This is the track list of a playlist/CD I made to inspire my colleagues at Clarion West. The common thread in the songs is that they all have a strong, story-like narrative.
- Shore Leave, Tom Waits, Swordfishtrombones
- Black Jack Davey, The White Stripes, Seven Nation Army
- Turkish Song Of The Damned, The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God
- Fairytale Of New York, The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God
- Alcohol, The Murder City Devils, Give The People What They Want
- Frank’s Wild Years, Tom Waits, Swordfishtrombones
- Fall Of The Star High School Runing Back, The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas
- The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas
- Thursday, Morphine, Cure For Pain
- Hand Springs, The White Stripes, B-Side Collection
- Isis, The White Stripes, The Legendary Lost Tapes
- Hoodoo Bash, Holy Modal Rounders, Have Moicy!
- Sharin’ The Sherbert, Big Ass Truck, Big Ass Truck
- What’s He Building In There?, Tom Waits, Mule Variations
Left to right: Nancy Kress, Ursula LeGuin, Gary Wolfe, Walter John Williams, Connie Willis
I’ve been avoiding blogging during Clarion West, following the advice of our esteemed organizers to keep my eye on the ball. But here are some notes on a panel I went to at the Locus Awards today, which some might find interesting…
I’m at the Locus Awards, watching a panel with Nancy Kress, Ursula LeGuin, Walter John Williams, and Nancy Kress. The topic is researching for fiction.
Some interesting points that were brought up:
- Ursula: A lot of people think if they just do a ton of research, they’ve got a story. But that isn’t so.
- Walter: Travels a lot as research, but bemoans that it doesn’t impress anyone anymore because of the Net.
- Connie: One really important type of research is the way in which overheard conversations spawn story ideas.
The moderator, Gary Wolfe, asked: how do you keep your research transparent?
- Nancy: It’s okay to do an info dump (i.e., big expository section), if you earn it. Make the reader care, and then they’ll sit still for it.
- Ursula: Utopianist readers have greater patience for exposition, because they want to know how the utopia works. (Personally, I’d guess this could be extended to dystopianists, too).
- Connie: When you’re writing exposition, beware of writing beautifully. You might be indulging yourself.
- Ursula disagreed: You shouldn’t always kill your darlings. If a piece of exposition is beautiful, keep it.
On obsessive detail:
- Connie relates an irate letter she got from a fan who was upset that she’d mentioned the Molasses Swamp card in a Candyland game – a card that doesn’t exist in the game. This made her into an obsessive researcher. (There but for the grace of God go I? Oh, wait… I’m already this obsessive. Crap.)
- Walter: Nothing prompts nitpicking letters like getting a firearm wrong.
- Ursula: Sometimes we invent things we can’t research. She mentions a marriage system she invented that was so complex it created continuity problems. Essentially, she had to research within her own writing. She takes Phillip Pullman to task for this – changing the metaphysical rules in the middle of his trilogy.
- This prompted a divertimento on magical/metaphysical systems and how they must have internally consistent rules.
On getting people right in a different time period or world:
- Connie: getting the mindset of people during the Blitz right was hard.
Maureen [McHugh, from audience]: do you ever put in the inexplicable?
- Ursula: Yes. In the last book of the Earthsea trilogy, she dealt with the fact that the wizards really had no idea what they were doing and hadn’t for some time.
- Kress: Got a lot of flak for Steel Across the Sky for combining genetic engineering with a metaphysical afterlife.
- Walter: Sci-fi readers have less tolerance for the inexplicable than fantasy readers. But it might also be that if someone thinks they’re reading a sci-fi novel, they’ll be annoyed if things go unexplained. Urban fantasy works when it plays on the tension between these two things.
Cool panel. And it’s pretty neat seeing sci fi’s grande dame still sharp as a tack!