25 October 2013

Regular posting will resume. Eventually.

I'm spending this weekend in my car (14 hours in 72) to go to my 15-year college reunion in Pennsylvania. At some point, my life will settle back down enough that I can spend a couple hours a week working on blog posts.

21 October 2013

Viable Paradise 17

It is extraordinarily difficult to encapsulate what happened during my week on Martha's Vineyard. I can give you a list of all the events that occurred, but it is insufficient to convey the emotional aspects. One of my classmates is working on a day by day series starting here, and I'm not going to go into quite as much detail as he is.

The listy, here's what happened part
Actually getting to Martha's Vineyard is an ordeal. For me it involved a flight on a 4-across plane up to Boston (2 hours), then a ride down to the ferry station at Woods Hole with the delightful Julia Rios, who I hadn't had much chance to talk with in a few years, (~1.75 hours), grabbing a sandwich while waiting for the ferry, the long water voyage (45 mins) for which the curing of scurvy would be required, and a ride over to the inn. I left my house around 7:15 am and got to the Inn around 3:30 pm (after a brief stop for groceries). I unpacked, settled in, and socialized until dinner/orientation.

The rest of the week followed a pattern: Monday through Wednesday we had group critique sessions from 9-10:30, lecture from 10:30 to noon, and an optional lunch session. Monday and Tuesday we had afternoon lecture/collegium from 1:30-4:15, followed by one-on-one sessions, then dinner at 6:30. Wednesday we had free after morning lecture, to give us time to work on our writing assignments. Thursday and Friday had no group critiques or one-on-ones, just lectures and collegia. All day. In uncomfortable chairs. Tuesday night was a round robin reading of a Shakespeare play, during which I got to play with my outrageous French accent.

The Monday evening excursion to see the bioluminescent jellyfish was worth it. There was another Friday night, when Bear walked around to all the rooms and said, "Jellyfish walk." Take the jellyfish walk.

There's a highly optional 6:30 am walk with Uncle Jim, which I was never awake for. Actually, technically, nothing is mandatory: we're all adults, and we can make our own decisions. At the same time, though, you paid your money and made the journey; skipping all the lectures is a complete waste of your time. (Only Mandatory Fun is mandatory.)

Because I finished my reading for Wednesday's critique session during the break before my one-on-one, I was able to hammer out my first draft of the writing assignment late Tuesday. That meant I had Wednesday afternoon mostly free (I needed to revise, after all), so I took a walk with staff member Pippin down to Methodist Munchkinland (technically the MV Methodist Camp something) while my classmates worked. I didn't want to bother them by being bored and talky, so I took my energy elsewhere. (I did feel really weird about writing such a short story that I was done so early, like I needed to make it longer. And now, for my sins, I have to revise it and make it longer.) I scouted what was still open in town, and after an excursion for dinner, I joined in the revision and a critique swap (until midnight, when I decided I was DONE and needed liquor).

The less boring part
One of the stories I was given to critique in my group was hard for me to read, because it hit close to home. And I started crying giving feedback in the circle. (The descriptions of losing a pet were very accurate and effective. One of my comments on the paper was "ugly sobbing.") I suppose that was a bonding experience for us...

The level of feedback from the students was good, especially by Wednesday, when we'd been through a couple rounds and learned more of what to look for. The instructors' feedback, both in group and one-on-ones, was helpful. One thing I kept reminding myself (and everyone else) when we expressed doubt that our writing was any good was that the instructors have no reason to inflate our egos by lying to us and telling us we're better writers than we are. We got in; there is some element in our writing that is not-quite-there-yet in a way that the instructors can teach us to fix.

The emotional part
Being at VP is a strange experience. You have your peers (classmates) and the instructors. But it's not really set up as strata, where the instructors dispense wisdom from on high. They're approachable. They'll answer your questions about submitting to markets, about what was discussed in lectures or critiques that day, about books in general, and everything else. Yes, many of them had their own normal work to do, but if they were in the common areas, they were game for socializing.

You spend a whole week thinking and talking about books and stories and writing, with side conversations about getting to know each other, current events (the day we got a government again was nice), fangirling the hell out of Pacific Rim (maybe that was just us), and just anything and everything. You have to read 40,000 words (max) and give critique on them. There is a kind of bonding that occurs through adversity, and another through proximity. VP gives both.

Viable Paradise is a liminal place. It's a temporary establishment on a place reached by a journey (across water!). The students are in a transition from good writers to professional writers. Lots of symbolism in liminality.

What I learned
I learned a lot of ways to be a more deliberate writer. I write subconsciously, so all the cool things like thematic ties and symbolism that people picked up on in my story weren't there by any deliberate act of mine. The subconscious is pretty cool, though, and it does things you don't even notice. But I'd like to be more deliberate in my work, so that will help.

I learned that I'm a better writer than I think I am. I learned that there are some types of lyrical prose that don't make me want to stab my eyeballs out, even if I'm not following the story at all. I learned that I can write outside my usual comfort zone.

I learned things I already sort of knew but at a higher level and with better explanations behind them. I had a few "OH THAT RIGHT" moments while frantically scribbling notes.

This was the right workshop at the right time for me. I'm glad I applied, and I'm glad I met everyone. Miss you already!

11 October 2013

Friday flailing

T minus 46 hours until I depart for Viable Paradise. Actually, that's when my plane leaves, so it's T minus 44 hours from when I leave my house. I haven't packed yet; my laundry is drying on the rack in the bathroom. I have tomorrow, after all, and a packing list.

My packing list is on a sheet of lined A4 paper (I have a lot of notebooks left over from my junior year of college in Germany), two columns, about 3/4 of the page, with notations, deletions, additions. I should make a to-do list that's full of "don't forget to get money from the ATM"-type things. Because I want to have some cash for incidentals like food at the grocery store and Dunkin Donuts at the airport (because fuck yeah donuts.)

I'm working on a short story to submit after the workshop is over. I've almost got it to a place I can send it to beta readers, so I hope I can get there today, since tomorrow is going to be a whirlwind of "do I need this?" "Where did I put that?" "Why won't this fit?"

I don't know if I'll have time to get any blogging in tomorrow (which is when I usually queue my posts for the week), so there may be nothing from me until after I get back next week.

09 October 2013

Anime you should watch: Gankutsuou

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, written by Natsuko Takahashi and Tomohiro Yamashita, directed by Mahiro Maeda/GONZO, 2004

This retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is set in the year 5053, in France. The art is very stylized, and GONZO was experimenting a lot with colors and textures in the animation.

Gankutsuou box set cover

A mysterious man calling himself the Count of Monte Cristo appears to young Albert Morcerf while Albert is on vacation on the moon colony, and the Count works his way into the Morcerf family's confidence when they return to Paris. The Count's secret identity is Edmond Dantes, who was Albert's mother's lover and who was unjustly imprisoned in the Chateau d'If.

In the Chateau d'If, Dantes met a demon, Gankutsuou, who made a deal for his freedom. Dantes is free, and he's seeking revenge.

I haven't actually read the classic novel, so I don't know how closely it follows the original. I don't think there are any literal demons involved in Dumas' version, just the usual figurative ones. This version focuses on Albert and his friends, and the new relationship between Albert and the Count.

It was originally released in the US by Geneon, who were among the casualties of the anime bubble burst. Funimation rescued the license and has released it in a value pack. You can watch all 24 episodes on Crunchyroll or hulu.

07 October 2013

Books I love: Swordspoint

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, 1987.

The book opens thus:

Snow was falling on Riverside, great white feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the façades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the contours of jagged roof and fallen beam. [...]
Let the fairy tale begin on a winter's morning, then, one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff.

Richard St. Vier is a swordsman who lives in the mean streets of Riverside. Nobles from up on the Hill hire him to duel for their honor, to first blood or to the death. His signature is a killing blow straight to the heart, very difficult, but he's the best.

Alec Campion is a student with a secret past, and he has a bad habit of trying to get himself killed in bar fights. Fortunately (or not) for him, St. Vier took a liking to him and will defend him from the attackers. Sometimes Alec starts fights on purpose, just so he can watch Richard work.

The plot is twisty and full of intrigue, intricate and intimate. Richard and Alec's love story is at the heart of the novel, but there is another larger plot going on around them. There's a power play going on among the nobles, into which Richard and Alec are drawn, in no small part because of Alec's secret past*.

Alec isn't the most likable character; he's an ass, a drug addict, and a bit of a liar. Richard is a cold-blooded killer, with a soft spot for Alec.

Kushner has said that everyone in her books is bisexual; Richard had a wife, and Alec had several female lovers. (Yet people still classify them as "gay lovers;" the book is on lists of books with gay main characters. Bisexual erasure: it's a real thing.) This is wonderful and still rare in publishing.

The edition I own, Bantam Spectra 2003, includes three short stories: "The Swordsman Whose Name was Not Death," how Richard met Alec, "The Death of the Duke," as it says on the tin, and "Red-Cloak," a tale of a duel between Richard and a man who may not have been as he seemed, as well as an afterword by Kushner.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys political intrigue, romance between two extremely flawed individuals, and beautiful, evocative writing. I hope you love it as much as I do.

*SPOILER: he's the heir to Duchess Tremontaine.

04 October 2013

Friday miscellany

I'm getting my hair cut today. It's in dire need. My last haircut was in July, and I'm feeling awfully shaggy.

I'm working on a short story (I so rarely write them) this week, and I hope to get it out sometime this month. Most likely after VP... (OMG 9 days.)

My fifteen-year college reunion is coming up! And I'll be driving up to Pennsylvania less than a week after I get back from VP. I'm staying with a friend from college who still lives up there, because by the time I decided to go, all the hotels were booked out. Or over $100 a night. I still have the picture of the 15 chem majors I graduated with framed on my bookshelf. (And I'm really surprised that freshman enrollment is over 400; I started with about 250.)

02 October 2013

Anime season recap: summer 2013

The season has ended, and three shows I was watching concluded.

attack on titan
Attack on Titan: Recommended, with the caveat that it's brutal and bleak and bloody and giants eat (or squish) everyone you love. The animation quality is absurdly high. Not all of the plot threads are resolved: what is under the remains of Eren's house in Shiganshina? What secret about the titans will he find there? I hope there's another series in a few seasons that answers those questions.

genshiken nidaime
Genshiken Nidaime: Recommended if you liked original flavor Genshiken. This follows the current run of the manga, with Ogiue as club president and Ohno working on graduating, plus a handful of fujoshi who join the club. The cross-dressing subplot is handled ... (in comparison to other recent anime) not too horribly, but it may make some viewers in the trans* community uncomfortable.

Free!: I won't recommend this (the story isn't anything to write home about), but it's definitely fun, if you enjoy bishounen reverse harem shows.