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. :-)

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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.

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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. :-)

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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.

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the grand budapest hotel

Well, I just saw this. I enjoyed it, but I was not blown away (or, really, involved).

I was never a Wes Anderson fan. I saw The Royal Tenenbaums, and I thought it was tedious. Other than Gene Hackman’s character, everybody was depressed (for no particular reason), and completely one-dimensional.

But I then I saw Moonrise Kingdom, which I really liked. I wrote about it here quite a bit. But, oddly enough, it didn’t make me want to go back and catch up on Anderson’s other films.

But I did rush out to see The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The positives:

1) Ralph Fiennes is hilarious (a sentence I never thought I’d write).
2) It moves right along, including some things that are really funny.
3) It looks great (of course).

The negatives:
1) It is suffused with nostalgia, for things for which I am not in the least nostalgic (servants, service, elegance).
2) I didn’t give a damn what happened to any of the characters.
3) It’s a guy movie. The female characters are complete ciphers.

It is funny how we’re encouraged to pledge loyalty to specific artists. Taylor Swift has her Swifties, and Miley Cyrus has her Smilers. I’ve known fanatic Tori Amos fans, and in Web forums I’ve encountered the mavens who adore every picture by Scorsese or Christopher Nolan or David Fincher (all of whom are iffy with me — some good pictures and some not so much).

I’ve said before that I’m a devotee (and a disciple) of Robert Altman, but he made some crappy movies, too (and I’ve never even seen HEALTH, since the opinion of its suckitude is so unanimous). I was considering seeing Pompeii because I’m a big fan of Paul Anderson’s work in 3D, but, really, no.

So, seeing Wes Anderson’s newest, hoping for the best because of Moonrise Kingdom, I felt that I should be liking it more than I was. But I didn’t. That’s the way it goes. The same thing happened with Jim Jarmusch, who made some of my favorite movies for a while, and then started boring me.

Although, you know, I hear his new one is supposed to be good, a real return to form…

Anyway, it goes the other way, too. I’m certainly no Swiftie, but this performance at the Grammy Awards kills.

Anyway, two final comments on The Grand Budapest Hotel:

1) See this and then see Gosford Park (if you feel nostalgia for service and servants in the 1930s).

2) I quote Jean Shepherd: “Nostalgia is based on the idea that things were ever better than they are now.  They weren’t. Things have always been lousy.”

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