30 November 2003

Hurrah, I've Discovered the Title Field

I'm into the intensive rewrite stage for Of the City of the Saved..., and it's melting my brain. Yesterday I went through implementing a shedload of suggestions my editor had made: cuts here, rewordings there, changes of tense and other tweaks... in many ways, this part is more exhausting than the writing itself.

More exhausting, but also less demanding, in that I can do it even when I'm tired or not in the mood. To actually create stuff, I need to be a) reasonably awake, b) caffeined up, c) wholly uninterrupted, and d) in possession of a quality of mood I've never been able satisfactorily to define, without which -- even if a) b) and c) are fulfilled -- I just end up staring at the document on my screen and thinking "Black line make pretty pattern". Probably "inspired" would cover it.

Inspiration's still required, though. There are some much more major rewrites to be done -- events which need to happen differently, scenes to recast from one point of view to another, background detail to go through inserting or changing entirely. My characters' speech patterns, points of view and motivations need to be consistent. I need to smooth over some ugly infodumping in the early chapters. Roughly every third adjective has to go. That sort of thing...

Not that I'm complaining, you understand. I mean, I'm getting a novel published. My whole writing career has been leading up to this, (although I rather hope that I'll still be saying the same thing about my tenth novel, or the rest of my life is going to be something of an anticlimax). Just... well, it'll be nice to get something of a social life back once this one's over. That's all.

28 November 2003

I'm rereading Philip K Dick's novel Valis, which I studied as part of my doctoral thesis. Dick isn't the kind of writer you can avoid if you're researching theological themes in science fiction, and Valis is, along with The Divine Invasion, Dick's most overtly theological work.

Fortunately, I simply can't get enough Dick. Do Androids Dream..., A Maze of Death, Ubik... Valis is perhaps not his most accessible novel - you certainly won't enjoy it if religious ideas leave you bored to tears - but for the sheer scale, complexity and outrageousness of the ideas involved it's among the best of his novels. The experience of reading it admittedly resembles being followed by a hypermanic street lunatic shouting biblical exegesis in your ear, but it's very entertaining exegesis.

In Valis, at least according to the speculations of the protagonist Horselover Fat (who's as transparent a Dick-substitute as you're likely to find outside a branch of Ann Summers), the Universe is the domain of an insane and evil Old Testament God, but is in the process of being subverted and subsumed by the benevolent and liberating New Testament God, the Logos. (That's the briefest, baldest summary. There's a lot more about three-eyed aliens, symbiotic plasmates, and God getting accidentally buried for two thousand years at Nag Hammadi.) It's a Gnostic worldview, albeit a Christian Gnostic one, and three-eyed aliens aside it's one I can't help having some sympathy with.

In fact Valis presents a theology in which Dick firmly believed, having had it communicated to him by God from a satellite in beams of pink light during February and March 1974. (This was shortly after the KBG began to send him threatening letters, and eleven years after he was haunted by a gigantic metal face glaring down at him from the sky whenever he stepped outside. Fascinated as he was by the nature of reality, Dick was not the most adept of human beings at distinguishing it from the other stuff.) The astonishing thing is that he nevertheless maintains a degree of ironic detachment which allows the reader of Valis to laugh at Horselover Fat just as often as they gawp at his latest revelation. Indeed, although Dick begins the novel by explaining that Fat is Dick himself, presented in the third person for objectivity, by the halfway point Fat is objectified to the point that the two of them meet socially and have frequent conversations, and Dick is commenting continually on how screwed-up Fat has become.

Incidentally, to maximise the comedy potential of the surname "Dick", one needs to use it in combination with that of Michael Moorcock. I leave this as an exercise for the reader.

27 November 2003

"Currently in its infancy, if not its embryohood". That's what I've just written on my website about this weblog. My website is also in its embryohood, although it's pretty well developed now. It long ago passed the arms / legs / head stage, and for a while has been sucking its thumb and kicking me when I'm not looking. Occasionally it appears to go into REM sleep, although nobody has ever hazarded a convincing guess as to what it might be dreaming about.

When it emerges, my website will be a venue for advertising the books I've written (all one of them, although I've also contributed to anthologies), showing off my doctoral thesis (not that I'm going to let anyone actually read it, oh no) and, in the long run, wittering occasionally about Reading, Writing, Art, Politics, Religion and my Life.

Most of that part of it will be going on here. Which is where we came in.

This is all new to me. I had a website when I was at university in the mid-nineties, but that was very basic text-only stuff (with a couple of photos held together by code I'd painstakingly scissored out of someone else's page). I mainly used it as a place to put my comic poems. My new website, on the other hand is a great deal better designed. I've learned how to use colours, and columns, and all kinds of exciting things.

I've also spent the last couple of weeks (and please don't mention this to my employers) translating a lot of old material into HTML. Old comedy sketches, old short stories, old... well, a couple of comic poems actually, but a lot of this stuff has never seen web publication before. I hope I can put up at least one piece of worthwhile academic criticism too, to show that I Am Serious And So Is My Website.

In the course of this, my brain has caved in. I'm supposed to be doing the rewriting and polishing on my first novel, Of the City of the Saved..., published by Mad Norwegian Press in March. Instead I've been madly assembling HTML code in an effort to publicise the book I haven't even finished yet. It's all excruciatingly postmodern.