So back in January, one of my Wills-with-benefits bought me a ticket to fly out to visit him in Vegas. By the time the trip actually rolled around, I was embroiled in the most ridiculously circular finances-related clusterfuck I’d ever been in, and I couldn’t tell if that was the worst time to be taking off for Vegas, or the BEST TIME.
Steelhands, by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Twelfth Night, by Shakespeare
All in all, a good couple weeks for reading!
Hearkening back to an offhand comment in part 2 of Gremble’s Narratology — I’ve been pondering the question of how-much-do-we-verbalize-our-thoughts, and lately paying more attention to my own cognitive process as I go through daily life. I think I really do verbalize less than half the time, and almost never in complete sentences. I’ll see a dude with nice hair walk by, and the only word that pops out in my brain is, hair, accompanied by a non-verbalized cloud of approval. Or when mentally compiling a grocery list, must buy, followed by images of a bag of frozen broccoli or a gallon of milk, and where those are located in the store. Like some kind of nominal aphasia, that my brain doesn’t finish verbalizing the thought because the word for these things doesn’t come as readily as the rest of it.
I was chatting with a fellow writer-friend about this, and told him as much.
“Huh,” he said. “My thoughts are verbalized about 99% of the time.”
“Huh,” I said. “Really?”
“Yeah. This makes a lot of sense though — because I never could understand it when people say they can’t find the words to explain their thoughts. If I’m thinking something, it’s already in words.”
Which makes me wonder if mental verbalizing — or not, as the case may be — is at all related to writer’s block. If so, I am unutterably envious of people whose brains verbalize more than mine does. Because I’m never, ever out of ideas for fiction, but a frustrating amount of the time, I come up at a loss for words. “Soldier through” isn’t advice that works for me, because for the quality I produce when I’m soldiering, I might as well just roll my face on the keyboard.
The only thing that does work, with some degree of reliability, is to (1) go to bed reading and (2) wake up and write first thing in the morning — i.e., while I still have someone else’s words rattling around in my head. Which, unfortunately, isn’t always feasible when you’re a grown-up with other obligations in your life.
In other news, I’m back to work on the Dredd fic, and it still takes me a thousand words to get my people out of an elevator. Guys, I am not built for short-form.
So anyone who’s read me for a while has probably picked up on my ambivalence toward the literary canon — that long list of books that Critics have deemed to be Grate Literature, and that frequently gets derided for being overwhelmingly populated by dead white guys.
So mode and voice and focalization are all well and good, but narratology didn’t dazzle me until I read Dorrit Cohn’s Transparent Minds (1978) because it is all about the issue that is the absolute nearest and dearest to my heart: how writers convey a character’s consciousness to the reader. What are the techniques for conveying a character’s thoughts, emotions, and opinions to the audience?
And most crucially: rather than telling the reader what they’re feeling, how do you make the reader feel what they’re feeling?
“All I want,” I lamented, “is an Intro to Narratology textbook that takes its examples from slash fanfic instead of from Joyce and Proust. Is that too much to ask?”
To which my friend replied, “I think you’re going to have to write that one yourself, bb.”
Summary: Cora and her husband Ben are bounty hunters who make their living by killing various supernatural shit in the old west. I fuckin’ love supernatural shit in the old west.
It’s rare to see established relationships in fiction, so I was curious to see how he would handle it — answer is, unfortunately, not particularly engagingly. It’s a hard thing to pull off, since the quickest shortcut to audience-engagement in a romance is unresolved sexual tension. Barring that, it seems like the best way to sell an audience on an established relationship is to give them an excellent team dynamic (ala Zoe and Wash in Firefly, or Rickey and G-man in Liquor), so that the reader gets a clear sense of why these two people like each other, how they work together as a unit, and how staunchly they’ve got each other’s backs. I didn’t get much sense of that here.
Partly it’s because Cora is an asshole. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally okay with that — she’s arrogant, aggressive, impulsive, and a full-on alcoholic, which would make her a tired stereotype if she were a man, but it’s a combination that takes on a very different (and rather interesting) feel in a female character. I just wish we’d been given more to like about her, in addition to all her less savory qualities.
Anyway, I read Dead of Winter because it turned out that She Returns From War was the sequel to this. I’ll give SRFW a spin later too.
Plot – 4/5 (brisk, with action and stuff)
Prose – 3/5 (utilitarian)
Characters – 3.5/5 (Cora is not lovable, but she is somewhat different)
Novelty – 3/5 (can “Supernatural in the old west, but with less drama” be called novel?)
Emotional engagement – 2/5 (nope, not feeling it)
Counter-recs, if you’re lookin’ for more weird west: The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek or A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files. (But only if you like a side of hot gay sex with your supernatural shit in the old west. And if you’re not — friend, you are reading the wrong books blog). Territory by Emma Bull, not queer but with interesting atmospherics; think magical realism in the Weird West.