Saturday, July 25, 2009

Science fiction fandom camp in Lithuania: applied demonology

Aurelijus Katkevičius, the editor of a magazine "Verslo Klasė", stopped by at the science fiction fandom camp for a couple of hours. He gave a talk (here's a picture) "On applied demonology, or how to overcome a writer's block". A surprising combination of subjects, you'd say? Those were supposed to be two different lectures, of which he asked us to choose one; since we couldn't choose, he combined them. So, how are demonology and writer's block related?

When you hit a wall in your writing, there are several ways to get yourself unstuck, and most of them are based on the notion that once you start writing anything and do it for long enough, the magical writerly juices will start flowing, and you'll know how to proceed with your work. You could write about what's in front of you, like a cup that's sitting on your desk, or be Zen about it: surrender to your block, and write about how stuck you are. Or you could examine your protagonist in detail. This is where applied demonology comes into play. If your protagonist is a demon, you can create an entire science around him or her. You can determine what class, genus, and species he/she/it is, where does he live, what are his feeding habits, etc. You can write all this down on paper. It probably won't make it into the final draft of the story, since infodumps are typically unnecessary. But regardless if your character is a demon or anything else, the detailed examination can give you an insight into what his past and his condition would motivate him to do at a particular point in the story, thus giving you ideas how to proceed with the plot.

This method has actually worked for me, and I've figured it out just recently. When I'm drawing a complete blank on how to proceed with the plot, I try to visualize a secondary scene that does not appear to be important to the plot at all. I write it out in detail. And inevitably some important aspects of the characters' behavior, or of the world my novel is set in, emerge and become "hooks" for thefurther chapters of the book.

At least I thought that was the connection between demonology and writer's block. Then there is another angle: writer's block may be caused by demons each of us harbors. From here on out, the discussion took a turn that made the skeptic in me bite my tongue. It seems that any discussion on intellectual matters in Lithuania must at some point pay homage to cliches about the Orient. It is mandatory to say that it's a place where people Know Something We Don't, and we Should Not Even Try To Get It, lest we go crazy. I personally don't believe in any kind of special oriental wisdom, definitely not as a better alternative to a technological way of living; while I do know that people in those countries arrange their life's priorities somewhat differently than us (collectivism versus individualism), I don't see it as a manifestation of wisdom. But to voice dissenting opinions in a conversation where everybody seems to take this for granted would mean at least to start a debate no one is interested in having. And of course, that would be rude.

We also chatted about the state of book publishing in Lithuania. It's not great, though not disastrous either. Most science fiction published in Lithuania are translations of English / U.S., and Russian SF. Several speculative fiction and horror novels, as well as a few anthologies of short stories by Lithuanian authors have also been published lately. However, genre magazines do not survive. There are currently no exclusively science fiction / fantasy / horror magazines in Lithuania. We had some in the early nineties, but they did not last past the first 2-4 issues.

I asked if any Lithuanian publishing houses were publishing stuff electronically for e-book devices; to everyone's knowledge, none do. Electronic publishing in Lithuania may be a non-starter for the simple reason that piracy is so prevalent in Lithuania. I can't completely understand, though, why isn't piracy enough of an hindrance to electronic publishing in the US, or UK, or other developed countries. Do people in those countries obey the laws more willingly, or are there not-so-obvious technological reasons for that?

New pictures from the camp (with English and Lithuanian captions) have been added to my photo gallery.

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