Monday, December 4, 2017

Heaping stones

I've been looking for some lines by Gary Snyder; can't find them.

Something like this:

"When creeks are full
poems flow
when creeks are dry
we heap stones."

That's what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks: heaping stones. The first two fantasy books in the series, Pocketful of Stars and Stars in Time, fairly flew out of my fingertips onto the page. This third one, An Explosion of Stars, feels leaden. Every blasted word takes work.

At the beginning I thought the problem might be that I lack experience in writing a series. I was able to feed background information into the second book, but with the third book there's much more background than I've ever had to deal with before. It took some wrestling with the text to sprinkle the information through the story so that readers will know what's going on without ever having to suffer an infodump. But I'm 30,000 words into the story now, with that problem (I hope) solved, and writing still feels like heaping stones.

One thing I do know from previous experience is that in retrospect, it's hard to tell the scenes I sweated over from the ones that just flew out without conscious effort.

Another thing I know is that the demons whispering in my ear that this is it, I've lost whatever gift I had and it's never coming back, are terrible liars.

And the third thing I know is that you can't stop writing and wait for inspiration.

So... I continue to heap stones.

This is a scene from the third book. It's from the middle of the book, so the lack of background may be a problem, but I tink it's relatively clear. Any opinions on whether it's an actual scene or just a pile of rocks?


When Sutherland and I got to the third floor, Thorn was sort of doing the reverse of teleportation and stepping into the air. To be precise, she and Edwards were holding hands and swooping through the big central room at the head of the stairs, a good five feet above the floor.

“You made it work? You made it work!”

“Not really,” Thorn called as she swooped by us and did a neat little spiral turn ballasted by Edwards’ hand. “It turns out to be a completely different topological construct. Nothing at all to do with path-connected spaces! I just thought of it last night.”

“And I,” Edwards said, grinning like a fool as he did a sort of breast stroke through the air, “just implemented it.”

My eyebrows shot up. “You mean you can do it on your own? Without Thorn?”

Thorn folded her arms and shot down to an almost normal position facing me. “We’re just starting. But I think Edwards is going to be even better at this than I will.”

Theoretically, any one of us can work any transformation than any other one figures out. But it’s true that in practice, we tend to have our specialties. I’d been the first one to use the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem to teleport, and I could still use it faster and more easily than any of my colleagues. Sutherland’s specialty was shielding and camouflage; Thorn’s was telekinesis. And it appeared that Edwards was going to be our aerial acrobat.

Now, as Ingrid shook out the clusters of stars on her fingers and took to the air again, Mr. M decided to serenade us all.

“For you, young Sutherland,” he screeched, and launched into “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” Sutherland’s jaw clenched. He was still living down his experiments of last fall, when an attempt to generate light via Riemann surfaces had instead generated fire, automatic sprinklers, and evacuation of the building. He and I had taken apart the relevant mathematics since then, but we’d never been able to get light without fire. That’s why I’m not going to go into the details of how it works; where would we be, I ask you, if the math department were filled with ambitious topologists starting fires at random? I really think Dr. Verrick ought to give us credit for keeping Riemann fire under wraps, next time he accuses us all of being socially irresponsible.

“You had to bring him in today, Annelise?” Sutherland grumbled.

“He gets bored when he’s alone in the apartment.” Thorn and Edwards were still swooping giddily around the room, slowly losing altitude.

Mr. M. announced that his next number, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)” was going out to Jimmy DiGrazio, whose girlfriend was apparently planning to perch in the apple tree with young Edwards. Our resident computer jockey, DiGrazio had only recently fought down Thorn’s prejudice against people who couldn’t do topological magic. Mr. M.’s sense of humor tends to be pointed and not particularly kind.

Fortunately for DiGrazio’s peace of mind, Mr. M. picked on Edwards next. “And for the one unattached member of the Institute: “I’ve Got Spurs that Jingle, Jangle, Jingle,” he crooned, “As I go riding merrily along. And they sing, ‘Oh, ain’t you glad you’re single….’”

Had I mentioned that he’s currently going through a phase of Second World War era songs?

It’s better than his Gilbert and Sullivan period, last fall.

It was Annelise who finally got our daring young research fellows back down to earth. Their shoes were scraping the floor but they still weren’t giving up. She brought the pastry tray out of the break room and waved it at them. “Doughnuts! Chocolate covered, cream filled, raspberry filled! Get them while they’re fresh!”

Thorn and Edwards must have burnt up a lot of energy with this flying discovery; they swooped towards the tray and Edwards tried to snatch a doughnut.

Annelise dodged him. “Sit down and eat like grownups!” She put the tray in the middle of the break room table and the fliers descended on it like grackles sighting a discarded sandwich. I wouldn’t have described the subsequent orgy of snatching, cramming and gulping as “eating like grownups,” but at least they had their seats in the chairs and their feet under the table. Some days that’s the best you can hope for out of our research fellows.

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