Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

I don't tend to write in the same world - or even the same cosmology - very often.  I've spoken occasionally that I admire writers who work like that and enjoy it:  on the purely mercenary end, I have an inkling it probably is a surer route to building a fanbase.  Unfortunately, I just have way too much fun with the nuts and bolts of worldbuilding and a short attention span.  (Well ... as short as a novelist's attention span can be.)

However, recently, in contemplating some of my projects that haven't been in what I like to call my wheelhouse - "secondary world fantasy" - I've detected an amusing possibility.  Follow along with me:

Flow is contemporary fantasy - specifically, set in the late Aughts (2000 - 2009) before mobile technology exploded - with a backdrop secret history of fairy incursion and underwater sorcery.

Scylla and Charybdis is soft science fiction, set in a future where humanity departed Earth and colonized a handful of planets.  Travel and communication with the homeworld was always cumbersome because there nearest wormhole to Earth was several light-years away, and in the chaos of Y-Poisoning, the colonies lost contact with Earth.

My new novel project is ... uh ... post-apocalyptic science fantasy?  Let's go with that.  The premise is that magic exploded into the world through virtual reality, both mutating the human environment and opening portals to other worlds.  (It has been left open whether or not any magic existed within this world before.)

So since the existence of magic was hidden in Flow, it's quite possible that book could be history for the other two stories.  And there's even an argument for "magic" in Scylla and Charybdis:  Gwydion (among others) has hypermental abilities, which are presumed to have a scientific basis (look at studies of extrasensory perception, etc) ... but who is to say?  (Me, obviously.)

Looking further, again, the people in Scylla and Charybdis have lost contact with Earth.  What if, in the interim, things have turned very strange indeed?

I didn't set out to connect these storylines, nor am I completely sure that all the small detail facts - dates, background information, etc - line up.  But it's certainly an entertaining thought, and with Scylla and Charybdis pending edit and the new novel as yet unwritten, I could easily plant hints and Easter Eggs.

Oh, I probably won't; there's nothing really to be gained, and the downside is that it limits my options in all three venues - Flow is in finalized form, and I have pondered writing a sequel.  But then again, you never know ...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Novel forthcoming!

Grimbold Books / Kristell Ink has taken on my soft science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis!  I'm in some exciting-looking company:

The irony is, of course, that I always say my wheelhouse is secondary world fantasy, yet my two successful / accepted novels are contemporary fantasy and scifi, respectively.  However, both featured very intensive worldbuilding - my notes for SaC include the class of the star, rotational and orbital periods, climate data, etc ... only a fraction of this shows up in black and white, but it helped me to make sure I was building a plausible SF setting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

(I just changed my fractal image - over to the left.)

The political atmosphere these days is ugly - not just in the United States, but in Britain as well.  The British decision, at least, is almost over:  tomorrow, the UK votes on what has been nicknamed Brexit, the decision whether to leave the European Union or remain.  Regardless of which way Britain decides, however, I suspect there will be fallout, name-calling, repercussions ... everyone taking facts and twisting them to suit their particular variant of "I told you so."

The United States is in a battle that will continue for months more, of course, with two major candidates who are both polarizing figures with huge personalities.  This latter muddies the waters even further:  the personal and the political spill over into each other.  And this battle now occurs around the metaphorical wreckage of a national tragedy.

Everyone wants a solution, but in the shouting and anxieties, the very human desire for that solution to be *simple*, proponents of one side have forgotten that "everyone wants a solution" applies to the other side, too.  No one is saying, "Eh, this is just the way it is."  There's no cosmic battle for good and evil going on in the political realm, wherein the belief you espouse makes you a villain or a hero.

This is not a new phenomenon, but it seems to be even worse this election cycle.  Republicans and Democrats alike paint each other as the enemy (idiotic, heartless, ruthless, oblivious, sanctimonious, lazy) without making that basic assumption which allows for dialogue and thought:  my opponent has their own line of logic.  There's another way of looking at this issue besides my own.

Again, it's human nature.  I talked in the previous blog post about the deep discomfort most people have with states outside of the binary ... what about people who agree with Republicans on some issues, Democrats with others?  In the current climate, you'd better swallow your outlier position or risk accusations and imprecations.

(The partial answer to this, of course, is that there are third parties, but their electability is slim at best, and it's still very possible to disagree with certain positions.  Parties align themselves according to certain fundamental principles - that human desire to organize and label, again - but individual humans are more than capable of holding specific positions that contradict generic guidelines.  We're flexible like that.)

I've stayed out of discussions personally, but I'm unable to escape the lure of reading them.  It's the worst of pulp (non)fiction.  It turns my stomach, makes me want to grab people by the shoulders and shake them.  True, there are some people who are genuinely twisted or self-interested to the point of being dangerous ... but I'd like to think that percentage is very small, and that more progress will be achieved by assuming that your opponent is operating in good faith.

If there's been any upside to this election cycle for me, it's that it has forced me to personally examine my positions and figure out where I stand - and what impact each position has.  I may choose not to think about it, but I've brought passion and rational thought together, and I hope others do the same.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

(This post inspired by, but not intended to be a direct response to, recent events.)
We all need to be one, people say.  We need unity.  We need to stop defining ourselves by labels.

But the labels are important.  Without the human desire to label the pieces of the world around us, we wouldn't have language.  We would be unable to distinguish between tigers and trees.  The language, the labels, are also how we organize and classify the overwhelming deluge of information around us.  It makes the world manageable ... mostly.

Labels are how we, as an evolving species and throughout our history, identify and manage what we should consider a threat, what might be an ally, and what is neutral.  We categorize and classify as a survival strategy, and did so long before formal taxonomic systems.  It's why things that don't belong in one distinct category (or belong to several) cause tension on a primal level.  Much of mythology, superstition and folklore deals with these liminal forces.  By defining and naming them, they become an evil that can be fought, placated and understood.

People also use labels on the personal level to recall and manipulate information.  For those with a visual memory, they might picture the person or object in question instead, but others often need the words.  Without a tag, an identifier, a position on the association tree, that person, thing or concept cannot be accessed by the brain - cannot be considered, contemplated, understood.

So to say "stop using labels" flies in the face of human evolution and neurology.  Luckily, however, we also have the capacity to realize that the label is not the thing - that just as "Suzie" represents a person of immense complexity, to say that someone is Jewish, Swedish, bisexual is only one piece of their truth.  Naming is the first step to understanding; it is not the last.

The word liminal means "on the threshold" and we can stand on that threshold - despite our deepest fears, fortified by our power - and be all things at once.  We can use the words, the labels, to speak about what we must ... and know the rest in a place beyond words.

Monday, June 13, 2016

GoodReads Review: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (Thursday Next, #6)One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love the humor, imagination, and authorial madness of the Thursday Next series, and this volume did not disappoint. The sidestep that is the premise - this story is told from the viewpoint of the fictional Thursday, the version of her that exists in the BookWorld after novels were written based on her life - is handled very well. I got a clear sense of this not-Thursday's personality, and her butler / sidekick, Sprockett, is also a delight.

I have only minor quibbles. I felt that the eventual resolution wasn't laid out clearly enough to be wholly satisfying when it came - it felt like a mystery where the writer had deliberately withheld a bit of information so the reader couldn't solve the problem. The other elements of the conclusion, however, were fulfilling enough to balance this out, and an entirely appropriate end for written-Thursday's character arc.

The other problem I had has been an ongoing one: I'm never quite convinced by Landen, Thursday's husband. He seems one-dimensional to me, existing only to be a supportive ideal. It's actually a little more appropriate here, considering that written-Thursday lost "her" Landen, so he is an unattainable dream ... but the character still bothers me, and it's hard to invest in her desires when he feels flat.

Jasper Fforde has a rare ability to make complete nonsense feel cohesive and internally consistent. You know, logically, that there's no way the BookWorld makes sense, but any attempts to pick it apart end in throwing up your hands and going along for the ride. Relax and enjoy it.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Liner Notes For "The Promise of Song" now available!

It's up! Check out my flash fiction story written as CD notes:…/liner-notes-for-the-promise-of-song/

 Mythology buffs: see how many references you can spot ...

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

GoodReads Review: By The Sword by Richard Cohen

By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic ChampionsBy the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions by Richard Cohen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A highly entertaining and very readable chronicle of the history of fencing, from the earliest era to dueling to modern Olympic competition, this book strikes an excellent balance between providing an overall historic and cultural perspective, and relating the stories of individuals - often with humor and/or drama. For my tastes, the later chapters on fencers in the 20th century were less interesting and took up more of the book than I would have wanted ... but that may show my bias more than anything else.

Particularly recommended for any fiction writer hoping to chronicle duels or professional sports - the book is a great source for insights on sportsmanship, legal challenges, honor, cheating, and other related topics that transcend fencing.

View all my reviews

(I don't usually post my nonfiction reviews on this blog, but this one is especially relevant to Things Fantasy, at least my Things Fantasy, and might be of interest to fellow writers.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Wednesday Wanderings

For me, in a work of fiction, the story has a life of its own.  It exists as an independent entity, more of a found object than a composed one; an excavation rather than a creation.  Now, that doesn't mean I'm against editing and revision - changes to help a story realize its potential are, to extend the archaeological metaphor, removing the dust and debris.  (Literary criticism is the scientific paper discussing the find.  Fanfiction is ... all right, I'm taking the metaphor too far now.)

When I refer to story here, I want to clarify that I don't just mean the plot:  I mean the sum total of character, world, plot, and to a lesser extent, tone and mood.  Since I primarily write secondary world fantasy, the analogy is easy for me:  the story is the history of another world. I debated a bit whether to include those last two, but decided that there's a sense of mood and tone in "real life," too, so it's appropriate to consider that part of the story.

There are other elements that may exist in a work of fiction that are intertwined with story, but (in my mind) separate from it:  theme and message; education; raising awareness and increasing diversity; filling a niche; style and language; narrative structure.  Some people would argue that it is impossible to separate message from story, and in the end, I agree.  Even if the author doesn't consciously intend to say something, he or she does:  even if it's, "sometimes, life is random."

Beautiful prose; intriguing facts that give the story life; how could I be against any of this?  I'm not.  I can hardly rail against experimental narratives when I've written not one, but two stories in first person plural ("we"), another entirely as a dialogue between two minds trapped in a single body with no outside cues, and am currently submitting a tale with two different endings - which completely change the context of the tale before.

But for me, there's an important caveat:  these other elements must grow out of and/or serve the story, not the other way around.  The story is always first.  It's about authorial intent:  I need this element to tell this tale properly.  When a story because slave to other elements, because a writer wants to send a specific message or deliberately write something "wacky," the story begins to gasp for air.  It loses verisimilitude.  The long-buried pottery begins to crack.

Obviously, though, defining when this happens is very subjective.  Unless the author has been interviewed about the writing process for that tale - and possibly not even then - it's nearly impossible to know in what order the elements were conceived, where the inspiration started.  A story I find ridiculously contrived might seem perfectly natural to someone else, and vice versa.  And, of course, we all have blinders:  favorite elements or pet peeves that blind us to "flaws" or highlight them with a spotlight.

So it goes with every work of fiction:  taste is subjective.  One thing comes out of this that is immutable, though:  for me, personally, whenever I sit down to write, I concentrate on the story and chisel out everything else from there. 

Real archaeology makes me sneeze.