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.

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 ...)