Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Years ago, I read Heinlein's The Puppet Masters for a course.  I was underwhelmed; it was a fairly good story, but nothing special.  Admittedly, for me as a reader, it was more difficult to become engaged because the female lead was probably considered a "strong female character" by the author, but her portrayal was painfully dated.  (It may not have been as bad as I remember, to be fair.)

But one part of The Puppet Masters stuck with me.  The alien invaders of the novel physically bond to their human hosts.  After the initial threat is neutralized, the government requires everyone to be naked, so there's no place for the alien to hide.  But instead of this being distracting and titillating for people, the fact that every part of every person is revealed removes the interest of mystery.  It becomes part of the background.  Heinlein doesn't linger on it any more than that.

It's not a new thought, of course:  what is concealed is more alluring than what is revealed.  But Heinlein's illustration is both literal and direct.  Imagine a whole world with nothing (physically) to hide.  Or this, for the matter of that.

It's also worth keeping in mind as a general principle.  When everything is spelled out, the attention wanders; boredom sets in.  Keep people guessing ... but the reveal had also better pay off.

Word count this week:  1,843 (... it was a crazy one)
Pages edited:  7.5
Poems edited:  1

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Song Styles

Who Wants To Be A Hero? is still seeking an agent, which means that some typing is curtailed due to my perpetual crossing of fingers.  I've spoken before about some of the character themesongs, and today I'd like to highlight Senashi, the goddess of acclaim, public opinion and popularity ... who, of course, is the instigator of the game / show around which the novel is structured.

So what's her song?  It's neither subtle nor obscure, and you've probably heard it:

The Fame - Lady Gaga

Really, what's more appropriate for the reality TV set?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I recently did a "Boot Camp" with the goal of writing a flash fiction or poetry piece, per day, for two weeks.  I mostly concentrated on flash because that was what I "needed" for submission purposes, but I did finish four poems.  (I partly stopped with poetry because they were becoming increasingly disturbing ... not sure why that happened, but I needed to stop unnerving myself with my own writing.)

What I became aware of is that writing poetry, particularly - for me, at least - within fixed form and line lengths, helps strengthen a writer's sense of word choice.  In a short story or novel, it's easy for a cliche phrase to slip by in the flow to the next and the next.  In a poem, the content is finite and each phrase needs attention, and often reworking to arbitrary lengths or rhythm.  This draws a writer's eye with laser focus to the exact words, the way of shaping image:  the journey as well as the destination.

Some writers will also use a form as a starting point and depart from it when it doesn't serve them; this is another great way to heighten awareness of exactly how you're making your point.  Is the original phrase(s), within the context of the form, most effective, or does this change that departs from the form enhance the poem?

Like flash fiction, a poem is also a way to crystallize an idea in a compact number of words.  Finding that essence makes the writer aware of what's actually needed to convey the story.  (And there is a story, even if it's a progression of moods or an internal conversation rather than a specific plot.)

As a writer, I tend to be fairly deliberate:  if a word choice isn't right, or I'm missing a fact, I need to resolve that before continuing.  I spend a lot of time in my initial write of story openings to make sure that all the pieces are entering play.  People who toss in parentheticals to (fill this in later) boggle me.  But even if one is more a "throw down words and don't look back" writer, poetry can be helpful when you get to the editing stages.  Clunky or dull phrases leap out where it might be possible to skim past them in a manuscript.

I happen to write (usually) overtly fantastical poetry:  seers, ghosts, aliens.  But even if tackling more mundane subject matter, poetry sharpens focus and attunes one to specific word choice.

Writing 7/31:

Word Count:  8,560
Poems written:  2
Pages edited:  5

Writing 8/7:
Word Count:  4,857 (... it's been a week)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Song Styles

I'll be posting more from my Scylla and Charybdis playlist once I have a release date for the novel, but in the meantime, here's a "general purpose" song on it that I really like simply because it's imaginative and joyous:

In The Arms Of The Milky Way - Laura Powers

Laura Powers is what I would describe as New Age Pop, stuffed with every Celtic cliche you can imagine.  As a professional Celtic musician, sometimes I'm kind of embarrassed by my fondness for her stuff, but it is surprisingly catchy and fun.

As a sidebar, the television show Salvation recently mentioned the mythological Scylla and Charybdis.  (I keep meaning to write a blog post about Salvation, which is to impending-apocalypse science fiction what Laura Powers is to Celtic mythology:  a heartfelt but not particularly original love letter.)  

Anyhow, the characters on Salvation discussed the part of the story most people don't address, which is Odysseus' solution to sailing between them.  With the whirlpool Charybdis, the danger was all or nothing; they might be able to evade it, but it might suck the ship and all its passengers down to doom.  Scylla, on the other hand, was a monster, a woman from the waist up, and vicious dogs from the waist down (given Greek misogyny, there's gotta be a metaphor there).  She would certainly kill some of the crew ... but not everyone.  

So the mythological choice between Scylla and Charybdis is ... do you choose the certain sacrifice of some over a chance that everyone might make it ... or everyone might die?  It's a no-win situation.

How this metaphor applies to *my* Scylla and Charybdis is another question.  I didn't have this story specifically in mind when I structured the plot, though there are mythological influences sprinkled throughout.  (In the original short story, when Gwydion was the *only* male you see, I very deliberately chose a name from another mythos - Welsh.  And I can't recall specifically, but I don't think that the name of his sister-in-law, Sophie - wisdom - was chosen randomly, either ...)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Novel Goals

I figured it was about time I put some long-term goals into place, writing wise.  I've always found deadlines liberating, and the purpose of posting them here?

Anyone reading this blog post is a witness.  Feel free to hold me to it.

November 23:  finish first draft of Surgeburnt
December 1:  finish editing on Unnatural Causes, synopsis (waaaah I don't wanna) and query (nooooo)
January 1, 2018:  start next novel (writing phase)

Note that these dates are all deliberately before the holidays, with the exception of the last, because I expect to be madly, ridiculously, eye-crossingly busy during the Christmas season.

In my family, we refer the "drop-deadline" - that is, the time by which something absolutely, positively has to be done to avoid dire consequences.  (Use this term sparingly, as it has been known to cause the uninitiated to crack up laughing.)

So for the first goal posts, if I don't make them, the drop-deadline is the first of the year.

Let's get cracking.  Or rather, typing.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Song Styles

So I spent the last two weeks doing a self-imposed Boot Camp, writing a flash or poetry piece a day from a list of prompts I collected / generated.  My prompt from Day 12 was "She watched the bloodstained dress burn."  (Not necessarily to incorporate the sentence verbatim, but the concept / beat.)

But another thread of inspiration popped into my head to drive this particular story:

Cry To The Beat Of The Band - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Yes, this from Wanderlust, which I've described before as one step away from being a fantasy concept album.  This is probably one of the *least* overtly fantastical songs on the album.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Outside the realm of fantasy, the Prologue is a perfectly acceptable way to foreshadow, show an unrelated or only partially related event that sets the scene, or otherwise provide a frame for the book to follow.

Inside the realm of fantasy, the Prologue is the source of a veritable firestorm of controversy, with some readers swearing they never read them and writers warning each other that it means an agent will instantly pitch their book; and others simply treating them as a valid storytelling tool.

There's a reason for the grumbling within the fantasy community:  in older fiction (and still by newbie writers), the Prologue is often used for worldbuilding, and ends up an excuse for creation myths and other elements that more properly ought to be woven into the story gradually and organically.  But it doesn't have to be.

Personally, I don't use Prologues too often, not because I have anything against them, but because I'm not a big fan of chapters, either.  Ironically, both my published / forthcoming works use chapters, but I flailed and threw things and regretted it the whole time.  

On the other hand, I can't comprehend not reading part of a book just because of its label.  I'm a completionist.

Prologues work best when they're used to provide a snapshot of events outside the story, not a summary but a scene that may even seem out of context until later in the main tale.  If it belongs in a guidebook ... it's not your prologue.

Word Count this week:  8,942
Poems written:  2 (I am counting poems separately / not inclusively)
Pages edited:  5.5

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Song Styles

Thanks to a fellow harper, I have a beautiful new early music tune to work on, a Middle English song entitled "Byrd One Brere" - according to her, the first known love song.  Here's the Mediaevel Baebes' take on it:

Byrd One Brere

Gorgeous, haunting, and unexpected.  These earlier tunes often have patterns and conventions that don't match what we're used to hearing, so they seem to go in strange directions.  I'm not even taking the tired trope that "modern music is dull and repetitive"  - this is more fundamental.  Conventions and paradigms in music have shifted over the years (and cultures) and this is a prime example.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday Meanderings

A few months ago, the organizers for my harp group (which believe me when I say it is like herding cats) met to discuss repertoire.  We also exchanged music.  One harper offered a packet of Irish hymns and mentioned, "They're all pretty easy."

Said I, tongue in cheek, "Oh, well, I'm less interested now."

A blank and puzzled stare in answer.

"Come on," I added, "you know I'm a musical masochist."

And I was only partly joking.  I find that "easy" tunes often don't have enough interest for either my ears or my fingers.  When I come across a melody that intrigues me, but has a tricky section - hard to finger, sequence of accidentals - I tend to be more determined to play it.  If there's a specific left hand sound I want, I will keep pushing until I make it work.

This tends to be how I am with most creative endeavors:  I'm drawn to difficulty.  Long before I ever cooked professionally, my earliest recipe attempts quickly got more ambitious than my skill level could handle.  One of my favorite short story idea tactics is to take two very disparate ideas and fit them together.  And I love the beginning parts of a new work:  figuring out how to introduce the elements of character, setting and a plot in a short span is one of my favorite things to do.  It's like a puzzle.

I'll admit:  sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.  I spend more time working on a single tune / dish / project, and it may not always be a worthwhile tradeoff.  (I've thrown out some recipes because they were good, but not that-level-of-effort good.)  Often, what people want is the simpler stuff that I've skipped over.  I find a lot of the "classic" Celtic tunes unappealing because they've been so played to death.

But my hyper little brain loves a challenge.  It's just how I'm wired.  Which is probably why I love form poetry so much, because it is such a bear to work with ...

Word Count this week:  6,534
Pages edited:  7 (1.5 of these edited twice)
Poems edited:  1 (twice)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Song Styles

So a long time ago, I wrote a story to a prompt from the wonderful The 3am Epiphany (Kiteley, highly recommended for an author of any genre) to write about an article of clothing.  The resultant story took just a smidge of inspiration from this song, down to the title:

In These Shoes? - Kirsty MacColl

Sans the question mark, as far as the story was concerned ... because for Rosh, they were her killing shoes.

This song was also my introduction to the inimitable Kirsty MacColl.  It comes from Tropical Brainstorm, her final album before her untimely death.

An amusing aside (at least to me):  "The One And Only" from Electric Landlady has an instrumental interlude that was driving me bonkers with how familiar it sounded.  I finally pegged it:  Planxty Irwin, a traditional Irish tune from the prolific blind harper, Turlough O'Carolan.

GoodReads Review: The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

(The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death, #2)The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Murder, mayhem, rebellion and forbidden romance clash in medieval England, dragging the clear-eyed, analytical Adelia Aguilar into their midst. Adelia is what we would call a forensic doctor, trained in Salerno, and her every move is complicated by the fact that -in England - women have no medical knowledge and virtually no rights.

This storyline is a powerful river, sweeping everything along in its wake. It is Adelia's sharp curiosity that keeps form in the narrative, propelling forward in mind even when circumstances prevent her from directly confronting the mystery at hand. The period details are stellar and (usually) seamlessly integrated into the narrative. Her push-me-pull-you relationship with Rowley is compelling, and not your typical romance subplot.

To some extent, the other elements overcome the mystery in this book: there was a place at which I felt that the mystery was kind of besides the point. But then a final surprise brought me back to the mystery storyline. Recommended.

View all my reviews

(No, this is not spec-fic, but it's in a period which inspires a lot of fantasy work, and it's a great read for history and/or mystery fans.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Today, I want to talk about a character trope that particularly annoys me, one you see nigh-constantly in television media:  the genius is an a*****e.  I'll use the term jerk from here on out to avoid having to self-censor myself, but really:  what I mean is precisely what I said.

There seems to be a compulsion to present characters who are brilliant problem solvers, scientists, innovators, as genuinely obnoxious people to be around:  misanthropes, smart alecks, bucking authority not because it needs to be bucked, but simply because they can't stand rules.  Television in particular adores this trope:  House, Sherlock in Elementary, and most recently, how Genius portrayed Albert Einstein.  Now, I know enough about Einstein to know that's a somewhat accurate portrayal, but it really was emphasized to a grating extent.  I also just tried out Amazon Prime's The Collection, and lo and behold, there's another cynical, misanthropic genius.  (Claude also suffers from a second trope that I hate - and suffer is exactly the right word - but that's for later in this post.)

To some degree, it's easy to see why television in particular reaches for this trope.  It's an easy flaw to give a character who otherwise has unfair advantages without having to alter the storyline or the opposition.  It's a flaw that is readily visible and creates outward conflict.  And you do see it in literature, too.  Dr. Frankenstein comes to mind, but I would say it's less common because it's easier to show inner flaws and struggles in fiction, where you can get deep into a character's head.  It's also very possible that I don't have many examples from literature because I tend to avoid reading about those types of characters.  Spoiler alert:  I don't enjoy it.

I also think that genius-as-jerk is wish fulfillment.  Don't we all wish we were smart enough / good enough at our jobs that we could ignore human conventions and have people kowtow to us?  Sadly, that's rarely the way the world works, but it's part of the attraction of the trope.  And there certainly is an argument that the genuinely brilliant often have trouble interfacing with society's rules, so portraying characters that way is realistic.

On the other hand, it doesn't have to be that way.  The one-season television show Allegiance portrayed a remarkably brilliant young man who had trouble interacting with people, but it wasn't the attitude of a jerk or misanthrope; he simply had trouble reading cues and was intensely shy.  (This character was also autistic, and the intriguing thing about it was that one could tell, but it was never stated outright.)  In the fictional realm, take Miles Vorkosigan, whose intellect gets him into trouble ... quite beyond his physical flaws, which are another issue entirely.

The genius-as-jerk trope has a close connection with another character trope that drives me batty, the tortured artist.  (Remember Claude from The Collection?  He is a perhaps painfully perfect illustration of this.)  Maybe it comes back to the wish fulfillment, and we writers would love everyone to bow to us even as we suffer for our art, but the tortured artist is difficult, surly, and has a dysfunctional relationship with his muse ... but his product is astounding, so everyone around him puts up with it.

Maybe this was a bit more true in earlier generations, but these days, the whiny or unproductive artist doesn't get concessions; they get the boot.  There's always someone just as talented who *isn't* difficult.  I really think this trope is harmful to newcomers, too:  young writers and artists may think that the world is going to treat them like the artists in film (and sometimes fiction), and it's a shock to find out otherwise.

In my own works, both Vil (narrator of Unnatural Causes) and Iluenn, her "sidekick," are highly intelligent, but they have compensating flaws:  Vil her inexperience with human foibles and politics, and Iluenn her (crushing lack of) self-confidence.  Now, I'll confess that Maren from Surgeburnt *is* a jerk (you'd probably want to punch her if you met her), but she takes just as many shots at herself, and she's not unusually intelligent.

If I ever tackle the tortured artist trope without subverting it in some way, shoot me in the head.

Word Count this week:  5,309
Pages Edited:  7.5

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Song Styles

Unnatural Causes is off to readers ... heaven help me (and them).

So for today, here's the song I have written down as a touchstone on the overarching theme.  If you listen to the lyrics, they refer specifically to a romance, but they have much broader implications, especially for a tale with politics, betrayal and a dose of hero worship:

Writing On The Wall - Blackmore's Night

I've also written a short story that uses this song as a tighter theme / inspiration, along with another tune that just happens to be part of my Unnatural Causes soundtrack.  I've referenced this one before, and it's Vil's themesong, as well:

Orange Express - Miami Sound Machine

To repeat:  "a toda maquina" means "at full speed" or "full speed ahead."

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I'm a goal-oriented person:  I do best when I have something concrete to work towards, and I find deadlines motivating.  I often impose structure on myself; even internal accountability helps me work.  I've participated in groups where everyone sets weekly goals, and I love that framework.  Others may like the sensation of having a cheering section, or be motivated away from the guilt of having to report failure.  For me, the motivating part is setting it down in concrete words (in front of witnesses is a bonus; it keeps me honest with myself).  I don't always meet my goals, but when I don't, I've made a conscious choice that my priorities need to go elsewhere.  Having a specific goal, as opposed to, "as much as possible," actually, for me, makes me feel more free to adjust when necessary.

Also, I just really like numbers.  It's a bit of a disease, really.  I like tracking and percentages and totals.  I like measurements.  (This is a good thing for a pastry chef, really.)

I'm not quite ready to add personal writing goals to my plate right now; I have a lot of balls in the air presently.  But what I am going to start doing is tracking, so I can get a feel for how much I'm getting done per day (and probably be highly embarrassed by it).  That may also give me an idea of what a reasonable weekly goal might be ...

See what I mean?  I'm setting goals for the purpose of figuring out what goals I should set.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Song Styles

I'm in the final pages of this editing pass of Unnatural Causes, and then I'll be looking for beta readers ... my first serious use of beta reading, well, ever.  I used to have my childhood best friend read my novels, and she was wonderful at picking out grammatical issues - I probably have her to partially thank for my keen eye ... but that was a long time ago, before I started submitting novels to agents and publishers.

But that's all getting away from the usual topic of my Sunday post.  I've talked a lot here, on and off, about Vil, the snarky familiar who is the first person narrator of Unnatural Causes, but in many ways, it is equally the story of her partner in investigation, Iluenn:  a timid, self-effacing apprentice who suddenly finds herself at the center of political attention after the death of her mentor.

This, on my playlist, is her themesong:

Carrier of a Secret - Sissel

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Game Plans

So despite the chaos of this year, I've managed to finish an average of a short story a month, in addition to work on my novel and editing.  I have my next short story plotted, and I had planned to start groundwork on another novel, but I'm not really sure I'm feeling it.  It requires a lot of concentration and firm commitment to one idea, which ... trust me, my brain is never that good at doing.

So I'm tossing around two story vehicles versus two boot camps.


1.  Sometimes, when watching TV - as one does - I'm intrigued by the commercials for shows I don't watch.  The snippets of plot in media res, without context, get my brain spinning.  I always think it would be fun to take an episode trailer for a series I don't follow and write a story inspired by what I think is going on.  I can guarantee you it wouldn't be particularly close to the original ...

2.  In the "unusual formats for stories," I thought it would be fun to write a tale as an email conversation.  This is certainly not a new idea - I've read a couple stories like this - but I think it's something that would suit my style, and it's off-beat without being too hard to work with.


Note that in both these cases, the usual method would be "one a day," but I know myself and my incubator brain well enough to know that's not going to work terribly well, so I might do an average:  four a week?

1.  Flash fiction from a prompt at regular intervals (see above).  I am thinking of using a random word generator, but I would be open to suggestions.

2.  Poetry from a prompt at regular intervals (see above), using various forms.  Yes, I write form poetry.  Deal with it.  I'm intrigued by this list - - but again,I am open to suggestions.

That's all I've got for now.  I haven't written a lot of flash or poetry of late, so I thought it would be nice to kick my brain back into it, change the pace ... but I also enjoy a good short story, too.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Monday Meanderings

And now, to spice up this blog ... controversy!

Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to talk politics or, even worse, the use of a double space after a period.  (You can have my double space when you take it out of my cold, dead, and Oxford-comma-laden hands, though.)  Instead, I'm going to talk about a decision I made as a reader of fiction.

For over a decade now, I've committed to finishing every book I start.  I might dislike the main character, hate a plot twist or find the prose sluggish, but I will forge onwards.  I do this for two reasons:

1.  I remember very distinctly when I made this resolution:  I was reading Terry Brook's Running With The Demon and was getting bored with it.  It wasn't going anywhere.  Then it hit page 51 (roughly) and took off, and at the time was one of my favorite reads.  So at least with the early phases of a book, I don't want to miss something wonderful because I didn't stick with it.

2.  As a writer, I feel I can learn as much - if not more - from what I didn't like in a book.  It helps me define what *not* to do, which in some ways is a lot easier than figuring out what I *should* do.  I find value in translating what annoys me as a reader into tips for me as a writer.  That includes differentiating between a plot twist that might anger a reader in the moment, but objectively increase their investment in the book, versus a plot twist that's ... just bad.  In my opinion, at least!

Now, I won't say that I'll keep this routine forever, and I'm sure there are special circumstances that might derail it, such as very disturbing / objectionable material.  I do ultimately read for entertainment first.  And it has had a few downsides; I have some longer books that I haven't picked up because I'm leery of getting "stuck" in them.  But overall, I'm happy with how it's impacted both my reading and my writing.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Song Styles

Today is July 2nd, which as far as I'm concerned, is real Independence Day:  it's when the delegates of the Continental Congress voted for freedom from Britain.  The 4th was when the final version of the Declaration was signed and released to the public.  Which date we chose says something about the American psyche, when you think about it.

It's also my parents' wedding anniversary.  (Shh!)  Here's to an amazing, loving, always funny couple.

This song makes me think of my family and childhood:

Musical Key - Cowboy Junkies

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I'm currently thinking ahead for Unnatural Causes and coming to the realization that I need beta readers.  I've been asking my writer friends for some tips and advice in that department, but there's one barrier:

Critiques dial my nerves up to eleven.  I also mentioned this on my writer forum some months ago, and a lot of people were bewildered.  They were surprised I still got nerves despite how long I'd been writing; despite the fact that I typically got positive comments on my stories; despite the fact that this group is wonderful for writing tactful, thoughtful critiques.

... none of which really moves the needle on my stress levels.

Why?  It's not because I'm super sensitive:  I want to know what's wrong, not be cossetted into a false sense of security.  I have a good strategy for analyzing critiques and deciding how to apply them.  I don't knee-jerk reject advice or get angry at the people providing it.

No, the person I get angry with is myself.

I am a perfectionist.  When something I've written has flaws, my first reaction is depression.  I tear myself up for being a subpar writer, and how could I not have seen that?  My second reaction is a frantic flurry to Fix It All NOW.  (This plays into that whole strategy above, too:  I've had to force myself not to act on certain advice until I see what other readers think or I've mulled over the best way to make a correction.)  It needs to be flawless, and here's where my tendency to incubate and backburner whirls about and bites me in the butt:  I can't stop worrying at it until I've fixed it.

Also where having a smartphone is more trouble than it's worth:  I can and do get my email at work, where I obviously can't do any editing because I usually am elbow deep in pasta or some such.

The only solution to this, really, is to be gentle with myself.  That, goodness knows, is an ongoing process, and broader than writing alone.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

GoodReads Review: Wildfire by Jo Clayton

Wildfire (Drinker of Souls: Wild Magic, #2)Wildfire by Jo Clayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second episode of Faan's story, as she searches for her mother, control of her powers, and her own agency separate from the gods that toy with her. It suffers from a problem common to many a Book 2 of an old school fantasy trilogy: it's the middle, and nothing much gets resolved.

Indeed, as with the first book, Wildfire is a product of its time. The reader is plunged into the world with many unfamiliar words and customs and left to find her own way ... much as Faan herself is. There's much rich worldbuilding and some things that aren't quite explained well enough, but it feels like a very real, complex and lived-in place.

Faan has immense powers, but they are handled perfectly: she's a flawed adolescent struggling to make sense of it (without teen angst, mind), and it's as much a curse as a blessing. This is an example of book where being a Chosen One really works, and it feels vital and alive even to a modern reader.

The main problem with Wildfire is that much of the book is taken up with the city-wide conspiracy which tumbles Faan and her new fate-tangled acquaintances into trouble. This would be fine if they were involved in the continuance and untangling of the plot, but instead, the two storylines diverge. I never felt as if I was given any reason to care about the succession struggle going on in the city. I wasn't bored by it, but I wasn't invested in it, either.

That said, there are some great snapshot character portrayals, and the plot thread involving Navarre and his significant other, Kitya, has some really interesting elements. I'm curious to finish the series and see how it all ties up.

View all my reviews

Song Styles

So ... I did it again.

Another few months, another set of car CDs, one of which is themed on word association.  I always enjoy following a chain of thought via song.

Glassheart - Leona Lewis
Nothing Broken But My Heart - Celine Dion
Breaking Dishes - Rihanna
Breaking Ties - Oceanlab
Break Free - Colbie Caillat
Free Me - Emma Bunton
Free World - Kirsty MacColl
Real World - Eisley
Imagination - Helen Reddy
Me and My Imagination - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
The Wizard and I - Wicked soundtrack
You and I - Ingrid Michaelson
Together We - Clannad
Come Together - Echosmith
Happy Together - The Turtles
Happy - Leona Lewis
Sorry - Solas
Something's Going On - September (this connection is embedded in the lyrics; it's a "you'll be sorry" revenge song, and a glorious one)
Something In The Air - Sarah Brightman
Like Lightning - Idina Menzel
Situations Like Lightning - Carrie Newcomer
Thunder - Leona Lewis
Various Storms and Saints - Florence + The Machine
Kisses From The Sky - The Green Children
It's In The Rain - Enya
Wrong End of the Rainbow - Anne Murray
Blue - Chantal Kreviazuk
Clearest Blue - Chvrches
Brighter Than The Sun - Colbie Caillat
Wrong Side of the Sun - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
You Thought Wrong - Kelly Clarkson
Right To Be Wrong - Joss Stone
Right Away - Gloria Estefan
Right Now - The Pussycat Dolls
Nowadays - Chicago soundtrack
Rest of Yesterday - Alana Davis
Miles to Go (Before I Sleep) - Celine Dion
1000 Miles Away - Carrie Newcomer
Many The Miles - Sara Bareilles

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I recently read a post (linked here) that discussed the differences in realism between old school painting and modern artists - the former of whom generally worked from live models, and the latter of whom had photographs to work with.  I encourage reading the whole thing, because it's fascinating, but one of my takeaways is that the difference between real life and painting can also be compared to the difference between real life and fiction.  

Instead of rendering every detail in a photorealistic sense, the writer picks and chooses what to highlight, what to blur.  Instead of capturing a single moment in time, the writer captures the essence of the subject, suggesting details that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Fiction shows us the world as we think we see it:  after all, when we look at a lake at sunset or an old friend, we don't notice each individual tree or every freckle, but we might notice a cluster of birds or new earrings.  Trying to portray every detail means the important gets buried ... which is actually a technique used now and then to conceal something that will become crucial later on, like a real clue in a mystery plot hidden amongst the red herrings.

There's a sleight of hand in both paintings and fiction.  Verisimilitude is not an exact imitation of the real, but rather something that feels real.  We can step back and analyze it, but the mind rebels.  We want to buy into the fantasy.

And, of course, a different artist can look upon the exact same scene and create a completely different painting (or story).  Our world is filtered through our own personal paint palette.

I'm not much of a visual artist, but I would wager that, if you give five artists a photograph, you will end up with more similar final results than if you set those same five artists loose on a landscape.  A photograph forces us to see reality, at least if we stop and really inspect it; a painting or other artistic rendering shows us the world as the artist wants us to see it.  It's their reality ... their fiction.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day!

Here's to all the dads, granddads, stepdads, foster dads, potential dads, like-a-dads, and any other paternal figures I may have forgotten, including the doggie dads.

When I got my first dog, Nimi (short for Nimue), my Dad was telecommuting.  I don't think he was particularly enthusiastic about having a dog in the house at first.  But ... Nimi would sneak up into his office and curl up in his lap during phone conferences.  She would stay there for hours.  They were buddies.

It's the day I usually make song-related posts, and oddly, a song about fathers didn't immediately come to mind.  But after some thought, I remembered this, which I've always loved:

I'll Go Too - Carrie Newcomer

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Meanderings

It's been a while since I've posted any excerpts, so I thought it was about time.  This is sometimes tricky, because the further I get into writing a novel, the harder it is to find a segment that makes sense without a lot of context and/or doesn't give away significant events in the plot.

This bit from Surgeburnt, though, is one of the past-storylines / flashbacks.  The reader has encountered references to Iskedelis, the non-human inventor who worked with Maren (the narrator) and her crew, but this the first time she's appeared directly in a scene:

Iskedelis' lab spanned most of a single abandoned floor, a labyrinth of improbables with a ridiculous number of reflective surfaces.  She had always loved shiny things.

"Desi!" she called.  “Come over and have a seat.  Would you like some tea?”

I surveyed the collection of slanted, paneled, and protusion-laden surfaces looming around her.  “Where should I …”

“Oh, foolish of me,” she chirped, spinning about with surprising dexterity despite the length of her frame.  Vrin bodies were divided into three segments, and they were most comfortable with the first two segments parallel to the ground.  She picked up a device that looked suspiciously like a toaster to reveal a bench beneath.  “Right here."

Iskedelis was small for her kind:  in first-joint stance, she stood only four feet tall.  Her carapace was a soft, gently burnished silver in hue, dusted with soot-grey spots.  The eyes that sought mine were the faceted compound eyes of an insect, with a saffron undertone I had only noticed at the tenth look.  A lot of Vrin wore sunglasses even indoors, not just to give humans normal to focus on, but because their eyes were unusually sensitive to light.  Iskedelis’ lab was dim, and she had long ago learned she didn’t have to hide around us.

“What kind of tea?” I asked, sitting.

“It’s Liber,” she said, then paused expectantly.

“Never heard of it,” I said.  “But whatever.”

She drooped, her segments slumping together.  “You don’t get it?  Liber … tea.  I laughed when Archer told me.”

“Remind me to smack Archer upside the head for feeding you bad comedy,” I said.  “Whatever kind of tea it is, I’ll have it.”

Iskedelis recovered, scurrying over to her teapot.  Her seven-fingered hands were vastly overqualified for the task, though the lack of a shorter digit sometimes made handling human objects tricky.  She could bend any of those fingers multiple times, but it wasn’t quite a substitute for a thumb.

Infinitely polite even with such news waiting, Iskedelis hustled back with two cups, handing mine over along with the sugar bowl.  She perched back on her haunches, watching me as I took my first sip.

Only once I had set down the cup did she speak.  “Well?  What did you find out?"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Song Styles

I didn't post last Sunday because, on top of working, I had a lengthy meeting with two fellow harpers.  We run the Cincinnati Harpers' Robin together:  a group of traditional lever harp players who perform a few times a year, with a specialty in Celtic and early music.  Because our harpers have busy lives and varying skill levels, we are only able to rehearse as a group once a month, so we typically start preparing in the summer for our "winter tour":  Christmas through March-aka-St-Patrick's-Month.

We have a healthy repertoire, so we decided to limit our new additions to two, both of 17th century origins.  Here's links to lute versions of both:

We also looked at some of our older repertoire, tunes we had retired for a season or two and are considering bringing back.  This is one of my favorites, an English dance tune from the Playford collection that was actually played in the American colonies.  This will probably date me:  I first encountered this tune playing Sid Meier's Colonization!  In this case, this is an orchestral arrangement of the tune.

Looking forward to another season of good harping.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Monday Meanderings

So ... that story has found a new way to bedevil me, and I haven't even started to write it yet.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you may know the tale I'm talking about.  For anyone else, here's the two-bit summary:

I have what was intended to be a very brief short story about a character who has been selected for an important position.  The pivot of the tale is her discovery of the cost involved.  I initially was dithering how to lay out the reveal and the resolution.  I'm now leaning towards an open-ended story, but to minimize the sense that the tale isn't finished, I'm introducing two other characters in the same boat with her.  Their storylines will resolve, even if the main story is left hanging.

So what's the problem now?  Hang onto your hats ...

Point of view.  I was originally going to write in third person, because the fact that there was only one character already creates a tight focus on her, and (on a non-story-related point) both the novel I'm currently editing and the one I'm currently writing are in first person, so I'm in first-person overload right now.

But now, with two other characters, that dynamic feels like it changes.  Adding them makes her less important, in a third person context, even though her inner thoughts will still be the only ones portrayed.  And this is a story about the character, not about the central idea.  First person would also allow me to use just a touch of the unreliable narrator effect:  this is what the character thinks about herself, but is that true from the evidence she's presented?  The character's personal beliefs and attitude will play strongly into the choice she makes.  The more evidence I give the reader to decide which way she might jump, the better ...

Besides "I'm overloaded with first person," (to which my mental response is kind of, "Well, suck it up, writer.") the main argument to NOT use first person seems to be that to write a deliberately open-ended story in first person feels a bit unfair / gimmicky.  The idea that a first person narrative is an individual telling their story to someone else / the reader is implicit, and ... can a storyteller deliberately omit the ending?  In this case, if the story *were* being told to another person (and I'm not planning on making that frame explicit / direct), the choice she made would be obvious.

I suppose that's a way to resolve it:  "Well, you can see the choice I made."  Hmm ...


Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Meanderings

One of the key parts of a good story is the use of detail:  not exhaustive, generic detail, but the right handful of details to shine light on the heart of the story.  Of course, in direct contradiction to that statement, that's not exactly what I want to talk about.

Rather, I think it's interesting what details a writer chooses to include, both to serve the heart of the story and those that buzz in the background.  One writer might include an elaborate description of a tapestry, either to point up the richness of the court or its long history, or perhaps simple for the pleasure of writing it.  Another writer would snort at these tapestry descriptions as fluff, but think nothing of dropping in a huge description of the food served at the banquet.  A third might focus their worldbuilding attention on flora, both borrowed from Earth and invented for the setting.

Personally, I don't often write about musicians, bakers or chefs, but those elements often sneak into my work in other ways.  Taste and smell are integral to my descriptions; I pay more attention to describing music and musical metaphors than I might to other aspects.  I've used various takes of music-as-magic in stories.  And I know that my other biases and interests influence what happens in my work.  For instance, in Scylla and Charybdis, Anaea finds herself fascinated with physical books.  The book-as-paper has almost vanished from society in that world, but its tactile nature and permanence attracts her.

And ... me, too, if I'm honest about it.

Years ago, I read a writing book for SF/F writers (alas, I can't remember the author or book!) that discussed another writer's series.  The series was a portal fantasy, partly set in the real world, partly in a fairy realm.  The guidebook author said that the parts that fascinated about her were not in the invented realm, but in the writer's depiction of the state in which they lived.  (Again, I so wish I could recall!)

Authors can strategize, pick and choose the details that make it to the final draft, but to a certain extent, I don't think authors can decide which details interest them and they end up focusing on.  It's something that sneaks sidelong to the heart of who they are and what love.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Song Styles

This post contains indirect potential spoilers for Unnatural Causes, a book which is still in the editing process and thus some ways from submission, much less publication ... which makes the odds of remembering an unspecified song reference, out of context, years later, vanishingly tiny.

Still ... you have been warned.

I love a "Yes, but" ending in my stories, and my novels are no exception, so most of them are open to a sequel, even if I haven't specifically planned or even intended to write one.  I have some half-formed thoughts for a sequel to Unnatural Causes, and I know that this would be a fitting song to represent the romance storyline:

Near To You - A Fine Frenzy

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I've been quiet for a while because, almost three weeks ago now, my desktop crashed with a dramatic bellyflop, leaving me to the tender mercies of my old laptop, (mostly) affectionately know as the Frankenlaptop.  It is called the Frankenlaptop for a number of reasons:

1.  It is fused together from spare parts.
2.  It has died multiple times and been reanimated.
3.  It bears a deep and abiding hatred for its master.
4.  It is capable of beating people up.  (It is quite sturdy and heavy.)

I was working on line edits for Scylla and Charybdis (more to report there soon, I hope!), and I was genuinely surprised that my laptop played nicely enough with Track Changes for me to continue through the marks.

So for a while, my routine shifted.  I've avoided intensive web-browsing, such as video watching, and I don't have the programs to do those nifty little graphics for BookQW (Book Quote Wednesday).  I don't have any games installed on the laptop, either, which let me focus on writing ... and all right, binge-watching Orphan Black.

Did this change help with my writing?  Did it grant some new insight?  Nothing earth-shattering or obvious, but I've greatly enjoyed working on my current short story, "Pieces of Her," and my novel, Surgeburnt, feels as if it's flowing more smoothly ... for now.  This book has been a multi-headed beast, which given its fantastic premise, is appropriate.  But writing ebbs and flows, and there are difficult times and smooth times.  Maybe this is simply one of those.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Loyal Dice is now out!

Leading Edge 70 is out with my story, "Loyal Dice" ... Pazia's first adventure. It's been a long and convoluted journey getting this one to print:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Song Styles

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms, grandmoms, foster-moms, stepmoms, like-a-moms, expectant moms, even fur-moms ... and all the moms I might have forgotten.

Because it's my day for songs, this one seemed appropriate:

Mom - Meghan Trainor

Monday, May 08, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I feel as if there's a constant tension in my creative process between the old and the new.

As a writer, I'm restless:  always moving on to new worlds, new characters, new ideas.  I love short stories in part because it enables me to take a snapshot of a concept - for instance, a flying city populated by people who believe the world below has been destroyed - and play with the thread for a bit before setting it aside and, like a child with crayons, merrily clutching for the next.  When it comes to editing for short fiction, I have a definite (if not always consistent) tipping point between when I'll overhaul a story and when I feel it's effort better spent on a new work.

I do this with harp, too:  I'm always eager to try new tunes, and I would far rather pick up new sheet music than revive a forgotten piece from my older repertoire.  And cooking:  I try new recipes almost every week.  I rarely go back.

On the other hand, I have a certain nostalgia for old concepts, characters and stories.  I'm an incubator at heart, so these tales that have had years to mellow from their writing have a powerful appeal.  I'm also a perfectionist, so looking at my old flaws, from awkward prose to questionable plot twists to cliche worldbuilding, I want to fix that ... and I'm also intrigued by the cascading changes that stem from making those improvements.

So I find myself caught between the two.  Should I try to salvage every story, or is it all right to decide that it's better to take what I've learned and spend the effort on a new work?  Should I go back and rewrite old novels, or is it better to mine newer, fresher ideas?  Is either extreme lazy and undisciplined?  Which one?  How in thunderation do I know?

And please, don't say, "Choose whichever appeals the most to you."  Oh, if I knew that, I wouldn't continuously dither about it.  Sometimes, it comes down to my sense of what might be more marketable, but that's always a best guess.

It's a work in progress.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Song Styles

When I first started writing Scylla and Charybdis, I put together a soundtrack for it:  songs appropriate to the overall plot / theme, specific characters, relationships, and some choices for the gender elements that were just plain bratty (see:  "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" from the musical South Pacific).  But it's been several years since then; oh, the time between first draft and publication.

Recently, playing some of my newer tunes, it occurred to me that this might be a fitting addition:

Fire Under My Feet - Leona Lewis

It certainly speaks to adversity and hope.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Monday Meanderings

When I say I enjoy creating things and being creative, I mean it in two ways.  The first is the standard usage:  I like the invention, putting together something out of nothing or the mental bits and bobs of everything.  The intellectual and inspiration side.

The second is more fundamental and broader:  I like making things from scratch, combining materials into a result you can experience, whether visually or with your tastebuds.  The physical and tactile side (even typing is tactile), which doesn't necessarily have to have a "creative" component by the typical definition.  Then again, even in the most specifically followed recipe, there's some variance, some trusting of instinct, and nuance learned in repetition.

If there's a weakness in this interpretation for me, it's that I have trouble creating unless I have a purpose for the final product.  Food is easy:  that's going in my belly.  (Or someone else's.)  Stories and novels are intended for submission and the hope of publication.  I find that sometimes, it's hard to motivate myself to finish a harp arrangement unless I have a gig on the books where I can play it.  It's why I don't work much with visual art:  I have a fractal deviation, a drawing, a photo ... now what do I *do* with it?  What purpose does it serve?

Homemade ice cream requires no purpose, of course.  Just a bowl and a spoon.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Song Styles

The narrator in Surgeburnt is what is known as a Cityspeaker:  someone who is in subliminal communication with the embodiment of a city.  For her, the relationship is fractious and grudging.  She accepted the abilities from a dear friend, who transferred them on his deathbed ... and although we see Tahir only in flashbacks, they have the kind of friendship unique to two damaged, broken souls.

There's no romantic element between the pair, but this song is quite appropriate for Tahir, I think:

Colors - Halsey

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Song Styles

I've spoken before about the difficulties of arranging certain tunes for harp, primarily centered around accidentals and key changes.  What exactly does that mean?

Between the notes of the musical scale lie sharps and flats.  The easiest way to visualize this is with a piano:  the sharps and flats are the black keys, while the white keys are the natural notes.  The key signature (a handful of symbols at the beginning of the music) tells you which black keys to hit.  It's particularly easy on my harp, the traditional lever (Celtic style) harp, because the set the key, you flip up the levers.

So what is an accidental?  An accidental is a sharp or flat that doesn't appear in the key signature, or a natural note where (again, according to the key signature) a sharp/flat should be.

The difficulty of this on a lever harp is that it requires flipping a lever, which means taking one hand away from playing.  Not only that, the string is still vibrating, so if you return the lever to its previous position too soon, you get unwanted bonus sound.  The only exception is if the accidental consistently appears throughout the music.  In that case, you can set the rogue lever and leave it.

From a fiction perspective (since this is, after all, a writer's blog), who cares?  Well, any portable harp will almost certainly be traditional style; the pedal style harps played in the orchestra require a framework of a size that makes casual carting-about prohibitive.  Wire strung harps do not have levers, which means that the key has to be set by tuning the instrument before beginning play.  For historical context, levers are a (relatively) recent invention, so nylon / gut strung harps may have the same limitations.  But the actual technical design of levers isn't that complex, so it's possible for a typical fantasy world to have them.

What it boils down to is there are certain songs that are impossible to play on certain harps.  The big joke at my luthier (yes, harp players and harp makers have geeky in-jokes) is that a cross-strung harp is the only harp on which you can play "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Of course, the biggest harp joke is:  "How long does it take to tune a harp?  Nobody knows."

(Because by the time you finish, it's out again ...)

A pet peeve that I've seen in stories is strings that break from play.  Nope.  The amount of pressure being applied upon each string is far more than the average human's ability to pull.  The most likely time for strings to break is while tuning (we've all done that, believe me) or with a sudden drop in temperature.  Wood shrinks, increasing the continuous tension on the string and ... twang.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Some marketing advice will tell you to build a brand:  a tagline, phrase, description of the type of books you write that will attract readers interested in them ... a way of saying, "If you like this element, you'll find it in all my work."  I may not be describing this well, but that isn't really the subject of this post.

I've tried to distill what my brand might be a few times, and every time, I've ended up stumped ... or with a concept that excludes a significant fraction of what I've written or want to write.  For instance, outside of brand, I've typically said that my wheelhouse is secondary world epic fantasy ... but my two novels accepted by publishers to date, Flow and Scylla and Charybdis, are contemporary fantasy and science fiction, respectively, and my current query project, Who Wants To Be A Hero? is, while in the secondary world and epic buckets, also a comedy send-up of both mythology (primarily Greco-Roman, but it ranges) and reality television.

If I can find any pattern in my choice of writing, it's in the things I don't write, though that's a relatively small list:  hard science fiction, due to comfort level; horror; gore, also due to comfort level; and unrelenting bleakness.  Beyond that, my brain seems to take, "Oh, I don't write about X" as a suggestion ...

More than that, I suppose I have a subconscious fear (perhaps not so subconscious now that I'm writing about it) that applying a brand to myself will prevent me from taking the next tangent.  I have an unruly, hyperactive brain.

Is "unruly and hyperactive" perhaps my brand?

... nah.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Song Styles

I mentioned earlier in the month that there are two romance stories in Surgeburnt, one in the past storyline, one in current events.  It provides me a lot of opportunity as a writer to compare and contrast, though my narrator may be in denial about what's good for her.

Both threads involve some element of push-me-pull-you, mostly from Maren (aforesaid narrator).  But sometimes, when you push, the laws of physics push back, and that's the thought between this song on my Surgeburnt playlist:

The Universe Is You - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Thursday, April 13, 2017

GoodReads Review: Beyond The Woods: Fairy Tales Retold ed. Paula Guran

Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales RetoldBeyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a broad and varied collection of fairy tale retellings and fairy tales inspired - a number of the stories within are not based on a specific narrative, but capture the feel of a certain type of fairy tale. (A lot of these are also among the best stories in the book.) It spans everything from dystopian science fiction to urban fantasy (even historical fiction) to traditional fantasy ... you will probably find a story precisely to your tastes within.

For me, the anthology improved as I progressed within it. There were some stories, particularly in the beginning, that I simply didn't care for - not so much because they seemed to be flawed, but because they were darker than my usual tastes. There are a few others that seem to be paying lip service to the fairy tale, or diverging so far they don't seem to quite fit the theme. There were a few more that I wanted to like, but they just felt hollow or incomplete.

Further into the anthology are the gems: the wonder tales, the stories (like Shveta Thakrar's "Lavanya and Deepika") that fuse fairy tales of one culture with the setting of another, capped off with Tanith Lee's gorgeous scifi piece "Beauty." Ken Liu's "Good Hunting" was a favorite of mine, and a lovely take on technology vs magic.

As mentioned above, this is a huge anthology with a big range. As such, I don't think every story will be a match for every reader, but you will definitely find something to enjoy.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

It's That Time Of Year Again ...

Besides the onslaught of pollen and drowsy thoughts of evil trees, mid-to-late April also means that submissions to the Sword & Sorceress anthology open, and as every year, I've prepared stories for it.  The anthology allows a maximum of two submissions - an initial sub, and if that isn't shortlisted, a second before the end of the submissions period.  I usually manage to get to the shortlist stage, with the second story if not the first, so I always have two in the pocket.

This year, my prepared stories are:

Chains - a shapeshifter on the run encounters a town locked in an astral prison
Speechless - a banished swordswoman returns to the manor of her old adversary; the reasons for her presence are filled by parallel story / flashback

Wish me luck!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Meanderings

A long time ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth ...

All right, not quite that long ago, but for the first few novels my ambitious childhood self wrote, when I started a new draft, I had my printout in my lap ... and I typed, from the beginning, in a brand-new file.  Sometimes, I would transcribe verbatim; other times, I would change, add or omit.  The act of re-typing it forced me to consider everything I was writing.  And it worked well enough - I might go back to it some day - but it was tedious and time consuming.

After that, I moved to editing in-line.  However, I started finding that I wasn't making enough changes:  I was reluctant to remove things because they would be gone forever.  I'd also occasionally have problems with cutting something and later realizing I shouldn't have ... and at that point, I wouldn't have any options for fixing it.

So I started the technique that I use now for novels and certain short stories requiring significant rework:  every time I start a new draft / editing pass, I save a new version of the file.  On a practical level, this allows me to go back if I need to reverse a cut; I can also double-check for consistency between versions.  On a psychological level - probably just as important - I feel more comfortable slashing even large chunks of manuscript.  They still exist:  I haven't destroyed the words forever.

I don't so much kill my darlings as lock them up in a psychiatric ward.