The Disassociated Protagonist

There’s doubtless a more-approved critical term for this phenomenon, but I only took one lit-crit class in college, and also I don’t care. This is my term, and I’m finding it all over Play It As It Lays, which I’ve mentioned before I’m reading.

Observe:

In the care she counted the stiff bills. They stuck together and she missed one and she counted them four more times before she was certain she had them all. Since early morning she had been trying to remember something Les Goodwin had said to her, anything Les Goodwin had said to her. When she was not actually talking to him now she found it hard to keep him distinct from everyone else, everyone with whom she had ever slept or almost slept or refused to sleep or wanted to sleep. It had seems this past month as if they were all one, that her life had been a single sexual encounter, one dreamed fuck, no beginnings or ending, no point beyond itself. She tried to remember how it had been to drag Fremont Street in Vegas with Earl Lee Atkins when she was sixteen years old, how it had been to go out on the desert between Vegas and Boulder and drink beer from half-quart cans and feel her sunburn when he touched her and smell the chlorine from her own hair and the Lava soap from his and the sweet sharp smell of the starched cotton soaked with sweat. How High the Moon, the radio would play, Les Paul and Mary Ford. She tried to remember Ivan Costello, tried to fix in her mind the exact way the light came thought the shutters in his bedroom in New York, the exact colors of the striped sheets she had put on his bed and the way those sheets looked in the morning and the look of a motel room in which they had once spend a week in Maryland. She tried to remember Carter. She tried to remember Les Goodwin. She could remember it all but non of it seemed to come to anything. She had a sense the dream had ended and she had slept on.

This is from page 68-69 of my library copy, and most of the book is like this, the narrative of a woman who is almost out of her mind. She is utterly dissociated from the people in her life and acts out of inchoate impulses. And it strikes me that this reads much the way that anything by Bret Easton Ellis does. Less Than Zero is entirely in this vein, as is American Psycho. I’m not saying that Ellis is necessarily directly influenced by Didion, but I would not be surprised.

The primary difference is in what causes the dissociation. Less Than Zero is an exile observing the primal bestiality of Los Angeles, and American Psycho is capitalism atomising human beings into objects and body parts. Play It As It Lays‘ Maria seems to be dissociated by sex and the Men in her life. Something something Patriarchy something something.

There’s probably a lot of stories like this. I reckon I could crank one out if I wanted to.

Novels and Chapters

Is a Novel a series of Chapters, or are chapters just digestible parts of a novel?

Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings as one complete work. It was subdivided into three “books” by his publisher. When I am drafting a novel (or novella, as I currently am), I usually start with a chapter number in mind (The Sword started as 12 chapters, then became 15). A chapter is a kind of movement, or act, with a beginning and an ending. Now this isn’t rigid, and sometimes a chapter has to be further divided or combined with another. But I have an idea of when its done when I start writing it.

Currently I’m reading Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, and she does that amusing thing, that I haven’t seen since Douglas Adams, of having chapters that are barely more than a paragraph, while others go on much longer. These are chapters that simply denote the passage of time, and some can be mere snapshots of a moment that moves the characters or underlines a point about them. A chapter can be literally whatever you want a chapter to be.

Hence my question.

Rejection is Progress

Every no gets you closer to yes.

This is part of the process of shifting through to find the best match. If your work is good, it will find a market.

These are things authors have learned to tell themselves. Not because they are true, but because they are hopeful, and hope is a necessity to keep someone going in the face of rejection. Successful authors need to survive repeated rejection. So whatever you have to tell yourself is fine.

The real possibility of real failure also exists. No doesn’t actually get you closer to yes. It’s not a map. Yes can occur on any submission, from the first to the hundredth, or not at all. And good work is not a guarantee of anything, because “good” is an ambiguous term. It means different things to different groups. It can denote true, beautiful, or useful (and no, they aren’t the same thing). Something can succeed in being one of these and fail in the other two. Or it can fail in all three.

My point is that art can fail, and that an artist that attaches himself permanently to failed art will fail in a more complete way.

You wrote a book. Good. Now write another.

You Can’t Write Unless You Can Lie

Writing is a process of self-deception.

In the first place, you deceive yourself that anything you create will be read, understood, and appreciated. That’s not me being emo, that’s speaking to the large likelihood that your work will die on the vine. That’s simple statistics. So before anything else, you have to teach yourself to ignore that.

In the second place, you deceive yourself that you have time to write. Any time is writing time. An hour, a half-hour. I suck at this, which is why my production hasn’t been great lately. I allow my day, with all necessities thereunto pertaining, to impose itself upon my hour, upon my minute. The next step is to ignore everything that’s happening to you today.

Finally, you have to deceive yourself that this is some kind of calling or vocation. It is that, in one sense, but in another, it is simply the process by which a certain kind of intellect interacts with the world. Not an especially useful kind of intellect, either. I’m never going to solve an engineering problem, or cure a disease, or even advance public order in any appreciable way. All I’m doing is poking at the world with words and seeing what comes back at me. It’s supremely egotistical. But you have to ignore that, because if you don’t, you’ll either stop doing it or become the most insufferable kind of author, the kind that if he makes anything approaching art, it will be entirely by accident, and he will leave a trail of misery in every other aspect of his life. The final step is to ignore your ego, even as you tap into it.

And then, just keep swimming.

Updating a Classic: Giving Solar System Blues a Cover it Deserves

I like to call Solar System Blues my first novel. Certainly it was my first serious attempt at self-publishing, and my first serious review. Because of this, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted for the cover, and just kind of used the templates that CreateSpace and KDP offered.

That has changed.

Ssb2

Self-Publishing Review had this to say on it:

The world building is subtle and the author avoids too much information dumping on the whole. This book is a quick read and is only 140 pages. While the action and mystery come at the reader fast, after you get past the first few pages, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

In honor of the new cover, I’m doing a Kindle Countdown Deal starting July 2. That means between July 2 and July 5, you can get the ebook for the low low price of $0.99, and between July 5 and July 9, for the low price of $1.99.

Honestly, what do you have to lose? Click here to buy.

John C. Wright on Time Travel: An Absurdity Wrapped in a Non-Starter

It’s a longish post, but well worth your time.

In science fiction stories, there are a limited number of ways to explain the conundrum of how time travel can work in a world where there is both the appearance of free will and the appearance of cause and effect.

I doubt I can list all the various answers of the various imaginative authors who have attempted in an entertaining way to address the paradox. It makes for entertaining bull sessions by college students and philosophers, however.

But I can mention some basics:

In effect, the effort is to see how you can keep one or both of the appearances of cause and effect and of free will.

Wright mentions a number of methods (he calls them “options”) for dealing with the paradox:

  1. Free Will Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but you will do exactly what you did, because that is what happened. This is the Slaughterhouse Five answer. “The Moment is Structured That Way” say the Tralfalmadorians).
  2. Cause and Effect Doesn’t Exist (You can go back in time, but in changing the past you only eliminate yourself).
  3. The Universe Doesn’t Like Things Changed (You can go back in time, and change the past, but the universe will order itself so that it gets the desired result in spite of your actions. This is the Tralfalmadorians-on-Steroids).
  4. Time Travel is Just a Scene-Change Device (Dr. Who, Quantum Leap, etc.)
  5. Multiple Time Lines Without Consequence (the easiest solution, in which no matter how much mucking about you do, the only changes will be cosmetic, and you can always go back and re-do it, and you will discover that you in fact, already have)
  6. Time is a Hard Drive Being Overwritten (By changing the past, you destroy the original timeline in which time travel was invented. So time-travel has the result of eliminating time-travel)

It’s great fun to consider, and I’ve always admired the Back the Future precisely because it makes Time Travel very difficult. You’ve got to have a Flux Capacitor and you’ve got to have 1.21 jiggiwatts of electricity and you’ve got to get that car up to 88 mph. Miss either one of these, and the time travel won’t happen.

I also especially enjoy the second movie because the plot takes it back inside the structure of the first movie, and revisits the exact same scenes without disturbing any of them, or indeed having anyone in those scenes notice that they’re being observed. It fascinates me. I’ve never seen a sequel deconstruct the first movie so entertainingly.