Archive for June 13th, 2008

6/12/08: Taos Toolbox, days 4-5: It’s Chinatown, Jake

Just got back from a group viewing of Chinatown. Walter pointed out how many aspects of the ending are foreshadowed, including the way Faye Dunaway’s head falls forward onto the horn. Creepy.

Yesterday my global-warming honor-killing unreliable-narrator second-person-present story was critiqued. Reviews were mixed. I was applauded for tackling such a difficult subject and technique, and the second-person-present narrator seems to have worked. But the murder was insufficiently motivated, the setting (which was praised) vanished in the second half, the husband was cardboard, and I was chided for turning the abused wife into a monster. Also, the twist ending didn’t work for most people, and the honor killing wasn’t really one (apparently real honor killings are community-motivated, not individual). It was sugggested that I rewrite the story without the twist ending, but I’m not sure there’s any plot at all without that… just despair. I will probably patch it up a bit and send it out, but I won’t make extensive changes and I won’t really expect it to sell. If it does sell, I guarantee some readers will hate it.

I remind myself that I deliberately challenged myself and risked failure; I appear to have succeeded. Or something like that. I have talked with Kelly Link about the exercise (and a number of other things, such as how to make the story I’m working on now weirder and more unique) and it’s been helpful. I’m still feeling a bit down. Though nowhere near as bad as I did at Clarion.

I have written over 3000 words of notes and outline on the next story, which I must turn in by Monday. It’s much more conventional in structure and style, but I’m trying to make it as rich and personal as I can. There’s also one voice trick I have in mind, which will require a little more research before I even know whether or not I’m going to attempt it. I’m going to be doing a lot of typing in the next 3 days. Also preparing a dish for a progressive dinner Friday night. I’ve never made rice before without a rice cooker, never mind at an altitude of 9200 feet. It would probably be a good idea to fix the rice in the afternoon, in case something goes wrong, and heat it up just before dinner.

Yesterday we went out around sunset to see the space station and space shuttle go by. They never did appear; either they were behind the mountains to the south or we were off by an hour on the time. Oh well.

We’ve had a talk by Walter on plot structures and techniques, and another talk from Kelly on how publishing works. Not much new for me there. Walter also gave us a detailed walk-through of the plot of Nova, showing that it was richer and more carefully structured than I thought it was. My first reading of the book came off as a very thin plot padded out with a bunch of unrelated incidents and infodumps, but rescued by a number of extremely cool scenes (like the party on the Ile de France, which reminded me a lot of The Stars My Destination). I missed most of the parallels, most of the foreshadowing, much of the symbolism, and the fact that the main character was black. I don’t fault myself for missing the implied homosexuality — the book was written in 1968 and it was really deeply coded.

We’ve also had a couple of brief exercises. One was to outline a published novel, find the turning point, change the turning point, and write a new outline from that point forward. I chose The Mote In God’s Eye, identified the turning point as the point at which MacArthur‘s sailing master deduces the existence of the Warrior caste, and wrote a new ending in which the humans do not learn about the threat and enter a trading agreement with the Moties. The Moties expand into human space, gradually building up their numbers and covertly breeding Warriors towards the point where they are powerful enough to decapitate the Empire. But Kutuzov, who never trusted the Moties, discovers and exposes their plan at the cost of his ship and his own life. Blaine, realizing he’s been played for a fool, assembles and then launches a massive attack on the Moties; he succeeds in destroying the Moties in human space, at a cost of billions of human lives. The remaining Moties, penned up in their home system with a massive Warrior breeding program already underway, immediately go to war with each other over the remaining resources. Due to the savagery of the combat and the addition of human technology to the equation, Motie civilization falls so hard that it may not ever rise again. The book ends with Blaine looking down on the devastated Motie homeworld and regretting that they were unable to overcome their own biology; he hopes that humans will be able to do better.

Mine wasn’t nearly as funny as the one that rewrote the last act of Romeo and Juliet with mass arrests and executions. Really. You had to have been there.

This afternoon I wanted to make sure to get out in the sunlight, because it is supposed to help one sleep (I’ve been waking up much earlier than I’d like to). I passed on the group hike, because it involved a river crossing and I don’t have the right shoes for that, but I did get out for a nice 20-minute walk by myself. The wind up here right now is amazing, roaring across the landscape picking up large quantities of dust. It feels like a storm’s blowing in, but so far there have been no clouds and no rain.

We’ve been warned that New Mexico is #1 in the USA for deaths by lightning. If the bears don’t get you first.