Book blues

by , under writing

This is partly a reply to Felix, because the indentation got out of hand, but also some general musing about the post-publishing state.

So Felix wrote in a comment to this post: “I just hope you don’t count me among the clueless reviewers.”

Clueless? No, not very. Only I should perhaps have realised that people who come to it thinking “Oh! Fantasy” will have expectations I didn’t foresee and read semsin as a “magic system” and the Guilds as “wizards’ guilds”. I totally didn’t mean to write it like that! What people do with their minds is not “magic” as such, no spells, no potions, no wand-waving, only perceiving and influencing the world with their non-physical being as well as with their physical one. And none of it is actually secret, which is what I’d expect of a wizards’ guild: if you don’t have the gift you won’t be able to do anything, but it’s generally available knowledge. I like to compare it to music:  there’s nothing to keep a tone-deaf person from studying music theory, or otherwise informing themself about music. (My tone-deaf father liked going to concerts, and watching music broadcasts on TV, but not recorded music, because he needed the visual cues as well.)

That I didn’t explain this up front is partly because I hate (hate to read, too) books in which too much is explained, and partly because I see those things as features of the world, which get only in-world treatment. If I notice that more people get off on that particular wrong foot, I’ll write a FAQ.

That my style is spare (which I suppose you (Felix) mean by “deficient in style”) is also deliberate. You should have seen my first draft! Come to think of it, you would probably have liked it better, before I gave it a depurpling wash. It’s not that I’m incapable of high flowery style, but I dislike it, and if I find myself writing it I groan and delete. There was one reader of an early draft (post-depurpling, but with lots of useless subplots and wandering digressions) who called it “delicate watercolour”, which made me boggle. He also found a whole list of “foreignisms”, every one of which turned out, on inspection, to be either British usage or typos. Except one misplaced verb because of over-editing.

And then there was the paragraph that I was so foolish as to post on Usenet, so Patricia Wrede rewrote it, and it’s never been the same. I had to take it out because it really didn’t fit any more. Not my version, not her version, none of the several versions I tried to write to her specifications. Hers was probably ten times better than I could ever have written (because she was a ten times better writer than me at the time; I hope I’ve been learning), but it didn’t belong. There’s still a ghost of it that I can see, and two people who know me very well have seen, but I don’t think it shows to the general reader.

Someone who read the book just before publication said to someone else in my hearing “it’s amazing that Irina wrote that!” I know her well enough to be sure that she meant “this is actually a real book and it’s by a friend of mine!” rather than “I didn’t think she had what it takes to do this”.

On the whole I feel very, very strange. Which of the things I did to procrastinate with will I do now there’s no reason to procrastinate? The almost-finished Frozen North thing is with my beta reader, so I can tinker with that a little but only half-heartedly. The thing about Vegelin the Great, with the BEST BATTLE I EVER WROTE (okay, the only battle I ever wrote. But it’s really good.) has a serious problem: I don’t know where it ends. I may have written past the ending –already chopped off three chapters because I was sure that I’d written past the ending– but I can’t find the actual spot. It’s in three parts, two longish and one short, and I can polish the first part and make an epub of that to see if it can stand on its own, and then do the same with the second part, but I don’t know if there will be anything left because the second part doesn’t really have an ending either. Unless I go right into the thing that’s sort of a sequel, which I don’t seem to be able to finish, and make it Part III. And eventually Part IV, because I know what happens after the about ten thousand words I’ve already got (which do have an ending of sorts) but that’s the part I can’t write.

Grrr. I called this post “book blues” because I imagine it’s like baby blues (which I never had, thank God; I only had several babies). This thing that was growing all the time is now off my hands. I feel uncomfortable doing promotion, it’s a part of “being a writer” that I’m no good at, but as I don’t aim to make money (though donations are nice) it’s not a priority. Anyway, writing is what I want to do. In theory. As I’ve said before, I want to move to Theory because everything is easy there.

I did promise someone (hi Chloé!) to finish the space opera story because she wants to read and perhaps illustrate it. Well. At least that’s something.

  1. Felix

    Thanks for writing this, Irina. I should have perhaps pointed out in my review that things are sufficiently explained in the book after all. It’s not that I want to be spoon-fed, on the contrary (though many readers do expect it, I know from personal experience). But whatever you don’t explain, readers will understand each in their own personal way. This is a good thing, in my opinion, but it is a shock when you learn for the first time just how “wrong” they can get it. I’m using quotes here because it’s not in fact wrong, just different from what you intended. Such is life.

    About the whole “magic” issue, it’s not a matter of expectations. You can, of course, have fantasy literature without magic, and indeed your characters are more like a cross between psionics and priests in D&D parlance. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Is the Breaths system in Warbreaker any less magical just because it’s “something people can do” as opposed to having the usual trappings of pointy hats and strange runes?

    (That, by the way, even though I love original and complex worldbuilding, I chose to make magic in my setting as traditional as it gets, involving strange runes and magical circles, with practitioners being called wizards and sorcerers just like in D&D and with the same meaning. It’s all to cut down on the explaining and get on with the story. It’s also because in my setting people created magic — from science — and applied whatever terminology they were already familiar with.)

    As for the Guilds, I don’t see why secrecy would necessarily be a part of their existence. Sure, historically guilds had some trade secrets, but I bet the basics of carpentry or masonry were common knowledge; moreover, it was something absolutely anyone could do in theory. But if you tried to practice the craft on your own, they’d come after you. Which, by the way, was a terrible drag on the economy, and likely one reason why the pre-industrial era lasted for so long.

    Just like in Terms of Service.

    (Good point, by the way, about your father. As a programmer, I know all too well that there’s a big difference between the practice of a craft and the lore of that craft; there are too many of us out there who can code in a programming language or two, but don’t have any idea how their tools work, or how they evolved, or why there are certain recommended practices.)

    As for style, sure, it’s in the eye of the beholder. You wrote a novel, that’s a real accomplishment I’m yet to equal, and by no means do I want to belittle you. Can’t wait to read your next books, in fact, especially your take on space opera.

    Thank you again, for the conversation and especially your

    • Irina

      Oh, but the space opera thing isn’t a book: it’s currently at 2760 words and I suspect that’s slightly less than half. I’m not a real short-story writer, but I can’t keep up a whole novel’s worth of this style (and probably not this setting, either).

      One more thing I forgot to mention in the post: the attitude to death. People in Valdyas know that death is normal; which doesn’t mean that life is cheap, on the contrary! I certainly hope it’s not so traditionally quasi-medieval. Other clues that it isn’t: men and women have equal status and chances though there are some professions reserved for women (midwives and priestesses of Naigha) (there are no professions reserved for men, at least not in this country), social movement is possible, heterosexuality isn’t the only accepted option. And the queen we have “now”, as far as I’ve come with developing the world, the book’s Queen Alyse’s granddaughter-in-law, insists that everybody must learn to read and write.

      • Felix

        At the same time, sailing is extremely dangerous, the tech level in general seems closer to the RL Middle Ages than the Renaissance (no gunpowder!) and the general standards of living are very low, even for the rich. Of course it’s not a perfect analogy, that would be boring. It’s just how I see the setting. 🙂


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