Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

I know people who give certain important possessions proper names:  harps, cars, computers, maybe if you had a truly amazing toothbrush.  It's always seemed like an odd habit to me, though at the same time, I've felt a little wistful about the fact I don't indulge in it.  It seems like the kind of thing a whimsical, creative person ought to do.

I think there are two reasons I don't feel the urge to name my harp, etc.  The first is something I discussed in a previous blog post:  people name/label things (... and other people ...) to allow themselves to think about, remember, manipulate concepts, and so forth.  For those of us who are very kinesthetic, such labels are replaced by a "feel" for the object or person.

The second is ... for me, I think it comes close to anthropomorphizing the object.  My sense of reality is a little wacky as it is, and I already talk to inanimate objects.  My subconscious doesn't need any encouragement!  This probably sounds like a frivolous reason, and it is ... but I do feel odd "acknowledging" an inanimate object by name.

The one notable exception in my life is more descriptor than name.  My laptop clings stubbornly to life, after several part exchanges (upgraded memory, new battery, new power cord, new hard drive, random failures (I've never determined what that musical shrieking noise was, but it stopped years ago), and other odd quirks.  It keeps dying, at which point I freak out, and then claws back to life.

I refer to it as "the Frankenlaptop."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

Most versions of my bio mention both the fact that I'm a professional harper, and (to tie it to my writing) that I feel music and language are inextricably linked.  I still have a clear memory of the first time this truly struck me.  I was at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in a class taught by Beth Kolle.  She pointed out a particular motif in the Scandinavian music we were learning. She told us the pattern of notes was common because it echoed an end-of-sentence inflection in the language.  Comparable motifs also appear in music written by English speakers, across different origins.

When arranging music for the harp, even purely instrumental, conventions of speech and singing apply.  The hands come off the harp to punctuate - analogy intended - phrases.  When the music has lyrics, these pauses often come at a comma, conjunction or the end of a sentence.  Music breathes, regardless of whether a voice is involved.

Outside of the pattern of sentences, words themselves have sound and melody.  J.R.R. Tolkien said that the phrase "cellar door" was one of the most beautiful in the English language, quite divorced from its meaning.  When choosing the right word to use in a sentence, often the choice between synonyms is a question of flow, reflecting intent in rhythm.  Short, sharp staccato words convey a different impression than long, fluid syllables.

To an extent, lyrics are the ultimate meeting of music and language, and they work best when it is a wholehearted marriage.  One of my favorite lyric lines is from the old classic Big Yellow Taxi - "Paved paradise and put up a parking lot."  The alliterative plosives punch, brought out further by the quick patter of the notes.

Lyrics flow most naturally when they match the pattern of language, as discussed above.  In some cases, deliberately setting up lyrics to contradict the pattern of language can create an interesting effect, sharpening the listener's focus.

(Or it's just confusing - it took me the longest time to parse the last verse of Carrie Underwood's Last Name because of the musical distance between "This ring that just appeared" and "out of nowhere" - I kept threading it together wrong in my head.)

Where lyrics fall down, at least for me, is when the music is slave to the lyrics, melody and rhythm warped to fit in the appropriate words.  A lesser offense (to me!), but still unsatisfying, is where the musical pattern results in odd, awkward or vapid word choices.

But when the two meet, ah, there's romance in the air.  The music reinforces the words; the words fill the music with second life.  I don't - I can't - compose, but I appreciate experiencing the result.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

So I just turned the manuscript for Scylla and Charybdis back over to my editor (I still get a giddy little thrill saying that, call me a dork) for her review.  I've been swimming in tweaks, changes, additions, deletions and hoping that I've managed to hit all the notes for a little over a month, and now it's time to stop and breathe.

What will I do until the next round?  On my next book to submit / query, Unnatural Causes, I am partway through transcribing my paper edit, but honestly, I've been editing so much that I need to step away for a bit.  So ... time to give the new novel, Surgeburnt, some love.  It's a huge change from Scylla and Charybdis:  a chaotic, magic-infused Earth as told through the first-person eyes of a snarky and pessimistic narrator.  And the trick with Surgeburnt is that I'm actually telling two stories at once:  the "now-time" sequence of events, and a dramatized backstory of how it got to that point.  It's a fine balance, filling in enough detail to make sense of the now-story, while still leaving questions to play out in the then-story:  how did this happen?  Why?  What's missing?

So my current plan is to focus on Surgeburnt through the end of the month (gee, maybe I'll come up with a better title in that time, too).  After that, I'd like to break up my attention and do some shorter pieces - poetry and flash.  The ideal would be one a day, but with my work schedule, that may not be feasible.  Anyone have an idea for prompts or a scheme I might follow?  It would be fun to have an ongoing flow of inspiration.

Then ... back to Unnatural Causes.  I'm planning on another pass before I look for beta readers; guessing that won't be until early 2017.  And, of course, when I hear on Scylla and Charybdis, that goes to the top of the pile.

That's the plan, anyhow.  And we all know what happens to plans ...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Goodreads Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)Soulless by Gail Carriger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a Victorian England which hosts a not-so-secret society of vampires and werewolves, Alexia has the opposite problem: as the supernatural is an excess of soul, she is the opposite, preternatural, able to cancel out their abilities at a touch. This ability, and her nosy nature, sets her on collision course with a chilling plot.

I had mixed feelings about this book. There were places where it absolutely delighted me and nearly made me laugh out loud (which is a very high bar, for me); there were other places where I rolled my eyes; and a few that just didn't connect with me one way or the other. Of course, parody and humor are delicate things, and the balance of elements just didn't sit right with me - it was hard for me to tell in places whether something was intended to be hyperbole-for-humor or whether it was intended to be serious. Other readers' mileage may certainly vary!

Trying to discern this tone made my entrance into the book a bit tricky. I had trouble identifying with Alexia because she came off too casual about a dramatic turn of events. Once I got used to the tone, I began to enjoy it (though it does make use of some mid-scene POV shift, which has never been my favorite thing). The humor throughout is an absolute highlight, whether from the events themselves or the way Alexia thinks about them. Her family is a perfectly delightful caricature and yet entirely appropriate.

I never quite felt like Alexia led or motivated the events of the plot, however, so much as her general poking-about attracted the attention of antagonists already in motion. She acts and she gets results, but those results seem to be unintended (at least by her) and connected to larger events already in motion. She disturbs the "villains" of the story almost by accident.

The romance subplot is one of the primary places where the tone tripped me up. There is a sequence where my suspension of disbelief went wandering off into fields of heather because of the behavior of the male lead in very dire circumstances. Even if influenced by a werewolf nature - really?!

That said, I was very ready to write that romance off as a traditional love-hate cliche, all too well-worn, but the details of it are actually delightful and do a great job of incorporating supernatural culture, too.

Overall, I enjoyed this book enough that I would read the second, but would eschew a third if fell pray to some of the same pitfalls.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

Except for the orphaned farmboy of fantasy cliche, every character has family.  (Even the orphaned farmboy has family, they're just deceased / missing / secretly evil.  Sometimes all of the above, improbably.)  The rootless character is a popular one in fantasy - even those who have living family and relatives may not speak or see them in the story's timeline.  Even in these cases, though, the family - real or adopted - leaves a mark on the character, influencing their background and personality.

 Other tales either involve the family on the fringes of the plot or sometimes, right in the center of it.  To be honest, this is usually the kind of book I prefer.  I'm fascinated by the interplay of family ties, loyalty to blood relatives versus loyalty to found family, the lengths people will go to protect a family member ... and the clashes of personality.  After all, as the saying goes, you can't pick your family, so what do you do when a family member is someone you wouldn't choose to have tea with?

Or worse, a criminal, murderer, antagonist?  This in particular is something I've always been intrigued with, from the very start:  my first two novel attempts featured characters who were closely related to the main villain.  I'm still playing with the idea.  To me, it's less interesting as a shock reveal than as something learned earlier in the plot, a dilemma to wrestle with.

As an only child, I have always been an outside observer to the interplay of siblings.  My cousins all live(d) a considerable distance away, so I wasn't regularly exposed to that relationship, either.  Perhaps that's the reason I so enjoy writing about siblings ... and no one's told me that I've gotten them terribly wrong (yet), so I must have absorbed something from watching everyone else's.

Of course, having been homeschooled gave me a slightly different perspective on siblings, too.  I think there's a tendency when you're young to make friends with your closest age peer and then write off their brothers and sisters as annoying pests.  I remember very distinctly suddenly learning that my friend's siblings were actually a lot of fun, and that stayed with me.

What about characters who are already married or who have children?  Seems the married characters typically only show up when it's unhappy or troubled, or in sequels where the romance was played out in a previous volume.  And unless the child is a catalyst to the plot - abducted, parent is trying to make a better life for them and that's the primary storyline, etc - you don't often see them, either.  At least, not in the books I've read, though of course, I can think of exceptions.

... and there should be more of them.  Obviously, the absence of such characters is partly due to the fact that it's hard to "work around" them in a plot:  the related character is tied down, constricted, unlikely to be able to make too many moves without considering their spouse / child.  But isn't that part of the fun for the writer?  The puzzle of making that conflict an integral part of the story?

It obviously works better for some kinds of books - tales that are more intimate, character focused, or political, rather than sweeping quest sagas or war novels.  But in the end, we all have family.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

It's the little things.

I've had a lot of entertaining conversations at work lately about products we use.  We recently switched to new disposable gloves.  The new ones are disturbingly like medical gloves, actually:  it's exactly that color.  But they are so much easier to get on (especially if your fingers are even the slightest bit wet) and sturdier.  My old boss loves 'em, new boss immediately complimented them ...

... and then a captain from another location came in and recoiled.  "These are terrible!  Where are the old gloves?"

This isn't the only bone of contention.  I can't stand the thin towels used at other locations; they hardly soak up any moisture, but they also don't leave any fabric threads.  My new boss doesn't understand I love the wider roll of plastic wrap; it takes up too much space on the counter, but it makes it so much easier to securely wrap certain things.  (Me and plastic wrap have always had a contentious relationship.  I'm sure people who don't know me watch me struggling and wonder, wait, how long has this chick been in food service? but it's just a quirk of mine.)

Tiny acts of compromise every day, hardly noticed, hardly commented upon.  Minute quirks and preferences that add up to a person.  We can't agree on the little things, so why do we expect to agree on the big things?

In editing Scylla and Charybdis, I've been thinking a lot about the little things.  The novel centers on a drastic change, from one isolated space station to an entire, boisterous universe, and the big things are important, consuming ... but it's the little things that we focus on, that bring the changes into sharp focus.  So now I'm trying to mine those and reset them in a science fiction context, see the most mundane aspects of the unfamiliar.

Sometimes, it's no more grand than plastic gloves.

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.