So by the time I'd gone through stories in X-Files, Sentinel, and Stargate, I'd spent enough time on this, so there aren't any Buffy excerpts here. Maybe I'll do another set later. These are all from slash stories, though the examples aren't necessarily all slashy in nature. Some of these bits I might edit more if I were writing them now, and I didn't take, you know, *days* to select these as the top, definitive examples. But they grabbed my interest.
And he'd never asked. That was what exasperated and defeated Jim, and twisted his gut into a puzzle of indecision. The man with a thousand and one nosy, friendly questions had never asked him, casually, over beer maybe, or late at night, Hey, Jim, you ever slept with a guy? Jim had kept expecting this question or something like it, even as the years passed and they grew closer; he'd anticipated it long before now and had planned out his reply--his range of replies--like a man copying and recopying awkward, difficult love letters.
-- The Woods
I like this for the last line, because it seems to capture something so very Jim to me. He can be articulate, even smooth, but he's emotionally closed off. Repressed. I see this Jim who, if he felt true, deep emotion, would constantly worry at it but not say anything. He'd mull it over and over again in his mind without acting, feeling unable to reach out, pessimistic and wary. And you can see his thoughts occasionally rising to the surface when he looks at Blair, a muddy upswirling roil of feelings. And then to some degree, you know he feels less intelligent than Blair, for whom the language of academia is such a facile skill. I don't think Jim's actually less intelligent, but it's not hard to imagine him wanting to be able to put his thoughts into words so eloquently that Blair would be speechless. To get something exactly right. Which also reflects his anal-retentive, perfectionist quality of character. He's a control freak. But I feel like I got across a poignancy too, as if you're watching a grown man who doesn't know how to write effortfully try to master putting words on paper.
Blair breathed again, with ragged hitching care, trying not to be heard by sentinel senses. But that was always a lost cause, and Jim's gaze rose and dropped, not missing any nuance, no, not any trick or aspect of Blair's life, not a single furtive fart, the rank scallions on his polenta, his two-day recycled socks, the hasty whacks he took in the shower. Why did I ever think it would be cool to have a pet sentinel, wondered Blair, looking at the hard, grim length of Jim's face across from him. I should have thought it through. When the alligator grows up, what will you feed it?
-- The Woods
This represents my ongoing attempt to rough up my language, which can be feminine and poetic. If you imagine a paragraph of my writing as a clean, elegant parlor, this is me coming through and strewing dirty socks and jockstraps and beer cans in an effort to make it more manly. The irony is that the sentence--"not a single furtive fart"--kind of lilts. Manly lilting. That's what I've got going here. And to be honest, *I* like it, but I don't know if it's achieving what I want it to achieve, which is a masculine point of view. I think a lot of my slash stories fail on that score, or have at times an elevated diction, up someplace where the oxygen is thin. But, er, anyway. This is in fact an example of something I like. So there.
Jim gave him a startled, appreciative look as if Blair had just invented gun powder, civilization, the margarita.
-- The Woods
The rhythm of writing is often about trios. There's probably a better, formal term for it. Lists want to resolve themselves into threes. Achieving a perfect trio is like nailing the punchline of a joke. Trios litter my work. I've become over-conscious of them now and then; when I do, if they're not working, I take an ax and chop at my sentences, trying to break their predictability and monotony.
The pressure of his headache had eased, but his mind churned; he rode home thinking in circles of Carolyn, cases, his talk with Simon. October. It was nearly five o'clock and already grey with dusk. The streets of Cascade were wet with an earlier rain, and Jim rolled the pick-up through them unhurriedly, peripherally aware of his city. Bright glassed storefronts, youths with backpacks pacing the traffic on their bicycles. Three blocks from his everyday turn onto Prospect. The bay, a slice of water between office buildings. Art store. Tattoo parlor. Plutonius Coffee, one of Blair's occasional haunts. Everything in the world was a soothing shade of grey except for the square business windows, lit up from the inside. Stunted trees, dripping their weight of rain. Bums in front of the mission. Sleek Japanese women striding in groups across the pedestrian walks with oversized shopping bags.
Even through the closed truck windows, he could smell the city; salt water and Thai food, garbage and car exhaust. He wished he could keep driving right out of it, pictured himself taking the I-5 ramp, heading up into Canada. Driving highway to highway, road to road, for months. His fantasy had an empty vista, was brief, but it left him restless and disinclined to leave the truck. Laziness, rain, supermarket, Blair. No need to get out of the truck. As he neared home he called Blair, arranging to meet him at the building's entrance.
And a few minutes later Jim pulled up front and saw through the glass of the building's lobby Blair looking out, waiting for him. He stood in front of the mailboxes, a leaning body in flannel and jeans, face set with watchful intensity. The day's inversion--dark outside, light in--made him seem the most solid object in an otherwise shadowed world. He was wearing two loose shirts, the outer one Jim's. He looked quiet. He looked like Christmas.
He came out and climbed in the truck, and Jim watched every move from point A to point Z. How he pushed open the lobby door. The consecutive angles at which he held his head, lowered as he moved through the opening door, raised and wary as he hit open air. Calm on the face of it, brows unconsciously drawn, lips unmoving. Eyes skimming a look over the parking lot, the neighborhood. Fine easy flow of his body, loosened of its recent pain. Then he was in with a hey and was leaning to close the door, familiar body, familiar motions.
Something in Jim's aching throat relaxed and it was simply good: the inrushing smell of Blair's body, the spilling warmth of his heat signature, thigh muscles bunching subtly through his jeans as he stretched to close the door. Maybe there were other guys somewhere who looked more or less like Blair, spoke like him, dressed like him, but Jim never thought them to be in the same species. No one else was sitting here in Jim's truck. No one else had that right or rightness. Blair fit a niche, the small particular niche that was Jim's life, and fit in ways Jim couldn't label. What labels they'd already given each other didn't seem enough. When he tried to break down his sense of Blair into thoughtful elements, they came clumsily in words like compact and clean and textured, losing all the significance he'd assigned them. He suspected Blair would laugh at this kind of description; or he might furrow his brow, stare at Jim and take notes.
Questions, always with the questions. Complicated, fatherless. Curious. Sturdy.
God, I hope he's sturdy, Jim thought.
Blair was looking over at him. Jim smiled, lifted an arm out and brushed his knuckles across the other man's hair in not quite a rap, tugged his ponytail then cupped his neck. Blair's lips set in a tiny mona-lisa reply, a sign he was pleased.
Jim's hand stayed put, happy as the rest of him.
-- The Woods
This whole passage is a good example of how I try to achieve existential moments by building an atmosphere, a sense of place. (Not always consciously of course--just as part of the nature of my writing.) As I was going through my stories I realized that a lot of my favorite bits were scene-setters, full of descriptive language. It's the latent poet in me. But despite the way I keep stabbing at the canvas of a story with my brush, layering it crazily with bright words, I'm always trying to ground a piece of fan-fiction in the mundane, on the theory that the more concrete, recognizable detail there is, the more you simply take what's happening for granted. I strive for a base architecture that supports plausibility. Which is why I've described the traffic, the streets of Cascade, the weather, the quality of light. And then, having ramped up, I try to lift off, almost out of the story, with a kind of meta moment where Jim really *sees* Blair, recognizes him as someone unique and real.
Actually I still have a strong attachment to this particular story, because the Jim and Blair in it feel incredibly real to me at times, their actions taking on that inevitablity and independence, as if they just took a trip to a cabin all on their own, went fishing, sat by the fire, made dinner, and so on.
The other thing this bit does is anchor the characters with the touch of one man's palm to another man's nape. Which is a big kink of mine: that simple touch, not necessarily erotic and yet always profoundly erotic, because it's just so beautiful.
"You know, we should really paint that room as long as we're at it," Jim mused aloud as they passed a ziggurat of paint cans. "Hasn't been painted since I moved in."
"You mean I should paint the room."
"I'll paint it," Jim said with a mild glare.
"Uh-huh. And pass out like a man on a tequila binge."
"I don't drink tequila."
"Yeah, but that time you varnished the bookshelves--"
"Don't even start."
"--and you staggered around, dripping varnish and giggling--"
"I do not giggle."
"--and pulling at your nose like a tequila worm had crawled up there--"
"Just keep it up."
"--and then you crawled around on the kitchen floor and stuck your head into the cabinet under the sink and sang for a while. Man, it kills me that I don't have video."
I like doing intercut conversations every now and then. When they work, it's the best feeling. It's the last sentence that nails this for me: "Man, it kills me that I don't have video." Most people who'd read this story are of course Sentinel fans, who know how Blair talks, and so I hope they grin when they read this and get a sense of recognition from the voice, which I think is good. I don't know how it reads to non-Sentinel fans.
"Wow, that was like, a tiny shoot of social consciousness poking through the dry earth, man. Nurture that baby. It may be the only sprout you have this year."
Blair's voice. I think I got that here. Voice is hard. Catchphrases are easy, but rhythms are elusive, and you can't simply rely on the first, you have to cultivate the second. You have to do this because when you write a story you're not rearranging excerpted dialogue from canon, in the way that a vidder might rearrange vid clips to make a new and wonderful thing--you're writing new lines for the characters. You don't *want* to repeat verbatim, or even close to verbatim, a conversation that Xander and Willow have about magic and love. But you want to make your own fresh conversation sound as if it could have be spoken by them on the show.
The show writers do have something of an edge: what they write gets spoken by the actors, and that in itself lends credibility to their dialogue. Read BtVS transcripts and you'll find yourself distinguishing the unique voices of the characters; but then again, you've already seen the episodes, so you're hearing the actors speak in your mind's ear. And there are episodes, I think, especially in later seasons, where people's voices aren't building unique characterizations, but simply acting in service of plot. Exposition will do that: flatten out people's voices so that they resemble one another.
Anyway. The point is that it's hard to write a story where from line to line, paragraph to paragraph, you have the uncanny sense of listening in to an episode of a show. Especially if you want to expand beyond the constraints of episodic mimesis and try to write something broader, where the characters talk about things at a length that a 45-minute TV plot wouldn't support.
I like the feel of canon, though, and I think writers should pay heed to voice. A lot of writers don't bother, or lazily fall back on verbal crutches, such as having Spike call every single character "Pet" every time he addresses them.
But I digress.
The upscale mall was brazen and busy. There were almost no children present. Yuppies walked in pairs, or in small well-dressed herds. Women with leather purses. Men with gold watches. A trapped bird swooped once across the atrium and then took perch and cheeped irritably. ATMs and credit card machines whickered, a juice machine churned, three middle-aged men in suits laughed heartily. Jim began to zone. Tiny withdrawls of attention. Once, staring at a pair of diamond earrings. Then standing between a soap shop and a restaurant, reading a window-displayed menu. And finally, as he fingered curtains in the store they'd reached.
The pleasure of lists and description, sensory details, onomatopoeic words.
"Sounds familiar." Jim said. Blair ambled over the dining room table and sat on it; he put his feet on a chair to remove his sneakers. Jim frowned, but at him or the caller Blair couldn't tell. "Ninety-two, ninety-three. Yeah. Ricky the Crump. Birdsong. Bidwell...something like that. Birdsell. Richard Birdsell. B-I-R-D-S-E-L-L. I have to eat on that table, you know. Nothing. He was a witness to the Lonnie Chamberlain hit. No, you're thinking of the Chapman case...I don't know. No, .30-caliber. Well, they found a dead dog at both scenes." Jim was staring patiently off into space. Blair laid back on the table and slowly unzipped his jeans. "The killer cut the dog's throat, put the head between the woman's legs, and made dinner with the rest. He was from Thailand...I have no idea. Maybe. I think he was just hungry." Jim leaned back against the wall and turned his gaze onto Blair, the phone held to his ear. "Did you try the crabcakes? Ah. Yep. Okay then...no problem."
I think I've used one-sided phone conversations maybe a half a dozen times, ever, in my stories. If that. But they amuse me.
"Hey," Blair said, straightening up and swinging his backpack onto his shoulders. He was wearing a battleship-grey mechanic's jacket with a red-and-white patch that said 'Joe', a Hawaiian shirt, and khakis.
-- A Long Time Looking
I take a deep sense of satisfaction in having invented this utterly horrible ensemble, one that strikes me as in character for Blair. I still envision it with a sense of wonder, this fashion disaster worn with completely guylike obliviousness.
"Mike, this is Jim Ellison--Jim's a police detective. I think I've mentioned him. And--Blair, right? This is Mike Casey. Channel Nine News. You may have seen him."
Mike stretched out a hand that Jim felt obliged to shake, then shook hands with Blair, who looked dryly amused.
"I've seen you," Blair volunteered politely when Jim said nothing.
"Thank you," Mike replied with awful sincerity, as if he'd been complimented.
-- A Long Time Looking
Being funny is hard. And when I am funny, I know I'm just reorganizing a gift of humor molecules that I've absorbed from other people. But I'm okay with that.
[Jim's POV, Jim kissing Blair.]
Jim took his face in hand and kissed him. He hadn't known what to expect, or what he'd even feel. The kiss took shape in thoughtless impulse, dry and muscular, but grew stronger as Blair opened his ready mouth, talking desperately to Jim in this new way as if he'd had a lot to say before now and hadn't been able. Jim gave back everything he'd ever taken from Blair, glad he could do so without words. Blair was clinging to him, his backpack crushed to the truck door like a turtle's shell, his warm face upturned and busy. Jim inhaled and the other man was right there with his freckles smashed up against Jim's, evening bristles sanding his chin, his lips light as cream puffs and more soft. Crazy to kiss him, to feel Blair's tongue linked between their open lips and flirting against his own.
-- A Long Time Looking
Goals: make *this* kiss different than the thousand other kisses you've read in slash stories; make it worth reading. I also like that I used "cream puffs" to describe a guy's lips without, I think, making it too ridiculous.
"She's an idiot," Daniel said with dismissive impatience, returning to flip through the sheaf of prints he held.
"She's new," Jack pointed out quietly.
"The acquisition of any new skill takes time and practice, Daniel Jackson."
Daniel quirked his eyebrows and stared around at the rest of his team through the barrier of his glasses. "She's an idiot," he repeated, having heard nothing to alter his opinion.
"She's a certified AV Systems Technician, Daniel," Sam said, irritation entering her voice. "And she was accepted for assignment to the SGC after a rigorous interview process, just like everyone else."
"She'll be here six weeks, tops," he estimated, bored with the subject, his attention directed to the trace mineral readout he held.
"Daniel, that's just rude!" Sam said sharply.
He looked up at her, noticing the color in her cheeks and the snap to her eyes. So much for tip-toeing. He was already over the peak of his annoyance, though, and her comment genuinely confused him. "Why? How? She's not even in the room."
One big issue with writing is this: you're writing a story with, say, ten characters. And they're all completely different people, people who are not you. And yet everything you write about them--everything they say and do, every attitude they have, every thought, every reflex and response, every perception--is going to come from your own consciousness. People are the same; we have human nature, we share traits. But it's hard, for me anyway, to put myself in the head of someone completely not-me. Someone *other*. Daniel intimidated me for the longest time (still does). He is certifiably brainy, knows dozens of languages, has seen things beyond most people's ken, has lost a wife--but more than that, this is a guy who concluded against a lot of persuasive evidence that aliens had built the pyramids and once lived on Earth. He believed that when no other reputable academics did; he persisted in his belief. He's a loon, basically, with bedrock confidence in what he knows, what he's reasoned out. He has convictions, a moral compass, ethics, a divergent world view.
My hopeless dream when I first started writing Daniel--my ideal, if I could have written beyond my ability--was to capture a lot of that, to show his thoughts as they meandered from one language to another, from one discipline to another (archaeology to anthropology to linguistics) weaving a tapresty of rich perception that showed his uniqueness. I wanted to write a story filtered through a complex sensibility built up of biases, assumptions, scholarly knowledge, historical perspectives.
I'd done this before--tried to, I mean. In my X-Files stories, notably In a Dark Time, I was pretty ambitious in building my version of Mulder. I did monstrous amounts of research for the tiniest details and constructed an elaborately fake character. I say fake because I worked so hard at details that I had no real insight into the man as a whole. He was different in a hundred superficial, outward ways, but I think the inside of his head was a lot like mine.
But back to Daniel: I didn't try in any of my SG1 stories to achieve the ideal Daniel I could only vaguely imagine. But a few times I skirted close to capturing his difference, like in the scene above. I like the idea that Daniel has very set, definite opinions on competence, and that his understanding of rudeness is so different from Sam's own. I like his lack of insight--as if a bullet of an idea has whizzed by, missing him entirely. I'd like to be able to write stuff like that on a grander scale, truly showing a diversity of characters. Cultural differences, religious differences, professional differences. But I have a fairly limited view of the world handicapping my writing, so as they say in MBA project management lingo, achieving that is usually "out of scope."
[Jack's POV, first person. Daniel speaking first.]
"It's the necklace, Jack." His eyes were bright blue, and too gentle. He pulled my hands down and held my wrists. "If you were in your right mind, you wouldn't be doing this. And when you are in your right mind again, you'll regret this. I won't take advantage of you."
"I think I'm sick of those morals of yours," I said savagely.
"It's not only my morals, it's your regulations."
"Screw regulations." I yanked out of his grip and caught his face in my hands and kissed him, but he knocked me back with a shove I hadn't been ready for.
"No, Jack." He held up a finger, making me feel like a reprimanded dog. "Don't kiss me again. Don't touch me again--not like that. Don't tell me about your private feelings."
Each command struck me like a blow. I stared at him, anguish twisting my guts. His face didn't show even a flicker of emotion. I'd seen how cold he could be in the past, but this....
"You'll treat me as a friend for as long as you wear that," he said. "No more." Voice even, gaze steady as a soldier's. He could assume command, I realized then. And I felt like I was looking at someone else for a moment, at a man who could order a surgical air strike without flinching, kill a city without mourning. He'd talk about their ethos after they were gone, study their dead languages and burial stones, and nothing would touch him.
-- The Other Half
This was me trying to flash a glimpse of "Absolute Power" Daniel, whom I love. It's also unreliable narration, as given the circumstances, Daniel is probably not cold and heartless on the inside.
Otherwise, there's nothing too exceptional about the writing here, and out of context it may not be especially striking or meaningful--e.g., word "anguish" is rather strong, I'd suspect, without the previous 100k to back it up. I hope it works in the story, though. Despite flaws and limitations, this is one of the stories of mine I'm most pleased with.
"Oh, goody." I watched as the wormhole did its thing and then quieted into the rippling lake I sometimes saw in my dreams. Freya walked through--Freya, Anise. There's just no easy way to say that. Jacob was beside her, Selmak was inside him, and the rest of us stood there scratching our collective ass for about ten seconds before making a beeline for the gate room.
"Dad," said Carter, going up to give him a hug.
Freya slithered my way. I twitched out a wan smile to go with my nod and tried not to notice that she was wearing a deerskin bikini top and capri pants.
"Colonel O'Neill," said Anise briefly, sounding as usual like a snippy transvestite. Then she eyed Daniel more warmly. "Doctor Jackson." He murmured a hello, and she did that dip and swallow thing and up popped Freya, who put her focus back on me and smiled. "It is good to see you well, Colonel."
"Good to see you...two. Too. Well." Funny how simple things can go so wrong.
I greeted Jacob, Jacob greeted Hammond, Anise ogled Daniel, and Sam glowed quietly at the chance to see her dad. We stood around doing the politeness thing for less time than it takes a three-minute egg, then adjourned to the conference room.
-- The Other Half
The goal: trying to convey the weirdness of the symbiote relationship (an alien creature sharing a human host, doubling the personalities within the body). This little bit of scene was all about juggling several different characters and greetings, and making that moment somehow interesting. I'm very aware of not wanting to replicate this kind of thing often, because it's very blocky, A-B-C, and if you paid attention that close to every element in a story, it'd be 4000 pages long--you'd be describing every moment they walked down hallways and went to get a sandwich and jostled to arrange themselves in an elevator.
I also enjoyed mocking Freya/Anise here. God, she was annoying.
Skinner grimaced instinctively at such a ponderous, depressive question. "Do me a favor and try not to jump the track for the next few days, okay, Mulder?" he said irritably.
"I'm fine," Mulder said.
It was an oddly flat statement, Skinner thought, but it carried the flavor of assurance, as if Mulder were constantly gauging just this--the simple measure of his being, his sanity as it were; as if he had his eye always on the needle and were ready to offer a reading at any given moment. How many people questioned him on the matter, Skinner wondered. Scully? Friends and family? Co-workers? Skinner had spoken half facetiously; Mulder, however, had spoken with casual yet complete seriousness.
Skinner could not help but find this disturbing.
-- The Getaway
A momentary glimpse of the depth of Mulder's disassociation, as I imagined it: a man adrift from everyone around him, a buoy in the deep waters, so distant from the shore of normalcy that he can never swim back, a man driven by obsession, by profound grief, pain, maybe self-hatred--and all of this contrasted with his polished exterior. On the outside he maintains. He holds down a professional job, he wears the Armani. On the inside: monsters.
Spike is, I think, just the opposite: on the outside, a monster. Drunken, abusive, all black scowl and leather and violence. On the inside, a poet.
Half an hour after that I was comforting him clumsily as he berated himself over some perceived failure--not to take his angst lightly, but to this day I have no idea if he was agonizing over someone's death or bitching and moaning about how he never requisitioned Scully a proper desk. To tell the truth, it was probably some blurry combination of both, along with a host of other vague regrets and unnerving apologies ("I just want you to know I'm really sorry about not typing out my reports double-spaced, sir"). Fine, Mulder. Don't worry about it.
Just a snippet from a story I used to count among my favorites. Now, years later, I'm more dubious about the Skinner voice. But I still love many of the story's constituent elements.
The third basement level was quiet. From its deserted appearance it seemed very likely that no one had been down here since last Monday, when Mulder had switched off the lights and left to take up what he assured himself would be temporary residence in a back corner cubicle on the fourth floor. There was a deep silence down here, though the halls didn't echo, lined as they were with filing cabinets, their contents dating back to a time when the cold war was in its icy infancy, a conception no bigger than a snowflake. Sound here was baffled and absorbed by uncounted linear drawer feet of hard copy, slowly petrifying into a great forest of forgotten data.
Mulder flicked on the overhead lights on the plate by the elevator, and threaded his way through the labyrinth with a familiarity few others in the bureau could claim these days, winding his way quickly around cabinets and shelves, office furniture stored haphazardly in the middle of the hallways, stacks of dusty file boxes, rolled wall maps.
Overhead, the fluorescent lights cast only a dim glow along the ceiling, limited gleams like chalk strokes defining a sea of shadow. In some places the tubes were flickering with a disturbing strobic pulse resembling the atmospheric effect of a storm. Other tubes had gone altogether dark and had been that way for as long as Mulder could remember. A tattered white moth patrolled the length of the ceiling, pacing Mulder, dipping erratically in and out of his line of sight, then moving in and knocking frantically at his shoulder.
"Sorry. Not the Armani." He blew it gently from his lapel, and entered his old office.
-- In a Dark Time
Mulder's basement. At the time of writing this--the second story I ever wrote--it felt amazing to take those few, simple glimpses of the FBI's basement corridors we'd get on the show each week and reinvent them with history and imagery, to break out of the box of canon and make it real. The fluoresecent lights, the moth, and the Armani. They're like emblems establishing this universe I made.
Charyn stared at Mulder, bewildered. "I beg your pardon?"
"Both narcoleptics and abductees experience periods of "lost time". Abductees report feeling paralyzed and having difficulty breathing, similar to the sleep paralysis and respiratory difficulty narcoleptics experience in transitional states. Narcoleptics, as you know of course, may have vivid hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations, including the sensation of flying. Narcoleptic attacks often occur while driving a car--as do close encounters--and can involve automatic behavior, which would correspond to the lost time of abductees or persons contacted."
"I'm...I'm sorry, Mr Mulder. I'm not sure I see your point. What does this have to do with your investigation?"
"Nothing," Mulder said mildly. "I just thought it was interesting."
-- In a Dark Time
Evidence of my story research. What a little swot I used to be. It excited me when I found the parallels, and when I realized there was no real point to them--that they wouldn't further the plot--I said fuck it and used them anyway.
Most mornings Mulder didn't need an alarm to wake up. The clock in his brain could be set to whatever time he chose, and went off reliably whether he was hung-over, still bombed, or simply exhausted. This morning was no different. He opened his eyes and was awake, his mind already busy scrolling through data, indexing recent memories and previewing the day ahead.
He noted it was Friday, half-heartedly tried to guess where the temperature would top out, ran his daily self-check for signs of overnight abduction, outlined his next moves on the Grissom case, confirmed that the envelope Scully had given him was still under the sofa cushion, mentally surveyed the state of his laundry, wondered if his blue summer suit qualified as road-kill yet, then succumbed to a drift of ruminations on the dream he'd had just before waking (in which he'd been hung from a tree by one foot) that somehow segued into thoughts of Krycek, New York, Riley's chances to lead the team to the play-offs this season, bagels, the Strand, certain personnel of the New York City field office, Krycek once more, Krycek's tailor, the odds of Krycek being an alien (low to moderate), the photographs Scully had given him, Scully, the autoerotic pleasures of lipstick, Ellens, photography as an evidentiary medium, Frohicke, the odds of Frohicke being an alien (moderate to high), Samantha, suicide, John Stuart Mill, Woody Allen, and coffee.
-- In a Dark Time
I like lists and I like long sentences. People who can't deal with long sentences? Complex sentences? Sentences beyond a fifth-grade reading level? Make me impatient. One of the pleasures of writing and of reading is language itself, language like music that lilts and then jumps, then dances wildly, then plods along, plods, plods, plods, plods, plods--then jerks--then races and races and races and races, dashing eagerly ahead like a dog with its tongue lolling, paws churning up dirt, zoning in on something it sees in the distance, forcing you to follow until it halts.
Variation is what makes something work: letting the language say its piece, tailoring itself to content. This is the only sentence like this, I think, in about 400k of story. But it's exactly where it needs to be.
It's not perfect. I could probably spend several hours rearranging this sentence (and I might have when I first wrote it), trying to get the words to fall exactly right, like a fashion photographer obsessively rearranging the drape of a dress. But anyway.
He unknotted his banana-walnut muffin, chunk by chunk, and eventually began eating the pieces.
-- In a Dark Time
I've always liked this sentence.
"I think I'm hungry," Mulder said, his low, muffled voice working its way to Alex from inside a lower cupboard.
"What are you looking for?"
"I was thinking maybe a nice, thick Porterhouse steak."
"Inside a Cheerios box?" Alex said skeptically.
"Mmmm...you know, I found a mummified human finger inside a box of Fruit Loops once. Two crime scene teams had overlooked it." Mulder slid his hand down into the box and rummaged around, staring off unfocused into the middle distance as he concentrated on his sense of touch.
Alex looked on, tension rising in his gut. "Do you feel anything?" he said, almost whispering.
Mulder's own voice had lowered with suppressed excitement. "I think..." He paused, made an odd face. "...a dead mouse." He pulled a stiff, disreputable-looking rodent out of the box and held it by its tail. The corpse dangled, teeth bared, claws scrabbling at nothingness. Mulder studied it with thoughtful attention. "Get a bag out of my pocket."
Pulling his mouth shut with a snap, Alex obeyed. Mulder bagged the mouse and handed Alex the bag. "You don't mind holding onto this, do you?" he asked gravely.
"What do--you want me to carry a dead rat around in my pocket?"
"I wouldn't ask you to do that. A rat would ruin the line of your suit. It's just a 'wee, sleekit cowrin, tim'rous beastie'...or was, before it bit the big cheese."
"Fuck," Alex groaned under his breath, putting the evidence baggie his pocket with open distaste.
"Cheer up," Mulder said, clapping him on the shoulder gently and smiling with lively mischief. "Imagine what Scully's going to say when she gets the Fed-Ex."
-- In a Dark Time
This still amuses me. I imagine Mulder saying, in his bland, flat voice, with an almost expressionless face: "I wouldn't ask you to do that. A rat would ruin the line of your suit."
I'd change the last paragraph slightly now. "Lively mischief"? The hell?
Krycek did not immediately acknowledge Mulder's presence. He had dismantled his toast into a litter of twisted screws, which he seemed to be dragging one by one through the eggy carnage of his breakfast plate. He was watching Speed Racer. In Japanese. His face simultaneously expressed absorption and boredom. Long, well-kept toes flexed upon the striped chair cushion where his feet rested. The buttons of his shirt were almost entirely undone, allowing Mulder to notice for the first time a thin irregular knife scar that descended from his collarbone along his torso. He hadn't yet gelled his hair and it stood out from his head, resembling a cat's rubbed, half-damp fur.
-- In a Dark Time
Maybe my favorite paragraph, of all I've ever written. This is not your father's Alex Krycek. Or something like that. This paragraph does exactly what I intended it to do. I wouldn't change a thing.
A Saturday afternoon in New York, in the heat of a lingering summer.
The air was muggy, but cooling; high above the skyline the clouds rolled in. Bruised and smeared in a muddy palette, clouds grey and gold and orange and pink arrived in the sky, streaking across its surface until what little blue could be seen from street-level was spray-painted over in the bright, messy colors of garbage and gardens.
From a lower level of the sky, off unseen behind the buildings, the setting sun poured forth a golden voluminous light that slid between the towering walls like a thousand knives to fall in thin brilliant stripes across the streets. Here and there light nicked a surface and a mirroring flash was born and died in a moment, in the turn of a head, in the distance of a single footstep.
Crowds filled the streets, millions of particles borne on their own wave, moving in groups and in single elements, erratic or purposeful, aimless or charged, following laws of kinesic flow that each was unaware of. Shifting and bumping, sending ripples of motion through the great body, the people mingled and unmingled, knotted and unknotted, eddying and whirling away from one another. Most were strangers to each other; and though faces seen long ago were seen again they did not for the most part register as familiar.
Fantastic diversity colored the streets. A loose clutch of Rastafarians ambled en masse down Fifth Avenue, starting a long foot journey toward Bleecker Street. Passing them in the opposite direction, an equally numbered handful of Haitians meandered toward Central Park, ostensibly to catch Soul Coughing at the Summer Stage--but, if they didn't make it in time--no sweat. Beer would still be there, and much sweet coucoune. A Japanese couple glanced at the Haitians, then returned with expressionless but intense focus to their window-shopping, as if they were not being trailed by several giggling children, neat as ducklings in formation and almost as small. Across the street from this thread of traffic, a white South African couple and a black South African couple crossed paths in front of Tiffany's; by an odd coincidence, the darker woman's mother had once been the lighter woman's cook, but neither recognized the other in the moment of passing.
Fifth channeled a hot, slow-moving sea of people. Shop-browsing Quebeckers squeezed by gawking camera-toting Hoosiers, who in turn shoved awkwardly by a trio of exquisitely blase Parisian schoolgirls, who wrinkled their noses and with exaggerated tolerance and savoir-faire pushed past a group of gangsta-rappin' youths with half-mast sweats and ingeniously shaved scalps, who were descending with parasitical ferocity upon a scowling hotdog vendor, who held up a thick red hand and said: "Hey, one atta time, watch th' cart, d'ya mind, Jeezus,, youth today, like fuckin' dogs, want ya some kraut widdat, no, one dolla', no twenties, see the sign, you can read cantcha, fuckin' kids today--"
The crowds passed Raymond Weil, Barnes & Noble, and then--for a long time--Saks; they passed Rockefeller Center, St Patrick's Cathedral, Versace and Cartier and Banana Republic; they went from Boticelli to Bennetton, from Gucci to Elizabeth Arden, from Godiva to Dior to the Disney Store; they stopped in front of Trump Tower and took photos, pulling haughty faces, paused at Tiffany's and vogued for the camcorder. At FAO Schwartz large chunks of the crowd, particularly those toting small children, broke off, leaving the street and entering the fantastical world within. It was cool in there, and many dazed fathers fell prey to their own reluctance to return outside, and found themselves maneuvered into parting with the contents of their wallets. Revenues from The Lion King passed the billion mark that afternoon, and it would have surprised none of the store's tired clerks if the billionth dollar had passed anonymously across their counter.
Outside the cool stores, Fifth gleamed with light, sharp light that pierced from the west, diffuse pinkish-gold light that slid in under the clouds from the north and bathed faces in a humid, August-afternoon glow. Gawking like a first-time tourist and not caring, Alex tilted back his head, running his sights up along the lines of buildings that rose around them like canyon walls. The evening's slow descent was joyous, crushing, and prolonged: death by drowning in humanity. Pulling his shirt from his jeans and fanning himself with a draft of warmish summer air, running a hand across his heated, silk-damp scalp, he felt a brief touch of peace, blanketing and not quite real.
-- In a Dark Time, Part 2
When I reread this, I feel like I'm seeing it; and yet, as the writer, I can still see all the backdrops and props used to create the illusion. I hadn't been to NYC since I was a child, so to write this I researched the sequence of stores on Fifth avenue, the name of a band who'd have played a concert in Central Park that year, the revenues of The Lion King, and lots of other stuff I don't even remember now, all to achieve an illusion of sophisticated familiarity with the culture of New York. (I don't even know what the word "coucoune" means anymore.)
It's weird; this is the written equivalent of a camera beginning at a distance and narrowing focus after panning across crowds and storefronts and skies; this launched a new section of the story and is distinctly different than anything around it. There are some bits here that make me wince, and I don't know if they'd make other people wince or if it's just me noticing my own artifice as a novice writer. Also, this should be evening, but I keep calling it afternoon; there's something off. But the overall effect, the crush of humanity, the lowering sun, the heat, satisfies me perfectly.
[Also, I was obviously wrong when I said that IDT had only one extraordinarily long sentence in it.]
"I..." Mulder hesitated, then at Alex's equally impatient expression, said slowly, searchingly: "I talk a lot, during sex..."
"Is that all? I'll gag you."
Mulder's grave, almost Mona Lisa smile didn't noticeably alter in response. Alex himself wasn't entirely sure whether he'd been joking or not.
"I sleep poorly, I steal the sheets, I kick my bed partners and sometimes wake screaming. I believe in aliens, I drink the last beer...when I don't talk too much I don't talk enough. I get on people's nerves, I annoy waiters and embarrass my friends and the people who know me best usually end up suggesting I seek counseling. Words used by various acquaintances to describe my sparkling personality have included tactless, rude, juvenile, socially autistic, obsessive, neurotic, paranoid, psychologically disturbed, subclinically depressed, fashion-impaired--"
"Mulder, shut up," Alex said gently.
-- In a Dark Time, Part 2
No comment. I love Mulder. I always wanted to do him justice.