Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Hard to believe the year is almost over ... it's been different than any year before, but I still feel as if I'm holding my breath, waiting.

The Ishene and Kemel story has pretty much turned unusable, at this stage. Simply takes too long to get anywhere - the pacing is all off. I'm not even sure it's possible to edit it into decent shape. But maybe I can cut a chunk out, use it in a novel (it could happen!), or simply use it as a frame of reference for other stories.

Aaaand ... I finished my editing marks on my paper copy of Scylla and Charybdis. At this point, thinking it will sit until I finish the novel I'm currently writing. I have both sizable cuts and small cuts marked throughout, including a whole miniature scene I thought was darned unnecessary and took up breathing room. I also have little notations throughout that just say "emotion." Ah, the cryptic-ness of notes to yourself.

I have to get about 30k words out of this manuscript to get it into a range where the length isn't a handicap. Will I be able to do it without sacrificing story, or will I end up carrying this massive turtle shell on my back? Only time will tell ...

Word count for 12/23 - 12/29: 8,977

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

It is the week of Christmas cheer and Christmas cookies (not necessarily in that order), time with family, a puppy substituting quite convincingly for a two year old, and too many movies, some of them bad.

Through all this, I am fairly proud of myself I got the usual amount of writing done, though I had one day down in the word count dumps due to generally enjoying myself in other arenas.

This week, I resumed a story I had paused back in October (!), after the original opening was written in November of '09 ... and in the context of a secondary world fantasy with academic magic, I get to write about the concepts of time travel and cloning, with a side-order of the more traditionally fantastic predestination. How I love Ishene and Kemel, and the things their lives let me tackle without ever preaching or writing a thought-story. The first tale was a straight-up adventure (though it does deal a bit with racial prejudice), but since then, I've really enjoyed the playground of fantastic time travel.

Also still working on my reality TV novel, and becoming concerned about the judging panel sections. The fact that the competitors get to defend their performance and then the judges talk about it separately means that I effectively show what happens, talk about it, then talk about it again. It's a good opportunity for humor, but over several episodes, I worry it becomes too repetitive. It's starting to sound like Beowulf. (Since this current episode is about poetry and odes, I got to make a few meta-cracks regarding my opinions of Beowulf that probably most people won't get. Not unlike this one!)

Word count for 12/16 - 12/22: 7,635

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Rise, Progress and ...

I just finished reading The Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution by Mercy Otis Warren, a comprehensive (one might say exhaustive) account of said historical event from the perspective of a woman who lived during the period and corresponded with several of the Revolution's leading figures, including George Washington and both John and Abigail Adams.

Despite the extensive discussion of events, battles and negotiations, what I found I primarily learned from this book was not the history it contained, but other aspects, such as:

How history books were written in this time period. The author's bias is plain, not just in word-choice, but in the slant and description of events. She also stops to comment on the personal and moral character of the players. This is not an aberration: this was common practice in history books written around the turn of the eighteenth century.

The use of language and grammatical conventions. It came as no surprise to me that the sentences were long and convoluted, and definitely written to a higher level of reading comprehension. What did surprise me were what I'd think of as grammatical error, most especially the overuse of commas - even in places where the addition of the punctuation actually (to me) obscured the meaning of the sentence. This brings up a disturbing consideration: are we fated to keep losing commas?

The vocabulary caught my eye, too: I've never seen "sanguine" so frequently used, and of course, we no longer use "warmly" to mean heated and intense (as in debate).

The illumination of the depravities, mercies, acts of vengeance, retaliation and honor that occurred on both sides gave me a new perspective on some of the personal impact of the war and the way humans rose or sank down to its level. (The way Warren treats the defection of Benedict Arnold, though painfully partisan to the sensitivities of those used to modern history books, was particularly interesting in this light.)

But some of the historical aspects did jump out for me. I hadn't been aware that the Empress of Russia and her policies had influence on the European scene. Most of the histories of the American Revolution I've read neglect the naval battles that occurred during the same period over French and English holdings in the West Indies.

In any case, a heavy read, but worthwhile for me on several counts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

When we get snow in Ohio, we don't just get snow. We get blowing powder, slush, ice over snow over ice, and sometimes all three at once. I'm fortunate enough to have seen snow rollers, an extremely rare phenomenon where the weather essentially makes its own snowballs by blowing the snow across icy ground. (How rare? Not quite sure, but the conditions are very precise and wikipedia's article has links to individual incidents.) This was several years ago, but I always keep my eye out for them.

About writing ...

I just finished my short story for the FWO challenge last night. As usual, it is too long, though I'm happy with how it turned out. The romantic subplot feels a little underdeveloped, so I will have to figure out how to enhance it without adding to the word count. I usually don't include romance in my stories unless the story is about the romance, but this was an experiment in a particular kind of dynamic.

I've noticed that increasingly, music does enter my stories - usually not from the perspective of a musician, but as some kind of wonderful, ineffable force. Farewell to Flesh from Emerald Tales, about a person pondering whether to give up her physical life to become an embodiment of inspiration, is probably the most obvious example, but Three Great Loyalties - which *is* a story that features musicians, since it was based on a prompt to write about your (the writer) worst job ever - becomes about the transformative power of music.

For me, writing about harpers feels self-indulgent. It's equivalent to the "writer story" that so many editors hate to see. It's also a bit like work. I love playing the harp, yes, but I'm writing, I don't want to be thinking about harp. But, of course, it's hard to deny the influence that music has on my life, and my approach to arranging music is very organic and almost mysterious ... it comes out of me, and I'm not always sure from where. So that perspective definitely comes through when I incorporate music (or more broadly, art of any type) in my stories.

Count for 12/9 - 15: 7,771

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Saw something today that has nothing to do with writing, but made me smile, so I thought I would share:

I do a little part-time work at an office center nearby. About a week ago, a bunch of construction paper ornaments went up on the side wall of the main office, each one featuring a toy or other gift for a specific age-range. The board next to it announced that anyone who wanted to donate for homeless children could select an ornament, purchase the appropriate gift, and drop it off by mid-next-week.

Today I walked in, and the wall was empty except for one ornament. Beautiful.

As far my writing, the word count experiment is off to a good start. Seeing the tangible quantity is encouraging, and it's at such a pace that I'm pleased with the quality as well. I think it might be more effective if I weren't pausing around 1k words to do some editing every day, but I need to polish that off, too.

Really having fun with the short story I mentioned in the last post. I've thrown in two Celtic-geek in-jokes: the name of the seaside city is Abeul (... as in port ...), and I made a reference to a kind of river song - and since strathspey refers to the river Spey in Scotland, the canny could infer that's what I'm talking about.

I think I am going to track my word counts, but I'll put it at the bottom of the post so y'all can feel free to skip it.

Count for 12/2 - 12/8: 7,719.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Urban Fantasy

My primary love in writing fantasy is secondary world fantasy. I love exploring the limitless what-ifs in a setting. I love worldbuilding, both the act of creating a new world and incorporating it into a work in a way that seems natural and seamless. (Even if that sometimes gets me smacking my head into a wall, it's good smacking.)

However, I do write urban fantasy occasionally - that is, fantasy set in our modern world - and I've found there are two reasons I will reach for it:

1. Playing with real world mythologies and the occult. There are so many intriguing possibilities if you take myths and legends as true ... or mostly true. You can play with this in a secondary world, too, but it's less direct, and there's something viscerally satisfying about taking a piece of our old beliefs and making it real.

2. Humor. There are so many jokes and wisecracks you can make in a contemporary setting with our wealth of shared culture. It's also easier to highlight humorous incongruity in a more familiar setting.

There is one more possibility that I haven't consciously based a story around yet, but it makes sense to me as an appeal of urban fantasy. This came from hearing Sarah Hoyt at the WFC ...

There are places in our personal experience that, for whatever reason, we find magical. (In her case, it was diners.) This may be a childhood encounter; it may not. But transforming the metaphorical, imagined magic into real, concrete magic ... I think it's a very powerful idea. And it's certainly something that's (almost) unique to urban fantasy.

Oddly enough, I can't come up with a personal example right now. Maybe I was just born a soulless cynic. ;-)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

FWO has a highly entertaining challenge topic up: http://www.fantasy-writers.org

I have a full-blown idea, but held up by a) finding a title and b) the fact that I'm still deciding whether I want one POV character or two. Two is difficult to pull off in a short story, but especially for the romantic subplot, I feel as if I want the push-me-pull-you of having both their perspectives.

The special type of song I've selected is Puirt a beul. Puirt a beul aka "mouth music" is essentially turning a dance tune into a singing piece, often with nonsense vocables. If I am recalling correctly, this is another of these forms that came about because of the suppression of Scots / Irish culture - their instruments were taken away, so they sang their dances to remember them. I know one puirt in Scots Gaelic - it's not easy!

I'll get off my Celtic musician nerd stool now. I'm using a secondary world, so it won't be called Puirt a beul, but the concept will be a centerpiece.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bird Out of Water sold

I just sold my short story "Bird Out of Water" to Crossed Genres and their Opposites theme for January 2011! This story was originally written for an FWO challenge to write about the offspring of two different fantasy creatures. I love the concept of CG, so excited.

What a nice way to start the month, wakin' up to a contract.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nano - Triumph

Not quite to the end of the day, but I hit the 50k mark at 8pm this evening, so it seems the right time to put up my heels and ...

Wait. The book isn't done yet. In fact, I'm only in Episode Six (of Ten). Well, then ...

I like the pressure that Nano applies, but in thinking about it, I've seen some better value in the longer-term, macro goal - 50k in a month - than in a daily, micro goal - 1.67k (or pick your poison) per day. Firstly, a daily goal is unforgiving: if you fail, you're done. You can get up and try again the next day, but if you're neurotic like I am (Hi!), that will bother you. Secondly, a daily goal is kind of like a hamster in a wheel: it resets every day. You can write five thousand words and it doesn't really "matter" in terms of meeting your goal. You still have the full word count the next day.

Now, not that is a bad thing: it produces writing. But for me, having my goals and the way I meet them be satisfying, rather than frustrating, is an important factor.

So starting this Thursday, I'm going to start a 7k / week prescription for myself, with a further long-term goal of finishing "Who Wants To Be A Hero?" by Valentine's Day (2011, smart alecks), and for the love of all that's holy hopefully finding a snappier title. Since I still have to finish my editing marks for SaC, for the next couple weeks, as soon as I finish 1k per day, I'm going to move on to editing.

In conclusion: wish me luck!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy ...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Have a safe and savory holiday, y'all.

This year, I am thankful that ...

(Drumroll, please)

... I can actually cook!

On a more serious note, this has been the first year I've been away from my immediate family, and it's been strange and often lonely. Having them back, not just for a couple days, but for two weeks, has made me appreciate how close we are. I know not everyone has that relationship with their kin, and I'm thankful for that.

On a less serious note, I've received rejection letters on a surprising majority of holidays and my birthday, so I am expecting one today. ;-)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Nano progress update: I just started episode four (of ten) and missed my word count slightly for yesterday, but still on track. My parents are visiting and my mother and I went to see Morning Glory yesterday. (Rather predictable, but very cute and clever, and really a lot of fun. Recommended.) I've reached one of the challenges that I have been looking forward to: the dungeon crawl, where I get to abuse my knowledge of RPGs to skewer that genre. This will also give me a chance to -

(Spoiler!)

- do something I set up a bit ago. The host of the "show" has sworn up and down that death is permanent. She's about to show that she's been lying through her teeth. Someone is going to die in this round.

They're going to get better.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Friday of last week, I had a business opportunity crop up with a lot of complicated aspects, so I've been spending a lot of my time working / thinking about that - and when I'm not, I've been very drained and it's been difficult to write. However, I did manage to build myself something of a cushion over that evening and weekend, so as of today, I am 900 words shy of the (Nanowrimo) count I need by midnight tomorrow. Worst case scenario, I squeeze out 450 words per day between now and then. More than doable. Hopefully I catch up some over Saturday, but then my family is coming in for the holidays ...

I'm almost done with the content of episode two. It will be followed by an "off-camera" scene where the judges and other personnel sit down for dinner - or pseudo dinner, considering my classical style gods are probably the ambrosia types. I'm concerned right now that the scenes are too repetitive, but this is something to address in editing. I'm too close to it to determine what to cut.

Also, I am somewhere between proud and guilty that I imagined to make what amounted to a plastic surgery joke and keep it in setting. Also a non-anachronistic reference to "fifteen minutes of fame." This is what I wanted to do: reframe modern concepts so they made sense in setting, then make fun of them. The Nicanan colony of Destia is basically early America (... if Britain were Greece ...) and I've been able to make some fun cracks about the revolution brewing there. And tea.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Quote

Saw this great quote today on a whiteboard:

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." -- Albert Einstein

Monday, November 08, 2010

On the One Hand ...

I managed to give myself a pretty nasty steam burn making dinner last night.

I sat there regarding my hand, and I thought:

Well, bad news for harp, it's on the right hand.

Good news for writing, it's on the right hand ...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

So I am about 5.5k into my NaNo novel and starting to hit my stride. I've discovered that it's impossible to load the thing down with jokes and still keep the plot moving in a way that a reader will care about, so I've pulled back on the frequency a bit. I've tried to keep odd, bizarre and other amusing phrasing and comments as a continuous factor, while the outright jokes come more widely spaced. It's working out, I think. I can already tell, though I've only hit a few of them thus far, that there are going be some mythology "in-jokes" - I've lampooned some divine tendencies and myths where you have to be familiar with the inspiring material to get the humor.

Names - ah, names. Honestly, I can't work with a character in any extended fashion without naming them, so I am going to take a risk and name each competitor as they first appear. (This will actually be less crazy than it appears, as a few of them were already named in the Casting Call "chapter.") However, I am also going to give them a descriptive label - the diminutive thief, the holy assassin - that will appear every time they come back onto stage for the first few episodes.

This should help people get a handle on them, and it fits perfectly within both genres: reality televisions always have visual labels when they show the characters talking (Greg Sommers -- Pastry Chef, Creme De La Creme), and to go back further, the Greek epics (which is my primary inspiration for the definition of hero, though there's also a shameless sprinkling of thought-line from RPGs such as D&D - I mean, I've got a dungeon-crawl, for pity's sakes) use that kind of phrasing as a poetic beat.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

WFC Day Four: Last Panels and Departure

I had trouble sleeping (amazing with how tired I was), so I ended up earlier than I intended ... and it turned out that even if I had gotten up with my alarm, I would have still been up to the Con area with time to spare, checked out, suitcases in storage and all. Whoops. Better than the reverse, I suppose.

I attended about half of this first panel, then stepped out for a presentation on reading out loud ...

What Do We Mean By Urban Fantasy Anyway? (Holly Black, Sarah Hoyt, Michele Lang, Cinda Williams Chima, Linda Robertson): What was discussed while I was there was the differing / overlapping expectations of the readers coming from paranormal romance versus the traditional fantasy reader, the sometimes narrowing of the definition to only first person narratives with tough women and romantic plots, and the difference between urban fantasy and horror. Also interesting, and of particular interest to me right now (though I couldn't tell you why) was the discussion of a closed / secret fantasy world versus an open one. (Maybe I'm about ready to try the latter myself.)

Heading over to ...

Reading Presentation: Mary Robinette Kowal on How to Give an Effective Reading: I used Kowal's excellent website to orient me for my own reading last night (and I highly recommend it), so I was familiar with some of this, but there was new information to be mined, and other points that were simply more effective in a face to face presentation. She discussed the most basic faults of reading - lack of projection, over-accelerated spped, and droning / monotone - and how to combat them by using the body's natural tendencies. She also discussed how to pick a proper selection (hint: maximum of 3-4 characters ... and the narrator counts as a character) and the five tools for differentiating characters - pitch, placement, pacing, attitude and accent ... which can be achieved without a real accent through the use of speech rhythm.

Another nice one I had read but forgot: if you have two chars talking, speak the lines of one to the left side of the room, the other to the right, and narrative returns to middle focus.

Check out the website, in any event.

True story about accents: I used to do Renaissance reenactment, and years later, someone told me the best way to knock yourself out of the accent after a long day is to say, "The beer is in the pickup truck." Try to do that in an Elizabethan accent. I dare you.

What is Left to the Imagination (Lawrence Connolly, Madeleine Robins, Delia Sherman, Martha Wells, Gregory Wilson): An intriguing final panel about what to leave out from the fantasy - what not to explain. The panelists pointed out that we're in a unique field as far as being able to get away with that sense of wonder ... but most of the time, the author has to know, even if it's not articulated. Still, whether it's a slow unveiling throughout the story or a mystery that remains, choosing how far to go is a tricky matter, and you can't please everyone. Someone referred to it as, "the balance of breadcrumbs to bafflement." Ambiguity can be richly rewarding ... or it can be confusing.

And so reluctantly, I left the world of the World Fantasy Convention and headed home ... to a puppy so excited she lost her balance and her hindquarters slid forward on her, belly up. I come back with a bubbling of ideas and thoughts, some entertaining encounters, an obscene amount of books and an even longer list of books to find ... a deep breath before going back under the waters of uncertainty.

WFC Day Three: Evening

I took dinner away from the ConSuite last night to give myself some breathing / relaxing room (ie, without people) before my reading. Then I went down for ...

What Can Be Done With Old Mythologies (Lynn Cantwell, Sarah Hoyt, Dave Sakmyster, Seressia Glass): This panel covered similar topics to the earlier one about mining the humor of mythology, but went off in different directions due to the slant and the panels. After hearing these folks speak, I'm eager to read Glass' book (received in convention packet) and tracking down Sarah Hoyt's books about the were-panther and were-dragon who run a diner. Besides discussion of treating the mythologies with respect, the group also touched upon using mythological figures as archetypes in secondary world fantasy and the inevitability of some form of belief even in science fiction.

Next, after a grueling half hour break, the BroadUniverse reading commenced with nine ladies, nine very different works, and a good time had by all. I think mine went over well - not great, but it was understandable and not torturous (I hope). I did end up, for the record, reading a brief clip from "The Naming Braid" (GUD) and a longer section of Taming the Weald (Gypsy Shadow Publishing). I also met a fellow writer from not too far away! Might lead to further conversations.

I put a copy of Sails and Sorcery (Fantasist Enterprises) in the raffle. That contains Currents and Clockwork, an older story of mine set in the Butterfly's Poison world. It's a world I keep coming back to: I have at least one additional novel idea, and the novelette of doom, Shadow-Play, is also in the same setting. Vlisa and Calais beg future stories, but I haven't figured out what to do with them.

Then, having been encouraged earlier, I wandered into the Edge 10th anniversary party. I suppose I don't really think about it, especially because for most of my life, I've been in situations where I've been forced to act as if I'm not, but I am deeply, intensely shy. I have become good at one-on-one interactions and formal situations (for instance, MCing for a performance), but party environments are way out of my realm. The publishers, Brian and Anita Hades, were very nice / friendly - they actually stepped in and nudged me to talk to specific people. Which ... I did!

I came out of the whole thing feeling as if I had made some kind of victory, because I came out of my shell more than I usually do. It's a process.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

WFC Day Three: Part 2

I may write Part 3 tonight, but it won't be posted until I get home tomorrow. Internet is pay-per-24-hour period, and I can't justify spending another ten bucks on it for the two seconds I'll probably be awake. ;-)

The Lighter Side of Death (Jason Sanford, Esther Friesner, Laurel Ann Hill): Discussion of death as a character in funny fantasy. Of course, you have to get the obvious example out of the way - Terry Pratchett's Death. There was also discussion of Dead Like Me (yay!) and, wonder of wonders, Craig Shaw Gardner's "Disagreement with Death." I made a bit of an idiot out of myself when Hill asked if anyone had read it because I can *never* find *anyone* who has read those books and they, probably more than anything else (Douglas Adams included) shaped my idea of humor in spec-fic.

Anyhow, things discussed were the inversion of expectation, the fact that people in tough life-or-death situations often use humor to survive, and the fact that real world deaths are - horrible as we feel to laugh at them - sometimes just plain funny. I got two distinct idea sparks from this panel ... they're not complete stories, but they'll go in my files and I might be ready to take a break and write one in December.

Authors and Ideas (L.E. Modesitt, Tim Powers, S.M. Stirling, Jason Sanford, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ellen Kushner (panel-crasher)): I approached this panel with trepidation. I honestly expected to disagree with what they would say. Instead, I got a wonderful affirmation of the priority of story and the fact that the beliefs authors most commonly express in their works are the ones they don't even realize they hold. The authors touched upon the challenge of creating characters who hold beliefs the author doesn't share and the potential for fantasy to erode confirmation bias because it addresses situations in a different order.

Personal example: The world of Butterfly's Poison was consciously designed as a Renaissance setting, and one of the things I did include was slavery. I deliberately didn't want all my characters to express progressive attitudes about it because it jarred with the setting - basically substituting modernity for authenticity. (One character does free his slave and she's basically his willing bodyguard / confidante, but the other chars definitely think it's a little weird.)

Later, I tried to convert the setting into an RPG. I used a group of slaves who crash-landed on an island as my premise. I got one player who wanted to play someone whose main goal was to rid the world of slavery, which I emphatically did not want. It was never designed to be something to be defeated in the world. Yet I'd never say that I support slavery in any way, shape or form. I just feel there are inequities in the world that you can't solve, and they can be mentioned in a story without diminishing the final victory.

... which I guess illustrates a deeply held belief of its own, as I think about it.

Okay, this has been more about me than the panels - sorry! Wish me luck with the reading.

WFC Day Three: Part 1

I have a nasty little cough going. It's allergy related, so not a health concern, but sort of embarrassing. Pay no attention to the coughing brunette in the corner.

The Story Cycle vs The Novel (Suzy Charnas, L.E. Modesitt, Dennis McKiernan, Mette ivie Harrison): Discussion of the difference between a cycle of closely linked short stories and a novel ... and standalone novels in a series versus a broader arc, because of course all writers are editors and they like to make tweaks to the text at hand. Also the difference between a collection and a story cycle. The central difference, of course, is that standalone stories require an ending / climax, whereas each chapter doesn't ... and, of course, collections really don't sell.

(I thought about trying to frame a question around my time traveling stories, which are written all out of sequence - both in the "real" timeline and the eras my characters are traveling to. I decided not to break anyone's brain.)

I also posed a private question to L.E. Modesitt about titling, because I'm curious about how folks do it - and specifically, when they do it. (I find that all the titles I've come up with after completing the work are unsatisfactory and were certainly a struggle - I'll share some stories after the WFC.) He pointed out that shorter titles are better for a simple matter of marketing - the longer the title, the smaller it is on a cover.

That leaves some concern about "Who Wants To Be A Hero?" ... though they're all very SHORT words. (It's not much longer than "Butterfly's Poison," as a string.) And makes "Flow" the best title ever? ;-)

Moving along ...

The Continued Viability of Epic Fantasy (Blake Charlton, John Fultz, David Coe, David Drake, Freda Warrington): Conclusion here was that epic fantasy is very much alive, but it is evolving towards a shorter, more standalone form as a simple question of economics ... and with the success of the LoTR movies and the conclusion of the Wheel of Time, it is a much more viable form of fantasy than it was five years ago. It's no longer agent / editor anathema. Those big, thick fantasies apparently have another name in the industry: chihuahua-killers. So if you take the book, hold it out at arm's length, and drop it ... you get the idea.

All this is great news for me, but I am still am content with the "mannerpunk" label I've put on Journal of the Dead. Though I did ask the panel about mannerpunk and they were, honestly, boggled. I am sort of encouraged by this.

Lunch break! Free Panera. Two two-thirds of a broken chair.

Guest of Honor Presentation: Lee Martindale Interviews Esther Friesner: Awesome, as you'd expect. Esther Friesner is a ham. She's lively, funny and an engaging speaker. She talked about the experience of winning a Nebula (then another, the next year) and how she came up with the Chicks In Chainmail series - browsing the art show at a convention (so many of these stories started, "I was at an SF Convention ..." to the point where Esther led the crowd in a chorus near the end) and thinking about SF concepts, she rattled through trashy babes behind bars movies and then ... boom. She's also the queen of the SFWA Muskateers, who put on charity fencing demonstrations. The money goes into the SFWA medical fund, for SFWA members who have medical emergencies and can't pay for them. Nifty stuff.

Btw: I learned yesterday that "Death and the Librarian" was titled due to a gift from Terry Pratchett. He gave her tiny figurines of two of the figures from his books ... yeah, you can see where this is going: Death, and the Librarian. The story, mind, has nothing to do with it. (And I really wish I had brought my DatL collection with me to be signed. Whine.)

Slaughtering the Evil Hordes (Robert Redick, Eric Flint, Dennis McKiernan, Patricia McKillip, Tom Doherty): This was a very thoughtful but quick-moving panel about how to handle the evil horde in a day and age when it's no longer fashionable to automatically assume the "other" is monolithic and villainous. There was discussion, particularly from McKillip - who, though quiet, is very deliberate and contemplative about her process - about the idea of the evil from within, of having to conquer that ... either before, after or completely unrelated to the horde. It was pointed out that many of the hordes are the aggressors, coming to take what you have rather than work for it themselves, so in that sense they can be painted as evil ... and that maybe, ultimately, the fantasy horde hasn't gone out of style because psychologically, soldiers have to picture their enemies as faceless to function. Still, there are many ways beyond / outside of the horde to write solid fantasy, even war-based fantasy.

I need to ruuuun ... next panel in ten minutes. I am going to skip the ConSuite and actually pay for my dinner so I can escape back up here and hopefully get a 40 min - 1 hr nap before the last session of the day and then my reading (oh gawd oh gawd I am going to DIE). See you on the flip side!

WFC: Writer or Fan?

I've had a couple people ask me if I'm a writer or a fan, and my answer has been an awkward, "Well, both, I guess." I don't know why, in this context, I've been less certain about introducing myself as a writer.

I guess one reason is because lately, my progress has really discouraged me, and I've started to wonder if I "have it." Another reason is that in this context, I sort of feel as if people are expecting "real" writers - people with pro publications or books in print. It's a comparison issue. When I'm moving around in company that includes Esther Friesner, Eric Flint, Dennis McKiernan, etc, etc, can I really call myself a writer?

Also, I am idly pondering if it is too late to start putting "Lindsey W. Duncan" on my stuff. Would help the confusion with the British actress and I'm always introducing myself as, "Lindsey With-an-e Duncan" anyhow. I am only partly joking.

Friday, October 29, 2010

WFC Day Two: Part 2

More panels:

Everybody Has Their Faults, Mine Is Being Wicked (Molly Tanzer, Mark Teppo, David Boop): This was meant to be a discussion of the comic villain, but ranged more broadly into the appeal of villains and the kinds of thought and motivation that work. If anything, the panel pointed out that humorous villainy could be more creepy - the juxtaposition, the uncertainty about whether or not we should laugh along and what that says about us. In some ways, the villain can be more appealing than the hero because the villain is usually proactive, whereas the traditional hero's journey implies / requires a reluctance. Arguably, psychopathic villains have lost their mystique due to the proliferation of CSI, Criminal Minds, etc.

Esther Friesner Reading: I missed the title and a very small part of this story - I misjudged the time and didn't go in right away because I didn't want to interrupt the previous reader. That didn't affect my enjoyment of the story at all, the tale of a six year old werewolf with decided Opinions about her situation. Friesner used an amazing reading voice perfectly suited to this excerpt, light and child-like without being babyish. Story was hilarious, too. Apparently in an anthology called Full Moon City ...

Transforming Fantasy into a Screenplay (Ryan McFadden, David Coe, Barbara Gallen-Smith): This panel talked about the challenges of adaptation in general: the fact that screenplays don't get into the characters' internal thoughts, the fact that the structure of a successful movie is very different from a successful novel and the disparity between the average screenplay length - about ninety generously spaced pages - versus the average novel. Also touched upon were issues specific to fantasy, such as the challenges of creating a believable world instantly. They ended encouraging screenwriters to mine short fantasy as an untapped source of ideas.

Sidebar: I either lost my Scylla and Charybdis outline or left it at home. I won't know until Sunday, when I get home. Sheesh.

WFC Day Two: Part 1

I kept sneaking into the ConSuite to eat today ... well, sneaking is the wrong word, that's what it's there for. Also, I am about as sneaky as an elephant.

Panels for the first half of today:

Fantasy Gun Control (Walter Jon Williams, Charles Gannon, Elizabeth Bunce, Lee Martindale, Ian Drury): This panel discussed why guns are missing from our quasi-medieval fantasy stories when hand cannons date back to the 1400s. Some theories suggested were the deep influence of the original fantasists, including Tolkien, who very explicitly wanted to move away from that evidence of modernity; the lack of "elegance" in a gun versus a sword, the intimacy of hand-to-hand combat, and the idea of personal courage / heroism that can be lost or diluted when weaponry is added. All these things can be overcome, but there is a very strong public perception / bias against it. Yet other genres - eg westerns - do romanticize guns ...

(My two most recent secondary fantasies do have pistols. Butterfly's Poison is set in a world where these things are brand new, and my mad-scientist inventor is maybe the first person to have come up with a multi-shot pistol. Pity he can't hit the broad side of a barn. And Journal of the Dead is loosely Victorian, so the presence of firearms is in the background.)

The Explosion of Funny Fantasy Series (Lucienne Diver, Laura Resnick, Steven Silver): Another one of those panels where the panelists debunked the topic in question, though not as vigorously as before - they just said it was less a question of explosion and more a question that a field once locked tight is now open for exploitation. Among the difficulties of comedy is the fact that it isn't universal and that pacing is very difficult to maintain - even if it's perfect in the book, you can't control how and when the reader will encounter certain sections. Putting the book down for a crisis? Reading hastily in the car? (... not while driving.) Even the slightest placement of a word or sentence can alter the comedic impact.

Making Mythology Fresh (And a Little Silly) (Elizabeth Bear, Kathy Sullivan, Laura Bickle, Esther Friesner): Another great panel, and one from which I came away with a particular number of books to look up. (Darn, that sentence still ended with a preposition.) Among the suggestions for keeping it fresh were to seek out more obscure mythologies, confront ancient myths with modern realities - akin to science fiction's extrapolation - and going back to the roots of myths that have been so well-mined that the derivations have become the familiar. (Not lookng at vampires here at all, no ...)

Also: never discount zombie Paracelsus. (Actual quote from the panel.)

At this point in the chronology, I take a break for lunch and browsing the dealer's room. At this point in real life, I hop away from my computer with every intention of creeping into the ConSuite again.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

WFC Day One: Evening Panels

Two panels tonight and I am wiped out. I have a business stop to make tomorrow in the dealer's room (which I may or may not discuss, depending on the outcome thereof), and once that's over with, I can ... well, not breathe easier, because my five minutes of spotlight for reading aren't til Saturday evening. Mock me if you will, I've done half hour stage sets and introduced numbers for a group - but then I have a five foot tall instrument to hide behind. And I'm good at making people laugh, particularly at me ... not so much with other forms of public speaking.

Fantasy as a Rejection of the Present (Theodora Goss, Walter Jon Williams, Nancy Jane Moore): Every now and again, there's a panel where the panelists seem focused upon debunking the panel topic, and it cracks me up. This was one of them. It was a very thoughtful discussion that went beyond fantasy as a form of nostalgia and into its possible use as social agenda, its expression of the anxieties of the age, etc. For instance, it was suggested that part of steampunk's popularity might be that it goes back to the last period where the average person really understood technology.

(I'm writing down a lot of book titles. My Amazon list is going to sprawl out again after this, I can just see it.)

The Logic of Absurdity (Gerald Warfield, David Levine): Unfortunately, Eric Flint, who I was looking forward to seeing on this panel, was a no-show. He couldn't make it in time. Hope he's not stuck in an airport now. The other two joshed him good-naturedly in absentia. Handpuppet Flint: "Hi, I'm Eric Flint, and I'm not here."

Anyhow, this panel was not about what I expected, and at first, I was disappointed - it was more about using absurd, larger than life elements within stories. However, it turned out to be very relevant in ways I hadn't expected. They talked a lot about the rules of absurdity, the need for it to fit into the framework; how it was essentially an element in context, and in a wholly "absurd" world, the normal becomes out of place. This seemed to affirm some of my gripes / quibbles with "weird" fiction, and I felt better for hearing it. (Of course, it's all subjective, too.) Other points: the absurd still needs to map onto the reader's experience. If you've got plot, character and setting, one of those elements can be absurd, maybe two ... but try to make all three absurd, and it crumbles.

So not at all on that note, what do people think of, "Who Wants To Be A Hero?" as a title?

WFC Day One: Arrival and Afternoon Panels

Dropped the dog off this morning - I've never seen her prance and squeak like that before - and hit the road for a very windy drive to Columbus. Got off an exit too early and wound through the less ... prosperous parts of the city, then ran into a detour my GPS didn't know how to handle and had to just keep driving until it got back on track. Was surprised the hotel didn't have its own free parking lot. Ended up walking in from the garage with my laptop bag and my luggage, then adding the truly mammoth WFC freebie bag before stumbling up to my room. I carry a harp around all the time. I'm tough. But that was work.

(Maybe it will make up for all the candy corn. Yes, I had a craving for candy corn, so I bought some.)

Sorted through the conference bag - a great collection of books, including Ian Esselmont's Night of Knives, which I've been meaning to read. (I didn't care for Erikson's first Malazan novel, but heard that this book in the same setting was worth checking out.) Far more hardcovers than I remember there being in the past. One too many urban fantasies, so I went back to the trade table and exchanged it.

Also put out some freebie flyers and postcard-ish things for Gypsy Shadow Publishing on the freebie table. Hope I picked a good spot!

First three panels of the day:

The Art of the Mashup (Jeff Connor, Jay Franco, Jim Frenkel): Three great, funny guys with a lot of intriguing things to say about the growing popularity of mashups - loosely defined as taking something classic and twisting it by the introduction of something that doesn't seem to fit. The originating book of this recent fad-wave, of course, is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I have to point to a couple of personal favorites: "Franz Kafka, Superhero!" (a short story in the Mike Resnick-edited "This Is My Funniest") and Jana Oliver's Sojourn, which while not strictly a mash-up takes some elements (time-travel, Victorian shapeshifters) that you wouldn't necessarily find together and fuses them. The fellows discussed this as a fan/nerd-driven phenomena, with connections to fan-fiction and comic book crossovers.

(Topical to me, since my planned NaNo novel is basically a mash-up of heroic myth and reality television.)

The West Doesn't Exist (Marie Brennan, Dennis McKiernan, Freda Warrington, Liz Gorinksy): I thought this panel was misnamed - sorry, guys. I expected it to be about cultures that aren't often used in fantasy. Instead - a wonderful turn of events - it was about the proscribed / forbidden / impassable zones on fantasy maps, about whether the world even had to be round, about considering climate and human ingenuity in crossing obstacles, about places that weren't mapped because they were very constantly changed. There were reminders that peasant geography is often proscribed into a tiny sphere: this village and our neighbors is as far as most people might think. Ultimately, leaving the blanks leaves room for wonder.

(For the record, my NaNo novel has the "weird / mysterious" culture in the west, not the east - though I am guilty of the barbarians in the north.)

Vampires Thick as Fleas (Melissa de la Cruz, Linda Robertson, Peter Halasz, Alex Bledsoe, Sandra Wickham): I didn't have much hope for this panel, and really got a pleasant surprise. There was a lot of discussion about vampires as symbols, and where their power is really accessed versus just being the "bad boy" in romantic fiction. What about scientific vampires? Why has the religious aspect almost vanished from most modern vampire fiction? Vampires speaking to fears of disease and sexuality. A modern obsession with the redemption story - but maybe some people can't be redeemed.

(Unfortunately, side-effect of this was it made me want to go back to an old project of mine, a post-mana-apocalypse real-world setting which had some traditional, non-mainstream vampires. I have resisted because a) it's a very, very dark story and b) it would require a lot of setup I don't have time to do for Nano, esp as it was always intended to have two plotlines: one the current story of the MC after she's defected from a rebel cause, and the other her flashbacks to the progress of that rebellion.)

And upcoming tonight, possibly the most topical panel for me of all: The Logic of Absurdity. The topic is the line between absurd fantasy and satire which essentially describes the real world ... and that line, and staying on the "right" side of it, is going to be my foremost challenge.

Three hours and I am so, so happy I committed to doing this.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Brace Yourselves ...

There will be no Thursday Thoughts this week. Instead, look for updates on the WFC panels and other bizarre happenings through the end of the month. In 2008, I found this was a great way to process my thoughts - and hopefully interesting to someone else as well. So I'm giving it another shot.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Anthologies!

As my post of last week might imply, I love anthologies ... and one of the things I would love to do (some day!) is put one together. This is something of a pipe-dream, but I figured I would have fun thinking up some potential concepts. Here's a couple:

The Impossible Crime: Fantasy / mysteries are "in" right now, and more importantly, they're something I adore. This theme would be stories where the crime is committed by supernatural means - somehow impossible in the mundane world. For fair play to apply, of course, the stories would have to be very upfront about the "rules" of the settings. Tricky to balance without giving the game away? Probably ... but isn't that the fun?

Things To Do In Fantasyland When You're Dead: Since I can't use this for the title of a (serious) novel, how about a humorous anthology of characters after they've died ... whether we're dealing with a trek through the underworld, a character who discovers - the hard way - that they come back to life the next day, or a reincarnating demi-god. Actually, I would like to see this as a not-specifically-comic anthology, which I guess would mean ditching the title again. Drat!

One Line: I've seen the concept of "The story must start with this line" before, but what about a group of stories where the line can be incorporated anywhere, as long as it's somehow important? I wonder whether this would work better if the line was revealed in the intro ... or if it were left for the reader to discover. (EDITED to add: Put it at the end, so people who want to "spoil" themselves can?)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Haven't done much this past week - been buried in allergy fog and done a lot of harp-playing, including a networking gig on Tuesday. Hopefully it turns into something ...

Mainly been hashing out this fantasy / mystery short story that continues to bedevil me. I can only remember once before where I've still been changing so much - chopping, adding - after so many edits. That one had a happy ending, so I can hope that I can beat this one into shape yet. I would also love to get another two hundred words out of it - the "8k" market is limited, but it's less limited than the "over 8k" market - but it seems to be holding steady and stubborn about where it is.

I need to get cracking on my character profiles for my novel. One thing I've noticed in reality shows that I'm trying to emulate is that often, part of why you watch is to a) cheer on your favorites and b) see the people you can't stand get bumped off (... the show). There's a visceral intensity to it that I know is partly created by the fact that these are "real" people - grant that the faces the players present to the camera aren't often wholly authentic - but I want to capture as much of it as possible. So I've been consciously thinking about which of the characters fall into which category - which will the reader cheer for, which will they campaign against ... and hopefully, if I do my job right, some of them won't garner the same reaction from every reader.

I am a bit concerned about using a "camera lens" POV for the main scenes in the story, but I am intending to break that up with close-focus on individual characters - and off-stage scenes from a few, select POVs. I am hoping to emulate that sense of not knowing what is going through the character's head - until you step aside with them in the isolation booth. So much of this is balance between getting the meta-story feel of the base material without making it seem arbitrary or unnatural. I'm hoping if done right, it will give its own unqiue element of depth.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"First Contact" at Golden Visions

Golden Visions has just purchased my "First Contact" for April 2011. The only thing I'll say about the story right now is that it takes the concept "first contact" literally and deals with synesthesia ...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Anthologies?

So when I'm in the mood for short stories for pleasure reading, I usually reach for an anthology. I love to see the way different authors tackle the same theme / idea. Anthologies also tend to be more consistently story / character-driven (as opposed to experimental / theme-based), which is what I prefer. From a skilled editor, I also love the macro elements of the way an anthology flows from one mood to another. (I've seen it done badly, alas.)

So I'm starting to put together a Christmas list, and I thought I ought to see if y'all have any recommendations of anthologies you've tried and enjoyed - because a bad one is no fun. Some specifics:

1. As stated above, I'm going to be more interested in theme collections, so "best of" isn't really my cup of tea. See also note about experimental stories (or not).

2. Fantasy or scifi is fine, but not so much urban-specific collections. I have no problem with urban fantasy, but I think there are so many possible worlds out there, an anthology ought to explore a lot of them.

3. I'm especially interested in fantasy / mystery crosses. I already own Murder By Magic and Powers of Detection and have The Dragon Done It on my wishlist. I know Dana Stabenow did another crossover antho, but I wasn't impressed with her as an editor. Yeah, okay, this is a long shot, but if you've encountered others ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

GoodReads Review: The Muse of the Revolution

The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Foundingof a NationThe Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Foundingof a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An in-depth portrait of an obscure figure from the American Revolution, this book skillfully portrays Mercy Otis Warren both in her capacity as a political writer and as an exceptional woman of her time. Much care is taken to portray the life she lived around her famous works and illuminate her as a person. The book is liberally (but strategically) sprinkled with quotes from her letters, poems and plays, and also includes some quotes from reply correspondence.

This book is both informative and entertaining. The author does not interpret or apologize for Warren's failings - in fact, at times, I wish there had been a little bit more partisanship in favor of the subject. I learned some connected facts about the Revolution I hadn't known before, as well. The chronology is crystal-clear, though there is one point where there's a typo in the dating, accidentally leaping the account forward a year.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

It's (Almost) Official: WFC Reading

The preliminary WFC schedule has been posted, and the BroadUniverse Rapidfire Reading is slated for Saturday at 9:30pm.

Currently planning to read a snippet of The Naming Braid and a somewhat longer excerpt from Taming The Weald ... my five minutes of numbed terror. ;-) Wish me luck!

Thursday Thoughts

Still making my editing marks on Scylla and Charybdis. I would like to be through the book before November and NaNoWriMo, because I consequently won't touch it until December, but that's not looking good right now.

Started my fourth Ishene and Kemel story. One of the things that's delighted me about this is there are passing references to previous events - an embarrassing incident with the Hakathri and the time Ishene "tripled" over herself (went back in time twice to a location where she was already present). And I don't think you can tell which one is "real" - the latter is from "Double or Nothing" - and which one is invented - the Hakathri thing was a fabrication created in the original free write. This is what I love about writing these stories out of chronology: I'm creating foreshadowing, backstory and potential present (for another story) all in the act of writing one tale.

And, of course, it remains singularly appropriate for a pair of time travelers.

Also (yes, I'm busy) trying to finish my character notes for the reality TV project. I'm "feeling" it more that I'm getting into it, except the themesong part of it - while just for my amusement / potential playlist - is a disaster. I also tried to do a character portrait and decided ... nope. My art skills are still not there.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Anatomy of an Idea: Taming The Weald

This is a spoiler-free post, so y'all can read it without fear. Or do fear, because I'm an intrinsically scary person - as you will.

Obviously, since Taming The Weald started as an image prompt contest entry, my first inspiration was the picture provided by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. I knew the obvious assumption would be a fantasy story, so I decided to go in the opposite direction and do something science fiction - or rather, science fantasy.

That gave me the initial idea of having a single wild area on a space station. To further emphasize the contrast, the natives considered it a dark, dangerous place - but why wouldn't it be a potential source of food? I decided they had been eating synthetics for so long that the human stomach had started to adapt away from being able to process organic food. I ended up playing this down for the needs of the plot, but this was the first element in the theme of artificial versus natural that plays through the whole story.

I wanted an evocative name for this wild area. I didn't want to call it just The Forest or some such. I did a little browsing on thesaurus.com (no, really) and came up with Weald. Instantly, I also had my title - which I prefer to have before I start, because my track record of being able to title afterwards is pretty abysmal. It's a Saxon word, so I briefly toyed with using Arthurian legend names for the characters, but none of the names I researched seemed to fit.

Back to the picture ... who is this? A daughter of the wild? I knew right away that I didn't want to write from her POV - for me, that would kill the mystique of the setup I had created. So who is the narrator, then? Keryn and her desire for a child came into my mind ... and I had all the basic building blocks in place.

I Am Puzzled!

This tickled me to death and then right back to life:

http://www.jigzone.com/puzzles/9713FDE43D7?z=0

Yes, Gypsy Shadow Publishing puts their cover images up as digital puzzles. That's rather awesome.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Taming The Weald - released!

It's now out! Taming The Weald, my science fantasy story with Gypsy Shadow Publishing, is now available for your purchasing and reading pleasure:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/Lindsey%20Duncan.html#Taming

(I love that the abbreviation is Taming. I have Monty Python flashbacks. "Monday morning, I want to be in there: taming!")

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

I just started working on the character profiles for my reality TV project, with the goal of starting for Nanowrimo in November. I'm dealing with an interesting problem: because the individuals from each country are the primary if not only thing the reader will see, they need to be representative of their origin ... but I don't want to "normalize" them to the point where they're the stereotypical Thanocian, Sarrlander, etc. Their behavior has to say "I come from country X" and "I'm individual Y" and potentially do it in a single scene. And I don't want to spend a lot of words setting this up, because the elimination style of the novel means that some of those people won't last too long.

A further issue I'm worried about - and I'd welcome feedback - is the opening. Traditionally, on these shows, the first episode does a lot of brief-clip introductions of characters, but I'm concerned it will get heavy and info-dumpy. I also toyed with doing a "casting" where the weirdest, most unsuitable folks breeze past - hoping to play up the humor - and someone we're rooting for doesn't even make it to the competition. I've only seen this once in actual reality TV, so though I have "Casting" jotted down in my structure, I'm undecided if I'm going to do it or not.

Next step for me is a short story, probably the last before Nano starts. It's another Ishene / Kemel story - this one involving time travel to the future and broaching the issues of whether or not the past is still immutable ... if the past you're looking back at is your present.

The more stories I write about these two, the less it becomes an adventure featuring them, and the more it becomes an adventure about them. Ishene's nature was important in my first story, but it was essentially a quest (sort of). The second story revolves around the death of Kemel's sister and how he deals with the fact that they can't change it, and it's also largely about their budding friendship - but it's still more about the mystery. The third story had other facets, but a pivotal point in the story was one of Ishene's shortcomings and the temptation to change it. This fourth story (whoot! Four) promises to be a lot about emotion, desires and her late fiance ...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

(Book) Mercy Otis Warren by Jeffrey H. Richards

This isn't a formal Goodreads review because the book isn't in their database, but I wanted to comment briefly on it. I did read this book somewhat out of order - it would have made more sense to read her biography first - but I had already started it when I realized the nature of the book, so I decided to push on.

This book is an exhaustive analysis of Mercy Otis Warren's writings, how it fits in the framework of the times, and what she was trying to achieve with each type of writing. It covers her exhaustive letters to family, major political figures and female friends, her poetry, her plays and (almost paranthetically) the history book she wrote. Richards' book is dense, with long, complex sentences that sometimes need a moment to sit back and process. And I found it fascinating ... for the history, yes, but also for the thoughtful discussion of literature in context with the time period and purpose.

To some degree, the book is apologetic, framing Warren's weaknesses in context with her unique religious and political perspective and her purposes for writing. However, Richards balances deftly and avoids making his text a statement that we should ignore the flaws in favor of what the author was trying to say. He is honest about where her works make for compelling reading and character creation (esp. the plays, of course) and where they come up short.

I cannot put my finger on a specific writing-related thing I learned from this book, but I found it very absorbing and educational on a front the author really didn't intend. Of course, there are great pieces of history here, as well - the discussions of Warren's letters to the Adamses (Abigail *and* John) and the British author Catherine Macaulay in particular - though it's ultimately a specialty book for a reader interested in literature of the period.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

I finished my outline for Scylla and Charybdis this week - comfortably under the deadline I had chosen in a goalsetting group, which was a pleasant surprise. However, I won't be able to hang it on the wall as the length meant I had two size options: massive and sprawling or too tiny to read from a distance. I went with the smaller version - it's actually more manageable than the Journal outline, even though there's a boatload more text. An ocean liner, I tell you. Maybe the Titanic.

I was surprised how little emotional elaboration there was in the first few chapters, considering that Anaea's thoughts chase around themselves ad nauseum later on. I've been jotting down notations to add stuff, which is not how I wanted to start considering I want to get a minimum of thirty thousand words out of the draft (!) by the time I'm done. I've got to keep perspective, though: a trimmer manuscript is important given publisher preferences, but not if I cut out sense and substance.

In the opposite direction entirely, I've almost finished my worldbuilding for the reality TV project. I am concerned I've erred too far in the direction of making the countries and their real-world influence recognizable, but I do want them to feel familiar. Conversely, I feel as if every time I sit down to work out a setting, the result is more nuanced and granular, taking into account more of the elements that shape nations / people. That can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Goodreads Review: Glory, Passion, and Principle etc etc

Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American RevolutionGlory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book is an interesting introduction to the untold story of women in the Revolutionary War, solid enough to give the reader perspective and (hopefully) the desire to find out more. However, it is not without its flaws. The author chose to dramatize select scenes from each woman's story in a manner that sometimes results in the worst of both worlds: the fiction segments can be clumsy and amateurish, and the interpolation of facts in the middle of these scenes comes off as badly integrated info-dumping rather than informative nonfiction. If the author was going to attempt narrative, why didn't a fiction editor go over the manuscript?

Another unfortunate side effect of this vehicle is that the author often starts with a dramatic moment and then works backwards to fill in the history. This tendency expands to the rest of each entry, such that I often had to stop and reread pages to decipher the actual chronology.

Probably the best and most cohesive section is the last, discussing the life of Nancy Ward - a figure whose existence was unknown to me. (Though she is the only one here I hadn't at least heard of.) However, I also highly enjoyed the discussion of Molly Pitcher, and thought the expanded social history - the place of women on the fringes of the army; the idea that one legend stood for other unsung acts of bravery - was well handled.

Overall, a thoughtful history book much marred by its execution.



View all my reviews

Friday, September 24, 2010

Showing Off

Here's the official cover for Taming The Weald. No information on release date (haven't even done edits!), but thought I would share.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

First overwhelming thought for Thursday: man, I'd like to be asleep now.

On more writerly topics, almost done with Mathory's story. He and Pazia have a fair bit in common: they're both idealistic, a bit naive, stubborn and impulsive. With Pazia, she just dives into things; with Mathory, there's this little voice that knows it may not be a good idea, but he just can't help himself. Which one is more foolish for this, well - it's a tough call.

In the midst of worldbuilding work for my reality TV project. I'd been staring at the name Thanocyth (for a place, not a person), almost certain I've used it before ... and in checking the most likely source, I encountered another name - Scirhinth - which seemed far more evocative. However, it's very tied to this other setting (it has meaning in the naming language I constructed) and difficult to alter. So for now, Thanocyth stays. But I want it to sound more martial and less institutional.

Maybe something will hit me when I'm less tired. Or conversely, *more* tired ...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Inverted Tropes Wearing Thin?

Taking a familiar trope and turning in on its ear can be a delightful practice ... but there reaches a point where the inversion itself becomes cliche. The first brooding "good-guy" vampire was probably a shocker; now you can't throw a stone in a bookstore without hitting one. Possibly literally. (I'm not wondering about the pale guy browsing the calendars, are you?) There have been so many stories where the knight comes to rescue the princess from the dragon - and the princess doesn't want to go, or is capable of taking care of herself, or ... that I'm no longer surprised by it. (I have yet to see a story where the prince comes to rescue the damsel and falls in love with the dragon, but I'm sure such stories exist. Hrm ... might be worth writing just for fun, actually.)

The best ever story I've seen on the dragon-knight-damsel triangle has to be from my childhood: Waiting For A White Knight, in Cricket magazine. But that just illustrates how long people have been flipping this one on its ear.

There are some trope inversions, however, that I feel haven't outlived their shelf life yet. One I'm particularly fond of works off the girl who disguises herself as a boy. Now, I'm willing to give this a pass as an overused trope in the first place, because it's a) practical and b) fairly common in history, as well. The only time I have a problem with this trope is when it's a major plot point or the reader is supposed to be surprised. (For the best treatment of this trope and all the asssociated cliches ever, read Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. One of his best.)

The inversion, of course, is a boy who disguises themselves as a girl for whatever reason ... and not to point to specific stories (because that would be a spoiler), I've done this and had a tremendous amount of fun with it. I also played with a different inversion in Just The Messenger: a character stares at the MC and threatens to expose her as a disguised girl. She bursts out laughing and points out that the various accoutrements of male attire are just more practical; she's not trying to hide.

Another trope I can't see skewered enough is a romance trope - the whole, wince-worthy I-can't-even-watch-the-screen tableau that occurs when one character has been keeping a big secret from another, the second character finds out, and then idiotically storms off without waiting for an explanation. Artificial tension and stupidity ahoy. I guess this is supposed to be sort of an object moral lesson: if you're dishonest, you pay for it. But nine times out of ten, it comes out forced.

I inverted this around in a story by having the MC withhold a secret. Someone else spills the beans for him while he and his SO are standing together. He rushes off without waiting for a reaction, just assuming she's not going to want anything else to do with him. He goes to see her later to make amends ... and finds out that she understands exactly why he was lying and doesn't particularly mind.

The prime problem with trope inversions, I think, is that they rely upon an element of surprise. Not the kind that pulls the rug out from under the reader, but the kind that elicits a reaction of, "Oh, wow! Really?" It's far easier for that surprise factor to wear off / become overused than it is for the original trope.

The Final Encounter, published by the good folks over at Aoife's Kiss, was my attempt to invert one more trope: the pulp fantasy / b-movie scene where the hero rushes up to the villain's tower to confront him. In this story, both characters ... decide to walk away, and their evolution from that denial of trope is the story. Unfortunately, when attempting to sell it, I got a few rejections that criticized the use of tropes. This, to me, missed the point, but it's also a relevant complaint, and illustrates another danger with breaking tropes: you have to get a jaded reader who's seen the dragon-knight-damsel a hundred times to read on far enough to enjoy the inversion.

Of course, there are those of us who take this as a thrown gauntlet ...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Religion and Myth

I just started worldbuilding for my novel project and noticed I started with the pantheon. In this case, it's a logical choice - they are the "viewing audience," after all - but it also occurred to me that:



1. I often start with deities, creation myths, etc; and)

2. I usually work from the assumption that these beings / stories are real. Whether this is verifiable for the characters is another matter, and I rarely use divine appearances ... but as an author, I am treating my gods as if they were real forces. So what I am almost always doing is creating the elements and then deciding how worshippers / religions view them.



There is some advantage to this: you can suggest a framework of what is important to a culture and their values from this starting point. To take Greek mythology, notice that the god of wine is important enough to be in the "top tier," the god of war is often portrayed as a bully no one likes, and the female gods who are most protrayed as positive / admirable are virgins (or at least chaste).

So what about y'all? If you do advance worldbuilding, when do you consider the underpinnings of religion for your society / societies? Or do you wing it unless the story in some way features the divine?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

So periodically, I go on research binges: pick a topic and reserve every library book I can find on the topic. My library system has a full internet presence and enables books to be reserved from and sent for pickup to among about thirty different individual libraries ... so all it requires is search and click.

My last binge was a mini binge: I was doing reality TV research, but there weren't that many books to be found. This binge is slightly larger: while in DC, I got interested in Mercy Otis Warren. I reserved two books about her, two books about women who shaped the American Revolution in general, and one book *by* her - her overview of the Revolution. While on vacation, I bought a book about George Washington's spies and lady spies during the Civil War so ... bring on the history. I expect to make a lot of notes about story sparkers: history and myth have been my biggest inspirations.

Might be a good time for me to reread Menagerie (my story with The Sword Review some time back): Mariel "Molly" Strahan is a werehound and bounty hunter in a setting intended to resemble just-post-Revolutionary America. She's about as subtle as a hammer - read the first scene of Menagerie (here: http://www.theswordreview.com/item.php?sub_id=1460) and you'll see exactly what I mean - so putting her directly into a spy role is out, but perhaps she could get caught up in a mission ...

Not much to say from the writing front, which is why I haven't. ;-) Work continues apace.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Adventures in ... Cooking

Over the weekend, I've been making forays into an activity that might be considered creative - but not until you reach more advanced levels of competence and can actually begin to experiment. That activity is cooking.

I'm enjoying it right now because it's a challenging and an adventure ... and the results taste good, too. It will probably become less of an adventure when I develop more competence with the skill set. To illustrate what I'm talking about: yesterday, I fried something for the first time. I blithely poured the oil in, then realized I needed about a quart. I looked at the label on the bottle, and of course, the servings are in tablespoons. So - oil still on the stove - I fled into the other room to Google and discern how many tablespoons were in a quart (64, for the record). Yes, Google is my cooking companion.

I also enjoy the shopping part of it: trawling the store in search of slightly more unusual ingredient such as dill, crystallized ginger, chocolate wafer cookies (way harder to find than you'd ever imagine), etc. No, neither coconut milk nor condensed milk are kept anywhere near the actual milk. (By the way, if you should ever open a can of coconut milk and there's a jello-ish outer layer, do not under any circumstances turn it upside down and try to scoop it out with a spoon. I lost about an ounce of milk from splash.)

By now, you should be getting the idea that my incompetence is pretty impressive, but I have fun with it. More frustratingly, I'm left-handed. Do you have any idea how many kitchen implements are designed subtly (or not so subtly) with right-handed use in mind?

For amusement, here is my list of recipes to try:

Ron's Tybee Island Sausage Pie (Paula Deen)
Creamy Polenta with Gorgonzola Cheese (Giada de Laurentis)
Fettucine Alfredo (Giada de Laurentis)
Pine Nut Cookies (Giada de Laurentis)
Amaretto and Raspberry Smoothie (Giada de Laurentis)
Garlic and Sun-dried Tomato Corn Muffins (Giada de Laurentis)
Baked Samosas with Mint Chutney (Aarti Sequiera) found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aarti-sequeira/baked-samosas-with-mint-chutney-recipe/index.html

As you can see ... uh ... well, I am from Italian roots (my grandfather was Italian / Sicilian) and I love that style of food. I don't know where the love of Indian comes from, because I have not a drop of non-European in me ... maybe it's the English / Welsh influence. Given that England does everyone else's cuisine really well because theirs is nothing to write home about. ;-)

When it comes down to it, I have a deep love of food. For me, taste and smell are very strong elements - even though my own sense thereof is sadly muted (blame allergies). To bring it all back to writing ... I often translate feelings and descriptions into taste and smell almost before I go for sight and hearing. It's something with which I identify very strongly, and getting connected with that in a physical way has been a great experience.

Anatomy of an Idea: The Naming Braid

I think I've talked about this story before, possibly more than once, but to recap now that it is available for your reading pleasure ...

The idea for The Naming Braid goes back to my Celtic and Nordic Myth and Religion course, in which we studied the Lais of Marie de France. I was intrigued by the stories of chivalry and magic and the overlay of Christianity on much older myths. Much later, I decided I wanted to write a story based on one of the lais, so I reread them in search of inspiration.

What I noticed was that, even when the woman was the goal / prize of the story, she almost never had a name. She was "Protagonist's beloved" or "Antagonist's wife" or some other combination of male-and-relation. My reaction was both indignation and, "Hmm, there's a story here ..."

So I conceived of a world where people were given epithet-like names in honor of some trait they displayed or deed they performed ... and names were exclusively given to men, the proported history-makers. I decided to weave together three of the Lais in this world in the context of someone naming each woman - effectively giving them power and identity. It took me a bit to figure out how to intertwine the stories and how to pace them in the telling so they all peaked at the same time. I also wanted to set it up so the one most dependent on coincidence didn't come last.

Of course, ironically, one of the Lais I chose - Le Fresne - is one of the few where the woman has a name, but that's neither here nor there ...

There may be another story of similar timbre happening in the future: I am the proud owner of Child's The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, and the books are sitting next to me flooded with pink post-it notes of ballads I think would convert into intriguing fantasy stories. Maybe I'll even try another multiple weave (braid!) like this one. We'll see.

It's out!

Issue 6 of GUD, containing my story "The Naming Braid," is now out! Check it out over at: http://www.gudmagazine.com/.

This story really had a charmed life. GUD was the first place I submitted it. It was also the first story I'd ever sent to GUD. They came back with a comment about having trouble with the transitions. Interestingly, I'd had this story critiqued, and my reviewers mentioned it, but they were split fifty-fifty as to whether I should use scene-breaks or not. Apparently the people who said "use scene-breaks" were right. ;-) I sent back a revised version and ... boom. Contract.

Even if you don't want to spring for the purchase price, the first three paragraphs of the story are up as a teaser ...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

More than a thousand words of cutting later, my Spiritwalker mystery story is looking more shapely. There was a lot of setting and menace clouding the plot ... I don't think I have it condensed to the necessities quite yet, but I should reach that point in the next pass.

I finished the other short story I had selected from my logline-and-summary bootcamp and returned to continuing old freewrites. Now working on a story featuring Mathory Ke'Lieren. He's the brother of Pazia, my protagonist from Fatecraft; he is also mentioned in Pazia's prequel story, Loyal Dice (which I'm hoping will see print soon), and Natural Selection, which is Pazia and Vanchen's second story and hasn't hit submission yet. So it's really neat to explore a character I've referred to, but never introduced directly, and to see another side of this very complex (and completely ad hoc ... ahem) world.

Pazia, Vanchen and Mathory - and just possibly Kalliniar, The Girl from this story - may end up in a novel some day. I have this inkling it'd be entertaining to turn them into detectives. They're certainly all nosey enough. Well, the Ke'Lierens are ... poor Vanchen just wants to be left alone with his clockwork, but Pazia has a way of pulling him headlong into whatever trouble she's stirred up now.

My next steps include tweaking my query letter for Journal of the Dead (whoot!) and the first worldbuilding steps for my reality TV novel, which needs a title before I start or goshdarnit, I'll end up querying for a project called "My Untitled Novel." The first thing I need to do is create a framework: notes for *how* I'm going to create and assemble the pieces. Yes, I have to prepare to prepare.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Gypsy Shadow contest

Sometimes, entering on a whim pays off!

My story, "Taming The Weald" was the winner of Gypsy Shadow Publishing's third round writing prompt contest. I was worried that best case scenario would be, "We loved the story, but the character was too young for the image," so very pleased.

Announcement hasn't gone up formally yet, but they told me it was okay to post. ;-)