Sunday Circle #9

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week (in fact, I’ve been away for nearly a year), but I’ve been given a Mother’s Day moment at the computer, so here goes.

What am I working on this week?

I’m expecting to receive the copyedits on my next commercial novel, now called Saving You. In between that, I’m reading background for my PhD thesis exegesis, specifically Norman Holland’s Literature and the Brain, because it’s on non-renewable inter-library loan to me and I must finish it before the London trip in 5 weeks.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m being anti-inspired by E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, which I read for exegesis background last week. It’s the transcripts of a series of lectures and is at times meandering, snobbish, vague, contradictory, and everything I dislike about criticism and venerated texts. That is, it contains very little practical advice to a novelist, because everything needs still further reckoning with. He treats the reader as a spectator, and sees readers in very stark terms – the stupidly curious (who can’t handle plot) and those with intelligence and memory who can. He sets character above plot (that old nugget), but, having taken such pains to show us how plot is about cause and effect, then conveniently ignores the cause and effect that resides in characters.

Still, valuable to read it was; this is the origin of the term ‘Homo Fictus’ (still somewhat useful), a useful definition of story and plot, a less useful treatise on flat and round characters (actually, really only on flat ones, as he decides that defines the round ones), and the origin of the somewhat arbitrary way that a lot of creative writing standard wisdom frames the construction of a novel. Understanding the foundations of how your profession talks about what it does is always valuable. However, Aspects is also extremely dated, narrow, and called into serious question by a lot of the reading I’ve been doing this last year. But that’s how we get progress: we update what doesn’t really work.

On a side note, I’ve found much useful life skills in Dan Harris’s 10% Happier, which is a memoir about how an ambitious anchorman learned something from meditation. If you’re jaded af about anything self-help, this is the self-help book for you. I note with interest that it completely takes to heart the narrative-structure approach to teaching material. I found it incredibly engaging, easy to process, and easy to remember, which is what narrative is supposed to do for non-fiction.

What action do I need to take?

I’ve been cutting back this last month to get on top of the chronic sleep deprivation, exhaustion and shitty PTD that’s marked all of the last 18 months. So, it’s just do the copyedit when it comes in, do the reading, and stay on top of the inbox.

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Review … AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

***SPOILERS*** immediately, so stop reading if you haven’t seen it. This is a re-post of a review I put up on RT yesterday.

This movie is the full realisation of a genre I’ll call Epic Science Fantasy Space Opera  and it really put me back to my childhood where I repeatedly found myself disappointed that the heroes always won in the end. It was pretty fresh to be in the end game, expecting the Avengers et. al. to pull some space Rabbit (haha, Thor) out of collective hats and defeat Thanos, and then find that actually … no. This is the first time a blockbuster has got an open-mouthed, emotional reaction from me. That tiny scene with Peter Parker and Tony Stark … oh, man. Peter is the kid who went to war and now realises shit is real and he’s dying. Tony has to be the grizzled old guy who doesn’t deserve to survive instead, and has to live with that. Oh my blockbuster, that’s the poetry of tragedy writ very large. The only spoiler I had before seeing it was people calling it “surprising”, and I guess this downer ending is what they mean.

Thanos is the satisfying bad guy who’s complex and who can safely pass the hero-in-my-own-version test. I actually found myself thinking, well, you know he’s got a point. He’s the ultimate militant environmentalist. The writers do a good job of managing the number of characters, and with balancing humour with gravitas (easy to get wrong, as I felt it was overdone in the last Thor movie). My only tiny quibble was with Scarlet Witch, whose abilities seemed as overly powerful as they were underused. Felt like it needed a technological lens in the way of what she does, otherwise it calls the whole strategy into question. However, I’ll refrain from peering behind that curtain, because it doesn’t spoil the rest unless you think about it too hard.

Now, of course, we know there’s a sequel coming, and there’s room for recovery, otherwise Dr Strange’s trip to observe the futures (observing 1 where they could win) and then saying “it was the only way” after giving Thanos the time stone wouldn’t make much sense. But I honestly didn’t remember that part until after I’d left the theatre. And then you still have to face that, even with time wound back, Gamora is probably still dead. Loki, too. I guess we can wait for the sequel to potentially disappoint by taking all this hideous loss away, but that’s in the future. For now, I’m thoroughly satisfied.

5 exploding infinity stones out of 5

Naomi Novik’s next book

If you’re a fan of fantasy author Naomi Novik like I am, who has all the Temeraires and Uprooted on your shelf, then you’ll also be as Kermit-arms excited as I am to find out that there’s a new book coming AND you can read an excerpt! The book is called Spinning Silver and appears to be a re-imagining of Rumpelstiltskin. Here is the link to see the cover and read: https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/21/16802096/naomi-novik-spinning-silver-rumpelstiltskin-fantasy-book-excerpt. You’re welcome 🙂

Quotey McQuoteface

I’m re-reading Jurassic Park for my thesis (oh, how wonderful is that statement?). Here’s a quote I like, because I think it’s true but also because it relates so well to writing. To other things also, but especially for writing, because there is a pervasive belief that writing is something people can just take up and be good at next week.

Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. … President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever is it you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can’t be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.

— Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, p306

Sunday Circle #8

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week, but this is one of them, so here goes.

What am I working on this week?

I’m marking this week, and when that’s done I’m developing a new course for second semester at UQ. In the background, I’m subconsciously going over the several weeks of academic work on the neural underpinnings of reading stories, and trying to make sense of what is a huge, complicated and sometimes frustratingly muddled discussion around brain science and narrative.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m taking inspiration from the You Are Not So Smart podcast episode 100, which had the tagline, “Science is wrong about everything, but you can trust it more than anything.” See, my PhD confirmation readers took significant issue with me using a scientific approach to understanding stories. I was challenged as to why I was “privileging science” (I don’t think I was, but anyway), and the approach was called variously crude, overreaching, and ignoring the “rich traditions” of literary criticism/theory. Despite the fact that neither of my readers have to my knowledge a background in science (or creative writing that much) I was really taken aback to find such hostility towards a scientific approach. I’m coming at this in a spirit of cooperation, interested to see what science might support (or challenge) in traditional literary fields. I’m interested in the fundamental “why” questions that I think only science can robustly begin to answer. And yet, I can’t help feel very much out of place in my faculty. So that podcast is inspiring because it acknowledges science has limitations – of course it does – but that doesn’t make it useless. Evidence is quite to the contrary. So, onward I go.

What part of my project am I avoiding?

I’m avoiding (legitimately) the big edit of my next women’s fiction novel, The Lucky Escape. I must begin next week, and it will need a lot of work (as my first drafts always do). I can hope it isn’t as bad as I imagine, but that isn’t always true. Hopefully I can subconsciously summon courage along with everything else.

Sunday Circle #7

This Sunday Circle is an initiative of Peter M Ball (see here). I don’t get to it every week, but I am this week, so here goes.

What am I working on this week?

I’m editing my sci-fi time-travel Victorian Tesla novel (for my PhD). The first draft was horribly awful in many ways and this edit is incredibly challenging. I’ve just come through the dark point with it. Since the last Sunday circle, I’ve finished the draft of my next contemporary novel, and gone through PhD confirmation. It wasn’t a positive process. I’ve been left destabilised as to the whole rationale of my project, which is echoing through my edit. The destabilisation goes something like this: Me: I’m a writer, interested in how writers make their stories work, and when I say “work” I’m interested in that idea at a deep, neuroscientific level. *whispers of confirmation readers*: why don’t you read X literary theory? We don’t understand what or why you’re doing this. Me: … I say this solely to acknowledge that working on the sci-fi novel also means grinding subconsciously on how to attack the project critically, and whether I’m even capable of satisfying an academic audience. Onward we go.

What’s inspiring me this week?

Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook. It’s a stunning illustrated guide to writing, that fundamentally imagines stories as strange living creatures. Vandermeer’s thematic and tonal fingerprints are all over it. While not everything resonates with me, it’s still a beautiful experience.

What part of my project am I avoiding?

For the last week, I avoided dealing with the “spaghetti junction”, which is where a whole new beginning to my sci-fi novel had to merge with the old beginning (much later in the story). I have actually resolved that (largely), but now I’m avoiding dealing with the fallout of the merge, which means scraping/rewriting/resetting the next six chapters or so. That’s what I’m about to force myself to address now.

 

Sunday Circle #6

I haven’t responded to a Sunday Circle in a while (an initiative of Peter M Ball, see here) because I haven’t felt the time to post has been worth it. But since the toddler is out in the garden doing things with dad, and I’m about to embark on a BIG PROJECT, today is one of those days.

What am I working on this week?

I’m starting the next contemporary women’s fiction novel this week. That means about two months of grinding out the words of the first draft, about 2000 per day so that I can finish it before the end of March, and have a good month to rest it before editing. At the same time, I’m working on my PhD confirmation presentation (just submitted all the documents last week) and the next chapter of the thesis, so I have to be organised. Lots of index cards planning and working at night whenever I can.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’ve just finished It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. An amazing book. Heavier than my next project (just a little) but a truly surprising book, and a careful balance of romance and seriousness. I have to try to do the same. I’m also into Yellowlees Douglas’s How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer. The book focuses on non-fiction, but it dovetails nicely with my PhD research into the neuroscience of narrative and reading, and what makes engaging texts. Attempting to transfer and marry up where the principles in that book apply to fiction. My PhD novel first draft is finished (but is awful) so I’m resting it and letting all the research percolate until I need to revise. I’m going to be thinking and applying it to my next commercial book, though.

What part of my project am I avoiding?

Resolving the ‘B’ story in my new book. I have the ‘A’ story down for my protagonist, but the history behind the accompanying characters is loose and dark. Need to firm and illuminate so I don’t dig myself into a hole.