June 26th, 2003

Let’s add that it’s hard to read other people’s souls: it’s dark and not everyone knows how to do it. Vague conclusions, attempts at answers — nothing more.

I’m not quite finished with On The Golden Porch by Tatyana Tolstaya. I’m on the twelfth of thirteen stories, though, so I think I have a good enough idea of what I’ll be getting out of this book to write a review, and so I will.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a book of short stories. I’d forgotten how wonderful it can be to dip into a world just for a half hour, take in the sights, and then be on my way again. It’s a special treat when the worlds are as sumptuously appointed as Tolstaya’s. I’d also forgotten how easy it is to breeze over stories you don’t like if they are mercifully brief. Not all the stories of this book are of the same high quality. Some feel lost on the page, as though they’ve forgotten why they are there or where they were going. Most, however, are charming, engaging and thought-provoking. One of the best things about this book is that it’s indelibly Russian but without requiring thousands of pages to be so. I loved Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as a teen, devouring their works, but if I had to pick them up today I just wouldn’t have the time required to plumb their depths. This book is like little slices of Dostoevsky pie with sweet, and somehow sad, Tolstoy tea. Some of her core ideas are a bit repetitive, but the use of language is so luxuriantly rich that it seems a small sin, completely forgivable. And sometimes, in the middle of a set of ideas and characters you are convinced you read about in the previous three stories, she’ll suddenly rip aside a veil and leave you gasping with surprise. That these moments come infrequently is not a fault, as it would be painful to read a constant barrage of them. No, she has clearly orchestrated these moments with care.

I don’t think this book is for everyone, but if you enjoy Russian literature and flowing language, and think that these qualities compressed and cut up into manageable portions would be like a much needed balm for a busy life, then you will get much reward from this book. My favorite stories are probably “A Clean Sheet”, “Hunting The Wooly Mammoth”, and “Sonya”.

As a final note, I have had more ideas of things to write and think about while holding this book over the past couple of weeks than in the three months prior, and I can’t think of a higher endorsement than that.

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26 Jun 2003, by

I’ve been re-reading Cualcotel, and I discovered yesterday during my Sacred Hour (which when I’ve managed to get it has been nothing but reading and figuring out scene breaks and trying to get a handle on the continuity of the story) as I neared the end of my printed pages that I hadn’t printed the whole thing. I had apparently only printed the part I wrote during Nanowrimo and not the part I’d written afterwards. So I thought I was three pages away from starting to write again, but I have another 5,000 words to print and read before I’m caught up. Because I’ve been reading about manuscript formatting (mostly from links off of Neil Gaiman’s blog) I decided to try and get my story into manuscript submittable printable shape. Enter troff. I had never used it before, and found it pretty obtuse at first, but after fiddling around with it for about 4 hours, I can do exactly what I want and print a submittable manuscript from my humble vim typings. Troff rules!

So, for those who may be interested and for the record, my almost finished novel is 127 double spaced pages long. It’s 56,901 words. You’ll notice I had almost 52,000 (51,990) at the end of NaNoWrimo, so I’ve written more or less 5,000 words since then, which isn’t much. However, the thing is only 2 or 3 scenes short of completion and then safely into rewrites. I only skipped one or two descriptive passages so I don’t have too much I’ll have to go back and fill in, though there’ll be some pruning and plenty of correcting to do before too long. I’m pretty excited about the heft and bulk of the printed thing. Also, it doesn’t suck. Not a Newbery candidate or anything (it’s turned out to be pretty YA, though that wasn’t my intention starting out) but nonetheless good, solid, interesting reading. I’ll say you can probably expect to see some of it floating around here before the end of the summer.

I apologize for constantly linking Neil Gaiman’s blog. However, it provides me with lots of thought fodder and I have this compulsion about attributing, so you’re going to have to live with it.

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26 Jun 2003, by

Following is a several days old dream, the only one I’ve been able to remember in the past few days, though my sleep has been restless enough that you’d think I’d have them all at my fingertips. Ah, well. Topics cover all sorts of p-words, such as petrochemicals, petroleum (black gold!) and patents.

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