In Which the Wave Equation and Relativity Aren't Really the Point

17 January 2004

Let me try to explain to you the magnitude of the problem.

Stella lent me The Raven Ring, with which I'm almost done. (I have the feeling it's going to feel like giant prolog to me, since I still have that "part one" feeling and I'm 280 pages in.) She also lent me Daughter of Witches, which I own and have read and didn't intend to reread, so that doesn't count. She also lent me two books by a K.J. Parker person. I like it when I get lent books I've asked for, and I like it when I get lent books I haven't thought to ask for; the latter two are in the latter category. Yum. (I also have at least one request in for another to borrow from Stella, and at some point I'm going to have to take allergy meds and explore their shelves myself. But not soon.)

On the nonfiction pile, I have a Twin Cities architectural history, a book on Romany dance and spirituality, a massive history of the Russian empire (1801-1917), a book (the book, probably) of Saami mythology, a book of Victorian fairy tales, an Icelandic medieval legendary, a history of Iceland, a volume of Norse mythology and one of Norse religions (and we'll see what the difference is), a book about storytelling and humor in Nazi-occupied Norway, a book on the Winter War, and a volume of criticism dealing with women writers.

On the fiction pile (of stuff I own) -- and I'm doing these from the bottom of the stack up, and they're stacked in hardbounds, then trade paper, then paperbacks -- Charlie Stross, the new de Lint, Quicksilver, an Avram Davidson collection, my first Don DeLillo ever, Lud-in-the-Mist, a Dumas fils, that Waitman book Karina likes, Woman on the Edge of Time, the last in Julian May's SF series that I didn't like nearly as well as her Galactic Milieu stuff so far, the second Lyda Morehouse book, a Mary Gentle, a Liz Williams, and that Pat Murphy Zed loved so much.

This doesn't include rereads, or stuff to get from the library (since I currently have nothing from the library), or that one thing I'm going to borrow from Mom when we're down, or Mark and Timprov's Christmas books they haven't finished yet, or or or....

So yes: it's good to be the Mrissa. And I can continue the Mel Brooks reference by sticking my face between the two piles of books if I want to. But there are books to write (the list grows faster than the list of books I've written) and short stories to write. And then there's The House. The Family. The Friends. I cannot, in short, read all day every day. The trials and tribulations of adulthood. Very sad.

I got to discussing writing stuffs with Bear, and I ended up all physics-metaphor-y. Sigh. I suppose it never leaves one. (Or never leaves one alone. Your choice.) So then I got to trying to explain it to C.J., how it works from the starting element onwards. How I start with relationship and not with some other pillar-like element. He could see, I think, how someone else could start with a plot and hang characters, setting, theme, and conceit on it. Or with a character, or something like that. That's how it's always discussed, if they discuss elements of fiction at all in English classes. They look discrete and separable. People can point them out clearly in other people's works of fiction: "Yep yep, that Miles Vorkosigan there, he's a character, and Barrayar is a setting...." But I deal in intersections and not in elements isolated; I can't deal with them in isolation very well, if at all.

Timprov and I had problems with this -- "problems" makes them sound unpleasant, and they weren't -- when we were developing our first future history together. He can talk about events without talking about people. And when you're not looking to write a novel based on each year or period of your hundreds of years of future history, that's probably not a bad thing. He could say "Jovian moons insurgency and independence movement" without knowing the insurgents and freedom fighters personally, if we were trying to write about something a hundred years after it happened. But if he said it, my brain (and usually my mouth) would hop to, "So there's this woman on Europa, and her brother's back on Earth...." I had to work at it not to react that way. And never just, "So there's this woman on Europa." Always with someone else.

It really does feel to me like we're talking about wave-particle duality here, with the way it's discussed and the way I do it. Other people keep saying things that sound to me like, "But a photon is something you can poke with a (very small) stick!" and I keep saying, "But look at my wave equation!" Ceej wanted to know how I got story from relationship, and I made that scrinchy face, because...I don't know. I just do. It is, in fact, what I do. I tried to take an example of Soldrun and Lisved from Dwarf's Blood Mead, because he's read that. I think the conversation was both easier and harder with the Ceej, because he's not a writer himself. So on the one hand, he wasn't trying to tell me how it was supposed to go, or that he thought we were really talking about the same thing but calling it different names, or anything like that. On the other hand, he didn't have practice with how you end up with a novel at all, so there was no point at which is was going to start sounding familiar to him; I couldn't take a short-cut when I got past a certain point -- there was no "and then proceed as usual" for him.

Part of the joy, and part of the problem, is that when I have a large enough mental web of relationships, stories just start falling out. This should not be surprising. It's like planting zucchini plants and weeding and watering and then being surprised when you have more zucchinis than you can eat or cook or bake with and possibly even more zucchinis than you can comfortably get people to take. Still...things have a tendency to extend backwards and forwards on me. Sometimes with events or individuals or settings, but often it's the relationships that give me the structure to do that in the first place. Sure, Kjartan had to go get Kvasir's Mead for Dwarf's Blood Mead to happen in the first place, but I know what he was like then and how he changed because I know his relationship with his sibs and his friends, and when I get around to writing his book, even though his quest will be alone (unlike Thrand's), the aloneness of it will be a factor, the absence of both specific people he already knows and people he doesn't know yet but needs in his life.

I have the feeling I veered away from making sense a good while ago. Let's try again: with my first YA series, the one with Fortress of Thorns and The Grey Road in it, you could try saying, "Tell me about Charlotte." And I could give it a go, but there isn't really an "about Charlotte" without Miri. They're best friends. Even when they drive each other nuts, you can't just break them off from each other and have something that makes sense. And now that they've met the others, Megan and Nate and Sam and Nicholas, the others are also non-negligible. And if I tried to chart a Charlotte Learns About Life And Herself arc...I can't do it without the rest of them. Life And Herself isn't the same without the rest of them.

And sometimes you can tell there's a planet there by the way its gravitation deforms spacetime around it -- err, I mean, a character by the way it affects the rest of the relationships -- even if you don't have conscious knowledge of the planet already. But you know that the other planets have been flying around in a way that would look decidedly odd if there wasn't anything there at all, with what you know about relativity....

Yes, I think this is where I should just stop, because I keep veering off into physics again, and the sense, I fear it is not so much with the making. But the result is stories, and also sometimes books, and also sometimes series. Everybody sing a verse of Kipling before you move on.

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