Archive for August, 2010

Mary Roach and being yourself

Reading Mary Roach is always good for various writing lessons, generally of a positive nature. She and Neal Stephenson are my two leading examples of how you can talk about potentially any subject, regardless of how complicated and potentially dry, and have a lot of fun with it. Roach’s Stiff was a blast, so I launched into Spook with high expectations.

And, for a brief moment, I was disappointed. The first chapter, in which Roach goes to India to meet a reincarnation investigator, had tons of potential (and, to be sure, wonderful moments), but a bit too often it fell into the Daffy American Abroad trap, where Roach is too self-conscious about her own quirkiness, and comments on how people are reacting to her, or how she assumes they are reacting to her. I worried that she had internalized too much of the praise from Stiff, that she had started believing her own press and was determined to tell us that she was wacky, instead of just letting it flow.

Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. Once she got off the reincarnation trip, she started focusing more on the thoughts and activities of others. She still left herself space to present her own personal reactions, but after the first chapter the primary focus moved away from those reactions; instead of them being the point of the text, they were the flavor that made the text zingy.

When she’s on (and she usually is), Roach is a master at the telling detail. By capturing the way a scientist named Gary Nahum talks, or by looking at how other people’s desks are arranged, she pulls out crucial specifics that tell us a lot about the person she is with. They also, of course, tell us about her, because we learn what kinds of things she notices and what kind of things she cares about. She doesn’t have to foreground her wackiness and her interesting perspectives; she just has to let them happen, because they are simply a natural part of who she is.

This is one of the fun things about first-person stories–you don’t have to (and, IMHO, shouldn’t) spend time having the narrator describe himself or herself. You have to pay attention to what it is they notice, and how they notice it. You then avoid the Ferris Bueller problem of a character having to describe their life philosophy, and instead let that philosophy be suffused through everything they do. Which is the best way to do it anyway, since the philosophies we articulate and the philosophies we live by are not always the same thing.

New project updates to be here and on Twitter

I’ve just started a new project with Jennifer Brozek and Tony Steele, and it should be a lot of fun. I’m keeping the exact nature of it a little quiet for now, but the blog and my Twitter account (@JasonMHardy) will be used for updates as things move along. This falls right into two areas I’m very interested in–science fiction and humor–so I’m really looking forward to it!

GenCon delays–and opportunities

This GenCon thing, it’s demanding! Takes a lot of time! I meant to have the follow up to Ghosts of Love up by now, but GenCon prep keeps rearing its ugly head.

On the plus side, there’s a very interesting new possibility out there, and GenCon will hopefully help it take a couple steps forward. As always, GenCon taketh away, and GenCon giveth.

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