Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ways of reading

In conversation with a colleague today I stumbled upon a new way of looking at a problem I've been pondering for a while now: the hierarchy we ascribe to different genres. It's not a constant hierarchy, but it's a pernicious one in my opinion, since I write one of the less respected ones. I'm sure it's a very arguable hierarchy, but the specifics are less important than the overall shape.

I'm finding myself more and more of the opinion that the way we read is what separates "difficult" from "easy" work. It goes back to my earlier thoughts on metacognition: whether we read aurally or visually is surely a factor. Where's the attraction of genre fiction if you're just hearing a story in your head, told blandly, one word at a time? On the other hand, if you're right there with Reacher as he crushes someone's windpipe with his bare hands or something, it's a bit of a thrill--but you can do this much more easily when your brain is gulping down entire sentences or paragraphs and converting them into experience.

Where I find the greatest fulfilment, of course, is in speculative writing that also lives up to a high literary standard: innovative forms, strong word choices, and above all, a commitment to truth: never taking the easy way out, never letting the conventions do the work for you, always exposing truth about the writer's world and the way we all live; at the same time, offering a pipeline to the world of archetypes, and painting everything in vivid colours. It feels more true to me than kitchen-sink fiction. I do have a kitchen sink in my home, but I also have a threshold and a basement and a skylight. And I have a self who walks in her sleep, and I have a lover, and I have friends of other species. All these are served very well with metaphors of wonder.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Decemberists, and sleepwalking

The Decemberists are my obsession du jour, and fortunately one that my husband does not find unspeakably annoying (unlike, say, Joanna Newsom). I've been inhabiting their world for several months now; as I often do with musical obsessions, buying as many albums at once as I can find, and putting them all on random rotation.

Why mention it? Because, like Kate Bush and Tori Amos, the Decemberists have become essential to this particular phase of my work, in some inarticulate way. I must have them. I think they're eminently suitable music for any fantasy writer, in fact.

I'm not likely to forget it, but I note it here because I like to chart these things; at some time in the future I'll look back on this period and want to recapture a mood or a thought, and I'll have the musical key ready.

And now for the sleepwalking portion of the post; it is related to writing only tangentially, because when I woke up, I found myself at my computer.

Fortunately, I had not actually messed with anything much; I'd apparently read an email from the Viable Paradise group, and that was all. I am now going to back up everything, everything, yet again, because the idea that I might wander down and accidentally delete something makes me very, very anxious.

I don't have much of a history of sleepwalking; I have had night terrors before, but not often; and this was the first time I had both.

I suppose it's well timed, since I am about to write a chapter in the Not-a-Werewolf Book in which the protagonist experiences night terrors of her own, and now I have fresh memories of it--in case the ones from a few years ago had gone stale, or something. Sigh. Occasionally the suffering-for-one's-art thing becomes a bit literal.