Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

A few weeks ago, I discussed the fact that my three fish-out-of-water main characters from Flow - Kit, Chailyn and Hadrian - were all characters from roleplaying games that, for one reason or another, hadn't got enough play in their original homes.  I introduced them to each other, they hit it off (... sort of), and the book was born.

I've always enjoyed roleplaying games, and I often use them as writing aids.  For instance, the sourcebooks for GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) are often surprisingly great starting points for research or brainstorming.  GURPS Religion contains as thorough a checklist for creating fictional religions as any book specifically geared to fantasy writers.

Then, of course, there's character generation.  Every RPG system has its own method to create characters, sometimes starting from a point that a writer would normally never choose.  I find this really useful for thinking about characters in a different fashion ... and being able to quantify abilities, relative strength, etc, between characters can be helpful, even though (obviously!) the numbers never show on the page.  Of course, the flip side of this is that once you enter the writing phase, nothing on the character sheet is a rule.  It's more like a guideline ...

Miayde, the eponymous protagonist of Butterfly's Poison, originally started out as a character in a short-lived Exalted game.  (Exalted is an eastern-inspired fantasy game centered around exceptional martial arts feats ... all of which disappeared by the time Miayde became a part of the world of Seventeen Seas.)  In a moment of full-circle poetry, I designed a roleplaying storyline in the same setting, different system, that was never played out - but it may some day become a new novel in the same world.

Of course, I would be painting myself in too marvelous a light if I claimed I've always used roleplaying games appropriately.  I'll confess to writing a long-since (and permanently) shelved epic where I actually used the system and its random rolls (... mostly ... sometimes I'd change my mind) to resolve action scenes.  On the other hand, sometimes this would send the story off in a direction I hadn't intended, and I found it was better for the diversion.

When I set out to write Who Wants To Be A Hero? I wanted to simulate some of the randomness and unpredictable turns of ... well ... reality.  I felt that having the spontaneity in the writing process was important for making the final book feel right.  So I ended up giving my characters very simple stats - basically just a handful of numbers indicating broad areas of competence, such as Magic or Diplomacy.

For each round, I picked an appropriate stat(s) that would apply to the heroic task at hand.  Sometimes, there would be the "option" to use another, less appropriate stat, at a penalty.  Each character got a random roll plus their stat to determine how they did.

At this point, I took randomness back out of the equation somewhat:  any of the top three were eligible to win; any of the bottom three might go home.  I'd write the action and the first phases of judging, then assess how events had fallen out.

Of course, I had executive control, but I had an understanding with myself:  think about standing back and watching what happens ...

That's really what appeals to me about using roleplaying systems as a supplement, ultimately:  it makes you look at things in a new light, whether it's filling in part of a character sheet that has nothing to do with your story or dealing with a "weird" random roll.  But as always, the numbers can't tell the whole story:  that's up to the author.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I know I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of the "yes, but ..." ending:  the main character succeeds in their goal, but the getting of it creates new complications, and the reader is left with the feeling that life goes on.  Just as invisible past events lead into the story, invisible future ones flow out of it.

The pat, tidy ending where everything resolves is not a favorite of mine - sometimes in very short stories, but in those tales, there's often not room to introduce extraneous elements in the first place.  The demon-summoning sorcerer may be in love with his childhood sweetheart or have gambling debts, but it's not relevant to the plot, so the reader never learns it.

I enjoy creating loose ends in fiction - it makes the end result feel more organic.  As long as the main story question is answered, other, supporting questions can sometimes be left dangling ... or have a negative answer, rescuing the story from tooth-ache levels of sweetness.

And these other threads don't even necessarily need an arc.  It may be a static element - even something inherent to the world that the character clashes against, but it's not a problem that they can solve.  If they tried, well ... that's a whole book in itself, if not a series.  (Maybe the NEXT book ... hmm ...)

I think these loose ends contribute to the iceberg effect, the feeling a reader gets that there is a lot more to this world and these people than ever shows up on the page.  And maybe - just maybe - it makes the real victory, the struggle the story was, after all, about, that much more satisfying:  even if everything else is uncertain, THIS went right.  THIS is my success.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Have I mentioned that Flow makes an awesome Christmas present, or other denominational holiday of your choice?

I'm sure I've told this story before, but here's a glimpse into how the novel came about, and it all started with character.  To be specific, three short-lived characters in online roleplaying games.  I didn't get a chance to play them to my satisfaction for one reason or another, so I decided to give them a new life in a different setting.

Kit initially never got beyond the "application" phase - where the character is created for pitching to the staff of the game.  At the time, I was planning on a fantasy game that mixed a few themes, including mythological divinities, with a race of evil beings that hunted them and ate their energy.  Kit was designed as an estranged member of this race, but right about as I finished the application ... staff decided to close neutral or good members of this race, as apparently they were getting a flood of them.  Curses.

I retooled her for the "beta" phase of another game where I was part of the staff.  Besides removing that backstory, I had to tweak the effects of her powers somewhat to fit in with the rules system ... and because I was also brand-new to aforesaid system, the character was haplessly unplayable in action sequences.  She never made it out of beta; she did, however, make a brief re-appearance as a demon-borne antagonist from a mirror-realm.

So Kit before I started to work on the novel idea was a collection of bits and bobs, various origins that contradicted each other, and personality traits in potential, but never fully realized.  I actually started with her origin story and designed much of the supernatural world history around what I wanted her to be.  That world, however, needed another aspect, and I had already found it in the character of ...

And here's Chailyn, water-witch, fish out of water, raised in a world that was never intended for children and plopped into ours.  Again, she started as a game character; in this case, she was retired because the game shut down.  In her first incarnation, that globe of light she wields in chapter one was actually a fully fleshed character, her "sidekick" - it allowed me to make snarky, biting remarks that were out of character for Chailyn herself.  Obviously, with Kit (and Hadrian) around, I didn't need another outlet for quips and banter.  I couldn't resist keeping around a hint, though.

Finally, Hadrian was also a character from a game that crashed and burned, this time after I had played no more than a few scenes.  The game's story gave me an easy origin for his powers, and he had some more bizarre applications - he could sense people's weak spots and incapacitate / sicken them by touch - that didn't seem appropriate for the setting I was building.  Hadrian's origins, as rewritten for Flow, have a hint of mad science to them I haven't really explored in the setting just yet ... they do fit the overall narrative of the world (of course!), but suggest possibilities not yet touched upon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I've never been much caught up in the consumer desire for the newest, latest, and greatest.  (I did stop and think about whether to use the Oxford comma there.)  When shopping or choosing what to listen to / read / watch, my only interaction with release date is availability ... which means that if I actually had Netflix, I probably would be buried in five year old television.

I've never understood the lure of the movie theater in terms of seeing something as soon as it is available.  (I was rather irritated by Agents of Shield playing off the Captain America movie on the apparent presumption that anyone following the series would see the movie in the first week.)  Grant that part of it is because I really dislike movie theaters - crammed in the dark with other people, can't kibitz to your neighbors, can't sprawl back in comfort, have to keep your shoes on, no bathroom breaks - and will generally only patronize them as a social exercise or if the movie is visually spectacular in a way that would benefit from theater viewing.  What's the big deal with waiting 3-4 months until it comes out in video or On Demand?

When it comes to books, I know that I should follow the list of new releases to keep a finger on what's hot now, but I somehow can never do it.  For one thing, I hate reading a book that ends with a cliffhanger if I can't immediately pick up the next volume.  I don't do well with enforced waiting, and I am likely to completely forget about aforesaid cliffhanger as a defense mechanism.  For about a decade, I think, my policy was not to read a book in a series unless the entire series was complete (or it was a loose series, wherein the books aren't necessarily directly dependent on each other).

I eventually relaxed my stance on this, but I still simply don't buy hardcovers unless I'm absolutely wild about the author and series.  The last one I purchased, I think, was one of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.  As with the movies, I don't understand what's so terrible about saving one's pennies and waiting a few months until it reaches paperbacks.  The idea of basing the success of a book on its sales in the first few weeks, to me, makes slightly less sense than reading entrails.

So I spend a lot of time at Half Price Books, picking up whatever looks interesting.  I trawl the backlog of authors I've read in anthologies (or occasionally met in person).  My fiction purchases have very little to do with timeline, with the exception of the fact that when I go to read an author who writes a series, I try to find the oldest book - in the chronology of their world, not the intended read order.  I'm a rebel (and probably a pain) like that.

Similar deal with music, only ... well ... worse.  I've never liked listening to radio, where you have no control over what music you listen to and you're likely to hear the same song ad nauseum.  (It was on at work one day, and I swear I heard "Exes and Ohs" four times. While I actually liked the song, I was bloody sick of it by then.)  So I find new artists by chance encounter, recommendations by friends, Amazon heuristics ("People who bought X also bought ..."), and Pandora.  I listen to snippets, take a chance, buy a CD.

This means I'm often late to the party with an artist, but it's my party, and I'll sing if I want to.

This probably hampers me from a marketing standpoint.  So Flow has been out a few years now and is no longer a new release ... so what?  That doesn't make it less excellent as a novel.  (That goes also for my other releases - shameless plug!  But that's not the point of this post, so I digress.)  The idea of pre-ordering something is foreign to me; I've only done it once, and that was specifically to support a friend's Kickstarter.  So it feels a trifle odd to ask people to do something I wouldn't ...

But doing things in my own time has been a theme of my life (see:  starting harp in my late teens; going to college in my early thirties), and I don't think it's likely to change.  So I will continue to drift through, blissfully unaware of anyone else's timing.  When you're absorbed in something, the only time that matters is now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

In working on edits for a short story of mine, I've realized there is another difference between forms - short stories versus novels - besides length and complexity.  That difference is time.  With the exception of NaNoWriMo novels or those written by prolific full-time writers, the average novel takes months to complete.  Even for those swiftly scribed, add in the time for rewriting, revising, copyediting, submission ...

And in that time, the writer changes, is no longer the same person she was when the idea was first born, when the first words were written.  Life happens; the world happens.  In the last six months, I graduated from culinary school and settled into a new routine with my job.  And we've certainly all had more eventful periods of time.

We change; we edit.  We change again; we edit more.  But our previous outlooks, perspectives, and personas aren't completely erased with revisions, which makes a novel a garment of human layers, an unconscious history of the writer.  Maybe that's part of what makes them so compelling ... and part of why we react so violently when favorite writers turn out to be bigoted, racist or abusive.  We've had intimate contact with the development of their lives.

Unnatural Causes deals in part with truth and deception, with the right to privacy versus dangerous secrets.  A (short) story I've been finishing lately, Based On A True Story, touches upon similar themes ... and the eyes that will go back to edit both have been forever changed by recent global events.

Of course, short stories often have similar, even longer, time lapses between original write and editing - and sometimes even beginning to finish.  It's a matter of degree - just like length and complexity, really.  A short story is a photograph; a novel is a video.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Heart Is Sad

I didn't know exactly what had happened in Paris at first, only that it was something terrible.

I was sick and exhausted that day.  I needed all my energy just to recover from grocery shopping enough to make it to work.

Waiting in the hall for the bridal party to enter the reception, we folded black napkins and talked about the end of the world.  Terror attacks in Paris.  A natural disaster in Japan.

Later, I found out the details and learned about the other attacks.  An outpouring of reactions on social media.  Hands reaching out to help.

My heart is sad, a pervasive chill.  My heart is sad for the lives lost; for victims who were simply enjoying life, celebrating it at a concert or along busy streets.  My heart is sad for those who have lost family or friends, and those still waiting to learn their fates ... and both thinking the other camp is lucky.  Is it better to still have hope or better to know?

My heart is sad because for some, the response was to push their political agenda, while others delighted in pointing out their pettiness, somehow feeling that was morally superior.  My heart is sad because there are people for whom the triumph of their viewpoint is so important they genuinely believe tragedy is lessened if it becomes a call to action.

My heart is sad because everyone believes they are right.

The life of a homeschooled child:  I overslept the morning of the 9/11 attacks.  When my mother awakened me to explain what had happened, I at first thought she was telling me a macabre joke.

That morning, we all left an era where such stories could never be true.

My heart is sad because Leonard's Bernstein's words have become a rallying cry for artists:  “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

My heart is sad because it feels as if my music has fallen quiet.

My heart is sad because I feel I should be shattered, I should be in tears.  I am not.  My heart is sad because it seems my reaction is a shadow of what should be.

My heart is sad because I am surrounded by the best moments in people's lives:  their weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, parties.  My heart is sad because I have built up a tolerance to their happiness.  My heart is sad because I react to the presence of a toddler in a wedding procession with annoyance; my mind ticks off the minutes of wedding speeches so I can do my job.

A newlywed couple last night had their young daughter (I am assuming from a previous marriage, but there are other possible stories) sing Sara Bareilles' "I Choose You."  I stood at the carving station teary-eyed.

It is a privilege to be a part - however small - of so many happy moments, a piece in a blissful puzzle.  And maybe that is my response and my role:  to perfect the business of happiness so no one has to worry about the details, merely relax into the rhythm of their best day.

My heart is sad for the moments that will never be, but dear world:  we will never stop making more of them.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Many years ago, I took an advanced writing course through UCLA Online.  (I was the only fantasy writer, but I don't recall having trouble with genre.  I do recall being sort of bored with some of the other writers' plots.  Come on, where are the sword fights and dragons?  This needs more dragons.)  The book I was working on at the time, Fey's Call, was an ensemble tale, but focused on reluctant heroine Tillian.  Her first scene, she's about to meet up with her brother, who works for a group of rebels, and she's excited to see him again.  This leads to his disappearance and then death, which sets her on a collision course with both his rebel allies and the authorities.

I was pretty floored when one of the other students said that the relationship sounded incestuous.  It had never even crossed my mind that anyone would read it that way.  I went back and studied the scenes, and maybe - maybe - could see it, but it was a stretch.  I talked with someone outside the course about this, and they thought that perhaps it was reader bias - they were predisposed to such interpretations.

But I've always written about and been fascinated with family interactions, particularly siblings - despite, or perhaps because of, being an only child.  I'm drawn to fictional families who are tightly knit and deeply loyal.  What happens when a family member betrays you?  If they commit a terrible deed?  On the flip side of it, I love to write villains / antagonists who are nonetheless protective of their families and draw the line at anything that might hurt them.  It's a dichotomy that intrigues me so much that I'll confess, when it comes to roleplaying games, I've just avoided making it a personal cliche.

You can have similar dynamics with friends or lovers, but this doesn't draw me as strongly.  Shades of predestination, perhaps:  you don't choose your family.  Then there's also the societal aspects.  Society has its own expectations of when a person should cut ties with a family member, and it doesn't always line up with personal experience.  Then there's guilt by association.  How do you deal with a family member dragging you down by nothing more than their chosen existence?

Or fame by association ... how do you step out of the shadow of a prominent sibling?  One of the stories from the old Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine that always stood out to me was about sorcerous siblings, one of whom believed she was created - that she only existed - to protect her sister, that she wasn't important on her own.  That thought struck me to the core.  It haunted me.  I ended up writing a short story series (long before I was trying to get short stories published; it became more of a serial) about a girl who tries to pave her way out from under a famous sister ... and fails utterly.

And where in the world do you go from there?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

GoodReads Review: Songs of Love & Death

Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love (Kushiel's Legacy #1.5; Ph├Ędre's Trilogy, #1.5; The Dresden Files, #11.5; Outlander, #8.5)Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful anthology full of strong, compelling stories that span the range of the genre, from urban fantasy to traditional, to the science fiction of distant worlds, and even a superhero tale. Even the relatively weakest stories have something to offer - and I say relatively because there were few disappointments. Each story finds a different way to tug at your heart strings, which is exactly what this anthology should do.

Why only four stars? Two reasons:

1. This is partly personal, but I find the inclusion of stories that directly connect to an authors' series to be frustrating. If you are following the series, but haven't reached the particular volume on which the story depends, you either have to risk being spoiled or skip it. If you aren't following the series, there can be elements in the tale that fly over your head. The former applies to the Dresden Files / Jim Butcher story "Love Hurts." When it comes to Diana Gabaldon's "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" and Jacqueline Carey's "You, and You Alone," these were both beautiful stories, but they felt as if they were designed to cater primarily to fans. Carey's in particular pulled me along, eagerly awaiting what ended up to be a "So what?" conclusion. Gabaldon's turns on deus ex machina.

I also feel as if (though I'm not sure) Marjorie M. Liu's "After The Blood" falls into this category. I like stories where things are subtle or implied, but this story refuses to state anything directly. One simply gets exhausted keeping track of suppositions and waiting for confirmation of something.

2. The weaker stories all seem to have a similar flaw: a plot point or resolution isn't adequately foreshadowed / given enough attention earlier in the narrative for the resolution to be satisfying.

Those complaints aside, I generally loved this anthology. As mentioned above, it provides a crazy amount of genre variety - there's probably something for everyone. Also, generally speaking, these are longer, meaty stories without dragging, which is always a treat. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I set off on the journey that was my first novel when I was too young to know any better about much of anything.  I was coming back from a Shakespeare Festival in Canada, which I had attended with my mother, my best friend, and her mother.  At the Duty Free Shop on the border, I bought a stuffed animal black cat (this will tell you how young I was - "stuffies" were still a part of my life) which I named Saundra.  (The U being very important for accurate pronounciation - it was definitely "sawn-dra" in my head.)  I had a nearly identical white cat at home, who was named Snowball.  My mother insisted on calling them Snowball and Dirtball.

This is the same trip, I should note, where the supposed adults, upon hearing that I had an aversion to the cotton balls being pulled apart - to me, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard; still is - decided to chase me with cotton balls.  When my friend and I retreated to our room, they blew the cotton balls under the door.

Back to the writerly side of this adventure, my naming of the new faux feline was accompanied by the decision that both could communicate with telepathy, and that they were companions of an old sorceress named Mordue.  (I am fairly sure that the name was heavily influenced by the Prydain Chronicles.  It does feel very Welsh.)  This was about the time of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill - augh, I'm dating myself! - and with my typical oddball sideways squint at the world, I thought that Valdez would be a great name for a princess.  I had never heard it pronounced, so I considered that the "e" was short - VAL-dehz rather than the actual Val-DEEZ, which I think is terrible sounding.  Pfft, reality.

And ... I decided to write a novel.  I had written stories before, but I had never tackled a novel.  Of course, it was riddled with cliches:  the rebellious princess; the shadowy evil figure; an enemy soldier who falls for the princess.  I do like to think that I started with some shadow of a less-typical premise:  the inciting incident of the book is when the sorceress, who has been mentoring the princess, is kidnapped.  Valdez sets off to rescue her.

The mistakes in this first foray are wince-worthy to me now, I'll admit.  Besides the above-mentioned, I tried to excuse modern slang like the word "guy" with in-world explanations for how the terms had originated.  There were places where I dented the fourth wall.  Luckily, I had an adult mentor named Martina, who I had met through the Dinosaur Forums on CompuServe (augh, I'm dating myself again).  She helped me with craft issues, which I listened to, and gently suggested that publication was always a very long road, which I more or less ignored.

At the time, the main flaw to my perspective was the length:  when I finished the tale, it was by far the longest thing I'd ever written, but not anywhere close to novel length.  So I turned around and started writing a "Book Two" / Part Two that occurred years later.  Book Three was Mordue's story, and since she was telling it to my other main characters, it seemed only natural to write it in first person.  This would be the first contained narrative I created that was novel length; Book Three really WAS a book.

So much for The Cats of Mordue, my first novel.  Sometime after or during the later parts of Cats (there would eventually be five parts completed; part six was never finished), I started working on my next novel in a different world.  This new book was a project I would come back to a few years later and rewrite, and it became the first novel manuscript I ever submitted.

Of course, at the time, I was yet to understand why anyone would want - if given the option - to send three chapters and a synopsis when it was so much simpler to mail the whole thing ...

Growing pains, I tell you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I think most writers have used dreams for inspiration, whether it be a bizarre image, a random sequence of events, or even a whole plot.  These dreams may seem like gifts from the subconscious, outside of our control.

Occasionally, though, we have lucid dreams:  dreams where we are aware we are dreaming and can change events.  For some people, lucid dreaming is an elusive rarity to be chased down.  For others, we remember being told as children how to deal with the nightmare of being chased:  stop and ask the monster what it wants.

I do a lot of lucid dreaming.  It's not something I set out to do:  it's simply something that happens.  I often have dreams that are partial or full plotlines, with a large cast of characters, some worldbuilding, some mayhem ...

Where the lucid dreaming comes in most often, then, is I find myself critiquing the plot ("No, I don't like this; it would be more interesting with X," or "Let's change this up.") and altering it according to my tastes.  In most of these dreams, I identify as a movie director, but there are also some where I operate as a novelist ... down to rewriting backstory and even being able to visualize or feel the sense of written pages.

Even in my dreams, I'm doomed to specialize in novels:  frequently, I have a sense of multiple books, histories spanning generations, different planets, countries ... often, these details are hazy, but my dreaming mind knows they exist.

Sometimes I wonder if that's where that occasional sense of write deja vu comes from ...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

In some respects, this may be the best time (so far) to be a fantasy (science fiction / speculative fiction) writer.  The genre has entered the public consciousness as it never has before, bringing in new readers and making the general public more accepting of the stretches of imagination that fantasy needs from its readers.  

As a lover and consumer of fantasy, I can turn on my television and take my pick from shows with fantastic themes, and I'm noticing the worldbuilding is wider and deeper.  (I am particularly taken with the little social behavior "digs" in the recent Minority Report series.)  I will admit, after the Lord of the Rings movies came out, we had a string of almost exclusively contemporary / urban YA adaptations, which concerned me ... but then such efforts as Game of Thrones came to the fore.  So now I can say that I write fantasy and *not* receive blank looks or awkward questions about erotica.  Grant, now the question is likely to be, "Oh, so like Twilight?" or "Oh, so like Game of Thrones?" ... and I really ought to come up with some snarky answers for that.  "Yes, exactly like Game of Thrones, but with more characters," ought to be suitably terrifying ... 

On the other hand, there are some trends that take the field away from an author's dream, or at least the dream that I've always had, of being able to go into the bookstore, take one of *my* books off the shelf, and hold it in my hands.  Bookstores are floundering and failing, with major chains going under in the recent past.  The big publishing houses that regularly deal with bookstores have become increasingly difficult to penetrate for new writers.

On the other hand, a host of small and medium-sized publishers have flourished, putting out great new material into the world, and giving many authors a chance to have their dream ... or more prosaically, just make money.  The downside for me is that many of these smaller houses don't / can't put books on the shelves, and some of them don't offer print options, but to some, that is a minor issue ... and a more than fair trade-off for being able to deal on a more personal level with their publishers.

Personally, I love the fact that Double Dragon offers their books print on demand, so I've had the opportunity to hold Flow in my hands, even to autograph it.  Still, that novel with a major house is my ultimate goal.

Another result of this proliferation of publications is the maddening variety of choices ... and suddenly, marketing becomes much more important.  An author has to find a way to make their voices compelling in a social media tidbit or advertisement, which is quite a different skill from writing a good novel!  It's one more hurdle to jump to success.

So for a fantasy writer, it's harder and easier all at once - more for some of us, less for others.  It's all about what we want out of the process, and finding the right way to trick the world into giving it to us ...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Twice that I can clearly remember, someone has accused me of creating and featuring too many female characters.

The first time, I was something of a wee thing.  This was back in the days of Compuserve (I imagine *that* dates me - if anyone even remembers it!), and I was writing a collaborative story with someone I had been corresponding with.  After a while, he commented, "The reason (mainvillain's-name) wants my character must be because he's the only male in the world."

At that age, I was unfazed, even indignant.  I pointed out where I had male characters in the storyline.  They just didn't happen to be prominent or central movers in the plot.  That was that; we continued writing for a bit longer, than gradually drifted away from the tale.

It never occurred to change my writing habits or push myself to change the genders of characters.  I remember thinking that most of the fantasy I was reading at the time (this probably more effectively, if less specifically, dates me) featured primarily, often exclusively, male characters - why shouldn't I write the opposite?

The second time was many years later on a MU*.  For those unfamiliar, a MU* is a roleplaying environment, but instead of having a single GameMaster who leads a static (... mostly) group of characters through a linear adventure, there is a freeform environment where characters can interact, and multiple GMs run their own storylines in one-shot scenes.  To make a long story short (too late), this means that while I was creating plots, I wasn't the only fish in the pond.

And this time, the claim was two-fold:  first, that I didn't have enough male characters; and second, the male characters I had were weak and played for laughs.  The individual pointed out a specific character who had a tendency to petulance and an ill-controlled temper.  I countered that particular argument by pointing out that I had female characters who were also played for laughs - for instance, one was an over-the-top flirt.  Wasn't that just as ridiculous?  The individual said that it wasn't the same thing.  I could never get an answer as to why.  (Maybe this is a guy thing?  Moving on.)

My reaction was different, too:  I became intensely self-conscious and set about laboriously altering future characters to make sure I had more males and certain personalities.  The result was that the characters I had pushed into a different mold fell flat and ended up disappearing into background.

Eventually, I decided that the person who told me this was making the problem much larger than it was.  I stopped panicking and decided that I should pay attention to gender balance, but give it smaller, more organic nudges.  Perfectly fifty-fifty?  That rarely happens even in real life, no matter how much the odds would suggest it.

As for the personalities of my male characters, I wasn't as concerned by that critique, though it took me until quite recently to pinpoint my beliefs on the subject.  I don't necessarily build male characters - especially romantic leads, though that's for fiction, not MU*s - with traditional masculine strengths.  That didn't mean they were weak, just that they might not be ... well ... manly men (in tights - tight tights!).

Okay, scratch the tights.

Over time, I've become comfortable with what I write and the characters that come to me, and I think that more than anything has provided balance:  my imaginary worlds have subconsciously grown and become more organic, and barring circumstances like Anaea's home space station (populated only by women), that includes both sides of the gender conversation.

And yes, I'm aware that there are more than two sides to the gender conversation, but that's a topic for a future me to tackle ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Sometimes, I get distracted by jokes, particularly those in story form.  You know the ones:  the improbable situations, the punchlines (one I always remember is:  "There's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise"), the behavior that only makes sense when presented in summary ... see, I'm already getting derailed from my point, and I've only just started.

But it isn't the lack of logic behind these tales that stops me dead or makes me forget that, hey, this is supposed to be funny:  it's the fact that the punchline often just seems to be the next plot point.  I am driven to ask:  "What next?  What happens after that?"  Or, conversely, "How did this start?"  When the jokes particularly strain credulity in the setup or behavior, I can't help but perversely wonder, "Well, what could you do to this to make it make sense?  Under what circumstances would this happen logically?"

This is probably the same impulse that makes me want to base a story around the premise of "it's raining men" ...

Regardless, this tendency to build story / plot means that I often breeze right past the joke on my way to another thoughts.  It's probably no coincidence that some of my favorite jokes in some way pervert the intention of the standard joke setup.  For instance, here are my two favorite "walked into a bar" jokes:

Three men walked into a bar.  The fourth one ducked.

A priest, a rabbi, a deaf man and a six-foot rabbit walked into a bar.  The bartender said, "What is this, some kind of joke?"

(Being a writer and grammar geek, I'll also spring for:  the past, present and future walked into a bar.  It was tense.)

Though you could probably write a really trippy story off that last premise ...

Do you see my problem now?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Anatomy of An Idea: A Dose of Aconite

Here be potential spoilers, so please read my story up at Electric Spec first ... done?  Here's the scoop ...

This story was originally written for a monthly challenge over at Fantasy-Writers.org - the theme was to write a story from the point of view of a villain.  I had the world of Flow very much in mind at the time, so I thought this was a great opportunity to write a story about a clash between the water-witches and the Borderwatch.  In Flow, the Borderwatch serve as antagonists, but my intention was always that it more a matter of circumstance than the organization being villainous / overzealous / fanatical - they just happen to be on the other side of the question of how to deal with fairies in the human world.

So even though Mannix is the "villain" in this story, I wanted to make it clear that overall philosophies of the two characters' organizations each had some value.  In the first draft, I succeeded a bit too well - a few reviewers of the story thought that it didn't even meet the challenge topic!  I went deeper into his personal vendetta to bring the contrast out, and I think I succeeded.

The second component to the idea was aconite, the herb otherwise known as monkshood or wolfsbane, and various myths as to its uses.  Incorporating a werewolf character seemed to fit both the tale and the world.  I admit, I have had some trepidation since about adding this to the Flow mythos, because I had a few editors react very negatively to the inclusion of Raul, even though he is incidental to the core plot.

In any case, I also decided to have a little fun with the names.  They all have meanings that connect with the various common names of aconite.  For instance, Tala means wolf; Mannix is an Irish name that means monk.  I wouldn't do this for a longer work - I find it a bit too "cute" or on the nose, even though people would have to look it up - but it worked nicely for a short story.

So that's where A Dose of Aconite came from.  Maybe I'll get that story where the Borderwatch agent is the hero written and published some day ...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

GoodReads Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy


The hunt for the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, an Englishman who becomes a hero amongst the French nobility - and a thorn in the side of its bloodiest elements - is afoot in this iconic novel, led by clever, beautiful Marguerite. She would rather preserve him than unmask him, but her brother's life is at stake, and with this sword hanging over her head, she undergoes a hunt that will prove full of surprises.

I haven't given this book a star rating because I feel as if I can't assign a useful number of stars - it is very much a product of its time. Besides, it's not as if the Baroness Orczy needs the publicity ...

That said, this book holds up very well for the modern reader: it is vivid, full of tension, misunderstandings, young love ... it paints an evocative portrait of the Pimpernel and his life and times.

Of course, it would be hard for a writer nowadays to get away with some of Orczy's devices. In particular, she starts with a broad view, narrowing in by association, rumor and the perspective of affected parties on the Pimpernel and Marguerite. It's very effective in building anticipation and expectations.

But Marguerite ... I couldn't tell how much of it was the times and how much of it was simply the character, but I had a lot of trouble with her. Her reason for initially loving her husband - she recognizes his simple nature, but is attracted by being adored - is shallow and hard to sympathize with. Her hard-headedness in refusing to explain / defend her mistakes is maddening. And then her so-called race to the rescue? She came off so ineffectual it made my eyes crossed. There were moments when she was lovely; there were moments when I wished the book was from someone else's perspective.

Overall, though, I think this novel holds up wonderfully, and I'd like to read more.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

For me, finding your passion is not about the destination or the answer, but about the journey.  There is always something new to find joy in - if there isn't, broaden your horizon.  There was a point in time when I worried about this tendency of mine; I thought maybe it meant I was wifty or too easily entertained.  I've come to accept that having a single focus is simply outside of my nature:  I find too many things fascinating.

And I have gone through what amounted to passing phases.  There were a few months as a teenager when my life plan was to become a historical interpreter - for instance, the townsfolk you see at living history sites like Conner Prairie or Williamsburg.  My experiences at our area Renaissance Festival make me feel I would have been pretty good at this:  I can be quite outgoing when I'm not myself.  There was also a briefer period where I toyed with becoming a lawyer - yes, really.  Already grumbling about the loans from a year and a half of culinary school, I'm very glad I didn't go that route ...

I will admit that when I first entered culinary school, I was self-conscious.  I was more or less alone in my age range:  my peers were either right out of high school or much older, people who had been in the same career for decades and were now changing careers.  It's a narrative that the general public identifies with:  you pay your dues until the grind finally breaks you down.  That wasn't me.

But I've always done things in my own time - and being smack dab in the middle when the usual age was much younger or much older was not a new phenomenon.  When I started harp, I was sixteen ... a bit of an oddity when it was often the choice of empty nesters or retirees, or - conversely - something started as a child.

If there is a common thread between my passions, they're about creating something.  Admittedly, the fact that it is for someone else's consumption is somewhat incidental for me:  obviously, pleasing the consumer is where the money is, but the art is ultimately internal.  The rest puts a roof over my head.  Roofs are nice.  So is wireless internet.

I've learned to let go of stresses about timing, about being too young, too old, not on pace with the rest world:  I never have been.  In any case, to quote Douglas Adams, time is an illusion; lunchtime doubly so.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

The most crushing rejection I ever received ended up teaching me an important lesson about subjectivity, perspective and editor taste.

This was several years ago; I would consider myself still a novice to the business of writing at the time.  I had made some short story sales, but only had a few under my belt.

So in the submissions process, I received a very harsh, blunt rejection, particularly focusing on my descriptions and calling them overwrought:  "like Paris Hilton's gaudy cellphone."  Nowadays, I might have been able to laugh at the turn of phrase.  At the time, I was shattered.  I thought about trashing the story, or at the very least, trunking it.

Routine saved me here:  I have a process for submissions that involves getting them right back into the field, barring certain circumstances, so that's what I did.

The very next rejection letter I received cited a different reason, but praised those same descriptions as beautiful and well-balanced.

I did eventually sell the story:  Coldsnap, which appeared in Reflection's Edge - a publication now defunct, but well-regarded during its run.

So I discovered very vividly how much editorial tastes differ, and - perhaps more importantly - that the same story can strike two editors in a completely different way.  I'm honestly not sure if I would have noticed this discrepancy if the first letter hadn't been so painful.

But in the long run, I've learned to listen to my gut.  I might make changes in response to a review; sometimes, they might be quite the opposite of the reviewer's intention; or perhaps, I might make no changes at all.  Somewhere out there, if I am true to the story, there is an editor who will agree ... but I can't please them all.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Musical Meanderings

So I've mentioned before that I need (need!) music to drive to, but I have an older car, so I make myself CDs to satisfy my hyperactive brain.  I like to theme them, do various schemes, etc.

My latest pack includes a series of songs playing word association, one leading into the next.  I've done this once before, but this time I decided to do two CDs' worth, and the results are below.  Please no mockery of my musical tastes- in some cases, I picked up a single CD on a whim and may not buy another.  ;-)

Walk This World - Heather Nova
("We walk like there's ...)
Nothing's Wrong - Echosmith
So Right, So Wrong - Linda Ronstadt
Right In Front of You - Celine Dion
If I Should Fall Behind - Faith Hill
When I Fall - Anne Murray
Another Place To Fall - K.T. Tunstall
Safest Place - Echosmith
Safety Dance - Glee Cast Version
Dangerous Game - Gloria Estefan
Fool's Game - Bonnie Raitt
Ship of Fools - Sarah Brightman
Sirens of the Sea - Oceanlab
My Emergency - September
Dr. Beat - Miami Sound Machine
Beat of Your Heart - Hayley Westenra
Heartbreak - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Breaking Ties - Oceanlab
Lover's Knot - Anne Murray
Elastic Love - Christina Aguilera
Ricochet - September
We Both Reached For The Gun - Chicago soundtrack
Guns and Horses - Ellie Goulding
Black Horse & the Cherry Tree - K.T. Tunstall
Black Magic - Green Children
White Flag - September
Fade to Grey - Midge Ure
(This next connection might need a little explanation - I see "fade to grey" as an ending, and of course, a beginning would be ...)
The Egg - 1776 soundtrack
Roots and Wings - Anne Murray
Unwanted Garden - Green Children
All I Ever Wanted - Kirsty MacColl
(This next song is about a woman who is a fugitive, or "wanted")
Man Down - Rihanna
Down So Long - Jewel
Trouble With Goodbye - LeAnn Rimes
Hello - Beyonce
Hello, Little Girl - Into The Woods soundtrack
Girls Chase Boys - Ingrid Michaelson
I Hate Boys - Christina Aguilera
I Hate Men - Kiss Me Kate soundtrack
I Hate You Then I Love You - Celine Dion
(... and this last song follows the exact theme as the above ...)
Disappear - Sahlene

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

One of my biggest pet peeves is the scenario - most frequently seen in romantic comedy movies, but it also infects the written word - where character A is keeping a secret from character B; A is on the verge of finally confessing the secret, but is too late, because B has just discovered it; and B storms out without waiting for an explanation.

This is most frequently used between romantic partners, and it makes my eyes cross.  Really?  You're falling in love with someone, and you can't bring yourself to stop and talk things out?  You care about a person, but you have no ability to consider things from their perspective and attempt to understand their reasons?  It doesn't quite snap my suspension of disbelief (usually), but it does tend to make me think that one or the other character is actually an idiot.  (Hence the term "idiot plot," I suppose.)

In similar vein, I have a little trouble conceiving of characters who are generally friendly to each other who can't attempt to put themselves in the other's shoes.  This flexibility of viewpoint, to me, seems a necessary part of humanity - certainly of sympathetic characters!  So there are times when I have trouble creating interpersonal conflicts between my characters because they really will stop and talk things out reasonably ... unless they're being shot at or otherwise forced to end the conversation prematurely.

Come to think of it, I did that multiple times in Scylla and Charybdis without thinking about it:  two characters clash over a misunderstanding, but before it can be sorted out, circumstances wrench them apart.

Of course, this can also be overused to the point of ridicule ... but at least it's a different problem!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

So I have to make a terrible confession:  I am addicted to to-do lists.

Setting out tasks in black and white makes them feel more manageable, and erasing them is an immensely satisfying feeling.  (So much so that, when I do something I forgot to put on the list, I feel cheated of that sensation!)  It allows me to organize longer tasks step-by-step and gives me artificial - and very necessary! - deadlines for projects that might otherwise hang in "when I feel like it" limbo indefinitely.  I feel virtuous when I work ahead and accomplish something from tomorrow's tasks; conversely, sometimes I have to use the list to beat my workaholic self down and wait until tomorrow to tackle something!

What does this have to do with writing?  Two things:


First, I just sat down and did a list of the projects that would / should occupy me through the end of the year.  I was feeling adrift; putting them down in an outlined format makes me feel as if I have direction again.

Second, for me, one of the best things about lists is that it takes the thinking out of minutiae and minor decisions.  I don't have to remember that the trash goes out tonight.  I don't have to dither over whether I'm going to do a tedious CD sorting project - it's jotted on my list for the weekend.

All of this gives me more brainspace for the fun stuff and the really important decisions ... such as, for instance, how magic is going to work in my next project ...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

GoodReads Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

ThieftakerThieftaker by D.B. Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In colonial Boston (mere years before the Revolutionary War), thieftaker Ethan struggles to make a living while hiding his skill as a conjurer - magical ability that could have him hanged as a witch. When a young woman of means is murdered with no visible mark on her body, Ethan is hired ostensibly to recover a valuable necklace she wore ... but is drawn deep into the matter of her murder.

This is an excellent book: tense, fast-paced, and well written, the prose clear, concise and evocative. Ethan faces threats and conflict from all aspects of his life, and both his adversaries and allies are interesting characters in their right. I particularly liked the young minister, Mr. Pell. And it doesn't feel as if Ethan's story has abruptly begun at the start of the novel: he has a rich, convoluted backstory that intensifies the conflicts in the present. And while the main plot of the novel resolves, many threads are foreshadowed and/or developed that provide fertile ground for sequel(s).

The historical aspect is also compelling, well researched and integrated - I never felt like I was being lectured, but the setting leapt off the page. I admit, I gave a little bit of a fangirl squeal when Samuel Adams was introduced, and a modern reader might expect that of course, Ethan would fall into the righteous cause ... but the character maintains his own perspective, one that views the young rebellion with wariness and questions both their methods and their motives.

I really debated whether to give this book 5 stars, and if I had been able to give a half star, I would have, but I had some small complaints that kept me from that rating. His relationship with Kannice, while it seems affectionate, seemed devoid of passion. I wasn't in the slightest bit interested in seeing behind their closed doors, mind you, but the fade-to-black moments always seemed ... clinical / businesslike, somehow, because of this. I think the foreshadowing of the eventual murderer and motive could have been done earlier in the book. There is also a point where rapidfire spells are cast, and instead of it feeling tense and staccato, it starts to feel like a D&D session.

But all this is really minor, and just to justify not giving the book top marks - I really did enjoy it and highly recommend it, especially for history buffs. Future volumes promise even more entanglement in the events of historical Boston.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Tasty treats

Allow me a non-writing indulgence for a bit:  I am thinking of offering some freelance catering / pastry / treats.  I would love input on what interests you from this list, and/or what turns you off, and additional suggestions are welcome!  A few obvious things are missing because I don't have a recipe that satisfies me yet.  For instance, I am a sugar cookie connoisseur, and I haven't found a recipe I want to put my name on yet.

Oh, and I have an irrational hatred of blueberry muffins.

Also, I don't have a lot of access to hot-or-cold holding equipment, so I am focusing on items that can be safely stored, held and eaten at room temperature.

So to make a long story short (too late!), here's the brainstorm list:

Lemon polenta cake – this has been my go-to cake, rich and dense
Cheesecake – flavors?
Chocolate truffles – possible filling flavors include chocolate, whisky, peanut butter, almond, espresso, raspberry, blueberry, ginger … I had toyed with a “surprise pack,” in which you get (maybe a dozen?) with two or three flavors.
Scones – plain; dried cherry and chocolate; ginger; pistachio and golden raisin
Muffins
Danishes – raspberry; hazelnut cream; pistachio cream; fig; lemon; spinach and feta
Cookies – sea salt chocolate chip; peanut butter; cornmeal currant
Salsas / sauces – tomatillo-serrano salsa; chutneys / raitas; some thought pending here
Soups (to reheat) – cannellini bean curry

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

I've been writing a story where the taste of a single food - an apple - is central to the storyline, and I've discovered something odd:  there are very few independent words to describe taste.

Now, your immediate reaction may be to cry out that of course there are thousands of descriptive words for tastes - as many as there are foods that can be eaten.  But what are we really saying when we say something tastes like an apple, a pear, asparagus?  At what point does describing a dish simply become a laundry list of ingredients?  If I have never eaten an orange, to say that something "tastes like an orange" will mean nothing to me.  There are no universal words to put together to describe that citrus taste.  (Citrus itself simply refers to the class of fruits ...)

So we try to describe new foods by combining familiar ones.  Jicama, for instance, is often compared to an apple or celery.  I find its starchy, fibrous nature to be very similar to potato.

Aha, you say - there are some words!  But starchy, fibrous, dry, moist ... all of these things don't describe taste, but rather the tactile experience of food, the mouthfeel.

There are other words we use that don't say much of anything:  delicious; succulent; cooked to perfection; tasty ...

Then, of course, there's the metaphorical.  If I say something tastes like childhood and late night bonfires, that may evoke a very vivid sensation for you.  If nothing else, it will inform the tone of the story.

In the end, though, these comparisons, metaphors, the mouthfeel, the overall experience, creates a taste for the reader ... even if it is an illusion, as solid as air.  And does anything in fiction have a firmer foundation, really?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Resolutions

This has been on my mind for a bit, but I just had a day at work that required me to put it in practice, so ... I have made two resolutions about my outlook on life.

The first comes about because I frequently have four, five or more tasks that I need to complete in a day.  When something takes longer than expected (or even the normal amount of time!), I tend to get stressed out, no matter how much I would normally enjoy it.  So:

1.  I am present in the moment, focus on what I'm doing *now,* and enjoy it.

The second comes about because, like many people, I am my own worst critic.  I expect perfection from myself, even the first time out - and especially with my catering work, I am still learning.  A lot.

2.  I am gentle with myself, especially with new experiences.  I focus on what I accomplished and did well, and then move on to what I can do better for the future.

The word "fail" needs to leave my vocabulary.

This was mainly intended for my work life, but it does apply to my writing life, too.  It's so hard to put aside the rejections and the near-misses and just write, but it's the only way to truly love the writing itself - and since I couldn't stop if I wanted to, that's the best way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Words are not static:  meanings shift; new ones arise; old ones become archaic - some words even mean their own opposites; historical origins are forgotten; and we add new ones, usually cognates of existing words.  To echo a cliche modern complaint, whoever thought "friend" would become a verb?  And who uses "nonplussed" correctly nowadays?

This poses challenges for the secondary world fantasy writer.  In all probability, a totally accurate story - one using no words that owe their existence to specific incidents in Earth history - would be almost impossible to write for its limited vocabulary.  Just removing the words invented by Shakespeare (tranquil, rant ...) would probably be a challenge.

So we're generally left with avoiding words that have an obvious real world connotation.  For instance, "spartan" has a fairly direct and obvious connection with the Greek city-state and the ... well ... spartan lifestyle of its inhabitants.  On the other hand, would we look twice at "gypped," which is derived from gypsy?

Jane Lindskold has a neat example of taking this in the other direction.  In her Firekeeper books, one of the historical rulers is a queen named Zorana, known (among other things) for her plain, straightforward manner.  So, when things are unnecessarily convoluted or ornate, the characters now and again refer to them as being "unzoranic."  This is the only word coined in the books, and it isn't overused:  instead, it is a perfect little tidbit of worldbuilding.

Then again, what about words that are period / historical, but that feel too modern for the setting?  In looking up a complete list of Shakespeare's inventions, I see "advertising" and "skim milk" - neither of which feel like Elizabethan words to me!  It's up to the writer, the word and the moment to decide where they can fool the reader ... into believing the truth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Dose of Aconite sold to ElectricSpec

ElectricSpec just accepted my story "A Dose of Aconite" for publication in September!  (Second sale in two days, details pending ...)

This story is set in the same world as Flow.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

Confession:  I hate chapters.

As a reader, I'm indifferent to them - I rarely pay much attention to where the breaks occur or stop at the end of a chapter.  Of late, they've only mattered because I've been reading a fiction book and a nonfiction book at the same time and swapping at the chapter breaks.

As a writer, they drive me nuts.  I tend to have a general sense of my story's path, but I work without an outline, and I often find complications or expansions develop as I'm writing.  Because of this, I may start a chapter and have an idea of where I want it to end, then find as I get within the approximate word count I've chosen for my chapter length ... oh, I'm not anywhere near that cliff-hanger.  So I have to create another one, and then what I'd intended to be the end of chapter comes in the middle of the next ...

When I wrote Flow, I had the oh-so-brilliant idea (note the sarcasm) to name the chapters, which meant even more headaches when I found that the event for which I'd planned to name the chapter wasn't going to happen, or wasn't happening quite the way I'd thought, or some character said something that made a better chapter title, so now I've just thought this up for nothing.

Another reason why chapters bug me, I think, is because they exist purely outside of the story.  To use a roleplaying term, they are OOC - Out Of Character.  Except in the most meta of novels, no character is pointing out that look, here comes a chapter break!  Who Wants To Be A Hero? occurs in episodes, so that was a natural way of dividing the narrative.  For Journal of the Dead, the third person part of the narrative uses a handful of very short chapters, but once we're into the journal, it is divided up as Rhiane's writing is:  by days and when she starts / stops writing.

But chapters seem to be a common enough convention - some agent guidelines, for instance, don't even suggest an alternative writing sample size if you *don't* use chapters - so I fear I may have to contort myself back into them.  We shall see.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Recently, I've realized that when I read, I don't create continuous imagery.  Instead, when I first encounter a new element, whether it be a character or a location or a particularly complicated tapestry, my attention shifts to build a mental image.  At the same time, I create kinesthetic associations with the character, place, etc:  the feeling I get when reading about them.  It is that wordless package that I manipulate throughout my reading, like a game piece on a board.  In most cases, I could probably unpack the original image from the kinesthetic handle, but I don't often go back to it while reading.

If this sounds very technical / difficult to explain, it is - precisely because there aren't concrete words for the way I access elements during reading.  I am very much a full-body person, and when I think of a book or story, I immediately get an impression of how it "feels" to me.  A light, comedic novel feels different than a heavier, formal story.  The book that is absorbing but dense to read has its own kinesthetic coding.

I do this as a writer, too.  I pay special attention to my descriptions and the array of senses, but once they're in place, I do my writing on a less visual level.  It's probably why as a writer, I try to describe characters - especially the main character / narrator - as early as possible, even if I have to tweak the flow a little:  it's what I prefer as a reader.  Otherwise, my kinesthetic handle supercedes the written appearance.

It's also why I have such trouble with illustrations or doing "casting calls" for characters.  (A casting call is where you imagine what actors would play the characters, and/or try to find images that fit - the latter being more broad because you could pick a random model.  Dark Beauty is full of eye-candy that shouts "story" ...)  Even if the image is technically correct, it is almost impossible for that image to also evoke the same feeling as my invisible kinesthetic handle.

The final odd quirk that this method of handling fiction causes for me is that I often need a  specific font to write with.  If it doesn't look right on the page, it doesn't feel right in my brain.  Luckily, this need has faded and I'm much less picky - but I will consciously only use Trebuchet MS, for instance, for lighter-hearted or modern projects.  And don't get me started on the fact that I write in 8 - 10 pt fonts because I have Word blown up to 150% so it fills up more of the screen ...

When it comes down to it, I'm doing all my creating with my body.  It has to get translated into words, but it has to go through that channel first and come back the same way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday Thoughts

Even when I was very young, I wanted to be a writer.  I blithely assumed I would be able to make a living at it.  It took some years for the reality to set in:  being a full-time writer was possible, but the odds were against it.  So I started looking for something else I could love as a supplementary career.  I went through a few permutations, but found that I kept coming back to other creative fields - none of which were particularly lucrative, mind.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I didn't want to be a full-time writer.  For me, the coordination of having a second profession had become an important part of my life and even an important part of my writing.  There are two reasons for this, I think.  The first is that I am an incubator:  I do much of my thinking and plotting on the backburner, often while doing something else.  If left with "only" writing, where would I go to allow my projects to simmer?

The second reason is that life itself is fodder both for story ideas and for the finer details of writing, from character quirks to snippets of description to unexpected reactions.  I wonder if missing those other aspects of life would turn my writing too far inward, too dependent on itself ... and that would be a shame.

Now, all this said, I wouldn't at all mind making enough that I *could* stop other work, and any other income would be gravy ... but that's pie in the sky.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Goodreads Review: Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan

Faery Lands Forlorn (A Man of His Word, Book 2)Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Volume two of this series follows two characters - and two plot threads - half a world away. The commonborn faun Rap, with his word of power that gives him farsight and allows to communicate with animals, tumbles into the wilds of Faerie with a pair of uneasy allies. Meanwhile, headstrong queen Inos - though queen in name only - finds herself in the exotic foreign kingdom of Arakkaran.

This is epic fantasy at its best: even when the storyline involves global events, it centers with brilliant focus on the problem of its two characters. It's refreshing to find secondary characters who are so complex, too - they don't simply function as allies or enemies, but move from one to the other depending on the motive or moment. I have to compare this book to Duncan's later books Children of Chaos and Mother of Lies; as in those volumes, the plot feels like a perfectly natural and tumultuous outgrowth of the collision of people, rather than an artificial construct.

But it's also easy to see the evolution of both Duncan's writing and the fantasy field. Much of the worldbuilding in this book, particularly character races, is rather cursory and mainstream - fauns, goblins, imps, and so forth. There's also chunks of narrative devoted to infodumping. They may fit very well into the story (they're typically given by a knowledgeable character to an ignorant one about something that very much affects the circumstances), but I am still struck that their length and directness would be a difficult sell in a modern novel. Duncan also handles this with much more grace in his later writings.

In some ways, Inos is almost the cliche headstrong princess, but she is an example that perfectly illustrates why this trope became so popular ... and unlike many of her modern imitators, she has good rationale for everything she does, and especially endearing, she is quick to apologize and quite aware of her faults. (Another sign of the times: the book blurb portrays the whole series as Rap's story, but I would say that Inos carries the weight of this volume.)

The only reason I didn't give this book another star is it suffers from Book-Two syndrome: as the second volume of five, though a lot happens, the characters don't seem to make much progress towards their ultimate goal. This makes finishing the book a bit of an exercise in frustration ... but if you have the rest of the series (a big if, considering they're now out of print - after having only #1 and #3 for the longest time, I immediately snapped up #2, #4 and #5 when I found them in a used bookstore), absolutely read on.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Wednesday Wanderings

So confession:  I have a banter addiction.

I love writing byplay, snarky asides and snappy patter amongst characters.  If ever two characters who are clever, witty, sarcastic or just plain talkative get together, they are bound to riff off each other.  Sometimes, it only takes one character and anyone they know they can get a rise out of.  I have to be careful that these exchanges don't go on so long they derail the motion of the story entirely - and, of course, since minimal description is helpful to keep the pacing, it runs the risk of becoming talking heads.

Then there are narrators like Vil (or Trin in the zombie novella I'm working on) who have a bit of an askew world view, and that shows through in the way events are described from their perspective.  If this is not quite banter, then it is a close cousin.

In Who Wants To Be A Hero? I let the banter run wild:  it was a humorous novel, after all, and the strong structure kept the story moving.  With Unnatural Causes, I often decided to cut it off, particularly when Vil and quasi-ally, quasi-antagonist Duvalis got into it ... but given the final length of the manuscript, I may go back to some of those conversations and let them take a natural course for a few more exchanges.  Of course, Flow has quite a bit of patter between Kit and Hadrian, the first (and probably my favorite) exchange being where they riff about Hannibal Lecter.

(Of course, one only knows that Lecter has a rare form of polydactyly (like Hadrian, hence the initial salvo) unless one has read Hannibal, the book on which the movie is based, which begs a question about Kit's fifteen year old reading habits ...

It might be mentioned in the novel version of Silence of the Lambs, too?  Not sure, been too long since I read it.

Maybe the reason I like banter so much is I myself am hopelessly addicted to theatric asides ...

(Is this the right way to punctuate multiple parenthetical paragraphs?)

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday Snippets



Rather than posting from works in progress, today is a quick look back:


Most of the lights in the house were off, but Kit found the gloom more comfortable than the gingerbread warmth of normal light. She made her way down the front hall by feel.

“Hey, Terri?” she called. She found the wood handrail into the living room, trying to shake off a weird sense of tension, as if someone were looking over her shoulder. “I want you to meet…”

The sensation deepened as the shadows gained color, a blur of muted hues that closed in and hit her hard. A fist smacked her chest and her body went awry in response, arms flying, spine cracking into the rail. She howled; her second muscles coiled in readiness, all wild animation and adrenaline poisoning. Instinctively, she tried to place where her attacker stood. Something slammed into her left leg.

She twisted with it, trying to roll over the blow, but a flare of pain sent her mind screaming – not the tendon, not when it had taken so long, not when another pull could damage it permanently – and she surrendered, collapsing in a puddle on the steps. A long white-gloved hand caught her chin and knocked her head back against the rail. Hooded grey eyes played over Kit’s face, neutral, assessing. She saw a flash of metal out of the corner of her eye and flinched. The point of a knife replaced the hand.

“I know what you can do,” the woman said. “The first false move will be your last.”

Flow, Chapter Three 


 

From Taming The Weald, after Keryn has discovered a mysterious girl in the Weald, a small woodland maintained on her space station:

On the walk to her quarters, Keryn talked about her community in the station, the school, the beautiful views of the void—she didn’t have the heart to tell Verdant there was nothing else out there. The station was the only remnant of civilization in a galaxy shattered long ago.

Halfway home, she wondered aloud, “How do you know our language, if you’ve never been out of the Weald?”
“I hear people talking when they walk past,” Verdant said, “and the trees talk to me, too. They teach me words you no longer use.”

Keryn shook her head, deciding not to correct the girl. Obviously, living in the Weald had confused her understanding of what was real and what was imaginary. Most children grew out of that at a younger age than Verdant's. 



In a ruined fortress in Stone Unturned (Unburied Treasures anthology), our narrator uses her powers to divine its past:

I knelt on the dividing line between cracked, mossy tiles.  “Givesan, Hawk of the Heavens, Father of Humanity, open my ears … open my heart.”  I sang the prayer, letting the melody shape itself.  It was new with each Sounding.  “Carry me under your wings as you carried our mother, through islands and nations of time.”

The ruined hall began to shrink, transcended by music that was more than sound.  I continued my prayer.

“Tilasta, Wolf of the Deeps, Mother of Monsters, be merciful.  Leash your fury.  Grant me passage through the unknown.  Keep close to your breast the evils you bore, more potent than those of humankind …”

Harmony and light.  My senses filled with memories of a blazing hearth and a thousand candles, fur rugs sprawling across the polished white stone to trap the heat …  the press of hundreds of ghostly bodies, most of them elegant and erudite, but also the scampering of servants whose lives history would never remember.

The theme of the strongest memory carried above the bustle.  I focused on it.