I’m madly scrambling to get ready for the World Fantasy Convention this weekend. We leave Thursday morning & I’m so not ready.
The day after I get back I have my Elegy Beach launch party & signing at Mysterious Books in San Diego (Nov. 3). I’m almost ready for that. I’ll be bringing schwag and some mix CDs to give away, too.
“The More Things Change,” the second of several essays appearing in conjunction with the Elegy Beach release, is now online. This one addresses the disparity in depiction of the Change between Ariel and Elegy Beach. I think it provides some interesting info, and I hope it will answer some reader questions in lieu of me having to answer them a whole lot of times.
Several websites have asked for essays from me in conjunction with the release of Elegy Beach. Naturally I’m only too happy to oblige! But even though I’m perfectly comfortable promoting my work, rather than just write some long commercial for my new book I think it’s fun to use these as opportunities to talk about my approach to my work — how I do what I do. (Or, at least, how I think I do what I think I do.)
The first of these, “The One True Thing,” is online at BSC Review. It’s about my insidious methods of using concrete, real-world details to sell outright impossible fantasy. Naturally the examples I use are from the books that are out now. Fiendishly clever of me, innit?
It’s funny, when I write, the decisions I make and the methods I use feel very instinctive to me. I don’t often question them. “I trust my process,” as the painters say. (I need to remember to say that in interviews. It sounds so confident and artistic. So if you read an interview where I say that, you can know that I’ve set out to be confident and artistic.)
After it’s all done, though, I get asked about methods, reasons, etc. My mom finished Elegy Beach the other day and asked me a terrific question about why something was in the book that I hadn’t really thought about. (A question I also realized no interviewer will ever ask me. Shame. It was a great question.)
I was somewhat surprised that I had an answer for her. I’m surprised when I write these essays and realize I have some idea why I handle this stuff the way I do. It turns out that some part of my brain does all this on purpose. He just doesn’t bother emailing the rest of me about it. For all I know he leaves Writer Steve off the list, too. Maybe he doesn’t want him to get too self conscious.
See, now I’m getting all existential on yer ass and wondering who’s really pulling the strings. I mean, if one part of me knows how I do it but doesn’t tell the part of me that actually does it, and the rest of me stays the hell out of the fray, then who’s running this clown car?
So with one book coming out and another one just sent off to the agent, even though I’m fairly busy with promotion-related stuff (November is gonna be nuts), my attention immediately turned to DJing and designing my wife’s music website. I mean at around 4 a.m. on Sunday I literally packed up the new novel to mail off to my agent the next morning and then did a new Podrunner mix. The next day I began the laborious and detail-intensive nonsense involved in upgrading my DJ rig and getting new controllers.
Clearly something in me just doesn’t know how not to have a new project going on. I’m the worst person in the world to go on vacation with. I have no idea how to sit by a pool and read.
I gave an interview the other day, and I was talking about how I didn’t write an ARIEL sequel right away because I simply didn’t have a story to tell and I didn’t want to do it unless there was a story that needed to be said. The interviewer said, “It sounds like you really like to be challenged.” I told her that, well, the truth is that I get bored easily.
I’ve thought about that a bunch this week. I mean, literally minutes after the new book was put away I shifted focus to a new challenge in my DJ life, because I’ve felt fairly stagnant there. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s fun, but good lord, could I be more Type A?
I finished the massive revision of my next novel over the weekend and sent it off to my agent yesterday. Now maybe I can go back to some kind of normal schedule (one that involves more than three hours’ sleep a day) and actually do some useful things around the house. My wife deserves some kind of medal. Mo’s been running interference between me and the world whhile I dig through this mountain. But I’m through and the book is off.
I get anxious about these things. Bitter experience (largely of my own devising, I hasten to add) has taught me that having a book out is no guarantee of someone buying the next one. I’m afraid that despte being a fairly different person from what I was when I was publishing more regularly Lo These Many Years Ago, and despite clearly having a much-improved approach to publishing (and to the world in general), I still drag my past around like a boat anchor.
This is the first time I can recall being able to be anxious/eager/impatient about waiting for a book to be published at the same time I’m anxious/eager/imaptient about a book I’ve sent off.
Thirty years after technology ceased to work and magic returned to Earth, Fred and his friend Yan discover how to reverse “The Change” and set off a chain of events that includes a pursuit up the broken interior of California to stop a madman from destroying the world. The long-awaited sequel to the 1983 cult classic Ariel captures the reader’s attention from its first sentence (much like its predecessor), building in both intensity and intrigue until its unexpected but entirely appropriate conclusion. VERDICT Laced with humor in odd places, this postapocalyptic fantasy ranks with classics such as Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz as an example of first-rate storytelling that serves up both a cautionary tale for the 21st century and an author’s masterwork. Highly recommended.
This came in today. It’s the final publication hardcover of Elegy Beach.
It’s funny, I’ve been Mister Matter-of-Fact ever since my agent sold the book almost exactly a year ago. I’ve been happy, grateful, anxious, appreciative, responsible, cooperative, parental, all kinds of emotions. Not to mention busy as hell.
What I haven’t been is hugely excited. I’ve written elsewhere (mainly in the Elegy Beach Afterword) that I had to compartmentalize myself in order to write this book at all. To get out of the way and let Writer Steve do it, but only let him to that, and leave the rest of my life alone. I think that necessary distancing may be why I haven’t gone all schoolgirly on everyone about the novel’s imminent publication.
Then the book showed up today. And I got excited as hell. I mean I was giddy all day long. Stoopid giddy. Making silly noises and laughing at my own jokes kind of giddy. Playing with a new puppydog kind of giddy. Because the book is gorgeous.* And because no amount of immersion or envisioning or daily attending to the tiny details that go into putting something like this together, prepared me for the unexpected, unalloyed joy I felt on holding the thing in my hands. I didn’t feel that way when I got copies of my first novel. I dunno why not. But this. This.
And now I’m horribly excited. It’s been a long time coming, folks.
*Bless jacket designer Judith Lagerman, the art director at Penguin, and everyone who had anything to do with the production end of this book.
Samuel R. Delany’s DHALGREN remains my favorite novel, though I no longer think it’s the best novel I’ve read (it’s still up there, though). I must have read it 10 or 12 times. It came out when I was in seventh grade. I bought it for the cover, the wonderful and misleading jacket copy, and the fact that the book was huge.
The front cover reads:
Stranger in a Strange Land,
Then Dune and now,
The Major Novel of Love
And Terror at the End of Time
Well, sign my ass up! “The major novel of love and terror at the end of time” — I would kill to have a line that good on a cover. And I’m in seventh grade and nuts about postapocalyptic stories (back then we just called them “end of the world books”), and comparing something to Stranger in a Strange Land and Dune was pretty much a guarantee to get me to shell out my $1.95 (Wow! 1975! Wow!)
The back cover reads:
The sun has grown deadly… The world has gone mad, society has perished, savagery rules over all. All that was known is over. All that was familiar is strange and terrible. Today and yesterday collide with tomorrow. In these dying days of earth, a young drifter enters the city…
And the catchpage (first page you see) reads:
In the crippled city
where time has lost its meaning
and violence is swift and sudden,
a nameless young man with no memory appears…
He shares his great strength
in a loving trinity with a young boy
and a haunted, beautiful woman
in that time before the end of time…
Good lord! All of it off the mark but not untrue, exactly, and all of it just gorgeous.
The book begins in midsentence and ends midsentence. There in the bookstore I looked to see if they joined up, and they did: the book looped. (Though now I would offer that there’s a halftwist in the narrative that makes the book a Mobius strip.) At the time I had not read FINNEGAN’S WAKE, so the idea that an author could reach out through a page and make me do that and by implication serve me notice that I was in for a deeper, more involving experience than I might be accustomed to, had me from the first line. It opened up the idea of fiction for me, something like the way 2001: A Space Odyssey opened up the idea of movie when it was released. And the rest of the novel only continued unfolding and subverting the conventions of the novel. This guy was using fiction to write about language. Holy shit.
I’d been writing fiction since I was about five, but I clearly remember the moment I realized I wanted to write for a living. I was in the school cafeteria about to be late to class because I couldn’t stop reading this book. Everyone had picked up their trays and gone to class and I was almost alone in the big room and totally absorbed. And it hit me: I want to do this. I want to write something that does for someone somewhere what this book is doing to me. I’m thirteen years old, and I want to do this for a living.
The only time I have ever been starstruck was when I briefly met Delany in the con suite at some convention. I was too tongue-tied to tell him any of the above. Which maybe he’s heard a thousand times, I dunno, but I can’t imagine getting tired of it. My friends were astonished. Boyett? Tonguetied? Starstruck? Are you freaking kidding me?
I return to DHALGREN every few years and find it a different novel every time. What I bring to it is different, what I glean from it is different. To me this is a hallmark of a book that stands the test of time: it is not the same book always. What it even seems to be about transforms. In seventh grade that spoke to my very marrow. That height was where I set my sights. It speaks to me still.
How about you? Do you have a watershed moment associated with a favorite novel? I hope you do.
Chapter 13 of ELEGY BEACH is now available on elegybeach.com. You can read it directly on the website or as a downloadable PDF.
This chapter begins a gradual change in the novel’s writing style as well as an increasingly serious tone to the book itself. Despite being a lengthy chapter that occurs well on into the novel (around 1/4 of the way in), it’s relatively self contained and manages to have a lot going on without giving too much away and being a potential spoiler (I hope).
Chapters 1 and 2 are already available on the site.
I hope to be able to offer excerpts from the audiobook around the time the print and e-book versions are released (November 3). I’ll definitely announce it here when I do!
I can’t write a story or novel unless I have a title. In fact I have a folder with a list of titles that have come to me (“The Placebo Plague” — c’mon, don’t you want to know what that’s about? I do). There’s nothing mysterious about it. In many ways the title is simply my perspective on the work. It lets me know how I see it. How I want it seen.
To me a title is a kind of lens that colors what follows. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that works I’ve written first and titled later are inevitably my weakest stuff (”Bridge” is one of my worst published, I think, and didn’t have a title till it was done, whereas “Drifting off the Coast of New Mexico” and “Emerald City Blues” are two of my best [I think], and had a title from the start).
Rene Magritte used to randomly pick titles for his paintings, or have friends title them. Not because he didn’t care, but because there was an enormous tissue of implied yet totally subjective meaning generated by the relationship between painting and title. In many ways that’s exactly what Magritte was all about; it’s why semiologists and grammatologists love him. A painting of a giant rose filling up an ordinary room, entitled “The Tomb of the Wrestler.” That engages me. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but the fact that I try to supply information to connect those two signs, painting and title, speaks to how the human brain can’t help but work. I have titles I want to write stories about just so I can expand on them, or understand that initial image (”The Weatherman Cringes at the Storm’s Approach” is an extreme example; “The Ghost of Her Reply” is a more compelling one).
Which brings me to science fiction and fantasy.
One of the ways genres define themselves is by developing so many conventions that they unintentionally caricature themselves. I mean, who outside the genre is gonna read a book called The Dragonriders of Pern or The Sword of Shannara? Partly it’s that Ludlum-esque titling formula (The Personal-Pronoun Noun) acting on readers to let them know what they’re in for; it’s not a huge leap from The Dragonriders of Pern to The Slime Devils of Gralfnab 9. In this way (among many others) F&SF aren’t just ghettoized; they ghettoize themselves. The Wyvvern, The Integral Trees (try saying that one out loud), The Architects of Hyperspace — who are we talking to here? No wonder we (sure, I’ll say “we”) band into paradoxically self-congratulatory and commiserative conventions that sneer at “mundanes” and “muggles” when they cock their head like Victor the RCA dog as they watch us reading God Emperor of Dune or RenSime on the bus and smile condescendingly.
Here’s an opportunity — damn near a billboard — that lets you be intriguing and appealing (Stranger in a Strange Land, Lest Darkness Fall, Voice of the Whirlwind), that lets you pimp yer ride, and instead most of us are chugging around in lumpy primer gray Bondo and thinking we’re all made of awesome.
I’m trying to post consistently but lately it’s been difficult because my sleep schedule is completely wacked. I’m cranking away to finish revising my next novel to get it out to my agent by November. To do that I’m working at night, going to bed around 5 or 6 a.m., and waking up in the afternoon.
At least, ideally that’s what I’m doing. I thought it would be a good idea because my phone doesn’t ring at 3 a.m., I don’t get dragged down by quotidian distractions. A pure focused stretch of creative time, just like the old days.
What makes this not at all ideal is that we own parrots. Plural. A vosmaeri eclectus and a severe macaw. I love them dearly and often want to drown them. (I won’t go on about the birds themselves because whothehell wants to read yet another blog entry about someone’s pet?) You think only roosters crow at dawn, right? Nossir, all birds just love to celebrate every sunrise like they’re starring in some Cat Stevens ballad.
So an hour or two after I go to bed the birds start their own sunrise serenade. Then Murdoc, the macaw, who is a crazy old broken rescue who has bonded with me, has to preen me. Which means I spend the next several hours trying to sleep while a parrot tries to chew through my arm.
These are things you never thought you’d have to deal with later on in life.
So for about the last month I’ve been a shuffling stumbling holloweyed thing who looks like he wants nothing more than to eat your brain. Other work is piling up. Daily chores are neglected. The rest of my life is piling up. But something in me insists on doing it this way.
I know what it is, of course: this book wants to be written at night. It’s unbelievably dark and funny as shit, and I have worked obsessively to make every dark disturbing word of it as beautiful as I can. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written and the hardest. I could write a book about what I went through to write this book (but don’t worry, I won’t). I don’t like to talk about it in any detail because I’ve learned that just because I’m working on a book doesn’t mean that it will ever see the light of day. What I will say about it is that it’s the first thing I’ve ever written that I’ve felt certain that, had it been written by another writer, I would count among my favorite novels. That’s a weird feeling.
With any luck I’ll be talking about it in more detail come November. Meantime it’s shuffle, stumble, type, sleep, repeat as needed.