Friday, February 27, 2009

This Is My Funniest 2

I just finished reading this anthology, edited by Mike Resnick. I thought it was about on par with the first as far as overall quality: I thought there were fewer wonderful high points, but there were also fewer complete misses (and those weren't, as in This Is My Funniest, placed in the first few slots). I was very puzzled by one story ("The Acid Test" by Kay Kenyon) that I couldn't see as humor at all. While there were a few amusing turns of phrase, that didn't change the fact that the overall story depressed and saddened me.

I also noticed an unusually high percentage of western spoofs, make of that what you will.

One flaw I noticed that occurred in several stories was pacing. Many of the stories had a detailed, involved set-up with plenty of color and humor ... only to wrap up quickly in a couple pages. I suppose this in part because, in comedic stories, there's an urge to explore the weird goings-on at the fringe of the story - but I did find it interesting how frequently this showed up in the anthology.

Overall, though, I love a good humor story and I enjoyed the anthology very much. There are many delightful concepts and turns of phrase throughout, often in the same story. I continue to get the impression that Mike Resnick really knows how to put together an anthology to create a flow. (The aforementioned issue with This Is My Funniest notwithstanding.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009


... wow, all right. Someone reviewed Sails & Sorcery (in which my story Currents and Clockwork appears) ... in German.

This is rather cool.

Here's the translation:

Thursday Thoughts

I'm feeling more comfortable with Journal of the Dead as I progress through the edits. My impression when finishing the first draft was that I had a mass of vaguely connected, over-complex tendrils, elements that were added practically deus-ex-machina to solve the problem of the moment. In the rereading, however, it has an unexpected cohesiveness. Some things need a bit more groundwork, but that's pretty easy to retrofit. There is a lot going on, weaving in and out of my narrator's life ... but all of it fits together. Everything has its place.

I am pleased how much the lives and advice of her spirits truly influence Rhiane. Just having the spirits there as passengers and comic relief would miss the point, to me.

Scylla and Charybdis still trundles along - I have just entered Chapter Two. I've done something I don't usually care for, a "fake-out" cliff-hanger at the end of the chapter, in which an apparently critical problem turns out to resolve in the first half-page or so of the next chapter. I may or may not end up removing it. Possibly this doesn't bother others as much as it does me; certainly I've seen it in plenty of published books. (That doesn't mean it's a good technique, just that it's printable. Ahem.)

I am very pleased with the first real conversation between my main characters. I even got to use an element that wasn't on the radar in the short story: Gwydion makes a reference to evening prayers. I am not so pleased with how Anaea gets into a supposedly restricted area, but I can't really make it much more difficult without making it outright impossible.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

(Albion) Boot Camp Week Three

Swapped books - to Best Short Novels of 2006 - and discovered that there is an advantage to a fairly workmanlike prose style (as with my previous selection). I had to reroll several times this week when I got lines that were so specific to their story - even when I took out specific person / place names - that I couldn't pull them out of context to work with.

However, I am enjoying the new lines and possibilities. I'm pondering, at the end of this run-through, selecting one to turn into a story right away ... or near enough.

And I have discovered that this boot camp has a neat, finite end. I had thought that the Beasts of Albion was a pretty sizable deck, about the size of a Tarot deck - somewhere between sixty to seventy cards, anyhow. Instead, I just realized it's only thirty-nine, so I'll be through them in early March.

Not a bad thing. I have so many writing projects afoot that while the boot camp is nice, it's beginning to become a little distracting.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

... and this week, I have a cold. I have felt pretty oppressively miserable all day. Now I just have a stomachache.

I have reached and passed the halfway point with my macro editing pass for Journal of the Dead. One thing I have learned from doing this is that I can't rely on my mental sense of when events occurred in the storyline. I was very surprised to discover what had happened by or at the halfway mark. I'd introduced Atsihl - Rhiane's airheaded society friend - and Razentis - the foreign ambassador - had the first romance dream sequence, and initiated the deal-with-the-Devil (figuratively speaking) that drives the rest of the plot.

I'm beginning to be concerned how I can incorporate the notes I'm making into the edits. Right now, the only solution seems to be to read *all* of my correction notes before I mark up each scene. Tedious, but - hey, it may go faster as I inadvertently start memorizing the whole kit-and-kaboodle. Certainly the whole thing is so unwieldy that just finding what should go where is an undertaking.

Scylla and Charybdis continues to move slowly. I'm concerned it's too slow: I'm about 2500 words in, and the main tension has come from the initial mystery ... but seeing as it questions everything the main character knows about her world and introduces a character who is going to be her traveling companion through most of the book - I think I can justify it.

The short story covered this same period in about half the word count. I think I can account for most of the slower pace, though. I lengthened the dialogue with Gwydion somewhat and described both him and Anaea in more detail. As I looked back at the original story, I don't describe my MC at all, and for a novel-length work, that doesn't sit right with me as a writer. There are more descriptions of the surroundings, which honestly was just a bad omission in the original - but still brief. The backstory is slightly more expansive. Her conversation with Orithia is slightly longer, etc ... it adds up.

... plus, it's a novel, darnit. When I initially considered this idea, I estimated the 6700 word short story would be about the first 20,000 words of the novel. Now I'm thinking that's more likely to be the first 5000 words of the story will be the first 20,000 words of the novel. So I'm actually "ahead of schedule" - which is good, because I think there are more events that need to happen before the novel departs its home base, geographically speaking.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Art of the Novella

I just finished "Best Short Novels of 2006" edited by Jonathan Strahan. (This is specifically within the speculative genre.) I enjoyed reading novellas - a form I don't encounter a lot - and had some interesting observations, some positive and some disturbing.

Disclaimer: next two paragraphs are specific to fantasy. The anthology was 50 - 50, so this applies about partway.

One thing that I was genuinely surprised (and somewhat disappointed) by was the fact that the majority of the stories were grounded in an Terran environment - contemporary earth, future earth, alternate earth, but still essentially a world playing by most of the rules of our own. To me, one of the hardest parts of short fiction is inscribing a fantasy world in a few brief pages, so I expected novellas to be a place where exotic worldbuilding could shine. The closest there was to a fully-realized secondary world setting was the Library embedded within Kelly Link's "Magic For Beginners." That said, however, many of these novellas took the time for leisurely tidbits of setting that didn't necessarily hinge upon the plot - and that was very enjoyable.

The other thing that made me squint a bit was the paucity of magic in the stories. Gone are sorcerers and systems of magic. Those stories that seemed to deal closest with supernatural tropes either presented them with technological explanations and trappings, hid them in an in-story television show, or clothed them within a child's voice. Maybe it's just an accident of the novellas printed in 2006, but you'd almost say these writers were allergic to it. This says nothing about the overall quality of the stories, of course, but I found it a weird trend.

What the novellas here seemed to do best was give a sense of history. The stories had room to expand and travel through several periods of the characters' lives. Some were less plots as biographies. It was interesting to have the chance to explore events outside a strict plot itinerary ... and still feel, as a reader, that you were going somewhere.

Of these, I would have to say my favorite is Connie Willis' Inside Job. It's an intelligent, crackling, hilarious story - and it does a good job of sprinkling the author's research into the tale without ever being obtrusive. This is also a story for anyone who has ever rolled their eyes at New Age money-making schemes.

I was disappointed by Harry Turtledove's Aubudon in Atlantis. It had a great premise - our historical Aubudon searching for vanishing wildlife to paint in an alternate reality where Atlantis was its own continent - but the story itself was very dry. I knew I should have been invested in the characters and their quest, and I just couldn't get there.

(Albion) Boot Camp Week Two

Still having fun with this - it's really good to have the random sparker each day. I (like to) think it keeps my writing muscles fresh.

I am about to switch books, but I've been so busy it's taken me awhile to finish the current read. It's about time; I was using "Gallows Thief" by Bernard Cornwell, and the picks are starting to wear thin.

The past two days, I experimented with excerpts set in worlds I've used before: the SF setting of my novel, and a much older fantasy setting I just rediscovered. This is a different take on it. I wouldn't push myself deliberately into that mold, but I like meshing old concepts into new thoughts.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I just noticed this - sort of wish I hadn't. Some positive things, but I did not need the negative right now.

"Hour by Hour" is fairly far down the list.

Thursday Thoughts

The novel has begun!

The first couple pages are always really rough for me. I'm very conscious of needing to give enough flavor of the setting that a reader isn't confused, describe what I want people to "see" about my main character early enough that a reader hasn't formed another image in their heads, and all the while kicking off the plot without bogging down in info-dumps. Once I've gotten moving, it seems to flow much more naturally.

Right now, this is compounded by the fact that the beginning of the novel follows the events of my original short story very closely, so I keep being tempted to consult it. I've only used a couple small pieces verbatim, and even those are tiny enough that they've been clipped in and inserted other places.

This is what is currently serving as my first paragraph:

Waiting behind the airlock door, Anaea Carlisle tried to wrap her mind around the fact that she might see one of them on the other side – maybe as many as twelve, if they were alive. She clutched her medic’s kit in twitching hands and flicked an anxious glance to Valasca Braun, the harsh, angular woman who led the team. Why the chief doctor insisted on leading every salvage mission was a mystery.

Once I get through my informal mental list of things to get across as soon as possible, I can relax.

Still working on ... err, everything else. I am juggling way too many balls here.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

(Albion) Boot Camp Week One

So far, so good. I'm very satisfied with the challenge of melding a more nebulous and overarching concept - the Beast of Albion card - with a more specific and focused insertion - the random sentence - while giving a flavor of character, plot and setting ... all in about two hundred words. I may have to switch books before I finish my current read, but so far, Gallows Thief is holding up. I've found that I prefer to use the sentence as a lead-in rather than a lead-out, but as I expected, the ones where it's a lead-out run longer.

Not going to post examples as a general rule, but here's the one I did today just as an idea of how it turns out. The setting is the same world as Journal of the Dead:

CRANE: Sentry of the Inner World

In (Place), a funnel-shaped thoroughfare that narrowed as it ran from (Name) Street to (Name) Hill, the scaffold was being taken down.

Coran was irritated, not for the first time, that the only window in his quarters faced the scene of his of executions. The spirits of the deceased clamored inside his thoughts, their welcomes to the newcomer – some sarcastic, some sincere – pushing his equilibrium towards a strange mix of amicability and sourness. He closed his eyes, drawing in meditative breaths and focusing on his core, the part of his consciousness that had been born in this body … a thing which shrank every time his jailors forced him to pull the lever another time.

There had been a time he was consumed by guilt for the crime that had brought him here. Now, when every time he served as executioner, the victim’s mind jumped into his – he had paid enough. He had started to forget what he had done, and saw his crime only as one in the wave of others that haunted him.

Coran rubbed his temples. Carefully, he focused on the newest spirit, a sorcerer named Elhizath. Meimn, the magic of time and perception – two things he could have used, but the power had died with her.

*Why are you here?* she asked, voice cool as silk. When she had first leapt to him, she had screamed and flailed, an incoherent mass of thought. He was used to that.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

I am so ill/tired. I literally cannot stay upright. I don't want to knock off my sleep schedule is the only reason I'm awake.

I didn't realize until I started editing how late in the story Rhiane actually finds out what happened to her son. The point is, I believe, almost a third of the way through the manuscript (pg. 48 of 170 in editing copy). This is interesting because I've always considered the story as everything that happens in reaction to that discovery, though in a general sense the entire manuscript is about her trying to reunite with her son. There are certainly elements in the early portion that I want to emphasize more strongly later on.

My notes, they are going to be long.

I am finally ready to start writing on Scylla and Charybdis - again, if I weren't sick. I have a first couple paragraphs bouncing around in my brain. It starts almost identical to the short story, but my setting concepts have changed somewhat - and my writing style certainly has.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

New Boot Camp

Decided to combine two random elements: one open for interpretation and more determinant of mood, theme, etc, the other more specific.

Ended up choosing:

1) A card from the Beasts of Albion deck. For those not familiar (which I imagine is most), these are not so much event-divination cards as self-divination cards. As the name suggests, each is an individual animal representing a specific attribute and a number of other qualities.

2) A random sentence from a book. I'll probably use the last one I finished for a bit, just for simplicity. Whether I keep this up or find another method depends on how fast I read. This has been "not very," of late.

Further restrictions set for myself: exercise needs to be around 200 words, at least that much and preferrably not much more. The meaning of the card needs to be used, but I can also use the signifying animal directly. The sentence can be assumed as the beginning or the end of the exercise, but isn't counted in the total. (And not the middle - that's so I can more easily substitute if I decide to write the whole story.)

Exercise also doesn't necessarily have to be at the beginning of the story, though I seem to be notoriously bad at writing random middles and ends. Wasn't always that way ...

Boot Camp Week 4

Words: Vacuous, wanton, yielding, acclaim, bemoan, canine, victuals.

So it's official - this is my last week on this boot camp session. More about the new session later. I decided I had better start it today as Monday tends to be a busy day for me, and I am generally not going to want to post about it then.

This was helpful, I think, and I may even pilfer some of these descriptions for actual stories. But I really did reach the point where I ran out of steam.

Best descs of the week:

With shaggy dark brown hair and a wide, anxious smile, she had a distinctly canine appearance – made stronger by the broad, flared nose. Her complexion was chocolate, roughened by sun, her hands callused; harder to see that the flat palms and long fingers were sculpted for grace. Her body was big but smooth, muscles blended into the sturdy frame and complementing robust curves. Her eyes were as black as a dog’s, and just as intent, flicking with a bright gleam towards any motion.

The kitchen might have been massive, but the low ceiling and the persistent smoke made it feel like a bear’s den – or a dragon’s. Long wooden trestle tables loomed, mountains of industry and loaded down with vegetables for the chopping, dough for the rolling, and gleaming slabs of meat. The ovens roared at the far end, demanding their tribute. Fallen crumbs were kicked under the tables or swept aside by dingy skirts, victuals for the small horde of rodents who lay in wait there.