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17 October 2008 @ 09:49 pm
10/17/08: Not dead, really  
Word count: 120730 | Since last entry: -281

Usually if I'm not blogging I'm not writing, and if I'm not writing I'm not blogging. In this case I have been writing, an hour a day or so, but the bathroom remodel and the election have been taking up too much of my mental energy to leave room for blogging. It's gotten so stressful around here, with strangers banging about and making strange smells and all, that listening to the public radio pledge break was actually relaxing by comparison.

The above word count change represents a week's worth of editing, incorporating comments from my agent and other first readers. Where possible I have been trying to address comments by taking words out rather than adding new ones, but I did substantially beef up a couple of scenes.

I hate editing, because it's like trying to make a change in an assembled jigsaw puzzle. Even if all you want to do is change the color of one piece, you might also have to change several of the pieces nearby, and even other pieces halfway across the puzzle that might be related. Changing the shape or position of a piece is even worse. Everything is connected, on a word and sentence and paragraph and chapter level.

The big editing comments yet to do have to do with clarifying, deepening, and strengthening Rachel's backstory and motivations, and the Anvilites' theology, and I don't really know what I can do about them. The problem is that I don't know Rachel's backstory and I don't really understand the Anvilites' theology. What the heck was I doing having my main character be a member of a contemplative religious community? I know nothing about that mindset. (I know how I got in this mess, actually. In my original concept of the story the religious people were the villains. But then one of them turned into a protagonist...) I will try reading Brother Astronomer this weekend to see if I can glean any ideas from it.

Despite frustration with the bathroom remodeling process, progress continues and it is supposed to be all done in less than two weeks. The tile work took almost a week longer than originally estimated, but it is almost complete now and looks phenomenal (see below). The lavatory is also very nice, a serene expanse of cool white that nicely offsets the busy detail of the tile. We had a lot of trouble finding a wall color that we liked; after buying three different sample quarts and being unsatisfied with all of them we decided that the green color of the sheetrock, of all things, was what we wanted. Hey, we knew it looked good.

I had a pretty good mail day on Tuesday: a countersigned contract for one short story, a check for another, and a check for audio rights (so look for "Sun Magic, Earth Magic" in audio format from Beneath Ceaseless Skies at some point in the future). Also a 41-day rejection from F&SF, alas.

Speaking of BCS, they have a message board where people can discuss my story. One of the readers ranted (his word) that it "relied too heavily on symbolism," which I find baffling, but I'm sitting on my hands, not wanting to get into an argument. Now that the story has been published, it belongs to the readers.

Finally, as you may know, the website SF Signal has a regular feature called "Mind Meld" where they ask several SF writers to contribute brief essays on a single topic. I was honored to be asked to participate in the latest Mind Meld: "Which authors and books have most influenced your writing?". Other participants include Joe Haldeman, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Dean Wesley Smith. Check it out!

Sue: Connorvofpracticality on October 18th, 2008 05:54 am (UTC)
Wow David, The bathroom looks spectacular. Writing news sounds great as well.
Steve Hutchisonfoomf on October 18th, 2008 07:44 am (UTC)
There are a couple different varieties of contemplative religious community, and they're not exclusive to Christianity. Sufism has them, as do Buddhists, Jainists, some subgroups of Hindu, and even Judaism had them, though I think they have mostly gone away there.

So the thing that seems to be common to them is that they choose to live "withdrawn from the world" - which allows them to focus on their specific personal prayer life. The hardest thing for people who don't believe in a personal God or gods, especially in Science Fiction circles, is to get past the nearly counter-religious "Invisible Pink Unicorn" and "Flying Spaghetti Monster" mindset, which prevents them from empathising. Depending on the concept of God and what is required of them in prayer, and that does vary, the contemplative monastic is generally focused on bringing prayer into every aspect of life, or contemplation, or the rituals of meditation... there is an aspect called 'spiritual' which paradoxically means that the person is actually more in touch with their fellow peoples, often in defiance of cultural biases (though not always.)

There is frequently a "rule" for any given order or organization, which is essentially what you would expect of a commune, except that there is usually also a leader or group of leaders who have the authority to admit or reject people as members of the monastery or household. Some famous Christian groups have a rule of meditation that prohibits them from speaking except for special situations, while others (the Shaolin monks of China) would meditate on the sutras for a specific period, practice martial arts for a specific period, and work for the temple for a period. There is a general requirement that anyone joining a community has to work or bring in sufficient money to pay for their physical needs. There is a general requirement that anyone joining a community be in agreement with the basic teachings of the community.

This creates a mindset where everything one does is viewed as either a service to the community, a service to the greater world, or a service to the divine, but this is most developed in someone who has been a member of such a community for a long time. There is no guarantee that someone will be a generally pleasant person as a result of this - there are stories of venal monks, of sour, bitter and angry monks and abbesses and nuns. Catholic Schools were taught for years by nuns and too many of these seemed in general to view their job as "beating the fear of God into the filthy little crotch-droppings" ... yet they were a contemplative community of service. I'm not sure how they reconciled physically damaging children with their prayer lives, but that's not limited to nuns.

A big chunk of the complication in England and western Europe was that the monasteries were where they sent the younger sons of noble families, whether or not they had any vocation there, and this resulted in the expected not-really-committed-but-stuck attitudes.

Without reading your story, I have no idea where your Anvilites are in the development of their theology, their formal religious hierarchy, and their cultural integration, nor what the theology actually IS, and all of those things are necessary in order to really grok the mindsets. If you don't want to go to the considerable added work to create them, I would suggest you figure out what role you want them to have, and then search for different monastic/contemplative communities in history to find a model.
kellymcculloughkellymccullough on October 18th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
I actually like editing, but this: I hate editing, because it's like trying to make a change in an assembled jigsaw puzzle is a brilliant metaphor and I had to compliment you on its shininess. Very nice.
seventorchesseventorches on October 18th, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC)
OOOH! A Seahorse! We like seahorses. Where'd you get that tile?
David D. Levinedavidlevine on October 18th, 2008 03:34 pm (UTC)
It's an original piece from a mosaic artist named Margaret Kuhn. The folks at the Pratt & Larson Tile Company put us in touch with her, and we worked with her to develop this piece, plus the mosaic band around the room and the squares at the back of the three little niches.
farmgirl1146farmgirl1146 on October 18th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
The tub surround is beautiful.

Good luck on sorting the story.
joycemocha on October 18th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
David--one possible source for getting into the head of a member of a religious community is a fairly readable (tho chick lit book of the 70s) book by Rumer Godden called In This House of Brede. It takes the protagonists through the changes in a monastic nunnery caused by Vatican II (cloistered, Benedictine I think though it could be Cisterian) and looks at it from the POV of both an older woman who converted late due to a major life trauma and a burning young woman who used the nunnery as a rebellion against her family. Godden even discusses the issues of same-sex romantic attraction, but in very vague, 60s/70s ish best-seller terms.

If you're interested let me know. I can bring it to Tuesday night--just want it back.
scarlettina: Fantastic!scarlettina on October 18th, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC)
The tile is gorgeous!
Elizabeth Colemancriada on October 18th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
Off the top of my head, I can't think of any good books regarding monastic sorts (I don't think The Name of the Rose counts.) But I'm a contemplative religious sort (albeit a solo one, though in theory I'd like to join some imaginary group that fit all my strange ideas) and I could give advice. I've got an aunt who's a nun (in Merylhurst, actually, right near you) and I could pick her brain, too.
I love theology of all sorts. and I still love the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
kzmillerkzmiller on October 19th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
Mt. Angel
I'm a big fan of interactive study. See if you can go to an event at Mt. Angel. They have concerts and things like that, usually as a benefit. The monks there are fairly 'worldly' and the one I spoke to about religion after fessing up that I studied physics in college and am a pagan was far from shocked. We had a great talk at a picnic following a Mozart-themed concert (a monk sits with small groups on a blanket and everyone eats and talks about whatever.) I'm not sure how close that community is to the Anvillites or how useful that would be for you, but the way that community interacts together in work and prayer was just different enough for me that it stood out in my mind. And they're not radical/strange so it's easy to connect with them. Except for the group consensus aspects, the mood and emphasis on keeping the peace at Mt. Angel had a similar feel to my experience when I read your book.

The folks at the Grotto, on the other hand, haven't opened up as much, at least to me. They've always been polite but I feel more like an intruder there and there hasn't been an opportunity to talk at length with anyone. It may be simply because I've only gone during Christmas-type celebrations to look at lights and listen to music performances, and they're so inundated with people during that time that's its overwhelming/annoying. They may be more exposed to jerks showing up (I have no idea why people do this and I find it bizarre that they do) specifically to argue with/demean/challenge them/call them heretics or throwbacks or whatever. Being set in an urban atmosphere exposes them to all kinds, I'm sure, and the fact that the Grotto lights are advertised all over the place will certainly attract groups of people willing to pay to go in and wreck stuff because they can. So I dunno if that is what makes them more standoffish or if it's a sampling error on my part.

Gorgeous bathroom. Hang in there! I only had contractors here for a week and working on a non-critical part of the house and it was still quite the adventure. I've also willingly torn up my own lone bathroom (at our old house) and remember the 'joys' of showering at a friend's apartment and planning trips to stores to use the bathroom until we got the toilet put back in. Ugh I say, and ugh again.