It’s been a while, so I feel like it’s time for a reasonably thorough update! Fascinating, I’m sure, are the following bullet points, but if you’d rather see pretty pictures, scroll to the bottom for some nature.
- I am heading down to Tampa soon, to be with my family. I’m very happy about this, as I haven’t seen them since we heard the news. Though going there/being there will not yield the control I wish I had over this situation, it will be nice to be present.
- I have decided, on the advice of folks far wiser than I, to let my Big Project rest a while. I was getting incredibly frustrated with the edits, and ignoring advice to take a break, step away, because I wanted to power through it and get it out to beta-readers, but I felt like I was twiddling my thumbs and maybe making mistakes. I have the first volume wrapped up and tidy, and it’s staying like that for a while. I broke when I realized I was most enthusiastic about the stuff I’d written months and months ago, which needed the most work but felt the freshest, and I was like– oh, well, duh. I haven’t even looked at this section since, when? October? November? So came the self-knowledge (γνῶθι σεαυτόν, Molly) of burnout. At first I was afraid if I left off before it was done enough to show to friends I’d never come back to it, but I know that’s not true because I still catch myself thinking about it and wanting to work on it, but I’m not letting myself.
- In lieu of working on the Big Resting Project (BRP), I am tearing ass through the planning stages/beginning writing of a Smaller but still Big Project (SBP) I’ve been itching to work on for months now. I realized I was shooting myself in the foot by not tackling it right goddamn now because the major part of it will take place in Colorado in the spring/summer, which, OMG! I just looked out my window and indeed, it is springtime. Now I get to write from life, which is incredibly fun and rewarding, and I can already tell this project will be leaner, tighter, and infinitely more ridiculous than the BRP. I’ve learned a lot from said BRP and am not rushing into this one headlong without proper planning, proper thoughts on entryways into the novelette, proper understanding of What I Want, length, etc. Unlike other projects, I’ve mapped this out completely, I know where I’m going, I know the wordcount I’m going for, etc. I’m also, as a sort of mental exercise, not doing much book-related research beyond knowing the exact year so it makes sense, knowing a little bit about the premises, that sort of thing. Most of the “research” will be watching movies, actually, since I’m going for a sort of cinematic feel for this project. At any rate, babbling aside, I’ve been having a goddamn blast doing it so far and I’m more in love with it than I’ve maybe ever been with anything I’ve done. Likely this also has to do with the fact that the BRP is on Serious Matters and the SBP is–well, it’s pretty fucking ridiculous. Lulz.
- Sooner, rather than later, I’ll be announcing something pretty cool here! So “watch this space” if you care to.
- Running with the Pack is coming out sooooooooooooon omg!!
- Fucking magnets, how do they work? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google that shit. Also, here is this inspirational cartoon on the same subject, for your inspiration of the day:
- To round out this post, pictures from my last visit to Estes Park, which was amazing. We went there with friends David and Luke from Tallahassee, and ahhhhhh. Delightful.
me knee-deep in snow standing in the middle of a still iced-over lake
you know you wish you lived AN HOUR FROM THIS LIKE I DO OMG
some other lake I can't recall the name of
Wooooo! Love to everyone.
Tomorrow the all-new Films of High Adventure will go up (I am having PTSD just writing the entry for this one), but for today, mellow out with Rainy Mood. Seriously, do yourself a favor. As a mood-lift or a writing aid, it’s amazing!
Personally, I’m enjoying the combo I’m rocking right now: rain + Aufs Lautenwerck, an album of Bach’s lute and harpsichord music. I’ve heard, via J.T. Glover, that the Goldberg Variations are also awesome.
I finished the first draft of my first solo novel today. Though I typed THE END, it is so far from being finished I feel intimidated rather than elated. That’s OK! I have a plan. I hope.
Also, I received the check for my first pro sale today! Hells yes.
Jeff VanderMeer just posed an interesting question over at the Booklife blog, musing on the often problematic but also fruitful relationship between fetish and writing. Given the project I’m working on right now, I find myself more inspired to write about fetishes of a different sort, but Jeff’s post made me sit up all prick-eared, especially his opening quote:
In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.
I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.
This really got under my skin (in a good way). Compared to some, I’m not particularly fetish-oriented as a writer, though I have a few quirks, of course. I do my best work up at a coffee shop, but given that my husband works from home as a world history teacher, speaking on the phone all day to children, my need to be up here is more born of necessity than a necessity, if that makes sense. Other than that, I do have an inability to write by hand, but mostly because I do my best work while editing compulsively.
That said, I may not be a very fetish-prone writer, but my booklife does tend to operate within a system of taboos gleaned from writer friends, things I’ve read, advice from writing teachers in my distant past, “common knowledge,” etc. And, just as fetish-objects should be eschewed when they’re hurtful rather than helpful, so should those taboos. As I’ve posted here lately, I’ve been paralyzed by a pretty epic bout of writer’s block. Thankfully, the ice is cracking, slowly, but that’s in part due to my decision to break taboo, in the form of outlining.
I used to outline compulsively when I wrote, for both creative and academic projects. But I found, years ago, that for my creative writing, having an outline made me feel wedded to that outline, and often prevented me from exploring with the characters; it put me in control of them, rather than them determining their own reactions and personality. It also sometimes made me feel wedded to a certain plot, even when it didn’t feel like the right thing.
So I quit outlining. I haven’t written a single outline in years.
The large project I’m working on right now is. . . large. And there are several different storylines. I’m working on the final one, but while it was the easiest of the three to write for the first part, when I got to the real tofu-and-potatoes of the plot, I froze. I had no idea where to go, what to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it. After writing a bunch of short stories and puttering around and griping, I finally broke down and busted out the “outline” function Scrivener supplies. And lo, lo I said, I worked out a mock-up of what I need to do for the rest of the book. Hallelujah.
It just goes to show (as Jeff said), some fetishes really do aid a writer’s creativity. For me, I have to say that the process of discovering (for some are quite unconscious) taboos and then breaking those taboos seems aids my creativity, as well. I have an informal checklist of things I do when I cant write: find new music, edit from the beginning, research more, work on something else, imagine scenes I’ll never include in the project to get a feel for how the characters would act naturally outside of their “screen time.” But I think I’ll add a new item to that list of tricks: engage in self-reflection to see if a sense of taboo is holding me back from a new way of interrogating and negotiating with a project.
And now, I must run. I have a novel to work on!
My dear friend S.J. Chambers, independent Poe scholar and all-around-neat-person, whose name you should recognize from her flash fiction “How a Blog was Born,” the Honorable Mention in my Bloggiversary Contest, and, more importantly, from various sundry locations around the internet (check S.J.’s website for a full listing of her fiction, poetry, and non-fiction), has a work of fiction over at MungBeing Magazine!
Stories like S.J.’s “Of Parallel and Parcel” are always of interest to me as both a reader and a writer of historical fiction. My personal take on the genre is this: there are holes in history, gaps where the curious mind wonders why? Those, for me, are some the best places to begin a story, especially if said historical fiction veers into the realms of science fiction/fantasy. S.J.’s story plays it mostly straight, with subtle hints of the fantastic affecting the internal motivations of the main character, in a narrative that treats a figure often overlooked beyond the rather cursory dude, Poe totes married his cousin! one often gets in high school.
S.J.’s love for Poe and Poe-related matters comes through passionately in her writing, in both the framing of the piece and the actual content. It’s worth your time. Go check it out!
The other day I was feeling like watching a costume drama set during the era I’m currently writing about in the novel, so I rented the 2007 version of Fanny Hill. I knew a little bit about it but never got around to reading it during my Master’s (moft likely becaufe I was focufing on Moral Novels written earneftly by Moral Women, about fuch ferious topics as Slavery, and not common fmut).
The movie was good, though despite the absolutely gorgeous, lavish costumes (see the image left, one of the prettiest dresses I’ve seen in a costume drama, ever) and good acting it had a rather, ah, Skinemax feel to it. I enjoyed it. Even better, oh joy of joys, certain things about the film intrigued me in terms of my ongoing 18th century research, so I immediately purchased the Oxford World’s Classics unexpurgated edition and read it with extreme quickness on my trip down to Tampa. Rarely have plane trips been so enjoyable.
First, a few issues regarding the actual text itself. For a while now, OWC has been updating their look: matte covers rather than glossy, sometimes cropping cover images to look more modern, adding a white bar with the title at the bottom rather than the old school red banner at the top, etc. Unfortunately, they have not upgraded their absurdly-easy-to-smear print, which I feel would be a nice thing to do for customers who care more about the durability than the appearance of their books. This issue of quality, and the fact that I find OWC’s system of endnotes to be distracting while trying to enjoy a text, has made me more likely to purchase from Broadview if I want a critical edition of an older novel, but unfortunately, Broadview has yet to release a Fanny Hill. On an infinitely more superficial level, I am freaking tired of seeing Boucher’s “Resting Girl” every time I pick up pornography from days of yore. There are plenty of other risque images from the 18th century if one looks a little– and if OWC wasn’t going to use something from Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, which would seem a natural choice, I can’t imagine why they didn’t pick something from, oh, one of the countless illustrated editions of Fanny Hill which aren’t exactly difficult to find (a quick Google search immediately yielded one NSFW site full of dirty pictures, another half-second’s worth of looking on wikipedia gives up a lone image from a collection by Edouard-Henri Avril). Many of those could be cropped down to something acceptable for a book cover– maybe not that particular Avril image, but there are others. So, just sayin’. On to more substantial matters!
The book is a good read. More and less filthy than I expected, Fanny Hill is not exactly one-handed reading, it’s instead one of those cultural oddities like Lost Girls, e.g. erotica for people who like to think in general and who also enjoy thinking specifically about the nature of arousal, what is and is not considered erotic throughout time, who like to occasionally be confronted with the discomfort that can arise from fantasy stemming from things that would be unacceptable in reality. So, yeah, I just wrote that ridiculously highbrow explanation for consuming vintage smut.
Certainly there are passages that read as pure pornography, including Fanny’s lesbian experiences, her voyeuristic observation of a prostitute servicing her lover, her later affair with the well-endowed manservant of her gentleman keeper Mr. H–, the bacchanal where Fanny yet again sells her virginity, the interlude where Fanny and a lusty sailor fuck in an inn. But there are doses of reality that interfere with pure enjoyment, especially for a modern individual, but that would likely have given most readers some degree of pause when it was published in 1748-1749 and then surreptitiously re-published and circulated before the Lady Chatterly’s Lover obscenity trial that made it widely available in the 20th century. For example, Fanny’s defloration is pretty grisly (like all other deflorations in the book, the pain the women experience is not glossed over, nor does it disappear after their first time), and then Fanny is raped by a gentleman while she is very depressed over miscarrying due to the shock of her true love being sent to the South Seas. In Volume Two, a fellow whore in a “cluck” of prostitutes Fanny becomes a part of tells of losing her virginity to a rapist, and another whore seduces a mentally handicapped young man, to name just a few things that made me say “huh.”
I haven’t read a lot of the academic criticism of Fanny Hill, though there have been many treatments of the book, including one by my personal academic heroine, Janet Todd. For myself, on both a critical and an uncritical level, I enjoyed it. I was personally unsettled by the casual way rape is discussed, and how women who are raped generally come to admire, if not love, their assailants, but given that Fanny Hill makes several references to Pamela, that sort of nonsense was not entirely surprising. I was also unhappy about the section toward the end of Volume Two that heaps vitriol upon male homosexuals, but it seems that John Cleland’s stint in debtors’ prison, where he wrote Fanny Hill, was due to a debt to Thomas Canon, who wrote a book called Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified, so there might have been an ulterior motivation to discrediting practitioners of the art of buttfucking.
That said, lesbianism is at least given some page-time, as is female masturbation, and some sexual fetishes are also explored without excessive jokes at those men with “peculiar humours,” such as the gentleman with a love of hair-brushing. There is also a simply delightful encounter with a birching enthusiast named Mr. Barvile. Also, throughout it all Cleland loves nothing more than describing with notable enthusiasm the male “machine,” resulting in several descriptions such as the following:
. . . behold it now! crest-fall’n, reclining its half-capt vermillion head over one of his thighs, quiet, pliant, and to all appearance incapable of the mischiefs and cruelty it had committed. Then the beautiful growth of the hair, in short and soft curls around the root, its whiteness, branch’d veins, the supple softness of the shaft, as it lay forshorten’d, roll’d and shrunk up into a squob thickness, languid, and born up from between the thighs, by its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure-bag of nature’s sweets, which rivell’d round, and purs’d up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect; and all together form’d the most interesting moving picture in nature. . .
I saw with wonder and surprize, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a may-pole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant: its prodigious size made me shrink again: yet! I could not without pleasure behold, and even venture’d to feel, such a length! such a breadth of animated ivory, perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish, and velvet-softness, might vye with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which, the fair skin shew’d as, in a fine evening, you may have remark’d the clear light aether, through the branch-work of distant trees, over the topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and bluish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature; in short, it stood an object of terror and delight.
Jesus Christ. Yes, the whole book is like that.
Overall, I am pleased that I took the time to read Fanny Hill. I think it is remarkable that, though obviously written by a man (and wholly man of his era in a number of ways), this work is presented first-person from the point of view of a woman, and treats frankly her delight in sex and sexuality, as well as her ability to separate sexual enjoyment from feelings of love. This is problematic at times, especially given the uncomfortable moments with rape and sexual abuse, but overall Fanny Hill really does present a stirring and somewhat innocently bawdy picture of 18th century sexuality. The text also does much to contradict notions that sexual enthusiasm outside of reproduction is something people discovered in the 20th century, and that women’s sexual enjoyment was neglected previous to the sexual revolution. Though Fanny’s (and the other women’s) carnal appetites are presented for the titillation of a male audience, it is interesting to note that the notion of old-timey British sexuality being somewhat repressed (“close your eyes and think of England”) is really a misinterpretation of Victorian propaganda. 18th century notions of female sexuality recognized that women masturbate, that women can be active participants in the sexual act, and can (and should) orgasm during sexual encounters. Those same notions often presented problems for women– for example, though the female orgasm was considered important, it was considered such because doctors thought women must orgasm to conceive, which in turn was used to discount women’s complaints of rape if they conceived, since if they conceived, they must have orgasmed, etc.– but they also created a world in which female sexuality was at least talked about, if often inaccurately.
So, all in all, time well spent.