Sunday, December 10, 2017

Song Styles

A few weeks ago, I asked about favorite Christmas carols, old and new.  (And I would still love to hear the answers!)  I just have to share one of mine, a song that makes me grin no matter how much of a Grinch or Scrooge I'm feeling, and one that stays in my annual music rotation:

Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake

It is, of course, appropriately Celtic.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Song Styles

Surgeburnt is, in many ways, the protagonist against the world:  she's up against larger problems to which there are no solutions (or at least, there seem to be none).  But there are specific antagonists with which she clashes - and one particular character, Caprice, who holds a position of power and professes to be an ally ... but her background (and Maren's instincts) suggest that her offer of power comes with a price tag.

And now, in the current point of the narrative, Maren has had to take her up on that offer.  What exactly will be the consequences? ... well, I know, but I ain't sharing.

In any case, Caprice is a gorgeous, glamorous schemer, and I couldn't quite resist using this for her themesong (language warning):

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Anatomy Of An Idea: For As Many Dawns

We interrupt your (generally) regularly scheduled blog post to bring up a new publication of mine and talk a little bit about the inspiration.  You can read it here:

For As Many Dawns

(I do recommend you read the story before this post, if you do intend to read both, as here be potential spoilers.)

The kernel of this story comes from an old fairy tale or fable known as "The Buried Moon."  There's a bit of mythological this-is-why-it-is to "The Buried Moon:"  it starts with the conceit that when the sky is dark (new moon), the moon has come down to wander the earth.  In this particular fable, though, her progress through the dark forest is interrupted by all manner of evils, normally driven away by her light ... but when she trips over a tree root, the creatures swarm her and bury her in the swamp.  The fable has a happy ending:  eventually, a local village manages to free her.  You can read a version here.

It was the idea of this anthropomorphized moon, and the power of her light, that carried into "For As Many Dawns."  What happens to the moon's children after she leaves the heavens?  I wanted that feel of old tales, of legends, to seep into the story.  And how could a legendary problem have anything but a legendary solution?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Song Styles

With the holiday season nearly upon us, already upon us, or in full swing (depending on who you ask), I'd like to pose the question to you:  what are your favorite tunes?  It doesn't have to be Christmas - I've learned the Hanukkah tune Sevivon - or even connected to a religious holiday - I adore Marshmallow World, popularized by Johnny Mathis (and mangled by a Target commercial last year, but never mind that).

So ... what special songs make you smile this time of year, no matter how often you hear them?  Do they have special versions that are "right" to you, or can any artist sing / interpret them the way they choose?

What about ancient songs, passed down for centuries, sometimes fragmented and reworked?  What about the most modern of new classics?

Tell me what music stirs your soul.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

When I first started writing, I thought of myself as solely a novelist.  Writing short stories had no appeal - or so I thought.  Even back then, I participated in fandom, and wrote short tales about my characters, though somehow - perhaps because this was for the love, never professional - I never really thought of that as "real" short story writing.  Or maybe because rather than creating a story out of new elements, I was taking snippets from character backgrounds or transcribing / filling in scenes roleplayed with other fandom folks.  I did short fiction for a fantasy e-zine I ran for a time, but they were all very much serials:  (mostly) self-contained segments, part of a larger arc.

So I told myself I had no interest in being a short story writer, that I was going to write and sell novels, and I believed me.  When I did start writing short fiction, it was with purely mercenary intent:  at the time, novelists had more luck with short story sales to back them up.  Then I found out - horror of horrors! - I really enjoyed it.

More than that:  I've been working pretty steadily on my novel projects of later, but took a break to work on a so-called flash piece.  (I say "so-called" because the first draft clocks in at 1,333 words.)  The satisfaction of setting up the opening, keeping a tautly wound plot, and then - most of all - finishing the story was glorious.  I've also been mulling on a couple poems - which, for me, entails looking at forms I want to play with - and brewing on a fairytale reworking.

I've come to the conclusion I need the break and the change in pace, taking a step aside from the marathon of a novel to write something more contained. ... relatively, because I am a big fan of the, "Yes, but ..." ending, where the current tale is wrapped up, but the story implies there's more to come.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

GoodReads Review: Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds - Patricia Lynne Duffy


(I don't usually post non-fiction or even non-fantasy books here, but this one so deeply involves the creative mind and perception that I had to share.)

  Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their WorldsBlue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds by Patricia Lynne Duffy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating exploration of the concept of synesthesia and the world of synesthetes, this book is both accessible and theoretical, personal and scientific. Duffy opens each chapter with a personal story that provides an introduction into the concept developed in the chapter, easing the reader from concrete illustration to the abstract of advanced topics. Synesthesia opens the door to contemplation of the source of creativity, the use of metaphor, and how the human brain regulates perception. A great, stimulating read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

It's time to face facts and 'fess up:  I'm not going to meet the goals I set back here.  While disappointed, I don't feel I've let myself down or relaxed on my commitment to write.  I've made some good progress, but life interfered in a lot of ways.  The new job has been excellent, but very physically intense, and the commute is a bear.  My older dog, Lexi, got very sick very suddenly.  She's on the mend now and with a long-term plan, but it swallowed a lot of my emotional energy.  My venerable Frankenlaptop decided to do a swan dive, which interfered with my writing because I'll to write in the evenings while chilling in front of the television.

Some of the delays have been directly writing related.  I got my proof for Scylla and Charybdis (!), which took priority.  I also decided to incorporate an element into the worldbuilding for my next project that requires some research, so now I'm down the blissful rabbit hole of learning new things.  I'm also feeling like I need to stretch my flash and poetry muscles a little, so I may take a pacing break for that.

I've always been the kind of person for whom deadlines are liberating, but I'm also the kind of person who stresses over them and beats herself up for falling short ... so I know when I need to let go of the deadline and let things happen in their own time.  I hope both novels (all three novels!) will be better for it.

It's time to face facts and 'fess up:  I'm addicted to alliteration.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Song Styles

I've mentioned before that there are some thematic worldbuilding similarities between Scylla and Charybdis and Surgeburnt:  both are settings that have "recovered" from the apocalypse; both address a backlash against current society's constant connectivity; and both put physical books in an isolated but hallowed niche, primarily because I am a book nerd and have an undying love for ink and paper.  I even posited a theory that they could be the same setting, since the planetary denizens in SaC have long since lost contact with Earth, and I haven't ruled out space travel in Surgeburnt, at least not explicitly.  But that's a bit of silly fluff and I don't think I'd formalize it; the two settings *feel* very different to me in other ways, and to me they don't belong in the same universe.

But there is one more thing that is similar between them.  I recently discovered that they both have the same song on their general theme list:

Children Of The Revolution - Kirsty MacColl

(This is Kirsty at her best, by the way:  it's such bright, cheerful instrumentation and the lyrics are biting, snarky and dark.)

The song applies to my projects in different ways, but it is definitely appropriate for both.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

One of the best recommendations I can make for fellow writers is this:  critique the stories of others.

We all take for granted the advantages of having someone else read our work, from big picture review to catching typos that our eyes just skip over, but even if you never submit a story to a workshop or post on a forum in turn, the process of critiquing can be immensely helpful to your own writing and editing.

First, it helps hone your critical eye.  Picking out what elements you like or don't like in a story and - even better - trying to analyze why helps you be aware of flaws when you return to your own work.  Read a tale that involves an act of deus ex machina, and it might bring your attention to a badly used coincidence in your novel.  It's also a "safe" place to notice these things, when you don't have the personal attachment of it being your keyboard-borne baby.

Second, it helps you separate objective and subjective issues, especially if you read outside your preferred tastes.  Is this battle scene and its gore over the top, or are you just not the intended audience?  What about an unhappy ending - is this cheating a reader, or do you just hate them on principle?  This kind of perspective is useful to have when, inevitably, an editor's rejection bounces back to you with comments, and you have to decide whether or not they have a point.

Third, the act of writing the critique improves a different set of writing muscles.  An effective critique discusses the story subjectively and without directing its suggestions straight at the author - where comments can too easily be taken as attacks.  Instead, a good critique focuses on how the reader reacted to the story, without much attention for the author.  (Comments like, "English must be your second language," or even, "I assume you're a native, because your grasp of (X) culture is ..." are landmines.)  This leads to using "I" language instead of "you" language, which puts people on the defensive in any context, much less one so artistically personal.

Of course, reading a set of critiques is a skill of its own ... but that's another topic.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

It hurts my soul that for some reason, "unicorn" has become code for something chock-full of sparkles, glitter and rainbows, often topped off with pink.  I don't know where this interpretation came from; My Little Pony or Disney, perhaps.  Certainly, that's not the classical unicorn, which could be deadly if not lured in by a virgin, and according to some origin theories, was inspired by a distance view of a rhinoceros!

For as long as I can remember, I've loved unicorns and been fascinated by unicorn lore.  The first plane trip I can recall, I stared out across the flat, mushroom dotted expanse of clouds and decided that it was the realm of unicorns, called Halunea.  Maybe my unicorns were more sweet and fluffy than those classical stories, but they didn't sparkle.  (There's a Twilight joke in there somewhere.)

I always hated, too, the old fable about the unicorns missing Noah's Ark because they were too busy playing games, and that song?  Oh, it made me furious, with a dose of real childhood angst:  I got genuinely unhappy every time I heard it.  I ached a little.  (I was a weird little kid.  Move along.)  

In any event, during my AOL days, I made contact with Richard and Miranda Gray, who created the Beasts of Albion divination cards.  (I still use these for story generation.  They're beautiful and inspiring.)  The cards are divided into three kingdoms:  Strength, Wisdom and Purity.  The Spirit of the Purity kingdom, the "head" of that kingdom, is the Unicorn.

So we got to talking, and I brought up my dislike of the story.  They agreed with me and wrote an alternate version, where the unicorns missed the ark because they were too busy helping other animals.  I wish I still had a copy, but the memory stays with me.

Next stop, The Unicorn Of Kilimanjaro - photography.  Check it out.

Oddly enough, I haven't written often about unicorns.  A few of my short stories have featured them, but usually in an atypical fashion (in particular an urban fantasy story where they were shapeshifting psychic vampires).  Part of it is probably because they are used to the point of cliche, and so I worry about overcoming an editor's reaction, but that's not the full reason by any means.

What is the real reason about unicorns?  I have no idea.  Maybe it's a silence of understanding; I know them so well, I don't feel the need to explore through writing.  Maybe I'm just waiting for the right story, the perfect vehicle for my particular unicorns.  I'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Song Styles

I love this bizarre little song.

A quick summary of the storyline:  the singer is addressing her ex-boyfriend, whose new girlfriend has schemed to get him to take her to Paris - the implication is that he'll propose in the city of love.  And:

While she's in anxious anticipation,
I really hope you have a horrible vacation ...

Mon Amour

The combination of the quirky lyrics with the instrumentation just makes me grin every time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

Some of you who follow me on social media may be aware that Project Runway is one of my guilty pleasures.  Those of you familiar with the show, particularly if you're caught up on the present season, may have some idea why I'm bringing this up.  For those who don't know the show, it's a fashion design competition, which is an entirely different world, but still a glimpse into creative endeavors.

If you are following the current season but aren't current, you may want to stop reading.

In a recent episode, the designer Claire started to work on a shirt that was a near copy, form-wise, of the design that had won the previous episode.  The creator of that design, Margarita, was distraught, couldn't stop focusing on it, even when Claire changed what she was doing.  When it came out in the judges' panel, they pointed out that they borrowed from each other all the time.  It's a natural process in fashion.

The grand wisdom of social media, of course, is never to read the comments ... and, also of course, I did.  People came down hard on Margarita for whining, for being a diva, for not getting over herself.  I think almost anyone with a creative passion would understand how she felt.  Knowing on a logical level that an imitator hasn't done anything "wrong" doesn't help:  it still hurts.  And that line between inspiration and plagiarism?  It's often mighty thin and almost always subjective, as is the line between when something is a fair-game trope versus a specific person's trademark.

There is nothing new under the sun, just different arrangements of the same pieces, yet writers bond fiercely with their designs.  It's how we breathe life into them.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

A day late due to schedule juggling this week; I was working yesterday, and while it was an enjoyable day, it was a hectic one spent running interminably back and forth to the ovens (pies, cookies, cheesecake!).

Thought I would talk today about my ritual for starting stories and novels; not the choosing or conceptualizing, but the very first step in the writing, before those first words hit the screen like a bellyflopping diver.

(It occurs to me I do have to specify screen.  I do all my writing on the computer, and am boggled by people who not only can, but prefer to write longhand.  Admittedly that handwriting is both physically painful and awkward for me, quite apart from the whole left-handed, "Oh, hey, did I just smear everything I'm writing?" problem.)

So the first step is choosing a font.  For me, stories have a particular feel to them; I might not be able to put words to what that feel is, but it's there.  So do fonts.  Here's an easy example:  Comic Sans gets a lot of flack for being not particularly professional or serious, so it's a nice choice for a humorous story.  Another criteria for fonts is that they need to be legible, but not too big or small, when Word is blown up to 150%.  So I typically will write in 9 or 10 pt, but some fonts don't look good at that size.

Why do I blow up Word? ... let me rephrase that.

I've been increasing the zoom on Word since I got a larger monitor and 100% no longer filled the whole screen.  It's one of those "feel" things:  I hate a lot of white space around the text.  It makes me feel detached from the story.  It's also why I can't write in double spacing.

For shorts, I also like to futz around with picking a kooky, dramatic, whatever font for the title, though that doesn't have any serious bearing on anything.

Oh, the last, crucial thing:  I need a title.  Yes, for a writerly reason:  I find that if I don't have a title before I start, it becomes exponentially harder to come up with one.  Most of my post-writing retitles (I've had a few requests, once because the magazine had published a story by that same title in the previous issue), I've been pretty dissatisfied with.

Buuut ... also for a practical reason:  file needs a title.  Not that I haven't gotten around this:  I have a worldbuilding file entitled ArbitraryWorldNameHere.  And "She's Unable To Lunch Today" just has the filename of "Lunch."  (As a culinary type, this confuses me sometimes.  It may not have been the smartest choice.)

And then ... the opening line.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Song Styles

One of the backstory characters in Surgeburnt, Tahir, is deceased (we learn this very early on, since the narrator inherited his powers, so it's not a spoiler), and the character appears only in flashback scenes and in the narrator's memories of him ... but I like to think he has a strong impact on the storyline.  In many ways, he's the person with whom she has / had the most in common, but there was never any romantic inclinations between them.

This is the song that makes me think of him, despite the love story implicit in the tale.  As with a lot of these, the music video has no relevance whatsoever, though it is a pretty clever story on its own.

Colors - Halsey

(And speaking of misinterpreted but not necessarily misheard lyrics:  for some reason, my brain always wants to hear the lyric as, "You'll never be forgiven 'til your boys are two," as if one of the characters has kids growing up and ... I don't know.  I makes no sense, what.)

When I went to write this post, I also started to laugh, because I forgotten I'd given Tahir  the casting call of the fantastic Edi Gathegi:

Friday, October 06, 2017

Guest Post: Tales From The Underground

Y'all know I adore anthologies, and today I'm hosting a guest post about a newly released anthology from Inklings Press.  Read on ...




We have a challenge for you. Put your feet on the ground. Feel the earth under your feet. Now imagine… imagine what is under that earth. Imagine the Underground.
Tales From The Underground is a new collection of stories from Inklings Press – with a dozen stories from writers around the world, all imagining what might lie beneath the ground.
There are stories of fantasy, there are stories of science fiction, there are stories bringing you a shiver in the dark.
So here, join us as we discuss what lurks beneath…

What is Inklings Press?

Inklings Press started out as a collective of writers working together to publish short stories – and though the net is wider these days, thats exactly what Inklings Press remains. Royalties are evenly divided between writers, so every book sold gives contributors more money in their pocket. The press takes a single share too, the same size as any writers, to pay for advertising and promoting the book.
In short, Inklings aims to provide a place for writers who are new or up-and-coming, and were delighted to bring those writers stories to the world.

Why Tales From The Underground?

Tales From The Underground is perhaps the most natural development in the Inklings collection of books so far. The idea came from the writers of previous anthologies. In discussion, the writers themselves suggested the theme, so we ran with it. And the outcome is the biggest collection of stories yet from Inklings Press.

Who is in the anthology?

There are writers from around the world in the collection – there are stories that were authored in Australia, made in Mexico, that flourished in Finland and France, emerged from England and were born in The Bahamas.
The list of authors includes those with novels to their name, and those who are still taking their first steps in publication.
The authors in the anthology are Jeff Provine, Brent A. Harris, E.M. Swift-Hook, Claire Buss, Ricardo Victoria, Christopher Edwards, Lawrence Harding, N.C. Stow, Rob Edwards, Jaleta Clegg, Jeanette OHagan and Leo McBride.

You would love this anthology if you loved…?

One of the nice things about this collection is the range of stories inside.
Fantasy is a strong theme throughout, as in the urban fantasy of Rob Edwards The Lords of Negative Space, about the world just out of sight. But there are also science fiction tales, such as Jaleta Cleggs tale, The Angels of Mestora, in which unwary dwellers of a distant planet are lured away from civilization by “angelsong”, and Ricardo Victorias Buried Sins, with a battle in an ancient underground city.
Jeff Provine delves into a cavern with a reputation for weird events, while Brent A. Harris takes us on a trip through time. N.C. Stow imbues her tale with the influence of Russian mythology, while both Lawrence Harding and E.M. Swift-Hook tell us tales of mythology in worlds of their own devising. Claire Buss goes underground in more than one sense in her tale Underground Scratching, and Jeanette OHagan presents a team of miners fighting for their very lives against supernatural powers.
Christopher Edwards tells us a tale of strange visions in an RAF bunker, and Leo McBride follows explorers retracing the steps of an expedition that never returned. There are ghosts, there are distant planets, there are things happening in the ground under our very feet. Legends are revealed, and legends are made. 
It is a delight to watch the stories take such different directions while all sharing the same theme.

Where can I get it?

Tales From The Underground is available on Amazon at www.amazon.com/Tales-Underground-Twelve-hidden-legends-ebook/dp/B075ZQ579N. You can also learn more at www.inklingspress.com. Each story also includes information about the writers, so if you fall in love with one of the works, you can follow the links to learn – and read – more.

So take a peek, and come join us, down here… in the dark. 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

Alas for the internet, for it has one terrible consequence:  it is now almost impossible to go about singing ridiculously incorrect song lyrics, blissfully ignorant of the truth.  A single peek on Google resolves (almost) all questions, so we're left with the plausible misinterpretations or those so ridiculous that they can't help but stick in the brain.  (Recently, I was mildly heartbroken to learn that the line in Lady Gaga's "The Fame" is actually "Hot blondes in odd positions" - I was hearing "acquisitions," and it made enough sense I never bothered to look it up.  I was picturing cold-hearted but gorgeous executive(s) who had clawed their way to the top.  To me, a much more enjoyable take on the lyric.)

We all have our childhood favorites, the lyrics we didn't understand because the word or phrase wasn't in our vocabulary yet.  Mine was the "man of loaded grease" ("low degree") in Helen Reddy's "Delta Dawn," but also noteworthy is the fact that for literally decades, I thought the girl in The Zombies' "She's Not There" had *died*, due to mishearing a few key phrases.  "How many people cried ..." I thought of a funeral, not jilted / hurt emotions, and my interpretation spiraled from there.

Moving along to adulthood, in the category of "that almost sounds right," I came across Destiny's Child "Bug A Boo," about an obnoxious would-be lover:  "I want to put my number on the call block ... break my knees so I can't move ..."

Thought me:  well, that seems excessive, but I can see it ...

Oh.  "Break my lease so I can move."

Then there's the line you know you had to have misheard.  The Pussycat Doll's "Bite The Dust" is a possessive girlfriend talking to a would-be man-thief:  "Make a move and I'm on him like Fievel."

Wait, the mouse from American Tail?  Definitely not right.  I decided it was supposed to be "fire" and didn't think much of it for a while.  Then I finally looked it up:  "5-0."  As in the cops.  Okay, that makes sense.

And meat dress notwithstanding, I really don't think Lady Gaga's persona in "Marry The Night" wanted to "Put on some leather en croute."  ("and cruise")

Sometimes, you hear the words correctly (sort of), but it just parses oddly.  That's the only reason I can come up for this one from "I've Forgotten What It Was In You" (Maria McKee):  "Your arms were like a little pair of dice." ... paradise.  *Paradise*.

This, though, is the gold standard in absurd misheard lyrics.  If watched Dead Like Me, you're probably familiar with the haunting Metisse song, Boom Boom Ba - and if you're not, go listen to it first, because a) it's a beautiful song; and b) the misheard lyrics will forever ruin your ear.

Now, Metisse is hard to understand to start with, but many of her songs include lines or phrases in another language.  So that results in this glorious strangeness:

Boom Boom Ba - Misheard Lyrics

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Song Styles

It's the most wonderful time of the year ...

No, really.  As a professional musician, I've had to start working on my Christmas repertoire, brushing off songs that I haven't played for nine months.  Many of these tunes have been part of my annual set for years, so they quickly come back to my fingers and brain, but with fifty-plus pieces to revive and an instrument that doesn't lend itself to sightreading, I always start before Halloween ... and often when it's still far too warm to think about Christmas.

Is it any wonder I rarely listen to Christmas radio or CDs?  I start even earlier than the malls do.

By and large, my selections are Christmas tunes that I enjoy.  There are some I can't stand, and I try to avoid playing them.  For instance, I have an irrational dislike of "Silent Night," and will only include it upon request.  There's certainly no lack of beautiful tunes to play instead.

At this point, I have largely plumbed the depths of Christmas music that a) I like; b) is recognizable; and c) is playable upon the harp.  I would love to play the Charlie Brown Christmas song ("Christmastime Is Here"), but it isn't harp friendly.  Still, I'm always keeping my eye out for something new I want to add.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings

It's official:  my weekly post has migrated to this day.  I work four 10 hour shifts at my new job, which means that I have one day off in the middle of the week, and this is it.  A lot of people have winced and said, "Ugh!" when I've described my schedule, but I really like it, both the slightly longer days - enough time to get more done - and the "free" day in the middle of the week.

Anyone who knows me can suss out why the word "free" is in quotation marks.

I've always juggled a lot of balls and hats, putting the former on my head and rolling the latter across the floor ... wait.  Anyhow, one of the best things I've done to manage this is keep to-do lists as Sticky Notes on my computer desktop, today and tomorrow.  When I close down for the day, I delete the "today" note, drag the "tomorrow" note to the top, and start a new note for the next thing.  As I accomplish things during the day, I delete them from the note.  But there's one line on every note that never gets deleted, since it's never completed ...

It simply says "Write."  There is no word count, no page goal, no progress marker - my life is such that my ability to complete a specific amount a day varies widely, and I don't either want to fall short and feel guilty, or easily accomplish the goal and then feel like I can slack off for the day.

But it is an endless repeat, a refrain, a forever expectation.  Even if the day goes haywire and all I do is plan in my head, I keep my writing as part of my daily life.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Song Styles

Another few months, another set of CDs for my car listening pleasure, and another game of word association, as I string song titles together by links of varying degrees of sense:

Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under? - Shania Twain
These Boots Are Made For Walking - Nancy Sinatra
Runaway - Sahlene
Runaway Daydreamer - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Daydreaming - Corinne Bailey Rae
Sweet Dreams - Beyonce
Sweet as Whole - Sara Bareilles
A Whole Lot of Hope - Carrie Newcomer
Hope Has A Place - Enya
Everything Falls Into Place - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Broken Pieces - Clannad
Smash Into You - Beyonce
We Can't Move To This - Ellie Goulding
Move - Dreamgirls 
Hit The Road, Jack - Helen Reddy (also a thematic link between this one and the previous)
Highway Unicorn (Road To Love) - Lady Gaga
Poem To A Horse -Shakira
All The King's Horses - Joss Stone
Queen of Swords - Idina Menzel
Fighter - Christina Aguilera
Warrior - Kimbra
Love Is An Army - LeAnn Rimes
Scars To Your Beautiful - Alessia Cara
Beautiful Scars - Madonna
(Drop Dead) Beautiful - Britney Spears
Playing Dead - Chvrches
Musical Key - Cowboy Junkies
Making Music - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Music - September
Love Song - Sara Bareilles
Another Love Song - Leona Lewis
Break-up Song - Alicia Lemke
(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here - Shania Twain
Leave My Body - Florence + The Machine
Leave A Trace - Chrvches
Shadow - Colbie Caillat
Chasing Shadows - Shakira
Girls Chase Boys - Ingrid Michaelson
Grigio Girls - Lady Gaga
Ashes and Wine - A Fine Frenzy
Burn - Ellie Goulding

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Song Styles

I made a new set of car CDs for myself yesterday, and part of the collection is my playlist for Surgeburnt.  It's incomplete, technically - some characters don't have songs, but beyond character specific themesongs, I have songs for specific relationships and several for the overall world and feel.  I've already mentioned Mary Lambert's fantastic "Sum Of Our Parts" (both versions) as the strongest inspiration, but those aren't the only tunes in my general theme list.

Here are a few others that I felt reflected the attitude, the outlook, the worldview, or perhaps even could be taken more literally than they were intended, in a fantastic setting.  The instrumentation and mood of the music itself applies as much as the lyrics:

Fairytale - Sara Bareilles (This version has a longish non-musical introduction, but it is infinitely superior to the faster, fuller version from Little Voice)
Stranger Than Earth - Purity Ring
Glory and Gore - Lorde

Monday, September 11, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Last week, I brought up the thorny topic (to me) of calendars.  To me, our month and day names stand out as products of our world, so they don't work well in a fantasy setting.  (Exceptions would be alternate earths or the stealth fantasy-setting-that-is-actually-scifi that used to be popular:  colonists settled the planet long ago, but the origins have long since been lost and it reads like a fantasy realm.)  One easy solution is to simply "reskin" our months and days with new names.

Otherwise, the challenge is to make a system that is 1) Logical and usefully divided.  People rely upon the pattern of weeks to order their lives.  A twenty day week would be unwieldy.  2)  Intuitive.  Throwing a foreign system at the reader, it needs to be easy to pick up.  3)  Roughly equivalent in the length of a year.  Extra days or decreased days can add up to characters who aren't quite as old as they say they are ...

The easiest layout is to shorten the months to 28 days.  Then you have thirteen of them, and exactly four weeks.  In Unnatural Causes, Pinnacle - a day of rest - is in the middle of a nine day week.  The week is counted down and up from Pinnacle.  It comes out easy to follow, once you wrap your brain around the fact that three-before is followed by two-before.

Again, intuitive is the key.  If the writer dumps a lexicon of month / week / day names on the reader, the story grinds to a halt ... and it probably doesn't serve the intended purpose, as information overload leads to skimming.

But if it all seems to make sense and the reader can track how much time has passed, then the calendar has served its purpose.  Like most of the iceberg in worldbuilding, the reader will (hopefully) feel the structure without needing to see it.

Word count this week:  2,995
Pages edited:  22 (yes, really)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Song Styles

So when I did my flash-and-poetry boot camp, I generated more ideas than I was going to need so I could pick and choose ... but not too many more, so I wasn't left dithering.

There was one idea that I put down and didn't end up using, but I think it's a good concept overall, so I bequeath to anyone who cares to borrow.

The idea is this:  take a metaphorical song lyric and interpret it literally.  For my boot camp, I decided to pick a specific lyric ahead of time ... and as soon as I did that, I couldn't find a lyric to suit me.  Before that, it seemed like every other song jumped out at me with, "If you take that literally, it's an interesting concept."  As soon as I started looking for one ... boom.  Nothing.

I finally ended up with a bit from Rihanna's S.O.S:  "I'm lost, you've got me looking for the rest of me."  Though glancing at the song, "I'm the question, and you're of course the answer," has possibilities, too ...

(This song also falls on my "misheard lyrics" list:  at first, I would have sworn she was saying, "This timepiece baby come and rescue me" even that makes no *sense*, but it sounds a lot more like "piece" than "peace."  And I suppose animate heroic clocks would make a good story ...)

So there's your story spark:  cherry pick a lyric from your usual listening fare that is intended to be a metaphor, figurative image, etc ... and interpret it in literal fashion.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Suspension of disbelief is a marvelous thing.  It makes possible our immersion into fantastic realms where wizards fly and griffins sling fireballs ... wait, reverse that.  It even operates in other genres, allowing us to believe in the amateur sleuth in the mystery, or that Carrie Bradshaw really can live in that apartment with *all those shoes* as a writer ... ahem.

But the tiniest little thing can break it.

Especially when discussing film and television versions of speculative fiction, people often give side eye to those questioning details.  Many of you will recognize this example:  "You have no trouble believing in the walking dead, dragons and decades-long winters, but you get hung up on the speed of a raven?"

Well ... yes, I do.

Don't worry, I'm not getting further into that specific debate here, just using it as an example:  the details matter.  In fact, the more fantastic, the more bizarre the assumptions of the setting, the more accurate and plausible the mundane details have to be.

It's a matter of trust:  the reader (or viewer) has to trust the writer and the story they are being told.  If the things the reader is familiar with are right, or at least seem right, that builds the writer some capital, which they can "spend" on the fantastic.  The tricky thing, of course, is that every person has a different tolerance level ... a different amount in their suspension-of-disbelief bank account, if you will.  Some people will buy anything you want to sell them.  Others are actively looking for flaws.  And, of course, people who already read and enjoy speculative fiction are far more likely to accept a fantastic premise without a solid trust framework.

As a writer, I happen to like playing with the details.  I like to make things consistent and cohesive behind the scenes, even if the rationale behind specific worldbuilding elements is never made explicit in the text.  I pay some attention to climate zones and the influence of geography on trade.


One particular small detail I admit I tend to be obsessed with:  calendars!  To me, using our world's calendar verbatim breaks my immersion; the names of the months, for instance, are so grounded in our mythos and culture.  But how else do you mark days, months and years without confusing the reader or forcing them to learn a slew of unnecessary details?

But that's off the point, and probably an entire blog post on its own.  In conclusion:  yes, I am hung up on the speed of a raven. The mundane details matter.

Word count this week:  2,924
Pages edited:  5.5
Poems edited:  1

(I'm starting to get adjusted to my new work schedule.  Hopefully productivity will continue to increase here.)

Sunday, September 03, 2017

GoodReads Review: Shelf Life ed. Greg Ketter

Shelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating BookstoresShelf Life: Fantastic Stories Celebrating Bookstores by Greg Ketter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How could I resist an anthology full of stories about bookstores? These are all solid, satisfying tales, but the narrow theme is made narrower by the fact they all feel very similar: set in our world with the fantastic creeping in slowly. I would have loved to see more variety in tone and content. One tale does depart dramatically from the overall vibe: Patrick Weekes' "I Am Looking For A Book ..." which is exactly and wonderfully what you would expect from the author of The Palace Job. This one and the story immediately following, "The Glutton" (Melanie Tem) were the standout tales in the anthology. "The Glutton" got to me on a deep level.

To recap: good quality, but not a lot of variety.

View all my reviews

Song Styles

I've been adding songs to my Surgeburnt playlist as I come across them, and noticing a pattern:  all of Maren's songs, except one, in some way reference death or dying.  There's a nihilistic attitude underlying the songs I've chosen, a sense of "don't hold back, because it's all about to end."  Case in point, my most recent addition:

Last Damn Night - Elle King

Maybe I could go on a deliberate search for a cheerful song, but it would probably just feel wrong.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I've been mulling over alternate history of late:  how does one historical turning point change the shape of the world?  Much fiction has been composed and spilled on the subject.  It's also a difficult thing to get right:  any one event can have consequences in several areas, including some that may not seem related.  This, admittedly, is a good part of the reason why I haven't written any alternate history myself, unless you count the wackiness of "The Fosterling Conspiracy," a short story that starts in Elizabethan-era Wales.

(I have played with time travel in some of my fantasy stories, a related topic.  In my Ishene and Kemel stories - the time mage and her bodyguard - the prevailing theory indicates that temporal paradox could, quite literally, destroy reality, so they take "make no changes to history" with deadly seriousness.

For those not familiar with temporal paradox, the idea is:  if you go back in time to make a change in history, then what happens in the "new" present, where history is different, so you don't need to travel back in time, but you *do* need to travel back in time, because otherwise, it will happen as it originally did?  If you entirely can't follow that (understandably), the classic scenario used to explain it is a time traveler who goes back and kills his mother.  Well, all right, now you were never born ... so who killed your mother?)

Back to alternate history, the further the world progresses from the inciting change, the harder it is to measure the consequences.  Another thing to consider is whether the evolution of technology, social measures, etc, is parallel or divergent.

For instance, consider a world where the Americas were never "discovered" by Europeans.  Think of all the technologies that were invented in America even before the 1900s.  In this alternate history, would those technologies simply not exist at all?  Would they have been developed in another fashion, by someone else, but with small differences?  That's parallel evolution.  Or ... would the technologies invented to solve life's problems been completely different?  That's divergent evolution.

Obviously, parallel evolution is way easier to deal with.  It's a cousin to another time travel concept, "plastic time," which is sometimes used as at least a partial resolution for paradox.  Plastic time is the idea that history has a natural tendency to go back to the shape it was; it corrects itself.  If you go back in time to murder Hitler (another classic scenario), one of his general steps up and takes over.

What I want to see in a time travel story is, instead of basing the alternate timeline on a big, pivotal moment, the alteration being a smaller event, even one that seems minor on the face of it.  I watched Genius recently, the television series following the life of Albert Einstein, and I wondered:  what if he had continued to collaborate with his first wife, instead of shutting her out?  How much further would they have advanced his field?  Would he have become politically involved?  Would he have spawned the atomic bomb?

Another thought:  what if Mary Shelley had never been born?  Frankenstein is often regarded as the first science fiction book.  The imagery in this book has pervaded our culture, and how many artists and even scientists has it inspired?

I can see two ways to approach such a story.  The first is to cue the reader into the change right away, so they can appreciate all the nuances as they arise.  The second is to treat it like a mystery, showing a world changed and only at the end revealing that point of divergence.

Obviously, this isn't done often (that I've seen) because such a change is more likely to be appropriate for a short story, and that's a lot of research / work for a brief payout.  Does anyone have any examples they might want to share?

Word count this week:  2,222
Pages edited:  4.5
Poems edits:  2

Clerical note:  I may move my weekly blog post back to Wednesday due to my work schedule.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Song Styles

For your amusement, sympathy, and perhaps to snare an unsuspecting soul into the same trap that has tortured me for the last few days ... for some reason, this song has been an earworm in the back of my brain:

The Red Shoes - Kate Bush

The song references a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a pair of enchanted shoes that force the wearer to dance endlessly.  This particular version seems to imply a cure that, while not part of the original fairy tale, is a very common trope:  to escape the red shoes, one must give them to someone else, passing the curse along.

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