Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Sat 14 Oct 00 20:46
There are many, many, many paths that go nowhere. Sometimes, there are characters who change entirely over the course of the book. In the book I'm currently writing, there's one young man who almost got rewritten as a old woman. I did a few scenes that way, then decided that he really was a young man. But maybe he's retained some of the characteristics that he picked up while he was an old woman, something that the reader will never see. But it's not like I start again with a character. It's more like I move forward, figuring out who they are--and then revise their past to match once I know who they are. I could make an argument that we all do that with our lives, to some extent. Unconsciously, we edit our memories. But I digress--for more on that, check out an article I wrote wearing my science writer persona. It's at http://www.brazenhussies.net/murphy/memory.html Back on fiction writing. For me, writing fiction is a process of exploration. When I'm done, if I did my work well, you don't see all the dead ends and false starts. Sometimes, you'll see the scenic byway that I just couldn't resist taking, even though there was a shorter route. Some characters are fixed from the start: Mrs. Selby was always a sweet, nurturing soul; Jasper Davis was always a bad guy. But other characters meander a bit to find themselves. Perhaps it was misleading to say that Max wandered out the hills with his mule and then developed with the story. When Max first wandered out to the hills, he was a former Chicago policeman. Then for a while, I thought he might be a Pinkerton. No, that wasn't it--but I knew he had something to do with crime. I start with an image, it's true. I also start with a strong sense of a character's personality and how they fit into the story. Then I bumble about for a bit, exploring, in the course of figuring out who this person really is. The initial image may not be precisely correct, but it provides a starting point for the exploration.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sat 14 Oct 00 20:50
Why is there a Pat Murphy in each of these books? How do you develop the character of a Pat Murphy?
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Sun 15 Oct 00 07:42
Why Pat Murphy? Because the author is always in the novel. I'm just making it more obvious than usual. That's a joke, but it's true as well. One of the things I've found most unnerving about being a fiction writer is realizing how much I reveal about myself in every short story and novel I write. You can pretend that you're just making all this stuff up, but when you get right down to the nitty-gritty subtext, you'll find you are revealing far more about yourself than you care to admit. I started to come to this realization when I was compiling stories for my collection, Points of Departure, a decade or so ago. I started seeing the common threads among the characters--so many are people who don't fit into their family, their society, their circumstances, people who feel like outsiders in their own worlds. A werewolf in the old West (Nadya), a chimp with the mind of a teenage girl (Rachel in Love), an archeologist who sees ghosts of the past (The Falling Woman). Hmm. Childhood angst revealed. (And I seem so well-adjusted. Ha! ;-) A few years ago, a friend pointed out that my stories often feature a discomfort with science, a conflict on some level between science and other belief systems--magic, for lack of a better word. She's right--there it is in The Falling Woman, in The City, Not Long After, in my first novel The Shadow Hunter, my novella, Bones. Hmm. I can't think about this sort of stuff when I'm writing, of course, or it would stop me dead. (Just as I can't think of my mother reading the book while I'm writing a sex scene. Just the thought of thinking of it sends chills up my spine.) Anyway, one way or another, the author is always in the book. And in one way or another, all the characters contain aspects of the author. When you get down to it all of the characters are all me since I made them all up. In writing There and Back Again, I was very amused to put in Curator Murphy, a slightly mysterious character who seems to know more about what's going on than anyone else. Seemed like a perfect analogy for the author. In Wild Angel, former Pinkerton detective Patrick Murphy comes in to help out when I need him the most, another author surrogate. I've had the toughest time with Pat in the last book, Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell. But I finally got her pegged. She's a magenta-haired grad student working on her dissertation in quantum physics and proposing a variety of mad theories. In the end, putting Pat Murphy in each book seemed like the final bow in the tangle of jokes about identity.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 15 Oct 00 11:06
By the way, not only can anyone chime in with a question, but if you're a non-Well-member reading this on the web, you can e-mail your question to our fine host, at XXXXXX@well.com, and she'll be happy to post it here. --So, did you enjoy being a former Pinkerton? One of the perks of being a writer is getting to try on so many different characters--I was going to say, this time you were going in drag, but every character a writer writes is drag, isn't it?, no matter what gender. The way that in the documentary "Paris Is Burning" you see the gay voguers not only portraying women, but also businessmen, construction workers--people of their physical sex, but very unlike them.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Sun 15 Oct 00 14:41
Being a former Pinkerton wasn't half bad, but I enjoyed being the mysterious Curator Murphy more. For me, creating characters (and living through them) is one of the great joys of being a writer. I particularly love writing and rewriting dialog. You know those conversations where you always think about what you should have said after it's too late. There's some French phrase for it: wit of the staircase, I think. (Does anyone know it in French?) Anyway as a writer, I can rewite conversations as many times as I like, so that they end up going the way I think they should.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 15 Oct 00 15:24
Who doesn't want to be brilliant and mysterious?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 15 Oct 00 18:42
Not me!! Let me just clarify one point - if you are reading the conversation and you are not on the WELL, you want to e-mail your comments and suggestions to email@example.com. That way it will go to all the hosts - not just me - and whoever sees it first, posts it. We hope to hear from you with questions for Pat Murphy.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Sun 15 Oct 00 18:51
Whoops, sorry, castle! Send your cogent questions or snippy quips or pleasant remarks to the fine people at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Mon 16 Oct 00 08:31
Hey, I wonder if we might talk a little about There and Back Again. As I mentioned before, it's Max Merriwell's recasting of The Hobbit as a space opera. If anyone wants to read the first chapter, it's on my web site. I've also got some good reviews of the book (including a review that made my heart sing from the New York Times) posted there. And in the interests of stirring up some discussion, I'll tell you about a scathing review of the book by John Clute at: http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue137/excess.html He critiques everything from the author photo to the premise of the book. He is clearly mortally offended that I would dare to do anything with Tolkien's material. It's rare that a dreadful review doesn't hurt, but this one was so over the top that I had a hard time taking it seriously. Any one want to talk about There and Back Again and/or the Hobbit?
Martha Soukup (soukup) Mon 16 Oct 00 09:48
I'd love to. I enjoyed the book, and enjoyed your transplantation of hobbit types to people who live cozily in big hollowed-out rocks in the cozy little asteroid belt--haven't read the Clute review.
Call Out Research Hook #1 (kadrey) Mon 16 Oct 00 10:09
i still remember from years ago that for a lot of the New Worlds crowd, any favorable acknowledgment of Tolkein was the same as saying "hitler wasn't all that bad. he was vegetarian." at least in their writing, Tolkein was the worst thing to happene to western literature ever. it doens't suprise me that he'd reflexively trash anything that grew out of a TOlkein work.
Beelzebubba (sd) Mon 16 Oct 00 12:24
Fr. Clute might not have appreciated the Havard Lampoon version of the Hobbit from years ago, either. I don't recall the name but the lead characters were Frito, Dildo and Goodgulf the Gray.
Undo Influence (mnemonic) Mon 16 Oct 00 12:44
Well, Clute's tack is expressly pro-Tolkien even as it's anti-Murphy. I haven't read THERE AND BACK AGAIN, but I did read the first chapter, and what I saw struck me as an interesting exercise (Pat seems to reproduce much of Tolkien's style, jokes, and asides, in addition to using the plot). But I was unclear (based on the little I read) as to how it could be anything more than an exercise. In short, I wondered what Murphy was aiming for.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Mon 16 Oct 00 19:10
Nothing like throwing in a bad review to get people posting. ;-) The Harvard Lampoon book that sd mentioned was "Bored of the Rings." I think I was in high school when it came out. I had read Lord of the Rings half a dozen times and I loved it madly. So I was mortally offended when my father gave me a copy of Bored of the Rings for Christmas. How dare they, I thought. Then I read the book. I loved it. I laughed and laughed--and I can still recite some of the doggerel: "Say it now and say it loud/I'm a cow and I'm proud." God help me, I can also recite "Sing hey for the bath at the close of day...." and "The road goes ever on." Obviously, I don't see loving Tolkien and loving Bored of the Rings to be mutually exclusive. As for what I was doing when I was writing There and Back Again: I was playing. That is, by the way, what I'm doing in this entire convoluted project. I'm playing--with words, with ideas, with identities. I thought the New York Times reviewer described There and Back Again perfectly from his point of view: "the fun ...is to see what Murphy has taken from Tolkien's original..., what she has ignored, and how she has transformed her borrowings. ....Murphy knows when to pay homage to her inspiration and when to leave it alone." From my point of view, I was having exactly the same sort of fun from the other side--deciding what new form the elements of the tale could take. I was taking a classic and reimagining it in a different form--just as I have taken several fairy tales and rewritten them in new form for Ellen Datlow's anthologies. I was thinking--"Here's the way the tale has been told. Now what if...." Numerous fantasy writers (starting with Terry Brooks) have adopted the trappings of Tolkien's tale--the wizards, the elves, the magic talismans. (I even ran across a book the other day with "talking tree men.") That doesn't interest me. What is powerful for me in Tolkien's tale is an ordinary man swept away by extraordinary forces. I wanted to see what that would look like in science fiction form. In the first chapter of There and Back Again, I needed to clearly establish the link between this tale and The Hobbit. For mnemonic's taste, that was clearly too close. As Bailey blasts across the galaxy, the parallels grow weaker--but they are still there for the knowledgeable reader. Now lest people take it amiss that I say I was playing, let me say that I take playing very seriously. To clarify, let me quote pataphysician Gyro Renacus in conversation with Bailey in There and Back Again: "I've heard people say that pataphysicians think everything's a kind of a joke." Gyro shook his head. "Now that's not true at all. In fact, only a pataphysician is capable of complete seriousness. You see, we take everything seriously. Absolutely everything." He sipped his whiskey. "According to the Principle of Universal Equivalence, everything is just as serious as everything else. A battle to the death with Resurrectionists, a game of Scrabble, a love affairall are equally serious." "But people say...." "People don't always understand," Gyro said gently. "You see people confuse playing with not being serious. We are very serious about our play." Bailey frowned. "I guess I see. You play--but you take it seriously so that you can win, and...." "Oh, no. Playing to win--that's not it at all. When you are playing to win, you are in a finite game, a game with boundaries. I was speaking of the infinite game, where one plays simply in order to continue to play." "So you don't take winning seriously?" "We take it just as seriously as we take everything else." I take this project very seriously and I'm playing. For me, the best work happens when I'm doing both these things. I had a rollicking good time writing the book, and it's been gratifying that many folks seem to have had the same sort of fun reading it. For those who didn't have fun--just put the book down. Put your hands in the air and step away from the book. That way, no one will get hurt. ;-) By the way, everyone, no need to be formal. Please just call me Pat.
Undo Influence (mnemonic) Mon 16 Oct 00 20:34
Thanks, Pat -- as you can see, my own posting shifted from Pat to Murphy, so it's nice to be able to standardize on Pat.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Mon 16 Oct 00 23:02
Were there parts of The Hobbit you'd wanted to incorporate, but had to give up as impossible?
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 17 Oct 00 08:45
A quick answer before I dash off the Exploratorium to write up mathematical card tricks. Well, there was one character I thought I had left out: Beorn, the bear-man. I couldn't find a good analog for him and I figured I could do without him. Then, when There and Back Again came out, a reviewer mentioned that I had turned Beorn into Fluffy, a human/cat cyborg fighting ship. The reviewer was right--the parallel was there. I hadn't consciously put it there, but there it was. Now I'm waiting for other people to point out other parallels I missed. As Martha commented earlier, There and Back Again has a preponderance of female characters: Gitana (the woman space pirate who involves Bailey on this adventure), the Farrs (the clone family who are Bailey's traveling companions), Curator Murphy (a woman knowledgeable about the alien artifacts that the Farrs seek). Since finishing the book, I've had people ask why I didn't make Bailey female as well. I didn't figure that out until recently. Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit is always longing to be back home in his comfortable hobbit hole. He's into cooking and housekeeping. He is distressed when the dwarves sing about breaking the bottles and chipping the plates. As one Tolkien expert put it to me, "Bilbo really is a fussy little queen." If I had put those personality traits into a female character, I would have been very uncomfortable with the result! Gotta run. America's middle school students need card tricks.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Tue 17 Oct 00 11:18
Even if they're queens, Bilbo, and Bailey, seem rather sexless. They're lifelong male bachelors you can't really imagine dating a man or a woman. Is that something you took from the Tolkein?
Angus MacDonald (angus) Tue 17 Oct 00 16:49
Till she gets back, let me jump up and say that the first book works well even if you [or I, in this case] haven't read Tolkien at all [something that can't be said for the Harvard Lampoon parody, which palled big time after about forty pages].
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 17 Oct 00 20:51
I agree with you, Martha--I can't imagine Bailey (or Bilbo) out on a hot date. All Tolkien's characters in the Hobbit are pretty sexless, it seems to me. If there are any dwarf women, I figure that they are kept in seclusion; they certainly don't show up on the pages of the book. Hobbits marry and have little hobbits, but they all seem comfortably married, rather than madly in love. I don't know if wizards have sex, but if they do, Gandalf didn't seem to be getting any during the Hobbit (unless he was visiting an intimate friend during his time off stage). When you get right down to it, sex just doesn't seem to be the motivator for Tolkien's characters. So I made a conscious decision to adopt this approach when I wrote There and Back Again. Thanks, Angus! I really wanted to write a book that worked independently of Tolkien, and I'm glad you think I succeeded. The other challenge has been to make each book work independently of all the others. I think that's so for There and Back Again and Wild Angel. I hope it's so for the last book, which I'm still struggling with.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Tue 17 Oct 00 22:11
<scribbled by castle Tue 17 Oct 00 23:04>
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 17 Oct 00 23:04
Response <71> was a double-posting.
Pat Murphy (jaxxx) Wed 18 Oct 00 08:27
Oops. Sorry about that.
Call Out Research Hook #1 (kadrey) Wed 18 Oct 00 10:26
so, you;re saying that TOlkein's characters are really Smurfs?
Angus MacDonald (angus) Wed 18 Oct 00 12:00
> When you get right down to it, sex just doesn't seem to be > the motivator for Tolkien's characters. So I made a conscious > decision to adopt this approach when I wrote There and Back Again. The other thing, though, is that it may have been an unconscious choice when Merriwell wrote it; that's your call.
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