Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Lately, I've had the odd experience of being called "literary." My recent story on fantasy-writers has received comments about allusions, thinking on a higher plane of thought, the whole thing being unconventional ...

... and I think, "What?"

There was no grand plan or structure behind the story. I just poured a few concepts into a mythology pool and splashed around like a hyperactive three year old. I worked to make sure it was cohesive, of course, but I never set out to have a specific message ... though it did amuse me to work in some irony that might be hard to catch if you're not very conversant with the Greek mythos.

To all this, I don't understand "literary." To me, literary is more about an intent than a result: you set out to write something that is educational, illuminating or, at least, more than "just entertainment." And for me, it's always been exclusively about the story. I have fun (a lot of it); I just hope the reader does, too.

Part of it may be the Greek mythology aspect. My issue is that I practically teethed on Greek myths - D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths is one of the first books I can remember reading obsessively - and I don't think of them as classical literature, much less intimidating. To me, they're comfortable, snuggly stories - just like a fairy tale that's been Disney-ized. So it's really hard for me to understand some people's approach to them.

I try not to be insulted by "literary," honestly, because I know people don't mean it as an insult ... but the whole idea is counter to my writing philosophy. So it really does feel like a slap.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death

As some of you know, I read a fair number of mysteries on top of my speculative fare. I just finished this book, by Ariana Franklin, and overall, I very much enjoyed it.

It's set in mid-twelfth century England, a few decades after the Cadfael era and sends Adelia - a female doctor from the medical school at Salerno - as one of a pair of investigators to discern who killed four children in Cambridge ... and absolve the Jewish population, which would otherwise be profitable to the king.

The historical detail and the way it is conveyed is fantastic. It all seems to flow; I never had the sense that I was being lectured. It all feels very sharp and authentic. This extends into Adelia's perception of herself in the male world (it's pleasant to see a confident period female character who doesn't come off strident or too modern), the way disease is handled, and everyone's attempt to understand the idea of a serial killer.

I did have some significant issues with the book. What probably annoys me most as a writer is the headhopping. Franklin can't seem to stay in one character's thoughts for the duration of the scene, and it's confusing to track where she's switched without the scene breaks. It also makes it hard to tell who the main character is supposed to be when the book opens, which is not where I want to be.

More on the issue of the actual plot, a few things: I guessed the killer less than halfway through the book, so I can't think that it was very well-disguised as I stink at guesswork. ;-) I also found the romance sort of "forced" - it springs up out of nowhere. The way it's played out is entertaining, but I was sort of exasperated by the whole, "Oh, instantly when he's absolved of suspicion she's going to realize she's fallen for him," tact.

I was amused by how much it feels like "medieval CSI" without actually breaking that sense of being in-period. Really, the crime is solved by committee, and there are a handful of supporting characters who help Adelia out immensely. I appreciated this aspect - so many mysteries are lone detective, or detective + batty sidekick.

Anyhow, overall it gets my stamp of approval.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

It's Thursday again? Where does the time go?

This past week was much more relaxing for me. Last night, I even had enough spare time to feel restless. My writing bug still seems to bite me late at night, so when I get to the hours I ought to be pondering bed, I keep squeezing myself up longer to get a little more written.

I've been writing flash fiction off quotes, both as part of F-W challenges and with some help from folks on my personal journal. The former have been 100 words + quotes; the latter, I limited myself to 200 words including the quote. Some of the shorter ones, I felt, lacked just a little bit of clarity due to skipped transitions, emotional states missed, etc - so I rounded them out. Thinking of posting them for critique when I've got a baker's dozen.

People are talking about NaNoWriMo again. I really have no idea if I'm going to do it. It will depend heavily on the progress I make with my current novels ... and whether I can complete my worldbuilding before I start. I've discovered that, while I usually write novel plots by the seat of my pants, I can't do the same thing with characters and world. I need to have a clear idea of those before I begin. (Not so much the characters - they seem to do a good job of inserting themselves when the situation calls for it.)

Pretty sure I'm going to increase my transcription rate for Journal of the Dead from two manuscript pages at a time to three. I still can't tell if rewriting from hand helps at all and it's driving me batty. I think the conclusion is going to be it worked well for this project, but in the future, I can discipline myself to edit more strenuously without re-typing everything.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I just posted this on F-W, and I think it describes a part of my writing process pretty well:

Personally, I don't think my characters so much have a mind of their own as I do a lot of my thinking (and this includes plot elements) on a subconscious level. There's threads moving under what I'm doing that my brain doesn't think the lowly pilot in the cognitive area actually needs to KNOW about. So when I realize this isn't fitting or I feel that a character "wants" to do something ... it isn't the character running amok so much as it's that second author surfacing and letting me know that I'm contradicting myself.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

Since returning from Grandfather Mountain, I've written with new vigor, despite possibly / probably having picked up a case of strep throat down there. To some extent, my own darn fault for not packing more warmly, but you expect the temperature to stay somewhat up there in summer in the south - even in the mountains.

I received a challenge on to write a story about a light that doesn't give off light and someone who can see in complete darkness. For this I decided to take a loose interpretation of "see" and borrow an old concept of a character who (despite being perfectly able to see) never used his sense of sight, rather relying on scent - sound - touch. And interdimensional lampposts serving as beacons to travelers. It really is just a bit too much for flash fiction, and I'm fairly sure I'll write a normal-length sequel once I finish my monthly challenge (different story).

Yep, F-W does provoke a lot of writing out of me.

With regards to Journal of the Dead, I've reached the second half of Ihseye's backstory. I really wonder if the spirit comes off as dislikeable and unreasonable - and realize that's all right. There are plenty of flaws to go around in this novel.

The current scene I'm in is the scene where the headman where Rhiane is now staying delineates the heart numbers of her spirits. I don't think numerology permeates the storyline in the way I would have liked it to, but this is a fantastic scene, exploring the diaphanous nature of numerology. Note to self: add some further numerical commentary later. (Ironic that I didn't get this into the editing notes.) Rhiane doesn't really believe in it, but it works nicely for flavor.

Scylla and Charybdis, the stage is still set in New Athens. I am trying my best to make this section roughly equivalent in length to the section in Eastwood. There's a sense of mirroring in that there are more or less three incidents here (as there), but it plays out with a different flow and build, so it should be reminiscent but not (hopefully) an obvious example of, "Oh, the author is trying to compare / contrast."

Monday, July 13, 2009

By the By ...

There were no Thursday thoughts last week because I was en route to Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina and had no internet access. Also, I did absolutely no writing (though some brainstorming!) until last night when I got home.

Gasp. Horror. But there's a good reason: I was judging the harp competition at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, and I was hoppin' the whole time.

Now it's back to the grind.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Last Unicorn

What a lovely, wonderful, moving book.

Here there is also whimsy and child-like simplicity, and here it works, evolving from fairy tale into truth. There are passages that are simply beautiful - and make sense on a metaphorical, magical level even if they don't make sense on a literal level. It's an intriguing look at love, immortality and humanity. It manages to explore fairy-tale tropes, often with direct references, without feeling meta-fictional (at least, not for long) or losing its sense of reality.

Want my own copy.

(... library book, for those just tuned in. Did NOT steal it. ;-))

Sunday, July 05, 2009


The title of this post is the title of the story I just finished. Because I want to delve into the monthly challenge (and hopefully another challenge) soon, I resolved to finish it, and did so yesterday ... well after 3am.

I knew the flashbacks would make it longer, but I wasn't aware how long that would be. The completed length of the story currently is about 8,600 words. It turned out that I used several points from my idea exercise, though I dropped a few. For instance, I had given my MC a necklace from an old lover she claimed was her daughter's father; in the story, I never used the necklace and the issue of the other half of her daughter's parentage is only brushed past.

I'm not totally sure of the strength of the story. I used vessels that trapped spirits could be placed into to be reborn - but how satisfying is it to be given a limited, artificial body? A reader has to believe this is worth doing, or the motive of the narrative begins to fall apart in multiple places.

One part I am very pleased with is that you don't discover until a third of the way through the story why, exactly, Nariv needs to reclaim her sword so desperately. The mystery falls into place through the flashbacks. I hope it creates dual lines of tension instead of diffusing it.

I continue to have a horrible time writing the last few paragraphs of a story. I'm never quite sure precisely where to break and how to finish on a sentence that creates a strong conclusion. I don't remember always having this problem; it seems to have developed. Maybe I'm more picky? Hope so, as the alternative is I'm getting worse ...

The Once and Future King

Yes, it took me this long to finish the next book in my classics review. I have been madly busy ... and it is a very thick book.

I remembered enjoying The Once and Future King more the first time I read it, many years ago. I'm not sure whether this is the blurring of time, or whether there is something in the book that spoke to me then that seems different now. There is a youthful (I hesitate to say childish) humor, a simplicity to the book that makes me feel removed from it now; the anachronisms were distracting, was as perhaps before, I simply accepted them. It's a thoughtful exploration, a satisfying take on ancient legend, but it just didn't hit me in the same spots.

(Now I really want to read the portions of the Mabinogion that reference Arthurian legend, having touched upon it in two retellings. Do this soon?)

I have The Last Unicorn left yet, and I hope to finish it before I depart to judge the harp competition. Considering this is NOT a 600+ page book, this might actually be doable.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Thursday Thoughts

It's July! When did that happen?

Scylla and Charybdis is exhibiting the behavior that makes novels so much fun to write - and why I'd never write events out of chronological order. I don't outline when I write a novel, but I do have a general sense of the flow, shape and some of the pieces which ought to come into play. Thus, I am always surprised and delighted when things just seem to flow naturally into the narrative that I didn't picture, fall outside those lines - but fit perfectly. Right now, I've got my main character asking for a lawyer in much the same uncertain fashion as someone squinting at the Sphinx going, "Ah, are you going to tell me a riddle before you eat me?"

I am pretty solidly convinced that I am writing science fiction like a fantasy writer, and it's not a bad thing. My sense of metaphor and description just lends itself to a very fantastic atmosphere. I am trying hard, however, to keep the science in line, as well as the science progress. For instance, I think it's not unreasonable that after centuries of having the successors of cell-phones and electronic money that some people might start having tendencies to retract from these conveniences. We haven't seen a lot of tech backlash in history yet, I think, because higher technology hasn't had sufficient time to endure to that point of exasperation.

Not much to say on Journal except that I think I need a way to speed up the rewrite. I'm not getting very far anyhow fast.

I need to finish my short story ASAP so I can a) edit the last two I completed + my intended next submission and b) start work on the July challenge AND C) possibly be ready to write a shorter story for another on-site challenge. Not necessarily in that order.

It would be amazing if I could think of titles for either of the first two.