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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Long Time, No Post

Well, it wasn't exactly a vacation - helping my mom move to Denver after spending her entire life in Texas. But it was different. Isn't that the definition of vacation? She is pretty game, taking on this interstate adventure after so long. A lot of the family (two daughters, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren) are clustered in the Denver area, and none of us are living back in Fort Worth where she's lived since 1938. Three cheers for my mom, who is a great lady!

As for me - not a word did I write for three weeks. Neither website update, nor newsletter, nor blog post has crossed my fingers. Yes, I kept up on email. Barely. Now things are settling down until the next family event in a couple of weeks. (More on that another time.)

It was probably a good time to get a little distance on Portier, Dante, and Ilario. I was enjoying their investigation, but somehow the words coming out on paper didn't seem as punchy as I like. This is known as the "It's All Crap Stage" in the writing journey. Yesterday, I sat down alone. House quiet. A misty, rainy May Colorado day - perfect writing weather. And what did I do?

First, I wrote a new opening scene. Is it better than the original? Slightly. It contains more dramatization than character introduction. [You might remember I was worried about that.] I'm still not hearing the spooky music playing, which must happen. There was some key info that I was able to slip into my first version that vanished from this version. After spending several [happy!] hours playing with it, I decided to leave it go for the time being. What I come up with later will likely be an amalgam of the two attempts. Or perhaps an entirely new version, skipping the prologue altogether and somehow meshing our introduction to Portier and his mission into the action of the first scene. This is the "ideal," but it would mean a LOT of digression as Portier and Ilario meet Dante. I don't want to spoil the dynamic of their partnering.

Today - Day 2 of my return - I spent revising the last two chapters I wrote. Not bad, as I look at them. [The doubting Carol says "maybe you weren't gone long enough."] And then I picked up a stack of comments from my critique partners spanning several earlier chapters. This gives me a quick review, as well as some needed improvements. [You mean not everyone understood that Gruchin was a dead man?]

In any case, I felt as if I accomplished something. Moved forward. Which is the critical piece for me after time away. Tomorrow, I've business away. But Thursday, I'm hoping to lay down new story. Woo-hoo!!!
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Saturday, May 10, 2008

In the Valley of Elah

Though this is as sad a film as I've seen in a long time, and the unfolding story of a young soldier's murder in his first week home from Iraq has no happy resolution, I found this not half so bleak as No Country For Old Men. The acting is supurb - especially Tommie Lee Jones again, as a father determined to discover the truth, and Charlize Theron as a civilian policewoman suffering the indignities of a female whose male colleagues believe she has slept her way into the detective division. This is a suspenseful and moving story of how "modern" warfare can affect the young people we send into combat, as well as the people back home.

A retired Army sergeant, who has already lost one son in modern war,gets a report that his younger son has gone AWOL on his first day back from his Iraq tour. When the young man doesn't show, the father drives down to the base to find him. It doesn't take long to learn that no one has seen the young man, and when a report comes into the police that a body has been found in a field, it is no surprise to the viewer that the worst has happened. Pushing, nudging, questioning, Jones's sergeant won't let the Army stonewall him or the civilian police drop a young man's death because of a "jurisdictional dispute." Theron's detective transforms her own depression into pity into action into indignation, as the father's determination shames her into action. As the higher-ups try to sweep the ugliness under the rug, the two follow the evidence - credit card receipts, disturbing clips from the dead man's cell phone, photos, flags... This is one that won't leave your consciousness for a long time. And it shouldn't.
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Friday, May 2, 2008

Defining the Undefinable

Ghost hunting - did I mention that? My intrepid investigator Portier questions a soldier about the dire events of the past. As the unfortunate fellow spills his guts, he mentions that he sees a dead man's face every hour of every day. "In your dreams?" asks Portier - a rhetorical question. But the answer is unsettling.

Dreaming, I see him. Waking, I see him. I see him in alleys, in courtyards, on the walls, in the trees, inside my eyelids. That bloodless, battered wreck of a face...

Even in a society where people believe their ancestors struggle through seven gates to reach heaven, Portier doesn't believe in ghosts. "Dead is dead," he says several times. But somehow as he is leaving the beleaguered fellow in the dark alley, he gets the creeps and runs back to lights and civilization.

So I write these things, and Portier tells the story to Dante, the mage, and Dante insists that they go back and investigate "what makes Calvino de Santo wail." And now I have to write the scene where they see what Calvino sees...which means I have to figure it out myself.

What is truth in the world I have created? It doesn't matter what I believe about ghosts in my own life, what matters is the truth in Portier's world. There are certain metaphysical boundaries that every fantasy writer must define for a fictional world...

These are the boundaries between
  • magic

  • myth

  • superstition

  • religious practice

  • science

  • divine truth

That is, we have to decide what is the divine truth for our world and what our characters believe. If these are different, as Seyonne discovers in Revelation or Aidan learns in Song of the Beast, it creates tension and story possibilities. Valen does not learn which of his world's great religions holds the truth of the god's/gods' identity, but he learns the truth behind a myth that makes up a part of each god story. In fact, both religions may hold some aspect of divine truth.

When we are designing magic as an integral part of a world, we have to know whether magic can intrude upon or impact divine truth. Is Calvino de Santo's ghost a refugee from beyond the Sabrian Veil, or is the Veil a myth and he but a spirit hanging around where he has no right to be, or is he but some odd refraction of light combined with a guilty conscience? Portier will have his opinion. Dante will have his opinion. But I'd better know the truth or the story falls apart. Work, work, work...
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