Have you ever been writing a scene that kind of gets away from you? It happens to me sometimes, and generally it's a good thing. It means the characters are taking on a life of their own, and that's always a fine moment. But recently I was writing what I thought was a conversation, and suddenly there was seduction imagery popping up all over the place. It kind of weirded me out.
I mean, in thinking about it, it's a perfectly appropriate subtext for the scene, but if I want to keep the novel in the Young Adult category, then I need to go easy on that sort of thing. Yikes.
What have I been reading lately?
Well, I burned through Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden novel, Ghost Story, devouring it as I might a particularly tasty sandwich after a tiring hike through the mountains. What's going on in the series is kind of cool... for about a dozen books, Butcher established a certain kind of status quo. Oh, it wasn't static, like a series where you can read it all out of order and not even notice, but there were certain foundational pillars to the setting, characters, and situations that you started to take for granted. Now he's knocked most of those pillars down. It's a bold move, and I'm keen to see how far he takes it. In any case, I enjoyed this last book a lot, which is pretty much par for the course with the Dresden series.
Now I'm in the middle of George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons. And... well, I'm not burning through this one.
One might hypothesize that this is a case of me savoring the experience and making it last, since if the pattern holds it seems like it will be a long wait for the next book. But that's not really the case. Fact is, I can only take so much at a time.
It's grim stuff.
Terrible things happen, terrible people abound, and by this time we've got the idea with Martin that even when a good thing happens, it's going to eventually rebound and become a terrible thing. It's kind of the horror funhouse experience where you expect something to burst out of the dark at you at any time, but he's too good at making you care for the characters (most of the time), so it's not a funhouse at all.
I'm trying to talk about the book in the abstract, since it's just out recently and I don't want to throw out any spoilers. I'm also only halfway through it. One of the things about this book is that we know it's #5 of 7, so it's not like I'm expecting anything like the relief of resolution by the end, just another series of heart-rending cliffhangers and a character or two that I love getting the axe. This is what I have to look forward to.
Am I enjoying myself? Well, with Martin it is always top-notch writing, and I am certainly invested enough to keep going. Nothing has happened to keep me from wanting to see it through to the end yet. But we are in the middle territory of the hard slog, and it ain't easy going in here.
I think it is very interesting that right now, my wife Candi is tearing through a number of Stephen Ambrose books about World War II, reading at the blistering pace that only she can manage (seriously... she's a phenom). So here we have a historical story of a real-life dangerous, dark, and uncertain time... and it's nowhere near as grim as A Dance with Dragons. That's because in the midst of the expected turmoil and bloodshed of war, what shines out are these moments of completely unexpected humanity and decency. Unexpected, yet far more numerous than the cynic would ever guess. These moments occur, as expected, between comrades and arms... but also between those who are enemies.
Tolkien got it. The darkest part of the Lord of the Rings books is Sam and Frodo's last agonizing trek across Mordor. Yet even in the bleakest of all places, in the heart of evil, we see these moments. It's in the deep bond between Sam and Frodo, or the way Sam's tiny prayers are answered in unexpected ways, the little synchronicities that allow them to keep going, or a glimpse of the stars in the sky that remain untouched by the turmoil below.
This is what I feel is needed where we are in A Dance with Dragons, and what we aren't getting.
But hey, I'm only halfway through. I'll let you know how it went when I get to the end.