What You See, Take Two

13 June 2002

I really like The Stress of Her Regard. I really, really do. Tim Powers is doing something awesome with this book, and I can hardly wait to find out what the rest of it is. I have to put this on the used bookstore list. Problem is, when I find a copy, I don't know whether to keep it or send it to Michelle. Good problem to have, though. (Another of my endless lists is "Books Michelle Should Read." Sometimes when it's a gift-giving holiday, I simply pull up the list and order accordingly. Convenient. See? Organization is our friend.)

Only it has another Eye Thing. After the Eye Thing in Last Call made me never want to be near a deck of cards again, I thought this was a bit much. Silly Mr. Powers.

Another book I can't believe I forgot to add to the books I love list is Smilla's Sense of Snow. Oh, good, good stuff. I have another Høeg on my pile to read, but I've been putting it off, because I believe it's the last of his that I haven't read. (So far; I believe he's still alive.)

I finished "Fair Use" last night. It turned out to be 11,200 words. Which makes me wonder why on earth it felt short to the writing group members who read it at 4,400? Silly people....

I was quite conscious of physical description while writing the new version of "Fair Use." It seems that I've been getting that a lot lately -- not enough description, not enough visual stuff mentioned. Avi thought that I was avoiding it in "The Children's Village" to attempt to avoid race -- oddly enough, that's one of the only stories in which that was not a motivation for avoiding description of characters. I figured that it was set in Africa among people with African names, and so even if I didn't specify what race/ethnicity most of the characters had, it would be clear who was black. (Less clear was who was white, but as Avi pointed out, people named Lorraine are fairly likely to be white.)

But in most of my stories -- well, take "Fair Use," for example. The minor character, Wendy: it's more important to me that she is a Wendy than that she is white, black, Asian, Native American, etc. And as long as you know she's a Wendy, I don't mind if you picture an Native American Wendy rather than the white Wendy I had in my head. Totally fine with me. (In case you're wondering about Wendies: Wendy looks like a Wendy, so if you know her, judge accordingly. She's practically the archetype of a Wendy. That's Wendy-in-Berkeley, Wendy-in-SFY, Wendy-married-to-Daniel, just in case she doesn't want her full name searchable here. But not at all like the Wendies in Jane Yolen's Peter Pan short story, no, no, no. A Wendy would never put up with that.)

But I realize that it's not about what's fine with me, it's about what's fine with the reader, and it seems that most readers want more description than I'm comfortable doing. All right, fine; but I still refuse to have the long paragraphs about the limpid eyes. I connect it too much with limpets -- yarg! Her limpet eyes!

I think part of the problem is that I'm less visual than many people. It's hard to judge how visually focused someone is compared to average (unless that person is Scott, in which case the answer is "very"), but I'm thinking that I'm less so. Which is odd, considering that I'm terrified of going blind -- but that's more of a utilitarian thing than anything else. I tried to argue this one with Timprov once, that he was saying I was not a very visual movie-watcher, and I was trying to argue that most movies are not done well enough to be visually interesting, so that when I have something like "Rear Window" that is visually interesting, I just watch it. But I think that if I was a really visually focused person, I wouldn't have that problem (just as, if I was a real beer drinker, I could drink something other that 1/4 of a Guinness in the beer family).

And I'm highly conscious that what I do notice a lot -- smell -- is unusual. If I have a string of first-person narrators who all notice what everything smells like, it's going to be like Powers' characters drinking all the time. It'll be noticeable. It'll be odd that so many of them think about what they're smelling so much of the time.

So I tried to translate a little more. I tried to have Dave, my main character in "Fair Use," see the plants that I would have primarily noticed in terms of smell, when he came into an office with plants in it. (I didn't write, "Dave saw plants." It was less filtered than that. But he's my POV character, so.) I'm not sure how much this will work, or how well, because it still translates to characters seeing more of things that smell. We'll see how this turns out. Part of the job of the writer is to get the reader to have their own unique vision of the story, and part of it is to share the writer's unique vision. And I notice when I write things like that how very biased our language about these things is.


I'm having an e-mail conversation that seems to have veered off into the topic of whether men are more visually oriented than women, on the average. It's a claim I hear often, but I'm not sure how much I believe it. The "evidence" is usually formulated along the lines of "men have porno mags, women have romance novels." But in the turgid descriptions in romance novels, most of the imagery is visual. So I'm not at all sure I buy into that "evidence." (I also think that social pressures have a good deal to do with how that sort of thing developed and continues, and that saying "men are encouraged to be more visually oriented" is not at all the same thing.)

Well, I'm heading up to Oakland to hang out with David in the late morning, and then I don't know what. I'm not sure whether I should push to get the edits to "The Children's Village" done and out the door by Saturday. The novelette anthology closes then, and it's likely to have crossed the border into novelette when the edits are done, since it's sitting at 7000 words now. I already have two subs there, and one of them is near-future SF, so I don't feel that I "ought to" in those terms. On the other hand, the world is short enough on markets for long-short fiction and I'm this close to done anyway, I'm not sure that it wouldn't be a good idea to get it out there. And out of my hair, which is not a small part of this. I'm wondering if I'll like writing long-short fiction better if I'm not doing it under so much of a deadline. Short stories under deadline, no problem. And I would imagine that novels under deadline are a different critter entirely, that they're one's focus for months on end leading up to that deadline. (And usually one is getting paid for them, at that point, which perhaps shouldn't make a difference but does.)

So. I may be working on "The Children's Village" this afternoon, or I may do something else entirely. You'll just have to check back tomorrow to find out. (This is what's known as a cliffhanger ending. Use them liberally in your novel, lest the reader go away.)

Back to Morphism.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.