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[writing|process] Old home week at Wordos, "The Stars Do Not Lie" - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-04-24 05:26
Subject: [writing|process] Old home week at Wordos, "The Stars Do Not Lie"
Security: Public
Tags:awards, events, oregon, process, radiantlisa, stories, travel, writing
Yesterday, Lisa Costello and I drove the 100+ miles down to Eugene, OR to attend a Wordos meeting, with a dinner preceding. This was the first Wordos meeting I've been to in years, though for the first half of the last decade I was an almost weekly attendee. It was great good fun to see some old friends there, as well as meet a few new ones. And it was a very strange experience to hear my Nebula- and Hugo-nominated novella "The Stars Do Not Lie" be discussed in critical terms.

One of the points several people made was that the story would have taken a real beating at the critique table. The first two paragraphs are so dense and strange that they violate a number of the classic Turkey City lexicon rules. Yet those first two paragraphs neatly encapsulate one of the basic themes of the story, and foreshadow much of the plot. In other words, they work in spite of themselves and the rules we try to follow.

It was also interesting to hear people talk about my intentions for this-and-that, and how I crafted the contrasting voice for the two mutually antagonistic protagonists, and so forth. To my mind, one of the oddities of literary criticism (as opposed to critique) is the imputing of motives to the author. I can remember back in high school hearing English teachers say things like, "What Faulkner is doing here is emphasizing [some cultural trope]", and thinking, No, what Faulkner is doing here is telling a damned story. It's the readers who find those other things.

Over three decades later, it turns out I was right. That discussion really made me reflect once more on the concept of unconscious competence. When I wrote "The Stars Do Not Lie", I was just telling a damned story. I was generally aware of what I was doing — I'm not blind to my own thinking, after all — but I never sat there and said to myself, "Gee, how shall I emphasize the dynamic of faith in conflict with reason in this scene?" I never said to myself, "Oh, this fits into the conversation-that-is-genre going back to Lord of Light and Universe."

Those sorts things are true, in the sense that they are very clearly present in the text, but Fred put them there, not me. At least not my conscious, self-aware self.

All in all, it would have been a fascinating experience in almost any context, but all the more so among the friends and writers who played a powerful and very material role in launching my career.

After that discussion we had about a thirty-minute impromptu Q&A on the craft and business of writing, which was kind of fun, too. Like world's shortest writing workshop or something. And again, as I said to Lisa, a decade and a half ago I was at the other end of that exact same table, asking those kinds of questions. Quite weird to be talking to my past self. Giving back by paying forward. Plus it was a lot of fun.

My thanks to the Wordos for inviting us down and hosting us.

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User: Jeff P
Date: 2013-04-24 12:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"No, what Faulkner is doing here is telling a damned story. It's the readers who find those other things."

Yes, this. It's the reason why to this day I find it difficult to read classic literature. It was shoved down my throat by public education as deeply meaningful and complex. If they'd just let me read the damn story and THEN discuss potential themes, meanings, etc, maybe I wouldn't have felt quite as stupid as I did. Because I wasn't seeing any of the stuff the teachers talked about in MY reading of the novel/story, I thought I was stupid and gave up trying.

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User: Jeff P
Date: 2013-04-24 12:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But I swear, one of thes days I'm gonna read MOBY DICK!
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asakiyume: highwayman
User: asakiyume
Date: 2013-04-25 02:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:highwayman
That's why it's fun to go back and read those stories later, when no teacher is hanging over your shoulder waiting for you to get this or that out of it--then you can enjoy it just as you like. I did this with A Tale of Two Cities recently--it was excellent.
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crystalrmartin
User: crystalrmartin
Date: 2013-04-24 15:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree with the poster above. I remember in high school a famous short story. It was a man and tiger with a bond.

In reading the story, I some how cometely missed the implied sexual relationship context. He ruined the story for me...
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mmegaera
User: mmegaera
Date: 2013-04-24 20:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I was an English major. One of my great joys was to write my papers about the stories I'd read, as opposed to everything else. Drove my professors crazy, but they had to give me the grades.
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daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-04-24 22:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Re Wordos visit: I'd have given a lot to be there. Just not a plane-ticket-to-Eugene kind of lot. I'm glad you enjoyed the experience.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-04-24 22:38 (UTC)
Subject:
Sorry to have missed you, sir.
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asakiyume
User: asakiyume
Date: 2013-04-25 01:58 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It must be weird to see people giving your own story that sort of going-over--it must be a bit daunting. Or maybe just awesome. The whole thing Junot Diaz says (probably it's not new with him, but he's the person I heard it from, so...) of the readers writing the final chapter--if you get to hear a bunch of people talking about all the stuff in your stories, it's like getting to hear bunches and bunches of those final chapters.

Sounds like it was a lot of fun.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-04-25 02:03 (UTC)
Subject:
Oh, absolutely a lot of fun. Just odd...
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