Saturday, August 30, 2008

"We Have Always Lived in the Castle" Shirley Jackson

Why I read it: It was on the list in my notebook of things to read, and then Gwenda Bond referred to it and "The Lottery", so I requested the book from the library.

I might have mentioned I was on vacation last week. I read three books. This was the first.

Tastes like chicken: Weirdly, Doris Lessing's "The Fifth Child".

What I liked: I liked a lot. The foreward by Jonathan Lethem mentioned "The Lottery" as being something every North American kid read in school, and I didn't remember it by the title, so I pulled out my Norton Anthology of Short Fiction from University, and sure enough, "The Lottery" was there. So I read it, and yes, I had read it before. I remembered being angry at the ending the first time I read it, and I was angry this time too. I don't think I read it in University, because there was no underlining in pencil or red ink like there was on some of the other stories.

Anyway, I thought the way we viewed "We have always lived in the castle" through Merricat's eyes was wonderful. Jackson really got inside Merricat's view of the world, and skewed everything towards Merricat's really disturbed interpretations of people's actions, her magical realism (none of which seemed to work). She was very childish, very sheltered, and not in a good way.

I kept wondering if the townspeople being asses was all in her own mind, and then what they did immediately after the fire was a bit of a surprises because it was so primal, so wild, so animalistic. And then the switch they went through at the end, that was beautiful.

What I hated: There was a section of the book maybe about half-way through (I don't know about other editions; mine was 146 pages long, so this would have been between perhaps pages 70 and 90) that I found really stressful. This would have been about when Cousin Charles arrived. I had to skip forward and make sure the story wasn't going to continue with Cousin Charles messing up Merricat's tidy little world before I could go on. Other people might not have that problem.

But after that I was very satisfied with the ending. It was totally worth the stress of the middle bit.

What I can steal: Oh I don't know, maybe Jackson's confidence in writing stories that make people uncomfortable. I may spend way too much time trying to avoid offending people. Also, I liked the length. Why go on for 700 pages, if you can tell such a good story in just a few?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Last week I went on my annual Maine vacation, where I usually see my dad and one if not more of my sisters. Before I went, I had to work a Saturday morning in order to get some TW projects done, so I used the office printer to print "Toothbrushing Club" on scrap paper (It adds an extra dimension to the story to see hardware installation instructions on the backs, right?). I stuck it in a binder, and I took it on vacation with me, meaning to mark it up with a copy-edit while I was away from the computer.

Didn't do that.

Anyway, I showed the binder to my dad and my sister, but neither of them was exactly chomping at the bit to read the thing. They flipped through, I guess.

Saturday morning, my dad asked to look at it again. I thought, awesome, this is my chance for some actual feedback!

Apparently not.

My dad totally fixated on "What font is this?" Times New Roman (windows default body text) "What size is it?" 10, again the default. "Is this double-spaced?" Yes. "How did you make the spreadsheet list of chapters at the back?" That was Excel. "How did you get it to look so good?" I printed it double-spaced on the office laserjet. "Why didn't you start new chapters on new pages?" Because I'm cheap and lazy. "How did you get it to number correctly?" It's one giant Word file. On and on, for about an hour.

Oh well. I guess at least it looks good.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"The M.D.: a horror story" by Thomas M. Disch

Why I read it: Read an obit of the author a couple of weeks ago, and it made me regret not having read anything by him when he was alive. Then, when I was at the library a couple of weeks ago to see if anything I'd requested had come in, I perused the shelves so as not to leave empty-handed, and this was a name I remembered (and in fact the first book in what appeared to be a series that I had written down on my "list").

What I liked: I haven't read much horror, except for the occasional Stephen King that I picked up at relatives' houses when I was trapped there, and the like. So I don't even know if this is typical of the genre, or even really falls within the genre. It seemed to me like a well-done deal-with-the-devil tale. It had engaging characters, a believable location, etc. I got the feeling from the obit that Disch was a "somebody" in science fiction circles. I liked that part of the story took place in the past, and then moved into the future for the last 150 pages or so. Except it wasn't the future anymore, as the book was published in 1990, and the last section took place in 1999, so... What one of my coworkers said I think Robert J. Sawyer said about Science Fiction -- there's no point, since 2001 is past, and none of the stuff that happened in the Arthur C. Clarke book has come true.

I really liked the deal-with-the-devil that's not a devil, it's Santa, or Mercury. It seemed like a nice twist to me, but maybe if I'd read, like, any horror, it would seem old hat.

Oh, I also liked the shout-outs to Canada, especially the one on p. 29, all about how much Ned's father Lance hated Canada, but he was sort of stuck there. I think all people who live here feel that way some of the time. It's part of the Canadian way.

What I hated: There was an annoying lack of page numbers on chapter title pages, and on the left face. Also, once it moved into the "future" I had a harder time identifying with the characters, mostly because a huge amount of time had passed, maybe. Also, I didn't particularly like the medical explanation for William and Judge at the end, and the explanation of the plague that had been unleashed didn't completely work for me.

What I can steal: Certainly it opens up a different genre for me. I think I'll pick up the other books in the series (I saw "The Priest" beside this one when I took it out, and I think all three are at the closest library, which I never go to because its hours are so unrealistic).

I would not recommend this book to ardent religious people. Devout Catholics who read it would only be angered.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mia would be so proud

You Are Fencing

You're competitive but not brutally so. You compete to make yourself better.

You find having an opponent to be challenging and rewarding.

You are fierce when you're in a competition, but you don't wish your rivals any real harm.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Toothbrush: Day 401 of the confinement

A couple of weeks ago on Monarchy was about Queen Mary and her confinement when she was confused and thought she was pregnant but really it was all in her head. This wretched novel is the same. 401 is a number pulled out of a hat of course, but still...

Today I wrote two lame scraps of the backstory into the text, and then I fell back on my favourite activity, moving sections around! Soon every scene will have been in every spot, except the first and the last!

Actually, I have this Excel spreadsheet (like apparently Justine Larbalestier suggested but doesn't really use, and that's fine, but her novels clearly don't have this massive flaw in that they... I don't even know what's wrong with it except that it's not as good as it should be) anyway, I started trying to apply a normal time frame, a schedule to events, like, you know, weekdays have to come between weekends, and you can't have a whole string of tuesdays in a row, and I couldn't even make that work properly. I know this activity of applying days of the week to sequences will help. I do. But I can't get past half-way through. Then it makes no sense and I have nothing but weekdays, and I don't even know what days they are. Arrgh.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Toothbrush: My 400th day in detention

Or so it seems. Worked on the wretched thing for about an hour and a half.
  • Wrote two scenes that were from my notes from last weekend. The two scenes were all about my fairies' motives. Oh, and their clothes. Fairies' clothes are very important.
  • Tried to make two of the settings more consistent, but probably just made them more boring and illogical. I found myself trying to do keyword searches in order to find all the instances where things were, well, not what I'm going for now (what I was going for last year being something completely different). Some of the techniques I use in technical writing, like "search and replace" just don't translate well to fiction, where consistency of terminology would make my prose seem as boring as, well, a computer manual. And no one wants to read those.
  • Considered adding the backstory I thought of a couple of days ago, but couldn't bring myself to do it (I will -- it needs to be done).
  • Refigured one character again. How many times will I rewrite her? I hope none. It all goes towards making my setting more believable. How many schools have a dental hygienist in 2008? I'm thinking none.

Maybe I'll figure out how to work that backstory in while I'm sleeping tonight, and I'll wake up in the morning raring to go at it. But somehow I doubt it. I will have to push, rather than it pushing at me. It only ever pushes at me when there's no way I can work on it "right now". It sucks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke

Wow, the publisher and editor must have had a lot of confidence in Susanna Clarke. This is one fat book for a first novel. And there are some bizarre (though consistent) spellings. Or maybe I was reading an English edition. (I just looked it up, and the one that I kept noticing, "shew", is archaic, according to Oxford, so I guess it's an affectation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Why I read it: I must have seen reviews of it. I asked for it for two or three years in a row for Christmas, but nobody obliged (maybe because it's so long). So, one day I was at the library to see if any of the books I had requested were available (they weren't), and I wandered over to the paperback shelves, and there it was, so I picked it up. I had been idlely looking at the Bernard Cornwell titles, I think, trying to figure out which I had read.

What I liked: Pretty much everything. It's written very much in the style of a Dickens novel, and fortunately, I like Dickens. It's very funny, but a dry wit. The magicians are borderline incompetent, but can still do amazing things. I read a review somewhere (might have been one of the blurbs at the front), wherein the writer said the book made her question her knowledge of English history. Had there ever been a Northern King? It seemed so possible! Especially to us in North America, where we don't remember our English history so well. I loved the "real" characters that were worked in -- Wellington, Byron, mad King George. That made it just a little bit more believable.

This book reminded me a little of the Bartemious trilogy (Jonathan Stroud). maybe it was the gaslight/London mood, and the otherworld magic helpers. The magic seemed pretty well-defined in those books, and in this.

What I hated: Well, it was really long, and owing to other commitments (like work) it took me four weeks to read. Though I did read another book in that time...

I loved the ending. It's really nice to read a book that is 1006 pages long that doesn't require a sequel or six. Not that I hate series, but it was really nice to read a self-contained story for a change. I liked how it didn't wrap up everything. The characters are going to continue on, and English magic, well... I'm not sure if this would count as a spoiler, but one thing was festering in my brain. But the column of night. Well, all the other thistle-haired man's magic was undone. That made me think that the column of night might have been something that Strange accidentally did to himself? I really liked, though, that not everything had to be explained.

What I can steal: I can't really see myself writing something like this. The "about the author" said this book took ten years to write. I can totally see that. The history, the footnotes, also the whole petty rivalry between groups of men might translate in an interesting way to the whole karate thing I haven't written yet.

I already mentioned in a previous entry that I realized, while reading this book, that my fairies were too benign. Not any more! I guess that's another thing I stole. Though not wholesale. My fairies are very different than these, but not so innocent any more.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Now I don't have to delete the Fairies

Today I was reading "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" and I realized the problem with the Toothbrushing Club is that the fairies are too benign. And to think on about Tuesday I was considering just taking them out, they bored me so much.

Not anymore. Onward!