Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever NeedSave the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So ... I feel as if I should preface this by stating I'm not really the audience for this book. I am a novelist, not a screenwriter, but I've heard novelists sing the praises of this book's ability to translate into written fiction, so I thought I would give it a try. (I'm also not really an outliner - I do heavy planning, but in other arenas.)

All that said ... I was kind of let down by this book. The first section, the discussion of how to distill the logline, was excellent, and then ... all I could think was following this method would be a) frustrating; and b) consistently produce formulaic, same-ish works ... good, but never great, and always predictable. Then when it comes to the final chapter and how to sell what you've written, Snyder doesn't seem to have much concrete or helpful to say.

That said, there are interesting tricks and trips I could cherry-pick, and it's an easy, entertaining read. It's also instructional to see him pick apart films and the devices used in particular spots. Not enough to convince me I want to do it, but it's good craft critique.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

GoodReads Review: The Spirit Ring -- Lois McMaster Bujold

The Spirit RingThe Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in a small Italian town in the Renaissance era (there are references to Lorenzo de Medici, so let's call it late 1400s), but a version where magic and metallurgy run together, The Spirit Ring follows Fiametta, the rebellious daughter of a mage, and Thur, the good-hearted miner who would be the mage's apprentice ... before their small world falls apart.

This novel is intimate - it's a story intricately bound to its place and people, where the acceleration of events grows naturally from those before, and where the two main characters get drawn up into the affairs of politics and war ... but always with a tight focus on the place where Fiametta grew up. The first forty or fifty pages are fairly low on conflict but still interesting enough to hold the attention, and the pay-off is more than worth it: the unraveling is all the more horrifying for how deeply I experienced Fiametta's world, and a lot of the little elements that seemed simply like worldbuilding or character introduction prove unexpectedly relevant later.

The stakes are visceral and personal here, and the two narrators both intensely likeable and very different. If I have any critique, I'm not really satisfied by the way the love story plays out. I'm glad that they don't waste time mooning or being distracted at inappropriate moments (ohhh, I hate that in SFF/romance crosses), but this goes a bit far in the other direction to make it feel a bit pragmatic and not wholly convincing. There's also a few confusing turns in the denouement that felt a bit like, "one more thing, really?"

All that said, this is a wonderful book. The details are absorbing and the cross between history and magic perfect.

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Anatomy Of An Idea: Hunting Fire

 Grimbold anthology "Lost Gods" comes out tomorrow - order it here! - and contains one of my rare reprints, Hunting Fire.  This began as a writing prompt / freewrite on the theme of unseasonable weather.  As is my usual habit, I decided to tackle it a bit backwards:  I wrote about a warm spell in cold terrain, but from the perspective that this was a bad thing, even catastrophic.  I love to write about hospitable wintry environments, places where the cold is a refuge, not an enemy.

Of course, such environments can still be challenging for humanity, so I created a nonhuman race - the Glaciads - to live there.  With that decision came a few nonhuman mores and social structure, not enough to render them truly alien, but to separate them from humanity.  The choice to give the main character a daughter was a bit of a whim, but it turned out to be integral to the resolution.

As to the lost god ... you'll have to read the story and find out.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Anatomy of an Idea: Waterways

My story Waterways was recently published in Storyhack, Issue 6, available here.  The catalyst of the story is a sacred pool that bestows upon the people the skills of ancestors.  When the city is conquered, the youngest of those who were immersed in the pool have no opportunity to train and hone their abilities.  The result?  A truly random skill set.

In the brainstorming phases for the story, I decided to choose the skills quite literally at random, so I went for an old resource:  GURPS Compendium.  GURPS is the Generic Universal RolePlaying System, a detail-heavy roleplaying system that is designed to encompass everything from space cowboys to time travelers to high fantasy.  It has its flaws, but having that exhaustive skill list was perfect purposes.  I rolled randomly to pick a page, then a column, then a specific entry.  I had to discard some results, of course, as I couldn't really work Starship Navigation into my story ...

So I ended up with a list of skills for each of the secondary characters that were a deliberate mismatch.  I then had the fun of working these skills into the plot without shoehorning the characters into far-fetched situations.  It was particularly fun because my narrator was the new girl in this group, so some of those skills came out of nowhere.

This is not the first place where I've used deliberate randomness to generate a character, but I really enjoyed using the conceit of the pool to justify the strange combinations.  It let me range more widely.  Who knows, maybe I'll return to this city and setting with another skillset gone wrong.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Goodreads Review: Shades of Milk and Honey - by Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a setting that pays homage to Jane Austen, young women of quality weave glamour, the delicate powers of illusion. This is the gift of the plain narrator, her only hope at finding a husband ... though she often finds herself in the shadow of her beautiful sister Melody. This is a beautiful book, deliberately written and both intricate and sparse. The lean prose carries the atmosphere perfectly, while leaving enough room for the reader to picture even those things not described. For instance, there's never any indication what Mr. Dunkirk, the love interest, even looks like. (I thought this was a particularly odd omission, but let that pass.)

The plot is strong and well paced, though I felt some of the antagonist's actions came unraveled near the end, and a few ends were left loose - such as the fate of Beth - that I would have rather seen tied up. Sometimes, the plot twists were predictable because of the faithfulness to the specific style of story, but to be honest, I'm not sure whether that detracts or adds to the appeal. Overall, it's a delightful read.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

So I've just started submissions on a story entitled "Different Drummer," and I know - I just know - that this one is going to give me trouble with editors.  It was written for a challenge to write about a character who isn't a hero, which I interpreted as someone who has neither the talent nor the inclination for adventure ... but since he's well-meaning, with a good heart, his actions end up having consequences that propel the story along.  It was a fine balance to walk, to make him resistant to heroics without making him passive.  

I think I achieved that, and I'm very satisfied with the story overall, but it's not a popular way to shape a narrative.  Editors have little patience for characters who don't know what they want.  To me, though, that's sometimes the appeal of a short story:  it's possible to encapsulate that discovery of self, that flash of understanding, of realizing what path one needs to take, within those few pages - in a way that would be tired and overly drawn out in a novel.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Wednesday Wanderings

Like many others, I've been sucked into the phenomenon that is Stranger Things.  Not everyone is a fan, and I've heard complaints both from people who find the horror elements dull and would rather just watch the kids interact, and people who are sick of the budding young love and want the plot to get a move on.  For me, it is the intersection of the two that makes the show tick ...

(It's been over a month since S3 aired, so possible spoilers implicit, certainly for the first two seasons.)

The setting certainly isn't particularly unique, a mashup of familiar horror and urban fantasy tropes.  (The psionic children imprisoned and experimented upon is a prime example of the latter.)  The broad strokes are well-worn enough that even I, who doesn't read or even watch horror, recognize them.  Some of the small details are rather clever and intriguing, especially in the visual design arena.  I was charmed by the life cycle of the baby demogorgon in S2.

I'm not even that charmed by the '80s setting.  I think I'm just a bit too young to really remember much of it, and since I was homeschooled, I didn't have a lot of the context the central characters do, anyhow.  (Though there are a few things that I recognize here and there.)  What I do appreciate as a worldbuilder, however, is how immersive this setting is.  It bolsters and strengthens the supernatural aspects. 

As an aside, I was pretty shocked by the newspaper office in S3.  Wait, are you sure this isn't the '50s?

The strength of Stranger Things is the characters, taking familiar stereotypes - the king of high school, the prim older sister, the obnoxious journalist - and turning them on their ear.  Each of these stereotypes has a stereotypical arc, an expected direction, and it's very satisfying to see them turn over, revealing another side.  The reveal about Robin near the end of the season is another great example.

It's that subversion of the expected character which makes the standard setting so effective.  Introduce an unfamiliar or unexpected setting, character and plot all at once, and the viewer / reader becomes unmoored.  There is no context, nothing to compare and contrast.  We all need some grounding in the familiar to appreciate the unfamiliar.

I also appreciate that the series has been able to build genuine suspense without knocking off main characters.  (Game of Thrones, I'm looking at you.)  This is probably much to account for by the decisions in the first season:  if you watched it without any spoilers, you spent most of the season guessing about Will, and they made the good choice *not* to let Barbara off the hook.  If she had come back, we wouldn't have trusted any death.  Not even a certain one in this most recent season ...