Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

I've been debating if I want to start writing a new short story, to flex those muscles while I'm working up to my next novel project.  From a business standpoint, I'm not sure if it makes sense; I currently have a sizable backlog of unsold stories, and the markets seem to be closed more often, overbooked, on indefinite hiatus, or running brief submissions periods throughout the year.  On the other hand, I'm in a headspace right now where a bit of "play" might be welcome.

So here are some tidbits I've been tossing around:

Two women whose minds are trapped in the same body return to seek revenge on the monarch who banished them.  This whole one-body-many-minds trope is something of an obsession of mine; I've approached it numerous times from different angles.  My retired novel Journal of the Dead used the concept that whenever someone killed another person, the victim's mind leapt into their body.

Listening to the Sophie Ellis-Bextor song "The Walls Keep Saying Your Name," I thought about taking this literally.  There are two ways this could go; they're mutually exclusive, but I could always write both takes.  The first is a woman who can speak to residences, shops, any building, but the walls have no sense of time:  they may speak from the perspective of the present, or the past, or even the distant future.  The second is a city of sentient buildings, bound together in a hive mind.

And not so much a concept as two little sparks bouncing around, courtesy of the stock-needed whiteboard at work:  red dragon and rice wine vinegar.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

End of a Chapter

Yesterday, I finished my final editing pass on Unnatural Causes, my fantasy novel.  Just a few days ago, a memory came up in my Facebook feed announcing I had finished the first draft ... four years ago.  There's been a lot of water under the bridge in that time, and as far as the book, multiple passes and a beta read.  I wasn't planning on doing this final pass, but after an illuminating edit on a short story, I felt I had some new tools for tightening my prose.  I also wanted to smooth out any rough edges on the new material I added on the advice of (wonderful, lovely, sagely wise) beta readers.

This was actually my first time having beta readers for the whole book (though I've had people critique sections before), and I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I was.  Not to say I was chill, but something about considering the book as a whole was much easier for me.  I think Unnatural Causes is a much stronger book for their comments.

The first draft was 86 thousand words - shorter than I wanted, putting me in the unusual position of wanting to add content, and more particularly *not* to cut words.  This is much of why I ended up doing the final pass.  I typically write in an exceedingly verbose fashion and end up trimming quite a bit.  Since the original low word count of this novel discouraged cutting, I didn't do much of it until that point.\

Next step is the torture of the query letter and synopsis, and then ... Unnatural Causes is off to see if my next victim is an unsuspecting agent.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

GoodReads Review: The Dragon's Touchstone - by Irene Radford

The Dragon's TouchstoneThe Dragon's Touchstone by Irene Radford
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

War dominates Coronnan, trampling the common folk under the feet of its lords, and fueled by the service of Battlemages. Racked by grief and guilt after he is forced to slay a former student in combat, Battlemage Nimbulan sets out to find a better way (with middling success until it drops into his lap - more on that later). The secondary protagonist, Myrilandel, is a witchwoman with amnesia, tossed into events by her need to heal and a mysterious compulsion.

This book is dated in many of the ways you would expect, and it hasn't aged well. There's a lot of reliance on fate, prophecy and - as just mentioned - inexplicable forces nudging the characters along. Myrilandel in particular doesn't seem to have much agency or motivation of her own; she just obeys the plot machine, thinly disguised as voices in her head. When she finally discovers the reason she was being compelled, it solves much of the story's problems, but it feels too convenient.

There follows, in the last pages of the book, a fast succession of revelations that feel as if they came out of nowhere. These come across as mysteries I should have been able to solve, but wasn't given enough evidence for. Maybe it wouldn't if I had read the "first" series (this is the beginning of a prequel series), but coming at it as a new reader, I was nonplussed by a lot of it.

There are some enjoyable aspects to this book. The state of the kingdom is nicely drawn, and many of the background events and the motivation of secondary characters feels grounded and realistic. The attitude towards sex, in particular, is refreshing in its pragmatism. In a lot of ways, I liked the movement of secondary characters such as Quinnalt and Kalen better than the main narrative. Apart from the grand forces that give this book its main arc, so much of what shapes the individual scenes is human pettiness and the smallness of fear, greed and jealousy. Those are the most compelling parts of The Dragon's Touchstone.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

 Brace yourselves:  like so many others, I'm going to talk about Game of Thrones (the show) - the most recent episode and beyond into this final season.

People have complained that after all the buildup about the Night King and the armies of the dead, he was defeated in a single episode.  I don't have a problem with this or feel it was anticlimactic.  The buildup to this most recent episode made it clear that there was no retreat.  Lose one battle, and the armies of the dead would swell past the point of no return.  As in the greater game of thrones, you win or you die.

Could they have the battle multiple episodes?  I don't think so, for two reasons.  First of all, it's only possible to maintain that kind of intense tension for so long before the viewer becomes fatigued.  The viewer becomes worn out, even bored, and future moments lose their impact.  Second, an episode break would have killed the momentum.

What did bother me in the episode was Theon's death.  Not the fact of it, but the manner.  Sacrificing himself was fitting to his arc, but I would have preferred if there was some kind of combat between him and the Night King / his lieutenants.  That specific choice have at least bought time.  As it was, it seemed meaningless; he delayed the Night King only long enough for that notable to wipe blood off his weapon.

So who sits on the Iron Throne at the end of this?  I hope ... it's not who we expect.  Tyrion, perhaps - his intellect would make him a formidable king.  (And if we put stock in certain glimmers, with Sansa by his side?)  Perhaps Gendry will seize the day.  Or in the tradition of war not determining who is right, but rather who is left, what if Jaime is left to rise above his family's twisted legacy?

Or picture this:  next episode, Daenerys announces her intention to march on Cersei.  Arya's all, "I just have to go do a thing."  Dany arrives, demands an audience with the queen, who ... pulls off her own face to reveal everyone's favorite assassin.  Story's over, folks, two whole episodes of follow-up and epilogue. 

You might detect from the thread of these musings that I'm not that fond of Jon Snow.  I don't dislike him, but as a character, he's such a bundle of well-worn tropes:  honorable to a fault, plain spoken, doesn't like politics, illegitimate son who turns out to be heir to the throne ... he's very much the expected winner of this saga, and that's a good part of why I hope it turns out otherwise.  Game of Thrones has succeeded in part by (sometimes) taking the unexpected turn.  Let's not end on the oldest plot in the book.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

So as I continue to do planning for my next novel, I've come to realize I will probably need to build a glossary for both point of view characters.  The magic system involves synesthesia, and both characters are magic-users.  Their forms of synesthesia, however, are very different, which means that given the same scene, both would perceive it with unique aspects.  That said, synesthesia is consistent within the individual, which means that to save my sanity, I have to keep track of the links I create without constantly having to search back through the manuscript.  I also have a couple other magic using characters in the storyline, which may mean making notes on how they "see" (or otherwise) things.

I am planning to have a few conversations revolving around the narrators seeing another character through different lenses.  I also might make a point of describing a significant landmark or two, but I haven't decided yet.  Certainly I want to make sure that I do pay attention to the synesthesia and not just brush it off as an intermittent special effect, and I think setting up a glossary will help keep me focused.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Story sale!

I've just sold my fantasy story "Waterways" (which has a particularly entertaining backstory that I'll share ... some day) to StoryHack Action and Adventure, due out in Issue #6 (probably near the end of the year).

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

Happy (slightly belated) book birthday to Scylla and Charybdis!  My sprawling, epic science fiction novel came out in April of 2018.  It garnered some lovely reviews, and I'm still terribly proud of it ... especially as I never thought of scifi as my wheelhouse.  It was a book I didn't really want to write at first:  it started as a short story which editors kept saying needed to be a novel, and oh, I fought that.  I also never expected, when I started writing, how important the homebase of the story would be.  When I started writing Scylla and Charybdis (as a book), I envisioned it as a milieu novel, an exploration of a universe undertaken by an outsider.  But as I wrote the opening sequences, I realized how important Anaea's home was to her, and how it would inform the whole rest of the story.

So much happened in the writing of that book I never pictured.  I had no idea the character of Flick would pop into existence, all but fully formed from the first sentences.  I didn't realize how deeply I would end up delving into the politics of the warlords and the matriarchs.  I didn't know where Anaea would finally find her place, only that we would discover it together.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

New Coat of Paint

So with my life settling out a little - for now - I've had some mental bandwidth to devote to other things.  I've decided to try out a few experiments with upgrading my social media presence. 

On Twitter - @lindseycduncan - and my Facebook author page - LindseyDuncanWriter - I'm going to be sharing images and links of the fantastic and the funny under the hashtag #UnicornIsle.  I've always had an affinity for unicorns, and Unicorn Isle is the "imprint" name of my harp CD, Rolling of the Stone, so it seemed fitting.

This won't affect this blog too much, though I may write a few articles or share intriguing links, and of course, I'll continue to put up my SF/F Goodreads reviews, as well as nonfiction / other books I think might interest readers and writers of speculative fiction.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

Having finished my draft of Surgeburnt, my fiction writing dance card has some free space, and I thought writing some short stories would be a nice change of pace.  I had a couple of ideas at the front of my brain, but they promised to be lengthy, intense, or both, and in my state of mind, I wanted something lighter and easier.  So I decided to write a short story about my Sniffer.

I mentioned this character a while back:  I came up with her as an alternate way to review my wine studies, by incorporating wine knowledge into a loose narrative.  I never wrote much of it and it was never intended to be a "real" story (too much infodumping), but I came up with the framework of an interesting setting and her backstory, and I thought ... why not use it for a short story?

The why-not, of course, is that I never named her ... and now, at the part in a stand-alone short story where I usually just pick a name and roll along, I've tumbled to a halt because I know I'm going to do more with the character, so the name is particularly important.  I'm sure some writers would say, "Just pick a name and change it later," but I can't do that.  As soon as I select a name, it and the character begin to adjust to each other.  Unnaming is nearly impossible for me.

You can imagine the headaches I've had when (ever so rarely) I have had to change a name ...

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

So this past weekend, I finally finished the first draft of Surgeburnt, my post-apocalyptic science fantasy novel.  The setting was out of my wheelhouse, a stretch for my skills, and the plot required some delicate handling, because it involved two threads:  one, the present storyline, and the second, an out-of-order retelling of the events and people who got my narrator to that point.  They both came to a climax at the same moment.  However, the main plotline had threads that needed additional resolution, so I wrote a final action sequence to cap off the novel.

Because I hadn't planned on the continuation - and because of the chaos in my non-fantasy life - the end of the novel felt like wandering to a halt, rather than a resolute jaunt across the finish line.  But it is done, and I'm satisfied with the conclusion ... and oh my stars, there's a lot of editing to be done.  The book is enormous, coming in over the 150k mark ... which is at least shorter than the first draft of Scylla and Charybdis, and I'd like to think I have more tricks in my bag now.

So for now, Surgeburnt goes onto the shelf, for an editing eye after I polish off (or give up on) Undertaking Chances, my quirky little for-fun zombie project that turned out to have more potential than I expected.

To end, here's two songs I associate with Surgeburnt narrator, Maren - the first song I chose for, and the most recent:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

I know it's been radio silence on this blog for a while.  It's been a crazy few months.  I've been studying for the CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) which exam I just passed - a huge feather in my cap.  Work has taken a lot of my emotional energy, so I've spent most of my non-studying time zoning out in front of the television.  I've come up for air enough that I really miss writing, and when I have the focus for it, the blog hasn't been the center of my attention.

But enough of that.  I wanted to talk a bit about sequel-itis, the impulse authors have to continue one book (or sometimes, one short story) with another.  It's not a disease I suffer much from.  (And yes, I use the term "disease" tongue in cheek.)  This might surprise you.  I've talked before about how I like to write stories with, "Yes, but ..." endings, which naturally lend themselves to the next chapter.

But for me, I'm content with leaving things open-ended, with a tale tied off in frayed knots.  When it comes to short fiction, I'm hyperactive:  I'd rather be on to something brand new and shiny.  When it comes to novels, on the other hand, whenever I reach the end, I already have possibilities and potential for a sequel, but I'm also a pragmatist.  As a professional writer, I'm not willing to put the time and energy into a second book until I know there's a chance it will see the light of day, which means selling the first ... and I'm not there yet.  Plus, by the time a book gets through the process of editing, submission, and potential acceptance ... you guessed it.  My hyperactive mind has moved on.

Does that mean there might be a sequel to Scylla and Charybdis?  I don't know yet.  I had two distinct possibilities for the direction, but there's a lot of water under the bridge between then and now.  There's also so much new on the horizon, different worlds for me to explore just as Anaea did.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

Anatomy of an edit, different story:  second (thousandth) verse, same as the first.

I'm working through short story of mine now, Written In Stone ... and I use the term "short story" loosely, because it originally clocked in a bit over 10k words.  I remember this very clearly because it was written for a monthly challenge on fantasy-writers.org, back in ye olde days when the challenge was capped at ten thousand words.  The first draft of Written in Stone was significantly larger than that, and I went about a crusade of sneaky word cutting.  I finally got it just under the mark at around 11:15pm on the last day of entries ... and then my computer crashed, meaning I lost the last three hours of trims.  At that point, I threw up my hands and gave up.

(The challenge, by the way, was to write a story inspired by a specific song - the song left up to the writer.  I started with "Writing On The Wall" by Blackmore's Night, which is very much a fantasy sort of song to start with, but then something very incongruous crept in:  Miami Sound Machine's "Orange Express."  Of such unlikely collisions are my best ideas made, so I went along with it.)

So the story went into my files until ... well, now.  Approaching the process of editing, I decided to print it and do a paper read-through / mark-up.  I usually only do this for novels; I choose to do it with short fiction when I feel I need a stronger grasp on the big picture.  Why the printed word does this better for me than words on a screen, I couldn't tell you, but that means my first pass is effectively a 1.5:  as I go back over my suggestions in my terrible, scrawled handwriting, I sometimes rethink them, change them ... or can't read my own writing and have to stop and recreate what in the world I was trying to say.  (More so in a novel where it took me longer to get through the manuscript, granted.)

In any case, there were a number of overall concerns I had.  First of all, the worldbuilding was very oblique, with a steep learning curve for the reader.  It needed puzzling out and for the reader to hold onto pieces of information until they were clarified.  Fine for a novel, maybe, but a tough road to hoe in a shorter (... relatively) piece.  Second, it's a story of intrigue, but one very tightly focused on the narrator.  I had to make sure those aspects came through clearly.  Less urgently, but still important, the dratted thing was/is still much too long.  Surprisingly (to me, at least), I've found the paper edit very effective for finding places to cut.

Thwarting that need to cut is the fact that I think I need to add one more scene, or at least a fragment of scene, at the end, to truly tie up both the plot and the main character's emotional arc.  Still, when it comes to balancing the two, the story needs to be as long as it needs to be; I'm not going to leave necessary pieces out (or hack them free, pirate-style) to fit into a set word count.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

"Chains" now available in Kzine!

Blink and you (... or at least I!) miss it:  my story "Chains" is out in the current issue of Kzine!  Check it out: 

Kzine (Issue 23)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Song Styles

For Christmas, I got Elle King's new album, Shake The Spirit.  I'm a big fan of Elle King; I like to describe her music as "Wild West Rock."  The thematics and lyrics remind me of the roughest parts of an old-school western.  (The two songs that most people are probably familiar with - "Exes & Ohs" and "America's Sweetheart" least fit into this mold.)

There's one song that reminds me very strongly of Maren, my narrator in Surgeburnt.  Not that I think anyone would try to babydoll her:  she's almost six feet tall, athletic, and essentially has venomous talons ...

Baby Outlaw - Elle King

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

If you've been watching this blog space (which is a bit like watching grass grow, only less organic and more purple), you may have noticed that it's been quieter of late, fewer posts.  That's because I haven't as much time to write.  In fact, my ratio of brainstorming-while-doing-other-things time to writing time has been such that I can't keep my thoughts restricted to active project.

Which is why I've been playing around in my head with a concept of a group of investigators, directed by a seer / mage afflicted with wild magic.  There's a big secret underlying the magic of this world ... and our mage knows this.  It may not be the rationale for all the missions she assigns the team, but it definitely influences her decisions.

So the obvious course, even in a story with multiple third-person points of view, would be to omit her, leave her as a shadowy figure in the background, and let the secret and her purpose be a big reveal near the end of this imaginary novel.

But to be honest, I'm inclined to a different strategy:  have the mage be a point of view character from the start.  Let her know what she knows and let the reader in on the secret ... but not the other characters.  There's opportunities for so many levels of tension here, for characters mistrusting or misinterpreting her motives (and the reader screaming, "No, you fool!"), for learning the personalities of the characters and building the anticipation of how they will react to the truth ...

A long time ago, I read a book on writing which discussed the weaknesses of the trick / surprise ending.  When the writer is trying too hard to startle the reader, they lose out on other opportunities ... and if the story "plays fair," the reader may get to the answer ahead of it.  (This whole stream of thought ties into my personal theories about treating the plot of a story like a mystery, in the genre sense.)  Sometimes it's worth it ... sometimes, the more effective story pulls back the curtain.

A great example of a series where the reader knows more than any one character, and tension builds waiting for these in-story revelations, is Jana Oliver's Time Rovers series.  These characters come from two different societies, each of which totally change the game in their own way.  Watching them discover each other is far more fun than dropping a bomb on reader and characters at the same time.

Of course, this is all theoretical anyway:  this isn't even a project I've seriously considered writing.  But it's been a fun mental exercise, and I think it helps me as I develop the "real" ones.  Or ... who knows.  Maybe this will blossom into a novel in its own right.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

Lemming-like, I approach the topic of my year in review.  Initially, I thought that it would be a depressing topic, at least where my writing is concerned.  Then, I realized I had forgotten the biggest news of my year:  the publication of Scylla and Charybdis!  It didn't register because I sold the book long before that and spent months in the editing process, so I've been basking in that since before 2018 began.  But April 15, 2018, is when Scylla and Charybdis debuted to the world, and I loved introducing it to potential readers.

Overall, though, 2018 was a year of gradual progress rather than dramatic breakthroughs, but that doesn't mean I had no momentum.  I sold stories to new markets, including a long-time goal of mine - Andromeda Spaceways Magazine - and other editors who were a pleasure to work with at Metaphorosis and KZine.  Though it hasn't been as swift as I would like, I've been finishing edits on Unnatural Causes, and I feel like I've made more headway with it than any pre-submissions edit.  I'm closing in on the end of Surgeburnt, which is unlike anything I've ever written before.  And finally, after months of research on synesthesia, I'm crafting a world that centers around it as a magic system.  I've also had a few hints and whispers that I can't yet divulge.

Looking forward to what 2019 might bring.