The Making of The Ido Chronicles
Since the early days of writing The Ido Chronicles, in 2012, I have kept a journal of the writing process and how it interleaves with the job of living. Here, I present some of the highlights of that journal. Note that this may contain "spoilers" for those who are reading the work, although it is hard to avoid spoilers altogether in a work such as this where the same story is told several times from different perspectives in different books. I have nonetheless made an effort to keep spoilers out of the excerpts here presented.
June 25, 2012
The origin stories of Oreph Sodenheim and Grolier Desius are the two bookend pieces. They complement each other by being antisymmetric. Oreph grows up in a supportive environment and is screwed, intentionally, by a powerful conspiracy. He exiles himself from his home world. Grolier, on the other hand, is the one who commits an unspeakable crime, and is banned from staying in his home community. From Oreph's situation, he will emerge as a man with no belief in the common good, the value of the collective, above his own, demanding needs. Grolier, on the other hand, has learned an almost infinite patience and tolerance for others, and the necessity to reconcile personal and collective needs, even though this may often appear impossible. Oreph will commit a great evil. Grolier will spend his life containing the evil Oreph sets into play. By the ends of their lives, both have committed heinous crimes, but Grolier emerges as the person with moral strength. But in some ways, it appears only accidental that the two men lead such different moral lives. Could each have been the other?
My main characters
July 1, 2012
My main characters are all oddballs. They stick out. They are different from other people around them. They are also unable to fit within expectations of who they should be. Most of the struggles of the "middle" characters are organized around initial failure to recognize who they are (Grolier and Oreph excepted) because they are led by expectations to believe something different about themselves, struggle to deal with the parts of themselves that refuse to stay hidden, and final acceptance of their oddity. That, in a nutshell, is what I think the human condition is... For everyone!
The Central Knot
July 1, 2012
Because the five main stories intersect, writing them is complex. However, most of the complexity is in what I call the central knot, the big, complicated mess in the middle. Out of the fifteen books, five don't intersect the others at all (four on entry, one on exit) while two others intersect only one other book. The central knot, therefore, concerns a subset of eight books. All the books are staggered in time - Oreph doesn't interact with most characters until the Third Book of Eng, while Sodenheim and Arkelte have exited before the Third Book of Eco. Removing these chronological effects reduces the core group by another three Books, to five at a time, one from each of the five main threads.
This central knot is a real challenge. It is definitely Gordian in nature - the action is heavily intertwined between the different Books. Makes for interesting reading, I hope. It's a bit like life - all our life stories intersect, often in multiple ways. But priorities, memories of events, order, activity rhythms, emotional valence and significance are all very different from one person to the next.
The Greek Legends
July 2, 2012
I use Greek stories as shadows behind my own, partly because these stories are extraordinary powerful and part of our cultural and psychological heritage, and partly because I am a student of the great masters of writing, who have a tendency to do likewise - James Joyce, John Milton, Ingmar Bergmann, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and, closer to home, Frank Herbert, to name but a few.
However, like it or not, Oreph's story also resonantes with a third, classical story - the story of the angel Lucifer, who challenges God and is cast into hell with his cronies as a result. For, despite the evil Oreph tries to commit, he is also magnifiscent in the scope of his dreams, which indeed, rival those of God, and the loss of those dreams is like a living hell for him. Indeed, who is the true hero of these Chronicles, Grolier or Oreph?
Technology vs Humanity
July 7, 2012
My books are chock full of technology from one end to the other - more so even than most contemporary science fiction! What is hopefully evident, however, is that ultimately I'm not all that interested in the technology for its own sake. What interests me are the emotional lives of the characters, and, to the extent that the technology has an effect, how the technology changes this emotional development! Also, even in highly technology rich environments, I want to get across both the "ordinariness" of life, its everyday banality when integrated into people's lives, and the extraordinariness of these unusual encounters with other creative people.
July 12, 2012
One of the elements of the Ido Chronicles is to present a collection of known and, to some extent, projected or invented, astronomical marvels as locations for the developing action within the series. I find most science fiction a little bit cavalier about the galaxy and its wonders - there is so much to offer that really is out there! Why not use it? It just requires a little bit of research.
Tempo Control and the Humanitat
July 22, 2012
One of the particularities of the universe within which the action of the Chronicles takes place is its temporal disconnectedness, a result partially due to the use of tempo, or control over the rate of flow of time, but also to the sheer size of human inhabited space. Even with tempo control, events in the Messioph project take twenty five years before they are received in the main inhabited area, and events at Plenum are not heard about in the Cradle until eight years have passed. This means that influence is slow to spread, and change even slower. Hence the entire debacle of Sodenheim's life and its consequences are lost to any form of regulation or control for nearly a century. Eventually, corrective mechanisms do come into play, but not before a great deal of damage has been done. This gives the series scope for character development across a truly vast canvas, with numerous opportunities for interactions between characters, but separated by periods where there is no possibility of interaction at all.
Makes for great story-telling!
On Tolstoy and Gaming
September 8, 2012
I have been rereading Tolstoy. My goal is to, finally, read all of Anna Karenina. I bought the Greta Garbo film version and that inspired me to try again. Tolstoy's War and Peace is quite possibly my favorite book of all books, but I have never been able to get through Karenina, even though all the critics say it is his greatest book. Personally, a close second for me is Resurrection, which he wrote late in life. What I like about War and Peace, in addition to the characterizations, is the scope and background, the global view of history embedded within the book. Anna Karenina has none of that... I find it almost trivial by comparison. Resurrection is a dark book of redemption, again a powerful portrait of "man's inhumanity to man" and his/her power of compassion and redemption. Karenina is very different. I will try to read it, but...
In my convalescence, I play a lot of games on my iPad. Today I was thinking about these games in relation to the Ido. Ultimately, they are all the same in terms of overall goal and even the structure of how we play - bouts of intervals without great difficulty, puzzles to solve, periods of great challenge, repetition of playing to overcome previous limitations, etc., but each game presents a very different "look and feel" for realizing these elements. It is the micro-experience of the game that gives its distinguishing characteristics. Much like novel writing, I might add!
October 1, 2012
I have come to the realization that the second Grolier book, now tentatively called "Alien Ways : The Second Book of Ido", needs substantial rewriting. It lacks a clear dynamic and as a result the oomph has gone out of the story. I have some ideas about how to fix it - essentially, give Binox a much stronger role as antagonist, but I will need to substantially rewrite at least 100 pages.
This has led me to thinking about giving outlining a more prominent role in my writing. However, because my stories are primarily character-driven, outlining does not seem the effective tool it is for plot-driven stories. Also, I find that until I write the scenes, I get no sense of the world they inhabit, and the world influences what happens. So I have to write once by the seat of my pants, and accept that the results may require substantial rewriting to bring the plot up to snuff. This may also be due, in part, to my inexperience at writing more complex plots. The first three books were simpler and required less planning. The "second" books are much more complex, and some outlining appears necessary just to keep track of the interlocking story lines!
On Filling Out the Larger Religious Vision
November 9, 2012
I felt from the early conceptual stages that although the Books of Ido and Eng frame the main story development, the Books of Deo would be the hardest component to write. Essentially, the Books of Deo have to be a credible look at faith, that is, from the point of view of someone deeply immersed in faith. Although I understand a lot about faith, I have never been able to enter it fully, and so this represents a significant challenge for me. The three books of Deo have to stand on their own terms, so that someone who is religious can buy into them fully, but it also has to contain my own world view in some compatible way. A tall challenge.
Hence the extended research into faith and religious growth. Since my character's main struggle circles around sexuality, I also need to understand the relationship between sex and spirit. And not as these were understood in the past, but as they would be understood in a far more progressive future. Another tall challenge.
What is interesting, however, is that the more clarity I obtain about the Books of Deo, the more illumination is cast upon the whole cycle. I now have a far more detailed outline of the other Books, especially those not yet written, than I did before!
Researching and Writing Dream Sequences
November 28, 2012
In addition to this first vision (I'm expecting there may be at least two other visions, later on), I need to introduce a whole sequence of dreams within the Second Book of Eng. Oreph suppresses artificially his memory of his father's friend, Chill, because those memories encapsulate much of his anger towards "the system", but the suppression process does not eliminate all elements from his psyche. A kind of fragmentary shadow remains, and this shadow is active, leading him into a series of generative dreams that end up "rewriting" his memory, and set the stage for his "descent into hell" in the Third Book of Eng. Writing dreams, like writing visions, is no easy task. Oh, it's easy enough to invent a "non linear" sequence of events, but this does not lead to memorable writing, to a powerful experience for the reader. In fact, quite the opposite. Most readers spurn "dream passages", skipping over them, for they are often, even usually, insipid. I need scenes that are compelling, memorable, and that propel the story forward, and I need this for both Oreph's series of dreams, and Vanu's waking visions.
So, I've started to research the whole problem of writing dreams and visions. I've found two, possibly three, interesting sources that address the problem in ways that are useful to me. First of all, I've read a significant number of more popular comments from readers and some writers. These aren't terribly deep, but they do provide a basis. One common piece of advice is that dream writing should be short - no more than a couple of paragraphs. There's a lot of contradictory information also, about formatting and style, but there are a few nuggets, too. One interesting suggestion - write dreams in the present tense. Not an absolute rule, I found examples that work where this wasn't the case, but overall, a good idea. Another nugget : that dreams are grounded in the particular life reality of a person (I.e. character). So dreams of different people will tend to be quite different in both content and form. This has important consequences for the need to handle Vanu's and Oreph's experiences very differently! A third, rather obvious perhaps, lesson, is that dreams are often used for their symbolic content.
Beyond the more common banalities, I found three more scholarly approaches. The first I have already been investigating - Jung's notorious Red Book. The Red Book recounts a series of both spontaneous and induced visions, along with their interpretations. As vision material with a very dark bent, this is exceptional, and an important part of my background reading.
A second source, very interesting, is a paper by Geoff Barton based on George Lakoff's theory of Conceptual Metaphors. Barton shows how these metaphors serve to structure dream material in logical and interwoven ways. Without directly answering the question of how to construct fictive dream sequences, he provides a methodological framework for converting ideas into dream elements. Very useful.
The third source which is intriguing, but I'm not sure will be ultimately useful, is a text by Stanley Keleman on the embodied nature of dreaming. This takes us away from the "ideas" approach to dreams into something much more visceral. I think this may be key to making fictive dreams more compelling - how they interact with the body. We shall see.
January 12, 2013
I spent much of today going over my all time favorite books, looking for patterns that might be useful to me. My first list included Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, Far From The Madding Crowd, and The Lord of the Rings. Then, thinking SF, I added the Foundation series and the Dune saga. I identified a number of common features in the writing of these stories - all of them (although this is arguably true of Austen) are characterized by grandure of scope : the Napoleonic wars (Tolstoy), the savagery of nature (Hardy), the ending of the Third Age of history (Tolkien), the decline of a galactic empire (Asimov) and control of the most important substance in the universe (Herbert). If there is grandure in Austen, then it is in the clash of people from different economic and social classes. Second, all these stories are memorable because they get inside the grandure in intimate ways, either through "everyman" or "everywoman" narrators or principle characters such as Tolstoy's Pierre, Tolkien's Frodo, Hardy's Bathsheba, or Austen's Elizabeth, who must deal with everyday things, sometimes in spite of themselves, or through uncommon characters caught in their more vulnerable youth, such as Herbert's Paul or Asimov's Seldon.
Third, all these stories pose puzzles based on human character flaws or foibles : Can reason overcome savagery? (Asimov) Can one find a marriage partner one both desires and who is good for one? (Hardy) Can a small, everyday sort of person carry out a great and supremely difficult task? (Tolkien) Can a person exercise great power without paying a terrible price? (Herbert) Can a bumbling person achieve happiness in a contrary world? (Tolstoy) Do our first impressions of people determine our fates? (Austen)
Fourth, the writers of all these stories paint intricate worlds full of myriad details. Obviously, the writing is also exceptional, but description is paramount to their success. The pundits all talk about the importance of dialogue, and of course that is also present, but books that are less than memorable skimp on their descriptions. Even Hemingway, lauded for his spare writing style, uses description to advantage, he just does so with an astonishing economy of words. These writers pay attention to the smallest details, and ask us to view the world along with them.
Finally, they all give us likeable, sympathetic characters. But of course, there are books, just as successful, who give us enigmatic, dark or rogue characters. Wuthering Heights comes instantly to mind. This book has the same common characteristics as the others - the grandure of the moors and its near savage denizens, the intimacy offered by the narrator, the humanness of the jealousy and possessiveness of its main character, detailed descriptions of the landscapes and its human inhabitants, but the characters are not so likeable, although they are attractive in a dark way (this is as true of Catherine as it is of Heathcliff). However, Wuthering Heights is also a tragedy, while the other books cited are not. Are there examples of such anti-heros in books which are not tragedies?
Finding dark heroes in fiction turns out to be tougher than you might think. It is easier to find them in film (Hannibal Lector or James Bond) or on TV (e.g. The Sopranos, Dexter, etc.) than in literature (although both of the cinematic figures were literature first!). After combing the internet, I came up with a short list of books I have read, but in almost all of them, either they are tragedies or the anti-hero has some mitigating factor to make him or her more acceptable. Hence, for example, the Count of Monte Cristo, although implacable, begins as a likeable young man and ends by letting go of his need for vengeance (Dumas). Captain Nemo disappears rather inconclusively with his submarine in the end, remaining a bitter man (Verne). Becky Sharp attains a marriage she deserves (Thackeray). The whale hunter is killed by his own obsessiveness (Melville). Alex is "cured" of his violent proclivities (Burgess). The vampire is doomed to eternal despair (Rule).
With regard to these different characteristics of what I consider to be "the greatest books", each separate book of the Chronicles has to meet these criteria, as well as the series as a whole. For grandure, the astronomical scope of the books gives some hope that I respond to this, as does the archetypal thematic of the series as a whole. My story is told through "everyman" or "everywoman" individuals, at least, some of them are (Maeve and Vanu), while the uncommon ones are caught in early stages (Oreph, Grolier and Joere). I hope this gives an intimist flavour to each story. Third, all my stories are based on solving personal dilemmas. I do feel my characters are less "foibled" than those in the great books (although Frodo is not so foibled as he is humble) - perhaps I need to deepen their character foibles and flaws? Grolier is already revealed as developing a certain overconfidence and even arrogance, while Oreph should be more possessive of and confluctual with his loved ones, and suffers the sin of snobbery (while having himself been a victim of it). Vanu isn't just conflicted - he lacks self confidence. This should show up more readily than it does. My dark story is a tragedy, with perhaps a wakeup call after it's too late to do anything about things. In this way my dark character is like Monte Cristo, with a likeable youth, although he is not merely implaccable, he is also diabolic.
Another really interesting feature of all these great stories is that they harbour truly unexpected and memorable surprises. Paul's encounter with the gom jabbar in the very beginning of Dune is totally surprising - the young protagonist has just been introduced and, already, he passes within a hair's breath of death, at the instigation of his mother, no less, for all her trepidation. His paralysis after taking the water of life is unexpected, as is his exposure to the stoneburner's flame and consequent blindness. Boromir's valor is a surprise, as are Gandalf's passing and Gollum's final act. Pierre's marriage to Natasha is a stunner. Catherine's death is a surprise, even though we have been given all the clues - the daughter confuses us. The location of the Second Foundation was a carefully prepared surprise, with lots of red herrings to distract us, as is the Mule's identity, and even the apparent failure of the Seldon Plan.
January 26, 2013
Writing is like living inside a crucible. It is both terribly hard, and yet terribly necessary. In two days of near total isolation, I have written fragments of two of my stories - Vanu's story in both Books One and Two, and Oreph's story in Book One, which I am rewriting yet again. In Plenum, I am not exactly at an impasse, but I am at a necessary passage that won't yield to any significant progress, for reasons that escape me. So, instead, I started in on Gratia, the Second Book of Deo. I wrote four opening segments - on the fourth one, things gelled and moved forward. In fact, I'm thrilled with the beginning - it starts out in the thick of Vanu's ambiguity, of hir inability to decide whether to favor morality over sexuality, and allows me to explore the minority Fax called NarFax. I've also taken the time to rewrite Pinnacle, inserting the new scenes between Oreph and his mother, or dramatically changing the old scenes. The result strengthens the story in two ways, by introducing additional plot elements and tensions, on the one hand, but also substantially deepening the psychology of the main character on the other hand. Now the story hums, the way it should.
To come back to the crucible, the work is, at least part of the time, agonizing as well as being extremely demanding. I sidetrack myself with films or TV shows designed to distract and enthrall - Game of Thrones, etc.
Made it through the immovable scene, finally. Sometimes these things are stuck because the energy has gone out of the scene...some form of new blood is required to get things started and moving forward again. Or some element is, well, wrong, and has stalled the whole thing. Taking this element back out may be enough to kick start things forward again. I don't know how I know an element is wrong, or where the solution comes from to fix it. It's part of the crucible, that it works like that.
One of the fascinating things about writing the three Books of Deo is that, by placing the action in the far future, I can pull out the theological components I want to speak to from the morass of current doctrine, primarily Christian but with a dabbling of Buddhism and other cults. If I tried to set the books into the present, I'd have to drag along a whole slew of dogma that I feel drowns the issues that are truly relevant.
January 27, 2013
I have been both reading and watching Game of Thrones with a great deal of interest. The reviews laud this as a dark story with morally complex characters. I do find the characters morally complex, and I do find that interesting, but I realize that my own interest is not just moral complexity, but rather the whole notion that there is more than one truth. The idea of a single truth is one that derives from the hegemony of logic and consistency. Reality is much more complex than that. Different, often conflicting perceptions of the same things abound. There isn't just one truth waiting to be uncovered, despite what science and religion would have us believe.
In my story, Lestra is perceived both as a loving and faithful wife and mother and as a scheming adultress. In a logically consistent world, both cannot be true at the same time, but I think they can be if the world is not required to be consistent. In my story, Vanu is both morally upright and corrupt, albeit at different moments of hir life, but integrity doesn't flow from such moral ambiguity in a consistent world. Oreph is a character trying to bring the wholeness of the world into his life, at the same time as he is scheming to destroy the wholeness of the world to get what he wants. Joere is lover and arch enemy of Oreph, both at once. In a consistent, logical world, this would be impossible... The fivefold structure of my story helps me achieve this, by having radically different perspectives offered on common characters via different books, as it was designed to do. Within each book, a largely consistent story is told. But across the different books, all sorts of fractures and ruptures emerge. I have no idea if others will like this, but I am caught up in the necessities of telling my story in this way!
In many ways, this is the ideal way of writing for me. It sounds crazy when I explain to people that I am working on five volumes simultaneously, each composed of three books. People write one book at a time. But I have always done this. I read a dozen books simultaneously, always have. Let's see, right now I am reading A Game of Thrones, Finnegan's Wake, I'm still working on Joyce's Ulysses, I am reareading The Lord of the Rings, I am working my way through Jung's The Red Book and Deleuze's Difference and Repetition, I've started reading Arthur C. Clarke's Venus Prime 2 and Vernor Vinge's The Children of the Sky, and also Iain Banks' The Player of Games and Lofting's Doctor Doolittle, and I am contemplating reading a new John D. Macdonald, and a new Patrick O'Brian. So that's ten current and two new, give or take a few that may have slipped my mind. In addition, at the university, I have about eight projects on the go, in various states of completion. I thrive on this kind of multi-tasking, and my writing project really does nothing less than follow that same pattern. It is me, it is how I do things.
February 23, 2013
I've made a discovery about my books - spoilers are built in to the whole concept! In a sense, each of the "other four volumes" for any of the volumes contains "spoilers" for the fifth volume. You only get to be "spoiler free" on one of the books - and it might be any of them! So the suspense cannot be about events as they unfold...instead, the suspense has to be around how the unfolding events change the characters in surprising and interesting ways! This kind of suspense isn't sabotaged by reading the other books - knowing what's coming may actually enhance the suspense! And the more successfully the strategy is found to be, the more effective the series becomes. It is, in this way, like historical fiction about "true" events - you already know what happened, but it's how it happened that is interesting!
On Place as Character
May 31, 2013
I have spent the past several days struggling to give birth to the physical nature of the Sky City of Diadem on the planet Cocoon. Readers may think my habitats are simple "dreamed up" out of nothing, but in fact my places are more like characters than anything else. Yes, they have to emerge from my unconscious, but no, they are not arbitrary. My characters come into being for "rhythmic" and aesthetic reasons. The story must have a certain scope and balance to work - characters must encounter resistance, abd often this resistance is provided by other characters. There is a dance involved. Furthermore, once a character is created, there is a kind of logic they must follow. Well, places come into being in similar ways.
Sodenheim needed a calm after the storm, and the planet Cocoon came to his rescue. What is interesting about Cocoon is that there is a familiarity to the place, especially for science fiction readers. The "alien planet road story" is a common theme in science fiction, whether one thinks of Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness, Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle, Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and so on, I could go on. This familiarity creates a sense of respite that is interesting. The Sky City of Diadem cannot be like Pinnacle's sky cities. This is a very different world, with very different priorities. To get a clear description of Diadem required days of dwelling upon the problem, and allowing bits to crystallize, one piece at a time. It is a mix of creativity, logic and necessity. My places are as important to the story as are the people, so, perhaps, this isn't so surprising...
October 15, 2013
Turns out you cannot treat a dyson sphere as just another habitat! It's far too big and complex to allow for any kind of trivial treatment. So the incident has become a major section in its own right. Also, although I had some sketchy ideas about how it is organized, I had to flesh these out into a detailed plan and a clear direction for the writing, otherwise I was just casting about with nowhere to go. The result is, I believe, quite spectacular and exciting. Of course, there are always echoes of other writers who have gone before. I cannot proceed without acknowledging the debt owed to Niven, both for his Ringworld and for the Integral Trees. Also, although the framework is very different, I can't help feeling resonances with Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld, at least with regards to the "quest for God".
Concerning the Viscitudes of a Writer's Life
November 16, 2013
I have been reflecting on some of the more sustained difficulties involved in producing such a massive piece of work. It's not merely, or not only, a problem of the quality of the writing, but it is also a matter of organizing one's life. It's a very different prospect organizing oneself for six months to a year to write a story, than embraking on a project which you know in advance will take you three to five years, if you're lucky. You can't simply put life on hold while you're doing it! And there are rhythms involved. Right now I'm at a particularly difficult point, both within the current book, but also within the whole project. Within the current trilogy (Shadowcasting : The Books of Uma), I have to write the final part of the Second Book, rewrite Book One, and write Book Three, so I'm about halfway through. Hence nothing to show, yet, after about twenty weeks of work, and quite a ways from having something to show - at least another sixteen to twenty weeks. At least! And in the series as a whole, two years into the project, maybe two years to go, and little to show, yet. It's disheartening, morally difficult. There is a tendency to want to put life on hold, "while I finish it", but it's way too early to be sustainable! No one to talk to, except my therapist, perhaps. I just have to keep going, because that's what I do - I learned not to rely on other people long ago.
February 9, 2014
I got into a funk reading criticism of Samuel Delany and Frank Herbert, as well as rereading Delany. Silly of me I know. These are, along with Leguin, and perhaps M.A. Foster, my favorite writers in SF, and quite possibly, these two in particular, the writers I most aspire to be like. The problem is, of course, that while I think their books are wonderful, I don't write anything like them! Nor are my books like theirs... the subject material is different, the preoccupations are different, and, of course, the writing style is totally distinct. I spent hours yesterday and today feeling that I am a failure. And then, I started to remember exactly what my vision and preoccupations are, and how my stories, as opposed to theirs, serve to address these preoccupations. And now I don't feel so bad :-)
Oh, my writing could certainly be improved. They say 10000 hours are needed to learn a skill. I've spent about 3500 hours so far, and have a lot of learning yet to do! Herbert and Delany were (as is the case of Leguin) consumate writers, and although I am getting better, I still have a long way to go. But my books are just that, my books, and they are not trivial, nor are they trivia. They are driven by fascinating questions, and ones to which I have no easy answers. These questions are different than those posed by Herbert, Delany or Leguin. In fact, unlike Herbert's focus on the socioeconomics of family, cliques and power, or Delany's preoccupation with cultural attitudes towards degradation and joy, my interest is in the individuality of lives lived. What makes a person's life their own unique unfolding? And how does a person's understanding of their own life differ from the perceptions of others, whether these be close friends and family or strangers? And, indeed, what makes a person's life unfold in the manner that it does, rather than some other manner? Is it a matter of the choices one makes? Is it destiny? Or is it something else, and if so, what? The results cannot resemble what Delany, Herbert or Leguin did or do. And that is a form of reassurance for me.
My project is ambitious. Not just in terms of the number of pages it needs - 2500 minimum - but more particularly in the challenges it poses for writing. The writing is strongly constrained by its braided structure, and it takes consummate skill to pull this off, skill that cannot be picked up in any book or manual, or even specialized writing course! Nobody else writes this way! The only ones who came close were Lawrence Durrell and Joyce Cary to my knowledge, and their books only weakly constrain each other. There must be others, but I do not know them. And the books still have to work individually, as well as within their braided structure. After that, I may be able to leaf in other qualia, but we shall see what we shall see.
And no doubt, ultimately, I shall fail. But at least I shall fail at achieving my project, my goals, rather than trying to reach someone else's, no matter how laudable those might first appear to be! That is one of the reasons why I like Delany's work - sometimes he fails, but his failures are as memorable as his successes!
To Our Scattered Bodies Go
April 29, 2015
Not really. But it is true that my writing these days is scattered across six or seven books. Worked on Worldkiller over the past few days, while still tinkering with Gratia. And this morning I worked on The System of Time! The problem is, of course, they are all interconnected. And once again, I have confirmed the wisdom of keeping the whole cycle in house until it is largely finished - Worldkiller is already beginning to exert an influence over Resurrection, Gratia, and other books in the series. I find this idea that what a person does later in life helps define a person's character in the early years to be extremely important, and something not much discussed in the literary world. So, as of today, the page count is 1421, having written some 8 pages over three days...
March 6, 2016
Each of the five volumes that make up the Chronicles appears to progress from a simple, novella like story (the First Books), to a complex, interleaved, multilayered novel (the Second Books), and then into a fragmentary, exploded, multi-format, not entirely consistent text (the Third Books). Different volumes do this differently, but the overall arc is similar from one to the next, no doubt a result of the way in which the stories were written. From the beginnings, I wanted to do something else than simply tell a “linear” story, or a set of linear stories, but I needed to get the major part of the “story” down in more traditional form before I was ready to play with the form. Also, as my writing has progressed I naturally move towards a more “exploded” writing style. We shall have to see if my readers follow me … at this point, there is no guarantee that anyone will want to even begin the journey!
But the progressive complexity also is a product of the subject matter and the way it is told. People’s lives begin simply, but by the time they get to old age, their lives have become “infinitely folded”, and since each volume is a life, this fact is reflected in the books. But also, the books are told as history, and history, when it deals with endings, is almost of necessity called upon to question not only interpretations but also the facts themselves. Two of the Third Books will be more straightforward than the remaining three – ironically, these are about the two characters with whom I most strongly identify, Joere and Vanu (although Grolier is also modeled on me to some extent). Oreph’s third book is disassembling rapidly, Grolier’s has fallen into a highly unusual format, and Maeve’s third book will be more myth than history.
On the Progressive Fragmentation of the Narrative
March 10, 2016
I indicated in the previous entry that the cycle begins to fragment or explode into multiple formats towards the end. There is a reason for this, beyond my own fascination with non linearity. The enormity of the crime committed by Sodenheim demands such an approach. To simply describe what happened is to treat the event as “similar to” all the others, it banalizes the crime. The changes in format and treatment are hence a recognition that the event defies description, that it cannot be easily contained, in much the same way the Holocaust still cannot be dealt with in any straightforward way.
In another vein, I have been struggling to understand Vanu’s issue with sexuality. Essentially, part of Vanu’s journey is a deep, unstated, unarticulated need to situate sexuality in relation to hir faith and spiritual journey. This is a complicated business. On one level, sexuality is fundamentally spiritual, and yet, it is also “bestial”, “messy” and even scatological. I believe it is not by accident that our sexual compulsions lead us into some of the worst behaviours humans are capable of doing. There is no denying that sex is a powerful force in human relations. How to reconcile the two facettes of sexuality, then, the upwards yearning with the muck? And how to integrate both elements into a spiritual journey. That is part of Vanu’s quest.
I have no definitive answers, but I did get a partial insight this week. It may sound obvious to state it this way, but sex is a relationship-mediated connection between the individual and the universal. The idea is that sex always implies a relationship, even if it is a relationship between parts of ourselves, and it (almost) always involves a kind of projection of the self in relation to others. This is true even for masturbation and self-stimulation. Not sure where this particular line of thought leads to but it seems a “pregnant” direction to explore.
On Moral Character
April 19, 2017
I have been telling myself since I started this massive project that it is about good and evil. But, really, that is not true. Sure, it may end up saying something about those things. But in a much more interesting way, it is about moral character – why do we make the moral choices we do, how do they come about, and how do we change based on such moral actions (or amoral acts!). Take Gratia, the one I am working on at the moment. I am struggling through the section concerned with terrorism. Ultimately, though, the book is not about terrorism – in fact, the terrorism sequence only covers half the book. The terrorism section is there because it confronts the character with moral choices, not always easy ones, and shows how those choices carry the character forward on a journey of faith and discovery. On the surface, the moral choices do not appear so difficult, however. The issue with the executions is not choosing to do them, but how having witnessed them makes Vanu susceptible to committing rash acts in the future. In a way, the book is about how do you find a moral compass, and the answer is anything but straightforward. The notion of Grace, of course, is the discovery of a moral pathway by “giving in” to one’s deepest moral self. Learning to do this is what Vanu’s journey is all about. Well, actually, it’s what all the characters must do, and the answers are different for each character.