Monthly Archives: June 2012

Short update for a long weekend

No complaining this time I swear.  It is the Canada Day long weekend here which of course provides many distractions but has also (so far) been amenable to writing.  Now I have kept Things Political off this blog but you don’t need much imagination to know that there are problems with the way things are currently run in the country, but overall, I have to say that I feel extraordinarily fortunate to live where I do.  I can read essentially what I please without being hassled about it.  I can write basically whatever rambling b.s. strikes my fancy without having to worry about getting my door kicked in.  As much as I made a to-do about the weather a while ago I never have to worry about the basics of life, and I even live in a place where a military plane circling overhead for the better part of an hour is not a cause for alarm.  (It was dropping skydivers, practicing for Sunday I guess)

I live in a good place, and I’m very fortunate.

Happy Canada Day.


Word Count: 61,468.  ayuh.

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Cause of delay: Vincent Van Gogh

Blog update is a little late today (again!) in part because I spent some time at the art gallery where there is a really good exhibit this summer.  One of the things that really struck me is how rapidly this work was produced.  Obviously writing and painting are very different sorts of endeavour but I certainly can’t imagine working at that kind of speed.  Maybe that’s the difference between someone who is really devoted to their art and someone who is just screwing around.

Speaking of which:

Word Count: 55,521


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I blame the heat

So it has been a really quite substantially hot, sticky week here and to say that I have not enjoyed it would be a bit of an understatement.  As I’ve been writing this week I have been tempted to start including all kinds of heat imagery or just hot weather into the story (perhaps I want my characters to share my pain?) but suddenly transporting the action to the middle of the summer would be a bizarre decision even for me.  Anyway I didn’t put any of it in, although those of you who read the last couple of blog entries will see that I found another (somewhat arguably nutso) outlet for the heat stuff.

This has gotten me to thinking, today, about one of the challenges, or maybe ramifications (?) of writing something over as long a period as this thing is taking me.  It’s entirely possible that not only will I keep being tempted to chuck stuff in that is drawn from whatever is going on with me at the time, but I might change the way I think about characters or scenes part way through.  Not exactly sure what to do about that (aside from trying to stifle Statler-and-Waldorfian impulses to mass delete) aside from keeping aware of it.

It wasn’t really a concern with thesis writing because so much of that is tied to what is actually in the evidence and sources and you can’t really run around and make stuff up willy nilly.  (Well, very strongly shouldn’t, anyway)  Writing fiction is more fun because you can do that, but I guess I need to think about how to make sure what I end up with isn’t an incoherent or schizophrenic disaster area.

Or maybe it will be and I’ll just claim that was intentional.



(not really)

Word Count: 52, 416

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More complaints, I suppose

Day 12 in the Congo:

One of our expedition disappeared last night.  No-one saw him go, but his tent was empty in the morning and before noon we had become concerned.  Such is the sapping blight of the climate here that it is hard to imagine a journey of any length, much less one of several hours.  Our expedition has therefore become an increasingly fantastic idea, and I am not sure how many of us truly believe that it can be accomplished.

We can set ourselves to lesser goals, however – moving from one shaded spot to one that might be slightly cooler, changing sweat-soaked clothing for damp, arguably fresher apparel, and eventually, searching for our absent comrade.  Once it was established that he was not anywhere within the perimeter of our camp, the operation to find him became more vigorous.  It is no exaggeration to say that the poor man, thus the cause of unplanned-for exertions in these conditions, instantly became the most unpopular member of the expedition.  It is with effort that I was able to make myself recall the person who I had quite liked but a few days previous.

It is hard to imagine what might have caused a generally amiable man of science to suddenly depart into the night.  We are no longer within hiking distance of anything but mud, trees, and stinking water.  Of course at night it is dark here in a way that those of us trained to town life cannot truly understand, so it is possible a brief and mundane excursion turned into one that took the rest of his life.  Perhaps he fled the camp itself, with its quiet, resigned despair.  Perhaps he thought there was something to embrace, there in the steaming, dripping woods.

We found his body in the forest, perhaps fifty paces from camp.  Something was already growing on it.


(It’s still very hot here.  We’re supposed to get a break soon which is probably best for all concerned)

Word Count: 51,249

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What is this

Day 5 on the Congo:

The air is palpably wet even when it is not raining, and the first realization is that nothing is dry, here.  With work, one can effect a transition from ‘soaked’ to ‘damp’, but only at the price of becoming soaked oneself through the exertion.  Most of us quickly adopt a posture of languid immobility, waiting, waiting for something to change.

The heat oozes through you, and over you, and soon you feel its weight upon your flesh and become uncertain that movement is possible, even if it were desirable, or necessary.  I recall a lecture about certain amphibians, and their propensity for being cooked alive, if only the water was heated gradually enough, and for a moment the base camp has the feel of an immense cauldron, perhaps gradually coming to a boil.

And yet cooking pots and kitchen fires are the trappings of civilization and there is nothing but wildness here, a riot of vegetation surrounds us and through it all there is a constant slithering and pittering of feet and antennae, or perhaps it is merely droplets of water falling from the leaves, though one suspects not.  No, we are surrounded by life, and life that does not hew to the constraints of humanity.

All around, in the trees and the undergrowth that has no name and the glutinous mud by the water, and in the water, is the sound of that life growing and thriving, and despite that abundance, the chorus brings with it a strange, abiding dread.  And then the explanation for it – the realization that all that life is waiting to feast upon your exhausted corpse.

Already I fear that is the only change that awaits us here.

(We are in for several days of very high heat and humidity here, which I am reacting to with my usual stoicism and not descending into insanity, even a little.)

Word Count: 49, 135

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Recycling Reading

Blog update is a little late today, sorry!  It’s about to get insanely hot again here so perhaps I am paralysed with dread.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking some more about my reading habits and the fact that I am one of the all-time great re-readers.

Some people I know – people who really like books – read something once and then never pick it up again.  Basically once they’ve been through it once they’re done with it.  I, on the other hand, will re-read books I like many, many times.  Some of that is just because it’s relaxing.  When I get to the end of a long day, especially if I have spent it trying to decipher essays or microfilm, a lot of the time I really don’t want something that is going to challenge me, so a favorite story just feels very comfortable and easy to enjoy.

The part about not wanting to be challenged is probably reflective of terrible taste in literature, I suppose – when I’m reading for pleasure a lot of the time I really do just want to be able to enjoy it, and not necessarily be trying to figure out what it all means.  I’m sort of at peace with that, though.  I have terrible taste in a lot of things and at this point I just enjoy what I enjoy and try not to worry about it all too much.

The other part of rereading things, though, is that a lot of the time I really do notice something new that I didn’t the first time through.  Maybe there was a bit of foreshadowing I missed the first time, or I hadn’t really appreciated an effective piece of description.  It’s a very rare book that I don’t find a new way to enjoy at least two or three times, and after that, well, my favorite ooks are like comfy pjs – both are very pleasant at the end of a long day.



Word Count: 48,101

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Halfway Haus

I swear I’m not going to get overly obsessed with word count milestones, but I was reading the other day a couple of things about the ‘ideal length’ for a novel (apparently 70-100,000 words) which puts me roughly half way along.  This got me to thinking, first of all, if the story feels roughly half way done.  It’s hard to say, probably at least in part because I’m writing it out of order.  I have the last scene written, and the opening parts of course, and then there are some indeterminately-sized holes in between.  I guess mostly it feels like I have written a substantial hunk of stuff, but that there’s still at least a reasonable amount yet to do, which is probably good, at this stage.

However the ideal length article also got me to thinking about whether there is any such thing as an ideal length for a story, to begin with.  Some stories take several books worth of writing to get themselves told, and yet sometimes you read a short story which is basically perfect, wouldn’t get better if expanded, and probably would get worse.  Some writers give you a 600-page book and the whole thing is great, and some give you 250 pages and you’re finding bits that could really go all the way through.

What I tell students when they ask me how long their answer for an essay question should be is the tried-but-true ‘as long as a piece of string’ – write an answer as long as you need it to be to say everything you want to say.  They never like that very much because mostly they’re looking to find out the height of the bar they have to scrape over, but damn it, it’s still the right answer.

I guess my main reaction to the question of ‘ideal length’ for a story (obviously leaving questions of publish-ability aside) is more or less the same.

Word Count: 44,786

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40 degrees and 40,000 words

Not sure what to write for an entry today as I do an update on the progress of the project.  It is ungodly hot here today, which makes me very glad that the main work I will be doing is writing.  It occurs to me how generally fortunate I am to have writing back in my life again – it is easily portable to a variety of weather conditions, but also I feel very lucky to have the time to play around with my imagination and try and do things with words for a while again.

I still feel pretty rusty with it all but it’s not in ways that I can coherently describe in a blog entry.  I have a nagging sense that there should be a better way of expressing certain things, or a more elegant way of getting an idea across, though.  It’s possible that’s just Statler and Waldorf lurking in the background, though.

I’ve done my first significant edit to something the Eager Volunteers have seen – first of all we’ll see if it helped that troubled scene or not, but I guess we’ll also see how I do with this editting thing.  I’ve already written about my issues with growing dislike for my own writing, so I won’t belabour it again, but I’m a little unsure how that’s going to synergize with the editorial process.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit today so I’ll cut it here and try to do better the next time.

I will also just briefly go ‘yay, me’ for hitting 40,000 words, which is one of the longest things I have yet written, fiction or non-fiction.

Word Count: 40,358


p.s. WordPress reminds me that this is lucky post #13, so no wonder it has issues.  I feel much relieved. 😛

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Thing 1 and Thing 2

A couple of things from the last little while working on the project.  The first is that apparently the principle of inertia applies to writing as well.  What I mean is that on days (and there haven’t been that many) when I absolutely do not feel like writing, but make myself do it anyway (avoiding internet scolding) there is a tipping point past which the feeling that I don’t want to write goes away and things start to move along just fine.  It’s overcoming that relatively brief stage of not wanting to do it that is the hard part.

I guess this may always have been true, which makes me wish I had been a little less laissez-faire about things in days gone by.  On the other hand though, I think it may be that my experiences spending summer days with the microfilm machine or reading articles all day every day to get ready for a seminar or supervision may have given me a level of persistence I didn’t have before.

Either way, it’s kind of a nice thing to have figured out, now, because now when I don’t feel like writing at all, at least in the back of my mind I know that if I drag those first few sentences out of me, eventually things will improve.

Thing #2 is kind of a happy accident.  One of my Eager Volunteers let me know that a scene in the second chunk I sent out that I thought had problems did indeed have those problems.  So that’s mostly not good news, although at least I was right about the problems!  The good part is that when I sat down to go about fixing it I wrote some stuff that at least for now I feel is pretty good.  (We’ll see if Statler and Waldorf get to work on it, but for now they’re quiet.)  The scene still isn’t fixed, of course, but I wrote some stuff that I wouldn’t have if not for it being screwed up in the first place, so overall, I will take it.

Word Count: 36,885

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Ray Bradbury

Sad news today of the death of Ray Bradbury, who is surely one of the titans of fantastic writing from recent years.  Even people who ‘don’t read SF’ have often read some of his work, or at the very least can reference Fahrenheit 451.  I remember watching a film adaptation of Something Wicked This Way Comes in grade school and while it didn’t terrify me, it did creep me out for days.  Bradbury’s gift for story was immense, and I can’t really do proper justice to it, but I will say that few images from anything that I have ever read have stuck with me the way that Mr. Yll and his gun that shoots horrible golden bees has.

It’s always sad when a great storyteller leaves us, if for no other reason than selfishly thinking about the tales we might still have gotten.  I hope those for whom this is a personal loss are at least somewhat comforted by the immense accomplishments of a life well lived, and by the gifts he gave to readers and dreamers everywhere.  For the rest of us, I guess the good part is that his stories will continue to inspire and entertain, for Bradbury’s creations give every sign of being immortal.  For what it’s worth I thank Ray Bradbury for sharing his prodigious imagination with us all.

Tangentially, I continue to be amazed (although I shouldn’t be at this point) at how instantly the ‘is’ on someone’s Wikipedia page turns to ‘was’.  The reaction time on the internet is crazy fast, and I’m not always convinced that’s a good thing.

I was going to write something about the project today but I think I’ll leave it for another update.  Chunk #2 is out to the Eager Volunteers though, and the work proceeds.


Word Count: 34,281

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