Monday, September 2, 2013

in Which The Author Pops In, Says S'up


Yeah I didn't update the site in August. August is not a good month for me, personally. It's pretty much a landmine of anniversaries and remembrances I don't want to deal with so I tend to just lay low, set the engine to idle, and hunker down till it's over. Consider yourselves having been spared the angst. But now it's September, and you know what that means! (and now you've filled in the blank from "Look Down"* and will have it in your head all day, you're very welcome)

Book status update: I have one and a half sections left to proof/edit for Honor. That's the good news. The bad news is they're the last part of the book and you know that's where all that denoument stuff is supposed to happen so, it's complicated. However, it is being worked on as we speak. All I know is that it's Almost Done.

So, watch this space. When it goes live, news will be posted here. This is the turning point book, which is why it's been the hardest. Some characters we know and like (mine and Hugo's) are not graduating into the next one. Choices will be made, and consequences suffered because of them. Mmm, consequences.

Speaking of which, allow me to now put my flat little lecture cap on, lean over my desk, and push my glasses up the bridge of my nose at you. Allow me also to hide it behind a cut because yeah, it's t to the l.

I know this series is kind of a "niche" series even within LM fandom, having survived low on the radar screen during the lull between the initial musical fandom burst and the new one, courtesy of the movie. This series was started before some of the current crop of fans were even born. I also know that the characters and situations involved aren't the most popular ones, fandom-wise. My OTPs who are not original characters are basically the same ones Hugo set up. This doesn't mean I'm claiming one is better or truer than another. I just decided early on to use the book, not the musical, for my basis--after all, with Hugo's own involvement, this series is about the original book itself as much as the characters in it.

I'm bringing this up because on occasion I'll get emails wondering why I didn't write about certain things, or glossed over them. I don't write much about the barricades because from my POV, their story is done. None of the characters made it out alive other than Marius and Valjean, according to Hugo; I'm keeping it that way. Yes, I put Éponine and Montparnasse in a relationship and did not put her in one with Marius: that's because that's Hugo's version. Hugo devoted whole sections to the ABC; from my POV, he told their story already, I have nothing more to add. I'm not here to develop their interpersonal relationships further, that's not the story I'm telling. Likewise, the relationship I portray between Valjean and Javert is close, it's complicated, it's imperfect, it's even emotional--the one thing it is not is sexual. Again, because this is the story I chose to write. This does not mean that I'm denying someone else's OTP or sinking ships or, yep, homophobic (seriously? Do you even read anything else I've written?). Because here's the thing:

All stories are valid. I'm choosing the story I want to tell. It does not negate anyone else's story. I'm not in the business of validating your ship because we're not even sailing in the same ocean. Lack of validation does not constitute denial. I have no power over your creative processes. "Do what you will" shall be the whole of the law. Nothing is stopping you. Certainly nothing stopped me; I am able to cherry pick certain events in the book because I already set up the premise that Hugo made his own choices and deliberately changed certain events at the behest of the characters themselves. Sure I could have changed more than just Javert's suicide, but again, that's not the story I'm telling. Jean Valjean's path to redemption took the course of the original book. This book is Javert's retracing his footsteps over a wider stage and longer period. Everything else is a bittersweet chocolate cream sauce.

Which leads me to this: why would anyone even need my acknowledgement of another version of events? In an infinite universe, by definition, all realities coexist. They may not intersect, but they do run parallel. You don't even need to see them to know they're there. But there is no "valid" and "invalid" involved. A thing is, or it is not. Your thing is not my thing. That doesn't mean that it's a no-thing.

I have been asked if, in my series, Enjolras and Grantaire are lovers. By the time this series starts they are both already dead, and other than an extended, third party flashback, they don't even figure into it. For me, that's a "is Dumbledore gay?" question: if it isn't specifically described or even referred to in text, does that mean it didn't happen at all?**

Here's my take on that: in mathematical and philosophical and rhetorical proof, the burden must rest on the side of presence rather than absence. One cannot prove a negative; one can prove a positive, but can only show a negative by the exclusion of its positive counterparts. In short, you can only see what isn't there by examining the void left behind. That is why the burden of legal proof rests with the accuser, not the accused: it is not for the latter to prove it didn't happen, but for the former to prove that it did.***

Enjolras, Valjean and Javert all have one telling commonality in their original descriptions, and that is that they are all portrayed as virgins. In fact let's face it, the only ones who are not virgins are the Thénardiers (married but evil) and Fantine (unmarried but shamed) and later, Cosette and Marius (married and pure). Yeah. Anyway, upshot is, Hugo was no prude, not by a country mile**** nor was he ignorant of such things: the man who wrote about an actual prison relationship in Claude Gueux in 1834 (and which account he partially reused for Valjean's biography) certainly could have found ways to slip that into his work had he wished. But he goes out of his way to describe Valjean as having never had a lover before his incarceration and having left prison still "innocent"--interesting choice of words. Javert has no emotional ties whatsoever that aren't job related; heck, the man doesn't even have hobbies. Enjolras is particularly described as "virginal." This wasn't Hugo's first book, either. It took him 30 years to finish it. He was a poet and a dramatist before he became a novelist; one would assume he knew how to choose words with care and with the desire for certain results.

So I guess the question becomes, is Hugo telling the truth, such as it is within the context of the book? Does he use these words in their literal, sexual sense, or does he use them in their emotional sense? Or is it a combination of both? If he is not telling the truth about his own characters, then why is he lying? In a book already sensational for its defense of prostitution as an institution and his condemnation of the absolute penalties of both church and state, why would he leave it out? Does he feel that by saying so he detracts from the more important story, having learned from Claude Gueux's example: he derailed his own argument against the death penalty by outraged proto-Victorians who were shocked to have prison reality slapped in their faces. The most often censored parts of Les Misérables itself are the ones critical of the Catholic church and the ones suggesting that, maybe, women who have no other recourse to survive except prostitution not be penalized for choosing not to starve. On its release the book was considered so controversial that it ended up on the Vatican's official list of banned books. What a difference 150 years makes; now it is considered a "Christian classic" and has been appropriated and reinterpreted by religious interests on more than one occasion--usually by deleting the parts that talk about, guess what, how bad organized religion is and how prostitutes are people too.

Hello head; 'sup desk.

Back to the topic at hand because tl; way dr. I am using the original book as the basis for mine, and what I find useful in Hugo's account I use and what I find questionable I question, but this in no way makes my resulting version the ne plus ultra account. Similarly, I am not going to validate/namecheck your preferred ship in my book. My story is not yours, and yours is not mine. Just because we play with the same set of Tinkertoys that does not issue anyone the ownership papers. And I don't want, or need, to read your version and tell you what I think about it. I don't read fanfic for a reason (well, several reasons really, most of them having to do with quality and/or subject matter).

Hugo wrote things a certain way because it's his book. If you are going to suggest/claim/argue that he got it wrong, or hid things, or was mistranslated, or what have you, then your argument is with him, not with me. My version posits that the differences between what he wrote and what my books say happened are deliberate differences, but again, it's my version. But if you're going to declare that your take is the One True Version of Events and insist I acknowledge it, if not actually follow it, and that I am wrong and horrible and etc. if I don't? Yeah, no. This game, I am not playing.

In conclusion: Cameron Mackintosh, bite me.*****

* "yes, it means I'm free!"

** this is the same reason I deliberately left out some information regarding what happened to Javert on that ship in Adrift (spoilered out). I would not write that scene into existence. This may be cowardice on my part as a writer, but I would rather leave it open to interpretation, because that's the scariest thing of all: not knowing, but imagining all the possible worst case scenarios.

*** The only system, oddly enough, that doesn't use this standard is religion: for some, proof is the counter of faith, and therefore only its absence is a validation in itself. Douglas Adams used that in HHG to explain the Babelfish and also how God was negated out of existence (by proving he existed, but as proof denies faith and without faith God is nothing, the universe denied him right back). But I digress.

**** no pun intended but now that it's there, I'll leave it, cf: Hamlet, "country matters")

***** that's a quote from MST3K: Castle of Fu Manchu. The worst film they ever did, before that title was taken by Manos: The Hands Of Fate. COFM was so bad, Tom and Crow were crying through most of it. The quote refers to the "Miss Saigon Syndrome" of casting white actors in Asian roles and putting them in yellowface and too much eye makeup. Which as you know is a particular peeve of mine.

****** "Stars, in their multitudes...."

1 comment:

  1. You are right, Arlene. This WAS the scariest thing in the book.