Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

So I've started the editing process for Scylla and Charybdis - which has involved, if you've been watching my Facebook feed, making lists upon lists to keep on hand for reference - and I made a realization.

I like to write about the apocalypse.

Or not the apocalypse itself, actually:  what I like to write about is the era when the initial upheaval has passed, humanity has found ways to adapt and thrive, and nothing will ever be the same again - but people still look back and romanticize the past.

That's the backstory of Scylla and Charybdis.  It's also, in a very different way, the backstory of Surgeburnt.  In both cases, the destructive event is (comparatively) recent history:  110 years in Scylla and Charybdis and 90 in Surgeburnt.  In the former case, I very specifically wanted the last people who would clearly remember what had happened to be dead and gone.

But this is also Undertaking Chances, my zombie novella, though the apocalypse is much closer - a matter of months - and the recovery incomplete.

I think that's the question that intrigues me:  how do you get back to normal?  What does normal look like when the rules have changed?  I think I'm less interested in the survival and adaptation of individuals in the moment than the long-term systems that develop.  (Which is maybe why I'm still stubbornly watching The Walking Dead - they've reached that phase where they recognize the need to put down roots and build.  Far more interesting than the wandering-about.)

What happens to the old infrastructure?  How does it get repurposed?  What words and concepts - in language, in custom, in technology and the names of items - remain that once made perfect sense, but now are divorced from context?  (I'm thinking of things like the phrase "roll up the windows" in a car, when we haven't had hand-cranks in years, or the fact that the Save icon in most computer programs looks like a tiny floppy disk.)

When everything changes, do we respond by trying to recapture the old, or by creating something new?  Do we change our minds down the line?  How reliable is nostalgia?

I grew up with such timing that I can clearly remember both the days before constant connectivity and the explosion of it, how excited we were.  I remember the first time I saw a billboard with a web address on it and how much my family laughed.  I remember the first camera phones and how everyone's reaction was, "What use is that?  It won't catch on."

I remember saying, "Eh, by the time I need to text, there will be keyboards and I won't need to learn how to do it with the number pad." ... and I was right.

So because of this, I think, one of the elements I'm always interested in is taking that all-encompassing infrastructure and shattering it.  How does society deal with broken links in that chain?  Is constant connectivity too addictive to give up?

... all right, the fact that I'm a grumpy hermit might have something to do with my take on this aspect, too.

So:  bring on the apocalypse!  I have work to do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

I've spent a lot of my life involved in roleplaying games, whether it be via email or on a MUSH (Multi-User Shared Hallucination - basically a text-only world), freeform and story-based, or - gasp! - with statistics, mechanics and virtual dice.  I've even run a few games in the real world, where my players quickly figured out I had no poker face, would make predictions about where things were going, and then watch me very closely to see if they were right.  Grrr.

One of the concepts that is central to these games, particularly the MUSH sort, is the distinction between IC - In Character - and OOC - Out Of Character.  What this really translates to, in general, is imaginary-world / real-world.  For instance, if you were in the middle of writing a scene with someone and needed to run out, you might say:  "OOC:  be right back, grabbing lunch."  It's a simple system to carry on a mundane conversation and also to coordinate the character (IC!) action.

IC and OOC are also used less commonly to refer to specific character actions and whether they fit the character.  For instance, you might say, "It would be IC for my character to be very upset."  For whatever reason, you rarely see OOC used in this fashion.  If there is a mismatch, players are more likely to say, "That behavior isn't IC."

So what does this have to do with writing?  I find this sometimes intrudes into how I regard the various aspects of a tale.  The IC is everything that exists in the world of the story, even aspects that don't appear on the page.  The OOC is everything in the writing that doesn't necessarily have a reality the characters would recognize:  structural choices such as chapters and scene breaks, thematic elements, etc.  Narrative style straddles the line:  in most first person, it is an IC aspect - it's how the character talks or writes, after all - and in many third person stories, the choice of words and tone is influenced by the personality, knowledge and outlook of the character.

Old habits are hard to break, too:  I am prone to thinking of mismatched character behavior as, sure enough, "not IC."  It's a quick, easy shorthand that works in my brain and helps guide me away from choices that might serve the plot, but not the people.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Fun with Song Titles

I've mentioned before that I do themed music CDs for my elderly car, so I can listen to my collection of this, that and the other.  One of the themes I like to do is word association, where the titles (and sometimes, internal versions) suggest a chain from one to the next.  Here's my most recent sequence:

Gasoline - Britney Spears
Shut Up And Drive - Rihanna
I Don't Care (Lonesome Road) - Alana Davis
Lonely Girl - Oceanlab
Not Alone - Sara Bareilles
Party In My Head - September
Get the Party Started - P!nk
Begin Again - Purity Ring
Never Ending Circles - Chvrches
Circle - Sarah MacLachlan
Plain Gold Ring - Kimbra
The Golden Ball - Clannad
Gold Digger - Glee Cast version
Beautiful, Dirty, Rich - Lady Gaga
Dirrty - Christina Aguilera
Earth - Imogen Heap
Diamonds and Rust - Blackmore's Night
Stone Hearts and Hand Grenades - Leona Lewis
Melt My Heart To Stone - Adele
Blaze - Colbie Caillat
Fire Under My Feet - Leona Lewis
Hands Up - September
Criminal - Britney Spears
Good Intent - Kimbra
I Told You I Was Mean - Elle King
Hurt So Good - Carly Rae Jepsen
Just Like A Pill - P!nk
Medicine - Gloria Estefan
Wait For The Healing - Amy Grant
Wait A Minute - Pussycat Dolls
Split Second - Lisa Loeb
Half Life - Imogen Heap
Sum of Our Parts - Mary Lambert
Come Together - Echosmith
Posse - Kimbra
Paper Gangsta - Lady Gaga
Hotel Paper - Michelle Branch
Hotel Nacional - Gloria Estefan
Live It Up - Colbie Caillat
(This last one is really the only one where the connection is tenuous, I think:  both are songs about throwing caution to the winds and doing what feels good ...)

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

A short while ago, I mentioned I had begun writing on my new novel project (tentatively entitled Surgeburnt), and a crucial part of that process was choosing a font.

I was speaking somewhat tongue in cheek, but not entirely.  Whenever I start a new piece, I do spend a few minutes fiddling around with fonts until I hit one that seems right.  Some fonts just seem more sterile, more elegant, more humorous.  Now, I'm staying mostly with the mainstream fonts - Times New Roman, Arial, Trebuchet MS, Book Antiqua - though for a while, when I was going through a phase of letter stories, I favored Monotype Corsiva, which looks like handwriting while still being easy to read.

I don't have any kind of codified system - this type of story should be written with this font, contemporary should always be this, etc.  It's not an organized process, but rather a feeling, and here comes the real reason for it ... for me, the visual change on the screen serves as a subliminal key for the mindset of that story.  I'm a kinesthetic person, so it's all about feel.  A page in one font looks subtly different than the same page in another.  Rather than being a conscious flag, it becomes a subconscious reminder of where I am, fictionally.

(Of course, it should be noted that translating to standard manuscript format is part of my pre-submissions process, but I cannot write in it.  I loathe Courier.  It just looks thin.  I can't concentrate on text written in Courier.  I can't written in double spaced lines, either:  there's too much space in the middle of thoughts!)

As far as Surgeburnt is concerned, I had to choose this font.  Come on, it's called Centaur.  Centaur.  It would be a crime not to.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

GoodReads Review: Alternate Outlaws ed. Mike Resnick

Alternate OutlawsAlternate Outlaws by Mike Resnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a solid collection of alternate history stories, all based on one of (sometimes both of!) two premises: a famous historical figure was in fact an outlaw; an infamous criminal was in fact the hero of the story. It's a fun idea, but many of the stories, while entertaining and satisfying as fictional yarns, don't fully live up to the promise of the premise. Others feel like slice of life, dependent entirely on the identity of the fictional outlaw to give the story interest.

I particularly enjoyed the stories based on the wackiest outlaws: Sir Francis of Assisi, Helen Keller, Santa Claus. Some of the stories were chilling: Michelle Sagara's "What She Won't Remember" (Agatha Christie), Janni Lee Simner's "Learning Magic" (Harry Houdini) and the closing story, Barbara Delaplace's "Painted Bridges (Adolph Hitler). Also of a note was a particularly lush tale featuring Queen Elizabeth, Tappan King's "The Crimson Rose." And finally, "Good Girl, Bad Dog" by Martha Soukup shows Lassie in a light you've never seen before.

This is a minor point, but in many cases, I wish the stories hadn't come with author introductions that revealed the name of the historical persona beforehand. It would have been more fun to piece together while reading.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

This time last week, I declared my intention to goof off in regards to what I chose to write, which mysteriously, was one of my most popular blog posts ever.  Apparently, that means y'all need to take things more seriously.

In the spirit of that, here are a few of the novel projects I've repeatedly put off or shuffled to the bottom of the list due to marketing and sales concerns:

A Flow Sequel:  I do have a title for this project, but I'm not mentioning it here since it's an implicit spoiler for the events of Flow (which in itself causes much debate I shouldn't even be having in the pre-writing phases, but having a title before I start is a key part of my process).  The story would be set a few years later, with Kit at the messy end of her first serious relationship.  He's part of the hidden world in that setting, so there's the additional complication that he feels responsible for her protection.  (Too much, as far as Kit is concerned, which part of the reason for their evolving breakup.)  Chailyn would be back, of course, and Hadrian ... and one of the exciting parts of this project for me is actually getting into his point of view.  Since he has hypersensitive perceptions, day-to-day living can be an overload, and I'm excited by the challenge of trying to convey that without leaving the reader completely lost.
But ... the sales for Flow don't really justify a sequel.  I can certainly make it a standalone volume, but why this book over all the others?  (In addition, years later, I'd love to get back into Flow and change things, but that's another story ...)

The Great Starshine Rewrite:  years and years (... and years ...) ago, I was involved in a fandom group.  I had a blast, mainly because I was too young to know better, but I created a sprawling cast of characters and an ongoing conspiracy that I always thought would be fun to revive.  The act of translating everything to an original world promises to create some intriguing results, and these are imaginary people I know like the back of my hand.
But ... as mentioned, the cast is sprawling.  There are a massive number of characters and subplots.  Not too many for me, because I'm nuts and I know the map and territory.  For readers ...?  That, I don't know.

A World of My Own:  my long roleplaying history also includes some original contemporary settings, where I was either part of the game founders or was invited to join staff later on ... which means that I ended up designing various elements for the setting.  I've considered combining these elements (or at least, a lot of them, some tweaked) into a single, cohesive setting so I can write short fiction in it.  It would also give me a chance to revive well-loved characters or ones I didn't give enough life to.
But ... there's a sliding scale between urban fantasy and superhero.  I have to find a consistent tone and potentially decide how comfortable I am writing superhero fiction - which seems to be a growing genre on the black and white page, but it certainly isn't an area I have a lot of knowledge about.  Of course, I can fix that ...
But part two ... it's not like I lack for short stories or ideas as it is!

Helen of Troy:  I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology.  I grew up with them:  one of my earliest story attempts was a retelling of the Pandora myth with Barbie as the main character.  The Pandora story is one that never set right with me, and I've tackled it in short fiction.  The Helen of Troy saga occupies a similar point of disquiet:  all this strife and death over a love affair?  
Scholars have numerous theories about the larger implications of Paris and Helen running away together, from the economic - the real reason for the war was trade; to the political - Helen was queen in her own right, so without her, her erstwhile husband no claim to the kingdom; to the fantastical - some sources connect Helen to a vegetation goddess and the health of her land to her presence.  Yet most fictional portrayals of this storyline attempt to make it historical, sensible in our real world.  To me, that's the least interesting path to take.  The Greek gods are infamous for their meddling, and they do it constantly in this saga.  To tell that story, full-fleshed, without taking agency away from the mortals ... that's where my interest lies.
I should note that I want to create an inspired-by tale rather than a retelling - different names, identities, other elements changed to suit ... well ... me.  That allows me more freedom, including the ability to be less literal and interpret threads in non-traditional ways.
But ... it's this last point that's the tricky one.  If I'm not openly identifying the storyline as Helen of Troy, does it just come off as mimicry rather than homage?

There may be more, but these are the four that I keep tossing off the island.  Maybe some day!  ... maybe soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

When I first started writing, I really didn't know what I was doing, and I blissfully enjoyed the process of stumbling about in fictional realms.  I didn't worry about the business side of writing, about the things beyond writing quality that might influence whether a story could be sold:  length, trends, unpopular tropes ...

And then I did worry about these things.  Not so much the trends part of it - I was never all that enthused about trying to find the latest wave to ride.  But length, particularly when it came to short fiction, and other elements that publishers / editors hunted for?  These things bedeviled me.  I pushed aside projects I thought about writing because I didn't think they would be able to sell.  When my short fiction crossed certain word thresholds - and it often did; I am, after all, a novelist at heart - I would get depressed and even angry with myself.  What was the point?

Recently, I've turned a corner.  I've decided I'm done worrying.  Partly this is because I have enough of a backlog that I'm not under pressure to produce new work with an eye towards sales (editing is another story, mind).  But mainly, I want to keep hold of that crazy joy at the heart of writing; I don't want to lose the simple enjoyment of it.  This is what motivated me to write my zombie novella, even though the genre is done to death and works of this length are a horror to sell:  I just thought it would be a blast to write.  And it was.  It was the most sheer fun I'd had writing anything in a long time.

But even as I prepare to goof off, there's something else I need to give myself permission to do:  pick projects that seem like a stretch for my skill level, that are difficult to pull off, that present challenges I have to think my way through.  Scylla and Charybdis was just such a project, for me - novel-length science fiction being out of my comfort zone - and I gave the foundation work more love and attention than usual.  Look where it ended up.

So I am resolved:  let the games begin.