Thursday, February 25, 2010

Goodreads Review: Callander Square

Callander Square (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt, #2) Callander Square by Anne Perry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When the skeletons of two infants are found buried in fashionable Callander Square, it's up to three people to negotiate the labyrinth of social mores, scandal and deceit: Inspector Pitt, his intrepid wife Charlotte, and her redoubtable sister Emily ... who arguably is the real sleuth through much of the first half of the book.

Overall, this is an intriguing and often disturbing study of Victorian high society, but it suffers from the (also Victorian) attributes of being somewhat dry and reserved. There's not as much detection as you would expect, but plenty of mystery in unexpected places. For me, the real puzzle of the book - and the one left to the reader to solve - is the interactions between man and woman, social pretense and reality.

I had some trouble with this book, especially early on. The way the characters were introduced made it difficult for me to tell them apart, and I feel that even near the end of the book, there were a few I had to stop and consciously match up. There's also a distinct lack of tension to start - you don't get the clear sense that the babes were murdered, and so it's more a matter of truth-seeking than anything else. (This element extends a long way into the book, so it's arguable that the mystery isn't that important to the story until much later.)

Also, the book quickly branched into secondary points of view, including suspects ... so it sometimes became difficult to track what each character knew. On the other hand, this element provided most of the tension and the fascinating through-lines of Victorian life. The battle of the sexes has rarely been illustrated with more incisiveness - and viciousness, at times.

Final complaint: I reached the end, and I felt cheated by the conclusion. I felt as if pieces of information had been withheld, or the reader would simply assume something in its place. There were reasons to suspect the killer, but the motive was simply concealed until the very last. Not quite fair play, says I.

But it's quite fitting that the book doesn't end there, and the final conclusion says much about the courage and bravery of Victorian women. Perry truly gets inside the mind of the period. I'm up for another Pitt novel - the enjoyment goes beyond the mystery.

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Thursday Thoughts

So this week, I finished my second time travel story - a look at how Ishene (time mage and historian) and Kemel (fire mage and bodyguard) first met.

I found myself dealing far more than I wanted to with the messy elements of temporal paradox ... but I had to explain why they were stepping into the past to solve a mystery and not simply preventing the murder. I hope it didn't make the story unnecessarily muddy or come off as a plot device, because there are a couple points where paradox gets bent ... but in my original story (set 15 - 20 years after this one), paradox is still very much an unknown - and something you can't experiment with because the consequences of experimentation are potentially too great. (No one knows for sure. But you don't mess about when "the world stops working" is one of the options.)

Anyway, I did my best to convey there's theories and workarounds and ... without letting it take over the story. But to prevent that, there had to be an element of, "Just take my word for it," from Ishene. Hopefully it feels like there's a logic to it, even if it's not expounded upon - and even if the characters themselves haven't figured out its limits.

On lighter notes ... wow, I loved playing with these characters at a different age and point in their relationship. Besides the full story, I've written a starter for another, so I have a good feel for where they settle out and what they're like in their thirties. Conveying the same characters as twenty-somethings or teens (I didn't specify which), and establishing the easy dynamic they eventually have was a lot of fun. They certainly have rougher edges, but I hope they seem like the same people.

Dealing with the romantic question was entertaining for me. Cue a kiss and two characters scrambling not to be the first one to say, "Err, that did absolutely nothing for me." It's the start of a solid multi-decade career and friendship, and I much enjoyed examining it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's almost here ...

Sword and Sorceress 25 just showed up on Ralan. April. April IS the cruelest month ...

I so desperately want to make it into this anthology. Every year, I submit anywhere from two to four stories before one is shortlisted ... and every year, the story they hold for second consideration is rejected. And it stings like little else.

However, I have few stories that I would really consider sword and sorcery. A Flattering Likeness is my first option, though it pushes their upper word limit - it's written from a male POV, but the female protagonist is a force to be reckoned with. Speechless is another option, though I'm less sure about the merits of the story.

The combination of action, personal stakes and - perhaps most tellingly - the magic being in the hands of the enemy, not the heroes, is just not one I approach very often. Even AFL has magic wielded by the protagonist: he's a painter who uses magical paint to capture the true essence of his subjects (and the female MC saves his butt from an irate monarch).

If we ignore that proviso, I wonder if my time travelers would be considered sword and sorcery? Though sadly, their one adventure has pretty important stakes (they're looking for a cure to a pandemic) ...

Looking back at the Sword & Sorceress anthology I have, I see that not all the stories involve professional warriors, so I have options of my herbalist with ... wait for it ... nanny-magic (although that one has rather large stakes), or my merman / harpy halfbreed story, which is an action story but not a swashbuckler: she gets captured by the managers of a zoo. Does anyone who has read any of the previous anthologies have a feel for whether any of these would be acceptable?

I'm going to try and get my hands on a few more of the anthologies. I've read previous editions, so I'm not coming into it blind ... I just have a tremendous amount of trouble translating the niche of something I've read into the niche of something I've written.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Goodreads Review: Remnant Population

Remnant Population Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read this book years ago (well over a decade) and approached a reread with trepidation: could it possibly live up to my rosy memories of it? (In fact, I even recommended it for a science fiction literature course that I took.) Long story short: it did. Oh, it very much did. I love this book: it's sensual, emotional, humorous and intimate.

Ofelia is a delightful character, an atypical heroine sketched warts and all. Even her initial attitude is surly and even "bratty," it's easy to see where she's coming from ... and the book keeps you interested in her throughout her evolution. She changes and grows throughout, but so much of the story depends on her being herself.

Others have mentioned the old, uneducated narrator. It's not just window-dressing: the plot hinges on her unique perspective, how that causes her to deal with the aliens, and ... well. This IS a spoiler-free review.

Some of the atmospheric descriptions, particularly in the early portions of the book, are fantastic. They're evocative, especially with the senses that other authors neglect. It really puts the reader right inside Ofelia's skin.

I also just adored Ofelia's pragmatism - once she gets over the initial fear of being killed (and even before that), her primary reaction to the aliens is a sense of maternal exasperation. Priceless.

If I have any complaint, it's that I find a few portions of the book move a bit too ponderously, particularly the earliest section when Ofelia is on her own. But rare is the book that can make me tear up in the end, rare is the book that blends character, plot and theme so perfectly ... highly recommended.

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Anatomy of an Idea: Dreamweavers

My approach to poetry is formal: usually I latch onto a clear speculative concept - a burst of images / ideas - that I want to express and find a form that suits it. The pattern of the form creates the result.

In this case, I chose a terzanelle, a nineteen line poem - three line stanzas and a quatrain to finish. The middle line of each stanza repeats as a third line of the next stanza, with the closing quatrain incorporating lines 1 and 3 of the first stanza as well. (For more info, here:

Though it works loosely as a non-speculative metaphor for dreaming, Dreamweavers is actually set in a specific world of mine. I wanted to write a novel there, but I always have about a half dozen ideas, and this is one that keeps falling off the list. Anyhow, the basic concept is that the world is slowly dissolving, and that these dreamfolks record the dreams of ordinary people and spin them into new landmasses. Ergo - dreamweavers are the craftspeople, dreamcatchers are the gatherers.

It's Up!

My poem at Every Day Poets is now up:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

My output has taken a nosedive again. I've been working on the same flash fiction story since Tuesday. Arrrrr.

But I had some pleasant accomplishments this week: I finished my surrealism / hypnosis / unrequited love story. I finished my current editing pass of Journal of the Dead, as previously mentioned. (Yay!) It's just hard to be optimistic when the past couple days have been a bedraggled mess.

Looking ahead, have to finish this flash and then dive straight into February challenge for FWO. I'm writing another Ishene and Kemel story, my time traveling historian and her bodyguard. And yeah, it is telling how bad I am at titles that my few series are invariably named after the protagonists or the world.

Been playing around with writing another story in the same world as this (, only in a different city. Which kind of implies that each city has its own localized underworld ... I could potentially do a whole series of them with characters ending up on the surface and then coming together, but I doubt I would have the patience. Pity, because it's a cool idea: all those short stories out there, serving as backdrop, and then a novel that starts once they've all joined.

Also, while Timur is all right as a character, I love Civine to pieces. I love a certain kind of precocious child ...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


No, that's not a comment on my social life. Although ...

Instead, gladder tidings: my flash fiction story of this title was just sold to Everyday Fiction! Looking forward to it. (Probably will be pretty soon; their publication schedule is fast.)

Love Radials

In looking back at my novel-length fiction, I've noticed a trend that I seem to adopt with romantic subplots. (Sadly, this came about from looking at yet another novel and sighing, "I'd love to rewrite this." Blast my brain.)

I don't usually reach for love triangles, two men and one woman, but rather for a woman and three men ... which basically makes some kind of radial shape. It would be a pyramid if the men were also pursuing each other, I suppose.

Take Journal of the Dead, though there's no doubt even from early on that Rhiane is attached to Astennu, even though there's no possibility of the two ever being together physically (which is another trope I seem unduly fascinated with, the idea of lovers who can't ever consummate the relationship, but remain devoted). But there's a lot of interplay with both Gahir and Razentis, and the two couldn't be more different: the straight-laced, by-the-book guardsman, and the flippant, clever, vaguely irreverent diplomat.

The only thing they have in common is age: they're both significantly older than Rhiane. Now, the only character in Journal who has a specific age is the child, but you get a general feel for ranges from context. The main cue with Razentis is that when he interacts with Parashi (about a decade younger than Rhiane), there's no perceived impropriety due to the size of the age gap.

So I kind of have it in my head that Rhiane is on the cusp of thirty. Gahir is in his mid-forties. Razentis is in his early to mid-fifties.

Back to the love radial, I've been mulling over why the idea has such appeal. A small part of it is probably the rule of three ... that's always resonated really strongly with me, to the point where I've occasionally gotten dinked in short story writing for adhering so closely to it.

More importantly, though, is the dynamic of three versus two. When it's down to two people, there's no escaping that favoring one is slighting the other. It's not just about X, it's about not-Y. Adding a third participant reduces that element.

Even more significant, for me, is that love triangles seem to demand a certain amount of infidelity: you choose one, change your mind ... that's certainly the way far too many Hollywood love triangles play out. And this is just something that bothers / skeeves me. I don't care for emotional infidelity, either. Maybe it's down to philosophy - it almost cries for a thesis / antithesis / synthesis progression.

For me, it becomes less clear-cut with three. It's not an either / or, it's a multitude, infinitely more complex, and thus easier to stay back from the brink of making a promise and then breaking it. I'm not saying that these things can't be done for a triangle, but I'm not sure how successfully I can do them.

I've played the radial multiple different ways: there's no pattern as to who or how the female lead eventually ends up with. The only thing I haven't done is make my MC spoke rather than center ... which has obvious issues in a single POV scenario.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Goodreads Review: Devlin's Luck

Devlin's Luck (Sword of Change, Book 1) Devlin's Luck by Patricia Bray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Devlin's Luck is a solid, enjoyable fantasy novel - nothing particularly unique, but a good read set in a believable fantasy world. You do see the grit (in the "dirt" sense, not the "modern angst" sense) that would be realistic for the period in a way many other fantasy novels miss.

I understood those people who found the book hard to read. The prose is ponderous and workmanlike - it serves its purpose, but there are few flourishes and the emotional pitch remains fairly steady ... but to me, part of the latter makes sense, because in many ways, Devlin is a very repressed, controlled character. You don't expect him to burst out or break down. I would maybe have liked to see more of a change of tone for the scenes in Stephen's POV.

That brings me to a personal pet peeve: mixed in amongst the invented or more obscure names are names that are instantly recognizable either a) as contemporary Earth names or b) blatant mythology reference. This kind of thing drives me nuts.

I found the book entertaining - you know in advance that Devlin is going to resign himself to life and his position, but the progression is still well-done. Also of note is Stephen's journey from wide-eyed minstrel and general annoyance to maturing (if not quite "mature" yet), level-headed friend. (If other characters aren't as well-sketched, it's forgiveable in this kind of a book. To all appearances, it's heading towards a "war story" in sequels, more of an action feel.)

However, while the pacing of Devlin's evolution seems about right, to me it felt as if there was a huge jump in it. His gradual growth from deathseeker to solo hero is well-done; his somewhat more accelerated growth from reluctant commander to true leader is similarly well-executed ... but that step between, from hero to commander, gets summarized in maybe eight pages.

Overall, though, the book kept me coming back for more, and I will pick up the sequel if I get a chance.

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Lining Up For The Next Lap ...

Journal of the Dead first draft: 114,181 words
Journal of the Dead second draft: 111,992 words
Journal of the Dead third draft: 110,394 words

I just hit that fantastic final sentence again. Now it's time to let the whole thing set again, with the plan to look at it seriously for what I hope will be the final pass. I'm tentatively planning to start that on March 15th. Oh, yeah, that's ominous.

Going to take a little break before I think about having other eyes look at it, but that's probably on the horizon. Maybe. The sample chapter section for certain. I haven't had a beta reader since I was thirteen (or so), in case people are wondering why I'm so skittish about the idea.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Award

(Okay, there is supposed to be an image, but I tried it six ways and it is making me UNhappy, so ...

I hope I managed to get the image in here ...

Aubrie Dionne sent me a Happy Award! ... which means I have to list ten things that make me happy. Curse you, Aubrie!

A lot of silly stuff, in absolutely no order:

1. The Puppy -- I have an adorable little ball of fluff with a penchant for lap-curling who never ceases to make me feel better.
2. Friends, Family ... and people who put up with me in general. Because wow, I can rant, and I'm always shocked when someone is crazy enough to listen. ;-)
3. Harp -- Even when some parts of the business make me want to bash my head in, I can always reach the place where I just cut loose and play.
4. Writing -- When it's flowing and feeling just right, or when I look back and am quite honestly stunned by how good it is. (Sadly, this has been all too rare an occasion these days.)
5. Good Food -- Oh, how I wish this weren't on this list, but there's nothing like a good meal (whether it be a dessert or just a bowl of soup) to boost the mood.
6. "Junk" Music -- For a Celtic musician, I listen to an awful lot of stuff I never play ... I've got mad love for artists like Kirsty MacColl and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
7. Sleeping In ... because!
8. Publications -- Is it terribly to be chipper because I've got a rash of stories coming out in March?
9. Bath and Bodyworks -- This is my guilty induglence.
10. Artwork and Knickknacks -- I love glasswork, fantasy figurines, cool images ... it's been a real effort not introducing mad clutter into my music studio, which is supposed to be a business space.

If anyone is following me and hasn't done this, please pick it up. ;-)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

I may finish the current editing pass on Journal of the Dead today.

Yes. Today. It depends on whether I'm called into the other office (which would mean as many as six hours of bench work) or not, but if I have uninterrupted time, I may just get there.

It's a little mindboggling, even though the accomplishment isn't quite as major as the first edit - most of the changes this time were line tweaks and clarity on a micro level. (That is, I know what that sentence means, but it's not clear to anyone outside of my head ... or it's just overly formal and clumsy.)

But these last pages (seven in the manuscript, but I write in infinitesimal font) have a lot of sticky things I have to pay a lot of attention to. Make sure the climactic scene is crystal-clear; then there are three or four separate denouements that fall out from that as various aspects of the plot resolve. I have to make sure it plays out smoothly rather than feeling like I'm tacking scenes onto what would otherwise be a natural stopping point.

Either way, I'll probably finish before the weekend is over. Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sleepwalking now available!

Want a great read? My story, Sleepwalking, is now up in the Winter issue of Alternative Coordinates! There's a sample available:

The Sintellyn Medallion update

It's now been close to three days that The Sintellyn Medallion has been in the forefront of my brainpan, stewing, turning, as I try to decide if there are enough patches outside of the realm of common tropes that it's worth rewriting.

The character interplay and central emotional conflicts, I adore. One of my favorite facets is the fact that a significant aspect of the threat to Tieruko is psychological ... to deal with his antagonist, he also has to deal with a terror that was instilled from childhood, and that's almost more important than being able to face her on a level of raw strength.

As far as romantic subplots, it's a downbeat book. The only one that turns out happy is more of a friendship-with-hints-of-more that occurs between the ex-assassin and the very alien non-human being mentioned in the previous post, and that's just a weird interaction. There is one, "Yes, I love you, but my devotion to the goddess comes first," and two unrequited loves. Just to twist the knife in further, one of those gets to marry the source of her infatuation, but it's only to save her life: he's very honest that he can't love her.

The main thing that bothers me is I've used death / black magic as my backstory antagonist ... even though later antagonists are in more unusual areas. Unfortunately, this just can't be changed because Shaiyan's whole story pivots around it. Worse, I hate the idea of undead, zombies, etc. They make me roll my eyes.

One of the ways I've thought of combatting this is adding a black magic user (heh) as a protagonist - as Mikane's "inside man" in the mage council. It's easy to justify him as still an apprentice: I'd already established that if a mage dies without a successor, the two nearest aspects train one until they're satisfied, and well, no one's quite willing to trust black yet ... he's already got a name, even, bizarrely - Nacaer.

And to deal with the potential of having zombies? Make reanimation really difficult / power-consuming. Limit it to psychological warfare - the only real advantage to doing it over just creating / recruiting something else is to freak the heck out of an opponent who sees their loved one coming towards them on the field. This fits with Shaiyan's backstory: she was a person of importance, so having her "on display" is just kind of a cruel coup.

But good grief! Why am I thinking about this when I have two novels in process and I know just how far I am from completing the draft? Why am I thinking about this when I have at least four other ideas, three of which would be easier to sell? My brain is a mystery, and I never know if I should give it free rein or discipline it.

And btw, people: you REIN IN tendencies. You do not REIGN IN unless you live there. (No one in particular, just a pet peeve.)

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Going Postal (Discworld, #33) Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm a big Pratchett fan - in fact, flying with one of his books in hand has become a travel tradition (in an airplane, of course). Since hearing about his declining health, I've been saving them up ... but my copy of Going Postal being hardcover and too unwieldy to carry on, I finally picked it up and was very happy I did.

I can see why some people didn't like this book: especially early on, the absurdity and literal stretching of human foibles makes it difficult to suspend disbelief ... to the point where one is occasionally suspended above the story, not really able to connect or care about it.

Which is a shame, because Moist builds into a very complex, nuanced character, someone you want to empathize with. His growth and change - and sometimes, non-change - through the story is very well-done. And while some of the secondary characters are basically extended absurdist gags, others are fully fleshed and engaging in their own right. I particularly enjoyed the incorporation of golems here.

One of the things I've always loved about Pratchett is how he incorporates modern institutions and paradigms by applying a special brand of logic to a traditional (... sort of!) fantasy setting. Going Postal is particularly rife with examples of this.

I found the solution to the book's central problem got unnecessarily twisted / contradictory / muddy at the end, but getting there was a blast, and darned if a few things near the end didn't make me tear up. Highly recommended.

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Thursday Thoughts

Working on another short story, this from one from a first person male POV. This is unusual for me - I usually write from a female POV, and it's typically third person when I do a male character. However, I've noticed a disturbing trend to when I do choose a male POV: the story always seems to have a mysterious and powerful woman as a key element. They aren't necessarily the center, but they're always there. This strikes me as ... cheating, somehow.

This brought me around to the thought of rewriting The Sintellyn Medallion, which of my old novels is probably the one that had the strongest male POV character. There were two female characters to counterbalance that, but they had lesser weight, so the scenes typically went: Tieruko, Shaiyan, Tieruko, Mikane, Tieruko, Shaiyan ... etc.

My concern with the novel is in how many of its elements are cliche, including the titular McGuffin (which is a power focus - no specific abilities, but amplifies anyone who uses it), the fact that I used black (the magic is color-aspected) and death magic as the backstory villain, and a lost heir subplot.

But it's counterbalanced by aspects I simply loved: the novel is set several years after the black-aspected villain attempted to take over the world, the MC has already been the hero (a child hero, at that), and, psychologically scarred by the whole thing, is just trying to live his life in the aftermath. A race that would be viewed as "evil" by the average person is delved into in depth, and I had a lot of fun exploring a very alien, amoral perspective ... while making the character in question a sympathetic ally.

It also reverses aforesaid bad habit of mine: when Mikane meets Tieruko for the first time, she pretty much falls head over heels for him (a sentiment he never returns).

So this goes into my file of projects to consider after I finish Scylla and Charybdis. Which I am still about 30k (estimated) from doing ... and I would like to have Journal of the Dead finalized first, too. Could my brain please stop spooling off ideas while I'm working on the ones I have?