Hilaire, Unhilarious

I took a break from Upham to start Hilaire Belloc‘s The French Revolution. He blames Carnot for everything, really, and as a Frenchman I suppose he has the right. But his comments on Marat give me a great deal of thought.

“He was often right when he denounced a political intriguer: he often would have sacrificed a victim not unjustly condemned, he often discovered an agent partially responsible, and even the violent solutions that he suggested were not always impracticable. But it was the prime error of his tortured mind that beyond victims, and sudden violent clutches at the success of democracy, there was nothing else he could conceive. He was incapable of allowing for imperfections, for stupidities, for the misapprehension of mind by mind, for the mere action of time, and for all that renders human life infinitely complex and infinitely adjustable.”

Excerpt From: Hilaire Belloc. “The French Revolution”.

His two short portraits of Marat and Robespierre are bookends of a sort; they present personalities immediately recognizable in the age of social media as well. Plus ça change, and all that.

Belloc was a Catholic apologist, an anti-Semite, didn’t believe in evolution, and probably would be a Gamergater if alive today, so if you want to read, be warned. I find him funny, but it’s the raging bigots who have a gift for comedy you have to watch out for. That aside, I’m always game for French Revolution histories, and he’s witty enough in places to be a smooth read. When I finish it I’ll go back to Upham; it’s not quite a palate cleanser so much as a different taste to provide complexity.

Angles

My fascination with bulldozers and differs is akin to my fascination with gas meters, with the added wonder of “hands no bigger than mine built this THING, this huge powerful THING.” And yet, even the largest machine can be defeated by a small thing. We are so powerful, and so fragile at once. Which is a good thing. Without the fragility, power becomes corruption in a heartbeat.

Yes, I’m feeling philosophical this morning. How could you tell?

Zero Drafts

I finished the zero draft of the first Combine’s Shadow book last night. So today is kind of an off-day, though I still have to get out the door for a run. God knows I’m feeling the pressure to get a whole chunk of Beast of Wonder out of my head today, too.

Every once in a while I get a rash of people asking “what’s a zero draft?” so I thought I might as well do a whole post on it, since I just finished one and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have another soon. (Beast of Wonder really, really wants to be written now, and I need it out of my head.)

It’s been said that all good writing is rewriting, and like all old chestnuts, it contains a grain of truth. Certainly there are occasions when a chunk of text falls out of my head and needs only minimal polishing before it’s ready for primetime, when I fall into a fugue state and churn out something beautiful. (The Muse does have to give me random rewards in order to keep me addicted, after all.) Those gifts are Easter-egg sprinkled through every draft, hidden hinges and visible ones for the story to hang on.

Zero draft means the work is done. It has the beginning, middle, end, there aren’t any places saying [[shit happens here]] or [[why isn’t this working, figure out the muppet here]] or [[jesus christ I have to kill this character soon]] or, one of my favorites, [[sex scene here?]]. It’s in recognizable book/short story/novella form; the corpse is whole and laid on the table. Celebrate, get a beverage of your choice, soak up the congrats of all your writer friends. You’ve given birth!

Now comes the hard part. Nobody else sees this draft. Oh, no. Are you kidding? It’s not even ready for mew writing partner or beta readers yet.

The zero draft is the raw steaming lump of creativity. I set it aside, for at least a week. More difficult works sometimes have to marinate for longer. This serves two purposes: it helps ease the snapback, and it gives some slight but critical emotional distance from the big, messy word-baby you’ve just laid. You need that distance in order to make the word-baby better, prettier, more appealing, truer to its shape and intention.

Once it’s marinated for a little bit, you can go back and do the initial revision pass. You can fix typos, you can trim and craft better sentences, do continuity checks–basically, the initial pass is for arranging the corpse prettily on the table, embalming it, fixing structural problems, changing your dialogue tags to action or description tags, and the like. After that pass, it becomes a first draft.

Now other people–writing partner, beta readers, etc.–can see it. Now you can let it marinate for a little while longer before another revision pass if you can tell it needs more. A zero draft is the skeleton; a first draft is that skeleton with padding and clothing added. (Yes, I’m gleefully abusing metaphors here to make a point. You’d think I was a writer.) Work doesn’t stop at a first draft–I know writers who get to at least the third before they even consider letting an agent or editor near it. I tend to work hot and lean even in my first drafts, so I need agent/editor feedback on where the lacunae are, those things I can see so clearly in my head I forget the reader doesn’t have that image as well. It’s rare that I keep a book until the second or third draft.

Why don’t I call a zero a first draft? Because it’s finished, yes, but it’s not quite arranged, painted, or aesthetically where I want it. The brute work of typing is done, but it’s the cut and polish that makes it better. Still, the zero is a thing to celebrate. You’ve got to give yourself a break and a reward or two for finishing the damn story before you can gather the energy to make the corpse ready for the viewing.

It doesn’t mean the work is over, but you’ve got to take the good things where you find them.

Upham on Salem

Witch Board, Occultism, Necromancy
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I fell asleep last night reading Charles Wentworth Upham on the Salem witch trials. First published in 1867, the work is prey to racism common at the time, though Upham seems rather uneasy at the genocide of the Native Americans. He also doesn’t mention chattel slavery in the colonial period more than glancingly–of course, with the Civil War reaching its final bloody conclusion two years earlier, he may have thought it indelicate to refer to. There’s also a regrettable lack of women in his text–they’re wives or daughters, rarely even rating their own name. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the actual trial events themselves.

Right now (well, a good 200 pages in) he’s carefully laying out all the property disputes that set the stage for the witchcraft fury, untangling the resentments that no doubt gave it dry fuel. Surprisingly, for a man who no doubt had several Confederate sympathies, he seems to be trying to be…fair and even-handed? Kind of? At least, he has the idea that we cannot point out a mote of dust in historical eyes without dealing with the beams in our own to some extent.

“They did not understand the great truth which Hugh Peters preached to Parliament, “Why,” said he, “cannot Christians differ, and yet be friends? All children should be fed, though they have different faces and shapes: unity, not uniformity, is the Christian word.” They admitted no such notion as this. They thought uniformity the only basis of unity. They meant to make and to keep this a country after their own pattern, a Congregational, Puritan, Cambridge-Platform-man’s country. The time has not yet come when we can lift up clean hands against them. Two successive chief-magistrates of the United States have opened the door and signified to one-eighth part of our whole people, that it will be best for them to walk out. So long as the doctrine is maintained that this is the white man’s country, or any man’s, or any class or kind of men’s country, it becomes us to close our lips against denunciation of the Fathers of New England because they tried to keep the country to themselves.” Excerpt From: Charles Wentworth Upham. “Salem Witchcraft, Volumes I and II.” iBooks.

I’d be more impressed if he wasn’t the guy who got Hawthorne dismissed from the Salem customs-house, or if he hadn’t gotten Jones Very institutionalized. I’d be truly impressed if he went the extra step and denounced genocide and chattel slavery in America as the cancer it was, and remains. Still, the book is public domain, and it remains a good and careful tracing of a seminal event in American history.

One of the side effects of reading about the Puritans is a distressing feeling of having sinned just by breathing. (This was particularly marked when I read Cotton Mather and watched The Witch in short order; Puritanism is somewhat of a virus, and its infection of the American body politic is insidious.) This morning’s coffee felt like a stolen pleasure, hence all the more intensely enjoyable. I’m going to need a palate cleanser after going from Serge’s Russia: Twenty Years After straight to Upham. Maybe that latest Bernie Gunther novel.

*wanders away, muttering about the Colonial Era*

Validation

I spent the weekend putting together alternatives to Patreon for my lovely subscribers. I could have been doing so many other things, but oh well. I also had the heaving frustration of my site basically choking every time I tried to upload an image, that was fun. Fortunately, this morning I got in the queue for a service chat with my hosting provider, and we figured out the problem. Ugh, double ugh, I could have been doing something else with THAT time, too, but now it’s solved (for the moment, we’ll see if the solution holds) and I can breathe a little easier.

I am also relieved that the problem was something I couldn’t have fixed on my own. It’s so nice when someone else says, “Oh yeah, it’s X, let’s see if this works.” I wasn’t just imagining things! I mean, I knew I wasn’t, but the validation is still pleasant indeed.

So I’m shivering in my chair, my coffee has grown tepid, and as hard as I tried this morning I could not get out the door for a run at a reasonable time. That means it will have to be unreasonable, and I’m already behind. There’s four scenes to get an acceptable zero draft of Combine Shadow, a weekend’s worth of wordcount to get back on top of, more Beast of Wonder to feel my way around, under, towards…oh, I’m sure there’s more on the list, including setting up workflows and choosing this week’s subscription offerings. And, and, and. I should just get over myself, slather on some sunscreen, and get going. Maybe the endorphins and some vitamin D will make me feel a little less frazzled and more, well, human.

Maybe once I finish my run I’ll turn the heat on and drink some tea. It’s a good thing I work ahead on so many projects, it means I have a cushion for just such weekends as the last one. The only trouble is, once that cushion starts to get thin I get anxious, thinking I’m behind when really I’m slightly ahead or just on time. If I’m not early, I feel late.

Anxiety is fun.

That’s my Monday, chickadees. The perennial feeling of needing a weekend to recover from the weekend is getting awful familiar…

Russia’s Pockets

So, just in the past few years, Russia has poured a lot of resources not only into bankrolling the Syrian war but also into fucking with elections and social media in other countries. Ukraine, France, Britain, and yes, the US. (At this point, anyone who still thinks the Mango Mussolini and his merry nepotist crew weren’t funded and prodded by the Kremlin is simply refusing to see the obvious and proven.) Servers aren’t cheap, neither is the time spent finding ways around various defenses or deciding whom to sic the dogs of harassment upon.

This is a massive outlay. Where is the money to fund it coming from? The oligarchs, the perennial dependence on a tax on spirits, gas pipelines, certainly. Also, during the period of openness, the economy exploded in a good way, and that leap forward is still being cannibalized by the oligarchs. Still…that’s a lot of effort and cash going basically down foreign holes.

One of the reasons the Soviet bloc fell apart was the USSR’s propping up of various regimes. Frex, North Korea playing the USSR and China against each other to extract the most from both, or aid to Cuba, various rebuilding programs in Iron Curtain countries, aid to nascent Communist China once Stalin (and his rivalry with Mao) was safely dead continuing into a significant drain of rubles all through Kruschev’s and later regimes, Kalashnikovs shipped to insurrections–I could go on, but you get the idea.

Russia’s pockets are deep but not endless. I’m wondering how sustainable Russia’s meddling is in the long term, and how the looming Vodka Politics demographic disaster will affect funding for it, and also wondering what shape the inevitable collapse will take. Of course Putin and his crew will escape offshore with their looted billions if they’re quick enough to get out before the instability reaches critical mass. But if there’s one thing about iron-fisted oligarch kleptocrats, it’s that they’re addicted to stealing more and more–a gambler’s addiction, forgetting that the house always wins.

These are things I think about when I should be writing, apparently. Hrm.

Brown Sugar

So, over Thanksgiving, I decided to try some brown sugar bourbon. It was extremely good in spiced apple juice, though I don’t think I’d sip it neat. It wasn’t as ungodly sweet as cinnamon the whiskey, though, so I could see sipping it on its own, but why when one can add it to unsweetened hot cocoa?

It went down extremely easily, and was very warming. Given current events, I’m wishing I had some left. *sigh*

(For the curious, I purchased it at Trader Joe’s. You can also order it from a local distillery, I believe.)