Wednesday, October 30, 1996

I am not Alexander Jablokow

From: Anonymous

I have been a fan since I stumbled into "Yaguara" in Asimov's, and am curious to know if you read a story by Alexander Jablokow in the Dec 95 Asimov's called "Fragments of a Painted Eggshell"--it's not you writing under another name, is it? Thanks for the hours of pleasure your books have given me, and please write faster.

I am not Alexander Jablokow--but if I had to be mistaken for someone else, I could do a lot worse. I just hope that if he's reading this he feels the same way. ("Someone thought I was Nicola Griffith? Urgh!")

I haven't actually read "Fragments of a Painted Eggshell," but now I think I'll hunt it up and take a look. I want to see if I can spot what it was that made you think it's mine. (Any one out there got a copy they're willing to lend me?) I've read one of Jablokow's novels, Carve the Sky, which I enjoyed--but I didn't see any points of similarity with my work. (Then again, I probably wouldn't. One's work is like one's face: one likes to think of it as unique.)

I find it very interesting, though, that you feel the writing of a man and that of a woman are similar enough to have been written by the same person. I don't believe in "women's writing" and "men's writing" _per se_. There is no difference in sentence length, metaphor construction, vocabulary etc., except as and when the subject matter demands. And that's where much of the differences lie--in the subject matter. Women and men often--not always, mind--find different aspects of the same things interesting. What is "Fragments of a Painted Eggshell" about?

As for writing faster, I'm doing my best: I'm about a third of the way through my new novel, Penny in My Mouth*, and hope to have it finished by the end of January. At least that's my contractual deadline...


* which was published, in 1998, as The Blue Place

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Tuesday, October 15, 1996

growth as a writer


From: Anonymous

Do you feel your work matured greatly between Ammonite and Slow River? Reading both of those books recently, it seems to me that the writing is stronger in Slow River, and that the characters are stronger too.

Yes, I've matured as a writer. (There are some, of course, who would disagree and say Ammonite's a better book. It's certainly a different book.) Ammonite is a novel and not polemic, but while I was writing it I was very conscious of the tradition of sex-battle texts from which sprang the women-only words of the seventies and eighties in British and American SF. In response to those texts, Ammonite was, on some level, an answer to that perennial subtextual question: Are women human? Slow River, on the other hand, is a purely personal exploration of some of the things that bother and/or intrigue me: Who are you when you have nothing left but your inner resources? When a deeply cherished belief about yourself is shown to be not true, what is there to replace it? How far are we prepared to step outside our moral boundaries, and what happens if we step outside too far or too often? I was writing for myself, and writers can be their own toughest critics. I tested everything, every step of the way.

Ammonite was my first book. I lavished upon it all the gorgeous images and sentences that came to me out of sheer joy. With Slow River, I was much more concerned with making the writing serve a purpose: instead of vivid imagery in the text, I have tried to use the scenes themselves as metaphors. It's a harder task--and it looks a lot less flashy (which is, I think, why some people think Ammonite is better writing)--but it's ultimately more satisfying. Somebody once said [and I can't remember who--if anyone reading this knows, please tell me] that writing is a feather, but it should be a feather in the arrow that sinks the point home, not a feather in the author's jaunty cap, or words to that effect. That's what I tried to do with my second book.

As for the characters, yes, I think the people in Slow River are deeper, more real and more mature. This is partly because I think I've grown as a writer, but also because I've grown as a person. I think I see things more clearly--or at least differently. The person who wrote Slow River is not quite the same person who wrote Ammonite. The person who is currently writing Penny In My Mouth* is different again. I wonder what you'll think of that book...

* which became The Blue Place. Which is what gives me a clue about the date of this question and answer. TBP was published in summer 1998. I finished the ms. about 18 months before that. So I'm thinking this AN was from late 1996. I've assigned the arbitrary date of October 15.

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