This was my first Yuletide, and I went a little nuts. I wrote five stories. Yuletide's word counts are a little off, for some reason, so all the word counts below are mine:
For curtana: "The Metal from the Stars" (John Bellairs - Lewis Barnavelt series: 8,628 words).
For catw00man: "Cinderella, Made of Steel" (TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES; 5,524 words).
For Fuschia: "A Good Swiss Watch" (RED RIVER: 2,741 words).
For Galadriel: "Aphasia" (APPALOOSA - book or movie: 2,434 words).
For anotherusedpage: "The Balls of the Bel" (Lois McMaster Bujold - Vorkosigan series: 2,917 words).
Total word count: 22,244. ...yeah.
I think three of these turned out very well. One probably could have used another rewrite, and one was utter crack. I don't think that's a bad batting average, especially when you consider that my fanfic output for 2008 has pretty much just been chatfic. And folks seemed to like all of them. None of them were anywhere near the most popular fic of this Yuletide, but they were all pretty well-received within their fandoms. Of course, in three cases, the stories I had written were the *only* stories in their fandoms, so there you go.
Some notes on individual stories:
"The Metal From the Stars"
This was my assignment; all the others are treats. Curtana requested "a story about Lewis and Rose Rita as they enter their mid-to-late teens. Whether they want their relationship to change, or wish it could just stay the same as it was when they were kids. Friendship, romance (attempted, failed, or successful), growing apart, growing together, growing wiser, that sort of thing. If you can include some element of supernatural mystery, as in the books, that would be awesome." Of course, that meant my first thought was, "Well, that's settled: I have to write a supernatural mystery in the manner of John Bellairs."
I worked my ass off on this one. Everything else I wrote after this was pounded out in a couple of days, but I spent a lot of time on "The Metal From the Stars." The gimmick actually came pretty quickly. Pretty much right off the bat, I figured out that I wanted to do a ghost story, but that the twist would be that it was an alien's ghost. Lewis couldn't figure it out right away, of course, so I needed a red herring that would be plausible enough for Lewis to go for. What could an older Lewis mistake a fragment of crashed spaceship for? The books are set in the late forties and early fifties, which made Sputnik the obvious choice. Which meant I had to set it in 1957, etc. Originally the story was going to be longer and have increasing dread, with Lewis getting nightmarish visions of another world, but 1) I wanted to have a draft already and 2) I decided that one difference between Lewis as a kid and Lewis as a young adult is that *experience has taught him to tell Jonathan about the freaky shit right away.*
I really enjoyed this assignment. These books were HUGE to me when I was a kid. I reread the hell out of the three books by Bellairs, and even read a few of the books completed or wholly written by Brad Strickland before I realized that Strickland's books not only fell well short of the outrageously high mark set by Bellairs, but played a different game entirely. (The Strickland books are more gimmicky, and tend toward the bigger and showier -- Uncle Jonathan gives magic shows to neighborhood kids and such, and one of the books has a volcano goddess as the Big Bad. Also, Strickland turns New Zebedee into a sort of Hellmouth, which seems to me to miss the point of the originals.) But I actually owe a minor debt to Strickland: when I realized his books felt wrong to me, I had to think about why, and that helped me better understand what I had to do. This, I figured, was the key: the Bellairs books are *intimate* horror. There is something wrong in the house you live in. Or in something you own. Or in a close friend's life. They're not about pyrotechnics; they are about dread and quiet fear, and they're effective because of their small scope, which is essentially the world of a child. So I decided I'd keep this within the family, so to speak.
The best part of writing the story: getting to have the characters interact. I loved the Jonathan/Mrs. Zimmerman bickering (the "Florence, fetch the tinsnips!" bit was written early on), and the interaction between Lewis and Jonathan, but possibly my favorite exchange between Rose Rita and Lewis was this one:
"Well," Lewis said. "He was probably right. Maybe we should wait for Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann to come back before we go down there. The sewers aren't safe -- "
"They're perfectly safe," Rose Rita said. "They're just full of filth and rats."
"Oh," said Lewis weakly.
Rose Rita beamed. "So what're we waiting for?"
That pretty much sums them up, really.
A side note: I had thought that everybody had read John Bellairs as a kid. Apparently that's not the case, because when I was looking desperately for a beta I found out that nobody I knew had even *heard* of the Lewis Barnavelt series (A HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS and sequels). The Yuletide response bears this out: I didn't get a huge amount of feedback, but the people who liked it really liked it. Which is really gratifying, actually, because if one of them had written Lewis Barnavelt *I'd* have been one of the few people made happy by it.
(I had a similar response to my RED RIVER story, "A Good Swiss Watch" -- both of them are relatively obscure even in Yuletide terms, but the folks who love the source material were really glad to have the stories. The main story I was given, "Home," based on H. Beam Piper's LITTLE FUZZY, was flat-out brilliant and only got a modest amount of comments -- same dynamic at work, I think. It goes to show you that receiving a low number of comments is not an innately bad thing, as some folks seem to think. Yuletide is about giving people something they would like to get and might never have otherwise.)
"Cinderella, Made of Steel"
Another story I was really happy with. "Cinderella, Made of Steel" is kind of the flip side of "The Metal From the Stars," in that it was unquestionably the best-received story I wrote. It got the most feedback of any of my stories, by far, and the last time I checked it had received more feedback than any of the other Sarah Connor Chronicles story posted this Yuletide -- yet more evidence that if your story doesn't get as much feedback as another story in the same fandom, it doesn't mean your story was at all bad. Because there were some REALLY GOOD stories for SCC! (I particularly liked "Tell Me How This Ends" and "Holy Thursday, Day of Judgment," and while Metal Underneath isn't the kind of story I go for it was very well done -- I was particularly amused to see that I didn't write the only fic that had Cameron baking cookies.) Interestingly, I didn't see all that many recs for "Cinderella, Made of Steel" on LJ, so maybe more users came to it from del.icio.us recs.
There are a lot of things I like about this story. I think it develops well, and it does a good job with all the characters. People seem to think I did really well with Cameron's perspective, which is gratifying; for a little while I toyed with the idea of making it first person, but my beta felt that it was fine as it was, and I can't disagree. There are a couple of quibbles that people had that I quite agree with: Derek is more friendly to/tolerant of Cameron than he is in the series, and I totally muffed it by forgetting that, as one reader pointed out, Cameron actually *has* laughed on the series. Whoops. But of all of the stories I wrote for Yuletide 2008, this is the one I've reread the most since posting it. (I reread "The Metal From the Stars" a lot, as well.)
I'm working on a DVD commentary for "Cinderella," which I'll be posting shortly.
"A Good Swiss Watch"
Like "The Metal from the Stars," this was a fic well-received by the surprisingly few folks who knew the source material. If you haven't seen it, RED RIVER is the single most homoerotic cowboy movie ever made, and I include BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN in that assessment. (For one thing, the protagonists of BBM were shepherds, not cowboys; for another, RED RIVER is roughly 1000 times more gay.) It even ranks above APPALOOSA. Ostensibly, it's the story of John Wayne and his adopted son Montgomery Clift going on a cattle drive, on which gunslinger John Ireland invites himself along, and what happens when Wayne becomes a crazed martinet on the trail. In reality, it's the story of Montgomery Clift struggling with his sexuality, trying to decide whether he wants to be John Wayne or be screwed senseless by John Wayne. If, like many, many people on my flist, you're familiar with DCU fandom, specifically the Batfamily, I can most easily describe this movie as "Bruce and Dick go on a cattle drive with Jason, who is trying to get in Dick's pants the entire time."
The movie is not very subtle about this dynamic. Alas, the clip that best demonstrated this has been removed from YouTube, but here's how gay it is: I linked thete1 and buggery to the scene where Clift's Matt Garth and Ireland's Cherry Valance (yes, I swear to God, his name is CHERRY VALANCE. no, he is not a porn star. yes, he is cruising the bejesus out of Montgomery Clift. yes, they call him "Cherry" because he's not) meet for the first time and go shooting, and Te was only able to summon enough coherence to repeatedly type "OMFG OMFG OMFG OMFG." When *Te* is that bowled over by the gay, you know it's something to behold. And Jack, after the initial shock, was able to give me a terrific beta, as did Petra.
I'm very happy with the way "A Good Swiss Watch" came out -- it feels like the movie, and the dialogue works, and it has a pleasing symmetry to it. I have a rather pathological obsession with symmetry in stories, and I really like the way the waiting game plays out at the beginning and end. I think it's got one of the best openings I've ever written:
When Matthew Garth is fourteen years old, he emerges squinting from a rude cabin to see Thomas Dunson silhouetted against the sky. Matt has yet to get his full growth, and he always runs to skinniness, so Dunson is a tremendous, looming figure, even taller than the red sandstone buttes and spires in the distance. Years later, remembering it, Matt has his growth and Dunson is not so big but Matt still sees him that way. He supposes it's like what happens to a horse. One part of raising a foal is picking him up every so often, doing it less as time goes by and the foal gets bigger. The principle of the thing is that once the horse has the idea that you are bigger than he is, it sticks. That's how it is with Matt and Dunson.
I was thinking about Monument Valley, and the great final shot of John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS, when I wrote it; I wanted to tap in a little bit to the larger-than-life movie star Wayne was in order to convey the view that Matt has of his character.
Appaloosa fans were happy to get this one. I'm not quite as happy with it as I could be -- I think it could have used another rewrite or two, but time ran short, and hey, it's Yuletide!
While I think I got the character voices really well in dialogue, I don't feel that I really nailed Hitch's narration as well as I could have. I was trying to make the story a matter-of-fact Western, when in retrospect what I really needed to do was to get a little more into Hitch's perspective on things. The narration voice is closer to Cole than Hitch, I think, and so it doesn't really have the unified feel I would have liked. That said, I like the dynamic of this one and I think the gimmick -- that Hitch, as the less experienced man, is a little in awe of Cole's experience and so is slow to contradict him even when doing so would help Cole, and that this is reflected in his initial reluctance and final willingness to correct Cole's aphasia -- is very solid. And I am fond of the one liner about the eight gauge being a load, but real damn effective.
Curiously, considering that I'm a gun nut in real life, this was my first time writing a real gunfight in a story. I've written action scenes before, but superhero action scenes are very different from guys with guns trying to outthink and outreact each other. I think the gunfight plays okay, for a first effort. Originally I had Hitch following the bad guy around the barn, which sucked; I like the idea of him using the barn door and going straight through the middle much better, and I think the whole thing plays out all right. I think the next time I write a gunfight, I'll drop much more into the character's sensory and emotional impressions, and couple those with the efforts to out-think the other guy. Note to self: reread Stephen Hunter, and pay more attention to how he does it, because nobody writes gunfights better.
(Incidentally, while Stephen Hunter's thrillers -- particularly my favorite, PALE HORSE COMING -- are great, check out his co-authored AMERICAN GUNFIGHT, which tells the story of the assassination attempt on President Truman. Great history, brilliant researching, fabulous writing.)
"The Balls of the Bel"
This was an idea I had had a while back but had never done anything with, and suddenly realized, "Hey, I could use that idea for this Yuletide prompt!" And so I did. It's pure crack, obviously, but the insanity isn't bad, and I rather like some of the dialogue. ("Artist's hands? Really?") It's really thin, though, and it's nowhere near the level of the good stuff posted in the fandom, so I feel a little awkward about that. Everybody else was bringing the A-game, and I brought the cheap laughs.
Still, while it feels a little gimmicky to me, it made people laugh, so it fulfilled its function! And, really, it's crack, so the standards it has to meet aren't nearly as high.
After a New Year's Day visit, I'll be off to reply to the comments on my stories, recipients first. Thanks to everybody who read, and everybody who wrote for Yuletide.