Book #3 – The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version by Peter S. Beagle
The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books.
The animated movie version came out when I was seven at the height of my unicorn/horse phase. I would have immediately read the book if any library in Omaha had carried it, or if I could have found it at any local bookstore. This was long before Amazon.com. I finally came across the book as a freshman in college. I was pleased to find, at age 18, that the book was deeper than the movie. Still a fairy tale, but with characters that I could appreciate as an adult, and it’s only in my thirties that I’ve truly begun to understand the cruelty of Schmendrick’s curse (he’ll never age…until he becomes a competent magician).
As a writer, The Lost Version is interesting. It presents Peter S. Beagle’s first go at the story. Not exactly a first draft, but a first start. There are characters and situations (even whole paragraphs) that ended up in the eventually published version, but much of it wasn’t retained. It’s a rare look at how a writer started writing a novel one way, realized that it wasn’t going work, chopped it to bits, and started again. Personally, I’d love to see the demons Azazel and Webster be given their own novel, though it would have to change and grow as much as the unicorn’s story kernel did.
Interesting note in a “me too” kind of way, Beagle writes:
No matter how snappy the dialogue, how darkly evocative the atmosphere, if you listen closely enough you can definitely make out the sound of tap-dancing. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, so I was stalling, hiding in facility, using tricksy craft to cover lack of focus and uncertainty of direction.
Was intrigued by:
Fight Migraine: Be nice to your Mitochondria:
To get to the key point – these researchers believe that certain variations – SNPs – may be associated with gastric emptying, and even pain. The same variations are related to migraine, and childhood cyclic vomiting syndrome (which in many cases is probably abdominal migraine).
I hadn’t heard of this, but honestly haven’t kept up on my migraine research, so I figured I’d do a little research of my own, starting with the sited article:
Many blockquotes to follow:
Our disc league team, Plastic Falls, got off to a pretty rocky start last week with many drops and some misread defense. Granted, we were up against what might be one of the stronger Monday teams, but it would have been a much closer game if we hadn’t beaten ourselves. Last night’s game? Much better. As expected, the flow was better without the numerous drops. Of the men, nearly half are Wednesday disc regulars. On top of that, Ned and Tim have played together quite a few times at New Year Fest. Tom and Reif have been on a league team, and Brent was on our team last season. Of the ladies, Melanie, Fife and I have played on various women’s teams and Mel and Tim have captained together in the past. The familiarity is good, and I hope our newer people don’t feel left out. And our team is a drinking team! I didn’t bring enough beer to last through second game heckling.
Engaging in a constant struggle to do what needs to be done v. what I want to do. Not easy when the lines between work and play blur. Very lazy today. Didn’t sleep well and my back is pretty sore after a trip to Taget on foot yesterday as well as disc. I’m reworking Ch. 7 again, this time with less blow by blow reporting.
Neuroscience and Nostalgia :: Very Evolved:
Nostalgia is exceptionally good at making us feel better when times are tough.
Which explains the insufferable argument of “Things were *so* much better in the old days.”
Book #2 – Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
I’m going to purpose something: There are two ways a writer can write a mystery.
The first is in the manner of a curtain being slowly pulled back on an event. The investigator and the reader learn information at the same rate. The problem with this method, and perhaps with police work in general, is that often you don’t have (and may never have) all the information.
The second is in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are placed out in the open and the detective and the audience piece them together. The problem with this method is that it make it easy for the writer to cheat—to hold a piece back (the ingenious reveal of information that only the detective has gleaned), or to add a piece from a different puzzle (the red herring).
I’m not a fan of the second.* That said, I was pretty sure that was the method Christie uses. Murder on the Orient Express is the first Christie novel I’ve read, and it is the one I knew the ending to. While she uses some of those cheats, there’s sort a fourth-wall-meta aspect to this story that I wasn’t expecting. The characters themselves comment on how much like a police novel the events are. Some clues are tagged as so obvious that they are disregarded because they were planted to look like clues. That kind of a wink to the process endeared me.
One thing that Christie does very well is differentiate her characters. For a fairly short book, it has a big cast. She establishes key detail for each and does a masterful job giving them personality through dialog. Much of this book was the characters being interviewed by other characters, by stories being told and retold, and Christie avoids it becoming tedious by giving each telling its own separate voice.
*Okay, Doyle does it too in his Sherlock Holmes stories, and I love Doyle. What Doyle does: He puts us in the head of Watson, someone who is pretty much the reader. And then has Holmes insult our intelligence because we can’t keep up. Somehow, this makes us love the character all the more.
JT asked via Facebook:
As an author, do you consider the short-story to be a medium unique from novel, or is it just a short novel?
Different medium. Short stories are far less complex. Settings are simple, character choices and character POV choices are limited, plots are what would be a plot thread in a novel. On a nuts and bolts level, when you only have 7000 words to work with, it’s necessary to contemplate word choice in an effort to wring meaning from every word (which is certainly a weakness of mine). Novels alleviate that somewhat. Ideas can be bigger, worlds can be richer especially in the case of speculative fiction. When reading Frank Herbert’s Dune, I never sat back and thought, “that’s a beautifully written passage,” but his ideas make it an amazing novel. On the other hand, I’ll read some Ray Bradbury short stories and be blown away by the beauty of the language; not-so-much by the intricacy of the story.
Black Gate » Blog Archive » Remember to Punch In: Writing “On-the-Clock”
The daunting, open-ended task of revising makes it too easy for me to back-off and spend less and less time re-writing. I start to slack off from a process that seems it will never end…
Yep. I’m achievement driven. In school, it was getting grades. Since I was good at school, I didn’t care too much about what grade I got though I’d get a little neurotic if I thought I was failing (I never was). It was getting that feedback–the grade–after doing the work that was the satisfying achievement. It is unfortunate that I’ve ended up in a profession where feedback is scarce. Rejections letters are a type of feedback. They mean, at best, that I’ve finished a work and I’ve sent it out. But they tell me nothing about the quality of my work. Agents and editors are understandably too busy to provide feedback to every author that submits work to them. But even on a micro scale, it’s a rough deal for the person that likes to know they’ve done something. Word counts are lovely. They are something quantifiable. But writing is 20% writing, 80% editing. And I have a tough time staying excited because editing isn’t quantifiable. I’ve tried time tracking, and it’s never really worked, probably because it’s slightly too complex. Maybe the more simple version of a timer will work better, with a weekly time goal.
Writer Beware Blogs!: Victoria Strauss — Writing Oddities: Shortstoryofthemonth.com
A List Apart: Articles: In Defense of Readers