral is, aside from “don’t be an idiot and die.”

I highly recommend picking up a book of fairy tales: Hans Christian Andersen, Grimms’, Italo Calvino’s Italian tales, or the Andrew Lang collections (Green Fairy Book, etc.). It’s an entertaining and disturbing experience.

*My goodness, I need a better title. I mean, not only is it a one word title that’s also a major motion picture (as Freedomland is), but it gives away a major piece of the story. Now, there are some works that give away the ENTIRE story in the title, e.g. Snakes on a Plane or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…so “Changeling” isn’t quite THAT obvious, but still. I need something better.

The first rule about Fight Club….

So, I was just writing a fight scene in “Changeling,”* a real fists-flying-guns-drawn fight scene. It made me think of two things:

1. I don’t write fight scenes very often. In Freedomland, there are no actual FIGHT scenes. There are people dying gruesomely scenes and blowing stuff up scenes, but no hand-to-hand combat, period.

2. I was trying to think of fight scenes that I really like in books. It’s easier to think of fight scenes in movies that are really good, but harder in books. My taste in movie fight scenes runs to the hyperbolic Kill Bill style combat, but that’s not exactly what I’m going for in the scene I was writing. I wanted something more along the lines of Brad Pitt’s character in Snatch punching out some dudes way bigger than him. I’m decently pleased with my first go at it, but it leaves me wondering: what are all the good fight scenes in books? Why don’t I remember many of them?

Please, help me out! Post your favorite book fight scenes!

Searching for my readers…

This past weekend I spent most of my time in Capitol Hill at the Richard Hugo House‘s writing conference, Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century.

Its focus wasn’t craft, but rather marketing, publishing, publication, and all those other things that writers do that aren’t writing. This is something I’d been hungering for, and I left with an overall sense of hope about my career and writing life.

Mainly, I got two things out of the conference. First, I got a lot of really important nuts and bolts for my own publishing plans. I learned about the Espresso Book Machine, which prints and binds (well!) single copies of books from PDF files. I learned how to approach bookstores with my book, and what a writer’s platform is and how to strengthen mine. I talked to knowledgeable people about how to market my work when it stretches between genre fiction and literary fiction. Et cetera.

Secondly, I got an overall picture of where publishing might be going in the future…and I like it. The traditional vision of publishing goes something like this: Author gets agent, who convinces publishing company to accept manuscript, manuscript is printed and distributed en masse, extra books come back to publishing company as returns. In this scenario, the books are products to be pushed, stuff to be sold just like any other gadget on the market. The new way *might* look something more like this: author makes manuscript, hires editor to edit, then feeds manuscript into Espresso Book Machine, making single copies available to eager readers worldwide who know said author from their online presence. No returns, no agents.

I see self-publishing like this as something that will become ever more popular, although I don’t think it will ever replace traditional publishing, nor should it. But I think that the traditional structure will change in response to a new wave of bad-ass self-publishing. I guess as a whole we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m trying to have the best of both worlds; I plan to try to find an agent and traditionally publish “Changeling” when I’m done with it. In the meantime, with Freedomland I’m riding the wave of self-publishing (and hopefully self-printing once I talk to Vladamir at Third Place Books!) into the future.

If you’re in Seattle and itching to get your hands on some local writing, check out Pilot Books in Capitol Hill. It’s a tiny store with bas-ass flavor that’s all about local authors.

Blatant Balladry

So, I suppose it’s time I talked about Novel No. 2. It’s tentatively titled Changeling, because I love me some single-word titles. Currently, it consists of a few more than 50,000 words of text (thanks, NaNoWriMo), a couple of outlines, and a bunch of research into the wacky, wacky world of British folklore.

Specifically, I’ve been doing some serious reading of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the late 1800s, a.k.a. the Childs’ Ballads. It turns out that most of the things I was really nerdy about as a kid (Robin Hood stories, some aspects of Arthurian legend, Steeleye Span, and a boatload of British fairy tales) all come from these ballads.

A surprising number of these ballads have wicked strong female characters in them. They aren’t always, y’know, moral, but they are often pretty badass. Consider the heroine of The Elfin Knight…some otherworldly prettyboy rides up and says, “La di dah, you can’t have me until you make me this totally magical and impossible shirt, ’cause I’m so fabulous, prance prance.” (or that’s how I read it, anyway.) Her response? “Okay, ask the impossible of me and I only ask the same of you. Fair!” She’s having none of his tomfoolery. The Childs’ Ballads are chock full of badass ladies like this.

To further make my point, and in honor of National Poetry Month, I present to you a version of The Elfin Knight. It’s pretty heavily Scottish/difficult to read, but persist! I beg you. You’ll totally recognise it, or at least you will if you listen to Simon and Garfunkle. Helpful notes: 1. If you can’t figure out what it’s saying, try pretending to have a heavy Scottish accent and see if that helps. 2. A sark is a kind of shirt. 3. Maun=must.

There are many, many versions of this song. I have chosen this one because it’s semi-intelligible and totally channels Tiffany Aching.

2D.1	THE Elfin knight stands on yon hill,
      Refrain:	Blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw
	Blawing his horn loud and shrill.
      Refrain:	And the wind has blawin my plaid awa
2D.2	‘If I had yon horn in my kist,
	And the bonny laddie here that I luve best!
2D.3	‘I hae a sister eleven years auld,
	And she to the young men’s bed has made bauld.
2D.4	‘And I mysell am only nine,
	And oh! sae fain, luve, as I woud be thine.’
2D.5	‘Ye maun make me a fine Holland sark,
	Without ony stitching or needle wark.
2D.6	‘And ye maun wash it in yonder well,
	Where the dew never wat, nor the rain ever fell.
2D.7	‘And ye maun dry it upon a thorn
	That never budded sin Adam was born.’
2D.8	‘Now sin ye’ve askd some things o me,
	It’s right I ask as mony o thee.
2D.9	‘My father he askd me an acre o land,
	Between the saut sea and the strand.
2D.10	‘And ye maun plow’t wi your blawing horn,
	And ye maun saw’t wi pepper corn.
2D.11	And ye maun harrow’t wi a single tyne,
	And ye maun shear’t wi a sheep’s shank bane.
2D.12	‘And ye maun big it in the sea,
	And bring the stathle dry to me.
2D.13	‘And ye maun barn ’t in yon mouse hole,
	And ye maun thrash’t in your shee sole.
2D.14	‘And ye maun sack it in your gluve,
	And ye maun winno’t in your leuve.
2D.15	‘And ye maun dry’t without candle or coal,
	And grind it without quirn or mill.
2D.16	‘Ye’ll big a cart o stane and lime,
	Gar Robin Redbreast trail it syne.
2D.17	‘When ye’ve dune, and finishd your wark,
	Ye’ll come to me, luve, and get your sark.’

This, and so many more are available in awesomely accessible format at Sacred Texts.

And I’m spent. More fairies, balladeering, and tomfoolery later.

Scene vs. Summary

One of the basic tricks in a writer’s Bag-O-Tricks is knowing when to use scene, and when to use summary. What the crap does that mean? Well, scene is like a movie: the events are happening in real time, you’re watching them, there we go. It may or may not involve direct dialogue. For example:

Elijah squatted down next to her. He moved a lot more smoothly than he felt like he ought to be able to–his  heart was pounding.

“Your house got bombed,” he said.

“I know,” she snapped.

Summary, on the other hand, happens when the implied narrator moves through time more quickly or summarizes events. Sometimes summary comes in the form of exposition. For example:

Nicodemus Tolson, whom Elijah had always known as Nico at school, or Malacode online, would not be the first person you’d peg to be a gang leader. When Elijah met him freshmen year, he looked like a perfectly ordinary, intelligent kid who was the vice president of the Technology Club and who wore suits to school that made him look a little like an Archangel. Over the course of the year, Elijah learned that Nico paid for the suits and most of the luxury in his life with stolen credits, laundered and transferred to an account of one of his online aliases.

I realize that most of Freedomland is scene. I have a habit of writing too much scene when I could be doing creative and interesting things with summary. I think usually scene is more powerful, but I’m increasingly realizing that if everything is scene at more or less the same pace, the prose gets old pretty quick.

When I was writing my NaNoWriMo draft of my next novel, which is called Changeling at this point, I used almost exclusively scene. I was also writing in first person present tense throughout the whole thing, and while there are advantages to first person present tense (sense of immediacy, trendiness), I kind of wanted to throw up in my mouth a little bit after reading over 100+ pages of first person present tense. The novel has multiple viewpoints, which helped, but it was still weird.

I did go to a bunch of fun writers’ workshops at the Richard Hugo House, including one about stretching and compressing narrative time. Then I wrote the following compressed time piece for Changeling:

It was three weeks to the day after I saw my father slap my mother in the kitchen that the two of them sat Cassie and me down in the living room and told us they were getting separating. “Separating,” they said, as if divorce was a dirty word. “You girls and me are going to move out,” Mum informed us casually, as if she were telling us what she’d made for dinner. Moving out, it turns out, meant getting visas and flying across the Atlantic to the Denver International Airport, which is just like the rest of America: large, neon, and full of fat people in a hurry. We got to our new house in January, and it kept on cold and basically shitty until June. We didn’t even get to ski. I had almost stopped hating Colorado over the summer, and even mostly forgiven Mum for ripping us across the ocean, but then it was November, and Cassie disappeared.

See? Mostly summary there, with the wee bitty bit of scene-like dialogue. So much cooler than plain scene after scene after scene.

In case y’all wondered, here are some thoughts that it is both terrifying and gratifying to experience:

  1. “Fuck, I have to change the tense of my novel.”
  2. “Wow, I’m writing some stuff for the new novel that’s way cooler than the one I just spent three damn  years publishing.”
  3. “I will probably use maybe 20% the 150 or so pages of novel I wrote last November.”

In any case! I have a revision party scheduled tomorrow with the estimable HJB, so that will be good.

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