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So first there was Charmed Life. I read it over and over until I had to stop reading it because I knew how all the sentences went on. Not long after, there was The Spellcoats. I read it a lot too, but unlike Charmed Life, it was too strange to be comfort reading. Charmed Life is very prickly and has frightening bits, but since Chrestomanci is in it, it can't be as strange as The Spellcoats. I used to try to figure out the secret of that book, and I think it's Tanaqui's voice. I was in my twenties when I found both these books, and I was startled when I realized how young Tanaqui was when the story began. There is such a weight in that voice.

In time, through the MagiQuest line, there was Power of Three, though for some years I persistently assigned it to Jane Yolen, and would read it when I was in the mood for more Janeish books. It is pretty strange too, but it has a homeiness in it as well.

For some time, that was all the Diana Wynn Jones I had. I was no longer a child when I first read her, but through her I somehow passed back into a time when I hardly knew who authors were, and books appeared by luck or happenstance and were greeted as if they were thunderstorms or fine spring days. Then I began to fumble about with the planning and writing of Tam Lin, and somebody told me that Fire and Hemlock was a Tam Lin story. I began to read it with huge trepidation. I remember being relieved that Polly was not a college student, but after that I forgot why I was reading the book. At the end I remembered, but just thought, "Well, I could never in a million years have done that, but it's done, so I can do what I was going to do. Everyone will always like Fire and Hemlock better, but that's all right."

Around this time I collected a very motley and incomplete set of Diana's books, probably as a result of one of the trips to England that David and I, or in one case Pat Wrede and I, were making to England. I found Wilkins' Tooth, The Ogre Downstairs, Eight Days of Luke, Witch Week, Archer's Goon, The Time of the Ghost, and Dogsbody. I read and reread all of them, except for Dogsbody, which was so sad and wrenching that I could only manage it about once a year, when I was really craving more books by Diana. The odd thing was that I was perfectly well aware that friends of mine were scouring Hay-on-Wye for Drowned Ammet, and that there was another book also connected to The Spellcoats. But I didn't want any books connected to The Spellcoats. In my mind it was as a star and dwelt alone.

I thought, though, that there was a homeiness in almost all Diana's books, found sometimes in very strange places, or made without place by ill-assorted groups of people. It's thin in The Spellcoats and thinner yet in Dogsbody, and threatened in a way that is part of why that book is so hard to read.

Diana was the guest of honor at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention in 1991. I wish my memory was clearer, but she was so dazzling. I remember table after table overflowing with laughter and chatter, as more and more people crowded in to talk to her; what I really remember is the way that she said, "Bathroom." This is because Pat was having her bathroom remodelled at the time, with the usual list of awful discoveries one makes in old houses, and her tales of woe caused everyone to tell bathroom stories. There was no bathroom humor except in the meta, which is probably where it belonged. Diana threw herself enthusiastically into this set of conversations, as she did into everything. Our playreading group was meeting regularly at my house at that time, and when we discovered that Diana was staying after the convention to visit Neil Gaiman, we invited them both to the next reading. They couldn't make it for the reading proper, but Neil did bring Diana by, and they ate some of the leftover refreshments and talked to everyone for an hour or so, after which they had to go out to the porch for a smoke. At some point when my hostly duties abated, I realized that they had been out there for quite some time, and furthermore that the furniture I had vaguely believed to be there was actually in the back yard. I discovered them both squatting happily on the dusty, spidery porch, with a few smoke-hardy souls, talking as hard as they could. Neil told me later that they had begun with discussing oxbow rivers and ended with the idea that became Hexwood.

I finally gave in about the Dalemark trilogy and read Cart and Cwidder. To my considerable astonishment, it made The Spellcoats even stranger. In time, good friends gave me the new hardcover set of the Dalemark books, and I found out why one would scour Wales for Drowned Ammet. I read the other Chrestomanci books, and A Tale of Time City, and, oh, heavens, The Homeward Bounders, which is almost as hard to read as Dogsbody and does such things to one's expectations of homeiness, should one have them. I bounced off some later books, including A Sudden Wild Magic and Deep Secret; and, I have to confess, I didn't actually like The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Having heard that Dark Lord of Derkhelm was set there, I didn't read that one. I also held out on Howl's Moving Castle for years, although I did read Castle in the Air. I only read Howl's Moving Castle about a month ago. I feel that its ending, which takes place at the tops of everyone's voice in a rapidly moving magical object under several kinds of attack, is actually harder to understand than that of Fire and Hemlock, but I love it the more for that. I also read, about a month ago, Year of the Griffin, and though I realized that it was a sequel to Dark Lord of Derkhelm, it was too late for me to stop reading it. I really loved it. It was very funny and wonderfully sharp and satirical, but also deeply sweet. I had to give in and read Dark Lord of Derkhelm. This was also very funny, very sweet, and completely imbued with the theme of homeiness, and how easy it is for one to lose it and how hard people work to make it happen in strange ways and places.

I hope Diana has gone home.

pameladean: (Default)
This year Fourth Street left room to drag people onto panels at the last moment. I had an hour and a half's warning of the first one, but missed completely the moment when I was put on the Sunday afternoon panel about how you know when to stop revising. [ profile] skzb reasonably felt that, given the situation my book and I are in, I should be on this panel. I didn't have any preparation time at all, however. Furthermore, everybody else was talking about revision driven by the writer or at most by beta readers. What I had to say about that wasn't really different from what the other panelists [ profile] truepenny, [ profile] matociquala, and [ profile] skzb himself) had to say.

Unfortunately, at the time I was in the foggy, foggy middle of formulating what was making me most uneasy about the project of cutting the 375,000 words of Going North and Abiding Reflection down to 100,000 words. I was over being grieved that I had to remove half a dozen characters, and had at least become calloused to cutting a lot of scenes that I loved madly and wanted other people to read. But I hadn't yet realized what was still making me twitchy. I kept thinking, though I didn't think of saying this on the panel, because I don't do well in realtime, that what I needed was to recognize at what point the book was no longer like a book that I would write. This isn't very useful advice to beginning writers in any case, because they don't know yet what the books they will write are going to look like. Every time I cut down a description, or removed a convoluted section of dialogue, or started with the action rather than moving into it crabwise, I would wonder if I had reached the point where the book didn't sound like me. I've always tried to keep all of such tendencies under control, not wanting a book entirely composed of them, but I thought I could go too far.

The problem was elsewhere, though. It was thematic. This book is about a lot of things, but among the ones I am aware of are such diverse elements as family, whether chosen or biological, and in particular mother-daughter relationships; identity, including both disguise and misidentification, and in general the matter of what I've heard Graydon describe as "being present as oneself in the world"; how community is formed and maintained; how romantic relationships are formed and maintained; and how all smaller relationships fit into communities. I just deleted a long conversation between Frances and Arry about why they never visited Arry's paternal grandmother. It's not directly pertinent to the plot, though it acts indirectly on the plot by informing Arry's actions. Her actions are somewhat overdetermined anyway, so that wasn't an issue, but I suddenly saw through the overt structure of the book and into the thematic underlayer and became seriously worried that I was doing a lot of damage to it. I manage that layer primarily by intuition rather than painstakingly thinking it out as I do plot (such as my plots are), and I felt that I might have done something crazy that would result in an earthquake.

I guess we'll see.



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