memory is weird

A few years ago, I was watching an episode of Dark Shadows on DVD. I hadn’t seen it since it had originally aired in 1969 or 1970, and at one point a character revealed an artifact that he had found on a trip overseas. It was a disembodied head (“disembodied” meaning “without a body,” not “non-corporeal” – on Dark Shadows either would have been possible), and the moment I saw it, I thought, “Ah, the head of Judah Zachary!”

So, clearly some little part of my brain has been holding onto that name for over 25 years, just in case I might need it for something. No wonder I sometimes have trouble remembering important things — my brain cells are full of the head of Judah Zachary and the hand of Count Petofi and Quentin’s stairway through time and the I Ching wands.

I thought about this a couple of weeks ago, when I listened to Bob Dylan’s album Planet Waves for the first time in years.

There was a song I’d forgotten about, called “Dirge.” It was long and wordy (you know, Dylanesque), but I found that I could remember all the lyrics. Every word. Now, I don’t have an extraordinary memory, so it would seem that at some point I had been really into this song, listening to it a lot, though as I say when I had started to play the album I hadn’t even remembered its existence.

(As far as I can tell from a quick search, by the way, it must be the version from Planet Waves that I’m remembering, or not remembering, because apparently the song hasn’t been covered and Dylan has never performed it live.)

Even now I have no memory of any fascination with the song. But  all those lyrics must be filed away in my brain for some reason.

At least with Dark Shadows I remember having the obsession.

In fiction, if a character suddenly remembers something from the past, you can pretty much guarantee it will turn out to be significant later on in the story. In the real world, apparently, not so much.

Print Friendly
Bookmark and Share
Posted in writing | 2 Comments


Sometimes I think about continuity.

In the comic book world, continuity can be a big deal. Does the newest story about Batman fit in with every story that’s ever been told about the character since the 1930s, by all the different comic book writers, plus radio, television and movies? Well, no.

So, then, the first thing you have to do is decide what’s canon and what isn’t. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, you may like or dislike the various movies and TV shows, but the Doyle stories are the canon — nothing else is. Those other things are all just variations on the original theme.

But even when there’s only one writer, in only one medium, there can still be a lot of variety. Some writers just care more about continuity than others.

Tolkien created, as far as I know, a pretty coherent and consistent universe. Rex Stout, who wrote the Nero Wolfe mysteries, and who wrote each book from beginning to end, with no rewriting, quite often forgot the names of minor characters (and, heck, Doyle forgot Dr. Watson’s first name once). I would hate to meet somebody who ranked Tolkien higher than Stout or Doyle on that basis.

And then there’s Douglas Adams.

Each version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (radio, television, books, movie, stage) combined many familiar elements into new forms. By its nature, there cannot be a “canonical” version of the story. Which is fine, of course.

Adams wrote a script for Dr. Who once. It wasn’t produced, so he removed the Dr. Who elements and rewrote it as a novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. And then it turned out that the original Dr. Who script has now been produced as an audio drama by the wonderful folks at Big Finish, which I look forward to hearing.

I’ve been thinking about this, since I just wrote a scene for my current story that’s a variation on a pivotal scene from the novel U-town. That scene is shown three different times in the novel, but it’s always the same scene, just from different points of view. This time it’s actually a different scene (in fact from the point of view of a character who wasn’t even present the other time). So, it’s been interesting, and fun, to play a variation on a very familiar theme. Not something I usually get a chance to do.

Of course, most people avoid the whole question by writing each book as a standalone.

For some reason. :-)

Print Friendly
Bookmark and Share
Posted in writing | 4 Comments

form follows fiction

I never start with form – I always start with characters (which is why it took a ridiculous amount of time for me to figure out that I’m a mystery writer), but occasionally I’m attracted by one form or another.

There is a formal structure in particular which has always appealed to me, but I’d never used it before because I didn’t have a story that needed it.

It’s the form of In Our Time – Hemingway’s first short story collection – which had a series of short stories with shorter pieces (the “interchapters,” as they are sometimes called) in between. The alternating color and black & white sections of the movie Memento work in a similar way also. This is a rhythm which has always appealed to me, but now I finally have a story which works with it.

The main chapters of my current story move forward in time, but the “interchapters” are a series of scenes from a single night, months earlier, which holds some of the keys to what’s happening “now.” So, the reader gradually learns what happened on that night (but not, I hope, in a mechanical or obvious way).

And, since the interchapters take place in the past, it means the story moves back and forth through time, which something else that I’ve also always liked. A Sane Woman basically travels backwards through time until the end, as you can tell from the chapter titles. and U-town circles around through time in several different ways (in larger and smaller circles).

Oh, and the story has a title now, too: “One Night at the Quarter.”

Hope you like it.

Print Friendly
Bookmark and Share
Posted in writing | Leave a comment

not quite ready, so here are some links

Well, the post I promised last time about the interchapters will be a coming along little later, since I want to have the actual story ready first (with the interchapters), so you can see what I mean, and it’s not quite ready for prime time.

So, meanwhile, here’s some great links:

1) Over at The Debutante Ball, Lisa Alber’s first novel, Killmoon, is out. I think it’s safe to say that she’s a bit excited by this: “Oh My God, Just, Oh My God (The Book Launch!)

Congratulations to Lisa – it sounds like she’s been having a great week.

2) Here’s a link to an audio of Stevan Allred and Dan Berne reading from their books (both published by Forest Avenue Press). I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet, but Stevan’s reading of his short story “To Walk Where She Pleases” is first rate.

Later: I listened to the Q&A, and Stevan made a really good comment. He was asked where his ideas comes from, and he said that once you create a world, as he did with the town of Renata, where all the stories in his collection A Simplified Map of the Real World are based, you can wander around in it and look for stories. I’ve never heard it put quite this way before, but this is exactly what I do in U-town. I look for stories, I look for places where a mystery might be set, and I think about what kinds of people might want to come there.

Also, neither Stevan nor Dan outlines. I always like to hear that. :-)

3) Tiyana Marie White posted this on Tumblr. I don’t really know how Tumblr works (I guess you have to register or something), so I’m linking to it here.

I think the point is very true (at least the point about limits – the point about cost seems a little mechanical). And it’s particularly interesting as it applies to mystery stories. If people can do things which are beyond human limits, and if the parameters aren’t set very clearly and specifically, it’s very difficult to have the solution of the mystery not seem like a cheat.

4) T.S. Bazelli wrote an interesting post called “Wishing.” As I talked about there, I’ve never wished for the skills I don’t have, since I’ve spent all these years learning to work within my limitations.

For example, Elton John (who used to earn his living as a piano player before he became “Elton John”) has said that his style of playing was determined by the fact that he has short, stubby fingers. He learned to work within that limitation, and I imagine that at some point he stopped wishing for long, elegant fingers.

5) Oh, and Kristan Hoffman posted a “Confession” that I thoroughly endorse. :-)

Print Friendly
Bookmark and Share
Posted in writing | 6 Comments

in which I swipe some questions

Once again, Maggie has posted some great questions, and once again I’m swiping them.:-) (I wasn’t tagged in the blog hop, so I’m not tagging, but feel free to take them yourself.)

1. What am I currently working on?

A story, which I talked about here.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

With the mystery stories, I think they are unusual because my detective character is rather stylized, very consciously (and self-consciously) modeled on 20th century fictional detectives like Philo Vance, Nero Wolfe, and Ellery Queen, but she lives in a rather ramshackle and informal milieu — sort of like if Sir Henry Merrivale had wandered into a Robert Altman movie.

My most recent story, Stevie One, had a very YA-ish plot (a teenage girl runs away from home, falls in with bad companions, goes to the big city, and ends up doing something extraordinary with her life), but I’ve never classified it as YA because it’s got some elements that readers may not want in their YA stories (smoking, lesbians, transvestites, more smoking) and it’s missing some elements that readers have probably been trained to expect (not only is there not a romantic triangle, but the protag has no romance at all).

3. What do I write what I do?

Because it’s what I think is entertaining, and because, as an amateur, I don’t have to worry about fitting myself into current marketing categories.

4. How does my writing process work?

Largely by feel, at this point. I work on each section, revising and editing and proofing and listening to it out loud, until it feels done. Then I post it and move on to the next section.

With the current story, I knew as I was going along that something was missing, but I kept going, figuring that it would become clear as I got further along.

Which it did, when I realized what it needed: interchapters. Which I’ll talk about next time.

Print Friendly
Bookmark and Share
Posted in writing | Leave a comment