Since I got back from Massachusetts I have been trying to write fiction for half an hour, every day. I have been running three times a week. I have been spending time with the kids, both of whom obviously need to see more of me. The high-pitched shrieking is a dead giveaway. I’m intuitive like that. Everything but the daily writing is pretty well-established habit. It’s always surprising, though, how the addition of just one more thing throws everything else out of rhythm.
I remember this vividly from the last round of serious riding. David, my instructor, would change the angle of my wrist or the set of my shoulder, and suddenly I wouldn’t be able to sit Noah’s trot any more. Every incremental improvement throws you off the plateau of mere competence and into disorder, before you reach a new and higher plateau.
Not to complain. I greatly enjoyed Emma Bull’s new novel Territory, set in Tombstone, Arizona just before the gunfight at the OK Corral. It had the disadvantage, for a non-American reader, of assuming familiarity with the source material; but this actually worked in my favour, for the same reason I usually enjoy mainstream movies more if I can contrive to miss the first act. It amuses me to fill in the gaps of the exposition, and I get restless if there are no gaps.
Genre writers are much better at this than a lot of the self-regarding hacks over there in lit fic. The best genre writers, like Bull, assume a sky-high level of sophistication among their readers, and by God it moves the plot along. I love having to pay attention. It is the opposite of being pandered to. And when I do find the way into the characters and plot, this is the kind of writing that disappears into itself, so that I’m not reading any more but floating over the character’s right shoulders, seeing what they see. Man, I could take that to the bank. There should be more of it.
J has succumbed to local values to the point of buying a flat-screen TV. My condition for this was the first season of Deadwood, which dovetails beautifully with Bull’s book. I’m always surprised at how late the Wild West was; both Deadwood and Territory are set in the 1870s. I sort of think of it in conjunction with the First Fleet or at least the early Colonials, when I should be thinking of Ned Kelly and the Ashes. Like everyone else I am findng Al Swearengen a spellbinding character, but problematic in terms of my own work. How sheltered am I, that I tend to leave people like that out?
Anyway, back to Territory: it handles magic in a fairly low-key way, but it still wasn’t low-key enough for me. Everyone who critiqued me at Viable Paradise wanted, understandably enough, to draw out the fantastic (fantasy-ish? fantastical. You know what I mean) elements of my story; they were also very good at pointing out all the fantastical stuff that was already there. I do want to keep my comet and my fever-dreams, not for their own sake but because they are so good at illustrating characters.
There’s a good bit in Cory’s review of God’s Mechanics:
I think that our experience of the numinous is both undeniable and entirely biological: the state of spiritual peace is the result of tickling some evolved center of our brain, a bit of neurology that conferred a survival advantage on our ancestors whose numinous hallucinations of a higher order in the universe drove them to catch more antelopes, eat better, and have more babies.
I had lunch with Seth today, and we talked about this in terms of people who are hypersensitive to non-verbal clues being exceptionally good at cold reading, to the point where if they don’t realize what they are doing, they might very easily persuade themselves that they are psychic. This ties into the idea of confabulation as the frontal lobes’ post-facto rationalization of decisions already made by the mammalian or reptilian brains.
I think ideaspace, intuition, magic and our experience of the numinous all live in the pre-verbal parts of our brains. I think it’s what Natalie Goldberg means when she talks about Wild Mind, and what Laura Mixon means when she talks about the beast. I think it’s where muscle memory goes when you’ve re-acquired your balance after your sadistic riding instructor is all done messing you up. I’m looking forward to re-acquiring my balance. Come on, monkey-brain. Talky is in trouble and needs your help!