athenejen: (yuletide)
athenejen ([personal profile] athenejen) wrote2013-10-14 04:29 pm

a letter of yuletide

Dear Yuletide Writer,

Thank you so, so much for offering one of my offbeat little fandoms! I'll tell you right off the bat that if you already have an idea you're excited about, then don't worry about reading this -- just run with it! As long as you're having fun writing, I know I'm going to adore reading whatever you come up with.

But if you would like some more data about my preferences, well, here are my recs, though they're just a tiny subset of the stories I've read and enjoyed. As for more extensive thoughts, here are a few paragraphs cannibalized from my Yuletide letters from previous years:

In general, the very most important thing to me in fic is character interaction. I often like world building and plot and atmosphere (and there are a couple of my requests this year that have stronger than usual plot or world-building components), but in the end, the key is almost always how the characters relate to each other. And what I really like to see is how relationships (of all types -- romantic, platonic, antagonistic, something else entirely, it's all good) develop. Established relationship fics can be wonderful, but the thing that really moves me is the getting there. I like it when things change, and the characters have to deal with that change, to interact with it, to drive it, to adjust to it. I also like stories about change and transformation more generally, not just as applied to relationships. Gen, het, slash, femslash, fluid sexuality, monogamy, polyamory, other types of non-monogamy and less traditional relationship configurations, I am open to any and all of these things and more.

Beyond that, I like a wide range of story types, characters, character interactions, plot points, narrative moods, settings, and kinks. I have a special fondness for UST, steadfast attachment, desperate sex, sincere sweetness and charm, affectionate snark with an edge, absurd and/or clever humor, comfortable banter, dysfunctional-but-hot co-dependency, complex motives, possibly reformed bad boys/girls, power games and bondage and D/s dynamics, fighting as foreplay, morally grey characters, fumbling first times, and unexpected discovery (among others -- these are just the ones springing to mind at the moment). Obviously these don't usually all fit in the same fic, though I have to admit that I'm a sucker for any fic that somehow manages a good combination of hot and adorable. I do like angst and conflict, but usually I'm happiest when it eventually resolves in some satisfying way. I am generally more of a hopeful ending sort of person -- not the kind wrapped all tight with a bow, necessarily, but also not completely bleak. On the other hand, I have been known to appreciate wistfulness and sadness, there are some stories that really just need tragic endings, or at least less-than-optimistic ones. I can be a big fan of ambiguity if it's done well, and often like matter-of-fact realism... though I also like dreamy surrealism and sharp stylization and really a lot of different moods and styles. A wonderfully foreshadowed first kiss can make me just as happy as scorching hot explicit porn, as can any sort of well-drawn and vivid character interaction.

I am relatively hard to squick, I believe, but I admit to not being particularly fond of mpreg or some of the more extreme kinks. One thing I will say is that though I'm usually a fan of AUs, part of what I love about the latter two requests (Rivers of London and Gosford Park) is the setting/world-building, so I'd rather have something more related to canon than not, though it also doesn't have to be super closely tied -- AUs that are more of the "what if this one thing were different" type would almost certainly be enjoyed, and creative, speculative future fic is totally encouraged, as is probably obvious from the prompts. And, as always, these are all vague guidelines rather than rules -- if a dramatic AU strikes you and it works with the character interactions, feel free to go with it! I just might love it.

Okay! Onto the specific requests (and I would be equally happy with any of them!):

Lost Coastlines (Song)
No characters specified
A journey of uncertain duration, to unknown, unmapped lands, away from the familiar, towards such unpredictable things as melee escapes and foreign lords and faraway stars. Lost, but every night still "rocking and rolling on waves wild and wide." Feel free to go as literal or as metaphorical as you like, as long as that spirit of adventure is there. (This song is wonderful -- if you haven't heard it before, I highly recommend that you hop over to my letter and give it a listen!)

There are so many different directions you could go with this! You could focus on just one lyric or part of the song, or you could concentrate more on the general gist of the thing. You could make up characters entirely, or somehow connect them to Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg and the rest of the band (possibly even relating to the real life context of Meiburg leaving Okkervil River (amicably) to concentrate on Shearwater -- this was, essentially, his farewell song), whatever makes you happy. (Is Meiburg/Sheff a thing I would read? Hell yes! But that is just one tiny possibility out of a whole pile of amazing stories you could tell.) You could bring in concepts from the rest of the The Stand Ins and The Stage Names, or build a world of one ship and the sea based only on the details of the song, extrapolated. Free rein, anything goes. Just have fun with it, and I'm sure I will love whatever you come up with!

If you haven't heard the song before, it is a delight and one of my favorite Okkervil River songs. It was a KEXP Song of the Day and was featured on Stereogum -- download available at either link -- or you could watch the the official video (which features a somewhat shortened version of the track, but none of the lyrics are missing, just la-la-las).

Here are the lyrics, as best I can figure (some of them are a bit tricky to decipher):

[Will Sheff]
Packed and all eyes turned in, no one to see on the quay
No one waving for me, just the shoreline receding
Ticket in my hand, I’m thinking, wish I didn't hand it in
‘Cause who said sailing is fine?
Leaving behind all the faces that I might replace if I tried on that long ride
Looking deep inside but I don't want to look so deep inside yet

[Jonathan Meiburg]
Sit down, sit down on the prow to wave bye,
There might not be another stop, further on the line
Look out, look out at each town that glides by
And there's another crowd, to drown in crying eyes

And see how that light you love now just won't shine
For there might just be another star, (but) that's high and far in some other sky
We sing, is that marionette real enough yet to step off of that set
To decide what her dance might be doing
Ruining the play, to in the ensuing melee escape
We packed up all of our bags, (the) ship's deck now sags
From the weight of our tracks as we pace beneath flags, black and battered
Rattling our swords in service of some fêted foreign lord

We sail out on orders from him, but we find
The maps he sent to us don't mention lost coastlines
Where nothing we've actually seen has been mapped or outlined
For we don't recognize the names upon these signs

And every night finds us rocking and rolling on waves wild and wide
Well we have lost our way, nobody's gonna say it outright
We just go la, la, la la la la... [etc]

莊子 | Zhuāngzǐ - 莊周 | Zhuāng Zhōu
惠子 | Huìzǐ, 莊子 | Zhuāngzǐ
I love Zhuangzi and Huizi's bantery, fond relationship built on mutual respect despite philosophical differences. Please give me another Daoist story featuring the two of them along the lines of those in the book, but feel free to go wild with the setting and/or content -- modernize it, set it in the near future or far future, give them an alternate universe or crossover to play in, put them in a different historical milieu, keep them in their own historical context, it's completely up to you! I'm fine with slash but what I really love about their relationship is the friendship and intellectual rapport. As long as the heart of the story is Daoist philosophy and features them, I will be thrilled.

Zhuangzi is probably my favorite philosophical text -- I love the whimsy of it, the open-endedness of it, the way it revels in looking at the world in other ways. I love especially the little stories and parables embedded in the text, including the ones that feature Zhuangzi's friend and philosopher of a contrasting school of thought, Huizi, also known as Hui Shi. (There's a nice brief summary of the significance of Huizi's appearances in Zhuangzi at wikipedia page.) They have some wonderful conversations and discussions, and clearly enjoy each other's company. I think they could probably talk about anything and it would be fun! And I mean anything, so seriously, go in whatever direction strikes your fancy. If you enjoy writing it, I bet I'll enjoy reading it, and that goes double-triple-quadruple-infinity for this prompt.

A note on names: My preference is to refer to the characters by the pinyin standardization of their sage-names, Zhuangzi and Huizi. Include the tone marks or not as you desire, I find them a bit cluttery and unnecessary and so tend to drop them myself in favor of greater readability (and laziness, I must admit), but I'm not categorically against them either. If you are so strongly in favor of Wade-Giles or an alternative transliteration that it would feel wrong to you to use the pinyin, I am okay with you going with that instead. I just find the pinyin to be the most streamlined and readable for my taste.

I should also note, it's Zhuangzi and Huizi as they appear in the book that I would like the story to center around; if you want to draw from the historical figures or their appearances in other texts, feel free, but the essence of my request is in the characters and their interactions as they appear in the Zhuangzi text itself.

There have been many translations of Zhuangzi, and I confess I am an inadequate scholar and have not made a wide-ranging study of them and their relative merits, so please work from whatever version(s) you feel most comfortable with! But if you want more guidance, my rule of thumb for translations of Chinese texts is generally: when in doubt, go with Burton Watson. It's available online here, though that website has the version that uses the older Wade-Giles romanizations and I prefer the more modern pinyin (Watson has published a version updated with pinyin that is currently in print; I personally think this is a book that would be easier to read in hardcopy, but ymmv, of course). But there are many versions, including free ones such as the one here, which has the Legge translation and also the text in Chinese. The Victor Mair, AC Graham, and Brook Ziporyn translations also have their enthusiastic proponents (the latter two are on the more academic side) and would be well worth consulting, as Zhuangzi is a highly interpretable text and the translations can vary substantially and in interesting ways.

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
Beverley Brook
I can't help but feel that Beverley's gotten rather short shrift so far in the series, despite her cameo appearances after the first book and occasional mentions in passing. Maybe Aaronovitch is building up to something involving her, but in the meantime, I want more Beverley! Feel free to explore any aspect of her life that floats your boat (… no pun intended), be it her early life as a river (or pre-river, even), her perspective on some of the events of the books, or speculation into how things go in the future. I would love to read something about her time in the countryside as part of the exchange agreement, as just one example. I'm fine with gen, het, slash, femslash, it's all good. Really, whatever you want to write about Beverley being her awesome self, I want to read!

The world-building of these books is fascinating, which just means that there are all these aspects and structures and characters we get little glimpses of that don't necessarily get as much screen time as we might like. If that's something that interests you as well, it would be wonderful to see some of those things and/or characters explored through Beverley, in addition to spending more time with Beverley herself. I'll note here that I love the main characters in this series, but it's the side characters that really make me yearn for more -- Sahra Guleed, Varvara Sidorovna Tomonina, Molly, Jaget Kumar, Abigail Kamara, Mademe Teng and Robert Su, the Irregulars, the Quiet People, the various Rivers, these are just a handful of examples in the vast array of side characters you should absolutely feel free to include if you like. Heck, feel free to come up with original characters that fit into the existing world-building, even! But if you'd rather focus more narrowly on Beverley, I'd also be completely happy with something more character-focused or relationship-focused. I love character studies and there are so many things we don't yet know about Beverley or only get hints of in the books. In short, any aspect of Beverley, the side characters, and/or the world-building you find interesting and want to explore, I am excited to read!

The Rivers of London series currently consists of four novels, Rivers of London (called Midnight Riot in the US), Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground, and Broken Homes. Broken Homes is not available from US publishers until February 4, 2014, but copies can be acquired online through the secondary book market, including at Amazon (US). The eBook and mass market paperback editions of the other three books are available reasonably cheaply through the usual sources.

Gosford Park (2001)
Elsie (Gosford Park), Mary MacEachran
One of my favorite subtle things about this movie is the development of Elsie and Mary's relationship -- there's just something really down-to-earth and honest and supportive about it that's wonderful to see, especially given their contrasting personalities. I liked how Elsie took Mary under her wing without being dismissive or condescending, and how over the course of the film they seemed to build up a real, if mostly unspoken, understanding and rapport. I would love to read something post-movie (maybe epistolary, or Mary visiting Elsie in America, or vice versa, or Elsie moving back to Britain, or anything else you can think of, really), but I could see an interstitial story (set during the events of the movie) working brilliantly also, and I love both female friendship stories and femslash, so whichever you prefer works for me. I think both of their perspectives changed a little because they met, and getting to see more of that would be lovely, but in the end, I just want more of them being awesome together.

This movie, oh, this movie. Such an amazing film, full of fascinating characters that clearly each have their own stories and complexities and development, even if we only get to see a fraction of that on screen (definitely feel free to include other characters from the film if you like, as long as the focus remains primarily on Mary and Elsie). Just about every single character in the movie could generate so many stories, just because they manage to feel so real. One of the things I've been wanting to read for a long time is more about Mary and Elsie and their relationship. I'm intrigued by how their friendship developed over the course of the movie, and I think it could be fascinating to watch it continue develop post-movie, however it might occur (such an interesting historical time period!). I'd like to believe they stayed in touch, anyway, and there are so many possibilities for the women they might become, separately as well as together.

The DVD is available fairly cheap used online, as is the shooting script in paperback form, and it's available through Netflix DVD (but is not on Netflix Streaming at the moment, alas) and Amazon Instant.

The bottom line is: I like a huge variety of stuff (and am all in favor of experiments, creativity, and unusual things), I'm harder than usual to squick, and I'm willing to try almost anything. Please just enjoy the writing, and I know I'll have fun reading it. :)

much love,
[ profile] athenejen