Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

There's a phenomenon in fiction and film that I like to call "villain creep."  Villain creep is when an antagonist, whether they are the primary opponent of the main characters or a flunky / associate, evolves into an ally and perhaps even becomes one of the protagonists.  Villain creep often occurs when the antagonist reveals that all their actions have actually been in service of fighting even a bigger threat.  Differences are put aside ... and never quite picked back up.  Villain creep isn't the same thing as a pragmatic antagonist temporarily aligning with the heroes to solve a single problem, then returning to his/her roots; it's a permanent (or at least long-term) transformation.

It's easy to see why villain creep occurs.  For a character to be more than a cardboard cutout, they need to have valid motivations; in novels with multiple points of view, that sometimes means stepping inside their brain.  The writer begins to identify with them; so does the reader.  And sometimes the evolution makes perfect sense with the villain's goals.  It's the smart writer who lets the plot move in accordance to the characters.  On the other hand, it's also easy for a writer to sympathize too much with a character they've developed so deeply.  When that happens, villain creep infests the entire plot.  No matter how unsavory that new antagonist seems, they're probably going to end up helping the hero out eventually.

Villain creep happens in television for additional reasons:  viewers get attached to the actor (especially an attractive one); or the writers like working with the actor and want to give them a greater role.  (Of course, this doesn't explain incidents like the evolution of Aneela in Killjoys, because she's played by the exact same actress as the protagonist Dutch.  If this sounds confusing, it is.)

This isn't to say that villain creep is a bad thing.  (It had better not be, because I'm kind of addicted to it, myself.)  There is something deeply satisfying in watching a character we've slowly come to admire "see the light" - and it also makes breathe a certain sigh of relief and shake off the guilt we may have felt for sympathizing for him.  Handled right, the surprise has the perfect punch.  But when used again, the impact slowly lessens.  So the best way to incorporate villain creep is in moderation, and perhaps in combination with movement in the other direction:  protagonists turning coat and joining the other side.

Is hero creep a thing?  Certainly not to the same extent, possibly because we all like to think we're the hero of our stories, not the villain; watching those we identify with become the enemy is unsettling.  But every now and again, it's a good reminder that life is complicated, and people even more so.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Song Styles

Still working on my worldbuilding for my next novel project, then it's on to character profiles.  The dynamic duo at the center of this story, Pirelle and Chiria, both started out as D&D characters - both shapeshifters, because I'm a bit obsessed with that, apparently.  There's a song that inspired Pirelle as a character and shaped her personality and profession both:

Popular - Wicked soundtrack

Yes, I have an addiction to musicals.  I sought help, but it burst into song.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Song Styles

I'm a fan of the songs from the Waitress musical, the story of a waitress stuck in a dead-end town / job / marriage whose biggest joy is baking pies.  When she discovers she is pregnant, she dreams of entering a high-profile pie contest to earn a better life for her child (and also starts an affair with her obstetrician).  The songs were written by the marvelous Sara Bareilles.

There's an ongoing refrain that often gets stuck in my brain as an earworm, and it's featured here in the opening song:

What's Inside

(And if you enjoy, just let Youtube carry on:  it will flip to the next baking themed song, "What Baking Can Do."  Is it any wonder the pastry chef loves this musical?)

I find myself mutter-singing "Sugar butter flour" in the kitchen more often than I care to admit ...

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

When I was little, I had a huge whiteboard - I think it was maybe 3' x 4' - that I used to draw maps on.  I've never been much of an artist, so it was all symbols.  Sometimes, it was countries, with swaths of coastline, little blue squiggles for oceans, and starred cities, but I particularly liked drawing towns and cities.  Maybe it was the level of detail:  I drew individual houses, placed shops here and there, and formed the outline of streets with the spaces in between.  The maps would stay up for days or even weeks before I erased them and started anew.

As I grew older and technology advanced, I started to dabble with map drawing programs.  Sometimes, I'd use them for existing projects, but more often I liked to come up with a map concept, put it together, and then come up with a world / story to match.  I used the map programs as I always had used maps:  to begin.

Over time, I lost interest in map creation, and I've never really come back to it.  It would be nice to have a formal map for one of my projects - especially since one of my fellow writers at Grimbold Books does beautiful illustrations - but I don't need it.  I can arrange countries and lay out rivers and lakes in my head without the need for the visual reinforcement.

In fact, I'm not sure there's much visual about it at all.  It's very possible that the way I think about positioning and geography is a kinesthetic, bodily system of organization.  Sadly, this theory is reinforced by how much trouble I've have had with the maps in my wine studies.  When there's a tangible description of the relation between geography and climate, I can keep track of how regions interrelate.  But when it simply comes to dots on a map, all the visuals in the world don't help.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Song Styles

It's that time of year.  You're seeing it in stores, even though Halloween hasn't even hit yet and the temperatures (at least around here) are still in the 70s.

I'm talking about ... the Christmas season.

Deep, mournful sigh.

I have a wedding I'm playing harp for next weekend, but after that, it's time to get out my Christmas music list.  Yes, really.  A few of the tunes are obscure and I play them all year round because no one would recognize them as holiday, but most are distinctly seasonal, so I haven't touched them in months.  With a forty-plus tune repertoire, ranging from ancient carols to traditional favorites to Celtic off-shoots to contemporary merriment and even a Hanukkah tune, and considering that Christmas-themed parties start right after Thanksgiving, I need the time to dust off and review my holiday music.

I probably won't be adding new tunes this year, not so much because of time allowances - though there isn't much of that - as because I've currently hit the limit of repertoire that is a) recognizable; b) I enjoy musically; and c) is playable on the harp.  (For instance, I love the Charlie Brown Christmas song, but the accidentals and chord progress make it impossible on a lever harp.)  I can also easily get through a 2-3 hour set, so there's no practical reason to add more.

Not that that ever stops me if I run into a song I want to play ...

What are your favorite Christmas tunes?  Obscure or familiar, new favorites or centuries old?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Yesterday, I opened a new document and jotted down this:

                I may not howl at the moon or be stopped in my tracks by a line of salt, but the liminal is an inescapable part of my life.  I’m a Sniffer, which means I can detect the earthy loam of a dryad or the formaldehyde tang of a vampire.  It also gives me an edge in my mundane job:  I can detect the “tar and roses” of Nebbiolo from across the room, and at closer ranges, separate the green apple and melon of Chardonnay versus Chenin Blanc – the wet wool of the latter is a dead giveaway.  My two worlds cross a lot, because Old World liminus love their Old World wine … and if you had a magical affliction, wouldn’t you drink?
                The Old World versus New World divide that runs through the wine realm – tradition versus innovation; subtlety versus the punch of fruit; pride of place versus showcasing fruit – has its parallels in the liminal world.  Vampires with pedigree back to the Roman era often look down their noses at technomages and even Mayan alux, who pre-date a lot of European fairies.  Most of the less traditional liminus don’t stand on or respect their ceremony, but sometimes they come into the shop like nouveau riche, insisting on a bottle of Chablis.  I always feel like standing them in front of a map and asking them to pinpoint the region.  (Closer to Champagne than its parent region of Burgundy, for the record.)

No, it's not the beginning of a new novel - it's much too "telly" for that, not to mention that nothing has actually happened in a little shy of 250 words.  Instead, it's a loose narrative I'm using to help myself in my wine studies.  By putting down facts in my own words and building a story around it, I'm hoping to enhance my memory.  But the fact that I'm not trying to make something sale-worthy / viable means that I can jump around and focus on the topics that are giving me trouble.

All that said, there's still some worldbuilding implicit in the paragraphs above, because of course.  I'm getting bored with everything in contemporary fantasy being "the supernatural," so I've used the term liminal here - essentially, "on the threshold," which is also used in magical context / spaces.  So a magical being is a "liminus," and I spent a good twenty minutes flailing around the internet trying to determine if that was an appropriate cognate before I gave up and went with it.

This may end up sparking a short story or two, but that would be a bonus, not the goal.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Song Styles

Driving in my car a few days ago, listening to my most recent word association CD - see a few posts down - it occurred to me that one of the songs was an excellent fit for one of my male characters, directed towards my female lead.  His perspective may not be accurate, but Maren has definitely cut him deep:

Congratulations - Rachel Platten

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

People recognize that red and blue make purple (unless they're colorblind or just plain stubborn), but not everyone realizes that scents can combine to make other scents.  Here's an easy example:  yesterday, I was making cinnamon french toast casserole and, at the same time, rehydrating raisins on the stove.  I paused, because it smelled exactly like Sun Maid Cinnamon Raisin Bread.  

But it's more complex than that.  Occasionally, I've stepped into the walk-in fridge and smelled something completely different, something for which we don't even have the ingredients.  The combination of other dishes cooling creates the perception of a third, unrelated scent.

There's science behind this.  The chemical diacetyl is present in butter, and shows up in wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation.  It's responsible for that buttery taste in Chardonnay, but there isn't actual butter involved, just the same volatile chemical interacting with retronasal sensors.  (Most of what we consider "taste" is actually smell that occurs within the mouth.  The tastebuds can only perceive tactile sensations and the basic tastes:  sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.)

I've recently become aware that I have a much keener sense of smell than I'd ever thought.  This is especially weird because growing up (and still), I had miserable allergies.  I was used to being stuffed up and not relying on my nose.  In fact, I still breathe solely through my mouth.  (Yep ... I'm a mouth-breather.)  So I'm used to thinking that I had a subpar sense of smell.  Maybe it's that I concentrate on it more than most people; maybe it's that I appreciate it more.  It might even be connected to my writing:  I've always tried to include smell, taste and touch in my descriptions, so I'm used to pinpointing and labeling.

However it comes about, I do notice the interaction of smells.  I haven't yet picked out a pattern as to what combinations create what results ... after all, the human nose can pick out 10,000 scents (at least), which makes millions of potential blends.  An olfactory rainbow waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Song Styles

I'm on my final editing pass for Unnatural Causes.  This is a targeted pass, to smooth out the additions from the previous pass and to cut unnecessary fat.  Since the novel is at 98,000 words and a bit of change, I'm in a different position than I usually am:  rather than looking for what I can cut that won't hurt the story,  I'm looking for what I can cut that will help the story.

So in honor of that, here's (one of) the quirky song(s) that I put down as a themesong for my narrator, Vil.  It's inside out and topsy-turvy, much like Vil herself even before the chaotic events of the novel:

Anywhere Is - Enya

This music video also gets thumbs up from me for actually connecting to the music.  Nothing drives me more nuts when the music tells one story and the video another ...

Well, all right.  People who say things happen "on accident" drive me more nuts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Between the chaos of my daily life, I've been working on the worldbuilding for my next novel project.  It's coming together somewhat differently from my usual process, and I hope the changes will pay off.

I typically do a few short sections on global elements - cosmology, world history, magic system, general geography - and then focus on the specific individual countries about which I'm writing.  Elements may bleed over from country to country, or I may deliberately set up contrast between them.

With this project, I'm spending a lot more time on the global ... but rather than precise definitions, I've included scope, variance, and tendencies - a broader approach that gives me a framework upon which to hang individual regions (and individuals).  My hope is that the end result will be more granular, less neatly defined, and that when I get down to specific countries and cities, I'll have a clearer sense of how they fit into the world as a whole.

In particular, rather than simply saying "this is what religious people believe," (as if one global religion is realistic!) I've created a quartet of deities who manifest in different ways.  Some denominations may revere all four; others may believe in the existence of only a single deity; still others might believe in two, but consider them "good" and "evil."

It's a lot more work, but a) I think it will go quicker when I get down to the specifics, since I won't be creating so much wholecloth; and b) ... let's face it, I'm obsessed with worldbuilding and I would cheerfully spend all my time doing it anyway.

Another change to the way I usually do things is I don't have a mental outline for what sections I need.  I'm writing sections as they occur to me.  For instance, I just realized that I wanted to go back and talk about holidays.  Now, this is a general / global discussion; individual countries might have their own days of celebration ...

I'm also running into the weird issue that the word "chimpanzee" feels irredeemably modern and I'm not sure how to handle referencing such a creature, but that's another story.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Anatomy of an Idea: Soul Medley

As I mentioned in my previous post, Soul Medley is now out in Andromeda Spaceways #72.  I discuss briefly the origins of the story, but here's a more detailed account ... spoiler free, if you haven't read it yet, though I do encourage you to do so!

Soul Medley started in response to a monthly challenge prompt at  The prompt was to write a story about / involving music.  I decided to build a story around the repertoire of famed blind Irish traditional harper Turlough O'Carolan.  He's easily the most prolific composer in the traditional repertoire, responsible for a few hundred tunes.  Now, I'm not a huge O'Carolan fan; like many artists who churn out works, a lot of them start to sound the same.  But he does have a few gorgeous tunes.

One of the most unusual is Eleanor Plunkett.  There are two stories around Eleanor Plunkett, one about the namesake, one about the tune.  (You may sometimes see it referred to as Planxty Eleanor Plunkett, a planxty being a tune written in honor of a person.  Many of O'Carolan's tunes are planxties, whether referred to by that name or not.)  Eleanor Plunkett, the person, was allegedly the only survivor of her family, who shut themselves up in their castle and drowned in boiling water (?!).  Probably historical exaggeration of some sort, but that Eleanor was the last of the Plunketts is not in doubt.

Legend has it that O'Carolan was playing the first part of Eleanor Plunkett, the tune, when a bystander commented that he'd heard another song just like it.  O'Carolan was so incensed he stopped right there and never finished writing it.

So that takes care of the inspiration for my main characters.  For my antagonist, I decided to reference another traditional harper:  Rory Dall O'Cathain, also a blind harper of Irish / Scottish background (both cultures claim him) who pre-dates O'Carolan.

Throughout the story, there are references to other O'Carolan tunes, such as Sheebeg and Sheemore (the Anglicized translation of the Irish title), which refers to a battle between the fairies over two hills:  the big hill and little hill.  And I tried to make the journey through the underworld feel like a classic tale of the fairy, while still having its own unique qualities.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

ASM #72 Now Available!

It's out!  Check out Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #72 with my story, "Soul Medley" ... here!

Watch this space for a discussion of how this story came to be.  Or don't.  ;)

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Last week, I discussed the CW's fantasy series, The Outpost.  This week, I'd like to talk about one of television science fiction offerings, Salvation.

Or ... is it?  During the first season, I posted about Salvation's exploration of coming-apocalypse movie tropes - it's almost a love letter to that particular subgenre - and how it took the familiar and explored them more deeply, an opportunity presented by the longer format.

In season two, the difficulties of writing an extended storyline that centers around a world-ending asteroid begin to manifest themselves.  There's only so many scientific barriers to place between the main characters and the solution before it either strains credulity or bores the viewer with technobabble.  There's also only so many other kinds of complications before it is no longer a story about impending collision and instead becomes a story about all the ways people can be terrible to each other.  Salvation does a decent job of this, but it's the places where the broader plotline strays from this central plot problem that are the weakest.

Among those, Salvation falls back on a familiar trope of spy / thriller shows:  the shadowy cabal that manipulates governments and decides the fate of nations.  I'm not sure how plausible such an organization really is, if it could really exist without being discovered.  In fact, I might be tempted to say that such a cabal actually belongs in fantasy, not reality.

Then again, how much of the science in Salvation is near-future science fiction, how much is currently in our grasp, and how much is pure fantasy?  I don't know enough about technology to answer that question.  For the matter of that, how many purely "real" shows indulge in technological solutions that don't yet exist?  Fudge the details of a drug?  Even grounded politics-based shows like Madam Secretary use invented countries to avoid insulting real nations, create tension that wouldn't be possible with a real place, or create parallels comfortably removed from our reality.

What about those cop shows where a single forensics expert does the work of six, so the viewer doesn't have to remember six people?  Or, as my mother is fond of pointing out, the attire that no real cop / attorney / businessperson would be allowed to wear to work?  Ultimately, every work of fiction is a fantasy, a reality that doesn't quite mesh with our own; that makes assumptions about the world which may or may not be accurate; that changes the rules to make for the best story.

So when it comes to defining genre lines, there's a lot to be said for that old saw about pornography:  you can't define it, but you know it when you see it.  It's a lot about overall feel.  Salvation feels like science fiction to me, so I choose to call it that.  If you chant a spell to become invisible, it's fantasy; if you press a button on a gadget, it's science fiction.  There was a time (I'm not sure if it's true any more) where scientists were certain that time travel was impossible, so any story that contained it was necessarily fantasy ... but time travel is so ingrained in our concept of science fiction that it continued to be classified that way.  Handwaving a memory-wiping drug in an otherwise non-fantastical thriller is fine, as long as it's plausible.

For a show that does an excellent job of keeping the viewer guessing about the paranormal - is this fantasy?  Is there a rational explanation?  Is what the characters believe more important than what's really going on? - check out Fortitude.  And expect things to get progressively weirder ... 

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Song Styles

Another few months, another set of CDs and music to accompany me upon my travels through the strange lands of the midwest.  Besides the themed sets, I enjoy doing word association, where song titles string one into the next through linked words, concepts, and occasionally shameless punnery.  This is my most recent set of songs:

A Hundred Wishes - Loreena McKennitt
1000 Miles Away - Carrie Newcomer
Many The Miles - Sara Bareilles
Miles From Our Home - Cowboy Junkies
Feels Like Home - Chantal Kreviazuk
Are You Home - Broods
Walking Home - Metisse
Take Me Home - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
House - Sahlene
Cigarettes and Housework - Rachel Fuller
Smoke - Natalie Imbruglia
Skies on Fire - The Green Children
World on Fire - Sarah McLachlan
Weight of the World - Chantal Kreviazuk
Heavy - Dreamgirls soundtrack
Heavy Metal Lover - Lady Gaga
Circle of Stone - Laura Powers
Circle - Sarah McLachlan
Never Ending Circles - Chvrches
Loose Ends - Imogen Heap
Let It Loose - Gloria Estefan
Break Free - Colbie Caillat
Breakout - Ronan Hardiman
Prisoner - Mariah Carey
Prisoner of Love - Miami Sound Machine
Hearts Without Chains - Ellie Goulding
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken - P!nk
All The King's Horses - Joss Stone
Poem to a Horse - Shakira
My Song - Alessia Cara
Love Song - Sara Bareilles
Sarah's Song - Sissel
Good Old Song - Anne Murray
The Old Fashioned Way - Helen Reddy
Ages Past, Ages Hence - Loreena McKennitt
Dear Future Husband - Meghan Trainor
Marry Me - Martin McBride
I Do - Idina Menzel
Congratulations - Rachel Platten
Thank You - Celine Dion
Thank U - Alanis Morissette

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Story Sale!

The Colored Lens just accepted my story "Canvas Captured" for their fall issue!  Watch this space for details and suchnot.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

So I've been watching the CW's fantasy series, The Outpost.  I don't know that I would have even known it existed, except that Dean Devlin - from Leverage - is one of the producers.  That's also what pushed me over the edge to turn it on, besides the fact that it's a fantasy series and I have a certain perverse desire to see those succeed.

At first encounter, The Outpost is purely formulaic, cliche fantasy.  There's an evil empire, which has taken over from the rightful rulers, and goes about oppressing people.  The main character is a Strong Female, an orphan whose village was slaughtered and is now seeking revenge.  She has incredible fighting ability for someone not formally trained.  For goodness' sakes, her name is Talon ... and this from a fantasy race that bears a remarkable resemblance to elves.

But then the little details start creeping in.  Those "elves" are Blackbloods, which gives our heroine some trouble when she has to hide her injuries and her nature.  The zombie-like creatures encountered early on are known as Plaguelings, and they have the neat (if nasty) detail of producing a venomous serpent mouth to attack their victims.  The Lu-Qiri summoned a few episodes in is recognizably demonic, but cut from an insectoid cloth, giving it an unusual appearance, and it's very well done.  (In fact, I think an inordinate portion of the effects budget was spent on the Lu-Qiri - more on that later.)  What's interesting about the Lu-Qiri plotline is the particular way the creature plays cat-and-mouse with Talon.  She may have called it, but she can't control it.

Most appealing, though, are the secondary characters.  First is Janzo, the odd little brewer who works in the tavern.  Janzo at first comes off creepy (and still does, at times - the actor walks a delicate line), but then the viewer finds out he's an awkward, weirdly charming, loyal nerd.  The second character who really jumps out of the screen is Gwynn, the outpost commander's daughter, who is first seen gambling in the tavern before she sweeps down upon Talon and imperiously demands safe escort home.  She's regal and mischievous by turns, able to wear the mantle of power but never taking it too seriously.  She becomes steadily more important as the season progresses, and Talon can't figure out *what* to do with her ...

Captain Garret is nothing much to write about; he rescues Talon, and they start up an angry / flirtatious banter.  There's even a scene where they have a fight, one overpowers the other, and Sexual Tension Is Rife (tm) until someone interrupts.  (Come on, really?)  That said, there are hints of depth to his character that suggest he could grow beyond the boy-toy role.

Overall, the cliche elements in The Outpost read like an attempt to make sure that the show is appealing and "safe" to people who aren't really familiar with fantasy - maybe those whose only exposure is the Lord of The Rings movies or perhaps a few episodes of Game of Thrones.  It has all the flags to tell the viewer that "yes, this is epic fantasy" ... and let's face it, the first few episodes of Thrones followed the same strategy.

The big difference is budget.  The Outpost clearly dumped a lot of its production budget into the Lu-Qiri and the Plaguelings, which effects are really well done ... and honestly, not enough into their stunt work or scenery.  Some of the wide shots are painfully obvious as CGI renderings.  But let's face it, how do you make these decisions when there's only so much money to go around?

Still, as The Outpost continues, the characters expand and the world trickles in, and one gets the feeling that it's poised to depart from the expected beats of stereotypical fantasy, and where it does to continue to follow the lines, it can do them well.  *If* it gets the budget to expand for season two ...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Song Styles

This is not a writerly song, but it is definitely a human song.

I think most women - and probably a lot of gentlemen - have felt like this every now and again.

Bad Body Double - Imogen Heap

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

I watched the pilot for AMC's Lodge 49 this weekend in the hopes of finding a new show.  I managed to get through it, but I don't think I can stand to give it another episode, because the main character is a certain type that I find particularly infuriating:  the lovable loser.  

I feel as if there should be quotes around the first word there, because all the traits that make this character type someone the audience likes can't overcome my reaction to the "loser" part.  The lovable loser is usually quirky, endearingly awkward, good-natured even to a fault, and often has a treasure trove of trivia to hand.  But this is a character who often doesn't have a job, or if they do, it's a subsistence job that they keep screwing up.  Unemployment itself isn't a vice, but the lovable loser generally isn't even trying to find a suitable job.  If they're on the hunt, it's usually for some ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky scheme.  

Often, the lovable loser doesn't have a home.  They crash on someone's couch, or there's an endearing vignette about them breaking into their old apartment - which they've been kicked out of - and sleeping there.  Or a hammock on the beach is fine ... until it starts to rain.  The lovable loser doesn't have long-term ambitions.  Sometimes, there's a backstory of tragedy to explain why the lovable loser has fallen apart, but many of these characters outlive their welcome on this.

The nail in the proverbial coffin, though, is the fact that these characters routinely let down the characters in their lives.  They borrow money and don't pay it back.  They disappear for weeks at a time.  They don't have phones.  If nothing else makes them snap out of it, letting down the people they love sure ought to.  (You could argue that clinical depression might be preventing this, but I've yet to see a take on the lovable loser seriously incorporate this rationale.)

The lovable loser is the overgrown man-child in Knocked Up.  He's the screw-up brother in every family dramedy; he's probably every character Owen Wilson has ever played.  And he's often the love interest for a female lead who is "too straight-laced, too ambitious, too career-obsessed."

And the lovable loser is pretty much always male.  I can't think of a female example off-hand; Annie from Good Girls is the closest I can come, and she's not always that likable.  In fairness, I wanted to knock that character in the head several times, too.  Seems like women don't get to implode this way.

Seeing these characters grow up and redeem themselves is often supposed to be part of their arc, but sometimes - especially in a television series - they just exist as a foil for everything around them.  The problem is, personally, I don't have patience for their nonsense, unless they're going to shape up within the first few episodes ... and then if they aren't the lovable loser, what are they?  Of course, when it comes to movies, this is when the curtain conveniently falls ...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Songs Style

The traditional musician and the writer in me meet when it comes to songs that tell a story.  All good songs do, to some extent, but most are a vignette:  a snapshot in the middle of (implied) backstory and perhaps resolution.  This is part of why Adele's "Rumour Has It" drives me so nuts:  I can't suss out the exact sequence of events or what's going on.  Which I think is the point with that one, as it's about baseless rumo(u)rs and how they get out of hand, but ... still!

But in this case, I'm talking about ballads and story songs, music that shares the whole scope of a story.  And in true Celtic fashion, often an unhappy ending.  Easily one of my favorites:

(Fun sidebar about this song:  the first time I heard it, I went, "This is *so incredibly Celtic* in sensibility."  Some time later, I did a Google search on the composer, and many of the hits on his name were Irish tunes such as Eleanor Plunkett.)

Reddy does this a lot - "Keep On Singing" and "Angie Baby" are two others that spring to mind.  By contrast, I'd consider "Delta Dawn," though it definitely makes events clear, less of a story song and more of a vignette.  It's static, staying in the aftermath.  (For the longest time, I thought the guy in this song was "a man of loaded grease.")

Here's a slightly more recent song, the arc of a life:

And, of course, there's a classic.  Here's the inimitable Kirsty MacColl's take on ...

This one is so definitive for me that I find the uptempo jazz version jarring.  (And this isn't even quite the right version - I couldn't find the Titanic Days cut on the internet.)  It's Celtic emotion at its best.

For my fellow writers, I'm going to end with a jazzy harp original that presents the ultimate writer's dilemma:

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 ...

 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 and and and Also, if you’d like to see the art of Traci Rabbit, this is her website: .

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.