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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finish Line

The first draft of my novel is done, clocking in at 95,452 words.

Hallelujah, free at last!

This is the novel formerly known as Resilience. It was called Resilience when someone named Siob (a half-million year old polymorphic Interpreter created by Maka of the Margin) was the main character.

Siob and I had a labor disagreement, resulting in a series of work stoppages and slowdowns, and then a final walkout in October 2009. After months of talks to try to resolve things, during which no progress was made on the book, and a summer break to write "The Guy Who Worked For Money", in October 2010 I fired Siob. (As you can see from the tag cloud above, Fift became the main character; as you can see from the previous tag cloud things were heading in that direction anyway, which was part of the grounds for the labor dispute. Although to be fair, Siob's narration was in first person and Fift's in third, so the old tag cloud massively understates Siob's presence).

The book was about 100,000 words long at that point, and Siob took 40,000 of them when Siob walked. (We are still in contact and I hope to arrive at a project more to Siob's liking at some point.)

Siob was fully revised out by November 15, 2010, at which point the book was 68,343 words long. After that I gradually accumulated momentum, allowing myself only to write 200-500 words a day (or an equivalent amount of cutting and revising), but trying to hit every single day. From April 10th to May 16th I missed only one day, for the Passover seder.

At this point I need to put the book aside for a while, and in a few months, when the story in my head is no longer totally in the way of seeing the story on the page, do another draft with the door closed, and then open it up to critiques.

In the meantime I'll be working on things that have been languishing -- sprucing up The Way to Go for submission, revising the nanotech-ocean-adventure middle-grade-reader that Paul Melko and I wrote a while back, and maybe a few short stories. Wheeee!

I will read from the just-completed book (whatever the heck it's called -- maybe "Unravelling"? Is that too depressing a title?) at Wiscon.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Roll a D6" vs "Like It's Quidditch"

From a debate about the relative merits of "Roll a D6" and "Like It's Quidditch" on Amal's blog.

In answer to my shocked query as to how she could prefer the latter parody, stephanieboland wrote: "Because a chorus with meaningless, filler babbling will always be trumped by the sweet poetic justice of clever lyrics."

My reply, which would not fit on LiveJournal, is as follows:

Hmm. This may be partly a Not My Fandom problem; I do not really grok HP, so many of the allusions are lost on me. In some abstract case I would agree that content-based lyrics trump filler; but in this case I think several things mitigate against that conclusion.

One is that both songs are parodies of "Like a G6" -- the meaningless filler babbling is part of the source text. In that sense "Roll a D6" is a tighter parody; it does, line for line, what "Like A G6" does, while transposing it into the geekverse; while "Like it's Quidditch" has a more muddy relationship to "Like A G6". On the one hand, for most of the song, it simply takes the original as a tune, which it feels up with entirely unrelated lyrics. But then some of the lyrics only seem to make sense in the context of "Like a G6" -- though, again, maybe my weak HP-fu betrays me.

But take the line "with these muggles all around me they be acting like they drunk." What is clever here? In the original, there's something mildly clever about the (misogynist and alchoholic) boast that the very presence of the singer disinhibits and interferes with the higher reasoning faculties of women -- here, objects of both desire and (subtextually) competition, loci of insecurity. How does this map to Muggles? Why would Muggles acting drunk be desirable, and what would it have to do with Pumpkin Juice cups?

I guess the cleverest thing is the chorus's connection of "feeling fly" with the literal flying of Quidditch, and thus with the G6, which is, of course, a plane. But that's the only point at which the song seems to take on "Like a G6" directly, and it's muddy enough that one almost wonders if it was an accident -- if Quidditch simply rhymed.

Quidditch after all is more than just flying; it's a competitive game, cutthroat as games go but safe relative to the rest of Harry and the gang's adventures, providing, in the books, moments of sportive tension which nonetheless act as a relief from the life-and-death predicaments of the ongoing, mostly off-campus battle with Voldemort. But the parodists don't do anything with any of that; they just namecheck Quidditch and move on. (Whereas, even if the über-dork commentors on YouTube will tell you it's not the correct die for a saving throw in 4th edition [which in itself is a wonderful piece of generative self-parody], the act of "rolling a d6" is a central image for what's going on artistically in "Roll a D6"; something which to an outsider is mundane and trivial, but upon which, in the imaginatively evoked life of the mind, your entire fate hangs).

So, the HP song seems like an assemblage of individually clever lines which are basically unrelated to each other, set to an unrelated song (or related only in the narrative context of "we are partying"), which the parody ignores except when it slavishly copies it.

In contrast, "Roll a D6" adheres strictly, in form, to "Like a G6", which is why much of its chorus is nonsensical "na na na na"'s and "Hell yeah's!" But, as I have argued, I think this is a consciously adopted creative constraint, not a failure of imagination. And within this form "Roll a D6" presents, as a whole, a unified and coherent narrative which functions both as a critique of "Like a G6", and an evocation of D&D culture specifically through the medium of parallels -- similarities and contrasts -- with the world of "Like a G6".

The purpose of the awkward opening encounter (see what Amal did thar!) is to ground us in the wider social context of D&D, and the main character's ambivalence. Her plans for the evening are dorkily embarassing. Seen from the outside, the emotional tone of the nerdish pastime she's planned is expected to be the opposite of the uninhibited bacchanal that the cool Asian posse in "Like A G6" will engage in that same evening. When we initially switch to the basement, the singer delivers the first lines in a downbeat, downcast cadence. This is no revel. She's stuck here with dorks. She's wasting her time. She wasn't invited to the party.

But then we cut to the LARPiverse and we see the inner lives of the players -- the lives of their characters. The contrast is striking -- in the imagined world, the same actors evoke wonder, majesty, beauty; they have presence and style. Suddenly the partying drunkards of the original song are the ones who look awkward, superficial, and ignorant of the deep sources of fun and abandon.

But of course, the singers of "Like a G6" might say, this aren't the geeks' real lives -- or how they really look -- this is only happening in their heads. But as we cut back to the basement and the gamers sitting at the table begin to rock out, head-banging and slugging down Coca-Cola, they make their reply: the life of the mind is real life. This is how we live.

Their geekish imitation of cool dancing, their "Hell Yeah's" and repetitions, are a conscious, knowing parody of the moves of "Like a G6"; but at some point they go beyond mere geek triumphalism to a kind of redemptive unification. It's not that what's happening in the basement is the opposite of what's happening at the club, whether denigrated or lionized; it's really the same urge, played out in a different way. They're making fun of the besotted partiers of "Like a G6" but they are also joining them. Playas or players, we're all one.

This contrast between self-knowing self-deprecation ("I'm a level 13 ranger, yeah I've been playing for a while..."; "all night eating Twizzlers") and celebration runs through the entire text, and gives it its bite.

I don't see anything similar in terms of narrative thread going on in "Like It's Quidditch". There's no moment of surprise or reversal equivalent to the moment where we drop into the LARPiverse of "Roll a D6". Instead, thematically, it looks like all "Like It's Quidditch" has to say is "we like Harry Potter; we are having a party; here are some allusions".

Don't get me wrong, I like the people in "Like It's Quidditch", it is a fun song, and superior to "Like a G6" in many ways (lyrical sophistication being one of them). But as a work -- particularly as a short film -- it's a hell of a lot slighter than "Roll a D6".

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