The Memorial Page at Lightspeed

Lightspeed has reprinted my story ‘The Memorial Page’, and there’s also an Author Spotlight on the story. This issue features stories by Ian R. MacLeod, A. Merc Rustad, Seanan McGuire, Jack Skillingstead, Kelly Barnhill, Ashok Banker and Brian Stableford, and the nonfiction includes an interview with Connie Willis. Ebook editions of Lightspeed, featuring an additional novella not available on the website, can be purchased for $3.99, and annual subscription is $35.88.


Figuring out…

With the yard for the road, neighbour’s fence for the parapet and a ladder for a horse, figuring out how much the characters can actually see. Conclusion: if they’re near the parapet they could probably see down to the river, and if they’re in the middle of the road probably not, which suits me as I don’t really want to do a full view of the city here.

Off to the foundry tomorrow — early start to try and beat the traffic. Supervising welding and patina, and hopefully I’ll come home with some rabbits and ravens.


Staying Fresh

Now and then a scene just comes and hardly has to be altered — it starts fresh and stays fresh. That’s nice of course, but it’s not that common — or not for me, anyway.

I keep multiple drafts backed up and often revisit early ones to try and salvage material as the needs of the story force changes on the writing. I’m all too capable of wandering miles away from a first draft then coming back closer to it after realising I didn’t need to wander so far — but I probably needed to see what was over there in order to decide to come back. (And I might find something useful over there, too.)

I always fear that redrafting will produce a laboured product — maybe an odd fear for someone who likes fancy language, but there’s fresh fancy and stale fancy. The reader’s going to find it how they find it, but it has to seem fresh to me. I like to keep dialogue pretty close to its original state, if plot permits. Sometimes the characters come up with lines that are obviously better, but I seldom feel compelled to extensively revise dialogue. But I almost always rewrite descriptions, sometimes many many times. Sometimes the right words don’t come until I’m tired or doing something else. And I find that action scenes can ask for a lot of revision, though that’s a bit different as it’s as much about choreography as aesthetics. When I was writing TEC I did a fair bit of climbing around on furniture trying to work things out.

I’ve been redrafting this story a lot. Additions to plot give me no choice. However much the story may be improved, I always feel a certain regret for the lost first draft. But onwards and upwards. I’m enjoying it.

Back to dialogue for a moment — I was having trouble writing some lines. Then I imagined Yul Brynner saying them, and some better words came. Whether it was the added persona or the cadences of a distinctive voice, something helped. So next time I’m stuck with lines I’ll borrow an actor.


Knights Out

Some readers might remember a story I was working on a while back, about Gwynn and Sharp Jasper and a bet.

Well, I went back to it this year. It’s now called Knights Out: or, A Significant Ornamental Feature. It’s going well enough that I don’t feel like I’d jinx myself if I mention it. I think it’ll be about 30K words. There might be enough plot for a novel, but I don’t think it should be one.

It’s set in Ashamoil before The Etched City, and the tone is lighter. I started writing it as an exercise in plotting, and since my favourite kind of plot is a complicated farce like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, that was the kind of thing I attempted here.

I’ve learned a few things while writing it:

  1. I can write without hearing characters in my head. I used to feel like I had to follow them and not make them follow too much of a predetermined story, and sure I like writing that way; but I have trouble doing it at more than short story length. But actually, yes, I can have them follow a plot, too. As long as their planned actions aren’t OOC, they shouldn’t be either, and they still have room to improvise in dialogue and smaller actions. It’s really in dialogue that I tend to ‘hear’ them (obviously, because they’re talking).
  2. Writing a rough but complete first draft is a good tactic for me. It might change a lot, but it lays a foundation.
  3. Plot can be filled in. If something absolutely has to happen, there can be any number of reasons why it happens.
  4. Some characters write themselves, and which ones do can be surprising. I already knew that. But if a character isn’t self-writing, they can still be written. It might take more time, but it’s doable.
  5. To persevere with a long piece of writing I have to enjoy it. The characters have to be having some kind of fun, and/or I have to enjoy hanging out with them. Which makes sense because I’m the same as a reader. I read non-fic for information, fiction for entertainment. That doesn’t mean I only want to read trivial fiction. But there are approaches to writing that I find more entertaining than others, e.g. writing the serious as black comedy. Grotesque and gothic approaches, e.g. Carson McCullers, Patrick White, Yukio Mishima, also work for me.
  6. I rather enjoy writing plotty stuff. Who’da thunk it?


First things first: Writer, historian, educator and culinary adventuress Gillian Polack now has a Patreon — check it out!

Other stuff —

Read lately and recommend:
Dying for Strangers: Memoirs of a Special Ops Operator in Iraq by Brennan Morton
Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere by Jan Morris
A Dark Stranger by Julien Gracq (enjoyed it for atmosphere and description, not so much the characters)
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (not a fun read, but it has stayed with me and probably affected me more than most books do)
The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars by Maurice Dekobra




“Beach Rubble” review at The Black Letters

Emera at The Black Letters recently reviewed Beach Rubble, a story reprinted in my collection That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote. It’s a lovely review, and it makes points that send me into reflection on my own work. It’s always a treat when a review shows me things I hadn’t noticed about my writing — in this case, amongst other things, how much I use the element of water. I haven’t been writing much lately, but perhaps I should try mentally slipping into some kind of wet environment and see if I can’t find something there…oddly, what I see first at the bottom of the pond or river I dive into are a pair of embroidered satin shoes, tea rose pink, laid neatly side by side and even stuffed with paper as if they were in a wardrobe. The paper is quickly gone and replaced with a fleshy interior, a foot with a waving turret of tentacles, a nudibranch, shoedibranch – imagery, not narrative, but thank you water – I will draw them of course!


Digging to China

” …writing is sometimes like going around poking at lifeless things to see if they move. At least for me. Other times, it’s like digging to China, while simultaneously trying to reduce in oneself the sense of any enormous undertaking or burdensome obligation of really having to get there.”

— Screenwriter Carole Eastman (1934-2004)


The Best of Electric Velocipede

I just got my copy of The Best of Electric Velocipede (Amazon link), an anthology from Fairwood Press covering the twelve years of this excellent magazine’s existence. Given how good EV was, a “best of” is something to be excited about. I’m damn honoured to be in it, with the poem “When the Lamps Are Lit”.

For some reason my computer doesn’t want to upload my photo of the book, but see EV’s site for the adorable cover by Thom Davidsohn.

Just look at this table of contents:

“Fling but a Stone” by Mark Rich (issue 2)
“Mrs. Janokowski Hits One Out of the Park” by William Shunn (issue 4)
“A Keeper” by Alan DeNiro (issue 6)
“Indicating the Awakening of Persons Buried Alive” by Liz Williams (issue 6)
“In the Frozen City” by Chris Roberson (issue 7)
“The Spigot” by Heather Martin (issue 8)
“The Chiaroscurist” by Hal Duncan (issue 9)
“A Taste for Flowers” by Jay Caselberg (issue 9)
“The Way He Does It” by Jeffrey Ford (issue 10)
“Milk and Apples” by Catherynne M. Valente (issue 11)
“Dr. Black and the Village of Stones” by Brendan Connell (issue 12)
“How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth” by Rachel Swirsky (issue 13)
“The Dogrog Phenomenon” by Richard Howard (issue 13)
“Recipe for Survival” by Sandra McDonald (issue 14)
“Notes on the Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle” by Jonathan Wood (issue 15/16)
“The Oldest Man on Earth” by Patrick O’Leary (issue 15/16)
“Wool and Silk and Wood” by Shira Lipkin (issue 15/16)
“The Bear Dresser’s Secret” by Richard Bowes (issue 17/18)
“The Death of Sugar Daddy” by Toiya Kirsten Finley (issue 17/18)
“When the Lamps Are Lit” by KJ Bishop (issue 19)
“The Lost Technique of Blackmail” by Mark Teppo (issue 19)
“Daughter of Fortune” by Cyril Simsa (issue 20)
“∞°” by Darin C. Bradley (issue 21/22)
“Patience” by E. Lily Yu (issue 21/22)
“The Art Disease” by Dennis Danvers (issue 23)
“Heaven Under Earth” by Aliette de Bodard (issue 24)
“Cutting” by Ken Liu (issue 24)
“Glass Boxes and Clockwork Gods” by Damien Walters Grintalis (issue 25)
“A Faun’s Lament” by Michael Constantine McConnell (issue 25)
“The Night We Drank Cold Wine” by Megan Kurashige (issue 25)
“The Irish Astronaut” by Val Nolan (issue 26)
“Melt” by Cislyn Smith (issue 26)
“The Carnival Was Eaten, All Except the Clown” by Caroline M. Yoachim (issue 27)
“The Beasts We Want to Be” by Sam J. Miller (issue 27)

I’ll be writing my thoughts about my favourite pieces as I go through, but for now let me say that Jeff Ford’s story, which I dived on and read first, is hilarious and wonderful.