Saturday, December 27, 2014

Keeping Up With The Introvert

During this holiday season, when we visit with friends and family, I want to provide a glimpse into the brain of that introvert who isn't quite in sync (or in the pictures) with everyone else.  I can't speak for all introverts, of course, but before assuming you're being ignored or slighted, consider this:

When they don't initiate contact ...
The introvert is probably startled and even overwhelmed by the number of friends you have.  They don't want to "bug" you, and can't help feeling that they are, even if they intellectually know better.  Since they are just one of many friends, they don't want to hog your time.  This goes especially for a time of year traditionally reserved for family.  They may also feel like they need to come up with something clever or interesting to do on an outing.

On a personal note, I hate phone calls.  Calling someone I don't know, even a company or sales department, is a source of anxiety, and I will do anything I can to avoid it ... but even speaking to a friend is difficult.  Because I can't see you and "feel you out," pauses or silences feel insurmountable.  I put up with it because I want to talk to you, but I would much rather meet face to face.

When they're "too tired" ...
They're not blowing you off.  Introverts need energy for social interaction.  If they're worn out or depressed, nine times out of ten, they genuinely need to be alone.  That tenth time, though, they will drag themselves out and be glad they did.
When they don't ask about your problems ...
The introvert is trying to give you the thing they often value the most:  space and privacy.  They show concern for you by not prying, by not forcing you to discuss something you may not want to share.  They may ask open-ended questions, tiptoeing around the issue - this is an invitation.

When they don't talk about their lives ...
The introvert instinctively feels that their life is boring.  Who wants to hear about that - especially when there are problems?  They don't place value on exchange of personal information as a measure of closeness.  Again, they recognize that they're one of many friends you have.  They don't want to burden you.

And that Christmas card ...
Don't expect a gushy note, but if you got a Christmas card from an introvert, you are one of an extremely select group.  And since the introvert didn't use their own words, they probably took care with the card they did select.

However ...
The introvert (specifically, this introvert) wishes you all the warmth of the holidays, whoever you share it with.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

A bit of random housekeeping first:  both my Tuesdays and Thursdays are shaping up to be insane with coursework in the Winter quarter (if I hadn't done four on-ground courses for the end of my pastry degree, I'd be petrified), so I think my weekly post is going to shift to Wednesday.  To appease my addiction to alliteration, I will likely entitle them Wednesday Wanderings.

If you would like to help me, or someone else you know, overcome the terrible disease that is compulsive alliteration, donations are always welcome.  Please send cash.

Yes, I did have a topic in mind, not just a shameless grab for money, and it's appropriate to the season.  I've been thinking about holidays in fantasy worlds.  Most writers, I think, have some kind of seasonal festivals - it's something that's been ingrained into our consciousness, and it has a long, historical tradition.  Sometimes, though, it's intriguing to go beyond the universal and consider how specific beliefs may have developed into customs or other holidays.

I haven't done as much of this as I would like - another thing that goes on my to-do list! - but my most recent story with Abyss and Apex, Dancing Day, does explore this concept.  While it is loosely themed around Christmas, the activities of the Dancing Day are very different and have magical consequences.  Indeed, that's an unique opportunity we have in fantasy.  When you celebrate the gods ... do they acknowledge?  What about holidays and observations that mark supernatural events?

This also brings me to fantasy calendars.  This is something that I always devote some attention to, even if the reader doesn't see more than a glimpse of it.  It's tricky to build a fantasy calendar, too ... do you take the easy route and simply rename our months and days?  That's already 19 potential new fantasy words your reader has to deal with.  Do you rearrange our 365 days into a different shape?  There's no reason that a fantasy year has to have 365 days, but to my mind, you want it close.  If your fantasy year is 400 days, for instance, your character who is 25 by their reckoning is actually 27 by ours (yes, I did the math) ...

To me, coming up with a scheme that isn't recognizably based in our Earth but it is still easy to follow is a work of art.  I'm not sure if I've accomplished this yet.  The calendar I use in Unnatural Causes is a bit peculiar in that the rest-day - Pinnacle - is smack-dab in the center of their week.  The days on either side count up or down to it, as the case may be.  I've made sure that all my references to what day it is are supported with clarifying statements.  Hopefully, it won't drive people nuts!

So as the year winds down ... writers, how do your characters celebrate?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

GoodReads Review: The Sable Moon

The Sable Moon (Book of the Isle, #3)The Sable Moon by Nancy Springer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not done yet, GoodReads!

All right, now about the book itself. This, the third volume of Nancy Springer's Isle series, follows the next generation after The Silver Sun - Trevyn, the headstrong son of Alan and Lysse, part elf, someday king, and all-round pain in the neck. Trevyn's pride is a driving force of the first section of the novel, causing him to reject his blood-brother and walk away from his true love. My favorite part of the book is his arrival in Welas, where his pride both defeats him ... and at the same time, is the thing that defines and sustains him.

(Younger readers may feel differently, but through a lot of this volume, I had trouble liking Trevyn as a character. It is perhaps telling that I inadvertently stole the name, years and years later, for an RPG char's psychotic ex-boyfriend ...)

The main problem with The Sable Moon is that it relies even heavily on the deep, mysterious mythos of Isle - but here, perhaps in part because the fantasy field has now been inundated with similar tales, it wears thin. Instead of complementing the lyricism of the prose, the magical world feels like a deus ex machina, reducing motivations to, "Because I said so."

Still, as a romantic interest, Meg is positively delightful, a spunky heroine in a vein that has become perhaps just a touch too familiar ... but perhaps because she's original rather than imitative, she comes off very true and likeable. It's just a shame we don't get a bit more of her perspective. Hmm, so I've changed my mind - Meg is my favorite part of the novel.

View all my reviews

Sunday Snippets

Been a while since I've posted one of these!  Here's a piece from the short story I'm working on.  It started as a free write from January of 2010.  Three children (Niall, Tobin and Sarika) have just awakened Malin from a hospital bed in a government complex.  As she struggles to remember how she got there, she convinces them to help her escape:

Niall charged the door and bulled it open; Tobin squirmed under her other arm to steady her.  They entered the corridor together.  The antiseptic light stunned Malin.  She squinted to block it out, her feet slipping on the tiled floor. 

“We snuck in through the break room,” Sarika said hurriedly, leaning to guide her in that direction. 

The painful spear of approaching thoughts sliced into Malin’s consciousness.  “Not that way,” she said.  “They’re coming.” 

Sarika hesitated.  “But …” 

Niall took charge.  “There must be stairs,” he said. 

They reversed direction, harried skidding.  Malin would have laughed if claustrophobia and confusion hadn’t held her in their grip.  She needed to get away from here.  She had been held prisoner by people she could almost recall, pieces of names and glimpses of faces – but if it had been three hundred years, as Sarika said, they would all be dead.  It was their descendants who guarded her now, and they had made her – the Dreamer – into a legend. 

Between them and the stairs stood an imposing security door.  The three children halted in dismay.  Malin was forced to stop with them. 

“It will only take voice commands,” Sarika said, tone dull.  “We’re trapped.  And now we’re all going to get into trouble.  We’ve gotten the Dreamer into trouble!” 

Clarity touched her, a cooling wind.  “No,” Malin said, “you haven’t.”  She reached out to the thoughts of their pursuers, picking up amber and brown.  The color and pattern had everything she needed to know:  timbre, pitch and words. 

“Command – open door,” she said in a gruff alto.  The pair supporting her jumped in surprise. 

The door parted like a curtain.  Malin leaned forward, reclaiming her balance.  She still felt a traitorous quiver in her ankles, but she had to ignore it.  “Let’s go.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

Today, I want to talk about NLP.

Given my various topics of conversation, you may be forgiven for thinking this stands for Naughty Little Phoenix, Nummy Lindsey Pastries, or even No Loud Plucking.

In fact, NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a fancy term for using language in a manner that primes the recipient to accept and act upon what you have to say.  It has innumerable uses, from teaching, to corrective feedback / critique, to diplomacy, to debate, to simply being sneaky and getting what you want.

A simple example that falls under the umbrella of NLP is this:  the brain doesn't process negatives.  When you use words like, "don't" or "not," your brain omits them and focuses on what it perceives as the underlying message.  ("Don't think of a white elephant."  All right, what just crossed your mind?  I won't tell.)  So by phrasing advice, directives, etc, in the form of the positive - "Take deep breaths and stay calm" vs "Don't panic" - you make the message more effective.

Writers use NLP a lot, whether they would recognize it or not.  It is an invaluable tool for critiquing:  frame your advice to another writer in a way that gets them thinking rather than defensive.  And, of course, the story itself uses NLP.  We writers often want to make a reader feel a certain way without directly revealing it.  This can be as simple as using aggressive words to describe a neutral action.  The reader feels the tension / conflict, even if the actions themselves are innocent in nature.

In fantasy - or in a modern political thriller, I suppose - the diplomat or politician would be well-served to use some of these principles, even if they aren't a conscious or scientific choice.  Obviously, the term Neuro-Linguistic Programming is so modern as to shock a reader senseless in most secondary fantasy worlds, but the principles are sound, and many of them don't require a chemical understanding of the brain - simply long-term observation and analysis of how human beings process and retain information.  I could see this becoming pseudo-scientific in certain fantasy realms ...

Of course, it's slightly ironic that I think about this now, considering that the narrator of Unnatural Causes is about as anti-NLP as it's possible to get.  She fundamentally doesn't grasp the concept of diplomacy and believes that, if it's the truth, people should accept it, no matter how it's presented.  Obviously, that gets her into trouble ...

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

I've always been particular about proper grammar, to the point where, if I see a grammatical error in an advertisement, company paperwork, etc, my opinion of the entity in question plummets.  I know this is irrational (or at least excessive), but I can't help it.  I even get a bit nervous about making a commitment - for instance, signing a contract.  It's been a bit of a shock to deal with email communication from my instructors at school and realize that - shock, horror - not everyone cares that much about grammatical detail.

Still, for me, I can't help it.  I've made a conscious choice to use "they" as gender-neutral singular, even though this is not technically correct ... and I still feel guilty about it.

In some ways, I'm a bit of a dinosaur.  I still "double-tap" at the beginning of a sentence and have no intentions of stopping.  I am also even pickier about the proper use of commas, not just for clarity, but for the rhythm and flow of sentences.  (So says the musician.)  Many publishers seem to be abolishing the comma for anything but clarity.  And oh, it sets my teeth on edge, even though I recognize that language is an evolving beast.

That said, it will never be okay to start a sentence with "but" and a comma.  That's not how it works!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sunday Shameless (Advertising)

Tis the season, and as an author with works for sale, I feel contractually obligated to point out that the following can make great Christmas presents ...

Please do check out my contemporary fantasy novel, Flow!  Available as both an ebook and in print, it was the collision of a long-time love of fairy-folk with a few favorite characters allowed to run wild.  (And per the sample in this link, Kit really does say "Holy schnitzel" as one of her pet phrases - it's not me trying to clean up the language.  ;-))

For a shorter sample of the world of the novel, and a taste of the holidays, try out Xmas Wishes.

Gypsy Shadow Publishing also has (at the same bargain of only a dollar!) Taming The Weald, a science fantasy story where space stations and wild growth co-exist ... at least, until one invades the other.

A few anthologies in which I have stories, all of which come highly recommended:

Unburied Treasures


The Light of the Last Day (I have both a flash fiction piece and a poem in this one)

Last, but certainly not least, mosey over to my site and consider giving someone the gift of music:  my Celtic harp CD, Rolling of the Stone, is also available.  You'll find Welsh (my personal obsession), Scottish and Irish music, along with selections from the Breton tradition, German / Bavarian, and Latin sacred music.  It's mostly instrumental, but there are a handful of vocals.

If you're interested, please buy direct from me - I get a very small cut from Amazon.  Due to their shipping requirements, it barely covers the cost of sending CDs to their distribution center.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Tuesday Thoughts

It's been a while since I've blogged with any regularity - though balancing coursework and multiple forms of work-work (and writing, of course) has proved more manageable this quarter, it has required a lot of brain space, and I haven't felt much like posting here.

Although all the organizational work is handled and I'm comfortably ahead in my coursework, the rest of this week and the next two are going to be pure insanity on all fronts.  Harp-wise, this will be my best Christmas in a while.  I have multiple gigs happening over this span of time, so I will be able to show off my seasonal repertoire.  It's also busy season for catering work and - of course! - prepping for the final buffet project at school.

All this is to say, in my usual convoluted fashion, that I thought now was a good time for some commentary, before I vanish permanently into the ethers of insanity.

One of the odd side effects of being a writer - specifically a speculative fiction writer, where much of the brainstorming involves premises that aren't possible in our modern day world - is that there are times when my deductive brain doesn't work quite the way it should.  This makes me lousy at word jumbles, mysteries - I tend to joke that if I can guess the killer, it's too easy, though reading more mystery novels has made me better at it - and logic puzzles.

Now, when I say logic puzzles, I don't mean the kind that require (effectively) symbolic logic: for instance, the knights-and-knaves puzzles of Raymond Smullyan where knights always tell the truth, knaves always lie, and the goal of the puzzle is to decipher which the speaker(s) is/are.  I tend to be pretty good at that kind of deduction, though I will confess to skimming over the puzzles so I could read the embedded story the first time around.

I mean the kind that require you to make common sense / reasonable decisions about human behavior and the world.  One example that sticks out is a visual puzzle that shows two checks and asks which one is forged - the $5.00 check or the $5000.  The answer is, of course, the $5000, because no one would bother to forge a $5.00 check.

But that's not how my brain likes to work.  Instead, my gears are busily turning to figure out under what circumstances one would forge a $5.00 check.  I can't help but take the basic underlying assumptions apart and ask ... when would this nonsensical thing make sense?

(Among its many other writerly inaccuracies, the main character of the show Castle thinks more like a fantasy writer than a mystery writer.  I mean ... time travelers?  Zombies?  Vampires?)

This is connected to why I'm (usually) hopeless with word jumbles:  instead of seeing that "garaman" is anagram mixed about, I think, "Oh, that would make a cool name."  This is probably a very specific problem to secondary world fantasy.

Come to think of it, that whole "knights and knaves" thing would be an interesting basis for a fantasy society.  It has doubtless been done, but there's nothing new under the sun.  Hmm ...