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Occupation: Girl

Please close the door and switch on the fun without fail.

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@cleolinda: Extremely Crappy Draft: 173,749 words. Enter stage two: Readable Draft.

@cleolinda: Precisely! RT @particle_person: Yes! That is enough words to still have lots of book left when you toss the half that don’t work right!

@cleolinda: I guess it’s not really time for a victory lap yet. Maybe a victory… skip.

@alliancesjr: Admit it, you’re going to do a victory macarena like it’s 1992, aren’t you?

@cleolinda: More like a victory flop. I just keep sitting here going, I can’t do this. What am I doing? I can’t do this.

@cleolinda: But it’s like… doesn’t really matter if I can’t. Don’t really have a choice, do I? Have to keep going with whatever I’ve got.

@alliancesjr: Like a shark. But…on land.

@cleolinda: LAND SHARK!

It's not a complete A-to-Z draft, but it's more an issue of correct sequencing than huge gaps, I think. And a lot of it will be tossed out, by design--I've got multiple versions of several scenes dumped in there, plus notes to myself. My first job, really, is to go through my draft my cursor on the strikethrough font. But also, there are things I'll probably write or rewrite from scratch. That's why it's a Crappy Draft--again, by design. It's got all the seams hanging out on purpose: it's easier to get into a revision state of mind when it's really, really obvious where you need to start. Actually, let me show you a Twitter conversation I copied out a few weeks back for an entry but never posted:

@cleolinda: I'm to a point where I'm just going to say to hell with it and show my critique partners awful zero drafts, just so it feels like it's real.

@cleolinda: Drafts that have crap like "[dissipated--noun? connotation of used-up, shunned, WORDS I DON'T KNOW THEM]" all over the place.

@particle_person: Not so much drafts as leaks?

@cleolinda: Heh, yeah. They're pretty bad, but if I wait until I've ironed all the brackets out, I'll never finish.

@cleolinda: "[Think of something interesting.]" "[This, except good.]" RT @ladonnapietra: @cleolinda "Stuff happens here; I don't know what."

@InvertedTritone: I have [ALL THE WORDS WHERE DID THEY GO] and [HENRY SAYS SOMETHING WITTY MAKE IT GOOD] in my current draft.

@cleolinda: "[BANTER]"

@cleolinda: Actually, I'm not much for self-conscious "LOOK AT MAH WRITING GOOOOO" banter, so that's not really a problem I run into to.

@cleolinda: I have a serious dislike for self-consciously "witty" dialogue where the characters all sound like the same person (the writer).

@cleolinda: I would rather it feel real than quotable.

@particle_person: Elmore Leonard's rules for writers?

@particle_person: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

(While we're here, something strange I noticed--I have about five completely different scenes lumped in there about 3/4 of the way through that accomplish the exact same story beat--O NOES, THE VILLAINS ARE COMING TO GET US! [The villains do not come get them.] I MEAN, EVENTUALLY! It's really odd, not to mention repetitive. So this is the point where you pick one, maybe put the others aside for a later book, and move on with life. Again: Crappy Draft.)

Having pulled all this together, though--I don't think Halloween, while personally meaningful, is a realistic deadline for a Readable Draft. I would probably have to bust my ass 24/7 to get this done in thirty days, and... I'm not very good at that. That kind of scheduled cramming does not account for illness (I've spent the last two weeks struggling with migraines), unplanned interruptions (I lost all of this past Wednesday, 8 am to 4 pm, to dealing with switching our cable services and getting the new, better wifi installed), or anything other drama that life might throw my way. Also, I would like to do another ebook or something, because I am stone broke. There's no way to do two projects in a month; I might be able to manage them by my birthday in December. And if I can't, it's okay--deadlines almost always cause me to shut down psychologically.

I will say, prior to this burst of productivity, I would get hit with two or three stressors at once, and I would say, Just let me get through this. Just get whichever exploded appliances replaced, get the internet fixed, get through the migraine, get through the head cold, get through the friend or family drama--just let me live through this as quietly as possible, maybe let me do some research reading, and then, when things are better, I'll get back to work. Well, I finally realized this was a point that was never going to come. I like to joke that "I cannot art under these conditions!," but conditions are never going to "improve." There's only one condition, and it's life. So no matter how shitty I felt, no matter who lost a job or got in an argument, no matter what broke or caught fire, I was going to have to keep moving and stop waiting. So I am going to make a good faith effort to get as much done as I can, and I'd like to be done by the time I turn 33, but I need to feel good about what I've managed even if I don't.

(Just in: cable guy says we have problems with our wiring! Again! Some more! Electricians coming over will definitely take up another day I'll never get back! YAY.)

That said (ADMIRE MY SEGUE), I'm having to go back and read over my research notes, and I'm also going back and rereading (or even reading for the first time) some classically gothic literature. In particular, I had somehow never read The Turn of the Screw before, despite knowing the story. (Spoilers. Also, possibly triggering child abuse themes, I'm not sure.) As much as I liked Portrait of a Lady at the time... Henry James can be kind of dry. I think first-person makes the story a little livelier here, though. Then I found as much of the 1961 adaptation--The Innocents, with Deborah Kerr--on YouTube as I could.

I have questions.

Before reading the book--since I knew the ending anyway--I went and read up on some of the literary criticism. What I find interesting is that critics seem violently divided between "the ghosts are real" and "the governess is insane." Henry James himself doesn't help--at first I read that he unambiguously called it a "ghost story," but apparently he said a lot of things, and sometimes contradicted himself in the same breath. And the thing is, I really love the idea that the governess is a completely unreliable narrator and that the ghosts aren't real at all, despite the fact that they are very real to her. I love that kind of thing--when a narrative has only one perspective, particularly if it's first-person, it's the only reality we are given. There's no ominiscient narrator, no subtle authorial commentary, no competing first-person POVs for balance. This is all we have to go on, and it's a wonderful unraveling moment when you realize that you can't trust it. (The most vivid example of this I have ever personally seen is the Robert W. Chambers story "The Repairer of Reputations." I mean, it starts out kind of odd and 1895's-idea-of-futuristic anyway--and then you start to go, wait, what? And then it totally goes off the rails. It feels like your sanity is crumbling.) The reality of The Turn of the Screw never actually unravels; you could read the story and think it's completely obvious that the ghosts were real (or that they weren't), and have no idea that anyone else would think differently. But the fact is--and there are a boatload of critics to prove it--that you can interpret the story in one of two distinct ways. (By contrast, "The Repairer of Reputations" unravels in a way that leaves the details unexplained, but lets you know that the narrator is absolutely unreliable. You don't even have that ambiguous certainty--if there is such a thing--with the governess.) The thing is... I'm not sure I can buy either interpretation on its own. I tend to think it's more complicated and psychological than "the ghosts are totes real and the children are possessed," but...

If the governess is imagining the ghosts, how is she able to describe Peter Quint with no prior knowledge of him?

Seriously: this is the question you have to answer if you want to say that the ghosts do not exist in some capacity outside her mind. If you can't answer this, the entire intepretation falls apart. Critics have come up with explanations--I just can't buy the idea that Mrs. Grose is gaslighting her, though.

The other issue I would point out is that something is legitimately off about these kids. Even if we cannot trust the governess's perception of their behavior--it is a fact that Miles is expelled from school. I am also really creeped out by the way he calls her "dear"--not necessarily because it has a romantic tone (although it kind of does), but because she's his governess. Literally, his "govern"-ess--she's an authority to him, and yet this very young boy is speaking to her as if he were her equal, and in a very casual, affectionate, even condescending way. It's just really, really inappropriate--although the fact that, in the book, the governess seems to think it's wonderful and charming is maybe another strike against her reliability. Either way, it leads into an interesting development in the movie. (I don't even want to spoil it for you.) I actually don't see any evidence that Jessel and Quint are possessing the children to "continue their relationship," which has incestuous implications for the kids. What you see in the movie is Miles acting inappropriately towards the governess, not his sister--as if he's acting out things he saw the adults do or heard them say with another adult. And as much as the children whisper off by themselves in the book, I don't know that any kind of reincarnation-incest is really implied.

(It's tough to say, though, because here's the conversation that I've seen people interpret to mean "Miss Jessel died of a botched abortion":

"I must have it now. Of what did she die? Come, there was something between them."

"There was everything."

"In spite of the difference—?"

"Oh, of their rank, their condition"—she brought it woefully out. "SHE was a lady."

I turned it over; I again saw. "Yes—she was a lady."

"And he so dreadfully below," said Mrs. Grose.

I felt that I doubtless needn't press too hard, in such company, on the place of a servant in the scale; but there was nothing to prevent an acceptance of my companion's own measure of my predecessor's abasement. There was a way to deal with that, and I dealt; the more readily for my full vision—on the evidence—of our employer's late clever, good-looking "own" man; impudent, assured, spoiled, depraved. "The fellow was a hound."

Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case for a sense of shades. "I've never seen one like him. He did what he wished."

"With HER?"

"With them all."

It was as if now in my friend's own eyes Miss Jessel had again appeared. I seemed at any rate, for an instant, to see their evocation of her as distinctly as I had seen her by the pond; and I brought out with decision: "It must have been also what SHE wished!"

Mrs. Grose's face signified that it had been indeed, but she said at the same time: "Poor woman—she paid for it!"

"Then you do know what she died of?" I asked.

"No—I know nothing. I wanted not to know; I was glad enough I didn't; and I thanked heaven she was well out of this!"

"Yet you had, then, your idea—"

"Of her real reason for leaving? Oh, yes—as to that. She couldn't have stayed. Fancy it here—for a governess! And afterward I imagined—and I still imagine. And what I imagine is dreadful."
Emphasis mine. Yeah. God knows what else lies between the lines, if that's how subtle we're getting. One critic apparently "states quite categorically his belief that Victorian readers would have identified the two ghosts as child-molesters." The text is both cryptic and suggestive: he did what he wished "with them all"? The other servants? The... children? I don't know.)

The interpretation I finally came around to, after seeing (most of) the movie, is that the ghosts are real, but they're not haunting the children--they're haunting the governess. The children are "haunted," as it were, by what they saw and experienced when Quint and Jessel were alive. Quint isn't possessing Miles to behave the way he does; he acts of his own free will, in ways that a disturbed or traumatized child anywhere might--inappropriately adult tones and behavior, strange games in the middle of the night, acting out at school. (In fact, I tend to think that the "things" Miles said at school involved telling his friends about what he saw Quint and Jessel doing, and that kind of knowledge--and willingness to spread it--was so shocking in a child that he was sent home for it.) What the ghosts are really doing is compelling the governess to abuse the children with her outbursts and accusations--the abuse is what they're continuing, not their "relationship." So the children may be telling the truth when they say they don't see the ghosts, who are real, but genuinely not appearing to them. And that's exactly what drives the governess over the edge, their denial--which is all the more insistent because it's sincere. Granted, you can't really use a movie to interpret a book, but That Scene gave me the idea. So.

Of course, I say this, but there's probably a dozen little things that argue against it. (In the text, at the end, why does Miles immediately think that the governess sees Miss Jessel in the window? Has he overheard that this is what the uproar with Flora was about, or--is he aware of the ghosts after all?) Which may be why the story's so enduringly fascinating--I'm not sure there's any single interpretation that ties everything up with a neat little bow. 

While we're here, hours after I started writing this post--the #occupywallstreet thing has blown up into a multi-city protest, but police have arrested "about 400" protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge so far. There's a livefeed, and, apparently, some kettling happened. Mark Ruffalo, of all people, seems to be tweeting from the front lines ("People in 5 different jails. They are releasing people now. 3 in NYC and 2 in Brooklyn"). BPAL, meanwhile, has put up a charity scent to help send pizza to the protesters (the pizza is already going out): "Rock the protester cliché! This is a filthy friggin’ patchouli, dark, deep, rooty, and strangely sexy, with cocoa absolute, tobacco absolute, and bourbon vanilla." More as I hear about it, assuming anyone in the media bothers to cover it in the first place (*side eye*).

ETA: Here's an article that does a fairly good job of explaining what's going on and how it came together.

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Mark Ruffalo has a lot of feelings about democracy which is....arousing to say the least.

Can't believe how much of a nonissue this is in the news.

Yeah... as someone pointed out, if this were the Tea Party, it would be a national crisis.

Apparently my aunt and uncle and cousins from South America who were visiting NYC for the first time accidentally stumbled upon the protest while being tourists. My uncle (who speaks no English) got handed a sign that he apparently just carried around with everyone because he had no clue it was railing against the government. I guess I should be glad he didn't get arrested.

I am NOT a big fan of Victorian lit (I am a medievalist, I like my stories to rhyme and/or alliterate, tyvm), but I ADORE 'Turn of the Screw'. First read it in my undergrad days, and have read it multiple times since as I get to teach it to first years. And I do mean 'get to'. My opinion changes on it every time I read it, I discover something new each time, and in every discussion I learn more about it (from my first years! whose brains are imploding from narrators! and ambiguity! and sex? and ghosts!? and... etc.!)... I've even learned from this post!

...I really need to watch the film of it.

/ drive by lit-nerding

Hee! There's more than one film of it, though--I think there was a recent-ish one with Jodhi May, even. And apparently Marlon Brando was Peter Quint in a 1970s prequel that involved bondage. I don't even know.

Just wanted to post and say that The Turn of the Screw is one of my favorite books ever for the reasons you mention here - that you can't pin down a single interpretation, because there's always something a bit off and not quite satisfying to the explanation, and it's all so creepy and disturbing. I like to read it in the middle of winter, right around Christmas. :)

Actually, I saw the Innocents back in 2002 in my AP English Lit class and we all lamented back then that it wasn't readily available on DVD. My teacher had to special order a VHS via ...eBay or something? from New Zealand to get us a copy. I saw that you were sad it couldn't be found on Netflix Streaming (or Gaslight, which is also wonderful), and reminded me of that. I always loved the music in the Innocents and how it's so haunting but whimsical and youthful... it's just a wonderful motif.

Also, have you seen the portraits that Loretta Lux does of children? I can't look at most of them without being strongly reminded of the children, especially the actors in the film.

(I only heard about the protests...yesterday? I think? because NPR got huffy on their twitfeed and said "but we are covering it! (on the blog)". I was actually surprised when a co-worker told me on Friday she was flying up to NYC to participate in the protest, and couldn't figure out why she'd do such a thing. But now I get it!)

Okay, so I'm not just lazy, it really is hard to find? Wait, apparently there's a DVD that came out in 2005. I'll have to put that on my Christmas list or something.

I haven't read Turn of the Screw, but I read the part you quoted as a miscarriage not a botched abortion? I dunno.

Edited at 2011-10-02 01:18 am (UTC)

I'm just telling you what they said. I don't think I would have figured it out either way myself.

I am deeply, deeply ashamed to report that I know that the Macarena was in 1994 and not 1992.


Re: "Turn of the Screw," I've always resolutely stuck to the "there really WERE ghosts" interpretation. Somehow I just don't care for ambiguity/unreliability. Theoretically I see the appeal . . . I personally just don't like it. Maybe because two of the stories that have truly struck me cold with horror and fear -- and not in a fun way, but in a "great, now I'm scarred for life" way -- had unreliable narrators/protagonists. One was an Agatha Christie novel and the other was a Richard Gere film. I won't say more for fear of spoilers, though many of you probably know what I mean.

Though it's funny to think that an unreliable narrator scares me more than a ghost!

At any rate, I had the chance once to see all of "The Innocents," and it was very well done. Deborah Kerr, as always, was wonderful.

(Also, I have a young cousin who's always called older women "dear," from the time he was very young, and believe me, it's just as creepy in real life. Though I'm reasonably satisfied that ghost-seeing and/or possession had nothing to do with it!)

Edited at 2011-10-02 01:59 am (UTC)

I think I know both the book and the movie you're talking about--I've heard of what happens in the book, and I really liked the movie. In fact, if it's the one I'm thinking of, my mother's cousin was the set decorator.

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I read foreign news services and the Wall Street protest has been front page news -outside- of the US since it began. Here? [makes raspberry sound] Nothin'. [Well, except for a little on news radio - and some coverage on the 3am-6am world news tonight ABC feed.]

Trouble is that there are no snappy patter slogans. Protestors start to explain how banks and brokers profited from being bailed out and .... at about this point the reporters stop paying attention, say 'Squirrel!' and go run down the street.

"We Are The 99%" seems to be picking up some traction. I may do a roundup later.

I'm continually astounded by how little news coverage it's getting.

Really? It's on the front page of the Times today (and a much less snarky article than yesterday). Considering how relatively small the protest is, it's a remarkably prominent piece of national news. I mean, yes, the fact that the world's forests may be irreplaceably dying and the US killing an Al-Qaeda leader who was actually an American citizen without due process were bigger headlines--but since when is the front page of of the nation's paper record not coverage?

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You know, one of my favorite themes is the idea of just never being able to know the truth, and whether you can or cannot cope with that (this is basically my interpretation of the last scene of Inception, for example). But I fall back on it so often that I thought, you know, let's try to actually come up with something else this time. And the one time I do, it turns out that's one of the best interpretations. Seriously, "an allegory about the fact that you cannot produce a reading of the text" is awesome.

British newspapers are covering Occupywallstreet. The Guardian and the Independent are particularly invested in it. Over here we always reckon that if the USA sneezes the EU gets 'flu. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

I LOVE The Turn of the Screw, but it took me a long time to sort out my feelings about it. I first read it in the eighth grade, which was not a particularly good time to be introduced to the concept of unreliable narrators. My teacher at the time also told us that the story either definitively proved that ghosts existed or that that they didn't, which is a rather... lofty goal for fiction. I read it multiple times trying to figure out where the hell the proof was and eventually decided that my teacher was bonkers. I read it again in college and appreciated it a whole lot more. I lean towards the "governess is crazy" theory, myself, but I adore the ambiguity.

I also watched The Innocents around the same time, which had an added freakout benefit for me, as Deborah Kerr looks amazingly like my mom. It's got some interesting precedents for The Others, too.

@cleolinda: I have a serious dislike for self-consciously "witty" dialogue where the characters all sound like the same person (the writer)

Don't ever read anything by Cassandra Clare. This is a major problem with her dialogue.

You know I saw an opera version of The Turn of the Screw because my husband needed to for class, and afterwards I was like, "That was great, I should get around to reading the book." "There's a book?" "Yeah, I thought that's why you picked this one." "No, I just picked it." "Well there's a book." "I think you're confusing it with something else." "No, there's a book." "....Are you sure?" "Oh god." I've taken to calling him uncultured for this now.

Thanks for that last link on the happenings of Occupy Wall Street. I've been looking for something decent to explain it all, but since the media has been utter shit at reporting this... yeah.

I thought all of Cassie Clare's characters sounded like Draco Malfoy.

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I've been meaning to read The Turn of the Screw for years now but haven't gotten around to it. It sounds like I'll enjoy it, though; the best horror stories are the ones that don't — or cannot — fully explain what has happened.

And more generally (that is, not specifically to the horror genre), I think my favorite stories are the ones that leave something at the end that you can wonder about, even if it's comparatively minor in the grand scheme of things. (One of my favorite books, I Capture the Castle, has one of the best endings I've ever read because it ends on a note like this; you wonder where the protagonist's life is heading, with one particular question left dangling.)

Actually, going back to horror: I read a comic recently that I think perfectly executed how to leave the larger, sort of mythological questions unanswered to heighten the horror. I don't know if you're into comics, but I recommend reading "His Face All Red" by Emily Carroll if you haven't already. It's super chilling (and appropriate for the month of October, I think).

Also, I just want to thank you for sharing your writing process for Black Ribbon with us. I don't think I really want to be a novelist, but I find the creative process so inspiring regardless.

Oh, the Turn of the Screw! You should read Jenny Crusie's modern take on it, Maybe This Time. Lots of fun to see the twists toward and away from the original text. I read them quite close together last year, a.k.a. 'Fifteen Months of Nothing But Gothic Fiction Will Prepare Me To Write My Gothic Trilogy! Holy God Everyone Gets Buried Alive All The Time!'

Haaaaa, that's kind of my course of reading at the moment as well. (Again, some more.) The theme I keep getting slammed with is Don't Stay In That House (No, Seriously), with a side of The Haunted Artifact Is YOUR Problem Now.