Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Wow, this is (probably) my last post for 2009.

Writing-wise, it's been a good year. In some respects, I'm still treading water - though I'm proud of the sale to GUD and the fact that I'm getting more of my poetry out there - but where I've made progress is I think I've developed a better eye for self-editing. Several of the last few stories I submitted, I made significant changes before shipping them out, whereas previously, I basically did line-edits. (Or maybe they're just inferior stories, but I prefer to think it's a more keenly developed eye.) I've had a perfect record with having rewrite requests accepted in the past six months - every time I've tweaked, the market has accepted it.

I also learned I'm good at proofing and technical edits (grammar, punctuation, etc) for other folks ... and that I like doing it. A lot. The neurotic, picky part of my brain perks up and warbles an operetta. My first project was a highly technical non-fiction work in regards to businesses and healthcare. Approaching these fine details while making sure I understood the context they were in was challenging.

Other milestones ... Flow has received more requests for partials than any other manuscript I've submitted (though no further bites yet). I'm unsure as to whether this is because it's a better query than my previous attempts, or because urban fantasy is "in" and so agents tend to look at more of those proposals ... or both.

I received an "almost" for a story from a pro-level market. Frustrating as anything, but still a good page for my mental book.

I've come into reluctant touch with my experimental side. I'm not "literary" by nature, but after stories like Inside the Box (about what happens to Hope when Pandora fails to release her), Light Off Snow (a Vantage-Point-style story wherein the plot advances by showing the same scene from different perspectives), and the free-write I just finished (the all-dialogue piece), it's hard to deny that I enjoy doing whacky, off-the-wall stuff every now and again. But I don't force it ... it just happens.

And, of course, always reaching for new things - primarily the science fiction novel, which has been an amazing learning experience for me, and sometimes an example of, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." And I have a cyberpunk freewrite begging to be finished at some point ...

No goals - the only things I really want for 2010, I can't control directly. (That would be "a novel contract," yes.) But looking ahead eagerly. Maybe this is the year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The charm?

Make that three stories in a row that are highly experimental with a short expected length. What was going through my head this last spring? Though this last one has to be blamed on the prompt, as it was to write a piece in "fourth person" ... I'm not even sure what I've got is a fantasy story, more like an anthropomorphic allegory.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Happy Christmas Eve!

Journal of the Dead - halfway mark. Oddly, both Journal and Scylla and Charybdis are in similar spots. The main character is dealing with the mundane politics of a society with complex superficial rules. In Journal, this is the center of the character's new world; in Scylla, it's just one stop along the way for Anaea. My love for fantastic intrigue and politicking definitely shows through in both, though.

Been working on turning my old free-writes into completed stories. Oddly, the first two I encountered were both pieces of what I knew would be fairly short works and experimental.

In the first, the narrator tells the story of what happened when she babysat for four young dragons ... backwards mostly, but also sideways, in the manner of someone who keeps forgetting she's left out chunks of the tale and scrambles to fill in the missing pieces.

In the second, the entire piece is written as non-quoted dialogue between two minds trapped in the same body. All description and action is implied or indicated in the conversation. I was worried about this being none too comprehensible, but everyone who read the original piece (about 600 words, I think) thought it was very easy to follow the two voices, so I'm going to go for finishing it in the same vein.

Once I'm done with the second story, it will have taken me through March - the next free write is dated to April.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


This story has just sold to Alternative Coordinates (! It's a fairly short adventure piece with a child protagonist and a city that never sleeps ...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Arcane Whispers Vol 2

Arcane Whispers, Vol 2, is now available from Wolfsinger Publications! It contains two stories of mine, both reprints from 2008 - Soul Siblings, a sword-and-sorcery style fantasy, and Apartment Tour, an urban / contemporary flash fiction.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Progress continues apace - finally slipped back into the warm embrace of Scylla and Charybdis. I've only written about a third of a chapter, but it's good to be back. I'm concerned this section is moving too slowly; I still haven't gotten to the crux of the matter. But the dangerous delicacy segment will be on this current page, and then quite soon after that, the hammer comes down on my poor main character ...

Otherwise, been working on my short stories. Have two of them, finished right in a row, that are way shorter than my usual wont - one is about 2500 words, the other about 3200 (I think - I'm away from my home computer right now).

Trying to decide where to go next: if I focus on editing until, well, January (when another challenge story comes up) or if I want to go to my backlog of unfinished hour writes and finish some of those up. I'd guess I have at least ten ... sheesh.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Every Genre

When you think about it, don't most books contain an element of every genre?

Romance - not universal, but many novels have romantic subplots or flickers of chemistry.
Mystery - it's hard to think of a book that doesn't have a hidden element of some kind that the reader might try to puzzle out in advance ... even if it's a fairly straightforward work and it's just a question of, "What next?" Fantasy settings have the puzzle of the world.
Science fiction / fantasy - let's face it, even the most mundane book isn't quite like the world as we know it, if only because it's framed and "tidied up" for readers.

I could go on: every book is a suspense; many books include some element of horror, at least in attempting to get the reader to fear for the main character; action is a popular component in other genre works.

Doesn't it come down to which element you choose to make the star?

Random theorizing over. Carry on.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Now about a third of the way through Journal of the Dead ... I'm surprised (and worried) that Oliun hasn't even appeared yet, considering his attack on Rhiane pretty much fuels the rest of the plot and its resolution. I don't think it's far away, though ... but as I've been editing, I keep being aware of the weight and flow of events, which often differs from the way I picture the timeline in my head. A third of the way and no Razentis, no Atsihl ... and these are characters I think of as central to the book.

Haven't touched Scylla and Charybdis since I last wrote. Been busy working on a pair of short stories, both of which are much shorter than my usual fare. The second one, I'm not too pleased with. The assignment was to take a comic subject and write it seriously, and in doing so, I think I made it somewhere between banal and deadpan. The latter I'll take; the former, not so much. Probably I will post it anyway (it's an challenge), but ask if, for the purposes of it as a story, I should plug the humor back in. I so wanted to go there several times.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Balance of Power

This story has sold (sold!) to MindFlights, which used to be The Sword Review and purchased two of my prior stories. Publication date to be announced.

(If anyone's wondering about how I order my future publications, it's roughly chronological, with a vague estimate for anything that's TBA.)

And I just realized that my last three blog posts have been about sales. That's pretty nifty.

Monday, December 07, 2009


My terzanelle, Dreamweavers, will be appearing in Every Day Poets at a time to be determined. Haha, I inflict more scary form poetry on the world ... ahem.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Four Tests

This flash fiction story will be appearing in Moon Drenched Fables ( in March of 2010! I will let it speak for itself when it comes out. ;-)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I changed the length of my writing cycle again - we'll see what happens. Trying to do two pages at once, enough to get into the story, but not so much that if I get snowed in with real life that I am hopelessly stalled.

I've reached about the quarter mark with editing on Journal of the Dead. I somehow manage to be surprised by the scene in the river every time I read it. It's very tense and (if I do say so myself) quite well-written ... it's one of the few real action scenes in the book, and I love it. It's also a sneaky setup for Parik's story much later on, which I swear I didn't know at the time I originally wrote this scene. (Journal was originally a Nano novel - ironically, the first year (my third attempt) that I failed to hit the word count - so it wasn't heavily planned out and I didn't do a lot of groundwork while I was writing.)

I'm really glad I saved the original draft separately and am going to keep doing it as I pass through the book. I've found some unusual typos that I couldn't decipher from context, so back to the original manuscript. Grant I could look at the printed copy, but being able to compare the two could be useful.

Scylla and Charybdis, I'm approaching a scene I've been looking forward to, involving the consumption of a very dangerous local delicacy ... just crossed the 100k mark. I know, I should be wrapping it up now. It's going to be what it's going to be.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday Thoughts


Here's what I'm thankful for: four days with almost no work to do - and the stuff I do have is minimal or enjoyable. Seven movies loaded up to veg out in front of with my family. Food. Sage stuffing. (Yes, the sage stuffing deserves its own billing.)

To get on the usual TT topic, I'm also thankful that I finally hit upon a plotline for the next arc in Scylla and Charybdis. I'm a little concerned that I only found this nine thousand words in, but cutting is what editing is for - and I think the previous words give a very good flavor of matriarch society and what to expect, so they may be quite relevant. The big issue I'm struggling with is in-story timing. My characters are in situations where I'd like to jump to later in the day, but nothing that would happen in the intervening time is summarizable because it's all brand new to them ...

My other fictional attention has gone to editing. I'm working on an old story which I'm sorry to say is a clunky mess. The plot is (if I do say so my very biased self) awesome, but some of the writing is baroque and confusing. I wrote like this? Wow. It's a little stunning. I continue to chisel away at it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Life-induced near-standstill.

The current scene of Scylla and Charybdis really has a fantasy court scene feeling, but it's unmistakably science-fiction. A nice blend. Not necessarily what I meant to do when I set out with the whole novel, but a pleasing result.

My hour-write yesterday surprised me and came out scifi, so I'll have at least one more story in that vein ... once I finish it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ill Met In Lankhmar

I just finished Ill Met In Lankhmar, a compilation of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories - roughly the first half chronologically in-setting, I believe. It was certainly an entertaining ride.

The stories have an in-depth, leisurely descriptive style that lapses only during moments of high action - and sometimes not even then. It's a pleasure to read, though in some stories, it results in much of the story feeling like (very enjoyable) set-up with the resolution squeezed in the last couple pages.

An oddity of when they were written is the attitude towards female characters. It's not necessarily wholly negative, but it certainly comes off dated and a little limited - even when the female characters are strong in their own right.

There's a fair amount of headhopping, which is very nicely done because it moves smoothly back and forth between the two characters. That's definitely something you'd have most editors of action-style fantasy looking at you askance for nowadays, though.

There's an extent to which the characters are unsympathetic. I noticed this mostly in the earlier stories, the origins. Fafhrd in particular ranges between being a cad and an idiot and right back again in his first (chronological) story. Abandoning your pregnant girlfriend to chase after an actress ... and then sticking with said actress after she double-crosses you multiple times? Well, then. ;-)

The humor displays itself more in an attitude, most of the time, than in outright "funny bits." There's an underlying sense of the tongue in cheek, but best of all, it's a realistic tongue in cheek - it's laughing at recognizable human foibles (how they might appear in a fantastic setting, anyhow). So it never distances the reader from the story.

In any case, I have no grand conclusion, except I had a lot of fun reading this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Finally ... finished ... Shadow Play.

A shade over 17,000 words.

Gasp gasp pant pant.

Even assuming it edits down 2-3k, that's still definitely a hardcore novella.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Final mix CD for my driving: songs about letting go, diving in, being overwhelmed ... sort of like I'm doing with this blog and my music, but it only happens at infrequent intervals.

1. Surrender -- Gloria Estefan
Comments: Title track. Vintage Miami Sound Machine. I have great fondness in my heart for the earlier music; it's not as polished, but in some ways it's more fun.
2. 8th World Wonder -- Kimberley Locke
3. Titanic Days -- Kirsty MacColl
4. I Believe -- Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Comments: This song contains what I think is one of the single best lines in any love-song: "(I feel) as if my luck and hope had found each other."
5. It Happens All The Time -- Anne Murray
6. I Surrender -- Celine Dion
7. Dear Life -- Chantal Kreviazuk
8. Say You'll Be Mine -- Amy Grant
9. It's All Coming Back To Me Now -- Celine Dion
10. Love Changes Everything -- Sarah Brightman
Comments: This is an awesome arrangement of this song - it starts sparse and builds perfectly. It's definitely a belt-out-in-the-car arrangement.
11. Truthfully -- Lisa Loeb
12. Learning To Fall -- Martina McBride
13. I Want You -- Alana Davis
14. Free Me -- Emma Bunton
15. A Little Push -- Gloria Estefan
16. Emotion -- Helen Reddy
17. As Long As You're Mine -- Wicked soundtrack
18. I Was Made For Lovin' You -- Paulina Rubio
19. How Can We See That Far -- Amy Grant
Comments: A pensive sort of finale about the impossibility of predicting the future and somehow making good out of whatever comes. After you've surrendered, where do you go from there?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I set my goal for last week to finish Shadow Play. I haven't, but the day is young, and I don't have to leave the house for the rest of it (except perhaps to walk the dog). This has been because of positive developments that have eaten up my time and my decision to continue my round-table work on other projects, neither of which I would change - so it's all good.

I'm beginning to think the longer chunks system isn't working out for Scylla and Charybdis. I'm finding that I'm rushing to finish chapters. I can't do it by scene, because these vary: sometimes there's 2-3 scenes in a chapter, and other times, except for the chapter-break, a single scene continues for multiple chapters. This is because I've sometimes chosen to use summary / transition paragraphs rather than a simple break. (I may give this a second look in editing, but my gut instinct is that it isn't a problem.) Two pages, maybe? That's about 1500 words.

Or, again, it may simply be that I've had a heavy-crunch week, so I have less time to write and my project cycles are too long again.

I simply love the first part of the journal in Journal of the Dead. The back-to-life experience is beautifully described. It's a nice "bang" opening to the section. I'm concerned because Rhiane recaps some things the reader already knows, but the repeats are brief, and I think it's good to have it in her own words, as it were.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

Music list the fifth: songs that I'm a little embarrassed to admit I listen to, whether because they're brainless, silly, in questionable taste, bizarre or some other reason to hang one's head ... and still groove to it.

1. The Little Voice -- Sahlene
Comments: Smutty, with a helping of shameless "na-na-na"s to top it off.
2. Get With You -- Dian Diaz
Comments: Brainless; there's really nothing to the words, but the beat is infectious.
3. It's Raining Men -- Geri Halliwell
Comments: Seriously, do I need to say anything here?
4. Can't Stop Killing You -- Kirsty MacColl
Comments: Epic levels of warped.
5. Mucho Money -- Gloria Estefan
Comments: Any song where the underlying theme is, "True love? Romantic gifts? Heck with that, give me money," deserves to be on this list. It's also got that distinctly eighties sort of beat to it.
6. Turn My Motor On -- Kirsty MacColl
Comments: This song is just cheesy, which is enhanced by the 60s girl-group orchestration. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it does enhance the cheddar.) All that aside, it would be on this list on the strength of this zinger alone: "Who wants your brain, your body's too much fun."
7. Once In A Lifetime -- Sarah Brightman
Comments: Those of you who know Brightman's pop songs will be familiar with their typical character - the soft, lyrical music sung with an angelic soprano. Now put this song in that setting ... the first time I actually stopped and parsed the words, my jaw dropped. I call it "The S&M song." Look them up if you don't believe me.
8. Naked -- Celine Dion
Comments: Title says it. Moving on.
9. Tic Toc -- LeAnn Rimes
Comments: Smutty.
10. X-Girlfriend -- Mariah Carey
Comments: Brainless - and it's Mariah Carey, for goodness' sakes. But it's catchy.
11. Sex In The 90s -- Gloria Estefan
Comments: I used to be sort of shy about listening to this song. Now I find it rather tame (and very funny), but it stays on the list for nostalgia's sake. It also amuses me to no end that this song is now about the past.
12. Lay Your Love On Me -- Emma Bunton
Comments: Smutty AND an ex-Spice Girl.
13. Here Comes That Man Again -- Kirsty MacColl
Comments: A very tongue-in-cheek song about cybersex, webcams, Monica Lewinsky (I think) and the EU. I couldn't make this up.
14. One By One -- Enya
Comments: I love this song - I think it's better than "Only Time," which was the runaway hit from this particular album - but really. It makes no sense. At all.
15. Fire -- Paulina Rubio
Comments: Mildly smutty and very predictable, but good for the Latin beat.
16. Darling, Let's Have Another Baby -- Kirsty MacColl
Comments: Hilariously dumb. Come on, isn't, "Darling, if you ever leave me, I'll cry a million tears. I'll go to the nearest boozer and drink ten pints of beer," the sweetest declaration of love you ever heard?
17. Strut -- Sheena Easton
Comments: On the face of it, a very suggestive song, but it's also fairly empowering in its own way - and hard to resist the rhythm (or the urge to belt out the chorus).
18. Love Toy -- Gloria Estefan
Comments: Completely mindless and silly. With vintage Miami Sound Machine accompaniment.
19. I'll Be Right Here -- Paulina Rubio
Comments: As for Fire, increased by fifty percent.
20. I Enjoy Being A Girl -- Flower Drum Song soundtrack
Comments: You could not get away with writing this song nowadays. Feminists would scream bloody murder. And yet it's so frothy and fun it's hard to care.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Eyes On Me

More music - the title taken from the Celine Dion song of same name, and dealing with the wandering eye. Differs from my previous Three's A Crowd stab in ... well, title, and the fact that the songs deal more directly with affairs.

1. Kirsty MacColl -- My Affair
2. Strong Enough -- Cher
3. Hotel Paper -- Michelle Branch
4. Blame It On Me -- Sahlene
5. Find a Way -- Amy Grant
6. Agony (Reprise) -- Into The Woods soundtrack
Comments: Taken out of context, this song is not so thematic ... until you hit the last line, "Ah well: back to my wife," that is. In context, the two Princes ("I was raised to be charming, not sincere.") are hysterical cads.
7. If Only She Knew -- Michelle Branch
8. Celestine -- Kirsty MacColl
Comments: The only song I know in which the "other woman" is the devil inside ...
9. Eyes On Me -- Celine Dion
10. The Last Goodbye -- Paulina Rubio
11. Words Get In The Way -- Gloria Estefan
12. Misbehavin' -- Thalia
13. Don't Think of Me -- Dido
14. Julia -- Chantal Kreviazuk
15. Heaven's What I Feel-- Gloria Estefan
16. Shadows -- Amy Grant
17. Always True To You In My Own Fashion -- Kiss Me Kate soundtrack
18. Let's Forget About It - Lisa Loeb
19. Caroline -- Kirsty MacColl
20. He Doesn't See Me -- Sarah Brightman
Comments: I often like to end on a "but" note. This is one such, the song of an unrequited love that can never threaten the beloved's relationship.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ever After

My next CD compilation, this time with songs of happy endings.

1. Then You Look At Me - Celine Dion
2. The Second Element - Sarah Brightman
3. Now And Forever - Anne Murray
4. Wrapped - Gloria Estefan
Comments: This song, as aforementioned, would probably have been on the Best Of list if I hadn't actually created this list first.
5. Another Year Has Gone By - Celine Dion
6. Colour Everywhere - Dian Diaz
7. Now That I Know - Mariah Carey
8. Forever and for Always - Shania Twain
9. I Know What Love Is - Celine Dion
10. The Safest Place - LeAnn Rimes
Comments: There's some irony in this choice, as I always associate this song with an old novel project and one of the main characters - and when framed in that context, the "perfect love" described here is unrequited.
11. Oh, How The Years Go By - Amy Grant
Comments: ... and despite saying that I was choosing second favorites if the first was already "taken" -- here's the token accidental repeat for this group. Actually, "That's What Love Is For" should've gone on the Best list. Well, I'm not re-ripping the CD for one song, darnit. :-)
12. A Boat Like Gideon Brown - Great Big Sea
Comments: My boyfriend introduced me to this group. Sent me 3 - 4 MP3s. I listened, went, "This sounds too much like a pub band," and that was that, but I kept this one song.
13. I Belong - Cherie
14. Don't Look Back - Thalia
15. 1974 - Amy Grant
16. Thank Goodness - Wicked soundtrack
Comments: "Getting your dreams, strange as it seems, a little ... well ... complicated. There's a kind of a sort of a cost. There's a couple of things that get lost ..."
17. It's Your Love - Cherie
18. I Love You - Amy Grant
19. Ever After - Into The Woods soundtrack
Comments: Into The Woods is awesome. Here's an excerpt from this particular song:
Narrator: "There were constant -"
Chorus: "It's amazing -"
N: "- disillusions -"
C: "- that we did it."
N: "- but they never lost their nerve."
C: "Not a lot!"

Thursday Thoughts

Last night, I started my next edit of Journal of the Dead: a computer-only edit where I go over each chapter twice - once in-depth, the second time an overview - and compare it to the outline. I've considered doing it the other way around, but my brain immediately starts picking nits, so that's not really viable. I'm actually quite excited by what I've done, which always makes me nervous. I always feel as if that means I don't have a realistic take on the work.

Knocked off two chapters of SaC this week. I'm feeling kind of snarly about it because I'm almost ten thousand words further on than I intended to be at this point. On the bright side, Gwydion is back. I managed to play it out so you don't see he and Flick "on camera" at the same time, but they did interact, so to satisfy potential reader curiosity, I'll probably have Gwydion make a few comments about him. One thing I've avoided thus far and want to keep avoiding is any sense of one or the other being jealous - Flick's relationship with Anaea just isn't Like That, and I've loved setting up the platonic feeling of that. (Gwydion's, on the other hand ...)

Still working on Shadow Play. Set my goal to finish it this week. I'm having tremendous fun with the cultural more towards gloves because Jennis has none on during the opening of this scene. Gloves are really ingrained in the whole society as "polite dress." They're not worn in familiar company, so it's not akin to showing too much cleavage precisely, but there's something a little improper (naughty, if you will) about flashing bare hands around, and I've gotten a really cool "charge" just from the male lead watching her hands.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Review: The Dragon Quintet -- ed Marvin Kaye

Mmmm … a collection of novellas featuring dragons? Sign me up. I'm really appreciating the novella as a form these days: the extra space to explore without the time commitment of a full novel. I enjoyed the introduction and exploration into the origins of the word - entertaining but thoughtful. The stories are described briefly but not "pumped up" (something which tends to be a major turn-off for me).

First up is "In The Dragon's House" by Orson Scott Card, the story of an unusual dwelling with a deep and fiery secret, and the whimsical, theatrical family that lives there. This story proves that you can get away with an infodump opening if it's entertaining enough, though I did feel the backstory went on a bit long. Furthermore, the pace of the whole novella was slow. However, the people feel real and intriguing, and there are vivid descriptions of the house's warm place and the waking dreams Michael has there. Overall, an enjoyable read.

A slow start is also a feature of Elizabeth Moon's "Judgment," the story of what transpires when Ker and his soon-to-be father-in-law discover unusual rocks along the pathway. Once this story hits a certain point, however, the emotions and the stakes deepen. There is a fascinating world just under the surface of Moon's story, explored - played with - but not exhausted. Cultural aspects play a key role in the progression of the tale, which I particularly appreciated. I did find the conclusion a little disconnected from the rest, and it also took on some "the moral of the story" aspects that were mildly annoying … but overall, it continued to hold the attention right through.

I do have a quibble about the combination of stories here: both the first two stories involve dragon-inside-person plotlines, though with different contexts. Seems like they shouldn't be one after the other to me.

I had mixed feelings about Tanith Lee's "Love In A Time Of Dragons," a sometimes poetic, sometimes cruel story of a woman, a dragon, a champion and the love that develops from that familiar triangle. There are some beautiful, absorbing images throughout the story, and I was especially fond of the final chapter when everything comes together. In between, however, I questioned the main theme of the story. What I saw was not love, but physical obsession, something more primal and less spiritual. In addition, the point of view was such that, although at times I saw the main character's world with painful clarity, I was often left puzzled as to her inner workings - to the result that I felt one twist of the story was not fairly foreshadowed, and she sometimes came off as somewhat sociopathic or at least alien. I also found the raunchiness a bit of a turn-off.

I loved "Joust" from Mercedes Lackey, the story of Vetch, a young serf who gets the opportunity to escape the drudgery of his life … for the drudgery of caring for dragons. If the later events of the story are somewhat telegraphed by the unusual nature of Kashet, that is easily forgiveable for a tale that is tense, absorbing and emotional. The setting has nice details as well, a sense of history buried in this small land. This story is well constructed, with details appropriately placed and everything well-paced. Worth the read, though it ends with a beginning …

The final story, Michael Swanwick's "King Dragon," is an intriguing blend of fairy and technology, with a new approach to dragons as aerial weapons. Its narrator, Will, has the dubious honor of being chosen as the lieutenant of this dragon. Swanwick offers an exceptional setting, richly illustrated throughout the story and always promising more. I did find the ambiguity of the dragon somewhat unbalanced; it would have been more effective if it was more menacing earlier on. Sometimes, there's a slight distance from the characters that makes it hard to assess them - but this was definitely an absorbing read.

As a whole, I would say that four of the stories here - Lee's being the possible exception - were worth the read. They provide a solid story structure and make use of their length to explore the setting or characters in a way that is generally quite satisfying. The range of dragons here is somewhat biased towards mere animal - or are they? - but also encompasses the alien and the more than human. Recommended.

Best of Vol II

... continued!

This is the side of the list with a lot of country artists ... where my main exposure to them is from their only pop-rock album.

2. KIRSTY MACCOLL: Soho Square
Comments: Best of Kirsty? Try best of anything. This is one of my top five favorite songs. It's beautiful, wistful, sad, sweet - and one of the few songs that can bring tears to my eyes.
3. LAURA POWERS: I Surrender All
4. LEANN RIMES: Suddenly
5. LISA LOEB: Wishing Heart
Comments: I found Lisa Loeb fairly recently after an encounter with a Lilith Fair CD. My reaction to her music has been pretty bipolar: I absolutely love a song or I absolutely hate it with little middle ground. She also has some musical quirks that irritate me. This song, though, is infectiously fun.
Comments: One of the oldest songs on this list as far as my familiarity with it. Also another tear-jerker.
7. MARIAH CAREY: Close My Eyes
10. OLDIES: Incense and Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock
Comments: I'm not sure this song actually makes sense ...
11. PAULINA RUBIO: Border Girl
12. SARAH BRIGHTMAN: The Journey Home
Comments: This one was a tough decision and sort of surprised me (I go through phases with what I like best from Brightman) - but I thought about it and I've always had a soft spot for this song.
13. SELENA: God's Child (Baila Conmigo)
14. SHANIA TWAIN: I Ain't Going Down
15. SHEENA EASTON: Modern Girl
16. SISSEL: Carrier of a Secret
Comments: Sissel has possibly the most beautiful voice anywhere. It's clean and pure without being sugary.
18. THALIA: Tu Y Yo (English Version)
19. VIENNA TENG: Whatever You Want
Comments: I have one Teng album. This song alone is worth the price of admission. Gorgeous, yet there is something so creepy about it - love it.
20. MUSICALS (#3) WICKED: What Is This Feeling?
Comments: Who would have thought a sugary, Disney-esque ensemble piece about how much two characters despise each other could be my most re-listened-to song for over a year? Fantastic - and not a bad finish to the set, either.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Best of Vol 1

Music to drive by again - this time, I lit upon the idea of doing a collection of the best song from each artist I typically listen to. So I did, with a few caveats:

1. If the artist only had a few songs ripped, I typically skipped them. I also skipped a few people with tunes where none stood out (Clannad, for instance). I simply missed Lesiem - oops.
2. If I tried to include a song from every single musical I like to listen to, the collection would be nothing but. So I allowed myself three musicals and a separate "slot" for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
3. This is the fourth list I came up with an idea for, so a few of the favorites were already "taken." I grabbed songs that were close runners-up in those cases.

I dropped this list into my player, alphabetized by artist - and discovered it was a pretty good mix. It was already partway to ripping when I realized that it had alphabetized by first name. Oh well.

So, with no further ado:

1. MUSICALS (#1) 1776: But Mr. Adams
Comments: Ludicrously awesome lyrics and rhyme sequences. "I won't put politics on paper, it's a mania: so I refuse to use the pen in Pennsylvania." The inimitable Brent Spiner singing in this version.
2. AMY GRANT: Oh, How The Years Go By
3. (ANNA) SAHLENE: House
Comments: What can you say about one song so infectious it started a five year hunt ending in purchasing an import CD off a foreign site - not even in English? (The music is, ironically.) Let's quote the song: "Don't want your money, just your soul."
4. ANNE MURRAY: Wintery Feeling
Comments: Murray is pretty mainstream country - and pretty famous - but I bet most people have never even heard this song. I love it. It's very softly quirky.
Comments: Another place where I go for the obscurity. This song is bittersweet perfection. I cannot listen to it without tearing up. (And yes, I know Andrew should be before the Anns. This one I had to alphabetize manually and my brain seized up.)
6. BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: Writing on the Wall
Comments: I plead guilty to actually basing a character's storyline in a roleplaying game off this song, albiet loosely. The char in question already happened to be named Gretchen April before I encountered it. It was a trifle eerie, honestly, because it fit SO well with the character's emotional pitch ...
9. CHER: Dove l'Amore
10. CHERIE: Betcha Never
11. MUSICALS (#2) CHICAGO: Cell Block Tango
Comments: I had someone who I used to work with a lot in roleplaying games tell me that this song immediately reminded them of me. I chose to take that as a compliment.
12. DIAN DIAZ: Pot of Gold
13. DIDO: White Flag
Comments: Yes, again, NOT Here With Me. Hunter is a close runner-up.
14. ENYA: Book of Days
15. GLORIA ESTEFAN: You Can't Walk Away From Love
Comments: My favorite is really Wrapped, which you'll see later. But on the strength of this one, solitary song, I bought an entire CD - Vol 2 of Greatest Hits - and I simply adore it.
17. HEATHER NOVA: Walk This World
Comments: Nova almost didn't make the list at all, but this song is fantastic.
18. HELEN REDDY: I'd Rather Be Alone
Comments: When I was a new teenager and going through the sort of identity angst we humans do at that time, this song was my anthem. I still feel it holds more true than not. Listening to it is still like opening up a vein. (And yes, again I know this is a very obscure song by a high-profile artist.)

The other half is on the next volume.

The Weatherwoman

This story just sold to Reflection's Edge! I did a revised ending at the editor's request, and I'm very happy she liked it -- the moreso because I actually liked about eighty percent of my tweaks better than the original. It didn't change the substance of the ending, just the details.

The Weatherwoman is a coming-of-age / romance story set in my meta-world of the Stewards, a group of otherwise ordinary humans who came to the Citadel of the Gods centuries before ... and found it abandoned. Rather than let people across many worlds flounder in the sudden disappearance, they took it upon themselves to fill the enormous shoes of the gods. Pillan is a new Steward - meticulous, precise, cautious - who is assigned the out-of-character role of a weather god. When he meets one of his more unusual disciples ... well, that's all I intend to say about the matter.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

This post was delayed by my MP3 player. I've been listening to CDs lately to grab more songs (which is going to lead to new driving lists, huzzah), and I've just reached the point where I have more files than room on my MP3 player. Thus, loading it is a painful process of choosing individual songs that I DON'T want. So I finally got the process complete, moved it over ... and only forty percent synced. I couldn't get the process to finish and I couldn't recover my list. So I had to do it over again ... three or four times. Apparently, you have to watch it to get it to finish.

Nothing real much to say. Journal of the Dead is on hiatus. Scylla and Charybdis, the next chapter skated neatly out of my fingers and I'm working on another. I still feel like the whole project is too description heavy, but the clear, continuous picture of the setting is vital for it to hang together.

Two scenes of Shadow Play written as well, both courtroom scenes. I've discovered I rather enjoy writing these, though I'm not sure how authentic or interesting them are. The second scene in particular pumped my word count up - before it, I'd been hoping I might even finish under the 10k mark. But I'm relaxed and letting this one be what it wants to be.

Free write exercise yesterday, I wrote a beginning from the POV of Mathory Ke'Lieren - brother to Pazia of Fatecraft and Loyal Dice ...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Real life update: total treadmill. Just about the time one thing calms down and I think, "Now I've got some time to kick back, relax and write - probably not in that order," something else goes fwoom.

That said, I got a lot done this past week. The completed second draft of Journal of the Dead I've mentioned (wheeee!); I also finished my alternate ending story for challenge ... and did further editing passes on the next two stories in the queue. Couldn't be more different: one's pseudo-Victorian with a major thematic twist, and the other a romance story in a medieval setting with culture and personality clashes a-plenty. First person, third person. I guess the only common element they share is that both characters are very much married to the idea of custom, tradition and social order ...

I finally started another chapter of Scylla and Charybdis. I was worried about getting back into it after such a long gap, and the first few paragraphs were awkward ... but then it was like slipping into a warm bath. Felt so good - a lot of my enthusiasm for the project was rekindled. Maybe that has something to do with the fact the MC is in the middle of a bona fide crisis - who knows? But onwards we go.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


So we turned to business, a strange group with responsibilities we had never planned: a child, a socialite, twenty-two spirits and I.

Journal of the Dead first draft: 114,181 words
Journal of the Dead second draft: 111,992 words

Yes, I finally (re)wrote the last sentence. Third draft forthcoming, but for now - whoot!

(I am concerned that the total decrease was only a little over two thousand words, but there was a lot I felt I had to expand / explain. Hoping that won't be the case with Scylla and Charybdis ... erp.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sexy Scottish Schoolmarm in C

I usually don't post about the harp side of things here, but sometimes I just have to decompress in the best way I know - text.

So today I had a fashion disaster while preparing for a wedding. I have a brand new, sleek, pleated black dress skirt. I put on the silk white shirt I had planned to go with it ... and the best to describe the fit was that it floated on me.

(Note to self: you still have a few pieces of clothing left over from when you were close to forty pounds heavier. If the tag says medium, for pete's sake try it ON first.)

All right, don't panic. Back-up white shirt with three quarter sleeves. I look at myself. I look like an upscale schoolmarm.

Usually I have plenty of other options, but this was a very Scottish wedding. The groomsmen were going to be in tartans, and I had already told the bride I would wear my tartan sash.

For those not familiar with the Duncan tartan (ancient pattern - it's much prettier than the modern version), the predominant colors are somewhat unusual shades of green and blue with white. I know tartans aren't supposed to match, but for a wedding I don't think it's a good idea to clash with your own attire.

I cannot figure out if the one remaining, matching-with-tartan shirt I have - a pale green - is appropriate for a 5pm wedding. Finally I decide better safe (and schoolmarmish) than sorry.

I discover it's hard to drive in the skirt.

Apparently, sexy Scottish schoolmarms aren't supposed to drive.

Now I should add that this is one of "those" weddings, which surprised me because they were so Celtic in their sensibilities. The only move away from the traditional repertoire the couple had originally chosen was All I Ask of You for the unity candle, which was fine-and-dandy with me, because I love that song to bits.

Then comes the fateful question. I put the song on my repertoire list because I have to, really, but I don't point it out unless someone asks - and then I've got to admit I sort of lean on the strings a bit without actively making a mistake so it hopefully doesn't sound appealing and they choose something else.

Alas, this doesn't always work. So "those" weddings = in which I find myself playing Wagner's Bridal Chorus.

The Bell Event Center in Cincinnati is a gorgeous space. It was far larger than I had pictured; I was glad to be mic'ed. Beautiful wedding, beautiful venue. Then I found out that the cocktail hour I was supposed to be playing was outside. (I'm ninety percent sure this was my misunderstanding, not theirs.) And ohhhh! So cold!

The DJ for the reception was really impressed that I was willing to be outside, though. And someone asked for my card and asked if I did funerals. I'm never sure how to take that.

Upshot - I emerge triumphant, if I do say so myself.

Got a last-minute half-hour stage-set tomorrow. Waugh.

What's in a name?

So I can't decide if this means my subconscious mind is brilliant or my conscious mind is painfully stupid.

Throughout Journal of the Dead, it's pretty obvious that "Micaerith" is basically the equivalent of Greece. And then I said it today, and I just about fell over:

Me: "I mean, Elenhine is Helen of Troy."

I stopped. I looked at the names. I slapped a hand to my forehead.

I cannot remember for sure now if I did it deliberately or accidentally, but ... dang.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Haven't had any time to work on Scylla and Charybdis since last week - I've kind of had a bunch of more immediate projects slam into me, including a more-in-depth-than-expected edit for Balance of Power, and an initial once-over for the next two stories in my queue to start the process of readying them for submission. Add to that the fact that I foolishly started an F-W challenge story and I'm still working on Shadow Play (which still promises to be novelette - novella range) and ... oof.

here's also a third story I may give an initial pass to because the editor of Darwin's Evolutions has expressed interest in seeing another story with Pazia and Vanchen, and it just so happens that I have one finished (but not edited). I'd like to get that to him soon after Loyal Dice comes out.

And I'm dying to write a Fib. (A poem based on the Fibonacci sequence.)

I like to multi-task, but this is nigh unmanageable. After I get through this particular thicket I'm going to try not to get tangled up in it again soon.

On the "whoot!" front, I am on the home stretch with the first edit of Journal of the Dead. Just reached the beginning of the climactic scene. Hoping to reach the end by this time next week. We'll see!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


My flash fiction story "Remember" is now available in Kaleidotrope - in the leading slot of the magazine, in fact! You can order yourself a copy over at:

This is a second person narrative about a long journey across the desert ... or is it?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Setting Integrity

I just received a request for a rewrite on the ending to one of my stories that touches upon a setting point. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem: if I agreed with the request, I wouldn't mind doing the bodywork throughout the story to alter the ending. However, in this case, I was working in a pre-established setting where I've written other works - including the last novel I abandoned; I was about 57k into it and hadn't even hit what I envisioned as the main action of the novel - and the setting point holds up as important for future ideas.

Now, I was able to make an edit that I think moves in the right direction. Do I think the setting point harms this individual story? No. It adds a tinge of realism to the conclusion. Sometimes the world is bigger than we are. But I thought it was interesting that this stricture came up for me, especially as I usually do hop to other worlds. We'll see.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

By now, I've gotten far enough into Scylla and Charybdis - and I know enough about the rest of the cycle - that I can make a tentative estimate as to its final length. I'm saying between 140 - 150k. (For the layman, the upper limit @ 600 page book.) Grant that I'm only halfway there now, so it could change ... but this gives me a good idea how much cutting I'm going to have to do. I think, to be saleable, it needs to be more in the 125 - 130k range.

The good news is, I'm sure that when I go back through it, I'll see unnecessary descriptions, overly wordy sentences, and potentially whole scenes that don't need to be there. (I'm toying with the notion that the entire chapter I just wrote falls into that category.) As I did for Journal, I'll be doing a first-read outline so I can see what's where and why it is. This isn't just a point-by-point outline: it's a list of the purposes the scene serves. For instance, the same scene could move the main plot forward - and also advance the romantic subplot and fill in setting details. Some segments might only serve one purpose but still be necessary.

The OTHER good news is, I should be finished with my first edit of Journal well before I'm ready to start editing SaC ... so I will be able to get a gauge, by how much shorter the second draft is (first draft clocks at 114k), how hard the above editing is going to be.

I'm on the home stretch with the first Journal edit. Kind of excited about it. It still really seems to hang together well.

Due to my sale of The Winter Queen, I'm prepping another story for submission. I had planned to send it out yesterday ... but as I started editing it, I noticed I was making a lot of changes, not to the fundamental structure of the story, but filling in little holes, expanding dialogue that was too quick, cutting bits that were unnecessary. As I know my editing is weak and feeling like I know what I should change is rare, I'm going to keep plugging at it for a while. Currently in the middle of a second pass; if I do a third and I'm only making minor changes, I'll send it. Otherwise I'll wait a few days. It may be - gasp - as late as next week before I get it out. Augh! My queue is halted.

I'm a little concerned about Balance of Power just from a niche / market standpoint. It's an adventure-style story. That's not to say it's complete fluff: there's a lot of elements in it about choice, freedom, compulsion and a little sprinkle of duality. However, they don't create an arc so much as musings throughout. So you definitely have to argue that the romp is the point of the story ... we'll see, I suppose.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Winter Queen

One of my fastest acceptances ever: after a little over twelve hours (submitted just after midnight last night, even!), Golden Visions accepted my story The Winter Queen for their second 2010 issue. This was my first word-tumble story, and huzzah! It now has a worthy home.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Versatile Visage

Poem now available in Vol 2 of Emerald Tales: Masks or Appearances Can Be Deceiving. I got the final slot closing out the issue. Check it out:

This poem marks an unusual milestone for me: it's the only piece I've written for a specific theme that sold to a venue on a completely different theme. (It was initially composed for Cinema Spec.)

Thursday Thoughts

My, I was talkative in September, wasn't I?

Had a better week and (no coincidence) a more productive one.

I know my main concern in editing Scylla and Charybdis will be amping the tension through the sections where the primary thing my narrator is doing is exploring. There are currently long descriptive / narrative passages - all with purpose, but I don't think they make the reader worry about what happens next, though I hope they're interesting enough to draw along with curiosity. I'm currently working on a scene where she's ambushed in the street - hurrah, action! - and realized I have to explain why her young escort would leave her in a neighborhood like this. So that will have to go in the next scene.

I am inching closer to the climactic scenes in Journal. I've done a fair amount of cutting in recent pages - not large sections, but unnecessary sentences. Some of them weren't even lined out when I made my markings, but in reading back I decided they were fluff. I'm very curious to get to the end and do a word count comparison. I may come out slightly shorter than the first draft despite several additions throughout, which to my mind is a good thing.

I'm about two and a half thousand words into my new short story. I've decided to relax and let it be whatever length it wants to be, which is probably going to be novella. There's a lot of world exploration here, but I really wanted to immerse the reader in the setting and the characters. I'm particularly proud of how I managed to imply the glove-wearing custom of the Seventeen Seas - it's pretty universal among all "civilized" cultures, just like you'd wear a shirt in public - without saying much direct about it. Getting the "loud piety" into the dialogue is tricky because my brain doesn't work that way.

Here's a quick flash of description from the story that I'm proud of. It hopefully tells a bit about the city, the character and his homeland:

The press of people on the cobbled streets was light, but the buildings - sandstone and pale green limestone, an earthy dappling of color - made him feel claustrophobic, even though few were over two stories high. He missed the clear line of sight afforded by Calathinyan roofways. The streets were well-maintained, the walls splashed with vibrant murals of gods, country scenes and optical illusions, but he always felt as if he were pacing a rabbit's warren until the avenues broadened into a courtyard or agora.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Old Wounds

So eons ago, I read an issue of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy magazine - dated Summer 1995, so it could be as much as fourteen years if I read it right away - with a story entitled "Even More Than Magic" by Bob Dennis. It's about two teenagers, children of a sorceress, who are captured by her rival, and is told from the point of view of the one who wasn't raised in magic - instead sent out for herbcraft and practical learning. There's a bit in the final third or so where the narrator believes she's figured out that her mother simply loves her less, that she kept her out of her own magical craft to protect her sister.

This broke my heart. The anguish in that idea - not just applied to families, but in other areas you can be weighed and found wanting - burrowed into me and stayed there ... so much that now, over a decade later, I instantly - boom - recognized the story when I saw it. Heck, I teared up before I started reading. The fact that this theory of the narrator's is disproved at the end of the story never really helped. That moment remains. I remembered it for all the intervening years.

This inspired me, longer ago than I care to consider, to write a little story entitled "The Other Sister." It's definitely its own entity ... in fact, it takes off the idea of a sister who really is inferior, despite all her attempts and good intentions. (It showed up in Eye of Unicorn, Tongue of Dragon, the little
e-zine I ran for a while when I was too young to know better.) I think that's one of the few pieces I've ever written that was genuinely carthartic. I usually just don't go there.

I'm pondering rewriting this one. My style has improved so drastically (stop sniggering: I can hear you!) that it would basically be restructured from ground-up, the same essential plot with everything else fleshed, filled, extended and - of course - rewritten. Maybe ... who knows? I wouldn't be surprised if it touches off the same reaction for me as a writer. The feeling is still with me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Anatomy of an Idea: Instructions For An Initiate

This story was a product of The 3AM Epiphany (the only writing exercise book I recommend, by the way) when I was doing a daily "boot camp" - an exercise a day. This was one of the very first exercise, to write a story purely in the form of commands ... implied second person. I decided to go the route of orders given to a young person being initiated as a priest - and it took a (for me) very dark turn.

I'm not sure when I decided to create a very ambiguous, pitiless goddess, but it definitely shaped the tone. For more - read it.

Instructions For An Initiate

This flash fiction piece is now available at Golden Visions magazine ( Make sure you flip down to the bottom of the page on which "Instructions" is listed: the flash fiction are all on the same page, and mine is the last (and the best ;-)).

Feel free to vote for my piece if it takes your fancy.


I just received one of those reviews - well, late last night - that reminds me why I bother posting on critique sites. The reviewer got what I was trying to do, but had a few significant critiques that left me in a quandary. After stewing and sleeping over it, I came up with a revision that I think solved, not only what he and other reviewers thought was "off" with the ending, but what left *me* somewhat discontent and gnawy ... sort of by accident on the second part, but it all works much more smoothly.

Anyhow, it's a stronger story now, and I'm very happy for it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Name Proliferation

Those of you who are writers - at least, fantasy writers - may have run into this problem ...

I'm about four hundred words into the new story mentioned in the previous post - and in that space, I've used six proper names. It developed very naturally:

1) My main character, who of course I wanted to name right out - it's third person narration, so that's the first name we see.
2) His "boss," the character he's talking to. I didn't want to keep saying "his superior" and the character is going to reappear, so let's get the name in.
3) The nationality of said boss. I'd already decided that since my MC is an exile from another nation that I wanted to do a lot of comparisons. This is the first. It would have required serious gymnastics to write the sentence in question with a generic non-name, rather than simply saying, "Ilkanese."
4) The name of the victim in the case that will be taking up the entire rest of the story. This seems like a relevant piece of info to me. By using her name, I also get to easily and simply indicate that she is THE High Priestess, not simply a high priestess.
5) His native land. Again, I'm going to be referring to it a lot, so it would be cumbersome to keep saying "his home country" every time. This is the only reference I can see that would be easy to change and move later on.
6) The name of the city. If you're writing an urban story, you can get away with naming the city and not the country; not so much the reverse.

I'm hoping this is a manageable amount of information, but I keep dithering between placing the information when it's first relevant, versus trying to undergo some gymnastics to intersperse it more gradually. On the other hand, this is a page and a half in a manuscript, so maybe that's relaxed enough. You then get a break until the next scene. Ahem.

I find this happens a lot, though. In my "word tumble," I had to name my MC, a king, five children, and a royal guard, all within a short span of time. Just personally, I would rather give something a concrete handle if it's going to mentioned more than once or twice. The act of naming something makes it feel "real" to me. So it's just a matter of making sure it's spaced out properly.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

No, you really don't want to know what I'm thinking.

It's been a rough week, particularly the last twenty-four hours. Real life hammered me with a to-do list so massive that even when I reached the end, my nervous system was flashing me staccato signals of, "Move! Move!" This means ... not a lot of writing, and an inordinate amount of discouragement over what I have done.

Hoping to start the story mentioned last week sometime today. I've already resolved that I'm not going to skimp on the worldbuilding ... if it's not strictly relevant, so be it. This is a character-and-setting piece more than a plot piece, and I want to immerse the reader in the mindset of someone who lives there.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine

So as mentioned in my bookcase post, I found my old MZB Fantasy Magazines. I loved this magazine - it's the first one I remember really enjoying. Hoping for a good read, and also curious if the issues would live up to my nostalgia, I started to read. I've finished three now (#40, #36 and #25, and yes, in that order) and I feel as if I have the shape of it again.

To some extent, the magazine didn't live up to my memory. I had the sense that the stories were familiar - but I'm honestly not sure whether this is a "flaw," or whether they're still imprinted on the recesses of my brain from years ago, and thus even if I don't remember the specific story, the feel of it is recognizable. But I found that I sometimes wanted more of the unexpected and exotic from the worlds and the plots.

That said - what a breath of fresh air! The stories are high-quality and many of them are humorous ... and they all present a reliably good read. There's no risk of being dangled off a literary precipe; each item in these magazines puts story first. They also tend to be pretty wholesome, which is nice in a genre that occasionally resorts to R-rated material for kicks. (I remember reading a story in - Fantasy Magazine, I think? - that would have been excellent except for taking a few passages too far ... and consequently, THAT'S what I remember about the story.) And there's real emotional resonance: I confess to tearing up a few times.

So I'm glad I found these, and I miss the magazine. Who knows where it would be today?

Friday, September 18, 2009

But what do I *DO* with it?

So for me, the creative arts have always had a practical side. I'm a professional harp performer: every piece I arrange and practice is eventually intended to be played in a background job or a stage set. I also consider myself a professional writer and with the exception of brain-stretching exercises, every story / novel I work on is intended to be sent out to publishers. I am goal-focused and product-conscious ... though I still have tremendous fun with the process. (Three words for you: Under The Sea (from The Little Mermaid). Such a blast to play. I just need to get off my duff and finish a cohesive arrangement ...)

So occasionally, when I need to downtime my brain (look, I'm verbing nouns!), I turn to the visual arts. I dabble - and it's definitely dabble - in photography, fractals, drawing and painting. To be able to do something where the result isn't expected to be up to a professional standard and I don't have to produce something for a specific goal allows me to unwind.

But then that little nagging voice creeps into my head, the one that's been trained from years of work ... what do I do with it? I feel as if there needs to be some purpose for the finished project. It's just sitting there, and it drives me batty. These files, these loose pages! They're just taking up space.

Part of it, I suppose, is that I do have a show-off streak: I want people to see what I've done and - yes, I blush - admire it. That's probably a good part of why I have a Deviantart page. For the rest of it ...

My brain churns - I can't help it - over what use my artwork might serve. One idea that amuses me is the notation of doing art-cards as stories / poems of mine are released and posting them up as little advertisements. Not sure yet.

But the point is ... I felt compelled to find something to do with my creative product, even my downtime product. I feel as if there's something vaguely diseased about this outlook of mine. I don't feel that it's ever stifled my creativity in my primary work, but I occasionally don't turn to the art because there's this tiny little voice whispering, "Okay, but what do I *do* with it?"

That said, if anyone wants my fractals or photos I'll be happy to be paid, but that's besides the point ... ahem. Running away now.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Link added

Link added to the very artistic website of Lydia Kurnia. Check it out!

Thursday Thoughts

Recently, I received a rejection on a story that commented it opened slowly. I'm aware of this, but I disagree that it's a problem. With an intriguing setup and a strong narration - which I've been told by editors it has - I feel that a reader should be curious about rather than bored by a short (emphasis on short) pre-plot section. The section in question is less than two manuscript pages out of twenty-three, and the information is crucial to the action pretty quickly. It was longer; I had already moved some of it forward into the action.

Anyhow, upshot: I've considered it, I've reviewed it with a cold eye, and it's staying. I believe I can find a publisher who sees the balance sheet. I've also seen published stories that positively dither before westward ho ...

The past few days have been crazy-busy. I've had hardly any time to work on the Journal of the Dead edit ... and when I do, I can't tell if my sense that X scene or Y scene is redundant is good instinct or just the fact that I'm tired, darnit. For now, I'm not making any drastic cuts, but I do think overall, I've removed more than I've added. Which with the way I write (you all know it) is a good thing.

I did choose my next short story from my pile of exercises ... and furthermore, decided to move my setting into the Butterfly's Poison world (otherwise known as the world of the Seventeen Seas). I already have a story published in that setting ("Currents and Clockwork" in Sails & Sorcery), which (if I'm recalling right) is about ten-fifteen years after BP. This time I'm going about three years before and making my lawyer an expatriate Calathinyan. Unfortunately, this means skimming back through my BP world notes to make sure that I'm consistent, because if the novel gets picked up or anyone compares the stories OR I decide to write another ...

This actually seems to be an inadvertent theme in that world. I'm always writing about people who are exiled or fled their homelands ... some of them miss it, others - like the MC in Currents and Clockwork - are trying very hard not to be dragged back. I wonder what this signifies.

Putting in my notes to write a story actually set in the Shardath sometime. Can I make an Oligarch (as they exist in-setting) sympathetic without turning the individual PC? Hrm. This one is set in Ilkanae, an island of city-states I created to be my (ancient, sorta) Greece -- in the theocratic city state. And the dominant religion of the Seventeen Seas is monotheistic ... so should be an interesting blend of elements. Already got some great ideas, if I can keep it from being too longwinded ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When I'm Not Writing

Three random photos I put up today:

My drawing skills are just on the edge of acceptable. I've pondered doing character portraits for a project (I have a specific one in mind where my fear of an inaccurate drawing getting "stuck" as the character would be minimized) but ... not quite sure I'm there yet.

Firekeeper series - Jane Lindskold

I just finished reading book 2 of Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper series - Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart. I enjoyed this even more than the first book. It built on the previous conflicts, introduced new characters and threads, and still felt like an authentic continuation. Firekeeper and Elise have particularly intriguing evolutions during the course of the novel, but a lot of the characters grow and change, even those who aren't the focus.

This is a great example of a novel that takes a fairly common fantasy setting and some familiar tropes - and does some awesome things with them. The setting is richly detailed, the characters are three-dimensional and well-illustrated (even the "villains"), and there are several surprises in the execution. I got really caught up in the risks to the characters in the latter part of the book.

Handled particularly well is Firekeeper's continued efforts to combine her wolf outlook with her human nature. I also thought the expansion into New Kelvin was skillful. It was very different from the two countries that took up the first book, but it didn't feel slapped on or non-sequitor. I even liked the way Elise's romantic subplot was handled: it's a refreshing change from the usual romance tropes - unrequited love, love-hate, comic misunderstanding, star-crossed lovers - that develops towards a mature outlook.

Certainly, there are aspects of the book that annoyed me. It's less prevalent in #2 than it was in #1, but augh! The heraldry! Trying to crush your brain into who is related to who, and how, and how that affects their social standing ... some of it is color and you can breeze over it, but some of it is pretty crucial to the story. It seems that understanding this kind of develops by osmosis - even if you're not following it, keep reading and it will gel. There is an appendix; I don't think I resorted to it.

I also sort of felt that the history between the Royal Beasts and the humans had kind of "been done" a few too many times, but it's certainly an archetype well supported by real history.

That said, I highly recommend this book. I think a reader will enjoy it more as a continuous thread from Through Wolf's Eyes, but it seemed to me it was well-designed to carry a new reader without making the previous readers feel bogged down. There's more skill right there.

And without having to read the back, I have a good inkling as to some of the directions the next book(s) is/are going ...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What's in a Name?

Enough to drive me bonkers.

Eons ago, I was involved in Pern fandom - basically, roleplaying / writing in that setting. Recently, I've experienced the desire to remove my characters from that context and re-cast them.

The problem? These characters are around - in some cases, over - a decade old. I have a very strong association with names fitting the character and the character fitting the name. So by now, most of these people are locked into their current name and it's very hard to make significant changes. Swapping a few letters will hurt my head enough.

Why do I need to change the names? For those unfamiliar, Pernese naming frequently deals with blending the names of the parents. Sometimes it's really obvious; sometimes it's just a letter jumble. To give some examples I won't have to worry about: Vecaria and Roran's son is Veoran; Nyzael and Larkani have a daughter, Nykani; and Cyderieh and Shalderin have a son named Sahaile.

In the latter two examples, I've fixed it by simply planning to change the names of the parents. They're not going to be appearing "on camera" anyway, or even if they do, I didn't really do much with them so they're not "locked in" like others. I've noticed that changing the parent names seems to be sufficient in most cases that I can leave the names of siblings and not have it look odd. My worst example is probably Daicara, Darave and Davenor ... and modern people give their children alliterative names, so hey.

But then there are those that don't budge and aren't easy to fudge. The worst examples:

Ravela, her sons Darave and Davenor, and the former's daughter Ranessa: All four of these characters saw play. The most attention went to Darave and his daughter; I think - emphasis on think - if I change Ravela, then the others come neatly apart and it's not too bad. Savela? Sarvela? The V kind of gives it the punch. Would it make sense to make Darave into Dirave, or does that change not help? Darave and Davenor are excusable because the backstory is that Ravela left her husband, but claims the latter is still his son.
Millysti, her son Kailyst, and his cousin Telystian: Complicated by the fact that Telystian's little sister is named after her aunt, so even though one Millysti was never on-screen, the other was. Kailyst is ... he's utterly non-negotiable. And I love Telystian's name. I don't even have ideas what I could possibly do with this one.
Brothers Andileran and Ryleran and cousin Toscileran: Enough said, I think. The -leran suffix, I could probably come up with some reason for using it, and I thought of making a vocational tag ... since they're all guards. Not sure if that's cheating, or if it still looks transparently like name-blending. Also compounded by the fact that I don't want to use this solution for the prior group, so it would be two separate fixes.
Toscileran's son Cellani: Cellani was active longer than his father, actually. And I love the name! It's cute. If the -leran is an occupational suffix, does that uncouple this name enough? Or is it detached already and I'm just too used to seeing it as a direct nomenclature descendant?

I just continue to contort myself over how much change is enough, at what point does it start looking unblended versus at what point does it stop being the same "feel" for the name? How far does it need to go?

This post is just here because I'm venting right now, not specifically hunting for solutions, but it may go onto writer forum(s) in the future.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Final Encounter

Just sold this story to Aoife's Kiss! It will be coming out in June of 2010.

This story was written from an old prompt. I was bored, so I went back cruising through challenge topics that were used in the past. This one was actually about "life after the adventure" -- but instead of having a retirement story (as it were), I created an archetypal confrontation with the evil overlord(ess) ... then had both characters walk away from it. Where they go from there is the story.

Aoife's Kiss has been good to me, people. Tyree Campbell is prompt, courteous and of course, having accepted multiple pieces of my work, has excellent taste. Give them a shout-out.

I may be back today: I have something to grouse about, but I also have to bake some cookies for the harpers' gathering later today. I really need to practice this music more; resolving to do so between now and the final pre-performance gathering. It's American music and such a departure from "just Celtic" and I don't know why I'm so unenthused. I also need to work on my solo, which is the theme from Jurassic Park, or part of it. (The "pretty bit" - you hear it particularly near the end when the pterasaurs are flying past the plane.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cleaning Out

While cleaning out my shelves and my desk drawer, I discovered some funny things, some bizarre things, and some cool things. Among them:

Ultima IV for the Apple II GS. All materials, including cloth map and vellum-bound spell guide. In the original box.

A copy of Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" with ownership signatures from my aunt, my grandmother, and her mother.

A case for holding 3.5" diskettes. Yeah, that's useful.

A folder with sheets of cherry-picked fairy-tales photocopied out of various sources, including multiple Lang fairy books.

Two copies of the Poetic Edda. I think one is not mine.

The moisture sponge that is supposed to go into my harp during winter months. Oops.

A small collection of Spanish and English coins. (Hey, this coin has a hole in it!)

I apparently followed Renaissance magazine avidly for a while. I have something like twelve issues.

Also found my Marion Zimmer Bradley Fantasy magazines. Squee. I am so reading these.

I have that many Pratchett books? Since when? Grant that it's been a tradition that when I fly, I buy a Pratchett for the trip, but ... really?

For a form of fiction that's supposedly tough to sell, I have a massive anthology collection.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Versatile Visage

This poem - one of my infamous pantoums - was just accepted by Emerald Tales! Quite excited to see this one published ... and in print, even. Even better, publication date is October, so it shan't be long. (Actually, October is supposed to be a landmark month for me with things actually hitting the stands ...)

Thursday Thoughts

I decided to change my writing focus game plan. Currently, I'm making sure I edit/rewrite a page a day of Journal, then trying to finish a chapter of Scylla and Charybdis. After that, I'll need to do an editing pass on two separate stories. Then ... I've got to take a day or two and do a focus on Journal, as otherwise it will take forever to finish up.

Speaking of Scylla and Charybdis, I made the mistake of inserting a sideplot where the ship Anaea is traveling on - to reach Annwyn, where the plot resumes - is attacked by pirates, its weapons damaged, and the new character I mentioned last week is shanghaied into repairing them ... with Anaea helping out. Wow, I am in territory such that I am faking it so much I expect a phantasmal lady to lean over and say, "I'll have what she's having."

There are places where I'm trying to be vague because I can't possibly check my science on something this general, and I'm hoping this doesn't hurt the story. I may seek out a science-savvy reviewer to error-check these pages - just as I'm half-considering doing so for my use of Judaism. (I've actually got a potential reviewer already for that.) This whole sequence really exemplifies why trying to tackle science-fiction is a challenge for me.

I've finished the Scene of Doom in Journal. At one point, I was worried about the coincidence inherent in having an old friend of one of Rhiane's spirits show up ... but it works. It doesn't come off as, "Huh, that's handy," it comes off as another complication and throws a moral wrench in the works. There's no good answer here, ethically speaking, no easy choice.

Finished my F-W challenge story and promptly forgot to include the phrase that becomes the title. Of course. I'll get it in editing; I didn't feel like drilling into it right away. I'm not sure I have five different styles; for certain I have three, and I did try to use some deliberate stylistic choices for the less distinct sections, but I chickened out on making the last section really florid (which was my plan) because ultimately I wanted it readable. Again, something I can try and manhandle in editing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Big Three Films

Of course, I admire The Lord of the Rings film trilogy for proving that fantasy films could be a viable commercial enterprise - and I'm still slavering over that Temeraire film we were promised: where IS it! - but for me, there are three films that embody fantasy in movie format. They're all older movies; I'd personally call all three of them classics. They are:

The Princess Bride: Let's start with the obvious one, shall we? I challenge you to find someone who doesn't love this movie, with its light-hearted but dramatic core, the wonderful humor, the quirky characters ... it's a lovely portrayal of a lot of traditional fantasy elements, princes, epic beauties, revenge quests, sword-fighting, pirates ... it's eminently quotable ("Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.") and has really saturated our culture (quote from Civilation IV advice menu: "Never start a landwar in Asia."). Even if us modern gals are irritated by Buttercup's ineffectual flailings in the fireswamp - what a great adventure.

WIllow: This is the movie George Lucas wanted to make. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. There really is an unconfirmed story, though, that Lucas had written the script to Willow first ... but current technology couldn't handle the shapeshifting effects for Fin Raziel (really amazing cutting-edge effects for when it was made, folks), and so he wrote Star Wars instead. Hence the similar elements ... but this is really an archetypal adventure story, of an unassuming man swept up in events larger than himself. As to the rest, Madmartigan is an amazing character. The brownies are probably the least annoying of Lucas' sidekick concoctions. And the quotes ... okay, they're not as mainstream. But come on ... "'I dwell in darkness without you,' and it went away?"

Ladyhawke: This is probably the most obscure of the three films. The box and promo text claims that this is based off a genuine Welsh legend. It isn't, but it's easy to see why such a statement would have endured even after the real author sued. Its flaw is that it's too perfect: the illustration of traditional Celtic myth is too complete, too precise, the story too well-rounded to be an organic rather than a composed thing. (I actually did an essay on this film, so uh - pardon the ranting there.) Again, it's a beautiful blend of timeless fantasy archetype with emotion and - yes - humor. This remains my enduring image of Matthew Broderick. Yes, to me, who cares about Ferris Bueller? Broderick will always be Phillipe the Mouse. "I expect to see you at the Pearly Gates, my son, don't you dare disappoint me!" "I'll be there, Father ... even if I have to pick the lock."

Monday, September 07, 2009

For Your Amusement

I just started removing the books from my shelves so I could add a new one - which happens to entail moving three of the existing bookcases even if I didn't desperately need to reorganize, so ... down they all come.

I haven't figured out my non-fic classifications yet, but I currently have separate piles for:

Fantasy, Light Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mysteries, Light Mysteries, Historical Mysteries, Anthologies and (general) Fiction.

Will probably add a YA category as I still have a fair number of my "kid" reads.

This is going to take forever, yo. Especially as I'm also seriously considering breaking into the one bookcase I DON'T have to move. I mean, I'm already tearing things apart, might as well go all the way ...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Two Steps Back

Lately, I've been feeling as if my writing capability has taken a dive. The last few stories I've posted up for critique have been pretty well clawed - even when I was feeling good about them. I continue to be concerned about the fact that I confuse people when I ... almost never catch the source of confusion in my own edits. Sometimes, I think it's an issue of people don't read all that carefully. Other times, I have no idea how to train myself to edit for this.

And I've gotten a lot of rejections lately, even from markets that accepted my stories in the past. The one story that has been getting really high marks (though still rejections) ... I can't seem to sell. There's only a few higher-tier markets left, and I'm reluctant to ship it down because I know it's a bloody good piece of work.

I wonder if it's my process. Writing two pieces - a novel and a short - and editing another novel keeps me continually switching up. I'm wondering if I need to work in larger chunks, for instance do a little bit of the editing each day, then a chapter of the novel and the entirety (or at least, a larger piece) of a short.

Or maybe I'm trying to stretch too far. I've been challenging myself a lot lately, not even deliberately ... but a difficult idea latches on and I'm eager to dive in. Maybe I need to pull back and simplify.

Or maybe I'm just losing it. I don't know.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Lady in Gil

Sometimes, you read a book, and it far exceeds your expectations. Rebecca Bradley's "Lady In Gil" is one such book.

On the face of it, I expected a light, simple comedy. It's not an uncommon story: an unlikely hero is recruited when no better candidate is available, and bumbles his way in the general direction of success. But the tone of this particular novel - and its narrator - is immediately endearing, a very personal and engaging sense of humor. More than that, the book is somewhat miscast by its cover blurb: it's humorous, true, but it's also dark, grim, with gritty and uncompromising descriptions of what the conquered people are suffering. This a tough balance, and excellently struck.

The romance story in this novel is beautiful. It's by turns predictable and unexpected, familiar and heart-wrenching. You can see the mistakes the narrator is mistaking and want to hit him over the head, without quite getting disgusted - which again, for me, is quite a balancing act, because I'm jaded with the familiar romantic subplots.

Overall, the plotline shines. There are some aspects you see coming - you know they have to be there - and then there are bends that go in a completely different direction. There are few black and whites in the story: every character falters, every noble character has a flaw; every situation is imperfect, every solution a little painful.

Anyhow - yes. Loved it. This is going on my Recommended Reads as soon as I figure out a shorter desc.

Thursday Thoughts

My mindset with fiction lately seems to be to take a lot more risks and experiment with things - not so much out of my comfort zone as stretching my technical and story-telling ability.

Case in point: for the September fantasy-writers challenge - which is tough enough, the topic being "someone who is guilty and innocent of the same act" - I've added three personal challenges for myself.

I wanted to do a "Vantage Point"-esque story where the same scene is replayed from multiple perspectives, adding details and advancing the story sideways rather than linearly. I wanted to use names that were titles / epithets, because this something that I don't really do and is sort of out of my comfort zone. And ... I decided I wanted each of the five scenes planned to be in a different style. (I'm a bit concerned, actually, because I started with fluid and poetic, and I don't want to lose readers! Scene two is going to drop into more of a light-touch comic style.)

After I got done planning all this, I was worried that my guilt/innocence wasn't pronounced enough, so I decided to add hints of that aspect to every character/scene.

Shortly after last week's entry, I finished "Reclamation" by Sarah Zettel. I bring this up because the novel contains a lot of the elements I was concerned about "getting away with" in science fiction. There's a strong spiritual component and lengthy flavor descriptions. It works; it works beautifully. I still have the concern with Scylla and Charybdis that I'm not maintaining tension as well, but I'm not so gnawy about the fact that there's a lot of world exploration and a sprinkling of near-mysticism.

With my Journal rewrite, I've just reached the beginning of what I think is the longest scene in the book. It's where Rhiane encounters the criminal seeking sanctuary in the Dry Temple and finds out he's the old friend of one of her spirits. There's a lot going on in this scene: the recognition, reconciliation, explanation, some unpleasant new facts and a bargain - to which her bodyguard strenuously objects. It's really too long to be an in-story written scene ... but as it is, I keep dithering over the likelihood of her being able to write the romance entries without her mental inhabitants noticing. There's just some things that have to be gimmes in the journal form.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I've been having a fairly horrible week health-wise - this is the fourth day in a row I've felt pretty wretched. So pardon the lower quality of this post.

The word-tumble story concerns me because I have something eight or nine named characters. They're introduced slowly so you can grasp who each is in turn, and I've been careful not to name anything else so you don't have your attention split over other foreign syllable combinations, and it's necessary ... but it's still worrisome to me.

Scylla and Charybdis - I don't know I bother to write character profiles for novels. I am now introducing the third or fourth character who wasn't even mentioned in my original material. But I didn't have this entire plot arc in my head when I started, so it's natural I wouldn't have a character to fulfill it. The individual is a Tweaker (basically a professional jury-rigger of technology) nicknamed Flick.

Journal of the Dead - nothing to report, your honor. Carry on.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Signs ...

... I'm an incurable dork: I traveled today with volume cranked, singing along, practically headbanging, to ... Sondheim's "Into The Woods."

Anyone who happened to read my lips in a neighboring car was going to think I was insane.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Emerald Tales

Just got finished reading the special SF/F/H edition of Emerald Tales #1: Follow the Butterflies. Need to spend a moment here talking about the physical aspects of the magazine, because they impressed me. If you're not going to go in the direction of an ultra-sleek store magazine feel, this is the way to do it. The magazine has an antique string binding and a spackled cover with very adorable stylized butterflies on it. Each page has a faint greyed-out impression of the butterfly, which I first found a little distracting, but it quickly faded into the woodwork (ahem ... pun intended?) and it was nice flavor.

What impressed me most was how many different ways there were to "follow the butterflies." Some of the stories took it literally; one took it as a bellwether of the apocalypse; one as a metaphorical pursuit of beauty ... impressive work with the theme.

I think my favorites were "The End of the World: A User's Guide," "The Return of the Supes," and "How To Mount and Frame Fairies" which is ... morbidly hysterical. I was a little disappointed not to find any secondary world fantasy, but perhaps in future editions ...

I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed most of the poetry, considering that I am usually not very fond of free verse. They definitely have cadence, rhythm and mystery. (I am little concerned about my own poetry sub for the next issue, though. It's structured form, which is my passion in poetry. Hope just the form-i-ness doesn't turn the editor off.)

If I had a critique, I think that White Butterfly might not have been the best opening. It's a short, crisp, clean story - and I enjoyed it - but it's more slipstream than hardcore fantasy, and I sort of feel as if a special issue of SF/F/H needs to start with a, "WE ARE HERE!" to the genre elements. ;-)

This is worth picking up. I only wish it were longer!

Briar Rose, Jane Yolen

I've been wanting to read this book for some time, but because of what I've heard about it, I put it off several times: I needed to read something happy, I needed something light and mindless because I was traveling, I didn't feel up to a "deep" book ... etc.

When I finally got around to it, I was surprised by several things. I'd built up a picture of this book in my head and for the most part, it didn't match said picture.

First and foremost - it's not a fantasy novel. I had assumed since it was printed by Tor (fantasy line) that it would have some cohesive fantastic element. I suppose this is because it comes from Jane Yolen who is well-known in her genre. I kept waiting for something to sneak magic into the story, and it never happened.

Secondly - I always assumed that the story was from the point of view of the character who turns out to be the grandmother, that it was told from inside the camp. Instead, it's the story of her granddaughter unraveling her history.

(Neither of these is a problem or detracts from the book! It just surprised me.)

Now that confusion cleared up, I really enjoyed Becca as a character and the path her search for grandmother took, even the romance side-story that slips in between the lines - very well done for not a lot of words committed to it.

However -- when, with about two-thirds of the book finished, another character finishes the tale with an eye-witness account ... it becomes sort of an anti-climax, despite the intense and memorable images. (It doesn't help that the character is *so* much a survivor-not-hero that after reading about plucky Becky, he irritates by comparision.)

It comes off feeling unfinished somehow. Maybe this is partly because the entire framing fairytale isn't related in the italic chapters interspersed amongst the rest. Maybe because, even as a person who doesn't mind some loose ends, I felt that one question too many went unanswered after such an extended search.

I enjoy Yolen's craft as ever, but this book left me feeling a bit disconnected.

(Next stop: the SF/F/H edition of Emerald Tales #1.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I'm now working on what I call a word-tumble story: I come up with a list of random words, jumble them, and start writing, with the mission to fit the next word in each block of 100 words. In this case, all the words begin with H. I've got thirty-some, so at some point I'll have to figure out if I can finish in 3000-some words, or if I need more.

In Scylla and Charybdis -- last Friday, I finally reached the place where the original short story left off. The three sections that comprised it were extended; a fourth section was added before the final question of, "So which way do you turn?" It's only now that I've reached it that I have any specific ideas how I'm going to tackle next part, but I have a good feel for the larger arc, so hopefully it will come out in the wash. Right now, I think I'm looking at a 120 - 140k novel, so the focus in editing is probably going to be paring that down.

Journal of the Dead -- in the middle of Parik's story. I am very fond of this section: it doesn't directly connect to the plot, but it gives the reader the answer to a question they've (hopefully) been asking from early on. It's also a reminder that the targeted suicide that awakens a mage's powers doesn't always work.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


WIZARDS Anthology - Edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois

I've heard this praised as one of the best anthologies of 2007 - so I figured no one would mind if little ol' me took a crack at evaluating it. Also, I was genuinely hoping for an excellent read.

Neil Gaiman's "The Witch's Headstone" was a wonderful opening to this anthology. It's an intriguing story, steeped in folklore and a sense of timelessness, about Bod (or Nobody) Owens, a boy who meets the ghost of a witch and promises to buy her a headstone. The development of the fantastic angle in the opening is particularly well-handled: it sneaks up on you and yet seems perfectly normal in context with this strange little boy. My only quibble is that I wanted to see more plot and conflict; it seemed that the premise was underused in such a short space.

I had mixed feelings about Garth Nix's "Holly and Iron." The historical setting, intertwined with magic, was immersive and authentic, and follows the struggles of the outcast heir to Ingland to reclaim the kingdom and take revenge. However, I found the main character, Robin, difficult to sympathize with. She seemed selfish and somewhat petulant, making the same mistakes in a tale that was somewhat longer than it needed to be. On a technical level, the opening could be clearer about the distinction between the two types of magic, and the Robin's goal in the later part of the story is made unnecessarily coy. You can read between the lines, but the very vagueness of it made me think something more complex was occurring. Kudos for the weaving of legend and magic, however.

I enjoyed "Color Vision" by Mary Rosenblum, which has a particularly fun opening sequence: an ability is displayed which looks supernatural, but turns out to have a rational explanation. However, it still deftly sets the scene for the real magic and the villain. Melanie has synesthesia and is also a Firstborn, a user of magic. When the new principal's silver words disrupt her world, she must find a way to defeat him. I dislike the gratuituous use of present tense and I think there were some holes in the logic in this story - why don't the Firstborn band together? Why wasn't the solution in the end of the story tried earlier? (and some things that would give away plot points) - but overall, I found it a satisfying read.

I was absolutely delighted with Kage Baker's "The Ruby Incomparable," a fairy-tale style story about the daughter of the tyrannical Master of the Mountain and the Saint of the World - a headstrong girl who surprises everyone. It was beautiful, it was engaging, Svnae sharply defined and fascinating to follow. Even with many years and many adventurers summarized, it holds the attention. (I can even forgive Baker for giving the main character an unpronouncable name.)

"A Fowl Tale" by Eoin Colfer made me laugh. This short, snappy comic tale is about an enchanted dove who must tell a story for his supper. The references to popular storylines - and seven master plots - particularly tickled my fancy. A charming story, well worth the brief read.

At this point, I have to say: if this is representative of the quality of the whole anthology, I will be a very happy reader.

Jane Yolen's "Slipping Sideways Through Eternity" certainly does not break this trend. This is the story of a young Jewish girl who sees Elijah during a Passover and finds herself aiding him. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-wrenching, always absorbing, this story follows our narrator through history. I loved how her talent for art, casually woven into the story at first, proved to play a central role - though by contrast, I thought it wasn't expanded well enough for the final conclusion. Still, a thoroughly satisfying read.

I enjoyed the conclusion of Tad Williams' "The Stranger's Hands," but I thought the story took too long to get there, and didn't give quite enough reason for the reader to be interested in waiting. A mysterious stranger appears in a small village and begins granting people their hearts' desires - but why? The question of the stranger and his origins is intriguing, but it is difficult to attach to any of the characters, and the story lacks some tension. I think the last seven pages or so could have been made the bulk of the tale - and like that, it would have been almost flawless.

The style and story of "Naming Day" by Patricia McKillip are light and enjoyable. This is the story of Averil, the best student at her sorcerous school, who can't decide what secret name to take. I sympathized with Averil while seeing her selfishness - a nice bit of work - but I still thought that her mother's response was unfair, and I was disappointed we never do find out what name she chose. (I think the author meant the method of naming to be important enough, but I still wanted the what.) The story also suffered from an unclear setting; it took me a while to be sure that it was in our world rather than a more technological fantasy setting. I did, however, very much like Averil's interactions with Fitch: it could have easily become a cliché, but was perfectly pitched. Cute story, but not one of my favorites.

Elizabeth Hand's "Winter's Wife" is a subtle, under-the-surface story that would have been perfect at a third of its length. As it is, this story about a man who brings back a mysterious wife who is not all she seems - told from the point of view of a teenaged neighbor - is too long, too stuffed with unnecessary details, and takes too long building to what should have been (for the length) an explosive pay-off. Every individual part of the story is well-written, but there is far too much meat on the bone.

At this point, I am really hankering for some solid worldbuilding. Most of these stories are set in our world; others are set in a blurry standard fantasy world. Baker's story included some intriguing setting details, and I did love the mythic-fantastic setting interpolated on Nix's tale, but I'm waiting for a world with unusual magic and an equally unusual sorcerer.

Winner of the longest title, Andy Duncan provides "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question," which follows the adventures of young Pearl as she steps through a showman's attraction - the diorama of the title - into a house of ghosts and secrets. This is a lively, quirky story with an entertaining tone and some amusing details. However, the elements are puzzling and some of the nonsensical parts - the important ones, as opposed to the just-fun ones you let dart past you - never resolve, leaving the story with an unsatisfying gnaw at the back of the brain.

Peter S. Beagle finally gives me the worldbuilding I crave with "Barrens Dance," a narrated legend of what occurs when the sorcerer Carcharos - master of dance - falls in love with the wife of a shukri trainer. This is a story in the best tradition of fairytales; if it moves somewhat ponderously in the beginning, it is forgiveable. I wish that the shukris had been described properly earlier in the story, but that is the only other complaint I have: the ending contains both a satisfying conclusion and a justification for the frame narration - to say more would be to ruin it.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed "Stone Man" by Nancy Kress, considering it deals with one of the elements of fantasy-into-the-mundane-world that I find the most exasperating: how long it takes a character to suspend disbelief. In this case, Jared, a down-and-out skateboarder, survives a nasty accident through the use of stone magic and must come to terms with his abilities. What makes this tale appealing is the snarky adolescent tone, grown up too fast - and perhaps Jared's generalized suspicion of adults in general makes his ridicule of magic in specific more palatable. This isn't a new story, but it's a good one.

I have a confession to make about Jeffrey Ford's "The Manticore Spell" - I didn't get it. The point of the story completely eluded me, except that is a very poetic, lyrical exploration of - obsession? Mythology? In the tale, the wizard Watkin and his young apprentice seek to perform an autopsy on the last manticore. There is mystery, there is tension, but I'm not even sure there is a real plot … just a string of bizarre images and contradictions resolving into a sense of continuation.

Tanith Lee's "Zinder" is a snapshot of an unfortunate young man named Quacker, who at night has a mystical, all-powerful double-life. And it is just a snapshot: there really isn't a plot here, just the sweeping depiction of a single night. Zinder's attitude towards the world is touching and enjoyable, but the rest of the story seems wanting. Random details can add a perfect touch - but here, the details are just random, and they feel it, inserted to give the eye something interesting to read. (Also - present tense again. Argh. No. Just - no.)

My primary reaction to "Billy and the Wizard" by Terry Bisson was, "What? Huh?" This is the story of young Billy, accused of being a sissy because he still plays with dolls - but his dolls speak to him and have wizardly acquaintances. This story was written in a bald, simplistic style; I kept waiting for it to grow on me, but it never did. This is a disjointed tale with a lot of repetition, little explanation, and only a few brief points of disconnected conflict.

Terry Dowling's "The Magikkers" was a joy to read. Sam has come to train at Dessida, a school for magic, but soon learns that he is a magikker: someone with just enough ability for a single large spell. Is he willing to give that up, and for what? This is a great concept for a story; how Sam reacts to the question posed and the ramifications of his decision are well-illustrated, and the conclusion is simply lovely. I think there were a few small mis-steps - some hidden items that should have been visible earlier; a bit of a cheat in how magic can be transferred between people - but they leave little mark on a satisfying story.

Gene Wolfe's "The Magic Animal" is a unique take on Arthurian legend, with much jumbling of chronology. It begins when Viviane, a contemporary girl who can speak to animals, falls off her horse in the forest and meets a fairy. I thought the reinterpretation of the legend was clever, but I disliked the fact that the protagonist simply followed the directions of the fairy - and sometimes knew what to do without any decent explanation - without having much motivation of her own. Much of the story seemed to have loose ends, episodes whose significance was never revealed. The introduction of the name Merlin into the story made me smile, though.

I approached Orson Scott Card's "Stonefather" with some trepidation, as it fills a little over seventy pages in the anthology. I need not have worried. The story of Runnel, who flees his homeland to the city of the wetwizards, is even-paced and engaging. Its narrator is tough but vulnerable, cocky but endearing, and even though I could see what powers he would discover within himself, I enjoyed the journey. His often prickly interactions with the servant Lark are both real and entertaining. The legend incorporated into the tale is a bit hard to read at first, and I found that the final conclusion still strained my belief, but it was still thoroughly worth the read - and the worldbuilding, since I've mentioned it before, was fabulous. I look forward to a novel in this world.

Overall, I enjoyed most of the stories in this anthology and thought they presented some unique views of the use of magical power. I thought the anthology was paced and spaced well, with a strong opening and finish. Definitely recommended.