Archive for September, 2007

Robert Jordan

September 17th, 2007

News has spread quickly that James Rigney, aka Robert Jordan, best known as author of the massively successful The Wheel of Time series, has passed away after a struggle with a rare and difficult disease.

I am so very sorry to hear of his death.

I never met him, so his death does not touch me on a personal level in terms of friendship. But I do mark certain kinships with him:

He was a writer.

He wrote, among other things, fat fantasy novels (a term I use with affection, not disdain) published as installments in a long series. Indeed, one might argue that his monumental success with The Eye of the World and the volumes that followed made my career (and that of others) possible, much as – to use that well-worn phrase – a rising tide lifts all boats. Some years ago there was even a notable New York Times Book Review article by Edward Rothstein calling him the American Tolkien comparing his work to Tolkien’s, in terms both of his influence on the market and his use of specifically American tropes and sensibilities in his writing.

Update: The article can be found here.

I read part (not all) of the first novel, and while I did not go on to read any more of the series, my gut instinct from reading what I did of his work was that it mattered deeply to him, as the work of writers does matter so very deeply to all of us. It’s part of us. It’s inseparable from us, from who we are, from how we live in the world.

Obviously it is a truism that we none of us know how long we have. And while some live a long life and come to its end feeling that they’ve accomplished everything they’ve wished for and are content with how things stand, many more go out with unfinished business or goals left unmet.

So I am saddened to hear of his passing. I am sorry about the bereavement of his loved ones and friends. I am sad that so many readers who got such pleasure from his work will not be able to follow the tale to the conclusion that only he could have written (I am sure that the story will be completed as faithfully as possible by another hand, but it can’t be the same).

But I tell you. As a fellow writer, it really hurts to know that this man who surely invested so much of himself, his passion, his skills, and his life into this series did not get to finish it, as he must have wished to do.

RIP, Robert Jordan, the writer, and James Rigney, the man

Down the Pub With Tolkien and C. S. Lewis

September 16th, 2007

The following is from an article in the current Times Literary Supplement around a new book about the Inklings, by Diana Pavlac Glyer, The Company They Keep.

[ There is magic in the last line of The Lord of the Rings. To recap: the stolidly courageous Sam Gamgee, having watched his best friend, Frodo Baggins, sail towards the Grey Havens and into a kind of death, is left to walk back to the Shire where he finds his wife and children waiting with the promise of a quiet life far from the slaughter of the War of the Ring. J. R. R. Tolkien finishes with the sentence: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said”. It is a touchingly understated conclusion which returns the prose to the homely simplicity of the inaugural chapters after the archaic epic mode of The Return of the King.

However, as Diana Pavlac Glyer tells us in her scholarly and perceptive study The Company They Keep, this is not how Tolkien originally intended to finish his trilogy. He had in mind a further epilogue, set sixteen years after the events of the rest of the book, which would have provided another, superfluous glimpse into Gamgee’s domesticity. In this ultimately excised version, a grey-haired Sam reads stories of his adventures to his children, spinning them tales of wizards and orcs and walking trees. There is even the faint suggestion that Sam has been narrating the story of The Lord of the Rings itself, before, at last, we depart the Shire for good, leaving Sam and Rose in a state of connubial bliss, tale-telling by the fireside.
What stopped Tolkien from publishing this ending was his membership of the Inklings – that renowned circle of Oxford writers and academics who met for seventeen years from 1932 and which counted C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and E. R. Edison, the author of The Worm Ouroboros, among their number. It was they who pointed out the glutinous sentimentality of the scene, marshalling their forces to argue that it added nothing of substance to a narrative which had already swollen far beyond the “second Hobbit” requested by his publishers. Glyer suggests that this incident typifies the way in which the Inklings affected one another’s work, despite the fact that in later years its members were frequently to insist that their meetings acted more as a social club than a writers’ circle, brushing aside any suggestion of real influence. ]

That the TLS article begins with the pub, reminds me of last week’s discussion on the LJ BlackGate fantasy magazine site, bg_editor, re taverns and Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery.

Love, C. 

Line Editing in 10 Easy Steps

September 4th, 2007

I just finished revising the manuscript for my second novel, and I’ve got line editing on the brain. Here are ten easy steps you can take on that nearly-done manuscript that will significantly tighten up your prose and improve your final product.

1. Eliminate unnecessary modifiers. When I say unnecessary modifiers, I’m talking about both “weasel” words that lessen the impact of your prose and useless modifiers that emphasize for no reason. Words like possibly, simply, really, totally, very, supposedly, seriously, terribly, allegedly, utterly, sort of, kind of, usually, extremely, almost, mostly, practically, probably, and quite. Why write “It was quite hot out that day” or “It was extremely hot that day” when the sentence “It was hot that day” accomplishes the same thing? The more clutter you can get rid of, the better your sentences will be.

2. Eliminate clichés. What’s a cliché? A cliché is any phrase so commonplace the reader speeds right past it without even realizing they’ve done so. The metaphor is wasted. When you say someone’s scraping the bottom of the barrel, do you actually picture someone scraping the bottom of a barrel? When someone’s monkeying around or driving like a maniac, do you actually think of monkeys or drooling lunatics? Better to have plain, unadorned prose than prose filled with clichés. This doesn’t mean you need to strike out every last familiar phrase from your manuscript; you just need to be conscious of what each word in your story is doing. Microsoft Word’s grammar checker has a helpful feature that will automatically underline clichés with a green squiggly line. Give it a try.

3. Eliminate repeated words and phrases. I’m not just talking about redundant phrases that are redundant. In going through my book, I discovered my characters were rasping things every two pages. A certain character was constantly described as panther-like. And every time people stopped to think, they would “fold their arms before their chest” or “roll their eyes.” Use your word processor’s search function to hunt these repeated phrases down, then use the thesaurus to find replacements. They don’t have to be fancy words, just different ones. My rule of thumb is that really striking words shouldn’t be repeated at all within the same chapter, and only repeated a few times in the same book. For more common words and phrases, just make sure they’re not repeated too close together.

4. Search for extraneous thats and hads. Perhaps this is just a shortcoming of my own prose, but I’ve noticed that I tend to stick in way too many thats and hads. Quick example: “He had been talking about how he had needed to get new glasses” could be phrased better as “He talked about how he needed new glasses,” or even “He talked about needing new glasses.” That often sneaks in between clauses in a sentence when it’s not really needed. “I knew that I was robbed” can be tweaked down to “I knew I was robbed.” (Often this is a function of choosing a better tense; see #9 below.)

5. Straighten out your mixed metaphors. Jumbling metaphors together in a big stew of words is my Achilles’ heel. I actually like the effect that comes from clobbering the reader with a smorgasbord of different metaphors. But you have to know when to stick to your guns and when to cool it. If you’re riddled with doubt about a particular sentence, try treating every word absolutely literally to see if the sentence pans out. Make sure you’re conscious of every metaphor in your prose; they shouldn’t slip in there unbidden.

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