I get a lot of spam. I mean a lot. How much is a lot? Try over 5000 pieces of spam in my inbox, per month. That’s not counting the between a dozen and forty spam comments I delete out of the blog every day. So I know my spam, can smell it at fifty paces. But lately, some of the messages I’ve been receiving have had an almost literary quality to them. Take for example this one I received the other day:
A literary ghost is, I think, a new departure in the psychic world. Im almost sure I saw Sillerton Jacksons head in one of the windows, just behind Sabina Wessons. Now they gain no inspiration to carry them through. For my deep pity is excited-that this intricacy of mind is placed in this dim age of toilsome work. Well, its over: here are the firemen coming out again, someone said at length. It was all in keeping, and all presented a practical and tradesman-like appearance. This is so obvious that it fails to amuse me. To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg. Appendix IVC opy of a Communication received at the Ouija Board through Mrs. I am a shadow and the life here, the shadow of a shadow. Here I find a mind in whose intricacies I should like to plunge. Perhaps you would teach me something about the present time. For my deep pity is excited-that this intricacy of mind is placed in this dim age of toilsome work. He gets so restless, being shut up with these long colds. The lady who was not in evening dress paused. No, the lily is mine, not his, he writes. But here I am confined and the rich day is hidden from me. Granny, did you wear feathers in your hair in the daytime? Did Grandpapa wear a white tie at two o’clock in the afternoon? For my presentation was probably too preposterous for an age of realism. The whole theatre wore a useful aspect that night when I saw it through your eyes. The men of the family said nothing, but I saw Hubert Wessons face crimson with surprise. Well, ma’am, the minute he heard the fire-engine, off he rushed like a boy. Nothing was sacred to Kate, and she feigned not to notice Grandmammas mild frown of reproval. I think my pleasant rector was not a horny person. The men of the family said nothing, but I saw Hubert Wessons face crimson with surprise. But here I am confined and the rich day is hidden from me. She rested her hand quickly on the hall table. Hazel dean and Henry Prest coming out of the Fifth Avenue Hotel together. Messages from the dead are usually very vague as to work and interests on the other side. But no one listened even to Sillerton Jackson. I am a shadow and the life here, the shadow of a shadow. Im almost sure I saw Sillerton Jacksons head in one of the windows, just behind Sabina Wessons. In Intentions we have The white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning. The whole theatre wore a useful aspect that night when I saw it through your eyes. Perhaps you would teach me something about the present time. He gets so restless, being shut up with these long colds. The later writings have been longer and more continuous.
Now, I don’t know who this Sillerton Jackson is or why his ghost keeps popping up behind Sabina Wesson but there’s something to this. It reads like a poor man’s William S. Burroughs, with a little too much stream in your consciousness but some lines have an almost haiku like quality. I’m especially fond of “The white feet of the Muses brushed the dew from the anemones in the morning.” That’s pure Basho. And sure, the adds for cheep Viagra and The Best Mortgage Rates, Ever! are in the attachments, so they’re still trying to sell me shit I don’t need but at least they’re trying to raise the intellectual milieu a bit while doing it.
Over at Making Light the discussion of the horrible exercise in copyright violation and common sense has diverged into a discussion about how all literature is fanfic, whoopee!
I’m just a tad cynical about authors who rage against fanfic. Their own work may be original to them, but even if their writing is so outre that it’s barely readable, they’ll still be using tropes and techniques and conventions they picked up from other writers. We have a system that counts some borrowings as legitimate, others as illegitimate. They stick with the legit sort, but they’re still writing out of and into the shared web of literature. They’re not so different as all that.
There’s quite a difference between using standard tropes and techniques and writing fanfic. One is purely derivative by definition, the other is making use of the basic stock storytelling elements of our language and psychology to tell a story. I’m not dismissing fanfic altogether, it serves a vital role in the creative ecosystem. So do termites and roaches. One makes compost, the other provides communities that serve as a proving ground for learning the basic mechanics of story telling. Everything plays a part. And then you grow up and have an original idea or at least an original take on a pre-established concept that provides fresh incite. Fanfic does not provide fresh incite (certainly none of the fanfic I’ve ever seen) it just fiddles with the details and adds noise to the background. Which is fun and a good laugh. So long as you don’t try to publish it. Because we don’t live in antiquity, where every variation on the Hercules story is a valid expression of creativity. We live in the modern world where companies with deep pockets and mean lawyers protect their entertaining property.
I’ve talked about it for months. Written vague posts abot how it’s almost done and the process by which I wrote it. Well, it’s now really done and available.
The book I wrote for my wife as a birthday/Christmas/Valentine’s day/Birthday-again present is now available online for download (as a PDF).
Have a read and let me know what you think.
It started with a snow storm, both a real fluffy white one outside and a metaphorical storm of words, falling form my head. Thursday morning, I woke to find it snowing and the university closed. This was perfect, as I wanted to get a little writing done that day. And boy, did I. I wrote nearly ten pages of the new version of the story I’ve been working on.
For those keeping track at home, this is the story about the immortal King, with the conniving but not too bright descendants who are trying to kill him. I had finished the first draft of this longish short story last month and been rolling ideas around in my head, trying to figure out how to improve it. It was good but it lacked something. Kevin read the draft and over Thai food, we had a long discussion about that elusive quality that makes stories great rather then just a mildly amusing way to waste a few minutes or hours. Nabokov called this quality shamanstvo, the “enchanter quality.” We decided it was a mixture of wonder at the strange and horrific beauty of the world and an attempt to bottle the ineffable.
Tuesday, The Mouse Empire released Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on DVD. I saw this movie as a child, while living in Cuba. I couldn’t have been more than ten years old at the most but sitting there in that amphitheater, watching Nausicca and the giant Aum and the Toxic Jungle, it was the perfect example of an artist who had successfully bottled shamanstvo. That movie has stuck with me ever since. I saw it once more, edited all to hell on VHS as a teenager but still, loved the film. In fact, me talking about it was what inspired my wife to buy for me as birthday present, sight unseen, a copy of Princess Mononoke. We’ve both been huge Miyazaki fans ever since.
And what all this has to do with my story is this: Tuesday night, I watched Nausicaa and remembered the awe. I thought about it all the next day, and dreamed Wednesday night of fungus and wonder and the death of humankind.
Thursday, I awoke to snow and spent the day writing. Friday, I played hooky and spent the day writing. Six thousand words and seventeen pages later, I finished the second draft of the story. And I’m pleased. This is something that doesn’t happen often. On the rare occasion that I finish a story, I usually find that in completing it, the idea wasn’t worth the time, or the finished product is Ok but needs so much work to make it not embarrassing that it’s not worth it, or I’ve lost the desire to finish it or show it to anyone. But not this time. This is the first time I’ve written something that I’m proud of. Something that I think has real potential to be great. It still needs some polishing. I’ve got to dot the Is and cross the Ts but it’s all there.
As this story is ostensibly a present for my wife, I’m not going to post it online just yet. This summer, perhaps. Though I’m seriously considering sending the story off to a publisher. So we’ll see.
The only reason I wanted to write about this was as a way to try and put shamanstvo into words, to try and verbalise the feeling of finally reaching the long sought after but elusive goal of not completely failing at what I’ve always tried to do.