Jan. 31st, 2017

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If you need proof that my numbering for these notebooks is more what you might call guidelines than actual rules, look no further than this volume.

Our last installment was largely devoted to the spring of my junior year, with a brief retro-foray into my sophomore spring in the last few pages (where I was pondering which field school to attend and writing part of Doppelganger). This notebook, which theoretically follows in in sequence, opens with me as a sophomore again, dwells for a while on my actual time at Cas Hen, skips off my junior year like a rock off a pond, and then lands firmly in my senior year for a good half the notebook before wrapping up in the final pages with me settling into Bloomington the summer between college and grad school — except that the back has the nigh-obligatory couple random pages of text from Doppelganger (seriously, how many notebooks did I spread that across?) and page after page of Japanese vocabulary practice, which could date to any point between my freshman year of college and my third year of grad school.

Like I said. Guidelines, not actual rules.

Anyway, this bounces back and forth between NPC stats for the Japan-based Vampire game I never ran on the recto side of pages with Irish verb conjugations on the verso before getting to quite an assortment of writing stuff. The notes for Sunlight and Storm must be very early; I hadn’t named any of the characters yet, just referring to them as “the protagonist” and “flighty” and “Mrs. Dull.” (Who actually isn’t dull, but that’s how the protagonist first sees her.) Then, after a page of semi-outline for Doppelganger and a page of me conjugating laudare for no reason I can recall, I’m at Cas Hen!

I think my field school notes started when we were in Ireland for the middle two weeks of six, because the earliest stuff is about graveyards, and we spent a lot of our time in Ireland taking rubbings of old headstones and so forth. That and survey work: if I need to remind myself on the differences between resistivity, magnetic susceptibility, and magnetometry, now I can. Also phosphorous testing, which I’m pretty sure is how we snapped the handle on the auger before somebody got around to admitting we had totally the wrong kind of auger for the job and that’s why it never worked for beans even when it was intact.

Random line, reigning in solitary glory on the back of a page, I think said by one of my friends at the field school: “The reincarnation of Jack the Ripper is the son of Zeus.” No, I have no idea what we were talking about to wind up with a line like that. I don’t think it was meant seriously.

Some of this is actually kind of interesting, and I can only assume I got it from someone at Cas Hen, given its placement in the notebook. I have a page describing the tools a blacksmith uses: not just the obvious things like hammer and anvil, but also bosh, mandrel, swage block, drifts, sets, fullers, hardies, and the difference between cold chisels and hot chisels. Also the parts of an anvil, and the detail that the block it sits on is usually elm? And then another page of the different heats you bring a metal to (warm, black, dull red, bright red, bright yellow, light welding, full welding) and the techniques you use on it (drawing out, upsetting, bending, hot cutting, punching and drifting, welding, hardening, tempering, annealing, normalizing, case hardening). The next page talks about the right build for a workhorse versus a warhorse vs a horse for endurance riding; for all I know, I got that from one of my field school friends, who knew a lot about horses. I don’t think it’s really worth photocopying these before I send the notebook off, because I could get that info in much greater detail from a book if I ever need it for some reason, but it’s still quite nifty.

Then piles of notes for my final paper, about how the site of Cas Hen gets presented to the public through signboards, reconstructions, pamphlets, and shop displays. Unlike most of my classmates, I actually have the paper itself, too, because I went to the trouble of hauling my laptop to the back end of nowhere and running it off the electricity in the finds tent. I had to write my final draft by hand, which was annoying, but at least I was able to compose the paper digitally. I’ve preferred to write on a computer ever since I was nine.

Back to writing! There was a thing I was doing freshman year, that must have continued for longer than I recalled, where I was writing folktales and bits of pseudo-history as worldbuilding for the Nine Lands. I have one of them in here, about an incident in the political history of Tir Diamh. (In verifying that, I also discovered that what I thought was me trying to write poetry for poetry’s sake was actually an attempt at the satire that gets mentioned in one of the other bits of Diamhair history. It seems I used June Tabor’s “Aqaba” as my source for its melody and scansion.) Did that plant the seeds for something that shows up near the end of the notebook? I have there something of an outline for the early part of a novel I still haven’t written; whether I will or not, who knows. Then more Doppelganger bits, including the earliest evidence I’ve yet come across of what eventually became Dancing the Warrior, eleven years later.

Junior year is represented by me trying to work out floor plans for our dorm suite and about four pages of class notes for three different classes, before the next page declares HIEROGLYPHICS! in very large excited letters. Which means it’s now my senior spring, when I took a class on Egyptology. But wherever the first half of that semester is, it isn’t here, because the hieroglyphic bits are followed by my first trip to Japan, during spring break: thoughts on which places I might visit (I hit rather a lot of them, though didn’t make it to Sanjuusangendou, Arashiyama, or Fushimi Inari until a later trip), an attempt at a daily journal that died four days in. (Half in Japanese, half in English, of course.)

“Since I work on stories instead of taking notes anyway, I might as well use a story notebook.” Is that what this is? And here I thought it was a nonsensical hodgepodge of random crap. But while I may have been ignoring the professor in my Aegean Bronze Age archaeology class, I do wind up having actual Egyptology notes soon after that. Interspersed with bits from my push to write a bunch of short stories before I graduated, so I could send them in to what was then the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing; it’s now the Dell Magazines Award for same, and it was my first monetary success with my writing. Of the six stories I wrote in those two months, “Calling into Silence,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “A Thousand Souls” wound up being published; the other three are currently trunked. But trying to brainstorm story ideas from folklore gave me my first notion of writing a short story based on “Tom O’Bedlam,” so while I can’t really say that I had the idea for “Mad Maudlin” in college, I did have the ancestor of the idea for it.

Unexpected treasure: notes from the Shadowrun game a friend of mine ran. It was, for a long time, the only campaign I played in that actually reached a conclusion — because it was planned from the start to be something like six sessions. People who know Shadowrun are invited to beat their heads into their desks when they hear that our party consisted of three physical adepts and a shaman. <g> Our GM was kind and tailored the game so we didn’t need a decker or a rigger or, y’know, any of the things that are normally core to a Shadowrun campaign. (One of our phys ads practiced . . . aikido? Some martial art that meant he had a penalty if he initiated violence. He was also built like a tank, so we generally stuck him in front as our meat shield, let the bad guys attack him, and then went to town once he started fighting back.) But really, our weird-ass party composition fit the plot, which turned out to be a modern-day sequel to the old wuxia film The Bride with White Hair. Sadly, the notes here cut off before the end of the campaign. I hope they turn out to be in another notebook, because I remember the conclusion wound up being very bittersweet: we had to decide which of several factions (the Bride, her lover, some triad group, I forget who else) to give the magic flower to, and waffled back and forth so much, more people died than might otherwise have done. My comment afterward was “I think my character feels like they made a wrong decision . . . but she can’t tell which one it was.”

The last thing in here, before the logistical notes from me moving to Indiana for grad school, the Doppelganger bit, and the Japanese vocabulary, is from what I dubbed Old Project C a while ago. I’d laid it aside round about my freshman year, maybe sophomore; years later I picked it up again, in the hopes that the intervening time would have given me enough distance to be able to really reconceive it as I needed to. The answer was both yes and no: I was able to make major changes, but not to turn it into something successful. I got far enough, though, that I started trying to write new fiction in the setting, plots wholly unrelated to my previous attempts. And this one is especially noteworthy because it’s pretty much the only thing I wrote that entire summer: I was working for a contract archaeology lab, getting up way earlier than I was accustomed to, which meant I also had to go to bed way earlier than I was accustomed to.

This killed my creativity.

I knew I was a night owl, but I didn’t know how much. I won’t say that I’m incapable of writing in the daytime, but my most productive hours are after 10 p.m. Always have been. And the shifted schedule, combined with a mind-destroyingly tedious job, meant I got no writing done — except for the one night I decided to say “screw it” and stay up later than I should. I wrote a short story that night, the story I apparently started here in this notebook. So it’s a reminder that yeah, my work schedule is a choice . . . but not a random one.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’m starting to think there are two kinds of research — or rather, a spectrum with two ends. Quite possibly it’s a more multi-directional spectrum than that, but there are two ends that seem particularly applicable to my life.

The first kind is reading for facts. This is the type of research I did all the time for the Onyx Court books: I’m writing about a specific thing, and so I need to know stuff about it. What route did Elizabeth I’s coronation procession take? Where were the imprisoned members of Parliament held after Pride’s Purge? When did somebody calculate the moment of perihelion for Halley’s Comet in 1759? What actions were taken by Fenian terrorists in the later Victorian period? This extends to more general questions; a lot of my reading was to fill in broad topics along the lines of “what was life like in this period,” not because there was a specific detail I knew I needed, but because I needed a large mass of specific details to draw from in shaping my plot and laying out my scenes. And often one of those elements would suggest a new dimension to the story, so then I’m off down a new fact-reading rabbit hole; rinse and repeat until my deadline starts breathing down my neck and I have to quit adding to the pile.

The other kind of research is one I used to do all the time — but I didn’t really think of it as “research” back then. It was just, y’know, my life. I took an odd assortment of classes and read an odd assortment of books, and they all poured material into my head, and out of that came stories. This is reading for fodder, and I’m finally back to doing it, because I have several projects in the hopper that are all secondary-world, as opposed to urban fantasy (the Wilders series) or historical fantasy (Onyx Court) or what I think of as world-and-a-half (Memoirs of Lady Trent, halfway between historical and invented). It isn’t that I won’t wind up using specific details out of what I read; the difference is that in the end, I’m not actually writing about those things. Lately I’ve been reading a book on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, the Mahabharata, a book on the Sumerians, a bunch of Wikipedia articles on ancient Greek philosophy and society because I finished Jo Walton’s The Just City. Am I planning on writing anything set in Georgian England, Tokugawa Japan, ancient India, ancient Sumer, or ancient Greece? Not necessarily. But it’s all going into the mental compost heap, to intermix and break down and become fertile soil for ideas.

Some subconscious part of myself feels like I’m skiving off of work reading these things, because it’s been trained by nine books of historical or quasi-historical fiction to think the only real research is the kind done for facts. I need to do this, though, or else the worlds I invent will stay firmly in the box of “modified analogues,” places that can easily be mapped to single real-world origins. I need to throw a bunch of different things into my head at once, so that I come up with a society where there’s a deified emperor (a bit Roman, a bit Egyptian) and a caste system (a bit Indian) with a meritocratic way of changing your caste (a bit Chinese) and a clockpunky tech level (a bit Italian Renaissance) and so forth, without it being straightforwardly any of those things. If they wind up having an architecture a little bit like Tokugawa Japan or a schooling system like ancient Sumer, it will be because that happened to click into place, not because I had to use one of those societies for inspiration.

As I said at the beginning, these aren’t clearly divided types. “What was life like in this period” is closer to being a fodder-type question than “how rapidly did the plague take hold in 1665,” because it’s designed to help me come up with ideas for that specific period. And you’ll see the Mayan calendrical system with a minor fictional paint job showing up in Lightning in the Blood because years ago I read about it for fun and wound up incorporating it into a story more or less wholesale, complete with fiddly little details about Year-Bearers. But it helps me to remember that fodder-type reading is a form of research, and one that’s very necessary for my job.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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