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?