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.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Song Styles

I'm a goal-oriented person, so since I have a Mother's Day performance on the books - a background job at brunch, three hours total - I'm using it as a goal post to finish learning new tunes and revive dusty ones.

Because I love new music and projects, the list a bit lengthy, but here's a piece of it:

Theme from Jurassic Park
The Entertainer (Scott Joplin)
Ancient Mother / The Earth is Becoming Green
The first piece is attributed as "Native American," but since my source is female singing group Libana, I don't have more details.  The latter is a Welsh song.  They sound very strking together.
Wen Ti - Chinese hymn
Scotland The Brave
Doue Lan a Vadeleh - Breton hymn
Somewhere Out There - from American Tail
The Bare Necessities - from The Jungle Book
Ave Maria (Schubert)
Oh, this one is a nightmare.  It's such a pain in the neck (or lower regions) on the harp that even though I want to like it, I just can't do it.  I'm learning it for wedding clients, and I figured this performance was a good excuse to force myself to finish it.
For Good - from Wicked

So a little bit of everything, which is a good description of my repertoire in general.  I certainly have a Celtic focus, but my interests vary widely.  They also stop about fifteen years ago (the last tune), though mainly because I try to avoid tunes that aren't in the public domain unless they are iconic / recognizable.

On a previous Sunday, I discussed tunes I've pondered adding, but they're all vocals, which limits their utility.  Most of what I book are background jobs like this one.

Thoughts welcome, as always.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Monday Meanderings

For me, effective, sustained humor requires the reader to identify with the subject.  I would cite three reasons:  1) it allows you to laugh *with* them; 2) it allows you to anticipate the punchline, which is an important element of comedic timing; 3) it keeps your interest in longer works.  I've read humorous novels that were very funny, but difficult to keep reading because the humor made the characters hard to sympathize with.  I stopped caring about what happened to them partway through, which for me, makes any story - no matter how well written or otherwise entertaining - a tough slog.

I know there are writers who will disagree with this, and I will concur that in short works, humor that doesn't let you engage with the characters and instead mocks them *can* be effective ... but I still much prefer sympathetic humor.

Which brings me to a comment heard at one of the World Fantasy Conventions:  parody only works (or works best; I cannot recall the exact wording) from a place of genuine love for the thing being parodied.  This idea stuck with me, and I really enjoy it.  It makes parody into a sly confederacy with the reader:  here's this thing we both love, but you've got to admit, it's pretty silly, isn't it?

For me, this is why most political humor fails.  Most of the time, those who engage in it make jokes at the expense of the opposite political position ... and in those words, "at the expense," comes the problem.  It doesn't come from an understanding and appreciation of foibles; instead, it points fingers at and mocks the other side.  In that sense, this political humor preaches to the choir; it might get laughter from people with the same alignment, but it turns off the targets.

Honestly, as a personal preference, I don't even like the humor that pokes fun at beliefs opposite mine.  I'm prone to picking apart the semantics ... 

In any event, affection for the target of the parody is why I had so much fun with Who Wants To Be A Hero?  I grew up with Greek myths (which says disturbing things about my childhood) and devoured other mythologies ... and yes, a certain brand of reality television is my guilty pleasure.  I love the skill-based competition shows:  Top Chef, Project Runway, Face-Off, even America's Next Top Model, though the drama gets to be a bit much with the last one.  They provide fertile ground to vent my frustrations ... do it with a wink and a smile.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Song Styles

This week, I'm asking for your input / help!  In previous posts on this subject, I've shared with you that I make car CDs for my drives.  I organize them around themes, since I find that more satisfying than just a random collection of favorites.  I've done themes from "Garden" to "Sum Of Our Parts" (various songs referencing body parts, which sounds odder than it is) to "Colors," and, of course, my word-association collections.  I tried a "Life Story" sequence, but I didn't care for it.

However, lately I've had some trouble coming up with themes that please me; it's too vague, or I might not have enough songs, the topic drifts, or the appropriate songs end up one-note.  That's where you come in ...

I'm looking for suggestions for topics / themes for my car CDs.  A CD fits approximately 20 songs, give or take depending on length.  So - any ideas?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Some of you may already know that I'm a self-professed Comma Queen, and I love other forms of punctuation, too ... probably too much.  I love the flourish of a dash, an ellipsis, or stringing together sentences with semi-colons and colons.

To me, punctuation does more than simply inform the grammatical composition of the sentence; it alters the rhythm and flow.  As a musician, I feel these patterns even if I don't express them consciously.  It's in editing that I might go back and look logically at whether I want the effect in this spot or that, whether this sentence works better as a long, breathless string or short beats.

So think of a sentence, ended with a period, as a phrase in music.  The insertion of a dash is a sharp staccato note followed by a rest - an abrupt cessation of sound.  For a harp player, this is a significant distinction because the harp rarely falls completely silent:  unless muted, notes continue to ring.  To create a quick "burst" of silence requires laying your hands on the strings to stop them.

An ellipsis, on the other hand, is a rest without muted strings or the dot in a tied note:  a small marker that indicates to hold out the end of the thought, to suspend it before continuing to the conclusion.

Semi-colons almost work in reverse; they take two separate phrases and unify them.  In this case, it's compression rather than extension.  Musically, for the harp, I think of fingering.  Part of what makes a phrase unified on the harp is that the hand remains engaged; at any one time, there is at least one finger on the strings.  Coming off at the end of the phrase creates a break to the ear.  But there are times when it's necessary or appropriate to come off mid-phrase, and that ... is your semi-colon.

(It is not lost on me that I am using the punctuation I am rambling about sprinkled throughout the above.)

Another incidental music connection:  if you're familiar with notations for vocal music (and wind instruments as well, I'm told), there is a symbol that indicates where one can take a breath.  And ... what a coincidence ...

It looks like a comma.

Of course, like any other writing tool, phrase, etc, overuse reduces the impact.  I've become more sensitive to my (over)use of these punctuation marks, and I'm starting to take a hard look at when they are truly necessary as I edit.  To all those who have waded through my past pauses, either as reader or editor, I tend my sincere apologies.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Song Styles

My novel-in-editing, Unnatural Causes, is a murder mystery:  the death of a prominent and controversial mage by her apprentice and familiar.  The familiars in this world are extraplanar beings, and their status is uncertain:  indentured servants at best, slaves at worst.  I put two themesongs in my notes to play off their attitudes towards the world around them.  The first is hard, driving and rebellious:

Are We All We Are - P!nk
(Warning:  language)

It also has some relevance to narrator Vil, who personally is defiant and impatient.

The second is more aspirational, a hope for peace:

The War Is Over - Sarah Brightman

But with their future in doubt, their primary advocate murdered, what truly is in store for the familiars?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Well, !@#$%^.

I've never used profanity much in my fiction, though at least in part, it's because I write a lot of secondary world fantasy and I don't feel all of our modern cursewords translate very well.  In a world with strong religious beliefs and where sex outside of marriage is social taboo, there are some that can make the transition (you know the ones I'm talking about), but oftentimes, it's better to use something more directly evocative.  Inventing unique profanity is tricky, and it's difficult to please everyone, so I tend to go for broader exclamatory phrases.

Even in my contemporary or SF stories, though, I tend to use it sparingly.  People who critiqued the opening chapters of Flow commented on Kit's tendency to use "Holy schnitzel," telling me that I didn't need to sanitize for a young audience, but that was never the idea:  it's simply a verbal quirk of hers.  Hadrian drops a few well-placed words, but even at that, they're few and far between ... and I just checked now, and there is quite literally *one* swearword in the entirety of Scylla and Charybdis.  (Unless my editor asks me to put in more cussing as we go.)

Am I prude?  Not hardly.  I work in a profession - culinary - where profanity is often seasoning as liberal as salt.  It's not even an expression of conflict:  it just speckles the dialogue, and when directional, it's almost invariably aimed at an inanimate object.  We talk to our equipment and our food, and it had better behave.

But I keep two separate rules in mind when it comes to profanity:

Every time you use a particular word or punctuation (exclamation points come to mind), you decrease its impact.  If every other sentence ends with ... ! then it becomes invisible.  This is part of why "said" vanishes so effectively in dialogue.  It's a word that you want to disappear, to be recognized as a handle but to stay out of the way.  I have an ongoing problem with the word "subtle."  It's such a fun modifier to use in unexpected places ... but in repeated use, it becomes expected.

The second rule applies more specifically to profanity:  it looks much dirtier on the page than it sounds in real-life dialogue (or even movie dialogue).  If rendered literally, real dialogue might be crowded out by the four-letter adjectives.  It would make a character seem incoherent, not impassioned.  To create the illusion of reality, you actually *need* less profanity.

The difference is, in part, that the spoken word flits quickly out of the brain within a few seconds, but the written word is visually on the page and at least in the reader's peripheral vision for however long it takes to read the full page.  It lingers longer and has a bigger impact.

I'm put in mind of listening to Orson Scott Card speak many years ago about his experience writing for comic books.  He had written a script that involved a character being tortured.  The artist pointed out that it would be too intense for readers because unlike a written description, the image would remain there, permanent, on the page.

In this case, of course, the "image" is the written word, carrying much stronger than the imagined reality.

So as far as efficacy and verisimilitude ... a little goes a long way.  Maren, the narrator of Surgeburnt, has something of a foul mouth, but I'm still watching to make sure that it doesn't weigh on the narrative.  When an expletive does come into play, it does exactly what it's supposed to.

Of course, this has the potential to get me into trouble as the majority of my writing is still clean or almost completely clean, so I have to remind myself to check it before I submit to a family-friendly market, just on the off-chance ...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Song Styles

And now for something a little different ...

As mentioned in my bio and occasional passing in these posts, I also play the traditional lever harp - sometimes misnomered as the Celtic harp.  While most of my repertoire is in that realm (Scottish, Welsh, Irish, etc), I do also play some popular tunes, spanning everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to a smattering of Disney tunes (courtesy of a princess event last year) to the Theme from Jurassic Park.

I've been thinking about adding another vocal to my repertoire in an of-the-moment vein.  Obviously, the possibilities are endless, but I'm trying to find something that might be recognizable to listeners, so more left-field ideas like Love Is A Camera have been shelved.  (Though an Angie Baby / Camera medley would be excellent, simply because I think of the two songs as describing the same woman ...)

I would love your opinions!  Personal favorites here?

So in no particular:

1.  Chasing The Sun - Sara Bareilles
Brave may be more famous, but for me, this is the stand-out track of The Blessed Unrest (though I Choose You comes a close second).  It's gorgeous lyrically and musically - that note at the end of the line, "sun," is unexpected and perfect. 

2.  Try - Colbie Caillat 
Admittedly, this is probably the most recognizable song on this part of the list.  I adore the message, and the vocals are very suited to my singing style.

3.  Close Your Eyes - Meghan Trainor
The grammatical quirks of this one make me wince a bit, but the lyrics overall are lovely and the melody is right in my vocal wheelhouse.  For whatever reason, I had the very clear idea to start a capella with the bridge ("Show the world the you inside, raise your voice and close your eyes ...").

4.  She Used To Be Mine - Sara Bareilles
Yes, I know, Sara again.  This particular tune is from the Waitress musical, it is almost perfect for harp, and if I can get through the darn thing without tearing up ... it gets me right in the gut.

5.  Grigio Girls - Lady Gaga
I'm quite fond of this one, and the main appeal is that I hope to be performing at wineries at some point, so ... of course!  There's a small issue of either editing or omitting the bridge because of profanity.

6.  The Writer - Ellie Goulding
Do I even have to explain part of the appeal here?  Heartbreakingly gorgeous.  Another one I'd be a little nervous about getting through without choking up.

Picking up the pace a bit with two ideas that are a bit more on the bratty, "how much can I get away with?" side ...

7.  No - Meghan Trainor
... seriously.  It's primarily composed of vocal cadence and beat, which is very easy to achieve on the harp.  I just want to make people sputter in surprise.  Is that so wrong?

8.  Black Horse and The Cherry Tree - K.T. Tunstall
You probably know this song, even if you think you don't.  The real key to this one is to keep it fast; the lyrics practically turn tongue-twister at tempo.  Again, though, the backdrop is mostly rhythmic, which would be (comparatively) easy to knock out with chord patterns.

That's all, folks.  The real problem, of course, is I keep thinking of new options - there are eight here, and that doesn't even include older pop tunes I love - so I can't seem to commit to one enough to dig in ...

Monday, March 13, 2017

Monday Meanderings

When it comes to my sensibilities as both a writer and a reader, I don't consider myself much of a romantic.  In fact, you might call me something of an anti-romantic.  I have trouble with a lot of common romance tropes, whether it be simple dislike or blank disbelief.  Personally:

I'm very suspicious of love at first sight.  I don't think it's a reliable foundation for a relationship.  Does it work out sometimes?  Absolutely, but for me, it's a matter of chance; that instant spark isn't some magical signal.  For me to be convinced, the first-sight attraction has to be followed up quickly by genuine signs of compatibility.

Obviously, as a fiction writer, sometimes I've had to fudge this, because it's very hard to write a short story with any kind of romance that isn't relatively rapid.  But I do like to play with the opposite:  when the "love at first sight" turns out to be built over quicksand, and one of the partners is something much darker than they seem.

I don't care much for Alpha heroes ... unless they're paired with equally Alpha females who don't take direction.  In fact, I had a long string of projects where the main romantic interest (male) was mild-mannered and quiet - the virtual opposite of the assertive heroine.

Does love conquer all?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  Should it?  Maybe not.  There's a point at which sacrificing for love becomes selfish, even destructive to the world around you.  In fact, in of one of my potential novel projects, one of the main plotlines is based around the villain's (very genuine) romance story, and how everything else starts going off the rails around it.

If there's one romantic plot point that makes me cringe every time, it's when one of the lovers has to give up a cherished career or even their whole world to be with their beloved.  (Portal fiction is particularly guilty of this.  Outlander, I'm looking at you.)  Maybe it's because I am a compulsively creative person, but if you told me that the only way I could be with a significant other was to give up writing, well ... there's plenty of fish in the sea, thank you.

When it comes to people who pine after an unrequited love, continuing to pursue your would-be love interest doesn't mean you're "not giving up."  It means you're stalking them.  And what if you succeed?  Do you really want to be loved by someone who had to be convinced?  To me, that's a really depressing thought.

But beyond all this doom and gloom, what do I like in a love story?

Friends whose long-term commitment and understanding deepens into something more.  I am a sucker for this kind of story, where the romance is based on a deep trust and connection between the characters ... where love is the very last piece of the puzzle.

Love that is truly selfless ... even beyond the love itself.  Characters who will walk away if that's what is needed to preserve the other person.  "I love you enough to let you go."

Banter.  Characters who battle wits and even might seem as if they're fighting from the outside ... but they do it from a position of deep security and trust in each other.

Characters who know that love means sharing secrets.  This may clue you into the fact that I hate the tired old romantic comedy trope of the hero/ine who has a secret she's afraid to share, causing strifle and turmoil when it comes out prematurely.  It's why I cheer every time I see a character steel his or her nerve and tell the object of their affection.  Can you really love a person without loving all of them?

So maybe I am a romantic, after all - just a very particular type of romantic.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Song Styles

As mentioned before, I have an old car with no capacity to pair with my phone, MP3 player, Pandora account, etc.  I don't like playing the radio because I don't know what I'm going to get, and for me, unfamiliar music while I'm driving is distracting.  So what do I do?  I put together themed CDs.

One theme I like to do every time is word association:  moving from the title / concept of a song to another, to another ... sometimes by a keyword, sometimes by related concepts, sometimes by opposites, and sometimes by something else entirely.

Here's my most recent sequence:

Sweet As Whole - Sara Bareilles (... if you look this song up, do not play it at work)
America's Sweetheart - Elle King
New Americana - Hasley
A New England - Kirsty MacColl
Wonder English - Eisley
It's Not The Things You Say - DJ Tiesto
Say Goodbye - Katharine McPhee
Don't Say Goodbye - Paulina Rubio
Bye Bye - Alana Davis
By Chance - Sophie Ellis Bextor (... okay, this one is weak.  Gimme a break, I really wanted this song on my list)
Lucky Me - Anne Murray
Trouble for Me - Britney Spears
Trouble - Leona Lewis
Queen of Peace - Florence + the Machine
Army - Ellie Goulding
Rangers - A Fine Frenzy
Warrior - Kimbra
Warpath - Ingrid Michaelson
The Road's My Middle Name - Bonnie Raitt
Last Name - Glee Cast version
Guitar String / Wedding Ring - Carly Rae Jepsen
Marry The Night - Lady Gaga
I Do - Idina Menzel
I Do What I Love - Ellie Goulding
I Do Not Hook Up - Kelly Clarkson
No - Meghan Trainor
I Don't Need A Man - The Pussycat Dolls
MANiCURE - Lady Gaga
Medicine - Shakira
Aftertaste - Ellie Goulding (... yes, I just got Delirium and I am deliberately trying to get a lot of it into this list)
Fade Away - Celine Dion
Disappear - Anna Sahlene
Already Gone - Kelly Clarkson
Lost Then Found - Leona Lewis
Find Me Here - Eisley
Here - Alessia Cara
Here With Me - Michelle Branch
Love is Here - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Now Is Here - Clannad
By Now - Sarah Brightman
Right Now - The Pussycat Dolls
Wait It Out - Imogen Heap
Best For Last - Adele

Monday, March 06, 2017

Monday Meanderings

As a writer, I enjoy writing exercises, story sparkers, and fiddling around with structured forms.  They're a different way to come at the creation of a tale; they change up your routine; they even force you to do problem-solving when you're trying to fit disparate pieces together.  In sum:  they're good for your brain!

Here's a self-designed exercise I like to use.  Nothing too fancy, just a structure to eke out a plot:

The Wordhop - come up with a list of words through whatever means you like.  15 - 20 is a good starting point.  You could poll your friends for favorites (... some of you may have seen me do this).  You could an entire list of words that start with the same letter.  You could browse the various dictionary sites and grab their word of the day for a week, though see my caution below.  Jumble the list.

Then ... well ... you start writing.  In the first hundred words, incorporate the first word on your list.  The second hundred words should contain the second, and ... you get the idea.  The words don't have to be equally spaced out; that's a way to make yourself crazy.  My word processor has a running tally, so it's easy to keep track.

When you run out of words, keep writing as much as you need to finish the story at hand.  (You could try "expert mode" where the story has to end where the words do; being a long-winded sort, I've never done this.)

Tips on the words - you want them to be interesting enough to require some thought to incorporate, but not so weird that they stick out like a sore thumb.

Proof of concept:  Saplings (Mindflights, July 2011), in which the list of words was based on the letter H, as was the name of the protagonist; The Winter Queen (Golden Visions 2010).

Here's a couple more I've played with ...

Sentence String - this time, the starting fuel is a list of random sentences.  5-6 is a good number.  I've polled friends or chosen randomly from books / trunked stories.  Tense and pronouns can be changed, but otherwise, the sentence should remain intact.  Play with the sentences; shuffle them around until connective threads start to suggest themselves.

Proof of concept: ... nothing published to point to, because these invariably run untenably long for me.  Can't promise the same thing won't happen to you!

Picture String - using a randomizer on an image site, pick 5-6 pictures.  In this case, they stay in the order originally generated.  Now I admit, I had the most success with this when the art venue Elfwood was young:  it was relatively easy to get a sequence of good quality fantasy art.  Depending on your source, you may want to throw out things that just don't fit.  You have two options from here:  build the plot as a line from picture to picture or start with whatever concept / thought pops into your head with the first and dive in, changing pictures as the mood strikes.

Proof of concept:  my very first publication - The Dreamweaver's Dispute (Leading Edge).

Finally, a plug:  I love the book The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley.  Besides being full of fun and engaging prompts, it's the only exercise book I've worked with where the majority of exercises can easily be worked in a secondary fantasy concept.  Too many exercise books have very contemporary prompts; they can be converted, but sometimes that takes the spark out of the prompt.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Song Styles

Earlier in the year (is it already March??), I commented that Sissel's Beyond Imagination was a song I adored, but couldn't find a character for ... turns out, I lied, because I had attributed it to Ioweyn, the heroine / prize of Who Wants To Be A Hero? - my novel-in-queries, which is best described as what would happen if skill-based reality television competition was invented by a Greco-Roman pantheon of gods.  I was riffing off my personal vices in this TV genre:  Project Runway, Top Chef, FaceOff, etc.

In any case, this necessarily involved a fairly large cast of characters, so I had to come up with quick ways to make them distinct, both for me and for the reader.  On the former front, I gave them each an encapsulating themesong.  For Paraneus, the blowhard self-proclaimed "perfect hero," I had to go with a classic:

C'est Moi - Camelot Soundtrack 

The cap on this, of course, is the backdrop of him riding across the countryside, singing this at the top of his lungs.  Pretty much a perfect snapshot of what I wanted for the character.

Bonus song of the day:  shout-out to everyone who doesn't (or simply can't!) color between the lines.  As a writer / creative who marches to the tune of ... a flute, I love the message.  As a harper who is almost pathologically of playing exactly what's on the sheetmusic ... I also enjoy the lyrics on a literal level.

My Song - Alessia Cara

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Oh, the dynamic duo.

The archetypal fantasy novel is a cast of thousands; others succeed by focusing on a single character or thread.  As satisfying as the lone hero(ine)'s adventures can be, however, there's added dimension when they have a counterpart, ally, friend or even adversary to provide another perspective.  Get into three main characters and you start to have exponentially more combinations of plot and interaction, but two allows greater variety without diffusing focus.  It's also a great opportunity for compare and contrast.

Even if the characters have a common goal, they come at it from different angles and seek different rewards from its resolution.  Or two characters may mean two separate plotlines, dovetailing in location, antagonists, events, and/or origins, but not always intertwined.

From a practical standpoint, it gives the writer an excuse to have the characters talk to each other - or talk around each other - rather than weighting down the narrative with lengthy internal monologue.  Even when one (or both) aren't the sharing type, characters convey a lot of information in what and how they choose to evade.

As a writer, I'm a fan of the duo.  Flow shares roughly equal scene-time between Kit and Chailyn, though it is primarily Kit's story.  Scylla and Charybdis is definitely Anaea's sole story, but throughout, she always has a traveling companion to lean on. 

And the character I discussed in my Song Styles post yesterday?  Well, confessedly, the only other details I have right now for that potential novel is a rough idea of her traveling companion, an introverted dreamshaper ... but the collision of those two people is enough to suggest a rich stew of possibilities.  For me, it's a tantalizing spark that could some day become a novel.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Song Styles

Most of the time, when I attach music to characters, it happens after their creation.  Sometimes it's the last entry on my character profiles; sometimes it happens months or years later, often spontaneously as I stumble across just the right song.

However, sometimes a particular tune is so evocative that it suggests a character in my mind.  I come up with a lot of my concepts through a collision of two unrelated ideas, so I have a character in my files who resulted from the dual inspiration of these two high octane songs:

13 Little Dolls - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
America's Sweetheart - Elle King
(This is one of those where this is the first I'm seeing the music video.  Roller-skating, huh?)

The character who resulted is a blunt, impulsive frontier girl who inherited her family's set of old-world sorcerous dolls ... totally unaware of their powers and with no idea how to use them.  Each was crafted by a different ancestor, reflecting a different time period and often area of the world ... so that gives me a lot of room to explore the worldbuilding without bonking people over the head of it.

Does she has a story (or even a name)?  Not yet ...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Song Styles

When I was writing Flow, I didn't have a soundtrack, character themesongs, or any such musical underpinnings.  There was, however, one song, which I felt mapped to Kit and her life without any literal connection - but it conveyed the confusion, uncertainty, and strangeness of her new life:

Ghost In The Machinery - Sarah Brightman 

(For those of you familiar with Brightman from her floaty, theatric opera music, this song - and the rest of Fly, the album from which it comes - is somewhat different, more off-beat, more electronic, and more than a little weird.  In fact, I highly recommend Fly if you can get ahold of it, which is difficult to do.  It mixes up Sarah's opera tendencies with rock/pop and electronica.)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Meanderings

If you're a fiction writer, chances are, you love language - or at least have a fleeting crush on it.  That doesn't necessarily mean playing with artistic flourishes of imagery, alliteration and metaphor, but it does mean understanding how to use the tools of language to paint a picture broader and wider than the words themselves.  Small choices of synonyms and word order can create a completely different mood/scene, even when the substance of what's being described is the same.

I admit, I enjoy the formal structure of language.  I'm a stickler for appropriate punctuation, for clarity, for rhythm and flow, and even simply for consistency.  I'm a self-titled Comma Queen, and the recent trend of minimalism in commas pleases me not at all.  They serve a purpose beyond clearing up confusion.  As far as I'm concerned, "alright" will never be all right, okay?  (Stop using the abbreviation in fiction, too.  Just.  Stop.)  "Bae" also drives me bonkers and I don't understand why it caught or where it came from.  The only explanation I can come up with is someone typoed the word "babe" and was too lazy to correct it.

I also text in complete, grammatically-correct sentences.  Yes, I am that person.

At the same time, I recognize that part of what distinguishes a living language is an ongoing negotiation of words and meaning.  I don't think anyone would argue that "Google" is now a verb.  (Some people might argue that "typoed," as above, is not an appropriate use.)  We regularly use words that had a very different meaning a few centuries ago ... and a whole grab-bag that were actually invented by Shakespeare and didn't exist before his time.

(There's a lot of debate in the fantasy field about the use of words that recognizably reference *our* world, such as "spartan," which refers to the Greek city-state and doesn't necessarily parse in a world that never had a Greece, much less a Sparta.  Even words that don't obviously signal our world to readers may feel anachronistic because they were invented later.  Or ... they may be much, much older than you'd think!  But that's a whole blogpost - there's another new word - in of itself.)

So for me, there's a tension and a negotiation between formalism and fluidity in language.  There are some things I've chosen to adopt; there are others that just feel like language-butchery to me, but I have to admit that some are purely subjective.  And maybe that's how the evolution occurs.  We're creating the changes ourselves every day by an unrecognized consensus.  Some of us "win" when our preferences are adapted or "lose" when something we detest becomes part of the formal lexicon.

And, of course, there are those quirks that are poor grammar, but are just fun.  I'm a big, irrational fan of the whole "because reasons" thing, where the string of connecting words is truncated to "because noun."  My favorite one these days is usually weather related:  it's sixty degrees today, because (this is) Ohio.  (True story.  Saturday.  I don't understand.)  Something about it feels both more arbitrary and more exasperated, which is perfect for an informal expression of "why is this happening?"

But please save the endangered Oxford comma.  Because otherwise, you get this:

Image may contain: text

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Song Styles

Something a trifle different this week ...

This is a recording, with fractal accompaniment, of me performing two Welsh tunes:

Ambell i Gan / Y Dydd

("A Song Now and Then" or more, literally "An Occasional Song," and "The Day.")

For those in the Cincinnati area, I am available for weddings, parties and other special events.  I can also do concert sets, with educational (Celtic music / harp history) as an option ... or even, "You never thought you'd hear that on a harp," with selections such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Under The Sea" (The Little Mermaid) and the theme from Jurassic Park.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Meanderings

Yesterday, I mentioned brain styles and evolution in my post, in the context of romance - do opposites attract, or does like call to like?

The answer is ... yes.

First of all, the brain styles aspect.  Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of Left Brain (Logical Brain) and Right Brain (Creative Brain).  It's a bit more nuanced than that, but it will do for the purposes of this post.  The brain is further divided into Frontal and Basal regions.  The Frontal portion of the brain deals with intellectual and abstract thinking.  The Basal portion deals with emotional and concrete thinking.

So we end up with four quadrants:  Left Frontal (Scientist), Right Frontal (Artist), Left Basal (Administrator) and Right Basal (Counselor).  Most people have a preference for one quadrant or two adjacent quadrants.  Rarely, people will have a preference for three (leaving a deficiency in the fourth quadrant) or will be whole-brained.  That doesn't mean, of course, that you can't work in the other areas, just that you naturally gravitate towards certain kinds of thinking.

(For those of you into Tarot:  Swords = Left Frontal.  Wands = Right Frontal.  Pentacles = Left Basal.  Cups = Right Basal.)

If you picture this, it's pretty obvious to see that each quadrant has an opposite.  For instance, Left Frontal is the opposite of Right Basal.  And the opposites usually drive each bonkers because they have little common ground.

On to the evolutionary aspect.  Obviously, each quadrant has its strengths and weaknesses.  From an evolutionary standpoint, then, when people are younger and in survival mode, they instinctively seeking out an opposite brain - someone strong where they are weak and vice versa.  Together, these people make a whole brain.  As a strategy for taking on the world, it's a good one ... but what happens when the problems start fading away and these opposed couples no longer have a common "foe" in life?

Later in life, when finances, career, family, etc are more stable, the brain shifts from seeking survival to seeking companionship.  Instead of an opposite brain, it wants a similar brain - someone in the same quadrant or with whom there is overlap.

So opposites attract ... *and* like calls to like.  It all depends on where you are in your life (if you buy into the theory, of course).

Do I consider this in my writing?  Perhaps not consciously, but as I get older (hush!), I've noticed a shift in pattern in the romances I choose to write.  My earlier works featured a lot more pairs that were opposites.  Now, I tend to set up characters who - though they may clash over specifics - think more alike.  Proof, self-fulfilling prophecy, or coincidence?  Who knows ...

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Song Styles

One of the key elements in the past-story section of Surgeburnt - and one that echoes strongly in the current-story - is Maren's failed romance with Archer, the proverbial one who got away.  At the beginning of the novel, it's not clear what exactly happened between the two, because she's clearly still hung up on him ... so I will be a mysterious author and not provide any more information.

For these two, however, this song seemed particularly fitting:

Until The Stars Collide

As the story progresses, Maren develops a fractured, contentious relationship - can you really call it a romance? - with an adversary/co-worker.  And while I have a more "serious" song selection in my list, I couldn't quite resist throwing this in:

Genghis Khan 

If you have not seen this music video, please take a few minutes and watch it.  It's a really fun story in the James Bond / supervillain vein.  I'm taking my character inspiration from the music, not the video, but maybe it matches just a little ...

One of the fun parts about being a writer who is a quasi-pantser (I do most of my planning in the world-and-character elements, leaving the plot free to develop out of those) is the fact that I don't necessarily know what's going to happen in every aspect.  Is a perfect love doomed?  Can a love-hate relationship go anywhere but hate-hate?  Do opposites attract, or does something more lasting build between people who think alike?  (There's actually a brain-styles / evolutionary answer to this, but that's for another post.)

Only time will tell.

... and I'll have to find a song for it.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Meanderings

I'm writing again.

The words are tumbling, toppling, sputtering out over each other, even sometimes when I need to step away to do something else.

I don't know if it's because of the enforced break I had over the insanity of my holiday work, or because that same break gave me plenty of time to incubate when I couldn't be actively writing.  I don't know if it's because I finally hit that point in Surgeburnt where I feel sure of the course of events.  I don't like to talk about my personal life on here, but I have had a medical development in the past few months, so maybe the treatment has helped.

Who knows?  It has been a great development, for reasons including the fact I can now tackle a number of short stories that have been brewing on my brain.  In slower periods, the top candidate invariably gets the attention; others fall by the wayside, and are often permanently buried by new concepts.

Of course, the downside to this is I now have heaps of editing to do, including a flash fiction piece finished right before the end of the year, two "cliff-hanger" stories (... one which takes the idea literally), a reprint I wanted to improve before submitting it again, and ... augh ... this doesn't even include my novel Unnatural Causes, which needs its next pass, and I haven't even touched Undertaking Chances, which title may be the most terrible pun I've inflicted on my fiction ...

Can I clone myself and make the other one do the editing?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Song Styles

Sometimes, as a writer, you come across a song that almost perfectly encapsulates a character.  This is one of those songs for me.  It makes me squirm a bit in happiness because it feels so much like Maren, the narrator of Surgeburnt ... not just the lyrics, but the dark, eerie nature of the melody and instrumentation.

Fair warning - language.

Control - Halsey 

"I'm meaner than my demons; I'm bigger than these bones ..."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Meanderings

During the Christmas craze, I binged the first season of Westworld in about four days.  I thought even the subtle details were very well done.  Taken objectively, the concept of a massive park populated by synthetic flesh androids requires significant suspension of disbelief, but I found it easy to become immersed in that world.  Until one thing jarred me.

The employees in management and supervisor positions swore like sailors, often directing curt profanities at each other.  More than once, I found myself thinking, "If you talked to your boss like that, you'd get fired."

That got me thinking (always a dangerous thing).  When you're building a world that requires people to imagine circumstances far outside their own, what often determines whether the reader can suspend disbelief is not the fantastic element so much as the mundane details surrounding it.  The weirder the fantastic realm, the more important it is that the people act in ways that make sense; that clothing rips; that cobwebs gather in disused corners.

I considered another show I watch, this one grounded (mostly) in our reality:  Suits.  Suits arguably has a similar corporate environment with an almost equivalent amount of cursing.  (I will credit the disparity to the difference in network:  you can get away with a lot more on HBO than you can on USA.)

So why haven't I ever questioned the cursing in Suits?  The answer might be that since the world of Suits is otherwise much like our own, my suspension of disbelief doesn't get as much of a workout.  In this mode, the cursing is essentially a fantastical element.  In the end, Suits is an imaginary version of our world - it's just that the differences are less drastic and obvious.

Just in case I had drawn any firm conclusions, I commented about the cursing disconnect in Westworld on Facebook, and someone jumped in to comment that in their corporate environment, such cursing was common.  This surprised me ... and got me thinking.

How much is suspension of disbelief based on truth, and how much is based on what we *think* is true?  This comes up a lot in historical / alternate history, I imagine, where many popular misconceptions influence what we'll believe in a historical novel.

Every time we're making a claim against popular knowledge, we're spending a kind of "belief capital," and the amount a viewer/reader has varies from person to person.  Another way to phrase this is "imagination overhead."  As a society, our imagination overhead has grown a lot over the past few decades; it's what makes fantasy-based shows possible and even viable on regular network television.  The ones that succeed make sure to do everything else right:  to show that people are people, no matter how exotic.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Song Styles

We interrupt our regular Sunday program of themesongs to make a recommendation of music for fantasy readers, writers and anyone else who doesn't mind a dash of the fantastic in their listening.

Dark, reflective, powerful, yet driven by the artist's dance music roots, Sophie Ellis-Bextor's album Wanderlust adds a liberal dash of fantasy into each song.  I'm convinced that the track "Young Blood" is actually about vampire romance, but that's not the most obviously arcane selection.  If you try out only one song to see what I'm talking about, check out:

Love Is A Camera

Even before I saw this music video, I was convinced that the mysterious woman was the protagonist of Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby" all grown up.

Sophie has a strong, clear voice with a hint of rasp.  She's equally at home with the upbeat pop that is her signature style and with more powerful ballads.

For the record, my favorite from the CD:

13 Little Dolls

(Ignore the transcribed lyrics; they're entirely inaccurate.)

Other albums I've been grooving on lately:

idina. from Idina Menzel.  Most of you probably know her as "that singer from Frozen," but my first encounter with her was as Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) in Wicked.  Her voice is phenomenal; she's a powerhouse, without having that overwhelming vibrato that seems to be a signature of opera-style singers.  This is solid, quality pop music.  What sets this album apart is not so much the songs or instrumentation, but the singing.  Her vocal acrobatics have shades of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, but she does it much, much better.

I'll even forgive her the e.e. cummings style title.

Stand-out track:

Queen of Swords

Joanne from Lady Gaga.  Yes, I do listen to Gaga.  I'm not one of those superfans who adores everything she does, but I enjoy her voice and her evolution from album to album.  (I also appreciate her willingness to put herself out there.  Now that she's out of the meat-dress stage, it seems very genuine.)  In that respect, the songs in Joanne do the best job so far of standing back and showcasing her voice:  raw, powerful and deep.  

My main complaint about Gaga's CDs is that the songs within each album are very similar - with Born This Way, the melodies blurred together.  Joanne does not suffer from this problem, taking a number of different directions - they may not all succeed, but the songs are generally quite distinct from each other.  There's a range here, from a few classic Gaga dance tunes - "A-Yo" and "John Wayne" - to slower and more contemplative.

Ironically, the title track is one of the weakest on the album.  My favorite - I can't stop hitting repeat on it - is the haunting Angel Down.

Final CD and thoughts:  Ellie Goulding's Delirium.  I've been a fan of Ellie since I stumbled across "Lights" years ago, and I have to say that, if you're not familiar with Ellie ... pick up Bright Lights or Halcyon Days, not Delirium.  (And do be careful - each of her CDs annoyingly has a regular and a deluxe version, and there's no other way to get the deluxe songs unless you buy them as individual MP3s.)  

That's not to say Delirium is bad, but the tracks are much less varied than in the previous two.  Especially if the only thing you know of her is "that song from the Fifty Shades movie" - that song is probably the weakest track on Delirium and it doesn't even do a particularly good job showing off her voice.

For those who already knew Ellie, Delirium showcases her lovely, floaty voice and her rhythmic quirks - she has a lot of fun playing with rhythmic variance in her music.  It's a worthy addition.

My favorite track is on the second CD, aka the Deluxe part of the album:

Winner

Monday, January 09, 2017

Monday Meanderings

The recent death of Carrie Fisher has brought up many tribute posts and memories.  Some that catch my eye are from female writers who credit Leia as being the first time they saw a female heroine on the screen who could rescue herself.  It was the lightbulb moment:  women can be warriors, too.

For me, I don't consciously remember ever having this revelation.  There wasn't one shining moment when I realized that girls could fight, too:  it was simply something I never questioned or doubted.  I took it for granted, and when I stopped reading "kid's books" (YA and MG, in current parlance) at a fairly young age, I was generally irritated by the paucity of heroines in "adult books."  To me, the absence wasn't a societal proscription or prophecy:  it was a lack on the part of writers that I just couldn't understand.  Why wouldn't you write about awesome women, too?

One moment that sticks out in my memory where I stumbled into a different outlook was with a Reader's Theatre production of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.  For those not familiar with Reader's Theater, it focuses on presenting books in script form, but typically without staging, etc - individuals read the characters seated.  Or at least, this was the version I worked with at the time.  

I was bound and determined I was going to read the titular role.  Gender swap?  Well ... Wilhelmina Wonka, of course.  I was bitterly disappointed that the vote went against me, and my mother said that she thought the others had trouble imagining the character as female.  I simply couldn't understand why that would be such a big deal.

So I guess I've been fortunate enough that I feel I've always been steeped in the "women can do anything" mindset to the point where not only don't I question it, there's always a tiny part of me that's bewildered when someone else has to make a point of saying it.  Wait, doesn't that go without saying, like the fact that gravity works?

It should be noted that I'm in a traditionally male-dominated profession, but even my time in culinary school was often dominated by the girls.  In savory classes, they were often half the class; in pastry classes, it would sometimes be all female.  (In these latter classes, I tended to end up being the tallest person in the room, so I spent a lot of time getting things down from shelves and the ceiling.)  I remember getting into it a bit with one of my (male) instructors for giving us extra credit work to write about five current up-and-coming chefs ... all of whom were male.  I was polite, but to me, that was pretty much unacceptable.

Of course, I will admit that sometimes, I have the opposite problem.  I had an editor request some changes to a male romantic lead because he suffered from love interest syndrome, where the character seemed to exist only for that purpose ... something usually only found in female characters.  Whoops.  (I won't name manuscript because some spoilers implicit.)

So I try to stay even-handed ... but I've got to admit in my mind, I'm always cheering on the ladies.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Song Styles

I have not yet found a character who fits this song, but it's a very appropriate tune for writers, artists and other creators, sung by an artist with a gorgeous voice:

Beyond Imagination - Sissel 

Highly recommended listen.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Road To Dog Fostering

Today marks my one-year anniversary of having a rescue dog in my home as a foster parent (for LuvFurMutts rescue, if anyone is curious).  It was a twisted road getting here, but the experience and sweet little Ami have changed my life.

Like many kids, when I was young, I was desperate for a dog.  I couldn't have one, though, because of allergies.  I also had other severe environmental allergies, so my parents didn't want to add to the strain.  They finally decided something had to be done, though, when they caught me snuggling the hamster.

(Willow.  Very friendly and gentle, but dumb as a box of rocks.)

So my parents did some research and discovered the Bichon Frise, a hypoallergenic breed.  Most kids want a car for their sixteenth birthday.  I was jubilantly happy to get a puppy - or more specifically, the promise of a puppy, for the litter hadn't been born yet.  It came from a backyard breeder; at the time, my parents didn't know enough to be alarmed by this.  When the litter was still only a few weeks old, I went to visit and chose a puppy.  Since they were all little white puffs, the family marked the one I had chosen. 

Fast forward a few more weeks, and my family goes to pick up the pup.  We're watching them play in the yard.  One pup detours off from the rest, and the others follow.  Uhoh.  The alpha.

My mother:  "Which one is ours?"

"Oh, that one."

So that was Nimi (rhymes with Timmy) - short for Nimue, the Arthurian Lady of the Lake.  As new dog owners, she ran the whole family ragged and knew exactly how to get what she wanted.  She was also a cuddly sweetheart ... and then the problems started.

It should have been alarming that Nimi developed kidney stones at three years old.  She had surgery to remove them, and for a while, all seemed well ... but then she started getting sick, involving multiple trips to the emergency vet clinic.  Her system wasn't processing / flushing toxins properly.

She needed subcutaneous fluids for months.  To do this, I had to gently pierce her skin with a needle and then massage in liquid from an IV bag.  Because it would pool up, we used to call it "saddlebagging."  It could not have been a comfortable experience, but she dealt with it valiantly.  As for me, I swallowed my panic; I've always been deathly afraid of needles.

Again, Nimi recovered.  When she took another turn for the worse, I knew she wouldn't last long, but I was thinking in terms of months.  I was stunned when I took her to the vet and he indicated organ failure.  We had to make the decision to put her down.

Our wonderful vet gave us - basically at cost - powerful anti-nausea meds so Nimi could have a few comfortable days with her family.  We spoiled her, gave her car rides, ice cream and everything a pup could want.  And then my mother and I took her in for her final journey.

She was just shy of her ninth birthday.

The experience broke our hearts.  It also (then) firmly set my resolve:  I would only buy a dog from a highly reputable breeder.  I couldn't go through this again.

It was a little over a year before my family could find the heart to welcome in another dog.  This time, we dealt with an approved breeder in the north of the state.  There was a single female pup, pictures emailed back and forth, and even a name tentatively chosen:  Sophie. 

My mother and I drove up together.  Besides the pup we had come to see, there was a second puppy who had been a stud pick.  (That is:  the breeder's dog was the sire of another breeder's litter, and her payment was a pup from the litter.)  While the female we had come to see bounced happily along, this second pup immediately tried to climb into my lap.

The breeder pushed her aside.  "Oh, this one's needy," she said.

Well ... needy was exactly what we wanted.  It took the whole drive home before the new addition had a name:  Lexi, a Greek name which means "protector of humanity."  Pretty hilarious in hindsight, considering she plays guard dog ... and monitors both her younger sister and my foster dog, barking loudly if they act sick or are doing something they shouldn't be.

Speaking of her younger sister ... a few years later, I added Peri to the pack, and things were never quite the same.  She was - and still is - a little diva.  She's also never been quite as healthy as Lexi, but her problems are minor:  ear infections, a cherry eye, etc.

Fast-forward five years more.  My mother started this one:  she had become interested in animal rescue due to the story of Caitlin the pitbull and started sending me pictures and success stories.  I loved seeing the dogs flourish and find homes, so on Facebook, I added a local rescue to my feed.

Then a tiny boy chihuahua mix popped up and I fell in love.  "Oh, my gosh, I want him!" I gushed ... and my mother egged me on, so I applied.  It was pure whim.

It was also the first of a handful of negative experiences I had with larger local rescues.  My applications were either brushed off with "we got a ton of applications, so we will only be in touch if yours made it" or I was pushed to adopt right away.  Considering I had two resident dogs to think about, I wasn't going to make any decision rashly.  Lexi is fairly easy-going and I was pretty sure would be okay with a new dog, but Peri is an attention-seeking prima donna, so I wanted a trial before I committed.

What about the question of health, which so worried me?  After my first whim-filled application, I did more research and found that often, mixed breeds are healthier than their purebred counterparts.  And ultimately, too, I think seeing all the tough stories of the dogs and all they had been through showed me that there are no guarantees ... and all pups needed love and happiness.

After a few sincere disappointments - in particular, a pup I had fallen in love with, only to be informed that someone else had priority - I contacted another area writer, Laura Resnick, via Facebook.  I had been watching her cat fostering posts for a while and asked her if she knew of something similar for dogs.  She pointed me to LuvFurMutts.

Now usually, LFM's adoption events are/were on Saturdays, which is difficult for me since I work catering.  By pure happenstance, though, the next upcoming event had been shifted to Sunday.  I decided to go.  I wasn't really interested in any of the dogs who were "attending" the event, but LFM had a litter of just-born puppies.  It wouldn't hurt to feel out the rescue and meet folks.

That event went very well.  I made some canine friends and just "clicked" with the LFM folks.  The coordinator that day suggested that I foster until I decided to adopt ...

... and poor fool me, I applied.

Now, this was right around the holidays, so they were closing down intake and events until the new year.  And when that year rolled around, the request came:  could I take Ami?

At first, I thought I had made a big mistake.  With a new dog in my home, I felt I had to be hypervigilant - not just because of her, but watching Peri and Lexi.  Ami was frightened and clingy.  And then ... she started to relax, and I started to relax, and it worked.

I've watched Ami grow and improve tremendously.  I'm as proud as could be and looking forward to some day helping another dog.  Now, after this long and winding road, I don't know if I would consider anything else but fostering and adopting.