Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

One of the unexpected side benefits of entering the culinary field has been that I've become more aware of my creative tastes, what I like to do - not just food, but with fiction and even music.  (Since this is a writer blog, though, I'll focus on the former.)  Part of it is metaphor; I'm used to drawing comparisons between disparate things, to seeing the application of a thought or technique in something else.  But mostly, it's sheer volume:  I invent more dishes, cook more food, than I will ever complete short stories, flash, poetry and certainly novels.  So a pattern emerges in a much more concentrated form.

First of all, though I enjoy some traditional elements, I'm bored by (most) straight interpretations.  I like my mac-n-cheese with goat cheese, chorizo, or even avocado.  I'm mostly drawn to unusual, even unlikely, flavor combinations.  If it makes you go, "... wait, what?" I probably want to try and tackle it.  One of my favorite discoveries of late has been carrot risotto; speaking of carrots, parsnip cake is so much better than carrot cake.

And I do this in writing, too.  I tend not to find inspiration until I've put two unrelated ideas together; sometimes, the more unlikely, the better.  I'm currently editing a story for an anthology I describe as my "spy tree" story.

Which leads me to:  I enjoy a challenge.  Give me a new dish, a new technique, something precise to mix and measure, and I will dive right in.  As a cook, I started with Indian cuisine, which isn't usually beginner friendly.  As a writer, I just had to try writing a mystery novel from the POV of a nonhuman character ...

But I don't like things that are overly elegant and polished.  I'm not a fan of ornamentation and garnish work for its own sake.  That doesn't mean the plate is always plain, but the garnish has to serve some purpose:  taste component, moisture (sauce), or in the case of a pastry, hinting at what is contained within that chocolate (etc) shell.  I like things that look handmade, rustic, perhaps a bit messy, even random - but the design is often far more composed than it looks.

All of this applies to my writing, too.  I'm at home with peculiar, off-beat descriptions, but I don't like lengthy passages or purple prose for its own sake.  And I'm averse to stories that are too tidy, where absolutely everything presented is germane to the plot and everything gets tied up.  I enjoy showing glimpses of the setting, the characters, the past, that aren't strictly linked to the story, but they do contribute to the feeling of a living, breathing world beyond the page.

In conclusion, cooking has actually helped me hone in on some of the things I do in my writing that I might have recognized in passing, but didn't really think about in detail.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Song Styles

Lately, I've been obsessed with two songs that offer somewhat different takes on the same theme:

No Roots - Alice Merton
Lone Ranger - Rachel Platten

As is my wont, I've turned these songs over in search of characters I can connect them to ... and come up blank.  These are both tales of wanderers, and more than that, wanderers by choice, without strong ties to where they've come from or the specific intention of finding some place to put down ... well ... roots.

Both my current novels in progress - Surgeburnt in draft stage, Unnatural Causes in final edits - center on a single location.  Obviously, that's easier from a descriptive standpoint, but given the fact that I worldbuild obsessively, I certainly could send my cast further afield.  Scylla and Charybdis is a novel of journeys, but Anaea is deeply informed by where she has come from.  I lack the kind of rootless-by-choice drifter the songs above describe.  Perhaps it's because I'm a homebody at heart; perhaps it's that the type of stories I tend to tell don't lend themselves well to this kind of wandering.

Or perhaps it's a phase I have yet to get into.  I find I tend to go through loose trends / themes with my writing.  Right now, it's snarky narrators, women with attitude who tend to bring a tongue-in-cheek air and sarcasm to their world.  Who knows where I will travel next?

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Recently, I posted a roundup of some of the best review comments I got for Scylla and Charybdis.  In the interests of balance, I felt I should post my favorite negative comment.  Here it is:

That said, apart from a few too many descriptions of clothing for my tastes ...

I had to laugh when I saw this.  It helps if you know me in real life:  I'm the embodiment of that meme, "I base my fashion sense on what doesn't itch."  Add in my preference for things that let me move freely and play the harp, plus the necessity of performance wear that looks good for a gig, and you end up with a style of long swooshy skirts and sleeveless shirts, and an awful lot of purple because that's my favorite color.

As far as Scylla and Charybdis goes, I used clothing descriptions in a general sense as an illustration of its respective societies.  Fashion has a lot to say about individuality and values.  In my fantasy realms, I sometimes take it a step further and have cultures emphasize (and design clothing around) features the western world take for granted.  One unpublished project, I had a culture that prized feet ...!  Maybe for the best it didn't go anywhere. 

Since Anaea is trying to blend in, and appearance is often everything in those cases, clothing was part of how she did that.  Certainly I couldn't use makeup for this:  I've got no clue how to use it beyond the basics.  Researching physics and planetary science, sure.  Makeup, absolutely not.

In conclusion, this reviewer just might have a point.  Perhaps I described a few too many articles of clothing.  It still makes me laugh.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Song Styles

Preparing for a wedding in October where the bride requested Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah for walking down the aisle - just for her specifically, so I'll be playing the Irish tune "Southwind" for the bridal party and then switching when she and her father come in.  Thanks to a harper friend, I was able to get my hands on a harp arrangement of the tune.  Here's the version:

Hallelujah - arr. Michelle Whitson Stone

Some tricky rhythms going on, but I have time to absorb it, and otherwise the arrangement is well within my comfort zone.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I didn't post last Wednesday due to culinary commitments:  I had my practical exam for CPC (Certified Pastry Culinarian) certification.  I passed! ... and then passed out.  A lot of stress and hard work leading up to that moment.  This week, I'm working (Weds is my usual day off), but I figured I could squeeze a post in.

Of course, my brain still very much is on food (isn't it always?), so I'm mulling over how cooking resembles writing fiction.  You start with a concept, however specific or vague:  mac and cheese or a high fantasy story of an underground race.  Before you begin, cooking or putting fingers to keys, you'll want to gather your ingredients.  Now, some of us - both cooks and writers - fly by the seat of our pants, throwing things in as whim and inspiration strikes, but you can't work with something you don't have.  For writers, let's call that research.  You might be able to fake gun play (or curry powder) if you don't know what you're doing, but something will probably be not quite right.

No matter how much of a plan you have (or don't), things change as soon as you start cooking / writing.  Maybe as your characters argue, you uncover something that changes your plot; maybe the peaches you're using are sweeter than intended and you need more vinegar to balance flavor.  If you follow the plan blindly, you run into trouble.  You have to follow what the ingredients (characters) are telling you.

And you have to add things at the right time.  Don't foreshadow a plot twist, and the reader feels cheated; don't add the potatoes early enough, and they won't cook through.  I suppose here's where the metaphor falls down:  you can edit the story after you're done, but good luck retroactively changing how you cooked something!

If cooking is writing fiction, then baking is form poetry.  It requires a delicate, precise balance of elements.  And it doesn't matter how objectively "good" a potential component is:  if it doesn't fit into the form, then it either all falls apart, or you end up with something that doesn't meet the definition.  You still have to be able to improvise, but within narrow specifications.  Think of it like tightrope walking.

Oops ... that's another metaphor entirely.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Snippet

I just finished "Reputation Precedes," the short story whose idea origins I discussed on here a while back.  (Yes, it took me this long to finish writing it.  It's been a hectic few months!)  The story revolves around a bodyguard and a royal secretary who create a fictional individual to explain why their queen can't meet with a foreign ambassador.  Here's a glimpse at their storytelling:


“The queen,” Carac said, “has set out to recruit the assistance of a powerful blood mage.  She knows such a man will benefit Yoruth as well as Sanorre, if he can been convinced to pledge his loyalty.”

“The timing,” Marhan said, “seems questionable.”  The words were mild, but there was a knife’s edge beneath them.

Carac hesitated.  “The timing was unavoidable.”

Tiava recognized the pause as the secretary collecting his thoughts.  “The mage is a wanderer, reclusive and elusive,” she said.  “In the Ghoran Mountains – his homeland, as far as we can tell – he’s spoken of as a local folktale, with all the strange traditions that surround one.”  She was prepared to come up with something, drawing upon the farmer precautions she had grown with, but a side glance at Carac told her he had found his footing.  This was his plan; she was just backing him up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Though I enjoy writing short stories, both to play with concepts that would be unsustainable in long form and for their own sake, I'm a novelist at heart.  I also love stories (short and long) that aren't confined by their written dimensions.  The characters had lives before the story began, and the resolution to the plot problem is often, "Yes, but ..."  So it's probably not surprising that many of my rejections include the sentiment that "this should be a novel," or "this reads like the first chapter of a novel."  I also get this from readers and critique partners, or the more positive, "I'd love to read what happens next!"

I ... don't know what happens next.  That's it.  That's all she wrote (literally).

And sometimes, it puzzles me.  I wrote the concept as a short story, and to me, that's (usually) as much potential as it has.  The plot dimensions implied after the end of the tale aren't intriguing enough to grab my attention.  The world as constructed doesn't have enough complexity and interest to serve as a framework for a novel.  Sometimes, the characters aren't people I want to spend that much time with.  So I wonder what everyone else is seeing that I'm not.  (Sometimes, as in the case of Scylla and Charybdis, it just takes a few years of incubation.)

Maybe I just expect too much from my novel concepts; maybe it takes too much to grab my attention, when successful storylines have been spun from much less.  In some cases, I think it's because my intimations of past and present aren't done correctly:  they carry too much weight, raise too much curiosity.  In others, I think I've got just the right blend of sleight of hand to suggest an entire world behind a paper diorama.

Or, since I'm an incubator and I do most of my story development on the backburner or in my subconscious, maybe it really does take years, and I'm still waiting for some of those stories to burst forth into madcap sagas.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Featuring: Sarah Ashwood of Aerisian Refrain!

Today, I'm excited to host Sarah Ashwood, talking about her new release, Aerisian Refrain:  check it out here!  And here's Sarah ...




Hi,
 I’m fantasy author Sarah Ashwood, and I have a confession to make: I’ve only written a couple of blog posts before, so please bear with me as we go through this. When Lindsey kindly offered a spot on her blog for me to chat about my new book, I struggled with what to say. Of course, I could try to tell you the plot without giving away spoilers. (Unless you happen to be like me and actually like spoilers. I admit it, I’m that person—that horrible person who loves spoilers! I always read the end of the book before I reach it to see what happens.) Confessions aside, it was suggested I highlight what’s unique about this book and hopefully makes it stand out in the fantasy genre, so let me go there.

To begin with, Aerisian Refrain is the first book in a brand new series called Beyond the Sunset Lands. It’s a planned four book series, and it’s a companion series to my Sunset Lands Beyond trilogy. It’s set in the same world, but you do not have to have read the first trilogy to read Aerisian Refrain. I tried to include enough information in Aerisian Refrain that readers new to my world wouldn’t be lost. So, these books, the first trilogy and this new series, are epic fantasy and portal fantasy, but they’re also heavily tinged with a fairytale influence, because I grew up on fairytales and still love them. You’ll meet characters and races in my books that you may not see as much in standard epic fantasy, like fairies and giants and unicorns. I enjoy mixing it up: I also have pirates based off 18th century buccaneers, as well as an army patterned after the military of ancient Rome. (Ancient Rome is another obsession of mine.)

Those are some of the fun features of my world building. As for Aerisian Refrain itself, what makes this particular book unique is that my MC, Annie Richards, is from Oklahoma and is part Cherokee. I’m a lifelong Okie myself, and grew up in the part of the state where the Cherokees have their capital. I’ve always been intrigued by Cherokee history and culture. I didn’t actually set Annie where I’m from, however. I had her grow up out in the panhandle of Oklahoma, which is sparsely populated. I’ve driven through there a couple of times, and thought it was such a wild, beautiful place. It was very inspiring to the background of this book, and formative to Annie’s character.

Now, Native Americans are not heavily featured in epic fantasy literature or art, the latter of which was a little frustrating when I was writing this book. I like to create Pinterest boards for each of my books and save pins for characters that I find inspirational. It drove me crazy that I had such a difficult time finding any epic-fantasy-type art featuring Native Americans. I wanted so badly to find a picture of a Native American girl with a dragon, and never did. One of my favorite scenes of Aerisian Refrain is where Annie sings a Cherokee lullaby to a dragon. I would’ve loved a pin that resembled this scene in any way. Couldn’t find it, but in my searching I ultimately did discover the art of Traci Rabbit, a Cherokee artist from Oklahoma. That’s a whole ‘nother story, but I mention it because I fell deeply in love with Ms. Rabbit’s work, with its blend of heritage and fantasy, and I think it’s well worth mentioning.

But back to what I was saying. When I realized in the course of plotting that Annie was going to be from Oklahoma and that she was part Cherokee, I knew I had to delve into Cherokee culture and heritage and weave elements of that into my book. Cherokee mythology and folklore are chock full of interesting characters and stories. Honestly, it was very hard to narrow them down, but I finally settled on three prominent figures that absolutely fascinated me. The first was a Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï: a Raven Mocker. This creature is scary. I mean, scary. I read up on stories about Raven Mockers that had me looking over my shoulder at night. (I get spooked easily.) Check out this moment from Aerisian Refrain when Annie first encounters the Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï :

I would’ve run, but where could I go? There were probably still people on the road, people to whom I couldn’t risk leading the Raven Mocker, a creature so powerful that, according to the Cherokee legends I’d heard, other witches flee before their kind. The raven-like cry of a Kâ'lanû Ahkyeli'skï, which is where the Raven Mocker earns it name, means someone is going to die—much like banshees in Irish folklore. Often, they appear when a person is dying to steal and consume the liver or the heart. Sometimes they torture and kill their victim by cutting open the head, then eating the heart. A year is added to their life for every year their victim would have lived, making a Raven Mocker almost immortal, and accounting for their appearance as an old, wizened man or woman when in human form. They can fly through the air in fiery bird shape, trailing sparks while in the sky, which is what confirmed the identity of the woman standing in front of me. They are usually invisible, except to the most powerful of magic workers. Like me. Only a medicine man or woman of much training and strength can stand against them, which meant I was in serious danger.

            The other two characters I chose to feature are a little more benevolent. One group are the Thunderers, who Cherokee believe are storm spirits that live in the sky. Thunderers are usually benevolent to humans, and sometimes even helpful. The same with the last figure from Cherokee folklore, a Stoneclad, or rock giant. I loved the Stoneclad. He almost made me think of a Marvel character. There weren’t tons of descriptions of Stoneclads, but most of my research indicated they are giants that wear a suit of armor fashioned from stone. Like the Thunderers, they aren’t feared by the Cherokee—certainly not like the Raven Mockers. In fact, there are stories of them coming to the aid of the Cherokee. As Annie explains in Aerisian Refrain when she’s discussing her people’s folklore,

I remember Grandma telling me about the Stoneclads: rock giants, and the Aniyvdaqualosgi or Ani-Yuntikwalaski. Those are the Thunderers, or powerful storm spirits. If they took a shape, it was usually human, and they were okay with people. I guess it’s no wonder we’d have legends about great storm spirits, living in Tornado Alley.”

At this point in the book, Annie has no idea she’s going to actually encounter rock giants or storm spirits, and she’s in a for a big surprise when she does!

So there you go—a little peek into what I feel makes my book baby unique. I hope you’ll check out Aerisian Refrain, and, if you do, I hope you enjoy it! I had so much fun researching the stories of the Cherokee and weaving just a few elements from their rich traditions into this novel. If you’d like to research any of this further, some of my favorite sources were http://www.native-languages.org/ and www.cherokeeregistry.com and www.firstpeople.us and http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/index.htm. Also, if you’d like to see the art of Traci Rabbit, this is her website: https://billandtracirabbit.com/ .

Thanks for reading my blog post and giving me a little of your time. Have a great day!


Don’t believe all the hype. Sarah Ashwood isn’t really a gladiator, a Highlander, a fencer, a skilled horsewoman, an archer, a magic wielder, or a martial arts expert. That’s only in her mind. In real life, she’s a genuine Okie from Muskogee who grew up in the wooded hills outside the oldest town in Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in English from American Military University. She now lives (mostly) quietly at home with her husband and three sons, where she tries to sneak in a daily run or workout to save her sanity and keep her mind fresh for her next story.


Sarah’s works include the Sunset Lands Beyond trilogy and the fantasy novella Amana.

To keep up to date with Sarah’s work and new releases, sign up for her newsletter. You can also visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Song Styles

Once again, I'd like to share the oddball product of my driving CDs with y'all:  another word association playlist, where each song title suggests the next.

Fix A Heart - Demi Lovato
You Don't Know My Heart - Rachel Platten
They Don't Know - KirstyMacColl
I Don't Know - Celine Dion
Conscious - Broods
I Know Why - Sheryl Crow
Everybody Knows - Idina Menzel
Rumour Has It - Adele
Couldn't Believe - Broods
I Believe - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Girl They Won't Believe It - Joss Stone
Do You Believe in Magic? - The Lovin' Spoonful
Magic - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Magical World - Blackmore's Night
Real World - Eisley
In Real Life - Demi Lovato
Imagination - Helen Reddy
Beyond Imagination - Sissel
Blinding - Florence + The Machine
Sally I Can See You - Kimbra
I See Hope - Midge Ure
A Whole Lot of Hope - Carrie Newcomer
I Was Hoping - Alanis Morissette
I Wish You - Gloria Estefan
Wish You Were Here - Blackmore's Night
Wishing I Was There - Natalia Imbruglia
Wishing Heart - Lisa Loeb
Diving For Hearts - Corinne Bailey Rae
If My Heart Had Wings - Faith Hill
If I Could Fly - Oceanlab
Next Flight - Anna Sahlene
This Time - JoJo
1000 Times - Sara Bareilles
Every Time You Lie - Demi Lovato
Perfect Lie - Sheryl Crow
Perfect Girl - Sarah MacLachlan
No Ordinary Girl - Sahlene
Lonely Girl - Oceanlab
A World Alone - Lorde

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Review Roundup

So the reviews for Scylla and Charybdis have started to come in, and they have a lot of lovely things to say:'

Duncan has built a fascinating galaxy ...

Truly wonderful science fiction should also make the reader take a good hard look at the world around them, and draw some conclusions about it that they might not have drawn otherwise. And this book delivered on that front.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I sincerely hope that Ms. Duncan has a sequel planned, because I would love to spend more time with these characters.

I'm still thinking about that one ...

The most gratifying part for me was that the reviewers seemed to love the setting and the characters, two things I'm passionate about when I write ... and for Scylla and Charybdis in particular, writing an exploration of the world was a primary goal.  It's part of why the story is in third person, not first.

A few people did mention they were a bit dubious of the historical actions of the Derithe, the aliens who created Y-Poisoning and then vanished.  Convenient, they've said - and they're right.  I thought about this when I built the setting, and I do have answers for why the Derithe never followed through with the weakness created by their disease, but I realized there was no way my characters would have access to that knowledge.

So ... maybe for a sequel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Like many people, writers or otherwise, I sometimes escape from mental work by turning on the television.  One of my shows of choice is FaceOff.

FaceOff is a makeup special effects competition on Syfy (just typing that channel name makes me cringe), now in its thirteenth season.  The majority of the challenges are science fiction, fantasy or horror, with the occasional mainstream entry, such as the spy challenge that required the artists to alter the model's gender/age/race.  Many competitions of this type spend a lot of time on interpersonal drama, but FaceOff rarely does, in good part because that kind of headbutting is rare.  There's exceptional camaraderie between the artists, who often pitch in to get molds cleaned out in time and consult each other for opinions.  It makes sense in their industry:  the makeup artist works in a team, answering to director, producer and potentially others.  It doesn't seem like a diva would last long.

What's in it for a speculative fiction author?  Most obviously, the opportunity to see a brief description of character / creature come to beautiful and visual life.  Then there's the creative process of the makeup artists:  how they go from a general concept ("haunted hotel maid") to a specific backstory and attributes, to the realization of that concept, from the overall structure and profile to the tiniest details.  Frequently, the artists that fail are those who fall down in the conception stages; the idea is muddy, contradictory, too ambitious, or not specific enough to guide the makeup.  The ones that are the most successful often have a strong storyline to back it up.

Also a treat for me is the problem solving.  I love listening to how the artists use the tools of their trade to create particular effects.  Many of these are stock in trade, but sometimes, the effect at hand requires a bit more thought.  The off-beat, out of the box solutions the artists come up with are great fun to watch.  It may be a different kind of creativity, but I find it both enjoyable and instructive.

But of course, FaceOff is for everyone.  Recommended.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Song Styles

Thinking today of a haunting, beautiful tune ... I believe I've shared it here before, but it deserves another feature.  "Eli Eli" is a poem written by Hannah Szenes / Senesh ... and this tells the story better than I could:

Eli Eli

This is a piece that drifts in and out of my repertoire, because my version is vocal - I don't have an instrumental-only rendition - and I don't get to sing at most of my gigs.  I truly adore it, however, and each time coming back to it is another rush of beauty.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Scylla and Charybdis reviewed!

Abyss and Apex, which has published several of my stories (the editor - hi, Wendy Delmater! - is apparently crazy), just put out a lovely review of Scylla and Charybdis:

Scylla and Charybdis Review

Please do check out the rest of the magazine while you're there, too.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Happy 4th of July, y'all!  (Even if you're not American, it's still the 4th, after all.  You're not just skipping the day and getting the global calendar in a twist ... are you?)

For those of us in the States, it's Independence Day, not to be confused with the movie featuring Will Smith - though if you want to celebrate by blowing up spaceships, I suppose I won't judge just this once.

I've always been fascinated with this part of history, the last few decades of the colonial era leading up to the Revolution and the immediate aftershocks.  I've even written a short story set in a secondary world that much resembles America around the beginning of the 1800s, featuring a werewolf bounty hunter, a wisewoman and a very small dragon.  Menagerie was published in The Sword Review (now defunct) an eon ago, and I've never returned to that storyline, though it was rife for a sequel.

There's a lot about that time period (the real one) that doesn't make it past the headlines.  Mercy Otis Warren's political writings and letters had a lot of influence on both the public level - plays protesting royal authority; a pamphlet advocating the need for a Bill of Rights in the Constitution; one of the earliest histories of the American Revolution, a massive three volume compendium - and on the private:  she corresponded with John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Martha Washington ...  (One of my never-returned-to story ideas was to write about a Mercy Otis Warren-like figure in the alternate-America I discuss above.)

Sybil Ludington, whose ride to warn of the advancing British - at the tender age of sixteen - is arguably more impressive than Paul Revere's.  When I was a wee thing, I was fascinated with the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley, the first published female African-American poet.


Of course, there's some hilarity in the fact that Benjamin Franklin really was all that and a bag of chips.  Reading a colonial history gets exasperating:  "What, him again?"

No fireworks for me, though.  I'll be having some khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and a ripasso-style IGT Veneto wine.  Cheers!

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Song Styles

So in case you missed my squealing, I just sold "Soul Medley" to Andromeda Spaceways Magazine.  This story was written for a fantasy-writers.org challenge to write about music.  Besides the plotline and the inclusion of a harper/bard character, though, most of the names are in-jokes for Irish music, derived from titles of songs written by Turlough O'Carolan, the famous blind harper of traditional music.

I might - might! - give away those references once the story is published, but for now, here's a recording of an O'Carolan tune *not* featured in "Soul Medley" -

George Brabazon

And yep, that's me playing.  Arrangement by my lovely teacher Nancy Bick Clark.

Shameless plug:  you can also find O'Carolan tune "Sheebeg and Sheemore" (which *is* referenced in "Soul Medley") on my CD, Rolling of the Stone.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Soul Medley" purchased by ASM!

Squeak!  Andromeda Spaceways Magazine has just accepted my story "Soul Medley" for publication roundabouts September!  This has been a goal market for a while, so I'm a little verklempt.

This story is filled with references to Irish music and its famous traditional composer, Turlough O'Carolan.  It's also one of the few tales I've written that incorporates a harper as a main character.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Before Their Time" forthcoming!

I just sold my fantasy short story "Before Their Time" to Outposts of Beyond! This is the first (... by writing order, at least ...) story about time traveling mage Ishene and her bodyguard Kemel.
Expected publication in April of 2019.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Song Styles

On my Scylla and Charybdis soundtrack / playlist, I have a few songs that don't relate to specific characters, relationships or moments in the story.  This is one of those, perhaps not accurate in any particular detail, but emotionally relevant:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A few weeks ago, I participated in a "post 10 books that impacted your life" activity.  Among the novels and fairytale / mythology compilations (D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths was my childhood), I posted two nonfiction books.  One was Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess, which was my first real baking book:  luxurious, accessible, described with Nigella's inimitable sense of humor and flavorful flare.

The other?  GURPS:  Basic Set (Third Edition).

GURPS stands for Generic Universal RolePlaying System, and it was the first RPG that I really latched onto.  The advantage of GURPS was that it allowed for storylines in a wide variety of genres and even allowed those to cross over.  Some of the terminology sticks with me, too:  one of the balance factors used to, for instance, allow a Roman legionnaire and space pirate to interact was the concept of tech level.  Tech level was an umbrella description for the technological/scientific advancement of a particular world (historical area / region / planet / etc).  Characters from settings with a lower tech level got extra points to compensate for their handicap.

My memory of timelines is a little fuzzy, so I can't swear the small collection of old D&D books I purchased didn't pre-date GURPS, but it was definitely the first system that I took out into the world.  I created characters across a wide variety of imaginary realms.  I created weeks-long adventures and campaigns for friends, who soon discovered I had no poker face whatsoever and would make predictions about what was going to happen next and then watch my expression.  Not fair, y'all.

I remember very clearly during the early phases of one adventure that I got a long email from one of my players explaining why she thought one of the NPCs (non-player characters - in other words, one of the cast I controlled) could not be trusted.  I was so stoked by the amount of thought she put into it.  It was one of my best moments as a GM (GameMaster).  Heck, it was one of my best moments as a writer, which probably doesn't say much for my writing career ...

In any event, my stint with GURPS launched me into years of online roleplaying games, where I made friends, honed my writing craft in a social venue, and goofed off.  I would occasionally generate writing characters with GURPS, but I eventually moved away from it because the system was *too* flexible and too close to narrative.  I preferred to use the artificial strictures of RPG character generation to suggest possibilities and/or force me to think about things in a different way.

Another aspect of GURPS that has come in handy as a writer is their sourcebooks are very well researched (where relevant) and nicely thought out.  I've been known to use the guidelines in GURPS:  Religion for the mythos of a new world.  GURPS:  Faerie, with its broad overview of common fairy legends and attributes, provided me a great jumping off point for research.  ... and just for fun, GURPS:  Grimoire introduces one to sorcery such as the "Guns To Butter" and "Transfer Pregnancy" spells ...

I'd never suggest the sourcebooks as a substitute for research, but they offer a solid starting point, and more than that:  they're geared for those trying to tell stories with the elements they feature.  Shameless plug over.

I've done one more fun thing with the system more recently.  I took the master skill list and, using a random number generator, selected four or five to give to character(s).  Explaining this bizarre assortment, and my trying to figure out a plot that would utilize each skill, led to the story Waterways.  In Waterways, immersion in the sacred waters puts a person in touch with ancestors and allows them to access past skills ... only with the city under occupation, things haven't gone quite as intended.

Waterways was fun to write, but I don't think I'm done with this concept.  We'll see where it leads in the future.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Jennifer Lee Rossman's Anachronism!

Today, I'm hosting - somewhat belatedly! - a fellow Grimbold Books / Kristell Ink author and her shiny novella.  Take it away, Jennifer:

***

Hello! My name is Jennifer Lee Rossman, and  I'm celebrating the release of my first novella, ANACHRONISM, available from Kristell Ink, an imprint of Grimbold Books!





It's the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she's the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war...

Petra Vincent is at the end of her rope - or rather, the edge of a bridge. Her world is falling apart around her and she sees no way out of the meaningless existence the future has in store. But when
stranded time traveler Moses Morgan tells her that she will one day lead the country out of the rubble of a nuclear civil war as President of the United States, she's intrigued - and when another time traveler starts trying to preemptively assassinate her, she realizes Moses might be telling the truth...

Anachronism is a time-traveling, adventure-filled novella with a whole bagful of danger, twists, and snarky banter.






Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from Oneonta, New York. When she isn't writing, she cross stitches, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair.

Her work has been featured in several anthologies and her novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, will be published by World Weaver Press in 2019. You can find her blog at http://jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com/ and Twitter at https://twitter.com/JenLRossman

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to all the dads, granddads, step-dads, foster dads, adoptive dads, going-to-be-a-dads, pet dads (even the ones who claim they're just putting up with the dog) and other paternal units I may have forgotten!

May you have an amazing day filled with whatever good things you wish.

Since it's Sunday, the day of my scheduled song post, I wanted to post one about dads, and at first I came up empty.  Then I remembered this:

I'll Go Too - Carrie Newcomer

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Song Styles

On my playlist for Scylla and Charybdis is this song, which for me is a touchstone for the backstory between Anaea and Orithia.  It addresses Anaea's introvert nature, that need to just be by herself, even when it costs:

Free - Sarah Brightman

(As an aside, Googling "Free Sarah Brightman" made me giggle.  I don't know where she'd be restrained or why, but I am up for it.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Between work, wine class, and the wearing of seasonal allergies, I haven't felt as if I've gotten much done on the writing, but I've actually made a good amount of progress on my projects.

In my final editing pass for Journal of the Dead, one of my main goals was adding a series of scenes, expanding on the characters outside the context of the investigation.  I went back and forth on one scene in particular.  It's a conversation that Iluenn has with Suitha, the wife of one of the victim's political rivals (and a suspect herself).  It touches upon Iluenn's romantic relationship and raises a lot of questions about its - and her - future.  In the manuscript as it stood, the dialogue occurs off stage.

And did I really need to include it?  Iluenn talks about it to the narrator, Vil, which means the reader sees its impact; and Vil is on the run at this point in time, which makes setting her up to eavesdrop logistically eavesdrop.  Also, pure laziness:  it was going to be a difficult scene to write.

But finally, I decided that on balance, I needed the scene.  It was engrossing to write.  It almost made me late to work one morning.  And in the end, I think it was well worth the writing.  It gives the reader a much better understanding of Suitha.  Hopefully, it both makes her more sympathetic and more suspicious at the same time.

I also started writing "Reputation Precedes," the short story whose brainstorming process I shared on this blog a few weeks ago, and have been editing "She Loves Me Not," a humorous take on the fairytale The Flower Queen's Daughter.  The story does a lot of lampshading and stream of consciousness humor, which takes a lot of verbiage.  My primary goal in editing right now is to whittle it below ten thousand words.

Finally, I'm closing in on the end of Surgeburnt.  I just finished writing the final flashback scene.  The whole novel has been written in two timelines:  the present, and the events that led up to the novel's first lines.  The latter is out of order, though (to save my sanity and the reader's) smaller arcs within the storyline are shown in sequence.  The novel begins with the narrator having sold out her friends to save their lives, and until now - this last past-scene - the reader doesn't know exactly what happened.

And now?

You'll have to read it.  Some day!

GoodReads Review: The Woman Who Heard Color - Kelly Jones

The Woman Who Heard ColorThe Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(This isn't an SF/F book, but I thought it would be of interest to genre readers, too.)

When art detective Lauren O'Farrell enters the home of Isabella Fletcher, she hopes to tease out information about her mother's activities as an art dealer in Nazi Germany, but she finds herself drawn into a much deeper story.

The novel is primarily from the point of view of Hanna, but includes chapters from Lauren's point of view as Isabella tells the story as she knows it ... and early on, the reader sees hints that are parts of the story, sometimes huge parts, that Isabella never learned. This becomes important as the novel develops.

And Hanna has an unusual attribute: she hears colors (and also sees sounds - as someone who has been studying synesthesia, it's worth noting that bi-directional versions are *very* rare). This helps to foster her lifelong love of art, something which carries her deep into the web of Hitler's attempts to cleanse the art world.

It's a disturbing, often intense journey with some great personal moments, snapshots of Hanna's life. But because it is a life story, much of the tale is summarized, and some of the events that were glossed over, I thought lessened the impact - including huge ones like the birth of a child. Her husband's proposal is even told in flashback. Obviously, there's no way the story could include everything, or the book would be twice as long (as it's already pretty hefty). But I don't really agree with all of Jones' choices for tradeoffs.

Another disappointment is for a book about art, from the point of view of someone with unusual perceptions, the text is very prosaic. I expected the prose itself to be more artistic. It's solid, but with few flourishes. The style doesn't match the subject matter.

That said, I thought it was an enjoyable read. The character of Lauren isn't particularly complex, but she's interesting enough to sympathize with. The novel has a strong arc rife with conflicts, and the conclusion is satisfying. Recommended.


View all my reviews

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Song Styles

So I think we all have songs that have personal meaning:  associated with particular moments in our lives, pep talks, and if you're a writer, associated with characters - that's what this weekly post is usually about, in fact.

I do have a number of songs I consider inspirational, a shot in the arm when I'm running low ... but I also do have one song for the opposite, that tells me to slow down and chill out.  It's the first two minutes of this:

Dancing Through Life - Wicked Soundtrack

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I posted briefly about this on Facebook, but I thought it bore another look.  Most of you who are acquainted with writers (which I suppose, almost by default, means all of you) have probably heard the term "plotters vs pantsers" at some point.  It refers to two types of writers:  those who outline and plot in detail before writing, and those who wing it - going by the seat of their pants.

There's another way to refer to this, and it's a bit more elegant:  Architects versus Gardeners.  (It's also less likely to get you a scandalized look at a party.)  Architects design the framework and structure.  Gardeners plant idea seeds and see what grows.

Now all this creates a dichotomy that's a little misleading.  A lot of writers are somewhere in between, use different methods for different projects, or have shifted from one to the other over the course of their career.  There's no ongoing rivalry between the two philosophies, though some books on writing would give you that impression.  Since, obviously, it's much easier to write a book about planning than a book about winging it, you see more of them, and some of them do take potshots at the other style.

In any case, I've been studying for the CSW - Certified Specialist of Wine - so I've had wine on the brain, from grape varieties to terroir.  And it occurred to me:  between Architects and Gardeners, I'm a Viticulturist.

Before the vine ever blossoms, I'm pruning unnecessary foliage and spacing out canes for the best possible growth pattern.  The remaining vine structure is trained along wires - call those my overall sense of plot, the characters involved, the invisible support of the main idea.  And then allowed to blossom ... mostly.

Because as much as the grapes grow naturally, they receive constant, watchful eyes making sure that their growth doesn't get out of control and that they are protected from the extremes of weather and from pests.  As a writer, I am pathologically incapable of just barreling on and leaving a scene "not quite right."  I can't use placeholder words or names, marking them to fill in later.  If I realize I need to revise something to make a later scene click better, I'm flipping back to do so right away.

What's one of the most important decisions a winemaker has to make?  The timing of harvest, because there's often a balance between peak sugar levels and physiological maturity.  In an ideal setting, these two elements happen at the same time, but shifts in weather (plot developments!) and other events can put them out of sync.  For me, ending a story is sometimes difficult, because I like to stop with some loose ends; that sense of, "Yes, but ..."  Just because the book ends, doesn't mean life does.

Then there's the process of turning grapes into wine, which I'll call the editing process.  Don't worry, I'm not going to belabor the metaphor any further at this point, other than to say that I'm an Old World winemaker:  my editing doesn't change the essential core of the story; the finished wine is an expression of the grapes and what the underlying terroir has to offer.

Oh, and a good story makes me a little tipsy.  There's that, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Song Styles

I've finally reached the climactic scene(s) in Surgeburnt, where the timelines come together and we finally learn what drove Maren to betray her team to save them ... at the same time that things come to a head in the present.  And it makes me think back to the first, abortive draft, and the original themesong I had selected for Maren.  It refers to her doomed romance with Archer ... but is the love we can't have the one that is right for us?

The lyrics also partly inspired that thread of betrayal the reader would only now be learning about ...

White Flag - Dido

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I've posted before about how I don't think I would do well as a YA writer, for various reasons.  Two reasons that stand out are these.  One, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through highschool graduation, so I lack that very common school experience that informs a lot of contemporary-based YA, and even some non-contemporary "magic school" YA.  Two, YA was much more scarce when I was that age.  There weren't many books in the genre to read.  As a reader, I skipped past much of it and went straight to "adult" books.

Reading recent posts about YA, it's occurred to me that these two reasons are connected.  People have cited how much they struggled to find books where could see themselves in the protagonists.  This is, they claim, one of the best things about the current surge of YA for young readers.

I don't ever really recall having trouble finding characters to identify with, though I do remember being irked at the paucity of female characters at times.  (That's a whole different post, and one I believe I've written, but I was always of, "Fiiiine, you writers are poopooheads and I'll write the girl heroes" mindset.)  Those tropes of growing up and finding your identity aren't limited to YA characters.  The characters tend to be younger, true, but what else is a midlife crisis?  In my own writing, Anaea in Scylla and Charybdis is very much on a journey of finding herself, but at 19, she's a bit past the usual age of a YA character.  Kit from Flow is only fifteen, but outside the supernatural aspects of her life, she's pretty grounded in who she is.

One of the aspects of being homeschooled is your social circle, while it may be smaller, larger or equivalent to that of someone in conventional school, is almost never composed primarily of your age peers.  I had some friends my age, but I also had younger friends - I had a lovely friendship with my neighbor's daughter, who I tutored in math later on - and I had a number of adult friends.  One of the best things about volunteering at the Cincinnati Museum Center was even during the school year, I had weekday hours, so I got to hang out with the adult volunteers.

Which leads me to the theory that part of the reason I didn't desperately want/need more YA is the fact that I didn't necessarily need a character to be my age to identify with them.  I just wasn't trained into that sense of peer grouping.

Interestingly, this even continued in college:  when I attended culinary school, there was a range of ages.  I was right in the middle, between teenagers who had just graduated highschool, mid-career culinarians going back to school to build their resume, and second career or retiree students.  And again ... I hung out a lot with the latter.  One memory that sticks out is when a fellow student, retired from the flavor industry (the industry that creates artificial flavorings), put on his music and Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby" came on.

Me:  "Oh, I love this song."

Other student:  "What *is* this song?"

And the pair of us (retiree and I) proceeded to riff about the plotline.

Now I'm working in a job where I'm the oldest person by several years ... no big deal.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Song Styles

Lindsey is about to depart from the usual character themesong focus of this post and discuss a musical album - so if that's not to your taste, exit now, but I will tell you it has a very fantasy vibe, even though it has no specific speculative content.

I'm speaking of Aurora's All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend.  I first encountered Aurora through the television show "Good Behavior," which used Running With The Wolves in the close of an episode.  The song mesmerized me enough to look her up, and I ordered the album ... but on the advice of those who had purchased the digital album, I ordered the deluxe version, which wasn't available on CD yet (and still isn't) ... and forgot about it.

(Sidebar:  I say that there's no speculative content to the music, but on my first viewing of the music video above, that very theatric and peculiar mini story definitely has dystopian / fantasy elements.  So I think it's fair to say that there's a very dark, mythical, fantastic bent to her style.)

Quite a while later, I realized that the CD was still pending on Amazon, and I was still also very interested in the music, so I bit the bullet, canceled my order, and bought the digital version of the deluxe album.

Aurora's music is generally dark and moody, slower in tempo, though with a few exceptions, such as Conqueror.  (Here's another one where the music video is purely fantastical.)  Some of the songs blur together, and because of the overall musical pace, it's somewhat monotonous to listen to the album as a whole ... but individually, most have a lot to offer.  I'm a bit obsessed with her Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1), which is faster tempo and a perfect blend of mood with atmospherics.

As far as the deluxe version goes, it's a mixed bag.  There's a cover of the ubiquitous Nature Boy.  I found Wisdom Cries actively painful to listen to, but Half The World Away is lovely.  The best parts of the deluxe edition, in fact, are the two alternate versions of Running With The Wolves and Murder Song, which take opposite tactics.  Running With The Wolves takes the musical themes and multiplies them in mesmerizing repetition.  Murder Song strips out the atmosphere and lets the song stand on its own.

Recommended, but the deluxe version is optional.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Guest post: Part-time Human

I'm over at Part-time Human (yeah, that has to be one of the best blog titles ever) talking about Scylla and Charybdis (of course) and life as a creative (complicated, but funny):  https://jmhieber.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/guest-post-lindsey-duncan/

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A recent Facebook post reminded me of the old days of fandom roleplaying and fan fiction, when everyone had to post prominent legal disclaimers to avoid being sued by a favorite author, and even that didn't prevent threats and harassment.  As a writer myself, it's not hard to understand the kneejerk reaction:  these people are stealing the work I spent years developing, then years more jumping through the hoops of publishers and agents ... but the majority of these fandom folk were simply expressing their joy and devotion, not claiming the author's words as their own.

Over time, the attitude towards fandom softened, but it is still ridiculed, derided and given side-eye by many.  I missed many of the horror stories, but I was present for the Anne McCaffrey's "Renewable Airforce" drama, when she set down the sexual orientations for the riders of the various colors.  Within her rights to do so, perhaps:  at the time, it was unequivocally "her world, her rules."  Some will argue that since it couldn't be interpreted from the books themselves, fans were free to interpret as they would, as long as they didn't claim it was her stance.  Regardless, a lot of the fandom games I played in scrambled, rewriting old characters and old plots, sometimes scrapping them entirely, to retroactively work with these rules.

On a lighter note, I'm put in mind of stories of fanfiction writers who had written Luke / Leia romance stories after the first Star Wars movie, and then the frantic scrambling at the revelations later.  I've heard there's even an official novelization that at least hinted at a romance there.

A small group of friends and I approached Gayle Greeno, writer of the Ghatti books - telepathic cat companions - to ask if we could create a small fandom game in her setting.  She was confused and a bit tentative about the idea, but approved it.  Nowadays, it's hard to imagine any author not being familiar with the concept.  So of course, especially since I had my own fandom days, I turned it over myself.

When I roleplayed in fandom, it was always in the author's world, but not with his / her characters.  Either the fandom was set in a different time era - long before or long after the author's characters lived - or sometimes in an alternate reality, where they never existed.  As much as author-insert characters get a bad rap (look up "Mary Sue" sometime), I think everyone put some aspect(s) of themselves into their roleplaying characters.  In a world that wasn't ours, that person or people we portrayed was our gateway, our own private vehicle.

For me, my characters were very personal.  Sometimes, people would ask friends to "puppet" (temporarily portray) their character for live online events they couldn't make.  I could never make myself do this, and I pretty much panicked the few times I was asked.  I couldn't possibly.  Those were their characters.  That went doubly for the author's characters.

So when it comes to the possibility of fandom set in one of my books, I think my reaction would be that I'd be honored that anyone enjoyed my settings enough to spend time in them - as long as, of course, they're not making profit off it.  I don't even think I would mind if they were doing unconventional things with the setting.  But when it comes to the characters, I'm highly uncomfortable about the idea of someone else writing them.  It feels a bit like a violation of privacy.  I would never harass, threaten or pursue legal action, but I hope that readers would respect this; or if they chose not to, that they would keep their writings private or for select friends, where I couldn't happen across them accidentally.

So maybe this seems unfair of me or high-handed, but it's my gut feeling, and I can't really alter that sense of wrongness.  I'm certainly not a hypocrite; I would never write another author's characters, and I feel that's as polite as not letting myself into their houses, even if all I'm going to do is admire the wallpaper.  And I would humbly hope that, if readers knew my stance on this, that would grant me the same courtesy.  That's all I can ask.

GoodReads Review: The Man Who Tasted Shapes - Richard E. Cytowic

The Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the wide range of this book, from the prevailing attitudes of medicine and neuroscience to the well-described details of how to hypothesize and conduct experiments on synesthesia. However, this is not a book about synesthesia, at least not in its entirety. For that, try Cytowic's "Wednesday Is Indigo Blue." This is a much broader book about the functions of the brain, perception, and in the final sections, consciousness, metaphor, and even spirituality. It's an interesting exploration of ideas.

View all my reviews

(Included here for general writer / creative interest.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Song Styles

Happy Mother's Days to all the moms out there, whether your children be human, four-legged, biological, adopted, or a spark of hope for the future.

Here's a song that I always associate with mothers, even though I don't believe it's explicitly mentioned in the lyrics:

Roots and Wings - Anne Murray