I will be entering this and will post a link when the submission goes live. Please consider reading!
Today is the last day to submit one’s intent to enter. I guess I’m doing IntroComp.
I know exactly what I’m doing and why. I just didn’t know there would be a space to get feedback on it.
I don’t usually bother to recruit Horsemaster Dennet before you leave Haven — nor do I hang around the stables there much — so I never overheard the flirtation that occurs over time between the no-name noble from Anderfells and the wry scout. It’s endearing. I mean in no way to devalue the non-sexualized camaraderie whose praises I sing so often, but I do think a willingness to see affection everywhere (because it is everywhere) is something of value here, one that quickly gets morphed in the sneering quips of detractors as being “all about the sex.” No. But you aren’t more heroic for locking your heart up and waiting until after a disaster to deal with it. In fact, you’re probably going to fuck up more. That applies as much to the legions of underlings as it does to the main stars of a tale. This is something fanfic and slashfic in particular gets right, albeit inadvertently. They do it for the hawtness, or for the feels, but seeking companionship in the face of dire odds is a recurring theme because it happens. Erasing this makes both for boring, one-dimensional characters (whole armies of them!) and for a hokey aura of cardboard heroism.
You can overdo it, of course. A leader has to lead, and can’t be boning all the time. But this fantasy that you can divide yourself into only needing data, communiques, tactical feedback and the occasional, too-short snatch of sleep…it’s silly at best, damaging at worst. Didn’t we spend most of the 90s deconstructing the idea of the chest-beating hulk without feelings? Whom do we serve by resurrecting that idea of a hollow hero, and giving those ideas narratives in which to move as though they were whole? If you really still need that construct pointed out as a fallacy, look at all these real-life scandals involving powerful people sleeping with those beneath or beside them in responsibility. You wind such people tight as springs, by what you ask of them, or what the world asks of them. Don’t delude yourself into thinking they can carry that alone and come out functioning on the other side.
I don’t like delving much into the whys of fandom because it’s either a ludicrous oddity, to those of an academical bent, or “teeheehee! teh sexxorz!” to others. But this is, I think, something we get right. Whether or not it is socially acceptable (or even, in real-world organizations, legal) for such intermingling to occur, it does. Providing innumerable little glimpses of it — like those two down by the stables in Haven — isn’t a fixation on bedsheets and what occurs between them. It’s acknowledging what people do. How they exist in the world. Part of that existence, for most of us, means hoping desperately that other people acknowledge our existence, too. Somehow. Someday before the end. And the end, in stories, frequently looms closer than usual.
From Sonnets from the Portuguese, and reprinted by The Atlantic here for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s birthday. Referencing, in Rosa Smith’s phrasing, “a kind of private afterlife” between the author and her then-newly-eloped-with husband:
When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvëd point,—what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think! In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Belovëd,—where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.
So The Palace Job has these little news-bulletin narrative asides that are simultaneously playful and cutting, to the point where you almost, almost flinch at the vitriol of the satire. Then you cut away back to the friendly banter of a hodgepodge band of heroes in a fantasy adventure tale. Case in (spoilery) point:
“TODAY’S DISCUSSION: SECURITY,” intoned the dragon in the puppet show the next morning. “With today’s debacle, the Republic has lost an airship complete with wind-daemon, and three dangerous prisoners have escaped justice.”
“If I could just start,” the manticore butted in, knocking the dragon aside as the crowd laughed, “I think debacle is a very loaded term. We’ve got people assigned to their jobs, and they’re doing their jobs, and it’s very presumptuous to judge how they’re doing.”
“Well, any time you lose a ship,” suggested the griffon, “you have to wonder whether things are being done prop—”
“Silence!” steamed the dragon, driving the griffon back with alchemical flames, and the crowd applauded. “We’re here for a civilized discussion!”
“But I think that this event, when taken within the context of the earlier escape, points to an overall lack of performance by the Learned,” shouted the griffon from the edge of the stage, hiding from the flames.
“Wait, now, you can’t play politics with national security!” The manticore jumped onto the griffon, its stinger flashing, and the griffon howled and tried to buck it off. “And I’ll have you know that the leader of the task force, a justicar with a shady past and a reputation for playing loose with the rules, was appointed by the Skilled. They’re the ones who should be answering for this.”
“But that isn’t true!” cried the griffon. “Justicar Pyvic has an excellent reputation and—”
“Let’s not get off topic!” the dragon proclaimed, belching a puff of fire that stopped both of the other puppets in their tracks. It raised a claw toward the manticore, and the griffon took the opportunity to run to the other side of the stage. The crowd laughed derisively. “What do you have to say about Warden Orris’s resignation yesterday?”
“Totally unrelated,” the manticore said promptly, “and if you listen to what he has to say, you’ll know that.” The manticore yanked on a leash, and a goat puppet was reluctantly dragged onto the stage. The crowd hooted.
“…proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said the goat in the whiny whistling voice that signified a cheap recording crystal, “but now is… and now I intend to spend more time with my family. I know that others will continue this important work.” The goat broke off as the manticore’s jaws clamped down on it and tore off its head. The manticore then snatched up the body and shook it violently, throwing small candies out into the crowd.
“There you have it!” declared the manticore with a burp.
“But the timing,” protested the griffon, only to be knocked down by the manticore’s giant bat-wings.
“I honestly don’t know why we’re even having this discussion!” boomed the manticore. “This is the Skilled Party’s fault for putting this Pyvic fellow in charge, and if you want to play the partisan blame game, Warden Orris has already resigned. Why can’t you people let a good man retire in peace?”
“Strong words!” boomed the dragon. “We’ll keep you informed of any updates on this fast-breaking story!” It threw more candy out to the crowd while intoning the ritual words. “Remember, everyone, it’s your republic!”
I can’t do that. Maintain that balance. It’s exhausting even to try. It’s either grimdark or, at best, descriptive. I can do neutral or chipper description but that’s about it — funny is, typically, beyond me. Which is frustrating, because it’s not like I don’t appreciate a good laugh or work to surround myself with people capable of producing the same. But I can’t call those laughs up in others — and if I try, it’s a blackened humor that makes people’s faces fall even as they’re coughing up a snicker. I guess when you don’t stare stuff like dementia in the face all day you find it harder to laugh at. Your loss, people.
Only once was I on-target all the time. An old professor I helped out on a book thought I was the funniest damn thing on the planet. I had her humor pegged to a T, and I could always make her giggle helplessly. I miss her, most selfishly, for this reason. I’ve tried to figure out what worked so well. Like any professor, she was a bit cynical, but no more so than usual. And my jokes to her weren’t particularly dark, either, but they definitely poked fun at the departmental bullshit that weighed her down (and which she ultimately fled, more power to her). I think I was her only female friend, and I know I was the only woman who credited the crap she put up with from her male peers. Maybe that was it.
I wish I could play those sorts of notes in prose. I can make people thoughtful or sad, but I’m shit at making them laugh. Clearly everyone just needs to study the same things I did, obtain a position of slightly higher authority than me so I can always joke upward (joking down is mean), and I’d be entertainer of the year.
Turns out I scrawled this on the back flap of the fic notebook. From a talk he gave.
“And this is just a primitive, gorgeous, beautiful magic.” — re: the act of writing novels
“Fear on the page tends to turn to disturbance, that insulates you like plastic over copper wire” — re: the difference between words on a page vs. the way he reads them out loud. Page as sheltering, a toning-down of fear.
Q: How come fiction works?
A: An unintended consequence of the vitality of our imaginations that showed up way way back to give us the evolutionary advantage. Tools = the imagination being used to alter reality. [insert many exclamation marks here about DA:I and the fear of mages / alterers of reality] We’ve needed stories for as long as we’ve been humans. In different forms, but still they’re there. Story: we can watch these things unfold, see these events unfold, learn from them, without having to risk experiencing them firsthand.
Q: Teenagers in fiction? Why?
A: [At that age] we still half-believe in the phantoms of childhood, without yet being old enough of an adult that we can excise the demons of childhood. But some of the petty stuff of adulthood has started to bear down on you — “you don’t yet know what you can’t do” — don’t yet know what you don’t know. Don’t yet have the kevlar armor of maturity.
Q: Why the age 13 in particular?
A: It’s the youngest age when you can conceivably have “metaphor-spewing meta sarcastic observant youth.” You can’t go younger unless you really go the child genius route.
I found this in a bookshop and stood rooted to the spot:
by Jorge Teillier, trans. by Carolyne Wright
When the beloved everyday words
lose their sense,
and we can’t give a name to bread,
or water, or windows,
and all dialogue not with our own
abandoned image has been false,
we can still look at the ruined prints
in our little brother’s book;
it’s good to greet the plates and linen set upon the table
to see that in the old cabinet
the cherry cordial our grandmother made
and the apples put by for storage
still keep their joy.
When the trees’ form
is not more than the slightest recollection,
a lie invented
by the troubled memory of autumn,
and the days are disordered
as the attic nobody climbs to,
and the cruel whiteness of eternity
makes light flee from itself,
something reminds us of the truth
that we love before knowing:
branches break gently,
the dovecote fills with flutterings,
the granary dreams once again of sun,
for the party we light
pale candelabras in the dusty salon,
and silence reveals to us the secret
we didn’t want to hear.
One can only legally distribute such work in small amounts, I am told, and only if their distribution serves the purpose of critique. I do not wish to critique this. Pithy arguments like “it’s too beautiful to critique” aside, this is a translation and I do not speak Spanish. Moreover, I have known exactly one person who suffered under the Chilean regime under which this poem was written. So I lack context.
Things I would like to know: Why does the whiteness of eternity make light flee from itself? Something scientific about the spectrum of light? Or winter? Is it a way to talk about something hidden to me, without getting arrested at the time it was written?
I was attracted to the poem, initially, by the reference to lost words. My mother, my inbox tells me this morning, is going into a dementia care facility as soon as someone there dies and frees up a spot. So yes, lost words–and disordered days–matter to me. But, like the people who listen to me in my darker moments discussing my mother, I can only take so much grimness. So “the truth that we love before knowing” matters more. Dreaming again of sun, lighting candelabras against the darkness: that matters more. Even the secret we don’t want to know is no secret. And it matters. I’m assuming “the secret” here is that all this is ephemeral. A grim fact to many, it’s true. But a blessing of a kind to those who know what will happen before they die. Who know what their mind will devolve into and cause them to do to their loved ones before they forget them. In that context, the fact that it ends–that it’s ephemeral–is something to be grateful for.
The next poem in the book, “Joy,” also has a line that begins “it’s good to…” I checked the original Spanish of both poems, to see if it was just a foible of translation or of they really had both begun that way, and they do. Es bueno saludar lose platos y el mantel puestro sobre la mesa. Es bueno beber un vaso de cerveza. I wanted to check because, reading the English, I love when writers say these things. Not because I need a playbook–with silver linings or otherwise–but because I value knowing how other people cope. I value knowing what matters to them. When they take that step back, and say something not directly about this or that character, or about themselves, but about “how things are,” even knowing that they can only conceivably be commenting from within their own worldview doesn’t tarnish it for me. Maybe the necessarily limited nature of their scope gives such statements greater value, even. Because the writers aren’t stupid. They know their limitations. But they’re going out on a limb and saying, not “this is how it is for Bob,” or “this is how it is for me,” but “this is how it IS, dammit!” It can be seen as arrogant, yes, if they’re blind to their own limitations. But if they are aware of those limitations, and still say it, it’s ballsy as hell.
Also the candelabra lines put me in mind of Mrs. Dalloway, with whose efforts I strongly align:
“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”