Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Other Senses

I always try to focus on other senses besides sight when writing: for whatever reason, smell comes very readily, and I often use it in a metaphorical sense. Touching fiction with these other senses fills in another dimension; focusing on them produces unusual results. I just finished a short story for a contest on first contact situations that follows a character who has never been allowed to touch or come into contact with just about anything, so to describe sensations from her perspective, I had to use a lot of synesthesia - things that feel like sounds or sights. I'm also doing an exercise right now from the point of view of an old RPG character, Klervyn. (I can take no credit for the name.) Now, I've changed some of the weirder aspects, but he basically doesn't use his eyes - as a conscious choice, not because he's blind. Describing things with minimal to no visuals is quite a challenge. The specific exercise is to use an idiosyncratic mode of perception, and it seemed to fit.

I'm also working on a new novel project. I've decided to weigh the point of view characters just a bit and see how it turns out. Chailyn, who has lived most of her life in a quasi-underwater environment, is very aware of smells because of the drastic shift from one to the other. Kit, who has an overactive imagination and typical teen angst, is very conscious of shadows. I should be able to use this to play up a certain claustrophobia and suspense in the story, as they spend much of it evading the main antagonist with no way of knowing where he is or when he might catch up to them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Jupiter World Press

Send your best thoughts to Mary K. Wilson of Jupiter World Press, who has regretfully decided to shut down JWP and its imprints. Selling stories individually was a fun experiment, but I guess the negatives finally outweighed the positives. I for one will miss it. Good luck to her in all future endeavors.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


This post does not, in fact, have anything to do with religion.

It is, rather, another exercise excerpt - 13 - where the assignment is to write something from the omniscient POV of God, or something like it. I chose to do this in the world of Butterfly's Poison (my most recent novel project). Technically the POV is "Goddess" as most of the "civilized" human nations believe in a monotheistic deity named Aline:

The people of this world are on the verge of discovering chaos theory. When they do, they may find they understand the order around them much better: elements of randomness, choice, will against whim, all normalize into a gorgeous pattern when studied at a distance. These people are like the islands they inhabit, a countless number adrift in a sea, close enough to touch but never doing so.

A professional astronomer on royal retainer studies her subject through a lens ground by diligent Pirie craftsmen. She watches the heavens dance and dances with them, luminous with that fleeting brush with infinity. Her apprentice is pocketing one of her measuring devices while she cannot see and wondering how much a fence will pay him for it – not a third of its value, it turns out, because the man is constitutionally designed to cheat callow young merchant’s sons who have never felt the fire of wonder.

She will notice it is missing in a few days, and that only because she needs it. He will be filled with a sudden – and to him, inexplicable – urge to tell the truth as those myopic blue eyes blink in worry. She’s too old for him, but impossible not to love.

“Must have been thrown out by accident,” he’ll say, squelching it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


The Enchanted Fish, a flash fiction story that illuminates the origins of a certain famous phrase (to say which would give the game away), has just been sold to AlienSkin Magazine and is due out in their Oct/Nov issue (!). Look for it soon.

(Website updated, of course.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My Family

Let me tell you a bit about my family:

My cousin (the oldest brother of the two mentioned my "Down Maribelle Lane" inspiration post) went into the bookstore with a friend and, for a prank, moved all the Bibles into the mythology section.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Website Update

Added: "The 3 A.M. Epiphany" to Writing Recommendations.

(Also added: Welsh competition wins to harp side of site.)

Famous Last Words

For pure and pointless amusement, a massive list of the "famous last words" of late, lamented (or unlamented) roleplaying characters. For some of these, you have to "be there" as to the gaming system - a number of these I never quite understood. But a lot are just universally funny, so check it out:

(Ed note: Found why I couldn't font-switch. Feel stupid now. ;-))

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Critique Mining

(For whatever reason, I can't get my fonts - I've reloaded blogger several times to no avail. So pardon the typeface here.)

I'm part of the SF/F/H critique group Critters, which is a system for getting a lot of critiques from a lot of people in a short amount of time. The sessions run Weds to Weds; critiquing gets you "credit" so when you place a story in the queue, your status determines how high it goes ... and, of course, you can't continue on the list without maintaining at least a seventy-five percent crit ration. That is, one critique submitted every three out of four weeks.

My run of "Ten Cities Down" just finished, with what for some reason was a record number for me - fifteen, plus possibly a late crit or two tomorrow morning. At 6500 words, this was a fairly good response - responses drop off sharply, it seems, around 5k. My general process for working through the information I've got is this:

Starting with the first critique, I write down the general aim of each topic in the comments. I save specific language if I find it helpful, which it often is. Then I make a note next to it that says whether I agree, disagree or am unsure of the statement being made. I copy all the nits (minor grammar/typo points) to go through separately. Then I move on, copy anything new, mark it, and put tick marks next to anything that is repeated.

When I'm done, I take a look at what I have. Any comments I agree with, I generally mark for change. If there's something I strongly disagree with and only one or two people said it, I feel comfortable safely discounting it. If, on the other hand, there is something I strongly disagree with but it comes out resoundingly, I will give that a hard look. Oddly, I find this almost never happens - I tend to see where most commonly repeated comments are coming from.

This time, I'm doing something unusual. I'm jotting down ticks specifically for character development. This is because I got a rough mix of people who thought the characters were wonderful and people who thought they weren't well-fleshed. I'd like to see how it fills out.

When I start to work through the story, I generally start with the nits, then go to the simplest issue and build up. I've found this method works very well for a coherent workover, taking advantage of the wisdom of readers without losing my center. That notwithstanding, the process is a grueling ego-bash. Always. ;-)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Unstable Self

About a week ago, I picked up a book entitled "The 3 A.M. Epiphany," a collection of writing exercises focused on playing with technique and style rather than the usual product-focused "Write a story about ..." one tends to see. I've been doing one daily since. (Today's is #8; I'm running late and haven't finished it yet.)

Just to share, this is entry #4, The Unstable Self, in which the exercise is five hundred words where the narrator switches first and third persons. I think this is one exercise that actually says "a story" and I just have a fragment, but ah well. I took one of the book's suggestions, to use italics to differentiate the switch, and decided to switch POVs when the character was communicating with a racial hive-mind:

Sirane communed with the shadows of the canyon, her body braced without tension as she waited for her quarry. The hilt of the long knife lay cool and ready in her palm. She shuddered to herself, knowing there was no other choice: windgiver Leya Srinath had to die, or the blood of her kin would run and never stop until the last drop had been swallowed by the thirsty earth.

I opened my mind to the braided thoughts of my family. “We’re frightened.”
“We have trained ourselves better than any army in the world. We will not fail as long as our hearts are true and sure.”

True and sure, I thought: that was the problem. It was not that I doubted this was necessary, but I had joined the Blade to keep a watch on my body-sister and protect the borders, and never expected to strike a sentient being.

Dust calligraphy rolled down the canyon, dying down after a moment to reveal the small mounted procession. Two guards bare to the waist, their bronze skin flayed by the sun; an elderly cloudreader, her rheumy eyes as white as her hair; and a tall, coal-haired woman with tresses unbound that Sirane recognized as the windgiver. The only female clan leader in three generations, Leya had refused to garb herself as a woman of the clans, but there was no mistaking her for anything else.

Sirane felt a twitter of guilt. Leya had inspired many changes in the clan system and planned more that would have benefited everyone – but there was no time for progress in the face of extinction. She half-stepped onto the ledge above.

“We may fail,” I said to my family, a plea to stave off their wrath.

The reply was warm, understanding, but implacable. “We will not fail. Be strong.”

I did not know how many minds were with me then. It did not matter. I tapped into the wisdom of my forebears and let it flow through my arms, inform my stance, mix and mingle with the training I had received. Their voices whispered in my veins.

One of the guards reined in his sun-white and held out a hand for attention. Sirane edged back and took a running start. She vaulted off the rock and landed with a hard thud on the back of the horse. It reared, tramping in the dust. She grabbed the startled guard’s hand for balance and used the other to slam the blade between his ribs. It was cold, seamless, guided by memories not her own: she dumped the body over and slid forward to catch the reins before anyone could react.

The other guard bellowed and wheeled to confront her. “Mindless cull!”

“How little they understand,” one of my family commented in my head. “Do we see now?”

“We never had doubts,” I bit back as I met the charge. Our blades slammed together. I ducked his second sweep and took him out with the next blow.

“Are we sure?”

Leya had not been idle: holding onto the bridle of the cloudreader’s horse, she thundered away. Sirane kicked her horse after the woman and caught up at a gallop. Her heart jumped into her throat, but she had learned this, too, perhaps better than fighting: how to hamstring an animal.

The mare toppled, and the windgiver was thrown to the ground. Sirane leapt off the side of her borrowed horse and advanced, heart pounding. The blade quivered as she tapped it under the woman’s chin.

Leya’s head came up, her eyes clear and bright. “Don’t listen to them,” she said. “Shut them out.”

Shut them out? My mind whirled with the enormity of it. Sooner tell a person to stop hearing sound, to stop craving water. I started to retreat to the comfort of the braid, then hesitated.

“We have a job to finish, Sirane.”

We. We when it was I, after all, taking the risk, my presence alone out here in the canyon …

Thursday, September 07, 2006

More Quotes

"The earth laughs in flowers." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

"In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move. " -- Douglas Adams

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You cannot try to do things. You simply must do things." -- Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Quotes of Note

"One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." - A.A. Milne

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'" - Isaac Asimov

And from Albert Einstein:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Welsh Parking Only: All Others Will Be Dragon-ed Away

Yesterday, I competed in the North American Festival of Wales Eisteddfod. (I believe that is Eye-STETH-fod, where the dd is a lisping "th' as in thistle, but my Welsh is yet of beginner's quality.) This a competition of language and music: poetry, prose, recitation, storytelling, singing and instrumentals. It is divided into categories such as Welsh and English with Welsh themes/origins, solo and groups. It is also divided by age, a common occurrence in Celtic style competitions for the primary purpose of protecting the adults from the scary prodigy-children.

The scene was a familiar one: a small number of enthusiastic competitors, friends and family supporting, chaos and last minute changes, and a venue considered substandard in comparison to the rest of the event - though it was one of the nicest competition areas I've ever been in. No airplanes, no bagpipes, QUIET, restrooms within ten miles. Like other national Celtic style competitions, it maintained the tradition that even if there were only one competitor in the category, a first placement must be earned. In sum, it was one of the most organized and well-run competitions I've ever seen ... and the Welsh? Gorgeous.

I've always been fascinated with Welsh language and music. It's a mild obsession that goes back to the first fantasy series I ever read: Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. It was many years before I realized that they were inspired by Welsh mythology, but the seeds had been planted. The mere appearance of Welsh on the page is mesmerizing. It's a language that's visually lyrical and airy on the tongue. Welsh music is very rich and chordal, with an unusual convention of accidentals due to the use of the triple-strung harp - an instrument with three rows of strings, the outer ones tuned like the white notes on a piano an interior row capable of handling any and all accidentals. The triple harp allows an incredible range of quick sharps and flats and also some exceptional doubling techniques (where the same melody is played in both hands a split second apart, creating an "echo" effect on each note).

Of course, a lot of Welsh folk songs were borrowed and made into hymns - and a few others have become common folk culture. Chances are, you know far more Welsh than you realize ...