Archive for February, 2011

The Story Must End

February 23, 2011

This week I said “good-bye” to an old friend. That is, I read issue 56 of

A Few Favorites

InuYasha, the final installment in a manga I’ve been following since 2004.

(For those of you who might worry about such things, there will be no spoilers in this piece. Also, if you’re not familiar with anime and manga, I discussed these forms in “Animated Enthusiasm,” my wandering for 3-10-10).

I’d been familiar with Rumiko Takahashi’s work long before I encountered InuYasha. I’d enjoyed some of her Urusei Yatsura and become quite involved with Ranma ½, but both of these series suffered from the same problem. They simply wouldn’t end. I gave up on Urusei Yatsura, but stuck with Ranma ½ until the distinctly unsatisfactory ending of the anime (at least as released in this country) and the slightly better ending of the manga. But in both cases, Takahashi-sensei seemed unable or unwilling to wrap up the story.

No spoilers, but I will say she did a better job with InuYasha.

The problem of series that won’t end is one that plagues anime and manga, yet there are series that have managed to do it quite well – and often in far fewer installments than it took for InuYasha.

In manga, I recommend Fruits Basket in manga form. (I haven’t watched the anime, but apparently the English release didn’t include the full story). It’s well worth the twenty-three densely packed issues. I stress “densely packed.” This is an illustrated story that uses both visual and text to their fullest advantage.

In anime, I’ve enjoyed the noir fantasy/ horror series Witch Hunter Robin. This one is a good example of a story that ends satisfactorily while leaving the viewer with a sense that there’s a lot more to come. I would have been happy with another season, but would rather have it end here, on a strong note, than trickle out.

In fact, one of my greatest dissatisfactions with what otherwise might be my favorite anime/ manga, SaiYuki, is the lack of a solid ending. The manga and anime version diverge widely about mid-way. However, both just trickle to an end. In fact, the ending of the final episode of the anime SaiYuki is so fragmented as to seem padded. An effort to start the story again in SaiYuki Reloaded was so bad that I couldn’t get past two episodes. The characters seemed parodies of themselves, without the “heart” that had drawn me in to their story originally.

Lighter, but still good, are the anime series Sorcerer Hunters and Orphen. Sorcerer Hunters consists of one season with a very solid – and surprisingly gripping – conclusion. Orphen is actually two inter-related seasons. The first might be somewhat stronger, but the second (if you can get through the first half-dozen or so highly comic installments) becomes quite good. Both contrast broad humor and high tragedy in a fashion that is rarely attempted in American writing.

I can’t end this wander without mentioning one truly remarkable anime series, the excellent (and highly deceptive) Princess Tutu. In Princess Tutu, the theme of the series is revealed to be “the story must end.” And the story does, but not at all in the manner you might expect. In fact, even within a medium that often takes real gambles with storytelling formats, Princess Tutu might well be classified as an example of “post-modern” storytelling.

I began this by stating I said “good-bye” to an old friend. Oddly, I meant that. For the last eight years, InuYasha, Kagome, Sango, Miroku, Shippo, and the rest have been the subject of numerous conversations in our house. We’ve speculated on what they’ll do, how they’ll get out of this or that scrape, whether some event is an indication of Things To Come or a red herring.

We’ve been frustrated when Takahashi-sensei seemed to lose track, rejoiced when she began to find her way again. We’re going to miss those characters and the sense of being part of an unfolding story, but I still hold to my belief that, as much as I’d like a tale I’ve come to love to go on, to be solid and satisfying The Story Must End.

What do you think? Even if you’re not familiar with anime and manga, how about unending novel series?

Breaking Off, Coming Back

February 16, 2011

On Friday, I received the  news that a short story I wrote a

Unicorn and Dried Roses

 few weeks ago – “Hunting the Unicorn” – had been accepted for the Courts of the Fey anthology, edited by Russell Davis. (I don’t have a release date, yet, but when I do it will be posted to my website both as News and under “Other Works”).

As the titles of both story and anthology imply, “Hunting the Unicorn” is a fantasy piece. I’d had the invitation to submit to the anthology a while back, but for one reason or another, an idea simply wouldn’t jell.

(By the way, an invitation to an anthology is not a sure sale. It may have a slightly higher chance of acceptance than a cold submission but, if your story doesn’t work for the editor, rejection is quite possible. I’ve had it happen).

Especially when writing for a theme anthology, I do my best to make certain my contribution won’t be generic. Achieving that was my first challenge. Then there was the fact that, since I’ve been working on the Weber Project, my brain was in serious Science Fiction mode and this story needed to be Fantasy.

(Sorry. I still can’t talk about the details of the Weber Project, but I suspect the word will be out soon).

So the first thing I needed to do was separate at least part of my brain off and let it mull over things like: “Fantasy. Seely and Unseely Courts. Origin?” While continuing to write in futuristic settings, I started refreshing my familiarity with related folklore – never a great trial for me. I also looked at fantasy art, especially that of Brian Froud, Alan Lee, and the like – the people who are familiar enough with the source material to realize that the fey aren’t nice.

Making matters just a bit more complicated, the due date for my submission was right before I needed to go out to Arizona. I really didn’t want work hanging over my head and contaminating a much anticipated family visit.

Meanwhile, as if fighting for their place in my imagination, the characters and situations in the Weber Project were going along briskly. But the other started competing. Odd images floated in: dried rose buds, a black moon against a white sky. I scribbled them on a piece of paper and let them go.

The heart of any good story is conflict. From my research, I’d seen how the motif of a hunt recurs over and over again in legends about the fey. What is more a creature of Fantasy than a unicorn? Okay then. A unicorn hunt.

By Thursday, January 20, I realized I’d hit my self-imposed quota on the Weber Project and was even a bit ahead. I was also at a dramatic enough point I knew I could work my way back into the story with ease. I could feel the other story waiting. Friday, I got to work. The story caught fire. I worked both Saturday and Sunday (not my usual practice, but time was tight and the story “hot”). By Sunday when we left for our gaming date, I had a rough draft.

Monday, I polished what I had, printed a copy and handed it to Jim to proof. Tuesday night, Jim handed me the manuscript back with his comments. We also discussed the rather odd structure of the story and decided it worked. Wednesday, the twenty-sixth, I made final changes, sent the story off to Russell Davis, and then got back to work on the Weber Project.

Yep. From unicorn hunts to science fiction adventure in a day… I know some writers claim they can’t do it. I know there are times I find such transitions harder than others. However, this time the switch worked out well.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have related all of this… I know that some readers and critics seem to respect most of all those writers who hyperventilate and fuss and moan and complain. Those of us who manage to be productive must somehow care less about our “Art.”

That’s not how it is. I really love writing. I’m rarely happier than when stories are flowing and my fingers are flying.

As I tried to show above, writing steadily, sometimes on more than one project, is not easy. It takes energy. It takes knowledge, not only of writing-related techniques, but of source materials. Most importantly, it means never forgetting that I started writing because I loved telling stories a lot more than I loved almost any other way of spending my time.

Bitter Cold

February 9, 2011

Last week, the governor of New Mexico declared a state of emergency due to conditions created by a unexpected bout of extremely cold weather.

Three Cool Originals

Jim and I were luckier than many in that we never lost our heat. We did have pipes freeze, but since these were a relatively new type – they look more like garden hose than what I think of as “pipe” – we didn’t have any breakage.

We’d gone to Arizona over the previous weekend. On the drive out, without ever exceeding the speed limit, we’d made record time. Afterwards, we realized this was because there had not been a single segment of road under repair – a dubious benefit of the economic downturn.

The way home was another matter. Shortly before we crossed the New Mexico/ Arizona border, we encountered snow flurries. These didn’t trouble us. In fact, they gave us one of the prettiest images from the drive – a long train emerging car by car from the swirling snow.

By Gallup, we were having second thoughts. Snow was swirling around in all directions, including up from the pavement, causing almost total white-out conditions. When we’d stopped for lunch in Winslow, we’d still had a half-tank of gasoline, but now we really needed to get fuel.

At the gas station, we compared notes with other drivers. No one had any idea where this storm had come from, how far it extended, or if it was expected to quit soon. (Later, we’d learn it was one of those systems the meteorologists had underestimated). In any case, by the time we moved toward the highway again, the three or so inches of snow had vanished, leaving wet, shiny pavement.

New Mexico is known for unpredictable weather. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve stood on one side of the street in the sun and watched rain hit the pavement on the other side. So we figured this was just one of those freak storms and we’d drive out of it soon enough.

We couldn’t have been more wrong. Some two hundred miles of driving through intermittent blizzard later, we limped into our little street. We’d seen more smash-ups than I can recall – and I wondered how many we missed because there were times we could barely see the shoulder of the road.

A steel I-beam had dropped off a truck a few lengths in front of us. Only Jim’s attentiveness to a sudden deviation in the tail-lights of the vehicle in front of us (we couldn’t see the vehicle) kept us from hitting it. I’m sure there were pile-ups behind us.

In fact, only Jim’s absolute patience got us home intact. This was one of those really strange storms. Accumulation wasn’t great, but the wind kept everything that had fallen in constant motion. We kept on the right and drove slowly. Over and over again, vehicles whose drivers apparently thought black pavement was “safe” blew by us on the left, coating us with snow. Several times, we saw one of those vehicles on the shoulder further ahead.

Why didn’t we stop for the night? First, there really aren’t that many places to stop. Once you leave Gallup, you travel through relatively empty country until Grants. Don’t be deceived by place names on maps. Many of these indicate areas that don’t even have a gas station. Second, a few times we couldn’t even see the exits.

When I said above that we “limped” into our street, I meant it. We turned the corner and were greeted with a horrible grinding sound. Stopping the car and getting out, we discovered a large chuck of compacted ice and snow had dropped from the under-carriage and was wedged between the tire and the frame. Almost a week would pass before the car stopped calving chunks of dirty ice.

Why? Because we came home in blizzard to arctic temperatures. Wednesday was simply freezing. Thursday, temperatures dropped to zero at night, not rising above freezing during the day. Our little pond in the backyard turned into an ice sculpture.

By Saturday, temperatures finally rose above freezing for more than a short period of time. However, I’ll admit, we didn’t feel very ambitious. I’d planned to start seeds indoors for pepper plants, but seeing that they only germinate when the soil is fairly warm, I put that off. I wasn’t certain the seed tray would stay above seventy even in the sun.

So we decided to run necessary errands and otherwise stay close to home. Our friends Sue and Hilary Estel came over. I made brownies and coffee and the four of us played with our huge box of mixed Legos, escaping from winter cold and grey into bright colors and exotic images.

The picture above shows the clever designs Jim (the vehicle), Hilary (the space-age bar) and Sue (the space-port in white) made. Sometimes it’s nice to be forced to slow down – but I’ll admit, I prefer to do so at home rather than creeping along on the highway.

Just Over A Year

February 2, 2011

The other day it hit me. I’ve been writing “Wednesday Wanderings” for just

Desk Detritus

 over a year.

My first full-sized entry went up on January 20, 2010 and was about a production of Twelfth Night I’d gone to see with some friends. (That reminds me. One of these fine days I really should write my re-interpretation/ sequel to that play).

Since then I’ve wandered about everything from my garden in its evolving stages, to various trips we’ve taken both around New Mexico and elsewhere, to some non-writerly activities I enjoy like beading and gaming. I’ve even written about a trip to the dump.

On my desk rests a card given to me by an artist friend. It reads: “You cannot achieve the Impossible/ Unless you attempt the Absurd.” This saying fits a lot of aspects of my life – I mean, I do attempt to make a living as a full-time fiction writer – but it applies especially strongly to “Wednesday Wanderings.”

My life is not exciting. I write books and stories. I garden. I read. I hike. But somehow I’ve managed over fifty-two entries in this series… Impossible! Absurd!

It has been said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” One thing writing “Wednesday Wanderings” has done for me is make me examine my life.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an anime fan. (See “Animated Enthusiasm,” March 10, 2010 if you’re interested in a little more). A Japanese phrase I’ve learned from this hobby is “yokatta.” Subtitles translate it alternately as “I’m so glad” or “I’m so grateful” or, less frequently, “I’m so relieved.”

I asked my friend Cale, who is currently teaching in Japan, what is the closest translation. After breaking “yokatta” down into parts and explaining the grammar (I actually like this sort of thing), Cale said that the precise meaning is fluid, meant to be defined by context.

Therefore, to those of you who have been reading “Wednesday Wanderings” – whether weekly or sporadically, whether you are among the “stealth readers” or the talkative ones who offer opinions – I would like to say “Yokatta.”

I am so glad. And grateful. And maybe <grin> just a bit relieved that you keep coming back around!