In Which Our Heroine Starts With Some Details and Ends on A Ladylike Note

10 April 2005

Here's the thing about being a detail-oriented person: you can't win. If you decide you're going to do triage and hit the important details but also allow for some relaxation, people who don't notice details won't see that you didn't iron the tablecloth or put the food into fancy serving dishes instead of the dishes you used to cook it, because they don't notice details. So you don't get any credit for the triage from them. They just notice the way you were running around trying to get other stuff (that is, the important stuff) done. And the other detail-oriented people will notice that you didn't do those things, and not in a good way.

I'm not sure how to get around this. Go wailing to my mom, perhaps; not that she has the magic solution, but that she's at least a choir to preach it to, and sometimes one needs a choir.

I'm currently reading Alan Stripp's Codebreaker in the Far East. It's a little odd to have favorite historians-of-code-and-cipher, but I'm fond of Alan Stripp just now. He also wrote some of Codebreakers: the Inside Story of Bletchley Park, so now I feel that I can recognize and enjoy Stripp's voice. A few of the stories are the same ones from book to book, but that ends up feeling like a touchstone, or like a favored uncle who rambles a bit but still has interesting things to say. He gets fairly technical about the Japanese codes, and I'm enjoying it.

It's a nice choice from my nonfiction pile right now, because it's related enough to Thermionic Night to be comforting, but not enough to be work. And it's not really related to any other novel ideas just now. I probably shouldn't say that, lest another spring fully formed into my head as I read, but I have the feeling that this series is all I really want to do with real-world cryptographers, cryptologists, or cryptanalysts. Probably. I won't swear to that, so don't come roaring up to me on my fiftieth birthday and shake me until my teeth rattle if I end up writing a long series about code geeks.

I said to my mom in e-mail last week that it's horrible what reading subversive literature does to a person; and that I, for one, would never have thought of shaking somebody until their teeth rattled until I read Little Women. I remember being fascinated once I thought of it. It seemed like a good idea for several people of my acquaintance. I refrained with some regret. I seem to recall that it came up in the Anne of Green Gables series somewhere, too. Perhaps shaking used to be more common. I don't know.

It smells like rain and the neighbors' bonfire. Which is, I find, illegal, but as long as it doesn't go on longer than just tonight, I'm disinclined to involve the law. Right now it gives a tang to the rain smell. Our next-door neighbors when I was little had a wood-burning stove, and so did my great-aunt and -uncle, so it's a homey smell in moderation.

There's a book I'm writing a tiny bit at a time. I expect to wake up sometime around the above-mentioned fiftieth birthday to find that I'm about done with it, but it might sneak up on me. Don't know. Anyway, it's the sort of thing I play with from time to time and am not working on very seriously. But it made me very happy to be able to open the file, write in the notes section, "They have a lizard," and close the file again. I like knowing little things like that. I like having the details there when I reach for them, waiting for their time.

I have all sorts of projects on my list for next week -- I always do -- but mostly what I'm doing is noodling around trying to be useful until the key people can get me notes on my book. I hope to be short-story-useful because I haven't been for awhile, and because it's the most immediate in terms of gratification, and because I have enough serious novel revising ahead of me just now. Still. Noodle noodle. I think it's good to let some of this stuff get free of outlines and all. Sometimes the mind wandering is a professional hazard. Other times it's a professional requirement. Yoon was talking about being the standard jack of all trades, master of none, but I think Yoon has a good mastery of some very nifty parts of writing prose, and the rest can poke its head up in the middle of that and announce its presence with authority: "Math!" And so on. In some ways I don't really feel like I chose fiction so much as got mugged by it -- but that's not very true or fair, I could have swanned around talking about the great ideas I had, there was no physical compulsion to do anything with them -- but if I had chosen it more consciously, that might have been a reason: that it allows me to read Codebreakers in the Far East to feed the brain without any other justification needed.

I'm pretty torn on this one. When I look back in my life, I was telling stories when I had to use my mother to take dictation (this is a Mommaful entry, isn't it? Hi Mom!), and it looks like a pretty consistent path from there. It looks very like this is What Mrissas Do. But I'm resistant to that idea, too, because I remember making specific serious choices: to work on plot, to read widely and deliberately to be well-versed in what had been done and might be answered, to finish things and send them out, to leave physics and make a serious go of this whole thing. And if someone asked me if I was destined to write fiction, I'd probably respond with an incredulous and ladylike snort.

(You have to practice for hours to get a snort that ladylike. It's much harder than balancing a book on your head.)

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