Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bring winter gear STOP

Urgent from H. A. Richtoven, Univ. Belknapp STOP Come immediately Urshaven Sta STOP Pack winter gear END

From Larsen Jen, Univ Belknapp STOP En route but curious STOP Have brought warm gear and dogs STOP Food and fur STOP Weather poor STOP Explain urgency END

From Richtoven STOP Weather worsening STOP Borealis expanding STOP Most peculiar STOP Have you astrolabe octant photogram materials double goggles END

From Larsen STOP Unable to understand yr last STOP Request speak English END

From Richtoven STOP Larsen you boob STOP Last was gear list STOP Astrolabe STOP Octant STOP Photogram materials STOP Double goggles STOP Evidently dictionary too STOP

From Richtoven STOP Belay last STOP Also need 40 qts frozen blood STOP And mittens END

From Richtoven STOP Borealis obscure STOP Patssnn STOP Patterns STOP Ice in air STOP STOP STOP Wolves I think no Borealis END

From Larsen STOP Richtoven repeat yr last STOP Are you in danger END


LOST and Presumed Dead, this Eighteenth Day of Foreyule, in the White Lands, Professor-Esquire Harold Armodius Richtoven frmly of University of Belknapp, explorer and scientist. Professor Richtoven had voyaged from Tumlar Station north to study the Borealis. He had advanced a theory called "wicked" and "degenerate" by his sponsors, and we must only presume he succumbed to madness or to the dreadful weather or to both. Body unrecovered.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Witchy, Twitchy Art

After attempting a bike ride in sixteen degree temperatures, I have discovered the following fact:

That although the solution to numb fingers and toes might well be better gloves and socks, it is more likely that the solution is: don't go bike riding when it's sixteen degrees!

And so I return to the indoor trainer / stationary bike. Though the weather is much improved indoors, the views are not, so I have been working through DVDs this winter. Last week was the Princess Bride, where I was delighted to find that the whip-smart dialog still makes me smile.

"I mean, if only we had a wheelbarrow."
"Where did put that wheelbarrow the albino had?"
"Over the albino."
[Sighs.] "Well, why didn't you list that among our assets in the first place?"

And there are more, so many more. Writing smart dialog is an art. You have to advance the story, demonstrate each character's viewpoint and specific idioms (accent, word choice, sentence length), thread some emotion into it (this can be humor, as above), and avoid boring the reader.

Even real dialog rarely measures up: take note of what we talk about at work, at the grocery store, while cooking dinner. BOR-ing! Thus we turn to fiction.

Here's another favorite: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"Is that what you call giving cover?"
"Is that what you call running?"

We have William Goldman to thank in both cases. He has a rare ear for the witchy, twitchy art of dialog. It's hard to define it when it's right, but Lord, can we tell when it rings false.

"I knew you would come. Somehow I always hoped for it. Right here, in this kitchen of the house we built and where I grew up and then met you before everything else happened. And I-I-oh Samuel, the pain -- and I think -- no, I must finish, you must carry on, lads, don't give in to laziness and folly, you must -- carry -- on!"

Sheesh, writing bad dialog is almost as fun as writing good dialog. It's just MUCH EASIER.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Odysseus Strings His Bow

Wily Odysseus, wandering Odysseus, canny Odysseus. He fought the Trojans for ten years and took another ten years journeying home to Ithaka. The Odyssey has been noted as a story of adventure, of the often-comic adventures and trickery of Odysseus, of the pleasures of homecoming.

All of this misses what to me is the pivotal moment of the story. The point upon which the whole lumbering and picaresque narrative balances.

Odysseus has returned home in disguise. Suitors, dozens of them, have been living in his house, eating his food, slapping his servants, romancing his wife. Penelope, having lived practically as a widow for twenty years, is on the verge of marrying one of them. But Odysseus waits.

He comes into his house, clad in white beard and dirty rags: a bent and decrepit beggar. The suitors laugh. Jostle him. Pinch the servant girls; perhaps bed a few more. But Odysseus waits.

Penelope, her will and faith in her husband pared away by two decades of absence, announces she will marry the man who can send an arrow through the ring-shafts of a row of axes. Odysseus hears this, and waits.

The suitors demand Odysseus's great bow. None of them is strong enough to string it.

"Oh please, let me try," croaks the old beggar from his stool. The suitors laugh, tossing him the bow. He stands. He takes the bow and strings it with long-practiced hands. His arrow flies clean through the ring-shafts.

He nods to his loyal servant. "Lock the door." He turns to the suitors and casts off his tattered rags.

--STOP.-- The long buildup of pain, of indignity after indignity, the looming loss of his home and his wife and everything he's been striving to return to for twenty years: all of this hinges on this one moment, suspended like a note from a violin.

This is a story of revenge, of justice, of scalding rage and the white heat of righteousness.

He kills them all.

The story doesn't end there, of course: war looms; Athena intervenes; Odysseus takes Penelope to the bed he built so long ago.

But maybe one reason this speaks to us, thousands of years later, is that Odysseus does what many of us cannot: face his demons and destroy them.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Now, then!

Cue AC/DC (as if we all didn't have "Back in Black" running on a continuous loop inside our heads all the time anyway). I'm back!

And now that I am back I've received literally some e-mails asking where I have been and what manner of wondrous things I've been up to. Ready? Here we go.

I danced a surreptitious flamenco on a sun-flamed Barcelona beach. I extracted nineteen lark's tongues but lost the recipe for pie. I learned to carve life-sized effigies of myself and set up tea parties which I then proceeded to karate-kick. I gulped saltwater, choking, and burst through the surface into a sour sheen of spilled diesel.

I dotted yellowed vellum with spots of squid ink by candlelight. The pen came from a Denrovian eagle; the vellum from Basque lambs. The notes I scratched trailed across the page and became a symphony, a dirge, a jumprope chant, seventh-grade doggerel, a libretto, a haunt.

I built a church and prayed to a god who worked, and breathed, but knew not me.

I smacked a pan of water; I shook the roof with my rage; I burned a loaf of bread; I turned wood to fire, then to smoke, then to ash.

I saw cities of men, and empty skies, and the cold glittering stars. Squirrels chattered, jays fussed, the dark gnawing wet things gnashed and shrieked at the sound of wings in the air.

I punched an egg; romanced a wisp of cloud; watched the stars wheel. It turns, it all turns.

And now: I am back.