Archive for the 'Muses' Category


Friday, May 16th, 2003

The corollary of transhumanism might be misanthropy - or, in Magneto’s honor, misentomy, a word coined for the occasion of this blog entry to mean hatred of insects.

Khan is glorious in his superiority when he says, “Captain, although your abilities intrigue me, you are quite honestly inferior.” Khan is above hating the insects - even Magneto is, I suspect - but she who loves Khan might love him because she hates the average man.

This is, in fact, Rabble Rouser’s interpretation of Marla McGivers in Weeds - Marla doesn’t care much for her shipmates. That’s not how I see the cheerful Marla of the first half of “Space Seed” - she can love Khan without hating Kirk.

And so can I.

Oh, the Transhumanity!

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

This is yet another attempt to answer the question, “Why Khan?” See the previous two entries in the Muses category for the whole story. Minor spoilers for X-Men United.

So far I’ve been knocking down evil straw men, but here’s a relatively good theory of the attractiveness of the bad guy: transhumanism. Transhumanism is the hope for a more-than-human future through genetic engineering, cybernetics, uploading human consciousness to computers, and other science-fictional fantasies. It has been said that those who believe uploading is in our future generally predict it will be here by their 70th birthday.

The theory is, if you want to be transhuman yourself you might begin to identify with the evil transhumans of fiction rather than the boring human characters. My favorite bad guys - Khan, the Borg, Magneto - are certainly transhuman, but that’s not my reason for liking them.

For one thing, I don’t believe in transhumanism that way. I like to write about transhuman characters, but I don’t want to be Borg. I don’t believe I’ll be uploaded on my 70th birthday. I don’t think genetic engineering is a good idea even though it’s all over my original fiction.

More importantly for the Why Khan? question, I don’t care for all the transhuman characters, just the cool evil ones. Scott bored me to tears in both X-Men movies, and Storm, Jean, and Xavier weren’t far behind on the snooze scale. I just saw the movie two hours ago, and I wouldn’t have remembered Xavier’s name if I hadn’t come across it just now in an online review. As we were walking out of the Fenway 13, I was calling him Picard so Veronica and company would know who I was talking about.

I had no difficulty remembering Magneto’s name. In fact, I scared Veronica with my thing for Magneto - she even forgot that I still owe her for the ticket. Ten dollars is a small price to pay for the line, You are a god among insects.

I don’t love Khan for his transhumanity per se.

Sympathy for the Devil

Sunday, May 11th, 2003

Cool Boston site of the day: The Mapparium

Another possible explanation of fondness for the bad guy is…simple badness. Maybe the writer is evil and gets along best with evil characters. Alternately, maybe the topic is horror, so their works are populated with nasties who would give Stephen King nightmares.

This is not my attraction to Khan.

Stockholm Syndrome

Friday, May 9th, 2003

Khan showed up at the ASC Awards Dinner, collecting several of my awards for me (in VOY and Overall). He also made an appearance in TOS).

The title of this entry doesn’t refer to the lovely Seven story by nostalgia. Instead, it’s a possible answer to the question someone asked me, Why Khan? Why the bad guy? Why the Borg?

I’m not going to insult Marla McGivers with the suggestion that she suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, but a writer who is forced to spend endless hours inside the mind of a purported bad guy can come to feel sympathy for her personal devil, identify with him, and eventually give him all the good lines.

That’s not my excuse.

Put one word after another

Monday, November 11th, 2002

Word count: 18451

I’m taking a break at this word count because it means I’ve finally caught up. It’s not midnight on the West Coast yet by any means, but at the moment only 5% of NaNoWriters are officially caught up. I owe it all to the muse. When deprived of Internet access for an hour or two, she can really crank out the words. She’s written about 3,000 today, to make up for her inexcusable laziness and surfing yesterday. Actually, now that I count them, I think she wrote almost 3,000 words yesteday, too. Why did I feel so much more productive about it today?

Maybe I’ve stopped fighting and learned to love the technobabble. The title of this entry, Put one word after another, is one of the two pieces of advice from mystery author Julie Smith that came in my NaNo email today. The other one was, DON’T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN! Translated, they mean the only way to write is to write, and the only way to finish is to stop obsessing about quality—very NaNo advice. Yes, it’s the brute force approach to writing, and it’s working well for me despite my pro-muse prejudices. (I’ve been watching too much of The Forsyte Saga - pro-muse makes me think pro-Boer.) While doing some novel research earlier this weekend I stumbled across a quote about the muse; this is what got me muse-musing again:

But it is a fact that, in addition to memories from a long-distant conscious past, completely new thoughts and creative ideas can also present themselves from the unconscious–thoughts and ideas that have never been conscious before. They grow up from the dark depths of the mind like a lotus and form a most important part of the subliminal psyche.
We find this in everyday life, where dilemmas are sometimes solved by the most surprising new propositions; many artists, philosophers, and even scientists owe some of their best ideas to inspirations that appear suddenly from the unconscious. The ability to reach a rich vein of such material and to translate it effectively into philosophy , literature, music, or scientific discovery is one of the hallmarks of what is commonly called genius.
[…] The British author Robert Louis Stevenson had spent years looking for a story that would fit his “storong sense of man’s double being,” when the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was suddenly revealed to him in a dream. –Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols

Note that Jung said that, not me. I’m not claiming to be a genius - it’s all too likely my muse has hit on a vein of fool’s gold. I’m just trying to make a meaningful distinction between which of today’s 3,000 words the muse wrote (the inspiration) and which ones I wrote (the perspiration). One thing that makes it hard to diffentiate is the out-of-nowhere quality of all creative thought. Even if you’re piecing together your latest romance novel out of selections from the Cliche Thesaurus, the arrangement is probably still original. So perhaps the question is how original?

I’ll take an example from yesterday rather than today, because it illustrates my point. I was writing a nondescript party scene, in which my main character was chatting with a minor character who just popped out of nowhere the last time I wrote a nondescript social scene. Both characters are refugees from somewhere else, and they were catching up with one another when suddenly, Minor Character pulled something out of his ear! I had no idea he was going to do that. Main Character was extremely interested in the technology behind the little microphone from Minor Character’s ear because he used to make similar devices Back Home. (I blew up Home in the first scene. That was fun.) It turned out that the Ear Device was created by an entirely new female character. And look, there she was on the other side of the room, ready to provide a needed love interest for Main Character. I had no clue, until the ear incident, how I was ever going to get Main Character involved in this new society.

So of the approximately 800 words in the party scene, I would say most were written by me, but at the point where Minor Character pulls Ear Device out of his ear and brings together even more threads of my plot than mentioned above, that part was the muse. I went on to finish the scene with a nondescript introduction of Main Character to Female Character.

To put it too briefly, the muse has been responsible for the plot of my novel, because she’s good at pulling threads together. I didn’t outline beforehand; in fact, I didn’t even come up with the subject of the novel until the week before. Up until then I had been considering several other ideas from my sci-fi universe’s timeline (two of them children’s stories), and even a disaster novel I’ve wanted to write for a long time. This was the only idea that came together, and it came together from several directions, including, oddly enough, a conversation with a coworker about an old mainstream novel she’d read.

I don’t mean to imply that the muse can’t write prose - she can. She’s written some lovely sentences in her day. Muse-prose is the sort of stuff that echoes the themes of the novel, and at only 18,000 words there isn’t much to echo yet.

Some NaNites have claimed that they’ve spent the first 20,000 words on character development and still don’t have a plot. I’m afraid I may also have this problem. I have mostly dialogue and flashbacks so far, and the character development is almost done. I think of it as my main plot all being there, but it’s more of a thematic direction than a logical sequence - there’s definitely not enough action. Aside from Ear Device, which just appeared yesterday, I have no subplots. I need to get at least one subplot in before I reach the end of the main plot, because subplots have to tie in to the main plot at the end.

I know what Julie Smith would say - stop thinking and get back to writing.

Myth Number One

Tuesday, October 1st, 2002

Seema debunks
myth #1:
There is no such thing as a born writer.

I’d like to join Seema in debunking this myth, though I believe the myth goes
the other way. How many times have I heard that all writers started out as bad
writers, that everyone has badfic in their closet, that any writer can improve
herself, that any writer, if she works hard enough, can grow up to be
Penny Proctor?

I just don’t buy it. Yes, it’s the American Dream, fandom style - anybody
can grow up to be President, or a doctor, or a millionaire. It’s a myth. Perhaps
it’s an important cultural myth of fandom without which our society would decay
into an on-line equivalent of lynch mobs and looters. Maybe without this myth
young fans could never be convinced to spellcheck and get a beta. Yet it’s just
more meta-fanfiction, just like “there is a D/7 fandom” or
Resolutions was a great episode.” Myth, all of it.

I’ve seen a few examples of closet badfic from writers who claim to
Know Better Now™, and to tell the truth, they weren’t all that bad.
Ninety percent of
fanfic on is worse than the worst My Past Life As A
Badficcer™ fic I’ve
seen. Nor is FFN the only bit of evidence that Myth #1 is a myth. When I
consider the writers I’ve read since we all started, I don’t see a
significant improvement in their writing.

What I do see in both myself and most writers I enjoy is
fluctuation. You have good days and bad days, cheezy fics and award-winners.
Or if you have a muse, the muse comes and the muse goes. Even LMB
has astounding novels and merely superior novels, not necessarily in any order.
[The following sudden
transition is in no way a comparison of myself to LMB.] I wrote my most
popular fic almost two years ago, when I’d been writing for exactly six months.
Have I been steadily getting worse since then? I hope not. I’ve
spend a lot of time over some stories, and others I’ve tossed off quickly,
but that also fails to correlate with quality in any way I can see.

It’s not only good writers I fail to see improving - the bad ones don’t seem
to be getting any better, either. How many of us can honestly say we give a bad
writer a second chance, say, a year later, because by then they will have
improved? And yet, I doubt the problem is that bad writers have decided not
to improve themselves. I prefer to think they’re giving it their best effort,
writing what they think is a good sort of fic. A lot of the issue is taste, not
skill, and taste is not something that necessarily improves with
Hard Work™.

Do you still believe your fic is getting better and better every day? One
possible explanation for the myth is that the improvement a writer sees in
herself has little to do with what an average reader uses to judge fic. For
instance, J/C fans who read my first J/C fic and my last one would hardly notice
that I couldn’t write B’Elanna or Tuvok when I started, but I could later on. They
would just think B’Elanna didn’t have a big role in my first fic. Or, writers who
feel they’ve improved by broadening their horizons into slash or smut haven’t
improved in the eyes of their slash or smut fans, because those fans never
knew the writer before she entered that subgenre. In any event, diversification
is not what comes to mind when the finger wags about Working Hard.

One’s faults in the area of grammar and spelling should be
covered up by a good beta reader - so while the author may know that she’s
finally mastered the difference between their, they’re and there, the reader
may never notice. Only the beta benefits.

But I’m beating around the bush. The truth is, I believe there is such a thing
as a born writer. I believe if the story just comes to you out of nowhere, you’re
a born writer. I believe if you read too much Jane Austen and start thinking
in Regency English, you have the ear of a born writer.
I believe, given a better secondary education than is usually displayed
on FFN, a born writer can write pretty good fanfic without any preliminary
Suffering For Her Art or Working Hard to Improve Herself.

I’m not saying that an Unborn Writer can’t strive to improve herself
and become a better writer. I’m sure it happens sometimes.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be Hard Work for everyone.
If people had warned me ahead of time that it took
hard work to write fan fiction, that the first stuff I wrote would be horrid, and that
maybe someday, in a few years, I would be Vastly Improved, I probably would
have run screaming the other way. I need another job like I need another
fandom. Fortunately, at the time I didn’t know
anyone who Knew Better™, so I just started typing away.

Maybe I enjoy writing too much to think of it as work.
Everyone sounds so…matronly to me when they wag their fingers and say
there’s no easy way. I won’t wag back saying there’s
no hard way
. I won’t even fake an Italian accent and say we
can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way…

I will, however, say the muse made it all seem so easy.

Terrible Twos

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002

I’m two years old this month, and in response to yet another poll on
Zendom I wrote up my thoughts on my first fanfic (by start date rather than

Title: Marriage
is Irrelevant

Author: Jemima
Series: VOY
Date: July-September 2000

This was my first fanfic, and also my first work of fiction.
I was pushed over the edge after a few weeks of heavy reading of the
Janeway/Chakotay Story Index, specifically when I read a story in which
Janeway gets amnesia and forgets she’s married to Chakotay. I thought
the more interesting question was how they’d gotten married in the first
place - I came to the conclusion that it must have required serious
professional help. Or rather, the muse came to the conclusion and
pestered me with the story for days before I started typing it up for her.

This story was 100k long, with a focus on the alien professionals and Tom
Paris, universal narrator and screw-up, and a certain weakness in the areas
of B’Elanna and Tuvok which it took me quite a while to get over. You can tell
from the title that my interest in Seven of Nine goes back to the very beginning. A few other common factors from my writing, such as short stories about aliens embedded in the longer story and, of course, marriage, also made their debut in this fic.

It took me about three months to write the thing, starting exactly two years
ago. I could finish a story of that length more quickly now. I had no clue
what I was doing and I suffered from perfectionism, so I worked over the
story until I practically knew it by heart. I’m sure it suffers from wandering
POV, since I was still wandering a year and half later when I wrote my first
Buffy fic.

MII is one of my favorites among what I’ve written - I’m not
ashamed of it, but then I never posted it to ASC. I wrote other stories
while this one was in progress and posted those to ASC (one won an award);
it wasn’t my writing
I was reluctant to let out, but the sappy theme deterred me. I try to restrict
the sap to fora where it’s welcome.

Care and Feeding of the Muse

Tuesday, May 28th, 2002

It was a productive weekend all around. The muse spent more time than I would have wanted on the Spuffyfic - not that I object to fanfic, but the issue of what to do with a human Spike has already stopped the fic in its tracks. I could have told her that would happen.

The Wrong Novel got a bit more done to it, and another stray short story is actually shaping up on the storiness front - it doesn’t sound like much, but the word counts were surprising whenever I did them. The Seven Saga, on the other hand, was a complete non-starter. Chapter one has made no progress towards storiness.

I chalk it all up to muse fodder - she can’t ignore a dramatic scene of a demon turning Spike into a human (no, not an ensouled vamp, a human), no matter how problematic the de-Spiking of Spike will be for the fic she’s tossing at me. On the other hand, she can’t write VOY when there is no VOY to watch, no matter how many high-flown plans for Seven of Nine we had once, the muse and I. The muse needs inspiration. She needs fic to toy with and rethink and do slightly differently, or just to see what hasn’t been done so she can give it a try herself.

I could make up for the lack of screen VOY inspiration with fanfic VOY, if I had the time, but it’s not like I’m overlooking a flood of current VOY in ASC. I’d have to go back to reading the J/C Index or Trekiverse from before my time in order to find NEW2JEMI fic. I could make a public pronouncement that I’m giving up fanfic altogether - I hear that’s a good way get a flagging muse back into production - but I’m not desperate enough to use reverse psychology on her, yet.

Big Name Poets

Sunday, May 26th, 2002

I promised some extracts from Shelley’s Defense of Poetry, so before I start on today’s storifying I’ll cut and paste them here.

First, that any of this might apply to us lowly, non-rhyming storytellers:

§50 The distinction between poets and prose-writers is a vulgar error.

The bit where he implies poets are bigger than Christ:

§40 The fame of legislators and founders of religions, so long as their institutions last, alone seems to exceed that of poets in the restricted sense: but it can scarcely be a question whether if we deduct the celebrity which their flattery of the gross opinions of the vulgar usually conciliates, together with that which belonged to them in their higher character of poets any excess will remain.

His argument against realism and for romance:

§62 Time, which destroys the beauty and the use of the story of particular facts, stript of the poetry which should invest them, augments that of Poetry and forever developes new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains. §63 Hence epitomes have been called the moths of just history; they eat out the poetry of it. §64 A story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful: Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

On the transparency of ulterior motives, and their deleterious effect upon the work:

§121 But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama sympathizes with that decay. §122 Tragedy becomes a cold imitation of the form of the great master-pieces of antiquity, divested of all harmonious accompaniment of the kindred arts; and often the very form misunderstood: or a weak attempt to teach certain doctrines, which the writer considers as moral truths; and which are usually no more than specious flatteries of some gross vice or weakness with which the author in common with his auditors are infected. […] §124 To such purposes Poetry cannot be made subservient. Poetry is a sword of lightning ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it. §125 And thus we observe that all dramatic writings of this nature are unimaginative in a singular degree; they affect sentiment and passion: which divested of imagination are other names for caprice and appetite. […] §129 Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, becomes, from the very veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting: it is a monster for which the corruption of society for ever brings forth new food; which it devours in secret.

On the inspiration of the muse, and the unfortunate necessity of filling in the gaps she leaves behind:

§283 Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will. §284 A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry.” §285 The greatest poet even cannot say it: for the mind in creation is as a fading coal which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our natures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and grace, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet. §286 I appeal to the greatest Poets of the present day, whether it be not an error to assert that the greatest passages of poetry are produced by labour and study. §287 The toil and the delay recommended by critics can be justly interpreted to mean no more than a careful observation of the inspired moments and an artificial connection of the spaces between their suggestions by the intertexture of conventional expressions; a necessity only imposed by a limitedness of the poetical faculty itself. §288 For Milton conceived the Paradise Lost as a whole before he executed it in portions. §289 We have his own authority also for the Muse having “dictated” to him “the unpremeditated song.” [Milton, Paradise Lost] §290 And let this be an answer to those who would alledge the fifty six various readings of the first line of the Orlando Furioso. §291 Compositions so produced are to poetry what mosaic is to painting. §292 This instinct and intuition of the poetical faculty is still more observable in the plastic and pictorial arts: a great statue or picture grows under the power of the artist as a child in the mother’s womb, and the very mind which directs the hands in formation is incapable of accounting to itself for the origin, the gradations, or the media of the process.

Reiterating the nature of the muse:

§319 Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from logic that it is not subject to the controul of the active powers of the mind, and that its birth and recurrence has no necessary connexion with consciousness or will.

Note that I didn’t say any of the above; Shelley said it. These extracts from the Big Name Poet are merely intended to show that neither what I have said about the muse, nor what I haven’t said but has nevertheless been attributed to me, is new. These are things people have been saying about writing ever since Plato, and saying Shelley was full of himself is no argument against his experience of the muse.

I, for one, would be better off with an ego like Shelley’s; I’d certainly write more if I believed more in my writing. On the other hand I’d probably edit less, so, tempting as it is, I won’t go on that ego trip some seem to think I’m already on. I’ll just lay out some chocolate to tempt the muse and get back to writing.

More of Everything

Thursday, May 23rd, 2002

The title is an old feedback-request from Christine, which could apply to almost anything I’ve written. I agreed with her, of course: I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to make people care about characters and worlds is filler, filler, filler. My fingers hurt just thinking about it. Brevity is the soul of my muse, unfortunately, which means the filler gets left to yours truly.

On the Lori trail again, I renewed my passport recently. I had to bring it into work to prove I was legal (to work, not to drink), and only then did I notice it had expired. (For those of you keeping track, yes I have been working for this company for six months already. Don’t tell the feds.) It was a questionable matter, as I assembled bits of the passport application to mail in, whether I would end up wearing the same clothes in my new picture as in the old one. I’m pretty sure I pulled that off with a license once, but not this time with the passport. I’ll give it another shot in 2012.

I didn’t know that my thrift-shop fashion sense, my mind-like-a-steel-sieve time sense and my Nazarite hairstyle were I-N things. There goes another bit of me, pegged, labelled and catalogued. What was that quote about psychology robbing us of of our individuality? Please Misunderstand Me…

Back to blogness: a few entries back (Kept Muse) I said something vague about the cohesion between Beginning and End. I’ve come up with an even fuzzier term for it: storiness. The essential storiness of a story isn’t much easier to pin down now that I have this highly technical term for it. Of course, in all matters my first thought is plot, but other things can hold a story together: theme, mood and style can all establish storiness in the shortest of stories. Longer stories need some plot, too, but plot is not enough to distinguish a story from a loose collection of notes. There has to be…more of everything.