Monday, February 23, 2015

Living in the Woods

I grew up in the woods.  Not the real woods.  The woods of Into the Woods.  My post before last discussed some of the differences between the movie and the play of Into the Woods.  One of the things I missed from the movie and loved about the play was the sense of the woods not just as a fairy tale world, but of a place of liminality--it is the place of the in betweens in life and the place to change.  It exists outside our world but heightens our lives.  It is a place of moments.

I grew up in a liberal, artistic household in a city renown for great parks, the world's largest man made waterfall, and symphony and a community college the largest walled prison in the world, and currently the growth economic industries are pot and happy ending massage parlors.  It was a conservative place in the real world.  But I didn't live there.

My parents created a world where we had school chalkboards on the walls and dry ice for our games.  I had a trapeze swing inside.  My mother wrote novels and poetry.  I went to art classes.  The world breathed creativity, intellectualism, and good natured debates.  My father worked at and eventually became the regional bank president all while running around town in a flannel shirt and a pink bandana on weekends.  We had pets from dogs and cats to birds to a four foot long monitor lizard with mouth rot.  We brought home stray animals.  We brought home strays.

When I went out in the world, my mother and father had taught me etiquette and how to work the school system so that I functioned.  I was bright, and never aware there was a box to think outside of in the first place.  I collected the odd friends.  The ones who didn't quite fit.  Maybe they read too much.  Maybe they played elaborate pretend games at lunch.  Maybe they were the ones who had to eat alone at lunch.  I enticed them home.  Most of them never really left.

My parents made our house a haven for neighborhood kids as children to all my brother and my friends as we grew into our teen years.  They talked to us like we were adults.  Unlike the outside world, gayness didn't matter and masturbation was a positive concept.  My mother spooled worlds of feminism.  The world was at once a haven for childhood and experimentation for adulthood.  My parents left us alone in the evenings as we grew older, retreating to their room so we could "have our space".  We ran our own world in that house.  It was a place to change.  It was a place to come to in times of trouble.  We were generations of local theater brats.  We experimented with drugs and alcohol.  Those who ended up with problems found them in reality.  We experimented we sexuality like Little Red Riding Hood.  We learned ourselves.  So many comings-of-age happened there.

The difference between the woods and The Davies House was that the woods were dangerous.  And yes, what we worked through there was dangerous.  But the Davies House supported us.  My parents were accepting and generous to a fault.

Once they went to bed, I became the overseer of the House.  You want food?  Go find it for yourself.  I'll guide you through the kitchen the first time.  You lost your hat?  Here is the lost clothing basket.  You get a little too forceful when drunk.  I smash the tension if I have to.  I take care of you in all of your problems.  I might not be good, but I was nice, and right, whether or not I was listened to.  I picked up.  I stayed sober so that I could stand between my friends and drunk driving.  My parents didn't want anyone driving home drunk, though anyone was welcome to stay anytime.   I mothered so much I felt like a den mother instead of a friend sometimes.

But of course I fought my own demons as I came into my bipolar disorder.  My depressions I felt so guilty about.  How could I be unhappy when I had the perfect family?  The manias I did not have the vocabulary to explain to anyone, including myself.  I kept my pain to myself but felt safe that when I needed it, people would return the favor and help me out too.

Eventually, a friend helped me fuck picking up and taking care of everyone else.  I had a summer of mania and tequila and pot and a friend who listened to me talk of depression.  I talked of wanting to kill myself.  He talked of how his father killing himself had effected his life.  I swore no matter how bad it got, I would never do that to the people I left behind.  I lived in a summer of moments.  I fell in love.  Too bad he was gay.

The Baker's wife sings in Into the Woods "If life were made of moments / even now and then a bad one / But if life were made of moments / Then you would never know you had one."  I grew up in moments.  The only reason I knew anything different was because I had to visit the outside world.

The Davies House wasn't just a place to party.  My parents challenged our thoughts.  We dissected plays and music and movies together.  Though everyone was welcomed into the Davies House, my friends were discerning about who they brought over, whether they lived up to Davies people standards.  They appreciated and respected my parents.

No one ever wanted to hang out anywhere but at our house.  That group of friends still holds onto each other today, though we are spread as far away as Italy.  Late night conversations still return to the Davies House (it was not me or my brother that our friends visited.  They visited the whole house, as a concept).  They use it as changes in their own lives.  They remember the changes it wrought then.  Some of them even use some Davies House concepts to raise their own children, as their own children visit, on occasion, the Davies House.

Not to say we didn't have our bad moments.  One of my friends used to joke that to hang with us, you had to be fucked up somehow.  Together we dealt with substance abuse issues, grown men dating teenagers.  Love, and loss of love.  On more than one occasion someone truly came to live at our house for a while after their parents had kicked them out for being gay or were being abusive.  On one occasion when one of us swallowed a bottle of pills in a suicide attempt, all she wanted to do was come the the Davies when our friends found her.  It was our bad moment to talk her into going to the hospital.

Leaving for college is supposed to be a liberating experience, but I was horrified.  All of the freedoms the dorm bequeathed on newly freed youth, I had already had at home, and I didn't live in a cell.  I have never gotten used to reality.  I always will belong in the woods.  Perhaps that is why I write.     

Monday, February 2, 2015

battle scene antipathy

I hate battle scenes.  All right.  That last scene where you bring together every thread in the book can be cool.  But your average battle scene is boring as hell.  You would think they would be exciting, right?  I know writers who live for them.  Short of those scenes where you are trying to set up a lot of shit and not sound like the exposition queen, battle scenes suck.

When I lived in Oakland, Ca, a writer in one of my one of my writing groups lived for them.  She had crazy battle plans where flanks moved in at strategic points and the other side responded to this maneuver with its own.  In fact, I may be in the minority of fantasy writers here.

But I'm the character girl.  And battle scenes have limited options for character meat.  The scene has to move quickly.  I can't slow it down with a lot of emotions.  The characters have to react quickly to a fast moving situation.  They have time for a line or so of emotion before the next act of violence hits them  I keep in straight limited third person as well.  That means that the reader only experiences what the point of view character experiences.  That means I have to know everything happening around them.  I have to plan out who moves where when and who does what to whom.  But the character has little chance to look around and see what is going on beyond their immediate conflict.  That's a fine line to walk.  You want to give the reader some sense of what else is going on, but it makes no sense for your point of view character to be standing around and checking people out during a battle.

I must say there are also only so many ways you can kill people.  I suppose I could go all James Bond with hats that slice your head off, but in a remotely realistic fight, every death is not going to be as spectacular as a decapitation.  So that is another reason it gets a little dull.  Even in fantasy where I can use trees that's branches turn into nooses and things like that.

My fights also don't contain much in the way of Robin Hood daring-do.  Nobody prances about and kills people in expert and dashing ways.  Even the people who know how to kill don't do it with a gleam in their eye and a twirl of their mustache.

So that pretty much limits me to harried and gross.  That's where I want to be anyway.  Some of my characters, like Jamie in the sequel to Weaver's Web, Will-o-the-Wisps Warp, are expert fighters and do so with little fear or horror.  There are even occasional scenes with Laurel and he, especially when feeding, where I can take a slight comedic twist.  But most of the time my characters don't know that much about fighting, and are freaked out and disgusted by what is going on around them.

I am a fan of the after battle fights.  Especially the first few battles someone is involved in.  Then lots of character development happens fast.  How do they handle the fact they have just killed someone?  That people were trying to kill them?  That their friends or themselves might be hurt?  How do they deal with the smell of blood and half digested food and shit that will accompany many battle scenes? These things are more interesting to me.

I also like, as I said, my climatic fight at the end of the book.  Except in series, I am finding, where this fight may not resolve everything.  The cool thing about those last fights is that yes, I usually do a lot of character wrap ups before and afterwards, but to me the point of those final fights is to bring together the themes and character arcs that I have been building towards the entire book.  That is fun. It takes pacing so that your point of view character can register actions and have emotional build up.  It takes, in my experience, some sort of conversation with your Big Bad in order to get these last threads tied up, and because it would be quite anticlimactic if the Big Bad never got to have their moment, but just got shot with an arrow and that was that.  However, you really have to watch that pacing, because no one likes a James Bond evil monologue.

As Dr. Evil's son, Scott, points out in Austin Powers:  International Man of Mystery, just shoot him.  Boom.  No prolonged gloating.  No lasers that will split him up the crotch.  All of these things make your piece unwieldy and your villain look like an idiot.  Okay.  I have one villain who gloats.  But I set up that he is the gloating type way in advance.  And havoc is still happening while he maniacally gloats.

Lead ups to fights can be quite interesting.  Scenes directly after a battle can carry a lot of development.  But except in the case of those final, theme uniting scenes, battle scenes are dull.  You have to plan out a sequence of events ahead of time so that your chaos will be orchestrated, and then there is nothing left to do but plod through it.