about a week ago i was up at Fogcon, though sadly not for all three days. but the theme was “secret history,” which is in fact my Main Thing these days, so to hear people like Tim Powers talk about their research and plotting processes was fascinating.
equally fascinating, though nowhere near as much fun, was a panel that styled itself “straight talk” about publishing. it was quite straight, some of the best first-hand info i’ve gotten in a while . . . the numbers, sadly, were a bit of a downer, as was all the myriad things that could happen after your book is published. i’m thinking (hoping?) that the instant exhaustion i feel whenever someone says: “you can always write a different novel to get a foot in the door/build audience/boost a sagging series” is a byproduct of having a day job and constantly worrying about talassio. this too will pass, yes? yes??
but i feel grateful to Cassie Alexander especially for being completely open and blunt about all the twists and turns of her journey.
the one thing i did not get to which i had hoped to, but it was So So Late in the day (i think it started at 9:30? while i had BART to navigate home, cats to feed, work to do still) was the panel on sexual assault. the wonderful Kaylia Metcalfe took notes which i am very thankful for.
and i was thinking about that panel again—that is, i was thinking about defaults, and wondering if perhaps some aspects of womens’ lives have been so poorly written so many times that now our instinct is to shy away, rather than risk playing into that default?—i was thinking about all that yet again (i think about it a lot) because the mister rediscovered a piece of his british youth: Play for Today. an old bbc series that did one-off adaptations. it is probably most famous for being the start of Rumpole of the Bailey, but it has on its rolls a slew of well-known writers, directors, and actors.
so anyway. we were watching one called “Red Shift,” an adaptation of Alan Garner’s novel, a clever story about three parallel lives at different points in history: perhaps the MC in various reincarnations, perhaps just a type born of a specific place . . . it could be read many different ways. but what bothered me was the depiction of women, especially Jan. one of the motifs, if you will, that tie the three sections together is the woman having sex with a man other than the MC, and always in a state of some emotional/physical duress. it felt flat, a device and nothing more; and especially in the modern time the way Jan’s explanation was written made her desires and anxieties seem very trite. i believe Garner wrote the script, and i can well see the difficulty of trying to compact a novel into such a tight narrative space, but all i kept thinking was that the whole damn thing was written by a man to explore some ideas and the characters overall were nothing more than mechanisms to reinforce the repetition and parallels he was fitting into the story. our emotional focus was Tom; everything else seemed built not to parallel his experience but to echo and elaborate on it—including the women’s assaults.
now one could make the argument of “that’s how it was” here, because history is nasty and violent and so on, and one of Garner’s points may be that we’ve merely transmuted physical violence into emotional violence by the time we reach the present day. but these are also choices, deliberate authorial choices as to how to make his point. to my mind, this is a story that has two main characters, but chooses to unfold as if it has one. my hope is that the novel gives the female main character as much subjectivity as the male MC, and spends as much time exploring how she is repeatedly born out of this land, echoed through time, etc.