Welcome, after another long hiatus, to Rumor Control once again. Here are the facts of what stories I'm working on in 2023.
Welcome to Rumor Control once again. Here are the facts.
These are the projects I'm now currently working on. Some have more definite dates or progress indicators than others. Other projects I mentioned in the past aren't off the list entirely; these are just the ones currently getting the most time, attention, and mojo.
Take any two projects that seem like they could be the same, and there's a good chance under the skin they're nothing alike.
The title of this post (and I do love it) comes from a conversation I've been having with a close friend about a collaborative project that uses a certain setting. But I've also been mulling another project, a markedly different one in tone and intentions, that also uses (sorta-kinda) A Certain Setting. My friend deduced from this that we might want to shelve the collab for now, since I was getting pretty fired up about this other thing, as one does when a new toy falls into one's lap. But I said, no no, let's keep the collab idea close at hand. The two may have some similarities, but they aren't in competition. "A steak sandwich yesterday isn't competition for meatloaf today," is how I put it.
I hate all the bookkeeping that goes with writing a story, but I know I can't avoid it.
You would think after all the go-rounds I've had on this particular go-round, I would know better, but I don't.
See, I hate all the bookkeeping that goes with writing a story. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I hate making sheets for characters. I hate writing plot outlines. I hate keeping track of locations and the mechanics of things. I also know if I don't do those things, I'm ultra-screwed.
Michelangelo Antonioni's classic of mod London gives us a man who spends his life looking without really seeing.
The harder you look at some things, the faster they fall apart. Blow-Up is about a photographer, a jaded and blasé fellow surrounded by people as jaded and blasé as he, who finds one thing in his life worth looking at. And he stares at it, and stares at it, until it and everything else around him disintegrates. His world was never meant to hold up to that kind of scrutiny.
We have no idea at first what Thomas (David Hemmings), the protagonist of Blow-Up, is up to. He emerges, bleary and unshaven and in wrinkled clothes, from a flop-house, trailed by dozens of other tramps. Then he rounds a corner, does a double-take to make sure no one's looking, climbs into a convertible Rolls-Royce, and drives off. This is in fact his car; he's a hot young photographer who spent the night sleeping with the homeless to surreptitiously snap photos for a book project. He arrives at his studio, still unkempt, for a morning shoot with a model (Verushka). In his eyes, it's her problem if she had to wait, or if she's bothered by his ratty condition. Same with the girls he shoots later for a fashion splash, whom he grouses at and orders about like they're undisciplined kids on a picnic. Same with the models who cold-call him at his office, and whom he cold-shoulders in return.
Terry Gilliam's paranoid time-travel labyrinth is less an SF film than a story of the fear of madness, but no less powerful for it
I enjoy movies that are designed like puzzles, although most of the time the fun evaporates once the puzzle's solved. 12 Monkeys is like one of those puzzles that actually doesn't have a solution — it's there mostly to see how long you bother to try and solve it. Like Predestination, it uses a time-travel paradox as a central plot element, if only to first give hope to both its characters and the audience, and then to cruelly yank it away. But the sheer anarchic vigor of the whole thing, courtesy director Terry Gilliam, kept me interested all the way through. Yes, even when I suspected the movie had a false bottom, with nothing underneath.
12 Monkeys opens in the year 2035, some forty years after a virus killed most of the human race and left the survivors to fend for themselves in grotty underground warrens. Cole (Bruce Willis) lives in one of these dungeons as a prisoner, where he's sent out to the surface in a hazmat suit to collect specimens. He's been chosen by the scientists who run the place to go back in time and try to find more information about the virus. If he's good, he might get a reduction in his sentence, assuming the trip doesn't kill him outright.
"An original message is a unique and transformative perception of the conditions for our existence."
Stanley Kubrick once said in an interview (around the time he made Paths Of Glory) that the best screenwriter he knew of at the time was Tennessee Williams. The man had great command of dramatic structure, but Kubrick was unhappy with the way Williams seemed to be using this power to say little more than how ugly life was — and that whatever power such a message had (inasmuch as it could be called a message to begin with) lost force by dint of repetition.
What makes for an original message? After reading the interview, I sat down and free-wrote on the idea, and at some point out came this sentence: "An original message is a unique and transformative perception of the conditions for our existence." It's when someone has something new to say about the situation we're in — and it's new because it gets us to look at everything in a constructive new way, not just because it's phrased differently.
Science fiction and fantasy are like any other fictional mode: they're only as good as the presumptions brought to them.
Science fiction and fantasy are like any other fictional mode: they're only as good as the presumptions brought to them. If you presume too much, or presume the wrong things, they don't work as interrogations of all the things we unthinkingly live with (or die from). Here are some recent examples from my own notes:
You never get the whole story in your head at once. Except maybe when you think you do.
It's a concept I know I've talked about before, although I never gave it a label: the idea that a writer has to get the entire idea for a story in their head, like a hologram, and then write it down as if taking inner dictation. It's a falsehood that I mercifully don't encounter much more these days, although when I do I try to knock it down. It's also a conceit I find myself still succumbing to every now and then, because it has another incarnation I'm still investing with perhaps more credence than it deserves.
On trying to jumpstart my writing about movies again.
Earlier this week I tried and failed, twice, to start writing blog posts about two of my favorite movies, both of which are enjoying 4K reissues this year: Paths Of Glory and The Maltese Falcon. I did not fail to write text; I failed to say anything that I felt was not redundant or insulting to the intelligence of the average person who might know of either film.
I suspect it's me. A big part of why I fell off writing about movies was not because there were no more movies to write about. (Have you SEEN Everything Everywhere All At Once? Parasite? The Florida Project? At Eternity's Gate?) It was that I felt acutely the difficulties of trying to say something in a sphere where it feels like everything you could say about such things is taken out of your mouth before you can even open it. And while I know this is subjective, I'm having a hard time doing anything about it.
Single images, strikingly chosen, make the best cover designs. More than that is tinsel on a painting.
I recently pulled out the prospective artwork for Charisma (it's the next book I'll be working on after Shunga-Satori is put to bed), and tried to gussy it up a little. For some reason I'd gotten a bug up my nose about whether or not it really encapsulated my intentions for the story — never mind that the story was inspired by the very picture I used for the artwork. After several attempts to revise the artwork, I gave up and reverted to the original. "Putting tinsel on a painting" was how I described it to someone else: the original image was just fine and all my attempts to tart it up didn't add anything except visual noise.
Several lessons came to mind from this: