June 30th

On Epicuén & Corvidae

So, June draws stickily to a close. July commences. From tomorrow I will be writing 500 words a day minimum during the month. Some days will be more, but at least 500. For 31 days I can do that. And they are all going to be on a story based around Epicuén.

The couple of weeks where I left this alone have been beneficial. Firstly, I have a writing groove back, even if I’m not loving the prose being written. It’s also allowed time for ideas to percolate without the forebrain being all stressed and bolshy about producing something NOW!

I’ve had a couple of great ideas provided on areas to take the story, and I have thoughts on how to implement them. With a story that will probably end up 15-20k it may be a struggle to find a publisher, but that hasn’t stopped me writing anything so far :D:D.

One example is the story ‘The Black Birds of White Oaks’. I wrote this story to submit to Rhonda Parrish‘s Corvidae anthology. It didn’t make the cut, and is still languishing dispirited in my revision pile (mainly because I have a version which adds about 5k to the present, and haven’t got round to working on it).

Rhonda‘s book baby, and it’s sibling, Scarecrow (the story I submitted for that one ended up so off topic I later apologized for sending it in – it’s just had another reject, and I’m tweaking the ending before sending out again.) are due very, very, soon. As you see from her blog post Rhonda is looking for reviewers or blog-hoppers or, well, anyone willing to help share the word. I’m looking forward to reading them.

See you tomorrow, after my first 500+ words of July.

June 18th

On xenophobia

I have a regular coffee spot. Sometimes I go in to write, sometimes to read, sometimes just for the banter. Today I was reading (The Secret Life of Pronouns – excellent book). Around me there was discussion on events from the previous day, where (so I hear) our local MSP had held out bombastically against people decrying all the immigrants pouring into Britain. She was not getting a good press. One view expressed was: ‘We know some of them are coming from war-zones and the like and we feel sorry for them, but we can’t afford to help’.

Well, I have my views on such things but that’s not the topic here. Over recent years the word xenophobe had dropped out of general usage. It has been replaced with the far more pejorative and emotionally charged racist. In one way that is good, because it used to be common currency to call a person a xenophobe when actually they were racist. However listening to people today I can’t help think that it’s time for a revival of using xenophobe. There discussion did not display racism, no disgust or denigration of people based on their area of birth or skin color or eye shape (there is a regular in the cafe who holds such racist views, but it was before he arrived). They did however display a fear of strangers, an unreasonable fear of strangers.

Every person you meet, whom you do not already know, is a stranger. Fearing them on an ongoing basis is a bizarre and needlessly tiring emotional state to be in. Fearing strangers whom you are unlikely to ever meet is an even stranger situation.

17th June

Targets and goals.

Last year I aimed for 500 words per day. I never actually worked out if I achieved it (there was a hiccup in personal life in Oct) but certainly for a good chunk of the year it kept me writing. I also finished a lot of stories. This year? Not so much. Now part of that is that I designated this a year to do re-writes and edits, but I’m not writing enough to a completion. I have several really good story ideas either started or sketched out. I have several stories started and anywhere between five hundred and two thousand words, but unfinished. I think I can can count on one hand the number of stories I have written to a finish this year, and that’s just a first draft finish.

Time for a change.

From July 1st I am returning to a 500 wpd schedule, but adding in a target of 1 completed story each month. I know Bradbury worked on 1 a week, but it was his job. My job is caring for the family & the house, writing is not my job. For the rest of this month I am going to concentrate on one project: A story titled ‘Touch Me Not’. I need to have a first draft ready by the end of the month. Next month I am going to go back to Epecuén & work on that. I have a goal of completing a first draft by end of July, with a word target of 15-20k. Then August is all about Sirens for the next Rhonda Parrish anthology.

Beyond that I need to consider what has gone before. Right now I feel there is some nice writing, but not yet developed. And it turns out I am terrible at fixing old writing. The problem is I sink right back into the story. The more egregious sins are picked up, I now see passive elements more readily, I cringe at abrupt changes in tense, or unattributable dialogue. However deeper problems with those older stories are so difficult to fix

I feel a bit like a painter, building a portfolio that shows development over time. I remember at school a maths teacher being amazed at the sheer amount of effort I poured in to the modules we did, producing reams of work that more than covered what was required. It was the only way I knew how to do it. Now, I’m not claiming to be a prolific writer, or even very conscientious, but I know the same dogged determination to build brick-by-brick on my knowledge will continue to take me forward. Another writer may assimilate everything and whizz through the levels. Not me. Slow and steady. Which is funny. In sport I was always the hare, never the tortoise (Running more than a hundred meters – which I could do v. fast – got boring).

So: This month, 5-10k on Touch Me Not; July, 15-20k on Epecuén (I even love typing the name); August, 5-7k on Sirens.

Beyond that, I’ll see. We still plan to move this year & I have a holiday in September & have to work out when to meet up with a dear friend who is coming to the UK in 4 months time.

12th June

Having decided that Epicuén is a major project I know need to shut down and do some percolating on where to take the story, and why. My current instincts are moving away from a speculative fiction bent and more towards a coming of age story. With Argentina in 1985 as a backdrop there is a lot to play with. The war, the end of the Junta, etc. But I don’t want to make that a firm decision right now.

I do know that the main character is called Odette. I’m not sure of her age yet, but I think maybe late teens is the ballpark.

Location is sorted. MC is on the way. Next step? Story, character motivation, character arc, character struggle…

11th June

More Epecuén

It appears I’m going to do daily updates (until I don’t) about this story. Yesterday I got a first 300 words down, and emailed them to my two collaborators (that may be the term, it may not, we’ll see how the process develops). After that I added another 100 words, and was quite pleased with the day. The story doesn’t yet have a clear direction, but it was nice to put something down to start thinking about.

Then I got Foy’s email:

Love Mark’s ideas about time and the effects of being frozen it in. Also, sublime landscape he’s thought up.

You mentioned you were considering themes like “Faded family glory, Failing love” and I think these would work well with your start. Reading the 300 words you gave us, it feels like a romance destined for failure (“It’s just the rain, Remigio. Go home,” “watched him turn the corner, moving out of sight” – so bittersweet!).
The general flavor that dissolves on the tongue after reading, is of The Impossible (2004 movie with Ewan McGregor *swoon*). There’s peace now but the reader knows something dark and overwhelming lies just beyond the light rain.

If you intend to include the natural disaster, it might be interesting to include the idea of “willful blindness.” (Fabulous TED talk about that here.) Though it seems like most of the villagers were aware and willing to leave, you can always introduce that one stubborn codger who isn’t. I would steer clear of a love triangle (getting to be a worn subject) but I can see unrequited love playing out well, here.

You might be able to get two novellas out of it: before the storm, after the storm.

Just some preliminary thoughts. Hope this was helpful!

Yes, that was helpful. The love triangle is being dropped. However, I was freaked by the idea of a two novella story. It is sitting vibrating in my ribcage like an overactive pacemaker. The longest thing I’ve ever written is 12k. Do I have the chops to do a couple of linked pieces that roll in for a combined 40k or so. All of a sudden part of me thinks Epecuén is a 2k monster from the deep horror story. But it’s the part I generally ignore.

I like the idea of the longer format, and it would allow me to play with some of the ideas Mark floated.

So, today, while resting because of the glandular fever, I had a little think further.

Yes, I want to do the novella’s.

Watch this space & someone start taking a book on when I fold and run.

10th June

After yesterday’s post two fellow writers got in touch. I am most grateful to Mark (@unlikelypress) & Foy (@fs_iver).

Mark fired up his thinking cap straight away, and earlier today I go this email:

I had a few rumbles of associative thought upon waking considering the natural properties of what’s happening in the ruined villa. Maybe, possibly, some of it will trigger further associations in your conscious/unconscious imagination.

<=>

The natural world behind the villa continues to grow as normal: the land that the ruins of the villa is “moored” to (the border fragments of the villa lingering about on dry land, like bits of shattered pottery) exists in a natural time stream. Grass grows, trees bloom, the seasons pass as normal. This is the normal realm of change, where worldly events transpire and everything is the norm for you, me, and the people of Argentina.

You can see the line where time starts to become influenced by the touch of the salty floodwaters. Before and above that line, the preserving (and therefore killing, because frozen time is death, in relative human terms) influence of the salt is being undone by the effects of normal time: growth, rainfall etc. A field of smooth white trees which have been permanently altered by their subsuming in the formaldehyde sea stand posted like terra cotta warriors around the fields on the approach.

From the pictures, as seen from above, it almost looks like the whole villa is a tooth loose in a socket that, were it jostled too hard, it might tumble loose and float away on the ocean current.

Then, as the eye progresses downwards, we enter the muddy “beach” strip that runs along the edge of the water. This is where we approach the lasting calcification effect of the salt. We’re between two synergistic, but functionally incompatible, states of natural order: land and sea. Both places have their own sense of time and change. This intermediate strip is a visible function of their mingling: where they touch, little distinctive to either place grows. It’s a strip of non-change. Borderland. Liminal? Maybe.

Then we step out into the influence of the water.

Everything still growing from the sea, even within the stabilizing influence of the jetty (or is it a dyke? i forget the difference), has been put into a visually distinctive state. Everything stone looks calcified, ossified, fossilized by white (cleansing?) salt. It looks preserved, and as I mentioned before to be preserved is to be dead in human terms, or at least locked outside of everyday human drama and change. Metal has undergone it’s own calcification through rust buildup, which has locked formerly functioning machines like lawnmowers and washers into their own form of rough, bumpy amber.

The further out you go, the more frozen in time the villa seems. The ocean has its own sense of time, it’s own life cycles and its own forms of change. Objects foreign to the sea, if thrown at its mercy, are unavoidably changed according to oceanic time and natural law. In this case, the farther out we go, the more and more fossilized the buildings appear. The trees are caked in salt deposits, as if they’re suffering from a strange tree keratosis, sealing them into place, like mummies stood on public display.

Oceanic time is vaster than human comprehension. And, to humans, it has an unconscious association with the roiling unknown, chaos, and voyage into the unknown. As evidenced by the progression of the villa’s timescape from muddy, mundane transitory time outwards, across the bounds of the flooded seawall, into long-lasting oceanic time, the villa is a gradient of human experience. Visually speaking.

A thought: what animals are around ? Natural life is a very significant indicator of environment and of time-frame.

Possible themes: different perceptions of time, wanting to escape the mundane, avoiding present truths, people on different time streams, wanting to preserve something that has died, denial, acceptance, shifts in understanding of the ways we perceive our pasts, discovery of fossils and relics, seeking escape.

There’s an open call on visitation to the villa. People coming there to meet, for the landscape to have associative significance in their human reasons for coming there, seems wholly appropriate. People can be drawn to environments that reflect their inner world without realizing it.

Or maybe, on a completely different tack: it’d be a cool place to set a showdown. Pistols at Epecuén. A thoughtful, melancholy gunfight? Is that even possible?

If you haven’t read The Voices of Time, or any of the vermilion sands short stories by JG Ballard, I highly recommend them for helping stir up thoughts. Themes of time are very strong in his work, and feel like good material to touch base with for a story set in this kind of environment.

NONE of this covers the close-ups of the villa, the details of the ruins or a focus on ghostly remains or evidence of former habitation. I can see by the blog notes you’re keeping that you’ve got a firm grip on the details of the setting so I won’t comment on any of that.

As you see, Mark is a deep thinker. I’m probably going to use a coupe of these ideas. The suggestion of investigating what animals would have been around is a great one, and I intend to research that later.

Now, I need to decide what central conflict I want for the story, what the MC’s story arc will be, and exactly when the story is set

9th June

‘When The Water Came To Epecuén’

I was watching films of Danny MacAskill doing outrageous things on a bike when I came across his trip to Epecuén. Not having a story in serious development at the moment (yes, plenty needing redeveloped – different issue) it resonated with me. The location (Argentina), the history (excess flooding and a seiche), the pictures. Ideas began to percolate, and I’m excited by it. I don’t know what the story is, or how long it will be, or anything else, but I’ve decided to share the process here. Below are my initial workings on the story. Some, none, or all of the below may end up in the story, but they are the starting point.

If anyone would like to be involved in the development of the story (that is, read early drafts and suggest changes to plot/character/setting etc) then please contact me – but only if you really think you want to be hands on in the rough and early drafts of a story that may take months to come to fruition.

‘When The Water Came To Epecuén’

Inspiration – http://epecuen.redbull.com/thedocumentary
http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2011/07/the-ruins-of-villa-epecuen/100110/

Characters principal:
name – meaning
F1 Odette – Rich
M1 Remigio – Oarsman
M2 Xaviére – Owner of the new house
Themes:
Faded family glory
Failing love

SpecF elements:
referencing BladeRunner? – all rain, final scene is sunshine – possibility of false memory. referencing Broges? –  a labyrinth to dryness; a false mirror; a preserved library. The non-dead city?

Visuals – dead trees; still water; rain; broken concrete; rusted metal; perfectly preserved oddities (library?)

Smells – Brine; mud; burning wood

Sounds – wind; rain on different surfaces; whistling; footsteps; creaks that could be groans

Taste – salt; damp paper

Texture – mud in clothing; dampness; rough concrete; pitted metal

Emotions – fear; sorrow; loss; hope; disappointment; contentment

7th June

Show, Don’t Tell

The above three words are one of the first things anyone doing any writing comes across. They are important if the writer wishes their prose to flow with life and vitality, to reflect the sparkle of moonlight as it plays across shards of broken glass. Personally, I am glad I have been educated in the art of showing, and not telling. I’m still developing the skill.

Of course, the instruction is also useless. A dangerous rule which will leaves a writer’s work unintelligible.

Why? When?

Let’s take two examples:

Firstly:

‘Pierre leaned forward, looking into the hallway. Light from the street fell through the jagged gash in the door window. Fractured reflections showed where the glass had fallen, but revealed nothing of the one who had done it.’

Secondly:

‘Kugara shifted his kimono and looked at the walls. Opposite him was a Kanaoka, behind him he’d seen a Josetsu. Facing each other on the walls were a pop-art representation of Tessai, and a Soseki.’

Now, ignore my technical ineptness. Let’s examine them. In example One ‘Show, don’t tell’ works perfectly, and for all time. We can be Pierre looking through the window and seeing the glass on the floor. This is what Chekhov meant when he wrote to his brother Alexander: “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”

The second example is gauche and clumsy, but does reflect an area where ‘Show, don’t tell’ can cripple any potential longevity a writer may desire. The placing of art works opposite each other is an indicator of social naiveté. To have works on four walls, and them all reflecting different time-periods, and styles, is to emphasize the crassness to the nth degree. But how are you to know that, unless you know about Japanese social mores from the mid-twentieth century?

Writing is communication. There are some things which need communicated in ways that are subtle, and draw the reader in, allowing them to feel, see, taste, smell, hear. Other things need explained to the reader, this is especially the case where the writer wants an audience of breadth and scope. My experience and knowledge bears nothing in common with that which a girl born twenty minutes ago in Hangzhou will accumulate. We could both read and understand whatever story the first excerpt could come from, what are the chances we will both acquire the knowledge to understand the second? I only have it because some scholar took the trouble to explain it in the preface of a translation of a book I read. Without that assistance, the allusion was worthless.

So, show, don’t tell. Show the reader that which they could experience themselves. Tell them that which they cannot know.

4th June

I’m in Cornwall house hunting.

Hope to know tomorrow if we have a property arranged.

I’m also missing ThreeLineThursday, which is on a break during June – so I’m offering a bridge for the interim

*update*

We didn’t get the house. Back to plan A – moving later in the year.