Diana Wynne Jones: I don’t get it, but I like it

I never really got what was going on half the time in a Diana Wynne Jones book. 

I loved reading Fire and Hemlock. Really loved it. But what on earth was going on at the end of that book? Does ANYBODY get it? 

If you get the ending, can you please explain it to me? I understand that it’s a Tam Lin/Thomas the Rhymer riff, but the actual actions of the characters is just bizarre, and the author never explains what’s going on during that concert. WHAT IS HAPPENING THERE? 

I see that others are just as confused: 

Image

Which is comforting. 

My favorite of her novels is The Time of the Ghost. I mostly get what’s happening in that book. 

It goes like all of DWJ’s novels that I’ve read have gone: like a mystery novel where the reader is not informed that this is a mystery novel. They’re like Dostoyevsky novels (!!) in that the reader is very often confused about what the characters are reacting like they are: a family reads a letter, and the mother faints. WHY DOES SHE FAINT? Oh, sorry, you won’t find out until about 70 pages from now. Events are not explained in advance to the reader: the reader must suss out and slowly discover what’s going on: the contents and meanings of the novel slowly reveal themselves over the course of the novel. What made no sense 70 pages ago is suddenly explained. “Ah!” the reader thinks. “So that’s why the sister ran out of the room!” 

What an interesting way to write a novel. I wonder if I could do that? Hmm. 

DWJ’s obituary in the Guardian best sums up why I love her novels so much: 

Jones’s fiction is relevant, subversive, witty and highly enjoyable, while also having a distinctly dark streak and a constant awareness of how unreliable the real world can seem. Disguises and deceptions abound. Though avoiding criminally dysfunctional families or unwanted pregnancies, her cleverly plotted and amusing adventures deal frankly with emotional clumsiness, parental neglect, jealousy between siblings and a general sense of being an outcast. Rather than a deliberately cruel stepmother, a Jones protagonist might have a real mother far more wrapped up in her own career than in the discoveries and feelings of her child. The child protagonist would realise this, but get on with the adventure anyway.

Her works were very compelling for those reasons. 

The New York Times writes: 

[Diana Wynne Jones] began writing children’s books because the ones she was reading to her own children displeased her.

Not a bad reason to start writing! 

 

Yours,

MC Keane

 

 

 

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Little Wonderful Moments

What I like most in genre novels–mystery novels, urban fantasy, romances, thrillers–are the little moments of luminosity that gleam out suddenly and quietly, moments of juicy truth or honesty or quiet magic in the middle of the usual run of the mill plot and characters.

I recently read Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted, and the novel had several luminous moments in them, transcendent and lovely, like a fresh breeze rushing through the book.

Here are my two favorite moments:

1) Chapter 6, about Pete Wolinsky. Pete Wolinsky is an exploitative bum of a character, but then, BOOM, he gets humanized so beautifully by Grafton.

“Pete settled on the couch. He unwound the scarf from his neck and held it loosely in his hands, leaning forward slightly with his elbows on his knees. Ruthie had knit him the scarf and he liked the feel of it because it reminded him of her.”

2) Chapter 18. A woman is talking about her crummy loser of a dead father.

Finally she said, “You may not know this, but Daddy was a big guy. Six feet tall and nearly three hundred pounds before the booze got to him. In jail, it was like he shrank. The whole time I was there, I could see his hands shake. I wish I hadn’t seen that. He acted like it was the DTs, but it wasn’t. He was scared to death and his nerves were shot.”

“Jail’s a scary place if you’re not used to it.”

“Hank told me this story once. He said when he was growing up, the family had this big old Great Dane. He said Rup[ert was really smart, but he had the soul of a little dog and never understood how big he was. When they’d take him to the vet, Rupert would just be shaking from head to toe, convinced the vet was going to put him down. All these routine appointments and Rupert would be cowering. Big old hulking dog, quaking in his boots. Hank said it was comical. They tried not to laugh, but they couldn’t help themselves because the dog was self-conscious. You know what I mean? Like he was ashamed. Like he knew something was ridiculous and he wasn’t sure if it was him. They never could convince him he was safe. Then when he was twelve he got sick and sure enough they took him to the vet and sure enough the vet said he’d have to put him down. Hank said what was so odd was the dog made this crooning sound, like the thing he dreaded all these years was right there and it wasn’t so bad. Because instead of laughing at him, everyone was hugging and kissing him, saying how much they loved him, and that’s when he closed his eyes.” She was silent for a moment. “If I’d been there, I could have held Daddy’s hand.”

Another beautiful touch is the color of the jacket cover. It’s marigold-yellow. Throughout the book marigolds are mentioned in passing: just planted in various gardens or flower beds. But the jacket cover color ties into the theme so beautifully: well done.

Great book all around. I haven’t always liked Kinsey Millhone, the heroine and narrator of the Sue Grafton series. But I will miss her like hell when the series is finally over.

R-r-r-romance novel!!!

So guess what I’ve been up to lately? 

I’ve been writing a ROMANCE NOVEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow wow wow wow wow.

Wow!

Genre is a funny animal.

I’ve been working on my Urban Fantasy/Contemporary Fantasy series for a decade, now, and with what to show for it?

Not much.

Now I’m trying, for once, to write a romance novel.

I used to love love LOVE romance novels, I read about a book a day, back when I read them regularly.

My problem is, when I read a romance novel, I often end up infuriated with both the characters and the author who wrote them.

The cultural narrative that I see espoused so often in traditionally published romance novels, and fanfiction, is personally repugnant to me.

It’s the narrative of “The Good Family Over All,” or

“Forgive and Forget”

“Forgive Those Who Fucked You Up”

“Family is the Most Important Thing”

and so forth.

Also the trope of “The Psycho Stalker Hero is ALWAYS RIGHT” has me grinding my teeth so hard I might need to get a mouth guard.

Basically, it’s domestic abuse explained away as the Heroine being unreasonable and the Hero being right. No, I am not using hyperbole when I say “domestic abuse.” I mean one best-selling romance series has the Hero gaslighting the Heroine, hiding her birth control, trying to get her fired, alienating her from her family. He wants her pregnant and a stay-at-home mom, which is fine, except the Heroine most emphatically wants neither of those things. So he tricks, lies, and sabotages to get what he wants. And in the end he does indeed get what he wants, and the Heroine somehow transforms into wanting those things too, somehow. Not sure how.

This is all for the sake of drama. But I just don’t like it.

So anyway, that was a wild digression from the subject at hand: I’M WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL!!!!

Wowee zowee!

I sure do hope my Hero doesn’t become an abusive loser who ends up being made right by the blatant disregard for reality that the author employs to force a conclusion that doesn’t actually work!

That would be disappointing. 😦

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, my sequel to my novel GREEN JUNCO has stalled out. I’m not sure where I want it to go.

I want to push the envelope with it a bit. Take my characters pretty far from the shore, put a hole in the boat, see if they all make it.

But how to do that in a manner that satisfies the reader?

The difference between a good book and a satisfying book is an interesting one, to me.

Stuff can’t just happen.

It has to happen in a way that satisfies.

Very interesting stuff.

Anyway, back to work.

More on this later.

 

Pit of despair: *The Bluest Eye* by Toni Morrison

Recently I’ve been thinking about powerful, powerhouse books, and The Bluest Eye came to mind.

The Bluest Eye would kill you, if it could. It can’t, so it will throttle you instead.

That’s how I felt when I read it: That I was being throttled. Strangled. I’d been grabbed by the throat and shaken until in terror I finished the novel, barely surviving the assault. I crawled home and stayed hidden away for a while, recuperating.

I am glad and grateful to have read it, though. I’m glad and grateful that it exists. I’m glad and grateful that Morrison wrote it. I think everyone should read it, even though it might stab your soul with a knife. More people could use a good soul-stabbing. It builds character. And empathy, that most dear of human emotions.

Not enough people have, or practice, empathy.

Some people might read The Bluest Eye and criticize that it’s too over the top, much like Precious (AKA Push) was criticized.

That’s the problem: it’s not much over-the-top. More people need to realize that some human beings live lives of almost ceaseless misery.

I can’t really read anything anymore of Morrison, though. I will never finish Paradise. I’ve been strangled too often. My throat’s all ruined.

Beloved is still one of my favorite novels of all time, though. I can’t help it. it’s just so damn good.

Anyone else have a terrible experience reading this book? Or anything else that mentally scarred them?

Yours,
M

Writing Styles!

Yes to Vonnegut! Yes to Anne Lamott! Yes to Nicholson Baker! Yes to Brock Cole!

Boo to Nabokov! Boo to Kate Morton! Boo to Ellen Kushner! Boo to Stephen Fry!

There is just something about Nabokov’s writing style that sets my teeth on edge. I’m not discussing the content. I mean the way he puts together sentences, the way he uses words. Ugh. Way too precise, careful, delicately applied. Same with Kate Morton, Ellen Kushner, and Stephen Fry, just to name a few. Too precious!

I want sloppier writing. More alive. More fresh. More vigorous. More in the moment. More rrreeeaaaallllll. I don’t mean bad writing. When I say sloppy, I don’t mean poor. I don’t mean inaccurate. I don’t mean un-careful.

I love Salinger, just love his work. And his fiction feels careful. But not in an artificial, calling-out-to-the-preciseness that Nabokov has.

Does anybody get what I’m saying, here? I’m finding myself groping for a better way of phrasing this…how amusingly apropos of the topic itself.

Many people, many many many people, love Nabokov’s style. And they love the style of other precious, delicately precise writers.

I’m really, really not saying Nabokov is a bad writer. (So put down your pitchforks!) His style just bugs me personally. Makes me itchy. Makes me exasperated. It’s weird how sensitive to style I am, that a writer’s style can make me dislike the book itself.

Anybody else have a style they love to read? Or hate to read? Don’t be scared. This is a safe space. You can tell me you hate Salinger’s writing style and you won’t be booted to the moon.

-MC Keane

Plot

How do you create your plot, fellow novelists? (And short story writers?)

Genre writers: Romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thriller, etc: Do you plan it all out in advance?

Literary and commercial fiction writers: Same question.

How do you do it?

I always just wrote by the seat of my pants, putting down one word after the other, letting my imagination at that moment lead me: I transcribed what was happening before my eyes, invisibly.

Now I want to carefully plan the whole thing out and see what happens.

Interesting stuff.

How do you plot? And how tight is the plot?

Ruminating

Do you dwell on things? Or ruminate?

I certainly do. It seems like about 60% of my mental activity is rumination, or dwelling on the same few things over and over again.

These are the things I think about over and over again, gnawing on them like a bone:

-Dissatisfying friendships

-Unhappy family relationships

-Unsatisfactory working conditions

-The poor state of the world

-Upsetting stories of cruelty to animals and children

-The oceans are dying

-The tigers are vanishing from the earth

-Wolves are dying out

-How my writing is going

-Where my writing career is going

-I have no writing career

And that’s mostly it.

Not a single item on that list above is pleasant or positive. They’re all awful.

And I think about them all constantly.

I am starting to now focus on my thought patterns, and what I ruminate about. I used to feel guilty if I didn’t think about and worry about certain important things–like I was ignoring them if I didn’t dwell on them constantly.

Basically, a lot of the above is conscientious WORRYING. If I don’t worry, then I’m a bad person.

Well, they’re all worrisome things. Child abuse is a very worrying thing. People should worry.

“Worry” means to gnaw on the bone, which is interesting. I just can’t let these bones go.

Today I am trying to drop these bones and not dwell so much on the list above.

My thoughts tend to do a lot of circling when occupied with the items listed above. I have the same thoughts over and over again.

What I desire to achieve now is clarity.

What am I dwelling on? How many of these thoughts are the same thoughts over and over again? How many of these thoughts are downers?

Now, I plan to address my negative concerns about family, friendships, work, and my writing life directly, and to stop ruminating on them ad nauseam. I am going to land that plane!

~~

Yours,
M

Today

Today is Joan Didion’s birthday. I’ve read two of her novels: Play It As It Lays and A Book of Common Prayer

Play It As It Lays was a revelation to me. I’d never read anything like it before: It was the Ice Queen’s story, from the Ice Queen’s point of view, which had never happened before. The distant, moody, emotionally cold beautiful woman who the man never understands who so frequently shows up in novels written by men, unfathomable, desirable, cold. And here she was, explained, telling her story for the first time. 

It was amazing to me. 

A Book of Common Prayer was also fascinating and new and wonderful, but Play It As It Lays remains my favorite. 

If I could write anything like Play It As It Lays, I’d consider my writing career complete, and satisfactory. 

 

Thanks

My thankful list: 

 

Mary Engelbreit artwork and cards 

– Forgiveness from friends for my character flaws

– Mac and cheese

– Loving family

– Cats

– That tigers still exist 

– That this style blog exists

– That this mini farm blog exists 

– Dogs

– That I manage to pay my bills on time

– That I have a steady job 

– Central heating 

– That Terry Gilliam exists 

– My brother and sister 

– The kindness and generosity of Susan Forward, Harriet Lerner, Charles Whitfield, Elaine Aron, Eric Maisel, and more. 

– The view of the Milky Way in Colorado 

Terry’s Chocolate Orange (in milllllkkkk!!) 

– Excellent makeup

– Helpful makeup tutorials 

– That Go Fug Yourself exists 

– The French Press 

– Nature 

 

And more. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

 

Yours,
M